Too Cool for School: My Baby Was Booted from Daycare

August 17, 2017 | add comment

Elliot, then eight months, had been in daycare for all of two months. Brian and I were under the impression our sweet baby was thriving. So it came as quite a blow when we learned the opposite. We were told he was overstimulated…stressed…pooping his pants. And that we should find other childcare arrangements. Permanently. I was blindsided by the news and shattered upon learning he was struggling.

Like any mom inclined to perfectionism, I blamed myself. Leaving Elliot in somebody else’s care was hard enough. When I realized he was far from flourishing, the ensuing anxiety was a bullet to the heart. And even though I continued smiling and cooing at him, he sensed I was upset. I couldn’t disguise it. In the days that followed, he protested naps and woke up fussing in the night. This led to even more mom guilt. I knew it was temporary, but it felt eternal.

When I grew tired of blaming myself, I started blaming everyone else. My mind raced months and years ahead. What if Elliot doesn’t like grade school? What if the teachers give up on him? How will he ever become POTUS now?! Nobody was protected from my scorn, not even the toddlers at daycare. Why did they have to be so shouty and unpredictable? Why were the other babies such babies? Why did the childcare providers say nothing until they found the situation insurmountable? Maybe everyone, even the daycare dog (that b*tch…literally), should’ve tried just a little harder.

I found a large saucepan and headed to the freezer. I filled the pot with vanilla ice cream then piled on toppings — almond butter, smashed pretzels, crumbled up chocolate chip cookies. Hell, why not add potato chips. I stole a bib from my baby and spoon-fed myself with a ladle. I didn’t skimp. Didn’t question. Didn’t share it with Brian. And I’m only slightly exaggerating.

My mind was still reeling as I wiped ice cream from my brow. It was time to stop dwelling on this. I considered going for a run. Or going to a bar. Or running to a bar. Instead, I grabbed my laptop and started writing. I wrote a nasty email to the daycare owner, telling her how unprofessional and unfair her actions were. How I should’ve known they were bad news the time I picked up Elliot and found him “napping” in the back room, crying and furious, with a leaky diaper. I did not hit send on that email. Instead, I revised it until it took on a diplomatic tone, honest and as charitable as I could muster. With each word, I let go of the anxiety, the hurt, the subtle desire to cake the daycare lawn in dirty diapers.

Three months have passed since the day I walked out of there stunned, choking back tears. But looking back, I am glad Elliot got the boot. He has a different way of looking at the world. Sure, he may be sensitive. He may dislike toddlers playing peekaboo in his face. He may feel more deeply than most. GOOD. FOR. HIM. He’s tuned into his surroundings and is damn observant. This morning I looked him in the eyes and said, “Mommy wouldn’t change a thing.” And isn’t that the best feeling in the world?

I channeled this newfound bliss into a dance party with Elliot. Rather than defaulting to Caspar Babypants or, worse, The Wiggles, I put on something with moxie — “He’s a Rebel” by The Crystals. “When he holds my hand, I’m so proud. ’Cause he’s not just one of the crowd. My baby’s always the one to try the things they’ve never done.” Preach.

After weeks of feeling guilty and anxious and angry, I knew there was only one way out from here — forward. Elliot’s track record has its first hiccup. There will be many, many more. They may scare me, they may infuriate me. In time, they may very well amuse me. I’m already laughing about the situation, even though our dog Lemmy tried humping half the nannies we interviewed.

When Sleep Won’t Come

February 3, 2016 | add comment

Rest when he rests, everyone says. But I can’t seem to quiet my mind. I feel overwhelmed with love for our newborn. Guilty for ignoring Lemmy, our Italian Greyhound. Anxious to catch up on emails and laundry and life.

And sometimes I just like to stare at my baby. That face! Those hands! How his arms dance in his sleep, conducting a silent orchestra!

My son Elliot is just a handful of weeks old. All things considered, he’s a good little sleeper. If only I could say the same for myself. Since I wake up for nightly feedings and diaper changes, my husband grants me a precious bit more sleep once Elliot wakes up in the morning.

The problem is…sleep will not come.

I lie back in bed while hubby closes the door and carries Elliot to the living room. I strain my ears to pick up any little noise my baby might muster. Was that a cry? Is he hungry? Is he alert? Maybe he could use some tummy time…

He’s just down the hall, but I can’t see him. Once that bedroom door closes, our small apartment feels like a labyrinth. He could be anywhere!

