Password Unprotected

Last week, my supervisor assigned me a new cell phone. She told me I would need to create a six digit pass code to secure it.

“Six digits,” I muttered to myself as I considered various combinations. Perhaps Marilyn Monroe’s measurements (35-22-35)? A postal code for Bangalore, India (560 012)? My junior high gym locker combination? (I can’t remember it now, just like I couldn’t remember it then, and consequently lost a perfectly good pair of Reeboks, probably to a maintenance man with a bolt cutter).

Later that day, I complained to my husband.


We’re going to stop being friends if you keep kicking my ass.

“Why six digits? What’s wrong with four digits?” I held up my personal cell phone, one that only requires me to remember four numbers in order to thwart nefarious evil-doers determined to uncover all my super–secrets, such as the fact that I win only 23% of my Yahtzee With Buddies games (boy, do I suck) and what’s on my Grocery Pal shopping list (cat food, shampoo, red fruit).


“Six digits are more secure,” my husband assured me. He held up his own cell phone, the iPhone 6, which requires one of these new-fangled six digit pass codes. “You really should upgrade. I don’t know how you manage with that thing.”

I considered “that thing,” my iPhone 5s. When I bought it, it featured some of the most advanced technology in the world, including TouchID, the fingerprint identification sensor that I never could get to work right. Now, three short years later, everyone treats my phone like it’s a hand-cranked Model T while they zip around in self-driving Teslas.

While I’m sure I’ll (eventually) enjoy zipping around in a self-driving Tesla, or at least its cellphone equivalent, right now my brain has just about reached maximum capacity for the pass codes and the passwords and the secret handshakes I have to keep track of here in the 21st century. I’m afraid all of that is beginning to push out other stuff I need in there, like, you know, the words I use to, um, talk.

For example, the other day on a trip to the supermarket, I quizzed my daughters on Spanish vocabulary as we strolled the produce aisle. My older daughter just finished her first year studying Spanish in middle school, and I’m determined that there will be absolutely no summer learning loss in this family. Yes, I’m one of those mothers, the ones who manage to torture their children even at el supermercado the grocery store.

“¿Qué es esto?” I asked, holding up a red fruit.


An apple (I think).

“Una manzana,” my older daughter said through clenched teeth.


I turned to my younger daughter, who’s still in elementary school, and not yet cynical about learning. “¿Y en inglés?”


I looked at the red fruit in my hand. Wait, was that right? ¿Cómo se dice “manzana” en inglés?

For a split second I could not remember, and while some people might start worrying about early onset Alzheimer’s, I choose instead to blame all the passwords careening around my brain, crowding out useful information.

If you’re still not convinced, I’ve got another story for you: last month, I needed to create an account on a US government website. The site required a 15 (Yes. FIFTEEN!) character password that had to  include one upper case letter, one lower case letter, one number, one special character, a semaphore flag signal, and a blood sample.

“I’m never going to remember this,” I said as I balled up my fist and pounded the keyboard until I finally got the message, “PASSWORD ACCEPTED!”

As expected, I cannot remember that fifteen character password, and I’ve had to reset the damn thing every time I’ve accessed the site.

In the midst of all these passwords swirling around my brain (35-22-35, 560102, H3LPM3OB1W@NK@N0B1), I found an article in Fortune magazine, describing a new technology that will allow banks to identify their customers by scanning eyeballs.

Everyone is familiar with the use of fingerprints to establish someone’s identity. Now, banks are doing the same with our eyes, but not in the way you might think. They don’t rely on a customer’s iris, but instead they focus on the pattern of blood vessels behind the whites of the eyes.

In practice, this involves customers opening an app and pointing a smartphone cameras at their faces. The bank’s app compares the eyes that appear in the camera image to one the customer has previously stored stored in the app. If they match, customers can check their bank balance, transfer money, and pay bills.

Here is my response to this new technology: GIVE IT TO ME NOW.


What’s the meaning of life? What’s for dinner? Two questions we could answer if only we didn’t have to deal with so many passwords.

Think of all the good we could accomplish in this world if we didn’t have to create and remember all these passwords. We could devote our intellectual energy toward world peace, or solving Goldbach’s conjecture, or maybe just figuring out what to make for dinner tonight. Do I really need to burn up anymore brain cells thinking up a password for  my Waste Management garbage bill? What are hackers going to do if they get in there anyway? Switch my service date from Mondays to Thursdays?


Of all the ridiculous passwords I’m forced to remember, I have to believe my kids’ school district reached the height of absurdity this past academic year when they decided to password “protect” electronic report cards. Previously, parents could access the reports by keying in their child’s student ID number, but now we have to key in the ID number and a password. That’s double protection the principal claimed in the email he sent out, though he didn’t elaborate on what we’re all being protected from. My husband, the son of a public school administrator, defended the decision in the interest of student privacy.

“The ID number didn’t provide enough privacy?” I asked, recalling our own struggle to access the report card after our daughter misplaced her student ID. We searched the house for three days to find it at the back of her bedroom closet, probably tossed there on the very day it had been issued in September. “If someone is going to all the trouble to find out the ID number, memorize it, and then go to the school district website and key it in just to see our kid got a ‘Good’ in Numbers and Operations, I say they’re welcome to that information.”

Anyway, screw all those passwords. I want the whole world to know how my older daughter did in Spanish this year.

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Royalty free stock photos including the images in this post can be found at The Yahtzee with Buddies logo comes from the Scopely website, and is believed to comply with the Fair Use doctrine.

Five Questions No One Ever Asked Before Getting Married, But Maybe They Should

Last week, the New York Times published a list of the thirteen questions to ask before getting married. I scanned the article and nowhere did I find the one question I asked:

What do you mean the condom broke?

