The Perils of Growing Older

Even as I squeezed the paste onto my toothbrush, I could tell something was weird. It came out much quicker and thinner than usual, curling onto the bristles in a pleasing twirl — like frosting being piped onto the top of a cake.

I’d rushed into the bathroom to both brush my teeth and throw a tissue away and once there, quickly paused at the sink to get the tooth brushing going before I went the additional two feet to toss the tissue into the trash can under the counter. So, I’m noticing that the toothpaste doesn’t seem right even as I’m lifting it up to my mouth, and as I begin to brush the outside of my teeth, it dawns on me what I had done.

One of the things nobody tells you is that when you turn 50 it’s like an internal timer goes off — akin to, say, a Butterball turkey and somewhere on my back there’s a little round plastic doohickey that popped up two years ago— and your body starts to feel the half century’s worth of shit you’ve been doing to it. All the running up and down hills through the woods and along the hard sidewalks of your town before dawn. Burpees, jumping jacks and lunging across a fitness studio holding 10-pound weights in each hand. Your resistance to hydration and preferring beverages containing caffeine and alcohol over the prescribed 100 ounces of water each day. All those high heels you toddled around in for 30-some-odd years at cocktail parties and dinners out with other couples and later, for a few summers after your divorce, to dance to songs on crowded dance floors that reminded you of younger days.

It’s like how, when I had my first baby 26 years ago, I had no idea how sore my bottom would be after the delivery. That I’d have a latex glove filled with ice tucked between my legs for the first few days and that I’d be introduced to something called the sitz bath. Or that taking my first poop post-partum would be such an important hurdle. So many things about parenthood have come as similar surprises over the years.

Even with Google readily available nowadays, I’m still surprised about changes to my 50-something body. I cracked up watching Pamela Adlon in the season 3 premiere of Better Things trying on clothes in her closet.

“Really?” she says, squeezing into a pair of white jeans and grabbing the muffin top hanging over the waistband, “How did this happen?” The actress told Terry Gross in an interview I’d listened to earlier in the week, “I decided that it would be a very generous thing for me to kind of illustrate it in my show, so everybody doesn’t feel so alone.”

To all my lady friends hurtling through the end of your 40s towards 50, take note. And take comfort.

And then there’s how my aging body feels, which is to say, “not great.” My feet in particular act like they are way older than 52. The arthritis in my big toes is making it hard for them to bend, so now they are completely unwilling to conform to a curved high heel. I had surgery on my left foot two years ago thinking I’d recover and be back teetering around in my favorite heels, but alas, that is not the case. Honestly, I can’t even wear some flat boots I used to wear all the time, because they are just too hard on my aching toes.

To manage these new aches and pains, I’ve loaded up on various over-the-counter analgesics: Motrin and Aleve, a CBD rub that smells like lemongrass that a girlfriend dropped off a few weeks ago when my back was particularly tweaky. I’ve also got some roll on thing that I rub on my feet sometimes at night. But my favorite pain relief in the last month is Icy Hot, which I rub on whatever part of my body hurts: neck, lower back, feet. Yes, it smells like … old people and clings to my pajamas and bed sheets. But after you’ve rubbed it on whatever ails you, an icy feeling begins to mask the pain and it’s very pleasing.

You need to be careful during the application process that you wash your hands really well when you’re finished rubbing the Icy Hot on yourself. It’s the same type of precaution you need to use when working with jalepenos. I found this out the hard way a few years ago when I finished seeding one to add to a meal and immediately rubbed both my eye and my mouth with my spicy fingers, which were then on fire the rest of the night.

I sat on the toilet the other night to rub the Icy Hot across my aching lower back, and then figured while I was there I should do my business as well and then wiped myself accordingly. As I was wiping I was starting to think, “I should not be doing this,” but alas, it was too late. I went to bed that night feeling very tingly down there, which was not entirely unpleasant.

You also need to be careful how you store your tube of Icy Hot, which is what I discovered last week. You should really put it back in the closet in the basket along with all your other old-lady pain remedies, and you definitely should not leave it on your bathroom counter next to your tube of toothpaste, which — when both left lying upside down with just the backs of the tubes facing up — can look exactly alike.

Had I been a little less distracted rushing into the bathroom the other night, I would have immediately realized that what I was squeezing onto my toothbrush did not look or feel like Crest. But my brain was about 3 seconds behind. All of the pieces were clicking into place in my brain as I was lifting the toothbrush up to my mouth. I stared at my reflection in the mirror in horror as I realized I was brushing my teeth with Icy Hot and dropped the toothbrush into the sink and began furiously rinsing my mouth out with water.

After I recovered from the horror — and terrible taste in my mouth — I started to laugh like a crazy person and thought, “this would make a great blog post.” Plus, my mouth felt very fresh and tingly after I brushed my teeth 3 times with toothpaste.

Feeling better about yourself? Glad to help. Sign up to receive my newsletter where I promise once a week, you’ll know things could be worse. 

Friday Faves: What I’ve Read So Far in 2019

Can I read 30 books this year?

One of my goals for this quickly passing new year is to read (or listen to) 30 books. Ambitious? Perhaps. But if you saw the stacks of books filling the nightstand next to my bed, you might be inclined to agree that I need to pick up my reading pace if I am ever going to make a dent in the piles (which just continue to grow because I have a book-buying problem).

One of my tactics is to set aside one hour to read each night before I go to sleep, which is generally scheduled from 9-10 every night. Ideally, I close the book at 10, turn on my sound machine, and go to sleep. In reality, there’s far more time wasting — last minute slides down internet rabbit holes, perhaps I sit down before my intense magnifying mirror and start shaving my face* — before my light actually goes off. But I’ve been pretty good about the reading part and have found it much more relaxing falling asleep with a head full of whatever I’d just been reading vs. the local Fox 5 10:00 news, which had been my falling asleep routine for years (I’d set my TV timer to go off at 11).

Besides being a little more calming than news of rape, murder and whatever Donald Trump’s been up to, reading an hour a night has really helped me stay on task and get through the books on my nightstand.

Another strategy has been joining book clubs. So far, I’m up to three: the big, unruly one I’ve been a part of for years where there’s wine and side conversations about kids and menopause inevitably crop up; a smaller group of women who meet to discuss usually more challenging fare over lunch or dinner; and a no-strings-attached book club at my local independent bookstore where a group of strangers gather and have excellent conversation focused on a book for an hour. I’m what Gretchen Rubin refers to as an Obliger, so I know I need accountability if I’m going to get things done and committing to a book club (or three) seems to be working for me this year. I’ve also been selfishly pushing fellow book clubbers to read stuff I already own (shhhh).

Here’s what I’ve read so far this year:

Circe (Madeline Miller) : Here’s one I read that had nothing to do with book clubs and was all about my love of Greek mythology and the notion of a witch living on an island. This is a lifestyle I could get behind. It’s a reimagining of the story of Circe, daughter of Helios the Sun God, and features cameos from all your favorite mythological characters: Hermes, Dedalus, the Minotaur and the wandering Odysseus. Plus, she transforms rapey dudes into squealing pigs which, in this #MeToo era, is an interesting idea. I immediately bought the author’s earlier book, The Song of Achilles, which is now living on the pile but I can’t wait to dig into Helen of Troy, Trojan Horses and all that good stuff.

Educated (Tara Westover): I know. Everyone’s already read this one. My big book club read it for January and it prompted wonderful discussions and kept the dozen or so of us on topic for most of the night. I was reluctant to read at first, because the story sounded so much like that of The Glass Castle, which we all read 100 years ago. But I liked getting a peek into what life was like living off the grid on a mountain in Idaho with a crazy dad, brother and enabling mother (spoiler alert: not amazing). It made my large, dysfunctional family seem like The Waltons in comparison. I’d also listened to a bunch of the book via Audible, and loved the narrator. In fact, I couldn’t shake the feeling like I’d heard her voice before and then about half way through, realized it was the same woman who narrated the unsettling My Year of Rest and Relaxation and kept waiting for her to say something really snarky. But there’s no snark in Educated. Just a compelling reminder of what we are all capable of achieving and how complicated families can be.

