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Saturday, June 27, 2015

Can Love Be a Sin?

Last night, I was in downtown Austin with my husband and daughter to celebrate the Supreme Court's ruling on marriage equality. Many of us stood in tears as we watched joyous members of the LGBT community embrace and applaud as our mayor, local elected officials, and Austin's police chief spoke about the significance of the day. Love, acceptance, and rainbow flags filled the air.

Throughout the day, I wiped back tears as my Facebook feed began to fill with images of faces I love smiling beneath a transparent rainbow, symbolizing one of the most important civil rights events of our time. Everyone from my 67 year-old mother to friends who are members of the LGBT community changed their profile pictures to show their support. I cried when I saw the face of one of my mother's cousins, a man who has been with his partner over 30 years, and whose legal marriage in New York is now recognized in Texas, where he'll share the rest of his life with the man he loves.

Before I went to sleep last night, the final clip I watched was the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington singing our National Anthem outside the Supreme Court building. As I cried one last time, I fell asleep feeling immense gratitude and love.

This morning, I poured my cup of coffee and began my morning ritual where I check email and social media. I was excited to see more rainbow-covered faces, and to bask once again in the glow of so much love.

Then came the judgment.

A post discussing homosexuality being sinful. Another post about how the United States has defied God's will. Another post suggesting that God is so mad, he's talking to us through thunder.

I grew up in socially conservative East Texas, where a lot of people believed in an angry, judgmental God. I am fortunate because I attended church in a loving and nurturing Methodist community that wasn't rooted in fire and brimstone. Lucky for me and for my sister, my mother taught us that love is love, and her interpretation of religion was that Jesus was a kind, open spiritual leader who lived a life based on loving others, not judging them.

Back then, homosexuality wasn't discussed, at least not in my small town. We had family friends who were gay, but it was very quiet. I kept the lock on many a closet for gay friends to respect their privacy, and in many cases, their safety. Some of those people who came out later were people who once believed that homosexuality was a sin. It was ingrained in our upbringing.

As I read posts and comments condemning the actions of the Supreme Court, I have to ask this question: Can love be a sin?

Interesting question, right? For my friends who believe that homosexuality is a sin, it's because of religion. The Bible is where we start to get befuddled, because it's a tricky read with a lot of room for interpretation. A literal translation of the Bible would mean that we could still own slaves. If I interpret the Bible one way, because my husband was divorced before marrying me, our marriage isn't recognized in the eyes of God, because divorce is a sin. On the other hand, if my husband wanted to use the Bible as his guide, he could just as easily come home one day and bring home a Tahoe full of sister wives.

To my friends who are having serious struggles between their religious beliefs and whether or not to support two men or two women choosing to marry, please take some time to watch video after video of couples who have spent their lives together who are truly in love. Ask yourself if God would judge two people who want nothing more than to have legal recognition of their union, and ask yourself if you are in the position to judge that yourself.

This morning, my first inclination was to make some quick edits to my Facebook friend list, but that action in itself defeats the purpose of being open and inclusive. I respect that not all of my friends will agree on this matter. One of the most beautiful things about where we live is that we have the right to free speech, to our own opinions, and to make our own decisions. So, unless the people in my social circles turn their judgment into hate, I'll keep them on my friend list, and we can agree to disagree. What I won't agree with, and never will, is that love is a sin. Because it isn't.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Everybody's Doing It: My Capsule Wardrobe Experiment

Last week, I got completely enchanted by a blog titled, "Why I Got Rid of My Wardrobe" by a Dallas mommy blogger who made a big decision to get rid of almost all of her clothes and downsize into what's referred to as a "capsule wardrobe." The writer was inspired by Unfancy, a blog devoted to the capsule wardrobe experience of a really hip and cool blogger named Caroline. The concept is to create a significantly downsized, deliberately simple wardrobe, so downsized, in fact, that the writer was able to display a painting inside the closet. Because deep down, we all want a painting in our closet. 

