Supermom doesn’t do housework

Super heroine

Supermom doesn’t do laundry.













I live on coffee and Greek yogurt snack packs… oh, and the occasional pack of smushed peanut butter and cheese crackers that sometimes finds its way back home in the bottom of a lunch box. I wake up every morning at 4:45; exactly 15 minutes before my alarm is set to go off and I resent the hell out of missing those 15 minutes every morning. I feed the cats (all seven of them) every morning, sometimes I bake brownies at the last minute, frequently I find lost dance shoes and missing earring backs and I always cheer on the sidelines even when my kid is running in the wrong direction. I apply band aids, listen to tales of friend betrayals, paint toenails, curl hair, put away the leftovers and run the Tuesday carpool to the library. Oh and as a sideline, I work part-time as an online writing tutor and study Literature as a graduate student at a university an hour from where I live. No biggie. I can handle it all. For I am mama; I am a multi-tasker. I am depended upon. I am dependable.

See that’s the thing…that last bit there. I don’t always feel like being dependable.

I’m not always feeling particularly creative when there has to be a last minute adjustment made to a dance recital costume. I’m not always feeling like Martha Stewart when those brownies, sugar cookies, chocolate chip cookies, cupcakes or devil’s food cakes need to be baked by tomorrow for the bake sale/class party/school festival/cake walk or whatever other function my kid forgot to tell me about until 9 p.m. the night before.

Sometimes I have a splitting headache when the hoard of girls that spent the night descends upon my den at the ungodly hour of 7 a.m. demanding waffles and pancakes after staying up half the night giggling so loud that no one in a five mile radius could sleep.

Sometimes I want to watch what I like on television and not reruns of Jersey Shore or Pretty Little Liars.

And sleep. Dear God, sleep. Sometimes I don’t care what orifice my kid is bleeding out of; I simply want to sleep.

I used to feel incredibly guilty for these feelings of less than absolute joy in my role as the mommy of the family. I felt as if somehow I was betraying my kids—that I must not love them enough if my every waking desire was not to subvert my own needs for theirs. I expected myself to be Supermom.

But, you know, Supermom doesn’t do laundry.

She doesn’t alter prom dresses or find the perfect shade of lipstick to go with the perfect outfit for a date the teenage daughter has with her biggest crush since 5th grade.

She doesn’t clean up vomit or scoop the kitty litter.

She doesn’t drive the carpool even when she is feeling bitchy and tired of dealing with kids whining over who gets to choose the radio station.

She doesn’t multi-task by rescheduling the dentist appointments for the third time while looking in her cavernous “mom bag” for her debit card in the checkout line at Wal-Mart.

No. Not Supermom.

All she does is fly around in her little costume and swoop in at the last possible minute and solve one problem. One little problem. Get the cat out of the tree? Supermom can do it! Little Timmy stuck in the well? Supermom will fish him out. A nuclear warhead threatens to obliterate the earth? Supermom will use her Superpowers to turn that bad boy into space for a worry-free detonation. Bada Bing, Bada Bam. She is done for the day. She doesn’t even hang around to sign little Susie’s autograph book.

When she has accomplished her one task of the week, she goes back to her hide out and has minions do all the manual labor for her. She puts her feet up, orders a Martini, slightly dirty and heavy on the olives and plays CandyCrush on her kindle fire.

The minions wash the dishes and the clothes and take care of Supercat’s little sandbox “deposits.” The minions take the Supersuit to the dry cleaners and order Chinese takeout. And kid duty? Don’t make me laugh! There are no “super kiddos” because super heroes are by nature mysterious loner types.

Recently I decided I didn’t want to be Supermom. That’s an unrealistic expectation to place on myself. Rather, I’d like to be just Mom.

Now that’s not to say that I don’t occasionally pull off some heroic feet of Supermommy-ness like managing the pick-up and drop-off of five teenage girls for the last minute sleepover my teenage daughter just has to have on the Friday before the big dance or repairing a broken ballet shoe minutes before my daughter’s next appearance on stage. But those are the exception and not the norm in my life.

.So, I learned to cut myself some slack. I learned to ignore the laundry for a moment and have that extra cup of coffee.
I learned to meditate on why my favorite cat seems to stare at one spot on the floor for an eternity (I don’t think she ever blinks).

