Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Good Witch and the F-Word

A couple of days ago, I had tea with a number of intelligent and stylish and (happily) progressive women. After the usual civilities ("Where do you live?" "What do you do?") and several cucumber sandwiches, the conversation turned toward the current attack on Planned Parenthood. Several of the group were a decade or so older than I, and had been active in the 1974 fight for the ERA. (I was only 12 at the time, but thanks to my best friend's famous feminist mother, I was acutely aware of the women's rights movement.) As we refreshed our tea and moved on to petits fours and chocolate covered strawberries, we bemoaned the fact that our daughters and granddaughters don't have enough feminist role models.

For many young women, the F-word (no, not that one) isn't cool anymore. It's become synonymous with "man-hater" or "lesbian." When Shailene Woodley, the young star of the Divergent dystopian action series was asked "Do you consider yourself a feminist?" she answered this way:

"No because I love men, and I think the idea of ‘raise women to power, take the men away from the power’ is never going to work out because you need balance. With myself, I’m very in touch with my masculine side. And I’m 50 percent feminine and 50 percent masculine, same as I think a lot of us are. And I think that is important to note. And also I think that if men went down and women rose to power, that wouldn’t work either. We have to have a fine balance."

I'd argue that she's 50 percent ignorant and 50 percent immature. And 100 percent silly. But, that's just my opinion.

Happily, my daughter and her cohorts do have a marvelous role model — and it's someone they grew up with. Emma Watson, best known as the overachieving little witch from the Harry Potter movies and recent Ivy League graduate, became a Goodwill Ambassador for UN Women last year. 

Here is a speech she made in its entirety (if you'd rather watch it, click here):

Today we are launching a campaign called for HeForShe. I am reaching out to you because we need your help. We want to end gender inequality, and to do this, we need everyone involved. This is the first campaign of its kind at the UN. We want to try to mobilize as many men and boys as possible to be advocates for change. And, we don’t just want to talk about it. We want to try and make sure that it’s tangible.
I was appointed as Goodwill Ambassador for UN Women six months ago. And, the more I spoke about feminism, the more I realized that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating. If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that this has to stop.

For the record, feminism by definition is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of political, economic and social equality of the sexes.

I started questioning gender-based assumptions a long time ago. When I was 8, I was confused for being called bossy because I wanted to direct the plays that we would put on for our parents, but the boys were not. When at 14, I started to be sexualized by certain elements of the media. When at 15, my girlfriends started dropping out of sports teams because they didn’t want to appear muscly. When at 18, my male friends were unable to express their feelings.

I decided that I was a feminist, and this seemed uncomplicated to me. But my recent research has shown me that feminism has become an unpopular word. Women are choosing not to identify as feminists. Apparently, I’m among the ranks of women whose expressions are seen as too strong, too aggressive, isolating, and anti-men. Unattractive, even.

Why has the word become such an uncomfortable one? I am from Britain, and I think it is right I am paid the same as my male counterparts. I think it is right that I should be able to make decisions about my own body. I think it is right that women be involved on my behalf in the policies and decisions that will affect my life. I think it is right that socially, I am afforded the same respect as men.

But sadly, I can say that there is no one country in the world where all women can expect to see these rights. No country in the world can yet say that they achieved gender equality. These rights, I consider to be human rights, but I am one of the lucky ones.

My life is a sheer privilege because my parents didn’t love me less because I was born a daughter. My school did not limit me because I was a girl. My mentors didn't assume that I would go less far because I might give birth to a child one day. These influences were the gender equality ambassadors that made me who I am today. They may not know it, but they are the inadvertent feminists that are changing the world today. We need more of those.

And if you still hate the word, it is not the word that is important. It’s the idea and the ambition behind it, because not all women have received the same rights I have. In fact, statistically, very few have.

In 1997, Hillary Clinton made a famous speech in Beijing about women’s rights. Sadly, many of the things that she wanted to change are still true today. But what stood out for me the most was that less than thirty percent of the audience were male. How can we effect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feel welcome to participate in the conversation?

