Your First Colonoscopy: What to Expect


This fall, after undue pressure — nay, bullying — from a friend, I scheduled my first colonoscopy. I’d recently turned 51, which is apparently the age when we up the magnification on the readers we buy, stop wearing high heels and schedule things like colonoscopies.

The first available appointment wasn’t until January, which I felt would give me enough time to warm up to the whole thing. I’m going to be blunt: I do not like the idea of anything going near my hiney. Capice? But I’m heading to Mexico at the end of the month and so looked at it as one big post-holiday cleanse. A method, if you will, of purging my tummy of all the cheese and bread I ate throughout December.

But what I’ve come to learn, much like worrying about bringing your fourth baby home only to learn the baby is the least of your problems, the actual colonoscopy is no big deal.

In the days leading up to the event last week, I was frantically searching the Internet for information about the prep, which I had no idea was such a big thing. I thought you just drank some poison the night before the procedure, evacuated your colon, and that was that.

What I was looking for was like a “What to Expect When You’re Expecting Your First Colonoscopy” or a “Girlfriend’s Guide to Cleaning Out Your Colon.” How-to books are what got me through pregnancies, breastfeeding and teaching myself how to cook and garden. I don’t know where I’d be without Dr. Spock, Martha Stewart and the Silver Palate ladies.

I guess I like to be told what to do.

So I decided to write one myself. Okay you guys, here’s what to expect for your first Big C:

  1. THIS IS A TWO-DAY EVENT: I had no idea that the poison-drinking started a full day before your procedure. Originally, my colonoscopy was scheduled for the morning after I was going to see one of my favorite writers, Kelly Corrigan, give a reading at my local book store. I figured I’d go to the event and then come home and clean out my colon. Sound thinking. But, like, a week before I decided to actually read the big packet of paperwork the doctor’s office had sent months earlier and learned that I was supposed to drink the first of two bottles of poison the afternoon before the procedure. “Maybe,” I thought, “that just alerted your colon that a big reckoning was coming later that night.” So I called the doctor’s office to ask and the receptionist started to laugh. “Honey,” she said, “you are not leaving your house once you drink that.” Who knew? So I decided to choose Kelly Corrigan over my colorectal health and rescheduled for the spring. But then through some scheduling magic, the office called back and offered me a spot the day before Kelly’s appearance and I hope she could sense the squeaky-clean colon vibe I was giving off in the audience as she read.
  2. YOU NEED TO ELIMINATE THINGS FROM YOUR DIET A FEW DAYS BEFORE: Really, you’re encouraged to eat like a 14yo boy for the few days leading up to the Big C. Carbs and sugar are dandy but you’re supposed to lay off stuff like seeds, nuts and raw broccoli. I’m down with that kind of prepubescent eating, even though in my every day life I’ve started ingesting way more quinoa and kale than hot dogs and Doritos. Like a good rule follower, the kids and I went to Bobby’s Burger Palace the day before The Purge and I not only enjoyed French Fries and onion rings but topped it all off with a Nutella Banana shake for good measure.
  3. CONSIDER A PRE-CLEANSE: Okay, eating that giant meal the night before The Poisoning was stupid so I decided to pre-treat my colon and took some Ducolax before bed (the Internet, and my doctor, says that’s okay). Good call because it started moving things along before the freight train came through later that day.
  4. YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO EAT FOR A WHOLE DAY: This was way worse than the colon cleanse. I am terrible at denying myself anything, much less food for an entire day. I drank a ton of water and sipped some bone broth I’d bought, but by dinnertime I was lying in my bed delirious. I kept thinking about how a friend confided that she’d cheated a little on her prep day and ate a pancake. And her sister had eaten a bagel. I furiously scoured the Internet for data supporting this idea and naturally, found a study claiming it was better to eat a little something. “Say no more,” I thought, and went downstairs and made two pieces of sourdough toast with butter that I savored like it was a 5-star meal. I knew my colon was clear after the first go-round of poisoning and felt confident the second round at 12:30am would push out the toast and apparently, it did.
  5. BUY SOME HARD CANDY: I’m not gonna lie to you — that poison tastes horrible, but not the way I’d imagined. I thought it was going to be thick and brown and taste like some allegedly healthy concoction I’d bought at the health food store a while back to help fight off a cold. Now that tasted like legit ass. But the colon prep I drank (and ps, every doctor seems to have a different way/formula to do things) was clear and super sweet but then also insanely salty. My advice: drink it a little chilled as fast as you can and then have something tasty to suck on after to get rid of that flavor from your mouth. I gagged like crazy when I drank the poison at room temp at midnight. Also, I’ll never eat Wurther’s again.
  6. FIND SOMETHING TO TAKE YOUR MIND OFF OF YOUR SITUATION: After I drank the first round of poison I pretty much took to my bed for the rest of the day (when I wasn’t in the bathroom) and watched TV. In fact, I binged the entire second season of Aziz Ansari’s “Master of None,” which I highly recommend, except if you’re prepping for a colonoscopy. It turns out, the lead character is a big foodie and travels to Italy in the first two episodes to learn to make pasta. It was torture and probably what lead to the eating of the toast five hours later. 
  7. FORGET MULTITASKING: After I drank the first bottle, I decided I’d start up some laundry and pretty much got one sock in the washing machine before I had to turn around and run to the bathroom. Later, I went back and put another sock in and then had to race back to the john. Pretty much, it took a really long time to get that load going. Plan on spending at least an hour post-poison near a toilet and have some reading material or an iPad on hand and obviously, since you’re old like me, glasses to see anything you’re trying to look at.
  8. FORGET SLEEP: My poisonings were slated for 12:30pm on Monday and 12:30am before my 8am Tuesday procedure. I dozed a little before the second dose and then was up until about 2am, when things started to calm down. I came home after the colonoscopy and passed out for a while.
  10. THERE WILL BE GAS: Apparently, you get pumped with air to allow the doctor to check out your colon but all that air needs to go somewhere. I had asked the doctor prior to the procedure if she’d make sure to try to get it out of me (which I’d read about on the Internet) and although she said later that she did, I experienced a lot of gas pain throughout the entire day. Lying on my stomach helped but Tums and a bowl of plain yogurt and banana did not. I felt fine the next day
  11. THINGS I WISH I COULD FORGET: By the time the day of The Big C arrives, you are anxious to get it over with and happily don your thin gown with the opening in the back and present your arm for the IV if it means you’re that much closer to eating. It was over an hour before they finally wheeled me back to the room where the anesthesiologist strapped the oxygen over my ears and up my nose. While we chatted, the nurse asked me to roll onto my left side, which was unfortunate because up until then, I thought I’d be blissfully unaware of the reality of what was about to happen; but then she began tucking a pad under my hiney (which had become exposed when the gown fell away after I rolled over). But the indignity is quick because before you know it, you’re konked out. I remember the doc injecting something into my IV and I immediately felt a weird taste in my throat. I said something about it and then the next think I knew, I was coming out of the sedation haze and talking about fresh pasta in the recovery room.
  12. YOU DON’T LOSE THAT MUCH WEIGHT: At least I didn’t. Maybe two pounds for all that suffering. That Nutella shake probably didn’t help matters. I still have a lot of denying of myself to do to feel good about putting on a bathing suit in like three weeks.

In the end, I am glad I did it. The doctor found two little polyps that she removed for biopsy but felt confident they were benign.

While I joke that I did it to lose weight for a trip, the truth is that I learned recently how a colonoscopy can save lives. This fall, the husband of my good college pal — the guy she dated way back when, who played football and remained the perfect specimen of health all these years later — was diagnosed with rectal cancer following a colonoscopy. He’s going through treatment now, which sucks, but imagine if the mass had remained undetected? Honestly, if that dude can get cancer, we all better get ourselves checked.

So if you’re old and over 50 like me, schedule your colonoscopy today. Peace of mind — not to mention your colorectal health — is worth suffering through a couple of bottles of poison and a day with (practically) no eating.

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My Thanksgiving Battle Plan

Preparing for Thanksgiving dinner is like getting ready to go into battle. It’s all about putting together your marching orders, gathering your troops and executing the plan.

But weirdly, I kind of like it, as evidenced by the fact that I’ve been doing it for years.

