Village Whiner August 2012

August 7th, 2012 : No Comments »

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Posted in Chapter One, DC, The Novel

Thanks for not flinching at the sight of my cervix, new friend!

August 8th, 2012 : No Comments »

From: momof3law@hotmail.com
To: phoebegb@sahmsrule.net 
Subject: Birth Announcement
Do you mind taking a quick look at Baby’s birth announcement to make sure I’ve avoided any major faux pas before I send it to the printers?

Our friends and former neighbors in Kansas City are clamoring for news, so I need to get this out as soon as possible, even if I haven’t slept a wink in the 48 hours since we left the hospital. Turns out, Baby clings to my boobs in the same intense way George did long b/f any of our cherubs arrived.

From: phoebegb@sahmsrule.net
To: momof3law@hotmail.com
I don’t see any attachment. Can u resend? Btw, you might want to consider getting a new email address, now that you are a mom of 4!

From: momof3law@hotmail.com
To: phoebegb@sahmsrule.net
Generally don’t like to use my work email for personal correspondence, but it seems like everyone else in DC does. Any idea why that is?

From: phoebegb@sahmsrule.net
To: momof3law@hotmail.com
They do it to prove how important they are – a practice I would encourage you to adopt, so long as you aren’t engaged in a torrid workplace affair, or revealing something you wouldn’t like the firm’s email monitor to see.

From: crystalwalker@sterlingmorris.com
To: phoebegb@sahmsrule.net
Sterling Morris said it was OK for me to use my new work email, so long as I make sure to include the disclaimer at the bottom. Trust me, an affair is the last thing I need in my life right now, between unpacking the moving boxes and getting all four cherubs settled before I start my new job. Here’s the birth announcement–I think I attached it this time!

Desperate in DC Birth Announcement

CONFIDENTIALITY NOTICE:  This e-mail communication and any attachments may contain confidential, privileged and titillating information for the use of the designated recipients named above. You are not authorized to forward this e-mail to anyone unless authorized, or for purposes of idle gossip.  If you are not the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that you have received this communication in error (or possibly on purpose) and that any review, disclosure, dissemination, distribution or copying of it or its contents is prohibited, no matter how juicy it is. If you have received this communication in error, please destroy all copies of this email and any attachment. Do not, whatever you do, forward it onto all your friends first!

Skye Chat
oops. Wasn’t expecting you to be online at 4 a.m. Hope my email didn’t wake you. Only time I get on computer is when Baby is nursing but rest of the world is asleep. If I prop her up on a pillow, I cAn even tYpe with tow hands!

this is actually best time of day to reach me. May no longer have babies to juggle, but I’ve developed habit of waking up for several hours during middle of night ever since twins were born. Used to drive me crazy till realized it’s actually most peaceful part of my day. I can catch up on email and shop online w/o being interrupted to service anyone else’s needs.

that’s gr8, but aren’t u exhausted?

permanently, altho’ find the occasional catnap at stop lights helps. 🙂

btw, thank u for driving me to hospital the other day, after George was unable to leave work to take me. Hard to know what could be more important than the birth of one’s last child, but speeding tix will be a glorious reminder of how fast u drove to get me there.

It was honor to be present at the birth of yr 4th child – and what a beauty she is, too! Also a thrill to be caught up in an actual birth drama – the urgent phone call; the legitimate need to speed; the fact that no-one else, including the putative father of your unborn child, could be there for you during yr hour of need.

must confess, I was a little intimidated when u first stopped by with homemade beetroot and black bean muffins to welcome us to neighborhood a couple of weeks back. Not sure if it was the perfect blonde bob, the extra-short tennis dress or the devoted at-home mothering. But now that you’ve stared down my cervix w/o flinching, feel sure we’ll be BFFLs.

you and George caused quite a sensation round the Village when you first moved in, as I don’t think anyone had seen quite so many children from just one marriage. Here in DC, only the very wealthy or those on their second or third families (the two usually go together) breed with such abandon. Also refreshing to see a family of brunettes in this enclave of natural and highlighted blonds (I will leave you to guess which I am). And delightful to be able to spend so much time with you during a month in which every other resident and their dog in the Village seems to be out of town. Glad my words of support proved helpful during active labor, which you insisted on enduring, like so many DC super-mums, without any kind of narcotic relief.  I made the mistake of giving birth to twins in my native London, where the midwife took it upon herself to let epidural wear off for pushing stage. I have an outstanding contract on the woman to this day.

emailing announcement again now, and will make sure to actually attach it this time. BTW, don’t know what to make of the various Village newsletter offerings.  Can u pls advise if we should join the Country Club or Village Diversity Group?

depends if you prefer hanging out with people who like alcohol or wheat grass in their smoothies.

the former, of course. 🙂

then it’s Country Club all the way, my friend. Must invite you to Prospective Cocktails asap, so you can see for yourself.

would love that, but don’t you have to have a third generation drinking problem to get into such places here on the East Coast?

trust me, the only family pedigrees you’ll find at the Village Country Club belong to member dogs, not their owners, although they may like to pretend otherwise. 😉

guess it takes someone from the mother country to sort out the true WASPS from the wannabees. Fingers crossed they accept applications from people who hail from flyover country.

