Friday, July 7, 2017

"Am I Going to Be Okay?"

Am I going to be okay, Mom?” My daughter asked quietly as she lie on an ER gurney. It was midnight, and we had been there for hours. She’d had bloodwork, IV meds, and IV fluids. The doctors had finally found the source of infection and were treating it.

There was never a doubt in my mind that she’d be okay. I knew that she’d be okay. What I didn’t know was this: she had no idea whether she’d be okay

After I explained to her that “yes, you’ll be just fine, baby girl,” her words lingered as my heart splintered thinking about how scared she must’ve been. When was the last time I wasn’t sure if *I* would be okay? I couldn’t recall one. It sounded terrifying.

I’ve gotten so used to answering my kids’ questions that I can do so while half asleep. Do fish drink water, Mom? Can you tell me what’s in that edible slime recipe? What kind of flower is that? Did you have email in the olden days, Mom? I can spit out answers to these questions in milliseconds, whether based in fact or in fiction that I make up on the fly. The Q & A routine is so ingrained in my daily life that I never really stopped to think about why my kids were asking so many questions.

I never really stopped to think about how many new things they were experiencing every single day. I never really stopped to think about the fact that my kids, unlike adults, have very few life experiences under their belts. Instead, each day is a blank slate for them to fill with brand-new experiences and knowledge.

But, since that night in the ER, I’ve tried to imagine what it would be like to be a kid again and to learn new things—huge chunks of truth and information—every day. It seems . . . overwhelming, exhilarating, and somewhat scary.

As a result, I’m trying to be more patient with my kids when they ask me questions. Admittedly, that is a challenge when day-to-day life is so hectic; there’s always a toddler to console, dishes to do, and meals to fix. I don’t always have the time or patience needed to thoughtfully answer the questions at hand. Just yesterday, I was explaining to my daughter, in an exasperated tone, that her new puppy was just nipping at her in a playful way. She looked disappointed as she explained that “I didn’t know, Mom. I’ve never had a dog before.” She was right. She had not, and I was expecting her to know more than she did.

I know my daughter will be okay, and she knows it, too. And thanks to her question in the ER that night, I’ve become more conscious about the fact that she and her sisters are experiencing so many firsts every day, too. While I can’t create more hours in the day for answering questions, I can try to be a little more empathetic when they ask the 387th question of the day. I can remember that they’re always learning. And as it turns out, I am, too. 

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Greatest Legacy of All

Everyone has before-and-afters in life. Little did I know, in spring of 2014, my life would be defined by two before-and-afters that occurred in the span of one month.

In March 2014, my Dad died unexpectedly. I rushed home to my family, including my Mom and five siblings, where we all sat and grieved together. Days passed in a blur, and then it was time to say a final goodbye at his funeral. As my husband and I loaded our three young girls into the car, we heard Somewhere Over the Rainbow blasting on the radio. My husband asked me if I had put it on; I had not. I smiled a sad, tired smile at him and felt like it was a sign from my Dad.

A month or so after his death, I discovered I was pregnant with baby #4. Then, at my first ultrasound appointment, we learned that baby #4 was in fact babies #4, #5, and #6. That’s right, we were having spontaneous TRIPLETS! Nothing could’ve prepared us for the shock. I laughed and cried, as my husband held my hand, and my doctor gave me a pep talk: “You can do this. You were meant to do this.”

Soon after that, I learned that two of my sisters-in-law had also conceived babies, including one “rainbow baby,” during the weeks after my Dad’s death. Amazingly, my siblings and I were expecting FIVE new babies within a few weeks of each other, which would be grandchildren #13-17 for my parents.

After a high risk pregnancy that included two months of bedrest, my triplets roared into the world on a sunny Sunday morning at 30 weeks, 4 days gestation. They were tiny, but they were healthy. I was shocked. I was elated. I was happy to finally be able to breathe and move again. As I sat in my hospital room talking with my sisters, we looked out the window and saw a fleeting rainstorm. It passed quickly, and then my three girls bounded into the room, overjoyed to see me and ready to meet their three baby sisters. “We saw THREE RAINBOWS on the way here, Mom! THREE RAINBOWS!” In that moment, I knew it was my Dad, and I felt him smiling down at us, full of baby joy for these three precious new lives. It was so bittersweet.

