When my daughter was in middle school, she asked me to read The Fault in Our Stars.

“Of course!” I answered emphatically. As I remember the moment, it was about an hour before bedtime, also known as the hour I’m either the most agreeable or the most unhinged. My intention has always been to settle them into slumber as calmly as possible – whenever possible – but telling me about a research paper due the next morning, dumping nail polish in the sink to learn what the hell is making that clicking noise when you shake it, a meltdown over sexist dress codes and halter tops, and thrown brushes of the tooth and hair variety sometimes thwarted my stress-free sleep plans for them. 

This is a photo of the world.

Nightmares, at that point, were still mostly my doing. 

She handed me the book, right then and there, and nodded as if to say, Go on, then.

“Oh, now?” 


I should’ve known she’d stand there and watch me read as fast as I possibly could, gauging my progress by the emotions careening across my face, our hearts breaking at the same time. She’d done the same with Mulan, Wall-E, all the Toy Stories, and Kill Bill (don’t judge), and would someday soon do with the Twilight series (okay, now you can judge) and Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. 

Through the years, she taught me that two broken hearts are somehow easier to put back together than one. The process is quiet and oddly simple; one gathers up all the shattered bits while the other finds the roll of tape, and both work together to put everything right without a worry of whose pieces go where. 

Anyway. It turned out to be a long night with a delayed arrival at school the next morning, but it was a very, very good book to share. And, as you can see, the memory stuck. 

I will never rip that piece off my heart.


For the past few years, the first song I play on my hopeful walks is Outside by Travis Scott. On a handful of occasions, it’s fired me up enough to jog. I would’ve written run, but there are a few readers who know me in real life.

“All my neighbors outside,” I sing my version softly so that said neighbors don’t overhear me. “Ain’t goin’ in.”

It’s also the first song that comes to mind when I’m in a writer’s slump, just me and my empty screen, Get Off My Internets’ deliciously naughty forums and Mosheh’s smart Instagram stories luring me away from whatever content I’m supposed to be creating.

“We been hanging outside. Ain’t goin’ in.” 

In 2019, I watched his documentary, Look Mom I Can Fly, with the same daughter I just mentioned. I don’t remember if I loved it because she loved it, or I loved it because it made me appreciate him as a person, but I loved it and have watched it a few times since.

“I’m going to his concert,” she vowed.

“You will not be going to his concert,” I vowed back. And then I bought her one of his sweatshirts.

“Balance on the beam, yeah balance on the beam, yeah. Do some shit I’ve never seen.”

If I’ve learned one thing as a parent, it’s that it’s important to try your best to like what your babes like, especially when you don’t initially understand. Pretty much everyone and everything is worth a second or third look, even if it’s one of those looks where the cartoon bubble above your head reads, “What in the actual %@&*?!” 

Spend the time, read the link, follow back, watch their eyes, take the care. Because those are the moments when you really learn something about someone. Mostly yourself.

P.S. There are also a lot of things I haven’t learned yet about parenting. And myself.


“Hope you had a mattress when you sleepin’ on me.”

It sounds dramatic, but I haven’t slept since that horrible Astroworld concert in Houston. I didn’t want to write about it here because now it’s on my permanent record. I just can’t seem to shake it.

And so, I’ve started reading about crowds, and how they can kill you if you’re not paying attention. Actually, the last five words of that sentence are a little too simplistic and blamey. Crowds can kill you, and that is all I want to say about that.

Except for this.

Someone smart I follow linked to a Guardian article by Leo Benedictus, in which he masterly explains crowd accidents and exactly how collapses happen. He’s even got graphics. It’s fascinating, and you should read it, too.  

He spoke to Professor Edwin Galea, an astrophysicist whose professional interests expanded from the fluid dynamics inside stars to post-disaster fire spreads, then the movement of crowds, and then crowd behavior. Again, I’m surely simplifying his expertise, but my brain shut down after “inside stars.”

My basic takeaway from his brilliance is that problems arise when crowds move like a fluid and not like beads. It’s the difference between spilling an iced coffee on your keyboard or a bag of Skittles.

I am not an astrophysicist. 

When Professor Galea was asked about stampedes, a word that’s now oft mentioned in the same breath as Astroworld’s tragedy, his expert opinion is clear: “This is just absolute nonsense,” he says in the article. “It’s pure ignorance, and laziness … It gives the impression that it was a mindless crowd only caring about themselves, and they were prepared to crush people.”

But Leo Benedictus’ article was written back in 2015. 

As a crowd, I think we’ve changed a lot since then, don’t you?


