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Scrolling through the news recently, I came across a picture of a man at a town hall meeting. He was in the audience, but turned away from the speaker so that he could shout at an unseen person behind him. You could tell he was shouting because his mouth was open wide, as were his eyes and even his nostrils: everything about his posture screamed anger. The caption simply read, “Man shouts ‘whore’ at town hall.”

What immediately struck me about this picture was how eerily similar it was to a picture I had grown up seeing in history books: that of Hazel Bryan screaming at Elizabeth Eckford as Elizabeth is escorted away from Central High in Little Rock, Arkansas. Elizabeth was one of the Little Rock Nine, the group of students who first integrated Central High in 1957. Hazel was also a student there. They were both very young, although in the picture they both look much older, a combination of the seriousness of the situation and the fact that they are dressed very nicely. In that picture, Hazel is frozen in time. We look at the 1950s fashions and we assume, correctly, that everyone else in the photo has grown and changed—some have even died, given that the picture will be sixty years old come this September—but as for Hazel, she stays the same in our minds. S he is the embodiment of an evil, repressive system. Cold. Unfeeling. Unchanging.

It’s not true, of course. She was only fifteen at the time, and within five years she would go behind her family’s back to track down Elizabeth and apologize to her, but that apology wasn’t recorded the way the insult was: it disappeared as soon as the words were said. The photograph still outranks it, and always will. And that is something that Hazel will always have to live with.

As will the man in the town hall photo.

I wonder, sometimes, about the people who are caught out like that, whether in a photograph or a screen shot of hateful comments they’ve spewed via text or social media. I’d like to think that those moments represented them at their very worst, and, like Hazel, they will spend the rest of their lives trying to atone. But then again, I’d like to believe that people, by nature, are basically good.

And maybe they are. Maybe that man yelling “Whore!” so loudly that you could almost feel the spittle was just letting the local brothel keeper (a lovely lady whose name slipped his mind at that moment) know that it was her turn to speak on the issue of local businesses donating to the yearly holiday decorations budget. Or maybe he has Tourette’s.

Or maybe he was just using the word he knew best, the word that has been historically used to silence women when they have had the temerity to speak out, especially when they speak out for themselves. The same way that Hazel was using the word she knew best to silence Elizabeth.

Are the two situations really that similar? Intersectionality would suggest that they both are, and are not (a sort of of a Schrodinger’s Cat of discrimination). And anyway, the point is not so much how much the victims suffered, but rather how much damage the perpetrators ended up doing to themselves.

When they were younger I tried to impress upon my children that a word spoken could never be recalled: “You can’t unring a bell,” I’d tell them. That even if the person you offend ends up forgiving you, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll ever manage to forgive yourself. Some weapons hurt the wielder more than the intended victim. And sometimes, the scars they leave are permanent.

Just ask Hazel Bryan.


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Who Put the “Fun” in “Fundraising”?


There is an old saying that describes war as “long periods of boredom interrupted by moments of sheer terror.” Replace the word “boredom” with “fundraising” and you will also have the perfect description of nearly every after school activity ever invented. I realize, of course, that this is news to no one—no one but me, that is. You’d think that after twenty years of being a mother this would not be the case, but apparently having my daughter, Clementine, as a first child has given me a false impression of what I was in for when it came to school and school events.

Clementine never participated in after school activities, probably because her favorite thing to do after school was to leave it. And so the fundraising requests from her school stopped about the same time she left kindergarten. (Or maybe she just helpfully “lost” all of them the same way she “lost” every other piece of paper that was ever supposed to come home with her, including school pictures, field trip permission forms, and notices that her school lunch account was horrendously overdrawn. The only way I ever found out about that last one was after she mentioned being served a cheese sandwich for the fifth day in a row.)

But then along came her brother Clyde.

Clyde participates. In everything. He is the first to raise his hand in answer to the question of “what did you do this summer?” (And as he gets older, he is often the only person to raise his hand at that question.) He will read his thesis statement out loud when the teacher asks for volunteers. And he will willingly (and happily) join every extracurricular activity that comes his way. And then just as happily offer up my services when it comes to the fundraising. And, of course, it always comes to the fundraising.