In the weeks that followed, my sisters-in-law had their babies, too. We began to call the five babies the “Frederick Five,” in memory of my Dad.

Over the last three years, those babies have brought so much joy and laughter to our lives, at a time when we needed it most. They have been such a bright spot of happiness through some days that have otherwise been all clouds and rain.

The “Frederick Five” is now two-and-a-half, and, as you imagine, they’re busy, playful toddlers who keep us on our toes.

When our family comes together with the 17 kids, there’s always so much laughter and fun. We recently went spent a long weekend together at the beach, where my sister-in-law (and mom of numbers #8, #11, and #17) took this photo of the grandkids.

I’ve been asked how we got the youngest ones to cooperate, but, the truth is, they were overjoyed to be a part of the fun. Each of the kids, when we called out their numbers to line up, proudly marched to their spots, beaming ear-to-ear. They were happy to be part of something bigger than themselves, happy to be part of this big, happy family.

I know that all of us, when we see the 17 grandkids together, are thinking about my Dad. We know how proud he would’ve been to see them all together, laughing and having fun. Even more, we know he’d be so proud that all those kids are such kind, thoughtful, and generous people, thanks in large part to my parents’ lessons and love. I cannot think of a greater legacy than that—one of love and kindness, that will only continue to grow as our family does, too. We will continue to honor his memory, and the love he gave us, through them, and the love we have for each other. I can’t think of anything more bittersweet.

Photo Credit: Annabelle Rose Photography: bellerosephoto/

Saturday, June 24, 2017

This Is Age Two. And This Is Age Two with Three.

This Is Age Two.

Two is big wet open-mouth kisses.  Two is dancing to Elmo and Mickey Mouse.  Two is shouting, “I can’t like it!” when you don’t like something, as if you’re incapable of liking it.  Two is saying “I love you, mama.”  Two is discovering chocolate.  Two is asking for piggy tails.  Two is refusing piggy tails.  Two is big, tight hugs around your neck.  Two is demanding to go to the playground.  Two is loving her big sisters deeply and asking for them when Mom doesn’t give her what she wants.  Two is asking to brush her teeth.  Two is refusing to eat dinner.  Two is gobbling up your dinner and asking for more.  Two is newfound words and independence.  Two is making sure Mom is right around the corner.  Two is asking for the blue cup, and having a massive tantrum if it can't be found. Two is learning to sleep in a toddler bed but ending up in my bed during the night.  Two is potty training accidents on the living room floor.  Two is changing clothes 37 times every day.  Two is a tiny, high pitched voice with the best, most contagious laugh.

Two is love.  Two is overwhelming.  Two is overwhelming love. 

This Is Age Two with Three.  

Two with three means constantly shouting “where’d the third one go?!”  Two with three is figuring out who bit whom.  Two with three is a connection so deep they don’t know where they end and the others begin.  Two with three is playing ring around the rosie and all falling down together, laughing hysterically, and doing it all over again.  Two with three is savoring the moments when I can rock just one.  Two with three is kissing each other’s real and imaginary bo-bos in an effort to “make it all better.”  Two with three is waking up to a toddler on your belly and one on either side of you, too.  Two with three is three lovies, which must be found before bedtime.  Two with three is more fighting than you could imagine.  Two with three is never doing a quick errand, because quick errands aren’t possible with three two-year-olds.  Two with three means asking where their sisters are when they’re not all together.   Two with three is not having enough hands to hold everyone at the same time when they’re all crying and want you.  Two with three is never-ending conversations with each other and with you.  Two with three means always having three extra people in the shower.  Two with three means cheering each other on when using the baby potties.  Two with three means three toddlers inspecting said results in the potties.  Two with three is hearing them shout to each other, "no, you go to time out!  That’s NOT! NICE!”  Two with three means hours of time spent strapping three toddlers into carseats.  Two with three is being touched out at the end of every day.  Two with three is chorus of high pitched laughter that makes your heart swell even when you’re tired and frazzled.  

Two with three is love.  Two with three is overwhelming.  Two with three is overwhelming love.  

Two with three is different than two with one, but it's also the same--the love, the tantrums, the joy, and the infectious laughter are all the same.  Here's to surviving and savoring AGE TWO, whether you have one, two, or three.  

