For Charlotte (Not A. Cavatica)

I owe my former mother-in-law an apology. Years ago, back when life was safe and normal, and my then-husband was allowing me the luxury of staying home with my babies, I had a very unforgiving opinion of my then-mother-in-law. I’ve long-since revised that opinion privately (and to her), but it occurred to me I wrote some very harsh and frank pieces about my interactions with her, and while I have experienced the shift and nuance of that relationship changing, my written record, and what stands as a testament to my character, has not reflected those changes.

My MIL and I are very different people. Our life-experiences and generational perspective are worlds apart— and while that can probably be said of most women in our stations, here it’s particularly true. She had my husband later in life, and is actually older than my own grandmother would have been. It was easy for me to forget that she wasn’t of my mother’s generation, and actually had children the same age as my parents. It made for a complicated dynamic which I was not mature enough to fully understand. It’s likely I still can’t. But I at least wish to acknowledge my own complicity in what was so frequently a complicated and difficult relationship.

My MIL is a good person. Even when we seemed to be at cross-purposes, she was never unkind. She loves my children greatly, and has gone out of her way to always make sure they know it. When we’re young and have the hubris of still thinking we know ‘everything’ we can miss the subtlety of differing forms of expression. I made this mistake— a lot. Because my MIL did things differently than my own mother, differently than I would have, I felt secure in disregarding her perspective. I can’t imagine how frustrating this must have been to her, and I wish to apologize.

Throughout the colossal disaster of her son’s and my divorce, she continued, though I’m sure her heart was daily breaking, to reach out to me. It was actually in the painful shards of mutual loss of her son that I think I finally was able to see her as a mother and woman. Her continued kindness, despite my own howling pain, came to be something stable and reliable, and I am grateful to her for not giving up on me.

Now, nearly four years out from the divorce, and living across the country, we don’t see each other anymore. I still try and make sure she gets pictures of the kids, and I could certainly be better about having them call her. She still offers support and sends the kids cards and occasionally video chats with them. I’m grateful for her willingness to continue to help my ex-husband; it’s through her support that he is working on his recovery and able to successfully be a part of his kids’ lives, even if at a distance.

She has seen more than her share of heart-break, and as time has marched on, I have found my respect for her growing. I don’t know why some folks gets heaping piles of heartache in this life while others skate through… I may never understand. I am, however, deeply indebted and grateful to this particular woman, who has provided an example of compassionate love and forgiveness in the face of more than her share of tragedy.

I hope that sets the record straight.

Why Do You Need Feminism?


Cambridge University students were asked this question, and like Tim Russert of old, filled in their answers on a whiteboard. It’s fascinating, and I found myself loving some of the answers. A few of my favorites:

  • I need feminism because my mum still think it’s more important that I get a good husband than a good degree.
  • I need feminism because one in four women will be survivors of rape.
  • I need feminism because people still ask what the victim was wearing.
  • I need feminism because I used to think calling my brother a girl was a legitimate insult.
  • I need feminism because I haven’t had a female lecturer in three years.
  • I need feminism because I don’t want to choose between having a family and having a career.
  • I need feminism because sex trafficking is the 2nd biggest industry worldwide.
  • I need feminism because some of my friends will laugh at me for doing this.
  • I need feminism because men are afraid of women laughing at them, women are afraid of men killing them.
  • I need feminism because 45% of all homicides against women are committed by a partner or ex-partner.
  • I need feminism because I considered not getting this photo taken because I’m not wearing make-up
  • I need feminism because I won’t have to justify not taking my wife’s name.
  • I need feminism because so many people in my generation think feminism is a dirty word.
  • I need feminism because they told her Harry Potter wouldn’t sell if it was by Joanne Rowling.
  • I need feminism because 1/65 of math professors at Cambridge are women.
  • I need feminism because basic human rights shouldn’t be dictated by dicks.

And my own answers, I would add:

  • I need feminism because I have been accused of not putting my children’s needs first in choosing to pursue higher education.
  • I need feminism because after my divorce, I became the primary support, financially and emotionally, of my family.
  • I need feminism because the way I look is not indicative of my worth as a person.
  • I need feminism because I was afraid to write this post because I want people to like me. 

