The Art of Stepping Back

by Louise

In the past months, there has been a lot of heated debate about politics, the virus and all sorts of issues. Being in the house with family and reading social media posts has resulted in heated back and forth both in person and in some forums. Also, unfortunately the back and forth sometimes spirals out of control into ugliness with ancient history dredged up.

I decided to step back. Not abandon reading but abandon heated arguments and back and forth discussions. I didn’t quit any groups and stalk away angry virtually but I told people that I would stop engaging, if I see things spiraling out of control.
It has helped me be in a more cheerful and positive frame of mind.

What are your strategies for dealing with conflict and disagreement both in person and online ?

164 thoughts on “The Art of Stepping Back

  1. As I’ve said before, Louise, if I lived in your shoes, I’d be planning out exactly which condo I was going to move into after your younger child heads off to college, and writing my speech to tell your husband and parents to have fun taking care of themselves.

    But you’re a better person than I am.

  2. As I’ve said on the politics page recently, I think there is a large and important difference between engaging constructively while refusing to bicker and backing out entirely. The latter might feel good to some people who don’t mind tension in their lives, but it will never get problems resolved.

  3. I enjoy arguing politics, but I take a kind of bemused approach to it all. I look at online political arguments as a way to hone my arguments for situations where it might actually matter. I haven’t had time recently in any case. ONe of my real regrets was not helping out our town progressive moms group more – they were really active leading up the elections, especially with regards to local elections, and I just wasn’t there for them.

  4. I have never liked watching TV/video news, and I found early on (2015/16) that listening to Trump’s voice really bothered me – probably disgust-related misophonia – and so I don’t listen to anything that he says. I also don’t watch TV or video news, and I have tried to step back my news consumption since it was making me agitated. Same with coronavirus coverage in March – I told DH to stop talking to me about it because (1) I couldn’t change anything and (2) all it was doing was making me anxious.

    I have gotten a lot better about in-person or over-email disagreements. I used to get paranoid that someone at work was mad at me if they sent me a curt email. I don’t know if this was from long-honed perfectionist tendencies, instilled not-Catholic-but-close guilt from my parents or my childhood choir director, getting fired early in my career, or what, but it has gotten better. It helped when I was promoted at work and now I can give fewer Fs about what people think! :)

  5. I used to get paranoid that someone at work was mad at me if they sent me a curt email.

    L, it took me a long time to understand that other people think about me a lot less than I though they did. And if someone was brusque or seemed to be in a bad mood, it likely had nothing to do with me.

  6. “What are your strategies for dealing with conflict and disagreement both in person and online ?”

    I just don’t care about a lot of stuff, which is probably due to my age and temperament. OTOH, I sometimes stupidly get anxious about small conflicts like dealing with a merchant that is resistant to refunding my money. I have to take deep breaths and remind myself it’s not an earth-shattering issue.

  7. “What are your strategies for dealing with conflict and disagreement both in person and online ?”

    Hiding until I get really angry. Oh wait, are we looking for productive ideas?

  8. Families . . . I spent a lot of time with my two sisters last week. Sister A, who I don’t see very often, in part because she lives 2,000 miles away and rarely visits, had an issue with a request that I texted on my mother’s behalf. I included the request in a group text that we have with the three of us and my mother. Instead of confronting me directly, Sister A texted Sister B, called me a slew of names and made false accusations of a pretty serious nature. I was aware of this because she used the wrong text string . . . she used the group text with the three of us and my mother. I never brought it up and Sister A never apologized. I just kept my distance for the duration of her visit and tried to be as civil as possible until she left for home.

  9. I abandon all conversations that aren’t productive when it comes to politics, the news, or its ilk. I just don’t have the stamina to argue with anyone. I save my conflict and confrontation mojo for when it actually matters. And I had to learn that lesson last year and this year pretty quick.

    I always think I’m upsetting people or making them mad. And the times when I didn’t know I made someone mad, and they neglected to tell me for over 6 months, infuriate me. I can’t fix something when I’m not told I’m wrong. So I tend to walk back and then just not say anything for fear of saying the wrong thing.

    All in all, 2020 has been a quiet year for me because of all this. I’ve made people mad (and wasn’t told for 6 months), so I spend a lot of time not talking. At work, no one is talking, so that’s easy. And with politics or whatever, I just walk away. I’m burnt out this year and I just don’t want to engage.

  10. I learned most people have no intention of changing their mind and facts don’t matter, so why should I try talking to a brick wall? I will engage to a point of trying to understand another point of view, but once I have that, I disengage.

    Two examples;
    1. At one point my mom was a die hard Rush Limbaugh fan. She said she heard on his show that most women in the US were aborting when a child was the wrong gender. At that time (and likely still true, but I didn’t look it up) most abortions took place prior to being able to determine the gender. When her response was that Rush wouldn’t lie, so the statistics must be wrong.
    2. A person I thought was reasonable, though quite conservative, fails the logic test (replace the names of the parties and it still fails the logic test). She says that ALL Republicans vote straight ticket so any ticket that had a Biden vote at the top and the rest of the races were votes for the Republican candidates, unless no Republican was running, had to have been tampered with. But at the same time, this tampering was done by Democrats in states where Republican officials oversee the elections.

    In both cases, if the other person brought up these topics, I would listen long enough to be clear on their point of view the first time and then just say we have to agree to disagree on this topic.

    I do talk with my DDs and push them to defend their point of view with facts that are verifiable. In the rare case that I find someone who really wants to talk about the facts or why a policy is good or bad, I am happy to have a lively discussion.

  11. I hate conflict. Really, seriously, it triggers massive anxiety. At one point I was sketching out a novel, and I ultimately punted because I got myself so worked up just trying to write the major conflict scenes between the main characters.

    So I generally opt out when things get contentious. I’m fine talking ideas back and forth, but when it’s clear that we’re not making any sort of headway, I opt out — I don’t like to debate in the HS debate “points-scoring” way, I like to persuade and reach mutual agreement (or respectful agree-to-disagree), so there’s just no point in continuing when the person I’m talking to is only interested in proving to the world how right he is.

    At work, it’s easier, though it’s still my least-favorite part of my job. I enjoy writing briefs; I enjoy less dissecting the other side’s briefs; and actual negotiation/passing on bad news I hate. I manage it through stepping back — this isn’t about me, it’s about finding a middle ground for my client and their opponent, and both parties have psychological drivers and need to get something out of it, so what is driving the other side and how can I figure out a way to meet that need at least cost to my client? It’s more fun, because it turns the negotiations into more of a strategy game, which I do enjoy.’

    When I have to engage personally, I think very long and hard about the most direct, least inflammatory way I can think of to state my needs or my concerns and ask for what I want. And then it still takes me a day or two to work up to it.

  12. Update on the school schedule: DD’s English teacher said they and another HS won the fight with DPS and are going to stay with the regular semester schedule. The teacher was so happy she was crying.

  13. Rhode, I’ve been holding a grudge against you because of something you posted two years ago that I didn’t like :)

  14. I think it’s interesting that “I hate conflict. Really, seriously, it triggers massive anxiety“ can mean such different things to different people. To some, it means that when there is conflict, they look the other way, try to act as if it weren’t there, while stepping over and around the growing elephant in the room. I’m more like the princess and the pea. Cant stand to have it there, swept under the rug, need to get it cleared out so everyone can relax and rest easily, no more twisting into contortions around it!

