Suck it Up Buttercup

© Pkruger | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Pkruger | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

I had one of those yowza, take-a-deep-breath-and-try-not-to-cry parental moments the other day with my son.

We were talking about the school talent show, of all things. He had originally planned to form a band with a group of his buddies but all of their “rehearsals” had deteriorated into impromptu soccer games and water fights, so the budding Beatles never blossomed. They never even came up with a name for the band, which, as we all know, is the best part of being in a band.

Instead, a group of the boys decided to form a mime troupe and neglected to invite Koss. There’s a sentence I never imagined I’d write. Not that he had the slightest desire to climb his way out of an imaginary box-after years of seeing his father mock mimes, the mere idea of giving it a try was a genetic impossibility-but Koss was still sad that he hadn’t been asked.

I felt sure his friends hadn’t meant to hurt his feelings, and Koss agreed. But when I helpfully suggested that he let them know how he felt, he rolled his eyes at me and said the words I’ll never forget: “Mom, guys don’t do that. We act like nothing happened and move on.”

Why don’t you just mime an imaginary dagger stabbing through my broken heart?

When in the world had my tender, sweet, communicative little boy become, well, a guy?

Sure there had been symptoms over the years: plenty of fart jokes, burps, air guitars, sweaty socks and ESPN. But a certain tenderness had remained in my boy, despite all of the testosterone-fortified mayhem. I even worried that he was too tender sometimes. He cried more readily than most of his buddies and would obsess in great detail and for long periods of time when his razor-sharp radar detected a minute slight from a teacher or a friend. Truthfully, his hypersensitivity reminded me of my own thin skin and I worried about the future of his tender heart in the big, bad world.

My husband, who has never been accused of sensitivity, would often address Koss’s tender moments with a joking cackle of, “suck it up, buttercup.” My father, who never had any sons of his own, taught his grandson that, “pain is your friend,” a catch-all phrase meant to address any pain, physical or emotional, that might possibly prevent you from scoring the next goal, kicking the next ball or simply getting up and getting on with it.

Not that there was any overt sexism involved in these terse responses to life’s ups and downs. I had heard the “pain is your friend” adage from dad plenty of times over the years, and I think the stink of the stinkeye I gave my husband the one and only time he dared to tell me to “suck it up, buttercup” was more than sufficient to shut down that mode of communication-permanently. I’m just saying that my husband and father aren’t insensitive solely to Koss, they’re insensitive to everyone. Very egalitarian.

Resilience is a good thing to develop, right? But I still can’t help feeling sad that my little boy is becoming a big guy, which unfortunately seems to include the requisite rite of passage of sucking his emotions right back into his pointy little Adam’s apple.

No wonder there’s a lump stuck in my throat.

Sound off about sucking it up to For more columns visit Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on June 18, 2010.

Laundry Lessons



My friend Erin turns 40 today. She doesn’t want any presents; she just wants me to tell her the meaning of life.

That’s all. The meaning of life. Just a simple, little gift. I don’t think she’ll accept “no,” “42,” or even “swordfish” as an answer.

Doesn’t she know that I don’t really know what the meaning of life is? I’m not THAT much older than she is. Though I do know from personal experience that you can’t find the meaning of life in any store. Not even the shoe department at Nordstrom.

It’s not in a glass of wine or a tree or a yoga pose. And contrary to what some people say, I never learned about the meaning of life in kindergarten.

But I do know one thing I can share with her: You can learn a lot about life by doing laundry.

On the surface it may seem like a never-ending, redundant chore-whites, brights, darks, lights, towels, sheets, rinse and repeat. Again, five, six, seven, eight, whites, brights, darks, lights, towels, sheets, rinse and repeat. You can never catch up with the laundry. The moment that you match that last clean pair of socks, another soiled and sweaty duo shows up in the basket to take their place.

You’re never done. There’s always another day and another pair of dirty socks.

