Advice for My Pandemic Senior

Class of 2020 Avon High School

It’s a month into our pandemic experience. As each weird “new normal” day opens, I think about you and your brother and feel a familiar sadness that’s hard to explain. It comes with a sense of guilt. When the towers fell on 9/11 you were an unborn diaphragm-kicking babe in my belly, still three months away from your due date, and I remember thinking, “Why am I bringing the poor kid into this horrific mess?” It’s a little bit of the same sadness today. 

But too late now, you’re here. My goodness, you’re eighteen already, and I can’t fathom how those years flew by so quick-as-lightning fast. I’m thankful to God you made it this far. You’re smarter than the average bear, blessed with your dad’s handsomeness, good hair, and flair for dress jackets and briefcases, and you have no obvious genetic or health defects that spell disaster for you in the foreseeable future. Phew! That’s a lot to be thankful for, and I’m filled with gratitude for all those things every single day. 

The best thing I can do to mitigate the guilt I feel for bringing you into this crazy place is to give you a few words of advice as you’re about to graduate high school and move on to your new adventures, so here I go…

Notice and commit to memory the beauty around you every single day. 

It’s there, but you have to look for it – some days you have to look HARD. These observations are like points of light during your life’s path. They can quietly pass by you like brief flickers of light, but if you turn and look at them – really look at them, and maybe even jot them down in a journal periodically, they stay with you.

These are the points of light that, when strung together, create your perceptions about life. Trust me that it makes an enormous difference in how you see the world.

The beauty is literally everywhere around you. It’s in nature — a newly sprouted crocus in spring, the suicidal squirrel who runs in front of your car and then rethinks and skitters back to the curb, the complexity of the ice crystals that form on the window right next to your bed. It’s in people — the guy who holds the door for the granny behind him at the store, the sound of your friend’s laughter at an inside joke, the adoring mother who washes the skillet after you make your eggs (OK, shameless plug there)… 

Spread your own magic. 

All day long, there are opportunities to create and diffuse positivity into the world. If that’s not magic, I don’t know what is. Notice people, no matter how peripheral they may be to your path. Our connections with others and our ability to lift each other up with a simple but kind comment or a smile are SO underrated. I’m one hundred percent sure it’s what we’re here for — to look someone in the eye, really notice them, and give them a genuine “Thank you,” or even just, “That’s a really cool shirt.” It’s a leap of faith but just trust that it has a butterfly effect and spreads outward like a ripple on a lake. Put it out there as often as you can.

For the love of Pete, put the damn phone down. 

The collective amount of missing out that we’ve all suffered since the invention of these godforsaken smartphones is horrific. Stop the madness. I’m not talking about the informative stuff. Sure, there are a few positives, but it’s 99% negatives.

There is unquantifiable opportunity cost in those hours of “numbing out” and scrolling through meaningless, valueless garbage. That time is precious and you can never get it back. At 18, you think you have a lot of it left but believe me you’ll regret it when you’re 52. I know I do.

When I was a teen, I wasted too many hours of my life watching “General Hospital.” I could have learned three languages and all of astronomy with all that time I wasted. At least I have the ability to flip that show on today and pick right up where I left off with the Quartermaines in their fair hamlet of Port Charles. You poor kids have nothing to show for your wasted time except Doge memes and TikTok dance videos you won’t remember next week.

Life is not fair.

But you can handle it if you’re OK with asking for help and letting others give it to you. You’ll cringe as you see life hurl some truly ghastly curve balls at people. Some of those pitches will include razor blades and the balls may actually detonate like bombs when they hit people in the face. It may bring you to your knees when you see an undeserving soul suffer a fiery car crash, contract terminal cancer, lose a job or lose a child.

It scares the shit out of you because then you know it could happen to you. The only control you have when you or someone you care about is being unfairly pummeled by life is to decide how you’ll react and what you can do to help.

Even in the most desperate of times, there is enormous grace and beauty. Look for the outpouring of love and support shown by loved ones and even complete strangers. Believe that most people are good and things can change for the better, no matter how bad things seem, because that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Be a proactive communicator, in all your relationships. 

Tell people, with as much honesty as you can, how their actions and words affect you. It’s important in work relationships and friendships, and it’s vital in your love relationships. I’ve seen what could have been decades-long happy marriages reduced to rubble due to plain and simple conflict avoidance and inability to say to one another, “something you did (or said) felt crappy to me, and here’s why…”

Lack of honest communication can build resentment that festers and creates walls faster than an old world Italian mason. When the walls become high enough and thick enough, irreparable damage results. Then, sadly, the proverbial “towel” is thrown in and that relationship goes down the crapper.

Collect good friends like flowers, and lean towards the cactuses. 

