Browsing Tag

love

Solidarity Brothers and Sisters

What I Did Today Instead

I did not march today.

I thought about it. It seemed important.

I wanted to. But I didn’t.

I have been angry since November 8th. Just so angry. And tired. So tired of being so angry. I was worried that today would be just another day of anger. Dies Irae.

And, of course, like many who stayed away, I had reasons.

My youngest daughter had a birthday party to attend. Her first since we’ve moved here. It meant so much to her to feel included.

My oldest had a basketball game. It’s tournament season, and they were already down two players. She really wanted to play her part, and ended up scoring the only points for her team.

My son wanted to play soccer in the yard. And Frisbee. And Badminton. And Star Wars.

My husband was traveling for work.

Getting to a march seemed too much of a hassle, a disruption. Especially to go somewhere to be angry.

But the pictures I saw today were beautiful. So many people I love. And so many strangers. Emboldened. Hopeful. Strong.

But what were they fighting for? some dared to ask. Inclusion, equality, love. All the biggies. Ideas that have felt trampled in recent months.

Even though I did not join, I felt drawn in. I played my part at home. And I behaved differently today because of what was happening.

I have been a little wary of my neighbors since moving to this new town. Today, however, I went out and met some of them. We stood in the cul-de-sac in solidarity and civility, parents of different political persuasions and creeds, chuckling and conversing and watching our children ride bikes until sunset.

I called an old friend, someone I’ve been meaning to reach out to, but it always seemed to be the wrong time. Today, I decided, was the right time.

I had a nagging feeling. Would history judge me? Would I judge me? For cowardice? For silence? For being complacent on a day that demanded action?

But I chose love today. In my way. Quiet devotion to friends and family. Others chose differently. I respect that. More than respect it, I honor and admire it. And I dare to believe that many of you marched today with women like me in your hearts.

Thank you.

Thank you for reminding me of all the ways love can win.

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*** Thank you Kirstin and Leigh Ann for the signs, and, of course, Lin-Manuel Miranda, for the sentiment. For anyone unfamiliar with his sonnet speech at the Tony Awards, watch here or read here.

Babies

How The Worst Typhoon In History Taught Me To Appreciate Crying Babies

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Adapted from Our New Book, Here Be Dragons

 

I never really liked babies. I love my own, of course. But that’s a genetic imperative. Other people’s babies? For most of my adult life, my feelings ranged from mild disinterest to barely concealed annoyance. I never found their outfits particularly cute or their peek-a-boo games terribly entertaining. And travelling with them on airplanes? I always said I would rather be stuck in the back-row-middle seat next to the toilet, than be sitting anywhere near someone else’s baby in flight. Until, that is, I went to the Philippines. In November of 2013, forty minutes after sunrise, in the wake of the worst typhoon in recorded human history, I changed my mind about kids.

When Typhoon Haiyan made landfall on November 8, 2013, it brought sustained winds of 196 miles per hour, and gusts topping 250. Had it hit the United States, its outer bands would have stretched from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles, CA. I flew into the disaster zone with a medical relief team, on one of the first Marine Corps C-130s carrying aid workers. We landed on a pitch-black runway in a city with no lights. Amidst the rubble of a military barracks, we established our forward operating base.

The next morning, at first light, we boarded a Philippine Air Force Huey and headed south. What we saw confirmed our worst fears. Nothing was left intact. Even the sturdiest buildings had their roofs ripped away. The storm surge had rushed for miles, reducing houses to matchsticks. Ships lay hundreds of yards inland, like toys dropped amid the debris. I have been in warzones. But nothing compared to the devastation I saw flying along the Philippine coastline.

We circled the village of Tanauan and identified what we assumed was the clinic. Between the scattered rubble and crowds of people, there was no way to land. So we diverted to a strip of empty beach a few miles away. As we approached, people sprinted towards the descending helicopter. The pilot hovered a few feet off the ground, and we leapt. As our ride lifted away, a crowd of villagers gathered. We had been warned that they might try to take our supplies. The opposite was true. They were hungry and scared, but grateful, and they helped us make our way to the clinic.

