Why you need more than one child

Stunned, I sat in silence behind the closed bedroom door. My youngest girl, a kindergartener, picked up every last Barbie shoe, scarf, perfume bottle, fork (Do you know how small they are? About the size of your pinkie fingernail.) from my office carpet and put them in the designated storage box.

I asked her to do it and she did it. Just like that.


It actually works sometimes, doesn’t it?

Had I stopped at one child, I would not have experienced the sweet beauty of this moment.

How did this happen? I’ve not deviated too much from the parenting manual I used for the first child.

It just worked this time.

Or maybe it’s just that each child is wired differently.

Or maybe it’s because I stayed home with her. (And, no, this isn’t a post taking a position on stay-at-home motherhood over working mothers. I’ve been both.)

When I was a working parent, my only child knew how to manipulate me. She knew how and exercised the option often. Inadvertently, I gave her loopholes. I was also much younger, a fist-time parent, and very worried about anything threatening my job.

I had a flashback moment today at the bus stop, as I watched a young mother dressed for an office job frantically wheeling her baby’s stroller along the slippery sidewalk. The tot inside gurgled and kicked his feet, while his big sister grimaced and dragged at least five steps behind. The mom barked some threats at her, coaxed, and finally pleaded with her to step forward and get on line for the bus. Each day this scene plays out in some fashion.

How many times in my young motherhood was I that woman, one eye on my wristwatch and the other on my girl, who either cried and clawed at me to stay or arrived at day care in her nightgown because she refused to dress for the day?

Child No. 1 never did what I asked on the first, second, even third request. Always there were threats and consequences and then the dreaded follow-through. She always pushed it to the edge with me. Then, we had the ‘tween years. I was all out of ideas and so full of frustration I decided to resign my position to attend at least in part to her needs. Now, that firstborn is almost an adult; the game is a bit different.

Having two children or more gives you a chance to get some perspective on human nature and chance. If you have an obedient, people-pleasing first child, you may think that’s how all children are and arrange for more. If you have a difficult, defiant, march-to-the-beat-of- a-different-drummer first child, you might hold out hope that statistically you’ll draw the obedient card the second time around. Maybe you’ll get yourself fixed.

Every parent, if they are going to have more than one child, is bound to get at least one “challenging” child. To have a brood of challenges is unfair. To have an army of Stepford children is also, well, freakishly unnatural and only occurs on TV.

Right? Tell me this is right.



Short and sweet

by alancleaver_2000 via creative commons

My oldest daughter made me cry in public this weekend.

I was front row, center, and caught without a tissue to save me.

Most of what I write about here centers on my life with 5-year-old Girl from the East. I don’t say much anymore about 17-year-old Girl from the West. I no longer feel comfortable blogging about the details of her life. She’s old enough to tell her own stories.

But I want to tell this story. This weekend that almost-adult daughter of mine who often tests the limits of my love and patience knocked the air out of my lungs. In a good way.

After an eight-year hiatus  she walked on that stage before a full auditorium of her peers, teachers, and parents, and sang solo.  I wept.

She kept the whole thing a secret, telling me only a week ahead of time that she was performing in the high school talent show. Last weekend I took her shopping for something to wear.

“Are you alone or with other people?” I ask as we slide hanger after hanger of dresses across the racks, assessing each one for potential.

“What kind of music are you using?” I prod, as we hold up shoes to the dress under consideration.

“Do we need something glittery and showy or something soft and flowing?” I say with growing annoyance.

She has not answered any of my questions. She won’t. I know it. It occurs to me that this irritating habit has some fairly obvious roots.

It also occurs to me that she didn’t really need my help picking out clothes. She wanted my emotional support.  At least she seemed to heed my advice on what not to wear on stage.

After all, there are high heels and sheath dresses and then are YouTube moments waiting to happen.

She did the same thing to me eight years earlier. Made me cry. Kept me in the dark. Back then an even smaller version of this girl stood on the same stage, this time dressed in the rags of a street urchin, dirt smudged on each cheek, holding a straw broom and singing “Castle on a Cloud” in the local high school production of “Les Miserables.”

No one in our family and friends group that evening could believe the clear, sweet music flowing from this child’s vocal chords. Even though she’d been selected from a district-wide audition, we all had braced ourselves for any possible outcome, from perfect delivery to utter stage fright.

