Doing the math on divorce

“Divorce is contagious, be careful,” warned my friend Emily, who recently split from her husband, following the no-longer-rose-petal-strewn paths of three of her bridesmaids. Where weddings–and vodka shots–once encouraged romance and marriages, divorces can also ripple through groups of friends faster than a case of head lice in a classroom of kindergarteners.

Fortunately for me, the vast majority of my friends’ marriages are still intact. Though I may be playing with fire by writing this column as my husband and I prepare to move out of the place we’ve lived for the past eight years, when this wacky invention called “The Divorce Calculator” ( showed up in my inbox, I couldn’t resist the temptation to do the math.

Not just my own math–I calculated the odds for all of my friends as well. It’s not that I’m nosy, but Emily’s words were still ringing in my head. Did I dare to find out the odds of our beating the odds? Fortified by a triple latte, I took the test.

Given that 43 percent of first marriages in the United States end within 15 years, and Zak and I will hit that 15-year mark in March, my results were actually better than I expected.

The Divorce Calculator found that 14 percent of people with similar backgrounds to mine are already divorced and that three percent of people with similar backgrounds who will be divorced over the next five years.

That doesn’t sound so bad, right?

According to the site, for the five-year divorce prediction rates, those with less than three percent are at lower risk, three to seven percent are of average risk and more than seven percent are at higher risk.

So my results were average. They were on the low side of average, practically less than average. Average-ish. I was sure that if I ran my friends’ calculations they would help to bring our score down.

I scored my sister, my best friend from college and my best friend from high school. Then I tried my three best friends in town. Astonishingly, they all had the same results as I did: the chances that people with similar backgrounds will be divorced over the next five years are three percent.

Could it be that I hang out with a bunch of statistical clones? Or it is just my 97 percent happy marriage is contagious?

Three percent chance of divorce isn’t so bad, right? I can live with three percent. Those are pretty good odds. Plus, at least three percent of my friends are already divorced, a few more than once. But if that doesn’t count, then for a three percent bump in my stats I would be willing to make a few new friends and let them get divorced.

I could even throw them a party, like the divorce party I read about in Las Vegas, where each woman invited the most attractive single man she knew to come meet their girlfriend–and none of the other women were allowed to wear makeup or cute outfits, so the honoree would feel great about herself. Or if they’re not quite up for dating yet, I could throw them a party like the one in New Jersey, where they gave the marriage a eulogy, bought a wedding ring coffin, and feasted on a beautiful three-tiered divorce cake, which had the original wedding cake’s bride and groom perched on top–minus the groom’s head.

Not that I would wish a divorce–or a divorce party–on any of my friends, even my fictional new ones.

I remember rejoicing the summer that oversized wedding and wedding-related party invitations stopped clogging my mailbox.

Not that all the weddings weren’t fun–but doing the Hora and the Hokey Pokey can get old when it’s every single weekend.

Not that it wasn’t fun to drive around State Street in stretch limos and sipping cosmos from veiny, plastic, glow-in-the-dark, disembodied penis straws–but bachelorette parties can get old too.

Not that it wasn’t fun to ooh and aw over china patterns and linens at bridal showers–although, come to think about, those were never that much fun.

But I am 97 percent sure I would happily sit through hours of bridal bingo, creating wedding gown couture out of toilet paper and giggling at lists of “things the bride will say on her honeymoon” if I never have to go a divorce party–especially one where I can’t wear makeup.

When Leslie’s not obsessing about divorce statistics, she’s reading email at email. Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on January 9, 2009.

Time Is On My Side

Daylight Savings TimeThis Sunday is my favorite day of the year.

There’s something magical about the day we “fall back.” Think about it. How often do you wish you had an extra hour of sleep, or an extra hour to pour over the Sunday Times, do the crossword puzzle, or linger over brunch, or even an extra hour to think about what you would do with an extra hour if you had one?

I yearn for that extra hour when my @#$%&* alarm clock goes off every morning of every day. I’m not exactly a morning person, or even a mid-morning person, or really that much of a life-can-be-worth-living-without-caffeine person, so I think about what I’ll do with that extra post-daylight-savings-time hour every single morning during the 364 days of the year that we don’t “fall back.”