Of course anyone who does a lot of laundry knows that there’s really no such thing as being able to make all the socks match up in perfect pairs. Sure they start out that way when they’re new and fresh from the factory. Those socks are unscarred and optimistic because they’re too young and naïve to know any better. They walk down the aisles of Target in perfect harmony, believing that plastic staples and a shared manufacturer will bind them blissfully together forever.

Little do they know that once they hit that laundry basket life is full of surprises. The lucky pairs will stay in the same cycles, dancing around separately by day—while one rendezvous with a favorite t-shirt, the other attaches itself to a sweet smelling sheet—only to reunite in a cozy drawer for the night.

It doesn’t matter how many clothes you have or how often you wash them, every load of laundry is familiar, but if you look carefully enough you’ll always find surprises. Some weeks are full of grays and some are full of color. Some clothes, like some people, thrive in hot water, while others prefer it to be chilly. And try though you may to keep your dainty delicates away from the dryer, sometimes they attach themselves to a muddy pair of khakis or a stinky sweatshirt with an old college logo and they’re never quite the same after that.

An errant burr might worm its way into your sole leaving a scar on your heel that only you can see but you feel it every time you take a step. Buttons fall off and disappear into the ether. An errant purple crayon makes its way out of a classroom to permanently mark its territory on your favorite pink tank top. Things don’t always come out the way you think they will in the wash. That’s why they invented tie-dye.

The rinse cycle is good for cleaning off the grime, but sometimes you have to repeat—rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat. And there are some things that never come completely clean no matter how many soaks you give them and some that are always a little rumpled some matter how carefully you iron them.

Another thing you’ll come to realize after doing lots and lots of laundry is that not everything grooves to the same timetable. Those thick, thirsty Egyptian cotton towels turn out to be high maintenance, but worth the extra minutes in the dryer, while that Irish linen blouse demands more TLC than you have the patience for. So what if it was $59.99 (on sale!). Do enough laundry and you’ll learn that some things are just not worth the aggravation.

Sometimes the laundry can enrich you in more than just wisdom. I once made $2.87 in change and immediately went and bought myself a Slurpee. It was the coldest, sweetest, brain-freezing Slurpee in that summer full of Slurpees in a life full of Slurpees. I closed my eyes and wanted to savor every slurp of that special Slurpee. I opened my eyes and saw that I spilled some on my shirt.

And once again it’s back to the laundry. You toss and you tumble and try to sort through things and you clean them and they get messed up and you clean them again and again.

Whites, brights, darks, lights, towels, sheets, rinse and repeat. You’re never done. There’s always another day and another pair of dirty socks.

And another chance to clean them.

Share your laundry lessons with Leslie at For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on April 16, 2010.


Note to my Younger Self



You know all that gibberish older people always spout about wishing they had smelled the roses, stayed out of the sun and flossed more when they were younger? Forget that. If my older self could fly back in time and give one worthwhile piece of advice to my younger self it would be this: Have your picture taken in a bikini every chance you get. In fact, take naked pictures if you can rustle up the nerve. Just don’t put them on the Internet or on a cell phone. Seriously, use some common sense.

I’ll say it again – take pictures in a bikini. Wear a bikini to work if you can. Spend as much time as possible in a bikini. You won’t regret it.

When I think of how many times I threw a towel over my perfectly tanned and toned tummy, or how many times I tried to cover up my non-veined and not-the-least-bit-thundering thighs, I want to slap that young girl upside her head and scream, “Flaunt it while you can, you look great.” All of that toxic self-consciousness was so stupid.

I’d tell her to enjoy those looks – in fact I’d tell her to revel in them – because they won’t last forever. You might not know it now but one day you’re pretty hot-whether you realize it or not-and the next day you wake up and you’re just plain pretty-as long as you’re wearing makeup-and before you know it you’re a mature woman and the only men who flirt with you are homeless and hoping you’ll spring for a meal.