The makeshift hospital was set up inside the former city hall, one of the only buildings left with walls still standing. Hundreds were already gathered, seeking medical help. Most had walked miles. Wounds were starting to fester, and the air stank of gangrene. I made my way to the second floor where a surgery was underway.

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All day and all night, patients arrived in a steady stream, bearing gaping, jagged gashes, many of them showing signs of gangrene. For a rookie like me, those injuries were at least straightforward. Open, clean, disinfect, pack, and bandage. That I could handle.

The “injury” that knocked me off balance, oddly enough, had nothing to do with the typhoon. Late one evening, a pregnant woman arrived on the back of a moped. She was in labor, but struggling. The clinic was blacked out, lit only by the occasional flashlight and our headlamps bobbing up and down as we worked. Patients lay huddled in groups on the floor. Our OBGYN led the expectant mother to the “operating table,” and immediately determined a normal delivery was out of the question. Because of how the baby was positioned, a C-section would be necessary to save the lives of both mother and child.

The surgeons decided to begin the operation at dawn. When the first ray of sun split the horizon, I said a prayer. Please help this mother. Please save this baby. As the surgery began, a few of us huddled on the floor around a camp stove. Someone brewed a pot of tea, and we sat in silence, sipping from tin mugs, straining to hear the doctors talking softly to each other as they worked. Then, a sound I will never forget. A baby’s cry, healthy, strong, and defiant.

I felt the sun warming my neck, looked down into my cup, and wept. I tried to make my tears less obvious. My team in the Philippines included some of the toughest people I have ever known: combat medics, Special Forces operators, a paratrooper from the French Foreign Legion. When I looked up, I could see we all felt the same thing—our faces wore identical expressions of exhaustion and relief, but above all—joy. That baby may have been crying the loudest, but we all joined in varying degrees.

Six hours after that sunrise, we called in a Philippine Air Force helicopter to evacuate our most critical patients. A cardiac case, an amputee, a new mother, and a six-hour-old baby girl were airlifted to Manila. Miracles do happen. Even in the wake of tragedy. To this day, whenever I hear a baby cry, I smile inside.

Even on airplanes.

A version of this article originally appeared on Fatherly.com.

Awesomeness

We Have Some News. . .

No, I’m not pregnant.

Whenever a woman reaches a certain reproductive age, this is the only “news” that truly lives up to the announcement of NEWS. Sorry to disappoint.

And, no, Ken and I are not getting divorced.

I always find it odd when people think I might be going there. As though it was only a matter of time before I got tired of his shenanigans and he had his fill of my crazy. No splitsville yet. Though he is on notice for the broken sailboat he brought home from West Virginia three weeks ago Tuesday.

The real news is that we have written a book. Together. Without getting divorced. And without anybody getting pregnant. And largely because of friends/readers/wacky people like YOU, a publishing house bought it, and our book will be available on October 11th, 2016. Bonkers.

Here Be Dragons is about how we – you, all of us, actually – were pretty awesome before we became parents. We sailed oceans. We tried skydiving. And then the kids came along and peed on everything. And they made us sad and tired and angry. And we needed to sneak ice cream when they weren’t looking and hide drinks in the garage just to survive the days with those adorable little monsters who took over our marriage and kind of ruined our lives. And then, just when we thought we were never going to make it – never going to drink an entire cup of coffee uninterruptedly again, never going to drive from point A to point B without 19 arguments and 4 bathroom stops, never going to become the grown-ups we’d always planned to be – we figured out something even better: how to be a family. We found joy and purpose and laughter and adventure. Sure, our days are still hard sometimes. But they also got awesome again. Here Be Dragons is the story of that journey.

And we are really excited (and nervous and shy and terrified, actually) to share it with you.

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“So, HOW CAN I HELP?”

