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Why I wear the shirt.

I am a grown woman who never played on a basketball team. I didn’t know much about basketball until my mid-20s, when I met my basketball-loving husband (in defense of my parents, I was not sports-deprived; I grew up watching football and … yawn … baseball). By now, I know how to shoot a basketball properly. But I still don’t do it well.

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So, at this stage in my life, why did I recently spend money on a basketball tournament t-shirt (long-sleeved, oversized and super comfy, by the way), which has become my favorite thing to wear?

Obviously, I didn’t play in this tournament. It was not held in our town. I didn’t organize the tournament, nor did I volunteer to work at it. It wasn’t a big, well-known tournament in another state. I just went to watch my son’s team play. And while they did win some of their games, they didn’t win the tournament. My son was not the MVP, nor did he score a newsworthy number of points.

He just played.

And it was amazing.

You see, this was the first time Michael has been able to play in a tournament. He’s been on teams that have played before, but he’s always had to sit on the bench because of injuries resulting from a condition he has that causes hypermobile joints. But this year, Michael played. He got better. He scored his first tournament points. He was cheered on by his coach. He turned the ball over to the other team. He was yelled at by his coach. They won some, and they lost some. He celebrated with his team.

So this is why I wear the shirt from this tournament. To celebrate the kids who “just play.” The kids who persevere after injuries. The kids who play through everyday pain. The kids who didn’t make the team but continue playing anyway.

And for the parents, like us, who are happy to watch our kids “just play.”

 

 

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I’m a happy camper.

When our kids were younger, their summer activities were pieced together for the 10 weeks between school years – swim lessons, a week of baseball camp, a few weeks of gymnastics camp – whatever they were interested in that year. My husband and I had both gone to more traditional camps; some of my favorite childhood memories are from day camp, while my husband spent summers starting at age seven at sleepaway camp.

I thought our boys might be missing out, so we looked into a few day camps for them. At the time, a friend was working at the camp where his kids went. It wasn’t something that I’d considered doing before, but since I was teaching just one college class during the summers, and wondered how I’d fill nine hours a day while my kids were at camp, I decided to look into it. I thought that being an arts & crafts counselor would be something I could handle and might enjoy.

On a chilly April Saturday, we went and toured LakeView Day Camp. It had everything we were looking for, and by later that week, we’d enrolled the boys.

Unfortunately, this camp wasn’t looking for anyone on their arts & crafts staff. The camp director thought I might be a good fit for an open position for the camp office. I liked the idea of access to air conditioning all summer, and the director was right – even though I have some formidable glue gun skills, I was definitely more suited for an office job. We talked it over, I thought about it, and ultimately I decided that I’d give it a try. I’d just be along for the ride with my kids, and I figured I could do any job for just eight weeks.

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As I expected, the boys thrived at camp. They made new friends. They learned to swim better than they ever had. They learned that they loved activities they’d never tried — archery, zip lining, performing, lacrosse. It was even more than we hoped it would be.

But here’s what I never expected to happen -in my 40s, one of the oldest staff members at camp – I thrived too.

The job wasn’t always easy. The days were long, wrapped in a 45-minute commute on either end. Managing the needs of parents of the hundreds of campers could be complicated. Searching for the one staff member who left her car lights on in the staff parking lot was daunting. Getting through the piles of paperwork that came through the office each day was exhausting.

But at my age, even tucked away inside, sometimes seemingly far from the hustle and bustle of hundreds of campers and staff, I made new friends – ones I expect to be in my life for a long time.

I got to be myself. I could be silly and start a rubberband fight in the middle of the day. I could cry happy tears because I saw one of my kids having fun in the pool or singing in a show. I could give someone a hug just because it was the first time I’d seen them in a few days. I could dance just because I heard music. I could laugh until my stomach hurt.

I got to try new things; I’ve flipped on a bungee trampoline, driven a go-kart, gone down an inflatable water slide, and taken a ride on a fire truck. I got to wear shorts and a t-shirt to work, and dress up in goofy costumes on theme days.