I live in Abu Dhabi, a city that gives real Fauci vibes. If he drove a Maserati. We rank third in the world on Bloomberg’s Covid Resilience Ranking, and we’re currently ranked first in terms of vaccination rates.

“Pull up in a Lambo or just with the Benz.”

I’ve only been here a few months but, to me, it’s quite simple; Emiratis and the expats who live here seem to care about the crowd. No one wants to get sick, no one wants to get someone else sick, and no one wants to give up the lovely, lovely life they enjoy here. And so, everyone follows the rules whether they like it or not. (The “or not” part is important.) 

Rules, might I add, that include installing an app on our mobiles that’s required for entry literally everywhere: grocery, restaurant, pharmacy, mall, hotel, or beach. It shows how many days since our last Covid test – strictly required every 30 days – as well as our immunization and booster history. 

Florida could never. (See also North Dakota, Alaska, Tennessee, Wyoming, South Dakota, Utah, South Carolina, Arkansas…)


Crowd safety appears to be a running theme here. The hefty traffic fines alone keep everyone up to speed, and the accumulation of Black Points is an extra deterrent; earn more than 24 of those in one year, and your license is revoked.

The fine for jumping a red light in Abu Dhabi is a little less than $300 plus 12 Black Points on your license. What comes after, though, causes the real pain: The offender’s car is confiscated for 30 days, and there’s a $14,000 fine to release it when the time is up. 

But wait. There’s more.

After all that, running a red light means your license is revoked for six months.

“Nobody’s gonna know.” 

“They’re gonna know.”

“How would they know?”

Oh, they’ll know.

If you dare drive without a license, you’ll be fined the equivalent of $1400. Half that plus 12 Black Points if you’re caught on camera driving recklessly. A third of that if you don’t give way to emergency, police, and public service vehicles or official convoys. That last fine is the same amount assigned to driving a noisy vehicle, stopping on the road for no reason, changing your car’s color without permission, refusing to give traffic police your name and address when requested, and failing to keep pedestrians safe. 

A fine for failing to keep pedestrians safe

A fine for failing to care for the crowd.


I was in a book club a few years back, and one of the assigned reads was written by a Columbine shooter’s mom OMG WAIT I HAVE ANOTHER BOOK CLUB STORY FIRST.

Okay. Have you read Loving Frank about Frank Lloyd Wright? I read mostly all of it except the last, like, 15 pages. And so, when we started talking about it at book club, I opened the conversation with, “Meh. They were selfish. Book was boring. Didn’t care.” 

I think I even shrugged.

You know that moment after you say something and people around you don’t do anything except blink slowly? That happened.

I don’t want to spoil the ending, but it’s an old book and you honestly should’ve read it already. The ending is that HIS WIFE AND CHILDREN WERE MURDERED BY A WORKER FRANK REFUSED TO PAY. THERE WAS A FIRE. ALL IN THE LAST FEW PAGES OF THE DAMN BOOK.

I hope I didn’t spoil it for you. I’ve never enjoyed endings like that, anyway.


Back to the Columbine book. I walked into our gathering that afternoon, and a woman asked, “So what did you think? Who do you blame?”

I almost choked on my Ritz. “Blame? Who do I…”

“Yeah,” she continued. “Do you blame the mother or him or…”

My dad used to say, “Wash your hands before you point that finger.” I grew up on a farm, so I assumed his words had more to do with me playing with cow poo piles than life. But as I usually am, I was dead wrong.

Blame has never been my favorite thought process. I’ve never gained anything good from it. After tragedies, I realize it’s important to find the origin of fault so you can fix that, but blame games for the sole purpose of popping off don’t do it for me.

Guilt games, on the other hand… 


If you’re anywhere near me right now, I am talking to you about crowds and how they can really muck up an otherwise great life experience. I asked my husband about them last night over drinks, and his eyes turned into perfectly round…umm…circles.

“Karey, don’t you remember when we met the Pope in Amman?!” he leaned so far over the table with his memory-panic.

No. I don’t remember. I didn’t go. It was 2009, my youngest was not even four, and crowds – especially religious ones – have never felt safe to me. He went with our two older girls, who had just celebrated their First Holy Communion. They wore their white dresses. He wore a suit.

“Pope Benedict,” he said, breaking into the chant. “Bah Bah! Benedicto!” 

He even clapped.

“The gates opened and everyone around us rushed to get to him, and I had to grab the girls – ” He stopped his story to squeeze his arms against his chest, holding on for dear life to his phantom daughters like he’d done that day. “And, for a few minutes, I didn’t know how we wouldn’t be crushed.”