I learned to occasionally allow myself to take a well-deserved nap. Sometimes I ignore the fact that the dishwasher needs to be unloaded and that the dust bunnies are planning an insurrection. I have a teenager and she can help me tackle those chores on the weekends. (It is my fervent belief that since you cannot duct tape them to a chair when they hit puberty, God must have meant for them to be your chore elves so you can work some of the angst out of them with menial labor!)

I might even have that martini—dependent, of course, on when the last time Mr. Hubby got out of our dry county and went to the liquor store in a nearby town. If the Martini is a no go, I may go all out and have a Starbucks Cappuccino with a double shot of coconut flavoring. At any rate, I will nap, I will yawn, I will curl up with one of those blasted kittens and I will sleep the sleep of the eternally exhausted.

A few worrisome thoughts

Now, you may think I’m paranoid–and maybe I am, I don’t know. But what I do know is that there are somethings happening in the world to day that cause me concern.

As an English teacher, I have to identify connections on a regular basis. Connections that a student makes between the ideas in his paper and possible connections between the ideas he meant to put together, but just couldn’t figure out how.

I am supposed to see those obvious connections–along with the not so obvious ones–and facilitate his putting them together in some form resembling standard written American English.

No small task, I can assure you.

At any rate, I’ve made some connections of late, and, to be fair, they may only be possible connections. But the possibilities inherent if they are connections worries me.

I’m talking about the problem of Ebola spreading rapidly in African countries, its tendency to pop up in other countries at random, and the porous nature of our Southern border.

That simply seems to be a recipe for disaster to me. The traveling that has gone on involving medical aid agencies from all over the world in an attempt to help with the African outbreak means that somewhere there are more people in other countries that have yet to come down with this illness and could possibly spread it to persons in their home country.

The possibility exists that those people could be home in Mexico right now, spreading Ebola unawares to friends and family. It doesn’t take too many degrees of separation for one of those persons to be in a caravan full of illegal aliens tromping across our wide-open border with Mexico

You see where I am going with this….connections.

Now, like I said, I may simply be paranoid. Maybe I am stirring a pot that doesn’t need to be stirred.

But I’m a mom. I worry about shit like this.

Cat-Butt Cupcakes

Apparently, in my house, if your husband comes into the kitchen and sees you re-icing cupcakes that he knows you iced an hour earlier, he will assume (not incorrectly) that the cat at your feet has committed some egregious counter jumping transgression and you are re-icing the cupcakes to cover for the offending cat.

“Why are you re-icing cupcakes that the cat licked on,” he said, as he leaned against the counter.

“Who said the cat licked the cupcakes?” I replied, trying to sound nonchalant.

“I am re-icing these cupcakes because I made a cupcake-icing miscalculation,” I lied.

He chortled and said, “Right!”

He looked at me with a raised eyebrow, the hint of a smile playing around the corners of his mouth, and said, “The only ‘cupcake-icing miscalculation’ you made was miscalculating how quickly Miss Prissy Pants would jump on the counter and lick your homemade cream cheese icing off of those cupcakes after you left the room earlier.”

“Her name is Prim, thank you very much, and nobody said she licked the frosting off of the cupcakes,” I said.

He let that go and just watched me for a minute while I iced the cupcakes.

Finally, he said, “Do you want me to lick cat butt?”

“Wha-cat butt! What does that have to do with my cupcakes?”

“Does the cat lick her butt?” he asked. I just looked at him with a go-into-the-other-room-and-die-because-I-am-too-busy-for-this-shit kind of look and ignored him.

“No, seriously, does the cat lick her butt?”

I looked at him with that look again, but he didn’t go into the other room and die, so I decided the best way to get rid of him was to humor him and answer his question.

“Yes, I suppose sometimes she licks her butt,” I said scathingly. “What’s your point?”

“Well, if the cat licks her butt, and she licked that cupcake you are re-icing, and then I eat that cupcake, by proxy, I am licking cat butt. So, since I do not want to lick cat butt, I am not eating those cupcakes or taking them to work tomorrow.”

