Category Archives: parenting

The Million Dollar Mistake

“The Million Dollar Fuck-Up” is probably a better title.

Spoiler alert: This story doesn’t have a very happy ending.

The weather in northern New Jersey has officially shifted from fall to winter. Chilly mornings and sunny afternoons have given way to bitter cold, cloudy, and windy days with occasional snow flurries. In other words, it’s time to wear pants.

At bedtime last night, I told my sensory sensitive seven-year-old son who hates nothing more than wearing pants that he would have to wear them to school in the morning.

“Will you pay me six thousand dollars?” His blue eyes sparkled with mischief.

I loved games. “Yes!”

“Will you pay me a million dollars?”

“Of course! I’ll write you a check!”

I didn’t anticipate how easily he would get dressed (in pants!) the next morning. I also didn’t anticipate that he would believe the printable check for kids I found on the Internet was real.


Like, really real. Like, he couldn’t wait to brag to his friends. Like, he thought we’d go to the bank after school, deposit the check (“like Mommy does”), and receive a million dollars in cold hard cash (like Mommy does?!). Like, for real.

It seemed like such a good idea the night before. That morning, not so much. When I confessed that the check was fake, my son was heartbroken. He was Lloyd Dobbler in “Say Anything” when Diane broke up with him and gave him a pen.

I gave her my heart, she gave me a pen.

I gave my son a fake check. I gave him a fucking pen.

Needless to say, things got worse before they got NOT BETTER AT ALL. I apologized for inadvertently hurting his feelings and tricking him. Tears squirted from his eyes, he threatened to take the pants off, and he wouldn’t budge from the staircase. Our surprisingly easy morning turned into a shit show, complete with a stand-off, irrational negotiations, and some miserable but necessary tough love.

Outside, the wind whipped. I was desperate. “If you keep your pants on, I’ll take you to the toy store after school.”

“I’m wearing shorts and you’re taking me to the toy store because you lied to me!” Ouch.

This grueling back and forth went on for a long while. In the end, he kept his pants on, but we were late for school and he refused to hold my hand on the walk from the car to the main office, which was his way of giving me a pen (and stabbing me in the heart with it and twisting it in both directions).

Did he need to wear appropriate clothing for the weather? Yes. Did I inadvertently lie and hurt his feelings? Also yes. Did I take him to the toy store after school? You betcha. Guilt is expensive, and for the record, I paid with cash, not a check.

The lessons in this cautionary tale require bullet points.

  • Kids are literal thinkers. Don’t forget this important nugget. Ever.
  • Don’t write checks you can’t afford.
  • Never break someone’s heart and then give them a pen.
  • Don’t judge parents. We’re all doing our best, especially on Monday mornings.

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The Stupid Jar


My seven-year-old son has a Bravery Jar. Each time he does something courageous or new, he puts a fuzzy ball inside a mason jar. Once it’s filled, he gets a reward.

I’m a big supporter of mason jar parenting. I’ve found it to be an effective tool for almost any parenting dilemma.

Is your kid misbehaving? Make a Good Choices Jar.

Are you starving for quality mealtime conversation? Make a Question Jar.

Are your kids being lazy around the house? Make a Chores Jar.

Does your family need a healthy dose of optimism? Make a Happiness Jar.

A few years back, when it seemed like the only three words my boys said were “I want that,” I made a Gratitude Jar. Every time I caught them in the act of doing something kind or gracious, they put a fuzzy ball in the jar.

Last fall, when my older son struggled at his new school, I made him a Happy Jar. Every time he found a silver lining during the day – a fun game in PE class, a birthday celebration, or extra recess – he put a fuzzy ball in the jar.

My younger son isn’t afraid to pour himself a bowl of cookies for breakfast (independence has a downside), but he is afraid to go upstairs in the house if I’m downstairs and vice versa. I’ve learned this is a common fear for kids, especially for one who spent the first six years of his life living in a one-story ranch home. Still, it’s frustrating and often times inconvenient to stop what I’m doing to chaperone him up or down the stairs a hundred times a day. Thus, the Bravery Jar.

Sometimes it helps, sometimes not so much. Nevertheless, it’s always illuminating. Case in point:

Kid: Can you walk me upstairs?

Me: I just sat down to eat. You need to be brave.

Kid: I was brave when I came down the stairs by myself. *pauses conversation to put fuzzy ball in Bravery Jar*

Me: You need to be brave again. I’ll come up in a few minutes to check on you. Plus, your brother is upstairs and the lights are on.

Kid: No.

Me: You can do it.

Kid: I can’t.