Men, I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue, too. Because to date, I’ve seen my father’s role as a parent being valued less by society, despite my need of his presence as a child, as much as my mother’s. I’ve seen young men suffering from mental illness, unable to ask for help for fear it would make them less of a man. In fact, in the UK, suicide is the biggest killer of men between 20 to 49, eclipsing road accidents, cancer and coronary heart disease. I’ve seen men made fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success. Men don’t have the benefits of equality, either.
We don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes, but I can see that they are, and that when they are free, things will change for women as a natural consequence. If men don’t have to be aggressive in order to be accepted, women won’t feel compelled to be submissive. If men don’t have to control, women won’t have to be controlled.

Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong. It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum, instead of two sets of opposing ideals. If we stop defining each other by what we are not, and start defining ourselves by who we are, we can all be freer, and this is what HeForShe is about. It’s about freedom.

I want men to take up this mantle so that their daughters, sisters, and mothers can be free from prejudice, but also so that their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human too, reclaim those parts of themselves they abandoned, and in doing so, be a more true and complete version of themselves.

You might be thinking, “Who is this Harry Potter girl, and what is she doing speaking at the UN?” And, it’s a really good question. I’ve been asking myself the same thing.
All I know is that I care about this problem, and I want to make it better. And, having seen what I’ve seen, and given the chance, I feel it is my responsibility to say something.
Statesman Edmund Burke said, “All that is needed for the forces of evil to triumph is for good men and women to do nothing.”

In my nervousness for this speech and in my moments of doubt, I told myself firmly, “If not me, who? If not now, when?” If you have similar doubts when opportunities are presented to you, I hope those words will be helpful. Because the reality is that if we do nothing, it will take seventy-five years, or for me to be nearly 100, before women can expect to be paid the same as men for the same work. 15.5 million girls will be married in the next 16 years as children. And at current rates, it won't be until 2086 before all rural African girls can have a secondary education.

If you believe in equality, you might be one of those inadvertent feminists that I spoke of earlier, and for this, I applaud you. We are struggling for a uniting word, but the good news is, we have a uniting movement. It is called HeForShe. I invite you to step forward, to be seen and to ask yourself, “If not me, who? If not now, when?”

Thank you very, very much.

No, Hermione, thank you.

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

Monday, September 28, 2015

A Matter of Trust

I'm a worrier. My friends, family and especially my husband will tell you that's an almost laughable understatement. In the best of times, I lie awake in the wee hours of the morning, worrying about how I will manage to do all the wonderful things I've committed to doing. In the worst of times, the worrying extends both earlier and later, and I've been known to sleep not at all.

When you have a baby, there are exponentially more things to worry about. For some mothers, the anxiety starts before the offspring even arrives. I was surprisingly serene during my pregnancy despite the death of my dad and twenty weeks of all-day morning sickness. I think I somehow knew that my balanced well-being would benefit my baby. There were plenty of sleepless nights at the end, but that was more from swollen ankles and a bulging belly than nerves.

As mothers, we have to push our worries aside or we can't function at all. Let's face it, the world is a very scary place — as we are reminded every single night on network news. Abductions. School shootings. Hit and run drivers. Children-in-peril stories are constantly in the headlines. Here in the Boston area, we've had months of Baby Jane Doe, now known as Baby Bella, the poor little toddler whose body was left on a harbor island beach.

Popular culture doesn't help either. Besides the more realistic dramas like CSI, there are Zombie Apocalypses, Blood-Sucking Vampires, Sorority Serial Killers and even Shark Tornadoes. Now, do I really think that a vampire-zombie-shark is going to attack my daughter and her sorority sisters? No. But, still the atmosphere of doom and gloom, and reason to worry is palpable.

Of course, the less special effect-y worries started early. At just three days old, my daughter had an eye infection. ("I'm a horrible mother," I wailed.) A year or so later, we woke up to what sounded like a dog barking in her bedroom, and I ended up spending a good portion of the night with her out on our porch, wrapped in down comforters. Again, croup isn't exactly the stuff that horror films are made of, but  it was horrible enough for me.

