What’s the one reason you should let your kids watch 13 Reasons Why—the story of why Hannah Baker committed suicide?
It’s because they’ve already watched it.
By the time the school emails and letters were spawned from the reports on CNN, NPR, The New York Times, and the like, that barn door had been opened and cued up for a month.
It doesn’t matter that you have controls on your Netflix account, or that your child doesn’t have a smartphone, or that you have drawn your line in the sand over what is appropriate viewing. Your child has gained access even if they had to watch it in ten minute increments on Billy’s iPhone before batting practice. This show is that much of a phenomenon.
Think I’m wrong? Just ask your kid, “Hey, what does ‘here’s your tape’ mean?”
And believe me, I know the issues with 13 Reasons Why. I already visited this fun house seven years ago when the novel was assigned to my daughter for a book report in seventh grade. She was twelve and her teacher RECOMMENDED this book. Yeah. I spent two days skimming it and gathering age appropriate information on sexual assault and suicide so I could have discussions with my daughter to give her some context for the book’s themes.
I was not pleased . . . but I am grateful. This was my wake-up call: I was no longer my daughter’s filter for the world. My control had been evaporating since the moment she stepped foot on the bus for kindergarten, but I had been too busy to notice just how gossamer it was. Fast forward to when I found out my other daughter had binge-watched “American Horror Story” at a sleepover, and I was primed to accept that forbidding books and shows was like the Little Dutch Boy trying to plug the holes in the dyke. Just when you think you have it covered, another one springs up.
There is a real danger in forbidding certain shows, books, and movies, too. If your child has to sneak behind your back to be part of the pop culture tsunami, you’ve closed off the possibility of discussion. Worse yet—in the case of “13 Reasons Why”—maybe they’ve only had time to sneak the brutal rape and suicide scenes without any of the context of the rest of the series.
I am not campaigning for or against kids watching “13 Reasons Why.” That is already being covered in the news outlets by experts and playing out in PTA meetings across the country. I am acknowledging that it simply is, and it has to be dealt with.
I urge you as a parent to watch it, invite your kids to watch it again with you, or at the very least watch the documentary at the end, “Behind the Reasons,” together. This documentary was filmed as a tool to help parents and teens frame the mindset of the artistic choices made by the creators, and to encourage those at risk to speak up and seek help. This show needs that explanation and discussion. There are some very useful talking points available from the JED Foundation, a teen suicide prevention group, and there is crisis help information on the 13 Reasons Why website.
This is arguably a dangerous series for at-risk youth, but it is not going away. Many summaries of the series claim that the story ends with Hannah’s suicide, but it actually doesn’t. It ends with one of the students reaching out to reconnect with a girl who was once his friend.
This series provoked tears, anger, frustration, outrage, and indignation in my own daughter. However, when asked what she got out of it, she replied, “Well, we all need to be nicer to one another.”
Why are we starting college tours for our second daughter during her sophomore year?
It’s not to freak out my friends or make them feel like they’re behind.
It’s not to draw the scorn of those who are silently screaming: “WHY WOULDN’T YOU START EARLIER?!” (I will go on record saying to chill with the tours starting in grade school.)
It’s because this IS my second rodeo. The April of my first rodeo—also known as my oldest daughter’s senior year—had us zipping up and down the East Coast with her college decision coming down to the May 1st wire. My brain wants to shutdown and take a nap just remembering it.
See, I was so intent on avoiding the competitive college stress spiral that I may have underestimated how little time there really was. I realized that maybe, just maybe, the parents who I thought were zealous were just good planners. I was also lulled by my daughter’s methodical selection of schools based on the major she wanted to pursue. She was so focused on what each college offered that it almost seemed beside the point to visit them.
But most importantly, we didn’t start touring before junior year because of good ol’ run-of-the-mill naiveté. IT WAS MY FIRST TIME! IT FELT LIKE WE WERE GROPING AROUND IN THE DARK!
Most college advice found on the internet was too intense, and while the guidance office was fantastic at meeting deadlines, it was a little light on the guidance. Even friends were not much help. It seems like the college application process is a lot like childbirth: people forget the hours of labor and only remember the outcome. I mean seriously, my daughter ended up at the perfect school for her so I could be spouting “all’s well that ends well” and calling it a day. Luckily for you, I am cursed with a mind for remembering hardships, blessed with an ability to learn from experience, and overflowing with a passion to share what I know. Apparently, I also have a wee flair for the dramatic.
Why I Now Think Touring in 10th Grade is Swell
It all comes down finding free days on the calendar.
You need to tour when students are there. We learned the hard way that a campus can have a drastically different feel when it’s devoid of life and bustle. It’s really the difference between looking at buildings and truly experiencing the campus vibe. So. This strikes holidays, most of December and January, the school’s spring break, and summer from available tour dates. Remember too that spring session often ends at the beginning of May. Now if you’re driving past a school on your summer vacation and want to take a peek, don’t let me stop you, just think twice before making any costly special trips. Even summer session is not the same.
Shifting your child’s focus.If your kid hasn’t already experienced the college process with a sibling or friend, it may seem very unreal to them. Touring some beautiful campuses can be just the ticket to make your literature-loving child realize that chemistry does indeed matter as a means to an end.
Tip: If the times for tours seem to be full for your desired date when you check online, call the admissions department. More times than not, they are very accommodating.
