This President-elect is Different

Posted by on Nov 22, 2016 in The World We Parent In | 0 comments


The beginning of the United States Constitution, the foundation of our republic.

I’ve been absent for a while for health reasons. After Nov. 8, there was also the electoral shock into numbness. Finally, I wrote this. I hope to be back on a regular basis now.

In my inbox, I have a newsletter from a writer I respect, whom I won’t name here. It includes the following:

Maybe your candidate won, maybe yours lost. It’s a system. One side has been in for eight years. Another is going in now. If everyone moved to Canada because they didn’t get their way in this country where everyone has a voice, we’d have very few people left.

… Wake up still happy. Continue your days proud to be American. Take the stance that you will continue thinking positive and pursuing your dreams regardless who is President [sic] or who throws an obstacle in your path. You choose how you think. You choose how happy you’ll be. Nobody else affects that if you don’t let it.


If you believe that what happened on November 8 was simply that one side lost and the other side won, you don’t understand what happened. I’ve supported the losing side in elections before; this is different. Much more was at stake, and what we lost may be so great, I’m not sure it will be regained in my lifetime.

Upon graduating from college a few decades ago, I moved to Washington, D.C. to begin a career in public service. I never doubted that I wanted to work on behalf of my country, because I had studied history and different political systems of both this country and others, and I believed strongly in the virtues of the United States, even with all of its many flaws. I wanted to dedicate myself to be part of the centuries-long process of making our system and our world better. I worked my proverbial butt off for months and landed a job in the U.S. Senate. This was back in the days before “compromise” became a dirty word.

I am an institutionalist. I believe in Congress, the presidency, the judiciary. I’ve seen them work beautifully (okay, I’ve seen them work), and I’ve seen them muck things up. Later in my career, I worked as a civil rights and civil liberties advocate, and my job was to persuade Congress and sometimes the executive branch to see things the way that I and the people for whom I worked did. Sometimes I succeeded. Sometimes I didn’t. Often I was frustrated. But this is our system, and I continued to believe in it and its sometimes ragged march toward greater justice.

Then came 9/11. If you were an adult then, you remember the fear, the horror. And I hope you remember also perhaps the only good thing to come out of that living nightmare, which was the very brief sense that we were one nation in the face of an attack against us. Trying to tear us apart Would. Not. Stand.

We are on the other side of that now.

I am a Democrat, but I have seen and worked with many Republicans I respected. I’ve also seen and tried to work with those I didn’t respect. Throughout the eight years of George W. Bush’s presidency, I disagreed

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September 11, Fifteen Years Later

Posted by on Sep 11, 2016 in The World We Parent In | 0 comments

(The Pentagon following the dedication of the Memorial on September 11, 2008)

(The Pentagon following the dedication of the Memorial on September 11, 2008)

Fifteen years later, and this day still brings tears to my eyes.

I’ll never forget the terror of that day. I’ll never forget the fear of something beginning, something unknown and awful, and the feeling of being powerless to stop it. I’ll never forget the sound an airplane makes when it explodes as it rams into a building, the hope that a plane wouldn’t be shot down over my house and kill my unborn child before he’d ever had a chance to live in the world, the surreal quality of trying to drive as close to a closed-off city as possible to meet my husband, his foot not yet fully healed from a recent surgery, as he walked ten miles to escape a city under siege. I’ll never forget so many people dead, so many loved ones whose lives were ripped open. I’ll never forget learning that that last plane was headed for the Capitol, where, if it had hit its mark, it would have killed dozens or even hundreds of people I knew. Where, but for the particulars of day and time, it might have killed me.

I’ll never forget what that day did to a city I love.

But I—none of us—can afford to stay in that place of anger and fear. It is appropriate for a while, but then we must move on. We learn. We strengthen. We warn and we build and we say, “No more.” And we say also, “We are not you. We don’t kill because we can, we don’t hate because it’s easier. We will defend ourselves, but we will also continue to live true to our values: love, freedom, kindness. Diversity. Tolerance of others. When we fail—because of course we do sometimes—we will learn from our failure and become better. And so if you try to change us with your hate and your evil acts, you may shed our blood, but you will not change who we are.”

