Is the such a thing as a Halloween grinch?

In case you can’t read it: Google search for “last minute costume ideas” How about this…

He is standing in front of me in his cardboard box, arms pinned to his sides.

I am picking bits of duct (duck?) tape residue off of my fingers and wondering if my bathrobe will be able to be de-wizarded.

“Does everyone like Halloween?” He asks me.

I pause for just a bit too long.

“Do YOU like Halloween Mama?” Images flash before me.

Trick or Treating with just my parents. Getting egged in Seventh Grade after being invited to walk the neighborhood with the cool kids. Feeling fat in my slutty cat costume in my early 20s.  Sending servers home for showing too much skin at my restaurant.  Oliver puking.  Tears over stuffing plump arms into small bumble bee costumes.  Annoyance as all of our candy is stolen. Rotting pumpkins on the walkway. My changing awareness of costumes that cause offense to wide swaths of people.

Today my gripe with Halloween is the elementary school parade. We received an email a few weeks ago with these delightful details:

Parents will wait for the costume parade to start outside after drop-off.  Parents will stay on the outside of the cones set out.

The parade will be outside starting on the west blacktop.  The parade will circle the building traveling in a counterclockwise circle.  Students will exit the building through the doors by the auditorium and walk around the school on the blacktop and sidewalk, ending on the east side of the building.  Students will walk through the building and exit near their party table to celebrate.  Classroom parties will take place following the parade outside near their designated tables on the blacktop.

But for now my eleven year old is standing there in his box, on the edge of turning cynical. He is too young to catch my Halloween grinchiness. So I focus on the positives.


Toddlers thrilled to ring doorbells. Oliver, now in seventh grade, getting invited to Trick or Treat with friends. My cat’s love for my colored wig. Not having to monitor anyone else’s costume. My sons’ lining up instead of throwing up their candy. My boys making their own costumes and donning them with ease. Delight in Reese’s. Creative pumpkins lighting our counter.

Steve and I decide to attend the “celebration.” We are surprised to arrive at school to find NO CONES. Where will the parents stand? Despite the email using the word “outside” three times it turns out the parade will be inside due to cold. When we make it to the auditorium it emerges that parents are supposed to be inside the cones. Everything is backwards. So we squeeze in like sardines and I complain about the heat.

Crammed in between the cones waiting for my big fifth grader to take the stage for his photo op I look at the gap toothed smiles of the smaller kids. They are Dorothy, Hermione, dipping dots. There is only one ninja. Their faces light up behind their make up as they catch the eyes of their squished parents.

I lean into Steve and whisper. “Let’s be prepared for Leo to be stoic on stage.” Between his stage fright and his Halloween questioning I am ready for a silent protest. I am wrong however. He bumps forward in his box with an enormous smile on his face. As his class, the last one, gathers on the stage to pose for the iPhone photos his almond eyes are crinkling with pleasure.

He likes Halloween.

That is enough for me.


Boots and boobs

It is that point in the party where everyone is leaning in a little too closely and speaking a little too loudly. We have stopped talking about middle school and started talking about boobs.

“Mine are bigger.” She tells me. I don’t really need to answer. First of all MINE are bigger but second of all I don’t really need to have this conversation.

Earlier in the evening the two of us were sitting together by the fire pit strategizing about our party plan. We both anticipating an early night. A few hours later I am saying my good byes while she is comparing size.

“Mine are bigger” she insists leaning in towards me until we are chest to chest. They may not be bigger, but they are definitely more firm. Jab. Jab. Jab. I try to pull away from her but the counter is behind me.


We are here to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving. We have made it through Canadian Trivia (6 time zones, Kiefer Sutherland, Newfoundland) and discussed what the fuck to do about white privilege. (who the fuck knows) We have each said the word sore-y at least 20 times. We have devoured turkey and gravy and politely disposed of a weird blue cheese walnut crostini (sounds good but don’t try it.) We have asked after each other’s children and businesses. I have ranted about the anti-semitic history of cotillion (which it turns out I have completely fabricated.)

I have talked about vulnerability and death with my friend who is poised and stoic.

So many of these things leave me spinning. Racism, death, Kiefer Sutherland. They are all pools of mystery. There are so many things that confuse me. I find myself muttering “you don’t know what you don’t know but you know that you don’t know it.”