The painful evolution from Miss to Ma’am will strike so quickly you might mistake it for a hot flash. You’ll be looking in the mirror looking for yourself instead of at yourself. That girl is gone, leaving a reflection you barely recognize. On a good day she’s a cross between some distant relative and Herman Munster. Hunt for that has-been-hottie all you like, she’s gone. You’ll find yourself hunting for your lost looks the same way you must constantly hunt for your lost keys or that lost Post-It note with the name of that great dermatologist that whatshername told you about. Sure you can find traces of that young girl at the gym or the salon, but they’re fleeting traces.

Enjoy your looks while you’ve got them. Someday you’ll look back on the reflection of your fading, younger self and wonder how you could possibly have ever had a moment of anxiety about your looks. Silly girl. What were you thinking? Someday you’ll squint in the mirror at your rapidly aging self and wonder why you never paid attention when all those old people told you what a cruel trickster time was.

The truth is that inside every older person is a younger person wondering what the hell happened. Remember that.

When a saleslady tells you how flattering your driver’s license picture is, you’ll want to slug her-until you look in the mirror and realize that while your eyes are closed and your hair is cattywampus, the photo was taken ten years ago and look how nice your skin looks. You had no age spots, no crow’s feet, and no gray hair. Talk about lowering the bar.

It’s humbling to know that-if I’m lucky to live long enough-one day I’ll look back on today’s picture and think how marvelous -looking I was, how little gray I had and how great my skin looked. I read a great quote from Suzanne Braun Levine the other day: “Imagine how many good laughs we would miss if our bodies weren’t giving us so much hilarious material.” She’s right of course, but I would still tell my younger self to laugh while she was wearing a bikini.

When Leslie’s not looking for her car keys or her old self in the mirror, she can be reached at For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on April 2, 2010.

Playing to Win

© Amysuem | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Amysuem | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

When did playing to win become politically incorrect? While there are certainly buckets full of residual benefits from playing sports, THE OBJECT OF THE GAME IS TO WIN.

Look it up if you don’t believe me.

The object of basketball is to score the most baskets. The object of football is to score the most touchdowns. The object of baseball is to bring the most batters in. THE OBJECT OF THE GAME IS TO WIN.

Which is precisely why the steam bursting out of my ears is enough to propel my entire body through a series of hoops every time I hear a phrase like “the score is fun to fun.”

The game should be fun, but the score is supposed to be a number! And part of learning to play a game, possibly the most important part for many kids, is learning to lose-which is something you can’t do when “the score is fun to fun.”

I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to go to a scorekeeper’s clinic for my son’s basketball league this week. It wasn’t that the three-point play of tapping my foot, doing the homework handoff and my buzzer-beater run out of the house the instant my husband got home from work was particularly elegant. Nor was the explanation of when to hit the buzzer, and why fouls require a slash and free throws a circle all that scintillating. I was just happy to see that in basketball you keep score and the results are right up there on the light board for all to see.

Believe me, I’m not advocating bad sportsmanship, but I think they’re missing an important point when the youth basketball league sends out a beginning of season letter to parents saying we should redefine the word “winner.”

Merriam-Webster defines a winner as “one that wins; one that is successful especially through praiseworthy ability and hard work; a victor especially in games and sports.”

There is nothing wrong with that definition, but the league insists-with the best of intentions I am sure-on redefining the word “winner.”

“To help our children get the most out of competitive sports, we need to redefine what it means to be a ‘winner,'” the letter states. “Winners are people who make maximum effort, continue to learn and improve, refuse to let mistakes (or fear of making mistakes) stop them.”

These are all certainly worthy goals to teach our children, and definitely a good reminder to the coaches. But losing graciously is also an important part of life that I fear may get lost on the playing field when winners are defined as people who try hard, persist in their efforts and ultimately improve.

I’m a huge fan of good sportsmanship (which is what our league is really defining), fair play, improvement, effort, and learning – but none of those things have anything to do with winning and losing. I’d be the first to tell you that I’ve had plenty of “moral victories” against bad sports, but that’s not always what the win/loss column looks like.

In our house (and not coincidentally the houses that both my husband and I grew up in) the rule is that sometimes you win, sometimes you lose-it’s all part of playing the game-and if you can’t be a considerate winner or a gracious loser then you don’t get to play at all.

