If there’s one thing you should know about my 13-year-old daughter, it’s that when she starts to feel uncomfortable she goes from this bright, witty teenager to Beaker from The Muppets in the time it takes to say “meep.” She clams up so hard, she could spit pearls.


It’s been a problem since she was little. Relatives would try to talk to her and she’d look at them like they were speaking Chinese. Kids would try to talk to her and she’d give them one-word answers. Every parent-teacher conference has gone along the lines of, “Your daughter is very bright, top of the class, but she never speaks.”


Maybe it’s my fault. During my pregnancy with her, I watched a lot of “Daria.” Does shyness and skepticism pass through the womb?




Over the years, we’ve tried to help her overcome this by signing her up for a variety of activities. Summer school programs, drama classes, indoor soccer, dance, gymnastic. All of them have ended up a bit like this: She’s excited at first, but then spends every subsequent practice or meeting folding her head and shoulders in toward her body like a turtle so she doesn’t have to make eye contact.


It’s painful. I feel for her. I really do.


So when our daughter’s future high school threw an event aimed at getting incoming freshmen to sign up for activities, my husband and I saw only one course of action – to thrust our painfully shy, socially awkward teenager who’s had trouble in extracurricular activities into the world of highly competitive, almost psychotically outgoing fellow teenagers.


Ace parenting, I know. But it’s what you do when your child is about to enter high school, right? You force encourage them to sign up for stuff because you hope it will make their transition into hell high school a smooth one. And because activities made high school bearable for you, you think it will do the same for them. And maybe, possibly give them a leg up when applying for scholarships.


How could anything riddled with so many hidden motives not turn out well?


The groups were divided into two hallways – the athletic clubs and the social/academic clubs. Our daughter made it clear from the get-go that she wasn’t interested in sports, which was fine by us, so we steered her toward the academic clubs.


There were so many choices. Synchronized swimming, academic decathlon, theater, debate, cycling club. Her school has a cycling club for crying out loud! You know what we had at my high school? Sports, music, drama, yearbook and Future Homemakers of America. (Is that even a thing any more? Hang on while I google it … holy shit, it is! It’s called Family, Career and Community Leaders of America now.)


It made me a bit giddy to see all this intellectual opportunity and unbridled enthusiasm laid out before us like a buffet. Our daughter, not so much.


I have to admit, it was a little overwhelming. The students’ enthusiasm gave them an intensity that was hard to ignore. And good grief, were they intense. (Except the boy manning the cycling club table. That kid was super chill.)


Within seconds of rounding the corner, two speech and debate kids jumped her. One was shoving a flyer in her face while the other was fluttering around saying all the stuff that was basically on the flyer.


In their fervor, they had backed her up against the lockers like they were looking to steal her lunch money.


My daughter’s eyes darted around, searching for possible escape routes. I could feel her thinking, “Please stop talking to me so I can put my name on your stupid list and cease interacting with you.” You know, the line of thinking that will get you far in speech and debate.


That’s how it went for a while. We would approach a table, some kids would thrust a flyer in her face, I would shove her toward the sign up sheet and she would put her email down without looking at anyone.


Every table was a new opportunity for her to have a mild panic attack and for me to geek out over how wonderful high school was going to be.


These kids were so engaging and confident. I wanted their confidence to rub off on her. Heck, I wanted their confidence to rub off on me. I was five seconds away from putting my own email down on their signup sheet.


Herein lies the rub.


I want my daughter to love this stuff, because I loved this kind of stuff in high school. Maybe it was because I didn’t drink or do drugs and I lived in the middle of a cornfield, but  drama and yearbook were what made high school bearable.


But does she love this stuff? I’m not so sure. She’s smart and creative and hilarious, but in a more private way. And there shouldn’t be anything wrong with that. Maybe clubs aren’t her thing.


Besides, who was I to push her into doing academic decathlon because it seems intellectually invigorating? Yes, I loved joining clubs, but if I’m being perfectly honest, I was less concerned with choosing one that suited my interests and passions and more concerned with signing up for whichever one had the cutest boys in it.