“What!” I sputtered. “I worked at my computer on school work and at my job for over 10 hours today and now I have been in this kitchen—what time is it, going on 1:30 in the morning—for three freaking hours making these cupcakes because you wanted to take something special in for your regional manager tomorrow. You are taking these cupcakes to work!” I said emphatically, feeling my face get flushed with anger.

“Oh great! You want my regional manager to lick cat butt too,” he said with a smile. “I can just see the day unfold now. ‘Hey, Stevo, let’s talk about that promotion—oh nice! You brought cupcakes. I think I’ll have one of those. Hey, this is good….wait. Stevo, does this cupcake taste like cat butt to you? Man, I’ve got to go gargle with Listerine. We’ll talk about that promotion….someday.’ And there goes my shot at a promotion. No way! I’m not taking them. I don’t lick cat butt, and I don’t want the regional manager to lick cat butt.”

At this point, because he was grinning from ear to ear and he sounded like he was teasing me, yet he looked like maybe he wasn’t, I got desperate.

“Ok, you’re right. Prim did get on the counter and lick the frosting off some of the cupcakes. But, but, it was only these three right here,” I said, pleadingly, pointing to the three cat-licked cupcakes.

“The rest of the cupcakes are fine. She didn’t touch them. I swear. There are 22 cupcakes still that are ‘cat butt’ free that you can take to work. Please take them to work. I don’t want to have lost my sleep for nothing and I can’t let the kids eat all of these, they’ll be blimps by the time they get done,” I pressed.

“Oh, so you want to let our children lick cat butt?”

“Stephen, I’m serious,” I cried. “Take the cupcakes to work. These are fine, I swear on my right ovary. They are ‘cat-butt’ free.”

“Oh, your right ovary?” he said, putting his hand over his heart in exaggerated shock.

Again, he looked like he was joking with me, but, then again, he looked like maybe, he wasn’t, so I nodded my head vigorously and made a cross over my heart for good measure.

“You mean one of your menopausal, erratically spewing hormones, estrogen-slot-machine of an ovary? No dice. That’s no different than you swearing by Mount Vesuvius. I mean if I take that assurance, it would be like, ‘hey, the first decade or so is ok, but before you know it, daddy and the kids are running for their lives as mommy spews forth a fountain of hot flash-induced lava that threatens to turn us all into people-shaped piles of ash’,” he declared with a look of horror.

I just looked at him with that go-into-the-other-room-and-die look again and said, “Be serious. The cupcakes are fine. Now go away and let me finish icing these so I can pack them up for you to take to work tomorrow.”

“I am being serious. You would lose those ovaries in a heartbeat if the doctor said you could, so they aren’t very important to you. I’m afraid I’m gonna need you to swear by something a bit more important to you before I believe you that the cat didn’t put her butt-licking tongue on the rest of those cupcakes. Otherwise, I’m not taking them to work and the kids can prepare to blimp-up.”

I sighed. “You are so infuriating!” I screeched. “The cat did not lick these 22 cupcakes and you ARE taking them to work tomorrow. End of discussion!”

“Swear by something important, and I will believe you that the other cupcakes are cat-butt free and take them to work tomorrow,” he said, as he looked at me from his position against the kitchen counter.

“Ok,” I said in exasperation. “I swear by the upcoming Sunday night in October when you are going to keep the kids out of my hair so I can watch the premier of the first episode of season five of The Walking Dead.”

“Ooooo,” he said with mock surprise. “That is a serious assurance. You mean to tell me that if I find out that these 22 cupcakes have cat-butt on them, you will forfeit your Walking Dead time?”

“YES!” I said, really peeved at this point. “I swear by my walking dead time that these 22 cupcakes are cat-butt free. Now go into the other room and leave me alone—die if you can manage it because you are pissing me off—and let me pack these up because you are taking them to work tomorrow, and I want to go to bed.”

“That’s fine. I will take the 22 that are cat-butt free,” he declared, as he moved over to where I was standing and kissed me on the top of the head.

“I was just messing with you, by the way,” he murmured into my hair. “I think your cupcakes are great, and I was pretty sure that the cat didn’t have time to lick the frosting off of all of them in the time you were in the den with me,” he said, ducking away from me by this time, trying to avoid being hit by the frosting-covered plastic spatula I was trying to bash his skull in with when I processed what he was saying.