When our son was very young it wasn’t unusual for a game to be called on account of tears or tantrums, but he learned quickly that if you can’t behave like a good sport then you don’t get to play at all. It seems to me that rather than redefining winning, this is a much better lesson for youth sports to be teaching our kids.

What’s so bad about playing to win? Share your thoughts with For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on January 8, 2010.

Testosterone Central

Photo by Ambro

Photo by Ambro

How do you raise a boy to be in touch with his sensitive side, but not to be a wimp?

I’ve been thinking about this question a lot recently.

I just returned from a few days at “Testosterone Central,” otherwise known as my friend Andrea’s house. She has three strapping young men between the ages of 9 and 15-in addition to her rather strapping husband and large male dog-so Andrea’s house oozes more testosterone than a bachelor party at a NASCAR race on St. Patrick’s Day.

Now don’t get me wrong. It’s beautifully decorated and there’s always something wonderful cooking on the stove. But from the moment you get out of the car-and trip over the discarded scooters, soccer cleats, gym bags and tennis shoes-you know that this is not a place for wimps.

These boys live in a swirling cauldron of testosterone and they’ve marked their territory everywhere you look.

Of course, my son Koss loves it there. What boy could resist the chin up bars, Lacrosse sticks and Old Spice products hiding in every corner? I can practically hear Koss’s voice deepen and the hair start to grow on his (barely) ten-year-old chest after a few minutes with “Da Boyz.” It doesn’t matter how much time has gone by, it never takes him long to pick up the stride at “Testosterone Central.” The older kids, and the various neighbor boys who hang out all the time, treat Koss just like another little brother—which is both good and bad.

He loves being part of the gang and tagging along for whatever adventures may happen, but as an only child he’s not used to having to keep up with anyone, and even less used to not having anyone coddle him or help him along. In fact, I know he’s getting older because this is the first time he’s left their house without any injuries.

I’m not saying that “Testosterone Central” is dangerous, only that Andrea is on a first name basis with the emergency room nurses in multiple states. Those kids get hurt and she barely blinks an eye. I guess having three sons toughens you up. Come to think of it, when her kids get hurt they barely blink an eye. I guess having brothers toughens you up too.

Koss is not all that tough. He’s never really had to be. I’m sure part of the reason that he still sits on my lap and likes to cuddle is because he doesn’t have any older brothers to tell him not to. I love that sweet, cuddly side of him.

But he also loves to immerse himself in that boy energy at “Testosterone Central.” It’s not exactly animal house, but you can tell that it would easily slip into fraternity style mayhem if mom-and the housekeeper-went away for an extended period of time. No wonder Koss loves it there.

He’s spent a lot of the summer hanging out with his girl cousins, and was completely comfortable being assigned to an all girl group (plus one male counselor) at Nature Camp. I don’t think the boys who live in “Testosterone Central” would be-except maybe the oldest one, who’s got a whole other level of testosterone kicking in.

I asked Koss about whether he felt he behaved differently with all boys or all girls. “When I’m with the boys I definitely feel more aggressive with them,” he said. “I try to be funnier with the girls.”

That’s when I realized that I didn’t have to be too worried about him one way or the other. He already knows exactly how to behave with both boys and with girls. If he can make the girls laugh and then go tackle the boys-and as long as he knows the right ones to cry in front of-he’s going to be just fine.

Share your MOB (mother of boys) tips with For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on August 7, 2009.


Photo by Maggie Smith,

Photo by Maggie Smith,

I roll up my jeans, soak my toes in that mysterious blue powdery stuff and sink into the fake leathery comfort of a foot spa chair. I set the roller massage to just the right speed and pressure, so it kneads up and down my spine without shaking my body so hard that my boobs kiss my nose, then I close my eyes and prepare for bargain basement bliss.

Ah, Nirvana. There’s nothing better than a lunchtime pedicure to relax you in the middle of a long, hard workday. It’s the perfect cure for stress.

