Category Archives: parents

Monday Morning Music – I See Monsters

“Oh, people are screaming, people are screaming

My baby, she’s dreaming

Oh, people are shouting, people are freaking

I’m staring at the ceiling, waiting for the feeling”

Songwriter: Ryan Adams

If we don’t laugh, we’ll cry. If we don’t hug, we’ll rage. If we don’t speak up, we will fall apart.

There’s no need for me to add to the infinite election postmortems. I mean, how can I say anything meaningful when The Pope and Coach Popovich have already weighed in? So HRC should have visited Wisconsin? Would that have made a difference?

I’m devastated. My children are crushed. They don’t want to talk about it, but I can see it on their faces. The shell-shocked realization that the bully won. That everything they’ve ever been taught to cherish – respect, kindness, empathy – doesn’t matter in America.

May you find solace in these dark days. May you find the strength to keep fighting. Question, challenge, call people out, protest, volunteer, lend a hand. Try to be better tomorrow than you are today.

Love, therockmom.


Election Special or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Blue Bloods

TS mosaic

Tom Selleck acts with his mouth.

It’s a subtle but effective talent.

Most actors focus on how and what their eyes convey to the audience. Whether their characters are listening, reacting, retreating or attacking, they project it all through their eyes.

But with Selleck, both his emotions and his authority as NYC Police Commissioner Frank Reagan emanate from the nose down. The dimples appear when he’s caught out asking campus security to watch granddaughter Nicky (Sami Gayle) when she’s at a college party. The lips purse when he’s faced with a fugitive on the run, a potential bomb disaster or a dirty cop. And the mustache – of course the mustache – wiggles ever so slightly when he’s invited back to a woman’s hotel room. (This has happened a few times over 6+ seasons, not that I’m keeping count or anything.)

I never noticed Selleck’s mouth when I was a kid watching Magnum P.I. Back then he often let his eyebrows, his chest and his Ferrari do the talking. I also missed a good deal of his story arc as Monica’s older boyfriend on Friends. But once my 83-year-old aunt introduced me to the Blue Bloods universe (that multi-generational American drama on CBS), I gained a new appreciation for Selleck’s understated charisma and his enduring sex appeal.

Now I know what you’re thinking: rockmom, you watch Blue Bloods? A network drama with a geriatric audience about law and order white folks? Blue Bloods?

Yes, I do. I even purchase seasons on iTunes. Proudly.

While it’s true that Blue Bloods draws the oldest viewers on television – median audience age is 62.5 – and depicts characters who probably lean to the right politically, it’s also a show that I regularly enjoy with my teens. One that always inspires what-would-you-do-in-that-situation conversations and an appreciation for Assistant District Attorney Erin Reagan’s (Bridget Moynahan) tough but tender parenting. So when my kids give me a hard time about curfew times, we can watch the episode where Nicky’s arrested, and I can say: see, it could be worse. Her Mom made her spend a night in jail!

More importantly, in this never-ending, divisive election cycle – Red v Blue, Us v Them, Deplorables v Elites – Blue Bloods is one of the few designated safe conversation zones for me and my far-right, Clinton-hating relatives. There’s also the weather, college football, food and… well, that’s about it.

As an expat living in an international, fairly liberal echo chamber, I always experience a bit of a rude awakening when I return home to Texas for holidays. Mind you, there are a lot of wonderful things I can only enjoy when I’m back: Shiner beer, cheese enchiladas, perfect brisket, old friends and bluebonnets. But then I also have to be around people who tell me, out loud: ‘Blacks are bad tippers’ or ‘Hispanics don’t know how to look after their kids’ or ‘You can’t tell a good Muslim from a bad Muslim’ and of course the iniquitous assertion that ‘Of course, Obama is a Muslim from Kenya.’

It’s wearying. It’s depressing. It makes me wish Frank and his dimples would appear with a bottle of single malt and a couple of glasses.

But what can I do? This is family. I’m sure Father Quinn (Frank’s priest) would counsel: hate the sin, love the sinner.

And just keep watching TV. That great American cure-all.

