Categories
Awesomeness

Dear Girl Scouts: Yes, I Will Buy Your Cookies. However…

Resolutions, shmesolutions. It’s Girl Scout Cookie time.

Who doesn’t love those Samoas with their chocolate and caramel chewiness? You have not lived until you’ve dunked Trefoils in your cocoa or chased a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a Tagalong or two. Downton Abbey and a sleeve of Thin Mints? That is a pretty great evening. And if you are craving comfort food, you can always crumble some Do-si-dos in a bowl of milk and call it cereal.

I will admit it: when it comes to Girl Scout Cookies, I am an easy mark. I am happy to plunk down $6 – yeah, six bucks – for a box of fourteen gluten-free Toffee-tastics.

But even I have my limit. The self-proclaimed neighborhood Girl Scout Cookie crazy lady has her line. And it is this: I will not buy cookies from your mom. That’s right. I will purchase cookies out of wagons towed by girls in sashes or beanies. I will buy boxes off of folding tables from kids shivering outside of Rite Aid. I will snack on treats sold to me by entrepreneurial little sisters at my daughter’s basketball game.

But if I am purchasing Thin Mints out of a minivan, someone’s kid better be the one saying please and thank you and counting out my change.

Which is irritating for the moms, I know. Because as magical as cookie February is for the rest of us, it is super-annoying for moms. Moms have to tally those cookies, and sort the boxes, and accompany their kids to those sleeting Saturday morning troop sales. I get why they advertise, when they take to Facebook to help boost sales on their daughter’s digital cookie platform. But at least have your kid write some thank-you notes when your Twitter friends buy a box or two of Rah-Rah Raisins.

Because as much as I am a GSC aficionado, I also realize that the cookies themselves are ridiculous. They are one of the last societally approved forms of sugar-addiction. We all know to cut back on pasta, potatoes, and Juju Fruits. These days, a grown woman can hardly order a hamburger without a side of matcha and Brazil nuts. But nobody gives me the evil eye when I toss back a lemony handful of Savannah Smiles. It’s for a good cause.

What that cause is, I confess, I am not entirely sure. I never was a girl scout myself. As a kid, I thought piano lessons were cooler. My oldest daughter only made it through a single season as a Daisy Scout. She marched in a couple parades, earned her roller skating patch, and learned to make trail mix during a mock campout held one Saturday morning on the local softball field. We bailed when we discovered there was little, if any, scouting involved.

But when it comes to cookie sales, I am told the girls are not just scouts, but emissaries. These transactions promote self-confidence, worldliness, and a healthy spirit of competition. Moms: you already possess these traits. But some of your girls, they could use the practice. They should speak clearly to grown-ups and look them in the eyes. If they want to win the cookie sales piggy bank or the key chain or the journal and pen, they will probably need to answer questions about nut allergies and dairy. They might even summon some courage and knock on a few doors. Though I am never able to help with this part, it is good for them to be told no thank-you from time to time, so they can practice dealing with life’s small disappointments. But Mom, if you just flog fifty boxes after Pilates class, the whole child self-actualization model crumbles like, well… a cookie.

So kiddos, if you set up your table outside the taco stand or drag your duffle bag over to the swim meet on Tuesday afternoon, you can put me down for a box of Samoas and one box of Tagalongs. And if Mom is with you, have her read a magazine, catch up on Candy Crush, or just chit-chat with me. Because I will buy over-priced, chemical-laden, nonsensically delicious cookies from you. But I won’t buy them from your mom.

This DadvMom.com piece appeared today at the New York Observer.

 

 

 

 

 

Categories
Awesomeness

Bravery Takes Practice

I took my 10-year-old daughter to the Hollywood sign last week.  On clear days, we can see it from our house, and we’ve always talked about hiking up.  There is an easy route, heavy with tourist traffic, paved and well marked.  There is also a difficult one.  Two miles of rocky terrain and a thousand-foot elevation change.  That was the path we took.  At one point, the rocky trail traversed a ridge with a 300-foot drop on one side.  I made sure to keep Katie close to me for that part.