Ah, Nirvana. There’s nothing better than a lunchtime pedicure to relax you in the middle of a long, hard workday. It’s the perfect cure for stress.

I close my eyes and pretend I’m being pampered at the Bacara, or better yet, the Ritz-Carlton in Maui. Ah, this is the life.

Then I hear it: “trông như thế nào là chất béo của cô ankles.”

Huh? They’re talking about me already. This must be a record. I haven’t even gotten to the part about the crashing waves or the umbrella drinks at my fantasy spa.

“I said you have such pretty eyes. A rhinestone bleeding heart on your thumbnail’s gonna really play them up,” says my nail technician.

“Uh, I just want a pedicure,” I say, closing my eyes and trying to get back to Maui.

“Only $4 extra if you want a knife going through the heart,” she says, shoving a card full of rhinestone designs under my chin.

“Um, no thanks. I’m not really a bling girl, or a knife through the heart girl,” I say.

“Không có bạn nhiều hơn một giá rẻ chất béo bò girl.”


“I say you have boyfriend. You have such pretty eyes you must have lots of boyfriend. Boyfriend like the bling on toes, let me tell you,” she says.

I pull out my phone. I’m not sure what she said yet, but I know she did not say that.

“Không có bạn nhiều hơn một giá rẻ chất béo bò girl,” she says.

Hey, cut it out. I know you’re talking about me in Vietnamese and pretending you’re not.  And I’m sick of pretending not to notice.

And by the way, that iPhone I’m playing with has a translation app on it, so I know you just called me a big fat cow. I’m not sure if that’s a compliment or an insult in your culture, but cut it out.

And now I know that before the cow comment you made fun of my cankles, which isn’t very nice in any culture. Please just let me enjoy my pedicure in peace and quiet, instead of my usual paranoia that all of those giggles and guffaws from you and the other nail technicians are because you’re making fun of my outfit.

And while you’re at it, stop trying to upsell me every other minute. If I wanted to spend more money on my nails I would have gone someplace that wasn’t decorated with plastic flowers in December and Christmas tinsel in July.

I know you’re talking about me, just as surely I know there’s no way your name is really Tammy or Heather. I know you’re talking about me, just as surely as I know there’s no way you can possibly be comfortable in those hooker shoes. Relax, put on some flip-flops and stop talking about your customers while they’re sitting right there. I’ve got an app and I’m not afraid to use it.

You’re in America now, and here in America we make catty comments about people AFTER they leave, not when they’re still sitting there within earshot—and certainly not before they’ve given you a tip.

Share your nailed adventures with Leslie at For more columns visit

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on March 6, 2009.



This year I resolve to

resolutionsI make my New Year’s resolutions daily. I just strive to be a better person and I always believe in karma.Jay-Z

Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right. Oprah Winfrey

A New Year’s resolution is something that goes in one year and out the other.Leslie Dinaberg’s South Coasting Column, 2004

Like many ridiculously optimistic and otherwise rational people, I always take some time at the end of December to reflect on my accomplishments of the past year and set goals for the next one. The idea is to come up with a list of goals that will help transform me into a kinder, nicer, more organized, healthier, richer person with a better figure, a well-behaved family, and a much cleaner house.

Okay, so maybe my 2008 accomplishments weren’t all that stellar, but a look back at the history of my New Year’s resolutions tells me that at least I’m continuing to make some progress every year.

Resolution #1

1988: I will get back to the weight on my Driver’s License.

1997: I will get back to my weight when I got married.

2005: I will follow my new diet religiously until I get back to my pre-pregnancy weight.

2009: I will try to develop a realistic attitude about my weight, focus on getting healthy, buy myself pretty clothes and develop my personality. (Confession: I’d like to take credit for this line, but truthfully it’s what my father said about me the first time he saw me when I was an hour old.)

Resolution #2

1992: I will not spend my money frivolously and save enough money to put a down payment on a small house in Santa Barbara.

1998: I will not spend any money at all on anything, under any circumstances, and save enough to put a down payment on a small house in Isla Vista, with the help of my parents and anyone else who might want to invest.

