The Summer of the Magical Unicorn Swimsuit

This is my daughter’s swimsuit. Feast your eyes.


This suit has been pulled from the dirty clothes hamper, crumpled and wrinkly, and it’s giving off a strong whiff of chlorine. Even so, it is wondrous.

I only bought this garish, LSD-inspired concoction because my ten-year-old begged for it mercilessly (and it was on clearance). I guess she caught me at a weak moment, because I’m still not sure how she convinced me to shelve all my buttoned-down navy-blue principles, plunk down a whole $10, and give Lucy my blessing to wear this thing in public.

But Lucy loves this suit as if it gives her magical powers. And I now believe it does.

This swimsuit makes her brave. She parades around in it without a trace of self-consciousness, without the first thought of covering up a little body that isn’t quite as svelte as her friends’. “Who cares if there’s a pot belly under there?” she seems to be thinking. “The unicorn is awesome, and thus I AM AWESOME.”

This swimsuit makes her happy. It makes her light. It makes her totally at home with who she is.

I marvel that anyone could feel that way in a swimsuit.

I stare at her and wonder, “What must it be like to be that sweetly imperfect and JUST. NOT. CARE?” She is a superhero with a dazzling white unicorn emblazoned across her barrel chest, and it is a thing of beauty and strength.

I’m afraid the magic will wear off soon. I fear that summers to come will bring downcast eyes and oversized T-shirts and stolen glances at what other closer-to-perfect girls in bikinis look like.

That’s what teenage summers brought me. And honestly, it’s what summer brings me still. I hate to admit I haven’t outgrown all the dumb comparisons, the fear of other eyes, the deadening impulse to skip swimming or playing or living life–just so I can better hide my lumps, bumps, and lack of lady humps from the watching world.

I wish my girl could wear this unicorn swimsuit forever, letting it imbue her with joy and fearlessness every summer of her life.

But even if the spell is broken too soon, whatever she wears, whoever she grows to be, this girl is my hero.

This girl will always be my very own magical unicorn.



How I Survived My Son’s First Sleepover


When you’re a parent (or at least an UNFUN parent like me), sleepovers are THE WORST. I shudder at the very thought of them at your house, and I avoid them like the Zika virus in mine.

I have one insane friend (happily insane, not criminally) who casually hosts sleepovers with a guest list of 25+ girls. TWENTY. FIVE. Double digit children. All night long. In her home. And somehow everyone emerges the next morning alive. Just the thought of this kind of mania gives me vertigo.

Because here’s where my mind goes when I think “sleepover:”

Feral children running amok, screeching at dog whistle octaves, making crank calls, trying to make each other pee involuntarily, freezing one another’s underwear, conducting séances, watching sketchy YouTube videos, concocting “inventive” new ways to avoid sleeping one single solitary wink, and the next day returning to Mom and Dad’s loving arms a limp, surly, useless excuse for a human being.

That pretty much describes my sleepover experiences, circa 1980-87. Except instead of YouTube, we watched horror movies. And the involuntary peeing happened at the end of Carrie when that blood-soaked hand comes shooting up out of the grave, and I nearly stroked out in Mandi Sigmon’s basement.

Basically, nothing good happens after midnight. That’s a truth I’ll set my watch by.

But there comes a point in every tween’s life when the sleepover is THE THING. It represents all this child’s finest hopes and dreams for his birthday. It is the essence of birthday joy. Without it…loneliness, despair, dashed dreams, weepy puppy dog eyes.

And there comes a point when we stupid parents make promises we never intend to keep just to shut the kids up…which is all well and good until we get shamed into finally making good on them.

So yeah, I faintly recall telling Will he could have a sleepover when we moved into a bigger house. SOMEDAY. Years from now. In a galaxy far far away.

And oddly enough, we did move into a slightly bigger domicile. All the while, he has held onto that promise like the promise of salvation itself.

So I did it. I said we’d have a sleepover, and we finally did. Somehow I survived it. My husband survived it. All children involved (only FOUR) survived it.

But here’s the key, and you’ll want to write this down.


If you want to avoid banshee-like behavior into the wee hours, you must wear these monkeys OUT. I mean, into the ground.


