My Kid Went To Camp, That’s All I Knew

My son is on the right with his pal just before boarding the bus.

I put my son on bus for sleepaway camp. After that I had absolutely no idea if he was alive. I didn’t know if he was eating or homesick or suffering from 1,000 bee stings. I. KNEW. NOTHING. The reason I was agonizingly ignorant of my son’s whereabouts was because his camp doesn’t post daily pictures of the campers. In fact, they don’t post any camp pictures.

It’s a curse and a blessing.

There is a sadistic-yet-unavoidable ritual that takes place every summer. Parents send their beloved children off to have the time of their lives at sleepaway camp. But now, before that bus even enters the gates of camp, parents are glued to their computers and cell phones to look for news from camp.

An embarrassingly accurate and funny cartoon video perfectly sums up the practice of obsessively checking the camp’s website with three words: Refresh, refresh, refresh. Many parents refresh their browser 30 times (more like 100 times if I’m honest) an hour as pictures are loaded sporadically throughout the day. The pictures (or lack thereof) become the car accident we can’t turn away from, and the infection we run toward. It’s a sickness, and it’s ruining our summers.

Parents nowadays are used to knowing what their children are doing every minute. We know who they are with, what they are eating and where they are going. There’s some comfort in that. If we know everything, we can ensure safety and ultimate happiness. Although those who choose to send their kids off to overnight camp do so willingly, cutting the cord is hard. I’m guessing to minimize the constant calls from concerned parents, the camps started posting pictures. Then when one parent didn’t see a picture of their child, the camps decided to post more pictures, finally adding up to hundreds and hundreds of pictures a day.

Now, imagine (well, if your kids are at sleepaway you don’t have to imagine) closely examining 400 pictures every day that come in dribs and drabs. Imagine a painfully slow internet connection. Imagine trying to find your sweet pea in a sea of children who are wearing the exact same uniform. Then imagine finding your sweet pea only to see him or her look less than thrilled at any given moment. I once saw a picture with every camper in the bunk eating except my child. The worrying began instantly. Why wasn’t she eating? Did she have the stomach flu? Or worse, is she depressed?

Sifting through those pictures is like finding the concealed object in Highlights magazine’s Hidden Pictures, except a lot less fun. I’ve become an expert in finding my child’s rope bracelet or pink rain boots or dragon socks. And after that extensive effort all I learn from those pictures is that my child is alive.

My daughter and her pink boots. She painted.

This is my third summer sending a child to sleepaway camp, but it’s my first time without the daily rollercoaster of the picture fix. Over the years I’ve learned a thing or two. The first summer I sent my daughter to overnight camp, it didn’t go well. I got the letter every parent dreads within three days of departure. To summarize it said, “Pick me up now. I am going to DIE here.” From that point on I became fixated on every picture. The trouble was that I could learn very little by scrutinizing those photos. There is no way to ascertain from this snapshot of one fleeting moment if she was really happy or unsettled, well or sick, lonely or full of friendship. And furthermore, there was nothing I could do in that moment to help her resolve those issues.

Parents want to see happy faces painting pottery in ceramics. They need to see new and old friends with their arms swung casually around their child’s shoulder. They must be kept appraised of camp trips, daily activities and updates on color war. But those pictures are doing more damage than good.

The camp industry is creating monsters. Their administrators are like demons that know your weakness and put it right in front of your face.

Hey little girl, would you like some candy?

It must be stopped and thankfully my son’s new camp put me in an involuntary time out.

This year instead of suffering and spending every moment away from my son refreshing my browser, I am repeated the following phrase:

“No news is good news.”

I waited until my son came home to learn of his adventures. I didn’t spoil his stories by telling him I already knew he won color war or went rafting down a raging river or caught a big fish. I completely enjoyed my more relaxed summer and enthusiastically awaited my son’s return. And when he did, l gave him my complete and total undivided attention to hear every little detail of his time away.

This column originally appeared on Mom2.com.

Double Thumbs Up Book Review: Fix-It Friends

 

 

I just finished reading The Fix-It Friends: Have No Fear, which is the first in a series of children’s books by Nicole Kear. These beginner chapter books tell the story of a group of four friends (a brother-sister duo and two of their buddies) who help children with big problems. The first book covers an intense fear of spiders while the second installment deals with bullying.

