I freely acknowledge that I am not a vision of marital bliss by the time Adam arrives home most nights. He’ll walk in the door, announcing his exhaustion, and I’ll stare at him with something bordering on wrath. Carrot peels from dinner prep stuck to my face, driveway chalk crusted under my nails, a laundry basket wedged under one arm, I begin my oft-repeated litany on how he has NO IDEA WHAT TIRED REALLY IS.

Since both giving and receiving this speech can become dull after a while, I work diligently to mix it up a bit, peppering the diatribe with comments like I HAVE NEVER WORKED SO HARD IN MY LIFE and YOU TRY ENTERTAINING A THREE-YEAR-OLD ALL DAY and—my current favorite—YOU WOULDN’T EVEN KNOW WHAT A VACUUM IS IF IT HIT YOU IN THE FACE. (I find that this last one has a certain 1950s fishwife je ne sais quoi.)

Adam stands at the counter patiently, removing his shoes and mixing a cocktail as I continue to remind him of how lucky he is. On his train ride to and from work, he can read the news, relax along with some music. At work, he can participate in intelligent conversation, make critical decisions, brainstorm with peers. The socialization! The lunch options! The utter and complete lack of Curious George and twisted car-seat buckles and bunny-shaped macaroni and cheese!

Yes, I like to suggest regularly that his job is easier than mine. But on days like today, days of sandcastle villages and sunblock-scented salt air and drippy plastic cups of watermelon slush and a little girl who roars with joy every time a wave splashes her, I remember something else: I would never, ever say his job is better.


As summer sets in, Aura and I are enjoying a rather fancy-free season. Freed from the September–June preschool, etc. schedule, we’ve been sort of meandering, hitting a beach here, an amusement park there, an ice-cream shop or twenty over there. Since it is widely known that I’m allergic to overscheduling (seriously, there are hives involved; BIG ones), this suits me just fine.

What doesn’t sit so well is something I’ve encountered during our recent expeditions, and it is called The Mean World of Playground Graffiti. I never thought I was an out-and-out prude, but I may have to reevaluate. Either that or call the city’s Department of Public Works to request a little scrub-down. Here, let me show you.

It all starts semi-innocently enough. I mean, generations of teenagers have challenged authority. That being said, I myself may have issued such a challenge a little more eloquently. For instance, I would have scrawled “the police” instead of “The Police,” since otherwise it kind of looks like someone is screwing with Sting. But whatever.

Then the first mention of reproductive organs is made and both grammar and decency go all to hell.

Once you get past the fact that we’re talking about a lobster penis, not a “horse penis,” or a  “bear penis,” or peni of any other animals larger than a lobster, another thought jumps out at you. Our friend Spencer does not just have a lobster penis—he IS a lobster penis. Which seems like a pretty bad insult, especially when it’s all underlined like that in Sharpie marker. It’s one thing to have genitalia like a crustacean; it’s another thing indeed to BE the genitalia. I know not who Spencer is, yet I pity him.

However, Spencer is not the graffiti artistes’ primary target. Nope. That would be the much maligned Kristen:

I feel for Kristen. Not only is her alleged sexuality pronounced for all the world to see (the arrow helpfully explaining her sapphic tendencies), the one compliment offered is scratched out and refuted. Suddenly, one senses disagreement among the ranks of this particularly nasty little group of homophobic middle-schoolers.

Yet their differences do not get in the way of their constant need to elaborate. In case we still do not understand what Kristen supposedly enjoys in relationships, there is this charming clarification:

By the time I saw this gem, I didn’t know what I would do first if I got my hands on the graffiti culprits. Would I lock them in a room for a day-long seminar on verb-object agreement and words that sound the same but are spelled differently (words that are called GOD HELP ME homophones)? Or would I simply beat their insensitivities out of them with an especially spiny lobster penis, such as Spencer? I still haven’t decided.

One thing I have decided: This has got to stop. I can be fancy-free and laid-back and all that good stuff with the best of ’em. But then a few days ago Aura pointed to the following and asked, “Why did someone draw an alien on the playground tunnel?”

She’s three. I’m 32. Neither of us needs that drawing to be anything other than an alien. But to be on the safe side I’m so calling the city tomorrow.

