Category: Unsolicited Advice

All the advice I see fit to give.

All Your Unasked Questions About Grieving Answered

(This picture is relevant because of concrete, or because of rain being something weird people associate with sadness. Whatever, I just like this picture and I bet no one wants to see more pics of my brother’s ‘human remains’ box.)

Angelina Answers ALL your Unasked Questions About Mourning Etiquette

Q: What is the right way to mourn?

There’s no such thing as a right or wrong way to grieve. There certainly are healthier versus more destructive ways to mourn and if you choose to drink yourself to oblivion I refuse to judge you but you can expect the people who love you to worry and maybe try to temper your choice. But that’s because they love you. If you were to ask my advice I would say to do your best to choose the healthiest ways of grieving that you can, but it’s okay to fall apart and it’s okay not to fall apart.

Q: My cousin is freaked out that he hasn’t seen me cry over my mother’s death, am I a creepy fuck?

To cry or not to cry… a tough dilemma for no one but idiots. Some people don’t cry when they lose someone close to them, it isn’t the more common reaction and will freak some people out. Feel free to ignore those bossy fuckers. Some people will cry constantly, some moderately, some will only cry on Tuesdays, and some just don’t cry. Sometimes you can’t actually see their hearts on their sleeves or in their throats. Sometimes they’re calm because their beliefs allow them to be and some people look calm but are being shredded with sorrow inside where it’s safe and private.

Q: Everyone thinks I’m a rubbernecker and insensitive because I want to know all the details about how ______ died, should I retire from society and live in a cave?

I’ve been fantasizing about living in a remote cave for over two decades, but not because the first thing I always want to know when I find out someone has died is HOW? It’s absolutely natural and normal. In fact, a lot of people want to know the details but a lot of people are taught that this is ghoulish and insensitive. It’s not. It’s an incontrovertible fact that we’re all going to die so it isn’t surprising that when other humans around us die we feel connected to it almost on an animal level. How’d they go? Was it painful? Could that happen to me? What does it LOOK like? In fact, it would be weird as shit if most humans had no curiosity about how the people around them are dying. However, sometimes the people closest to the death don’t want to share those details and that’s also normal. Don’t be offended if they choose not to satiate your curiosity, they may be feeling protective of their loved one in a way that you wouldn’t.

Q: I want to drape my house in black sashes, accept lots of lasagnas from neighbors, and wear nothing but lavender for two years but my neighbors won’t bake me lasagna because they’re scared of me now that my windows are covered in black and my mom won’t bring me lasagna cause she says I’m being melodramatic. What to do?

Sigh. I love lasagna. There’s nothing you can do about how others react to how you’re expressing your sorrow. The Victorians were obsessed with lavender as a mourning color and draping everything in black so I suggest you set up a fancy chair in your yard and wearing your very best lavender ensemble and visibly read something depressing like The Mill on the Floss or Madame Bovary (which I HATED). You might even consider enhancing your ensemble with a veil. If your neighbors think your show of grief is inappropriate, bizarre, or really bad theatre they can fuck right off. Your grief isn’t a show they get to direct.

Q: I just found out _____ died and I didn’t know them as well (or at all) as others do but I’m still having trouble dealing with it and I’m super sad. Am I allowed to be as sad as people who knew ____ better than me?

When David Bowie died I cried and then stayed up until 3am trying to process my sadness and then asked to stay home from work the next day so I could be sad without judgement or expectation. I didn’t know him personally at all but he made my life such a better place so I was deeply affected by his death. Being sad and having trouble accepting or processing a person’s death isn’t reserved just for the people who knew them super well. Your sorrow is real and you never have to apologize for it to anyone. Your sadness isn’t less important than anyone else’s.

Q: When my wife died I only felt better when I wore her underwear but then my kids found out and want to know if I’m a lot creepier than they used to think I was.

See the first Q, there is no wrong way to express grief or make yourself feel better. Is it hurting anyone? Is it hurting you? No? Carry on! I’m actually more worried that they seemed to have already thought you were creepy. Maybe you want to have a good talk with them, but in the end, if wearing your wife’s underwear is what helps you deal with her loss then you DO IT. For my own sake I’m going to assume they’re all freshly laundered. We all wore my brother’s hats when he died. I still wear one sometimes when I miss him.

Q: My mom wanted to throw out all of my dad’s things when he died. Is she some kind of sociopath? How could she not care about his things?

I don’t know if she’s a sociopath or not but I know that some people feel no attachment to a person’s effects when they die. For some people, when you’re dead your gone and your things aren’t going to bring you back or make them feel better. Some people feel a strong connection to the things that belonged to a loved one who’s died. It’s normal both ways. If you really want to know if she’s a sociopath I suggest searching through HER things to see if there’s any evidence of bed-wetting, dead pet carcasses in boxes, or secret fires. I hear those are the things to be worried about if you find evidence of all three.

Q: When my partner died all I wanted to do was fold myself up into a tiny little envelope of pain and roll down the river styx. Why can’t I do that? Why won’t anyone let me do that?!

Because people are selfish bitches and they don’t want you to fade away from them. Isn’t love stupid? But look, wanting to float away and ignore everyone around you is natural and okay. It really is. You aren’t actually obligated to think of other people’s feelings in your grief. But if you could bring yourself to check in with the people who love you enough so that they can give you the space you need without worrying so hard, you might find they try harder to understand and respect that the way you’re dealing with loss is the best way you know how.


If you find I haven’t answered ALL your unasked questions as promised, I’m afraid you’ll have to submit questions in order for me to answer them. Go ahead, give it a try!




