Artist • Author • Activist • Advocate

photo by bigdrumthump @

When I was in the third grade, I totally wanted to play the drums. But back in the 1970s, girls were not encouraged to play percussion instruments. Nay, the “banging” instruments” were reserved for the boys. I was, however, presented with a shiny flute and told that if I was ever good enough that, one day, I would be able to play the piccolo. Whoop dee doo.

Years went by, and while I may have played well enough, I just never felt anything for the flute. In fact, at one point, our house was robbed and I actually prayed that the thieves had taken my flute. They did not. In middle school, on band days, I used to look back at the strawberry-blond haired drummer, Kevin Eastman, with a kind of longing and wish I was the one doing the boom-tap, boom-boom tap thing. (I used to look back there so much, I think I sent Kevin the message that I liked him more than a little bit. But I digress.)

My parents basically made me stick with the flute until I entered high school, at which point I was allowed to drop it.

"keys" by MiiiSH at

Fast-forward thirty some odd years. My son has been taking private piano lessons for just over a year now. He loves the piano. I mean, I think he loves it. I have never had to ask him to practice; he just goes and does it on his own every day, and I assume we would have epic wars if he didn’t like to play because I really want him to play an instrument.

This year, boy had the opportunity to try another instrument through school. He was given three choices. Like me, he ended up with his last choice: violin. Unlike me, he rarely practiced. And while he diligently made it to orchestra and lessons, truth be told, he didn’t care if he ran out of rosin. He didn’t care if he was in the last seat (and he was), and he didn’t really care if my car accidentally ran over his violin (which almost happened once). I wasn’t surprised about his attitude. He was assigned an instrument for which he had very little feeling from the get go. And I allowed him to slack with his violin because he had the piano. By April, after one orchestra concert and another on-deck, he decided he was “totally done” with the violin and, frankly, I couldn’t wait to return the standard-sized rental along with its hour-glass shaped case.

In May, my husband and I attended our son’s piano recital, which was held in a beautiful, intimate room at a nearby college. The children played their pieces, one after the other, on a gorgeous Steinway up on a stage in a room with perfect acoustics.

Before the concert started, the piano instructor, Ms. Esther Wadsworth stood and addressed the audience, welcomed everyone, and then read a piece of writing composed by one of her students, Nick Conley, who would soon be graduating from high school and, I assume, would not be continuing his piano studies with her. I am not certain if Nick wrote this piece as his college essay or just as a kind of thank you note for Ms. Wadsworth, but his words struck me. He wrote:

Nick Conley

I cannot imagine my life without piano. But this was not always the case. I was only six years old when my mother forced me (literally) to take piano lessons. I was not having fun with Piano and desperately pleaded with my parents to let me quit. The negotiations did not go as I had planned and was told I had to finish at least my first year. My piano organization held an annual recital for all of the students to perform. I was to play first. After my cue, I approached the highly glossed Steinway and seated myself. I honestly don’t remember playing anything; it all seemed like a haze.

As the recital continued, the pianists got better and better. The final musicians played Rachmaninoff, Beethoven, Billy Joel, Shubert and Elton John with ease, making the piano come alive. By the end of the recital, I had lost all eagerness to quit and was filled instead with a lust to learn more. And so I did not quit piano and stayed with the grueling theory work and played songs that I did not enjoy. Now at the age of seventeen, I am ironically the last chair in that same recital. Piano has become my outlet, and I use it to channel my emotions into melodies instead of bad habits. If I am lucky enough, maybe I can prove to some kid sitting in the first few rows that all the hours of energy and dedication are worth it.

So after the violin was gone, and after hearing Nick’s essay, and after hearing the students perform in the recital, I wondered: Should I have made my child stick with the violin? Isn’t one instrument enough? And what if one day he says he wants to quit piano? Or (gasp) fencing? How do you know when it’s time to let an activity go? When (if ever) do you override your child’s desires and force them to stick with an activity?

