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Category: Pen Name Jane

Pen Name Jane was a weekly parenting column started by Katherine Shirer and Chris Sansbury.

New Research Reveals that Reading Research is Bad for Your Health


Have you ever noticed that if you’re told something totally crazy over and over by experts you will start believing it?

So much so that you may even find yourself dolling out these crazy “facts,” even though somewhere deep down in the bottom of your gut you can hear your intuition’s muffled cries. (Poor intuition — bound and gagged — never stops screaming, “These facts cannot be true!”)

I could tell that I was supposed to say no, so I gave a muffled reply of, “No, not usually.”

She could sense my lie, and so she proceeded to warn me of sensitive palettes and animal obesity. Then she brought me a very small bag of dog food. “This is what you should feed your dog,” she said and handed me the $100 bag of gourmet food.

The front of the bag pictured a hearty Thanksgiving feast complete with chicken, steak, ham, carrots, celery, salmon, and grains, and even a pumpkin pie!

Now I understand that I shouldn’t feed my dog French fries, but some steak? A piece of chicken? While the vet was lecturing me, I was looking at my dog and thinking, if she was wandering around wild I bet she would be eating lizards and dirty diapers, so I don’t think that some steak bits are gonna kill her.

I mean, the concept of even buying food for your dog is a fairly new one. Dogs have been surviving on table scraps ever since they were domesticated 35,000 years ago. It wasn’t until the prosperity following World War II that buying dog food became popular.

Are you seriously telling me that it is unhealthy for me to feed my dog any of the things pictured on the dog food bag, but if I pay you to ground that stuff up, spray it with nutrients, mold it into perfectly round pellets and then let it sit on a shelf for years, that’s healthier?

(Channel Seth Myers here:) Really?

I just don’t think that’s true.

Another thing I’ve felt suspicious about for years is low-fat dairy products; seems like a bad idea. Low-fat cheese is like paying money to eat cardboard. But after being bombarded with tons of science saying that the healthiest way to eat dairy is to only eat low-fat, I finally caved. Low fat is best. Then a month ago, I watched the movie “Forks Over Knives,” and it said that many of the health problems in America are being caused by the high consumption of LOW-FAT DAIRY!

I knew it! I knew I was right. Why did I ever cave?

Science is why I caved.

And why am I listening to science? Have you ever noticed that science is always changing its mind so that some new student can get their Ph.D.?

We all have our gut instincts about what is right or wrong, but often we ignore our instincts and listen to science

This is particularly true with parenting. What do the books say we should do?

Hey Books, I’m not sure if you know this, but humans have been raising kids for millions of years without you. So I’m not going to listen to your advice to always give kids Tylenol when they have a fever. My gut says a fever has a useful purpose in fighting off colds. That’s why fevers exist. Just because you don’t know why they help fight colds doesn’t mean that they don’t. So there books! I stick my tongue out at you.

My gut says I will live a better life if I listen to my intuition.

And I betcha I can find some research that proves I’m right!

In the Man Store, There Are No Upgrades!

flynn2 copy

Moral of the story is: Love the one you are with.

A woman walks into a store and tells the salesman: “Hi, I would like to return this husband for the upgraded version. I’ve had him for 30 years and I figured the newer ones probably accept more input, and have better firmware.”

“I’m sorry, Ms., but there are no upgrades,” the salesman says.

“What? But there has to have been some improvements in the last 30 years,” the woman says.

“No Ma’am, same version that has been around for the 195,000 years,” he says.

“But I see a large selection here. What are the differences between all these?” she says.

“Well they do come in different shapes and sizes and you can get some variations in specific annoyances but it’s all the same model,” he says.

“But look at these. They look much better than what I have,” she says.

“True, but once you get them home they all look the same.”

“No. I don’t believe you. Look at how shiny this one is! And new! And handsome! Tell me about this model,” the woman asks.

“Well, this model is shiny and handsome. He will always think you look sexy, and you will have an abundant sex life,” the salesman says.

“I would like to feel sexy again,” she bats her lashes at the shiny model.

“Yes, sexy on one hand and wildly insecure on the other,” the salesman murmurs.

“What does this mean: two DD mistresses included?” she asks reading the fine print.

“Yes, this model has the mistresses included,” the salesman says.

“It is never sold separately?”

“Sometimes they are sold separately, but they will need new mistresses pretty quickly.”

“Oh. OK. Then is there one that is a good listener?” she asks.