The first time I hosted Thanksgiving was about 20 years ago and I think I fed around that many people. My mom came over the day before with a couple of my sisters and we all worked side-by-side peeling pounds of potatoes and chopping apples and celery for the stuffing. I didn’t grow up doing these kinds of things with my family — Thanksgiving dinner just kind of appeared – so it was a great team-building exercise, watching my mother stir the butter into the bread crumbs and monitoring the amount of half and half we poured into the potatoes. When we sat down to dinner the next day, we were pleased with the creaminess of the potatoes and nodded to each other as we tasted the apples and sausage in the stuffing. We gave each other a collective pat on the back.

Now that my girls are older, they have become my Thanksgiving soldiers. Our chopping and stirring is in lockstep. There’s no one I’d rather go into battle with than those girls.

Over the years I’ve kept copious notes of my Thanksgiving prep efforts. What worked and didn’t work. Different centerpieces that I tried. The Paula Deen sweet potatoes that made everyone swoon in 2006 and how a homemade pie crust would have been a better match than the Pillsbury affair I paired with the delicious filling in the apple crumble I made in 2007.

This year, we’ll be making dinner for a much smaller crowd than usual. On Thanksgiving it will be my kids and their dad sitting around the table and honestly, I couldn’t think of anyone else I’d rather gather and give thanks with. Unless Oprah wants to come. There’s always room for Oprah.

There are a few staples in my Thanksgiving menu. My stuffing is always a sausage and apple combo (the carmelized onions are the secret-sauce); Barefoot Contessa’s pumpkin banana mousse tart is so delicious you forget pumpkin is involved; and it just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without cauliflower served with a white béchamel sauce on the side.

 I’m kind of obsessed with this blogger lately so thinking I might try these brussels sprouts she wrote about recently and even though the aforementioned Whiskey-Apple Crumble Pie is pretty delicious served warm with vanilla ice cream, I’m tempted to try Melissa Clark’s Apple Gingersnap Crumble. This sweet potato casserole is also kind of calling my name.

One thing that I’d never change are my mashed potatoes because not only are they consistently perfect (using a ricer ensures the smooth consistency), they can be made the day before. Go ahead, give them a try. And happy Thanksgiving.

Mrs. Pezzuti’s Mashed Potatoes

5 lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes

8 oz. cream cheese

1 c. half and half

1 stick butter

1tsp. onion salt **

1 tsp. seasoned salt **

1 tsp. salt **

¼ tsp. pepper **

Peel potatoes cook until tender and drain. (Here’s where the ricer comes in.) Beat softened cream cheese, seasonings, and hot potatoes and butter with hand mixer. Blend well and add half and half.

Put in a buttered 2-quart casserole (preferable a shallow one). Brush top with butter.

Bake at 350-degrees for 30 minutes (can be made 1 to 2 days ahead and refrigerated). Place on foil on cookie sheet, may bubble over.

*If making in advance, give ample time for reheating, taking dish out of fridge well in advance and heating in oven for at least 30 minutes.

**Season according to taste. I use a lot more than what the recipe calls for.

[This is pretty much the same recipe if you’re the sort who needs a video.]

What are your Thanksgiving staples? Share in the comments below!








Running Out of Gas (Literally)

Have you ever wondered what happens when your car runs out of gas?

Oh good, you’ve come to the right place.

As of this weekend, I have run out of gas four times. Don’t you feel good about yourself now? You’re welcome, America.

Really, I’d like to blame Sheila, my one-year-old Subaru Outback. She’s done it to me twice so far. I’d like to say it’s because I can’t get a handle on what her Low-Fuel alerts mean. Like, just how serious is she? Because the messages that pop up seem pretty casual. Kind of like, “You might want to think about getting gas at some point.” Not: “I’M GOING TO STRAIGHT-UP STOP RUNNING IF YOU DON’T PULL OVER IMMEDIATELY TO REFUEL.”

I guess I need those kids of messages. The procrastinator in me processes most warnings as suggestions unless shouted or WRITTEN IN ALL CAPS.


The first time I ran out of gas, I had a couple of kids in the car with me and was racing home from an activity when the car just pooped out. My son, a teenager at the time, was so disgusted that he got out of the car and walked home while I waited for a non-judgmental friend to come with some gas in a can.

The second time I ran out of gas, I wasn’t even driving the car. My girlfriend came over before we were heading out for the night and she took my car (for some reason, I can’t remember why) to go to grab a birthday card at the CVS and called me to say the car had died and I ran out to fetch gas and get it going again. I’m sure she wanted to punch me in the face.

So, here’s what happened this weekend:

I had about a 3.5 hour drive north on Saturday for a lovely wedding in Saratoga, NY. I filled up my gas tank, plugged the hotel into my GPS, downloaded an audio book and was on my way. For my return on Sunday, I assessed my fuel level and it seemed like I’d just make it home with what was left. I drove home listening to my book and eating a delicious almond croissant while keeping an eye on the needle as it slowly moved towards E. At one point, I even pulled off into a gas station on Route 17 in North Jersey, a stretch of highway littered with gas stations, to think about driving by the house I grew up in, decided against it and got back on the road. The gas seemed expensive and I had a bee in my bonnet for filling up when I went to Costco later.

In fact, as I rounded the corner onto my street, I was still wondering whether I could bypass the local gas station (pricey!) and make it to Costco, when I felt Sheila kind of shudder. If I hadn’t known any better, I would have thought I’d accidentally shifted into one of those weird gears that are on the car that I don’t really know what to do with.

But as an expert in the field of running-out-of-gassery, I knew immediately what was happening and began trying to pull over to the curb, which is where Sheila pooped out, about 5 houses away from my own, which was honestly really considerate of her. Except I really had to go to the bathroom from all the coffee I drank with my croissant and my feet were killing me from all the dancing the night before.


Luckily, knowing it was only a matter of time before it happened again, I’d picked up one of those red plastic gas cans a few months ago, which I grabbed out of the shed and had my daughter drive me to the local gas station, where a gallon of gas was 10-cents more expensive than the station I pulled into up north. And my hands smelled like gasoline for the rest of the day.

So, that’s pretty much it in a nutshell. Sheila’s back up and running but I do think she is gently trying to send me a message. The last time she ran out of gas was literally in my driveway. I jumped into her to get to work one morning and she was like, “I don’t think so.” But I think Sheila’s onto me. I think the next time I forget to feed her, she’s going to have to teach me a lesson and stop running, like, on a highway or something.

Honestly, I wouldn’t blame her. She’s had enough of my baloney. I’m sure if she could talk, she’d tell me to get it together. Unlike my children, Sheila still has hope that I might change. Now, my kids don’t even flinch when I call and say, “I ran out of gas.”

I told my 14yo and he was like, “Standard.”

And so, it seems, it is.

I help readers feel better about themselves by sharing stories of my eternal struggles as a human. You are welcome. Sign up for my latest posts that are sent right to your inbox by typing your email into the box below. You can also follow me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram

Amateur Psychology

Lately, I’ve discovered that all the hours of therapy I’ve been paying for over the last decade have really started to pay off. Sure, working with a mental health professional on a fairly regular basis has helped me start to sort out complicated feelings I have about all the people in my life. It’s helped me begin to figure out what the story it is I’m telling myself about lots of different situations, and then try to dig into exactly why I’m perceiving certain things and what I can do about shifting those narratives. Pretty much, my therapist helps me figure out how I’m contributing to conflict, why that is and how I can change.

Believe me, it’s all a work in progress.

But even though I’ve still got a lot of work to do, I find that I’ve absorbed enough basic information that I’m able to channel my inner-therapist when I’m working in the dressing room at the athlesiure emporium where I work part time folding leggings and dispensing free counseling to our customers. When it comes to trying on swimsuits, women require a lot of hand holding and it turns out, a lot of them feel really bad about the way they look. In memoriam, Nora Ephron should have felt pretty great that she only felt bad about her neck.

I can’t tell you how many women apologize to me for their bodies before they even pull the curtain back to show me how they look in whatever they’ve tried on. Like, even women in really amazing shape whose bodies I would kill for tell me they hate trying on swimsuits. “Et tu?” I think. Like, please don’t tell me that because that means the rest of us are screwed.

They tell me they’re going to lose 10 pounds or they haven’t been able to get to the gym or that breastfeeding their babies was the death knell to their once-perky boobies.

“Stop!!” I tell them. “You look great!”