Never forget that day. Never forget what the terrorists tried to do. Never forget that we must never let them achieve their goal.

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Report on Screen-Free Week 2016

Posted by on Sep 7, 2016 in Kids & Technology, Parents are People, Too | 0 comments

(Image courtesy Micah Purnell via

(Image courtesy Micah Purnell via

We did it. We survived a week without screens—more or less. The week before school began, our household—consisting of two adults, one fourteen-year-old male, one eleven-year-old female and a small assortment of pets—gave up screens for the week. We followed the rules as set forth in the previous blog post. Two exceptions were granted toward the end of the week for a little all-family TV-viewing time. (It was hot, we were tired.) The kids did great.

The adults, not so much.

It’s amazing how much screen time one can squeeze out of a “work” exception. Also, what if an important email comes in? Also, what if Trump finds a way to start a war with some country before the election even happens and I don’t know about it because it’s screen-free week? Also, the fact that I’m carrying my phone around the house means nothing; I’m not looking at it or anything. See? It’s just a prop.

Pathetic. And I mean me.

I wasn’t a complete failure the whole week.

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Screen-Free Week Is Upon Us

Posted by on Aug 24, 2016 in Kids & Technology | 0 comments

No screensEvery summer, we pick one week to go screen-free. For one week, I get to see my children’s faces as opposed to the tops of their heads. I speak to them and they reply with words, not grunts or silence. Their moods improve; they become more pleasant people. My kids always greet the week with lots of grumbling and groaning, but I secretly—and then not so secretly—look forward to becoming reacquainted with the kids I know are buried behind those devices the other fifty-one weeks of the year.

Each year, we spell out the rules in advance for Screen-Free Week. There are a few reasons for this. First, everyone knows that given the motivation, the vast majority of kids transform into brilliant lawyers. Absent explicit rules accompanying a prohibition, kids will find every loophole imaginable to get around that prohibition. Second, we establish valid exceptions that change from year-to-year, and we try to anticipate as many of those as we can to avoid constant choruses of, “What about…? What about…? What about…?” Third, following all of that forethought, we accept that although the kid-lawyers are smarter than we are and will find ways around us no matter what we do, we’re nevertheless going to try our best and anticipate that the week will end well.

In case you’d find an example informative in the course of trying your own screen-free week (with exceptions, natch), here are the rules governing ours for 2016. Keep in mind that our kids are 14 and 11; age and personality obviously influence the rules. And yes, parents: my husband and I have to adhere to these rules, too

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Ignorance About Adoption Wins an Olympic-Sized Audience

Posted by on Aug 11, 2016 in Adoption | 0 comments

Image by Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil (cc)

Image by Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil (cc)

One comment. Someone made an ignorant comment about adoption, giving no thought to the consequences of his words. Hey, it happens all the time. Maybe the particular subjects of the comment were hurt, maybe not. I don’t know them. But I do know that this time, the comment was made in front of an Olympic-sized audience.

Here’s what happened: On Sunday, NBC Sports announcer Al Trautwig referred to American gymnast Simone Biles’s adoptive parents as her grandparents. In fairness to Trautwig, Biles’s father is her biological grandfather. He and his wife legally adopted her and raised her from a young age; thus, they are legally and otherwise her parents. Quite a few people, including at least one adoptive parent, pointed out this error in Trautwig’s reporting. To my mind, the error might have been forgivable. A simple, “Oops, sorry,” plus a correction could have ended the controversy there.

But that’s not what Trautwig did. Instead, he tweeted, “They may be mom and dad but they are NOT her parents.” (Emphasis his.) After a storm of comments, interviews, and words with superiors at NBC, Trautwig apologized and deleted the tweet. But what goes out on the internet is forever—just ask my kids, to whom I’ve lectured on this topic many times. You can read about the incident and apology at the Washington Post here.

