An Open Letter to a Meticulous Vandal

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To the person who took the time to meticulously alter our “Hate Has No Home Here” yard sign: I’m not sure why you thought it was okay to vandalize our property or what you hoped to accomplish by changing the words on this sign.

Were you bothered by the phrasing of the original message? Was the word “hate” too strong for you? Did you want to depoliticize the sign, which stands at the edge of a high-traffic road beside to our house?

Maybe you think “Love Has A Home Here” is just a nicer way to say the same thing, but there is a subtle difference between the two phrases. While our family certainly has an abundance of love to share, that’s not the sentiment we intended to convey.

Our sign was installed in response to the overwhelmingly negative political climate in our country and some of the dispicable actions taken by its current administration. It’s a small gesture to show others that we don’t support those actions or condone hate in any form. We don’t need anyone to sugarcoat the message on our yard sign.

If you object, for whatever reason, to the statement “Hate Has No Home Here,” that’s okay—we’re all entitled to our opinions—but please know that if you choose to deface our sign again, we will replace it as often as necessary.

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The Elephant Stays In the Room

Grown and FlownThis essay, an ode to my daughter’s childhood lovey, originally appeared in the digital publication Grown & Flown.

There’s a member of our family we don’t see much anymore. His absence isn’t due to illness or long distance or a falling out, but because he became…obsolete. This family member is Lala, the beloved childhood lovey of my youngest daughter and soon-to-be high school graduate, Ellie.

The powder blue elephant/blankie hybrid was originally a baby gift given to our older daughter, Cassie—the small holes in the fabric above his blanket binding are where her name had been embroidered—but she never really warmed up to him. Ellie, however, adored the soft plushie, and he quickly became her go-to source for comfort and companionship.

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His name is an abbreviation of what came out of her toddler mouth when she cried for the “elephant” at bedtime: “Elala! Elala!” I can still see two-year-old Ellie in the crib, rubbing Lala’s silky hem between her tiny fingers as she drifted off to sleep. Lala is well-worn now—his plump, stubby arms have been sewn back on numerous times—but he has held up nicely considering the amount of washing he required over the years. We had no backup elephant to appease our youngest child; no other plaything was a suitable substitute for the original, hand-me-down friend.

For nearly a decade, Lala was a prominent fixture in our home. Some of Ellie’s oldest friends might remember him from playdates or sleepovers in elementary school. (Or perhaps the elephant with bright blue eyes and a satin heart was hidden away during those visits because Ellie was afraid her friends would make fun of her for playing with a “baby toy.”)

Lala also accompanied us on family travels to the Bahamas, Canada, Connecticut, Delaware, England, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, Virginia, and countless towns throughout our home state of Pennsylvania, including Hershey, where a sympathetic hotel staffer shipped him home after he was inadvertently left behind. My children will never allow me to forget the Christmas I “ruined” when I forgot to pack Lala for the annual overnight trip to my mother’s house. Ellie insisted we listen to every sad love song that came on the radio during the entire Christmas Eve car ride while she wept quietly in the back seat.

Ellie’s sadness over her separation from Lala that night reminded me of an emotional scene in Toy Story 2, the 1999 Pixar film that played on loop in our home when our children were young. In the scene, the character Jessie, a cowgirl doll, explains how she was once loved by a little girl named Emily who grew older, forgot about Jessie, and eventually gave her away in a box of old toys. Peak heartbreak is achieved as the melancholy song “When She Loved Me,” sung by Sarah McLachlan, plays over the montage of memories.

Every member of our household understands that certain songs cannot be played in my presence because I become overwhelmed by a crippling combination of emotions. “When She Loved Me” is one of those forbidden songs. Even hearing the tune hummed makes my eyes well up; I just can’t handle it. My disproportionate reaction to the song is a running joke for my kids: Let’s sing “When She Loved Me” and see if Mom cries again!

What my daughters fail to recognize is that it’s not the song’s wistful lyrics or Jessie’s devastating love story that leave me inconsolable, it’s what giving away that box of old toys represents: a young woman shedding the trappings of childhood as she becomes an adult. Emily no longer needed her best friend, Jessie, and while that confidence and maturity are good, natural parts of growing up, the idea of reaching the end of childhood and discarding someone who had been such an integral part of that life stage is too much for this old cowgirl to bear.