We've had it pretty easy, actually. Despite my daughter's predilection for jumping over logs on the back of a horse, we've had no broken bones yet and only a couple of "possible" concussions. She either failed or passed the concussion test by so slim a margin that the results were inconclusive.  

These days, I worry less about equestrian accidents and more about my daughter's newfound — and much cherished — autonomy. She drives (carefully and with her phone on airplane mode, so she says) and she goes to concerts with friends out-of-town or even out-of-state. She stays up (and sometimes out) much later than I do. She has a whole life that I'm not a part of.

And, if I think too much about it, I'm going to worry myself to death.

So, I try not to. I remember my own adventures at eighteen. (Eighteen? OMG.) I think about the world and the odds and the fact that most people are good and kind and would help a couple of teenagers if their car broke down or they lost their wallets or ... or ... or ...

Mostly, I try not to think about it.

Having a child is the greatest act of faith you can commit. As Elizabeth Stone famously said, "It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body."

I've learned to count on my daughter's intelligence and good judgement. And I have to believe that the world is essentially a benign and benevolent place (zombies and vampires and flying sharks aside). I try not to lose too much sleep. Well, no more than I would lose otherwise.

Motherhood used to be a matter of vigilance. Now, I guess it's a matter of trust.  

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

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Dead White Guys' Society

As I sit down to write, I have a request. Can one of my gentle readers please bring a soapbox over? 

Yes, I'm getting on it one more time.

You see, I just saw my daughter's Honors 12 English reading list.

The good news is that it will be the last time I rant and rave about authors who are — and more significantly — are not on the list. After all, as of next fall, she'll be at college where, in theory at least, there will be greater choice and greater diversity in courses and curriculum. In theory. I'll stay optimistic. In theory.

There's bad news too though. I think the rigid, antiquated, primarily white, primarily Euro, and primarily — almost entirely — male collection of "classic" authors she has been forced to read over her high school career has effectively turned off her brain. Truth. I'm sure you think I'm exaggerating. I'm not. My darling daughter, who used to enjoy nothing more than browsing through Barnes & Noble, hasn't picked up a book voluntarily in years.

I've written about this before. Twice

Guess what? Until it changes, my observations bear repeating.

Take a look at the list of required reading for senior year Honors English (and, remember that it's 2015 and the class is 75% girls):

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, dead white guy. 

Oedipus & Antigone by Sophocles, dead white guy. 

Inferno by Dante Alighieri, dead white guy. 

The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli, dead white guy. 

Othello by William Shakespeare, dead white guy. 

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, dead white guy. 

The Stranger by Albert Camus, dead white guy. 

The Metamorphosis by Frank Kafka, dead white guy. 

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, living Middle Eastern woman.

Waitaminute! What ... ?

Before I hail progress (no matter how statistically insignificant it is), I'll add two facts. One, my daughter already read Satrapi's brilliant graphic novel when she was in middle school. And, two, the class has already been warned that if they run out of track (as graduating classes are wont to do), Persepolis is the title that will be cut.

Aye, there's the rub.

I'm not criticizing the inclusion of any of the above. (Although, I'll boldly assert that some of them are deadly dull.) It's the lack of other, worthy, more relevant, more representative titles that gets my goat.

Assuming that the kids don't actually get to or through Persepolis, my daughter will have graduated high school, after four years of Honors and AP English, having read masterpieces by approximately forty dead white guys and one ... one ... that would be just one, single, sole and only woman ...

Ayn Rand.

WTF? Please. I'm serious. WTF?

Even if you aren't as feminist-focused as myself, you have to admit that including more contemporary titles would help engage contemporary teens. Even if you don't see any value in presenting a more diverse set of voices (note the sarcasm here, by all means), even if you personally prefer literature by dead white guys, you have to appreciate that giving kids something interesting to read would ... well ... better capture their interest. 

Today's teens are tired enough. They don't need 600-page tranquilizers.