Posted in Chapter One, DC, The Novel

The neighbors are darlings, aren’t they?

August 9th, 2012 : No Comments »

Posting on Village Listserv
From: phoebegb@sahmsrule.net
Any idea why the pool at the Village Country Club is closed for TWO weeks this summer for renovations? What makes them think that every Village Resident can decamp to their beach house for the duration? Has it escaped the club’s notice that it is currently 98 degrees and steaming like a tropical rainforest out there?

Posting on Village Listerv
From: phoebegb@sahmsrule.net
Hello? Anybody out there? Guess everyone IS out of town. Of course, some of us expressly chose not to go away, so our children can take algebra before 5th grade.

Note from Phoebe to Lata
Por Favor, can you take the twins to the piscina publica today? The aire acondicionado is broken and we can’t afford to get it fixed right now.

From: phoebegb@sahmsrule.net
To: bradthompson@p_Nis_sytems.com
Can’t believe we are ONLY people we know who are in town at the moment. The sacrifice for the sake of your hardware better be worth it. Thank God for the Walkers! They do seem to be a lovely family and quite sophisticated. But I do wish their eldest son, Kevin, would get rid of that ghastly haircut. He may have the twins all atwitter, but isn’t it preferable to be able to see where one is going? I can only hope he will come to his senses before school starts.

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Posted in Chapter One, DC, The Novel

Less is More?

August 10th, 2012 : No Comments »

From: crystalwalker@sterlingmorris.com
To: phoebegb@sahmsrule.net
Subject: Birth Announcement
Did you see the birth announcement? Here it is again as I’m sure the third time is the charm. Let me know what you think.


From: phoebegb@sahmsrule.net
To: crystalwalker@sterlingmorris.com
Re: Birth Announcement
Indeed it is, although I am a little puzzled by the lack of a name on the announcement. I can only assume you were anxious to get the card out to meet the expectations of your friends and family in Kansas City. I do hope the delay means you are affording this decision the weight it is due here on the East Coast. Far be it from me to suggest you might want to dispense with the double monikers you so delightfully employed with your first three cherubs, but I think you should know that such a practice may not help Baby’s prospects here.

From: crystalwalker@sterlingmorris.com
To: phoebegb@sahmsrule.net
Re: Birth Announcement
Lack of name is result of fear at making the same hasty mistake my parents did with me, and thereby christening my youngest with something that may have sounded charming when conjured up after drinking one or two glasses of bubbly, only to condemn one’s only child to a name that sounds like a stripper.

Any considered (and sober) advice you have to offer on this subject would be much appreciated.

From: phoebegb@sahmsrule.net
To: crystalwalker@sterlingmorris.com
Re: Birth Announcement
You may want to consider a more androgynous approach, as a way to help Baby avoid a glass ceiling in her future career. I have a good friend by the name of Mykal who clerked for the Supreme Court for three years before anyone realized she was a woman. Remember, no decision is too small to weigh carefully, especially when it comes to your child’s future college applications. There are several baby name consultants I would be happy to recommend, if you are interested.

A couple of other minor suggestions:

Here in Washington, it is considered important to avoid any ornamentation, which detracts from the central message. Recycled paper also earns you brownie points. You can check out some examples at www.moretastefulthanyou.com.

Also, it’s really not to your advantage to announce your reproductive capacities in a city where many people, including yours truly, have found the use of technology essential to produce offspring. Wouldn’t want to seem like you are bragging about your natural ability to pop them out now would you? Otherwise, the announcement looks great.

P.S. Keep meaning to ask: What is it that brought your charming family to DC in the first place?

From: crystalwalker@sterlingmorris.com   
To: phoebegb@sahmsrule.net
RE: Birth Announcement
If you like the idea of early morning coffee klatches before heading home to do one’s domestic duties towards God and family, then Kansas City may be for you. If, like me, you happen to be a Women’s Studies graduate, the place can be a challenge. So when George was given the opportunity to leave his law firm and join Plunder & Hogg’s Environmental Affairs division, I told him to go for it – although not before I was able to secure a partnership with a law firm here in DC too. It seemed like the perfect way to show the cherubs more of the world, especially with what I hope will be the impending re-election of our first African American president! I could only be happier if he were a woman. 😉

Unfortunately, George and I have not had a moment since to discuss Baby’s name, or even whether or not we should sue the Ob/gyn who informed us we were having another boy, which has resulted in a costly re-paint of the nursery we just had done.

What brought you to DC – aside from the love of a good man?

From: phoebegb@sahmsrule.net
To: crystalwalker@sterlingmorris.com
RE: Birth Announcement
That, and the naive belief that this was just one more pit-stop on a life of jet-set travel. 🙂

Actually, I moved to DC as a reporter for BBC America a decade ago, but quit working after I met Brad and had the twins. I simply couldn’t imagine working and not being there for my little angels. Now, we can’t afford the travel, let alone the jet, which just between ourselves is the reason we canceled our annual trip back to London this summer. Brad assures me all that will change just as soon as the patent on his technology comes through next month, however, so fingers crossed he is right.