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Monday, June 12, 2017

What I Love about Car Dates

Car dates.  They’re a thing.  At least for me and my husband.  You, too, can experience glorious car dates with just a few easy steps.  Here’s how: 

When you realize that bedtime is going to be a complete disaster, quickly text your babysitters and ask who’s free later that day.  Britney, babysitter extraordinaire, you’re free? Great!  We’ll see you at 5:30 then.  Babysitter arrives just in time for all the kids to fall apart.  (That part isn’t really necessary per se, but it is a possible side effect of car dates.)  You and your husband sprint to the car, carefully peeling off any toddlers who may be dangling off of you.  

Can you smell that?  I can, friends.  It smells like SWEET FREEDOM.  FREEDOM within the confines of those car doors, where no little hands can touch you.  Freedom from the bedtime grind, freedom from the witching hours.  Blessed is the silence, y’all. 

Next step, where should you go?  You’re not hungry because you snacked on the kids’ dinner.  It wasn’t even that good but you were frazzled and hungry so you somehow gobbled up a handful of nuggets, fruit, and mac n cheese.  Do either of you have any errands to run?  Not really.  Should you get some fruit from the fruit stand?  Nope, you covered that earlier in the day with a Costco trip.  Want to check out that cool new restaurant downtown? No... don't feel like looking presentable or finding parking.  

There’s only one thing left to do: sit in the car and have a car date.

We’ve done this a lot lately, and I've come to love it.  Sometimes we grab coffee and sit in the car, or, on one occasion we to went the fancy grocery store, got some nice wine, and drank it out of a tiny paper cup used for store samples. Another time, we sat in the grocery store parking lot and did all our Christmas shopping in one fell swoop while talking and staring at our phones in the dark. 

On car dates, you can talk freely and without interruption, because there’s not a single distraction.  It’s just you, your husband, and paper cups of wine or coffee.  And it’s pretty awesome.

Between kids, work, and everything else, it often feels like my husband and I are working different shifts, and car dates give us a time to really catch up, laugh, see what we have going on in the upcoming weeks, talk about anything going on with our kids, question when it will get easier with said kids, and dream about a trip to Napa.  We talk, we laugh, we just exist… together.  Existing together, without distraction or interruption, reminds me of who we were before we had half a dozen kids; it brings our relationship back to the forefront, if only for a few hours.

So the next time you see us sitting in a grocery store parking lot, just throw us a wave because, no, we’re not getting out of the car.  We’re staying in the car, on our car date.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

To My Preschool Mom Friends from the Park

To my preschool mom friends from the park:

I miss you.  Or rather, I really miss us, and those long, golden afternoons at the park.
I think I speak for all of us when I confess that we used to be slightly envious of those moms who had to leave the park and go pick up their kids from big kid school.  We thought, they have places to go, activities to do, and don’t have to fill their afternoons with long hours at the park

Life has a funny way of proving us wrong, don’t you think? 

Looking back now, I love how we had a standing date every afternoon to meet up at the neighborhood park, our little patch of green.  Just from looking at the park, you could tell that it was a hub of activity; forgotten blankets and shoes lay on the picnic tables, while discarded cozy coupes and scooters were scattered everywhere, left there by parents who hoped to give the toys a second life. 

Some afternoons, all of us would be there, while other days it was just two of us visiting while we pushed our kids on the swings.  One of us would bring a box of juice boxes, and another would bring a big bag of animal crackers.  It was never organized ahead of time, it was just one of those things that we knew would be helpful, so we did it. 

Our gaggle of kids would play hide-and-seek or make a train and slide down the twirly slide, and we’d all wave when they demanded LOOK MOM.  When one of our kids needed a push on the swings or some help on the monkey bars, one of us would instinctively jump in and help out.  In that way, we moved seamlessly together throughout the park, helping kids, as our conversation flowed.

And we talked about everything.  We whispered to each other: I’m pregnant, but I’m only 6 weeks so I’m not telling anyone yet.  Except, of course, each other.  We worried together about how the transition to big-kid school would be.  We vented about how the kids might never sleep (yes, I still do this).  We caught up on the latest celebrity gossip, and where everyone was headed on vacation. 