Number one!

Ask me anything!

Instead, there’s a bunch about finances and child rearing and negotiating conflict, like this one:

Did your family throw plates, calmly discuss issues or silently shut down when disagreements arose?

It’s a good question and, if I had thought to ask, I would have liked to know my husband’s answer. But I didn’t think to ask because my brain was muddled (more on that later).

While I would have liked to know my husband’s answer to how his family handled conflict, I’m absolutely sure I would never have wanted him to know mine.

Let’s see. Throw plates, calmly discuss issues or silently shut down? Are those the only choices? Are you sure there isn’t an option for my father slapping my mother, calling her a dirty whore, and then threatening her with a baseball bat while my sister and I run down to the pay phone on the corner and frantically dial 911? Is that one of the choices? No? Well, I guess I’ll answer none of the above, then.


I’m here to apply for that husband job.

If you click on the link to the NY Times story and read the rest of the questions, you might start to feel that this has little to do with love or romance or attraction and instead seems an awful lot like a job interview. Like most job hunters,  applicants for the position of spouse probably become adept at stretching and spinning the truth so that it casts them in the most favorable light.

I just interviewed for a position (wish me luck!) so this job application metaphor comes easily to my mind. I left that interview thinking I’d hit every question out of the park, and there was no curve ball they could have thrown at me that I could not handle, not even if they had asked me how my family managed disagreements.

Could you repeat the question? Ok, throw plates, calmly discuss issues or silently shut down. All right. I’ll say that we were definitely a plate-throwing family, only because we cared so much about one another, and if a plate needed to be thrown to show how much we cared, we threw it. That’s the type of people I come from. We recognize what needs to be done and we do it. Do you know the saying, ‘You can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs’? So, yes, sure, we broke some eggs in my family. And a lot of plates.

Now let’s return to that bit I mentioned earlier about my brain being muddled back when I dated my future husband: there’s a real problem with the New York Times list of questions because it assumes we are thinking clearly as we assess the qualities of our prospective spouse.

Foolish, foolish New York Times. We are not thinking clearly.

We are not thinking about consolidating debt, or how much money we’re comfortable spending, or the (potential) in-laws.

Mazel tov!

Yeah, but he laughs at my jokes.

We’re thinking about how he laughs at my jokes, and how he can do all the voices of the characters on The Simpsons, and how he does that thing with his tongue that I like, that thing that I did not even know I liked until I met him.

In the end–or at least at the end of a dozen or so years of marriage–I do wish I’d thought to ask all the questions before we got married.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I asked any questions, other than what kind of music he liked.

Now that we’re married and we have kids, I  really, really, really want my daughters to consider everyone of these thirteen questions when they head out on their own romantic adventures.

It’s amazing how your perspective on all this changes when you remove yourself from the equation and add in your adolescent daughters.

As a parent who frets endlessly over everything, I hope my daughters rank their future partners’ ability to negotiate conflict higher than his ability to do that thing with his tongue.

As a woman who fell hopelessly in love too many times, I suspect they won’t.

Anyway, here’s the list of thirteen–thirteen? Really, NY Times? Are you trying to jinx all the married people?–let’s make it FIVE questions you should ask before getting married, according to Do Not Get Sick in the Sink, Please.

Five Questions You Should Ask Before Getting Married
  1. How long are you going to leave your dirty laundry on the bedroom floor before I get to throw it onto the front lawn?
  2. Should we move the arm chair by the window or leave it next to the lamp?
  3. If I make dinner from a recipe I find on the internet after searching “What to make when you have only a packet of active dry yeast, a mostly brown half of an avocado, and an old jar of Herbs de Provence that I bought back when I tried to cook French food that week in 2007?” will you:
    1. Eat the dinner I so lovingly prepared without complaint.
    2. Tell me you love me and you had a really big lunch.
    3. Ask me, “How could you forget it’s pizza night?”
    4. Fake an illness so severe that I’ll have to drive you to the emergency room where you can eat hospital food instead.
  4. Paper or plastic?
  5. You didn’t learn to do that thing with your tongue that I like from a hooker, did you?

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Should You Force Your Child to Play the Cello or the Oboe?


OMG, make it stop hurting!!! Can’t you make it stop hurting?????

I got rejected, again, and it’s feeling a lot like that time this guy Kevin told me he didn’t want a “serious” girlfriend after I let him feel me up at that party in Bickmore Hall junior year.

This past week I sent out a short piece I wrote titled “Buy the Cow, Even if You Can Get Robot Sex for Free.” The next day, I received what my blogging friend Ross Murray from Drinking Tips for Teens would call a “kind rejection.”

Thanks for your submission and interest in our site! Great post, but not a great fit for us right now. Sorry about that! General humor is always in demand, so feel free to submit additional work.

Samantha A.
Senior Content Manager

I read and reread the rejection email, parsing each word, the same way I had parsed Kevin’s statement on girlfriends. He said he didn’t want a serious girlfriend. Samantha A. said great post. Surely there must be a way to interpret their words to mean something other than what they apparently meant. I just needed to stare at this email a bit longer, grasp at more straws, the same way I had held out hope for Kevin when he appeared to look my way in the dining hall, before he headed back into line to get a second slice of pumpkin bread.

“He didn’t have to look in my direction,” I remember thinking. “There are any number of visual routes his eyes could have taken to find that pumpkin bread, but he did, sort of, look toward me. That’s got to mean something!”