We went with the indoor ropes course idea–a plus for being both physically intense and crazy over-stimulating. They were all in sleeping bags at 11:00, shushing each other because they were so done.

Trapping them into the backyard trampoline for hours or setting them loose on some intense backyard Nerf wars would also work…maybe even manual labor like dragging logs across the back forty, even though you might catch it from a few softie helicopter parents.

Here’s another thought I’ll share, even though I don’t normally have any credible advice ever. TAKE AWAY THE ELECTRONICS AT BEDTIME.

At one sleepover, Will was kept up all night long by a smart-alack kid with a fart-noise app. So I say, just gather up all the devices before bed (I used the guise that I was “charging them”), and voila. Temptation gone. Unsavory YouTube videos eliminated. Fart noises silenced. Zzzzzzzz. You’re welcome.



I have to say, this sleepover wasn’t the worst. It actually gave my motherly heart pitter-pats of joy to see my kid flying down a zip line through a dazzling spray of water backlit with lasers like a rock star.

It felt good to give him that memory-making experience with his buddies. It felt good to step out of my comfort zone and live a little. And it felt good when everybody actually went to sleep.

Like, monumentally good.

Like, silently doing-the-Running-Man-in-my-living-room good.

Let’s face it, the SLEEP part is my very favorite (albeit elusive) part of the sleepover…maybe even my favorite part of parenting itself. Because it feels like VICTORY.

When the day is done, when we can check it off, when we can say we somehow prevailed all the way to the end, that feels like cause for celebration to me…and an excuse for some really bad dancing.

Like I needed one.





Dear Elementary School: A Break-Up Letter

Dear Elementary School,

I wish I knew how to quit you.

My baby girl’s last day to walk your dear sweet rainbow-colored halls is today.


I am not handling it well.

In fact, I couldn’t face seeing you today. I’m a puffy-eyed blubbering mess, sort of reminiscent of Tammy Faye Bakker at a full boil…just without the mascara. I didn’t even bother with makeup today. I knew it wouldn’t last.

My youngest child is being shoved from your cozy, construction paper-lined nest and forced to fly to MIDDLE SCHOOL next year…in FIFTH GRADE…at the ripe old age of NINE.

Don’t get me started, Elementary School. I know you agree it’s too soon, but it’s out of our hands here. Sure, we’d give anything to linger at least one more year in your loving arms, but we must soldier on — and away from you. Which kind of blows.

But before we go, I had to tell you how I feel.

I will miss you dearly, Elementary School.

I will miss your Technicolor playgrounds with all those sparkly sneakers stretching from your swing sets into the sky. As far as I can tell, the big kids have fields and basketball courts and a lot of loitering.


I will miss the little kids walking your halls single-file. There may be imps who dawdle and goof and do the occasional cartwheel, but there are no marauding bands of tweens here. I like that.


I will miss your bulletin boards with the bubble letters, the teachers’ smiley stickers on homework papers, your miles and miles of lamination.




I will miss your miniature desks and your miniature chairs and your miniature water fountains that will one day seem like a scene out of Munchkin Land to my grown-up kids.



I will miss your teachers. They have helped me raise my children so thoughtfully, so skillfully, so generously; I truly consider them friends now. (I mean, I barely know my middle schooler’s teachers’ names. It’s just different now.)


I will also miss how your teachers read stories out loud to our kids. One of my favorite things…

I will miss your never-ending cavalcade of plays, concerts, and assemblies. I won’t lie to you; they were long. Half the time, we couldn’t hear what anyone was saying. And those screechy renditions of Greensleeves on the recorder might have caused permanent hearing loss. But those were big days for our kids, and they gave us parents a chance to take pictures of our kids in ridiculous costumes and sniffle our way through the school song. We’ll miss that stuff. (Some of it.)


This is apparently a monster with many eyes or heads or something. Lucy is the monster in the rear, waving. (That is the most showmanship she has exhibited in her entire elementary school career, by the way.)

I will miss your bins of busted-up crayons and crusty glue sticks. You always had tools at the ready when inspiration struck and stick figures had to be drawn.


I will miss your little kid artwork all over the walls. (I’m a real sucker for those hand-prints.) Middle school art gets a little moody, crying-clownish. I like your happy handprints.


