Dog Gone: Dating Tips from Mom


My beloved firstborn—

Your sixteenth birthday is on the horizon, and I’ve come to realize that I haven’t had the good fortune of witnessing many of your interactions with those of the female persuasion. Somehow I’m just not privy to those goings-on. Like how did I miss that rich seven-word conversation you had with the cute, personable softball player a couple weeks ago that led your little brother to declare that you’re “so good with the girls”? Since you decided to forgo homecoming, and you haven’t technically, officially gone out on a date (although there was that one time someone special offered to bring you a Big Mac at 10 p.m. on a school night), not much has blossomed in that department.

And to be honest, I’m thankful we’re not there yet. I feel like the countdown is on until you leave for college anyway, so what’s the rush? I love having you around. That story we watched about the Denver Bronco who lived in his parents’ basement his rookie year made my heart sing with hope.

But there are other instances, quite frankly, that have me concerned. More specifically, your relationship with the other lady in your life, our little Chihuahua terrier, Lena. Although she’s only been with our family a year and a half, we’ve learned this: She’s dainty yet fierce. Timid yet protective. When her lithe, ten-pound body struts and prances down the street, auburn hair gleaming, big doe eyes scanning the neighborhood like she owns it, her tail (and nose) pointed straight toward the heavens, velvety ears bouncing in the breeze, she’s a force to be reckoned with.

However, I must say—while we don’t have a basement—if your future dating experiences mirror your relationship with her, well, I’m afraid you may be holed up with mom and dad for a very loooonnnggg time. In fact, you might consider putting together your audition tapes for The Bachelor now.

So based on my observations of you and Lena, I’d like to offer some tips:

1. Tune in to cues. Slinking into a room with an expression befitting Jack Nicholson in The Shining does not encourage warmth or trust. Blowing a referee whistle while pumping your fist doing a Fortnite dance is not soothing. A half-filled hamper is not a cozy resting spot. If she makes a beeline for the stairs or hides behind the couch when you enter the room, things are not looking good. Likewise, it’s not too promising if she waits until you leave to make her entrance.

And while you may think it’s humorous to dribble a few water droplets on her head or roll a foam ball toward her like she’s a mini-bowling pin, it’s not. I once had a boyfriend who uproariously shook a Honey Bucket while I was tending to matters inside. It wasn’t funny. Or endearing. You know how she bolts at the tiniest whisper of passed gas? Pay attention. Be in tune. You can learn a lot through someone’s actions and subtle (or not-so-subtle) cues.

2. Follow through, always. Saying, “You want to go for a walkie?” and having no intention of strapping on her harness and taking her for one is uncool. Offering a treat and then not giving one is just plain mean. Inconsistency is confusing. So please don’t tell someone you’ll textie or callie if you don’t mean it. It’s simple: don’t say it unless you’re going to do it. Period. You may be a man of few words, but make sure they’re authentic ones. Being a man of your word is one of the greatest traits you can bring to the world.

3. Be honest about your feelings. I’m your mom. I see you. I see how you’re the last one to give her a snuggle and say goodnight. You’re the first one to stretch out beside her in the morning when she’s sprawled in bed. You’re her comforter on road trips. There’s really no need to act like you don’t like her; we can see otherwise. Pretending you don’t like someone to take the sting away when she ignores or rejects you doesn’t work. Be open. Be vulnerable. Be real. Be you. Do that, and great things will happen.

Oh, and one more thing. These tips? They also apply to friendship. Be this kind of friend and you’re certain to make some that will last a lifetime.

With lots of love—and Big Macs,

Your #1 human girl (for now),



The Complaining Californian

IMG_3577It took 2.5 days to turn this California native into a complainer. Scratch that. Eighteen hours. It was the snow we’d wanted, hoped for, even longed for. “I just want the kind where I can sit by the window and admire its beauty while I drink my coffee,” I shared with the bus driver the week before. Give me snow, but in my comfort zone.

The picturesque, peaceful, postcard kind.

Instead, it dumped about ten inches in our Washington neighborhood, and I went from the lighthearted laughter of watching Peyton Manning’s intro and the NFL 100 commercial into an avalanche of complaining and critiquing. It started with the early-morning phone call to my husband, the former Alaska resident, who was pulled over at the AM/PM getting gas. Why are semi trucks in ditches? Why is there a Camaro in the intersection? Why is my husband in peril? (He wasn’t.) Where is the DOT?

