Book Talk-tober

2023 October 25
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by Jennifer

Here is what the girls and I have been reading lately.  Away we go!

Counting the Cost by Jill Duggar Dillard

Jill is #4 of Jim Bob and Michelle Dugger’s 19 kids…and counting.  Still counting because neither Jim Bob nor Michelle has been spayed or neutered and children are, of course, a blessing.  Jill’s book is the second book written by an adult Duggar child.  I read child #5 Jinger’s book Becoming Free Indeed earlier this year and just finished Jill’s book.  Jinger’s book was 30% about the damage done by the IBLP cult that she was brought up in, and 70% about her faith journey of untangling. Untangling from the harmful counterfeit compliant faith of her youth and coming into her own as an adult woman who deeply adores Jesus. It had a devotional tone, for sure.  Jill’s book was 30% about the IBLP impact on her faith and family and 70% about her relationship with her father, the damage caused by the TV show, and the shady way Daddy Jim Bob dispersed the paychecks. Jinger walked so Jill could run.  They are both, understandably so, still on the journey of sorting fact from fiction and grappling with the ripple waves of damage caused by Bill Gothard’s bogus and dangerous biblical translation.  I have read two Duggar child books and I will read all 17 more, pending future publication.

On Our Best Behavior (The Seven Deadly Sins and the Price Women Pay to be Good) by Elise Loehnen

This was our recent book club selection, chosen for the fact that it would be the catalyst for some great discussion.  That is what makes a good book club pick. Fiction conversations occasionally fall flat, but nonfiction conversations can grow wings.  This one had wings and enabled us to go deep. Does that mean it is an incredible book? Not necessarily.  This one has highs and lows (sweeping generalizations, woo-woo jargon, goop defector only mildly recanting, a little too academic in some parts, and maybe TMI personal in others) BUT the broad concepts are worth digging into.   We met to discuss it last week and the discussion was so rich, that we are going to make it a two-parter.  I had only read about half the book at the time of our meeting but was so inspired and curious about the parts that I missed that I will definitely finish the rest.  Very excited to continue the conversation.

From Strength to Strength: Finding Meaning, Success, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life by Arthur C. Brooks

I love a good second-half-of-life book.  I am a fresh 41 and certainly hope I’m not halfway home yet BUT I do want to be mindful of the way I approach the time I have left.   I LOVED The Second Mountain by David Brooks.  I LOVED Falling Upward by Richard Rohr.  And I’m loving From Strength to Strength so far.  This was highly recommended by trusted friends and would be another one worthy of journaling through and discussing.  (just saw this audible deal if that’s your preference)


Severance by Ling Ma

I wanted something spookyish or mildly haunting since this is indeed, spooky season.  This fits the bill.  It takes place in a post-pandemic America (this pandemic was the Shen Fever, a plague that renders people into non-violent zombie versions of themselves, doomed to repeat the same rote tasks over and over until they become fully unconscious).  This book is deep, quirky, clinical, and very readable.  Speaking of post-pandemic, have you read Station Eleven?  Do that.  And a moment of silence for the excellence of HBO’s miniseries retelling.  All caps WOW.  One of the best shows maybe ever? Add it to your list.

The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han

I literally just finished this one on the way to middle school drop-off this morning.  I did this on audio with my 6th grader.  We listed as we drove around town, and we would go on walks each with one air pod listening to the YA melodrama unfold.  She certainly had some questions and I had to define some sexy slang—but this was actually a great segue to fill in the gaps between “the talk” and the lived experience of teenagers.  I am trying to be very low-key and chill about all of that terrifying next frontier, and I actually thought this was a good avenue for mother-daughter chats.  We are about to start the sequel…

Have you watched the show?  That will be the next stop on our journey but only AFTER we read the books because them’s the rules.

Carrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid

I have read all of Taylor Jenkin’s Reid’s best sellers.  Granted, I am usually a few years behind the times.  Carrie Soto was her most recent hit about an aging tennis star making her comeback.  There is romance, father-daughter relationships, and the agony and ecstasy of professional sports.  (And side note.  Have you watched Daisy Jones and the Six on Amazon?  I think the show was better than the book.  Add it to your list.  Especially if you are an Almost Famous fan like me.)  I’m not quite finished with Carrie Soto yet, and so far I give it a solid B.  The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo remains my favorite of the TJR cannon.

Big Summer by Jennifer Weiner

Somehow, I have never read a Jennifer Weiner Book.  Let’s fix that.  She is a chic-lit icon and I was in the mood for exactly that.  Something that was engaging but doesn’t require excessive amounts of brain power.  I just started and so far so good.

It. Goes. So. Fast: The Year of No Do-Overs by Mary Louise Kelly

 If you don’t know the name Mary Louise Kelly, you probably know her voice from NPR’s All Things Considered.  In this memoir, she shares the challenges of having a deeply meaningful career with the desire to be present as a parent in her sons’ last few years before college.  I really love that she is living in the tension of wanting to be in two places at the same time and the deep purpose and fulfillment she finds in her role as a journalist and as a mother.  She shares her professional triumphs and struggles, parenting wins and losses, and the heartache that comes as our children and our parents age.  I am about halfway through and have teared up a few times already. That rarely happens to me with books. I’m a robot.

And here is what the young readers in this house are enjoying…

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson 

I remember LOVING this as a young lass but I can’t remember a dadgum thing about it.  I started this last night as the bedtime read-aloud for my 2nd and 6th graders.  Really looking forward to getting into it.


Warriors (book series) by Erin Hunter

Something about cats? But they are warriors? (Sounds dreadful. But I’m not the target audience) My 6th grader has absolutely devoured the first three of the wildly popular series and begged me to get her the next ones.  These are a huge with kids like mine who love fantasy novels.

Lemonade War (series) by Jacqueline Davies

The 2nd grader has read and reread these. Then read them again.  I read Lemonade War and Bell Bandit to her and she read (and reread) the rest on her own.

Genius Files by Dan Gutman

I spent a very frustrating hour at the library with my 2nd grader trying to find her a NEW book to read.  She graduates towards the familiar (see above) and judges books by their covers so when we finally (finally!) landed on the Genius Files, we were both happy.  Big sis loved this series, and my 2nd grader has been loving book one and sharing the highlights with me along the way.  So far so good.



A Family Trip that was Actually a Vacation

2023 August 21
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by Jennifer



We just got back from the beach, and I am about to use an adjective I have never ever used to describe a family trip: RELAXING. This trip was relaxing.  In fact, I would even go so far as to use the word vacation.  Our family vacation was relaxing.  I’m just going to pause and let that last sentence sink in for a minute.

For many years, we returned from the annual family beach trip feeling haggard and exhausted. The swim diapers, the sunscreen, the overheated babies, the early mornings, and long days punctuated by suicide attempts by overconfident non-swimmers.  For a solid decade, we didn’t even pack beach chairs because we knew there would be no sitting, only shoreside lifeguarding and anxious pacing on the pool deck. These trips to the coast were more expensive, more stressful, hotter versions of our life at home, but with a better view.  A relocation, not a vacation.  But my friends, we have entered a new frontier.

So, what made this trip a true vacation?

  • Eleven years and thousands of dollars of swimming lessons later, my kids can all swim. Game changer.
  • I never cooked dinner. We ate out every single night which was a treat all around.  And my kids (finally) know how to act at restaurants (more or less) so that helps. John still needs me to cut his steak but I don’t mind.
  • The kids slept in. So did the grownups.
  • Two out of three of my children can read. At one point, we were all sitting on the beach reading our respective books. Honestly, I couldn’t even keep my eyes on the page because I was so giddy.
  • We left my oldest in charge while John and I went out to an adults-only dinner. Twice! Not one but two date nights with a free babysitter.

Family bike rides, ice cream, movies, hours on the beach, crashing the pool at the fancy hotel, games, and gator sightings.  The cherry on top of an amazing summer.


We Did Disney and Lived to Tell the Tale

2023 March 20
by Jennifer

We had the most fun spring break trip to Disney World.  You couldn’t have paid me to stay one more day, yet I am so sad the trip is over.  And that is the magic and mystery of Disney.

A few things that made this trip a smashing success:

  • Our kids are at great ages. At 5, 7, and 10, our girls were young enough for the magic, tall enough for the fun, and fearless enough for the thrills.