  15. I’ve stopped reading the politics page–not enough real discussion to be worth it.

    I also don’t watch the news on TV–that helps a lot.

  16. I usually go with a cheerful “wow, we’ll have to agree to disagree on that one!” and then change the subject or disengage. Most of the people I know IRL disagree with me on politics and the virus so I get some practice with this.

    I listened to an interesting podcast on this topic this morning – a conversation between two people who disagree on most things but profess that you can always find common ground. They said it is human nature to seek to self-protect, and most of people’s strongly held and angrily defended positions come from a place of self-protection. I will be thinking about this for a while. If anyone is interested it is Krista Tippett’s conversation with Bishop Michael Curry (of royal wedding homily fame) and Russell Moore (of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

  17. So NYC has banned indoor dining again. I feel badly for the restaurants although I think that sector is far more resiliant than retail. People who run restaurants know they can go under at any time, and have a mindset of picking themselves back up and trying again. But I don’t see how retail is ever going to come back. Brick and mortar stores were already under a lot of stress before the pandemic.

  18. My problem with the politics page is that I want to discuss actual politics – you know, Biden’s Cabinet picks, the runoff in GA, the endless election lawsuits. But politics get buried by an endless stream of COVID statistics.

  19. I just posted on the wrong page. I’m a long time Krista Tilpet fan.

    Mooshi, restaurants here have been carry-out only since early Nov. I worry about the guy who has an Indian restaurant right near us. The reason he closed during the first shutdown was that his wife had a baby and her sister couldn’t come, so he was needed at home. They have a 3-year old. They aren’t taking debit or credit cards any more, because of the fee. I worry about them, but there’s not much I can do, beyond leave a tip that’s unusual here, though paltry by US standards (20 for a 17.70 bill)

  20. Mooshi at 12:19 – +1000.

    The politics page started because the regular page kept getting hijacked by politics. Now the politics page is really masks/virus page.

  21. I always was amazed at how James Carville and Mary Matalin can be married despite being so far apart politically. And similarly with the friendship between Scalia and RBG.

  22. I have married friends that differ on politics and covid measures. Somehow they make it work. Basically the wife gets her way, and her husband goes along with it. Later he calls my DH to complain about it, which is funny because my DH sides with his wife. But, since it is two guys talking, it is mainly just friend speaking, DH sort of listening while continuing to surf the internet, and then they talk about college basketball and hang up.

  23. I’ve mostly stopped arguing controversial stuff on the internet. I had a very painful incident a few years ago where some online people I thought of as friends (we’d interacted daily for almost a decade) misinterpreted a comment I made and started saying I was a horrible person. They doubled down further when I attempted to clarify. It came out of nowhere- they were people who agree with me on 99% of things, and because we didn’t agree about a particular interpretation of 1 random event, they lost it on me. I felt hurt about it for months, even still to this day to some degree. And I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s almost no upside in getting into those type of online interactions.

    It’s a lot easier to viciously attack people and walk away on the Internet, in ways most people would never do in real life.

  24. Besides Carville/Marlin political differences, I’m curious how people handle other conflicts with intimate partners. It’s been different in all my relationships. I recall seeing my parents clash twice during my childhood, and there is one topic that I think my mom was wrong not to push for. I can’t exactly teach my son through example, but in my relationship with him, we argue strongly with each other, and make it clear during the fighting that we love each other, and that is what lets us go at each other so strongly. We also both (now that he’s older) ask the other one to finish their thought/want to make sure we are on the same point. I hope he will take this into his future relationships.

  25. Since the kids witnessed serious violence involving our neighbors years ago, we did not allow them to watch the news – initially it was because there was lots of coverage of the crimes, and then because I didn’t want any other news to spark any memories.

    DH will now watch some local segments with them in the room (they are now 7, 9, and 12) but we still try to limit what they see and hear.

    That has really trained me to limit what I say about politics. There are plenty of other things to talk about, anyway.

  26. I usually don’t discuss controversial matters in person but find that one-on-one discussions can be helpful at understanding perspectives.

    Yesterday, I was talking to a young engineer who loves her cat about perspectives and diversity, and I told the story of how in my previous group, an awkward conversation occurred between an engineer who loved her cat and described several veterinary visits for an issue and another colleague who had ~12 cats on his farm and never took them to the vet except to be spayed- his cats either died or they didn’t. She was aware of how farmers view cats differently from apartment dwellers but perhaps hadn’t fully integrated how working with a diverse group of people means we can have strong emotions about things (say, the proper way to care for a cat) but also work productively with people who don’t share those views. I didn’t use the example of DH’s colleague from SE Asia, who decided to kill, butcher and eat her pet rabbit before her trip home.

    Yesterday’s English error of the day was “orgasm” for “organism” in a large meeting.

  27. A few days ago, DH and I were talking through the inheritance topic. We realized we’ve never had a major argument about money. Definitely some disagreements about life choices (take the fun job! take the well-paid job!!) but never a knock down, drag out fight. We also combined our finances in our very early, quite poor 20s. I feel like our frontal lobes weren’t even fully developed.

    Anyway, that’s to say I can’t imagine have a lot of fundamental/practical conflict with a spouse.

  28. I have always had to navigate differing opinions first from a large extended family, diverse group of friends and then colleagues. I realized along the way, that I could hold my own but I didn’t have to be confrontational about it. Over the years, I realized that my mother is a good influencer who never gets into verbal spats yet gets her opinion across.

  29. WCE, in the Before Times there was a very real, very passive-aggressive disagreement over dogs. Co-worker1 (CW1) loves her dog like a child. Co-worker2 (CW2) isn’t a dog person, and only got one after an intruder broke into their house while they were home (wife won the argument). CW2 may make an innocent comment about giving his dog the cheap puppy chow from Costco, and CW1 will become very irate and go off about how cheap dog food is killing the dog and how dogs should only be given fresh organic meat from xyz market. It has actually gotten so bad they can no longer work together on teams, and everyone else in the office knows not to talk about dogs.

  30. SM, I am glad you clarified what you meant by your disapproval of walking away. I agree that sidestepping an issue or pretending that a conflict doesn’t exist, especially in a situation that is continuing, or deeply personal, is usually wrong. But see Ginger, above. Even in those cases, sometimes it is obvious that there is nothing to be done in the short run or it would cause more hurt, especially to other parties than the two in conflict.

    IMO it is truly a matter of self care to walk away from engaging with strangers or even acquaintances who are “wrong on the internet” in the words of the new Yorker cartoon, and incredibly freeing to walk away from maintaining so called friendships of proximity or habit when the interactions turn sour. If it is family, we may give up the fight after a while and choose to have less contact or block on FB or simply expect less from them than what we need or deserve. I personally have found that it is always necessary first to be willing to lose a relationship or job entirely before entering into battle, especially if it likely to be a war of attrition. And if I can get to that point, then I am much more able to determine whether the juice (the relationship) is worth the squeeze (more conflict that may not resolve anything).

  31. A few days ago, DH and I were talking through the inheritance topic. We realized we’ve never had a major argument about money. Definitely some disagreements about life choices (take the fun job! take the well-paid job!!) but never a knock down, drag out fight.