At this moment in our nation’s unsettled history, I’m sure a lot of other families of mixed political persuasions could benefit from the moral clarity, compassion and generosity that Blue Bloods offers. I’m thinking specifically of Anglo-Saxon families that haven’t forgotten their own religious and immigrant roots. If, like me, you have a Catholic Dad who once bought everyone Christmas presents from the All Things Irish shop then you know exactly what I’m talking about!

With Blue Bloods, I might disagree with Frank’s support for the death penalty, but I can respect his convictions, and admire how good he looks in his sunglasses. I can also enjoy an hour when certain things are reassuringly, crystal clear. For one, according to Detective Danny Reagan (Donnie Wahlberg), there are only two kinds of people in the world: scumbags and not-scumbags. His job is to catch the former and help the latter. Don’t be a scumbag.

Second, there’s no problem so big that it can’t be solved with roasted meat and red wine. A beer and a chat with Grandpa also helps.

Further to that, it’s okay if Sunday dinners are contentious. Talk it out, disagree, argue, but above all, come back next week. We’ll be serving turducken.

Lastly, let’s not forget about the women on Blue Bloods. Because, you know, if this were a Hollywood movie, Moynahan would be playing Selleck’s love interest and not his daughter. So yay (!) to that casting decision. And yay to the other strong-minded women on the show: Linda (Amy Carlson), Janko (Vanessa Ray), Nicky and detectives Baez (Marisa Ramirez) and Curatola (Jennifer Esposito).

Can I also add that, as we all inch closer to Blue Blood’s median audience age, it should give us hope to see that Frank has very likely seen more action in the bedroom than his two single kids – Jamie (Will Estes) and Erin. (Not that my aunt and I discuss these things, oh no, not us!) I mean I’ve never fired a gun and would rather not dwell on Selleck’s association with the NRA. However, the season 2 episode where Frank buys Melanie (his foreign correspondent/booty call) a custom-made, leather thigh-holster for her concealed carry is, I’m not afraid to admit, incredibly hot.

So you see, Blue Bloods can bring liberals and conservatives together!

Now I know what you’re thinking, because I am too: the GOP chose the wrong ‘80s-era personality to top the ticket.

Vote. Peace.

Tom Selleck photo by Dominick D [CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons.

The 8 Stages of Puzzle Building

Eisenhower, MacArthur… Dad.

Here’s my latest short film, starring friends, family and one of our cats!

Hope you enjoy it!


Trending Baby Name OR James Spader in the ’80s?

Hi all & welcome back to a bit of weekend fun. A rockmom quiz inspired by a group of young boys we encountered at a minor league baseball game over the summer.

God loves minor league baseball. (photo by therockmom)

God loves minor league baseball. (photo by therockmom)

The trio sat in front of us the whole evening: chatting, wearing their giveaway jerseys and eventually – inevitably – pouring ice cubes down each others’ backs. As local boys and fans of the team, they knew a lot about the players, such as who’d been called up to the bigs, who was the team’s best left-handed pitcher and what the heck OPS stands for (on-base plus slugging, a sabermetric i.e. ‘extra fancy’ stat). Their parents were sitting several rows behind and would periodically call out their names. As you can imagine in 2015, the Year of Our Whole Foods, there was absolutely no Tom, Dick or Harry in this group. They all had names that sounded like partners in an accounting firm. Or, as I realized a few weeks later when Pretty in Pink popped up on cable (you can’t not watch it), the names of James Spader characters from the 1980s.

His best roles, IMHO.

But I won’t say any more. See if you can identify each name as either a James Spader movie character from the ’80s or a current popular boy’s name.

Enjoy yourself and please, no fair consulting IMDB! I’ll post answers on Monday.

  1. Preston
  2. Fenwick
  3. Lowell
  4. Carson
  5. Morgan
  6. Grey
  7. Dutra
  8. Richards (with an ‘s’)
  9. Price
  10. Pax
  11. Digby
  12. Bennett
  13. Steff
  14. Logan
  15. Hudson
  16. Kingston
  17. Graham
  18. Deforrest
  19. Zed
  20. Rip

Monday Morning Music: Trampled by Turtles

YO’s turtles died.