And my parents stayed out of it. As they should have.


Maybe I need to take a cue from the cycling club kid and just chill out a little. Maybe my husband and I need to give her a little breathing space to figure some of this out on her own.


After we left, I got to thinking…what would happen to her if she didn’t sign up for a single club? Would her social world collapse? Will she grow up and end up living on the streets? Probably not.


Will she still be shy? Sure. But that’s something my husband and I are never going to “fix.” And maybe she’ll be happier if we stop trying to.


Encylopedia of Random Thoughts

Encylopedia of Random Thoughts

Afternoons: I am useless from about 1:30 in the afternoon until about 3:30. I get tired, cranky, bored. I am basically a toddler for about two hours every day.

Dreams: When someone tells me they had a dream about me, I wonder what I looked like in their dream. Did I look normal? Was I wearing something weird? Was my nose the right shape and size? Did my voice sound like it normally sounds? I want to ask them these questions but feel that would be narcacisstic.

Famous People: On the very few occassions I’ve met someone famous, I briefly entertained the thought that the encounter was so meaningful I would be given a role in their next project or at least mentioned in their memoirs. The same thing happens when one of my kids is in the newspaper or their class is highlighted on the local news. For a split second, I think its their ticket to fame. See also, This Summer Think

Favorite Part: Most of my favorite songs contain a favorite part. It’s usually in the bridge somewhere. I spend the whole song anticipating the big moment. I don’t even pay attention to the first two verses. I am focused only on getting to my favorite part. Finally it’s arrives and I shush whoever is in the car. I sing like I am Whitney Houston at the Super Bowl. It is exhilariting. Twenty seconds later, we’re at the reprise and I’m left feeling sad and deflated.

Getting Old: I went upstairs to get a cup of coffee I left on my dresser. When I got upstairs I opened the closet instead. See also, Orthodonitsts Office

Ghost Car: When I was taking a walk the other day I saw a white car with really dark interior coming toward me. I could see the dark seats and a bright pink steering wheel, but couldn’t see a driver because she was wearing a black coat. For a split second I thought, “Ghost car.” The same thing happens when I’m following a car with a really short driver.

Irony: My husband and I moved to Texas shortly after we got married. Some friends gave us a  coffee mug that says “Honorary Texan” as a wedding gift. Our oldest daughter, who was born in Austin and is the only member of our family who is a native Texan, uses this mug exclusively.

This same daughter recently developed an interest in classic hip-hop. I thought it would be fun to make her a playlist. Number ten on the list? The DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince jam Parents Just Don’t Understand. Indeed.

Knuckles: I think my knuckles look like elephant knees.

Laundry: I hate folding my jeans and underpants. I am forced to hold them up at eye leve and ask myself, “Is my butt really that big?”

Matilda: My oldest daughter was obsessed with Matilda by Roald Dahl when she was little. Matilda is a very smart little girl who is born to a family of terrible people. Her parents are ignorant buffoons. It was my daughter’s favorite book. She watched the movie adapatation almost every day for two years. It made me nervous. Was she obsessed with Matilda because she thought my huband and I were terrible people and ignorant buffoons?

Mr. Darcy: Does Mr. Darcy have Asperger’s? He is very socially awkward.

Piano: I like listening to my daughter practice piano. It makes me feel like our home is a lot classier than it is.

Orthodontist Office: They play 90s music at my daughter’s orthodonitist office. I thought this was cool until my daughter rolled her eyes when “No Diggity” came on. I then remembered the waiting room is for parents and parent are not cool. It is the equivalent of hearing The Carpenters at the doctor’s office when I was a kid in the 80s. “No Diggity” is the new “Top of the World.” See also, Getting Old

Spaghetti: All my life I have hated spaghetti. Now, a couple of times a week when I think about what I want for dinner, I think, “Spaghetti sounds really good.” I don’t know who I am any more.

