Saturday, May 26, 2012


[photo removed because i do that sometimes]

My boys are on the left, and I am sitting next to my maternal grandmother, holding an umbrella. She is 85. I didn't know her very well growing up; I have always lived far away from her. When I saw her in the past, she was always very busy taking care of her large family. She was cooking. She was cleaning. She was giving instructions. She was nonstop movement. She had 9 children. She has 41 grandchildren. She has another 41 great-grandchildren. I mean: I think she has another 41 great-grandchildren. She was The One who kept track of all the births and deaths. She was The One wrote everything down, and she was The One who recorded it in her yearly Christmas letter. When you called her, she updated you on how everyone else in the extended family was doing. Then she added your updates to her list, to be given to the next caller or visitor. She doesn't do that anymore. About 2 years ago, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. She moved into assisted living. And she became, in her words, "lazy."

My aunt drove my grandmother to Colorado to visit her childhood friend. We met up with them on Monday afternoon. The boys played on a playground with my aunt and Fritz, while my grandmother and I sat on this bench and just...talked. I have never just talked with my grandmother. Just sitting, and just talking, I was just a granddaughter. It was a nice place to be: a very different place from being just a mom. There are many past details she remembers: She told me about the schoolhouse where she went to primary school. Thirteen kids, one teacher: Miss Elizabeth West. The little kids mispronounced it: Lizbett Wetts.  And then there were high school friends, who coincidentally shared the same surname that I now have.

"Grandma," I said, "did you know that's my last name now?"

"Oh!" She exclaimed.

I translated its meaning from the German.

"Well! I didn't know that!" We laughed.

I think about how her memories of childhood are so strongly with her. I think about how these are the very memories that my boys are making today and will spend the next decade making.

My grandmother was reliving moments from decades ago, but me? I was in the very moment of that very day. Our positions have flipped: for years, she recorded details about my life. And Monday, I was mentally recording her details.

They say children live in the moment and that, as parents, we should find our inspiration in this. But sitting with my grandmother, trying to hold on to all her details, I was not merely inspired, I was forced to be in the moment. Maybe that is because now, I'm just a granddaughter. I'm no longer specific facts to be recorded. And it was okay – no, it was more than okay – it was like being wrapped in a cozy blanket. It was a perspective and calm that I really needed. I'll take the Moment of Now with My Grandmother any time.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Bike Lessons

Working Title One: Transitioning from a Balance Bike to a Pedal Bike
Working Title Two: Second Thoughts about Bikes and Kids

Like many first time parents, we were overly eagerly for Noah to ride a bike. When he was 2, we watched online videos of kids using various types of balance bikes (bikes without pedals). If you've ever watched a little kid scoot around on a balance bike, you know the feeling: WOW! That little kid can balance on two wheels! And go so fast! And it looks so fun! That burns energy! I bet he's tired out afterwards!  I quickly developed dreams of Noah and I taking long rides together - rides where I actually RAN - while he glided along under perfect control next to me. No more fights about the stroller! No more dawdling! We would be a team. We would go fast. I would RUN and GET IN SHAPE while Noah rode a balance bike.

When Noah was 2, we started looking for balance bikes. REI had several; Noah liked the pink metal one the best. We cringed at the pink (all while trying to open-minded, cool parents), told him it was too expensive, and bought a simpler one. We passed over the wood bikes because 1) he seemed less interested in them, 2) we reasoned that the bike would be left outside, and 3) we worried about destroying the bike by our own neglect. We also liked the idea of real tires with air cushioning. The gender neutral, metal bike that we purchased ended up being heavier than a wood bike, and thus harder for him to control. I think it's about 12" tires. Bikes are awkward; they have wiggly handlebars moving separately from the rest of the bike. They have a tendency to fall over when you don't hold on with both hands.  Once you can use a bike, of course, it's a graceful thing – but we had forgotten how unmanageable it is in the beginning.

Noah wasn't really interested in it until he was about 2.5 years old. At 2.5 years old, his strength, coordination and physical size all came together to make it manageable for him. And I should confess, he didn't pick it up terrible quickly. He's tallish, but average in athletic ability. At 2.5, he would inch along, legs straddling the bike, but not sitting on the seat. This continued for weeks. It was a little maddening. But eventually, after a few months of practicing on our concrete patio, he more or less got that hang of it. As the weather got colder, he was gliding along under his own power. He was balancing! Unfortunately, his motivation and the weather were a little misaligned.

