I like me.

Evie got a new helmet for her bike. It has a dry erase surface and comes with cool neon markers so you can make your own design, over and over again. Evie is 5, so this is the perfect helmet because she knows–of course–that she can make much better helmet designs than any store. Much, much cooler. So, where I would choose something pre-designed, she was all about DIY. Even for an extra $5.

She rode to school today rocking her first design. She made it last night but I had not seen the totality of the masterpiece until this morning. Her name, hearts, squiggly lines. And then at the stop light she turned her head towards the other side of the street and I saw what she had written across the right side of her new headwear: “I like me.”

I caught my breath. What an amazing thing to want to put out there for the world. Evie did not ask me how to spell any of these words as she designed, so she came up with that slogan–and spelled it correctly!–herself.

I pondered it all the way to school. I like me. I like me. Evie likes Evie.

Does she know about self-love? Did someone teach her about liking herself the way she was and it sunk in, or did she just feel that way without any teaching? Sometimes she’s so hard on herself–did she like herself just last night, or does she like herself in a deep, long-term, sweeping way? Would other kids think she was stuck up? Was she stuck up? Could she be convinced to never erase that part?

By the time I was back home, I was thinking about whether Lauren likes Lauren. She does, mostly. But she would not put it on her helmet. She might just think it very quietly after working out, or making great dinner, or drinking kombucha on the porch. She has worked hard to like herself, and there have been times of serious non-like. And some days and hours of non-like still. Remembering to like is still sometimes trained, rather than spontaneous, and quiet, rather than racing across the street in neon with training wheels.

Maybe we all start out liking ourselves, and then so many things in life happen that shake that like. And the goal is to come back to where we started.


Having two girls changed my self-like for the better (crazy since having kids changed my body and my sleep and my time…). Two amazing, powerful, fragile, brilliant, crazy people in my care, growing and learning and messing up everything every day. They have already faced some of their own “things in life that happen”–their own five-year-old and nine-year-old hardships. It is so hard to watch as a loving (rather awesome) momma. Often they just have to go through those parts of life, finding their way and waiting for a new day to try again.

But sometimes, I get to help or offer advice. Then I get to practice advising someone I dearly love how to be safe and well and happy. It’s a daunting task and I learned, as I tried to complete it over and again, that I often doled out suggestions of what I thought could bring happiness that I was not myself following.

For example, I used to be bulimic. It was long ago and I am better now (I thought you’d wonder; thanks for mentally asking), but even after recovery I used to struggle sometimes with the desire to purge after eating too much of something unhealthy. It seemed like an easy, relatively harmless shortcut to feeling in control again, and I took that shortcut every now and again, without feeling I was “unhealthy” overall.

And then one day, as I was contemplating the toilet after two donuts, or something ridiculous like that, I thought of my kids. Evie, in specific. What if she sometimes freaks out about what she eats? What if she opened up to me about her insecurity and asked what she should do if she ate too much and felt guilty?

“Go to the most remote restroom you can find. Wait until you’re alone, and gag yourself until you vomit. It is worth it to cancel out a donut. I mean, you don’t want to have eaten a donut, DO YOU?”

AHHH. I mean, I would never in a million years say that. Only a super villain in a very avant-garde Disney movie (with an oddly wide range of plot points) would say something like that to a child.

But, that was what I told myself. That was what my inner voice was saying to me. It doesn’t get much farther from “I like me” than that. I was my own super villain. And I decided it was not okay.

So I started giving myself advice as if it was something I’d say to my kids. If it sounded like something I wanted for them, it was good to do. If it sounded like I was Maleficent, well, that was a no.

“You ate two donuts? Probably they were awesome donuts, and everyone indulges sometimes. Go for a walk. Eat oatmeal tomorrow. You are okay and life is short and some days have donuts and don’t fret.”*


While my practice is not perfect, I have come so far in the last several years. I am so much kinder to myself. So much happier. Maybe some future day, I will have come so far that I will want a blank helmet, and I will make it say “I like me.” Just like my daughter.

My greatest accomplishment today was that I raise the girl under the “I like me” helmet. My goal is that she, and her sister, and their mom, and everyone else out there, can say that–and mean it–forever. <3

*I ate 5 maple leaf cookies while I wrote this post. They were so delicious. Maybe I’ll have oatmeal for breakfast. But maybe not.

I am old.