You’ll know who your flowers are as you travel through life. Your dad and I have done a pretty good job at building our collections. In fact, we’ve built sprawling and gorgeous gardens – each of us having our own, with an overlapping part in the middle that we share. Our high school and college friends, former worklife bosses and coworkers, neighbors from places we’ve lived.

The cactus part is a reference not to their prickly natures, but to their minimal care needs. You can’t collect too many tropicals and exotics with shallow root systems and huge thirsts for water. You’ll kill yourself trying to maintain those and keep ‘em all happy. But those cactuses – they’re the ones that survive with a little love every so often and some infrequent watering.

Don’t forget the water – even cactuses need a little. A quick text every few months – or even years – just to check in or let them know you were remembering something they said years ago is enough to maintain that garden your whole life long. The high maintenance flowers will weed themselves out (see what I did there)  – you will remember them fondly but not enough to resume contact. And that’s OK.

People will disappoint you; be generous with your forgiveness. 

We are such a big human mess of accidental slights, oversharing, forgotten appointments, late arrivals, unreturned borrowed items of clothing/books/cookware/tools/cash, unkept promises, over-commitments, incompatible prioritizations, distractibility and self absorption. It’s astounding to me that any two of us ever manage to be on the same page at any same moment in time.

It’s painful to be hurt by someone you care for. There’s a test that can help you decide if you should forgive them. Ask yourself, “Did they intend to hurt me?” If the answer is, “No,” then forgiveness is absolutely the right course of action. If the answer is “Yes,” (which happens rarely, unless you’re a jerk), then ask, “WHY did they intend to hurt me?”  This can be tricky.

If the matter involves a misperception about who you are and what you’re about, either do your best to correct that misperception, or move on. Up to you, depending on how important that relationship is to your life. But when moving on, don’t belabor it. Just go. Don’t spend more energy or time on that one.

When you’re angry, wait it out. 

Things said and done in anger are so often regrettable and difficult or even impossible to take back. Some can never, ever be taken back. Sure, you can apologize and put them behind you, but the other person often can’t. That memory takes on a life of its own and comes back to bite later.

Time is a great healer of an inflamed and angry ego. Those compelling reasons you had in the heat of the moment for uttering those injurious words (or hurling that plate or Ninja star) can eventually evaporate into thin air with the simple passage of a few moments (or hours, or days). Just give it some time.

Admit it when you’re wrong. 

Your integrity and the respect people have for you are directly correlated with your ability to openly and comfortably admit your own errors and mistakes. You will definitely meet people in life without this ability who thrive and succeed to an impressive degree, but you do not want to be like them. At all.

Why? Because although they’re usually oblivious to it, their friends and coworkers loathe them. People with an inability to admit mistakes (or even worse, blame it on others) have an embarrassing and catastrophic self-reflection blind spot. They think no one else sees them covering up or blaming others, or bending the truth just a little, but people always do.

Once that happens, even just a few times, it’s all over. Without honest admission and correction, without the ability to show the vulnerable soft underbelly of imperfection, respect can’t be earned or regained. People will put up with you — they’ll even work for you and sort of pretend to like you — but they’ll laugh at you and roll their eyes behind your back. You’ll never be taken seriously again.

Get comfortable with vulnerability.

Because you’re a young man, by now you’re aware that our culture celebrates manly men who only seem to comfortably connect with one another through 1. Sports or 2. Work.

This is tragic. Sadly, we’ve taught men to leave the touchy-feely connecting to women, and the men are missing out big time. The stats on the growing epidemic of lonely men in our culture are heartbreaking. Did you hear the story about the single man who became so lonely he began hugging a pole in his apartment? Truth.

You will see men end up all alone and friendless sitting at a bar by themselves at 45-50 years of age. They’ll have not developed the ability to connect with other men and maintain meaningful, real friendships. It requires a comfort with vulnerability and being self secure enough that you’re unafraid of what someone might think of you when you invite another guy to get a beer or go see a movie together.

You must embrace vulnerability in order to forge, cultivate and maintain meaningful friendships. Do not leave that to the women in your life. It’s your own responsibility to hone that skill.

If it scares you a little, you should probably do it. 

Aside from things you know are stupid, like skateboarding without a helmet or trying heroin, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is where growth happens, as I’m sure you’ve heard by now. It’s so much easier to take the cushy path of less resistance – that’s why it’s called The Comfort Zone. But it’s lazy.

Get used to the fact that new growth often doesn’t feel good and go towards it when you have the chance. It’s why the first day at a new job or new school feels awful. It’s why first dates are terrifying.

Fight the natural urge to retreat and fight it hard. When you look back on your life, you’ll see that all your opportunities for great learning and development were preceded by that icky feeling of uncertainty, self-doubt and discomfort. Just do it. Don’t think about it too long, and jump in.


