July 20, 2019

Refugees: The Ancient Story of Balak and Balaam

Enraged at Balaam, Balak struck his hands together. “I called you,” Balak said to Balaam, “to damn my enemies, and instead you have blessed them these three times!”

Numbers, 24:10

The king, Balak, sent Balaam to curse the Israelites, who were amassed at the border of Moab.  King Balak was aware that the Israelites were on the march.  He was also aware that they were capable of crushing their enemies.  Curse them, Balak commanded, and deny them entry into the land. more >

July 16, 2019

24 Hours of Google Searches, or Why I Love the Internet

Ways to support undocumented immigrants

How to conjugate regular Spanish verbs

Phone number Brookline Booksmith more >

November 23, 2018

And If I Stay It Will Be Double…

“If I go, there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know
Should I stay or should I go?

Like many, I’ve been trying to understand of late exactly what Facebook’s executives did or did not do, what they knew, when they knew it. more >

July 4, 2018

Aging Professor Seeks Smart, Fair, Engaging Match (on the 4th of July)

I’m stewing, as usual, as I put together a new syllabus. In the fall, I’ll be teaching 35 undergraduates a history of the United States – the entire history, from the nation’s colonial roots to the present day. This is a difficult task at any time, but it’s especially difficult for me at the moment as the country plunges ever more deeply into a free-for-all over the meaning of who “we” are.

Though I am thoroughly opposed to using textbooks, especially at the university level, I also know it’s helpful to give students something to lay down a narrative. I’ve relied on Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United Statesfor the past eight years in the course on early American history I’ve offered at UMass Boston. A sprinkling of students over the years, usually from liberal, private high schools, has encountered the text before my class. For the rest, the book has mostly been a welcome introduction to early America, the subject of the course. I’m not sure Zinn’s overview will be the right fit for the class I’ll be teaching this fall, which will be at a somewhat selective, private college. I’ve tried to find an alternative, but I’m coming up empty-handed. more >

June 22, 2018

“Emotional Logic,” Children and Activism

How were they, who were once part of the fabric of society, the body politic, ripped asunder, extirpated?

Debórah Dwork, Children with a Star: Jewish Youth in Nazi Europe, 1991, xlvi.

There are so many questions to ask about how a people reaches a point allowing its government to separate children from their parents and, for all intents and purposes, incarcerates them. And there is another set of questions to ask about what activates this people to insist that its government change course.

Making people feel, I’ll argue, is perhaps the greatest single factor in that activation process. more >

June 16, 2018

Help Has Been Requested

They had left the oncologist’s office. Bad news, again. Each pushed sunglasses onto noses. They blinked, bug-like, in the mid-day, Dallas sun. more >

March 5, 2018

Gun Violence, Students, a Book and Earrings

“Would being armed change the dynamic between teacher and student in the classroom?” WBUR’s Deb Becker asked Lisa Graustein, teacher and equity coordinator at Boston’s Codman Academy. Codman is a successful K-12 charter school in Dorchester, a majority minority neighborhood in Boston whose public schools have long struggled to meet the demands of its population. Ninety-nine percent of students at Codman are low-income and of-color.more >

December 11, 2017

Popular Sovereignty, 2017

Most pundits commenting on the probable election tomorrow of Roy Moore as a U.S. Senator from Alabama are focusing on his “sexual misconduct.” His history of “dating” teenagers when he was in his thirties has provoked outrage and soul searching, with NY Times columnist Gail Collins asking whether Republican voters are willing to vote for “an upstanding family man” who could be relied on to support Democratic agendas or “an awful slimeball who you could count on to support all the things you believe in.” A third option? “No fair answering moving to another state,” she writes. Bah-dah-bum.more >

June 7, 2017


There’s been much to celebrate in the last few weeks: Mark’s and my 30th wedding anniversary, my 55th birthday, and the graduation of a bunch of middle schoolers heading to private high schools whom I’ve gotten to know through Beacon Academy, a one-year academic boot camp. I volunteered to help plan and prepare for the graduation reception, which fell on my birthday. The committee opted to serve tea, whole strawberries, and homemade cookies, which seemed great to me, but not sufficiently festive. It took me a minute to figure out what was missing. Punch.more >

November 9, 2016

Tyranny of the Majority

Gather, several religious congregations have beckoned, for reconciliation, for healing, for hope. Though I would take comfort from being with others who are similarly dismayed by Donald Trump’s election to the presidency, I will not – cannot – attend. Not because I am otherwise engaged. But because I refuse to be reconciled or to heal.more >

October 10, 2016

“Presidential” Debates: What to Tell Your Children

During PBS’s broadcast last night, political analyst Amy Walter disclosed that she would not be allowing her fourth-grade son to watch the second presidential debate. Like many parents of young children, Walter was uneasy imagining how a young person would process likely references to sexual assault, marital infidelity, and who knows what else might fly out of Donald Trump’s mouth.more >

February 17, 2016

Teaching Writing, Questions

I met with a student yesterday before class who left me feeling at a loss.  I am struggling, yet again, to set realistic expectations when it comes to writing.