Warlight (Michael Ondaatje): From the author of The English Patient, here’s the first line of this novel, set in post WWII England: In 1945 our parents went away and left us in the care of two men who may have been criminals. Atmospheric. Memorable characters. More contemplations on family and finding solace sometimes in those to whom you are not related. Maybe even forgiveness. I also listened to about half the book during a long drive, which challenged my ADD given its lack of real action. Read for my small book club and chosen by my friend who is an admitted Anglophobe who gobbles up any book taking place in or around the Great War. We also liked that it was on Obama’s list of favorite books in 2018.

Asymmetry (Lisa Halliday): Everybody is talking about this book, so when my local bookstore advertised it as their first ever book club pick, I had to sign up to read, but then walked into the meeting last week and said, “Somebody, please tell me what this was about.” One hour later, all the pieces had fallen into place and made me want to go back and reread (which a few of the women there had actually done). The internet, and an interview with the author, helps.

Scoop (Evelyn Waugh): I think I started this at the end of last year, but read the bulk in 2019, like, a day before my small group met to discuss in January. The send up of early 20th century Fleet Street journalism had been on my list for a while, and I’m glad to have read it but it probably won’t make my list of favorites at year end. A few interesting things: it’s where Tina Brown plucked the name “Daily Beast;” in some ways, (some) journalism seems to have swung back in that direction — where journalists less cover the news than create the news; and very interesting lesson in reading something under the lens in which the era it was written. Waugh is incredibly racist and uses some incredibly offensive language describing people of color and Jews. But then my fellow reader stumbled across this article, which helped us keep the book in perspective.

Next in my 2019 lineup:

The Female Persuasion

American Marriage

The Book of Help

The Library Book

Just Kids

My Sister, the Serial Killer

Follow me on Goodreads, which I’ve begun to dabble in recently. We can compare notes. As always, I want to know what YOU are reading, so please share. Also, if you want to borrow anything I’ve written about (or would like to peruse my sagging shelves), please come take your pick!!

Happy reading!

*WARNING: tread lightly with that micro trimmer! I went in to remove some hair right inside my nostrils and before I knew it, there was nothing left. For, like, a week I could see straight up to my brain. Lesson. Learned.

Scary Things: How a picture and a threatening message scared our entire school.

My 16yo son came into my room after 11:00 Sunday night to wake me up and ask whether I heard about the potential shooter threat at his high school the next day.

I’d gone to sleep about an hour earlier, in my new effort to get more sleep (and pretty much overhaul my entire life #again) in the new year, and right before I’d turned out the lights I’d seen a text come in on my Apple Watch as I sat on the toilet. I’d noticed it was from someone on my football mom group text, but here’s the thing about Apple Watches and 52-year-old women: they’re not a natural fit. I was hot to get one for its looks but the reality is that unless I’m wearing reading glasses, which I wasn’t doing sitting on the toilet in the dark to pee before bed, then my old lady eyes can’t read what is happening on the tiny screen.

I could make out that the text said something like, “Did you hear about … “ but that was all I could decipher and I wasn’t curious enough to know more. I thought it had something to do with the imminent departure of the football team’s head coach, and I figured whatever was said could wait until the next day.

Unfortunately, this sound thinking did not prevent me from attempting to scroll through the text on the watch, sitting in the dark on the toilet, with my clumsy ogre fingers and then suddenly realized that I had inadvertently hit one of the emojis you can send in response to a text. Convenient feature, unless you are blind. I cringed.

“Shit,” I thought and hoped for the best as I finished up and got under the covers and listened to the fake waves hitting the fake sand on my sound machine, and drifted off to sleep.

The knock on my door 40 minutes later was jarring and I sat straight up and yelled something crazy and then my poor kid stuck his head in to tell me the news. “Mom,” he said, “have you heard there might be a shooter at school tomorrow?”

That question will wake a person up.

He then went on the tell me how someone had seen a picture posted by a student at his school on SnapChat of a gun and an ominous warning, and that the photo had spread like wildfire on social media and kids were freaking out.

I quickly stumbled to get my phone off my dresser – since my new “sleep better” initiative includes getting it away from my head all night – and saw that it had been blowing up with texts in the football mom thread about the potential danger the next day.

By the time I was aware of the issue, I read that the police had been notified and arrested the kid, a senior at the school, who posted the picture of what looked like an assault weapon – which looked to by lying on a bed – accompanied by the message “Stay tuned.”

After the football moms learned that the kid had been arrested, talk turned to whether he had been part of a bigger plan to attack the school and whether their kids would stay home the next day. A lot of the kids, it seemed, were really upset by the photo and the thought that their school could have been attacked.

Early the next day, while my son ate his oatmeal and I toasted the roll for his ham sandwich to take to school for lunch (this is a full-service operation), messages were still flying about who was and wasn’t going to school and that there would be an early-morning meeting for faculty and staff to report on what had happened. Our basketball coach had indicated at first in a text to the team and parents that he wasn’t going to school, then later that he was but that his son (who’s my son’s buddy) would be staying home. But a little after 6 a.m. I saw on the football mom thread that a board of ed member (and fellow football mom) was sending her son, and that confirmed my own sense that my son would be safe at school that day.

My biggest complaint was that it took police and school officials until late Tuesday morning to issue a press release to disseminate some facts and allay fear. Prior to that, parents had received brief messages from both sources informing us that a threat had been called to their attention and investigated and found to be unwarranted. That morning, I wanted more details, more reassurance, than “unwarranted.”

It turns out, the weapon in the picture was an airsoft gun and from what I gathered in follow up texts from football moms, the kid who posted it was pretty benign. Moms reported that their kids who knew him – who had worked with him at a local restaurant one summer – said he was a nice, quiet boy. That he didn’t seem like the kind of disgruntled kid who would go and shoot up a school. Most moms agreed he’d made a dumb decision, for whatever reason, and had paid a heavy price. We still don’t know what the post meant, if it was directed at the school or if it was just him fooling around on SnapChat and maybe threatening a friend who also has an airsoft rifle. Who knows?

My son had no hesitation going to school and I figured that with all the police swarming the school that morning, it seemed like the best day of the year for him to be there. And also, don’t most school shooters arrive after school has started and blast their way in? That’s kind of how the Columbine attack went down, not to mention Sandy Hook and Parkland. If this boy really had been part of a bigger plan, it seemed to me like the proverbial jig was up after the SnapChat snafu.

It wasn’t until I was sitting on the bleachers with my basketball moms at a game on Tuesday afternoon, that I realized my thinking was not in line with other parents. I overheard two moms talking about the incident and turned around and asked them if their sons had stayed home the day before and they both nodded. When I’d picked my own son up from basketball practice after school on Monday, he immediately reported he was the only kid from our town in his group of friends to go to school that day. I asked about a few kids in particular, whose parents don’t seem to be over-reactors, and he confirmed they had not been in school that day either.

I texted him when I pulled up along the front of the school after basketball practice Monday and watched him emerge from the windowless brick building that is our high school, where a school shooting would not provide many means for a speedy exit, and watched him approach the car wearing shorts and a tshirt under the cold January sky. I’d moved into the copilot seat so he could drive home, something I’d promised earlier in the day. He’d just completed the 6 hours of driving needed to get your permit here in New Jersey, and I’d told him (in a moment of deep love earlier in the day, which I deeply regretted at pick up) that he could take the wheel and drive me home after school.

If you want to know what I think is a much more imminent threat to my own safety, and I guess his as well, it is sitting helpless next to a 16yo learning to drive (it was just his third time behind the wheel). In fact, if you were to chart my heart rate over the 24-hour period between when I heard about the potential for gun violence at our school and letting my kid drive me home, I can guarantee – based on the amount my armpits sweat during that 5-minute drive home – that the ride was way more harrowing.

