Friday, November 29, 2013

The Alien Has Landed! (Just In Time For The Holidays)

Something very exciting happened earlier this month. 

It wasn't our first two trips to visit colleges (University of Kentucky and Otterbein). It wasn't the annual Powder Puff Football Game. It wasn't Thanksgiving. It wasn't even finding a pair of jeans that fit. Okay, all of those things were exciting (especially the jeans part). But, here's what I'm talking about ...

My new book Lovin' the Alien has been published. And, I'm thrilled! (Can you tell?)

Lovin’ the Alien, like the blog it's named after, is a humorous look at mothering. In this first book, I focus on those unearthly creatures we call “tweens,” drawing on true tales from the days when my daughter was in middle school. Tweens may appear vaguely humanoid, but they have their own language, culture, rituals, eating habits. They are a distinct and separate race whose ways are ... well ... not ours.

Essays cover topics ranging from “School Daze,” “Attitude Adjustments” and “Shop, Shop, Shopping Around,” to “Living in a Digital World,” “Our Daughters, Ourselves” and “Culture (or Lack Thereof).” 

Lovin' the Alien is the perfect gift for any parents (new or not so new), grandparents, teachers, coaches, or scout leaders on your holiday shopping list. 

Or, enjoy it as a special treat if you’re in this particular ... um ... otherworldly situation yourself.

You can read more about Lovin’ the Alien, and place your order here: Order paperbacks and enjoy a friends and family discount especially for my readers. (Hardcover copies are also available.) 

Please feel free to forward this post to anyone who might enjoy it!

Happy Holidays and Happy Reading!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


In a day and a half, those of us in these United States will partake in a tradition known as Thanksgiving. It doesn't matter how you feel about the invasion and subsequent genocide that took place when this country was "discovered," "founded" and "settled" (you now know exactly how I feel about it). The concept of stopping and giving thanks is a powerful one.

In theory.

In practice, this year will be less about being grateful for what we have and more about conspicuously consuming as much as we can — whether that means eating too much or camping out at the local shopping center to grab as many "Black Friday" bargains as possible. Some retailers are starting the madness on the holiday itself, forcing associates to cut short time with their families. 

Unfair, exploitive, and certainly not in the spirit of Thanksgiving.

As the mother of a teenage daughter, I try to set a good example: help her feel genuine gratitude for all we have and genuine compassion for those who have less. Like most of our friends, we have much more than we need. In fact, that's one of the earliest lessons my husband and I tried to teach. It went something like this ...

"I need ... (fill in pretty much anything that a young daughter would want: a toll house cookie, a Glitter Princess Barbie, fairy wings, the new Elmo videotape ...)"

"No, you want it. You don't need it."

"But, I need it."

"Is it food, shelter, water or oxygen?"


"Then you want it. You don't need it."

Understanding that your needs have been met (your needs and a lot of your wants too) is a first step toward gratitude. This is not just an admirable feeling. It's absolutely critical to our health and well-being. Last year, the American Psychological Association presented a study demonstrating that teenagers who were grateful were more likely to be hopeful, happy and well-behaved at school.

The study included 700 kids, measuring the "gratitude" of each based on his or her positive outlook on life. After four years, the "most grateful" teens were 17 percent more happy than their peers. They were 15 percent more likely to see meaning in their life, and 15 percent more satisfied. Perhaps most importantly, they were 15 percent less likely to suffer symptoms of depression.

Giacomo Bono, Ph.D., a researcher from California State University, put it this way: "More gratitude may be precisely what our society needs to raise a generation that is ready to make a difference in the world." 

Inspired by one Oprah Winfrey, I started a gratitude journal a few years ago. Each morning, I would list five things I was grateful for. This didn't last long. Not because I was ungrateful, but because the process was so boring and redundant. But, I think it may be time to dust off that journal, and buy one for my daughter while I'm at it.

This Thanksgiving, I'm thankful that I have so many things to be thankful for. As always (well, maybe not always, but at least 90 percent of the time), my daughter is on top of my list.

Thank you.