  • Our kids are at great heights. Clocking in at 42 inches with good posture and the right shoes, our youngest was able to do almost everything.  She was too short to do Space Mountain but other than that, she was totally on board.  She was also a smidge too short to do Flight of Passage which meant that our older girls got to ride this hot attraction twice as many times, accompanying both parents on each flight.  (Pro tip: Technically you are allowed to invite one child to join the second parent on a rider switch, but find a mouseketeer with an iPad. They can make the rider switch bonus happen without making you choose a favorite child).

  • We hired a Disney Trip Planner. She helped book our hotel, and our meals, and came up with a custom itinerary to help us navigate the parks.  Alanna Smallwood ([email protected]) was our Rosetta Stone of all things Disney.  She translated all the Disney jargon (Genie Plus, Lightning Lane, Virtual Queues, Park Hopper, etc.) into plain English and helped us make to most of every day. She truly went above and beyond. Reach out to her if you have plans to make the pilgrimage to Orlando.

  • We stayed “on property” which meant we got extra perks, like late nights and early mornings. We stayed at The Boardwalk, within walking distance of Epcot and Hollywood Studios.  This made it easy to bop right over to Epcot to ride Guardians of the Galaxy (our favorite ride of the trip) and walk home after the fireworks.  There was also a great ice cream spot on the boardwalk and Boardwalk Brownie Sundae was the best and most delicious deal in town.

  • Green vegetables? Hairbrushes? No thanks. I gave myself permission to stop caring about the mom things I mandate in Atlanta- this includes normal bedtimes, eating green vegetables, and proper hygiene. If you tried, you couldn’t find a floret of broccoli on Disney property, so we didn’t. We threw routine out the window. Ice cream for dinner? Sure. Don’t feel like showering tonight? Gross Cool. Want to stay at The Magic Kingdom until 12:30 pm? Let’s do it.  As long as everyone was wearing comfortable shoes and sunscreen, I said yes to the rest. (And for the record, I showered every day.)

  • We were willing to pivot.  We knew we would all need a little break from full-throttle Disney, so we planned to have a low-key pool day at our hotel.  I envisioned myself lounging poolside with my kindle while my children splashed around.  Maybe I’d even doze off under the umbrella and catch up on much-needed sleep. Ahhhh.  But the slide at the hotel pool was closed for refurbishments.  Our kids were so bummed, so I asked the concierge if we could just pool-hop to the neighboring hotel and use their pool with an operational slide.  “No,” she said, “but I can give you free passes to Blizzard Beach!” She was way more excited about it than I was.  But after a quick team huddle, we decided to go for it.  What was it like? Well, imagine all of the people at the Magic Kingdom. Now, imagine them in bathing suits.  Welcome to Blizzard Beach, a 66-acre water park boasting one of the world’s tallest and fastest free-falling waterslides and a zillion other wet attractions.  Once I had a quick moment to mourn the restful day that wasn’t, I literally dove in.  It was really, really fun (and also gets me out of ever having to go to Great Wolf Lodge).

  • We rented a double stroller. Our girls aged out of strollers a while ago, but there is no way those little legs could have done all that walking.  We covered A LOT of ground each day, and John got every single one of his steps in pushing or carrying well over a hundred pounds of children.  Get this man a Boardwalk Brownie Sundae.

  • We took siestas. We did early mornings and late nights- so a few hours back at the hotel to rest and reset kept everyone fresh. It was essential (for the adults) to have some quiet time in a quiet cold dark room before reentering the madness.  The girls inevitably napped and that likely prevented over-tired meltdowns.  In fact, we may have been the only family who did not have any of our children cry at the happiest place on earth.
  • We didn’t do the math. Ju$t don’t. Disney is stupid expensive to begin with, and now the most popular rides have upcharges and a complex and costly online booking system. Pay the money and don’t be assessing the value at each turn or it just won’t be as fun.   Don’t do the math.  Family memories? Priceless(ish).


  • We had appropriate expectations and were in it together. At Disney, you see marriages and families crumbling to your left and to your right. The heat, the constant decision-making, the intense togetherness, and pushing the over-capacity double stroller from ride to ride dodging the sweaty mass of humanity eating chili dogs on their rascals at 9:30 am will test even the strongest union. Both parents need to go in with eyes wide open and reasonable expectations.  We were co-directors of this runaway railway. On our pre-trip call with Alanna, we both had our pens in hand, taking notes as she gave us the Disney-don’t-wait-in-line Strategic Plan.  I did my homework, and so did he.  It took not one but TWO dialed-in parents to navigate the parks, the sibling dynamics, the Disney app, and the crowds.  The strongest steel is forged by the hottest fires.  Or marriage is stronger after enduring this gantlet together.

  • We had a game plan. Unfortunately, you can’t just show up and play it by ear.  You need a game plan for each day if you have a hope and a prayer of not waiting in long lines. That meant setting early alarms so we could book the rides we wanted. That’s where the expectations come in- this stopped being a vacation long ago This is an experience. No one comes back from Disney feeling rested and refreshed.  Our unified approach was that we were going to leave it all on the field. We did.

Now it’s time for a real vacation.


Gift-worthy Books

2022 November 29
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by Jennifer

I am a true believer that books make the best gifts.  Here is a list of some favorites to give and receive:

The Questioneers Picture Book Collection

Aaron Slater, Illustrator (The latest in the Questioneers series)

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Tales of Extraordinary Women

and here is Book 2 in the Rebel Girl Series

5,000 Awesome Facts (About Everything!)

Kidstory: 50 Children and Young People Who Shook Up the World 

The Hardest Hidden Pictures Book Ever (Highlights Hidden Pictures)

Harry Potter: The Illustrated Collection

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: The Illustrated Edition  (book 4!)

The 50 States: Explore the U.S.A. with 50 fact-filled maps! 

WildLives: 50 Extraordinary Animals that Made History

National Parks of the USA

Roald Dahl Collection 16 Books Box Set

Puffin Hardcover Classics Box Set (Puffin Classics)


Herstory: 50 Women and Girls Who Shook Up the World

50 Adventures in the 50 States



Where is this Child’s Mother?

2022 November 17
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by Jennifer

All parents who give their children a smidge of freedom will experience the moment another adult says “where is this child’s mother?” Usually, the tone is concerned with a smidge of disdain.   Often they say it without words, but the look on their face like they smell something rotten and can’t seem to find where it’s coming from says it all.

Every time we ride bikes on the beltline path near our home, we have multiple where is this child’s mother moments. I have three children who move at different speeds on their wheeled apparatuses, so that means someone is usually at least a mile ahead, someone is being pushed or carried, and someone is a mile behind having a meltdown.

where is this child's mother

So, I made these shirts for my children.  The shirt spells out exactly what people are thinking when one of my free-range children is out of my reach. It tells the onlookers that I’m here.  I acknowledge your concern. I got this. I approve. No need to worry.  Carry on.

where is this child's mother shirt

The first time I experienced a where is this child’s mother moment was at the playground when my then two-year-old.  I let her climb and slide and do things I knew she was capable of without direct hands-on supervision.  I was literally five feet away.  She was fine.  The other mother watching this was not.

I have found myriad other applications for the where is this child’s mother shirt:

  • days when you predict you will be late to the carpool line or a playdate pickup
  • when your children won’t let you brush their hair and/or refuse to wear seasonally appropriate footwear
  • when your husband takes the children to the grocery store or to a restaurant without mom and people are bewildered by this basic execution of parenting
  • when mom’s out of town
  • when your middle child (a chronic wander) goes to any public gathering
  • your child is at the playground and invites herself to a birthday party and helps herself to cake and party favors


party crash

No matter the circumstances, the where is this child’s mother shirt says exactly what they are thinking.

For the record, when I took this photo, my oldest child was taking a (fully sanctioned) short solo stroll around the neighborhood.  But good news! She was wearing the shirt.  Everyone can relax.


Recommendations from a Young Reader

2021 December 6
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My nine-year-old is an avid reader. Before bedtime last night, I interviewed her about her favorite books and favorite series.  She gave me a quick tour of her bookshelf and highlighted the best of the best.  I took notes, as should you.  The words below are HERS

Ok! Let’s start with the series I love…

The Penderwicks– I have read this whole series more than three times. Maybe even more. I like it because the books are about four sisters and their adventures. In the first book they go to this place called Adrunel for their summer vacation.  I like that it could happen in real life—realistic fiction. I also just like adventures and ya gotta love a really good series.