The student came to me wanting to make sure he understood what I was asking in an upcoming essay.  After we had worked together to clarify and develop a strategy to complete the assignment, we had a few minutes to talk.  “Who are you?”  I asked.  “I mean, when you’re not at school, what’s your life like?”more >

January 17, 2016

Winkie, Winkie!

I wish I had a photograph — or, better yet, a video clip — of Sam in the family van, heading out of our driveway this morning. I thought of running inside to get my  camera/phone. It just didn’t seem the right moment to impose my Smotheriness on Sam and his friend, both strapped in for their last trip from Boston to Ohio. So, I will conjure the image through words.more >

January 12, 2016

Honor Thy Mother

Perhaps you missed this story.  A 21-year-old Syrian “man” shot his 45-year-old mother in the head with a rifle and killed her.  He was involved with ISIL, the Muslim terrorist organization. She wanted the two of them to leave the Syrian town of Raqqa, fearing for his safety as US-led troops neared the ISIL stronghold.  He told ISIL leaders of his mother’s request.  They insisted he publicly execute her.  He complied.more >

December 31, 2015

Culture: Black-Eyed Peas

I was delighted to read in yesterday’s NY Times Food section writer Kim Severson’s ode to the lowly black-eyed pea.   Severson explains that in the U.S. South, revelers put black-eyed peas (also known as “field peas” and “cow peas”) on their New Year’s menus to ensure luck and wealth.  She rightly noted that the Southern tradition has roots in West Africa and African American foodways.

more >

November 24, 2015

Headscarves, Cupcake

We meet every month or two.  We sit around a long table, sometimes in a dark-paneled room in the church downtown where my temple is located, sometimes in a brightly lit conference room in a neighborhood cultural center.  We are middle-aged, Reform Jews.  We are young, ritually observant, Turkish Muslims.  We kvell over babies and share baked treats.  Our conversations focus on favorite passages from our respective books of scripture, the role music plays in our worship services, the “bad women” in our faith traditions, and so on.  We volunteer a few times a year at a food bank or soup kitchen.  We call ourselves “Sisters in Spirit.”more >

November 12, 2015

Update: The Philosopher and the Welder

Two well-written and reasoned pieces responding to Marco Rubio’s assertion that we need more welders and “less” philosophers:

— one by Scott Timberg in Salon

— one by Farai Chideya in Five Thirty Eight Politics

Both question assertions about pay as well as the false opposition between liberal arts and vocational educations.  My favorite bit: a reference to Matthew B. Crawford’s short, smart book, Shopcraft as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work.  Crawford (who earned a Ph.D. in phiosophy) argues for the importance of skilled, thoughtful manual workers.more >

November 10, 2015

Welders and Philosophers

Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio seems to have distilled his education policy during tonight’s debate. “Welders make more money than philosophers,” declared the Florida senator. “We need more welders and less philosophers.”

If Rubio is serious about education, he shouldn’t draw an artificial line between welders and philosophers. This country will not get stronger by assuming that workers who “do” don’t think…and that those who think don’t “do.”more >

September 4, 2015

Refugees, Families & Feminism

Two stories caught my eye this morning, both relating to families.  In oneBoston Globe columnist Shirley Leung champions the rights of mothers to return to work the week they give birth.  In the other in The Wall Street Journal, Joe Parkinson in Istanbul and David George-Cosh in Toronto analyze the ways Nilufer Demir’s photograph of Alan Kurdi, a drowned, 3-year-old Syrian refugee boy, has gone viral.more >

May 24, 2014

Lean this way!

A while back, when Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg first published her book, Lean In, I argued that the concept of using social media to bring women together in consciousness raising groups was terrific, but that Sandberg’s formulation was flawed.  I’m excited to read an article in today’s Boston Globe that a domestic worker fighting to unionize at an area hotel has challenged Sandberg to lean into her cause.  The only way we’ll make real change happen in this country is to work across lines of difference (race, class, gender, ethnicity, religion).  Real change doesn’t just improve some peoples’ lives.  It has a positive effect on everybody.

