How to survive a renovation with your marriage intact

Steve and I have lived through a half dozen renovations together. I was finishing a renovation when we met and one of our first dates was a picnic on the floor of my new kitchen. We sat on 24 inch wide reclaimed pine flooring. I remember thinking that I would be there long enough to see wear in the golden planks and wondering whether Steve would be there beside me. I was sort of right. Steve didn’t leave me but we both left the pine floor to move in to our little house on the lake. That move was the weekend before our wedding, which also took place at the house. Within a few months we were opening up the basement apartment into a wide open guest room flooding the views and light all the way to the back of the space.

That wasn’t the only thing that flooded. The drainage issues on the sloped site hit the bottom floor hard, and what was eventually going to be the foundation of a bigger home became compromised. So instead of living downstairs and renovating upstairs as we had planned we moved out. Oliver was 10 months old, Leo was incubating, we were both working full time. We looked for a rental but with two dogs and four cats and a super tight rental market we ended up buying a starter ranch out towards the suburbs.

The day Leo was born was the same day we tore down the house on the lake beginning the process of building our forever home. As if. Eleven months after I went into labor we were moving into our labor of love. We decided to rent out our neighborhood ranch instead of selling it. The market had slipped and we were happy to find a young family who was thrilled to be there.  Right around the time we decided to leave the house we built from scratch we discovered that our ranch renters where hoarders. Evidently they moved out with two tractor trailer trucks under the cover of night. When we went to investigate we found 6 dump loads of things to get rid of. There were dead things in the freezer and other unidentifiable objects. We needed to rip out floors and walls and went though a mandatory renovation on that place. Meanwhile our next home went through two rounds of renovations. First the kitchen and living room. Then the mudroom and dining room. Two moves later we are going into our fourth year in our house in Denver. When we bought it we knew it would need a new kitchen, two baths and upstairs re-work. The only way to the master bedroom was through Oliver’s closet. Which was the size of a stand up shower stall.

We moved into a rental down the street and tore through that project. Now it is time to make some changes again. Our neighborhood home prices have gone up so much that even with a correction we have equity in the house. We are dissastisfied with our 3/4 car garage and entrance directly into the kitchen. We are working on plans to change those things and maybe, possibly excavate beneath the garage to build a dark scary space where I can watch sports. That last decision will depend on zoning rules and return on investment. Basements are not the best.

Here are some areas that were most important to make sure that Steve and I made it through our renovations as well as our houses did.

Ensure that renovation is the best answer. 

  1. To build or not to build… The first question to ask is will your renovation solve the problem you are looking to solve. There are times when moving is the right choice. When our kids were little and our house was very isolated. We wanted them to have friends and build independence from us in a family neighborhood. No amount of renovation could have changed the reality of our location. So we moved.
  2. Will your renovation”overimprove” your house? A realtor can give you a free valuation of your house as is and using comparable sales in your neighborhood help you understand your maximum home value  at this time. If what your purchase price plus the cost of your changes are higher than the max value of your home you should have a serious conversation with your partner about whether to move forward, or just to move. Steve and I have made this mistake. We grossly overimproved a house which we sold before the market could rise to make up the distance. We lost almost 20% on that house, wiping out all of the gains we had made on past renovations and sales. It caused us enormous regret. Luckily we did learn from that. When we did our first renovation on our current house we cut back on many things. Although we replaced three walls with steel beams to open our space we left in tact a fourth wall that would have necessitated us pouring new footings to support the posts. I had to mourn that loss for a bit, but it helped to remember the feeling of our last overexpenditure. We also set aside the idea of a garage addition at the time. We were new to Denver and I had a track record of relocating us from house to house. With the garage we would not have been able to get our money out of our house. Three years later that is no longer the case. We can add a garage and the market “should” be able to bear the cost of our addition. There are no guarantees of course. Which is probably the most important thing to have in mind as you embark on a renovation.
  3. Are you choosing the best places for your money? There are lots of sources that let you know what the return on investment is for your building project. Ti varies year by year and region by region. These numbers are huge averages across the country. Your case may be different. Even though kitchen renovations have dropped in ROI from 110% to 87% (at the time of this writing) I believe that our renovation was closer to the high end. The old kitchen was tiny and odd. The new one is open and generally appealing. We have not always paid attention to what the numbers say. A few years ago we knew that our passion project (turning a dining room into a mudroom) was one that would appeal to very few people. In fact it was likely that it would decrease the value of the house. Even though we were mindful about making changes that could easily be reversed back to a formal dining room we still took a risk. We thought that our needs and experience trumped any unrecouped expense. That was not our experience when we went to sell. Instead we felt regret at our choice to make a renovation that did not have mass appeal.

Determining that renovation was the best choice will help you get through the dark days of cooking only in a microwave or coughing through drywall dust.

Admit that your marriage will be a threesome.

This one is tricky. I often think that there should be research on the relationships between builders and their clients. It is rare that I come across one that is neutral. There is a strange boomerang of power difference that comes from the client paying but the builder holding the project in his or her hands. There is also the fact of the sheer amount of time and space you will share. Your heads will come together over drawings and tile samples, you will talk on the phone about granite slabs, you will likely spend as much time with your builder as your partner. It is your builders job (for the most part) to try to make your dreams come true. There is something appealing about that. I have become friends with my builders in the past. Many of the men and women I worked with in Vermont came to our parties and invited us to dinner. For a time we were friends with our Colorado builder as well. I remember sitting outside at a concert and watching him on a call with a client. His wife nudged me and said “that is one of his other girlfriends.” I was ashamed and a bit jealous. Not of his wife, who I really liked, but of his other clients with whom I had to share his attention and time.

Yet that is not the only story. There are times that you and your builder come close to divorce. Deep into our whole house build I felt as though I was making changes every day. Changes are frustrating for the builder and expensive for you, the client. However each of these changes were pretty important. This contractor was particularly demeaning about my choices, and I found myself doubting my instincts. When I pulled out my drawings for the niches for the art on the stairway and he questioned my request for a crisp plaster edge instead of wooden framing I felt defeated. After so much push and pull I finally gave in and scrapped the kitchen skylights that he didn’t feel happy about putting into the standing seam roof. On the heels of this discord he installed the posts in the living room, the organizing principle for the space, in the wrong spots. When I went to correct this he had a fit and I ended up having to go over his head to the company owner. I was crying with anger. I didn’t work with him again. The project however went on the win awards and be published in multiple books and magazines.

