A Year Without a Television

It has been 53 weeks since we gave away our television. My daughters cried more about giving up that TV than they did about leaving their school and most of their friends.

Initially, it was not a deliberate decision. We were moving. The unit was mounted in the family room. The folks purchasing the house inquired as to whether we would leave it. Since we were driving our own U-Haul cross-country, we figured it more than likely that that we would pack the truck poorly and shatter the TV on some icy curve in the Rockies. So we left it.

When we arrived in our new town, we rented a small cottage where we would live while we looked for our real house that we intended to purchase. It seemed silly to buy a television for that tiny living room when our future room would likely require a different-sized unit.

Thus began our year-long experiment in television-less-ness.

During which, we learned a few things:

  1. Television is a handy extra parent. I had not thought we watched much TV until I was forced to live without it. I had forgotten about the way Uncle TV kept the kids entertained while I made dinner, the way he quieted arguments, and helped settle the kids down after a busy day.
  1. Television helps us fit in. Recent pop culture references were lost on my kiddos. They didn’t know what a Lego Ninjago was last Halloween or what the big deal was about Sofia the First when it came to purchasing a back-to-school knapsack.
  1. It is hard to watch sports without a TV. I missed the Super Bowl and March Madness and my Cleveland Cavaliers’ amazing run. Clips and sound bytes after the game are just not the same.
  1. Other electronics conspired to take the television’s place. First one iPad and then another. An upgrade on Dad’s smartphone freed up an old one for household use. Television time decreased, but gaming increased. My 3-year-old can now beat me at Temple Run II. And Subway Surfer. And Fruit Ninja.
  1. Saying you don’t have a television allows you to feel momentarily superior to other people. As though you are somehow above The Bachelor, the orange and black prison show, and all those Housewives. Except that self-importance is fleeting. Because then you sense those people sensing you sensing yourself superior to them…and then it’s just awkward. And also untrue. It wasn’t like I lived off the grid. I just watched Game of Thrones on my laptop instead of a television.

But kids are pretty awesome and capable, and I think sometimes television can get in the way of that. It makes them receivers rather than creators. In the year away from TV, Lizzie became an Artist. She taught herself to draw horses, and sea creatures, and Rapunzel-esque princesses with hair tumbling out of castles and carriages. She became an Author, an Archer, and a Friend. Katie became a Scientist. She soldered a radio, studied circuitry, and mixed batches of pink slime in the kitchen sink. She became a Musician, a Swimmer, a Reader, and a Mathematician. Henry became independent. He learned to entertain himself with puzzles and trucks and cars. He became a Gardener, a Conversationalist, and a Chef. Maybe all of these things would have happened in the presence of the Disney Channel anyway. But I’m not so sure.

All I know is that ever since we plugged in the new TV last week, my children have been happy little zombies. They have eaten, slept, and laughed in front of the television. And drawn almost nothing at all.

In our family, cake and ice cream are Sometimes Foods, treats that we indulge in every once in awhile. I think Uncle TV needs to be a Sometimes Friend, popping in for a weekend movie night, or maybe a couple sitcoms when someone is sick. For now, however, he is an unwelcome houseguest. I’m not entirely certain we should let him stay.



Health & Fitness & Oreos

I Joined a Zombie Milkshake Cult and You Can, Too

So my husband and I have begun another diet.

We lost weight years ago with Atkins, and then again with the South Beach craze. We slimmed down with Dr. Oz, a Hollywood juice cleanse, and even that bizarre Suzanne Somers thing back in ’09. But recently our efforts have been less successful. We both gained weight on a metabolism diet, got totally sick of our raw food plan, and had to ditch Paleo because cavemen discriminate against waffles, cookies, and cake.

I had all but decided to live out my days just a little bit huskier than the average girl. I mean, I am confident and funny. Do I really need to be skinny, too?

“I love you no matter how you look,” my husband says. For years, I have taken this as a compliment.

But last week I couldn’t button a pair of Mom jeans, so I fished out the scale from under the bed.

I weighed 190 pounds.

Yup, 190.

I’m 5’4”. The only time I have ever seen that particular configuration of three numbers on a scale was in a doctor’s office when I was eight months pregnant. Even then, it seemed astronomical. But I am not pregnant now. I am fat.

As is often my tendency in a crisis, I ate a bowl of chocolate ice cream and then launched into Fix-it Mode. After shockingly little research and fistfuls of money, I found the answer to my scale problem: I ordered a weight-loss program online.

My girlfriend sells multi-level-marketed, quasi-Scientific protein shakes and herbal remedies. Everyone has a friend like this, right? Someone who does not just drink the Kool-Aid, but sells it to fund a lifestyle. She was psyched to share products with me, and three days later, a box larger than my five-year-old appeared on our doorstep. I dragged it inside and promptly hid it in my closet.

After days of stalling — during which I ate pepperoni pizza, cooked linguine alla carbonara, and sprinkled both Junior Mints and Milk Duds into my popcorn during a late-night showing of Mad Max — I finally tore open the box.

