Girl Scout Encampment: A Glamping Good Time

As I explained in my last post, I am an ambivalent Girl Scout mom at best, largely because many of their activities involve nature, which I have often found dangerous and unpleasant.

And yet, on a Saturday morning in early September,  I somehow found myself loading sleeping bags and backpacks into the back of my friend’s SUV and heading down to Camp Merrick in rural Nanjemoy, Maryland for the annual ritual of “Encampment,” where (according to the National Girl Scout website) our girl scouts would “explore leadership, build skills, and develop a deep appreciation for nature.”

I had a feeling that after two days of camping, I was going to develop a deep appreciation for air conditioning and indoor plumbing. You may be asking yourself, why would I voluntarily go to a place I might have to poop in a bucket? The reason is simple, yet terrifying: Like so many other mothers, I live in fear of the wrath of my 7 year old daughter. More specifically, I live in fear of the crazy-eyed, shrieking banshee my ordinarily docile, sweet-tempered angel morphs into when she a) is asked to do household chores, or b) feels left out. I simply couldn’t face the tearful accusations and dramatic sobbing that would surely accompany the realization that all her friends went camping without her!

And so, we arrived at the campsite in the muggy heat of late morning to get our nature on. Fortunately, there was nary a bucket in sight, as the cluster of rustic cabins boasted indoor plumbing, air-conditioning, and electricity. It turns out this kind of camping, or “glamping,” as it is derisively called, hardly involves nature at all! I was immediately cheered by the prospect.

After we checked in and received our warnings from a harried Troop Leader about not disturbing the “ground moss,” we headed to our cabins, being careful to stay on the paved path.

“I guess they are really concerned about the environmental impact to the campsite,” I ventured to my friend and fellow Girl Scout mom Margaux, as we gave a wide berth to the yellow “CAUTION” tape ringing the large grassy area in front of the dining hall. “Worried about the ground moss and all.”

Margaux gave me a blank look. “She said ground WASPS.” On cue, I heard some disturbing buzzing from behind the caution tape.

On one hand, I am not fond of wasps, but one the other hand, it did provide a more reasonable explanation for keeping off the grass, and also proved my point about the perils of nature.

Camp Merrick, besieged by ground wasps.
Camp Merrick, besieged by ground wasps.

When we arrived at the cabin, we claimed our bunks, deposited our gear, and familiarized ourselves with our surroundings. Ice-cold air wafted sweetly out of a huge AC unit by the door. Two large fans whirred overhead around industrial size light fixtures. On either side of the room stood four sturdy wooden bunks beds, topped with green plastic mattresses and sprinkled with multicolored evidence of previous campers. The graffiti ranged from inane (“I love Kenny,”) to political (“Save The ta-tas!”) to plaintive (“I need a date,”) to inappropriate (use your imagination). Already this trip was proving to be more educational for my daughter than I ever imagined.

Cabin graffiti provided some educational fun during free time.
Cabin graffiti provided some educational fun during free time.

Next, our fabulous, hardworking troop leaders Jen and Christal distributed our “Team Olaf” name tags. Having never seen the movie “Frozen,” I was confused about why our name tags featured a picture of a slightly deranged, hillbilly snowman. I could, however, appreciate the irony of this year’s “Frozen” Encampment theme, as it was one of the hottest September days on record.

What does one do at Encampment? You may be surprised. The following activities were led by enthusiastic and energetic Girl Scouts Cadettes who didn’t seem to notice the 100 degree heat, profane graffiti, or walnut-sized wasps dive-bombing their heads.  This meant our main responsibilities as parent chaperones were to complain about the heat, make snarky comments, and wait for the day to end.

Are we having fun yet?
Are we having fun yet?


The girls giggled their way through various animal-named poses, after which they enjoyed strangely bitter snow cones flavored with either sugar-free cherry syrup or cough medicine. A sticky red film soon coated the girls clothing, shoes, and floor, making the rec hall look like the scene of a massacre littered with cone shaped cups.


The girls developed their all-important rock-painting skills, after which they made a useful cotton-ball (“snowball”) launcher out of foam, duct tape, and a balloon. Then the older girls scouts taught them various educational songs. One particularly cheery song  seemed to be about lady who jumped out a window after her house caught fire (“Jump, lady, Jump!…Splat!”)

Watch out! She has a snowball launcher and she's not afraid to use it!
Watch out! She has a snowball launcher and she’s not afraid to use it!


We lined up for a “Frozen” themed meal of disturbingly named “Troll Stones” in “Oaken’s Secret Yoohoo Sauce.” I was relieved to see the troll stones resembled meatballs, and were quite tasty, as far as troll stones go.

Disturbing dinner menu.
Disturbing dinner menu.


All the troops converged around the flag in the center of camp to trade pins. Amidst the cooling evening breeze and the soft buzzing of ground wasps, our girls exchanged their “Olaf” buttons for other Frozen-themed goodies, only occasionally stabbing themselves with the rusty metal pins.


The Girl Scout troops all gathered around a brightly burning campfire to roast..not S’mores, as you might expect, but…the American Flag. At first, this seemed to confirm my suspicion that the Girls Scout organization has a secret radical extremist agenda. I was relieved (yet also a little disappointed) to find out that a flag burning ceremony is a perfectly acceptable way to retire an old American flag. Or so they told us. In any case, someone had thoughtfully cut the flag into tiny squares, so every girl scout (and mom!) got her turn to burn a little piece of America.

Good Old Girl Scout Flag Burning
Good Old Fashioned Flag Burning
The remains of the Stars and Stripes.
The next morning

At some point during the day’s activities,  something strange happened. I started having a really good time. I stopped working on my exit strategy (hamstring injury? Heat stroke? Wasp attack?) and started truly enjoying myself. As the sweat dripped down my back during the “Frozen” singalong, I was reminded of the great lesson I learned while attending an all-women college so many years ago: when women are miserable together, friendships are forged. The muggy heat, the troll stones, the wasps, the barely controlled chaos of 200 pre-teen girls, and the surreal shock of taking part in a ritualized flag burning all combined to form a single shared experience that created a bond that would never be broken, at least until the next morning when we were rushing to get the hell out of there like the last chopper out of Saigon.

Later the next day, when we were home recuperating, I asked my daughter if she had a good time. She nodded enthusiastically.

“Would you go again next year?” I asked her.
“No.” she said promptly, and then went to reunite with her Kindle Fire. I think a weekend without technology cured her of the camping bug for good. Or maybe it was the wasps.

I’m not sure about “exploring leadership, building skills, and developing a deep appreciation for nature,” but we did have a damn good time, and in the process, developed a deep appreciation for each other. Thank you, Troop 729, for an absolutely wonderful Encampment.

I would totally go again next year. As long as there is air-conditioning.


Three Suggestions To Improve Your Girl Scout Troop Or, How Girl Scouts Can Save Us From the Future Zombie Apocalypse

I am quite possibly the least enthusiastic Girl Scout Mother ever. Don’t get me wrong – Scouting is a great and worthwhile activity. Any organization that teaches my kid how to be a better person AND supplies the world with delicious cookies is OK in my book. However, if the Girl Scouts truly want to get me on board, they need to make some changes ASAP.

1. Do Away With Patches

Iron-on, my ass. The iron, from whom I have been estranged since the Great Shirt-Melting Incident of 2002, is usually wielded only by my husband. However, his stupid job often gets in the way of his accomplishing unpleasant household tasks (how convenient!). So, it fell to me to prepare the Daisies vest last year, and things got UGLY. My attempt to iron on the patches was unsuccessful, probably because the iron hates me. My next (unsuccessful) attempt – and I am not proud of this – involved a glue stick. This led to my brilliant idea to use Gorilla Glue. I was just congratulating myself for my cleverness (Ironing is for SUCKAS!) when my daughter and I realized that the glue soaked through the fabric of the vest, making a sticky mess. And, if she hadn’t noticed glue bleeding through, it’s possible that Anna might have had a Daisy sash permanently adhered to her midsection – which would be an interesting conversation starter on the first day of 2nd grade. Or med school… On the up side, 6 of the12 patches stayed firmly attached.

