Archive | December 2013

We Never Talked About Money

We never once talked about money.  I talked around it, bumped up against it, and felt it hovering like a thick shadow.  I wasn’t about to bring it up.  What was I going to say, “You seem pretty rich”?

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Early on, it was none of my business.  But even without trying too hard, I could piece together that his Ivy League finance degree and MBA set him up for a nice lifestyle.  But he didn’t have a car, so I thought that spoke of a certain down-to-Earthness that comforted me.  That he actually took cabs everywhere was something I pretended not to notice and dared not add up.

On our second date he explained hedge funds to me in such depth that I forget that we were really talking about money.  Big money.  I followed along, but was afraid to ask questions because I didn’t want to seem like I cared that much.  Because I didn’t.  

Every dinner out, I offered to pay, and I meant it, even though his idea of an “any night” restaurant was my idea of a special occasion restaurant.  He always laughed when I flashed my earnest Visa debit card.  I was sincere, but he looked at me as if I was being ridiculous as he plunked down his jewel-toned American Express.  I kept offering and kept meaning it. 

As time went on, it got harder not to notice money stuff.  Wealth markers appeared like mile signs on the highway.  At a party his neighbor told me that he owned the two-story penthouse that she lived in. I’m his renter, she said with a slurry exuberance.  I tried to unknow that fact because it felt like a violation of his privacy, as if she’s slipped me pictures of him in compromising positions. 

One of my friends saw his family’s name carved into stones in front of the museum– Major benefactors, she exclaimed.  I made a mental note to take the side exit if I ever went to the Field Museum.

The whole unspeakableness of it made me uncomfortable, but the longer we dated, the less words I had.  I never knew if I was insulting him by offering to pay or if it was outrageous and offensive to assume he was Bruce Wayne, minus the whole Batman gig.  

Seven months in, we took a trip and he carefully outlined that I would pay for my airfare and he would “pick up the rest.”  I swooned when he detailed the financial arrangements– the explicitness, the clarity–it made me feel like I could breathe normally again.

He grew preoccupied about a family feud involving the unspeakable fortunes that were still none of my business.  His oblique references were hard to follow, but I intuited that the subject was nuclear.  I sat in the back seat of his mother’s Lexus on the way home from brunch at the Ritz while they spoke through clenched teeth about “assets” and “tax shelters.” It had taken me three months to ask him if he voted Republican, so there was no way I was going to be able to initiate conversations as intimate as those concerning a family fortune.

Our relationship inevitably frayed into nothing when what we couldn’t talk about snuffed out the handful of things that had sustained us.  We parted on decent-but-distant terms as two people who’d kept each other at arms’ length must. 

Years later, I took the front entrance to the Field Museum.  I stood on the stones bearing his family’s name, wondering if his great family fortune has finally risen or fallen.  Of course it was none of my business; it never was.

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This entry was posted on December 31, 2013. 46 Comments

What the Hell Is A “Snow Event”? Nevermind, Don’t Tell Me

Hell is not hot; It's cold.  Image credit: http://versatiledesigns.net/snow-tunnel-wallpaper

Hell is not hot; It’s cold. Image credit: http://versatiledesigns.net/snow-tunnel-wallpaper

As I was dressing for my 5-degree (Farenheit) walk to work, the meteorologist on my morning radio station said that there are two “snow events” expected this week.  I flipped off the volume because I don’t know what a “snow event” is, but I’m positive I hate it.

I’m 18 years into my Midwestern living and still –the snow, the layers upon layers of clothes, the housebound days–  shock and outrage me.  How dare you, Mother Nature? You know, I am a mother too, and I feel guilty when I snap at my children, but that bitch Mother Nature thinks nothing of trapping me in my dirty house with my small children with nothing to do but snack and rip sh*t up.

It’s getting to me already and it’s not even January.  So help me Buddha if one more person who lives in Paradise southern California tells me that they “miss the seasons” while lounging beneath the shady comfort of their flowering lemon tree (in late December!), I’m going to be committing a misdemeanor.