I have my hour all planned out: I would spend 37 extra minutes under the covers, 6 extra minutes under the shower head, and 17 extra minutes actually sitting down to eat breakfast, drink coffee and read the newspaper. Or there’s plan B, when I would spend 23 extra minutes under the covers, 7 extra minutes shaving my legs really well, 25 extra minutes finishing my novel, and 5 extra minutes translating my novel into Chinese, a language I would have mastered by listening to tapes during my 7 extra minutes in the shower. Then there’s plan C, where I wake up next to George Clooney and spend my extra hour calling, emailing, tweeting, texting, and sending telegrams to all of my friends dishing about what it was like to wake up next to George Clooney.

The reality is every time we “fall back” for daylight savings I sleep right through my extra hour and then some. Sweeeet.

Those 25-hour days rock. When I actually get that extra hour, once a year, it’s like my own personal floating holiday. I spend the whole rest of the year trying to recapture that wonderful feeling of waking up and finding that I have a 25-hour day ahead.

Sometimes I try to fool myself by setting my bedside clock ahead 15 minutes and knowing I have time to hit the snooze bar-twice-but it’s not really the same thing as having a 25-hour day.

Often, setting my alarm clock forward just reminds me of a childhood spent waiting for everyone else to arrive. Unlike most sane people, who long for their days to be longer, my mom did everything in her power to cut our days short. If school started at 8:15 a.m., she would insist we had to be there by 7:30 a.m. and tell us it was 7:20 a.m. and we “better hurry or we’d be late” when it was actually only 7 a.m. and we could have stayed in bed another *&$#@! * half an hour and still made it to school by the first bell.

I can’t tell you how many parties I’ve been to with my mom, where the hostess hadn’t even showered yet, or weddings we’ve gone to where the couple wasn’t even engaged. The woman is obsessed with being early. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if she’s already blocked off some seats at Stanford for my 12-year-old son’s graduation.

The consequence of those 40-some-odd years of premature arrivals thanks to my mom, is that my dad, my sister and I now wildly overcompensate by lagging and therefore making other people wait for us as often as possible.

Which is probably why I get so irritated when I have to hurry my son to get ready for school in the morning. His lagging skills are even more finely honed than my own. “I can’t go any faster mom. This is my pace,” he said, the other morning, when I tried to rush him out the door after patiently waiting through a full 13 minutes of brushing his teeth in super high def slow motion.

“Hurry up dude, my time is precious, and we only have 24 hours today,” I said. It may have been my caffeine deficiency, but I couldn’t help thinking that I could have spent that lovely 13 minutes tapping my snooze alarm instead of tapping my feet while I waited for him to stop lagging.

What would you do with an extra hour in your day? Tell For more columns visit

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on November 4, 2011.

In a lather

MV5BMTg1NTc4Mzk1N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjc4NjY4MQ@@._V1_SX214_I have a really, really, really embarrassing confession to make. I hope you won’t think less of me, but I’m trying to come to terms with something I’ve kept hidden for far too long. I’m addicted to teen soap operas.

Gossip Girl,” “One Tree Hill,” “Privileged,” I’ve got the whole CW oeuvre on my DVR.

I haven’t been a teenager for more than two decades and I don’t even have a teenager to watch these shows with–or a tweenager for that matter–but that doesn’t stop me from obsessing about these shows.

I wish I could blame my family, but my son would rather kick a ball or read books or even do homework than watch such ridiculous TV. And my husband, well, let’s just say that watching any of these shows with my husband would be opening myself up to a level of ridicule far greater than a combination platter of split ends, zits, and the wrong kind of hair band.

I blame it all on Jason Priestly and his sparkly blue eyes. If it wasn’t for that innocent-but-not-so-innocent twinkle, I would have never become addicted to “Beverly Hills 90210,” and then “Melrose Place” and “Dawson’s Creek” and all of those painfully captivating shows. Forget the fact that I had already graduated from college the first time I laid eyes on Brandon Walsh. Here was the nice, smart guy I’d been looking for, the one who has no idea how incredibly good looking he was.

Forget that I was way out of high school and shacking up with my husband in “Beverly Hills 90210’s” heyday. If Jason Priestly could still play a high school kid at age 27, then I could certainly ogle him.