So, it seems  I was not just along for the ride with my boys, but this was going to be my camp experience too.

Tomorrow starts our seventh summer at this wonderful camp. I’m still one of the oldest working there, but nobody else seems to mind. And because I’m around the energy of the rest of the staff, most days I don’t even notice. For eight weeks, I get to be a part of something magical – where kids (and adults) come to be who they really are, try new things, laugh and cry.

We have a motto at LakeView — “Live Camp, Love Camp.” We all do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dear Elementary School.

I know we’ve been together for 10 years, but as our youngest child is finishing up 5th grade, it’s time for us to break up.

It’s a bittersweet ending to what I can truly say has been a pretty amazing relationship. On one hand, it’s time. Our 5th grader is ready to move on to middle school. As parents, we’re beginning to feel a little out of place among the parents herding younger siblings on the playground and pushing them around in strollers.

On the other hand, even though we know it’s time, it’s still so hard to leave.

When we first walked through the door, you were a little intimidating, despite the small stature of the people inside. We were about to trust you to take care of and educate our kids, who frankly we’d only known for a handful of years. We hadn’t yet figured out how to get them to eat anything but plain pasta, so we were wondering how in the world you’d get them to actually learn anything.

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I think of how much we didn’t know when we came into this relationship, and how much we’ve all learned in 10 years.

You taught our kids how to write in cursive. How to check out a library book. What to do if you think you’re going to throw up someplace that’s not home (Answer: try not to do it on the floor. But when you’re still this little, it’ll all be okay if you do). How to write a book report, do long division and play games on those little scooters in gym. How to make conversation during lunch, and how to play nicely at recess (and what happens when you don’t).

You taught our kids that getting a bad grade isn’t the end of the world. That if you fall off the monkey bars, dust yourself off and try it again. That kindness matters.

You worked with us to give our kids the confidence to participate in nerve-wracking spelling bees, to learn how to play an instrument, to give a presentation in front of the class, to ask for help when they needed it. You helped them set goals like making our town’s all-city music ensembles or district art show; you celebrated with them when they achieved these goals, and helped them know it was okay when they didn’t.

We learned lessons too. That sometimes, no matter how hard you try, your kid is just not going to eat that lunch you packed for him (Bonus lesson: he won’t starve to death). We learned that every kid picks up different skills – social and academic – at different times, and comparing your kid to another one is probably not going to make anyone happy.

Together,  we learned that sometimes people are going to disappoint us. And that others are going to be there for us in ways that we couldn’t even anticipate.

Thank you, elementary school. You’re a very special place. I know you’re going to make some other family very happy.

 

 

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A love letter to my sons.

Dear Matthew and Michael,

Before we get started, I have a confession to make. I wanted girls.

I think I’ve mentioned this to you. I didn’t want boys because I have anything against them; it’s just that, you know, I’m a girl, and growing up I really didn’t have a lot of friends who were boys.  I was a pretty stereotypical girl, playing with dolls and makeup, so I think I assumed that I’d have girls, because that’s what I knew.

Someone had a different plan.

I realized that the first time I changed a diaper and had to clean pee off a wall. Seriously, I don’t think I even realized that was possible, but there I was. I’m fairly certain one of you still holds the record for the number of times a baby has peed on the wall in our pediatrician’s office in one visit. Three.

But aside from what I consider to be the sometimes quirky differences between sons and daughters, I couldn’t be happier with my two boys, and realized that we were all meant to be together.

Until yesterday.

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When I came downstairs after one of you returned from a baseball game, and I found – gasp! – a cup sitting on the kitchen island. Where I was about to make your lunch for the next day. Why? There are so many other places you could put it – your room, the bathroom, even your bed, or, you know, the bin in your room designated for all of your sports equipment. And I hate to admit this, but yesterday was not the first time I found your cup in the kitchen. And I’ve talked to other moms of boys about this, and I know you’re not the only boy who has done this.

I’ve seen other things too — the stuff of nightmares.