February 12, 2014

The Book of Life

Excavating in the basement storage area this week, I unearthed “Lily, Max + Sam’s Day by Day Book, Volume I” (Mark’s titling), a.k.a. “The Book of Life” (my titling).  Mark and I began recording in the book on October 22, 1992, when we brought our two-week-old triplets home from Yale-New Haven Hospital.  We seem to have stopped keeping records on Friday, January 30, 1993 – the last page of the book and also the eve of the kids’ baby naming ceremony.  If there is a second volume, I don’t remember it…or haven’t come across it.

On the sheets of this pad, we tracked each kid’s ins and outs.  That is: what the babies took in…and what came out t’other end. Who could muster an oral report at 2 AM? Who’d remember by 4 PM? These records aren’t very interesting, except to demonstrate how often we were feeding and changing diapers..  The jottings – in my hand unless otherwise indicated – evoke what it was like to get premature triplets (who weighed about 4 lbs. each at birth, about 34 weeks gestation) from two weeks to three months old.more >

November 22, 2013

Whether You Lean In or Out, Get in the Water

A long-time, much loved friend posted a question months ago, which I paraphrase: what do you think about parents who have the resources not to work outside the home and who know, from the get-go, that they will seek full-time employment because they want it?

My answer today is prompted by a piece I read on Politico.com this morning.  Writer Michelle Cottle criticizes Michelle Obama for  “Leaning Out.” Cottle complains that Obama has wasted her Ivy League education and career as a high-powered lawyer and that when, this week, Obama weighed in on an education system that leaves behind impoverished kids of color — especially impoverished girls — it was too little, too late.  Cottle also criticizes the First Lady for choosing a public role that has emphasized traditionally “feminine” issues such as healthy eating and exercise.  I am sympathetic to the complaint that Obama might have focused on less traditionally feminine topics, but I draw the line at the following: “Turns out,” Cottle writes, “she was serious about that whole “mom-in-chief” business—it wasn’t merely a political strategy but also a personal choice.”more >

June 27, 2013

Kelly McEvers: Diary of a Bad Year

I stayed up late last night listening to Diary of a Bad Year: A War Correspondent’s DilemmaThe piece, produced with Jay Allison and Transom.org, is NPR reporter Kelly McEvers’s remarkable, hour-long audio documentary about her struggle to justify covering deadly war zones while raising a toddler.

McEvers’s choice – and her agony over her choice – is specific and universal.  Not many of us civilians are in lines of work where a tenth of our colleagues have been murdered or killed in crossfire the past year.   But most of us struggle with the complex emotions of wanting to succeed professionally in jobs we love and also wanting to be with our spouses and kids.more >

June 12, 2013

Anything Can Happen Day

Today, I did the second stupidest thing I’ve done in my entire life.  I’m 51.  That’s a lot of time to do stupid things.  I am not going to tell you about the first stupidest thing.

I decided to run a few errands before sitting down to work at my desk this morning.  I needed to get a move on it in part because I wanted to mail my sister-in-law the cake I made her yesterday.  She had surgery last week.  She’s going to be fine.

I don’t live out here in Wellfleet year-round.  I’m lucky to be here for a few weeks at a time, and this year, I’m on the Cape for most of June.  Unlike in Boston, where I mostly live, here in Wellfleet if I don’t get to my post office by noon, I miss express pickup for the day. My plan was to mail the cake and then zip out Route Six to the Transfer Station to drop off my garbage.more >

April 16, 2013

The Marathon Bombing and Popsicle Stick Etiquette

Many years ago, Lily and I toured the ancient city of Nazareth with our Haifa friends and their three kids.  It was hot, so all the kids were eating popsicles.  Lily finished her treat.  She wanted to throw away her popsicle stick.  She scanned the city street for trash cans.  We walked a few blocks, and without a garbage receptacle in sight, she asked our friends what to do with her leftover stick.  They told her to throw it on the ground.  She protested: “That’s littering!”more >

February 25, 2013

Lean In. No, closer!