“I am going to kill you!” I shrieked, near apoplectic at this point. I was pretty sure that veins were sticking out on my forehead and I was about to foam at the mouth.

“You were messing with me?” I wailed. “I thought you were serious and I was going to have to trash all these cupcakes. I am so tired and you were just giving me hell? You are mean,” I wailed.

“Oh baby, I’m sorry,” he crooned. “I would come over there and hug you to make you feel better, but you have that bowl of icing in front of you and I don’t want it to end up on my head,” he teased and then quickly left the room.

Then he peeked back around the corner of the kitchen doorway and said, “Oh, and baby, I won’t even tell the kids that you fed them cat-butt cupcakes if you decide not to throw those other three out.”

“Arrgh!” I yowled and hurled a freshly frosted cupcake at him.

Husbands can be such jerks.

But I smiled to myself as I remembered the earnest look on his face when he asked me if I wanted him to lick cat butt.

“Cat butt,” I muttered as I packed the cupcakes into a plastic container and shook my head ruefully.

I looked down at Prim, who was eying the bowl of frosting from the chair next to the counter, and said, “Don’t even think about it butt licker.”

Then I covered the cupcakes, put them in the fridge, turned out the kitchen light, and went upstairs to cuddle in bed with my cat butt-aphobic husband.


Twelve reasons why raising daughters is better than paying for therapy

1. Your inner child is allowed to flourish.

Let’s face it–daughters are the ultimate Barbie dolls. Having grown up with a Barbie house, a travel Barbie wardrobe, countless numbers of Barbie outfits, ranging from casual ” sorority girl” chic to “Princess Di” fabulous formal, a Ken doll, and enough Barbie accessories to keep a vacuum cowering in fear for decades, I am well-versed in that girlhood rite of passage known as “dress up.” Having daughters has allowed me to continue playing dress up well into my adulthood. And, I must admit, the shopping is a great deal of fun!

There is back-to-school shopping, shopping for a party outfit when “the-snotty-but-popular-girl-with-a-bitch-of-a-mom-I’d-die-to-impress” unexpectedly invites your daughter to her Disney Princess themed ninth birthday party, shopping for date nights and shopping for fabulous summer outfits for 4-H camp. And that does not even include the shopping for church, dances and special occasions.

And what happens after all this shopping? You guessed it….dress up. This is where being a mother of girls pays off in spades and my inner child really has her moment. And the entire process is so therapeutic. From the planning stages to the final moment when I snap that FB pic to commemorate my handiwork, I am lost in a frenzy of fun, and therapeutic self-indulgence.

First, I get watch as each girl parades around, pirouetting for effect, while they model their outfit choices. Of course the outfit chosen must be well-accessorized, so there is a general flurry over this ring or that scarf, and “which shoes make me look thinner”, and mom’s opinion is valued as if I were Betsey Johnson herself. Then of course, there’s the hair. At this point, if you are like me, you are up to your elbows in styling crème, mousse, Bobby pins, ponys, hair straighteners, blow dryers, and curling irons. Oh, and hairspray. Don’t forget the hairspray. Then there is the make-up consultation. That is where the dress up process really takes off.

The only time dress up is more fun is during dance recital week and school dance seasons. During these times, it’s truly an inner child’s paradise complete with fairytale princess outfits for the girls and fabulous shopping for me. Then we snap the pics of them in multiple poses so that we get just the right one to post to FB. All I have to do is go back through my Facebook photo albums and the therapeutic effects of all that past dress-up washes over me.

2. You have tangible proof that your money is going towards something useful.

See above for clarification on this.

What do you suppose is the driving force behind all that dress up?


It costs money to be a girl. Especially if you do it right. Seeing my daughters in cute clothes and confident in the way they look is very therapeutic for me. Throughout the years, as I’ve dropped my girls off at school, I always took a sense of pride in knowing that the extra bounce in one’s step or the confident tilt to the other’s head was a result of me providing them with things that made them feel good about themselves and confident in the way they looked.