I’ve seen our dog ripping apart a small pile of the tissues you used when you had a terrible cold. Because for whatever reason, these tissues didn’t quite make it into the garbage.

I’ve seen you pick up a half eaten jellybean off the basement floor. And eat it.

I’ve seen you stuff the strings of your hoodie into your mouth.

I’ve seen you take dirty laundry out of a hamper to wear it. Because my usual 24- to 48-hour laundry turnaround wasn’t quite speedy enough for you.

I’ve seen you wipe your nose on a sleeve. On a clean towel. On me.

But you know what. I still wouldn’t trade either of you for anything. I can’t believe how much I love you both — more every day. You’re some pretty amazing kids.

But please. Put the cup away.

Love,

Mommy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lessons from town.

We live in a suburban town with a central downtown area full of shops and restaurants. It’s a nice area that attracts couples, groups of friends, families, and parents with strollers, having coffee, enjoying a meal, shopping or seeing a movie.

Except on Friday afternoons, when downtown is overrun with middle school students. Every town has its rites of passage, and this is one of ours.

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Kids usually begin testing the waters toward the end of 5th grade. My 5th grade son Michael has recently started going into town with his friends, and as annoying as a pack of adolescents can be, I realize that there can be a lot of good lessons they learn from this particular rite of passage:

Negotiation: There are a handful of places these kids tend to eat (and therefore, places most adults learn to avoid when they are overtaken by smaller individuals who punctuate their sentences with “oh, man” and “like.”). They need to figure out how to decide where they’re going when there’s dissention in the group between pizza and Mexican food.

Money management: Kids develop an appreciation for how much things cost when they’re paying for it themselves. Ours have learned to manage their allowance and any other money they have so they can spend it how they like. They can also learn smaller lessons about counting their change, tipping and using coupons.

Generosity: For whatever reason, one of the usual stops for these kids is the old independent drugstore in town, where they have an unusually large candy selection. Both of my kids have occasionally come home with candy for their brother, just because they saw something they knew the other would like. I also know that Michael was pretty excited that he picked out and purchased his own Mother’s Day card for me this year.

Following the rules: We hope that by now our kids are following the general rules we’ve been teaching them for the last decade — ‘look both ways,’ ‘don’t talk to strangers,’ and ‘wash your hands,’ especially when they’re away from us. But sometimes there are more subtle rules that they can only learn through experience. The first time Michael went into town with a friend, they saw an older teen trying to not be seen taking pictures of a store employee. The teen was caught and reprimanded, and it definitely freaked Michael out. It was probably a good lesson.

Responsibility. Going into town with friends is a privilege. My kids know they’re supposed to respond to my check-in texts, and be where they’re supposed to be when they’re being picked up.

Sometimes there are lessons that kids can only learn from being out in the world on their own.

 

 

 

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Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

Yesterday at school, another kid accidentally smacked Michael in the forehead with a computer. Given the description of the incident, I still don’t entirely understand where everyone needed to be positioned for this to have happened. I’m sure it hurt, and I’m guessing Michael was also a little startled (because, really, who goes through their day preparing to be hit in the head with a laptop?). He told the teacher he was dizzy, and out of an abundance of caution, the school nurse was called to the room. She walked Michael down to her office, gave him some ice, checked him out and sent him back to his classroom.

That should have been the end of it, right?

It wasn’t.

One of the boys in Michael’s class accused him of faking being hurt. And this isn’t the first time that’s happened.

I get it. They’re in 5th grade. This is what kids do. And when one kid says another kid is making something up, other kids will pile on. Unfortunately, I’m sure my kids have done it too. It’s hard not to.

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But with Michael, it’s more complicated than that, and he gets frustrated when people tell him he’s faking being hurt. It took him 18 months last year to recover from a torn meniscus and ACL. He returned to sports, only to get hurt again a month later. And when he showed up at school on crutches again, kids started whispering behind his back, and telling him to his face that he wasn’t really hurt.