2003: I will not spend my money frivolously and save enough to put a down payment on a small used car.

2006: I will stop buying so many new pairs of shoes.

2008: I will try to keep my expenses below 110 percent of my income.

2009: I will stop crumpling my tax deductible receipts into teeny tiny balls of paper that raise my husband’s blood pressure every year come April.

Resolution #3

2003: I will stop smoking.

2004: I will stop smoking.

2005: I will stop smoking.

2006: I will stop smoking.

2007: I will stop smoking.

2008: I will stop smoking.

2009: I will stop smoking. (Confession: I never started smoking in the first place, but I always like to give myself one easy thing that I know I can accomplish to make myself feel better about this whole New Year’s resolution thing.)

Resolution #4

2003: I will spend more time with my family.

2006: I will spend more quality time with my family.

2008: I will redefine quality time with my family to mean that we all have to be awake, with no one yelling, but not necessarily doing the same activity in the same room at the same time.

December 22, 2008: Screw the family. I will carve out some quality time for myself, by myself, and not feel guilty about it. (Written immediately after disembarking from a five-day cruise with my extended family.)

2009: I will spend more quality time with my family and my dear friends, but only after spending enough quality time with myself to not be grumpy.

Resolution #5

1998: I will treat my body as a temple and eat only healthy, organic foods.

2000: I will only order out for pizza once a week.

2003: I will remember that Chuck’s Mai Tais do not count as a serving of fruit, even though they come with an orange slice and a maraschino cherry. The celery in a Brophy Brother’s Bloody Mary doesn’t count as a vegetable either.

2006: I will sit down with my family and eat a healthy, balanced meal at least once a week.

2008: I will eat a piece of dark chocolate and I will drink a glass of red wine every night, but only for the good of my health.

2009: Ditto.

Resolution #6

1982: I will write a book before I’m 30.

1995: I will write a book before I’m 40.

2005: I will read at least 10 books a year whose titles I’m not embarrassed to talk about.

2007: I actually wrote a few books. So what If they’re shorter than this column and the graphics are kind of cheesy. I have my own ISBN numbers.

2008: I co-authored a book and it’s actually pretty good. I will do my best to help sell “Hometown Santa Barbara” so I can actually make some money this year.

2009: I will write a novel before I’m 50.

Resolution #7

1993: I will not fight with my boyfriend about household chores.

1994: I will not fight with my husband about household chores.

1999: My husband will stop pretending he knows how to fix the car and I will stop pretending I am the least bit competent in the kitchen.

2007: My husband will stop pretending he doesn’t see the pile of laundry that needs to be folded and I will stop pretending I don’t know how to plunge the toilet and pump my own gas.

2009: My husband will make sure I have gas in my car if I give him enough warning when the tank is low and I will stop making New Year’s resolutions on behalf of other people.

Resolution #8

2003: I will not fight with Koss about cleaning up his toys.

2005: I will not fight with Koss about doing his chores.

2006: I will not fight with Koss about his homework, doing his chores and cleaning up his dirty sweat socks.

2007: I will not fight with Koss about his homework, doing his chores and cleaning up his dirty sweat socks and his sweaty t-shirts.

2008: I will not fight with Koss about his homework, doing his chores, cleaning up his dirty sweat socks and his sweaty t-shirts, and how much time he spends on the computer.

2009: Koss will be responsible for his own homework, his own chores and his own dirty clothes. But I am still his mother and I can make resolutions for him if I want to!

Resolution #9

2008: I will put away money that I would have spent on lattes in a little jar every day and maybe when I retire I’ll be able to afford an R.V. that I can park somewhere in Santa Barbara.

2009: Who am I kidding? I can’t live without lattes. Pass the Equal, and the wine and chocolate while you’re at it.

Cheers to a New Year and may all your troubles last as long as my New Year’s resolutions.

Share your resolutions with Leslie by emailing email . Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on January 2, 2009.

The naked truth about communication



Communication is complicated, especially when it involves men and women.