    Same here. We’ve never had a big fight about anything.

  32. “I always think I’m upsetting people or making them mad.”

    I have a family member like this and it causes him to misinterpret so much. For example, he may have said he didn’t have time this year to travel to visit Relative A. Then a few days later Relative A is a day late in responding to his text so he asks me if I think Relative A is mad at him about not visiting and he gets all worked up about it. Uh, no she’s not mad at him she just couldn’t get back to him right away. He does this all the time. OTOH, there are people like me who are often oblivious to the fact that we made someone mad. Either extreme is problematic. He probably constantly thinks I’m mad at him and I’m constantly oblivious to how I offended him. :)

  33. Denver, does never having had a big fight mean you’ve never had major disagreements, that one of you will acquiesce, that you work out your differences peaceably, or something else?

  34. Our estate planning lawyers must be glad not to be representing Tony Hsieh’s family. Or maybe not; it looks like full employment for life just trying to organize the post-its.


    Sorting Out Tony Hsieh’s Estate, From LLCs to Thousands of Sticky Notes
    The family of the recently deceased tech entrepreneur is trying to piece together his sprawling estate, apparently without a will

    Inside Tony Hsieh’s mansion in Park City, Utah, thousands of color-coded sticky notes covered the walls, many representing financial commitments the late Inc. co-founder made to employees, friends and local businesses, according to people familiar with the matter.

    Those notes, written by the tech entrepreneur in the months before his late November death and potentially functioning as informal contracts, are complicating his family’s race to piece together a sprawling and unwieldy estate in the hundreds of millions of dollars, according to people close to Mr. Hsieh and public records reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

    Among the other matters the Hsieh family is tackling: about $70 million worth of real estate he recently purchased in Park City and surrounding areas, much of it spread across about a dozen limited-liability companies; friends of Mr. Hsieh’s who continue to live in some of those houses and condominiums; and a $30 million “angel” fund planned for tech startups and other businesses in Park City, according to the records and people close to Mr. Hsieh.

    The complexity of the estate—both in what he owned as well as what he owed to others through various commitments—is compounded by what his friends have said were struggles during his final months with alcohol and drug abuse, particularly heavy usage of nitrous oxide.

    Some of those people said they don’t believe Mr. Hsieh was of sound mind when he made some of his recent investment decisions or employment agreements.

    Still, his plans marched forward. About a month before he died, property records show, a company affiliated with Mr. Hsieh bought parcels connected to a resort near St. George, Utah, known as the Holmstead Ranch, which includes cabins, a lake and an amphitheater.

    Property records don’t show the purchase price and the previous owner, Monte Holm, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

    The centerpiece of Tony Hsieh’s Park City property assets is a 17,350-square-foot mansion with a private lake that he bought for about $16 million.

    Mr. Hsieh, 46 years old, died from injuries sustained in a house fire in November in New London, Conn., where he was staying while making plans to check into rehab in Hawaii, the Journal has reported. The Connecticut medical examiner ruled the death an accident.

    The fire is still under investigation, according to New London Fire Chief Thomas Curcio.

    Mr. Hsieh was an early investor and the longtime leader of Zappos, the online shoe-retailer that he sold to Inc. in 2009 for more than $1 billion. He continued to serve as its chief executive until he retired in August.

    Mr. Hsieh is also well-known for his bestselling book on company culture, “Delivering Happiness,” and for his yearslong revitalization of downtown Las Vegas, where he plowed $350 million into development projects.

    Mr. Hsieh was worth hundreds of millions of dollars around the time of his death, according to close friends and an estimate by the business magazine Forbes. Family members last month filed court records saying he apparently died without an estate plan.

    In July, Mr. Hsieh’s cousin, Connie Yeh, who worked with him in Las Vegas and played a role in his property development in Park City, was granted power of attorney, giving her the ability to act on his behalf, court records show.

    After he was removed from the fire, Mr. Hsieh was eventually transported to and died in a burn center. Two days before his Nov. 27 death, and again about a week after the fire, Ms. Yeh petitioned a Las Vegas court to be named guardian of Mr. Hsieh and his estate, saying he was incapacitated, court records show. The judge didn’t rule on the request before Mr. Hsieh died. Ms. Yeh declined to comment.

    In early December, a separate judge in Las Vegas appointed Mr. Hsieh’s father, Richard, and brother Andrew as special administrators and legal representatives of the estate.

    The judge found that Mr. Hsieh’s personal and business affairs “require immediate attention to prevent loss to the estate,” the court records show.

    Richard and Andrew Hsieh traveled to Park City this week to begin unwinding the estate, according to people familiar with the matter.

    Already, several people who were staying in Mr. Hsieh’s properties were asked to leave, according to people familiar with the matter.

    The Hsieh family said in a written statement that “no decisions on the future of the estate have been made since Tony Hsieh’s recent, sudden and unexpected death.” As co-administrators of the estate, Richard and Andrew Hsieh are charged with “duties to gather information and to garner and protect the assets of the estate, and these next stages will take time to run their course,” it said.

    The entirety of Mr. Hsieh’s estate appears to be a “mess,” said Justin H. Brown, a partner at the law firm Troutman Pepper Hamilton Sanders LLP who is focused on estate planning. The sticky notes Mr. Hsieh left behind could present an unusual and difficult challenge, he said.

    “You’re going to have to look at each specific sticky note and decide if it’s a contract—is it binding?” said Mr. Brown, who isn’t involved in the matter. “Was he in the correct state of mind—did he have the capacity to even enter a contract?”

    While Mr. Hsieh also retained property in Las Vegas, the focus of the Hsieh family is currently in Park City, a mountain community of about 8,500 residents in Utah. Mr. Hsieh fell in love with the town after attending its annual Sundance Film Festival in January and after attending rehab there, according to close friends.

    The centerpiece of his property there is a 17,350-square-foot mansion with a private lake that he bought for about $16 million, and which he and people around him called “The Ranch.”

    Unlike Las Vegas, where areas of downtown were rundown when Mr. Hsieh began his revitalization around 2013, Park City is an affluent ski area with a thriving main street, said Dana Williams, a 43-year resident and the town’s former mayor. Some residents met Mr. Hsieh’s interest with skepticism.

    “He was going to bring art and culture and food to Park City,” said Mr. Williams. “There were a substantial number of locals who said, ‘Maybe you should learn something about us first.’”

    Mr. Hsieh didn’t articulate a broader vision for Park City as he had in Las Vegas, where he tried to create an arts and tech scene that could diversify the local economy, friends and local business owners said. Instead, in Park City he primarily bought properties and helped local entrepreneurs, often based on his friends’ and acquaintances’ recommendations, said those people and area residents who dealt with him.

    Mr. Hsieh promised some of his friends commissions of up to 20% for bringing in musicians, service workers and developers to support Mr. Hsieh’s investments in Park City and parties at The Ranch, agreements that were often only reflected in the sticky notes, the people said.

    He offered several friends access to his credit cards, and set up open tabs at restaurants including Fletcher’s Park City and The Eating Establishment, according to people familiar with the matter. Representatives for the restaurants didn’t respond to requests for comment.