That’s what got me hooked and has kept me hooked for all of these years. If it’s a soapy show set in a suburban high school, I just can’t stop myself from watching it.

After all, every single one of those shows has a Brandon Walsh character, which means I just can’t look away.

Over the years there’s been “The OC,” “My So-Called Life,” “Party of Five,” “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” “Hidden Palms,” “Roswell,” “Felicity“–an irresistible lineup of interchangeable shows with semi-riveting plots about bullies, foster kids, teen pregnancy, shoplifting, back stabbing girlfriends and the underlying theme that life is rough for adolescents, especially the affluent ones with $500 purses and $900 shoes.

The quality of the shows even got better for a while, not that it was ever about quality–and for a time there was “Veronica Mars” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” which my husband would actually watch with only minor mockery.

Despite the varying levels of quality in teen soaps, there are always a few constants I can rely on: a bunch of pretty, stylishly dressed people living out a make-believe existence in which high school kids reside without parental supervision, except for the one intact family with a telegenic kitchen where “the gang” can gather for holidays and special episodes.

Watching is a guilty pleasure but it feels good to come clean.

I haven’t missed an episode of the new “90210,” where a few of the original characters are still hanging around West Beverly High and the Peach Pit. It’s not fabulous television, but it’s fun and reliably entertaining and a great way to decompress after a long hard day of trying to be a grown up.

Plus I hear Jason Priestly’s going to direct a few episodes.

Share your guilty television pleasures with email. For more columns visit
Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on October 24, 2008.

Keeping the chore score

Photo by Stuart Miles

Photo by Stuart Miles

I’m writing this column to start fights between husbands and wives, at least that’s what the husband of one of my friends claimed. An informal survey of friends verified what social science research confirmed about what goes on in the average American home. Any way you measure it, very little has changed in the roles of men and women–there’s no such thing as “halving it all,” women still do about twice as much around the house as men.

Of course that ratio used to be four to one (and that was pre-microwave ovens), so we are making some progress. According to a recent article in the New York Times, no matter how you construct and deconstruct a family, “Working class, middle class, upper class, it stays at two to one,” says Sampson Lee Blair, an associate professor of sociology at the University at Buffalo who studies the division of labor in families.

Even in households like mine, with extremely low housekeeping standards, the ratio is about two to one. I do a little and my husband does very, very little. So little, in fact, that rather than take part in my informal survey and account for his chores like all the rest of our friends did, he had the bad sense to say, “I’m quite sure that I do everything while you eat bonbons.”

OK, I admit that I may fortify myself with the occasional chocolate, but it’s just to make sure I have the energy to keep the refrigerator, pantry, gift closet and sock drawers filled with enough supplies to brave those Santa Barbara winters.

Since research has found that the best predictor of the division of labor is how it breaks down amongst your friends, I decided to dig in for some details from mine.

I’m not sure what it says about my voyeuristic tendencies, but I found it oddly interesting to hear about who did what around my friends’ houses. You would think they were sharing Penthouse letters, the way I ran to check my computer every time my email chimed in with a new message. I couldn’t wait to see who was weighing in with their chore score.

In general, guys seemed to have a few areas of expertise, mostly car maintenance and yard work, while the house and the social life fell into the wife’s wheelhouse.

As Janet put it, “in our house we have committees and chairpersons. Dave is the chairperson of the automotive maintenance committee, the waste disposal committee, the structural engineering (i.e. handyman) committee, etc. I am chair of the social engagement committee, the food procurement and preparation committee, and the health maintenance committee. Somehow the titles make us feel a little better about our chores.”

Having titles isn’t a bad idea. Almost everyone I talked to admitted to bickering with their spouse about housework–or knowing they’d just get in a fight if they brought it up–which is why, in the interest of domestic harmony, all the names in this story were changed.

Kids were the biggest area of shared responsibility. Although we seem to follow our parents in many regards, this generation of fathers is definitely not second-class parents to their wives. Sure, there are exceptions, like Amanda who said, “Pete needs a manual to operate the children. When given specific instructions, he is usually able to follow them. … He is allergic to the children’s belongings and couldn’t possibly put them away.”

