Day 5: A Creek = Nature’s Cardboard Box

Today, the kids . . .

Scrambled over rocks

Slid down rocks

Threw rocks

Tripped over rocks

Cut themselves on rocks






Ate grapes

Threw grapes

Argued about grapes

Fed grapes to the fish

Pretended they were explorers

Pretended they were a family (?!)

Pretended they were asleep

Pretended they were stranded on an island with no grown-ups

Peed in the river.


And probably lots, lots more things I did not notice, since I was not overseeing, directing, choreographing, or orchestrating their play. I simply sat way on the sidelines and ignored them, present only because Henry does not yet swim, but otherwise completely absent from their fun.

Many of us bemoan the fact that our kids “just don’t go outside and play anymore.” And sure, there are some reasons for that. Some of us live in places where outside time is tricky—fences, crime, big dogs, neighbors who frown upon shrieking. But a lot of us live in pretty great neighborhoods. On streets and cul-de-sacs where children could still roam free and dig for worms and play with sticks and create mini-fiefdoms and only come inside when they needed the toilet or sandwiches.

Our kids are growing up.  What are we waiting for?

Let’s let them play.

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Lemons and Lemonade

Day 4: Rain

We arrived at the motel too late last night to do anything more than share a frozen pizza and tumble into bed. “We’ll swim in the morning,” I told my tired crew.

“Okay, Mom,” they said.

Of course, this morning, it was raining. The kids were crestfallen.

We had another long day of travel ahead of us. Ken and I knew the kids needed to play.

“Well, we are going to get wet anyway. Who wants to go swimming?!” We all donned our suits and went outside.

I’m not gonna lie. I felt ridiculous walking across the rainy parking lot while other, more sensible, travelers packed their cars and hit the road. This feeling was compounded when we arrived at the pool gate only to discover it all chained up.

The kids looked first at me and then at Ken. “Sorry, you guys,” I said. “It looks like the pool is closed.” Rain-soaked, Ken led us back under the motel awning.

Katie was the first to speak. “That’s okay,” she said. “I didn’t even really want to swim anyway.”

Katie had very much wanted to swim. All of us had. But she was convincing herself she did not want to because she did not want to be sad.

A big part of parenting is helping kids deal with disappointment: plans that are canceled; changes that must be made; hurt feelings when a swimming pool is closed. Situations do not always go as we wish. We want our kids to learn how to appropriately deal with frustrations and setbacks.

But an even bigger part of parenting, I think, is agency: teaching kids to take charge of their world, to determine their own outcomes, to make their own luck. The world will put plenty of walls in the way. It is our job to help our children find the ladders and windows. To teach them possibility.

Instead of heading back to the room, we all marched into the front office. The kids asked if they could swim, and a kind woman named Tammy assured us that, of course, she would unlock that gate around the pool.

We tromped back into the rain and, one by one, jumped in — looking even more ridiculous all together — and laughed and splashed and carried on in that age-old way about how wet we were getting in the downpour.

Sometimes defeat is accepting disappointment.

Sometimes victory is swimming in the rain.






Day 3: Detour

Today began with a detour. Ken wanted to see a cave.

Yesterday, it was a meteor crater. Tomorrow, probably some rocks. I tolerate my husband’s little sideshows because they:

  1. get us out of the car
  2. make him happy
  3. give the kids something new to complain about.

Because unlike their father, our children seem only to want to see two things on this trip—Cheetos and Minecraft (ßwhich, for anyone fortunate enough not to know, is a game that will consume your child’s soul from about the age of 7 until, I dunno, maybe forever).

Thus, we plotted a course for Carlsbad Caverns, which sits—my apologies to the locals—deep in the corner pocket of nowhere.

Just after Albuquerque, we got separated. Ken, child-free in the big truck, was able to travel at roughly the speed of sound, whilst I, driving the minivan/clown car pulled off 14 different times for coffee, ice cream, hot dogs, apple juice, and then so various individuals could poop and/or pee. (Yeah, okay. I see now how those stops were probably related.)

