Goodbye, Things.

What’s mine is yours, Bumblebee.

Miles run yesterday: 9

Words written in my novel so far: 47,585

Size of men’s running shoe that is too small for my 11-year-old: 10

Goodbye, Things

(an homage to Goodnight Moon)

In the great messy garage

There was a grown man’s bike

And some running shoes

And a picture of…

A mommy singing the blues

And there were wide and narrow ties-es

And t-shirts all sizes

And an old Blackberry

Lots of things to carry

Goodbye things.

Goodbye bike

Goodbye shoes

Goodbye mommy singing the blues

Goodbye ties-es

t-shirts, all sizes

Goodbye phones

Goodbye short bones

Goodbye things that used to be mine

Goodbye things for all time.

My parents like to laugh about my sister. She had a penchant for things that were theirs.

My dad still remembers the time he returned from a speaking engagement with a gift of a nice men’s watch. My teenage sister walked in and said, “Oh! I could use that.”

Watch: gone…

Along with some of my mom’s clothes, some furniture, jewelry and various and sundry items. Things always look more appealing at my parents’ house. With my sister being the younger child, my parents found her appropriation techniques charming.

My son seems to be following in his aunt’s footsteps. He has already appropriated my husband’s (adult men’s) road bike as well as borrowed my husband’s favorite ties for dressy functions.

“I try to point him towards my least favorite ties, but he likes the expensive ones,” my husband says, shaking his head.

Yesterday, I went to buy running shoes. I picked out some for me and scanned the clearance section for some low-priced ones for my 11-year-old son. We have poured SuperFastBoneGrow solution all over him, and he can’t seem to stay the same size for more than two minutes.

I dubiously handled a size 10 men’s Karhu pair, a glorious black-and-orange festival of happiness for your feet. “Size 10? I don’t know. He’s really only a 9 and a half.” The store manager assured me I could bring them back if they didn’t work.

My son tried them on when he got home; they were TOO SMALL.



When my husband got home, he held his head in his hands, then marched out to the garage.

He returned carrying some of his favorite running shoes, gently worn, that never worked for running but that he started wearing around town; a distinction only men might understand: dressy running shoes.

My son tried them on: they worked.

My husband is trying to make sense of what is happening to his carefully constructed life: he wonders if giving his children the shirt off of his back is actually necessary.

He really likes his shirts.

I am concerned that I will come home one day to find a lock on our closet door. Our son probably wouldn’t be able to get past it because it would lack high-tech functionality like a case-sensitive password.

My daughter is not far behind; she eyes my jewelry with an experienced eye. She pretends to sort my necklaces to “help me out.” But I know the tricks of the Goodbye Gang.

Parents, join with me:

Goodbye ring

Goodbye bling

Goodbye every little thing.


Quidditch and Carolina in My Mind

What would you choose to do with your life if time had a more liquid quality?

Miles walked today: 2?

Percentage of students at Carolina who study abroad: 40

Slices of pizza eaten at Pepper’s, my old haunt (artichoke and sundried tomato): 1

When my dad and I went to orientation at my college the summer I left for school, I had a sinking moment when I thought: oh, shoot. They’re leaving me here for four years? Like, to live?

My dad was also having a whale of a time at orientation and couldn’t stop giggling with another dad in the back of the auditorium when the speaker talked about stuff like security and classes and meal plans. I suspected he might be having more fun than I was.

I had been trying to get the heck out of Dodge for the previous three years, at least. Atlanta wasn’t big enough for me. I was ready for bigger things… in a smaller place. So when I arrived a few days before school started to do Freshman Camp, I knew no one. Not a soul.

And I loved it.

There were lots of boys, lots of pizza and independence in spades.

I dated one boy, ate lots of pizza and called my parents in desperation when I had spent too much money on pizza and also made a stupid subtraction error, to the tune of $100 ($100!), in my checkbook.

We didn’t have cell phones back then, so plans to meet up with each other often went awry back when time was a more liquid entity.

Time? That’s for old people. I remember seeking out free phones in campus buildings to call empty dorm rooms.

There were huge parties and endless hours with friends when you had nothing better to do than fill out a crossword puzzle or watch “Guiding Light.” And there were times when home felt much more than 450 miles away.

College is a different place today.

Everyone has a laptop, a cell phone, an iPod. They are connected. Students start small businesses and eat in newly renovated cafterias with Subway sandwich cafes and modern architecture.

Today, my BFF and I took our four kids to my alma mater. Her daughter is a freshman in high school, and I subscribe to the belief that kids can’t shoot for a goal unless they know it’s there.

We went to the old business school building, which is now the new journalism school building, and we listened to the orientation speech.

The speaker talked about out-of-state students, studying abroad, the honors program and about 500 clubs you could join.

“The Quidditch Club?” My friend’s daughter perked up.

