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My Cup Runneth Over

20140912-232146-84106104.jpgEverything is a song these days. And we’re singing it out. Whether it’s “Can You Hear the People Sing” from Les Mis or the cheer the boys came up with to celebrate the occasion of finding a license plate from one of their favorite states (Ohio!), we’re belting it out and it makes my heart sing right along with them. Even after hours. Sometimes, after we’ve put the kids to bed, we hear what sounds like Manchild singing the triumphant national anthem of a distant country. Where did he learn that? Oh, right. It’s the national anthem of Paraparaparaparafeetland, a strange and funny country which Micah has been telling the boys about at random times over the past few months. Each addition to the story leaves Manchild red in the face and nearly doubled over with laughter. Micah knows just what buttons to push to get that kid rolling in the aisles — or singing in the top bunk. Neither of which are bad places to be.

But if we’re not singing, we’re talking. Mostly Little Miss, who seems determined to get this speaking thing down. She follows along when I read stories to her, saying what I say, testing out the words. Micah and I can’t help but say what she says right back at her. Her little voice is irresistible and begs to be heard again and again — even if our efforts are a poor imitation. It’s especially amusing to hear her talk about Pokemon or Shaun the Sheep — two of her brother’s favorite things. Sure, they fight and argue and wrestle and drive me nuts, but they are also really happy to be together and share things with each other.
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With school starting, however, Little Miss is a bit on the outs. Sometimes she cries when the boys leave in the morning without her. But she and I have been spending more time together and that’s a treat. We’re learning the ABCs, matching mama animals to their babies, and chanting, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can,” (well, she chants, I man the controls) as we ride the bike to pick the boys up after school. And at pickup she isn’t afraid to lay her claim: last week she practically chased Squish’s class down and invited herself to be part of it. Squish held her hand as the class walked down the ramp to the meeting spot. Heart bursting

The start of school also means more running. The kids and I managed to get out about once a week during the summer: Little Miss and Squish rode along in the stroller, Manchild pedaled his own bike. We stopped at playgrounds and took water breaks. It was hot and hard and slow and not frequent enough for me. But it worked for the summer, and now it’s just me and Little Miss, cruising around almost as much as I please. We can get more miles in and do it faster and I’m starting to feel like running is part of my life again after a 3-month lull.

And here’s one last thing to share before I wish you a happy weekend: I loved this story by Peter Sagal about what to do if you’re going through hell. Give it a listen. I think there’s something to it. ;)

Collecting My Kids, Collecting Myself

Just the other day I was riding the kids around on the bike. All day long. Picking up shoes and socks for soccer practice after school. Rushing Squish across the bridge to get to kindergarten on time. Pedaling all three back to Brooklyn in the blazing heat — and wondering why some random guy decided he needed to pick on me and call me a “f#*%ing whore” several times. Apparently having kids on my bike was extremely offensive to him.

It was lonely work. I was so focused on getting to our first day of soccer on time that I didn’t hear a single thing the kids said the whole trip. Well, right up until Squish wondered why we were in the park instead of at home and I just about died because hadn’t I already told them half a dozen times that we were on our way to soccer practice?! And then after soccer we were back on the bike, slugging through the heat and up yet another hill.

I had thought that the loneliest years of motherhood were the early ones, the ones in which you spend all day waiting for a baby who can’t speak to wake up so you can go outside and make sure the world is still spinning. It felt very lonely for me, anyway. I imagined that once the kids got older, learned to speak, and were more mobile I’d have plenty of company.

kidsonthebike

But I was wrong. Or maybe I’m doing it wrong? I’ve just noticed so many times lately that I’m on the outs, not able to join in the fun. Micah and the kids will be watching a show, playing a game, relaxing. And I’m making dinner, catching up on e-mails, rushing around, hovering on the outskirts — not really there.

It’s tricky though. I mean, we do need to eat. Chores need to be done. When I see a little block of time in which nobody is going to climb into my lap and steal my pen or co-opt my phone or keyboard, I have a hard time not taking advantage of it. I’m almost always planning events, checking schedules, putting the stars in alignment — and then moving on to the next thing while the plans go off without me. There’s not a moment to lose, after all, when I’m managing everybody else’s life as well as my own. It’s hard not to feel detached and unconnected at times like that. Like Mom is always around, but she’s never really there.