Life gets busy. That’s my usual excuse for why I haven’t called my parents in too long. You will have so much to do and not nearly enough time. There will be schoolwork, dorm life (praying you’re in a dorm by the fall), parties, friends, girls. Then there will be work, parties, friends, girls. Then there will be work, friends, marriage, and possibly the incredible time black hole of a family with young kids. It’s relentless.

All parents are uncomfortably aware that Cat Stevens’s words from his song “Cat’s in the Cradle” will inevitably describe their own feelings as they watch their children become adults. Please remember there will be no two hearts in the world happier than mine and your dad’s just to hear the sound of your voice. 

I was unprepared for how incredibly hard it would be to watch you grow up — into this capable young man, seemingly overnight — and to step out into your own world and away from ours. If I had known, I wouldn’t have had the guts to say “yes” to this whole parenthood shindig. I am so grateful I did, and I love you more than I can say.

Your father and I can’t wait to see where life takes you. Enjoy the life roller coaster, Freddy.

Photo 95



The Invisibility of Mothering

Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 1.08.11 PM
Credit: Volcan Olmez

Motherhood sometimes makes you feel like you’ve lost yourself and become invisible to the world you used to know.

We used to enjoy going to lunch together mid-week. Just my little toddler boy and me, while the older brother was at school. He brought his stuffed animal and a make-believe dragon toy and we sat in a booth together in the after-lunch time when there weren’t so many diners.

Our waitress was a young 20-something woman with a bright smile and an attentive, busy nature. She didn’t mind the ketchup mess he was making with his fries (extra tip money for that girl, I thought).

I listened to his three-year-old voice tell me his story about his dragon and his stuffed animal, and I watched his delicious face and his long eyelashes and all his amazing silly light.

I had to keep an eye on my watch – the older brother would be dropped off at the bus stop within the hour. But it was like time wasn’t passing anymore. I had learned to be in the moment with my kids, finally. You have to, or you’ll miss the really good stuff.

His favorite part was the ice cream, so of course, we stayed for that. And as he got himself all messy in birthday cake ice cream, we talked together about his favorite characters from his favorite PBS show. He even sang a little bit of the song from it for me right there. We both laughed and sang it together one more time.

The light from that boy’s eyes, and the lilt of his laughter. If I could have frozen time right then and there, I would have, and I’d still be there now.

It’s indescribable that sound of your own child’s laughter. Knowing that it’s fleeting makes it all the more precious. You know his laugh won’t sound exactly like that a year from now. He’s changing every single second. You can’t bear to miss ANY of it.

No one knew I was there that day. No one was watching. I was invisible. The world was moving on without me while I sat there with him and soaked up the hour and his laughter.

I’d been feeling so invisible. Not ungrateful — just as if my former identity and my “noticeable” life had disappeared, in a weird way. I was just “mom” for now and that was important, rewarding and wonderful. But it was sometimes sad and really hard for me, too. It was a really big part of me I left behind when I became a mom. It was surprising to me that I often felt invisible.

The waitress handed me the check, and as she placed it in front of me on the table, she looked at him and smiled. She turned to me, looked right in my eyes, and said, “You’re a really great mom.”

It was so surprising and unexpected, my breath caught a little bit and I forced out an awkward giggle. I smiled and said, “Oh, thank you. That’s so nice of you.”

She said, “No really, I’ve been watching you with him. You’re a great mom.

I smiled. I looked at him, with his smiling sticky face and long eyelashes. She smiled at us again and rushed away to another customer.

I was surprised at my tears, really. I had to just wipe ’em away before anyone even noticed.

To be noticed like that. When you’re resigned to feeling invisible.

It was a gift, what that young woman did for me that day. A lifelong gift. Every time I remember it, I stand firm in my belief that everything I gave up for this parenthood job was worth it.

He’s 14 years old now. My little man, with his voice already changing. Tall as me, with long slender fingers having replaced the little sticky ones. Same long eyelashes, though…

What I would give to go back to that day.

My Playroom Blues

Photo by Hello I'm Nik on Unsplash
Photo by Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash

Where do YOU keep it all, parents?

That cache of objects and artifacts from your children’s baby years and toddlerhoods that you can’t bear to part with?

I have a room full of it in my basement. It’s a separate room down there that we call “the playroom.” When my sons, now 14 and 17, were small, they spent hours together in that room, playing with Legos, Playmobil, Matchbox and Imaginext toys …. I could hear them playing together and laughing uproariously while I was upstairs making dinner or cleaning.

Parents of small children, PAY ATTENTION TO THIS… You have no idea how fast things will change. It’s inevitable.

There was a subtle shift when my older son turned 13ish… the increased self-consciousness and onset of pubescence was almost imperceivable when he was 12 and still had a 9-year old sibling. They still laughed together, and the older brother still enjoyed playing and being silly with the younger one. He probably welcomed respite from the increasingly challenging and rapidly-maturing social culture he was encountering at school.

