the goat pen

Ah, the ‘tweens…that newly coined term denoting kiddos who are not quite teenagers yet still not little children. It’s a tricky time in parenting; we’re hitting the mid-life period of those 18 years we are given with our offspring living under the same roof with us. It’s the middle age of parenting; the crises will abound.

Gone are the mornings filled with fingerpainting and Gymboree classes. Franklin and the Backyardigans are replaced by the awfulness that is Victorious and iCarly. Late afternoon jam sessions are now fueled by the likes of Shawn Mendes and Imagine Dragons, instead of the innocuous Justin Roberts and Frances England. Long gone are the afternoon naps.

But the funny is still there, although now some of it has morphed from cute-funny to cringe-worthy-funny.

Take, for instance, our inaugural ‘tween Topic of Awkwardness: body odor.

I picked my sons up from sleep-away camp last summer, so excited to have them back with me and to hear the stories of their adventures in the mountains of North Carolina that I didn’t even mind the 2-and-a-half hour trip up there. But before we’d even made it back down the mountain–barely ten minutes into the return trip–my car smelled like a goat pen.

We barreled down I-85 with the windows cracked open, despite the pouring rain. I assumed the stench was wafting up from their trunks, stuffed with a week’s worth of sweaty, filthy, mildewy, unwashed clothing. What I didn’t realize was that this magnificently gross smell was just the tip of the iceberg. The odor has followed us, permanently, from that day forward, drifting up from the back seat after school, after baseball games, after birthday parties. Add the powdery, pale pink, baby-fresh scent of Johnson & Johnson’s to the growing list of things that we’ve now outgrown.

When I was this age, my dad used to tell me that I smelled like Mother Nature–which I took as a compliment. I must smell green and springy, like hide-and-seek and freeze tag with a splash of softball and climbed tree, all happy and joyous things, I thought.

Mother Nature definitely does not smell like that. Mother Nature smells damp, musky, and earthy, like mushrooms and soil–the undeniable smell of ‘tweenage boy.


Cue the first awkward discussion between mom and son:  the deodorant talk.


Jack hid his head under his pillow and giggled through the whole, 20-second gentle suggestion of the benefits of smelling less piquant. The next day, I plunked a green Mennon Speed Stick on his bathroom counter while he was at school. The day after that, Tucker swiped it; in his mind, he and Jack are twins born 19 months apart, so if Jack needed deodorant, then he certainly did, too. Thus, the second Speed Stick entered our house, where it sat unused–nay, unopened even–for several weeks.


Cue the second awkward discussion between mom and son. Apparently Speed Stick was not the cleaner smell Jack had in mind. “Hey, that’s fair,” I thought and then went a little crazy. You see, after decades of flip-flopping between the overpoweringly fake perfumed scents of Degree and Secret, I recently stumbled upon a true extravagance: Donna Karan Cashmere Mist. Designer deodorant. Utterly ridiculous. Utterly worth every penny. I speak the truth.

So the Speed Stick was replaced on Jack’s counter by a stick of Calvin Klein Be deodorant, which smelled youthful and happy and crisp and faintly like an old crush I had back in the early ’90’s. Jack deemed it acceptable, and, taking that first baby-step towards adolescence, began to wear it every day.

I’d tamed the goat pen.


Go Mom!

Jack returned from a trip to Washington DC with Mother Nature dragging along behind him. Upon further inquiry, it seems our new pal Calvin had been left behind in a hotel somewhere in Virginia. Lesson learned:  no 11 year old needs expensive deodorant, no matter how nice it smells.

We headed off to the K-Roger, and I deposited Jack at the deodorant aisle with instructions to pick one while I did the rest of the grocery shopping.

Twenty minutes later, after sniffing every single option the shelves had to offer, he came back with this:

And that, dear reader, is why my car, my house, my every waking moment no longer smells like a goat pen.

Instead, it resonates with eau de goat pen…during breeding season.


I kid you not.

reading round-up 2015, part II

Half the year has flown by, and for the first time in ages, it looks like I might be able to read 50 books in a year again. Here’s a run-down of what’s been on my shelf since April began.

