Burn, baby, burn: Homework inferno

My kids’ education just went up in smoke – again. Friday was their last day in school, so this weekend we held the annual End-of-School Bonfire. Other than Christmas and birthdays, it’s the one day of the year the kids look forward to most. We stumbled upon this idea last spring. Tom was using a burn barrel to burn some twigs and leaves and suggested the kids toss in the piles of math worksheets and spelling tests they’d stacked on the kitchen table after the last day of the school year. Shocked, the kids looked at him for confirmation. “Really? We can burn our school papers?” Tom shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t see why not. You already learned that stuff, [...]

The Royal We

After you become part of a couple or get married, “you” become a “we,” and “we” is a powerful pronoun. Couples begin many of their sentences with the word “we,” and they’re particularly fond of “the royal we.” In case you’re not familiar with the royal version, “the royal we” was originally used by kings and queens to suggest they were acting in conjunction with the people over whom they ruled. Queen Victoria is famous for the quote “We are not amused.” But couples tend to use it for more practical reasons, like passively handing off responsibility for a task to someone else, while giving the illusion that we are in this thing together. Here’s an example of the royal [...]

The measure of a man

For months now, 14-year-old Adam has been asking: “How about now?” And I’ve been saying, “No, absolutely not. You’re still a kid.” He kept on asking, so certain the time had come. Last week, he asked yet again and insisted on standing back-to-back with me in the kitchen, our heels lined up and touching. “Look, Dad. Am I taller than Mom yet?” Tom looked closely from several angles before issuing the verdict. “You know… I think you are. Just barely, but you are a little taller than her.” I shook my head in defiance. “No way. I think Dad is just telling you what you want to hear.” Still standing back-to-back, I put my hand on top of his head [...]

The voice in my head

I slid the wrapper off the straw, blew air through it and stabbed it through the plastic lid of my Chick-fil-A tea. Eleven-year-old Jack questioned the move he has likely seen me do a thousand times. “Why do you always blow air through the straw before you put it in the drink?” “Because that’s what Aunt Eunice always did.” (Aunt Eunice was my smart, witty great aunt who taught me how to diagram sentences when I was a kid, just for fun. She also gave me a can of Lipton tea every Sunday afternoon when I’d visit her. She’d pop the top of the can, pull a straw out of her cupboard, and blow air through it before sticking it [...]

How to Talk to Women, 101

We women have an obligation to the young men in our lives. We must teach them how to keep their manly feet out of their big mouths while talking to women. Sometimes a man runs into trouble not because of the specific words he does or does not say but because his body language says things without him even knowing it. Our sons, ages 14 and 11, recently witnessed an example of this. I’d just tried on a new pair of jeans I was unsure about. I found Tom cooking burgers in the kitchen and asked for his opinion on whether or not I should return the jeans or keep them. Him: “No. I don’t like them. Not at all. [...]

Your childhood is calling

Eighteen years ago, I got a call from my best friend, Jennifer. I was sitting at my desk in the newsroom, surrounded by the chatter of other reporters, ringing phones and humming computers. “I’ve got something to tell you,” she said. We’d been friends since fifth grade so I could tell by her voice it was big news, maybe even bigger than when we turned 16 and she called to say she was coming over because her parents had just handed her the keys to A RED CAR! (We put a lot of miles on her car that day, most of which happened while cruising Main Street and circling Sonic so that as many people as possible could witness our [...]

Short and sweet? Nope. Not even a little.

As a mom of three, part of my job is to buy clothes for whichever kid happens to be in the midst of a growth spurt. Right now it’s 9-year-old Kate, who will probably be another inch taller by the time you finish reading this column. Last weekend, Kate and I went to the mall to find shirts and pants. With the weather warming up, she wanted some shorts, too. As we walked through several stores, I felt a quiet rage growing in my gut, just like it did last Spring and the one before that. I’d hoped that by now the fashion pendulum would have swung back the other way – away from the kind of shorts that are [...]

The myth of being caught up

Now and then something rare and remarkable happens, like a solar eclipse, or the birth of a hamster with two noses, or a mother of three who gets completely caught up on the laundry. That last one happened to me over the weekend and it felt great – for about five minutes. I surveyed the empty laundry baskets and congratulated myself because, for once, I seemed to be on top of things. Then I realized that, despite my total laundry domination, I was behind in at least half a dozen other areas. (Insert heavy sigh here.) Normal people probably resign themselves to the reality of an overflowing inbox and an always-growing “to-do” list that never gets done. But I’m just [...]

Make a mistake

Chocolate chip cookies, the Slinky, Play-Doh, Post-It notes, and potato chips. The one thing they all have in common is this: They’re losers. Big fat mistakes. Accidents. Epic fails. None of them turned out to be the thing they were intentionally meant to be, and yet they’ve become household names. How did the thing we all fear so much – failure – turn into a lucky break for the people behind the inventions? For the cookie, it was a simple matter of “failure to melt.” In 1930, a woman named Ruth Wakefield, who was co-owner of the Toll House Inn, was trying to make a chocolate dessert when she ran out of the chocolate she normally used. As a substitute, [...]

For the birds

There’s a bird chirping outside my office window today, announcing the start of spring. I’ve gone to the window to see if I can spot her – and to make sure she keeps her distance. The last time I let a bird get too cozy, I got burned. It was the spring of 1995 and I was about to graduate from college. I had a one-bedroom apartment, an old but reliable Honda Accord and a part-time job as a bank teller, which made perfect sense seeing as how I was about to graduate with an English degree. One morning as I left for class, I noticed a few stray twigs hanging off the grapevine wreath I’d hung on my apartment [...]