That's why God invented Ambien.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

I Ain't Missing You At All

Yesterday morning, I had an overdue bagel and coffee with another mother. Our daughters, both seniors now (and mine already 18, wtf?) used to be inseparable. They were pretty much attached at the hip through preschool, pre-K and kindergarten. And while they ended up at different elementary and middle schools, they stayed good weekend friends for years. 

These days, they have different interests and travel in different groups at school, but our families have remained close.

Most of our conversation (the place was probably ready to kick us out after 2+ hours) was catching up on our whirlwind summers and comparing notes on the looming college application process. Every few minutes though one or the other of us would say something like: "They're seniors. Can you believe it?" Or "Where did the time go?" Or "How did we get here?"

These are the same bewildered murmurs I'm hearing from all my fellow mothers. We're all thinking the same thing. If our daughters are finishing high school, how old are we?

Wait, don't answer that.

We know our girls have wonderful adventures ahead of them (if they can get through the next six months of unrelenting stress). We're proud of their accomplishments. We're compassionate about their challenges. We (usually) excuse their attitudes. Most of all, we want to help them make good decisions and move forward positively and productively into their next oh-so-exciting chapter.

And, in the moments when we're not offering opinions on essay prompts or SATs, senior projects or safety schools, we miss them. 

Well, not "them" them. Not the sometimes sullen (okay, often sullen, almost always sullen) teenagers we're currently cohabitating with. 

We miss the old them. 

We miss the princesses and the mermaids and the astronauts, the ballerinas and the gymnasts and the softball players and the ninjas. We miss making cupcakes and reading bedtime stories, doing art projects, watching Disney movies. We miss zoos and museums, amusement parks and bicycle rides. We miss science projects and field trips. We miss tucking them in at night and waking them with hugs and smiles (not exasperated yet utterly toothless threats). 
And speaking of teeth, we miss the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, the Great Pumpkin and Santa Claus. (We even miss that ridiculous — and, let's face it, kinda creepy-looking — Elf on the Shelf.) We miss dancing and twirling and splashing and skipping. We miss holding hands and all things first: first words, first steps, first teeth, first haircuts, first grade.

We miss sharing their secrets and being the one person, the one and only person in the whole wide world, they can't wait to see after school. 

I wonder sometimes if my daughter misses any of the magical-mundane moments I do. I think she probably will some day.

But, right now, she has too much to look forward to.

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

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Truth in Lingerie

Last week, I found myself in Boston's Copley Square. I had an appointment and then I was going to pick up my mother at the bus station. It was a gorgeous day, hot but sunny and dry. Everyone was out and it was the kind of day that makes me miss living in a city. (What am I saying? I miss living in a city pretty much every day.)

But, I digress.

Up above me, hanging from the rafters of Back Bay Station, was actress Emma Roberts. Several of her actually. Huge, black and white, in various states of undress. She smiled down at all of us. She laughed, flipped her hair, covered her eyes, puckered up for an air kiss. All in very attractive bras from the advertiser, lingerie retailer Aerie. 

The headline assured us that "The REAL you is sexy."

A second headline added, "Emma Roberts doesn't need retouching. Neither do you."

Waitaminute. Isn't one of the benefits of being a model that you get retouched?  But, I digress. Again.

Aerie, which is the underwear division of American Eagle Outfitters (AEO), started a progressive new policy early this year. In an effort to promote healthier body image among their predominantly teen audience, their models would no longer be retouched. On the corporate website, AEO describes their "Real Campaign" this way:

We support real young women, not the airbrushed, unrealistic versions of what they’re told they should look like. We launched the aerie REAL campaign for our Spring 2014 line to bring this support to life. Our photographs of the aerie line feature un-retouched models and challenge the outdated ad campaign handbook. We understand that the media impacts young women, influencing how they see themselves, their bodies and their futures. Encouraging a positive self-image is one way aerie supports ongoing wellness. It’s time to feature beautiful images that reflect all realities. 

Wow. Of course, they're still using preternaturally thin and fit models. But removing that layer of un-reality is a good place to start. The girls have freckles, birth marks and even some small (very small, very very small) bumps and folds and bulges.