Junior year is crazy crammed . . . andstressful. There’s SATs and ACTs, regular sports and clubs, travel teams, AP exam prep, proms, driver’s ed, and driving tests . . . to name just a sampling. Couple this with the hardest course load your child is likely to face in high school, and your sweetie might not have a day to spare for college tours. On my junior’s few scheduled days off that coordinated with the college calendars, she just wanted to catch up on her work and sleep.
The stakes are lower. Yep, this also has to do with the calendar; hear me out. When you tour a school as a junior, and especially as a senior, the pressure of getting in can loom heavy. We did not tour some of my daughter’s “reach” schools because she thought it would be too disappointing if she didn’t get in. This left us with at least three schools she needed to see after she got accepted in March. They weren’t close to each other—or us— and it was a struggle to see them before commitment day: May 1st. We all agreed that if we had toured some of them in sophomore year, the pressure would have been reduced.
Location matters. If my daughter had visited Boston University in February of her sophomore year, I doubt she would have applied to any school north of the Mason-Dixon line because the cold stunned her. Instead, we were trying to book hotel rooms during the Boston Marathon because that was the only open weekend for us in her senior year. See? Still about the calendar.
Just look at her middle school room redo. How did we not know she was destined to fly south?
One disadvantage of touring in 10th grade: your child might not be focused enough to know their desired major. Tours of specific departments really are invaluable in the selection making process. But even so, the general tour will help your child decide if the school makes their list. Also, school doesn’t necessarily need to be in session for department tours to be informative. Those sessions are more about the facilities, professors, curriculum, and advisers.
College tours are essential for deciding where your kid’s home away from home is going to be for the next four (or more) years. It’s a big deal! In fact the gravity of the situation may have you obsessively making lists of questions to pepper the tour guide with once you get them in your sights.
But . . .
Remember college is all about your child stepping out on their own. If you take over the tour group time, you’re essentially creating a filter between your kid and their experience of the campus. A wise compromise is to discuss using the tour group time effectively BEFORE you slap on that name tag. This list of questions will help. In fact, why not just forward the entire article to your child now?
3 General Tips
1. Only tour when students are present. It makes all the difference in the world. Without the students, you’re just looking at a bunch of buildings. We already made this mistake, learn from it. The first school we toured was on winter break, and my daughter got a very negative impression of it: cold, too expansive, and boring. We went back later and she discovered a whole new perspective when the student union was hopping and the quad was filled with students. Luckily this campus was only a couple of hours from our house, but who has time to tour all the colleges on their list twice?
2. Understand what questions NOT to ask the tour guide. If it’s a question that can be answered from the website, skip it. Enough with obsessing over the average SAT scores already. Also, realize what is beyond their scope. Your guide will generally be a student—a well-trained student—but still, they have no admissions authority. On every. single. tour. someone asked about financial aid. Just no. That’s what an appointment with a financial aid counselor is for.
3. If you have to choose between a tour and sitting in on a class, take the tour. While it may be exciting for your student to get a taste of college, they’re getting a very narrow experience just sitting in on one class. We got much more decision-making information from thoughtfully using a tour. By our third visit, even if we had time for our daughter to sample a class, she was passing on that option. Sitting in on a class was more helpful on accepted student days.
Questions to Ask
First consider your tour guide to be your window into what it’s really like to attend that school! Just remember, this is their job, a job they picked because they love their school, but still a job. They’re trained on how to deflect negative questions. I’m definitely NOT saying they are disingenuous, but let’s just acknowledge that questions like “how’s the party scene?” have certain scripted answers.
To get information not found anywhere else, it helps to get your guides talking about themselves—everyone’s favorite subject.
With that in mind, a good place for your student to start is . . .
1. Why did you choose this school? Ask this of as many people as you can to get as clear a picture as you can. It’s better than the anonymous info on College Niche.
2. What is this school known for? If you keep hearing “sports,” you need to decide if that’s an important thing to you or not. When the social scene revolves around going to games, you may be lonely if you don’t join in.
3. What do you think the “big” majors are at this school? If all you hear is “engineering” and you’re a dance major, you may want to assess how much funding goes to the arts.
4. Have you switched your major? How hard is it to switch your major? MANY students switch their majors. One school dropped off of my daughter’s list when she discovered she had to pick between applying to the School of Communication and the School of Journalism. If she wanted to switch between the two after she started attending, it was a whole new application process, not just a transfer form.
5. What year are you? How easy was it for you to get the classes you wanted? How about when you were a freshman? Most students readily spill aboutthe pain and annoyance of being shut out of classes. This is very telling.
6. How were you assigned your adviser and do you use them? Be very concerned about finishing in four years at a school where people claim not to use advising. It of course can be done, but it takes a high level of diligence.
7. How did you communicate with your adviser before you signed up for classes as a freshman and how helpful were they? We did not ask this once and it should have been one of the deciding factors for picking a school. We lucked out that the advisement program at my daughter’s university is superb. Her adviser spent a couple of hours with her on the phone over multiple calls helping her map out her classes for freshman year and beyond. Be aware that the quality of advisement can vary by major even at the same school.
8. What year do people start to get internships? Be a little worried if the answer is senior year because from internships come jobs.
9. Is studying abroad a big deal here? What year do people do it? Also be aware that some schools encourage it during winter breaks and summers meaning extra cost on top of tuition. Some schools have programs where a semester abroad is covered by tuition plus travel costs.
10. What are the best dorms? Did you get that one as a freshman? Good to get the inside scoop.
11. How did you get your roommate? At my daughter’s school there was an official questionnaire and matching service, but my daughter found hers on the unofficial Facebook page. Also good to note, especially if it is a local college, do people seem to room with friends from high school?