Even though it may not feel it at the time your primary relationship is with your partner…not your contractor. Steve and I took time almost every night to talk about progress and set back in the project. This kept us on the same page. I recalled conversations and disagreements that I had with the builders on various renovations. He was always in the loop both practically and emotionally, and even though this was sometimes awkward it was always helpful.

Get ready for a rift in the space time continuum.

  1. Whatever the architect and builders say you should calculate that it will take 50% longer and be 50% more expensive than planned. This means that if you have a hard and fast budget DO NOT allow the initial estimates to run close to that budget. DO NOT. Eliminating the stress of unexpected expenses is one of the best things you can do to preserve your relationship during renovations.
  2. Think about moving out. Before things begin you can imagine plastic perfectly sealing you off from your project. That is not the case. The dust gets everywhere. But more than that there are people in your space. There is noise. And dust. And noise. There are workers peering at you in your PJs at 6:30 in the morning. It is annoying when they are there and annoying when they aren’t there. (Where IS that electrician?) It goes the other way too. Too much of you can slow down construction. A set daily or weekly visit depending on the stage of the project is best even if you are just on the other side of the plastic. Then both sides can save questions, time, and give each other space.

Focus on what can’t be changed.

  1. It is very very very easy to get bogged down in the details. There are endless decisions during a renovation. Which light switches switch which lights (something I have NEVER gotten right.) Where do the outlets go. Grout color on backsplash tile. Counter finish. Hallway width. Most of us get hung up on the counters, but they are not the big story. Those finish materials are just the jewelry. The bit you can’t change is the proportion of rooms, direction of natural light, and flow from room to room. The best book I have ever read on this is Patterns of Home. Steve and I have a basic system. We work together on those big things. The permanent things. Then I limit the choices for finish materials and present him with just a few. This way I like all of the options and he is involved in the big and little picture.
  2. Figure out what you will go to the mat for. In our family for Steve it is the kitchen layout. He is the chef. For me it is windows and natural light. We are both willing to give up other things to afford what mean the most to us. This way we don’t argue over small details.

Money money money

I talked about the 50% rule. It is worth repeating. Whatever the estimate expect to pay 50% more. Unexpected leaks in the walls, 10th hour changes, material upgrades…none of these things are in that first go around. Also factor in rental costs if you are moving out for the construction (good idea!) Additionally consider what you might spend on new furniture for your refurbished space. Sticking to your budget busts the number one cause for discord during a renovation.

Renovations are tumultuous. Schedules are up in the air. Money and space and time are all difficult to navigate. There are people in your life intruding on personal space and time. It is important to remember that renovations are temporary and your partner is forever.


Eleven words that make you sound like a douche

Photo by Gemma Evans on Unsplash

So slowly that we barely know it is happening a word that once did a great job explaining a specific niche spreads like a virus and ends up on Starbucks chalk boards. Here are some of the worst offenders.

  1. Curated. My father was an artist. I went to art shows. Those were curated. By a curator. The rest of us just have preferences and make selections. Cookbooks rarely have provenance. We choose the clothes in our closet, we don’t curate them. Unless we are douche-y.

    Photo by Todd Quackenbush on Unsplash
  2. Artisanal. Originally artisans were people skilled at an applied art. In days of olde artisans roamed the earth laying brick and crafting cabinets. The main point? There were no machines involved. So  cheesemakers can be artisans and their cheese can be artisanal. You know who doesn’t do things by hand? The lab team at Kraft Foods.
  3. Creatives. I love when people are creative. I don’t love when they are “a creative.” I don’t love when words change parts of speech. “Adulting”, although irritating, at least has the “ing” of a verb. Creatives make for eye-rolling cocktail conversations. Normal person: ” What do you do doing the work day?” Douche-y person: “I am a creative” Normal person, trying to roll with it: “Oh… what do you create?” Douche-y person doubling down: “I create content.”  Thanks for that conversational dead end. I might as well talk to this other chick about training for her marathon. At least she isn’t “a run.” Although she may eventually get them.
  4. Solutioning in progress. Photo by Kait Loggins on Unsplash

    Solutioning. Sometimes I am lucky enough to listen to Steve “on a meeting.” These people (almost all men) like to solution the shit out of things. Are they adding a powder to a liquid? Only if they have upset tummies (like I do when listening to them.) Nope. They are not solving problems.  They are “solutioning” problems. They have created a less concise word for the less effective way that they solve things.

  5. Literally. There have literally been a billion articles about the word literally. So I literally won’t write another word about it. Except to say it is literally the worst.
  6. Bespoke. This started out as the British way to say custom. We already have that word and it sounds a lot less douche-y than bespoke. Bespoke is a way to weed out people who can’t pay for custom clothing and furniture. It is out of the range of words that normal people speak. People who don’t wear cuff links.

    Photo by Igor Ovsyannykov on Unsplash
  7. Epic. Odysseus has something to say about the word epic. Although frankly he is too busy to talk much about his journey. Penelope might be the real hero in the tale #feminism, but neither of them would consider a ski run epic. It might be long and shred-worthy, but if you can’t grow a beard while doing it the thing in question is most assuredly not epic.
  8. Irregardless. If you take regardless and add irrespective you get Irregardless. Regardless (or irrespective) of the popularity of the word either of its parts do the job just fine. Sort of like Bennifer they should consider a divorce. But also like Bennifer they might stay together for the good of the children.
  9. Honestly. Honestly and its co-hort “to be honest” share the title of “worst way to start a statement.” It never occurred to me that you would be lying…until you cued me in that everything before this next statement was false…because only now are you being honest. And upon further reflection this next bit, the bit you labelled as “honest” is starting to lose the ring of truth. Why are you lying to me? Why? Honestly…
  10. Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

    Notorious. Goddamn you BIG. Notorious does not mean famous. It means known for something negative. Like you, and your ruination of a good. specific word.

  11. Douche. Here in a totally meta twist this list becomes self-referential. The douche is pointless. Some creatives solutioned a problem of their own making. Irregardless of the need for a vaginal freshening device they sit in curated clusters on our shelves. Literally thousands of types are available probably soon to be joined by an artisanal version straight from the notorious maker’s space. Honestly, I never use them. So I may not douche, but clearly in crafting this epic list I am a douche.

Just Desserts

omeahbefln4-alexis-brownLast night I hosted a dessert party for families that might choose our middle school. Students and parents, teachers and principal stood at my kitchen island and pitched our school. Kids talked about theatre and orchestra and sports. They raved about their STEM class and how they felt each teacher cared about them as people, not just as student ID numbers. The young math teacher glowed as she recalled a fight in her classroom…over the answer to a math problem. She interrupted her flash lesson to have the two pugilists stand at white boards (easy enough when the room is covered on all sides with 2 ft boards personalized for each kid) and plead their cases. The rest of the class looked on. I was only slightly more charmed by the story when I learned that Oliver was one of the combatants. Between the estimated 200 hugs she receives a day and the heated math battle she feels she has struck a balance between academic engagement and community connectedness. And I agree.

