Not much to fault in this movie





I saw the following story on my Twitter feed while I was waiting for the movie The Fault in Our Stars to begin.  When I think I’ve had a rotten week, I shall think of the zookeeper who was shot with a tranquilizer dart meant for a 400 pound gorilla. It was an “escaped animal alert” practice drill at a zoo in Spain that went horribly wrong. The Internet said there was supposed to be a guy in a gorilla suit, but like everything else on the Internet, it was exaggerated and untrue. My shout of laughter made heads turn my way – maybe I shouldn’t be laughing before a movie that I know will be full of tears?


I always forget how loud the volume is inside a movie theater. Are movie theater owners afraid we have all gone stone deaf?


The ads have started. My favorite ad today is the RunPee app, which will let you know when you can leave the theater to use the bathroom without missing crucial bits of the movie’s storyline. Really? This is an app? I haven’t laughed so hard since I read the “zookeeper tranquilizer dart” story. Now everyone in this theater is staring my way.


The best part of this movie is the committed audience, full of people who had read John Green’s book cover to cover. Most came armed with Kleenex, ready for the heart wrenching scenes between teens who have cancer. The talented actors speak their lines convincingly. I’ve never been in such a silent theater, with no one texting or chattering comments to their friends. Nose-blowing and sniffs were the only sounds. The audience hung on every word.


Two warnings – take twice as much Kleenex as you think you might need. The woman sitting next to me forgot to bring any, and I wound up sharing most of my tissues with her. Also, there are at least two episodes of Very Bad Words in this movie. The words probably won’t shock your teens, who probably have heard worse on the schoolbus, but I was surprised they were included in the movie, which has a PG-13 rating.


Verdict: great movie, well worth the price of the ticket. I can’t wait to read the book again, and then watch the movie again. What did you think of it?


Contractor “windows of time” can be a real pain


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Every house move has its glitches. I waited at Mom’s new place for four hours today, waiting for the refrigerator installation team to show up. If I were four hours late for a deadline at work, I’m pretty sure my boss would have some choice words to say. But contractors have a “window” of time during which we have to wait. And wait. And wait. It’s a big window, and a total pain.

It was also Moving Van Day (part 1), and they’d already rescheduled the delivery date twice. I was in no mood to wait, wait, and wait some more. So of course there was heavy rain during the drive home.

When my son asked if he could play in the rain, my first instinct was, “No! We’ll get wet. We have to be at our next appointment in less than an hour.” But then I thought, “Why not? Why the heck not?”

And we got out of the car and had a puddle fight and he splashed me good several times and our hair got wet and our clothes were soaked and we tracked puddles into the kitchen.

And it turned out to be a very, very good day.

P.S. We were a little late for our appointment. It was worth it. When was the last time you played in the summer rain?

Weaving a Bad Word tapestry




I grew up around Marines, who probably learned their cuss words from my father. There was no 24-hour period of my life where I didn’t hear at least one Bad Word salted throughout conversation. Dad could string together a tapestry of curses, rich and deep and thick. I learned well. I can curse in several languages, and before I married and had kids, I was a weaver of tapestries, just like Dad.

But then I had kids. Because I wanted my kids to grow up entirely differently from me, I do not curse around my children. We don’t even say the mild version of these words. We refer to them by letter. For example:

D = darn it

F = fart

H = heck

S = stupid or shut up

I remember my daughter whispering in shock, “Mom! She said the S word!” after overhearing other kids yelling at each other in a grocery store.

So you can imagine my chagrin when I used a Bad Word while driving with my son in the car in heavy traffic last week. When my son gasped, I knew I’d blown it big. In my defense, the other driver cut me off in the intersection. Dad-blamed consarned bleeping bleep bad drivers.

I’m human. So sue me. S = Sue.

Have you ever said something in front of your kids that made you writhe in embarrassment later?

She turned out OK in spite of me. Or to spite me.


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How is it that our children can drive us to the brink of crazy and beyond?

When teachers and bosses tell me my daughter is smart, capable and responsible, my first impulse is to say, “Are you talking about my kid?”

She knows how to push all my buttons and get on my last nerve. But I have no one to blame but myself.

My daughter was born two weeks early. I think that was the last time she was early for anything. Our conversations were emphatic “Me do! Me do!” from her. Most of our conversations have been along the same lines ever since.

I spend lots of time asking her opinion, asking how her day went, asking for any information at all. She spends a lot of time stonewalling, giving me blank face, and giving me one-word answers.

“Yes. No. IDK.”

(IDK is teen-speak for I Don’t Know.)

She gave me a great present this Mother’s Day. Henry VIII and his six wives are on a mug. When you fill the mug with hot liquid, the wives disappear.