Unfortunately, the six that fell off left gobs of crusty white glue behind, making the vest look like someone sponge-painted it with mucus: 

           Exhibit A.

My daughter was not happy with this situation. My impassioned speech about being a ‘“vest half-full” and not a “vest half-sponge-painted-with-glue-gobs” kind of person’ fell on deaf ears. It took several rolls of scotch tape, but we managed to get through the year. Luckily, I am a person who learns from her mistakes (and constant haranguing from her daughter). I am proud proud to say that this year, I paid the 20 dollars to have the new Brownie patches sewn on her new sash at the dry cleaners:

Exhibit B: Better or Worse?
Exhibit B: Better or Worse?

All of this unnecessary angst, glue, and expenditure could be avoided by simply doing away with the patches, not to mention the uniforms. Ugly brown or green polyester vests and sashes are so 1985. In this era of Katy Perry, I propose a tastefully sequined crop top or bedazzled camisole, preferably in a shade of pink, purple, or sky blue (perhaps all three?). Instead of a drab rainbow patch, lets have the garment BE THE RAINBOW. Girls love glitter.

2. No More Camping Trips

I don’t camp. Those of you have heard the story of the Great Oregon Fiasco of 2000 know why. If you haven’t heard the story, it involves 3 pounds of cherries, a bottle of chardonnay, a suspected serial killer, and an intensely distressed colon… In the woods.

Like many parents these days, I am a child of the 80s, when my only exposure to nature was via TV in the form of horror movies set by a lake, a deserted cabin, or pretty much anywhere nobody would hear you scream. From this, I learned to associate camping trips with dismemberment, giant snakes, intelligent and power-hungry frogs, and/or crazy serial killers. In short, I am not a fan.

Besides, I like my mod-cons. My giant, soft mattress with 5-6 fluffy pillows,white noise machine, electronic reader, seven different soaps, creams, lotions, and solutions I use in my bedding ritual…it all seems like it would make for a very bulky camping trip.

I mean, nature is great and all. I like to bird watch, for example. From inside the house. Or, I might sit on the back deck, listen to the trees rustle in the breeze as I enjoy a glass of wine. Which brings me to the real issue with the whole Encampment is my understanding that one of the few things that makes camping bearable is alcohol. After a beer or two, everybody is more relaxed and less worried about serial killers (except when they have to go to the bathroom at 2 AM with the aforementioned intensely distressed colon…but that’s another story). The Scout Guide contains baseless regulations like “the Girl Scouts prohibit alcohol use” and the even more ominous “Adults should be on their best behavior.” Really? Shouldn’t we save our best behavior for civilization? Isn’t the wild where we should get all, well, wild?

I propose a two-part alternative to the traditional camping trip, which I feel offers a more contemporary take on the Girl Scout Mission. A great way to “build girls of courage, confidence and character,” would be a Hunger Games/Divergent style Competition. Instead of the bland and boring weekend of “Encampment,” I suggest the far more compelling “Ass-Kickers Academy.” This week-long event would feature lessons in self-defense, combat, archery, sword-fighting, knife throwing and other useful (and totally awesome) skills. The AKA would empower girls to “develop their full potential” by preparing them for the coming zombie apocalypse, encounters with possible serial killers, or SEAL training. If movies, teen lit and TV shows are any indication, it’s a bleak future and our girls need to be ready for it.

The second part of my alternative plan is a spa day. After a week of hard training in the field, our little ass kickers will “discover the fun, friendship, and power of girls together” by getting Chocolate Oxygen Facials and Fire Opal Balancing Stone Massages. Obviously, mothers will be included in this activity. 

3. No More Cookie Sales

Girl Scouts, I have a bone to pick with you. Why on earth in this age of childhood obesity are you still pushing addictive-as-crack, fat-filled calorie bombs on our chubby, sedentary population? They are delicious, true. However, as someone who once inhaled an entire sleeve of thin mints while hiding in a bathroom stall, I can tell you with confidence that the road to hell and self-loathing is paved with delectable, wafer-thin chocolate cookies.

Here’s a healthy and economically smart alternative: why not sell those protein shakes famous people are always drinking on TV? Or even better, why not sell the Vitamix Professional Series 300 blenders so people can make their own protein shakes? My husband and his brother first saw this amazing machine at a Costco in Columbus, Ohio. Apparently, the salesman made a delicious orange sorbet out of some kale, chia seeds, cranberry juice, a beet, and an entire unpeeled banana. That is one badass blender. Plus, at $528.95, your girl scout only has to sell one or two to make some serious coin, instead of hawking 200 boxes of Samoas and Tagalongs at $4 each on local lacrosse fields and grocery store parking lots.

Some naysayers will opine that the Vitamix is too expensive to anchor a successful fundraising effort. These people obviously don’t live in Arlington, where people won’t think twice about throwing down mad cash for a contraption that will make them healthier and does not involve playing catch with bricks at the local CrossFit Gym. Consider this comment from a customer who turned to the Vitamix 300 after being unhappy with his previous blender: “My smoothies came out with lots and lots of bits, and I end up having to do a lot of chewing.” I bet this man who is too busy to do something as pedestrian as chew his food is from Arlington, and would probably be interested in buying a second Vitamix for his home office from a local girl scout troop! At the very least, let’s make the switch from selling cookies to something wholesome and trendy like giant sacks of kale, beets, or plankton.

Call me a visionary, or call me a kale-loving, dystopian-obsessed ironing-hating weirdo. Either way, when Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low first founded the Girl Scout organization in 1912, I’m sure she intended for it to evolve with the times and the role of women in society. If we truly want our daughters to become part of the GSA’s “long history of strong, independent heroines,” let’s stop giving them cookies and start teaching them how to disembowel deranged zombies with a katana. Or a Vitamix.

Party Planning Tips for the Lazy Hostess

Like all aspiring writers and bloggers, it is my dream to have an article published in the Huffington Post. I’ve never actually visited this website, but I envision it as the perfect meld of light entertainment (suggested by the ridiculous name“Huffington- which I’m convinced Ariana made up), and more serious, issue-driven reads (as suggested by the moniker“Post.”) I’ve noticed many popular articles and books have a number in the title, like “The 7 Habits of Effective People,” “Five Ways to Become a Published Writer” ( and “I Am Number Four.” So, I give you the following integer themed article. (Ariana, I’m sorry I made fun of your name. Please publish this!)



House parties are a great deal of fun, as long as they are at someone else’s house. Unfortunately, if you expect to keep getting invited to other people’s parties, you occasionally have to throw one of your own. Here are seven ways that you can a) prevent people from finding out that you live in squalor and b) throw a successful house party!

Helpful Hint #1: Do Not Have The Party At Your House.

House parties involve an alarming amount of work. If at all possible, try to have the party at an alternate location. For example, why not have your party at a local pool? I prefer pool parties because they really play to my strengths and skills as a hostess: not cleaning, not cooking, and not decorating. I simply show up at the pool at the required time with a “Happy Birthday” balloon and a cake, and let the lifeguards do the rest. These people are trained to SAVE LIVES. What could possibly go wrong? Maybe one party-goer eats too much junk food and pukes in the deep end (Jake’s 5th birthday). You just sit back, relax, and watch the boys in red shorts fish out those regurgitated cheese doodles. Or, perhaps a pre-schooler becomes traumatized after finding a dead rabbit in the diving well (also Jake’s 5th birthday). Again, not your problem. Mr. Red Shorts McSunscreen will get that floater out, give it a less-than-dignified burial behind the snack shed, and shock the chlorinated crap out of the water. If you are wondering what the children do in the meantime, you underestimate the fascination children have with vomit and dead animals. In the words of one 5 year old reveler: Best. Party. Ever.

