Friday, April 27, 2007

Fast-Food Philanthropy

Robert P of BlueNC left a comment on my American Idle? blog post that really got me thinking and encouraged me to sharpen my critique of the Idol Gives Back effort.

Robert said:

The only positive thing I would say is that it raised $50 million for the poor and starving that wouldn't have been raised otherwise. We gave, and it won't mean we don't continue giving what we can to other charities, it was a new give.

American Idol is pure sugary schlock, which this year is in big trouble because it has no decent singers. I think the LEAST they can do is use their popularity to raise awareness amongst a whole generation of teens and preteens that have no idea what the word "Ethiopia" stirs in the minds of their parents. And, it's better than watching another Sally Struthers commercial....

My response:

I've struggled to crystallize my thoughts about why the Idol Gives Back effort left me feeling so hollow. I feel that they are creating fast-food philanthropy. When you are hungry, sometimes a Big Mac hits the spot, but what they were doing with Idol Gives Back feels to me like an attempt to create a diet based on vitamin-fortified french fries.

I was bothered by the shameless commercial promotion, the sterotypical emotional appeals, the awkward and inappropriate intermingling of pop culture, celebrity extravaganza, and momentous suffering.

I also believe that philanthropy should involve knowledge and due diligence. While I am sure that there are a number of worthy charitable organizations involved, how do I know that the $50 million they raised will be put to good use? The fact that Coca-Cola, Fox News, and snack food manufactuers are endorsing the effort does not inspire my confidence. In my opinion many of these corporations are doing tremendous disservices to society in the course of their normal business. If a junk food manufacturer funds nutrition programs, is that really a net positive? If the owners of Fox News create a few hours of charitable and potentially inspiring programming, must I cheer?

Participating in fast-food philanthropy makes us feel better for a moment, but what if we feel like we've done our part and yet neglect the true core issues? I am reminded of the post 9-11 celebrity telethon. That emerged from a heartfelt and genuine outpouring of national grief and good will, but how many of us know how the money was spent? Was our energy mobilized wisely? While we were crying and listening to 9/11 benefit CDs, our government was ramping up for an ill-conceived war, suspending civil liberties, and gutting the legal foundations of our country (cf, habeas corpus). We can't just "phone in" our civic obligations. It takes a lot more work to look beyond our narrow self-interest and become educated about what is going on.

In the end, I actually hope that I am wrong to be so skeptical about this event. Nothing would please me more than to learn that suffering was alleviated in a sustainable way, that a child had her eyes opened to activism by this effort, or that a great leader emerges from a community that was served by the charitable effort. But until that happens, I am left with the cynical feeling that the girl whose favorite book was Captain Underpants seems like the perfect metaphor for the whole endeavor. It is progress that she can read at all when previous generations were illiterate, but if we are content with merely that accomplishment, we are ultimately letting her down.

Labels: , ,

Fearless Friday!

Today is the MotherTalk Fearless Friday blog event in honor of Arianna Huffington's book On Becoming Fearless...In Love, Work and Life. I admire Arianna as someone who has continued to reinvent herself throughout her life, found her voice, and created a powerful platform through The Huffington Post and her books. She was a delight to talk to as you will hear in our The Mojo Mom Podcast conversation.

I felt a real sense of sisterhood with Arianna as I read her book. One of the earliest potential cover designs for Mojo Mom featured a woman diving off a cliff into the unknown, much like the cover of the new paperback edition of On Becoming Fearless. It wasn't the right concept for Mojo Mom but the version on Arianna's book works, as the diver soars, almost flies, into her future.

Motherhood was a leap of faith for me, as I had little knowledge of the transformations that lay ahead. I learned how much I didn't know. Stripped of my arrogance and my comfortable old sense of self, I rebuilt from the ground up. Fearlessness was a major lesson during this journey, and I say that not even having tackled the teenage years yet! The stakes are higher as a parent, and this teaches us the lesson that there are more important things than being liked, or popular. The people-pleaser tendency is still in me, but it is quieter and more readily over-ridden. Every mother learns that to keep her child--and all children--safe, sometimes you have to stick your neck out and be prepared to come across as "the only crazy mother who is willing to talk about __________"

I am about to start a new project that was nurtured by courage. One thing I have learned about myself is that I am drawn to knowledge gaps and creating projects to help fill them. That's what I did with Mojo Mom, writing the book I had wished I had had as a new mother.