We’ve gotten better at these sorts of adventures.  I have become more patient.  Katie seldom cries anymore.   And though she is bold by nature, bravery still takes practice.  So, every few weeks, we plan an outing, and we test ourselves.  This time, it was the tough trail to the Hollywood sign. On other occasions, we have hiked the Grand Canyon, canoed white-water rapids, and snorkeled with leopard sharks (that one could have gone better).DadvMom.com_WhyWePracticeBeingBrave_SeaLions

Watching a movie, or playing video games together, would be easier.  And safer too.  Unless, that is, one weighs the risks of a childhood without adventure, of entering adulthood without having learned to navigate real challenges.  Sure, bad things might happen.  But such is the case with most things worth doing.  It’s the case with life itself. For my kids, the best way to learn the difference between risks worth taking, and ones better left alone, is to practice.

After our hike, Katie showed pictures to her friends.  A few were wide-eyed at the sight of the cliff.  She said, “Adventures are worth the mishaps.”  It’s clearly a borrowed phrase, and I am not sure Katie entirely grasps what it means.  But I like that her brain is starting to work that way.  She is beginning to understand the kinds of rewards that such endeavors can bring.  In time, she will appreciate the depth of character they can build.  And although our weekend exploits are mostly about the physical, they do feed another kind of bravery.

Only some of the challenges Katie is sure to face in life will require brawn.  The greatest tests will be moral ones.  I want her to be prepared, bold not only in the face of physical dangers, but brave in the way she treats others.  As proud as I am when she scales a cliff or surfs a big wave, nothing compares to what I feel when she draws on bravery to be kind.  As a ten-year-old, that may be as simple as inviting the new kid to sit with her at lunch – which she has done.  As a grown-up, standing up for others will involve far greater risks.

I can hope against hope that Katie will never be tested that way, never find herself staring down a mob or defending innocent lives in a warzone.  If I had my way, her greatest moral challenges would involve writing op-eds for the local paper or getting the school library to stock good books (you know, the ones with dangerous ideas). But I know my kid.  She is moved by the suffering of others, and will help those in need wherever that may lead.

That is why we practice being brave.  Some day, Katie will have to draw from the well we have filled together.  In that moment, she will learn how deep it goes.  And maybe, if I have done my job right, she will remember my hand on her shoulder, guiding her past the cliffs towards the big white sign over the next ridge.

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A version of this story appeared on Fatherly.com on Nov. 2, 2015.

Categories
Health & Fitness & Oreos

Running Nowhere Slowly

My town’s annual 5K was last week. I started at the back of the pack. This was strategic. I prefer to pass slower runners than be overtaken by quicker ones. It’s a mental thing. So I lined up between a grandma in jogging culottes and a teenager drinking a smoothie. Granny, I wasn’t so sure about, but I figured I could outpace Jamba Juice.

The race started with the usual cheers and hoopla, and adrenaline carried me the first half-mile. As weariness set in, humiliation quickly followed. Had I really become the kind of grown-up who could not run a 5K? I shrugged off the doubt and picked human pace cars to keep me moving. For a while, I followed a guy with a dragon tattoo on his calf. I fantasized that this was ninja training and he was my sensei. But Ralph Macchio slowed to answer his cell phone, and as I passed him, I noticed the dragon was actually a hefty mermaid.

Next, I set my sights on a woman with the most beautiful butt I had ever seen — round, strong, jiggle-free. As I matched her pace, I believed that with every stride my own backside was firming up. When she and her running companion slowed to walk, I realized she was about eleven, and running with her dad.

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But mostly, I was passed. Passed by a woman dressed as Minnie Mouse. Passed by a gentleman in a grape soda costume. Passed by a three-year-old pushing her own stroller.

Part of the problem was my soundtrack. At the start of the race, I clicked on an old playlist titled “Exercise” that should have done the trick. Def Leppard kicked things off. I flashed back to high school and channeled my younger, more athletic self. But as I started to fade, so did the playlist. Eminem gave way to the title song from a Barbie movie, Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” and excerpts from The Sound of Music. Julie Andrews can do no wrong, except when it comes to motivating a tired person to run. I tried to click away from “Do-Re-Mi,” but my fingers were too sweaty.