Look, I know that schools are terribly underfunded, and that they really do need the money we raise for them just to buy the basics. And I also know that even though my family in particular might not need the financial help, by participating in the fundraising activity along with everyone else we are helping to remove the stigma for those who do. I get that. But still, even knowing those things, and even after fully understanding the various forces at work, I am always left with one thought: please, not another fundraiser.

It gets to the point that after a while I don’t even know—or care—what the money is being raised for. New shoes for the basketball team? Fine. New wing for the library? Great. Rainy day fund in case the entire band gets kidnapped by a drug cartel and we need to pay their ransom demands? Awesome.

Even worse, though, is that not only do I not know where the money is going, I also don’t know how much was even raised. Because it’s not like all fundraising is created equal. That frozen cookie dough fundraiser probably pulls in a pittance next to the homemade tamale one, the same way “kiss the pig” day probably runs circles around “hat day” (at least until they figure out a way to incorporate a screen and a netflix account into a hat).

One day, I know, there will come a time when all of this fundraising is a thing of the past, and I will look back fondly on all of those hours spent at car washes, and yard sales, and tamale parties, and trying to sell people the Worst Wrapping Paper in the World®. But then again, probably not, because the reason it will all be a thing of the past for me is that my kids will have outgrown it—your kids will still be hitting me up on the reg.

Because, just like that other old saying goes: death, taxes, and fundraising are nothing if not inevitable.

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Daisy Duke 4Ever!


Recently, while I was attending my second protest of the year (the second of many, probably) I noticed something I had not seen at the first: two young men standing off to the side with their faces covered. One was holding an American flag, and the other the flag of the Confederate States. (I don’t think they knew that those two flags were still not on speaking terms). When pictures of the two men appeared online, the majority of the comments, of course, were negative. People called them cowards, and racists, and much worse. Except for one commentator. She stuck up for them (or at least for the boy with the Stars and Bars), and suggested that maybe, just maybe, he wasn’t a racist at all. Maybe he was just a YUGE fan of The Dukes of Hazzard.

Well, the internet being what it is, it wasn’t long before the identity of the masked Bo and Luke fan was revealed, which then led to the revelation of the identity of his defender: a woman about twenty-five years older than him who just happened to share his last name.

In other words, his mom.

Because of course, even when the entire world is against you, and even when the entire world is utterly right to be that way, there will always be your mom.

I remember once, when my daughter Clementine was twelve, getting a phone call from one of her teachers about a word she’d typed on the giant classroom screen for all to see. (This word is actually one of my favorite words to type as well, much to the apparent chagrin of autocorrect, which seems to think I’m trying—and failing—to type ‘duck’ fifty times a day. It’s gotten to the point where I wonder if aotocorect thinks that perhaps I am an ornithologist.) Anyway, even if the word in question hadn’t been one of my own personal favorites, it still would have been my job to defend Clementine’s public expression of it—at least a little bit. “Maybe it was a commentary on the current social situation…?” I hedged. “Maybe,” came the response. “Regardless, she’s still getting detention.”

And she did. Because she deserved it. And yet, it was still my job to (kind of) stick up for her. But that didn’t stop me from wishing that I hadn’t had to.

I’d like to think that Cooter’s mom feels the same way. That she read the comments and thought, “My god, I do love that boy but he sure does get up to some nonsense these days. I hadn’t even realized he’d left the basement.” And then she went online and defended him.

Look: there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that these are trying times. In the very near future there are probably going to be lots of instances of moms having to defend the actions of their children, even when they don’t quite agree with or understand those actions—on both sides. And, remarkably, that’s just what they’ll do, because the vows of “in sickness and health” you take when you get married have nothing on the vows of “in dumbassery and wisdom” that you (mentally) take when you become a mom. As I have stated many times over the years (mostly in mutters under my breath), there simply is no way to divorce your children.