The Land of Stories – These books are the best. The series is about two kids who are twins. Their father died and their grandmother gave them a book for their birthday…but the book turns out to be a portal between two worlds! Then they go on a journey trying to find things so they can get back home. [REDACTED details she divulged.]  Wait! Don’t type that.  It was a HUGE spoiler.

Nancy Drew – I love mysteries and I love suspense and stuff like that. I also really enjoy action. Nancy Drew books have all of those things. The Hidden Staircase and Password to Larkspur Lane are good places to start if you haven’t read any yet.  (She then listed like 5 others but I couldn’t type fast enough.).

Harry Potter– obviously. duh.

Whatever After – I like these because they are so fun and creative.  Jonah and Addie have a magic mirror in their basement, and it has a fairy trapped inside it.  She takes them through all different fairytales like Hansel & Gretel and Beauty and the Beast. They always try to fix the story. For example, in the story Dream On, they go into the story of Sleeping Beauty, it turns out she WANTS to get pricked by the spindle. (she elaborated on more of the plot here but I’ll spare you the finer details.)

Roald Dahl (box set) – I liked when you read these out loud to me. And I have reread a few of them more than once. Charlie, Matilda, Witches, SO GOOD.

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe (Chronicles of Narnia) – loved it.  I read this one and before I really read chapter books I listened to this one on the old iPod. Remember the British accent? I loved that.  Whatever happened to that iPod?

The Spiderwick Chronicles– It’s about three kids who move to a new house and the house is very mysterious and strange. They find out they’re related to someone magical and I think it’s SUPER creative.

Mysterious Benedict Society.  I loved the first one and I want the other ones for Christmas.

Other Favorites like not full out series but a book or a few books by the same author

Out of My Mind– top of the list. Loved this one. Highly recommend. A total favorite. I want the next one for Christmas.  It’s called Out of My Heart

The War that Saved my Life and The War I Finally Won– I like the genre of realistic historical fiction and I enjoy stories of people who have gone through hard times. And I especially love books about people that are treated like they’re less than human, who end up being powerful and really important in history.

Hoot – I’m reading this now. I actually just started last night. I’m very into it.

Wayside School books. So funny. You read these when you were younger, right mom?

Brave like That, From the Desk of Zoe Washington, and Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky were my favorites from Reading Bowl.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon. So SO good.

She wanted to recommend more, but I said it’s bedtime.  So she got in bed.  And read.



Is it Faux Time?

2021 November 28
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by Jennifer

For the past week, an 8 foot pre-lit artificial Christmas tree has been sitting in my online shopping cart, but I can’t quite bring myself to checkout. A faux tree would be so simple but there’s something truly magical about the real Fraser Fir experience. Right?  I’m torn. Time for a pros and cons list.  Here we go.

Real Christmas Tree Pros & Cons


  • Real trees smell good.


  • Our family pilgrimage to Home Depot to select from a picked-over assortment of trees. I feel oddly competitive with the other people at the tree lot because we’re all after the exact same thing. Inevitably I want the tree that they have. No good 8 footers left at Home Depot so let’s head down the road to Costco and see what they’ve got.
  • At Costco they don’t let you unwrap the tree from its mesh netting, so must make your best guestimate, essentially sight unseen. In the moment, this decision feels very significant. Despite our advanced degrees, we are woefully ill-equipped and undecisive.  The children are whiny because they were promised hot chocolate and this quaint big box tree lot doesn’t hand it out.  So we reluctantly pick a wrapped tree, pull our car around, and hoist the tree up top.
  • The treacherous drive home from the tree lot with the tree precariously tied to the roof of the car.  I suppose it’s for liability reasons that they make you tie your own tree. We are neither sailors nor Boy Scouts, so our knots are not to be trusted. Especially on the highway.
  • Finally home and we unbundle the tree to discover aggressive asymmetry. Do we put the good side facing the window or the living room? Wait. Is there a good side?
  • Which one of our neighbors is most likely to have an electric saw? Is it weird to only initiate a relationship when we need to borrow a power tool?  Oh well, we need to cut off the lower branches to make it fit in the stand. Hellooooooo neighbor!
  • The great white light test and detangle.
  • The electric shock risk of three children fighting over the same light socket to test the lights. They all worked when we put them in the attic last January, but somehow half of them are dead. Off to the hardware store for more lights.
  • The annual team-building exercise where I delegate the tree lighting to my husband.  I try not to micromanage, but inevitably I have very strong opinions about light density that I can’t help but share. Nevertheless, I would rather him do it than me.  Buuuuuut I’m not loving what he has done with the cords on the bottom.  There is more tension in our marriage on let’s light the Christmas tree day than on any other.
  • By mid-December, the tree is officially a crispy crackly fire hazard. Considering it was probably cut down six months ago, this should not come as a surprise. And was I supposed to water it, or were you?
  • Losing family heirloom ornaments because the dead branches are no longer strong enough to hold them, and they come crashing to the floor.  RIP Mema and your collection of mercury glass decorations.
  • Taking down the tree on December 26th, leaving a trail of pine needles all over the house.  Still vacuuming them out of the corners months later.
  • Seeing our sad dead tree at the curb for weeks because somehow the day we take it down never aligns with the day the garbage crew picks up.  Every time I pull out of the driveway, I’m thusly reminded of how few magical childhood Christmases are left with my three children. Then, “Same Old Lang Syne” by Dan Fogelberg pops into my head, where it, unfortunately, stays until the dead tree gets hauled to the chipper sometime in February.


Real Christmas trees sure smell good.


She Caught it from her Mama

2021 November 13
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by Jennifer

three generations of strong women

When it comes to parenting, they say more is caught than taught.  That means children learn more from observing and imitating their parents than from the lessons their parents intentionally teach.

So in honor of my mom’s birthday, I want to share a few life lessons that I most definitely caught from this living legend:

  • Always offer to bring a salad and dessert.
  • Do not pay full price for athleisure. There is gold to be found shopping the designer discount racks.
  • Know your strengths.
  • Know your colors.
  • You don’t need a second home but be an exceptional guest so your friends invite you to theirs.
  • Find passion, joy, and purpose in your work.
  • Find passion, joy, and purpose in your family.
  • Find passion, joy, and purpose in things outside of your work and your family.
  • Warm it up and add ice cream.
  • Never stop learning.
  • Stay curious.
  • Animal print is always in style.
  • Everything is negotiable.
  • Instead of saying “what can I do to help?” just start helping.
  • Treat yourself very well.
  • It’s never too late in the evening to start a game of Scrabble or Oh Hell.
  • The more condiments, the merrier.
  • Marry someone awesome.
  • Marry someone who thinks you are awesome.
  • Write thank-you notes.
  • Being considered low maintenance is not a goal worth striving for.
  • If you want something, ask for it.  The worst anyone can say is no.

I am a lucky girl indeed to have learned from the very best.


OK to Wake Clock – A Love Story

2021 September 9
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I originally wrote this blog post a few years ago when I first discovered the glorious wonders of a properly executed green light system to manage morning wakeups. I have now successfully onboarded three children onto the system. After much soul searching, I realize that this might be the only thing I am qualified to give parenting advice about. Therefore, the editorial team deemed it worthy of a repost. Away we gooo…

I was hesitant to transition our two-year-old daughter from the confines of her cage–oh, sorry.   I think the politically correct term for that is crib. Crib. Let me start over.

baby cage

I was hesitant to transition our two-year-old daughter from the confines of her crib to her big girl bedroom.  I feared that my years of controlling bedtimes and wake-times would be over. Would she be roaming the halls drawing on the walls, playing with knives, and lighting matches in the middle of the night while the adults slept upstairs? Or way WAY worse: would she wake us up before 8am?

In efforts to quell those fears, I bought this AMAZING clock and put it to use when she was evicted from the crib and relocated to her new bedroom.  It has worked like a charm.  The light on the clock turns green when it is time for her to wake up—a time I decide and set.  Then, and only then, she calls us enthusiastically, “Mommy, Daddy, my light turned green!”  And the day begins.   (My) studies have shown that, like dogs, young children have no real concept of time.  You have to be the one to guide them if you don’t want the bedtime/waketime situation to become a GD free-for-all.