This speech was delivered by Melanie Ward, Principal of Mendon Center Elementary School on June 22, 2010 on its annual Moving Up Day Ceremony which occurs on the last day of school. As in any good speech, the speaker’s words have resonance not only for the graduates but for all audience members, and I asked Mrs. Ward for permission to share her words here, for parents to consider: How well do we, as adults, heed the advice of an elementary school principal to her graduating students?

I am pleased to be able to say a few remarks, and share some of my thinking with you on this, your last day at [our school]. As we prepare to move you up to the middle schools, it is natural to think a little bit about your experiences in elementary school. You have worked hard and accomplished much in your time here.

You have learned how to read and to write; you have become proficient at math, learned how to think like scientists, and have become acquainted with many of the world’s regions, customs, and history in your social studies lessons. You have created beautiful pieces of art, performed musically, and learned much about physical fitness and wellness. You found the Gingerbread Man and set butterflies free. You played games at the Math Carnival, punched tin, made bread on Pioneer Day, and came through Ellis Island as immigrants. You participated in International Day and Science Day, donated Halloween candy, collected soap and canned goods galore.

Along the way, you have made new friends, and have been taught by many wonderful teachers.

Most importantly, I think, you have learned what it means to be a responsible and respectful people – good citizens of your school and your community.

No matter what subjects your teachers taught you over the years, what they were most concerned about was helping each one of you to become the best person you could be.

Our job here is done – we’ve taught you all that we have the time and the days to teach you and – for the most part – you have learned our lessons well. Before we let you go, however, I hope you will allow me this one last opportunity to give you some advice to take with you to the middle school.

1) Work hard. Things won’t always come easily to you, and they shouldn’t. What is worth learning is worth working hard for. Don’t let frustration get the best of you – persevere, ask for help, keep trying. The payoff will be great.
2) Be humble. Yes, you are smart. You are talented. You are athletic. You are a lot of great things. But so are a lot of other people. Be humble about your accomplishments and be quick to compliment others’ on theirs. You will be respected and appreciated by others for this attitude.
3) Smile. That one seems silly perhaps, but it is important. Maintaining a positive attitude – or faking it when necessary – will go a long way towards helping you to make new friends and feeling good about yourself. You’ll be amazed at how much better the world looks – and how the world looks at you – when you have a smile on your face.
4) Be courteous and respectful. Towards adults, towards your peers, towards yourself. Good manners and a respectful attitude will take you far in this world.
5. Get involved. Find extracurricular activities that you are interested in and get involved. Don’t worry if you are the only one of your group of friends interested in joining a particular club or activity. If that activity truly interests you, go for it. You are likely to meet new friends who share a common interest with you – and have some fun along the way.
6. Follow the “golden rule” – do unto others what you would have them do unto you. There is no more important rule to live your life by. It is also a very general rule, so here are some more specifics to help you as you continue your journey:

If you open it, close it.
If you turn it on, turn it off.
If you unlock it, lock it up.
If you break it, admit it.
If you can’t fix it, call someone who can.
If you borrow it, return it.
If you value it, take care of it.
If you make a mess, clean it up.
If you move it, put it back.
If it belongs to someone else, get permission to use it.
If you don’t know how to operate it, leave it alone.
If it’s none of your business, stay out of it.
If what you have to say will brighten someone’s day, say it!
If what you have to say will hurt somebody, don’t say it!
If something isn’t broken, don’t try to fix it.
If you think you know it all, look around and see how little you really know.

Fifth graders, you leave here having learned a lot, but you have much more to learn in the years ahead. Be willing to keep on learning – from your teachers, coaches, parents and friends. Maintain a positive attitude, a helpful disposition, a willingness to try new experiences. Keep reading, be helpful, clean your rooms, practice your instruments, be good to each other, and keep smiling.

What advice would you give to kids entering middle schools/Jr. High schools in the fall?

"Locked & Loaded" by Phae at

With which are you more comfortable and why?

Your 11-year old child having a Facebook account? (Note: According to Facebook policy: “In order to be eligible to sign up for Facebook, users must be thirteen (13) years of age or older.) Or that same 11-year old owning and using an air-soft gun?

Do you find the question ridiculous? Do these things concern you at all?

