The Power of Mom Friends

To tweak a famous quote, no mom is an island. As moms, we get so caught up in our daily lives and obligations that cultivating friendships can often fall to the very bottom of the “to do” list. But as I was reminded the other evening, female friends are essential for reassuring yourself that you are not alone on this sometime crazy journey called motherhood.

When I had my first child, I was a full-time professional and single mom. I did not have “mom friends.” My girlfriends and work friends were in their 30s, like me, but I was among the first to have a child. Someone offered that a hairstylist she knew was a single mom with a child; perhaps we could be friends? I dismissed the idea and continued socializing with my work and college friends. Upon the suggestion of another new mom and work colleague, I began taking my daughter to a children’s music class on Saturdays. Although I didn’t really socialize with any of these parents outside of the classroom, the time spent singing and banging on instruments was a window into the social world of other parents of small children.

After my daughter turned one, I married a wonderful man, and a year and half later, we moved to a new city, along with our newborn son. I had stopped working at my law firm around the time of my daughter’s second birthday, and I was excited about the prospect of being a full-time mother, able to enjoy my children throughout all hours of the day, and truly experience all facets of motherhood.

My experience in our new city of Houston was vastly different than my mommy experience in my hometown. I didn’t have the security blanket of my parents, school friends or work colleagues to rely on; instead I dove in head first to the task of meeting other mom friends. It wasn’t really so hard – I joined the local MOMS Club, and I discovered that just showing up to a playdate or planned outing was the biggest hurdle. The moms were friendly, and it was a diverse group, ranging from moms with master’s degrees to engineers to the more rare Martha Stewart types. Overall I found most of them to be highly educated and professional women who had chosen to stay home in order to spend quality time with their children and not miss out on those early years.

Six months into my time in the club, I found myself as the prospective president of our chapter. I somewhat kicked myself, as the position took up a lot of time and planning, and other aspirations, like writing, took a backburner to planning social events, handling email correspondence and attending meetings. I didn’t realize the value at the time of these interactions and friendships that I was forging. When I had my third child, and other moms brought meals to us for four weeks straight, I was overwhelmed by their generosity and the power of moms. I finally understood that a group of moms is a powerful thing that could support each other in times of need. We eventually moved, and a few years later I still think fondly of the different ladies with whom I had the privilege of sharing parts of our lives.

After spending two years in Houston, we moved up to Connecticut for a short six-month stint for my husband’s job. I considered joining the nearby MOMS Club, but unlike my previous chapter, this one required a much longer drive to attend functions. With the winter weather and occasional snow, I tended to stay in my bubble and venture out primarily to the YMCA. I met some great moms at my daughter’s preschool, which is another promising venue to meet potential friends, as well as a like-minded young mom in our neighborhood of mostly retirees. After only six months, I was sad to say goodbye to the small group of friends I had made. We were now headed down South, where we would settle in and have the opportunity and time to forge deep friendships.

Since moving to Florida, my experience in making mom friends has been different but positive. There are various ways to meet people, and these days I prefer a more organic approach. I have met other moms at the dance studio, the local YMCA or playing at a park. There are some nice moms in our neighborhood, and I have met some friends through a simple introduction by established friends. I saw one mom that looked familiar to me at a popular, kid-friendly restaurant the other week and realized that her son was in my son’s music class. We struck up a conversation before her friend came to join her, who I realized I had met at the local pool the previous summer.

It had been awhile since I had attended anything formal or organized like a girls’ night out, as some friends had recently moved away or given birth. Last week a mom friend of mine through my daughter’s school and dance studio (though I initially met her as my daughter’s Vacation Bible School leader) kindly agreed to watch my daughter while I attended some local writers’ workshops. She asked me if I wanted to perhaps have a glass of wine when I came to pick up my daughter that evening. My Friday evenings are usually spent getting the kids to bed super early and gearing up to watch Dateline with my husband, but I thought a glass of wine sounded nice and didn’t require too much effort.

That evening, I made the drive over to her part of the island and noticed the way the orange tinted sky looked immense from the winding road. Living on an island, people joke about not wanting to go “OTB,” (over the bridge), and I must admit, I don’t go OTB too often, or even venture to the south side of the island. As I pulled up to her home, I admired their vibrant fruit trees, blooming rose bushes and its elegant cottage feel. I entered their inviting home, and the girls were ensconced in a cozy set-up with cheese pizza and a Disney movie. Admiring her distressed white kitchen cabinets, we agreed on a red California blend and settled into her white couch to sip and talk. (After an unfortunate red wine and white couch incident at a close friend’s urban pad years earlier, I hoped that I did not repeat my past gaffe.)

An hour passed by quickly as we chatted about the differences between boys versus girls, our rescue dogs, career aspirations and feeling overscheduled with activities and obligations. I met her daughter’s pet lizard and was impressed that she allowed a pet that required live crickets as its diet. Not every mom would go for that! I thoroughly enjoyed myself and realized out loud that I hadn’t known how much I missed hanging out with another mom until in that moment. The clock struck 8, and not wanting to overstay our welcome or keep my daughter up too late, we headed back to our part of the island.

The next few days following our social visit, I began to have grand plans of double dates with other couples, game nights at our home with a few other parents and making time every few months for a fun moms’ night out. Sometimes as moms our focus is so laser-like on our children and pets (and husband, if he’s lucky) that the thought of nurturing our need for human connection doesn’t register. A simple shared conversation over a glass of wine was the eye-opening realization that cultivating friendships does matter, even to a woman in her 30s. Friends now are probably more important than ever. I’m looking forward to that next glass of wine.

My Disney Hangover

We returned from a trip to “The Most Magical Place On Earth” yesterday. No, we were not at one of the Seven Wonders of the World, or Tahiti. We traveled to Disney World – the Magic Kingdom, specifically – for a quick and easy weekend trip. Except that there wasn’t anything quick and easy about it.

We should have known better. As the saying goes, Fool Me Once, Shame on Mickey, Fool Me Twice, Shame on Me. We weren’t Disney virgins; we were seasoned Disney sophomores. This time our trip was going to be smoother, less expensive, more mainstreamed. Oh yeah, we had this excursion in the glittery bag.