Dead bunnies aside, there is one unfortunate event that can mar your pool party’s success: Rain. Recently, I rose early on the morning of my daughter’s 7th birthday party, looked at the dismal forecast, and was forced to make the difficult decision every pool party hostess dreads: take my chances with the rain, or relocate the party to my tiny, cluttered, dusty, dog-hair infested house, with its plague of mysterious, unpleasant odors. What to do?

Helpful Hint #2: Use The Internet

Whenever I need information or advice in a certain situation, I turn to the internet. This is how I found out that you should NOT put dishwashing soap in the dishwasher (totally counterintuitive). Actually, I learned that lesson the old fashioned way. More precisely, the internet is where I learned how to fix your dishwasher after you have put dishwashing soap in it (vinegar, if you’re wondering). If I’m confused about song lyrics, or the meaning of a TV series finale, or want to know why my dog is throwing up, or how many cups are in a pint, or how to make balloon animals, I turn to Google. After several hours of research, I realized that instead of spending the morning watching youtube videos on the hidden messages in “Lost” and how to make balloon animals, I should have been purchasing inexpensive gazebos and tables, renting an all-weather house at a local park, and creating fun indoor activities, crafts, and games. Instead, I opted to just move to party to my house and buy some extra beer.

Helpful Hint #3: Be Decisive.

Once the decision to relocate is made, it must be adhered to. Waffling will only lead to frequent and more desperate text messages and phone calls from confused partygoers. Your guests crave a strong leader, someone to rule with a festive iron fist: “The party will be at our house. Yes, I’m sure there is enough room. No, I don’t need you to bring anything, unless you have some inexpensive gazebos lying around. Also, all non-pregnant guests must consume a minimum of three alcoholic beverages” This last edict, if faithfully enforced, will prevent your guests from focusing on the balls of dog hair in the corners.

Helpful Hint #4: Be Realistic.

Try to look at your house with an objective eye.  It may not be party-ready, but focus on what you can accomplish in the next few hours. For example, I didn’t have time to steam clean the furniture, buy a new deck umbrella and sound system, or move to a bigger and nicer house. Instead, I scrounged up some throw pillows from the “give away” pile in the garage and placed them strategically over the largest and most ominous couch stains. Then, after wrestling unsuccessfully with the mammoth deck umbrella in an attempt to push it to the side, I decided to take the path of least resistance and crank it open to its full 10 foot span, which shielded the entire yard from rain and hid the moldy spots and bird droppings on top.

Colorful leis and face-painting will distract children and adult alike from the piles of dog poo in the backyard.
For a truly epic party, consider purchasing some (possibly illegal, depending which state you live in) fireworks. The spectacle and smell will surely make it a party to remember!

Helpful Hint #5: Camouflage and Accentuate.

Like a fat girl in a bathing suit, you should cover and draw attention away from those troublesome unsightly areas, while emphasizing your assets. To draw attention away from the waist-high weeds surrounding the front porch, I took advantage of my children’s current obsession with balloon animals by attaching a gaggle of multi-colored dogs, swans, flowers and swords to the porch railing with black electrical tape.  The latex swarm provided an interesting visual focal point for arriving guests that did not spark a conversation about weed killer. Even though some of the guests noted the unfortunate resemblance between the balloon swans and a certain part of the male anatomy, at least they weren’t looking at the weeds.

After some consideration, we relocated Danny’s balloon menagerie to the front porch for our guests to enjoy as they arrived.

Helpful Hint #6: Declutter.

Having a bunch of richer people with nicer houses over is the perfect excuse to take down your middle schooler’s 4th grade report card and the blue post-it notes your 6 year old daughter has used to label various household locations (FIREPLAC. DEK.) It’s also a great time to get rid of unsightly piles of books, papers, toys, and refuse. Try stuffing them in your children’s closets, under their beds, and other places your guests are not likely to visit, such as the bathtub.

Helpful Hint #7: Encourage Your Guests To Drink Heavily.

This is good advice for any party, gathering, or festival. Adults who consume several alcoholic beverages will be having too much fun to notice your house at all. Your party will be remembered for their crazy antics, instead of its unusual odor of sweaty, rancid pineapple.  

There you have it- 7 quick and easy tips to make your house party a success! Once you have completed these simple steps, you can sit back, relax, and enjoy the party. And remember, the wonderful (though hazy) memories and partially deflated balloon-shaped penises will linger long after the last guest has departed.

The birthday girl and her friend enjoy the party.
Balloon swan or penis? You decide.
Balloon swan or penis? You decide.



Excerpt from “Memoirs of The Car Keys: An Unexpected Journey”

As Kristi Bader’s car keys, I have to be ready for anything. Most car keys spend most of their time crammed into dark, sticky pockets or purses with the usual crumpled gum wrappers, capless chapsticks, and broken hair clips. Not me. On any given day, you might find me in a rest stop bathroom off the New Jersey turnpike, on a shelf in the Housewares Department in Target, or even on the lam in Southeast DC with a joy-riding teenager. But my most recent adventure was my wildest yet. It all began on a sunny Friday morning at Boston Logan airport….

June 30th, 2014

It was ten AM, and we were walking to the gate to check Danny in for his flight back to DC. Well, Kristi was walking, I was swinging precariously from her index finger, when she stopped abruptly (I almost went flying!) and began rummaging through her purse, muttering about her cell phone.

Soon, we were running through the airport, out into the bright sunlight of the parking lot, and back to the car.
With a sigh of relief, Kristi quickly located the cell phone, which in another desperate bid for freedom had slipped into the crevice between the passenger seat and the console. It is said that this crevice marks a portal to another dimension, and the cell phone is ceaseless in its attempts to escape through it. But that’s another story.

Cell phone safely in hand, Kristi surveyed the thigh-high ocean of crap in the cabin of the minivan thoughtfully. She unearthed an empty bag with “Rehoboth Beach” stitched on the side, brushed off the crushed pretzels and stale raisins stuck to it, and filled it with selected items: a small bag of Pirate’s Booty, a half-full bottle of water, a dog-eared copy of “Football Nightmare,” by Mike Lupica and a partially squished pack of gum. She then shut the door and began the painstaking car-locking process.

Kristi is a Serial Button Pusher. If pressing a button once will lock the car, then pressing it repeatedly must really, really lock the car, she reasons (or so I imagine). Unfortunately, her husband insisted on procuring a remote-start option that is linked to the “lock” button. Pressing the button once will lock it. Pressing it twice will lock it even better (or so Kristi thinks.) Pressing it three times will start the engine. Pressing it four times will…actually, I don’t know. In any case, I lost track of how many times she pressed the “lock” button that day. Several trips back to the car (to turn off the engine) later, Operation Car Lock was a success, and she tossed me in the Rehoboth Beach bag over her shoulder and headed back into the airport.

At first, I wasn’t worried. As far as I was concerned, being in any bag- purse, shoulder bag, beer cooler- lowered the risk that I would get left next to the Mentos and Tic Tacs in the checkout line at the airport store. So, I relaxed in my new digs next to the Pirate Booty as she checked Danny in and waited at the gate, listening to him peppering her with endless questions about flight safety, (What’s a terrorist? How does the plane stay up in the air?) requests for snacks (Can I have Cheetos? How about Doritos? Can I have anything from the “OHs” family? ) and pithy observations about fellow travelers (Hey mom! Look at that fat guy!).

Finally, they said their goodbyes, and Danny was off. A while later, I heard a noise that sounded like a jet engine, and I had the strange sensation of rising into the air.  It was then I realized that Danny took the Rehoboth Beach bag, and I was on the plane!  
There was really nothing to be done at that point but relax, enjoy the flight, and reflect on the strange turn the day had taken. I had flown before, sure, but always on purpose. I was pretty sure that Kristi didn’t mean to send me on the plane- how would she get back into the car, in which her electronic devices, snacks, and other belongings were stored? How would she get back to the Cape? Was she planning on living at the airport?

As I pondered these questions, I soon became aware that the plane was landing. Soon after we got off the plane, I heard Eric’s voice, and Danny’s big paw reached in and lifted me out of the bag and dangled me in the air. There were loud exclamations, followed by protestations from Danny (“Those are swears, Daddy! You’re not supposed to say them!) and the flash of a camera phone, and then I was shoved in someone’s pocket.