“Excuse me, Sir. Is there one that is a good listener?”

“Huh?” the salesman asks.

“A good listener?” the woman asks again.

“Yes Ma’am, right over here,” the salesman says.

“Oh, he does seem sweet. So cute,” the woman says.

“Yes, he is the sweetest you can get. He is sensitive and creative. He will write you love songs and fill your life with romance. He will always be interested in you, always listen you, and he will adore you,” the salesman says.

“Great, I’ll take this one. Except what is that asterisk by him? Non-working model. What does that mean?” the woman asks.

“He spends all of his time loving you. He can’t really hold down a job now can he?” the salesman says.

“I would like for him to have a job. Do you have a successful one?” she asks.

“Yes, right over here. Our successful model is very popular.” He shows her to another room.

“Oh, good. So is he a good listener?” she asks.

“Sorry Ma’am, this model has high output but cannot process input.”

“What about romance?” she asks.

“Not available in this model.”

“Hmm, sounds a lot like the one I already have,” the woman says.

“Ma’am, as I have said, there are no upgrades. This is not a car dealer where you can pay more for a deluxe model. Every positive comes with a negative. And often it is the very positive thing that attracted you to him in the first place that becomes the negative,” he says.

“What? That cannot be true,” she says.

“You say you want a successful one, but I assume that is what you already have. You want him to work and support you but then you are angry because he is not home being attentive to you. You punish him for the very thing that attracted you to him,” the salesman says.

“Well, no … I don’t think … no, that’s not it. He never listens to me,” she shakes her head and then ventures into another salesroom. “Ohhh, so how about this one? Looks like he cooks and cleans, has good taste in furniture, is a good listener. He is handsome, well built, has a successful job, is good to his mother. Why can’t I get that model?” she asks.

“That is an excellent model Ma’am, but as you can see this model prefers to be with the other male models.”

“Yes, but … can’t you just … I mean, do they ever change to…” she asks.

“No.” he says.

“Never? I mean I’ve heard stories that …” she says.

“Never,” the salesman says.

Frustrated she moves onto another large room. “What about these ones?”

“These are damaged models that have been returned because they are bitter, angry, heart-broken, or scared. Usually it is the producer’s fault, but sometimes it happens after they have been purchased,” he says.

“Oh, like fixer-uppers?” the woman asks, a little intrigued.

“Well lady, they all come as is, and I have to be honest, women tend to see every model, damaged or not, as a fixer-upper so I can only keep emphasizing that they come as is.”

“OK,” she looks at her feet. “Is there anything else I can look at?”

“Ma’am, if I may be so rude as to say, I think what you are looking for is a wife.”

Sorry Valentine’s Day, It’s Over Between Us


I don’t love you anymore. Maybe I never did.

It feels like I’ve always felt disdain for this random day in the middle of February. This day that, seemingly out of the blue, has the ability to make you feel crappy about yourself.

I have enough things in my life making me feel crappy; I don’t need any extras.

I’m not even sure why it would make me feel bad. I don’t feel unloved. Is it because a dozen roses suddenly cost $100?  I am crazy-cheap, but that’s not it. Is it because the only dinner reservations available are at 9:30 p.m. and the menu is limited? No. Is it because I am highly disturbed that there is a five-hour wait at the Olive Garden? Maybe.

The reasons for hating Valentine’s Day are as varied as the population: For those of us in committed relationships, Valentine’s Day rudely reminds us that the honeymoon is over.

For those of us who are not in love, not close to being in love, and haven’t met a decent available human in 21 dog years, then dear ole St. Valentine is the guy who turns the knife that is already in your soul’s back.

If you’re breaking up, or getting divorced, then Valentine’s Day — besides doing a dance on the shattered pieces of your former relationship — reminds you that soon you are going to have to start dating again, and that is going to be a really, really crappy experience.

Since I have always loathed Valentine’s Day, my husband and I have never celebrated it. So I was really surprised and delighted a few years ago when he brought home flowers, a sweet card and my favorite candy. I started to reconsider this wicked holiday. Maybe Valentine’s Day is a necessary evil because after years of marriage, men — who never do anything romantic — may consider romance if they are seriously pressured by all of society.

My new found enjoyment in the holiday surprised even me and it led to unfortunate anticipation for the next year. And when my husband came home with nothing at all, I was devastated. When I confronted him all hysterical, and crying, and frantically shredding his favorite pair of shorts, he said, “But you hate Valentine’s Day. You’ve told me for the last decade not to do anything.”