12 Pieces of Life Advice For My 15 Year Old Son


1.  Bathe often and with soap.

2.  Make brushing your teeth the first and last thing you do every day.

3.  Your penis can be the greatest source of pleasure and also the source of many shitty painful tedious STD’s. Enjoy it, but also protect it with condoms.

4.  You’re a warrior in spirit, so understanding, collecting, and learning to use weapons is a natural thing for you to do. There is no shame in enjoying a good weapon’s mechanisms and actions. You may be surprised to know that your mom is also a warrior spirit. Just know that the greatest weapon you possess is your mind and conscience working in tandem. Real bravery is being able to resolve conflicts with no weapons or shed blood.

5.  Always ask for help when you need it. There is no shame in asking for help. Everyone needs help sometimes. Most of us need help often. Anyone who says differently has rotting skeletons in their closets.

6.  Don’t kill people for any reason. I’ll still love you if you do, because being your mom is uncomplicated in that I will love you no matter what, but I won’t bake you cakes with metal files in them to help you escape prison and I won’t ever think it’s okay that you kill anyone for any reason. But I’ll still cherry pick the best lettuce leaves for your salads.

7.  Before you leave home be sure you know how to make your favorite foods. This is important for your survival.

8.  Keep your mind open to new ideas. The minute you close it you begin to calcify and grow stupid. You’ve got such a bright smart sharp brain, don’t waste it by shutting it off to new thought.

9.  Don’t pee on public transportation or you can never run for public office or look anyone in the eye ever again.

10.  Always share your change (or clothes, blankets, food) with homeless people. I only say this as a formality. It makes me proud that you always give your change to homeless people who ask for it, and you do it without judging them.

11.  Always know where the water and gas shut-offs are where you’re living.

12.  Never go anywhere without paper and a pen.


Who Can Call Me “Honey”

feeding frenzy

If you are not at least 20 years older than me or a close personal friend of mine and you call me “Honey”, I will call you “Baby girl” in return.  I have decided that this is how I will respond from here on out to this sly bit of disrespect when I experience it.

When an old lady calls me “hon” or “sugar” or “kid” or “sweetie” I don’t particularly mind.  Age doesn’t come with many privileges but one of them is the freedom to refer to young people in less than respectful terms.  Terms that signify that you are not yet wise or done growing up.  Terms that a mother uses to a child.  The old lady or man might not actually be wiser than you or smarter – but they are old enough to be your parent and can use language that marks that distinct age relationship.

When someone my age or younger calls me “honey” or “kid” or “sugar” or “sweetie” and they are NOT close personal friends of mine* I mind because it’s condescending.  The majority of people who use these terms to address their peers or their elders know they are being condescending.

It’s a subtle put-down.

It’s disrespectful.

I’m a pretty casual person over-all.  You can call me all kinds of weird things and I won’t mind.

You can give me all manner of nick names and I won’t mind.

But you don’t call me Angie unless you knew me before I turned 18.

And you don’t call me anything you would call your child unless you are old enough to be my parent.

If you DO you will henceforth be addressed as “Baby girl” by me.

Interestingly it’s only girls and women who need to hear this warning as I have never had boys or men call me names appropriate for children.  A few old men have, but they get the same pass old women get.

I once knew a girl who called other girls her age “kid” or “kiddo” all the time and it was officious and icky and condescending and pretentious and a really stupid affectation.  Later she became a stripper.  Those two facts are unrelated.

In closing: you call me “Honey”, I call you “Baby girl”.

*Close personal friends can address me however the fuck they want.

Don’t Use the Word “Negro” Unless You Are 167 Years Old

I wish I felt as shiny as the crosses on The Church of Saint Rachel.  I seem to have caught myself a cold.  Or just a cough.  I can’t tell yet.  My chest is congested but my head is fairly clear.  I think people aren’t covering their mouths when they cough in front of their computers and I’ve gotten sick digitally.

(I’m sure I couldn’t have gotten it from my mom who’s had a wicked bad cough for over a week and a half now.)

This week was punctuated by a conversation I started on facebook about the word “titties”.  I dislike the word.  I stated that I think it’s one of the worst words in the world.  I didn’t think deeply about it – I heard a food blogger say “titties” in a post and I was much struck with how awful it sounds.  This is the power words have – to have an immediate impact on the person reading or hearing them.  But talking about words is interesting because when you start digging for explanations for your strong reactions to them – there’s often an underlying rational reason for disliking or loving a word or expression.  So a conversation was launched which organically evolved into a debate about whether words can actually be “bad” which withered into a discussion about political correctness and how an acquaintance of mine thinks “negro” is a perfectly acceptable way to refer to a black person.

I know what you’re thinking “Maybe he ‘s a hundred and sixty seven year old civil war veteran.”

I assure you this is a man younger than me who apparently hasn’t gotten the memo yet that words are powerful and white people should never call black people “negros” because it brings up a whole emotional cocktail of cultural memories of tar and feathering and burning crosses and slavery and – so much disregard for the rights and the feelings and the humanity of the black people in this country.  This young man argued that “negro” is simply the Spanish word for “black” and words are just words and are just a means of communication.

He said he feels totally comfortable using the word “negro” to refer to black people.  I wish I had asked him if he actually DOES this but I won’t because I had to shut down the conversation and block him from seeing any more of my posts so I won’t yell at him.  He claims to have no patience with all this political correctness crap and refuses to play along with it.