Ella asked me the other day if she could listen to a certain song. She started to describe it; “it says ‘eye of the tiger’…”

“Eye of the Tiger! Eye of the Tiger! ok!” So I start playing “Eye of the Tiger” from Rocky. I am so excited that she even knows of such an awesome, old classic song, and thrilled that she wants to me to play it.  Yeah! Probably she will love classic rock. She can put this on a team mix for sports. She is going to play soccer…

“No, no, mom, this isn’t it.”

“What? Yes, this is ‘Eye of the Tiger.’ Listen a minute longer.”

“The one I want is a girl singer. It is cool. I think it is Katy Perry.”

Oh. “Roar.” Totally different.

This sort of thing is happening to me more and more often. I don’t feel older year by year, but I don’t think of Katy Perry for “Eye of the Tiger.” And I recently questioned a diagnosis from a sick-appointment pediatrician who looked SO YOUNG I wasn’t sure she could possibly know what she was talking about for small children, because she would have spent most of her time with children as a peer rather than a sage physician.

Peyton Manning just won the Super Bowl (Broncos!!!!  Yes!  I have been waiting for so long for this moment.  How long?  Since the last SB victory…16 long years.  Wha?  Nevermind.) I am glad they won, because Peyton looked decrepit and now he can retire and rest up at home.  Because he’s, like, a few hundred days older than me, so he needs a lot of sleep.

My Olympic dream is officially over when I realized that (besides not having anything else close to Olympic caliber talent in any sport) I am too old for any event but biathlon or shuffleboard and I hate those sports. (MI loves biathlon, so our family comes out neutral, in case any of you are now incensed biathletes with rifles.)

I am sitting in the computer room right now as my two kids and the neighbor play. I am wearing headphones, but there is no music playing. Because I can’t focus on typing with music directly in my ear, but they’re just so loud. So these headphones–which are not fancy noise canceling ones–just sort of muffle everything in a pleasant way. Good practice for later in life.

Lies, All Lies

My kids are great kids. They are smart (too smart) and loving and so kind to each other and to their parents. They are both quite verbal (too verbal) and they talk all the time. ALL. THE. TIME. I mean, it feels like I haven’t written much lately and it is largely because Ella has been responding to my question about how she is doing for several weeks. I am here now because they think I’m showering. I’ve had to reduce myself to tradeoffs of basic, life-critical elements. But I digress (and if I focus, perhaps I can write AND shower). (Also the dog is probably destroying something upstairs. It is like when Ella the whirlwind was one and a half years old and I had to set up a sacrificial area of the house if I ever wanted to do something by myself. Now I set out things that belong to other members of my family for Maisie to chew so that I can sneak down alone into the basement.)

The kids. Great. They’re great. We’re all great. Everything is good.

Except the lying.

Why is there so much lying?

I never beat them; I never send them to bed without dinner; they don’t get crazy punishments like you might see on a Buzzfeed list. So why do I get ridiculous stories in response to so many of my direct questions? I am savvy, though. Whenever I hear the following phrases, I know that I am getting something “fictional:”

  • “I accidentally…”
    No. I am pretty sure that you are completely unaware of what you do accidentally. Like, ‘D2 and I were playing and then we accidentally got out the shaving cream and it accidentally is in symmetrical piles on the stairs. And then Maisie ate it–but we told her not to!’ Or, ‘Mom, I am sorry, but I accidentally borrowed your necklace and then used it as a jump rope but it wasn’t big enough, so it broke and the beads are now in the garden.’If you can tell me about it, it was on purpose.
  • “I just thought that I…”
    No. You didn’t. You knew that you could not. And you’re checking to see if I also remember that you could not. To see if you are in trouble.And I do. And you are.
  • “Just one more…”
    No. I know exactly how this works, since I do it, too. Just one more cookie. One more show. One more book before you go quietly to bed. Only you’re a kid, so, no. Just wait one more minute while I finish this and then I will come up there and stop you.
  • “Nothing.”
    No. You never did nothing. Or want nothing. Or think nothing. “Nothing” did not happen at school. You didn’t do “nothing” to your crying sister. “Nothing” is not a choice of which vegetable you want for dinner.In your life, there isn’t nothing. There is always something. So just tell me what it is, for better or worse, or I will go completely insane.