And the constant questioning and second-guessing continued from there, a barrage of negativity. Why aren’t the main thoroughfares salted? Plowed? It started snowing when I left Safeway yesterday. I thought the USPS delivered in rain, sleet and snow? Why is my teenager waiting for the bus for 25 minutes; what about his poor, cold little piggies? Why a 2-hour delay? Is this safe? Are the buses chained up? Why is school canceled, now we have another make-up day? Why exactly did we buy a 2-wheel drive Highlander?

On and on, my mind raced as my disrupted routine marched on. I trudged through the snow to my part-time job, too terror-stricken to get behind the wheel on the compact snow and ice for the one-mile drive.

I needed a break from myself.

I went out for a short run and at the end, slowed to a walk.

Piles of snow still adorned the trees. The brilliance of the sunshine showed off the dimension of the flakes under the clear blue sky. It was a breathtaking sight. The snowflakes glistened.


There it was, the picturesque, peaceful, postcard. But I was missing it as I focused on road conditions (which I was too chicken to drive in), school alerts (that were either delivered too early or too late) and iPhone forecasts (when did I become a snow expert?).

So as Round Two looms for the weekend, may this complaining Californian seek out the sparkling, glistening beauty that awaits and see that somewhere out there, if I just look intently enough, there really is that postcard.

Teachers: Landmarks & Legacies

Illustration by Cassie Hickinbotham

Just off a state highway, behind an anxiety-inducing parking lot, sits a classroom next to the playground. With plenty of windows to drench the tidy room with sun, it’s full of twenty-four third graders. The second-year teacher speaks to them with a calm pleasantness, in a voice that exudes kindness and warmth as well as authority. She attends PTA skate nights, communicates readily and easily with parents, and handwrites neat, thoughtful profiles of each student for parent conferences. She compiled colorful 2018 calendars as parent gifts—with photo booth-style pictures of each child, every month—for the entire class. It is not an overstatement to say she loves each student.

Two point nine miles southeast of there, in a middle school that’s tucked beside the trees of a serene neighborhood, is an eighth-grade history classroom. The man leading the students has been teaching for twenty-five years. His students don’t simply memorize important dates; they research, understand and form opinions on everything from Columbus to the Constitution and the State of the Union address. When he chaperoned a field trip to UW, he stood in the center of the bus, facing the back, engaging kids about what was going on in the United States in 1861 when the university was founded. Three days after school gets out, he’ll start his summer vacation by boarding a plane with forty-five students and other chaperones to explore DC, Philadelphia, Gettysburg and New York, his eleventh time making the trip. He’ll miss the first week of his son’s Little League All-Star tournament (a team which he also helps coach) to do so.

Two miles northeast of there is a former kindergarten teacher who now teaches PE. North of there is the arts teacher who, two years ago at another school, planned and executed two musical reviews at the civic auditorium for 700+ elementary kids, complete with singing, dancing and costumes, all while teaching students about Bach and Beethoven during the week.

Back at the school off that state highway, there’s a kindergarten teacher with a patient, melodic voice who introduces uncertain little ones to a sense of community and belonging. And the second-grade teacher who has students write about themselves and capture their memories; she’ll hold on to those for ten years and mail them back when they graduate from high school. There’s the fourth-grade teacher who loves to talk about books and is becoming the reading specialist. And the entire fifth-grade team that spends countless hours organizing fundraisers and fine-tuning details for an annual overnight camp, in addition to preparing students for middle school.

Sprinkled throughout the district, like landmarks on a map, are extraordinary teachers. From ones who are just starting their careers to those who’ve been teaching for years, from ones who stay in their beloved roles to those who take on new ones, excellence surrounds our kids.

Teaching is not just what they do—it’s who they are.

Sometimes they move on to different schools, in quaint communities or off busy boulevards. But no matter where they are, teachers generously and faithfully bestow wisdom, build confidence and believe in success as they interact with and influence our kids each day.

Often times, they intersect with our kids in just the right place, at just the right time.

That second-year teacher?

Guess who her eighth-grade history teacher was?

It’s because of the commitment and consistency of teachers that our kids are ready to set forth on their own adventures with confidence—whether it’s embarking on a final year at a cherished elementary school or a bridging to high school.