Of course, I may have this whole thing wrong. Maybe this guy’s mom is also a dumbass, and her defense of him was genuine. Maybe he was carrying a symbol of white supremacy because that’s the way she raised him. It’s a possibility, albeit a depressing one. Which is why I’m going to stick with my original theory. Because, when given the option of choosing between two different explanations, I’m going to choose the one that contains love.

Every. Damn. Time.

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Which Side Are You On?

There’s always been a kind of fame that comes from being the first to do something. First man on the moon. First Black President. First female President (some day). Even, (alas) first Orange President. And, in the same way, there has also always been a certain kind of fame that comes from being the last to do something. The last US helicopter to fly out of Saigon. The last state to end segregation. The last band to have a myspace page. Oftentimes—especially when the “thing” is something no one should be proud of, the “fame” of being the last is more akin to notoriety. Think about it: no person, city or state wants to be remembered as the last to do the right thing. Case in point: no one has ever suggested that Arizona add “last state to approve MLK Day” as a selling point in our promotional brochures. By the same token, being the first to do the right thing is something to brag about. For example, Flagstaff proudly proclaims itself to be the first “Dark Sky” city, and it is right to be proud of that.

Of course, it wasn’t an easy fight. A town that lived (and still does live) on tourism wasn’t an easy town to convince to dim the lights, especially in an era dominated by the idea of “the more neon, the better.” Small business owners gnashed their teeth and wrung their hands over the prospect of losing the signs that made their businesses stand out amongst all of the (equally overly-lit) competition. It was the end, they said, of Flagstaff business. Except of course, it wasn’t.

Then came the smoking ordinance. Flagstaff was the first city in Arizona to ban smoking in public places, including restaurants and bars. Again, the death knell was sounded. The letters to the editor poured in (this was before Facebook), lamenting the end of Flagstaff small business. No one, the letter writers asserted, would ever stop have lunch in this town again. Why would they, they sneered, when they could just keep driving another thirty, fifty, or seventy miles and have a lunch that included a satisfying smoke at the conclusion of their meal? (Or rather, more to the point, at the conclusion of everyone else’s meal around them.) Who would ever want to go see a show in Flagstaff when you couldn’t prove you had been out the night before just by smelling your clothes? Flagstaff, they claimed, was through. Except, of course, it wasn’t. Again.

Thirty years from now we are going to look back at the fight for a living wage and it will be the same. We are going to tell our grandchildren about the days when people were convinced that their right to pay low wages outweighed other peoples’ rights to live with dignity, and they will give us exactly the same look as our children do now when we tell them about the time everyone thought their right to smoke outweighed other peoples’ rights to breathe. And that look will be, “What, were you all crazy?”

Personally, my response will be the same: “No, not all of us.” I’ll be able to tell my grandkids that I did what I could to help support a living wage. I’ll be able to tell them that I, for one, continued to support well-run local businesses, even if if that meant I had to pay a little more while doing it. I’ll be able to tell them that instead of being bitter and resentful that a higher minimum wage meant less of a financial gap between me and the people “below” me, I was sincerely happy other people would now have a chance to experience financial security.

In other words, I’ll be able to tell them that when it came down to it, I was on the right side of history. Truly, it’ll be my best claim to fame ever.


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Safety First


When my kids were younger, my second greatest fear was that they would grow up to become bullies: first when they were in school, and then later, in other parts of their life. Surprisingly, it does not then follow that my first greatest fear was that they would instead grow up to become victims. (Trust me: after having lived with each of them for only a few years it became all too obvious to me that two such delightfully disobedient children would never be on the receiving end of bullying.) No, my first greatest fear, actually, was that they would grow up to become bystanders—a role that, to me, is even more heinous than that of the bully.

The bully, at least, derives some sort of benefit from their actions. They are (it can only be assumed), taking these actions to make their life, at least in their own perception, better. The end result of a successful bullying campaign for them might mean increased social status, greater respect (albeit fear-based), and a reduced chance that they will ever be bullied themselves. It makes sense, in a twisted way, that someone would want to be a bully.

A bystander, on the other hand, receives nothing but the certainty that nothing will ever change.