I know, I know. I’m getting a little sappy and morose. I get like that at the big moments — and this one feels huge to me.

My head tells me it’s time to move on, and I know eventually I will.

It won’t take long (less than three months, in fact) before you’ll start seeing other people (lots of them).

And in time, I’ll start to forget you, what you were like, the moments we shared together.

But Elementary School, I’ll never forget we had something really special for a while.

I know this much is true…I could never love another school the way I loved you.

Forever yours,


P.S. Okay, parents. What did I miss? What will you miss? And Godspeed to all of you in the parenting trenches this summer. It begins…

Birds, Bees and (for lack of a better word)…Coconuts

My little boy is getting the sex talk at school today.

Somebody get over here and HOLD ME.


He is today embarking on the fifth grade science unit about “human growth and development.” That means that today the light will dawn on all those weird words I was never enlightened enough to teach him. (I’m sorry, but most of those words are gross…except for Vas Deferens, which sounds kind of fancy. I much prefer the vagaries of “down there.”)


See what I mean??? Ugh.

Today he will watch that video (if he ever gets out from under his desk) with drawings of girls and boys “blossoming,” which boils down to getting hairy and growing “coconuts.” (That’s Will’s word. I swear I didn’t teach him that one.)

Today the shales will fall off his eyes and he will become acquainted with “sanitary napkins.”

Today my child will learn where babies come from, without any mention of storks or cabbage patches or God’s eternal mystery.


Today is the end of the innocence.

I knowwww, I’m painfully repressed. I own that. But let me play for you the full-length, unedited director’s cut of my mother telling me about the birds and the bees.

Mom: “There are Kotex under the sink when you need them.”

Me: “Um, okay.”


This is the same woman who left a box of KY Jelly wrapped in a paper towel on my nightstand on my wedding day. True story.

So yeah, I come by it honest.

But because so painfully little was said at my house, I know that it’s needed. And I do want things to be different with my own kids, so mom and dad are a safe place they can go with all their fears and questions and gross words (even though, let’s face it, my male child will likely never speak of these things again.)

I get it. I really do.

I’m just not quite ready for all that to be said TODAY.

I can’t remotely get a handle on how we got here this quick. I wish with all that is in me that I had ONE MORE YEAR. Just one.

I mean, he’s just a sweet little teeny-tiny eleven-year-old. See?


Clearly too young for this stuff.

I honestly think that by 6th grade, I’d admit, “Okay. It’s time.” And I’d be ready for a professional to handle this job for me, giving me time to prep for the questions he would never, ever ask me.

But that’s not what’s happening. We are here. Kicking and screaming or not, we’re here.

So today it’s time for game face. And for bear hugs for the traumatized kid about to walk through my door. For all the elevating words I can muster about “God’s design.” For a healthy dose of silliness and conspiratorial laughter, because seriously y’all, it is funny.

It’s time to face the music and be the mom I want to be — not some distant non-communicative shadow out of a John Hughes movie, but one who’s there, who gets it, who knows all the words and isn’t afraid to use them (if there is absolutely no other choice).

It’s time to show my kid a mom who loves him desperately — even with all his weird hairiness to come.

Little House in the Big City

Don’t hate us for being Beyoncé and Blue Ivy.

I didn’t want to even write about this, because it felt so First World privileged and braggy (which it totally is).

But yes, Virginia, there is an American Girl Doll store (actually, there are 20).

And yes, my girl and I spent four+ hours in one last month, ringing in her 9th birthday.


And ohhh yes, we dropped more coin on a silly doll and her bedazzled duds than I spend on my shabby chic wardrobe in a year (which is a sad sad commentary on the contents of my closet).


Yes, we sipped pink lemonade with our pinky fingers in the air and nibbled tea sandwiches with “Isabelle” perched upon her tiny pink throne.


(No, we did not experience the two-hour wait to get our doll’s hairs did. Lawd, lawwwd.)

But let me just own it right now: I loved every minute of it. And It was worth every red cent I could rub together.

Here’s why.

It was all so adorably INNOCENT. In a world of too-much-too-soon for girls where I’m constantly shielding Lucy’s eyes or clamping shut her ears, this place was a throw-back to when little girls could be little girls…not mini-Ke$sha’s-in-training.