And like the familiar landmarks that we count on to guide us in our journeys, their teachers’ impact is far greater—and more permanent and profound—than any boundary line that may one day shift.


Youth Sports: Loving Our Kids or Losing Our Marbles?

The final moments of the eight-game, third-grade season are winding down. While the blue team is comfortably ahead, there is one player who still has not scored this season. The coach calls a time-out and devises a play to pass the ball to him. It’s executed beautifully; the cheerful blond boy is wide-open when he gets the ball and shoots from the key. Splash! The entire team erupts in celebration—the boy grins from ear to ear in delight—there is a feeling of sheer joy in that middle-school gymnasium. As the boys walk off the court for the last time, the mood is exuberant. It is a storybook finish to the season. While it has been an exciting victory, there is more elation around the fact that the team shared in their friend’s accomplishment. They’re his biggest supporters, encouragers and cheerleaders. We leave smiling and proud—that’s what youth sports are all about, right? That’s what we do as
parents, too, isn’t it?

Or is it?

Just support, encourage and cheerlead?

Or are we losing our marbles?

Aren’t we the ones who grumble and gripe as we shake our heads in complete and utter disbelief at that third strike, because we ascertained—with our superior vision—that the pitch was low and outside? Or collectively gasp, jump to our feet, throw our hands in the air and offer a few choice words when the guy behind the plate suffers a split-second lapse in judgment and calls our own flesh and blood out—OUT!?—on a slide.

What is it about youth sports that’s making us lose our marbles? Is it the public display of our child’s athletic prowess that evokes such passion? After all, we don’t react the same way when, say, they’re doing their homework. In fact, that Common Core math has us all so confused that we gladly take a step back and let their teachers teach. We shrug our shoulders defeatedly and say, “I’m sorry. I don’t know how to help you. When we were kids we just memorized stuff.”

So what exactly is bringing out our crazy?

Coaching experts tell us that on the drive home after the game, we’re simply supposed to gaze warmly upon our kids and say, “I love watching you play.”


Is that true?

I’ve watched as my son painfully balked in a run. I’ve seen him kick up more dirt than Pig-Pen, almost disappearing in a cloud of dust that swirled up and around him on the mound, while he desperately spun around trying to determine which base to throw to for an out. I’ve witnessed him leaning so far into pitches in the batter’s box that he nearly toppled himself over, like a tipsy Weeble.

“Love” was not what came to mind.

More like “get me out of here” as I eyed the sweltering Honey Bucket—frequented by a slew of man-boys playing in a doubleheader—as my only escape.

Losing my marbles.

We’re not just spectators at their games anymore, either. We’ve become experts in every facet of the sport. It would be such a shame to waste all that knowledge we’ve gleaned from MLB Network, SportsCenter and the NFL Combine, so we generously help out our coaches—without them even having to ask—by calling out two-word instructional tips and reminders that are sure to help our kids feel relaxed and confident out there in the

“Load earlier,” “Box out,” “Choke up,” “Head in,” “Sneak through,” “Hands up,” and on and on.

Even our encouraging words sometimes seem to contain veiled meanings. “Nice hustle,” code for “How come he’s not doing that in the timed mile?” “Not your pitch,” means “Don’t just stand there, swing the bat, for crying out loud.” “Get the rebound!” short for “I guess somebody needs to work on his lay-ups.”

And if we’re not critiquing or offering helpful advice from the stands, we’re discussing our kids like we’re sports-talk radio analysts, unpacking every plate appearance, stat, missed opportunity and our athlete’s dietary keys to success: the weekly intake of Taco Bell Beefy Five-Layer Burritos, a bagful of Takis and Sour Patch Watermelon Slurpees.

We can even find a way to complain about the officiating after a win.

Losing our marbles.

Whatever happened to just cheering for our kids?

Maybe some old-fashioned clapping along with an enthusiastic “Way to go!”?

My son will be fifteen this summer. Those car rides home with us will soon be a thing of the past. I want him to feel (and remember) that I truly did love watching him play. I want to make sure that I’m authentic with my words, tone and actions, so that even my body language is telling him that truth, and that seeking out a Honey Bucket for refuge—or the urge to bite my nails in my stadium chair—doesn’t enter my mind. That when I say “I love watching you play” it means just that, not “I love watching you play, but that third inning was a doozy.”