In response I hear:

“I KNOW that mine are bigger” as a pair of beautiful breasts slam into my sternum.

At this point I feel I have to stand up for my boobs because they can’t stand up for themselves.  I decide to stick with the facts.”My bra size is a 40G” Although swaying she is not swayed. “It’s my boots.” she tells me. If I didn’t have my boots on yours would be bigger.

“I think you are getting confused between boots and boobs.” I offer.

“Yes. If I didn’t have my boots on your boobs would be bigger.”

We don’t seem to have worked this out.

Maybe things will be clear next year. Until then we can blame Canada. And buy some bigger boots.



Moving on from Miscarriage

At book club last night a friend told the story of calling her husband. “Bring home milk.” She told him. “And cornichons.” “What…are you pregnant?” he asked. We all responded with a hearty laugh. We are old enough now so that is barely a physical option. Most of us have made SURE it is not an option. It sent me back though, to the time when I thought it was a choice.

When I really wanted a third kid.

When I couldn’t have one.

The tiny woman stands in front of me beaming. She has sleek curls, white teeth and an open, friendly expression. Beside her stand two boys, clearly brothers, who look to be about the ages of my boys.

“How old are you?,” I ask the shorter one.

“Nine,” he tells me.

“I have a nine year son old at home.”

He smiles at me. What is he going to do with that information? I put those thoughts into words.

“Why do adults always do that? Tell you about kids who you will never meet and can never play with?”

He shrugs his shoulders kindly and I turn to his brother.

“How old are you?”

I can’t help myself, when he tells me he is just eleven I say, “I have a a ten-almost-11-year-old at home.”

All six eyes are on me. I look back at the mother.

“We have the same lineup.”

“Oh,” she replies brightly, “Do you have a younger daughter as well?” As if on cue a six year old girl shows up at her mother’s hip and slips her arm around her waist leaning in.

“No,” I answer, “Just the two boys.”


The family moves forward, continuing to sell raffle tickets benefiting childhood cancer, and I see that the mom’s hand that isn’t carrying her basket with tickets gently stroke that soft spot where her daughter’s hairline meets her neck. The ribbons on the girl’s pigtails are red and blue to match her shirt. I follow the striped ribbons with my eyes until they are lost in the crowd.

I turn to my husband. “Did you see, she had two boys our age and a younger daughter.”

“This has come up a lot lately,” he responds, looking mildly concerned.

It passes though, as he lays his hand on mine and goes back to inspecting his beer. He is a beer lover and has a bit of a ritual to conduct before he takes his first sip. I have a ritual too, so I return to it as he returns to his beer.

I look around the restaurant. Where would we be seated if we were a family of five? I locate a booth with a curved side where the three kids would sit. The girl would be between Oliver and Leo, keeping them from jostling, maybe getting them to play tic-tac-toe. I feel better now that I have put my imaginary family in its place.


After having two healthy sons who (surprise!) arrived seventeen months apart, Steve and I had a long conversation about whether or not to have a third child. We had already replaced ourselves on the planet, and figured out the rhythm of life with two toddlers. Yet as an only child I had wanted multiple kids, and Steve was one of three himself. Still, a newborn seemed difficult, but if we were ever going to do it, now was the time. It wasn’t a baby we were choosing, but a whole person, a part of our family and an individual.

The first pregnancy test came back positive very quickly. I showed Steve, and we showed the boys together. We counted the due date and their differences in age. They were interested, but not very, and we explained in a straightforward way that one in three pregnancies end in miscarriage. So there was a better than average chance we would have a baby, but no guarantee. Still, I placed the positive test in the special oak box that held our wedding vows and NFL playoff tickets.

It was only 5 weeks later that we lost this baby.

During those same five weeks another of my friends became pregnant with, and also lost, her third child. She and I both had miscarriages at the same time. It helped to talk about it. It is a personal choice whether to share news of a pregnancy and a pregnancy loss, but there is a societal norm to wait until 12 weeks to talk about it openly. I felt caring and reassurance from the people I told about this loss.


A few months later we were both pregnant again, and then another friend as well.We would meet for pastries and herbal tea, because… baby.