Ok to wake image

A few tips for making the green light work:

  • The key to making this clock system work for you and your child is to set the rules and enforce them. Your house, your rules.  At our house, our daughter is not allowed to come out of her room on her own accord after we tuck her in for bedtime.  She knows she has to stay in her room until morning when her light turns green.  If she wakes up in the morning before the green light, then she is free to quietly read, play, and explore the recesses of her imagination in her room.  We euphemistically refer to whatever the heck goes on in there before her light turns green as “Independent Playtime.”
  • Consistency is key. Clearly set and enforced boundaries benefit the whole family.  A few times in the beginning Harper would call us in the morning before her light turned green. Knowing that she was safe and not being attacked by a tiger, we waited until the green light to go get her. Then we lovingly reminded her of the rules and we did our best to follow them too.  Do not cave!  Kids Can Be Tricky Little Tyrants. (←working title of my forthcoming parenting book).
  • Both parents must be on the same page about the Ultimate Authority of The Green Light.  Even the softer, sweeter parent needs to be totally bought into the system. There is one in every parenting duo. I’m not going to name names, but if I were to name the name of the somewhat softer member of our parenting partnership, I would name the name of our children’s father.
  • Pro tip: I set the clock for one time on the weekdays and usually a different, slightly later time on the weekends. If it’s been a late and wild Saturday night for the adults, we tick that clock back so that we can get some extra sleep in the morning.  Say it with me now, independent playtime. What a gift to have unstructured time to explore the recess of one’s own imagination! Big sis is nonethewiser and usually sleeps in a bit on the weekends anyway.
  • We keep the clock on the highest shelf in the room so that our daughter can’t tinker with it and mess with the buttons.  No touching the clock allowed.
  • When our children spend the night with their grandparents or when we go on vacation, the clock comes along. It is just part of the routine around here.  
  • Of course, give yourself the gift of a green light. The OK to Wake Clock also makes an excellent gift for sleep-deprived mother’s of infants to let them know that there is a literal green light at the end of the tunnel.

In conclusion, if our house was on fire and I could save one thing from my daughter’s room, it wouldn’t be the heirloom dresses hand-smocked by her great grandmother or her woefully neglected baby book, it would be the OK to Wake Clock.  It is a tad more expensive than your typical alarm clock, but after seeing how well it has worked for our family, I would happily pay ten times what we paid for it—the peace of mind and sleep it provides are priceless.

FLASH FORWARD five years and I am revisiting this blog post on the occasion of moving my third child out of her crib, into a big girl bed, and onto the Green Light System. Each child has a Green Light in her room.  Last Saturday morning, I didn’t hear a peep until 8:45am when the lights simultaneously turned green and the day officially began.  I woke up feeling like a well-rested Disney Princezz. Granted, it’s been chaos since then, but I can handle the chaos a whole lot more joyfully when it starts in the late 8s. 


Carnegie Hall Here We Come?

2021 August 20
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by Jennifer

My oldest daughter Harper started taking piano lessons about a year ago.  According to Ms. Lisa, our saintly piano teacher, Harper is a “natural” and has an “excellent ear.” During the school year, this Tiger Mother did her best to make sure her daughter practiced 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week.  This was easy given she was in virtual 3rd grade with very few extracurriculars. And of course, Asuckronyous Wednesdays were wide open. She learned the basics required to read music and a handful of simple piano classics. She put on an excellent recital of carols for our family’s Christmas Eve dinner. She also learned to play Edelweiss to honor the life and legacy of Christopher Plummer, may he rest in peace. Ms. Lisa was always telling me how impressed she was by how quickly Harper caught on, and I truly believe that this wasn’t a marketing ploy to keep us on the hook for more lessons.

But this summer we paused the lessons because, well…summer. Although I promised Ms. Lisa I would ensure Harper practiced regularly, I didn’t.  And she didn’t.  I guess I just wanted one less thing to boss people around about, so piano practice fell by the wayside. 

So here we are. I am trying to decide whether to start lessons back up again and wondering how hard to push. If Harper has a smidge of natural talent, which is possible given the music genes she inherited (from her dad dangit), it makes me want her to stick with it. Though the piano piece seems to click, it is requiring more manhandling these days to get her to practice.  

So I’m curious- how and how hard do you push a kid on the music stuff? I didn’t grow up taking lessons (still bitter) so this is new parenting territory for me. How do you motivate them to practice?  There are a lot of things competing for my daughter’s time (sports, homework, neighborhood games of manhunt and capture the flag), so it will take a group effort to make her prioritize this over other things.  Is it worth it? How does it work at your house for your aspiring Rachmaninoff? How does piano practice fit into your family’s daily rhythms? Did you take lessons growing up? What do you do to force motivate your kids to practice? Bribes? Threats? Do I need another jar of jumbo marshmallows?

Please advise.


Apparently We’re Hiring

2021 August 5
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by Jennifer

I panicked when I saw this post on our Nanny’s Facebook page: “I just made a big decision and I’m so excited about it…Career change in the making.”

Ever the optimist, I was hopeful her “career change” was one of the following:

  • A. PHD in child psychology (night classes)
  • B. Marie Kondo certification (weekends)
  • C. Diplome de Cuisene from Le Cordon Bleu (virtually)

Well, the two of us have since had a conversation about her next move, and she informed me that it is option D.

  • D. Something that doesn’t advance elements of her skillset that serve our family and doesn’t fit within the time and location constraints of our current working arrangement.

The cold hard truth is this: She does not aspire to be our nanny until my children leave for college.

I knew this day would come, but the reality is that it’s coming sooner than I’d hoped. She is the reason I can do work I love, not feel like I am drowning at home, and have peace knowing that my children are in great hands. That infection of working mom guilt so many suffer from?  I remain largely asymptomatic because she has things so lovingly locked down on the home front.  So when I’m not working, I am able to enjoy my children and make it count.

She packs bookbags, lunches and sleepaway camp trunks. She does grocery trips, target runs, meal prep, and laundry.  She does doctor’s appointments, trips to the vet, carpools, and gift wrapping. She reads, plays games, sings beautifully, tells stories and builds magna-tiles.  She knows who wears what sizes and does the seasonal closet reorgs (the. worst.).  She takes on the most ambitious, complex, messy art projects and leaves no trace. You see this tiny house? She patiently built one of those with each child. The instruction manual is the size of a college textbook and it has working electricity.

But best of all, she truly delights in my children.  She sees them and knows them and appreciates the uniqueness of each of my girls. She adores them and we adore her. She has become a true friend.

After I saw that alarming post of Facebook, the two of us had a conversation wherein she laid out her vision for her career shift. 

Honestly? My first instinct was to try to talk her out of it.  I did my best to convince her that her current job is, in fact, her dream job.

The work I do at my day job, the job that necessitates the need for a nanny in the first place, is leadership development.  It is my life’s work to help people find passion and purpose as they leverage their strengths to do work they love.  After my darker angel selfishly spoke her peace, my more altruistic instincts kicked in.  I can’t help myself but to champion her growth and do everything I can to help her find her dream job…the one that doesn’t involve cutting the crusts of PBJs and incentivizing a three-year-old to utilize indoor plumbing.  

I ordered her this book and I’m going to coach her through the assessment results. I have connected her with people doing the work she wants to do in the future. We are talking through finances and the logistics so that she can plan accordingly. I will help her write a business plan.  

I am also trying to get her to stick with me until January.

Ideally May.

Ideally May 2036. I’m only human.

She is truly irreplaceable. 

But. When the time comes to hire her replacement, there will be NASA level scrutiny to ensure we don’t end up in this situation again. For the select few who make it to the final stage of the interview process, there’ll be a working interview with one very specific challenge:

You will be locked in a room with three hungry children, a cat, a hot glue gun, and this DIY dollhouse craft kit. You must emerge with a fully assembled and illuminated miniature room, everyone uninjured and on speaking terms.

After that, if you still want the job, it’s yours.


Intrinsic Motivation is Overrated

2021 July 14

1st Child: Textbook execution of the three-day-method. Rewarded with a single M&M when she was fully potty trained.

Middle Child: I have no recollection whatsoever of potty training her. One day she decided she was done with diapers and that was that.