The Fix-It Friends books are chockfull of solid helpful advice for kids and parents on how to solve real problems. The advice that the kids reveal is clearly developed from evidence-based best practices for working through these issues. For example, in Have No Fear kids learn to talk back to their worry and to take baby steps to conquer fears. In Sticks and Stones the friends advise kids being teased to keep a poker face, walk away and ask a grown up for help. The books also provide parents with additional resources and a website with even more information.

But unlike other “helping” books Fix-It Friends reads like just a great story. The characters are fully developed with interesting backstories. One character has Italian grandparents, a dad who is a super in an apartment building and a mother who is a therapist (a great source of professional insight). Also, the characters are from very diverse groups. The Principal and her son (a Fix-It Friend) are Jamaican. Another friend is Spanish-speaking. Another aspect of the books that I loved was the relationship between one main character and her brother. They had some typical bickering but when push came to shove they helped and cared for each other. That’s how siblings should be portrayed in kids’ books. Always referencing a pesky brother or a despised sister doesn’t help real kids navigate sibling relationships.

As a parent of a worrier and as a family coach I cannot recommend these books more highly to young readers.

My almost 11-year-old son, Emmett, read Sticks and Stones. He is a little old for the series but read it all the same. Here are his thoughts on the book in his own words:
“You get to know the characters and they all were very different. You know what they liked, their friends, what’s happening at school. They had different personalities, too. They also have different ideas, like one person has a babysitter that helps them in the book, one person had a pet hamster.

The book was smart in the way they solved problems and it would work in real life. For example, the book explains not to react if someone is being mean to you. Act like it’s not happening. That would be helpful because it could work. The resources in the back were good for a kid who is being bullied. Kids could definitely use the tools. It also explains concepts so you can know what they are talking about. They use the term poker face and then explain what it is. It means where you don’t show how you are feeling through your face. If I was 7 or so I would think it was funny. Also, I think it’s a good beginning chapter book for younger kids because it has multiple chapters and each chapter isn’t 3 sentences long. They are decent chapters.
Illustrations were great and they helped understand the story more. There was a picture of the playground and then I knew what it looked like.”

Book Promotion #1

Almost three years ago I had an idea for a book. I’d been thinking about writing a book for many years but no idea seemed like the right one. Then I realized there were two words I said over and over again when working with families.

Parents would ask:

What should I do when my kid gets up out of time out? Ignore it!

What should I do when my teen curses at me? Ignore it!

How can I get my toddler to stop throwing food? Ignore it!

What can I do get my son to stop making annoying noises?

Tapping his pencil?

Fidgeting in his seat?

Whining?

Complaining?

Tantrumming?

Negotiating?

Ignore it all.

The advice I was repeatedly giving was to ignore all of the annoying and undesirable behaviors children present on a regular basis. I know about a concept in psychology called extinction which states that behavior that isn’t reinforced disappears. So when parents stop providing attention or benefits for a particular behavior is just goes away. It’s a really simple but powerful parenting tool.

But as simple as it seems I knew from experience that many parents struggled with implementation. So that’s where Ignore It! comes in. The book helps parents know what to ignore, how to ignore and when never to ignore behavior. It also provides general parenting tips about dealing with time outs, parenting in public, and how to enforce logical practical consequences when ignoring isn’t appropriate. I also included loads of scenarios from my practice to show how Ignore It! changes behavior and helps parents enjoy their kids more.

In just 70 days the book will be available for sale in bookstores and online. I’m so excited I can hardly sleep. In order to get the word out about the book I’m offering a great pre-order incentive. Order before 8/8/17, send me proof or post to Twitter or Facebook, and I’ll send you a bonus chapter I wrote but decided not to include in the book. The bonus chapter is all about how to resolve sleep issues. I’ll also include my Sleep Cheat Sheet that details sleep needs for newborns to teenagers.

Thanks in advance for the support and I can’t wait to hear how the book is helping your family.

