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.



It Gets Easier: The Vacation-with-Kids Version

Back when the kids were small, let’s face it: “Vacation” was anything but.

“Vacation” with kids could even feel infinitely harder than normal life — with cranky babies on board, gear strapped so high onto the roof we could barely squeeze under bridges, and us nowhere near a washing machine or a working toilet when we needed one. Which was all the time.

But I am here to testify, now that our kids are 10 and 12, a real-live picture-perfect vacay is actually possible. I know because I just lived it.

IMG_3514 (1)

I mean, seriously, would you look at all those TEETH?


Throughout our trip, my husband and I would find ourselves nudging each other (at least a million times a day) at the sight of other parents muscling through “vacation” with little kids. Each one wore a different version of the same sweaty pained expression.

We’d exchange knowing glances and pitying remarks like “GAWD, do you remember those days??”

We’d laugh conspiratorially at the memory of our own baby vacay trials, then look over at our relatively self-sufficient tweens climbing oceanside rocks without need of us or a Baby Bjørn. And we’d smile.


We felt a little guilty about how good it felt, but OH HOW WE SMILED.

Parents of wee ones still wetting themselves, chafing from seaside diaper rash, and requiring five wardrobe changes a day, we feel ya.

Oh sweet delirious well-meaning moms and dads, we see you on the side of I-95 with your toddler crouching to poop in that awful little pot of dysentery you have to tote in the back of the van.

We see you unsuccessfully applying sunscreen to the squealing greased pig that is your child.

We see your kid’s swim diaper so full it’s dragging below knee-level. (And we also see the future…how it’s about to crumble into a pile of crystalized urine diamonds on the carpeted floor of the motel.)

We see your baby eating fistfuls of sand, sobbing about what a dumb decision that was, then inexplicably doing it over and over and over again.

We see you at the candy store with the enraged toddler who cannot fathom why every single gummi worm, bear, egg, and shark cannot be his to cherish and get sick upon.

We see you manhandling that umbrella stroller with a small but freakishly heavy child strapped inside, hoisting it over subway turnstiles, up multiple flights of rocky stairs at the national park, and amongst throngs of sweaty people at the amusement park. Those folks don’t much enjoy having their ankles clunked by its tiny wheels, but you press on.

We, of course, don’t see you back at your room later, but we know what goes on there at this station in life. And no, it does not involve late nights watching free HBO.

We know you’re being forced into an 8:00 bedtime by a tyrannical toddler in a Pack & Play who requires dim lighting, whispering, and absolutely no channel flipping. We also know that the despot will wake up mad at regular intervals, thanks to the slamming doors of neighbors who have the nerve to arrive home slightly after dark.


In this very room, Lucy screamed the words, “MOMMY, STOP HURTING ME!!” at the top of her lungs as I changed her rashy diaper. The windows were open.

We see you. We feel you. We know your pain, because we once were you.

But here’s the good news: We’re not you anymore.  And you won’t be you forever. 

Vacation with kids really, honestly and truly, does get easier.

One day, those babies will grow into relatively reasonable human beings who can enjoy outings longer than 45 minutes and tie their own shoes. (Until the kids become teenagers. Then I’ve heard they make you suffer long and hard for making them go places with you and look out the window occasionally.)

So parents of the toddler set, let’s just consider this period of life your Vacation Initiation. For a season, you must endure all kinds of feats of strength, endurance, and exhaustion for the sake of a few fleeting moments of vacation adorableness and wonder. (And believe me, you will cling to those moments for years).

But take heart: In a few years, when you’ve passed all the tests without fainting or dying or becoming an alcoholic, you’ll be full-fledged card-carrying members of the sisterhood (and/or brotherhood)!

You’ll be able to leave behind those slings, car seats, and the pointless swimmies of the pledge years behind, sport your letters proudly, and vacation like a boss. Or better yet, like a Brady (until you find a tiki doll washed up on the shore, then all bets are off).

When that day comes, you will have earned yourself a pound of maple nut fudge and the best commemorative T-shirt money can buy in all of North Myrtle Beach.

That, and another vacation.






The End of the Summer Stare-Down

My dog stares at me. All the time.

Without a sound. Without playful pants-leg tugging. WITHOUT CEASING.

She just stares in dead silence — like one of those psychics who can bend spoons with her mind. She’s sweet and all, but I figure this animal’s either trying to mystically transport a leash into my hand or set me on fire. I can’t be sure.


Can you see the pressure I’m under here?


During this particular stare-down, I’m trying to eat breakfast. I can only assume she wants me to fling my bowl of Frosted Mini Wheats across the room in a fit of rage so she can lick up her share.


Here I’m trying to kick back on the screened-in porch. Ah, but there will be no escape from THE STARE. She will not be denied.