In that girlie alternative universe, it was cool to clutch a doll in your arms and love it unabashedly. It was the thing to do to brush that doll’s hair til it gleamed, because it was precious to you. It was okay — better yet, it was enviable — to still be a little girl.


Everywhere in the air was this old-fashioned Little House on the Prairie feel — ummmm, except everything was pink and overpriced and nothing was whittled. (Ok, maybe not such an apt parallel…)

But in that place in that moment, it felt like pushing “pause.”

“Pause” on growing up. On boys. On Katy Perry. On not believing in Santa. On knowing all the bad words and how to use them. On outgrowing dolls…and maybe, one day, me.

Heaven knows, I would happily open my wallet up wide if I could buy myself some extra time with this little girl as a little girl.

I’m not sure it works that way, but oh man, I gave it the college try.

After hours of dawdling and foot-dragging, it was time to move on. The world awaited outside — and pretty much everyone in that world was in Times Square.

There we felt the wind brace our faces and the lights dazzle our eyes — and there the sight of Naked Cowboy’s Fruit-of-the-Loomed haunches greeted us with a taut smile. Nearby, we spotted two Naked Cowgirl friends sporting their most immodest painted-on pasties.

Ah, I remember now….this is the world we’d escaped for a few hours. I’d forgotten. Ick.

I was ready to spin on my heel and hurl myself through those revolving doors again — back into a world of make-believe and $300 horse-drawn carriages for dolls — and spend the night in a doll teepee.


Instead, we giggled and pretended not to look and kept on trucking. And like an OCD case study, Lucy kept brushing her doll’s hair to a high sheen.

I guess that’s the plan from here on. Keep laughing and keep moving past all that mess – to whatever the future holds – together.

Preferably in a very expensive horse-drawn carriage in matching ski outfits and hair extensions. You see, there’s a certain lifestyle to which we’ve grown accustomed…

The Middle Schooler and The Leaning Tower of Binders

I have a kid just starting middle school, so of course, my primary concern in all of life has become binders.

From the moment I got Will’s school supply list in the mail, I have been slavish to its every whim. I filled the cart with notebooks (spiral and non), packs of new pencils (colored and non – though we have a forest of them already), and a huge towering stack of binders.

In case you’re out of the school loop, these ringed wonders have apparently replaced the ancient relics we once knew as books.

They are also the black holes into which a boy’s daily shuffle of papers are sucked and never heard from again.

And let me assure you: there is a zero percent chance of all those gargantuan, pointy notebooks fitting into my 10-year-old’s backpack – at least on the days he wants to eat.

The lunchbox clearly has to go.

Look at that sad sad lunchbox. He wants to go too. But that nasty blue 2" binder -- he is the bully of all school supplies. I have zero tolerance for that blue binder.

Look at that sad sad lunchbox. He wants to go too. But that nasty blue 2″ binder — he is the bully of all school supplies. I have zero tolerance for that blue binder.

I’m pretty sure I’ve screwed this up somehow. (This is where my mind goes – of course). I probably didn’t get the right binders. Or the right number, the right size, the right style.

I have become obsessed with binder perfection – for them all to fit nice and neat, for the corners not to be too sharp, to get the kind the cool kids have, for the weight not to stoop his bird-like shoulders and doom him to a back-braced adolescence.

I want everything to be perfect.

(Ummm, hold on, are we still talking about binders?)

There just might be bigger issues at work under this shiny Trapper Keeper surface – like how I know (and he doesn’t yet) that middle school is hard, and I’m scared for him.

Kindergarten was supposedly the ultimate childhood transition – and it is. But it’s also the sweetest, cuddliest teddy bear of a place to send one’s beloved babies.

Middle school is a different animal – a much gnarlier one. I vividly remember it sucking. I remember looking the dorkiest I’ve ever looked. I remember sticking out and not being cool and doing things all gangly and wrong.

Exhibit A : Sexy middle school nightgown selfie.

Exhibit A : Sexy middle school nightgown selfie.

So if I could just get the binders right for him, maybe all of this humiliation could be avoided.

That’s how a mom thinks anyway.

We know it doesn’t work really that way. Somewhere inside we know.