But when our younger one crossed that same threshold, we had already somehow crossed a seismic shift in their relationship.

There are miles of distance in the divide between the worlds of boys in 8th grade and 11th grade. Eighth grade is still silly boy-child goofiness and memes about unfortunately timed farts and Super Smash Bros Brawl Nintendo game characters. 11th grade is (holy heck, how did we get here?!) college tour season. Mini-adulthood. At the threshold of grown-up-ness. One freaking foot out the door, people. It’s hard. (Have you watched the scene in the movie “Boyhood” where the mom, played so authentically by Rosanna Arquette, says to her just-turned-adult son, “I just thought there’d be…. more.” Shit gets real.)

The house is a lot quieter these days. My sons are not mean to one another, they simply co-exist in their own spheres. On their separate screens. For their father and me, it’s hard to watch. We know this is another developmental phase along a continuum. We both remember times when we experienced similar separateness from our own siblings — it’s perfectly normal development. It’s still hard to watch.

My husband decided to clean up the basement last week, to get rid of the “stuff” we no longer use or need in it, and he targeted the playroom first. He seemed mystified that I’d let all that stuff sit in there for so long, gathering dust. I looked at him squarely in the eyes and said, “Good luck with that.” He looked at me, confused by the answer. I said, “You’ll see.”

“The playroom” has been the bane of my existence for the past several years. I gather up my strength, determined that I’ll make headway and clear it all out into boxes headed to Goodwill. Within an hour, I’m wallowing in nostalgic melancholy about the years when they were small.

I can’t bear to put into the Goodwill boxes the Imaginext castle set with the knights and the dragon they used to fly around the house, the Wall-E movie plastic “Eve” with the little compartment in her belly to hold the little plastic shoe-plant she protected, or the R2-D2 robot they learned how to make dance to the cantina scene song by telling it in their little-boy voices, “R2! Dance mode!”… it feels too much like closing the door on their childhood. It’s too hard to acknowledge that their “little selves” are both gone. I know they’re turning into wonderful young adults, but it still feels like loss. And you grieve losses.

Would it help to hire someone to cart it all away while I cover my eyes and pretend it’s not happening? Absolutely. But I can’t bring myself to do that, either.

My husband emerged upstairs from the playroom after two hours of his attempted clearing. Seated at my desk, I paused my work, and turned to look at him. His expression looked more like someone who’s just been told his dog is dying than a man who triumphantly cleared a roomful of clutter. He said, “Oh, my goodness…That room.” I nodded my head slowly. “Yep,” I said.

Now he understands. Will there come a day when we can muster the strength? The option of hiring someone to do the job for us is looking better and better.

Our Kids Are Not In a Race


[This piece was originally published by Parent Co. on March 30, 2016.]

The call came from my son’s math teacher (I’ll call her “Ms. W”). She wanted to discuss her recommendation for his freshman math class placement next year in high school.

I could hear the nervousness in her voice as she described her perception of his performance in her honors-level math class this year.

“He’s smart and very capable, and his test scores put him just above the line for a recommendation for Honors Geometry next year.” This was not news to me. My son had transitioned from elementary school to middle school fairly seamlessly, and was placed in honors-level math and language arts classes in 7th and 8th grade. He was earning all A’s in his classes every marking period. Maybe an occasional B+ in science or math.

Math is the only subject my son has always described as the one he “hates.”

Although he’s capable of learning every concept taught, it doesn’t come naturally for him. He has to work hard in math to get A’s and B’s. It’s the only subject that has, on many occasions, brought him to angry tears of frustration. He’s told me that math simply makes him feel stupid.

He is, by nature, a “creative.” He draws, he cartoons, he makes videos and he writes amazingly well. He will not be a doctor, a scientist or an engineer. Those professions, and others that require heavy hard science and math, just don’t appeal to him.

Ms. W continued on, “In 9th grade, the intensity really ramps up in honors math. I know he doesn’t like math, although he works really hard at it. I would love to see him in a situation where he’s comfortably performing well and he feels really good about himself.”

Bingo. It was a no brainer for me to agree with her recommendation that he be placed in the “academic” level geometry class next year.

When I instantly agreed with her recommendation, her sigh of relief was audible. The tension in her voice evaporated. She had prepared herself for the inevitable parent pushback. The pushback that comes instinctively from a parent who fears their child is falling behind in the race. About my decision, she said, “That’s so refreshing. Parents just don’t do that in this town.”

The following week, I told a group of my mom friends about my decision over coffee. One friend with a daughter in her junior year at our high school had an expression of shock on her face, and looked at me like I’d sprouted a second nose. She asked, “But aren’t you worried he’ll be a year behind?”