I can feel her eyes drilling into mine while I wash dishes: THERE ARE CHIPMUNKS. RELEASE MEEEEE. 

When she hasn’t retired to someone else’s bed, this dog is standing on all fours, waiting, wishing, staring. Boring holes into me with her burning expectation and palpable disappointment. It’s kind of her thing.

Oddly enough, it’s pretty much the same thing my kids do to me all summer long. They too have perfected the LONG PLEADING STARE.


“Can I go on Video Star and make a music video about our staring dog?” LONG PLEADING STARE. BATTED EYELASHES.

“Can we go to ____ today (fill in the blank with some ungodly expensive water park/aquarium/someplace I would never want to go in a million years)?” LONG PLEADING STARE.

“Can we watch ‘Teen Titans Go’ all morning long til our retinas are burned to a crisp?” LONG PLEADING STARE. (It’s far too early in the a.m. for this conversation, but through slitty eyes, I assume my children look a lot like this):


There’s been A LOT of staring this summer.

I get tired of being the bad guy so I’ve crumbled under the stare-downs more times than I care to admit. On perfectly lovely summer days, my children have watched too much of everything. (In fact, they’re doing that now so I can write about it.)

But sometimes on my stronger days, I return the stare-down with a good ol’ fashioned garbage can to lug out. Or a leash to walk that relentless dog. Or heaven forbid, a summer math packet. That’ll learn ’em.

Here’s the stare I get then.


Summer is a blessing and a curse. There’s easy laziness one minute, dead-eyed boredom the next.

There’s happy-happy family time one minute, followed by “stop-touching-me-I-hate-you-I’m-telling-Mom-you-said-Shut-Up” the next.

And while we’ve taken a nice little sabbatical from schoolbooks, there are still plenty of dirty looks to go around. They’re just not coming from teacher. They’re coming from MOM.

I can stare too, you know.

I’m much sadder than usual to see summer end, to tell you the truth. Both kiddos are inexplicably bound for middle school, which traumatizes me.

But I still have man’s best friend to keep our little tradition of doleful disappointed staring alive until next summer.

A comforting thought indeed.


Hap-hap-happy back-to-school everyone!

Get Me into that Stinkin’ Fresh Air

Don’t be confused.

The minute I get one of those Patagonia catalogs with somebody striking a yoga pose atop Machu Picchu, I don’t think twice. I don’t flip through the pages longingly. I don’t even hesitate.

I toss it straight in the trash without a backwards glance at their wide array of sports bras.

My soul does not yearn for adventure. Or exertion. Or tick-borne illnesses. Or going more than 24 hours without God’s gift of showering.

But I just spent the weekend in a tent with my family.


And you know what? I just might do it again.

Oddly enough, all that fresh air and togetherness (I can’t believe I’m saying this) was GOOD FOR US.


Unless these berries we found and consumed were poisonous.

The only screen was the fire, which everyone stared at like it was Facebook.

The only chores were the half-assed kind of dishwashing that happens with cold water and our new laissez-faire camping attitude.


Doing “laundry.”

The only to-do items involved very little adult participation, such as capturing every imaginable species of moth that gravitated toward our lantern and/or the bathroom stalls or creating a mud puddle island retreat for a new lizard friend.


That thing was about as big as her head.


Here’s the island getaway we’re all dreaming of.


And the red lizard that’s in PTSD counseling after our visit.

It wasn’t Norman Rockwell idyllic. Nothing ever is, really. There was a lot of swearing and snapping as my husband and I fumbled to recall how the heck to pitch this god-forsaken tent. IN THE DARK.


This is the take-down. A much more well-lit and cordial affair.

There was feverish swatting at whatever Deep Woods Off wouldn’t ward off.


There was zero sleep when our nightmare-plagued girl shoehorned her way onto our narrow, sinking air mattress. (We do NOT sleep on the ground, people. What are we, savages??)

There was a huge bug bite on my husband’s arm that got all swollen and angry, much like the spider with bloody fangs that caused it while attempting to kill us in our sleep.

Then there was the time I grabbed at a teetering lantern and burned my fingertips to a bacony crisp. (This was essentially my first act of camping — eradicating my fingerprints.)


Not to mention the near-death experience of trying to inflate these stupid rafts.

But I am choosing to look at it this way: Just as the nacho chip is the ho-hum vehicle for enjoying the awesomeness of queso, the tent shall be our cheap vehicle for finding awesomeness together.


This weekend, that tent was our cleanliness-challenged jumping off point for seeing the Berkshires (where I’d never been), taking in a whole bunch of Van Goghs at a fancy-pants art museum (in a greasy ponytail not quite in keeping with the Lilly Pulitzer vibe), and then consuming a platter full of random meaty deliciousness at our very first Colombian restaurant.

Not half bad for life from a tent.

I have to say, we just do better out there.