Are there upsides to this upcoming “snow event” (that I refuse to acknowledge was actually announced in the plural)? Sure.  There’s sledding, and “getting cozy” while watching movies, and drinking melted chocolate.  Yeah, there’s all that.  As for sledding, I find it a little too dangerous for my taste to hurtle my 2-year old down a slick hill with only his four-year-old sister as a buffer between him and the frozen tundra.  Getting cozy and watching a movie? Also not my cup of tea since every movie we’ve ever tried to watch scares my kids in the opening credits.  Of course I am down with drinking hot chocolately beverages, but high doses of sugar mixed with heavy doses of indoor living just don’t mix.

So, I’ve made peace with being a lame winter mom.  I hate the snow, I hate the cold, I hate constantly badgering my kids about where their gloves are or whether they remembered to bring their snow pants home from school.

Blech.

Jeff can escort the children into the mystical snow events that are coming up.  I’ll happily head to work on public transportation where it will be hard to squeeze into a seat because everyone’s wearing such puffy gear.   I’ll be listening to Jimmy Buffett and the Beach Boys trying every trick I know to forget about the weather, one moment at a time.

A Love Letter To January

It’s so close I can see it on the horizon, just beyond that bank of dirty snow.  I can smell its promise, its potential and its hope.  All I have to do is jump over a few more hoops made of weird days off, fattening mayonnaise-based dips, and holiday expectations.  Once I’ve dipped my final pretzel rod into the last bit of smoked gouda spread and put away all the Christmas stuff I am buying this afternoon at the 50% off sales, I am going to belly flop into January. 

The best month of the year.

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Ya’ll, I love January like Martin Scorsese loves Leonardo DiCaprio.  If January was a singer, it would be my Willie Nelson.  If it was a Supreme Court Justice, it would be my sweet Sonia Sotomayor.  And if it was a humanely-run, big box retailer, it would be COSTCO.

Oh, sweet January, come here and give me a big fat kiss.

January.  I love that oranges are in season and there’s no more chocolate truffles laying around.  I love that it’s too cold to dress stylishly or to run on the lake.  The pressure’s off in January– there are no gift-giving occasions, other than a couple of family birthdays (Hi, Simon, Frank, Krista and Patrick– I won’t forget you or give you month-old red and green M&M’s for your birthdays).

There’s no expectation that I be tan or toned or happy during January.  (I will admit the overcrowding at the gym next month will seriously bug, but that blows over pretty fast when everyone reverts back to normal by February 15.)

I’ll have a new EXCEL spreadsheet for tracking my 2014 budget.  And, I’ll have a new list for “Books read” and “Places visited.”

I love the quiet, unassuming grace of January– no good movies ever come out and no restaurants open.  It’s like a freebie month to put my life back together after the tornado of fun and calories that is December. 

Januaries are the best months of my life.  It’s not an accident that the seeds of my marriage were planted during a night at the opera with Jeff in January.  I bought my first condo in January.  I had a baby in January.  I joined Costco in January.  My favorite show, Mad Men, stars January Jones.  There are no coincidences here, people.

Thus it is will delicious anticipation that I open my arms and welcome whatever January 2014 ushers in.  Only 5 more days!

Are you looking forward to January?

Can I Fix It All With Christmas Jammies?

I panicked on the bus, which looked like jumping out of my seat and knocking my phone on the floor.  Then, I couldn’t pick it up with because my gloves were too thick.  I pulled my right glove off with my teeth and grabbed my phone.  I Googled the hours for Old Navy– they’d already been open for 20 minutes.  It’s a sign, I thought as I watched the bus pass my regular stop.  I got off three blocks later, determined to right my Christmas wrongs.

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It’s not that I’ve been Grinchy, though I suppose I have.  My plate’s been too full, but who the hell’s isn’t, holidays or not?  I’d spent the majority of December trying to scale my back urges to buy, buy, buy– I’d left dozens of virtual carts languishing on sites I have no intention of giving my credit card number to.

But then the panic rose like an angry flame.  Did I get enough? Had I thrown out the baby with that bath water in my quest to keep it simple and to avoid raising materialistic consumers whose souls can never be quenched because they only want more, more, more?

How the f*ck do I know? Why does everything always come back to whether I did enough?

Pajamas.  My mind alighted on the idea that pajamas would fix my growing anxiety.  Pajamas are perfect because we need them and the kids will wear them every night.  Utility assuages guilt.  Plus, if I buy them character PJ’s, then we don’t have to parade all over the city in our Hello Kitty / Spiderman gear.   Keeping licensed crap confined to the home also assuages shame.