Twenty or so minutes pass and I get up to refill my water — a thinly veiled excuse to check on my son. It turns out those cries I heard were phantom noises. Illusions of a tired mom. He’s sleeping soundly in his swing, right next to daddy.

Rest when he rests. I remind myself of this momma mantra and I crawl back in bed. But I’m too anxious to sleep. My stomach is in knots.

Elliot and I went everywhere together for nine months. His hiccups and kicks were a secret between the two of us. He was with me when I started reading Moby Dick, when I stopped riding my bicycle, when I puked in the streets of Tokyo. (My husband and I had planned that trip before I got pregnant. Incidentally, my favorite Japanese food was peanut butter toast.)

Now I can’t get used to not being with him.

When I do sleep, it comes in fits and bursts and is riddled with strange, scary dreams.

A dream I had the other night: I’m feeding Elliot with my feet propped up on the kitchen table. My face is a sea of serenity, like the calm, collected mom I want to be. Everything’s dandy until a burly, fantastical creature — somewhere between a wombat and a mouse — crawls out from behind the oven. He has rough whiskers and a hungry look in the eye. Without warning he leaps onto the kitchen table. WTF.

I wake up terrified, a split second before the wombat mouse attacks.

I force myself back to sleep. A second dream takes over. This time, Elliot is swaddled in a gigantic stroopwafel, one of those crispy Dutch treats. He’s more or less a human Choco Taco. Soon a steady stream of syrup begins surrounding my precious little boy. No!!!

Again, I wake up terrified. My chest is sweaty.

I scold myself for not being able to sleep when it’s the one thing I need. I trudge out from the bedroom into the living room, fall into my husband’s arms, and describe my dreams in a mixture of tears and laughter.

My catnap is not meant to be, at least not on this morning when anxiety outweighs exhaustion. At least I have more time to stare at my baby.

All of it…the guilt, the worries, the willies exist for no reason other than love. Love for my little boy and for everything he’ll become. Love is a damn good reason, really. If I can I remind myself of that, I may sleep a little better.

In the meantime, I’ll continue sharing my absurd dreams with you.


Goodbye, Foil Bird

October 24, 2013 | 2 comments

Three and a half years ago, I flew from NYC to San Francisco to celebrate my birthday with a few wonderful friends — Naomi, Amy, and Dawn, our host in SF. For my second visit, it was nothing short of perfection…wine country, a breezy picnic on the beach, fish tacos, my inaugural Tartine croissant, and lots of laughter — beginning with the Virgin America flight, on which Naomi and I relocated a fellow passenger’s banana to first class (seat-to-seat texting can be quite fun).

While I was out there, this guy Brian Stegall had been chatting me up from back east. He would soon be heading out to San Francisco to begin a two-month, cross-country bike trip. That weekend, I had been tasked with stealing 30 things before turning 30 that weekend. I didn’t even close (I think I got maybe five, including an old candlestick), but I told Brian that I would hide one of those items for him to find.

I swiped a walnut from Preston Vineyards in Healdsburg and drew a face on it — a mustachio’d man with a long, thin nose. Because he would be hiding outside in the vicinity of hungry squirrels, I wrapped him in foil and shaped it into a bird…sort of a turkey/swan hybrid.

Dawn lived in the Mission, on Albion off 16th Street. My home for the weekend. Just outside her door was a historical landmark sign marking the site of the “Original Mission Dolores Chapel and Dolores Lagoon.” It was an ideal hiding spot. In between either side was a narrow triangular opening, about an inch wide on the bottom.

I used a stick to push the foil bird into the center of the opening, and then I took a photo of just a small portion of the sign. This would serve as the clue. The bird remained hidden for a few weeks. But once Brian got into town, it didn’t take him long to discover the precise whereabouts. Blame the Internet.

Brian and I kept in touch over postcards and phone calls during his bike trip. He carried the bird with him for 2,800 miles and eventually brought it back to NYC, where we started dating. About a year later we moved to San Francisco, and the bird with us. It sat on Brian’s bookshelf, and then later on our bookshelf when we moved into an apartment together, just a few blocks from the Mission Dolores sign.

