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5 reasons to keep birthday parties simple

Categories: Best Practices, Missing Parent

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At some point after the divorce, it became my ex’s job to plan and host the girls’ birthday parties, even if their birthdays didn’t fall on “his” weekend. Since he makes about one frillion times more money than I do, it was easier for him to bring their elaborate birthday fantasies to life and throw some truly amazing parties. I loved that he wanted to be involved in these celebrations, so this arrangement worked well for all of us for several years.

This year, however, he was going to be out of town during Eldest’s birthday week, so it fell to me to plan, host and bankroll her 11th birthday party. We decided to have a low-key sleepover party with just three friends from school, followed by a girls-only breakfast at a local crêperie and a couple of hours to explore the Seattle waterfront. Not only was the party an enormous success, but I was reminded of how much I love simple birthday parties.

Here’s why:

1. There is more than one way to show your kid that you care. While expensive party venues, designer cakes and copious amounts of presents are one way to celebrate your child on their birthday, they aren’t the only way. Spending quality time together and simply taking a day to let your kid know how glad you are that they were born doesn’t require having a big chunk of disposable income, and it can be meaningful for both of you regardless of the budget.
2. It’s important to slow down. Our day-to-day lives are fast-paced, stressful and chock full of activities, and our poor kiddos are dragged along for the ride. It’s necessary to take a step back from the craziness once in awhile and give our kids a chance to just be. Sometimes it’s the quiet moments, and not the forced excitement of activity after activity, when the best memories are made.
3. The “value” should come from the guests, not the party. I want my children to learn that it’s the people in their lives who matter, not whether or not they got to hang out at the latest trendy birthday party spot for two hours on a Saturday.
4. Getting creative together opens the door for a deeper relationship with your child. When was the last time you sat down to collaborate with your child on, well, anything? We tell them how to clear the table, when to clean their rooms, which homework questions to fix and when it’s time to leave, but we so rarely get to learn more about how they see the world. Planning a creative party together can be such a wonderful bonding experience with your growing kiddo, and gives you both an opportunity to see each other differently, even for just a few moments.
5. Everything can be an adventure. I think it’s easy to forget that our children (with their PS3s and iPhones and laptops and all the other spoils of our modern lives) are just as capable as any generation of children to turn a stick into a magic wand or a tree into an enchanted castle. Their imaginations are wonderful and powerful and aching to be given a chance to run wild.

As soon as each of Eldest’s three guests arrived home after the party, I started receiving phone calls and text messages from their mothers telling me what a fantastic time their daughters had.

“She loved visiting the gum wall!

“She can’t stop talking about watching the parrot do tricks at the market!”

“I haven’t seen her smile this much in a long time.”

The girls had a great day exploring and chatting and just having a chance to be themselves. And I was lucky enough to experience this day with them, learning more about my daughter and her beautiful friends with each perfect, unstructured moment. We’ll all remember this day fondly for a long, long time.

Thank you, I’m sorry, and wow

Categories: Best Practices, Fighting the Stereotype, Missing Parent


July has gone, and August is here, bringing with it my daughters. Back from sleepaway camp (first time around for the younger one, second time for the firstborn), the girls are twelve years older and seven feet taller and are probably already married with kids, but just haven’t told me yet.

I cannot stop hugging them. They don’t mind, not even a bit.

The older one tells me that my letters to her at camp made her laugh so hard, the other girls demanded to hear them. So every day, she would read my words out loud to the entire tipi.

This information makes me feel like the coolest mom ever. I try not to blush.

Camp was easy for the firstborn. No sweat. She stayed for two weeks, no prob, no homesickness. She is, at the age of 11, a consummate adventurer.

Camp was not as easy for the little one. She toughed it out for one week, not wanting to disappoint her dad or his parents. My letters had a different effect on her.

“I nearly cried happy tears when I read your emails,” she tells me, sitting in my lap, snuggling like the Snuggle Champ she is. “I missed you soooooo much. Then I was like, okay, Hannah, you can DO this. Just make it through another day.”