It was a bit further in this time that I stopped feeling sick. When I worried, my husband told me to be glad to escape the nausea, but I knew.

The ultrasound wand was cold with jelly as the MD calmly extended a finger to the screen and explained that I only had an empty sac. My husband said, “See, no baby at all.” The science of it helped him a lot. He found peace in the fact that the only life inside me had been an imagined one, helped along by some trickery to my body. To me, real or imagined, this was a loss of life — the life we would have had as a family of five.


Six months later I was spending less time with my friends and their rounded bellies.

I reminded myself of my relative luck. I had two healthy boys, whereas I had many friends who had lost pregnancies further along, or before they had kids at all. I had friends who had lost infants and even toddlers. This was nothing, NOTHING, compared to that. All I had to do was kiss a little blond head or snuggle close to a sturdy, healthy boy body for comfort.

Despite this I found it difficult to be around pregnant people, which at our age was a tough proposition. I stayed home more with the boys, who in turn were getting a little rowdier. I took pregnancy tests even when I couldn’t have been pregnant.

A few months later I peered at the pregnancy stick, willing the second line into existence. I had the two boys in the bath in front of me and I called in Steve.

“Do you see it?” I asked, “Do you think it’s there?”

He looked at it through squinted eyes and told me it was possible. “Lets wait until morning when it will be stronger,” he advised reasonably.

I took just one more test that night, which sat evenly in line with the last test telling our future. When I woke up the double line on the tests from the night before showed with more strength and that morning’s test confirmed with even brighter lines what I was hoping for. Unbidden, I thought “Its a girl!” This was the first time I had ever had a strong feeling about the gender of a baby but it was as clear as the lines on the stick, I was pregnant with a daughter.

I began to wear maternity clothes. I felt confident, different from the last two pregnancies. I took all of this as a sign that things were safe this time. I told my kids about my super power — super sniffing — and we battled bad guys using their scent to track them.

One morning Steve took the boys skiing, and while they were away I had some light cramping. When my 5-year-old came back with a broken femur I pushed worries about my pregnancy aside. This child on the outside needed me.

Two days later I was home with my hobbled son. Except he wasn’t hobbled. He tore around the house on crutches, alternatively swinging like a monkey or swinging his crutches like a weapon. The attending had told me they don’t normally give 5-year-olds crutches but my son, feigning poise, had argued his case, and we left the hospital with armaments.

I began to bleed and took to the bed. I didn’t rush into the hospital, though it was bad. On Monday I had the ultra sound that told me what I already knew. They took blood to measure the levels of pregnancy hormone to make sure they went down and as I was too far along to have the miscarriage at home, they scheduled a D & C.

Afterwards I used the pregnancy sticks again. The sound of the foil wrapper offering none of the exciting possibility of the last. Instead I was hoping for lighter lines. They didn’t come. I was scheduled for a second procedure. Then it was done.

So were we.

Steve was ready to be all-in with our boys. I didn’t want to go through the emotional and physical highs and lows of the last two years. From the conception of our first child to the day we made the decision to get a vasectomy I had been pregnant or nursing (or both) 46 of the last 60 months.

Enough was enough.


And, enough WAS enough.

Four years later I still look at families of five and hear myself saying “they got it right” inside my head before I consciously and slowly let that thought go.

I reach towards my boys, now old enough to cook and clean and care for themselves, and I think how lucky we are. In the years between my pregnancy losses and today, I have helped friends through devastation much greater. Still, I remind myself that it is not a relative thing. Our loss was real, and it deserves the grief I gave it.

My husband grieved too, but has filed that sorrow away as a different time of our life. He can remember it, but not feel it.

When I come back to right now, I see his beer is almost all the way gone. I let the haze of loss drain away too. I picture it as his beer, cloudy to the point of being opaque. I concentrate on his glass as he drains away the very last of the sludgy bottom bits and leaves the glass clean. I lean in to my husband, who wonders aloud what the boys are doing right now. I realize that right now I am letting go.

As I pick up that third positive pregnancy test from our family keepsake box and set it gently in the bathroom trash, I think that today, finally, enough IS enough.

One tiny tip for tackling mental illness

There is something about starting your day (particularly your Monday) fumbling with a plastic pill bottle.

Or four.