Did I jinx them? I feel bad because I’m pretty sure it was our recent apathy that killed them. One passed away a week ago and the other yesterday. YO said the first one’s head exploded – I wasn’t here at the time thankfully, so cannot confirm or deny that report. The other one just simply closed its eyes and stopped moving. Hubs took care of the funeral arrangements, which greatly improved the general odor in YO’s room. All that’s left is an empty tank, and our memories.

I’m writing about this not with glee or delight (well, maybe some relief) but still with that anger at the fact YO was given those damn poor things in the first place – when she was three years old. Three years old! We didn’t ask for them, we didn’t want them, but now their deaths have made YO cry. And as always, when it comes to your kids you think: we could have done more. The guilt is just automatic, part of your parental DNA.

All I can say is we, actually Hubs, kept them alive for over eight years, which is about a quarter of a terrapin’s natural life span. I don’t know if they would have lived longer if we’d secretly released them in to a reservoir or park pond. Maybe. We didn’t know they were sick, but with a reptile’s slow metabolism, an illness wouldn’t have been easy to spot anyway. Back when we first got them, I packed them in to the car and drove up to Tai Wai (near Sha Tin) to a specialist vet to get them checked out. I told him about the tank we’d bought and what we were doing to care for them – sunny spot, heat lamp, rocks to climb on, etc. He was pleased and said what he usually sees is people keeping their turtles in a bucket under the bathroom sink. So maybe, just a little maybe, I can say they had an okay life. I wanted to google ‘Do turtles feel pain’ but was afraid to.

Instead I searched Spotify for ‘turtle’ and found this group called Trampled by Turtles. They’re from Duluth, Minnesota and play progressive bluegrass. Their song ‘Wild Animals’ is beautiful and haunting and feels about right for the occasion.

Scotty and Tommy, RIP. A pet is for life, so please think before you buy.

Keep wild animals wild.


After five years of posts – music-related, parenting-related, Hong Kong-related, comedic, serious, somewhere in between – my most-read post remains this one. It didn’t require any research or interviews, no field work, no iTunes purchases. Just over 500 words about how I spent an afternoon at my girls’ school. In terms of page views, it’s received almost twice as many as the next most popular read, American Village Idiot: Green Day in Hong Kong.
I don’t know why this post touched a chord with readers, but it did. I suppose that’s what we’re all looking for when we write – that satisfying moment when we put in to words what we’re feeling and we find out others feel the same.
Thanks for looking back with me this week and thanks always for your support. Have a good weekend!

The Serious Business of Talent Shows

It was one of those lump in your throat moments. A flashback to my younger self and a bittersweet flash forward of a young girl growing up in front of my eyes.

It was my daughter’s talent show.

The Year 5 and 6 talent show was not meant for parents. But I happened to be at school that day helping in my younger daughter’s class, so I asked my older daughter’s teacher if I could quietly perch in a corner of the hall for the show.

The group of five girls was dancing to (oh, irony) Lady Gaga’s ‘Just Dance’. One of the girls, who goes to a hip-hop class, had choreographed the routine. There was considerable back and forth about costumes: black t-shirts, jean shorts check. Hair up, hair down? Baseball caps on or off?

They had discussed and rehearsed during lunchtimes and breaks. We parents had nothing to do with this performance at all. We didn’t even have to arrange carpools!

When I told my daughter I might pop in to watch she didn’t seem to mind. When I asked her if I could bring along a big poster a la American Idol and yell out some whoop-whoops, she screamed and pummeled me with her fists.

‘What?’ I asked, ‘You don’t want me to embarrass you?’

She screamed louder. I promised to behave.

The show began with a group of Y6 girls sort of dancing, not quite karaoke’ing, but mouthing the words to ‘Fireflies’ by Ocean Eyes. Their teacher sat near me, reminding her students in the audience to show ‘big smiles’ and ‘encouragement’ and clap for those courageous kids on stage.