When I saw that the PJ’s were on sale, it felt like a Christmas miracle.  For $10 bucks a pair, I got enough pajamas to last all of 2014 and to have the sensation of enjoying a bounty for Christmas.  My arm full of PJ’s sent a message: I am not cheap; I embrace the Christmas spirit; I know how to walk the line between celebration and excess.

Fine, so the Spiderman ones were on the wrong rack and were actually $16.54.  Still.  It was good enough for me.

When I finally made it to my office, I unloaded my Old Navy bag and opened the document I’ve been working on for a week.  But I couldn’t concentrate.  The panic still nagged me with the message that our Christmas was still not enough.  It’s not even that I thought I needed to buy more stuff, but I felt anxious because there was not enough soul. Or heart. Or something.  I took a deep breath.  What’s the real problem, here?  Not the surface message that our Christmas sort of blows, but the underlying message that’s torqueing all my thoughts.

In the stillness, a word comes to me unbidden.  Homesick.  But it’s not the kind of homesick that is me pining for some long ago Christmas that slipped through my hands due to the passage of time.  It’s the word that best describes the disconnect between the feeling I want and the feeling I actually have in my own home today.  And there’s always going to be a disconnect between my expectation and what actually comes to pass, because I suck at predicting how things are gonna go.

Once I heard the word homesick, I relaxed.  It’s not my job to close the gaps or fill in the fissures or make life grander than fantasy.  My job’s pajamas, and my work here is done.

Sad To Hear Hate On My Kids’ Lips

Lots of stuff has happened in my parenting before I was ready.  Examples? Teeth on my nursing babies.  Repeating curse words after hearing Mommy say them all the time once.  Getting in trouble during dance class for “not paying attention.” 

Those little surprises have kept me on my toes from Day 1, and I am learning to roll with them.   Except for the ones that involve my pre-kindergarten children acting like teenagers.  No one told me that eye rolling and looks that convey Mom, you are so STUPID would start so soon.  And I don’t like it.  On the one hand, I have a daughter who is scared to get into a swimming pool, but thirty minutes later she can tell me how lame it is that I don’t know all the words to The Green Grass Grows All Around.

And who’s the genius who taught my kids to throw around the word “HATE”?  You know what I have for that person? I have a standing invitation for that person to come to my house and hang out with my kids from the hours of 5-7 PM on the days when neither of them naps, but both have been slipped some super sugary snack.  Yeah, come on over and spend some time in the darkest rung of hell, then let’s talk about the appropriate vocabulary for preschoolers.  (For a few more choice thoughts about being a hater in my house, click here.)

To cope, I am taking shelter in rage and indignation that my children think it’s ok to say that they “hate” Willie Nelson’s music (unforgiveable offense) or that they “hate” what I cook for dinner (understandable, but still not cool). 

But really, I’m sad.  I don’t want to hear about hate, and I don’t want it directed at me (or Willie), even though I am committed to supporting them in expressing their anger. 

To my ears, there’s something particularly hurtful and cutting about the word “hate.”  And while I am sure there is plenty in their little worlds to hate (see, e.g., eating my “cooking”, having to brush their teeth every night, being stuck in the car with only 7 Willie Nelson CDs, etc.), I was still hoping that we had some hate-free years ahead of us.

But we don’t.  So here are some synonyms I’ve offered them:

VERBS: abhor, scorn, digust, loathe, resent, repulsed, repelled, object to, revile

What about you? Do your young children say they hate you? Does it pierce your very soul?

Haunted By Hostile Huffington Post Commenters

I’m not in the mood for a teachable moment right now, I thought as I sensed Sadie’s reluctance to get in the pool. I’d just spent $10.00 to park and dragged both her and Simon through a snowstorm for the lesson so there was no way I was backing down.  Plus, it took us five minutes to peel off our winter gear.  I needed a rest, and that’s what I planned to do during Sadie’s lesson.

“Let’s go meet the teacher,” I said.

Sadie grabbed my leg and wouldn’t let go, which didn’t feel restful at all.  I hobbled us over to the edge of the pool.  By the time I introduced myself to the instructor, Sadie was full-out bawling.  No words.  Just tears.

“Honey, it’s really important to learn how to swim.  And you’re good at it.  You’re already at level 3.  Let’s give it a try this morning.”