The thought of applying this to my life felt radical and scary, but I was intrigued. A little background: I'm evidently a bit of a shopaholic. We live in a small home, and several years ago I moved out of my closet and into two large mirrored Ikea wardrobes. Never mind that the reason for moving out of the closet was to create a writing nook, which was a very cool idea, let's focus on the fact that I moved out of one closet and into two wardrobes. And guess what? It still wasn't enough space. The cute writing nook my sister and I worked hard to create ended up being another place to toss piles of clothes.

For a while now, I've been wondering what makes me continue to buy numerous cheap things on sale when I should choose to invest in one nice piece instead. I also wonder what makes me think I need new clothes for every event, or why my wardrobe has so many personalities. I also wonder why I spend so much time shopping and still feel I have nothing that I like. I wonder how much I spend on clothes and shoes. (We'll talk about that in a different post).

I resolved to give it a try. 

Saturday morning, I woke up nice and early to start the project. Here's Exhibit A: The Before Picture. 

Do you already have questions? I don't blame you. Some answers:

1. Is that a sombrero on the top of your wardrobe? Yep, because you never know.
2. Is that a pile of clothes over what should be a desk? Yes, because look how crammed that wardrobe is!
3. But wait, you look fairly organized. Yes, despite owning way too many clothes, I do keep a method to my madness and I actually stay pretty color-coded. The system has evolved where the far left side is clothes I'm currently wearing, then there's a tops section, a pants/skirts section, and a section for coats and nice dresses. I also have clear plastic boxes for my piles and piles of shoes. 
4. Are the suitcases on top empty? Nope. Those contain part of my winter wardrobe. Any available storage space is maximized with more clothes. Eek.
5. What's in the white bag? My wedding dress and my dress from Symphonettes. Symphonettes is a debutanty-thing in my home town. I still have the dress because one day, I may lose a million pounds and bow for a roomful of East Texans again. It's always good to be prepared.
6. Is that a laundry basket full of clothes at the end of the bed? Yes, because where am I going to put the clean clothes? And the ones I try on and toss into the basket? 
7. Is that the single cutest dog on the planet poking around down there? Of course it is. That's Taco. He came to lend moral support, and boy, did I need it.

While I'm putting it all out there, I also have two identical dressers for accessories and underthings and pjs and jewelry. More winter clothes are stored in the other closet in boxes, and my workout clothes are in drawers in the first wardrobe.

I began by taking everything off of the hangers and throwing everything on the bed. I pulled out the immediate "no's," quickly and easily filling a large box. It was exhilarating. I kept going, and then I hit a wall and the pile on my bed completely freaked me out, so I did what anyone else would do in that situation.

I baked a quiche.

This won't be funny to you unless you know me and how often I cook. The quiche was delicious! Purging was giving me mental clarity to cook quiche without a recipe! 

I went back for Round 2. It got easier and easier. I got very snobby about my choices. If it needed mending and I wasn't completely smitten, it went in the garage sale pile. If it was made of cheap materials or didn't make me feel fabulous after wearing it, I got rid of it. 

An example. Exhibit B: The Mossimo Dress with the Faux Leather Accents

This is a dress I bought on the sale rack at Target and never tried on. Trust me when I say that buying a dress and not trying it on is a terrible idea.

Target has a way of sucking me in when I'm going there to buy a birthday gift, garbage bags and laundry soap, and next thing you know I'm frantically zipping through the clearance rack and landing on this Mossimo number, a Mossimo layering tank (I have about 45), and a trendy Mossimo top that I wear once and the button pops off. How much Mossimo does a woman need to buy before she realizes it's all cheap, terribly made junk? By the piles on my bed, it became clear I "needed" a lot of it.

I made the delightful mistake of buying this to wear to a party, and once I got it zipped, I looked like a slutty California Raisin. For those of you too young to to know what California Raisins are, imagine me sausaged into this terrible dress, and there you have it. 

Or this: Exhibit C: My Sexual Harassment Cardigan, Brought to you by Target (Not Mossimo, it's Merona!)