Another parental window is coming to an all-too-quick close.

I say we just clap, cheer and celebrate like a bunch of giddy, victorious third graders—and simply gaze warmly upon our kids on that car ride home—while we still have the chance.

The High School Transition

I hurry to the middle school’s auxiliary gym; I’m right on time, but still don’t want to be late. I take big, quick steps, not wanting to miss one moment of my fifteen-minute appointment. As I scurry there trying to dodge the rain, I see the sign on the outside of the building: High School Transition. My head spins. Questioning. Transition. That’s not quite the right word. It seems to imply a passage of time, something that we’re preparing for and processing through. A gateway, if you will. But this is too abrupt, too soon.

Too heart-ripping.

High school.

I step inside to the check-in table. The gym is decorated cheerfully with scores of round tables nicely covered with green tablecloths. It feels peaceful and pleasant; it has the delightful charm of a Mother’s Day tea. I sit and wait for my eighth-grade son. We’re here to go over his freshman schedule; he’ll register for classes online right after. He checks-in and sits beside me as we wait for his appointment. The joy-filled laughter of his remarkable counselor lightens the air. His baseball coach from four years ago (one of the high school counselors) offers a good-natured greeting. His English teacher waves.

We make our way to our table. It feels formal, BIG. I try to focus. His science teacher—who sits across on the right—the Present. The affable blonde assistant principal from the high school—who sits across on the left—the Future. They shake our hands, so welcoming and warm, with smiles that convey knowing assuredness. They are kind, attentive, friendly. It’s going to be OK, their faces seem to say.

I try to listen; speak intelligently I tell myself. They hand over printed pages of his grades and state-test results: his “middle school career” summary is placed on the table before me. They may say words like “future” and “success”—but once again, my head is spinning. “He’s worked hard,” is all I can think to say, surprised my voice doesn’t crack.

They are talking to him, engaging him, asking him thought-provoking questions. His interests. His hopes. While I am part of the conversation, I feel myself consciously fade into the background a little bit. It’s high school. That’s what it’s time to do.

As they look over his schedule and we talk about the next steps, I am keenly aware of him—this individual, this young man, who chats politely directly to my left—and I see so much of the Past.

And I understand that that’s how it’s beginning, and eventually how it will come to pass, this momentous High School Transition: with Past, Present and Future sitting down at a table together in the middle-school gymnasium, with mom taking a subtle, ever so slight—maybe even undetected by the outside world—step into the background.

If You Knew Chase…

If you knew Chase, you’d probably notice his walk. Elbows up, arms pumping, his feet moving swiftly—almost a jog—to get him where he’s going. For Chase, it’s like life is the baseball diamond or soccer field and he’s perpetually heading out from the dugout or sidelines, ready for action. There’s an eagerness to him, a hurriedness, in a way—like he doesn’t want to miss out on one minute of any experience or opportunity. Even if he’s just going from his fifth-grade classroom to the playground.

You’d probably also notice how engaging he is. He draws you into conversations, “Hey, did you see that catch I made out in centerfield?” or “Do you guys want some fries and chicken nuggets?” or “Are those blue eyelashes?” He has the gift of chitchat and enjoys talking about everything from social media crazies to Kevin Hart in Captain Underpants to the design of bowling balls or how to become an umpire. Some kids shy away from conversations with adults—maybe too boring, too embarrassing. Not Chase. The guy loves to talk. With adults, kids, friends, acquaintances—you name it.

If you knew Chase, you’d also know that he always greets you with a smile. Always. After a rush to school in the morning or after a Wiffle ball has landed on his cheek, leaving him with a bloody nose and a mini circular imprint. Or even after his team has lost in the semi-finals of a tournament. With Chase, you get a warm grin and the sense that he’s genuinely glad to see you, whether you bump into him in the parking lot or meet him for an afternoon in the park.

He doesn’t shy away from challenges, either. He never lets discouragement or defeat hang on too long; his next time at the plate after a strikeout, his mind is focused, determined. He’s already forgotten about his last at-bat and is ready to deliver for his team. Facing a tall, intimidating pitcher who’s two years older? No problem. Chase hits a line drive off him. And while he’s got a brother who’s three years younger, whom he likes to pick on and antagonize (just like any big brother) he has a kind, protective heart for other younger ones. He’s the guy who delivers a pep talk to my 8-year-old after a tough time on the mound. He’s also the first one to try to inject some wisdom and levity into a home run derby after a screaming match erupts and a plastic bat flies over a questionable boundary and an alleged dinger.