Then I assess the situation as the swimsuit professional that I now am, and maybe we decide to try a bigger bottom or a smaller top. Maybe, I bring her a few different styles to see if she feels a little more comfortable in one of them. I want to help them feel and look good and sometimes, I feel like a customer is really feeling it and other times, I think it’s what it must feel like to be my therapist listening to me unable to let go of my past. She’d probably like to shake me and tell me to snap out of it much the same way I’d like to tell some of the women I help that having a flat butt is not the end of the world. That she needs to move on and stop staring at her rearview in the mirror.

For a lot of the younger women who come in and complain about their shifting midsections, I find myself playing the role of the Ghost of Summer Future and urging them to enjoy their current tummy situations and warning of what’s to come. “How old are you?” I’ll ask the young mommy, who’s usually somewhere in her early 40s. Sometimes they balk before telling me they’re, like, 42 — as if they’re sorry about that, too — and I tell them I’d kill to be 42. Then, like a real spook, I’ll tell her how shifting hormones and a slowing metabolism will begin to wreak havoc on once-trim tummies as they move towards menopause. Well, at least it did for me.

I mean, it doesn’t help that I offset lots of protein-laden smoothies and kale salads I eat daily with pizza and ice cream every now and then that camouflages the results of all my squatting and crunching. Somewhere under all that blubber I have some really strong stomach muscles just kind of hanging out incognito.

And this is where I need to take a good look at myself in the full-length mirror and say, “Amateur Doctor, heal thyself.” Because even though I’m telling everyone they look great – and I really mean that because aren’t we all beautiful just the way we are? – inside I’m no better than the rest of womankind. I hate that I’ve gained weight over the last few years and that none of my usual tricks are working in the fight to slim down. I hate catching a glimpse of myself in a mirror as I’m scurrying around at work helping other women feel good about themselves, only to see the dimpling in my upper arms or the love handles bulging through my workout top.

And all that feeling bad about myself makes me angry. Am I seriously going to waste whatever time it is I have left on this earth trying to conform to some bullshit cultural fantasy about how I should look, despite bringing four children into this world and hoping for a legacy beyond how I looked in a swimsuit?

It makes me think of a conversation I listened to not long ago between Ann Lamott and Kelly Corrigan, both of whom I love for their very realness. Like if I was ever interviewed by The New York Times for their weekly By the Book feature in the Sunday Book Review – and got to answer the perennial “which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite to a literary dinner party you’re organizing?” – these two would be in the running. I think we’d get along great and eat lots of bread together while laughing about the stupid patriarchy.

Ann talked about her own struggles with appearance — her thighs and arms in particular — and remembered a shopping trip she took with a dear friend, Pammy, who was just weeks away from succumbing to breast cancer at 37 and leaving a young daughter behind. The two went off to Macy’s to find Ann a dress for a date, with Pammy in a wheelchair wearing a wig. Ann came out of the changing room and asked whether the dress she was wearing made her thighs look big. “Annie, you don’t have that kind of time,” Pammy told her and Ann says that was like her Helen Keller-WATER moment. That moment when everything came together and she just got it like Keller recognizing that Annie Sullivan was squeezing the word “water” into her hand.

Meanwhile, I’m still waiting to have that kind of denoument. Case in point: while getting ready for the beach yesterday, I struggled to find the right bathing suit to wear. Lately, I’ve been favoring a black, strapless one-piece number from JCrew to keep the whole midsection situation under wraps. While my shoulders are nice and tan, I hate how pale the rest of me looks and wanted to start evening things out and yesterday was forecast to be long on sunshine. But I also knew that the beach would be packed like Coney Island and pretty much every person in my town would be there and obviously judging my less-than-toned-tummy (honestly, the ego can be so stupid).

I slipped into a swimsuit top I bought recently at my store. I’d been eyeing the twisty maroon number for a while and when it seemed that it might get sold out, tried it on one day when I was there shopping for swimsuits for my older daughter. One of my cute young managers came in to see how it looked and I found myself apologizing to her as I held the dressing room curtain in front of my torso.

“You look great!” she said, and even though the top really did fit well – my girls were tucked in and not jumping out like dolphins playing along the surf – I didn’t want her to see what was happening down below. I didn’t want her to know the truth about my bloated belly or pale, mottled thighs. “Stop!” she said, and told me to buy the top.

I called my daughter upstairs yesterday morning to assess my situation. I asked her if I looked terrible in the two-piece. “You look fine,” she told me. “Your stomach is just really white,” which I took as code for: DO NOT SUBJECT THE WORLD TO YOUR MIDSECTION.

Instead, I put on my dependable black tankini top and some jazzy floral bottoms and spent much of the day pulling the fabric up while lying prone to expose my white belly – the same one that cooked four little beings into tender golden morsels – when I thought nobody was looking. I ended the day with a red, painful square of burned skin that just makes my tummy look really, really angry. Honestly, I just need to go get a good spray tan and call it a day.

Obviously, I still have a lot of work to do in the body image department. I still have a long way to go before I give a fig about what other people think about how I look, which probably comes down to that they’re so busy struggling with their own body stuff, they don’t have time to think about me and my almost 51-year-old physique.

Ironically, it’s the older women who come in to the changing room to try stuff on who don’t give a hoot about how they look. They’re certainly not apologizing before they emerge from behind the curtain and sometimes, they don’t even close the curtain. Recently, a cute, little 70-something with a salt-and-pepper pixie cut had me stand by while she slipped on a pair of capris, which she quickly deemed perfect and chatted with me for a bit while standing in her skivvies before handing me the bottoms and getting dressed. She was trim and had obviously spent some time in the sun (note to self) but she looked like 70-something lady and didn’t seem to care about wrinkles or dimpling. She just needed some comfy pants.

And maybe that’s what it’s going to take for me to have my WATER moment. To get to the point that I realize I just don’t have that kind of time to worry about what I look like. I like exercising and eating healthy, but also like pizza and ice cream, and wonder when I’m lying on my death bed if I’m going to wish I’d had better abs when I was 50. Somehow, I think not.

But, as is often the case, it’s so much easier to solve other people’s problems. It’s so much easier to hold other people’s hands and tell them they are perfect just the way they are than to really feel that about myself. In the meantime, if you’re in the market for a swimsuit, the doctor is in.

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Adios, Middle School

If my calculations are correct – and really, feel free to check because I am not known for counting, much less calculating – my youngest child’s last day of 8th grade this week brings our family’s 19 years in our town’s public school system to a close and ends what for me has been a lovely era of my life.

Of course, that’s how I remember it now. It’s easy to feel all gooey about school Halloween parades of days gone by from the comfort of the cozy chair in my office. Back then, I could have done without having to find a parking spot about a mile from the school (#alwayslate) and hauling myself – and whoever I was pushing in the stroller or dragging by their sticky little hand – behind the elementary school to squeeze through the crowd so that our little cherub dressed as a ninja/ghoul/sexy witch could see us as he/she made their way along the parade path.

As you would expect, I am a very different person now as a 50-year-old lady than I was when my oldest started kindergarten in 1998. I was 32 with three little kids at home and kinda excited about letting somebody else take care of at least one of my children for a part of the day. I was getting tired of filling those days with story time at the library and hauling everyone in and out of the car seats in our mini van for a trip to the grocery store. And, I thought, it would be nice to go to the gynecologist without hearing a small voice close to my feet trapped high up in the stirrups saying in horror, “Mom … your fanny” (I did not make that up).

Alas, our town still had half-day kindergarten back then, so it wasn’t until the kids hit first grade that I started to see some relief of the constant mothering. In fact, about 10 years later, and after about 16 years home with children full time, I ended up shipping my fourth off to a full-day program when our town’s half-day situation just wasn’t enough. Let me tell you, that little bus that came and scooped him up every morning and then deposited him home nice and tired in the afternoon probably saved at least two of my older children’s lives.

When the oldest began kindergarten, I think I was about as clueless as he was in the ways of Big Kid School. I had no idea how things worked. I mean, I was still trying to figure out preschool. For instance, I didn’t realize that those pastel-colored flyers that came home in my son’s backpack at the end of each day, tucked between pages of penciled letters and numbers, contained vital information. Back before school websites and CODE RED ALERT texts and emails, moms had to rely on finding and retrieving sheets of paper to find out, say, when to expect Back-to-School-Night.

