English 101

I teach. I teach the dreaded English composition course all college freshman are required to take. I know that every semester I will face business majors, nursing students, art majors, computer programmers and a litany of other students whose course of study appears to have little need for writing.

I feel for them. I really do.

But then I ask them: If you can’t use proper grammar, put together a sentence with correct structure and syntax, use a vocabulary with words larger than the ones required for texting, will you impress a prospective employer? A professor? That cute girl or guy you meet in a bar? (Really, they get THIS). And G-d bless my students, they sit there and listen. I think they hear me. Either that, or they’re silently mocking me as still stuck in the dark ages. You know, the era of the now extinct Thank You Note.

Of course, I beg to differ. I’m a relationship expert and as such, I know that nothing will sink a relationship faster than a poor choice of words. If you tend to limit your vocabulary to four-letter words, (beyond l-o-v-e) well, that ought to do a lot for your marriage. If you shun any form of reading or writing or speaking intelligently because you’re happy to substitute all noise forms with guttural belching, especially when you’re in front of the TV, that will do wonders for your relationship, too. Guaranteed.

Conversely, the man or woman who writes or speaks meaningful, thoughtful and loving prose – especially if it accompanies a shiny object (men and women have different ideas about what a shiny object ought to be) – will earn enough brownie points to sustain his or her relationship at least through a month’s worth of dirty laundry and snoring.

Most likely if you’re reading my blog, you’re not one of my students. (If you are, don’t forget the reading assignment for Friday.) But I hope you, too, will keep on writing. Especially as well-written newspapers continue their vanishing act, and fewer literary works are published by publishers.

In fact, anytime you feel like talking, drop me a line. Or two.


Beach Neighbors

The beaches in Cape May, New Jersey are lined with sky blue tent-like cabanas, each one with a fairly crude piece of wood painted with the renter’s last name. These tents in one form or another have dotted Cape May beaches since Victorian days. I rented one for 30 years until the cost became prohibitive two summers ago. My late husband Charlie and I had viewed our tent neighbors as our summer friends.

In the early days, our neighbors included a beautiful middle-aged widow from Pittsburgh, Mrs. Murrow, who summered in a double-porched Victorian gem. We also met an outgoing Virginian couple – The Lawsons – and another couple – the Reddys, who had two kids a few years older than ours. But as life changes, so did our little tent neighborhood.

I may have brought the first change, returning the summer of 1991 and breaking the stunning news to my neighbors that Charlie had died less than a week after returning home the previous summer. He was 42.

Then a few years later I showed up with a new husband, and a couple years after that, I showed up with no husband.

The Reddys moved their tent to a more secluded location (hopefully having nothing to do with my dating habits). Unfortunately more tent neighbors sprung up around them. Then Mrs. Murrow stopped coming to the beach because her macular degeneration became too debilitating. However, she continues to rent a tent on the diminishing chance her adult grandkids will show up and take her to the beach. They haven’t.

And then there’s Mrs. Lawson. I remember when she and her husband would wave to Charlie and me, and then, when she too became widowed, she and I became next-door neighbors, so to speak.

Although a generation or two older than me, I was always in awe of this striking, Grace Kellyish elderly woman with blonde hair, a perpetual tan, and flamboyant costume jewelry that unfailingly matched her bathing suit. One day we discovered that we had both graduated from Lower Merion High School outside of Philadelphia.

We talked about similar childhood haunts and then she told me she had a surprise that she would bring to the beach the following day. There she was sitting in a chair under her tent, sporting a much shrunken wool sweater emblazoned with the words Lower Merion High School, each letter an individual wool appliqué, and smelling vaguely of mothballs.

Last night I returned home from Cape May, not having seen Mrs. Lawson’s name on a tent all summer. Earlier, I drove by her summer house. A “For Rent” sign stood on the lawn. By my calculations, based on the year she graduated from LM, Mrs. Lawson would be about 85. I hope she’s well.

It’s nice that I still see the Reddys – in the water as they keep watch over their grandchildren. But I miss the old neighborhood.




GaGa Sisterhood

The GaGa Sisterhood‘s review of It’s Either Her of Me: Navigating the Mother and Daughter-in-Law Relationship focuses on how the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship changes when grandchildren are added to the equation.

Do you have any first-hand experience or advice? Visit the GaGa Sisterhood and join the conversation!


The Boy in the Gift Shop

A friend and I were trying on jewelry in an eclectic store that just so happens to carry my books. An adorable young clerk was helping us and we all got to talking. When he learned that I was the author of It’s Either Her or Me, he excitedly told me that when he straightens up, he often flips through my book. Why? “Because,” he told me, “my mother HATES my girlfriend.”

Immediately, I went into journalist mode. How old are you? (19) Do you have siblings? (Two). Where do you fit in the birth order? (Youngest). Is your mom okay with your older siblings’ significant others? (Yes).

Okay, so benefit of the doubt here that his girlfriend, who I didn’t meet, is a sweetheart, then what do I think is happening here? Why are moms perfectly fine with some of their children’s wives/husbands, but dislike another’s?

All things being equal, a mom (remember, I’m one, too) can have a difficult time sharing her child who is:

1. The last born.

2. The first born.

3. The one she depends on (for vetting, for companionship, for peace of mind).

4. Or, the one for whom she has superhuman expectations (think Bill Gates, Barack Obama, Alex Rodriguez – hey, they had moms who dreamed, too). And in that case, no one will be good enough.

It’s confusing for the son who can’t figure out why Mom likes his sister’s boyfriend, but not his girlfriend. And that’s the case with this nice kid I met. I’ve never met his girlfriend. I’ve never met his mother. They could both be fantastic people. In fact, they probably are. But my advice to the mom would be: Pick your battles. He’s 19. If you show your dislike for this girl now, and he ends up with someone else later on who is truly terrible, you’ve lost a lot of credibility. And maybe more.

They’re kids. They’re getting ready to leave for college. Anything can happen. So be supportive. In the end, your relationship with your son will not only be more rewarding, but it will blossom.



Book Contest at Singlemommyhood.com

Great website for single moms and single dads called www.singlemommyhood.com has started a book giveaway contest on “Mom, There’s a Man in the Kitchen and He’s Wearing Your Robe.” Check it out. Tell them whether you are dating, kinda dating, or not dating at all. Hurry to enter! http://bit.ly/9UMY71


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