Let me back up a bit. As a child, I never visited Disney World. My parents weren’t theme park people, save an occasional trip to the amazing Schlitterbahn in New Braunfels, Texas. Our trips primarily consisted of driving to Port Aransas or South Padre Island, Texas, swimming in the beach and pool, fishing and relaxing. My Dad always joked about how we would never have an itinerary on a vacation. I chuckled and thought that one day I would have trips with itineraries. I should have known that the beach bum doesn’t fall far from the coconut tree.

Last spring, the stars aligned and a trip to Disney World seemed within reach. We lived within a short drive of Orlando, my husband was coming home from a long deployment, and our three children were at an age where at least one of them would remember the trip years later. After an internal struggle inside my head, I finally decided to give Disney a shot – after all, I might really love the place and fall under its magical spell.

We stayed at Disney’s Art of Animation resort on our first go round. I felt like I was staying at the Walmart of Disney properties, though the price could have gotten us a suite at a nice Marriott. We didn’t use the inviting pool facilities because we were too busy knocking out four theme parks. We used a Disney specific travel agency and enjoyed wonderful dining experiences and met enough characters to choke a Hungry Hungry Hippo. The trip was not without its challenges, though.

For one, we were exhausted. As the week pushed on, every morning I would think, I have to get on a bus and do this again? The crowd levels were low, which was wonderful, but the rain was unrelenting and put a damper on the week. Overall, the kids had a blast, so we chalked the trip up to a success. Next time, we thought, we will make a few tweaks, and the adults would enjoy Disney too.

For our second trip, I did not consult the predicted crowd charts (yes, some guy online actually graphs out the estimated crowd levels for every day of the year at Disney), but in my heart I knew that the park would be crowded on Valentine’s/President’s Day weekend. “How bad could it be?”, I thought. We set up our FastPass selections for character meet and greets. I diligently researched hotels and found a well-reviewed boutique hotel off property with spacious and budget-friendly accommodations. We would visit only the Magic Kingdom on a Saturday, so we wouldn’t feel overwhelmed by multiple parks. In essence, this trip would be manageable, fun, and dare I say, magical?

Our first misfire was leaving our home on a Friday afternoon of a holiday weekend, as opposed to the morning. I didn’t want the kids to miss their Valentine’s parties at school, so we didn’t take off until the end of the school day. This was a costly mistake, as we encountered massive traffic delays in Jacksonville, due to the holiday traffic and several car wrecks. We lost about an hour. Strike one.

After the initial miscue, we arrived in Orlando and began Yelping nearby restaurants. And what to my hungry eyes did appear – Chuy’s, that classic Tex-Mex restaurant based in my hometown of Austin. Now, when I lived in Austin, I tended to classify Chuy’s as overrated and sloppy seconds, best left for the tourists or non-foodies. But when you live in a Mexican food desert, and Chuy’s appears on the horizon, it’s like a gallon of ice-cold water after walking for miles parched. This trip was going to be the best ever!

Chuy’s delivered the goods – I chugged the first margarita in about ten seconds flat – the queso and creamy jalapeno sauce were so divine I initially just stared and took in their pure deliciousness. And to top off the good food and drink, there was a jolly man making balloon animals for the children. Our first and last meals in Orlando would ultimately prove to be the highlights of this trip. Chuy’s was the Last Supper.

After dinner, we made the short drive over to the Point Orlando Hotel and marveled at the spacious suite and nice set-up. We tucked in early and dreamt of magical fairies and fireworks. The next morning, we sprang out of bed bright and early, ate a solid breakfast at the hotel and started our trek to the Magic Kingdom. We arrived to the parking lot by a little after 8:00, which felt like an accomplishment. We easily parked and marveled at all of the Disney employees deployed to assist each of us. Disney runs a tight ship, I thought.

We then took a tram into an area where we could either opt to take a ferry or monorail into the park. My husband grumbled a little about all the transportation required to simply enter Disney, and we hoped we would not miss out on meeting Cinderella and Rapunzel. We packed into a car like commuters in Beijing, and I told the kids to pretend they were riding the subway in a big city. We finally arrived, and the fun could officially begin.

Looking back, the morning was the best part of our day at Disney. We met various characters with our three FastPasses, and as a bonus we even got to meet the coveted Anna and Elsa. For lunch, despite not having reservations, we waited a moderate amount of time and dined at the Crystal Palace, featuring a quality buffet and the affable Winnie the Pooh crew. After lunch, the day began its downward spiral, which would end with us hitting rock bottom.

The crowds became insane. You know when the Dumbo ride has an hour wait time, that fat elephant has the last laugh. We queued an hour to ride the Jungle Cruise, which consisted of a millennial tour guide making corny jokes the whole way. He was probably the highlight of the ride, next to the fake elephants and dark cave. The only other ride we were able to get on was Aladdin’s Magic Carpet ride. We waited 45 minutes to go in circles in the air for about five minutes.

We finally called it quits on waiting in line for the rides and caught a few shows in Tomorrowland. My husband nearly lost it when a Disney employee moved our stroller to an unknown location, which took about 20 minutes to find in the dark. My middle son said he couldn’t wait to go back to school so he could tell the other kids how Disney took our stroller. “We visited Disney and all I got was this lousy stolen stroller story” is what his t-shirt should read.

We originally had dinner reservations at a Disney hotel restaurant but decided to cancel them because we didn’t want to deal with riding a bus and monorail all over again. The clock ticked on into the evening, and we had to start thinking about dinner. The sunny afternoon weather turned back into a chill, and we did not want to eat at an outdoor counter service restaurant. We decided that the kids would not make it to the 10 p.m. fireworks show, so we say goodbye to the Magic Kingdom and headed out of the gates.

The monorail was down, so all of us were forced to ride the ferryboat back to the area where we would then get on a tram to take us to our cars. I was fine with riding a ferryboat, as I thought the kids would enjoy the novelty, but the waiting dock was super crowded due to the lack of monorail service. I almost made a crass comment referencing third world country conditions but another guest took that liberty first.