While our political views could not be more different, it’s been delightful to be able to spend so much time getting to know you and yours these past few weeks (and not just because everyone else is out of town ;)). Who knew a transplanted Brit and a gal from the midwest could have so much in common? Still, I simply can’t imagine having to go back to work so soon after giving birth. I don’t know how you do it!

From: crystalwalker@sterlingmorris.com
To: phoebegb@sahmsrule.net
RE: Birth Announcement
The prospect of starting at Sterling Morris only six weeks from now does have me feeling overwhelmed, as I am not sure our new German Au pair is up to the job of getting the three older cherubs off to school and handling them for a few hours in the afternoon before I get home. Nina IS only eighteen, but I may need to re-think our childcare arrangements before I start work.

Back in Kansas City, George and I used to trade off leaving the office early to pick the elder three cherubs up from daycare, but as the only registered Democrat in a traditionally Republican lobbying shop, he is having to work flat out making contacts with the potential new administration before the election. Hopefully, it’s a temporary situation, but something about the attitude of all the other cigar-smoking frat boys in his office makes me think they’re not used to the concept of a man having to do his share of changing diapers and cleaning up baby barf. Hope I’m wrong about that.

Fortunately, the staff at Baby’s new day care downtown seem more than competent. But why did they need to know her Apgar scores before agreeing to admit her, and why do they insist on thrusting flashcards in her face all day long?

Must sign off to call my new boss before she wakes up from her nap (Baby, not boss). Hope we can catch up properly in person sometime soon.

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Posted in Chapter One, DC, The Novel

Au Pair or Another Child?

August 13th, 2012 : No Comments »


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Posted in Chapter One, DC, The Nanny Files

Au Pair Strikes Again

August 14th, 2012 : No Comments »

Posted in Chapter One, DC, The Nanny Files

Lover, or Work-at-home Husband?

August 16th, 2012 : No Comments »

Text from Crystal to Phoebe
Got your charming note, but no donuts. Hope twins didn’t discover Midwestern approach to nutrition on their way? :0

Text from Phoebe to Crystal
Hm. Must be time for another little talk about evils of refined sugar.

Text from Crystal to Phoebe
Speaking of sweet things, noticed shadowy male figure in bathrobe thru window while dropping off box around 11 am. Could this be your lover? My lips are sealed, but you know how other neighbors will talk.

Text from Phoebe to Crystal
Did I mention Brad works from home?

Text from Crystal to Phoebe
That explains it. 🙂 Barely see George these days, as I’m usually asleep by time he gets in.

Text from Phoebe to Crystal
Have you tried instituting cocktail hour? My mother observed it w/o fail, and claims it encourages workaholic husbands to hurry home. Also makes the evening run smoother, even on days they can’t make. Just say the word, and I will ask Lata to mix up an extra Pisco Sour (or two).

Text from Crystal to Phoebe
Wasn’t sure what that was until I looked it up, but sounds just like what I might need.

Text from Crystal to Phoebe
Pisco = well worth the pump and dump. Thank you!

Posted in Chapter One, DC, Food and Drink

School Daze: The More You Pay, the Less They Go

August 27th, 2012 : No Comments »

Wall Post on C’s Mebook Profile
First day of school! Kevin refused to let me accompany him and his two younger sibs to the bus-stop, so I ended up waving from the doorstep, feeling like the mama turtle watching her babies scrabble down the beach towards the open sea. Anyone know if the private schools have started back yet?

Response from P
You know what they say: the more you pay, the less they go. Twins don’t start back until after Labor Day.

Response from C
Remind me again where your girls go to school? Seem to recall you giving me a name that sounded like something we were warned NEVER to try in college, but that can’t be right.

Message from P
My girls attend the Center for Research and Creativity (or CRAC, for short). Not as well known as Seton, but don’t let anyone tell you it’s a school for children with special needs. We prefer the term specially gifted. Unfortunately, Brad’s business is not bringing in the (admittedly astounding) amount of income required to keep the girls in CRAC and pay all our other bills, so we’re currently applying for financial aid.

How was the cherubs’ first day?

Message from C
Fine, but the absence of anyone playing on the street or the Village Green after school is deafening. Is there a child catcher on the loose, or are children simply being chauffeur driven from one activity to another once school lets out?

Message from P
A lot of people are still on vacay b/c the private schools haven’t started yet, but I think you will find the situation doesn’t change much once they do. As a matter of fact, you have just described the twins’ after-school routine perfectly. How else can they expect to master Spanish, Mandarin and classical jazz by the time they reach middle school? Must seize the opportunity of a chink in their schedule to get them together with the cherubs for a play date soon.





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Posted in Chapter One, DC, Finance

Have I Shared Too Much?