I am a Superhero

No, not from Halloween (though if there is a way to become a hero by eating fun-size Snickers bars and Kit Kats, that might be a contributing factor). I am for real: my mad parenting skills are not just impressive–they are superhuman. For example:

  1. I can shift time. We’re one week into end-of-daylight-savings-time. Or, as many parents-of-toddlers know it, “[redacted] kids wake up crazy early day.” But I now have seven years’ experience getting children–and now a baby animal–who have no concept of time to adjust their entire lives by an hour, simply by yelling and locking people in their sleeping areas. In just one month’s time, I can get my children entirely recovered from Daylight Savings, waking again at a reasonable hour. Probably. By Christmas, for sure.
  2. I can do things while asleep. While we’re waiting for the full effect of #1 power, I use this: my ability to parent and run a household half asleep. I can ask people to get dressed, authorize extra early morning cartoon screen time, and like photos on Instagram all while mostly still asleep. For example, D2 was a 5:30am riser for a long time. I don’t remember many details, because I think I have PTSD-repressed them, but I do remember the lingering emotion between MI and I about “who’s turn?” and “who’s idea to have another kid…” that added drama to that year. I also remember one morning when she was about 18 months old and loved fruit snacks. She found a new box in the pantry, right across from where I was laying on the couch. She loved them, but she couldn’t open them. She brought them to me, her sleeping guardian, and I gave them to her as a pre-breakfast snack. 7 times, apparently. I woke up in a pile of wrappers. See–I can even feed them while asleep.
  3. I can both clean all the time and have the house be a total disaster. I straighten the house for hours a day. Days a day, even. The kids make so much mess that the only way I’ve found to keep the house neat is to minimize the amount of time we are awake there. Before we had kids, it took me a while to put away the clean dishes because, well, I didn’t feel like doing it. Now putting away dishes is the best because it is easy, I could do it peacefully in the kitchen while listening to a podcast on my headphones, and it is one of those chores that immediately shows results. But, no, it still takes forever in our house to put away the dishes because that is supposed to be a kids’ chore. So even though I’d happily just do it, my chore is to make them do it; SO. MUCH. HARDER. I mean, asking them to pause making messes in the living room so they can come bicker while slowly putting spoons in the fork slot–that is TOUGH. Sometimes it takes two days. Sigh.
  4. Poop does not phase me. I love to tell a good poop story. Kids provide so very many. Even puppies have nothing on toddlers, I’ve found so far. Single friends listen, horrified, and tell me “I just can’t do that.” But when you’re alone for bedtime and your kid poops in the tub, well, you can’t just leave it there. And there is no service call for that. Even if you wanted to just move, you have to clean to show the house. So you deal with it. You wash your hands and get it over with. Now, after 7 years, I am immune to shit and can keep my cool when others lose theirs. For example, a few years ago at a race, one of my friends had a very unfortunate port-a-potty visit. She responded by screaming and texting people about the woeful state of humanity. I was the one who dealt with it–someone else’s poop, someone else’s shorts, public restroom, no big deal. Superhero.
  5. I can make two kinds of dinner in 12 minutes. I am like a short order cook. I really like to cook; I like to play with recipes and cook with vegetables and make things that are healthy and creative. But when we get home from work and school, everyone is starving and I have 15 minutes to get an adult meal and a kid meal on the table. I know that they say not to do that–it should be one meal for the whole family. But I won’t eat quesadillas every day and I cannot figure out how to get the girls to eat food with vegetables or anything red or anything with sauce or anything where multiple ingredients are mixed together. So there are two versions. If you think about it, I cook 14 dinners a week. Unless we order pizza. And go out to eat on Saturday. And eat cereal on Tuesday…

Continue reading “I am a Superhero”

The Three C’s of Bedtime SuCCess!

I was recently talking with other parents about a pain we all well know: that of convincing young children their day has ended, their bodies need sleep, and their beds are the place to do it. Such a tough sell.

I once described bedtime as “my life’s hardest job, every single day.” I stand by that, especially with a child who is two, or three, or four.  Sometimes five or six.  (Maybe older, too, though now I am just speculating).

Bedtime

I have read books that infuse humor (like this), read blogs that give a sense of comraderie and more good laughs (like this), and posted on social media in hopes of distracting myself from the misery that can be someone repeatedly calling your name while you hide in a dark closet. (No, I don’t do that. …Don’t you?)

But those books can only help so much, and mostly one must slog through. I started to notice, though, that some of the best bedtimes were–inexplicably–the ones that probably seemed to go most badly to the outside observer (oh, please let there be no outside bedtime observer). Yes: the nights when bedtime included a bit of (child) sobbing were often some of the easiest over all.

Whaaat??

For real. When bedtime went awry and my kids ended up crying, they were expending their final energy reserves. Using all they had. sleeping dorothyAnd once they calmed down, they fell insta-peaceful asleep like Dorothy in a poppy field. (When I first typed that, I wrote “poopy field” and almost left it. hehe).