One morning I walked into the bathroom and looked at the pill bottles lined up like soldiers going to war. Instead of being on my side, battling mental illness and hormonal imbalance the army seemed to be working against me. With each turn of the cap I was taunted by miserable messages.

Healthy people don’t need pills.

You are not healthy.

It is your fault you are not healthy.

I started every day thinking these things. The sun could be pouring through the bathroom skylight (and often was- it is Denver after all), my son could have woken me with a snuggle and still these condemning thoughts persisted above or below my consciousness. You are not well. It is your fault. Welcome to your day.

I noticed that I was holding my breath as I rushed though my routine so that I could get out of the bathroom away from the judgmental pills. I would brush my teeth with vigor, slap on sunscreen, stab myself with deodorant and gulp down the pills so quickly that they often became chalky lumps in my throat.

I decided to toss the pill bottles.

Not the pills. I needed them. But the bottles.

I stole one of the IKEA spice canisters from Steve’s masterpiece and poured all four pills together. I took time to notice the blue and brown and white and think that they looked like the very best local eggs.

I  threw the bottles into the sap bucket that we use as a bathroom trash can with a satisfying clunk as each hit the bottom of the bucket.

Now each morning I carefully pick through the pills lining them up on the counter and take them one at a time sipping water from a mug my friend made that coordinates with the color of the pills. It felt a little ridiculous. Yet it made a big impact. This slight aesthetic change brought on a big mental shift. I was taking charge, I was taking care of myself.

I was not just a patient but a person.The pills were put in their place. It wasn’t their judgment after all.



If you want to make your life a little better go ahead and visit Jeremy online (or if you are super lucky in Waterbury) we enjoy his pottery in every room of our house. But none more than my bathroom.

Have you made any small changes to make daily struggles easier. Is their anything that you do to make yourself more of a person than a patient?


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- alone and together

Oliver is red as he sprints to the finish line at his cross country meet. I recognize this red. It was what I felt back in fifth grade when I played soccer. One year they took our team picture after a game and my face was as red as our uniform. At home that evening I took out a red magic marker and colored in the faces of the other girls on my team. I would not be the reddest.

Oliver is the reddest and it doesn’t bother him. He looks up at me and I notice once again that it won’t be much longer that he has to tilt his head to meet my eye. “I came in second on the Hill B team.” He is grinning so widely that his third dimple is showing. “I mean, there are only two kids on the B team but second sounds so much better than last.”

He holds my hand as we walk towards the car. He is pleased with his time. He thinks by the end of the season he will be able to shave 19% off of it. “Then I will be slow, but not so so slow.” He tells me, mouth moving as quickly as his feet were minutes before at the finish line. “We had to pass through the creek three times. The first time I went slowly. I was worried there were going to be slippery rocks but instead it was sand. So the other three times I jumped in full force. It was my favorite part of the course.” He finds his poem funny and repeats it as we cross the street to our car.

At home our second (not last, but, you know, actually last) child is planning for his birthday party. He has chosen not to come to the cross country meet to cheer on his brother. I wonder about this. He used to come to all of the games. Even if he was digging worms out of the dirt rather than watching the field he was there. This was the time when it was just the two of them. It is changing. Leo has friends at the house more often than not. Where once he and Oliver sat together in a single chair it is now another 11 year old draped over the wide arm.

What’s that? Why its dirt covered rice crispie treats with sour gummy worms obviously.

Leo’s is a low impact party that doesn’t require much planning. We will be celebrating at Jumpoline or Tramplace or whatever it is called. As a weird anathema who doesn’t like cake we will have rice crispies treats.  As excited as he is with the party he is disappointed in his new age. This week he will be eleven. He claims that 11 offers no real milestones. He is already double digits. Twelve allows him shotgun in the car. Eleven is just…11. When I tell him it is the number of players on the football field he looks at me with disdain. It was weak. We both know it.

In between reading Steve and I corny jokes (“I have 21 of these and I am not afraid to use them.” Oliver declares with a mixture of threat and humor) Oliver tells me he will be willing to skip Leo’s party. I wonder about the word willing. It is not the same as a cross country meet. It is a birthday party. I would never have expected this. ‘Is there a reason you don’t want to go?” I ask. “Oh I WANT to go”, he insists,” I just want it to be as fun as possible for Leo, and he might not want me there.” My heart breaks a little. A few minutes later I ask Leo what he thinks of my conversation with Oliver. Listening, his almond eyes widen. “What?” “OF COURSE I want him to come.” It seems impossible that there was any doubt.