Thanks to several readers for suggesting this topic. Much better than writing about mulch. I think.


“HAHAHAHA,” I cackled. “A girl! Now THAT’S a good one!”

Because, honestly, back in 2006, the only way I was having a girl was if the boy I KNEW I was having spontaneously switched genders before being born. I was pregnant. With a boy. We already knew his first name and his middle name. I had already eyed some towels at Pottery Barn Kids that would look splendid monogrammed with his initials. Really, there was nothing left to do but sit back, eat armfuls of pregnancy-entitled cookies, and wait for the baby to float out in what I had decided would be a pain-free experience, much like a pedicure, or maybe a hot-stone massage.  All in all, it was settled.

Then the doctor delivered the news at the 18-week ultrasound. After I dealt with the shock with luridly inappropriate humor, I began to panic mildly. “We don’t have a GIRL NAME!” I bellowed at Adam. “We’re not supposed to be having a GIRL! The monogrammed towels won’t look as good with GIRL INITIALS!”

For a number of weeks, I spent a lot of time pondering names. I tossed out idea after idea to Adam: Hayden! (before “Heroes” ever started!) Daisy! (so reminiscent of straight teeth and tangle-free hair!) Ella! (would feel comfortable with the other 25 Ellas in her class!) He shot down every single one, prompting many a hormone-fueled argument that unfailingly ended with me pelting him with cookies, then immediately demanding he hand them all back to me.

Finally I went to the library, checked out a bunch of baby-name books, and forced Adam to sit down in the kitchen with me. I presented the plan: We would each flip through the books, making a list of the names that appealed to us. If we had a list item in common, then that would be The Name.

Of course, this plan was compromised from the start, since I had been too cheap to buy recently published baby-name books. Most of the library books had been published, oh, a decade or so before I myself was born. Which is why it should come as only a mild surprise that the name we both listed was Aura, a choice that I imagine many a Woodstock-visiting hippie would have applauded with incense-scented gusto.

Nonetheless, we were pleased. Aura means “light ” and “atmosphere,” of course, but Aura is also the goddess of breezes in Greek mythology. It was a pleasant name. It was a meaningful-but-not-overly-meaningful name. And now it would be her name, a name for the girl who was supposed to be a boy.

We didn’t tell a soul about our choice until Aura was born, a decision I slightly regret, since it turns out my poor mother was convinced we had chosen Euphoria, the name I always swore I would use back in my high-school days. When Aura arrived, her name seemed to fit perfectly, and suddenly I heard it everywhere, though always with other connotations. While I was nursing her in the hospital, I saw an ad for the Saturn Aura for the first time. When Adam’s aunt and uncle came to visit only hours after she was born, his uncle handed us a clipping of the morning’s crossword puzzle, in which the clue for #12 Down was “an ineffable light” and the answer was “aura.”

That crossword clue was pretty much on the mark. Aura is very definitely an ineffable light, an indescribable force of delight in our lives. Her name? Well…it has its issues. People often think it must be spelled O-R-A; a few have asked, “Oh, Ora? As in the french fries, Ore Ida?” Aura herself, when in the throes of a rhyming game, often innocently yells out “Aura whora!” thereby shaving five years off her father’s life expectancy.

There is also the fact that I can no longer make fun of anyone else’s choice of baby name.  I mean, you name your kid Aura, you have to be very, very careful in the judgmental department. When I heard that actor Jason Lee had named his son Pilot Inspecktor, I merely nodded. And when I read that Nicolas Cage dubbed his son Kal-El in honor of Superman’s original name, I could only smile wordlessly. Glass houses and all that.

And there you have it. The world’s longest blog post on perhaps the world’s most inconsequential topic. Well, except to me, to whom Aura is anything but inconsequential. As a matter of fact, I think we may have hedged our bets a bit with the whole “goddess of breezes” thing. This one? She’s a full-on gust of wind.

In retrospect, I really should have known better.

Aura has inherited a great many things from her father, including a love of coffee-flavored foodstuffs and an inclination to snicker at me when I am at my most threatening. She also shares his tendency to become completely and utterly submerged in the lyrics of a song. New songs, songs that especially strike their fancy, songs with an unusual tempo—one note and both Adam and Aura are goners, listening and memorizing with a fierceness last witnessed in certain Nordic warriors. Their posture goes slack, their mouths gape a bit, and conversation (at least on their end) screeches to a halt.