The admissions counselor/daytime comedian talked about students on broomsticks in the Quad, trying to catch another student who had painted himself in gold paint.

Wow. I felt old.

And my friend’s daughter was ready to sign up. She might start filling out her application tonight, listing Quidditch as her major.

My son wanted detailed instructions about where to go to get food.

We took a tour, and when they saw the model dorm room, my son asked, “Where’s the rest of it? Where does the other person sleep?” I pointed up on the loft. “Oh….” he said, eyes glazed.

My daughter wanted to know where they kept the TV.

And I wondered what the mailboxes in the common area were used for anymore.

We used to wait for letters from home or letters from friends at other universities. If we were really lucky, a friend would send a mix tape with songs we had never heard before… songs that would become our favorites until the tape wore out from overuse.

Why would a student need a mailbox today? Texts from friends arrive instantaneously. Professors email answers to questions. Even bills are delivered electronically.

The buildings felt haunted with the person I used to be: a goofy dreamer with anxiety about the unmapped future, the one who met and befriended people who played Frisbee with me and went to aerobics with me and talked to me late at night and comforted me when things got tough.

Those people don’t exist anymore, at least not in the way I remember them. Every time I saw an adult my age or older, I had that kind of flash like on the TV show, “Cold Case”: they morphed into what I imagined they used to be.

There we were, parents who wish for our kids that they go away to college and have the same wonderful, heartbreaking, earth-shattering, lonely, friendship-ful time we did.

And maybe, just maybe, get to play some Quidditch.

Update: In the Wild, Graduation Style

I wish you had scratch-and-sniff screens for this gardenia. Sublime!

Words written in novel so far: 15,932 (too many other commitments this week!)

Days of summer completed: 1

Pool trips so far: 1

I know you are all sitting on the edge of your computer chairs wondering how many tears I left behind at my graduations. Well, none actually.

Hours spent at my son’s 5th grade graduation: 2. Hours spent at high school graduation for work: 1 1/2. Seems backwards, doesn’t it?

High school graduations in my county have morphed into speedy, efficient cattle calls where parents are seated at floor level and must watch their students walk across the stage and shake hands on a large screen. Speeches are regimented, kept to under three to five minutes, and contain nothing juicy that a journalist might cheer about.

NOTE: Judging by the crime stories out of Birmingham, Alabama, I am living in the wrong city for interesting quotes. Birmingham’s police officers give the reporters something to write about there. Colorful quotes, good local flavor. Here, not so much.

While the caps and gowns have gone to all black (showing gravitas?), the festive atmosphere is more like my impression of a very old marketplace. Babies, wheelchairs, crutches, people talking in normal tones of voice during the ceremony. And yes, despite begging by administrators, plenty of “Gooooooo Errrriiiicccc!”s. One unexpected shriek in the row behind me almost popped me out of my chair.

My son’s 5th grade graduation was more tame and more personal, as you might expect. I did fine until the principal, who we have known since my son started kindergarten, started talking about parents who have come to her office and cried.

I’m pretty sure she was talking about me.

I remember the counselor who told my son he would be sent to the principal’s office if he worried. I remember the horrible handwriting that was marked “illegible” on his report card in second grade. I remember the End of Grade tests that stressed him out until he took them and realized they were nothing to fear. I remember the first grade teacher who loved math and inspired my son to love it, too.

And I remember crying in the principal’s office. I haven’t even cried in front of some of my closest friends, but at our principal’s round table, I was a blabbering mess.

One of my friends described parenthood as being cut wide open and walking around open to the elements; you are completely laid bare and vulnerable. All the time. When a bully threatens my child, I imagine myself like the Cowardly Lion, fists raised: “Put ’em up, put ’em up. I’ll fight you both together if you want. I’ll fight you with one paw tied around my back.”

When your child struggles with a concept, a teacher, a negative behavior, a fear… you can feel like Prometheus with the eagle chomping on your liver, only to have the pain return anew each time your child meets a seemingly insurmountable challenge.

Every triumph is so sweet, every “I love you, Mom” afterwards so rewarding.

Perhaps the reason 5th and 8th grade graduations have come into being is because we need to celebrate the mile markers along the way: finishing 5th grade is akin to completing a 10K race. Congratulations–no small feat!

But the bittersweet part is that raising a child is in fact, a marathon. A little over six miles done, but over 26 to complete.

And then… well, my parents still call and tell me to go see a doctor when I’m sick.

Life After Learning to Cut Grapes

Ah, butterfly… you were once a mere caterpillar.

My 11-year-old son’s shoe size: men’s 9 1/2

His weight when he was born: 9 lbs. 4 oz.

Times I have told him no: 8,453,921

Yesterday, the pediatrician asked my son to lie back on the examining table, and when he did, my son’s Sauconys stuck way up off the table.

“Whoa. What size shoe do you wear?” the pediatrician asked.