Apparently, according to my children, my stress level while they are driving is over the top and unnatural. They’d even warned their youngest brother to expect me to be white knuckling alongside him as he drove. Apparently, their father is a much more relaxed passenger.

It always surprises me when my thinking is not in sync with the majority. I was just as surprised to learn that so many of my son’s classmates stayed home on Monday as that other parents don’t grip the door handle for dear life when their teenager is at the wheel. And I think that if I had been a younger mom, I would have worried about being judged about sending my son to school that day.

Maybe the most troubling part of this whole story (other than my son having to see me stagger around in the dark in my underpants searching for my phone) is that this is the world we are now living in. Where we see a picture of a gun and ambiguous message and fear for our children’s lives. And the only thing we can do about it is keep our children close, because no one else is doing anything about it.

We do nothing to place any real limits on who gets to have a gun and just what type of firearm they can get.

This is the new normal.

And that really is so much scarier than sitting next to a teenager learning how to drive.

I know, things can seem scary. And frustrating. At least we’re not alone. Sign up below to get my recent posts, delivered straight to your inbox. That’s not scary at all.

Friday Faves: Mac & Cheese for a Crowd

I came downstairs a few weeks ago wearing maroon leggings, a black sweater and new trucker hat with our high school’s pirate logo, and my daughter looked me up and down and said, “Who ARE you?”

She was having trouble finding her mother — the one who favors all-gray ensembles and rarely wears hats — underneath the lady-of-a-certain-age standing in front of her decked out in our high school’s colors.

She hadn’t realized that nowadays, with her little brother playing on the football team, we take game day very seriously around here.

And since I’ve guzzled the high school football KoolAid, that also means I’ve started to embrace things like manning the ticket table at a BBQ and pitching in for pasta parties.

In the past, that would mean I’d bake these chocolate peanut butter crowdpleasers. But now that I’m a committed Football Mom, I even volunteered this week to make a pasta dish for the pasta party, which I considered the ultimate act of love for my baby football player since I don’t really have a go-to pasta recipe (and certainly not one to feed 40 hungry teenagers).

I went on Pinterest and threw ideas out at him while he ate his dinner but whenever he said, “That sounds good,” I’d check how many ingredients were called for in the recipe and then say, “Next.” This was not an occasion for impressing anyone. Just feeding them.

I scrolled some more and asked, “How about mac and cheese?” and he gave a happy shake to his head. I bypassed recipes that called for four different cheeses and any kind of seasonings, and then the word “Velveeta” caught my eye, and I knew I had found just what I was looking for.

So that’s how I found myself yesterday cubing four pounds of the weird, unrefrigerated cheese product to melt into a quick roux of butter, flour and a ton of whole milk. You pretty much pour it over your macaroni and throw it in the oven. I baked it halfway then pulled out and added some shredded cheese on top because, cheese.

What I loved about this recipe was that the site automatically adjusted the amount you need of each ingredient for the servings you’d like to make because, math. I plugged in 50, made four boxes of pasta and it filled up 2 big disposable lasagna trays.

Are you going to make this for your book club? Probably not. But for pasta parties, tailgates or block parties, it’s a home run — or a touchdown (I learned that this year).

 Mac and Cheese for a Crowd (Serves 50)

4 pounds elbow macaroni
3/4 pound butter
1 1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
4 pounds Velveeta cheese, cubed
1 1/2 package (8 ounce size) shredded Cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Cook the macaroni until al dente as directed on package. Drain and evenly distribute amount long, shallow pans (I USED 2 13.5 x 9 5/8 x 2 34 disposable Lasagna pans).

In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, melt the margarine. Stir in the flour until smooth. Add the salt and pepper and slowly add the milk, stirring constantly, until smooth.

Stir in the Velveeta cheese and continue stirring until the cheese is melted and the mixture is smooth and creamy.

Pour the cheese sauce over the macaroni in the pans to evenly coat (I MIXED IN POTS BEFORE POURING INTO BAKING PANS TO COAT THE NOODLES). Sprinkle the shredded cheddar over the top of the macaroni (8 ounces per pan).

Bake the macaroni at 350 degrees F for one hour or until bubbly in the middle.

Got any good pasta party recipes up your sleeve? Share! We promise we won’t make it if our kids are on the same team!

Also, follow me on Facebook and Instagram. On occasion, I Tweet, too.


Football Mom

On Monday during my son’s junior varsity football game against the local Catholic school, he tackled a kid running with the ball who fell on top of his head and kind of knocked him silly. It was one of those situations where the game paused and all the players took a knee while my son sat there looking dazed, and then we all clapped when he got up and moved to the sidelines, where he immediately got pulled out of the game.

When I told my friend Dan a few days later that my kid had a very mild concussion from the incident, he asked, “Are you surprised?

“He plays hard,” he continued, as I pushed 10-pound weights over my head and thought mean things about him. “You had to know this was going to happen.”

This summer when I took my football player for his annual physical, we ended up seeing a different doctor than our usual pediatrician. He’s new to the practice, I’d never seen him before, and he was very tall and spoke with an accent that I pegged as Russian (which was later confirmed), based on how opinionated he was about everything. Especially football.

“You play American football and not the real football?” he asked all jokey, and went on to tell us that he would never allow his own sons to play America’s favorite sport, and then pointed to his head. “It’s very bad,” he said.

And I smiled and shook my head and was like, “Well, thanks mister. I guess I suck,” and we later made fun of him on the car ride home, doing our best Boris and Natasha.

The decision for my youngest to play football in high school was mostly my own. He’d never really played before, but I pushed him to try freshman football because A: I knew he’d like it, B: I thought it would be a good way for him to make some new friends and C: I envisioned myself in the stands wearing a shirt with his name on the back cheering for the team when he was a senior. His two sisters liked the idea, too, and helped me coerce him into showing up at the high school that summer for a workout with the rest of the freshman team.

And he loved it.

He’s a sporty kid and a decent athlete and has the great luck of good genetics, which has rendered him on the taller and bigger side of his peers. He’s also a total bro, and football is about as bro as you can get. He immediately bonded with his teammates and embraced the entire football culture.

And so did I.

I bought myself and my three older kids t-shirts to wear to the games and we embraced our baby’s efforts. I even started to learn stuff (read: pay attention) about football, like “What’s Up With the Punt?” and “That Yellow Flag Means Something Bad Happened.” I really started to care.

Fast forward to this year, he’s even started to get some varsity time as a sophomore, and it’s been exciting to watch him play under the lights. His sister came home from college last Friday night to see him play, and we monitored him on the sidelines, standing with his hands on his hips, helmet on, waiting to get in the game. Finally, my daughter noticed he wasn’t standing with the rest of the team. “Mom look,” she said, pointing to the field, “he’s in the game.”

He’s playing tight end, and we watched as he blocked the other team during a few plays, and then after another snap, we saw the quarterback draw the ball back and launch it into the air towards my son, who grabbed it and ran for the first down. As he was tackled by the other team, we heard the announcer say his name over the loudspeaker and my daughter and I looked at each other, she had tears brimming in her eyes, and we clapped and cheered. All the other players’ parents sitting around me stood to give me a high-five and I immediately got texts from friends further away in the stands, cheering for my son with lots of exclamation marks and emojis.

It was thrilling.

Our team ended up getting clobbered that night after a brilliant opening drive in the first quarter where we made an easy touchdown. The other team came back and scored and repeated that about four or five times, while we were thwarted at every attempt. We’re a public high school in an area where everyone sends their kids to private schools, so it’s a rag tag football team — kinda the Bad News Bears of football — playing a team who had a kid drafted as a sophomore by Notre Dame. An uneven match, at best.

But the thrill of watching my son’s catch and his run was what I left that game remembering, not the miserable score. I loved watching him, and his teammates, play with their whole heart.