My next project is to take on the topic of child safety and abuse prevention. To embark on this path, I am planning to bring Kidpower training to my home state of North Carolina. I want to make abuse prevention and safety skills part of the normal, everyday parent education curriculum. Sexual abuse in particular can be a charged and confusing topic for many people, starting with the fact that most parents have little to no background on the subject. We heard the old canard "don't talk to strangers" as kids, and as limited and inaccurate as that advice may be, it may be all that we know to pass on. My goal is to expand parents' toolbox of knowledge, skills and resources, and to empower families to discuss these issues with their children on an ongoing basis.

It feels great to be joining the Kidpower community, which has trained over a million people worldwide over the past 20 years. Their training creates a safe, upbeat, success-based learning environment. Kidpower has chapters thorghout the United States as well as a major international presence. I encourage you to visit the Kidpower website to learn about their online resources or locate a Kidpower center near you.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

American Idle?

I just finished watching the American Idol Gives Back special. On TiVO, thank goodness. I was curious enough to tune in to see whether this show would be the Band Aid/Live Aid of the 21st century, or a misbegotten Frankenstein-monster mismash of pop culture and charity.

At first it was like The Muppet Show on acid, with the most random celebrity stars showing up, complete with Miss Piggy herself. A truly awful celebrity video to Staying Alive had stars present and past, flying out of the "where are they now?" file and across the screen in short snippets. Images blew by like a smoke monster flashback scene from Lost. Terri Hatcher looking like a drunk vampire. Dr. Phil in all his bald wonder. Helen (gasp! my true idol, what is she doing there?) Mirren. Kirstie Alley dressed like a priest (really). The underemployed members from the cast of Friends. In Hollywood was it worse to be excluded from this freak show, or asked to join in?

As the show reached over-the-rainbow Star Wars Holiday Special levels of weirdness, the attemped charity tie-in kicked into full gear. Honestly, though their intentions may be good, I just don't get it. American Idol is supposed to be a mindless diversion and trying to make it meaningful just didn't work for me, especially a telethon grafted onto a supposed "results show." They'll probably raise a lot of money but the whole endeavor was ghoulish to me.

Simon and Ryan Seacrest visited dying AIDS victims in Africa, set to the soundrack of Grey's Anatomy. Paula Abdul wore a distracting pneumatic push-up corset and told us about illiterate families in Kentucky, where a success story is a kid whose favorite book is Captain Underpants.

Back to pop culture and corporate sponsorship, with the Idols singing a ridiculously immature version of Crazy Little Thing Called Love to shill for Ford. They should really have a Brady Bunch Kids-themed week because when the whole group sings together they come across as about as talented as the Bunch. Especially dressed in ugly matching white outfits. Come on, can't you see the Idols selling Ford's Gen X-targeted cars singing the automotive-themed classic Keep On? (Admit it, you know the words.)

This star-studded mess reached The Love Boat Gets Lost in the Bermuda Triangle and Finds The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island proportions when Celine Dion "transported back in time" to sing a duet with a reanimated digital Elvis.

This pop nightmare was melting my brain when the corporate sponsors were announced: Ford, AT&T, Coca-Cola, Con Agra Foods (makers of Reddi-Whip and Slim Jim), Exxon Mobil, News Corporation (owner of Fox News, The New York Post, MySpace and TV Guide, among others), Allstate and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Somehow this list of mega-corporations felt like the perfect scene-setter to explain the whole night. This well-intentioned but inane and disjointed spectacle was truly the mutated offspring of junk food, media conglomeration, big oil, and intellecutal monopolies.

I guess I'll go chug a Coke, put gas in my Land Rover, eat a Slim Jim and watch Fox News. Then all of this will probably start to make sense.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

"The Feminine Mistake" on "The Mojo Mom Podcast"

My conversation with Leslie Bennetts, author of The Feminine Mistake was a challenging one. It was difficult for me to connect with someone who was so uncompromising and loath to seek common ground. You can either admire her strength or totally disagree with her approach. My concern is that she has a kernel of an important message that she is presenting in a way that will totally alienate the women whom she is trying to reach. No one likes to be told that they've already ruined their life by leaving the workforce to stay at home with their children.

I have written extensively about her book in earlier blog postings so I won't say much more, other than to reiterate that it can be a useful experience to listen to people whose opinions you do not agree with. Bennetts' strong position will give you something to respond to. My reaction was to think of all the things I should have said...much later on.