12. Are there “quiet” dorm or floor options? Another question we did not think to ask. This is good for the introvert and the extrovert. The quiet person can get what she wants and the socialite can avoid being shushed (or worse) all of the time.
13. Do you still live on campus? When do students generally move off-campus? Another question we should have asked. I thought my girl would have at least three years in the dorms, but alas, many of the students at her school move off-campus after freshman year (the only year they are required to live in the dorms).
14. Have you been here during a campus lockdown? Are alerts sent out often? These questions delve deeper than “is the campus safe?”
15. Does the campus clear out on the weekends? If you are hundreds of miles away from home, you don’t want to end up at what is essentially a commuter school.
16.Describe your typical Saturday here to me. Gets at the above question from a different angle.
17. What are you involved with on campus? This is a more open-ended way to see what clubs, endeavors, and activism your tour guide is involved with.
18. What kinds of off-campus things do you do? This canbe very telling about the surrounding art culture, jobs, and club scene . . . or it can drive home that you are looking at a school in the middle of a cow pasture.
19. What do the locals say about this school? Also very telling.
20. How necessary is it to have a car? If freshman are not allowed cars, how do people work around that? This will clue you into how prevalent the use of Uber is or whether there is a sweet garage where students keep their cars off-campus.
Okay, now breathe. These questions only serve as a guideline for information you may not have thought to gather, not as permission to monopolize the group. Let others talk. You may just learn something neither you nor I realized we needed to know. And by all means, if you think of a good question, please add it in the comments. I have college tours looming on my horizon AGAIN.
I’ll leave you with one last piece of advice: if your child is very interested in a school and has narrowed their major down, please consider calling that department to arrange for a specialized tour. They may even offer for you to meet with a dean or an adviser before you even have to ask. We found this VERY helpful if we were visiting from far away and “popping over” for another look was not possible.
Oooo, one last LAST piece of advice. Talk finances with your child before you tour. If you can’t swing a school without significant aid/scholarship, let them know that caveat before they fall in love. It’s an easier conversation before they have stars in their eyes.
Happy touring and take plenty of pictures! This may be the start of your child’s new path!
I do like a good party. I have even been known to go a wee bit overboard. Not like drop the down payment on a Winnebago overboard, but more like having fourteen four-year-olds crowded around my dining room table crafting with glue and scissors. Rest assured I drew the line at glitter. Never glitter. ::shudders::
For me, it all starts with a good theme I can sink my teeth into, but I am older and more exhausted now. Can you feel me? I now require my themes to be fabulous with a side of easy. So to that end, one of the easiest ones I have hit upon is a Flamingo Party. The best thing? It works for all ages and types of parties: birthday celebrations, baby showers, bridal showers, pool parties, and barbecues. One advantage to this theme is you can extend it cheaply and easily just by using color. Pink balloons, streamers, and netting can really extend the theme to fill your entire space.
My particular party was to celebrate a thirteenth birthday. For me it all begins with the cake . . . or in the case of the parties I orchestrate, cakessssssss.
Here’s the one I created for the family party:
Easy Flamingo Layer Cake
This cake is a great example of a wow factor that exceeds the effort. In other words, it’s easier than it looks. Always a bonus.
Next, frost it up with a base layer buttercream frosting.
Mix up a buttercream frosting and tint it with turquoise food coloring. You can find the food coloring I used here. Pssst, you can also use canned frosting. I won’t tell. Pillsbury even makes an aqua blue frosting that saves you all kinds of time.
If you need help with your frosting game, I recommend this tutorial. She mentions using a bench scraper to achieve a smooth frosting surface. I use this one.
The flamingo is made with fondant icing. I generally make my own marshmallow fondant because not only is it significantly cheaper than store bought, it is so much tastier, too. Your guests won’t be peeling it off into a discarded lump on the side of their plates.
I also find it more forgiving to work with. When you are rolling it and transferring it to the cake, I always have less frustration with breakage than I do with prepared fondant out of the package. This excellent video is EXACTLY how I make it.
She also has a video describing how to color it. Two caveats I have for that one, though. One, I almost always color mine by mixing my gel into the melted marshmallows as she describes in the beginning of her tutorial. It takes A LOT of kneading to mix color into a whole batch of refrigerated fondant. I’m talking kneading on the level of a P90X workout. And two, I always wear vinyl food prep gloves so that my hands don’t get stained.
One other tip: it’s not worth it to make black fondant. It takes forever and a ton of color to make it anything but a weird gray. I did it once, but never again. You can find it here. Keep in mind you can purchase a whole tub of white fondant, too, if you just want to skip making your own altogether.
I used leaf cookie cutters to make the feathers. I free-hand cut out the neck, used a small dish to make the circle for the head, and used the same dish to help gauge the size I needed for the beak. The eye was made from a dab of white buttercream and a speck of black fondant. Because the pieces are relatively small, it’s a much easier decorating process than trying to transfer an entire sheet of fondant to your cake. I have yet to be able to cover a layer cake with a sheet of fondant without curling up in the fetal position from the stress of it all. But just decorating with fondant pieces? That’s a hack I can completely manage.
Now remember I said cakessssssss? In my family, each birthday girl gets her own cake to dive into with abandon.
Fondant Flamingo Cake
This cake was also decorated with marshmallow fondant, but this one is all about the shape. I baked the body of the cake in a Pyrex oven-safe bowl. Once it was COMPLETELY cooled, I sculpted the body shape with a serrated knife making sure to carve out a complete shape that would work for the neck. The rest of the scraps went to the kids who were watching my every move.