Photo from howieluvzus' photostream at

When my boy was very young – maybe four or five years old – we had just completed our grocery shopping when he noticed a man in a green coat feeding dollar bills into a machine that then shot out shiny tickets. He asked me what the man was doing and what the machines were for and I thought, Aha! Now this is a teachable moment if I have ever seen one! I licked my lips, certain that this would be, without a doubt, the lesson on gambling that my son would never forget.

I explained to my littlun that the man in the green coat was buying scrach-off tickets. That each ticket had a different price, and that the man had a chance of winning a little money (as in the same amount as the cost of the ticket), a lot of money (in this case, up to $500 smackers) or he could lose everything.

For those of you who remember the ‘80s television sit-com, Family Ties, you may recall Alex P. Keaton, played by Michael J. Fox. “Alex,” was a high school student who had a passion for economics and wealth. A proponent of supply-side economics, Alex’s heroes were Republicans Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. His favorite television show was Wall $treet Week and he was an avid reader of the The Wall Street Journal. My son has always had a little Alex P. Keaton in him. Maybe more than a little. For his birthday this year, he wants Apple stock. But I digress.

Anyway, at age 5, my child was positively enthralled by the machine, the lights, the magical production of a shiny ticket which he now understood could win him big bucks. His eyes were wide.

“So he could win $500?” my child asked, pointing at the man in the green coat.

“He could,” I reiterated, “but the odds are against him. Most people lose.”

My child was in a zombie-like state, drifting over to the man and the machine.

I tugged on his arm. “Would you like to go over and ask the man some questions?”

I did not have to ask twice because my child was now running towards the man in the green coat.

After introducing my son and myself, I asked the man in the green coat if my child could ask him a few questions, and he was more than agreeable.

My son had a million questions.

Boy: How many tickets did you buy today?

Man: 10.

Boy: How much is each ticket?

Man: $2.

Boy: How many times a week do you play?

Man: Every day.

Boy: Every day?!

Man: Every day.

Boy (incredulous): You spend $20 every day on scratch-off tickets?

Man: Yup.

Boy: Do you ever win?

Man: Sometimes. Not usually.

Photo by Shoshanah at

Boy: What’s the most you’ve ever won?

Man: Just a few dollars. Maybe $20. Usually I lose. But like they say, “You can’t win if you don’t play.”

Boy: Who says that?

Man: It used to be on a commercial for the New York State Lottery.

Boy: What’s ‘lottery’?

Man: It’s another gambling game where you place a bet on numbers.

Boy: Do you play that?

Man: Sure do. Once a week.

Boy: Wow! You must be rich! How much money do you spend in a week on all these numbers games?

Here, I apologized profusely to the man in the green coat as boy was probing relentlessly about his finances and what he did for a living so he could afford to spend $20 a day on “these numbers games.” The older man graciously dismissed my apology with a wave of his hand.

Man: I suppose one day when you are bigger, you’ll be able to figure out how much money I spend in a week, even a year, on these tickets.

Boy (nodding): You gonna scratch now?

Man: Yup. You wanna watch?

Boy didn’t need to answer. He stood on his tippy-toes at the service desk, watching the man in the green coat burn through his scratch-off tickets with his “lucky” quarter in hand.

I was thinking to myself, if you usually lose, wouldn’t that be an “unlucky” quarter? Maybe you should pick a new coin.

In a short time, the man in the green coat was down to his last ticket, which he kissed dramatically. I am pretty sure he did this for my son’s benefit.

But whatever. I didn’t care. I was so happy. I had my car lecture ready to go in my head. It went something like this: You see, son, the man in the green coat spends $20 a day on scratch-off games, which is $140 per week. That’s about $560 per month, not counting whatever he pays for lottery tickets. That’s a lot of money, I would say. I was prepared to point out that our grocery bill that very day had come to $146, so that man’s habit was just under a week’s worth of groceries for our family of three. I was prepared to discuss car payments and mortgage payments and savings accounts, the money market, the stock market, 401K plans, stocks and bonds.

And then it happened.

Photo from djainslie @

The man in the green coat shouted, “Hey-o! She’s a winner!”