He sat back, shaking his head like he still couldn’t believe it.



Recently, I saw a photo of my daughter, snapped during a particularly frightening moment for her. It was only a split second, as all captures are, but she looked like she didn’t know what was happening or why, completely lost, mid-gasp.

“Off the lean, it’s always better off the lean.”

Now, if you’ve ever seen a photo of this kid, she’s the very definition of life. Coming at the camera – through it, even – laughing, looking like an Abu Dhabi traffic fine. She’s one of those crowd controllers with the ability to make people better or, depending on her mood, much worse.

It all turned out fine, and like I said, it was a moment that is happily over. But I can’t push the look on her face out of my nightmares. It’s the face of someone who doesn’t know what’s coming next. Or how bad it’ll get. 

It’s the face of someone who has lost her breath for a moment.

Thank goodness for all of us she found it again.


I’m a writer who gravitates toward endings completely opposite to the one in Loving Frank.

“You’ve got to be careful,” I warn my girls. “Life can turn on a dime if you don’t take care.”

(Hey. Do you know that phrase’s origin? Turn on a dime? A dime is the smallest US currency, so it’s used a lot when talking about the capabilities of a high-performance car or boat: “Oh, this bad boy? It can turn on a dime.” Apparently, that’s an important quality for a land or sea vehicle. It’s also a common description of someone who can change direction quickly in a very small space: “Whoa, they really turned on a dime.” More important of a quality in a person, I’d say.)

But my life advice doesn’t consider things like people who aren’t paid, fires, murder, and crowds. The last 15 pages of a life – or the last minutes – can’t be written out beforehand so that you might possibly be prepared to turn on a dime and get the hell out of there. 

No matter how you try, no matter how careful you are. 

From what I’ve seen, a lot of endings happen when it’s too late to turn on a dime. From what I’ve seen, a lot of endings look a lot like a gasp that you don’t realize will be your last.


“’Cause just last week I rest in peace’d a homie.”

I just read that the cause of death for most of Travis Scott’s unluckiest concertgoers in Houston was comprehensive asphyxiation. Do you know how much weight it takes to squeeze the air out of someone? I looked it up: 570 pounds. That’s if you’re a standard sized male in his 20s or 30s.

Imagine a 14-year-old kid. 

Imagine anyone.


The other night, in a text, my daughter called me her twin flame. She added a lol at the end, but I knew what she meant. 

And if I’d been lucky enough to have her next to me, watching my face while I read it, picking up my pieces while I searched for the glue, she’d know exactly what I meant back.


About a month ago, my daughter saved a squirrel. She was walking with her friend at her university when she saw the little thing run into traffic and stop big-eyed like squirrels and deer and I tend to do when faced with impending danger. My daughter panicked, then immediately ran into the street with her hands up to stop an oncoming bus.

This is the squirrel.

Later that night, she FaceTimed me to tell me she’d lost two pounds. I gave her a weak thumbs up and a bland smile without teeth, and she frowned at my lack of enthusiasm.

“Weight is such a boring topic,” I said. “You’ve got much better content in you. I mean, you saved a squirrel today. Tell me more about that. Talk to me about your plans for the week. Or your plans for life. Or, like, who’s hooking up with who. Tell me about your pranks…”*

And so she did.

*OMG her pranks are hilarious. One time, she exited a bathroom at a party and told everyone her phone had dropped in the toilet, and then she…as I write out this story, I’m realizing it’s way funnier in my memory and way grosser in real life. The punchline of the prank is her yelling “POOP HANDS!” and then shoving her fingers in her friends’ mouths. Her name is Gracie and if you’re ever around her, you should not be. Run. Especially if she’s smiling. She is always smiling.


I’m a content writer. It’s part of my work to stay current on any topic imaginable that could potentially make my clients more valuable in their particular spaces. If I don’t know about it, I’d better soon. And there’s a lot I don’t know, so it’s stressful work for me.

It was my old job to be prescient on up-and-coming topics women and moms might find valuable. I found people I thought the rest of you might love, and then arranged and deleted their sentences to make sure you did. 

Now, good content is tricky. My posts have to stay close enough to agreeable concepts while subtly introducing new ways to think about things. Low key, I want my stories to be discomfortable, which isn’t a word but it has a good amount of syllables. My goal isn’t to create upsetting content; I hope it simply settles somewhere between your brain and your gut until you’re ready to absorb it or…get rid of it altogether. 

The latter group tends to leave comments that are never published.