Not one to waste DISCOVERING MAGIC, I now sometimes leverage this weakness in the system to speed things along. I have convinced myself we are all benefiting in the long run.

Step one: provoke crying

Sooo, sometimes when they are rightrightright on the edge of losing it–we all know that moment, when the adorable laughter and sillliness has an edge of insanity and the eye of the storm is passing–I throw caution to the wind and push them right over. In the most loving way. Like when the one favorite jammies are dirty, offer the most hated pair as an alternative, indicating that you’ll ‘probably do the laundry tomorrow.’ Or when a snack is demanded, respond with a long speech about healthy eating, the chance to consume proper nutrition at dinner, and that child’s woeful lack of nutritional performance that day, such that maybe they should lose the ability to have snacks tomorrow. You know, rational things that kids canNOT DEAL with.

Once they are crying, you walk away. You are mad. They have betrayed you and your logical parenting solutions. –But you’re actually FINE!! This crying doesn’t faze you–you created it. It is your tool. You expected it, and now you go read your book.

Let it go long enough that they are probably really sorry and absorbing a great lesson about rotating clothing or eating vegetables at dinner.

Step two: Provide comfort

They’re so distraught over the terrible pajamas–blue, two pieces, with pants, and Mickey Mouse at Christmas!?!–or the loss of tomorrow’s fruitsnacks that they need comfort. From anywhere.

You swoop in and they will accept your hugs and back rubs, even though you created this storm 90 seconds ago. Don’t overdo it, and avoid dialog. Just soothe, and smile peacefully, and imagine how hard it really must be to be three years old.

Step three: make a small concession

While you are comforting and the crying has turned to whimpers, close the deal. Maybe would your child like to sleep in their NUMBER TWO FAVORITE pajamas while you start a load of laundry RIGHT NOW? You could help them change! Would they like a healthy-but-tasty bowl of carrots and a glass of ice water? carrotsAnd tomorrow they can help cook dinner so they can make sure it has something they LOVE?

In my experience, the right combination of concessions will get you pajama compliance, vegetable eating (or at least an end of food requests), a future dinner helper, and–MOST IMPORTANTLY–silence. The crying stops. The pj’s go on. They usually choose sleep over carrots.

And then, well, just count down from 100, bedtime warrior. Because you’re almost there. Just remember:

1: Crying
2: Comfort
3: Concession

The three C’s of successful bedtime. 

sleeping dog on back

My Brain Owie: Another Example of Kids Breaking Important Things

Some of you readers may have noticed a significant slowing of posts in recent weeks: sorry about that. I have been doing minimal “screen time” lately–computers, TV, reading humorous-but-meaningless lists on Buzzfeed–because three weeks ago, I suffered a concussion. I thought I’d had concussions before–once in seventh grade at recess, once in high school at gymnastics practice–but I realize now: I have never had a head injury before; not like this one.

I am tired all the time. I get killer headaches–still!–if I try to think too hard or stay awake for more than 8 consecutive hours. I nap like a one year old baby–long, hard, and often, with bouts of whimpering and feeling sorry for myself.

How did I get a concussion, you ask?

D2.

D2 headbutted me. (You should try telling people you have to miss work for a week because your three-year old headbutted you. It provides an excellent study in human facial expressions and people’s ability to say something other than what they’re actually thinking.)

The storybrain bandage

I was up early with D2, like often happens. We were in a playful, loving mood, and she had just woken up, so had lots of energy. We began to roughhouse on the bed–D2 loves to roughhouse. Tickling and being pretend thrown or used as a pillow … the toddler usual. But that fateful morning, roughhousing went awry.

It was time to get ready and I tried to get up. D2 climbed on my back. I kept up with the roughhousing game, gently trying to shake her off. She clung tighter, slightly constricting my flow of both oxygen and patience. I shook her off a bit harder and reached around to unlatch her vice-grip hands. She saw it coming, though, and headbutted. I don’t think it was in malice, but she was on my back and I couldn’t see her face. All I know is that her hard-headed forehead cracked me in the soft place behind my right ear. Hard.

I knew it was bad–worse than the usual child injury. It even hurt worse than when Ella broke my nose at church earlier this year at the altar during communion (this is the best parenting year, too, by the way. For real.) I have since had many parents–most parents?–tell me that their children have kicked/headbutted/punched them in the face or some other sensitive spot. One person even got a broken nose! For me, this was my cheap shot.