It’s the perfect gift for me — history and tea. She understands me far better than I understand her. It’s always been this way. Her personality and my parenting style are complete opposites. I have never met someone who is more passive aggressive than she is.

She has never met anyone more enthusiastic and energetic than I am. She is Garfield to my Odie, Grumpy Cat to my eager frisky puppy.

Our personalities are a recipe for disaster.

Our epic showdown came when she was 2 years old. She wanted to open the new box of Kix cereal. I told her no.

When I returned from the laundry room, the entire floor was covered in snowy mounds of little round cereal bits. For the next two hours, I forced her little chubby hand to pick up each and every piece of Kix and put it back in the box. She gave me the evil death glare all afternoon, and I gave it right back to her.

I “won” because I was bigger. But was it really winning?

I figured that if you weren’t the boss of them when they were toddlers, you sure weren’t going to win the battle when they become teens. I didn’t see what a bad job I was doing as a parent. It’s only in retrospect that I realized that there are better ways to parent this child than to be right all the time.

When my daughter was still in elementary school, there were 13 girls in her Girl Scout troop. I came up with a brilliant-beyond-brilliant plan to deal with my eye-rolling child.

Children would switch houses each week. Kids always behave better for other people, as everyone knows. You’d get 12 weeks of good behavior from other people’s kids.

Strangely, not one other parent in the Girl Scout troop took me seriously.

I am not alone in my parenting frustration.

A dad at my church grinds his teeth every time he mentions his son. For the record, his son behaves great for me — I have absolutely no problem with him. He’s motivated and highly intelligent. I suggested my “Child a Week” swap idea. The dad loved the idea; his mom, not so much.

I know my daughter loves me. I love her right back. But thank God her younger brother doesn’t have her personality.

I can’t go through this again.

Looking for the Camelopardalids meteor shower has given me a giraffe-like neck





I stand outside, neck craning upward. Try as I might, I see no shooting meteor tails. I see no camelopardalids shower in the sky above me. I hope you saw it. Here’s the NASA link:


What I do see: a satellite gleaming at me steadily. Fringes of pine trees. The edge of my roof limned in the faint glow of the city lights. I hear the frogs, louder than the rush of the creek across the street.


My father would have stood endlessly, patiently this night, with his neck crooked up at an angle. He would have set up his telescope days in advance. He would have told us about where these meteors came from, where they are headed, how long it will be before we see another shower like it again. Maybe he would have quoted Carl Sagan.


All I can do is look up at the stars, think about how much my neck now looks like a giraffe’s, and mentally compose sentences. Sometimes, this is enough.

Cutting off the Nintendo: a revolutionary idea





We went to Colonial Williamsburg, Va. for a short trip. My boy was not happy. He moaned and groaned all the way up in the car. He sighed with despair that he would have to be separated from his Nintendo hand-held for a whole day. He moped.


But Williamsburg has a sneaky little trick up its sleeve. Kids – and slightly taller, older kids, like me – can become “spies for a day.” You go through the city contacting secret agents contacts and decoding messages to help the rebel colonists fight the British. Gamers are identified throughout the city with purple ribbons. Not every tourist or townsperson was a participant, and you had to be careful not to reveal information to the wrong person. Double agents really existed two hundred years ago, and they do in this game too.


My son and I helped save the young country and we learned a lot about history, all in one exciting dose. He participated in a real-life adventure. He didn’t even miss his  Nintendo.


If you go: Rev Quest: The Old Enemy is free with a ticket to Colonial  Williamsburg through the end of November 2014. The game is at just the right level of difficulty for younger kids (8+) with adult assistance. When you pick up your ticket at the front desk, mention the RevQuest game and the staff will give you everything you need to get started. You will need a cellphone to play this game.

Closing on a house, opening a new chapter





I’ve been absent from my writing too long, and I’ve missed it. My mom, after a decade of my persistent persuasion – my husband calls it nagging – finally decided to move to our city. I am not deluding myself that she’s moving to be closer to me. I know better. It’s all about the grandchildren.

When that woman makes up her mind to do something, she doesn’t mess around. We spent less than a week considering and visiting counties, cities, houses, and condos. In a blink, she made an offer on a house.

Then she returned to Florida, leaving me with the legal authority to sign all the papers and all of the responsibilities too. As a result, I’ve been busy with home inspectors, realtors, and contractors of all kinds. I’m shopping for appliances, furniture, and everything else you need for a house.

I’m excited that my mother will be present for all our little day to day milestones – school concerts, plays, and lost teeth. Next year, I’ll get to spend Mother’s Day with my mom. I’m really looking forward to that. I’m happy she won’t be so far away. Since my father died a year ago, she’s been on her own, and I worry about her – a lot.

At the same time, I’m a little nervous. I haven’t lived in the same town as my parents since I was 17. It will be odd, knowing that my mom will see my life on a day-to-day basis, just as it was when I was growing up.

