There Is More than One Way to Load a Dishwasher

My husband is in charge of bedtime tonight. Which is why it is 10:24 and all three children are still awake.

I don’t mind breaking rules. I hold cereal taste tests for dinner and let the kids eat hot dogs for breakfast. In an era of helicopter parenting, my children run barefoot, climb trees, and walk by themselves to the corner store. But when it comes to bedtime, I am regimental: Bath, Jammies, Teeth, Books, Sleep. This is a half-hour process, though I have gotten it done in as little thirteen minutes, seven if I skip the bath.

My husband’s strategy is different. He strives to wear the children out. “It’s simple,” he says. “Play hard, sleep hard.” I think he developed this theory on a college bender. When Dad does bedtime, it is customary for the kids to fall asleep in the same clothing that they wore to school. With Nutella on their faces. And smiles. He frequently skips Bath, Jammies, Teeth, and Books, and goes straight to Circus Stunts. When I went in to say good night just now, they were practicing acrobatics.

“Watch this, Mom,” shrieked my five-year-old. “It’s called cannonball!” She tucked her forehead to her knees just as her father hurled her three feet into the air. She landed upside-down in a pile of pillows, laughing.

I looked at him. “Really?”

“At least she didn’t hit the ceiling fan this time,” he said. Then he turned his attention to our two-year-old who was demanding a trick called, “Beeto,” which seemed merely to involve Dad shoving him to the mattress by his face.

Despite our philosophical differences regarding bedtime, we no longer argue about it. I used to implore my husband to stop thrashing the children and read them a damn story. He used to ask me why I insisted on so many freaking baths. “Didn’t we just clean them yesterday?”

But somewhere along the way, we realized this was not a disagreement worth having. It just wasn’t. My husband works in an office, and he actually misses playing with the kiddos. I work from home. I see them constantly, and by bedtime, I am desperate to have them out of my sight. But even if this was not the case, arguing over bedtime routines is wasted breath.

In fact, a lot of our old arguments have fallen by the wayside. We no longer squabble over what goes in the kids’ lunch boxes, how the clothes are folded, or how to load the dishwasher. (He does it terribly WRONG, but it just isn’t an argument worth having.)

We could easily fill our lives with disagreements about these things. But we have bigger fish to fry. We are raising three little humans and every day there are hundreds of questions to answer. Can I cut my Barbie’s hair? Do I have to wear matching socks? Can I please wear these purple shoes to build a time machine in the garage? In the beginning, we made up all of our answers. Often, Dad said YES, and Mom said NO. Occasionally, vice versa. But after ten years of inventing answers to our kids’ incessant questions, something funny has happened: we finally know what it is that we stand for.

We are for love, but not indulgence. We want our kids to feel safe, but also curious and to know adventure. We nourish their wellness with good food and exercise. We teach them to be brave, honest, modest, and kind.

And that’s about it.

I think too many of us argue about the little stuff — the toys, the dishes, the bedtimes — because it is so much easier than figuring out the big stuff. Deciding where our children will put their dinosaurs is way simpler than determining what we will teach them about God. Or Santa Claus. Or sex before marriage. Saying NO to mismatched socks is easier than talking about nonconformity, or popularity, or whether it is more important to be accepted by peers than to be secure in your own skin.

My husband and I could definitely argue about the dishwasher. (I mean, my God, he puts Tupperware lids on the bottom rack.) But there is so much more to figure out. When our daughters say they want to be cheerleaders, will we let them? And how about our son? We have taught all three how to punch, but will all three learn how to sew, too? The oldest is asking about home school. Should we try it? The kids are toying with piano, but the middle one wants a drum kit. Can we still say we support the Arts if we don’t want a drummer in the house? When we want to argue, this is where we spend our breath. Who are we hoping these children will be? How are we helping them get there?

When we think about it that way, it turns out there are plenty of parenting rules that are actually not rules at all. Kids are marvelously resilient. They can eat Cheerios for breakfast or sushi. It does not matter. The trick is in valuing one another’s choices in front of the children, and letting them know there is more than one way to pack a lunch, style a Barbie, and even (gasp!) load the dishwasher. Lots of questions have more than one right answer. Just as there are many ways to be brave, honest, modest, and kind.




New DadvMom on New York Observer today.




Bad Choices

Teaching the Kids to Swear

We nearly hit a deer last week. To be fair, we were minding our own beeswax driving down the Interstate. It was the deer, loping out of the darkness and across four lanes of concrete, that nearly hit us. But still….

I screamed, “$#*&ing deer!” My husband swerved, and we narrowly avoided killing Bambi on the highway. For a moment, I felt triumphant. As far as I was concerned, I had just saved the family. But my kids, riding in the back seat, were alarmed.

My sweet, animal-loving, 5-year-old gifted me her stuffed kitty for the rest of the journey. The next day, she and her sister presented me with a swear jar in which to place a few coins whenever I “say a bad choice.” And at church later that week, my nine-year-old asked if I had apologized to Jesus yet.