After two years of seething I may have to admit he was right.

How did I end up here? Disappointed? Wasn’t all this hatred of Valentine’s Day supposed to prevent the very situation that I was in? Turns out that solo positive holiday experience had raised the one thing that ruins more marriages than anything else combined, a condition that eats itself through all aspects of happily wed. That one surprise created the most pestilent, viral, destructive state, namely it gave me high expectations.

In Valentine’s Day’s defense, having (non-infant) kids has bought some of the magic back to the holiday. My boys and I bake cookies and we paint hearts to hang from the oak tree out front. We make hand-painted cards for our family using Glitter Glue!

It reminds me of when I was a kid and I actually liked Valentine’s Day, before adolescence morphed it into a competition of who is loved the most. It reminds me of when all my anticipation was wrapped around waiting for my mother to drive me to Eckerd’s so I could buy my box of valentines.

As we walked around the store, I would softly touch the large, red, cellophane-wrapped hearts filled with mystery chocolates. I would dream that one day Jimmy F. would hand me a heart and then ask me to ride on the handle bars of his bike.

Once we got home from Eckerd’s, I would rush to my room and spread out the cards to see all the different variations. I would stack the cards into piles for my different friends.

One pile would be for the least love-y card, something that hopefully said a non-committal phrase like “You’re in my class!” but usually said “My friend” with hearts around it. This card would be used for icky boys. I would cringe as I wrote their names. What if someone thought that I loved them? How would I explain that Jesus told my mother to tell me that I had to write one card to every kid in class? (Oh, how I dreamed of having a cool mother that didn’t care about other kids’ feelings.)

Even with the icky cards, I loved licking the envelopes and writing my friends’ names on them. I loved choosing funny Be-Mine heart candies into the cards. I loved decorating them with stickers and crayons (before the invention of glitter glue).

What made Valentine’s Day great as a kid was that it was a day to tell everyone you cared for them, and not a day to have one special person say they care about you.

So if there is any chance that Valentine’s Day is going to find you at home, alone, on the couch eating an entire pint of Ben and Jerry’s February Blend, Fat Free Lime-Alone Sorbet (also available in Self-Wallowing Mango) then I suggest you buy some glitter glue and spend your time telling everyone else what they mean to you.

Instead of feeling alone, this Valentine’s Day, I have decided I am throwing a pity party.

Potty Training Magic

Potty tilt“So how old were your kids when they were potty trained?” an elderly (are we still allowed to use that adjective?) lady asked me at the grocery store.

I can tell by her tone that my mothering will be judged by my answer.

“They were both out of diapers at 2,” I say.

“Oh wonderful,” she nods approvingly. “Yes, all the kids used to be potty trained by 2, but now everyone does it so late, up to 4 sometimes.”

Am I lying to her?

Yes and no.

Potty training is about 20 different skills: going No. 1 on the potty, going No. 2 on the potty, going without being prompted, stopping playing to go, not going in the bath tub, not going in the pool, using indoor plumbing instead of the grass, pulling up your pants, pulling down your pants, knowing where it is OK to pull down your pants, zipping a zipper, snapping a snap, wiping, actually being good at wiping, waking up at night to go, sleeping the whole night without going, sleeping the whole night without going when you are spending the night at a friend’s, not peeing your pants when you jump on the trampoline … wait, was that last one meant for me?

So what is potty trained? When kids have mastered all these skills? Some of them? One of them?

I don’t know. Both my boys were out of diapers at 2, but more because I am cheap and hope springs eternal than because I was so amazing at or diligent about potty training.

My oldest stopped wearing diapers during the day right at 25 months. (For anyone who does not have kids, 25 months is just a complicated way of saying that he had just turned 2.) He never had an accident and used the potty consistently to go No. 1, but for a full year (two or three times a day) he would go to his room, grab a diaper and have me put it on him so he could do his dootie-duty.

I was sick of this, so on his 3rd birthday I told him that he was too big for diapers and the diaper manufacturers didn’t make diapers to fit 3-year-olds.

This worked like a charm. And, like a charm, it also had an unforeseen evil consequence: no diapers at night. He so truly believed  my lie that he would not put on a diaper at bedtime. “Too big!” he screamed.


I didn’t want to retract my lie; I couldn’t break the spell. I needed another charm to fix the first. So that night I went to my cauldron, I mixed up some Eye of Newt and Dragon’s Breath, poured a little gin in it and sat down on the couch to brainstorm what to do next.