I have to tell you that this whole conversation upset me so much that I got knots in my stomach.  I promise I did listen to his point of view and I did remain respectful while trying to impress on him the gut wrenchingly awful insensitivity of his words.  He’s right – words are a means of communication and his words communicated a hell of a lot to me about his disregard for the feelings of those around him.  It’s more than that though.  Any person who knows how charged the word “negro” is and uses it anyway is, in fact, racist.  Racism has two main components at its core: fear and disrespect.  To know that “negro” is a disrespectful way to refer to a person of color and use it anyway IS TO DISRESPECT THEM.  I recognize that there are degrees to everything and to disrespect a person or a group of people doesn’t automatically mean you hate them – but to know you might be shoving an emotional knife in someone’s gut and do it anyway is a hateful thing to do.

I am not always politically correct myself.  I get it.  We need to hold onto the power of words.  We can’t go around insisting that words not be used just because they might have negative connotations.  Life is full of negative situations and we need a way to communicate that effectively.  I happen to love the word whore.  It’s not the kind of word you can just fling around though.  I would never actually call a promiscuous woman a whore because being sexually liberated is not a moral failing and the word whore implies fallen “virtue”.  I also wouldn’t call a prostitute a whore.  I would much rather call a John a whore.

I DO call myself a ketchup whore.

But there are a few words in our language that have such a powerful link to heinous events in history and periods of time when men and women behaved shamefully towards other humans and to use those words is to conger up a world of hate and pain for those you use them on.  “Nigger” is one of them and though “Negro” might seem less harmful – the only people who ever referred to black Americans as negros were people who were born long before the civil rights movement of the 1960’s during which it was made plain that black people do not ever want to hear white people refer to them using those words again.

So to be a white person and use those words to describe a black person is to knowingly disrespect them and is racist behavior. No one who was alive after the civil rights movement can claim not to have known how charged those words are.

I’m sharing this because I can’t believe I had this conversation with a peer.  I hear white people complain about black people (and liberal people of all colors) using the “race card” as they stupidly like to call it.  I hear people complaining about how people are always trying to make everything about race.  They’re so tired of having to have this conversation over and over again.  Boo hoo, buttheads.  I use the word “buttheads” completely aware of it’s negative connotations.

Here’s a rule of thumb when choosing words to describe people: avoid using any kind of condemnation that attacks things about a person that they do not have the power to change.  Skin color.  Origin of birth.  Their sexual orientation.  How many limbs they have or don’t have.  Whether they can walk or not.  The brain they were born with.  What gender they are.  Where they were born.

What you can question and condemn: people’s behaviors towards other people.  Assholes can be called out because assholes can stop being assholes if they choose to.  Chauvinists can change their attitude about women.  Racists can choose to change their attitudes about other races.

So I call out all the assholes who think race is such a tired conversation.  So boring.  Those assholes who say “What racism?  There’s no racism anymore.  You’re just puffing smoke out your asses because you don’t want to admit that it’s suspicious that our president is black and wasn’t born in the contiguous United States.  Hawaii barely counts.”

There is racism all over the world.  On every continent.  In every country.  And every race has racists.  We all know about the white people who hate black people.  Did you know about the black people who hate Latino people?  Did you know about the Asian people who hate black people?  How about the white people who hate Asian people.  Or about the Latino people who hate white people.  And yes, there are black people who hate white people.  Haters come in every race.

So until there is no racism left – it will always be part of the conversation.  So get over it.  This isn’t a political game.  It’s about humans evolving enough to stop attaching value judgements based on skin pigment.

We are not born racists.  We learn that hate.  We have the choice to lose that hate or perpetuate it.  We may not get to choose who we are when we’re born but we all get to choose who we become.

My unsolicited advice to you today is: unless you want to sound like a 167 year old civil war veteran or are actually racist don’t fucking use the word “negro”.

The Porch Life

Our farmhouse had a wonderful porch.  We did love to sit on it and enjoy the view which happened to be our own back yard.  The down side of having your front porch in your back yard is that there’s no watching the comings and goings of the neighborhood.  Being part of a porch peanut-gallery is one of life’s greatest activities.  Our new house has a wonderful porch that looks out at the street and as the street we live on is fairly bustling it affords us opportunity to observe and even TALK TO NEIGHBORS.  If you didn’t know this already – neighbors are a lot more likely to say hello if you’re in your front yard doing something that looks relaxing such as enjoying a festive beverage while lounging in a brightly painted Adirondack chair than if you skulk behind your 6 foot tall fence.

If I want to be unseen I can either go back in my house or I can go into my private back yard.  This is a healthy arrangement.  I love having a porch life!

Speaking of our back yard… we have a giant heritage oak in ours that gives the most wonderful shade to those of us who loathe the direct light of the sun.  I think Chick is scared of the bird noises in the tree – there are several varieties that hang out in there and chatter and/or complain.  She’s also afraid of the neighbor who practices playing the tuba.  I personally LOVE hearing the tuba playing – it makes me smile every single time.  It reminds me of when I was practicing playing the accordion every day worrying that I was bothering the neighbors.

I want, for the sake of the people I love that I left back in McMinnville, to be circumspect in my praise of Santa Rosa and of my new house.  However, have I not always resolved to be as truthful as I can here in my corner?  So – I have to say that I am so happy to be home and within two days I had the strangest feeling that maybe someone slipped drugs into my water and I just had the longest most surreal bad trip and I just woke up the next morning six years ago – that’s how much I feel like I’ve come home and how bad McMinnville was for me.

What year is it?  It’s the friends I love that I left behind in Yamhill County that are keeping the reality clear – and also I think if it weren’t for them I would not have lived long enough to make it back to California.