The brand has also extended its product offerings to fit young woman of various shapes and sizes. For example, their bras — youthful, pretty, sporty — are available in AAs through DDDs. Until now, more buxom teen girls were often forced into structured "old lady" styles. So, this is a nice change.

I wasn't surprised to learn that the president of AEO's Aerie division is a woman, Jennifer Foyle. She also happens to be the mother of a young daughter. One of the reasons she moved to Aerie (after years at The Gap and J. Crew) was the opportunity to create more appropriate — but still fun — undies for the tween market. The result? "Bralettes" that allow younger girls to have stylish bra straps showing (don't ask), without dressing like ... um ... professionals.

This would just be a "feel good" story for my feminist, mom and feminist mom readers. But, it's also proving to be good business. Since launching the "Real Campaign," Aerie's sales growth has surpassed that of other AEO divisions, nearly double same store year-to-year figures as the rest of the company. Aerie is on track to earn $300 million in revenue this year and to open another 20-30 new stores each year going forward.

That's a lot of bralettes.

I hope the "Real Campaign" gets even more real in the future. Most of all, I hope it continues to be successful. To that end, I plan to "vote with my pocketbook" the next time my daughter and I go to the mall. Aerie seems a better place to shop together than Victoria's Secret.

After all, my daughter's no angel. But, she's definitely real.

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



Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Eighteen Years Ago

On September 14, 1997, I went to bed a little earlier than usual. After an amazing all-you-can-eat brunch at our yacht club, I was feeling stuffed, a little bloaty, kind of crampy. At just about midnight, I went to the bathroom, then returned to wake my husband.

"Um, I think my water just broke."

We called the obstetrician's office; the doctor on duty was in delivery, but would call us back. Finally, at about 2:00 am, they told us to head to the hospital. I was checked in and examined. The nurse reassured me that nothing was going to happen for a while and suggested we get some rest. 

Riiiiight. Like that was gonna happen.

My husband, in the recliner next to my bed, drifted off almost immediately. Meanwhile, I stressed out. (Then again, why should the single most important night of our lives be different than any other night?) I stayed awake and my contractions got closer together — gradually. A little too gradually it turned out. As soon as a doctor arrived, they put me on Pitocin (invented, I am absolutely certain by the biggest woman-hating man who ever lived) so that my labor would be "more productive." Over the next several hours, we tried other things: walks along the maternity ward corridor, warm showers, the dreaded birthing ball. I watched TV for a while. On the midday news I learned that the FDA was taking one of my client's products, a weight loss drug called Fen-Phen, off the market (so much for the commercial we were about to shoot). I also watched back-to-back-to-back episodes of "Mad About You." 

Funny, I've never been able to sit through that show again.

Anyway, things finally progressed as they were supposed to; the doctor returned; I pushed and ... Voila! "You have a daughter!" It was 3:49 pm, September 15, 1997. I was a mother.

This morning, my daughter and I watched her birthday sunrise together, as we have every year since she was maybe three years old. This time, her dad joined us, along with the new puppy. There's no school today (Rosh Hashanah), so as soon as our little ritual was over, the now-legal adult went back to bed. 

I'm left here thinking about the past eighteen years. They've gone by quickly, yet we packed a lot into them. Birthday parties and vacations, homework and horse shows, lazy mornings, busy weekends. And laundry. There's been a lot of laundry.

This year, we're time-shifting the actual celebration. At 3:49 (my daughter's a stickler for detail), she'll mark the anniversary of her birth on her trusty steed. From the stable, she and her BFF are driving to Providence for a concert. By the time they return, it will be after midnight and her birthday will technically be over. I'm trying not to focus on two teens driving after hours on Route 95. Instead, I'm going to think about what a happy day she's having.

My daughter is eighteen. She can vote, she can enlist in the army, she can buy cigarettes, work full-time, live on her own. But, she's safe asleep upstairs right now. We've done a good job. We've made a good person.

I've always loved her a lot. Now, it's time to let go a little.