But most of the responses were more along the lines of: “Ernie supervises the kids homework (I gave up math in second grade), takes them to all of their sports activities, and makes sure their teeth don’t rot.” Or “Doug picks up the kids from school every day, and is almost always the one to stay home with them when they’re sick.”

Cooking also didn’t fall under one gender or the other, although I’m convinced that our friends play a big part in the fact that Americans now spend $26 billion more each year on restaurants than grocery stores. As Kathy said, “Joe does about 25% of the cooking, I do about 25%, and someone else does the other 50%.”

Author Neil Chetnik, who interviewed about 300 husbands for his book, VoiceMale–What Husbands Really Think About Their Marriages, Their Wives, Sex, Housework and Commitment, found that almost every level of happiness and positive feelings in relationships is related to housework. “I kept seeing the parallel between housework and sex in the interviews. Men said the happier their wives were in the division of housework, the happier the men were with their sex lives. We even looked at the numbers and found that there’s more sex in the relationship if the wife is happy with the division of housework.”

Did you hear that, honey? Might be time to work on improving your chore score.

What’s the chore score at your house? Share your stats with email. For more columns visit
Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on June 27, 2008.

A moan to Lisa

Image by Stuart Miles

Image by Stuart Miles

I never thought I’d see the day, but it’s finally happened: Lisa is on the endangered species list.

I knew so many Lisa’s growing up that it’s one of the few names that doesn’t conjure up any specific imagery for me–other than a girl who’s about my age. There are lots and lots of 40-something Lisa’s around. So many, in fact, that when people recognize me on the street as “Lisa Dinaberg,” I just smile and say hi. Most of the Lisa’s I know don’t even turn around quickly when someone calls out their name. It’s like yelling Mom at a soccer match, you could be one of dozens, and so you may as well wait for the second yell.

If I introduce myself to someone who’s hard of hearing, nine times out of ten they’ll say, “Nice to meet you, Lisa.” I just smile and nod.

It’s hard to fight the power of Lisa. I’ve been answering to her my whole life.

I just about fell off my chair in shock as I read about Lisa’s fate this week when the Social Security Administration came out with its annual list of most popular names.

All of the headlines were full of the fact that Emily was #1 for the 12th straight year (snooze), while Jacob took the lead for the 9th time in a row (snore), but they missed the real story. What about the demise of Lisa’s?

Sure, Lisa had a good run. She was the most popular girl’s name in the United States from 1962 to 1969–hence all the soccer moms named Lisa running around–and she stayed in the top ten till 1976. But her numbers have declined steadily since then. Last year she hit a record low and was ranked 573rd.

She was ranked 573rd!

Take a deep breath and consider the significance of this. In my kindergarten class, there were seven Lisa’s, which using Leslie Math translates into 70 gazillion Lisa’s now walking around on treadmills to avoid getting varicose veins.

Now, there are more girl babies named Nevaeh (#31), which is “heaven” spelled backwards, than Lisa. Spiritual names like Destiny (# 41) Trinity (# 72), Serenity (# 126) and Harmony (# 315) also beat out Lisa last year. I guess heavenly names are big these days.

The green movement is also inspiring names, with Jade (#113), Ivy (#301), Autumn (#91), Aurora (#317), Skye (#475), Summer (#158), Violet (#231), Hazel (#361) and Amber (#146) outranking Lisa.

While the heavenly and earthly trends follow fashion in other areas, “for reasons likely to puzzle baby name experts around the world, American parents have become infatuated by names, particularly for their sons, that rhyme with the word ‘maiden,'” says Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security.

For boys there is Jayden (#18), Aiden (#27), Aidan (#54), Jaden (#76), Caden (#92), Kaden (#98), Ayden (#102), Braden (#156), Cayden (#175), Jaiden (#191), Kaiden (# 220), Aden (# 264), Caiden (# 286), Braeden (# 325), Braydon (# 361), Jaydon (# 415), Jadon (# 423), Braiden (#529), Zayden (#588), Jaeden (#593), Aydan (#598), Bradyn (#629), Kadin (#657), Jadyn (#696), Kaeden (#701), Jaydin (#757), Braedon (#805), Aidyn (#818), Haiden (#820), Jaidyn (#841), Kadyn (#878), Jaydan (#887), Raiden (#931), and Adin (#983). This startling trend was present, but less pronounced, with girls names: Jayden (#172), Jadyn (#319), Jaden (#335), Jaiden (#429), Kayden (#507), and Jaidyn (#561).