Maybe it was a pair of shoes that the oldest just HAD to have, or a horse screen printed t-shirt the younger one felt expressed herself exceptionally well–whatever it was, I tried to provide it because I wanted them to feel confident and empowered. Now that is not to say that I think the only way to teach my daughters to feel good about themselves is through the acquisition of material goods, but it does feel nice to like the way you look. When you like the way you look, you are more likely, in my opinion, to feel comfortable reaching for the stars.

Hey, this world is not kind to the meek and the indecisive. Everything I could and still can do to tip the odds of success in their favor makes me feel incredibly capable and calm—characteristics I tried to develop through therapy, but could never tell how effective the sessions were. The accoutrements of my daughter are proof positive that my money is working for their benefit and, unexpectedly, for mine.

3. You spend time with people who have no vested interest in affirming your worth.

I have spent hours upon hours in a therapist’s chair being assured that I was a good person, a worthwhile individual, a valuable woman. But I pay her to do that. The “mini” women that live in my house with me affirm my worth daily just by being themselves. I am the person they turn to when they need help and that makes me feel very worthwhile. Whether it is a skinned knee or a broken heart, they come to me for help in fixing their problems. These two very beautiful, talented and extremely smart young women value my input in their daily lives.

That is no small thing.

They will both tell you they can’t abide stupid people and they have no patience for feel-good, pandering fluff. They want a down-to-earth assessment and realistic, useful advice and input. They trust me to give them that. If that is not an affirmation of my worth, then I am at a loss to know what is.

4. They still think you are Supermom even while Metropolis is burning.

They have faith. Things may not be going so great now, but mom is on the case and things will look up soon. It has always been this way to their minds and it always will be this way. Their faith is inspirational. The motivation I experience to be a better mom, a better me, and to be capable of delivering on that faith is much more powerful than any motivation I might get from languishing on my therapist’s couch revealing my secret fears and dissecting my faults in an attempt at self-improvement.

5. Your therapist doesn’t share your deep respect and adoration of Marine Core Gunnery Sergeant Leroy Jethro Gibbs.

Rule #5. Need I say more?

6. Your daughter doesn’t think your love of watching Anime with her is a waste of time…

Rather she thinks that regular netflixing Black Butler is a good way to ease anxiety. “Obstacles” is the buzzword of the modern family in today’s economy. After the Great Recession, jobs became scarce, unemployment rose, the cost of groceries went up–essentially managing a family became more difficult. Money has been tight in my family and I am always anxious about how to pay this or that bill and still make the braces payment on time. Losing our house after the recession didn’t help my anxiety level either. Now I worry about things like whether or not I’ll be renting forever and how can I provide my kids with a permanent home–one they can bring their children home to.

My daughter understands that sitting down and losing yourself to the foibles, heartaches and triumphs of fictional people, whether animated or live action, is therapeutic.

Besides, Sebastian is simply one hell of a butler

7. Going to Starbucks for a Mocha Frappuccino is cheaper than a therapy session.

This, I think, speaks for itself.

8. Your therapist won’t introduce you to the best in YA fiction.

I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to my oldest daughter when she was in kindergarten on the advice of her best friend’s mother. That started her love affair with reading and my addiction to YA literature. It has so much more real commentary on the human condition than modern adult literature does. The characters simultaneously tear your heart out and send you to dizzying heights of joy as you live their world through their eyes.

That is the great gift of fiction.

I cried with my daughters when Dumbledore died, and I cried even more intensely when Snape’s true character was revealed in the final book of the series. And it didn’t end with the last Harry Potter book.

I walked with trepidation to the stage as Katniss read her name in front of the other prospective tributes. I celebrated with Tris when she made it through Dauntless initiation and I cried with Tobias at the end of Allegiant. I wept with Bella when Edward left her and I reveled in her newfound abilities after her transformation. I have even considered for myself if love were a disease or not. I have had many intensive conversations with both of my daughters about the characteristics of good fiction, themes, plot lines, symbolism, and imagery. I have broadened my mind and theirs by reading this genre with them.

That’s such a much nicer payoff than reading the self-help books my therapist always recommends.

9. Your therapist won’t let you be her friend.

I hate to admit this, but sometimes, therapy feels a bit self-indulgent. I mean, doesn’t she have a bad day. Wouldn’t she just love, on some days, to look at me and say, “Oh, quit your whining. Let me tell you what I am dealing with right now?” I know I would.

