Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Mrs. Your-Name-Here

It’s wedding season, and although I don’t expect to get any invitations this year, my heart goes out to any couple busily planning the big day. In particular, it must be hard these days to figure out how best to word the invitation-both the description of the event and even the envelope, in a way that suits both tradition and contemporary outlooks or realities.

In the few cases that we’ve received invitations over the past few years, I’m not a stickler. Spell our name wrong, don’t spend money or hours laboring over calligraphy, call me by my husband’s first name: it’s not my day, it’s the couples’, and I’m usually just impressed to get actual snail mail and to see pretty stationery.

However, in other matters, ones that don’t involve love or rehearsal dinners, I do pay attention to how letters are addressed to my husband and to me, and when, for the sake of etiquette, I am referred to as a Mrs. Thomas L. Vander Schaaff.

I image there was a day, perhaps in Holland many moons ago, when there are were a lot of Mrs. Vander Schaaff’s, and it was useful to specify that it was the Mrs. Thomas L. Vander Schaaff to whom the letter was intended.

These days, being that we’re not in Holland, the only time I’ve had a near run in with a linguistic doppelgänger was at a local bakery around Thanksgiving.

“What do you mean another Sarah Vander Schaaff reserved an apple pie? Surely that is my apple pie on the counter.”

Perhaps then, and only then, I might have asked if it was a Mrs. Thomas L. Vander Schaaff’s apple pie and not some other Mrs. Vander Schaaff, but I didn’t.

No, for the sake of clarity and dignity, it seems fitting to simply say Mrs. Sarah Vander Schaaff and not invoke my husband’s first name, especially when he’s not even listed on the envelope or, presumably, intended to read its contents.

I decided to check with the arbiters of modern etiquette. First, I turned to the Emily Post Institute online, which says that, “Above all, manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others.”

On their page, Guide to Addressing Correspondence, they have several options for addressing a woman. If you want to get a headache, try reading all the variations. Suffice it to say, they state that if you are addressing a married couple formally, and the woman has taken her husband’s name, and she uses the prefix Mrs., the correct way to address the envelope is: “Mr. and Mrs. John Kelly”.

There are many exceptions, and all hell breaks loose when a woman elects the prefix Ms. or, as they say, “outranks” her spouse.

I then turned to Martha Stewart. In a page dedicated to addressing wedding invitations, the site offers a tip for informal address: “To some couples, omitting wives' first names feels too old-fashioned; including the first names of both husband and wife after their titles is appropriate.”

Congratulations, women, having your first name appear on the envelope after your title is, in fact, appropriate in 2013. While Martha’s team intended this for weddings, perhaps we can spread the news.

A few years ago, when we were searching for schools for my then six-year-old, I looked into an all girls school nearby. I didn’t need to be convinced of the benefits of same-sex education, but they certainly did a good job of giving me the facts, including information about what a strong indicator it was for future positions of leadership.

Given our daughter was six, I did all the work for the application. I wrote the essays, I filled in the PDF forms, I wrote the check for the application fee. My husband was supportive, but I was the one who stood in line at the post office to mail in that packet.

The formal correspondence we received from this school for girls, this institution that celebrated their potential, came back addressed to: Mr. and Mrs. Thomas L. Vander Schaaff.

I don’t think it was a betrayal of their core philosophy. I think they just forgot that actual etiquette is a “sensitive awareness of the feelings of others.”

In most cases, identifying someone by her first name, even if she's elected for whatever reason to take her spouse’s last, is an acknowledgement of her personhood—if not feelings.

This week on The Educated Mom, I take a look at one school tradition that reminded me why it's good to get out of the classroom.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Hot Water

“Don’t get electrocuted,” I said to my husband as he headed into the basement.

Our water heater was gushing water, and although I had no idea what he’d need to do, the send-off at least made me feel better.

He didn’t get electrocuted, but he did shut off the water. A few minutes later he was out the door with the kids, and I was left, as any spouse who stays home would be, to figure out the rest.

First, I called the plumber. It’s always a great day at my plumber’s office, according to the recording you hear while on hold. My day was not going so well, but I was glad they were happy. They’d send a plumber in an hour.

Then I called my basement guy.

“Brian?” I said. “How are you?” he asked politely.

It was 7:45 in the morning.

“Oh, you know anytime I call you this early, I’m…kind of…”

He knew the rest. I’d had brief episodes of water in the basement before, at our previous house and once at our current house when a different plumbing appliance overflowed on the first floor and caused mayhem beneath. If he could spare someone from a crew, he said, they’d come to the house that afternoon.

I went downstairs and stomped around the soggy carpet. Fortunately, or not, most of the junk in the basement was not in the path of the stream of spilled water. Still, I had my trash bag and tossed what I could.

There was not much to do at that point but wait, so I did what anyone would do, I went on Facebook. Friends diagnosed my hot water heater issue in less than a minute. The thing was dead. This is how they end their long careers—by spilling 75 gallons of water all over the house they once provided for.

When the plumber arrived he confirmed the diagnosis.

While I read descriptions of new hot water heaters, the basement man called back with a time. He’d send someone at 1pm. Great. I was in business, but what about the dentist? My oldest daughter and I had 1pm appointments. This mother-daughter-teeth-cleaning-date was going to have to wait.