One of our family acquaintances early-voted for not-my-choice. Her reason was that she didn’t like “her” voice and couldn’t imagine listening to it for four years. She couldn’t even say her name. Then something about dementia and a crackhead son. She thinks Amy Coney Barrett is brilliant and the right choice at the right time. She believe masks are an infringement on her rights, and COVID-19 is the flu. She RTs QAnon conspiracy theories and thinks Tucker Carlson speaks the truth. And so, I could tell her content was coming from her husband and Fox News.

I wanted to remind her that she kind of has a crackhead son. That wouldn’t be kind. We all tend to view our own content as perfect and complete, don’t we.

But content in real life isn’t supposed to be perfect or complete. I think it’s best when it’s thoughtful and constantly evolving and edited harshly. Content is not meant to be absorbed without question from one source; it’s an active compilation of facts, information, and emotions, a real exertion of effort. You’re supposed to work on it daily, if not hourly. In a perfect world, we’d read the room, see what it’s missing, understand what we’re missing, and adjust accordingly. Content IRL is best when it’s trying. 

Or maybe that’s just at dinner parties.


My oldest, Lillie, has a short FaceTime fuse. If a conversation’s content is not pleasing to her emotionally, informationally, or aesthetically, she’s out.

When she calls, I know she taps on her face and makes it full screen. I know this because the way she looks at herself like she’s the most charming thing this planet has ever seen is not the same level of annoyanceadoration with which she looks at me.

If I sense that she’s feeling less than perfect, I ask if she’s gone on a walk or run that day. The answer is always no. I take that back. The answer is usually a pointed glare, then a hang-up. I get the same response when I ask how her classes are going or if she’s taking care of her body.

“Are you taking care of your body?” That’s a big one with me. It encompasses everything. It has nothing to do with adding or subtracting pounds, but everything to do with drinking less spirits and more water, getting sunshine and sleep, giving away kindness like candy but also not giving away everything you’ve got, asking for what you need, and adding shockingly bold and wild ideas to your brain.

Most calls, I sit and stare at her with a goofy grin on my face. Her content cracks me up. The way she presents ideas and the remains of her days, sometimes in a brash Cockney accent or the da Bears voice of her second high school’s football coach, keeps me entranced.

Entrance. Fill (someone) with wonder and delight, holding their entire attention.

I hope the content I offer the world is half as entrancing as hers is to me.


I am a snowflake. 

Someone I don’t know very well was telling me about her niece, who vocally and vehemently supports Black Lives Matter and Trans Rights and pretty much every other liberty-oriented movement. She said, with rolled eyes, “Does she even know any transgender people? Or have any Black friends?”

It was like she couldn’t imagine expending so much energy on someone she’s never met.

When I offered another idea, one that reminded her of the privilege she and I carry and the responsibility that comes with that privilege, she waved me off with a “You’re such a liberal.” My God, I hope so.

My online pal Katie posted this idea the other day: “Growth requires tension. When you avoid tension, you avoid growth.” I’m trying.

I made this today.

Lately, I’ve been making Korean food twice a week, apologizing to the air when I only add a sixteenth of the gochujang and absolutely zero dried chilis. To me, new tastes bring new understandings. Even if your lips melt off. I’m trying. I see different cultures I don’t recognize on my walks, either via their front door decoration, head coverings, or forehead markings, and race home to Google to learn more about them. I’m trying. I read articles I don’t agree with or find interesting, and highlight the parts I don’t understand. I’m trying. When someone gives me a suggestion, I pay attention and research their idea to determine whether I want to add it to my own cache of ideas or not. And if not, why not? Am I sure? I’m trying. When I am the most comfortable, I look harder for those who are discomfortable. That is still not a word, but I’m trying.

I’m dead sure I’m not doing enough. I’m dead sure none of us are doing enough. If we were, the world wouldn’t be like this.

I am a snowflake. I melt all damn day.


I’m making a new sound these days. It starts out as an “Ohhh!” or an “Awww!” and then tries quickly to disguise itself as a laugh, but tells the truth in the end somewhere deep where chokes and sobs begin.

It comes when I’m reading the news, messaging friends, missing my mom, aching for my real life, sitting in this pause, and at least once every Grey’s Anatomy episode. 

It shocks me every time, and I look around to make sure no one heard. No one hears because no one is here, except for me in this lonely interruption, wishing for a fast-forward button.


I used to appreciate precision and perfection in content. Big sentences set in Times New Roman stone were an architectural accomplishment worthy of marvel. I now gravitate toward imbalanced ideas that lean on each other, ideas that rely on me and those around me to hold them up. I like people who change how they think with new and updated information. I like people who question their belief system and those who instruct them what to believe. I like people who consider the least of us. I like people who mind the gap.