I was mildly sexually harassed in this sweater several years ago. By no means am I making light of sexual harassment, but a creepy coworker once told me that I looked "minty" in this little Merona cardigan, and I've not been able to wear it since. However, because I'm crazy, I also think that if I wear it, I will get compliments, so I never get rid of it. My husband offered to sexually harass me in it, but I decided to put it in the donate pile and move on.

Lest you think that I only shop at Target, here's an example of a dress I plan on keeping forever. Exhibit D: The LBD That Stretches. Like Crazy.

I wore this Maggy London dress to an awards dinner in Aruba in 2007. I paid full price for it at Nordstrom. I loved how I felt in it, it travels really well, but every time I try on dresses for an event, my sister gently encourages me to let it go and I can't seem to do it. I am adopting the wardrobe capsule lifestyle, but I am going to keep a few sentimental dresses and who knows? I may wear this again one day. Right?

I kept going, and about dinner time I started completely freaking out. What in the hell had I done? Why was more than half of my wardrobe in boxes in the living room? Where did all the Mossimo go? 

So, I did what any other normal person would do at this juncture in the process.

I went shopping.

I am absolutely serious. I had a rain jacket that I bought at Nordstrom Rack that two family members confirmed was "boxy,"so I begged my husband to come with me to return it. And because I was planning on a classy capsule wardrobe of nice items, I would look for a simple pair of brown leather flats while we were there.

While shopping, I observed others. Were they all filling a void? Shopping for a special occasion? Celebrating weight loss with new clothes?

One woman was on the phone, shopping away while complaining about her job. Another woman was flipping through a clearance rack while arguing with her boyfriend/husband person, a man with missing teeth and ugly tattoos. A pushy woman who smelled like sweat and perfume stood by me while I tried on the only pair of simple brown leather flats because when I try on shoes at Nordstrom Rack, there is always that woman hovering around. Why is that?

After trying on a few items and asking myself if I would want it in a simple capsule wardrobe, I am proud to announce that I left Nordstrom Rack with a $70 credit and overflowing pride for not buying a single thing.

I celebrated by going home and working until 2:00 am. Other things came up in this process. I have too many clothes, but I also have too many "sentimental papers." A good scanner purchase is in my future. I moved everything out of the closet-turned-writing-nook-turned-storage-place and put that stuff into the mirrored wardrobes. 

I'm not completely finished, but I'm close, and my seasonal wardrobe capsule will be a little weird because I'm starting mid-season, but here is where I landed:

9 shoes (3 dressy work heels, 2 casual heels, 3 pairs of flats, and one brown pair of flats or sandals left to purchase)
3 jackets
12 tops (includes tshirts, tanks, buttoned shirts and blouses)
10 pants/jeans
2 skirts
3 dresses

I went online and bought another pair of nice work pants and a white blazer to replace the cheap one I have, and I'll discard one pair of worn-out black pants and replace with a better pair, and buy a pair of brown flats or brown sandals, taking my new wardrobe total to my goal number of 42: one item for every year I've been on this planet.

The Unfancy blogger doesn't work in an office, so I knew that her goal number of 37 might be tough, but the idea isn't to follow the formula as much as it is to follow the lifestyle. It's kind of like when I went vegan but I refused to give up hot dogs. There are really no rules when it's your life, right?

There is more work to do here, but in less than 24 hours, I had a finished product, and I effortlessly selected a cute casual outfit for the wine tour I took with my girlfriends. Voila!

Exhibit E: My Spring 2015 Capsule Wardrobe (with a photo I won in a charity auction and my Best Wife Award proudly on display). You will note that I am not afraid of color. The Unfancy blogger has an all-neutral palate, but that was a little extreme for me. 

Exhibit F: That's me, top right, in my simple outfit that took 3 minutes to pick out: black tank, neutral cape cardigan, grey jeans, neutral flats. 

I'll keep you posted on how things go, but so far, so liberated. 