    He propped up a local car service hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, Four Seasons Concierge Transportation, and used its drivers to ferry guests and friends around town, one of those people said. Four Seasons declined to comment.

    Another friend, Suzie Baleson, managed upward of 20 contracts for businesses and vendors funded by Mr. Hsieh through her own company, The Wellth Collective, according to people familiar with the contracts.

    The company describes itself on its website as creating “wellness focused events” around the world. Ms. Baleson didn’t respond to requests for comment.

    Alex Campbell, who owns a wine bar and RTT Concierge personal services in Park City, said his company brought wine and charcuterie to The Ranch three or four days a week, depending on how many guests were visiting.

    Mr. Campbell said Mr. Hsieh took an interest in him and made a point of bringing him business. At one event, people pitched ideas for businesses and got feedback from others in the room. Mr. Campbell said Mr. Hsieh was “very creative” and tried to make ideas better.

    Mr. Hsieh’s real-estate portfolio in Park City was spread across a number of LLCs with names such as Pickled Investments and Utah TH. He also bought homes and condos that comprise almost an entire block of Empire Avenue in Park City, property records show.

    While it isn’t unusual for wealthy investors to purchase properties through an LLC to protect their privacy, close friends say his Las Vegas investments weren’t structured in the same way.

  35. “Denver, does never having had a big fight mean you’ve never had major disagreements, that one of you will acquiesce, that you work out your differences peaceably, or something else?”

    It’s a combination of that and more. First, like DD said, we thought we were really aligned on all the big stuff going in to the marriage, so there wasn’t a huge gap to cover on a daily or recurring basis. For the stuff that did crop up, a really big part was just picking your battles. For us, the adjustment period of early marriage was when we ran up against assumptions that both of us had grown up with that were different; neither one of us was right or wrong, but we had just assumed something happened a certain way, and when the other didn’t automatically do that, it was annoying and a source of friction. Like, say, I shop for unit price, he shops for brands, and both of us just assumed that all normal people did what we did. For those sorts of things, the key was to be aware when the issue was an unstated expectation based on an assumption, to realize that neither one of us was “right,” and then to negotiate something that worked for both of us.

    For most other issues, we pretty quickly figured out that the person who cares the most should win. So, yeah, he gets his Tropicana and Charmin, and I buy generic for the stuff he doesn’t care about. And there are very few things both of us were equally passionate about.

    Some areas we built in ways to disagree. Money was a recurring theme early on, because he spent what I considered ridiculous amounts of money on ridiculous things. The solution was to give each of us some spending money each month, so he could buy toys without criticism, and I could save extra and feel good for coming in “under” budget.

    We did have one major source of recurring conflict, and that was his authoritarian parenting style and anger when the kids were little. But we didn’t “fight” about it in the normal sense. We snipped at each other, we’d try to discuss how to manage in calm times, I’d just take the kids away when he was pissy to avoid an outburst, etc. When he angrily yanked DS’s coat in a way that could have ended DS up in the hospital, I yelled at him to STOP, I took DS away, we stayed apart for most of the day, I worked through multiple versions of what I wanted to say, and then that night I told him, in a calm-but-angry voice, that he was damn lucky we weren’t at the hospital and dealing with CPS right now, and that we were going to go get counseling NOW, I didn’t care if he didn’t believe in it, he was going. He grumbled but immediately agreed — he knew he’d crossed a line. And I think my very firm instruction was effective largely because I did not have a track record of demanding things like that, so he was crystal clear that I was serious.

    Different people are different. One SIL and her DH like to discuss every freaking decision in excruciating detail; the other pair bickers constantly. Either of those approaches would drive me batshit. But it works for them, just like our system works for us.

  36. Meme, that relative appears to have found a cowardly way to say what she feels. Had I any interest in continuing a relationship with a person behaving that way, I’d find a way to let them know they had been heard. That’s where the art of engaging without squabbling comes in. But there are certain individuals with whom I would not make the effort, although I expect to see repeatedly. It all depends on what the relationship means, whether it’s ok to have it be superficial.

  37. LfB’s marriage sounds much like mine. In our marriage, I’m the angrier, more detail-oriented parent and he’s more likely to let things go and not even be aware of what he’s letting go on a daily basis. I try to be better about letting things go, he tries to be better at diligently enforcing rules on an hourly basis even when he’s tired and our children survive.

    We’ll see in a few decades what they learned.

  38. Laura and WCE, interesting about the “cultural” issues. Thata one thing that’s easier about dating someone with whom there is an obvious cultural difference, particularly if neither is from the dominant culture—doing things differently just isn’t surprising. Not that it takes care of issues like parenting.

  39. Denver, does never having had a big fight mean you’ve never had major disagreements, that one of you will acquiesce, that you work out your differences peaceably, or something else?

    A and C (which includes B). I can’t think of anything that we’ve had a huge disagreement about, and we area always able to work things out very amicably. Sometimes working it out means one person acquiesces because we realize how important it is to the other.

  40. Update on the ScholarMatch student I’m helping with college apps: he found out today that he has been awarded a full-tuition scholarship to Wisconsin! It’s through the Posse program, which I’ve never heard of before, but seems very cool. The next step is to look for scholarships to offset room and board.

    Update on my student: I spoke with her clinical coordinator this afternoon and told her what is going on. She said she would talk to her about it. I got a text later from my student saying that she spoke with her and will stick to her schedule. I will talk to her further on Monday.

  41. Congrats to your DD, Denver!

    DH and I very rarely disagree, and never about ‘big’ stuff (money, kids, where to live, etc.). We have a shorthand, “one brain”, which explains how we think. In the past we used to have what I interpreted as fights and what he interpreted as teasing, where he would complain about my going to rehearsal every week (solved by getting our nanny to stay late those nights), and very early on we used to have arguments* where he would complain about the way things were (speed limits, etc.) and I would think he was attacking me when he was just venting.

    *By arguments, I mean he would vent/complain and I would cry or be quiet or both.

  42. “ One SIL and her DH like to discuss every freaking decision in excruciating detail; the other pair bickers constantly. Either of those approaches would drive me batshit. ”

  43. Denver – congrats to your DD!

    DH and I agree on all the big stuff. issues come up more when we’re both tired and get cranky with each other.

    LfB I really like how you described things. Particularly the “differences in underlying expectations” and “who cares more.” When I got married, my aunt gave me good advice along those those lines. For the “differences in underlying expectations” she described how birthdays were a big deal in her family growing up – so she was disappointed when her husband didn’t do much. Turned out birthdays weren’t a big deal in his family’s culture.

    And I’m the type of person who wants everything to be fair/split 50-50 – and it’s taken me a while to embrace the fact that if I care more (e.g. I hate crumbs on the counter), I should just own it and take care of it. And this isn’t about DH slacking off – he does just as much stuff around the house as I do. We just sometimes have different priorities about what we care about getting done.

  44. “ And similarly with the friendship between Scalia and RBG.”

    The thing here is that they both seemed to be fundamentally decent people with a lot in common outside of politics. I have those sorts of friendships too!

  45. “ very early on we used to have arguments* where he would complain about the way things were (speed limits, etc.) and I would think he was attacking me when he was just venting.”