Coming home and immediately being surrounded by the love and help of so many friends here I realize how unbelievably fucking lucky I am that I have the ability to make good friends wherever I go.  Yes yes yes – I have joked a lot about the enemies I’ve made in McMinnville but the other side of it is that I made more friends than enemies and my life is rich with them and no matter how much I have to learn in life (I have a lot to learn in life) and no matter how many mistakes I make (I make a shitload of mistakes all the time) there is no way I would have so many people pulling for me and helping me and supporting me through tough times if I was a truly bad person.

I’ve spent a good amount of time recently staring at my feet smoking on the floor of hell asking myself what I need to do to get the brimstone outta my hair and I’m still not sure about the answer but I know what hands reached out and pulled me up and I know that I owe a lot to a lot of people.  You’re all on the balance sheet and if you need me to pick the coals out of your eyes I’ll burn my fingers doing it.

I don’t think I’ve been relaxed in 6 years.  Not down to my bones.  I relaxed on my porch yesterday and talked with friends Philip went to college with and I unpacked more boxes.  I don’t think I’ve been this happy for 8 days in a row in six years either.  Coming home is powerful.  I think it’s valuable in life to try new things, new places, and have adventures outside of your comfort zone.  Sometimes you accidentally discover that you were never home in the first place until you traveled and landed somewhere you never dreamed was in your blood – but when you find home you know it.

We owe a lot of money in back taxes.  I am waiting for my work check which we expected to come the Friday before our move and consequently we’re on our last few dollars today.  I have to face putting Max in a real school and I have to get all his assessments lined up.  I don’t know what I’ll be able to do for my child here.  My dog is scared of so much right now and I still haven’t let my cats outside.  My house is still largely unpacked and I’m still quite behind in work (but starting to catch up).

For all of that – I’m just happy.  I’m not worried.  Not about the big picture.  I know we’ll be able to pay our bills and catch up with taxes.  I’m still worried about things like my first spider bite in years which I’m a little obsessed with because I opened it up to let the fluid out because the hard little bump was really irritating me (as in: couldn’t stop thinking about it or touching it) and then it freakily kept filling up and getting all tight and hard again.  But this is ME.  This is my usual stupid anxiety and I can put it into better perspective when I’m not constantly freaking out about the bigger picture.

I love this house of my aunt and my mom’s.  I LOVE IT.  They chose the wall colors so carefully and because they are who they are – the colors are fantastic!  I’ve never moved into a house with wall colors I don’t wish to change.  The dining room especially reminds me of everything I love about my aunt – it’s this soft elegant lavender color with a creamy ceiling and white trim.  It’s wonderful!  We keep trying to find faults so our old house will not feel bad, like how the water pressure in this house sucks.  Yes, it sucks, but it’s ridiculous to point that out since we got used to it within a mere few days.

I love that my kitchen has a window that can actually be opened.  It’s kind of important.  This evening I baked hamburger buns using my friend Emma’s recipe – there’s nothing better than filling a new house with the smell of baking bread.  I haven’t been in the bread making habit for years but I used to bake a lot of it and while I wouldn’t call myself any kind of master – I was good at it.  It seems fitting that coming home would result in the exhumation of old habits.

Life is still going to be messy and stressful and tangled because that’s the nature of the beast but my light, which nearly extinguished recently, has been re-lit.  I am enjoying the simplest of things like my cat Penny’s silhouette in the window of our new home as I look up from outside and see all that warmth spilling out.

My door is always open and if you come I will let you in.

Provided you are gun and hostility free.  And haven’t been bitten by a zombie.

Now, any ideas how I can convince my friend Sharon to start a pigeon messaging system between our houses?


Unsolicited Advice: put the little zealot back in your pants

I have a quality about me that brings the zealots out to play.  It seems that my innate curiosity about the world, my open way of asking questions (50% of which are rhetorical) inspires “teachable moments” in evangelists of all kinds of faiths, diets, lifestyles, and medical alternatives.  This is especially true of my facebook interactions.*  I realize that many people on facebook have never met me in person or spent any time reading my blogs which might provide more clarity about who I am and how I communicate.  I’m not perfect, but I AM PREDICTABLE.

How to have pleasurable conversations with Angelina (and other people trying not to take everything too seriously):

If it is possible to insert levity in a serious discussion, I will do it.

I am pretty skilled at reading the subtext in conversations so there’s a good chance I know what you DIDN’T say.  Also, if I know you pretty well, I can fill in a lot of blanks from our personal history of conversations on any given comment.  You should be able to do the same with me.

No topic is so sacred that I won’t joke about it.

I have a lot of friends who are more clever than I am and I often don’t get their jokes.  But I do try because when I don’t get them I end up doing to them what people do to me – taking them up as though they were being completely serious.  So, clever friends, I’m working on learning when you’re telling really smart jokes so I stop making a fool of myself.

I’m a writer, I use colorful language and artful exaggerations to make my point

My attempts to avoid confrontation sometimes make things more difficult. In an effort to be polite I avoid saying things like “you are stressing me out with your comments” or “I already know your extremely extreme views on this subject and my ears will bleed if I have to hear you lecture me about it any more”.  But my tactics for avoiding confrontation haven’t been effective.  So I may be adopting a new confrontation avoidance method in which I respond to comments that make me uncomfortable by saying “Thank you for your thoughts on this.” which acknowledges a comment but allows me to not divulge the fact that someone is pissing me off or hurting my feelings or ignoring what they should already know about me but are too bone-headed to accept.  Coming soon to a discussion on home schooling near you!