It overflowed with pamphlets, testimonials, and a multitude of glossy Before and After photos. The plan, it seemed, was to ingest these drinks and pills, cleanse yourself of demons like sugar and self-loathing, get skinny and awesome, and then sell the stuff to other large people so they could get skinny and awesome, too. Or, if all that failed, you got your money back. Already hundreds of dollars into this scheme, I was banking on option two.

Day 1

I have tried meal replacement shakes before, but often supplemented them with, you know, meals. I’d wash down my pancakes with a protein smoothie and figure the kale-infused chaser would still do me some good. I guess they were more like meal enhancement shakes. This time, I vowed to play it straight.

My program allowed snacks, so I fell into the shake-snack-shake-snack rhythm pretty easily. But by dinnertime, I was ravenous, and ate two chicken breasts with my bare hands. That’s one more than I would ordinarily have, but it was chicken, not a pretzel dog, so I figured I was safe.

By 7:15, I had consumed all of the food permitted. The program suggested heading off cravings with delicious herbal tea. But I detest herbal tea. So even though it was an hour and a half before my toddler’s bedtime, I went to sleep. I dreamed of sandwiches.

Day 4

Maybe I should just be okay with being fat. Be empowered. Love my body, no matter its shape. That’s totally a thing now. I should take selfies of my bikini rolls and Tweet about how important it is for my children to see a real body and not some airbrushed amalgamation of how women do not even look.

Except I still think I need to lose a little weight before I do all that. I was a good-looking gal once, before all these children. But when I look at myself now, it is as though I physically consumed that other person, opened my mouth and swallowed her whole. This image helps me stay the course.

Day 8

We began the two-day cleanse portion of our program today. Every hour, we drink something terrible, swallow pills with spurious claims, or indulge in one tiny square of approved ‘chocolate,’ which, from its lingering aftertaste, must be at least one part seaweed. Or battery acid. I think my husband is skipping the drinks and just eating the chocolates. When I confronted him, he shook his head. I wanted to discuss the matter further, but I forgot.

I felt foggy most of the day, like my head was covered in bubble wrap. After dinner, I stood in front of the dishwasher unsure as to whether I was putting dishes in or taking them out. There were dirty bowls in the sink, which led me to believe I was loading, but the plate in my hand looked clean, which made me think again. I abandoned the project altogether and went to bed.

My husband calculates that, if we sleep for seventeen hours, we will only have to forgo food for eight or nine more tomorrow. As difficult as this has been, I am glad to have someone with whom to share the suffering.

Day 9

He cheated on me. He ate Pad Thai for lunch.

I went a little nutty, shrieking, “Why, why, why?!”

“I was hungry,” he said. I had no argument for that.

In the mean time, to reenact some forgotten circle of Dante’s Inferno, my daughter and I baked chocolate-chip cookies for her school bake sale. The smell both tortured and exalted me. I have become a woman who bakes goods I shall not eat. Who does that? I am crazy. All-powerful. I am the saint in this diet.

My husband is the slut.

Day 10

He brought home a box of French pastries for breakfast. Was this an apology? A ploy? I retaliated by not eating any of them.

Day 15

I do not yet feel the exuberance the brochures promised. Thirty days sounded totally doable on the infomercial with the happy, plastic, zombie people. They were all svelte and bikini-clad. No one looked hangry.

I shopped today and had to restrain myself from fondling the pork chops, sausage, and steak, all verboten on this regimen. I loaded my cart with food anyway because buying felt almost like eating.

Also, it turns out that I do not actually believe in diets. Even if I drop a few pounds, I always gain everything back as soon as I stop any program. Knowing this, what am I doing?

Day 19

My husband came home around noon and asked if I wanted to have lunch. But ‘lunch’ today was two brownish-gray pills. We went for a walk instead.

When we returned, the children were peckish. Why must they always eat? I have never made love to a peanut butter sandwich with my eyes, but I did today. I slowly undressed the jelly, the nuts, the bread.

Day 23

As it turns out, I do not really need food. Whenever I am hungry, I drink a glass of water and imagine myself digesting my own butt. I could live off of my arse for years, I think. It could feed a small village.

Speaking of butts, I have spent a fair bit of time in the loo during this journey. The lady on the website encourages us to call it a journey, not a diet. Folks who complete this voyage don’t talk about the weight they lost. They talk about the weight they released. This language makes sense. I have not lost any weight. It is not missing. I know exactly where it has gone. So far, I have flushed seven pounds.

Day 26

Without food, I am quite productive. My children and I gardened this morning. We biked to the library and then to the park. We cleaned out our closets and had friends over for coffee. I drank delicious peppermint tea. I think tomorrow, I might write a play.

Day 29

I took the kids to an ice cream stand and did not order anything for myself. I am afraid. If I let in even a little sugar, will the floodgates open to the 190-pound girl, my own personal Kraken? I licked the smell of waffle cone with my tongue, and we walked away, Cookies ’n Cream dripping down the kids’ hands.