The head is a cupcake. That little beaded necklace camouflages the joining of the head to the neck. Because this cake is personal-sized, I could basically pick the pieces up and wrap the fondant around them. In case you are new to working with fondant, you need to actually ice your cake with a buttercream first so that the fondant will adhere to it smoothly. I did not do that with the neck though. The fondant around that is very thick to achieve the rounded look I wanted. I figured there was enough cake-y goodness in the body and head to make it acceptable that the neck was just for decorative purposes.
And then there were the cupcakes . . .
Easy Flamingo Cupcakes
I’m going to be honest, by the time I got to the cupcakes I was TIRED. I ordered some pretty cupcake liners, some flamingo lollipops, let the kids ice the cupcakes anyway they wanted with the remaining blue frosting, and called it a day. See? Easy! You can’t accuse me of being a perfectionist.
But—and this is going to sound radical after the previous several hundred words—great parties need more than cake! Check out these fun ideas to rocket your party into the realm of success!
Flamingo Party Ideas
This post contains affiliate links? What does that mean? Amazon gives me a few cents when you buy something I suggest at no cost to you.
People are generous with their kind words immediately after you have lost a loved one. Despite death being a inevitable part of everyone’s life, people often feel awkward about what to say; but at least the time and space provided by social norms are there to encourage them.
Unfortunately that window for condolences closes up fairly quickly, and the awkwardness morphs into the fear that they will upset you if they mention your loved one. You are now left with your own awkwardness surrounding how to talk about your grief, how to bring it up. Maybe a prescribed period for wearing black back in the day wasn’t such a bad idea. Black arm bands or those silicone bracelets could work nowadays. It just seems like we could use something to indicate “handle with care.”
“Time heals all wounds” is not so much a falsehood, as it is too simplistic. Yes, the hurt scabs over, and the pain dulls, but the loss is healed with a scar. A scar that tugs and throbs predictably, yet can grab you unexpectedly .
The holidays and anniversaries with their brightness and intensity serve to highlight the voids . . . voids you can often avoid staring into on a day-to-day basis once your grief scar has formed.
“My mom should be here baking cookies with my kids. She always had the patience to make cut-outs.”
“This is where my son’s stocking should be hanging.”
“My father always lit the candles.”
And while you can predict the holidays are going to be tinged with blue, it’s often the little things that surprisingly leave you with the most intensely hollow longing. To prepare for my college freshman daughter’s homecoming for winter break, I was changing her sheets, even though she had only slept in her bed a couple of nights over Thanksgiving and changing sheets is one of the household chores I inexplicably hate the most. I mean, there are so many tasks that are so much worse. Scrubbing toilets anyone?
But as I was grumbling at myself for performing this largely unnecessary task at 11:30 PM, I was overcome. I sank right down on the floor among the pillows and stuffed animals as tears slid down my cheeks. Changing sheets was my mother’s love language of comfort. Sick with a fever? Clean sheets. Home from college, just had a baby, recovering from surgery? Clean sheets. Facing my fourth Christmas without her, I was unconsciously following her script for loving, and grieving anew that she would never give this “love letter” to me again.
Rest assured, you are not the only one “still” grieving. You are not the only one who knows how grief and joy can snuggle side by side, neither diminishing the impact of the other. You certainly aren’t the only one who understands the bitter truth about how time actually heal wounds.
Since I know I’m not alone, this holiday season I am going to reach out to others to give them a space to share. The internet isn’t only about political rants and cat videos. It’s for connecting. I encourage you to try a post as simple as “I miss the way my mother descended on my house a couple of days before Christmas with a cooler bursting with pure deliciousness and a trunk brimming with presents. I miss the way Aunt Ruth delighted us with the latest musical holiday toy from Hallmark each year. What do you miss about your loved ones?” My friend Meredith of The Mom of the Year did this sort of thing in a Facebook group we share, and the resulting comments were uplifting. She is my inspiration.
Follow Meredith’s lead and don’t be afraid to create the space you need for your grief. You never know who you will help as you help yourself.
My college freshman daughter came home for Thanksgiving and it. was. glorious. Some friends who still have all of their chicks under one roof commented that Thanksgiving break came up pretty quickly considering it was only three months since I said good-bye. Only. I just again read my piece about sending her off in August—contemplating whether or not my “sweet spot of motherhood” was behind me—and it feels like it has been three lifetimes.
My “sweet spot” did indeed expand as I had hoped to encompass long distance parenting from Maryland to Miami. My daughter has communicated with us with a regularity beyond my wildest hopes via texting, Face Timing, calling, and Snapchatting. She is generous about sharing her new life, and has continued to seek my advice. I haven’t been kicked to the proverbial curb. For my part, I have become the master of high quality care packages.
She is still in my life, it’s just in a different way. In a way that is the epitome of life moving forward. In fact, life continued to march forward for all of us. As soon as we dropped her off, field hockey was in full swing for my sophomore daughter. And then I shoveled out her room. And then we got a dog. There really was no time for weeping or hand-wringing . . . or at least I didn’t leave myself time for that.
In general, I’ve handled marching forward pretty well. That’s why I was taken aback by the wave of emotion that hit me during the week she was home for Thanksgiving.
I missed her most while she was here!