A few weeks ago I read a great book, Hold On To Your Kids by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate. The authors talk about why it’s important to build a strong relationship with your kids — so that you are the person they are attaching to and trying to be like — and how to do it. One of the simplest things to do is to “collect” your kids after you have been apart, like when they wake up or get home from school or even when they’ve been angry with you and you’ve been emotionally distanced. I’ve been working on it: giving my kids hugs, looking in their faces, getting them to smile or interact with me for just a second.

Another time to “collect” is when you are pulling them away from something else. Moving them from reading to dinner, from tv to homework. Instead of calling from the other room to tell them dinner is ready, you go and sit next to them, figure out what is going on, engage them in what they are doing before telling them it’s time to do something else. I’ve been working on that, too, and I’ve noticed a difference in how responsive they are when I come to them first, before asking them to come with me.

As I’ve taken those few moments to “collect” the kids — to sit down with them and watch the show while sitting next to them, rather than from behind them while I make dinner, or to get them to smile first thing in the morning — I have felt a difference in how smoothly these transitions go, and how responsive they are when I ask them to do something.

But as important as these little “collections” are to keep them attached to me, I think they may be even more important for me to be attached to them. When I sit down and watch the show for a minute, when I step into their world instead of acting so much like the puppet master — distant, alone, unable to see things from their perspective — I’m not so lonely any more. I don’t feel like I’m missing out on all the fun, or that I have to be the responsible one while everybody else gets to play. I’m part of the team again, out on the field, seeing what they see and enjoying it.

Last week, as we finally pulled up to our building after riding around the brutally humid streets of New York, I was in that lonely, separate place. We hadn’t even discussed the mean man who had cussed me out on the bridge and I wondered if the kids had noticed. What I really wanted, if I was going to feel so lonely, was to actually be alone. To read a book, to do what I wanted to do without having to take care of everybody — or anybody — else. But then I saw the ice cream truck and thought that if there was ever a time to chase him down and make memories, now was it. I signaled the driver and he pulled over. Three cherry dipped cones, please, and then we sat on the steps — together — and licked and dripped and followed Micah’s progress on my phone as he rode home from work.

I didn’t sit back and watch them. I didn’t retreat a few steps up to observe. I was on their level, engaged in what was happening, excited about what they were excited about. I even licked their cones when they were about to drip so no calories were wasted.

It worked. I wasn’t lonely any more, and I didn’t want to be alone. I was with my people. I’d collected them. Or maybe they’d collected me.

Unapologetic Delight — On an Airplane

Manchild, on the plane back to Brooklyn, sat laughing loudly, spontaneously, and completely unselfconsciously at the movies playing from the seat-back screen in front of him — oblivious to those sitting around us who might not care to be interrupted by his full, untempered delight.

I sat next to him, glancing around occasionally, holding tears back, willing myself not to feel or make a fuss over the movie playing from the seat-back screen in front of me. It’s just a movie, just a story, I told myself.

Yet even while I struggled to remain stoic, my heart swelled to see him so overflowing with joy. I love to see that fullness of emotion in anyone else — to know and see and feel that they are touched, delighted, pierced, moved. I feel closer, safer, knowing that they are not afraid of being open and alive and vulnerable.

When my movie ends, I turn to watch Manchild instead. He is chewing his arm, biting his fingers, jumping, wiggling, giggling along with the show. He is fully immersed. I can’t help but reach out and touch him, smile, and enjoy his enjoyment.

When we hit some rough air, he looks out the airplane window, curious but unalarmed. He wants to see the plane going through the clouds. I, on the other hand, look away, look in, try to ignore the pitching of my stomach along with the pitching of the plane. Again, I admire his fearlessness. Or is it ignorance? Youth? Inexperience? Perhaps a cleaner, more direct view of the world? Should I be envious?

But as I watch, I wonder why I guard myself so heavily, why I fight so hard to not be seen. Wouldn’t it be nice to be more open, so that people, when they see my emotions written all over my face, connect and see a real person — not just another stoic, expressionless face?