We would occasionally walk by that sign and peek in to see if anything was hidden there. That’s what I did last Sunday, as we were heading to a store on 16th. I didn’t see anything at first, so Brian told me to look again. Still, nothing. He looked a little confused — almost baffled, actually.

I could see the wheels turning in his mind, but I couldn’t place their direction. He told me that something was supposed to be in there. We kept walking. For a second, I thought he hid a wedding ring.  Talk about a devastating blow! I kept my mouth shut, not wanting to assume the worst. Maybe 15 paces down the block, Brian pulled a ring out of his pocket and asked me to marry him. It was so abrupt. I think I said “yes” before I fully realized the weight of the situation. I did of course, but it happened like that. *snaps fingers*

I hugged and kissed this teary-eyed man, a part of me still wondering what was supposed to be in the sign. A minute later he told me he’d placed the foil bird in the sign, only this time it had a hand-drawn proposal card wrapped in its tail. I melted. First at the idea, and then at the thought of an interloper taking off with the PRECIOUS BIRD! Brian hid it on Friday night, and proposed Sunday early afternoon. Sometime during those 36 hours, somebody discovered the bird. But how? And what did they do with it? Last time it survived weeks without incident. Brian even wrapped it in a little paper bag so that the foil wouldn’t catch anyone’s eye.

I imagine that whoever somehow spotted it thought it was food or drugs. Had they unwrapped the foil and read the “marry me” card, or the “marry him” speech bubble that Brian added to the walnut, they would’ve HAD to put it back. That’s a surefire ticket to hell, otherwise.

This  leads me to believe it was a zombie or a cracked out homeless person. San Francisco has no shortage of either.

I know the outcome doesn’t change, but the sentimental side of me really wants our foil bird back. The night of the proposal, I posted a note to the Craigslist lost and found section. (Side note: It’s difficult to describe the value of a foiled walnut to a sea of strangers.) On Monday night, I and a couple of friends combed the area. The night after that, I posted a couple of fliers on the sign offering a reward for the bird’s safe return.

No responses, save for one spammer on Craigslist, offering irony in the form of lost pet fliers. It gets worse. Brian and I drove by the sign a couple days later to see if my fliers were still up. One of them had been torn down completely, and only the top half of the other remained. Turns out some BART representatives tore the tape off of my fliers, only to hang up their own. I know this because half of my email address was stuck to the tape they used. (Who hangs up fliers without bringing tape? Honestly.)

At this point, more than a week after the bird was last seen, I have come to terms with it being gone. Forever. But not forgotten.


Tree of Codes and the Web It Left Behind

December 8, 2010 | add comment

Originally published on BBH Labs.

Certain artists are typecast, sometimes by choice. They capture a style so well that it comes to define them. Author Jonathan Safran Foer falls outside of that camp with a chameleonic thud. He keeps us curious.

In his new book, Tree of Codes, Foer does with a physical book what we often neglect in digital—he turns reading into an experience. In showing how a story’s environment affects its meaning, he gives digital storytellers a slap in the face.

Tree of Codes, breaks from the standard book format in two ways:

  1. It creates a new story by tearing apart and piecing together an old one—Bruno Schulz’s The Street of Crocodiles.
  2. Each page is die-cut to reveal just a handful of words and phrases.

I found the book annoying to read at first, despite its delicate beauty. I couldn’t decipher between the page I was reading and the ones beneath it. It was like a depth perception test following a mug of bourbon.

After sobering up and finding a better technique, I enjoyed the layout. Words hovered in a dream-ridden state. Thought went into each line, each phrase and how it was laid out. Such attention to the UX of reading is tough to find on the web. Foer’s analog approach would be easy enough to toy with in digital. So why aren’t we more playful with narratives online?

Brilliant writing isn’t enough to keep readers happy. Long blocks of copy, no matter how poetic, are begging for attention spans to scamper off elsewhere. In a design dominant field, it’s easy to neglect voice, tone, even punctuation. Or to forget about how each will figure into a broader environment.

Maybe that’s because we get swept up in technology. We use it to tell stories rather than to shape them. The following ideas and executions use technology to influence how stories are read. Bravo! The better ones put UX at the forefront. In doing so, they offer some lessons in communicating creatively.

These concepts and methods fool with language, narrative and technology to entertain. It’s humbling to think that a few pieces of paper and an X-Acto knife can do the same.