    This was us too! DH gets irritated about little things and vents loudly & emphatically. I learned early on to just get out of the way rather than try to make him “feel better”. DS does it too most of the time. He is much calmer about big things. But the batteries dying in the garage door opener? Rage!!

    We are not bickersons – we pick our battles and hav established routines around things that matter to each of us. We do occasionally have a big fight, but I couldn’t even tell you what any of them were about. We see eye to eye on most things. Most of my annoyances are more roommate-y type things. Especially with Covid.

  46. Off-topic- I went into my office today for the first time since March. The local utility was doing maintenance work so we had no heat or power at our house for most of the day. We could have managed without power (making sure our laptops were charged and connecting to the internet via hotspots on our phones – but the thought of no heat was not appealing. I took DS with me – we were the only ones in my office.

    I was giddy at having two monitors again. And my chair. I have missed my chair (working from my home, I spend my day on the sofa with my laptop). Ironically, I was supposed to take today off as a vacation day – but it was a vacation from being in my house 24/7.

    It was interesting to listen in on DS’ classes. His history teacher told the class that if 75% of the kids turned on their monitors, he and his 4 year old daughter would do a song for them. Which worked. I feel for the teachers – it would be so hard to teach to a screen where no one has their camera turned on.

  47. SSM – it’s one of my favorite movies. And it’s not bad for teaching a kid the basics of a trial procedure, as far as I know them.

  48. “arguments* where he would complain about the way things were (speed limits, etc.) and I would think he was attacking me when he was just venting.””

    Apparently a bit of a reversal of the stereotypical Mars/Venus roles.

    Did you try to fix the problems about which he was venting?

  49. “We see eye to eye on most things. Most of my annoyances are more roommate-y type things.”

    Interesting way of putting it. I never thought about it in those terms, but I think that’s true of us as well.

  50. Interesting analysis,Finn. I suspected that it was pretty good, aside from the obvious comedy aspects.

  51. For the first 13 years of our relationship, we fell into the category of LfB and DD. We had no real arguments as we were on the same page or let the person who cared more have their way. Then within 3 years there were 4 major incidents all related to providing care for another person (our DD#2, my mom, and potentially me), the last one was about 2 years before his cancer diagnosis.

    I think if we’d been discussing how these had affected other people, we would have just agreed to disagree about who should have done what and if each person’s actions/reactions were reasonable. However, being a participant in these incidents makes a huge difference. At a high level, although I pointed out (not in a heated moment) how hurtful his words and actions were, he has been unwilling to acknowledge that they were or apologize. The relationship has never been the same.

  52. “ It was interesting to listen in on DS’ classes. His history teacher told the class that if 75% of the kids turned on their monitors, he and his 4 year old daughter would do a song for them.”

    It’s not required? DS is required to have his camera on. Anytime I’ve passed through his classes, it’s a sea of kids on screen. He says that some of them turn them off when they go to break out rooms & the teacher isn’t there.

  53. @Finn – Living with other people can be annoying. Living with the person I love & married is much less annoying, but it’s still a lot of togetherness and someone who has different ideas about the little things like how to squeeze the toothpaste.

  54. @Austin – The way you explain it, it makes a lot of sense to me. And I am so sorry. I don’t know if there is a lesson to take beyond to listen to my partner. Really listen. And accept responsibility for mistakes.

  55. DD is also required to have her camera on for school and the principal sends out zoom etiquette reminders once a month. I think she had to sign something at the beginning of the year about Zoom. Our district requires us to select hybrid or remote at the beginning of each quarter. DD attended school via hybrid for the first quarter. She started the second quarter as hybrid, but then couple of kids tested positive so many people had to quarantine. She doesn’t want to quarantine so now she is all remote. This wasn’t supposed to be an option, but there was one day before Thanksgiving where 90% of the kids didn’t show up so the District had to create a new option called remote, but present. They were marking the kids was absent for contact tracing, but parents complained so they finally updated the software to allow for kids that have to be remote due to quarantine or personal choice.Her school has remained open for the entire year, but so many kids chose to remain at home this quarter that the teachers are now primarily teaching to the remote kids since very few kids ae int he classroom with them. The negative is that she rarely leaves our house and she doesn’t “see” anyone except on a screen.

    She has the ACT today and it wasn’t canceled! There were five or six test locations in the county when she registered in August. A couple of locations are still open today, but the majority are closed. I would estimate that most of her friends are traveling at least an hour this morning to Long Island and NJ because the ACT reassigned those kids to other schools. She lucked out as her test location is only about 1/2 hour from our house.

    I wasn’t surprised when I learned that some of her friends (all juniors) are taking the test for the third time today. They studied all summer and took it in September and October. This is her first time because she had no interest in studying for the test during the summer. Her mock scores are ok, but I am not sure how she will do in a real situation with a mask. We told her that we don’t care, but I think she is putting a lot of pressure on herself because of her friend group.

  56. Congrats Denver to your DD and also to your Scholar Match kid.

    Kids school student council decided to have Christmas Spirit week, next week so I was looking for Christmas socks, ugly sweaters, a Hawaiian Christmas shirt. The kids have hats, DD has some festive hair bands, we have bells. An attempt to get into the holiday spirit as much as one can.

    Our neighborhood is having a holiday lights contest and a food drive. And carol singing – I don’t how they will pull this off, distanced but together carol singing with masks.

  57. Here is an article on topic. Ignore if you can the fact that it is written by Jane Brody with her usual self congratulation somewhere in tge text.

  58. DD – The Posse program is really impressive. My nephew’s girlfriend was part of the program at Syracuse. It’s a very competitive process, and the students who are chosen are all outstanding. Sponsored by the Posse foundation.

    The idea is that under-represented students are more likely to succeed at a school if they come in with a cohort of people they know and trust – their “posse.” So your Scholar Match kid will be entering Wisconsin along with 9 other Posse students from Denver. That group of students will have a faculty or staff mentor at Wisconsin who will meet with them as a group over the summer at a weekend retreat sponsored by the Posse foundation. They will get to know one another, learn some academic success strategies, and build camaraderie. They will maintain contact over the summer, and might arrive to school a little earlier than the typical freshman. Once school starts, they’ll have weekly meetings with their cohort and their mentor, and if there are Posse students from other cities at the university, they’ll likely get together with them as well. Once a semester, there is a “Posse plus” retreat, where Posse students and mentors from a bunch of schools get together; it’s called “plus” because each student can bring a non-Posse friend.

    It’s really an outstanding program. Kudos to your student!

  59. Congrats Denver Dad on both your “kids” receiving scholarships. I’ve read great things about the Posse program. Personalized and ongoing support seems to be a successful strategy.

    “And I’m the type of person who wants everything to be fair/split 50-50 – and it’s taken me a while to embrace the fact that if I care more (e.g. I hate crumbs on the counter), I should just own it and take care of it. And this isn’t about DH slacking off – he does just as much stuff around the house as I do. We just sometimes have different priorities about what we care about getting done.”

    I don’t adhere to the idea of a 50-50 split, so I’ve come to accept those crumbs on the counter that drive me crazy. I’m the only stickler, so I usually am the one wiping down counters if I want them clean.

    I’m sorry, Austin. I don’t think most of us have had our marriages tested in that way, at least not yet.