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

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The 3 Ps: Privacy, Protection and Parenting

Earlier this week, I posted a story about some so-called calculator apps that offer users (read, "teens or adulterous spouses") a way to hide secret pictures (read, "sexts"). The post generated a lot of emails.

Some friends thanked me (and, no doubt, ran rather than walked to their offspring's cell phones to search for fake apps).

Others questioned whether parents should micromanage their child's mobile. How much supervision is too much? How much is, in reality, snooping?

Privacy vs. protection. It's a tough call sometimes and it can be a very fine line.

When we first broke down and gave my now teenage daughter a cell phone, I thought we were so on top of things. We knew her passwords; we checked her emails. She gladly friended me on Facebook. She agreed to all the parental surveillance because ... OMG! ... dreams do come true ... OMG! ... she was getting an iPhone! (OMG!)

It's been six years now, and any control we had then (or, at least, thought we had then) has pretty much gone bye-bye. We're still friends on Facebook, but my daughter and her peers rarely use it anymore. (How can you blame them? It's full of old people. Like me.) I don't know her passwords, her user names, where she has accounts. All that oversight kind of evaporated over time.

Did we get lazy? Maybe.  Did she also make valid points about her own maturity and privacy? Yes.

At any rate, despite the big bad of technology, my daughter (at almost 18) has about the same amount of autonomy I had. The devices change. But, the secret life that your parents don't know much about? Well, that remains the same. Not that I was any kind of bad girl, and (I assume, hope, pray) neither is she. It's just that when you're "17 going on 18," you need some privacy. I wouldn't have wanted my mother going through my diary any more than my own daughter wants me snooping around her cell phone.

I don't recommend checking up on your teen's online activity unless you have some reason for concern. Chances are, you're not going to find anything to make you happy. After all, how many kids text their friends to praise their parents' parenting ways? If your child is doing fine in school and doesn't seem to be having any trouble with alcohol, sex or drugs (or even rock and roll), let them have their privacy. 

On the other hand, if you have legitimate worries (falling grades, changes in health, signs of depression, or trouble at school or with the law), that's different. Or if your daughter or son is too young to know what's right and what's wrong online. Then, invading their privacy becomes more than your right. It becomes your responsibility.

For anyone who argues that you should never break your child's confidence, let me tell a sobering story. When my daughter was still a tween, our PTO presented a number of programs on online safety. One evening, we learned about a boy who had been savagely bullied online and eventually committed suicide. His father had respected his son's privacy but insisted that the boy write down all his passwords and leave them in a sealed envelope. After the suicide, the father was able to use those passwords to track down the kids who had made his son feel so hopeless. They were then held accountable (in whatever half-assed way juveniles are held accountable for online cruelty and harassment — yes, that comment's meant to be as bitter as it sounds). All the parents were nodding and making mental notes to go home and get those secret passwords onto paper and into sealed envelopes.

I wanted to scream. "But, it's too late! The kid is dead!" 

In hindsight, doesn't that father wish he had looked at his son's texts and emails sooner? You know he does.

Of course, this is only one story and most (statistically it would be: "virtually all") online activity doesn't end so tragically. But, I don't think you can condemn scrutinizing kids' usage altogether. If there are warning signs (legitimate, objective warning signs), go for it. 

Risk their wrath; that's your job.

Just ask yourself if you're doing it for their sake or for yours. And be as honest with yourself as you've asked them to be.

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

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Calculated Risks

A few days ago a friend, who happens to be the terrific mother of two tween girls, posted a video and asked me to blog about it. 

Pamela Casey, a District Attorney from Alabama, created the quick clip to warn parents about "Calculator%" an app that appears harmless on your child's phone but can be unlocked and used as a secret photo album.

Turns out there are several apps that provide the same functionality.
Private Photo (Calculator%) is getting the most attention right now. The app lets your teen store private photos and videos, hidden behind an actual calculator. Once he or she puts in a secret passcode, they're able to access a private area, where files are securely stored and remain completely confidential. 

Smart Hide Calculator is also a fully functional calculator app. But, once the teen enters his or her password and presses the '=' button, they're able to "hide" or "unhide" pictures, videos, documents or files. 