How would it be to immerse myself so fully and unapologetically in life’s emotions and experiences? To feel like a child: unhurt, unscarred, unblemished, unrepentant, undisguised, perfectly amused and amazed. Full to overflowing so that other passengers on the flight can’t help but turn and look — and smile or scowl as their own hearts dictate.

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Partying Under Pressure

I’m somewhat paralyzed by the task of writing anything these days. I’m afraid of saying the wrong thing. I’m afraid of saying nothing. I’m afraid of saying too much. I’m afraid what I write will not do justice to what is happening in my mind and my heart.
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But then again, I have so much to say that I might as well just spill.

So, here it goes: I’ve been really stressed about all the interest and attention I’ve gotten because of my essay about Manchild. Obviously. Nobody expects that kind of reaction. And I’m sure I’m not the only person who has been caught deer-in-the-headlights when something like this comes barreling out of nowhere.
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I’ve cried about it, I’ve joked about it, and Micah and I have talked a lot about it. Our conclusion is that we should have fun with it. Have fun with the TV interviews, anyway. Don’t worry about what they may or may not do for my career. Just go and say what I need to say, enjoy the experience, remember it for the family history. But then really go for it with the writing.
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The first part has been pretty easy. I’ve done two more interviews, a live one at 3am last Wednesday morning for The Lorraine Show in the UK. Micah and I went up to the studio while my sister slept on our couch in case the kids woke up. I sat in a tiny room, looked into the camera with a microphone clipped to my dress and a speaker in my ear, and talked about how I felt that I was empowering, not endangering, my child. (Here’s a link to the clip. I haven’t gotten the video to play, but let me know if you do!)

The second was for the CBS show The Doctors. Manchild and I flew out to LA for the taping. He wound up sitting in the dressing room at Paramount while I went through wardrobe, hair and make-up, and a couple of pep talks to hold my own and feel free to jump in and speak my piece. Which I did and it felt good. Maybe that’s what a pair of borrowed shiny black heels will do for you. (Ha!) The show won’t air until later in September, so watch this space for details.
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So that’s it for the fun. I don’t have any more interviews lined up. However, we are staying with my sister for the weekend, so maybe there is still fun to be had until Monday.

After that, no pressure, but I really want to write something good.

My Cup Runneth Over

The magic is in the noticing, I read recently. Having enough is in being with what you have. Happiness comes from being happy, not in what happens to you. So this is me, filling my cup with whatever joy and happiness and love I can find.

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*****

Last week, when all this craziness over my essay about Manchild being able to stay home alone for short periods of time was just beginning and I was having a hard time seeing past the nose on my face, my friend Amy grabbed me by the hand and took me shopping so at least I’d have something to wear when I was on Good Morning America.

Amy — who has three kids of her own,  who just moved to a new apartment, who is hoping to go back to school and finish her education, and who tirelessly finds opportunities to share her talents and solve problems with everyone she meets. I am humbled and blessed to know her and to call her my friend.

She’s been a mentor and inspiration to me since we met nearly 7 years ago. And I hope with all my heart that she gets to go back to school, finish her education, and share her talents with even more people. (Check out her video here, help her out if you can!)

******

And then there was Sharra, who first invited us over for cake and ice cream on Monday night, putting an end to my “case of the Mondays” and then reminded me that Tuesday is a great day to get up early and go for a run.

She’s right. There are few things better than slipping out the door before the kids are awake and running in the sun before it gets too hot. Sharing it with a friend is one of those things.

******

Yesterday we went to the carousel at Prospect Park. It’s free for kids on Thursdays this month, so we rode it twice. Squish was adamant that he didn’t want a horse that went up and down. Little Miss waved at her adoring fans (me) for half the ride. And Manchild kept an eye on his sister as he rode the horse next to her. It was the first time all week that I’d been there, where my kids were, seeing and enjoying and loving.

******

falling

This morning, Little Miss drew all over herself with marker. Arms, face, feet. She took a cheese stick from fridge without asking and ate it ostentatiously in front of me. She spilled a newly-opened quart of maple syrup on the floor. She climbed on Manchild’s bed and tried to raid his treat box. She took 63 photos and videos with my phone. And then she asked to be put down for a nap. I can’t help but feel lucky that she’s mine — even after everything she’s done to me. Maybe because of everything she’s done to me.