She was having none of it.  She was crying and shaking, her body rigid with resistance.  Somehow she got into the water and the instructor did a little jig with her, but then she was headed back toward the ladder.

I helped her out and weighed my options.  One: I could towel her off, and we could all go home.  Two: I could keep trying to sweet talk her into the pool with promises of improved self-esteem for having faced her fears.  Three: I could go the safety route, reminding her that being safe around water is very important.

As I held her shaking body, I thought of some d-bags I don’t even know.  I had the pleasure of their acquaintance almost a year ago when they deigned to comment on a piece I wrote at The Huffington Post.  Nothing like caustic comments to take the thrill out of publishing for a national, on-line magazine.  My piece there was about Sadie’s struggle a year ago during a dance recital—she’d been excited for the performance, but when it was curtain time, she froze and steadfastly refused to perform.  I didn’t force her; I felt proud that she was able to say No in the face of the pressure to perform.  I speculated that the No I saw in Sadie might one day keep her from turning to drugs because of peer pressure or dancing topless for a living or saying yes to sex with someone when really she wants to say No.

Some commenters saw it differently.  They saw in me a mother who let her daughter “cop out,” thereby depriving her of the chance to learn commitment.  According to their comments, I was a weak-willed sissy who was fostering the same defect of character in my daughter.

I didn’t know I carried those people with me still until I was poolside faced with another of Sadie’s refusals.

Would those commenters have me throw a shivering four-year old back into a pool against her will? Maybe.  Am I supposed to threaten and shame her into the pool?  We paid for these lessons!  Why are you being a crybaby about this?  I couldn’t imagine saying that to Sadie under any circumstances, much less in the face of her obvious terror.

The better question was: Why was I letting some anonymous strangers dictate my parenting?  Why do they get a say in this?

I wouldn’t call our exit from the natatorium victorious or triumphant.  But we weren’t defeated either.  We simply left, having agreed that we’ll take a break from swimming lessons for a little while.  I’m not sure if I taught Sadie anything that day, but I learned that my loyalty belongs to her, and not to Anonymous, whose pastimes include offering negative feedback to strangers on-line.

A Split-Second Mystical Moment Changes Everything

Image credit: mypinkvisions.com

Image credit: mypinkvisions.com

 

I stood at the red light and a whoosh of wind almost took my breath away.  I readjusted my too-big hat and bounced to keep myself warm.   Distracted by the chill, my thoughts zoomed in new directions.

I think everything is going to be OK.

I kept bouncing to see what radical thought would intrude next.

My world is teeming with opportunity to create, connect and thrive.

 

It was getting positively psychedelic up in my head.  Cars crept by me, sloshing in the dirty snow.  I was tempted to stop bouncing so I could better hear the alien messages.

Every. Single. Thing. You. Want. Can. Be. Yours.

 

Huh?

It’s waiting for you to be ready.

Really?

Really.

I wondered if I should talk back to this part of me I rarely encounter—this bedrock of positive thought that sees absolutely everything as moving me toward my highest good. My hopes. My dreams. My potential, fully realized.  Should I ask about my shitty book manuscript or my professional situation?  Should I ask for a cure for my financial terror? What about the ridiculous sleep thing happening at my house or how I have zero time to exercise in the sleet?

Nope. Don’t ask.  Just listen.

 

So I did.  I listened.  I drank up my mystical moment with the biggest gulps I could manage.

Really. It’s all right here.  You’re just not ready.

That sounded right to me. I feel a little unripe for the dreams I’m dreaming. Of course waiting often sounds more excruciating than just bloody giving up.  But if I know it’s coming, then maybe the waiting will be easier—less jagged and torturous.  Less like a dank solitary confinement cell than a plush waiting room where I can catch my breath, update my wardrobe and read a book for pleasure.

The light turned green and the glowing white figure of the man on the light signaled it was time for me to walk. 

Go.

I hesitated, then stepped out into the street and proceeded on my way.

Who Needs A Caldecott Winner When You Can Have Guinea Pig Nativity?

Um, Why? Just... why?

Um, Why? Just… why?

There are two things outside of Costco that I am a sucker for: (1) book fairs, (2) Willie Nelson, and (3) math.