Honestly, the trance can be a bit startling the first time you witness it. But once you get used to it, you find yourself almost impressed by such pure, unadulterated absorption. Seriously: I’ve mentioned rogue rocket ships and flying cows and free milkshakes, with zero response.  I did once snare Adam’s attention by yelling, “Look! Megan Fox is driving the car next to us, NAKED AND HANDING OUT BEER!” but later efforts proved that was a one-trick pony.

Given all of this, I really have no excuse for what happened a few days ago. In  my limited defense, it was a beautiful day and I had just picked up Aura from preschool and we had the car windows down, encouraging the spring breezes to mess up our hair. When a hip-hoppy R&B song came on, I just left it, and we car-danced, or at least I did. I knew the song wasn’t going to be age-appropriate, but she was distracted and we were happy and there might have even been a rainbow and some frolicking elves. It was that nice of an afternoon.

Then we parked. As I was releasing my seatbelt, Aura piped up, “Mommy, what does sex mean?” For a second, the whole thing was a bit like a paper cut, when the shock of the unexpected pain makes the world go momentarily silent. Still in the driver’s seat, I swooned as images of second-grade navel piercings and a prepubescent subscription to Cosmo flooded my brain.

Then I recovered, for that is what GOOD PARENTS DO.

After a few unsuccessful starts, I found an explanation that satisfied us both, at least temporarily. “Oh! Sex? Sex is just a silly way some people say the number six. Isn’t that SILLY?” Once I started, it was like I couldn’t stop. “Just like some people say foove for five! One, two, three, four, foove, sex! IT’S SO SILLY, ISN’T IT?”

Days later, I don’t know what scenario scares me most: that Aura sees through the deception and asks again, or that she presents her newfound counting schema at school. As much as the resulting preschool progress report will pain me, I’m rooting for scenario #2. So what if she gets an Unsatisfactory in the Number Identification category? Screw ’em. When she gets homes that day, I’m so going to give her a high foove.

When my mom moved in with us after breaking her hip last month, I worried about how Aura would adjust. She was used to being the center of my attention most days, minus preschool hours and Daddy time. Would she resent the time I spent helping my mother? Would she start to act out? Renege on using the potty? Sneak into her father’s ludicrously well-stocked liquor cabinet? I mean, it’s not like I’d miss a stolen ounce from Bitters Bottle #22, not with the other 21 shielding it from view. (Fact! Grapefruit bitters are disgusting! Do not let Adam try to convince you otherwise!)

Turns out that those worries–like most of the million or so I toss around every day–were completely unfounded.  Always an enormous fan of her grandmother, Aura is thrilled that Grammy is living here. That Smoky Jo, Cat of Destruction, came along for the ride is like icing on the cake. Capitalizing on the fact that my mother is often confined to the couch, Aura is smothering her with granddaughterly love, requests to use her camera phone, and oft-repeated demonstrations on her newly acquired scooter and Sit N Spin.  (By the way, you guys and I really need to sit down sometime and have a nice, damning post on the Sit N Spin. How is it that a toy so wonderful, so revered in my youth is such a flaming piece of crap today? Plastic shouldn’t bend that way, people. For God’s sake, this is the AGE OF TECHNOLOGY.)

Aura has also thrown all regard for her grandmother’s privacy out the window. As I was helping my mom get dressed the other day, Aura burst in, coming to a screeching halt in front of my mother. Looking her grandmother over with her hand on her hip, Aura declared, “Grammy! You look really cute in that!”

“That” was a bra. Now, it’s not like Aura hasn’t seen me shirtless from time to time. That’s the least of my worries right now, when I can’t even use the bathroom without a 40-inch-tall companion. But there was something about my mom’s bra that really put a bee in Aura’s bonnet.  Since that morning, I often find her kneeling in front of my mother’s bureau, rifling through her underwear drawer. Yesterday, she pranced downstairs wearing one of Grammy’s bras like a backpack.  “What do you think?” she crowed, twirling so we could get a good look.