I watched him all summer working towards that moment on the field. Heading off most mornings for 7:30am practices to lift in the weight room and work through plays on the school field under the hot summer sun in full pads and helmet. Earlier that summer, he’d been working out with his lacrosse team, going to crossfit two mornings a week at 7:30. He never complains. He never balks at going to a workout or a practice.

So of course, when he gets the chance, he’s going to give it his all, even if that means diving at another player and knocking his feet out from under him, and suffering a blow to the head, as had happened at this week’s JV game. Athletes sustain injuries when playing hard in any sport — I know a woman who’s daughter suffered from chronic pain after sustaining a concussion playing lacrosse and I’ve watched a boy fall hard on his head during a basketball game — but there’s lots of evidence that puts football at one of the worst for an athlete’s brain.

I knew all of the risks going in and still, I let him play. In fact, I strongly encouraged him to play football.

The day after the game where my son made his fateful catch, my college girl and I went into New York City to meet her sister to check out her new office in one of the new World Trade Center buildings and explore her new neighborhood. We ended up eating brunch at a restaurant in Le District, kind of the French answer to Eataly, and sat at a table along the water overlooking New Jersey across the river.

The girls split a carafe of white wine and we talked about my younger daughter’s classes this semester and reviewed my older girl’s new office digs (amazing), while picking at the salty fries that came with their burgers. Suddenly, my college girl stopped and said, “Oh my God, Annie! We didn’t even tell you about Nick’s catch!” and she recounted the whole play. How he easily caught the ball and ran along the sidelines to get the first down. And then how we heard his name announced over the loudspeaker, and how my younger daughter cried watching her little brother play so hard and well.

I looked up from the plate of fries and saw my older girl beginning to blubber over the news. “Stop it, “ she said, her face starting to mottle and tears welling in her big blue eyes, “now you’re making me cry.”

I told this story a few days later to the varsity football coach as we stood in the athletic trainer’s office after that JV game. As she assessed my son for a possible concussion, I told the coach about how proud we were of him. About how thrilling it was to watch him play.

In the end, our doctor determined he’d been mildly concussed from the hit, mostly due to a continuing headache he had the following day. He’s been taking it easy ever since and sitting out of practices, and will remain on the sidelines during this week’s game.

But next week, he’ll be back on the field, giving it his all. It’s really a brutal sport, all these big men charging at each other and trying to take each other down, while we all sit on the sidelines and cheer. And I’ve embraced and encouraged my son’s role as a gladiator in the game.

I hope it was the right decision.

Do you channel your inner Connie Britton and embrace your high schooler’s Friday Night Lights experience? Do you regret letting him play? I mean, I’m involved now, but would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.

Friday Faves: Get Organized

Greetings to all who haven’t had enough of me since the dawn of my Blogging Renaissance earlier this month.

A few weeks ago — as summer wound down and it seemed my time running a beach share to 20-somethings looking for a place to escape the city’s heat and eat all my food, was just about up — I started dreaming about giving my house a good scrub. After Labor Day had come and gone, I stripped all the white slipcovers off my Ektorp chair and sofa and let them dry out in the sun on my patio, and pulled everything out of our refrigerator and scoured the inside. We’re talking shelves AND drawers getting worked over with soap and hot water in the sink. It felt good rinsing away a summer’s worth of detritus stuck to the bottom of my deli drawer.

My neighbor, Liz, told me she’d just rented one of those carpet shampoo machines for, like, $25 at a nearby supermarket and was raving about all the dirt she pulled out of her rugs. I took a long look at the wall-to-wall carpet I had installed in our TV room before we moved in three years ago, and was horrified to see how stained it had gotten in that short of time. It didn’t help that our Crown Prince — Finn, the 18-month-old goldendoodle — had just enjoyed some kind of rawhide bone that left sticky white crumbs embedded in the carpet’s fibers all over the room.

So I decided that’s what I’d do with my upcoming weekend, rent the shampooer and go to town on the three carpeted rooms in my house. I told my pal, Dan, the exciting news, and he was like, “Do yourself a favor, just hire a professional who knows what they’re doing. It won’t cost that much more.” And because he gave me permission to do that, I found a guy who could come a few days later.

AND IT CHANGED MY LIFE. For $140 (plus tax), this guy cleaned three rooms (total!) and it was like I was living in a new house. I’d cleared a bunch of things out-of-the-way for them to get to as much carpet as possible, piling it all up in my living room, and after they left I decided I loved how everything looked a little less cluttered and spent hours moving things around. I think that day I walked about 18,000 steps, according to my Fitbit.

That, and my recent break from drinking wine every day, has ushered in a period of organization and productivity. As such, I’ve found a few items to be super-valuable in the effort to keep me on track, which is really like trying to herd a cat or, better, that dog from “Up.”

I get distracted a million times a day by stupid squirrels.

Here’s how I am trying to stay focused:

Best Self Co: This wonderful 13-week journal has kinda become the boss of my life. It not only helps me set goals but then has space  to break down the steps needed to achieve those goals. There are monthly, weekly and daily sections with areas provided for assessment, like “What was the biggest lesson you learned this week?” and “What were your 3 big wins for the week?”. My favorite feature though is on the daily pages, where there is a section to list 3 things your grateful for both in the morning and at the end of the day. It’s been particularly nice (and validating) to feel gratitude for not drinking. Finally, for clarification and further motivation, the BestSelfCo website has lots of helpful videos. My only complaint is that after I ordered it — and had a bee in my bonnet to start living my new, more productive life — it took forever for it to arrive. Do yourself a favor and order it on Amazon.


Pens: Obviously, if I’ve got this sweet, new planner, I need the proper writing utensils with which life changing entries are to be made. I’m the kind of person who likes other people to do the dirty work of figuring out what’s the best of anything, so am obsessed with The New York Times’ Wirecutter site. From dehumidifiers to cat beds, they’ve vetted all the options and come up with what they think is the best. Good enough for me. It helps me with the overwhelming FOBO I struggle with. My winners? This one, which is really fine, and this option that makes a little thicker line. I take my writing implements very seriously and think it’s a highly individualized preference, so here’s the complete list of Wirecutter’s favorite pens for you to waste time looking at. 

Command hooks: The night after my rug cleaning, herein known as THE BEST DAY OF MY LIFE, I went into a frenzy clearing out piles that took up corners in my office and finally hanging a picture that had been propped against a wall since a friend gave it to me for Christmas. Nine months ago. I couldn’t figure out where I wanted to hang it and in my fugue state, it occurred to me it would look cool hanging from the bookcase in my office. I inspected the IKEA particle board piece and considered the damage a small nail would do and then I was like, “Duh, use a Command Hook!” Pretty much, everything else in my house is adhered to something with one of those magical doohickeys. I use them to hold garland I drape all over the place at Christmas, and to hang all the doodads I have hanging in the wall gallery in my office. If I could, I would use a tiny one to hoist the lovehandle on my back up to join the rest of my body that it has slowly drooped away from.

#amwriting podcast: If you fancy yourself a writer of just about anything — fiction, memoir, poetry, romance, parenting features, maybe even cookbooks — the writer/author/journalists who host this motivating podcast have something to make you want to “get your butt in your chair and your head in the game” (their tagline). I listen while I walk the dog around town and when I’m driving to Costco, or some other glamorous destination. As is the case when you spend an inordinate amount of time listening, or watching, folks, you start to feel like you know them. It’s the same way I feel about Joe and Mika and the lamentably absent Sue Simmons, a News 4 staple in New York for years. God, I miss her sassy self. Anyway, Jess and KJ — my podcast friends — REALLY motivate me and make me want to be a better, and more productive, writer.

La Croix Cerise Limon (aka Cherry/lime): This has absolutely nothing to do with getting organized, but it has been quite nice during this dry period I’m in. It’s in a fancy, skinny can, reminiscent of all those skinny seltzers I drank on the beach this summer, minus the self remorse.