I have been informed that Lala will not be moving into the freshman dorm with Ellie this fall, and it was suggested I add him to a box of childhood mementos that’s collecting dust in our basement. I won’t do that. Instead, when Ellie leaves for college, Lala will take his rightful place at the head of her bed at home, a reclining reminder of who she was and what helped make her the person she is today. Though Lala has certainly earned a comfortable retirement from his duties as Ellie’s constant companion, his role as a symbol of her journey through childhood is still essential.

As the next scenes of my daughter’s movie unfold, I hope she carries with her the sureness and security that powder blue elephant gave her so long ago. I also hope she realizes that lyrics from that forbidden song describe the last 18 years of my life with her better than I ever could: “Everything was beautiful/Every hour we spent together, lives within my heart/And when she was sad, I was there to dry her tears/And when she was happy, so was I.”

National Pie Day: A Tribute to Key Limes and Christy

This National Pie Day tribute to Key limes and my friend, Christy, was originally published in the blog Kate Just Ate.

img_3997I just ate Key lime pie.

What the hell is that? Wikipedia, my go-to resource for dubious information that I’m too lazy to fact-check, sums it up nicely: “Key lime pie is an American dessert made of Key lime juice, egg yolks, and sweetened condensed milk in a pie crust.”

Though I don’t generally condone fruit in, as, or around dessert (do NOT get me started on the affront that is putting raisins in anything, an abomination worthy of an independent post #triggered), I can usually handle it in custard form. I’m not a huge fan of Key lime pie, but it’s one of my husband’s favorites, and since my friends and family love to spoil my spouse, he got a homemade Key lime pie.

Why did I eat this? In the interest of full transparency, I must note that I did not just eat this pie. I actually made (and ate) the confection many years ago with help from my junior chefs, Cassie and Ellie, but today is National Pie Day and this was the only documented example I could think of to mark the occasion.

The pie was made using limes direct from Florida, sent to us by our friends Christy and Darryl in Orlando. They had a lime tree in their yard, so when I told Christy about Carl’s love of Key lime pie, she sent about five pounds of limes so we could make him one or ten (see? SPOILED!). I find it hard to justify making pie from scratch when I can always buy one that’s as good or better than homemade, and I really don’t eat a lot of pie. I’m Team Cake, though I realize I may be in the minority.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Christy, the catalyst for my old blog Kate Just Ate, and all the kooky gifts and food she gave our family over the years. When her limes arrived, I remember being very relieved that the box did not contain the live gecko lizards she was constantly threatening to send us. (Christy claimed it was a joke, but I have no doubt that if I had agreed to rehome the geckos, she would have found a way to get them here.) I still have a stuffed lizard Christy sent me on a shelf in my kitchen, and the rubber lizard she brought when she came to Philly with Darryl is on display in our china cabinet (because where else would it go?).

The limes, love, and laughter that went into this pie make my memories of it especially sweet, and I know that if Christy had her way, I’d be celebrating this National Pie Day with a fresh batch of citrus and gecko lizards, direct from Orlando.

Put Your Pride Aside and Embrace Forgiveness

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The Jewish High Holy Days are here and you know what that means! No? That’s okay!

I’m not a Jew—I’ve been married to a Jewish man for nearly 20 years and raised two kids in the Jewish faith—so let’s just assume, you know, for argument’s sake, that I actually had no idea what the High Holy Days were really all about until, say, three days ago. Here’s an overview from my go-to resource for all things Jewish:


The “ten days of repentance” or “the days of awe” include Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and the days in between, during which time Jews should meditate on the subject of the holidays and ask for forgiveness from anyone they have wronged. … It is held that, while judgment on each person is pronounced on Rosh Hashanah, it is not made absolute until Yom Kippur. The Ten Days are therefore an opportunity to mend one’s ways in order to alter the judgment in one’s favor. — Wikipedia


Forgiveness
? Sure, I’m down. Who can’t use some of that? Whatever your faith (or non-faith), I truly believe everyone could benefit from asking for and accepting—acceptance is super important, too—forgiveness, so maybe we should all give it a try. Heck, I’ll even get the ball rolling with a few of my own personal apologies.