My mother and I have attempted time and time again to explain that Aura won’t need such under-the-clothes support for many, many years. And yes, when pressed, I do explain in vague, Crayola-happy terms why Big Girls need bras and what those things they support are meant to do.

But I can only handle so much. This morning, Aura pulled off her pajama top, looked down at her chest, and asked me, “See anything there yet?” And that was just about that.  While I simply answered “No!” and smiled winningly, I was actually putting my plans in place.  First, we are going to need some really heavy-duty duct tape.  I figure we can wrap her little chest kind of like some cultures used to bind feet. If it appears by age 12 that this is not working, then we’ll just lock her in her room. It really won’t be as cruel as it initially sounds.  We’ll pipe in the theme song from “Imagination Movers,” and we’ll construct a really nifty slot through which we can slide her food trays.

Because my little girl is never going to wear anything like a bra. She’s going to stay little and smell sweet and believe every word I say. She’s always going to make me pretend tea and serenade me with Mika lyrics and grin wildly when I’m the last person she sees at night and the first person she sees in the morning.

But to be on the safe side, I’m double-checking the mail from now on. God forbid a Victoria’s Secret catalog ever makes its way into her hands.

I was walking Aura into preschool (or as I prefer to think of it, Two-and-a-Half Hours of Heaven) the other morning when the director popped out of her office to say hello to the children entering the building. 

“Good morning, Evan!” she called. “How are you?” 

Evan said he was good. 

“Good morning, Madison!” she said next. “And how are you?” 

Not surprisingly, Madison was also good. 

We were up next. “Good morning, Aura!” The director smiled.  “How are you this morning?”  

“I’m well!” chirped Aura. 

The director’s face momentarily contorted in confusion.  Then she beamed with understanding.  “Oh!” she said.  “You’re wow? Well, isn’t that great?”

I leaned in, aiming for what I hope came across as a conspiratorial tone and not a creepy-stage-mother tone. “No,” I explained. “She’s well.” 

“Ah,” the director replied. “Of course!” Then she disappeared into her office. And maybe she closed the door. 

Okay. Get the eye-rolling and derisive snorts out of your system.  Go ahead. I’ll wait. (As long as you snort well. I don’t suffer readers who snort good.) 

Needless to say, neither does Aura. It makes her kind of lip-curly.

Now that you’re done, I’d like to hop up on my Grammar Soapbox for just a sec. Yes, I was an English major in college. Yes, I am a writer by trade. And yes, perhaps I am the teeniest bit compulsive about my child speaking correctly. But I ask you: So what?  Didn’t we just finish up eight years of making fun of a president who couldn’t conjugate his way out of a paper bag? Doesn’t the rash of best-selling books and popular Web sites about proper punctuation tell us anything? 

Now I’m not saying I’m perfect. (I mean, I am. But it seems immodest to admit that here.) However, I see absolutely nothing wrong with trying to raise children to speak correctly, even if they do it while behaving like cretins most of the time. Once in a while, it feels…nice to use a word with its original definition in mind, instead of some modern mixed-meaning bastardization. Even the loudest snorter among you has to agree that there is something adorably impressive in hearing a child say difficult instead of hard, or entire instead of whole, in a sweet, reedy little voice. 

As you can see, fishing in a tutu is difficult. Especially with an entire pool of fish to catch.

Don’t even get me started on yeah.  While it doesn’t bother me in the least to hear an adult say yeah, hearing my 40-inch angel say it makes me kind of mildly homicidal. I can’t offer an eloquent explanation for this. I think my aggravation stems from the fact that English is often so dumbed down, so lowest-common-denominatorish. Kids growing up today don’t have a freakin’ chance. Look at that damn Dora the Explorer. I want to launch myself across the living room and strangle that navel-baring, animal-befriending little bugger every time she yells yeah, which is an average of 67 times per episode, if I’m not mistaken. (Perfect people rarely are, you know.)

And so Aura says she’s “well” when asked her current condition. She’s been trained in other adverbs, too, though the -ly rule and its exceptions can be tricky devils, often resulting in directives to “Run fastly, Mommy!” But then recently, when I did a particularly admirable job answering her pop quiz on Santa Claus and the snacks that must be left for him on Christmas Eve, she told me I was correct, not right. I tell you, she got the BIGGEST cookie. It was like each and every one of those chocolate chips was a testament to our shared appreciation for the literal.