Blue Diamond Dark Chocolate Almonds: Also, a girl needs chocolate, and since one of my goals in my planner is to lose weight, this is a pretty low-sugar indulgence that keeps me sane while also not getting in the way of me shedding some of this menopausal layer I’ve acquired of late.






Blinc Micro Trimmer: Do you have a teenage boy who’s got a facial hair situation? Not whiskers, per se, but more of a fuzz covering his morphing face? Do I have a fun tool for you, provided that teen will sit on a stool in your bathroom and let you have it, which my guy inexplicably does. I’ve mowed the equivalent of a small kitten off his cheek and I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to hack through that long, legit Shaggy stubble protruding from the bottom of his chin. I’ve also mowed my own cheeks, upper lip and nostrils and have tidied up some unsightly hair on an older child’s back. Honestly, it’s as satisfying as clean carpets, and a lot cheaper. You can get it at Amazon or run over Arch Brow Bar in Shrewsbury, NJ and you’ll be defuzzing everyone in your family by tonight.






Any must-haves i need to get and stay organized? Or good treats to make my dry spell even better? Please, share share share below!

Pressing ‘Pause’ on Drinking

Last Friday night, my son’s high school football team won a nail biter of a game — with a touchdown in the last 10 seconds — and honestly, it was one of the most stressful nights of my life. It was one of those games that went back and forth, when at any moment either one of the teams appeared poised to win, and the first half alone seemed to last the equivalent of 1.5 games. We were all exhausted in the bleachers when it was over.

After we high-fived and celebrated the win in the stands, I started filing out with all the other parents and at least two said they were going to need a drink when they got home to settle their nerves after the crazy game.

“Ugh,” I said to one of the moms, “I picked a terrible week to give up booze.”

“Any reason for that?” she asked as we walked towards our cars in the parking lot. “Just too much fun this summer,” I told her, which was a roundabout way of saying that it felt like my alcohol boundaries needed to be tightened up after three months of drinking just about every day.

Okay, every day.

Raise your hand if you wrapped up the Labor Day weekend feeling like if someone accidentally pricked you with a pin, rose would come rushing out of the tiny hole. Or maybe pinot grigio, it that’s more your thing. Like you were a boozy hemophiliac unable to stop hemorrhaging vino.

I wrapped up the long holiday weekend, and unofficial end to summer, nursing a pounding headache after cocktails on the beach with my adult kids the day before, and decided to just stop drinking. That was 14 days ago. My goal is to stay dry for 21 days and then maybe, do it all over again. It feels good to wake up every morning and not hate myself.

The decision to take a break did not come out of the blue. I’d been thinking about pressing the pause button on drinking for a while. In fact, I do a lot of thinking about drinking in general. How much I had the night before. Whether I had any left in the house. How nice it would be if I could just have one drink with dinner. And most especially, how much I hated myself for drinking that last glass of (fill in the blank) the night before. It was taking up too much space in my brain and life is so much easier when it’s just eliminated from the stuff I really do need to think about every day.

I actually did take a break from booze two years ago. I turned 50 and decided to stop drinking for 100 days, and it was really hard. For one thing, August was a hard time of year to climb on the booze-free wagon. Not only did I have to get through two Bruce Springsteen concerts that summer and a tailgate for a Penn State football game in the fall, but Trump’s election in November required every ounce of willpower I could muster not to start guzzling wine right out of the bottle.

When I took that break from booze in the fall of 2016, I spent a lot of time thinking about my drinking — examining it from every angle — and reading books written by women who came to the conclusion that alcohol had become problematic (like, blacking out and waking up in bed in a stranger’s hotel room and almost killing your friends’ two kids). I wrote about it in my journal. I talked about it with my best friend and, of course, with Jennifer My Therapist. And according to the journal I kept around then, every day was hard. Each day I felt like I was being deprived of something I deserved, and often compensated with a bowl of ice cream or something chocolately from Trader Joe’s. It was not the thinnest time of my life.

I turned 50 on a Saturday and five days later, stopped drinking. Weirdly, I don’t even write about it in my journal that day. The following day I report in my journal that it was “not impossible,” and that waking up “sans remorse” was “lovely.” Then I go on to observe that after my trip later that day to drive my daughter back to college — an 8-hour ride round trip — I would probably feel like I “deserved” a glass of wine.

“I just need to get through the day,” I conclude.

And that’s how I kind of go about the entire 100 Day Experiment, which I must confess only lasted 90 days for me. I just pushed through each day and was relieved when my head hit the pillow each night that I’d made it through another day to mark off on my calendar.

My breaking point came when my 20yo daughter came home from college the weekend before Thanksgiving and she and her friend were having a glass of wine in the kitchen, and I was like, “Fuck it,” and poured one for myself and effectively fell with a thud off the wagon.

“I just couldn’t take in any more,” I’d write the next day in my journal. Then I pretty much resumed drinking most days and slipping into the same old patterns of indulging and then regretting my decisions.

I read something recently in a newsletter I love, about why it’s so hard to put “Future You” in front of “Present You,” which is pretty much the story of my life. I am constantly acting against my own best self-interest. I am so good and thoughtful to “Present Amy” — I give her pretty much anything she wants — whereas “Future Amy” goes through life cursing the all the stuff Present Amy did and did not do. Future Amy spends a lot of time scrambling to make up for the other one’s lack of foresight.

For example: Present Amy NEEDS that last glass of red wine when she gets home from a night of drinking many other glasses of red wine, and then Future Amy must suffer through a day pretending she’s fine while her brain feels like it’s melting and about the slip out her left ear. Also, nothing really productive happens after that mandatory nightcap. It’s one unproductive day that blends into years of other unproductive days.

And that’s how we got to this new round of sobriety. I turned 52 in August and was finally tired of not getting anything done. Or what I really mean, is not living the life I want to be living. As in: if I got hit by a truck tomorrow, I’d be pretty mad about all the things I’d yet to do with my life. All the things that were going to happen “someday.” You turn 52 and start to see there’s only so many some days left.

Out of the blue, my bestie sent me the link to a 21-Day Challenge to give up alcohol and it was like all roads were pointing to sobriety. If not for health reasons, then at the very least, to start getting the work done (check out another podcast they do on “grey area” drinking).

So, um, now you know. I’m kind of in this weird place where I know booze can be the devil, but I can’t imagine a life without it. (This is where Jennifer the Therapist asks me if I’d feel the same way about a life without marshmallows.) I’m heading to Quebec with my dad and stepmother and daughter in October, and I really want to have cocktails while we’re away. In fact, I’m planning on it.

Because that is normal. Last night, it was lovely watching the Emmys with a bottle of water nearby and not a bottle of wine, which would have probably been the case had I still been doing my usual routine. And then this morning, I would have been filled with self loathing. And my sleep has been amazing. The best it’s been in ages. So good it’s hard to wake up in the morning, which is weird for me.

I also don’t have a lot of social engagements on my calendar, which seems to have helped. Two weekends ago, my 15yo went to his dad’s and the others were off doing their things, and I found myself blissfully alone and spent the weekend organizing my life and reading and writing. I told friends I felt so rejuvenated that it was as if I’d been away at a retreat.

We had our block party last Saturday night, and it was fun to see all the little kids zipping across the cordoned-off street and running through the yards as the sky grew dark, marked only by the glow-in-the-dark necklaces they’d draped themselves in, wrapped around little ankles and pushed down on tiny heads like colorful halos. They discovered the swing we have hanging from a tree by our driveway and the whole night, a procession of children stood or sat on the wooden seat, as friends and siblings pushed and spun them around.

Although most nights seem like the perfect night for a cocktail, the warm evening beckoned for some kind of icy drink, as did the prospect of standing awkwardly in the street with veritable strangers. I envied the beers I watched a few of my neighbors drink. Instead, I made a fancy lime seltzer with a splash of (diet) cranberry juice, and contented myself with meeting all the young families who have recently moved to our neighborhood and laughing when the sisters up the street rolled up to the block party in their pink Barbie Escalade. Talk about jealous.