I can’t improve on Maureen Dowd’s column in The New York Times yesterday, Pom-Pom Girl for Feminism, in which she takes down Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.  Lean In will hit the shelves and its website will go live March 11, 2013. Sandberg wants women to think positively about moving up through corporate America’s glass ceiling.  She’s pushing to get women meeting monthly in small groups, where we will empower one another “to explore topics critical to [our] success, from negotiating effectively to understanding [our] strengths.”  Dowd complains that the wildly successful Silicon Valley exec “doesn’t understand the difference between a social movement and a social network marketing campaign.”  Dowd, herself, is inclined to “lean out.”more >

December 13, 2012

A Gift a Night

Just a week left, now, until the winter solstice, and less than twenty-four hours until kids start coming home from college. Mark and I have had a pretty terrific couple of months in our empty nest.

Highlights of our time together: a day at The Big E (annual regional fair in Springfield, MA) to celebrate Rosh Hashanah; hearing brilliant banjo player Bela Fleck in concert at Berklee School of Music; making new friends at the Indian classical dance recital of the daughter of old friends; and babysitting our two favorite little boys. The humdrum has been terrific, too. We’ve watched TV together, talked over the newspapers at meals, gone out to the Cape for long walks with Amos. Was this what life was like twenty years ago, before we were parents? Maybe it’s even better now.more >

August 9, 2012

Spreading the Astonishment

In case you missed these beautiful photos, here’s a link to images of American Olympians with children. They are all photos of women.

Of course, I wondered how many Olympic men are dads…and why that’s completely un-newsworthy. The underlying assumption is that men, whether or not they have fathered children, are always free to pursue excellence. Women, on the other hand, spend their energy putting their children first. That they have time to become the very best at anything astonishes.more >

June 18, 2012

Send Off

I took a red-eye flight from California overnight so I’d be back in Boston today to take Lily to the airport. It mattered to me that I be able to have a few hours with her before she left for five weeks in Spain. And it really mattered to me that I be able to escort her to security.more >

May 16, 2012

Aging Gracefully

For my 49th birthday last year, Mark rented me a cello. He also gave me a music stand and a beginner’s book. I drew the bow inexpertly across the strings and made a commitment to this hour-glass shaped beauty. Sound waves rumbled up my arms.

The summer passed before I managed to find a teacher and schedule lessons. Everything I’d been doing to coax sound out of my instrument was wrong. I’d been sitting wrong, holding the bow wrong. Even the size of the instrument was wrong. I rented a different-sized cello. And I practiced. Twenty minutes a day.more >

January 11, 2012

“My greatest creation was you”

Last night, I listened to “Glory (Feat. Blue Ivy Carter),” rapper Jay-Z’s tribute to the birth January 7 of his daughter.  And then I listened again.  I couldn’t get the refrain out of my head: “My greatest creation was you.”

Many musical papas have written love songs to their newborns, with ABC News’s Bill Weir noting that fatherhood is “the ultimate softening agent.”   Dads who’ve publicly crooned to their kids include John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Lou Reed, George Strait, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor, Alan Sparhawk, Loudon Wainwright, and David Byrne (in no particular order).more >

December 23, 2011

The Bowl in the Bowl o’ Cherries

Sam got home from school last Thursday.  I picked him up from South Station.  Max arrived this past Saturday evening on a bus from New York.  Mark and I were at a party for our favorite nonagenarian, so we couldn’t get him. A friend of his ferried him to the house.  And on Monday, after she’d finished her exams, handed in her last essay, and tidied her room, Lily got an extra special lift home from Max and Sam, who had driven out to Western Mass to bring her home from college.  The three of them took a detour on their way back to collect a gorgeous ceramic bowl they’d ordered.more >

September 23, 2011

Perfect Read for a Newly Empty Nest

It’s been almost two weeks since Mark and I embarked on our empty nesting adventure.  My tears have dried.  I’m starting to enjoy increased freedom and diminished stress.  Fun is being had. A book — a library book, no less — has helped me shift into drive.  I checked out non-fiction writer Melissa Fay Greene‘s No Biking in the House without a Helmet (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011).more >

September 9, 2011


I’ve been cleaning, clearing, re-organizing, re-painting, even redecorating all summer. Re-claiming space with an eye toward living in an empty nest. I have come across scraps of paper from a zillion lives ago, kids’ kindergarten art projects, files from projects left dead by the road. Some of these reconnections have left me with a sense of sadness. Others have brought outright joy.  By far the hardest? The Rolodex.more >