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A Crowded Space

The ballroom was packed. Extra chairs were nudged in at each table. I sat in the way back of the room listening to Juliana Margulies talk about motherhood and acting. Scanning the crowd I saw hundreds of women who, more or less, do a similar version of what I do. Except many of them do it much better with exponentially larger followings. It’s an intimidating scene.

Sitting in that crowded room felt symbolic of what often feels like a crowded space for parenting blogger, writers and podcasters. That crowded space usually stresses me out. With so many of us vying for the same audience, I wonder if I’ll ever accomplish my dreams and goals. Really, how many successful parenting blogs can there be? How many authors can write for the most-read sites or publish in the major newspaper parenting blogs? Before Mom 2.017 I would have thought only a lucky few.

Last year when I attended my first Mom 2.0 I had no idea what to expect. As I walked into the ballroom I was filled with anxiety. But I powered through nerves and self-doubt and was rewarded with an incredible experience. I wondered if returning for my second Mom 2.0 would feel different.

Well, it did and it didn’t.

Just like last year, I met warm, lovely, inspiring women who were nothing but supportive. Just like last year, I swallowed my nerves and pushed myself out of my comfort zone. And just like last year, I fought off social exhaustion to make the most out of the 2 ½ days. I walked away with a lots of new friends and ideas.

But leaving the conference this time I had two very different takeaways.

During one session I listened to moguls Cindy Whitehead, Jill Smokler and Julie Clark discuss their experiences starting mega businesses. I have no illusion of starting such a business but these women were fascinating, and I loved hearing their stories. Toward the end of the session a woman in the audience questioned her ability to bring an item to market. Cindy said (I’m paraphrasing), “Stop saying ‘Why Me?’ Why not you?” In that moment my heart swelled. Yes! Why not me? It doesn’t matter if someone has a bigger following or is more successful (whatever that might mean). So what if it’s crowded? It doesn’t mean that I can’t also be successful.

Takeaway one: Our successes are not mutually exclusive. One person’s success doesn’t negate the possibility of another.

This leads me to takeaway two: Helping someone else succeed doesn’t lower the possibility of our own success. Mom 2.0 is filled with people who only want to be helpful. I’d like to keep that helpful spirit going all year. So in the aftermath of Mom 2.0, I feel committed to these two ideals:

  • If I have knowledge that can shorten your learning curve I’m happy to share what I know. Just ask.
  • If you have a post that is special to you and want some help getting it out there, let me know. I’ll be happy to share it and spread the word. Again, just ask.

The theme of Mom 2.017 was RISE. I believe we can all rise together, like a family. This is a crowded space but still, there’s plenty of room for all of us.

See you next year!

Real Mom Confessions

Yup, that’s me in my pajamas out in daylight.*

In the days after giving birth to my first child I cried. Oh, yes, there were tons of tears. I cried because the pain of the episiotomy was unbearable. I cried because I couldn’t poop. And I cried because my life seemed foreign and totally out of my control. Then I cried because I didn’t fall in love with my baby instantly like it seemed everyone else did. I felt ashamed, not good enough and alone.

In the 13 years since I first became a parent I have realized that there are so many parenting realities that go unsaid. We don’t share what’s not pretty or unflattering. We often leave out the potentially embarrassing tidbits as well. Parents have to be perfect all the time, and it’s exhausting. Instead of hiding the not-so-awesome parts of parenting I’m challenging every parent to put their truth out there. And I’m going to get the ball rolling.

So, for my sake and for those who are suffering in silence I’m going to list my confessions. I’m sure a few parents will feel the need to tell me why I shouldn’t do this one or that one. Some parent will make me feel badly, too, for my choices. I’m asking us all to resist that urge. Instead send your confessions or share them with some of your friends. Consider it a public service.