To our rabbi: You may not know this, but you’re one of my favorite people. I am a wretched, sporadic congregant, yet you always seem happy to see me whenever I drag my pitiful self in for services. I’m sorry for consistently reminding you that I’m not Jewish whenever you invite me to participate in synagogue activities. I know you know; it just seems better to plead gentile than to say, “Man, I really do not want to do that.” Please just sign me up for something and tell me when to be there.

To my oldest daughter: I haven’t been entirely supportive of some of the decisions you’ve made over the last year, and it created some tension between us. I’m sorry I didn’t always trust you. You are a smart, strong young woman, and I know that in order to grow and mature, the choices you make must be yours, not mine. I should also mention that I’ve been relentlessly stalking all of your social media accounts since you left for college, and I hid some of your stuff while we were unpacking your dorm room so that you would have to contact me to find it. I’m sorry. I MISS YOU!

To my youngest daughter: Recently, you and I have had some ugly clashes over your schoolwork and I was not as patient or sensitive as I could have been. Your hippie father says I care too much about grades, which, coming from a high school English teacher, is funny because you know who else cares about grades? COLLEGE ADMISSIONS OFFICERS, THAT’S WHO. I’m sorry for giving a crap about your future and pushing you to live up to your potential. (Okay, this one admittedly needs some work.) I’m also sorry I finished all the tortilla chips. I have a problem with salty snacks.

To my husband: I haven’t been showering with regularity or, to be perfectly honest, accomplishing much of anything lately. I’ve been in kind of a funk (see abandonment and control issues above), cranky, and feeling somewhat adrift. I apologize for being so lame and I promise to get my act together soon. Thanks for serving as a buffer between our children and their neurotic mother. Also: I’m sorry I called you a hippie, but if she doesn’t apply herself now, she’ll end up living our basement forever.

After rereading this, I strongly suspect that some of us may not be making the final cut when absolute judgment rolls around on Yom Kippur, but there’s probably still hope for you, so put your pride aside and try embracing forgiveness during this Jewish holiday season. Shanah tovah, friends!

A Quiet Exploration or Why I Need to Shut My Cake Hole

Grown and FlownThis essay about my decision to talk less and listen more originally in the digital publication Grown & Flown.

I gave birth to my first child more than 18 years ago and it honestly feels as if I haven’t stopped talking since. Babbling to the baby, babbling about the baby, talking to the toddler, teaching the toddler to talk, pleading with the preschooler to stop talking for just five blissful minutes before my ears start to bleed, chatting with the child, preaching to the preteen, arguing with the adolescent. The perpetual prattle is exhausting. I’m utterly spent, and I think it may be time to explore a new state: quiet.

The concept isn’t entirely foreign. Quiet is how I started out, how I was before I had kids. I am naturally an introvert with limited extrovert capabilities. (There’s a sweet spot, between the first and second beer, when I’m chatty and hilarious before I quickly slip into brooding and drowsy.) Because I’m hard-wired for quiet and not a huge talker, I’ve always surrounded myself with outgoing people who can carry a conversation or at least provide me with plenty of runway for talking takeoff. Motherhood forced me out of my quiet comfort zone, and when I decided I never wanted to be the type of parent who answered a kid’s curious “Why?” with a lazy “I don’t know,” I really painted myself into a corner. Talking eventually became an irrepressible reflex, like breathing or finishing the entire sleeve of Oreos.

In addition to being a psychic drain, constant communication has caused some unpleasant behavioral side effects. I find myself talking over people during conversations and interrupting them with questions, a bad habit which may stem from the propensity to over-explain and repeat everything I developed in case my kids didn’t grasp what I said the first time. Ironically, over time, I somehow acquired that exact processing glitch: If I don’t understand something, I get stuck on it and can’t comprehend the rest of what’s being said or move forward in the conversation. My rude interjections are also the product of a nagging fear that I won’t be able to retain information that’s relevant to a conversation until the other person is done talking because my addled, middle-aged brain has trouble hanging onto that kind of detail while attempting to remember to pick up my kid after track practice, throw away that six-week-old quiche before my husband eats it, and call the vet about our vomiting dog.