I learned about my child’s first back to school night while standing one morning at the bus stop when another mom – you know, the kind of mom who somehow made you feel bad about these things – informed me it was later that evening. The same night I had plans to take a train into the city to meet my old work-wife for some fancy fashion thing she’d asked me to, and I cried at the conundrum; the injustice of something standing in between me and a night away from washing squirming little bodies and enjoying conversation about things other than children’s sleeping habits and grisly details about a recent stomach virus.

In the end, I put on a pair of high heels and toddled into the city for a lovely, grown-up evening, but inside I felt like a Bad Mom. Way before it was cool to be a Bad Mom.

And who knows? Maybe it made me an even Better Mom. I certainly never missed another back-to-school night, and with four kids, I had a lot of them.

Of course, I still have four more years of Back-to-School nights when my youngest enters high school in the fall. But there are plenty of things – annual events and activities – that have defined the pattern of the school year around here for as long as I can remember. Some ended when the kids timed out of our elementary school and moved to the middle school in fifth grade, and some have been traditions since our family’s Ice Age. Here are a few:

  • Box Tops: For as long as I can remember, I have religiously clipped little squares off boxes of cereal and Ziploc products to earn the kids’ schools 10-cents-per-square. I even bought toilet paper megapacks at Costco for the bonus 5-Box Top coupon. I’d tuck them in a sandwich bag taped to a side cabinet near my sink in the old house and send them in when the bag got full. In the new house, the Box Tops started in a sandwich bag in our junk drawer and now they seemed to have spilled out and float amongst all the rubberbands, matchbooks and mystery screws. Let me know if you’d like them.
  • Band and chorus concerts: Since 2001, when my oldest was in third grade, spring and holiday music concerts have been a staple in our school calendar. Singing and learning to play an instrument wasn’t even an option for the kids. It’s something I made sure they did, with varying success. My oldest daughter swears she mimicked playing the clarinet throughout middle school, and my younger daughter used her reluctance to play an instrument as an excuse for her near-daily visits to our school nurse during my divorce. After my umpteenth visit to discuss my girl’s agita, the nurse patted my hand and said, “Mom, let go of the flute.” And so I did. But I’ll miss sitting in a darkened gym listening to a bunch of kids play the theme from Star Wars and marveling how the music teachers get them to do that when I can’t even get my own kids to learn what day to put the garbage out. What I won’t miss is the panic that set in the morning of pretty much every concert ever looking for black bottoms and white shirts that fit and weren’t a wrinkled mess.
  • Class trips: Back in the day, every grade piled into a bus and went somewhere over the course of the school year and as a busybody parent who was often and Class Mom for one of my kids, I often got to tag along. Over the years, I went pumpkin picking and visited museums both near (in Newark) and far (Natural History in NYC) and a zoo in The Bronx. We visited sites of historical significance and attended local performances of The Nutcracker. I sat at long tables in museum basements that smelled of old sandwich to eat our bagged lunches and got to know the kids’ teachers and their classmates. Later, I’d do overnight stints with my three older kids to a state park where they performed team-building exercises and square danced in the lodge at night. I rode along on the bus for a few nights in Washington, DC with my daughters and chatted with parents and teachers as we herded our group of teenagers through our nation’s capitol like a litter of kittens through a yarn factory. My most recent chaperoning gig was to Six Flags with our middle school band and really, nothing brings two mothers together like a rollercoaster ride packed amongst a bunch of overheated teenaged boys on a 90-plus degree day in May. I’ll always remember the taste of that freshly-baked cider donut they handed out after picking pumpkins with my daughter’s first grade class, or all the snow that fell the year my younger daughter’s seventh grade class had their three-day outdoor adventure in the woods. How it floated down as we hiked to our various activities, crunching under our boots and added magic to an already special outing. But mostly I’m thankful that all those trips let me get to know so many of the teachers who were an important part of my children’s lives.
  • First day of school: Before we had to worry about maniacs coming into our schools – when parents could just pop through the front door to drop off homework and lunches without undergoing a screening process akin to trying to visit an inmate at Riker’s – parents would gather each year in the multi-purpose room of our elementary school to watch our kids line up with their classmates on the first day of school. They’d form little clusters along the walls with nametags pinned to their crisp polo shirts and sundresses – clutching their new Transformer and Lisa Frank backpacks – to meet their new teachers. At the appointed hour, they’d rise and line up and say the Pledge of Allegiance and sing a few patriotic songs and every year, as I stood packed in the room surrounded by all those little voices, I’d lose it. Nothing makes me choke up like a rousing rendition of “You’re a Grand Ol’ Flag.” Then they’d file out to start their new school year and I’d wipe my eyes and go home and get on with my day, happy to have one less person in my shopping cart.
  • Everything else: Field days, Christmas tree lightings, Memorial Day parades and band performances, Family Fun Night (an oxymoron if ever there was one), Art shows, Book fairs, fruit sales, Rec sports and summer camp, paper report cards (RIP), picture day, bake sales, aforementioned Halloween parade, school dances, our 8th grade graduation ceremony and probably lot of other things I’ve already forgotten.

Now that all four of my kids have graduated, it’s probably time for me to graduate from middle school, as well. I knew it was time, too, when I realized not long ago that I’d become one of those parents who was resistant to change. Who liked things just the way they were. The same ones who annoyed me when I was a young upstart and thought some of our school traditions needed tweaking. Now, some of my beloved traditions are starting to change and I’m glad to be getting out when I am and before I say something I regret on Facebook.

Now, there are probably only a handful of parents left in the school system who remember that sweet first day of school ceremony for the little kids or even paper flyers. Who filled out forms for countless gift wrap and cookie dough fundraisers or manned the sand art room at the dreaded Family Fun Night. We are a dying breed. The Brontosauruses and T-Rexes of our school system.

To all you younger parents I say: take good care of our schools. Go the the art shows and encourage your kids (boys, especially) to sing in the chorus. Volunteer when you can. Get to know the teachers. Even run for the school board. It all seems like such a pain now, but I promise you’ll never regret it. All the concerts and tree lightings and meetings will add up to countless happy memories. At least they did for me, times two (I think I just did algebra).

Everything looks shiny as I look behind me. Everything, that is, except Family Fun Night. That just made me sweat.

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Naughty Pictures

freakyfriday-290My 14yo hastily cleaned out his backpack before school the other morning and after he’d left, I found a neatly folded sheet of loose leaf paper sitting all alone on the kitchen table tucked under a planter. Upon opening it, I discovered a quite impressive pencil rendering of the male anatomy leading me to wonder – not for the first time in my almost 25 years of parenting – why I hadn’t been paying better attention to my children growing up. I mean, the thing even had a few hairs sprouting out from its undercarriage and shading on the, er, shaft.

There was also some writing, including the name of one of his buddies, indicating that it was probably something they were fooling around passing back-and-forth in class instead of actually learning but from the looks of the picture, someone had at least been paying a little attention during health class. And here I was assuming they were all still into Pokemon.

I considered sharing a picture of my baby’s artwork on social media, so I folded it back up and put it in a wire basket next to my sink that ostensibly is supposed to be holding apples and bananas but ends up instead stuffed with things like remote controls and a box of Celestial Seasonings (Tension Tamer) and anything else I like to keep handy and remember that I own. If I could, I’d try to put my sanity in there for safe keeping but fear at this stage of the game it would just slither to the counter between the wires and get lost under the basket.

The boy came home from school and, in an unusual and ironic move, pulled some schoolwork out of a folder in his backpack to show me. Honestly, there are times when I’m not even sure the kid goes to school when he walks out my door each morning in his hooded sweatshirt and cuffed khakis (what better way to show off his impressive collection of weird socks, regardless of the weather?). The kid never seems to have homework or to require studying. He never even asks me to go to the CVS and buy him poster board, which would at least signal he’s got a project due. If I wasn’t certain the authorities would have reached out to me by now if his seat in homeroom remained empty day-after-day, I’d be convinced he went and sat on a curb somewhere in town and watched YouTube videos on his iPhone all day. His monthly data usage would definitely support that hypothesis.

But he seemed pretty eager to show me an illustration he’d made for social studies class that day. They’d been talking about editorial cartoons and then the kids got to draw their own and my son chose to riff on that basketball player who recently floated the idea on some podcast that the Earth was flat. In these end days of alternative facts and rampant conspiracy theories, this assertion doesn’t even seem as crazy as it might have seemed even a year ago. Apparently, and thankfully, my own child agreed and drew a pretty good likeness of the dude spinning a flat basketball on his finger. Well played.