When we leave room for interpretation and delight, we can expand the playground for digital fiction. We can turn stories into experiences that are unique to each reader. So let’s stop neglecting the goddamn words. Pretty please?

Knee Deep in a Cranberry Bog

October 18, 2010 | 1 comment

I have entered the bog, friends, and I have seen the cranberries. Such redness! So many shades! Reds you’ve never seen before. Purples that look red, reds that look rosy, and each one exploding with a taste so hypnotically tart you’ll think: Moses didn’t part the Red Sea…he was in a goddamn cranberry bog!

No. I don’t work for Ocean Spray. I just love cranberries, and my cranberry harvesting dreams have come true thanks to my new friends at the Rocky Bog in Dennis, Cape Cod. They strapped me (and Jenny and Brian) in some leaky waders (theirs didn’t leak) and put us to work. It was all quite fanastic:

The autumn wind whipped us, but not in a slave-like manner. It was crisp, almost gentle. Once the bog was flooded, the berries floated to the surface. This was thanks to a farmer and his “water beater” which is the machine that plucks berries from their vines.

As we hiked up our waders, those already at work used long rubber tubes to corral the berries. They were cowboys with lassoes, and the berries were tiny and confused ponies. Scattered, no more.

Meanwhile, a semi-truck pulled up next to the bog. That was our cue to enter the abyss, for we had a truck to fill.

We would use our metal brooms to push the berries into the center of the corral. At the center, a long tube, reminiscent of that scary scene in E.T., extended from bog to truck and sucked the fruit up in its path. Near the end of the journey, a machine separated the berries from the vines and gunk.

Our arms grew tired, but encouragement pushed us forth. In the distance, a land-bound Bostonian shouted: Round ’em up, fellahs! We got hot corn chowdah and pumpkin bread for yah. Just the words we needed to press on.

The berries grew redder throughout the afternoon…so pretty. My waders leaked like an overly caffeinated elephant, but what a day. And now I’ve got some fine cranberry jam in the kitchen.

How a 100-Year-Old Story Can Help Us Build Better

June 4, 2010 | add comment

“You mustn’t say anything against the Machine,” says the main character of E.M. Forster’s The Machine Stops. Forster’s world is one that worships technology. Communication is virtual and constant. Like instant messaging. Friends in other countries materialize before you to chat. Like Skype. Information is omnipresent, but reverb outweighs originality. Like Twitter. Oh, and the story was first published in 1909.

Eerily prophetic, this 100-year-old tale foretells how we communicate today. In doing so, it forces us to think about how we approach technology.

The next time you’re creating an iPhone app or a social media presence, etc., consider three key principles of Forster’s story that describe our age:

1. Information is more accessible than ever.

In Forster’s world, information of any sort is attainable via knobs, levers and wires. People jump from one topic to the next because there’s so much to choose from, and it’s all at their fingertips. Minds never rest, bodies rarely move away from the control board. (Might we credit the author with predicting the obesity epidemic too?)

Content is amazingly accessible in our age too. This is a gorgeous thing. From a CMO’s standpoint, it’s also terrifying. The increase in the availability of information makes it much harder to stand out amid the noise.

There are more than 125,000 apps in the iTunes Store. Every few minutes, another is submitted. What will make yours succeed? What new information are you providing, and why is your method of delivery or interaction better than existing models?

2. In-person communication is being replaced and enhanced by virtual methods.
Back to Forster. The Machine controls everything: transportation, telecommunications, lighting, music, food, death…everything. It even has a button for forgotten words. (Handy.)

Forster’s downfall was that he saw technology as a force that pushed people away from one another. He assumed it mandated how people used it. But we can choose to create things that enhance communications and bring people closer together.

We’re already doing so with virtual communications and mobile technology. Location-based services are in their infancy. That’s fertile ground not just for entertaining game play, but for helping people build relationships while navigating spaces around them.

3. We find silence disturbing.

Towards the end of the story, the Machine breaks down, and humanity goes with it. They’re lost on their own in a sea of silence. They’ve gotten so caught up in the accessibility of information that the conduit has become a crutch to their minds.

We’re nowhere near that apocalypse, but it’s an amplification of what we experience when the internet breaks. We momentarily forget how we behaved without it.