Had I been drinking, I would have definitely found a partner (or two) to try to keep the fun going long after the little ones had been taken home and put to bed. I would have easily polished off the majority of a bottle of rose and the next day, would have felt pretty terrible driving my 15yo to lacrosse practice 40 minutes away. Instead, I helped clean up all the desserts and was in bed and reading by 10:00. On a Saturday.

But I’ll tell you what, there’s nothing better than waking up on a Sunday morning and — aside from all the usual 52yo aches and pains — feeling like a champ. Future Amy was happy, for once, with what Present Amy had chosen to do the night before. A first.

Do you find alcohol to be the same slippery slope that I’ve been trying to navigate? I have a feeling that I’m not alone. Feel free to share in the comments below.

Friday Faves: What to Watch

The Emmy’s are this Monday and you know what that means: all my TV viewing over the last year is finally going to pay off. Even though I haven’t read or written as much as I would have liked to, I’ll feel validates Monday night when I’ll have watched pretty much every show and nominated actor announced during the show.

If you’re looking for something to start watching this weekend, my suggestion is to find a run down of all the nominations, and just pick something that appeals to you. Chances are, it will be excellent. (My faves: Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon Prime), Killing Eve (BBC) and The Handmaid’s Tale (HULU)).

This summer, I watched a few shows that I can’t stop talking about (hello, GLOW) and finally caught up on the remaining four seasons (read: 40 hours) left of a show I had given up on a few years earlier but suddenly, it felt strangely relevant and necessary to plough through to the end (also: it was worth it).

GLOW (Netflix): Let it be known that I am easily influenced by advertisements. This holds true for wanting to wear Candies high wooden heels when I was, like, 11, and succumbing to the non-stop trailers promoting Season 2 of GLOW every time I signed into Netflix. In the case of the latter, falling prey to ads was an excellent decision. Watching me teeter around with high heels on my baby feet in 1979, not so much.

Okay, what can I tell you? I was afraid this was going to be all T & A, as the show’s title refers to the Glorious Women of Wrestling and is set in the 1980s. Wrong. Instead, you get tons of girl power, layered characters developed so beautifully over the course of the 10 half-hour episodes in each of the two seasons. And if nothing else, just watch it for all that 80s hair and leg warmers.

Ozark (Netflix): How, you wonder at the end of the first episode of Season 2, is this family going to get out of their very terrible predicament alive? How are they going to go the 10-episode distance? The family in question, headed up by parents Laura Linney and Jason Bateman, have landed in the Ozarks after the drug cartel he was laundering money for discovered his partner was an informant and that’s when the shit hits the fan. Again, with the amazing character development, especially Linney and the remarkable young woman who’s running the titty bar they bought to run their dirty money through. She is a force. All I have to say is, much like how Man Men shook out in by end, it’s the women you need to keep your eye on in this show.

The Americans: As I mentioned earlier, I’d given up watching this when I determined it was one of those shows that demanded my attention. I couldn’t multitask (translation: troll Facebook on my phone) and expect to follow what’s going on. So I chose to move on until friends started raving about the last episode of this FX series about a couple of Russian spies in the 1980s (A theme? Maybe.) to pose as an everyday married couple living outside D.C. with their two kids and running a travel agency. On the side, the two run around in a lot in disguises duping government workers into divulging top-secret information and knocking people off in a variety of ways over six seasons. Kerri Russel’s Elizabeth Jennings is a badass.

When the series first started in 2013, it seemed like a quaint throwback to Reagan-era issues. I mean, the Russians at that time seemed about as threatening to our country as Boris and Natasha. Fast forward six seasons and now, it could not be more relevant. In fact, every time I hear a crazy story in the news lately about the UK spy poisoning or this story about the recent Russian defector, I can totally picture Kerri Russell and Matthew Rhyss pulling this stuff off. Couple in all the other Russian stuff in the news (election tampering, social media skewing), and I’d say this show became more and more like Homeland over time. Weirdly prescient.

But the biggest challenge facing this husband and wife spy team, is the choice between family and country. They grapple with it season after season and the final episode of the series paints a clear picture of which they choose. Wonderful.

Sharp Objects (HBO): Did you not watched this 8-episode miniseries this summer? Well, call out of work next week because you have some bingeing to do. Spooky. A soundtrack bursting with moody Led Zeppelin and a cast headed up by Amy Adams and Patricia Clarkson, the final episode TOTALLY nails its landing. Make sure you watch it until the last credit rolls off your screen. Then call me if you need to freak out.

Somebody Feed Phil (Netflix): My girls and I were scrolling through Netflix looking for something to watch this summer when we saw that Season 2 of this super-charming 6-episode series featuring the totally goofy Phil Rosenthal, creator of Everybody Loves Raymond, had just dropped. We squealed and sat back to enjoy watching him eat his way through New York, Buenos Aires, Ireland, South Africa, Venice, and Copenhagen. We come for the adventures, all the different types of food he tries and all the friends he makes along the way. But we stay for the Skype session with his parents, Max and Helen Rosenthal, at the end of every episode. Squeeze in Season 1 while you’re at it, and travel along to Bangkok, Saigon, Tel Aviv, Lisbon, New Orleans and Mexico City. What I really love the most about Season 2, is that Phil makes it a point to emphasize that it’s through travel that we get to meet people from all walks of like, which helps us expand our own views and gives us new angles to look at things. Plus, food. Here’s Season 2’s trailer, just for fun:

Won’t You Be My Neighbor (Amazon Prime): About three minutes into this lovely documentary on Mr. Rogers that my daughter and I went to see this summer at a local arty movie theater, she leaned over and whispered, “Are you crying yet?” Of course I was. Now, you too can start weeping as you watch and remember just how wonderful and special Fred Rogers was, as it has recently been released on Amazon Prime to rent for $5.99 (SO WORTH IT). Honestly, I think if everyone in the world watched it, it would be a strong reminder of just what it means to be a human being moving with love and compassion through this world. “The greatest thing we can do is to let somebody know is that they are loved and capable of loving,” you hear Mr. Rogers say and it just about sums it all up. Plus, Henrietta Pussycat and Lady Elaine Fairchild. Talk about blasts from the past. Revisit your childhood (and your children’s if they’re old enough to remember) and watch it tonight.

Disenchantment (Netflix): Probably the opposite of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, this new cartoon series from Matt Groening is The Simpsons meets Game of Thrones and the perfect show to watch with your teenage son. At least it was for me, but I’ve got it easy because often my viewing tastes are akin to that of a teenage boy. But if you love The Simpsons, and I totally do, this 10-episode series is right up your alley, with an elf who’ll remind you of Ralph Wiggum and a demon who steals every episode. The clincher: Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson voices the anti-princess Princess Bean who’d rather die than get married and just wants to live life her way. Also, she’s a bit of a drunk.

Anything else I NEED to watch? Let me know in the comments below!

On Letting Your Kid Drive Half-Way Across the Country. Alone.

This spring, on the cusp of her 21st birthday, my younger daughter flew from New Jersey to Minneapolis, rented a U-Haul and stretched a little further west—driving a few hours into North Dakota. Then, over the course of the next four days, she worked her way back east, making her last stop along the coast of New Hampshire and then hopping on a bus the next day to Boston and finally, flying home to Newark.

Since her return, my heart has slowly made its way out of my throat and back down into my chest where it belongs.

While my third child was somewhere in Indiana dipping her toes in Lake Michigan, and visiting the National Buffalo Museum in Jamestown, ND, I spent most of the week she was away refreshing her location on my iPhone, ensuring she was alive by watching the icon I use for her on my phone — a picture of a cartoonish bear I took at Target that reminded me of her — move across the country.