If you knew Chase, there’d be other things you’d see, too. Like the fact that he sits alone in the school cafeteria, at a trapezoid-shaped table that’s pushed up against the wall in the back corner. A container of brand-name wipes sits atop it, one that his mom has fought tooth and nail to get—including obtaining a doctor’s written note—because this particular brand actually kills the proteins in foods that can spread contaminants, rather than just moving them around the table as some generic wipes do. If you looked up from that table, you’d see the sign, in bold, construction paper block letters: EGG DAIRY ALL NUTS FREE. You might also notice the ever-present black fanny pack with the Epi-Pen that accompanies him wherever he goes.

You see, Chase has life-threatening food allergies. Foods THREATEN HIS LIFE. So he carries his lunch bag to the cafeteria each day—rather than tossing it in the giant lunch bucket that other students use—and drops it off at his table. Most days he sits by himself. Sometimes a friend will join him, with a lunch that has been packed with care, with Chase-safe foods, so he can have some company. Or he walks over to another table with the rest of his classmates and stands there to chat for just a minute. When you ask what he’s doing he says, “I’m talking ‘cause I don’t have anyone to sit with today.”

If you knew Chase, most likely you’d know his mom, too. At six feet tall with blonde hair, she’s striking because of her height, but what would really make an impression is her laugh. Hearty, robust, full of fun; when she laughs, you want to keep laughing with her. She’s a nurse by profession and a master of creativity, teaching art to several classes (not just her boys’) or baking Pinterest-worthy cupcakes and cakes that Chase can enjoy.

But you also might notice the way she scouts out a room with keen perception, taking mental notes of any food remnants that may be lingering.  Or you might know that she calls ahead to grocery stores in different states to make sure they carry certain brands of foods before their family flies to a baseball tournament. Or that in the grocery store she reads every single label, every single time, just in case some ingredients have changed.

While other kids devour Big Macs and fries from McDonald’s McTeacher night, Chase settles for a Coke. He doesn’t go in to Starbucks anymore because the milk in the air makes his eyes water. He doesn’t attend team parties in restaurants. He goes to Mariners games only on peanut-free nights.

But what you never hear from Chase?

A complaint.

If you knew Chase, you’d probably grow to love him. And you’d do anything you could to help keep him safe. You’d come to understand that it’s not just for his mom and dad to figure out, but for those around him, too. Whether he’s at school, baseball practice, a movie theater or bowling alley, you’d want to do what you could to protect him. And you’d want him to feel included, not excluded, so you’d start to rethink the way you do things. You’d learn to think differently about cheddar cheese popcorn, the milk in your latte or a beloved Reese’s. You’d learn to wash your hands a little more.

In a little over two months, Chase will leave behind the familiarity of the trapezoid-shaped table topped with brand-name wipes to embark on his middle-school journey. His mom will not only equip him with twenty rolls of Scotch tape and a couple dozen red ballpoint pens in a backpack that weighs the equivalent of ten bricks, but she’ll also send him off with a new plan—one that she’ll work on tirelessly with the school counselor and principal to ensure his safety in a new cafeteria (with a new name: commons), and in a new environment.

But if you knew Chase, I bet you’d see him set off on that adventure ready to take on whatever’s in store, just like it’s a baseball diamond or a soccer field.

And that he’d greet you with a smile.

Because that’s just what he does.


No Chaperone Left Behind


It’s the day of my seventh grader’s band field trip—a Music Educators Association Band Festival at a nearby school. With minimal negotiations, Raf has granted me permission to be a chaperone. The terms? I ride on a different bus. No problem. It’s my first experience on a trip with middle schoolers.

At 9 a.m., we gather outside the school, waiting to board the buses. Roughly eighty baby-blue band t-shirts surround me; I’m lost in a sea of familiar faces—some kids I’ve known since they were in elementary school. I stand in the back of the crowd. I’ve unknowingly tapped into my powers of invisibility. Where are the hugs of joy and recognition, the squeals of delight that I received when I chaperoned the second grade field trip two weeks ago? Or fifth grade camp two short years ago? What dimension have I stepped into?