I kind of wish that both Samantha and Kevin had been more heartless in their rejections. I could have been spared several weeks of pining after him if Kevin had told me straight out, “Look, thanks for letting me touch your boobs, but I’m never going to ask you out!” Likewise, maybe it would have been better if Samantha said, “Karen, go die in a fire and never, ever, ever send out crap like this again!”

But she didn’t. She said “great post” and that got me thinking, just like all those years ago with Kevin.

“She called it a ‘great post,'” I thought. “Maybe it’s good enough to be published somewhere else.”

So I got it into my head to send the piece somewhere else. I made a few changes, and sent off “Buy the Cow, Even if You Can Get Robot Sex for Free” again, on its way to another editor’s inbox.

And that’s when I got what Ross Murray might call an “unkind rejection.”

We appreciate that you took the time to share your work with us and that we had the chance to read it. Unfortunately, the piece is not quite right for us.

No “great post” here. No “feel free to submit additional work.” Just a whole lot of “Die in a fire!”

Or at least that’s how it felt.

Rationally, I know that my piece is probably not a good fit for a website that’s publishing

Lesson 1: Drink out of the toilet.
Lesson 2: Sniff everyone’s crotch.

articles like, “Was I Wrong to Force My Child to Play the Cello? Or Should I Have Made Her Play the Oboe, Too?” and “10 Parenting Lessons I Learned from My Golden Retriever” and I kick myself for submitting it there, but I was awash in Samantha A.’s rejection compliments and not thinking clearly.

By the time I publish this post on Do Not Get Sick in the Sink, Please, it will be 24 hours since I got that second rejection and perhaps the sting will have worn off some. Perhaps I’ll feel better and I’ll be able to drag myself off the floor and out of the fetal position.

Perhaps I’ll even look up Kevin on Facebook to see if he ever got serious with a girl.

Royalty free stock photos including the images in this post can be found at

Croque Madame

While I returned a bra to a department store yesterday, I discussed feminist theory with the sales clerk.

“These were invented by a man, you know,” she said. She flipped the soon-to-be-no-longer-my bra on the counter, searching for the sales tag to scan.

I’d been listening to voice mail messages on my cellphone as I waited in line and had been planning my response to one, so it took a moment for my brain to reconfigure and settle on the subject of bras.


“Did a man invent them?” I asked, and even managed to sound interested. I searched my memory for the requisite knowledge to support her contention, but baseball statistics, scenes from last week’s episode of Game of Thrones, and what I wanted to eat for lunch competed for space. If I’d ever known who invented the brassiere, that information had long ago been crowded out. Brassiere is a French word, isn’t it? Probably some French guy invented them. Or am I thinking of brasserie? A brasserie is some sort of French restaurant, I think. Good God, I’m hungry. What I wouldn’t give for a nice hunk of French bread right now.

Brasserie. © Another Believer / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0


“No, I don’t know where you can get a good Croque-Monsieur around here,” the sales clerk said. “And of course a man invented these.” She shook the bra by its dainty hanger. The sales tags, emblazoned with the seductive description “beautiful floral lace and plush padding,” clattered. “Would a woman have invented one of these contraptions?”

I considered the question rhetorical, so didn’t answer. Anyway, I didn’t have a good answer for her. I’d never experienced the brassiere as a particularly cumbersome aspect of my wardrobe (don’t get me started on pantyhose). Would she have preferred the brassiere’s predecessor, the corset? Compared to that, the bra existed as absolute evidence of women’s liberation.

As the clerk worked the magic that would return $59.50 to my bank account, she continued to vent. “If it were up to me,” she said, “we’d all be out there flopping around in the breeze, free as birds.”

She fluttered her hands to demonstrate.

I smiled and looked away, down at my cellphone. I wondered if the woman offered her opinions on all the merchandise in the store. Did she feel as strongly about shoes and handbags? If I had returned a vacuum cleaner instead of a bra would she have inveighed against the disproportionate share of housework that falls on women?

“So . . .” the sales clerk said, letting her voice trail off before she continued. I looked up from my phone, half expecting her to finish the sentence with a demand that I take a position on bras, state which side I was on, goddammit, not stand there silently like I didn’t give a shit.

Instead she said,”Is the bra defective in anyway or you just don’t like the style?”

“Oh!” I said, pleased and relieved that she asked a question I could answer. “It’s the wrong size.” She nodded and pressed more buttons and then handed me a copy of the receipt. She wished me a nice day even as she looked past me to the next person in line.

In my car on the drive home, I thought more about bras and shopping and being a woman. The excursion that ended with me owning a bra in the wrong size had begun with buying new sneakers for my daughters, but when we passed the lingerie department on our way to the checkout area that day, I couldn’t resist the “teachable moment.” My older daughter is about to turn twelve and while she doesn’t “need” a bra, I’m thinking the purchase might make her feel less like she’s being left behind by her peers, most of whom have already marked this particular passage toward womanhood.

“Let’s go look at bras,” I said, and the six-year-old happily agreed. No doubt she viewed a jaunt through the racks of bras and undies as another opportunity to play dress up. The almost-twelve-year-old dragged her feet, but followed nonetheless.

“Why is everything so fancy?” the younger girl, drawn to the ribbons and bows and lace that made up so many of the garments, asked. “No one is ever going to see it.” She had earlier picked out a pair of purple Converse Kids Chuck Taylor® high tops that she was sure would make her the envy of all her friends.

The question had been directed to her older sister, but she, perhaps uncomfortable with the new realization that someone, somewhere might eventually see it, opted not to answer.

“I think,” I said, “they make them fancy because some women feel prettier when they wear them.” While technically true, my answer felt a little bit like the one I’d given when asked if Santa Claus was real.