Social Security spokesman Mark Lassiter says that the agency will resist any legislative efforts to standardize the spelling of these names. Imagine the bureaucracy associated with that.

Lisa’s never had to worry about whether their name would be spelled with a random vowel combination or an extra “y” in the middle, which might be part of the reason they’re on their way to Extinctionville.

Poor Lisa. It’s tough for me to enjoy such a hollow victory dance, but I feel journalistically obligated to tell you that Leslie (spelled the right way) was ranked 127th.

I totally kicked Raiden’s butt, too.

Share your thoughts with Lisa, we mean Leslie, by emailing email. For more columns visit
Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on May 16, 2008.

Oh my, Miley

Miley Cyrus as Hannah MontanaAuthor’s Note: If only Miley’s parents had read this column when I first published it back in 2008.

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Cyrus,

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Montana,

To the parents of Miley Cyrus (a.k.a. Hannah Montana) or whatever the heck you call yourselves,

You’re breaking my acky breaky heart.

Have you learned nothing from the examples of Dina & Michael Lohan, Lynne & Jamie Spears, or Kathy & Rick Hilton?

For those of us who are parents, this troika provides us with a deliciously devilish opportunity for judgment.

Welcome to the club.

I can’t tell you how many nights I’ve comforted myself with the fact that, no matter no matter how many times I’ve yelled at my son, or laughed insensitively at his mispronunciations of words, or written about them in my column, no matter how grotesque his table manners are or what my other parental failings have been–I can always take comfort in the fact that these people are more irresponsible than I am.

So Tish and Billy Ray, welcome to the elite group of celebrity scandalette parents who make me feel better about myself.

Are you really, honestly, expecting us to believe that you’re so clueless that you didn’t think “Vanity Fair Magazine” might possibly try to take pictures of your daughter that would make her look a little, oh say, slutty? Have you ever seen the magazine before? I’m pretty sure that Annie Leibowitz convinced Caspar Weinberger and Henry Kissinger to pose naked with the globe painted on their butt cheeks. Did you really think your little Miley could resist her charms?

I’m not buying it.

Could you really have thought it was a good idea to let your 15-year-old daughter–who up until recently was greeted by millions of parents with a huge sigh of relief for the simple reason that she was a famous little girl who didn’t leave the house without her underwear–pose topless in a magazine that is known as the holy grail for publicity-hungry stars who want to promote their movies, music projects or television shows in the nude?

Whether you are her parents first or her managers first, it’s time to catch a clue. You can’t blame the photographer, who isn’t exactly known for taking prom pictures. You can’t even blame the evil media empire for this one.

She may be both Hannah and Miley on your TV show, but in real life you can’t have it both ways.

Either the G-rated empire that you and Disney have built around Miley is ready to go PG-13 and we’re all going to have to face up to the fact that your little girl is not so little anymore, or you made a major public relations misstep with the Golden Goose of an empire that, let’s face it, is the only thing keeping Billy Ray from two-stepping onto “Dancing with the C-List.”

So what’s it going to be? In an article in the “New York Times,” a Disney executive is quoted saying, “For Miley Cyrus to be a ‘good girl’ is now a business decision for her. Parents have invested in her godliness. If she violates that trust, she won’t get it back.”

With Miley stumbling off of her squeaky-clean Disney pedestal, are there any Hollywood child stars a parent can trust not to pose topless–or sheet-full–these days?

This is not just any 15-year-old girl we’re talking about. She is just about the only non-animated role model marketed as being “appropriate” and G-rated for little girls–unless you count the American Girl Dolls, and so far, they’re not selling out concert halls and movie theatres like little Miss Montana. (Although I did hear that 1974’s Julie was hooked on Valium and had shacked up with 1764’s Kaya.)

The “Vanity Fair” article author asked Miley point-blank if she felt a lot of pressure with a billion-dollar Disney brand resting on her shoulders. Doesn’t she have to watch herself constantly?

