My favorite flash of lightning

There are some columns I don’t want to write because it hurts. This is one of them. Last week, my dad died. And I am heartbroken. His name was William, but no one ever called him that, except nurses who were reading the first name listed on his chart. Most people called him Billy. There were plenty of times I heard him introduce himself with this rhyming title: “Billy Rule, meanest kid in school.” But he was the opposite of mean. He had a big, tender heart he sometimes shielded with a tough guy’s outer shell. A handful of people called him “Lightnin’” because that was the nickname he went by on the CB radio decades ago. And it’s the […]

Rated R for language

They say you never forget your first. When it comes to curse words, that’s certainly true for me. But let the record show, I was completely innocent! And I was probably framed by Bette Midler. Let me explain. The year was 1979 and I was an impressionable 6-year-old girl who was already on her way to becoming a word nerd. If there was a new vocabulary lesson in Kindergarten, I was the first one to memorize it. At that time, my parents were 42 and 35 years old — parents to one 13-year-old boy who was fond of fireworks and allergic to doing homework and one 6-year-old girl who was overly sensitive and needlessly nervous. They both worked full time […]

The Joy Of January

I like January. I think most mothers do. Sure, it’s the dead of winter and it gets dark ridiculously early, but January has one big thing going for it. It’s the “cool down” period following the high-intensity workout of Christmas. Don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas and everything it symbolizes. I love the twinkling lights, the shiny ribbons, and the cookies (with calories that didn’t count because it was Christmas, thank you very much). But holidays require work. So much work. Christmas requires several months of mental and physical energy for an event – magical as it may be – that’s over in only two days.  But January is different. It’s the post-Christmas coasting period. And it feels so […]

Anticipation and dread live together

During the weeks before Thanksgiving, I was high on anticipation – counting down the days until our two sons were scheduled to come home from college for the holiday break. It had been three long months since we’d laid eyes on our college kid who moved to Michigan, and the thought of having all five of us together again made me giddy. The day finally arrived. Our oldest son drove three hours home just in time for us to go to the airport and get his younger brother. Our youngest kid, 15-year-old Kate, made a huge poster with her brother’s name on it so we could hold it up as passengers trickled off the plane. When I finally got to […]

Ready, aim, fire

Every now and then I run across a seemingly random fact that occupies more headspace than it probably should – like elephants can’t jump. (It’s physically impossible for them.) Or that certain types of trees won’t let the tips of their highest branches touch the trees next to them – a phenomenon called “crown shyness.” And this week I’ve added another odd fact to my growing collection: A new study finds that octopuses are one of a small group of animals that can purposefully throw things at targets. The study, published by a scientific journal called PLOS ONE, used more than 20 hours of underwater video recorded in Jervis Bay, Australia at two spots so popular with octopuses that they’ve […]

A wonky, mid-life injustice

I thought one of the perks of making it to middle age would be that we no longer have to suffer the indignities of puberty. No more awkward body changes. No more hormone-induced mood swings. Isn’t time and experience supposed to make us more comfortable in our own skin? But here’s what they don’t tell you: The middle-aged skin I’m supposed to be so comfortable in by now? It’s dry and creasing at an alarming rate. I’ve bought 90 percent of all the moisturizing cream in the world yet it’s not enough. I could dip myself into a vat of Jergens lotion every day and still need more. I used to be a juicy grape and now I’m morphing into […]

Living by the lists

I love a good list. I like jotting it down. I like looking it over each day. And I absolutely love marking through completed tasks with an assertive, bold marker scribble – as if my productivity has literally obliterated it. When a list fills up with scribbles, I start a fresh one and transfer over any items still waiting to be done. When I mess up and forget to do something, there’s always one reason why – it never made it onto the list. Every now and then, I tell myself I don’t need to write something down because “I’ll remember.” (Yeah, right.) Then reality rears its multiple graying heads: My brain is 49 years old. I have three kids, […]

Control freaks 101

When I get up, brush my teeth, and look in the mirror – there she is. The control freak. Just staring back at me, probably criticizing my technique. Do you know a control freak? Related to one? Maybe there’s one in your bathroom mirror, too? Well, there’s good news and bad news and then more good news. First, the good: Control freaks are not all created equal. There’s a wide range of control freakishness, and I’d bet most of us are on the benign end of that range. That’s where you’ll find the standard, harmless control freak who doesn’t like how Aunt Linda is cutting those onions. That’s not how a control freak would cut the onions, and clearly there’s […]

Dog training for humans

Most dog trainers say dogs aren’t hard to teach. Their humans, however, are a different story. Almost any dog can be persuaded with the right reward and repetition. But we humans – with our stubbornness, inconsistency, and bad habits – make most things harder than they should be. The other day I was watching dog training tips online, and it suddenly hit me. These behaviors we try to teach dogs? Sometimes I can’t even do them myself. Is it possible we humans could learn a few things from well-trained pups? Here are examples: “Leave it.” In dog training, the command “leave it” means “Don’t touch that” or “Leave it alone.” It’s how we taught our Goldendoodle to drop my house […]

Letter to my fellow parents

I have good news on this rainy Monday morning. This parenting thing so many of us are grappling with and trying to do well? Sometimes, it works. Let me explain. When my three kids were babies and toddlers, my daily goal was to keep them alive. They were constantly teetering on the edge of catastrophe – climbing things, yanking cords, snatching up everything their chubby little fingers could grasp and putting it in their mouths before I could yell “NO!” It was exhausting, often terrifying work with the highest of stakes. Yet I never gave myself credit for it. We parents berate ourselves during the early years (or maybe all the years?) because we’re convinced we should do more – […]