Yet our school is a “failing” school.

We received the lowest rank possible on the School Performance Framework. I will not go into the tangled web of numbers that got us there (although perhaps the honors math class might) but the ramifications are wide spread. Because of our ranking it will be an even harder sell to get kids to Hill. The fact that it is a sell at all is upsetting. The middle school shares a field with an elementary school that received the highest rank possible. Yet most of these kids and their parents who volunteer in classrooms and fundraise for extra para-educators are not going to walk the 200 yards across the field to join the broader community.

School choice emerged as an antidote to underperforming neighborhood schools. In the ideal version of this model every student has access to the same schools, and graduation rate and other indicators of success would no longer be limited to zip code. The Washington post asked this in their May 11, 2016 article:

But has it worked? Has school choice been able to interrupt the strong link between home environments and academic success?

Not yet, according to a new analysis of New York City high school graduation rates. Researchers found that — a decade after the city adopted a universal school choice policy for high school students — a child’s likelihood of graduating on time remains tightly linked to the poverty rate, household income and adult educational attainment in that child’s neighborhood.

“On this measure, the well-known link between a student’s neighborhood conditions and educational outcomes is as strong as ever,” said Sarah Burd-Sharps of Measure of America, which conducted the analysis and is a project of the nonprofit Social Science Research Council.

I believe in our a public school system that includes only limited school choice. At their best traditional schools are the hub of communities, kids first real practice at citizenship and supported settings to try and fail and try again. It is the place my son discovered he was tone deaf, and learned to laugh about it. It houses the cafeteria where I had a disturbing conversation about Trump with a parent who immigrated from Mexico. It was where I handed my extra pair of winter boots directly into the hands of the girl who would wear them and watched us both wrestle with the meaning of the gift. It is where my sixth grader gets into fights…about math.

This mixed education for mixed people can be undone by extensive school choice. According to Salon magazine back in 2012:

…there are a few serious problems with the school choice movement. Though it attracts mainstream conservatives like Cosby, as well as Democrats like President Barack Obama, it is not, at its core, a bipartisan endeavor. Its most important backers are rightwing organizations like the Heritage Foundation, Americans for Prosperity and other groups supported by billionaire rightwing ideologues like the Koch brothers. They want to dismantle public education altogether and run schools as businesses, judged as “successes” or “failures” based on abstract data taken from high-stakes standardized test scores.

Access to opportunity is replaced with demands for universal “excellence” and “achievement,” in which teachers are punished for student “failure.” This pits parents against teachers, and it ultimately sidelines already marginalized children of immigrant families, poor children and/or children of color.

We will see this punishment at our school as teachers take home next years checks. Our staff of the 200 hugs and after school art clubs will receive no bonus at all. Public school teachers have notoriously low salaries and many of them integrate their bonus into their calculation of their income. The theory makes sense. If their students perform well they get a bonus. In practice it incentivizes great teachers to leave the struggling school for ones that are already solid. It makes principals questions their policy of providing education to all students who “choice” in to their school. It instantly labels the students performing below grade level as a costly members of the community.

screen-shot-2016-12-14-at-9-57-38-amThis morning I was reading about DeVos, Trump’s potential appointee for secretary of education who puts her ridiculous amount of money where her mouth is with school choice and the voucher system. I am treeing through articles while the peonies and wine glasses from the party still dot the counter. I am not sure I have the energy to clean them up. I am sinking deeper into the love seat as I follow her efforts (through the admittedly liberal media) to siphon public school money  to funding Christian Right private school

The foundation for our public schools is already crumbling. I believe that expansion of school choice is not the answer. I am not alone in this belief.

Policymakers must realize that not all families will be able to take advantage of choice, whether because of family circumstances or limits on the capacity of schools to accept new students. Furthermore, policymakers should carefully consider the potential unintended consequences of reducing federal funding for schools serving large shares of the nation’s most vulnerable students. US NEWS

At an earlier pitch meeting the school principal made this point to potential parents. He was in tears as he explained that he could cap Hill’s numbers. He could limit class size and enroll almost exclusively close in neighborhood kids. Currently the entering class at Hill has 34% of kids performing at or above grade level. The average of the feeder schools? 84%. That would improve the school ranking in one fell swoop. But it would indeed be a fell swoop. The beauty of our back to basics middle school is the AND. Arts AND sciences. Music AND sports. Your background AND mine. Even though our kids have school choice they don’t have to choose. They can have have the AND.

One of the Denver charter schools has received national acclaim for its graduation rate. It is held up as a phenomenal socio economic equalizer. It has strict rules for behavior and dress. It has incredibly strong academics. After a few years of positive press things have changed at that school. Not its quality education but the population that is receiving that education, according to this school is made up of:

“Mostly Caucasian Students

170 students, or 56.5% of the student population at Dsst: Byers Middle School identify as Caucasian, making up the largest segment of the student body. A typical school in Denver is made up of 27.9% Caucasian students, so (this) Middle School has a drastically different ethnic distribution compared to other schools in the city.”

My fourth grader walks in and eyes the leftover desserts on the counter. “I don’t want to go to Hill.” This is not exactly the conversation I am up for this morning. But here we are. “Why?” I ask him. “Because my friends aren’t going there.” “hmmm” I respond. “I want to go to the soccer school.” “Soccer school?” I ask him. “You know..” he muses “the charter school that specializes in soccer.”

It’s not so far off.

We have arts, sciences, outdoor learning, language…maybe by the time he is in sixth grade there will be a charter soccer school.

Sadly for him he won’t be going.


Not so Great Expectations: Living Life with a Low Bar

This is a story of low expectations.

For two weeks I have had drippy itchy eyes. Staying physically on the verge of tears has changed my mood. Scientists as far back as Darwin have suggested that “(e)ven the simulation of an emotion tends to arouse it in our minds.” So for two weeks I have felt sad.

Earlier this week in the midst of my pervasive sadness allergies I drove two delightful friends visiting Vermont on a tour of Denver hot spots. During our journey I exposed them to unavoidable pot holes and parking spots too tight to pull into. I demonstrated how difficult merging is in Denver, and how crossing Boulevards can take up to 15 minutes. For years I have had a schtick about being a bad driver. Now I live my schtick, driving over many curbs which don’t actually stick into the streets. I was never an excellent driver but I wasn’t terrible either…until I talked it into truth.