Sometimes I’m an asshole when people push my buttons.  It’s a quality I don’t love about myself and am always working on.  If you feel I’ve just been an asshole to you and don’t understand what you did to bring it on, you probably pushed my buttons.

Put the little zealot back in your pants

Examine your conscience before you comment.  Are you tempted to comment only because you want to do battle with my viewpoints?  Are you open-minded enough to have an actual discussion about this viewpoint you want to challenge?  Are you willing to have your own viewpoints challenged?  More to the point: are you willing to change your viewpoints?  If not, take a Quaalude and chill the hell out**.  If you aren’t willing to have your mind changed by my perspective, then don’t try to change mine with yours.

Everyone exaggerates for effect, even if they don’t admit it

So if I don’t want you shoving your agenda into my conversations, why the hell bother to have conversations in the first place?  Conversations are a way we get to know each other and share our stories.  Sharing stories isn’t about trying to convert people to your groovy new lifestyle doing Tai Chi in the snow in your underwear, it’s about sharing that you’re mad enough to stand around for three hours in the snow doing Tai Chi in your skivvies.  The trick is to share your experience with zero agenda to convince others to do it.  It’s seriously about your intention.

So what if I mention that I have a rash and I can’t figure out what it is or how to treat it and I sound like I’m asking for input?  Fair enough.  I do that all the time and I do actually appreciate people’s input.  Mostly I’m interested to know if you have personally experienced such a thing yourself and what you did about it and how that worked out.  But if you know me at all then you should know that suggesting treatments that include changing my whole diet or lifestyle pushes my buttons.  If that actually worked for you personally, tell me your story.  But don’t tell me it works for everyone because you can’t possibly know that and most people into huge diet changes for health want to share “studies” or “reports” that are easily countered with other “studies” and “reports” that completely contradict them, and they want you to take everything they have to say as gospel.  Just knock it off.  I’m not a gullible idiot.  I want to hear your personal experience, don’t evangelize.

Goldenseal makes me burp for a minimum of 12 hours

I am much more likely to take the uneducated**** medical advice of a person who is equally open to both modern “western” medicine and naturopathic medicine than from someone who is strictly on one side or another.  If I happen to already know that you will only treat illness with herbs or acupuncture, then it will seriously push my button when you tell me that I just need to change my whole diet and take a shitload of wacky expensive supplements for the rest of my life.  Sometimes it’s not about your damn diet.  Likewise, if you’re a person who I know thinks all natural medicine is bogus and always suggest I should go for the surgery or go for the pills without exploration into all options, you will annoy the crap out of me and I won’t listen to anything you have to say on the topic.

I’ll take my Jesus with a side of salt

It’s the same with religion.  I am much more likely to actually hear what open minded Christians have to say than I am to really listen to those Christians who are against women’s and gay rights or who think being Muslim automatically makes you a terrorist.  The same goes for any other spiritual belief system.  If you hate atheists or those who don’t have religion I will smell it on you even if you don’t declare yourself and I will not be able to get past your hate to hear what you have to say.  I actually don’t think I’m very different from most people in this way.

This also applies to politics, education, lifestyle, gender, and virtually every topic you can come up with.  I can’t hear people above their agendas.  Can you?

Here’s a summary of everything I’ve said above:

The more you try to convince me of your extreme views the less open I am to hearing them.

Let’s both keep zealotry out of our casual conversations, okay?


*Want to join me on facebook?  Please do, but only after you read this post.  Okay?  Here’s the link:

**See that?  That was levity.  I wouldn’t seriously want you to take a Quaalude because that’s so last century.***

***I did it again!  I actually meant I wouldn’t want you to take a Quaalude because I wouldn’t ever actually suggest anyone take drugs.  But you should have already known that.

****Meaning you aren’t a trained professional doctor.

5 Tips for Yelling at Your Child Effectively

When my kid was a toddler I discovered the surprising fact that I am not the calm patient person I’d been thinking I was my whole life.  I based this self image on the fact that I never got in yelling matches with people (excluding all the times I suddenly freaked out and started yelling at friends because they touched my stuff because repressed memories don’t count).  I yelled at my kid.  A lot.  I found myself losing my temper constantly.  It’s not a pretty thing, yelling at kids.  It’s demoralizing for you and frightening to them.

Unless you know how to do it the right way.  I have been mastering my yelling skills for many years now and have become so good at it that if you were to ask him if his mom yells at him he would tell you “No”.  I know this because I mentioned how I don’t like it when I have to yell at him and he looked mystified and said I don’t ever yell at him.  How can my child not remember that I just yelled at him three days ago?  How is it that he doesn’t remember that I pretty much yelled at him non-stop through years 3 through 5?*

Because I did it THE RIGHT WAY.  And now, because I want you all to have the same parenting success that I’ve had, I am going to share with you the simple rules for yelling at your kid the right way too.

1.  Never make value judgements about your child when you’re losing your shit.

When I as an inexperienced yeller I would say things like “You’re being so bad!” and “Why the hell won’t you nap you little hellion!!”.  This implies that your child is misbehaving on purpose and is a bad child.  I realized that every time I yelled at my child I was accusing him of being a bad kid or of purposely sabotaging my life by dumping the entire bookshelf onto the floor instead of addressing the actual thing I was mad about.  So I changed my language accordingly “What you’re doing is not okay!” and “It makes me angry when you won’t nap!”  This expresses how I’m feeling about his behavior rather than suggesting that his behavior means he’s a bad person: instead of yelling about who my child is by suggesting he’s an evil little cur, I’m expressing that his actions are making me angry.