If you enjoyed this post, order a copy of my new book Lovin' the Alien at

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sports Bras and Other Outer Underwear

October was Breast Cancer Awareness month and a local gym encouraged members to wear sports bras to class in order to raise awareness. No big, right? I wear a sports bra to the local Y every day. But, this was a little different; they wanted women to wear sports bras without a shirt over them. 

I read about this and had an immediate reaction ...

So-o-o-o not gonna happen!

Let me count the reasons why: back fat, side fat, above the boob fat, below the boob fat, under the armpit fat. Basically, for my sports bras to be supportive enough to hold up my 51-year old girls for 55 minutes of dancing, they have to be pretty snug. They do their job and they look fine under a tee shirt. That's exactly where they'll stay.

No underwear as outerwear for me, if you please. Move along. Nothing to see here.

I wasn't always so ... um ... shy. In the big 80s, I did a lot of aerobics and, consequently, owned a lot of big 80s workout wear. Yes, I had the suspender leotard, the thong-back leotard, the unitard with the leotard briefs over it, the contrasting elastic belt, the leg warmers. (Thanks to my short hair, I never did the headband thing, thank you very much.) I even had a few choice pieces manufactured and marketed by the "Make it burn" queen herself, Jane Fonda. (And a signed poster, her record album, and eventually her video tapes.)

That was then and this is now.

When the new principal of our high school articulated and threatened to enforce a dress code for the annual "Powderpuff Football" game, my teenage daughter and her friends were up in arms. Apparently, the all-girls game is a long tradition around here (news to me; I went to school in New York City with no football of any kind). And, also apparently, it has become standard practice for the juniors to attend in sports bras.

To the students, this seemed a serious threat to their life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. To me, it seemed like common sense. (Hello? This is New England; we have weather.)

Turns out it was much more. And, as often as I tend to side with the world's downtrodden and the freedom fighters, I have to say that I agree wholeheartedly with the principal's decision.

When it comes to public sporting events that require scant clothing, there are three types of girls. Those who are comfortable and confident (and naturally thin), and wear the prescribed clothing (or lack thereof). Those who go on crash diets, jeopardizing their health, in order to do so. And, those who miss out on the event altogether rather than adhere to the custom. It was for these two last groups that the new policy was articulated.

After complaints from parents, the principal met with representatives of the junior class and it was agreed that the encouraged mode would be tank tops rather than sports bras, and that participating would be optional. No matter how many grumbled (and, trust me, many did), this seemed like a fair compromise and a good way to help the students think about inclusion and sensitivity. It may have also, unintentionally, taught some of the girls about getting around rules they don't like.

To finish the story, the annual Powderpuff Game was held yesterday. We lost to the neighboring town (and arch rival). A portion of the stadium stands collapsed and three girls were hurt (one taken to the hospital with an assumed broken leg).

And in all the pictures of junior girls that I've seen online ...

Tank tops are rolled up, exposing their midriffs and creating, in effect, sports bras.

If you enjoyed this post, order a copy of my new book Lovin' the Alien at

Friday, November 22, 2013

Lobstering or Nature Abhors a Fatty

The next time I go to a party or on a vacation and wish I had stayed on my diet, I'm going to remind myself that it's worse for lobsters.

Yes, for lobsters.

If I gain too much weight, I might have to go up a size in jeans or wear a longer jacket. If they gain too much weight, it's "Sayonara, suckuh."

Size matters in today's world, and the prize isn't going to the biggest. Well, maybe the biggest loser. What's the single most flattering thing you can say to a woman? "Wow, have you lost weight?"

Even in high school (when the chubbiest of girls still has it all over her same-weight mother, gravity being decidedly on your side when you're sixteen), skinny is where you want to be. My own daughter, whose figure is practically perfect thanks to ten years of posting on a horse and manual labor at the stable afterwards, complains about the size of her thighs.

But again, unless we're talking morbidly obese to the point of heart failure, for most of us, weight fluctuations are not the end of the world. Alas, for the lobster, they just might be.