You should try it, too! Let me know how it goes!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Suddenly, She's 12

One of my Vision Board Goals/New Year's Resolutions was to post one blog a week.

I have failed.

I have a million excuses, and I have no excuses. Isn't that how it always goes?

Until I'm able to catch up, I'll share my latest Huffington Post blog. Most of you have already read it, so thank you for your lovely comments and birthday wishes. Emily Rose read them all out loud last Friday in the car while we were driving to her small birthday celebration with a few elementary school friends, and it was great to see her face light up with all of the love from friends and family.

For those of you who missed it, here you go.

A Birthday Letter to My Almost 12-year-old Daughter

Now that my youngest is 12, perhaps I can find the time to post a blog once a week? Perhaps?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Somebody Give This Kid a Trophy

I'm back! I disappeared for a while. (Writer's block. It happens.)

What do you think about trophies? Emily Rose seems to think having more of them would help her self-esteem. She cracks me up.

You can read about it on the Huffington Post here.

Happy New Year, readers! I hope to be back with regular posts soon!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Cell Phones for Sixth Graders?

It’s hard to believe that we’re already several weeks into ER’s middle school experience.

To handle the transition to sixth grade, I decided this was the year we were really going to get our act together.  A few weeks before school started, my sister and I waited until Tim was out of town and organized our house to such detail that when he returned, he growled when he couldn't find his nail scissors and said he felt like a house guest.  I pointed sweetly to the organized leather box of nail accessories, undeterred.  I beckoned Tim and ER into the living room so we could create a hang file system with labels for each class. It was a bonding moment. I drank a glass of wine and read the school subjects off of the class schedule while Tim made labels on a label maker. ER helped by doing high kicks and singing like Iggy Azalea.

The Having Our Act Together plan continued. ER went to school before the first day and decorated her 6th grade locker. This a thing now, in case you don’t know.  Gone are the plain Jane lockers of yore.  Now, you can buy mini locker chandeliers and shag locker rugs so your locker can rival a Kardashian bedroom.

We were completely ready for middle school until something dawned on us. Something was missing. Our sixth grader doesn't have a cell phone!

This is a big dilemma. While Tim and I tend to agree on most parenting matters, we’re having a really difficult time getting on the same page about the phone issue.  In my view, I think 11 is too young -- why rush growing up and being constantly connected? What about the mean girl stuff?  Tim doesn't get what all the fuss is about; he's a practical sort. Plus, my stepchildren already set the bar, because when they were in middle school, they came home from their mom’s with cell phones.  At first we thought it was a little excessive, but with after school activities and two households, we couldn't deny the convenience factor.

While we've been considering the options, ER has been playing me like a violin. (Very possibly, Tim is the conductor.) On ER's 10th birthday, we were on our way to dinner when the grandparent calls started ringing. I handed my phone over and said, “Answer it! Mimi’s on the phone!”

“I don’t know what to say!” she said, panicked. “I don’t have a phone!”

I handed her the phone and frowned. Tim offered a belly laugh that lasted just a little too long for my taste.

ER continued gently but consistently working on me. She came home from sleep away camp in June and announced dramatically that she was the only kid in her cabin without a cell phone. I tried tough love.

“Well, you were the only kid without a phone and you survived, and you still had fun at camp, right?” 

“I guess…” she said, throwing her head back and sighing while Tim snickered.

I began asking around. What other sixth graders had phones?  One mom told me her sixth grader didn't have a phone, but a cell phone was a good indicator that the kid had divorced parents. True for my stepchildren, but not for my daughter, so that didn't help much. Another parent admitted that they were considering GPS tracking to ensure their kid was actually in class. Considering the kid in that case, I nodded in sympathy.

For other families like us who canceled their land lines years ago, the decision was based on giving their children phones for emergencies.  Never mind that the definition of “emergency” later morphed into using the phone for clandestine sessions of Super Monkey Ball Bounce; after all, we’re all just figuring it out here. For most of us, this dilemma didn't exist when we were in sixth grade because our parents couldn't afford the gigantic radioactive bricks that were the cell phones of our day.