I mean I have missed her since the moment she left, but I had gotten use to her not being around. And by “used to” I mean I just didn’t think about it that much. I really just couldn’t. Besides, she is happily hitting her stride, and we had a lovely visit over Family Weekend. How could I complain about a natural order that was going this well?
But, I have felt a bit off-centered and blah. Not exactly mopey, just unsettled. Beating her room into order and adopting myself some unconditional canine love helped, but I hadn’t really worked through it all. There’s not a lot of space to discuss ambiguous feelings. People can maybe handle hearing that you are sad, but they really just want you to say “I’m fine.” My kid was busy being everything I hoped she would be, so what right did I have to be sad anyway? And really, when people ask you how things are going with college, they want to hear about your kid and then get back to picking through the pumpkins at the farm stand.
While I had adjusted to her being gone like a swell little soldier—my life is pretty good after all—her being here for a week illuminated with LED intensity all that had been missing. It took the return of her vim and vigor for me to realize the full impact of its absence.
I felt unmoored because I missed the dynamic of her just being in our space: her wit, her clutter, her willingness to pitch in, as well as her exasperating insistence that we embark on a ten minute hunt for another tube of toothpaste because brushing her teeth in the shower “saved” time and her sister was currently using the only other tube. While I love her snip-its of news and Snapchats, I missed what her presence brings to our family unit under this roof: completeness. Her whole senior year through college move-in day was such a seismic shift, but when the earthquake was over, I just plowed ahead instead of assessing the aftermath.
When spellcheck bleated just now that “unmoored” was not a word, I looked it up to find descriptive perfection: tobringtothestateofridingwithasingleanchorafterbeingmoored bytwoormore. Eureka! This is it! After spending sixteen years with the tug and grounding of two kids with their schedules, activities and needs, I was suddenly lighter with only one at home. But instead of feeling free, I only had the uncomfortable sensation of buffeting in the breeze. In related news I may be prone to mini-panics that my youngest will be going to college in three short years.
More than once during the week I had to snap myself back into the moment instead of anticipating the empty space yawning wide again once she left. It really wasn’t hard because we had such a great time, but you know what? It hasn’t been that bad she she went back. I feel better now that my brain realizes the void my heart was flapping around. I still miss her, but I feel more grounded knowing that our family “completeness” isn’t gone; it’s just something I have to look forward to now when she returns. And boy, do I have a detailed answer for the next person who asks me how I am doing.
Every four years it’s like a civics lesson all over again: What the heck is the Electoral College? Wait, that’s not accurate. We only truly care we are not actually voting for a president—but for a slate of electors—when the popular vote does not jive with the electoral college votes . . . like it did in 2000 (Bush winning over Gore) and 2016 (Trump winning over Clinton). The Electoral College/popular vote disharmony happened in 1876 and 1888, too.
Since Clinton supporters are petitioning electors “to ignore their states’ votes and cast their ballots for [former] Secretary Clinton,” and I have these pesky offspring who ask questions that matter, I have found myself delving for hours through the internet, books, and ::gasp:: the Constitution. Yes, the ACTUAL Constitution printed on ACTUAL paper. This post is born out of the desire to not wash, rinse, and repeat this research when my youngest is able to vote in her first presidential election in 2020 because spoiler alert, I’m pretty sure the Electoral College will still be a thing.
The Basics of the Electoral College
There are 538 electors (one elector equals one vote), and a candidate must win 270 votes to become President. The number of electors for each state is determined by its congressional delegation: the number of Representatives in the House plus the two Senators. So, for my home state of Maryland that makes 10.
Such an unwieldy filter for direct democracy must be mandated pretty clearly in the Constitution, right? Nope. Different states choose their electors in different ways. Some states have nominations for electors during party conventions, while others choose their electors in primaries. It’s a hodgepodge free-for-all. The only two things that can really disqualify you from being an elector is holding a federal office or having engaged in some sort of insurrection against the U.S. government. In general, electors are loyal party members who can be counted on to cast a ballot that’s in line with their state’s popular vote.
However, only 29 out of 50 states, and the District of Columbia, have passed laws binding their electors to vote in accordance with the popular vote in their state. (Doing the math, that means there are 21 states where no such law is present at all.) Yep, the most powerful position in our country is really meted out on a wave of tradition. So what happens if an elector breaks rank? Uh, they get a fine, get called a “faithless elector,” and sometimes . . . become a folk hero. In 1972, Roger MacBride, the treasurer of the Republican Party of Virginia, was a pledged elector for Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew. Instead he voted for the Libertarian candidate. That little move got him the Libertarian party presidential nomination in the 1976 election. There have been others who have broken rank, but it has never really made a difference.
In general though, the electoral votes in each state are allotted to the candidate who nabbed the popular vote there in a winner-take-all scenario . . . but there are special snowflake exceptions. Those crazy kids, Nebraska and Maine, decided to let each congressional district determine its own candidate while still awarding 2 electoral votes to the state winner (these account for the 2 electoral votes given to each state because of Senators). Although Maine and Nebraska have been using this system since 1972 and 1992, respectively, split votes have only happened once for each state. Nebraska’s electoral vote was split in 2008 with Barack Obama carrying a congressional district centered around Omaha, and his Republican rival, John McCain gaining the state’s other four votes. This year’s election marks the first time that Maine will split its electoral votes with one of its four votes going to Trump. It’s didn’t make much of a difference in either election, but maybe this split vote thing could make a difference in states with a greater number of electoral votes?