The acts that followed – a tap dancing duo, a drum solo and a comedy skit (boys in crazy wigs, always good for a laugh) – revealed an earnestness and seriousness of purpose that can still surprise me. Maybe the joy is in finishing?

It was now the Ladies GaGa’s turn. My daughter and the choreographer took the front two spots while the other three (taller) girls stood behind. Turns out the back three didn’t know the routine quite as well, and they spent a good portion of the dance giggling at each other and trying to catch up.

But those front two? Man, they owned it.

They sang along and danced with confidence, wonderfully free and unembarrassed. The steps were simple hip-hop moves – neither raunchy nor suggestive – and everyone clapped when it was over.

My daughter is changing so much. I turn around and her new self appears before me, taller than yesterday and oh so competent.

Many years ago, my friend, Christine Chapa, and I danced to “Night Fever’ at our elementary school talent show. We wore pink shorts and t-shirts with our names ironed on the back. I remember walking home from school that day under a brilliant blue sky. I still had my costume on, and I felt like a fluffy white cloud up there.

At my daughter’s show, I felt the same high. I also felt my eyes moisten, and I wondered why I get so emotional.

But right at the end, I managed a slightly muffled whoo-hoo!


Bloggers don’t get out much. At least the kind who don’t run review-related sites. From the safety of our laptops and smart phones, at home or at the coffee shop, we either comment on (famous) people and events happening in the larger world or we turn our gaze inward and write about the highs and lows of our own lives. It can get a little self-absorbed to say the least! So what I liked about this post, which came out in the Spring of 2012, is that it got me out of the house and in to the orbit of a very unique and very odd individual, Alice.
It was a heck of a lot of fun.

Go Ask Alice… For Lady Gaga Tickets

She has special powers, she knows things, she wants to be my friend.

pureglam_born_this_way_tour_lady_gaga_datesHer name is Alice, and I met her on my first attempt to buy Lady Gaga tickets. I know, I know, I’ve always been a bit harsh on the Lady, but she’s starting her Monster Ball tour in Asia – playing three shows in Hong Kong in May.

So you’ll have to allow me a little motherly over-enthusiasm as I entertain visions of EO and I enjoying the spectacle and grooving to ‘Americano’ (we loved it in Puss n’ Boots). But, alas, I underestimated LG’s worldwide appeal and absolutely have not been able to score tickets.

This is where Alice comes in. I met her on the very first day of ticket sales, when I fell in to the rabbit hole of savvy marketing, scalpers and professional line-standers. Here I thought I was being clever: no online nonsense or hanging on the telephone for me. I rocked up to the Tom Lee music store, old school style, before they opened for sales. Well, me and about 30 other people. Nuts! As I was waiting and barely budging in line, a local (Hong Kong’er) lady approached to take the spot of an elderly man standing in front of me. I squared my shoulders and prepared to confront this, this – line-cutter, when she said he was just holding the space for her. In retrospect the old guy probably thought he was waiting for lai see rice not a Government Hooker (though he might have been pleased with that too).

I was curious by this turn of events and the seemingly innocent and naive-looking woman named Alice. We got to talking and she told me she’d camped out the night before and was able to purchase eight top price tickets. The old guy was her chance to buy even more tickets. She was of indeterminate age (anywhere between 28 and 45 I’d say) and just slightly – how can I be kind here – maybe one card or two short of a full deck. If she believed in unicorns, I wouldn’t be surprised.

But Alice had a major score on her hands. Even the stylish woman in front of us with the Celine sunglasses said she’d easily pay twice maybe three times face value. Easily! Me, I was hoping for nosebleed seats somewhere affordable, and I wasn’t about to pay face value for top seats – US$200 – even if Alice had been willing to part with them. In Mommy math, two front section tickets equals a whole term of EO’s ballet lessons, with money left over to buy me a tea and muffin while I’m waiting for her.