Genius idea: I would sneak into his room after he was asleep and put a diaper on him.

This did not work. I could hear him in the middle of the night yell “Too big!” as he ripped his diaper off (duct tape and all).

From then on, he was not allowed any liquids after 6:30 p.m., and I woke him up every night at 10 to make him use the potty. This was not very efficient for myriad reasons:

  • I had to remember to do it every night.
  • His bedroom is upstairs, but there is no bathroom up there, so I would have to bring the kiddie potty upstairs.
  • It was dark and I could never see if the hose was pointed at the target, if you know what I mean.
  • Most nights he would scream like he was being attacked by a wild animal when I picked him up and he would fight against sitting on the potty.
  • I had to remember to do it. (Did I say that already?)

Finally we got into a routine. Pee before bed. Then make him use the downstairs potty at 10 p.m. This worked for about six weeks, and then he suddenly started wetting the bed every morning at 6 a.m.

I was losing my mind. He should not have to pee three times in 10 hours. I immediately knew that he had bladder cancer.

Turns out he was gulping down gallons of bath water every night in the tub. (Reread the 20 skills and then let that sink [or tub] in for awhile.)

So now I have an un-potty-trained kid and I am obviously a horrible parent because my poor child is dehydrated!

OK. Regroup. Now: lots of water during the day, no more drinking bath water, and continue no liquids after 6 p.m.

Success. He didn’t wet the bed for a month. Until we went out of town and he started wetting the bed again, every night for weeks.

Start again. Finally … success. I found a new magic trick: time. The day he turned 4 he never wet the bed again.*

He was out of diapers at 2, but was he potty trained at 2? A little bit. Was he potty trained at 3? A little bit more. Was he potty trained at 4? God knows. The newest thing I am learning is that you have to teach boys how to pee in the potty — not just in the immediate vicinity of it.

Some days I’ll think I hear the shower running and then realize: Oh, it’s just one of the kids overshooting the bowl and hitting the shower curtain.

So it seems there is still more potty training work to be done, but my cheapness and my ego feel great pride when I say both my boys were out of diapers at age 2. Who cares? (Besides that random inappropriate lady at the grocery store.) I assume the older your kids are when you potty train them, the more skills they can learn all at once.

There is no best time, or right time, or only way to potty train, and every magic trick has a consequence: whether it’s changing dirty diapers for three years, or prompting a 2-year-old to use the potty 10 times a day for 12 months. So pick the least offensive one to you, and then don’t think twice about what other people are doing.

They all get potty trained eventually. Right? Please tell me that’s true.

*Until we went out of town this Christmas.

Curse You, Grocery Store Checkout Line!

grocerySo you’re at the grocery store and you’ve made it.

You’ve been down ever aisle. You’ve completed your list.

Your kids screamed only a couple of times and at glass shattering decibels rather than earth shattering. You are rounding the final aisle and heading toward the checkout.

The dreaded checkout.

The Sirens’ Pass in your Odyssey.

Can your children resist their calls? Will the whole family be lured into crashing or will you pass through unharmed?

Like Ulysses himself, you clip your children down into the cart, hoping they won’t be driven crazy by the sweet Siren song:

M&M’s, and Snickers, cookies too.

Put us in your belly. We’re so good for you.  

Grab onto your mommy, tell her true:

‘Give me all that candy, or I’ll cry boo-hoo.’  

Put us in your pocket, mommy’s out of view.

You want us in your belly. We’re good for you. 

At this very moment:

  • How many kids are throwing themselves on the dirty floor of a supermarket over a candy bar?
  • Or how many children are committing their first crime by stealing a pack of gum in the chaos of the checkout?
  • How many parents are taking the Lord’s name in vain while envisioning strangling their kids as they slide their credit card through the machine?

I understand that grocery stores and Super-Cheap-But-Actually-More-Expensive-Because-You-Buy-Lots-Of-Unnecessary-Crap-Mega Marts sell more items because they put bunches and bunches of cheap plastic toys and yummy gummy sweets right at the height of little arms sticking out of grocery carts.

I understand that it is my choice to not buy this crap for my kids. And I don’t EVER EVER give in to my kids’ requests for treats and toys (except sometimes). Yet they are still tempted by everything whenever we go to the store.