I shook it off the best I could, got ready, and launched into the summer camp/school/work morning routine. About an hour and a half later, though, my vision got funny. I couldn’t focus and whooshy white dots danced across my line of sight. I was driving at the time, but was close to work, thankfully, and parked quickly. (As a note, I think such circumstances bring me in line with the skill and behavioral norm in Washington, DC, am traffic. I am mostly looking at you, drivers from Maryland.)

In my morning meeting, things didn’t really make much sense and I had a hard time following what we were talking about. This, in and of itself, isn’t uncommon for a first-thing-in-the-morning government bureaucrat meeting, but I found myself drifting. At one point, I leaned my head against the cool metal door jam and considered a nap. (We all know this isn’t an outlandish mid-meeting desire either; it was exceptional only because I actually did it, rather than just wished I could.)

When it was my turn to talk–and I cannot really confirm this because I don’t remember the specifics–apparently I talked nonsensically about the movie Frozen. THE MOVIE FROZEN. Oh, the injustice. elsa ice palace stompThat when I suffer a brain injury, inconsistencies in the plot line from the movie Frozen are what start to come out–my subconscious, leaking out without filter. Insult to injury. People exchanged looks and I won a free teammate escort to the nurse’s office. (Yes, we have a nurse’s office. It is exactly like the one I had in elementary school, where you get Tylenol, a band-aid, and an ice pack for everything. All it is missing is kids with braces brushing their teeth after lunch.)

The nurse declared concussion and told me that MI could pick me up, or she could call an ambulance. I briefly thought the ambulance sounded pretty cool, but was not hit on the head hard enough to ignore the complete mortification of being carried out of one’s workplace on a stretcher after being headbutted by a toddler. Even if she’d hit me hard enough to knock my head clean off, I needed to walk out of there myself to maintain my dignity. (In the end, I limped out of there, leaning heavily on MI while holding the nurse’s ice pack on my head. Dignity is relative, right?)

Hours and days and even weeks passed and mostly I slept. I took five hour naps. I went to bed at 5:30. I woke up at noon. I feel asleep in the car (shotgun, Maryland, you can only sleep while in shotgun!). My kids learned to creep carefully and quietly around the house and be extra nice to me on account of my “brain owie” (which D2 does not know she was responsible for. I should ask her, actually what she thinks happened to me. It is probably hilarious.)

Unlisted sport #8: bonding with your small child. A dangerous, full contact sport.
Unlisted sport #8: bonding with your small child. A dangerous, full contact sport.

I can’t work a full day yet and get bad headaches if I try to do almost any adult activity; last week on vacation I had to miss seeing a summer blockbuster movie in the theater because it was too large a screen and too intense a soundtrack and I couldn’t handle it (just like when we took Ella to see “How to Train Your Dragon 2.” Except we went… so much screaming. So many tears…) And yet, it has been pretty fantastic. My kids are soooooo nice.  MI is taking care of me in a way that I haven’t experienced maybe since we had kids.

Sure, my job is about thinking, which I can’t do as well anymore. And I am going steadily more stir crazy without my usual workouts. And I know there are words I used to know that I can’t come up with anymore (shortly after the injury, I called a plate a “dinner circle,” for example). But I get to sleep all the time and am surrounded by the best version of my family–caring, kind, and a bit more quiet.

Plus, I have convinced myself that eating ice cream is the only way to ice your brain from the inside. Time for my treatment and my nap.

Take good care of your brain. You never know when you are going to need it.
Take good care of your brain. You never know when you are going to need it.

Frosting, Raisins, Rabbits and Other Reasons My Kids Totally Lost It

My kids are in an emotionally volatile place.

Right now, because it is afternoon, but they don’t really nap anymore.

Later this afternoon, because they won’t have had dinner yet.

In the late evening because they ARE NOT TIRED.

Tomorrow, because it will be a school day.

And, just generally, because they are children.

I haven’t decided if all of the sobbing is because they are deranged, emotional messes who cannot yet control themselves, or because they are still in touch with the true meaning of life and capable of feeling deeply and so expressing without shame.

Either way, they are exhausting, but often hilarious at the same time.

Reasons, of late, my kids have completely lost it:

  1. I put golden raisins in the Amazeballs.Amazeballs
  2. She remembered–after waking up in the dead of the night–that the piece of cake she was given at her classmate’s birthday party last week fell over on its side and she couldn’t see the frosting.