“What do you think?” he asked, all smiley as we stood next to the kitchen sink and, alas for him, the wire basket, from which I began to pull the folded sheet of loose leaf.

“I think you’re a pretty good artist,” I said and handed him the paper. “Here’s how I know.”

He gamely began to unfold the paper and as he opened the final flap his face registered that he knew what he was about to see.

“Well, Mom,” he said as he quickly crumpled the note in his hands, “that was weird.”

He slid open the trash that sat between us and threw the paper inside before closing it and walking away with a tight smile on his face that said, “Let’s never talk about this again.”

I’m sure he was afraid that I’d see the drawing as the opening to yet another one of my spontaneous conversations about sexuality that I’m always trying to start with my children. Much to their horror, I’m always looking for teachable moments, opportunities to have frank discussions about stuff like periods and contraception. But I’ve learned over the years that my children would rather learn everything there is to know about sexuality from their idiot friends or websites like Don’t even ask how I know something like that exists.

But he escaped that day unscathed from any of my “sexual curiosity is healthy” speeches. I’d given a moving talk about pornography not long ago so backed off and let him slink up to his room and hopefully not hunt for milfs.

It’s interesting that here I sit, a 50yo menopausal lady on one end of the sexual vortex living with a 14yo boy who’s on the completely opposite end. Like, if you were to divide our brains into pie slices based on what we thought about most days, the piece from mine devoted to sex would be a tiny sliver – you’d probably want some ice cream alongside it – whereas my son’s portion would need a pretty big plate to accommodate it. You might as well just get a fork and eat right out of the pan. As for my brain, it’s pretty much split down the middle between worrying about my midsection and waning mortality.

Now that would be a funny premise for an updated Freaky Friday. I would morph into a horny teenager and be reminded of just how mesmerizing sex can seem and he would spend time as a tired old lady who’d really just rather read a good book and not have to worry about somebody pawing at her.

Somebody call Ron Howard.

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Totems From My Childhood

Tfp_aus_vhsDear Boys and Girls,

I am going to try to describe something that might be really hard for you to understand, given the world of instant gratification that you’ve grown up in. For most of your sweet young lives, you’ve been able to watch pretty much any movie or TV show that caught your fancy at any given moment. Through the gentle push of a remote control button, you have access today to an endless number of channels geared towards young’uns, programs recorded on your parents’ DVR or plucked from the Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and all the other magic apps that appear on your flat screen television.

Even way back in the dark ages of the early 1990s, when there were exactly three cable channels geared towards kids (Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and the Disney Channel), my children also had an impressive VHS library of shows to choose from and could watch Bambi or Thomas the Tank Engine when the kids shows on our PBS station signed off for the day in late afternoon (I refused to let them watch the stuff on cable back then. #ohhowthemightyhavefallen).

When I was growing up amongst the Mayan ruins of the Triassic period (just go with it), way back in the early 1970s, there were zero cable channels dedicated to kids as there was no cable and we mostly had to get our fill early in the morning during the week and for a few precious hours Saturday mornings (can you imagine?). Other than that, we had to make do with reruns from 20 years earlier (like The Andy Griffith Show and My Three Sons) or old movies.

Of course, it wasn’t until later, like in the 1980s, that we could record shows on VCRs (but honestly, who could ever really figure out how to do that?). So when a show came on TV that you really enjoyed you savored that shizz. It was really, really special.

I remember my mom letting me stay up, a rarity, to watch The Wizard of Oz which only came on once a year (maybe Easter or Thanksgiving?). That was great until that part where Dorothy’s house is caught up in the tornado and Miss Gulch rides by on her bike and then turns into the witch and practically gave 6yo me a heart attack. Christmas specials, like Rudolph and Charlie Brown, only came on once a year and I can’t tell you how many times I’d seen bits and pieces of movies — like Yours Mine and Ours and Charade — but never the full thing from beginning to end. It all depended on when I found it on my TV dial.

And then there were television specials of my youth that aired once or twice and then disappeared like the Carnation Breakfast Bars and Chocodiles of long ago.

This all brings me to earlier this week when a conversation with my 14yo son reminded me of one of my most beloved TV specials from the 1970s: the muppet version of The Frog Prince. I was such a lame little girl that I’d have given anything to be the beautiful Princess Melora, even if I would have to talk wackbards. And I’m pretty sure we had the album at one point because I still know all the words to the songs and a lot of the dialogue.

How do I know this? Because before my son even knew what hit him, I had him trapped on the couch with the laptop resting on our legs watching The Frog Prince on YouTube. He resisted at first, telling me he was no longer into muppets, but I turned on some hardcore pressure.

“This is everything you need to know about me,” I told him, pointing to Kermit the Frog floating in a pond on the computer screen. “Seriously,” I said, pulling him way too close for his liking, “this is the most important TV show of my life.”

And, because he is a really nice boy and was probably tired from his basketball game earlier that day, he snuggled in and watched all 50 minutes with me — songs, corny jokes and all. Not to mention me singing along.

It just made me happy to share that important totem from my childhood and now am just wondering how I can pull off the same stunt with Free to Be, You and Me. I’ll have to catch him off guard again.

Please write with any suggestions and of course, let me know what your favorite shows from childhood were in the comment section below because that kid’s not going to college for another five years and I could really use some other reasons to make him sit a snuggle with me and stop looking at his phone (which you’re probably doing now, too.

Your friend,


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This Is Your Brain

cf4b27e118fb68f80db165ebc7d7dad3I don’t know about you, but I never really think about my brain. Honestly, I tend to take that organ for granted, much the same way I do all of those other essential body parts I can’t really see. It’s like I accept that in theory they are there, doing whatever it is they’re supposed to be doing. But I can’t really imagine myself with, like, a liver of my own.

It’s kind of like when I was having my third baby and a helpful delivery nurse pushed a full-length mirror over to the foot of the bed where the whole pushing drama was playing out. Imagine my dismay when I saw what my pelvic floor looked like during the ordeal. Like, this wasn’t some stranger’s perineum I was watching on some “How to Have a Baby” video. It was my poor bottom pulsing like The Little Rascals mweep mwomp cake as the baby kept taking three steps forward and one step back down the birth canal. Needless to say, my horror threw off any big efforts I had been making up to that point to get the baby’s big damn head out of me. When the fourth baby came a few years later, I banned all mirrors from the delivery room and kept the birth process the mystery it really needed to be.

I’ve always thought about my brain more as my noggin or my noodle. I make grand pronouncements, like that I’m going to “blow my brains out” if something horrendous occurs – like, say, a certain candidate is elected president – or that I’m officially “brain dead” after folding yoga pants for six hours. I recently yelled at my son to please use his brain when he thought playing lacrosse in the kitchen was a good idea.

But I’ve never really wrapped my alleged brain around the fact that nestled in the warmth of my skull sits one of those things you can find if you search for images of “brain” on the internet. One of those weird, bulbous, spongy-looking things that might be more interesting as a tabletop curio than something actually living inside you. It might make a nice paperweight.

It turns out though that I actually do have one of those things because I hurt it a couple of weeks ago and ever since it has been making its presence known. I’m almost at the point where I’d like to tell my brain, “Enough already. I get it. You’re mad and I’ll try to make better decisions in the future.” That thing can be so bossy.

It’s kind of funny, actually, because the cause of the injury could be in a way pinned to my lack of brains, or that maybe I should have really utilized said brain before I decided to ski down that wooded trail.

But we’d been having such a great day – me and my friend Susan and our three sons – that it just seemed right to say, “Sure” when the boys suggested we detour off the nice wide trails we’d been skiing down all day and do a run through the woods.

Actually, that’s a lie. What the boys really said was, “We’re gonna go through the woods,” and I said, “Susan, let’s do it.”

And Susan tried to be the voice of reason. She tried to say, “Why don’t we just meet them at the bottom?”


But I was feeling cocky. I haven’t fallen skiing in years and even though I am totally not the greatest skier, I’ve gotten much better than I used to be. If the trail isn’t too steep I can ski kinda straight down, with minimal turning. I don’t need to go back and forth across the whole width of the trail to make my way down any more. But some turning is still required. This here is the rub.

