Aug 2011

September, the New New Years

CrayonsI’ve never been a big fan of New Years, mostly because I believe that “fun” is a feeling that needs to evolve and that depends not only on the people with whom you’re spending time (granted, that’s a biggie) but also on the overall vibe of the moment (or, better yet, a series of good-vibe moments all deliciously following one another). So deciding that the moment the clock strikes 12:00 is the moment WE MUST BE HAVING FUN RIGHT THIS VERY SECOND has always struck me as ludicrous and contrived and sort of stupid. And really, does anyone truly enjoy watching a big ball slowly drop? What is the fun in that, exactly?

My other big beef with New Years is the timing: As far as I’m concerned, January 1 represents the start of the trifecta of awfulness: January, February and March. (I love summer, and I don’t ski.)

I will admit that I love the whole concept of resolutions, and I make a bunch of them every year with my husband, brother and sister in law, in what has become a fun tradition of deciding what we feel absolutely must be achieved this year. Our resolutions are nothing too lofty – we originally gained inspiration by one of my brother’s resolutions several years ago, when he resolved to buy a utensil organizer so that he could find a spoon more easily. Go ahead and smirk if you must, but the goal of “use up all gift cards by December” is far easier to cross off the list with certainty than “eat more healthfully.”

But outside of our resolutions, I’ve also never really shared others’ opinions that New Years represents a clean slate. We don’t tend to vacation during winter break, so there’s no feeling of “going back to work” with any rejuvenating R&R under our belts. Yardwork is impossible, the windows can’t be opened to usher in fresh air, and my closets are mostly empty anyway because all of the **** mittens, hats, boots and scarves that are usually crammed in there are instead draped all over my kitchen.

So for me, September is my New Years. My clean slate month. My time to shake the cobwebs away and look forward to a fresh start. This feeling is tied inextricably to the start of school (I shudder to think how I would have ended up if year-round school had been around when I was a child). I love crisp white paper, spiral notebooks that haven’t spiraled out of control, perfectly sharpened pencils, fully loaded markers, a virgin Crayola box. Backpacks with working zippers, lunch boxes without questionable grossness lodged in the seams, shoes without holes. Seriously, Back-to-School season is an OCDer’s nirvana.

Turns out, my kids feel the same way.

When asked what they’re most looking forward to about starting school, they also think of its newness. They wonder who their classmates will be, who their teacher will be, and what they’ll learn. But mostly, they’re just looking forward to using their new backpacks (secret compartments! Cool zippers!), getting all of their never-before-used-by-another-human markers and pencils and crayons, and cracking open a few books for the very first time.

The third grader, in fact, clings to the hope that his new Crayola box will contain the same perfect blue crayon that carried him through second grade. “The blue of the most perfectly perfect blue sky,” which was worn to a pitiable nub by June.

The first grader is eager to try out a new classroom with desks, and he’s fiercely hoping that he’ll get to turn right, down the first grade wing at Mt. Daniel Elementary, instead of turning left, down the wing that houses both first grade and kindergarten classrooms. (Hey, it’s the little things that count!)

Yes, we’re all crying over and commiserating the end of summer: It’s been a glorious season of lazing around at home, swimming and diving and leaping at the pool, playing in the waves at the beach, visiting friends in far-flung places, and seeing some of our nation’s wonders for the first time. There’s been plenty of funnel cake, corn on the cob, beefsteak tomatoes from roadside stands, watermelon and root beer floats. It’s enough to make me wish that summer could just drift on forever.

But I know that they’re ready for new challenges and new experiences, and I know that it’ll be a relief to both my husband and me to no longer be the sole recipients of the out-of-left-field questions they ask every day. (“Why is there snow on top of Mt. Everest if heat rises?”)

I’m also hoping to fulfill the one New Years Resolution I never achieved last year: To spend one entire day on the couch, reading a book.


This article was originally published August 10, 2011 on

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Jul 2011

Tick Tock

I’m pretty sure that when I die, my epitaph will read, “C’mon c’mon c’mon! We’re going to be late!” It’s a sobering thought, really. Not so much the dying part, but the “we’re going to be late” part. Because I come from an impressive line of on-time people. My family has long prided itself on our timeliness, to the point that even my typically clueless children have noticed that their grandmother can absolutely be depended upon for arriving at least 15 minutes before any engagement. One of our family’s favorite stories to re-tell is the time our irate father nearly broke his watch at a restaurant in Arizona, as he pounded on it furiously while asking an unsuspecting waiter if he had any idea what time it was (while not so subtly indicating that our food was, indeed, quite late). My brother doesn’t even wear a watch, yet he is freakishly on time. And for the first 30-something years of my life, I too was Little Miss Timely when it came to being somewhere at the appointed hour.