Instead, our then third-grader amazed us all with a strong voice that projected around the theater and as much confidence as the teen cast on stage.

We thought it might be the beginning of something for her. She’s been performing in public in odd ways since she was old enough to realize she could attract an audience. (Imagine a four-year-old in Borders getting up on a window sill and breaking out in song and dance while her mother paid for books.) She’s been a member of all of her school choirs, joined local choral ensembles, is a four-summer veteran of music camp, and toured Europe for a month in 2008 as part of an international choral ensemble exchange student program. She’s done all that but she has not reprised the solo since her stint as young Cosette.

I stopped asking her about solos years ago.

Last weekend, she broke her silence and I was caught crying in a crowded theater. I am not a public crier. I’m not even a private crier. But when your child does something to make you that proud, to make you really notice that she’s come into her own, ready to take on the world, it’s impossible to maintain a poker face.




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Aurora made me do it

Photo by Jaredmoo via Creative Commons

It’s after 1 a.m. and I’m semi-lost. I’m also very sleepy and considering blowing through every red light in this shady town so I can escape its tricky streets that keep landing me in the same intersection. At the last red light, a low-rider packed with trouble and pulsating loud music pulled alongside my family wagon, confirmed this as a questionable, if not outright irresponsible, parenting moment.  I willed us, a car of two women and one young child, invisible.

How did I get here? Driving in circles through the maze of one-way streets in this downtrodden burg? How is it I’m watching the contents of several nightclubs spew onto the streets while keeping a peripheral eye on the vagrants weaving along the  curbs instead of gazing at the heavens above for signs of magic? I glance in the rear-view mirror to see my four-year-old slumped in her car seat, her bowed lips slightly parted in deep sleep.  What are my children doing out on the streets when they should be home in their beds?

Aurora  borealis made me do it.

That’s right.

It started out so innocently. A radio report that afternoon promised a rare view of the northern lights in Michigan. Solar flares and all the other magical stuff that goes into aurora borealis meant I could show my children something special on an otherwise boring weeknight.

I hatched the plan quickly: We’d go around 11:30 p.m. and just head north out of the city. I’d drive until I could see more than two stars.  I had a quarter tank of gas, my water bottle, my digital camera, my cell phone and my keys. Left behind: my wallet and my common sense. I drove with my window down and every so often gazed upward to see if I could see anything glowy or shimmery. That was my whole plan. It was the plan of a 12-year-old child.

See, some of it is based on the last time I answered the call of the hypnotic northern lights. I lived in what once were the outer suburbs. It was easy to drive an hour to a purely unpolluted night sky. Ten years ago I moved close to the city center. I’m lucky if I see ursa major in the sky on a clear night.

I love the northern lights. I love them so much, I lose all common sense to view them. I’ve only seen them four times in my life, which is probably more than most folks who live below the 45th parallel can claim. My husband has never witnessed their otherworldly beauty. Neither have my children.

My first sighting was as a college student.  I stumbled out of the student newspaper office well after midnight, red-eyed and wired on caffeine. I don’t know what made me look upward, but when I did, I had to rub my eyes and slap my cheeks a few times to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating on this brisk night. I knew northern lights were awe-inspiring, but I had no idea how much so until I stood in that empty  parking lot staring at the sky. Within minutes, other newspaper staff members joined me. We found a bench nearby and sat, shivering, watching what looked like giant celestial curtains puffing in the breeze.

Over the next decade I saw them three more times: in the outer suburbs of Detroit and twice while camping in northwest Michigan.  Each time the display was bigger, more colorful and dramatic than the last.

I react to the northern lights the way some people do to seeing the face of Jesus on a potato chip or when alphabet soup inadvertently spells your future spouse’s name. I am moved. Moved to stupidity.

I can’t help it. I realize that piling my children into the car in the wee hours of morning without a plan, with less than a quarter tank of gas, and ending up turned around in a dangerous town was not one of my shining parental moments.

Eventually I found the right road to get us home.

When we pulled into the garage and the automatic door rolled down, thereby restoring us to a sense of safety, a let out a heavy sigh. Relieved we’d made it home. Embarrassed that my promises of magic were duds. Annoyed that an hour’s worth of driving didn’t get me any farther away from the urban sprawl and light pollution. Disappointed as hell that I didn’t get to see those celestial curtains blowing in the breeze.