SpyCalc offers a free ad-supported version as well as a paid one. Again, calculator functionality hides a secret storage area, where kids can hide photos. SpyCalc also allows users to take pictures directly and store them directly in the calculator app, ensuring privacy even sooner. 

KYMS is another option for hiding photos and videos behind a calculator. It adds better video quality, document protection for PDFs and text, plus a password recovery feature. 

The descriptions of these apps stress privacy but don't go so far as to use the word "sexting." But, of course, that's what they're meant for. (There are plenty of other "private photo album" apps that don't bother to use a calculator as camouflage.) As parents, we find the underage sexting phenomenon particularly frightening — especially when the news is filled with horrifying statistics and prep school sexting rings. 

In reality, according to a recent story in Psychology Today, far fewer kids are sexting than the sensational headlines imply — between 3-7%, rather than the 50% reported last year. 

So try not to worry. Chances are, your teen's calculator app really is helping them with homework.  

And, at least now you know what to look for if things don't seem to add up.

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


Sunday, September 6, 2015

In Her Own Sweet Time

After I had my daughter, I went right back to work. Well, practically. 

I did take about two weeks off completely (fourteen surreal and blurry, virtually sleepless days). But, then I started writing ad copy again, gradually building up my hours and transitioning into halftime home, halftime at the office. By about the six-week mark, I was commuting into the city each day and my sweet child was safe and sound in a family daycare.

I had started the job while I was pregnant. I would be building a creative department for a new agency and it was important to me that my bosses (all men) understood how serious I was about it. In honesty, we also needed the cash. Regardless, it never occurred to me to stay at home permanently. I loved what I did, felt absolutely comfortable giving it my all while giving my new baby all my heart as well. For me, these were never mutually exclusive roles or passions.

Of course, going right back to work made some things a little more difficult. Like breast-feeding. Early on, our pediatrician had encouraged me to switch off between breast and bottle and that certainly made things more convenient. I was also very fortunate; my body adjusted quickly to our new schedule. I nursed my daughter in the morning before we left and again as soon as I got home. After the first few days, I had no discomfort and never spent my lunch hour with a breast pump behind closed doors. (Ugh — thank goodness!) The only real problems I ever had occurred on an early-post-pregnancy business trip, and a single and overdue overnight at the Ritz with my husband. After a wonderfully romantic evening, he slept soundly in the sumptuous hotel bed, while I sat on the cold tile floor of the bathroom, you guessed it, pumping.

All in all, I was lucky though, and I planned to nurse for six months. Less than the fascists at the La Leche League might have liked, but more than many professional women get to. Then, at five months, three-and-a-half weeks (literally four days before I had planned), my daughter stopped. She changed her mind. "No, thank you very much." She simply turned her head away. Clearly, there was more going on in the world than my boob, and she wasn't going to miss any of it.

To say I felt rejection is an understatement. Silly, though. Her natural dismissal actually made my life a lot easier. But, it hurt all the same.

A similar thing happened with her pacifier. My husband and I never had an issue with letting her have a "nipper," as we called it, and we had a healthy stash strategically situated throughout the house, in cars, purses and jacket pockets. But, neither of us wanted her to grow into one of those strapping toddlers you see, greedily sucking and taking their pacifiers out of their mouths to speak because — guess what? — they're old enough to speak. So, we agreed we would wean her off of it at twelve months. Lo and behold, she jumped the gun again, losing all interest a couple of weeks ahead of schedule.

(I won't now narrate a detailed story of her potty-training (because I promised her I never would). Suffice it to say, it involved M&Ms and a Princess Barbie, and she acquiesced  — when she finally did acquiesce — in her own sweet time.)

Nursing and nippers and shameless bribery are all behind us now. My daughter just started senior year of high school. In addition to her course load and exams and training and competitions and a part-time job, she has college applications looming. And that's all anyone wants to talk about. Family, friends, strangers we met on our vacation ... as soon as they hear she's about to turn eighteen, the first thing out of their mouth is the c-word. "Where are you looking?" "Where are you applying?" "Where do you want to go?"