Day 30

It is finished. Thirty days — done. Throughout the last month, I had so many menus planned for today, an outfit I hoped to wear, and heaps and heaps of questions. Most of all, I wondered, would it work? Am I skinny now? Am I awesome? Have all my problems been solved?

Kind of.

I lost 11.5 pounds.

Which is great. Although, when you are a big girl, the release of roughly ten pounds is pretty much only noticeable to you. My pants feel better. My cankles are less pronounced. But otherwise, I look the same.

My milkshake coach assures me that if I just complete another 30 days, I will be much closer to my goal weight. In fact, the website recommends that I stay on the system for life. If I live to be 90, this will be an investment of about $180,000. I don’t have it yet, but if I find a few husky friends to sign on, maybe they can finance my slenderizing. After all, how much would you pay to look the way you want to look?

I intend to ponder this question tonight over a tub of popcorn. And maybe, just maybe, a little ice cream.


Why I Want My Daughter to Join the Military

Dear Sweetheart,

I suppose a father’s job is never over. But the important parts will be soon. You are growing up kind, brave, honest and humble.  There is one important thing, however, that I have not taught you yet. It rests on all those other things, but is its own ideal. It is one that many people your age will not understand, because it is the kind of thing that schools (and parents) seldom teach these days.

It is patriotism. Perhaps my reluctance to teach you about it is because I have seen patriotism mocked by people who think they know better. Perhaps it is because I know you will ask me hard questions. Perhaps, saddest of all, it is because I have seen too much of the phony kind, from false patriots who wave the flag and pound their chests but cannot tell you why.

I will tell you why patriotism matters, and why I chose to serve my country in uniform. Then, you can decide for yourself.

America is a force for good.

I say this as someone who has seen our country stumble badly. I lost friends because of those blunders. But I know we can learn from our mistakes, and I still believe that America is an indispensable force for good. The world believes it too. This very moment, America is standing up to a bully in Eastern Europe. We are guaranteeing freedom of the seas across the Pacific. We are preparing for the next natural disaster, for our military to provide aid to those in need with no regard for race or religion or the things that often divide others. Wherever I go in the world, wherever I see suffering, people ask, “Where is America?”  That is a call we must always be able to answer.

Your country is worth fighting for.

America’s ability to do good depends on people like you. You will be a leader some day—do not be the kind who spends a lifetime allowing others to do their fighting. I taught too many college kids who asked, “Why should I risk my body, when the brain it holds up is worth so much?” Whenever our country has strayed, whenever we have wielded our might selfishly or clumsily, it is because of such arrogance. The way to prevent the kind of military misadventures we have seen of late is not to turn your back. It is to understand, to gain wisdom from experience, and to take your place and lead. Our best and brightest must be willing to fight for our country. Ask yourself, “If not me, then who?”

You will see the real world.

I am not talking about travel. Ignore the military recruiting posters—they do not begin to get at the truth.  What I am talking about is the real world, the parts tourists never reach.  Most Americans are either blissfully unaware of the challenges humanity faces, or ignorantly afraid of a world they refuse to comprehend. Don’t bury your head in the sand; don’t be frightened. The planet faces problems that can only be met with great leadership, but it’s in our power to do something about those problems. Seeing them first hand will help you understand our place in the world—and the moral responsibility that America’s perch demands.

Your voice will count.

There are few things a citizen can do on behalf of an entire nation. Serving in uniform is one of them. If you choose this path, for the rest of your life people will listen to what you have to say about the nation you fought for. You will be wrong sometimes. Indeed, not all who served this country agree about the direction we must take. But at least they bring to those disagreements real experience. They bring empathy for those still on the front lines, and compassion for those around the world they know are suffering. When our country is faced with the kind of monumental decisions that affect the lives of our citizens, you can say “Listen to me—I have skin in the game.” And you will be heard.

You will learn about America, both our strengths and our weaknesses.  

Serving your country, you will learn hard things about us. About how we sometimes misuse our power, or are sometimes too late to defend the weak. But you will also see the best of us. Before I joined the Navy, I thought I knew what America was. Not until my first deployment, serving alongside men and women from every walk of life, did I truly understand where our greatness resides. It lives in the impossible variety of our citizenry, in the way so many races and creeds are bound by a common cause. It lives, above all, in the selflessness of those willing to fight and die for others.

If you do choose to serve your country this way, I will worry. That’s what dads are supposed to do. I may even try to talk you out of it. But as dangerous as military service can be, the greater danger is living a life without risk, without sacrifice. That kind of existence is impossible for a true patriot. Your friends may mock the idea as old-fashioned, and your professors may worry about your wasted potential. Still, I know you will decide for yourself. And though I do not want you to add this to the list of reasons, I want you to know one more thing should you decide to wear our nation’s uniform.

You will make your father proud.


Originally featured in New York Observer.


Bad Choices

When Dad Is in Charge . . .

Fountains are fun!  And profitable too!

(ignore child peeing in background)



Settle down . . . we put the money back.