He leaned over and showed my son the three matching numbers lined up in a row.

“Five hundred dollars!” he said, “Kid, you are my lucky charm!” he declared with a wink, “What time can you be here tomorrow?” Then he wandered off to stand in the line, I assumed, to collect his winnings.

My son looked at me and said, “I thought you said people almost never win!”

My beautiful lesson was destroyed. What was a mom to do? I shrugged my shoulders and swallowed my perfectly prepared lecture. “I guess you have to be willing to take a little risk if you want to do something where the odds are against you.”

My soon-to-be 11-year old has no recollection of this event whatsoever, but he did recently use his own $5 to purchase a raffle ticket that a friend was selling. I don’t mind him supporting his buddy’s youth hockey team, but I kind of hope he doesn’t win.

If he does, he might start asking for a trip to Vegas for his 11th birthday.

Have you ever had a teachable moment go horribly awry?

Colorado River Ride

Having just returned from a fabulous, week-long Tauck-Bridges Tour that started in Phoenix, Arizona, moved through a few of our country’s National Parks, and ended in Las Vegas, Nevada I am finding re-entry into everyday life a little rough as we were so very pampered. Where is my breakfast menu? You mean I have to start cooking again? Sigh. But now that the six loads of laundry are behind me, and I have a fully stocked refrigerator, I would like to take a moment to express a little gratitude because it is easy to get sucked back into the daily grind and forget how wonderful it was just 36 hours ago.

Here goes. Thank you to:

  1. AT&T: For your miserable coverage, which reminded me that I did, in fact, live without a Smart Phone until last December. Had my phone been working, I would not have been able to plug in to my family as fully as I did. Together, we swam, hiked, played chess, read books and chattered away. Not being plugged into technology also afforded me the opportunity to meet everyone on our tour. Yeah, I worked the bus.
  2. Suitcases with Good Zippers: I didn’t believe it was possible at the packing stage, but we were able to live completely comfortably – with everything we needed – for 8 full days – out of 3 medium-sized suitcases. And I still managed to bring 4 pairs of shoes and my favorite pair of cowboy boots. How can you go west without ‘em?
  3. The Grand Canyon: For reminding me how small I am. (Because sometimes I forget.)
  4. Horses & Mules:For being sure-footed where I would surely have fallen. Also for 2 hours of happy-happy, joy-joy bliss.

    Riding in Bryce Canyon
  5. Sunshine: For confirming what I had already suspected: that I am an exothermic lizard-girl who gets happier and happier the drier and hotter it gets. Thank you, sunshine, for showing up every morning around 4:30 am and sticking around – hot on my face – until around 7:30 pm. (Husband would like me to take a moment to thank Neutrogena sunscreen here.)

    Me, doing yoga on a very skinny ledge
  6. Headlamps: So that when day was done and sunset descended into the canyons so completely, we could still see the deer and fox around us. And when we turned them off, we could hear frogs and owls and bats.
  7. Children: Who despite their varied ages all managed to find something wonderful to appreciate about each other and enjoy the time they spent swimming, hiking, catching tadpoles, playing football, rooting on a park ranger as he wrastled a rattlesnake, even just hanging out together on the bus.
  8. Good guides: Thank you Southwest pilots for your sense of humor when the roller-coaster turbulence complete with big dips and swells was not appreciated by everyone. Thank you to William, our motor coach driver, for allowing my husband to truly relax and not have to fuss with maps or GPS systems or reservations (which, in turn, allowed me to completely relax because you know we might have killed each other if we were driving together, getting lost together, for 8 days). With William at the wheel, hubby’s most basic needs were met: he had a bottle of water every day; a rotating but reserved seat; he was able to tune into conversation when he wanted, tune out when he had had enough; and he could nap whenever he wanted, knowing we were still moving toward a destination. He never had to worry about checking in, checking out, dragging a bag, checking to make sure our flight was on time, or arranging for transfer to or from the airport; all of this was handled by our tour company. Thank you to Justin, our riverboat guide, who encouraged us to soak our feet in the Colorado River to understand what 47 degrees feels like. (Note: It’s damn cold.). Thank you Julie, our Tauck-Bridges guide, who worked her butt off to make sure the needs of 40 people were met. That woman managed to land us a king-sized bed and roll-away cot combo in the most remote of places. And thank you to Ver, our more than slightly abrasive Navajo guide who, at the time, pissed me off by snatching the camera out of my hands and screwing around with all the presets – but managed to capture one of the best photographs of the entire trip.