Maybe that’s what some bystanders like. Maybe they’re so happy to not be a victim themselves that it doesn’t bother them to see it happen to other people. The cynical part of me—the part that thinks people are inherently bad—tends to go for this explanation. The hopeful part of me, however—the part that knows that people are almost always good—thinks that they are just afraid.

The ironic thing, of course, is that there are always way more bystanders than either bullies or victims. And that if we just stood together then there really wouldn’t be anything to be afraid of.

That’s why I was so happy to learn about the Safety Pin Campaign. The Safety Pin Campaign arose out of the ashes of the last election, when people who had historically felt marginalized and vulnerable began to express their fears about what this “brave new world” meant for them. More specifically, about what it meant for their safety. The idea is that since people can’t go around every day wearing t-shirts that proclaim their allegiance to equality and respect (outside of a college campus, that is), they can instead wear a safety pin, indicating to those around them that they are a “safe space.”

Some guy harassing you on the bus because you wear a hijab? Come sit next to me. Some lady yelling at you at the movies because you’re holding hands with your boyfriend? Come get in my line at the concession stand instead. The idea is to communicate that you are “safe” without drawing any more attention to the bully than necessary, because bullies are like fire, and attention is the oxygen without which they can’t function. (Actually, I’m not quite sure that works as a metaphor, since, truth be told, none of us can function without oxygen. It just seems a little nicer to picture bullies as a fire that has been brought under control rather than someone who has been ejected from the airlock and is slowly suffocating in the depths of space. Although…)

I know, in the grand scheme of things, that wearing a safety pin is A Small Thing®. But when you think about it, so are some of the things that hurt us: the dismissive look, the muttered comment, the few extra (and unnecessary) inches taken in the subway car. If, as we all know, small actions can hurt, then why can’t they help as well?

True, one single safety pin might not be enough to help save anyone. But if you link enough of them together, then you’ve got yourself a nice suit of chain mail. And even bullies are smart enough to know to avoid a knight in shining armor.


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Clothes Make the Man


One of the advantages of having more than one child is that the first one (or “practice child,” as those of us in the biz like to say) often teaches you valuable lessons. For example, letting my then ten-year old daughter pack her own bag once was enough of a lesson for me that not only did I never let her pack her own bag again, I also never let her younger brother pack his own bag even once—and I probably never will. (At least as long as I am the one who has to scramble around and make things right. I will never forget the joys of standing in line with a child’s swimsuit in a South Phoenix dollar store where every other person in line was carrying a different flavor of “fine malt liquor.” Apparently this dollar store also had a liquor license. And a sale. This all came about after I had discovered that the entirety of her “packing” for our summer resort vacation consisted of a floor length formal gown and one mitten. I mean, c’mon: even Ginger remembered to pack a hat when she set off on her “three hour tour.”)

It is because of this and other, equally appalling reasons (it took more than once for the lesson to really sink in) that I now insist on checking through every bag that my children supposedly “pack.” Some parents might do the same thing to check their bags for drugs and other illicit items—I do it to make sure that they contain more than one sock.

With Clyde, this level of paranoia has also extended to other sartorial occasions—to be precise, any occasion where he has to have a certain outfit at a certain time. Not only do I insist on seeing the outfit in its entirety (a sleeve waving to me from a partially cracked door is not enough—yes, I have fallen for that one before), but I also insist that the outfit be placed into a “clean room” until it is worn. (In this case, a “clean room” is just that—not a place where artificial heart valves are crafted, but rather a room that is actually “clean.” In my house, that means my bedroom—and my bedroom alone. And even then that is no guarantee the outfit will actually stay pristine. Thanks, cat.)

However, even with all of these hard-learned lessons in place, I can still be fooled. Which explains what I was doing in the men’s shirt section at Target two hours past my bedtime the other night.

First, just let me say: who knew that Target was so hopping so late at night? True, 90% of the customers seemed to be giggling NAU students trying to decide between pizza rolls and Hot Pockets, but still, it was at least busy enough that it made me regret my decision to go in my pajamas. (In my tired brain’s defense, Target really should have a Working Mothers’ Only Drive Thru. Or at the very least, curb-side service.)