And, of course, because I was playing a Math game with Katie while listening to Henry tell me how “that cloud looked like an alligator” and “that cloud looked like a meatball,” I missed the exit. Which would not have been that big a deal, until Ken called to say he was already at the caverns and where was I and could I please try not to be late?

Of course we were late.

Ken phoned every 10 minutes to check on our progress.  We skidded in shoeless and needing to pee (again!?) at 4:51 just in time for the final elevator of the day.

I learned no facts about the Carlsbad Caverns. How deep they were? Who found them? Why they were there? I intend to Wikipedia this info shortly.

But they were spectacular. Hundreds of feet underground, we emerged from the elevators, and turned to see enormous white caverns. Miles bigger than anything I had imagined. And rather than dark and dank, much of it was gently lit to reveal glowing structures. Vaulted cathedral ceilings dripping with piercing stalactites. Naves of calcified crystals and stalagmites. Glassy water ponds, and quiet stone seats for rest and reflection. Strategically placed lights gave the whole place a reverent glow. We spent over an hour wandering the caves, peering into seemingly bottomless pits, finding shapes in the stones. Katie saw the seven dwarves, Santa, and a Christmas tree. Henry found jellyfish and spaghetti, and Lizzie found a small theater populated by the tentacles of a giant squid. Rather than another one of our forced family marches, it felt like a religious pilgrimage. Everywhere I looked, I saw relics – statues of saints, a prayer nave, a series of benches that seemed ready for church. The cavern was even laid out in the shape of a cross.

It is a good thing that while I was down there, I did not know about the bats.

Nearly half a million bats sleep by day in a chamber deep within the Carlsbad Caverns. And most evenings, they emerge all at once to feed.

Of course, Ken needed to see this.

My husband does not know the meaning of enough is enough.


At 7pm, more than satisfied by our journey through the caverns, and on the cusp of hangry, I allowed myself to be ushered by Ken down to a stone amphitheater to meet Ranger Lacey.

At 7:30, she said it would be any minute now.

At 7:45, she mentioned that if they were coming, they usually would have emerged by now.

At 8, she said that occasionally, due to weather or circumstances beyond our understanding, the bats did not come out at all, and the park had to close, and yeah, that was a bummer, but you could always come back to the middle of nowhere New Mexico another time.

The kids were getting restless. Folks began to leave. Even Ken was ready to call it.

But at 8:07, the bats flew.

I expected to hear the swooshing and whooshing, screeching and maybe the scraping of claws (confession: most of what I know about bats is from cartoons). Instead, 400,000 animals formed tornado after bat tornado, dipped and circled soundlessly, before lifting to the sky in flight. I sat with hundreds of people in utter stillness. 500+ folks silent as a church. Cell phones strictly forbidden. Watches set not to beep. So we just sat there, strangers in the twilight, mystified and united by bats.

Well played, husband.  A pretty great day.

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Despite my hope to capture reverence and beauty, all of my photos of the caverns look like the mouths of aliens.  You can see way better images here.

Also, even though WE could not photograph the event, others have.  Do a quick Google search of “photos of bat flight Carlsbad Caverns” to see what I’m talking about.  Pretty rad.

Photo credit for the banner image on this page: Carlsbad Caverns National Park. © Chris Walters Photography


Cross-Country Day 2: Your Singing Is Hurting My Band-Aid


We had some trouble getting out of the motel this morning. Our plan had been to awaken early, pack up quickly, and head to the Grand Canyon swiftly before the heat of the day and the arrival of the weekend tourist buses.

But leaving LA yesterday took a physical and emotional toll, thus we were all bonkers tired this morning, plus the kids wanted pancakes, and then Henry cut his foot during one of his epic leaps from one advertised-as-a-queen-but-totally-a-double motel bed to the other while Dad was trying to nap, so it was nearly noon when we finally made it down to the parking lot—which was empty, except for two vehicles, both ours.