The next few hours consisted of expletive-laced tirades about irresponsible wives, lacrosse tournaments, and mouth-breathing airline employees who really were earning their $7.50 an hour. It was quite traumatic. Finally, I was released from my prison only to be shoved into a large box. Later, I felt the strange sensation of rising into the air, and heard the loud noise of jet engines…another trip through the skies! This time, I made the pilgrimage unaccompanied, like the veteran traveler I had become. A few hours later, there was a ripping sound and a shriek of delight as Kristi grabbed me and waved me around triumphantly for all the apathetic airline employees to see.
Soon, I was reunited with my minivan, and resting in my usual cup holder as Kristi bolted down route 3 towards the Cape in a caffeine induced frenzy, yelling Katy Perry lyrics out the window to the darkening evening sky.

It felt good to be home.



Travel Sports: A Cautionary Tale; OR, How I Lost My Car Keys (Again)

It was a perfect New England summer day: sunny and bright with a smattering of white puffy clouds in the cerulean sky. The warm temperature was complimented by a sweet, cool breeze that ruffled my hair playfully as my son and I walked into the airport. We were uncharacteristically early…but it was the first time I have ever put my child on a plane unaccompanied, and I wanted to make sure I didn’t run late and make any mistakes, like accidentally send him to China instead of Baltimore.

I won’t lie. Mistakes were made. Although luckily nobody ended up in China.

Here is what happened:

One day, a few months ago, my husband told me about a horrible thing called Travel Lacrosse. At the time, it sounded innocuous: practice 1-2 nights a week, a few tournaments, the opportunity to play his favorite sport at an elite level…how could I say no? Many of you mothers reading this are shaking your head at my naiveté..I am a fairly well-educated woman (as you can tell by my use of the word “naiveté”), how could I have been so foolish? Didn’t I realize that practices would be held during rush hour on the far side of town? That I would have to walk my son through a mosquito and toad-infested park in 97% humidity to get to the lacrosse field? That on the last day of school, I would spend 7 hours crawling up I-95 on the way to scenic Boonton, NJ, muttering obscenities at my GPS as my children looked on in askance from the backseat (“Why is Mommy saying so many swears?”) to watch my son’s team lose. Every. Single. Game. And for the privilege of all this, that I would pay $700.00 in fees?

One of the benefits of hindsight is that it allows you to blame your husband for most things, and this Travel Lacrosse Debacle is no exception. Sure, he sent me the email with all of the above information (well, there was nothing about the toads), but he knows I never actually read emails from him (especially about sports,) although I always act like I know what he’s talking about when he mentions them, as illustrated by our following conversation:

“So, you saw my email?” Eric asked me as he loaded up his plate with meatloaf.

“Of course,” I said. If I remembered correctly, the subject line was “Fwd: blahblahblahblahblah.”

“Well, what do you think?” he asked.

I chewed thoughtfully for a moment. “What do YOU think?” I asked him back.

“It’s a big commitment,” he said, pouring me a second glass of wine. “You would have to drive him to practices.”

“Okay..” I said cautiously. I was NOT liking the sound of this. “Tell me more.”

“He’s a good lacrosse player, and the coach seems like a great guy. There’s some weekend travel involved,” he said.

Aha! I nodded my head sagely. “Of course, that’s why it’s called…. “Travel Lacrosse?” I guessed.

“True,” he said and then asked suspiciously, “Did you read the email?”

“What? Yes!” I sputtered.

In the end, we decided to go ahead with it..mostly because our son, Danny, is a bit like a puppy. Sweet, good-natured and happy when he is well-exercised. When he’s not, he’s bound to chew through entire bags of marshmallows and break a lot of stuff.

Eventually, I did read the email, and was dismayed to see that two of the tournaments conflicted with our long-scheduled trip to Cape Cod. With a tournament the first and second weekend of our trip to the Cape, we would have to shorten our stay from 8 days to four, which was unacceptable. It takes a whole day just to get over the fast food hangover from the drive up! I was not about to allow this beast called Travel Lacrosse to screw up my vacay plans.

And so, I thought outside of the box and made a daring decision: if Danny is old enough to travel to various other states to play lacrosse, I reasoned, than surely he is old enough to fly unaccompanied.

And so, on that gorgeous Friday morning, I farmed out my oldest son and younger daughter to helpful friends, left the Cape at 8 AM Friday morning and drove to the airport to put Danny on a plane to Baltimore, where my husband would meet him and drive him to the tournament in Williamsburg, VA. This may sound needlessly complicated and expensive to many of you whose children are not involved in elite sports. You have to understand, these are the sacrifices we make to watch our children lose game after game (thank goodness for the mercy, or “slaughter” rule. Maybe “elite” is a stretch…perhaps “enthusiastic” is a better adjective.) Plus, thanks to the thousands of dollars of sports equipment and team fees on our Southwest Visa card, we were able to get the ticket virtually for free (or for 300,000,000 points).

At first, everything went beautifully: We found a parking space, checked in, got through security, and got to the gate without incident. I put an excited, happy Danny on the plane and watched the aircraft soar into the sky (well, I was actually reading on my kindle, but I totally asked around to make sure it took off okay).

As I strolled back to my car, I wondered what I had been so nervous about! Smiling, thinking about the the relaxing day ahead, I reached my car door and waited for the “beep-beep!” and clicking noise as the door unlocked.


I stood in front of my car door for a moment, staring at it accusingly. “Where is the “beep-beep?!!!” I wondered. I tried the handle. Locked. Peering through the window, I confirmed that it was, in fact, my vehicle. The donut crumbs and sticky ice cream covered spoons could possibly have belonged to some other slovenly family, but there was all my luggage, locked in the trunk.

I emptied out my purse. Maybe the fancy key fob had malfunctioned. They HAD to be in there.

They weren’t.

I have spent my life losing things. I have left my purse in grocery carts in parking lots, my credit cards at various malls and stores, my gas caps at gas stations all over the east coast. Travel mugs. Lunchboxes. Sunglasses. Headphones. Underwear. Children. You name it, I’ve lost it. So, did I panic? Of course not. I took a deep breath, and followed my usual MO in any lost-object, survival situation:

Step One: Take Stock of Assets:

I had my phone, although it was currently at 24% charge. I had my purse, with money, chapstick, and various club cards and coupons that, in a pinch, I could barter for food and/or shelter. I also had shoes, the clothes on my back, and a pack of gum. Not too bad, all things considered.

Step Two: Retrace My Steps:

For the next two hours, I did that in excruciating, repetitive detail. I looked around my car, under my car, around and under the cars around my car, around and under THOSE cars, slowly retracing my path back into the building, through security (and yes, I know what you’re thinking, I was that annoying lady who bypasses the queue at Security with a sob story and earns the instant hatred of all 200 people in line.) I followed my entire path to the gate in reverse, the whole time berating myself for being so careless. Why, oh why, had I downloaded that most excellent, totally engrossing novella before Danny got on the plane? Why had I read it while I walked back past Security, went to the ladies room, washed and dried my hands, and gone on the people mover? Just because I’ve long since perfected the art of reading while walking, due to many years of practice and my freakishly accurate peripheral vision, doesn’t mean I SHOULD do it! It’s like a superpower that I used for evil instead of good. I probably left my car keys dangling somewhere because I was so focused on the wicked games in the ebook “Wicked Games.” (It’s really good, though- you should totally download it after you read this).

But my car keys weren’t on the back of the bathroom stall door, or under my chair at the gate, or by the cashier at the airport store. I retraced my steps over and over and over again. I filled out luggage tags with my name and cell phone number, with LOST KEYS in the address line, and handed them out to everyone I could think of. I asked the janitors, the TSA workers, the harried Southwest employees, the travelers, and the bartenders. I hit pay dirt when I asked the state police officer on duty. He started following me around, giving me advice, and introducing me to various airport workers who looked at me pityingly and offered helpful suggestions like, “Have you tried retracing your steps?”