    The horror
    The horror
  3. I unzipped her dress when it was stuck over her head. (She could have done that herself.)
  4. I did not come immediately to help when it turned out she could NOT do it by herself.
  5. I said that we would never get a pet rabbit.
  6. I explained *why* we would never get a pet rabbit–they like to hop freely in the green grass with their families–and she cried that other people could be so cruel as to keep pet rabbits.pet rabbits
  7. I told her that her shoes were on the wrong feet.
  8. I threw away her broken Easter basket in July.
  9. Her sister sprayed her with the hose when they were outside, naked, playing with the hose.
  10. I said she could not have pasta for breakfast.
  11. I played the Kidz Bop version of “Shake It Off,” instead of the real version by Taylor Swift.
  12. I took the HOV lane, when she wanted to follow the red car in the slow lane.
  13. Today is Tuesday. She hates Tuesday.
  14. Her sister forgot to refer to her by her pretend name of “Disney Toy Collector.”
  15. I would not drink the fairy pond water in the pink plastic teacup that was “just for me.”
  16. D2: The cupcakes should be purple.IMG_20150315_115608242
    Ella: The cupcakes should be pink.
    D2: The cupcakes HAVE TO BE PURPLE.
    Ella: Purple gives me a headache!
    D2: No it doesn’t–and grandma already told me they could be purple.
    Ella: If they are purple, I will not eat them. Not. at. all.
    D2: Fine, I will eat them all myself because purple is my favorite.
    Ella: Mooooooom, its not fair! She said she was going to eat ALLL the cupcakes.
  17. She begged to go to gymnastics camp, so I signed her up for gymnastics camp, and then made her go to gymnastics camp.
  18. Her mermaid doll can not stand up by itself on the tip of its tail.
  19. Her book does not stand upright in the carseat cupholder.
  20. I threw away the pink pig she made yesterday out of a paper dinner plate. (Apparently it was a special pig that we were supposed to keep forever.)
  21. She asked me if we could move to Florida, and I said, “Not today.”
  22. I decided to wear slacks to work instead of a dress.

Guest Post! Master Class to Admiring Any Baby

(regardless of what the baby actually looks like)

Let’s be honest, a lot of babies look vaguely creepy. There are many exceptions, but unfortunately most proud parents are (rightfully) oblivious to the fact that their newborn primarily bears resemblance to an alien. Since perfectly attractive people can have very odd-looking babies, you need to be prepared with a socially acceptable way to respond to any baby photo that is independent of the photo subject.

Step 1: tone of voice.

Your voice should always be positive, upbeat, and admiring when looking at baby photos.

Step 2: filler words.

The first time I ever look at someone’s child I start with an “awwww” while I think of something more specific to praise. It’s non-committal and generally accepted as an outward expression of how cute the photo is, even if inside you are thinking “awwww, that poor kid is going to have a tough time in middle school” or “awwww, shit, how am I going to say something nice about this kid?”

I’ve also found an effusive “oh my goodness” to be an acceptable alternative. “Wow” fills the same role but gives you less time to think. Find a word or phrase you’re comfortable with that will buy time.

See step 1 about tone. All of these responses are tonally dependent.

step 3: avoiding gender.

Most of the time the baby’s gender will be obvious (by name, by the parent’s pronoun use, by all the sonogram pictures that were posted to Facebook for seven months…), but there are some circumstances in which gender is unclear and for whatever reason you think it is uncomfortable to ask. Unless you know for sure whether it’s a boy or a girl, try to avoid receiving the awkward “actually, it’s (s)he” correction from a defensive parent. A safe way to do this is to pick a feature to compliment, and then try to wait for the parent to state the gender. Instead of “he’s got stunning eyes” go for “look at those eyes!”

step 4: be specific.

I’m a big believer in the feature-based compliment route because I am a terrible liar. I really am not great at selling the “she’s beautiful” line when it’s a goblin baby. Instead, I pick something in the picture that I can admire without guile.

My go to features:

  • Cheeks
  • Eyes/eyelashes
  • Lips
  • Fingers/toes (particularly the little nails)

A bit more detail:

Cheeks are safe bets. Cheeks are almost always my first choice of baby compliments, regardless of whether it’s a model baby or a Golum baby. This is especially effective when paired with “oh look at those …” as an opener because then you don’t have to specific what you like about them. (Combing steps 1-4: “Awww! Look at those cheeks!” is a golden first response to a baby photo. It works for every baby. No one can fault you. No one can correct you. You said nothing that can possibly be misconstrued, even for particularly jowly babies. You did a great job!)

Eyes are also winners. Eyes can be expressive, striking, alert, etc. Find a few adjectives that work for you. You can also always throw it a comment about how the eyes are indicative of the baby’s intelligence. Parents like that shit.