“Nine and a half.”

I felt proud and recognized it as the silly response it was. I did not make my son’s feet big. I did not grow him tall by peddling a bike at warp speed for several years to increase the inches.

And yet.

My friend’s almost-high-school-aged daughter recently wondered why her parents weren’t so happy with a bad grade. “Why do you care about my grades? They’re my grades.”

Oh, the karma building up for her in that one response. Karma: 1, Child: -14.

Parenting can elicit some weird emotions and change us in ways we never expected. Here is a cursory glance at what has changed for me in the past 11-plus years:

1. I learned how to say no. You might think this is a given. But look around at Target; there are parents who have never gained this gift.

Before kids, people used to ask me to stay late at work, take on their responsibilities, watch their children, and attend functions at ballrooms with white tablecloths and long speeches. I couldn’t say no.

Try one year at home with an infant who likes to play with electrical cords, and you learn “no” pretty darn quickly.

Now, it’s bigger things: “Mom, I want to go out on the main road on my bike; it’s so boring around here.”

Yeah, the main road where people have been known to go 20 miles over the speed limit and off into the grass, killing trees in the process.

Ummmmm… “No.”

“Mom, everyone else is buying ice cream from the ice cream truck, please please please please please…”

Seriously? Our ice cream truck comes through at 5:30 p.m. Right before dinner.


I am officially the mean mom of the neighborhood.

2. I learned how to cut grapes. I never thought I’d be cutting a grape in half. I am quite sure I lost a couple of years of my life cutting grapes when my kids were young. I may never get them back, people.

Before I quit my public relations job to stay home, I worked at a hospital. Other than obvious ongoing issues like asthma and chronic illness, the top reasons for emergency room visits were choking on hot dogs and getting hurt on trampolines. This is an official public service announcement: cut kids’ hot dogs lengthwise and ban trampoline usage. You may hate me for saying this, but: there is no safe trampoline.

Okay. Serious injury averted.

3. I learned how to prioritize in a big picture kind of way. I get stressed. You can ask anyone who knows me and hears my voice going up a register when the kids can’t get their shoes on and get out the door.

But as far as worrying on a daily basis, I’m feeling pretty good if they have clothes on when they leave the house and don’t have any major illnesses. I’ve heard a rumor that nudity is frowned upon in the public schools.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I have a weird tooth thing, so dirty teeth and the fact that they might rot in your mouth really creeps me out. Clean teeth are, like, mandatory. Eating, showering, laughter and homework are also key.

Everything else can go jump in a lake.

4. I learned how to break the rules. Sadly, I am a rule follower. I may have a teesy problem with going a few miles over the speed limit at times, but for the most part, I have navigated life in a mannerly way.

Having kids has made me a renegade. Try to get the image of me on a motorcycle, wearing badass leather out of your mind.

But when my daughter starts worrying that a substitute will get mad at her for tossing a ball during a sanctioned game that ended up hitting something and knocking it over, I tell her to tell the substitute to go jump in a lake.

I also like to run through the halls at their school. Shhh. Don’t tell anyone.

5. I learned that I know how to teach absolutely no skill that I learned as a kid. If you were to drop in, fly-on-the-wall style, on our family one weekend afternoon, you might see weird stuff.

Namely, me trying to explain how to blow a bubble with bubblegum. I know, y’all, there’s YouTube. But I am trying to be a good parent here.

The things I can do (passably well) that I stink at teaching, include but are not limited to: blowing bubbles, whistling, cartwheeling, somersaulting (dang, that hurts), sewing, tying a shoe, probably skipping.*

* I failed skipping in kindergarten.

6. I learned that if there were 600 million people crowded around our city, and I had lost my kids, I would recognize their heads anywhere. They say animal moms can find their babies by smelling them, but my sense of smell isn’t that great.

It is uncanny how, as a parent, you can pick your child out of a million other similarly dressed kids.

7. I learned that no matter how easy a kid you think you were to raise, you weren’t. The cat is out of the bag: you may have been a loving, rule-following, good-grade-getting kid. Your parents likely still agonized over you, if they had any parenting gene worth having. You might have only eaten white foods or wanted to wear only purple or idolized some rocker who bit the heads off of ferrets.

If you’re a parent, you’ve figured this out by now. If you are not yet a parent and in your 20s, you are likely still living under the assumption that your parents had an easy ride. Please give your mom an extra hug for me this Sunday. She may need it.

Don’t forget your moms this weekend and all the shoes she bought you as your feet grew at lightning speed! Happy Mother’s Day in advance!


The Reward: Great Performances and… a Carnival

Weapon of torture? Or childhood friend?

Keys on a piano: 88

Piano recitals I performed in as a kid: 9

Butterflies in my stomach before I performed: 598; and when my children perform: 27

1. Performance Anxiety. As I used to ride in the backseat to piano recitals, wearing an uncomfortable dress and the now-antiquated nylons, I had a sort of death-march mentality. It is not understating things to say that I hated piano recitals.