There are many more- go look- you might be surprised which ones are written by men. I love the many men in my life who understand the importance of this, and are doing their own parts in their own lives, to be role models. I love that my sons and daughter look perplexed when encountering blatant sexism; it’s just not on their radar that mom wouldn’t be able to do anything and everything- and this fact is the foundation of the future.

The Fish Fiasco: C’est Fin!

What an interesting few days . Before I dish, here is a video of Bean’s new favorite pastime. He has literally parked a stool in front of the aquarium and not moved for hours. It’s pretty clear he finds watching the liquid, silent movements of the fish calming and therapeutic, and that makes the chaos all worth it.

First, I acknowledge this is absurdly, entirely, a first-world problem. A tempest in a teacup, or whatever platitude spins your whirligig.

Now for the story, and I’ll keep it brief; I’m so done with crazy people. After I wrote the letter to Petco and published the blog post, The Consumerist (the blog arm of Consumer Reports) contacted me and asked if they could write about this, and follow up with Petco. The details were verified and they attempted to contact Petco themselves prior to writing Bean’s story. Petco had not yet responded to my letter.

The Consumerist gave Petco until late afternoon to reply, and when neither they nor I had received any answer, The Consumerist went ahead with the story. Within the hour of the article going live, Petco contacted me. Make of that what you will, but apparently the internet can be a great equalizer. Meanwhile, The Consumerist was getting angry emails from aquarists willing to make threats to me and Bean for our animal ‘abuse’. The Consumerist only shared one letter with me, but it was longer than my original letter to Petco. I’ll only say the idea that the life a feeder-fish— who was in all likelihood destined to be turtle food— is more valuable than me or my son is beyond comprehension. There are crazy folks out there. The Consumerist did not link to Dandelion because the writer is a wise woman, and she anticipated this reaction.

Last night, while my kids watched a Pixar movie, the president of Animal Care at Petco phoned us at home. She was gracious and kind, and spent a fair amount of time speaking with me, and then with Bean. She explained that while their goal is to educate customers on the proper care of animals, we should not have been denied the ability to purchase our fish. The employee was ‘over-zealous” in her position, and we were informed it has already been dealt with at a district level, and will be addressed in future training of employees. She gave me an example of a person wishing to purchase a large dragon lizard but only having a shoebox in which to keep it- in that case, they would have to deny that person. Yes, I agree- and had I shown up with a dixie cup and asked to buy a fish, that would make sense.

I had Bean join in via speakerphone at this point, and the VP said Petco wanted to help him in his love of animals, and asked if he would accept a gift card to take care of his fish needs, as well as a new aquarium. She also offered a private tour of the local store with the regional manager. Bean was quite pleased, and while the VP couldn’t see it, he rocked back and forth with delight, and gave her a honk.

So. Tempest in a fishbowl? Yeah. Not really a big deal in light of real problems in the world? Yeah. But a boy who is quite pleased with his fish, and who now can purchase a larger aquariuim if the fish grow big enough to need one? Yeah, that too.

I’m grateful to The Consumerist and their work on our behalf, and I’m grateful to Petco for being kind to my son and turning around a crappy situation.

Also, you can go buy goldfish now. And if you have any problems, give me a call. I know some people…



PETCO: Goldfish Rights? Activist Employees? What Gives?


PETCO Animal Supplies, Inc.
Jim Myers, CEO
Elisabeth Charles, CMO
Lisa Epstein, PR
9125 Rehco Road
San Diego, CA 92121
United States

June 13, 2013

Dear Mr. Myers and Ms. Charles,

Last week, as a long-anticipated reward, my nine-year old son and I visited your store in Manassas, Virginia. My son has Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder, and is fascinated with fish. To reward his hard work in 3rd grade, we purchased an aquarium kit from the store. A helpful employee advised us as to set-up and the necessary time for the tank to be hospitable for fish. My son began the five-day count-down, eagerly awaiting when we could return and purchase two small goldfish.

On Thursday afternoon, with an excited child, I returned to PETCO and requested help from an employee at the front desk. My son ran ahead to try and find the two fish he wanted. [Redacted], who identified herself as an Aquatic Specialist, joined me on the way to the fish department. I told her we wanted two small goldfish ($2.99 each), at which point she asked the aquarium size. When I informed her it was five gallons, she stopped and informed me she could not sell me goldfish. Stunned, I asked why. She told me that since goldfish grow to ten inches, I would have to have a tank that could accommodate such a fish.