August 28th, 2012 : No Comments »

Wall Post on Crystal’s Mebook Profile
Just been informed by Karson’s preschool teacher that it’s never acceptable to put your hands around another child’s neck – even if the child in question snatched your basketball and is taunting you with it. Hard to believe anyone seriously feels threatened by a boy who has yet to break thirty-five pounds, particularly in a class where some kids appear suspiciously close to puberty, but I guess East-Coasters are made of softer stuff.

Mebook Message From Phoebe to Crystal
Welcome to DC, my dear, where children are held back whenever possible to give them an academic edge when it comes to applying for college. You’d think admissions officers might start to notice that the average DC child is mastering his ABC’s around the same time he or she is also learning to shave, but I dare say it’s never too early to start lying about one’s age.

Speaking of school, only 168 hours (one more week) before the twins go back. Can’t say they were happy about having to attend math camp this week, but they should have thought about that before they came home with Bs on their last report cards, shouldn’t they?

BTW, you may not want to post QUITE so much personal information on your wall concerning Karson’s troubles at school. Such candor is charming, but you never know when such information can be used against you round these parts. Whatever passes between us regarding personal and familial shortcomings, of course, goes in the vault. Remember, knowledge is power!

Mebook Message From Crystal to Phoebe
Thanks for the word of warning. No wonder my newest MeBook friends here in DC only seem to post what they had for breakfast.

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Posted in Chapter One, DC, Technologically Speaking

Hey, wait, maybe an intestinal parasite isn’t so bad?

August 29th, 2012 : No Comments »

From: phoebegb@sahmsrule.net
To: crystalwalker@sterlingmorris.com
Subject: Playdate
So glad we were able to get your cherubs together with my twins yesterday afternoon. Kimberly-Ann broke the ice nicely when she offered to show my youngest (by two minutes), Cecily her tattoo – temporary, I assume. And who knew Karson-James would prove to be my eldest twin’s soul mate? He may be several years Emily’s junior, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a shared enthusiasm for World of Wizardry could one day translate into another kind of lifelong passion.

From: crystalwalker@sterlingmorris.com
To: phoebegb@sahmsrule.net
RE: Playdate
Thanks for the whispered word of warning about your housekeeper’s fondness for homemade purgatives. I had the cherubs discreetly dump Lata’s  ‘Guava and Acai smoothies’ she made for them in the bushes as soon as her back was turned. Pretty sure they have consumed worse things than an Amazonian laxative dressed up as a protein shake in their time, but I guess it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Hope we can get together again soon!

Posted in Chapter One, DC

Business or Pleasure?

August 30th, 2012 : No Comments »



Posted in Chapter One, DC

DC Diary, August 2012

August 31st, 2012 : No Comments »

Posted in Chapter One, DC

Hawaii 5-0

January 7th, 2014 : No Comments »

Michelle Obama

I find it amusing that President Obama’s 50th birthday ‘gift’ to Michelle was to leave her behind in Hawaii with friends, while he high-tailed it back to DC with Malia and Sasha.

Since this is exactly what Brad and the twins probably wish they had given me for Christmas, I know what President Obama and the girls likely had in mind: leave the b. at the beach and enjoy two weeks of peace and quiet while mom recovers from her holiday insanity.

Of course, I may unfairly be ascribing my own holiday madness to Michelle, but the Post also reported today that Mrs. Obama’s 50th birthday party invitations for later this month came with the instruction to guests ‘to eat dinner before you come.’

Now if that doesn’t sound like someone who’s had it with having to feed, fete and generally cater to other people’s needs, I don’t know what does.

Anyone else have an idea why the Obamas aren’t willing to spring for dinner when it comes to celebrating Michelle’s big 5-0?


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Posted in Current Affairs, DC, DC Diary, Domestic Bliss, Family Values, Politics, Politics and Propane

Is the new slow cooker really an old crock?

January 8th, 2014 : No Comments »


I wonder how many other mature adults have been lured by the simplicity of the “new” slow cooker? Shiny stainless steel and updated recipes sent me over the moon for mine. I immediately prepared chorizo stew, asparagus risotto and asian short ribs before deciding to conquer asian pho. My teen son and four friends feasted happily on my hours long concoction. I was feeling rather ebullient and even a little smug– who needs Pho 14 now bitches? When bragging about this accomplishment to a native east coast neighbor, however, my bubble was promptly burst. I was reminded that no one outside of the midwest considers any form of slow cooking virtuous, tasty or chic. I snapped a photo of my soup and a picture of my beautiful pot and was rewarded with the query, “Was that passed down from your midwestern grandmother?” After reassuring myself the relationship could be spared, and deleting said neighbor from my contact list, I retired to my bed to finish the quilt I am making for a baby shower. If only I could shake the feeling that you can take a girl out of the midwest but never a crock pot from her hands. I worry that I will soon be told my cookie exchange parties are a sign of age (and midwestern heritage) too. Ah well, perhaps curmudgeon is trending in DC?