We didn’t realize it then, but we also had the luxury of not censoring our conversation from our kids, because they were still too young and busy to listen.  No one had to rush off to carpool, and no one had anywhere they had to be except right there, entertaining our kids and visiting with each other.    

We were there for each other, both physically and as a support system, in a way that I have not yet replicated since my kids have gone off to big-kid school.  We were intimately in tune with each other's struggles and victories, both the big ones and the small ones.  And so, during those years, we carried each other through the best and worst of things.  We celebrated new pregnancies and babies.  We ate cupcakes doused in sprinkles as we celebrated toddlers’ birthdays.  We also hugged each other hard when we experienced unimaginable losses, like infant loss or the death of a parent.  I appreciated that you could just look at me and you knew it wasn’t a very good day.  On those days, you always made it a point to ask, are you ok?, in a way that was so genuine and kind that I was completely disarmed.  I didn’t have to say anything except yes, thanks, and you knew that I was tired and counting down the hours until my husband came home.      

I miss how unhurried we were.  I miss how we had nowhere else to be except right there, for each other.  I miss those days.  I miss us. 

These days, we see each other on the road as we’re ferrying kids home from school or to dance and swim.  You see me in my big kid-hauling bus (literally) and you always flash a smile and a wave. Sometimes I wonder where you’re headed or how your day was.  I wonder what the latest is with your husband’s crazy home improvement project.  I wonder how that trip with your extended family went.  I wonder if you’re going to go ahead and try for one more baby.  I wonder if you’re really doing ok, or whether you’re having a hard time.

Occasionally, we visit briefly when we drop the kids off at school, but the timing has to be exactly right, and sometimes our younger kids don’t have the patience to sit in their carseats while we chat away.   And while our group texts are always fun and lively, they don’t compare to unhurried face-to-face conversations we used to have at the park.      

Before I run to carpool, I should tell you one last thing: sometimes when I’m driving my kids home, I purposely take the route that goes right by our park.  And when I do, I see them: a new crop of moms of little kids, talking and pushing their kids on the swings, or sitting on the park benches talking.  It always makes me smile and think of you.    

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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Why I Let My Kids See Me Cry

My daughters were just 6, 4, and 2 when my Dad passed away unexpectedly three years ago.  In the weeks immediately after his death, life didn’t slow down for me to grieve him; there was homework to do, sick kids to take to the doctor, dinners to fix, and baths to give.    

Yet in the quiet moments when I was driving, when no one was climbing on me or needing things, I found the time and space I needed to settle into my sadness.  And so, each morning when I drove my oldest daughter to school, I would drive while tears silently streamed down my face.  Often, my girls would see me in the rearview mirror and ask, “are you sad about Grandpa?  Do you miss Grandpa?”  I would nod or simply whisper in reply: “yes.  I am very sad.  I miss him so much.  But I will be okay.”  

In those moments, where my eyes were puffy and streaked with mascara, I think that my daughters saw me as more than their Mom.  They saw me as a person trying to navigate through waves of unbearable grief while also carrying on with the day-to-day business of living life.  They saw me for what I am: vulnerable, honest, and human.  

I know I make plenty of mistakes as a parent, but I think there’s one thing I’m doing right: teaching my kids it’s okay to grieve.  It’s okay to feel sad.  It’s okay to miss the person you’ve lost.  

We live in an age of parenting where want to fix things.  We want our children to be happy.  Yet when our kids lose a loved one, we cannot fix things for them.  We cannot make them better.  We can, however, show them how to grieve through our example.  And that is why I let them see me cry.  

My hope is that, by watching me, my kids will learn that there is no quick fix for grieving. I tell them that it is normal to feel sad and to miss the person that we've lost too soon. We talk about how it is hard, and it is sad, and that's okay.  Yet we also spend time celebrating our departed loved one by talking about what made that person special and what we loved about them.   I know, and they know, that there are no magic words that erase the sadness.  Instead, there is only time and space to allow them to grieve and remember what has been lost.  