I’m the last one to board the bus: time seems to slow as I amble down the aisle, feeling like a misfit in a John Hughes movie. My eyes dart to the back, scouring the periphery for an empty seat. I slink into number 18 on the right and look out the window. The bus is so fogged up I can’t see outside. Rain pelts the windows. We listen to safety announcements and get underway. I sit in silence. A boy in front scrawls “Help” on the window. Desperate for human contact, I text my sister and friend about Jack and Rebecca Pearson’s marital status.

We arrive at the junior high school and I wait outside while students get off the buses. Raf steps off the other bus with his sax. He spots me out of the corner of his eye, but instantly diverts his attention to something more interesting—the green Dumpster in the loading dock area. We make our way to the warm-up room, where the kids prepare for their performance. I’m thrilled to be here, grateful for the opportunity to witness the behind-the-scenes action. The band director is one of the finest, most talented, well-respected and good-natured teachers around—the kind you’re thankful your child gets to interact with every day. Even high school seniors I’ve encountered deem him their favorite of all-time. He instructs and inspires, and gives them a few words of encouragement before their performance, calling it a “watershed moment.” It’s beautiful. I hold the door open as they scurry off to the gym. Many offer polite thanks. My son smiles with his eyes, his lips ever so slightly upturned at the corners. He might even be glad to see me.

The students settle into their seats and begin. The other chaperones and I sit in the front row of the bleachers. I’m filled with excitement, yet I go against my instincts and refrain from all my normal cheering behavior. I do not shout, hoot, holler, whistle or stand. I contain my pride and exuberance and just clap admiringly, aware of my form, remembering that Nicole Kidman garnered unwanted attention for her seal-like style after the Oscars.

After three songs, the kids head to the clinic room. Here, a band director from the University of Washington, who’s one of the judges, gives wonderful feedback and tips. He talks of making the pauses more like commas, rather than periods, and offers insights like “sometimes silence is meant to be dramatic.” I’m in awe of the experience they’re having. Raf catches a glimpse of me down the hallway afterwards, and suddenly feels compelled to scrutinize his sheet music.

We make our way to the gym again to listen to another band’s performance. The kids fill out evaluation forms and it’s back to the buses we go. As we mill around in the parking lot, I learn that there may be one student still inside. Eager to fulfill my chaperoning duties, I offer to run inside and check. No sign of her. I exit through the glass doors, and, to my horror, the buses are starting to pull away. I wave my hands frantically. Someone sees me. Surely, she’ll alert the driver. I’m wrong. I sprint down the sidewalk, in pursuit. It’s too late. I stand there, dumbfounded.

This is happening.



I AM in a John Hughes movie.

All I know is I need to get to McDonald’s, so I start walking down the semi-country road. I continue determinedly, as I call the middle school office and tell the assistant what’s happened. “You can’t walk. It’s three miles,”she tells me. My mind races; all I can imagine is a busload of middle schoolers returning to pick up a mom chaperone stranded on the side of the road. In the history of field trips, could there be anything more embarrassing? I quicken my pace. The band director calls and tells me not to worry, the kids are waiting in line and eating, he’ll send an empty bus back, there’s plenty of time. I stand at the side of the road, nibbling almonds. The rain has thankfully slowed to a drizzle.

Sometimes silence is meant to be dramatic.

I’ll say.

The bus returns, puts on its flashers, and I climb aboard. When I arrive at McDonald’s, I push my way through a throng of students (including those from another school) and make a beeline for the bathroom. A boy I’ve known since he was in first grade says, “Hey, didn’t you get left back there?” Not ready to divulge my plight, I coyly reply, “Well, I’m here, aren’t I?” The band director apologizes profusely and we chat about the day’s performance. I get my neon-colored Shamrock shake and linger off to the side, gazing through the windows into the PlayPlace. Raf shovels handfuls of fries into his mouth, uses a couple of them as straws, and stands with his mouth open as a girl tries to toss a few in, like feeding time at the zoo.

The bus ride back to school is uneventful, save for a few raindrops dampening my forehead through the partially open window.

As we depart from the buses back at school, a boy I’ve never met says, “They left you? That sucks.” I smile at the absurdity of it —the memorable and unexpected adventure of my first middle school band trip.