2.  Don’t be mean.

Some people might suggest that yelling in itself is being mean.  I disagree.  Yelling serves a distinct function in your child’s growing up experience.  For one thing it helps teach them that people have limits to their patience.  Can you imagine what would happen if a kid grew up never reaching the limit of their parents’ patience and then discovered out in the world that people have serious limits and are much more likely to punch you for pushing too hard when you’re not a sweet little cherub?!  Kids have to learn this and it is best for them to learn this with the people who love them best in the world. Yelling is also sometimes necessary to keep kids out of danger (like when they hurl themselves out into traffic without looking, this is a great moment to yell your guts out to get their attention while you grab them back to safety).  It may scare them but sometimes this is useful for their own safety.  Yelling also helps them understand that everyone has to express their anger sometimes, that it’s normal to lose control of your emotions sometimes.

When you yell at your kid you should never be mean.  This is an extension of the first tip.  It’s not just about how you phrase your anger – it’s about not saying petty mean shit to your kid that they’ll remember long after you’ve made up.  Things like “You’re so stupid!  How many times do I have to tell you not to pee on the seat?!” or “What kind of loser kid are you to not understand what I told you?!”  The kid will NOT remember that the reason for the anger was an action that is remediable but will remember only that they are inherently stupid, which you only said out of anger, not because you really think they’re stupid.

3.  Remove the swear words from your yelling.

I heartily approve of swearing to relieve tension and to attach emphasis in language where it is needed.  However, peppering your shouting with swear words makes it much scarier and though you may achieve something like making yourself feel better, you will not have a positive affect on your kid.  Swearing at your kid is a lot like saying mean petty shit when what you really need is for them to acknowledge that they’ve done something you want them to stop doing.  I speak from personal experience.  Once you let the damns and the fucks rampant in your yelling, you’re just losing ground.

4.  When you have become calm again, talk with your kid about what happened.

Apologize for losing your cool but be clear that an apology for yelling is not giving them a pass for what actions of theirs made you angry in the first place.  In the adult world it is not okay to yell at someone and if you do yell at someone an apology is always necessary.  By apologizing to your kid for yelling sends a couple of important messages: that everyone loses their cool sometimes and this is a forgivable action but also that the proper thing to do is apologize for having done so.

Then discuss calmly the thing that made you angry.  Explain why their actions are not okay with you and if you feel consequences are required, mete them out.  If I lose my cool and yell then I usually give my kid one more chance to change his behavior before giving consequences.  But I let him know exactly what the consequence will be during this discussion, while I’m calm.  Often times these sit down talks become meaningful discussions about appropriate behaviors and sometimes they extend into great learning moments.  Take your time.  Give your kid the chance to respond with questions or opinions.

5.  End discussion with a hug

Then give them a giant hug and tell them that they are your most favorite person in the entire world and that no matter what they do, you’ll always love them.

This is the moment I usually inform my son that I’ll love him even if he commits crimes but I won’t lie for him or hide him from the police.

To be honest, I rarely yell at my child anymore.  I snap at him impatiently sometimes but the days when I frequently hauled off in a yelling fit are far behind me.  By writing this post I’m not saying that parents SHOULD yell at their kids, only that it’s natural, it’s definitely going to happen, and it matters how you do it.

*To be fair to me, raising a special needs toddler takes even more patience and energy than raising your usual hellion tiny person.  I was just discovering at that time how different my kid was from other kids.  The things that worked for other parents didn’t work for me.  Their patience was tried, mine was fried.

Don’t be an Arrogant Parent

One of the most startling and unpleasant discoveries I made on becoming a parent is how many parents indulge in flattering themselves that everything good about their children is because of their parenting prowess.  If their kid is well behaved it’s because they don’t “let” their kids misbehave.  If their child is smart it’s because they’ve been reading to their kid since birth and played intelligent music for them and didn’t let them watch any poisonous television.  If their kids eat well it’s because they wouldn’t “let” their kids be picky.

It became immediately apparent to me as a new mom that what was troublesome about my child was troublesome because I wasn’t parenting him well and that all his amazing qualities were due to my good parenting.  Or, at least, that’s what other parents constantly implied.  It struck me that many parents I met had what I almost think of as a god-complex; that it is by the grace of their own hands that their children are good or bad, smart or dumb, sweet or mean, sinners or saints, well adjusted or a psychological mess.  All the recriminations of other people’s parenting styles and the self congratulatory comments on their own methods made me feel like I was sucked down a worm hole of unreality.

There are so many things that influence a human being’s development that I think it ridiculous for parents to believe that they raise their children in a bubble in which the only influence is themselves and that their methods, if they work on their own children, will work on all children universally.  It ignores the fact that children are as much individuals as adults.

Other influences on a child’s development:

Their own personality.

Their individual temperament.

The environment they are raised in.

How that environment works with the child’s personality and temperament.

Their physiognomy (brain function, neurological wiring, body function)

Other people.

Sibling dynamics or the effect of being an only child.

Culture.  The world outside.

Just because you made a baby doesn’t mean you are automatically a great parent and equipped to handle the challenge of parenting.  I know that I am ill-equipped for this challenge and I do the best that I can but  being a mother doesn’t make me some kind of god of wisdom.  Some women start off with temperaments better suited to dealing with the constant needs of children and others have to adapt to it more.  Just because you are doing well with your own child/children in no way means that you are capable of parenting all children well.  Just because you’ve found methods that work well for your own kids doesn’t mean you know anything about parenting other people’s kids.