I found all of this perplexing. Had my children, in fact, never heard me swear? I cuss like a sailor. Even my husband, who was in the Navy and is an actual sailor, finds my potty mouth surprising. I have called people a-holes during charity fundraisers. I dropped a bunch of f-bombs at my cousin’s wedding. I told a friend she was being a d-bag right in front of her grandmother. Lucky for me, grandma was hard of hearing, so when asked to repeat myself, I redacted my statement.

As a mom, there is something freeing about swearing. There is just so much to curse about. Poop, tears, snot. These are all substances I had on my jeans yesterday. All three of my offspring, in their brief little lives, have vomited into my hair, mistaken my shirt for a Kleenex, and backwashed into every bottle of water they have ever touched. Kids are disgusting. Some days, I FRACKING HATE caring for these FRACKING CHILDREN. So I don’t think cussing about them makes me crazy. I think it keeps me sane. Yet, until the Bambi debacle, I had managed to insulate my kids from this R-rated truth.

It is not unusual for me to mutter obscenities in-between closing my daughter’s car door and opening my own. That may put me out of the running for an Atticus Finch award – but as a parent I need the safety valve. I think of it as Profanity Therapy. If I swear about the kids, it keeps me from swearing at them. That distinction matters. I may have f-bombs up my left sleeve, but I have Sesame Street up my right. Whenever Lizzie kicks her sister, I want to say, “Knock it off, you little bitch!” Instead, I channel Grover: “I feel sad when you hurt people.”

As I sat there cuddling Lizzie’s stuffed cat last week, I thought about delivering a brief homily regarding obscenities. Yes, Mommy used a bad word, but sometimes that is okay. I even came up with another example, like when I dropped a 33-pound barbell on my naked toe. Mommy swore because it hurt. Mommy also swore because what kind of idiot loads a barbell barefoot? The rule would be simple – the more urgent the situation, the more urgent the speech.

But then I remembered what happened last time. After watching the movie Mamma Mia, my then four-year-old asked, “Mommy, what is a slut?” I kept my wits and said, “Sweetheart, a slut is a girl who makes bad choices.” A few days later, I was invited to the preschool director’s office. Was I aware that my daughter had been calling the other girls sluts when they did not share the crayons? Though I was pleased Katie had remembered my definition, it proved exceedingly difficult to explain why it was never okay to say that to people. If memory serves, she called me a slut the whole way home.

Despite my desire to tell the kids it is okay to swear sometimes — in an emergency, to save a life – for now, I’ll keep apologizing to Jesus, dropping quarters in the cuss jar, and muttering to myself outside the car door.

Kids, man. Effing kids.


Originally published by the New York Observer.



Seven Lessons I Learned Trick-or-Treating

As I sit here rifling through my kids’ pumpkin buckets, sneaking a Snickers here and a couple Kit Kats there, I am pleased that Halloween is officially in the books. However, as with any holiday celebrated in the company of hyperactive children, there were some takeaways:

1. Trick-or-treating with a beverage in a red Solo cup is permissible, as long as you are accompanied by kids. Trick-or-treating with a beverage in a red Solo cup is suspect if you are A) a single man dressed up as a mammogram machine, or B) all alone.

2. There is a candy hierarchy. Like it or not, neighbors judge you based on what you hand out. Want to blend in? Tootsie Rolls are fine. M&M’s or any product in the Hershey’s genre will get you there. But Smarties? Smarties were a crap candy in 1974 and they are a crap candy today. Dum Dums are not much better. If the candy is available for free at a local bank, it is best not to distribute it. But to the fellow on Sycamore Street who handed out the whole Twix bars: you are a Golden God.

3. Scented candles, particularly lavender or pine, may soothe guests in a massage parlor or spa, but they are disconcerting choices inside of jack-o-lanterns. For reasons unknown to science, they pretty much smell like pee.

4. The teeniest, dumbest kids get the most candy. Deal with it. My two-year-old son yelled “Trick or Treat” at shrubbery, birdfeeders, and several mailboxes. But when he reached the front porch of every house, he went silent. He did not say “Please.” He did not say “Thank you.” But because he is only three feet tall, folks gave him handfuls of goodies again and again and again.

5. To the kiddos: 364 days of the year, when a strange man invites you into the haunted voodoo tent in his garage, say NO. In fact, call the police. On Halloween, go on in. It turns out the shrunken heads are actually licorice flavored.

6. To the parents: 364 days of the year, when your kids ask if they can eat more candy, say NO. But on Halloween, say YES. Actually say the words: “Eat more candy.” The shock alone will probably cause the kids to eat less than they would have had you argued about it. Plus, for about forty-five minutes anyway, they will think you are awesome.

7. And finally, when the sugar crash hits, whether the kid falls to the sidewalk in a full-on tantrum, or merely falls asleep with his face in a pile of Milk Duds, it’s all right. The kids are not evil; the parents are not ineffectual. It’s Halloween. Despite how scary things may look, no real harm has been done. It is just time to call it a night.

Originally published on the Huffington Post.

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