Me: You can.

Kid: I can’t!

Me: You can.

Kid: How about I do this brave thing instead. *runs across kitchen, leaps in the air, lands on knees and elbows on hardwood floor, curls up into fetal position, moans*

Me: …

Kid: Was that brave?

Me: No, that was stupid.

Kid: Can we make a Stupid Jar?

See, you can fix almost any parenting dilemma with a mason jar.

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Rain Is Never a Good Excuse


Once upon a time (before I had kids), I worked at non-profit organization that provided affordable housing and life skills to at-risk girls transitioning from foster care to independent living.

The cards were stacked against these young women who grew up in the system with little stability and few positive role models. Many of the hurdles they faced – school, employment, money, health, and relationships – were predictable, but some were unexpected. For instance, I met girls who didn’t know how to mail a letter. No one had ever taught them where to write the return address or place a stamp on an envelope.

Another unanticipated obstacle was the weather. Specifically, rain. Rain was an excuse that had surprisingly severe consequences. It kept the young women from showing up at school, job interviews, doctor’s appointments, and even court appearances. It was a colossal stumbling block to success.

It was frustrating and it exposed my white privilege (among many resources, I had a car), but it gave me a deep understanding of the complexities of gender, race, and poverty. It taught me gratitude and compassion, and I think of that profound professional experience often as I raise my own children to become caring, self-sufficient adults who value personal responsibility and showing up, even when – and especially when – it rains.

Recently, my nine-year-old had an appointment with a reading coach. Not surprisingly, he didn’t want to go. The sky turned dark during his plea that summer should be fun and reading wasn’t fun at all.

“We’re going.” I was determined. He needed the help and I had confirmed the appointment that morning. I herded the kids into the garage quickly so we could get in the car before it started raining, but I wasn’t fast enough. As the garage door squeaked open, the sky unleashed a wild storm. Rain fell in thick, heavy sheets, sometimes sideways. Wind whipped. Thunder alternated between low rumbles and loud crackles.

Regrettably, the car was not inside the garage. It was approximately ten steps away in the driveway and exposed to the elements. I grabbed a golf-size umbrella from the floor and opened it up. “Let’s go. I’ll take you to the car one at a time.”

“I am not going out there.” My nine-year-old was adamant.

“Come on. It’s just rain. The storm will pass by the time we get to your appointment.” Rain pounded the pavement. Sirens blared in the distance.

“I’m not going anywhere.” My seven-year-old joined the crusade. “You’re the one who says we’re not supposed to use umbrellas when there’s thunder and lightning.”

Damn it. I would not use rain as an excuse, and I wouldn’t let my kids do it either. “Boys, we’re going. Now.” Rain smacked the car. Thunder roared. Sirens shrieked closer.

I forced them into the car under the umbrella and possible (but not confirmed) flashes of lightning. We were drenched. I put the windshield wipers on the fastest speed and backed slowly out of the driveway.

Large, broken branches tree limbs littered the ground. Half way down the street, an entire tree had fallen through a fence and blocked three quarters of the road.

“Mom, this is crazy! Let’s go home!”

I ignored their voices of reason because I had a point to make, although it might’ve been lost in translation by that time. “We have an appointment! Rain is never an excuse!”

It occurred to me that a tornado may have blown through our small town. I’d witnessed the aftermath of several category three hurricanes and the scene outside our car looked eerily similar.  Still, I continued driving. We would be late, but my kids would learn how to show up.

My cell phone rang. I shouldn’t have answered it because I needed to concentrate on avoiding debris on the road, but thank goodness I did.

“I lost power from the storm.” It was the reading coach. She worked out of her house. “We’ll have to reschedule.”

Dear God! Hallelujah! It’s like a post-apocalyptic world out here! It’s complete chaos! We shouldn’t be outside!

“Boys, it appears that our appointment has been postponed.” I spoke in a calm and even tone. They cheered. I shushed them and preached again about the importance of meeting obligations. “Rain is never an excuse!”

Clearly, I’d lost my mind.

I made a right at the next light to circle around the block, but a fallen tree blocked that street, too. I turned the car around and drove around the tree we passed moments earlier and pulled back into our driveway.

It was a doozy of a storm. There were wide-spread power outages, and on the next block over, a fallen tree narrowly missed hitting a house. Even though we didn’t make it to our appointment and despite the fact we could’ve died from a downed power line or an uprooted tree, I’m confident I taught my kids a valuable lesson about accountability. That, and about the importance of checking the weather forecast before leaving the house.

Rain is never a good excuse! (Except when it is.)

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