Then Alice told me she didn’t even like Lady Gaga and was just purchasing tickets for a ‘friend’. I was intrigued. She’s a pro, is she? I asked more questions – what’s her angle, where’s the game? The teddy bear sweatshirt is just camouflage, is it? I learned of a graduate degree earned in the States, a disability (something about her leg though she had no limp), and an unsettling incident of getting messed over for Leon Lai tickets. He’s her favorite Canto-pop King – think of Jason Mraz, make him even more bland and put him in a sweater. Leon Lai is an infinity pool i.e. completely edge-less.

FYI: this is the wax version of Leon, in case you were wondering. Credit: © Picstudio |

FYI: this is the wax version of Leon, in case you were wondering. Credit: © Picstudio |

Alice told me of scalpers who hire the local Indian and Pakistani boys to keep a place in line. Labour is cheap in Hong Kong, so this scheme works for everything by the way, from concert tickets to iPhones to one-off McDonald’s Hello Kitty toys. We continued to talk in line, and just as I thought I was about to get some real info out of Alice, the Tom Lee clerk came out to tell us they were sold out.

The diehard concertgoer in me couldn’t let go without a fight and I was thinking Alice was my best chance. So we exchanged phone numbers, and I very nicely and shamelessly told her I just wanted a couple of tickets for me and my daughter. If you hear of anything…

That was a mistake.

I rushed off from Tom Lee to a meeting and, like a character caught in a David Mamet play, I started getting calls from Alice. Weird rambling one-way traffic about not wanting anyone to find out, maybe she’s told me too much, she doesn’t want any trouble and then: am I a Christian? Am I Catholic? Do I want to be friends? She was weirdly endearing, and I wasn’t scared. Honestly. In fact I started to feel like Jack Donaghy with my very own Kathy Geiss. (Cue the Marky Mark scrapbook! On second thought, no.)

Then last Thursday night – after I missed out on tickets for the second show – I got a late-night call from Alice to tell me of a bonus third show with tickets going on sale Friday morning. Bless her, she has my best interests at heart. But Friday morning was YO’s school show, and I knew my real responsibilities rested with watching her, dressed as a member of a lost tribe, playing a big drum and singing about how to save the environment. Let’s see LG top that!

My compromise was to rush down to Tom Lee after the show, thirty minutes after tickets went on sale. This was my last chance and when I arrived: ri-dic-u-lous! A line of 80-100 people waiting patiently outside, surrounded by a half dozen cops (Hong Kong loves a crowd to control!) and the remnants of a night or two spent outside: soiled newspapers, camp stools, pot noodle debris. I started to have flashbacks to Monsters of Rock. Inside the shopping arcade, a smaller group – college kids and the elderly – were allowed to queue by the entrance to Tom Lee. They’d been camping out for two days and were still waiting to buy tickets! After hearing that, I immediately turned around and left the building.

Remember that great ’80s franchise, Lethal Weapon? Where Mel Gibson had a mullet and Cuban heels and Danny Glover was the older, family man cop? And every time Mel and Danny got entangled in something crazy and dangerous, Danny would say, “I’m getting too old for this shit.”

That pretty much sums up my quest for Lady Gaga tickets. But I’m going to stay positive because I’ve learned a few things lately:

1. None of EO’s friends’ moms managed to get tickets either, so I’m pretty much off the hook.
2. I’m not a college kid anymore, and I do need to plan for retirement. A second career as a professional line-stander is looking pretty good to me now. So when Lady Gaga’s on her third comeback, I can get tickets for my daughter and my granddaughter.
3. Most importantly, I’ve made a new friend. Alice’s last text suggested I look in to LG’s Seoul show: tickets are reasonable and, she says, Korea is worth visiting.

When logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead…

The Trouble With Turtles

A Star Trek fan fiction that’s maybe a little, you know, fan fiction


CAPTAIN ‘HUBS’ T. KIRK: Spockmom, our current course is taking us to an outpost that calls itself ‘Asia’s world city’. Not much ambition beyond its own planet. What do we know of this quadrant?

SPOCKMOM: Very little. What we do know is bizarre. Despite extremely crowded conditions, hot, humid weather and a lack of good Tex-Mex, the population – a mixture of locals, foreigners and mainland shoppers – co-exists relatively peacefully.

