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Because I firmly believe that my mother and I cannot possibly be the only two people in the world who are the way we are, I am going to make a Vast Generalization about appetizer serving.

There are two kinds of people: The people who put out the entire bag of chips, and the people who put out half of the bag and then refill as necessary.

The people who put out the whole wedge of cheese, and the people who cut a wedge of Brie in half, and put out half and put the other half in the fridge.

The people who put out the whole jar of salsa, and the people who scoop half the jar of salsa into a smaller dish and put the rest in the fridge, adding more salsa from the fridge as the dish gets low.

And on and on.

The reason I am a Refill Person is twofold:

1.) I am germ-averse, and so I don’t like the idea of saving something that other people have been nibbling on. If it’s chips, I don’t want to re-bag a bunch of chips that people’s hands have been in contact with. If it’s dip, I don’t want to put away and then eat something that other people have been dipping (and possibly double-dipping) into.

2.) I don’t want to waste food. If I put the whole container of hummus out on the table and people nibble at it for a couple of hours, I am not going to want to put the rest of it back in the fridge for future consumption. First of all, see item 1 in this list. Secondly, it’s been out in the air, gathering bacteria and getting warm. Yuck. Extra yuck if it’s a mayonnaise/cream based dip. Or guacamole. Or cheese. If I put out only part of what I have to offer, I can always add more without the risk of having to throw away a large portion.

I acknowledge that there’s a disadvantage to being a Refill Person, which is that you need to be constantly vigilant that the chip bowl isn’t getting too empty. And you have to be keenly aware of the Eating Enthusiasm level of your guests – if it’s waning, you either let the bowl empty out, or you only put in a handful of new chips. If it’s still high, you can fill the bowl up to the tippety top again.

Okay, there’s a second disadvantage. In addition to the vigilance, you might end up spending a decent amount of time going back and forth to the kitchen/fridge to refill, which detracts not only from conversation with your guests (potentially a plus, I suppose, depending on the type of people you are entertaining) but (more importantly) from your own snacking.

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Look what we found in our yard yesterday!

Three deer

Don’t water them; they proliferate.

We have an over-abundance of suburban deer in our neighborhood. They roam the yards, eating trees and plants. Yes, they are very picturesque. And I know and understand that we humans are trespassing on THEIR land, and not the other way around. But even knowing this, and even feeling guilty/sad for the deer and their lack of forest/meadow land, I find them irritating. They eat our trees down to the bark. They eat any vegetables I dare to plant. They poop all over our yard.

My husband has taken it upon himself to chase them away whenever they take up residence in our yard. He went out to this trio last night, waving his arms, and they COMPLETELY ignored him. He must have gotten within five feet of them and they didn’t care. So he turned the hose on them. They all stood up, but that was the extent of their botherment. And rather than shooing them away, he sort of ended up watering them instead.

***

We recently spent a few days at the house of some friends. We had a wonderful time. The kids all played splendidly together, with maybe one or two small sharing issues and nothing at all beyond that. The grown ups had a delightful time, chatting and catching up and generally ignoring the kids, who were completely occupied by each other.

Our friends cooked several meals for us, which was so lovely. They are excellent cooks and they put in the kind of attention to detail that makes you (me) kind of well up with love and appreciation. For instance, they made this delicious baked brie with a completely decadent topping of honey and nuts and raisins and sultanas. And my friend made these little heart cutouts in pastry dough and put them on top of the baked brie before she baked it. It was so sweet and so lovely. I wish we lived nearer to them.

Spending time with another family in their house, you get a good sense of how differently families can run. First of all, I love that little glimpse at other people’s lives, just on a voyeuristic level. I am fascinated by how Other People Do Things. Secondly, you can get some good ideas for how you can do things better/differently. For instance, they spend almost the entire weekend outside. Instead of using that time to run errands and loaf around the house doing laundry, they go to the petting zoo and then they go hiking and then they go to the beach and then they find a parade to watch and then they go to the farmer’s market. While that is, to me, Super Expert Level Activity, I really like the idea of doing it on maybe a Beginner’s Level. I can do errands during the week and then we can all go out and have fun over the weekend. (My husband and I were better about doing that when Carla was younger, because she needed physical activity or she was bouncing off the walls. She’s more mellow these days.)

But the other thing that’s interesting is seeing what kind of household rules another family has. And, while interesting, there’s also some potential for conflict, when you are trying to reinforce family rules that might be different from your friends’.