Brooks sat down as we waited, and I urged him to stand up so he wouldn’t get trampled when guests started loading the boat. The ferry docked and we all loaded the boat like a bunch of hungry and tired refugees, desperate to not get left behind. The ferry, filled to the brim with people, pushed off from the dock. Our oldest child began to fall asleep as she was standing up. I had to hold her arm up so that she wouldn’t collapse. She was incoherent and for a time we thought she might require a hospital visit. How does a child fall asleep standing up? Was it an undisclosed side effect of Tinker Bell’s pixie dust? We finally hoisted her into our toddler’s stroller where she went comatose.

We arrived on land and made the short walk to the tram lines. We missed the first one, and Good Samaritans allowed us to wedge into their car, as our bulky stroller lay horizontal on all of our laps. We finally arrived at our parking lot, and with much relief, we settled in for the short eight-mile return trip to our hotel.

Our eight-mile jaunt ended up taking two hours. The highway was jam-packed – apparently there was a wreck, though we never saw it – and the light at our exit appeared to be out. We sat in the right exit lane for about one and a half hours, as some fed up cars veered onto the shoulder and took matters into their own hands. Other drivers sped up to the front of the line and cut in, thus we never moved forward. Discussing their lawlessness and whether we should follow suit, I maturely said, situations like this bring out the best or the worst in people. The worst in me would materialize soon enough. Everyone has a breaking point.

Initially we were going to eat at a nearby restaurant for dinner, then we decided, okay, we will just hit up the McDonald’s drive thru. (I remarked that I had never eaten at McDonald’s for a Valentine’s dinner, and that this would be a memorable time.) That quarter pounder with cheese meal was sounding divine. Unfortunately, once we exited the highway two hours later, the McDonald’s was on the wrong side of the road and inaccessible to us. That’s fine, we thought, our glasses still half full, the hotel restaurant is open until 11:00, so we will order food from them.

We finally pull into the hotel parking lot, and the kids are in various states of incoherent moaning and crying. We pick up various kids and sprint like scared animals toward the warmth of the hotel. We run into the light and inquire as to the restaurant’s location. A young man informs us that the kitchen just closed, one hour early, as the staff was overwhelmed and needed to catch up. At that point I lose my cool with a few choice phrases. I loudly proclaim that Orlando is the absolute worst city I have ever been to, and that I have been to some pretty crappy places, so this is a legitimate designation. At this point, I am beyond tired, hungry and dehydrated. Disney had finally broken me.

Dejected and resigned to failure, we return to our room, where we feed our kids a random assortment of snacks and leftovers from the previous night’s meal. Here is one cheese quesadilla; you may each have a third of it. Our two-year-old was so exhausted he started shouting “tired, tired!” and collapsed in his porta-crib, forgoing his nightly cup of milk. My husband and I ordered a pizza and finally ate a few slices at 11:30 p.m. I then collapsed into a deep, dreamless sleep.

Our youngest son, who probably fell asleep at 10:30, woke up at 6:30, yelling “I want Eltha [Elsa]; I want Eltha!” We reluctantly awoke, showered and packed our belongings, ready to get the hell out of Orlando. (We originally considered visiting another attraction that day, but there was a tacit understanding that our only destination was home.) In my state of starvation the previous evening, I had remembered seeing a sign for Denny’s near our hotel. We made the decision to eat at the diner, and I silently prayed that it would not take two hours to go two miles to the eatery.

Like Chuy’s, Denny’s was the other highlight of our trip. The food was hot and delicious, and the perfectly mixed Diet Coke recharged and invigorated me. We stuffed our bellies into a comfortable state of fullness and then hit the road. The roads were relatively clear of traffic – church, we figured – but we didn’t want to jinx ourselves and comment on the smooth roads. We arrived back home later in the afternoon, at which point I collapsed into a deep sleep for three hours straight while my “husband of the year” took care of the kids.

On the drive back, we immediately decided to cancel our Spring Break trip to the Florida Keys. Too far, we thought. Too stressful. You know it’s bad when a beach vacation seems too hard. Thanks Disney. Instead, we would send the kids to preschool and camp and utilize a nearby luxury hotel’s pool and spa facilities during various days of the week. We would only return to Disney if the Disney guru’s website showed low crowds on his bar graph, we could afford a hotel like the Polynesian for ease of transportation to the Magic Kingdom, and if Arrendelle froze over (again). In other words, we may not return to Disney for many years, if ever.

Take away the transportation hiccups, long wait times in lines, and overall logistics, my main issue with Disney is much more philosophical and less tangible. Disney World is a fake world. It is not a national park, a cosmopolitan city, a museum of acclaimed paintings or ancient works. It is a creation built on consumerism and elaborate sets and 20-somethings dressed up as Disney princesses. My favorites are the rides or experiences that end with a mandatory walk through of a gift shop.

At my core, I am at odds with Disney’s being. I will no longer pay money to wait in line for an hour to enjoy a fake jungle ride among plastic animals. The most authentic part of Disney is probably Hollywood Studios, because that park celebrates the heritage of Disney and the art and evolution of animation, which are of artistic, educational and cultural value. This is probably Disney’s least popular park.

Cinderella’s Castle is a sight to behold, but so are centuries-old castles in Europe. From now on, I will seek authenticity and/or relaxation on my vacations. Tired, stressed, hungry, dehydrated and borderline losing my mind are not markers of a quality vacation. In the future, I will enjoy a view of the azure ocean from my beach chair with a cold drink in hand and line free bathroom nearby. I will enjoy a leisurely stroll through a bustling, cosmopolitan city with real people, culture and historic buildings. I will breathe in nature hiking through a majestic state or national park. Sorry, Disney, you have broken me, and we are breaking up for now. Thanks for the magical memories.

When Mom is Sick

It has been a few weeks since my last post on my blog. First, my husband and two kids contracted the flu. After bragging about my robust immune system to anyone who would listen, I then got sick with what appeared to be the flu. I say the flu because of its complete decimation of my person. (I thought about going to my doctor to get tested, but I simply didn’t have the energy to cross the bridge over to her office.) My middle son has survived this flu invasion unscathed (he is half robot). The CDC says the flu vaccine is about 23% effective. This makes sense, as only 20% of our family did not get sick, despite five flu vaccines.