And really, I get that too. Because first of all, it seems a little implausible that a kid this young could sustain these injuries back-to-back. And it gets a little annoying that Michael is again getting to leave school a few minutes early, doesn’t participate in gym class, and is once again asking friends to miss recess so he won’t have to sit in the nurse’s office by himself.

And in the midst of these injuries (which, in the last year and a half, have also included an ankle sprain and an overuse injury to his elbow), we discovered that no, Michael is not faking, and there’s a reason he keeps getting hurt — he has a mild form of a connective tissue disorder called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which causes excessive mobility in his joints and leaves him at a greater risk for injury.

As his parents, we’re glad to know there’s an explanation for why Michael has gotten hurt so many times, and that it’s not too serious. But as a kid, Michael doesn’t want to be different from anyone else, and doesn’t want to tell his friends about this diagnosis.

We continue to encourage him to let people know what’s going on, in the hopes that maybe they’ll be a little more understanding. And even though Michael getting hit in the head with a computer has absolutely nothing to do with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, or his previous injuries, that for Michael, getting hurt in any way can be a scary thing. Spring baseball starts this weekend; he hasn’t made it through a season without getting hurt, and subsequently sidelined, in two years. For a kid who loves sports and is more happy being active, it’s been really hard. Michael knows that he needs to continue physical therapy to keep his muscles stronger, because that’s the only way to try and avoid injury.

All Michael wants to do is be able to run, shoot baskets in the driveway, and play sports with his friends. He knows that there’s always a risk of getting hurt when he does, and even though he doesn’t like to talk about it, I’m sure that’s on his mind. But because there’s nothing on the outside, Michael looks just like everyone else, and it’s understandable that kids might think he’s making something up. And because he looks like everyone else and would prefer to be like everyone else, he doesn’t want to tell them that on some level, he’s not.

As Michael’s mom, as much as I want to send him out in the world covered in bubble wrap, I know I can’t. So, we just hope the adults around him will keep a extra eye on him, and hope that someday Michael will understand that every kid (and adult) has something that makes them different, and this is just his “thing.” And even though they can’t see it, it’s still there.

Of course it’s easier to cut someone a little slack when they have something going on that’s visible. But if we try and remember that not everything is so obvious, and we sometimes have to look beyond the surface, we’d probably all be just a bit more compassionate.

Now, back to figuring out how someone takes a computer to the head….

 

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A loss.

I had a sad parenting first last week. My 14-year-old son learned of the death of an important teacher in his life. He’d only known she was ill for several weeks before she passed away.

I wanted to talk to Matthew about her — about all that he’d learned from her, the fun he’d had with her, and the impact that she had on his life. The only problem with my plan was that Mickey was Matthew’s teacher, not mine. And though I’d spoken with her a few times and corresponded with her via e-mail, Matthew was the one who had been with her every week for four years, for drama classes and rehearsals for an outreach theater program. This was his loss, not mine.

And yet, I felt it profoundly. I’m still trying to figure out why.

When Matthew was 10, he decided to take part in a musical at day camp. He’d never expressed interest in theater before that, but he had fun. When we were looking for a new activity in 5th grade, he asked about acting classes. I did a quick online search and signed him up for a drama class at Papermill Playhouse, a nearby regional theater with an education program. That’s where he met Mickey. He spent two years in her weekly “Creative Drama” classes, then auditioned for and was accepted into the school’s All-Star touring company. He took part in two years of productions directed by Mickey, and performed these shows at schools for kids with cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and other disabilities.

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When Matthew first started these tours, he was hesitant about going into the audience after the shows for a “meet and greet” with the other kids who performed. I noticed that he’d sort of tag along with one of the program veterans – usually a girl – who seemed more comfortable with the kids who were different than those Matthew had always been around.

By the second year, Matthew was hugging the kids in the audience, taking pictures with them, and genuinely thought that meeting them was even better than performing. This, I know, is because of Mickey.

Matthew is still participating in this program; they’re rehearsing now for a tour of Into The Woods in February. As his mom, I’m proud that he’s now also volunteering for a soccer program for special needs kids in our town, and he loves it. I think Mickey would be proud of that too.