Oliver is better behind the wheel than I am. Or at least cuter.
Oliver is better behind the wheel than I am. Or at least cuter.

As I bumped and braked my way through our tree lined streets I started a list of other quirks that I have brought to life simply by embracing them. As much as I have figuratively embraced my oddities I have eschewed literal embraces and taught the world not to hug me. I have completely stopped writing thank you notes. I no longer answer my phone. I refuse to park in parking garages. The truth is in many cases hugs feel good, thank you notes are thoughtful, phone calls can be efficient, and garages are the most convenient place to park. In each case my avoidance of every day things started as a small preference which I focused on until it grew to phobic proportions. I have turned the tiny pimple into a huge abscess by leaning in close to the magnifying mirror of life. Obsessing over an abscess does not help it heal.

Amongst all of the things I have begun to avoid the one that started with the least truth is the story I tell about hating to cook. I have carefully crafted the cooking in our family. In our early days Steve and I shared the meal prep. After a particularly tasty roast chicken I began to sing the praises of Steve’s cooking. A capable cook he was no chef, yet I made him out to be amongst family and friends. I bought him cook books and demoted myself to sous chef. As his knife skills grew I receded further into the background. Finally I was down to four dishes in my repertoire that I made (maybe) one night a week. But it turns out there was further to fall. These days I sit at the counter (or on the couch) as he chats and chops pulling nameless herbs from our CSA and brandishing his knowledge over the difference between braising and roasting.

Leo started cooking at age two.
Leo started cooking at age two.

When he travels for work the boys expect to scrounge their own dinner of mac and cheese or a giant cutting board filled with salami and cheese and peppers. They never knew me as a cook as capable as Steve, because as I was encouraging his culinary skills I was downplaying my own. Until they shriveled and died. I can still carefully cut a pepper into thin seedless slices (good for the dinner board) and I can toast. I can even melt cheese on toast. At least the first time. Because after the dripping cheese of the first serving I am toasting over the open flames of the second go round. Pro tip: Burning dripped cheese is really smoky. Smoky enough to set off alarms.

I have learned my own helplessness in the kitchen. At least in this case it has resulted in Steve’s love of cooking.  So I set low expectations for myself and high expectations for Steve. We both lived them.

screen-shot-2016-09-28-at-10-50-30-amSo the take away…I am going to stop pretending that hugs are horrible. Look at Leo no one could loathe that loving embrace.



What about you? Have you created a story and then lived it into life? Are there some expectations you could make great-er?

Here is a link to Steve’s absolute go to cook book. It was the genesis of the magical roast chicken.



Trigger warning…this post might make Monday worse. In fact, by starting with a g-damned trigger warning it already has. Also- reminder I am an expert on virtually nothing other than being a lazy parent and wearing comfortable shoes. So take my recommendations with a shaker of salt.

Might as well be bacteria number 2210 rather than cute cow number 2210.
Might as well be bacteria number 2210 rather than cute cow number 2210.

I started my day down a rabbit hole. It was my own fault…mine and pretty much all of you. I read about superbugs and sadly I don’t mean turbo charged Volkswagon. In Ferris Jabr’s New York times article that was designed to be uplifting…(plants sourced using ethnobiology might save us from our own over use of medicine) instead I read the negatives. Evidently we are 10 years away from living in a “pre- anitibiotic” society. Which is actually a post anti-biotic society. Between over prescribing antibiotics to everyone (and their mother) and prophylactically giving pills to livestock who might not have gotten sick in more spacious living conditions we have created antibiotic resistant bacteria. Fuck. It also turns out the bacteria can pass on their resistance through plasmids…which means we don’t need to wait for them to breed to share this new skill. Instead they can pass the ability to fight antibiotics directly to other strains. Strains that are living on our skin right now. See, yuck… and fuck. What am I doing? Long ago I threw away our anti-bacterial soap, ditched the neosporin, and took AB prescriptions only in the case of lingering and serious infection. Plus, we don’t eat any animals treated with antibiotics. So our dollars don’t support the farms that have perpetuated the problem.  My hope is that it makes my personal immune system stronger and the germs weaker. But hoping isn’t the same as knowing (which is only half the battle itself)

screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-9-09-56-amAfter reading that we are a decade from death by superbug I figured learning about debunking of the five second rule might seem less lethal. Scientists tested over 2,000 combinations of food type, floor type and length of contact with floor. Turns out the longer it is down there the dirtier it gets. Also turns out that carpet transmits less bacteria than hard surfaces. Which makes no sense because we know that carpet has pounds of human skin and dirt in it.  Then again, our dead skin contains fewer superbugs than our epidermis.  I’m decided to ignore the study and keep eating food off of the floor. Except watermelon. Those suckers suck up everything. This isn’t a huge change for me…I don’t eat melon anyways. And before you ask that include cantalope and honeydew and even cucumbers which might as well be melon. I will also never carpet my kitchen, cause then I might have to eat floor watermelon.

screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-9-11-21-amAfter about 45 minutes of reading studies about deadly germs I decided to get the hell off of my dirty floors and out of my house. I skipped brushing my teeth because I want to help the world. I am willing to sacrifice for the rest of you. When I arrived at my office the coffee shop I was greeted by the pumpkin zombies. The hoards of people who want spiced pumpkin latte, and chai, and tea bread crowded the vestibule and snaked through the small space. Now the pumpkin infestation has taken on the strength of the super bug. That crap is everywhere. I am going to have to avoid supermarkets until cranberry season.

So the things I am going to do to solve these problems? I will do none things. I will NOT use neosporin. I will NOT buy carpet. I will NOT order the pumpkin latte. Maybe tomorrow I will NOT read the New York Times. Which might allow the time and fortitude to brush my teeth. Because it won’t be none-day anymore.

I am also considering channeling my inner Vermonter and ordering the Herbal Apothecary. Does anyone have experience with this?




Anna Rosenblum Palmer egomaniac.
Me, Me, Me

When Steve types my name into Facebook search it returns the result “Anna Rosenblum Palmer egomaniac”.

This upsets him.

But it doesn’t bother me. (See, that’s what an egomaniac would say). I spend almost every morning writing about myself. Then I often share what I wrote. At its best blogging allows readers to see the world through another person’s eyes. Sometimes they are enlightened by the differences in lifestyle and world view from their own. Sometimes they are comforted by the similarities to his/her own experiences and feelings. At its worst blogging is masturbatory and boring to anyone outside the author. I’d say this blog runs the whole spectrum. One thing that almost every blog as in common is the copious use of the word “I”.