After celebrating the fifth anniversary of our vow renewal ceremony (this has become our de facto wedding anniversary, because January seems to work better for us than the legal date in June), I started feeling bad. Come Monday I was running a fever, which did not decide to break until Friday. I suspected the flu because of the complete exhaustion element. All I could do on Monday and Tuesday was sleep with spurts of consciousness spent watching HGTV. When you have to set an alarm clock to wake up at 1:00 p.m., things are not normal, unless you are working night shifts.

On Wednesday, after napping away the morning, I decided this whole sickness thing might be mental, and perhaps some fresh air would perk me up. So I gather up the two dogs whose combined weight outweighs me to take on a casual stroll around the neighborhood on the way to pick up my daughter from the bus stop. The dogs pull this way and that, and I am incredibly grateful that our German Shepherd did not see the errant Chow running near us. Our Great Dane mix did, and she pulled on the leash with all of her 80 pounds trying to get to the Chow. The Chow looked our way, assessed the dogs and wisely decided to change course and jaunt off in a different direction. Crisis averted.

Once we got home, I was completely exhausted, as if I had just run a marathon, and decided to start putting a dent in the growing pile of laundry. By the end of the day, my fever had spiked up again. I guess fresh air wasn’t going to shake this thing, and being sick wasn’t just in my head.

On Thursday, my oldest child had an event at her school she desperately wanted to attend. We dutifully completed her homework in the afternoon, and I sold my husband on the idea of taking her back up to school for the evening festivities. Don’t worry about me, I reassured him. I can easily get our two sons down to bed on my own. Yep, I’m starting to feel better.

After being in nearly full-time childcare for the beginning of the week, due to my inability to care for them and relentless need for sleep, my two sons were beyond tired and cranky. I had to put my two-year-old, Blaine, in a near chokehold to brush his teeth. I then wrangled him up the stairs as he convulsed his body and screamed. Like one of the Super Bowl players, he was in “beast mode.” We then tussled on the bathroom floor for about five minutes as I attempted to contain his body while simultaneously trying to unzip his jacket. He was determined to keep that jacket on. I began to break out in a cold sweat from the exertion. I finally got him undressed and in the bathtub, victorious. He tried to throw a few toys out in protest, as well as the tub mat, and I was prepared to climb in there if necessary, as he is prone to throw his head and body back when angry.

The bath seemed to calm my toddler down, and we peacefully made our way to his bedroom to get dressed and ready for bed. Shoot, I realized, his bed needs to be made with new sheets, and I have to wedge an inflatable barrier under the fitted sheet so our son won’t roll out in the middle of the night. I struggled mightily to fit the inflatable bedrail underneath the too short and too tight fitted sheet. Unbeknownst to me, my husband and daughter just happened to check out the video monitor to Blaine’s room at that moment and chuckled watching me struggle with the bedding as they enjoyed pizza and bingo.

After the usual reading routine, exhausted and frazzled, I got Blaine to bed, and then turned my attention to his four-year-old brother, Brooks. Of course he refused to take a bath as well, so after much cajoling and idle threats, he was nearly ready for bed. At that time, my husband and daughter arrived home, my fever spiked up to a new high, and my other half could wisely say “I told you so,” about the decision to attend the school function.

Lucky for me, my fever broke the next day. I assured my husband I could handily get the children off to school. At 6:30 a.m., Brooks proceeded to have an accident and pee a huge geyser on our couch. I could picture the urine seeping into the cushions, where it would forever live and add to the smells of our home. Twenty minutes later, Blaine approached me crying about something on his hand. Turns out it was covered in his own fecal matter. After clean-up efforts, Blaine wanted to play outside, so I started with the dreaded task of shoveling up the unending piles of dog poop. Wouldn’t you know it, I managed to step in a huge one. Friday was quickly turning to shit.

Mercifully, the weekend arrived, and we spent the next few days catching up on massive piles of laundry, taking copious amounts of medicine and arguing about who needed sleep the most (my husband still has lingering effects from the flu). Bright spots included watching the Super Bowl and dissecting the commercials and half-time entertainment. Unlike Super Bowls of my younger years, this year involved taking a shot of Nyquil and praying I didn’t knock out until after the fourth quarter. I also wanted some game day snacks, but I was coughing so much I didn’t know if I could logistically chew food and cough at the same time. (My love for food won out, and I scarfed down some homemade nachos – yummy!)

Perhaps in a feeling of guilt due to the utterly wasted first part of the week, I spent a good chunk of Sunday de-cluttering my daughter’s bedroom, which could have appeared on an episode of “Hoarders.” Seashells, dried up Silly Putty, thousands of unmatched Barbie shoes, mangled Christmas bows, cardboard boxes turned puppet theater – it was amazing what she had managed to stockpile over her six years of life. Every dress-up purse I opened up was chock full of random stuff like marbles and sea glass. Toward the end of this huge undertaking, she told me that someone could pay me “like $55,000” for this type of work. I took that as a compliment, from one hoarder to another.

I remember when I was a child, having a sick day and missing school could be fun. Now I’m not talking the flu or strep throat variety of sick. Perhaps the culprit would be a garden-variety virus of the low-grade fever producing kind, allowing me to lie in bed and watch cartoons instead of schlepping to school. As a parent, however, I dread getting sick. The homework, chores and kids’ activities continue as the shell of your former self tries to keep up. I was fortunate this time that my husband was not deployed and that we had the availability of drop-in day care.

At some point, however, the novelty of lying in bed and watching TV begins to wear off – I want to rejoin society as a productive and contributing member. As a new week begins, I am fever-free but with a very annoying cough. I don’t have that pep in my step back. I am looking forward to returning to the gym, teaching Zumba, siphoning caffeine and feeling like myself again.

Here’s to hoping this flu season doesn’t hang around much longer.

How do you cope when you are sick? If you have children, what are your strategies for parenting when you aren’t feeling 100%? Also, what is your favorite TV guilty pleasure when you are under the weather?

Baby Name Resolutions for 2015

It’s a New Year and time for new baby name trends to emerge, some names to fade into the dust, and others to take center stage. During the past decade, we have seen many baby name trends come and go, and names like Aiden, Emma, Ava, Brooklyn and Jayden take center stage. As we enter 2015, can we make some baby name resolutions for the New Year?