I’m pretty sure that I’ll cave on this one. The convenience and safety factor seem to outweigh the other issues that we’re already facing with email and modern-day social sixth graders. Mean girl stuff is going to happen whether a phone is part of the deal or not. It’s about open communication no matter what gadget your kid gets. It’s our job as parents to set limits and teach the safety and etiquette that you won't find in the instruction manual.  After all, if this is the year we’re going to get our act together, there’s probably an app for that.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

My Week as a Temporary Bachelorette

This week, planned and unplanned events resulted in a rare opportunity for me to stay at home alone for five full days. No kids, no husband, just Taco, our 15 pound rescue dog, and 007, our 95 year-old cat.

Most people would look forward to a week to themselves. Not me. I’m a very social creature, but mainly I don’t do well spending the night at home without another human in the house. I’m legally blind without corrective lenses, so as soon as it’s dark out, I spend a lot of time with the lights off, peering out the window, mistaking moving branches for serial killers or human-sized possums. What I lack in good vision I make up for with great hearing, so I’m constantly turning down the t.v. and panic-whispering to Taco, “Shh! Did you hear that? Is there someone at the window?” He may be a dog, but I swear he rolls his eyes at me.

So this week, I decided to think of it as an adventure. The first night I made it a point to venture out alone. I slapped on some red lipstick, featured a little cleavage, and spritzed on perfume, then went to a lovely French bistro where the only thing on the menu that would appeal to my 11-year old was bread. I thought about my daughter eating bland camp food and chuckled wickedly. When the hostess asked how many, I proudly announced, “I’ll be dining alone.”  I leaned in and lingered on the “alone” as if it was just a wee bit taboo, and there’s a possibility I may have said it in an Arianna Huffington accent.

The hostess seated me at a corner table, where I noticed I was the only one in the restaurant without a companion. Who needs a companion when you have cleavage and red lipstick? I gazed out the window pensively, as if contemplating something deep and important, when actually all I was really thinking was how freaking ridiculous the bread and butter tasted and how oh my God I didn't have to share it with a soul. I flirted with the cute blonde waiter, telling him how cold I was, and asked him if he could look for a spare scarf in the lost and found, because evidently French restaurants are also elementary schools.

He skipped back empty-handed.

“I’m sorry, ma’am,” he shrugged apologetically, the word “ma’am” hurling me back into reality as I realized he probably graduated with my stepson. Oops, forgot I was old for a second. Pardon moi.

At home, with the help of Jimmy Fallon, Seth Meyers and half a Benadryl, I made it through the night in one piece. I got up early the next morning and went to the grocery store to stock up on supplies. I walked right past the granola bars and Goldfish and made a beeline for the wine aisle. I tossed Brussels sprouts, organic spinach and kale salad mix in the cart. I was going to make salads and run five miles every single day!

I grabbed up two bundles of gladiolus for good measure, and topped off my findings with some sexy hot pink nail polish. (Bachelorettes have time to paint their own nails.) I also threw in a package of fried wonton salad toppers, because healthy salads need fried wontons. I'll let you guess what I ate first. If you guessed fried won tons without salad, you win. If you guessed that I threw down almost the entire package while sitting cross-legged in bed, reading a magazine and drinking coffee, you’re my husband, and you planted a nanny cam before you left town.

The second night I went to dinner and a movie with girlfriends, and came home to discover a largish whitish spider crawling on the ceiling in my bedroom. I know you’re not supposed to kill spiders because they kill mosquitoes, but there was no way I was transporting a big spider outside without assistance. I screamed a few choice words, then grabbed a bottle of Fat Hair Hairspray and sprayed him until he fell on the floor.  Once I spotted him on the floor, I promptly smooshed him with a patent nude stiletto. I wiped up his remains with a Clorox wipe, gagging and apologizing the entire time, then attempted to high five Taco, who kept his paws on the ground, looking at me with a combination of pity and horror. I recovered by painting my toenails hot pink while I watched HGTV.