    In Anelope Slot Canyon, Page, AZ
  9. The Navajo Nation: Though skeptical when we met in a rundown gas station parking lot in Page, Arizona. The trip to Antelope Slot Canyon was truly a treat, and we never would have found that skinny little hidden canyon where the sun shone through the cracks and made purple and yellow and orange. Thank you for opening your land to us. I truly feel blessed to have been able to be there.
  10. Bryce National Park: For making me feel like I was on another planet, like there are a million other places on this big blue marble we call Earth that are filled with that kind of magic.
  11. The Strip in Las Vegas, Nevada: For reminding me that everything is better in moderation. That the 2-foot hot dog is a better idea than a reality; that sometimes it’s hard to tell by the height of a woman’s shoes if she is being stylish or if she is a prostitute; that I am not a drinker, a smoker, or a gambler and I prefer living in a place with windows and far fewer bells and whistles; that the shtick, the glitz, the glam – enjoyable as it is – is fake and after you’ve seen the MGM lions and ridden the roller coaster at New York, New York, and seen the fountain at the Bellagio and been to a show, there’s still no place like home.
  12. Family: That I am blessed to have one as good as I do. Because I am. Thank you for taking the trip that I have always wanted to take.

    My family at Zion National Park

photo by Renée Schuls-Jacobson

I am taking off for a few days. I am crazy excited, and I am sure that once all the frantic packing is finished and I’m on the plane, I’ll be able to have that ahhhhh moment. But not yet. Not yet.

So today’s questions is:

What is the best family summer vacation that you have ever taken, either as a child or an adult? Location and a favorite memory, please.

(And remember “favorite memory” doesn’t necessarily mean everything was perfect at the time. Memory can grow and morph and suddenly, a kinda-lame trip can be into a favorite story as the years go by. When I get home, somebody remind me to tell you about the Nepa Hut.)

photo "Sindone Days" by

Our friendship started just short of ten years ago, when our sons gravitated towards each other at Gymboree. It was almost as if each knew that the other was an only child, and while one was mobile and the other was not, they managed to stick pretty close to each other, climbing over mats and across obstacle courses. Of course, she and I were immediately drawn to each other – two young mothers appreciating how nicely our children played together. We were amazed to discover our similarities: we had both been English teachers and attended colleges in the East. One of her sorority sisters had been a friend of mine in high school; their financial guy was someone I’d known in high school. Like me, she loved horses. And books. We’d both played the flute.

Over the weeks, months, and years, she became the best friend I ever had. Pathological as it sounds, except for when she packed up her station wagon and went to her place in the mountains for five excruciating weeks each summer, not a day went by where one of us didn’t call or see the other. We went grocery shopping together and bathing suit shopping together. We ate lunches at her house and dinners at mine. And I never tired of her. Ever.

As the boys’ grew older, her son grew heavier while mine grew lean. Hers preferred to stay in his pajamas and watch television while mine was up and at ‘em with a “sproing” in his every step. We tried to hold them together – even forced them to play together – but theirs was a friendship born out of our desire for things to stay the same.

"slowly withering away" by megyarsh

One day, I’m not exactly sure when it happened, but I realized our friendship was unraveling. Once, we had once joked that we were Frog and Toad, the infamous amphibian duo created in a series of children’s books by Arnold Lobel, but suddenly, it just didn’t feel good anyone. Actually, that isn’t quite true. It wasn’t sudden at all. There had been a series of transgressions on both sides. Years of hurt feelings that had never been addressed. What makes relationships end?