But still we try to fix the things we can – by sending our children off with just the right stuff, or the cutest back-to-school ensemble, or something (anything) that says Hollister on it – knowing that all the rest of it is utterly, miserably beyond our control.

Most of it’s even beyond our knowing about (like when you have a male child whose standard answer is “not much” to the “What’d you do today” question).

So my kid will come home from middle school each day, and I will ask about his day. He won’t tell me a fat lot.

I will then dig through that towering pile of binders and search for clues. (Gotta make that investment work for me somehow…)

Because this is a whole new journey we’re embarking on – him with the ten pounds of supplies strapped to his tiny back, me with the shoulders heaped with motherly concern watching him go.

Y'all, look at how TINY he is next to the rest of these kids. (He's the tiny one with the red bulging backpack.) I'm pretty sure this is the college bus. And LOOK, the kid behind mine can't fit in his lunchbox either. See??

Y’all, look at how TINY he is next to the rest of these kids. (He’s the tiny one with the red bulging backpack.) I’m pretty sure this is the college bus. And LOOK, the kid behind mine can’t fit in his lunchbox either. See??

What I’m sending him off with may not be perfect, it may not fit quite right, it may not be the coolest ever.

But all the love and prayers I’ve crammed into the square inches that remain ought to count for something…maybe almost everything.

But yeah, I did keep the receipt on those binders.

Just in case.




Frankly, My Dear, I Can’t Watch Any More Cartoon Network

I just showed my kids all three hours and 53 minutes of Gone with the Wind.


All the other pictures appearing in this blog are blurry snapshots of my TV. Only the best for you…

I may have jumped the cultural gun a bit (they’re only 8 and 10), but it was a rainy Saturday. I’d finished my bi-monthly dusting (translation: every other month). And I was feeling like a good long cinematic hunker-down.

After all the Cartoon Network crap they’ve gorged on this summer, I felt we could all use a nice Oscar-winning palate cleanser — all the while getting these New Englandy children in touch with their tea-sippin’ Southern roots.

Guess I sort of glossed over in my mind all the adultery, slavery, warring, amputations, dying children and ponies, and general suffering that is Gone with the Wind.

There ain’t a song and dance number anywhere to be found on the red earth of Tara. About twenty tragedies in, Lucy asked with great Disney-inspired hope, “Is there at least a happy ending?”

No way, sister. Just sit back and enjoy the soul-crushing ride.

They did. Mainly because if there’s a screen playing something, anything, even a commercial with two people sitting in bathtubs on a hilltop – my children will watch enraptured.

Oh, and I also provided popcorn and Sour Patch Kids.

But this wasn’t exactly a quiet ride. There were many questions to be asked. Oh my sweet Lord, so MANY MANY questions.

Will fired the first shot: “Why were women’s butts so big back then?”

You could serve mint juleps off that shelf.

A. It’s called a bustle. And you could serve mint juleps off that shelf.

Questions continued in rapid-fire succession. And they were really, really annoying.

  • Q: What is she eating?
The only radish left in the entire burning South.

A. The only radish left in the entire burning South.

  •  Q. Why is she eating that? Why is she falling down?
Umm, she’s starving or whatever.

A. Umm, she’s starving or whatever.

  • Q. What’s wrong with that horse’s mouth?
A. It’s turning into glue. Geez, Will, it’s thirsty, it’s been walking a hundred miles or so without stopping. Just hush and watch the stupid movie.

A. He’s turning into glue, Will. Geez, he’s thirsty. He’s only been walking for days without stopping. Just hush and watch the stupid movie.

  • Why does Scarlett hit people so much?
A. Oh, something to do with Irishness, maybe? Is that racist?

A. Oh, something to do with Irishness, maybe? Is that racist?

A: She bites too.

(She bites too.)

  • “Why are rich people so lazy and make other people do their work for them?” Also, “Why is that little girl fanning those girls with peacock feathers?”
Shhh! No time for an analysis of the class system or the history of slavery…Scarlett’s about to hit somebody.

A. Shhh! No time to analyze the culture of slavery and the plantation system of the Antebellum South…Scarlett’s about to hit somebody.