Our minds want to be filled. We’ve grown accustomed to relying on the tools in our hands to do so. Half of all time spent on mobile phones is devoted to social networking.

The next time you’re out to eat, look at the number of people on phones—texting while chatting, checking into Foursquare, taking photos of their meals. We’re overflowing with options and tools to replace silence.

Instead of simply replacing silence or adopting the “let’s build it so we have it” solution, ask yourself why you’re creating a mobile app or a Twitter presence to begin with. Because they’re popular? That alone is a poor reason. Design experiences and apps that maintain a long-term outlook, that add value on an ongoing basis.

Value is sustainable. And as the chart in this BBH post shows, it works on a range of levels, from inspiration and entertainment to utility and access. Approached successfully, it’ll invite repeat use or engagement.

In Forster’s world, silence is disturbing because people don’t know what to do without technology. We’re far more creative than that. Our problem is we don’t know what not to do with it. Taking a step back from technology and figuring out what people want and how they behave is a necessary first step in developing products and services that will delight and withstand.

Real Men of Genius

March 7, 2010 | add comment

When I moved to New York in 2003, I had the privilege of working for the man who invented the Hamburglar (and went on to run DDB Worldwide). Keith Reinhard hired me to intern with Business for Diplomatic Action. During that time he encouraged me to pursuit my interest in copywriting, the field he started out in. I drafted a handful of radio spots for the Bud Light “Real Men of Genius” campaign that DDB Chicago ran at the time. A few worth sharing: Mr. Proverb and Cliché Reciter, Mr. Air Guitar Player and Mr. Neighborhood Dog Walker.


Bud Light presents Real Men of Genius.
Background vocals: Real Men of Genius

Today we salute you, Mr. Proverb and Cliché Reciter.
BV: Mr. Proverb and Cliché Reciter

You’ve got a way with words, even if they’re not your own.
You say a rolling stone gathers no moss. Have you ever seen a stone roll?
BV: Such wise words

Like an endless bowl of fortune cookies, you’ve got an answer for everything.
You can have your cake and eat it too. But when would you ever not eat your cake?
BV: Oh! That cake is tasty

Sure, curiosity killed the cat. But did it ever so much as scratch the people?
BV: Back off crazy cat

So crack open an ice cold Bud Light, man of borrowed expressions.
Because when life throws lemons, you may not make lemonade, but you’ll tell others to.
BV: Mr. Proverb and Cliché Reciter

Bud Light Beer. Anheuser-Busch. St. Louis, Missouri.


Bud Light presents Real Men of Genius.
Background vocals: Real Men of Genius

Today we salute you, Mr. Air Guitar Player.
BV: Mr. Air Guitar Player

You don’t sport a leather jacket. Nor do you wear assless pants. You don’t even own a guitar. Yet somehow you’ve become the world’s biggest rock-n-roller.
BV: Living in a dream

So what if you never made the high school band? Nobody knows you’re tone deaf now, music man.
BV: Play on!

You don’t know how to play an E chord because you don’t need to know how to play an E chord.
BV: Keep playin’ on!

So crack open an ice cold Bud Light, Johnny B not so good.
Because when the jukebox kicks in, that tavern is a one-man stage starring you. Did somebody say “encore”? I’m afraid not.
BV: Mr. Air Guitar Player

Bud Light Beer. Anheuser-Busch. St. Louis, Missouri.


Bud Light presents Real Men of Genius.
Background vocals: Real Men of Genius

Today we salute you, Mr. Neighborhood Dog Walker.
BV: Mr. Neighborhood Dog Walker

They say dog is man’s best friend. With seven poodles to your left and two cocker spaniels to your right, you’re the most popular man in town.
BV: Man’s bestest friend

Your office is a tree-lined park. Your restroom is a fire hydrant. And your briefcase? A plastic baggy.
BV: Don’t forget the baggy

Thanks to you, Scamp no longer does his business on the living room floor.
BV: Good dog, Scramp

So crack open an ice cold Bud Light you keeper of the canines.
Because while your buddies prefer milk bones, you fancy the fresh, smooth taste of Bud Light.
BV: Mr. Neighborhood Dog Walker

Bud Light Beer. Anheuser-Busch. St. Louis, Missouri.

