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Don't let the dog lick your privates

and other things you never thought you'd say

(Site Photos) Starshine09.jpg

By Starshine Roshell


I'm what they call a word person, prefering "viridian" to dreary green, and never uttering "confused" when "flummoxed" is within reach.


An English major whose motif-musing and allusion-hunting skills have proven all but useless in the real world, I take admittedly odd delight in the careful craft of sentence-smithing. One of my prized possessions is a tome entitled "The Highly Selective Thesaurus for the Extraordinarily Literate," and I fling myself from bed each morning to savor my Word of the Day email from - a wellspring of toothsome terms like numinous, doff and foofaraw. I challenge myself to use each new word in conversation before the week is over, and just never you mind whether I'm successful or not. The point is I want to.


Which is why I find parenting to be a bit of a bore. As a mother, 87% of the sentences that spring from my mouth are vapid. Artless. In fact, they border on asinine. And most of them should go without saying:


"Stop hitting yourself." "Get your jacket out of the peanut butter." "No spitting in Mommy's bed." There's the perennial "You must use a tissue for that" and the all-too-frequent "Well, would you like it if I called YOU an oogie bananahead?" I recently heard myself say, "We never ever lick the bottoms of our shoes." And I wondered what the devil had become of my dexterity for discourse - let alone my children's common sense.


I realize that human beings aren't born with an aptitude for basic hygiene and social etiquette, and mine are no exception. Friends tell me they've been shocked to have to articulate these instructions to their offspring: "Stop picking your sister's nose." "Please don't hump your pillow in front of other people." "Do NOT throw the cat in there again."


Others never thought they'd have to say this: "Yes, underwear is a requirement at the dinner table. Particularly when you're not wearing pants." Or this: "If you went pee-pee in the bathwater, you probably should not be drinking it." One recently found herself offering this string of seemingly self-evident edicts: "Get your hands out of your pants" ... "Get your hands out of HER pants" ... "Go wash your hands."


I have faith our kids will memorize all of these rules eventually, and that there will be no need to whisper "Stop pulling up your shirt" as they walk down the aisle. (If there is, at least we'll be able to employ more graceful language by then, such as "Darling, do refrain from exposing your thorax. It's entirely inappropriate to both the venue and occasion.")


Meanwhile, though, I confess I'm disappointed with my role as Declarer of the Dull Directive. Deficient in other motherly assets, I always assumed that my love of language would compensate for my lack of patience and my distaste for holiday handicraft. Indeed, my favorite parenting moments - the few that leave me feeling especially well-equipped for this job - are when my kids ask me to explain an abstract concept like death or sarcasm or spongecake and I can discharge a chain of images and metaphors that leave them sitting silent, their eyes shifting and unfocused as they process the description, and then lead them to a clear-as-a-windowpane, "Oh!"


So forgive me if spewing phrases like "Don't let the dog lick your privates" feels like wasting the paltry parental proficiency I possess. And not just wasting it, either. Squandering! Nay, fribbling it away like so much worthless foofaraw!


I'm sorry. But it had to be said.



Starshine Roshell is the author of "Keep Your Skirt On."



Boys Will Be Boys

(BUILT IN) (Photos) LeslieD_2007.jpg

By Leslie Dinaberg

South Coasting

I learned a new word recently: "Dad-olescence," described by Daily Beast writer Sean Macaulay as the modern, midlife crisis-aged male's tendency to "act like a sullen teenager ... a low-grade regressive style of acting-out that's now so widespread among midlife males it deserves its own label."


Unlike the stereotypical midlife crises our parents' generation had-using the fruits of their success to buy boy toys such as sports cars and hot, young girlfriends-Macaulay says that the double-whammy of delayed parenting and the economic crisis have created an epidemic of Dad-olescents grappling with their own mortality at the same time the credit crunch "nixes any chance of the classic ego-boosting spending spree" and their post-feminist upbringings and subsequent "guilt airbags" keep them faithful to their wives.


No wonder some of these guys are feeling down in the dumps. Party games like "dueling ailments" and "pin the hair on the bald guy" don't exactly help to lift their 40-something spirits, as evidenced by some of the soirees I've attended recently. And piercing your ears and wearing Ed Hardy tee shirts is a lot less fun than driving with the top down on your Porsche.


Yet my husband remains suspiciously chipper, and I'm pretty sure he doesn't have a Porsche or a hottie. He might be able to keep a Porsche hidden from me, but who has the time or money for a girlfriend? No, I credit this to the fact that he's so in touch with his inner child. While few women will admit their age, I have found that even fewer men act theirs. I often feel like I have two boys living with me: a ten-year-old and a 12-year-old-in-a-44-year-old-body-who-thinks-he-has-a-34-year-old-body.


For the most part, my two boys play really well together. They both love science fiction/fantasy stories, computer games, Doritos, pretending not to hear what I'm saying, jumping on the furniture and fart jokes. The younger one also likes Pokemon (again!) and watches a lot of sports on TV. But the older one can drive-and buy beer-which is very convenient for me.


The ten-year-old is in that preadolescent, unpredictable tween stage; still young enough to sit on my lap one moment and then greet me with a too cool for school head flip the next. His father's behavior toward me is equally erratic; depending on what he wants, what he did wrong and who else is around to witness it.


But most of the time, thankfully, they're both pretty happy guys. I guess I should consider myself lucky there's not a lot of Dad-olescent behavior going on in our house. Of course there's always that possibility that they'll both evolve into moody, uncommunicative teens at some point, but for right now boys will be boys-and so will a lot of middle-aged men.



When Leslie's not stocking up on Clearasil for her boys she can be reached at For more columns visit




Scarred by Santa

Is the elf myth harmless fantasy or cruel lie?(Site Photos) Starshine09.jpg

By Starshine Roshell


There are things good parents don't say to their children. We don't, for example, say, "Somewhere in the high desert, there are gnomes building you a Wii" or "Did you know that antelope have invisibility powers?" We never tell them that a kindly old woman is likely to emerge from our tub drains in a blue suit at some point this month. And that we should leave her a dish of tiramisu.


Why, then, will we swear up and down that if our kids behave and eat their vegetables, a fat man in a red get-up will flit through the sky pulled by wingless horned mammals and squeeze down our filthy chimneys to bring us coveted baubles shrouded in Costco wrapping paper?


What the elf are we doing to our kids??


I make a big stink at home about honesty and how it's our family's highest value blah blah blah. Yet I've dragged my old Doc Martens through the fireplace and stomped them across the living room to leave convincing ash footprints on the carpet. I've nibbled from countless cookie platters intended for Santa, leaving big, obvious bite marks and telltale crumbs. I've affixed postage to "Dear Santa" letters that were ultimately mailed to no one, nowhere.


Was I wrong to do it?


Before we had kids, my husband said he wanted no part of the Kris Kringle myth. Why would we tell our children that a stranger will break into our house to bring treats? That's weird, he argued.


It's fun!, I countered, a thing no more fanciful than dinosaurs or airplanes to a young mind. It nurtures their sense of wonder, I insisted, their notion that the world is full of delightful surprises.


And it was all of those things. Until it wasn't.


As kids get older, and smarter, and their questions about reindeer flight patterns become alarmingly astute, the Santa story begins to feel less like a harmless fantasy and more like a cruel lie. It becomes increasingly clear that the ritual, undertaken to spread joy, will inevitably cause pain. Then all we can do is curse our kids' confounded naïveté and pray they'll figure it out on their own. ("God, if you're there - if you're not just something my parents made up to get me to behave and eat my vegetables - PLEASE let Junior wise up and give me a knowing wink so I can stop this seasonal subterfuge.")


Curious about the lasting effects of a decade of deceitful Decembers, I spoke with a kid I know - a boy who was crushed when a friend finally snuffed out Santa for him in fourth grade.


"I felt like I was floating on something that I truly believed," says Colton Ingraham, 11, "and it cracked, and vanished. And I fell."


Dear god. What have we done?!


He visited Santa at the mall every year and wrote letters to him all year long. "To be honest," Colton tells me, "if I could go through my life believing that Santa was real and never learn otherwise, I would prefer that."


Sniff! Sob! He's killing me! But much like "Little Drummer Boy," this unsettling Christmas tale ends on a satisfying note.


"I like to believe in Santa," Colton says. "It's a fun thing to do. It's kind of magical. And I do believe that he's real. Whenever a parent puts a present under the tree for a child, he or she is being Santa. He's real in that way."


And get this: Despite his initial despair, Colton plans to one day perpetuate the Santa myth with his own kids. "I want to do exactly what my mom did to me," he says. "Exactly."


See? I knew it. The world is full of delightful surprises.



Starshine Roshell is the author of "Keep Your Skirt On."


Holiday Letters Bring Ho, Ho, Ho's

(BUILT IN) (Photos) LeslieD_2007.jpg

By Leslie Dinaberg

South Coasting


I love getting mail during the holiday season. It's great. Instead of people asking me for money, I get chocolate catalogs, cards that wish me Season's Greetings, and the reassurance that my college friends are still alive.


While I appreciate the heartfelt sentiments, and the updated pictures of the kids/pets/intestines/etc., there's nothing more satisfying than opening up a mass-produced holiday letter that is so bad it is actually worth saving. You know the ones that gush with sincere emotions, and use the word "blessings" multiple times. They never let you forget that the writers have a bigger house than you, children with bigger brains and better jump shots than yours, better jobs than yours, and are much, much closer to sainthood than you can ever even dream of aspiring to-never mind the whole "I'm Jewish" thing.


I like to gather with friends to read these brag rags aloud and make fun of the writers. Add a little brandy to the eggnog, and I can feel the holiday spirit wash over me.


Here are some tips to get your holiday missive added to the playbill:


The more pompous the letter the better. "Jenna, our preschooler, is so brilliant she speaks 12 languages and just got an early admission acceptance to Harvard," "Our his and hers XK Jaguar convertibles look like Barbie cars next to our ridiculously huge house," and "My sixth wife, Tawny, is an aerobics instructor, brain surgeon, and mechanic who cooks gourmet meals for the homeless in her spare time."


Even though Fox News totally invented the "war on Christmas," this may be enough for me to take up arms.


Think of all the stamps you'll save if your holiday letter can do double duty as Junior's college application. "It's no surprise that Ludwig (the football team's top benchwarmer, mediocre concert pianist, class president, C+ student and all around great guy) was accepted at Stanford, given daddy bought a science lab (can you say, 'future President of the United States'?)." Can you say future invader of North Korea?


If you can have someone other than yourself write the letter-like your dog or your cat-that's even better. All those woofs, barks and meows get me extra catty after the third eggnog. If you think those are clever, think of what epistolary holiday gems might come from the "mind" of your pet TV remote control or garbage disposal.


Holiday letters in the form of poems are another party favorite. Especially the ones that are ostensibly written by your three-month old genius, and contain such gems as, "I heard you've been naughty, so here's the scoop... Santa's running short on coal this year, so you get Baby Poop." That's an envelope they'll be rushing to open.


Even if you don't have a baby genius/budding Wordsworth at home, having your kids write the annual holiday letter can be lots of fun. Their grammar may not be perfect, but their candor can be quite charming. Just ask our friends who had their house remodeled last year and then let their daughter tell the world what mom really thought of the contractor. I'm sure the backed up plumbing was just a coincidence ...



Send your favorite holiday letters to For more columns visit


Parenting by Committee(Site Photos) Starshine09.jpg

By Starshine Roshell



There are things I do well. The Pony, for instance. I can dance a Pony to make white go-go boots blush. Also: Whistle. I'm a sick whistler. Crazy. I can't think of anything else just now but there are definitely - surely - things I'm really, really good at.


Rare, though, is the moment I feel proficient at parenting. It's not false modesty when I say the task just doesn't come naturally to me; sometimes I have to fight my most basic instincts to keep from earning the Abominable Mommy of the Year award (and if you feel this way, too, I'd love to hear from you; if you don't, please keep it to yourself).


So when my 11-year-old got mad at the television remote last weekend and flung it across the living room, accidentally assassinating his dad's new flatscreen TV - the only TV in our house, during (oh god) football season - I wasn't sure what to do.


We didn't witness the crime; he did it right before leaving for a friend's house. His little brother ratted him out. The good news was we had time to thoughtfully plot a response rather than reacting to the emotions flooding our guts and skittering across our faces: shock, disappointment and a frustration that teetered on rage - the same feeling that had cracked the darn screen to begin with and thus proven an ineffective problem-solver.


The bad news was we had no idea what our response should be. How does one handle a lapse of judgment with such costly consequences? A ticker tape rolled through my head: "Let him live ... Let him live ... Let him live ... " I was sure of exactly that much; beyond that, I was stumped.


"What do we do?" my husband asked, bewildered.


"I'm going on Facebook," I said.


OK. Social networking during a family crisis may seem odd. But if this had happened before the Industrial Revolution - and our kid had broken our loom or something - extended family members would have been around to advise us on the proper course of action. "To the whipping post," Grandpa would offer. "No meat pudding at supper," Aunt Prudence would insist.


But modern parents are on our own. All we have to rely on is our wits and (for those of us with working TVs) re-runs of "Everybody Loves Raymond." I trust neither. So I asked folks who are smarter than me.


It was Saturday night, so I didn't expect to catch many people online. But I posted the question anyway: "NEED ADVICE!" I typed into my status window, explaining our quagmire. "Any suggestions for how to parent this?"


I got 40 comments.


Some were harsh (if hilarious): "You should chain him to the dead TV and make him drag it around." Some were lenient: "Take the loss and hug your kid. It's just a material object."


Some accentuated the positive: "This is the best opportunity you might ever have to teach the 'you break it, you don't have one' consequence of life," said one mom. "Great moment for learning!" added another. "You always have a choice in how to channel your emotions, what to do with your anger."


Some were pure genius: "Make him have a yard sale of just his stuff to help pay for a replacement."


We settled on a course that seemed fair, educational and exacting enough to sting: We discussed productive ways to handle frustration, and he lost electronics use until he could pay back a portion of the TV's worth.


He's learning the value of property and the consequences of rash actions. We learned something, too: That the extended family is alive and well - and wise - online. Thanks, friends, for supplementing my kid-rearing skills. If you ever need a whistling Pony dancer, you know where to find me.



Starshine Roshell is the author of "Keep Your Skirt On."



Recess Rage

(BUILT IN) (Photos) LeslieD_2007.jpg

By Leslie Dinaberg

South Coasting


When kids don't get to run around and play, we all pay the price. This is why I'm absolutely dumbfounded that all educators don't get this very simple and painfully obvious reality: when they don't play, we all pay-dearly!


This is also why I get so worked up when I hear about teachers punishing a child for not doing their homework, or misbehaving in class, by keeping them inside during recess. All kids need to run around and let off steam on a regular basis, but kids who have a hard time in class need the break even more.


I've got plenty of anecdotal evidence from my own son and his friends, and there's even scholarly research to back me up. I love when that happens.

  • An analysis of nearly 200 studies on the effect of exercise on cognitive functioning suggests that physical activity supports learning (Etnier).
  • As overall fitness scores improve, mean achievement scores also improve (Grissom).
  • Fourth-graders were more on-task and less fidgety in the classroom on days when they had recess, with hyperactive children among those who benefited the most (Jarrett).
  • Although not all children are active during recess, children's tendency to choose physical activity on the playground when they need it the most is evidenced by their higher levels of activity on the playground after recess was delayed (Pellegrini and Davis; Pellegrini, Huberty, and Jones).
  • In studying the link between recess and classroom behavior among about 11,000 children, researchers found that those who had more than 15 minutes of recess a day showed better behavior in class than those who had little or none. (Barros, Silver and Stein).


The bottom line: one of the best ways to improve a kid's performance in the classroom is to take them out of it for a while.


This is why it just kills me when teachers punish children by taking away recess privileges. That also struck Dr. Romina M. Barros (who researched the link between recess and classroom behavior) as illogical. She told the "New York Times," "Recess should be part of the curriculum. You don't punish a kid by having them miss math class, so kids shouldn't be punished by not getting recess."


Yet due to school budget cuts and an increased focus on academic standards, lots of American schoolchildren miss out on unstructured playtime with their peers, so much so that there is a "Right to Recess Movement" building around the country.


While recess doesn't seem to be a danger here in fitness-conscious Santa Barbara-in fact the Orfalea Foundation is now funding an initiative to put "Recess First" before lunch with the idea that kids will be able to better concentrate on making healthy food choices after they've had time to run around-the practice of taking away recess as punishment is still alive and well.


An editorial in "Young Child" compares depriving children of recess to depriving them of a meal. "Just as hungry children cannot concentrate well, children deprived of breaks cannot concentrate well either. Sometimes the most disruptive children need recess the most."


Most people wouldn't dream of denying a child lunch to make more time for math, or withhold breakfast if a child misbehaved, but they seem perfectly satisfied to starve a kid out of recess.


With all the moaning about kids turning into couch potatoes, sedentary obese blobs, or video game-playing zombies, I say let's make some healthy choices about school punishment strategies.



When Leslie's not raging about recess, she can be reached at For more columns visit


TV is bad?  Define "bad"(Site Photos) Starshine09.jpg

By Starshine Roshell


Whenever I think I'm doing a decent job of raising my kids, something happens to convince me that I am, in fact, profoundly inept at the job.


Most recently it was the news that the Baby Einstein company is offering refunds to anyone who bought its DVDs in the last five years. Here's why: Turns out the show doesn't actually make kids any smarter.


I know. It's shocking. Next they'll tell us that Froot Loops are NOT actually part of a nutritious breakfast, and that sparing the rod does NOT in fact spoil the child. Where will the madness end?


The Einstein videos - and the Baby Beethovens, da Vincis and Wordsworths that make up the whole lofty-tot series - have long been promoted as educational, said to stimulate babies' brains. But a child advocacy group called the claims untrue and threatened Disney with a class-action lawsuit, citing studies that prove such shows actually delay language development.


In other words, the more they see, the less they know. Which is sort of how I feel about my parenting skills.


Confession: I'm one of the lousy moms who strapped her infants into their no-escape high-chairs, pushed them in front of the television and popped in a Baby Mozart video. I did it with frequency and I did it with confidence, believing for no good reason that the images of low-budget puppets nodding to sonatas would spark synapses in my boys' burgeoning, Harvard-bound brains.


Because it was either that or my well-worn copy of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."


But the truth is I didn't screen Baby Mozart for my kids. I did it for me. For the 30 minutes of divine alone-time that those bizarre, baby-bewitching shows provided once (OK, sometimes twice) a day. In a sprawl of groggy home-with-my-infant months, that half-hour was time when no one whined at me. Wailed for me. Tugged on me. It was time so precious that I don't even mind having traded a few of my kids' IQ points for it.


Yes, I'm going to take the "La-la-la-I-am-not-listening" approach to this refund news. You can argue that the videos inhibit language acquisition, that children learn to speak through face time with mom and dad. And I can argue that my kids did NOT need to learn the words that would have been spewing out of my face if I hadn't had that brief daily window of me-time.


Researchers are always telling us what babies need: sleep, touch, attention. No one ever asks what mommies need. When my kids were babies, I needed a shower. I needed a nap. Frankly, I needed a drink. Instead, I calmed my nerves in a bath, took a brownie out to the garden, stole some short-term shut-eye or lost myself in a book that made me laugh - and laugh in a way that a post-diaper-change game of "where's your nose?" really never did.


My kids loved the Baby Einstein series. They'd coo and giggle and stare stupefied at it from the second I hit "play" through the last doleful strains of the closing-credit music. But I can't say whether the content was terrific, since I rarely saw it myself; if it was on, I was elsewhere in the house. For the record, though, I learned phrases in a dozen other languages from hearing the thing in the background, so if it stunted my kids' smarts, at least it bolstered my own. Domo arigato, Einstein-san!


Parenting is hard. And having a little confidence that you're doing the right thing - for example, exposing your baby to something educational while you expose yourself to, say, something chocolate - is an inestimable blessing. Even if it's unjustified.


That's what I think. But then, I'm no Einstein.



Starshine Roshell is the author of "Keep Your Skirt On," available at


Is Shouting the New Spanking?

(BUILT IN) (Photos) LeslieD_2007.jpg

By Leslie Dinaberg

South Coasting


Spanking-like fountain pens, hardback Webster's Dictionaries, and control top panty hose-is one of those things that is still around, but hardly ever used anymore. According to a recent story in the "New York Times," shouting has taken its place as the discipline du jour.


"Many in today's pregnancy-flaunting, soccer-cheering, organic-snack-proffering generation of parents would never spank their children," writes Hilary Stout. "We congratulate our toddlers for blowing their nose (‘Good job!'), we friend our teenagers (literally and virtually), we spend hours teaching our elementary-school offspring how to understand their feelings. But, incongruously and with regularity, this is a generation that yells."


Of course I yell from time to time-usually something like "hurry up," or "I can't believe you forgot again"-but it's really not my go-to behavior, as evidenced by the fact that both my husband and I can bring our son to tears by simply changing the tones of our voices.


When I get frustrated I'm more of a "mean-sarcastic-if-you-could-hear-me-you'd-be-crying-hysterically-commenter-under-my-breather" than a yeller. Of course I feel incredibly guilty about this within minutes. Probably even worse than I would have felt if I'd just yelled.


Apparently, I'm in the minority.


A study published in "The Journal of Marriage and Family," says 88 percent of the families interviewed admitted shouting, yelling or screaming at their children in the previous year and that percentage jumped to 98 percent in families with seven-year-old children.




I decided to do a completely unscientific survey of my own and ask my friends what they thought about this shouting as the new spanking theory.


Not surprisingly, the yellers were in the majority.


"At our house it gets really loud. I am talking really loud," says V. "Three kids (15, 14 and 10), two dogs, two parents in a 1,600 square foot house then add in the TV and doing dishes etc. My kids often say ‘mom stop yelling' and I don't even think I am."


"I yell, I scream, I swear, and mostly I seem to be talking to myself," says T. "Sometimes I give myself a sore throat from yelling at my kids, but it seems to have no effect on them whatsoever."


"Dude, I am a total yeller. AWFUL yeller," admits S. "I yell myself hoarse sometimes and my entire family just ignores me. Which is as it should be."


But does yelling really yield any results other than working out your lungs?


Some parents say it does if used strategically.


"Sometimes when my toddler is yelling in the car for no reason-and she knows when she's doing it to push my buttons-I yell back," says G. "Not at her, I just yell out one loud ‘Ahh!' and it immediately stops her. She doesn't cry, she doesn't sulk, she's not emotionally scarred, she just looks at me like I'm a little crazy for a second then behaves."


"Whatever works," agrees L. "Two of my kids don't need yelling at. They listen and are sensitive and know the right thing to do. The third is not sensitive and is very, very stubborn with wanting to do want he wants. I'm a different parent with him. I use yelling as a last resort to snap him out of his relentless behavior."


Never one to mince words, M, the mother of four exceptionally well-behaved children, says, "People who don't yell or spank are usually the ones with the biggest brats!!!!" This comment touched a few nerves.


"Yelling, like anything, can be abused. I teach two and three year olds and NEVER have to yell at them to get them to listen. I am consistent and loving and firm in my day. Children do not need to be yelled at nor do adults. Yelling solves nothing," says J.


"I have never yelled at my son and he is nowhere near a brat. I agree with J, being consistent, loving and firm has worked for me. I just think you need to act like you want your children to act," says L. "If you're a yeller, I guarantee your child will become a yeller. We have to be an example to our children."


No kidding.


All of this research and I'm still not sure how to feel about yelling, other than guilty. My extremely scientific conclusion: depending on who you want to listen to, you're either setting a terrible example for your children by yelling at them or dooming them to a lifetime of brattyness if you don't yell at them.


I guess the best news is that however you feel about yelling at your kids, and whatever you actually do behind closed doors, you're definitely not alone.



When Leslie's not yelling under her breath at her son, she can be reached at For more columns visit


The Playdate Secret(Site Photos) Starshine09.jpg

By Starshine Roshell

I'm a big fan of the Cheap Trick: the itty bitty effort that packs an impressive punch. The trifling gesture that draws the sort of "ooh"s and "ahh"s you never have, and never will, deserve.


But I've mastered so few of them. I can't make a three-ingredient crowd-wowing cake, or sweep my hair into a head-turning up-do with the flick of a wrist. I've never even figured out how to rock those cool ribbon embellishments atop a wrapped present.


I have one great trick, though. And to make up for the undue kudos it nets me, I'm going to share it with you.


The next time a friend complains of being overtired, overwhelmed and over-worked, put your hand on her shoulder and say, "Why don't you drop your kids at my house this afternoon for a play date, and take a few hours for yourself?"


And say it like you mean it. Like the idea doesn't terrify you. Because here's the crazy thing, the dirty little secret about having other children over to your house: It's actually easier than not having them.


Everyone knows the Law of Progeny Pandemonium, that the chaos within a family home increases exponentially with each child you shlep home from the hospital. But the law doesn't hold if the youngsters bursting through the front door are not your own.

In fact, there's a shocking reversal-of-chaos phenomenon that ensues when your offspring have someone else to play with. Someone else to nettle and tug on and tease. Someone new, who finds those tired old Lincoln Logs "cool!" and the long-forgotten swing set "awesome!"


Sure, they need help reaching toys on high shelves. They demand snacks. They make messes. But the way I see it, any playmate who's potty trained is less trouble for me than enduring another mind-numbing round of Go Fish or folding my unlimber body under the coffee table for Hide and Seek (or as I like to call it, Hurt and Creak).


Even as I'm getting credit for being a generous friend - racking up points as the "fun" mom who relishes the blessed company of all precious children - I get to paint my toenails in solitude or check my email or hole up in my bedroom with a saucy book while the kids are ... while they're ... OK, I have no idea what they're doing out there but that's really the whole point.


"Except for the occasional making of sandwiches, saving the playmate from drowning in the pool and spinning them on a tire swing, I get tons of work done," agrees a friend of mine who knows the play-date trick. "It's so worth it."


The greatest part of this scheme is that even when your friends get wise to it - when they realize that by dropping off their kids at your place, they're actually doing YOU a favor - you won't be reproached. You'll be rewarded with a reciprocal play date at their house so that they, too, can appear to be givers while surreptitiously avoiding the dreaded daily "what do we do till dinner?" dilemma.


About the only downside to hosting play dates at your home is that it's addictive. My neighbors have discovered the buddy-buffer trick and now we both dispense with any pretense and simply ask to borrow one another's kids. All the time.


"Can I borrow your son for an hour while I try to get some yardwork done?" they shout from their lawn.


"Sure," I call back, "if I can I borrow yours tomorrow morning. I need to practice my up-do."



Starshine Roshell is the author of "Keep Your Skirt On," available at


Let Lying Liars Lie

(BUILT IN) (Photos) LeslieD_2007.jpg

By Leslie Dinaberg

South Coasting

I try to teach my son that honesty is the best policy, but truthfully, I don't always tell the truth.


I've got lies on my mind this week because I saw "The Invention of Lying," which, despite a great high concept - in a world where people can only tell the truth, one man discovers he can lie - is a wildly uneven mess of a movie. But it did make me think about how many white lies I routinely tell in the course of an average day.


I contemplated the idea of keeping a lying journal, then tracking when I was tempted to lie and whether I would be able to resist the temptation to fib if I was more aware of it. But why lie to myself? That's way too ambitious and I wouldn't last a day, let alone a week.


From the time-saving auto-response "I'm fine" after an innocent query of "How are you doing?" (Which I'm sure the grocery store checker and the people in line behind me would much prefer to "I just ate a donut from the display case and killed a man, and I'm not sure which is worse."), to the "Of course I'm not too busy" response when a friend calls and they desperately need to talk, I'm a scarily skillful liar. Innocent little fibs like this are second nature for me.


Whether it's the art of the artful dodge - when my son asks what happened to the M & M's he had left over from the movies, and I remind him that he needs to unload the dishwasher - or the skillful sidestep - when my husband wonders what happened to the $100 cash he just got from the ATM and I tell him how handsome he is - I've come to realize that lying is one of the few things I do rather gracefully.


It's just my luck that lying - the one useful skill that comes naturally for me -also comes saddled with an entire storage unit full of guilt and ambivalence.


At least I'm not alone.


Research by Dr. Robert S. Feldman of the University of Massachusetts Amherst found that in an average 10-minute discussion, 60 percent of people lie approximately three times. Of course, he may have just made that up.


Moms are the worst offenders of all. "We are surprised by how often parenting by lying takes place," said researcher Kang Lee of the University of Toronto, Canada. "Our findings showed that even the parents who most strongly promoted the importance of honesty with their children engaged in parenting by lying," said Lee, who reported her conclusions in a study published in last month's "Journal of Moral Education."


Yes, such a journal really exists. And now that I've confessed my lying proclivities you probably won't ever find my name on their masthead, unless I lie about my lying, which I would never do unless I had a really, really, really good story idea that would be perfect for their publication.


I'm even more ambivalent about cultural lies, like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. I sort of want to be honest about them, but I don't want my son to be the one to burst some other kid's bubble, and he's scrupulously honest enough to enjoy doing just that. Plus, I don't want to get in trouble from the other parents.


This may be why I floundered a bit when Koss recently tested his suspicions about Tabitha. (Tabitha is his Tooth Fairy, who has been writing him notes and sprinkling pixie dust on his dollar coins for almost a decade. I say if you're going to perpetuate a lie about a fictional character, you may as well go big.) He told us that he wasn't going to put a particular tooth under his pillow. For four nights in a row there was no tooth. We checked. Then finally on the fifth night he decided to "test Tabitha" and put his tooth under the pillow. We failed to check. The next morning when Koss said he knew there was no tooth fairy, I mumbled and fumbled for a response, finally settling on: "Are you sure? Maybe she just got stuck in traffic."


Smoooth. I guess I'm not as good of a liar before I've had my coffee. That's also when I catch myself hastily hiding certain gruesome newspaper headlines underneath the sports page before Koss comes to breakfast, which of course makes him all the more curious about what I'm hiding.


While the socially expedient lies come easily, I get a bit rattled under pressure to prevaricate. A few weeks ago when Koss's school was on lockdown, I told him everyone was safe before I knew it was true. I hoped it was true.


So maybe there's a bit of wishful thinking in my lies.


I'm in good company here too. An online survey found that 91 percent of women said that as they get older and more comfortable with themselves they lie less often. If I wasn't 29, this might apply to me too.



Share the biggest whopper of a lie you've ever told with For more columns visit



Infernal Artwork(Site Photos) Starshine09.jpg

By Starshine Roshell



The women who guide my son through preschool are more evolved human beings than I am. They have unlimited capacity for appreciating his every tiny accomplishment, every endearing utterance, every minor scribbling and random stroke of a glue stick.


They send home stick sculptures and pudding paintings, stencil sketches and piles of scraps that he spent the morning snipping with safety scissors.


I make the requisite fuss at pick-up: "Wow! Look what you did! You've been busy! What a cool ... submarine-dog?" But stumbling to the car, arms full, I begin to panic. Where is all this delightful-evidence-of-self-expression supposed to GO?


I resent the mountain of masterpieces that amasses on my kitchen counter daily; there, I said it. Since sentimentality breeds clutter, I've tried approaching the problem with pure pragmatism, but it taught me this: The saddest eight words in the English language are "Mommy, why is my drawing in the trash?"


It's true. I'm going to hell. But I won't be alone.


"We have a daughter who is prolific," Northern California mom Kat McDonald told me. "Anything left behind in the car I throw away. I usually have to shred it because our daughter will cull the trash."


Some moms toss the stuff when the kids are on vacation. Jennifer Untermeyer of Colorado does it after they've gone to bed. "I feel a tiny bit guilty," she says, "but it passes after a glass of wine."


Some things are worth saving, of course - worth preserving in a time-capsule that your kids can reminisce over when they're grown. But what to keep?


Most parents agree: 3-D projects have to go. Take a picture, if you must, but kick that diorama to the curb and quick, or you'll be buried by Junior's 7th birthday. Anything made of feathers or food must go, too. Let the kids help sort the "keepers" from the recycle-bin-bound.


"It's important that children learn to let go and organize important possessions," says New York City mother-of-three Sara Lise Raff. "Forming emotional attachments to inanimate objects may lead to a guest appearance on Oprah's 'Life as a Hoarder' episode."


When it comes to whittling the heap, moms say time is on our side. Hide artwork in a folder for a month and then go through it with your kids; you'll find the Crayola creation they cherished in October may have lost its appeal by November.


Beware, though. Clever kids can anticipate - and thwart - the purging session. "My daughter has gotten clever and now writes 'To Dad' on things so I won't throw them away," laments Californian Marty Guise.


Here are some other composition-coping strategies I picked up from moms around the country:


Hang a wire across your child's room and clip her new artwork to it for a week. Then save the very best in an accordion folder, under-bed box or binder with plastic sleeves.


"We covered the entire wall of our boring laundry room with kid art, and it looks great," says Denise Gavilan of Virginia.


Technology's a lifesaver - and space saver. Take a digital photo of your child holding his art, or have him explain it on video, to give the piece context for years to come.


Save your favorite art as screen savers or scan and display them on an electronic slide-show photo frame. Have them laminated as placemats or create a coffee-table book of them on Shutterfly. "It makes a great gift for your child," says Nevada mom Carolina Moore, "and it won't track glitter or sequins through your house!"


Reincarnate the artwork as wrapping paper or scrapbook backgrounds. Or give it away. "I snail-mail my son's grandparents a subscription to his 'Artwork-of-the-Month Club,' " says New York mom Sky Khan. "That way some of these precious pieces find their way onto someone else's fridge."



Starshine Roshell is the author of "Keep Your Skirt On," available at


Wrapping It Up

(BUILT IN) (Photos) LeslieD_2007.jpg

By Leslie Dinaberg

South Coasting


Little did I know that when I enrolled my child in public school I was signing up for a 13-year tour of fundraising duty.


I'll never forget the first time Koss jumped in the car and delightedly declared how excited he was that he was going to win a squishy pink and yellow stuffed turtle to dangle from his backpack. He sounded like a late night infomercial huckster as he excitedly explained that, "all WE have to do was sell a minimum of 30 rolls of wrapping paper."


Is that all WE have to do?


Forget the fact that all of his stuffed animals had been relegated to the back of the closet and declared babyish a few months before, he would absolutely die and be the laughing stock of the school if he didn't win one of those cool turtles.


And that was just the beginning of the all of the fabulous prizes he could win, he explained, shoving a prize incentive catalog at me that looked a thousand times glossier and heavier than the actual wrapping paper they were trying to push.


"If WE sell more than 300 items, WE can get a Wii!" he chirped.


Overlooking the fact that WE already have a Wii, which he mostly ignores, I quickly did the math on this one. If WE sell 300 rolls of wrapping paper at $8.50 each, that's over $2,500 bucks for an item that sells for about $200 at Best Buy. And that's not including the value of our time, let alone all the pride I have to swallow every time I ask a friend or neighbor to write another check for the school.


When I was a kid selling candy bars was easy. I just put them in nose-shot of my dad and they all disappeared within a few days. Unfortunately for Koss, his school uses catalogs to sell stuff, so it's easier to resist.


Besides nowadays, as we all learn the hard way, children are not the real salespeople when it comes to school fundraisers: we are. Sure, they leave the pep rally assembly all fired up about how they'll rush through the neighborhood and "sell, sell, sell." But soon afterward the reality of homework, soccer practice, chores and play dates sets in, and the tune changes to "mom, mom, mom ... how many rolls of wrapping paper did we sell?"


This year, for once, I had no problem adding up the numbers in my head: Six. That's right, six. Three to grandma and three to me. "Did you sell any magazines?" Koss asked hopefully. "Even though the prizes aren't as cool I can still get some."


No magazines, no candles, no aromatic oils. This year we even skipped out on the "beautifully embossed tins" of popcorn that are large enough to house a family of four. I sold 12 of them at our last garage sale.


"But it helps pay for camp, mom," Koss pleaded.


I know, but it's too much work for not enough return on our investment, I explain. This year I'm going to only buy the wrapping paper that I need.


"So WE won't get the Wii?"


Nope. You'll have to wait till next year - because if there is one thing that's certain about school fundraisers, there is always another one coming up.



If any of you readers out there need wrapping paper, magazine or Santa Barbara Axxess Books, email For more columns visit


Gloss of innocence?(Site Photos) Starshine09.jpg

By Starshine Roshell


I'm not a spiritual person. But now and again I go down on my knees to thank the Almighty Creator of Y Chromosomes for not giving me a daughter.


I do this when Miley Cyrus performs a concert 100 miles away for $70 per ticket. And when I drive past the perpetual line of impatient preteens at Pinkberry yogurt after school. And when I see a 12-year-old peeking out from beneath makeup so thick it would make Katy Perry blush.


Even if you couldn't tell.


With teen idols like Demi Lovato and Avril Lavigne rockin' blackout raccoon eyes, how can a tween resist the call to paint her peepers and lacquer her lips? And how do moms decide when it's OK?


"My daughter thinks we're cruel for not letting her wear eyeliner," says one mother of a 12-year-old. "She says, 'Mom, all the 8th graders wear it!' It's hard. You don't want them to feel left out, but you still want to stand your ground. I'm not walking around with some mod-looking makeup-caked girl."


It seems there's an unspoken but widely accepted cosmetics continuum.


"You start slow - clear lip gloss in early junior high - then maybe some neutral eyeshadow by eighth grade," says a mother of two grown girls. "The idea is to make them THINK they are wearing makeup when really, you can't tell."


As an adult who wears makeup to conceal or distract from the atrocities that age is attempting to perpetrate on my face, it's hard to fathom why girls would want to obscure their flawless skin, taut eyelids and rosy round lips. Ah, to have it all back again.


"I don't wear makeup because I need it," explains an eighth grader who's fond of foundation, eye shadow, mascara and eyeliner. "I wear it because I think it makes me look better and because my friends wear it."


Not all girls, though, are antsy to get their mitts on a blush brush.


"I'm too lazy," one 12-year-old told me. "If you mess up, you have to get out the makeup remover. It takes a long time to get it perfect."


I hear that, sister. Still trying to master the "smoky eye" myself.


But some gals are just born to blow kisses at a compact mirror.


"My kids are only four and six, and already they're obsessed with makeup," says a friend of mine. "They beg me to give them my cast-offs. They notice when I'm wearing a new lipstick, for crying out loud.


"I want them to believe they're perfect and beautiful without it - because, of course, they are. But I will never forbid makeup."


Her own mom invoked a no-makeup-till-high-school rule.


"I toted my entire cosmetics trunk to junior high every day and put on my clown face in the school bathroom. Everyone did," she says. "It was a bitch to remember to rush to the bathroom and scrub it off before pickup, but somehow we managed."


Some rules are more enforceable than others: No makeup till she can buy it herself. No makeup till she can practice good skin care. No new products till she can demonstrate tasteful application of the previous product (ie. no orange foundation lines - shiver - along the jawbone).


One mom lets her daughter wear mascara to parties, but not to class. "I want her to know that education is important," she says, "and worrying about make up at school isn't."


Indeed, when spackling their kissers, girls should always keep the setting - and the company - in mind.


"I'll never forget wearing powder on my nose during a visit to see my dad," recalls a friend of mine. "He looked at me, took his big bear-like thumb and just wiped it off in one swoop. He was probably right."



Starshine Roshell is the author of "Keep Your Skirt On," available at



Sex and Housework

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By Leslie Dinaberg

South Coasting

Men are astounded by how long women can go without thinking about sex, and women are astounded by how long men can go without thinking about housecleaning.

This explains why my husband can turn on the TV and happily surf skin-e-max while laying on top of a gargantuan pile of unfolded laundry ... then still be surprised when I'm not "in the mood."


Unlocking the mysteries of the male mind is, of course, a topic that has launched a million magazine articles, and the career of Dr. Phil, but he almost never talks about housework.


According to Neil Chetnik's book about American husbands ("VoiceMale-What Husbands Really Think About Their Marriages, Their Wives, Sex, Housework and Commitment"), almost every level of happiness and positive feelings in relationships is related to housework.


I wonder if that's why I'm so attracted to my cleaning lady?


Chetnik, who surveyed almost 300 husbands and did in-depth interviews with 70 others, agrees, it really is about the housework.


"In writing the book, I kept seeing the parallel between housework and sex in the interviews. Men said the happier their wives were in the division of housework, the happier the men were with their sex lives. We even looked at the numbers and found that there's more sex in the relationship if the wife is happy with the division of housework. It doesn't have to be exactly equal, the wife just has to think it's fair."


That's what I keep trying to explain to my husband. I've got really dry skin on my hands, so doing the dishes and scrubbing the toilets are out. My mother is an exceptional cook, so I never had to learn how to - I can whip up a scrumptious reservation, though. Basically my domestic specialty is doing the laundry. Since that's really all I can do, then I think it's only fair that my husband does half of it.


Chetnik says, "When a woman comes in she notices if it's a mess, it's often socialized in [her] that [she is] more responsible for the look of the home so if he can recognize that by doing a fair share, then he is often rewarded with sex. She's not as angry, or burdened and she's not as tired."


Got that, honey? All it takes is a few loads of whites. Smoochy smoochy.


It's not just the actual act of cleaning the house that strikes a nerve with women. As Chetnik says, "It wasn't till I did this book that I recognized that it's not just the doing of the housework that's a burden to women, it's the worrying about the housecleaning that is a burden."


It's not exactly a quid pro quo kind of arrangement.


Chetnik's research found that there were more men who reported that the sequence was, he does housework, then she has sex -- as opposed to, she has sex with him and then he does housework.


He quotes one husband who says, "My wife told me that she's never more turned on to me then when I'm doing housework, and she's proven it again and again." At first he thought she was kind of holding out on him. His initial reaction was to resist that because it did feel like a quid pro quo. But then he realized that it was more about her feeling appreciated. It seems that women who feel their partners are paying attention to them, and to the household, are more appreciative and less tired.


Solely in the interest of scientific inquiry, I think this is worth pursuing, honey. No starch in my collars, please.



What do you think? Is there really a connection between sex and housework? Let us know at


Hiring A Hand to Rock the Cradle

By Jenna McCarthy

(Site Photos) jenna_headshot.jpg


You may firmly believe that the only person qualified to care for your child is one who is directly responsible for his or her genetic profile. If that is your stance, I respect and applaud you and wish you endless rewarding years of uninterrupted, round-the-clock quality time with your offspring.


However, there may come a time-you have a proctologist appointment, your best friend gets arrested and you need to bail her out of jail, your partner is away on a business trip and you get invited to a Tupperware party-when you need an hour or seven of child-free time. This is, of course, just a vague possibility. But should it occur, rather than scrambling for last-minute help (everyone has caller ID these days, and trust me, no one answers when they see the name of a new parent flashing across the screen), it's wise to be prepared. Just in case.


If money is no object, feel free to start with a high-priced nanny service and interview nothing but their arsenal of thoroughly prescreened and overqualified applicants. You can also take out your own ad in the local paper, post one at a local college or on their web site, or try advertising on a job site like Craigslist or Monster. Here's a sample ad you might want to consider:


loving, responsible babysitter wanted

Hi! We are looking for an experienced, honest person to care for our easygoing _________-month-old ___________(boy/girl/twins/triplets/quads). Qualified candidate must be prompt, courteous and flexible, and have a clean driving record. References a must; pay commensurate with experience. If interested, please call at your earliest convenience-we look forward to meeting you! (Your phone number here.)


TRANSLATION: Hi! (Exclamation points convey friendliness and lack of desperation!) We are looking for an experienced (you have done this before, right?), honest (don't steal our stuff because we have expensive hidden cameras everywhere and will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law) person (although I don't think you can, by PC-law, specify "woman," be careful here. I have scheduled interviews via e-mail with Chris, Aaren and Kim-all of whom turned out to be men, and call me sexist, but I cannot for the life of me discern a respectable reason why a twenty-two-year-old male would want to spend long hours with a two-month-old girl) to care for our easygoing (cross your fingers when you type this) _________ -month-old ___________ (boy/girl/twins/triplets/quads). Qualified candidate must be prompt (this is vital; you can't imagine how eager to get out that door you might be), courteous (no dirty looks when I'm chatting on the phone, and no chatting on the phone) and flexible (i.e., willing to come early/stay late/unload the dishwasher/help me into my girdle/take a check written out in crayon), and have a clean driving record (everyone says this, although I'm not quite sure it's vital if you don't plan to have the sitter driving the baby around-except it makes you look conscientious). References a must (check these if you feel compelled, but it's not like she's going to give you the name/number of the family whose plasma TV she lifted or kid she abandoned to run out for a fresh pack of smokes); pay commensurate with experience (I'm not going to fork over a penny more than the last sucker you sat for). If interested, please call at your earliest convenience-we look forward to meeting you! (You have NO idea how badly. But I'm not desperate, really.) (Your phone number here.) (Never, ever, put your home phone number in this ad. Applicants will call at the very moment the kitchen timer is going off and the frozen lasagna drippings are burning all over the oven floor, setting off the smoke alarm, and the dog is barking at the UPS guy who is repeatedly ringing the bell and shouting "I need a signature, ma'am!" through the door, and the baby in question is (understandably) screaming bloody murder and the person you are hoping will take you away from all of this will hang up before you even get to the "o" in "hello." ALWAYS give your cell number, and only take calls when the baby is asleep, the dog is outside, the oven is turned off and Enya is playing softly in the background.)



Excerpted from The Parent Trip: From High Heels and Parties to Highchairs and Potties by Jenna McCarthy.


Begging for Tuition(Site Photos) Starshine09.jpg

By Starshine Roshell

I have friends who've gone to great lengths to ensure a first-rate education for their kids. Mortgaging themselves silly to buy a house in a better school district. Taking a job at an esteemed private school so their kids could attend for free. Even - and I'd sooner endure AP Calculus all over again - pulling them out of 6th grade, mid-year, to homeschool.

At least I thought these were great lengths. But a mother in Redmond, Wash., has put them all to shame.

Single mom Shelle Curley has taken to begging for cash at a freeway off-ramp to raise tuition money for her son to attend a prestigious dance academy.

Seventeen-year-old DJ was invited to spend his senior year at the audition-only Idyllwild Arts Academy outside of Palm Springs. The boarding school, whose graduates often go on to Juilliard, awarded him a $45,000 scholarship. But his currently unemployed mother had to come up with an additional $7,000 to make it happen.

"All the colleges come there to scout," Curley says. "This is my son's chance at a higher education."

So she held cash raffles and car washes. She sold his bedroom furniture. She scoured Craig's List for items that were being given away, picked them up and sold them at garage sales.

One night, with her job hunt going nowhere and DJ's admission date fast approaching, she burst into tears. Her older daughter joked that she should consider begging at the side of the road.

"I said, 'That's a good idea,' " Curley recalls. "My daughter goes, 'I was kidding!' And I said, 'I'm not. I'm headed out.' "

She inked up a sign: "Single parent. Talented son. Tuition help needed. Just a few bucks till we got it!" She rode the bus to an off-ramp where she had always seen panhandlers and, figuring it must be a lucrative spot, planted herself on the corner.

"I was shaking. I was scared," she recalls. "I had to remember my kid's face and all the hours of hard work that he put into his classes, the sore backs, the ice on his feet, the Ibuprofen. And I thought, this is a very small thing that I can do for him."

She cleaned up the beer bottles and trash underfoot and "held my head up high." But pride wasn't the only hurdle. One of the corner's regular beggars, a fellow named Toad, ordered her to leave. "He said, 'You're not getting on today. I'm on until 5:30 and then Annie's on till 8:30,' " Curley says. "I told him I have a right to be out here just like you do. So I stood on one side and he stood on the other."

Sometimes she got rained on. Sometimes she got yelled at. "People said I was pathetic, that I was setting a bad example for my son, that he was lazy and how could he let his mother go out there and do that for him?"

DJ didn't actually approve. "It just seemed a little crazy to me," said the teen, who contributed to the savings by weeding for neighbors and teaching cheerleading and dance lessons to local kids. "I don't want her standing out there. She shouldn't have to do that. She's had a knee replacement!"

There were entire days when she made only $8. And there were hours when she nade $45. In 10 days, she racked up $300, enough to rent a car and buy gas to drive her son to Idyllwild. I spoke with her on the phone the night they left, and she cried.

"I've had blinders on. I've had a mission and a goal," she says. Once it became clear he could go, it sunk in: "My baby's gonna be gone."

When she returns, alone, she plans to keep looking for work while applying for scholarships, grants and loans to make up the remaining tuition. (She also set up a website,, for PayPal donations.) But she's done begging beside Toad.

A lot of parents would make different choices in her situation. A lot of us wouldn't reach for our wallets if we passed her in our cars. I might not.

But I admire her resolve. I understand it. As a parent, I've felt it. And I don't judge her. Because the truth is I'd still rather fight Shelle Curley for space on a profitable street corner than homeschool a preteen any day.


Starshine Roshell is the author of "Keep Your Skirt On," available at



Every Day Should be Grandparent's Day

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By Leslie Dinaberg

South Coasting


Sometimes I can't wait to be a Grandma.

Not that I don't love this stage of my life-chaotic carpools, homework hassles and morning mayhem aside-because at ten our son is old enough to take almost anywhere and still young enough to want to be with his parents. But I know those days are dwindling fast. The specter of his teenage years casts a long shadow every time he gels his hair or rolls his eyes, which is happening more often every day.

Being a Grandma seems so marvelously simple. As Robert Brault said, "To become a grandparent is to enjoy one of the few pleasures in life for which the consequences have already been paid." What could be better? You spend time with the kids and you love them. There's no way to do that wrong. There are no obligations to feel guilty about. No stretch marks, no late night phone calls to "pick me up" from sleepovers, no allowances, no dioramas, no lunches to pack and no laundry to do.