I didn’t mind playing the piano. Practicing got a little old from time to time, like when I would cry and throw myself on the floor and my mom would say, “Yes,  you still have to practice,” and I would beg and offer up my first-born child that I would have 15 years in the future, and she would turn her back in a cold refusal to bargain with terroristic pre-teens.

But I really, really, hated piano recitals. I hated the neat rows of seats so that you could count down to your turn at the bench. I hated the nylons that slid down my legs as I walked. I hated the way my stomach threatened to secede from the rest of my internal organs.

2. Carnival Musical. Yesterday was my kids’ piano recital.

It was like a carnival. There were balloons, a bassist, a percussionist, keyboardist, gifts for the performers, video cameras and clapping just for getting up and walking to the piano. Their teacher has a beautifully accented English, and he says, “Yes, yes,” as they play; a constantly upbeat Antonio Banderas type. It almost made me want to perform there. Almost.

We switched piano teachers last summer because their old teacher had all the qualities I was trying to avoid: an anxious attitude, strict dress code and negative reinforcement, long months of build-up to the recital with the same piece of music and a buckle-down-and-get-to-work mentality.

Yesterday, we were treated to students who played with the other instrumentalists, students who forgot notes, students who used the music, the teacher assisting the newest students with hand placement and a special jazz performance by the teacher and his band.

What a nice change!

3. Music Therapy. My piano teacher from about age 11 to 18 looked like Snow White. She served as Chief Musical Advisor and Therapist.

In a one-on-one relationship, kids can thrive if the adults in their lives seem to notice they exist. Every week, I would go in, and we would talk. I would play Beethoven or Grieg or Mozart or Bach, we would discuss what I could do better and tips for practicing, and then we would talk some more. I did learn to play, but I also had another adult in my life who loved music and cared what happened to me. Priceless.

4. Practical practice. Music is fun. Music should be fun.

Practicing is not always fun. Note to parents out there: kids don’t want to practice. I didn’t, and I didn’t even have a cell phone or Nintendo DS or Netflix or lacrosse games or ashram yoga competing for my attention.

Heck, the big competition for my time was a tape recorder where I could make up silly commercials with my friends and books that spooked me like when a girl twin astrally projected out of her body, and then her twin who was in a coma was able to steal her body and walk around and fool everyone.

But still.

Luckily, I have a mom who was really good at being tough. Coincidentally, she became a piano teacher just like my grandmother had been. Practicing was non-negotiable.

Today, I can play more than Chopsticks.

When my kids try to bargain with me about practice, I put on my tough face. When I put on my tough face, I go all Tiger Mother on them and astrally project the Nice Mommy part away. This is because when they offer to give me their first-born children in return for not practicing, I won’t be tempted.

But I might take a picture of them lying on the floor crying and carrying on with my handy-dandy iPhone. I’ve heard the movies will be great to show to my grandkids someday.

The Road Not Taken Because It’s Not There Anymore

The Pool. Good then, good now.

Cents I used to carry in case I needed to call home. From a pay phone: 25

Backpacks I owned before college: 0 (they were so uncool)

Letters I used to write per week. On paper. With complete sentences: 2

News flash: things change.

As I approach 40, my older child is about to start middle school, and each May is beginning to feel like the time I should make Christmas purchases because I know the holidays are about to come around (again!), I think about how things have changed and how they have stayed the same. Walk with me through the antiquated, bygone roads of my childhood:

1. Phones. Our son wants one. Really bad. Really, really bad. He may, in fact, be the only almost-sixth-grader who does not own an iPhone. And my heart aches for him.

When I started middle school, my mom and dad both worked. I stuck a quarter in my pocket and walked the three-quarters of a mile to school with my two buddies, carrying my violin case and a stack of books. It was uphill both ways. No snow, but like-Africa-hot can apply here.

If it rained on the way to school or the way back, their moms might take pity on us and drive us there. If not, tough cookies.

There weren’t any pay phones on the side of the road in our neighborhood. My mom and dad couldn’t have done anything anyway… they were in their cars, on the way to work. In retrospect, I’m not sure what the quarter was for. But it was a lot cheaper than carrying an iPhone.

I would gladly supply my son with a quarter, but he is oddly disinterested.

2. Afterschool Activities. After school, we didn’t watch TV or get driven all over Timbuktu to Ashram Yoga or Fencing or Getting in Touch with Your Inner Child or Lacrosse. We went over to whichever home had a mom who could tune us out the best and jumped around to loud music and called it dancing. This went on for two hours, at a minimum. It was the first time I realized my stomach could sweat. And I thought it was cool.