It’s funny you should ask. Luckily, there are a bunch of ways you can help:

  1. Order a copy. Or eight. Buy one for your Mom’s birthday, your Dad’s retirement, your sister’s housewarming party, or for that cousin you don’t even really know who is having a baby shower and you don’t want to go, but you at least want to send her something that isn’t a rattle or a blanket.
  1. Help us spread the word. Tweet, Post, Pin, Snap, or Instagram us. Walk around your neighborhood whacking a frying pan with a wooden spoon and shouting our names. Whether you are high-tech or low-, we welcome the vibes.
  1. Write a review. If you have a blog or a typewriter, if you write for your school newspaper or the Chicago Tribune, we would be honored if you would give us – our work, our stories, our fashion sense – a little shout-out. And, on October 11th, Amazon reviews will be open for business. We would really love it if some of you guys would write us a review. It only takes like 3 minutes and those ratings really help.
  1. Drive around with Here Be Dragons in your car. (To sign up, send us a message with “Junk in Your Trunk” or “Dragons in My Wagon” in the subject line — info@dadvmom.com). We are looking for a few good missionaries. You never know when you might wish you had a copy to share with a friend or stranger. Plus, we would love to get this book on shelves in independent bookstores and libraries.
  • If there is an independent bookstore you frequent, go in and ask them if they will sell our book. If they say yes, hand them a copy.
  • Ask your local library if they will stock it. Sometimes, there is a lady behind the desk who does the ordering. Sometimes, it is a guy in a hat. For our library, there was a form.
  • Ask your book club if they will give it a whirl. There are discussion questions for reading groups already in the back of the book.
  1. Invite us over. We already have book events scheduled in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and Cleveland, and we are scheduling more. We are equally at home in auditoriums or living rooms. We can talk at libraries and bookstores, pancake breakfasts, church luncheons, or supper clubs. We’ll come to your PTA meeting or your military spouses’ tea. We’ll bring books. We’ll make people laugh. We’ll serve pie. (<–Okay, Ken wants a disclaimer here. We only serve pie sometimes. But that’s just because some places have weird rules about pie and other places are way more cookie or brownie friendly, but come and see what dessert appears in your area.) We love to talk to folks about the horror/wonder of raising children.
  1. Send us warm thoughts. Even if you can’t buy the book, tweet, or meet us, we still love knowing you are out there. Post a comment here or on one of our social media sites. Let us know how you are doing. Let us know when DadvMom.com makes you laugh or cry or throw things.

My mom has priest friend, Father Bob, who has an expression: “So, is it yes or yes?” When he has a couple of projects that need doing – tree limbs that should be trimmed near the parking lot, a committee that wants staffing after Christmas – he goes before the church congregation and says, “So, is it yes or yes?” Are you going to help me in this way or are you going to help me in that way? The expression makes me laugh, but man, he gets things done.

It can be tricky to ask for help. We don’t want to bother you guys. We know you are busy. But we are literally a mom and pop outfit over here, and we can’t do this without you. Check the list above, check it twice, and let us know if it is YES or YES. Let us know how you can help.

As always, thanks for reading,

Annmarie and Ken

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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?”

“No.”

“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.

For Love of Country

Why it is OK to Say “Happy Memorial Day”

I am the son, grandson and brother of combat veterans. As a former Navy pilot myself, Memorial Day has special significance. But lately it has become difficult to wish others a “Happy Memorial Day” without drawing fire. Last year, PBS incited an online riot when it posted a Happy Memorial Day banner on its Facebook page. Among the litany of criticisms from readers were comments like “HUGE faux pas,” “Delete this stupid image” and “Totally insensitive.” I have experienced this on a personal level. My usual Happy Memorial Day greeting has increasingly been met with disapproving headshakes. Last year, one especially sullen cashier told me to “Get a clue.”

I understand. This is a day set aside to honor those who died serving in uniform. Memorial Day is among our oldest holidays, originally conceived in the aftermath of the Civil War. But for many Americans, it has become little more than a three-day weekend, filled with backyard barbecues and door-buster sales. For those who see this day of remembrance being trivialized, it is easy to take offense at the suggestion that there is anything happy about it.

I do not recall my father or grandfather giving much thought to how they would greet neighbors at our own backyard picnics—it was always “Happy Memorial Day.” Perhaps that is because prior generations needed no reminders about what the holiday signified. My grandfather’s war, WWII, was a national effort, in which everybody sacrificed something. My father’s war, Vietnam, was deeply divisive, but at least everyone knew it was happening. The draft ensured a lot more families had skin in the game.