It was during my second serious relationship that I realized that some people didn’t live their lives in the world of pronouns. I watched my boyfriend lean his curly head over tiny circuits and explain how they would come together to power the robotic knee he was helping to build. He was alive with the idea of these connections. The electricity from the circuit board lit him up more than our high school gossip. I knew that that was where his head and heart were meant to be. For a moment I saw my life as the 1x of an enormous microscope, and he was a magnification higher, looking into to systems that I barely knew existed.

I pictured it in the shape of a Hershey’s kiss with myself at the top  (that what an egomaniac would do) the micro world had his circuits and the way the body systems worked together, then beyond, unfathomable to me, were atoms and quarks. I realized how deep his understanding and interest was but decided to ignore it. I would stay where I was comfortable analyzing our relationship to death and think about the life of the person who would get the robotic knee.  Something my boyfriend had never considered.

It wasn’t long before I came face to face with the reverse of his micro world. My mother was a political theorist and studied democratic and other political systems. I knew this was her work life, but as I got older I realized this was also her life’s work. When I would talk about a particular problem in school she wasn’t as interested in the story or characteristics of the players but the general social workings of the school as a whole. When I began to realize the depth of my depression she would listen to me of course, but her main focus was on “experts” and what the overarching medical system might say, where my problems fit in a spectrum of issues. For me it was always about me. (an ego-maniac catch phrase) The particular trumped the general.

In college my friend and I rode for two hours in the back of a car while the two guys in front talked about the possibility of infinite solar systems. After quickly getting bored of their circular discussion I decided to count the pronouns in their conversation. In two hours they uttered 5 pronouns. All “he”. Each was in reference to research by scientists. The image of the Hershey’s kiss with me at the top morphed into an hourglass with me at the center (exactly where an egomaniac might live.) Below me were circuits and circulatory system, atoms and quarks. Above me were political systems and global trade agreements, the galaxy and the questions of humanity’s purpose.

I am in the middle of the hourglass. I live here with my husband and my family and my friends. I understand the world of pronouns where I learn and care about personal problems. When I talk about parenting philosophy I am referring to Steve’s and mine. When I talk about education I refer to the public school my boys attend. I think about the world and the carbon that it is composed of and the carbon that we spend…but not as frequently and without the same facility that I do when discussing a friend’s fears. It is the macro, the micro and me. I live in the center at the thinnest point of the hourglass where I can easily get my arms around it. As well as my head.

Over drinks I talked about my concept of an hour glass of magnification with friends. One made the astute observation that work life and personal life often required different levels of focus. At work he needs to understand a broad corporate culture. At home he focuses on family. Then his wife reminded him of his love for debate over foreign policy, a topic whose pronouns might be limited to us & them. He looked at her and nodded. He did like to discuss foreign policy. Probably more than he liked discussing each of our individual magnifications of life.

I see how my 1X perspective  can make me seem like an egomaniac. Yet I think it is more a function of how I best analyze the world. Starting with me and the people I know and moving in and out from there. The fact that I write about it is another issue. One that I would be happy to discuss with you individually.

What about you? Are you at a magnification of one? (This is not a question an egomaniac would ask.)

[PS- there was an entirely different post that I meant to write about how some people are comfortable (and might even celebrate) being disliked and others have never been disliked in their lives. Any thoughts you have on that before I write it up are welcome.]


Hello, my name is Anna, and I am racist

All of the white things I did this weekend, followed by some of the thoughts I had about being a racist.

Mars Meyers products.
Look how delightful.

We all know weekends start on Thursday so I began with wine and cheese with some lovely ladies in my living room. There was a lot of Rose. A friend was in town for a “rock concert” (his words) so he popped by for a whiskey and chat at the end of the party and got to enjoy my line up of Mrs. Meyers scented products on my counter. Geranium is my favorite. He asked if it was a joke, and in the fact that anything can be a joke it was, but they did look like the worlds least effective army lined up on my re-done counter. Which is a bit of foreshadowing.

Ryan Miller of Guster climbs tower
Look how agile.

On the entertainment front we scored high marks Friday when we saw Guster at the Denver Botanic Gardens. Great (rock) show, great venue (even though my friend thinks the whole thing is like a lush green toilet bowl because the amphitheater in the round bottoms out in a giant drain.) While waiting for the concert to start I watched Oliver’s blond head circle the concert goers on the sidewalk above the grassy slopes. He walked and walked getting the steps necessary to incubate his Pokemon eggs. Or at least he walked until he stopped to catch a Pokemon.


Ghost Busters
Look how sassy.

On Saturday I saw Ghost Busters. I loved it. I lounged on my friend’s daybed on her covered patio sipping iced tea and plumping velvet pillows behind my head. We played the Paul Rudd game where we each picked the Paul Rudd movie that resonated most with us. If you can use Paul Rudd and resonated in the same sentence. Clearly you can because I just did. Twice. I picked Clueless. Obviously. Leo had picked Ant Man the night before (or technically, and Steve would want me to be technical, Steve pointed it out to him.) There were a few slapstick comedies in there and now the Fundamentals Of Caring which I thought would be an awkward love story between Selena Gomez and Paul Rudd but instead was a not so awkward story of how broken people can go a ways towards healing each other. (Also, hopefully, some foreshadowing) Not bad. In any case one of the players of the Paul Rudd game called him white bread and although I get her point I think he at least is the Enriched white bread. (Again with the foreshadowing.)

British Open 2016
Look how exciting.

Sunday was a big day. I managed to squeeze in the entire final round of The British Open, which would have been a nail biter if it wasn’t golf. The big appeal to The Open (in fact the British bit was added by the Americans once we started our own US Open with religious freedom and less tea) was that we watched it in bed. Steve never likes to be in bed relaxing during the day. I think he might be broken. In any case roughly once a year he makes an exception so I kept him company and Leo brought the French Press up from downstairs. (No foreshadowing, but a bit of remembrance of how our entire country was formed on the idea of freedoms if not the practice of freedom.)

Look how addictive
Look how addictive

During this stretch I downloaded some new games for my phone and did some extensive A B testing on “Merged” v. “Merged ++” In the end I opted for Merged ++ although I think those folks might have given themselves higher marks than they deserved. I’d offer them a Merged + and they should take that as generous. (Merged- good word, harbinger?) I sat by Steve while he tried to sort out our Showtime anywhere connection. It is pretty much Showtime nowhere. Also on the fritz (is that the word? I seem to have lost it) is Sirius radio. This I feel is a sign to get rid of it. With a shared car I often hop in to be yelled at either by something masquerading as music (Ska) or its close cousin the comedians who also seem to want to yell. EVERYTHING IS FUNNIER WHEN IT IS LOUDER. SEE.