Miley’s response: “Not really. That’s what my parents are for. They’re there to take care of that, and I can just do what I love.”

My point exactly. Somebody needs to be an adult around here and it’s not your 15-year-old daughter.

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on May 2, 2008.

The Boob Business Boom

Photo by Ambro

Photo by Ambro

The economy may be tanking but there are some bright spots on the horizon–when it comes to new plastic surgery-related products, our cups runneth over.

Love it or loathe it, plastic surgery is here to stay–at least until products like Zoft Breast Enhancement Gum and Max Enhance Natural Breast Enhancement Cream actually work–and a whole cottage industry of related products is developing around the boob business.

There is “My Beautiful Mommy,” an illustrated children’s book written by Florida plastic surgeon Dr. Michael Salzhauer, to help children deal with mom’s new enhancements.

“Mommy, why are those truck drivers ogling you?” is not one of the issues covered in the book.

As reported on “Newsweek’s” website–the book, which features a bright pink cover of a perky-breasted mom sprinkled in stardust, and “blessed” with Barbie’s waist-to-hip ratio, apparently didn’t warrant the dead tree treatment in the eyes of discerning “Newsweek” editors–is the story of a mommy explaining to her child why she’s having the muscle-bound superheroesque Dr. Michael perform plastic surgery. Of course they live happily ever after: mommy winds up “even more” beautiful than before, and her daughter is thrilled.

Why write the book? Plastic surgery is big business–$15 billion big to be exact. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS? Did they think that through?), breast augmentation was the most popular cosmetic surgery procedure last year, with 348,000 performed (up six percent). I guess it’s no surprise that there’s been an increase in the average bra size from 34B to 36C. Then there are the 148,000 tummy tucks–up one percent from the previous year.

Clearly it’s a growth industry–except of course when it’s a stop the girth industry. Why not jump on the bandwagon?

If you’re plastic and proud, you can show off your enhancements with a University of XXL Plastic Surgery sweatshirt from Opinions R Fun Inc. or a t-shirt that proudly states, “Just got ’em” or “I believe in making mountains of molehills” from CafePress.

Then there’s my personal favorite, Lift Me Up stationery. A Texas woman named Camie Dunbar designs this line of get-well-soon, post-plastic surgery cards. After searching in vain for cards to send to her newly sculpted friends, she decided to fill the void with cards that cover all the basics: face-lifts (I thought you needed a lift. … But it looks like your plastic surgeon already took care of you), liposuction (I thought we could sit around and chew the fat. … But since you just had liposuction that’s probably not a good idea), nose jobs (Your nose looks great! … You picked a good one) and, of course, boob jobs (Congratulations on the twins. … They make a good addition to the family).

These cards are perfect for whenever you care enough to send the very breast. If nothing else, their illustrations of wildly well-endowed stick figures will augment the healing process and bring a smile to the recipients face–unless of course, she had a Botox treatment.

Pop culture is also getting into the act with a host of websites devoted to celebrity plastic surgery speculation. Television shows like “Nip/Tuck,” “Dr. 90210,” “Extreme Makeover,” “A Plastic Surgery Story” and “I Want a Famous Face” and magazines like “Skin Deep,” “New Beauty” and “Elevate” are all devoted to cosmetic surgery. There’s even a brand-new world of plastic slang, like “lipo-lizards,” for people who have had so much surgery that their skin looks reptilian, “kabuki mask,” for a face so expressionless that it looks like a lacquered mask, and “trout pout,” for fishlike, overly plumped-up lips.

And finally there’s the perfect gift item for those of us who are still hoping to age gracefully. With the voo doo doll woman by, you can transform any bulge or sag just by pushing a pin in the appropriate spot (double chin, pot belly, sagging boobs, etc.). At $22 it’s a bargain worth trying.

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on April 25, 2008.

Spring Break With Java Boy

Photo by by Belovodchenko Anton

Photo by by Belovodchenko Anton

Ah, that rich, strong aroma of coffee. Its anticipation is the only thing that makes getting out of bed worthwhile most of the time. I understand the attraction to coffee and why some might call it an addiction. I really do. Not that I’m addicted. I can quit anytime I want to. I quit when I was pregnant and I could do it again anytime–if I happened to go crazy and wanted to quit.