I smiled as kindly as I could and said, “Behind what? It’s not a race.” She’s still not convinced. She thinks I’m closing a door of opportunity for my son.

What is this fear that is driving parents to crack the whip behind their kids and push them until they crumble?

How many news headlines about teens being exhausted, depressed and suicidal do we have to read before we get it?

This isn’t a race.

Parenting is an opportunity to raise happy, self-confident, well-adjusted human beings who understand they have strengths and gifts to offer the world, but that not everyone excels at everything. That’s just life. Our job is to help them find their strengths and gifts, and to nurture those. To support them when they put effort into mastering areas in which they naturally excel.

I talked with my son about the discussion I had with Ms. W and the decision I made. He feels really good (and relieved!) about it. He’ll take honors-level English and Science and he’ll audition for the a capella choir (he’s a talented singer and it’s something he really enjoys).

He’s looking forward to his freshman year. Many of his classmates are already nervous and worried that the academic pressure in high school will be too great.

Sadly, for many of them, it will be.

Shifting Gears to Fully Appreciate the Gift

IMG_3184Smack in the middle of editing a piece that’s due to a client by noon tomorrow, I get the school district robocall to my cell phone telling me my boys are being released early from school due to the snow storm that is becoming heavier than expected.

Drat. Just as I was getting into my writing groove.

I begin the mental shifting of gears that every part-time work-from-home mom knows so well. Did I seriously expect to finish what I’d started? Time to put my “Mom” hat back on.

I’m embarrassed to admit that it sometimes makes me angry and irritable to have to shift gears from work to family. It’s frustrating to have my progress interrupted and to reset my expectations about how the rest of my day will be spent.

This is how I shift those gears:

I sit for a few minutes before they walk in the door from their buses, I close my eyes, and I focus. I focus on the way their little faces looked when they were just two and five years old. I focus on how my younger son’s lisp used to sound and how he replaced the phrase “what happens if” with his own unique “whunsif”. I remember how my older son used to sing the chorus to “Leaving on a Jetplane” whenever we were headed on a trip to visit his grandfather in Florida.

I think about my younger boy’s classmate, now in 5th grade, still courageously fighting an inoperable brain cancer she’s had since she was just five years old. I think about a former coworker who lost her son when he was just 21, two weeks before his college graduation, when he was in the back seat of a car that was struck by a drunk driver.

In just four short years, my older son will leave for college. Four years?! That’s the blink of an eye. My younger son still snuggles with his two favorite blankets (his “cozies”) when we watch TV. I tell myself, “Momma, stop being such an idiot. These days are numbered, and your babies are leaving you.”

Gear shifting now fully completed, I hear my boys clambering in through the front door, dropping their backpacks on the floor, shaking the snow off their jackets, kicking their wet boots off and laughing about something someone said to one of them on the bus ride home.

I walk to them, grinning from ear to ear at their bemused faces, and I tell them we need to grab a quick bite and then head out to the nearby golf course to go sledding. They agree it’s an excellent idea.

The goal of parenthood is to raise independent humans. Simple, really. Tweet: The goal of parenthood is to raise independent humans. Simple, really.

Teach them how to negotiate their paths through life, how to make good decisions and be kind to others. And to pick up after themselves and make their own food.

You’re teaching them how to leave you. That’s why I find parenting so difficult. You’re teaching these little creatures that you love more than life itself how to be so independent, they will not only be able to leave you, they will want to leave you. Pure and utter heartbreak, isn’t it?

As the years pass, if things go as planned (I know, they sometimes don’t), you watch your kids make these astounding leaps forward. They’re growing. They’re maturing. They’re getting it right. They’re cutting the strings loose, one by one. And it’s happening much, much too fast.

I’m now fully able to recognize that this unexpected shortened school day and interruption of my work progress is nothing less than a sparkling, glorious gift from the universe. I’m determined to gratefully soak up every single second of it.

Originally published in February, 2016 by Parent Co:

My Kids Don’t Love Nature Like I Do

These guys are so darned CUTE!

I’ve always had an unusual fascination with wildlife. Growing up, I not only had multiple dogs and cats, but also birds, hamsters, gerbils and mice.

I majored in Biology (of course). I have excellent memories of camping with my Mammalogy 101 class right outside the mouth of a bat cave in northern Vermont. Junior year, my Evolutionary Biology professor noticed my overzealousness and invited me to spend a few summer weeks in the Arizona desert catching geckos by the tail (he was gathering data on tail-regeneration). I declined, because my boyfriend would be in Connecticut all summer (Stupid! I should have chosen the geckos.).

You get the picture. I was really into weird nature stuff that most girls don’t like.