“I am very sorry,” I told the receptionist when I called, “but I need to take care of the basement.”

A bit later, I was about to eat something—sans water—when the phone rang.

“Mrs. Vander Schaaff?” said the voice of my youngest daughter’s assistant preschool teacher. It was either pink eye or vomit—I knew from her voice—something for which my daughter had been quarantined and would now be sent home. It was not pink eye today.

Well, it’s lucky the water heater broke today, I told myself, I would have been in the dentist’s chair around now and unable to pick her up right away. 

The day was looking up.

So, I grabbed a banana and headed out the door.

I’d get the sick kid first, then the one who thought she was heading to the dentist, and make it back home just in time to meet the basement guy with the shop vac.

Somewhere around this time I cancelled a playdate for the afternoon. Friends are understanding when both your hot water heater and your four-year-old are unable to keep things down.

After that, things moved quickly. The new water heater was almost installed. The basement guy wasted no time. The fans were blasting. There was hope for hot water and a dry carpet.

Then I remembered the chicken. Hot water or no hot water, that chicken needed to be cooked or it would spoil. I threw it in a marinade and tossed it in the fridge.

A few hours later, my husband returned home. We had hot water. We had a (nearly) dry basement. The chicken just needed to be put on the grill. I hadn’t showered or sat down for more than ten minutes, aside from in the car, but things were almost back on track.

Dark storm clouds rolled in as I kissed the kids good night. Downstairs, the boom of thunder and lightening made me nearly jump as I handed my husband the tray of chicken.

“Don’t get electrocuted,” I said, as he headed out the door to grill in a thunderstorm.

At least the day had symmetry.

This week on The Educated Mom we look at vision, or my own lack of it, when it came to my daughter's eyesight.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


Most of the people who read this blog are probably parents or grandparents and it’s hard not to be thinking of eight year old Martin Richard right now, the young boy who died in the bombings yesterday, just a short time after seeing his father cross the finish line at the Boston Marathon.

Patriots’ Day, my husband, a New Englander, reminisced last night, is special for kids. It’s a school holiday, celebrating the battles of Lexington and Concord, and it’s also usually a home game for the Red Sox.

How much more wonderful to have your father running in the one of the most prestigious marathons in the country and to be positioned near the finish line.
One of the things that saddens me about the death of Martin Richard is that he had ever right to be joyful. Every reason to stand proudly and eagerly and expectantly near the finish line and cheer for his father. No reason to live in fear that at 2:50 that afternoon a bomb would detonate and take his life and hurt his beloved mother and sister.

My father has written about unexpected tragedies and often follows a theme that everything is normal until it isn’t. All the details of a life that seem prosaic, in retrospect, are bittersweet when placed in the context of the end we wish didn’t come.

You may have seen a photo on Facebook of Martin holding a poster board. Handwritten in marker it reads, “No More Hurting People. Peace.”


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Kids' Meals

Wherever you go there you are. But when you’re on a literal and not spiritual journey, it might be more accurate to say, wherever you go….there’s an Olive Garden. Or an Applebees. Or a Subway.

That fact was confirmed on my recent two-day road trip, but the truth is these chains are not popping up because of infrequent travelers like me. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Americans spend almost half their food dollars on restaurant meals.

So it makes sense that the Center for Science in the Public Interest would take a look at kids’ meals at these restaurants as they did in the study released last month, Kids’ Meals: Obesity on the Menu.

I’d seen the story in The New York Times about this study shortly before we headed home on our 850-mile drive. But I didn’t spend time reading the story until I set about to do four loads of laundry upon our return. Frankly, my mother’s intuition tells me that, when on the road, the kids should eat whatever is thoroughly cooked and least likely to make them sick in the short term. When in Rome, or let’s say a pizza joint, order the pizza.

But the center’s study speaks to a larger point, much bigger than a traveler's needs. A few things stand out.

First, when the center compared the success of kids’ meals at major restaurant chains in meeting standards in calorie limits, sodium, sugar and other goals for healthful eating, established by the National Restaurant Association’s (NRA) Kids LiveWell program, 91% failed.

Second, the one chain whose options are head and shoulders above the rest in meeting the goals: Subway. Kudos, by which I mean apple slices, to Subway.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest has some pretty straight-forward suggestions for the chains that aren’t doing as well. They could, they suggest, try to meet the standards for kids’ meals that they, the restaurants, actually created. And they could do common sense things such as remove soft drinks from the children’s menu, offer more fruit, vegetables, and whole grains and only present these healthy choices to kids in their marketing.

When you sit down at a booth and hand a kid a menu, there is something special about the occasion. Eating out is fun. But consider this description the Center gives for one kids’ meal option: “The children's meal with the most sodium is the Mini Corn Dogs, French Fries, and Milk at Buffalo Wild Wings. That meal contains 3,200 mg of sodium, twice the recommended intake of sodium for a child for an entire day.”

Can you imagine pouring a teaspoon of salt all over your four-year-old’s lunch?

Perhaps corn dogs and french fries are not the epitome of a healthy meal, no matter the sodium. But that goes back to a more fundamental issue, one that demands a stronger look at how we value children: what goes on the kids' menu in the first place.

This week's post on The Educated Mom looks at a trend in TV shows for preschoolers.