Here are my Top 10 Mom Confessions:

1. I breastfed my two kids for 6 weeks and 4 months, respectively. I could post the reasons why I stopped breastfeeding but that would take away from my confession. I’m not apologizing for it.
2. About once per week when my daughter plays water polo at night my kids have Dairy Queen for dinner in the car.
3. I shave 1-2 times per week.
4. On average, I exercise once per week (if I’m lucky). Oh, and I use the term exercise loosely.
5. I wear my pajamas more than I wear real clothes. I change into them when get home even if it’s 4 o’clock in the afternoon.
6. I love Lean Cuisine. When I’m in no mood to cook, my kids eat it too.
7. My kids don’t bathe every day. And they never have.
8. I go upstairs to fold laundry as a good excuse to watch reality television away from my family.
9. I pay two lovely ladies to clean my house once every other week. Those women are like lifelines to my sanity.
10. I don’t want any more children. And I don’t feel sad about that anymore.

What’s your confession?
#Parenthoodconfession

* I thought those pajamas were pants. I wrote about the mistake here.

I Quit: 8 Tasks I am No Longer Doing For My Children

Photo by Jason M. Volack

I’m going on strike. I mean it. I’m done with hands-on mothering. Not because I dislike being a mom. I love being a mom but I loathe being a maid. Do this. Do that. Pick this up. Pick that up. I used to be “Mommy.” Now I’m “Hey, Lady with the Frying Pan—Can You Come Over Here and Take Care of This Mess. Oh, Then Make Me a Smoothie.” No, no, no. My kids are taking advantage of me—just as your children are taking advantage of you. So here’s a list of eight things I will no longer do for my kids. Take my advice or you’re on your own.

1. Reverse shirts and socks that are inside out in the laundry. Right behind Dengue Fever and Cicadas on my list of the world’s greatest ills. When I take my clothes off, I make certain everything remains right side in. Know why? Because folding laundry is bad enough without having any extra work. Since I am a Shirt Reversing Cyborg, sent here from the future to solve all laundry horrors, my kids have no idea that I’ve been reversing their shirts and pants for 4,384 consecutive days. Well, I’m done. If they don’t want to wear clothes inside out they can reverse it themselves. Take that little laundry makers!

2. Empty their lunch boxes. Making lunches is nearly as annoying as reversing the laundry. Actually, it’s worse because at least while folding laundry I can watch the Real Housewives of Wherever. Making lunch sucks. It sucks on the first day of school (when the lunch box is clean and new and still smells of Target), it sucks on the last day of school (when the lunch box is moldy and nasty and smells like a mutilated turkey). First you have to dig out the box from 321 pounds of book bag nonsense. Then you have to empty yesterday’s casualties of uneaten lunch refugee—half a slice of ham, two squished grapes, something that looks like Colonel Sanders’ beard. Then you have to pack it all over again, thereby guaranteeing a future of more sad remnants of lunches gone uneaten. Starting now, if my kids don’t come home and empty their lunch boxes, they’ll either A. Go hungry or B. Nibble on the beard thing.

3. Tell them what is weather appropriate. This one is simple. I am not in their bodies, and therefore cannot tell if they are cold or hot. If my kid doesn’t want to wear a jacket, so be it. There are lessons to be learned from both freezing and sweating your ass off. After that, without a word from me, they will know exactly what to wear.

4. Put their clothes in the hamper. I have almost an involuntary tic. When I enter my children’s rooms I subtly—without even knowing it—put their clothes in the laundry basket. The dirty items just keep coming like an assembly line that never turns off. There’s a 75 percent chance my kids could not identify their laundry baskets in a police lineup. But they will as soon as they run out of clean clothing

5. Tell them to brush their hair. I stopped brushing my daughter’s hair years ago. But the pestering on my part never ended. Inevitably her hair turns into a beehive due to lack of quality brushing, and it takes forever to comb it out. From now on if she decides not to take good care of her hair she will learn about what happens to girls who’s hair is permanently knotted. Hello Edward Scissor Hands. I’ll have to cut it off. That’ll show her.

6. Clear their dishes from the table. My kids think I’m Alice from Mel’s diner. I cook. They sit and eat. Then they retreat to their evening activities while I clear the table as the family waitress. That is ridiculous. If they can use a fork and a knife, they can clear the table. And if they don’t, I at least want 20 percent in tips.

7. Bring to school their ______ that was accidentally left at home. OK, people make mistakes and children are certainly entitled to make a few. But I feel like some sort of drug mule every time I schlep back to school to drop off a left violin or homework paper or fitness log or lunch box. Bottom line: If I tell you to pack an apple, and you forget to pack the apple, that’s on you, Junior.