Also around that time, my stomach swelling with Mattias, and it became clear that running plan was not happening.

The summer that Noah was 3 - 3.5 years old, he rode the balance bike everywhere, for distances of 1 to 2 miles. (I would bring our double bike trailer on long walks: Mattias asleep in the infant sling attachment, Noah on the balance bike. If Noah tired out, he could ride inside the trailer with his brother and I secured the balance bike to the outside of the trailer.) Noah could glide for 50, 100, 150 feet depending on the slope. That summer, his sandals were green with yellow soles. I spent a lot of time looking at those yellow soles, his feet tucked backward, while he glided along the sidewalk. By the end of the summer, he was seriously outgrowing the balance bike, even with an adjusted seat. HE almost could have used his knees, as opposed to feet, to stop himself. He often rode the balance bike to school that fall, a distance of about three-quarters of a mile.

For his 4th birthday in the spring, we gave him a used PEDAL bike, a 16" Trek bike. (I mention the brand particularly because: MAN! Is this bike heavy!) When we wheeled it out and he attempted to hold it, I immediately regretted impulsively purchasing something second-hand and making the same-mistake-again. Namely: getting him a bike that was too heavy for him to control. What I had hoped is that there would be a smooth transition from balance bike to regular bike. No need for training wheels, just pop him on the bike and off we'd go.


First of all, there was the new bigger size. It wasn't too big for him, but he wasn't used to lifting his leg so high and he wasn't used to controlling so much weight all while getting on. There was a whole new level of coordination: using pedals was familiar to him because he had a tricycle, but using pedals to take-off from standing still and using pedals to brake were new skills. Also, the pedals were IN THE WAY when he attempted to stop by putting his feet down. Add that together with balancing a bigger, heavier bike, and it was clear that the training wheels needed to go on.

He spent last summer riding his 16" bike with training wheels. I've chilled somewhat since those early days when I was so eager to get him on a bike. I asked him a few times last summer if he'd like to take off the training wheels, and he had no interest, so I didn't push. He did a lot of riding with Fritz; 3 mile trips were the norm. Fritz was also more aggressive with proper bike training than me. He almost always took Noah in the bike lane and taught him how to follow traffic signs.

This spring, I asked him: should we take off your training wheels? I paused. You'll be able to go faster, I said. He agreed. We took off the training wheels, and he rode off, without any help from us. Of course, they say that once you learn to ride a bike, you never forget. Apparently, once you learn to balance on a bike, you also don't forget. As soon as the training wheels were gone, the bike fell over on the ground. So Fritz and Noah rode to the local bike shop, where the owner cut down a regular-sized kickstand to fit Noah's kid-sized bike. Noah got to watch the whole cutting-and-installation-process in the workshop. He was more excited about the kickstand than his ability to ride the bike training-wheel-less.

These days, Noah is very stable. He can ride very slowly if I block the path on the sidewalk with Mattias on his push tricycle. Noah doesn't like this at all (Duh!): he prefers to ride FAST. He protests riding on the sidewalk and insists on bike lanes and streets. He would ride his bike everyday and everywhere if I let him. I'm both happy and proud about this and, honestly, FREAKED OUT. His judgement lacks, especially when a friend is in the vicinity. And he gets out of sight SO FAST if I'm not also on a bike. I want to be all free-range - I want to worry less, I want him to feel confident and independent - I'm certain that his own confidence will follow mine.... But then, the things I'm reading about the five year old brains lately are making me aware that we're pushing against some limitations with his biking.

When I said he would be able to go faster without training wheels, I didn't understand the implications for my own peace of mind. One of the many parenting books I'm reading lately, this one from the 70s, had a section about how 5 year olds like to ride their tricycles, but how they still need to stay close to their parents. The idea of sitting on the front stoop while the boys rode their tricycles in circles under my watchful eyes was more than appealing. But I thought to myself: Good luck, if you foolishly already taught them to ride a bike! 

Hmm. If only I could find a place to hide his ridiculously heavy bike....