That evening Steve and I took a stroll through the Community Garden and I pointed out all of the volunteer dill. Such a thrill. I revel in my life where I have the space to celebrate dill. That is a pretty good benchmark for security.

All of this is to say I might have had the whitest weekend in the world. If you weren’t already thinking it go back and review. Really.The only way it could have been more white is if we had played ultimate frisbee with our golden retriever and haggled over prices at estate sales only to leave behind the items at the last minute.

Look how white.
Look how white.

One of the reasons we moved to a city instead of a wealthy suburb was to give our kids a chance to have more diverse relationships than we had in Vermont. That said there are two non white teachers in my kids’ school, one is in administration (and left this summer) the other is a teacher’s aid (and, I think, left this summer.) Next year Oliver’s school is less than 50% white (including the assistant principal) and they have a close eye on the fact that as you walk the halls you can see through the 2 inch wide windows in the classroom doors which are the honors classes and which are not. If I had done a little research this might not have come as a surprise.

Look how symbolic.
Look how symbolic.

In my excellent suburban elementary school racial diversity was achieved through bussing. Which resulting in me inviting Tiffany from Rochester to my house exactly one time. The school did very little to integrate the kids from Boston with the kids from the suburbs. When we learned about the Civil Rights movement one of us (and I won’t name a name here) mentioned that we were closer to “separate but equal” than we were to real equality. That thought was hushed up pretty quickly.

Look how shiny.
Even the VT capital is white.

My life has not changed that much. Oddly my friendships in Vermont more closely mirrored the demographic make up of the area. It was pretty much white, my friends were pretty much white. When we relocated I made the mistaken assumption that any urban area would have demographic diversity (aided by recess on the field across the street from my house the day we made our offer- the kids were 40% white- turns out those were middle school kids and they too were bussed in from other neighborhoods.) It was naive. Some of my friends argue that being a woman and being a jew make me closer to understanding the cleavage of identity and treatment that happens in today’s society. Whether it does on paper (and I would argue that it does not) it certainly doesn’t offer me insight in practice.

Look how I kiss up to dead white guys.
Look how I kiss up to dead white guys.

Even though I know every system is flawed I feel that my odds of being treated fairly are high. If I were arrested I imagine I would be treated legally. If I went to trial there would be a team of people looking out for my rights. I am protected by family, social status, and skin color. Although my earning potential might be pennies on the dollar of the people with dicks I haven’t really tested it because I have opted out of the workplace, something that isn’t possible for most people in our country. The closest thing I feel to discrimination surrounds mental illness. Unlike skin color most of us with diagnoses can (and do) hide our conditions. That is different problem that I am much more poetic about.

Look how helpful
Look how helpful

I tell you about my weekend because I realize that both my thoughts and behavior reinforce the status quo. When I read books that reveal the feeling rather than the fact of inequality I feel helpless. I read lists of things white people can do to help and wonder about their efficacy. I know I am racist. When I interact with someone of color I am more eager. I rush to open literal doors because I am lost trying to open figurative ones. I check myself when I have horrible thoughts that come from a world of difference. When I see a person of color stepping out of a car in my wealthy leafy neighborhood I imagine he or she is there to clean or work on a house. Mostly I am right. So instead of tamping it down like my third grade teacher did with the observation of our school’s separate but equal practices I am noticing. I am noticing the caricatures of black people even in cartoons. Somehow the animals in secret life of pets had races even though they were animals and animated and those races reinforced roles that I wish didn’t exist. But wishing doesn’t get things done. The black Ghost Buster was the only one without a science degree. She was sassy and street wise. In a film that directly took on stereotypes (there was a blond beefcake as the dumb secretary in a reversal of the blond bombshell) they left this one in tact.

Look how we measure in classrooms
Look how we measure in classrooms

This weekend I came up with a plan to use the power of my whiteness to effect a tiny slice of change. The Science Technology Engineering and Math elective at Oliver’s new middle school is as pale as the marshmallows that Leo threw around the room at the last (and LAST) sleepover. My school wants Oliver. Even though it is a public school the principal is actively lobbying for the rich white neighbors to send their kids to it rather than private schools or one of the other specialized choices. He is responsive to each email and each visit. He is wooing the parent’s from my elementary school with dedication. One way that he has done this is to offer a guaranteed spot in the popular STEM program to every neighborhood student who puts his school as first choice on the school choice form. This program is the one that is best funded in the school, it is also the one that probably provides the best tangible skills for a future high paying job. I know this is middle school but we need to start somewhere. Instead of a practice that saves slots for rich white kids we could have one that keeps things random.  I know he will tell me about the ways he is trying to change things between and walls and in the halls of the school. I will offer to help, and maybe I can. Maybe we can get more kids who happen not to have white skin into the STEM program. Or maybe the solution that I have come up with from my privileged perch is not the one they are looking for.

Look how hateful
Look how hateful

Who really knows. Not me. But I will notice and listen as much as I can. And try to be less of a dingbat every single time I see someone with brown skin. Tripping over myself to be effusive is ineffective and maybe even damaging. Which is what I fear any action that takes me off the bench will be. Fear and worrying and wishing are not going to make a difference. We live in a world with regular racially motivated violence. We live in a world where the system is rigged. We live in a world with hate speech from a presidential candidate. And I live in a world apart.

At least I can try to change that last bit.

If you are looking for a way to talk to your kids about privilege I have found this video to be incredibly useful. The trick is how to have the next part of the conversation. Let me know if you have any ideas. <iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>


Pokemon Go on Home

My tip is that this is worth a tip.
My tip is that this is worth a tip.

The Holocaust Museum reportedly posted a sign telling visitors to stop catching Pokemon there. If you don’t understand how ridiculous this is you are either too young or too old to be reading this blog. As a 40 something jew I am the perfect demographic for, well, my own life. Which is an uplifting thought. Not uplifting? Catching imaginary cartoon beasts in a building designed to remind us of the worst of humanity, and to kindle the flames of hope that we can persevere through great atrocity. That said I have a list of much much smaller atrocities that I think we need to clear up. Rules that should be so integrated as to never need a reminder. And yet I remind you.