In order to protect the species (and assure delectable lobster bakes for generations to come), each state establishes strict guidelines on what does and does not constitute a "keeper." This is one of the things my husband had to prepare for when he got his lobster license several years ago. He was taking a scuba diving course with a friend. We happen to live in an area with a professional lobster trade, and as a licensed amateur, you can dive for lobsters or put out as many as ten traps for private use.

"Think how much money we'll save!" he told me.

I couldn't resist bursting his bubble just a little. "Um ... how much were the classes? And the equipment? And the license? How many lobsters are you planning to catch?"

He was undeterred. The first lobster he caught was long enough but too skinny. Way too skinny — like, Olsen twin skinny. In fact, I felt so bad for this anorexic adolescent crustacean that I insisted we release it back into the wild. We put it in one of our daughter's pails, took it down to the local beach and waded in toward a bed of rocks. The little guy (or gal) was stunned at first but then scurried away. 

Traditionally, lobstermen and women have pulled their traps and then used a caliper to determine if the lobster is a "keeper." If not, it's thrown overboard to, assumedly, live and grow until its caught another day. The trouble is that lobsters are better suited to crawling around on the ocean floor. When they're tossed back in from a boat, they float like little underwater hang gliders down through unfriendly water. Bigger fish think "It's rainin' lobstah! Sweet!" The little guys may not be boiled with butter, but their chance of survival has been significantly diminished.

So the industry (including some innovative lobstermen from our town) invented a better system. Today's traps include a generous one-way entrance and a much smaller escape vent. The "bugs" that are too small to keep, sell, boil and relish leave the trap while it's still under the water. The larger ones are ... well ... history, albeit delicious history.

Here's the lobster conversation I imagine inside the trap:

"This party blows, I'm out of here."

"Me too. That bait was totally overrated."

"Let's just squeeze past the crowd and out this side door. Ooph. Tight fit. Made it."

"Wait for me. Errrgh. Ugh. What the ...?"

"I told you to lay off the crab dip! I told you to go to the gym! 'Later, alligator."

So, you see, the world of lobsters is much like the world of high school (and much like the world of middle-aged moms). Emaciated supermodel Kate Moss once said, "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels."

Except, maybe, lobster.

If you enjoyed this post, order a copy of my new book Lovin' the Alien at

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Lovin' the Lefty

My daughter is a lefty.

I'm not talking about her political leanings (although, like her mother, she's a liberal and a feminist). I'm talking about her hand, her left hand in particular. 

My teenage daughter is left-handed.

My husband and I are both righties, and so is everyone else in the extended family, except for one person: my father. My daughter was born just four months after my father passed away, making it (as I've written before) simultaneously the happiest and saddest year of my life. Every time I heard that song by Mike and the Mechanics, "The Living Years," I choked up. (I still do, actually.)

I wasn't there that morning
When my father passed away
I didn't get to tell him
All the things I had to say
I think I caught his spirit
Later that same year
I swear I heard his echo 
In my baby's newborn tears
I just wish I could have told him
In the living years.

Well, try as I might, I didn't hear my father when my baby girl cried. That doesn't mean he wasn't in there somewhere (or up above, looking down). But, by the time my daughter was a toddler, we knew he had left his mark (get it?). Like her grandfather before her, she was a lefty.

I remember all the artwork she brought home from preschool as she learned her ABCs and how to spell her name. At my first parent-teacher conference (the first of many, many), I asked if the reason for all the mirror writing was because she was left-handed. The teacher looked at me in confusion. "Does she do mirror writing?" she asked. I led her over to the classroom bulletin board and showed her example after example. "Oh," she laughed. "I don't even notice anymore. They all do it."

Being a lefty didn't affect my daughter very much. She was decidedly challenged in the scissors department, but so were other right-handed students. When she joined a girls softball team, we bought her a special mitt. She wouldn't have thought twice about it if it weren't for one particularly hateful father of the opposing team's pitcher. He encouraged his daughter (full voice from across the field) "She's a lefty! You can strike her out!" My daughter, who was never exactly a Babe Ruth to begin with, was mortified, did indeed swing and miss three times, and said adios to softball forever, soon after.