  60. I know that i wouldn’t be friends with my brother if he wasn’t my brother. DH has a similar relationship with his brother. We maintain “good” relationships because our parents are happy if we are all friendly-ish. The bonus is the cousins that are friends and have fun with each other when we get together for holidays etc.

    We are going through a very stressful situation with DH’s cousin because she is estranged from everyone in the family. She moved to the other side of the county over 30 years ago and she has only returned a couple of times. When her mother died in 2019, she came for the funeral and to sell her mother’s home and other property. This was my first time in a situation like this one; meaning that the rest of the family sees each other on a regular basis and is friendly. She was smart about the situation and she traveled with friends. She never married and has no kids. She transported her own “family” so she wasn’t alone, but the weeks before and after her mom’s death were very awkward. I was naive and didn’t realize that it wouldn’t just be “over” on the day of the funeral because her mom left a very sloppy legal document for a will.

    My DH is dealing with this mess on behalf of his father’s estate. It is terrible because he is her first cousin and she only has two “first’ cousins since she is an only child and her mother was an only child. He even attended remote court appearances on behalf of his dad’s estate to deal with this mess. This is a very small estate in terms of $$$$, but emotions are high because of all of the tension and her estrangement from the family. The words and language that were used in front of an attorney even before her mother’s burial were shocking to me. My DH thinks that my family says too much – meaning they are honest and never hold back. This can be difficult for someone that is not used to it. I would much rather have open lines of communication even if it is sometimes painful vs. the situation in his family. As an outsider, I am watching 35 years of estrangement unfold in the worst possible way – in front of attorneys and a judge. All of this for a very small amount of money, but everyone is stuck in their corner due to old feelings.

  61. “In sickness and in health” can be tested in unexpected ways by mental illness or addiction, which are sicknesses but if willfully unacknowledged or untreated by the sufferer can lead to behavior that is indistinguishable from pure mental cruelty, heedlessness, or neglect (especially of children). Even though I married my DH when he was in his 60s with full knowledge of his shortcomings and treatable mental health issues, our biggest conflicts are over his intermittent but stubborn disregard of a) health related procedures and b) simple reminders and requests. I dont blow up any more, but do remind him that despite his genuine love and appreciation of me, the self defeating actions are a direct way to make my life harder and more limited. Only last week his improving digestive issue took a backward step. I started to wrack my brain and he finally confessed that he had started using a forbidden food, which was still in the back of a cupboard, because he couldn’t find the approved replacement quickly and I was out on a walk. It takes weeks to reset his gut. I know he has resentment of being so infirm, and he acts out to assert small bits of control, and he was sorry and abashed like a small child begging for mommy’s forgiveness. But I was still resignedly displeased.

  62. We are a two toothpaste tube couple. I don’t squeeze from the bottom, DH does. We settled on each having our own. I hate when counters have dirty dishes on them (the result of growing up in house that always had dishes left on counters until the morning), and although DH will help to keep them clean, he is unable to open the trash drawer and recycle the mini coke can from lunch.

    Caregiving changes the dynamic, whether it is the spouse or children that require it. Austin mom, hugs to you

  63. I’ve never heard of the Posse program before; sounds like a good way to “break into” predominantly white institutions that have low retention rates for Black and Hispanic kids.

  64. Ivy – no, kids aren’t required to turn on their cameras. And if you don’t have a majority of kids turning their cameras on, then none of them want to do so because they feel like everyone will be looking at them. So I think that 75% threshold is critical so there are enough kids onscreen that they don’t feel like everyone is staring at them (well they probably still feel this way – but it’s not quite as bad as it would be if there were only a handful of kids). I wish they would require kids to turn on their cameras – but I think there were concerns about equity – kids may not have cameras; may not have an internet signal that allows for video (I run into this problem sometimes); kids may have anxiety and this could exacerbate it,….

  65. And +1 for a separate COVID page. I used to like checking out the politics page and getting a sense of different points of view. But it’s so heavily dominated by COVID now and it’s usually the same stuff (although it is interesting to hear from totebaggers who live in other countries what their experiences are like).

  66. Re: the NY Times article on estrangement – my youngest brother is estranged from my other brother and periodically from my dad (my dad is more willing to put up with my brother’s rants). The break happened after my mom died. My youngest brother is an alcoholic – and after he’d been drinking, would call and start ranting about all the perceived inequities he’s experienced in the family. He seems to believe that arguing and yelling are part of a “real” relationship. Whereas I view it as toxic. I have the feeling it’s way to drive us all away. And my brother recently got divorced from his partner (who is the sweetest person). It makes me sad because he was the sweetest kid. But I don’t think anything will change until he’s able to stop drinking. And figure out what to do with all the rage he is carrying inside. And this is such a tough time – he moved to a new city – but it’s difficult to meet people, go to treatment or support sessions (if he was willing) at this particular point in time.

    And like the article says, I feel bad that my kids don’t really know my youngest brother.

    This part of the NY Times article resonated for me – but I don’t see this happening with my brother anytime soon (the ret of us are willing to move forward but he seems stuck on rehashing past injustices).

    The article: “Most important, I told both that for a reconciliation to work, rehashing of past hurts and rebuttals had to cease and the relationship restored on a new footing that goes forward, not backward. Dr. Pillemer calls it “living life forward.”

    As he wrote, “People wish to impose their vision of the relationship’s past on others. They insist that the other person must understand what really went on and admit his or her critical failings.” But as two long estranged and now reconciled sisters he wrote about discovered, “Going over the past was just not going to work for us; we learned how to move ahead together.”

  67. Also I do want to acknowledge (as many of the comments in the NY Times story express) that sometimes cutting yourself off from your family of origin is the healthiest thing you can do.

  68. On video cams in distance learning: my son’s school initially planned to use them when schools went all-digital in the spring, but quickly ran into German privacy laws. My son and I are not sure if he would’ve been permitted to zoom into a class. I had a video conference with one teacher, but they were not permitted to have kids use cameras for classes.

    A question for the wordsmiths. :What phrases/cliches are there to refer to making the best of a situation you’d rather not be in?

    Seattle, sometimes “what happened” was a key in one person’s life and played a major role in making them the person they are. I can’t imagine getting to know a person with whom I wanted to move beyond the kind of pleasantries exchanged at the mailbox and not wanting at least a basic understanding of how they got to be who they are. Shutting that down and insisting on a “new relationship” devoid of connection to the past is unworkable at best. It’s hard to hear that something you or a family member you think of as a white hat did could have seriously harmed the other person, but vulnerability is part of caring. And see above posts about who cares most. No matter what someone’s intent was, denying that the other person was hurt is gas-lighting and deeply disrespectful. But of course, it’s possible to have dinner a couple times a year with someone who’s basically a long-term acquaintance.

  69. ” And if you don’t have a majority of kids turning their cameras on, then none of them want to do so because they feel like everyone will be looking at them.”

    Absolutely! It’s the same with adults. I can see that it does work better when the students generally do have cameras on though. For DS’s classes – I actually don’t know if it is technically “required” with enforceable rules (e.g., being marked absent or docking participation points) or only very strongly encouraged. I have not paid all that much attention to the “rules”. Regardless, participation is near 100%.