3rd Child: The three-day method turned into the three-month method. Three months of stops and starts, rewarding, punishing, bribing, public praising, public shaming, and a whole Target aisle of princess panties, now in a landfill somewhere. (Sorry Sierra Club, but life is too short to spend any time reviving Moana panties that have been disrespected).

Those three months were followed by three more months of potty training purgatory wherein she spent HOURS in the bathroom with her beverage of choice and the iPad, streaming Disney+. Then IF (if!) the magic happened, she was rewarded with a hot fudge sundae from McDonalds.

But we are finally making progress. These days, each bathroom event no longer requires the level of pomp and circumstance she once demanded. We weaned her off the iPad, the excessive fanfare, and celebratory trips to The Golden Arches. Now she gets an M&M for one outcome and a jumbo marshmallow for the other.

Last week I sent her to a day camp that required campers to be potty trained, praying she’d not make her mother seem like a liar rise to the occasion. And she did! She came home wearing the outfit I sent her in, and told me I owed her three M&Ms and a marshmallow.

I predict she’ll call home from college, give me updates about her classes, her professors, sorority life. . . and the tally of how many marshmallows she’s earned.

Moral of the story:

Parenting is tricky.

Kids are all different.

Intrinsic motivation is overrated.


Kindergarten Graduacion

2021 May 13
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by Jennifer

Today Hallie graduated from Kindergarten at The Spanish Academy.  Those of you following the plot line will note that this was not where she started kindergarten.  She started the year in a fully virtual, pandemic public school Spanish language immersion program.  Before noon on the first day of that nightmare, I had called every kindergarten in the tri-state area that was meeting in person, begging for a spot.  My first choice was naturally The Spanish Academy, but unfortunately there was no room for her there or anywhere. If there had been an open spot in the Russian Academy, the Poker Academy, HVAC trade school, or even some sort of accredited bartending program that was accepting 5-year-olds and meeting face-to-face, I would have jumped on it.  But alas, nowhere was accepting new students.

Weeks went by, and the virtual kindergarten prison became a daily source of frustration and sadness for both parent and student. For a five-year-old who has (adorable glasses due to very real) vision issues, cannot read, and doesn’t know how to operate an iPad, it was a losing battle not even worth the fight.  And there was no clear end in sight as APS kept pushing back their in-person start date.  The only way to ensure my daughter actually learned something, and more importantly, to prevent my looming nervous breakdown, was to get my kindergartner out of the house.

I set my sights on The Spanish Academy and via an aggressive phone and email campaign, continuously asked begged them to pleeeease make room for one more.

One day in late October, I finally got the call.  “Good news! We have a spot for Hallie.  When would you like her start?”

“I can have her there in about 12 minutes.  Does that work?”

She started the following Monday.

Today, she graduated!

I am SO proud of Hallie’s ability to roll with the punches this year.  She joined TSA mid-fall, in a class that had been together and speaking Spanish since preschool.  She made friends easily.  On her first day, she knew only one Spanish word: quesadilla.  Now her comprehension and accent are truly impressive.  I am confident that I could drop her off in Guadalajara and she’d be able to order a meal, ask to go the bathroom, count to 100, dazzle the locals with Spanish song and dance, and hopefully find her way back home.

Because of this wonderful school, Hallie had an awesome school year. And! I was able maintain a loose grip on my sanity.  Worth celebrating, for sure.

Felicidades graduada!


Asynchronous Wednesday

2021 April 28
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by Jennifer

Here we go again. It’s “Asynchronous Wednesday.”  That’s an Atlanta Public School euphemism for no school on Wednesday. Ever. No students are allowed in the building. Not a single one. I think it has something to do with deep cleaning? Or perhaps COVID is more contagious mid-week? It remains unclear. 

Every Wednesday I have PTSD flashbacks from the decade I spent micro-managing virtual school: March 2020 to February 2021.  But the difference is that on Asynchronous Wednesdays, there isn’t even virtual academic instruction.  Sure, you can participate in (optional) virtual PE, but you won’t find this mom setting an early alarm so that her child can throw socks against the living room wall.   

For an extroverted 3rd grader who loves school, craves structure, and is desperate to leave this house, Asynchronous Wednesday inevitably becomes aSUCKronous WHINEsday.  After practicing her handstands and staging a photoshoot with the cat, she comes to me in a sulky snit, asking for ideas of what to do. I rattle off a few zingers: Clean up the playroom! Journal! Build a fort! Write your pen pal! Memorize the state capitals!  She rejects them all, complains that our backyard is no fun, and pouts because our neighbors can’t play.  She finally grabs a book and cuddles up with her emotional support pandemic cat while I crank out some emails.

As a working mom, I’m not available to facilitate enriching trips to the zoo or museums on Wednesdays. (Honestly, the zoo is a bit of a schlep from here, so work is a convenient excuse to get out of that one.) But you know what working moms love to do? Power lunches.  On Wednesdays, I take my 3rd grader out for lunch.  Quality one-on-one time in the middle of the week feels like a treat for both of us.  I always let her pick the place and the playlist.  I’m secretly hoping that she’s craving a Frosty and Justin Timberlake to make this a true NSYNCronous Wendy’s Day, but alas. On this particular day, she requests Beyoncé and Zoe’s Kitchen. I knew I liked that girl.

By late afternoon, her sisters are home, the neighbors can play, and sports practices commence. We are all feeling breezy knowing that the school bus will be here tomorrow.

Bye Bye Bye to this asynchronous nonsense and cheers to the fact that these kids will go back face-to-face 5 days next year. 

Happy Nsyncronous Winesday.

Photo credit: my 3rd grader, for this picture and the 200 others she added to my camera roll today. Who needs math with this kind of artistic talent?


The Way We Were

2021 January 8
by Jennifer

There’s an old saying in parenting that goes like this: the days are long, but the years are short. 

And it’s true.  As I look through old family photos, I can hardly remember my children as itty-bitty babies. My memories of even the most memorable of vacations is hazy, and of course the ebbs and flows of day-to-day life is a total blur.  I look back at old photos and I hardly remember them being that…little.  Babies don’t keep and the years go by so very fast.

But 2020 was different.   In 2020, the days were long, and the year was long. Time slowed down.  It was challenging, for sure, but the rearview mirror in my mind is already rounding off the rough edges. We pressed pause on the frenetic pace of our typical work, travel, sports, school and social schedules. Because of all the time together, my children at these exact ages (2, 5 and 8) will be deeply etched in my memory.  These ages that typically go by in a blink and are filed away with all the other blurry recollections of their childhood days, will contain more color. In 2020, time slowed down which somehow slowed down the growing up. Silver lining, for sure.  


Follow that Beat?

2020 December 18
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by Jennifer

It’s just after 5pm on your average workday and I’m walking back to my car after a day at the office.  That’s when I hear “Ignition (Remix)” by R. Kelly BLASTING from a few floors above me in the parking deck. 

It is clear something is going on up there. This parking deck is practically empty, yet this timeless anthem from R. Kelly’s album Chocolate Factory is booming from what has to be a professional sound system.

I’m about to get in my car to drive home, but I’m honestly torn.


Should I go straight home, as planned? 


Should I follow that beat? Should I go up there and see what’s going on?

What if…

I follow that beat and it leads to the top deck of the parking garage where there’s a huge dance party going on. It must be hosted by some other company that shares our building. I don’t know anyone there, but AS YOU KNOW “Ignition” is just one of those songs, and I simply can’t help myself but to start dancing.  

And what if…

I start dancing. Then the DJ calls me on stage of the parking lot party and suddenly everyone is copying my dance moves. We dance for hours like this and the crowd is totally feeling it. It’s like I’m Richard Simmons up there on stage and everyone else in the office parking deck is Sweatin’ to the Oldies.

And what if…

We dance all night like this, me and these corporate strangers. The DJ and I naturally strike up a friendship and he says he really REALLY likes my vibe and he needs me to bring my unique brand of funk to his next gig.

And what if…

It turns out his next DJ gig is in Ibiza. I can’t say no to that, and what I have going on this weekend isn’t anything that can’t be rescheduled. So, I say yes. Why not go with this friendly DJ on an all-expenses paid jaunt to Ibiza?

