Seeing the lite (brite)

I walked into a children’s museum recently and saw something that made me instantly happy. On one wall was a giant version of one of the best toys of all time – the Lite-Brite. I rushed over to pick up a giant plastic peg, put it into one of the round holes on the black wall, and watched it light up in a brilliant red. “Yes!” I said as I stood back to marvel at the sheer size of it. I was suddenly awash in every good childhood memory from the 1980s. The Lite-Brite was invented in the late 60s, and its simplicity was also its genius – a light bulb inside a plastic box with a grid on one [...]

Face of Adversity

Teenagers have it rough. Sometimes I tell our teenager that, even though I’m a couple decades past that phase of my life, I remember it well – especially the acne. Managing the riptides of hormones during those years was brutal, and it was even tougher when all that interior chaos bubbled to the surface and onto my face. Even when I did everything right – the face washings, the zit creams, the fervent prayers for clear skin – I still often woke up with a horrifying new friend on school picture day, a performance day, or any time I wanted to feel less self-conscious. At least I wasn’t alone. My friends and I struggled through it together, swapping tips about [...]

How to procrastinate in 3 easy yet excruciating steps

Let’s just call it what it is. You’re putting it off. Avoiding. Dodging. Hiding. Running. It has many names, but the most popular one – procrastination – makes it sound fancier than it deserves. A writer probably came up with the term because that’s the kind of thing we do when we’re avoiding the blank page. We find other things that need doing instead of the “it” that needs doing the most. We writers are so skilled at procrastination that we’ve turned it into something that sounds more like a dread disease – writer’s block. But writers certainly don’t have the market cornered on procrastination. There’s plenty to go around, and it doesn’t matter what the “it” is that you’re [...]

What’s for dinner?

There’s one question that haunts me. I can’t shake it. No matter how many times I answer, it comes back for more, more, more: “What’s for dinner?” Honestly? I have no idea. But that doesn’t keep everyone from asking. These kids and their growing appetites have made answering this question more pressing than ever. When the kids were between the ages of 3 and 7, we lived in the stage of questions. “Why are cars able to go so fast, Mom?” “Why do people call them cars? How did they get that name?” “Who gets to name things?” Tom and I felt like all we ever did was answer questions and then answer the questions triggered by the answers. But [...]

Life under construction

When I turn out of my neighborhood and get to the first stoplight, I have to choose. Turn left and I run smack into road construction. Traffic slows down and a man on the road crew holds up a sign telling me to stop. When he waves me through, I idle down the rough road crowded on both sides by orange barrels and tall mounds of red dirt. I steer around bumps in the road, and I wince when my tires hit breaks in the pavement. Turn right and it’s more of the same. Earth-moving machines putter along the long stretch of construction, kicking up a daily dust storm. I hold my breath as I squeeze past other drivers on [...]

Household Memo

To Whom It May Concern (and you know who you are): It has come to my attention that there may be a misunderstanding about the meaning of this phrase: “Clean up your dishes.” When a person asks you to clean up your dishes, she is implying that literal cleaning should take place. (Running water, soap, scrub brush, etc.) Judging by the recent condition of the kitchen, it’s obvious you thought “clean your dishes” was more about location, location, location. Perhaps you assumed that by moving the dirty dishes off the counter and into the sink, your job was done. But that’s not what it means to clean the dishes. We call that “relocating” the dishes. There’s a big difference. Where [...]

Clueless or chronic in Aisle 7

Generally speaking, I enjoy grocery shopping – the piles of fresh produce, the seasonal displays, the cute helium balloons tied to the check-out lanes. But if I had to choose whether to go to a busy grocery store on a Sunday afternoon or have a surprise root canal, I’d have to think about it. I’m not sure which one is more uncomfortable. At least you get some numbing medication with the root canal, maybe even some laughing gas. But no one is laughing when they’re stuck in a shopping cart traffic jam in the cereal aisle. Why is it so maddening on busy weekends? Two words: Spatial awareness. Experts say spatial awareness is “an organized knowledge of objects including oneself, [...]

Note to my teenage self

Sometimes when I look at my 14-year-old son and his 12-year-old brother – the one speeding down the on-ramp to join his brother in the teenage years – I think they’re pretty brave. We grown-ups like to moan and groan about how tough it is here in the real world – and it is – but we forget sometimes that being a teenager isn’t exactly a walk in the park either. Sure, it looks easy when they’re sleeping until noon or playing their third consecutive hour of video games. But when I think about whether or not I’d want to relive that time of my life, the answer is a resounding “no.” In fact, sometimes I wish I could write [...]

What should I be when I grow up?

One of the things I hear my kids worrying about far too often is this: What should I be when I grow up? Kids who don’t even have a driver’s license are feeling stressed about what will one day be on their business card. So I’ll lay out the truth about this age-old question once and for all. The answer is this: I don’t know, and you don’t either. It’s okay not to know. If you’re extremely lucky, you might figure it out in high school. Or maybe college. It might not happen until your twenties or thirties. When it does happen, you’ll feel relief that you finally figured it out… until the day you begin worrying that maybe you [...]

Summer Bummer

I wouldn’t say this directly to my kids because they might take it the wrong way. But here’s the truth: Back-to-school time makes me happy. It’s not because the kids will spend more time away from the house. I actually love our relaxed summer schedule, if you can even call it that. There have been plenty of days the kids didn’t change out of their pajamas until two in the afternoon. They’d watch movies, play board games or float around in the pool with friends. The hustle and bustle of the school year can be intense, so I like to see them get a break from the busyness. The reason I secretly look forward to this time of year has [...]