Wardrobe malfunction, Part II

Two weeks ago I tweeted:

That morning, when selecting what to wear, I considered the following:

  • I’ll be in a dark theater.
  • I’ll be with a bunch of kids.
  • I haven’t worn this shirt in two years. (I know there is a reason, but I cannot remember what it is.)

During the performance, the reason came back to me in a whisper of cold air up my spine. I do not wear this shirt because it does not fit properly.

It’s one of those crossover V-neck shirts that looks really cute when you first put it on and even retains some level of cuteness for the first hour of wear. It’s also striped in shades of red that flatter my hair color and skin tone. After a few hours of wear, however, it stretches and sags in the front, forcing constant adjustment to prevent, er, wardrobe malfunctions, particularly in the neckline area.  Also, I’d forgotten to wear a tank top or camisole under the shirt. By the end of the performance, I’d tugged and twisted the shirt so many times it had stretched to almost twice its size.

Like this, only with more sag. Via Treehugger.com

Shortly after the show ended, I thought I’d just slip into my jacket and slink on out of the theater. But this wasn’t just any show. It was the first U.S. tour for this traveling troupe of musicians and dancers from a university in Hubei Province, China. We heard the call for students in the audience to head onstage if they were interested in a meet and greet with the troupe.

Being the mother of a four-year-old Girl from China who loves, loves, loves all things Chinese, it didn’t take long for me to find myself being pulled by one hand toward the stage by my eager daughter while the other tugged at my malfunctioning top.

Once the college students made eye contact with my girl it was all over. I don’t now who gushed and giggled more: my girl or the pretty young women. My girl was passed around from student to student for photo opportunities and even rode on the shoulders of one of the male musicians. No amount of backing into the shadows stopped the inevitable, “Mom, how about you get into a few of these pictures?”

On the way home it occurred to me that I shouldn’t ever dress myself with a dark theater, it’s just kids, who cares attitude. You never know who you’ll bump into, and when you do, you’ll be judged by what you are wearing, like it or not.

When I got home I did two things: I tweeted my revelation and then I tossed that saggy shirt into the trash.

Lesson learned.

Driving Miss Crazy


By quinn anya via Creative Commons

I base many of my parenting decisions today on things I did as a teenager.

That is why my almost-16-year-old lives in a box in the basement.

Well, not yet. Soon. She’s going on her first big night out with another teenager in a car. Alone.

I’m worried. I sound like my mother did in 1980 when a cute guy with his own car asked me out and she said “NO!” just as she did on every previous occasion when a member of the opposite sex expressed interest in me.

Yes, you read that correctly. My mother would not let me date. I don’t think my father was against the idea. But due to the economy at the time he was working nights or out-of-town or something that made him unavailable for day-to-day parenting decisions. So, I developed dating loopholes: I spent a lot of time at “the library” and “the movie theater” and at “Dora’s house” (not her real name). Dora and I had a deal: Our whole friendship was based on lying for each other so we could go out with our boyfriends. Every few months we’d actually have to make an appearance at one another’s house just to keep things legit.


I’d say I was going to see “Alien” or  “The Blues Brothers.” Except, not really. I’d read the synopsis in the newspaper, memorize it, then head to a dive bar  in Detroit that let in underage suburbanite kids with small brains and fat wallets to hear eardrum- shredding bands. I hated that I wasn’t allowed to officially date. I hated the sticky web of lies I’d spun. It was hard to keep all the stories straight.

Eventually I decided to take a stand and declare that I had a boyfriend. Mom was not happy. Still, I kept up the relationship and eventually she acquiesced. She had loopholes of her own. She eavesdropped on phone calls. (There were no cell phones back then.) She took the phone off the hook so I couldn’t make late-night calls. (There was no Facebook, IM, MySpace or e-mail back then.) She intercepted letters and searched my room while I was at school.

I do not want to be that kind of mother to my Girl from the West. I know my mother did it all out of worry and fear of the unknown. (We had teen pregnancy back then and something called V.D.)

That kind of parenting creates liars and sneaks. So far, I feel my Girl has been as honest with me as is possible for a teenager. I know she’s not telling me everything but I feel I have some kind of handle on her comings and goings. Mostly, it’s because I am directly connected to those comings and goings.