There are a lot fewer vegetables and a lot more dessert if you're a grandparent.

A grandparent's sole duty in life is to spoil their grandchildren-to hang on their every word, to bring them a new game or toy every time they see them, to tell them stories of all the rotten things mommy and daddy did when they were kids, to go on adventures, or take them swimming, to ball games or the movies.

Grandparents also make incredible audiences. When grandchildren learn to kick a ball, bust out some fancy dance moves, or jam on their first guitar piece, they can count on their grandparents to watch, listen and applaud-loudly and obnoxiously-every single time.

In turn, their grandchildren adore them. I still marvel at the way Koss's eyes light up, he grins, mugs, chats up a storm and utterly turns on the charm whenever any of his grandparents are around.

Well, at least most of the time.

Lucky for all of us, his grandparents are around a lot. We're lucky to all live in the same town. Really, really lucky. They're great babysitters-which I probably, ahem, okay, absolutely definitely appreciate more than the kids-but they also make meals with him, which can get rather messy; come to watch him kick, run, jump and shoot, depending on which sports are in season; play video games with him; read books together, and take him to the library and the bookstore; and play lots and lots of card and board games. Heck, my dad even volunteered in his classroom and coached his flag football team.

I can relate to what Grandma (and great writer) Judith Viorst wrote in her contribution to the book "Eye of My Heart: 27 Writers Reveal the Hidden Pleasures and Perils of Being a Grandmother." "Even if we are known to be basically modest, even if, as mothers, we refrained from shamelessly bragging about our kids, we grandmothers feel entitled to inform the world that our grandchildren are not merely extraordinary but...the most extraordinary. And if another grandmother is one-upping us in the extraordinary contest, we one-up right back."

I know just how she feels. My son's grandparents are the absolute best, not merely extraordinary but the most extraordinary grandparents around. My son's grandparents rock! They're the best grandparents in the world. So in honor of National Grandparent's Day (which was Sunday, September 13th), thanks guys. You really are the best.



Care to try to one-up Leslie in the extraordinary grandparent contest? Email For more columns visit




F is for Frenemy

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By Leslie Dinaberg

South Coasting


A friendship, too, is a kind of romance-complete with possessiveness,

jealousy and mistrust. -Nick Laird


While sifting your friends from your foes should be straightforward, it's not always obvious who's got your back, and who's getting ready to stab a knife in it.


Friends are supposed to bring out the best in you, even when you're at your worst, which is why it's so disturbing when someone you thought was your friend turns out to be a frenemy. Whether you're dramatically dumped, or you simply discover that she's just not that into you, you never forget your first frenemy.


"Sometimes people bring out the worst in each other," I tried to explain to my young friend, who had recently been excluded from the cool kids group at lunch. The poor girl was in tears, and I certainly couldn't blame her. All summer long she had played with Queen Bee, a neighbor, and returned to fifth grade thinking they were the best of buds. But as soon as school started, poor Wannabe was ostracized in favor of Queen Bee's more popular minions.


"It's like all of our summer fun never happened," Wannabe wailed. "We hung out at the water park, the beach, went to the movies, had tons of sleepovers. I can't believe she doesn't want to sit with me at lunch!"


Hearing this sad story brought me right back to my own fourth grade summer and the back-to-school diss from my own generation's Queen Bee. Quite frankly, I'm still devastated and I want my yellow ski jacket and my puka shell necklace back.


"Will it be any comfort for you to know that she's going to end up divorced, raising three kids from three different fathers?" I offered.


Wannabe looked at me blankly. "She was mean to me yesterday at school, but then after school she came over to play like nothing had happened."


Oh dear.


"Then today, she spread out her lunch box and said there was no room for me at their table," sobbed Wannabe. "I can't believe it."


Unfortunately, I can. You just found yourself your first frenemy.


It's hard enough for an adult to understand the wicked combination of arrogance and insecurity that creates cliques, let alone explain them to a child who has just had her heart broken.


Times may change but mean girls are eternal.


I took a deep breath.


How could I explain to Wannabe that even the best of friendships can be odd, complicated and messy? Every relationship has an ever-shifting balance of power. There are some people, like Queen Bee, who thrive on other people's neediness or weaknesses. She bosses her little bees around and they're too spineless to stand up to her.


Wannabe might have been sad, but she wasn't spineless.


How could I help her understand that there's this whole social convention when a romantic relationship breaks up, but there's no parallel convention for friendships, even though the breakup of a friendship can be more shocking and more devastating?


"Does any of this make sense?" I asked, and again I got a blank stare from under her tears.


I took another stab. "If someone doesn't treat you like a friend, all the time, no matter who else is around or who else is watching, then they're probably not really your friend," I explained.


Finally a flicker of recognition in her sad, sweet eyes.


"They are what we call a frenemy, someone who is both a friend and an enemy, which is no way to be a friend."


"Like a bad friend," said Wannabe. "A bend. Or a frad."


I almost yelled at her that the word was frenemy, not bend, and that she should grow up already because my word was better than hers-seriously, bend? Frad? What are you, a ten-year-old?-but then that might not have been the friendliest thing to do.


"Exactly. Someone who will continue to bring you down and make you sad until you stick up for yourself, at which point you'll probably have a fight and won't be friends anymore anyway."


"That doesn't sound like someone I want to be friends with in the first place," she said.


"That's right," I said. "It'll get better, I promise. That's your first lesson of the school year. You'll have lots of good and true friends. Now give me your lunch money."



When Leslie's not offering sage advice to anyone who will listen, she can be reached at For more columns visit or read Leslie every Friday in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound.


The All-Nugget Diet(Site Photos) Starshine09.jpg

By Starshine Roshell

Dear Picky Eater of Mine,


I love you dearly. But you're going to have to bite me.

I'm done with the dinnertime drama. The passive-aggressive poking at your peas. The pantry full of bland, beige, carb-crammed kidnip that makes up your undigestible diet. Cereal and crackers, chips and tortillas, rice and french fries. What are you, a park pigeon?

The fact that your 4-year-old body still has the energy to jump on the trampoline and the cognitive focus to work a jigsaw puzzle is, I'm certain, entirely due to the fact that I manage to get three to five soy beans into you every week by bullying you and bribing you with cookies.

I'm not supposed to do that, you know. I'm not supposed to use dessert as a reward. Or cook you separate meals from what the rest of us are eating. Or allow the family table to become a battleground upon which I demand that you nourish yourself, and you take cruel glee in reminding me that I can't make you.

The experts say I'm doing it all wrong. And by the way you bellow "that's YUCK!" at the sight of a bell pepper, I can see their point.

It's not all my fault, though. Your brother is an adventurous eater who's been happily swallowing sushi, tofu and artichoke dip since he could say the word "delicious." How was I to know you'd be so fussy? How could I have predicted your taste range would start off so meager and then - inexplicably, alarmingly - shrink from there?

Remember when you used to like eggs? And yogurt? And hummus? Ew. Ick. No, thanks. Then there was the time you begged me to pay - in advance - for a year's worth of pizza lunches at preschool, then cried every Friday because you had to eat it. You're killing me with this stuff.

But you're crafty. You've got me running all over town hunting down those chickenish nuggets shaped like dinosaurs. (Not the ones shaped like Mickey Mouse! Not the other brand of dino nuggets! The ones from crying-out-loud Canada!) It's the only meat you'll touch, so I tell myself that the value of eating something whose primary ingredient is not "enriched wheat flour" outweighs the potential risks of ingesting processed, breaded, frozen mini-pterodactyls containing something called guar gum and, gulp, L-Cysteine Monohydrochloride.

I'm probably wrong.

But the child nutrition experts are wrong, sometimes, too. They proclaim, "Kids love to dip! Serve them veggies with cups of ranch dressing!" They instruct, "Make mealtime fun! Arrange healthy foods in the shape of a funny face!" You won't have it. Any attempt to cute-up your lunch earns me a look that says, unmistakably, "You could dip that zucchini in hot fudge and roll it in jelly beans. I'm not getting near it."

To be honest, I'm impressed with your resolve. When I hand you a plate and you don't like what's on it, there's never any panic in your voice. No latent fear that I might somehow succeed in getting the morsels down your gullet. There's only chilling certainty. "I won't," you say. And you don't.

But I'm tired of the hassle, frankly. I've had it with nuking your nuggets or toasting your waffles while I'm busy chopping and broiling a healthy, colorful, balanced meal for the rest of us. The experts - and let's give them one more chance, shall we? They don't call them that for nothing - assure me that when you only offer one choice, eventually, after much pouting and tummy-grumbling, it will be eaten.

So you win. We're all switching to nuggets. Guar gum be damned.



Starshine Roshell is the author of "Keep Your Skirt On," available at


The drummer's mother(BUILT IN) (Photos) StarshinePhoto.jpg

By Starshine Roshell

Families are noisy. On any given day, put your ear to the front door of a family home and you'll hear a predictable soundtrack: laughing, whining, stomping, hollering.

But none of these sounds rumble through my house. Rather, they may, but I can't hear them. Because I can't hear anything but this:

Thwappety thwappety thwappety BAM! BAM! BAM!

My son is a drummer. An enthusiastic one. With beefy forearms and a double bass pedal.

Boogety boogety boogety CRASH! BASH! CRASH!

The kid, I'm just saying, is LOUD.

I remember the ultrasound when we first heard his heartbeat: a soft thub-thub, thub-thub, thub-thub. It was at once startling and reassuring, familiar yet miraculous.

But once he was born, the only thing that would soothe this colicky baby was a rolling groove. Swinging, bouncing, walking. Funk music, disco, reggae.

Then a sadistic relative (you know who you are) gave him a Fisher-Price drum set. Why he took to it, and not his Elmo guitar or toy piano, we may never know. Before long, another sadistic relative (it's a genetic thing) eventually helped him buy a full-scale, take-up-half-the-garage, gleaming chrome drum set.

All those years of soccer teams and sailing camps, karate classes and cotillion lessons - he wasn't especially excited about, or adept at, any of them. But this. This banging. This pounding. This full-bodied, wall-shaking whomping. This he loves.

Thwap thwap thwap thwap SMACK!

Now he's 10, and I don't see how he could have chosen a noisier hobby if he'd taken up chainsaw sculpting. There's nowhere in our house I can go and not be rattled. Upstairs under the covers. Back office with the door closed. In the shower with shampoo in my ears.

His little brother finally had to learn to enjoy "Sesame Street" videos without actually, um, hearing them.

Even with a blanket wadded up in the bass drum and using brushes instead of sticks, his beats jiggle the frames that hold his baby pictures. They pulsate the window panes. They throb in my skull. At least the mothers of pianists, guitarists and violinists can recognize the songs their little musicians are practicing, and hum along supportively. All I can make out is ... well, you know what I can make out:

Rocketa rocketa rocketa WHAM!

He's in a band. Because he's cool. So cool that he must wear sunglasses while practicing in the poorly lit garage. He studies drummer fashion, carefully considering the classic mohawks, tutus and dog collars worn by percussion luminaries like Animal, of the Muppet band Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem.

He tries to convince me that drumming is good exercise. Hmph. "Wipeout" is decent exercise. Anything by Kelly Clarkson is not.

Band practice is at our house since his instrument is positively un-portable. Tween boys show up weekly to make neighbor-appalling noise, consume mass quantites of snacks and leave empty Gatorade bottles littered on the floor. During breaks, they run screaming through my house or dash lunatic-style through our street before settling back into "Smoke on the Water" or Nirvana's "In Bloom."

Once, one of the bandmembers' mothers brought me flowers. "What's the occasion?" I asked. "Just ... because you're the drummer's mother," she said, with a sympathetic smile.

But every so often, when I stop to really listen - perhaps even shake my hips and strum a little air guitar - I'm struck by how good he is. The boy can lay it down. Funky and steady with a great ear, he's a cymbal-cracking master of the same rolling groove that once soothed his poor, suffering soul to sleep.

Now if only it could have that effect on me ...



Starshine Roshell is the author of "Keep Your Skirt On," a collection of columns available at


Testosterone Central

(BUILT IN) (Photos) LeslieD_2007.jpg

By Leslie Dinaberg

South Coasting

How do you raise a boy to be in touch with his sensitive side, but not to be a wimp?


I've been thinking about this question a lot recently.


I just returned from a few days at "Testosterone Central," otherwise known as my friend Andrea's house. She has three strapping young men between the ages of 9 and 15-in addition to her rather strapping husband and large male dog-so Andrea's house oozes more testosterone than a bachelor party at a NASCAR race on St. Patrick's Day.


Now don't get me wrong. It's beautifully decorated and there's always something wonderful cooking on the stove. But from the moment you get out of the car-and trip over the discarded scooters, soccer cleats, gym bags and tennis shoes-you know that this is not a place for wimps.


These boys live in a swirling cauldron of testosterone and they've marked their territory everywhere you look.


Of course, my son Koss loves it there. What boy could resist the chin up bars, Lacrosse sticks and Old Spice products hiding in every corner? I can practically hear Koss's voice deepen and the hair start to grow on his (barely) ten-year-old chest after a few minutes with "Da Boyz." It doesn't matter how much time has gone by, it never takes him long to pick up the stride at "Testosterone Central." The older kids, and the various neighbor boys who hang out all the time, treat Koss just like another little brother-which is both good and bad.


He loves being part of the gang and tagging along for whatever adventures may happen, but as an only child he's not used to having to keep up with anyone, and even less used to not having anyone coddle him or help him along. In fact, I know he's getting older because this is the first time he's left their house without any injuries.


I'm not saying that "Testosterone Central" is dangerous, only that Andrea is on a first name basis with the emergency room nurses in multiple states. Those kids get hurt and she barely blinks an eye. I guess having three sons toughens you up. Come to think of it, when her kids get hurt they barely blink an eye. I guess having brothers toughens you up too.


Koss is not all that tough. He's never really had to be. I'm sure part of the reason that he still sits on my lap and likes to cuddle is because he doesn't have any older brothers to tell him not to. I love that sweet, cuddly side of him.


But he also loves to immerse himself in that boy energy at "Testosterone Central." It's not exactly animal house, but you can tell that it would easily slip into fraternity style mayhem if mom-and the housekeeper-went away for an extended period of time. No wonder Koss loves it there.


He's spent a lot of the summer hanging out with his girl cousins, and was completely comfortable being assigned to an all girl group (plus one male counselor) at Nature Camp. I don't think the boys who live in "Testosterone Central" would be-except maybe the oldest one, who's got a whole other level of testosterone kicking in.


I asked Koss about whether he felt he behaved differently with all boys or all girls. "When I'm with the boys I definitely feel more aggressive with them," he said. "I try to be funnier with the girls."


That's when I realized that I didn't have to be too worried about him one way or the other. He already knows exactly how to behave with both boys and with girls. If he can make the girls laugh and then go tackle the boys-and as long as he knows the right ones to cry in front of-he's going to be just fine.


Share your MOB (mother of boys) tips with For more columns visit


Who's getaway is it, really?(BUILT IN) (Photos) StarshinePhoto.jpg

By Starshine Roshell


I fantasize about it all year. The week when my kids go to Grandpa's house five hours away, and my husband and I get rare, rapturous grown-up time. The luxury of sleeping late. The freedom of going to a movie on a whim. The enchanting silence and shocking simplicity of tidying up the house - and having it stay tidy. Day after day after day.

I crave it. I deserve it. I treasure it.

But when the time finally comes for our boys to drag their duffle bags out the door, I'm faced with a disturbing revelation:

Greater than my need to be temporarily childless is my children's need to be briefly, blissfully motherless.

You see, it turns out I'm a terrible shrew. A nagging control freak. A micro-managing ogress from the soggiest bog of Vex-and-Pester Swamp. As my kids prepare to leave, I chase them around the house like a cartoon mother, wagging a bony index finger and barking orders:

Did you pack your swimsuit? I know I already asked you, but last time you forgot it, so let's be sure. How do you plan on practicing your drums without your drumsticks? Be sure to wear sunscreen every day. And to shower once in a while, for goodness' sake. Here's a plastic bag for your laundry; please don't make Grandpa pick up your dirty clothes every night.

Holy harpy! As much as I cherish my annual alone-time, those beleaguered boys must relish it all the more. A week of being out from under the wet blanket? Lock the car doors and step on the gas, Gramps! Faster! We can still hear her ... !

I really do enjoy it when they're gone. But the act of letting them leave - letting someone else care for them, letting them (ack!) care for themselves - feels like ripping off a really big Band-Aid. Or not even a Band-Aid but one of those cheap imitations made of non-breathable plastic that yanks a patch of arm hair out when you peel it off. Like that. That's exactly what it feels like.

The night before they leave, I sleep restlessly. I'm beset with irrational maternal anxiety. Was that a sneeze coming from the bedroom of our youngest? Is he getting sick? I'm the only one who can get him to take medicine. Will they all be miserable and (gulp) have to come home early?

I wonder if this is what it feels like when your kids leave home for good. You worry that you haven't fully prepared them, that they lack the tools (swimsuit, drumsticks) and skills (hygiene! I beg you!) to be happy, healthy and successful in the world. You worry that without these things, no one will like them.

One of the last things I said to my oldest son before he left was this loving dictum: "We've asked you three times to come to the breakfast table and you're still playing Wii. Would you care to explain why that is?"

I never thought I'd be the kind of parent to badger my kids like that. I hate those people. Those are the kind of people whose children turn 18, bolt from home and never look back.

I was still feeling guilty about my morning tirade five hours later when I got an email from my son. He had arrived, logged onto Grandpa's computer and typed this alone:

"i miss u already."

For me, the hands-down hardest part of parenting is locating the sweet spot between becoming someone you don't like, and allowing your kids to become someone you don't like.

For this week, at least, I know exactly where that sweet spot is.

It's five hours from here.



Starshine Roshell is the author of "Keep Your Skirt On," available at



Yogurt Culture

(BUILT IN) (Photos) LeslieD_2007.jpg

By Leslie Dinaberg

South Coasting

I've been spending a lot of time in yogurt stores lately. You can't cross the street without bumping into a new one, so they're kind of hard to avoid. In fact, the last time I was at Yogurt House in the Yogurt City pavilion, construction workers were putting up the walls for a brand new Yogurt Pantry inside. I tried to go home to avoid it, but they were busy installing a Yogurt Heaven between my kitchen and the living room.


They're scaring all the cupcake stores away.


I hear they're even chasing Starbucks out in some towns, though thankfully, not in ours-at least not yet. But it only takes a short stroll down State Street to see froyo fans of all fashions digging their pink and green plastic spoons deep into quadruple latte sized paper cups. Clearly frozen yogurt has regained its cool.


"The Restaurant Guy" John Dickson attributes the yogurt store invasion to the huge success of Pinkberry, a tarter and tangier version of the frozen treat, which first came to California in 2005 and opened in Santa Barbara in January.


There's no doubt that the popularity of tart, healthier tasting yogurt has spurred some new business, but I have some theories of my own about this new yogurt culture.


Theory 1: People like frozen yogurt because it's a treat masquerading as health food.


Yogurt stores throw around buzz words like "organic" and "probiotic" and "active cultures," but let's face it, the real selling points for most of us are the toppings, which give us the chance to eat Captain Crunch, Heath Bars and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and still feel like we're being virtuous.

Conclusion: Or maybe that's just me.

Theory 2: It's all about self-service.


While not all of these new stores let customers serve themselves, a lot of them do. There's something decadent about being able to fill your cup to your heart's content with flavor combinations you would never order over the counter.

Conclusion: Peanut butter, root beer, and cheesecake anyone?

Theory 3: You can tell a lot about someone by watching them fill up a cup of frozen yogurt.


My nine-year-old son likes to add things like gummy worms and Froot Loops to his yogurt; really anything that leaves candy colored streaks in his chocolate flavored yogurt is yummy in his book and disgusting in mine. He also likes to stir it to milkshake consistency, at which point he decides it tastes bad and he wants a new one.

Conclusion: Little boys like to make a mess, and if they can gross their moms out at the same time it's even better.


Little girls tend to pick their topping and yogurt combinations by color. They like to combine multiple flavors with a variety of toppings, especially sprinkles, M & M's and jimmies.

Conclusion: Little girls like to accessorize.


I've noticed that teenage boys also fail to note the delicate differences between fruity sweets (which are a waste of calories to me) and actual sweets. They like to layer the yogurt and the toppings parfait style, and are not at all concerned with food faux pas like mixing Irish Mint yogurt with Nerds, Cappuccino with Kiwi Lime Sauce or even Cookies and Cream with Ketchup.

Conclusion: Teenage boys will eat anything.


Teenage girls tend to be yogurt purists. They know what they want, since they frequent yogurt stores almost as frequently as they text. In general, they stick with fruity flavors like mango or strawberry topped by actual fruit or granola, or go for the gusto with Cheesecake yogurt and brownie bites or Chocolate Decadence and Carmel sauce.

Conclusion: Teenage girls know everything, so of course they know exactly what they want.


Their moms are the same way. It seems there's no middle ground when it comes to frozen yogurt, it's either healthy or diabetic coma inducing.

Conclusion: Moms are good decision makers.


Hmm ... should we go to Yogurtland or Yo Yum Yum this afternoon? Clearly this frozen yogurt trend is not going to be melting anytime soon.

Share your favorite yogurt combinations with For more columns visit


Rated PG for Parental Gaffe(BUILT IN) (Photos) StarshinePhoto.jpg

By Starshine Roshell

It starts like this. You're chatting with your kid when a familiar phrase pops into your head. A line of dialogue from a favorite movie of your youth. "Eat my shorts" from "The Breakfast Club," perhaps, or "Son, you got a panty on your head" from "Raising Arizona." Maybe you're calling the family to the dinner table, Junior is unresponsive and you find yourself blurting, "Bueller? ... Bueller? ... Bueller? ..."

Then you realize, with a cold blast of horror, that your child has no idea what you're talking about. No frame of reference through which to recognize your superior cinematic literacy.

How can this be? (And this is where the faulty thinking begins.) No offspring of yours is going to go through life without studying the classics, without paying proper deference to the heroes of your adolescence, the big-screen giants whose vast wisdom and extraordinary wit shaped your psyche: Mel Brooks. Eddie Murphy. Long Duk Dong.

So you rent a movie, tell your kid, "You're gonna LOVE this" and plop down on the couch for a family movie night.

Which is exactly when the cursing begins. And the full-frontal nudity. And the powder-snorting, pole-dancing, cop-killing and flagrant cracking of jokes so racist they actually make your jaw clench.

People, what the (rated R for language) were you thinking?

I realize the memory fizzles as you age, but I don't recall my favorite flicks containing so much sex, violence, drugs and blush-inducing skank-talk. In my nostalgia-tinged recollection, "Beverly Hills Cop" was funny. Just funny. It did not end in a chilling, slow-mo bloodbath. In my rosy reminiscence, the word "fish" was the only four-letter-F-word in "A Fish Called Wanda," and Victoria Tennant absolutely did NOT writhe around on a bed in "All of Me" demanding that Steve Martin call her "a dirty sex poodle." What in the name of Jack Joseph Valenti has happened to these family comedies since I first saw them?

It's not likely these age-inappropriate moments will turn my preteen into a Colt-toting, foul-mouthed, um, sex poodle. In fact, if I didn't remember ever seeing them, maybe he won't either.

But they do make for awkward viewing. Remember the ghastly discomfort of watching a movie sex scene with your mother - or your grandfather - in the room? You stare silently, trying not to move, or breathe, hoping the throat-clearing grown-up will forget you're there.

I'm heartsick to report that the feeling only worsens as an adult, because now it's your fault; you're the nimrod who suggested the movie and invited innocent eyeballs to watch.

In this way, movies are different than music. When we listen to Green Day in my car, I know when the swear words are coming, and I can hack up a fake cough or emit a well-timed "So! How about ice cream tonight?" over the offending phrase.

But with movies, you don't remember the nasty stuff until it's upon you. And you're sitting there. Grimacing. Gripping the sofa cushions. Picturing your child holding court on the schoolyard recounting the scene from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" in which the nuns beg for a good spanking.

Distraction is futile. And so you have a choice to make. Do you leap on the pause button and say, "Whoa! Never mind! Who's up for 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang'"? Or do you quietly let the moment pass without drawing undue attention to it?

Personally, I like to use these as teaching moments and spark a healthy dialogue about what we're watching. "That's a heroin needle," I'll interject. "She's shooting up smack, which is a really, REALLY bad idea. Let's see if she dies."

My kid's usually unresponsive, which is fine except that it leaves me with only one decent option.

"Bueller? ... Bueller? ... Bueller? ... "



Starshine Roshell is the author of "Keep Your Skirt On," a collection of columns available at


The Yes Woman

(BUILT IN) (Photos) LeslieD_2007.jpg

By Leslie Dinaberg

South Coasting


As any 12-stepper can tell you, the thing about any kind of addiction is every time you think you're cured, it keeps pulling you back in. So here I am, back at another meeting, after 67 days of abstinence.


My name is Leslie, and I am a yes-aholic.


It's so simple for some people to just say NO to the y-word. It takes them NO effort at all-they just put their lips together and say, "NO!" It must be so nice to be able to effortlessly dismiss a request with a few flicks of the tongue and not a single pang of guilt. It doesn't work that way for a yes-aholic.


Every time we say "NO" it takes a Herculean effort.


I can feel the unfamiliar syllable forming-no, no, NO-the word is just a breath away from coming out of my mouth ... then it gets stuck in my throat. Inexplicably, my lips start moving and those other addictive words come out: "Yes," or "Sure, I'll do it," or even worse, "Why not?"

Why not? Because I have too much to do. Because I did it the last time and it's somebody else's turn. Because I really just want to be at home with my family chilling out. Because I don't want to.

Because I, Leslie Dinaberg, am a yes-aholic.

There, I did it. I've taken the first step toward recovery-again.

Why is it so hard for me to say "NO," I wonder for the umpteenth time, as I sit here worrying about the dozens of other projects I have to do when I finish this column.

I wish I could blame this on an evil boss who piles on the assignments, or an evil twin who keeps saying "yes" to more volunteer opportunities, but it's my own fault. I never seem to stop myself from saying yes to appointments and obligations and assignments that I know I don't really have enough time for.

And here I am, stressing about my "yes" indiscretions, with NO one to blame but myself.


What's so tough about saying "NO?"

"NO" was one of the very first words my son learned. He was practically pre-verbal but he mastered "NO" by screaming the word at the top of his lungs, usually in quiet public places. He was so good at saying "NO" that my husband and I made up a song (to the tune of that "Meow, Meow, Meow, Meow" commercial) where the word "NO" was the sole lyric.

We still perform occasionally when a toddler comes to visit.

When the "y-word" comes out my mouth instead of the "n-word," it's not because I'm so nice that I can't bear to let the other person down. It's because I have no backbone or I feel guilty or maybe its genetic. Ultimately, I know I won't survive as a girl who can't say NO.

I've been down this road before-I can be a NO (to)-it-all-but somehow, after 67 days of abstinence, here I am again, back with the old three-step program to help combat yes-aholism. I was going to do two steps, but my boss told me to do three. I said "yes." Hmm. Anyway, you newbies just repeat after me.


1. Just say "NO" and you and the people around you will be happier. (Just ask my husband.) Always saying yes will only land you in places you don't want to be, like therapy, divorce court, or with NO friends to complain to because you've alienated them all by making them look bad because you do more than they do, and you point it out to them, which is always very endearing.


2. Just say "NO" and you'll have more enthusiasm, time and energy, for the things you do say "yes" to.


3. Just put your lips together and say "NO." If that doesn't work, keep your mouth shut, and turn your neck to the left, then turn it to the right. Repeat until the other person walks away.

If you need Leslie to do something for you, email For more columns visit or read Leslie's columns every Friday in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound (




The Nip/Tuck Talk(BUILT IN) (Photos) StarshinePhoto.jpg

By Starshine Roshell


Have you had this conversation at home?

"Mom, the other kids are picking on me at school. They say I'm fat."

"Oh, sweetheart. Kids can be cruel. The important thing to remember is that we love you. And we're saving up for your lipo."

No? Good.

Cosmetic surgery is certainly hot - as hot as ever. More than 12 million procedures were performed last year, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. And while teens accounted for more than 200,000 of those (oy, a column for another time), most parents still believe a good "beauty's on the inside" talk trumps an adolescent collagen injection any day.

What's good for the gosling, though, may not always fly for the goose. Having ridden the ole "love thyself" buggy about as far as it'll go, lots of grown-ups opt for a nip or a tuck these days - then find themselves at a loss for how to explain it to their kids. How do you preach self-acceptance and practice self-alteration simultaneously?

"I have yet to hear a really good, healthy conversation between a patient and a mature child," says a friend who works in a plastic surgeon's office. "From what I've observed, young kids get sent off to grandma's for the week and the parents don't really tell the kids what happened. Or I've heard, 'This is something to help mommy feel healthier.' "

If avoidance isn't your thing, consider the controversial picture book published by Miami plastic surgeon Dr. Michael Salzhauer last year. "My Beautiful Mommy" aims to help women explain to their kids why they're having elective surgery (her new nose will be "prettier"!) and why they may be bed-ridden and appear beat-up afterwards.

But kids get trickier as they age. I had some unfortunately named "age spots" lasered off my face this summer and my 10-year-old lectured me about being happy with who I am. The nerve of this kid. I was downright delighted with who I was until the invitation to my high-school reunion arrived; then I was happy with who my dermatologist is.

Another friend just added a tummy-tuck onto her already scheduled - and much dreaded - hysterectomy.

"For me," she says, "it was taking advantage of what I felt was a rather negative surgery and turning it into something that would actually make me feel better about myself."

The best part: Her 10-year-old son is the one who suggested it, having heard about such things on TV. His take on plastic surgery is as perfect as a pair of silicone gel implants. "If you want to make yourself look like Michael Jackson, it's your choice," he explains. "But as for a tummy tuck, if you're trying to lose weight and absolutely nothing's working, you might just want to try that."

Another friend, a single mom, gets Restylane and Botox injected every six months. Once, when childcare fell through, she took her 5-year-old with her. "He was partly fascinated and partly horrified," she says. "I told him I was getting vaccinations. He asked if it hurt. I said, 'Yes, it hurts. But sometimes we have to see doctors to get better.'

"It wasn't exactly a lie," she jokes. "It made me better looking."

The real reasons for her evasion were twofold. First, she knew he couldn't yet comprehend complex motives like sexism, social pressures and career demands. Second, she felt burdened as a child by shallow comments her own parents made about aging women - including her father exclaiming that he couldn't stand cellulite.

"Apparently, I am every bit as shallow as my folks," she says. "But I am trying not to pass it on to my kid."



Starshine Roshell will appear on a women's author panel at the Ventura Book Festival on July 25 at the Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach. Admission is free.




Lousy with Lice

(BUILT IN) (Photos) LeslieD_2007.jpg

By Leslie Dinaberg

South Coasting


Eww! That's all I've been saying all month. Eww! Until a month ago I had no idea that a tiny little bug could cause so much pain and suffering. Then I got that horrible phone call from school. My head starts to itch just thinking about this.


My son-he has less than three inches of hair; hadn't had a sleepover in ages; barely brushes his own hair, let alone shares a hairbrush; does swim team three times a week; and takes such long showers that he may single-handedly be responsible for the drought in California-had somehow contracted lice.


I got the message while I was sitting in a drive-through car wash, picking up the voicemail that his school health clerk had left almost five hours earlier. I knew my husband hadn't picked up Koss from school because he was on his way out of town for his infamous annual "caveman weekend."


My mother-in-law was scheduled to pick up Koss from school about two hours earlier, but I hadn't heard anything from her. I frantically dialed her number as-I kid you not-I watched two gigantic circular brushes come to a screeching halt on my windshield. I rolled down my window and a foamy pink ashy substance started coming inside my car. It smelled like a sweaty blend of smoke, strawberries and stress. Eww!


"It's a power outage," yelled a guy from one of the 13 cars in line behind me. Who knew that I'd be in the middle of a "Curb Your Enthusiasm" episode when I got the lice call? The realization that I was stuck in the car wash hit me just as I got my mother-in-law on the phone.


"We're fine. Koss had been waiting in the office for a few hours when I got to school. They said that he has lice," she said in her always-cheery voice. This nice reassurance from a woman who didn't tell any of her adult children she was even in the hospital until a few days after she had hip replacement surgery was, frankly, not all that reassuring.


Neither was waiting for all of the cars behind me to back up before I could do a less-than-graceful 67-point turn to get my now golden-pinkish boat of a Mercury Marquis out of the car wash.


A quick stop at the drug store to pick up lice shampoo made my head hurt even more. Product names like Pronto, RID, LiceMD and Nix shouted at me from the shelves. They all looked like they should have a skull and crossbones warning label on them. I grabbed a few bottles and headed for home.


Grandma seemed calm enough when I get there, but she bolted as quickly as possible. Koss also seemed un-phased as he told me he read a whole book while waiting for someone to pick him up in the office.


I barely let him finish dinner before I doused his head with the inaugural lice treatment and then began what would be the first of 351 loads of laundry. After the 200th load I began to think that top sheets are overrated, as are hand towels, and really, wouldn't it be easier to pull up the carpet than to vacuum it for the 32nd time? I was exhausted and I'd only been home for an hour.


I sprayed all of the surfaces that couldn't be vacuumed or laundered with a toxic spray that smelled so bad it must have been killing something besides the nerve endings in my nose. Then I carefully examined every single strand of hair on my son's head. I didn't see a single louse, but there were lots of nits, which I painstakingly picked out with my fingers. Eww! I'm a monkey! This took an entire season of "Eureka" on the DVR.


I was certain his head was pristine when we checked in at the office the next day. Unfortunately the florescent lighting revealed a few more nits and the school secretary explained that they have a no nits policy. Oh joy! Off we went for a delightful day of nitpicking. Armed with wooden barbecue skewers, a fine-toothed metal comb, magnifying glass and disinfectant wipes, I examined every strand of my son's head again and again until I started to name the individual hairs. "Hey, Curly. What's up?" I wonder what they put in those shampoos?

Finally, someone turned me on to the "magic lice shampoo" from Caldwell's Pharmacy that is nontoxic, can be used every day, and smells like peppermint, rather than motor oil. It costs a small fortune and we went through three bottles, but it was worth every penny.


We watched an entire season of "Chuck" and several Food Network Challenges as I picked through Koss's freshly shorn head for what remained of these stubborn creatures. Finally, we were done!-until I checked my own hair. Eww! A welcome home present for my husband, who finally returned from his "stunted boy weekend." Surprise. Lice to see you, honey. I'll be the one with her head in the vat of lye.


Good times. My head itches just thinking about them.


Four weeks later, and I finally stopped checking for nits every time I looked in the mirror. Then we got a call from a friend who we were supposed to have dinner with, and he said his kid had lice. Did we still want to go out with them? I laughed until I cried, and then I sobbed a little more. Eww!


Share your lousy adventures with For more columns visit or read Leslie's columns every Friday in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound (




Off-Leash Kids(BUILT IN) (Photos) StarshinePhoto.jpg

By Starshine Roshell

Weekday morning, early summer, my kids are playing outside. Not in the backyard. Not in our enclosed, danger-proof, visible-from-every-window backyard.

They're cavorting out front. Where there are driveways, blind corners and a teenaged neighbor with a Pontiac and a lead foot. Where there may be oleander. Or vicious dogs. Or a gun-toting, candy-dangling, meth-addled pedophile.

Maybe not. But from where I sit at this computer, I can't see my kids. And though it makes me sound deranged, I admit this simple scenario puts me on edge. It fans a smoldering lump of fear deep in my gut. As they explore the world beyond our porch, their voices grow fainter, and the voice in my head grows louder: "Lady, you ain't doing your job."

Am I insane? Yes. Also no.

Journalist Lenore Skenazy says such parental paranoia is the common and natural result of sensationalistic media reports on ghastly kidnappings, gruesome murders and freak accidents - all of which make society seem far more dangerous than it actually is. Her book "Free-Range Kids" argues that Americans have become so unnecessarily fearful for our children's safety (kneepads for crawling babies? helmets for wobbly toddlers?) that we suck all the joy out of both parenthood and childhood.

Last week, a German boy was hit, and scarred, by a meteorite falling from space. "Do we all go around in meteor shields now?" she said during a phone interview. "Or do we assume that's a one-in-a-million chance, which it is?"

Skenazy, a Manhattan mother of two, was both cheered and chided on the TV talk show circuit last year after letting her then 9-year-old son ride the subway alone. Raised in Chicago's suburbs, she walked to school starting in first grade. Through an alley, no less. "And it wasn't considered a daring adventure," she says. "It was considered 'The way you got to school.' "

Some hazards are worth worrying about: choking, drowning, lead poisoning, SIDS. But most of our safety fears are irrational. According to the Department of Justice, today's crime rate is as low as it was in 1970, when most of us were kids - and had more freedoms than our children do today. And consider this: Car wrecks are still the number-one kid killer.

"Your child is 40 times more likely to die in a car accident than to be snatched and killed by a stranger," Skenazy says. "And yet we don't shake, shiver, worry and pray every time we put our children in a seatbelt, because we recognize that's a little paranoid."

Paranoia, she says, deprives our kids of the self-esteem that comes from life's "I did it myself" moments. Do we want to be the people in their lives who tell them, "You're utterly incapable," or do we want to be the ones who say, "I know you can do it"?

Raising free-range kids, she says, is not about sending them out into the world and hoping they make it back. It's about giving them the tools to be safe, then trusting them to use them.

A little fear is normal, she says. "My kids have heard me lecture 1,000 times on everything from strangers to condoms. And if you knew what a fanatic I am about crossing the street ... !"

But planning for every tragic "what if" is not the defining characteristic of a good parent, Skenazy insists. "Sometimes terrible things happen. I hate thinking about it and it always makes me sound cavalier, but what if your child was in a car accident and it was your fault? Of course you'd be devastated!" she says. "But ... would you have been stupid for putting him in a car?"



Starshine Roshell is the author of "Keep Your Skirt On," a book of columns available at




When you know you're a grownup

(BUILT IN) (Photos) LeslieD_2007.jpg

By Leslie Dinaberg

South Coasting


Last weekend we were heading down to the beach and as I rummaged through the five bottles of sunscreen and three different hats in my trunk I had a stunning revelation-I might actually be a grownup!


My days of frying on the sand in a mixture of baby oil and iodine are certainly over. I don't even call Hendry's Beach "the Pit" anymore because hardly anyone knows what I'm talking about. Now I'm that lady in the hat and huge sunglasses that makes sure to bring water and snacks for the kids. Wow, I might actually be a grownup.


Here are some other signs:


My friends have stopped hooking up, then splitting up. Now they're getting married and divorced. And sometimes they're dating people half their age-and it's legal.


The last time I went to Disneyland, my favorite rides were the ones that didn't hurt my back.


I could have gone to high school with Barack Obama. He would have been a senior, but still, we could have gone to school together.


No matter how impossibly cute the shoes are, I won't wear them for more than an hour if they hurt my feet.


I've actually started mailing in those rebate offers.


My friend Sandy has a daughter that graduated from college, and Sandy is younger than I am.


A $4 bottle of wine no longer tastes "just fine" to me.


At the gym the other day I saw an aerobics class that looked about my speed, then realized it was for seniors.


Not only have I stopped buying cereal for the toy prizes, I've started stocking up on Raisin Bran and Cheerios when it's on sale.


Sometimes my idea of a fun Friday night out involves pizza, Scrabble, and not leaving the house.


I consider the speed limit more than "just a guideline."


I call my doctor by his first name, I've seen him drunk, and I still trust him.


Sometimes I hear my mom's voice coming out of my mouth ("Because I said so.") and it only freaks me out a little, but every once in a while, I'll look in the mirror and see my mom's face and it freaks me out a lot.


There's a lot more food in my refrigerator than beer.


Thinking about having sex in a car makes me fantasize about back injuries.


When Koss asked me the other day, I couldn't remember how to make a cursive capital "T" since it's not a part of my signature.


When my friends suddenly become very moody, I wonder if they're pre-menopausal, rather than pregnant.


I left a concert early at the County Bowl this year because I was too stressed out about someone getting hurt in the mosh pit to enjoy the music.


When the phone rings, I always hope it's not for me.


I finally know for sure that my secrets are safe with my friends because they can't remember them either.


When did you know you were a grownup? Share your tales with For more columns visit or read Leslie's column every Friday in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound.


Fathering Females(BUILT IN) (Photos) StarshinePhoto.jpg

By Starshine Roshell

When I was born, the doctor misspoke. "It's a bo ... ," he told my parents. "A girl!" I work hard to avoid pondering what it is the guy thought he saw. My dad was surprised to feel a twinge of disappointment. "It only lasted a split second," he assures me. "And I probably wouldn't have felt it at all except for Dr. Slip."

I don't begrudge him his momentary grudge. As the mother of boys, I know that being a yin and begetting a yang can make a parent uneasy. My boys like to beat on things, jump off stuff and generally behave in confounding ways. And when I shepherd my 3-year-old to the bathroom at 2 a.m., I'm ill-skilled to help him aim. Or shake. You might as well ask me to repair a blown head gasket.

Thus do I feel a certain kinship to the fathers of daughters. Girls are complicated, and raising them is tricky - especially when your model for "father" is the fella who taught you to throw a long bomb and "take it like a man."

I know a guy who cursed when he found out his wife was pregnant with a girl. "I remember distinctly yelling '#@$%!' in the muffled cone of silence my car offered," he says. "At the time it was just one more thing that I felt was not going my way. I would come to the realization years later that it's your child's personality you fall in love with, and it's irrelevant what that personality is attached to."

Still, dads and daughters occasionally make for awkward pairs. One friend says his little girl was forever scarred when he took her, at age 3, into a public men's restroom at Thanksgiving and "there stood Santa pulling up his drawers in front of a urinal."

Another laments his artlessness with a hairbrush. "I've stumbled through numerous french braids," he admits. "The french came up with a braid no father can contend with. I'm still trying to master the simple bun."

"I felt pretty low reading the My Little Ponies book with its overly sweet names," adds another. "I still may burn that book with some speed metal blaring in the background."

One father is considering buying an RV to use as a male safehouse when his three daughters start menstruating on synched-up cycles.

Another carefully monitors his household's "sentence velocity," the number of sentences uttered per minute. "It increases with the number of females present," he says. "I've learned that when it gets to a certain rate, it's a good time to empty the dishwasher or catch up with the New Yorker. Staying out of the fray gives the impression that I am a 'good listener,' when, in fact, I simply don't comprehend."

There are advantages to being the lone dude in a house chock-full of chicks. "I'm the one who can smush the spider and fix the plumbing," says a father of two girls. "They love me differently. I'm their hero! What beats that?"

He says it's made him a better communicator, too. "My girls ask questions about things no little boy has ever talked about. Grown men don't even talk about them. I'm forced to articulate my feelings to my girls."

My dad says the best thing about daughters is you get to keep smooching them long after the age when fathers tend to stop kissing their sons. "That's a sweet deal," he says.

These dads hope to teach their girls what a "good man" is - and to be educated from them, in turn. "I think I've learned the same things I would have learned with boys," says a father of two young daughters: "The joy of being a parent, how great it is to have kids in my life and how good I look dressed in a pink tutu."



Starshine Roshell is the author of "Keep Your Skirt On," a book of columns available at




The Bratty Bunch

(BUILT IN) (Photos) LeslieD_2007.jpg

By Leslie Dinaberg

South Coasting



Do you ever have the urge to discipline someone else's kids?


What about when their parents are sitting right there, yukking it up, chatting with friends or drinking cocktails, and otherwise ignoring the fact that their little brat is:


A.) Talking back to a teacher, lifeguard, parent, or other adult
B.) Tormenting a defenseless younger child
C.) Teasing an older child who could, by all rights, stop the little monster in his tracks, but is too nice (or well-mannered) to do so
D.) All of the above.


Doesn't it drive you nuts?


I don't know what I want to do more, put the kid in a time out or throttle the parents.


Now don't get me wrong, I am hardly the strictest mom in the cul de sac, and my son is definitely not the best behaved on the block, but he knows that no means NO, and stop means STOP, and that there are serious consequences when he doesn't behave in the way he's supposed to.


That seems like a pretty basic rule for getting along in society, but you wouldn't know it from watching some of these rude, self-absorbed, bratty little jerks in action.


I'm not the only one who's annoyed.


In a recent Newsvine poll, 83 percent of the participants surveyed said that today's kids are more self-centered than those of past generations.


There are lots of theories about why this has happened. Pediatrician Dr. Philippa Gordon told MSNBC, "I see parents ferociously advocating for their children, responding with hostility to anyone they perceive as getting in the child's way- from a person whose dog snuffles inquiringly at a baby in a carriage, to a teacher or coach whom they perceive is slighting their child, to a poor, hapless doctor who cannot cure the common cold. There is a feeling that anything interfering with their kid's homeostasis, as they see it, is an inappropriate behavior to be fended off sharply."


I understand the impulse to do everything you can to make sure that your child is safe, healthy and happy. That protective instinct is as natural as breathing for most parents.


But somehow my parents, and most of my peers' parents, managed to avoid coddling us the way so many parents do now. In fact, I remember my parents as being much more concerned about instilling proper behavior toward others (including themselves) than the other way around.


What happened? writer Madeline Holler postulates that, "We Gen Xers, who were so benignly neglected that we now over-compensate as parents by co-sleeping and baby-wearing and opting out. And that we're so fixated on our children's well-being that we wind up teaching them that other people's feelings are less important than our own, that kids should first make sure they feel good, then (if ever) worry about others."


It could be that.


Or it could be that in a culture that embraces snarky comments from "American Idol" judges, where Fisher Price has a toy called "Mr. Men Mr. Rude" and Mattel battles to control a line of dolls called "Bratz," downright bratty behavior has become not only acceptable but cool.


But I suspect that the real reason most people give their kids such a free ride when it comes to bad behavior has nothing with over-protectiveness, cultural influence, or worrying about their children's fragile self-esteem. I'm guessing they're just exhausted, with too much to do and too little time to do it.


Not that I'm giving the parents a free pass on disciplining their children-and not that I'm going to step in and do it for them anytime soon, tempted as I may be.


But think about this the next time you see one of these sassy little brats at the pool, or the baseball field or the playground. And if he or she belongs to you, think about it extra hard.

Is Generation X raising Generation Rude? Email For more columns visit or read Leslie's columns every Friday in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound.




End-of-the-Year Gifts: Teachers Speak Out!(BUILT IN) (Photos) StarshinePhoto.jpg

By Starshine Roshell


OK, class, time for a math quiz.

Take your child's attitude. Multiply it by 24 students. Subtract 11 weeks of summer vacation, but add $5.3 billion in education budget cuts.

That's what our kids' teachers cope with daily, from the second their coffee kicks in to the moment the blessed bell rings at 3 o'clock. And we parents are grateful, of course we are. As the school year ends, though, it's hard to know how to express that gratitude. Or, frankly, how to wrap it.

Some families bake cookies to show thanks. Others give potted plants, scented candles or handmade greeting cards. I've heard of parents bestowing teachers with cashmere robes, Tiffany necklaces and even $300 cash.

"Are we supposed to be supplementing their income because they are ridiculously underpaid?" asked a mother I know, whose confusion echoes my own. "Or is it purely a token of appreciation, in which case, should it come from the child or the parent?"

So I did what I'd be too ashamed to do without the defensible guise of "column research." I asked teachers what they really want. And some of their answers surprised me.

"Most teachers go in on weekends, bring work home, work on vacations and work before and after school just to get it all done," says a kindergarten teacher I know. "They definitely deserve a little something to say, 'thank you for caring enough about my kid to make a difference.' " Her favorite gifts - no kidding - are the personal notes and cards.

In fact, lots of teachers treasure the sentimental mementos most. I know a high-school drama teacher who once received VIP Cirque du Soleil tickets from one family. Still, her all-time favorite was a glass jar full of messages written by her students in tribute to her. She keeps it on her desk.

But teachers are pragmatic, too, and gift cards to movie theaters, grocers, book stores and coffee shops can make a teacher "woo hoo!" in a way that a shiny apple, well, really never could. "I stock up on my gift cards for the next six months, until Christmas gift time!" admits a fifth-grade teacher, who realizes she sounds spoiled but considers this supplemental income to be "hazard pay."

"No cheap candy," begs one teacher. "And no mugs, please. Ever go to thrift stores and see those rows of old mugs? They ALL came from elementary school teachers."

And you might want to re-think that flowery shower gel, too. "Taking a bath with products a kid has given me seems a little strange and creeps me out," confesses a second-grade teacher. "I usually re-gift those."

"For me," adds another friend and mother of three, "the ideal gift is a HUGE gift certificate to someplace I love from the entire class plus lots of silly little home-made trinkets from each child reminding me of our year together: a sweet card, a photo, a tissue-paper flower. Yes, it's true, I often throw them away within days of receiving them, but the thought most definitely counts."

Teachers are also crazy-generous when it comes to thanking their own children's teachers. "I always give an additional gift after contributing to the class gift, as well," says one. "It's like going back and tipping the waiter when you know your grandma short-changed him."

One friend hosted a dinner at her house for all her kids' teachers, so the kids could have a chance to serve them for a change. Another ensured that her kids' gift-giving tradition didn't end at elementary school, as it often does. "I coerced them into bringing gifts to their favorite high-school teachers," she says, "although they said it was extremely embarrassing."



Starshine Roshell is the author of "Keep Your Skirt On," a collection of columns available at




Surviving the move

(BUILT IN) (Photos) LeslieD_2007.jpg

By Leslie Dinaberg

South Coasting


I'm not a pack rat-I'm more of a pack mule.


But as we move to our new nest this weekend, I'm determined to shed some of those splintery twigs and raggedy feathers I've been hauling around for too long.