Team sports aside, there are plenty of inconveniences you have to learn to live with if you're left-handed. Pretty much anything we use in school or everyday life was designed for a person whose right hand is dominant. Like ...

Spiral and 3-ring notebooks
Playing cards
Can openers (just think of the potential accidents)
Power tools (just think of the potential accidents!!!)
Car dashboards, manual transmissions, even drink holders
Video games, software interfaces
Tablets, eBooks, other electronica
Pens and pencils and other writing instruments
School desks (with the writing surface on the ... you guessed it ... right)
Checkout counter credit card swipers
Measuring cups

Yes, everything's a little tougher for lefties. But the news isn't all bad. 

Left-handed people are purported to be more creative than right-. As an unofficial case study, I can attest to this. I once managed an ad agency creative department and half our art directors were lefties!

Left-handed people are more likely to be geniuses (20% of MENSA members are lefties even though only 10% of the total population are).

Left-handed people are better at managing large amount of stimuli. This makes them more successful video gamers (and, no doubt, more successful teenagers — yikes!). 

One-of-a-kind in our family, my daughter is nevertheless in very good company. Barack Obama, Paul McCartney, Michelangelo, Carol Burnett, even Kermit the Frog. (Not to mention my friend Liane. Oh ... I just did.)

For Christmas, I'm going to look for a good pair of left-handed scissors for a certain teenager's stocking. It's the least I can do.

It's not a symmetrical world, but my lefty daughter is all right by me.

If you enjoyed this post, order a copy of my new book Lovin' the Alien at

Sunday, November 17, 2013

College Visits Part 2: Big Fish, Little Fish

In my post a few days ago, I mentioned that my teenage daughter and I had just visited two colleges. But, I only talked about one. Here's the rest of the story.

After spending Saturday of our long weekend at the University of Kentucky, we took a day off. (Well, only if you consider raking a massive amount of leaves, shopping until dropping, and then spending three hours on AP World History a day off.) Our long weekend was drawing to a close, but we made one more little roadtrip.

A couple of years ago, my girlfriend was biking when she discovered Otterbein University's expansive equine center. On our next visit, she took us there, but my daughter was still in middle school — college wasn't even on the radar yet.

Now ... gulp ... it is.

So Monday morning, prior to lunch in Columbus, the airport and our trip back to New England, we headed over to Otterbein.

First stop (of course): the equestrian center. It really is impressive. Beautifully equipped facilities and a most welcoming staff. My daughter made it a point to meet each and every horse and inspect all of the saddles in the tack room. Luckily, we also ran into a current student whose competition credentials put stars in my own eventer's eyes.

Next, we drove a couple of miles to the main campus. The school is in a small, historic suburb and has a lovely little academic center. In fact, after touring around UK, it seemed especially little. You could essentially roll out of bed in one of the residence halls and be at your first class within five minutes. 

Otterbein had an immediate advantage over UK. All the students in Lexington (and half the state, it seemed) were partying at the football stadium. But the Otterbein students had classes the day we were there, so we saw the campus in action. We stopped in Admissions and scored an impromptu and private tour with a lovely junior. We even got to see a dorm room.

"Wow, it's big," said my daughter.

"Yeah, big," agreed her mother out loud. Inside I was thinking, "Big. Big like a prison cell. How many cinderblocks did they kill to make this room?" I'd been spoiled my own years at school — a big house the first two, a brand new (cinderblock-free) dorm the last. But, I bit my tongue. In the dorm room and in about ... oh ... a hundred other locations.

We visited Otterbein's dining hall (with just 3,000 students, there's only one plus a few take-out places). It smelled good and all of the kids seemed healthy and adequately nourished. Our guide, who was from Maryland originally, said that everything was okay, except the seafood. She waits until she goes home for it. Having grown up on the coast of Massachusetts, my daughter will probably be picky that way too.

In addition to its prestige as an equestrian college, Otterbein has a renowned theatre arts program. Although she's naturally shy (and would never entertain entertaining, herself), this was a positive draw for my daughter. A couple of her closest friends are singers and actors at high school. (As a drama major and coming from a long line of thespians, I was happy to know that she could at least go to shows if not be in them.) 