One cold, gray day, in the midst of my internal drama, I visited the tailor to have a few dresses altered. It was an errand that had been on my to-do list for a long time, and I felt good about finally taking the action step. I pulled my turtleneck over my head and alternated from one outfit to the next as the tailor marked the soon-to-be new hemlines with a special chalky-white line.

That night, as I went through my regular routine – brush teeth, wash face, remove watch, remove earrings – I realized one of my earrings was missing. They had been a fabulous pair, antique looking and sparkly, with just the right kind of clasp to keep them from slipping out of my ears. My friend had bought them for me years earlier, and the gesture showed that she knew me perfectly: my taste that favors pretty, old, one-of-a-kinds over anything hip and new and now; she even understood my quirky earlobes that refuse to retain wires or studs. Purchased for no good reason, they were simply “just because,” and I had worn them every day for years.

That night, I barely slept. I was sure somewhere on that tailor’s floor my earring was camouflaged amidst straight pins, stray threads, and lint. Early the next morning, I called the tailor, a stout man who spoke broken English with a heavy Russian accent. He shouted “no understand” and hung up on me. Pulling on my winter coat, I returned to his shop and got down on my hands and knees, searching frantically for my favorite earring. I showed him its lonely partner, cupped in my palm, and he looked through the lost and found pile, cluttered with other people’s lost trinkets. When he gestured toward the vacuum cleaner, I jumped at the chance. Of course, I reasoned, the earring had been sucked up inside the vacuum cleaner. I confidently ripped open the dusty bag.

It wasn’t there.

As the tailor’s door shut behind me with a thud-slam, I knew it was gone. Yes, the earring, but also the friendship. I had to stop searching for it and let it go. Buddha said: “There is no peace in the world until you find peace within yourself in this moment.” I am not angry with my old friend; there is nothing to forgive. No one did anything terrible, but our relationship had become something confused for friendship. I’d be lying if I said the loss wasn’t difficult. Detox is never easy; ask any addict. And she and I, we had a ten-year habit.

Afternote From RASJ on 7/1/10: A respondent named Russell suggested that I Google Ed’s little tirade (posted below) and guess what? Sure enough, Ed has posted his “one hit number” on more than just a few blogs. I guess the lesson-after-the-lesson is that people come to my blog to read my words, not someone else’s. It is unlikely that all my entries will be stellar, but from here on out, they will be mine.
"Angry Man" by Steve Rhode

Yesterday, I had a phenomenal day as my blog entry was Freshly Pressed (meaning it was recognized as a blog with a quickly growing audience), and it received a fair amount of attention. I was excited and enjoyed moderating all the comments and visiting new blogs. Somewhere in there, the following response came in from a respondent named Ed.

Initially, I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. I took his words personally. I wondered, Who is this guy? And why does he hate me so much?

That lasted for about 1 minute. The real lesson reflects my worldview: Most people are fabulous and supportive and interesting and delightful . . . but there is always going to be that one person who shows up drunk to your party and throws up in your bathroom. He is the thorn in your side, the fingernails on the chalkboard, the raccoon that comes to your campground and eats all your s’mores fixins. That person keeps us humble. Keeps our heads on. He provides balance. The trick is not to let the Eds of the world keep you down. Thank you, Ed, whoever you are.

Here are Ed’s exact words in response to yesterday’s blog. I have let him know that I have reposted his response today, so that he might comment – if he would like to.

So you ended up being just a mother.

Just another mother, like a chimp, a cow, an elephant, a whale, just another mother, like an insect, or an octopus, or a worm. Just another mother.

Your kids will not thank you, your husband will not like you, your own mother will pity you for making her own same mistake.

Just another mother.

For a moment of frenzy, of uterine voracity, irrational and irreversible, you destroyed your body, your beauty, and your own intellect.

Parental-brain-atrophy-syndrome, where your brain biologically adjusts to the need of your infants, descending at their own subhuman level, with just one dimension, food, or perhaps two dimensions, food and feces.

You left your ambitions, your achievements, your potentials outside your life and outside the lives of those who really loved, only to become a receptacle of an unknown body of an unknown person that never will be yours, and to whom you will never belong. Strangers united in a pool of blood and dirt.