So, naturally, I assumed my kids would be just as fascinated as I am. I have two boys, and boys are supposed to get into that kind of thing, right? What I’ve come to realize is that you can’t convince someone to be a nature lover. But God help me, I’ve tried.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve gleefully purchased wildlife-lover items for my kids hoping they’ll find bugs and nature as compelling as I do. Without fail, after half-heartedly feigning interest, my kids cease to notice these “projects” and go back to their Legos, Nintendo DS’s and iPods. Sadly, I’m saddled with keeping these creatures alive while they languish in their various containers (“habitat” is a cruel distortion of the truth in every instance I’m about to describe).

The African Dwarf Frogs lasted almost two godforsaken years in their little self-contained aquatic cube/prison. You only needed to feed them once every few days, so when the first one finally died, I found it afloat on the surface with the other frog shooting daggers at me with its eyes. The second one gave up hope immediately afterwards and died within a week. No one was upset (not even me). I’m not sure the kids even remembered we had frogs after the first week they’d been in our house.

The praying mantis egg case in the little netted cube habitat was, seemingly, a dud. I glued it onto a stick as instructed, and we checked on that damned thing every two or three hours for two weeks. Even I had given up hope. Then, on the day I’d resigned myself to admitting defeat and tossing it into the garbage, I awoke to find – I kid you not – about 300 newborn centimeter-long mantises crawling around in that container. The kids found it fascinating for exactly 6.5 minutes and then ran off to claim their Pop-Tarts.

The praying mantis episode sort of ran me ragged. I had to get rid of all but one of the teeny tiny mantises within a day, unless we wanted to witness them killing and eating each other (in retrospect, maybe that would’ve captured the kids’ interest). I released them into the yard, and the one I kept became my every-waking-moment obsession for the next three months.

Mantises grow slowly, and they ONLY. EAT. LIVE. FOOD. Each morning, my husband giggled and smirked through the window at me as I traipsed around the yard, cursing and swatting mosquitoes away from my face as I searched for tiny aphids and baby inchworms. Finally, I resorted to purchasing flightless fruit flies from Petco.

Yes, this is the explanation for why a person would actually shell out cash for a small container full of maggots.  Tweet: Yes, this is the explanation for why someone would actually shell out cash for a small container full of maggots.

The mantis only grew to about an inch long before he was accidentally murdered by a friend to whom I’d entrusted his care while we vacationed on Cape Cod (In truth, his death was likely due to a change in environment. That’s what I told her anyway – she was riddled with guilt.). Thank God that was over.

I end this diatribe with my current dismal situation. Christmas before last, I purchased a “self-cleaning” fish tank made by those damned “As Seen On TV” people. You can already see where this is going, can’t you? When the algae on the sides of the tank began to obstruct the view of the colorful Betta fish inside, I did some googling and purchased a couple of Inca Gold snails. I now must not only feed the fish its pellets, but must remember to throw in occasional bits of blanched cucumber to keep the snails happy (because, of course, snails don’t survive on algae alone).

self clean tank
“Self-cleaning” fish tank.

The system isn’t exactly working. For some reason, the snails are now slacking off on their algae cleaning jobs (too fat and happy on the cucumber bits?), and I can’t really even see the fish unless I look down into the tank from above. Why do these damned things live so long???

My husband is totally mortified that we even have this green-slimed container in the house, and he keeps pleading, “Just get rid of the fish for God’s sake! Put it outside!” (it’s 20 degrees today). But I can’t. At heart, I’m still a lover of all living things and it’s my duty to keep this guy swimming until his natural death.

Betta fish are pretty hardy though. I’m thinking he can probably make it just fine while we’re gone on vacation next week and the house is lowered to 50 degrees.

Much to the horror of my husband, my younger son just asked for a bearded dragon for his next birthday. I am in serious and dire need of an intervention, friends.. Please remind me about how this will end badly, because I’ve already caught myself perusing bearded dragon care and feeding sites online.


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My Sweet Husband’s Attempt at Failure

Screen Shot 2016-02-16 at 2.44.42 PMAs I pick up the lasagna pan my husband hand-washed after dinner last night from the drying rack, a realization hits me. It’s entirely possible that my husband is either intentionally or subconsciously terrible at cleaning things so that I’ll just do it myself.

Hasn’t this ever occurred to you?

I’m not knocking the fact that he regularly assumes clean up duty after dinner. Because it seems genuine. He knows I spent the past hour or so prepping the dinner, cooking it and dishing it out to our family. So it’s lovely that he offers to clean up afterwards.

Except the stuff he washes isn’t clean. At all. It’s like having your toddler help you with the dishes. In theory, you have to allow and encourage them to help, because they do need that training. But you have to wash everything over again when they’re not looking.

Does he even understand that you have to use hot water and detergent to cut through oil and grease? It’s as if he treats the self-soaping dish sponge as a magic wand – you simply need to wave it in the general direction of the greasy pot or casserole dish and – Voilà! Clean! Into the drying rack it goes with all its greasy brothers and sisters.