With that end in mind, this week I've been playing a not-so-fun game of "What in the world was I thinking?" as I struggle to pack up all of our worldly possessions and move about a mile away from the shack we've been residing in for the past eight years.


You would think that living in extremely tight quarters would have already inspired me to downsize considerably. You would think that a person who lives and works in a seven square foot space-that she has to share with a husband and small child, who also have a little bit of stuff-would realize that keeping five copies of every issue of the newspaper she worked for four years ago is a little bit impractical-not to mention a fire hazard.


You would think that a person like that might have thrown away the double prints of the blurry outtakes from her son's first birthday or the once funny cards from her own 30th birthday. You would think that a person like that might not have kept the snack schedule from the 2004 t-ball season, the takeout menu from a favorite Thai restaurant that's been shuttered since 2005, the Axxess Book catalog from 2006, and the cell phone charger from 2007.


Getting rid of those things years ago would have been logical. I also should have gotten rid of the twelve years of scrapbooking magazines I've had taking up shelf space, the unflattering day glow green sweater I wore once, and the really cute brown boots that make my feet scream-and not in a good way.


What in the world was I thinking keeping all of this stuff around?


It's long past time for us to move. I would never have agreed to move into the shack in the first place if I thought it would take eight years to get out. Then entropy and poverty set in. Plus the rent was cheap and the school district was good and until recently, we were winning the battle against the termites and all of the ancient light fixtures were still working and the shower wasn't leaking onto the floor of my closet.


What in the world was I thinking keeping all of this stuff around?


Somehow it took getting a demolition notice to get us moving. And when I say moving, I mean moving with a really quick deadline, to get me to get rid of all this stuff. I guess I'm just a deadline-driven kind of gal. I like deadlines. I never miss a deadline. Seriously, ask my editors. I might ask for an extension every once in a blue moon, but I NEVER miss a deadline.


Deadlines give me structure and discipline and a reason to get out of bed. I just have to think of moving like a deadline for a really huge project that I'll be really happy about once it's over.


Of course, unlike finishing a magazine article, a book, or even filling out insurance forms, I'll have less money when I'm done moving-not to mention even more work to do once I get to the new place.


Let's face it, I'll be happy to "have moved," but moving itself is pure hell. It's as if some masochist combined the worst elements of torture, dust allergies, scavenger hunts, paper cuts, and physical aches and pains into one brutal, emotionally punishing, very expensive episode. Not to mention that once the packing is done there are hours of lifting, dragging, kicking, screaming, hoisting and herniating to look forward to.


Plus, did I mention the paper cuts? I really hate the paper cuts.


Did you know an estimated 42 million Americans move each year? There's a whole Google's worth of insightful information, like, "Moving is one of the most stressful times in a person's life." (No kidding?) Or helpful tips like, "Put all boxes into one room so you don't have to run around the house like a madman on the big day." (If I could put all my boxes in one room then I wouldn't have too much stuff now, would I?)


I wish I could say that I was the only one in my family with too much stuff. Unfortunately I discovered a graveyard for outdated computers and stereo equipment in my husband's home office. So what if that old laptop doesn't work anymore, it still serves an important purpose-covering the stain on the carpet made by the leaky lava lamp he was going to fix "someday."


My son has an archive of smiley face notes from his first grade teacher, Dum Dum Pops wrappers he was saving to get x-ray glasses, and beach debris he was planning to sell to Grandma "someday."


But that's okay because by Saturday morning all of those items will be carefully packed and labeled in boxes, and by Saturday afternoon they'll be in our new house.


I hear it's a great garage sale neighborhood.

When Leslie can locate her computer, and cable guy comes to hook up the Internet "between Monday at noon and the next solar eclipse" she can be reached at For more columns visit




I loathe floaties.(BUILT IN) (Photos) StarshinePhoto.jpg

By Starshine Roshell


Pregnancy is a slog. For me, there was 4 p.m. nausea and 2 a.m. charlie horses. There were sore breasts, fat feet and a humiliating resemblance to the "Fantasia" hippos when I slipped, foolishly, into sexy lingerie.

"Poor you," my compassionate husband often said. "You're going through so much."

Each time, I told him the same thing: "It's OK. You're doing swim lessons."

Different people dread different points on the parenthood continuum. Some fear labor and delivery. Others cower from potty-training. Others cringe at the notion that someone will eventually hand their graceless offspring a driver's license.

My personal Misery Milestone is the one that has me leaping from a soup-like public pool with a slippery toddler and plodding through cold puddles on slick cement in search of a restroom where I must wrestle with said toddler's rubbery swimsuit and stand dripping and shivering while he uses the toilet, then looks up at me with chlorine-reddened eyes and chatters, "R-r-ready to g-go b-back in?"

Any mom who's been baptized in the church of swim lessons, who's donned her least revealing tankini and descended hesitantly into the wet world of "kickers" and "splashies" and other words one would never say in a board room, knows that swim lessons don't improve as your child ages. They just shift.

Instead of being clawed at by your sinking spawn, you get exuberantly kicked in the gut. Instead of wailing into your ears in horror, they squeal into them with glee (who knew water had such extraordinary properties of amplification?).

I'm not what you'd call a worrier. My kids do flips on the trampoline, skip through parking lots barefoot and play tackle football, all with my blessing. But when I watch my unbuoyant boys gasp and sputter for breath while a relative stranger barks at them to "kick harder!," I have to fight the urge to leap onto the instructor and beat her severely with the nearest foam noodle. Call it instinct.

Also, I find my enjoyment of wet and my tolerance for cold have eroded over the years. I never thought I'd be the "don't splash me" mom. I was the kid who leaped into our pool before breakfast and had to be dragged out, pruney and green-haired, when the sun set each day. But that was back when "pretty" could be achieved with just wet eyelashes and sun-stung cheeks, back before I needed luminizers and revitalizing mists to look merely "not ill."

And at the risk of being relegated to life's, um, shallow end, let me say this: I resent being dragged weekly into the vexing, eternal wax-or-shave dilemma.
So I've decreed that swim lessons are my husband's duty. Other moms do the same - and find ingenious ways to justify it.

"Unlike soccer or ballet or gymnastics, kids have to learn how to swim. It's life-or-death stuff. It's a survival skill," says a friend of mine with two daughters. "Hence, it falls very clearly in dad's domain. Like changing a tire.

"The fact that handing the job over to dad spares us from having to appear in public in a bathing suit is a pretty nice perk, though."

Oddly, my spouse never complains about having to go. In fact, he almost seems to enjoy it.

"It's only half an hour," he says, with a shrug. "And it's fun to see him make progress each week."

But ... the incessant shivering? The deafening squeals? And all that talk of kickers??
When pressed, he confesses the task is made more bearable by the presence of half-naked women - a bonus he calls the "hot mom factor."
Fine. Good. Would someone hand me that foam noodle?


Starshine Roshell is the author of "Keep Your Skirt On," a collection of columns available at



The After-Effects of Cruising

(BUILT IN) (Photos) LeslieD_2007.jpg

By Leslie Dinaberg

South Coasting

I know cruises are supposed to be a splendid way to replenish your energy and deplete your bank account, but I didn't realize the effects of going on the Love Boat would be so long lasting. It's been three months since we went on a five-day cruise to Mexico for my parent's 50th anniversary, and we're still feeling the after-effects.

I finally got my land legs back last month, and the trip is paid for, but my son still expects turn down service and a mint on his pillow.


Worse yet, he's decided he likes the 19 meals a day plan. It seems like every time I rinse another dish the kid is asking for more food. "Hey mom, my stomach's got a little more room. Isn't it post-brunch, second snack, pre-high tea appetizer time?"


Seriously, I don't know what they put in the water on those Carnival Cruises, but we've created a monster.


Case in point: we went out to dinner the other night and Koss wanted to order crab legs as a starter, followed by a Cesar salad, French onion soup, steak and lobster, with both rice and French fries on the side, and a molten chocolate lava cake and cr?me br?l?e for dessert. "Oh, and don't forget the warm towels between courses," he asked politely. The cashier at McDonalds was very confused.


At least the cruise taught him about washing his hands with something other than his tongue. But seriously, he's having a bit of a hard time adjusting to his tough life as an average nine-year-old.


I get it.


It's hard to go back to real life once you've experienced having a whole crew of maitre d's and supervisors watching the waiters, dessert staff, bartenders, sommeliers and toque-toting buffet servers at your beck and call, just to make sure you don't do something for yourself that they could do for you.


Then there's the freedom of being able to sign for anything extra your little heart desires. I understand how it went to his nine-year-old head, but it's got to stop. When we stopped by 7-Eleven for Slurpees the other day, he wanted to just "sign the bill" for all of his friends.


I fear all that service has scarred him for life. Thank goodness it was winter, which saved him from seeing a lot of people nearly naked that we would all prefer not to see nearly naked- although not from having to witness a case of suntan lotion being spread over the white expanse of skin belonging to a certain family of die-hard sunbathers from the Midwest.


Meanwhile, after traveling with our whole extended family (my side, which is much more opinionated than his) my husband and I have lost all capacity to make decisions for ourselves. We're working on this, day by day.


I almost broke down and called my mom the other night when I couldn't decide whether to make chicken or fish for dinner.


Luckily, Koss solved that dilemma for me. "I'll have them both, Mom. What are we having for a palate cleanser?"

When Leslie's not reminiscing about vacations, she can be reached at For more columns visit




I wont.(BUILT IN) (Photos) StarshinePhoto.jpg

By Starshine Roshell


Parents can be so smug. We think we have life's puzzles solved, and that our kids are callow dimwits desperate for our guidance. Admit it: We think of them as dense, doughy biscuits requiring the heat of our unparalleled wisdom to rise to their fluffy full potential.

Lately, though, I've been wondering if we're wrong. If, in fact, our carseat-bound offspring are the ones who have the answers and we grown-ups are too culturally programmed, too set-in-our-ways, to see it.

The notion strikes when I ask my 3-year-old to put on his shoes. Or clean up his toys. Or turn off his video, come upstairs and take a bath. That's when he looks at me with utter impunity and says, "I won't."

There's no willfulness in his voice. No shame. No guilt. "I won't."

He's simply stating a fact, letting me know we're going to have a problem here if I insist on pursuing this ridiculous mandate.

There's a look of - is that peace? - that crosses his peanut butter-smeared face when he says it, and I'll admit the whole situation stymies me. My linear adult thought process goes like this: How do I get the child clean if he won't get in the tub? How "clean" does a person really need to be? What will his preschool teachers whisper when they notice the same dirt smudge that was on his knee yesterday .. and the day before?

But his behavior also kind of inspires me.

Where do you get that kind of moxie? Are you born with it and does it dissipate with age? Is it gradually paved over by parental praise, "good" grades and society's other rewards for cooperative behavior? And if so ... can you get it back?

Because there are lots of times when I'd like to look people smack in the face and tell them dispassionately, "I won't."

The hostess, for instance, who tells me I have to wait 20 minutes for a patio table. Or the Costco cashier who informs me that these coupons aren't valid until tomorrow and I'll have to come back then.

This must be how my son feels when I impose my agenda on his. It's not personal. It's not a plea for autonomy. It's this: The information he's just heard registers as utterly, abominably wrong. It offends his sense of fairness, stings his understanding of how the world should operate.

"Look," his two words tell me. "I kept my shoes off the couch. I ate those ghastly green beans. All I want is to go about my business without you bossing me around for 10 minutes. Is that so much to ask?"

I got an email this week from a company I work for. "We received your invoice, but you need to fill out these [multiple, maddening, mind-numbing] attached forms and fax them back before we can cut you a check."

What I said: "Sure thing. Thanks." What I wish I'd said: "I won't."

There's the ATM machine that asks if I will accept a $2.50 processing fee. The road signs that show my freeway exit is closed and I'll have to take a 2-mile detour. The voice in my head insisting I should really skip dessert considering what I ate for lunch.

Hmph. Watch and see if I will.

We grow accustomed to being ordered around. We accept it. We barely even notice it after a time.

And we rarely, if ever, speak out in opposition.

I'd like to be humble enough to respect my son's defiant decisions and learn from his fearless approach to life. I'd like to be free-willed enough to look society in the face and occasionally say, with peace on my face, "ain't gonna happen."

But let's face it.

I won't.

Starshine Roshell is the author of "Keep Your Skirt On," a collection of columns available at




Brag Hags

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By Leslie Dinaberg

South Coasting

There's a bit of a Brag Hag in every mom.

Can't you just picture Ghandi's mother on the playground? "It's the strangest thing, every time I give little Mahatma a snack, he starts passing it out to all the other kids." Or Bill Gates' mom: "Last night little Billy figured out a way to wire our freezer, microwave, and stereo together so we ate Lean Cuisines and listened to Raffi tunes with the push of a single button."


Of course you can't blame them. If my kids were that impressive I'd be taking out billboards to advertise their accomplishments. As it is, I have a hard time restraining myself in the "my kids are smarter, sweeter and better behaved than your kids" competition. Thankfully Grandma and Grandpa are around to enthrall with tales of Koss's mastery of important life skills such as double digit scores in Boggle, eating three whole scrambled eggs and unloading the dishwasher without being asked 25 times.

I know my friends don't want to hear it.

I still have nightmares about becoming like X, this woman from my preschool, who would greet me everyday with polite questions about how Koss was doing until finally, try though I would to resist, I would have to break down and ask about her kid.


The opportunity to crow about her son would magically transform this otherwise mild-mannered mom into the Brag Hag. Turning her eyes red with glee, she would snort and grimace and smack her lips together in delight and howl things like, "Can you believe little Wolverine has started reading and he's only three? He insists on reading the newspaper headlines to us every morning. Isn't that cute?"


"Adorable," I would mutter, thinking her kid must be a total nerd.


Then she would start in about his tee-ball prowess and how many goals he scored in soccer, and how the other day he figured out that she was using too much flour in her chocolate chip cookies and thanks to little Wolverine's recipe tweaks she's sure she'll win the Pillsbury Bake-Off this year. At that point I would tune out-or wake up in a cold sweat-depending on whether this was happening again in real life or just in a very, very, very bad dream.


I know I don't want to be that mom.


While X was the extreme, it's easy for moms to fall into competitive conversations, our claims getting more and more outrageous as the dialogue progresses ("Little Johnny sat up and sang ?Take me out to the Ballgame' the moment he was born." "Oh yeah, well my little Abbie learned to speak 13 different Chinese dialects before she was two.") The problem with these Brag Hag competitions is that no matter who "wins" we all go home secretly convinced that our little darlings are doomed to live lives of mediocrity since they lack the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound or poop solid gold nuggets after eating a banana.


According to one expert, "judging other people's parenting has become a full time sport with too many people keeping score of every nuance."


That's all too true. The fact is that when you walk into just about any situation with your child, on some level you are prepared to judge and be judged. Moms realize this. We all want to believe that our choices are the best ones and we're looking for confirmation that our way of parenting is the right way (and therefore our child is the best child). And sometimes we brag, just to avoid criticism. Because no matter how secretly critical we are of other moms, and their children, we're always our own most unforgiving critics.


Isn't it better to brag than to beat yourself up? I think so. Koss just pooped a diamond. I'm so proud.

Share your bragging rampages with Leslie at For more columns visit



Vegas With Kids: Oops(BUILT IN) (Photos) StarshinePhoto.jpg

By Starshine Roshell

It looked so much nicer in my head.

The way I pictured it, we were going to spend a few days of bond-bolstering family togetherness at a Las Vegas resort that would cater to our every fickle whim. By day we would lounge poolside; by night we'd venture out to ooh and ahh over the city's convenient cultural lessons: the Venetian's canals, Luxor's Sphinx, Caesar's Trevi Fountain.

In my imagination - over-enterprising as it may be - we were going to find freedom in the clean light of the warm desert sun.

Instead, we got drenched in debauchery.

On reflection, yes. It was witless to seek a virtuous vacay in Sin City, the nation's unapologetic adult playground. In the 1990s, Vegas' tourism office made a marketing push to lure families there. But the campaign went bust and the tourism office did a bout face, adopting the decidedly grown-up (notice I didn't say "mature") motto "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas."

They no longer woo kids. In fact, the Bellagio hotel doesn't even allow children inside unless they're registered guests, and the new Encore and Wynn hotels have "no strollers" signs on their doors.

But we were heading back from a trip to the Grand Canyon, and the Vegas Strip seemed a natural stop - another mystifying spectacle, not unlike the canyon itself in its dazzling scope and strangeness. Besides, where else can you see Egypt, Paris and Manhattan in a single road trip?

Getting to those theme hotels is tricky, though. You walk a lot in Vegas, even to catch a cab or hop on the monorail. And strollers are a burden on the city's endless maze of escalators.

You can't get anywhere on the Strip, either, without plodding through casino after casino, and despite the colorful, dinging, video-game-like appeal of the ubiquitous slot machines, kids aren't allowed to play. If they even stop walking long enough to watch Dad play a game, a security guard nudges them toward the door.

Having grown up in our new smoke-free world, my kids were irritated by the cigarette smell in the hotels - and surprised to see people knocking back cocktails before noon.

"Jeez," my 10-year-old snorted, "do people just come here to smoke, drink and gamble?!"

No, of course not. There's also the hope of some really tawdry sex. Which he found out about during an early evening foray down the city's sidewalks. Gentlemen greet you wearing bright yellow shirts that say "Girls Direct To You In 20 Minutes" and handing out trading cards with photos of naked ladies on them. They don't hand them to kids, but a fierce, dry wind blew the cards all over the street. It was literally raining porn, and every time we waited at a crosswalk, my son got a good gander at the gals staring smuttily up at us from underfoot.

Thankfully, the sex business is an equal opportunity offender. The billboards outside our hotel window featured a crush of Chippendale-style beefcakes flashing bedroom eyes and weightroom pecs, and another ad that inspired this question: "Mom, what is a gay escort?"

Kids adapt so quickly, though. We hadn't been there 24 hours before my oldest was encouraging me to climb out of the kiddie pool and enter a dance contest in which I would vie for hoots and cat-calls from fellow sun-worshippers by shaking my bikini-clad moneymaker to a blaring bump-and-grind ditty.

"Pleeeeeeease, mom?" he begged. "I can seriously imagine you winning!"

But I declined. These things, I've come to learn, tend to look better in your head.


Starshine Roshell is the author of Keep Your Skirt On, a collection of columns available at






Bag o' tricks: Why is there a PBJ in my purse?(BUILT IN) (Photos) StarshinePhoto.jpg

By Starshine Roshell


It's not something I thought would ever come out of my mouth. Not something I'm proud of. But there it was:

"Sweetheart, do you want a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? I have one in my purse."

Prior to their birth, I carried my kids in my uterus. Ever since, I've been schlepping their equivalent weight in snacks, tools and toys in my handbag. I think of it as baby weight that I never lost.

Gum, sunscreen, Play-Doh.

Tissues, Tums, Chapstick.

Nail clippers, plastic fork, Matchbox helicopter.

I could survive a nuclear attack - or at least a blitz of playground injuries, restaurant meltdowns and unforeseeable grooming emergencies - using only what's rolling around at the bottom of my handbag.

Most of the junk in a mom's purse falls into three categories: Things we can't live without (Tide stain stick). Things we tossed in for a specific occasion but haven't bothered to remove because they still might come in handy someday (foldable scissors). And things we plum forgot were in there (soy sauce packets).

"The weirdest thing I ever pulled out of my purse was an edible eyeball from Halloween," confesses a friend. "And it was January."

My family laughed at me recently when I exhumed a Costco-sized bag of crackers from my purse while we were running errands.

"What?" I asked, defensively. "You said you were hungry."

"It's true, I am," my husband chuckled. "I'll take a cheeseburger and some fries, if you've got 'em in there ... "

"Yeah, mom, I'm in the mood for pizza," added my son between snorts. "Got any thick crust pepperoni, maybe under your wallet?"

Har har. Guffaw if they must. But if my purse has become more farcical than fa?onnable, it's because of them.

"I'm the family's on-the-go crap-holder, and when no one else wants to hold it, it winds up in my purse," says another friend, whose bag is currently a nesting place for earplugs, pesos, birthday candles, stray socks and one very smooth rock. "But all that useless stuff occasionally makes me a hero."

Indeed. I know a mom whose purse-sized Post-Its double as an instant doodling surface and a cover for the toddler-terrifying flush sensors on automatic toilets.

It's ingenious. So is the Secret Snack. Most kids are well aware that we moms have a granola bar, fruit leather or packet of trail mix bouncing around in our purse for when they're ravenous. What they don't know is that we also have an omnipotent sugary treat that we keep hidden in a zipper compartment until desperation strikes. I carry a Please Stop Crying Lollipop. Other ladies keep a stash of Six Minutes of Silence M&Ms.

I realize my better-stocked-than-sorry philosophy makes me a control freak. Go ahead. Chide my lack of spontaneity, and gasp at the unsightly dip in my shoulder where the strap of my bulky satchel has worn a permanent rut. It's better than being up the creek without, um, moist toilettes.

"When I became a mom," explained another gal, "I learned very quickly that you are either prepared at all times, or you suffer the dire consequences. Before you walk out that door, you had better think ahead and stock up, or your life can become pretty miserable, pretty quick."

If that sounds overly dramatic, it's only because you've never had to wait in line at a pharmacy beside a display of ceramic figurines with two children - one coughing, one spinning in circles - just before dinnertime.

Which is why I also carry Xanax in my purse. And sometimes duct tape.



Starshine Roshell is the author of "Keep Your Skirt On," a collection of columns available through




A New View of Life in the Middle Ages

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By Leslie Dinaberg

South Coasting


I can hardly believe it, but by the time you read this column, I'll be married to a middle-aged man.

Zak, my dear husband who was barely legal when we met -- and used to be two grades younger (as he likes to remind me) than I am (but only 19 months younger, as I like to remind him) -- turned 44 on April 5.

Or "30-14," as my sister has recently taken to saying.

While I entered my 40s kicking and screaming and comforting myself with ridiculous made up mantras like "40 is the new 30," Zak seems to be taking it all in stride ... at least so far.

Maybe it's because he looks pretty young.

It's a running joke in our house that people who don't know him usually address him as "Sir," or more commonly, "Dude." Perhaps it's because of his 80s rock star haircut, but the "Dude" dispatch is not infrequently followed by an invitation to either purchase or sell some kind of illegal substance.

When we honeymooned in Bali, a group of village woman started the rumor that he was the then long-locked Michael Bolton, who was appearing that week in Denpasar. Then, at a sushi place in Los Angeles, weird Al Yankovich's date once mistook the two of them. And once in a while he still inspires choruses of Peter Frampton's "Baby, I Love Your Way."

Maybe he doesn't look so young after all (and maybe he should actually learn to play the electric guitar I got him for his 20-tenth birthday).

If it's not the fact that he looks young, then perhaps Zak's blas? reaction to aging is because he's so in touch with his inner child.

When our son's teacher made an offhand comment about his fraternal relationship with his father, I wasn't sure how to react. Should I be happy that my only child has a close playmate, or annoyed that my oldest son is turning 44 and still living at home?

For the most part, my nine-year-old and my 44-year-old boys play really well together. They both love computer games, Foster's Freeze chocolate dip cones, science fiction/fantasy stories, jumping on the furniture and fart jokes.

And the tall one can drive. How cool is that?

Unlike most people over 30, my husband still clings to the notion that listening to KJEE and wearing shorts year-round still gives him some modicum of coolness.

Could Zak's enviable boatloads of self-esteem be the reason behind his good humor this week?

I've got a theory about men, women and self-esteem. While a woman's self-esteem can ebb and flow depending on what their hair does, what their scale reads and how guilty they feel about what they did or didn't eat for breakfast, a man can look in the mirror once or twice during high school and if they liked what they saw, that image is permanently embedded in their psyches, despite all evidence to the contrary.

Apparently Zak thought he was pretty cool in high school, and has seen no reason to change that opinion in the past two decades.

Good for him.

The fact that he still has the same group of friends - and they actually all still like each other -- probably helps. Maybe 16 and 44 aren't so far apart after all.

If being cool at 16 meant doing a mock-strip tease in your campaign for student body president, then being cool at 44 means doing a mock-strip tease to get your son in the shower.

If being cool at 16 meant cracking up your friends by quoting Jeff Spicoli lines from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, then being cool at 44 means doing a spot-on Spongebob Squarepants impression.

If being cool at 16 meant constantly carrying around a package of condoms that you hope to someday use, then being cool at 44 means constantly carrying around a package of Band-aids that you hope you never have to use.

If being cool at 16 meant goofing around in the bleachers at the football games, then being cool at 44 means goofing around in the bleachers at baseball games, and not forgetting the snacks.

And if being cool at 16 meant pretending not to notice when your girlfriend had a few zits, then being cool at 44 means pretending not to notice when your wife has a few wrinkles. It's also refraining from comment when she gains a few pounds, is in a bad mood, wants to go out with her girlfriends, burns your dinner or puts tampons, chocolate and Diet Coke on your grocery shopping list.

I can hardly believe I'm married to such a cool guy.

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The sob squawk screech of siblings

By Starshine Roshell

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I'm an only child. But I was rarely a lonely child.

My folks would drive half an hour each way to shuttle my school chums to and from our house so I'd have someone to goof around with on weekends. I always thought their jaunts were generous, but now that I'm a parent I realize it was for their benefit as much as mine: An hour of driving is well worth four hours of not having to help me inventory my Hello Kitty pencils and choreograph a dance routine to the entire Go-Go's album.

When friends weren't around, I played jacks or skated around the block solo. I dressed Barbie, undressed her and dressed her again, maybe with a winter muff this time. I sat alone in my room transcribing lyrics from my Walkman or playing solitaire. (It sounds sadder than it was.)

I remember once playing Twister by myself. I set up the colorful plastic mat in the living room, where my mother was trying desperately to lose herself in a novel, and I asked if she would mind simply kicking the spinner with her foot as she read, so that I might know where next to plop my left hand, or right foot.

OK, maybe that one was a little sad.

But if being an only child taught me how to amuse myself and converse with grown-ups, it didn't prepare me for the skull-rattling cacophony of sibling spats.

What IS that?

My boys are playing quietly together, building something, sharing in a make-believe world so rich that I wonder how I ever managed to live without a sister - or how my parents ever got anything done without a built-in playmate to help me wile away the afternoons.

And then it happens. The cuteness and convenience of my kids' desire to play together is shattered by the shrieks, sobs and shoves that ensue when one of them touches the other one's Lego propeller. Or looks like he might touch it. Or thinks about possibly, just maybe touching it.

I'm woefully ill equipped to handle such a row and find myself saying inane things to my bickering boys:

"Who got it out? Who called it first? Who had it last?"

"OK, so you bought it with your own money. Well ... then ... can he pay you to play with it?"

"No one touches anyone's stuff anymore! Nothing! Ever!"

My husband, who has a younger brother, laughs at me.

"I'm tired of being sucked into these ridiculous squabbles," I moan. "I don't want all this arguing, all this noise."

"Then you shouldn't have had two kids," he says, still snickering.

I didn't set out to have two kids. I figured one was plenty. I never felt slighted for not having a sib, and I like how one-child families get to be more adult-oriented, toting Junior along on classy wine-tasting vacations rather than cramming a whole bratty brood into a Disney-adjacent motel room and calling it "fun."

But I became so enchanted with our first child - so impressed with our ability to produce a fully functioning human being - that it seemed a flagrant waste of our talents and biology not to make another.

And when the boys aren't locking horns over Legos or battling over the last brownie on the plate, I'm glad we did. Because here's something else I never realized about siblings: Their bond will be the longest relationship they'll have in their lifetimes. Even after their dad and I have gone to that wine-tasting vacay in the sky, our boys will be there to comfort and cheer one another. To flick the Twister spinner. To offer simple company and call it "fun."

Assuming they don't maim each other first.



Starshine Roshell is the author of "Keep Your Skirt On," a book of columns available at




(BUILT IN) (Photos) LeslieD_2007.jpgEverybody Loves Leslie

By Leslie Dinaberg

South Coasting


Wine, chocolate, and naps are indispensable tools in my "how to deal with life" arsenal, but sometimes fantasy is the only narcotic that does the trick. As a kid I thought that life at the Brady house or singing "Hello World" with the Partridge Family looked a lot more fun than anything my family had to offer. At the very least, it seemed like my little sister should have been recast in the third season.

And now, I've had just about enough of this "Life with Leslie" reality show. I want to my life to be a sitcom, where no matter how monumental my problems, they can always be happily resolved in 23 minutes.

It would go something like this:


Monday: My long-lost identical twin, Lisa Dimebag, shows up at my door. It's teacher conference week, which means I've only got an hour left before pick-up time to write an article, return seven phone calls, read 57 emails and watch yesterday's Oprah. The phone rings and its my crotchety but loveable husband reminding me about baseball practice, which starts right in the middle of basketball practice.


Lisa accidentally deletes all of my emails, falls into the pool, and volunteers to drive carpool. Amusingly clumsy, but what a lifesaver. She's so helpful and friendly; I'm going to love having a twin around.


That night, when I return a call from Kyle's Dad at school he says something about "taking me up on my very interesting offer" in a way that makes me think my twin may be a little bit TOO friendly. I sit her down and explain, in a very older-sisterly way, that she can't act too slutty when she's pretending to be me. We hug. She leaves and we never hear from her or Kyle's Dad again. My crotchety but loveable husband seems oddly depressed.


Tuesday: Koss and I enter the parent-child talent show at school. The kids all laugh at our attempt to dance like the stars. Koss can't even do any of the lifts, even though they worked fine when we practiced by the pool.


I cry because I'm so embarrassed by my dancing. Koss tells me to "man up, mom."


We win first place in the talent show for our beautiful singing act. We hug. Koss cries because he's so happy. I tell him to "man up."


Wednesday: We go on a disastrous field trip to the zoo, where the kids are treated to the unfortunate spectacle of two otters mating, and my crotchety husband makes jokes that are completely inappropriate for the eight o'clock hour. Driving back to school, I accidentally sideswipe a police car because I'm yelling at the kids to quit saying, "Why, I otter..."


When I show Officer Bud my insurance card, Koss realizes that I don't actually have the $10 million insurance policy that the school requires to drive a bunch of seven year olds around (probably because I've spent all my money on dance lessons instead of real estate). Busted. My own son tells Officer Bud to arrest me.


Officer Bud, a parent himself, arrests my son instead. Koss learns an important lesson about speaking out of turn. We hug. I make him finish all of his prison dinner before I bail him out.

Thursday: I accidentally TIVO last week's news and find out I picked all six Super Lotto Plus numbers a week late. I fantasize about what I'd do with my millions.


Dripping with diamonds, I swoop out of my limo and hire a private detective to track down my twin sister and Kyle's Dad. I have him put Lisa Dimebag in deep freeze in case I ever need any of her body parts. My crotchety but loveable husband seems oddly happy.


I hang out at the country club and drink martinis while I pay other people to golf for me. My now-spoiled rotten son has a fit when I won't let him buy the Miramar. He tells me I was a better mommy before we got rich. I realize he was right. We hug and we're right back in our living room watching TV again. We didn't win the lottery but it's still a wonderful life and "A Christmas Carol" is on TV.


Friday: We sit at a little league game for an entire episode, with no commercial breaks and no alcohol allowed. My crotchety but loveable husband is extra crotchety.


Saturday: I get bonked on the head when a bottle of wine falls off the top of my refrigerator. I contract temporary amnesia and we run Tuesday's episode again in fast motion. My dancing doesn't improve, but I'm blown away by own singing voice. Hey, it's my fantasy.


Sunday: Clip show - television-ese for "day of rest."

Send your theme song suggestions to For more of Leslie's columns visit




Schools paying price for "Rent"

By Starshine Roshell

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Starshine Roshell is a Santa Barbara writer and mother of two.

Visit her at


Dirty needles. Cross dressers. Pole dancing. Just another day in the high-school auditorium.

After 12 years of rocking and shocking Broadway, the hit musical "Rent" is exploding onto high-school stages across America. The New York Times reports that more than 40 schools plan to stage the rock opera this spring. But some parents and principals are squeamish over the show's racy content, and productions in California, Texas and West Virginia have been canceled.

The play is actually "Rent: School Edition," a somewhat milder version of the original. The profanity has been cut - but the provocative plot remains in tact.

Winner of a Pulitzer Prize and three Tony Awards, "Rent" is Jonathan Larson's turn-of-the-21st-century take on the classic opera "La Boh?me." It tracks a year in the life of a loose-knit clan of starving artists grappling with poverty, disease and romance in New York's East Village.

In "La Boheme," the heroine is a frail seamstress suffering from consumption; in "Rent," she's a smack-addicted go-go dancer with HIV. If that weren't enough to get moms' and dads' trousers in a twist, there are (gasp) gay, bisexual and transvestite characters.

Like "Hair," "Chicago," "Ragtime" and, frankly, most good musical theater, the show captures a zeitgeist while illuminating troubling social issues.

"Oh, they're all racy and suggestive," says my friend Cheri, who teaches musical theater to teens. "'Carousel' with its wife-beating, 'King and I' with polygamy. You get into 'Grease,' and you're talking about teenage pregnancy."

But there's something about seeing social mores shattered in high-stepping dance numbers that makes them less threatening. Was anyone really scared of the gang members, and their jazz hands, in "Westside Story"?

The truth about "Rent" is that its subject matter - sex, drugs and cultural rebellion - is particularly relevant to high-school students. Sure, you'd hope the cast tended more toward seniors than freshmen (and the fact that the show is also being marketed to middle-schoolers, though unsuccessfully, really does feel inappropriate). Ultimately, though, the show's messages are as sappy as you'd want them to be. Every day should be savored. Art should never be compromised. And irresponsible choices really can have dire consequences - at least until the final ensemble dance number.

"When kids do shows like 'Rent,' their eyes light up," Cheri says. "They feel like they're part of something that's contemporary, important, relevant and cool."

A responsible director helps the students understand the pain and the price of the characters' self-destructive behaviors, she says, which not only makes for better performances, but imparts lasting life lessons to the actors themselves.

San Mateo High School in California used its "Rent" production as an opportunity to bring in guest speakers to educate students about drug use and deadly STDs. Seems to me that, if done correctly, staging "Rent" could open up the kind of invaluable coming-of-age dialogue that you just can't get from mounting another vapid version of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown." (Although I wouldn't mind an updated script wherein Schroeder finally comes out and Lucy does time for impersonating a doctor.)

That being said, there is one terrific reason not to hand high-schoolers the script of a risqu?, conscience-challenging play like "Rent. " Or "Sweeney Todd" or "Spring Awakening" or even "Thoroughly Modern Millie" with its - surprise! - white slavery subplot.

But the reason isn't the damage the show could do to our kids. It's the damage our kids could do to the play.

I've seen too many earnest but unworldly teens make an inadvertent mockery of powerful social-issue plays, simply because the material was a good decade of life experience beyond their dramatic grasp.

You can't fake that kind of maturity. You can't teach it. And I'm not fully convinced you can rent it.



Starshine Roshell is the author of "Keep Your Skirt On," a collection of columns available through





Can we talk about texting?(BUILT IN) (Photos) LeslieD_2007.jpg

By Leslie Dinaberg
South Coasting


I'm as addicted to my iPhone as the next gal, but when history is happening, I turn off the phone and pay attention.


When a group of us gathered at a friend's store to watch Barack Obama's Inauguration, it was festive, it was fun, it was emotional and it was the experience of a lifetime.


I was proud to be an American-and I was horrified to witness one of the other party guests texting his way through the ceremony. This was an incredible moment in history, something to tell our grandchildren about. He was obviously interested enough in the inauguration to get up early that morning and come to the party to watch it, so what's it going to take to make him put away the phone for a few minutes?


This guy wasn't even a teenager, so I can't attribute his extra long thumbs (otherwise known as texting-itis) to a generational adaptation. My friend Albert is also squarely middle-aged, and yet he texted his way through a concert at the Granada the other night.


What it is up with that anyway?


Are we really so addicted to our gadgets that there has to be a law to stop people from texting while driving? My first reaction when I saw the signs about the new law outlawing texting while driving was a big fat "duh." But I'm starting to think it might really be needed.


I read in the LA Times recently that Americans now send about 75 billion text messages a month and I'm okay with that.


Really, I am.


Texting is an excellent way to contact a friend late at night without worrying about waking them up. Or it's a great tool to communicate information without taking time out to have a conversation.


But when real life is going on-especially big, important, historic moments in real life are going on-the cell phones should be turned off. No debate, no discussion, no exceptions, no texting.


Even small, insignificant moments in real life should take priority over texting. I can't remember the last time I had dinner with my teenage nephews and they weren't texting under the table.


On occasion, I used to have to say, "Hey my eyes are up here," to keep leering eyes from staring at my cleavage. Now I have to say, "Hey my eyes are up here," to stop them from staring at their cell phone screens.


Granted, that may be more of a comment on the current state of my cleavage than anything else, but still, I think we need some simple text-etiquette lessons.


If there's something significant going on that you've gathered together with others to experience, then put away your cell phone. This goes for presidential inaugurations, rock concerts, movies, and dinners with families and friends.


If you're operating heavy machinery, then focus on the ten tons of steel you're controlling, not the three ounces of plastic keyboard that can easily wait until break time.


It's none of my business if you want to spend a significant fraction of your 1,440 minutes a day checking the number of pokes and prods you got on Facebook, but that's not how I want to spend my time. So, if there's another person across from you-especially if it's me-give them your attention, not your cell phone.


And not your land line either, for that matter. It really irks me when I go to the trouble to go to a store, in person, and the person working there stops helping me to answer the phone.

It also really irks me when I go to the trouble to have dinner/lunch/coffee with a friend, and the person stops our conversation to answer the phone or respond to a text.


Yes, I understand that there are emergencies with kids and work, cars that need to be serviced and deals that need to be closed, and if you really need to take the call or respond to the message then I'll still be your friend, but the proper response to such an interruption is, "excuse me."


Even "xq me" is better than simply treating the flesh and blood people you're with as less important than whoever is trying to connect with you on the phone.


So in answer to that text you just sent me, "Y r u mad @ me?" I'd really like to look you in the eye and say, "because you're being rude," but hey, my eyes are up here.


When Leslie's not ranting about cell phones she's really a very pleasant person who can be reached at For more columns visit or read them every Friday in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound



The Post-Baby Bop(BUILT IN) (Photos) StarshinePhoto.jpg

By Starshine Roshell


It's the great irony of having children: The very act that launches you into parenthood is difficult to achieve - ever again - once your kid is born.

It's like nature looks at you and says, "What? You got what you came for. Find another way to jazz up your evenings."

And it happens to everyone: No matter how much your boudoir tends to bounce before Baby comes along, it slows to a sort of sad, silent stillness (sigh) once the diapers start flying.

"I can't think of a single couple I know who hasn't been affected by this issue," says sex therapist Ian Kerner, a New York husband and father of two.

But he swears there's hope. In his new book "Love in the Time of Colic: The New Parents' Guide to Getting It On Again," Kerner and co-author Heidi Raykeil say there's no reason to throw your libido out with the baby's bath water. "It really is possible," they write, "to do the hokey pokey and keep up the hanky panky."

What causes the sexual fizzle between new parents? Exhaustion. Stress. Mom's hormones, and her tendency to devote every amp of energy and inkling of empathy to the helpless, gurgling humanoid in the bassinet, leaving none for poor, pent-up Dad.

Kerner jokes that a working title for his book was "What to Expect When He's Expecting Sex," because Dad's urges - and Mom's reluctance to have her arms, breasts and hair tugged at by yet another needy family member - are a common source of strife.

I remember those post-baby months so clearly: Sex felt like another chore on my household to-do list, rather than the delicious indulgence it had always been. I was confused, disappointed and embarrassed at having gone from fit and frisky to tuckered-out and turned-off.

Kerner says it's just as tough on guys. He confesses to having been so hard up after his kids were born that he once became aroused while listening to his wife read the book "Hop on Pop" to their son.

He's not alone. I recall my husband trying to woo me with "There's a Wocket in My Pocket" and I think we can all agree that when you're hearing innuendo in Dr. Seuss verse, you know it's been too long.

Here's good news, though: Kerner says that by expecting sex, a new dad is actually performing a vital task: luring his partner slowly (if sometimes annoyingly) back into a strong, passionate couplehood, "a crucial necessity if they're to flourish and succeed as a family."

Kerner insists there are two ways to do that.

Wrong way: "Just saying, 'Let's have sex now.' "

Right way: "Communicating, building anticipation, helping a woman rediscover those feelings of wanting, helping her to feel sexy, contributing to all the new chores that go along with having a baby in order to help her de-stress."

Pay attention to that last point. Along with all the other surprises of new parenthood, I was shocked (who knew?) to discover there's nothing sexier than a guy who can swaddle, shush and sway a newborn to sleep. Sorry, that's hot.

As your kids grow, of course, new sexual challenges arise. We recently entered the Kiddus Interruptus phase and I can promise you that nothing quashes the libido like having to explain to your children why Mommy likes sleeping with "just her boots on."

Once you're past the baby years, though, the solutions get simpler. Communication? Anticipation? No need when basic hardware does the trick.

Says Kerner, "We have a lock on our bedroom door."



Starshine Roshell is the author of "Keep Your Skirt On," a collection of columns available through



Praising the Pusher(BUILT IN) (Photos) LeslieD_2007.jpg

By Leslie Dinaberg
South Coasting




During your childbearing years, no four syllables have more power to start arguments than that one, simple word.


They are designed to take away pain, but epidurals also bring on rationalizing, pontificating, preaching, complacency, guilt, self-righteousness, ambivalence, and flat out fear. That syringe is full of much more than simple anesthetic. For many women, it's a shot of undiluted shame, a guilt-ridden admission that they couldn't take the pain.


I say so what. Pain is NOT everybody's friend, and that's where this wonderful invention comes in. I say we simply celebrate the wonderful man who invented the epidural.


How fitting it is that as Valentine's Day approaches, we can salute the birthday of the dearly departed Dr. John Bonica, the man who pioneered this wonderful invention for his wife, Emma, who nearly died giving birth to their first daughter.


Forget the diamond- and ruby-studded push presents that are all the rage in certain circles. Can you imagine a more romantic gift than a husband who hands you a large needle full of medicine that will take all the pain away?


Oh baby. I swoon just thinking about it.


Now don't get me wrong. I know all about the advantages of natural childbirth. After reading a million books on the subject of birth and the importance of having a "birth plan" -not realizing then that my time would have been MUCH better spent reading about parenting-I was planning on going drug free. I really was.


For one thing, needles always give me the heebie jeebies. I have to close my eyes just to get my blood tested, otherwise I worry I might faint from the wooziness.


Plus, I had been through a few surgeries and medical complications at that point, and had always been told I had a high threshold for pain.


I figured natural childbirth would be a snap.


Okay, maybe I'd need to squeeze that tennis ball extra hard and grunt a few times, but how hard could it be?


I was begging for drugs before I even had the hospital gown on.


My fear of needles was absolutely nothing compared to the blazing pain in my back when the contractions started. I would have gladly shot a thousand needles into my body-with my eyes wide open-to make the pain stop.


When the anesthesiologist finally came to give me my epidural, he was handsomer than George Clooney and Brad Pitt combined. And let me tell you, no offense to my husband, but that epidural was better than the sex that got me pregnant in the first place. And because I finally stopped squeezing his hand from the pain, he agreed.


Nothing makes you value human life more than giving birth to a 15-pound baby with a 21-inch-wide head-unless of course it's trying to do it without an epidural.

Thank you Dr. Bonica.

It's been a lot of years since Leslie's epidural, but she still remembers it fondly. Share your labor pains with For more columns visit



The Dirty Truth(BUILT IN) (Photos) StarshinePhoto.jpg

By Starshine Roshell

Freeze! This is the parent police. Drop your Windex and come out with your rubber-gloved hands up.

For years you sponge-happy, spore-hunting moms have shamed the rest of us with your spotless counters and sparkling floors. We don't know how you did it, you fiendish scrub nuts, but your houses - your very children, even - were always cleaner than ours, ever inferring (silently, so silently) that our families were destined to be dingy.

But you can put down your Pledge cans, ladies. Game's over. Those of us who define "cleaning" as "aiming a Dustbuster" refuse to feel inferior anymore. Science is on our side, baby. SCIENCE!

Researchers are saying that a little dirt in the home, on the hands or even - gasp! - in your kids' mouths won't hurt them. In fact, it's good for them. It turns out that ingesting the bacteria, viruses and even (just go with me on this one) intestinal worms found in everyday dirt actually strengthens children's immune systems, giving them "practice" for more serious germs.

Scientists call this the "hygiene hypothesis." I call it the "Hallelujah-I'm-not-a-failure finding." It's already changed my life.

The day the news came out, I was having a minor maternal meltdown: working too hard, sleeping too little, yelling at my kids too much. Chaos was closing in. When I tried to relax and enjoy my home and family, all I could do was gaze around the house in horror at all the things that need scouring and sterilizing, polishing and purifying. How do a boy's fingernails get to be that particular shade of grayish-brown? Why is there mud on the stairs? Who knew you had to clean window screens? (Who even knows how to clean window screens?)

My life was dirty. And not in the way I enjoy.

Then I read about Dr. Joel Weinstock of Tufts Medical Center, who told the New York Times that "Children raised in an ultraclean environment are not being exposed to organisms that help them develop appropriate immune regulatory circuits." Studies indicate our collective Dread of Dirt may be why asthma, allergies, Type 1 diabetes and even multiple sclerosis are on the rise in developed (ie. neatnik) nations. Dr. Weinstock goes so far as to say "Children should be allowed to ... play in the dirt, and not have to wash their hands when they come in to eat."

Which is surprising. What's even more surprising is how relieved I felt upon hearing this news - like a hot, humming vacuum bag collapsing when the appliance is shut off (I'm assuming here, as I don't know from vacuums). I didn't realize how guilty I had felt for the smudges, streaks and spots upon our lives - and for my unwillingness to tackle them.

But no more. Let the 3-year-old drop his peanut butter toast on the floor, sticky-side-down, and then proceed to eat it. Let the 10-year-old run out the door with a clump of dog hair stuck to the Velcro of his lunchbox. Let there be a streak of unidentifiable gick at the bottom of my coffee mug.

Big whoop. Bring it on. You'll notice we have no allergies.

These days, when I visit the home of a Swiffer-clenching, Lysol-huffing friend, I just remember my dirty little secret: That when I choose to ignore the occasional sand in the bathtub, when I pretend not to notice the smudged fingerprints on my fridge door, I am ensuring my children's robust health.

And as soon as they discover that watching loads of TV makes kids smarter, well, look out. You supermoms will be eating my dust.



Starshine Roshell is the author of "Keep Your Skirt On," a collection of her syndicated columns on modern gal-hood.



(BUILT IN) (Photos) LeslieD_2007.jpgKitchen bitchin'

By Leslie Dinaberg
South Coasting


Now that we've moved to a somewhat bigger house-with cupboards for pots and pans, counter space for ingredients, and a garbage disposal and dishwasher to assist with clean up-I'm running out of excuses not to cook.


Back at the old shack, I used to pretend we were camping, which made the spiders and the dirt more palatable, and my family's regular diet of takeout burritos and Costco chicken almost justifiable. After all, we were roughing it.


But now that I've rescued 300 wedding guests worth of kitchen appliances, cookware, and gadgets from storage, and miraculously found homes for them in our new place, I can no longer plead "unsuitable conditions for food preparation" as a reason not to cook.


I need a new excuse.


See, I've got a theory: the cooking gene skips a generation. My mom is an awesome cook. If you ask my son, even her toast is more "dee-licious" than mine. Therefore I was destined to suck in the kitchen.


It's my Grandma Sylvia's fault. She was such a bad cook that, according to family legend, she would regularly throw away entire dinners she had ready on the table when my Grandpa came home from work, took one look at the meal, and suggested they go out to eat.


So my mom developed her culinary gifts, at least in part, as a defense against her own mother's scorched casseroles and burnt briskets. And I never learned to do much in the kitchen because my mom had it under control, and then some.


I am hoping that my kitchen incompetence will give Koss an epicurean incentive. Something good has got to come out of my gastronomic ineptitude-other than a goldmine's worth of business for Giovanni's Pizza, that is.


I guess it's a good sign that Koss is obsessed with the Food Network shows, although most of his favorites seem to involve dangerously fast chopping, strange facts about food, and lighting pyrotechnic cakes on fire, rather than learning any recipes that could be created in our kitchen.


My old kitchen endured a few pyrotechnics-and I don't mean campfires-but the Food Network will not be filming anything here, unless it's a comedy.


Despite the scorch marks on my ceiling, I just can't get all that fired up about cooking. I've always been this way. My husband isn't much help either. He's fine on the barbecue, as long as there's only one thing to cook at a time. But it took him six years to master baked potatoes.


Even in our early married days, when we had a nice, big, well-stocked kitchen, and a lot more time on our hands, the most useful "recipe card" we had was the phone numbers of all the local takeout places.


On the plus side, my husband knows I cook like Stevie Wonder. One of my best recipes is to make something awful, have him make even the slightest negative remark-"is this supposed to be the color of veins?"-burst into tears, and voila! No cooking for at least a month.


I wonder if I could send in that strategy to respond to the email I just got titled, "Yippee, another chain recipe swap?"


Yippee indeed.


Not only am I now equipped with pots, pans, and casserole dishes in the new place, but when my neighbor came over to introduce herself, she offered: "You'll love this neighborhood. We do a potluck every week during Monday Night Football season."


Oh boy, another cooking opportunity.


I'll bring the cocktails.