Can we stipulate that there are all sort of things that a particular family might find important or not important? And that every family is different, and values different things? And that just because I value one thing doesn’t mean that I am secretly judging you for not prioritizing that same thing?

In general, I feel that if you are a guest at someone’s house, you follow their rules. Like… if there’s a house rule that you take your shoes off at the door, you do that, even if you think it’s ridiculous. If there’s no eating food in the living room, you don’t eat food in the living room. Right?

And that’s all well and good… but what if the other family has a VOID where your own rules are?

Here’s an example. At our house, one of the family rules is that you stay at the table until everyone is finished. But when we were at our friends’ house this weekend, they let their kids sort of wander off whenever they felt like it. So… what am I, as a parent, supposed to do? Because we’re at someone else’s house, we operate under their family rules… even if the rules go directly against what we do in our own family?

We also have a rule that you don’t start eating until the whole family is sitting at the table. So when Carla grabbed a piece of bacon off the tray and started eating it while my friends were still cooking breakfast and while my husband and I were still setting the table, I scolded her. And she was outraged, because, she pointed out, my friends’ daughter had ALSO taken a piece of bacon from the tray! She was just following her friend’s lead! And my friends (the parents) just shrugged. Oh well, they said. They’re kids. They’re hungry. We shouldn’t have put a tempting tray of bacon on the table like that. (At that point, I felt like an asshole. Like I was one-step-removed chastising their kid, and also them, for not having the same rule.)

There was a LOT of this kind of thing, over the weekend. Where Carla would do a thing that I would normally not let her get away with. Climbing on the furniture, for instance. Or eating candy at breakfast time. Or not holding a grown up’s hand in the parking lot. But when I pointed out to her that she was breaking a rule, she would get all incredulous, because she was just doing what our friends’ kids were doing!

I don’t know what to DO in that kind of situation. Part of me wants to shrug and say something like, “When in Rome.” Or, “We are on vacation, so we can relax the rules a little.” But another part of me shrieks, “Consistency!” and then I get probably a little bit self-righteous, alongside my confusion. I’m not teaching Carla anything earth-shattering.  But these are things I want Carla to learn, and want her to do even when she’s at another family’s house. Even when other kids are doing the opposite. (Right? That’s why we teach our kids things! So that when they grow up or are away from us, they still behave in the way we deem best.) And I also want her to understand that she needs to be responsible for her own behavior, even if other kids are behaving differently. At some point, it starts feeling Big and Important and Critical. Like, if I don’t crack down now on her saying “Well, I’m going to eat candy because Pearl is eating candy!” that in ten years she’ll be saying, “Well, I’m going to try cocaine because Pearl is trying cocaine!” and “Well, Isla thinks it’s okay to send nude photos to her boyfriend, so I’m doing it too!” and “You weren’t there to tell me not to rob this bank, but Emmett was robbing it, so I did it too!” and then her life is ruined.

Maybe what needs to happen is a Pre-Visit Conversation, where I anticipate this kind of thing. And I sit Carla down and remind her that families are different, and have different rules and values, and that we mustn’t forget to abide by the rules that are important to our own family.

But even that feels… sticky. Because some rules are just naturally not as important as others. For instance, if the other family DOES wear shoes in the house, I am fine with Carla wearing shoes in their house. Even though we have a “no shoes in the house” policy. In that case, I’m fine with going with the other family’s way of doing things. Same with… watching TV at meal times. Or eating in the living room. Or whatever.

Why do those feel different to me than the “sitting at the table until everyone is done” policy? Hmm. I suppose there are many categories of rules, and some are important and immoveable while others are more flexible.

Let’s see. The “holding hands in the parking lot” thing is a safety issue, so that’s easy enough to categorize: Don’t put yourself or others in danger. Well, it’s easy for me to categorize, although it may be much more confusing to a five-year-old.