Now I’m not saying that I want to be best friends with my therapist– that would just be weird–but you see what I’m getting at. As a “nurturer” type woman, it feels strange sometimes for such an intense relationship to be so one-sided.

But with daughters, you have built in friends. Now before you judge me, I have adult friends and I don’t force my daughters into inappropriate adult roles to satisfy my needs. But there is a sort of give and take in the parenting of daughters that is much like friendship. And as they mature and leave the nest, it blossoms into real live, solid, reciprocal friendship.

I know that if I am having a bad day, I can share that with my daughters. When I am sick, they (sort of) take care of me. When I need a back rub, they give me one–for about five seconds. When I want to discuss the latest episode of Glee, they are up for that and don’t make fun of me for secretly being annoyed with Rachel. That’s all well and good. But the great part is that not only are they my friends, but they consider me their friend as well.

They confide in me about their first kisses. They share the gossip of school with me. They ask my opinion about their outfits before they go spend time with a boy. But it is just so much more than the easy aspects of friendship that they allow me access to.

They let me handle the hard stuff too.

They come to me with their heartaches, skinned knees, girlfriend blow ups and all around school and teacher gripes. I listen, I soothe, I try to ease their pain. Sometimes the fix is easy; a little antibiotic ointment and a SpongeBob Band-Aid and the “boo-boo” is all better. Sometimes the fix is not so easy. How do you tell a child that is convinced her heart is surely so broken that it will crumple up inside her and leave a gaping maw of hurt, despair and loss that the sun will come up tomorrow and, with time, it will hurt less and less?

Being there for my daughters–the fact that they turn to me for that compassion rather than a peer means the world to me. They let me “friend” them and it is an honor.

10. Your therapist won’t give you a tutorial on how to unfriend an annoying acquaintance on Facebook via your smartphone.

Ok, I admit it, I’m not as great with all the technical gadgets that I own as I’d like to think that I am. My daughters accept my ineptitude and don’t laugh at me when I ask them for instructions on using my gadgets. I don’t know how they do it, but give them a new smartphone or tablet and they will be using it like an expert in fifteen minutes. Me, not so much. It takes me weeks to figure out how to use all the features on my new phone. So, the other day, when I asked my daughter how to change the vibration feedback feature of my virtual keyboard on my months old smartphone, she didn’t make fun of me. She simply took my phone, figured it out and then taught me how to do it. That was nice.

11. Your daughters won’t judge you for your obsession with winning an EBay auction.

I love EBay. My daughters know this and they don’t judge me for it. Perhaps I went overboard last month when I bid on twelve ceramic cats simultaneously, but they understand. It’s the competitive instinct in me. When I place that first bid, I feel compelled to win at all costs. I can’t help it. It’s addictive. I mean that green bar at the top that says, “You are the highest bidder,” feels like a confirmation of my hunter-gatherer abilities. Yeah, I know. That’s a bit pathological. But the great thing is, my daughters don’t think I need medication to control this obsession.

They simply accept the fact that I now have to redecorate the living room to accommodate the twelve ceramic cats that were shipped to the house last month.

12. Your therapist doesn’t care what you look like when you leave the house.

I have to confess a dirty little secret. I used to wear exercise pants to parent-teacher conferences. These were not jogging pants that were part of a chic coordinated outfit with a matching jacket. Nor were they yoga pants that would look cute with a trendy sweatshirt and spotless Nikes. These were “ugly-as-sin”, ratty, faded exercise pants that came to my knees and should have only seen the inside of a gym.

I know, I know, I’m not proud of this.

After I had failed to catch on to her various hints involving questions such as, “Are you going to wear that?” my oldest daughter took matters into her own hands one day. She walked into the bathroom where I was brushing my hair in preparation to go to her middle school orientation and said, “You are wearing this tonight,” and handed me an outfit she had picked out of my closet. Then she explained to me the social faux pas of fashion that I had been committing by wearing my previous clothing choices.