We also ate huge bowls of ice cream and mixed in: peanut butter, sprinkles, chocolate syrup, caramel, butterscotch and M&Ms. We didn’t get sick from eating such a feast, and we never put on weight. Our legs resembled those of a fawn, narrow and long and unencumbered with cellulite. Sigh.

3. Terrorism. We didn’t need to worry about Al Qaeda or terrorist attacks, because we were pretty sure the Russians were going to wipe us all out with nuclear bombs. Those of us who survived would need to know how to speak Russian, and I wasn’t great with languages.

We lived near a major Air Force base, so the coach who taught us geography said the best thing to do was to go out onto the runway and wait for the bombs to drop. Better to be close to the epicenter instead of still alive and feeling the effects of nuclear fallout.

I did not think Sting’s “I Hope the Russians Love Their Children Too” lyrics were tongue-in-cheek. I really hoped. Like, for real.

4. Video Games. I was not good at video games, but my sister was. She played “Pitfall” like a champ, passing level after level, leaping on alligator heads and not getting chomped, swinging on vines in perfect synchronization…

Later, she said, “I liked it, but it never went anywhere.” It was the same few screens, over and over.

When a fellow blogger and her two teenage sons visited us this weekend, they showed my son the app, “Temple Run.” I talked to the older boy about how video games never used to do much more after the first few screens. Guess what? They still don’t. “Temple Run” has dodging and jumping… over and over.

5. Safety. We were in middle school, and we were tough. PE teachers didn’t worry about whether we would get hurt. They let us practice things like archery and said, in a laid-back kind of way, “Now, don’t walk behind the targets while someone is shooting.” Sometimes people did, and too bad for them.

During the summer, we hung out at the pool by ourselves. If we were lucky, a mom would drive us up there. But usually, we walked through a number of backyards in our flip-flops and only left the pool during adult swim and obvious thunderclaps.

The lifeguard was a druggie, but we didn’t know and quite frankly, didn’t care. Could he save us if we started drowning? No, but he sure was cute.

Sunscreen? Why in the world would you want to remain lily-white? The Bain du Soleil lady was our idol, and we compared forearm coloration with enviable scientific intensity, never again applied to something as mundane as mousetrap cars or high school chemistry experiments.

6. TV and movies. We all watched the same TV shows. There weren’t a whole lot of choices, especially for those of us who distinctly remember getting a color TV and whose parents thought cable TV was the work of the devil. I still remember staying up late with my mom watching “Friday Night Videos,” the poor child’s version of MTV.

My friends and I were horrified at the underarm hair on the lead singer of Dexy’s Midnight Runners. “Come On Eileen” was a song best listened to on the radio; it may, in fact, have led to MTV’s eventual switch to reality TV. Some things don’t need to be seen to be appreciated.

And when we wanted to see a movie, even multiple times, it was a mom or dad who was forced to either sit through the beloved movie or cover pick-up and drop-off. I saw “Back to the Future” three times in the theater, and “Pretty in Pink” was part of a friend’s birthday party: fifteen middle-schoolers kicking the backs of seats at the new movie theater in town. Divine.

Now, my kids often say they’ll wait until it comes out on DVD. No biggie.

What do you remember about middle school? What are you glad about that’s changed, and what do you wish kids today still got to experience?

A Stroll Down the Nature Walks of My Youth

Bee. Flower. Yep. Seen it.

Nature walks, Indian mounds, forts and gardens we visited when I was a kid: 547

Average temperature (in degrees F) when we visited: 97

Amount of whining involved in any trip with me as a child: too much

I went on a field trip with my son’s fifth grade yesterday. We were at the school at 6 a.m. to get on the buses and arrived back at 8:30 p.m.

When I am nominated for sainthood, please vote for me.

We visited a battleship, an aquarium, the beach and a fort. I was in charge of four boys. We spent the most time at the battleship’s gunnery set-up, with all four of them crawling over the various killing implements, trying to figure out which one would do the most damage in the least amount of time.

Here are my thoughts and memories about sightseeing; about being a kid and being an adult with kids:

1. Nature walks. My parents were much better than I am about taking us around to see whichever sights there were to see. Their favorite was nature walks. Nature walks are, well, free, and they are extremely nature-y.

As an expert now in the area of nature walks, I can tell you that no matter what the venue, there will be a nature walk nearby. The Washington Monument? I’m sure there’s a nature walk. The Cape Hatteras lighthouse? There’s a nature walk within spitting distance. Grandfather Mountain? I can definitely attest to that one, because my husband and I started walking on it, and I had on flip-flops. It wasn’t exactly a flip-flop kind of nature walk.

When I used to whine about nature walks, the air being stagnant and 98 degrees, the bugs getting all excited at the tribe of four dumb humans stumbling onto another feast opportunity, my parents would always say, “I bet your kids are gonna love nature walks!” Then they would laugh maniacally.

They do.

I recently took my kids to a little lake nearby to throw a frisbee and jump around. They ran up and down a hill for 30 minutes. Up. And down. And up. And down.