So, in theory, I could handle skiing through the woods. But the reality of skiing through the woods, or at least the trail that we descended onto, was much different. My son and his friend set off, one after the other, and I followed behind and quickly learned two things after about ten feet of skiing: #1 there was absolutely no wiggle room and #2 there was also no escape hatch. I was committed.

Where there was about a three-foot path to maneuver down through the trees I needed, like, five. I needed to do a little back-and-forth. I didn’t even have enough room to bring my ski tips together and try to snow plow, which I quickly tried to do to slow things down.

And then I saw the tree. Well, it was really two trees ahead in the distance that needed to be circumvented to continue along the trail. In retrospect, what I really should have been using my brain for at that moment was to quickly develop a strategy for the upcoming maneuver. I should have been thinking how I needed to kinda veer to the right a little and then quickly cut to the left to get around the trees. But honestly, as I watched the white bark of the birch tree come closer and closer, the only thing my brain could do as I bared down on the obstacle was scream, “YOU’RE GOING TO DIE LIKE SONNY BONO!”

The next few seconds are kind of blurry. I think in an effort to make friends with the tree and show it I meant it no harm, I tried to sort of hug it as I went past. But then either the tree got pissed and shoved me or the effort threw whatever semblance of balance I’d maintained down the trail completely off, I don’t really know. What I do know is that time suddenly went all Matrix on me as I started to fall backwards. I had about a hundred thoughts all at once:

“Oh my God, I’m falling.”

“I always loved Sonny and Cher.”

“This is going to hurt.”

“What is the name of that other famous person who died skiing?”

“I haven’t fallen skiing in years.”

“Where should we go for dinner?”

“Was it Natalie?”

“I hope people can’t see me from the ski lift.”

“You know, Liam Neeson’s wife?” 

“Thank God I’m wearing a helmet.”

“You really can get anything at Costco.”


That last second, when the back of my ski helmet connected with the pretty hard trail, is really what I remember the most. The feeling of my helmet smashing onto the ground and how my whole head and neck seemed to reverberate was incredibly vivid, as was my final and competing thoughts: “Wow, that really hurt,” and “I can’t believe anyone would ski without a helmet.”

Everything else is kind of a blur.

I guess I must have just laid there in a jumbled mass on the ground for a few beats before trying to sit up and assess the situation and honestly at that point, I was much more concerned about my 50yo lady knees than my head. When I pushed myself up on my elbows to see what had happened to the lower half of my body, I found that somehow my legs were wrapped around my old friend the birch tree with my knees bent inwards and my skis jutting out from either side of my body.

I was trying to use the tip of my ski pole to pop the ski off my boot when Susan and her oldest son came upon my situation and tried to help out, which was a challenge since they are snowboarders and had no idea how ski bindings work. So it was kind of comical, them trying to push and press different parts of my boots to try to get skis off me and me becoming increasingly panicked as my knees really started to hurt.

“Why don’t we just do this?” Susan asked while lifting my whole leg up in an effort to reposition the skis around the tree when suddenly, miraculously, the ski just popped off.

From there, I’m not too sure how I ended up back on my feet and skiing the final 10 or so yards out of the woods and back onto the regular old ski trail. As I emerged, wobbly and a little more humble than when I’d entered, the other two boys stood waiting and started to cheer.

“What happened to you?” they asked and I had to tell them the whole grim story while we waited for Susan and her son to clip back into their boards and make their way out of the woods.

And then I decided to pretty much forget about the whole ordeal. We continued to ski for the rest of the afternoon and when all three boys decided they’d had enough and were ready to call it a day, Susan and I took the gondola up to the top of the mountain for a final long run before calling it quits. We pulled out our phones at the top to take pictures of how beautiful the trees looked, drooping under the weight of so much snow and framed by the late afternoon Vermont sky. I congratulated myself for making the effort to take that final run and as we flew down the (nice and easy) trail, I could see other snowy mountains off in the distance and patches of darkly colored lakes scattered far below and thought, “Oh, this is why people like to ski.”

Buoyed by the brush with nature’s greatness and my newfound love for skiing, Susan and I decided to keep the momentum going once we got to the bottom and headed to the bar at the lodge to get a beer and rub elbows with all our fellow helmet-headed skiers.

The music was loud and the tap beer cold and hoppy and we chatted with the people around us at the bar and even though I could feel my head hurting a little, I did what I do best which is to ignore red flags and just hope they go away and stop trying to interrupt all the fun.

We took the last shuttle back down to the condo and made dinner while the boys went for a swim in the pool and later we all played cards around the big wooden table. I went to bed that night thinking more about how great the weekend had been – how the boys spent way more time with us than I’d ever hoped to imagine and how that was all about to change – than my head. We’d Googled “concussion symptoms” earlier in the night and I had Susan examine my pupils for any dire signs but as I had not lost consciousness nor was I vomiting, figured I’d feel better in the morning.

Which, alas, I did not. In fact, my head felt that much worse and I also woke to discover that the front and back of my neck was stiff with whiplash.

“Susan,” I said as we sat on the couch waiting for CBS Sunday Morning to come on while the boys squeezed in a little more skiing, “I don’t think I can ignore my head any more.”

We decided I should call the urgent care place at the base of the mountain and explain the situation and see if they could just diagnose me over the phone. A very nice nurse named Wilma took the call and listened to my tale of woe and then very kindly explained that it was indeed difficult to make these kinds of diagnoses based on here say.

“You really should come in,” she said.

So, not for the first time, Susan found herself driving me to an emergency room in search of professional care. I got to meet Wilma, who gave me a look-see, and then later I was examined by a resident and finally a doctor, both of whom were wearing ski boots which I found interesting. It’s like they’d made a quick stop to perform some medical exams between runs.

At any rate, all concurred that – based on what I told them and their observations – that I’d sustained a mild concussion after my brush with the tree and we all agreed the helmet – while not a magic shield against all injury – did indeed prevent anything worse from occurring (unlike poor Natasha Richardson).

I was told to kind of chill out for a couple of days and especially avoid staring at my phone or computer or watching any TV, which I mostly did (I did, however, read two books but honestly that didn’t really seem to hurt my head as much as when I tried to sneak in a few minutes of Facebook).

Listen, this story could go on and on. I could tell you about the bad cold/sinus thing that then manifested itself and caused even greater pressure on my already sore brain. I could tell you about how I was so good, lying in my dark bedroom for a few days, and then how I decided I was really over the whole thing and tried to go back to my old life, Facebook and all. And how, after 10 days of headaches, I took myself to my local emergency room the other day to get myself a CAT scan and finally diagnose either the internal bleeding or spinal meningitis I was pretty sure was festering within my skull.

Instead, the friendly nurse practitioner who assessed my images assured me that my brain looked good and showed no signs of bleeding and that meningitis is not some cunning villain, laying quietly in wait to be diagnosed. It really makes its presence knows to its victim, she told me. It doesn’t just wait for you to go to an emergency room to say hello.

So, that’s kind of where I am right now. I don’t really have a tidy ending to this whole, long story except to say, “Brains are important, kids. Don’t take yours for granted.” When your brain tells you that maybe something you’re considering doing is dangerous, you should really pay attention. And for the love of Pete, don’t even think about not wearing a helmet when you’re doing something risky.

Your brain will thank you.

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Making Memories in London With My Kids


In the weeks leading up to a recent trip I took to London with my four (mostly) grown children, the most common response I got from folks when I told them about our upcoming adventure was, “You’re taking all of them?”

“Yes,” I’d tell the nice people, “every bles-sed one of them.”

But I was never really sure what any of them meant by that question.

Maybe the trip seemed like a big financial undertaking for a single mom. Or maybe there are age limits for family vacations. Maybe it’s weird to want to take your kids – 24, 22, 19 and 14 (two of whom have graduated from college) – away on a trip. Like, to pay good money to spend time with them when you’d just spent so much on tuitions in an effort to get rid of them.

But it had been about seven years since we’d all gone away on vacation together. Right after the divorce I took the four kids to the Bahamas for a few days and honestly, the trip was a bit of a disaster. A snowstorm botched initial plans to leave and once we finally got there, the weather wasn’t much better than New Jersey. We were running around in bathing suits one day hopping on and off the resort’s lazy river, our teeth chattering and extremities covered in goosebumps, when I made a quick pit stop in the ladies room and found a cluster of little Bahamian girls standing there wearing puffy winter jackets.