1) Let’s resolve to avoid the obvious and over-played choices. 

Emma Grace, Ava Grace – these are both beautiful names, and I personally have always liked the names Emma and Ava. However, I would steer clear of these combinations in that one in ten parents in the South have used them, and your daughter will most likely have a girl in her classroom with the same first and middle name.

If you can’t live without Emma or Ava for your little girl, but want a simple middle name, why not break ranks with a name like Emma Gray or Emma Bay? For Ava, what about Ava Louise? Ava Renee? These middle names aren’t groundbreaking, but they sound downright fresh compared to the ubiquitous Grace.

Also, for boys, please avoid the following names: Aiden, Jayden, Kayden, ad nauseam. Every time I hear that a new mom has named her son Aiden, I secretly cringe. These names are not unique, they are overused, and using one will date your son to the present time period. Your grandmother may think these names sound fresh and cool, but I promise you they are stale and mainstream. I would much prefer a simple Robert or John to an Aiden and its brethren. Aidan from Sex and the City was modern and artistic; Aiden on a young child today is one in a sea of thousands.

Exceptions: A family name combination you have to use, or a family or surname that just happens to be popular. Or you have been in love with the name for 20 years and can’t bear to use a different moniker. Just ignore me when I roll my eyes upon first hearing the name of choice.

2) Let’s resolve to spell our children’s names correctly.

As parents, we bear many great responsibilities toward our children. One of the greatest tasks is the name we bestow upon our child. In recent years, there is an emerging trend of “kreatiflee”[or “creatively,” for my literate readers] spelled names, that is, names that are intentionally misspelled and would make Hemingway roll over in his grave.

When you give your child a butchered name, you are basically indulging your own selfish desire to be unique in some bizarre way. This is what a kreatiflee spelled name indicates about the parents and family of the poor child – they are uneducated. Nobody named Jesyka is going to be appointed a Supreme Court justice or chosen to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. And Matecyn sounds like an unfortunate strain of bacteria. Please use a commonly accepted spelling for your child’s name.

As a parent, you need to put your need to be different aside and spell your child’s name in an acceptable fashion. You do have flexibility, as there are commonly accepted variations of many name choices, e.g., Steven vs. Stephen, or Madeline vs. the French Madeleine. Both variants are easily recognized, pronounced and spelled. Don’t choose a name that requires your child to face years of “Huh?,” “Umm, can you spell that for me?,” and “Wait . . . what?!” If you have to use a kreatiflee spelled name, save it for the family dog. The vet won’t care.

Exception: I never thought the name Agnes was cool until I saw it spelled Agyness on an edgy supermodel who chose the moniker herself.

3) Resolve to think about your name choice on an adult.

A family member was heading out for a massage one day and relayed to me that the masseuse’s name was Cinnamon. (And no, this wasn’t an “exotic” massage.) Expecting someone akin to a porn star, I was surprised when she reported back that Cinnamon was entirely nice and normal. Poor Cinnamon, I thought, given a name that limits her career options to stripper or Vegas show girl. I would have immediately changed my name to Cindy – a pedestrian choice, but mainstream and respectable.

Which brings me to my point – choose a name for your child that can comfortably transition from babyhood to adulthood. Traditional names like Robert and Charles have the extra benefit of providing a cute nickname (Bobby, Charlie/Chuck) in childhood and then transitioning into a very grown up name if preferred.

Names like Kaylie, Braylee and Ashlynn may be sticky sweet but they don’t inspire much confidence in the business world. Look for a name that your child can grow into, or a name that allows for a kid-friendly nickname and the option for a mature adult name. One of my childhood friends went by Mary Anne, using her first and middle name. Now she is just Mary. This is a great example of a “convertible” name that will take your child from the crib to the boardroom.

There is also a group of names that evokes certain ideals, religious beliefs or a state of mind: Serenity, Patience, Temperance, Karma, Heavenleigh (Heavens no!), Princess, and Chastity. While these names may sound lofty, don’t set a child up for failure by giving her a name she can’t live up to or doesn’t embrace. I wouldn’t feel comfortable as a 35-year-old named Princess, unless I worked at Disney World.

4) Resolve to stand out by choosing a perfectly “normal” name.

The baby names that stand out to me are the ones that are perfectly normal, spelled according to normal English usages practices and not used on one in four children. Examples of names that make my ears perk up on the girls’ side are Sloane, Lydia, Daphne, Astrid, Esme, Bridget, Gretchen, Eliza, Delaney and Muriel. All of these names graced the Social Security Administration’s most recent top 1000 baby names, yet none of them have hit the mainstream name jackpot yet.

For boys I like Lyle, Vance, Rory, Tate, Vincent, Beau, Pierce, Lane and Nash. These aren’t outlandish names by any stretch of the imagination, yet they aren’t necessarily considered “classic” names like Henry and William. And none of these names are uber-popular like Noah, Liam, Olivia and Sophia. If you look for a name flying below the radar, and spell it correctly, your child will stand out from 90% of his or her peers.

If you can resolve to accept even one of these resolutions for the New Year, then the future Starbucks baristas and pharmacists will much appreciate the easier spelling.

What names do you think should exit stage left with 2014? What names do you think will be hot in 2015? What baby name resolution would you propose for 2015?

Author’s note: Like all of you baby naming enthusiasts, there are baby names and trends that I love and those that don’t appeal to me as much. I do not hate any child’s name, and I think every given baby name is special in its own right. These resolutions are simply my no-holds-barred opinions with a humorous undertone, and many of you will passionately disagree. I believe our differences of opinion are what keep the topic of baby names interesting and ever evolving.

Come Fly with Me . . . and my rug rats.

Author’s Note: I am posting this blog on the eve of driving with our three children 1100 miles to Texas. Today we did a trial run of a three-hour round trip, and that was just to board the dog. A lesson quickly learned — buy Dramamine for everyone! Unlike last year, this time my husband is home to help me pack and make the trek to the Lone Star State. That being said, it is a little shy of midnight, and we have just finished packing! My conclusion is, whether you fly or drive with kids, packing is a b*tch, probably harder than the actual travel part. At least in a car one is not limited by airline restrictions, but the packing part is still brutal. This blog is specific to airline travel; perhaps I will have some car travel tips later on if we survive this road trip!