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Posted in DC, DC Diary, Family Values, Food and Drink, Friendly Encounters

Miley Cyrus: Bangerz indeed

February 27th, 2014 : No Comments »


Dearest Phoebe,

In the event you were considering allowing the twins to see the Miley Cyrus concert in DC on April 10th, you may want to reconsider. I know our darling Hannah Montana is gone forever but who knew the 21 year old Miley would want to transition from schoolgirl to harlot so quickly? Feigning sexual acts onstage with a replica of a former President seems to move beyond the ambitious young woman’s need to cultivate a new image. Although I’m no prude, I don’t see a reason to parade in front of our tweens with pot leaves as a design feature on a costume (not to mention the $40 souvenir rolling papers available at the show). In addition, her weird fetish with oversized stuffed animals seems likely only to confuse our cherubs into thinking she is still a girl and not a young woman making very adult choices. It’s an altogether inappropriate message for her target market. Unless, of course, she doesn’t want their attention at all. Lucky that as she’s made my decision not to buy overpriced tickets for the show brilliantly simple.



Dear Crystal,

Thank you so much for your stern words of warning. While I am all in favor of young women feeling sexually empowered, and expressing themselves accordingly, it does seem to me that La Cyrus is not so much asserting what she wants as pandering to what she thinks her fans like. But given that I doubt many ageing former Presidents (!) have her on their playlist, and that the average twenty something  male would probably die rather than admit he did, I fear Miley has misjudged her audience. Surely most of them are pubescent and impressionable young girls, who would probably be happier if she went back to being Hannah Montana half the time, even if Miley is rolling gold leaf joints backstage?

Someone needs to inform Miley that being a true rockstar involves actually rebelling against cultural stereotypes, not letting yourself be exploited by them. And whatever you do, especially if it involves updating your image, don’t make it look like you are trying too hard. After all, you only have to look as far as Justin Bieber to realize that going off the rails, and destroying your own tiresomely wholesome image, comes all too easily to most former child stars.

Fortunately, the question of whether or not to take my teenage daughters to her show is moot, since neither of them would be caught dead singing along to one of her songs – unless it’s Best of Both Worlds, which they are still known to reprise in the shower upon occasion, when they think no-one is listening.




Posted in DC, DC Diary, Family Values

Our Little Miley is Grown Up

September 10th, 2014 : No Comments »


Dearest Phoebe,

In the event you were considering allowing the twins to see Miley Cyrus in concert in D.C. on April 10, you may want to reconsider.

I know our darling Hannah Montana is gone forever, but who knew the 21-year-old Miley would want to transition from schoolgirl to harlot so quickly? Feigning sexual acts on stage with a replica of a former president seems to move beyond the ambitious young woman’s need to cultivate a new image.

Although I’m no prude, I don’t see a reason to parade in front of our tweens with pot leaves as a design feature on a costume (not to mention the $40 souvenir rolling papers available at the show). In addition, her weird fetish with oversized stuffed animals seems likely only to confuse our cherubs into thinking she is still a girl and not a young woman making very adult choices. It’s a confusing and altogether inappropriate message for her target market. Unless, of course, she doesn’t want their attention at all.

She’s made my decision not to buy overpriced tickets for the show brilliantly simple.


* * *

Dear Crystal,

Thank you so much for your stern words of warning. While I am all in favor of young women feeling sexually empowered and expressing themselves accordingly, it does seem to me that La Cyrus is not so much asserting what she wants as pandering to what she thinks her fans like.

But given that, I doubt many ageing former presidents (!) have her on their playlist and the average twenty-something male would probably die rather than admit he did. I fear Miley has misjudged her audience.

Surely most of them are pubescent and impressionable young girls who would probably be happier if she went back to being Hannah Montana half the time, even if Miley is rolling gold leaf joints backstage?

Someone needs to inform Miley that being a true rock star involves actually rebelling against cultural stereotypes, not letting yourself be exploited by them. And whatever you do, especially if it involves updating your image, don’t make it look like you are trying too hard. After all, you only have to look as far as Justin Bieber to realize that going off the rails, and destroying your own tiresomely wholesome image, comes all too easily to most former child stars.

Fortunately, the question of whether or not to take my teenage daughters to her show is moot, since neither of them would be caught dead singing along to one of her songs — unless it’s “Best of Both Worlds,” which they are still known to reprise in the shower upon occasion, when they think no one is listening.

— Phoebe

Posted in DC, DC Diary

Move over Helicopters, There’s a new Parenting Style in Town

September 10th, 2014 : No Comments »



By now, I’m sure you have read the countless reviews and articles on author and high school teacher David McCullough’s new book, “You are Not Special, and Other Encouragements,” which criticizes what he calls “snowplow parents” for raising a generation of young adults who are “anxious, dependent, narcissistic and careerist.”

I’m sure you’ve chuckled at the title, along with every other adult over 40, and felt a jolt of recognition as he talks about the over-protective molly- coddling that has gone into raising the current generation of young adults. McCullough warns children are becoming “terrified of failure” and are being turned into “achievement machines” by their parents.