August 29, 2011

Fie upon Monday Morning Quarterbacking

I dropped Max at South Station about an hour ago. He left New York at 10 PM Friday night to hop a bus for Boston, hoping to escape what at the time seemed to be a cataclysmic hurricane. By this morning, we knew that Irene was an erratic mess-maker, causing wind and water damage in spots, leaving other places unscathed. Time for Max to get back to New York and his new life as a City Year corps member.more >

August 20, 2011

Bringing them to their Knees: Verizon’s “Can’t Do” Spirit

light’n’lively story in today’s New York Times describes the impact of Verizon Wireless’s installation of temporary “cell on wheels” towers on Martha’s Vineyard’s vacationers and locals. Wireless users’ cell phones start ringing when President Obama arrives on the island, known for its remoteness and beauty. These folks ordinarily forego cell coverage on The Vineyard. Most vacationers prefer life without cell interruptions but, as Times reporter Abby Goodnough notes, understand the administration’s need to link to the wider world.more >

August 10, 2011

Diana Nyad, 61: The “Prime of Her Life”

“Cuba-to-Florida Quest Defeats Swimmer at 61,” the headline reads in today’s New York Times. Diana Nyad, famed marathon swimmer, tried to make her way from Cuba to Key West without a shark cage in one go.  Her shoulder cramped.  She kept swimming. She had an unexpected bout of asthma.  She kept swimming. She began vomiting uncontrollably.  She stopped swimming. Her handlers pulled her from the water, and that was that.more >

Two Ends, a Middle, and a Beginning

Two Ends

Two of the kids – Lily and Max – finished high school in early June.  I know, I know.  They call it “commencement.”  It’s supposed to be a beginning, the start of what’s coming next.  I like the idea of “graduation.”  You move (up?) from one step to another.  But, really, it felt so much like an ending.  The end of waving kids off in the morning from the breakfast table, the end of dropping kids at the train station and picking them up again in the afternoon, the end of having supper ready for everybody and hearing holy hell when everybody is sick of chicken, the end of having gangs of boys hanging out in the basement in front of the TV.  It was hard to think about beginnings, especially because nothing had begun yet.  It will.  I know it.  But it hadn’t then and hasn’t yet.more >

May 8, 2011

Making My Bed, Wellfleet, Mother’s Day 2011

Making my bed, Wellfleet, Mother’s Day 2011, I tucked hospital corners into white cotton sheets — just as my mother taught me.  I folded an ancient Hudson’s Bay four-point blanket in half, smoothing it to rest between sheets and duvet, to keep me warm on my side of the bed.  I first slept under that blanket in 1986 in a bed my mother-in-law made in Taos, New Mexico.  It came to me, here in Massachusetts, when my father-in-law sold the house that held that bed.  I fluffed the duvet in its clean cover this morning, grabbing two corners, following my sister-in-law Katherine’s instructions.  I arranged pillows in their soap-smelling cases, wondering who next would rest here — my husband? I? guests?more >

May 5, 2011

Longing to Speak Seal

Lily and I strolled along the shore this afternoon for our first beach walk of the spring. We saw a dark figure from a distance. What was it? The undulations made it clear that we weren’t looking at anything with legs.

Had to be a seal. Was it a baby? Or just small? Neither of us could tell, but we felt protective, all the same. We weren’t carrying cell phones, so we couldn’t call for help. As we moved closer, our shoes ran over the edge of a message some previous walker had left in the sand. “ANIMAL STRANDING KNOWS.” We weren’t the first to have come across the seal. No point, then, in trying to send an alert. I wrote my own message in the sand: “SEAL VERY TIRED 3 PM TH.” Who would read this? Certainly not the seal.more >

February 28, 2011

The Housewife Returns

I had to stop myself before filling in the customs re-entry form on the flight from Heathrow to Boston last Wednesday. Name: fine. I remembered it. Address: ditto. Carrier, flight number, passport number, passport issue date, passport expiry, yadayadayada. At the bottom — profession. I gripped my pen…and then I remembered: “housewife.”  I had gone to India as a housewife, so, I figured, I’d better come home as one, too.more >

January 24, 2011


Rebecca from the visa service called with an update. She wanted to let me know that by listing myself as a “writer” on my application form, I was putting myself in a category that would require five to seven weeks of scrutiny. “The consulate will read everything you’ve ever published. They’ll want to know what you might be writing about the country.” I protested that I also put down that I’m unemployed. “Doesn’t matter,” she said. “They’ll consider you part of the news media.”more >