In our house, the husband and I are on task. We have things to do. We get distracted and crabby and want to be left alone to our projects or our solitude or our 374th viewing of A Few Good Men on TBS. We growl and shoo the kids off to a screen of their own.

But out there, even if we’re in a tent, we’re together on purpose. We have plans. We are lighter in our spirit. We may be cheap (hence the tent), but we’re up for stuff.

And I cannot stress to you what a miracle this is…

Out there, from that tent, our children played together:

a) OUTSIDE, and


These baby vampires — who shriek at the very suggestion that THEY SHOULD GO OUTSIDE AND PLAY — spent hours collecting a plastic container full of weird swamp monster newts then throwing a “party” for them in a shady spot by the lake.


This was just the beginning. That little container soon was teeming with what I lovingly referred to as “the screaming eels.”


But awwwwwww.

Anybody want second helpings of that? Yes, please.

If it takes a tent for us all to get outside of this house and outside of ourselves, consider me draped in nylon and bug spray and halfway out the door.

Together — our fists full of tent stakes, our hair slick with sheen, our hearts swelling with adventure — we will go out and see the world.


Mosquitos and Lyme Disease and body odor be damned.

68 Days of Summer…and ONE in Every Crowd

Stretching before us are 68 days of summer vacation. SIXTY EIGHT. That is many many days, my friends. And let me warn you right now: there will be ONE. In every family, on every road trip, on every outing of perfectly planned frivolity:

There will be one who sulks.

There will be one who never stops talking.

There will be one who wants to do EVERYTHING.


There will be one who wants to do NOTHING.


I’m not naming any names…

There will be one who won’t quit begging for snacks.

There will be one who asks a zillion questions about what we’re doing next…what we’re gonna do there…when exactly we’re going hoooome.

There will be one who doesn’t like hot dogs.

There will be one who doesn’t want his face getting wet.

There will be one who straggles behind.


There will be one who is bored.

There will be one whose bladder is always bursting.

There will be one who hates this movie that everyone else loves.

There will be one who gets carsick.

There will be one who needlessly pokes at his siblings in the backseat.

There will be one who spills her Slurpee into the seat cushions.

There will be one who refuses to sleep in a tent, use a porta-potty, wear the swimmies…you fill in the blank.

There will be one who wants to stay in the pool when everyone else wants to go to the ocean.

There will be one who wants to go to the ocean when everyone else wants to stay in the pool.

There will be one is eternally hangry.

There will be one who forgets the single most importantest thing ever back home (be they flip flops, sand digger, or the can’t-live-without techno-gadet of the moment.)

There will be one who is cold.

There will be one who is hot.

There will always be ONE in every crowd.

As we throw ourselves headlong into summer, I would be wise to remember this simple truth. There will always be ONE.

It’s as inevitable as the summer buzz of mosquitos. Yes, mosquitos are annoying as fire, but when they come, somehow we are not shocked and undone by this news. We mildly swat at them. We light citronella candles that don’t work. We stock up on Deet and Skin-So-Soft and try to ward them off as best we can.

But we know: the mosquitos will always be among us. We don’t get all huffy about it, but we try to endure them and make the best of our shared airspace anyways.

Our kids are not mosquitos. They are dear sweet precious gifts from heaven above, but they do have their moments. (Some more than others.)

And at any given moment, there always seems to be someone buzzing with unhappiness when everyone else is just peachy.

I say: Whatevs.

Press on.

Throw that kid a granola bar and your best fake smile and crank up the radio.

We are together.

We are making some happy freaking memories.

We will enjoy the view anyway…dive in the water anyway…hike to the top anyway…check out that cute shop anyway. Because everybody else wants to and we are PRESSING THE HECK ON.


(I am preaching to myself more than I’m preaching to you, because I know myself and my sky-high expectations. I am never quite prepared for THE ONE who is intent on ruining the picture-perfect slide show in my head by being hungry, cranky, loud, whiney, injured, bored, whatever.)

But it’s just not possible for everyone to be PSYCHED all the time, to like all the same things, to love everything I suggest. This summer, I will resolve not to take it personally, to not to get all naggy and ranty and pouty when THE ONE shows up.

We will press on, knowing that eventually THE ONE will get with the program. Get a protein fix. Catch up. Get caught smiling. Make fun memories in spite of himself. It’ll be worth it.


And at summer’s end, after we have soldiered our way through all 68 days of family fun, I will be rewarded with a camera full of sunny memories — and yes, a hard-earned backpack full of school supplies.

So let’s go out and make some memories — even if THE ONE shows up.

Even if it kills us.

Carpe Beach’m: My Quest for the Perfect Puntastic Beach House Name

Some people collect shells at the beach. (Yawn.)

I collect really dumb beach house names.