And dirt has become your life, and your life has become dirt. Urine, remains of food, excrements, diapers, vacuum cleaners, old soap, crusts, a life of dandruff and diseases, vaccine and lice, high school and drool.

You lost your dignity through your open legs, first inwards and then outwards, first-in-first-out, garbage-in-garbage-out, a boomerang of boredom.

Do you remember who you were?

Do you realize your loss?

Nobody chooses prison voluntarily, except for mothers, except for you.

You chose the life of a slave in a cavern of dirt.

People around you, who know that you are just another mother, do have compassion for you, but no respect. They know all about your emptiness, your pain, your despair, all dressed in the robes of a Virgin Mary.

And a Virgin Mary you are not, because Mary was not a Virgin, and you are not a Mary.

You were manipulated into just another life wasted on the heap of trash of a lost humanity dedicated to popular procreation and proletarian proliferation, to please the leaders of a domain of plebeians.

The world lost you, and you lost the world.

Good bye, sad mothers, good bye, old cows, with dried-out utters and distorted hips, good bye, and so alone you all will die.

Note from RASJ I believe Ed meant to use the word “udders” (as in the things cows have beneath their bellies) – not “utters” (the synonym for the word ‘says’). Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Ed would have benefited by adding a dash in the word “good-bye” which appears three times in his last line. What can I say? First and foremost, I’m an English teacher.

"boxed in" by massdistraction

I am a pretty organized person. In fact, there was an eight year stint where I worked as a professional organizer and was paid to go into people’s homes and help make systems to create order out of the chaos that surrounded them. And I was really good at it.

Truth be told, I am supremely organized. I used to lie about my house being as neat as it is. It doesn’t look quite as fabulous as the homes in Style Magazine or House Beautiful, you know, where everything has been staged to perfection – the beds heaped with fluffy, organic linens with a thread count of two million and smoothed so they 100% lump-free; every knick-knack is interesting and placed at the proper angle; the glass in the picture frames on the side tables sparkle, and the familes in the frames sparkle too.

It’s not like that here. Things here aren’t perfect; I just know where my stuff is.


Except when I don’t. Because that happens sometimes.

One night, around 10 pm, while I was folding laundry and my husband was out enjoying a Jeff Beck concert, my son apparently realized he had lost his book, Pendragon: The Quillan Games, (#7 in the series) somewhere at school. Pendragon is not a book he checked out at school; it is a library book. A thick, hardcover library book. Apparently, he laid there in the dark perseverating. You know, that thing we do that gets us absolutely nowhere except more freaked out? He was running “what if” scenarios over and over in his head, trying to figure out where he might have left his book, even though he thought it was probably in his desk. Alone in his bedroom he was thinking, What if I can’t find the book? What if it’s really gone? What if I left it on the playground? What if the library charges me three times as much as a new copy would cost. What if my parents get really mad at me for losing the book and don’t trust me and won’t let me take out any more library books? (For a voracious reader, that would be a major punishment.)

Apparently, he tortured himself like this for about thirty minutes before he finally exercised the good sense to come downstairs and explain his dilemma.

My child is the responsible type. He doesn’t like to lose things. He doesn’t like to miss deadlines or due dates. The thought is abhorrent to him. I understand this – apples don’t fall from pear trees, right? – so I was glad when I was able to share something with him that a friend of mine helped me with not too long ago with when I was freaking out about something insignificant, that seemed really big at the moment.

I asked my son to sit on the floor beside me, to close his eyes, and listen to my voice. I told him I was going to take him to the worst case scenario: His worst fear.

photo of "mother and son" by

“Are you ready?” I asked.

He nodded.

“The book is, in fact, lost. You will have to pay for the book, maybe even three times the price.” Then I added this part: “But you are okay. You aren’t sick. We are all healthy. You have dad and me. We have a home. We have food and clothes, and we love you like crazy.”