And what if…

We take a stretch Navigator to the airport to board the plane and Nancy Meyers and Rachel Zoe happen to be on the same chartered flight.  Turns out they are dear old friends with the DJ and the three of them made a pact never to go to Ibiza without each other.  The plane is FULL of gorgeous clothes.  Rachel styles me from head to toe and I look AMAZING.  “Keep ALL the clothes,” she tells me. Nancy Meyers and I get to chatting and she says she’s filming her next movie in Atlanta.  She offers to renovate our kitchen in exchange for filming a few scenes at my house.  I happily oblige.

And what if…

We all roll up to the gig in Ibiza and it’s clear that the DJ really downplayed how star-studded this event was going to be.  The second I walk in the door, Ina Garten hands me a glass of Cristal and Jeffery and I cheers. There is food everywhere, this party is catered. Waiters are passing trays of sushi and lobster tails, and Christian Bale and I lock eyes when we reach for the same bacon-wrapped scallop. On my left, David Blaine is doing street magic on Lin-Manuel Miranda and the LA Lakers, and on the right, the entire casts of Little Women (1994 and 2019) are gathered by the chocolate fountain. When the DJ starts his set, we all make our way to the dancefloor.

And what if…

The DJ is playing all the hits and the dancefloor. is. hot. The crowd forms two dance lines, Soul Train style. When it’s my turn, Bruno Mars and I are paired up and we are completely in sync when we dance down the line. Then Bruno and I have a dance-off. I win. I’m doing dance moves even Beyoncé hadn’t considered, so she plugs her number in my phone and says that I HAVE to join her in Aspen for New Year’s Eve. She sees the background pic on my iPhone, the one of my three children, and that’s when we realize that our kids are the same age. “Bring the whole family” she says. “Blue Ivy and the twins would love to have some friends to play with après ski.”

And what if…

The DJ plays “I’ve Had the Time of My Life” and LeBron James lifts me up Swayze style.  And from my vantage point up there, I see the members of the band formerly known as One Direction scattered about the room.  We all know that there must have been some major falling out when they decided to each pursue their solo careers. 

And what if…

I round up Harry, Zayn, Liam, Niall and the other guy who probably sells insurance now and I say, “come on boys, let’s go sort this out.” They reluctantly agree and we find a quiet corner away from the crowd to talk it out. Upon my urging, they are finally saying the things they’ve always wanted to say, but have never been able to. Now we are all hugging and crying and singing an acapella version of “Story of my Life.” My voice harmonizes perfectly with their sound.  Then they start singing “What Makes You Beautiful” to ME. They know I’m happily married, but even married ladies appreciate being adored by handsome young pop stars.  Now the whole band is back together.  I immediately hop on a zoom call with Noel and Liam Gallagher and mend things up there as well.

And what if…

Oprah witnesses my dancing and though she is impressed, what really gets her attention is the restorative work I just facilitated between the members of Oasis and One Direction.  What I know for sure is that Oprah truly loves redemption stories and is passionate about the power of forgiveness.  She tells me that she wants to add ME to her list of favorite things this year.  “You HAVE to come to the afterparty!” she insists. “Gayle will be there, and we have been looking for someone new to add to our friend group.”  She can be very persistent so of course I say yes.


What if…

The afterparty is on a yacht. 

A yacht.

Now that just isn’t going to work for me. Unfortunately, I get REALLY seasick.  Even on large fancy boats. Even in the crystal clear waters of the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Ibiza.

So, I guess I shouldn’t go up there to see why, exactly “Ignition (Remix)” is playing so loudly in the parking deck today. I don’t think I should follow that beat after all.

It’s probably best if I just head straight home.


I’m just a girl, standing in front of the school board, asking them to reopen her school.

2020 September 13
by Jennifer

The first day of virtual school did not meet my very low expectations.  Or at least I didn’t.  I expected it would take at least two weeks for the virtual learning situation to bring me to tears, but no. By 11am on the very first day, I was crying, ready to call it quits, and researching if the Peace Corps accepted kindergarteners and/or cats.

After few weeks of days not much better than that one, I was ready to take action.  I felt compelled to share our unpleasant experience with virtual school and assert the importance of in-person education to anyone who would listen.  So, I did what generations of women have done before me—I sat at my kitchen table and launched a letter writing campaign.  This I know for sure: People in power love to hear from women who have come unglued.

I opened my laptop, grabbed a cup of coffee and began ranting writing. 

My first email was to our school’s principal.  I heard a rumor that he thought things were going along just swimmingly, so I made it my personal mission to change his mind about that.  I calmly and clearly articulated the challenges of virtual kindergarten.  I attached this photo.

It felt good to do something. To connect with our principal.  To share my experience.  But does he even have a seat at the table when it comes to decision making?  Does he have any say-so whatsoever regarding schools reopening?  Two more cups of coffee, a few internet clicks and I found the contact info for the entire Atlanta Public School Board.

I decided to revise and repurpose the principal email to send it the decision makers.  

With fresh eyes and my new audience in mind, I re-read my initial email to the principal.   Though I was aiming for concerned and competent, I came across as a tad…unhinged.  So, I logged out of Gmail and switched to Outlook.  Now the emails would come from my corporate email address, complete with my work signature, fancy title and company logo.  I wanted them to see that I wasn’t your average crazy mom, I was a professional crazy mom. 

Next, I emailed our district’s representative on the school board.  I told him a little bit about the challenges of virtual kindergarten.  It is best to have a specific ask in mind, so I suggested a reopening plan that prioritized making in-person learning available to students with special needs and to the youngest students (i.e. Kindergarteners. Like this one. She was supposed to be “learning” but instead she spent the morning creating this desk for her unicorn). 

I continued to work my way down the contact list, each email serving as my template for the one after.  With each subsequent email, I gained momentum in my conviction around the ineffectiveness of virtual school specifically for early learners and those with special needs.  I also started outlining the disproportionate impact school closures have on students and communities most in need.  I cited news articles about how virtual learning further widens the achievement gap between the haves and the have-nots.

By my last board email, I was officially an expert on the correlation between third grade reading levels, truancy, and the prison population.  I was punctuating my points with relevant statistics as I built my case. Maybe I was just screaming into a canyon, but at least it had the placebo effect of feeling productive.

Then I went back to my Gmail and sent a thank you note to my daughter’s kindergarten teacher. I told her she was crushing it. I praised her efforts to adapt to providing instruction in this new medium.   I told her she was a war hero who deserved a Purple Heart.  I apologized that a unicorn crashed the kindergarten zoom.

The decision of whether to reopen schools for face-to-face learning is complex.  Many teachers don’t want to risk getting sick if schools are open. Many parents can’t work if schools are closed.  Many children can’t learn if they are at home. Many homes are unsafe places for children.  Children with special needs are losing key skills, missing milestones and falling behind.  Children of parents with financial means are getting ahead thanks to tutors, private school and enrichment programs—advantages unavailable to children at some public schools.  Many public schools serve communities that may be at higher risk for contracting the virus.  Many teachers may be high-risk themselves or caring for loved ones that are.  Many children are at high risk without the structure, security and meals provided by the school system. And on. And on. And on.  It’s messy and complicated and scary and sad all the way around. But as case numbers continue trending in the right direction, the pros of reopening outweigh the cons.

It’s been a week now since I gave my two cents to via email the Atlanta Board of Education.  I know a lot of other parents who have done the same.  Women far more savvy than me are launching Facebook groups to gather support and circulating petitions (please sign it).  Enough crazy moms can certainly move the needle on this thing, right?

Just this morning, this email landed in my inbox: 

Basically: The school board might be planning to plan to formulate a plan to make a plan to begin planning for reopening. Eventually. And that plan might incorporate a tiered approach that prioritizes children who are having the most challenges distance learning. Maybe they’re reading the influx of ranty emails from disgruntled homeschooling madwomen afterall? Only plus or minus 129,398,408,484 days of virtual learning to go.


It’s the First Day of Virtual School and We Haven’t Quite Mastered the Mute Button

2020 August 26
by Jennifer

7:40am: My daughters come downstairs, dressed and ready for their first day of virtual school.  Look! Mom has left a thoughtful surprise at their breakfast spots: new books and handwritten letters of praise and encouragement.  It’s going to be a great year! We got this!