As we set out for the Canyon, I was reminded of why I had skipped it on my three other cross-country road trips. It is not exactly on the way to anywhere, except, I guess, to itself. The kids argued about the iPad, and Henry complained the music was making his Band-Aid hurt, and Ken and I wondered aloud about whether the gal at the front desk had been exaggerating when she told us about the 30-45-minute long line just to get into the park. With Henry’s bum foot and this crazy heat, there would be no hiking, and what was the point of visiting the Grand Canyon if we were only going to look at it?  I had half a mind to just turn us around again to keep driving.

But then we saw the helicopter.


Yes, it was expensive.

Yes, it was (initially) terrifying.

But then, it was just awesome.

The pilot played the theme songs to Chariots of Fire, Star Wars, and 2001: A Space Odyssey as we headed toward the Canyon, but then when he reached it, he cut off the music and let nature speak for itself.

Hovering above the Grand Canyon made it look simultaneously big and small, made us feel both all-powerful and insignificant. And after I overcame my fear of all of us plummeting to the ground in a fiery crash, I enjoyed the ultra-modern journey backwards in time.


We got back to the car and the kids resumed their arguments about whose turn it was for the iPad and who would pick the next movie. But I hardly listened. I floated above them, my mind full of rusty red rocks, and I piloted our minivan east.



Sisterhood of the Traveling Mops

I have always maintained that dating is unnecessary. If you really want to test a relationship, move together. Not move IN together. Just move. It doesn’t even need to be your stuff. Pick up a piece of furniture and maneuver it across town. If you can carry a sofa down a flight of stairs, become lodged and unlodged in a too-small entryway, and get both it and you largely unscathed into a rental truck – or better yet, a beat-up minivan – idling by the curb, AND still be talking to one another at the end of that escapade, go ahead and marry that person. The rest will be gravy.

But my theory got an upgrade today. Because it turns out that the moving test also works on friendships. If you really want to know who your friends are, just make some plans to leave town. Then step back and feel the crazy love.

Over the course of the past month, there have been parties and bounce houses, beer, wine and cake. My friends and I have discussed gun legislation and sung karaoke. I was taken to swimming pools, movies, dinner, pedicures, and the beach. In fact, I had so much fun saying goodbyes, that I hardly had time to pack.

Thus, rock bottom came the night before last. My friend Sara stopped over with ice cream to check on my progress. Seeing our home largely unchanged 36 hours before our moving day, she launched an organizational intervention. Markers, coins, flip-flops, and sticker books all found their mates. Giveaway boxes were filled. Piles formed. She got the ball rolling. And then I suspect that she then spread the word.

dadvmom.com_SisterhoodOfTheTravelingMops_boxesTruthfully, I don’t know what she said or to whom, but all I know is that the love and assistance never stopped flowing. I am a person who does not like to ask for help. I like my friends. I hate moving. Why would I want people I like to help with something I hate? I don’t want to spread my misery.

But I learned a new kind of Math this week. I can’t wait until they start teaching it in schools. It turns out that when I share something that I dislike with folks that I love, magic happens. I should have remembered this from the great Ohio exodus of 2014 or the Connecticut relocation project of ’09, but these past 36 hours reaffirmed everything I have ever believed in the fundamental awesomeness of all the people I know and love.

Because it turns out the LOVE + HATE = LOVE.

That’s right. FRIENDSHIP (love) + MOVING (hate) = FRIENDSHIP.

Women arrived to clean my closets. They emptied my pantry, and packed sweaters into boxes.

Folks took my kids to breakfast, lunch, dinner, and tea. The children ate ice cream cones and baked bread all well away from me.

Though I was packing furiously in a house emptied of food, I never went hungry. Pizzas appeared. And seltzer waters. And donuts. And cookies. And avocado toast. And burritos, liquor, Twinkies, and string cheese.

Whenever I hit a wall, more women arrived and put themselves to work. It was like Little House on the Prairie, but with Swiffers and Adirondack chairs.