*****

It’s been a hard week. I can’t pretend it hasn’t been. But I also can’t pretend that there’s a lot to be happy about and a lot to be grateful for. My cup runneth over.

“How Young Is Too Young to Stay Home Alone” on GMA

As promised, here’s the link to the Good Morning America spot. I thought my family did a great job and we really enjoyed working with the film crew and GMA co-host Paula Faris. We had a great conversation, Manchild was extremely poised and articulate, and I was surprised at how at-ease I felt sitting in the hot seat with the cameras rolling.

However, I can’t say I’m not a little disappointed in the final product.

I knew going in, of course, that I might not come out looking great, especially since we knew it was only going to be a couple of minutes, but I was hopeful that they would have a real discussion about giving kids more responsibility and helping them learn to navigate this world we live in. Instead, all we got was “Seven seems too young.” I would have loved to rebut their “parenting expert,” Ericka Souter, who, as far as I can tell, is actually a journalist who specializes in celebrity news.

And since this is my blog, maybe I will take a minute to do just that. 

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First: Souter suggests that my style is the “other extreme” of the helicopter parent. Is teaching your child independence and responsibility really an “extreme”? On the other end of “helicopter”? I am really surprised to hear that because I thought on the other end of being hyper-involved, hyper-vigilant was neglect and apathy and abandonment. If my parenting style is extreme, I fear for the state of our nation.

Second: She says a child should be able to take care of other children before you can leave him alone. This is silly. A child should be able to take care of himself before he can take care of other children. I think that either she had it backward or she didn’t explain herself very well.

Third: The shock and awe that only 3 states tell their residents when they can leave their kids home alone. And no comment on either the fact that in Oregon it is age 8 (which is not much older than 7!) or that in Illinois it is 14 (which is ridiculous — Micah pointed out that he could practically build a simple cabin at age 14). I wonder how many families in Illinois are in violation of that law. Probably all of them?

Fourth: There were no allowances that maybe parents actually do know best, or that there are children who can be trusted to not set the house on fire. The final word that “seven seems too young” was much too definitive and, I thought, closed off the much more important discussion of why and how we can teach our kids to be safe but also responsible and independent members of society.

Finally: She mentioned that people have been doing this forever but doesn’t go into any reasons why that changed, or why our era is exempted from teaching our kids how to be by themselves.

I do wish that at the very least Paula Faris could have been at the table to say, “Hey, actually, I met this kid and I spent time with his family and you might be surprised what a 7-year-old is capable of.” That’s all.

Monday on Good Morning America

It turns out that some people think it’s a bad idea for 7-year-olds to be left alone for short periods of time. Some people have even gone so far as to say that no one should be left alone ever. (Or maybe that was just one person, but still. No one? Ever?)

And it looks like a lot of people want to talk about it. This is a good thing. I think we should talk about it. I think we need to have a conversation about how to teach our children to be more independent and how to give them a little more freedom in a world that is so fearful for/about kids that we get yelled at if we let them ride their bikes half a block ahead of us. Our kids need to be given space and opportunity to grow into capable human beings who can take care of themselves. It’s our job as parents to be in tune with them enough to know when and how to give them that space and those opportunities.

This week I’ve been floored by the amount of attention my essay on Babble has been getting. It was picked up by the Daily Mail, I was contacted by several news stations and a radio show (if you want to listen, my segment starts at 20:17), and just tonight a film crew from Good Morning America came by our apartment to film a segment for tomorrow’s (Monday) show. (It’ll be in the second hour, in case you want to tune in. And I’ll post a link to it afterward as well.)

Even if I’ve been floored by the response, I stand by my decision: my son was ready for a little more responsibility and a little more independence and Micah and I prepared him and taught him and gave him a chance to spread his wings a little bit in a safe environment. If we keep this up, he may just be ready to be a contributing member of society when he reaches adulthood.

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Just a note: I know that lots of people are expressing their opinions and that not all of them are being very kind about it. It doesn’t really matter to me. I cannot make good parenting choices for my kids if I am parenting to quiet the critics, so I don’t listen to them.