And then I had children. Two boys who blithely ignore the concept of time. Who don’t seem to care that it’s raining out and their poor dad is waiting for us at the Kiss & Ride. That we’re late for a birthday party at the Ultra Zone. That the soccer game starts in five minutes (!) and we don’t even have our cleats on. That we can hear the squeal of the school bus’ brakes, and we’re still struggling to get backpacks on.

I’ve tried everything: setting buzzing egg timers at breakfast, surreptitiously moving the clock hands a few minutes ahead, giving advance 10-5-3 minute warnings. And yet still, I have more than once walked into my son’s room, only to find him sitting motionless on the edge of the bed, sock halfway onto his foot, staring dreamily at the ceiling.

I’ve bought them both watches, patiently worked with them to learn how to tell time. Tried guilting them by asking them to imagine how it would feel if their friend was the one who was late. Ranted and raved. Screamed. Explained in no uncertain terms that being late is unacceptable … that by being late, they’re indicating that they don’t respect others’ time. And still, nothing.

So this summer, I threw in the towel. Not by giving up on being timely, but by giving up the need to be anywhere. Camp catalogs got tossed in the recycling bin the moment they arrived in the mail, and the only thing we signed up for was swim team at a pool 2.3 minutes from our house, which doesn’t start until three hours after my kids typically wake up. This, they can manage.

The result is that our summer has taken on a dreamy new quality. I wear a watch only sometimes. I haven’t yelled in at least a week that we need to go NOW. Bedtime is, well, whenever. I have even noted that our family’s “Summer List,” which we make every Memorial Day and which includes such things as “make home-made lemonade, pick berries, catch fireflies, eat ice cream on the front porch, camp out in the backyard, and go kayaking,” includes not a single item that must be done at any particular time. We are a family without deadlines.

It is a glorious state of being, and I find myself dreading the start of school—with its schedule of bells and tardy slips and requirements—as strongly and as purely as a teenager. I watch the calendar pages turning far too quickly, feel panicky that summer is slipping by, wish desperately that I could just slow down time.

And I realize (with a sad, deflated sigh) that this summer is just as much about paying attention to time as it’s always been. Little Miss Timely cannot, it seems, escape from watching the clock.


This article was originally published July 14, 2011 on

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May 2011

Youth Really Is Wasted on the Young

So I went to see the Legwarmers at State Theater a couple weeks ago. (For the uninitiated, the Legwarmers are a wildly popular ‘80s tribute band. They play ridiculously fun music from my teen years, in front of heaving, sweating, screaming, adoring fans (some of whom were likely in diapers in the ‘80s, but that’s okay … us kids from the ‘70s and ‘80s are a very welcoming and inclusive group).

I hadn’t been to see the Legwarmers before (although I have been to State before; I saw the original Star Wars there, forheavenssake, when State was a movie theater!), and at the risk of sounding even more ancient than my 40 something years, it was in many ways a shock to the senses. For instance:

The band started playing around 10PM. That’s usually when I collapse into bed.

They didn’t stop until about 1AM. About the only reason I’m up at 1AM these days is to tend to a sick child or, more recently, to rub a five year old’s rapidly growing—and painful—ankle and shin bones.

My knees can no longer handle dancing (well, more like jumping) for three straight hours. I wanted to ice them when I got home, but I was too tired.

If I could remember Important Facts as well as I could remember the lyrics to every song the Legwarmers played, I’d surely be insanely rich and incredibly successful.

I wasted my youth.

I say this after witnessing the never ending parade of Legwarmers fans who saw fit to dress not as fashionistas of 2011 but instead as teens of the 1980s. We’re talking hair sprayed bangs, pony tails growing out of the side of their heads, hair fried by curling irons to make it looked permed, pegged jeans, Cyndi Lauper bling, double Polo shirts with upturned collars, pearls with t-shirts.

This display of bad taste made me realize that the old saying really is true: Youth is wasted on the young, and although I’m a little embarrassed to admit that it took a Legwarmers concert, of all things, to help me recognize its truth, I’m grateful that it did.