Incredulous, I explained to her that I had purchased the entire tank system only last week, and I had been clear with the previous employee that we intended to buy two small goldfish. She informed me, in her opinion it was unethical to put two goldfish in a five gallon tank, because they would grow larger. I stood agog in the fish department, while my son continued to press his face to the blue tanks in anticipation of his new fish.

My son was still blissfully ignorant of the conflict— children with autism often struggle with change, and this was an event he had been anticipating with great joy. Through rising tension, I told her I would simply purchase a larger tank if the fish grew too big, but for right now, two 2″ fish in five gallons of water was reasonable. She self-righteously stated that was not acceptable, and refused.

I have never been so angry in a store.

There are two issues here: the incredible lack of anything resembling customer service, and the reality of a child on the autism spectrum now having to process and adjust in a store where he is refused the very goal that same store (and his mother) promised a few days earlier, following very specific directions.

I spent a fair amount of money on the tank set-up and supplies, and I returned to PETCO out of loyalty to buy our fish. Instead of a friendly experience, we were shamed and more care was shown for the well-being of a two-inch fish than was shown for my child, and for me as a customer.

It’s unclear if this is a company policy or the actions of a misguided activist employee, but the damage done to my goodwill is substantial, and PETCO today lost our business.

A clarification as to PETCO’s policy would be appreciated. Do customers need to bring in photos of their aquarium and be vetted? Is there an application for purchasing a fish? Does one have to sign an affidavit promising to upgrade aquarium size? Based on this employee’s assessment of my son and I, we were discriminated against by PETCO.

Training for employees in customer service, particularly [redacted], is not only prudent, but clearly necessary, unless you wish you lose more customers.

Tracy M
Manassas, VA

p.s. Thankfully, we were able to find a local aquarium store where they were helpful, kind and delighted in selling us two small goldfish and additional supplies. Their employee also gave my son a lesson in caring for his new fish.

Summer Yawns Before Us

I’m such a slacker. I’m so happy we’ve got some make-up days from all the stupid, ridiculous Snow Days this winter, and realized just this morning that the kids are in school until Tuesday of next week. I’d been doing a count-down based on this Friday. Add a Lame star to the Slacker Crown.

I know it’s a first-world problem— I have the luxury of decent housing, enough food, a running car and satisfying employment… but as a single mom, facing summer isn’t something I rejoice. The unstructured days are hard for Bean, and I don’t have the resources for camp or somewhere exciting for them to visit. We have a pool here in our neighborhood, and it’s where we’ll undoubtably be spending a lot of time. IMG_0628Free and close. Those are good things when contemplating the expanse of summer. I’ve got to find a you-pick farm around here and put up some jam, too. It’s not July without jam, and despite getting rid of all my canning supplies at the Garage Sale to End All Garage Sales last June, I’m determined to at least keep some rituals in place.IMG_0622We found our local Minor League Potomic Nationals, and discovered Monday nights are $1 night, all summer long. Bean did awesome at his first game, and we even lasted until the 7th inning before we had to leave. I love minor league ball- it’s hokey and small, you can chat with the players in the bullpen, and you get lots of teaching opportunities with all the errors and bunts and pickles. I even think I impressed my kids with my baseball smarts- thanks, Dad, Mike and brothers. See? I was listening after all.IMG_0596The first Tuesday of every month is Free Lego Day at the Lego store. Awwww yeah. Nevermind the lines- these kids will stand patiently as long as necessary for gratis Legos.IMG_0617Abby gave a presentation and was tested, and might be advancing a grade, come fall. I guess the giveaway was when her teacher started using her to tutor the other students in the class, rotating her seat assignment weekly. I’m happy for my girl- I want her to have the tools she needs, whatever they are, to shine, and she far out-stripes her mama. (That’s a diorama she made on the habitat of snakes in the rainforest- and the snake is on a toothpick poked through the back so it can slither across the floor. I didn’t help her at all, aside from going to the craft store with her alphabetized list of supplies. The dragonfly also spins.)IMG_0639In cicada news, because I know y’all are on pins and needles, this is the only fully grown one I’ve seen. That’s a nickel next to it, for scale. I have no idea why, but we are in a bubble of No Bugs. We can hear them, everywhere we go, but in our neighborhood? Nada. I’m heaving with relief, honestly. My dread knew no bounds. This little one, all by itself, it actually kind of pretty. Of course, if he’d brought millions of his friends, I’d be having a conniption. IMG_0630This is a tired face I plan on seeing a lot of in the next two months. Keeping this boy active and exhausted are going to be the keys to all of our survival for vacation. What’s up with you for summer? Are you a super-planner? Or do you wing it, like me?