When Leslie's not slaving away in the kitchen, she can be reached at For more columns visit



The Family That Rocks Together...(BUILT IN) (Photos) StarshinePhoto.jpg

By Starshine Roshell


There's anticipant silence as the guitarist plugs in. The whine and screech of feedback. The crisp rapping of two drumsticks as a voice barks, "One! Two! Three! Four! ... "

And the rocking, ladies and gentlemen, has begun.

Only it's not a concert stage or even a smoky nightclub; it's a garage. And it's not a leather-clad band of groupie-dogged rock gods; it's a dude and his dad. Or his cardigan-sporting, axe-shredding mom.

It happens secretly in homes across America - not in silence, mind you, but in seclusion. From the outside, these folks look like normal families, earnestly attempting to fill the age-appropriate roles expected of them: goof-off kid, incommunicative teen, sedate and sober parent.

But inside - perhaps during the unscheduled hour between homework and dinner or on an unscheduled Sunday afternoon - they're gathering around pianos and bongos, picking up harmonicas and tambourines, pulling out the weathered old Stratocaster and making music.

Sometimes it's a symphony. Sometimes a cacophony. But the sound, I'm told, is the least important product of the Family Jam.

"It's fun to play with someone who is easily impressed," explains my husband, a longtime guitarist who plays AC/DC with our 10-year-old drummer. "I like being able to pass on what I know about music before he gets too cool to listen to me ... and gets better than me."

The idea of handing off the musical baton to the next generation appeals to dad Dan Diamond, too - that and the "chance to get my musical rocks off," he says.

Diamond, who learned to play from his father, now plays blues guitar with his 13-year-old son every week. "If we hear something on the radio we think would be fun to play, we jam on it," he says. "My father died about 10 years ago. I am sorry he's not around to listen and jam with us, but I'm thrilled that (my son) has the ear and skill that I know is inherited."

Laurie Deans took up rock guitar after three years of shuttling her son Avery to music lessons. He's 19 now, and they still "noodle around" when he's home from college.

"It's a great role reversal," Avery says. "It takes you out of the parent-child relationship and puts you in a musician-musician relationship."

Laurie and other parents admit there's also a sporting element to learning music with your kids.

"Lead guitar is a massively competitive thing - though probably more for guys than middle-aged mothers," she says, "but, yes, I am totally stoked to show off by playing him the 'Stairway to Heaven' solo!"

Their musical tastes differ; she likes heavier rock, and more distortion, than her son does. "But it's great that we've gone through the potentially conflict-ridden teenage years sharing a common interest," she says, "being really passionate about the same thing."

Those of us who don't play (although I do hog the microphone) must assume the joy of the FamJam is similar to that of building, or baking, with your kids. It's the melody of creation paired with the harmony of cooperation.

"There's a certain language to making music," my husband says, "not just chords and notes, but song structure and dynamics. When you play with other people who can listen to what you're doing and respond to it, it's like you can read each other's minds. That's the best part of music-making. If I can teach my kid how to do that, it's something he'll always be able to do, with anybody."

Then there's the, um, other benefits.

"He doesn't care about this yet, but when you hit high school, being in a band is a really good way to get girls interested in you. He'll thank me later."



Starshine Roshell is the author of "Keep Your Skirt On," a collection of columns available through



(BUILT IN) (Photos) LeslieD_2007.jpg

Drive through ditch

By Leslie Dinaberg
South Coasting

The golden rule has always seemed a little selfish to me.


I love to do things for other people in part because there's a buzz I get when I do volunteer work, for example, that makes me feel good about myself. It's not selfless at all. It's intentional kindness and I always feel like I get just as much out of it when I volunteer or do something nice as the people I'm trying to help-maybe even more.


But this time I wanted to try to be randomly kind and anonymous.


I sometimes tell my son, it's easy to do a nice thing when adults are watching, but you show your true character when you do a nice thing and no one's watching. It was time for me to walk the walk and not just talk the talk, and do some nice things for other people without getting anything in return.


But what could I do? There are almost no parking meters for me to feed in my town and besides; I read somewhere that it's illegal to put money in someone else's parking meter. Go figure. When I helpfully tried to gather up the stray grocery carts in the Ralph's Supermarket parking lot, the box boy on duty accused me of "trying to put him out of work." So much for that idea.


This anonymous do-gooderness was getting to be frustrating. I couldn't catch a break trying to give someone a break.


Then I saw this thing on the news, where the drive though Starbucks in Loveland, Colorado reported that a customer wanted to pay for her own drink and also buy one for the person in the car behind her. That person then passed on the gift to the next car and on and on, cycling through 109 cars in a row, each willing to pass on the freebie to the next person. Like ding dong ditch, only the opposite. Drive through ditch, where you leave something good for the next person instead of leaving a bag of dog poop on their doorstep. I loved that idea!

Unfortunately there's no drive-through Starbuck's where I live, and there's always a line, so no chance for me to buy someone's morning coffee anonymously. But we do have a drive through McDonald's, so I decided to buy my coffee there the next day and drive through ditch the person behind me.


I looked nervously through my rear view mirror at the elderly man in the big white car. He looked sort of grumpy, but hopefully my gesture would put a smile on his face. The brown-capped McDonald's girl who took my money looked confused-after all, it was 8 a.m. and she probably hadn't had her coffee yet either-but she eventually understood me after I repeated myself three times and included some hand signals.


I drove away quickly, as I imagined the man in the white car with a smile on his face.


Later that day I drove through the Carl's Junior line, this time for a Diet Coke, and I only had to tell the guy working twice that "I'm doing a drive through ditch" meant I wanted to buy the person behind me lunch. There was no one behind me yet, which confused him a bit, but I was less nervous that time, so I think I explained myself a little better.


Again, I drove away quickly, fantasizing about the harried mom or cash-strapped teenage boy who would drive through next and receive my drive through ditch gift.


I got my caffeine fixes-and my drive through kindness attempts-a few more times that week at various drive through windows, always anonymously.


It was a slow news week, and every morning I half expected to see a headline about the random acts of kindness that were popping up at drive through windows around town. Nope, nada, nothing. Not even a passed on story from a friend about how some nice person had treated her to coffee in the drive through.


By my tenth attempt at a random act of kindness in the drive through line I started to wonder-how could this not be catching on? Were the people in snowy Loveland, Colorado more gracious than those in my sunny hometown of Santa Barbara, California? It was hard for me to believe. Still I continued with my drive through ditches in the lines at In and Out Burger, Jack and the Box and even Burger King. Still, it didn't seem to be catching on.


I swore off fast food for a while and had almost forgotten about my drive through ditches until this week, when I found myself in a drive through line once again. I pulled out a twenty and told the guy to buy the person behind me lunch with the change. This time I didn't even glance in the rear view mirror to check out who would be the recipient this time. I drove away smiling and teary-eyed and feeling better than I had in a long time. Who cares if drive through ditches aren't catching on the way I thought they would? It's a nice thing to do anyway, and wasn't that the point?


Later that day when I picked up my son from school, one of the moms had a big grin on her face. She told me a story about how someone had treated her to coffee that morning in the drive through line. "What a great idea," I said, with a great big, anonymous, not-so-selfless smile on my face. "I'll have to do that for someone sometime."


When Leslie's not consuming ridiculous amounts of caffeinated beverages, she can be reached at For more columns visit




(BUILT IN) (Photos) StarshinePhoto.jpgSitters: The last stand

By Starshine Roshell


It was disappointing news. Crushing, even.

Our first great babysitter in years - the kind who's like family, only smarter - announced she was moving across the country. Thereby annihilating our beloved Date Night.

While grim, the news wasn't really surprising. I have lousy luck with sitters.

There was Poor Judgment Girl, who decided to "rescue" our "lonely" dog from our backyard one day while we were gone and bring him to a 100-decibel kegger at her apartment. When we went to fetch him, she was too drunk to come to the door.

Then there was Blatant Liar Guy. We said he and the kids could build Legos, make sundaes, play Star Wars Monopoly - anything as long as the TV stayed off. We left; he plopped the boys in front of the tube and told them not to rat him out. They did.

Let's not forget Hormonally Tormented Gal, who said she was taking my toddler to the zoo. Turns out they were at her boyfriend's house, where my son watched "Bob the Builder" while the couple, um, coupled in the next room. Ick! Aack!

And I never did forgive poor Multi-Tasking Lady, who did her laundry at our house and left her lacy thong underwear in our dryer. When I found it, plagued by postpartum paranoia, I accused my husband of having an affair with the sitter. "Yeah," he said, laughing louder than I appreciated, "we had wild sex and then ... oh, baby ... we did laundry!"

So I'm tired of being polite. I've had it with conducting "proper" interviews with potential sitters. I'm going to tell you what I really want in a babysitter - what I think most parents want - and see if it gets me any closer to sitter bliss.

1) We want you to have your own car. When we say it's no problem to pick you up or drive you home, we're lying. Frankly, if we wanted to spend one more minute attending to someone else's needs, we wouldn't need a sitter in the first place.

2) We want you to know CPR. We don't know it ourselves, have never met anyone who needed it, and our kids stopped gobbling up "choking hazards" years ago. Still, we like it. In our skewed logic, anyone who can re-animate a stopped heart should have no trouble getting a first-grader to eat his peas and brush his teeth.

3) You seem to believe that calling our cell phones while we're out is the worst thing a sitter can do. Au contraire. The worst thing you can do is be so afraid to call us that, when our infant won't stop crying, you knock on the neighbors' door and ask them what to do. (Yes, of course this happened to me.)

4) If we're gone three hours and eight minutes, don't expect us to pay you for four hours. We don't charge you for all the soda you suck down; don't charge us for a couple of sluggish red lights.

5) Be aware that we check your MySpace page for inappropriate photos. Not because we fear you'll re-enact that nude beer-bong moment in our playroom. But because we know that someone who makes such short-sighted choices might not think to remove a pre-schooler's "rubber band necklace" before he goes to sleep.

6) Finally, we want you to be comfortable in our home. So comfortable, in fact, that you don't notice the pet hair clumped under the high-chair, or the sand in our children's sheets. Failing that, we want you to pretend that you don't see it and never speak of it aloud.

I've noticed my own sitters are more inclined to contribute to the household mess than to gag from it.

Guess I'm just lucky that way.



Starshine Roshell is a straight-talking mother of two and the author of "Keep Your Skirt On," available through



The Handwriting is on the Wall

By Leslie Dinaberg

(BUILT IN) (Photos) LeslieD_2007.jpg

South Coasting


In case you've missed the writing on the wall, cursive writing is going the way of eight-track tapes. Today's students will almost certainly be the last generation to learn handwriting, and I'm not sure that this is a bad thing.


Until the 1970s, penmanship was a separate daily subject taught through sixth grade, but a recent survey of primary-grade teachers found that most now spend 10 minutes a day or less on it. Even kindergarteners are learning keyboarding instead of handwriting. And while we used to celebrate a National Handwriting month, January marks the celebration of National Handwriting Day. There's not even a parade, despite the fact that it's also John Hancock's birthday this month, for which my husband and I usually exchange the traditional gift of fountain pens and parchment paper.

So much for the longevity of longhand.

After all, effective communication is the ultimate goal, so why bother with a time-consuming, archaic method of communicating when so many high-tech, high-speed methods are available? Anyone out there who is worried about the development of the next generation's communication skills should watch how skillfully the average13-year-old wields the text message function on his cell phone. Of course spelling will be the next part of the curriculum to go, but that iz a topic 4 anoth col.

Sure, I'm a little dependent on my laptop-OK, I was semi-suicidal the day my wireless card stopped working-but that doesn't mean I have anything personal against handwriting. Until recently, I took a certain amount of pride in my penmanship. It's extremely legible, which is the point of writing. The other cool thing about it is that in defiance to all of the handwriting experts who say that they can predict your personality traits by looking at something you've written, my sister and I have almost indistinguishable handwriting and distinctly different personalities. It's eerie when I get something in the mail from her. Cue the Twilight Zone music: "I don't remember writing that."


I used to wonder if my son's writing would look the same as ours did. Would genetics kick in, the shape of our hands perhaps? With two professional writers for parents, it was no great surprise that our son was an extremely verbal, great natural communicator. He started out this way on the page too, filling his kindergarten journals with imaginative stories about silver-tongued aliens and basketballs that could fly five zillion feet in the air and return with the snap of his fingers.


Then came the dreaded D'Nealian Alphabet.


Bearing only a slight resemblance to the loopy cursive writing style that I was taught in elementary school-and have barely used since-the D'Nealian Alphabet is designed to be a bridge between printing and cursive writing, adding curves and slants to the traditional circle and stick printing that children learn first.


Sounds simple enough. Almost logical.


Not for Koss. His previously legible printing quickly curved and slanted its way into oblivion. Before we knew it, none of us knew what the heck he was writing about. His sentences became shorter and less and less coherent. There was so much red ink when he got his papers back that I thought he might have had another bloody nose. The poor kid was thinking and worrying so much about his handwriting that he forgot what he was trying to say.


His well-intentioned first grade teacher gave him extra handwriting homework. Just imagine how much fun it is for a six-year-old kid to do an extra two pages of letterforms a night. A-A-A-A, B-B-B-B, C-C-C-C, D-D-D-D, just shoot us now and take us out of our D'Nealian misery! Talk about D'wasting D'time.


But his motor development is fine. You should see him put together those Bionicle pieces. What he suffers from is called dysgraphia, otherwise known as "bad handwriting." Luckily, we're living in an age where it doesn't really matter that much in the larger scheme of things.


I'm doing a little happy dance because Koss's teacher this year is letting him use a computer for some of his writing assignments.


I'm sure my own second grade teacher is rolling over in her retirement home. I can just hear her say, "Penmanship is extremely important. Don't you know that the health of at least 1 in 10 Americans is endangered by the poor handwriting of their physicians?"


To which I'll say, "So what. By the time Koss graduates from medical school there won't be any more prescription forms, we'll have prescription chips embedded in our bodies."


And she'll reply, "But did you know that up to $95,000,000 in tax refunds are not delivered because of unreadable tax-forms."


And I'll say, "Haven't you ever heard of Quicken?"


To which she'll reply, "But more than $200,000,000 in time and money is lost because poor handwriting results in phone calls made to wrong or non-existent numbers."

I could tell her about cell phones and email, but at this point it seems more merciful to send her a little hand-written note, thanking her for teaching me how to write...or just transfer her to voicemail.


Tell Leslie your penmanship peeves at For more columns visit



Pop Goes the Kids' Bop(BUILT IN) (Photos) StarshinePhoto.jpg

By Starshine Roshell


It niggles at me all day long. It's poking at my poor, feeble cerebrum even as I try to write this column. And if it were something great - if it were Ray Charles or Led Zeppelin or Elvis Costello - I would welcome the distraction.

But it's not. It's an artless song about bowling by a bush-league children's rock group whose name I won't tell you because I want to say quite a few more rude things about them. Like this: They are to music what Pop-Tarts are to breakfast. A queasying excuse for substance.

Someone gave us the band's CD, and I made the mistake of playing it during carpool one morning to keep the little ones happy. Now it's stuck on "random repeat" in my head. (And note that the ability to invade one's brain does not a meritorious ditty make.)

Kids like it because the lyrics, although clumsy, are quite literal. They enjoy the unremarkable singer's Disney-esque vocal stylings as she faux-emotes about pizza, dogs and gutter balls. They're fond of the kooky, colorful CD cover.

And I hate it for all the same reasons. From Mister Rogers to Raffi, from the Wiggles to Barney to those icky spiritual vegetables, the crowded "children's music" genre echoes with too many preachy, soul-less tunes performed by people whose inexplicable grins are eerily audible as they croon.

Wiggle me this: Why can't kids just listen to real music?

It's true that we introduce our kids to reading via children's books, and we initiate them into the cinema with children's movies. But we needn't ease them so gently - so childishly - into the world of music, because music can be appreciated, enjoyed and even, on some level, "understood," by listeners of any age or maturity.

Our response to music isn't intellectual; it's visceral. And when you flood kids' virgin eardrums with "Toot Toot Chugga Chugga Big Red Car," you're really just priming them for dreck.

Not all kids' bands are awful, of course. I can't get behind my grown-up friends who listen to Choo Choo Soul and the Laurie Berkner Band when their kids aren't even around. But I'm fond of Schoolhouse Rock and Trout Fishing in America, both of which - like all good art - affect us in layers.

Music should give us something to delight in right this minute, and keep providing interest each time we hear it - even if the interest on the 43rd listen is just nostalgia for the rhymes, rhythms, harmonies and metaphors we discovered over the first 42 times.

You want simple melodies and arrangements for your kids? Try the Beatles, Pete Seeger or "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." You like bright and happy? Play ABBA, the Beach Boys, Jason Mraz or the soundtrack for "Hairspray." For straight-up silly, you can't beat the Talking Heads, Barenaked Ladies or Prince's "Kiss."

Music is a treasure hunt. Every listen should take you closer to finding that one genre, that band, or even that singular song that synchs up with your psyche and ignites an unnamable joy that starts in your ears and spreads to your head, chest, hips and toes. It should move you. It should exhilarate you.

And Barney can't do that.

My oldest son wasn't three days old before we discovered - out of sheer desperation - that he would stop crying and become utterly, blissfully lost in Kool & the Gang's "Jungle Boogie." Now, I'm not saying he's a better person because of his early exposure to funk. Or because he prefers, to this day, to hear a growly "Git uppa with the git down!" than a perky "Bowling, bowling with you."

I'm just saying if something has to get stuck in my head ...



Starshine Roshell is a mother of two and the author of "Keep Your Skirt On," a book of columns available through





29 Gifts Bring Bountiful Blessings

By Leslie Dinaberg

(BUILT IN) (Photos) LeslieD_2007.jpg

South Coasting

The story is right out of a Lifetime movie, only this time it's true.


Lovely 30-something Cami Walker was on top of the world. She had conquered addictions to alcohol and drugs-now her career was thriving and she just married the man of her dreams. Then, two weeks after her honeymoon, her whole world came crashing down around her. Her hands didn't quite work, then one of her eyes stopped functioning, and she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.


Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. It isn't fatal, but it can result in serious physical and cognitive disabilities, depending upon the form it takes. Soon after being diagnosed, Cami didn't have the strength to keep working. Feeling desperate, hopeless and depressed, she decided to perform a simple ritual suggested by one of her spiritual teachers, a South African medicine woman named Mbali Creazzo. The idea was to take her mind off her disease-and herself-by focusing on helping others and giving something away each day for 29 days in a row.


"I thought the suggestion was crazy at first, but decided it couldn't hurt to try it. Things couldn't get much worse," said Cami. "I was shocked by how quickly things turned around for me. For me personally it's totally helped turn my health around in pretty miraculous ways. When I started this I was extremely sick and I was very lonely, I really had gotten to the point where I isolated myself from people. I was feeling totally alone, I was broke, I was so ill I hadn't been able to work in months and I was very much in a downward spiral in my life."


By day 14, Cami was able to walk without her cane, and was able to start working part-time again by day 29. "And my bank account was actually greatly improved because I was able to start working part time again and work just started showing up for me ... it was crazy, like my phone just started ringing and clients just started showing up and it blew my mind. And, I think most importantly, I had reconnected with friends and family by the end and made some new friends as well," she said.


Now in her ninth giving cycle, Cami was so inspired by the improvements in her life that she decided to turn the 29-Day Giving Challenge into a worldwide giving movement. Today has more than 3,200 givers in 38 countries, including-drum roll please-yours truly.


"I have definitely been surprised by how quickly it's grown," said Cami.


I'm not that surprised because it's fun and it's mostly easy. Gifts can be as big or as little you like. The important thing is to make a mindful effort to do something nice for somebody else. One day I played 12 games of checkers in a row with my son, without a single grumble or complaint from me. Another day I bought lunch for a stranger without a single grumble or complaint from me. I'm pretty sure the not complaining part is important. It doesn't matter what you do, but the website is full of great ideas for gifts of time, money, things, or kind words. In fact, so many great stories have been posted online that Cami got a book deal out of it. Her book will be coming out in the fall.


"I think one of the coolest stories that's come out of the site is Operation Teddy Bear Care," she said. "It started with a woman named Maureen Forbes who lives in the bush in South Africa with no electricity. She powers her computer with a solar panel that charges up a generator so that she can have two-three hours of light and use her computer. She posted on her blog that she had been visiting children in some of the remote AIDS clinics and she was just appalled by the conditions that they were living in and the level of poverty and that none of them had anything to call their own. She posted that she sews and she wanted to sew 100 teddy bears to give away but she only had enough fabric for 20."


Flashes of the Hanukah story go through my mind, as Cami continues. "Someone on the U.S. side, his name is BJ in Georgia, he read her blog and said, ?I'm going to help you out. We're going to help you get enough materials to do 1,000 teddy bears.' ... One of my gifts was to help them create a website and an identity for themselves and get their organization functioning on its own. ... Our goal is to help them give 1,000 gifts to South African children living in poverty by the 31st of December. And so far I think we've given almost 400 already, so we need about 600 more donation packages to be purchased. Go to if you want to check them out."


I went to the website, and guess what Day 25 was for me?


I asked Cami why she thinks the 29 gifts challenge has caught on. "It's a time where I think a lot of people are tired of the negative messages they see in the media over and over, and feeling kind of scared and frustrated with the state of the economy and some of the other things. The reality is that there are a lot of problems that we've got to deal with, especially in America but pretty much everywhere. And I do think that part of the reason this has caught on is that people are looking for something positive that they can feel like they are part of."


Sounds like a happy ending to me.

If you'd like to be part of the 29 Gifts Challenge visit for more information, and tell Leslie you're doing it at For more columns visit




(BUILT IN) (Photos) StarshinePhoto.jpgTrophy atrophy

By Starshine Roshell


They're the first things you see when you enter my son's room, and the only things he packed when a wildfire neared our home.

They're 10 golden, gleaming trophies, each touting him as a "winner" at T-ball, soccer, basketball. The most recent is a pewter mega-monument he earned playing football - on a team that lost every game by about 30 points.

While certainly a winner in my book, the kid has never once been on a championship team. Or even a mediocre one. Still, he has received more trophies than birthday cakes in his life. And he's not alone.

Mini-athletes get trophies these days just for showing up. They're de rigeur, as much a part of kids' sports now as Gatorade and ghastly, costly team photos. At the end-of-season pizza party (also a given), every team member gets a sizable statuette on a engraved pedestal. Play-off teams probably get bigger ones; ahem, I, wouldn't know.

"Claire got a soccer trophy even though she sat on her fanny and cried through every practice," says a mom I know.

What's the cost of being so generous with awards that were once reserved for the best of the best? Are we championing mediocrity? Will our kids expect attaboys for everything they do?

"There is a definite shift towards an 'everybody wins' attitude in sports these days," says a local dad. "It's good and bad." Getting a trophy was his 5-year-old daughter's favorite part of her first soccer season - which explains why, at the start of the next season, she came off the field asking, "Where's my trophy?"

Trophy inflation seems to have started with the self-esteem movement of the 1980s, when pop psychology convinced us that "effort" matters more than "success." Some called this progress; others deemed it hogwash.

"I abhor awarding trophies willy-nilly," says a soccer, basketball and baseball coach. "I have strong suspicions the trophy industry is behind the 'trophies for everyone' tradition." An outrageous accusation? Perhaps. "I suspect the Trophy-Industrial Complex is behind the subprime debacle, as well."

In real life, loss comes frequently - elections, jobs, relationships -and it forces us to reassess our performance and try harder next time. Isn't it better to let our kids taste disappointment now, when the terms are small, than to "protect" them from it till they're grown?

A friend of mine who works in human resources says that, as young adults, the "participation trophy generation" exudes a distinct sense of entitlement. "We don't give merit raises," she finds herself explaining, "just for doing your job."

But not everyone is anti-trophy. Proponents say the token effigies bolster kids' spirits after a brutal season.

"We aren't rewarding them for not winning," argues one coach. "We're rewarding them for showing up regularly, practicing, working as a team, learning the skills and rules of the game, playing through disappointment and pain."

Well, when you put it like that ...

"Kids can be so hard on themselves and feel undeserving even when they played well," adds my cousin, whose children play up to four sports at a time. "Some kids have uber-competitive parents and a little trophy may be their only positive reinforcement."

It's a fair point. It's not like we've stopped scoring the games; kids, it turns out, are keenly aware of the difference between bench-warming trophies and VIP trophies. And while they may treasure a thanks-for-playing memento as a souvenir from an exacting season, they'll be the first to tell you this: It's small consolation for failure.

"There are only three trophies I'm really proud of," says a sensible fifth-grader I know, who has won big in soccer, hoops and music. "The rest I call 'loser trophies' because you get them for losing.

"I actually think they're a waste of metal."



Starshine Roshell is the author of "Keep Your Skirt On," a collection of columns available at Santa Barbara bookstores.




Family Ways Sometimes Leave A Lot To Be Desired:

(BUILT IN) (Photos) LeslieD_2007.jpg

Tribal customs can be a mystery to outsiders. 
Are you fine with that?
By Leslie Dinaberg
South Coasting


"Feliz Navidad," sang those sweet, high-pitched voices of the fourth and fifth grade children.

"I want to wish you a Peaceful Solstice. I want to wish you a Happy Hanukkah. I want to wish you a Joyful Kwanza. I want to wish you a Merry Christmas from the bottom of my heart."

It was the most politically correct holiday concert I'd ever seen.

If only my own holiday rituals could be so inclusive.

There's one very important fact about marriage that gets lost in the sea of white silk and perfect place settings that all of those bridal magazines are so enamored with.

You don't just marry a man; you marry an entire family.

With that family comes decades worth of holiday rituals that are guaranteed to be different than your own.

And let's be honest here, when it comes to holiday celebrations, different isn't just different -- it's plain wrong.

So after we've cleaned up all of that wrapping paper and eaten our last bite of Christmas turkey and we pull out a deck of cards this year, I'll have to ask, once again: "Are we playing Dinaberg or Klobucher rules?" Because Klobucher rules are weird. It's like they actually read the directions or something. And they don't cheat, which I take as an affront to every thing my father ever taught me.

I love my husband's family, but sometimes when I'm with them I feel like I'm an anthropologist digging through exotic terrain.

I should have known I was in for trouble when we were first dating and my future husband took me out for a lovely birthday dinner. The food was fabulous. He'd invited only my favorite friends and bought me that perfect pair of earrings I had slyly hinted that I wanted.

It was when he took me home that the trouble began.

There was no cake.

No cake.

Not just no chocolate cake, but no cake whatsoever.

"But we had Cr?me Brulee at the restaurant," he protested, like that had anything to do with my missing birthday cake.

He didn't understand. Birthdays are a big deal in my family. They last at least a month (several months in my mother's case), with both family and friend versions of the celebration.

The specifics may vary a little from year to year, but one thing doesn't. There is always cake.

And by the way, the proper way to figure out birthday candles is your age plus "one to grow on." This is science.

"A little more is always better" is my family's philosophy.

My husband comes from a mother who fed four growing kids on two Chinese dinners from Ming-ons.

I, on the other hand, come from a Jewish mother.

So I know that if, God forbid, you have a party and there aren't leftovers for at least a week, you didn't make enough food.

It's enough to make you feel guilty for a year.

And if you feel guilty about something you have to talk about it, right?

In my family you have to talk about everything. And talk, and talk, and talk ... until you're so tired of talking you forgot what you were talking about.

Then you can talk about that.

My husband's family doesn't get the whole talking thing. Mostly they're "just fine" with just about everything.

But how do they really feel? We'll never know. And that's "just fine" with them.

I, for one, have never been "just fine" about anything in my life.

I certainly wasn't "just fine" that one year we had Thanksgiving dinner at my ex-Uncle's house. Sure they had turkey and a killer game of Pictionary but there were no mashed potatoes.

That's right. Thanksgiving without mashed potatoes.

Can you imagine such a thing? No wonder he's an ex-Uncle.

Which is why my sister and I spent the latter part of that evening driving around in search of mashed potatoes. It simply wouldn't have been Thanksgiving without them.

And when we finally found them at a Thai restaurant they were the most delicious potatoes we'd ever tasted.

Kind of like that gigantic flourless chocolate cake the year after my husband didn't buy me a cake.

"As if I'd ever forget again," he barked.

"See, that's why we talked about it so much honey," I mentioned for about the 12th time that year.

"Fine," he said. "Just fine."

When Leslie is not studying the tribal customs of her in-laws, she can be reached at For more columns visit




Projectile Homework(BUILT IN) (Photos) StarshinePhoto.jpg

By Starshine Roshell


Not "flu shots." Not "chore chart." Not even "Grandpa's sauerkraut." No, the two words that most set my family moaning are these: Class project.

It happens a few times a year. My grade-schooler brings home an assignment that promises to mock my poor parenting skills even as it converts my dining room table into a wasteland of Sharpies, index cards and - often, for some reason - cotton balls.

Historic reports that lay waste to our weekends. Science projects that erupt in family arguments.

"I hate them," says a friend of mine, a mother of three. "They get expensive, take a ton of time on top of regular homework and, honestly, I don't see my kids learning a whole lot from it."

That's just the problem. I've never understood what exactly these projects are supposed to be teaching: planning? research? handicraft? Super! But I'm a lousy instructor for those things - which is why I send my child to school.

Why can't I just educate him in laundry skills, phone etiquette and Egg-Scrambling 101? And his teachers can school him in finding the cultural contributions of Georgia, diagramming the human heart and building Egyptian pyramids out of sugar cubes.

I have great respect for parents who enjoy these projects - who clear their calendars, roll up their sleeves and deftly guide their kids from brainstorming to classroom set-up. But I also admire those who refuse to get involved at all. "We'll wield the spray glue when necessary," says another mother I know. "That's it."

It's us anxious back-and-forthers that make projects so stressful on everyone. "I start off saying, 'You need to do this project,' " says one mom, "but often by the end I feel so invested that I find myself saying, 'Go to bed and I will finish it.' "

"It's a balancing act," explains another mother. "I don't want my kids to feel less than capable of doing the work themselves - and I did already pass first and sixth grades. On the other hand I don't want them to fall on their faces."

But if the finished projects will be displayed before other parents, she says, "then you'd better plan to be involved - because the other parents will be. It's a competition."

It's not the tension between families that gets me. It's the tension within families. I know a mother who lives for class projects, and her oldest son does, too. "He's constantly striving to outdo his last one," she says proudly. "Right now, he's building a full size catapult." But her younger boy has lower standards, so when the X-box beckons, he simply declares his projects "good enough" and walks away, she says. "I must breathe very deeply at this point."

What is the value in all this push and pull? (And why, as long as we're asking, has there been a mini Mohawk village atop my clothes dryer for a full year? Are we ever allowed to throw these things away?)

I sought insight from a friend who teaches elementary school.

"The point is the process, not the product," she says. "There's always one where you can tell the kid sat in the garage watching his engineer dad construct it - some parents just totally miss the point."

In order to avoid that mistake, let's all look for the opportunities inherent in our kids' next take-home project. You might see it as a chance to re-learn something you'd forgotten. Or to keep your perfectionism in check. Me, I'm gonna pray the word "shoebox" shows up on the materials list.

It's hard to hate a mandate to buy footwear.


Join Starshine Roshell at the launch party for her book of columns, "Keep Your Skirt On," 7 p.m. Dec. 9 at Sullivan Goss Gallery. RSVP:




Family First (BUILT IN) (Photos) LeslieD_2007.jpg

By Leslie Dinaberg
South Coasting


Sometimes I feel like a Magic 8-Ball, making mundane yet still crucial decisions for my family all day long.


"Should we have pasta for dinner?" "Signs point to yes."


"Can I wait till after dinner to start my homework?" "Outlook not so good."


"It looks sunny, should I wear shorts today?" "As I see it, yes."


"Can we bring snack to soccer on Saturday?" "Reply hazy, try again."


"Can the classroom rats come home with us for Thanksgiving break?" "My sources say no."


"Pretty please." "Don't count on it."


Quite frankly, other than the rats, I could go either way on most of these day-to-day decisions, which is why I try to not to waste a whole lot of thought on the more mundane matters of motherhood. Sometimes I actually do use a Magic 8-Ball to make decisions and nobody cares.


This past week, I couldn't help thinking about how different things must be now for Future First Lady Michelle Obama when she makes family decisions. She has described her upcoming role as "Mommy-in-Chief" to emphasize that the girls will be her top priority while living in the White House. It's not that I don't think Barack will be involved too, but let's face it, he's got a new job and he'll be traveling a lot and most of the day to day decisions will fall into Michelle's more-than-capable hands.


Decisions decisions.


She can't just pick an outfit out of her closet-or dress her kids-without being scrutinized to death. Just days after the election, "The Wall Street Journal" reported that stores across the country were selling out of the Biscotti Inc. dress Malia wore on Election Night, and that Gerson & Gerson Inc., maker of Sasha's dress, has been calling retailers to let them know it'll soon be coming out with a new version of the dress ("The Sasha"). What are the girls going to wear? She has to decide-and other people really care.


Everyone and their brother are weighing in on what kind of puppy she should get the girls. Should it be a pure bred or a shelter dog? Should it be hypoallergenic or is there really such a thing? Should it be black or white or black and white, or are we beyond caring about such matters? She has to decide-and other people really care.


She also has to pick a new school for the girls, which she is reported to be researching now. Public or private? It's a big decision. Amy Carter went to a public school in part to bolster her dad's everyman image, but she wasn't allowed to play outside during recess because the playground was too close to the street.

Chelsea Clinton went to Sidwell Friends, a private Quaker-run school, but her parents also took flack for that. Then again Tricia Nixon is also an alum, so it could be considering "reaching across the aisle." This whole school decision is awfully complicated. She has to decide-and other people really care.


The world already knows that Malia and Sasha set their own alarm clocks and adhere to a strict 8 p.m. bedtime. But what if their schedule changes in Washington? What if they have too much homework at their new school and need to stay up a little later to finish it? Not to mention staying up a little later to get some face-time with daddy. Mom has to decide about that-and other people really care.


And what if the girls need a raise in their $1-a-week allowance. Mom has to decide about that too-and other people really care.


The latest thing I heard-courtesy of "The Rachel Maddow Show"-is that the producers of "Hannah Montana" have asked the Obama's daughters to come on as visitors or in a guest role "any time they would like." So all of the sudden it's not, "Mom can we watch ?Hannah Montana?'" It's, "Mom, can we be on ?Hannah Montana?'"


And not only does Mom have to decide whether to let her daughters appear on their very favorite TV show, she can't even stonewall them with my favorite Magic 8-Ball phrases like, "Ask again later" or "Cannot predict now," because the show has agreed to work around their schedule. Oh boy. She has to decide-and other people really care.


I wish I didn't care so much about this particular Mom's decisions about her two little girls. I'm conflicted about my desire to watch Sasha and Malia grow up and I'm uncomfortable with the fact that I have such access to the lives of little girls who aren't related to me.


Should we really care so much about the lives of the First Family? I'm not sure. So I pull out the Magic 8-Ball. My answer: "Concentrate and ask again later."

Read Leslie's columns every Friday in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound, or visit to see more.





(BUILT IN) (Photos) StarshinePhoto.jpgPreschool Lockdown

By Starshine Roshell

Trust me, you haven't been to a PTO meeting like this. One minute we were lamenting the paucity of baked goods at the school picnic. The next we were locked in a neighboring room, surrounded by puzzles and crayons, hiding from a gunman on the loose.

When it was over, we had mastered a critical crisis-management skill: Don't panic.

Lately, our laid-back burg has seen a wave of uncharacteristic agitation, desperation and violence. There was the pistol-waving Iraq War vet who stood on a freeway overpass, holding police at bay and backing up traffic for hours. There was another suicide off Cold Spring Bridge - the fourth this year on a landmark that's averaged just one annual jumper since 1963.

What's fueling the freak-out? I'm guessing it's the sight of our economy - and, with it, our security - sinking slowly under water, gurgling and kicking as it goes.

Panic sets in. And it multiplies.

We parents were brainstorming ways to wring auction items out of belt-tightening retailers when the school's graceful-under-pressure director burst into our meeting. "I'm sorry to interrupt," she said, "but I need you to move next door so we can usher our P.E. students into this room. We have a safety issue on campus ... "

There was a second of stunned silence, then a collective clamor as we quickly gathered up our memos and coffee cups and skittered into the room next door.

What on earth ... ? Could it be a pesticide-spraying mishap on a nearby farm? Was there a flasher in the parking lot? We tried to carry on with our meeting, none of us willing to be the first to get hysterical. "So ... um ... any news on the Book Fair?" But panic was boiling just below the surface. "What's going on?" one mom mouthed to another.

When the director returned, she shut the door behind her. Police were searching the vicinity for a gunman who had robbed a nearby business and escaped capture. They wanted us to stay indoors until further notice.

I was frightened. We all were. Here we were locked in a windowless room, our kids penned in some other room nearby. Do they know what's going on? Are they in danger? Are we all?

I ducked into an attached bathroom where a frosted window was open a crack. I peered out, looking for ... what? Evidence that things were OK? That they weren't? There was no one in sight. The landscape was eerily still. And silent.

But stranger still was the vibe in our room where, through sheer force of will, a dozen moms and a lone dad kept the chit-chat light and lively despite our jitters. We poured more coffee and exchanged weekend plans, as if preschool-stalking gunmen were a routine inconvenience of life. There seemed to be an unspoken agreement that panic is contagious, and treacherous. And that calm is the only antidote to crisis.

If we had heard a gunshot, I doubt you could have kept a single one of us in that room. A mad rush of caffeine-addled parents would have flooded the campus, ready to throw down any perp who dared infect our Utopian outpost with his crippling desperation.

But nothing happened. After 10 minutes, we were released. The robber was in custody, the lock-down - and our meeting - abruptly over. As I drove away, I fought back a wave of anxiety. Post-election, mid-economic collapse, society is in a strange place. We're not as safe as we feel. And things are sure to get worse before they get better. I don't know how much despair will ricochet through town as jobs are lost and rents are raised. But I know what to do when it threatens to hold you hostage:

Don't panic.

Starshine Roshell is the author of "Keep Your Skirt On," a collection of columns available in December at





Is happiness overrated?(BUILT IN) (Photos) LeslieD_2007.jpg

By Leslie Dinaberg
South Coasting



"America's youth are drowning in happiness," says Aaron Cooper, Ph.D., a psychologist concerned about the rising rates of youth depression and anxiety.

"Millions of well-intentioned parents have made life harder for their children by shielding the kids from every kind of unhappiness," according to Cooper, who co-authored a book on the dangers when parents make happiness the most important thing in their children's lives. "These parents try to soften every edge in their children's lives, and it's crippling the kids emotionally."

That's a scary thought, but he might be right. "I Just Want My Kids To Be Happy!" has become the mantra of today's parents. I hear people say that all of the time. I'm just as guilty as the next mom of sometimes valuing my son's short-term happiness over the long-term lessons I could-and should-be teaching him.


I just read Cooper's book called, "I Just Want My Kids To Be Happy! Why you shouldn't say it, why you shouldn't think it, what you should embrace instead," which he co-authored with Eric Keitel, M.Ed., and they explain why buying into the happiness mantra is a mistake.


"Without plenty of practice coping with ordinary sadness, upset, disappointment, and hurt, kids don't develop resilience," Cooper says. "And without resilience, they're vulnerable to all kinds of problems."


Of course everyone wants their kids to be happy, that's human nature. But according to this book, "I just want them to be happy" is more than just a wish. It's also expressing a belief that our kids' happiness is the most important thing.


After reading it I began to think that happiness might actually be overrated.
Some of the negative consequences that result from just wanting children to be happy include:

Being captive to our children's moods. I am so guilty of this one. From the time that Koss was a teeny tiny baby I have hated to see him be the least bit unhappy or god forbid, cry, and will do just about anything to make it stop.


Feeling unnecessary guilt and shame when our kids aren't happy. I'm the poster child for this one. When Koss is upset I feel personally responsible. It's all my fault. It's always all my fault. Even if it's his fault, I feel like it's all my fault.

Overprotecting our children from adversity. Guilty again. I can't help it. It's so hard not to want protect your child from life's pain. Every time I hear about another kid being mean to Koss, or even inadvertently hurting his feelings, the mama bear in me wants to swoop in and make everything all right again-even if it means permanently banishing the mean kid from the forest. I'm still holding grudges from kindergarten while Koss has long since moved on.


Abdicating parental authority rather than cause our kids unhappiness. Again, guilty as charged. Really guilty. I can't tell you how often I abandon my plans to run errands after school and agree to let him have a friend over, or agree to five more minutes of playtime (which turns into ten or 15 minutes) because he looked at me with sadness in those big brown eyes. This one's a double whammy because after I give in, then I feel guilty for not being strict enough with him.

It might even be a triple whammy because, as Cooper explains: "Kids know how much their parents want them to be happy, and so when they're sad or upset for whatever reason, they feel guilty thinking they're letting their parents down. Many hide their distress at home, which compounds the problem and they end up feeling worse."


One of the hardest lessons I've learned as a parent-okay I'm still working on this one-is to allow Koss to be unhappy. My impulse is to want to wipe away his sadness like it was spilt milk. At the same time I know that I'm doing him a disservice by trying to "make it all better."


When it comes to our children's happiness, less may actually be more. So instead of focusing on happiness, what should parents emphasize? Cooper and Keitel reviewed decades of research and found eight ingredients in people's lives that reliably predict who is happy and who is not, including a sense of gratitude, closeness to others, and an optimistic outlook.


I think I get it now. The next time Koss is sad I won't try to make it all better, I'll just give him a hug, tell him how much I love him, and hope for the best.

Are we overemphasizing our children's happiness? Tell Leslie what you think by emailing For more columns visit





(BUILT IN) (Photos) StarshinePhoto.jpg

The handoff: Football is mothering intercepted

By Starshine Roshell


My son was still small, and gentle, the first time I saw young kids playing tackle football. We were at a playground. Nearby, a dozen helmeted little boys growled and lunged at one another, looking more menacing than anyone in SpongeBob underpants has a right to. "Hit him! Harder!" ordered the yelly man entrusted with their care.

I was aghast. What kind of people, I huffed, allow grade-schoolers to whomp and wail on each other like so many cleated hooligans?

And now I'm one of them.

No longer amused by see-saws and swing sets, my son has charged head-first into the grunt-and-pummel ritual of tackle football. I didn't want him to play; I forbade it. But his insistence - and my ill-conceived theory that he would hate it, and we could get this passing fancy over with before his gridiron opponents became bone-crushingly huge - prevailed.

For the last three months, he's been suiting up four times a week to be knocked down and hollered at with 25 other brutes. The endeavor goes against pretty much everything I stand for as a parent.

First of all, it smells. It involves diving into the dirt while wearing white pants. And it encourages boys to do things - like dogpiling - that would elicit a stern, "Hey! What do you think you're doing?" if they happened in our back yard.

Plus, it has sacked our family time. Practice is three nights a week (in the dark, when it's cold, and flu season is upon us, I'm just saying), so we rarely have dinner together anymore.

"We're a family!" the coaches tell the team, and it always makes me "humph." In our family, we value compassion over aggression, empathy rather than intimidation.

But football's playbook is different than parenting's. We advise our kids to be thoughtful and thorough; coaches tell them to "rush" and "scramble." We insist that boys and girls are equals; coaches call them "ladies" when they fail.

If they weren't trying to make mothers nervous, why would they use terms like roughing the kicker, chain gang, shotgun, spike, bomb and suicide squad? I don't even like it when they run the drill "Meet Me in the Alley"; what kind of behavior is that to be encouraging in minors?!

Our boy plays defensive tackle, which involves hurling himself in front of a highly motivated runner and doing something called "getting pressure up the middle," which sounds painful, or unhygienic at best. There were days during conditioning when he came home so battered and bleary-eyed - hobbling like an old man and clinging to ice packs - that I shed tears. "He's broken!" I sobbed. "He's fine," said my husband, who it's worth pointing out did not gestate the little linebacker.

I'll admit this, though: The kid is fit. He sleeps well. He showers more. And he'll eat any veggie I put on his plate after practice ("Yum, is there any more bok choy?").

I had a scare while watching him play this week. He collided with a wall of players and was slammed to the ground, hitting the dirt harder than made sense for someone barely five feet tall. Then five beefy bodies tripped over and landed on him: Smack. Crack. Thud. Grunt. Oof.

I felt so unfathomably far away from him, unable to help. Frightened, and disconnected. One by one, his teammates rolled off him, but he remained still for a split second too long. I felt sick.

"You OK, Roshell?" I heard a boy ask as another reached down a hand and pulled him up. A third patted him on the back. I can't be sure, but from the sidelines it looked a lot like compassion. It looked like empathy.

Guess it's a clean handoff to the Hooligans after all.


For more, visit



Redisco(BUILT IN) (Photos) LeslieD_2007.jpgvering my princess pride:

Boy, oh boy, it's great to have a girls day

By Leslie Dinaberg
South Coasting

I have to admit, I was looking forward to doing something girly for a change. It's not that I don't love being a "boy mom," but there's a distinct void of sparkly shoes, turreted castles and pretend weddings in my life, and quite frankly, I miss it. I enjoy being a girl.

I get "pouffy party dress envy" at Easter time, when my nieces flounce around in their fancy fashions, while my son stuffs his face and dirties his khakis with chocolate. And don't even get me started on those Nutcracker performances at Christmas.

So when my sister asked me to stand in for her at a school Mommy & Me tea party last weekend, I jumped at the chance to embrace all that is pink, delicate and flowery, and play "girl mom" for a day. I am girl, hear me giggle.

I had my first clue that I was entering an alternate universe when we got in the car.

"Your chariot awaits," I announced, trying to get into the spirit of princess culture.

"Roll up the windows," commanded six-year-old Princess Lauren, as I strapped her into the back seat. "I don't want to mess up my hair."

"It's 80 degrees outside," I said.

"But we're going to get our picture taken. Doesn't your air conditioning work?" she said impatiently.

"Not really, your highness. But the hairbrush in my purse does."

Crisis averted. But I was definitely out of my league. Many of the women at the party were wearing heels, hose and hats. Haven't they read that pantyhose can give you brain tumors? It's in print. Right here. At least it wasn't the 70s, when my mom would dress us in matching outfits. I tried that once with my son. Another dollar in the therapy jar.

Lauren fluffed her hair and checked my lipstick before we posed for our souvenir photo (next to an artfully arranged tea set). At this point, I looked around for the unicorn to escort us down a trail of fairy dust. Instead, one of our hostesses offered us the chance to buy raffle tickets.

"It wouldn't be a school party if we didn't try to gouge you one more time," she joked, as I forked over the last of my cash. Lauren drooled over the girly girl treasures we had just bought the chance to win.

When we got to the backyard (unicornless, unfortunately) Lauren disappeared faster than Cinderella's coach at midnight. I found her in the crafts area, buried in a sea of pink frosting. The girls were surprisingly well behaved, passing the sprinkles and gems back and forth. I had a brief flashback to my son's boisterous Halloween cookie decorating ("Pass the pumpkin. Thwomp! ... To my hand, not my hair...").

Very impressive! I wondered if these girls had enrolled in the World of Disney princess class I had read about where Cinderella's beautiful friend, Lady Seraphina, educates starry-eyed pupils in the four Princess Principles -- intelligence, grace, thoughtfulness and honesty. I think Sneezy, Grumpy, Bashful and Dopey were busy that day.

Feeling like a bad feminist, I whispered to one of my cohorts: "I totally get the princess thing. Look how cute they are."

And they were, absolutely precious. I could almost see invisible tiaras on their freshly curled hair. They were precious in a way that little boys, well ... little boys just aren't. I adore my son and it's hard enough to keep him clean, so please don't ever let on that I actually find him cuter when he's covered in dirt and grass stains than when he gets dressed up.

I coo a little over the ladybug bracelet Lauren just made, as one of the teachers comes up to admire her dress and tell her how pretty she looks.

She beams.

She is pretty, and enjoys being so, which makes me feel both proud and protective over her, as I remember what teenage boys-and preteen girls-can be like. Right now her dressing up is sweet and it's innocent and it's a long way from Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan, but still, a part of me wants to shout, "and she's good at math and science too."

What am I so worried about, I wonder? Lauren is hardly prissy, and she knows she's smart, as well as pretty. "Princess power," she jokes with her friends, as they connect the bracelets they just made.

I say a silent prayer that she'll hold on to her confidence. Studies say that girls' self esteem peaks at age 9. Another found that 46 percent of high school boys and only 29 percent of high school girls reported being "happy the way I am," which makes me feel both happy and a little guilty to be happy that I'm a "boy mom."

"Stay happy little girls," I want to tell them. You can be anything that you want to be. Hold on to those invisible tiaras.

Lauren and I clink our teacups-with pinky's out-and say, "cheers to princess power." Here's hoping it lasts.

Leslie may cavort as a princess but at home she reigns as a queen. To request an audience with her email For more columns visit




Best Toy EVER

(BUILT IN) (Photos) StarshinePhoto.jpg

By Starshine Roshell


It's already started. The holiday toy catalogs are streaming in.


They clutter my mailbox, countertops, coffee table and recycling bin in exactly the same way those toymakers hope their plastic, battery-operated, small-parts-comprised, over-marketed seasonal must-haves will litter my countertops, coffee table and carpet - will, in fact, blanket the very landscape of my life - for years to come.

And (sigh) they more than hope it. They know it. Because as heads-of-household, we parents crave order. As role models, we tout moderation. But as consumers - let's face it - we want bling.

We've come to believe the holidays aren't complete without one gift that is so shiny, so newer-than-new, so better-than-last-year's-model that it looks like privilege itself. Privilege in a Pretty Red Ribbon.

So determined are we to see that priceless "lucky me" grin on our kids' faces that we'll cough up a day's pay for a gizmo that responds to voice commands, a dolly that babbles in three languages, or even the super-deluxe 2009 version of some tchotchke our kids already have - and don't even play with.