But, with the impending arrival of  driver’s licenses as she and her friends each reach their 16th birthdays,  a world of worry opens up.

What about the other teenagers out there? How honest are they? How mature? Are they practiced liars who fool their unwitting parents?  Are they on drugs? Will they drink and drive? There is so much to consider, to worry about with a child who is almost an adult. Cars carry with them a multitude of dangers, some involving a vehicle in motion; some pertain to cars at rest.

It doesn’t take much to think back to the irresponsible, recklessness of most of my peers when they had that piece of plastic in their wallets and what new levels of stupidity it propelled us into. I think of the dead man’s curve that claimed the life of a 17-year-old classmate on July Fourth, when he took his eyes off the road to toss a firecracker out the car window and ended up hugging an oak with his engine block. I think of the guy I was scheduled to go on a date with had he not been broadsided and killed on his way home from a Detroit Tiger’s game. Dead at 20. All this occurred in our sleepy suburb along the lake, where a traffic jam might be six Cadillacs lined up by the valet parking shed at the country club. My girl will be traversing some of the busiest stretches of road in our area.

So I worry. It does no good. I cannot control all the forces the universe, even with my super-deluxe magic wand. I can’t really lock her away in the basement. (Damned social welfare agency and their rules.)

My guide is this: If she’s not doing any of the stuff I was doing, or only one-tenth of it, we’re good.

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Postcards of justification


By Howieluvzu via Creative Commons

To: Sibling in town for the holidays

From: Your stressed-out sister

Re: Our lack of any quality time together other than over pre-Thanksgiving dinner cocktails and post-dinner mumblings between pie and coffee

Relationships are a two-way street. While you are the out-of-towner, remember it is your vacation time and not mine. You happened to visit during a time of absolute chaos. Not only did I face a huge project deadline, but also a major holiday, two family get-togethers for which I had to cook food,  and ongoing volunteer commitments. I know this is hard for you to understand, that you accuse me of having “excuses.”  I don’t think of work, a home and a family as “excuses.” But, seeing as you choose to keep your life as commitment-free as possible, at least allow for the possibility that the world does not revolve around you. Perhaps some advance notice of your visit would have allowed me to carve out time, schedule a babysitter or at least warn you of my crazybusy life right now.  So, stop with the damned guilt trip. It’s so ’70s.

To: My dear, sweet daughters

From: Your well-meaning mother

Re: My lack of attention

There is nothing more cutting to the bone than mommy guilt. It was my painful awareness of your various needs that drove me to take on work that now keeps me from paying the attention to which you have grown accustomed. I’ve slacked on nightly bedtime reading sessions, have left you unattended with scissors (Spunky’s whiskers will grow back), forgotten to pick you up from school, and let the Halloween pumpkins blacken and implode on the front porch. In my effort to be everything to everyone I ended up being nothing to anyone. In the future, when you are speaking of me to your therapist, please refrain from using too much profanity.

To: My adoring husband of almost 10 years who somehow still loves me

From: Ice machine with frayed cord

Re: Our poor, neglected relationship

When a stay-at-home mom feels guilty for not contributing to the household bottom line, when she feels it is partly her fault for the bottom line’s disintegration due to the fact that she outright quit a job that most certainly would have dumped her butt on the unemployment line within a year anyway, but then at least she would have collected unemployment rather than be told repeatedly that “quitting a job does not qualify you for any sort of sympathy or assistance” and could feel less guilty about not helping out. (I don’t think that was a sentence.) When she decided to try to restore that contribution she realized the only job she knew how to do was housed in a shack built on stilts over quicksand and –hello! it’s gone forever. So she came up with a different way that maybe helps out a little but now she’s the one needing help because she gets no sleep and is an irrational witch half the time and deliriously distracted the other half.

To: My two faithful readers

From: Determined-but-frustrated blogger

Re: Lack of posts

Thank you for sticking around, stopping by once in a while and commenting. It is greatly appreciated. I wish I could be the wind beneath your wings, the fire in your furnace, the hot knife to slice your butter. As much as it would seem the logical thing to do, I won’t quit this blog. I maintain it now for the same reasons I started it. I’m stubborn like that.