It was telling, I think, that the two places in Target that seemed to have gotten the most action that night were the frozen snack attack aisle and the black dress shirt corner—although possibly the boxed wine section might have been pretty hard hit as well: for all I know the floor could’ve been lined with my fellow working mothers lying on their backs under the open spouts. It wasn’t like I was going to risk temptation by going over there to check.

In the end, of course, everything turned out fine: the dress shirt was procured, the munchies were sated (I assume), and the cashier at Target almost certainly went home and counted out her birth control pills.

And me? Well, I can tell you there is a new lesson I have learned: from now on I am going to start wearing my “dress pajamas” on the evenings before any of Clyde’s formal events.

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Like Real People Do


As anyone who is the parent of multiple children can tell you, the issues you face with one child will never be the same as the issues you face with another. This is even true of identical twins. (There is no copy/paste option when it comes to parenting.) This, for the most part, is a good thing. And then, sometimes, it is just depressing—depressing, because even though you know that there are certain issues some of your children will be exempted from, the reasons behind those exemptions are almost as soul-crushing as the issue itself. I am speaking, of course, of “pussygate”, or, as the conversation has been trending amongst adult women everywhere, “the first time some random dude grabbed me.”

Me, I was twelve, and it was at the State Fair. He was pretty old (so old in fact that his hand shook with a sort of a palsy while he did it), and so I never felt physically threatened. What I did feel, however, was shock. Shock, because, up until that very moment, I had believed that I was real.

We had been speaking, this old man and I, about something trivial and innocuous, the sort of conversations you are taught to endure with boring old people from the moment you can talk. And I thought that was all this was. Right up until the moment when he reached out and Trump grabbed me, and I suddenly realized that the entire boring conversation had just been a pretext to sidle closer and make a grab for the part of the thing that had really interested him. As opposed to the part of the thing that had been talking.

Because that’s how it felt: it felt as if, in this man’s eyes, I was just a livelier, cheaper version of a blow-up doll. There’s a reason it’s called objectification.

I’m almost positive that my son, Clyde, will never have to experience this. Jut as I am equally positive that my daughter, Clementine, will. (And if I am wrong, and the reverse is true, this will not be progress, in the same way it is not progress to make the life spans of 1st and 3rd world countries more evenly matched by lowering those of the people in the former.)

It is hard to explain exactly what it feels like when you first come to the realization that to some people you are not quite as “real” as they are. The closest I can get is to tell you to go watch the scene in “Blade Runner” where Rachael first realizes she is a replicant, and then watch it again and again and again.

But even so, movies just mirror the feelings we experience in real life; there is no substitute for actually living it. And half of the world’s population has already lived it anyway. But here’s the thing: even though half of the world’s population has almost certainly been on the “grabbed” side of the equation, the reverse is not also true. The other half of the world hasn’t been the ones doing the grabbing. In fact, I think the numbers are probably pretty low: another case of us against the 1%.

So what do we do? Do we have sit-ins? Occupy men’s restrooms the way we once occupied Wall Street? Well, maybe (but I hope not). Or maybe we just make sure the 99% of us who are not doing the grabbing call out the ones who do, or the ones who brag about it. Call them out and then publicly shun them—on the street and in the locker room.

And most certainly in the voting booth. Until, eventually, they, too will know what it’s like to suddenly find out that, to some people, you just aren’t quite real.

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Dress Code–Again


This is a column I thought I would never have to write again.

Frankly, with my daughter now being off to college, and my son being, well, a boy, I thought that my days of writing about school dress codes were over. And technically, they should be: the chances of my daughter getting dress-coded at an all girls school, or my son getting dress-coded anywhere are practically nil. However, one of the first things I realized when I had children was that somehow, once you have that baby in your arms, the world is full of children. They’re everywhere: trying to dart out into traffic, attempting to pull hot pots of off stoves, doing their best to climb too high up into the trees at the park. Whereas before I had children I probably could have strolled past a building with children dangling from the rooftops and have been blissfully unaware, once I had children of my own everyone else’s children became that much more real.