The next night I met a new writer friend for happy hour. Her children are grown and out of the house, and she looks terrific. That woman is more carefree than a teenager, and her energy is contagious. I made a mental note to ship off my family more often. Afterwards, I went shopping. I’ve always said that stores should have candlelit dressing rooms and serve martinis, because women would feel great and buy a lot more, but if that can’t happen, two watermelon margaritas before shopping will do the trick. Relaxed and worry-free, I took up temporary residency in Nordstrom Rack. I was in absolutely no hurry whatsoever. Instead of rushing around in search of a specific pair of black pants for a work trip, I casually flipped through the evening dresses as if I planned on wearing fuchsia sequins on Thursday. I called my mom. She filled me in on the latest while I tried on Prada heels and sashayed down an imaginary catwalk. I watched a woman with dirty twin toddlers try to wedge her swollen feet into some unfortunate sandals while one of the kids chewed on her handbag strap. I won’t lie; I took a moment to pity her and then I went around the aisle and snickered. Shopping with kids? So last week.

The rest of the week sped past in a flash. The last night, I went to the museum and dinner with a friend, and was so tired from laughing with him that I went home and fell into bed without peeking out the window once. Around 10 pm, it started to rain. And it rained. Then it rained some more. At 2 am, I woke up to an eerie silence and realized the electricity was off. I checked Facebook and email to pass the time, then heard a noise and peered outside, only to realize the streetlights were also off, and the only thing out there was a creepy black void. By that time I was so terrified, I got dressed by the light of my phone and drove to a 24-hour diner, where I made the most of it by ordering pancakes and watching the drunks sober up while eating late night munchies.

I drove home around four o'clock. The storm had begun to pass, just as my week as a temporary bachelorette was coming to a close. I turned on the radio and switched on my daughter’s favorite station. I belted out every last word to “My Humps,” enjoying the fact that I wasn't embarrassing or annoying anyone. Sure, I missed my people, but now that I've tasted the sweet nectar of alone time, the next time I get the chance, you can bet I’ll be just fine.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Girlfriend of Your Father, Whatever the Case May Be

(This originally appeared in August of 2012. This version has been edited and revived at the request of some new friends who wanted to hear more about my adventures in step-parenting).

I began dating my husband Tim when his children were four and five. The kids were understandably shell-shocked by their parent’s divorce, and it was a rough time for them. While Tim and I were dating, I maneuvered through the process like a teenage boy with greasy popcorn hands, trying to get to second base in a crowded movie theater. Let’s just say it was a pretty awkward time.

I handled the situation by setting expectations early: I was not applying to be a substitute mother. My goal was to make it clear to the kids that they had, and would always have, a mother and a father who loved them, and I was simply an extra adult that would be there to support and protect them if they needed it.

My early relationship with my stepdaughter Stephanie was challenging to say the least. When I came onto the scene, Stephanie was in preschool, and she wasn't up for a new woman in her life. For starters, she was confused about her parent’s situation, and, like all other normal kids, wanted her parents to get back together. I was confused as well. When I was around Stephanie, she would usually greet me with a dark-eyed scowl.  Other times, she would invite me to play Barbies, or help serve her ice cream. Because it was all over the place, I was always slightly on edge around Stephanie. I worried that we would never connect. I wondered if she would smother me in my sleep. I began having nightmares that she was chasing me with a butcher knife with ice cream dripping off of it.

When Stephanie was in first grade, she became a Girl Scout Daisy. One weekend when the kids were at Tim's, the Girl Scout troop meeting was a nature hike at a local park. Tim, always encouraging my relationship with both of his children, suggested that I take Stephanie. At the time, I would have rather eaten live earthworms. I had never attended a Girl Scout meeting in my life, and wasn't sure I wanted to start by going with a kid who barely tolerated my presence, but I decided to accept the challenge.