KIRK: Relatively? Anything else I should be aware of?

SPOCKMOM: Governed by a distant, suppressive regime. Political frustration tends to flair when young tourists eat or urinate on the MTR. Democracy, like bladder control, looks increasingly problematic.

KIRK: Prospects for cooperation?

SPOCKMOM: Inconclusive.

UMYRNA: Captain, I’m picking up an island substation distress call. Priority fai-de-la?

KIRK: Fai-de-what?

SPOCKMOM: Translated as, roughly speaking: move your butt.

KIRK: Sounds a bit rude, don’t you think?

SPOCKMOM: The inhabitants are not known for their manners or patience.

KIRK: Prepare the transporter room.

Captain’s log, Stardate 11409.09 Island substation POK4LAM has issued a priority one distress call. We are set at warp speed six and assuming Klingons. We’re going in armed for battle.

I'm your new crew member, honest!

I’m your new crew member, honest!



KIRK: Turtles! They signaled for help because of turtles!

SPOCKMOM: Trachemys scripta elegans also known as the red-eared slider. The most commonly traded turtle in this part of the galaxy.

KIRK: What seems to be the trouble?

SPOCKMOM: A most curious situation. Two North American terrapins – an invasive species that carries the disease salmonella and has a life expectancy of some 30 years – were given to a three-year-old as a birthday gift.

KIRK: A birthday gift? For a toddler? Who would do such a thing?

SPOCKMOM: Apparently this is typical behaviour on planet Hong Kong. Illogical, to say the least.

KIRK: I’m not allowing turtles on my ship. Remember the tribbles?

SPOCKMOM: Yes, indeed. And the creatures before us now aren’t even cuddly.

KIRK: Spockmom, did you just say ‘cuddly’?

SPOCKMOM: I did, Captain, Hubs…


KIRK: It’s not that kind of fan fiction, Spockmom.


KIRK: We have orders.


SPOCKMOM: According to my readings, the terrapins, while healthy, are unlikely to reproduce. They’ve been living in a small tank for some eight years, and the daughter, now eleven, has grown bored with them. It’s clear that…

KIRK: They need a new home.

SPOCKMOM: A larger living space would certainly improve the animals’ physical and mental health as well as the overall well-being of the parents looking after them.

KIRK: This planet looks green and lush. Let’s release them in to the nearest body of fresh water.

Don't even think about it.

And yet…

SPOCKMOM: Illegal, Captain. And rehoming to larger quarters is not an option either. The local reptile rescue society has informed us of 100 other abandoned animals currently in the queue before these two.

KIRK: 100?!? This is madness.

SPOCK: One could say that. In fact, the mother just did.

KIRK: I did notice a certain frustration emanating from her, not to mention the small bald patches near her temple.


KIRK: Mister Scott.

SCOTTY (on board the Enterprise): Aye, sir.

KIRK: I want the latest status report on the reptilian rehoming wait list. What are our chances?

SCOTTY: Cap’n, I’ve tried everything – that queue won’t budge!


KIRK: We’ve done what we can, Spockmom. Let’s blow this popsicle stand.

Someone obviously didn't get the Federation directive.

Someone obviously didn’t get the Federation Directive.

SPOCKMOM: Blow, Captain?

KIRK: Not now. I mean, let’s get out of here.

SPOCKMOM: The mother seems to be blocking the exit. I detect a weapon, a device invented by the Native American tribes of…

KIRK: That’s a hockey stick. Watch out!


KIRK: What’s she saying? I can’t decipher her screaming.

SPOCKMOM: She says she cannot let us leave without the turtles. She must know that transporting animals from one planet to another is a Federation offense.

KIRK: She’s not listening to reason! That’s it: set phasers to stun. Ma’am, we don’t want to hurt you.


SPOCKMOM: If she touches you with the terrapins you must wash your hands immediately.

KIRK: By the far reaches of the galaxy, I’ll never let that happen!