As the holiday freight train roars ahead to Christmas Day, many of us prepare to travel through the air to celebrate with our loved ones. Last year I faced the daunting task of flying from Florida to Texas, with three small children, alone. Alone, as in, I am outnumbered three-to-one. From my experience I have some ideas to increase your chances of arriving at your destination with your sanity intact and all members of your family present and accounted for.

Travel tip #1: Do not wait until the last minute to pack. And by last minute, I mean the day before your trip. If you have multiple small children, there are all sorts of considerations, such as clothing needs, personal hygiene items, baby utensils, diapers and wipes, to name a few. Not to mention a travel crib, bedding, a Boppy pillow and anything else you use on a daily basis. I heeded this advice, and my bedroom became a staging area for our trip for a few weeks’ time. I’m not kidding when I say that packing for my holiday trip was the most stressful part. Despite my best efforts to organize ahead of time, the clock struck midnight on the eve of our journey, and I realized I hadn’t even packed a suitcase for myself yet.

Travel tip #2: Pack your diaper bag strategically. You might even need two diaper bags if traveling with a baby or several small children, and most airlines will not count the diaper bag toward your carry-on quota. Of course, you have only two arms, so packing lightly for the plane is preferred. I like to clean out my diaper bag before traveling, getting rid of the used tissues, half-eaten granola bars and random toys that snuck their way in. By now we know to pack a spare outfit (or two) for a baby or young child in case of a diaper blowout or potty mishap, but a prepared mom should also pack an extra outfit for herself.

I learned this lesson the hard way after my then baby girl decided to regurgitate the gallons of milk she had been drinking on me several times as I sat next to a prim businessman. I truly felt like Greg Focker when I rolled into SeaTac. My freshly blow-dried hair, made-up face and crisp black shirt gave way to wild frizz with beads of sweat pooling on my face with the distinct stench of baby throw-up. On the next flight I would know that a fresh shirt, baby wipe to the face and a little water to tame the fly-aways can have me looking fresh as I deplane.

Tip #3: Use flight times and layovers to your advantage. In my experience, the best time to fly with children is in the morning. They are alert and happy. Airport delays increase as the day goes on. The best flight for me leaves mid-morning, allowing me time to get to the airport and feed the kids breakfast before we board. I try to time a layover around lunchtime to refuel the kids with food and do a diaper change. I like about a one and a half hour layover with small children if during a mealtime, as it gives you enough time to eat, use the restroom and let the kids run around a bit before boarding the next plane. Beware of the thirty-minute layover in a huge airport like Atlanta or DFW. You will have trouble making your next flight, especially if you have to get on an airport tram or train.

Coming back from Christmas last year, I thought 35 minutes in Houston’s smaller airport would be doable since I was familiar with its layout, and most of the gates are close together. I did not take into account a delay out of Austin, which almost had us missing our flight in Houston. Which takes me to the next tip…

Tip #4: Rely on the kindness of strangers. As we approached Houston after our delayed departure from Austin, and I contemplated missing my connecting flight, gathering up all the luggage, and sleeping in an airport hotel and doing it all over the next day, I started loudly voicing my concerns. A Good Samaritan couple and their son grabbed our bags and children and escorted us to our next gate. The gentleman explained that his wife used to travel solo with their children overseas to visit him, and they knew how hard it could be. Luckily for me our next flight was delayed, so with a little help and a little luck, we made our flight.

Many travelers remember the days they had small children, or they are simply kind and want to help out. In my experience, most people are helpful and gracious as opposed to rude when you are traveling with little ones. I even had several random adults pick up my kids and let them sit with them for a bit while I caught my breath. Normally we wouldn’t hand our child over to a stranger, but on an airplane, you take the lifeline that is thrown your way.

Tip #5: Bring activities and provisions (and sometimes kids’ leashes)

These days many parents are concerned with their children’s screen time on devices like smart phones and tablets. When stuck on a plane with children, sometimes those rules fly out the window. Last year I brought every device I could think of – a DVD player, an iPhone, a kids’ tablet, plus those old-fashioned real paper books! Dolls and a special stuffed animal to travel with are good options too – just don’t bring any toys with small pieces or anything too large. As a bribe you could promise your kid a new stuffed toy at a layover’s airport shop. This will kill time and provide an incentive for good behavior.

Also pack plenty of snacks and drinks. You never know when you will end up stuck on a tarmac for two hours. This did not happen to me, but I wanted to be prepared just in case. My kids are always hungry, so I just kept throwing goldfish, graham crackers and baby puffs at them. If you keep feeding them, they can’t complain that they are hungry. I also recommend bringing your own sippy cups, so you can fill them up for free at the airport’s water fountain, instead of spending a fortune on bottled waters, which also take up more space.

The godsend for me was two kids’ backpacks with leashes attached. I swore I would never be the parent walking a kid on a leash, but that was before I had to keep track of three wild children during a day of three airports. I made the backpacks seem like a special treat, and my oldest son loved his “big boy” backpack, whereas my one-year-old son enjoyed his soft doggy one. My five-year-old daughter relished “walking” her younger brother as well. The whole scene was quite comical.

The leash also came in handy on the airplane, as my one-year-old could walk up and down the aisles while I sat in my aisle seat and held onto the other end. He also made friends this way and hung out with a few other passengers to give me a break at times. Walking the aisle worked great for my toddler, except for on the flight with the stern flight attendant who reminded me each time the seatbelt light came on. At that point I had to become a human straitjacket around my son as he screamed at the top of his lungs and tried to break free. Which brings me to the last tip…

Tip #6: Know that the flight will eventually end. No matter what happens on that plane, no matter how loudly your kids cry or scream, no matter how dirty and disheveled you are by the end, know that the flight has to eventually end, and at some point your kids will go to bed and you will get a hot shower. And the flight will one day be a distant memory that you can laugh at for years to come. Just don’t think about the return flight home.