Guess which one of these lured me in the other day at Sadie’s school?  (Oh, don’t I wish that the Red-Headed Stranger and Trigger (his guitar) were installed in the lobby, drowning out the sound of Simon having an epic fit because he wasn’t allowed to have ice cream for breakfast.)

If you guessed, a book fair, then you too have probably succumbed to the charms of the elementary school’s pleas to buy books to support the children.  (Who, exactly, is NOT willing to buy a book for the sake of children’s education?)

I made several bush league mistakes at the book fair.  Chiefly, I told my children they could pick out any one book they wanted.  “Then, we can keep it forever?” They asked because I have a bad habit of throwing their stuff away when they are at school.  “Yes, forever.”

Simon picked out a Star Wars chapter book for $1.99.  (You know sometimes you think to yourself are my kids going to turn out OK?, and then there are moments when your 2-year old picks out a book that is both (1) cool and (2) cheap and you know, deep in your bones, that you are raising a bona fide badass because he has good taste and he’s cheap.)

The subsequent fall, it was hard.  It was precipitous.

Yes, I had to rush Sadie along.  Yes, I failed to give her any real guidance, though I did point out the beautiful Newberry winners with their shiny gold circles on them.  She didn’t care.  She was looking so moony over this weird guinea pig book that I could have offered her a trip to the Magic Kingdom on a boat made of bubblegum and she woulda given me the finger.

So, now, instead of snuggling up to read Amelia Bedelia or The Box Car Children, I am stuck reading about little vermin acting out the birth of Jesus.  Sadie insists that they are just “bunnies that come in weird shapes,” and I’m all “No, honey, they are PIGS.  Little ratty pigs.”

The whole thing is borderline offensive.  I am afraid that book may just have to “accidentally” get lost in the holiday shuffle.  And next time there’s a book fair at school, I’m sneaking in the back entrance.

They Accidentally Decorated The Tree Without Me

photo (37)

Ya’ll, I am all for comingling holiday traditions.  I eat latkes; my husband dyes Easter eggs.   We make our mostly-secular thing work through mutual respect, open-mindedness, and a well oiled division of labor.

But all that blew just about to hell Saturday night when I arrived home for a little holiday gathering that I had organized. We were going to decorate the Christmas tree, a nod to the tradition I grew up with.

I’d gotten stuck in traffic– the snow, the holiday shoppers, the fucking moron tourists on Michigan Avenue.  But my spirit was untarnished because inside my cozy little home was a naked Christmas tree waiting for my expert direction to transform it into a holiday masterpiece.  I’d picked out that Douglas fir because it looked like a real memory-maker when we spotted it bound up in blue netting in a Home Depot bin.

My Christmas music mix was ready to go– a perfect blend of old school (Whitney Houston’s Do You Hear What I Hear?) and new school (Justin Bieber and Ludacris’ iconic Drummer Boy).  I was humming Greensleeves as I pulled into the garage.

“Mommy, come look what we did!” Sadie commanded as I took off my shoes and fluffed my hair.

I followed her up the stairs thinking she’d probably put make-up on all her dolls or stolen all my credit cards to make a sculpture again.

What I didn’t expect to see was my perfect, memory- worthy tree already trimmed.  Lights. Garland.  Ornaments.  Every decoration save the stupid red and golden balls that no one likes were hanging off branches.

I’ve felt superfluous before.  Like when my kids call our nanny “Mama,” or when I leave town for a week and they are too busy to take a single call from me.  But it was a particularly deft blow to learn that I wasn’t needed for Christmas decorating, even though I’m the only member of the household with any Christmas experience.

I cried.  Then, I cried some more.  And while I sometimes cry for effect, these tears were bona fide signals that my heart was shattered into a million pieces.  Kind of like that glass ornament that Simon hung on the edge of a branch (which probably wouldn’t have happened had I been involved in the decorating).

It’s not the end of the world, or even the holiday.  I know that.   Horrified at learning that decorating the tree is a “big event” that was “important” to me, my poor husband explained that the whole thing “just sort of happened” as the kids found the ornament box and started making Christmas magic.  He’s offered to un-decorate it so I can have my moment in the director’s chair.

“Don’t be silly,” I said.  I know that no one knew what it meant to me– to bring to my family all the bonding and torture that is untangling lights and fighting over who gets to hang the special pickle and doughnut ornaments.