So when we find ourselves saying goodbye to a loved one, whether it's a beloved former coach or an extended family member—I hug my kids tight and say: “it’s okay to feel sad.  I know you loved them.” And I let them see me cry.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Why I Travel with My Kids

Every time we travel with our six kids, I have this moment of panic where I ask myself: What have we done?! What WERE we thinking? Why did we come to the beach/the zoo/Grandma’s house/Disney? We’re never traveling again.
And yet, we always do.
I do it because there’s nothing like seeing my toddlers dip their toes into the ocean for the first time. At first they cry and refuse to put their feet down because the wet sand feels so different. But after a while, they plant their sturdy feet at the water’s edge and smile as they feel the sand swirling underneath their feet and back out to the ocean. Those firsts—at the beach, at the mountains, and everywhere in between—remind me of the beauty of the world as I see it again through my children’s eyes.
I do it because the sound of their laughter when playing with their cousins is infectious. We often travel to see extended family. My kids and their cousins spend hours working on elaborate plays, dance routines, and craft projects. I smile when hear them all roaring with laughter in the other room, and I’m reminded that there’s nothing better than spending time with family, especially when it means I get to catch up with my sisters while the kids entertain themselves.
I do it because I know there’s no better way to teach my kids about the world than by showing it to them. They know where the Atlantic Ocean is because they jumped into the chilly Atlantic waters while visiting relatives in New England. They know the difference between a nickel and a dime because they counted out their change to pay for their souvenir bracelets at the zoo. Their learning comes alive through hands-on experiences and adventures. Traveling also teaches them that people in different cities and countries may look, sound, or do things differently, but that diversity is part of what makes the world such a beautiful place.
I do it because it reminds me of what life was like before I had kids, when travel was easy and carefree. Traveling before kids was stress-free; I would throw some clothes in a carry-on bag and head out the door without any snacks, lovies, or sippy cups. These days, traveling with my six little ones means that I bring bucketloads of those things. However, I still see glimmers of my carefree, pre-kids traveling days when we travel, and that reminds me that I’m still the same person, even though I have lots more luggage these days.
I do it because I get to experience my favorite childhood places all over again. While walking down Main Street at Disney World with my kids, I remembered the magic I felt when my parents took me there. With each place I’ve revisited, I marvel at the fact that *I* am now the parent, and I get to see everything again with my own kids. There’s nothing quite like reliving the magic from your own childhood while also seeing your kids' joy when doing those same things for the first time.
I do it because it’s freeing to step away from the laundry, the to-do list at home, and be together. The monotony of day-to-day parenting can be exhausting. I travel to escape it, as well as the daily grind of laundry, dishes, and the endless to-do list. When I’m away with my family, I don’t feel pulled away to tend to all those mundane tasks, and, instead, I enjoy the time spent together as a family.
I do it because my kids always remember the fun we’ve had together. Somehow they tune out all the stress of traveling and they remember only the fun. When we get home, I hear them saying, remember that time we went to the beach last summer and mom let us eat ice cream for dinner? Remember that time you surprised us and told us we were going to Disney? Or, remember that time at Grandma’s house when we all dyed eggs together and had a giant Easter egg hunt? I may not always remember the details, but they do.
I do it because even though it’s hard, it’s worth it. Always.
Without fail, I have that moment on every trip where I question whether it was worth it, but by the end of the trip, I always say to myself—that was worth it. It was worth the packing, the laundry, the sleepless nights, the late-night grocery store runs, the long car rides, the unpacking, etc. And then I’ll turn to my husband and say: so, where to next?
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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Guest Post: One of the Cool Girls (by Drew Arms)

Quick note: I'm happy to share this guest post by Drew Arms.  She's a college professor and mom.  And she's always a bright spot in my day when I chat with her at school drop off!  Thank you, Drew.

“Oh, they don’t talk to me.  I’m not one of the cool girls.”  My heart sank when my nine year old made this comment about some of her classmates.  She didn’t seem too sad about it, and she soon went on to talk about how “cool” her locker chandelier was.  But I felt a little sad.  In kindergarten, “cool” only applied to things, not people.  What is it that divides kids into the “cool” and “uncool”? 

Unfortunately, my perspective is pretty one-sided.  I wasn’t one of the cool girls either.  When I was in middle school, I understood this to mean that I didn’t have the right haircut (I didn’t have bangs when everyone else did), I didn’t wear the right clothes (no Esprit or Benetton for me; “Why would I buy you a t-shirt that costs $30 because it has “Benetton” on it?” my oh-so-practical mother asked), I was overweight (which automatically banished me from the cool group), I didn’t dance, cheerlead, or play soccer.  I spent much of middle and high school feeling a lack of approval. 

