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On Showing Up

My cousin Joe passed away two weeks ago–he was 80, and had been in diminishing health. Joe and his wife, Ro, are some of my favorite people in the extended family: funny and smart and to me, growing up, the epitome of class. Ro was gorgeous and always put-together, and Joe was friendly and interested. They were loving, funny, Ro dry and sarcastic, Joe silly. She’s Italian and petite, he Irish, tall and lanky. They made me feel comfortable, even when I was young girl quaking with discomfort in large gatherings of strange relatives. But here’s the thing I always admired most about both of them: Joe and Ro were “show-uppers.” Joe and Ro were the distant cousins who come to everything, surprising us every time, even though we shouldn’t have been: all the family events, big and small, no matter the distance. When we threw my mom a surprise birthday dinner in Hershey last December, they were there, despite the late hour, the dark roads from Wynnewood, and Joe’s declining health. When my father died nine years ago, they drove out not only to my…

This is How Menageries Start: A Tale of Two Goldfish

Here’s the setting: It’s Friday night, and we’re at a big Oktoberfest celebration on the grounds of the Carlisle Army Barracks in Carlisle, Pa. This is a tradition for us (there are lots of carnival rides and games and food trucks and beer here, so of course it’s a tradition. Prost! ) Here’s the scene: My girls run into some good friends of theirs, and there’s a big happy celebration. They ask to play the game with a goldfish as a prize. Now, David is off with Cian, chaperoning as he rides a kiddie ride, thereby leaving me unchaperoned around tiny little homeless animals (fish count as animals, right?). The girls only have to ask once before I’m forking over the five bucks for the family-sized bucket of ping-pong balls, and by the time David returns with Cian to discover his calm little world upended, Quinlan and her friend have both won a fish. The friend asks her dad if they can keep the fish, and because he’s a responsible adult, he says no. That leaves us, the irresponsible ones, with one adopted fish and one foster…

Well, I Know What’s Right: Las Vegas and Ethics and Being a You Liberal

My little guy is sitting beside me, drawing, and his tongue is sticking out of his mouth in concentration. “Mom?” He looks up from his coloring sheet, one covered with superheroes and villains. “Why is Ironman called that when he doesn’t do any ironing?” I answer him, trying not to laugh, and notice that his eyes look green today. They reflect the dinosaurs marching across his pajamas. He was wearing them when we dropped the girls off at school, a little homebody who’s relieved to spend most of the day with me, away from the rest of the world. Superheroes have powers, but what about us? What are ours? I try to keep telling myself that the best way to start changing the world–because yes, we need to, and no, we’re not overthinking it–is to begin with my own family. Show each person in this house unconditional love. Grant a little mercy and grace more often. Make each kid and adult feel like he’s someone good, someone worthy, someone capable. And then somebody smears toothpaste all over the bathroom mirror and I lose my…