I didn't learn to ride bike until I was 7 years old. And I'm beginning to suspect that the lesson for me is: 7 years old was A Good Thing.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Status of Being at Home

There have been days in the past two years, when I looked forward to buckling the boys into their car seats, closing the car doors and walking VERY SLOWLY around the car to my door. In those few seconds – how long could it have been? Thirty seconds, if I went really, really slowly? – between closing their doors and opening mine, even if both boys were crying, there was almost silence outside the car. Not counting weekends or weeknights (when Fritz's presence theoretically allowed me to walk out the door of the house alone) it felt like those few seconds were the most reliable seconds for mental peace and physical space during my day.

In those moments, the mental peace was enforced by our physical distance: I felt the boys were really, truly safe sitting there, buckled into their car seats. There was nobody clinging to me. Nobody was able to hit, scratch, or pinch anybody. Also: the car was not moving, so there was little need to worry about traffic. Nobody was going to accuse me of neglect or stare at me critically, even if the boys were screaming about the injustice of the seat belt or the glare of the sun. I was off the hook for answering nonsensical questions. I didn't need to shush anyone to keep him from disturbing a nap. I knew that we were about to get in the car and go somewhere. That meant things were about to change: we might be driving away from bad (or good); we might be driving into good (or bad). But either way, there was hope; hope that The Next would be better. I would say a little prayer to steel myself as I SLOWLY walked around the car.

Such a small thing.

The days when I clung to that walk around the car are over.

Life with the boys is getting easier. When I write this I cringe a bit because easier is all relative, isn't it? - there will always be new challenges. (Hello, 5 year old son.) But the intense physical closeness and the needs of very young children are just...tough. Really tough. They burned out my mental reserves far more than academic tests and essays, presentations and meetings, or all-night architectural projects ever did. These days I can say: the physical intensity has eased up. The boys are finding their own spaces - sometimes with each other, sometimes alone - and mostly farther away from me. I have space! And I'm so, so happy to have a little bit of space. I am more than content to move quickly around the car, no longer desperate for a few moments of enforced distance.

Still, I'm tired; my reserves are low. And I'm really prickly about this whole stay at home mothering business right now. I feel like I've been a volunteer for 5 solid years. Yesterday, I found this calculator online. I imagined myself a full-time job so that I could calculate how much of a financial hit we've taken by me staying home. Saying that my salary should be about such-and-such on the open market, doesn't, of course, mean that I would actually get that. Also, in the end we wouldn't take home all that money free and clear. Which is why this calculator is good. It takes into account of those things that we currently do without, and we would most likely add to our budget: a second car, work clothes for me, child care, more eating out, a house cleaner, etc. It also considers the way that the tax situation would change to accommodate two working parents. According to the calculator, me working full time would mean about 12K of additional disposable income each year - that's after I pay for my house cleaner, etc. Not insignificant. I think Fritz's yearly (dream) scuba dive trip is in there somewhere, and probably a yearly trip to see family and friends in Germany. (Assuming one could get vacation for such things.)

It occurs to me that even without the additional disposable income, getting out of a childless car, and picking a piece of lint off a nicely pressed suit while walking across the restaurant parking lot for a lunch date with Fritz could feel like a real step up. NOW THAT'S PERSONAL SPACE! I think.

On the other hand, I hold tight to the instinct that all of this Doing-Without is paying off 1) with regards to my children  2) with regards to Fritz's career and 3) with regards to our family. There are lots of sentiments I could type about how hard I know Fritz is working for us and how much he is sacrificing. But I'm not him: I don't really know most of that stuff, because I've never been in his shoes. I could try to imagine, but these days I try to respect each person's right to express their own thoughts. (That might be some sort of Mothering Side Effect, as I used to be an expert at telling people what they were thinking.) What I DO know is that when Fritz takes care of the boys for a few hours so that I can have some time alone: there is no greater gift for me. It is a gift that ONLY he can give. It's better than walking around the car, doors closed, boys buckled in. It's better than a restaurant parking lot at a lunch. And it lasts a lot longer. I feel entirely at ease, knowing that Fritz, with whom I asymmetrically balance this journey, is with them. I think to myself: I hope that he, too, feels this way. Although I suspect I may be a little more conscious of this feeling than he is.

So, you know what? There's 12K a year we don't have to play with, but in the end, I have A LOT of influence and hold a lot of power in this house. A good Cost Benefit Analysis will be both quantitative and qualitative. It's taken me a while to realize how many other kinds of capital I'm accumulating. I'm putting it in a bank account for later when I decide to do something. 