7:45am: Students enjoy homemade healthy muffins. There was zucchini hidden in there and they had no idea.  Compliments to the chef!  

7:50am: I want to always remember this big day, so I take a video asking my children what grade they’re in and who their teachers are.  The kindergartner gets both questions wrong.

7:52am: We walk outside to take classic first day of school photos on the front porch.  The 3rd grader wants the cat to be in the photo.  I insist on taking a few without the cat as well.  At this point our pandemic pet feels more like a random girlfriend than a real member of the family. We walk back inside.

8am: 3rd grader logs into her Google Classroom.  She chitchats with classmates who have also logged on early.  They discuss Jojo Siwa and whether they like him…or her.  I don’t know who this person is, but apparently my daughter does and is not a fan.  I’m thinking that’s the right answer.

8:10am: School is in session!

8:11am: Not so fast. Tech glitches in kindergarten. Is it me? Is it this iPad? Is it our internet? Am I clicking the wrong link? I go find another iPad.

8:20am: Two-year-old wakes up.  Technically, she has been awake for a while, but it’s probably time to get her out of the crib. Dad gets her up and puts her in the shower to buy some time and keep her out of the way. She loves showers.

8:25am: Two parents are now troubleshooting on multiple school, work and home devices attempting to get our kindergartner in her class. No luck.

8:35am: Husband leaves home and heads to the office.  Wife is feeling a little jealous frazzled, but still high on the fact that she lovingly penned two thoughtful notes that her children will surely treasure forever. And how about those those fantastic muffins?!

8:55am: School is finally happening in kindergarten. I think.  I panic-text other moms to make sure everyone’s audio is choppy—not just ours.  The teacher is teaching the children and their parents how to turn their microphones off.

9:02am: Transition toddler from the shower to a two-inch-deep bathtub full of bath toys. Pinterest calls it sensory play, I call it the splash cage.

9:10am: I rejoin the virtual kindergarten to find that instead of sitting at her desk, my daughter is sitting under it. I put her in her chair and tell her to pay attention.  To what? Not quite sure.  Looks like the class has yet to master mute and unmute.  And I’m pretty sure the teacher is still taking attendance.

9:15am: 3rd grader is in virtual PE and doing jumping jacks to party tunes in her bedroom.  Her computer screen displays a countdown clock telling her when to get back in her chair.   At least someone in this house is self-sufficient.

9:20am: Looks like the kindergartner has clicked out of the Google Classroom and is playing games on the iPad.  Wondering if those games are perhaps a better use of her time?  Are we missing something or is everyone doing this?

9:36am: Two-year-old is out of the bath and requesting breakfast.  She was asleep when I delighted her sisters with those superfood magical muffins this morning.

9:39am: Two-year-old refuses to eat the muffins.  I’m not gonna fight it today.  How about an all-you-can-eat cereal buffet instead?

9:40am: Bowl one.

9:45am: Bowl two

9:50am: Bowl three.

9:52am: Racking my brain for a two-year-old activity that doesn’t involve eating, running up the water bill, or parental supervision.  I put her outside in the driveway and close the gate.  I put the cat outside too.

10:02am: 3rd grader calls me upstairs.  She needs help with an All About Me presentation.  I tell her she needs to do it by herself.  I help her open PowerPoint and I realize that she actually does need my help and she probably can’t do it herself. I keep that a secret for now. But I expect to be called back in very soon.

10:10am:  Two-year-old comes back inside. Independent driveway play didn’t last as long as I hoped it would.  She has also decided that today is the day she wants to potty train! Potty training is not on my to-do list this calendar year. She BEGS me to take off her diaper, and when I finally take it off she refuses to let me help her get on the actual potty. She wants to get up there allbyherself. Once she is up there she seems afraid. Nothing happens. Diaper back on. Repeat.

10:20am: Back upstairs. Due to tech glitches in the Spanish immersion program, Kindergarten sounds like a remix at the discoteca.  The kindergartner plays with dolls on the floor of her bedroom while the DLI EDM soundtrack blasts from the iPad.

10:25am Two-year-old has taken OFF her diaper and is walking upstairs to join us.  I rush to secure it and realize that she has left a trail of poo balls in her wake.  She has one in her hand. 

10:29am: Back in the bath. This time with soap.

10:32am: Kindergartener needs help logging out of one zoom, into another and simultaneously into some other program. This maneuver requires both an access code and an advanced degree in information technology.  I have neither. Once we’re finally in, it’s time for yet another round of the mute/unmute tutorial.

10:58am: I realize that the cat is in the 3rd grade with the door closed.  That is absolutely against the rules because if the door is closed, she can’t get to the litter box. I open the door to take the cat out of the bedroom but in runs the two-year-old.  Now the 3rd grader is visibly upset because she wants the toddler out but wants the cat to stay in. The kindergartner is no longer at her desk and somehow the iPad is missing. She walks downstairs and points to another tiny poo ball on the step that somehow I missed the first time.  Or is this a new one?  I hear the ding-ding-ding from my work computer reminding me of the to-dos that await. Everyone needs me rightthisveryminute.

11am: I cry real tears. I am frustrated and angry and overwhelmed. And somehow, I am also a cat owner. How are we going to do virtual school from 8:10am-1:30pm every single day?   HOW IS IT ONLY 11AM? WHY AM I HOLDING POOP?

11:15am: Quit virtual kindergarten. We are logged out and I refuse to put forth the effort required to log back in.  It has become clear that virtual kindergarten is an oxymoron and an impossibility.  I tell the kindergartener to do a puzzle.

11:30am: Lunch Break! This I can do. 

11:36am: Not so fast.  I burn three grilled cheeses.  Clearly off my game. I decide they are salvageable and scrape off the charred bits. Lunch is served.   

11:45am: Still on lunch break, I play music to lift my spirits and I give myself a major mental pep talk. I search for silver linings. We dance in the kitchen.

12pm: Lunch break is over.  Back to school!

12:02pm: 3rd grader is back at her desk learning. Like actually learning. The teacher and my daughter are talking to each other in Spanish. She is taking notes with a sharpened pencil as she sits in the desk that I built. (Ok. Built is strong. The desk that I assembled.)

12:05pm:  I close the door to her bedroom feeling very proud of her but mostly proud of myself.  I assembled that desk! And that chair!  What a marvelous little learning nook I created.  What a precious little learner.

12:10am Kindergartner is logged in and doing kindergarten-ish things. Maybe even learning?   Yes. Learning is happening.

12:30am: So this is kindergarten. They are talking about letters and colors and feelings.  Everyone is muted except for the teacher.  The system seems to be working. 

But wait. What is this?  Oh no. I feel my tears coming.

12:35am: I excuse myself to cry. Again.  The 11am cry was because I was frustrated by the technology and overwhelmed by it ALL.  But this time I cry because I’m genuinely sad.  Virtual school makes me sad. This is not at all how kindergarten should be.  I am sad for my daughter who isn’t meeting her amazing teachers in person, being the line leader, the lunch captain, or the lucky one who gets to feed the class guinea pig. She doesn’t get to meet new friends and ride the bus with her big sister like she has dreamed about. Virtual 3rd grade is fine, but pales in comparison to the in school experience. I cry for the teachers who did not sign up for this either.  I know they have broader learning objectives than just teaching the kids how to mute and unmute. Not being able to really connect with their new students must break their hearts. I wonder how many teachers cried today too.

Our district has promised “at least” nine weeks of virtual school.  In my sad cry, nine weeks feels like an absolute e-t-e-r-n-i-t-y.

12:45pm: I pull it together and read a few books to the two-year-old.

1:00pm:  Kindergartner calls me in. Her iPad has 10% battery left. Interesting considering it literally charged the entire weekend. 

1:02pm: Plug it in.  It immediately runs out of batteries and won’t turn back on.

1:05pm: Quit virtual kindergarten. Again. Definitely for the day and maybe for the year.  

1:06pm: Something must be done. Activate Problem Solving Mode! Do we join a pod? Do I hire a tutor? Maybe I will pull her out of public school and homeschool? Maybe I’ll just buy a kindergarten workbook and some flash cards? Should I read to her for three or four hours each day? Who needs kindergarten anyway? French children don’t learn to read until they are eight or nine, right? Maybe she repeats kindergarten and this year is just practice? How about a gap year? Maybe we should buy and RV and drive to Australia? Should we send her to a private school offering in-person class? To whom shall I write the check?

