8th grade boys: there’s an app for that

Getting an 8th grade boy to pay attention to you is not easy. This was true in the 1980s and it’s true now. 8th grade boys like girls fine, sure, but they’re usually not nearly as interested in the girls in their class as said girls are in them.

This is also the case for 8th grade boys’ mothers.

Sure, sometimes the 8th grade boy will give you some acknowledgment that you’re alive. But most of the time, 8th grade boys take a third helping of whatever is for dinner while ignoring their mothers’ lame-o attempts at conversation.

What’s new at school?

What did your friends do this weekend?

God, I sound so dumb! IDIOT!

But here’s the thing: I really like my 8th grade boy. And I really want him to like me back.

So I tried to remember: what did I do about this when I was in 8th grade?

In 8th grade I liked a boy whose name was Bobby Crotman. (Okay that is obviously NOT his real name. I would never tell you the ACTUAL NAME of a boy that I liked.) As I recall, the main reason I liked Bobby Crotman was because my best friend Erin liked his best friend, and so it was all just too convenient not to go with.

Bobby Crotman liked his dirt bike. He really liked his dirt bike. If you wanted to talk BMX with him on Erin’s parents’ front porch swing, he was very happy to oblige. But whenever the conversation drifted to other topics, so would his attention, and within a few minutes he’d be getting up and walking away, asking if I didn’t want to go watch him while he rode his dirt bike.

Things didn’t last with Bobby Crotman and that may be because there’s just not that much to say about dirt bikes. Believe me, I tried. But judging by my current 8th grader’s conversations with his father and his brother, there is a great, great deal to say about his own obsession:

Who is Good and Who Totally Sucks in the NBA.

My 8th grader might not want to talk about much. But the slightest conversational overture made toward professional basketball players will send him on an epic, Rube-Goldberg-marble-run, uninterruptable monologue of heartfelt opinion.

I have no expertise in this particular area, but just as one doesn’t have to watch C-SPAN to have an opinion about the members of the House Oversight Committee, one doesn’t actually have to watch any professional basketball in order to talk trash about professional basketball players. One just has to be able to name said professional basketball players.

Which is why I am spending my free moments with TinyCards. This isn’t a sponsored post; this information is simply that crucial for me to share. Like a semester abroad, this powerful app is immersing me in the world of what really matters:

Gently, softly, it presents me with a picture and asks me to type in the player’s name.

Despite my having drilled on Deck #1 all week, I am forced to click “I Don’t Know.”

It’s Derrick Rose. TinyCards makes me type that out twice more, just to be sure.

I do better with the multiple choice.

I almost definitely know the answer to this one. It’s the guy with the orange headband. As long as he keeps the headband on, I’m good!

Admittedly, I have a long way to go. I’m still stuck on Damian Lillard (Deck 2) and really I should be on to Kawhi Leonard (Deck 5) by now.

I’m going to keep it up, though, and once I master all fifteen decks, I’m going to sit down to dinner, help myself to some quinoa, and then muse aloud that Rajon Rondo’s time on the injured list may distract lesser fans of the sport from noticing his 48 percent shooting over the last ten games.

Then I’ll mention James Harden, just for good measure. (He’s my favorite. He’s got a beard.)

8th grade boys: there’s an app for that.

How the Mom Saved Christmas

Over at the What Fresh Hell:Laughing in the Face of Motherhood podcast this week, we’re talking about how to handle the holiday craziness. Here’s a little Christmas poem I wrote for the episode- an ode to holiday simplification, with apologies to Dr. Seuss. Enjoy over your eggnog!






Every Kid down in Kidville liked Christmas a lot,

But their Mom, who was just north of forty, did not.

The Mom hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!

And you needn’t ask why, cause there were fifty reasons.

It could be her paper boy hadn’t been paid.

It could be that teachers’ gifts must be handmade.

But I think that the reason her Christmas felt wrong

May have been that her list was three miles too long.

It was quarter past dawn, all the kids still a-bed,

And the dad still a-snooze, when she picked up her head

With no thought of sleeping, with no thought of self

With no thought of naught but the Elf on the Shelf

Who must be arranged in a naughty tableau

Requiring popsicle sticks and fake snow

And a tiny jackknife. Did that even exist?

Perhaps it was no surprise this mom was pissed.

“This is nuts,” she said then, standing in her dark kitchen.

“I’m done with the Rudolph and Dancer and Blitzen.

“My husband can do it this year— or gee whiz,

He’s gonna find out what a nutcracker is.”

But then she felt sad, cause he was a good guy,

And she still hadn’t answered the question of Why?

Why did she bother? Where had it gone wrong?

Whither the Christmas of good cheer and song?

And the Mom, with her bare feet ice cold on the floor,

Stood puzzling and puzzling. “What is Christmas for?

If there were no packages, boxes, or bows,

My kids would wake up and say, ‘This really blows,’

And I mean, they’d be right. Then I’m stuck in the middle.

So what’s the solution to this Yuletide riddle?”