I can deal with all the junk hanging from aisles — just asking for kids to pull them down — while I try to choose the healthiest jelly from my 900 options. Hmmm … do I want no corn syrup, sugar or artificial sweetener but with MSG, or do I want no MSG but some sugar and red Dye #666? Decisions, decisions.

I can deal with it because I am standing behind the cart, and I can whisper into my kids’ tiny ears, “I brought you into this world and I can take you out of it; so you better sit down right now, pull that candied sushi out from under your shirt and behave!”

But, come on grocery mart, please don’t tease them with goodies the whole store, and then right when I really need the kids to behave put a gazillion candy bars next to them while I attempt to check out. I’m lugging around a 15-pound book here with 1,973,472 expired coupons in it. I don’t have time to monitor if my kids are committing petty theft.

I want to throw all that stuff in the dumpster and blow it up.

Last week, my kids screamed (at earth shattering decibels) the entire way home because they did not get any cookies at the checkout line. When I opened the car door to get out it was like I was blasting a horror flick inside. (Of course my neighbors and their whole extended family were outside.)

Curse you grocery store!

And just today I saw a 6-year-old boy running around the checkout area, football clutching a large bag of candy, while dodging his grandmother who was whisper-shouting to him, “She has already checked out. She’s leaving. You need to put that down.”


I want a kid-friendly checkout line. No cookies. No candies. No balloons. No toys begging to be bought. The only thing to grab would be baby carrots and apples.

I want mirrors so my little narcissistic kids can make funny faces at themselves while I unload the cart. I want propaganda photos of Elmo enjoying his broccoli. I want evil looking elves with red eyes chanting, “We’re watching you.” (OK, maybe not the last few.)

The checkout line feels like a big old F-U to parents. We like our profits over your health.

I’m mostly a libertarian, so I don’t want a stupid law saying you can’t try to lure kids into diabetes with brightly colored sugar, but I would like for the groceries stores to do it on their own — for the happiness of their customers and for the sanity and health of the kids.

Stop trying to impulse sell candy to little people who do not yet have impulse control.

But I know we are a nation of greed, so even with the obesity epidemic I bet no grocery store would ever look past the bottom line in order to make their customers happier.

Unless … it made them more money.

I would switch stores if they had a kid-friendly checkout line. Maybe you would too.

Attack of the 50ft. Shark Wrench

sharkI live with a couple of little make-believe micromanagers.

I look at my boys, age 3 and 4, and I envision them in tiny cheap suits, hair slicked back, dark-rimmed glasses, checklist in hand.

“Now Mom you sit here and say, ‘Aahhh the bulldozer is going to get me.’”

“Mom, I TOLD you to laugh when I put this drill in your back.”

This is tediously boring. I try to make it more interesting, but my son is never amused by my ad-libbing. Sometimes the boat crane will have mechanical issues and need oil (coffee) to be fixed, or other times the boat crane slips and a bunch of boats all fall onto the engineer’s head.

“NO MOM! You’re doing it wrong. Now pick up those boats.”

I’m sure part of the fun of make-believe is being able to boss your un-fun mother around, being able to have the roles reversed for awhile, but I feel like I am working with an ego-maniacal writer/actor/director who won’t let me bring anything to the table. I gotta make this boat crane my own, man.

I tried explaining to my boys that the first rule of improv is to always say yes to what your improv partner is bringing to the scene. We will be in the middle of a school of sharks (played by Legos) and I will pick up a certain shark and wrestle it, when one of my kids will say, “No, Mom. That’s not a shark. That’s a wrench.”

“Aghhhhh. I quit. This is no fun.  I’m going to go wash dishes,” I pout and kick the stupid shark-wrench.

Why can’t I just go with it?

Because there are always consequences to just having fun.Whether it is time wasted, getting injured, or bad habits that will generalize into the most annoying routines ever, there are always consequences.

For example every night the boys and I walk the dog. They ride on their tricycles and the dog and I walk behind them. Every couple of feet they will stop their bikes and ask me to sing, “I’m going to pass you. I’m going to pass you,” while I run past them.

As soon as I pass, they race up behind me, singing, “You can’t pass me!” And always, always, without fail in the chaos of two trikes, a pulling dog and me, one of them will accidentally slam their pedals into the back of my ankles.

It hurts sooooooooooo bad.

I have anxiety the whole walk about all the skin getting torn off my heels. I try to keep them in front of me at all times like they are two drunk drivers. I jump into the grass anytime they get near.

