Toss it or keep it: What kind of parent are you?

ImageThe girl’s art projects. The boy’s hospital bracelet when he got his first stitches. The costume she sewed for Halloween ’08. The uniform he wore to win State Cups. These all have one thing in common: they’re in the trash. 

Yes, I’m that mom. The one who throws stuff away. All stuff. Elementary school graduation certificate? Gone. Letters from camp?  Oooh…did you want me to keep that? Oops.

Worse–my husband is a professional historian. He traffics in old documents, revels in old stuff. He understands the importance of a written and documented record. Of course, he’s so absent-minded (in that cute, professorial way), he can barely find his car keys most days. So I’m the one in charge of keeping that record. Good thing he’s also got a photographic memory for events and dates.

Recently, I tossed about two hundred of my daughter’s circa 2002 woven pot holders. You know the ones I mean–made on a loom with a rainbow of little fabric rubber bands.  I’d been using those things–and burning my hands!–for years. My daughter is 16.

When she saw them in the trash, I froze. Oh, God! She will be so upset! I am the world’s worst mother!

“About time,” she said. “Those things were gross. Plus, they didn’t work at all.”

 My little girl’s all grown up to be just like her mama!

I couldn’t be prouder.





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I offered my kids $100…

…if they knew what this was.

No winners.


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Three Reasons to Take Your Kid to See Baz Luhrmann’s Gatsby EVEN if You REALLY Love the Book


To Gatsby or not to Gatsby? That is the question. 

It’s Memorial Day weekend here and it’s pouring rain. Which means the kids are out of school and the beach weekend is off. So, to the movies? Yes! And what to see? How about Gatsby?

I love the novel The Great Gatsby. Love it in that yeah-I-know-all-the-dialogue-by-heart kind of way. So I was terrified that if I went to the Baz Luhrmann movie, I would I be that annoying old person grumbling in the dark: That is NOT the way Nick woke up after Tom’s NYC party. That is NOT the way Meyer Wolfsheim ought to look. When is he going to say that Daisy’s voice sounds like money? Never? NEVER?!?!?

I went, and yes, I was that person. But I’m still glad I saw the movie.  Here’s why:


The reviews called the movie a monstrosity, an embarrassment of clichés, and much, much worse:

They called it unfaithful. 

The worst transgression was the conceit that our dear narrator, Nick Carroway, was in an institution, trying to recover from alcoholism after his summer of Jay Gatsby. Get this: Nick was writing the text of Gatsby as therapy.

Oh dear.

This alone almost kept me away. But if you get popcorn during these scenes or check your cell phone (I know you didn’t really turn it off) or let yourself be mesmerized by the swirling, sparkly snow (something must swirl and sparkle in every scene, apparently) you can ignore this unfortunate framework. I put my hands over my ears and sang, la la la la la!

No one minded a bit.


Leonardo DiCaprio. Okay, so the movie has some very tame, modest sex scenes. But there’s no body parts you don’t want to see. All very tasteful.


When we left the theater, my fourteen-year-old boy, who really didn’t want to come, said he liked it. He liked The Great Gatsby! A work of Literature!

I stared at him, shocked. “Yeah? Why? The explosions? The sparkly swirly stuff? The car chases?” (Yes, there are car chases in this movie. Don’t ask.)

He shrugged. “It was a good story.”


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That Time of Year

It’s that time of year again when all my good neighbors are out in their gardens, making our neighborhood a lovely, colorful, vibrant place to live.

And then there’s me.

I consider it my duty to make my neighbors feel better about themselves. Yes, their tulips may not be the biggest or the longest-lasting, but hey, they’re LOADS better than mine, which, yes, my daughter ran over last week backing down the driveway. I think it was a mercy killing.

And when you come to my house for dinner, sure, you’re not going to get fresh-grown tomatoes, still warm from the sun. But I’ll order you a heck of a pizza–with as many toppings as you want. Also–dessert. Mmm…chocolate chip cookies! Can’t grow those in a pile of dirt.

My kitties are crazy-happy playing Lion King in my overgrown grass.

My kids know exactly what poison ivy looks like, ’cause it’s growing up the walls.

Just kidding!

(Not really.)

One day, I’ll have a garden that will be the talk of the neighborhood. That is, when I can hire gardeners to do all the work.

But until then, dandelions sure are pretty, don’t you think?

I think I’ll move to the city.

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Hilary Mantel on Kate Middleton and Romance Novels: “We are all Barbara Cartland Now.”

Hilary Mantel, beloved author of the Man-Booker-prize-winning books, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, is currently on the hot seat, despised for dissing the lovely Kate Middleton in her recent speech at the British Museum: Royal Bodies from Kate Middleton to Anne Boleyn. According to Mantel,  “[The princess]…appeared to have been designed by a committee and built by craftsmen, with a perfect plastic smile and the spindles of her limbs hand-turned and gloss-varnished.”


But Kate wasn’t the only one Ms. Mantel dissed.

Overlooked in this beautifully written, devastating assault on Middleton was Mantel’s framing of Kate as a heroine in a romance novel. Mantel begins this extended metaphor with a quote from a critic who describes Kate’s first official portrait as looking as if it “might pass muster as the cover of a Catherine Cookson novel.” Catherine Cookson, Mantel tells us, writes “simple tales of poor women extricating themselves from adverse circumstances…the nation’s favourite reading.”