The “don’t eat until everyone is at the table” thing seems to me a matter of manners. So maybe that’s another category: make sure you still maintain your manners at someone else’s house. Say please and thank you, even if the other kids don’t. Pick up after yourself, even if the other kids don’t. Stay at the table until everyone is done, even if the other kids don’t (well, unless the parent says specifically that you can be dismissed). And it goes the other way, too — if the other family has manners-specific rules that you don’t have, you should adhere to them too. I had an elementary school friend whose family rule was that you eat every thing on your plate at meal times, which seems like a manners issue to me. And so in cases where “manners” are involved, you defer to the “good manners” option. I’m describing this in such a clunky way. I think what I mean is, it would be considered impolite to the other family, if you didn’t clear your plate. So in that case, you do the polite thing and clear your plate, even though there’s no “clear your plate” rule in your own family. (Man, that was the WORST rule for me. You may recall that I am super picky eater. It made me never want to eat at my friend’s house.) This is probably an Intermediate Level type of rule following, because it requires the ability to infer the other family’s reaction to following or not following the rules. I mean, if you go to someone’s house and they all say grace before dinner, but that’s not part of your own belief system… I don’t think you should have to say grace out of fear that the other family will find you rude. (You do have to be still and quiet and respectful during grace, like, not grabbing a handful of bacon while grace is being said.) But that’s something that you might not know/think about when you’re ONLY FIVE. I know, I am getting way ahead of myself on some of these things. And also this whole paragraph is confusing me even though it came from MY brain and I’M writing it so I’m going to move on.

Can I say how HARD it is to talk about this, without sounding/feeling judgmental? I know we made all sorts of stipulations at the beginning of this post, but maybe you, like I, have forgotten that. Or maybe you are, like I am, feeling a little uncomfortable about spelling out all these things that other people may or may not do. I am feeling a little panicky that you might be thinking, “Oh no! I never make my kids wait until everyone is done eating before they leave the table!” and worrying that that disqualifies you from Friend Consideration. No! No no no! I cannot express how much I DO NOT CARE if your children are required to stay at the table until the meal is over. They are kids. Let them go play while the grown ups linger over wine and second helpings of zucchini. It’s not a big deal. You would think that, because it is a rule in my own home, I would have strong feelings about it. But I do not. I think we made it a rule to help encourage Carla to develop the skill of sitting and doing something she finds boring. It’s a skill that will help her in many situations, from the classroom to the line at the bank, and I think her pediatrician or a teacher recommended it some years ago, and so it has become part of the family custom.

Similarly, we have the “no shoes in the house” rule, but that’s almost purely because I do not like to wear shoes or socks and I hate the feeling of grit on my feet that comes from people wearing their shoes in the house. If you like wearing shoes in YOUR house, great! My parents wear shoes in their house, and it works for them, and I wear shoes when I visit them and all is well.

And I know I made a big deal, earlier, that “holding hands in the parking lot” is a rule that falls into the “Things That Are Dangerous” category. And so I must be thinking that you care nothing of your child’s safety if you don’t hold her hands. No! Of course not! Some of my friends have children who walk calmly and slowly next to them at all times. Some of my friends have children who are extremely cautious and point out a car coming several blocks away. My particular brand of child is able to spot a roly-poly on a leaf fifty yards away but will not see a car barreling toward her down an otherwise empty street. I also have the brand of child who is prone to dashing and leaping and twirling, with no consideration for her surroundings or the presence of motor vehicles. So for HER, the holding hands thing is really important.

On the other side of the fence, I do NOT have a rule that you have to try every food that the host provides. Or even that you have to try every food on your plate. But if YOU have those rules, I get it! Those are GOOD rules! I see their value! If I could persuade Carla to try a single bite of every food without a Drawn-Out Epic Battle of Wills, I totally would institute that rule at our house. Or maybe I wouldn’t, because I am super picky and I would never want to have to try something like a stewed tomato, so I wouldn’t want to have a rule that I would be in danger of breaking.

I do not think anyone is inferior OR superior for having different rules than I do, is what I’m saying. They’re just different.

Sometimes, I worry that I have too many rules. It’s possible, I acknowledge that. But I had a lot of rules, growing up. And I turned out to be very good at following rules, which doesn’t seem like a bad thing. (And I still maintain a level of independence and creativity and ability-to-question-rules, I hasten to add!)

My parents had a Good Living Room and a Good Dining Room that we weren’t allowed in, except for special occasions. And I wasn’t allowed to have my door shut if there was a boy in my room. And I couldn’t leave anything on the stairs. And I couldn’t leave the doors open (unless there was a screen door in its place). And I had to turn the lights off any and every time I left a room. And many others. It’s kind of funny to think back, to all those rules, and think about which ones stuck and which ones I threw immediately to the wind once I moved out of my parents’ house.

These days, I shut the door to my bedroom ALL the time, even though there’s almost always a boy in here! I am so getting away with things!!!

You may have noticed that I have been posting a lot more regularly in the past few weeks. This is because my novel is…

…going horribly.