After that, I was forced to go shopping and given tutorials as to what I should and shouldn’t buy. I was skeptical that this even would even make a difference. After all, I was a dumpy housewife who was horribly overweight and needed a good haircut. My daughters were patient with me and taught me to value myself and embrace my body type. Each, in her way, taught me that I could dress fashionably and look good even though my weight was less than ideal. I had been working so hard to instill a positive self-image in them that I had forgotten to heed my own teachings. My daughters taught me how to feel good about myself, accept my negatives with grace, and accentuate my positive features.

I must admit, I feel more self-assured when I leave the house now. I am more secure in my ability to face the outside world with confidence and a sense of empowerment. That confidence has bled over into other aspects of my life as well.

I have my wonderful daughters to thank for that, and I didn’t have sit on a couch with my checkbook in hand to get it.

Perennial Favorites: Embrace the White Space

As an English teacher, I totally agree with this post. I try to teach my students to incorporate white space in their own writing by parsing smaller chunks of information. It is what we have become accustomed to in this new age of technology.

The Daily Post

Whether you write succinct music reviews or longform essays, experimental poetry or serialized romance novels, readability matters — a lot. In this post from our archives, Michelle makes the case for posts that are (literally) easy on the eyes.

You could write The Great American Blog Post (or Australian, or German, or Vietnamese…), but if design and layout issues make it difficult to read, it’s not going to get read.  A busy background, oddly-placed photos, and colored text can all get between your message and the reader, but one of the biggest readability culprits is white space — or lack thereof.

Let us illustrate. This part may be a little painful, but bear with me:

You could write The Great American Blog Post (or Australian, or German, or Vietnamese…), but if design and layout issues make it difficult to read, it’s not going to get read.  A busy background, oddly-placed…

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Growing up a little

To my mind, as a parent, there is no greater sense of accomplishment than seeing that your child has internalized one of the values you have worked so hard to instill in her.

I recently had an opportunity to see this in action in my teenaged daughter. The pride I felt was akin to that I felt years ago when she toddled away from me while taking her first steps. I felt my heart swell with the feeling that the hard work of parenting I had been laboring through was finally paying off as I saw a glimmer of the young woman she was becoming.

To understand what I’m talking about, you have to step back with me a few decades. My mother was incessant in making my brothers and I write thank you notes to friends and relatives when they had given us a gift or done something nice for us. I was expected to keep a box of stationary in my desk and whenever I received a gift, I was to write a thank you note to the gifter, ask my mother for their mailing address, acquire a stamp from her, and put the note into the mailbox.

If at any point, I was running low on stationary, and it looked like I wouldn’t have a ready supply on hand for future gifts or kindnesses, I was to tell my mother and soon we would make the trip to the book store where I would pick out and purchase more with my allowance. If a note was not forthcoming within a week of receiving the gift, my mother would consequence me with the removal of a privilege until I had written and mailed the note.

I remember vividly my grandmother calling me after I sent her one such note and telling me how much it meant to her to receive my handwritten note. She said that as a young lady, I was showing myself to be well-mannered and sophisticated by adhering to such niceties. She told me the stories of some of the more memorable thank you notes she had received and written as a young woman. I remember feeling a sense of history—like I was somehow connected to the ancestral women of my past, sitting at their writing desks penning gracious notes of thanks to others that had been gracious to them.

Fast forward a decade or so and I began teaching my own children the same value of showing gratitude for a kindness or gift by sending a thank you note. I know right? Turning into your mother is not necessarily the horror we always imagined it to be.

I know that may seem like an outdated practice with today’s modern communication technologies, but I internalized the lesson and I feel it is important to teach that same lesson to my own children. Not everyone values a quick email of thanks for a gift and especially, in my family, the grandmothers, great aunts, and older cousins still don’t have email, or computers, for that matter.

Additionally, there is something meaningful in the act of sitting down with your thoughts and manually penning a note of thanks. It forces you to sit quietly and meditate on why the gift or kindness was meaningful to you. It also teaches you the importance of going out of your way to be nice and gracious to someone—someone who went out of their way for you.

So, ever since my children were old enough to take a crayon in hand, we have sat down together after Christmas, birthdays, Kindergarten graduations, Easter and other occasions where friends and family might have thought it appropriate to give a gift and written thank you notes. I always involved my children in the process of putting the stamps on the envelopes and walking the completed notes to the mailbox. Their first notes started out as mere marks on the paper, which I “interpreted” with the appropriate words of thanks. Eventually, however, they evolved into actual notes with correct punctuation and adequate penmanship.