An hour before my landlord arrived to inspect the rental property, a dozen of my mom friends were in my house. Julia mopped the kitchen while holding her baby in a carrier. Lauren swept with an infant in tow. Mothers brought vacuums and Windex when it was discovered that we had mistakenly packed all of our cleaning supplies. All hands were on deck. And while I suppose I was the captain of that very dirty and sinking ship, I was also a passenger. And all of these friends took me on a pretty great ride.

So Ashley and Ashley, Julie and Julia, Leah, Melissa, Erin, Wendy, Lauren, Lara, Sara, Corrita, Stephanie, Toni, Breezy, Teresa, Whitney–and whoever else I am forgetting–thank you. You were like guardian angels. And unicorns. Thank you for the magic.

Whenever I am faced with a task that is impossibly big, I usually just double down — I work harder, stay up later, dig deep and get it done. Determination, stick-to-it-ness, strength . . . these are attributes I have all but mastered in my adult life. I am hereby checking them off of my list.

There are others, however, that I am clearly still working on. Grace, for instance. And vacuuming. And the belief that when I fall, someone will catch me. Or someones. Sometimes, I guess, when a task seems insurmountable, it is because we were never meant to tackle it alone.

They sorted my laundry and scrubbed my sinks. They fed my family and delivered spare mattresses all over town.

Moving, people. The worst, best thing that there is.


Time Travel

A Father’s Day Promise

When I was 5, my father made a promise he never intended to keep. He had returned from a long trip, with presents. I got a fossilized shark tooth and spent the next month asking about fossils.

At some point, my father made the mistake of describing a massive fossil bed somewhere in Germany. I begged him to take me. There were good reasons that could never happen: Dad knew nothing about fossils; Germany was far away; I was 5. But I would not be deterred.

Eventually, my father relented. “Fine, I promise we will hunt fossils in Germany.”

For more than 30 years, I held onto that promise. That’s not to say I held my father to it. Eventually, I understood how absurd it was. But I wondered why he agreed in the first place. I kept telling myself, “A promise is a promise.

Becoming a parent changes everything, even logic. It turns out a promise is not a promise when made under duress to a child. As a Navy pilot, I went through a prisoner of war survival program, which included tactics for withstanding torture. This is training every father should undergo. I learned there that a forced confession, like a forced promise, is not real.

A few months ago, I made such a promise to my daughter. I do not remember the specifics of my breakdown, only Katie’s pleading. “Daddy, if I make good choices can we hike the Great Wall?”


“Daddy, I know you said we can’t.  But if I eat 10 vegetable, can we?”

Multiply that question a thousand times and the answer transforms. “Yes … I promise.”

Since then, Katie has told everyone that Dad is taking her to China. Even her teacher was impressed. “So you’re hiking the Great Wall with your daughter? Amazing!”

A pledge to a child can be a beautiful thing. I’ve promised Katie that when we swim into deep water I will not let go. I’ve sworn I will always love her. Some promises, however, cannot be kept. My father did not take me fossil hunting.

dadvmom.com_promises_GrandpaHStill, what lay behind his promise was never betrayed. It lost its original form; time, and the pressures of parenting, transformed it. But it emerged something beautiful, a reminder of adventures we did have. My father and I dove the Florida Keys, we canoed Loch Ness, we hiked the length of Hadrian’s Wall.

Sharks lose thousands of teeth in a lifetime. New ones roll forward to replace the old. Occasionally, a perfect tooth falls to the ocean floor. Sometimes, sediment buries it before nature’s harsher elements wear it away. If everything happens just right, time and pressure transform it.

Millions of years pass. Maybe one is uncovered and brought home as a gift. A fossilized shark tooth has no real “tooth” left in it; minerals have replaced everything it was. Still, it stays true to its original form.