Today it is different. Less than 1 percent of Americans have served in Iraq or Afghanistan. The vast majority of civilians do not know anyone who died there. The farther into our national memory these wars recede, the more important it is to maintain reminders of the price paid. That, I suspect, is the underlying reason behind excising the “Happy” out of Memorial Day. But however well intentioned, this attitude does nothing to preserve the memory of those who died defending our way of life. In fact, it does the opposite.

I do not know a single veteran who expects the country to mark this holiday with 24 hours of uninterrupted sadness. A few years ago, I spent Memorial Day at a military cemetery visiting my grandfather’s grave. Though I was there to grieve, I could not help but recall stories that made me laugh—like when his plane’s emergency raft deployed in flight, and his machine gunner nearly shot off the tail trying to deflate it. Smiling at that memory, I realized I was not alone. All around me was the sound of quiet laughter, as families gathered before simple white headstones to remember loved ones lost. These days, when I reminisce with my buddies about friends who did not come home from war, the stories we most often tell are ones that bring us joy.

That is how they would want it. When I think about those who have died serving in the military, I remember why they joined in the first place. They did it to defend a way of life, one that includes the pursuit of happiness as a founding ideal.

To be sure, we could use a bit more reverence on this day. A moment of silence before we dig into our brats. Fewer shopping sprees. But unrelenting grief? None of my buddies would want that. Mattress discounts and pie-eating contests and the freedom to be happy are all part of what they fought and died for.

This Memorial Day, I will head to the ocean as the sun is coming up. I will spend some time alone, and think about those who never made it back. Then I will return to my wife and kids and be grateful for my life. I will fire up the grill and invite friends over. And I will wish each of them a Happy Memorial Day, knowing full well that this day and the joy it brings are gifts I can never repay. Except, perhaps, by living a life full of happiness as my fallen friends would have wanted.

This piece originally appeared in the New York Observer.

Solidarity Brothers and Sisters

Other Mother’s Day

Let me begin by saying I love my mother. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. Thank you for all these years of unconditional love, laughter, and great cooking. Your guidance and care echo in my heart every day.

Now let me continue for everybody else.

We are all mothers today.

We all mother.

Even if you are a childless man, you mother.

If you are a moody teenager, you mother.

All of us nurse, protect, cherish, and tend to the people we love in this world. At least, we should. And THAT is what this weekend is reminding us. To mother.

Sure, take your mom to brunch if that’s what she really wants. But the day is not about seafood omelets or exclusivity. Mother’s Day is about celebrating mothering. Let’s minister to the sick, defend the weak, nurture the young, the old, the rich, the poor.

In recent years, I have seen women crying on Mother’s Day, weeping openly during the “Ave Maria,” or muffling sobs in contemplative prayer. Last year, a friend told me Mother’s Day was when she missed her mom the most. Of course, it is a day to remember, reflect, and pay homage to the women who birthed us. But we need not leave it there.

Mother’s Day can also be an occasion to check ourselves. Do we mother our neighbors, our friends, our co-workers enough? Do we nourish, tend, and enrich others on this planet the way we should? The way all our mothers taught us to?

That’s right…mothers. Those who birthed us AND all those Other Mothers–the many women and men, both young and old, who held our hands and guided us along the way.

I am blessed to have many Other Mothers. I have auntie-mothers, and boss-mothers, and sister- and brother-mothers. I have a father-mother, and a grandma-mother, and a former-next-door-neighbor-mother. I have had teacher-mothers and student-mothers. I even have a husband-mother. And, of course, a mother-mother.

Let’s all be mothers today. Definitely call your mom. Give her your love. Chances are if you are close, you do this all the time anyway. But call one of your Other Mothers today, too. Don’t weep because you have lost someone. Well, you can do that, but don’t let it be the only thing you do today. Thank an Other Mother. Let that person know he/she loved you, led you, nourished you, and mothered you. And that you are always there to mother right back. Pay it forward and backward today. Let Mother’s Day heal.

Be the mother all your mothers taught you to be.