But, that's not important.

This isn't about me, I remembered, deliberately and often. Throughout, I was careful to keep my opinions to myself. Observations were okay, though. So, I pointed out the differences between what we'd seen Saturday and what we saw Monday. No judgement. I suggested things she should ask herself. No judgement. With these first visits, the biggest question for her to ponder was "Do I want to be a big fish in a little pond? Or a little fish in a big one?"

Two good schools. Two excellent equestrian centers. Two solid options. 

Two down. About twenty to go.

If you enjoyed this post, order a copy of my new book Lovin' the Alien at

Friday, November 15, 2013

Truth in Advertising ... And Blue Jeans

If you have coffee (or cocktails, especially cocktails) with women of a certain age, at some point in the conversation you'll hear these three words:

"My body's changed."

Generally, this statement is accompanied by hand gestures that communicate helplessness at best (hopelessness at worst). Our bodies are changing and I'm here to tell you that it's frustrating as hell.

When I was younger (and thinner), I used to wonder why so many older women wore caftans and muumuus. Now, I know.

Because their jeans don't fit anymore!

I was never skinny-skinny, but I was fairly fit and trim. (Actually, looking back at photos, I didn't realize how fit and trim I was. What's that funny eCard? "I wish I was as thin as I was the first time I thought I was fat.") Nevertheless, I used to have some trouble buying jeans. Invariably, the hips would be too tight or the waists would be too big. When I did find a pair cut to my ... um ... proportions, I would happily wear them day-in, day-out until they pretty much disintegrated.

Until this past week, I had two pairs of jeans in my closet. Neither is threadbare and they are — allegedly — my size. But, something's happened. You guessed it ...

"My body's changed!"

Suddenly, the thighs, hips and derriere are baggy. Under any other (pre-menopausal) circumstances, this would be good tidings of great joy and much celebration would ensue. But now, any self-satisfaction is cancelled out by the fact that in both cases, the waists are too tight. Like way too tight. Like I can barely breathe and I've developed that most dreaded of all figure features: the muffin top.


I realize that my evolving shape is not the end of the world. But, c'mon. On top of internal heat waves, I have to buy new jeans? Not fair. Not cheap. And not even easy. Every pair I've tried lately has given me the same issues. Too tight where they used to be loose. Too loose where they used to be tight. 

My sixteen-year-old daughter, meanwhile, has at least a dozen different pairs of jeans, each of which fits her like a glove. Abercrombie, Delia's, Aeropostale, Urban Outfitters ... it doesn't matter. She's like a one-teen Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. All things denim magically wrap themselves around her perfectly.

This past weekend, we set off on our first college visits with some good friends. The rest of the long weekend was spent shopping together. At Nordstrom Rack, we found a display of marked-down NYDJ. For those of you unfamiliar with the brand, it stands for "Not Your Daughter's Jeans." They were 45% off. They were unabashedly "mom jeans." But, I had reached the point of denim desperation. I broke down and tried them on.


What a difference a cut makes. That and some stretch. The NYDJs actually fit my waist and my butt and my hips and my thighs. At the same time! They're cut higher than anything you'd find in my daughter's closet. And, suffice it to say, that's fine by me. As you can imagine, I bought them. In fact, I'm wearing them now, with an embroidered blouse and a pair of classic Frye boots.

I definitely don't (definitely, definitely don't) look sixteen. But I look pretty damn good for 51.

What can I say? These are not my daughter's jeans. Truth.

If you enjoyed this post, order a copy of my new book Lovin' the Alien at

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

College Visits Part 1: My Old Kentucky Home?

This past weekend was a bit of a milestone. All right, it was a frrrrkin' humongous milestone. My teenage daughter and I visited two colleges.

I don't mean we walked through Harvard Yard to pick up a young friend for lunch. I don't mean we cut across a city campus to go to a concert. We actually visited two separate out-of-state universities for the discreet and specific reason that my daughter might want to go to one of them.