Then came the Text that Changed Everything: a picture of Danny, taken by my husband, standing at the gate in Baltimore, with my car keys dangling from his hand:

"Seriously, mom?"
“Seriously, mom?”


In a daze, I purchased an $80 super-charger so my phone could keep up with the flurry of helpful phone calls and texts from my husband such as “Where the f r u?” and “Jesus Shit!”

Obviously, it was time for Step 3: Wait for Eric to Fix Everything:

And, to be fair, he did. Miraculously, he found an employee in the Southwest Cargo Department who, for $60, put them on a plane bound for Boston. I only had to wait until they arrived at the Cargo desk at 7:00 to pick them up.

From then on, the day was gravy. I discovered a place called “Dine Boston,” where I blissfully sat and devoured a delicious turkey club sandwich with sweet potato fries, a pint of Allegash and, to reward myself for my strength in the face of adversity, a giant mint brownie a la mode. I was in a much better mood afterward, and used my new supercharger to download some more excellent ebooks to pass the time while I waited for my car keys to arrive. “Wicked Games II?” Don’t mind if I do!

A few hours later, as I lovingly reunited with my car keys at the Southwest Cargo counter, I reflected on this life of intrigue and adventure that my car keys enjoy. Some of you may remember that a few months ago my intrepid keys were abducted by some car thieves (along with my van) when my husband unthinkingly forgot to remind me to take the keys out of the vehicle. This time, they made an unscheduled trip down the east coast! Who knows where they will end up next! One day they may star in a movie of their own life story. I like to think my character will be played by Jennifer Lopez,whom my mother-in-law swears I look like, and Eric doesn’t disagree (he knows better)

Many of you are wondering just how the keys ended up on the plane and hoping for a explanation in true “Encyclopedia Brown” style. Sorry, that’s the keys’ story. You will have to wait for the movie. Or at least the next blog installment.

And by the way, Danny’s team won exactly one game at the lacrosse tournament.

Legos in the Time of Cholera

Today’s post comes from Walter Reed National Naval Medical Center…our home away from home.  I, who am so directionally impaired that I still use my iphone to get to most of Arlington’s grocery stores, can find my way to this hospital with my eyes closed. For the record, I highly discourage eyes-closed driving in general. However, I now have an uncharacteristic homing instinct for the medical facility due to our frequent trips here.

On Monday, our appointment again turned into the seemingly inevitable:  IV fluids and admission to the pediatric floor. Jake and I have developed our own coping mechanisms: his involve Cartoon Network and MarioKart, while mine involve chocolate chip cookies and ebooks with steamy characters named “Daemon” who shoot light out of their fingertips.

While these binge-based strategies help while away the hours and keep us from killing each other, we are both more sullen than usual because WE WERE JUST HERE one week ago when Jake had a bad stomach bug.  On the one hand, I remember the nurses names and where they hide the styrofoam cups, but on the other hand, my back has only just recovered from five grueling nights on the torture device that doubles as a visitor mattress that doubles as a chair.

As recently as two weeks ago, everything was going smoothly. Plans for a fun weekend at the beach were well-formed and progressing easily. On Saturday, we drove to my parent’s beach house, ate a delicious chile dinner, played a rousing game of Apples to Apples and went fishing off the Indian Bay jetty. Then, sometime around midnight, I was awakened by loud retching sounds coming from the kids’ bedroom. I rushed into a minefield of vomit. The bed, floor, other bed, curtain, nightstand, pillows, lamp, wall, and possibly ceiling fan were all spattered with exorcist-grade puke. My poor 10 year old was spewing last night’s chile like a supercharged AK-47 from “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare”.  I ducked for cover and called for back-up. As usual, back-up inexplicably snored through the unholy racket, so I was forced to lob pillows at his head.

It was a bad night for everyone.

The next morning, a couple hours after Danny passed out on the living room couch with his face in a bowl of ice chips, a rumpled Jake appeared and squintily announced his stomach hurt, and proceeded to hurl several times. Then, both boys started with diarrhea. From then on, things went downhill. Plans became loose and unformed. Horrible noises and smells were unleashed upon the world. And we cut short our beach vacay, knowing that a GI bug for Jake often means a hospital visit due to his kidney transplant.

And that’s how Jake and I ended up celebrating Memorial Day in the ER. On the plus side, it was not a popular destination choice that weekend, so it was easy to find a parking place.

A few hours and needle sticks and hours later, labs showed he was severely dehydrated with his creatinine at an all time high of 3.1. Once again we found ourselves making the trip from the ER to the pediatric ward.

Unfortunately, this last hospitalization was a long one, as Jake’s diarrhea just wouldn’t quit. We were in the hospital for 7, long, poop-filled days, one of which was Jake’s 13th birthday. We both discovered that there is only so much binge-watching of Teen Titans and Adventure Time a person can do without starting to hallucinate portals to worlds populated by talking vegetables. Jake kept the crazy at bay through Lego Therapy:  the choosing, purchasing, and building of various Lego sets. By the end of the week, he had several Star Wars spaceships lined up on the windowsill and neither one of us was dreaming in animation anymore. Much.

While Jake was constructing his way to sanity, I found my own in short walks around the military base, lattes from the downstairs coffee shop, and a borrowed laptop from the Red Cross Center.  

For those of you unfamiliar with Walter Reed, it is a huge, gated military compound that seems to be almost self-sustaining. It would definitely be a good place to ride out the zombie apocalypse. The medical facility sprawls over several acres and has 9 labyrinthine buildings with every medical specialization you can imagine (i.e. Apheresis )  Every building, zone, and even many hallways have names that inspire confidence and patriotism: “President Zone.” “America Boulevard.” ” Eagle Building.”  “Warrior Hall.” I often find myself humming “Proud to Be An American” under my breath as I walk by the “Vision Center of Excellence”, or the “Convenience Store of Freedom”. Okay, I made that last one up…but I walk by the VCE every time I check out the movies in the “Redbox of on “Main Street” in “Independence Alley”.

One day I even bravely set out to find the Fitness Center, which suprisingly lacks a superlative prepositional phrase (May I suggest the “Fitness Center of Robustness?”) I soon found out why, as it is comprised of a single room behind the Security Office (which also, disturbingly, lacks a glowing descriptive phrase) next to the boiler room in the basement of an old office building. The gym equipment looks like it is circa 1980 and hasn’t been cleaned since…ever. I imagine that there is a gleaming “Gym of Fabulousness” somewhere that only people who don’t make fun of the base’s patriotic nomenclature get golden keys to. The whole time I was on the treadmill, I gripped my keys between my knuckles the way I learned in self-defense class ( pointy sides out, ladies!) and dialed “91..” on my phone, just in case.

Dangerously close to the pediatric ward (Eagle Building) is the NEX, or Navy Exchange, where you can buy flip-flops, bedspreads, giant bags of pop chips, or pretty much anything you want. Be careful if you visit this shopping mecca, because you just might find yourself walking out with 4 pairs of shoes (20% off, and TAX FREE, hello, BARGAIN!).

Walter Reed is also where combat veterans recently returned from overseas come to heal and rehabilitate. It is common to see large, muscular men missing an appendage or two scootering or meandering around on space-age prosthetic limbs.  Most of these men look like romantic protagonists in  science fiction/fantasy novels, with their titanium extremeties and chiseled jaws. I smile at them and hope they understand that I’m too chicken to say what I want to say, (Thank you for your service and sacrifice to our country! OMG you are so HAWT! Can I touch your titanium? Do you even understand how amazingly miraculous you are? Can I take your picture and pretend I know you?) It’s probably good that I’m chicken, or some wounded warrior’s wife would probably take a gleaming prosthesis and beat me over the head with it.  In all seriousness,  I treasure the privilege of sharing a medical care facility with these rock stars. The both humble and inspire me and I am full of admiration and awe.