About doing something? Well, I know what it's NOT going to be (at least in the foreseeable future): volunteering. After 5 years, what I want to do most of all is whatever I want to do. Entitlement is such a dirty word these days, but that is exactly how I feel: entitled. If there's not a law that says I get to do whatever I want for several hours a week after the last five years, well, there should be: somebody get on that.

I'd like to make stuff (for myself). I really miss making stuff. Making stuff with tools. I'd like to buy a saw and wood and maybe some more concrete to make some specific furniture pieces that I've designed in my head. And I'd like to design and build a playhouse and maybe some birdhouses. There seems to be something highly ironic about an architect who decides to make houses for the birds. But I'm okay with that,  there are some kick-ass ironic architects out there. Everywhere I look, I see things I could make, projects I could do. It hasn't always been like that in the last two years. In fact, it's only recently that I feel able to think about this. More money would be nice, but money is far less important to me these days. Somehow, it's my soul that needs the creative outlet more. It NEEDS to be solving physical problems that don't involve kids. It NEEDS to be operating on its own projects for several hours a week. It NEEDS to be working for me, myself, and I.

I hear the words of my mother: Do you NEED it, Ann, or WANT it?

I don't know when this is all going to happen. It might be another 15 months. Noah will be in full day kindergarten in the fall, but I'm dragging my feet on enrolling Mattias in preschool. I don't know: it's money, it's Mattias' age in the fall (2.5), it's the fact that Mattias is a different child than Noah. Can I do the mental gymnastics of nonstop kid duty for one more year? Can I wait one more year to do whatever I want for 9 hours a weeks? What do I need and what do I want? What are the costs and what are the benefits? I'll need more than just an online calculator.

Just don't ask me to do any volunteering next year, okay?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Dandelion Tattoos

A little fun for the weekend:

Find a dandelion, break it off and use the milky stuff in the stem to draw a design on the hand.

Rub the petals over the design.

There you have it, one yellow dandelion tattoo!

It will turn brown after a few hours. I'm not sure if that's from a chemical reaction or (ah-hem) dirt sticking to the tattoo? I'll leave that for you to figure out.

It washes off with soap. But don't try the same to your clothes. (It will stain them.)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Confessions without Repentance

I ate two bites of red meat. It was intentional. It's been 18 years since I've eaten red meat. Fritz is an amazing meat chef. When I say he's an amazing meat chef, I mean that he does a great job cooking meat. It tastes very, very good for meat. He has slowly eroded my vegetarianism over the last 10 years.  But even after 18 years, I still don't really like or miss meat that much. But we can't really say I'm a vegetarian anymore, can we?

I bought two more pairs of Toms because after 4 months the first pair looks like this:
Bleach spots from cleaning up after the stomach bug, red spray paint haze from painting plant pots, and holes because I wore them all the time.
What would I possibly wear all summer without the Toms? Hint: not flip flops. I still would recommend that you NOT BUY THESE SHOES, because they are overpriced and wasteful, in spite of their (fake-y) good intentions. Also, my first pair lasted me a mere 4 months. I only hope they are giving a higher quality shoes to The Children In Need. On the positive side, I did wash them in the washing machine on gentle and they withstood it very well.

Hmm...there was one more confession...what was it?

Oh yes, I also put my cell phone through the washing machine two weeks ago. It didn't fare well, probably because it wasn't the gentle cycle, eh? I stuck it in rice afterwards. Partial success: however, this is the third cell phone I've pretty much ruined in three years. Oops. I can get texts, listen to messages and send texts. But I can't talk on it. Subsequently (not logically) I've stopped checking messages. I have over 12 messages. The longer I don't listen to them, the harder it gets to make myself listen to them.

Don't call my cell phone or send me any texts right now. Also, I'm not avoiding anyone; I'm avoiding my cell phone. I'm...considering what to do next. Hint: checking those 12+ messages doesn't have to be the answer, right? (I guess I don't have any problems being hands free. Hehe.)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Recent Projects

Last weekend the boys and Fritz completed our first birdhouse. We've been looking for a birdhouse (in the store to buy) for a couple years. We wanted: a door that opened on the side for clean out, wood, and MAYBE big enough to fit a tiny camera inside. Well, we finally just settled for a wood kit, because the stores around here seem to exist in a birdhouse vacuum. (Except for these expensive beauties at Whole Foods.)