8. What to wear for picture day. True story: My son had Picture Day a week ago. He came down in the morning wearing a Robert Griffith III Washington Redskins jersey we had picked up at Marshall’s for $9.99. I shrugged. Hey, if that’s how you’d like your fourth grade year to be preserved—forever and ever and ever—who am I to argue? I’ll laugh alongside your children when they start mocking you for it.

Invitation for Principal to Take My Daughter Shopping

Dear Middle School Administrators:

Thank you for sending a note home for the second day in a row to say my daughter was dressed inappropriately for school. I’d like to offer an additional thank you for forcing her to change into large mesh shorts that have been worn by only god knows who and potentially never washed.

To reward you for treating my daughter with such concern, I am cordially inviting you to take my daughter shopping.

Here are the specifications you have to work with. I wish you loads of luck.

She is 5’7” and 13 years old. Built more like her father, she has exceptionally long legs and arms.

She doesn’t like anything pink or purple or frilly.

She won’t wear pants because she gets overheated easily. Trust me I’ve seen this. It will cause a scene in the school yard.

She absolutely will not wear a dress either.

No item of clothing can have a logo visible because to her that’s not cool. She will however, wear any type of superhero, Green Day or USFL T-shirt if you can find them. You might be able to try for an occasional Beatles reference but that’s touch and go.

Now, don’t forget that you will have to find something in the stores that also meets with your dress code requirements. Here are the tricky areas that are most difficult to avoid. As per your policy she cannot wear tank tops. Shorts and skirts must not extend to the end of the fingertips (This is a toughie.)

So, if I were you (and I’m glad I’m not) I’d focus on the shorts first. She has very long fingers which seems to make finding shorts that won’t get her sent to the principal’s office impossible (On the bright side the piano teacher says those fingers are an asset.). I’d schedule a few afternoons and weekends for this endeavor. I can tell you from experience that just heading to the mall, Target and the outlets won’t cut it. Not much for her there. I’ve already checked.

One last point: please try to stay within a reasonable budget. We can’t spend a fortune on her wardrobe. She is still growing after all.

I thank you endlessly for taking on this chore. What a relief for me.

Sincerely,

Sick Of The Dress Code Mom

P.S. I forgot to thank you for making it clear to my daughter that her body is somehow a distraction, either to herself or to the boys. I thought she might have missed the message earlier in the year when the gym teacher told her she couldn’t wear yoga pants because the boys aren’t able to control themselves. I appreciate how hard you are working to drive the point home.

I’m Rolly and Lumpy, and I’m OK with that

* See photo note at end of post

Over the past few months I’ve gained a few pounds. Well, more like 15. And if I’m being honest, there was a 10-pound gain before that.

When I was pregnant with my first child I joyfully gained 40 pounds. I ate with reckless abandon because I felt like I had a good excuse. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. After a baby that weighed a mere 5 pounds popped out (clearly my weight wasn’t baby weight) I just went about my merry way. There would be no dieting. I was fully overwhelmed by the adjustment to being a mom while still trying to hold down a job. By the time my second child came into the world I had gained another 40 pounds. At 5-feet tall that was plenty. After a few months, I decided I needed to get my body back. I did Weight Watchers and came down to a healthy pre-pregnancy weight.

But keeping that weight off wasn’t easy. Like clockwork, every year between November and March I steadily gained. Now working full time as a professor, while also writing a twice-weekly column, performing my duties as a family coach and being a work-from-home mom, I feel like there is barely a space to insert a brief walk with the dog. Exercising and eating right isn’t so simple when you are hanging on by a thread.

I’ve never liked my body. No matter how skinny I was I hated my thighs. They always seemed to be out of proportion with the rest of me. I wished I had a little more of this and a little less of that. But something funny happened this last time I gained. I didn’t feel badly about my body.

My clothes are fitting snuggly, but when I look in the mirror I am happy with what I see.

I cannot do it all. Something has to give, and I won’t let it be my sanity.