“Chores” Doesn’t Have to Be a Dirty Word

I’ve been accused of not letting people help me out enough. And I’ll own up to it. Sometimes it seems like it’s just easier to go ahead and do whatever needs to be done rather than ask/teach someone else to do it. But even I could see that things couldn’t go on forever like that — especially since I have a growing labor force in my very own apartment. It makes no sense for me to feel overwhelmed by needing to pick up clothes, do the dishes, and sweep the floor when I could simply do one of them and give someone else a chance to feel useful and capable and like a contributing member of the family.

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Of course, I may never have taken the time to teach it if I weren’t also writing about it. And in the process of teaching it, I realized a lot of things: foremost among them is that it only takes a few minutes to save myself a lot of frantic pin-balling around the apartment as I bump from one task to another hoping that I hit everything before I collapse.

Here are the other things I learned as I passed off some of my homemaking/housecleaning expertise to the Manchild:

It’s Time For My 7-year-old To Make His Own Lunch

I’ve been really happy that, so far, there hasn’t been much whining and griping. At least no more than our usual Saturday chores elicits. In fact, the boy seems happy to help and pleased that he is being given more responsibility — for the moment, anyway. And while I do sometimes feel a little bad that he is often asked so often to help when his siblings are running wild, I’m coming to terms with the fact that people actually do want to help. Even if they are my own kids, and even if it is “chores.”

Safety, Trust part 3

Earlier this summer Manchild brought his Calvin and Hobbes book to me, as he often does, so I could explain to him why exactly he’s laughing till his sides hurt. This particular strip had Calvin shoveling snow, contemplating life, and complaining of the unfairness that someone as intelligent as he is was reduced to performing manual labor. It seemed the Manchild kinda got it, but was fairly distracted by the idea that a 6-year-old was allowed outside by himself.

So I gave the spiel about how Calvin lives in a different place and time than we live, and how Brooklyn isn’t the place for even 7-year-olds to be out and about alone. But all Manchild could do was give me a look and say, “You know what I’m thinking, right?”

“That we should move some place where you can go outside by yourself?”

“Yep.”

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We’re not going to move. Not yet. But I can sympathize with the boy’s predicament. I’d actually been thinking about it quite a lot before Calvin shone a light on the issue. I mean, do I really need to take Manchild with me every time I go to the laundry, which is just around the block? Or the grocery store, which is right next to the laundry? And if I don’t need to drag him away from his books, how can I feel good about leaving him alone?

And that is how this summer became the “Summer of Safety” in which I let Manchild spread his wings just a little bit. Longtime readers know that this is something I’ve thought about a lot (see part 1 and part 2), and this time I got to put my thoughts into action.

I wrote about our endeavor for Babble, and you can read the first 2 (of 3) installments here:

Bye Bye Helicopter Mom

Yes, My 7-year-old Is Old Enough to Stay Home Alone

Up until this summer, I thought I had been giving the boy age-appropriate freedoms and responsibilities, but I was wrong. I’m way behind on a lot of things (though part of that is because of well, Brooklyn) but I am much more conscientious now of the need — for both me and him — to be aware of things he can do himself, and to give him the opportunity to try.

Where are you and your kids with the balance of freedoms/responsibilities? And how do people view that kind of thing where you are from? (In Brooklyn, people seem appalled if you don’t have your kids within arms reach at all times. Today some ladies were shocked when I left Little Miss sitting in the stroller outside our building while I ran 20 feet down the sidewalk to help Squish get up after he crashed his bike again.)

Oh, I’ll let you know when the last post goes live.