Piled in the car on the way to the party the five kids are chattering. They are talking about sports cars. Lamborghini Centenario, Le Farrari le ferrari. They are saying words in other languages I don’t know. They love the cars. From the back a lilting voice pipes in. “I love Suburus.” Says the one girl in the car. “I love her” I say to Steve. The boys say nothing at all. After sports cars they take on soccer. Elite teams, relative skill of players in their class. Oliver is quiet. He doesn’t play soccer. His brother has his back though. “Oliver came in second in his cross country meet.” The lone girl congratulates him. He looks at her. “There are only two kids on the team. So really I came in last.” “But” he repeats the truth he spoke earlier this weekend. “Second sounds better than last.” There is a moment of silence and then all the voices murmur their consent. They don’t agree on cars or relative soccer rankings, but second is a lot better than last.

Rice Crispies treats, friends, AND brother

Arriving at Tramplace Steve and I notice all of the things that are out of order. Some of them relieve us (make your own cotton candy) but some are a bit disappointing. The bumper cars and 3D rides are both “down for maintenance.” I wonder if this is the same euphemism they use for pools when they need to drain floating turds. It doesn’t seem impossible. Where I hear ruckus and see disrepair the kids see only thrills. They are jumping and diving and dodging balls. They are sticking together. Two “big kids” (clearly not 11) begin cheating and dodge ball and swearing at them. The group comes together. Where they might have criticized each other instead they are staunch defenders against a common enemy.

That evening Leo opens his presents. They are more touching and personal than ever before. There are meaningful notes and framed photos and matching soccer jerseys to ones he has complimented in the past. After years of saving every stick, rock and package he has finally gotten to the point where he has something to really treasure. Amongst the gifts there is a card about the number 11. It has facts about what makes the number special. We have a collective eye roll as the card too cites the number of football players on the field. Eleven may not be the very best number. There is one fact that excites my boys though. Eleven, it turns out, is the smallest double digit that is prime. “Nerds unite!” Oliver celebrates. I see Leo thinking. It is pretty cool to be a prime number. This is the fact he will hold close to him in his eleventh year. He is a prime, if not in his prime. He is surrounded by friends and supported by his brother. Just last night they sat together at the computer working on 9th grade math. Oliver was teaching Leo formulas and telling him he could do it. It was a real life example of nerds uniting. If I blurred my eyes I could almost imagine the locks of their hair falling together like when they were little.

The same brown chair that is filled with friends

Perhaps this is the story of 11. You are a little apart. You are tuned into your friends as much as your family. You stand as someone who is no longer second to your brother. You might not cheer him on but you still defend him, even in front of your friends. You two are not the brothers you once were. You used to spend life with limbs entangled, sharing a blanket, each of you wearing one of a pair of shoes.

It may be different, but different can be better. You are two boys, you are one set of brothers, you are 23 years of life between you. You are ready to be alone and together. First and last and first and second.

Nerds united.

Voices in your head- fiction and writing

SO many books and I am struggling with just one.

For months I have been slogging…and I mean slogging…through a YA utopian/dystopian novel. I don’t mean reading one. I mean writing one.  It is my first attempt at long form fiction and it has just about killed me.

I’ll describe to you the plot and you can see the potential…and the difficulty. The novel is set in a near future society where all physical ailments have been cured. A mere 15 years after the cure citizens have to face the reality that their world is screaming towards overpopulation. A ministry is formed to help address the problem and they come up with the simple solution of one life for another. If you are going to have a baby you need to find someone to die for it to be born.

The story is told from the perspective of a 16 year old boy who is going to be an orphan in 40 weeks. His mother is giving her life for his sister to have a baby. His father was the first to do this, giving his life for his other sister to have a baby. Their world celebrates this sacrifice. It is considered the highest honor to die for another to be born. The book open in his classroom where his entire class is watching a replay of the ceremony of his father’s death and cheering. Meanwhile Juneau is hiding his tears.