I can’t always find the time to chop veggies and have them ready for a snack. I don’t always make the smartest food choices when eating out. And I really can’t make it to the gym 3-5 times in a week. I’ll certainly try. But if I can’t (and I usually don’t) I can at least be kind to myself. I’ll accept that I’m being pushed to my limits right now professionally and personally. I can love me the shape I’m in because I’m doing the best I can.

Right now, I look good to me. And that’s a first.

 

* Before taking this picture I thought about adding a little lipstick and doing my hair. But decided I should look like the real me.

When Second Place is First Loser

cap and earl marathonback of marathon shirt

A few days ago my son, Emmett, lost his 23rd consecutive basketball game. That’s three years of being on a losing team. And yet, my son starts each game with the enthusiasm of someone who sees the bright side of life. An eternal optimist thinks there’s always next game, and that’s Emmett.

After the most recent slaughter (36 to 8) Emmett remarked aloud, “Well, we came in second place.” The coach overheard him and responded by saying, “That’s first loser.” I was a bit stunned.

I’ve taken a few days to absorb the coach’s comments. I’m trying to see it from all angles. But all I can come up with is that an adult coach told my 10-year old that he’s a loser. And if he is a loser for being part of this game well he must be a gargantuan loser for sacrificing 23 in a row. I’m sure the coach didn’t literally mean my son was a loser. And yet, he still couldn’t offer up anything more inspiring.

The coach is a volunteer, not a professional. He probably isn’t trained and is doing the best he can. I get that completely. I just feel totally bummed that youth sports focus more on winning and losing instead of learning and having fun. This isn’t the high school or college level. This is a league for 9 and 10-year olds.

Back in 2000 I ran the New York City marathon as my first. I had no expectation of beating anyone, and I hadn’t a clue what a reasonable time goal would be. I just wanted to finish. And I did in five hours and 14 minutes. It was a huge accomplishment. Two years later I decided to run it again. This time I thought it would be cool to break five hours. To keep the goal in my mind during the race I wrote 4:59 on the back of my running shirt.

The race was brutal. By the time I reached central park for the last few miles I was done. Practically delirious, I started to doubt if I would finish. I told my husband I needed to stop. He broke into an award-winning Rocky-style pep talk. Then a guy came out of nowhere to say that he had been following me for the entire race because he too wanted to get a 4:59. He said, “Don’t stop now. Let’s do this together.” He completely raised my spirits and inspired me to keep going.

My husband and I ran the last mile with the stranger and all crossed the finish line together. When I looked up at the clock it read 5:00:26. My husband glanced over to me prepared to console me for missing my goal by 27 seconds. But before he could say a word I said, “I did it.” I was elated. In my mind the 27 seconds didn’t count. After five hours of running without stopping, and shaving 14 minutes off of my time, I felt like I won even if the clock didn’t reflect it.

Post-game Smile

Post-game Smile

Sometimes there aren’t just winners and losers. There is so much more to sports than that. There is heart and character. Grit and hard work. Sportsmanship and growth. My son is a drastically better player after his 23rd loss than he was after the first. Seeing him guard a boy who was at least a foot taller with glee was everything at the game. Losing, who cared?

Emmett isn’t a killer competitor. He never will be. I don’t know if his lack of competitive nature will hurt him somehow. However, I do believe that his ability to be undeterred by losing, to see accomplishments in the face of obstacles and to be optimistic will help him on and off the court.

Five Words That Changed My Life

 

My first mixed tapes I made for Jeff.

My first mixed tapes I made for Jeff.

I did a lot of dating in my 20s. A lot! Family and friends set me on blind dates. I met men at parties or weddings. My grandmother even gave my number out to a stranger on an airplane because the stranger had the sweetest grandson (actually he was living with his fiancé when he asked me out). I dated so much that at one point I proposed a blind date book based on what I learned.

My goal wasn’t to date as many people in the New York Tri-State area as I could. No, I wanted to get married and have a family. I wanted to be a career woman too. But that I could do on my own. My frustration over not finding the lid to my pot grew and grew as I watched my peers marry off. I had a few long-term relationships but the vast majority of those dates ended before or after the second date. There was an issue with everyone. One guy too short. Another too hairy. One guy killed rats for a living for research (too creepy).