Beauty and Brains

“You may say most positively that ‘Susan is pretty and Sandra is bright,’ but all Susan will remember is that she isn’t bright and Sandra that she isn’t pretty.” — Elder Jeffrey R. Holland

We talk so much about teaching girls to be themselves, to nurture their talents, to not be afraid to do or be anything. But then we also praise them so much for being “pretty” or “cute” that it would be easy for them to get the idea that being pretty is the only thing to be. I am for sure guilty of this. My daughter is only 2 and it’s already a habit for me to praise her beauty every chance I get. It’s kind of a problem because she may get the sense that no matter what I say, her true value lies in being pretty.Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

I have definitely felt that way. Growing up, I was the Sandra to my sister’s Susan. Everyone told me I was smart. It seemed like they were complimenting me. It seemed like they were trying to tell me that this was a good thing. And yet it felt a lot more like a curse. I was told that is was probably the reason I didn’t have a lot of friends and the reason boys didn’t ask me to dance (apparently, my big brain was super intimidating?). Even my youth leaders seemed perplexed by what to say to a girl whose “intelligence” outshone her looks. It wasn’t until I was receiving scholarships my senior year of high school that I started to feel a small amount of validation that being smart was actually something to be admired and celebrated.

I know that there could have been other things going on. I am a reserved person. My face is hard to read and that makes me seem unapproachable. But during those extremely formative years of my life, all I could see was that the “pretty” girls (including my sister) were getting a lot of attention, and I was . . . not. I felt like this trait that I had, these “brains,” was talked about it like it was worth something but it wasn’t really valued at all. It was worthless and so was I.

It has only been recently that I’ve started to unravel the truth that the value that I have as a person is something separate from whether I am pretty or smart or approachable. At that time, I had been working really hard to earn the love and attention of others. I wanted to prove that I was worthy. It was crushing when I felt like my efforts were ignored or unappreciated. But about a year ago something turned in my head — and my heart — and I could kinda sorta see that there were at least a few people who liked me because I am me, and not because I can bake pie or run fast or because I’m somebody’s sister or friend or because I am or am not “beautiful.”

Then last spring this idea came into focus a little bit more when I went to the Women in the World Summit and heard Ken Burns say, “Eleanor Roosevelt would not have become who she was if she had been made to feel like she was pretty.” So much of the work that she did — helping the downtrodden, fighting injustices, bringing attention to the overlooked — she didbecause she felt that she couldn’t get by on her looks alone, that she wasn’t worth anything if she didn’t do it. 

Later that same day I listened to a panel of women talk about how girls pin so much of their self-worth on whether or not the selfies they post online get a lot of “likes” or comments. It hit close to home for me. I admit it. I don’t post pictures of myself very often because I don’t feel like I get “good feedback” (or any feedback). And I let it tell me that I’m not beautiful, not worth praising, not worth anything — that people don’t like me. When Rashida Jones, one of the panelists, suggested that girls and women be encouraged to invest more in their “appreciating assets” — their heads and their hearts, rather in the “depreciating asset” of physical beauty, another small wheel turned in my head and this idea became a tiny bit clearer.

I’ve been thinking a lot since then about what it means to be “beautiful” or to be a “beautiful person”and last week I had the chance to sit down with a dozen other women to talk about it. There were so many insightful, thoughtful, and helpful comments. Some of the best:

“Every day I look in the mirror and I tell myself I’m beautiful. In fact, I’ve only seen myself ugly once. That was when I was angry. I told God, ‘Thanks for letting me see me ugly,’ and now I am never angry.”

“I want to tell people that I love them, but what I hear myself saying instead is, ‘You look beautiful today. I really like that dress.’”

“When I think of all you ladies, I don’t see what you look like as much as I see the things that you are doing, how you are helping others, that special moment I got to see between you and your child, your talents and what you are contributing to the world.”

“People don’t think about you as much as you think they do.” (Which is possibly the most freeing realization I have ever had in my life.)

“I have a friend whose default position is, ‘They like me.’ She just tells herself that everyone likes her, and then they do, because she’s not afraid of them.”

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With all this coming into focus in my mind, I was bold enough to post a photo of myself (not exactly a “selfie” since Little Miss was actually the photographer) to Instagram. It’s not a glamour shot by any means, but it is me — my face, my story. When I first posted it, I held my breath a bit and waited to see if anybody would “like” it — or me. But then I talked myself down and remembered: people aren’t voting on how pretty I am or how much they think I am worth. I posted the photo to tell my own story, and whether or not they like it is irrelevant. It’s fun, but it doesn’t change the fact that no matter what people think of my looks or my brains, I can still be a beautiful person — someone who is kind, generous, thoughtful, patient, selfless, sensitive, honest, cheerful.

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