Then…  they volunteered to go on a nature walk. I know. Weird, right? We started walking around that lake, and it was all nature-y, and I was fine because it wasn’t too hot, and I had on running shoes, and we all talked and had fun. And after almost an hour and a half, my daughter said, “Do you think we’re almost there?” And I assured her we were, although I was starting to doubt it myself.

They never once complained. That, my friends, is some kind of weird karma.

2. Forts. I love history. Really, I do. I almost majored in it in college.

However, forts are not my most favorite thing in the world. Yesterday, we visited a fort with my son’s class.

We listened to a guy talk about weapons; he was pretty entertaining, talking about murdering people and how the bayonet they had back then was designed to kill you slowly after causing copious infection. Now, it’s been outlawed by the Geneva Convention.

I wanted to throw in that AK-47s might be the real reason bayonets aren’t today’s most popular killing machine, but I restrained myself. It was thrilling; the boys were completely silent.

But then we started walking around this path that was basically around this bunch of odd little hills, and then there was a marsh (ahem, wetlands) and lots of wind.

My son pulls on my sleeve and whispers, “This is pretty boring, Mom.”

To which I said, in a totally grown-up and appropriate way, “I know.” I even added an eye roll. “My mom and dad took me to lots of forts, especially when it was really hot.”

He looked at me with pity and said, “Dude.”


3. Battleships. Boys like battleships. I don’t know why.

Maybe it’s the same kind of thing like when Lyle Lovett was asked, “You seem to attract a lot of women. What’s your secret? What have you learned about women?” And he said, “Women like to eat outside.”

Battleships have claustrophobic little rooms and labyrinthine passageways where you lose track of which direction is fore and aft. The bathrooms offered no privacy, and there was only a tiny surgical room, even though the movie they showed described several of these ships having enormous holes blown out of them.

They reek of war and salt water and metal, and every boy I asked said that the battleship was the best part of the field trip.

We were eating lunch, and I overheard some of the boys talking.

“Dude, did you see that well? Like, what if you fell into it?”


“No, well, actually, if you read the plaque, it said it wasn’t a real well. It said…” the boy broke off in mid-sentence, sensing the metaphorical sharks circling. It was the sound of his popularity in serious jeopardy. “I mean, I didn’t really read it, but the name of it just…. nevermind.”

4. The beach. I am firmly of the opinion that beaches are for getting wet. There is, like, all this water and stuff. Looking at all the water without getting in is like looking at a thick slice of homemade chocolate cake and saying, “Well, that’s some nice cake.”

Guess where we went yesterday? The beach. It was in between lots of other activities, and the teachers had prepped the kids for weeks, telling them they absolutely, positively could not get near the water.

Yep. You guessed it. Several of them rushed the water like malicious little lemmings.

And I just want to say, I almost did, too. It’s a pain to be a grown-up sometimes.

5. Gardens. Gardens are pretty. They have lots of flowers. And nature. And they’re peaceful.

They’re not great places for kids.

My parents took us to lots of gardens. And now, in a kind of hazing mentality, I have taken our kids to gardens, too.

We went a few weeks ago when they had the day off school. My friend and I took our four (combined) kids to the nearby Duke Gardens. It was hot that day, just like I remember.

She started out by yelling, “Don’t run!” as they dashed away down the garden paths. Isn’t that silly?

Garden paths are not walking paths for kids; they are mazes, designed for getting lost. Quickly. Let them. The funny thing about kids is that eventually, they get hungry. Or thirsty. They’ll find you.

Our kids managed to completely destroy the lunch of at least one college-aged couple in love who thought the gardens would be a great place for a peaceful, romantic lunch date.

One day, that will be my kids and their dates. And I hope they will remember how dumb they used to think people are when they’re in love. Karma again.

I hope you have enjoyed my meandering journey down a nature path. The next time you go, remember to bring water, wear sturdy shoes and never, ever tell your kids to walk. There will be plenty of time to walk when they’re 40.

Potato People and Why I Wear Dresses To This Day

My daughter's artwork, age 3 (left) and age 4 (right). At right, we (I'm the one with black hair) are going to visit my son at school.

Potato people pictures our family was depicted in: 127-ish

Dresses I wore between 2000 and 2006: 1

Dresses I wear now: 17

The truth hurts. And when you are a main subject of an artist’s body of work, you must face certain truths on a daily basis.

My daughter is an artist to the core. While my son spent the first 10 years of his life never alighting in one place for more than 2.3 seconds, my daughter has a calm, artistic nature; an “observe and record” sort of personality.

We have plastic bins full of her artwork and notebooks full of early attempts at cursive. Two-year-old, very controlled attempts at cursive. (My son drew a line across a page and called it a day.)

From her very early art pieces, we noticed trends… certain truths about ourselves we may never have noticed without the black-and-white proof in front of us.