So I guess my sadness over Mickey’s death is understanding how fortunate we are to have people in our children’s lives who can impact them in such a positive way, sometimes without our knowledge until after the fact. Matthew went into a classroom with Mickey when he was 10 years old, to learn about acting. He did learn about acting, but has come away a better person because of everything else she taught him. And how many of us can say that about a teacher — and someone we hardly knew?

Thanks for everything Mickey. Rest in peace.

 

 

 

 

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End of an era.

My next-door neighbor just dismantled the trampoline they’ve had in their family’s backyard for nearly a decade. One daughter is in college, and the other will graduate from high school in the spring, so it’s not surprising. And yet, looking into their yard this afternoon, there is something missing from the landscape of our neighborhood, both literally and figuratively.

Our neighbors bought the trampoline for their younger daughter, who at the time loved gymnastics. My kids were still pretty young then, so the appeal of jumping on a brand-new, springy trampoline was strong. Our neighbors gave us permission to use the trampoline whenever we liked — a decision which I think they may have soon regretted, as I think my boys were probably on it more than their own kids.

Michael was a late walker, but loved to sit on the trampoline and bounce around while his brother jumped on it. And Matthew did his first solo back handspring there. They ran around and jumped, even when the black trampoline was fiery hot from the sun, and when the weather was icy and frigid.

But it was so much more than that.

Our youngest neighbor is nearly four years older than Matthew, but when they were younger, they bonded over gymnastics  tricks on the trampoline. As they got older, I’d peek outside and see the two of them sitting on the trampoline with an iPod, talking and bonding over their mutual love of music.

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When we had our annual block party, an adult would usually keep an eye on the kids who went into the back to play on the trampoline. It was never really necessary, because this is where the kids all learned the neighborhood tradition: the big kids take care of the little kids. The biggest kids would always make sure that the littlest kids weren’t getting bounced around more than they wanted to. Kids would help each other on and off the trampoline, and tie their shoes for them when they located them in the big pile and put them back on.

And that rule the kids learned from each other on the trampoline — it extended beyond just the neighborhood kids. I still smile when I think of the time I saw Michael, in first grade, squatting down to tie the shoes of a classmate who came over the play, got off the trampoline, but hadn’t learned to tie his shoes yet.

If a neighborhood kid was walking or riding by on his bike, the bike would often be left on our neighbor’s driveway, and the kid would join whoever was already on the trampoline. Many of the kids in the neighborhood could probably still tell you where I keep the cups in my house that they’d drink water from when they got thirsty. Some kids, including mine, ruined countless pairs of socks trudging through muddy grass after a football that they were playing with on the trampoline, or just because they were too lazy to put their shoes right back on.

RIP, trampoline. Thanks for the bounces, the lessons you taught the kids, and helping to make our neighborhood the great place it is.

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Yeah, he’s my favorite.

For whatever reason, lately I’ve been getting accused by both of my kids that the other one is my favorite.

Yesterday, 9-year-old Michael was closely examining the photos on our refrigerator, and told me that there are WAY many more of his older brother, so I must love him more. So, I counted — five photos of my boys together, two photos of Michael, three of Matthew, and one of our whole family together.

Drat. So, not WAY more, but still one extra photo of Matthew, and I guess that makes Michael right. About the photos anyway.

Another reason one kid might think I like the other one better? Because that’s what I tell them. No, not in a serious way — it’s just my answer to certain questions – like ‘why does he get to stay up later?,’ ‘why does he get more ice cream?,’ or ‘why does he have another pair of sneakers?’ My answer: “Because I love him more.”

I think most parents would be lying if we said that on occasion, we didn’t temporarily favor one child over the other. Like when I’ve cooked something new for dinner; one child is happily scarfing it down while the other is complaining and asking for something else? I’m sorry, but for that moment, the eating child is my favorite. Or when one is yelling about homework while the other is just doing his? Homework kid is my favorite.