November 8, 2010

Fair Game

Friends called yesterday morning to ask if Mark and I would like to go to the movies early afternoon.  My knee-jerk reaction? I internally looked over my shoulder, thinking, “Who me?” Aren’t we supposed to be ferrying children around and fanning the fires at home? I just as quickly said, “Sure!” once I realized that we could actually meet up without a wrinkle.more >

September 13, 2010


Two pieces in yesterday’s New York Times caught my attention  One, by The Times’ ombudsman Arthur S. Brisbane, addressed the paucity of obituaries celebrating women’s lives. The other, by “Motherlode” blogger Lisa Belkin, analyzed the decision of a group of academic psychologists to declare parenthood the pinnacle of human experience. Both Brisbane and Belkin were well-intentioned, but both missed the implications or their arguments on the connection between parenthood and women’s lives.more >

August 15, 2010

It’s No One’s Business

Lily came out of her interview at a small, elite New England liberal arts college sure that she’d had a good conversation but frustrated by the content. She knew she was supposed to “take charge” of the interview, so she asked a question about how well the college accommodated students with learning differences. She wanted to know, specifically, how she would go about fulfilling a language requirement given she’s dyslexic. The interviewer reassured her that the academic dean was always willing to go to bat for students with documented disabilities. Some professors wouldn’t “get it,” the interviewer said, but college policy would always back up LD students. With accommodations, Lily would be able to fulfill her requirements, just like everyone else. “Besides,” the interviewer told Lily, “it’s no one’s business.”more >

August 9, 2010

The Long Goodbye

I slowed my pace Saturday afternoon. I fell back to savor the view. Six long, suntanned legs in step, striding along a wide, dirt path. I wasn’t straining to hear the conversation, but I couldn’t help hearing the laughter. I just wanted to look.more >

July 11, 2010

Swapping Desk Chairs for Treadmills

I’m glad I haven’t figured out how to use the camera feature on this computer, because, boy, you wouldn’t want to see me. I still haven’t showered today. But I have a good reason. more >

April 30, 2010

Family Porn

Tomorrow, May 1, is D-Day for high school seniors.  All those who have been put through brutal application and acceptance processes, these kids who have a new appreciation for the concept of a “wait list,” will have to make up their minds.  By tomorrow, they’ve got to fill out paperwork and mail deposits into the colleges of their choice.  This is it.more >

April 20, 2010

Feminism: Don’t Give Up the Ghost

While Lily was hanging out Sunday at Smith College, getting a sense of what it means to attend an all-women’s institution in the 21st century, I was reading Hilary Mantel’s autobiography, Giving Up the Ghost (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2003). Mantel recently won the Mann Booker Prize for her brilliant, challenging novel about Thomas Cromwell, Wolf Hall. The book so intrigued me that I pulled everything of Mantel’s from my branch library’s shelves. The autobiography was among the haul and proved to be a fortuitous read on this particular trip.more >

April 16, 2010

The Key Is the Peach Snapple

Every Sunday, I can’t wait to read The Boston Globe Magazine‘s column “Dinner with Cupid.” Globe staff set up blind dates from a pool of folks who apply to eat supper with a stranger.  The participants get asked a set of questions: if you were stranded on a desert island, what would you want? what was your best date ever? why are you a catch? when are you happiest?  The answers to these questions are up top.  The blow-by-blow of the actual date follows underneath and ends with a post-mortem.  The daters grade their experience.more >

April 9, 2010

Taking Issue with Judith Warner’s WE’VE GOT ISSUES

I was predisposed to like Judith Warner’s new book, We’ve Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of Medication (New York: Riverhead Books, 2010). I read it and had a visceral, negative reaction. I couldn’t put my finger on what bugged me. Two weeks passed, and I still couldn’t sort out my thoughts. I sat down with the book again yesterday, and now I can explain.

Like the more than 60 families Warner interviewed in We’ve Got Issues, my family has children who have needed medication.  I, like so many of these parents, have struggled to come to terms with the implications of medicating kids for diagnoses that 30 years ago would have gone unseen, let alone untreated. In fact, they did go unseen and undiagnosed in my extended family, and the attendant wreckage and dysfunction have been profound. My mantra concerning medicating children for mental illness has evolved to this: it is far scarier to contemplate what things will be like if the meds don’t work than if they do. Hence my predisposition to read Warner’s book with a favorable eye.more >

January 27, 2010

Hey, Harry!