1. The Potato People. Early on, our family members were depicted as Potato People in various poses on many different pages. We were like slightly off-kilter eggs with sticklike appendages. After my daughter drew the first few Potato People pictures at maybe age 2 1/2 or 3, my husband picked up on a disturbing issue: my son, my daughter and I were upright, active potato people waving our arms and moving about the page.

My husband? He was a lumpy, lying-down Potato Person paying homage to one of those Salvador Dali liquified clocks. He looked as if he needed a pump or two of air before he could stand again. Never, not once, was he a standing-up Potato Person, even after he mentioned this concerning issue to my daughter. Her pencil kept getting to his illustration and lumpifying him.

Maybe I should backtrack and tell you something about my husband: he is one of the most hyper, active people I know. For the first five years of our relationship, he never sat down. Not once.

In the early stages of our courtship, we stayed up very, very late. As the clock hit 2, and then 3 a.m., my husband would still be regaling me with awesome stories. And I would “uh-huh” between snores. The unwavering energy level in those early days should have been a red flag. Until our children were born, his energy level was super-hard-core.

But the truth came out a few months after the Potato People series of drawings. The family sat down to watch several months of home videos. I started noticing a weird trend I had never noticed in real life: my husband was lying down in every single video.

There he was, lying down on a Saturday morning, on the carpet in the family room as the kids rolled cars over him.

There he was, lying down as my daughter whacked him with a wooden train.

There he was, lying down while the kids piled on top of him, screaming.

Our pint-sized family chronicler had hit on something we never would have noticed otherwise. I came to think of my over-achieving, hyper, do-stuff-all-the-time husband as Mr. Closet Coach Potato.

2. Skirting the issue. A while after the Potato People incident, my daughter’s drawings took on more sophistication, with full outfits and hairstyles and proportional appendages. The men had spiky hair and sometimes ties, and the women wore appropriate accessories, like glasses or earrings.

It took several drawings in this era of her work for me to notice that all other women were wearing skirts or dresses, but I was always, always wearing pants. Maybe jeans, maybe capri pants, perhaps even shorts. But never, ever a piece of feminine attire.

“Why does every other woman wear a dress in your pictures, but I don’t?” I asked my daughter one day.

“Mommy,” she sighed. “You never, ever wear dresses.”

I started thinking about it and concluded she was right. I spent the bulk of my day crawling around on the floor, an activity not conducive to wrap dresses and heels. It didn’t explain why every other non-dress-wearing female we knew got cute clothes in my daughter’s artwork, but it did force me to make the transition out of sweatpants and t-shirts with holes in them. My husband started a design school fund for her shortly after that conversation.

3. No detail is too small. Shortly after my daughter started adding elaborate details to her drawings, details we hadn’t noticed before began cropping up. She drew my mom with earrings and glasses, but I lacked either. My husband got three-day stubble in a less-than-flattering portrait, and in one detailed drawing of the preschool playground where we were supposedly visiting, she posted a sign (misspelled) “Grow ups can go in the sad.” It was a form of protest: there was a sand pit, but they wouldn’t allow the kids to enter it, because they might get sandy (??). A future of social activism for our artist daughter, perhaps?

When she got to kindergarten, both she and I had a rough transition. I thought I was good with it. I was proud of her growing independence, and she was certainly academically ready. But she had some difficult times that fall… I did, too. My son was in school for two years before my daughter headed to kindergarten, and we had become best buddies. We checked the rounders at Target, went for coffee at Starbucks and colored pictures after lunches at home watching, “The Little Mermaid.”

When my husband and I went in for a conference mid-year, the teacher pulled out a large sheet of paper.

“I think this says it all,” she said, unfolding the manilla masterpiece.

The class had been asked to draw the classroom, adding details where needed. The other kids finished in two days. Our daughter was still working on hers a month later. Each day, she grabbed stolen moments to sketch in the calendar board (with the exact number of squares), the tables (both round and square) and the kitchen center. My husband and I were silent, looking at each tiny, architectural detail.

My daughter is 9 years old now. She is going through a manga-ish phase, with people’s eyes resembling bush babies’. She says interesting things, like, “Subtraction and division make me think of wintertime.”

The lesson I have learned from living with an artist: aesthetics are important. Keeping yourself and your house clean are paramount. Wear dresses at all available opportunities. And never, ever lounge on the living room floor. You will be forever immortalized as a lumpy Potato Person.

In the Land of Lemonade Stands

Do not forget the cups.

Weeks in the summer: 11

Cups of lemonade sold (to non-our-street-dwellers) at a typical stand: 5

Cups of lemonade drunk by neighbor kids and mine: 46

I don’t remember the last time I was bored.