I don’t think much will be missed if I cut down on the conversation because at this point, only about 60 percent of what I say actually makes sense and/or is of any value to anyone anyway. (I mean, do people really need to hear the specifics about how my meticulous system for unloading the dishwasher works or the reasons why I find Ice-T compelling as a detective—part of an elite squad—on SVU? No, they do not.) A solid 40 percent of my blather is superfluous and it is definitely time to just shut my cake hole.

Before I begin dialing down the discourse, however, I may need to prep my family so the diminished communication doesn’t get confused with a similar phenomenon that occurs when I’m super angry. Informal polling of my two children revealed that my rage-induced silent treatment is far more terrifying than the yelling that ensues when my husband is upset. I’m not looking to scare anyone or make a point, I just want to switch into energy saver mode and recharge a bit.

Yes, quiet will be a welcome respite, and if I’m not focused on talking, I can listen—really listen—for a change. In a state of quiet, without interruption, maybe I’ll notice my daughter working up the courage to admit that she hates track and wants to quit. Or hear my husband casually mention that he gave the rest of that quiche to the dog. Or detect the crackle of an Oreo package I thought I had sufficiently hidden in the pantry behind the oat bran. There’s no telling where my quiet exploration might lead, but it certainly sounds promising.

15 Ways to Know If You’re a Camping Parent

ParentCo_Badge_WriterLRGThis handy guide to determining if you’re cut out for family camping originally appeared in the digital publication Parent.co.

Summertime is prime camping season, perfect for both novice and expert outdoor folk alike. Not sure if you have what it takes to tackle a camping trip with your family? Here’s a glimpse into the mind of a seasoned camping parent.

1. Your family’s marshmallow to vegetable intake ratio is 10:1 – and you’re okay with that. Come on! You’re on vacation and there are s’mores! We’re talking hot, gooey marshmallow with melty chocolate, people! You can force extra veggies on your offspring when you get home.

2. As long as the bugs in the bathroom aren’t big enough to clog the sink drain, you’re good. The outdoors gets indoors when you’re camping, and if you can’t handle a few (okay, a ton) of bugs, it may be time to reevaluate your vacation priorities.

3. You can instantly identify the sound of a game of horseshoes. Ah, the piercing clang of a metal horseshoe hitting a stake, followed by a quiet thud as it lands in a campsite pit. You can hear it anywhere in the campground, no matter where the game’s being played.

4. Your children’s shower schedule is determined not by the day, but by the intensity of their odor. Hauling towels and toiletries to the bathhouse becomes an exercise in futility when all the grime you wash off the little heathens returns before you make it back to the campsite.

5. Any night you don’t end up sleeping in the car is a victory. If a flooded tent doesn’t drive you out at 3 a.m., a deflated air mattress or kicking toddler will.

6. Anyone driving over 5 mph through a campground turns you into a crotchety, fist-waving old man. The speed limit is clearly marked, mister pickup-truck-with-naked-lady-silhouette-mud-flaps-pushing-9-mph-on-your-way-to-the-dumpster. YOU ARE ON NOTICE.

7. The five-second rule extends to food that has fallen through the grill grate. You only have so many hot dogs in the cooler. Just fish it out of the coals, wipe off the soot, and call it “zesty.”

8. You can achieve an acceptable level of cleanliness, for any family member, with a single baby wipe. When you’re too exhausted to trek to the bathhouse, removing even the top layer of dirt feels remarkably refreshing.

9. Sweeping out the sleeping area makes you feel civilized. You may be living in the woods, but you are not savages!

10. You experience fire envy. You’re trying to ration a week’s worth of firewood – you really are – but screw it. That giant bonfire two campsites over is amazing!

11. You can lather, rinse, repeat, condition, and shave on one shower quarter. Oh, the bathhouse pay shower provides 15 minutes of hot water for 25 cents? Please. You’ll be clean, dressed, and out the door before the timer on the coin box stops.

12. You don’t complain about the drunken campers making noise during late-night quiet hours because you know your kids will be up for the day and screaming at sunrise. Yeah, it’s hard to sleep through loud nocturnal shenanigans, but revenge is a dish best served at 6:30 a.m., which is right about when your children’s inability to master their “indoor voices” will become evident to everyone – especially your hungover neighbors.