[Image removed. I do that every now and then.
Some images have a very short lifespan in the internet.]

It looks a little lonely. I think we'll need some friends for it.

We also finally put a seat on our sandbox. When we stopped work last year, we just wrapped the landscape fabric over the landscape timbers to protect the boys from splinters:

This year, we added a redwood seat on top of that landscape fabric:

It's a pretty small sandbox, but I have to tell you, we've had no complaints. I actually think one of the reasons the boys like it IS the small intimate size of the space.

Have you read all that stuff online about unsafe (carcinogenic) sand? It makes me kind of batty, because if you read the information carefully and you read between the lines, you might come to the conclusion that there are some very obnoxious companies out there are working really hard to capitalize on misunderstandings and well-meaning bureaucracy. Also, who likes to play in dry sand, anyway? The whole point of sand is to make it wet. Which is what we do, and how it almost always is. And I experience no guilt. Even though I am the same mother who insists on rGBH free milk for everyone.

Monday, May 7, 2012

No Sun Fun

Walk barefoot with Grandma.

[There was an image here.]

Fold a paper boat for a Storm Drain Race.

[And another one here.]

Collect treasures in your matschhose (mud pants).

[But I take them away.]

Stomp in a puddle.

[At the end of the day.]

Friday, May 4, 2012

Conservation Task

Piaget measured the brain's development using a series of "conservation" tasks. You can see big difference between a 4 year old's and an 8 year old's brain with this experiment.

Fill two short glasses with the same amount of water.

[There once was an illustrative photo here.]

"Do the two glasses contain the same amount of water?"
Noah says, "Yes."

Empty all the water in one glass into a tall skinny glass.

[And another one here.]

"Do the two glasses contain the same amount of water?"
Noah says, "No, there's more water in the this glass because it's taller and skinnier."

I can't help but ask myself if he understands the meaning of the word amount. Is this a vocabulary problem or a conceptual problem? I'm not a scientist; I'm sure this discussion has been had. Piaget's conclusion is that Noah has not yet reached "operational" thinking. He's not yet using logic to solve problems.
[ I left this one for you.]
"But look, Mommy," he says.  "I can make the water the same amount."

And therein lies the crux of my Five Year Old Dilemma. It LOOKS like logic, it ACTS like logic, it might even SOUND like logic. But it's not.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Vent Followup

I want to thank you for your insights and comments about my recent struggles with Noah.

Taking away the privilege of going to school yesterday seems to have had the desired impact. Which makes me think a lot about the relationship between impact and choices and privileges. When Noah dumped the bucket(s) of sand on the other child at the playground, he immediately lost the privilege of staying at the playground. It was also the day before his birthday, so we postponed his gift opening from the next morning to another day. One would think that was a pretty undesirable outcome for dumping sand on somebody's head.

But he didn't care. Which was additionally frustrating for me as a parent. So when missing school had impact? Well, honestly, I felt a little better about making a choice that was pretty hard for me to make. Also, it seems to me there's some sort of two-cent-wisdom here about figuring out what impacts your kid...

Still, I hope that I never have to do that again. It's one thing to take away preschool, but I think it's an entirely different thing to take away kindergarten, never mind first grade, second grade - in fact, I can't even imagine using school as a privilege to revoke a year or two from now.

Also, I've got some book recommendations regarding the type of problems we're having. I'll be checking them out, and will report back.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Five Year Old Vent

My mind is in absolute overdrive dealing with Noah lately. Every time I sit down to type a post about something benign, Noah creeps out of my mind and into the text on my screen. I've got started-not-finished posts trying to define and explain the issues; as well as posts asking for Help!, as well as posts defending parental choices that are possibly leading us to this point in his... development? I have angry posts to parents-at-the-playground or posts to parents-shooting-their-mouths in the pickup line at school; things are left unsaid because I'm classier than that, and stooping to that level is part of the problem, you know? And then there are the types of posts that actually get posted lately: distraction posts.

Let's start with some facts:
Noah is 5 years old. (I think that's important because some of these behaviors might be less egregious in a younger child. Oops, sorry, Nonfact. But I need to write that.)