Listen to the show and decide for yourself. I hope you'll post your thoughts here to create a group dialogue and feedback loop!

Labels: , ,

Friday, April 20, 2007

On Becoming Fearless

I had the pleasure of speaking with Arianna Huffington this week for an upcoming episode of The Mojo Mom Podcast. After reading her book On Becoming Fearless and talking with her, she impressed me as a force of nature and a mistress of reinvention. Mojo Mom qualities for sure!

Arianna takes on many types of fearlessness, ranging from money to love, work and relationships. As her book progressed my connection with the topic grew even stronger. I wanted to cheer as she talked about finding one's voice and becoming a leader. Arianna speaks from hard-won experience. Working through the challenge of her Greek accent to become the head of the famed Cambridge Union debating society, and having the fortitude to withstand her friends' disapproval when she shifted politically to the left, are two experiences that give her the crediblity to speak of courage and transformation.

Arianna wrote the book after observing that her teenage daughters were starting to experience the same fears that once burdened her, but at age 38 I feel that the challenge of fearlessness is just as personally relevant as ever. Especially as Moms, we need the courage to withstand the barbs slung at "uppity women" and create a new vision of leadership that acts independently from the status quo power structure of masculinity and titles. Arianna speaks of "internal leadership" that "is generated by an inner force that compels us to try and make the surrounding world...a better place." This brand of mojo doesn't wait for permission from others to manifest itself. Arianna's mother serves as an example of a women powered by internal leadership. She was an independent-minded woman who was not afraid to convene a kitchen table conversation between a disgruntled plumber and the Prime Minister at Great Britain when the opportunity presented itself.

Fearlessness, power and voice. These are the raw materials of leadership that are available to each of us. I hope you'll read On Becoming Fearless, follow the the other stops on Arianna's MotherTalk blog tour, and take the opportunity to share your own stories through the Mother-Daughter campaign on The Huffington Post.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Reluctant Lactivist takes on the Ronald McDonald House

I just have time for two quick links, to recommend that you read about the Reluctant Lactivist taking on the Ronald McDonald House of Houston's staff who wants to discourage breastfeeding in common areas.

I recommend that you start with the story on's Broadsheet and then read the Reluctant Lactivist's own account.

I'd love to show her support from Mojo Moms so if you stop by her blog, leave her a few kind words. It sounds like she's been through an exhausting process.

Sorrow for Virginia Tech; questions and anger

The Virginia Tech shooting brought Columbine to mind for many of us. When that tragedy happened 8 years ago, I was working a high school teacher in San Francisco so the issue hit very close to home. Ironically, on that exact day I was arriving in Philadelphia for a teachers' conference, and no one at the conference spoke about the shootings. I still don't know how that happened. We felt like we were in a cocoon away from work, but it is really strange that the conference organizers did not find a way for us to address it. The conference was a regenerative bonding experience and maybe it would have detracted from their purpose to bring up the tragedy, but I have never respected that strange decision.

The Virginia Tech shootings are a different story at least when it comes to communication. With our hyper-connected world we were given nearly live updates via not only television featuring cell phone video, but instant messaging, email, and web sites. This disturbed me this morning when I saw the full-on coverage on The Today Show. It felt too soon--no one really knew yet what had happened. The gunman's name had not even been released. The confusion came through when Virginia Tech's President Charles Steger was interviewed by Matt Lauer. I had to feel sympathy for the President, who must be in utter shock, but I have been angered throughout the day by his comments and some I've heard from campus police saying they made the best decisions they could at the time given the information they had.

This defensive posture is unacceptable to me. When your campus suffers the worst civilian shooting in U. S. history, and two separate incidets happened hours apart, there is no room for defending your decision with any sentence that includes the word "best."

They purused a strategy and it didn't work. I know there were competing factors as thousands of people arrived on campus, but clearly the strategy failed. It will take weeks and months to untangle the whole scenario and officials should remain humble rather than defensive until they figure out what happened. Anger is definitely one of the mixed emotions emerging from the Virginia Tech community itself.

One theme that has bothered me greatly has recurred in many news reports such as this one from

"At 7:15 a.m. the first shots were fired at the Ambler Johnston dorm. The victims were reportedly a man and a woman. A 911 call was made to the Virginia Tech Police Department. But, they thought it was a domestic dispute, an isolated incident.