I used to be a runner, before the kids. I started jogging in college as an attempt to curb the Freshman 15, then kept it up because I loved the way running made me feel. Since the children, it has been harder. Harder to train. Harder to enjoy. Harder to fall into any sort of rhythm. I do other things, but I miss the way I used to slip on my shoes and lope out the door.

The last time I ran a 5K was two children ago. I ran it with my Dad on the 4th of July. That time, I was the pace car for him. But, of course, I had trained, gone out a couple times, practiced the course. Why hadn’t I prepared better for this?  

I lurched past a port-o-potty and briefly considered hiding in it. If it had seemed better ventilated, I surely would have. But a woman entered as I got closer, so I kept moving.

At the beginning of the first big hill, I gave up and walked, chiding myself with every step. Why had I just quit? Isn’t that always the way with me? Why do I stop things just when they are getting hard? As I caught my breath, I got even angrier at myself. Why does it matter? You are here. Just do your best. Jogging was easier than listening to arguments in my head, so I picked up the pace again and let gravity send me down the next hill.

One of the things I have always loved about running is how you can settle into its discomfort. The second and third miles were not as tough as the beginning. I found my working breath. It did not sound pretty, but luckily, nobody was running with me, and if I cranked up “The Lonely Goatherd” loud enough, I did not have to listen to my gasping either.

Other folks seemed to have goals that involved time and pacing. I’d like to run 8-minute miles. I want to finish in under 30 minutes. I had fuzzier objectives. They were more about personal dignity than physical achievement. And I dumbed them down as the race progressed.

Just don’t walk.

Just don’t walk too much.

Just be sure to run when you cross the finish line.

Just don’t be last.

Just don’t be last by too much.

By the time I approached the finish line, Billy Joel and I were in a bit of delirium. As I crossed, I fought the temptation to look behind me. I felt fairly certain I was not the only straggler. But I realized that was not the point. I felt lucky. Lucky to have the use of my legs, the health of my lungs, the gift of my mind to swirl with nonsense as I trotted the streets of my town. I stopped thinking about how many people had passed me, and instead gave thanks. Then, I slumped on the grass and drank a smoothie.

I know plenty of friends who have given up. This is the way I will always look. This is the way I will always feel. Parenting, aging, a lot of things can do that to you. But it does not have to be true. I saw folks along this course, ages two to eighty-two. But he is younger. She was in better shape. Hogwash. The only person I raced today was me. And though I very nearly lost, Julie Andrews carried me through. Just start at the very beginning…a very good place to start….

 

New DadvMom on New York Observer today.

 

Categories
Dreams

Best Supporting Actress? Mom

New DadvMom post on HuffPo parents today.

As a child, I was a bit…theatrical.

I tap-danced at nursing homes, directed talent shows on the front porch, and composed original works for my recorder club. I memorized songs from The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, and West Side Story, and repeatedly staged Annie in my upstairs bedroom.

But it was not until high school that I actually auditioned for anything. In my first play, Working, a musical about Americans and their jobs, I sang backup for the factory worker and the housewife. I had no lines, and no costume changes, and I spent roughly eleven minutes on stage pretending to either weave fabric or clip coupons. I spent so much time off stage that I could make a McDonald’s run during the show and still be back for curtain call.

My hopes were higher in our next play, a French comedy entitled The Miser. Indeed, I was rewarded with my first line. Well, not a line so much as a word. And I didn’t exactly deliver the line in the show. I was cast in the Troupe de Comédie, a fancy name meaning, “kids who did not make it into the actual play.” We wore funny hats and tumbled onto stage to announce important information like, “Act 1, Scene 3,” or “The Play is Over Now.” I spoke my single word, “tock,” during Intermission, when we informed the audience that they had a ten-minute break, and the clock was ticking. And tocking. We were the human equivalent of the playbill.

And so it went. I had two lines in Bye-bye Birdie, but I delivered them in darkness during a scene change. (“I found a lock of somebody’s hair. I wonder if it’s his?”) In Carnival, I played a puppet that helped talk a young girl out of suicide. It was not exactly Singin’ in the Rain.

By senior year, I got my big break with a solo in Godspell. Except my boyfriend and I broke up a week before the show, and I was so distraught that I caught a cold and lost my voice for opening night. I had to lip sync my own number while another gal sang for me. That one was actually quite a lot like Singin’ in the Rain.