The result of all this competitive parenting, he claims, is that children can fail to settle into careers and end up dependent on drugs or alcohol, or even suffer a nervous breakdown, in a bid to live up to their over-achieving parents’ expectations.

Growing up, I always wanted to have helicopter parents — the kind of mother that got up to make you breakfast; who called you every day at college to see how you were doing; and who did your laundry when you came home on breaks without complaint. To this day, I am envious of a friend whose father would drop her off at the door of a theater or restaurant before looking for parking, just so his precious daughter wouldn’t get wet in the rain.

My parents were routinely late for every school pick-up and ballet recital, and were content to let me walk home alone from school down an isolated country lane in the cold, rain and dark.

Now that I’m a mother and soon-to-be empty nester myself, I’m sure you are expecting to say my views have changed. But as a matter of fact, they haven’t. Sure, I’ve read the recent stories about helicopter, and now snowplow, parents with interest, and while I’m not Type A enough to be either (it requires an amazing amount of strategic planning, not to mention effort, to raise a child this way), I do personally believe that one of the most important and rewarding aspects of parenting is to help make your children’s lives easier. I want my children to feel loved, protected and cared for, and to provide them wherever possible with the kind of educational and enrichment opportunities that will enable them hopefully one day to embark upon a rewarding career, and provide a similar kind of nurturing to their own children, and others, once they are grown.

Living in the suburbs of Washington D.C., it’s easy to come across examples of parents who go too far when it comes to nurturing — some would say controlling — their children. There’s the woman whose 11-year-old daughter came over for a playdate, and asked me what she should do with the soiled tissue in her hand after she sneezed. And I know of numerous examples of wealthy parents who have carefully and systematically tried to build their teenagers’ college resumes by sending them to Beijing to learn Mandarin; to Oxford to take advanced math; and to summer internships in New York, where the teenager in question can try their hand at documentary filmmaking without having to worry about how they are going to pay for rent and food.

I can’t help thinking that all these activities do little more than demonstrate that the parents of the teenager in question are wealthy and well- connected. Or maybe I’m just jealous.

At the same time, however, I’m impatient with McCullough’s criticism of snowplow parents for doing whatever it takes to help their kids get ahead in life. As McCullough says himself, “If you do not get into one of the top 30 to 50 colleges, you are in for a very hard time in life — that’s the thinking driving all this.”

In an increasingly interconnected, globalized world, where corporations and jobs move at lightning speed to wherever taxes and wages are lowest, our children will need to grow up to be exceptional just to find employment. So when McCullough exhorts us, as parents of soon-to-be young adults, to “try as much as possible to give children free rein,” and “let them follow their own passions and curiosities without overweening interference every step of the way,” I feel like asking whether McCullough is aware of his own inconsistency in advocating a laissez-faire approach to parenting, while at the same time acknowledging that kids who don’t make it into the top 2 percent of colleges are in for a very hard time in life.

And when he argues that “Sometimes our kids take paths they shouldn’t; sometimes they will make mistakes. That’s OK,” I feel like responding, “No, David; No it’s not.”


* * *


As I helped install my second darling child into her dorm room last week, I listened carefully to the dialogue between her roommate and mother. The mother was being chastised for forgetting a number of items and was eating humble pie in spite of her best efforts. The mother is a cheerful and competent woman who proudly displayed accessories her daughter could share (or not) with her roommates. It was quickly apparent she wanted our approval for her kindness and competence. I thanked her generously and genuinely, but realized so much of what she did was about her and not her daughter.

My theory about snowplow parents is, really, illustrated by my recent experience. Their cushioning of every blow and handling of every crisis occurs because they are perfectionists who fear failure themselves, and have an unquenchable need to have their children succeed as they have. They are often the parents who, as workers, lead a team of people and complete all their subordinates’ projects as well as their own. As most of us know, this makes employees (and children) disgruntled and discontent in the long run. The clear message is that only they know how to do it right. Not a great message to send anyone, really, although it is remarkably tempting to always get your own way.

When my own darling remarked on her own forgotten items, I told her to add them to her list for the relatively nearby Target and we would make one trip before I left later that day. She grumbled a little but understood it was her responsibility, not mine, to pack her belongings for college.

I’d like to tell you I carefully cultivated the persona of hands-off mothering, but the truth is, four children make that much easier. Besides often feeling overwhelmed by so many little people with so very many needs, I’m also an only child myself. In combination this means I had no idea what I was getting into and also highly value “me” time. The result, I think, are kids who (at least in theory) know how to make a list and execute on it. They aren’t perfect, trust me, and neither am I. I sometimes rush to the rescue when a forgotten textbook would mean a failing test grade and they sometimes roar at me when their own negligence results in not succeeding. But, twice so far at least, they know it’s their job to pack for college. Can’t be entirely sure that translates to taking more responsibility in their own lives each year, but I’m hopeful. I have to be.

Remember, dear Phoebe, your friend’s father will inevitably not always be there to keep her from getting her feet wet. Although a charming tradition to be sure, I hope she knows how to cope when it inevitably happens. It is, metaphorically, at least, one of the most important life lessons for all of us.