As much as I always wanted to be a mom, on some level, I always worried that I wasn’t going to be able to love a child the way I was “supposed to.” When Matthew was born, I realized that I had nothing to worry about. I couldn’t believe how much I could love this little creature who did little more than cry and spit up on me. And it just got better as he started turning into an actual little person.

A few years later, Dave and I started talking about having another baby, and again I was fearful – I couldn’t imagine it was possible to love another child as much as I loved Matthew. But then there we were, parents of two boys, and then my fears seemed ridiculous. It was indeed possible to love two children.

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And here I am now, just about 10 years into being the mom of these two amazing boys. Do I love the both the same? Nope. I love them the same AMOUNT, but I love them differently.

I love Michael’s seemingly random (but overwhelming) enthusiasm for TV shows we love to watch together – The Amazing Race, Donut Showdown and Carnival Eats. I love that he can play basketball for hours. Even by himself.

I love that Matthew tolerates my piano playing and if I play the right song, will come sing with me. I love that he seems to know the words to every song he’s ever heard, and that he’d sing endlessly in the shower if we let him. I love that at the same time, there’s room in his brain with all of those song lyrics for massive amounts of sports trivia.

I love that Matthew willingly helps Michael with 4th grade math homework that I’m already too mathematically challenged to understand. I love that Michael will defend his brother against any wrong the world throws his way, even though he’s almost four years younger and half his size (a few years ago, I accidentally closed Matthew’s hand in a door in our house; as I leaned over Matthew writhing in pain on the floor, Michael began punching me in the back for hurting his brother).

So, yeah, I guess they’re both my favorite.

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You’ve got that right. Or wrong.

A few days ago, I heard a radio report that talked about how people like to give advice to new parents. Reportedly, these people enjoy giving this advice because as parents themselves, they believe they’ve done this parenting thing so well, they think everyone should do things the same way.

Which leaves me with the thought that I must be in the minority here, because often, the advice I can offer new parents is to do something differently than I’ve done, because I’ve screwed so many things up.

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This really started in my first few days of parenting, when we brought Matthew home from the hospital and could not for anything figure out how to get this kid to stop crying and sleep. We were so desperate that we called the newborn nursery at the hospital where he was born. The nurses there must have had some idea of how stupid we were, because the first question they asked was whether or not he was warm enough. As first-time parents, we were following all of the rules we’d been told about, which included not covering him with a blanket in the crib. I guess we didn’t realize that we had to find some other way to keep him warm.

We’ve been parents now for almost 14 years, and don’t get me wrong – I think we’ve got some pretty great kids. But I sometimes question how much we’ve actually had to do with that.

Just a few months ago, for example, our younger son suffered a pretty serious knee injury. Thinking he was overreacting to get a little extra attention, I made him go to Hebrew school the morning after it happened. As he limped into the building, the rabbi asked, “Michael, what happened?” My response? “Nothing as serious as he’s making it look.” Really??! I said that to our rabbi, one of the people in our community who we consider to be the arbiter of all things right and good. So after Michael’s second knee surgery, the rabbi stopped by to see how he was doing. Or maybe just to check and see if my parenting was actually as irresponsible as it seemed to be that day.

I’ve made plenty of other dumb parenting moves. When Matthew was in preschool, I invited a girl in his class to come over for a playdate. I was impressed when she came in and said, “Matthew, I’m your guest; will you please show me around?” So I thought it would be okay to leave the two of them unsupervised in our backyard for a few minutes. Again, I was wrong. This delightful little girl then came to the back door to get me, telling me that she’d tied Matthew up in our yard.

It’s not just me – sometimes Dave makes the same stupid parenting mistakes I do. When Michael was about four years old, he had a friend over to play. I had to take Matthew out somewhere, so I left the little boys at home with Dave. When I returned, he took me aside to tell me I needed to have a talk with the other boy’s mother, because when Dave went to check on them in the basement, they were sitting nicely, playing video games. Naked. And apparently it was Michael’s idea.

So, you see, I’m happy to help you out. But if you’re looking for parenting advice from someone who’s done it all right, I’m probably not your guy.

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