Aside from a couple of jaunts to a friend’s house in Vermont for skiing and hiking, the five of us hadn’t traveled anywhere together in a long time. I’d taken various combinations of the kids places over the years but it had been on my bucket list to try to squeeze it in one more vacation en famille before it was too late. Before the older ones went off and started their own families or moved far away or joined the priesthood. Or the circus. Something like that. So when I downsized last year, I set aside a little nest egg for all of us to go away together somewhere special.

And it was the best money I ever spent.

I knew the kids would have been happy planting their butts on the beach of some all-inclusive resort in Mexico for a week, but I dreamed of going zip lining through the jungles of Costa Rica or channeling my inner Marcia Brady and riding a donkey down into the Grand Canyon or looking out over the City of Lights from the Eiffel Tower alongside those eight little eyes I made. I wanted to share with them the joy I got from traveling. From experiencing new cultures and meeting new people. I really wanted to give them an adventure and not just a vacation.

But either airfare was nuts or the season was wrong or the language barrier seemed way too daunting to go forward with any of those initial ideas. I already knew I’d play the role of tour guide for this vacation and didn’t need a foreign language to add to any stressful moments while getting us around. I don’t know about your family, but things can get tense for us when we all need to come together to make a decision. And if someone (read: me) needed to then find someone to parlez-vous anglais to help us make that decision, our family anxiety level would have ratcheted up to about a Level 12 out of a possible 10.

And, since I was thinking really big, the idea of going to London just came to me one morning while sitting on my couch at one with my laptop. I’d been across the proverbial pond a couple of times with the kids’ dad for really fast and fun weekends for his job and loved the city. But we’d never really done any hard-core touristy stuff. We’d seen some of the bigger sites but at that point in my life, I was just thrilled to get away from our four kids for a few days and have some fun. I never bought any guidebooks or read up on the history of the city. We just kind of walked around without an itinerary and did what we pleased. Since none of the kids had ever been to London, I thought it might make the perfect destination for our big adventure. Something we could discover together.

And it was.

We spent about five full days canvassing London between Christmas and New Year’s and it was exhausting and fun and probably the best vacation I’ve ever taken. Sure, it would have been way easier (and cheaper) to just take two or three of the kids still living at home. But it wouldn’t have been the same. I wanted something the whole family could experience. To create all those shared memories and maybe, just maybe, help bring us together after a bad divorce and that dark era I refer to as “The Teenaged Years” that fell upon our home for a good decade. I mean, I still have two teenagers but things seem to have lightened up a bit, which tells me either I’m getting really good at managing those surly beasts or I’ve developed an immunity to their poisonous ways.

Either way, our little family really needed some team building. We needed to feel a little less fractured.

So when I tentatively floated the idea in a text to the kids in September of going to London as a family Christmas present, they jumped all over it – especially the bigger kids. Bosses were consulted, time off was taken and in no time we were making plans about where to go and what to wear.

Okay, that’s not totally true. In reality, I literally stalked the Internet for weeks looking for cheap flights, a place to stay and researching all of the things there are to do with a family of big kids in London. I would send the children links (emails, please, texts from me can get so annoying) from time to time – attractions I thought might be fun or BuzzFeed lists of top places to eat – but no one really looked at them. In fact at one point I was told to “stop with all the links.” And really, that was fine because as much as I pretend to give the people in my life options, I really just do what I want to do anyway. So their indifference totally worked for me.

Unlike vacations of long ago, jaunts to Vermont or Disney World with sometimes cranky – often indifferent – children, traveling with big kids is an infinitely more satisfying experience. My kids were so into London and approached and executed each item on our pretty packed itinerary with enthusiasm and curiosity. No one complained about riding the tube, the hour-long wait to get into the Churchill War Rooms or the two-hour walking tour we took of Westminster Abbey (in fact, that information-packed trip turned out to be the highlight for my two daughters).

And I would be remiss right now if I didn’t extend a special thanks to my friends at Netflix whose perfectly-timed release of “The Crown,” which all of us (aside from the 14yo boy) gobbled up before the trip, helped bring so much insight to the history of the city and the royal monarchy as we toured all week. It was pretty thrilling to stand in the spot in Westminster Abbey where Queen Elizabeth was anointed during her coronation and later, over at the Tower of London, getting to see the jewel-laden crown she wore during that historic ceremony. Even better than my own fascination was seeing that same look of curiosity on my children’s faces. People, who wouldn’t pay to see that?

We departed the day after Christmas and returned New Year’s Day and I couldn’t think of any people I’d rather be with in London to celebrate the end of one year and beginning of another other than my four children (obviously, since Ryan Gosling is now married with two children of his own).

But seriously, all joking aside, it was probably the most glorious week of my life. I will forever treasure the memories I have tucked in the coziest spot of my brain of the kids seeing Big Ben for the first time as we rounded the corner atop our double-decker bus or watching all of them hustle to keep up with our Beefeater Yeoman Bob on our fun Tower of London tour. Best was sitting in our ride waiting to head back to Heathrow to fly home and my oldest jumping in the seat next to me, slamming the door closed behind him and turning to all of us to ask, “Okay guys, favorites?” and then he quickly answered himself, “Alright, I’ll start.”

This from a guy who sometimes seems to work overtime to appear annoyed by most things that involve me.

But my very favorite moment of the trip happened quite organically and was not one of the many carefully researched activities on our itinerary. On our final full day we were looking for a morning activity before things we had planned later in the day and my oldest suggested we try to get tickets to see an exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum – about a 15-minute’s walk from our hotel – that we got shut out of a few days earlier. Called “You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970,” the exhibition documents that counterculture era and ticket holders don headsets that magically know where you are standing as you wander through rooms packed with all sorts of fashion/psychedelic/rock-and-roll memorabilia.

We all put on our headsets and wandered off to explore and it wasn’t long before I lost sight of the kids while becoming engrossed with reading the handwritten lyrics of “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” and examining Mick Jagger’s grommet-studded jumpsuit. The exhibit was so jam-packed with stuff documenting the confluence of the music, fashion, political activism and drugs during that era that I was a little annoyed the kids had seemingly raced through it.Wasn’t sex-drugs-and rock ‘n roll the stuff of young people?

But then I rounded a corner and found myself in a big, darkened room dominated by a movie screen wrapped along three walls and on it were Sly and the Family Stone jamming to “Higher and Higher” at Woodstock and there, sitting together on the floor, were my four children. I slipped off my headset and squeezed in between them on the faux grass that I guess was supposed to make us feel like we were there, sitting in that New York field in the Summer of 1969, and let the music surround me. I know my oldest guy loves horns, he’s a sucker for early Stevie Wonder, so I nudged his leg and imitated playing one and he nodded and I settled in to watch.

The Who came on next to perform “My Generation” and I remembered how much I used to love that famous line about dying before I got old. How I’d sing that part with a little more gusto than the rest of the song when I was a surly teen during the Jurassic era. And now, there I was, old and surrounded by my four children in a darkened room in London with the song blaring from all sides and realizing I was happy to be kinda old. Or at least old enough to really know when I was in the midst of one of life’s truly juicy moments, instead of looking off towards the horizon, waiting for them to come like some pirate searching for a treasure chest and not seeing all the jewels strewn across the sand. I can be guilty of blindly walking over gems — quiet moments and little victories – in search of that elusive big perfect life of mine.

And there I was smack in the middle of a sweet memory bubble, nestled between my four kids – surrounded by the artistry and the passion and the irreverence of Woodstock and all that it represented – and knowing right where I was. I could tuck it away and pull the memory out during all those less-than-perfect moments we all have and be reminded of that time when the moon and the stars aligned to give me that one beautiful ruby of a moment with my children.

And then Jimi Hendrix walked out on stage to play the national anthem and really, I could have packed it up then and happily flown right home. We sat and watched him riff on that most familiar and powerful of tunes and none of us moved. We sat transfixed and even though I’m always talking about wishing my kids were still babies, there’s something pretty great about hanging out with your grown up kids. Who no longer get antsy and bore easily. Who are interested in the history of other countries and trying new foods and are as riveted as their mom when a guy wearing fringe and a pretty spectacular afro walks out on stage with a guitar and starts to play. It was beautiful and passionate and moving and I loved that they thought so too.