 

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Originally posted May 9, 2015

Ice Cream and Nostalgia

Be My Galentine

I heard from Tori, an old friend of mine, the other day. She was cleaning out her childhood bedroom and stumbled upon a note I had written to her. After all these years, it was still expertly folded. She and I spent a good chunk of junior high perfecting our signature note origami. I liked my correspondence to look like a miniature envelope, while Tori preferred the time-honored football fold.

In case you have not had the opportunity to revisit your 13-year-old self this Valentine’s Day, here are some of my takeaways:

    1.  My handwriting was much better back then.
    2. My judgment, confidence, time-management, punctuation, and taste in men are all better now.

In the page-long overwrought letter, I blather on about the classic two-guy conundrum: Which fellow would be best for me? I bemoan that Boy #1 is “the only boy I know, who I can really open up to…I’ve told him things that I never told anyone before.” But Boy #2 is “gorgeous” and “popular.” At age 13, I had clearly mastered the plotline of even the most forgettable Rom Com. That Tori did not immediately set this note on fire is a testament both to our junior high school’s anti-smoking crusade AND to the fact that she was a pretty terrific friend. One of my best, in fact. Though you would never have known it from the way I spent so much time trailing around after boys and ignoring her wise counsel.

So, I know you are breathless with anticipation. In the end, who did I choose? The good guy? The hottie? Spoiler alert: Neither. The relationship that lasted was the one with my gal friend, Tori. Though we are separated by time and miles, she is the one who now leaves me breathless. She has traveled extensively, negotiated with foreign dignitaries, and hiked mountain ranges from China to Appalachia. When I see her Facebook updates, I am besotted with the gorgeous photographs of archways and sunsets. Her zest for life makes me want to be more adventurous and outdoorsy. If we lived any less than sixteen states apart, I would meet her more regularly for coffee just to listen to her talk.

It is tempting on Valentine’s Day to be obvious. By all means, celebrate today with flowers and chocolate – Lord knows I have never said no to either. But especially if you are a person who feels a little blue on this day of pinks and reds, I urge you to look up an old friend. Fall back in love with someone who taught you about love along the way. As I was writing this, I thought of more than a dozen other girlfriends with whom I have shared my heart – Stephanie, Rebecca, Michelle, Emily, Christine, Maggie, Beena, Meg, Jenny, Jen, Kim, Irem, Sarah, Abbie, Colleen, Terri, Jessica, Shannon, Sam… and I could go on and on.* All of these fine creatures taught me more about love than Boy 1 or Boy 2 ever did. Ladies: I thank you from the bottom, top, and middle of my nonsensical, note-writing, frequently misguided heart. Everyone: don’t ever underestimate the power of a Galentine to make you feel young, breathless, and 13 again.

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*Annette, Melanie, Beth, Tonya, Becky, Gale, Bridget, Christy, Sue, Caroline, Allison, Kelly, Michal, Yasmine, Alana, Jennifer, Debbie, Chantel, Eugénie, Kris, Maria, Erin, Kristy, Angie, Chris, Eraina, Lisa, Angie, Lara, Kim, Ashley, Toni, Leah, Wendy, Breezy, Phet, Melissa, Kelly, Sara, Tracey, Heather, Esosa, Micah, Emily…and I could go on and on.  Thank you to all my Galentines.  Both listed here and held in the silence of my heart.  We are all of us so very blessed.

Goals & Dreams & Sandwiches

ReLent

(Originally posted February 19, 2015)

When I was growing up, Lent was bleak. There were no donuts. The Girl Scouts delivered cookies that we could no longer eat. Once again, fish reared its ugly head at dinnertime. We went without things we loved (usually sweets) and were grumpy, or we cheated and felt guilty until Easter came, when Jesus rose, and there were jelly beans for all.

This time of year can be tricky as a parent. The holidays are over, winter is dragging on and on. We could all use a little infusion. A little reminder that spring will come again. Call it Lent. Call it Random Acts of Kindness. Call it Love. But if you are finding yourselves or your family in a slump, try some of these. I’m going to post the list and have the kids check one on those days we just need a little boost.