    That said, DS has told me that he has turned his camera off in Spanish a few times for a minute or two to be able to let off steam in private, and then turned it back on. He really hates his Spanish teacher (he’s not wrong – she’s the worst). Letting off steam = throwing a pencil at the wall, giving a huge eye roll/sigh, making faces, probably swearing under his breath, etc. Basically the same things I do on conference calls when not on camera. ;)

    One of my friends got a call from the teacher asking her about their “internet problems” because this was her 5th grade son’s excuse for not using his camera a few days in a row. She was livid!! (at her son, not the teacher who she thought handled it nicely)

    @DD – Congrats to your DD! Does this change her thoughts about where she might go?

    @Lauren – I’m glad your DD was able to take the ACT this year. When I was in HS, I had to drive over an hour to take the ACT, but that was just because I lived in a small town. Having to drag out of bed before dawn for an 8am test when I was 16 was not pleasant and probably brought my score down a little. I wonder if they have more sites these days.

    I agree with others that sometimes it is just best to avoid certain people – even family members – as much as possible.

  70. DD,

    Congratulations to your DD and your ScholarMatch student. In our college news, DS got in to Arizona.

    Austin Mom,

    I’m so sorry.

  71. RE the camera issue. It seems to vary by school district. My kids’ district doesn’t require cameras on. It did take several parents calling the principal and superintendent to communicate to the teachers that the kids weren’t required to have cameras on. Among other issues, lots of kids, my own included, don’t have sufficient internet capacity to stream video four or five hours a day five days a week.

    A neighboring district did require that cameras were on and ended up with some brouhaha because a kid had a Trump campaign poster in his background. The teacher had a conniption and kicked him out of the class. General stupidity all around.

    Classes might work better if kids have their cameras on and all the kids had a nice, quiet, not obviously poor home background. But, given that lots of kids live in poor home, metered internet capacity is expensive, if it is available at all, siblings everywhere, it just doesn’t seem right to require that cameras are on.

  72. Regarding the camera issue- this brings to mind an experience I had a long time ago. Leading up to Y2K, I was working in the Tokyo office of a large global bank, we had daily global video calls with the tech teams in each major IT center. I would sit in our conference room in the middle of the night, and the teams from London, NYC, Zurich, and Bangalore would dial in. I was the only person in Tokyo so in each of those offices, my face was projected hugely onto their screens while I would see a crowd of tiny people in each of their screen cities. Of course, I often forgot I was so prominently displayed! I was tired, I was under pressure! Tokyo was to be first to dross the y2k threshold! It was midnight my time! In subsequent visits and calls I realized that I was a minor celebrity. Jeez, I don’t want to even think about what people saw.

  73. I noticed that in our company senior leaders have varying camera and background skills. Some are still sitting in places where the light casts a glare on their faces. Others try to have interesting backgrounds which are bookshelves with tchotchkes and books arranged just so. Employees notice and will ask about said background. One senior person confessed that she had little to do with her very artfully arranged bookshelf.

    My kids make sure that whatever part of their rooms are on camera look good. And they do get to peep into their classmates rooms. I was told that the daughter of a home builder had the best looking bed built into the wall.

  74. In DD1s engineering class they had a card house building project and then had to submit a 30 sec flipgrid video explaining technique, problems they ran into, etc. The teacher took about a dozen of them and sent out a video. In one a little brother was walking down the stairs, notices the camera is on, and starts dancing. In another one a little sister came into the shot and kicked the tower over. As a parent I loved it because it showed the true at home learning experience.

  75. @Louise – The senior leaders in my org mostly have the PR team advising them on their backgrounds/lighting etc. It’s the level below that is all over the board, yet expected to join with video or lead discussions over video. I am very thankful to be in a real home office set up now – especially as I am leading people from other offices that I have never met in person!

    I can understand all the pitfalls with the camera use. But in our diverse, urban public middle school there has been surprisingly little drama/discussion/outrage that I’m aware of. Nothing that the teachers, school, other parents or DS has mentioned.

  76. And yes – even DS, who rolls out of bed and attends class – was concerned with his new background when we moved & angled and arranged it the way he wanted it.

  77. Austin – thank you for sharing. It’s easy to agree on things when you’ve never been stress-tested. And to be fair, DH and I have had lots of big fights, just not about money. But we’ve never had a money crisis.

    We had a very sick child (many years ago now). There were multiple episodes of CPR. When it was all over and she was clearly getting better and going to stay better, I was mad and DH. He didn’t seem shaken by the whole experience. He said, “Why would I be, child is fine now?” Eventually, it stopped bothering me. If things had gone terribly, I don’t know if we could have stayed married – we just process crisis so differently.

  78. On the Covid-free week of politics—I don’t know how to do that. I mean, I’ve just been reading a cosmeticians’ discussion* on a website for hand workers. Some of them want to be ordered to shut down and point out that their interaction with clients is much longer than a doctor’s and the difficulty of getting people to wear masks (for things other than hair cuts). Others want to work. None of them have the desperation of people living hand-to-mouth who are about ready to go to the food bank that I’d expect in a US discussion. Is this Covid related? Sure, but it’s also about social benefits and workers’ rights.

    *hair dressers and some other bodily services providers can do their jobs, but work on brows and lashes, manicures, tattoos, and prostitution are all off limits for now.

  79. Flyover, thanks for the info on the program, although he lives in Queens so I’m guessing he’ll be paired with students from NY :)

    SBJ, congrats to your DS! If he wants, I’m sure my DS would be able to talk to him (by that I mean email/text/DM/whatever other social media) about what it’s been like at Arizona this year.

    Lauren, that’s great she got to take it. I hope she did well!

    @DD – Congrats to your DD! Does this change her thoughts about where she might go?

    No, she is still about 75% set on MSU but wants to visit OSU before making a finally decision. We have plans to go up there in February if we are able to.

  80. “In sickness and in health”

    Meme, I understand your struggles. DW’s myasthenia diagnosis has really changed a lot of things for us. But both of us trying to deal with her guilt about it is at least as hard as dealing with her physical limitations.

  81. SBJ, congrats to your DS!

    Interesting how much overlap there is between totebag kids’ schools. DD, for all his protestations about not being a totebaggers, has both kids’ acceptances overlapping with other totebag kids, and it’s looking likely that his DD will be attending the same school as another totebagger’s kid.

  82. DD, wouldn’t the fact that so many totebaggers’ kids are applying to those schools mean that they are totebaggy schools?

  83. DD, however you see the “TB” label, your kids are doing awesome jobs at getting themselves situated for their next steps in life. Well done, all of you!

  84. I would just like to point out that the vast majority of the participants in TheTotebag blog and their children or parents did not attend the small sliver of elite universities or high priced SLACs that in our discussions are treated as “totebaggy”. In fact, those of us who did almost all have “compensating circumstances”, such as parents who were immigrants, or not college educated, or financial woes along the line, or are just from a different era when admission was “easier”, or the elite institutions are service academies or offered faculty tuition. This helps the other participants to treat us as regular folks, adhering to The distinct preference in the group for (albeit UMC), moderation in all things. So I find DD just as totebaggily concerned for his children’s education as the east coast folks who appear to invest a great deal more time and angst. He takes his kids to visit tons of schools. He guides them. He loojs after their non academic needs too. They are well situated. Plenty of us have recognized that we have kids who need a different or less academic path altogether. Putting tons of energy into the individualized needs of your kids is the totebaggy part. Not the institution of higher education.