1. Noah dumped two buckets of sand on the head 3 year old at the playground. It was unprovoked. He walked about 7 feet carrying the bucket of sand to the point of impact.

2. Noah got in a fight with A Parent at the playground.

3. Noah has taken to hitting me when a) he doesn't stop a bad behavior when asked and I am without choice other than to b) physically remove him from a situation.

4. Noah BIT his brother on the arm this morning.

Three of these fall under the category of unreasonable aggression, in my opinion. I feel like I MUST address them. This is a stance undoubtably influenced by our family's particular circumstances.

And now some more subjective information. In combination with other things, it's also driving me crazy:

5. There's a lot of Name Calling around here.

6. There are phrases that are being used KIND OF contextually accurately. Like "You sick!" when somebody takes away a toy a) Okay, first of all, that's WRONG it should be "You suck." b) But I'm not going to teach him that, especially when Mattias (2 years old) copies everything Noah says. c) Also, Noah doesn't really understand how offensive it is, he only understands that it annoys me, and so he says it - more or less at the right time - with the added benefit of getting my attention - which an alternative, 5-year-old appropriate expression may not do and.... d) And I WANT to ignore him thus foiling c), but see b). I know some of you might think this kind of talking is funny on little ones, but trust me, it's a lot less funny when they get older.

7. The house and the yard and the porch and deck are disaster zones. There is constant ongoing playing with anything that is not a toy. Today, it's brooms and mops that are oars for the boat (pigeon blue sofa). Yes, Noah makes stuff with tape and paper and scissors. And stuff and more stuff. And yes, it's wildly creative. And yes, it's better than watching television. Or playing video games. And yes, I AM PROUD that my kids have no f*cking idea what Angry Birds is/are? But my head is all mucked up when the house is all mucked up.

8. Punishments. Or whatever you want to call them. Okay, look: this is frustrating the shit out of me. Today, I kept Noah home from school because HE BIT his brother. I consider BITING to be an extremely serious infraction and taking away school was the best way I could think of to send a strong message to him. He loves school. However, it put me in deep pain because a) his preschool is a huge cost in our budget and b) I NEED the time away from him that preschool provides. I think it's self-centered and stupid to say, "This is hurting me more than it's hurting you." I would never say that to my kids. But I'm telling you. That was the case with this punishment.

Regarding punishments, you might say, "Oh, we take away our kids toys." Good. Glad that's working for you. Guess what? See point 7.

We do Time Outs. But they also have limited effectiveness.

Or perhaps, as the parent-shooting-his-mouth said, I should just do what HIS parents did: "Boy, if my parents saw me doing something like that, they would have given me a beating."

We don't do spanking, something that other parents will tell me behind closed doors that they do use. I don't even know how strongly I feel about NOT doing this. Well, pretty strongly...perhaps. Still, like I said, I am really being pushed by some behaviors right now. What I do know is that IT IS considered child abuse in Germany and that's maybe enough to keep me from spanking. Also, see intro paragraph about being classier and not sinking to the level of the problem.


My one consolation this week has been my mother's insight on Noah's push-push-pushing. She says, "Well, this is your teaching opportunity. Lots of times, kids aren't ready to learn until they push. We think we can teach them before things become a problem. We think we headed off the problem. But that's not always true."

SIGH. Again.

I actually try NOT to write posts like this, because who is this helping, really? And who cares? Me, I guess. If I didn't type posts this, it would just sit there and simmer and I would not be able to let go. I would continue writing cryptic posts eluding to it, but not saying it. Argh. So, letting go. And knowing that I can click on the delete button and feel somewhat...better. And you know what? Lots of times, I'll let a post sit for 24 hours before I post, against my better judgment (perhaps), this is an In The Moment Go.

Now I have a special request. If you comment, Please Please Please, do not type one tiny word about Love and Logic because I'm pretty sure I hate L&L. My greatest fear in typing this is that someone will post, "Hey! You should go to a Love and Logic class! They're great! They totally helped me with my son!" And it might be unreasonable to ask. But it's my unreasonableness and it's my blog and if you even suggest that I attend a class... well, we're too classy to do threats around here. Alternative suggestions to L&L are more than welcome.

* Huh, Noah told me 'Dude' is a derogative - not in those words - and I wondered why he said that, but now I know, I USE IT AS A DEROGATIVE.