  1. If you are merging because of a lane closure just zipper in. One from the left, then one from the right, then the left, then the right. If you accelerate past a few patient cars to merge more quickly it doesn’t make you earlier…it makes you an asshole. It will be quicker for everyone if you just zipper in. Just like you zipper your fly. Most of the time. [Tweet theme=”basic-white”]If you are merging because of a lane closure just zipper in. One from the left, then one from the right, then the left, then the right.[/Tweet]
  2. When you get cut off on a phone call the person who initiated the call should call back. The only thing more annoying than static and robotic partial voices is the confusion of my mother as she hangs up and redials for the 3rd time trying to reach me and only getting my voice mail. “But we were just talking, why did it go to voice mail?” Because I was calling YOUY mom. As efficient etiquette ought to require.[Tweet theme=”basic-white”]When you get cut off on a phone call the person who initiated the call should call back.[/Tweet]
  3. When you are out buying a drink in the morning to pick you up or in the evening to bring you back down the minimum tip is a dollar. 18 cents is not a tip it is an insult. A pull of the draught is not hard work, but cleaning up vomit and listening to your drunken uncle Al is…and that coffee takes many hours of barista training. Plus dealing with hungover uncle Carl.If you don’t want to tip a dollar make your own damn fancy coffee drink. [Tweet theme=”basic-white”]If you don’t want to tip a dollar make your own damn fancy coffee drink. [/Tweet]
  4. Stop modifying unique. Nothing is very unique or the most unique. Unique is binary. Either something is one of a kind or not. [Tweet theme=”basic-white”] Nothing is very unique or the most unique. Unique is binary.[/Tweet]
  5. Lululemon yoga pants should be called yoga pantyhose. I know that word is totally out, but so are your ass cheeks. Sure I love to look at butts. Really I do, but unless you are coming directly to or from the studio just get one of those little ass skirt cover ups. I own about 6 bottoms, but when I pick the ones to have lunch in they are not skin tight. This is the only fashion advice I feel capable of giving. So treasure it. And go get some jeans.[Tweet theme=”basic-white”]Lululemon yoga pants are more like panties than pants.[/Tweet]
  6. Notorious is bad. Bad bad bad. Not purely famous, except B.I.G. who was both. Its true some people seek notoriety but it is not a synonym for celebrity. To be notorious you have to be well known for a crime or something criminal-like. Jack the Ripper, notorious. Jack and the beanstalk- famous. And fictional but now we are just splitting hairs.[Tweet theme=”basic-white”]Notorious is bad. Bad bad bad. If you think it is a synonym for famous you are wrong.[/Tweet]
  7. Lateness should be a factor of the length of time of togetherness. Anything that leads to a more than a 10% delay of start time should be considered socially unacceptable. Dead grandma, or car accidents aside it does not make you on time to send a text. If we are having a 30 minute coffee you have a 3 minute grace period. An hour lunch offers you 6 minutes to park. Two hours gives you a healthy buffer of 12 minutes to cover up your damn lululemon pants. I know some people (many?) are more tolerant than me about being late. But there was that one time, ahem,  that held a counter for 14 people for brunch for one hour and 15 minutes. I kept encouraging the staff to give it away but for some unknown reason they didn’t. The crowd gathered behind and I wear the trauma like a scar. Holding tables is terrible.[Tweet theme=”basic-white”]Lateness should be a factor of the length of time of togetherness. Anything that leads to a more than a 10% delay of start time should be considered socially unacceptable.[/Tweet]
  8. When you start a quick email with “just a quick email…” you reveal yourself as a bad editor or a total hypocrite.  Already the email is not as quick as it could have been. Ditto for “just a note to say…” Guess what the note will do even if you don’t start it that way…it will say whatever the fuck you want it to say. You are the author of the note. [Tweet theme=”basic-white”]When you start a quick email with “just a quick email…” you reveal yourself as a bad editor or a total hypocrite.[/Tweet]
  9. Only hold tables if more than half of your party is present. I know lots of restaurants regulate this (see number 7, or don’t because it is too upsetting). For those that don’t we should have a little sensitivity to the people who are hungry behind us. If you keep giving up tables maybe you will stop going out with your late friends. That’s a win-win. Quick tip…if some of your most beloved friends run late invite them over for a drink before dinner. Then you all depart together, sometimes even within the same hour you imagined.[Tweet theme=”basic-white”]Only hold tables if more than half of your party is present.[/Tweet]
  10. Have a water between EVERY beverage. Even water. Then you are less likely to need to be scraped off the booth and piled into an Uber. Plus you won’t be (as) hung over when you head to the coffee shop. This is increase your chances of tipping and seeming less like Uncle Al. But when you pee, and you will pee please follow the guideline in number 10. [Tweet theme=”basic-white”]Have a water between EVERY beverage. Even water.[/Tweet]
  11. Always lift the seat. This time I am not talking to the dudes. You do it (for the most part.) I am checking in with the ladies. If you are in public and hovering above the toilet (which I assume most of us do) just lift the seat. This can be done with your foot if you have germ issues and enough yoga practice. See then the spray doesn’t cover the seat for those people that (for some unknown reason) choose to sit down. Lift it and then lower it. Then no one has to deal with the second worst thing that can happen in a public rest room. [Tweet theme=”basic-white”]Ladies…f you are in public and hovering above the toilet (which I assume most of us do) just lift the seat.[/Tweet]
  12. The worst thing that can happen in a public rest room is the walk in. It is often accompanied by the knock in. Here is how it should work. You knock. Then you WAIT before you try the knob. Just a few seconds of patience helps avoid that horrible eye contact that happens when one person is squatting above the toilet with lululemon pantyhose around her ankles. That’s bad for both of you. We need some sort of knock then lock then lift then levitate jingle. [Tweet theme=”basic-white”]Knock. Then wait before you try the knob.[/Tweet]
  13. This one is a little specific but super important. If you are an Uber driver don’t make jokes about recording the sex acts that happen in the back of your car. It might creep out your current moderately well behaved fare and lead to a low rating, or a police report. [Tweet theme=”basic-white”]If you are an Uber driver don’t make jokes about recording the sex acts that happen in the back of your car.[/Tweet]
  14. Finally, don’t catch Pokemon at the Holocaust Museum. [Tweet theme=”basic-white”]don’t catch Pokemon at the Holocaust Museum[/Tweet]

Just a quick request leave your own rants and ideas below. I am always happy to integrate very unique etiquette into my ever growing repertoire. I’ll read them right when I am back from peeing on the bathroom seat with an unlocked door. I’m notorious for that.


Three tools to bring your sexlife to its peak

My husband and I have a lot of sex. Better than that we have a lot of great sex.  In the past month we made three purchases that improved an already good thing. Here comes the affiliate link disclaimer. There are no links. I am not getting paid. Except in the odd knowledge that I might be adding to your personal pleasure in the future.

