Backyard behavior analysis

The next time I get on a plane, I hope I sit next to an animal behaviorist. Because I have questions. When I watch our three dogs plus my parents’ dog play together in our backyard, I see strange things. Is this normal “pack behavior”? Or maybe our dogs are just weirdos. Here are three examples: The barking romp: When all four dogs go to the backyard together, they run in a clump around the perimeter, wearing down a grassy groove along the fence line. Three of the dogs are short and weigh 35 pounds or less. They gang up and chase the tall, 80-pound dog. They try to keep up with his long, galloping strides while yipping and barking […]

Therapy in the hair chair

You know how people say you shouldn’t make big decisions after highly emotional events? Because you might not be thinking clearly? Or it might be a knee-jerk reaction you’re hoping will distract you from the highly emotional event? Well, I didn’t listen to those people. Here’s how it happened. Last month, we moved our middle kid to college. I was hoping my experience moving our oldest kid to college two years ago would help take the sting out of it. It did not. Moving a kid to college is like taking your puppy on a long car trip – all the way to Michigan this time – then leaving him in a ditch and driving home without him. For the […]

All-weather friends

When Tom and I were newly married more than 20 years ago, we became friends with a couple named Jim and Barbara. They were older than us and had two teenagers about to leave the nest. But our age difference made hanging out with them even better. They had already figured out things Tom and I were still learning – things like perspective, patience, and the ability to endure home remodeling projects while staying married. We admired Jim and Barbara not only for the kind of people they are but also for the experiences they’d had. Jim had been a ski bum, a small business owner and then a retail analyst. Barbara had worked for the CIA and as a […]

Food: A tricky love affair

Food. I love it. I hate it. I hate how much I love it. Now that I’m staring middle-age square in the eye, food feels so much more complicated than it used to. When I was a kid and even through my twenties and thirties, food was easy. Hungry? Just eat. Want dessert? Sure, why not. Late night bowl of cereal? Go for it. I didn’t think about food because I didn’t need to. I’d lucked out with one of those young, speedy metabolisms that forgave most sins, even the ones including cheese dip or hot fudge. Then things changed. That dependable metabolism went from the roar of a fast motorcycle to the weak hum of a scooter that might […]

Skipping into new lives

When I was a kid, one of my favorite summer outings was to a swim park called Willow Springs. It was a man-made lake full of things to play on – springy diving boards, a rolling log, platforms, and slides. On two sides of the water, there was a grassy beach area on which to spread out towels, sunbathe or have a picnic. On the far side of the lake, a bright blue water slide snaked its way down a green hill. In short, it was kid nirvana. My older brother and I loved it – especially the toboggan ride. We’d never seen anything like it. Riders hoisted what looked like an oversized skateboard up a set of metal stairs […]

Letter to my iPhone…

Dear smartphone, You gave me a real scare yesterday. When I took you into the Apple repair shop, I figured some teenage tech wizard would wave a wand and fix the weird glitch you’ve had with your ringer these past few months. I’d been putting off having you repaired because I knew I’d have to leave you at the shop, and there was never a good time for us to be apart. But when your speakerphone started having the same weird glitch as the ringer, I knew what had to be done. The symptoms were getting worse. So, I hesitantly handed you over to the guy behind the counter, hoping he had experience with cases like this. I described your […]

To all the teachers I’ve loved before…

With less than two weeks to go before school starts again, kids have never been more interested in teachers than they are right now. They’re practically stalking them. This happens every year. A few days ago, my 15-year-old daughter told me she’s been doing research on a few of the teachers she’s scheduled to have. She texted friends the age-old question kids have been asking for years: “What do you know about Ms. So-and-So? Is she nice? Is she hard?” Then the friends text back with stories about “things they’ve heard.” I told my daughter to take these stories with a grain of salt, since teachers are often the targets of exaggerated or downright false rumors that circulate year in […]

Letter to my Ice, Ice, Baby

Dear Jack, You picked a good time to do a study abroad trip to Iceland. It’s so weird to know that one of my kids is on a remote island floating somewhere between the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. I’m glad I paid extra for the international phone plan so you can check in occasionally. Your latest text said the weather there in Iceland is “a bit chilly,” which honestly sounds amazing. I’m trying to remember what it even feels like to be a bit chilly. Here in the homeland, it’s roughly one million degrees Fahrenheit (which is actually one million twenty degrees when you factor in the humidity). Mother Nature is boiling mad at us. It’s like she stuck […]

Quiet is not weird

Despite what you might have heard, “quiet” is not weird. It’s not abnormal. It’s not suspicious. It’s not a threat. It is a personality trait common to at least half the population. But you might not realize that after watching news coverage about the recent string of horrific mass shootings. When reporters pass along descriptions of the shooter by acquaintances, they almost always say he was “quiet.” It’s the go-to word for the type of monster we’ve come to associate with human carnage. What I wish they’d remember to add to the reporting is this: People often say “quiet” when what they really mean is completely withdrawn. Someone who has cut themselves off from all human relationships. Someone who festered […]

House rules

There are rules here. Every household has them, some stricter than others. Without them, there’d be confusion, chaos, maybe even war. Some rules are big, like “We don’t call each other names – ever.” And “When one of us needs help, the rest of us show up.” But even the seemingly small rules are important when it comes to keeping the family peace. For example, this rule is wordy but worthwhile: “In this house, we put the new toilet paper roll on its dispenser because Mom is not the only one around here with working thumbs, and she is sick of finding a new roll sitting on top of the empty roll, as if we weren’t taught how to change […]