This takes window shopping to a whole new level!

We were planning a trip to Columbus, Ohio to see my dear friend. She and I have been close since freshman year although my daughter might argue that she's even closer, having known my friend since she (my daughter) was just ten days old. Essentially, this woman is my teenager's surrogate aunt and my own "sister from another mother." As usual, we anticipated a great long weekend, filled with the usual restaurants, usual malls, long wooded walks followed by the usual concept coffee drinks at Starbucks. But, my girlfriend had another — unusual — idea.

"Let's drive down to University of Kentucky!"

As you already know if you've been following Lovin' the Alien, my daughter is all about the equine. She started riding when she was five and basically never looked back. She's been competing since she was seven or eight, and we broke down and bought a horse about two years ago. Over the years, I've watched other interests fall by the wayside: gymnastics, dance, swimming, piano lessons (yep, that last one fell hard, kind of like a piano from a New York City rooftop). But the horse thing stuck.

So, I have little doubt that she will carry this obsession ... er, I mean, single-minded focus ... with her as she pursues her higher education. We are only looking at colleges that have equine studies majors, competitive equestrian teams, and an empty stall for Finn, my daughter's constant companion. This diminishes the consideration set, well, considerably. And, as one might guess, the University of Kentucky in Lexington is pretty much the crème de la horse set crème.

I was struck by my girlfriend's prescience of mind (we would, surely, be making that trip at some point), and also by her extreme generosity. I mean, after all, she's already done the college tour circuit, not once but three times. Add to this her husband's game agreement to join us (game might be the operative word here; he was able to schedule a golf game with a Kentucky colleague), and I was truly in their debt. 

We arrived Friday and left their comfortable house at 6:15 Saturday morning. It's about a three-hour trip to Lexington, which they argued wasn't much (seemed like a lot to me). But soon we were in horse country: rolling green hills, crisp white fences, and enough Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses and Arabians to satisfy even my insatiable teen.

The campus was enormous and we happened to get there as what felt like millions of devoted alumni arrived for a big game. While it was a non-stop party all around UK's stadium, the rest of the campus was calm and quiet. Either the students were all at the game or they were all sleeping in (or half were doing each of those things). Although UK is described as an urban campus, it has as many quads and courtyards and clusters of old brick buildings as any New England college. (Plus, I can't help it, I'm a native New Yorker. Downtown Lexington ain't exactly what I call "urban.")

We walked all over, visited the Agricultural College buildings (where my daughter's classroom and research work would take place), stopped into the student center and the bookstore, peeked into dorms and dining halls. We grabbed some diet sodas and headed out of town to UK's equestrian center, a sprawling farm about nine miles from campus. The countryside was simply beautiful, and all my daughter could think of was how her pony would love the acres and acres of grassy paddock space.

Yes, apparently, the horse's happiness is high on her list.

I could tell that my daughter was impressed, that she was starting to do what must be the most important part of this whole college visit process: she was imagining herself here. What really sealed the deal was a fifteen-minute conversation with two students, who happened to be working at a suburban tack store on our way to lunch. One was a biology major, but competed on three different equestrian teams. The other was in the equine studies academic program. They had great things to say about the school, the coaches, the area, the students. They tried to sell my daughter a $1,400 saddle. She turned to me with hope in her eyes.

I politely declined. After all, I'll be paying her college tuition in a couple of years. And now, it seems, I may also be paying for my own trips to see her. In Kentucky.

If you enjoyed this post, order a copy of my new book Lovin' the Alien at

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Bye Bye, Miss American Pie

This past summer, my amazing little niece stayed with us for a few days. 

As per usual, we stocked up on Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, planned trips to the beach and the stable, pulled out DVDs and VHS tapes (yes, VHS tapes) that my own now-teenage daughter had adored when she was six. As per usual, I, as one of her two favorite aunties (admittedly, she has only two aunties, favorites or not), got a full-body, wrap-around hug when she arrived. 

And, as per usual, my niece disengaged in a flash and bolted up to the third floor of our house. There, under the eaves, is a once magic place, neglected now except for these biannual visits. This is where my daughter played when she was my niece's age. 