In the midst of this loss he meets a 16 year old girl. Despite receiving the same treatment at the clinic as all of the other citizens she seems immune to the cure. One slice of her iris is a different color than the others. Yet no one seems to see the evidence of her resistance. When they meet they recognize in each other a rare distrust of the cure and what it means. Beyond their personal suffering they uncover an even darker impact of the cure. Mere miles away from their sunny spacious homes lies a holding camp where the upper class is farming lower class “donors” so ministry families can have babies without having to sacrifice themselves.

The novel is written in trimesters where the first brings the two protagonists together, the second reveals the dark underside of their world and the third helps them overturn the medical reality by going on a quest to find the elder who created immortality, a woman who watched her own daughter die a painful death and wanted to spare other from her suffering. When they find her they realize that she has been shielded from the impacts of her benevolence. Revealing the reality she decides to shut down the mitochondrial clinics and allow the natural balance of life and death to resume.

As I describe the plot of the book currently title “I for an I” it is hard to ignore that I am writing in the passive tense. “The novel is written…” I am writing this novel. Except maybe I am not. Every single minute has been misery. The dialogue is stilted. The plot is even more complicated than I described.

Last night I woke up at three in the morning with someone talking to me. It was a woman. She lived in the present time, she had regular sized problems. She was not battling classism or environmental issues or the ethics of genetic changes. She did not have to go on a quest or solve a planet’s problem. She just needed to water her flower pots, convince herself she could stand on her own and then when she was confident meet a guy. She had the help of a sassy best friend and bizarre controlling parents. She is a trope. She is what I know. She was already talking to me.

So here I am, 30,000 words into a book that is killing me slowly, feeling drawn to the fluffiest of tales. It is confusing. Perhaps like the characters in “I for an I” maybe there needs to be death to make room for more life.

Can anyone relate to this? Has anyone shelved a long project? How do you decide which stories to tell? Seeking advice…

Does driving make you anxious?

She would never erase her brown spots

She is tall and willowy. To talk to her I look up towards the Colorado sun. She has a small dog and a small-ish kid with very blue eyes and I am asking her about my face. Generously she overlooks the enormous bloody scab that I have created trying to solve the problem of a clogged pore. Instead she looks as I trace my finger over the splotchy brown areas that caused Leo to ask if I were turning into a giraffe. “No” I told him “I would have to be a whole lot taller.” Today I am feeling part optimist and part hypocrite as she describes the way she, as a medical aesthetician, will use the “good stuff” on my melasma. She has just finished a seminar on melasma. I am in good hands. This is the optimistic bit. Erasing the marks of life on my face is where the hyprocritical part comes in. I have written articles and posts against botox, urging women to fill up on their laugh lines rather than fill them in. Now I am seeking a medical eraser, one to subtract the years of teenage birth control pills and decades of sunshine. It is not very different. I could have had it wrong. I don’t feel as though I am turning back time, but rather turning a fresh face to the next few decades. I stand taller. Then she tells me where her office is. And I sink down into myself. It is out of my two mile bubble. I am anxious to drive.

I will never get there.

Photo by Mike Wilson on Unsplash
This make me anxious. You?

Some of it I come by honestly, I have terrible night vision. So bad in fact that I suspect I am legally blind. I have not had this theory confirmed by an optometrist. There are probably no eye doctors in my approved area of travel anyways. I also have a rotten sense of direction. This is a bit of a chicken and the egg issue. I don’t know where to drive because I don’t drive. I rely so heavily on GPS that after three years in Denver I am still using it to navigate the two turns to the boys’ dentist. Which is in the same building as my doctor. And my pharmacy. The car navigation system is such a part of our life that the boys have named her Pam (map backwards). One evening we drove to the beer garden for dinner which has a pretty good landmark, a full sized jet parked in front,  and is one parking lot away from the dentist. Steve drove us (of course) and from the back seat I heard a small amazed voice. “You can get there without Pam dada?” It was a miracle. Even more surprising than the 8 nights of Hannukah, or that one time Oliver found his shoes on the first try.

Not anxious to drive or fly.