And so, today, as we while away yet another day in the hospital (hopefully our last for a while!) I remember to be grateful. I am grateful for this place, with its competent, efficient staff, clean, modern facilities and unapologetic patriotism. I am grateful for the amazing sacrifices of those veterans I see around me and their commitment to our country. I am grateful for my husband, my parents, and my children, for whacked out cartoons with weird metaphysical references and talking inanimate objects, for this laptop, for books about hot aliens who fight zombies, and for Legos. Our life is a roller coaster-one that right now involves way too much poop- but I plan to squeeze out (sorry…hehe) as much joy and fun, and yes, poop jokes, as I can out of it.



How To Maximize Your Efficiency as a Working Mom (Or, Why My Children Really Need to Floss. Really.)

As I mentioned in my earlier posts, I have a job. This primarily gets me out of doing unpleasant chores at home, such as cleaning the toilet, rearranging the kitchen silverware drawer, and taking care of the children. I’ve discovered it provides a convenient excuse for not doing other things as well- returning phone calls from the dentist’s office, going to the dentist, exercising, grocery shopping, paying fees for forgotten dentist appointments, etc… The problem is that all of the things I don’t have time to do anymore still need to eventually get done. You can only dodge the dentist for so long, especially if your kids think candy is an important part of the food pyramid.  And so, inexorably, I am now cramming all of my to-do list into my three free precious hours each afternoon. 


My last class is dismissed at 12:20, and the bus drops the little angels off on my street at 3:53. Plenty of time, as my husband points out, to exercise, do the grocery shopping, run an errand or two, clean up the kitchen, start dinner, and then meet the bus with a big smile on my face. 


This sounds reasonable. In fact, he is helpful enough to suggest that I bring my lunch and gym clothes with me when I leave for work in the morning, so I can eat and work out without coming home first. He is full of good ideas, my husband. 


So, on Monday morning, I lock the door behind me, burdened like a sherpa with the following items.  

 1. My daughter’s zebra striped backpack: Yes, I know she should carry her own backpack. Don’t judge me. You have no idea the raving lunatic my daughter can morph into before leaving the house in the morning. It is a Herculean victory simply to get her to wear pants each day.

 2. My school bag:  weighing approximately 50 pounds, this contains 7-8 textbooks, various dry erase markers I have pilfered from my daughter’s collection, 4 granola bars, and 1-2 pieces of (slowly rotting) fruit 

 3. My gym bag: which is very light, because as I will discover later, I have forgotten my sports bra.  And my hair clip. And my sneakers.

 4. My lunch: a yogurt. Healthy, and easy to eat on the go! If you have a spoon. 

 5. My purse: the contents of which are a continual mystery to me. For example, on an average day it might contain an Altoids tin full of pennies, an open pack of fruit snacks melded to the lining and encrusted with goldfish crumbs, a punch card for a dry cleaning establishment in North Carolina, a mostly empty stainless steel coffee mug, and a sock. 

 6. A Target bag: Perhaps I neglected to mention that there is a Super-Target across the street from my new workplace. The giant red bulls-eye is a homing beacon that draws me in almost every day on my way home. All under one wonderful roof, I can get groceries, socks, school supplies, shampoo, novelty toothbrushes, new ear buds, a big screen TV, a Frappucino, and a sense of purpose.  Most days, whatever I get is, according to my children/husband/dog, the wrong size/kind/color/flavor/brand and must be exchanged, thus necessitating another trip to Target. And so the vicious (and expensive) cycle continues. 


And so at 8:25 AM the car is loaded for the day’s activities. At 8:35, I drop my children and the zebra backpack off at school (five minutes before the school is technically open, but who’s counting?) At 8:42 I arrive at school and begin my morning of conjugating verbs, sharing cultural tidbits, and helping my Saudi Arabian students learn to navigate our inexplicable society (that’s a whole other blog entry!)


12:25: I am out the door before the bell stops ringing. On my way to the car, I stop to ask the academic director a quick question. 


12:52: I am out the door for real this time. I don’t even stop to punch out. Let them think I worked for 28 hours straight. What a dedicated employee. 


12:58: I ride the gleaming elevator to the 3rd floor of Target.The glass doors glide open with a faint, familiar snick as I grab a cherry red cart, and get shopping. List? Who needs a list? 


2:05: The cold air of the parking garage snaps me right out of my shopping trance. I feel slightly disoriented as I unload the sea of plastic bags into my half full trunk. Why did I get eight packages of turkey bacon? Perhaps the 6 new throw pillows were an extravagance. But the dog keeps eating them. And everything is 5% off with my Red Card! Like I always tell my husband, you have to spend money to save money. 


2:10: Regrets quashed, I peel out of the parking garage determined to make the most of the next hour and 40 minutes. My stomach grumbles, so I decide to eat and drive. Unfortunately, I have forgotten a spoon. God I’m hungry. 


2:13: Stopped at a red light, a woman in the car next to me is staring at me with a look of- disgust? Or is it admiration? I slurp a big glob of raspberry Chobani off my finger.   I want to roll the window down and tell her I used hand sanitizer first. And that it was either my finger or a pencil from the glove compartment. I think I made the right decision. 


2:20: Changing in the locker room of 24 hour fitness, I decide I will improvise. No hair band, no problem! I can tie my hair back with this handy trouser sock! And, I can totally ride the stationary bike in clogs. If I arrange the deep V neck of my t-shirt just right, you can only see the edges of my (non-sports) bra. I realize I will have to be careful not to lean over, or bounce up and down, or basically move.


2:25: I decide to go home and run on the basement treadmill instead. 


2:26: I make a U-turn and head to the library to pick up Jake, because “it’s COLD and he has a TON of homework.” This provides a perfect opportunity for me to return the overdue books that I hope are still in the car somewhere, pay my fine, and get the children some new library books. 


2:58: I stagger into the house with 7 Target bags of groceries on each arm, as Jake disappears into the basement to play the X-box.  I should yell at him and make him start his homework, but I just don’t have time right now. In a flurry of plastic bags, packages of turkey bacon and toiletries, I put away the refrigerated items and rush to get my work out clothes on. 


3:08:  On my way down to the basement, I realize I should really start the dishwasher, since it takes 195 minutes to run. Plus, I need to defrost the chicken for dinner. 


3:32: I get on the treadmill. 


3:49: I get off the treadmill. I have run for 17 minutes, and gone 1.5 miles. 


3:52: As I close the front door behind me, I can see the flashing yellow lights of the school bus at the end of the street. Great. I add another 1/4 mile to my total distance as I sprint to the bus stop. 


3:54: My daughter tearfully reprimands me as we walk home from the bus stop (you were LATE! He wouldn’t let me get OFF THE BUS! etc.) I think about how I need to  pick Danny up at 4:45 from chess club, get him ready for basketball, finish dinner and help everyone with their homework. 


After I get home and fix everyone a nice turkey bacon snack, I realize that making the most of my afternoons is going to take some practice. The dentist may have to wait a few months before I get the hang of it all. 


The Glass (or Mini-Van) is Half-Full (of Trash)

The exciting conclusion to the Saga of The Missing Minivan!!

On a cold, overcast sunday in early January, I get home from work and am looking forward to an afternoon of pricing new minivans (Salsa Red Pearl, Rear Seat Entertainment Center, 38,400 MSRP!)  when the phone rings.

Danny: Hello?

Phone guy: -unintelligible-

Danny: Okay. Just so you know, she doesn’t want to change the phone service. Somebody called about that yesterday and she got really mad.

Phone guy: -unintelligible, yet indignant-

Danny: Well…okay. Here she is.

Me: Hello?

Officer Smith: Hello ma’am. I’m calling from the Arlington County police department to tell you we recovered your car.


Officer Smith: Hello?

Me: Uhh…that’s….great. What condition is it in?

Officer Smith: I have no idea. It’s at an impound lot in PG County. It was found abandoned in an industrial park in District Heights, Maryland.

Me: Do I have to pick it up?

Officer Smith: Excuse me?

Me: Uh….I mean, do I have to pick it up now? I just put my slippers on.