This is where the American Girl Dolls live.

Let me back up. For the five years between our wedding and the birth of our first and only child, my husband and I lived in a small Colonial cottage. It was built in 1790 and, even so, wasn't one of the older homes in the neighborhood. It was small, but impeccably outfitted, with a trim garden in front and a brick patio in back. We loved it. And, it was plenty big for the two of us, then for the two of us and the miniature dachshund, then for the two of us and the miniature dachshund and the newborn. Until, said newborn started growing and accumulating stuff. It was time to look at real estate.

Predisposed to finding another antique in our town's historic district, we went through the available inventory quickly. We were okay with the crooked floors, but not the lack of closets. We knew we might have to update a kitchen, but we had neither the money nor the wherewithal to tackle an entire top-to-bottom renovation. Our options were limited.

Although it may be my imagination, I think the broker who showed us the house we eventually bought, must have given herself a little "high five" when we arrived. One of us was carrying a one-year-old. Pay dirt! You see, besides most of the items on our house-hunting hit list (wide pine floors, working fireplaces, sufficient bedrooms, even closets), this house had a bonus. (Not a "bonus room" like you'd find in a McMansion, but an honest to goodness, more than we asked for lagniappe.) The previous owners had installed a little playroom on the top floor, complete with its own "front door" and windows into the rest of the house. Inside this cozy retreat, there were hand-painted murals of Winnie the Pooh, Babar and Thomas the Tank Engine. The playroom was conveniently situated between what would become my home office and my husband's. 

It was perfect. We bought the house.

Originally a place for Fisher-Price pull-toys, Duplo building sets and stuffed animals, the room morphed over the years into a dormitory for a number of American Girl Dolls. My daughter started with a contemporary "My American Girl" with wavy medium brown hair. Soon, though, she had a number of the historic characters, along with their wardrobes and accessories, pets and furniture. And, perhaps, most importantly, there were the books. Each American Girl had her own series of novels so that my daughter (along with tens of thousands of other girls) could learn about turn of the century New York with Samantha; revolutionary Williamsburg with Felicity; the American Southwest with Josephina; the freedom trail with Addy; and the depression and World War II with, respectively, Kit and Molly.

For this reason, I was a staunch defender of American Girl Dolls. Despite the practically Machiavellian (or should I say, "Disneyesque?")  brilliance of the company's marketing, despite the countless, costly trips to Fifth Avenue's American Girl Place, I argued that any toys that encouraged girls to read were okay by me. A few years ago, I compared notes with my best friend from fourth grade (now a PhD and the head of the honors program at a prestigious Jesuit university). We were both insatiable readers and avid doll collectors, who would have reveled in the American Girl experience had we been born two decades later. As adults, we made sure our own daughters had that chance.

I did worry when Pleasant & Company (the original mail-order business, founded nearly 30 years ago by Rowland Pleasant) was purchased by Mattel. But, despite rapid expansion and merchandising, it seemed as if the original concept was still there. Quite recently, in fact, a new American Girl was introduced, one Rebecca Rubin, an Eastern European immigrant residing in Manhattan's lower Eastside. As a native New Yorker, I was thrilled to see this addition.

It appeared that my fears of the Barbie-fication of American Girl were unfounded. Until now.

My sister-in-law (yes, the mom of my aforementioned niece) just sent me an article from The Washington Post, linking to another from The Atlantic. Both describe the disheartening direction American Girl is now taking. Apparently, the historical characters are being "retired" (some already have been) and future dolls will have a decidedly more contemporary — and, no doubt, homogonous — flair. There will still be companion books, but while my daughter could admire Samantha's efforts to end sweatshops and child labor or be insipired by Addy's courage when she and her mother dared escape North, future girls will have to settle for anxiety-provoking gymnastics competitions and the agony of disappointing report cards.

It was true when I was in school and it's true today. Girls read history books that are full of men. They go on field trips to look at statues of heroes, rather than heroines. They study wars and political science and dynasties, kings and elected officials, the bulk of whom are men, men, men. 