Last night we had a dinner party to say goodbye to my cousin and his new bride. There were ten of us and we sat on our small patio and made paper airplanes and toasted the couple who would be heading off the next morning at 6 am. Despite an actual tearful goodbye there were some nice parts of the evening. (Boy did I want to use the word literal in that last sentence.) We got to talk about our next big gathering, an engagement party for my other cousin. With my love of cheese and cloth napkins I have been tapped to help with the party planning. My aunt and uncle will be hosting in their house in Boulder. Boulder is 45 minutes away and I have been there dozens of times. My aunt asked me to drive up to figure out the flow and layout of the party. I froze at her reasonable request. I couldn’t get there. I mean, I could, but I wouldn’t. I wanted Steve to drive me. I spun it as a foothills hike for he and the boys and just incidentally I would plan a party. This was a strong idea, I wouldn’t have to drive AND I wouldn’t have to hike. But with his work and work travel there was no time to make the trip together before the party. I had no solution. Except the obvious one. I would have to take myself. OR. I looked over to my cousin. It was his party after all. Maybe he could drive me.

“Sure” he told me shrugging his linen clad shoulders. “No problem.” It was like someone told me I could skip my root canal. I would not have to drive to Boulder over overpasses, or past substations, through parts unknown.

I stand at the counter picking at the gluten free cheesecake thinking about my mental map. The places I love, the places I know, are lit with a glow as bright as the sun but easier to look at. There is Vermont and Truro, Anna Maria and Denver, a super small portion of Istanbul, Summit County and that one block in Florence.  I have always thought about my map in terms of these happy bubbles. But now I focus on the space between. Those spaces are darker than the circles were bright. The darkness is as thick and endless as the edge of the barrier reef that I snorkeled in Roatan. It was as if a piece of the world was ending and if I swam just one more stroke, took one more step, drove on more block, I would end too.

This, I realize, is unreasonable.

Photo by NASA on Unsplash
Like this but without the connecting threads. And with fewer bright spots.

I have written about gender bias in driving before, and my research showed that women are in fact not worse drivers than men. But perhaps they are more scared. My sample size of one confirmed this theory. I looked up from my cheescake and asked the woman who was about to drive from Denver to Monterey tomorrow morning “are you afraid of driving.” She paused, her dark curls falling forward. “Not really.” “But I don’t like to drive with anyone else in the car with me.” “Because you might kill them?”  I asked, as full of tact as possible. She crossed her slim brown arms in an unconscious gesture of protection. “No. Of course not. I’m just anxious they will notice my driving and judge me.” That was different. She didn’t imagine herself just driving off the road the way I did. She wasn’t afraid of rolling into some abyss. Then she continued slowly. “Maybe I am afraid. I think maybe I am. I would rather not drive.”

Photo by michael podger on Unsplash
On the web is better than on my shoulder

My aunt nodded. “Of course I don’t like to drive.” She is soft spoken, gentle, but about this she was firm. There was one other woman there. The one who had just reached across the counter to pull a large spider off of my shoulder without a break in her conversation. My cousin looked at me and said “she is more of a man than I ever will be.” I wanted to chastise him about his perpetuation of gender stereotypes but since I was working through one of my own I kept my mouth shut. She seemed fearless. Was she afraid? But the conversation she had not interrupted to protect me from a painful venomous death was serious. They were talking about their work, about life changes, about those late twenty years where you are getting married and moving and switching landscape architecture firms. About dentist board exams. About their own versions of the abyss, and how they will navigate them.

I noticed that none of them were staying in place. None of them were protecting the comfort of their bubbles. Instead they were driving forward, taking a bit of the light of this life into the darkness next place.

I have something to learn from them.

What about you? Are you afraid to drive? Is your life smaller than it might be?