Officer Smith: No ma’am…you have to bring proof of ownership to the PG county police station and get a release form. Then, you bring that to the impound lot and get your car.

Me: That sounds like a fun way to spend the afternoon.

Officer Smith: Ma’am, you want your car back, don’t you?

At this point, there is a long pause. I think about the gleaming, pearly salsa-red lines of a new minivan as I float down I-495, listening to my favorite Pandora station as the children quietly bask in their own individual rear-seat entertainment cocoons. The bisque leather interior and floor mats are spotless, the windows are clean and free of impound lot stickers and the sun is shining.

Me: (Heavy sigh). I guess so.

And that is how I end up spending my 40th birthday- not throwing back margaritas with girlfriends and dancing to Pink (OK, that wasn’t going to happen anyway, but a girl can dream) -but on a 7-hour-long Minivan Recovery Quest that takes me across state lines into the heart of PG county and back again,

I begin my JRR Tolkien-style journey at home, where I leave my house in Arlington provisioned with a bottle of water, a credit card, and my heavy traveling gloves. I walk to the Falls Church metro station, where I wait for 20 freezing minutes in the Great Wind Tunnel to be whisked away into the subterranean heart of Washington DC. After navigating the labyrinthine bowels of Metro Center, I disembark at majestic Union Station and again brave the frigid temperatures in a brutal 4 minute walk to the Dirksen Building where I meet my traveling companion, Eric “Aragorn” Bader. We complete the next leg of the journey by Jeep, crossing into Mary-land and arriving at JD Towing in the waning hours of the afternoon.  As we approach our van, we are filled with trepidation: The remnants of a smoke-filled, fast-food fueled night of crime, violence and mayhem surely await us. We shudder to think of the congealed cheese, mummified french fries, drug paraphernalia, and bloodstains that surely mar the formerly pristine interior.  What unspeakable horrors (or acts of passion?) have been committed in our fold-down third row seat?

As we approach the van, we cheer to find it unscathed-from the outside. Then we open the door.

Trash litters the car from one end to the other. Random objects, such as articles of clothing (is that underwear?!!!) are scattered over the upholstery and the floor mats. The smell, a combination of feet, dog sweat, and decomposing food, is overpowering.

My partner and I high-five each other in the time-honored gesture of victory.

“Just the way we left it!” We crow to each other. Right down to the rotting banana in the backseat cupholder.  I am giddy with relief and a smug sense of satisfaction. I KNEW It. I knew  that fundamentally, people don’t suck. I KNEW that Arlington car thieves would be polite and respectful of the property they stole. I am almost surprised not to find a thank you note on the dashboard:

Dear Car Owner, 

Thank you for the use of your van. It is a sweet ride. We figured since you left the keys in the glove box that you wouldn’t mind if we took it for a spin. Sorry for the inconvenience.” 


Car Thieves

The gas tank may be empty, but my heart is full. Who knows why the car thieves were so polite? Maybe they had an attack of conscience. Maybe they figured the van had seen enough abuse. But for whatever reason, they left the registration in the glove box, a $200 pair of sunglasses on the seat, and the car keys on the console.

The sun grows low on the horizon over gutted car skeletons and barbed wire, as we race to the county police station to get the form to release our van. One hour and twenty minutes later, we arrive back at the impound lot with just 15 minutes to spare before the office and gates are locked for the night. At 4:27 PM on January 8th, a mere six hours before the anniversary of the hour of my birth, we make our triumphant departure from JR Towing.

As I crawl through rush hour traffic back through DC and into VA, I reacquaint myself with my second home. The coffee stain on the floor mat. The gum wrappers forever trapped between the drivers seat and the console. Maybe it’s just the seat warmer, but I feel a toasty sense of well being come over me as I relax into the familiar surroundings.  On the minus side, there are the hundreds of dollars of recovery fees,  the inconvenience of not having a second car for 8 days, and the possibility that our van was used to transport a dead body. But, on the plus side, we got the van back with all of our belongings intact. They also left the bass turned all the way up and the radio tuned to 93.9, a radio station which plays DC’s Best Mix of sR&B and Hip-Hop. Thanks for broadening our musical horizon, courteous urban felons! And so, as the quote goes,

Alls well that ends well: still the fine’s the crown;Whate’er the course, the end is the renown.” –

While it’s possible that William Shakespeare never owned a minivan, he certainly understood this basic truth: “If your minivan gets jacked, and you get it back unharmed, you should crank that shit up and dance in the drivers’ seat all the way home.”  

And, much to my children’s chagrin, I do.

Bader Family Christmas Letter

It is a sad fact that a small percentage of the Christmas cards we send out do not reach their destinations. Some languish in postal purgatory. Some come back marked “Return to Sender,” because you crazy kids keep moving. Some fall behind the china hutch and are discovered months later and furtively buried in the recycling pile (WHAAAT? You didn’t get our letter? Damn the Postal Service!)  If you were one of those unfortunate souls who did not receive our letter this year, this is for you.

January 3, 2014

Dear Family, Friends, and Car Thieves,

Let us be the first to wish you a very happy MLK Day. Most bible scholars agree that the actual Nativity happened in June. Did you send your holiday cards too early? Our cards finally arrived here yesterday after an Incredible Journey through the postal system, which included a detour at our previous Cape Cod address. Our Sandwich friends will surely see this as a sign that we are destined to return!

In perhaps another sign that the Baders are not meant for the big city, our new Toyota Sienna inexplicably disappeared from the driveway recently. Although a minivan would not seem a typical target for hardened criminals, it boasts a killer moonroof and can comfortably seat up to 8 crackheads. The stellar Arlington, VA police force assure us that “It may turn up eventually….or not.” Thank you for all your kind Facebook inquiries – the Jeep is safe and sound with nary a scratch.

Otherwise, we’ve made a fairly smooth transition from the Cape to DC. Last summer, after the movers unloaded the shattered remnants of our dining room set from their truck (“who do I tip?”), we paused to reflect on another fantastic year on the Cape: volleyball, movie nights, back yard ice rinks and the best U10 baseball team to ever complete a winless all star season. Great memories, but we’re slowly acclimating to the hustle, bustle, and oppressive traffic of America’s 4th least desirable large city (look out Detroit, Baltimore and Memphis… we’re coming for you!) While we enjoy the restaurants, cultural opportunities and friendly neighbors, we are not fans of the area’s high housing prices, crowded schools and car thieves.

As a Fellow on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Eric is enjoying the rare opportunity to see the American legislative process in all its dysfunctional glory. When things are not going well on the hill, he critiques Senatorial wardrobe on C-Span (“Cowboy boots and a smoking jacket!? No wonder we have a 5 percent approval rating”), fills the copier with paper (Senatorial paper), and makes coffee.  When Congress is actually working, he helps write speeches, manages accounts, crunches numbers, AND makes the coffee. When he’s not working or mired in Beltway road rage, Eric cheers for Danny at the hockey rink, picks out delicious calorie bombs at the Heidleberg bakery with Anna, or shoots up town with Jake on the X-box.

Kristi made her much anticipated return to the workforce this Fall, teaching English as a second language to fully veiled Saudi Arabian women at the Language Company here in Virginia. She must be doing an exceptional job, as her students continue to bring in Middle Eastern delicacies to show their appreciation, such as a fistful of small dehydrated objects, which were either dried limes or shrunken heads. Either way, they were delicious. Although the job is part-time, (“party-time” as her students call it), Kristi is finding it challenging to balance home and work. She occasionally makes mistakes such as accidentally sending holiday cards to the wrong state or perhaps leaving the car keys in the car.  Oh, and she also started a blog: If you post a nice comment she may put some more stuff on there for your reading pleasure. Or maybe she’ll just read another vampire romance novel. Time will tell.

Jake is already tired of fast-paced city life, as he tells us loudly and often.  He walks 1.2 miles to school, sits in class alongside his 975 classmates, and toils for hours on homework at night. But, we are very proud to report he made the 7th grade honor roll!  He also started tennis lessons this Fall and took up the drums. What an inspired musical choice for the whole family, here in our poorly-insulated house with 1600 square feet of living space!