Amanda, another favorite friend I’ve never met, and I DM enthusiastically every time the other one posts a story. To me, she is the epitome of thoughtful, especially if that meant full of thoughts. She leaves space for growth and fury. Does that make sense? In our latest correspondence, she asked, “I wonder if our follow lists on Instagram are mirror feeds?” My God, I hope so. 

I follow a few people on Instagram who openly and regularly dismiss their followers’ ideas and opinions. At least once a week, they reiterate how no one understands their life, their design, or their vision, and no one is allowed to weigh in, and they’re simply not interested in doing this – gestures wildly around their heads – like everyone else. Their content will not change. Not for anyone. 

I also follow people who pretend they’re embracing their followers’ ideas. Wholeheartedly on their feeds and through their stories and in DMs. Oddly, their content gets especially quiet in times when their true opinions would result in a follower drop. They forget that their likes and follower lists are public.

I’m annoyed with the second group.

Dante Alighieri wrote, “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.” 

I don’t believe in hell at all, but I don’t believe in profitable neutrality anymore, either.


My friend Melissa makes this heart-stopping jewelry.

This is one of my favorites.

Every time she posts a new piece, I zoom in and stare and goosebump at how one-of-a-kind it is. It’s probably not a coincidence that she is first in line to fight for someone else’s rights; her life content, like her artistic talent, seems always at the ready to add another idea to her own collection and fight like mad to keep it safe. 

Anyway. Sometimes you can see her thumbprint in a finished piece. 

It’s so beautiful to me when our content leaves a mark.

Delight (and Other Emotions We Should Be Sharing)

When I was a little kid about ten or so, I used to stand naked in front of my mirror. It was pale yellow and oval with tons of dirt smudges. The mirror, and me.

I’d tell my mom I was going to shower, take off all my clothes, and talk to my naked reflection as if she were someone else.

“Oh, hi.” I’d double wave wildly with no care for the jiggles. “Did you see what I did to Tim at recess?”

Pause while my reflection responded as enthusiastically.

“I know!” I’d squeal softly so my four siblings wouldn’t hear. “And I was wearing my new clogs! They’re wooden!”

Pause while we laughed together.

“Totally!” I can see myself clasping my hands together. “He had to go to the nurse’s office. And then Mr. Pierce came in our room to talk to us about personal space…”

My reflection agreed that fourth-grade Tim had deserved that kick to his personal space. She agreed with me about everything, and she always looked at me like I was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen. I loved her so. 

I’d chat with nudie me for what felt like hours in my memory, but was probably only fifteen minutes at a pop, tops. There were no locks on any of our doors. Even if there were locks, we didn’t use them. That’s how the world worked back then.

My mom walked in on me once. She was holding an armful of clean laundry, and she looked at me without changing her face that much. In my memories, her face was always delighted to see me. 

Do you remember that period of time when you think nothing you do can get you into trouble? Nothing is weird or wrong? It just…is? I must’ve been in that slice of time. She must’ve been that type of mom.

She set yesterday’s outfit on my dresser, told me dinner was almost ready, and closed the door behind her.

“You’re so lucky.” Even my reflection was jealous. 


My mom feels guilty for yelling at us all the time when we were young, but those are her memories, not mine.

Sunday mornings before Mass were a mess. I’d watch her in the kitchen, her make-up halfway done and her hair in giant curlers, screaming while she prepped a roast and potatoes to be finished precisely when we walked back in the door an hour-and-a-half later. We’d pick up a Pepperidge Farms coconut layer-cake on the way home.

Everyone else got to get ready leisurely. My oldest brother was usually reading the comics, his hair still wet from a shower that had emptied the hot water tank. My sisters were probably still peeved about their frozen showers and debating outfits, my other brother was probably playing with matchbox cars, and my dad had surely walked by to ask if she could sew a button or iron some pants. There was a lot of sewing and ironing in those days, if I remember correctly.

I’d watch it all from my perch on the other side of the countertop, my chin resting on my arms, nowhere else I’d rather be. I could see her mouth forming words and I’m sure it was loud, but all I could think was, “She is so pretty.”


If you’re worried your babes will only remember the worst of you, I’m here to tell you you’re probably right. I was just a weird kid. 

I was the one who never got spanked. My dad punched my oldest brother in the stomach once when he was a senior, so it’s not like I’m from a line of wimps. They just somehow knew my antics would come to a screeching halt if they told me, “Karey, we love you. Of course, we will always love you. But right now, we don’t like you very much.”