Is this really necessary?

Hoping for a good reason to not track down and shell out for this year's most whizbang gewgaws, I asked some friends what toys their kids have really treasured over the years. Which have been the surprise favorites, the perennial Friday afternoon pastimes, the ones that have grown with them, ever evading the give-away pile?

The winners are surprisingly rudimentary. Not shockingly so - not a ball of twine or anything. But they're simple toys that provide a palette for kids' imaginations long after the blingy-toy batteries have corroded. Not the toys that "do stuff"; rather the ones you can do stuff to or with.

"My girls stay engaged the longest with toys that have the least amount of parts or pieces," says one surprised mom whose young daughters have every art-and-craft tool imaginable, from erasable markers and glitter paints to scalloped scissors and stencils. "And what do you think they can't get enough of? My plain white printer paper. They beg for it."


Another friend raves about the no-frills wooden sword her son got one year.  "This is a toy I never expected him to just love, but it was a favorite for years until it broke in half from overuse," she says. "There was something special and original about that old wooden sword."

My sons' all-time favorites are things they can build: Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, Legos and a marble maze they reconfigure each time they set it up ... which is every time it rains. I've seen them hoot wildly upon opening a remote-control T. Rex robot - and then cast it aside to go assemble a well-worn jigsaw puzzle, or sit on the kitchen floor and fiddle with magnetic gears on the fridge door for an hour straight.

"I wonder if 'toys' are not just so much clutter and junk that the kids truly could do without?" asks another mother of two. "My daughters do have toys, but they prefer to take my Tupperware containers and capture bugs in the back yard. They like to draw, and put on dance performances."


According to one mother of three boys, though, we may be missing the point. The key to household order and chipper children does lie in selecting the right toys, she says. But it doesn't matter if you get them from a glossy catalog or a bargain bin.

It's not about price; it's about volume.

"The main thing my boys want to play with - always - is whatever the other one's got," she says. "From a paper clip on the floor to the newest Playmobil set, anything will do ...

"As long as there are three."



Starshine Roshell writes a weekly column for the Independent. See more at



P(BUILT IN) (Photos) LeslieD_2007.jpgrice Points to Shoppers' Paradise:

Stalking Costco's aisles is much more than a spectator sport for bargain hunters

By Leslie Dinaberg
South Coasting


Our anniversary is coming, so naturally when my husband told me he needed to "go to Costco," I was sure he was going to buy me that Chagall lithograph I've had my eye on.

When I heard that Costco was beginning to sell fine art, I knew that it wouldn't be long before we got lured into the excitement. My normally shop-o-phobic husband has a hard time resisting the temptation of big box bargains.

We once ate hot dogs every night for an entire summer, just to use up the enormous vats of relish, mustard and catsup he couldn't resist. And we've still got 39 cans of pickled brussel sprouts sitting around from the time my son swore they tasted delicious, "the way that Grandma made them."

Pretty much anytime we walk into Costco, we save so much money that we go broke.

So when I read that an original crayon drawing by Pablo Picasso sold at for $39,999, I knew that the $8,799 Chagall would soon be on my walls, because when you enter Costco, Costco logic prevails.

Which is why I have an unopened ten-gallon bottle of Tanqueray Gin still making a dent on the top of my fridge, from a long ago party where "someone might want a gin martini" and an industrial-sized kennel of baking powder for all of the cookies I was going to make for holiday gifts one year.

While high-end retailers hire merchandising specialists to help move you through their stores, Costco logic relies instead an unwritten law. "Whatever you look for at Costco will be on the far opposite side of the store. And in your quest to find the desired item, you will always find a minimum of seven other items you can't live without."

Try it sometime. It's science.

I know that eventually, at some point in the future, I'll come out ahead on my Costco purchases, but I'll have to live to be 107, because that's how long it's going to take me to eat all of the chicken noodle soup I bought three flu seasons ago.

At least the soup purchase had some practical application. Lately I've been lured in by "new" products like Sierra Mist Free -- which is really just Diet Sierra Mist with microscopically different packaging - or Wheat Thin crackers with zero trans fats (and exactly the same ingredients as the old crackers).

While customers are buying in mass, Costco is taking its profits in bulk. In a bad retail climate, Costco's profits were still up seven percent last quarter, bringing profits up to $23.1 billion.

That's an awful lot of Cherry Pepsi Free.

What else are people stocking up on?

In my case, there are the 14-foot-long rolls of coordinating wrapping paper, that I may need someday, and the gigantic tub of cinnamon-spice hand cream that I couldn't resist. My husband's temptations usually relate to outdoor activities - which is funny if you know him - like the tent could literally house a village, or the ice chest that could surely hydrate them. Costco's marketing gurus even have a name for these items - the ones that never make it onto your shopping list, but somehow inevitably make it into your shopping cart -- they call them the spice.

Then there are the actual spices, like Piment Despelette, which I bought a gigantic jar of once, because a woman who looked like Betty Crocker told me it was a once-in-a-lifetime bargain at 20 dollars an ounce.

If the spicy new packaging or the advice from fellow customers doesn't tempt me, the free samples usually do. While my dad usually trolls the Costco aisles for the "cheapskate special" lunch, I'm more likely to get sucked into the illusion that if I just bought that case of Jennie-O-Turkey with tequila-lime marinade, I'd somehow get in tune with my inner domestic goddess, the one who's been MIA the past 40 years.

Sure, you'd expect the soccer moms hoarding juice boxes and the college kids stocking up on Easy Mac ?N Cheese, but I'm most intrigued by the flocks of chic women who buy their thirty dollar Cabernet at Costco and their 200 dollar jeans at Blue Bee.

"Is that a good wine?" asks my husband, ever on the look out for both a bargain and the chance to chat up a pretty young thing.

"Oh yes. It's quite a good value," says Ms. Second Wife, as she bats her eyelashes at my First Husband.

"I hear the Chagall's are quite a deal too," I say, showing them both the lithograph print from my computer. My husband's eyes go wide. Is he tempted?

"Wow, $8,799 for a work of art at Costco," he laughs, in a way that tells me my chances of attaining it are dismal at best.

I wonder if Chagall does multi-packs.

When Leslie's not shopping at Costco she's answering emails at For more columns visit



(BUILT IN) (Photos) StarshinePhoto.jpgA Formula for Guilt

By Starshine Roshell


It's easy to become desensitized to newspaper photos. Hurricanes. Train wrecks. Kidnappings. As we flip blithely through oversized, peril-heralding pages, the images become small, muddy-colored windows into worlds we can't really relate to, and don't especially want to visit.

Every once in a while, though, an image still tweaks me right where it counts. Like the recent photo of a frowning Chinese infant strapped to a hospital bed, his wrists restrained to keep him from pulling out the various needles and tubes taped to his bare chest and arms.

He's one of more than 50,000 babies who've been sickened by industrially tainted infant formula in China. And his picture hit me hard: I had chills, then nausea, then tears. I had empathy, then anger ... and then guilt.

Which is strange, because researchers confirmed it wasn't me who killed four babies and left 13,000 hospitalized. It was melamine, a white, fire-resistant powder used to make plastic. When added to watered-down formula, it makes the product appear higher in protein. When ingested, it can cause kidney stones and renal failure.

The Chinese government has arrested more than a dozen melamine suppliers and contaminated milk manufacturers. But that doesn't dull the agony the babies, and their parents, are enduring.

"When I look into his eyes, I feel so guilty," Mo Chongjian told the L.A. Times after learning that his year-old son has stones in both kidneys. "I couldn't protect him."

I can't say I know what it feels like to stand in line at a public hospital with your wailing infant, waiting for the ultrasound that will tell you whether his food source has poisoned him.

But I know what it doesn't feel like. It doesn't feel like you're a good parent.

My sons consumed a lot of formula because I had trouble nursing them. For whatever reason, I couldn't produce enough breast milk to keep them satisfied, or even healthy. I knew from childbirth classes and parenting books that, nutritionally, breast-feeding is the best thing a mother can do for her kids. Studies show children who nurse are somehow smarter. Plus breast milk is free and - unlike formula - doesn't stain. Fantastic!

No sooner was my son delivered from my womb than he was lifted to my breast for his first gulps of sustenance. Providing this customized baby fuel known as "liquid gold" was my first job as a new mother, and I wanted so desperately to rise to the role and prove my maternal mettle.

But I couldn't. No amount of pumping, herbal supplementing or even beer-chugging (a nurse told me secretly that the yeast might help) could encourage my feeble postpartum physique step up production on the newborn nectar.

I hired consultants. I filled prescriptions. I put myself and my firstborn through too many sweaty sob sessions trying to convince us both that failure wasn't an option. But ultimately, he drank formula. Gulped it. Guzzled it. Chugged it down with a glee, and an expression of utter peace, that I had never seen cross his face before. And despite my malfunctioning mammaries, he thrived.

Photos from China's formula fiasco brought back the feelings of desperation, failure and, as Mr. Chongjian said, the guilt that marked my first few months of motherhood.

What I've learned since then is this: You get thousands of opportunities to prove your parental pluck, to protect and provide for your children. The parents of China's ailing infants may find, as I did, that parental success isn't measured in how well we control the uncontrollable. It's in how we react to those events, getting our kids whatever they need - be it food or medicine - to find peace.

Here's hoping they get that chance.



Award-winning journalist and mother of two Starshine Roshell of Santa Barbara waxes sassy on sex, politics, kids and fashion. For more information, visit



(BUILT IN) (Photos) LeslieD_2007.jpg

Pledging Beta

By Leslie Dinaberg
South Coasting

The book practically leapt off the library shelf and into my hands. How could I resist a title like, "The Sweet Potato Queens' Guide to Raising Children for Fun and Profit?" Jill Conner Browne's sassy bon mots just cracked me up.


-(On men) "They've basically got two gears-horny and hungry."


-(On women) "There is all kinds of stuff that you just shouldn't ask any woman. Directly. If you want to know something personal about her, ask her nail technician or somebody who went to high school with her. You can find out just about anything you want to know about her this way-especially if she's a bad tipper or was prone to stealing ninth grade boyfriends."


-(On children) "Somewhere around 11 to 13, the eyeballs of children become extremely loose in their sockets, so that just about any disturbance in the air around them-say a word issuing forth from, say, your mouth-will cause immediate and severe rolling." (My son must be precocious, because he started doing this at age 8.)


-(On aging) "Who cares how old you are anyway? I've got waaay more interesting stuff to lie about in my life, thank you very much."


I related to a lot of the book, but there was one section in particular that really hit a nerve. I had been struggling all summer with the question of how much I want to volunteer at my son's school this year, and her observations about Alpha Moms really hit home for me. Last year I raised my hand to volunteer a few too many times and by the end of June I was burnt out, bitchy and resentful-leaving my husband only hungry.


Not wanting to go through that again-or needlessly torture my family-I thought long and hard and decided to give up some of the boards and committees and projects I had been involved with. My problem was, I still felt guilty.


Then I read the chapter titled, "Life is Hard Enough-Pledge Beta." Conner Browne talks about how researchers have now come up with official categories for moms, including the "dearly demented and overtly overachievers," otherwise known as Alpha Moms.


I'm sure you know the type. These women volunteer for everything so energetically that you could swear they've sucked all the energy out of the universe for themselves. Just looking at them makes me tired.


These are the women who laugh at the black and orange crepe paper you were so proud of yourself for remembering to bring for Halloween party, then furiously whirl around the room until it's transformed into Disney's Haunted House, complete with magic elevators and hitchhiking ghosts. Then they refuse to take compliments because they "just whipped everything up" the night before after their Pilates and Mandarin Chinese classes.


Those are Alpha Moms I realized. I always thought they were called Skinny Witches. Who knew?


A light bulb went on. I had been struggling to be an Alpha Mom, but I just don't fit in. Why didn't I see it before? I was trying to pledge the wrong sorority.


I can't keep myself perfectly groomed and wear heels all the time. Who am I kidding? I consider myself well dressed if I go a day without spilling something on my shirt. Clearly I'm meant to be a Beta Mom.


Beta Moms, according to Conner Browne, "show up late, running down the halls, flip-flops flapping on the floor, breathing hard, sweating, wearing oversized T-shirts and frantic," because they forgot about the stupid party until five minutes AFTER they were supposed to be there.


These are my people. I belong with the Betas, who the Alpha Moms only trust to bring paper towels and garbage bags to the party, but still bring extras in case we forget.


Boy do I feel better now.


I think I'll take Conner Browne's advice-"I can tell you this with absolute certainty: Nobody goes to the nursing home wishing they'd served on a few more committees or kept a cleaner house"-and just say no to a whole lot of things this school year.


And in keeping with my new Beta Mom m.o., "The Sweet Potato Queens' Guide to Raising Children for Fun and Profit" is overdue to the library. But I just may have to keep it a teensy bit longer.

Send an email to if you want to pledge Beta. There are no meetings, no dues, and no expectations. But we just may have a party someday.



(BUILT IN) (Photos) StarshinePhoto.jpg

The Stuff Slough

By Starshine Roshell


It was cancer, and it all happened faster than we expected.

Not 24 hours after my mother-in-law's ashes were scattered at sea, I found myself sitting on her bed, staring blankly into her bedroom closet, with a trash bin beside me.

Nancy was a generous woman who spent her whole life giving. It wasn't until we peeked into her long-shut cabinets and wrestled open her overstuffed drawers that we realized how much receiving she had done. And collecting. And clipping. And buying. And generally, alarmingly, amassing.

She just had way too much stuff. More than she could have fully enjoyed in any lifetime, even one that hadn't been cut short at age 70. And it fell to us - her grieving sons and daughters-in-law - to "go through her things," sorting and sifting the souvenirs of her seven decades.

Knitting needles and antique hats. Greeting cards and hotel soaps. Place mats and curling irons.

We trudged through as many emotions as we did half-empty bottles of nail polish: The shame of poking around in someone's private stashes. The frustration of not knowing what this key opens, or what to do with Great Aunt Catherine's geodes. The guilt from allowing practical considerations to squelch sentiment - from giving away, or throwing away, things that were surely precious to their owner, but had no special meaning to those of us on the Hefty Bag Brigade.

I wondered why the family was in such a hurry to clear her clutter. Couldn't it wait, for goodness' sake? The woman was barely gone and here we were disposing of evidence that she existed.

The work was therapeutic, though. Illness wrests control from a human being, from a family, and hard work lets us feel like we're reclaiming it. Death brings emotional chaos; resolute tidiness restores order. So in the unfathomable absence of an always-present mother, we focused on indisputable tangibles: Her lipstick. Her teacup. Her shoes.

From beneath teetering sweater piles, we exhumed cheering memories, fingering the fancy scarves she wore and sniffing the candles she set out last Thanksgiving.

But much of what we unearthed was unsettling. Every tote bag and trunk held a disheartening reminder of her unmet goals and dreams: Gifts - some of them wrapped - that never got given. Recipes that never got made. A pair of jazz shoes without a single scuff. An astonishing inventory of unopened wrinkle creams. And a library of how-to books whose objectives, from simple craft projects to ambitious entrepreneurship, proved ever out of her reach.

What bothered me was not that the projects were unfinished. It was that they were never really started.

I'm haunted by a series of small jewelry boxes scattered throughout the house, each cradling a tiny silver charm representing her favorite things: the Eiffel Tower, a sewing machine, a cable car ...


And each had a price tag still attached. Never linked to the nearly bare charm bracelet curled up in yet another buried box. Never worn. 


Nancy wouldn't have loved us trodding through her tucked-away stuff. Nor, frankly, would she have wanted strangers to read about it. But she'd have been glad at what it taught me:

That you can't hold life in your hands.

You can't wear it, stockpile it or cram it into cubbies for safe keeping. You can't divvy it up into boxes marked "Garbage," "Goodwill" and "Grandkids." And you can't measure it by the number of dumpsters it takes to dismantle.

Life doesn't live in the things that we have. It takes place in the things that we do:

coming and going, building and bonding, laughing and even grieving.


Nancy cherished her tchotchkes, to be sure. But she'd have traded them all for another chance to scuff those dance shoes.


Starshine Roshell writes a weekly column for the Independent. See more at


(BUILT IN) (Photos) LeslieD_2007.jpg


Yes, I can not say 'no'

Can a Yes-Woman Become a No (to)-It-All?

By Leslie Dinaberg
South Coasting

"You know how to do it, " whispers the assertive angel on my shoulder, and yes, she sounds a bit like Lauren Bacall. "Just put your lips together and say, ?NO!'"

I can feel the unfamiliar sound forming, it's just a breath away from coming out of my mouth ... then the word gets stuck in my throat. Inexplicably, my lips start moving and those other familiar words come out: "Yes," or "Sure, I'll do it," or even worse, "Why not?"


Why not! Why not indeed!


Because I have too much to do.

Because I did it the last time.

Because I want to be at home with my family.

Because I don't want to.

Because I, Leslie Dinaberg, am a yes-aholic.


There. I've taken the first step toward recovery.

Why is it so hard for me to say "no," I wonder for the umpteenth time, as I sit here writing this column, at home, on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, while my son and my husband are off enjoying themselves at the pool?

I wish I could blame this on an evil boss who piles on the weekend assignments, but it's my own fault. I'm taking the day off tomorrow and I knew I'd have to finish this column before then ... but all of last week I kept saying yes to appointments and obligations and assignments that I knew I didn't really have enough time for.

And here I am, just another "yes-aholic" working on a Sunday, with no one to blame but myself. What's so tough about saying "no?"

"No" was one of the first words my son learned to say. He mastered it by screaming the word at the top of his lungs, usually in quiet public places. He got so skilled at saying "no" that my husband and I even made up a song (to the tune of that "Meow, Meow, Meow, Meow" commercial) where the word "no" was the sole lyric.

We still perform occasionally when a toddler comes to visit.

If preverbal children can say "no," why do I have such a hard time?

"Most women find it very hard to say no and set limits on what they do for others," writes Judith Selee McClure, Ph.D. in Civilized Assertiveness for Women.

While most sentences that begin with "most women" are mostly never true, she does mostly have a point.

"Women are conditioned to say, ?Yes, I'll give you whatever you need or want' - and to feel guilty when they don't."

Has McClure been spying on me or are there actually other yes-aholics out there?

When the "Y-word" comes out my mouth instead of the "N-word," it's not because I'm so toxically nice I can't say no, and it's not that I don't think someone else can do the job as well or better than I can. That's a lie, but it's still not why I'm saying "yes." Really it's all about guilt.

As Erma Bombeck put it, "Guilt is the gift that keeps on giving."

It sticks with you all right. Ask me a simple question and I can't bear the thought of disappointing my child, my boss, my parents, my husband, the coach, the teacher, even the receptionist.

When they say, "Would you mind, the doctor/dentist/manicurist is running a bit late," -- of course I mind! But I'd feel like I was a terrible person if I told them so. That would imply that my time was equally as important as theirs. How could I be so selfish?

Because ultimately, asserting yourself isn't about being selfish. There are lots of good reasons to stop saying "yes." For one thing, saying "yes" when you want to say "no," makes your stomach hurt and your head ache. You feel like you're being taken advantage of, and then guilty because after all, you're the one who said "yes."

"You go girl," cheers my assertiveness angel, who apparently doesn't know it's 2008. "No more ?I'm just a girl who can't say no,'" she sings, sounding more like Gwen Stefani than Celeste Holm in Oklahoma.

She's right. And in her honor, I've devised a three-step program to help combat yes-aholism. I was going to do two steps, but my boss told me to do three. I said "yes." Hmm.

1. Just say "no" and you and those around you will be happier. Always saying yes will only land you in places you don't want to be, like therapy, divorce court, or with no friends to complain to because you've alienated them all by making them look bad because you do more than they do.

2. Just say "no" and you'll have more enthusiasm, not to mention time and energy, for the things you do say "yes" to.

3. Just say "no" with a little bit of grace and your kids will learn by your example how to stand up for themselves and balance their goals with other people's. You don't want to raise little yes-aholics do you?

All together now, just put your lips together and say "no." If that doesn't work, keep your mouth shut, and turn your neck to the left, then turn it to the right. Repeat until the other person walks away.

When Leslie's not saying "yes" to her family, boss, the PTA, the soccer team and the IRS, she can be reached at For more columns visit



(BUILT IN) (Photos) StarshinePhoto.jpgParty Favors:
Doing Away with Kiddie B-Day Party Extravaganzas

By Starshine Roshell


I'm doing something utterly outrageous for my son's third birthday party this month. I mean completely over the top. In fact, I'm pretty sure all the moms will be copying me next year.


Here's what I'm doing: Almost nothing.


I know. Crazy, right? Kids' birthday parties today tend to be more high-concept galas than low-key shindigs, replacing the once-popular cake-and-presents model with the full-blown dog-and-pony show. Sites like have sprung up to protest the trend, arguing that elaborate invitations and themes, inflated guest lists, wedding-scale entertainment and extravagant party favors make for stressed parents and spoiled kids.


"I'm tired of being exhausted and tense on my kid's birthday," admits a friend of mine. "Especially if it is pointless - which it is."


The woman spent six years trucking in horses and hiring musicians for her daughter's parties only to discover afterwards that her kid "does not in fact remember the band or the pony or the fairytale castle or the pumpkin-patch trip. None of it." They can't even jar her memory with photos of the events, because they didn't shoot any. "We were too busy running around conducting games or passing out prizes."


My boys and I weren't invited to Suri Cruise's second birthday bash, which reportedly cost $100,000. But we've attended parties where the "favor" (a portable art set with paints, pastels, and brushes) was nicer than the gift we brought (a favorite paperback book).


And we went to a casual backyard party where guests could hug a screeching orangutan and ride an African bull elephant. The five-year-olds weren't interested in the beasts; there was a far more enchanting bouncy house in the side yard.


Why do we go wild over kiddie birthday parties?


"When little Hannah has a princess bouncer and frost-your-own cupcakes at her party, and lucky Liam takes the whole class for a ride on a real fire engine, you sort of feel like you might need to step it up a little," says another mom I know, whose pet peeve is the guest goody bags that are de rigueur at modern kiddie fetes. "When we were kids - and yes, I realize I sound ancient - you were happy to get a homemade cupcake. Now you have to give kids a present for coming to your kid's party? What IS that?"


It's nonsense, that's what. And I'm over it. Sure, in the past, I've hand-delivered message-in-a-bottle invitations all over town for a pirate birthday, and manned game stations across the yard for a carnival party. But this year, I'm not playing the one-up-manship game with my fellow party-planning parents. I'm setting the bar back at the bottom - down where my pre-schooler can actually reach it - with a simple backyard scamper fest. No inflatable jumpers. No themed tablecloth or dazzling Disney centerpiece. No pinata, magician or face-painter. The only entertainment I'm hiring is Duncan Hines to work his Supermoist magic on my son's fuss-free single-layer cake.


Even my gal pals who typically throw Birthday Extravaganzas have lauded my newfound laziness.


"I know my kids feel very special to receive the royal treatment," says a friend who once threw a Harry Pottery party with a sorting hat, potion station, life-size chess board, wand-making table, sorcerer's stone hunt and backyard Quidditch match. "The problem is that each year we feel the need to either top the previous year or declare a 'pass,' as if the birthday isn't as important this year. I find myself praying I don't have to host a Star Wars Bar Mitzvah complete with R2D2 serving the food!"


Feelings of maternal inadequacy have no place in party planning. They're uninvited guests and should be blown out like birthday candles or popped like balloons.


If you thrive on throwing birthday banquets, knock yourself out. But those of us who have to answer to our envious invitees would ask that you toss a little restraint into your goody bags from time to time.


At least that's a favor we can all enjoy.


Starshine Roshell writes a weekly column for the Independent. See more at





(BUILT IN) (Photos) LeslieD_2007.jpgKindergarten redshirts

By Leslie Dinaberg
South Coasting


School starts this week and a lot of families will be getting a late start-on purpose.


No, I'm not talking about those people who simply choose to extend their summers until after Labor Day, the way God intended. I'm talking about the people who decide to give their children an extra year filled with preschool or playtime before the academic rigors of kindergarten begin.


This graying of kindergarten is an interesting phenomenon. For many parents-especially the upper-middle class ones who can afford to stomach the extra year of preschool on the front end and extra year of supporting a child on the back end until s/he graduates from high school or college-the calculation goes something like this: you look at your four-year-old darling, especially if he's a boy-because they tend to be squirrelier and less verbal when they're little-and realize that his summer or fall birthday means that he'll be younger than most of the other kids in his kindergarten class. So you decide to send him to school a year later. Then he's at the older end of his class, with the presumption that his added maturity will give him an edge from grade to grade.


Private schools have an earilier birthday cutoff, but even in public school sometimes principals or teachers may suggest waiting another year to start is in your child's best interest.


Not to mention their own.


One kindergarten teacher I know, Tammy, was nervous about commenting (which is why all of these names are pseudonyms), but did offer this, "All I can say is I'm really NOT into parents starting their kids at age four (turning five in the fall). That's the worst."


And as a parent, there is nothing worse than watching one kid who is not ready to be in school dominate all of the teacher's attention for an entire year.


"I do believe that if a child is really immature, cannot hold a pencil, write their name, color a page and stay within the lines pretty well, cannot sit down long enough to listen to a story, cannot retell one fact from the story, and cannot follow a few simple instructions, then another year would be good for them to practice these steps in preschool," says Chandra, another kindergarten teacher.


The other part of this equation is that "kindergarten is the new first grade," according to many educators. Although most adults remember kindergarten as an idyllic year of naps, snacks and feeding the class hamster, it has become more and more academically demanding. With the advent of "No Child Left Behind" the pressure to teach things earlier and earlier gets even worse.


An estimated nine percent of children nationally are entering kindergarten a year later than they could, though there's little evidence that children perform better in school if they start late.


But the decision to redshirt is such an individual one, and the research on the academic side-while mounting as a topic worthy of interest and study, especially since almost half the states have pushed back their birthday cutoffs since 1975-is still unclear.


At the same time, no one that I spoke to who redshirted their child regretted it.


"I absolutely did it," says Wendy, whose son's birthday is in late November. "Best thing I ever did. Especially with a boy. I have a girlfriend that did the opposite and her son is always the 'baby' of the class, and although she doesn't see it, he suffers greatly for it. Pure immaturity. And they get meaner as they get older."


To some professionals, redshirting children is necessary because kindergartens are more concerned with academics than with the emotional and physical development of youngsters. To others, the practice is not much better than coddling.


"I found that with some kids they acted young because their parents babied them, so it did not matter if they were one year older or not," says Yvonne, another teacher friend.

Sometimes families decide to redshirt for reasons unique to their family dynamics. I have one friend, Darlene, who held back her second son because otherwise he and his older brother would have been one grade apart, and she didn't want them competing so closely on the academic, social and athletic playing fields.


It's no accident that the term "redshirt" comes from athletics, since the one place where redshirting is a proven advantage is on the sports field. Up until a few years ago the birthday cutoff date for Little League was July 31, which is a lot better explanation than astrology for the fact that 60 percent more Major League Baseball players are born in August than in July.


Aside from stacking the sports odds in favor of kids, experts also worry that redshirting puts low-income students at an extra disadvantage. The children who end up going to school young because their parents can't afford to hold them back are also the ones with the least preparation and lowest rates of participation in preschool. Then those children arrive at school and have to compete with older, better prepared students whose parents may demand more challenging classrooms so their kids aren't bored.


Still, parents are understandably more concerned with their own child than the bigger picture.


"Around the teenage years, it really starts to suck when your child is a full year younger than all his friends," says Lola, whose son is entering high school having just turned14. "All the friends who are a year older start to like members of the opposite sex, start growing hair in lot of new places, think their parents are idiots, don't want to play video games anymore, want to be downtown all the time and get their driver's license long before your child who is the correct age for their grade. This leaves the correct age for their grade child feeling inadequate to say the least, not to mention lost and confused."


Of course no one wants their child to have any disadvantages, which is why my friend Angie might have the best idea of all. "My recommendation to parents would be to have babies born between October-March."
Share your thoughts on the graying of kindergarten-or whatever else is on your mind-with For more columns visit




(BUILT IN) (Photos) StarshinePhoto.jpgCould be worse.  Could be Moon Unit.

By Starshine Roshell

You'll never meet a child named Sex Fruit in New Zealand. Nor will you make the acquaintance of Fat Boy, Stallion or Cinderella Beauty Blossom.

The nation's government blocked all of these names, and earlier this year allowed a 9-year-old girl to change her name from the one her parents gave her:
Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii.


"It makes a fool of the child and sets her up with a social disability and handicap," said the ruling judge.

I don't disagree that the name is absurd, but ... disability? The story sparked comments on countless blogs, where readers lashed out at parents who "cruelly" saddle their offspring with offbeat names.

But I have to tell you: It's not as bad as everyone thinks.


With the exception of Talula, few names are sillier than mine. It comes from the song "Good Morning, Starshine" from the 1960s musical "Hair," in which my dad starred. Between you and me, it's a stupid song, but it was an important moment in our nation's culture and my family's history.

People mistakenly assume I was teased mercilessly as a child. The fact is kids are immature about everything; they'll make fun of a Jack (in the box) or a (plain) Jane just as gladly as they'll poke fun at a Tiger or Venus. And being fairly new to the world, children don't assume Apple is any weirder than Elizabeth - at least Apple's a word they've heard before.

Adults sometimes react rudely to my name, but I've learned it's more a reflection of their own discomfort and (how to put this?) narrow life experience than a "disability" on my part.

That said, we oddly-named folks do have some issues. I flat-out refuse to spell my name for anyone. It's irrational, but if I have to overcome air-head stereotypes and smile politely when people call me Skylight, I have little patience left for strangers who can't sound out a simple compound word.

My friend Skye and I both have trouble remembering other people's names because, during introductions, we're so focused on explaining our own that we forget to concentrate on theirs.

Still, we all love our unique names. "A little ribbing from your peers builds character," insists my friend Seraphim.

We tend to grow into the names our parents give us, like my friend Happy, the grinningest guy I know, with a sense of humor to match. "Fortunately," he says, "I was never confused with the other six dwarves."

The worst part about a quirky name is you can't find it pre-printed on those mini-license plates they sell at tourist shops. And the best part is the foregone conclusion that you're special.

"My name lead to the early realization that there is nobody like me," says my colleague Starre. "And that's pretty awesome."

Most of us think it's such a blessing, we want our kids to share it. "I would hesitate before giving a child a 'normal' name," says my girlfriend Arcadia, whose daughter is Luna. "I don't want to perpetuate mediocrity."

Neither did my friend Linda. "As a child," she says, "I had an artistic soul and always hated how bland and common my name was." She named her son Chance and says he doesn't get teased - but then his buddies are Trip, Doc and Blade.

Who knows how those names would fare in New Zealand, or Sweden, where moms and dads have landed in court for calling their kids Lego, Ikea and Metallica. Last year, Venezuela considered adopting a list of 100 "acceptable" names that parents could legally choose from.

My atypically tagged friends and I are glad the United States has no law preventing parents from calling junior whatever they want. I called County Health Statistics just to be sure.

"If they want to name him X," says the clerk, "they can name him X." Sounds good to me. At least he wouldn't have to spell it.


Starshine Roshell writes a weekly column for the Independent. See more at




(BUILT IN) (Photos) LeslieD_2007.jpgThe Happy-ish Place on Earth

By Leslie Dinaberg
South Coasting

South Coasting

The happy-ish place on earth

By Leslie Dinaberg


Is it possible that the happiest place on earth is now just a happy-ish place?


From my first visit to Disneyland as a 4-year-old, to the hundreds of journeys I've made there since, I've always thought Disneyland was an E-ticket ride.


The thing about going to Disneyland- sweaty bodies that aren't your own, outrageous prices, long lines and theme park feet aside-is that it's a chance to spread a little magic pixie dust and journey back to your childhood.


But this time, even though our recent trip was a blast, it was also a sad reminder that while I'm still a kid from the moment I spot Mickey from the freeway, my own kid is growing up way too fast. He didn't even want to buy mouse ears because he'd "have to take them off on Thunder Mountain."


Excuse me? Mouse ears are mandatory.


Back in the 70s, when I was rocking white Go-Go boots, pigtails and a Partridge Family lunchbox, my Grandpa Alex did the dry cleaning for Disneyland. This meant we got free tickets to Disneyland. We must have gone a dozen times every summer, but I still got mouse ears every time-and that was when your choices were with or without a bow. Now the ears (37 styles) snap on to 1,569 different hat options, and don't even get me started on the patches. Yet Koss was not particularly interested.


Hmm ... maybe it's a boy thing? At least he still skipped with me.


New stuff comes and goes in the real world with alarming frequency, but everything in Fantasyland was just where I left it when I was 7. Watching Alice's teacups spin brought back some of the happiest memories of my childhood-but if some kind of extreme thrill isn't involved, then Koss wasn't willing to wait in more than a five-minute line. My husband Zak got queasy just looking at those saucers spin.


I realize that not everyone digs Disneyland the way I do, but Zak was more excited by the free soda refills at one of the restaurants than the new Nemo ride. Admittedly, it wasn't the best ride ever, but still, it's a NEW RIDE at DISNEYLAND! To which he responded, it's FREE REFILLS at DISNEYLAND! Point taken.


I think Zak's happiest moment of our three-day adventure was when he saw that "It's a Small World," was closed for re-theming. I was crushed, but soon realized that even without the ride I could still hear the echoes of my dad singing, "It's a Small World After All."


Just so they wouldn't feel left out, I sang it a few times for Zak and Koss. They were amused for the first ten minutes or so, then, I don't know what happened. Some people don't recognize fun, even when it's screaming in their ear.


Like I said, it was a happy-ish place this time.


Still, I got them off the roller coasters and into the Tiki Room for a little while. The line for the pineapple froth was too long, and Koss thought it sounded icky, but inside I could almost see Grandpa Alex's belly jiggling as he danced along with the birds in the "Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Room,"

Koss rolled his eyes when I shared the precious Disney memory of when he was a baby and I gracefully managed to spill an entire strawberry slushie on his tushie and then used the very last diaper in all of Disneyland to clean him off.


While I think that one of the greatest things about being a parent is getting to re-experience magic through the eyes of a child, I guess I also have to remember that as a child it's not that much fun to hear your parents' stories over and over again.

But seriously, this is a story that involves Disneyland, bodily fluids, and mom being embarrassed. You would think he'd be a little more amused. Where's the pixie dust when you need it?


I was starting to worry that Koss might not have inherited my Disney gene, when we stumbled onto the parade. His skinny legs bounced along to "Under the Sea" and he grinned as he explained to the crowd that the starfish were doing some of the aerial moves he learned at Circus Camp. Then he waved to Peter Pan and Tinkerbell, forgetting for a moment that he's almost 9 and too old to get too excited. This place has still got it.

When we finally got home, with throbbing feet and empty wallets, I was too tired to wash the theme park film of saturated fat, sunscreen, sweat and spilled sugar off my body. Koss is still smiling when we carry him to bed and still clutching a couple of magic rings we bought him instead of the mouse ears. Who needs pixie dust? Disneyland's still got it.

Happiest or happy-ish place on earth? Sound off to For more columns visit




(BUILT IN) (Photos) StarshinePhoto.jpg

Growing by Bleeps and Bounds
By Starshine Roshell



It's an incongruous sound. Like a parrot's squawk coming out of a puppy's mouth. Or a teddy bear that mutters "Life is pain" when you press its tummy. But there it is: My 2-year-old's face - eyes the size and shape of quarters, lips like red licorice - cussing like a trucker.

Through some terrible mutation of natural law, a four-letter word has become my young son's all-time favorite utterance. And not just a four-letter word. The four-letter word. The one usually reserved for sailors, inmates and the occasional Vice President.
He used it at the park while, um, asking another child to kindly vacate his fort. He used it at home to inform some guests - with dramatic emphasis - that his favorite color is blue. And then, dear god, he used it at preschool.

He was sitting at the lunch table with friends when he let it rip. Finding the sound delightful, his buddies started shouting it, too. Their teacher explained that it was unacceptable language, then called their parents to alert them to the special new phrase that - thanks to my just-out-of-diapers hooligan - might find its way to their otherwise G-rated dinner table that night.

Please, I asked the teacher, my cheeks hot with shame. Please tell me this wasn't the first time you've heard a child say this in your 8,000 years of teaching. Alas, she had only heard it once before. And it was from an older child. And it was in the 1970s "when," she explained, "everyone was using that word."

How was this possible? How could my offspring, so new to the world and yet so often lauded for his eloquent vocabulary, have turned into Andrew Dice Clay before he's even mastered the spoon?

Since I don't know where else the child could have picked up such an ugly habit, I'm blaming his preschool teacher, the most nurturing, kind-hearted and apparently foul-mouthed woman in the world. I picture her leading the class in "The Wheels on the Bleeping Bus" - not because she'd ever do it but because it makes me feel less culpable in my son's embarrassing outburst.

Short of soap in the mouth (because, frankly, it didn't work when my mom did it), we've tried everything to delete the word from his lingo. We gave him a substitute "naughty word" - "flush monkey" - but he isn't buying it. No one ever screams "flush monkey" when they get cut off in traffic.

One night, I encouraged him to say the expletive over and over again, hoping it would eventually lose its impact and we could move on with our generally unvulgar lives. Funny thing about that word, though; it just keeps getting better the more you say it.

Imagine, if you were just beginning to wade into the English lexicon, how exciting it would be to stumble upon a string of letters with such power. A word that makes people gasp, and giggle. A word that means so many things, and nothing at all.

"A little boy probably enjoys throwing around the word for the same reason he likes to shoot a cap gun," says my friend Mott, who's rather fond of the word himself. "He gets to wield a tiny bit of intensity in a mostly harmless way." A linguistics major, Mott also explained to me how the word's fricative beginning and commanding velar stop make it irresistibly fun to say.

As a writer, with an affinity for the subtle nuances of language, I'm loathe to decry certain words as "bad" and others ... wait a minute.
Did my friend just say "fricative"? Right here in my column? What does he think this is, the '70s?

Starshine Roshell writes a weekly column for the Independent. See more at




(BUILT IN) (Photos) LeslieD_2007.jpgDisneyland never gets old
Magic Kingdom brings out the kid within
By Leslie Dinaberg
South Coasting


Outrageous prices, long lines, and theme park feet aside, taking a child to Disneyland for the first time is still an E-ticket ride. While my 5-year-old son Koss is a seasoned Disney veteran, his cousin Jordan recently celebrated her fourth birthday with Mickey and friends at what was, for her, truly the happiest place on earth.

Of course my brother-in-law, Brian, would have rather had a root canal - but some people don't recognize fun even when it's screaming in their ear.
I, on the other hand, love Disneyland with an almost geek-like passion. My fervor would be more than "almost geek-like" if I were talking about vanilla lattes or Chuck's Mai Tais, but with mouse-maniacs rivaled only by trekkies in their fanaticism, my enthusiasm is relatively tame.

Sure, I make my family wear the same color shirts when we go there, but it's not like we have "Dinaberg Family Disneyland Trip" t-shirts printed up like the Densmore family did, and it's not like we've fashioned our old curtains into Butterick Pattern Nos. 1187-1199 like the Von Trapp family. No, that would be ridiculous. At least, not until after I finish my sewing class.

My obsession certainly doesn't reach the heights of the Krock's, who created a website about "the happiest potties on earth" ( ). While it's a truly brilliant site, and would have been useful when Koss was a baby and I gracefully managed to spill an entire strawberry slushie on his tushie and then used the very last diaper in all of Disneyland to clean him off, I'm not that obsessive.
Still, my heart starts thumping a little faster as we pull into the lot, and it's not just because of the $37 parking fee -- I love Disneyland.

I'm probably the only person to have enjoyed visiting Walt Disney World and Epcot Center solo, on more than one occasion. (OK, so I was there on business, but I still bought - and wore -- the mouse ears.)


I couldn't help reflect on how well my son and his cousin Lauren would have fit in at Tokyo Disneyland where all sense of personal space is eclipsed by a strange need to fit as many people in as small a space as possible. I know that Disneyland can sometimes feel like the most peopled place on earth, but trust me, anywhere in the U.S. would feel spacious in comparison to Tokyo Disneyland.


I bet Brian's head would explode if we made him go there.


Jordan's eyes turned to saucers as she watched the teacups spin. New things come and go in the real world with alarming frequency, but everything in Fantasyland is just where I left it when I was 4. I can almost see my lip print on Dumbo's ear and my Grandpa Alex's belly jiggling as he danced along with the birds in the "Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Room," and just about hear my dad singing "It's a Small World After All." Oh - never mind. That really is my dad singing "It's a Small World After All." Some things you don't have to remember, you can just relive them over and over again. Like, "It's a small world after all, it's a small world...." I must stop now.


One of the greatest things about being a parent is getting to re-experience magic through the eyes of a child. Watching their responses was often more entertaining than whatever it was they were watching. Lauren wanted to dance with the prince in the "Snow White" stage show, Jordan tried to pick a fight with some of the pirates in the Caribbean, and Koss believed that Buzz Lightyear remembered him from their last hug and photo op.


I guess it is a small world after all. It's a small world after all. It's a small, small...No! Stop it!


It certainly feels like a small world when a woman I don't recognize spots me in line and asks me, "Are we going to read about this in the Beacon?" I'm not sure whether to feel flattered to get recognized or guilty because she busted me for taking my son out of school.


"It's my sister's fault," I want to say. "She didn't want to fight crowds on a weekend." And really what I mean, if you're reading this and you happen to be the principal at Vieja Valley, is that he was very sick that day with a fever of 112. Or, at least a massive stomachache from all the $12 boxes of popcorn that grandma bought him.


Jordan's chubby little legs bounce along to the Lion King's "Hakuna Matata," landing her on her rump every so often. She laughs out loud just because she's 4 and in her world this is nothing short of nirvana. Even Brian cracks a smile, and I feel grateful to have a glimpse back to feeling that way.


Though my theme park feet are asleep after the long drive home, and I'm too tired to wash the theme park film (saturated fat, sunscreen, sweat and spilled sugar) off my body, laying in my own somewhat lumpy bed next to my own somewhat grumpy husband is actually the happiest place on earth.


Share your adventures with Leslie at For more columns visit




Face it: In-Laws Kissers are stamped on kids
By Starshine Roshell

(BUILT IN) (Photos) StarshinePhoto.jpgDemanding. Gratifying. Life-affirming.

Of all the words used to describe the parenthood escapade, you never hear anyone call it "startling," "icky" or even "really flipping disconcerting" ? all of which I find it, at times, to be.
Anyone who's ever had to cut an infant's fingernails, attach her own breast to an electric pump or search a scalp for headlice knows what I'm talking about.

I can stomach almost anything if I know it's coming. Given a decent heads up, for example, I might have been able to handle the oddest phenomenon in my first decade of parenting:
The discovery that my in-laws' faces are plastered squarely ? audaciously ? on the front of my children's heads.

I mean they're right there. Staring back at me with as though they had every right to be there. Looking to all the world like I gave birth to my husband's 68-year-old, Sarah Brightman-loving parents.

I'm sorry, but eww.
The resemblance isn't actually glaring. It presents itself in minor features (the tip of a nose, the arch of a brow) and familiar flashes of expression (the Fake Photo Smile, the Disapproving Frown).

Still it's rattling to realize that someone you love with utter abandon ? someone whose apple-juicy breath you cherish, whose perpetually sandy toes you chew on ? is forever branded with the chin/earlobes/nostrils of a man you still don't kiss on the lips and a woman you hope to never see in her underwear.

And you know what's even weirder? Gazing down at your nursing newborn and seeing Grandpa winking back at you.

I should say here that my in-laws are not unattractive. And they're likable in every way: Hard-working, kind-hearted, generous.
But they're not ... my people.

Their foreheads are foreign to me, their cheekbones exotic. Theirs are not the faces I grew up studying, the twinkling eyes and freckled skin of my parents, cousins and even (yikes) exceedingly homely Aunt Antoinette ? people whose coloring and bone structure and smiles have flooded my vision from my first moments on earth. In other words, my family's kissers aren't cuter. They're just more ingrained.

I know gene pools work like jigsaw puzzles, pulling a smidge from here and a dash from there, combining dissimilar attributes in seemingly impossible but ultimately elegant ways.

My husband's face, for example, is an artful blend of his parents' mugs. But, you see, I knew him first. I fell in love with his upturned eyes and narrow nose before I ever even met his parents ? and pinpointed their unmistakable origin.

I've spent enough Thanksgivings now sitting across the table from my in-laws that I recognize the curl of their eyelashes and the curve of their jaws when they glint at me from my kids' faces. It still startles me from time to time, that nagging "how did that come out of me?" sensation overriding my basic understanding of biology.

But I've come to see it as a cool thing, too: an invaluable visual reminder that our kids are not our clones. They're their own unique entities cooked up from countless chromosomes from innumerable generations. It's true of their their talents and temperaments as much as their looks.

I know my husband sees it, too, when my dad's laugh comes bursting out of our boys, or my mom's grin alights across their faces. I look over at my spouse to see if he's enchanted or unnerved by the recognition and I I know at once exactly what he's thinking.

Thank god it's not Aunt Antoinette.

Starshine Roshell writes a weekly column for the Independent. See more at



Taking a Vacation from Guilt Trips
By Leslie Dinaberg

(BUILT IN) (Photos) LeslieD_2007.jpgI was raised on a diet of guilt, albeit one well seasoned with plenty of humor (a caveat I added so that I wouldn?t feel too guilty when my mother reads this). Guilt is so deeply embedded into my DNA that I really thought it would be the one aspect of motherhood I would have mastered in advance. After all, I?ve spent most of my life making important decisions based on the avoidance of future guilt (Can the dentist really tell if I skip one night of flossing? I?d rather watch The O.C., but what if Joey gets canceled because I stopped watching?).

I hear a lot of voices in my head, and while my mother?s is one of the loudest, I?m also haunted by Humphrey Bogart?s warning at the end of Casablanca: ?If that plane leaves the ground and you're not with him, you'll regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.?

Of course, if I were Ingrid Bergman I would have felt guilty for even having the discussion about leaving my husband, especially outside in the rain, where I could have caught a cold and died, thus ruining my mother?s life.

Yet, despite so many years of guilty woulda coulda shoulda dress rehearsals in my head, I continue to be surprised by how entwined guilt is with motherhood.
I?m still reeling from last week?s doozy.

My husband and I went to Soho to hear a friend sing, a rare night out in adult world, while unbeknownst to us (cell phones only work if you can hear them ring) our son was vomiting ? for several hours ? all over grandma?s house.
My poor baby! My poor mom! Her poor carpet! My stomach still hurts from feeling guilty over my mistreatment of all three of them. Of course, my overdeveloped gag reflex doesn?t help.

While the part of me that hears voices is convinced that people with clear consciences have bad memories, or are just plain delusional, the more rational part of me has decided that all of this guilt has got to go. Therefore, this Mother?s Day (while part of me was enjoying being with my family and part of me was wishing I could be at a spa, with Sven the masseuse) I resolved that there are certain things I will no longer feel guilty about. The list includes:

1. Working full time. Yeah right, who am I kidding? Even though my husband stays home with our son, I am convinced that I could be doing a better job if I were the one to say home, which of course, I feel terribly guilty for even thinking about when he?s such a great father.
2. Being more lenient with my son than I should be on the weekends, because I want our time together to be fun. (Yeah sure. Want to lay odds on that one?)
3. Gelt guilt: the Jewish version of spending the weekend buying things for your child because you worked all week and you want your time together to be fun.
Clearly I?m aiming a bit too high -- or I?m a total failure at guilt alleviation, which makes me feel simultaneously terrible and guilty. Maybe I should ease into this less ambitiously. From here on I resolve to not feel guilty:
4. About lusting after my childless friends? bank accounts and social calendars.
5. That my son?s favorite song is ?Psycho Killer? instead of ?Requiem in D Minor.?
6. Taking that first, wonderful sip of my latte and feeling like a terrible mom for enjoying it when I could have stayed home with my son for five minutes longer instead.
7. That we let our son watch TV in the morning so we can sleep ?just a little longer.?
8. That I sometimes pretend to be asleep in the hopes that my husband will get up with our child in the middle of the night.
9. That I sometimes pretend to be asleep in the hopes that my husband will not get up with me in the middle of the night.
10. That I pray I?ll be the only one home when I pull into the driveway.
11. ? Then am annoyed that I rushed from work and there?s nobody there.
12. Doing a little happy dance when I go to work and my husband has to worry about what to feed our little darling for breakfast.
13. That my husband and I spend the majority of our date nights talking about our son, and not about things like ?Requiem in D Minor.?
14. For feeling guilty and then blaming it on my DNA or the voices in my head.
15. Picturing my child telling his analyst about me one day.
16. ? Then putting money in a therapy jar every time I do something I know he will tell his analyst about.

There, I actually feel better.
Or at least I will when I get home and put $16 in the therapy jar for writing this column.

Share your own parental guilt trips with Leslie by emailing You?ll feel better, really, you will. For more columns visit



Next Stop: Freedom
Riding the bus grants a family a day-pass from the pump
By Starshine Roshell

(BUILT IN) (Photos) StarshinePhoto.jpg There was a point in my life when a bus meant freedom. As a preteen in Los Angeles, I rode buses to the mall, the movies. I took two home from junior high every day, and only once had to ditch a weirdo who tried to follow me home.

There was something zen-like about riding the bus ? a sense of stepping onto a constant and colossal force, like a tenacious river that takes no notice whether you're bobbing in its currents or not.

That laminated bus pass made this trifling 12-year-old feel like a part of something.
But the moment I got my car keys, I became a part of something else. Something cooler. Something that didn't require me to conform to anyone else's schedule, or sit next to ill-scented strangers.