I think back on my late teens and early 20s, and I remember a fit body that allowed me to drink an enormous chocolate milk shake every single day without consequence. A lustrous head of hair that didn’t sprout a single grey hair. No wrinkles. No freakish peach-fuzz-gone-wild facial hairs. No post-pregnancy varicose veins. No permanent under-eye circles. Perfect teeth, freshly out of braces. A back that never hurt. Knees that let me run for miles. And what did I do with all that bounty? Gave myself a perm, wore legwarmers over jeans, and truly believed that my life was ruined because my mother bought my sneakers at Kinney’s instead of at Foot Locker. Dear. God. What was I thinking?

As an older and hopefully wiser me, the whole escapade also made me wonder: How will my kids poke fun at their generation? What clothing or brand or style will they just have to have when they’re teenagers? What old favorite dress of mine will they one day hold up on its hanger—as they double over with laughter—and cry out, “You actually wore this?”

What hairstyle that’s so revered today will be snorted at with derision in another few years? Will perms make a comeback? Hairspray? Rat tails? Mullets?

And what song, from what band, will stop time for them and bring them back to one of their most perfect teenage moments? Will make them remember exactly where they were, whom they were with, and what the weather was like? Will make them nearly swoon with excitement as, decades later, they laugh open-mouthed, with their hands high in the air, as they gasp to their friends at a local concert hall, “Oh, I love this song!”


This article was originally published May 4, 2011 on

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Mar 2011

Finding Peace in Strange Places

So I have an appointment that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. A chance to stretch out on my belly, under a blanket, in dim lighting, in the middle of the day. No one can call me, email me, pull at me, or ask me any questions. It’ll just be me and a kind therapist, for 45 minutes. Mom nirvana, and I cannot wait.

But this is no day spa, with thick white robes, flickering candles and aromatherapy; no, I’m at Fairfax Radiology, for a routine MRI.

How did this happen?

How is it that a noisy, clanging, banging MRI tube has become my spa?

Or that a longer-than-usually-acceptable-wait at the dentist’s office seems perfectly acceptable now, because it means more time with a trashy magazine on a comfy couch?

That a delayed flight to visit my brother’s family (without my own family) is like an added bonus to an already fabulous solo trip. (More time to grab a Starbucks! More time to people watch at the airport! More time to read my book!)

That I rarely crank the stereo when I’m home alone anymore, because I cherish the silence too much.

That the highlight of a recent conference I attended in DC was not necessarily the speaker’s tips and ideas, but the delight in meeting people who actually wanted to shake my hand rather than hand me their cast-off garbage and used lollipop sticks.

This is pathetic.

This is not what the parenting magazines advise when they feature advice articles about the importance of taking time for yourself and pampering yourself and not losing yourself in the swirl of backpacks and cleats and homework and playdates and PTA fundraisers and social secretary’ing for second graders.

But who has time for leisurely walks through the woods to reconnect with nature when onion grass has taken over my yard, or quiet time with a favorite novel when I have stacks of books that need to be returned to three different libraries?

I sometimes fall into the trap of blaming “this area” (You know the argument: “This area is so fast-paced!”), or pointing a finger (a badly manicured one at that) at “society” and “technology” for speeding up our lives to an impossibly frenetic pace.

But it’s faulty thinking, this blaming of society or technology or the much-maligned Northern Virginia area, because I very clearly remember my own mother—living in a time without Crackberries or SOL testing or HOT lanes—also feeling the need to carve out some private time in places not much better than an MRI tube.

The downstairs powder room in my childhood home, for example, was one of her personal favorites. She’d grab the kitchen phone receiver, stretch the long curly cord into the bathroom, and close the door on her noisy and intrusive world so that she could catch up with a friend in peace.

(I also remember her saying that her dream would be to have an electrified phone booth in the house, so I suppose we should have been grateful that she chose instead to merely hog the bathroom.)

She also reserved her bedroom, particularly during the 10:00 news hour, as a kid-free zone, and although I can’t remember actually wanting to watch the news, I do remember feeling vaguely offended that my brothers and I weren’t invited in. Now I just shake my head in amazement that she made it until 10pm before demanding some alone time.

And wasn’t it Erma Bombeck who literally wrote the book on the trials and tribulations of motherhood—and the pursuit of peace and quiet—in the 1960s and ‘70s?

So I’ve decided, actually, that this pathetic habit of finding peace in peaceless places is no fault of modern culture but is instead an unavoidable byproduct of motherhood. And since I’m in no way a fan of getting rid of my kids, or seeing them exit the nest any sooner than they absolutely have to, I have willed myself to view life’s inconveniences as opportunities for unexpected rewards: A blown disc means time at the MRI spa, a double-booked dentist means quality time with Brangelina.