HORRIBLY. I hate it and everything about it. Every sentence I write is excruciating to craft. Every word is the wrong word. Every character is selfish and one-dimensional and stupid. My metaphors are overwrought. The plot is boring. I know exactly what needs to happen and when and why but it’s NOT HAPPENING and it’s making me mad. I feel like I have zero control over my characters and their whims and their actions and interactions. I feel like new characters pop up out of nowhere and make no sense. I feel like I’d rather sit on needles than open my manuscript. Every time I read something I’ve already written, I roll my eyes. If I try to write fresh, without reading previous pages, I write something I’ve already written. Is it better than what I’d already written? Hard to tell, when they’re both CRAP.

You’re supposed to just WRITE, even when things are bad. So I am pretending that blogging counts as writing, and I am blogging like it’s 2009 all over again. And it’s working! I am getting TONS of ideas and inspiration and desire to write!

But, um, for the blog, not for the novel.

SIIIIIIIIGGGGGHHHHH.

People always ask me these two things about my writing, so I will tell you:

How much do you have left to write? I would estimate that I am about 75% of the way done with the novel. Plot-wise, that is. I have about a quarter of the way to go in explaining the plot. But I would also estimate that there’s a LOT more than that: backstory and build up and detail and blahblah that has to go in as well. And I don’t know how to estimate THAT.

How many pages have you written so far? My best guess is that I have around 250 pages. The program I use to draft the novel (Scrivener) lists word count, so that’s how I think about my output: in words. Not necessarily pages.

It sounds like a decent amount, right? Well, it SHOULD BE, after TWO YEARS. But let’s also keep in mind that a lot of the existing words/pages will get cut. And then more will need to be written. And more cutting. So it’s hard for me to say with great confidence WHERE I stand, exactly.

A friend asked me recently how I was doing, and I told him how horrible it was, and how much I hated the stupid novel and everything about it, and he said something along the lines of, “Well, you gave it a shot. Are you going to find a job now?” And I got really mad. (Not really at him; it was a reasonable question.)

No way in HELL am I giving up. So what if the book is shitty? Plenty of books are shitty. So what if no one ever reads a word of it? Plenty of books never see the light of day. So what if I hate every minute of it? That’s not true always. Sometimes I am quite pleased with what I’ve written. Sometimes I can write for hours and it feels like minutes. I am trying to treat the writing of this novel like a job (although, let’s be honest, if my boss weren’t so understanding, I would have been fired LONG ago) and sometimes jobs suck. You go through rough patches. You have projects and tasks you can’t stand. And you do them because it’s your job. This is just a rough patch.

To violently switch metaphors, I am going to see this motherfucker through to the bitter end. It may not be a happy ending, with flowers and beautiful piano music and lots of people standing around saying wistful, loving things, and angels holding out their welcoming hands in a swath of holy light. No. It might not even be a gruesome, bloody end, with stab wounds and a heaving chest and the buzz of adrenaline over ohmygod what did I just do. It might just be me standing over this stupid novel, choking the life out of it, and getting tired, and listening to its weak gasping, and then squeezing the breath out of it again, slowly, painfully, both of us in agony and just wanting it to be over already my GOD. But it will end, dammit! It will end, and when it does I will be there, standing over it, breathless and kind of grossed out, but victorious!

Do you have one of these things?

Trunk organizer

Photo from amazon.com

It’s a little fold-out container for your grocery bags. It helps keep them from falling over.

Okay, I see that the product description lists it as a “trunk organizer.” But I use it solely for grocery bags. Well, and one time I used it for seedlings that I was taking home to plant.

It falls under the category of “totally unnecessary but nice to have.” I have lived successfully without one for many decades. But my husband got one sometime last year, probably because his trunk is completely 100% empty, so things tend to slide around in there. (I do NOT have that problem.) But over time, I started getting envious of his little container, and – since I am the Primary Grocery Shopper of our household anyway – I asked him to buy me one, too.

(I could have bought it myself, you understand. But he likes to do Detailed Research on all things, which I do not care to do. Plus, he purchased the one for his car through his Amazon account, so I figured he could just re-order it. To make a boring and unnecessary aside more boring and unnecessary, the one he has was no longer offered, so he got me this one instead.)

I love it!

This is how it looks, all full:

Trunk organizer 1

There are four bags inside the trunk organizer, and then one (the big red zipped-up bag) that has to sit outside the organizer with all the other junk I have piled in my car.

Trunk organizer 2

Top view, which I see now looks like nothing but a jumble. You can also get a peek at my groceries, which included ALL THE PRODUCE.