As I look back on these bit parts and botched scenes, I find it amusing that I grew up fancying myself a singer, dancer, and actress. It is utter poppycock. I am no more an actress than I am a snake charmer. But the things we try as children stick, even if they don’t turn out to be true.

Which is why I am so proud of my daughter, Katie, tonight. It was the opening night of our community production of Peter Pan, in which – failing to follow in her mother’s footsteps — Katie was cast as Wendy. At 4:30, I applied her make-up. At 5:30, I dropped her at the theater. And at 6:15, I received an urgent communiqué from the stage manager: “Wendy needs you.” I found my little girl hyperventilating near the snack bar, insisting she could not play the part. Situations like this were not covered in the parenting books I read, though they most certainly will be when I write one. Chapter 1: Preventing 5-year-olds from Calling Heavyset Women Pregnant. Chapter 2: How to Remove Poop from Furniture. Chapter 3: What to Say When Your Child Threatens to Flee the Theater Fifteen Minutes before Curtain.

Poor Katie had the flu last week. She missed the tech rehearsals and costume fittings, and never had the chance to become at ease with the lighting and live music. As the audience was being seated, she became more agitated. What could I say to make her feel better? I considered, “Don’t be nervous,” but Katie was clearly petrified. “Try to calm down,” seemed likely to have the opposite of its intended effect.

I pulled her into an empty rehearsal room and wracked my brain. When in my life had I been truly scared? And what had people said to ease my fears? I was robbed once in a parking lot. It was terrifying, at first. But I turned out to be as broke as my assailant, and all the guy got was six bucks. Some crooks broke into my house a few years back, but I slept through the burglary, and only felt afraid after the fact. Truthfully, the most alarmed I have been as an adult was the night my daughter was born. For months, I worried I would not know what to do, that the pain would overwhelm me, that the baby would suffer because of my mistakes. How had I made it through that fear? I vaguely remember people encouraging me to breathe.

As a rule, children do not like to hear their birth stories. They do not want to be reminded of how you wiped their private parts, and held them to your breast, or how they were once fully a part of you. I spared Katie the intimate details. Instead, I told her the funny stuff, and reminded her to breathe. The doctor was annoyed to be working that day because the Super Bowl was on. Breathe in…2…3…4. Breathe out…2…3…4. During the contractions, Daddy said he was “getting tired,” and I yelled at him when he leaned on my bed. In…2…3…4. Out…2…3…4. Sweet baby Katie did not cry for the first week at home, and fooled us into complacency about “what a breeze” this parenting thing would be. In…2…3…4. Out…2…3…4. Then that same baby shrieked inconsolably every night for the next four months. She cried so much she threw up. We had to pull the car over and bounce-walk along the highway to try to quiet this tiny, furious angel. “You were one of the worst babies I ever met,” I told Katie tonight. “But you have grown into a spectacular kid. You were dramatic from the get-go. You can do this. It’s in your blood.”

She had stopped crying by then, but was still unconvinced that she should take the stage. “Mom, what if I’m not any good?” I thought back on my years of theater and realized that I had never been much good at any of it. I learned confidence and poise, experienced playfulness and joy. But I did not learn to act.

“Katie, you are performing this show for an audience of your family and friends,” I told her. “Even if you walk out on the stage, say ‘Meow,’ and pee, everyone is still going to love you.”

In the end, I am not entirely sure what did the trick. Maybe she just decided it would be less dramatic to stay and do the play than to deal with the fallout of leaving. But when the lights came up, Wendy took her first cue, and Peter Pan sailed on from there.

I did not take my own seat in the audience tonight. Instead, I stayed backstage while the principal actors, my daughter among them, sang and danced and flew. The feeling of watching from behind the curtain was a familiar one. Hidden in those shadows, I realized that my years of waiting in the wings had actually prepared me for this moment, for the biggest theatrical role I will ever play: the chance to be someone’s Mom.

 

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Categories
Solidarity Brothers and Sisters

On Veterans Day

I’m married to a veteran.

He was overseas on 9-11 and deployed repeatedly for most of the first years of our marriage. I guess that makes me a veteran of living with a veteran.