“Some people believe he’s real,” I’d said then.

I navigated them over to items that were less likely to be found in a back alley on a dead hooker and selected a plain white bra. “What do you think about this?” I asked my older daughter.

She eyed the bra and then eyed my chest and said, “That won’t fit you.”

“I mean for you,” I said.

She made a face and shook her head.

“I like this one.” My six year old held up a bra that wouldn’t fit any of us.

“Can we go now?”

I put the plain white bra back on the rack. “Yes, we can go now.” I took the bra that had been presented to me by my daughter and headed toward the cash registers.

In case you’re wondering, the Croque-Madame is served with a poached or fried egg on top.

The photo of the bras is my own (I had to have a picture of that tag) and the photo of the brasserie is © Another Believer / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0.

Faster, Stronger, Smarter, Better

So here’s another TLC reality show I’m probably not going to watch: The Man With No Penis.

Don’t think I don’t want to.  I’m absolutely dying to know how The Man With No Penis Andrew Wardle managed to sex over 100 women even though, you know, he was lacking a bit of equipment most of us heterosexual ladies (and quite a few homosexual gentlemen, I imagine) feel is integral to the act. Still, I’m not going to watch because I’m boycotting TLC right now. It’s that The Human Incubator Show that’s got me going. My blood just boils every time I see a member of that litter clogging up my entertainment news feed. I want to read Gwyneth Paltrow’s diet tips, or how much one of the Kardashians weighs (it doesn’t matter which one), and not so much about Super Uterus.

Call me crazy, but I still cling to the notion that motherhood should be more about quality, rather than quantity. While the jury is still out on the two specimens I’ve produced (so far it’s been a mixed bag: the six-year old received another conduct report from her teacher last week, while the eleven-year old got placed in Advanced English Language Arts for next year), they’re currently taking up space on the living room couch, expanding their minds by watching a rerun of Jessie.

It’s that episode where Jessie writes the angry song about her boyfriend that winds up posted on YouTube by accident.

“Why do the girls on all these shows all want to be pop stars?” I asked while walking into the living to pick up the two microphones empty paper towel rolls my daughters had abandoned there. Originally, there had been only one microphone empty paper towel roll, but that had caused fighting and tears, so I unraveled an entire roll of Bounty to keep the peace. The unused paper towels now resided in a messy pile on the kitchen counter, a way stop before they made their way into the trash as I cleared the counter before starting dinner. “How come no one wants to be an accountant or a biologist?”

How come there aren't any shows about public sanitation workers?

How come there aren’t any shows about public sanitation workers?

“Or President of the United States!” my six-year old chimed in. She has an idea for a television show, starring herself, about the first six-year old President. I figure, why not a six year old President? Did you ever really think we’d elect a black guy in your lifetime, either?

Last night, as I helped her get ready for bed, she interrupted  her teeth-brushing to describe an intricately plotted episode that involved a birthday party and an assassination attempt.

I would be lying if I told you I didn’t think about stealing the idea for a story I’m writing.

“Yes, or the President of the United States,” I agreed.

“That’s dumb,” my eleven-year old said. It’s not clear whether that’s her opinion of the President Show or the Accountant Show or the Biologist Show. She put her earbuds back in her ears and pretended not to watch Jessie.

You rolls the dice, you takes yer chances.

You roll the dice, you take your chances.

So I have two kids, the same way I have two cats, and we used to have two guinea pigs, until Lulu’s sister, Nibbles, died quietly in her sleep a few months ago. That’s the way I want to go, with a tummy full of hay, nestled into a bed of recycled repurposed wood pulp, my head full of dreams of giant carrots and slices of sweet bell pepper.

The point I’m making is that I like the number two, which probably explains why I keep writing blog posts about polyandry to the discomfort of my (so far only one) husband.

Of course, the number of children one has is a personal choice, and who am I to say if you should have one or two or nineteen kids? I had two because we live in a three bedroom house and the thought of packing up all our crap and moving it all to a bigger house has been enough to keep me on Ortho-Evra®.

If you haven’t made up your mind yet on the number of children you should have, let me share with you the best argument I can make about having at least two children. Here it is: “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” Now that I’m thinking about it, maybe the Super Uterus just followed that advice to the extreme. She’s got 19 (and counting!) baskets out there, so perhaps she’s just playing the odds, spreading around her eggs. Maybe it’s got nothing at all to do with that “quiverfull” bullshit, and really it’s just a gambling habit she can’t break.

Super Uterus: I can feel it.Today is our lucky day. We need to have sex now. I know this next one will turn out to be the scientist who cures cancer or maybe the pitcher for the Cubs who finally wins game seven of the World Series.

Super Sperm: Um, I dunno. That last one you pushed out has crossed eyes and a lisp. I don’t see curing cancer or the Cubs in that future. What did we name it, anyway?

Super UterusHer. I wish you would stop calling them “it.”

Super Sperm: Ok, her. What’s her name?

Super Uterus: Who knows? I just call her “Cross Eyes.” I can’t keep them straight, I’m too busy with all these pregnancies.

Super Sperm: Tell me about it. I almost added that kid with the runny nose as a beneficiary on my life insurance policy before the neighbors came over with the police and snatched him back. Did you know he didn’t belong to us?

Super Uterus: You let the neighbors take Snot Nose?

Super Sperm: They had a DNA test! I couldn’t stop them!

Super Uterus: (weeping) I loved him the best!

So maybe every month, as the Duggars try to get knocked up again, as Michelle lies there after sex, with her feet in the air, saturating her cervix with Jim Bob’s little spermies, they’re just hoping that this next baby will be faster, stronger, smarter, better than the previous nineteen disappointments.