My trunk is a mess. Someday I should clean it. To be fair, I cleaned it pretty recently. It’s just really hard to know what to do with some of the supplies I have back there. The jumper cables should stay, even though they are unwieldy and take up a lot of space. The bags have a variety of blankets and winter gear and emergency snacks and coloring books. I think there’s an old diaper bag in there, too; now that my child is FIVE perhaps I can finally get rid of that. (SOB!)

This is how it looks, without the groceries but unfolded:

Trunk organizer 3

The blue thing on the bottom right is the wing of a parrot paper bag puppet Carla made for me and insisted I keep in my car at all times. Like a talisman. That’s molting.

The trunk organizer has Velcro on the bottom, so it sticks nicely to my fuzzy trunk floor. And you can unfold only half of it, if you only need half. And there is a divider inside, if you need one large rectangle and two smaller squares, or just one or two smaller squares.

Here is how it looks, all folded up:

Trunk organizer 4

So small and compact! To allow room in the trunk for MORE JUNK!

Man, my trunk could sure use a good vacuuming. Let’s all ponder when that will happen, taking into consideration that it is fifteen years old and I cannot remember every having vacuumed it. Hmmm. Hmmmmmmm.

Do you remember, way back in May, when I vowed to change my car’s air filter?  Probably not. It may seem like an odd promise to make to oneself. But I grow weary of having to depend on others for things. (Funny that this is a completely mercurial feeling. I have no issue with having people come mow my lawn and clean my gutters.)

Anyway. My promise. My dad told me I needed a new air filter; fine, I needed a new one. And I was going to change that air filter all by myself, because I am A Capable Woman who can choose to do a menial automotive repair anytime she likes.

The first hitch took place online, in my search for the air filter. My father had directed me to one specific filter, available on Amazon, but instead of buying it without asking questions, I clicked on some sort of link that said “is this the right air filter for your car?” or maybe I read a review of the filter excoriating the product based on the reviewer’s failure to determine whether it was the correct filter for his/her car.  However I got there, it seemed like the filter my father had recommended was not, in fact, appropriate for my car.

But then I couldn’t find the right one. I found something that SEEMED right. But my dad (the person with Actual Car Knowledge) was skeptical. And my car manual was NO HELP AT ALL. The only thing it had to offer was a single rather poorly-rendered drawing of the air filter with no specs or anything.

I was stumped.

My dad suggested that I go to my local auto parts store and ask someone there; they’d have some sort of computer database to consult. Which was a good suggestion. But I, Serious Introvert, would have preferred ordering my air filter online without ever having to interact with another human.

So I did nothing.

Time passed.

A couple of weeks ago, Carla and I went to buy new tires for my car. The tread was worn down to nearly nothing and it was time for new tires, and my local Tire Place had a good deal running. So we set out for an Exciting Excursion together and sat in the Tire Place waiting room while the tires were installed.

The Tire Guys – the two gentlemen working the front desk – were very, very nice. They seemed delighted by Carla, who is, objectively, delightful. They told us, proudly, that their waiting area had a large selection of toys and books. (I was glad I’d thought to bring my own books and a matching game for Carla AND my Lysol wipes because the entire waiting area, including the books and toys, was FILTHY. You have never seen a dirtier waiting area in all your life.) (They had a tiny coffee table in the center of the room, probably two feet by three feet, if that, and it took scrubbing roughly with FOUR antibacterial wipes to get it to a level of cleanliness that I was okay with.) They kept coming into the waiting area and offering us juice and water and coffee (the latter not directed to Carla), and one of them whisper-asked me if he could give Carla a yo-yo, and they just in general thought she was the bees knees.

When I was checking out, a process that seemed like Tire Guy had sent my credit card via courier turtle to the home office, I noticed that one of the services offered by the establishment was “change air filter.” So I asked if he could look up what kind of air filter my particular car required.

He looked at me curiously and said that no, he couldn’t. But there was an auto parts store right next door and they would be able to do it for me.

“We offer an air filter change service,” he noted. And I nodded.

“You’re just trying to save money?” he asked, implying that I should have just had them take care of it.

I could have said that I really wanted to do it myself. That I wanted the satisfaction of doing something on my own, of proving to myself that I could do it. But I didn’t know him, and he didn’t really care, and Carla was running back and forth across the showroom (is that what you call it, when what’s being “shown” is stacks of various brands of tires?) and flinging herself – with no regard for bodily safety – against one of two armchairs on the far side of the room, much to the consternation of the only other customer, who was sitting in the other armchair, so I simply nodded.