I think they used that line once or twice, but wow it left a mark. To this day, I think liking someone is the important thing. The only thing. 

You can’t imagine my antics when I decide I don’t like you. Or, worse, when someone decides they don’t like me.

Going into parenting, I knew one thing: I would never spank any kid of mine. Never. I resolved that there would not be a situation where I’d need more than my words. It wouldn’t happen. 

You might be wondering how that worked out for us. Well, I made it through three daughters and about a hundred million moments where I could’ve lost control, but most definitely did not. I used my parents’ line a lot with them: “Girls, we love you. That will never change. But right now, we don’t like you very much.”

And. Umm. My girls’ memories include me and my husband slapping them. In their faces. 


Other people’s memories are completely out of our control.


My brother’s teacher asked my mom for an after-school meeting. She had to bring me along because I was too young to leave at home. My brother was at least eight. 

Like I said, that’s how the world worked back then. 

“I’m worried about your son,” the teacher said. All his work for the year so far was set out on the table between her and my mom, and even I could see there was a problem: It was all black. All of it. So many crisp papers and a pet rock and a popsicle stick sculpture. Black black blackety black.

When I ask my mom to retell the story, she remembers how the teacher wanted to test him and send him to the school nurse to make sure he wasn’t depressed or in need of special services. She was sure he needed extra help.

I don’t remember what my mom told her, but I remember thinking she was calm. Whatever her mood, it did not disrupt the day. Does that make sense?

Later that night, long after the conference, she flipped hamburgers on the electric griddle and asked my brother, “Why do you paint everything black?”

He answered, “It looks so shiny and cool. Then it dries and it gets ugly, but…”

He shrugged and she smiled and he smiled back, and that was that. Nothing to see here, psychologists and elementary school teachers. It’s like she never worried about who we were; she knew who we were, and enjoyed us that way.

Other people’s opinions are completely out of our control.

Anyway. My brother ended up going to Harvard.


The best advice I ever received was, “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.” 

Admittedly, it was passed along by my dad in a hazy-but-real dream after he’d passed away, but still I used it with wild abandon for the next eight years. I quit a few dumb jobs without a back-up plan, and let my clothes pile up on the floor of my closet

“Eight?” you may ask.

“Yes,” I’ll smile back serenely. “Eight years later, I had my first daughter.”

Now I do everything I don’t want to do. 

I think I’ve told you this before, but my mom’s most useful advice to me as soon as my first babe was born was, “From now on, you’re going to be half right about everything. There will always be something you wish you’d done differently or better for your children. You’re going to have to learn to be okay with getting it right half the time.”

She has other hits, too. Like, “They have to be jackasses somewhere. Make sure they feel comfortable enough to let it out at home.” 

And when your babes piss you off, remember all the things you admire about them. The stuff that will make them interesting, interested adults and not prison adults. The stuff that makes you sigh and remember your grammy or your cool uncle or your dead sister. The stuff that makes you hope they stay within hand-holding distance of you as long as possible. The stuff that makes your heart hurt. I swear to you, whatever moment you’re in will seem inconsequential. 

I learned this one a bit late, but it didn’t matter in the long run. My girls think I slapped them when they were six or seven. Jesus.

She taught me it’s nice when your kids and their kids share their music and favorite programs with you, and that being brilliant isn’t as important as being kind. Open-mindedness is always the best option. An unwillingness to grow and change is the ugliest quality in a person. And for God’s sake, don’t watch Fox News. Do the NY Times crossword puzzle if you’ve got time to waste.

She stayed home with us and put everyone before herself, but she would never tell you that’s the best way to parent. She’d encourage you to be the best you possible, whatever that means to you.

What else what else what else I know I’m missing something. Oh, yes. Make sure, in your babes’ memories, your face always looks like you’re delighted to see them. 

She’s one of the best in the business.


One of my daughters’ pals is going through it right now. In case she didn’t know, I told her that every family is mucked up a little. Every one. We’re just all out here pretending we’re mostly okay.

The fifty percent thing. 

It was awkward and I felt bad butting into her life, but I really wanted her to know this before she’s an adult and has her own family. I want her to go into it knowing there’s a real possibility that she’ll get it wrong half the time and that it will be too much half the time and that it sometimes gets worse before it gets amazing.

Amazing is the goal, but there is amazing in the worse, too. Promise.

I don’t want her getting stuck trying to stay in the half-right part of life. I don’t want that for any of us.


Esmé reads me emails she’s about to send to her teachers. 

“Does this sound professional?” she asks. 

How the hell would I know? I end all my notes with exclamation points and walk around my life thinking that we’re all in this together.