If you’re not going for a face-based compliment, stick with the baby’s hands/feet. It is a particularly safe bet to comment on the smallness/delicacy/amazingness of the baby’s fingers and toes.

Step 5: look for kid-specific things to discuss.

You made it through the first 5-10 seconds with your canned baby responses. Now you have to carry on the conversation for at least 30 more seconds until you can get away from whatever mobile device is being waved in front of your face.

Safe topics:

  • The littleness of the baby (don’t go overboard here if it’s a premie) and admiring various small features
  • Comments about how the baby looks “snuggly”
  • Inquiring about the health of child/mother (try to keep it vague. don’t ask about the birth unless hearing about episiotomies is your thing…)
  • Asking about how everyone is sleeping

Things to Avoid:

  • Commenting on chubby babies, fat rolls, use of the word “chunky,” etc. Yes, it is good/normal/healthy for babies to have baby fat. However, quick admiration will go better if you pick universally safe topics that don’t potentially carry societal baggage. Comment only if the parent brings it up first, and even then use qualifiers like “sweet.”
  • Speculating on which parent the baby looks like more. This is a can of worms. Stay away.
  • Commenting on headbands/hats made with gigantic plastic flowers. Admittedly this is my personal preference, mostly because I don’t think such monstrosities should be encouraged.

Step 6: extraction.

After one or two pictures, apologize for cutting things short and excuse yourself to go back to work/run to the restroom/grab a drink of water. Tell the parent congratulations. Say how glad you are they stopped by to share the photos with you. Throw yourself a small party for successfully admiring someone’s (ugly) baby.

baby bearded dragon

This post was written by Lauren’s incredibly hilarious sister, who is so gifted at writing that she began doing the family Christmas letter when she was 8 years old and continued until after college. Lauren begged for her to write for Parentheticalasides.com, so leave lots of grateful comments so that we can all enjoy it again.

Timeline of Family Growth and Development Milestones, As They Relate to Dora the Explorer

2008-9: Small, new, baby–too small even to watch television–arrives. I have never seen Dora the Explorer. My world is about to change.

2010: Family trip to Asia with an 18-month old in coach. I unveil the magic of television watching for the first time, hoping it will be a spellbinding gift that will buy hours of peaceful time on the plane. 18 month old watches Dora the Explorer–in English and Korean–for about ten minutes. Seems. . .unimpressed. Crushing maternal disappointment for the first–perhaps only?–time that my kid will *NOT* watch TV. The flight is so very, very long. (Its completion is still one of my top five lifetime accomplishments.)

2011: Dora–and general TV watching–finally take. At first she silently observes with dora backpacksaucer-wide eyes and the slightest of smiles. By the end of the year, mini-marathon sessions are possible–30 to 45 minutes of free hands for parents!–and the characters have become well-loved family friends. We love music and know all the songs. (Not hard. One is just the word “backpack,” repeated 37 times with different inflection.)

2012: Someone gives us a plastic, purple, talking backpack and a book that does not fit on the shelf and includes 12 micro Dora figurines. The backpack sings its own theme song, or name, or life mantra: “backpack, backpack;” we listen again and again, longing to uncover the mystery. The figurines possess a strong sedative power but, if they are lost, as they often are, sleep is a stranger to us. We learn the best places to search for objects lost by the nonsensical and barely verbal, the best ways to distract emotional toddlers from unpleasant realities, and the occasions when you just have to cry it out.

–Suddenly, mid-year, the Dora love dries up: Swiper the rule-breaking-Fox is no longer cute in his capers. He is a dangerous social menace who can’t be trusted. We develop empathy for Dora and Tico and Roberto the Robot–who are often the victims of Swiper’s TRULY SENSELESS crimes. Hysterical crying makes even the most innocent-seeming episode a bridge too far. So we focus on reading books and playing with other kids and Dora briefly exits our life.

2013: A new toddler enters the scene, seemingly born knowing how to stream from Netflix, and she wants to watch Dora. She sits, saucer-eyed and smiles; but her older sister continues the Swiper-the-Fox freak out. So it is that they learn to fight over controlling the television, to tease each other about irrational fears, and to pretend nothing happened when parents arrive, skills that–as I remember it–will be heavily used in coming years.

2014: A trip to Grandma and Grandpa’s house–CABLE! Nick Junior!!–reveals the existence of “Dora and Friends,” in-to-the-ci-ty. A catchier theme song and more mature content (Dora is a tween! in the city! with a changing wardrobe!), make this an instant hit. Upon returning home to our basic-TV-channels-only home, we begin learning the rule that we don’t always have and won’t always get all of the cool things other people have. This lesson is hard, and they test it weekly, just to make sure.