“KEEP MOVING!”  I scream now anytime they stop and try to get me to pass.

No fun task goes unpunished. Want to make bath time fun one night, as a special treat? Blow bubbles for them while they bathe and then plan on being harassed to do it again every night for the next five years!

Or want to make getting dressed fun by putting their pants on your head? “Oh, look how funny mommy is with your pants on her head.” Then for the next 12 months every time you turn your back your youngest is naked again and trying to sneak his pants onto your head.

I don’t want to have any fun. I don’t want to make this chore more enjoyable and therefore longer.

I know I should. I should enjoy this time with them when they still want to be with me and play with me. I should relish that they are enjoying the simple things in life.

But I just want to get it done!

Why? Where am I going so fast? Race, race, race so they can go to bed and I can have my wine? (YES!)

I wanted to do this, be with them, raise them. It was important to me. I don’t want to think I spent this precious time telling them to hurry up and get moving.

Do they micromanaging in play because that is what it feels like to be my kid: tediously boring and no fun?

Maybe I need to back off a little and let them do things the way they want to. Let them make the chore their own.

But if they got to do everything at their pace, I would have to wake up at 4 a.m. to get out of the house by 8:55 p.m. (and never get my wine).


The Chameleon or the Cat?


Recently an grilfriend and I were visiting the Pope (retired), and she was

telling him the dirtiest joke ever told. Now the Pope and I were sitting

there with our cheeks bright red, but my friend … she couldn’t have

been more in her element.

My friend, she is herself wherever she is; she never changes no matter

what. I have always wished I was more like her.

She amazes me with her inexplicable resilience against social pressure.

She reminds me of a cat. When her position is threatened, she turns sideways, raises her fur and becomes more of herself.

I, on the other hand, attempt to be a chameleon in new situations. Until I feel comfortable with people, I pretend —out of fear of being reprimanded or humiliated — to go along with whatever they feel strongly about. I follow the masses. I’m always checking to reassure myself that I am blending in.

For example there is a sheet at my son’s school to sign in the time you drop off and pick up your kids. I write the exact time: 8:58, 8:52, 9:03.

OK, sometimes I write 9:01 when it is really 9:04.

Then the other day I happened to glance at someone else’s entries (cheating?) and it said: 9:00, 9:00, 9:00.

Oh crap, I thought. You are supposed to round upI am doing it wrong! AHHH humiliated.

It took me a month (it always does) before it dawned on me that it is OK to fill out the sheet however I want to. But now I hear some patriarchal voice in my head that is telling me I am doing it wrong. So I’ve changed the way I sign in … to the 5’s: 8:55, 9:00, 8:50. I can’t help it. I just want to blend in.

So back to my friend and the Pope and the dirtiest joke ever told: I didn’t think it was funny. I felt uncomfortable and I don’t believe the Pope is a better man now that he has heard it.

I certainly don’t like making people feel uncomfortable, so why do I admire my friend so much?

It made me think about times that I had tried to push the envelope, the times that I have ignored others’ body language telling me that I was venturing past their comfort levels. Has whatever I was saying ever been worth the awkwardness?

OK, sometimes there is a high from causing people to shift in their seats, to look at their feet. A power in being able to change the color of their face. This high, it can be addictive for some. And life would be so much less interesting if we didn’t have John Waters making us vomit into our “pink phlegmingo” barf bags. But in everyday life, is it worth it?

I always felt bad about not being myself no matter what, but I am starting to appreciate the conscientiousness that comes from respecting other people’s comfort levels.

(Now I still like to gross out my brothers by talking about inappropriate sex stuff — just to annoy them — but for other people, who are not bound by genetic law to love me, I should appreciate my willingness to concede to their comfort level rather than criticizing myself for being weak or soft of character.)

In movies, on TV, in books we worship those who have stood alone, who have gone against the masses, who are themselves no matter what. We admire the cat. But in real life you need chameleons to get things done. Successful people are more often adaptable than not. We all can’t be Oprah.

So what do we teach our children? (Most likely falsely assuming that we have any influence over them in this area.) I always thought you tell kids to be themselves. Stand up for what you believe in. But I have always lived: fly under the radar, go along, jump if the others jump.

I had always felt bad about not standing up for myself. I don’t want my kids to feel bad if they are naturally a chameleon like me. Do I still teach them to be themselves no matter what or do I teach them to be a Roman when they are in Rome?

So which one: the chameleon or the cat?

Well … you tell me what you think first, and then I’ll tell you.