More than two hours later, at about 9:40 a.m., as classes began at the engineering department, so did the shooting spree."

This sense of complacency over domestic violence adds to the tragedy, and possibly the outcome. Someone shoots two people in cold blood and leaves the scene. In what universe is it okay to minimize the seriousness of the scenario because it began as a domestic dispute? I feel that we've become numbed to the danger of domestic violence as reported in this news story from the Akron Beacon Journal:

"At first, the shootings seemed like the sort of thing police around the country are called to every day. A domestic dispute in a dorm room, something that could happen on a big college campus without every student feeling touched by it. Certainly not the beginning of the worst shooting rampage in modern U.S. history."

I feel ashamed that we habitually believe that we can distance ourselves from domestic violence in this way. It's something that happens to other people and doesn't touch the rest of us. This incident will force us to grapple with the issue on a deeper level.

Monday, April 16, 2007

"Healthy Mother, Healthy Child" on "The Mojo Mom Podcast"

I thoroughly enjoyed interviewing the first guest who came to The Mojo Mom Podcast through my new partnership with MotherTalk.

Elizabeth Irvine has written a truly thoughtful new book, Healthy Mother, Healthy Child. I am a stickler for book design and Beth's book made me feel peaceful just picking it up and admiring the clean lines and beautiful photography and layout. You get the feeling that Beth brings a sense of quality and mindfulness to everything she does.

Whether you are a longtime yoga and acupuncture fan, or a parent who is just curious to find ways to enhance your family's well-being, reading Beth's book feels like sitting down with a wise and supportive friend and parenting mentor. Beth has a professional background in nursing as well as yoga and craniosacral therapy.

I love that she includes creative expression as well as an exploration of techniques including meditation, breathing, nutrition and alternative therapies. In my talks about bouncing back from Mom burnout, the first step is to get back to the basics of self-care. Beth can help you build that foundation and provide gentle reminders along the way.

We chatted a bit after our interview ended and I asked Beth to share her favorite parenting tip. She said:

"Honor your children. Our children bring us so many gifts and they're right there for us to learn from.... It's really about paying attention to them. Notice what your children like to do. Encourage them to do those things, so it's when we do those things that we like to do that it makes us feel good inside. And when we do this, we teach our children how to learn how to do their best."

Beth's interview is available now through's podcast archives or the iTunes podcast directory.

Chapel Hill event: Coffee & Careers, this Wednesday

This Wendesday morning I will be speaking in Chapel Hill at a "Coffee & Careers" seminar hosted by the founders of Balancing Professionals, LLC. We'll be talking about returning to work after having kids, and the state of part-time and flexible work opportunities in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill Triangle.

Balancing Professionals is a Triangle-based employment firm that connects businesses with high-caliber professionals who are seeking part-time or job-share opportunities. They also educate and advise businesses about the changing workplace, showing them how to capitalize on these changes to cut costs, increase productivity, and build a team of the best and brightest.

If you are in the area, I hope you'll join us on April 18th from 10 to 11 am. The event is free but pre-registration is required. Location details can be found on the pre-registration page.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Conservation of Momentum

It's official: there will never be enough hours in a day to stay caught up with everything I want to do. That's a stressful thought but also a relief in a way. Coming to this conclusion gives me permission to draw the line each day, to say that it enough for now.

Work will still be there tomorrow.

So, as I have spread myself as thin as the last glob of peanut butter trying to eke out one more sandwich, I haven't been blogging as much as usual but I have been working on The Mojo Mom Podcast. We have GREAT guests lined up for the next few shows. Later this week I'll post a new episode with Elizabeth Irvine, author of Healthy Mother, Healthy Child, a beautiful book about creating balance and wellness in everyday life.

Then next in the lineup we have Gail Evans, author of She Wins, You Win and Leslie Bennetts, author of the controversial new book The Feminine Mistake. I hope I have built up my SAHM-credibility enough over the years to say that even if you don't like Leslie Bennetts' message you owe it to youself to at least listen to her interview. I haven't spoken to her yet, so I don't know how it will turn out, but I am confident that a two-way conversation will be enlightening and revealing. I have to say that even though I disagree with her on substantial points, I have learned something important from her book and the intense reaction to it.