He was calmer. Quieter. It was working. (Plus, he was really tired.) And because he was being quiet, I added, “And just so you know, assuming you live a long time – and I hope you do – you are going to lose stuff. A lot. It happens. I lose things all the time. I write notes to myself on slips of paper and they disappear. I don’t know where they go. I lose bills and receipts. Bottom line is, you have to know that you are going to lose shit, and you have to know it’s not worth losing your mind when you lose something.”

He giggled.

“What?” I asked.

“You said the ‘s-word’.”


Drawing on sage advice from my friend Jennifer Hess and her children’s yoga practice, I asked my son to take a deep breath, take in as much air as he could, and then exhale as if he were blowing out a million candles. At first, he couldn’t do it. He felt stupid, he said. But I insisted that he keep trying. He got it right on the third try.

“That felt good,” he said, calmer now.

Walking upstairs together, he let me hold his hand – something he doesn’t always let me do these days.

I hope he gets it: That adults aren’t perfect. We can strive to be organized and have our perfectly-perfect systems, but nothing is fool-proof or fail-safe. The important thing is to have the perspective to understand that what feels so terribly, awfully, overwhelmingly, miserable at one moment can be dealt with and the awful feeling will pass. Even when it is a big something – the loss of a friendship, a major illness, even death – these things have to be dealt with calmly too. Freaking out doesn’t help.

That night was about a lost book.

That night I counted our blessings.

Afternote: Boy found the book at school the next day. It was rescued just as it was about to be sent back to the public library. All’s well that ends well. He is now well into Pendragon Book #8.

"Indulgence of the Flesh" by 4T9R @

“You’re not really going to eat that, are you?” a friend asked me just as I was about to bite into a fabulous piece of very, rare filet.

As a little girl, whenever my father would barbeque, he would always let me sneak a few little pieces of meat off the grill long before they were ready to be served. Charred on the outside and raw on the inside; that was the taste of summer.

In the years before microwaves, when mothers had to decide what they were making for dinner by breakfast each morning, my mother would sometimes put out hamburger meat and, if I was lucky, by the time I got home from school, she would have fashioned them into seasoned patties, ready to go into the oven. In super stealth mode, I would sneak into the kitchen to snatch little bits of uncooked burger from the porcelain plate where they waited to be broiled. I think once I actually ate an entire  burger – raw. This was frowned upon by my mother but not seen as dangerous or cause for grave concern.

My immediate family knows I am a carnivore. To this day, I have a taste for raw, red meat, and I totally gross out my husband. People are always telling me that I am going to get E.coli or trichinosis or salmonella or staphylococcus or some other creepy bacteria that I can’t see or smell.

"mince meat" by sinsiwinsi @

I can’t even disagree with the people who tell me this. I know that E. coli 0157:H7 are like super-bacteria and have managed to mutate so that they survive refrigeration and freezer temperatures and, once in food, they can multiply quickly. People delight in telling me I am being stupid and stubborn, and if I would only agree to cooking my meat just a little more, the bacteria would be killed.

I know the FDA recommendations. People tell me I am tempting the food gods. All I can tell you is in a report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2009, there was a drop in the cases of E. coli 0157 and that it struck “fewer than one case per 100,000 people” and they are clear when they point out that “death is rare.”

Maybe someone should have told my mother 40 years ago that she shouldn’t have left the burgers out at room temperature for more than two hours because, honestly, it was really just delicious. I never got sick. Not even so much as a stomach ache.

People can speak to me about animal cruelty until the cows come home. (Ooh, that is probably a bad choice of words to use here.) And seriously, I am not unsympathetic. I have seen videos of the inhumane ways that cattle have been slaughtered, and it is awful to watch. Truly gruesome. I like to believe the kosher meat that I purchase is prepared a bit more carefully, but I’m not positive that this is the case. For a little while I tried not to eat red meat, but I fell off the wagon with my folk and knife poised over a gorgeous slab of prime rib.

All I know is that I survived my father’s raw steaks, my mother’s raw burgers, piles of steak tartar, 15 years of sushi (some served at restaurants of questionable repute) . . .  and on a tangential yet not completely unrelated note, as I’m sure you can imagine, I absolutely, positively always lick the bowl that held the raw cookie dough. And I’m still here.

I’m still here.

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