“Sometimes the auto parts guys will just put it in for you,” he mentioned in an offhand way, returning to whatever turtle coaxing he had to do to get my credit card processed.

I nodded politely. The checkout process dragged on interminably. I encouraged Carla to find an alternate way to amuse herself. She busied herself by climbing onto a very high stool and coloring in the book I’d brought her in the most precarious way possible.

Finally I signed my bill, collected my child, and left. We admired the new tires on my car, and then hoofed it over to the auto parts store which was, indeed, right next door. There, I purchased an air filter. We headed back to our car. Very easy.

As I buckled Carla into her car seat, the Tire Guy strode toward us.

“Did they have what you needed?” he asked. I nodded and smiled and thanked him for directing me to the auto parts store.

“We can put that in for you,” he said.

“Oh, that’s so nice of you!” I said, “but that’s not necessary!”

He ignored me and walked around the to the front door of my car, which he opened. He reached inside and pulled the lever to unlatch my hood. He opened the hood, looked inside at my engine, and then closed it without latching it. Then he grabbed my new air filter off of the passenger seat and opened the box, carrying it with him as he walked back toward the tire center.

“Pull it up here,” he called, pointing me toward the garage.

I laughed uncomfortably. But at this point, he had the air filter and… he was being kind, I thought. What was I supposed to do? Demand he hand it back to me?

I got in the car and drove into the garage. Carla caught on to my discomfort and asked what was happening, what were we doing? I told her that the man was being very nice and had offered to change our air filter to help us out. The Tire Guy handed our air filter over to a younger man – a boy, really; he couldn’t have been more than twelve, although I am probably wrong – and went over to a desk on the side of the garage.

I unhooked Carla from her carseat and held her up as we watched the young man change the air filter. (Which is, in my car at least, the EASIEST THING I HAVE EVER SEEN. He literally unscrewed three or four screws, lifted off the filter cover, lifted out the old air filter, dropped the new filter in, replaced the cover, replaced the screws. I definitely could have done it myself.) Then I tipped the boy $5 and we were on our way.

The whole thing left me feeling so conflicted.

On the one hand, what an act of kindness! Generosity in action! Great customer service! What a thoughtful thing for the Tire Guy to do. It saved me time, it saved me money (probably; he asked what I paid for the air filter and shrugged and said he would have charged me $6 more to do the whole thing, so I came out $1 ahead). Maybe it was an act designed to give me warm fuzzy feelings about that tire center, and make it my tire center for life. Or maybe it wasn’t about me, at all, but about the Tire Guy: maybe I reminded him of his wife or sister or daughter or niece and he treated me with the same kindness he’d want for her; maybe he remembered what life was like with an active child Carla’s age and decided to spare me the time and exasperation of trying to make an automotive repair with her in tow; maybe he likes to do random acts of kindness; who knows?!

But I also felt… deflated, I guess, about not getting to do the thing I wanted to do myself. And anxious, because I was unsure how to assert myself in that situation. (Why did I get so flustered? I should have donned one of those breezy confident smiles of the kind that are so easy to imagine and so difficult to execute and said in a breezy confident voice, “Oh no thanks! I’ve got it under control!” Or “I’ll take care of it – thanks!” Or “no need! I’ve got it!”) And frustrated with myself, for not being able to assert myself and for feeling more concerned about a stranger’s feelings than my own. And worried about what that meant for what I was modeling for Carla. I also had an overall feeling of ickiness, that I wasn’t sure how to attribute. Was it a result of the combination of deflation, anxiety, and frustration? Or the nagging feeling that I’d just been “rescued” when… I was not in need of being rescued? (I mean, if my husband had been there instead of me… he almost certainly would have purchased the air filter and been on his way, right?)

Most of all, I felt confused about what impression the whole experience would leave on Carla. I don’t want her to feel like she has to depend on other people. But of course I want her to feel like she can. I want her to feel warmly about society, and community, and to grow up wanting to help others and to not be afraid to ask for help if she needs it.

And do I want to begrudge the tire center man his small act of generosity? Certainly not. Do I want other women, who might feel wholly, unadulteratedly grateful and relieved about this unexpected gift from the automotive gods, to feel guilty or ashamed for accepting this kind of help? HELL TO THE NO.