Things My Husband Left on Top of the Car and Then Drove Away: Coffee mugs, DVDs from the library, books from the library, the diaper bag, leftovers from a restaurant, his work bag, his laptop, his glasses.

This Summer Think: My senior year of high school, I was randomly selected to represent my school in an anti-drunk-driving PSA that would air on our local NBC affiliate station and a local radio station. My older brother and his wife drove me to the big city of Des Moines to film the commercial. I felt pretty important sitting there in the studio. “This is it,” I thought. Finally the day came for my commercials to air. Contrary to what I had been thinking since the day they announced my name at school, I did not score a major film or modeling contract. See also, Famous People

Twins: Someone brought their daughter to work yesterday. The girl was wearing a shirt that had a yellow front and a black back. She would run back and forth between one of the meeting rooms and the bathrooms. Because her shirt looked one way from the front and another way from the back, I spent half the morning thinking they were two separate girls.

What Was I Thinking? I hate it when I hear a song on the radio that I loved a couple of years ago, but hearing it again, it sounds completely stupid. I am so embarrassed by my poor taste I have to turn the station.

When Harry Met Sally: Do Harry and Sally get divorced? It seems like they might.

Writers Block: When I have writers block, I try telling myself to relax, just write about the every day, the ordinary. “Just live! That will be your source for inspiration!”

Then I spend every moment examining every minute detail of what I am doing, mining it for material.

“I am doing the dishes. Surely there’s something to be said about doing the dishes. It’s a universal experience. Why, for the love of god, can’t I find anything interesting to say about doing these damn dishes? That’s it. I’m done for.”

It’s exhausting.


To Make A Long Story Short

To Make A Long Story Short

Growing up, I thought my dad was one of the T-Birds.

This was probably due, in part, to my obsession with the movie Grease. That movie was the most to say the least, and every year when it was on TV we would pile up in the living room to watch it. My dad would get the good spot in front of the TV and us younger ones would curl around him like he was the sun.

At Rydell High, the social structure was very clear – you were either a nerd, a jock or a greaser. My dad wasn’t like other dads I knew. He wasn’t a farmer. He didn’t work in an office. He didn’t watch football on Sundays. He wore leather jackets and boots and worked in a motorcycle shop that smelled like oil, gas, and tires. He most definitely was a greaser.

And having a greaser for a dad was very cool. It meant he lived a full life and had the stories to prove it. And, lord, does that man have stories.

He has Army stories, hunting stories and stories from when he raced motorcycles. He has stories about playing pinball with Brenda Lee and pumping gas for Jerry Lee Lewis. And he has a story about taking on The Beach Boys. Well, one of The Beach Boys.

“To make a long story short…” as my dad would say, he went one of their shows back in the day and the band showed up looking like “greasy turdballs.” They played a crappy set and then decided to stick around after the show and be crappy in general. My dad was mad he paid good money to stand around and watch those jerks, so when one of them got close enough he shoved him. He was pretty sure it was one of the Wilsons, but it was hard to get a good look since he was shoving him and all.

All this rubbing elbows with celebrities (and elbowing celebrities) made it hard not to feel like we were living with a minor celebrity ourselves.

No wonder we couldn’t wait for him to come home every night. In the summer, we would sit outside and pick clover while we waited to see him coming down the street. If the weather was nice and he was on his motorcyle, he would give each of us a turn on the back of his bike. That was possibly the coolest thing to ever happen to a little girl who never felt very cool herself.

My dad turns 72 today, and he’s still pretty damn cool. After years of tearing up the streets and shoving around celebrity “turdballs” he decided to give back to his community. He ran for mayor of my tiny hometown when he was in his 60s and is serving his third term as I write this. Not too shabby for a greaser.


One time when I was little, I got sick at the babysitter’s house and he had to come pick me up. When we got in the car, he asked me how I was feeling and then asked me for a kiss on the cheek. I told him that I couldn’t, I didn’t want to get him sick.

He said, “That’s okay, baby doll. Dads don’t get sick.”