Well, then. The bulk of this post is complete. So let me share the conversation Adam and I had last night. 

Adam: Want to order a pizza tonight?  

Kate: YEAH!  

Adam: Onions, peppers, broccoli?  

Kate: RIGHT!  

Adam: I’m so hungry that I think I might…  

Kate: …eat the WHOLE thing!  

Man. This language thing is hard.

A short while ago, Aura and I were having lunch at McDonald’s, enjoying the view from our usual table overlooking the drive-thru. We prefer this table because it allows us to take bets on which drivers will shove french fries in their mouths by the time they pass us. This is a satisfyingly self-righteous game I invented recently after noticing with not unremarkable alarm how tight my jeans have become. As I eat my stupid salad with its stupid grilled chicken and its even stupider no dressing, I manage to take great pleasure in the thought that those outside the window will soon be much fatter than I.  

On this occasion, as I was toying with a piece of particularly stupid lettuce, I noticed a Volvo SUV drive by. “See that silver car?” I asked Aura offhandedly.  “That’s the car Mommy wants.”  

Aura looked out at the Volvo, then laid down the french fry she had been about to eat. “But we have a car. A Toyota,” she replied pointedly. “We drove it here.”  

“Yes,” I said, nudging an undoubtedly protein-packed and therefore healthy McNugget toward her. “This is true. But I do like that silver car.”  

Now Aura was starting to look concerned, her new Happy Meal Strawberry Shortcake stamp completely forgotten. “But we HAVE a car. It is a GOOD car. I like our car.”  

 “I know, sweetie. It is a good car. I’m just talking about something I want, not something I really need. Sometimes a person can just want things.” Such a solid introductory lesson to the psychology behind economic demand deserved a reward, so I stole two french fries. Maybe more. I can’t be 100% sure this long after the fact.  

Aura eyed the nugget before responding, squirting more ketchup onto her place mat. “Okay. But you don’t need it.”  

So I agreed, taking the high road by not pointing out that the Polly Pocket Roller Coaster Resort on Little Miss Voice of Fiscal Conscience’s Santa list is not a life necessity.  I may be an all-consuming pile of greed, yes. But petty? Never.

This $10 light-up sword purchased at last week's tree-lighting ceremony was obscenely unnecessary. I am so going to remind her of that right now.

I will say that the conversation has stuck with me over the past few days. At this time of year, it’s so easy to throw money left and right toward holiday presents no one really needs. For instance, every year, Adam asks me what I want for Christmas and I always say, “Oh, I don’t know. Surprise me. ” I might mention a few vague, nebulous ideas (e.g., “Shoes are always nice. So are full-time nannies.”), but really, I’m not very helpful. Honestly, if I give him specifics, then he might get me what I really want and then I can’t start the YOU ARE NOT ROMANTIC EVER, I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU DON’T KNOW ME BETTER argument I do so dearly love to start every few months. And so he is left to spend money on things I don’t really need at all.  

But this year, with Aura’s stern logic bolstering me, I have decided to change my ways.  Adam shall NOT waste money on things I don’t really need. It was with this reformed attitude that I swung into the Michael Kors store at the mall the other day.  Radiating a sense of purpose I imagine is similar to that of bomb-squad officers and perhaps ER doctors, I browsed feverishly. Within five minutes, I had found what I needed. It was merlot and it was snakeskinny and it was glorious. And after speaking with the saleswoman, I discovered it was also $2,000.  Turns out real python skin does not come cheap.  

Those pythons must be attractive suckers.

I will admit, this put a slight damper on my Sense of Purpose. I mean, if ever I do have $2,000 to toss around at Michael Kors, then that bag better come with a live python that mops, bakes, and likes to play with the Lite Brite. And if said live python gets out of line, I will just brandish the bag and make not-so-veiled threats. To me, this appears to be a tidy plan.  

As for my mission? Not to fear. I also found a glorious red snakeskinny bag, about $1700 less and optimistically described as “embossed snakeskin.” Though I suspect that this translates to “overpriced plastic,” I do feel that Aura will applaud my choice.