Perhaps it sounds a little Pollyanna, this insistence on focusing on the positives in the midst of everyday annoyances. But I’m a mother, so I’ll just call it survival.


This article was originally published March 30, 2011 on

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Mar 2011

You Say Goodbye I Say Hello

Ever since my dad took a government job in DC and I trudged up the hill to start off my school career at Peter Piper Preschool in McLean, I’ve considered Northern Virginia my home. And although I know it can’t be true, I feel as though I grew up with, and went to school with, pretty much the exact same group of kids from preschool through Spring Hill-Cooper-Langley.

Diversity seemed a foreign word during my 1970s and ‘80s growing-up years. Try as I might, the most exotic new classmate I can remember hailed from Omaha.

Things didn’t change much when I went to college at Miami University. In Ohio.

But fast-forward to adulthood, and it’s a whole new scene, with a new awareness and a changing population. Today, as a mom with kids in Falls Church City schools, I’m realizing that my boys will have a very different grade school experience than I did, even though we’re living five miles from my childhood home, and even though we have no plans whatsoever to move.

It’s fantastic.

In preschool, our youngest son befriended a little boy whose family lived in the Oakwood apartments, where many families with the State Department’s Foreign Service reside. We enjoyed hours-long playdates in its sunny courtyard, where kids from all nations effortlessly switched between languages until they found common ground. If they couldn’t, no matter: give a bunch of four year olds a ball, and they have all they need to make a new friend.

We’ve had Skype conversations with former classmates who now live on the other side of the world, and it hasn’t escaped our boys’ notice that while we were wearing winter pajamas and getting ready for bed, our friends were wearing shorts and t-shirts and drinking their morning orange juice. It has led to some pretty cool conversations. (Mom, does this also mean that when they stand up, they’re actually hanging upside down under the earth?)

Our shower curtain, which is a world map, has turned into a nightly geography lesson, as we point out Bosnia and Brussels and Cameroon, just a few of the places that friends and classmates have called home.

And just last week, our kindergartner’s class at Mt. Daniel welcomed a new student whose family evacuated from Cairo. So while my son can’t read the front page of The Washington Post, he’s getting a front row seat to our world’s events.

But like everything, there’s a flip side to this coin. The yin to the yang. The other side of the story: People move here, but then people move away.

It’s devastating.

Our son, whose class has an unusually high percentage of military and government agency families, has had to say goodbye to a half dozen friends this school year alone. His teachers have become experts at churning sweet lemonade out of a situation that is, while fabulous for social skills and chock full of teaching moments, pretty tough for five year olds to understand. We’ve explained to our son that it’s been a highly unusual year; his older brother, after all, has seen only one classmate move away during his three years in school. We remind him that we ourselves have moved—changing schools and changing houses and look! look how well it’s all turned out!

But sometimes, I’ll admit that it’s not always easy to put on a brave face for a sad little boy. The other day when we were walking home from school, he asked me if one of his newest little friends would move. I haven’t yet met the boy or his family, so I wasn’t sure.

I wanted to tell him that no matter what happened, every friendship is a gift. That as he looks back on his life, some of his strongest and best memories will be the ones he shared with friends. That every relationship, whether it ultimately proves to be a positive one or a negative one, will teach him things about himself and about what’s important in life. That it’s always worth it.

But he’s five. All he’d hear is blah blah blah friend blah blah.

So I went with my heart, and I went with the truth. And I told him, “I don’t know, sweet baby. I hope not, but I really don’t know.”

And then I asked, “So when should we have him over for a playdate?”


This article was originally published March 9, 2011 on

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Feb 2011

Halfway Through the School Year, and Sappy Mom isn’t Smiling

There are a lot of different kinds of moms. Super moms. Uber Moms. Working Moms. Soccer Moms. Stay at Home Moms. Self-described Slacker Moms. And as of a few weeks ago, Tiger Moms. I’m none of these things. I’m Sappy Mom.

I’m the mom who got a little choked up every time my kids outgrew their 0-3M clothes, their 3-6M clothes, or (gasp!) their 12-18M clothes … and it was time to pack them away for what would probably be the last time.

I’m the mom who told our pediatrician, when he innocently asked how things were going at my son’s three month well-baby visit, “It’s all going too fast! He’s growing up too fast!” (The panic in my voice was palpable.)

I’m the mom who cried so hard at our younger son’s first day of preschool that the teacher kindly and gently suggested I leave, as I might upset the children.