Mantel then quotes Princess Diana’s biographer as revealing that Diana  “…enjoyed only the romances of Barbara Cartland.” Thus, the poor woman “didn’t know the end of her own story.” Diana was “a fatal non-reader.” That is, she expected a happily ever after a la romance fiction, the only books she knew.

Diana’s reading material did her in.

Mantel asks, “What does Kate read? It’s a question.”

Hmm…Mantel seems pretty sure that the princess is not reading Wolf Hall.

Mantel concludes that poor, simple, hapless Kate—a woman “without quirks, without oddities, without the risk of the emergence of character”—doesn’t control her own fate. We do. We are the ones who appropriate this beautiful, romance-novel, cardboard cut out as the heroine of our royal fantasies. We “are happy to allow monarchy to be an entertainment.” But is Kate a person or is she a princess? We have to choose, because she can’t be both.

Mantel warns:

“We don’t cut off the heads of royal ladies these days, but we do sacrifice them, and we did memorably drive one to destruction a scant generation ago…”

Here, of course, she means Diana.

“I’m asking us to back off and not be brutes. Get your pink frilly frocks out, zhuzh up your platinum locks. We are all Barbara Cartland now. The pen is in our hands. A happy ending is ours to write.”

But of course, Mantel has no love for the romance novelist. She doesn’t believe in happy endings for real people, just for lightweights like Kate. Mantel admits she’s “too snobbish to have read” a Barbara Cartland novel. But she’s quite sure it’s about a non-person, non-character, empty vessel of femininity, happy with marriage and breeding—Kate Middleton to a tee. Diana was flawed and worthy of real fiction, the stuff of Wolf Hall. Kate, empty and perfect, is worthy only of those “lady writer” books. We shouldn’t “be brutal,” after all. By ignoring history (and good historical fiction) we get, Mantel implies, the ditzy, dumb, empty romance-novel heroine we deserve.

I don’t think Mantel is far off the mark with her assessment of Kate, but who knows what’s under that “plastic” smile? Still, I think I’m going to send Mantel a copy of anything by Loretta Chase. Or Elizabeth Hoyt. Romance novels, like princesses, can be empty or impressive–if you can just get past the lousy covers.

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5 Reasons Driving Lessons Make Tiger Mothers Growl


You’re going to let HER drive MY car?!?



 Precocious children are the currency of tiger mothers. Being the best isn’t good enough. The child of a tiger must be the best first. Read Dickens by three! Play Bach by four! Learn to drive by ten!

Oh, wait.

We can’t teach our kids to drive until they’re sixteen. What’s a tiger mother to do? (Hint: kids can start learning to fly airplanes at any age!)


The second reason that driving lessons are a classic anti tiger mother activity is that the mother must quite literally let the child take the wheel. Mama has no control. No extra brake. No second steering wheel to change direction if her child goes the wrong way. Enough said.


Almost as bad as losing control of the child, the tiger mother on the road has lost control of her child’s audience. No longer do like-minded adults politely clap. There are no fawning private-school teachers, tutors, and coaches assuring her that her child is (or soon will be) the very best. This is the real world. People out there are crazy. They are, dare I say, tigers. I’m talking screamers, honkers, and finger-givers. Get fast or get out of the way maniacs.

“Take your time,” I told my kid the first time we hit the road. “Just ignore the idiots.” That’s pretty much what I’d been saying her whole life. It was the classic anti tiger mother lesson. But, as in the rest of life, there sure were a lot of idiots. People were furious at her three-second stop at the stop sign, her refusing to blast through the yellow.

So sad all those people rushing and racing, hollering at us to get out of the way. They’ve got places to go and people to meet. They’ve got things to prove.

But driving lessons aren’t about getting somewhere. They’re about puttering around the neighborhood in circles, getting lost, watching out for little children, and braking for squirrels.

“I never noticed there were so many squirrels,” my daughter said.

I bet the guy leaning out his window yelling obscenities behind us had never noticed either.


Which brings me to the fourth reason driving lessons are anti tiger mother. When my daughter finally gets her license, there will be no awards, no honors, no competitions. She’ll get the exact same license as the kid with the perfect SATs.

You can’t win at driving.


After my daughter got her learner’s permit on the day she turned sixteen, she noticed a strange phenomenon. A lot of the kids with tiger mothers weren’t racing out to get theirs. They were too busy. Or, they just didn’t care. Maybe it was for some of the reasons above. Or maybe it was something even deeper.

A driver’s license represents the child’s ability to leave her mother behind. To say, screw you. I’m on my own now, going where I want to go. You don’t control me.

I can’t think of anything more anti tiger mother than that.

(Diana Holquist is the author of the parenting memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Daughter.)


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Politics and Parenting

“It’s important to be reality-based.”
— analyst on CNN after the presidential election in the US

Forget politics, let’s talk parenting.

The folks who looked clearly at the numbers (at reality) called this election weeks ago. The folks who were embroiled in their own ideologies (on both sides) blew the call.  They couldn’t see what was obvious in the numbers (Nate Silver Predicts Every State Correctly).
In other words, put aside preconceived notions about the world and look, carefully and with clear eyes, at what really is. Who is your child? What are her strengths? What are his weaknesses? Only with this firmly in mind can a parent chart a path to victory.

Reality isn’t the enemy when it comes to raising children.  Celebrate what’s there–then get out of the way.

(Diana Holquist is the author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Daughter, a parenting memoir about raising exceptional children without destroying childhood.)

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