1:15pm: Break my no-TV-during-the-school-week policy and turn on PBS Kids. Then, it’s back to third grade to help with the All About Me PowerPoint.

1:30pm: Closing Bell! The first day of virtual school is finally over. 

2pm: Nap time for the two-year-old.  Exhale.

2:30pm: 3rd grader practices piano, kindergartner colors beside me, and I tackle my inbox.

3:30pm: My kindergartner tells me I’m her best friend.

4:30pm: Husband calls and says he is coming home early.  This never happens. He must have gotten the Bat Signal.  He offers to take the girls to the park. Clearly I made the right choice when I made him co-signer of those thoughtful first day of school letters.

5pm:  Dad walks in the door. As usual, he receives a war hero’s welcome from his three daughters. His wife is also truly delighted to see him. 

“How was the first day of school?” he asks the 3rd grader. 

“SO awesome.”  she says.

“How was school?” he asks the kindergartner. 

Perfect.”  she says.


Updates from the Upside Down

2020 March 23

Here is what’s going on right now in my Cabin at Camp Coronavirus.

Allow me to paint the picture of my current responsibilities:

  • Working. Usually my day job brings me a sense of joy, purpose, pride and accomplishment. But corporate America currently feels like this.  I work in healthcare, and I feel compelled to step up at work now more than ever.  We’re all are trying to put down the railroad tracks as the train comes rolling behind us.
  • Homeschooling my second grader.  She typically spends her days at a Spanish immersion elementary school.  I do not speak Spanish, nor do I speak Common Core math. Fielding her questions in two languages while keeping her on academic quarantine during school hours so she can concentrate on her work is a challenge. So far, my teaching method of explaining the directions the exact same way only louder each time doesn’t seem to be helpful for her education or for our relationship. The “educational” games (games!) on her school-issued iPad seem too easy, while the stacks of worksheets seem too complex.   
  • Parenting a two-year-old. Our resident two-year-old, to complicate matters, has zero interest in watching TV.  (Delivery room mix-up. DNA test pending.)  I’d let her sit and watch The Godfather trilogy if it would give me a little break.  She’s happiest when she is eating or emptying the contents of drawers.  
  • And I feel like I’m forgetting something. Oh yeah.  The middle childHas anyone seen her? Wait…Where is she?  Oh. There she is.  She’s in my bathroom playing with my makeup. And why won’t the toilet flush? Because it’s clogged with half a roll of toilet paper torn off one sheet at a time. I mean, read the headlines, kid.

Here is snapshot of a single moment in time: I’m answering work emails, resolver problemas matemáticos con mi niña, muting the conference call so I can discipline, console, referee, educate, and feed one of a thousand meals a day to three frat boys who don’t understand why I’m rationing the bread.  

After too many long days of that losing game of wack-a-mole, I reached my breaking point. I could feel the tears rising to the surface.  And you know what finally broke the floodgates?  Bing. I accidentally downloaded a nasty virus wherein every time I Google something, the bunk search engine Bing opens instead, along with five  pop-up ads.   The Bing virus was my breaking point that made me feel ALL THE FEELINGS associated with Coronavirus.  I started bawling.  Cue the full-on ugly cry.

Bottom line: This new reality is disorienting and draining for me as a working, homeschool mother, quarantined…with a two-year-old.   And oh, the open-endedness of it all! How long will this last? And the middle child. Has anyone seen her? Wait…Where is she?  Oh. There she is.  She’s in her bathroom putting Vaseline in her hair and smearing it all over the counter.

In my blissful previous life (three weeks ago) I could have written a book about work-life balance.  My secret? Setting clear boundaries between the two. I try my best to be all in when I’m at the office and all in when I’m at home.  In the word of social distancing, there is no separation and no boundaries between home and work. It all inevitably bleeds together. My work responsibilities seep into the nooks and crannies previously reserved for home life and hands-on parenting.  And my parenting responsibilities have increased now that I am the head teacher (profesora) and the primary childcare provider.  I feel exhausted and overwhelmed and like I’m failing at ALL OF IT.   

In the good old days, I felt zero guilt going to work.  I was at the office while my kids were at school, at preschool, at soccer and ballet.  Or I was working from home — a child-free, clean, quiet home (ahhh, paradise). But now we are all home. All together, all day.   I’m constantly having to make choices about who needs me most.  I hate missing out on quality time with my little people when I’m working. But when I’m dealing with the screaming and complaining and arguing and snack demanding, I fantasize about my former life in my quiet office where I could concentrate and wear real clothes.

And I have a confession.  I envy other mothers who seem to be living their best lives right now.  I see their color-coded homeschool schedules, themed scavenger hunts, culinary creations and art projects.  Some of my best friends are really loving the teaching and the togetherness.  And so would I. I think.  If that was the only thing I had on my plate and if the youngest student in my class was 8 (not 2).  And oh yeah.  The middle child.  Has anyone seen her? Wait…Where is she?  Oh, there she is.  Using a green permanent marker to scribble on her white bedroom carpet.

This quarantine, social distance scenario amplifies the tension and guilt that working mothers feel even on the best, pandemic-free days. 

I had a good solid cry followed by a long walk (still legal) to process my feelings and catch my breath.  What I tried last week didn’t work. It was unsustainable and who knows how long this whole thing will last. Weeks? Months? I’m gonna make some changes. Here’s the plan:

I will be my own version of a homeschool teacher.  Even at my best, I am no substitute for my daughters’ amazing teachers. I’m taking the pressure off and we will all just do our best to get it done. I can manage and maybe even enjoy it if I do it my own way.  This will involve scrapping the common core and encouraging my students to focus on reading, reading, reading, letter writing, and learning new dance moves.  Mrs. Fizzle will be the substitute Spanish teacher via El Autobus Magico on Netflix.  My school will not operate during traditional school hours. And the lunch lady is hot.

I will get my job done and make a meaningful contribution to my team at work. I love my job. (Shout out to my man in the IT department who helped me remove the Bing virus).  Sure, sending an email will take me longer with three children sitting in my lap, but such is life for a working mom.  The workday may have stops and starts and the work week may be longer but that will be OK for now. I know this won’t last forever. Right? Right.  I’m also rethinking our decision to social distance from our beloved nanny. Doing so made me social distance from my sanity and I just don’t know if it’s worth it.

I will use this time to soak in the amazingness of each of my children, at exactly the ages they are right now.   Last week had me peering through the windows half envying families with older children. I felt like my kids were too young for me to relish this particular, albeit peculiar, moment in time.  Many families are finding peace in the tranquility and stillness that this forced timeout offers.  They are playing rounds of Scrabble, baking bread, and learning to play the piano. That peaceful picture of life during this pandemic feels quite different than the day-to-day in my quarantined cabin.  We can’t do crosswords, thousand-piece jigsaw puzzles, or have a family game night without someone eating the pieces. Only three out of the five of us can actually read, so I don’t have endless hours to crank through my personal to-be-read pile of books.  But there is joy to be found in the sequestered slow-down and an opportunity to soak up extra time with my children, ages 7, 4 and 2. I could write a mile-long list of silver linings.

I will treasure these long days and lazy weekends.  Today, the girls and I made pancakes, did chalk art in the driveway, danced and decorated for Easter.  Yes, there were meltdowns, minor burns, and a raisin in the ear incident, but it was a good day. A really good day.  I took a stroll with my one-of-a-kind-seven-year-old and we played Sleeping Queens while the little ones napped. Even the two-year-old had moments of true greatness.  I am convinced she will be a value-add to our family in the long run. And the middle child.  There she is. She’s across the table from me, peacefully building a magna-tile mansion for her family of figurines.  I love the imaginary worlds she creates.

This week out there in the world will not be a good one. We will witness the increasingly devastating impact this scary virus has on our nation’s health, our healthcare system, and our economy. 

I will continue to be grateful that my struggles are nothing compared to what others are facing right now.

But I am committed to making this week inside my cabin at Camp Corona better than the last. 

I will lower my expectations.

I will let some of it go.

I will prioritize the things that matter most.

I will stop comparing my experience to everyone else’s highlight reels.

I will take time to create special moments with each of my children.

I will offer myself and my fellow campers grace and patience as we figure this out together.