We close on the house in two weeks. A new chapter is opening in our lives. Hopefully I’ll still have time to write.

Presenting your child’s teacher with thanks





The end of the school year is approaching on galloping hooves, like a Kentucky Derby horse straining for the finish line.


Once again, I am at a loss for ideas for teacher presents. Help.


How on earth can we thank our children’s teachers for the dangers they face, the uninvolved parents, the underfed kids, cell phones in the classrooms, parents who support the kids rather than the teacher, the insanely low pay for the amount of work they do, and  for spending their days in a soup bowl of germs.


Earlier this semester, I met a woman going into the security office next door located next to mine. She was applying for a weekend job as a security guard. During the week, she told me, she is a full-time public school teacher.


In Newtown, Ct., teachers died protecting their students from Adam Lanza’s attack. Teachers in Moore, Ok. threw their bodies over the children to protect them from the approaching tornado. Thousands of educators across the country show up for work every day not knowing what their day holds in store. They know for certain that the hours will be long and the work will be challenging. 


My son’s teachers taught him multiplication, grammar, how to write a book report, and assigned lighthouses and earthquake projects. They put up with his moods and his broken friendships. Their high standards taught my son a world of good.


So how can I possibly thank them for all they’ve done, for putting themselves on the line day after day? How are you thanking your children’s teachers this year? 

The “fair” comes in October – I’m waiting for the fun to start





Over dinner, my son offers up, “I have to make an earthquake for class. It’s due next week.” Um, hello, what? He leaves the table, rummages around in his backpack, and brings back a handout that we haven’t seen at all. The last line reads, “Due May 9.”


Now, understand this: we are not ones to bail out our children. We don’t help them with their homework. That’s their job. I already passed fourth grade. I don’t need to do it again. But I also understand the bare reality: he can’t drive himself to Michael’s to buy supplies. He is going to need some financial and physical help to get this started.


And lucky, lucky me! He has picked the Japanese earthquake/tsunami from 2011 for his project. I wanted a neat little volcano. I can handle a volcano, I think. Did you know the Japanese earthquake started under the ocean? Who wants to build an ocean with my kid? Any takers?


This major project, worth a major grade, would ideally have appeared in my hands the day it was assigned. Instead, we are two weeks behind the curve. Inside my head, I am frantically re-juggling deadlines, assignment dates of my own, and whimpering, “This isn’t fair. I can’t handle this right now. We already built a lighthouse! Why do we have to build an earthquake?” But I know the word “fair” is an illusion, and “fair” only shows up each October in Columbia.

See you at the fairgrounds. I’ll be the one looking for underwater earthquake supplies.

I’ll have another



Horse and foal

I love horses (what girl doesn’t?) and I was hoping the thoroughbred I’ll Have Another could finally seize the Triple Crown. The Triple Crown consists of three races: the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes. The three races are different lengths: one is a sprint, one is a middle distance, and the last one is pure endurance. It takes a special horse to win all three.  In fact, it has been decades since the last Triple Crown winner.

Our lives, probably like yours, are galloping along too fast most of the time. We have two children, 11 years apart. Our daughter is in college and our son is a freckle-faced fourth grader.  He was definitely a planned child, not a surprise. (We always wanted a second child, but life just doesn’t happen on the schedule you try to set.) The surprise came when the obstetrician marked my chart “Advanced Maternal Age.”  That was a nasty little shock, to realize that in the eyes of the world, I was considered an older mom.

I didn’t feel old, at first, having this little scrap of a boy to love. It was only when my knees started creaking as I got up from playing on the floor, when the hair needed regular dye jobs, and when all the other moms at “Meet the Teacher Night” looked suspiciously young that I thought, “Hmm. Maybe I am aging.”

The final insult was when my daughter and I were meeting her high school counselor, going over her college applications. I had to leave the meeting early to go pick up my son from Kindergarten. The counselor gave me a funny look; he thought I was making it up to get out of the meeting early.

There are some great benefits to being an “older” mom, though. I take more time with my son at bedtime reading books and saying prayers. I have more patience when he masters a new skill (Tying a shoe! Blowing a bubble with gum! Learning to whistle!) than I did with his big sister. I was in such a hurry to see the next stage that I didn’t slow down and appreciate the stage we were in. Reading all those parenting books made me feel that if she hadn’t figured out how to roll over by a certain age (or know her ABCs, or read, or write), she was doomed. It’s better now. I haven’t read a parenting book in years and I feel much better about everything.

Parenting is a mix of a sprint, a middle distance, and a long race. We parents are just doing the best we can to finish the race strong.  “I’ll Have Another” is definitely not what I’m saying these days, but I’m so glad we did.  Now if I could just get up off the floor….