Danny has become quite the Renaissance man this year. He made the honor roll and was chosen to babysit the class hamster, Hampton, over winter break. He is taking guitar lessons (you should hear his soulful rendition of the “Mission Impossible” theme) and has become an enthusiastic member of the Tuckahoe Elementary Chess Club. He is the starting center for the NOVA Icedogs, and can usually be found at the ice rink, the basketball court, the lacrosse, or the baseball diamond on any given weekend. Before leaving the Cape, Dan had a great a great spring playing for Coach Ned’s Sandwich lacrosse team and Coach Ken’s U9 All-Star baseball team.

Anna has adjusted well to the big city too. Which is to say, there have only been a few dozen temper tantrums, less than ten outright refusals to wear clothes, and only one morning spent hiding under the bedspread from the stresses of first grade. But, it turns out you can buy wine in Virginia supermarkets! We have discovered that easy access to alcohol is the key to getting through soccer practice if your crying daughter won’t turn loose of your pant leg to kick the ball. In a fit of optimism, we also signed Anna up for her cousin John’s softball team. Thank goodness her assistant coach, Danny, was able to coax her out of the dugout, and she ended up having a great time as Coach John’s “designated fielder.” Anna has become a great reader, enjoying the antics of Junie B., Frog and Toad, and those crazy Jewel fairies.

Lastly, we’re happy to report that Bingo has adjusted well to Northern Virginia. He enjoys barking loudly and frequently at any dogs or people that stray within a 30 foot radius of our house, except apparently car thieves. He is currently obsessed with eating the hamster before we send him back to school after the break. God speed, Hampton.

The best part of living in Arlington is our proximity to loved ones – Kristi’s parents, many beloved cousins and our Coast Guard friends. However, it is bittersweet as we reflect on the good friends left behind on Cape Cod as well as those in far flung places like Hawaii, Colorado, and Alaska. We hope that 2014 finds many of those friends visiting us  at our new home, where we boast a lovely and cozy guest room/basement/rec room/drum studio! We promise you will have a great time visiting the amazing sights of the nation’s capital! As long as you remember to lock your car.


Kristi, Eric, Jake, Danny and Anna

Then and Now: How working has made my life easier

THEN:  September 2013

My 9 year old, Danny, is my inspiration. The other day, after listening to his older brother throw a conniption fit about having to do some chore or other (think “tortured hyena”) , he noted, “Jake, you whine too much. Just one man’s opinion.”

The 9 year old view is piercing in its clarity- as well as merciless and often hilarious. He states the truth unflinchingly whether you want to hear it or not.

Sometimes his truth differs from mine, like when he says “What do you do around here, mom? We do chores all day long while you sit at the computer.”

But you never doubt his sincerity.

And even when he’s wrong, he makes me think. Here I am in Arlington, with all the kids in school all day for the first time. What on earth do I do with myself? Besides chores (which apparently I don’t get credit for anyway)?  My identity as a wife and mother suddenly seems inadequate compared to all the other playground moms. Here is a snapshot of the difference between my Cape Cod and Arlington experiences:

Me: “Do you work?”

Cape Cod Mom: (blank stare) “That would really interfere with my beach time.”

Me: “Do you work?”

Arlington Mom: “Yes, I am a lawyer and practice some optometry on the side. In my spare time I am vice president of a production company.”

As a woman who went to a feminist college, I should be rejoicing in my sisters’ success, but I can’t help but feel a bit crestfallen at how educated and successful everyone is. I was used to being one of the smarter mom on the playground. Now I am the slacker mom. While these moms are planning business trips to California and going to board meetings, I might pull a few weeds in the front yard or do a load of laundry- and that’s on a good day.

I inevitably leave these playdates feeling like I need to get a job. But as soon as I walk into my house and see the piles of framed photos stacked against the walls, the shelves from Pottery Barn still in the packages, and the carcass of a new entertainment center scattered across the floor (lacking the hardware, sadly), I think, “No. Way.”

I am pretty sure that makes me either lazy or cowardly. Especially since all those home projects are not getting done anytime soon, unless I can nag my husband into doing them. (When it comes to husband-nagging, I am truly an artist. It’s an important and undervalued skill that unfortunately one cannot put on a resume. Why do any job if you can talk a man into doing it for you? Especially if it’s unpleasant and involves power tools. )

I am horrified to read my last few sentences. What happened to young feminist from my college days who wanted to rule the world? That girl has been replaced by one who would much rather sit on the couch eating frozen yogurt reading paranormal romance novels.  Because, let’s face it, that’s just more fun than ruling the world. That’s my truth…just one mom’s opinion.


NOW: January 2014

Fast forward a couple of months, and much has changed in the Bader household. The entertainment center sits neatly assembled in the corner, a testament to my husband’s handyman skills and saint-like patience. The pottery barn shelves adorn our wall, showcasing wedding photographs. Oh, and I have a job.

Why did I get a job? Why wasn’t the home and hearth fulfilling enough?  You see, I wanted to challenge myself, to use my brain and expensive education to better the world and contribute to the public sphere, and in doing so, neatly avoid all the chores at home.

Okay, so it was mostly the last part.

The basement storage area is a sea of half opened boxes and half empty plastic containers, none of which have matching lids- despite the fact that I have a stack of 12 lids teetering in the corner. Toys, books, household goods at one point were vaguely divided into groups but after a few months these piles have slowly coalesced into one big mess, a sea of belongings with no discernible organization or purpose. I avert my eyes each time I walk into the laundry room, which is not often.

Then there’s the garage. There are several piles of things to give away that successfully migrated from the basement, but are in limbo there, never having made it to the Goodwill or Salvation Army.  A TV..a table…a coffeemaker…a homeless person could be quite comfortable there. Then there are the piles of the kids’ toys, dusty,  and unassembled (the soccer goal). All of this is blanketed by a thick layer of dead leaves, which drift in from the driveway on a daily basis.  All in all, the scene is practically post-apocalyptic.

And there is the first I made a token effort at weeding, but it turns out weeding really sucks. Every time I do yard work (once every 6 months or so) I am surprised at how unpleasant it is. The front yard doesn’t look too bad- the shovels, skateboards, and other random objects (a plastic bag…a clementine peel..etc.) hide a lot of it. The back yard, on the other hand, is another post-apocalyptic scene: its centerpiece is a rusting, broken down playset which I guess we thought we would fix up when we decided to rent the house.  (What? It could happen!) Next to it is a basketball hoop laying on its side. The small garden area in the back bears the evidence of my husband’s short-lived gardening efforts..various lawn tools scattered around the remnants of herbs and vegetables which were immediately devoured by rabbits.

So many thankless and unpleasant tasks faced me at home. But now that I have a job, I have an excuse not to do them. And I am out of the house so I don’t have to look at the messes. It’s really win-win.

In addition, the pressure of being a stay-at -home mom seemed to worsen, not improve, with all of my kids in school all day. The grocery shopping alone was matter how often I went to the store, I couldn’t keep up with my children’s demands for fruit, yogurt, goldfish crackers, popcorn, etc.  Then it dawned on me that no matter how much I buy, they will eat it all. It was a losing battle. And since I was home all day, I had no excuse not to go to the store.

Any time anyone in the family needed anything- dry cleaning, school supplies, dog food. I felt obligated to get it ASAP because, really, what else did I have to do? If Danny forgot his homework, I had to drop everything and run up to the school. If Jake didn’t want to walk home from school, I had to pick him up. If Anna decided she didn’t like any of her underwear, I had to immediately buy new underwear.  I felt like everyone’s personal assistant. And I hated it.

Now, if someone needs something, I simply say, “I’m sorry. I have to work. You’ll have to get your own dry cleaning/remember your own homework/walk home from school/wear the 16 pairs of underwear you already have.” I know it’s not fair. I know you don’t want to. I’m sorry. That’s how it is.”

It’s awesome. I should have gotten a job a long time ago.