Martha Coakley lost the Democratic Senate seat to Republican Scott Brown last week. The vote was close: 52 to 47 percent. The stunner was that a Republican could win, even with a four-point margin, in a supposed blue-state stronghold. This is not news.  What national leaders have made of this victory in the ensuing week, meanwhile, deserves scrutiny.more >

December 11, 2009

Dear Tiger, I Owe Ya One

Dear Tiger,

I owe ya one.  You have given me the best holiday gift a mother of teenage boys could ask for. I take no pleasure from your suffering.  At the same time, I am grateful to you for screwing (up) so publicly.

You went to Stanford because you could play a great round of golf.  Your link-ability got you famous.  That fame got you a thin Swedish supermodel wife and two perfect children. You got really really rich, earning a billion dollars between 1996 and November 27, 2009, when you had your car accident.  By then, we could get a Tiger Woods golfing watch (it’s really light and can withstand a big “G” spot, I mean force), and Gatorade Tiger (if you drink it, you, too, can really swing).  In short, you, dubbed “the world’s most marketable athlete,” schooled us all in the fine art of getting.more >

December 5, 2009

Parenting 2.0, or: The Helicopter Has Landed

Thanksgiving has come and gone.  My kids are not quite half way through their junior year of high school.  PSAT scores are wending their way to the house.  If only Harry Potter’s Hedwig would deliver the College Board’s first official judgment, infusing a bit of fun and magic here at the starting gate of Upper Middle Class College Admissions Hysteria (to be followed later by Upper Middle Class Wedding Hysteria).   Anxiety has predictably been rising this autumn. Grades on tests and papers have seemed even more important than ever.  And I decided yesterday after a particularly awful week of UMCCAH that I am resigning from my role as Nagger-in-Chief.  I mean it.  I quit.more >

September 8, 2009

A Learner’s Bill of Rights

Back in Brookline, missing the hell out of the beach, and the kids started 11th grade today. President Obama gave a great speech to the nation’s school children. Everybody’s got homework already.  I hope they work hard and find much of their study meaningful.  Is that too much to ask?

Along those lines, I share with you “A Learner’s Bill of Rights,” a brilliantly articulated manifesto that Kirsten Olson uses to begin her new book, Wounded by School: Recapturing the Joy in Learning and Standing Up to Old School Culture (New York and London: Teachers College Press, 2009). Olson’s ideas and feelings are passionate and ring true.  If kids have the wobbles in these early days of the school year, share with them the following:more >

July 13, 2009

The Outer Space

I’ve been blogging this summer — but not here, on Bowl o’ Cherries.  I’m keeping a blog for WCAI, the NPR affiliate for Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket.  The blog’s called “The Outer Space,” because I’m spending the summer covering stories on the Outer Cape (roughly Orleans to Provincetown).  Come find me, and leave me a comment:more >

April 25, 2009

Something between Always and Never

What’s the right answer?  A teenager with LD issues, especially organization, is struggling. How much to intervene?  I don’t have a right answer.  I know that “always” isn’t right.  And I know that “never” isn’t right, either.  It’s the in-between that’s so confusing to me right now.

I’ve had a jam-packed week of these quandaries.  I don’t know whether I’ve done a good job or whether I need to make a sizable contribution to the kids’ lifetime therapy funds.  Maybe I’ll never know.

Sam overslept and missed his ride to school Tuesday.  By 1, when I hadn’t heard from him, I began to worry.  He didn’t answer the home phone or his cell.  Lily hadn’t seen him at school. Neither had the dean of students.  I walked home quickly from work to check on him.  I was out of breath as I opened the back door into the kitchen.  There was Sam, looking as if he’d been tossed around in the dryer half dozen times, eating an ice cream sandwich.  “What are you doing?” I barked.  “Eating an ice cream sandwich,” he blinked. Sam got himself to school in time to get homework assignments and learn his penance: a 9 AM Saturday study hall for two hours. And if he has any more unexcused absences, he could lose credit or even be suspended.  Mark and I disagreed in our approach but ultimately spoke in one voice.  We told Sam everybody makes mistakes, we still love him (this of course elicited much eye rolling), that we believe in him so much that we know he can handle the lumps, and that we wanted to hear his thoughts about making sure he didn’t oversleep again.  Told him he’d have to re-schedule the community service he had signed up for. And let him know he’d be responsible for paying for the cabs he’d need to get him from the T station to school and back. This proved to be a more difficult part of the deal.  He lost his wallet two days later.more >

April 19, 2009


Today marks the 22nd anniversary of my mother’s death.  She was diagnosed with two unrelated cancers in the space of five years.  Survived the first.  Was killed by the second. I was 24, she 56, when she died.  I have lived almost half my life without her.more >

April 8, 2009

The 11th Plague

I was feeling exceptionally sorry for myself this morning.  Sad and dreary.  Low and teary.   I cancelled our Passover seder because Max has been sick.