By now, my daughter isn't even bothering to give any updates. "I don't know yet," she replies to every query, not even acknowledging the half-spirited research she's done so far. 

The Common App is now open online and most of the schools on her (extremely short) short-list are accepting rolling applications even as I type. But, she has yet to fill in a name or address, much less outline an essay or even meet with her guidance counselor.

She's not ready. Period. And, I have to bide my time, bite my tongue and wait. She'll get there.

In her own sweet time.

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


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Last First Day

I remember the first first day like it was ... well ... yesterday.

On the first first day, my daughter wore a red dress with a white collar and smocking at the top. She had on black patent leather Mary Janes and ankle socks with frilly trim. She had a lunchbox, a tiny backpack, and a fleece jacket with an appliqued dachshund head on one side, tail on the other, and elongated body stretching around the back. The zipper pull was a quilted bone. Her hair was perfect.

Oddly enough, I remember what I was wearing too. Black wool trousers and boots, plus a very cool sweater that was black and tan and white with asymmetrical wooden buttons and a sort of primitive fish pattern. I got it from some museum catalog and it was cooler than it sounds, really. Anyway, I don't know where it went. (Besides out of style, I suppose.) Meanwhile, my daughter's dress is carefully preserved in an attic closet waiting for some future child's first day of preschool.

I repeat, "First day of preschool." It feels like yesterday. But, at the same time, no matter how well I remember every little detail, it feels about a hundred years ago.

Sundance Preschool was in a brand new building about a mile or so from our house. It was bright and sunny with large classrooms and a playground out back. My daughter was so excited. We took about a million pictures (this was back when everything was still analog, so you had to take extra shots to make sure something came out), and the whole family (minus the dog — then again, I suppose he was represented on her jacket) drove over together.

I was just fine, happy even, imagining how my little daughter would love school the way I had. The future seemed bright and full of promise. We had years and years together ahead of us. We checked her in and went into her classroom. There were lilliputian tables and chairs, a reading corner, easels and paint, tiny cubbies ... and a coat hook with each child's name neatly printed above it.

That, my friends, is when I lost it.

My daughter would probably tell you that I've been losing it on a quite regular basis ever since.

This morning was that same daughter's first day of senior year. All I can say, truly, is ...


How is this possible? How can she be that old? (How can I be that old?) 

She woke up at 5:00 am. (Yeah, like that's going to happen again this year!) She wore her senior "We're Kind of a B16 Deal" tee and a pair of shorts. I packed a nice lunch for her and after a little (a very little) attention to hair and makeup, we took a couple of quick "First Day" pictures and she was out of here. No need for breakfast; she and her BFFs were going to IHOP after the official first day senior drive-by.

Each graduating class of our town's high school takes part in this time-honored tradition twice. (I think it's just twice; I hope it's just twice.) The junior girls drive through the town honking and screaming the morning after the prior class's graduation. And those same girls, now officially seniors, do it all again the first day back at school in September.

My husband decorated our antique red Miata with racing stripes and a big number "16" on the driver door. It was by far the flashiest vehicle out there. But, as I videotaped the convoy this morning, I was happy to notice that my daughter and her bestie stayed belted in their seats even as they raced through the town. Whether that was fear of me or of the town police, I'll never know. But, I was glad on't.

Next on the agenda is the gauntlet outside the school. Historically, the seniors have taunted the incoming underclassmen and women. This year, however, our rules-happy principal ordained that there is to be no teasing and no touching — excepting "handshakes extended in the spirit of friendship and warm welcome."

(Excuse me while I go choke to death on laughter.)

(All right, I'm back now.)

Classes for seniors don't start until mid-morning, so my offspring and her posse will have time for a nutritious breakfast at the International House of Pancakes (is there a National House of Pancakes?) before their day — and presumably their education — starts in earnest.

This morning was my daughter's last first day. She and the other seniors only have 20-minute classes along with forms to fill out and an assembly, so the day should fly by for her.

Almost as fast as the last 15 years have flown by for me.

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