Euphoria by Lily King. I really wanted to like this one more; the premise (3 anthropologists conducting a field study in a remote area of New Guinea and the resulting love triangle they endure) was enticing and, out of the gate, the locale was fascinating. Then the novel turned into a treatise on tribal sexuality which was a bit much for me. I know I’m in the minority here on this one; it’s worth reading for the parts on life as an outsider living amongst an off-the-grid tribe, but when it shifts over to more philosophical thoughts on all varieties of conjugal relationships, I wound up skimming.

It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War by Lynsey Addario. This one must be read in print, not on an e-reader, because it’s chock full of Addario’s war photography which is absolutely stunning. Plus, the pages are printed on thick, sleek paper, so the book feels terrific in your hands. Addario is crazy, and I mean that in the best of ways. She’s traveled on assignment as a photojournalist to some of the most dangerous places in the world–Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, the Congo–and her stories and the accompanying photographs will make you grateful for your simple 9-to-5 job.

Baghdad Without a Map and Other Misadventures in Arabia by Tony Horowitz. Coming straight off Addario’s nightmarish trip through dangerous lands, I stumbled onto this gem from 1992. Horowitz’s writing is reminiscent of Bill Bryson, and his true stories–while not as harrowing as Addario’s–will amaze you. An excellent, quick, funny read.

The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly: A Physician’s First Year by Matt McCarthy. While there was a whole lot of non-fiction during these past 3 months, this one was my favorite. McCarthy recounts his first year of medical practice (as an intern at a hospital in New York City) with humility and humor. It will make you wonder why anyone goes to med school anymore.

The Royal We by Jessica Morgan & Heather Cocks. It’s summertime; don’t judge. (This actually has a whole lot more meat to it than you might imagine.) In a plot mirroring real life, a non-royal falls for the Prince while at university in England. Great beach read despite its silly looking cover.

Oh! You Pretty Things by Shanna Mahin. I picked this up on a whim after reading a review of it in The New York Times. Mahin is a high school drop-out, and her book was touted as a bit of a look-see into Hollywood. I’m not into Hollywood, so I’m not sure what made me throw down the impulse buy. This is a quirky, all over the place read that garnered a decent NYT review, but it felt like a triple-issue of, say, People magazine to me.

The Knockoff by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza. This is another book I bought sight unseen after reading a decent review, but this one did not disappoint (again, I say:  it’s summer). This is a timely tale of an older (ahem, only in her 40’s) woman trying to wedge her way back into a high-profile career after taking several months off. Imogen is behind the 8-ball when it comes to social media and the immediacy of internet marvels like Twitter and Instagram (and I feel her pain). This book is well written and funny and hits very close to home.

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. True story:  I wandered into my favorite independent book store on Amelia Island post-dinner one evening and struck up a conversation with Dan the bookseller. We traded our “best book ever” recommendations. I gave him A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. He gave me The Sparrow. This book was exceptional, but it takes a huge suspension of disbelief (or a love of science fiction) for it to work. A Jesuit priest in the near future makes first contact with a sentient species on the planet Rakhat which is several light years away. He and a team of 8 others take the multi-year journey to visit them and, of course, all Hades breaks lose. Y’all remember I have a space fetish, right? And I taught at a Catholic school. Enough said. This book was simply fantastic.

Primates of Park Avenue by Wednesday Martin. Poor old Wendy Martin. Her book hit a nerve with a heap of people, but I found it rather enlightening, in a Heathers meets Cruel Intentions kind of way. This is a classic study of cliques–albeit uber-wealthy ones in Manhattan–and Martin hits the nail on the head in many of her assessments. If you’ve ever felt like you were the odd-man-out, this kinda-anthropological-study is for you.

Eight-Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave. The viticulture parts were interesting, but the story as a whole was a bit flat. There was a lot of plot set-up that fizzled at the end. Still, if you’re looking for a beach read about California’s wine country, this is the ticket.

Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper. Excellent. Melancholy. Inspirational. Uplifting. All in one. Eighty-three year old Etta–who suffers from dementia–walks out of her house one morning to go on a walk…all the way to the ocean, some 500+ miles away. Her husband Otto, to whom she left a note letting him know where she’d gone, embraces his mortality in a different way. If Terry Kay’s To Dance With the White Dog spoke to you, read this. If you’ve ever had your heart broken, read this. If you are growing older, read this. In short, just read this.