The Man with No Penis is scheduled to air on TLC in the US in late summer.

New episodes of Nineteen and Counting: the Story of the Super Uterus  appear each Tuesday on TLC at 9/8C.

Royalty free stock photos including the image in this post can be found at photo of Debby Ryan comes from the Disney website and is believed to comply with fair or acceptable use principles established in U.S. and international copyright law.

The Mom Race

I don’t play well with other Moms.

I couldn't find an image of that bumper sticker which was all over everywhere in 2004, but this one sums up my response quite nicely.

I couldn’t find an image of that “W” bumper sticker that seemed to be all over everywhere in 2004, but this one sums up my response quite nicely.

My lack of social skills among the fertile burst back onto the scene this past week, as I’ve been thrown again into the maternal milieu after a long hiatus. Years ago, in 2004, I walked out of a toddler play group because a bunch of the  Moms all stuck big W stickers (remember those?) on the back of their minivans.

I never looked back.

At least, I didn’t look back until this past week when my daughter, now in the sixth grade, joined a team for the American Cancer Society’s annual fund raiser, Relay for Life.

I blame my husband for this turn of events. He’s always talking to both our daughters about service and selflessness and giving back to the community. I talk to my kids about feeding the cat. Right now, as I write this post, the cat is mewling at my feet and I’m receiving email from another Mom with the subject line, “Relay For Life Organizational Meeting at My House!!!” so you can see how that’s working out.

Still, I was excited my daughter would be participating in the Relay for Life, not only because cancer, unfortunately, has touched our lives, but also because this daughter had chosen to volunteer for what I thought was an athletic event, a charity run. Since her birth, my husband and I, who both like to think we’re athletic (really we’re just sweaty), have been trying to get her interested in sports. We signed her up for tee ball and soccer and field hockey and she showed a natural talent for none of them, unless you consider standing out on the field with disinterest an athletic ability. My husband coached all of those teams and I have no doubt his credibility suffered due to his link to the team’s worst player: what could he really know about swinging a bat or fielding a ball when he’d contributed half of the genetic material that’s now swirling around inside the odd little girl standing in right field with her back to homeplate?

I convinced myself that the Relay for Life would be different from those team sports my daughter hated. It’s running, and I run, and I love it. As a child,  I played all those sports my daughter signed up for, but I didn’t find my athletic “niche” until I discovered running when I was fourteen. I’m not good at it, and not fast, but I enjoy the solitude, the independence, the opportunity to compete against only myself. In running, it’s not about winning the race–ok, well, yes it is, but hear me out– it’s about achieving your personal best (PB): your best time,  your furthest distance.

My excitement tempered when I learned the Relay for Life isn’t so much a relay anymore. It began as one, thirty years ago, when Gordy Klatt came up with the idea.

In May 1985, Dr. Klatt spent a grueling 24 hours circling the track at Baker Stadium at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma for more than 83 miles. Throughout the night, friends paid $25 to run or walk 30 minutes with him. He raised $27,000 to fight cancer. That first year, nearly 300 of Dr. Klatt’s friends, family, and patients watched as he ran and walked the course.

Now, in 2015, the relay is mostly ceremonial. Participants around the country come together at local tracks to light candles and celebrate survivors and remember lost loved ones. All good stuff, but most of the actual fund raising takes place earlier and elsewhere, as the various teams set out in their communities, designing their own events to raise money for the ACS.

And that’s what had me worried before the “organizational meeting!!!”: what sort of event would the other Moms propose?

While our kids watched YouTube in the living room, we gathered in the kitchen (open concept) to discuss strategy. Perhaps too enthusiastically, I replied, “Yes!” when the Host Mom, Kyra, offered me a glass of wine. So there I was, drinking on a weeknight and wondering if I should be concerned that some of my alcoholic father’s rationalizations are beginning to make sense to me.

“Kyra and I thought maybe a garage sale,” one of the Amandas said. There are two Amandas, which I have nicknamed, in my head, Tall Amanda and Short Amanda. Short Amanda isn’t really short. She’s average height, and, in retrospect, I should have named her Average Amanda, just for the alliteration. Tall Amanda, however, is really tall, at least six feet. I’m 5’9″ myself, and people tell me I’m tall, but they haven’t met Tall Amanda. Tall Amanda looks to me like Olive Oyl, Popeye’s love interest. She’s tall and rail thin, with a long neck and her hair twisted into a ball at the back of her head. She looks so much like the cartoon character I half-wonder whether it’s intentional. I almost said as much, out loud, until I looked at the glass of wine in my hand and remembered I’d been drinking and decided to keep my mouth shut.

Tall Amanda suggested the garage sale. It’s clear that she and Kyra are best friends, as are their children, and they’re prepared to do the heavy lifting on this project.

I’m glad for that.

This clip of a cat licking its own butt is way more interesting than anything you’re saying.

“Sounds good,” the one named Beth said. She sat with the kids in the living room, paying more attention to the YouTube videos than the conversation in the kitchen. Three days from now, she’ll send us all an email, CC’ing her husband, letting us know she and her daughter are quitting the team.

I sipped my wine. “I’m on board,” I said. I’m ready to agree to anything that gets me out of there as quickly as possible and doesn’t involve public humiliation. On the drive over, I imagined I might have to call upon all my powers as a rhetorician to convince these women that there were better ways to fight cancer than an all night Karaoke marathon.