Men don’t understand our obsessions with the shoe department at Nordstrom, our friend’s relationships, and Grey’s Anatomy. And we don’t remotely understand their fascinations with remote control anything, video games, or the Three Stooges. I’ve also yet to meet a woman who has figured out why men take so long in the bathroom when they’re not putting on makeup or drying their hair.

Luckily, my careful research into the male species has enabled me to compile this translation guide, “the naked truth about communication.”

Keep in mind, as relationships evolve, so does the conversational code. Here are some clues for the beginning stages, when you first meet.

The guy you’re flirting with says: “So maybe we could get together or something?

You hear: “I like you, but not enough to ask you out.”

He really means: “I really want to ask you out, but I’m too chicken to say so.” Also, “I’d like to see you naked.”

Or in the beginning stages, another loaded question when you meet a man is, “What do you do?”

What he hears you say is, “Are you making enough money to support me in the style I’d like to become accustomed to? Then you can see me naked.”

Of course you really mean nothing more than “What do you do?” but a safer question might be “What do you like to do?” If he makes up an answer that sounds sophisticated and smart (“I like to go wine tasting in the Valley or read Yeats by the fireplace at my house on Padaro Lane”), he’s lying, but at least you know he’s trying, and he probably likes you. Milk this, because he’ll actually converse with you during this courtship period.

Once you start dating regularly, you may have months or even years of “What do you want to do?” “I don’t know, what do you want to do?” conversations ahead of you, so don’t be afraid to take over the social planning. You can be pretty sure he’s happy if your plans involve his seeing you naked. And if he really doesn’t want to do something, don’t worry; he’ll let you know with a grunt or sometimes even a funny face or an audible noise.

Once you’re married, you may be less apt to be naked, but that doesn’t mean communication gets any easier. Here’s an example.

Wife gets home late from work. Husband’s eyes are glued to the TV. “Hi, honey. How was your day?”

He barely looks up. “Hi.”

Wife: “Are you okay?”

He says, “Fine.”

You hear: “Leave me alone. There are lines around your eyes and you look fat.”

He really means … “God, I know you want to talk about my day and all my relationships with my colleagues and boss but I just want to drink a beer, eat a bag of chips for dinner and zone out on the Three Stooges.” Also, “I’d like to see you naked.”

Here are a few more things I’ve learned about how to talk to a man so he understands you.

Men–and nine-year-old boys–can only take directions one at a time. So, if you have a 104-degree fever and you want him to go into the kitchen and get you a drink of water, make it a two-part request. Pictures and props are also useful. Your Charades techniques can also come in handy here.

When men bother to use words instead of gestures or grunts, it’s to inspire action. If a guy insults another guy, he automatically thinks he wants to fight, unless they’re friends, and then its in lieu of a kiss and a hug hello. And if you say you like his shirt, he thinks, “Cool, she wants to see me naked!”

A man will say, “I’m fine,” even when being tortured or held up at gunpoint. It’s not in his nature to reveal weakness because that betrays vulnerability. It’s an evolutionary thing. I found this same tough guy mentality also goes for little boys (but only if there are other little boys around). Keep in mind that he’s not fine if he’s bleeding, his face is wet around his eyes, the Gaucho’s just lost or he has to pay for parking.

Otherwise he’s probably fine–just don’t ask him about it–unless of course you’re naked.

Little by little, Leslie is becoming fluent in guy speak. Share your insights at

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on December 12, 2008.

The politics of friendship

elephant-donkey-politicsThe election is still more than six weeks away and I’m starting to get a callus on my tongue from biting it.

It’s not that I don’t like to talk about politics. I love to talk about politics. Just ask my husband, or my family, or any of my friends who happen to share my opinions. We talk about politics all the time and we love it. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve solved all the problems of the world over dinner and a few bottles of wine. It’s not that we don’t argue. We certainly don’t agree on everything, but we do share some very core ideas about the way the world should be run.

I love to talk about politics.