They pick out their stationary or thank you cards and keep them in their rooms. I pick up the tab as my children only get an allowance for good grades and those instances only come around during the school year and then, only two times a term. I remind them to write the notes and encourage them to address them, get a stamp from my stamp supply and walk the notes to the mailbox. If they have not written and mailed their notes in an acceptable time frame, I reprimand them and consequence them until they do so.

I have to admit that sometimes it is difficult to get them to comply. They, like many of my friends and their friends, believe it is an old-fashioned concept and believe that, in today’s world, a phone call should be sufficient. They also complain that their friends don’t have to write thank you notes, so why should I make them. I simply tell them that it is a sign of good manners and they will understand when they are older.

If they give me an especially hard time, I say to them, “When you are the mommy, you can let your kids call and say thank you and totally do away with the tradition of sending thank you notes. But right now, I’m the mommy and this is how we are doing things.”

Despite the pushback, I have stood my ground and insisted that my daughters observe this “old-fashioned” nicety.

And eventually they have begun to see the point I was trying to make. My mother-in-law called my daughters recently after receiving a thank you note for “just because it’s summer” cards with money in them that she had sent to them around the fourth of July. She told each one that she felt proud of the gracious and well-mannered women they were becoming and that she bragged to all her friends about how kind and thoughtful her granddaughters were. She told my girls that her friends expressed envy for the thank you notes she received because their grandchildren did not send them notes. She explained to the girls that she swelled with pride when she showed her friends the most recent notes she had received when they met for their weekly luncheon.

My youngest daughter confided in me that she felt really good about herself after her grandmother told her those things.

For once, I secretly offered thanks for my MIL!

Then it happened. Two days ago, my youngest, Cricket, came to me and asked for a stamp. I asked her why she needed a stamp and she showed me a thank you note that she had written. I was confused as I didn’t know of any gifts she had recently received. Then she told me something that simply blew my mind.

She had written a thank you note to the young man that had sold her the Xbox I helped her buy on eBay a few months ago. She purchased a package containing the console, several controllers, Kinect, and about 20 games. She said she got to thinking about it and she decided that it was really kind of him to give her such a great deal on a used Xbox that was in perfect working condition. She said she’d had a few months to play with it and it was great. She explained to me that she had played every game and not a single one had scratches on it and every controller worked perfectly. (Wait, she’s played every game since school let out, but she still hasn’t unpacked her backpack? But, I digress.)

She told me that he could have gotten much more money from selling it, but chose to accept the offer we made for what she now considered was too little money for such an outstanding package.

She told me that she felt that he had been kind and I’d always encouraged her to write a thank you note when someone did you a kindness. I told her that was indeed what I’d taught her and told her where to get the stamps. She addressed the note, using the return label from the package the Xbox arrived in. (She had torn off the label and saved it when she received the package—just in case it was a great Xbox and she wanted to write a note.) It made me feel humble when I realized that she’d had this in the back of her mind for a few months and still followed through when she thought it was appropriate.

I watched with pride as she walked to the mailbox and put the note inside. Then she lifted the flag and walked back to the house. When I ran up to her with a huge, silly grin on my face and swept her into a tremendous hug, she wanted to know why I was being so “weird.”

I explained to her my pride in her and she said, “Mom, why are you so surprised? You’ve been teaching me about thank you notes since I was a little kid. I just did what I was supposed to do.”

And there you have it—proof that all the teachings are not going in one ear and out the other. Proof that they do sometimes listen. Proof that my efforts have not been in vain. Proof that it is possible to mold the little monsters they start out as into something human, something thoughtful, something akin to what you imagined they would be at the end of the journey.

I felt pride in my daughter, yes—but it was mixed with something more. Something that had to do with the future and possibilities and letting go. It was like she was taking small steps away from me again, like she did so many years ago as a toddler. But this time, her steps were not tentative and unsure. This time her steps were sure-footed and determined. This time she was walking away from me into the future life of the young woman she was meant to be once she left me and moved on to her world of bigger and better things. She was taking those steps with the values I taught her firmly planted in her mind and I was happy to let her go just a bit that day.