Katie and I will share a thousand adventures, even if they aren’t the ones she imagines today. Someday, we may snorkel the Great Barrier Reef. We may fly to Texas for a hamburger. And maybe, just maybe, we will walk the 1,500 miles from Shanhaiguan to Jiayuguan, and laugh at all that time and nature conspire to change.

A version of this essay originally appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered.


Henry’s latest words of wisdom from our recent camping trip

Lost and Found

Is This Your Diamond Ring?

The kids found a ring at the beach today. Like something out of a movie – appropriate here in LA, I suppose – it tumbled ashore inside a bottle matted in a tangle of seaweed. There was no name, no note, no clue of any kind as to who the owner might be.  Just a diamond ring (real, we think) sealed for safekeeping.  We called the local police department, and the desk officer said they’d be happy to book it into evidence.  Which got the kids thinking . . . what happened?  Is this an engagement gone wrong?  Someone’s jewelry box fallen overboard? A remnant of a memorial ceremony two thousand miles out to sea? Mostly, the kids wondered: Who is missing this ring? And how can we get it back to them?


We’d love to find the owner, and we’d like your help.  Here’s the thing – I’ve left out some key details about the container in which we found the ring (if it is yours, you will get what I am talking about).  We do not know where this journey started, but hopefully, it does not end with us. If you can help Katie, Lizzie, and Henry solve this mystery to send this ring home, shoot us an email at



A Case for Summer Screen Time

It’s summer vacation. Woo-hoo!

But now what?

If you are anything like our family, you awoke this morning and lounged – TV, pancakes, jammies ‘til noon. It was probably spectacular.

But now it is 1:15 pm and all the kids want to do is squabble and eat ice cream and melt their brains with the iPad. For today, we just might do that. But what about the rest of the summer? With sloth and gluttony rule the days? We wait all school year to get our kiddos back, but how do we make the most of June, July, and whatever time we are allotted in August? How do we do summer right?

I read a compelling essay last year about offering children unlimited screen time. I confess I only clicked on it to see what kind of nut-job of a parent made that decision. But the reasoning was pretty great. One mom offered her kids unlimited electronics after they completed several previously agreed-upon tasks—the usual things: reading, cleaning, and something active or creative. Her theory was that kids tend to stick with what they start with. Give them a hot glue gun at 9:30 am and chances are they’ll still be crafting when it’s time for lunch. Insist that they read for an hour and they’ll probably keep a nose in a book for two.

I was doubtful, but the kids and I brainstormed our own list and gave it a try. We decided that they could have as much television and iPad time only after:

  1. Reading
  2. Exercise
  3. Something Creative
  4. A Chore

Lots of my ideas die before I ever fully implement them—the one about not washing any clothes until the prior load is folded and put away, the one about no food in the car. But this one, the one where we made a list and ordered our summer really, really worked. Reading daily turned into more trips to the library for reinforcement books, and sunbathing sessions in the backyard with the Junie B. Jones series. Exercise meant walking the dog, biking to the beach, and neighborhood games of sharks and minnows. Creativity flowed freely every single day. The kids wrote books and made birthday cards, and Lizzie taught herself to draw a horse rearing up in a field. Katie composed music, made a radio, played the piano, and distributed homemade donuts to all her friends. In fact, the kitchen became a second playground. We made our own pizza and ice cream, lemon bread, apple sauce, strawberry jam, caramel, and crepes. We rolled our own sushi and experimented with boba tea. And even the chores got done. The kids folded clothes, made their beds, and scrubbed the bathroom with far few complaints than ever before.

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Now they were still my kids. Plenty of days they groused about the list. They still fought over the iPad and who was in charge of the remote. But they also settled into the routine. Our list provided structure – but not too much – and freedom – but not too much. Some days, we breezed through the list and watched too many episodes of Supergirl. Other days, a lot of days, we never got to any screen time at all. We rode our bikes to the pool for exercise and stayed all day. We baked and shared the results. We summered.

And this morning, over pancakes, we made a new list to try it all over again.

Join us. We would love to hear your results.

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Playing Human Whack-a-Mole with the boy.