And she puzzled ten minutes, till her coffee was cold.

Then she had inspiration. “What if I broke the mold?”

“What if Christmas,” she thought, “wasn’t all done by me?

“And instead of eighteen gifts, my kids each got three?

And maybe they’re wrapped well, and maybe they’re not?

And the Elf on the Shelf stays in one place and rots?”

And what happened then? Well, on Facebook they say

That that mother’s trim waist grew three sizes that day

Cause she ate all the cookies she’d made to exchange

But instead, she just ate them. And here’s what’s most strange:

The world kept revolving, a blue-and-green ball,

And that nice mother had the best Christmas of all.

announcing my new podcast!

I’ve been blogging a lot less over the last year. (Perhaps you’ve noticed). Fewer people are reading blog posts these days; sometimes it feels like no one is listening.

This isn’t to say I’m closing up shop.  I have loved blogging– it has brought me so much, personally and professionally. I also think we all may be returning to more direct and personal forms of communication. If 2016 has taught us anything about social media, it’s that its designs and algorithms ENSURE that no one listens to anyone who’s not already in direct agreement with them.

But on to my exciting news: I’ve launched a parenting podcast!


What Fresh Hell: Laughing in the Face of Motherhood is now live. You can listen on our website, on iTunes, or by searching “What Fresh Hell Podcast” in your favorite podcast app.

In each episode, fellow mom/blogger/comedian Margaret Ables and I take on a topic one or both of us is struggling with as a parent. How much screen time is too much? Should I keep rescuing my forgetful middle-schooler when he forgets his homework? Will my picky eater ever eat anything besides Uncrustables?

We take that topic, we research it, we gently mock each other’s considerable parental shortcomings, and we FIGURE IT OUT. We like to say that we’re solving today’s parenting problems so you don’t have to.

I’ll be back to writing in this space; I still have a lot to say. But I hope you’ll come join the conversation at whatfreshhellpodcast.com, like our Facebook page, follow us on Twitter, and most importantly- give us a listen!

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

It seemed like a good idea at the time: I would shake hands with Woody Allen.

Twenty years ago, I came thisclose to being cast in one of his films. The one called Everyone Says I Love YouThe part that would be played in the end by Drew Barrymore. I didn’t know any of that at the time–  Woody Allen is well known for being stingy with the details while holding auditions, even for famous actors. But I knew it was a big part, a great part, by the sound of my agent’s voice when he called to let me know that after Mr. Allen viewed my taped reading of a scene with his casting director– one in which I had successfully burst into tears at just the right moment– he had requested an in-person meeting the next day at his offices.

I hung my voluminous Ann Taylor floral dress on the back of the bathroom door so it would get a little extra steam while I showered the next morning.

penelopecruz1994This is not me in said dress, but rather Penelope Cruz in a very similar dress, circa 1994. You may know Penelope Cruz from her work in several Woody Allen films. Unlike some other people. Which is neither here nor there. The point is, this was my “Meet Woody Allen” look, because it was the same dress I had worn to the previous rounds of auditions, and I was pretty happy with it. I hung that dress up on the bathroom door, and boom, I was ready. I had no scenes to prepare because Woody Allen doesn’t let copies of his work out of the casting office. I just had to wait for the next day.

Then my phone rang. It was the casting director. “I’m calling to give you some advice, sweetheart,” she said. Now, I should point out that this almost never happens. Casting directors work through agents; they don’t want a personal relationship with actors to whom they will almost always be giving disappointing news. “Before tomorrow, I just want to let you know,” she said, “that Mr. Allen can be a little– off-putting. He might behave in ways that you might not expect. And I want that not to bother you. You just come in and do what you did for me, okay?”

“Sure!” I said. “No, of course!” I hung up the phone absolutely thrilled. The casting director was pulling for me! She wanted me! She had called me at home to say so! What was that she had said again? Whatever!

The next day I waited with several other auditioners in a hallway jauntily decorated with film cans. We eyed each other warily. I took deep breaths. After about half an hour, I was called in to a room the size of a grade-school gym. There were three or four other people there behind a long table (not unusual for a final casting session). But my eyes were only on Woody Allen, who approached me and stopped a few steps away. “My casting director tells me,” he said, looking alternately at the floor and my left elbow, “that you might be right for a part in my film, and I’m wondering if you’d like to read for me today.”

“Sure!” I said. “No, of course!” He nodded, turned away. I was handed a scene to study and escorted out of the room. There it was– the unexpected moment I had been warned about. What an adorable, sweetly odd little custom, right? I didn’t know why the casting director thought that was worth a late night warning call, but it didn’t matter– I had reacted appropriately.

Back to the hallway I went. Half an hour later, I go back in, nervous but not panicked. I’d already met him, and it had gone perfectly well as far as I could tell. This time, the casting director approached me and steered me towards one of two folding chairs. She took the other. We sat there for a moment. I looked to Woody Allen, waiting for him to give the usual bit of advice, the “Do you have any questions?” pleasantries.  He did not look up from the papers on his desk.