It was probably in late 2000, when I was on bed rest with my son and everyone at work forgot I existed and I kept turning on TLC’s “A Baby Story” and coming to the conclusion that I’d already seen that particular episode… usually where someone was having a water birth with 25 members of their extended family watching.

My kids get bored on a fairly regular basis. This may mean that I have failed as a parent and that they will end up in therapy talking about how I didn’t give them tools to create a rich and fulfilling life.

They are out of school this week for Spring Break. Spring Break is also known as Pre-Summer for those of us who spend lots of time with our kids. It’s a reminder of the first few weeks of summer, when they yell at each other, “Nuh-uh! You are the one who never holds open the door for me!” And “All I want to do is play with her, but she won’t do everything I tell her to!”

They also say things like, “I’m bored.”

I remember saying that to my mom and dodging out of the way afterwards, because she often looked like she wanted to slap me. Sometimes I even said it when there were friends readily available to me, and we were both (or all) bored. My mom practiced her eye roll on those days.

Usually, those of us in the depths of boredom would loll about on the floor, the ennui draining all lifeforce out of us.

Then, we would invariably pop up and say, “I know! Let’s sew strange monster creatures out of felt!” And we would go and cut out lots of different colors of felt and sketch out weird monster things and get all excited for an hour or so. Until we remembered that we couldn’t sew.

Then we would be bored again. Lolling. Thrashing. Cursing of the skies.

But the sky would make us think about the creek running through my front yard, and we would step into our flip flops and start out on an adventure of mapping the creek, which involved lots of mud and rocks and sticks and climbing and getting very muddy. Afterwards, we would go inside and drip all manner of mud up the staircase and take a shower, singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the top of our lungs. (I still know all the words very well because of our practice sessions.)

It was difficult to be bored after wading in the creek for hours and getting clean and having sung very loudly. So I would ask my mom if my friend could stay for dinner, and my mom would pretend that she wanted me to give her more notice, but really she didn’t care. And we would eat lots of food and be happy until the next day when we would forget how to be productive again.

My kids spend time outside playing every single day. Unless it is 34 degrees, and hail the size of turnips is pinging off the metal roof of our front porch.

Most days, they find something to do with other bored neighbor kids. On other days, they amble up to me and say, “There’s nothing to doooooo,” and my eyes roll around in my head.

That’s when I yell out, “Potions!”

Or “Lemonade stand!”

Or even, dangit, “Hostage crisis!”

1. Potions. My kids might have outgrown Potions; we’ll see when the weather gets a little warmer. A neighbor dad used to bring a big, orange Home Depot pail over to our driveway (our driveway, you’ll note), and about seven kids would go to town, filling the bucket with water, dirt, pieces of grass, dead beetles, pom-pom streamer vinyl and other things large, scary birds might collect to feather their nests. You might think this game would wrap up in about 10 minutes. You would be wrong. Hours, I tell you. Hours. Of. Fun.

2. Lemonade stand. I send the kiddos out early in the day to proclaim lemonade stand time in the afternoon to the neighbor kids. Then we deranged, puppet loving parents bake brownies or chocolate chip cookies or lemon bars and seal them in sandwich bags. I whip out a can of frozen Minute Maid lemonade concentrate and fill a pitcher. I usually forget the cups and have to run up to the grocery store. Sucker. Then the kids proceed to make signs, set up the table and put out their wares. The brownies melt in the sun, the chocolate chips leak all over the sandwich bags, and the ice only lasts in the cooler for a half hour at a time, because someone usually leaves the cooler open. The lemonade gets a lot of traffic. From our kids. The people who drive by our street on a normal day must decide to take a different route home, because no one stops or sees the kids yelling.

The pattern of happiness goes something like this:

“Mo-om! No one is coming to our lemonade stand!”

“I bet they will soon. It’s getting later in the afternoon. Why don’t you have a cookie?”

Silence. Chewing.

“Come on, everyone! Let’s go advertise for our stand! We’ve got lemonade to sell, people!”

Sugar low. Sugar high. Crash. Repeat. Pack up for dinner. My work here is done.

3. Hostage crisis. This is not in any way similar to Jimmy Carter’s hostage crisis. I don’t know exactly what goes on in this one, but it requires lots of yelling, rolling around on the grass and taking people to jail, which is interestingly in the same locale as the grass-rolling-around place. Poison has been mentioned. As I said earlier: therapy may be in our little darlings’ futures.

4. Police. All children ride bikes up and down the street, with utter disregard for one another’s limbs. Chasing after another kid on a bike making siren noises is what is known as “Police.” I think of it as “Potential Death Game.”

The ways this is wrong and scary: riding forwards but looking backwards, shrieking and hurtling towards stationary objects like mailboxes, veering sharply left or right when your pursuer is not skilled in defensive driving techniques.

When the Police game begins, I yell, “OK! Time to go inside and be bored for a while!”

At least with boredom, you get to keep all of your limbs. Just so you can loll about on them for another day.