KIRK: Ma’am, I know a shifty smuggler, deals in tribbles. You won’t want to know what he does with them, but I’m sure he’ll take your turtles. Spockmom, head for the door! She’s closing in!

SPOCKMOM: Not without you.


KIRK: Scotty, beam us up! Beam us up!



SPOCKMOM: Are you hurt?

KIRK: I’m fine. But Spockmom, do I detect concern?

SPOCKMOM: Captain, it is a logical reaction after battling a half-mad mother who finds she is unable to offload two growing terrapins.

KIRK: Turtles she never even asked for. I’m afraid we were of no help to her whatsoever. Tell me, Spockmom, how could this happen?

SPOCKMOM: I am not privy to the inexplicable nuances of human gift giving. I see no practical use for reptiles kept as pets.

KIRK: They’re not even cute.

SPOCKMOM: Captain – Hubs – did you say ‘cute’?


KIRK: I suggest we continue this conversation in quarters.



Beam me up_text

All photos by therockmom.


This is what happens when you take the blue pills and play with matches. (photo used with kind permission of Patrick Roddie*)

This is what happens when you take the blue pills and play with matches.
(photo used with kind permission of Patrick Roddie*)

In the midst of an exhaustive and ongoing tween & teen bedroom clean out this summer, I thought I was well placed to offer you, dear reader, some organizational advice on busting clutter for good. I’d gathered lists from ‘Uncluttering Your Space’, culled suggestions from ‘The Organized Home’ and collected every clear out tip from Martha Stewart and her team of experts. I was ready to be a fountain of wisdom. To help each and every one of you start the school year with hard-working, well-organized spaces.

I anticipated some battles with the kids: me wanting to purge, baby, purge and the girls, EO in particular, wanting to keep everything. I was prepared for budding hoarders and collectors.

I told you to go before we left Reno! (photo used with kind permission of Patrick Roddie*)

I told you to go before we left Reno!
(photo used with kind permission of Patrick Roddie*)

But then YO wanted to throw out these really great toys (all of her Legos! Seriously!), and my heart shrank. I’m not a sentimental person by any means – more prone to minimalism and insensitivity actually – but the clean out started to evoke strange sensations and reflections in me. I think you know what I’m talking about. All those bittersweet, strangled emotions unique to parenthood; feelings that continually surprise, beguile, frustrate and shadow us on our journeys as moms and dads.

What helped me through, and what I want to share with you now, is the idea of a clutter clear out as a great, big festival in the desert. An experiential project of togetherness, celebration and mind expansion, but without the sand storms, port-a-potties and painted, naked people.

Thus, in the spirit of the Burning Man festival, which kicks off in Nevada this Monday (25 August – 1 Sept), I give you:





1. Radical Inclusion

Burning Man states: we welcome and respect the stranger.

Yes, you might think this applies to the smells emanating from underneath your son’s bed. But what I’m saying is: during this emotional time of purging, if your child’s dolls or toy animals start talking to you, don’t be afraid. You might want to take pictures of them, as I’ve done. Maybe even keep them. In brightly colored storage boxes or pretty baskets if possible.

2. Gifting

Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving.

As is Grandma, whose favorite saying while visiting Stanley Market is known to be: ‘You can’t not buy it.’ This well-meaning shopaholic, often cursed but always loved, can be very tricky to deal with. After wading through EO’s 50 different purses and sleepover bags plus innumerable souvenir t-shirts, soft toys and pieces of costume jewelry, I say, as only a Hong Kong mom can: I’m sure our helper’s church will be happy to take them off our hands.

3. Decommodification

Burning Man is unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions or advertising.

Translated simply as: do not let those Rugby Sevens corporate freebies even leave the damn stadium.

4. Radical Self-Reliance

Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.

But you can take that as: If you choose the loft bed, that’s going to be you up there making the bed and changing the sheets. Just sayin’.