Max came home Monday afternoon saying he “felt like shit.”  Pale face.  Glassy eyes.  Wickedly sore throat, he reported.  A quick date with the thermometer revealed a fever of 101.6.   Sixteen year olds don’t generally run those kinds of fevers.  And Max hasn’t had more than an occasional cold all year.  He tucked himself into bed and slept, on and off, until morning. more >

April 4, 2009

Pre-Existing Conditions

Two articles in this morning’s newspapers speak to one another — but they don’t know it.

One is a fascinating piece in today’s Boston Globe focusing on the genetics of an aggressive form ofcolon cancer. 

Another in The New York Times’ Business section counsels readers how to get health insurance when they’re already dealing with pre-existing conditions.

The Globe piece highlights genetic research linking descendants of one almost-Mayflower family who suffer from a deadly form of colon cancer.  Scientists combed genealogical archives to piece together the puzzle linking families in New York and Utah.  Now that they’ve isolated the genetic mutation giving carriers a 2 in 3 lifetime chance of developing the cancer, scientists can offer aggressive screening practices in hopes of helping carriers catch nascent tumors before they’ve spread.more >

February 2, 2009

Say Sorry

There hasn’t been much in the news of late to inspire hope, despite Barack Obama’s assumption of office.  He warned us in his inauguration speech.  He was right.  Unemployment continues to rise, there is still war in the Middle East, people in positions of power — no matter their political affiliation — still don’t seem to understand that, as the newly minted senator for Illinois warned us, “one day a peacock, the next a feather duster.”more >

December 20, 2008

To Opt

I went on a job interview.

OK, so not a paying job.  An internship.  Two days a week.  And I couldn’t have been more delighted when I learned I’d gotten the spot.

After five and a half years of — now, how shall I say this? — Unemployment?  Staying at home with the kids? — I stick my toe into a formal work environment again.

I notice three things about my hesitation as I waffle over how to describe the last five and a half years.  One starts with a negative.  (UN.  As in UNhappy.  UNfulfilled.  UNpaid.)  The other sounds like a positive decision but comes off as if it were a really fun fakey vacation to a theme park.  (You know.  You’ve just gotten off the Whizzmatron and are standing by a large metal trash can, holding your hair back — and also the hair of several small children who have just drunk blue Slurpees — as everyone retches from the effects of Zero G, and someone asks to ride again,  and you think, “Why not?”) The last is a simple declarative sentence. (I stick.  Manly, no?)  The truth is in there.  Somewhere.more >

November 26, 2008


I can’t very well keep a blog with a subtitle including the sacred word PIE without paying tribute and offering a secret recipe in time for Thanksgiving.  Here forthwith…

Two quick reading suggestions, both involving road trips, and a call for others:

Pascale Le Draoulec published a lovely, small book, American Pie: Slices of Life (and Pie) from America’s Back Roads (NY: Harper Collins, 2002).  I’ve experimented with many of her recipes and enjoyed reading her escapades on the road to find perfect home made pie.  I picked up a great bit of pie jargon from Le Draoulec: “marriage pie.”  That’s when you take two dramatically different fruits and tuck them into a pie crust.  The sum of the different parts is infinitely better than either standing alone.  A great metaphor, no? For the record, my best marriage pie is nectarine raspberry.  more >

November 5, 2008

My Right Knee Thanks You

There are so many reasons to celebrate President-Elect Barack Obama’s victory last night: what it means for upcoming appointments to the Supreme Court, the significance to our ability to interact with the rest of the world in positive ways, exiting gracefully from Iraq and more >

September 11, 2008

There Will Be a Quiz

Parents have so many important things to teach their kids: how to scramble eggs, how to do laundry, how to ride the T. Each lesson learned is a milestone moving them closer to independence. It’s the best kind of planned obsolescence I know. The milestone at my house this fall has been to teach our 16-year-old triplets Lily, Max, and Sam to use and manage their own bank accounts. more >

April 4, 2008

To Begin

The other morning I watched five game shows in a row on television. I wanted to turn them off, but I was too mesmerized by the contestants. The first one was a frail woman who said, “I am a simple, average housewife,” then proceeded to win a toaster more >