So, what makes a cool girl?  Cool girls, at least in my experience, are not necessarily mean girls as the movies would have you believe (though some are) but a select group whose parents socialize with one another, who do after-school activities together, who dress similarly, who close off their circle of friends pretty quickly and tightly, and who seem to find strength and identity in being part of this group. 

One of my college students astutely pointed out that labeling someone as “not cool” is the last socially acceptable way to discriminate.  Most of my daughter’s peers understand that you’re not supposed to say you don’t like someone because they’re overweight, or poor, or of another race.  But on the playground, you can ignore, tease, and belittle someone because they’re not cool, and that’s reason enough. 

Part of the reason that my daughter isn’t thought of as cool has nothing to do with her, but with me.  Her father and I don’t move in a lot of social circles and don’t aspire to; we’re happy homebodies. Also, my daughter and I are introverts, and introverts tend not to be in the cool crowd.   Introverts, being introverts, don’t feel the need to have or even want the group dynamic.  In fact, it’s tiring, it takes too much energy. 

Still I didn’t think any of this would be a convincing or comforting response to my daughter.  I didn’t want her to understand the girls’ treatment of her as a valid judgment on her.  That she lacked anything, or was somehow unacceptable.  What to say? 

“Hey, I wasn’t cool in school, but I turned out ok.” Or “You’re cool to me.”  Or “Who cares what they think or what they do?  You be you.  Why would you want to be a cool girl anyway?”

What a dumb question.  Everyone wants to be some version of “cool.”  Being cool is important.  I get it.  If your peers think you are cool, it’s a nice boost to your self-esteem.  And in this town, like many, being thought of as cool or popular really does have material benefits: the cool people hang out together, network, and land each other jobs, positions on boards, timeshares in Florida.  “Cool” often translates as important

But –  and I’m paraphrasing Aristotle here – being cool isn’t the same as being happy.  And even the cool people want to be happy.

So I could tell my daughter the truth: being cool is completely relative.  It’s dependent on other people’s perceptions, opinions and whims, which you can’t control, under ever-changing circumstances.  It also depends on your own self-perception.  If you think you’re cool, doesn’t that make you so?  Isn’t it cool to be unashamedly whoever you are? 

The overwhelming problem with putting any kind of premium on “coolness” is that it’s so very insular.  The more you turn inward, associating only with those like you, drawing your strength and values in validating the qualities of those like you, the less practice you have in displaying empathy, thinking critically, being open-minded and open-hearted with those not like you.  There is a dangerous mindset that accompanies this group-think, and many writers have commented on the adolescent dangers of peer pressure.  But the danger extends to the excluded, for even an outsider who dubs the popular girls “snobs” to cover the hurt of exclusion risks becoming someone who discriminates and rejects.  

Early in the novel Jane Eyre, the young Jane is excluded by the wealthy Reed family because she is poor and plain.  When Aunt Reed tells her children they are not to associate with Jane, Jane in turn cries out passionately and defiantly, “They are not fit to associate with me!”  She responds to their rejection of her by rejecting them.   I remember my college professor remarking, “You see, Jane is as hard-hearted, in her own way, as the Reeds.”  And there’s real vulnerability in that attitude – not just the risk of hurt feelings and low self-esteem but the threat of giving in to anger, pride, even violence.

What’s the answer? What are we as parents supposed to do about it?  Kids will always divide themselves into groups, and there will always be a hierarchy of those groups based on some criteria, and it will shape our children’s self-esteem. 

Well, it turns out, the answer is hanging on the wall of my daughter’s bedroom.  It’s a canvas, made by another one of my college students, that reads: “Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you know is fighting some kind of battle.”  This quotation has been attributed to almost every inspirational figure from Plato to Walt Disney.  I see it now as a cure to the dangers of “cool”.   And if “cool” is defined as “admirable,” “fashionable,” “acceptable” – well, cool!  It’s acceptable to be accepting of everyone you know, and then some.  The more we can convince our children that it’s cool to be openly kind and open-hearted, by lesson and example, the better.  By this standard, I hope both my daughter and I are one of the cool girls.

Drew Arms