For a while one afternoon, the icon seemed to stall somewhere in the middle of Wisconsin on my phone, indicating where she had been 14 minutes earlier — then 15 — but wouldn’t update to where she was at that moment. I had resolved not to call or text while she was driving her rig — I didn’t want to distract her or let her feel the wind from my hovering beating hard over her curly head from 1,000 miles away — but was overpowered by the mental image I had of her pinned beneath an 18-wheeler.

“HE-L-L-O!” she answered happily when I called, in her best Oprah-like voice, and told me she had pulled over to take a walk through a nature reserve she’d read about the night before. She wanted to stretch her legs a bit before resuming her journey to Kalamazoo for the night. “There’s, like, zero reception here,” she told me, explaining why her location wasn’t updating on my phone.

A few minutes later, she sent me a video from the top of a gorge, which panned down to a waterfall spilling into the stream far below, and then spun around to show me the sun-dappled woods behind her. It was picturesque and serene and a little too deserted for my liking. IMG_3379

While I was happy to hear she wasn’t in a fiery heap on the side of the interstate, I was also concerned that she was about to end up shackled in the back of a serial killer’s van, destined to become the sleeve of his skin suit. “Please text me as soon as you get back in the U-Haul,” I told her, “and lock the doors!”. A little while later, she sent a picture of the truck, parked in a deserted looking lot, which is exactly the kind of scene a location scout would pick for a movie about a young woman’s abduction on her journey across America.

I said a silent prayer to Sacagawea, whose image was plastered across the side of the U-Haul, to help keep my daughter safe as she rolled through the Upper Midwest towards New Hampshire, like Lewis and Clark making their way to the Pacific, except with podcasts and Spotify.

It had all the makings of a great story: my daughter, just home from a semester in Italy, was dead broke and had the opportunity to make a nice chunk of change, while touring her own country for a few days. Even though she’d spent the previous four months exploring Europe — taking a bike tour through Munich and traveling from Florence to Greece on a 30-hour journey akin to Odysseus’, minus the Cyclops — a road trip seemed like a well-timed adventure before beginning her summer internship at a big resort in Pennsylvania. And for a girl from New Jersey, anything west of Pittsburgh seemed pretty exotic

The opportunity to go on this 8-hour-a-day-odyssesy through the upper half of the country and make some money came from right next door. Our neighbor, Liz, is a bookkeeper and one of her clients had asked whether her college-aged son would be interested in the job. When he couldn’t, Liz immediately thought of my daughter and texted me with all the details.

In a nutshell, a New Hampshire-based marketing firm (Liz’s client) was looking to make an impression on some big corporations by hiring someone to hand-deliver to their marketing execs end tables with company logos, crafted by some artisans in North Dakota. The job was to pick up the tables from the workshop and travel back east, making two deliveries (Minneapolis and Ann Arbor), and then transporting the rest of the furniture to New Hampshire, all expenses paid plus a nice check at the end.

What could go wrong?

I was nervous at first, but everything checked out and in the many years that I have known Liz, she has never done anything remotely reckless. She recently spearheaded a campaign in town to encourage more kids to walk and bike to school, and wears a reflective vest when she goes on her early morning runs. I was confident she wasn’t setting my daughter up to be a drug mule.

“She might want to check what’s inside those table legs,” said my friend Dan — who’d worked a dozen years as a prison guard before becoming a personal trainer, and has witnessed horrible things on both ends of the economic spectrum. “It’s just the way I think,” he said, shrugging his shoulders.

Around the same time, a good friend was sending her husband to fetch their daughter (my girl’s BF) from college in St. Louis and drive her back to New Jersey in their car, which she’d had for the year. “You better tell her to be careful,” my friend said when I told her of my own daughter’s wacky caper.

And that’s when panic set in.

Truth be told, I am not prone to smothering tendencies as a parent. In fact, sometimes I can be a little too hands off. I keep forgetting to check my 15yo’s grades from last marking period online and still don’t know whether I need to call to check if a parent is home, every time he goes over to a friend’s house. It just seems so aggressive.

I do enjoy some casual stalking though, insisting that all the kids — even ones who don’t live with me anymore — share their locations with me on their iPhones (okay, not the 25yo boy, who thinks all of us stalking each other is weird). 

Aside from the solo aspect of the journey, I was also worried about all of that driving. I get sick when the kids are on long-distance drives, like the 8-hour haul the older two kids had to their college in Virginia. And I hate when any of my kids are flying and insist they text the minute the plane’s wheels hit the tarmac. But I also don’t want my children spending their lives standing still.

If I was going to be completely honest, I think what concerned me the most about the journey — besides all the driving and traveling by herself — was whether other people would think I was an irresponsible parent for allowing her to go.

I didn’t want anyone to think that I was a bad mom. 

When she was little, I used to refer to my third child as “The Boss” because, even at a young age, she was someone who liked to take charge — or at the very least — stand up to her older two siblings. They’d lounge around on beanbag chairs in our basement when they were little, watching Barney and Thomas the Tank Engine videos that ran on a loop, while I pried little scraps of American cheese off the floor upstairs after lunch. One afternoon  my oldest came up crying and holding his cheek, sobbing something about his baby sister, who was probably around 2 at the time. Apparently, tired of being harassed by her oldest brother, The Boss had gotten up off her pink beanbag chair and bit him in the face. And he never bothered her again.

I knew in my heart that my girl, that Boss, could handle a 2,000-mile drive across the country. That she was up to the challenge. But the reaction I got as I told peopleexcitedly at first about the trip, had me questioning whether I should have even told my kid about the job in the first place.

What no one ever tells you when your children are young, when they’re offering advice about whether they should sleep on their back or their side or if you should worry when one bites her brother in the face, is that it never ends. What you never find out until it’s too late, is that you will worry about your child until you take your last breath.

And I think the only way to manage that crushing reality, is to recognize that for the most part, they’ve got it. It might not always go to way you’d like it to go, or the way you try to manipulate outcomes (“Hello, my name is Amy, and I can be a master manipulator.”) but they usually figure it out. I’ve watched a million times as I’ve tried to play the role of the puppeteer that they do what’s best for them when I drop (or, okay, they cut) the strings.

They pick the right colleges and get full-time jobs with 401ks. And if they don’t, it’s valuable information for them to use in the future.

Maybe in the end, it all just comes down to faith.

So, while my inner voice told me it would all be fine, I ratcheted up my hovering, lest anyone think I didn’t care about my daughter. And then I started to lose faith. I stopped listening to my inner voice.

As soon as she drove away in the Uber for her flight to Minneapolis, I became pretty focused on her whereabouts. I immediately started stalking the hell out of her on my phone, which I think charmed her at first and then quickly became very irritating.

Aside from the stalking, I also spent much of the week serving as her travel agent, combing the internet to book rooms and find places for her to eat. And while I tried to find the “best” places for her to go, she really just wanted to get something to eat and lie down.

She ended up at the Mall of America after a long day of driving from North Dakota one day (“I’m so overwhelmed,” she texted when she got inside. “Why didn’t you ever bring us here on vacation?”), and I tracked her location inside the megamall. I could see on my laptop where she was, and tried to guide her to good places for dinner like she was Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible and I was trying to help her find an escape route. I had all of these amazing ideas (I thought) and eventually, she stopped texting and later told me she rode a rollercoaster and grabbed some hibachi at Benihana.

She did her own research each night in her hotel room, which took her to see a giant pink elephant in Wisconsin and ate what she said were “the most amazing” beef tacos (“It’s rated the #1 restaurant in DeForest,” she texted.). One morning, she messaged asking, “Should I go see a forest or the world’s largest six-pack of beer?” which led her for that deserted walk around the woods of Pewits Nest, alongside a stream called Skillet’s Creek in Devil’s Lake State Park in Wisconsin. A place from which I thought she’d surely never escape. 