The Mojo Mom Podcast is in search of an ever-expanding audience, and we are thrilled to be partnering with MotherTalk, Miriam Peskowitz, Andi Buchanan and Stacy DeBroff's brainchild that connects Moms and authors through literary salons, blog tours, and more. Elizabeth Irvine is our first podcast guest who has come to us through MotherTalk. Stay tuned for more news about our partnership.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The Four Agreements and The Mommy Wars

I've been thinking a lot about the "Mommy Wars" lately. I have largely tried to avoid fanning the flames of disagrement unnecessarily. Sometimes I do honestly need to say something critical about another writer or mother, but I do my best to be constructive and honest.

I recently read The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, and I think his guiding principles for living are very applicable to our discussions among mothers.

Ruiz's Four Agreements are:

1. Be impeccable with your word

2. Don't take anything personally

3. Don't make assumptions

4. Always do your best

When other philosophical/faith traditions talk about sin or falling short of the mark, it's easy to jump ahead to rules such as "thou shalt not kill" and think that we're doing great since we haven't murdered anyone lately. Ruiz brings our attention to the areas where we fail daily: gossiping, suffering because we take the criticism of others too personally, or causing misunderstandings and drama by not communicating clearly. Those hit home for me and show me where I can do better.

For the record, I am a practicing Christian and I am also open to receiving wisdom wherever I find it. In this case, Ruiz's advice feels like just the right tool to apply to having an open discussion while minimizing the "Mommy Wars." I cannot vouch for the historical authenticity of his Toltec wisdom but it just feels like common sense.

I'm going to head over to blog on later tonight and try to put these ideas to good use.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Taking charge of your financial security

I can understand why women are reacting angrily to The Feminine Mistake. There are valid criticisms about structural change and individual choice. If quality childcare were readily available and affordable, for example, we'd have much less of a caregiving conundrum. (By the way, if I were President I'd launch a public Montessori School initiative, starting with primary education at age 3.)

But, we should not overlook the fact that Leslie Bennetts does raise valid points about the financial risk incurred by women leaving the workforce. I have seen this time after time in my own family, in the elder generations. Divorce, widowhood, disability, unemployment, and worst of all, being trapped in an unhealthy marriage because of financial dependence. (The dark side of Ozzie and Harriet.) None of these were expected situations, but each of us needs to foresee that at some point in our lives we will need to be financially self-sufficent, or the primary breadwinner for our entire family.

My parents separated and then divorced after 18 years of marriage, and the split was tough on both of them. Running two independent households is expensive for everyone. My Mom faced the additional obstacle of presenting a work resume that had little paid employment. She had finished most of a Masters' degree when our family lived in Michigan, but when we moved to Pennsylvania for my Dad's new job, several years before they separated, she was not accepted at the program in Philadelphia. This degree could have greatly enhanced her employability, but she was not able to finish the credential. So she worked at hourly jobs that never provided much interest or financial reward. She was lucky to have other resources and we all got by just fine, but I wish she had found a career she loved. Now in "retirement" she is busier than ever (in a good way), managing the family business, and spending lots of time with our family including providing back-up childcare for my daughter.

I have addressed financial realities and strategies issues head-on in my work. In Mojo Mom, I devote a chapter to "Keeping Your Resume Fresh and Your Financial Future Secure." I believe that every stay-at-home Mom should have a Plan A and Plan B.

Plan A begins with staying at home with your kids as long as you want. Remember that no matter what, the phase of intense mothering won't last forever! The at-home years can be a time of continuing education, updating your professional credentials, developing a network that includes professional contacts as well as friendships, and planning your ideal return to the workforce some time in the future. I do believe that with 80 year lifespans to deal with, every woman should have a plan to return to paid work eventually, even if it isn't for 20 years. There is joy and value in a profession you care about and work well done. When I say that motherhood is a catalyst for transformation, that can be a great opportunity to explore a new passion. I only began to take my writing seriously after becoming a mother.

Plan B is an evolving strategy that answers the question, "What would I do if I had to support my family tomorrow?" This covers a lot of ground including, "What savings and insurance do I have?" "Is my family in debt?" "What would I do if my husband died or left suddenly?" "Do I have an emergency fund in my name only that I could access within a day if I needed to?"

Each of us needs to look at our worst-case scenario and figure out what we would do. The first time you look at your Plan B you may feel like you don't have much to work with at the moment. This plan changes as your credentials change--if you are in the process of completing a degree, your Plan B will get more lucrative after you have graduated, or you may be able to realize your long-term Plan A. You can leverage your community and network connections into potential business relationships. Through my community volunteering relationships, I can name a handful of people I could talk to about paid employment if I suddenly needed a job.