Posted in DC, DC Diary, Parenting

The College Countdown Begins

August 21st, 2015 : No Comments »

2015-08-17 16.37.07Dear Crystal,

As the mother of four cherubs, including two young adults, I know you are already familiar with the process of seeing the fruit of your womb going off to college, so I am hoping you can advise me if the turmoil I am right now, both internal and external, is to be expected.

To whit, is it normal to feel both bereft at the thought that the baby you once carried on the crook of your hip everywhere will never live at home in quite the same way she once did again, and simultaneously irritated that she is trying to engage you in a deep philosophical discussion while you are trying to eat breakfast in peace?

Is it OK to fall over oneself to do as much as possible for said offspring, by way of shopping, laundry and list-making, then find yourself being driven crazy by their inability to choose between laundry hampers at the Container Store, which is generally your happy place?

And is it to be expected that in spite of the fact they have more or less managed the entire college application process themselves, and held down two part-time jobs successfully most of the summer, all it takes is two weeks of witnessing them hang around in ratty old t-shirts and pajama bottoms all day, watching Netflix, for you to start panicking that they will never figure out what they want to do in life, let alone find someone to share it with?

Of course, it doesn’t help that I seem to have chosen this particularly inconvenient moment in time to embark upon a comprehensive attic to basement de-nesting exercise, when it could easily wait another year, when my second and last chick will fly the coop. I blame Marie Kondo and her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up for selling me on the illusion that I can sort out all my emotions and all my life-problems just by sorting out my shelves. Right now, I appear to be stuck with more of both, and I fear the solution may end up involving putting myself out on the curb with all the other old baggage.

Please tell me there is hope.




Speaking of wombs, I often wonder why my college-aged darlings seem to want to return to it more than the ones who emerged from it much more recently. I suspect, as in all matters of the heart, Phoebe, distance–lots of it– makes the heart grow fonder. Once tucked into dorm rooms, one’s children seem to both relish the pleasure of independence, naturally, and long for the parental servitude of home. The impressive number of heartwarming texts from my offspring while not in my presence is encouraging. However, after a summer spent with so much quantity time with all of my children, I know their looks of disdain for me are surpassed only by my snotty flip of the wrist when discarding yet another carelessly discarded empty juicebox or water bottle in their presence. Can’t wait for my eldest ones to be back in their vastly overpriced maturation pods so that I can long for them (and they for me) again.

In sum, Phoebe, it should not be forgotten that this is as much your journey as theirs. A near constant reminder of that, while their nerves are frayed with anticipation for their new life, is likely to create just the right friction necessary for the the last goodbye on campus to be one they cherish forever.



Posted in DC, DC Diary, Domestic Bliss, Motherz in the Hood, Parenting

Eleven Things I’ve Learned Since Dropping My Kid at College

September 16th, 2015 : 1 Comment »


Dropping my firstborn off at college may have been way harder than I expected, even though I’d been anticipating it all year, but one month on, I’m here to report that the aftermath has been both more heartrending than I anticipated in some ways, but also a pleasant surprise. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

1) You will have less laundry, but more leftovers
2) You won’t need to buy as much food at the grocery store, or order as much at restaurants, and this will make you inexplicably sad
3) Their bedroom will look too tidy, so you will need to keep the door closed, to avoid feeling bereft
4) You will send crazy texts reminding them not to stand on balconies at frat parties, and worry about them cycling without a helmet, even though that’s exactly what you did all four years at college, and your parents never said a word
5) You will also send videos of dogs vomiting at the prospect of a new baby in the house, telling yourself it’s a good way to stay in touch, but also because you share the same juvenile sense of humor
6) You will miss them terribly, and yet feel an unfamiliar sense of liberty at having one less family member’s needs to attend to
7) Your daughter will sign up for Catholic mass at the Activities Fair because a stranger offered her candy, and you will fight the urge to tell her not to go
8) Parents at your younger daughter’s Back to School night will look a generation younger, and way too involved in their children’s lives
9) You will resist the urge to tell them it really doesn’t matter where their kids are going to college, so long as they’re happy – not necessarily a given, you know from other parents whose kids have dropped out
10) Your relationship with your kid who’s still at home will get closer and more mature, although you will have to resist the urge to defer to them about every decision, especially related to dinner
11) Your relationship with your husband will get closer, even if it involves being gentler with each other, rather than lots of wild sex (although that may happen too).

Postscript: As I was writing this article, my husband was watching a Ken Burns documentary about the Civil War on TV (I told you he was wild), and I overheard the narrator reading an excerpt from a letter from a mother to her Union soldier son, warning him not to engage in too much card-playing, because she feared that might only lead to gambling. Some things never change.


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Posted in DC, DC Diary, Family Values, Motherz in the Hood, Parenting

5 Ways I Failed at The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

November 6th, 2015 : No Comments »

If you are one of the few people on the planet who has yet to discover Marie Kondo’s jewel of a book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I pity you. For the last four months, I have been obsessed, taking literally every single thing I own out of its habitual resting place, holding it in my hands, and weighing whether or not it brings me joy. Then, depending on what I decide, I either toss it aside for trash, recycling or donation, or carefully consider where it truly belongs, before placing it in its new home.