By college, the public transit system was so utterly off my grid that when someone once suggested I take a bus, my boyfriend joked, "You might as well tell her to 'flim a jib-jab.' She doesn't speak the language."

But let me tell you something: I don't speak $5-per-gallon, either. Suddenly, in the midst of this gas crisis, auto-ownership doesn't feel like autonomy; it feels like highway robbery. So rather than continue to feel powerless at the pump, a victim of my vehicle, I decided to reclaim the peculiar wayfarer's freedom of my youth.

Yep, I flimmed the local jib-jab with my kids in tow. We downloaded routes and schedules off the Internet (so easy!). We found a bus stop right near our house (so close!). We even convinced an adventurous friend to hop on our bus as it passed her neighborhood.

"What fun! Sounds great!" she said. "Except ... what are we gonna do when we need our cars?"

She was kidding. Kind of.

Anyone who's ever had an ignition at the ready, a gear shift at her fingertips, will face some panic when committing to mass transit's rigid rules, rates and rhythms. For example, my boys and I tore apart the house looking for $3.75 because the bus requires exact change and we feared what might happen if we offered up, say, $4. Would they mock us? Boot us? Make us stand up the whole way?

But the bus we rode was ever-so-inviting, an immaculate and nearly empty people-mover with a convenient shelf to stash our stroller. The driver was shockingly nice, informing us that our toddler rides for free, and patiently helping us work out the confounding math and coinage of it all. He didn't even take offense when my youngest said, "He looks like Grandpa!"

The driver told us that gas prices have brought more passengers, but the increased ridership has slowed the system's pace.

"You get a few more people and you can't pass any stops," he said. "Plus, with the greying of America, you get more wheelchairs and walkers and that slows us down."
But we reached our friend's stop on time, and arrived downtown on schedule. We walked to a bakery for cupcakes and coffee, then cavorted around a park before jumping back on the bus to head home two hours later.

On the return trip, we met an elderly couple returning home after grocery shopping.
"You meet the most interesting people on the bus," the woman said. "You know, everyone who can't function at the highest level rides the bus."

I'm pretty sure she was talking about me because by then, I was carsick from riding sideways. But I figured out how to crack open one of those big bus windows, stuck my face into the breeze and smiled as we passed a familiar gas station full of cranky looking motorists.

Call me a control freak. But it felt like freedom to me.

For more, visit Starshine Roshell writes a weekly column for the Independent. See more at




The Chore Score
By Leslie Dinaberg

(BUILT IN) (Photos) LeslieD_2007.jpg I?m writing this column to start fights between husbands and wives, at least that?s what the husband of one of my friends claimed. An informal survey of friends verified what social science research confirmed about what goes on in the average American home. Any way you measure it, very little has changed in the roles of men and women?there?s no such thing as ?halving it all,? women still do about twice as much around the house as men.

Of course that ratio used to be four to one (and that was pre-microwave ovens), so we are making some progress. According to a recent article in the ?New York Times,? no matter how you construct and deconstruct a family, ?Working class, middle class, upper class, it stays at two to one,? says Sampson Lee Blair, an associate professor of sociology at the University at Buffalo who studies the division of labor in families.

Even in households like mine, with extremely low housekeeping standards, the ratio is about two to one. I do a little and my husband does very, very little. So little, in fact, that rather than take part in my informal survey and account for his chores like all the rest of our friends did, he had the bad sense to say, ?I'm quite sure that I do everything while you eat bonbons.?

OK, I admit that I may fortify myself with the occasional chocolate, but it?s just to make sure I have the energy to keep the refrigerator, pantry, gift closet and sock drawers filled with enough supplies to brave those Santa Barbara winters.

Since research has found that the best predictor of the division of labor is how it breaks down amongst your friends, I decided to dig in for some details from mine.

I?m not sure what it says about my voyeuristic tendencies, but I found it oddly interesting to hear about who did what around my friends? houses. You would think they were sharing Penthouse letters, the way I ran to check my computer every time my email chimed in with a new message. I couldn?t wait to see who was weighing in with their chore score.

In general, guys seemed to have a few areas of expertise, mostly car maintenance and yard work, while the house and the social life fell into the wife?s wheelhouse.

As Janet put it, ?in our house we have committees and chairpersons. Dave is the chairperson of the automotive maintenance committee, the waste disposal committee, the structural engineering (i.e. handyman) committee, etc. I am chair of the social engagement committee, the food procurement and preparation committee, and the health maintenance committee. Somehow the titles make us feel a little better about our chores.?

Having titles isn?t a bad idea. Almost everyone I talked to admitted to bickering with their spouse about housework?or knowing they?d just get in a fight if they brought it up?which is why, in the interest of domestic harmony, all the names in this story were changed.

Kids were the biggest area of shared responsibility. Although we seem to follow our parents in many regards, this generation of fathers is definitely not second-class parents to their wives. Sure, there are exceptions, like Amanda who said, ?Pete needs a manual to operate the children. When given specific instructions, he is usually able to follow them. ? He is allergic to the children's belongings and couldn't possibly put them away.?

But most of the responses were more along the lines of: ?Ernie supervises the kids homework (I gave up math in second grade), takes them to all of their sports activities, and makes sure their teeth don?t rot.? Or ?Doug picks up the kids from school every day, and is almost always the one to stay home with them when they?re sick.?

Cooking also didn?t fall under one gender or the other, although I?m convinced that our friends play a big part in the fact that Americans now spend $26 billion more each year on restaurants than grocery stores. As Kathy said, ?Joe does about 25% of the cooking, I do about 25%, and someone else does the other 50%.?

Author Neil Chetnik, who interviewed about 300 husbands for his book, "VoiceMale?What Husbands Really Think About Their Marriages, Their Wives, Sex, Housework and Commitment," found that almost every level of happiness and positive feelings in relationships is related to housework. ?I kept seeing the parallel between housework and sex in the interviews. Men said the happier their wives were in the division of housework, the happier the men were with their sex lives. We even looked at the numbers and found that there's more sex in the relationship if the wife is happy with the division of housework.?

Did you hear that, honey? Might be time to work on improving your chore score.
What?s the chore score at your house? Share your stats with For more columns visit






Phantom tiara syndrome

By Starshine Roshell

Starshine Roshell is a Santa Barbara writer mother of two.

Visit her at

(BUILT IN) (Photos) StarshinePhoto.jpgThere are things I can't tell my family. Things they wouldn't understand.
They don't know, for example, that elbow-length satin gloves make me warm and tingly inside. They've never noticed how my eyes go swirly-girly at the mention of glass slippers or fairy wings. They're entirely ignorant of my impeccable "Little Mermaid" impression - a spot-on vocal triumph charting every sigh, giggle and vibrato of the brilliant girl-power ballad "Part of Your World."
You see, I'm the only female in my family of four. Where I grasp at magic wands, my husband and sons grab for laser guns. Where I dream of horse-drawn carriages, they drool over horsepowered muscle cars.
As I learned during a recent family excursion, nowhere is this disparity of passions more pronounced than at Disneyland.
A Southern California native, I spent an immoderate portion of my youth at the Happiest Place on Earth being merrily mesmerized by Disney's feminist-infuriating princess stories and blithely buying into the seductive sales arm of the operation: the Sparkly Princess Aesthetic.
To this day I can't park my car in the Pinocchio lot before my Pavlovian inner princess starts salivating: Tinker Bell tank tops? Hot pink tiaras? Dopey! Sneezy! Hold me back!
Like life, though, a trip to the Magic Kingdom is an entirely different tale when you're surrounded by boys. Sleeping Beauty's castle is merely that thing you have to tear through to get from the Astro Blasters, where you can shoot things, to the spinning teacups, where it's fun to make vomit jokes and watch mom turn green.
We ride rocket ships. We buy swords. We watch an Indiana Jones look-alike beat the holy grail out of some swarthy, grunting bad guy.
And then I see it. Something new in the park: The Princess Fantasy Faire. We're marching off toward some unsparkly treehouse or another when I spot a shady enclave where little girls are decorating crowns, dancing with knights and curtsying before tiny-waisted Cinderella and big-haired Belle.
"Oh, GOD," my husband announces. "Aren't you glad we don't have to wait in those lines?"
What I say is, "Phew. You're tellin' me."
What I'm thinking is, "Remember that hour we spent at the Jedi Training Academy? That's 60 minutes of my life I'll never get back."
What I'm singing in my head is, "What would I give if I could live out of these waters? ... Wandering free, wish I could be part of that world."
To be fair, there are advantages to mothering boys. Though I've had to abandon pre-parenthood fantasies of delicate tea parties and shopping expeditions for sequined sandals (not for lack of trying but because my sons won't humor me), I maintain hope that someday my newfound ability to distinguish a backhoe from a front-end loader will prove wildly useful.
The best part of being the lone gal in a house full of guys is the sort of confused reverence with which you are viewed. As everything about me is different - my body, my talents, my passions - I'm seen as somewhat mysterious. Complicated. Special. For these fellows, surrounded on three sides by "he"-hood, I get to be the lone shore of "she"-hood. The very model of femininity. The fairest, in effect, of them all.
At the end of our Disneyland day, I drag my 2-year-old to the princess-heavy Parade of Dreams, so I - rather, so he - can see doe-eyed damsels float by, waving their gloriously gloved fingers in that fluid, inhuman way.
He is bored and fidgety till his eyes lock onto Tinker Bell, flapping her fairy wings and flicking her pixie stick at the crowd. But the look on his face isn't enchantment - it's faint recognition.
He points at the life-size fairy and wrinkles his nose. "Is that Mommy?" he asks ...
And we live happily ever after.

Starshine Roshell writes a weekly column for the Independent. See more at






South Coasting

Promises Promises

By Leslie Dinaberg
Visit her at


(BUILT IN) (Photos) LeslieD_2007.jpg"But mom, you promised we could!"

We could ... fill in the blank. Make cookies, play tennis after school, do watercolor salt collages, go to the bank and make a deposit in that cool pneumatic tube. You name it-whatever the thing was that I had woefully neglected to do is beside the point. The point is that once again I had fallen sadly short of the perfect mother benchmark. And once again my son was shaming me with my shortcomings.

If there's a parent out there who has never disappointed their child, please stay far away from me. I feel guilty enough already. I certainly don't need you flaunting your perfection in my face.

I know I should have learned the perils of promises a long time ago. Isn't it always better to under-promise and over-deliver? I seem to recall being tested on that a few times in my life. Plus it's so logical: don't promise more than you can deliver and you won't disappoint anyone, right?

But the problem with kids is they interpret every word you say as a promise. Except of course when they don't.

What seems like merely a rather vague plan to my muddled mind is often a promise in the eyes of my son. The moment words like "yes, we should do that" leave my mouth, my 8-year-old interprets them as a sworn-in-blood pledge-sometimes. And that's the kicker. He forgets what we had planned to do just as often as I do, but when I forget I'm a terrible parent and when he forgets, well, he's just being a kid.

Really, I never intended to be crushing the hopes and dreams of my sweet little guy. Of course I know that kids believe us when we promise them something. It's just that, well, I didn't know you were serious about that. Or I thought you changed your mind after school. Or I completely forgot about it. Or, once in a great while-something better came up.

Surely you realize that I didn't realize how important it was to you. Surely you must know that I never meant to break your sweet, innocent little heart. I'm so very sorry.

Before I was a mom I spent a lot of time apologizing to the plants. It's not that I was negligent per se; it's just that there was so much going on in my life. Sometimes I would completely forget to water a plant for, say, the winter, and then, to make up for it, spray the others with a fire hose for the month of March.

I've gotten much better about this. Really I have. I never even buy plants anymore and if someone gives me one, I know better than to get too attached.

Seriously, I've only forgotten to feed Koss a few times. Eventually he reminds me, usually by screaming "I'm starving, mom. You forgot to make me breakfast again!" in the middle of a crowded room of appalled parents and teachers. I'm embarrassed about this, of course, but it's not like the plants. As soon as he starts to smell, I drop everything and hose him off. I would never just toss him in the trash.

See, I promised when he was born that I would always love and cherish him, and that's one promise I'm sure I can keep.
If you email Leslie at, she promises to write back. For more columns visit








(BUILT IN) (Photos) StarshinePhoto.jpg

Do you have to like your kids?

By Starshine Roshell

Starshine Roshell is a Santa Barbara writer and mother of two.

Visit her at

I was swaddled in nursing bras and burp cloths when a married-and-childless friend came to visit me and my 6-month-old. I needed the company. And she needed answers.
Emotionally, she felt the pull of parenting. But intellectually, she had doubts.
"What if you have kids," she asked, tentatively, "and you don't like them?"
She flinched when she said it, as though the words might puncture and deflate our friendship. She didn't know that a mere hour prior I had been explaining to my drooling neo-human that if he and I were going to get along, he would need to cease from spitting up in my hair.
"You really don't need to worry about that," I chuckled.
"Because when they're yours," she reasoned, "you can't help but like them ... right?"
"No!" I said. "Because you most certainly will dislike them. Frequently. Intensely, even. And it won't matter much."
It was the first time I heard anyone give voice to that quiet little corner of the parenthood puzzle ? the notion that a mother, the person we expect to love us unconditionally, might not like us unconditionally.
In fact, she might find us obnoxious.
It's a taboo topic, but any mom who has thought to herself, "I like them best when they're asleep," or has stared curiously while her 2-year-old stomped, shrieked and swatted his way through a grocery-store tantrum, has come to this inevitable conclusion: It's possible to live with someone ? even to create someone ? whose company you don't find especially charming.
"I do not always like my children," says a friend whose 10-year-old daughter recently told her she should wear more make-up.
"I don't like them when they stink," admitted another friend, a mother of boys. "I don't like them when they say, 'Why are you talking to dad like that?' And I sometimes like my book better than I like them."
"What I hate more than anything is when they are judgmental or intolerant," added a girlfriend with teenage daughters. "That sends me straight for the bottle of vodka."
These are three women whom ? I promise ? you would consider to be amazing mothers, if you knew them. The truth is we have a kaleidoscope of feelings for our kids: Love. Hope. Pride. If "Constant Unbridled Delight" isn't in the spectrum, don't sweat it. We choose our friends and spouses expressly for their likability (funny? smart? kind?), but we don't get to custom-blend our kids' behavioral traits. And some of them, frankly, suck.
Take the Florida teen who was arrested for deliberately spiking her mother's dinner and sending the poor allergenic woman into anaphylactic shock. Mom's probably not brimming with affection today.
But how do we address our feelings of, well, unfondness?
"My mom would say, 'I love you but I really don't like you much right now,' " says a mom I know, who takes a similar tack with her own brood. "I've told them they were no fun to be around. Or that being in the same room with them just wasn't working for me."
I'm a proponent of natural consequences. So when my kids' behavior becomes so selfish, unreasonable or insulting that I can't stand to be around them, I tell them so as I'm walking away. But to be honest, iit doesn't feel great.
Another friend of mine ? one I apparently chose for her brutal honesty ? insists that it doesn't matter what words we use to describe our displeasure.
"Your kids are too busy watching everything you do to listen to a word you say," she reminds me. "If you want to like them more, be more likeable. They will probably follow suit."
Needless to say ? sometimes I don't like my friends either.







South Coasting

Kids put the squeeze on the boundaries of cuisine

By Leslie Dinaberg
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(BUILT IN) (Photos) LeslieD_2007.jpg "When it comes to feeding your kids, everyone's a critic," warned my friend Lori.

Sure the food police may be creeping around cafeteria corners and leering at grocery carts, but I've come to realize that when it comes to kids and food, there are a lot more hypocrites than critics.

I, for one, am happy when my son eats at all.

Can he really be the only kid in the United States who has never -- not a single day in his young life -- managed to down the federally-recommended three servings of vegetables, two servings of fruit and two servings of milk per day?

And I'm told, by other concerned parents who are apparently better able to shove food into their children's small orifices, that when he turns seven he'll need even more fruits and vegetables. At this rate, he'll need a broccoli I.V. and brussel sprout drip or he'll never be able to catch up
Who are these kids that are eating all of these fruits and vegetables? I've certainly never met them.

I called the USDA, and they put me in touch with the five-year-old boy who actually follows all of their guidelines. His name is Oliver Q. Stump, and he lives in Denver, CO. He's in great health, reading at a fourth grade level, and is exceptionally well mannered. However, I found him to be an exceedingly dull conversationalist.

Have a Butterfinger, Oliver. You need to lighten up.

The rest of us can only try. At their Valentine's Day party, my son's kindergarten class not only had cookies and cupcakes on the sign-up sheet, but also fruit and vegetables.

I was impressed. Unfortunately, none of the produce actually made it to the party, and I was surprised to find that when the kids opened their Valentine's cards, at least half of them contained candy.

Were these the same moms that complained about unhealthy croutons in the school's salad bar?

I had been buying red and pink foil chocolate concoctions for weeks, but it never would have occurred to me to share them with my son, let alone his classmates - and it's not just because I don't share chocolate.

While I've been following the progress of "healthy chocolate" research at Mars Inc. for years (according to the New York Times, dark chocolate Dove bars are now loaded with more cardiovascularly-friendly flavanols than many green teas), I know better than to make five-year-olds into lab rats.

I prefer my selective scientific gullibility to work only in my favor, not against the integrity of my son and his friends.

"I want to teach my kids that carrots are just as much of a treat as M & Ms," said my friend Jody.
Good idea, though there's a reason they never made Willy Wonka and the Rutabaga Factory into a movie.

If it actually worked, there would be a bunch of orange-tinted kids on the playground instead of a bunch of fat kids. For those of you who didn't get the memo, or have been living under a rock for the past decade, this will be big news: Kids are eating too much junk food and not getting enough exercise.

In other words, they're acting like adults.

"Can we go to McDonald's for dinner, Mommy?" asks my son. "They have salads."

This is how he tries to sell me on McDonald's, with the temptation of a 12,000 calorie salad - for me. Nonetheless, "Would you actually eat something if I take you there?" I plead.
That's how low the bar can drop in our house sometimes.

My son, who is five and weighs less than his three-year-old cousin, is almost never hungry. That is, unless he's sucking up to Grandma or it's time to go to bed. Then he suddenly gets an appetite.
Anyone who's ever met me knows this is clearly not genetic.

Ever look up "food issues" in a psychology journal?

My mom was the one who gave me Tab in my fourth grade lunch box and gave out pencils on Halloween.

My dad was the one who made me the top seller every Girl Scout cookie season. He would eat them before I could even make the rounds of the neighbors, a weakness later discovered by the SBCC women's volleyball team, who made a fortune by storing their fundraising candy bars in his office one year.

My husband is the tall, skinny guy who, after years of cutthroat "eat all your vegetables" contests with his siblings, has not had anything green pass his lips (other than a beer on St. Patrick's Day) since he left home for college.

And I am the one who rejoiced at the healthy kids meal we recently had at Bubba Gump's in Long Beach, which included carrot sticks and celery with the chicken strips and fries.

My heart went pitter-patter when Koss actually ate a carrot.

So what if he mistook it for a French fry, he still swallowed.

Like I said, the bar is low.
Share your healthy eating tips with Leslie at






Spring Cleaning

And other lies meant to torture us
(BUILT IN) (Photos) StarshinePhoto.jpg

Starshine Roshell is a Santa Barbara writer and mother of two.

Visit her at

"Mom, can I draw on my neck?"

It was spring and I was cleaning the kitchen ? trying in vain to scrape the perpetual gick from the bottom of my toaster and scrub the perennial gunk from the base of the faucet ? when I heard those words and glanced up, sponge in hand.

Indeed, my toddler's palms, forearms, elbows, T-shirt and the tablecloth surrounding his untouched coloring book were lavishly scrawled with shamrock-green marker.

"And," he was good enough to ask, "my hair, too?"

With that guileless question, a realization hit me bluntly, the way an upended dish of ice cream or an overturned bowl of oatmeal hits the floor (which it does frequently in our house):
As long as there are children living here ? and let's just say it, boy children to boot ? my home will never ever be clean. Not for one hour. Not for one minute. Not for the split second it takes a 2-year-old to uncap a fat green marker.

While I lean less toward the white-glove school of housekeeping and more toward the sweep-it-under-the-rug approach, my predicament is universal. Households with kids just don't stay spit-polished the way adult dwellings do. It's simple math. Playground sand + Lego obsession + inability to master a fork = insurmountable sty.

Why, then, are we breeders burdened with the delusion of spring cleaning? Why do parents' magazines and Target circulars and the commercials during "Desperate Housewives" keep insisting it's time to stock up on fresh-smelling cleansers and under-bed boxes and all-purpose microfiber cloths?

What, pray tell, would be the point?

If I followed my kids around all day with a spray bottle and a roll of paper towels, obliterating a syrupy handprint here and a muddy footprint there, I would only have to do it all again tomorrow. Aside from preparing lunch, any job that must be repeated daily is a form of torture ? like Sisyphus forced to push his onerous, downward-tending boulder up the mountain.

Are the gods angry at us parents? Are we being punished with this yearly nudge toward neatness? Or is "spring cleaning" just a cruel marketing ploy by the same sadists who brought us New Year's resolutions, Valentine's Day and Lent (OK, that one's been around a while) ? annual rituals designed to make us feel feckless and feeble-willed?

Show me the genius who coined the phrase "spring cleaning" and I'll show you a childless ad exec with a live-in maid.

Forgive me if I sound angry. I'd brandish a little more tact and diplomacy if only I could find them. But they're buried beneath piles of ketchup-stained laundry. Or they may be jammed at back of the fridge behind that sticky bottle of Magic Shell from the great sundae party of 2003. I really can't remember the last time I saw them.

I adore the idea of spring cleaning, the promise, however cruel and deluding, that it's possible to clear out all the cobwebs and, um, dog hair, that collects in the corners of our lives. And I am envious ? as green, in fact, as my son's graffiti'd arms ? when I see other people's gleaming baseboards, steam-cleaned carpets and organized Tupperware drawers. I'm only human.

But those things are not attainable in my house. Not in this decade. Not while there are necks to be scribbled on. They're just a few of the many infeasible ideals of motherhood that collect, unnoticed, in the corners of my life.

If you come across one while attempting to tidy your roost this spring, I recommend you do what I do: Sweep it under the rug.

Starshine Roshell writes a weekly column for the Independent. See more at





Thank you, officer, No Really.
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Starshine Roshell is a Santa Barbara writer and mother of two.

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I knew it before his hulking, uniformed frame filled my passenger-side window. I knew it even before his patrol car crept quietly up behind me, centering itself in my rear-view mirror.
I had been speeding.
He clocked me at 80 mph in a 65 zone, but I was doing 90 before his radar locked onto my hastening Honda. I was late to fetch my son from preschool. Rather, I was about to be late, because late is not something I allow myself to be. I had left work in plenty of time but then, calculating an extravagant surplus of eight minutes, decided to first stop and pick up a prescription my other son needed. The errand took longer than I had hoped, and my cunning plan was to compensate for the tactical error by endangering countless lives on the highway.
God forbid my 2-year-old should have to ask, "Where's my mommy?"
There's that highly charged 30-second window between the moment your tires come to rest on the road's shoulder and the moment the officer says, "Do you know why I pulled you over?" Options ricochet through your racing mind: How do you play this? Outright denial? Feigned ignorance? Unabashed groveling?
For the first time in my life, I chose contrition, straight-up. Even as I sat there, hands at 10 and 2, humiliated by the "gotcha" grins of passing motorists, I knew I had earned the ticket and every inconvenience ? fines, court appearances, traffic court ? that it would cost me.
I deserved it. I was humbled by it. And despite what I may have involuntarily muttered about the cop's manhood as I slowed my time-traveling torpedo to a schedule-stymying, efficiency-impeding halt, I was actually (oh, it hurts to even type it) grateful for it.
Because the ticket I drove away with is more than a hastily scrawled traffic citation. It's a bright yellow metaphor ? and much-needed wake-up call ? for the reckless pace of my life.
I could blame it on Santa Barbara's high cost of living. Or my decision to work full time while raising kids. Or the flawed personality of an over-achiever.
But the truth is we all struggle with work-life balance these days. We all neglect our health to nurture our careers, and slight our friendships to make time for our families. We all act as though a minute not spent in pursuit of income, or in completion of household chores, is a minute squandered.
As busy and goal-oriented as we are, though, we can be shockingly lazy about our vices. We engage in foolhardy behaviors that help us through the day ? chugging wine or mainlining coffee, scarfing donut holes, tearing through speed limits ? figuring we'll hit the brakes as soon as it gets "dangerous."
When I was pulled over by the Highway Patrolman (whose name, according to his expeditious handwriting, is Officer MTcliH) my operating principle was productivity at all costs ? and I'm lucky the natural consequence of my folly was a slap on the wrist rather than a body-mangling wreck.
I was late to pick up my kid from school that day, but I didn't rush through the afternoon the way I normally would. In fact, something odd happened.
Rather than checking email while my kids watched TV, or folding laundry while they did their chores, we actually played together. Finding ourselves plopped on the driveway beside a bucket of sidewalk chalk, we colored and scribbled all over the tires of my car. Tires that had earlier been pushed to their performance limit now sat idle, their only function to foster our amusement. Our togetherness.
I still find myself speeding some days, and trying to squeeze too many half-assed accomplishments into too few minutes. But I don't want to spend every waking minute in the fast lane. There's a freedom, really, in acknowledging life's limits, speed and otherwise. I'm no expert at it yet, but I'll get there eventually.
Better late than never.

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South Coasting

Big Wisdom From a Little Person

By Leslie Dinaberg
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(BUILT IN) (Photos) LeslieD_2007.jpgMy 8-year-old son came home on Saturday with a giant trophy in his hands, and an even bigger smile on his face. He had won second place in a chess tournament for grades K-3 (or as I like to call it, Nerdapalooza). He couldn't have been happier if he had won the lottery. Unlike his father and I-who can read each other's minds at this point in our marriage-it had never occurred to Koss that as a third grader and one of the oldest kids competing, he had a very good chance of winning that tournament without exhibiting any actual aptitude for the game.


But rather than second guessing the competition, or doubting his own skills, as I probably would have, winning that trophy made Koss happy, and that was all there was to it. As his mom I've spent most of his life teaching him things-how to cross the street safely or how to cross his eyes-but that Saturday I realized that he has a lot to teach me as well.


Here's what I've learned recently:

When you do something well, be happy about it.
It's easy to forget to feel proud of yourself. While Koss is not going to be challenging Bobby Fischer any time soon, he learned how to play chess this year and he loves it. The look of pure satisfaction on his face when he gets to say "checkmate"-which is pretty often when he plays against me-is so much fun to see. We should all take such delights in the pure pleasure of doing something better today than we did yesterday.

It's all about perspective.


Our house is not exactly a showpiece. We live in a shack. Literally, the embroidered pillow on our couch that says "Unabomber Shack" is not an exaggeration. But Koss loves our cozy little house and can't imagine living anywhere better. When friends come over after school, he brags to them that, "this is probably the smallest house you've ever seen," and he can't wait to show it off. Life would sure be a lot easier if I felt that way.

Eat until you get full, then stop.


Sometimes Koss eats a ton. Sometimes he has a bite of everything on his plate (usually at my insistence) and then he's outa there. Unlike most adults, he actually eats when he's hungry and stops when he's full. He's lean, he's active and he likes to eat his vegetables. Except of course when he doesn't like to eat his vegetables, because he's not hungry.


There's nothing to be gained from being shy.


From the time that he was teeny, Koss has made new friends almost everywhere we go. He never hesitates to walk up to someone and say hello or ask questions if there's something he wants to know. He never worries about looking stupid or being rejected. "If you want to know something you've got to ask, mom." No kidding.

Good trying is sometimes even better than good results.


I burned his bagel the other morning. When I apologized, Koss said, "That's okay, it was good trying, mommy," then proceeded to eat around the burnt parts.


Whatever you're doing, don't forget to make it fun.
Koss has a way of making a game out of just about anything he does. Why? "It's more fun that way, mom." Even in the midst of the most mundane task, like putting recycling into our bin, he's juggling plastic bottles, shooting baskets with them, never missing the opportunity to make the most of every minute.

What a great lesson. I think I'll go play with him right now!


Tell Leslie what your kids have taught you lately at For more columns visit




The Game of Life
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Starshine Roshell is a Santa Barbara writer and mother of two.

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One minute you're a Nobel Prize-winning doctor pulling in six figures. The next you're holed up in an aluminum-sided mobile home and your car's been stolen.
LIFE is funny that way.
Not real life, so much. But we can all have a good chuckle when such twists of fate befall our limb-less little game pieces in Milton Bradley's classic family board game, The Game of LIFE.
Now and again, my son and I take a spin around the old gameboard, taking equal glee in its little plastic churches and universities, its molded green mountains and the omnipotent spinner that (click! click! click!) launches players into outrageous fortune or calamitous destitution depending solely on the torque of one's thumb and forefinger.
Game nights let my kid and me bond over something besides "American Idol" ("Yes, his song choice was dope, son, but his performance was all a bit cabaret"). But they're educational, too. During a recent game, I learned that fantasy play is a pleasure one never really outgrows.
It's just that the fantasies change. And change dramatically.

Created in 1860 by Mr. Milton Bradley himself, the game was originally called The Checkered Game of Life. It promised players a "happy old age" if they made virtuous choices along the temptation-fraught path from infancy to infirmity.
Its modern incarnation, The Game of LIFE, was created in 1960 for the company's 100th anniversary. It's been updated a few times; today it rewards players for biking to work and helping the homeless, and docks their pay for having cosmetic surgery and buying high-def TVs.
But as time inches forward, like a game piece creeping across the board, social ideals aren't the only things about LIFE that change. I've noticed that as we players plod from childhood to adulthood ? the game's entire appeal shifts.
For my fourth-grader, it's all about ownership: Holding, counting and fanning out his rainbow of play money. Buying stocks and real estate, and fingering the deeds. In our latest game, he obsessively studied the fine print on his insurance policy and meticulously paid back his student loans when they came due. Along the path of LIFE, he collected all the symbols of adulthood he could wrap his 9-year-old fists around: a spouse, two kids, a boxy car.
Basically, he had my life.
And I, quite deliberately, did not.
Because for me, the fantasy that LIFE affords is not in managing assets, changing careers and hoping you can hold out till pay day. That's not entertainment; that's called "your thirties."
For me, the game's allure is freedom. The liberty to do it all over again ? but less cautiously. To wit, I skipped college entirely and married a woman (less hair in the sink). A fateful spin of the wheel sent us skidding right past the treacherous "Baby boy!" and "Baby girl!" spaces on the board, protecting us from costly daycare costs down the road. The wife and I shacked up in a modest log cabin without a shred of home insurance, or prudence, or even guilt. And we were deliriously happy, at least till that tornado hit.
All told, my delight in the game isn't so different from my son's. We both relish the chance to do things we can't do in real life, and to do them in a fail-safe environment.
Despite my lackadaisical approach to finances, I think I won that game. It's hard to know for sure because determining a victor is a complicated process requiring more math than anyone should have to do at 8:30 at night. If I have any criticism of this otherwise superbly escapist pastime, it's that after a long and colorful road full of unexpected twists and surprising developments, the end is an anti-climactic hassle.
But hey. Isn't that LIFE?



The swing of things
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Starshine Roshell is a Santa Barbara writer and mother of two.

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Playgrounds look like such innocent places. Coated in primary colors and plopped atop shock-absorbent tanbark, park equipment has no sharp edges. No pokey corners. What could be more liberating?

But anyone who's logged pre-nap hours there will tell you the freedom is pure illusion.
Like life, playgrounds are governed by rigid, unwritten rules that can puzzle and plague you until you learn how to work within them.
Or around them.


Upon entering a playground, for example, you're expected to smile at other mothers even if they don't look like people you could possibly be friends with. Though you never officially signed up, you are now part of a club: the Desperate to Get My Toddler Out of My House Club. By not acknowledging other members of said club with a "hi, how'd we get here?" sort of nod, you appear to be "too cool" for the club, which is not OK. The other moms will say rude things about your rump when you're bending over to retrieve a sippy cup from the sand, and who wants that, really?


While friendliness among females is encouraged, speaking to other women's husbands - even just to say "has your kid rented that swing for the day or can we get a turn?" - is strictly verboten and will only inspire more butt mockery. Don't grin at other daddies, especially the ones wearing "I Heart Hot Moms" T-shirts. And under no circumstances should you offer to be the "teeter" to a hunky dad's "totter," no matter how pathetic and lonely he looks sitting on the thing by himself.


If, in an effort to instill your child with respect for social rules and public safety, you insist that he slide down the slide rather that climb up it, you'll be labeled a micro-managing spirit-quasher.


If, in an attempt to encourage his creativity and curiosity, you allow him to climb up the slide, be prepared for your new reputation as a reckless scofflaw. (Also, have an ice pack handy for when his creative and curious teeth meet with the fast-moving feet of a child who comes bounding down the slide, the way God intended. And yes, you can tell which side of this argument I come down upon.)


Playground protocol is complex, as evidenced by the rarely verbalized but strictly observed Sharing Treaty: A parent is never (ever!) to offer another child a snack of any kind. Not a pretzel, a goldfish cracker or a single red grape. There are allergy issues. Ingredient anxieties. And the ugly implication that the child isn't being properly fed by her own mother.


Likewise will that mother blush and apologize if her daughter asks another mom to hand over a single Cheerio, even if she does it politely.
Whereas snacks are considered oddly personal, though, toys are treated as communal property the second they hit the sandbox. When another kid outrageously rips a truck, trike, ball or bat from your child's hands, you must demand that your child "share," which, in park lingo, means, "Let it go. We'll snatch it back later when he's not looking."


Real life is not like this, of course. As grown-ups, we are not required to share our cars with strangers who admire them in the parking lot. We are not obliged to pluck out our iPod ear buds and hand them over to weirdos at the gym who say "gimme."


But the playground is different. On the planet of parenthood, it's like its own sovereign nation with strange and stringent customs that feel as foreign to us as ... well, as trying to scurry up a slippery slide. Don't be fooled by the cushy padding underfoot. Bungle your jungle gym etiquette, mama, and you'll land with a painful thud.


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(BUILT IN) (Photos) LeslieD_2007.jpgSouth Coasting

My Big Fat Carbon Footprint

By Leslie Dinaberg
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The weight of my carbon footprint has been keeping me up at night.


I sure do miss the good old days when I'd be overjoyed to find a public bathroom stocked with toilet paper and soap. Show me a recently cleaned floor and seat covers and you'll see me doing a little "happy dance" as an encore to the "I have to pee dance" I'm usually doing on my way in.


But on a recent visit to the movies, I confronted yet another in a growing number of environmental dilemmas. The facilities were fine, but after I washed my hands I stood stunned by indecision, paralyzed by choices: Should I dry my hands with a paper towel or use the air hand dryer?


"Dryers help protect the environment," a sign proclaimed. "They save trees from being used for paper towels. They eliminate paper towel waste." They also suck down electricity and dry out my skin, which increases my hand lotion consumption considerably. Nobody ever considers the Nivea trees.


I also vaguely recall reading something about hand dryers increasing the amount of bacteria in the air, because they suck up your germs then spew them back out onto the next customer. Eww! Just the thought of that is enough to make me resort to my son's preferred drying method-wiping his wet hands off on my jeans.

"Paper or plastic?" I must have a mental shopping block, because somehow I only remember to bring my canvas bags to Trader Joes, not Vons. I guess I could shop exclusively at Trader Joes, but my husband insists on Kellogg's Raisin Bran and Tropicana Orange Juice, neither of which TJ's stocks. Besides, don't I get some carbon offset credits for reading Star Magazine and the Enquirer in line at Vons and not actually paying for any dead trees that put Britney or Paris on the cover? I suppose if nobody ever read about either of those girls, we might just save the planet. But would such a planet really be worth saving?


I try to do my part. I wish Vons would do theirs, by just charging me for the stupid paper bags (which I always intend to reuse for wrapping paper), so I wouldn't be embarrassed to leave Ben and Jerry melting in the cart while I run outside to get my canvas bags.


Of course I'm environmentally embarrassed when I do go out to my gigantic gas guzzling Mercury Grand Marquis to get the totes for my melted Stephen Colbert's Americone Dream.


Here's the thing: I can't afford a Prius. Plus I'm not a great driver. Tooling around town in a big safe American car that makes people steer clear of that 80-year-old granny driving is really a safety gesture of good will for the whole community. Seems like I should get some kind of carbon credit for that.


If nothing else, I know I get big carbon points for just being poor. Thanks to our frugal packrat of a landlord, everything in our house is recycled, from the carpet remnants on the floor to the river rock on the walls. Even most of our furniture is family heirlooms, i.e. old junk rescued from the dumpster. Yes, this is quite the P.C. household. Our landlord once spent three hours trying to repair a florescent light that I eventually replaced at Home Depot for $5.99.


My greatest virtue is that rather than succumb to the consumerist temptation to "trade up" a model, I've made a commitment to stick to the same old husband. Not only does that cut out the environmental impact of maintaining two separate households, think of all that drive time and paper we're saving for the lawyers. When you add in the extra showers I'd be taking if I were single, and the hydrocarbons from the hair spray I'd be using if I were dating, I can kick off those heavy carbon shoes entirely. Better hang on tight to your peace prize, Al Gore: I'll be wearing my carbon halo tonight.


When Leslie's not agonizing over her carbon footprint, she's usually on email at For more columns visit



Hang the Potty
Blowing the lid off toilet training

Starshine Roshell is a Santa Barbara writer and mother of two.

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(BUILT IN) (Photos) StarshinePhoto.jpgThere are certain milestones a parent savors. First words. First steps. First day of school. But others, honestly, are more hassle than hooray. Potty training is one of those.

This is not a popular thing to say out loud. Magazines, preschool teachers and child-development experts tell us, in strange and stilted language, that supporting our children's natural inclination toward independent toileting is one of the greatest gifts we can give them blah blah blah. They insist our toddlers' ability to conquer the commode is tied to self-esteem, cognitive development and probably (I stopped reading after that) their future earning potential and ability to please a woman.
At least that's what Freud would say.

But you can flush all that right down the bowl, as far as I'm concerned. I'm washing my hands of potty training.
My 2-year-old is already an accomplished human being. He can pour his own drink and fix himself a snack. He can fetch a hammer for his dad. He can even put on his own socks, which is no easy task when you consider the number of wayward toes one must wrangle into that tiny elasticized hole.

But he has no desire whatsoever to, er, take command of the throne. The kid's rapturously happy in Huggies and I've decided to let him stay that way. Forever.
Since experts warn that potty-pushing can lead to emotional and health problems, and since Pull-Ups and Depend undergarments can carry my son well into maturity, why not skip the loo entirely?

Don't get me wrong. I don't love diapering and would gladly give up the effort, expense and environmental guilt the chore demands: the mess-cleaning, ointment spreading and and hand-washing, the frequent trips out to the trash, the alarming sound of my own voice bellowing "GET your hands out of there!"

But at least that's a chaos I'm used to. It's a familiar mayhem. Whereas a tot in underpants presents all sorts of fresh and frightening but equally icky problems.
I've been through potty-training before, with my older child. I trained hard for the race to get my firstborn out of diapers, printing reward charts, shelling out for musical potty seats and Wiggles step stools, speaking of underwear in reverent tones, as though it were the pinnacle of human innovation. I had a video on endless loop in the living room that warbled a demonic song called "Super Duper Pooper."

And all for what?

So I could slam on my brakes on the freeway, pull off into the emergency lane and release the boy from his car seat with one hand while frantically fitting a gallon-sized Ziplock bag onto a portable potty seat with the other, each time my briefs-sporting spawn felt the urge to wail "I need to go potty!"

Potty training may "free" a family from diapers, but it also shackles them to public restrooms, where sophisticated, self-aware, independent toileters take horrific glee in running their hands along the walls, dropping their toys into the john and sliding back and forth under stall doors to say "hi" to all the nice ladies.

It's an experience I'm not eager to repeat. And so, though I realize it will be awkward for him at sleep-over camp and, well, on the high-school swim team, my youngest child is welcome to wrap his rump in Pampers for as long as he likes. And if the experts chide me for depriving him of a crucial, character-building life skill, I'll tell them to blame it on my desperate, irrepressible, long-developing urge for order. Maybe I'm anal retentive.
At least that's what Freud would say.

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When the pain of rain meets the joys of boys

(BUILT IN) (Photos) LeslieD_2007.jpgBy Leslie Dinaberg
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Santa Barbara isn't very well equipped for rainy days.
Neither is my son.
Eventually, when you coop up 59 pounds of eight-year-old boy energy inside a teeny tiny house for too long, something's got to give.
Usually it's my sanity.


While I would be perfectly happy - ecstatic, in fact - to spend a rainy day inside, curled up on the couch with a good book, my son looks at that same couch and sees a trampoline, a mountain to climb, or a boxing ring.
At first it's kind of amusing. After all, we have old furniture for a reason.
But last weekend was four days long. That's 96 hours of rain, and what felt like 906 hours of being cooped up indoors.


When Koss started playing vaseball, with an aim at my Valentine's Day roses, I lost my sense of humor, took a few deep breaths and tried to imagine how other moms of boys (MOBs) would handle it.
I remember Sally Cappon telling me about how when it rained on one of her three son's birthday parties, she had the boys do indoor relay races up and down her hallway. They loved it.
Unfortunately, in my house, the "hallway" consists of the living room, which adjoins the bedrooms to the kitchen. So much for that plan.


Another MOB friend, Andrea Peterson, encourages her three sons to play outside in rain, sleet and snow. "So what if they get dirty, it comes off," is her philosophy. Great logic, unless of course, like me, you only have one child, which means I'd be the one to brave the elements.
No thanks. I'm still sneezing and injured from the last three minutes I tried to play mudball.


Even if I were willing to break the rules about television and computer use for the weather, the poor kid can only sit still for so long.
No matter how much you try to civilize them, little boys are wired for action.
Before he was born I was sure I would raise him exactly the same way I would have raised a girl.
Then I woke up and discovered how little it mattered what I did.


It took Koss about 10 minutes to decide he liked his stuffed football toy better than his teddy bear and another 10 minutes to decide that peeing in my face was hysterically funny.
I'll never forget pushing one-year-old Koss and his friend Sophia on the swings at La Mesa Park. A gardener drove by on a mini tractor.


You would have thought Barney had landed in a giant space ship and was handing out lollipops the way Koss jumped up and down on his swing.
Meanwhile, Sophia was happily gazing at the trees.
Big machines became one of the highlights of our lives. We would stake out construction sites -- to the point where I'm sure the crew thought I was a stalker. For a really special outing, I'd take him to climb on the lawn mowers at Home Depot.


Rather than imagine the beautiful rows of peonies he might plant, when he climbed on the mower, he'd pretend to shoot aliens or be racing through the desert. Whatever the imaginary game, he always won.
Boys, apparently, can make a competition out of anything.


We recently went to the Long Beach Aquarium, where the highlights of Koss's day were shooting the life-sized dolphin- and whale-shaped squirt guns at brave passers-by and watching the harbor seals compete for a raft. Koss and several other little boys actually got the crowd chanting, "Go Red, Go Red" (for the seal with the red identifying tag) in his battle to dominate "Yellow" for play pool superiority. The boys were so enthusiastic that I half-expected a flurry of Pokeman cards and marbles to change hands after each round.


Ah, the joys of MOB-dom.
Ah, the joys of rain.
Since we had already taken Koss to every movie that could conceivably be deemed appropriate, we took him to run some errands, just to get out of the house.


He dismantled the children's section at Borders, and then created an obstacle course at Long's.
If this weather doesn't let up soon I'll be destined to spend the rest of his childhood disguised in dark glasses and blonde wig, lest someone should associate me with this miniature wild man wrecking havoc on what used to be our sleepy little town.


On the way home I called the newslines, checking to see what other havoc the weather has created. Surprisingly, the only thing on there was a fire department report from Santa Maria about a bull with a plastic bucket stuck on his head. Apparently the bull was able to get the bucket off without firefighter intervention.


I laughed as I told Koss about the "big news story" of the weekend.
I could almost see the light bulb light in his boy-wired brain.
"Do you think the firefighters would come to our house if I could get a bucket to stick on my head?"
Maybe, just this once, I'll let him have a little extra time on the computer. Eight hours of can't be that bad, can it?


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South Coasting

By Leslie Dinaberg
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(BUILT IN) (Photos) LeslieD_2007.jpg Valentine?s Day is Not For Wimps

I know a lot of people feel pressure around the December holidays, what with coming up with the perfect card, trying to buy eight nights worth of Hanukah gifts that make your kids kvell but don?t make your wallet groan, and attempting to make it snow in Santa Barbara. Despite what your friends may have told you, I?ve tried both the disco version and the salsa style and I?m 99.37% sure that doing a snow dance doesn?t work.

But the end of the year holiday pressure is nothing compared to Valentine?s Day. It?s not what you think ? so quit trying to picture me in my underwear. Despite the overabundance of Victoria?s Secret ads, I don?t feel the need to get in touch with my inner porn star this month or surprise my honey with a heart tattoo. No, it?s my inner Martha Stewart who?s tugging on my ear this week.

Once upon a time, long, long ago, when my husband and I were young and in love and didn?t know any better, we started a Valentine?s Day tradition of making something for each other.

It all started with a six-pack of wine coolers. I made that first painting on a cardboard box canvas, with nail polish and lipstick?I?d had too many Bartles & James to go out and buy actual art supplies.

Little did I know what a monster I?d unleashed.

Zak made me a window box the next year, and a tradition was born.

There would be none of that wimpy Hallmark holiday stuff for us. No silly stuffed teddy bears, boxes of candy or overpriced roses for us. No sir. We wouldn?t get sucked into the commercialism of Valentine?s Day like those other saps. Never mind that I like roses and chocolate. I don?t even hate teddy bears. But buying something off the shelf for Valentine?s Day was for people who weren?t creative. Our gifts would come straight from our hands, and our hearts.

Over the years I?ve made books out of doilies and heart stickers, penned poems and plays, glued popsicle sticks into picture frames, and fashioned pink and red plastic wires in boxes. I?ve made candles, soap, ceramics, mosaics, pop-up cards, scrapbooks, and just about anything else you can find in the craft aisle. You name it, I?ve made it, and I?ve inadvertently ingested gallons of glitter and glue along the way, which can?t be good for my few remaining brain cells.

After 18 years of romantic, ah, gestures, I?m beginning to see why those Hallmark people keep resorting to talking teddy bears and puerile poetry. They?ve been coming up with Valentine ideas for a bazillion years now and I?m ready to wimp out after less than two decades.

While Hallmark cranks out hundreds of cards and cheap little dust collectors each year, I struggle to come up with one measly new Valentine idea for my husband every February.

There are only five days left until V-Day and I?ve got a new challenge this time.

See, last year our son, Oedipus, pitched a fit when he found out that mommy made daddy a set of fuzzy heart-shaped golf club covers for Valentine?s Day, while all he got was a new soccer ball that wasn?t even handmade. So now I?m feeling pressure to create not one, but two perfect Valentine?s Day gifts.

Do you think I could get away with putting handmade bows around a puppy and a beer?

If not, does anyone know where I can get a beer making kit? And, no, I don?t want the puppy making kit. The last thing I need around here on V-Day is some bitch in Victoria?s Secret.

I?ve got it! Two birds, one stone. Honey?I wrote this column just for you. Happy Valentine?s Day!

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(BUILT IN) (Photos) StarshinePhoto.jpgMom envy

Starshine Roshell is a Santa Barbara writer and mother of two.

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You over there. That's right, you in the velour hoodie with the Venti Macchiato. I have to talk to you.
And you, too: The one dashing off to your car as fast as your pressed pencil skirt will let you run. Slow down for a second. You need to hear this.


It's drop-off time at school and, like most mornings, little circles of stay-at-home moms are pooling by the gate, near the office, in the parking lot. In pony-tails and baseball caps, they make playdates, share stories about head lice and commiserate over soccer schedules.


Another working mom skitters past in a tailored suit and gleaming pumps. She's late for a meeting, but dials up a smile for the chatter-clatch moms, who wave at her. One of them - a petite brunette with no make-up and a dollop of crusted oatmeal on her yoga top - hollers over her shoulder in a tone that wasn't intended to sound bitchy:
"Wow. Don't you look nice."


But between those five seemingly innocuous words lies the ugly tension that exists between moms who punch a timecard and moms who don't. And it's really rather stupid.


God bless feminism but an abundance of life choices can make a gal paranoid. Those who choose Plain Ole Mom as an occupation assume our suited sisters will secretly chide us for abandoning our professional potential. Those who opt for a paycheck figure our home-maker counterparts will tisk-tisk us for being selfish, or missing out on our kids' childhoods.


But it's not true and I'll tell you why.


A former desk jockey myself, I recently gave up the monotony of memos and mailrooms for the privilege of working at home. And while I still have deadlines, I'm able to linger longer at drop-off - abandoning my identity as a Mom With an Outrageous Dry Cleaning Bill and joining the ranks of the Moms Who Have Time to Schmooze.


What I didn't realize before I'd been on both sides is that it's not judgment that flows between the two camps.

It's jealousy.


And, OK, a little bit of resentment. The mom who works all day has to choose, some mornings, between curling her hair and fixing her kids' lunches. She lost the opportunity to stop at Starbucks when she had to spend six minutes removing dog hair from her trousers with duct tape.


So after shoving her child out of the car with a half-hearted "Have fun at after-school care!," she can't fathom how the latte-wielding sweat suit set gets to stand around dishing dirt about the principal (she wants to dish dirt!) and comparing gyms (she wants to belong to a gym!) when she has to be downtown for a conference call
in exactly ... damn, three minutes ago.