For a while one afternoon as she approached Chicago, I tried to find places for her to park the U-Haul so she could go visit that giant bean, but in the end, we determined no parking garage could accommodate her rig and that she’d come off looking like aterrorist. Instead, she pulled off at Indiana Dunes State Park and stood in the clear shallow water of Lake Michigan before spending the night in Kalamazoo.

Along the way, she stopped for lunch in Cleveland one day with her roommate from freshman year (even though I was dying for her to go to Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor), and another day had breakfast with one of her best pals who lives in Harrisburg, PA. She stopped for the night to stay at her apartment in State College, PA, to see friends and pick up bedding and stuff for her summer internship at Hershey Park.

Finally, she arrived around 8 p.m. in Portsmouth, NH after a long day of driving from State College, where she finally met the man she’d been driving across the country for who took her to get something to eat before she collapsed at a Hilton Garden Inn for the night. The next morning, she took a bus to Boston and flew home, where she promptly ate some leftover quiche in the frig, snuggled our dog and watched the royal wedding, which had happened earlier that day. 

A week later she packed up our old GMC and drove back to Pennsylvania to start her internship and we joked that the three-hour trip would feel like nothing after her midwestern odyssey.

After a day of orientation, she worked her first 8-4:30 day in housekeeping and when I asked how it went, she told me her feet were killing her.

She was on her way back to the apartment she shared with five other interns and was going to shower and change to meet friends for an early dinner, and then had to run to Wal-Mart to by an all-black sneaker to wear to work the next day.

“Well, how do you feel?” I asked as she pulled into her apartment complex and was about to get out of the car.

“I feel like a legit grown up,” she told me.

And I couldn’t have agreed more.

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Friday Faves: What I Read This Summer

When my kids were young enough to come to the beach with me every day, but old enough to get themselves to the pool or spend the day trying to sell friendship bracelets up by the cabanas at our club, I’d squeeze in a lot of reading. I’d sit in a circle on the beach with my mother-in-law and sisters-in-law, and after we’d finish talking about funny things the kids did or our latest concerns about what the kids were watching or eating (we were young mothers, of course), we’d pull our books or newspapers out of our beach bags and quietly read alongside each other in the sand.

A few times, we all headed to the family cabin in the Poconos, and I am being very generous with the term “cabin.” It was pretty rustic — think outhouse and no running water — and had been furnished with the hand-me-downs of extremely frugal people. The kitchenware was mismatched and the stacks of bedding kept in a trunk in the living room had been worn thin with use. But despite its lack of creature comforts, the cabin sat a short distance from a lake that we’d ride our bikes around at dusk in search of beavers building dams and once, a mama bear and her cubs crossed the road right in front of the cluster of cousins that had zoomed ahead of the grownups. We’d drive over to the falls and slide down the rushing water into the cold dark pool below and eat a picnic of sandwiches and chips perched on the flat rocks overlooking the water flowing downstream. But in between adventures, we’d make our way out to the porch looking out over fields of foxgloves and teepees the kids had fashioned out of long tree branches, and settle in to read. With no TV to watch and still in that blissful era before iPhones and Instagram, the kids would pull out the latest Harry Potter of Captain Underpants and join us in the shade. 

Nowadays when I go to the beach, there’s a lot more talking than reading and I’m as guilty as the next guy of looking at my phone and falling down long and twisty Internet holes. So, it was nice this Labor Day to sit quietly with my older two kids (so far, the biggest of my readers) under the beach umbrella and read for most of the afternoon. It helped that both my daughter and I were finishing books that we were loving and couldn’t put down. That’s how I felt about (almost) all of the books I read this summer: they kept me coming back and I was sorry for (most) of them to end. Which, to me, is all you can ask for of a book.

Less (Andrew Sean Greer): It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction this year and was what I had been (reluctantly) finishing up on the beach on Labor Day and I cannot recommend it enough, especially if you are turning 50. I think Arthur Less’s story will resonate with anyone of us who has lived a life. Less is a struggling novelist who decides to avoid his former lover’s pending nuptials by accepting a series of invitations (teach a course, be up for an award, celebrate somebody else’s 50th) that set him traveling across the globe. Here’s my favorite exchange.

Less smiles. “My birthday is in one week.”

“Strange to be almost fifty, no? I feel like I just understood how to be young.”

“Yes! It’s like the last day in a foreign country. You finally figure out where to get coffee, and drinks, and a good steak. And then you have to leave. And you won’t ever be back.”

AUDIO: My Year of Rest and Relaxation (Ottessa Moshfegh): A lot of times I will listen to the audio version of a book and become convinced that simply reading it would never have been as good (that was my experience with Lincoln in the Bardo, for sure). Such is the case with this story of a 20-something woman living in Manhattan during the summer of 2000 who decides to escape the sorrow in her life by spending a year asleep. Enter the wackiest, prescription writing NYC shrink and whiny best friend, and the narrator does a terrific job giving each character a distinct voice and personality. The final line of the book is everything. Haunted me for weeks.

Pachinko (Min Jin Lee): It took me until about two-thirds of the way through this generational saga set in Japan, which focuses on its Korean refugees beginning in the 1930s, that Pachinko wasn’t the name of a major character in the book. “When are we going to meet her?” I kept wondering as I looked at the illustration of the woman on the paperback’s front cover (it is not a spoiler to tell you that pachinko is a Japanese pinball game). Loved learning about the splitting of Korea and how kind of horrible the Japanese were to them when they fled their country and how displaced the Koreans were in their new home. Good insight into what it must feel like for all those refugees wandering around the globe, forced from their homes and unwanted in other countries. Hard to imagine.

The Woman in the Window (A.J. Finn): Fast. Fun. In the “Gone Girl” vein of unreliable narrators. Made me glad that for all the red wine I drink, I steer clear of prescription meds. It makes you see things. Maybe.

Calypso (David Sedaris): What can I say? I’ve loved Sedaris since I heard him on NPR reading his “Santaland Diaries,” when I pulled into my driveway and then sat, laughing as he threatened to have some mouthy kid — waiting on-line to see Santa — killed, until the end. This new collection of essays seems to have more of a thread running through the pieces than his other books, which I really liked. It kept a lot of the stories in context. One of the most alarming is the tale of a lipoma he had removed from his back and what he did with it. Strange and hilarious. The piece about his sister, Tiffany’s, suicide remains heartbreaking, no matter how many times I read it.

Look Alive Out There (Sloane Crosley): More collections of essays and maybe funnier than Sedaris, I am completely obsessed with Crosley and have wasted way too many hours stalking her online and reading everything she’s written. To wit: “Around this time, I began dating a younger and emotionally unavailable man who was completely wrong for me in every way but anatomically. So I fell for him.”

Gilead (Marilynne Robinson): The exact opposite of every book listed above, this slow contemplation of life and religion — written as a letter by a man at the end of his to his son — is no page turner. But it’s a beautifully written exploration of the relationship between fathers and sons and the inner workings of an Iowa preacher nearing death. Heavy.

Americanah (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie): Don’t be imposed by its size, this is a compelling, but dense, story of a Nigerian woman’s experience moving to the United States and a lot of comparisons between Black Americans and Black Non Americans (her labels). There’s also love and tons of humor. Plenty of the book is also set in Nigeria, which I loved getting a glimpse into and am fascinated by black hair politics and how long it takes to create those elaborate braids you see some black women wearing. I fell down such a deep Internet hole investigating the author and have watched both her Ted Talks (“We Should All Be Feminists” and “The Danger of the Single Story”) multiple times and find her utterly charming and sassy. I was so obsessed with her, I even Googled how to pronounce her name.

Would love to know what YOU read this summer and what you’re planning to read this fall! If you are like me and have a book-buying problem ( I have SO many piled up next to my bed rn), I highly suggest (if you are local) that you use River Road Books as your official pusher to get your next reading fix (the only compensation I receive from them for that plug is great conversation when I go in to browse). 

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