“I am so proud of you,” I tell her. “Like, I am almost passing out from proudness. You are so, so brave. The way you talked to yourself and stayed calm — that’s amazing.”

She nods, accepting the compliment. “I knew people would ask me, ‘How was camp?’ And I kept telling myself, okay, it will be better if I have an answer.”
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Gate C2

Categories: Business tripping, Fighting the Stereotype, Missing Parent


Two newscasters, both impossibly thin with shiny blowouts and jutting calves, make chitchat as they wait for the plane to arrive. Several cameramen jockey for position. Those of us who have been sitting at Gate C2 for an hour, waiting to depart, wonder whom the news teams are expecting.

The airline personnel seem to know what’s up. Every few minutes, they offer the news teams an update: They’re in range. The plane’s in range. Any minute now.

Another passenger notices that I am scrutinizing the situation, like she is. She sidles over to me. “Who are they waiting for?” she asks me.

“I was trying to figure that out myself,” I said

Other passengers approach.

“Do you know?” “Have they said?”

“No, we’re all wondering.”

A diverted flight, a hijacker? A politician? A celebrity, A- or D-list?

Our flight has finally been listed as delayed. This is not exactly news to the growing crowd at C2. What we want to know is who’s due to arrive.

A young African-American cameraman to my right is explaining the excitement. I strain to hear his words: “A little girl from the Make-a-Wish Foundation. She’s going to the Saratoga Ballet.”

“What did he just say?”

I feel dirty passing along the information. This is no Lindsay Lohan.

“It’s…she’s a little girl…from the Make-a-Wish Foundation.”

The woman who first approached me bites her lip. “Oh,” she says.

I nod.

The woman’s daughter trots over. “Who is it?” she asks us.

“Come, let’s go back to our seats,” says the woman.

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a mother must be

Categories: Fighting the Stereotype, Missing Parent


We forget, as often as we can, that childbirth can be as cruel as it is miraculous.

This is the most polite way to say this: A college classmate just lost his beloved wife due to complications during labor. Complications is a kind word for pain, fear and horror leading to loss beyond imagining.

Their newborn daughter—and only child—will never know the mother who’d been so eagerly awaiting her birth. Family and friends are in shock, trying to come to terms with this loss that should not be, this terrible turn of events. In one day, my classmate becomes a single father and a widower.

There are no words for this, nothing original to be said, nothing that can be said to make any of this right or better or easier.

I knelt and said a prayer for my classmate and his baby daughter. My hand went to my belly, unconsciously, wanting to protect, all over again. I don’t know the circumstances.

In 2001, my then-husband was at risk of losing me, our first daughter, or both of us to severe preeclampsia. Induced early, our daughter was born at only four pounds. The only details that matter now: she made it; I recovered.

I don’t understand why this could not also have been their story. It should have been their story.
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Those Weeks

Categories: Fighting the Stereotype, Missing Parent

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I’m home and down for the count, with a barking cough that sounds like the mating seal of an asthmatic sea lion. The Nyquil I took at 1am did the job: I finally slept, and slept and slept.

Fanny Girl wakes me up with an urgent woof, which triggers my own cough: UH-HEEEHHHHHH-wheeeeze. I lurch upright and glance at the clock: 11:34. Crap. I bumble down the stairs like a drunk and let Fanny outside to go, which she does, instantly. Not a stellar start to the day. Sorry, girl, I say. This cold, which has come out of nowhere, is kicking my arse.

As I make coffee and review my mental list of things I must get done in between wheezing attacks, I notice again the quiet of the house. It is one of Those Weeks, the childless weeks. The fact that the cold has coincided with this week is, at least, a kind of blessing. Apart from the animals, there’s just one soul who needs attending to: me. It’s manageable. If I need to take a nap, I can. If I’m not hungry, I don’t need to make dinner. If I want to watch bad TV with my box of Kleenex and a fleece blankie, I will.
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Here, there

Categories: Fighting the Stereotype, Missing Parent

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With their father’s help, they Skype me from the tenth-floor balcony of their paternal grandparents’ apartment. This is the longest they will have ever been away from me, nearly three weeks: a vacation, out West, to see his family, to meet cousins. S will even have a week of her first sleep-away camp, with horseback riding in the Rockies.