“Let’s read the scene,” the casting director said, gently bringing me back to the matter at hand. It was the same scene I had read with her at earlier auditions: the one where I had to cry and say I wasn’t sure I wanted to get married after all.

“I need to talk to you,” I said. (I had the first line.) At that point, Woody Allen got up and walked away from us, away from the casting table, and over to a far, far corner of a room. He sat down in a comfortable chair that was apparently awaiting this purpose.  He looked down at his folded hands in his lap.

The casting director was saying her line, but I wasn’t listening. WHAT WAS HAPPENING. I was auditioning for a film. Film directors sit as closely as possible to watch you audition, study your face like they’re memorizing it. Directors don’t sit that far away when they’re casting Rose Day Parades. Was I supposed to project so he could hear me all the way over there?  Was he even paying attention? Was this a test?

My mouth was saying the lines, the part where I was supposed to break down sobbing, but my eyes were looking into the casting director’s, saying What the hell is he doing over there? Her eyes looked back at me, saying, Come on, kid. I warned you. You’re blowing it.  We finished the scene. My eyes were dry.

The room was silent for a moment. I looked back to Mr. Allen. If I were lucky, he’d say, “Okay, let’s try that again, and this time, could you…” If he’d seen enough– for better or worse– he’d say, “Okay, very nice, thank you for coming in.”

He said nothing. He got up and crossed the room toward me. I stood as he approached, waiting for the verdict. I knew I hadn’t done my best work. This was probably the end of the line for me, but by gosh, I had met Woody Allen, and that was pretty cool.

He was in front of me now. He held out his hand. How kind, I thought. He’s really quite approachable, once you meet him.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, to return the gesture. To shake Woody Allen’s hand.  But when I reached out my own hand, he stepped back. Stopped. Looked me dead in the eyes at last.

“No,” he said. “I want my scene back.”


One prompt, thirteen bloggers…click through to see what Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time to:


Up Popped A Fox

The Flying Chalupa

Suburban Scrawl

Elizabeth McGuire

Two Cannoli

Genie in a Blog


Good Day Regular People

My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog

The Mama Bird Diaries

Midlife Mixtape

When Mom is sick

Last week two of my three children, and then my husband, came down with a quick-attack stomach bug so virulent it kept taking after there was nothing left to give, if you catch my drift.

This added moderate amounts of laundry to my already moderately frantic attempts to pack us all for a looming four-day ski vacation. (Have I mentioned that I don’t like to ski? Really really don’t like to ski? Yes. Yes, I have.)

My husband watched me from the couch as I zoomed to and fro, tracking down three sorts of chargers and three sets of homework. “Why don’t you ever get sick?” he asked, completely flummoxed.

“Moms don’t get sick,” I explained over my shoulder, digging in the closet for mittens that matched. “Cause we can’t.”

A chill came over me at that moment. An immediate sense that I had tempted the gods. I imagined myself feeling a sudden rumbling in my intestines the next day, in seat 14E, just after the captain announced he would be keeping the seatbelt sign on a while longer.

And so I made a deal. “Just let me get there,” I prayed silently. “Once we’re there, it doesn’t matter.”

Thirty-six hours later, I woke up in my hotel room at 2 a.m. in a cold sweat.  Then slept for three minutes. Then woke up with a stabbing stomach pain. Then came the reckoning, me feeling my way repeatedly to the bathroom for the next few pre-dawn hours in that pitch-black only true hotel curtains can provide. I couldn’t turn on the lights, or I’d wake everyone else– although honestly it was amazing they managed to sleep through it all, since I can’t say that I was quiet.

But they did. And when my husband and children awoke to the ting-tong of an iPhone alarm, there I was:

retouched Charley in bed

Any child of the 70s worth her salt will recognize this drawing as actually being of Cousin Charley, the very naughty boy in Little House in the Big Woods who got stung by a hundred yellow jackets and then got all wrapped up in mud and muslin and then Laura and Mary and the cousins stood there all day watching him get what was coming to him for being such a boldie. Since Garth Williams died in 1996, he could not be in my hotel room to capture me lying there, but this was basically it.

My children stared down at me. Not frightened, not sympathetic. Just fascinated.

MAGGIE: Are you SICK, Mom?

ME: (muffled groan)

Long pause.

SEAMUS: Are you, like, REALLY sick, Mom? 

It did not compute.

My husband hustled them out the door to breakfast and I fell into a fever dream. Twenty minutes later, I sensed that I was being watched.

retouched Charley in bed


SEAMUS: We brought you breakfast, Mom.

ME: No thanks, honey.

SEAMUS: We brought you some pumpernickel bread.

MOM: Please. Don’t even mention–

MAGGIE: And cream cheese.

SEAMUS: The pumpernickel bread was Dad’s idea.


The children stare.


My husband eventually got them out the door to ski, although I think the lot of them would have been happy to stand there all day.

Is there anything more fascinating than the sight of a sick mom?