Some soul searching led me to the couch of a friend’s therapist to figure out why I couldn’t meet my mate. After about 8 sessions the therapist said the words that changed my life completely. He said, “Unless the guy is dangerous, go on a third date, with everyone.” Sigh.

Subsequently after my best friend Ellie’s wedding I was told that a guy at the wedding liked the look of me and wanted to take me out. He had good references just like all the guys before him.  When it didn’t work out with the rat killer I gave the go ahead for Jeff to call.

The first call didn’t go well. Jeff trying to make conversation remarked, “Catherine, that’s not a Jewish name.” Yawn, heard that one all my life. Not a Jewish name, yet still Jewish. We arranged a first date at a local Mexican restaurant. It was raining and Jeff was late. But he ran in apologizing profusely. Forgiven. Jeff was wearing a faded black t-shirt under a black and orange-checkered vest with faux silk back. After dinner, Jeff walked me the six blocks back to my apartment making it clear he wasn’t going to come up. I laughed because no one invited him up. In the end I went home with a happy glow of possibility. When I whined about Jeff’s wardrobe Ellie said, “Don’t worry about it. You can change the clothes.”

Then came the second date a.k.a. the point at which I usually cut guys off. Jeff was supposed to plan the date. He came up with nothing. Annoyed I put together a plan for us to walk along the West Side Highway. Somehow we ended up spending a full day together but it wasn’t a good day. In fact it was a pretty crappy date. Jeff was argumentative and opinionated. And he had the worst hygiene. From the time he picked me up until the time he dropped me back at my apartment he had a hard hanging chad of a booger attached to the end of his nose. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. And yet Jeff shockingly hadn’t noticed. Between the outfit and the booger I was becoming more despondent as the date progressed. Another date would end and I wouldn’t have found my partner, again.

When we reached my door I was ready to run but Jeff reached into his pocket and pulled out a mixed tape he made for me. I love music and loved making mixed tapes. I couldn’t believe Jeff thought to make this tape for me after only one date. Still I took the tape, said thanks, and went up to my apartment before the tears came. I knew I wasn’t going out with Jeff again. I didn’t care what the therapist said. Sure Jeff wasn’t dangerous but he was clearly not for me. The clothes. The booger. The obnoxious conversation. Mixed tape or no tape, there wouldn’t be a third date. I sobbed.

Despite my mood I put the tape in and started listening. With each song I cried a little less and laughed a bit more. Jeff was recklessly unafraid to put himself out there. By the time I hit Patti LaBelle’s Lady Marmalade I started to reconsider what the therapist told me. He said I was afraid a relationship wouldn’t work out so I preempted the end by not giving the guys a chance. I knew he was right. Although I wasn’t certain the guy with a giant crusty booger was the one.

Go on a third date.

Go on a third date.

Go on a third date.

So I did. And it was the third date that did me in forever. Jeff met me for bowling with gifts he picked up at the dollar store that day. The gifts were small and silly. He wasn’t winning me over with a dozen roses or a fancy restaurant. He was just showing me that he was thinking about me and that he was kindhearted (and he can’t resist a dollar store, although I didn’t know that at the time). We gave each other bowling names, Big Earl and Little Earl. We had a great night. And the rest is history.

It was five words that allowed me to get out of my own way. Five words pushed me to give Jeff another chance. Five words to overlook the stupid items on my checklist that didn’t matter. Now after 15 years of marriage I am beyond grateful to that therapist (whose name I don’t even remember). Those five words forced me to focus on the person in front of me. Jeff showed me from day one the kind of man he is, and all I needed to do was pay attention.

Jeff is one of the most thoughtful human beings on the planet. He would give the shirt off his back as well as his shoes and pants if someone needed them more. He loves his kids and works around their schedule instead of the other way around. I am more loved and cared for than I ever hoped would be possible. I am the luckiest girl, and it was five words that made it all possible.

I found my lid. And he’s perfect (well except for the clothes. On this, Ellie was wrong. You can’t always change the clothes.)

Happy Anniversary Earl.

Jeff and CAP at BM