*Make your own ashes. Let go of old habits, sad stories that no longer serve you. Write them down or say them aloud. Watch those ideas go up in smoke. (Thanks, Glennon Melton, for this idea http://momastery.com/blog/2015/02/18/stardust/ )

*Get bundled up and go for a walk together. If it is daylight, look for signs of spring.

*Call someone you love.

*Exercise together. If you are snowbound, pop in a workout video. Or bundle up and go run around the house. Or have each family member pick an exercise or two and everyone else can try it. Have fun being active together.

*Call a local food bank or meal provider. Donate canned goods and non-perishables. Or volunteer to help prepare or serve a meal to those in need.

*Plan and cook a simple meal together. Let the kids pick the foods even if they don’t “go together.”

*Gather for a compliment circle. Tell one another something you value or admire.

*Bring someone flowers ‘just because.’

*Put money in a tip jar.

*Fix something around the house that has been broken for a while. (For kids, this can even mean changing light bulbs.)

*Have a FREE stand – free donuts, or cocoa, or lemonade, or poems, or art work, or songs, or toys from your house you no longer need. If anyone insists on paying, give the money to a local charity.

*Have a family game night.

*Plant – garden vegetable seeds, flowers, herbs. Enjoy seeing green during the winter.

*Try a new sport or activity – ice skating, roller skating, trampoline, kayaking, library book club, knitting, yoga, swimming, karate, piano. Dare to do something you’ve always meant to do.

*Write a letter or draw a picture and mail it to someone you haven’t seen in awhile. Let them know they are special.

*Offer to babysit for another family.

*Visit an animal shelter. Ask if they have a list of needed items. Pick something and supply it.

*Bring a box of Kleenex, markers, hand sanitizer, or glue sticks to school. Teachers often purchase these items out-of-pocket this time of year.

*Snuggle on the couch with the television and computer turned off. Instead, read books aloud or tell stories.

*Have a donation scavenger hunt. Walk around the house and fill a bag with items to give away.

*Look at old photographs. Share the stories they capture.

*At dinner tonight, tell one another three things you are grateful for.

*Bake together. Share some of your cookies or muffins, etc. with your neighbors.

*Sing today.

*Dance today.

*Clean today. Scrub the toilets inside the house. Pick up trash outside the house. It does not matter what, just pick something and make it shine.

*Be affectionate today. Smile at one another for no reason. Say, “I love you” for no reason. Hug.

*Share memories of favorite family recipes. Pick one to try to recreate today.

*Wash each other’s feet.

*Whether it is for church, brunch, or your next family gathering, select a nice outfit to wear. Have everyone know what they are wearing to de-stress the process of getting a well-dressed family out the door.

Revised Feb. 9, 2016 — I started Lent a day early this year. My To-Do List has been growing of late, and I noticed a trend: I notoriously skip appointments related to my own health and well-being. I am 14 months overdue at the dentist. My teeth have begun to feel furry. We have a family history of breast cancer, and I’ve still never been for a mammogram. The dermatologist, my hairdresser, the guy who does the brakes on my car…all received calls from me today. Sometimes, in our desire to care completely for our families, we forget ourselves. Feels good to be entering this season with a modicum of balance.

Also, I ate the rest of the girl scout cookies. It made sense at the time.

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Health & Fitness & Oreos

In Defense of Head Lice

We have it again.

Not all of us this time. Not even most. But enough.

The tiny combs are unsheathed. The bedding has been bagged. The house smells like coconut oil and eucalyptus. Also frustration.

We should probably cancel the play date we scheduled for Tuesday. And alert the school nurse just to be safe. For a little while, anyway, we’ll be that family.

Which isn’t exactly fair, since head lice do not choose their hosts. They do not hand-select the most slovenly or ill-behaved among us. They simply cling to hats, pig-tails, and hoodies, and wait to catch a ride on the next person who leans in for a hug. If anything, you might say that head lice, well, they follow the love.

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But that’s not what it feels like at first.