The trip has just begun. On the computer screen, suddenly, side by side, my daughters look more alike than I’ve ever noticed. It’s 11 am here, 9 am there. The morning sunlight out West makes their eyes glow—blue-green sea-glass irises in S’s pale face, a darker sea-green hue in H’s.

I think what I often think: they are impossibly, outrageously lovely. I think what I sometimes think: I wish I could be there with them. Impossible, outrageous.

This morning they are cranky with each other, jostling for my time and my face. They are still wearing their pajamas. Detente is quickly arranged: they will take turns on the balcony with the laptop, talking to me. S needs PRY-VAH-SEEEE, and H needs to be like older sister S.
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Vacation’s all I never wanted

Categories: Fighting the Stereotype, Missing Parent, Tentative Steps


Vacationing with kids is a daunting enough prospect with two parents on hand. Single parenthood pretty much rules out a vacation feeling like an actual vacation whatsoever. I am okay with this. I am a pragmatist, people, not a pessimist. I like to remind myself to keep my expectations low. Totally works for me. Last year, I pulled it off without completely losing my mind, and this year, I betcha I can do it again.

Consider your average continental U.S. beach vacation. Okay, so I am considering the average continental U.S. beach vacation, done dirty and dirt cheap. You can think about other things. La la la la la you can’t hear me.

It wasn’t always so purty or easy, even with two fairly calm, sturdy adults to drag the four hundred pounds of beach gear two miles to the beach, only to listen to the kids whining about how they like the motel pool better because the ocean is too “squishy.”
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In love

Categories: Best Practices, Fighting the Stereotype, Missing Parent


Lately, we’ve been garnering some strange looks, the three of us. People smile when we pass them at the supermarket, grin at us from parked cars, chuckle quietly to themselves as they witness our animated conversations.

I know the looks from these strangers. It’s the look of folks observing love at work, love in play.

I am in love with my daughters, more than ever.

We seem to have finally hit our stride. Not to say there are not difficult moments, but for the most part, we have worked out our post-divorce routine as an all-girl unit. We have come to happy terms as a threesome instead of a foursome. There is a fluid give-and-take, with much good humor and lively chatter, but Mama here is definitely alpha. It works. They know exactly where I’ve drawn the lines in the sand. Although they occasionally try to inch a painted toenail past the line, they are good, honest, respectful girls. We all play by the rules, including me: when you screw up, you say you’re sorry, and you say it quickly and earnestly. No excuses.
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Sex me up, Pa Ingalls

Categories: Fighting the Stereotype, Hoping for Love, Missing Parent



Two small round faces swivel from the TV and stare at me with a mix of bemusement and ewwwww.

“Seriously?” says my firstborn, a wise creature of eight, who already knows about the “sex” part of “sexy.” 

I rip my eyes away from Michael Landon’s sweaty, naked chest and his perfectly teary eyes as he prepares to shoot Jack the dog, who might have rabies—which would mean, of course, that Laura might have rabies, all because of that stupid raccoon.

I had not recalled Pa Ingalls having so many topless-with-suspenders scenes. I remember having a crush on Almanzo at some point, but Pa? Oh, my.

My children are still staring at me. This is a FAMILY SHOW, after all.

“Um. Did I say that out loud?”
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Naming the baby I won’t be having

Categories: Fighting the Stereotype, Missing Parent


My mother started it, bless her, with the simple words, “Mommy has something maybe growing in her tummy and the doctors have to do some tests.”

Oh, bless her.

This sweet statement—designed to allay the possible fears about hospital tests I need to undergo tomorrow—had an entirely different effect on my daughters.

They accosted me in the bathroom immediately.

“Are you PREGNANT?”

I spit my water in the sink but wound up hitting my toes.


“Babci said you had something growing in your tummy so we thought maybe it was a baby.”


“Are you sure it’s not a baby?”
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