And so, even though in all likelihood my children will never be dress-coded again, the fact that there are children out there still going though it means that it is still very much on my radar. And still just as infuriating.

To understand why school dress codes are so infuriating it is helpful, I think, to look at the reasons why my own children will never be dress-coded again.

First there is my daughter, Clementine. As a college student she is considered by most people (other than bouncers) to be old enough to dress herself. But even if she weren’t—even if she were twelve years old—she probably still wouldn’t ever be dress-coded for the simple fact that she goes to an all girls’ school.

One of the favorite arguments of the dress-code crowd is that, at an age when students are absolutely flooded with hormones, girls wearing revealing clothing is just “too distracting” for the boys. But, in news that is apparently still news to some, some girls don’t like boys; they like girls. And yet, somehow, despite having the same flood of hormones that teenage boys have, and despite having the same eye for an appealing figure, the girls in this situation manage to keep themselves from being “distracted “ by collar bones and knees (two of the most titillating parts of a girl’s body, at least if most dress codes are to be believed.)

Then, of course, there is my son, Clyde. This is a boy who has never once been dress-coded, despite having shown up to school wearing bootie shorts and a middy shirt. (Granted, this was not done out of any desire to garner attention, but rather out of his failure to understand that it is, in fact, possible to outgrow your favorite clothes. Anyone who doubts whether or not someone can legitimately not notice that the clothes they are wearing are way too small can just witness him at the shoe store pulling his feet out of shoes that are two sizes too small. It’s like watching a clown family emerge from a VW Bug.)

In some countries they acknowledge their bias openly, and admit that the reason they prioritize a boy’s right to an education over that of a girl’s is because, with limited funding, it is more “important” that boys receive an education. Here, we do it the old-fashioned way, and hide our bias behind a cover of morals and decency. And yet the result is the same. Girls are told (either overtly or in code) that they are entitled to fill their plate at the table of education only after all of the boys have had their share.

To argue otherwise—to argue that somehow a girl’s shoulder is more exciting than a boy’s, or that a girl’s “natural docility” keeps her from acting on her attraction more so than a boy’s “natural aggressiveness” is to be either willfully ignorant or disingenuous.

In other words: it is just plain wrong.


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Time Is Running Out


My son, Clyde, is involved in many extracurricular activities: dance, cheer, orchestra—if it has any creative element to it at all, he’s in. (Bonus points if it’s creative and active. He’s often lamented the fact that there isn’t a Marching Orchestra. Although I’m sure he would feel quite differently if he played the double bass.) Being involved in so many different activities has many advantages. For one thing, he’s usually too exhausted to get into any kind of trouble. And for another, juggling so many (often conflicting) schedules helps him to learn the value of time management. Or at least it will. One day. Eventually.

That’s the plan, anyway. There is, however, one major problem with this plan—and surprisingly, that problem isn’t Clyde. It’s the adults in his life. (Don’t get me wrong—Clyde is also a problem when it comes to this plan. He, however, is a minor problem. Literally. As in: he’s still a minor. This means that he still has a very good chance of changing, growing and maturing. Right now his poor time management skills can still be attributed to his lack of wisdom and maturity. The adults in his life? Not so much.)

Here’s the issue: his life is filled with meetings, lessons, practices and rehearsals that never seem to end on time. Meaning that when he arrives at the next meeting, lesson, practice, or rehearsal he is already late, thereby provoking a lecture about the importance of time management from the next adult on his schedule, who, in all likelihood, will then keep him late to “make up” the lost time, which will then make him late to the next event, provoking a new lecture at his next stop, on and on ad infinitum, ad nauseam, until finally the end of the day comes and he collapses into bed, wakes up, and does it all over again.