Meanwhile, the ladies of leisure see in the blur of rayon running past them a symbol of grown-up life. They envy corporate moms for having a reason to dress up, an excuse to wear perfume and a watch. Just once they'd like to skip Pilates and go hang out in an office where people bring donuts for no reason. They wonder how their life might feel different if they were not the default chaperone for all second-grade field trips. If they were faced with interesting problems that couldn't be solved with a cookie, an ice pack or a time out.
But what if, instead of envying one another's choices, we supported them? Listen up, Leisure Mom: Tomorrow, raise your coffee in a toast to your amiga-in-pantyhose as she passes, and say "Go get 'em, Gorgeous!" Workaday Mom, be sure to shout back a genuine "Thanks for chaperoning the field trip today!" and invite your unhurried comrade to gossip with you over lunch.
Even better: Tell her she'll need to dress up.

Starshine Roshell is a Santa Barbara writer and mother of two. Visit her at




South Coasting
The Boy in the Plastic Bubble

By Leslie Dinaberg
Visit her at


I'm not one to mess around when it comes to my son's safety, so I was a little taken aback the other day when we met some friends to go scootering at a local elementary school.


He was the only one that wasn't wearing a helmet. A couple of the kids were in full body armor, wrapped in Charmin from head to toe, like that kid in the old commercial, who goes out to play football and practically tips over from all that cushiony padding. But even the more "normal" (meaning less smothery) parents had put their kids in helmets. Every single kid had a helmet-except mine.


It was my James Dean moment. I felt like such a rebel.


It hadn't even occurred to me to bring Koss's helmet.


It's not like he scooters very fast, or goes down hills. Even if he were to fall, he hardly gets enough speed going to skin a knee, let alone hit his head.


So why did I feel like such an irresponsible parent? Being the only one who didn't even think about protecting her poor child's skull made me feel like beating my own head against the wall. Should I feel guilty for not being concerned enough for his safety, or proud of myself for being less of a helicopter parent than my friends?


How much hovering does it take to qualify as a helicopter parent anyway? And how much swooping and attacking do you have to do on your child's behalf to qualify as a Black Hawk pilot? Seems to me we've gone a bit too far on this air strike to try to protect our kids.


When I was a kid we played on asphalt playgrounds, jumping off and on those spinning merry go-rounds with wild abandon. Who cared if people had their arms ripped off by playing that way? There weren't even any adults within earshot, let alone telling us to be careful ?cause we might lose a limb.


I remember an old John Travolta movie called "The Boy in the Plastic Bubble," about a kid who had some kind of a disease where he might die if he were exposed to the germs from the outside world. I felt so sorry for that kid in the movies, he hardly got to do anything.


I couldn't imagine a world where I wasn't free to walk to school by myself or roam my own neighborhood at will. That poor kid in the plastic bubble had it so tough.

Almost like kids do today.

More and more, the world of childhood has become helmetized. Forget going to the park by themselves, I know parents who won't let their children go to another child's house without doing a thorough background check on the parents. If your name is John Smith, forget about it - there's no way to Google that.


I don't want to be na?ve about the fact that the world can be dangerous. But raising your children in a plastic bubble is also a risk. The risk is not letting them grow up into responsible people who know how to protect themselves and make intelligent decisions. Isn't it better to let them fall or fail every once in a while? How else will they possibly learn how to pick themselves up and dust themselves off and get back on the horse-or scooter-again?


When she's not discretely hovering over her son on the playground, Leslie can reached at For more columns visit




(BUILT IN) (Photos) LeslieD_2007.jpgSouth Coasting

Great expectations not always timely
Sometimes with childbirth, the real labor part comes at the beginning and not the end

By Leslie Dinaberg
Visit her at

Driving across town with a vial of my husband's freshly spun sperm staying warm beneath my blouse, I thought, "I must really want to have a baby."


After almost three years of trying to conceive, I would have hopped down State Street on stilts and squawked like a chicken if I thought it would help us have a baby.
I practically did.


At least that's the way it felt during the almost three years it took for my husband's stubborn sperm to finally stop and ask for directions to my "playing hard to get" eggs.


Only the "baby making challenged" can truly understand the lengths one will go to get pregnant. When I think of all the years I spent trying NOT to get pregnant, and then all of the late nights spent talking about whether the time was right, not being able to have a baby on board felt like the ultimate indignity.


Anyone who thinks that trying to have a baby sounds romantic and fun should "try" for a few years. We "baby making challenged" people know that too much of a good thing can be awful!


And we were amongst the lucky ones. We both had minor little problems that rated us a B- rather than an A+ on the baby-making scorecard, but according to all of the experts, there was no definitive medical reason why we couldn't conceive.


Hence the years of poking, prodding, testing and temperature taking. I was buying early pregnancy tests in bulk at Costco, and after dozens of false alarms, believe me, one-liners are NOT as funny as you think. I could almost feel my biological clock going tick-tock as the weeks of trying turned into months and then years.
Meanwhile my eggs were getting older and I saw babies and pregnant women everywhere I went. They seemed to be multiplying by the minute as my childless friends dwindled.


The sperm cleaning procedures and subsequent intrauterine inseminations were but a few of the medical interventions we tried to get pregnant. I was seeing the doctor so often that feet in the stirrups felt like my normal seated position and sitting upright felt kind of weird.


When plain old prayers didn't work, we turned to the spirit world. My friends Ramey and Debbi Echt sent me a Kokopelli necklace (a Hopi fertility symbol) they swore had safeguarded their pregnancies. I wore it religiously even though its flute scratched my chest and it didn't go with half my clothes.


I "stirred with a fork to expect the stork" and ate all kinds of disgusting food combinations to encourage fertility.


When my mom swore that cleansing our house with a sage and smudge ritual would "purify the atmosphere for us to conceive," my husband and I (who are normally first in line to mock this sort of thing) giggled our way through the house with burning twigs and even smoked up our cars for good measure.
We were willing to try just about anything, but we were starting to run out of options.


With no solid medical explanation for why I couldn't conceive, I came close to exchanging my dream of becoming pregnant for the dream of adopting a baby.
Then we decided to take some time off and relax.


No more taking my temperature and checking my ovulation cycle. No more answering "day 15," when someone asked me what that day's date was. No more hallucinations that the entire world was populated with pregnant women and every time I picked up the phone it was someone else calling to tell me their good news.
When I was just about ready to write the book on "What to expect when you're NOT expecting" something unexpected happened.


There were two blue lines on my pregnancy test. The most beautiful blue color I've ever seen. I swear my heart skipped a beat, and I thought to myself, "I must really want to have a baby."




Leslie, proud mom of an 8-year-old boy, can be reached at For more columns visit


(BUILT IN) (Photos) StarshinePhoto.jpgMommy's a liar

Starshine Roshell is a Santa Barbara writer and mother of two.

Visit her at 
Sometimes the truth is gross.
I know this because I hail from the too-much-information school of parenting. I can't help it. As a reporter and a storyteller, I see every innocent question as an opportunity to further the wide-eyed wonderer's understanding of this wacky world.
But my bent toward full disclosure often backfires, leaving my kids slightly confused and thoroughly disgusted: "Jeez, Mom, I just asked what a wart is. Did we really have to talk about genital disease?"
Still, I'd rather err on the side of unflinching truth than have my kids thinking that I hide facts from them, or worse, that I outright lie. Honesty is the holy grail in our household, the highest of all virtues, the one safeguard that will keep you out of trouble even when all your other behavior - greed, spite, laziness - has been seriously uncool.
But not all families share that value, as a Dallas mother proved recently. The woman helped her 6-year-old daughter write the winning essay in a contest for Hannah Montana concert tickets. The essay explained how the girl's father, a sergeant in Iraq, was killed by a roadside bomb. Contest judges awarded her four tickets, airfare, accommodations and a makeover - which is really the very least you could do for a girl who lost her daddy to a senseless, and ceaseless, war.
The problem, though, is that she actually didn't. The father is alive and living in Texas. He's not a soldier. Never was. When confronted with the truth, the girl's mother explained that "we did whatever we could do to win." (Hey, at least she's honest.) The prize was rescinded and awarded to another contestant whose mother, presumably, was not a devious cheat.
I suppose there's a place in every family for lies - only let's not call them "untruths" or "fibs," shall we? If you can agree that lies are lies, I can agree that they're sometimes useful.
I'm actually a proponent of the Lie-to-Spare-Someone's-Feelings, for instance. No one ever died from a well-placed "Wow, thanks, Aunt Ann, it's ... really ... something!"
I've been known, too, to partake of the Lie-By-Omission (ie. not telling your toddler that the dreaded babysitter is coming because, um, he didn't ask) and the Lie-For-Your-Own-Good (ie. "Unfortunately, we're all out of Doritos. Would you like some wheat toast instead?")
Sometimes we lie to young children to help them fit a new fact into their narrow system of categorization. Calling a bran muffin a cupcake, for example, simply means "It's neither cheese nor vegetables. You should eat it." And calling a tampon a Band-Aid is just our way of saying "Don't worry about it. It has good reason to be in my purse."
Ask parents and they'll tell you the hardest question to answer honestly is this one: "Is it going to hurt?" But I think our real moment of truth comes when our kids catch us lying to others: sneaking sodas into a movie theater in our purse, telling a tele-marketer that we're in the middle of dinner.
I remember once hearing my dad tell his boss that he couldn't come to work because his father-in-law had died. And while it was true, it had happened three years earlier - and my dad hadn't cared much for the guy even then.
But if lying in front of your children is bad, then helping your children lie - and doing it not to, like, fight global warming, but for seats at a cheesy Disney pop concert - is worse.
When my son saw the headline "Mother Lied to Win Hannah Montana Contest," he asked me about it and I told him - every ugly detail, as is my habit. But I was heartened to discover, in his reaction, that parents' calculated lies can be even more disgusting than our uncensored truths.
"Wow," he said. "That's kind of sick."

Starshine Roshell writes a weekly column for the Independent. See more at


Social conscience begins at home
By Bill Cirone, Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools


A child's sense of morality and social conscience begins at home. To help make our schools and our communities safer environments it is important that all members share the values that add to security and safety.


Adults can help. Discuss with children values such as the importance of each person's life, respect for other's property, compassion for the less fortunate, tolerance for people who are different, and obeying laws.
Emphasize courtesy, honesty, and cooperation in everyday life. Explain to children that money isn't everything, and that helping others brings personal satisfaction in many ways.


Learn to disagree with words. If a local school offers adults an opportunity to take part in a conflict management program, sign up. You can learn techniques and approaches that will work well with children and show you how to pass along those models at home. The most important skill is learning how to turn feelings of anger and frustration into positive action instead of violence.


When necessary, say no. It can reduce a child's risk of experimenting with drugs or sexual activity, both of which can involve violence, by supporting school educational programs dealing with drug and alcohol abuse, and health and safety issues.


Intervene when necessary. It is difficult for parents to admit seeing signs of antisocial behavior in their own children and to seek professional guidance. But while most children develop appropriate social skills as they mature, others may begin showing antisocial patterns as early as the fourth grade. Some of these trouble signs would include excessive use of guilt-free intimidation and force to get their own way, frequent and skillful lying, and routine reliance on cheating or stealing.


Children who exhibit these behaviors may need some professional help to redirect their energies and anxieties. Parents are in the best position to sense when assistance is needed. Remember that early intervention can make a profound difference.


There are no secret ingredients to a healthy character or a good citizen. But adults can take some basic steps to give effective support to the school and community programs aimed at preventing violence from erupting at our schools.

(BUILT IN) (Photos) StarshinePhoto.jpg
Swearing off New Year's promises

Starshine Roshell is a Santa Barbara writer and mother of two.

Visit her at 

If you've ever hauled your butt out of bed for a wailing infant, you know kids can be great motivators.


If you've relinquished a weekly manicure to save for their college, hand-scrubbed a kitchen floor just so they could crawl on it, or been unnaturally kind to a telemarketer because your progeny were standing there listening - then you've seen firsthand how effectively children can agitate for change.


I recently re-learned this concept. The hard way.

I was chauffeuring my 2-year-old home from daycare when the driver of a slow and sloppy pick-up truck lurched his vehicle in front of mine and slammed on his brakes to turn into a driveway without using his signal.


I cursed, as any safety-conscious mother might. And what I called the gentleman was not nice, I grant you that. But neither was the sound of my toddler's teeny-tiny voice echoing the four-letter sentiment from our back seat. And with chilling gusto.


He repeated the phrase all the way home, as if it were the prettiest string of letters ever to alight on his eardrums. He shouted it. He whispered it. He sang it. And then he greeted his Daddy with it at the door.


Now I had made some ambitious resolutions for the coming year: I was going to get my infinite photos into albums, schedule a weekly date night with my husband and wake up an hour early every day to do a Pilates video (yes, I'm serious and I don't appreciate your snickering).


But with my son's utterly age-inappropriate utterance, those plans flew out the #^?%ing window. I had a new goal demanding my focus: I resolved to stop swearing in front of my children.


And I knew it wouldn't be easy.


Because even as our kids inspire us toward self-betterment - even as they challenge us to be cheerful, multi-tasking superhumans or else suffer the grueling guilt of failure - they also impede us from it, leaping into our paths like slow-moving, stubborn pick-up trucks. They're adorable little cogs in the works, sucking up money, time, and energy faster than they can drain a juice box at a post-game pizza party. Most moms will tell you they never had so many goals - and so little shot at actually accomplishing them - as they have since becoming parents.


And never is that paradox more pronounced than at New Year's. Resolutions promise a fresh start, a chance to finally fix the faults we've been unable to get our grocery-saddled and laundry-laden arms around so far. And even if it's all a dirty little lie, we relish the fantasy of a life that's neater, happier, healthier. More guilt-free. A life that looks more like we pictured it would be, with everything in its proper place, ample time for spousal romance and abs that would never dream of flopping over our waistbands as we bend down - sigh - to kiss our perfectly behaved children goodnight.


There are certain annual rituals that moms cherish: Fourth of July fireworks, back-to-school shopping, pumpkin carving. But many of us feel about New Year's the way single folks feel about Valentine's Day: Why assign a special date just to make us feel bad about ourselves when we're capable of feeling that way all year long, and with little help?


So I propose we all go a little easier on ourselves this year. Sure, I'm still hoping to diffuse my internal F-bomb. But there's something more important I want to teach my kids in 2008: That despite what any dictionary tells them, "guilt" is a four-letter word.


Starshine Roshell writes a weekly column for the Independent. See more at 


(BUILT IN) (Photos) StarshinePhoto.jpgThe Nana-Fest Manifesto
A letter to grandparents everywhere:

Starshine Roshell is a Santa Barbara writer and mother of two.

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We know you're busy right now preparing your house for our children's holiday visit. You're stocking the pantry with pancake mix and Hershey's syrup, loading the DVD player with animated "message" movies and exhuming the crayons, marbles and silly straws from the closet.


Which is great. Really. We're delighted that you adore our children, that they consider you god-like and - let's be honest - that we get free-babysitting out of the deal.
But then ... nothing's really free, is it?


We wonder if you know just how truly intolerable our children are when they return to us from a week of unbridled bed-jumping and uproarious mess-making at Nana's Oreo Emporium - how lazy they become and utterly affronted they feel when asked to empty the dishwasher. Or, say, bathe.


We're guessing you don't care that we have to put our kids through Grandparent Detox since, as parents, you had to put us through the same unpleasant paces after we visited our grandparents' house. (Man, you were mean, too, and frankly we can't believe the same people who wouldn't allow a loaf of white bread into our childhood home now serve our kids Cinnabons for breakfast.)


On some level, we understand your indulgence. You've been waiting your whole lives to say "yes" to some adorable, little, wide-eyed progeny - and now that you don't have to face the long-term consequences of your own shoddy influence (have you absolutely no memory of dental bills?), you get to be the devil-may-care relatives, the fun ones.


But if you'd be kind enough to follow just these few guidelines, we promise to keep bringing your grandchildren to worship at your altar of processed sugar, poor personal hygiene and "flexible" (ie. nonexistent) bedtimes:

  1. Shockingly, our kids do know how to peel their own bananas and even pick up their socks from the floor. Sometimes, admittedly, they need reminding. Remind them.
  2. Believe us when we say the children's love for you is not directly proportional to the amount of whipped cream you mound on top of their hot cocoa.
  3. If you absolutely must serve root beer with lunch and grape soda with dinner, could you at least inform our children that the simple act of not serving these things does not constitute child abuse? This will help us avoid any further episodes back home in which Child Protective Services shows up at our door following up on an "amomynous" tip.
  4. Demand respect. You are a wise elder of our family tribe, so when our children talk back to you, roll their eyes or huff "whatever," lay into them, you wimpy geezer!
  5. Buy them all the toys you want. But be warned that any loud electronic toys they bring home will be "accidentally" left out in the rain within two weeks of arrival. And any simulated assault weapons will be used as the centerpiece for a dinner-table lecture on man's inhumanity to man. You really don't want that on your shoulders.
  6. There is nothing wrong with boredom. Boredom fosters creativity. Do you know what four solid days of ice-skating rinks and Monopoly games and Build-A-Bear workshops foster? They foster a fricking nightmare for us back home. Let the kids stare at a wall for a few minutes, will ya?
  7. Please issue at least one "no" per day just to keep them familiar with the term. We understand this may be difficult for you, as the word (which, again, seemed to be your favorite utterance while we were growing up) does not come naturally to your lips these days. A simple, "No, you may not watch 'Dirty Sexy Money' with Grandpa" will do.

____________________________           ____________________________
Signature of Grandmother Date             Signature of Grandfather Date


For more, visit


(BUILT IN) (Photos) LeslieD_2007.jpgSouth Coasting
December is one of the cruelest months for Jews.

By Leslie Dinaberg
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Sure we have Hanukkah to celebrate our urge to shop, and latkes to indulge our genetic urge for carbs, and we can decorate in blue and silver to our hearts' content, but the one thing we're lacking in is carols. Let's face it, other than "Oh Hanukkah," and Adam Sandler's "Hanukkah Song," there aren't a whole lot of Hanukkah hymns on the airwaves.


Rather than kvetch and whine about the lack of Chanukah chants this holiday season, I decided to do something about it. As with all things Jewish and musical, first I turned to my Cantor for inspiration.


Cantor Baby (to the tune of "Santa Baby)
Buh-bum.. buh-bum...
Cantor baby, slip a table under my knee, for me.
I've got an ache in my neck, Cantor baby, so hurry the masseuses tonight.
Cantor baby, a Jaguar convertible too, teal blue.
I'll wait for you with the bells, and Sven and Nels.
Cantor baby, so hurry the masseuses tonight.
Think of all I've sacrificed, think of all the stuff I bought sale-priced. Next year I could be just as thrifty, if you'll check off my Hanukkah listy,
Cantor baby, I wanna sunny vacation spot, oh yeah.
And really that's not a lot, been an angel all year.
Cantor baby, so hurry the masseuses tonight.
Cantor honey, there's one thing that I really do need, a maid, who can cook matzo ball soup, doo doop.
And clean up after my kid, which is a pain in my neck.
Oh heck.
So hurry the masseuses-I'm not talkin' mezuzahs-hurry the masseuses tonight.

My own family did not inspire this next little ditty, I swear.

Let It Go, Let It Go, Let It Go (to the tune of "Let It Snow")
Oh the fight we had last month was frightful.
But hashing it over is so delightful.
It's finally time to end the row.
Let It Go! Let It Go! Let It Go!
It doesn't show signs of stopping.
And I've bought some corn for popping.
So much for family drama.
Can you just let it go, mama.
My last nerve is about to blow.
Let It Go! Let It Go! Let It Go!
When we finally kiss goodnight.
How I'll hate going home if you're mad.
But what's a holiday if there's not a fight.
It's what we call communication.
And venting our seasonal frustration.
But as long as you love me so.
Let It Go! Let It Go! Let It Go!

My family didn't inspire that last one, but this one sure brings back memories. Of course all of the snow at my Grandmother's house in Beverly Hills was fake and came from Niemans.


Noshing Through the Snow (to the tune of "Jingle Bells")
Noshing through the snow, in a big safe Grand Marquis.
O'er the roads we go.
Driving so slowly.
Bells on cell phones ring.
Dad thinks of the gelt.
What fun it is to laugh and sing and watch the chocolate coins melt. Oh, Grandma Kvells, Grandma Kvells.
Futzing all the way.
Oh, what fun it is to ride in a family car all day, hey.
Grandma Kvells, Grandma Kvells.
Futzing all the way.
Oh, what fun it is to ride in the family car all day.

And finally, my personal favorite. I'm sure you'll be hearing this on NPR soon, right after "Oy, Come All Ye Faithful" and "Little Drummer Goy."


We Wish You a Merry Mazeltov (to the tune of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas")
We wish you a Merry Mazeltov.
We wish you a Merry Mazeltov.
We wish you a Merry Mazeltov and a Happy New Year.
Good tidings we bring and a hot brisket too.
Good tidings for Hanukkah and some pastrami too.
Oh, bring us some lox and bagels.
Oh, bring us a smidge more kugel.
Oh, bring us some Matzo Ball Soup and a cup of Manischewitz.
We won't go until we get full.
We won't go until we get full.
We won't go until we get full, so bring some more food!
We wish you a Merry Mazeltov.
We wish you a Merry Mazeltov.
We wish you a Merry Mazeltov and a Happy New Year.
Merry Mazeltov to all of you. Send your Hanukkah hymn suggestions to For more columns visit


(BUILT IN) (Photos) StarshinePhoto.jpgInnocence glossed: Sex ed lands candid mom in jail

Starshine Roshell is a Santa Barbara writer and mother of two.

Visit her at
I apologize in advance if my column ends abruptly today; chances are good I'll be hauled off to jail before I finish saying what I'm about to say.
You see, I did an unforgivable thing. Some might even call it abusive.
I allowed my fourth-grader to wander into the room while I was watching "Boston Legal," during which two lawyers ravaged each other in office chairs, elevators and (heaven forgive them) a judge's chamber.
My son now has a twisted understanding of what it means to take the law into ones' own hands.
But it doesn't end there.

A few weeks ago, the boy saw his father and me making out in the kitchen while he was trying to eat his breakfast.

I didn't think much of his premature exposure to the tawdry under-belt of life until I heard that a Wisconsin mother was recently arrested - just want to make sure you read that right: a-r-r-e-s-t-e-d - for having a factual but explicit discussion about sex with her kids. Amy Smalley, 36, allegedly told her 11- and 15-year-old sons about some of her sexual experiences, described oral sex and showed them a vibrator.

Now, I'm not saying I want the woman baby-sitting my kids. Clearly there's a line between "educating" and "seriously grossing out," and she appears to have crossed it. The younger boy, not surprisingly, told a school counselor the discussion made him uncomfortable.
But felony? Really?!
Opponents of school-sponsored sex education are always saying the subject should be addressed at home, not in the classroom. But when a parent opens her mouth on the subject - as well as the, um, drawer on her night stand - she faces more than three years in prison and fines of up to $10,000.
All of which reminds me of a call I got recently from a parent at my son's school. It seems my 9-year-old had found a Playboy magazine sitting in plain view at the not-especially-kid-friendly home of a relative. Unbeknownst to me, he had perused the periodical (the "College Girls" issue, oy) and chosen to share his insights with his classmates the next day.
My husband and I talked with our son about age-appropriate reading material, and the downside of discussing girlie mags on the playground. But it didn't surprise me that he peeked at its pages; it's natural to be curious about anatomy and, well, dorm life.
No, what surprised me most was a comment this other parent made. "I'm sure you understand," he said, and he was very nice about the whole thing, but ... "We like to keep our kids innocent as long as we can."
We do?
The facts are these: Sex is as integral a part of human life as food, and sleep. And like rainwater rushing down a mountain, dodging rocks and circumnavigating trees to get to sea level, kids will learn about sex one way or another.
That's why I've always valued information over innocence, preparation over protection. So did Ms. Smalley, who, in the end, proved to be a protective mother after all. Still maintaining she did nothing wrong, she pled guilty and accepted a year of probation so her kids wouldn't have to stand trial against her - a far more traumatic experience than hearing about mom's adult-oriented romps.
She'll have to think twice now before answering her teens' questions about adulthood, which is sad. Until they come for me, I'm going to keep watching my sorded sitcoms and kissing my spouse willy nilly. No pent-up lawmaker's going to tell me how to ...
You'll have to excuse me. Someone's pounding on my door.


For more, visit


(BUILT IN) (Photos) LeslieD_2007.jpgThe Curse of Language Arts

Kids will say the darnedest things - much to the chagrin of their parents

By Leslie Dinaberg
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My 39-year-old husband swears his parents have never heard him swear.
I wish my 5-year-old could make that claim.
His latest favorite expression is "Oh, Jesus!"
I don't where it came from. He certainly didn't get it from me. My expletives tend to be a lot more colorful.
He didn't get it from his father, who saves his swearing for his own generation (although it's mostly regarding another generation).
Even Nickelodeon cartoons don't use that particular phrase.
Koss, on the other hand, weaves it loudly into conversation at every opportunity. On a recent Sunday we went for his and hers cheap haircuts at La Cumbre Plaza. The place was crowded with families on their way home from church. We sat side by side as our locks were chopped. I smiled proudly at my well-behaved little angel. He beamed back at me and said, in his loudest voice, "Oh Jesus, Mom, look at all that hair on the floor."
I hope the 12 sets of eyes that turned to stare at me were praying for my hair and not my soul.
And if you were one of those people in the store, and you were praying for my hair, could you ask for some natural highlights in a color other than gray? Thanks.
How do you explain to a 5-year-old that some people get pretty offended when you take a certain someone's name in vain?
I'm sure it was just coincidental that a few days later my package of art supplies from Thailand had been opened and inspected by the Office of Homeland Security. And I'm sure those little clicks on my telephone line were just static.
The Cuss Control Patrol is a force to be reckoned with these days. I read about a Michigan man who faced a possible jail term of up to 90 days and a $100 fine for swearing in front of children, after he was dumped from his canoe. Thank goodness they weren't around when I slammed my finger in the car door. We've all seen where the wrath of Tom Sneddon can land you.
Unless you're on TV or in the movies, swearing these days requires a certain stealth.
My clever 3-year-old niece Jordan sneaks in potty talk by telling stories about other kids in her preschool. "Ethan said poo poo. Can you believe he said poo poo? That's all he says. Poo poo. Poo poo. Poo poo. That Ethan."
I try not to encourage her by laughing, but I can't help but admire her subversive skill.
Apparently we have a subversive family.
On a recent sick day, my son and his father collaborated on a book about the evil adventures of Mr. Dr. Big. When Koss returned to school and proudly shared the creation with his kindergarten class, his teacher changed "they kicked his butt" to "they kicked his tushie" before reading it aloud.
I guess my Offend-o-Meter needs a tune up.
The writer in me knows that superheroes don't kick tushie, they kick butt. But apparently the mom in me should know better.
Even if I can get past the somewhat distasteful idea of deciding on a list of unacceptable words for my child's ever-expanding vocabulary, and stop myself from swearing in his presence, I still have another huge challenge ahead - keeping a straight face.
Sure, children swearing can be embarrassing, but it can also be downright hysterical. Some of the biggest laughs in "Meet the Fockers," come from the baby's first word, "*%^hole." And I'll never forget the litany of swear words coming out of my friend Ari Echt, when he was only 2. His vocabulary could rival a truck driver's, and his gravelly voice made it all the more amusing.
So I think I understand the distinction. It's funny when other kids do it, but it's not funny when your kid does it.
Especially when Grandma's around.
Or at a birthday party last weekend, for example.
"Hey fartface."
"Shut up, bonehead."
"In your face, stupidhead."
I giggle to myself and then remember, I'm a mom and I'm obligated to turn the Offend-o-Meter up a notch.
Oh Jesus! 

(BUILT IN) (Photos) LeslieD_2007.jpgSouth Coasting

Take a Memo

By Leslie Dinaberg
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Now that my son can read, his listening skills have deteriorated to the point that verbal instructions are almost useless. I'd like to write this off as a typical male inability to multitask. Or I could give it a positive spin, and claim that he must have so much testosterone running through his veins that he's developed the ability to focus so completely on the television set that the rest of world disappears. Whatever the cause, I would bet a bag of M & M's that he gets this genetic mutation from my husband's side of the family.


No matter what the reason is, I'm sick and tired of repeating the same simple instructions 957 times each morning (brush your teeth, grab your backpack, take your underwear off your head) and having him feign deafness. I've already had his hearing tested, and the pediatrician said he's fine. Though, there may be some latent inner ear damage if I have to keep yelling in his ear every morning till he's 20.


Rather than turning immediately to my usual parental dilemma solutions of wine and chocolate, I decided to try a method honed by centuries of office workers who needed to get their colleagues' ears. I decided to write the kid a memo.

To: Son
From: Mom
Subject: Your Room
A recent inspection revealed that all of the floor space in your room was completely obstructed by a variety of dirty clothes, small plastic Legos, coins (mostly pennies), birthday party goodie-bag detritus, art projects, Pokemon Cards, comic books, and other reading materials. You are directed to remove these materials from your room immediately. Please acknowledge your understanding of these instructions via inter-office memo.

To: Mom
From: Son
Subject: Reply-Your Room

To: Son
From: Mom
Subject: I don't want to have to ask you again
Clean up your room immediately. Not only is this a violation of your employment agreement, wherein you are required to keep your work space clean, it is also a potential worker's compensation violation, as I tripped on one of those stupid Legos this morning when I came in to wake you up and may have permanently damaged my right heel.


To: Mom
From: Son
Subject: Ask me WHAT again?
Are you talking to me?


To: Son
From: Mom
Subject: You've got to be kidding me
Yes, I am addressing you. Please turn off the television and proceed to your room immediately to clean it up.


To: Mom
From: Son
Subject: Correction
I'm actually not watching television. It's a DVD and there's only five more minutes to the end.


To: Son
From: Mom
Subject: TV/DVD who cares
I don't care what you're watching. Turn it off and get to work.


To: Mom
From: Son
Subject: It's not fair
I already took out the recycling yesterday and you didn't ever give me my allowance yet.


To: Son
From: Mom
Subject: Who do you think works to get your allowance money
Get to work. In case you're blind in addition to deaf, I'm losing my patience. And honey, I put out the recycling yesterday, not you.


To: Mom
From: Son
Subject: So what?
Yeah, but you TOLD me to put away my clean laundry, and that's not my job.


To: Mr. Debate Team
From: The Logic Queen
Subject: This is not open to debate
I need to get to the door to go to the grocery store. You must clean up your room in order for me to do so.


To: Mom
From: Son
Subject: Yeah, to buy WINE
Don't be weak, Mom. Just step over all of that stuff. That's what I do.


To: Son
From: Your Mother, who deserves some respect
Subject: It doesn't matter why I am going to the store
Stop stalling and clean up your room.


To: Mommy Dearest
From: Your Baby Boy
Subject: Store
Can you pick me up some Pringles and another DVD while you're out?


To: The boy whose room will be clean soon
From: Don't forget who's in charge here
Subject: Reply-Store
Clean up your room.


To: Mommy
From: Son
Subject: Okay
Okay, I'll clean my room. But I'm hungry and thirsty. I think now would be a good time to drink some milk and eat some broccoli.


To: All Employees
From: L.Dinaberg
Subject: Vacation
Effective immediately, Leslie Dinaberg will be using her 37 weeks of accumulated vacation. She'll be spending her time in a nice, quiet, clean room.


Send a memo to Leslie at For more columns visit


(BUILT IN) (Photos) StarshinePhoto.jpgOnce upon a cool mom

Starshine Roshell is a Santa Barbara writer and mother of two.

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I thought I was going to be the cool mom. The fun one. The one whose house all the kids wanted to come play at because I let them drink soda and say "butt-head" while we all played Star Wars Monopoly inside a hastily engineered living-room pillow fort.
Like pillow forts, such fantasies prove easily toppled.

Still, it came as quite a shock recently when I overheard my 9-year-old describing me to a school buddy.
They were disappointed because I refused to pay them a fat dollar to buy lemonade they had made from the lemons in my backyard, and were serving in my paper cups, while I cleaned up their mess in the kitchen. It seemed to me a fair lesson in economics and the distribution of labor. But the fourth-graders didn't see it that way.
"I know," said my exasperated son to his glum chum. "But she's not ... like ... totally evil."
Perhaps I should be happy, since the statement was clearly made in my defense.
But: evil?

I'm the mom who livened up trips to the post office with a Silly Walk Contest. The one who dragged the boy out into thunderstorms to splash in mud puddles as we squealed from the cold. The one who taught him to belch, for chrissake.


And it grieves me that I don't know how I went from the Fun Mom to the Shower Enforcer. The Homework Reminder. The Cookie Monitor.
When did I become She Who Will Not Play Along?


I admit that as I age, I'm less and less willing to bend down and pick up Legos, or flop around on the trampoline, or make a lunch of chili cheese fries. But if age were the only factor, I wouldn't see my parents - people I recall growing more peevish and despotic as my adolescence approached - now serving my kids cupcakes for dinner, letting them stay up past Conan and encouraging the sort of sponge-defying messes that make me grind my teeth.


If I may shirk some of the blame, perhaps a parent's fun-factor naturally - and necessarily - shrinks as her children grow.


When it occurs to her that these small people are not merely her adorable little pals, and that despite their inability to say the letter R or master effective nose-blowing techniques, they will eventually become independent adults, then the task of ensuring their happiness changes dramatically. It no longer means simply making them smile. It means increasing the odds that they'll be healthy (ie. can swallow a steamed vegetable without gagging). And successful (ie. can multiply 8 by 6 in under three minutes). And loved (ie. can recall with some certainty the last time they bathed).
Which really sucks the fun out of being a parent, if you ask me. Because my son and his buddies aren't the only ones who cringe when they hear un-fun phrases coming out of my mouth, ghastly rebukes like, "I'm just disappointed in you, that's all" and "I don't care for the tone in your voice, young man."
I hate it, too.


But I'm optimistic that a time will come when my kid and I can be play pals again. Perhaps it won't be until he has children, and I can invite them over to drink soda and say "butt-head" inside a precarious pillow fort - then send them home for their own parents to fret over. Maybe then I'll be lauded as the cool grandma, or even Nana Banana, the funnest old lady that ever bankrolled a lemonade stand.


Until then, I suppose "not evil" will have to do.


(BUILT IN) (Photos) LeslieD_2007.jpgSouth Coasting

Bridging the divide on the fields of play
When you get right down to the divots, polo and soccer have a lot of similarities.

By Leslie Dinaberg
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I recently had a weekend that truly exemplified what life is like in Santa Barbara: I spent Saturday on the soccer field and Sunday on the polo field.


At first glance, these two fields seemed to have nothing in common beyond their sneeze-inducing allergens that battle hopelessly with my Claratin prescription (now available over the counter). However, as a trained UCLA sociology major, I am qualified to speculate on sociocultural connections where they exist and to invent them where they don't.


Both sports involve opportunities for off-roading - you get to park on a beautifully manicured lawn at the polo fields and what could easily be a BMX course at the UCSB soccer fields.

High-density housing tastefully abuts the mountains overlooking the polo fields, while graduate student housing will soon replace the soccer fields, if the university's plans are ever approved.


Both sports involve opportunities for mayhem - men charging on horses trying to hit a ball at a goal, and 5-year-old boys and girls running full out trying to kick anything they can, including their teammates.


Both sports apparently also involve cartwheels; although at soccer they take place on the field and at polo they were strictly on the sidelines. Polo is more kid-friendly than you'd think. My son and his buddy ran up and down the grandstand between chukkers, while little girls exhibited spontaneous bursts of gymnastic skill.


Little boys are likely to burst into spontaneous bouts of wrestling and possibly even multiple rounds of jokes, but I have yet to see my son or his teammates do even one cartwheel on the field when the game is going on.
The boys also could care less what color their uniforms are, let alone whether their hair's brushed, while one adorably pink-clad girls team (the Rainbow Princess Sparkle Dolphins or something) had matching French braids, which were great for keeping their hair out of their faces during cartwheels.


A visit to the soccer field offers opportunities to say hi to everyone you've ever met in Santa Barbara, without the conversational expectations of a cocktail party. If Marty Blum and Lois Capps were smart, they'd hold their office hours during AYSO games and get a tan at the same time.


The polo match was more about people watching than people talking. If you've ever lusted after a straight-out-of "My Fair Lady" hat at Nordstrom's and decided you had nowhere to wear it, attending a polo match gives you the perfect excuse. It's also a great place to bring out that wedding gift picnic basket you thought only people in Town and Country Magazine ever used.


At the soccer field I looked anything but fashionable trying to juggle enormous folding chairs, soccer balls, juice boxes and a small, rowdy boy.


Did I mention that my sociology training qualifies me to speculate on sociocultural connections that may or may not exist?


While snack time is one of the highlights of the soccer game for both boys and girls, the polo matches put on a halftime show that's a big favorite with bigger boys and girls - the stomping of the divots. Similar to the stomping of the grapes, spectators are invited onto the field to stomp on the grass on their way to a complimentary glass of champagne.


No wonder they call polo the "sport of kings." Anything that involves sunshine, mountain views and cocktails is OK by me. I hope our soccer team understands that when it's my turn to bring snacks.


Send your soccer mom stories to For more columns visit


It was me. I killed the tooth fairy.

Starshine Roshell is a Santa Barbara writer and mother of two.

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(BUILT IN) (Photos) StarshinePhoto.jpg

After a distinguished career of doling out quarters in exchange for incisors, the Tooth Fairy died Monday - on my bedspread - amid a sprinkling of premolars, hand-written notes and a bottle of common craft-store glitter.


Born of a child's yen for magic and a parent's gift for deception, the centuries-old Ms. Fairy was useful in soothing children's understandable anxiety over losing small but significant body parts to the stubborn stick of a Starburst or the brutish yank of a string tied to a doorknob. You'd think the idea of a wily nymph infiltrating their bedrooms to retrieve dental detritus while they sleep would freak most kids out. But in fact her legend brought comfort to untold ragamuffins, inexplicably but effectively distracting them from even the gaping, fleshy hole now lurking in their once-craggy gums.


But earlier this week - in a moment as sudden and startling as the one that separates a "loose tooth" from a "lost tooth" - the fairy perished.


And I'm the one who killed her.


Although, to be fair, my 9-year-old had already maimed her; I was just putting her out of her misery.


After more than a dozen personal rounds of the universal tooth-loss cycle (wiggle-yank-pillow-cash, wiggle-yank-pillow-cash), my son's pre-adolescent skepticism finally got the better of his juvenile faith. And while we all know that human disease begins with medical symptoms - a nagging cough, a sharp pain - I've learned that the demise of mythic figures begins with questions.


Ghastly, gut-wrenching and altogether quite rational questions.
"Mom, how come when you lose a tooth on vacation, the Tooth Fairy doesn't leave purple fairy dust on your pillow?"
Well ...
"Why do you still get money when you accidentally spit your tooth down the sink drain and can't leave it for her?"
Um ...
"The note she left last time was burnt around the edges like a cool old pirate map, and this one is straight and plain and boring. Do you think she's mad at me?"
Yes. Probably.


When the Toothless Interrogator went to bed last week after sacrificing a beloved bicuspid to a stale Tootsie Roll, he left a note for the fairy reading, "Cash please. As much as you can." When he awoke the next morning and accused the poor slandered pixie of not only being cheap but of stealing a gold coin from his piggy bank and trying to pass it off as a new one (for the record, I assure you, she did not), I knew a mercy killing was the only way to preserve her dignity.


I quietly took the fourth-grade cynic into my room, sat him gently down on my bed and pulled a secret box from the back of a dresser drawer. I opened it and laid all its evidence in front of him - evidence of my love, evidence of my lies. Thirteen polished white pebbles clicked and clacked as they spilled out before him. Old notes scrawled in silver cursive rustled as I unfurled them. And the plastic jar of, ahem, fairy dust hit the blanket with a graceless thud.


We stared at it all, together, in silence. His eyes welled up a bit, and he pouted for several minutes, refusing to speak to me while sorting his resentment from his embarrassment from his disappointment.


It's never easy burying a friend, but his grief was ultimately soothed by the promise of the future - a time when he would get to help us perpetrate the same ruthless deception on his poor, naive little brother, who still has a mouthful of baby teeth.


In his own way, then, he has pledged to see Ms. Fairy's death avenged. An eye for an eye, as they say ...

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South Coasting
Bleeping Sally Field

(BUILT IN) (Photos) mexxgy_LeslieD_photo.jpgBy Leslie Dinaberg
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What is it with Sally Field and award show speeches?


Her dorky "you like me, you really like me" gushing from the Academy Awards Show 22 years ago, still ranks as one of the all-time-most-memorable Oscar speeches.


And at Sunday night's Emmys, she did it again.


OK, so she could have used a better script. And sure, she got flustered, lost her place, and babbled her lines. But somehow Sally Field still managed to deliver the best momologue I've heard at an awards show since, well, her Best Actress win back in 1987.


Bleep the delivery, thanks to the Bleeping Fox network, her censored sentiment-"if the mothers ruled the world, there would be no g--damn wars in the first place"-certainly got my attention. There are surely more articulate ways to speak out against the Bleeping war or praise the nonviolent instincts of women, but that's beside the point.


Thanks to the Bleeping Bleeps at Fox, Gidget-whom a number of web surfers apparently thought rode her way into the sunset 20 years ago-cowabunga-ed her way into a gigantic wave of media attention.

Instead of being just another Hollywood headliner, seizing her 15 forgettable seconds on the soap box, the Flying Nun's momologue actually inspired some dialogue and debate about war, God, freedom of speech and censorship.


Who knew that a silly Bleeping awards show could end up being so thought provoking?
I have no problem-obviously-with someone using their minute in the spotlight to voice their own personal views.


Most people blow it. Either they thank a bunch of people that work for them and forget to thank their nearest and dearest, or they thank the Almighty and forget to thank the director who made them look so much better than they actually were.


At least Sally Field tried to do something constructive with her few moments in the spotlight.


Not surprisingly, some people had a field day mocking the idea that putting a woman in charge might actually lead to more peaceful solutions, using examples like Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, and Margaret Thatcher as mothers who went to war.


I think that's a load of Bleep.


Nothing makes you value human life more than giving birth to a 15-pound baby with a 21-inch-wide head-unless of course you do it without an epidural, in which case you'd happily start bombing Canada just to distract yourself.


In 1870, long before Hallmark even existed, Julia Ward Howe dreamed up Mother's Day, intending it to be a Mother's Day for Peace. After nursing the wounded during the American Civil War, she gave a Bleep of a momologue, declaring:
"Arise all women who have hearts, say firmly: Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. In the name of womanhood and of humanity; take counsel with each other as the means whereby the great human family can live in peace."


Peace is as patriotic as mom's apple pie. And so is talking about whatever the Bleep you want to on award shows or anywhere else.


So here's to bleeping Sally Field. I, for one, really do like her.

Tell us what you think about Sally's speech, or Leslie's column for that matter, by emailing For more columns visit


South Coasting

Why is 'age' a four-letter word?
Generation gap can leave us agape, so long as it doesn't leave us behind

By Leslie Dinaberg
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(BUILT IN) (Photos) mexxgy_LeslieD_photo.jpgI had never met a four-letter word I didn't like - under the right circumstances - until that one day, on the cusp of my 40th birthday, when the 12-year-old Vons checker dared to speak the most offensive word of them all.
"Need help out to your car, ma'am?"
Who me? Ma'am? When did that happen?
He didn't even have a southern accent.
#@*&! When did that happen?
It seems like just days ago, at that very same Vons, when I had just had my wisdom teeth out and that cute Box Boy in my Geometry class helped me out with my single bag of groceries. I was sure he was going to ask me to the Homecoming Dance, swollen face and all.
Then he asked if I had an older sister at San Marcos. He didn't even recognize me!
How did I go from that kind of minor adolescent humiliation to the adult-sized humiliation of ma'am?
It must have happened around the same time our neighbors stopped noticing when we had parties. Somewhere around the same time our friends stopped hooking up then breaking up and started getting married and divorced.
Growing old gracefully is highly over-rated.
At my 20th high school reunion, all of the friends I had stayed in touch with looked wonderful that night, but everyone else - who were still 18 in my mind - looked old, fat and gray.
#@*&! When did that happen?
Is this what it's like to finally be a grown up? You blow out the candles on your 16th birthday cake and the next thing you know you're blowing out an "over the hill" candle at your 40th birthday, because to actually put 40 candles on would take a much bigger cake!
I've still got the lollipop on my desk that says "40 Sucks."
It doesn't really. At least not most of the time.
For the most part my friends aren't aging any more gracefully than I am. Although none have bought Ferrari's or dated 19-year-old supermodels, I'm sure that's only because they can't afford them. We talk a lot more about our corns and bunions and a lot less about our sex lives.
At a recent 40th birthday party, a friend announced he had taken up surfing, even though he can barely swim. Another spent the week at a dude ranch, finally getting back on that horse after a few disastrous childhood attempts.
What I want to know is when did surfing and riding horses become daring, and golf become the sport of choice for people my age? When did I stop relating to the teens on The O.C. and start relating to their parents? Is this what it feels like to be a grown up?
Sure I know more of the music on VH1 than MTV, but that doesn't make me old, just more discerning.
I've heard people say that "old" is about 15 years older than you are, which sounds about right. Until I realize this makes me "old" to that Box Boy and even to many of my colleagues.
I guess I should have clued in last year, when I told one of the Beacon's cub reporters about the amazing Pearl Jam concert I had seen the night before.
His comment: "That's so cool. I hope I'm still going to concerts when I'm your age."
What am I, 55?
I've been going to concerts since before you were born, you little whippersnapper!
I wonder what he'd say if he knew my husband was going to see Marilyn Manson tonight?
"Wow, Marilyn Manson is still around," said one of our teenage interns. "My dad used to love him back when he was in college."
Is this possible?
Oh #@*&!
At least he didn't call me ma'am.
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(BUILT IN) (Photos) StarshinePhoto.jpgWarning: Children In Charge

Starshine Roshell is a Santa Barbara writer and mother of two.

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For parents, there's nothing more gratifying than the white-hot itch of outrage. A hearty helping of peeved exasperation, coupled with a leisurely blame-laying session, can be such a delightful distraction from our own inequities as muddle-headed mothers and flawed fathers.
"Kid Nation" has been kind enough to provide our latest whipping post - but I'm not sure the ire entirely deserved.

The upcoming CBS reality show plunked 40 children in the middle of Pretty Much Nowhere, New Mexico, for 40 days with no contact with their parents. The kids' challenge: To turn an Old West-style movie set into a functioning society with a government, working store, hot meals and someone to clean the outhouses.


Ranging in age from 8 to 15, the kids arrived on the set in April to less-than-cozy conditions: No electricity, bed rolls on the floor, extreme desert temperatures and the only fresh water sloshing around in a well a quarter mile from camp.


The children each got $5,000 for taking part, and competed weekly for another $20,000. Anyone could opt to go home at any time, and a few did.


The show, which premieres Sept. 19, is understandably controversial. CBS was accused of skirting child labor laws, allowing them to work for 14-hour stretches. There were on-set injuries: a sprained arm, a burned face from cooking grease. Four of the children accidentally drank bleach from an unmarked bottle.


You can't blame critics for wagging their fingers at this exploitive enterprise. Face it: Network execs are callous ratings-grubbers who'd sell their own grannies into "reality" slavery ("So You Think You Can Knit"? "Pimp My Walker"?) for a higher share of viewers.
And yes, any parent who'd sign a contract absolving the producers if their youngster should die or contract a sexually transmitted disease has clearly not been watching Lindsay, Britney and Paris come of age: Does anyone really still think the spotlight is a great place for kids to grow up?

But ... I think there's another factor at play here. Another secret sentiment driving our collective indignation over "Kid Nation," which we've yet to even see:
We're afraid these kids are gonna like it.


Admit it. We're all just a liiiiiittle bit worried that, given the chance to fly solo, these pre-teens are going to rise to the challenge and realize they can manage OK on their own. They can scramble eggs in a pinch. They can scrub latrines if need be. They don't technically need their parents; they may not even (gulp) miss them.


And then, by god, what would we do? If kids find out they're as smart, strong and capable as us - and without our cynicism and increasing inability to recall the names of everyday nouns - the hierarchy of our households would topple!


Every "not until you've eaten your vegetables," every "not until you've finished your homework," would be met with a cheeky, "If I can haul well water, I can certainly manage my own fiber intake and study schedule. Jeez."


It says a lot that most "Kid Nation" kids - even the bleach-drinkers - chose to stay the whole 40 days despite tears, arguments and an unpleasant little diva who snaps, "I'm a beauty queen. I don't do dishes!" But think about it. You were a kid once. What heat and hard labor would you have endured for the privilege of not being nagged about going outside in your clean socks? Or making your bed?


The "Kid Nation" trailer shows children shouting triumphantly as they thrust their filthy, candy-clutching fists toward the New Mexico sky. A voiceover says, "Can they succeed where adults have failed?" The answer is of course they can.


But for god's sake, they don't need to know that, do they?


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(BUILT IN) (Photos) mexxgy_LeslieD_photo.jpgSouth Coasting

The Not-So-Newlywed Game

By Leslie Dinaberg
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You wouldn't know it to look at me, but I'm actually rather competitive. Especially when it comes to stupid things, like knowing the names of one-hit-wonder bands from the 1980s (of course YOU remember when "Der Kommissar" was in town, but I bet you couldn't tell us that After the Fire was the band that brought him); being able to intuit who is on the phone every time it rings (my mom); and predicting with 99.7% accuracy the words that will come out of my husband's mouth before he says them. Even if most of those words are, "um," "well," and "yeah," you still have to admit that that is pretty impressive wifely knowledge.