But how do you keep coffee away from an eight-year-old boy once he’s had a taste of the good stuff?

It all started so innocently. It was Spring Break, which I suppose is a time when many a vice makes its first appearance. Ah tradition!

We were at a Starbucks somewhere near Hoover Dam when my son asked for a sip of my latte. Why not? I handed it over naively, expecting him to reject it as quickly as he did when he tried tuna casserole, peanut M & M’s or key lime pie. Anticipating that I would have my coffee back immediately, I held out my hand and was dumbfounded when he took a gigantic gulp. He finally came up for air with a huge cat-that-ate-the-canary grin on his face, only to chug the rest of my liter-sized latte down without even taking another breath.

The look on the boy’s face was so buzzed and stupidly proud, for a second I thought I was back at a college frat party, with drunken freshman pledges yelling at each other to “drink, drink, drink.” His telltale milk moustache even looked just like beer foam.

Uh oh. The big red mother’s warning flag went up in my head. Danger zone. This kid–who doesn’t really sleep all that much to begin with–really likes coffee.

This can’t be good.

It definitely wasn’t.

Normally a bit hyper, he spent the next 9 hours in hyper-drive mode, bouncing off the walls–of our car.

This definitely wasn’t good.

He is normally kind of a physical kid, but now he was in hyper-touch mode, constantly hugging and wrestling anyone who came near him. The frat party visions came back again.

This was not good.

Finally the caffeine wore off. We all crashed hard.

For the rest of our trip, every time we came near a java joint we were greeted by pleas of, “Please, can I have a latte?” I have a hard time passing up an opportunity for a coffee fix in the best of circumstances. It didn’t help that on this trip we were guest room hopping and staying in cheap motels, so hubby and I were even more tired and in need of caffeine than usual.

“May I please have a latte?” replaced “Are we there yet?” as the chorus for the soundtrack of our trip.

One morning when we were particularly groggy he managed to order himself a latte at breakfast before my ears perked up. “He’s just kidding,” I said to the big-eyed waitress, who couldn’t wait for a cigarette break to share the story about those crazy kooks from California.

It didn’t help that our friends in Albuquerque allow their children to imbibe in decaf. “May I please have a latte?” now had a companion statement in the reprise. “It’s okay mom. I’ll have a decaf,” The fact that their fifth grade son is the same height as our third grader didn’t seem to deter our child’s desire for the stuff.

I guess I should just be happy he didn’t ask for a sip of my beer.

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on April 8, 2008.

A Day Without Sarcasm

David Castillo Dominici photo,

David Castillo Dominici photo,

My first attempt at a sarcasm-free day lasted 15 minutes. That was in 1994.

My quest to go a day without sarcasm has continued for years, but this time I just knew it was going to be different. This time I was going to write about it. I had to make it, otherwise I’d have to make up stuff for my column, which I would never do.

I fortified myself first thing in the morning with a triple latte. The connection between lack of caffeine and sarcasm is well documented, of course, but did you know that the word “sarcasm” comes from the Greek word, “sarkasmos,” which literally means, “ripping of flesh.” Not only is that an apt description for sarcasm, it is also what I do if I don’t get my coffee.

The challenge started in that long, long early morning line at Starbucks. Did I mention the line was really, really long? Like long enough for an English Language Learner to have memorized the entire menu by the time it was their turn to order, only to later discover that “Venti” and “Frappucino” aren’t really English. You would think it wouldn’t be necessary to ask the girl in front of me to stop talking on her cell phone to look at the menu and decide what she wanted. You would think the words, “Hmm, what do I want today?” would never come out of the mouth of someone who had been waiting in line to order coffee (just make a friggin’ choice already before my head explodes) for the past 17 minutes.

I almost gave up my quest for a sarcasm-free day right then and there. But I took a deep breath and reminded myself that I had already beaten my previous sarcasm-free record by two minutes just by virtue of waiting in that long line. I felt an inner glow.

Why a day without sarcasm? To prove that I can. Cold turkey. I can stop any time I want to. I’m in control. Not my mouth.