Berta’s Tap Room

October 14, 2009 | add comment

My dear grandpa Woody Berta owned a tavern in Ottawa, Illinois, across from the post office. He sold it years ago, but Berta’s continues on, with a pool table slightly askew and burgers arriving on toasted buns. Local legend Woody makes occasional appearances.

In the Tap Room’s heyday, my grandpa had a small flyer printed by the local Union boys. The front says “Berta’s TAP ROOM” and has a drawing of a bubbly martini glass. The lower right corner reads “Air Conditioned for Your Comfort.” The inside shows a map of the city limits. And the back…the back! It has one gem of a poem, reprinted below. My grandpa doesn’t remember who wrote it, but talk about “atmosphere.”

When you’re startin’ out some evening
And the night is cold and drear…
I’d suggest you stop at Berta’s
For a little “Atmosphere.”

Then next morning bright and early
When the “shakes” are getting’ near:
Yeah…you’re getting smarter, brother,
Woody fed ya too much beer.

When you’re reachin’ for the aspirin
’Cause your stomach’s feelin’ weak,
It’s ’cause Chuck was leanin’ heavy
On the bottle—so to speak.

Then you face the little woman
With those alibis galore…
When she’s finished in the bathroom—
Wipin’ Berta’s off the floor.

But you’re wrong, it isn’t whiskey
That’s got ya feelin’ queer—
Ray just poured an over-dose*
Of Berta’s “ATMOSPHERE”!!

*Ray was one of my grandpa’s brothers

What Is Technology Doing to Serendipity?

August 10, 2009 | add comment

In Vacation (the original, where the family truckster heads to Wally World) Clark Griswold turns to Ellen and says, “Why aren’t we flying? Because getting there is half the fun. You know that.”

He’s talking about serendipity—making fortunate discoveries by accident. While plenty of Griswold’s road trip discoveries were less than opportune (e.g., cousin Eddie’s Hamburger Helper), his point is that serendipity is inherent to the journey. And thanks to technology, it’s under attack. Wait…what?

Last week, I read William McKeen’s New York times article (aptly titled “Serendipity”). He believes technology undercuts serendipity. While it leads to more choices and greater efficiency, in his words “there’s an emptiness in finding something quickly.” Because it is so easy for us to find exactly what we are looking for, we lose out on those dear moments of surprise that leap out from the shadows and send our hearts racing in unanticipated directions.

Coincidentally, I saw a friend’s tweet linking to Steven Berlin Johnson’s reaction to the McKeen article. SBJ’s take? Technology increases serendipity, making it easier to find random information or wander down non-linear paths. He refers to serendipity as “stumbling across something accidentally that is nonetheless of interest to you.” Keep that last bit in mind.

My opinion stands somewhere between those of McKeen and SBJ. Call me out for taking the easy road, but I think technology increases the amount of serendipity while decreasing the potency of it. Technology makes it incredibly easy for me to find content both related to and independent of what I’m looking for. I’m a few clicks away from figuring out what to do with the lemon balm growing in my window garden. And perhaps while I’m clicking, I’ll find a tasty recipe for lemon shortbread cookies. Or I’ll go completely off track and (somehow) end up reading about the new G.I. Joe movie. I wouldn’t encounter these while thumbing through The Complete Book of Herbs.

Serendipity, however, implies randomness within the equation. It is accidental in that it doesn’t relate to what you were doing or searching for. Technology makes the “randomness” less random (if more frequent). Sites like StumbleUpon and Pandora, both brilliant, expand my cultural or musical horizons within certain genres, but they don’t dabble far beyond the boundaries of my core interests. I guess I could make them, but that’s not what they’re intended to do. Some see sites like these as supporting homophily—the enemy of serendipity.

While there is an endless amount of fascinating and irreverent content online, completely random searches aren’t often fruitful. That is where they parallel the pre-internet days of yore. Scouring library shelves and rolling up your sleeves in some good, old-fashioned research is a painstaking process, but it makes those fortuitous occurrences all the more enchanting. For more on the internet, homophily, and hopes for a serendipitous digital future, have a look at this Ethan Zuckerman post. And here, my friend Ida Benedetto recaps Zuckerman’s take on serendipity and how we consume and interpret media.

While technology has made the road to serendipity narrower, that road is full of more frequent and more relevant surprises—in that they related to areas you’re already interested in. I still love getting newspaper ink on my fingers knowing I’ll find articles and stories that will never show up in my RSS feeds.