Are we, though? I hope we are.


“I think I’m a bad person,” my mom told me the other day.

“Why?” I tried to hold in my giggle.

“I don’t know…” Something was upsetting her greatly, I could tell. 

I won’t tell you what she said. It’s political and personal, and I understand her point completely. But it was pretty funny to me, too. I mean, this is a person who spent her entire life – over eighty years! – enjoying people for who they are, not who she wanted them to be.

Like, when one of my cousins got pregnant before she got married and our entire extended family ostracized her, my mom dragged us over to her little box house after Saturday night Mass to give her a present and celebrate this someday baby. I remember it was dark inside their house. I remember my mom turning on lamps when we walked in. I remember the house looked bigger when we left.

I said, “You’re not a bad person.”

“I think I am.” Man, she was resigned to this one.

“Well,” I suggested. “Am I a good person?”

Her tone immediately brightened. “You’re the best person I know.”

“So if I like you, you’re good.”

Now, I’m aware my mom isn’t perfect. Actually, no. I’m not. That’s a fib. I mean, I know there were awful moments, and more than a few of those fifty percent wrong decisions, but my life as I remember it was mostly her letting me be exactly who I was, which led me to exactly who I am today. And I like that guy when I look in the mirror. Mostly fully-clothed now.

She paused, and I could tell she was smiling again.

They’re the bad ones.”

She’s likely half-right.

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Right after winter break during my freshman year of high school, I asked my mom’s hairdresser to replicate a style I’d seen on a surfer’s girlfriend in Hawaii. Since my return from The Islands – of course I did, and repeatedly – I’d refused to wear anything but white drawstringed linen, neon tees that fell off my shoulder, and frosty pink shimmer. I needed this haircut to complete the vibe. 

“Aren’t you cold?” everyone asked. It was the Midwest in January, after all. I lived an hour-and-a-half from Chicago on a farm overrun with corn and cows, at least twenty minutes from civilization. Civilization was the mall. Yes, Michelle, I’m fucking freezing. 

But I smiled and sighed and ignored my haters, wondering aloud if the local ice cream shop offered shaved ice.*

*Our local ice cream shop was the Baskin-Robbins at the mall. I am dead sure I didn’t know it was shave ice at the time, but I’m even surer that no one else in Shorewood, Illinois did, either. 

Michael, my mom’s hairdresser, listened to my description intently, nodding in the mirror like we were embarking on a great adventure.

“White, not like punk white but sun-streaked white here and there and especially in the front. Angled-down bob on one side, a little shorter in the back, and super-short over one ear. Not shaved, just kind of sticking out. Some long strands in front that blow in the wind. Like, they look like a mistake that they’re longer than the rest. They look like I don’t care about this haircut at all.”

Oh, but I did. I cared very much about this haircut.

In less than an hour, my life changed forever. 

That’s me on the right with Jenny and Beth. Melissa McCarthy’s down in the front.


The wrong haircut can ruin your life. Ask anyone with quarantine bangs, or you can also ask me, the guy with a quarantine bowl cut. 

Do you remember ripping pages from Vogue and Seventeen, folding them precisely so there’d be no creases on the actual hair, safe-keeping them in the special pocket of your Trapper Keeper? I do, too. There were a lot of hopes in those tear sheets. 

But editorial hair is pretty much impossible to achieve in real life. If you’ve ever pressed your luck at a salon where the majority of their clientele are one-time walk-ins or regulars who’ve had the same tight perm for fifteen years, you know this already. A place where imaginations get stuck in hairstyle books – BOOKS! – from 1986 atop foggy glass coffee tables in the welcome area, where clients are privy to snippy fights between cigarette-stained stylists and the shifty receptionist about someone stealing tips or not leaving tips or having to share tips with someone who doesn’t deserve them. 

Here’s a tip: Pay for a consultation. If your new stylist doesn’t share your enthusiasm, don’t make a follow-on appointment. If you tell them what you want and they tilt their head to the side and then huddle with a more experienced hairdresser who looks equally confused, get up and leave. If you look in their eyes and then look at everyone else around you and feel a mini panic, walk away. If the salon gives you the creeps or someone makes you feel less than yourself, throw off your cape and go.  

Trust. Your. Gut. 

That’s not anything I’ve ever done, but I think you totally should.

Once, a seasoned beautician just back from smoke break snatched my inspiration pics, held them up one-by-one in front of me, and put her hand over the models’ faces.

“Do you want the cut?” she asked. “Or the face?”

Unfortunately, neither was an option that day.


It’s not just women.