“A garage sale is a lot of work,” Kyra, Tall Amanda’s best friend, said. It’s apparent that she’s not sold on the garage sale idea, and, from the look Tall Amanda just gave her, garage sales may be a point of friction between the two. “And the sort of people attracted to a garage sale . . .” Her voice trailed off and her face scrunched up. “Let’s just say they don’t have very deep pockets. Usually.”

I’m not sure if she means they’re cheap, or they’re poor, or they’re Mexican.

I sipped my wine and thought about how garage sales are called “tag sales” where I’m from and where I’m from we’re all poor white trash, and it’s nothing like this suburb of Philadelphia where all the houses have open concept kitchens.

Cookies cure cancer.

Cookies cure cancer.

“What about a bake sale?” Short Amanda suggested. “The girls could ask one of the businesses in town if they could set up a table out front.”

“Sounds good,” Beth called from the living room even though I’m 99% sure she hadn’t heard what Short Amanda said.

I finished my wine and put the empty glass in the sink. “I like the idea of the bake sale,” I said.

I like to bake. I’m thinking this is almost as good as if they had decided to run the relay.

“Oh, good!” Kyra said. She’s relieved, I’m relieved. We all look to Tall Amanda, wondering if she’ll cling to her garage sale.

“Then it’s settled,” Tall Amanda said through tight lips.

The week passed. Beth sent out her email, dumping the rest of us. I go to work, come home, do it all over again the next day. Friday evening, after dinner, I keep thinking I’ve forgotten something important.

Then I remembered.

“What’s going on with the bake sale?” I asked my daughter.

She shrugged. She doesn’t know. She’s eleven and liked the idea of fighting cancer last week.

I fired off an email to the Moms, panicked that I’d be up all night baking and my husband would find me snoring over the Kitchenaid mixer Saturday morning.

“Can I get an update on the team’s activities?” I wrote. “Is the bake sale still on?”

I signed the email “Karen.” If I knew these women better, I would have signed the email with a single, lower case letter “K.” Although they don’t know it, typing out my entire first name is five times more effort than I usually make.

A few hours later, one of the Amandas replied. Don’t ask me which one, because I never learned their last names. “I don’t think so. I think maybe we need to regroup and come up with another plan.”

She signed her email, “Warmly, Amanda.”

I read the email and thought this is what separates me from these other women: the way we close our emails.

For longer than I should have, I considered signing my reply “Tersely, Karen.”

There ensued a flurry of emails and the bake sale has been rescheduled for this Saturday. One of the Amandas has stepped up and taken charge, and I’m happy to slide into the background and slip away from these women.

The public domain and royalty free images in this post can be found at and

There’s Got To Be a Better Way to Achieve Immortality

Little kids are better companions that St. Bernards because you can take them to restaurants. Of course, they'll probably never rescue you from an avalanche, though.

Little kids are better companions than dogs because you can take them to restaurants. Of course, they’re probably never going to rescue you from an avalanche.

One of the great joys of parenting small children is that your kids, along with passing on your genetic material, also serve as constant companions. You don’t ever have to do anything alone again, mostly because they don’t own their own cars and, even if they did, their feet don’t reach the gas pedals yet. Likewise, one of the great dissatisfactions of my marriage has been that my husband is tall.

So, mostly due to their lack of height, my children have joined me on a number of excursions that my husband conveniently mysteriously is unable to attend, such as the Grace Kelly exhibit at the Michener Museum last year, when he came down with a brief (later that day, he ate a chili burger for dinner) illness that forced him to stay at home and watch football instead of gawk at all of Princess Grace’s magnificent gowns and view video clips from her classic films.

“She had a lot of dresses,” my younger daughter offered as her critical assessment of the show.

“Some of her movies were in black and white,” my older daughter said, shaking her head.

In addition to being subjected to their mother’s interest in the Golden Age of Hollywood, my daughters have also endured enjoyed the experience of eating with their hands (not as fun as you would think) at an Ethiopian restaurant, attending modern dance performances (about as fun as you would think) at a local “art space,” listening to Wait Wait. . . Don’t Tell Me every week on public radio (that’s only fun for me), and an annual subscription to the community theater company where we’ve seen productions of Bye Bye Birdie and Our Town (also only fun for me).

Despite my best efforts to prevent it, my children have begun to develop their own personalities and likes and dislikes. While my older daughter shares my interest in fiction, my attempts to steer her toward the classic novels (David Copperfield, Little Women) I loved as a kid have been met with the militant resistance of a Black Panther at a KKK rally. Instead, she gravitates toward depressing novels about children in hopeless situations (Divergent) or terminally ill (The Fault in Our Stars).

“I finished reading my book,” she announced the other day. “They all died in the end, except for the main character.”

“That’s an unusually upbeat ending for one of your books.”

“Well, she’s still sick. She might die in the sequel.”

“Let’s try to remain optimistic,” I said, patting her on the shoulder. She responded with a non committal shrug.


You flunked a test. That must mean you’re adopted.

My befuddlement at the strange, unfamiliar little people my children are becoming grew more pronounced when my six year old came home from school last week with the results of her first test: a spelling quiz in which she spelled eight out of ten words wrong. Particularly vexing for her were three letter words: she spelled “of” and “my” correctly–two of the trickier words on the list, I thought–but often selected the wrong vowel for the longer words, though just as frequently she  left out the vowel entirely, leaving the spelling list looking like stenography.

“I didn’t get a grade that bad until I was in college when I was hungover and worried about a missed period,” I whispered to my husband later that night.

My husband, who is a pediatrician and knows a bit about child development, listened quietly as I continued to rant.

“How could we produce a child who can’t spell?” I asked him and then, looking for somewhere to cast blame, I felt compelled to defend my own spelling credentials. “I won the class spelling bee in the sixth grade, you know.”