So when are these votes cast? Right after the election would make the most sense since we have the news outlets telling us who won the election by 2 am, but nay, nay. The chosen electors all meet at their respective state capitals on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December to cast their votes. (Seriously.) The votes are then counted in a joint session of Congress on January 6. Yeah, and the Inauguration is held on January 20th (20th Amendment), so by all appearances it is just for pomp and circumstance.
Why We Have the Electoral College
Since it seems like the Electoral College is just a bunch of curlicues and flourishes and is the very definition of “extra,” why do we have it?
The easy answer is that while we often throw around the word democracy, the United States is actually a representative republic because the creators of the Constitution valued federalism—meaning that power is divided between our federal government and our state and local governments. So in the most idealistic terms, the Electoral College was supposed to prevent a power grab by a tyrannical majority. Alexander Hamilton indicated in “The Federalist Papers” that the point of the Electoral College was to preserve “the sense of the people,” while at the same time ensuring that a president was chosen “by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice.”
So that’s the very verbose ideal, but while the end product of our government’s creation is pretty amazing, it was founded by real men with real prejudices and real self-interests. In 1787, at the Philadelphia Convention (where the Constitution was created to replace the Articles of Confederation), the Pennsylvanian, James Wilson, proposed direct national election of the president.
However, James Madison figured out that in a direct election system, the North would outnumber the South, whose many slaves (more than half a million in all) could not vote. The Three-Fifths Compromise was enacted to count each male slave as three-fifths of a person to determine representation in the U.S. House, and consequentially a state’s number of electoral votes. Of course the only “representation” was of pro-slavery interests since slaves were still not allowed to vote. (Did they actually listen to themselves?) States were basically rewarded for the number of slaves they bought and bred. Because of the Three-Fifths Compromise, for 32 of the Constitution’s first 36 years, a white slave-holding Virginian occupied the presidency. (The 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868, abolished the three-fifths rule and granted (male) former slaves the right to vote.)
The Electoral College Was Almost Immediately Obsolete
So it seems obvious that a system birthed out of political slight of hand to gain advantage by abusing the rights of human beings might not be something we need today? Heck, before we exited the 19th century, the Electoral College became a clunker. The 12th Amendment establishing the Electoral College was ratified in 1804. So let’s just consider the noble reasons for it, and assume it was developed to prevent “the tyranny of the majority” and because people across the vast United States would lack information to make intelligent decisions when choosing a president. It was around the same time of the 12th Amendment ratification that our two party system began to emerge providing more balance to prevent tyranny, and effectively tying presidential candidates to state and local governments. The development of standard political platforms meant “the people” would know who and what they were voting for.
All pros and cons aside, the biggest reason we still have it is that it would take a Constitutional Amendment to change it. After including the whole “Alcohol is illegal! Nope, it’s legal again!” in the (18th and 21st) amendments of the founding document of our government, constitutional amendments are a hard sell because we are thankfully a bit more discerning now. (It literally takes an act of Congress, see below.)
Another bugaboo is that when the electoral votes don’t reflect the national popular vote, the party in power is the one that benefited from the Electoral College. Yeah.
In a more positive point, there are some analysts who insist that the Electoral College ensures that middle and rural America will not be ignored by presidential candidates, and that urban centers won’t determine elections. They argue it ensures that the President represents everyone.
Then there’s the ever popular “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Our electoral system has been stable for over 200 years. By all results, the Electoral College has effectively preserved federalism and prevented chaos. That is nothing to sneeze at. Building onto this thought, some believe that the Electoral College supports the power of the states in determining our president and ensures that presidents receive support from a diverse array of people around the country.
But Really . . .
The only “real” argument for why the Electoral College will endure is because it is in the Constitution. It is intentionally difficult to change the Constitution: two-thirds of both the House and Senate would need to vote to repeal it via a Constitutional amendment, AND THEN three-fourths of state legislatures would need to ratify the amendment.
However, there is a loophole to convening a Constitutional Convention: The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC). In a nutshell, the compact is designed to ensure that the candidate who wins the most popular votes is elected president. Several U.S. states and the District of Columbia have adopted the agreement to award all their respective electoral votes to the candidate winning the popular vote. So if you use this election as an example, each state in the NPVIC would award its electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote—Hillary Clinton—no matter if the state itself went red or blue.
So why is this not happening? Well, only ten states and the District of Columbia have joined for a total of 165 combined electoral votes. You can see a map of which ones have joined here, and by the way, they are all blue states. There needs to be enough states signed on with enough votes to make it to that magical number of majority: 270.
Oh and there is one more litttttttle thing. Even if enough states join, it may require Congressional approval. Article I, Section 10 of the US Constitution states that: “No State shall, without the Consent of Congress . . . enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State, or with a foreign Power. . .” HOWEVER, it is being heavily debated in legal circles whether this article would actually apply to the NPVIC. While the legalities are convoluted, the takeaway is simple: the NPVIC is not an uncomplicated or straight path to circumventing the Electoral College.
Why the Electoral College is an Unnecessary Dinosaur
1. Small states don’t need the protection. First, states with smaller populations receive an unfair “bump” in voting power with the Electoral College, and that goes beyond “protection.” For example, there are 711,723 Californians for every Electoral College vote that state casts in the presidential election, but in Wyoming, there’s one Electoral College vote per 195,369 residents. How does this happen? Because no matter what the population, a state still gets those 2 electoral votes tacked on for its 2 senators.
So what about the argument that urban centers on the coasts would determine the elections without the Electoral College? I disagree. With just a quick look at population numbers (I realize not everyone in the census count can vote, but still, it illustrates the point).