You might wonder, what’s the big deal? A sports reporter made a dumb comment, then he apologized. Over and done. Or maybe you’re inclined to say, mountain, meet molehill. Or, well, he was just clarifying facts. He didn’t intend any insult. There wasn’t anything behind what he said.

Before I explain what’s wrong with Trautwig’s comment, I want to note that I considered for a long time whether to write to condemn it. After all, Trautwig did apologize, so case closed, right? Especially in the current political and social climate, maybe we should stop looking for reasons to be angry or offended, and search instead for opportunities to give people the benefit of the doubt. I don’t think Trautwig meant to demean or hurt anyone. I’m sure he thought he was just clarifying the facts.

But as a parent by both adoption and biology, I decided I had to speak up.

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The Trump in the Room: 2016 and our Kids

Posted by on Aug 3, 2016 in The World We Parent In | 2 comments

Image by 11-year-old "Emmie"

Image by 11-year-old “Emmie”

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Don’t ask which elephant. You know exactly what I’m talking about. I mean the elephant causing all the other elephants secretly to fear they are a dying species, while the rest of the animals wonder on a daily basis if they’re going to have any habitat left when all of this is over.

Okay, so I took the metaphor to extremes. But that seems appropriate, doesn’t it?

This election. Good God. Where to begin? This is a parenting blog, so let’s focus on parenting one’s way through Election 2016.

I have a set of principles I try to follow as I guide my kids through learning about the world. As they get older, I try to expose them to more news according to their age and readiness. One kid is more sensitive to images and stories than the other, so age alone is not a sufficient determinant for what each kid can handle. I make sure they know and understand the fundamental values I think are important, but I try to leave room for their own opinions, too. They don’t need to be news junkies, but they do need to know and understand the most important events and issues of the day or week and why those stories matter. I endeavor to present everything in a way that increases knowledge, but doesn’t produce fear. The cardinal rule and value in our house—respect—must be observed by all in these discussions the same as it would be in other contexts.

Election 2016 has thrown this all to hell.

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When a Parent Needs Help: the Uncharted Waters of Eldercare

Posted by on Jul 27, 2016 in Parents are People, Too, The World We Parent In | 3 comments


Hi there. It’s been a while. I hope you haven’t been waiting for me this whole time.

Good. Glad to hear it. After all, you have your own family, your own responsibilities, your own life to take care of. And you may have become a bit preoccupied with what’s been going on in the country and the world these last few months. There’s plenty to talk about there. But I’m going to save that for a future post…or twelve.

I’ll tell you what I’ve been doing for the past few months. It has everything to do with parenting, and nothing to do with my kids—except it’s affected them tremendously. It involves seeing to the needs of my own parent—specifically, my father—and getting an education in eldercare in America along the way.

We found suddenly—as so many people do—that my father was no longer capable of living alone. Some signs had probably been there for a while, but we’d missed them. Others he’d hidden, not wanting to lose his independence. But a home accident brought everything into the light, and we discovered that we needed to find a new living and care situation for him, fast. He went first to the hospital, then to a skilled-nursing rehabilitation center for a few weeks, and finally to the assisted-living home we found in a frenzy of frantic searching.

The day-by-day of what happened is too private to him and too lengthy to relate here. But I will share some key points I’ve learned since April:

  • When an elderly parent requires healthcare, you must constantly play the role of advocate. Even centers of good repute sometimes fall back on patterns of care or behavior rather than evaluate each patient individually, and you have to check in with every caregiver to make sure that your parent is getting the care appropriate to her individual situation.
  • You never really know the full story. A parent with any level of cognitive decline for any reason will necessarily have gaps in what he can remember—how that fall happened, how that giant bruise appeared on his leg, what the argument with the neighbor was about. He may tell different stories to different care providers as he tries to work the puzzle, and those providers may or may not confer with each other about the circumstances surrounding your parent’s care. You have to sort it all out and make sure everyone has the best possible information despite what you don’t and may never know.
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