The Land Before Kids

landI went to stay with my friend and her husband recently. I didn’t bring my kids. They have no children.

What a wonderful world to visit.

They have a French press that s l o w l y brews delicious Jacobs Krönung coffee.

They have a wine rack filled with expensive wine that they bought directly from their favorite winery in Napa that they visit twice a year.

I have a bike rack.

(What am I talking about? I still have a wine rack. It is just empty and whatever bottle (read: box) is cheapest and largest is sitting open on the counter begging me to take a sip at 11 a.m.)

They have a coffee table with expensive tiny breakable/choke-able baubles sitting out in the open.

Our coffee table was put away immediately after (the third time) my son fell backward off the couch and slammed the table with his skull.

They have no cheerios stuck to the backseat of their cars. You can walk through their house in the middle of the night and not step on painful, noisy toys. You can talk loudly, blast music and slam doors after 8 p.m. There are no baby gates or child locks. No moldy bath toys in the tub.

They can leave the house together at night. Just leave. Walk out of their house at 8 p.m. together. They can get a craving for pizza at 10 p.m. and go out and get some. Do you understand that it will be a decade before my husband and I are able to spontaneously leave our house together at night? (By then, will we even remember that we’re allowed to?)

I used to live there myself — the land before kids. It can’t really be appreciated until you’ve left.

I never (slight exaggeration) want to move back. Yet every once in a while, it sure is nice to visit. (And stay for a good cup of coffee.)

You: Old and Unimproved for the New Year

new years

And that’s just the way you should be

As January approaches and we are stuffed with regret from all the turkey and cookies and champagne that we overloaded on, we must be wary of the marketing of a “New You” that the month of elf improvement (oops, that is for the North Pole edition) I mean, that the month of self improvement brings.

Be suspicious of anything that says you will become “New and Improved” if you just buy this or just buy that — from a simple magazine full of organizational tips, to the famous Slim Thigh’sLippo Home Sippo Sucker DIY Liposuction machine (that can be yours for only 50 installments of $19.99).

I remember one New Year’s I decided to wean myself from the sugar in my coffee. This is so easy, I thought. I’m doing great.  It only took me three weeks to notice that I had suddenly started eating powdered sugar doughnuts for breakfast instead of my usual eggs and toast. Oh, this takes hard work.

If you are motivated to improve yourself in 2012 then I say go ahead, but if you are telling yourself: “If I buy this one thing then I will finally be happy, and/or I will finally be worthy of love,” then know this is a lie you are being told by someone who is probably trying to make a profit off of you.

So as New Year’s Day approaches and you sit down to come up with resolutions, maybe this year you can put away the fear, and the disappointment, and the inferiority complex that we get from not living up to impossible standards set on TV and just relax a little bit.

All I’m trying to say is … I think you’re OK just the way you are.

Happy New Year!

‘Twas a Very Germy Christmas


A sniffle, a sneeze, a kerchief, “Ah Choo!” — here are our germs, we’re spreading to you.

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through your house,

Not a creature was stirring, ‘cept one single louse.

The children were snuggled all warm in their beds,

While the louse laid her eggs on all of their heads.

A gift to our cousins, we gave you our lice.

You’d think that’s enough, that that would suffice.

But a sniffle, a sneeze, a kerchief, “Ah Choo!”

Also our germs, we’re giving to you.

To Grandma, and Timmy, Delilah, Aunt Sue,

We’re goin’ back home but we’ve left you our flu.

Your throat feels a tickle and your nose starts to trickle.

Can it be true that your health is so fickle?

No relief to be found, no one symptom to tame.

You wince, and you shout, and call them by name!

“On NyQuil! On Tussin!, Oscillo, and Vicksen!”

You’re so full of drugs, you swear you be blitzen!

And into your room walks the great man in red,

Santa is here and he sits on your bed.

He waves to your germs tho’ they’re really quite small,

“Spread around! Spread around! Spread around all!”

Itchy scalp and a fever, the chills, you’re so sick,

“No more relatives EVER!” you moan to St. Nick.

He smiles and laughs and says, quite sincere,

“You’ll do it again and the very next year.”

As quick as he came now he says he must go.

You’re so happy to see him, you wish it weren’t so.

Did you hear him exclaim as he flew out of sight,

“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a flea bite”?

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Happy Holidays! Stay healthy and wash your hands. Inspired by the famous poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” written in 1822 by Clement Moore.