When you find a bug on your kiddo, it’s disgusting. Serious heebie-jeebies. And for every one that you see, there are usually a bunch you don’t, including dozens of sticky little eggs (nits) cemented to your child’s hair. Of course, that grossed-out-ness morphs pretty quickly into annoyance. Because getting rid of head lice is a pain. You really do have to comb out your kid’s hair repeatedly, strand by strand, removing bugs and eggs as you find them, being sure to dispose of them in chemicals or bleach, in order to prevent them from crawling right back in again.

And even once you get the infestation under control, then, there’s the embarrassment. We can’t let anyone know. Once you are outed as a head lice family, it feels like the whole town is pointing. As though you purposely infiltrated their homes or gave bugs to their kids during baseball practice. Sometimes it’s enough to make folks shy away from befriending your kid. Which, of course, is heartbreaking. All over a couple of bugs.

So, I am here today to try to reframe the experience. It does not have to be like this.

Because, in addition to everything I have already said, having head lice is also kind of…nice.

Yeah, I said it. Lice can be nice.

If you are (un)lucky enough to discover a louse on one of your children, or (gasp) even on yourself, from that moment, you enter a holding pattern. Whatever you had planned is canceled. Wherever you were heading, you’re not. Instead, it’s kind of like a snow day. You are calling in sick and staying at home. To treat head lice. Which, while irksome, is also among the most old-fashioned of parenting rituals. Like churning butter. Or dipping string into pots of hot wax to make candles. There are plenty of monotonous tasks that bring people joy – weaving, knitting, chanted meditation. Combing out lice can be similar.

I know folks like to hire professional nit-removal companies to handle outbreaks. But I maintain that having head lice is an opportunity – to withdraw, bond, and connect with your kids. We use oil treatments instead of chemicals here at our house. But with either medium, I can’t handle it and do anything else.  When I comb out my kid’s hair, I can’t cook, or clean. Or fuss with my computer. Or play on the phone. I just have to be there, right next to my child, and detangle and talk, and talk and detangle, and try to take the bugs — and the stigma — away.

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It is a long process. If you comb out your kid’s hair in less than an hour, you have probably missed a bunch of bugs. So take your time. Enjoy this forced opportunity to gaze at your kiddo for longer than usual. Savor the break from the busy-ness of customary days. It’s like a vacation without the fuss of packing and actually going anywhere.

And as annoying as head lice can be, it is an opportunity for teaching perspective. It is okay to be initially dramatic. To panic and blame and kvetch. But it is also an opportunity to show kids the difference between an actual problem and a mere nuisance.  To discuss issues that are bigger than a few bugs on a comb. During our most recent louse bout, my daughter and I talked about peer pressure and dating, the Syrian refugee crisis, and veganism. We made plans to work at a soup kitchen over Thanksgiving weekend and to someday hike a portion of the Appalachian trail.

In this way, head lice was a little bit of a gift to us. It afforded us time to talk about things that matter.

If all of that is not enough, there’s the very phrase itself. When you comb eggs out of someone’s hair, you are quite literally “nit-picking.” In almost every other situation, this is an insult. Nobody wants to be nit-picky. But head lice gives you permission to be fastidious. To destroy every last invader. To painstakingly finish a task. I carry around lengthy To-Do lists and end nearly every day with dozens of tasks yet undone. There is something quite satisfying about giving into your inner nag, and completing a picky job.

And finally, a case of head lice is a chance for solidarity. No matter if it’s one kiddo infested or everyone, I always treat my hair, too. I douse it in coconut oil infused with a few drops of tea tree, and lavender, rosemary, or thyme, and I wrap it in an old towel or hair net. I do this for three reasons:

  1. I’m paranoid. It you ever have lice in your house, you will psychosomatically scratch whether you have them or not.
  2. It smells good. There’s nothing like a little aromatherapy to soothe a stressed-out soul.
  3. It is a message to my kids: I will not let them suffer humiliation alone. For all my preaching about the niceties of lice, other kids will sometimes ostracize, ridicule, and judge. I want my kids to see me in this battle with them. I share their discomfort and I am on their side.

If ever these little buggers hop on your little buggers and hitch a ride into your home, take heed. And take advantage of the time. Call off work, mix up some sweet-smelling oils, and grab a tiny comb. And accept the invitation these invaders offer – to be fully present for your children during a time of embarrassment, distress, and love.