I savored every moment of our trip and instead of feeling anxious about sticking to a schedule and getting to the next place, I enjoyed all our many moments together. Going for the second spin on the Crown Jewels conveyor belt when one of the kids suggested getting a better look at some massive diamond or learning how to navigate our way around the city via the tube and Uber. And even though it was absolutely freezing sitting atop that double-decker bus at night and I had the distinct pleasure of walking to not one but two hospitals on our second day, convinced my youngest had strep throat and needed antibiotics (which he did not), the sun will always shine brightly on the trip in my mind, making all the real gems sparkle there in the sand.

We came home tired but happy late on New year’s Day and my oldest left for work in Manhattan the following morning and the others took to their rooms and got lost in all the unlimited Internet they’d been deprived of for the week abroad and enjoyed some quality time alone. And I did too.

Until our next adventure.


Photo courtesy of Max Walsack. Top photo courtesy of Annie Walsack.

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The Year Without a Christmas Tree

timthumbLast weekend I drove through my small town, past the festive lot next to the firehouse filled with rows of Christmas trees for sale and families wandering through, circling this one or that in search of just the right one. I stopped at our fancy local market to pick up the week’s supply of turkey and ham – and of course, the fresh mozzarella, because isn’t that what all the 13yos require on their school lunches? – and watched as a line of giant SUVs drove past with their trees bound and gagged and strapped to the top.

And as I drove home with my bag of cold cuts and very expensive cheese thought, “Those poor suckers.”

Then my daughter and I went down to the basement and opened some big boxes and dragged a bunch of branches up the stairs and in about 30 minutes had three Christmas trees up and lit in various rooms throughout the house.

“Man, that was easy,” I said to my daughter, who just kind of stared back at me.

At 5 feet 9 inches, she’s not that much shorter than my former husband and now finds herself handling many of the same tasks that her father used to perform when he lived here. She can reach things off high shelves and open pickle jars and when we assembled our fake Christmas trees she did a lot of the heavy lifting, unfortunately while wearing a t-shirt and running shorts. As such, her limbs were kind of covered in nicks and scrapes from lugging big sections of tree limbs around the house.

“I’m glad this was so easy for you,” she answered, examining her thigh, and I got the feeling she was a little annoyed with me and my alleged obliviousness to her suffering.

I, on the other hand, was thrilled with our faux tree setup.


Historically, the hunting and the buying and the lighting and the decorating and the watering and the vacuuming up of the needles of Christmas trees of long ago has been one giant pain in the neck. In theory, it is a lovely tradition that brings a family closer together, creating lasting memories to warm us in our old age. The reality of the Christmas tree, at least in my experience, has been something different altogether.

When I was married I found going to the lot to buy the tree incredibly stressful. Invariably, we would wait until the last minute to procure our tree and by then, all of you bastards had already scooped up all the good ones. What remained standing sadly in the lot would have that Charlie Brown-like quality, with giant bald spots where branches should have been or needles that would quickly fall to the floor like a too-long cigarette ash whenever you walked too near.

But the biggest issue was the price. Whatever it was, it was way too much, according to my husband and caused him undue aggravation. And of course, me being me, I wanted the bigger one or what I perceived to be the nicer one and he’d relent but then slip into an icy mood. We’d drive home in silence and he’d drag the prize in after sawing off probably one or two too many branches from the bottom. He’d shove it in a stand and curse when it listed to the side and I’d bite my tongue as the results of all that aggressive sawing became clear from the divot that appeared on one side, much like a child who’d taken a scissor to her own bangs.

And then there were the tree lights. Has there ever been one person in the history of the world who really enjoys stringing lights on a Christmas tree?  No one in their right mind could actually enjoy pulling the lights out from their box in the attic and untangling each strand to discover only half the bulbs would light. Who likes playing Christmas light detective and having to pull out each bulb in the strand and replacing with a working bulb to see if it was the bugger causing all the issues? Probably in my, like, over 20 years dealing with Christmas lights maybe five times did I find the culprit.

So if my then husband wasn’t pissed enough about the price of the tree, the broken lights would push him over the edge and the decorating of the tree would be a tense affair. I wanted things to look just-so and he just wanted to get the job done and I don’t really remember it being the Hallmark moment I so wanted it to be. We were way more invested in standing our ground rather than making concessions for the good of the team.

Eventually, I started edging him out of the more stressful jobs surrounding the Christmas tree. I started going to the fancy market in town right after Thanksgiving with my $10 off coupon to pick the tree out myself and had one of the nice workers strap it to the top of my car for the two-minute drive home. I also invested in an amazing tree stand. And finally, because I had very definite ideas about how Christmas tree lights should look on a tree – not merely wrapped around the ends of the branches but up and down each limb so it required many strands and patience and sometimes, electrical skills — I started doing that all myself. But it always pleased me afterwards to come down the stairs each morning and turn on the tree’s lights. I’d stand in the darkened family room and see the colorful bulbs shining deep under all the shiny ornaments and popsicle stick keepsakes the kids had hung from the tree.

So when my ex husband moved out right before Christmas that one, terrible year, I already had a pretty good handle on the tree situation. All I really had to figure out was how to get the tree off the top of the car and into a bucket of water in my garage. And eventually, I’d have a kid or two help me haul it into the house and hoist it up and into the stand. We actually got quite good at it.


But this year I said good-bye to all that. I decided I no longer wanted to be a slave to some $100 dead tree. Dragging it. Lighting it. Watering it. Cleaning up after it.

At the end of last year I bought a pre-lit tree off that had been already vetted by my youngest sister who is like a walking Consumer Reports. She bought it and liked it and thought it was a good price so I did the same.

And then I was at Costco a few weeks ago and another faux tree caught my eye and after quick texting with my sister – who gave it the thumbs up after quickly Googling it to discover it was cheaper than the Home Depot version and came with more lights – bought that one for another room in the house. I mean, it has a remote control people and the lights switch from white to colored (the other tree does the same and even blinks if that’s your thing).

My sister and mom have been hot for fake trees for a couple of years but it took me a while to relent. Honestly, I’m wired to like a lot of the same things they do but sometimes my mother’s enthusiasm – nay, pushiness – about certain things make me want to run in the other direction.

But, just like the time she suggested I pack a raincoat to go camping with the Girl Scouts but I knew better and spent the weekend wet and miserable, my mother happened to be right about the trees. Phony is better.

Our final fake tree is a skinny number I bought a couple of years ago from Balsam Hill that’s perfect in a corner of my kitchen. It smells kinda weird but I don’t have to sit too close to it when I eat so it still works and brings that Christmas sparkle into the room where I probably spend the most time.

None of the trees are decorated yet but I love seeing the lights glowing through the window when I pull into the driveway. And I still like to turn all the trees’ lights on while my coffee is brewing in the morning. It makes everything seem a little more magical and I like to think that my children have grown up feeling the same.


My favorite Christmas tree was the one my new husband and I bought the day after we got home from our honeymoon. We were married 10 days before Christmas in 1990 and my bridesmaids wore green velvet dresses and while we were honeymooning in the Caribbean we drank sweet pina coladas and listened to a man on the steel drums play “Frosty the Snowman.” We returned home tanned and young and happy to our second-floor walkup in Hoboken on the 23rd and went out in search of a tree the next day.

There weren’t many trees left by Christmas Eve, but it didn’t matter. I even want to say they were half price, even better. We dragged it down the sidewalk home and up the two flights of stairs and shoved the fat thing through the door and screwed it into the metal stand. Somewhere we’d acquired a strand or two of lights and a package of pre-made red felt bows that I attached to the ends of some branches. Underneath we spread all our gifts, trinkets we’d brought home from our trip, wrapped in shiny green and red wrapping paper.

That night I made my new husband our first meal together as a married couple and tried to replicate a butternut squash soup we’d had on our honeymoon. But I must not have cooked the squash enough and then tried to pulverize it in our new blender and watched the cubes swirl round and round. Eventually I tried to push the squash down into the moving blades with a wooden spoon but only succeeded in adding wooden splinters from the spoon to the soup.

We sat in our darkened dining room and tried to eat the soup but eventually laughed and gave up and tried feeding it to the dog instead. But even that crazy mutt was smart enough to pass on the dish.

But even though it wasn’t perfect, the tree or the meal, I was happy. All I wanted was to be married to my husband and that was enough. It was better than perfect.

So that’s why I’m all about fake trees. They are not perfect but I have decided perfect is way overrated. They are, instead, enough.

Here’s a roundup of fake trees if, like me, you’re over watering and needles and ready to go faux.

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