How the Newtown Tragedy Affected a Random Person

Author’s Note:

I wrote this article one year ago when I was feeling emotional toward what transpired at Sandy Hook in December of 2012. I submitted the essay to a random website, and when I didn’t hear anything back, I decided to file it away to the dark recesses of my computer.

Earlier this year, a friend of mine in Connecticut, who has many Facebook friends and fans due to her profession, posted a newsworthy story about Newtown and its victims. Everyone expressed sadness and sympathy for the families, except for one commenter who callously wrote something to the effect that it had been over a year since Newtown, and shouldn’t we “be over it by now?” I was appalled by her insensitive response but didn’t want to hijack my friend’s News Feed, so I kept my mouth shut.

I wouldn’t want to be a part of a society that can “get over” a senseless tragedy of this proportion, involving 26 innocent lives lost. The families of the victims of Sandy Hook will never “get over” this tragedy, as they will likely think of it daily for the rest of their lives.

This event wasn’t my tragedy – I didn’t suffer any losses – and I’m not trying to imagine what the victims’ families are experiencing in its aftermath. The original point of this essay was to deal with the emotions I was feeling to try to grasp what had transpired that day.

(Written in December 2013)

On the eve of the one-year anniversary of the horrific massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, I still feel raw emotion when reading or thinking about that day. I did not personally know anyone directly affected by the tragedy, nor am I a resident of Newtown. Despite my lack of connection to the shooting, I will never forget the events of Sandy Hook or its innocent victims. And I will never forget that Sandy Hook seized my notions of where we are safe from harm and ripped that security blanket to shreds.

I vividly remember the day of December 14, 2012. My parents and sister were driving in from Austin to visit us at our home in Houston to celebrate my Dad’s birthday and an early Christmas. I dropped two of my children off at preschool at 8:30 a.m. CST, which I later thought about when I read that the gunman entered Sandy Hook around the same time. I remember seeing the breaking news scroll across my computer screen and feeling immense shock as the details unfolded. I recall picking my children up from preschool at 2:00 p.m. as the director cheerily greeted me, and I wondered if she knew any of the details of the shooting, and if so, how could she smile?

As I got dressed for dinner that night, CNN streamed in the background, and I couldn’t look away. To celebrate my father’s December 14th birthday, we headed out to a fancy restaurant and enjoyed ourselves, while parents in Newtown screamed and cursed and wailed and tried to fathom what had happened and where their children were and why. It felt unfair to enjoy ourselves at dinner while others were facing the ultimate horror of losing a child under the worst imaginable circumstances.

As the days moved forward, I continued to watch and read the news coverage of the events and learn what I could about the victims. As a mother of three young children, you hear about the personality traits of other children and naturally extrapolate those features to your child. She loved to draw and make pictures for her friends. He was a huge fan of this sports team. She had beautiful reddish hair. I was drawn to these families and their stories and thought of them often.

I wondered how the parents got out of bed every morning, and I knew that if they had other children, they tried to stay strong for them and keep a routine. I thought about their Christmas Day and what they would do with the presents intended for their absent children. I thought about how it would take every ounce of strength to make the holidays bear some semblance of past ones for the benefit of their surviving children.

About two weeks after the shooting, we began our drive from Texas to Connecticut, where we would live about an hour away from Newtown for my husband’s job training. I remember driving on the interstate and seeing an exit sign for Sandy Hook/Newtown and snapping a picture on my phone to somehow document its realness. As we drove through the interstate portion of Newtown, I caught a glimpse of stark white crosses, presumably symbolizing each life lost. The most touching element was the sky. After driving through days of mist and grayness, the sky suddenly gave way to the most glorious spectrum of colors and beaming sun. I am not a very religious person, but I needed to believe that this display was the children’s way of saying, “Don’t worry; we are in Heaven, and we are at peace.” After Newtown, the sky retreated to ash.

The days passed, and the brutal winter finally thawed into a late spring, which reluctantly warmed into summer. When Connecticut was at its most habitable with cerulean skies and balmy weather, we made the drive south for my husband’s next assignment. My daughter was preparing to start kindergarten, and I couldn’t help but think about Newton and how that day changed my perception of things.

I never take it for granted that my daughter will make it home at the end of the school day. I give her a big hug and kiss at the bus stop and tell her I love her. I want her to know my heart is with hers if something happens. At the school, I assess the placement of her classroom and wonder if someone could sneak through a gate to access the back portion of the school. While waiting in the front office with my daughter in the morning, I notice all the late students lined up to get a tardy slip before heading to class. I see how we are all sitting ducks if someone were to walk into the office around that time of day. I mentally assess where we will run and how I will shield my daughter if he storms into the office.

I see the off-duty policeman at school pick-up and wonder if a car without a student hangtag would trigger some kind of an alert. I see the principal outside everyday directing parents at pick-up, and I have already determined that she would take a bullet in order to save a student, based simply on my analysis of her school-wide voicemails. I noticed that my daughter’s after school art teacher keeps her portable building locked, which appeases me.

Newtown has also changed the way some of us have to talk to our children. I wonder when I will need to have “the talk” with my daughter, that is, what to do if suddenly threatened by an enraged gunman. I plan to tell her to lie still and play dead, as the sole survivor of a classroom allegedly did at Sandy Hook. I have held off on telling her about gunmen because I want her to hold onto her innocence a little bit longer. She does not yet know what a gun is or does, and I suspect some of the youngest victims at Sandy Hook did not know either.

The school shooting has also made me question our country and how divided we are on the gun control issue. I cannot understand what is so controversial about universal background checks. Never mind that nobody really needs an assault rifle – Americans are not willing to give up their assault rifles, so that proposal was a nonstarter. Why are we protecting felons and the mentally ill – those who would be precluded from obtaining firearms – and not insisting upon stricter background checks? Why do we place gun rights above the rights of children to attend school peaceably and free from gun violence? Sadly, if 20 slain first graders cannot prompt the passage of universal background checks or a change in the gun laws, nothing will.