Yin and yang of motherhood


Mary, who runs the whole operation over at the Mama Mary  Show tagged me on this one. It’s the brainchild of another blogger, Her Bad Mother,who is trying to fly this one around the globe. So, I’ll do my part and then pass it on.

Five things I love about motherhood:

  • The bond of love between mother and child (The privilege of being both a biological and adoptive mother makes me appreciate this one immensely. This connection is taken for granted with a child born to you. I had to earn it with Girl from the East, who came to me at 10-1/2 months of age.)
  • Built-in excuse to play like a child (Think: swings, slides, running through the sprinklers)
  • The awesome responsibility of leading by example and leaving a legacy
  • Holidays are so much more fun with children involved.
  • Getting a fresh take on the world around me through my child’s eyes
  • Five things I don’t love about motherhood:

  • Lack of sleep (I don’t call myself a MomZombie because I like movies about the undead.)
  • The stereotypical mom look: overgrown hair, baggy clothes, practical shoes (Despite my best efforts to fight it, often I’m too tired or busy to look my best.)
  • Pregnancy was an interesting experience, but it didn’t clean up after itself. (I’ll never wear a bikini again.)
  • The disconnect of parental bonding during the teenage years.
  • Expectations of perfection: There is so much pressure on mothers from society, from extended family, from the media, from ourselves to do it all perfectly every day.
  • Since I’ve only connected with two bloggers — who are also mothers — in other countries, I’ll tag them and get on with my day.

    In New Zealand: I Love Retro Things

    In Canada: Tanya at I Should Be Napping

    Oh, and by the way, I’m from the United States, specifically, the soon-to-be Third World State of Michigan.

    The one about shoes


    Image from www.pattiewhack.com

    Image from www.pattiewhack.com

    So, yesterday I took my preschooler shoe shopping.
    It would have been easier to climb a wall of razor blades. Naked. In a blizzard.
    Whatever made me think I could place a 3-year-old girl around shelves lined with pink, purple, glitter and licensed characters beckoning from every box and expect her to pick out something conservative?

    What made me think she’d pull one box at a time from the shelves? What made me think we could do this in 15 minutes?

    Is it asking too much to find presentable, reasonable, dyed in a hue occurring in nature, spare of any licensed characters and flashing lights footwear?
    If you’re willing to shell out some bucks, then it’s possible. If you’re looking for bargains, it’s going to be painful — razor blade painful.

    Let’s point out right now that I don’t own a “Born to Shop” T-shirt. I like to get in and get out when it comes to shopping, particularly when it involves people with short fuses, small bladders and Dora the Explorer obsessions.


    image from www.fashionwindows.com

    As I struggled to pull the neon purple, blue, pink and red disco shoes off Girl from the East’s  feet, I looked lovingly at the display of baby shoes. So cute and sweet. One pair had little cupcake appliques. Another, a simple Mary Jane with a bright red button. But these designs don’t carry over to the toddler side of the aisle.

    Want to know why? The baby shoes are sweet and attractive because the mothers, fathers and grandparents are selecting them. The toddler shoes suck because the manufacturers know that the kids with this size feet are aware and making choices.

    They are old enough to manipulate and be manipulated with licensed characters. Put Dora or SpongeBob on the shoe and the kids will scream for them until their parents’ ears bleed. They’ll make life so miserable that buying $12 Hannah Montana Croc rip-offs will seem like a day at the spa.

    These down- and-dirty marketing tactics reduce parents to our own most desperate measures. Here are my three favorites:

    There’s the bait and switch: Allow the shoe to be tried on. Then, when it’s safely off the foot, distract the child’s attention and pitch the shoes into the next aisle. When you arrive at the checkout line, declare the shoes as lost, having fallen out of the cart never to be found again.  Ever wonder why you see ugly shoes tucked into bread displays? 
    Next is the  inventory shortage: This is where you say: “Sorry, honey. They don’t have it in your size.” I am using the tactic as long as I can because she’s learning those numbers at a fast clip.
    Finally, there is the delayed gratification: With this strategy, you bank on short-term memory failure.  “We’ll get it another time,” you promise,  knowing you’ll either win this one or live to deeply regret your words.

    Your parents pulled one of these on you, didn’t they?

    Heck, I’m still waiting for my first car.

    Glam Top 10

    Welcome to another installment of Glamorous in Real Life, the brainchild of Marcy.