13. You know all the rules of cornhole. And you’ve said the word “cornhole” enough that it no longer sounds dirty. Even your juvenile, filthy-minded spouse can say it with a straight face.

14. When you get home, your house seems like an immaculate, cavernous palace. After spending a week with your family in the close, dusty, ripened quarters of a tent or RV, you won’t know what to do with all the extra space and…NOBODY SIT ON ANY OF THE FURNITURE BEFORE SHOWERING!

15. The sound of tires on gravel anywhere makes you nostalgic for camping. Even in the dead of winter, the crunch of 5 mph vehicles on small stones brings back that delicious campfire smell and memories of warm summer nights under the stars.

Mom Math for Mother’s Day

Becoming a mom can be hard. This Everyday Math parody won’t help.

Unit 1. Conception

Number lines provide prospective mothers with a tool for identifying, counting, and ordering numbers as they relate to conception.

 

Number Line

 

A number line also offers visual and tactile support for developing a realistic perspective about the order and nature of numbers and conception.

Exercises:

•  Pick a number on the number line that represents how many months you believe it will take to become pregnant. Have your partner identify the number that comes after the number you named. If you are trying to conceive, the correct number will be the number your partner named plus 10 months. If you are using multiple forms of contraception in a concerted effort to stave off pregnancy, the correct number will be 0.

•  Consume a batch of margaritas with your partner, and then cover up a number on the number line. Ask your partner what number is covered and what number comes before the covered number. If your partner answers both questions correctly, mix up and consume another batch of margaritas and repeat the exercise. If either of your partner’s answers is incorrect or the number line is no longer able to hold your partner’s attention, a sufficient amount of alcohol has been ingested, and an attempt to conceive is likely to commence immediately.

•  Locate the number at the middle of the number line. If you and your partner have begun adoption proceedings, this number represents the approximate number of weeks remaining before you become pregnant without even trying.

•  Find the number on the number line that represents how many children you and your partner intend to have, and then consider the number that comes after the named number. Identify how the second number makes you feel, keeping in mind that no method of birth control is 100 percent effective and raising a child from birth to age 18 currently costs the average middle-income American family around $250,000. Put down those margaritas.

Unit 2. Early Pregnancy

The dot configurations of a domino can help the newly expectant mother become familiar with the patterns of pregnancy.

 

Domino

 

Viewing this domino as 9 creates a visual image of the pregnancy fact family:

4+5=9     5+4=9     9-5=4     9-4=5     9=5+4     9=4+5

Examples:

•  4 weeks waiting to get your period + 5 weeks inexplicably exhausted = 9 weeks until an OB/GYN will run a pregnancy test.

•  5 people you secretly told about your suspected pregnancy after you and your partner swore not to tell anyone until an OB/GYN confirmed it + 4 people your partner told = 9 people who know you might be pregnant.

•  9 “fabulous” OB/GYNs recommended by friends and family – 5 OB/GYNs who do not accept your insurance and/or are not accepting new patients = 4 potential OB/GYNs.

•  9 days spent comparing your symptoms to pregnancy symptoms described on the Internet – 4 days of mixed home pregnancy test results = 5 days convinced you are pregnant.

•  9 minutes after a positive pregnancy test at the OB/GYN = 5 minutes trying to remember the first day of your last period + 4 minutes spinning a pregnancy calculator wheel.

•  9 months pregnant = 4 months of nausea + 5 months of heartburn.

Unit 3. Pregnancy

Coins help sharpen the everyday skills of counting and calculating money.

 

Coins

 

Exercises:

•  Keep track of each two cents every other mother you encounter offers while you’re pregnant. Does the total make you feel sad, anxious, overwhelmed, or ready to cut a bitch?

•  Identify which of these coins is a quarter. Place one of these in a jar each time a stranger touches your swollen belly and you will complete your pregnancy with enough money for your child’s first semester of college.

•  Have your partner take a small number of pennies and nickels and find the total value. Consider which groceries you could purchase with this amount of change as it is equal what you’ll have left to spend after purchasing baby formula, diapers, and wipes.