I’m the mom who occasionally substitute teaches at the kids’ old preschool … even though we no longer have children enrolled there.

(I’m also the adult who vividly remembers crying on my 10th birthday, because I didn’t want to turn “double digits.” To say 40 was bad would be an understatement. But I digress.)

So now, with our firstborn in second grade and our “baby” in kindergarten, I’m the mom who is becoming painfully aware of the very real differences between the two grades … and I’m feeling very melancholy about it.

Just this month, for example, I wistfully realized that Groundhog Day is no longer a core part of the February curriculum for second graders. While my kindergartener trotted home wearing a Groundhog Day hat, carrying a cup with a little groundhog tucked inside, and telling me all sorts of fascinating things about groundhogs (Did you know their teeth never stop growing?), my second grader came home with news of Ancient China and The Great Wall. I quickly snapped a photo of the kindergartner wearing his hat and tucked the cup away in the overstuffed drawer of school projects, figuring it was my last holiday with Punxsutawney Phil.

And on February 15, yet another day will come to remind me what a tenuous hold I have on being “a mom with little kids.”

Because my friends, Feb. 15 (assuming there are no snow days) is the 100th day of school.

Now, this is a Very Big Deal in kindergarten and, to some extent, first grade. Every day, kids are responsible for keeping track of how many days they’ve been in school, in addition to serving their duties as weather detective and calendar keeper. On the actual 100th day of school, kids at Mt. Daniel Elementary enter the school by jumping through the “0s” in a giant cut-out of the number 100 that’s set up in the lobby. They come home wearing crazy sunglasses, with the “lenses” made out of the 0s in 100. They bring in Ziploc bags bulging with 100 items to share with their classmates.

Seriously, when it comes to momentous occasions in the life of a kindergartner, this is The Big One.

(Second grade? Not so much. Don’t even know what day it is mom, and really, who cares?)

So in the week preceding my baby’s 100th day of kindergarten (which, may I please remind you, is bringing me perilously close to 100 fewer days as a mom of a kindergartner), I need to force myself to celebrate this occasion and find the good in what my heart is fiercely trying to tell me is really pretty terrible.

Okay, so. Since my baby first climbed the steps of Mt. Daniel in September, shouldering a Bakugan backpack that appeared larger than he was, he …

1) is learning to read. What used to be a jumble of letters now make up words, and while he sometimes is stumped by words with four or five letters, he knows the difference between on and one and won and won’t, and he’s pretty proud of pointing to street signs and telling me what they say.

2) has made friends out of a classroom of total strangers. 18 kids he’d never laid eyes on are now his playmates, confidantes, lunchroom partners and pals. He’s even had the strength and the maturity to say goodbye to a best friend … and in the process, has learned why it’s “summer” on the other side of the world, has discovered the joys (and limitations) of Skype, and seems to understand that it’s okay to feel sad and to cry when we miss a special friend.

3) has discovered that if he puts his shirt on backwards every morning, he will get to do a fun little routine with his teacher in the morning that involves twirling the shirt around until it’s frontwards without having to take it off. Although I wonder if she thinks I’m totally incapable of dressing my child properly, I love that he has discovered how wonderful a shared joke between two people can feel.

4) no longer accepts his older brother’s word as gospel. Although I don’t necessarily like the resulting squabbles, I like that he’s proud of what he’s learned and is willing to stand up for what he thinks is the right – or at least better – answer.

5) hasn’t quite figured out that if threw away the uneaten portion of his lunch, I’d never know … and he’d get to eat a cookie for snack rather than having to finish his lunch first.

6) no longer turns around to wave one last goodbye as he disappears around the corner on his way to his classroom. It simultaneously makes my heart want to burst with pride and break with sorrow that my baby bird is taking flight.

7) blushes when I occasionally show up at school to help out in class or eat lunch with him. I love that he’s obviously pleased to see me, yet also vaguely embarrassed that mom showed up on his turf.

8) sometimes tells me with astonishing detail what he did in school or what one of his friends told him (“Did you know that if you turn an 8 on its side, it means infinity?”) but most of the time says he doesn’t remember. I know it’s a sneak peek into his teenage years.

9) sings loudly and off key. Dances. Runs in circles for no apparent reason. He is happy.

10) sometimes cries, needs hugs, calls for us in the middle of the night, wants to play eye spy. Possesses an enviable command of Darth Vader’s moves when given a light saber, but snuggles with a giant stuffed bear every night. He is, in fact, still our baby.


This article was originally published February 9, 2011 on

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