I also reminded myself that holding your tongue for a few minutes is not actually hazardous to your health.

My husband brushed his teeth while I tried to put on makeup. I smiled, and my husband asked me if I’m feeling okay. I wanted to say, “Fantastic. I love that we live in a shack with almost half a bathroom.” Instead, I bit my tongue until it bleeds. Self-sarkasmos? I’ll try a day without irony another time.

The rest of my morning went like that, with a million snippy little comments getting stuck in my throat. I felt like the Saturday Night Live actors must have felt during the writers’ strike: “Holy Bean-Powered Car, Batman! I worked two years on my Dennis Kucinich impression and now he dropped out of the race!”

I told my friend Carey what I was trying to. She didn’t understand what was so hard about refraining from sarcasm for a day.

Clearly this is a girl who has animated birds help her get dressed in the morning. Who makes it to 40 without learning some sarcasm? I’m guessing the woodland creatures that groom her each morning have also kept her from learning to read. No Venti for her. Clearly the sar-chasm between Carey and I is too deep and we can no longer be friends.

I wonder if there’s a twelve-step program for me? “My name is Leslie, and I’m a sarcastic.” Yeah right.

I know that some people think sarcasm is mean-spirited or a cheap attempt at humor at someone else’s expense. Those people are idiots.

A day without sarcasm is a day without sunshine, a day without hot running water, a day without laughter, a day without wine, caffeine or chocolate. A day without sarcasm is a day that I don’t want to ever experience again.

Leslie believes sarcasm is a sign of wit, intelligence, and cleverness. Tell her what you think by emailing email.
Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on March 7, 2008.

The Boy in the Plastic Bubble

220px-The_Boy_in_the_Plastic_BubbleI’m not one to mess around when it comes to my son’s safety, so I was a little taken aback the other day when we met some friends to go scootering at a local elementary school.

He was the only one that wasn’t wearing a helmet. A couple of the kids were in full body armor, wrapped in Charmin from head to toe, like that kid in the old commercial, who goes out to play football and practically tips over from all that cushiony padding. But even the more “normal” (meaning less smothery) parents had put their kids in helmets. Every single kid had a helmet—except mine.

It was my James Dean moment. I felt like such a rebel.

It hadn’t even occurred to me to bring Koss’s helmet.

It’s not like he scooters very fast, or goes down hills. Even if he were to fall, he hardly gets enough speed going to skin a knee, let alone hit his head.

So why did I feel like such an irresponsible parent? Being the only one who didn’t even think about protecting her poor child’s skull made me feel like beating my own head against the wall. Should I feel guilty for not being concerned enough for his safety, or proud of myself for being less of a helicopter parent than my friends?

How much hovering does it take to qualify as a helicopter parent anyway? And how much swooping and attacking do you have to do on your child’s behalf to qualify as a Black Hawk pilot? Seems to me we’ve gone a bit too far on this air strike to try to protect our kids.

When I was a kid we played on asphalt playgrounds, jumping off and on those spinning merry go-rounds with wild abandon. Who cared if people had their arms ripped off by playing that way? There weren’t even any adults within earshot, let alone telling us to be careful ‘cause we might lose a limb.

I remember an old John Travolta movie called The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, about a kid who had some kind of a disease where he might die if he were exposed to the germs from the outside world. I felt so sorry for that kid in the movies, he hardly got to do anything.

I couldn’t imagine a world where I wasn’t free to walk to school by myself or roam my own neighborhood at will. That poor kid in the plastic bubble had it so tough.

Almost like kids do today.

More and more, the world of childhood has become helmetized. Forget going to the park by themselves, I know parents who won’t let their children go to another child’s house without doing a thorough background check on the parents. If your name is John Smith, forget about it – there’s no way to Google that.

I don’t want to be naïve about the fact that the world can be dangerous. But raising your children in a plastic bubble is also a risk. The risk is not letting them grow up into responsible people who know how to protect themselves and make intelligent decisions. Isn’t it better to let them fall or fail every once in a while? How else will they possibly learn how to pick themselves up and dust themselves off and get back on the horse—or scooter—again?


When she’s not discretely hovering over her son on the playground, Leslie can reached at For more columns visit

Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on January 11, 2008.