Of course, he knew. I’m sure I told him on our first date.

“It’s not just about spelling,” he said before launching into a speech that included phrases like “sensory processing” and “cognitive threshold” and other stuff that I can’t tell you about because I stopped listening to him.

But what I can tell you is that there have been a few philosophers who have argued that we have children in order to ensure our immortality. Let me tell you right now, that’s just so much bullshit. Sure, my younger daughter looks a bit like me and my older daughter looks a bit like my husband, but inside, where it counts, our offspring resemble us no more than any other two kids on the playground.

As for me, I’m beginning to suspect I took the wrong babies home from the hospital. I just know that out there somewhere there’s a ten year old staying up late to read one more chapter of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and a six year old memorizing practice word lists to prepare for the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Royalty free images, including the ones in this post, can be found at 

Reproduction Ruined My Sex Life

From the file “Water is Wet, Also” comes this news: Happier Relationships for Couples Without Children,  a headline to which all the fruitful and multiplying couples in the world collectively responded, “No shit.”

If you click on the linky-link you’ll find out that the Open University interviewed over 5,000 people to come to this not-so-startling conclusion.  The Open University, by the way, sounds like a totally made up name for a fake school, which it sort of is.  You can check out their website here if you want.  Anyway, in 100 years, we’ll all probably be speaking of Open University in revered tones and praying that our great-great-great grandchildren get accepted there.  People probably snickered about Cambridge and Yale and the Toni & Guy Hairdressing Academy when they were new, too.

Let’s see what the 5,000 folks at the Open University had to say about relationships and happiness and everything.

For both men and women, those who did not have children ranked the quality of their relationship more highly than those who did. They also did significantly more to “maintain” their relationship, such as taking time to go out together or talk, than those with children.

By “taking time to go out together or talk” they mean “have sex”, right?  Because that’s what I would mean by it.

I think that was just the cat using the litterbox!

Did you just hear one of the kids cough?

My own robust marital sex life took a downward turn the night our four year old wandered into our bedroom looking for a glass of water.  The experience so scarred my husband he was still shaking about it three days later.  Luckily, his psyche (and his penis) eventually recovered and we resumed our sexual relationship, only now sex was quiet, quick and furtive.  Also, my husband added this tantalizing question to his foreplay routine:

“Are you sure they’re asleep?”

I don’t know what he expected me to do to ensure our kids were soundly asleep.  Maybe spike their juice boxes with Vicks® Nyquil®?

Since the phenomenon of coitus interruptus de filii (or whatever we want to call it) is so widespread,

Mommy put on her nice underwear tonight.  Time to come down with a stomach virus!

Mommy put on her nice underwear tonight. Time to come down with a stomach virus!

there must be some advantage to children having evolved this ability to disrupt their parents’ sex lives.  Now that I think about it, it’s quite obvious: family resources are limited and the more children there are the thinner those resources get spread around, so it makes sense for the existing children to not want more children.  It’s the same reason why baby birds peck their siblings (sometimes to death) in the nest: they want a bigger share of that worm.  Since humans don’t have beaks, we had to develop another technique to limit the number of competitors within the family.  I imagine it works something like this, just as Daddy puts a little Marvin Gaye on the stereo and Mommy slips out of her pair of good underwear.

INT. Children’s Bedroom. Night.

Older Sister: (throwing a shoe across the room at Younger Sister asleep in bed)  Wake up!  I think they’re trying to have sex again!

Younger Sister: Huh?  What?

Older Sister:  They’re trying to have sex!  You better go in there and tell them you had a scary dream or something.

Younger Sister: Why?

Older Sister: To stop them from having sex!

Younger Sister: Why do I want them to stop having sex?  What do I care?  I don’t even know what sex is!

Older Sister: Sex is how you make babies, stupid.  If only I’d known what they were up to the night you were conceived.  Oh, well.  Now it’s in both our interest to stop anymore babies from coming into this house!   As it is, my future is already full of Friday nights waiting tables to pay for college.  And you better start taking kindergarten more seriously! They’re not going to throw away our limited financial resources on someone who gets a “Needs to Improve” in Listens Attentively!  Now go on, get in there.  Tell them your tummy hurts and I’ll go downstairs and start a fire in the microwave with a piece of aluminum foil.

Royalty free stock photos including the images in this post can be found at Stock.XCHNG.

Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails

You have to wonder, if we really could make our bodies choose the sex of our children, like this article in Thursday’s Washington PostMammals pick offspring’s sex to maximize number of grandchildren, study shows – The Washington Post, seems to suggest, would there be any little boys at all?

This thought occurred to me while I was sitting in the waiting room at the pediatrician’s with my two girls the other day, observing a little boy who had found a Lincoln Log in the toy bin and was running around the room using it as a weapon against the other patients (and their parents), until he noticed the fish tank, abandoned the Lincoln Log, and decided he needed to know what a squished fish feels like running through his fat little fingers.  Fortunately for the fish, he lacked the manual dexterity to accomplish his task before his mother remembered, oh yeah, she has a child, and pulled him away.

So if our bodies somehow could choose the sex of our babies at that moment of conception like the researchers at the San Diego Zoo seem to think lionesses do, would any of us ever opt to have little boys?  Admittedly, I ask the question from a biased perspective, as I am the mother of two perfect, adorable, well mannered girls upon whose shoulders civilization rests because boys are out there murdering tropical fish instead of absorbing the culture, usually by watching Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs over and over (and over) again, that needs to be transmitted to the next generation.

Brantley, stop being such a fucking asshole.


