I’m as guilty of it as the next mom. Somehow I’ve allowed myself to become Julie McCoy, cruise director. My school-aged kids, lifelong passengers on our little love boat, are constantly asking me what we’re doing next, all summer long. I might as well carry a clipboard and a megaphone, cheerfully announcing to all the upcoming shuffleboard tourney on the Lido deck at 11 a.m., followed by a buffet lunch.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of worrying more about their agendas than my own. I’m a busy freelance writer, but since I set my own hours I have “flexibility.” (I put this word in quote marks because when you’re chasing after two children from sunrise to sunset—which occur earlier and later in these warm weather months—there’s precious little time for flexing.) However, I’ve been able to plan entire summers around what’s best for them: day camps in the mornings, pool outings in the afternoons, playdates in the backyard with local kids running through the sprinkler, and occasional excursions to museums and theme parks.
The problem? I can’t get much (no, I mean “anything”) done. Mid-June through Labor Day becomes one big black hole of a never-ending field trip, with me working as the guide. Come September, I’m all but cheering when it’s time for them to disembark this cushy cruise and return to school.
I truly enjoy spending time with my kids; don’t get me wrong. But this is life. And there’s work to be done! Deadlines to be met! Friends to see! Exercise to be had! Hell, even an occasional pedicure would be nice.
In short, I don’t stop needing “me time” just because it’s 85 degrees outside.
A few months ago, well before school let out for the summer, I realized something had to give. My husband and I decided to drop the weekly Sunday family outings. Guess what? Our kids lived. Saturdays were already foregone conclusions, eaten by soccer matches during fall and spring months. Taking Sunday “off” (again with the quote marks) gave us time to, I don’t know, get the laundry done! Maybe even relax!
More important, it allowed the kids the beautiful opportunity to fight boredom. You read that right. Boredom is an opportunity. Why do modern parents seem so afraid of it?
To steal (and tweak) the famous speech delivered by ‘80s Wall Street icon Gordon Gekko: “Boredom, for lack of a better word, is good. Boredom is right. Boredom works. Boredom clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.”
While the kids have occasionally complained to us about being bored since we implanted this change, they’ve also launched new projects driven by their imaginations. My oldest has become incredibly proficient making her own music videos with a free iPhone app called “Video Star.” She learned to shoot and edit fun scenes of herself and her little sister all around the house and neighborhood singing along to their favorite Taylor Swift songs. Some of their homemade videos are surprisingly moody and well made. By backing off a bit and letting boredom to fully marinate, I realize a future filmmaker might have been born.
Meanwhile, my youngest has taken up elaborate Lego creations. She now spends hours in silent reverie building pretend towns, ranches, and spas as she enacts audible stories with the tiny Lego people at her disposal. Sometimes I sneak up silently behind her as she talks out loud, giving dramatic voice to her plastic play. I don’t disturb her. Why would I?
It’s a lesson to me, and other moms, who can sometimes schedule their kids’ every waking moment—during summer or after school. Turns out, down time can be the most productive time of all. Because their minds are working.
This summer, yes, they still have a few days camps lined up. I’m sure I’ll take them to the pool. But when asked what’s on the agenda, I’ve hung up my cruise director cap for good. My answer to them will be: “Boredom. Now, go and enjoy it!”
When I was girl, I didn't hang out with boys. It's nice to see gender divisions relaxing in all sorts of ways. Now my girls claim boys as their BFFs. READ MORE.
Friday's historic #SCOTUS ruling is inspiring. So inspiring, my gay, forever-BFF Tom Piechura texted me on Saturday and said: "Let's start a new blog together that represents two couples—one gay, the other straight—as we chronicle married life." Love, American Styled was born. Tom gave a moving speech at my wedding back in 1999. I gave the (I hope equally moving) speech at his wedding on June 28, 2014, eight months after same-sex marriage was legalized in the state of New York. (His event was more glamorous than mine, natch.) Exactly a year ago I cheered on Tom and his husband; now they celebrate their first anniversary during the most monumental Pride Weekend of all time. Love, commitment, parenthood (he has three dogs; I have two kids and two dogs), and aging are life lessons we face while on parallel courses, and face together as friends of nearly 25 years standing. Friends, please follow us on LAS.
June 26th, 2015
Just interviewed the hilarious and sincerely sweet Ken Jeong, star of "Community" and the "Hangover" trilogy. Before his career as a comedian took off, he worked as a doctor of internal medicine. If only every physician could so quickly find our funny bones! After talking with him I got to thinking: Comedians are my heroes. Louis C.K. Jon Stewart. Bill Maher. Jimmy Fallon. Tina Fey. John Oliver. Chris Rock. Amy Poehler. Chelsea Handler. Amy Schumer. Louis Black. Jerry Seinfeld. I've interviewed a few from this list. These are the people who inspire me most—the ones who make us laugh and maybe more important, think.