  1. coconut oil enhances your sexlifeCoconut oil. This is not a new tip from me. Its great on furniture and penises. It is smooth and delicious in stir fries and vaginas. There is no need to choose…we keep one tub in the bedroom and another in the kitchen. The only downside is that a coconut oil end cap display at Cosco can make your face turn red. Just grab a jar and keep pushing (the cart.) Buy the best lube here.

2. The very best vibrator for your sexlifeThe very best vibrator. First a general plug. If you are on antidepressants like I am and want to have a mutual climax in under an hour then a few short cuts are necessary. To my friends who worry that their partner will feel less accomplished with a little extra help…screw it. Watching you feel pleasure is more important to the people who love you than taking 100% credit for it. Using it well enhances things for both parties. Helping you come more quickly opens up lots of extra slots in the schedule for sex. I’m sure your partner would sign on for that. If you are slow to come without toys there is a chance that you begin to worry that it will never happen. That anxiety might make you shy away from sex in general. Knowing that you have a magic bullet will help you sign on and dive in. So speaking of that magic bullet I would like to recommend this one. It is rechargeable, small enough to use between your bodies, and powerful enough to bring you to orgasm quickly if you need. As a bonus it doesn’t sound as if you are filling a cavity in the dentists office. The only cavity that is being filled is in bed. (I want to break the fourth wall for a minute…as if a blog even has a fourth wall. a. it was excellent to “inset this into the post” when I loaded the image and b. the shiny blond woman who has worked next to me at the coffee shop for 9 months and only once spoken to me when I dumped tea all over her DID see me spending time on a sex toy website. So even if you don’t enjoy this post I sure as hell did.)

3.purple mattress improves sexlife A new mattress. So this is a big ticket item. So big that it took Steve and I almost a decade to decide to make the big move. Every night (and many afternoons) we are glad that we did. Like about a third of the population we prefer memory foam mattresses for sleeping and to reduce back pain. They two downsides. They heat my husband up…and not in a good way. He runs 110 degrees on that thing which drives me to the very edge of the bed. The other downside is that they dampen your sexlife. Literally take the bounce out of it. Like 70s music we have found that reverb is a good thing. Enter purple. Through magic it keeps Steve cool, is made of natural materials (food grade if you ever need a midnight snack). It claims a spot in my top three products because it strikes the balance between perfect body support for sleep and the rebound you want during more active bed activities. If you’ve got an extra 1,000 bucks lying around I encourage you to try this out. There is no pressure. They come pick the thing up for free if you don’t like it. I can’t imagine that is possible.

There they are. My three most important tools for a great sexlife.

Come on. Share what works for you.


Parent through failure is not failing to parent.

long haired boy blows kiss

This post originally appeared in

He is standing in front of me shaking as much from anger as from cold. It has been three days since I allowed him to walk out of indoor soccer without his new winter coat.

Eventually, I will realize that we both learned a lesson from this. Leo never lost a coat again, and I never bought him a brand new Patagonia anything. For now, though, we are still in a miserable place. He is covering his guilt with rage.

How did he get so unlucky as to have a mom who lets him lose his things? His friends have lovingly packed lunches, carefully checked homework, and pairs of mittens that are kept together by responsible adults. They race out of their parent’s cars to the playground while moms and dads follow behind toting backpacks and art projects. Leo and I walk to school together with my arms swinging free at my side.

During the 45 minutes that other families fight over homework, the four of us sit at the table together in silence. Steve and I read or work on our calendar or bills, the boys do whatever it is they do.

For Oliver, our older son, it is always homework carefully matched to the assignments on his planner. Meanwhile, Leo might write or read, or he might work on a packet of math that may or may not be the packet for this week.

There is an outer calm at our table. It doesn’t tell the story of what seethes inside me.

I look across the worn wood and realize that Leo is toiling over a worksheet from three weeks ago that dug out from some pile growing in a corner of his room. I see this week’s homework hidden under a folder, completely out of his sight and mind. Keeping my mouth shut and letting him fail is hard. Harder for me than sitting next to him and prodding him to finish his work, pointing out mis-read word problems and missing capitals. I would rather him fail now though. Fail fast, hard, early and often.

We preach about the success factors of flexibility, resiliency, and self-control. It is lip service, though. We rarely let our kids practice those skills in their daily lives.

There’s no question that I am a better third grader than my son.

It is annoying but efficient to nag our kids and insert ourselves into their routines. We are better at cleaning and cooking than they are. We are better at spelling and better at math (except for the super confusing new math). But what good does this do any of us?

He turned nine last month. Parent educator Vicky Hoefle reminds us that he should be halfway trained to leave the house. When I worry that we are not far enough along I remember my friend asking her ten year old if he needs to go potty. I think of a nine-year-old that doesn’t choose his clothes let alone wash them.

I listen to a mom list her top middle schools fully admitting that her daughter doesn’t like any of the top three contenders. I watch friends choose their kid’s passion projects for them, somehow thinking that passion for Pokemon isn’t high-minded enough for intermediate school.

It is hard to be hands-off. It is messy.

We have lived through bloody slices from sharp knives as Leo cut his own apples. He has come home hungry after his lunch of single box of chicken stock failed to fill his belly. We have school pictures featuring stained shirts and unwashed hair. He has skipped birthday parties because he hasn’t saved enough of his own money to buy a gift.

Even though I know natural consequences are the best possible teachers it has been hard for me too. There have been months when I can’t enter his bedroom to tuck him in because his floor is covered in clothes. I’ve thrown his sneakers in the trash because he has stunk them up with his sock-less feet. I have held my nose at the moldy laundry he left in the washer for four days. I have skipped our goodnight kiss because he has refused to brush his teeth. I have had to stay strong during whispered conferences in the hall as his teachers explain he has not handed in homework for months.

I have stood by as he wept, feeling unsupported by his mother. Feeling too young for the crushing responsibilities of his life. It is harder to watch him struggle to make myself integral to his success. I believe in giving them this latitude. I trust all of the times that he will fall down in his single digits will help him navigate life in the long run.

This morning he left for school with a smile.

He had his snack and Friday folder to return; he wore sneakers for PE, his GT math folder contained a note that he had written his teacher. He remembered an extra layer for our crisp weather. He walked into the kitchen after scooping the cat litter and charged his iPad. I sat sipping my tea, chatting with him about next weekend, and how much more cuddly our cat has been.

I may not pack his lunch, but I am right there with him in ways that I would not be able to be if I were a sherpa, chef, and proctor. As I kissed his minty mouth goodbye, it seemed that we really might be halfway there after all. Thanks to my bitten tongue and his bruised body from falling and getting up and falling and getting up again.