What a shame. The American Girl Dolls gave our daughters a chance to examine all of these things through female eyes. They could imagine how their lives would have been in these varied and important chapters of our country's story.

And understand that in America, women — and even girls — made history too.

If you enjoyed this post, order a copy of my new book Lovin' the Alien at

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Teen Crossing: Expect Delays

Loyal readers, I apologize.

Since starting my "Lovin' the Alien" blog two and a half years ago, I have never gone this long without writing. It's been a full ten days since my holiday post about Halloween hos. This is a new personal record (and not one that I'm proud of). Even when I've been away on vacations in the past, I've written from the road or scheduled posts in advance. But not this time.

My bad.

Of course, I do have a very viable excuse. A veritable slew of them, in fact. I'm running a marketing agency. I'm writing movie reviews. I'm dealing with a small fleet of old cars that need maintenance (and in one case, a new front end, thanks to last month's red-light runner at the intersection of Storrow Drive and Beacon Street). I'm trying to make it to yoga. I'm trying to make it through Zumba. I recently published my book.

None of this is new. (Well, the book and the fender bender are.) But, the past week has flown by with no time to write for one main reason ...

I am the mother of a teen.

Here is a handful of the most recent maternal activity that kept me away from my laptop. 

AP World History
Between September and May, my daughter has to cover all the history of the world. Holy ancient civilizations, Batman! That's a lot of history. And a lot of dates and rulers and wars and dynasties and cultures and ... and ... and. Her teacher is wise and tests the students every other chapter or so, rather than save it all for one or two major traumatic exams. 

Of course, this means that we have mini traumatic exams every week. 60 multiple choice questions. Daunting. After the first test, we brainstormed and came up with a system. My daughter studies; she presents what she's learned to us; then we quiz her. I highly recommend this process — but it takes at least a couple of hours. Every week. Usually after a particularly long day of work. With a cold coming on.

You get the picture.

Multiple Halloweens
This kooky, spooky holiday has become more complicated as my daughter's gotten older. Gone are the days when she chose a single outfit and stuck with it. (Winnie the Pooh, the yellow Teletubby, a ghostly cowboy, a combo kitten-fairy-princess because she couldn't make up her mind.) 

This year, we had to dress up for school (she borrowed my rasta mamma outfit), dress up for the stable (she and the pony were clowns — don't ask) and, dress up for the annual Hunter Pace, an elaborate costumed equestrian event (she and her teammate — and their horses — were Mexican Day of the Dead). They did win the blue ribbon, so it was time (lots and lots thereof), well-spent.

A Tale of Two Cities
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." 

No, I'm not talking about the French Revolution. I'm referring to the analytical essays my daughter has to turn in every other week for her English class. And, more specifically, the time she asks me to discuss and review and proof and print them.

As always, it's a bit of a conundrum. I definitely don't write the  papers for her. In fact, I often irritate her (okay, piss her off royally) by circling a passage and suggesting that she revisit it to find her own mistake. But, the process does take time (please refer to AP World History paragraphs above).

Items Missing in Action
In the last few days, we've lost an envelope of cash (costume reimbursement from the parents of the other Day of the Dead girl), and a watch. Not just any watch, mind you. The $125 "Ultimate Event Watch," a cool $125 timepiece that is, apparently, absolutely critical (to the tune of $125) if you're going to compete in three-phase equestrian events.

Did I mention it cost $125?

Not only did these two mysterious disappearances cause worry and stress, but they necessitated multiple people on multiple occasions searching through the pony barn and car upholstery. Happily (surprisingly), both were found.

The time spent, though, was gone forever.

At the end of the day (and why do so many of these fire drills happen at exactly that ... the end of the day?), I know that I am lucky to have a daughter who cares about her schoolwork and her grades, who puts thought and passion (and often my money) into her extracurricular activities. 

I also know that this time will pass — too soon — and she'll be off at college ... 

leaving her loving mother-proofreader-costume designer behind.

If you enjoyed this post, order a copy of my new book Lovin' the Alien at