But I am also weary of this kind of thing – kind hearted, well-intentioned or not – that gradually chips away at a woman’s sense of capability, of strength, of self-worth. The automatic assumption that I would need or want help. I don’t want Carla to feel like she can pull a damsel in distress act anytime she feels like it and A Man will swoop in and save her. Moreso, I don’t want her to feel like that’s what she SHOULD do. That she shouldn’t try things, because men can do it better/more easily. (Is it different, that I let my father tell me when to get new tires and when to change my air filter? I hope it is. I hope that is the non-action of a lazy child rather than the helpless spinning of a delicate girl.)

Ugh. I don’t want to make a mountain out of a molehill. Am I doing that? Maybe that’s what I’m doing.

Would I feel the same sort of conflicted confusion if the whole situation were the same, but the Tire Guy had been a Tire Woman?

And I don’t want to see misogyny where there is (probably) only kindness. I mean, if the Tire Guy had been my dad, well, he might have done the same thing. (Or not. My dad at least would have walked me through how to do it myself, for next time. Possibly he would have even made me do it, while he stood there and offered instructions. I like to think he would have done the same for a stranger, too.) I don’t want to be so hyper-aware of potential discrimination that I find it in places where it isn’t. I don’t want to project bias onto situations where it isn’t.

But I can’t help feeling unsettled about the whole experience, including — maybe especially — my reaction.

We are at the glorious age where Carla wakes up on weekend mornings and trots herself down to the living room and turns on the TV all by herself. My husband and I have been sleeping in until the grand old hour of EIGHT AM. It is lovely. (IT GETS BETTER!) But then she just wants to watch TV alllllll day long. Sometimes I want to give in to this, because TV is such a good babysitter. I can cook or clean or read books or look at my phone. It’s wonderful.

But. No amount of TV is ever enough. My child is addicted to TV. She looooooves it. I love it too, so I completely empathize. But I also want her to enjoy non-TV activities, like riding her bike and playing on our backyard playset and exploring nature and building LEGO creations etc. etc. etc. And… she gets a teeny bit mean after she’s been watching shows for a while. And… TV consumption makes her want to consume MORE TV.

Listen, I am no TV detractor! There is some great programming on TV, for kids and adults alike. You can learn things from TV, from concepts about friendship and self-control, to new vocabulary words, to famous operatic scores (I’m looking at you, Bugs Bunny).

But, because she truly seems addicted, and because she gets a little mean, and because she needs to occasionally do other things – like move her body and flex her brain – we limit her TV consumption. During the school year, there is no TV on school days. There are exceptions, of course. If we go out to dinner, we bring an ipad and she can watch TV after we order food. If we go on a car trip that’s longer than an hour, we bring the ipad. If it’s a vacation day or a weekend day, we limit TV to an hour or two, depending on various factors. This works for us. Other people have found other PERFECTLY REASONABLE media-consumption strategies. I do not care if your kids watch hours of TV a day if it works for your family.

Anyway, I have gotten off track from my original point. Which is that my kid and I both like TV. Yet I cannot stand most of the TV shows she likes. My Little Pony, yuck.Daniel Tiger, yawn. Puppy Dog Pals, eye glaze. Barbie, more like barf-y. And I am not going to settle in to watch Real Housewives of New York Cityor Stranger Things or even old episodes of Friends with Carla.

But I have found something that we can watch together! MasterChef Junior.

We picked a season at random on YouTube (season 6, I think), and watched the whole thing together, episode by episode, over a number of weeks. We had such a good time!

It’s about kids, so it’s geared toward kids. Which means there’s none of the yelling and cursing I associate with other Gordon Ramsey programs (he’s the host and one of the judges of MasterChef Junior). The premise, like all other competition reality shows on TV, is that you get a big group of contestants and then give them challenges, whittling the group down until you have one winner.

But all the contestants are age 8 to 13! Which makes them relatable to Carla. And they are all SO TALENTED. And, even better, they are all super articulate and kind and gracious. So even when they lose and get booted off the show, they have these really sweet, grateful things to say. Like, “I’m super sad to be going home, but I really learned so much while I was here! And I made so many friends! And I am just so lucky that I had this wonderful opportunity!” Seriously, they are more gracious losers than I’ve seen on ANY OTHER competition reality program.

The other thing I love about this show is that it has Life Lessons that Carla and I can talk about while and after watching. In one episode, a little girl gets overwhelmed and starts crying. The judges step in and help her recover her equilibrium, and she calms down and gets back to cooking. So Carla and I can discuss how awful it is to feel overwhelmed, and how it happens to everyone, and then we can talk through some strategies for recovering from that feeling and doing what you have to do.