My husband loves Michael Jordan, but he is 5’8 and not known for his basketball talent. In the few pick-up games I’ve seen, he seems to rely on sac taps to pain his opponents into dropping the ball. The only manageable way for him to be like Mike was to shave his head.

Years later, he decided he wanted hair again. He was dismayed to discover that only his sides and back were still there, so he had a choice to make: Michael Jordan or Cookie the Clown?

We belong to a razor subscription club.


I’ve sat in over two hundred different salon chairs in my lifetime. Like, over three hundred. I’m usually horrible with math and exaggeration, but not this time.  

When I meet a new stylist, I make sure to dress up. All black, of course, but my best all black. Not my athletic all black, or my comfy all black, and especially not my linty all black that accidentally got washed with towels. I wear my chicest jewelry, contour and highlight, and make sure my manicure warrants a double-take. 

I certainly don’t want them to think I’m who I usually am.

I’ve simplified the description of my cut over the years, in five different states and as many countries, accessorizing with a Pinterest board full of Kate Lanphear and old Agnes Deyn and Sienna Miller. Sometimes, I show them Instagram shots of bloggers’ baby boys.

“Like toddler hair after a long day at the beach,” I say, pretending this is normal.

My first stylist in Amman came highly recommended by all the expats. His eponymous salon’s pricing chart seemed to be on a sliding scale; the wealthier you looked, the higher your bill. I sure wish I’d known that. (See above sentence starting When I meet a new stylist…)

He didn’t ask me what I wanted and I was too intimidated to speak his preferred Arabic or French. Even if I was brave enough, how much would “Sayed’s office is upstairs from Bashar’s office” and “This omelet is delicious” help me?

Anyway. I ended up with sleek brown hair.

“B-b-brown?” My bottom lip quivered and I couldn’t breathe as I tried unsuccessfully to mess up this new style. 

“This is your natural color,” he replied in perfect English. “This is how you should be.”

I think about him sometimes. I’m still so pissed off by how he’d tried to reveal the real me. The ideal me. How dare he. Natural color. The audacity. What the hell did he even know. Besides three languages and hair. I would never in a million years want to be how I should be.

I left him a thirty percent tip on a three hundred dollar bill.


My sister was a hairdresser. One summer, she put foils in my hair and told me to take them out in a bit as she drove off to do something more important. 

“How long, exactly?” I asked.

She thought about it and shrugged, “A bit. Until it starts to sting.”

I sat outside in our plaid plastic-wrapped aluminum fold-up chair from Woolworth’s, and waited for what I thought was a proper bit, until I imagined I felt a sting. I was orange until she had time to foil me again, and then she persuaded me to chop it all off anyway. You know, to conceal all the breakage. 

“It’s just hair,” people say, and I’ve said it, too.

That same sister was white-blonde most of her adult life, shifting between long and shorter, curly and straight. She never had bad bangs. We’d ooh and ahh, loving on her latest look while anticipating her next life-altering change. She was so carefree and adventure-bent, and you never knew what she’d do next. 

Her very last hairstyle was a wispy crewcut. The least hair she’d ever had, and yet it still looked so heavy on her withering body.

It’s just hair until you don’t have it anymore.


Last week, I finally made an appointment at a new salon in my new temporary city. While the stylist draped the cape around me, I looked in his mirror. It…I…my bowl cut was really not…as whimsical…as I…

Deep breath.

Can I just advise you to never rely on your home reflection for the truth? 

“Do you know what you want?” he asked, nodding sympathetically in the mirror. 

I think I was traumatized because all I could tell him was, “I don’t want to look like a sad mushroom.” 


A few summers ago, I heard my old hairdresser, Michael, was renting a chair at an old lady salon in my hometown. It was right next to a liquor store and the check-cashing/payday loan spot that always had a line outside on Fridays.

I was with my daughter, the one who looks like me at my beginning, and when we walked in he gasped. He took her by the shoulders and looked at her until we were all mildly uncomfortable.

“Your mom made me a million dollars,” he squeezed her while his eyes lit up the salon. “Everyone wanted her hair, and I was the only one in town who knew how to do it.” 

I remembered that day, telling him the haircut of my dreams. That surfer’s girlfriend on the beach in Hawaii.

She’d been standing at the edge of the water, smiling at the sun, laughing at the wild waves like she welcomed them, holding her arms wide in one moment as though she was hugging the horizon. The world was hers. She looked like she could do anything, be anything, overcome everything. I couldn’t tear my eyes away, hoping I could somehow figure out and then memorize how she was how she was

Her haircut was the closest I’d get.