My exasperation with little boys was exacerbated by a recent incident at a playground where a little boy named Brantley (I know his name because his mother kept screaming it) was enjoying himself by pushing other boys into the dirt, and wrestling, and punching them.  Oddly enough, the other boys seemed to enjoy this, as well.  My youngest, intrigued by the amount of dirt the group of boys was kicking up, took several cautious steps their way before I swooped in.

Me:  (laughing nervously) Not sure if your little guy is aware there are little ones wandering around the playground that might suffer collateral damage with all that roughhousing.

Brantley’s Mother: Oh my God, what did he do now?  He’s always doing something!  Brantley!  Did you hurt the little girl?

Me: No, no.  It’s ok–

Brantley’s Mother: (ignoring me and charging across the playground toward the group of boys) Brantley, say you’re sorry.  Say it, Brantley!  Brantley!!!!!

So I have to believe the San Diego Zoo researchers may be on to something, because is it any wonder that my body would try its best to prevent any more Brantleys from coming into this world?

My Uterus: ok, now remember, we’re not letting any of those boy sperm near the egg.  Everybody just

"All right, all boy sperm will be immediately rerouted to the appendix."

“All right, all boy sperm will be immediately rerouted to the appendix.”

focus!  Keep your eyes on the prize!  Only girl sperm get through today!

Boy Sperm: Is there an egg around here somewhere?  I need to impregnate it.

My Uterus: Hmmmm.  An egg?  You’re looking for an egg?

Boy Sperm:  Yes, I’m here to make a baby.

My Uterus:  I don’t think I’ve seen any eggs here today.  Maybe you could come back next week?

Boy Sperm: Well, that might be a bit of a problem.  I only live about three to five days in here.  I really need to find that egg ASAP.

My Uterus:  Sorry, can’t help you.

Girl Sperm: Where’s that egg? Let me at it!

My Uterus: Right this way!

Intellectually, I know that at some point, boys stop behaving like jerks, usually around the age they realize they’ll never get laid if they keep lighting their farts on fire.  Or maybe girls, like my little one at the playground, realize that venturing into that huge cloud of dirt might be worthwhile after all, even if you do get hurt.

You can read more about what I think of boys in the post  Pants Zipped, Legs Together and in a piece of fiction where I imagine a future world (seemingly) without sex Welcome to the Committee.

Royalty free stock photos including the images in this post can be found at Stock.XCHNG and Wikimedia Commons.

The Sex Education of Non-fiction Young Adults

Parental-advisory-explicit-lyricsIs it me, or are the Young Adults in Young Adult fiction getting a lot more action than I ever did when I was a Young Adult?

Or maybe it’s just the Young Adults in New Zealand, as recounted in Ted Dawe’s new book, Into the River, which was just named children’s book of the year by the New Zealand Post.  The selection of the novel has caused a bit of a controversy, due to the explicit sexual content of the children’s book.

Yes, that’s right.  I said explicit sexual content in a children’s book.

To be fair, the book is targeted to an audience 13 and older, but I’m 32 (and a half, my kids feel the need to add) and I had to be revived by smelling salts when I read the passages, which were too racy for the New Zealand Herald to excerpt in their review.

The book uses expletives including the c-word, depicts drug use and sex scenes, including one where a baby mimics sounds of intercourse. The Herald on Sunday has decided not to print extracts as they would offend some readers.

In an effort to get more page views for their website In the interest of journalistic integrity, the newspaper did link to the offending passages in the story, “Award-winning kids’ book drops c-bomb”, on their website, so you can satisfy your prurient interest make up your mind about the literary value of the writing by following this link.

I’m not averse to the topic of sex in books intended for children to read (as long as it is age appropriate, and I think it probably is in Dawe’s book, although I have not read it, except for the dirty bits) and I think that books can serve as terrific (and emotionally neutral) starting points for parents to use in discussions about sex with our kids.  It’s got to be a lot easier to talk about the choices Ted Dawe’s protagonist makes in Into The River than it will be to talk about the choices a real life son has made when he announces his real life girlfriend is real life pregnant.

Not that I need a book to get sex discussions going.  I am one of those women who’s always bringing up the topic of sex, menstruation and/or childbirth, to the discomfort of my dinner guests and the elderly man who got stuck standing next to me in line at Dunkin Donuts last Tuesday.

I’ve written before about the sexual education I got from my mother in the post, Sex Really is Disgusting After All, Just Like Your Mother Told You, and I vowed, as I gave birth to one daughter, and then another, that my kids would not grow up feeling shameful and embarrassed about sex, and I hope to greet every question from them about sex with good humor, understanding and acceptance.

See, in my mind, I am Super Mom.  In reality, my attempts at educating my children has my oldest explaining to her little sister that sanitary napkins are “Mommy’s diapers” despite the diagrams I white boarded for her explaining the menstrual cycle and then brainstorming together the pros and cons of wearing sanitary napkins vs. tampons.

“They are not my ‘diapers,'” I correct, removing the sanitary napkins from the bathroom walls where the toddler has stuck them.

“I didn’t say they were diapers.  I said they were like diapers.  A simile!” Since we have been working on figures of speech over the summer, she’s now hoping to appeal to the English lit nerd that she knows I am.

“They’re not even like diapers.  You’re going to have her thinking that I’m incontinent.”

“Incontinent!” She repeats, and then as she’s walking away, I can hear her saying, “Africa, Antartica, Asia, Australia, Europe . . .”

We’ve been working on Geography, too.

You can read more about New Zealand (yes, I’ve actually written about this small Pacific island before!) in the post,  U Can’t Has Kittehs in New Zealand.

The image in this post is from Wikimedia Commons, a freely licensed media file repository.