And we can talk about losing, and how upsetting it is, but how there are really good things that come from trying your best at something, even if you don’t win. And how to behave in a gracious and sportspersonlike way, rather than allowing our hurt feelings to bubble over into anger and pouting and kicking things on the way out the door.

And we can talk about hard work, and putting in your very best effort. And how it takes really focused energy and a LOT of practice to become really good at something.

I like to think that these conversations have a decent chance of sticking, when she can apply them to what we’re watching.

Anyway, watching Season 6 together was a lot of fun. I think Carla got a little bit bored by the end (I think there were 14 episodes), so we haven’t started a new season. But maybe we’ll do so in the future. And I’m trying to think of other similar shows that we might try instead. I think she’d like So You Think You Can Dance or maybe evenProject Runway, but neither of those shows is geared toward kids, so I’d worry about adult topics or nasty language. (I loved the Christian Siriano season of Project Runway, but some of the very sassy trash talk that made him so charming is not really what I want to model for my five-year-old.) I’d also like a show where the contestants are as gracious about losing as the kids are on MasterChef Junior. But that may be a fool’s errand.

In April, I gave up sugar. Well, added sugar. I wasn’t super strict about it. If we’re being specific, I really gave up sweets. Anyway, among the things that were on the Off Limits list was diet soda, for which I have deep affection.

After the no-sugar month ended, I returned to diet soda. But lightly. It’s no longer an every-day necessity.

And I’ve been won over to La Croix, which I previously found revolting. My favorite flavor is mango, which has a nice mango-ness essence to it. My least favorite flavor is tangerine, which tastes like licking someone’s hand after they’ve peeled an orange.

In May, I gave up carbs. But, as with sugar, I don’t mean CARBS. I mean, I was back on sugar after all. I was not turning down the occasional scoop of ice cream, that’s for sure. What I mean when I say “carbs” is the biggies. You know. Rice. Pasta. Bread. Potatoes. Oh, and I also gave up beans and legumes.

And I wasn’t even THAT strict. Sometimes I would have corn on my salads. One day I was sick with a stomach bug and so I ate a bagel. I still drank alcohol.

Even though I cringe a little bit at saying this, because it sounds like I am being glib about something that is very serious for some people, I wasn’t going low-carb because I had to; I was doing it for entertainment. So I could bend the rules here and there.

Really, though, I stuck to it. I found a previously unknown love for zucchini noodles (I REFUSE to call them zoodles), which were a perfectly delicious alternative to rice in my favorite Instant Pot Panang Curry dish. I made basically the same meals that we always make, which includes a lot of chicken/pork and a veggie side. And sometimes I would make a side of rice or couscous for my husband, and sometimes we would both just eat veggies. I begrudgingly ate taco salads instead of tacos-in-shells. And it was all fine.

There were a couple of meals I just didn’t make in May. Pizza, obviously. (I toyed with the idea of getting one of those cauliflower crusts from Trader Joe’s but I didn’t end up trying it.) I didn’t make anything that required potatoes or pasta, like chicken paprikash or spaghetti. I did make more stir fries than I thought I would (since I usually eat stir fries with rice); I either substituted zucchini noodles or I just added extra veggies.

I thought it was going to be SO HARD. I love pasta. I love pizza. I love rice. I love potatoes. I love beans. And I wouldn’t be able to have ANY of those things! For a month!

But… it wasn’t that hard.

Maybe it’s because I had just come off a month of no-sugar, and that was SO UNBEARABLE at the beginning, that going low-carb felt easier. Maybe it’s because I was allowing a little bit of sugar/sweets back into my life, so I felt like I was getting TREATS. Maybe it’s because I eat fewer carbs than I think I do. Maybe it’s because it was only for a month, and I was high on the feeling of power that I got from giving up sugar for so long. If I had to do it full time, it would probably be a lot more unpleasant. It was so not-difficult that I kind of feel like I got away with something. Or I didn’t do it correctly, which is probably more likely.

As with the no-sugar month, I didn’t experience any of the supposed benefits of a low-carb lifestyle. No weight loss, for instance. No feelings of increased energy. Possibly, this is because I didn’t cut out sugar. Or because I didn’t cut out ALL carbs. Or because I didn’t do it long enough. It was an entertaining experiment, that was all.

In any case, I am back on carbs. I have enjoyed MUCH pizza and MANY chips since May ended. There has been no longterm effect of my month off. If anything, I may be OVERcarbing. So perhaps it was harder than I realized.