California (38.8 million) plus New York State (19.75 million) equals 58.55 million people.
It only takes 13 red midwest and southern states (Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona, Indiana, and Missouri) to equal a population of 62.27 million. (There were still 17 more red states leftover.)
I’m just not buying that if everyone came out to vote, California and New York would determine the President on their own.
2.Hey, the Senate ensures equality. The less populous states don’t need the 2 senator vote count advantage in the Electoral College (explained above) because they are already getting the advantage in the ACTUAL Senate. Every state gets two votes. Each presidential election year everyone seemingly forgets that the Executive branch functions under the checks and balances of the Legislative and Judiciary branches. Our government is constructed so that our state elections (which are direct, one person equals one vote, 17th Amendment) determines our state’s federal power.
3.The Electoral College can actually diminish the rural voice in an economically diverse state. In my home state of Maryland, every four years, five of the most urban counties determine the winner of our electoral votes. This produces feelings of disenfranchisement where farmers, watermen, and small business owners feel like the city of Baltimore decides who our president is going to be.
5. The Electoral College only acts to draw candidates to swing states. It’s also often argued that candidates would only focus campaign attention on huge states if the Electoral College was eradicated. Well, all the Electoral College ensures is that states split 50/50 between Democrats and Republicans (like Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Florida) get attention. States that are locked into their voting patterns like Texas (red) and New York (blue) get very little campaign attention despite their large number of electoral votes. Candidates ignore where they are hopelessly behind or drastically ahead. Basically, votes in swing states carry more power.
The Main Reason The Electoral College Needs to Go
It creates voter apathy.
Votes are “wasted” under the Electoral College. It doesn’t matter if a candidate wins by 1,000 votes or 600,000 votes in California, they still receive the same the power of its 55 electoral votes. Likewise, every vote for the candidate who doesn’t win the electoral votes goes into the metaphorical garbage.
In Maryland, many of my friends and acquaintances didn’t want Trump or Hillary, but they especially didn’t want Trump. They felt like they could just not vote, thus not supporting Hillary, but knowing Hillary would win our blue state anyway. There had to be Hillary supporters who didn’t vote because they knew it didn’t matter. With or without their votes, Hillary would get out 10 electoral votes. The fact is only 2.37 million people out of 6 million voted in Maryland.
Extrapolate this nationwide. How many people don’t vote because they know how their state is going to go? If more people voted would elections still be cutting it as close as they are now?
The Most Interesting Question I Have Not Seen Asked
If we eliminated the Electoral College would it increase voter turnout?
Only 57.9% of eligible voters cast a ballot in the 2016 election. That left over 90 million votes on the table. Would knowing their personal voices would be heard and not filtered through the Auto-Tune of the Electoral College bring more Americans out to the polls? In our nomadic, global society should our voices be drowned out by the choral “AMEN” of the state we happen to land in or should we all be allowed to sing our own solos? I, for one, would like my off-key soprano to be heard.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Wait, let me make that a little more accurate: It’s the most INSANE time of the year! Okay, now I feel like the Grinch. How about, it’s the most insanely wonderful, wonderfully insane time of the year? THAT feels right.
There is so much to do during the holidays that many of us try to pare down our to-do lists as much as possible. This can result in some great things for your well-being like booting the cookies from the roster that take 15 steps, a kajillion hours, and that special ginger picked by virgin elk herders in the Himalayas. However, it can also lead to some hasty decisions like cutting out your gift exchange with your girlfriends. While this may free up some minutes, it can also throw a sopping wet blanket on the spark of your joy.
Some of my best—fun, soul-nourishing, hilarious, sentimental—times are created during my gift exchanges with my friends, be they secret or open, local or spanning the country. So for me, the secret is not to slash my gift list, but to simplify . . . and to borrow a fantastic idea when I hear it. My friend, Andrea, hit on what could possible be the best gift exchange idea ever: SOCKS!
Hear me out. There are so many options, sizing isn’t stressful, they can be so thoughtfully personal, you can find FANTASTIC ones for under $10, Amazon is dripping with them (but you can also find great ones at Walmart and Target), and they don’t add to clutter. Socks are not just for girlfriends either; men, teens, and kids love them, too. This makes them a great gift exchange idea for extended family, the office, and school. See? Perfect. And whoever can find it in their being to complain about adding a pair of socks to their drawer really needs to be kicked out of your tribe. Look, either way, your gift list just got simplified.
So without further ado, here are my personal suggestions.
Oh my goodness these are cute. And it’s a set! You could take care of 5 friends in one click! You can get on Amazon and search your desired breed too. I may or may not have these puggle socks in my cart.
One final funny that doubles as pretty sound advice too.
I could go on forever with these, but that last pair seems like a good place to stop. Don’t see anything you like here? Get yourself over to Amazon and search out any interest under the sun. I guarantee there’s a sock for that.
Here’s a little something extra for that person in your life you REALLY like. They’re all cozy in their new socks, why not give them a good—no great—book to cuddle up with? My friend, Ilana Wiles of Mommy Shorts, wrote a book that makes a perfect gift for anyone in your life who is a parent. This hardcover book is gorgeous and substantial. It’s filled with humor, truth, and actual real-life advice such as this gem for how to sneak in a nap: “I tell my son that his brother is better at giving back rubs than him. Then I close my eyes and enjoy the competition.” Get your copy of “The Mommy Shorts Guide to Remarkably Average Parenting” here or fill out the form below to win one on us!