I just don’t want to talk about politics with certain people that I know because I like those people, and I want to continue liking them and I know that I won’t like what they have to say about the upcoming election and then I’ll have to either bite my tongue until it bleeds or try to have a rational conversation with someone who is clearly out of their mind if they really think what I think they think about the upcoming election.

But I’m scared to ask them because, honestly, if they feel the way I think they do I don’t want to know.

So I’m deluged with emails and links to blogs and funny YouTube videos from friends who know I think the way they think and I forward them on to friends who I think think the way we think, but there are a lot of people in my address book who don’t. With them, I try to pretend that there isn’t an election going on because I want to continue being friends with them and I know if we talk about it, it will be hard for me.

See, I have to deal with them daily at work, on soccer teams, PTAs and nonprofit committees, and I want to deal with them in a pleasant, respectful manner and stay friendly. They are my friends, after all. But quite frankly, I’m scared that if we start to talk about certain things I’ll lose all respect for their intelligence.

Then my blood pressure will go up whenever I see them, or perhaps even think about them. Then I won’t be able to sleep at night because I’ll have endless conversations with them in my head where I brilliantly and logically explain my point of view in a way that they couldn’t possibly disagree with me–and yet they still do.

So I’ll try again and again and again until I feel like I’m banging my head against the wall and then the alarm goes off and it’s morning and it starts all over again.

So I don’t talk about politics with them.

And it’s really not the end of the world. We have plenty of other things to talk about. In fact, it’s amazing how much time you can spend with someone when your children are the same age or you’re working on a common cause before you realize how far apart you are politically.

But once that barrier has been broken it’s hard to go back, and politics becomes the elephant–or the donkey–in the room that you try to ignore but can’t quite get out of your mind.

Published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on September 19, 2008.

When you know you’re a grownup

UntitledLast weekend we were heading down to the beach and as I rummaged through the five bottles of sunscreen and three different hats in my trunk I had a stunning revelation–I might actually be a grownup!

My days of frying on the sand in a mixture of baby oil and iodine are certainly over. I don’t even call Hendry’s Beach “the Pit” anymore because hardly anyone knows what I’m talking about. Now I’m that lady in the hat and huge sunglasses that makes sure to bring water and snacks for the kids. Wow, I might actually be a grownup.

Here are some other signs:

My friends have stopped hooking up, then splitting up. Now they’re getting married and divorced. And sometimes they’re dating people half their age–and it’s legal.

The last time I went to Disneyland, my favorite rides were the ones that didn’t hurt my back.

I could have gone to high school with Barack Obama. He would have been a senior, but still, we could have gone to school together.

No matter how impossibly cute the shoes are, I won’t wear them for more than an hour if they hurt my feet.

I’ve actually started mailing in those rebate offers.

My friend Sandy has a daughter that graduated from college, and Sandy is younger than I am.

A $4 bottle of wine no longer tastes “just fine” to me.

At the gym the other day I saw an aerobics class that looked about my speed, then realized it was for seniors.

Not only have I stopped buying cereal for the toy prizes, I’ve started stocking up on Raisin Bran and Cheerios when it’s on sale.

Sometimes my idea of a fun Friday night out involves pizza, Scrabble, and not leaving the house.

I consider the speed limit more than “just a guideline.”

I call my doctor by his first name, I’ve seen him drunk, and I still trust him.

Sometimes I hear my mom’s voice coming out of my mouth (“Because I said so.”) and it only freaks me out a little, but every once in a while, I’ll look in the mirror and see my mom’s face and it freaks me out a lot.

There’s a lot more food in my refrigerator than beer.

Thinking about having sex in a car makes me fantasize about back injuries.

When Koss asked me the other day, I couldn’t remember how to make a cursive capital “T” since it’s not a part of my signature.

When my friends suddenly become very moody, I wonder if they’re pre-menopausal, rather than pregnant.

I left a concert early at the County Bowl this year because I was too stressed out about someone getting hurt in the mosh pit to enjoy the music.

When the phone rings, I always hope it’s not for me.

I finally know for sure that my secrets are safe with my friends because they can’t remember them either.

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on August 15, 2008.