June 6, 1944


My grandpa would likely be ticked at me for showing this array, but what you are looking at is part of what we honor when we remember this day. These are the medals earned by my grandfather, Captain Jack McKay, during his career in the United States Army. From the sandy and bloodied beaches of Normandy in June of 1944 where he led his men ashore, to patrols into occupied enemy territory in France, to being given credit by his superior officers with being the first American soldier to set foot on German soil, these are the honors accorded a soldier. Yes, there are really five Purple Heart medals. That is not an error.

For any longtime readers of Dandelion, you know that my grandpa Jack died when I was pregnant with Abigail, and I was unable to fly to Washington DC for his funeral at Arlington National Cemetery. He was buried with all the honor accorded a soldier of his service, and his final resting place is now marked by the same simple white marker that names every other in that vast memorial.  It is only fitting and proper.

Because men like my grandpa were willing to set aside their own fears and aspirations for their lives and fight for something greater than themselves, countless people the world over live in freedom. There are still men and women, soldiers, who lay their lives on the line every hour of every day to protect our lives and liberties. Indeed, life and liberty is so precious and so valued that our soldiers are willing to fight to the far corners of the world to secure these precious ideals for people of other nations, faiths and creeds. No greater honor, indeed.

Today, wherever you may be, take a moment to stop and remember. Maybe say a prayer or lift your heart in gratitude for those who came before you, and perhaps teach your children a little bit about whose shoulders we stand on each and every day. The mighty, the strong, the selfless. Don’t forget them.

Here’s a tribute I wrote to him when he died.

The medals are: Combat Infantryman’s Badge, The Distinguished Service Cross, Bronze Star, Bronze Star, Silver Star with Oakleaf Cluster, Silver Star with Oakleaf Cluster, the French Croix de Guerre (awarded by France), five individual Campaign Stars, and five individual Purple Heart Medals, each honoring separate instances of being wounded in combat. 


I Think I Can, I Think I Can…


What do you do when you shower suddenly reverses polarity, and the handle twists all helter-skelter, and you have no idea which way will make the water hot or cold? It was a fun few days of playing Shower Roulette before I finally had enough. Yeah, I could have called the landlords, waited on a plumber, and been annoyed. Instead? I got out my tools and took the shower apart!

It only took a philips-head screwdriver and a pair of pliers. Turns out the housing that goes around the gasket-thingy (technical term) which turns the valve had broken. I gathered all the pieces into a ziplock bag and headed to Lowes. In about 10 minutes, I had the replacement parts in hand, and within the hour, my shower was fixed! Voila! I’ll deduct my $10 in sunk costs for replacement parts from the rent and they can be happy that I’m the most awesome tenant ever (besides David Tenant- he’s clearly more awesomer than I am).

It was fun not playing Shower-Roulette this morning.

This is actually something I really value about how I was brought up and how I’ve lived. Watching my parents build their own house, I learned early that it wasn’t that hard to do stuff. There was no mystery- get a book, read the directions carefully, and you can pretty much do a kinds of fix-it stuff. I’ve watched my mom pour concrete, frame a door, strip furniture, repair drywall. I’ve watched my dad frame rafters, build foundation forms, point masonry and roof a gable. And now with YouTube, it’s easier than ever to take the reins. If there’s something you need, find a video on how to do it, and give it a shot. Be careful that it’s a simple job and you actually have the correct tools- but don’t be afraid to jump in! Had my shower been leaking in the wall or required a specialized pipe-wrench, I would have acquiesced and called a plumber- but often the fixes are small and simple, and easily done. Plus, the sense of accomplishment is validating in a way that might surprise you.

Tell me something you fixed that made you feel awesome and competent and like you wanted to don a cape and stand in the sunset…