After all this time, I’m still only about two thirds away through my possessions, but I am far enough along to concur with the book’s premise that the process has been life-changing. Not only can I see exactly what I own and love in one place, easily accessible when I need it (including all my summer and winter clothes, which Kondo advocates storing together, rather than separately), but I can also store clean laundry and stuff I have just used more quickly and efficiently than I ever believed possible. In the process, I have also discovered wads of cash in the pockets of clothing I haven’t worn in years, and many other items that I thought were lost (including a brand new evening clutch in my emergency supply of vodka), solving several nagging mysteries at the same time.

Most importantly, I’ve rediscovered a sense of pleasure in my home – something that I haven’t felt for years, as the chaos of raising children while attempting to run a household and hold onto some semblance of a satisfying career intervened.

But even though I am a true believer when it comes to the Marie Kondo method, and I’m not quite done with it yet, there are a few discoveries I’ve made about myself that are not so joyful. Namely:

1) I would have made a great Nazi
As soon as I saw Marie Kondo’s book on the bookshelf at my local independent book store, I knew I had to have it. It was the literary equivalent of love at first sight, which perhaps explains why I was prepared to drink her Kool-Aid and follow her method without first fully understanding why. I realize now that I would probably have fallen for the orderliness of Hitler’s Nuremberg rallies just as fast. (All those people in uniform neatly lined up, sieg-heiling away in unison! What’s not to like?). As time passed, however, and I got more immersed in actually tidying my house, I was almost relieved to discover that there are a few areas of tidying where try as I might, I will never be able to apply the KonMari method to its full, terrifying effect (see below).

2) I am, and will always be, a sock torturer
Marie Kondo advocates rolling pairs of socks together after laundering, rather than folding one sock over another to keep them together. She claims this enables your socks to breathe, whatever that means in the context of inanimate objects. Try as I might, however, to me, this way chaos lies. Maybe Ms. Kondo only owns a few pairs of argyles, but I have a landfill mountain on laundry table made up of forlorn, lone socks. Why on earth would I choose to recreate that in my sock drawer?

3) Things We Don’t Like Will Always Be With Us
Even though I did try, faithfully, to follow Marie Kondo’s maxim about only keeping things that bring you joy, that just isn’t practical in the real world. If I were to get rid of every single thing in my house I didn’t like because it was either ugly (but practical), or appealing but used, chipped or full of holes, I would be left making breakfast without a single working spatula, wearing the only pair of pajamas that passes muster, and my worn out BCBG cashmere sweater, which still gives me joy, even though it’s more thread than fluff these days. Much like the friend you would like to cut out of your life, but keep running into, there will always be things we don’t like but can’t get rid of populating our lives.

4) I will continue to lose things like my keys, because I am a lazy purse slob
I love Marie Kondo’s suggestion that we empty our purse each night, and carefully put the contents away, thanking each item first for its service during the day. But once again, try as I might, this turns out to be the last thing I feel like doing at the end of a long day, when all I want is to collapse on the sofa with a cup of tea – or something stronger. As a result, I continue to carry the same purse full of junk with me everywhere I go, which weighs more than the average three-month old. It’s also the reason I continue to lose my keys on a weekly basis, in spite of the fact I even have a Tile tracker on my key chain (which right now is helpfully marking my keys as ‘out of range’). Sigh.

5) Americans own way too much stuff to keep it all in one place
One of the things Marie Kondo insists you do, as you go about finding homes for all the possessions that continue to bring you joy, is to keep the same types of things all in the same place. This worked well for me when it came to gathering up, say, all my umbrellas, and finding a new home for them on a shelf. But I discovered that it works less well for things like my shoes, which try as I might, will not fit on the one small rack I have to devote to them in my wardrobe. As a result, I am forced to cheat and keep my boots downstairs in the coat closet, and my running shoes in a basket by the front door. Doubtless, Marie Kondo would be horrified, but I suspect the average American just owns way more stuff than the average highly poised, immaculately dressed young Japanese woman.

There is, however, a silver lining to all these sobering revelations. In the process of reading, and applying the methodology of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I quickly discovered that deciding whether or not something brings you joy can be applied to everything in life, including people. Indeed, one of the things that sold me so quickly on the book is the testimonials from some of Marie Kondo’s readers, who cheerfully announce things like (to paraphrase): ‘First I tidied my house, then I got a divorce!’ Who could fail to be charmed at the prospect of reading a how-to book with opening gems like that? Naturally, I immediately turned to my family and told them the last thing I planned to do after tidying my house was to line them up at the bottom of the stairs and decide whether they were keepers or not – on an individual basis, of course. I haven’t got that far yet, but the warning still stands, and I find it to be a useful mantra to apply to every area of my life. Husbands, kids and family pets: you have been warned.

Posted in DC, Domestic Bliss

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