Embarrassed child realizes Mom has raided the dress-up box for Tutu Tuesday. (photo used with kind permission of Patrick Roddie*)

Embarrassed child realizes Mom has raided the dress-up box for Tutu Tuesday.
(photo used with kind permission of Patrick Roddie*)

5. Radical Self-Expression

At the festival, radical self-expression (Burning Man code for public nudity) arises from the unique gifts (= body parts) of the individual.

But for our purposes, I like to think it means: I am down with that uber-creative Austin & Ally poster montage blue-tacked to your wall, if that’s your thing.

6. Communal Effort

The Burning Man community values creative cooperation and collaboration.

Use, as needed, while cleaning:

  1. Stop making your sister do all the work.
  2. Put the device down, now.
  3. I said now.
  4. Clean out your &*#@)+% closet or there’s going to be no trampoline park!
  5. Okay, I’ll just get rid of everything.

7. Civic Responsibility

We value civil society.

Mommy will stop yelling now. You can keep the American Girl accessories, all 1,001 of them, and I’ll open this bottle of wine.

8. Leaving No Trace

We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather.

Ha ha ha. Okay, that’s not gonna happen. Next.

9. Participation

Our community is committed to a radically participatory ethic.

Crazy, I know, but EVERYONE has to help tidy up. This ain’t no free ride.

Say you'll remember. (photo by therockmom)

Say you’ll remember.
(photo by therockmom)

10. Immediacy

Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture.

This I get. The time is always now. You dig? Because as much as we love the fun, young people our children are now and wish with all of our hearts that they could stay 11 or 13 for a few more years, we can’t stop them from growing up, and giving away their entire Finding Nemo toy collection (still struggling with that one).

We will never get these years back. Ever. So don’t stress the clutter. Keep what’s important, donate and recycle the rest. Tell your daughter you have no idea what happened to that crossbow-and-arrow set that Gran brought back from Papua New Guinea. And, if you need a cleansing, cathartic bonfire, please make sure you’re about 50 miles out in the American desert. Upwind.

Now go, be with your kids.

And trust me when I say: save the wombats for your grandchildren.

Please don't forsake us. (photo by therockmom)

Please don’t forsake us.
(photo by therockmom)



*San Francisco-based photographer Patrick Roddie has been documenting Burning Man for over 15 years, and he very kindly let me use a few of his wonderful photos.

You can find all of his work at

Monday Morning Music: ’80s ALL WEEK

Hi all, how’s your summer going? It’s EIGHTIES WEEK at therockmom as I revisit and revise one of my most popular posts: Can It Really Be Summer Without ’80s Music? New! Improved! Now with Spotify playlists!

maneaterIt’s a funny thing, nostalgia. Recently, I found myself sitting in the way back of my stepmom’s minivan listening to her Best of Hall & Oates CD as we drove to dinner. Now if that’s not a recipe for summertime teen regression I don’t know what is. But there I was, YO sitting next to me, both of us enjoying ‘Maneater’. See a cover version of that track (by Grace Mitchell) was used in the recent Ben Stiller movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. YO’s good pal likes the new, cover song while YO is partial to the original. Me too. That groovy rhythm section to begin, then the sneaky guitar line, a hint of sax and… oh oh here she comes. We sang the chorus together – a small but sweet mother-daughter bonding moment – and I wondered: is it weird to be proud of my child’s taste in music?

On a slightly more musi-cophical note, I don’t know why bands/singers/artists insist on covering ’80s songs because it’s extremely difficult to improve on the original. I’m talking specifically about Moby’s recent ‘Rio’ cover as well as London Grammar’s take on the INXS tune, ‘Devil Inside’ – used for a Game of Thrones trailer. While I’m a big fan of both acts, I have to say these cover tunes were overly serious, dreary and well, just plain boring.

Eighties music is supposed to be fun!* So don’t forget the lightness, the slinky-ness, the insouciance. Guys in deconstructed linen blazers on the bow of a sailboat in the tropics!

I’ll leave you with that image as well as the first of FIVE ’80s playlists – all killer, no filler – to get you through the week. Enjoy!

*Unless of course you’re Morrissey.



There was a time when I thought ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’ was an H&O original.

We grow, we learn…