2015: We finally get cable. Not for Dora; I feel confident no one does that. It is maybe for MI to watch baseball, or to allow more movie recording options, or just so I feel hip (irony of using “hip” to be hip is not lost. The irony of “being hip” by getting cable during the 2015 cable-cutting era was lost, though, until MI pointed it out while proofreading. Whatever, haters.) We now have to and can record Dora and Friends in-to-the-ci-ty. The entertainment grail. We must now learn the secret of moderation–a lifelong human pursuit that applies to everything except smiling and cookies. We learn about finishing work before play, turning things off when it is time to leave, and not singing theme songs around people who are hungry.


They’re growing up, and the lessons are getting deep. It struck me how Dora has been woven through the early years of my children’s development in a way the show’s creators perhaps didn’t anticipate. We didn’t learn about passing first through the Coconut Forest, past the place with the bubbles that can be repaired with duct tape, to the big red hill that is actually a large chicken. We already knew that. We learned about family and fears and relationships and compromise…

…and this pearl of wisdom, which I heard Ella passing along to D2 at dinner:

Dora and Friends is not just a show. Dora and Friends is actually a non-fiction movie. It is about 2060 years ago, about *real* life, told in a fun, fiction-like way so that kids can understand. It. is. REAL.

D2 nodded sagely.

Online shopping and a “Night Out”: not for me

It is time to update my wardrobe. Every so often, I realize that I have so many things that I do not love and I want to purge it all and start over. (Then I realize that is too much work and so I  just donate a few things and buy tee shirts at Target and more workout pants.)

I am trying to switch to a model that I am calling “European” (it’s fancy, not lazy) where I have fewer things that I completely love. To accomplish this model, I have to be much more thoughtful about my shopping: not just things that are kind-of cute or on big sale. Things that fit a particular hole in my wardrobe, that pair with other things already in my wardrobe, that make me feel amazing.

I started browsing online. Lately I have been feeling pretty cool towards online shopping because there are 2,397,000 “tops” in the world and I need them to be better curated. How do you even find stores that sell things you like online? How long are you other online clothing shoppers spending at this? I think I could spend an hour a day just finding stores that might sell things I like; then I have to carve out more time to actually look at those things. And in the end, the checkout process takes longer than I think it will and I give up and go read a magazine. Am I alone in thinking that successful online shopping sounds like black magic? No wonder I subsist on $12 “Favorite” tees I get when I’m actually shopping for toilet paper and cheaper-than-at-the-grocery-store juice boxes. Plus, if your kid gets a runny nose when you’re out of the house and you don’t have a tissue handy. . . well, you know, favorite tee to the rescue.

 But, I am ready to class it up. (Low bar, right?) So I have been shopping at Nordstrom. A great start, to be sure, and I am obsessed with their return policy–which might be the most important part of shopping–but it still leaves a lot to be desired.

Take, for example, the Night Out tops selection for women, sampled online on May 5, 2015. I am looking for things that I can still wear to work but are perfect for date night. Nordstrom is a classy place, so I figured they’d catch my ‘married-with-kids, trying-to-stay-awake-past-10’ date night vibe. I guess not. As I scrolled through pages of options, I felt like a stranger to this planet.

Who wears that? Never, in my entire life, have I seen someone wear something like that. And I thought I had been to lots of places.

Where do you go such that you feel like that is a good idea? Are the other people sequined racerback tankwearing things like this as well? I grant that a lot of it is probably “clubbing” attire (do they still call it that?  Last time I went I wore a work blouse and stood in the back complained about how loud it was.) But clubs are dirty and the people don’t care what you’re wearing because its dark and everyone kind of smells. So, who is buying the $1,400 sequined racerback tank for those events? And what do they do if the “Night Out” occurs on a cold evening?

Are old people–like, over the age of 24–allowed to “Go out”? I mean, I thought that is what I was doing all of these years on Saturday nights with MI, but it seems like I DO NOT have any of the clothes I need for it. So, I guess I have been doing something else.  What have I been doing?night out sheer tunic

Clearly, I am out of my league here. I have given up online shopping (just like I did in a fit of anger in 2012) and set up a consultation with a personal stylist.

She asked me to send ideas of what I liked; I found some things. But a large part of my email was dedicated to “Things I Don’t Like,” in which I mostly felt like I was describing . . . clothes these days.

I am quite curious to see what she comes up with.

If all else fails, I can fall back on wearing gym clothes all day. My happy place.