I am grateful for his sacrifices. I am grateful for the 4am flights, the all-night watches, and the Christmas he spent with his flight crew on an island in the Pacific. I am grateful for the birthdays he missed, the holidays he gave up, the discomfort he endured. I am grateful that the plane he flew always touched down, despite engine failures, lightning strikes, and radio messages from countries that threatened harm.

I am grateful that our marriage has endured throughout nearly a dozen years of comings and goings.

But I am just as grateful for the work he has done since leaving the service. He has dedicated his life to helping other veterans continue to serve others even after they leave the military.

I know a lot of civilians who are unsure how to celebrate veterans day. They might watch a parade. They curse under their breath when the bank or post office is closed. Some moms I know gathered blankets and coats to offer a local shelter.

But if I could give veterans one gift on this day, it would be to honor their strengths, not their deficits. To make sure that each and every one of them knows they are valuable RIGHT NOW.  And to remind them how much more they still have to give.dadvmom.com_veteransday_croppedweddingcarriage

Maybe the best way to honor veterans is to make sure that no one is alone today.

For any veteran transitioning from active duty to civilian life, or for anyone who seeks to support that transition, check out the following organizations.

Team Rubicon

Mission Continues

And Happy Veterans Day.

UPDATE — 11/11/2015

Listen to the Dad half of DadvMom.com talking about the importance of Veterans Day on the Diane Rehm Show today.

Categories
Health & Fitness & Oreos

Why I Taught My Daughter to Punch

You are approaching that age now, when you look around and see how other dads raised their daughters. You are noticing that I did things differently, that you are not like other little girls, the ones who never leave home without a ribbon in their hair. You are brave and curious, and are beginning to realize that these qualities are not accidents. I want to explain why, because it will help you understand the way you are.

I taught you how to punch. Not because you should grow up fighting, but because, if ever forced to, you should know how. I once saw a little girl in Afghanistan who had acid thrown in her face because she wanted to go to school. You are not yet ready to know what some people do to each other, but I want you to be prepared. You will grow stronger every day, and the moment will come when you will fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.

I have nurtured your curiosity. When we found the spider under our orange tree with the red hourglass on her belly, we did not kill her. We watched, night after night, as she tended her web and waited patiently. We read books about her, and told jokes about how she ate her boyfriends for lunch. And when she finally caught a beetle, we watched her strike and wrap it tight with silk. You found that the things which scare most little girls have the most to teach us.

I let you learn hard lessons. You wanted to walk barefoot to the park through six inches of snow, so I tucked your boots in my backpack and said, “Let’s go.” When your stubborn feet had nearly turned to ice, we rubbed your toes until they were warm, and I pulled out your boots and socks and slipped them on. You discovered that winter footwear, however unstylish, is a good thing. You also learned that cold feet, however uncomfortable, will not kill you.

I taught you to respect nature, to hunt and to fish. Not for the sake of killing, but because the surest way to honor the living earth is to be part of it. You dug for worms and baited your own hooks, and most of the time we cooked what we caught. We raised chickens together and loved them, and ate the eggs they laid and offered thanks. You know and love the world that sustains us, and you understand that meat does not grow on grocery store shelves inside plastic wrapping.

I allowed you to test your limits. When we surfed together, you paddled towards the outside break, even as the big waves kept pushing you back. You fought, and failed, but not really. We rode in, side by side, determined to try and try again until we owned the sea. Some day we will catch that giant storm-driven wave and the crowd on the beach will rise to its feet and marvel at the little girl riding down the mountain of water.

I taught you these things, because one day I will let you go. You will walk down a long aisle to start another life and another family. You will be perfect and beautiful. But no one will mistake that beauty for fragility. You will fight for others, while seeking new wonders. You will run barefoot through snow, while exalting all of creation. You will live life to its fullest, testing your own limits while obliterating those set by others.

Until then, be proud of who you are. Never let anyone tell you what a woman can and cannot do. And should someone make fun of how little girls hit, offer to teach them. Smile politely, square your stance, and give fair warning. Then knock the effing wind out of them. Because that is how a girl should punch.

Originally appeared in the Huffington Post, and reprinted at Fatherly.com.