Just because your kids seem well adjusted and happy now (and well behaved and good eaters and not overweight and completely mentally healthy…) doesn’t guarantee that they will continue to be so.  The totally well behaved 7 year old may turn into a pregnant substance abusing 15 year old.  There is no guarantee that you are raising a prodigy just because your kid is smart at 11 years old.

Arrogant parents do a great disservice to other parents, especially ones seeking advice or help.  The arrogant parent will give absolute advice and let it be known to you that if you try their advice and fail it’s because you failed at carrying it out.  This is an awful way to set up new parents.  I know, because I was there so many times and it turns out my kid is, as I knew he was from the beginning, not the least bit usual and doesn’t respond in any of the expected ways other parents implied he should and I spent so much time thinking that my kid was struggling because I was a shitty parent.  I know better now.  I realize that anyone reading this blog on a regular basis knows that periodically I write an “I suck at parenting” post.  These posts are inevitable because I am NOT arrogant.  I question myself constantly.  I ask myself “what am I not doing for Max?” and “Why is this method not working?” and “What shortcoming of my own is resulting in all of us banging our heads against the wall?” and asking these questions of myself is an important part of my parenting process.  Raising an unusual kid means that I never get to rest on my laurels (mostly because I don’t have any) or be smug about my parenting prowess.  My kid has special needs and they don’t allow me to rest for a second as a parent.  I have come to understand that part of parenting a special needs kid is to let off steam from time to time.  So I do.  Sometimes I need to thrash myself to get it out of my system.  Any regular readers also know that I come to the same conclusion over and over again: I am the best person I know to be parenting Max.  There are many “better” parents out there but I don’t know any in my acquaintance who could handle my son’s challenges better than I am doing.

What makes a good parent?  Obviously opinions on this vary wildly.  I don’t think any parenting method is inherently better or worse than any other (barring abusive parenting, obviously).  I don’t believe that my parenting methods are better than yours.  In fact, I’m sure they’re not.  In the beginning I might have looked at your kids and judged your parenting based on their behavior but that was a long time ago when I followed everyone else’s cues.  I know better now.  I know that how your child behaves is not necessarily a direct result of your parenting ineptitude or greatness.  It might be, but that’s not something I can know unless I know you very very well.  Even then, it’s not something I can be sure I know because I don’t parent your child.

What makes a good parent, in my opinion, is a parent who chooses their parenting methods based on who their child is as an individual.  A good parent will recognize when the boundaries and ideals they’ve set aren’t working well for their child and will try different methods and set different boundaries.  A good parent will not flog their child with ideals they think they SHOULD be following and blame the kid when it doesn’t work.  A good parent will recognize that if their own methods are working well it’s because they’re using methods appropriate for their child but if a sibling comes along and doesn’t fit the same mold, a good parent will adjust.  A good parent, like a good spouse, is flexible and evolves and seeks to make a life appropriate for the individuals in their family and not try to fit their family into some general ideal of family life.   A good parent doesn’t view parenting as a power struggle or as an autonomy in which your child must be made to be the person you want them to be.  A good parent sees their child’s strengths and builds on them.  A good parent sees their child’s challenges and stretches to meet them, to find the best way to help their child through them.

Arrogant parents give dangerous advice because they fail to acknowledge that what worked for them with their own kids might be disastrous with a different kid.  I keep this very much in mind when I find myself advising anyone on parenting, which, I don’t often do in the first place.  If asked my opinion I will tell another parent what has worked so far for Max and I try to emphasize that my methods may be worth trying in their own family but their kids aren’t Max and so it may not be as effective for their kids.  Parents need each other’s support and I think it’s truly valuable to discuss parenting methods with each other to get new ideas and to help us get through parenting challenges.  However, it is important that all parents acknowledge that kids are individuals and there is no one method that will work for all kids and for most of us there is no one method that will work for one child and that our best bet is to put together a unique set of boundaries, rules, routines, consequences, and rewards that suit our wonderfully different children.

As a parent of an almost-eleven year old, my best advice to new parents is:

Trust your gut over everyone else’s advice.

Have some humility.


Use Honest Language to Talk About Death

I don’t approve of this current anti-death culture where everyone treats death as though it was some horrible event that’s never meant to happen to any of us.  People have forgotten how to respect death, to acknowledge its rightful place in our lives as the natural other half of life.  No one gets to live without dying.  No one who’s died has been denied the chance to live, even if only for a minute.  They come together.  You can’t have one without the other.  Life and death are part of one whole experience.

I’d like to address how we all talk about death when it happens to someone in our lives or in our circles.  No one is ever expected to repress their feelings of sorrow, surprise, shock, or to not fall apart.  We all react differently to the news that someone we know has died and I’m not trying to take away honest feelings.  However, I would like to suggest that the language we use to discuss these feelings be one without denial, without inanity, without false balm.

The basic fact is that there’s no such thing as a time that someone is “supposed” to go.  All of us would like the people we love to never die but they will.  Most of us don’t want to die ourselves, but we will.  Let’s agree that most of us are hoping for the most amount of time to live possible.  We are hoping we will live to be pissy old men and women who see everyone else they know die and finally, when there’s nothing left to do, we pass peacefully into death in our sleep.  Hoping is one thing, expectation is another.

No one has a right to expect to live to be old nor does anyone have a right to expect their loved ones to live to be old.  That is our hope, but it is not based on any rights or any facts or any promises the universe or God has made to anyone, because, of course, no such promises have ever been made to a living soul.