Exhibit A:

I Luv View

I have quite a Beach House Hall of Fame going now – from the fun-to-say “Whale Rested” to the dated cultural reference “Farfrumwerken” – each name treasured for its breezy goofiness, clever punmanship, or that most highly sought-after quality of all, sheer stupidity. Try this one on for size:


I’m not making this up. it’s just THAT bad.

But the dork in me loves that there is thought and love and ridiculousness in every pun-filled morsel.

And I love that someone paid good money for a sign to hang on their multi-million dollar home that says, “Scooby Dune.”

You can go in a myriad of mind-bending pun directions with a beach house name, most of which lead straight to the sea (usually because “sea” rhymes really well with stuff):


And there’s always something fun to be done with “dune.” (And by fun, I mean AWESOME.)

Other "dune" also-rans: Dune R Thing,  Just Dune It

Other “dune” also-rans: Dune R Thing, Just Dune It

The bounteous wildlife of the sea is all but bursting forth with pun possibilities:

Also would have accepted: One Good Tern, All Conched Out

Also would have accepted: One Good Tern, All Conched Out

And always and evermore, there’s the “shore.”


Shorely you jest.

Personally, I’m sucker for a good pop-culture pun, and this one ranks as maybe my favorite of all time:

And another pop-culture favorite with the kiddies: Looney Dunes.

And a favorite with the kiddies: Looney Dunes.

Sure, you could get all Downton Abbey and name your beach house something dignified like “Windswept” – as if it stands on the White Cliffs of Dover and not on stilts.

But as for me and my nonexistent beach house, I choose:


Unexpected. Imbued with a sense of togetherness. A timeless reference to John Hughes. Grand champion in my book.

Ah, smell that salt air? Wanna get “A Wave From It All” right from your arm chair?

My friends, the sea beckons you to share your favorite beach house names with me.

I will treasure these tacky postcards as cherished souvenirs of our vacations past.

They will live on as…(God forgive me)… our “legasea.”


My Own Private S.S. Minnow

I’m Throwing Back Thursday in my own way — dusting off some columns I’ve written in ages past and putting them back into circulation again. This one originally appeared in the Lyme Times on July 10, 2010 – long before my children actually started binge-watching Gilligan’s Island and could get the joke. 

Summer clunkin' 2011

Summer clunkin’ 2011

You picked a fine time to leave me, Ma Bell.

It’s the dead calm of summer.

Nobody’s around except my two kids who do little more than shadow me with expectant looks and requests for snacks.

And of all my lonely and desperate hours, this is the time our phone line decided to go on the fritz.

I won’t bore you with the details, but basically, talking on the phone sounds like I’m inside the microwave with Orville Redenbacher. What’s worse, this crackling mess is blocking my main escape hatch — e-mail and the World Wide Time Suck.

The phrase “trapped on a desert island” has now become part of my daily parlance.

Life here is starting to look a lot like Gilligan’s Island, and I’m the Professor.

Now, I’m sure you were all thinking I’d be Ginger. That is soooo sweet of you, but I don’t own a single scrap of gold lamé, and Ginger would never be caught dead in a skirted swimsuit and a farmer’s tan.

No, I’m the castaway in charge.

I’m the guy this ridiculous cast of characters waits around on to engineer a new means of escape every day, plans that involve initiative and occasionally monkeys and never seem to work very well. And like that guy, I tend to wear a hunted expression that all but pleads, “Help me. I’m surrounded by lunatics and head-hunters.”


I can’t make up my mind exactly which parts my kids are playing as the scene is always changing.

Sometimes they’re Thurston and Lovey – a pampered pair who were quite sure their three-hour tour was going to be way more fun than this, who expect daily ice cream from the passing truck (only to have their hopes dashed), who need a full-time travel agent to entertain their every summer whim.

But more often than not, they’re bumbling buddies trapped in a love-hate state of mutual annoyance –Will as the cranky Skipper and Lucy as the goofy Gilligan.

There’s the constant background noise of growling and groaning and clunkings over the head, followed by complaints lodged with the Professor over what irritating things Gilligan has done or said now.


But some days, Lucy’s our Mary Ann, all sunny contentment and bouncy pony-tail, wearied by the grumpiness on this stupid island.

And then there’s my husband, Bill, who’s one of the random guest-stars who would just magically show up – a Harlem Globetrotter of sorts.

He flits in and out, making nice friendly appearances to keep things interesting. Then he inexplicably gets to return to civilization every day – while here we sit, still stuck with a hole in our boat with no new ideas and no place to go. Being a Globetrotter is good.

Desert island living definitely has its merits.


The pace is easy. You don’t have to be anywhere on time. You can wear the same capri pants every day and nobody knows the difference.

Sometimes there’s even time to kick back with a coconut drink – as long as you can tune out the ruckus of Gilligan and the Skipper squabbling their way out of that wretched hammock again.