The obvious solution, of course, is to nip this cycle in the bud by speaking up at the very first meeting, lesson or rehearsal and pointing out that the ending time has come and gone. The problem with this scenario, however, is that it would not only require Clyde to be more aware of the time than the adult in charge, but it would also require him to then tell that adult that, regardless of where they happen to be in the meeting, lesson or rehearsal, he needs to leave. This is not an easy thing for most adults to do. (Ever have to stop your boss in the middle of an interminable powerpoint to tell them you have to go pick up your kids? Remember their frustration and annoyance, even though they were the ones who had scheduled the meeting to end at 2:30, and it was now 3:15, and you had told them from the very beginning that you had to leave every day at 3:00 to go get your kids? Yeah, now imagine having to have that conversation with them when you were fifteen and you’ll get a sense of how difficult it is for kids to interrupt their coach or director.)

At first I thought that this was simply a Clyde problem, meaning that it was a problem unique to children with overly packed schedules. (And before I get all of the calls and emails about the dangers of over-scheduling, please realize this: Clyde wants to be involved in all of these activities.) But then I started speaking to other parents, even parents of children with moderate to light schedules, and I realized that this was a universal problem: the ish at the end of whatever ending time was previously stated has become the norm.

As someone who has always included (and enforced) an end time on playdates, this is both frustrating and appalling to me. Still, I do suppose that in the long run it will help Clyde learn new time management skills. In fact, it will probably help him learn the most important time management skill of all: how not to let other people manage your time.

In the end, everything is a lesson. Just maybe not the lesson we originally set out to learn.

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Why the End of Summer is Like Christmas Coming Early At My House


One of my favorite things about the Christmas season is the Christmas tree; specifically, the part where I get to take it down and put it out on the curb. It’s not that I don’t like Christmas—I am very fond of all of the “Chocolate Holidays” (holidays that give me an excuse to have a lot of chocolate in the house)—it’s just that as soon as that tree is gone my living room feels two sizes larger. (Yes, I know that getting a tree for the sole reason of eventually removing it is no better than hitting yourself in the head with a hammer because it feels so good when you stop. That doesn’t keep me from doing it, though. The tree thing, I mean: so far I’ve resisted taking up the hammer habit.)

I’ve often wondered what other seasonal items I could bring into the house to give me that same sense of extra space once the season is over, but no other holiday (that I know of, at least), seems to involve creating as much spatial upheaval in your life as Christmas. Or at least that’s what I thought. Then I had a daughter who came home for the summer from college, and I realized that spatial disruption is by no means limited solely to trees. Or even to vegetation. It’s true: the very minute my completely human (we’re at least 90% sure) daughter leaves for school we celebrate the fact that our bathroom triples in size. Does that sound mean? I wasn’t trying to be mean. But at the same time I think anyone would be a little mean if they had been given a taste of a spacious, fully functional bathroom for a few glorious months, only to have it all snatched away again with the wave of a hairdryer.

Of course, logically I already knew that the state of my bathroom would improve once I had one less person using it—math, yo—I just hadn’t realized what a difference it would make who that one less person was. For years I blamed the state of my bathroom on the fact that I had two children using it—two people who left their towels on the floor, their razors in the sink and their empty shampoo bottles lined up in the shower like liquor bottles in a frat boy’s window. Then one of them left, and the truth was revealed.

Don’t get me wrong: the bathroom didn’t become spotless—not by a long shot. But the sheer volume of detritus did seem to decrease by significantly more than half. And not just because the “extra” child is a girl, either. Trust me: the boy in this family goes through just as much hair product and wardrobe changes as the girl. Somehow, though, as filthy as the boy is, the girl manages to be worse.

The same can be said of other areas of the house as well. My laundry room seems to grow impossibly more roomy with the subtraction of one child, at the same time my coffee supply lasts for days, instead of mere hours.

Maybe it would be the same no matter which one left. Maybe the reason it is so filthy with two is because they always know that there will be someone else to place the blame on, and so therefore know they can get away with making zero effort to keep things tidy.

Or maybe my daughter is just the biggest slob in the known Universe—a menace to all things bright and beautiful. It’s a theory. One my son seems to be pushing pretty hard. And since he’s the one that’s still here, I’m kind of inclined to believe him.

At least until Winter Break rolls around again. Although by then I might be too distracted by the tree in my living room to even notice the state of the bathroom. And if not: well, there’s always chocolate.

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