It is vital that you know and understand your family's financial picture. DO NOT let your husband take this function over himself. You can't formulate your Plan A or B if you don't know how much money or debt your family has. Nightmare scenarios arise when a spouse hides debt or investment losses.

Here are a few resources I can recommend to help you get started with your financial education: is a comprehensive website I highly recommend. The founders wrote a book called It's More Than Your Money--It's Your Life! and they feature many other resources on their site.

Suze Orman has written a good book to get you going, Women & Money: Owning the Power to Control Your Destiny

I also like Jean Chatzky's straightforward advice, particularly in The Ten Commandments of Financial Happiness: Feel Richer with What You've Got.

The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Parents are Going Broke by mother-daughter team Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi discusses the structural issues within our economy that create increased financial vulnerability. An eye-opening read.

Banned from Amazon!

I couldn't believe it when wouldn't publish my review of Leslie Bennetts' The Feminine Mistake. I believed that my review was a thoughtful, specific critique making it clear that I thought the book was a worthwhile read despite its flaws.

Here's what Amazon said:

"Your review of "The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much?" was removed because your comments in large part focused on authors and their intentions, rather than reviewing the item itself.

Our guidelines do not allow discussions that criticize authors or their intentions. We encourage all voices to respond openly in our store, both positive and negative. However, we do exert some editorial control over our customer reviews.

As such, your review cannot be posted on in its current format. What I can suggest is that you resubmit your review, restricting your comments to critically analyzing the content of the item."

Ooooookay, to be honest I really didn't know what to make of that. The author's intentions are clear in the work and I was responding to that. Her book has a strong point of view, and I was critiquing the extent to which she successfully made her point, or not.

Ironically, I think that Bennetts herself might have appreciated my critique. On the Huffington Post she was disappointed by women who slagged her book without reading it. Bennett said, "If you want to disagree with my conclusions, you need to address the facts on which they're based rather than acting as if these were simply matters of opinion. They're not." I read and analyzed her book very closely, and one of my criticisms is that in her chapter called "Backward Progress" she gives too much weight and credence to women who agree with her point, and not enough weight to Gen X women who are working to reinvent motherhood, work, feminism, and activism, (cf The Motherhood Manifesto, which Benntts mentions only briefly.) I hate to conjure up Linda Hirshman, but that was the best example of someone whom Bennetts' quoted to support her perspective without acknowledging the legitimate controversy that Hirshman evokes.

I submitted a revised, denuded review to Amazon trying to get through their process. I am not happy with it. I felt inhibited in what I could write, not sure which censor button I was trying to avoid pushing. Too bad, because this book calls for frank discussion. Joan Walsh' review on was very good (and I have to say, quite similar to the one I wrote that Amazon rejected! I am glad that my thoughts were spelled out completely on my previous blog posts).

I would like to invite Leslie Bennetts to be a guest on my podcast, because I'd love to see how a person-to-person interview could balance her published manifesto.

Innovation: The Parallel Vacation

The blog has been quiet this week because we are on vacation in San Francisco. I desperately needed a vacation, WITH my family. I love San Francisco and actually being here makes me nostalgic for our years in the Bay Area.

I have a lot to blog about that I may not get to, but I wanted to post a quick note about a bit of serendipity that has made our trip even better. Last week, through the kid grapevine we found out that one of my daughters' classmates was also coming to San Francisco with her family. They happen to be staying a block from our hotel! (So close that we can send window signals back and forth flashing the lights.) So we've gotten together several times with the other family, for Dim Sum brunch, inviting them to swim in our hotel's pool, a trip the Exploratorium. Since we both have only children it's been wonderful to bring another kid into the mix. We traded "date nights out" as well, giving each couple a chance to enjoy a dinner out on the town alone. And what's really cool is that I also thoroughly enjoyed the night we had both girls at dinner. We've just about reached the age of reason!

The nice features of this arrangement are that we didn't have to plan together, and we aren't obligated to each other every minute of the day. We've done our own thing most of the time. We are friendly with the other parents but not best friends. It's more important that the girls really like each other--the grownups are much easier to please in that department. So in the future I'd definitely look for the chance to arrange a parallel vacation like this one. You can plan to be with another family without being joined at the hip.

Thank goodness the girls figured out that we were going to the same destination the day before we left. I would have been really disappointed if we had missed out on this opportunity.