So when my friends Colonel Dan and Lola did a victory lap around the Padaro Beach Grill to celebrate their recent domination of an Alaskan Cruise Ship Not-So-Newlywed Game Tournament, I must admit to feeling a bit envious. I wanted that first place gold-plated bottle of Cold Duck for my mantle.


Sure, their closest competition was a couple from Nantucket who only had one good ear and half a head of hair between the two of them. And sure, the third place bronzed beer can went to a couple that only knew a few words of English. But still, Dan and Lola had won an international Not-So-Newlywed Game competition.


I couldn't help but wonder how Zak and I would have stacked up. I figured we knew each other at least as well as these hacks. After all, Lola was by herself half the time while Dan was out saving the world on some mission or other. Zak hardly ever left the house without me by his side. Most of the time I knew his thoughts before I let him have them. Surely we could kick their sorry little butts.


Luckily, Colonel Dan was eager to quiz us.

The first question was easy. "If your spouse were lost while driving in a foreign city, he/she would do what?"


"Not ask for directions," I yelled eagerly, knowing I had aced that one.


"OK," Dan said. "What if you were the one driving, Leslie?"


Zak and I both laughed. I refer you to my column where I made fun of my dad's driving. My dad taught me to drive. Me, drive in foreign cities? Not in this lifetime.


Dan threw out a few more easy questions. What color are your spouse's eyes? Boxers or briefs? Leno or Letterman? Dog or cat? Would you like fries with that?

I was starting to feel a little cocky when Lola mentioned that she and Dan had gotten a perfect score. How do you top that?


Lola asked the next question: "If you were stranded on a desert island and you could only be with one person, who wasn't your spouse, who would it be?"


I weighed the possibilities. Would Einstein or Da Vinci be better able to build us a boat out of palm leaves and coconut shells? And more importantly, which of them was better suited to help me repopulate society? Hmmm...Then Zak piped up with "Brad Pitt" for me. Please. I like man candy just as much as the next girl, but I'm still angry about the whole Jennifer thing.


Dan interrupted my reverie. "Who would Zak want to be trapped with on a desert island?"

C'mon, we're down a point. Got to regroup, focus. I know he's moved on from Uma to Scarlett Johanssen, so I go with Scarlett.


He says, "Leonardo Da Vinci."


Honey, I really didn't mean to punch your arm so hard. You know how I get in competition.


Zak was still rubbing his bruise when Dan let us have one final bonus question that would allow us to tie the score with them. "Where's the most unusual place you've ever made whoopee?"


I looked at my husband and giggled. We both knew the answer to this one. All we had to do was say the word and the Newlywed Game honors would be ours.


I looked deep into my husband's eyes (still blue) and nodded, as he said, "Not in this lifetime."


We're Not-So-Newlywedded for a reason, after all. It's all about how well you know your partner.


When she's not singing "Tainted Love," by Soft Cell, Leslie can be reached at


(BUILT IN) (Photos) mexxgy_LeslieD_photo.jpgSouth Coasting

Animal House at My House

By Leslie Dinaberg
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As you approach the doorway, a headless Pokemon (Pika Pika! Pi-Ka-Chu!) flies out of a window and lands at your feet. Adrian takes a break from his potty break to greet you. Oops, sorry about your shoes... and your leg. Jake whirls by you on a Razor scooter, through the front door and onto the back porch, where he sings a surprisingly good rendition of "Burning Down the House." Alex tries to accompany him with what's left of smashed ukulele.


"Sorry," he says, as he hands me the pieces and runs off. We have ... had a ukulele?


Dressed in makeshift togas, Lauren and Caitlin run by with their Rapid Shoot Super Soaker Water Guns cocked, ready to take down Koss and Jared.


"No water in the house," I shout, without the slightest delusion that anyone is listening to me. Welcome to my son's 8th birthday party.


When I let Koss pick the theme for his party, I expected him to choose Pokemon, Sponge Bob, or Harry Potter. You know, a commercially exploitable theme that would be easy to incorporate into invitations, pi?ata, decorations, games, craft projects, band-aids, snacks, cake, favors, little gift bags, ribbons, tags, stickers and candy for the little gift bags.


I got Animal House instead.


Luckily, I lived in a frat house one summer a million years ago. Otherwise I would have been completely unprepared for what happens in a home invasion by seven kids with enough adrenaline to power Bolivia, Kamchatka, and Yakutsk (and that's before the ice cream sundaes).


Many moms believe that planning a child's birthday party requires as much tactical planning as invading a small country, more if you have to hire a magician. Since my son's birthday is right in the middle of the summer, I tend to be a little more laid back.

OK, a lot more laid back. I let my son plan his own party. He had grand plans from the get go. A wild game of Cranium, a water gun fight, and a dance contest. It sounds pretty harmless, right?


I figured it couldn't be any worse than letting my husband plan the party, which would have involved a few bags of chips, a couple of pizzas and a lot of beer. All serve yourself, of course.



After all, there has to be some advantage to living in the Shack besides a good school district. I finally figured it out. This is a great house for a frat party. There's almost nothing here that I really care if they thrash. The furniture is old and falling apart, the carpet is disgusting, the yard is full of weeds, and the walls have seen better days.


So this year we decided to bite the bullet and let our son have his dream party. Did I mention he wanted a slumber party?


Not only did we let them thrash our house, and play with fire, we let them stay here and sleep it off afterward.


I use that word, "sleep" in a very loose way. I think at about 3 a.m. a few of them were sitting down. That counts, right?


It's been almost a week, and our birthday hangovers are still hanging on. My kitchen's recovered from the food fight, and my headache has almost gone away, but I'm still scrubbing the walls from the home invasion.


I mean this literally.


One of the more ingenious games they played was "Burglar," which involved repeatedly climbing through the window from the front porch into the living room, throwing throw pillows, stereo equipment and knickknacks into a bag and running through the neighborhood shouting, "Have you seen Delta House?"


It's listed under my name in the phone book.
Regale us with your birthday party tales by sending an email to For more of Leslie's columns visit



(BUILT IN) (Photos) StarshinePhoto.jpgYou camp be serious
Could summer's slippery discipline make bums of our kids?

Starshine Roshell is a Santa Barbara writer and mother of two.

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Much as I hate to see it go, it's good summer's nearing a close.
Parents (at least this parent) get sloppy when school's out, and the strict wake-work-wake-work routine of the schoolyear melts into an amorphous, three-month spree of float ... eat ... nap ...


I'm embarrassed at how easily the rules I set up with my children's best interest in mind - dietary guidelines, hygiene habits - are overturned by the warbling notes of a passing ice cream truck and the compelling swimming-pool-as-bathtub argument.


The justification for such anarchy, of course, is that it's only temporary. We know that a few months of slippery discipline between the end-of-school potluck and the back-to-school potluck won't kill a kid.


Where our logic goes wrong, though - where our laissez-faire parenting may have disastrous long-term effects - is in our funding of frivolous summer camps.
Surf Camp. Archery Camp. Circus Camp, for god's sake.
In my rush to secure some blissful alone time - time to write without fielding the dreaded, "Mom, I'm bored bored BORED" refrain - I signed my 8-year-old up for every camp he showed interest in. Broadway musical camp? Sure. Dog obedience camp? OK. Jedi Camp, where "Star Wars"-obsessed adults educate giddy little boys in the ways of The Force? Um, alright. Truth is, they sounded fun even to me; and the more fun they were, the more likely I'd get some peace and quiet to do my work.


But as summer tapers off like the point of a snow cone, and I reflect on the $1,000 I've just invested in my son's development as a human being, I'm a little concerned. Because what I now have is not a fourth-grader who's appreciative of the R&R and eager to return to academics with a clear head.


What I have is a kid torn between a career as an actor and a puppy trainer - who now thinks it's OK for grown men to wear Jedi robes and carry light sabers in public.
My girlfriend sent her son to rock guitar camp, which culminated in a deafening performance of Black Sabboth's "Iron Man," during which her boy wore spiked hair, an Ozzie grimace and a worrisome twinkle in his eye.
"When we enroll our children in these camps," she now wonders, "what are we encouraging them to do, really? Are we aware they may actually find their niche? And we may inadvertently be signing up for years of metal rock concerts?"


According to the American Camp Association, there are more than 12,000 camps operating this summer. Most are aimed at thrilling kids: Hollywood Stuntman Camp. Fashion?? GOLD-PANNING? But plenty are designed to please parents.


And wouldn't our camp fees be better spent at, say, Cleveland's Pre-Med Camp, where kids "explore career opportunities in health care" while donning scrubs and dissecting organs (in the photo, they look like kidneys, but I wouldn't know as I spent my summers, ahem, weaving lanyards)?


How about San Jose's Web Architects Camp, where pre-teens design and publish an Internet site for the company of their dreams? Or Global Youth Village in Bedford, Virg., where teens learn time management, goal setting and resume writing? (Did I mention my son's now skilled in dog poop disposal? I wonder if there's money in that.)


I have a friend who flew her 11-year-old to the Midwest this summer for two whole weeks of intensive Japanese language camp, the tongue of our future world leaders.
Now that's a smart mom - a year-round parent whose diligence doesn't melt in the heat of summer. Because if you think about it, she didn't just get more peace of mind that I did; she got more peace and quiet.


(BUILT IN) (Photos) mexxgy_LeslieD_photo.jpgSouth Coasting

Price Points to Shoppers' Paradise
Stalking Costco's aisles is much more than a spectator sport for bargain hunters

By Leslie Dinaberg
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Our anniversary is coming, so naturally when my husband told me he needed to "go to Costco," I was sure he was going to buy me that Chagall lithograph I've had my eye on.

When I heard that Costco was beginning to sell fine art, I knew that it wouldn't be long before we got lured into the excitement. My normally shop-o-phobic husband has a hard time resisting the temptation of big box bargains.


(BUILT IN) (Icons/Graphics) hotdog.jpgWe once ate hot dogs every night for an entire summer, just to use up the enormous vats of relish, mustard and catsup he couldn't resist. And we've still got 39 cans of pickled brussel sprouts sitting around from the time my son swore they tasted delicious, "the way that Grandma made them."


Pretty much anytime we walk into Costco, we save so much money that we go broke.
So when I read that an original crayon drawing by Pablo Picasso sold at for $39,999, I knew that the $8,799 Chagall would soon be on my walls, because when you enter Costco, Costco logic prevails.


Which is why I have an unopened ten-gallon bottle of Tanqueray Gin still making a dent on the top of my fridge, from a long ago party where "someone might want a gin martini" and an industrial-sized kennel of baking powder for all of the cookies I was going to make for holiday gifts one year.


While high-end retailers hire merchandising specialists to help move you through their stores, Costco logic relies instead an unwritten law. "Whatever you look for at Costco will be on the far opposite side of the store. And in your quest to find the desired item, you will always find a minimum of seven other items you can't live without."


Try it sometime. It's science.


I know that eventually, at some point in the future, I'll come out ahead on my Costco purchases, but I'll have to live to be 107, because that's how long it's going to take me to eat all of the chicken noodle soup I bought three flu seasons ago.


At least the soup purchase had some practical application. Lately I've been lured in by "new" products like Sierra Mist Free -- which is really just Diet Sierra Mist with microscopically different packaging - or Wheat Thin crackers with zero trans fats (and exactly the same ingredients as the old crackers).


While customers are buying in mass, Costco is taking its profits in bulk. In a flat retail year, gross profit was up 13 percent last year with annual revenues of 47.5 billion dollars.


That's an awful lot of Cherry Pepsi Free.
What else are people stocking up on?
In my case, there are the 14-foot-long rolls of coordinating wrapping paper, that I may need someday, and the gigantic tub of cinnamon-spice hand cream that I couldn't resist. My husband's temptations usually relate to outdoor activities - which is funny if you know him - like the tent could literally house a village, or the ice chest that could surely hydrate them. Costco's marketing gurus even have a name for these items - the ones that never make it onto your shopping list, but somehow inevitably make it into your shopping cart -- they call them the spice.


Then there are the actual spices, like Piment Despelette, which I bought a gigantic jar of once, because a woman who looked like Betty Crocker told me it was a once-in-a-lifetime bargain at 20 dollars an ounce


If the spicy new packaging or the advice from fellow customers doesn't tempt me, the free samples usually do. While my dad usually trolls the Costco aisles for the "cheapskate special" lunch, I'm more likely to get sucked into the illusion that if I just bought that case of Jennie-O-Turkey with tequila-lime marinade, I'd somehow get in tune with my inner domestic goddess, the one who's been MIA the past 40 years.


Sure, you'd expect the soccer moms hoarding juice boxes and the college kids stocking up on Easy Mac ?N Cheese, but I'm most intrigued by the flocks of chic women who buy their thirty dollar Cabernet at Costco and their 200 dollar jeans at Blue Bee.


"Is that a good wine?" asks my husband, ever on the look out for both a bargain and the chance to chat up a pretty young thing.
"Oh yes. It's quite a good value," says Ms. Second Wife, as she bats her eyelashes at my First Husband.
"I hear the Chagall's are quite a deal too," I say, showing them both the lithograph print from my computer. My husband's eyes go wide. Is he tempted?
"Wow, $8,799 for a work of art at Costco," he laughs, in a way that tells me my chances of attaining it are dismal at best.
I wonder if Chagall does multi-packs.


Send your big box bargain tips to For more columns visit 



South Coasting

Making Friends is Hard Work

(BUILT IN) (Photos) mexxgy_LeslieD_photo.jpgTo attain the next level of friendship, you've really got to apply yourself

By Leslie Dinaberg
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I appreciate alone time with my husband as much as the next gal, but as lovely as that table for two is, sometimes we need a larger audience to fully appreciate us. That's where couple friends come in.


Finding a companionable couple can entail some pretty bizarre rituals, mostly involving awkward silences, fake laughter, holding ones tongue and expensive restaurant meals. Come to think of it, it's a lot like dating, but without the biological incentive of mating.


And the odds of failure are even higher.


Take the fictional couple we had dinner with the other night. He told golf stories when he wasn't on his cell phone, and she tried to get us to a Pampered Chef party she was hosting. My husband was appalled. No more.


From now on, all prospective candidates will have to undergo a rigorous prescreening process before being granted the sublime privilege of dining with my husband and I.


I really don't understand why finding couple friends is so difficult.


Let's start out with a few basic questions. Just fill out that top part of the application there with your name, address, phone number, etc. Under the position you're applying for, you can put "couple friends."

How did you find out about us? We've had great success with referrals from family and friends, and surprising longevity with some of those whose parents chose the same neighborhoods, school districts, and activities that our parents did.


Quite honestly, referrals from employers have been kind of disappointing. Most of the conversation tends to be dominated by talk about work, leaving the other two spouses feeling left out, bored or suicidal.


Now, let's talk about household income. It's not that we care what kind of place you live in or what kind of car you drive, and if you care about that kind of thing then you probably won't want to be friends with us. But, as much as we might like to, we can't afford to eat at Lucky's every Friday night so if you're not willing to do Giovanni's or Cuca's every once in while, don't even bother finishing this application.


And while we're on the subject of dining, unless you're ordering and eating for a family of six to our three, can we just split the check? I don't really care if your burrito was 75 cents more than my taquito, and if you do care then you're already getting on my nerves and I'm afraid it's just not going to work out.


Do you cook? Well? Will you cook for us? If so, skip to the end of the questionnaire and we'll see you on Friday at 7.


What about movies? We're willing fork over eight bucks each to see just about anything (and get ourselves out of the house) but if you talk incessantly through a film, we'll never go with you again (unless of course you're my mother).


While I'm having nightmare double date flashbacks, let me ask you about the division of responsibilities in your household. If you're a man who "baby-sits" his own children, you and I will probably have a few choice words, and if you give your wife an "allowance" we may come to blows.


As far as politics and religion go, I'd like to think I'm open-minded, but I'm not. Any kind of racist, homophobic or extreme right wing comments will probably put you out of the running to be my friend, unless they're funny, meant to be ironic, or made while you're cooking for us.


And if you're under 30, we probably don't want to be friends with you either. Okay, we do want to be friends with you, but quite frankly we're just not that cool anymore. Can you believe I've never been to Indochine? Plus, my body has about a 1 a.m. curfew and starts rebelling against me if I break it too often.


What about kids? It's not that you have to have a five-year-old boy in order to be our friend, but it sure would be nice. Almost as nice as if you had a responsible 14-year-old daughter who'd love to baby-sit our 5-year-old boy while the rest of us go out for dinner, a movie and some semblance of adult conversation, maybe even a few laughs.


How's your sense of humor, anyway? I know everyone thinks they have a good sense of humor, but have you ever had that verified by an outside source? We like to laugh a lot at our house, and if that's not your cup of tea, well then, what are you doing here anyway?


Oh. You want to buy a classified ad?
Sorry. That's the desk over there.
See, I told you it's hard to make couple friends.
Leslie is accepting applications by email to

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A Tale of Two Trips

By Leslie Dinaberg
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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of childhood, it was the age of parenthood, it was the epoch of excitement, it was the epoch of dullness, it was the season of laughter, it was the season of bickering.


It was summer, and it was family vacation time.


It is not often that a 30-12-year-old woman has the opportunity to vacation separately with her family of origin (mom, dad, and 30-10-year-old sister) and her family of record (husband and 7-year-old son)-and certainly not within the course of a week.


There are reasons that these double family vacations haven't really caught on. Most people have a lot more common sense than I do.


This kind of travel time warp doubleheader is definitely not for the faint of heart, stomach or ear.


Traveling with Zak and Koss (my husband and son, or my "roomies") is always an adventure into the great unknown. Each new phase of our son's maturity comes without warning, so we never know how he's going to behave from vacation to vacation. One summer he was napping through five-hour car trips and the next it was, "Are we there yet?" "I'm hungry," "Can I get a toy?" and "Are we there yet?" every two seconds.


On the other hand, traveling with my parents and sis (my "homies") is an adventure into the well-trodden paths of the past. My whole life flashed before me many times during the week, and not just in d?j? vu over the ultra-competitive card games and battles over the shower schedule. When my dad is behind the wheel, you take your life into your hands. Other people dream of snakes on a plane, but the only scarier thing I can imagine besides dad driving in the rain, in the dark, on unfamiliar Colorado mountain roads, is his reaction to having my sister and mom point out that he just drove over the median strip and wouldn't he rather let one of them drive instead?


Unlike the rest of my homies, I have no illusions about my driving skills, although I do often wonder whether to attribute them to nature or nurture. My dad deserves credit for teaching me to use the brakes on an empty freeway, and my mom (otherwise known as "GPS Joannie") gives my dad at least a 33-mile heads up every time he is within a half an hour of the next required turn. With this gene pool to draw on, it's hard for me to believe that my husband doesn't appreciate my navigational skills when we travel down unfamiliar highways.


(BUILT IN) (Icons/Graphics) family-outing.jpgShould I be insulted that on our recent trip up the coast-take Highway One for a million, zillion, windy, narrow miles, then look for the signs to Monterey-Zak trusted the map to our second grader, rather than rely on the Dinaberg sense of direction? Not only did Koss get us to our hotel without a single wrong turn, he managed to avoid all cries of "Are we there yet?" by plugging himself into DVDs, books ("Snakes in a Car," anyone?), and inexplicably, the soundtrack from "Rent," while skillfully shunning exposure to any of that pesky scenery that his dad and I find so appealing.


Despite our differing levels of enthrallment with the Pacific Ocean, for the rest of our trip, my roomies and I were in perfect sync on almost everything. This was the first vacation I can remember where we were able to choose our restaurants without the added consideration of what kind of toy came with the kid's meal. I could lose sight of my son for more than a second without feeling the symptoms of a heart attack, and wishing I had the nerve to use one of those kid leashes. Sure I was still the parent, but my roomies and I could be buddies too, equally sharing in the coolness of the aquarium's jellyfish and our amusement at the sea lions that "wrestled" right under our noses at one waterfront restaurant.


Traveling with my homies, on the other hand, brought out my inner teenager. I couldn't help but bristle a little when, for each and every outing (including going downstairs to the hotel gym) my mom made sure I had a sweater and a room key. And while we didn't have to sneak the champagne at this particular family wedding, mom did hand me my place card, decide when it was time to leave, and remind me to make sure to go pee and say thanks to my host and hostess.


On the other hand, traveling with my homies allowed me to bask in the magic of uninterrupted sleep in the morning and uninterrupted reading time in the afternoon. I had almost forgotten what a pleasure it was to read a single book in the course of a day, and not be responsible for anyone else's teeth, clothes or bedtime story. While I spend plenty of time with my homies year round, it was nice to be able to have the luxury of long, adult conversations about art, politics, and family. OK, so it was "People Magazine" versus "Us," Hilary Clinton's hair, and how funny it was to see Grandma Evie dancing to "My Hump," ... but nobody interrupted us to ask for dessert or needing help with the TV remote. Except my dad, that is.


It's funny how going on vacation with your parents can make you feel both old and young at the same time. Come to think of it, so can spending time with your kids.

Is Leslie the only one crazy enough to try a roomie/homie doubleheader? Let her know at For more of Leslie's columns visit

StarshineDown with uptalk: Ask and you shall aggrieve

Starshine Roshell is a Santa Barbara writer and mother of two.

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I owe you all a big apology.
Because when I was a kid? Growing up in Southern California's San Fernando Valley? We talked in this totally weird way and all? And, like, it spread.
More egregious than our senseless devotion to Vans slip-ons, more deplorable than our establishment of the Church of Mall, more reprehensible than our role in launching Moon Unit Zappa's "musical" career - we Valley Girls of the 1980s injected a hideous habit into the nation's lexicon.
It's the tendency to make every declarative sentence, every piddling phrase, sound like a question.
And it's only now that our kids are doing it that we can fully appreciate how utterly, vexingly brain-piercing it is.
So, like, someone's talking to you? And it's not like they're trying to sound moronic? But they can't really help it because they're caught in a sing-songy loop? From which escape ... is, like ... not likely?

Linguistic experts call these quips "high-rise terminals" for their upward intonation. But James Gorman, a journalism teacher at NYU, coined the term "uptalk" in 1993 after noticing his students doing it.
The verbal tic is associated with youth, but has been documented in high-profile adults from NPR's Terri Gross to President George Bush. And though its origin has been traced to Southern California, it's now common on the East Coast, and in Canada and Australia.
England, needless to say, is terrified.

While I confess to being more from the "yucky, make it stop" school of linguistic analysis, there are folks who actually try to figure out why such trends take hold. Some say kids haven't yet mastered the art of conversation and feel the need to check in with their audience at the end of each sentence; it's like saying, "Are you still listening?"
A fifth-grade teacher I know believes her students do it to buy time, to pause and collect their thoughts before proceeding with their story.
But in a world where confidence is revered, uptalk can reflect negatively on a speaker's character.
"It says they're unable to take a stand, to make a definitive statement," says a friend of mine, whose brother-in-law is prone to it. It's also a passive-aggressive way of skirting censure, she says, as in, "We can't make it over to see you because we have this fancy party to go to?"
"You can't argue with a question," she points out ... "even if it isn't really a question."
A buddy of mine, a self-described linguistics geek, says the phenomenon's both natural and harmless. People use uptalk simply to identify with a cultural group: the cool kids at school, the surfer crowd in their community, the young folks in the office, etc.
We pass through different culture groups as we age, he says, and most people are able to "shift conversational registers" according to whom they are addressing. So your kids are no more likely to carry uptalk with them into the job market than they are to drag their favorite childhood blankie along.


Just to be safe, though, I recommend spending this summer breaking your kids of the habit. I know a second-grade teacher who reads to her students using uptalk so they can hear how absurd it sounds. My cousin simply asks her thoroughly exasperated daughter, "Was that a question? And if so, how do you expect me to answer it?"
My own parents - in an effort to ensure that when they took the girl out of the Valley, they could also shake the Valley out of the girl - simply mocked me by saying, "Uh-huhhhhh?" every time I paused to take a breath.
It may have been harsh, but I'm here to tell you it works. There's no question in my mind. 


(BUILT IN) (Photos) StarshinePhoto.jpgDads dream of guys' getaway

Starshine Roshell is a Santa Barbara writer and mother of two.

Visit her at


Some guys celebrate Father's Day by spending time with their families. A day at the pool. A romp on the beach. A backyard barbecue with potato chips crunching and whiffle balls flying.

My husband has a different request this year: to get as far away from his wife and kids as is physically, and financially, possible.
It's nothing personal, he explained, but the part of him that doesn't relish plunging toilets and wiping noses is yelping for some "me" time. Some down time.
Some man time.


So he's meeting his brother, an overworked father of three pre-K boys, for a weekend of childless, wifeless, workless bliss to pay tribute to Life Before Mortgage.
Before they were cast as upstanding role models for the small drink-spilling, jacket-losing, tantrum-throwing people who claim to be their children. Before they were asked to be reliable, communicative and socially demonstrative partners to calendar-keeping wives. Before they plodded happily but perhaps a bit blindly into lives as modern men who are expected to not only provide a roof over their families' heads, but mop the floors on occasion, as well.


And I get that. I do. What I don't understand is the way they choose to honor that freedom: in my spouse's case, by racing off-road all-terrain vehicles for hours on end, followed by vast over-consumption of red meat, red wine and late-night diner pie.
"I guess I want to figure out who I am besides a husband and father," he explained. "And the way it seems natural to do that is to find my limits - whether physical or gastrointestinal."


He's not alone. Guy getaways are a hot travel trend, inspiring hotels across the globe to offer testosterone-fueled packages from helicopter skiing to NASCAR training to poker parties complete with hand-rolled cigars and buckets o' beer.
There's even a moronic new term for them: "mancations" (if they asked me, I'd have opted for a snappy double entendre like "mandate," "manifest" or even "mango," but they never seem to ask me). The concept, though, is nothing new. From the crowd-pleasing "City Slickers" to the Oscar-winning "Sideways" to the universally panned "Wild Hogs," male-bonding trips have a storied history both on and off screen.
When the nagging "why, oh why" of domestic life comes into question, a furlough with the fellas can be, um, the manswer.
(BUILT IN) (Icons/Graphics) Dads_Jersey.jpg A friend of mine who is prone to surfing safaris, Vegas jaunts and fishing trips calls his excursions "man camp." They involve some form of friendly competition and, preferably, a modicum of danger.
 "Deep conversation," he explains, "is appropriate on a case-by-case basis. For example, if I spend a week with a buddy and all I find out is that he got a new tool kit for Christmas, that is just as acceptable as learning something terribly profound. Remember, many of us communicate silently."
That is especially true, of course, if they are passed out from too much tequila. (Did you know there's an actual instrument called a "manometer" which measures - I kid you not - the pressure of gases or liquids?)


 I asked my friend, both out of genuine curiosity and because I like to watch men squirm, why he couldn't take his family along on these great adventures.
"We want our wives and children to retain whatever level of esteem, admiration and affection they have for us," he says, adding ominously: "We are baser than you think."
Another friend and father of two said it would be the foul language and raunchy name-calling he would miss most if his wife and kids showed up on a husbands-only holiday.

"It would be like hosting a party during high school with your parents there," he says. "You just couldn't bust loose."
Wait, now. Cursing? Gambling? Drinking? And the pursuit of high-cholesterol, high-speed thrills with no voice of (feminine) reason in earshot?
These "mancations" aren't innocent getaways at all. They're manarchy.



Road trip, AKA chaos in a bo(BUILT IN) (Photos) StarshinePhoto.jpgx

Starshine Roshell is a Santa Barbara writer and mother of two.

Visit her at

The floor is littered with apple cores, road maps and someone's discarded socks. The smell of cattle overtakes me from time to time. And after the third hour, my butt begins to ache.
But I like it.

Road trips aren't supposed to be relished. They're the means to an end, the drag we endure so we can get to the fun part. Like a transatlantic flight beside a whiny toddler. Or an elevator ride with a stranger who's humming to himself and has Cheetos dust on his shirt. We have no choice but to turn our anticipation down to "idle" until the motion ... comes to a full ... and complete ... stop.


Yet there's something about the magnified here-and-now of family transit - the way it forces a collective stillness - that appeals to my frazzled inner overacheiver. I was reminded of this precious and peculiar pleasure during a recent road trip with my brood.
Shoe-horned into my four-seater like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, the four of us shared leg room with suitcases, portable electronics, a cooler of snacks, a diaper bag, too many jackets and an arthritic dog dozing on a stack of CD cases.
Despite our shared domicile back home, we are never all so near for so long. If one of us isn't dashing out to fetch groceries or disappearing into the garage to do laundry, the other is on his way to a basketball game or stealing a moment to check e-mail before bed.
But not here in our car. Strapped into our 6-by-6-foot box careening past farms and foothills, we have absolutely nothing to do. We can't "prepare." We can't "accomplish." We can't even catch up on reading or we'll throw up.


Forced into this state of inoccupation, we take note of things we would normally ignore. Like the filthy pick-up truck beside us. "Look at the mud on that thing!" "He must have been off-roading." "Hey, why don't we ever go off-roading ... besides the filth factor, I mean?"
We make music together: me wailing, my husband rumbling bass lines, our 8-year-old playing animal-style drums on the seat back, the baby clapping spastically.


We take note of the distressing number of bugs that have met their demise on our windshield and, feeling helpless in the face of such bloodshed, busy ourselves with trying to count their carcasses. On the road, our commitment to a healthy diet is chucked out the window like the pickle from my son's fast-food cheeseburger. We allow ourselves detours for root beer floats at a roadside A&W, and brake for pancake houses that serve fluffy biscuits and gravy. We stop at a gas station and peruse the minimart's jerkies, CornNuts and packaged pastries with a traveler's curiosity - not like they're the devil's work, but merely the regional delicacies of this strange and exotic land called Gilroy.


(BUILT IN) (Icons/Graphics) family-outing.jpgWe take a few minutes to scamper on a pristine strip of grass at the edge of the gas station before moseying back to the car, holding hands. And I'm surprised to realize it's this aspect of road trips - the physical connection - that I like best.
In our jam-packed, litter-strewn, bug-splattered people mover, I can reach over and touch my family. Almost absent-mindedly, I take one hand off the wheel to stroke my husband's cheek. I reach back and hold onto my son's calf as I drive, or squeeze the baby's feet just to reassure myself he's there.


At home, life moves faster than that maniac who just zoomed past us on the Kawasaki. But here in the car, it's suspended. Like any good driver, I'm always scanning the road up ahead, anticipating what might be coming. I know there will be days when I miss this closeness, this instant access to my guys. And I'll cherish the hours that I traded productivity for proximity.



(BUILT IN) (Photos) StarshinePhoto.jpgBabies vs. Puppies: Who's More Trouble?

Starshine Roshell is a Santa Barbara writer and mother of two.

Visit her at


Hot breath and warm bellies. Wide eyes and feet softer than feet have a right to be.
Critters don't get much cuter than puppies and babies. But it's not their cuteness I wish to discuss here.
It's the vexing chaos they cause.
Several of my friends have recently welcomed puppies into their homes, and they keep telling me it's "just like having a newborn."


Which is a dangerous thing to say to someone who's still shin-deep in pacifiers and Pampers. My youngest isn't technically a newborn anymore, but the housebound days and bleary-eyed nights of his infancy don't seem so long ago.


And though it's been a long time since my dog was a puppy, I find it hard to fathom that an animal who eats off the floor and can gallop across the room at three weeks old could possibly be as demanding as a helpless human infant which, it's worth noting, will wake itself up from a deep and much-needed slumber by involuntarily smacking itself in the face.

When we were first married, my husband and I bought a dog and told people - in all seriousness - that we thought it would be good practice for having children. It would teach us selflessness, force us to think beyond happy hour and plan beyond Sunday brunch. Surely the act of dishing out kibble, checking the water bowl and pulling an occasional foxtail from a paw couldn't be all that different from guiding a human being into adulthood.

My family laughed at us. They laughed in our faces and then, I'm fairly certain, they laughed some more when we left the room.

Sure, puppies and newborns both rob you of beloved Zzz's. They force you into routines. They require supervision in a way that, say, your goldfish and your spouse do not. They futz with your travel plans, require the use of unattractive gates in your home and leave your carpet strewn with freaky squeaky toys and saliva-caked stuffed animals.
And they have a knack for crapping just as you're running out the door.


(BUILT IN) (Icons/Graphics) doghouse.jpg But all similarities between balls-of-fur and bundles-of-joy end there. Unless your labradoodle must eat every two hours - from your cracked, aching nipples - then I don't want to hear about the anguish of puppydom.


Unless your schnauzer has to have its water purified and its food heated (but NOT TOO HOT!), unless he is prone to jaundice and diaper rash, unless he can't leave the house without being strapped into a five-point harness that reeks of spit-up, you don't know nuisances, buddy.


 The scariest thing about puppy ownership is the fear that they'll gnaw your Ferragamos into jerky strips. But as far as I'm aware, no canine ever succumbed to Sudden Puppy Death Syndrome.


Whereas dogs quickly become almost self-sufficient, babies (forgive me) are really quite useless. They can't bark when solicitors come to your door, clean dinner scraps off the dining room floor or keep your feet warm just by lying on your bed.
And you can't leave an infant locked in a crate with a rawhide while you run a few errands. That sort of thing is severely frowned upon.


Let's remember, too, that your dog will never, ever tell a therapist that you let him cry through the night while you slept peacefully in the other room - with earplugs - muttering something about how it's never too early to learn self-soothing techniques.


Of course, raising critters is an investment; you get back what you put into it. A terrier's less trouble than a toddler, but eventually my kid will be able to feed himself, travel like a trooper and - most importantly - clean up after our dog.



Traveling With Your Baby? Create  A Home Away From Home!

(BUILT IN) (Icons/Graphics) airplane.jpgMichelle O'Connor 


The key to traveling with your baby is comfort, routine and familiarity. Help baby keep calm and soothed while traveling by creating a home away from home for them.


Baby Blankets and Snuggly Baby Toys
To help your baby feel safe and secure, bring along comforting items baby is familiar with. Their favorite stuffed animal, special burp cloth, or blanket can really help baby feel more at ease about being in a new and unfamiliar place. While keeping track of yet another item may seem like an extra hassle for you, your child will be happier, and thus more pleasant to travel with, clutching something soft and familiar. Keep a replacement cashmere baby blanket or snuggly toy on hand in case the original gets lost.


Bring Baby's Favorite Foods and Seats
Small children are notoriously picky eaters, and it's hard enough finding foods they like at home, let alone while you're traveling. You may be looking forward to sampling the local cuisine at your destination, but your child may be less excited about conch fritters and saut?ed snails. If you're going out to a restaurant, bring a supply of your child's favorite foods to keep them satisfied and entertained while you enjoy your own meal.

Bring along your baby's bumbo baby sitter seat to keep them snug and cozy while you feed them. (The Bumbo Baby Seat is a revolutionary infant chair that is uniquely designed according to the baby's posture. The Bumbo enables babies to sit upright all by themselves! Bumbo Baby Seats are suitable for babies from as young as six weeks, or as soon as they can support their own heads unaided, to an age of approximately fourteen months.)


Start Your Day Early, End Your Day Early
Traveling with a baby is not about sleeping in or staying out late. Young children are at their best earlier in the day, so plan to travel, sightsee, or explore in the morning. Afternoons and evenings are a good time for playing outdoors or relaxing back at your hotel. Respecting your baby's inner clock will make him less likely to throw a tantrum in the car, the street, or a crowded museum.


Bring Baby's Familiar Bed and Bedding
There are a number of discount baby cribs available on the market today. This is the most comforting, and likely the safest option for your baby while traveling. Many hotels offer baby csribs, however, many hotels still have older cribs that are not up to code with the most recent safety standards. Also, bring your own baby crib bedding. If you rely on your hotel for bedding, you may receive large sheets, which may be a hazard to your baby. If you can, bring a bed and bedding baby is used to. A familiar baby sleep sack may also help baby sleep well and will help keep them safe.


Keep Close To Your "Home Away From Home"
Baby's mood may be more unpredictable than usual when you're traveling, so it makes sense to establish a home base you can return to quickly and easily. Short jaunts away from your accommodations are less likely to tax your child's patience. And if the weather turns foul, someone gets sick, or your baby just wants to nap, you can quickly head back to the room.


Get A Routine - Then Stick With It!
Your baby has gotten used to their "routine" at home. Be sure that, when you travel, you also establish and stick with a "travel routine". Try to keep baby's eating and sleeping routine during travel as close to their regular home routine as possible. This will make baby more tolerant of other "non-home-routine" activities that will occur while traveling. Eating meals and taking naps at the same time each day may be all the routine your baby needs to feel comfortable in their new environment.


Children get jet lag, though not quite the same way as adults do. Changing time zones can complicate the adjustment process. Be sure to have your entire family (you included) rest up before travel that includes a significant time change. Well-rested children and parents cope better than tired ones with time changes. To minimize the effects of jet lag, plan to arrive at your destination in the evening and stick to your usual end-of-day routine: Give your baby a bath, read a book, and put baby to sleep at the usual bedtime in the new time zone. For example, if you are in London and it's 7 p.m. there, put baby down to sleep even if it's eight hours ahead of their normal bedtime. It will take a few days to adjust.


You can expect your baby's adjusting to travel to take several days. So, be patient and stick to a familiar routine, feed baby familiar foods and give baby familiar toys. Be sure you stay nearby - you are the most familiar thing to your baby.


Michelle O'Connor 2006, all rights reserved.
Baby Phat Infant Clothes



Honoring International "Parenting Commitment Day"

Nica Guinn 


(BUILT IN) (Icons/Graphics) family_brunette.jpgAs a Parent Coach and Educator, I am wondering how best to celebrate International Parenting Commitment Day? What is a Parenting Commitment? It seems to me most parents are enormously committed to their children, and are always being the best parents they know how in every moment.


Yet our society gives us so little training for the job of parenting. In school we are taught everything from algebra to history to physics, but not a single lesson in how to tackle one of the most difficult jobs most of us will undertake. All other jobs offer some form of training or apprenticeship. We launch into the job of parenting from the moment our babies are born with little to no knowledge of what the next 18 years will entail, let alone how to handle this job with grace and ease.


Parenting requires us to keep asking, "How can I offer my best self to my children? How can I model who I want them to become?" It asks us to raise the next generation of citizens, who will affect our planet's future. It requires us to persevere, even during times when we are sick, tired, overworked, or stressed - there are no sick days included in this job. As all parents know, amidst its many joys, parenting can be frustrating, exhausting, annoying, enraging, mundane and just plain hard work.


So, how can we make this parenting journey rewarding not only for ourselves but for our children? What commitments can we consider that would reap huge rewards in the way our children turn out and the kind of relationship we have with them? What practices can we incorporate into our lives, to make parenting a little easier, more joyous, more peaceful and more connected?


It is imperative to invest now in our children's future... invest our time, thought, consideration, education, commitment and love. Here are 7 Parenting Commitments to help improve communication and connection with our children, ways in which we can begin long-term investments in the future of our families and society.

1. Model before you Expect - We need to model the behaviors we want to see in our children. If we speak Spanish to our children, they will learn Spanish. Similarly, the words we use with our kids, or how we act with them, is the ?language of life' that they will be learning. If our children are messy, are we guilty of leaving our clothes lying on the floor and the dishes undone? If our children don't want to share, are we guilty of not wanting to share our computers, cars and TVs? If our children grab, are we guilty of prying things out of their hands and grabbing things back? People often complain kids these days don't show respect. If we want kids to be respectful, we need to treat them with respect. If we want children to be polite, we need to be polite and kind with one another. If we want them to eat healthy food, we need to eat well ourselves. If we want them to apologize, dare to say, "I'm sorry... I wish I had done that differently. Let me try that again!" If we want them to be generous, we need to model sharing, and trust them with our things. Model what you expect from your children.

2. Connect before you Correct - Our children's misbehavior is often the result of feeling disconnected from their loved ones or friends. If we approach our children lovingly and try to connect with them before correcting, we are more likely to build understanding. Connecting with our children involves getting physically close to them, being on their level, trying to make eye-contact, possibly holding them or touching them gently, and listening from a non-blaming, non-shaming place. We cannot connect from across the room with words alone. Next time you are tempted to shout "don't" across the room, approach your child, make contact and check in with them. That way you keep their spirit alive, and build connection rather than hurt.

3. Empathize before you Criticize - Everyone is different. Sometimes we don't understand or condone our differences. What kind of change might you make in your relationship with your children, if every time you are about to criticize, you stop yourself, and either empathize quietly to yourself, or out loud to them. Instead of criticizing a whining child for their behavior, take a moment to hear the child behind the whine - the child who needs more of your attention, or who is hungry. Say a few words like, "When I hear you whining, it sounds like there's something going on with you. Can you tell me what you need?" Such empathy maintains connection with your child, rather than creating an adversary through your annoyance and frustration. Empathize before you criticize to keep your relationship strong.

4. Listen before you Judge - So often we jump to conclusions about a situation, about who was at fault, about who should be blamed. Imagine if you were to ask your child an open-ended question and listen, rather than assuming blame? Instead of punishing, shaming or blaming a child who grabs a toy from a younger child, take a moment to check in with them. Take a "Time-In" where you sit with the child, and observe and listen by saying, "I noticed you taking that toy from the other child. I'd like to hear what's going on for you right now." Who knows, you may be surprised by their reasoning, and may gain a whole new understanding of what motivates your child's actions. Plus you may have an opportunity to teach more appropriate behavior rather than judge.

5. Breathe before you React - Parenting is fertile ground for having our buttons pushed. If we are prone to being short-tempered, impatient, or easily frustrated, these characteristics will no doubt be called forth in parenting. In fact, parenting is the perfect mirror for us to see in which areas we have the opportunity to grow into calmer, wiser beings! Next time your teenager pushes one of your buttons, your 7 year old talks back to you, or your toddler paints the wall, see if you can take a deep breath and count quietly to 5 in your mind before responding. This moment of breathing and counting will take you out of your reactive place and allow you to choose your response. It gives you a moment to decide who you want to be in that situation, rather than damaging your relationship with your child through thoughtless reaction. Plus it models consideration rather than reactivity to your child! Breathe before you react.

6. Be Curious before you Control - It is so easy to leap into reaction, saying "no" or "don't" when we imagine our children are going to do something inappropriate. Controlling our children often feels like the only way to maintain some structure in an often chaotic home life. What would happen if instead of leaping to control your kids, you asked yourself what they are trying to achieve by doing something, and you sparked your own curiosity as to how that could be done in a safe way. For example, a newly walking toddler careens towards your favorite sculpture that is shiny and so inviting. Be curious as to how you can give your child an experience of the object without killing his joy of discovery, while at the same time protecting the sculpture. Be curious about how you can create a "yes" environment in your home, an environment that is safe to explore, that will allow you to release control while encouraging the full curiosity of your child.

7. Be Present before being Busy - So often in our busy lives, we shuffle our children from one activity to another, juggling numerous appointments and thoughts all at once. We hurry to eat breakfast, get dressed and out of the house, we rush to school and work. Later, the TV blares in one room, the dinner is on the stove in the other, another person is working, and someone else is showering. Our children's biorhythms and nervous systems are not made for fast-paced contemporary society. See if you can build more time to "Just Be" into your day with your children. See if you can find 5 minutes to get on the floor, play and laugh with them before rushing to get ready in the morning. Or if you can create time to listen to them when you come home from work, before you start cooking dinner. Taking even 10 minutes out of your day to commit to being fully present with your children (one at a time) makes a huge difference to their sense of connection with you. During this time, turn off the TV and computer, don't answer the phone or the door, don't think about what you'll cook for dinner or answer e-mail. Be truly present. Enjoy the magic of your child. "Being" with your children before you start "Doing" makes a dramatic difference in your connection and their contentment.

Let it never be said that doing any of the above is easy, especially not in the chaotic heat of a moment. But if we can experiment with one commitment at a time, pushing ourselves to our growing edge, in the same way we expect our children to, our family relationships will strengthen, power struggles will lessen, and our investment in our children will be repaid in huge loving dividends!

Nica Guinn, March 2007


Nica Guinn is an ACPI Certified Parent Coach, Parent Educator, mother and founder of Investment ParentingTM. She teaches parenting classes and offers one-on-one family coaching to make the parenting experience deeply enjoyable and rewarding. She can be reached for talks, classes and private consultations on (805) 570-5194 or through





(Business Logos) OneFunThing.jpg



Alii Goedecke



Looking for something to add smiles and fun to your family?s everyday life?   The simple solution is One Fun Thing a day.

You may ask, ?How will One Fun Thing a day change my life??  But, that?s 7 Fun Things a week, 365 Fun things a year, 3,650 Fun Things a decade, imagine how many in your lifetime!  What a way to enhance your life by having at least one joyful thing to look forward to each day.  One Fun Thing is the little thing that makes a big difference.

  1. Afternoon Tea Party:  Spread a blanket on the grass in the backyard or at the park.  Enjoy a Tea Party with mini sandwiches (cut PBJ?s with a cookie cutter), fruit kabobs rolled in coconut (use pre-cut fruit to make it easy), your favorite cookies and lemonade in mini paper cups.
  2. Dress Rehearsal:  Get ready for your Spring recital by performing your dance, song, play or Tae Kwan Do at a local Senior Center.  You get the practice, they get great entertainment!
  3. My Special Place: Surprise your sibling by decorating their place at the dinner table.  Make a placemat with drawings or a collage (use clear contact paper to laminate) and make a centerpiece out of their favorite toys, books, stuffed animals, or photos.
  4. Homework Helper: Act out your spelling words by using your body to form each letter.
  5. May Day Surprise:  Decorate small pots with paints and plant with flower seeds.  On May Day, leave each one at a friend?s doorstep.
  6. Dollar Bill Adventure:  Visit a ?Dollar Store? and give each member of the family one dollar (may also need 8 cents for tax!) to see what fun thing they can find.  (Or, pick names and find a $1 gift for that person!)
  7. Secret Word: Pick an everyday word that means ?I Love You? just for your family.  Every time you hear that word, think of your family!  Ideas can be simple or silly, such as: smile, carrots, sunny, recess,  or house.
  8. Guessing Jars: Give each member of the family a container (a jar or plastic bag) and have them pick a small item from around the house to fill it (toys, candy, pasta noodles and change all work well).  Set them all on the dinner table and have each member of the family estimate the number of items in each container.
  9. Charity Collection:  Collect Kids? Meal toys and crayons from restaurants in a bag.  When it is full, deliver it to your favorite charity. 
  10. April Showers:  Try the Rainy Day Ideas

Alii Goedecke is author/illustrator of One Fun Thing, a children's book which tells the story of a family discovering how just One Fun Thing can brighten any day. Visit for more One Fun Thing ideas-the list keeps growing! One Fun Thing is available at ?2007 Alii Goedecke. All Rights Reserved.
One Fun Thing is a trademark of Alii Goedecke.



Alii G(BUILT IN) (Icons/Graphics) beach_ball.jpgoedecke


One Fun Thing is the little thing that makes a big difference. It's all about taking one simple moment each day to spread joy to yourself, your family, your friends or even strangers.


As the kids get out of school and the summer starts to sizzle, these ideas will get you started towards a summer full of One Fun Things. Post this list and try to check off all 10 One Fun Things with your family before the Fall!


We Did It!


1. Ice Pop Party: Perfect for a hot summer day! Fill mini paper cups with fruit juice or yogurt, and place in the freezer. Once they begin freezing, add a plastic spoon or stick into each one and continue to freeze until solid. Then just peel off the paper and pop out to enjoy a cool ice pop treat!


2. Save & Share Jars: Decorate two jars with stickers, glitter glue and ribbon. Label one jar "Save" and one jar "Share". Every time someone has spare change, split it between the two jars. At the end of the summer, pick a fun family activity or treat with the "Save" jar money and donate the "Share" jar money to your favorite charity!


3. Secret Agents: Create a secret code with your sibling (such as: A=1, B=2, C=3, etc.) and slip messages under each others doors to decode throughout the summer.


4. Countdown Chain: Make a paper chain with enough links to cut one link off each day to countdown to a summer trip, special visitor, or other fun summer event. Cut 11x2 inch strips of paper and decorate or write messages on each one. Wrap first strip into a ring and staple, wrap next ring through first and staple, and so on to create a chain.


5. Double Bubbles: Make your own bubbles with this easy recipe-1 cup water, 4 Tablespoons liquid dishwashing detergent and 2 Tablespoons corn syrup. Experiment with various household items as bubble wands, such as: bent pipe cleaners, yogurt lids, and cookie cutters.


6. Book Exchange: Invite your friends (kids and adults!) to come over with a favorite used book to exchange. Everyone goes home with a new book to enjoy for some summer reading.


7. Home Plate: As a family, decorate a dinner size plate at a pottery place. Throughout the summer, designate one person to use the plate at dinner each night and use a permanent maker to list their One Fun Thing that day on the back of the plate. At the end of the summer, you will have a great keepsake.


8. Bike Parade: Whether it's the 4th of July or just a sunny summer day, gather some friends, bikes and streamers. Decorate your bikes, blast some music and create your own bike parade through the neighborhood or park.


9. Who Am I?: Why give your same old Plain Jane name when you order your coffee, smoothie or take-out? Give yourself and those around a laugh by giving a celebrity or silly name...Harry, Hermione or Voldemort will definitely get some attention this summer.


10. Clean-Up Crew: Bring extra trash bags on your next visit to the beach or park and see who can fill up their bag with the most trash.

Alii Goedecke is author/illustrator of One Fun Thing, a children's book which tells the story of a family discovering how just One Fun Thing can brighten any day. Visit for more One Fun Thing ideas-the list keeps growing! One Fun Thing is available at

?2007 Alii Goedecke. All Rights Reserved.
One Fun Thing is a trademark of Alii Goedecke.

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