He catches me inspecting his shoddy work and pulling still-oily items from the drying rack to re-wash them. He smiles sheepishly and says, “What, honey? I didn’t do that one to your liking?” and gives me a smack on the rear or a quick hug as he chuckles and watches my face to see if I’m truly upset or just faking it.

Adding to the frustration of the unclean cookware, the sink itself has to be cleaned when he’s done. Bits of spaghetti sauce and pasta fragments are left clinging to the sides and bottom of the stainless sink in a maddening layer of quick-dry food/cement. How hard is it to just rinse off the mess and swipe a soapy sponge around the sink after washing the dishes? Aha! – Another reason for me to take over the dishwashing duties altogether.

The truth is, I don’t even care if he’s doing it on purpose or not. I appreciate that the man works like a dog for this family in the trenches of his workplace every day. And he does perform some household cleaning activities perfectly adequately. He’s an enthusiastic and thorough vacuumer and a truly respectable folder of clean laundry, both tasks I dread. So I’ll give him a pass on the dishwashing for now.

Don’t get me started on toilets, though… That, sadly, will be my responsibility until one of us dies.


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Trying Harder to Embrace My Mess

5942e74e5312d286c5f215328d1d3fa2My good friend and neighbor (I’ll call her “Suzanne” to protect her anonymity) invited me over yesterday to catch up over coffee. Our kids are school aged so we manage to do this every few weeks, at one of our houses or at our favorite coffee hangout in town.

I walked through her front after shoving the kids off to school and she immediately said, as she hugged me, “I am so sorry about the state of my house. Please just ignore it and pretend you don’t see it.”

I walked through her foyer and saw kids’ boots piled by the front door and two pairs of snowpants hanging over the adjacent dining room chairs to dry. As I entered her kitchen I saw on her island a few scattered piles: a six-inch stack of mail and catalogs, a few kids’ books, her dog’s leash and a few poop bags. Also a box of goldfish crackers and two cereal boxes from the morning’s activities. There were juice glasses and a few bowls next to the sink from breakfast.

My eyes moved next to the collection of papers on Suzanne’s kitchen table – remnants of one of her kids’ art projects, with some scissors, a roll of tape and scraps of colored construction paper. A box of magic markers was next to that pile, with a bottle of glue.

From where I sat at the kitchen table, I could see the family room looked,… well… like the Tasmanian devil had torn through it. There was a carnival-prize sized stuffed elephant on the coffee table, a “Star Wars” blanket thrown in a pile on the sofa, a “Frozen” sleeping bag and a pillow on the other sofa, and a half assembled Lego set on the floor in front of the television.

This clutter is one of the many reasons I adore this woman. Although she always apologizes profusely about the state of her household when I walk in her front door, she regularly invites me in ANYWAY.

Who do we think we’re kidding when we make our homes a semblance of perfection before we let our friends walk in the door?

At my house, I’m running around like a lunatic 30 minutes before friends arrive. I’m stuffing papers into random desk drawers, stashing the kids’ school planners and homework binders into the mudroom closet, and carrying 15 pairs of shoes and boots from the foyer upstairs into my bedroom. I’ve been known to put dirty cereal bowls and mugs into a dishwasher full of unemptied clean dishes just to hide the evidence.

My house is clean, mind you (I have an OCD tendency that causes me to run out of toilet bowl cleaner more often than is reasonable, even by Merry Maids standards), but many of my home’s surfaces are cluttered with “life” byproducts. Sometimes it’s hard to see the floors of my kids’ rooms. My solution is to just close their doors.

Why do most women I know insist on hiding that we’re real people leading real, messy, busy lives? Why do we fear the judgment of people we consider our friends when we invite them into our homes and cars? The “perfect household” illusion perpetuates status competition among women who should be letting that stuff go and supporting each other in every way possible.

I love the fact that Suzanne won’t let her fear of judgment hold her back from welcoming me and her other friends into her space. She’s decided to be real and to not care who sees it. And if I’m the kind of person who judges her based on superficial and esoteric criteria, maybe I then self-select myself right out of her friendship circle. Because why would she want a friend like that?

Being in Suzanne’s home, with all of its evidences of a busy and thriving family life, makes me feel happier about my own reality. My house looks just like hers does almost every single day (unless I’m having dinner guests – I can’t help myself; I clean and de-clutter like a madwoman). Many days, I look at the plane crash disaster that is my kitchen and feel woefully inadequate. How can I be a full time stay-at-home parent and not have time to keep my house looking “orderly”? And when I go to a friend’s house and see that it almost looks as if it’s been staged for a real estate showing, I feel oh so much worse.

Suzanne’s house makes me feel less anxious and more confident that I’m focusing on the right things in my life and in my family household. I’d rather spend time helping my kids organize their homework, further their artistic experimentation, and encourage them to pick up that book again and read it by having it constantly within eyeshot.