Then there were observations that deeply disturbed me as a Southerner, like:

  • “I thought the Union soldiers were the good guys.”
A. Clearly, you are the product of Connecticut public school indoctrination.

Clearly, my child, you are the product of Connecticut public school indoctrination.

And of course, there are always those pesky, uncomfortable “adult situations.” Like when a drunken Rhett whisks Scarlett upstairs to, ahem, have his way with her.

  • “What is he doing with her?”
A. Ummm, raping her? Oh, I mean, tucking her into bed?

A. Ummm, tucking her into bed?

Thankfully no one asked why she was so weirdly cheerful the next day.

Thankfully no one asked why she was so weirdly cheerful the next day.

Maybe they were too young to get Gone with the Wind. Okay, not maybe…probably.

But it was worth it. And seriously, we’ve been good so long.

As doting parents, we’ve slogged through a decade of loopy Baby Einstein videos and happy clappy puppets and god-awful Lego Ninjago cartoons – and we just want to watch Seinfeld already.

We want to share with our kids the things we love. And oh, how we love Seinfeld.

Sometimes our well-meaning attempts to share turn out just like we’d imagined. It thrills my dorky heart to hear my children bellow at each other, “Inconceivable!”

I do not think that word means what you think it means.

I do not think that word means what you think it means.

But sometimes it leads us to do fool things like cue up Grease for family movie night (or fill in the blank with any PG movie from the ‘80s that we remembered as perfectly harmless) before we realize exactly what they’re singing about while waxing that car and we lunge for the eject button.

We’re just in a weird cultural limbo. The kids aren’t yet teenagers (amen to that), but no longer babies. So with varying levels of success, we start introducing them to E.T. and Duran Duran and Hitchcock movies a little bit at a time – and sometimes to all of The Avengers at once (because Mom had book club and Dad was in charge).

Because honestly, it’s one of the fun privileges of parenting. We get to fill our kids up with the stuff that we love in the hopes that they’ll love it too. And I want my kids to love Rhett Butler. (They aren’t convinced. But tomorrow is another day.)

They definitely love Kramer. And one day, I’m sure they’ll love Danny and Sandy.

But not quite yet.

I’m not even near ready for all the questions about that skin-tight catsuit.


Moving on to facial hair

The monocle represents the height of manhood.

The monocle represents the height of manhood.

I did face-painting at my kids’ school yesterday — the sweetest gig in all of Fun Day.

For my troubles, I got a tent in the shade, a comfy plastic chair, and little to no banshee screaming.

My hottest request of the day was for the handlebar mustache and monocle. I’m not sure how kids even know what a monocle is, but man, did they want one.

Perhaps it’s some newfound desire to look older and more sophisticated, to rise above the little-kid realms where cheeks are adorned with lame-o butterflies and rainbows.

We’re getting past all that, I guess. We’re moving on to facial hair.

And more than that, we’re moving on to middle school.

My oldest, Will, is “graduating” from elementary school tomorrow.

On the face of it, moving from 4th grade to 5th isn’t that cool of a milestone.

I mean, it’s no testament to Will’s strength of character that he survived the mean streets of elementary school and learned his times tables.

But this kind of transition is just teeming with heightened nostalgia for saps like me who feed on this stuff.

Every event of spring has been met with the opening line, “Awwww, Will, this’ll be your last Author’s Tea!” or “This is your last class party!” or “This is the last time you’ll ever sing ‘Be All You Can Be!’” (the school song with the fist-pumping hand gestures and the self-esteem tropes that gets me every time).

To which, Will yawns.

Whatever. The kid’s moving on.

It’s gonna take me a little longer.

Which brings me back to face-painting – and the prize awarded for the weirdest request of the day.

I was taking a picture of the painted dragon wrapped around my daughter Lucy’s arm (which she soon wished was a mustache) when I noticed a little bitty third-grader in the background.

On each of her toothpick arms was painted nothing less than a nunchuck.

This was what she wanted.

This sweet little 3rd grader wanted big awesome nunchuck skills.

I’m kicking myself from here to yonder that I didn’t take a picture to show you, because you would die laughing.

These kids are growing up. They’re arming themselves for the future.

Just give ‘em a five o’clock shadow and some nunchucks, and look at that…they’re ready to take on the world.