This giveaway is for one copy of The Mommy Shorts Guide to Remarkably Average Parenting. Open only to residents of the continental United States. Winner will be notified by email at the end of the giveaway and will have 48 hours to respond before a new winner is picked.
Chances are if you have a teen ready to drive, you’ve been motoring around for a decade or three yourself. It’s hard to recall a time when jumping behind the wheel was fresh and new, but this is exactly the mindset you need when teaching your child to drive. Yes, YOU teach your darling to drive. Maybe senility is knocking at my door, but I really feel like “back in the day” the drivers education instructor did most of the well, instructing. Where I live in Maryland, my kid needs to be in the car with me for 20 hours before they get behind-the-wheel training with an instructor.
Here’s a direct quote from the pamphlet:
The behind the wheel lessons are intended to guide your teen by evaluating their current driving skills, determining where they need more practice, and preparing them for the MVA exam. The parent/adult driver(s) that work with the student for the 60+ practice hours are teaching the teen how to drive.
You could have knocked me over with a feather once I realized this with my oldest daughter. I was already finding this phase of parenting to be the most challenging (realizing 14 years too late that potty training was NOTHING), but finding out I couldn’t really turn this over to a professional was pretty disheartening. Like a bag of chocolate chips followed by a red wine chaser disheartening.
Hey, I’m an experienced driver with a clean record, and the DMV gave me a trifold pamphlet, so it was all good, right? It wasn’t quite as mind-blowing as being handed my firstborn at the hospital with the proclamation “Go forth and be a parent!” but it wasn’t great either. At least now I had the internet. Okay, I had the internet when she was born, but Google didn’t launch until two months later. Let that sink in.
But while handy dandy Google had answers for me this time, they were all over the place. All I wanted to know was where to begin. Luckily I was able to formulate a plan by piecing together what I read and adding it to the advice offered by our Facebook followers.
My biggest revelation with my oldest daughter was that the first lessons happened way before the open road. My biggest discovery with my second daughter was that The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) launched teendriversource.org; a site chock full of research-based guidelines, tools, and tutorials for parents, teens, and educators. The only “problem” is there is so much information, it’s hard to initially land at the starting point.
Here’s how to get rolling:
First Steps for Teaching Your Teen to Drive
Start with getting YOUR mind in the right place. It is your job to remove distractions and one of them is YOU. Yep. Teens report that one of the biggest distractions is when parents get emotional. So get ready for an Oscar nomination because you must maintain an air of calm through it all: keep your voice modulated, try not to stomp a hole through the floorboard, and always have them pull the carover to discuss dicey situations. This two minute video can give you further tips on creating the right learning environment.
Go over the car thoroughly. Remember this is all new. Consider every button mysterious and explain it. Describe how to adjust the mirrors and the seats. Explain how you turn on the car and work the pedals. Need some help remembering what all of the basic steps are? Check out these short videos where it is all laid out. Have your teen put the car in gear and go down your driveway a bit (or do this in a parking lot) so your teen can use the pedals and see if the mirrors are positioned correctly. Believe it or not, this may be enough for the first lesson.
Practice in a parking lot . . . a big, empty one. Go over the car again. Then just have them get a feel for the vehicle in motion. Play around with the accelerator and brake. Have them discover what reverse feels like. Just let them drive around developing a feel for the “corners” of the vehicle. You can even set up some cones or boxes for them to maneuver around. You can review tutorials for your parking lot sessions here.
Discuss scanning techniques. SO IMPORTANT, BUT SO OFTEN OVERLOOKED. You avoid accidents by anticipating hazards you detect while scanning your surroundings. Good drivers routinely sweep their gaze beyond the lane in front of them and constantly check their mirrors. Guess what? New drivers tend to stare straight ahead. Teens must be told how to move their eyes and they need to be reminded every time they get behind the wheel. Scanning from lesson one helps cement it into a habit as soon as possible. For help describing the technique, watch Parking Lot: Introduction to Scanning.
Practice checking for blind spots. Novices need to learn early on that checking mirrors is not enough, they need to physically turn their heads to check blind spots. It’s best to start this early because it may take a while before they can turn their head without turning the wheel. Teaching how to look around before backing up fits in nicely here too.
Comment while YOU drive. Talk about how you’re scanning the road. Comment on the mechanics of making a turn while you’re doing it (so much easier than trying to remember and reconstruct how you do that automatic action while you’re sitting in the passenger seat). Explain why you picked that particular parking space. However, to avoid eye rolls think of this as dispensing public service announcements, not creating documentaries. Narrate little tidbits, not full instruction manuals.
Don’t be anxious to blow through these steps to get out on the road because that’s where you think the real lessons occur. It is so hard for novice drivers because they have to think about every single little action with their higher brains. That processing adds crucial seconds to reaction times.
Driving is so automatic for you because you are doing it from “muscle memory” controlled by your lower brain, and more specifically, your cerebellum. Every time your child drives, they are strengthening neural connections in their cerebellum and thus heading toward better and faster reactions. “Practice makes perfect” was coined for this part of the brain. Because I know these neural pathways are being forged, I don’t rush my kids out onto the interstate. Every time they practice braking on a local road means they will be better at braking on the highway. It’s a matter of brain training.
So there you have it: not everything (by a long shot), but at least your starting point. Don’t worry though, teensource.org will take you to the next level, too. Stay calm, buckle up, have a plan, and know you’re not the only one who is not a fan of this part of parenting!