And I believed that for a long time. I thought parents couldn’t get sick. They were immune. I wish I still believed that. Unfortunately, they do.

My dad has spent the last couple of weeks battling pneumonia. He’s on the mend, but the medication has been hard on him. From what I hear, it hasn’t been fun. It’s a crappy way to spend a birthday.

So, Dad, I’m sending you a kiss. Because you’re one tough T-Bird. And still one of the coolest guys I know.


Happy birthday! I love you!


In a World Full of Heathers, I Was Jean

In a World Full of Heathers, I Was Jean

Say Your Name: Write about your first name: Are you named after someone or something? Are there any stories or associations attached to it? If you had the choice, would you rename yourself?

Much like my conception, my name was not planned.

In fact, my parents were so ambivalent about my impending birth, they didn’t give my name much thought until they were on the way to the hospital.

My dad said, “We should probably come up with a name. What about ‘Jean?'” My mom said, “‘Ok.'” And that was that.

In my parents’ defense, I was their fifth child. They had just done the whole dog-and-pony show 15 months prior and were running out of options. They were just tired, the poor things.

I felt that way naming our second daughter. With our first daughter, it was as though we were picking a Pope. My husband and I donned red robes, put potential names on ballots, burnt the castoffs until one was finally chosen and then sent the final name out into the ether in a puff of white smoke.

By the time we were pregnant with our second child we just didn’t have the energy. We gave her a name my mother always liked and called it done.

So I can only image how my parents felt naming their fifth child.

They were so tired, they didn’t realize they had already used the name as my sister’s middle name until after the ink had dried on my birth certificate.

So, in a way, my name was the first hand-me-down I got from my sister.

I’m sure if she had the capacity for deep thought at age 15 months, my sister would have rolled her eyes and said, “I’m going to have to share everything with her now, aren’t I?” And the answer would have been yes.

I have never liked my name.

You could say it sounds vaguely French, but I grew up next door to a Danielle, so …

Also, it’s an old lady name and I was born in an era where it was not trendy or cool to give your daughters old lady names.

Sure, it was different, but it’s like how having an eye patch is different.

I wanted to be a Jessica. Or a Sarah. Or a Sara. Or a Heather.

I remember when the movie Heathers came out, I instantly associated with Winona Ryder’s character since she was not a Heather. She was a Veronica. She wasn’t a Jean, but still…



It was tough not to want to be Winona Ryder in the 90s, wasn’t it?

Maybe hating your name is in your DNA.

I recently asked my oldest daughter, Amelia, – you know, the one who’s name we put so much effort into choosing – if she liked her name. She glared at me.

“No. It’s tough to say. It has too many vowels.”

Huh. Well, f*ck me gently with a chainsaw.
Say Your Name

Buddy Holly

Buddy Holly

Guess some things never go out of style.
Not Quite Bossypants

Not Quite Bossypants

Question: Your blog is about to be recorded into an audiobook. If you could choose anyone — from your grandma to Samuel L. Jackson — to narrate your posts, who would it be?

Initially I thought I would want someone British like Kate Winslet or Catherine Tate to narrate my blog. Sometimes my internal voice likes to take on a British accent so it would be fun to hear what that would sound like out loud. It would also lend my blog a certain gravitas it might be lacking.

Dolly Parton would also be fun. She has a good mix of charm and sassiness. I would give her free reign to insert as many “honeys” and “darlin’s” as she sees fit.

Or maybe Sofia Vergara…

Basically anyone with an interesting accent.

But after serious consideration here’s how I think I would like it to go down …. 

Each post would open with Macdonald Carey saying, “Like sands through the hourglass so are the days of Jean’s life.” This would make 14-year-old me very happy. 

Then Tina Fey would narrate. She’s the celebrity who’s the most like me – she likes comedy, has brown hair and writes characters who sit under Slankets and eat night cheese.

Amy Sedaris could do any girl voices and David Sedaris could do the boy voices. Because I need to work amusing accents in somehow.

I really see this happening. Someone get Random House Audiobooks on the line. 

Voice Work