    In this episode we examine how one woman’s biggest daily challenge has shifted from: “Should I have Greek, Thai, Mexican or Middle-Eastern food for lunch?” to “What ingredient can I add to this box of mac and cheese to make it stretch?”
    Welcome to SAHM life. In a crapola economy. Where the husband is doing quite well but must travel out-of-state to achieve this. Where the toddler and teenage daughters continue to demand excessive amounts of stuff while their MomZombie is ready to employ Scarlett O’Hara’s methods of style and beauty. (Think curtain rods and cheek pinching.)
    Consider these recent glamorous observations that make me feel oh-so pretty, happy and grrrr……

    1. I spend too much time in my kitchen and not enough time in my bedroom.

    2. I get up first, go to bed last, yet everyone else in my house “needs a nap.”

    3. I have one child who clings to me like a spider monkey and another who flees the room like a cockroach when the light goes on.

    4. I have had one-too-many shower-optional days lately.

    5. The longer I stay out of the workplace, the more daunting it seems to go back.

    6. The longer I go without a paycheck in my name, the more outdated my wardrobe becomes. (Clinton and Stacey, do you hear me?)

    7. And it follows that the less money I have to work with, the more pretty shiny things I want.

    8. The more obsessive about cleanliness I get, the more trashed my house becomes.

    9. And it follows that when my house is at its very nadir of filth, including cat vomit in the entrance hall, the doorbell rings.

    10. And it follows that it will be a hot guy conducting a poll.  I will not have showered. Something most likely will have just been scorched on the stove. I’ll just be happy I have on my “dress” flip flops. 

    Be sure to check back with Marcy for more G.I.R.L. stories.

    The scent of a stay-at-home woman


    A woman fancies an afternoon out with her toddler girl. Rather than weigh herself down with the shabby diaper bag and bulky stroller, she opts for a stylish shoulder bag big enough for her things and a few toddler essentials. She imagines a stroll in the park, a visit to the library, a quick swing through the nearby shopping district before picking up a bottle of wine on the way home.

     “Mommy, loook!” cries a pigtailed 5-year-old tugging her mother’s shirt and pointing at us. “She’s not wearing pants!”

    I force a closed-lip smile at pigtail’s mother, whose gaze follows her daughter’s extended finger directly down to my baby girl’s bare legs, and then slowly shifts up to me. We are waiting for the elevator by the children’s section of the neighborhood library. It can’t come fast enough. Behind us, the wheels of a custodian’s cart screech the arrival of the clean-up crew at the women’s bathroom.

    I hoist a clear plastic bag in my right hand up to the mother’s eye level, revealing the missing pants and underwear, both splattered with fresh diarrhea. I hope she got a good whiff. I hope it answers her unasked question about why my child is at the public library in a shirt, pull-up and shoes. Because, you know, I’m not trying to start a new fashion trend.

    After a silent elevator ride up to the main floor, pigtails and mother cut a hasty retreat lest any germs latch onto them. I grab Girl from the East’s hand, shift the pile of picture books, above-mentioned bag of defiled clothing and my purse and head for the door.
    We both move quickly on our walk of shame down a brick-paved path past gardens and park benches populated with lunchtimers, readers and gawkers.
    In the punishing light of high noon all I can think is: I hope I don’t have crap on my clothes.

    There is nothing “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” about realizing that you have only two tissues in your stylish shoulder bag, not nearly enough to combat the very unstylish diarrhea running down your toddler’s leg.
    There is nothing glamorous about an unexpected, explosive illness in a bathroom that is a paper-free operation (hand-dryers only).
    There is a high level of “Desperate Housewives” in realizing you sacrificed practicality for style by leaving the diaper bag at home, which contained wet wipes, spare clothes, diapers, hand sanitizer and plastic bags. Even more desperate, having to ‘fess up to the library staff and beg for paper towels and a plastic bag.
    In the end, you realize there is no sexy way to walk out of a building with a half-naked child and a see-through bag of poopy clothes, both leaving a scent in their wake …
    … the scent of a stay-at-home woman.

    CONCLUDING REMARKS: Thanks for visiting and reading my 100th post. This has been part of a larger celebration, Girls In Real Life, or G.I.R.L., put together by Marcy at The Glamorous Life. Join the party.