Any parent who has moved house with kids in tow knows it is a special kind of hell. I've moved five times with children across three cities during the last 11 years. I know of what I speak. For tips, READ MORE.
We have faith in my family. But we don't go church. Here's why. READ MORE.
Divorce in the 1970s often meant losing your father to second marriages and second chances. I waited anxiously for my dad's annual visits, just as I did for some true re-connection. It finally happened last summer, when I first wrote this essay, published today for Father's Day. READ MORE.
Father’s Day is approaching, and my rose of Sharon bush is about to flower with its first annual bloom in my backyard.
My father planted it last summer, almost a year ago now. As he kneeled down in the dirt beneath a hot August sun and dug out the black topsoil with his bare hands to anchor the shrub into the earth, he told me he wanted me to look upon it every day going forward and to think of him.
I have an oversized picture window in my open kitchen and family room that looks out onto the yard. When I’m making dinner or helping my kids with their homework, I gaze over the counter and find the rose of Sharon on view as if framed, and, for the first time since I was child of seven when he left, a daily vision of my Dad.
The winter was rough. It was long. And my father’s offering looked spindly against the hard white snow. Even when spring finally dawned and all else flourished—the fuchsia azalea bush, the three varieties of Hostas that leapt to life, the flowering oak trees, and the plush grass—it did not bud. I pretended not to feel anxious about this in April, in early May. I needed our symbol of reconciliation to be firmly rooted, and to grow.
Now it’s mid-June. It came alive a few weeks ago. Its leaves are thick and telling. I can see where the blossoms will soon be birthed. I tend to this plant like an ailing child. Does it need water? Did I give it too much? Where is the sun? My rose of Sharon needs some light, some warmth. No, dear dogs, you may not do your business here. Shoo. Go find another spot in the yard.
Last summer, when my father, who is now 73 to my 47, came for the first time to spend time with his two granddaughters, my husband and me, we spoke of the past, the ancient divorce, the war wounds from it, and the mistakes that were made. Our conversations occurred late at night, sometimes over wine (for me) and Irish whiskey (for him), or while swinging together on my front porch in the moonlight. He said all the right things. He didn’t make a single excuse. He owned what was his, and he asked for another chance. I’m no longer a little girl. I don’t need him now as I once did. But am I his daughter. Some very old stem, long thought withered, opened again and showed green. With a little nourishment it fully sprouted. And here, a year later, we bloom.
I used to dread Father’s Day. I hated trolling the aisles of CVS for a Hallmarkian greeting—any card, really—that said the bare minimum. Try finding one that reads only: Happy Father’s Day. You won’t. Instead, they’re filled with sloppy sentiment, and nothing rings true. I’m so glad / You’re my Dad! / You’re the best father / A girl ever had! Some years, I skipped the ritual all together. It was torturous. I wanted to tell my father how much I loved him, even though his absence had left a wide hole in my heart. I wanted to say anything but something silly or false.
Since he came last summer—when we found each other again over five days and nights, and my daughters got to know their grandfather, who, they discovered, gives ticklish mustache kisses—there have been so many easy phone calls. Easy talk, not strained. We ramble on, he and I, without any self-conscious intent about our days, about a breathtaking trip he took to Italy, about the girls’ recitals, or some recent book I read. Do you know how glorious it is to speak fluidly to one’s father after a near-lifetime of occasional, contrived play dates where we struggled to find the right words? Where we often came up empty? And not because there wasn’t anything to say. Because there was just too much.
I see my father every day now beyond my windowpane. He planted me a rose of Sharon bush so I won’t forget what’s taken root between us. It’s deep and it’s thriving. And when its flowers come, I’ll find his face in every blossom. I’ll think: today is my father’s day.
I forgot to post this when it came out a few months ago. But as my 11-year-old daughter proudly works on her own "Animal Jam" YouTube channel and texts like mad with her middle school pals, I've come to realize it's a new world, it belongs to her generation, and maybe I need to get out of the way with my constant worrying about our increasing dependence on technology. Sometimes I feel like the dowager on "Downton Abbey" who openly fears the advent of electricity. READ MORE.
Gun violence in America is the second-leading cause of death of our children. Nine kids are unintentionally shot every single day. When one in three U.S. households has a gun somewhere on the property—a conservative figure, since some studies indicate that figure is closer to 50%—parents must make a point of asking about armed weapons--before we schedule a playdate. READ MORE.