My son hung out with Hitlr 

He should be hugging teddy bears not handling Hitler
Leo hung out with Adolf Htlr in the lobby of his Roblox game. When he told me this I was uncharacteristically quiet for a minute. “What?” Was my eventual nuanced response. “Yeah. I told him I was offended by his user name and he asked if I was a Jew. Then I said yes and also said that I thought other people would be offended. So then he said “burn all Jews” and someone else joined in.” He is telling me this in a matter of fact tone. Next to him Oliver is nodding his blond head in support. “It was horrible” Oliver adds. 
Turning back to Leo I continued “What did you do next?” “I asked him to go to another lobby and when he wouldn’t I took a screen shot of our conversation and then I left.” This sounded like a good start to me. “Then I reported his user name to Roblox…but I didn’t get a screen shot of the part when they were talking about the gas chambers.”
So there it was. Threatening hate speech targeted at my kid and possibly worse, a second voice chiming in (his?) support for Adolf Htlr. This is how it builds from one person to the next. This is how 12 year olds find their voices. And sometimes the voices say horrible bigoted things. 
Leo isn’t in this part of the conversation to keep his screen name private
We are looking at each other across the table. My boys are calm. I think that my ten year old has handled it well. He stood up for himself. When that didn’t work he documented the problem, went to an authority figure (the game moderator) and then left the area. The only thing I wish he had done differently was talk to me in real time about what was going on. He agrees to do this in the future and turns back to his plate as if things are all tidied up.

I realize that Leo isn’t taking this any more personally than he would have someone who told him his voice sounded like a baby. This attack has happened 20 times to every 1 time he was told he should die because of his religion. I think we need to review the difference between bigotry and trolling. So together we sit down and I watch him compose a second letter to the moderators of Roblox. 

Dear Roblox, I am ten year old boy who happens to be Jewish. I was playing Phantom Forces and I came across a player whose name was xXAdolf_Htlrxx. Now I said to him. “That name is sort of offensive do you think you could leave this lobby?” He told me no and asked if I was Jewish. I told him I thought a lot of people would be offended by that user name. Then Saintsrow3rdfan said “gas all j3ws” and then Adolf said “burn all J3ws!!!!!!!” And slayer32xx345 said “it’s only offensive to certain people” I said it was offensive to me and they told me to leave. So I took a screen shot of part of it. I like to think Roblox would not allow this kind of hate.”

Whether he feels it personally or generally Leo seems to understand that this is worse than insulting the pitch of his voice. 

For decades I have worried about racism, anti immigrant stances, homophobia and misogyny. I knew there was anti-semitism out there but I thought it was the fuzz on the end of the fringe not even the fringe itself. But here is my son fighting back with his fingertips and doing it without fear.

Part of Leo’s bravery comes from the same anonymity that allows Adolf to attack him. 

On the heels of the “unite the right” rally and its associated violence in Charlottesville I worry even more about the chat rooms in multi player games. Kids and those posing as kids have an anonymous space to spew hatred and they also have an arena for recruitment. 

An August 14th New York Times article about the events in Charlottesville cites George Hawley, a University of Alabama political science professor who studies white supremacists “he said many of the far-right members he had interviewed did not inherit their racism from their parents, but developed it online. Many of them had never heard of, say, David Duke, the former Louisiana politician and former leader of the Ku Klux Klan.”

 The New York Times article ended on this somber note: “on the neo-Nazi site The Daily Stormer, a post promised: “There will be more events. Soon. We are going to start doing this nonstop. Across the country.””

So as this disgusting sentiment plays out from chat rooms to Charlottesville I think the first thing to do is talk to our kids. I ask Oliver and Leo to tell me stories of when people expressed hate online and how they handled it. Their instincts are exactly what I would have suggested:

  1. Stand up for yourself and what you believe to be fair and kind. 
  2. Document your conversation.
  3. Call in a grown up. 
  4. If the threats continue leave first. 
  5. Report the incident. 

Before we review these steps I just want to wipe Skype (and Minecraft and Roblox) from their life and shelter them from all kinds of ugliness and pain.  But I know that shutting their computers is the modern day equivalent of shutting our doors, hiding and hoping the hate fades away. It is up to each of us to stand up and speak out and take screenshots. 

The most stylish blogger I know interviews me (?)

People who don’t blog (the sane ones in the world) often ask why I put it all out there. I have written about that before. Another hidden benefit of blogging is the connections I make online. I have friends from all over the world who know little slivers of my life as I do theirs.

In addition to the navel gazing bloggers like me I have developed relationships with “niche” bloggers. AKA those who know something about something. One of these is Linda Hobden of Boots, Shoes, and Fashion. She lands interviews with international fashion greats from her home in the UK. She has more style than I can ever imagine and teases truths out of every subject she features. Guess who is her latest subject?  Even though I am a fashionleasta she still wanted to share me with her readers. So here is the interview

Want more Linda? Go ahead and follow her on twitter and Pinterest.