So when you lose someone it’s using a language of denial to say “It wasn’t her time” or “He died too soon” or “They weren’t supposed to go like that”

There is no “supposed to” and no “too soon” because none of us are in control of these things.  We all go exactly when we are meant to go.  We all go when the time is right or we wouldn’t go.  There are no accidental deaths where god “oops!” took someone by mistake.  I don’t believe in God but I’ve heard a lot of people who do say things like “Susie was taken before it was her time” and it strikes me as grossly sacrilegious that anyone accuse God of making mistakes.

What I’d like to see more people do is use more direct and truthful statements about how they’re feeling.  Instead of saying “Susie wasn’t supposed to die this young” (not factual or remotely true, since she obviously died ‘this young’) how about saying “I’m devastated Susie died so young!” (true) or “It’s so sad she didn’t get to live longer” (presumably true) or “I’m so fucking angry that Susie is dead and I was never going to be ready to lose her!!” (probably most true of all is anger at losing someone you liked).

No one is ever ready to lose the people they love.  That’s the bottom line.  That’s what most of us are feeling.  So let’s put more truth and strength and acceptance of our feelings in our language about death and erase the inane platitudes that don’t really make anyone I know feel better.  There is so much more power in saying what you really mean.

There is an urge in humans to distance themselves from death.  We do it in our language before we do it anywhere else.  I hear people say things like “I don’t know how to make sense of his death” and I want to shout out  that you don’t have to “make sense” of it.  It isn’t confusing.  It’s just personally painful.  I think dealing with loss would be much easier if we all stopped trying to make death mysterious and understand why it has to happen.  Do people really not get it?  Or is it that they just don’t want to express death in personal terms like saying “Death sucks!” or “I’m angry that people have to die!” which is very honest and most of us could relate and agree with those sentiments.

Death just is.  It is as much a fabric of all of our lives as births are.  It’s generally one of the least comfortable parts of life but it’s necessary.  Why?  Cause people insist on having tons of babies and if none of us ever died this planet would have been overcrowded to mass starvation point before Christ ever came along.  It’s that simple.  People die because if they never died they couldn’t keep being born.  You like birth, right?  You all feel warm and fuzzy when life is ejected from wombs but that cute and fuzzy event comes with a price.  Someone must die for the new life to thrive.  We all have our turns.  Some of us get a few seconds on earth.  Some of us get over a hundred years.  The fact remains- every single birth is also an eventual death.  When I hear of babies being born I already understand that the baby caries a burden of death into the world with them.

In summary:

Instead of saying the inane useless crap like “Henry died too young” let’s all be more truthful and say what we’re really feeling which is “I feel slugged with sorrow that Henry’s dead because I’m going to miss the hell out of him” and then we can proceed right on with the natural stages of grief and in being more directly honest about what’s happened and how we feel about it I think we do more honor to the person who’s died.  We get right to talking about what we’ll miss and what we loved about them.  Let’s start creating a culture of acceptance and honesty and respect around death.  This doesn’t diminish the sorrow and pain we all feel, in fact, it brings us straight to the heart of our devastation and that’s where we are able to actually honor both ourselves and the dead.

As a last note:

I am definitely hoping to live long enough to get my book published and to see my son become a well adjusted adult member of society.  I am hoping for more time than just today, however, if I die today I will be a fiercely angry ghost if anyone who knows me DARES to suggest I died too soon or that I wasn’t meant to go that way or anything patently stupid.  I promise that if I can figure out how to do it, I will haunt your ass until you stop talking in such useless shabby platitudes and just accept that this was always going to happen whenever it was supposed to and please watch over Max and get my books published posthumously.

Other topics I wish to discuss about death, dying, and mourning:

How to mourn: different methods to suit every taste.

How to eulogize without telling lies about dead people.



What Not to Say: To People With OCD

I know you’ve seen this picture before.  It was too perfect for this post, I couldn’t resist.

What not to say to people you know have OCD or other clinical anxiety diagnoses:

“You worry too much”  (No shit, Sherlock.  You breathe too much.)

“Mellow out, it’s not that big a deal”  (Maybe to you it isn’t, to us it’s a punishable offense)

“Stop obsessing about… (whatever)”  (That’s what we DO)

“You’re making a mountain out of a molehill”  (If I could make a mole out of a mountain I would totally stop making a mountain out of a molehill.)

“You’re probably deficient in vitamins.”   (There is no possible way to answer this appropriately)

“All you need to do is stop FOCUSING so much on… (whatever you’re focusing on)”   (If I could paste a picture of Richard Armitage on the inside of my frontal lobe I would most certainly do it asap.)

“Your fears are irrational.”  (I had no idea.  Now I can just stop having them.)

“If you expose yourself to your fears repeatedly you’ll desensitize yourself to them.”  (Okay.  So if I’m afraid of hobo spiders I should go get me some a them babies and scatter them around my house and I’ll either be dead in a fortnight or cured of my fear of them?  That’s got a twisted brilliance to it… looking for some a them babies stat!)

“There’s nothing wrong with you- you’re totally normal!”  (Dude, if you think I’m normal it’s time for you to get your own psyche eval)

“You can’t have OCD.  You don’t count shit all day long and you don’t do anything weird”  (50% of my energy is exerted in making sure you don’t SEE the weird things I do)

I reserve the right to add to or change this list any time I want, subject to new revelations and idiotic comments.  Those who have said these things to a person with OCD or other Anxiety without KNOWING that person had such issues is wholly exempt from the full scope of my irritation which is quite formidable.