Sensing that losing my Girl Scout meeting virginity would leave me in no shape to drive, Tim decided to drop us off at the park. As he drove off, I considered running full-force in the direction of the car, throwing my shoes at the back windshield in a wild effort to get his attention.  Instead, I held back my natural inclination to panic, and followed a much more confident Stephanie to the space where the mothers and daughters were gathering.

I quickly assessed the scene. The warm and friendly troop leader was absent, leaving another, somewhat sullen parent volunteer in charge. The other parent that I knew from work was also not there. This left me with a group of women that I didn’t know at all, so I stood on the outskirts of the group, picking at my nail polish as Stephanie and the other Daisies frolicked around.

The mother who volunteered to lead the meeting gathered the group together. I could tell right away she meant business. She stood with confidence and held three fingers up in the air. Immediately, the wild first grade mayhem stopped. The girls all stood at attention, holding three fingers in the air, facing their temporary leader. I’d been there less than half an hour and they were already busting out secret hand symbols!

“Now girls,” the mother said to the group of hypnotized Daisies, “This is a very, very dangerous trail. There are steep areas where you can fall and get hurt.”

The girls, transfixed at the thought of plunging to their deaths in Daisy vests, hung on to her every word. I resisted the urge to roll my eyes and groan, knowing that this park’s tallest peak was a smidgen over three feet tall. I decided to stay positive, imagining in my play-pretend mind that after the hike, the sullen substitute troop leader would award me with a hiking pin to attach to my imaginary adult-sized Daisy vest.

 “Because we want you to be safe, I need you to listen to the rules,” the mother said, “Please get in line in groups of two. We’re going to use the Buddy System. Each girl needs to stand by their mommy..”

She paused, looked at Stephanie, looked at me, then frowned, unsure of what to say. She looked in the air, mentally scanning the Girl Scout Leader guidebook for how to appropriately address non-mommy types.

 “Or…..,” she said, carefully, waving her hand in a grand, dismissive gesture, “The girlfriend of your father, whatever the case may be.”

And with that, her pale skin turned crimson as she began nervously shuffling girls and mommies into a two-by-two line.

Knowing I didn't have the luxury of a getaway car, I stood there, fighting back the desire to laugh hysterically and sob with embarrassment all at the same time. Several of the more compassionate mothers smiled at me and shrugged. Some just grabbed their girls and got in line.

What’s funny is that Stephanie handled it like a pro. I honestly think she felt sorry for me. Kids are awesome at times like that. She grabbed my hand and led me to the line like nothing had ever happened. We started our hike, did some obligatory leaf rubbings, and returned with zero broken bones and one mildly bruised ego (mine). I had a couple of conversations with the compassionate mothers. All in all, we had a nice time.

Today Stephanie is 18, our relationship is one of of the most treasured things in my life. She’s a beautiful person, her face a lovely combination of both of her good-looking parents. She’s ridiculously intelligent and humble about it. She likes boy bands, road trips, and dancing in the rain.  Because of her appreciation for the beauty in the world, she’s an excellent photographer. She does goofy, hilarious dances when we’re in the grocery store. She helps people in need, just like her father. She can do a perfect Russian accent that makes us grip our sides with laughter. She stays up way too late, baking the best cupcakes I've ever eaten, singing beautifully to terrible pop radio songs. She’s still figuring out what she wants to be when she grows up, which is fine, because she has time to work it out. When I see her smile, I still see the same cute girl who stood by me as my maid of honor when I married her father.

One of these days when I get my adult-sized Daisy vest, I’ll have lots of pins. I’ll get a Naive Cookie Mom pin. I’ll have one for Patience, and it will be a rendering of the hours I spent bribing a homesick child at the Girl Scout sleepover with dark chocolate, convincing her that sleeping on an air mattress was actually worth it. But the pin I’ll put in the most prominent position will be for sticking with it despite my insecurities of dating a man with children. That one will be the “Whatever the Case May Be” pin, and I’ll wear it with pride.