This illusion of household maintenance perfection is one we are too often compelled to admire and perpetuate. Suzanne decided not to play the game. I admire her for it. She’s a great inspiration to me.

I’m still working on my own compulsions and fear of judgment, and I have a long way to go. But just this morning, inspired by my time with Suzanne yesterday, I left the Time magazine I was reading last night out on the kitchen table and my used coffee mug out on the counter.

It’s a start.


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Ready to Work Again, Momma? Here’s How to Get the Job You Really Want.

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 2.55.08 PMIf you’ve been off the career track for a few years while staying home to raise a family, finding the path back into the work world can be overwhelming. Whether it’s part-time or full-time work you’re seeking, it’s hard to know where to start and how to secure fulfilling job that will set you back on your chosen career path.

The first thing many women do is hop onto job boards (such as,, or and begin searching for jobs in their local area. This can work, but rather than wait for jobs to be posted on those boards, there are some more proactive things you can do to beat the rest of the competition to the punch and find a job that is perfectly suited to you.

First, update your resume. Even if you’ve been a stay at home parent for years, you should have your resume in “ready to go” condition. You haven’t just been sitting at home up to your eyebrows in diapers and crayons all this time. You’ve been managing a household and even volunteering for causes you care about (church groups, school PTO, etc.). Be proud of those activities and find ways to showcase them on your resume.

If you don’t have a profile on LinkedIn, create one. These days, LinkedIn is essential. It’s like having an online resume, but you can choose what you display publicly (to people you haven’t accepted as “connections”) and what you keep private. If you can, contact your former colleagues and ask them to write recommendations on your LinkedIn profile. (In return, you can offer to write recommendations on their LinkedIn profiles, but only if you were honestly impressed with their skills!)

Check your Facebook privacy settings. This is important. These days, one of the first things potential employers do is search for applicants on Facebook. If you’re one of those people who doesn’t have a care in the world about who sees your political rants and drunken summer barbeque party pictures on Facebook, you need to care right now. This matters a lot to most prospective employers. Remember, even if you change your general privacy settings now, the stuff you posted in the past that was public remains public unless you go back to each post and change it. So do that, pronto!

Make a list of employers in your area for whom you’d like to work. Don’t rule any of them out because you think they wouldn’t be interested in a mom who’s paused her career path for a few years. Roll up your sleeves and do your internet research. Then, find contact information for the key people in hiring roles at each company. You can call them up and ask for the name and email address of the head of Human Resources, or you can often find that information on their corporate websites.

Write a personalized cover letter to key hiring individuals. Tell them specifically why you’re interested in working for them. Be sure to add some key detail from your research that will prove to them that you’ve done your homework to learn about their mission or business goals. Tell them, why you think your skills or background could benefit them in some way. Don’t forget to close your letter with your contact information, and tell them that you plan to follow up within a couple of weeks with a phone call. Then, in a couple of weeks, follow up with a phone call! Even if they have no current openings that match your skills, this will likely make a positive and memorable impression on the individual you’ve contacted, and it increases the likelihood that they’ll save your information, remember you and contact you about a future opening.

Consider part time work. Some employers may have a hard time finding someone who only wants to work part time. Most recent college graduates will rule out a part time position immediately. That could work to your advantage. The position could very well grow into a full time position.

Network with as many people as possible. Let people know you’re interested in finding work. Tell your friends, tell your neighbors, and tell your book group. If you know of people who do the kind of work you’re interested in, reach out to them and offer to take them to coffee or lunch. Ask them about their employers and how they found their jobs. That person might be likely to recommend you for a position if it opens up at their workplace or if they move on to a different job and need to hire someone to fill theirs.

Consider registering with a temporary staffing firm. Employers often mitigate the danger of hiring the wrong person by “test driving” an employee for a period of time through a temporary agency before hiring them directly.

Don’t grab the first job that comes your way if it’s not what you want. If you’ve been offered a position, give serious consideration to how it will position you for potential job growth. Will it be a meaningful addition to your resume in terms of skill development, or possibly a stepping stone along the career path you want? Don’t take a job just to have a job. You’ll regret it if the right job comes along a few months down the line, and you don’t want to be viewed as a “job hopper.” A reputation like that can catch up to you and burn your chances with prospective employers.

Finally, don’t sell yourself short, girlfriend. Just because you’ve taken a detour from your career path to do the worthwhile work of spending time with your family doesn’t mean your skills are irrelevant and useless. Although there are many, many fresh and newly graduated college applicants vying for jobs, many employers are seeking someone with experience, maturity and a proven track record. Keep your chin up, and your attitude positive. If you follow these suggestions, you will find yourself back in the work groove sooner than you think.

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