It would be ridiculous to redecorate the tree.  Right? I mean, that’s absurd.   We should leave it as is, and I should appreciate that I got exactly what I wanted: a memorable Christmas experience.

Required Reading For My Children: Sonia Sotomayor’s Memoir

I’m compiling a list of reading for both my kids.  They’ll find Harry Potter and Twilight on their own.  But they will also be bribed encouraged to read from a list of books that their mother has hand-selected for their educational, emotional, moral and spiritual development. photo (35) The first book on that list is My Beloved World, by Sonia Sotomayor.  Both of my kids are going to read that before they get Smart phones, or get their ears pierced, or learn to make me chocolate crepes.  We are starting with Justice Sotomayor’s memoir, in part because I am thoroughly obsessed with her, and also because I’ve got to warm my kids up before they read Willie Nelson’s spicy autobiography. Here are the top five of 408 reasons I want my kids to read MBW:

  1. Math.  Justice Sotomayor makes clear early on that she possessed certain innate gifts, one of which was an aptitude for math.  And you can tell from the way she tells all of the stories comprising her memoir that she’s an exceedingly logical thinker.  Woven into her anecdotes are countless ways that being good at math made her life richer and easier.  Calculating calories to manage her diabetes– a mathprotunity!  Convincing family members to let her run the family business– must have been the mad math skills! Prosecuting murderers in New York or representing Fendi in trademark violation suits– all that required a little thing called math.  The second I hear one of my kids hint that math is only for boys or that girls aren’t as good at math, we are starting this book.
  2. Overcoming Obstacles.  My kids haven’t lived in the poverty that Justice Sotomayor so eloquently describes as the reality of her youth.  Living in the projects in the Bronx and having few material possessions, she and her brother made do with what they had under circumstances that neither myself nor my children can imagine.  I want my children to understand our advantages and all that we have to be grateful for, which is impossible without the generous glimpses of other realities that writers like Justice Sotomayor give us through their stories.  Also? Diabetes has required her to give herself a shot everyday for decades.  That level of discipline and self-care gives me chills.  I can hardly put myself to bed on time!
  3. Alcoholism.  I was blown away by the frank discussion of her father’s alcoholism.  She named it, described its devastating effects on her life, but never blamed or wallowed in resentment that the disease of alcoholism took her father’s life when she was very young (and of course ripped at the harmony of her family prior to his death).  My children have alcoholism in their family tree, and I want them to know other people who can discuss the alcoholic legacy without shame and without sugar-coating its reality.
  4. Rejection.  For such a brilliant woman who garnered accolades at Princeton and Yale, she also had to deal with failure.  I cried when I read that she failed to get an offer after working as a summer associate at Paul, Weiss, a top tier NY law firm.  In her telling of that ego-deflating experience, she found a fan for life in Outlaw Mama.  As impressive as all her many honors and achievements are, it was her failure that allowed me to be truly inspired by her.  And it wasn’t just that she failed– it was how she handled it.  She licked her wounds, regrouped, and found her way to a career path that suited her infinitely better than BigFirm law.
  5. Cheese Cubes.  Second to her failure to secure employment after being a summer associate, I loved the passage where she described how she ended up as a DA when she graduated from Yale Law School.  She opened that chapter with a seeming digression about how the ladies rooms at Yale were located far away from the main study areas.  As she ambled through the halls looking for a place to relieve herself, she saw a tray of cheese cubes laid out for a presentation.  She wanted a cheese cube, so she sat in on the presentation.  Before she could pop a sweaty bit of cheddar in her mouth, she struck up a conversation with a big wig at the DA’s office. He liked her and told her to “come by” for an interview.  From there, she launched her public service career that led her to the Supreme Court.

It’s these five things and so many more.  She is the American Dream realized– young girl from an impoverished background makes it to the Ivy Leagues and applies every ounce of talent and energy to her pursuits.  And while I’d prefer that both of my children also consider work-life balance and find time to make me some grandchildren, Justice Sotomayor’s story is full of lessons that I believe will inspire and motivate my children, whatever it is they decide to do.  Once they’ve internalized the lessons from MBW, we’ll then have to read about the young boy from Abbott, Texas, who never finished his college degree, married four times and fathered seven kids.  And then, we’ll talk about what it would be like if Sonia Sotomayor and Willie Nelson had a love child.  If there heads don’t explode, I’ll know they can handle anything.