The biggest shock about Newtown was the location of the shooting. A gunman in an elementary school was never on my radar of “horrible things that could happen.” I always felt nervous in movie theaters in this era of random violence, which proved a legitimate concern as the Aurora, Colorado shooting demonstrated. One year after 9/11, I experienced anxiety on the London tube when I studied abroad there; a few years later the London bombings occurred on trains originating from the two tube stations near my old flat. Never in my wildest moments of paranoia did I think to worry about a mass shooting at an elementary school.

Many Americans seem resigned to accepting our gun culture and random acts of gun violence every few months. One response to the recent shooting of a TSA agent at LAX was to arm all of the TSA agents. Upon hearing this idea, I had a flashback to seeing police officers in Mexico carrying around semi-automatic rifles at the airport and how dystopian I found that image. Sadly we seem to be heading in the direction of more weapons and not less.

As time passes forward, I hope that we as a society do not forget the victims of Sandy Hook. Their deaths cannot be in vain. I admire their loved ones’ efforts to lobby for more stringent gun control and mental health reform, and I hope one day our federal government decides that human lives are worth more than nearly absolute freedom to purchase any and all firearms. I hope one day it is more difficult to obtain an assault rifle than a driver’s license. I will never forget the faces of Sandy Hook, and for that, I am grateful.

Off-the-Beaten-Path Boys’ Names (Part I)

There is nothing more interesting to a baby-name enthusiast than digging through the massive pile of names given to baby boys in the U.S. that did not reach the popularity of the top 1000 names. I always thought the girls had bragging rights when it came to having the best choices in names; boy, was I wrong. There are so many great boy names below the Social Security Administration’s latest popular baby names list that I cannot compile them into one blog post. Instead, I am going to create different posts grouped thematically to present numerous options for parents looking for a “unique” name for their little boy.

So this post is quite specific: I will present ten options for off-the-grid choices for baby boys that are 1) surname names (i.e., a traditional last name used as a first name), 2) monosyllabic and 3) ending in an –s. So for the five moms looking for this type of name for your blue bundle of joy, this blog post is for you!

1) Lars – I cannot hear this name without thinking of Ryan Gosling as the eccentric yet handsome lead character in the indie film, Lars and the Real Girl. Lars also has a cool Scandinavian vibe. Your Lars will likely be the only one with that name at his preschool, as a mere 94 boys were given this moniker in 2013. Another plus to Lars is that the name is easy to spell and pronounce.

2) Ames – Okay, I might be a tad partial to this name because it was a lovely college nickname of mine. I also rooted for the competitor by the same name on The Bachelorette franchise, as he was attractive and Ivy League educated. Ames just sounds like he should be making the Benjamins on Wall Street. Another plus is the accessibility of the name – Ames projects kindness because of the shared sound with words like “amiable.” All in all, this nice and ambitious name could suit your investment banker son.

3) Townes – I adore the name Townes. Folks from Texas and those into talented singer-songwriters know a great one by the name of Townes Van Zandt. I seriously considered this name for either of my sons but ultimately shied away from it due to Townes’s tragic path in life. If I had birthed a third son, would Townes have still made the top of the list? Pancho and Lefty say yes.

4) Rhodes – Rhodes is one of my favorite one-syllable, surname names ending in –s. Whew! Rhodes calls to mind a Renaissance man, a refined gentleman with impeccable manners and a solid upbringing. Rhodes probably had a liberal arts education at a very expensive private school. Idyllic Rhodes College brings to mind this image. Rhodes would make for a philosophical attorney who thinks outside of the box or a track star who majors in drama. The possibilities are endless with this name!

5) Jones – Unlike Rhodes, Jones is almost too cool for school. He is hip, he is understated and he has turned a boring surname into a chic and original first name. You may hear thousands of last names to the ring of Jones, but only 87 boys were given this first name in 2013. An added bonus – it’s super easy to say and spell. Just don’t do a Jones Jones and the name should work fine.

6) Briggs – Of these ten suggested names, Briggs is the only one that cracked the top 1000 last year, coming in at number 910 and just breaking the top 1000 the previous year. Briggs sounds interesting and a little complex, kind of like the Meyers-Briggs personality test. He’s the witty guy surrounded by well-groomed ladies sporting their LBDs at a hipsters’ cocktail party. Briggs could be the second Most Interesting Man in the World.

7) Niles – Some mothers of my vintage remember Niles from Kelsey Grammer’s sitcom, Frasier. In full disclosure, I probably saw a handful of episodes, but my research reveals Niles to be a well-educated elitist who is poor at sports with a litany of random phobias. I also knew a Nile (sans –s) who was tall, dark and handsome with an Irish accent. So while the T.V. character hasn’t completely ruined this name for me, opinions will probably vary.

8) Wells – Wells Fargo . . . oil wells . . . what do these things have in common? Oh yeah, money. For whatever reason, many of the names on this list sound like moneyed names. For the trivia buffs, Wells is also the third-oldest town in Maine, according to Wikipedia. A lot of millionaires live in Maine. Therefore, it logically follows that any boy named Wells is destined for good fortune. Only 60 American boys were given the name Wells last year, so anyone bearing this name will be in a select group.

9) Banks – Banks is Wells’s obnoxious nouveau riche cousin. It’s not enough that his parents have some money in savings; they had to name their pride and joy after a financial institution. There are some classic Banks’s families in the movies – “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” the classic “Father of the Bride,” and “Mary Poppins,” all different examples of wealthy families. Banks as a first name depends on the context. Banks from the trailer park will not play as well as Banks from the Upper East Side. Banks could grow up to be a Harvard M.B.A., or a prolific bank robber. Time will tell.

10) Parks – Parks is on par with Banks but with less concrete and more green space. He is the son of the wealthy vegans driving the Subaru next door. They dress like hobos, and they don’t have real jobs so you know they probably inherited all of their money. Parks is a modern and peppier version of Parker. Only 36 boys received this name in 2013, but this green name could have a moment in the future.

Okay, so this blog post devolved into a post about names and their association with money or lack thereof, but many names bring with them socioeconomic connotations. Townes, Ames and Rhodes are my favorite picks overall, but obviously baby names are in the ear of the listener.

What are your favorite single syllable, surname boys’ names that end in an –s? Did I leave any good ones off the list? What do you think names indicate, if anything, about social status and upbringing? Should people be judged by their names?