  85. Thanks SM!

    Meme, I agree. At the same time, I generally think of college totebagginess as the “building a resume” part of it – the kids who stay at school until 5 or 6 every day doing seven ECs (I know that’s standard during the season if you are playing a sport), then are up until midnight doing homework for their 5 AP classes, and squeezing in an SAT prep class on top of everything else. And then applying to at least 10 colleges, where 7 or 8 are reaches.

    My kids (especially DS) have definitely figured out Rhett’s “maximizing the return per unit of effort”. DD is pretty obsessive about her grades, but she never took an overly demanding schedule. This year she only has four classes and a student assist for gym, and two of the classes are photography and 3D animation. She’s in one EC, which even in the before times just met once a week at lunch, and she volunteers one day a week at the animal shelter.

    I might be totebaggy in taking the kids to visit colleges (although I enjoy the trips as well and it’s a nice way to spend some time together), but none of the schools they applied to are competitive (except for Mines, which DD applied to with no real interest in actually attending). They are a bunch of middle-tier flagships and one directional. So that’s another reason why I don’t think of it as totebaggy.

  86. Meme +1

    I think the Totebag part is that most of us try to find schools (K-12 and college) that are a good fit for our kids and provide a solid education. When “great” is not achieved – the totebaggy part seems to come out as we try to navigate with administrators, teachers, or find substitutes for poor schools and/or classes. I’ve noticed that many of us pull back from the day to day as our kids get older and begin to navigate through HS. Most posters seem to let their kids choose their own first choice for college as long as it fits within the finances of the family. I see many similar patterns even though the ultimate choice of where to attend college is not the same.

  87. Late to conversation, but I, too, love Krista Tippett. Years ago, her show was on Sunday mornings around the time my alarm would go off. That and the hymn show were my spirituality for the week. (I’m a recovering catholic) It was a great way to start Sunday.

    I’m a political and news junkie, but I find my interest has waned in the last few years. Its boring when there are only 2 loud sides that refuse to hear the other. I enjoy listening to multiple views and have friends on all parts of political spectrum. There is no right or wrong, but you have to hear all views to figure out your own. I get the Carville-Matalin relationship. Their kids are probably going to be interesting adults to be around.

    I feel very fortunate that my family little to no estrangement. After my dad’s stroke 2 years, my sister and i worked really well as a team.

  88. DD. Perhaps I skim over the college and calculus discussions too quickly, but I dont recall more than one or two of the totebag kids who even gave off a whiff of heavy resume building. There was concern about middle school tracking or how many APs, but that seemed to be more about winning scholarship money or whether a particular state funded school or program might be available. It is true that your family aimed at many terrific regional options with low college prep stress. I wasnt particularly singling you out. More reflecting on the group as a whole.

  89. My comment is about Southern Totebaggy. Here, a lot of energy is spent on a good school fit rather than college. The array of school choices makes this particular brand of Totebaggy angst possible. Do you want public, private, charter, specialized magnet ? The school switching is hard to keep up with.
    I know of two kids who now attend boarding schools for high school. One kid did the first two years at private school and then went to a Math and Science specialized school. Most kids stay instate or go to neighboring state flagships. Very few choose private college because of the expense and the average family size of three kids.

  90. Meme, I agree with you because I sometimes think I am one of the few Totebaggers that has a kid with a private standardized test tutor, college advisor, standardized test schedule following Finn advice etc etc. We also just have one tuition to pay for college so we are not as focused on paying for 2 or even 4 kids to go through college like other Totebaggers. In our case, it is my kid that is pushing for most of this because she lives in a district where her friends and peer group are taking similar steps. She is not as smart as many of the Totebag kids based on how many of your kids just seem to get NMSF or even NMF. She is a smart kid, but she can’t touch the top 20 or 25 schools without a hook unless she has the minimum grades and essays to even be considered.

  91. In our case, it is my kid that is pushing for most of this because she lives in a district where her friends and peer group are taking similar steps.

    Two of my Palo Alto friends have therapists for their kids because the kids insisted on it, because everyone has a therapist, Mom.

  92. We don’t make choices based on what her friends do. If that was the case, she would be out every weekend, be driving a brand new car and have a lot more crap than she already has in her room. I would rather pay a tutor vs. spending 18 months nagging her to get stuff done. All of us have choices about how/when/where we spend our money. this is something we planned for and expected since she was born so it isn’t an issue for us.

  93. Lauren my sister has a tutor for her ADHD son because it eliminates the nagging from their relationship. I think there’s value in that, and having some of that blunt feedback come from a disinterested party takes a lot of the emotion and potential hurt feelings out of it.

  94. Meme, I wasn’t specifically referring to the people here and their kids with the resume building comment. I was using “totebaggy”as a general term, not just meaning “people on this blog.” Maybe I should have used a different term.

  95. Becky, I’m a big believer in having other people “coach” your kids. They usually listen to adults who are not their parents so much better. That’s why I paid someone to teach them to drive, put them in ski school, etc.

  96. Is anybody talking about Casey Goodson*? My son loves little kids, and points them out frequently when we are out together, or telling me when he comes home about little ones who were on the subway or something. He took a daycare-teachers class in high school just because he wanted to be around the little kids who came in for preschool 3 days a week. Tonight he told me that he’s not sure he wants to have kids. He doesn’t want me to talk about Goodson—too terrifying—but his killing was mentioned just before the conversation, in which my son was talking about climate change, saying that by the time he’s ready to have kids, it’ll be around 2030, so he wants to see if things are turning around. I’m sure police killings were also on his mind as he talked about this. I wish I could promise him a better world to offer his children.

    *A week ago, police killed an unarmed Black man at his own home. Not surprising, I know, but this one was close to I grew up, in a city I know logically isn’t safer than anywhere else, but still, hearing it happen there just gives me worse chills than ever. He was licensed to carry a concealed weapon; at the time of his death, he was holding a Subway sandwich and had his key in the lock.

  97. Lauren, I think your 10:06 describes how I fit here. The bit about the hook getting people who aren’t qualified into top colleges is insulting and counter-factual, as has been pointed out to you and Finn in the past.

  98. S & M, you are reading too much into my comment. I wasn’t talking about race. In non covid times, the kids that get admitted first in regular times are the athletes. This can be 2-3 years in advance. A freshman soccer player was recruited to Yale from my HS. I know several juniors that already know where they are going to college because of sports. Other hooks include living in certain states like Nebraska. I can name at least 100 other hooks right now if you want. No one talked about admitting non qualified students any where. if there are 50,000 pieces of paper on an admissions officer’s desk and most students could be probably be admitted – I just meant that you need some way to grab the attention of an admissions officer. a hook. get it? My neighbor’s kid wrote an essay about the death of her brother. Her mom barely gets out of bed everyday, but she knows reality and she said – that is her hook. So, get your chip off your shoulder and think before you write. It is always about what you think.

  99. “ No one talked about admitting non qualified students any where” Your comment about your daughter needing to have the grades and essays strongly implied that others don’t.

  100. Lots of people go to highly selective schools without the grades or essays. As Lauren noted, it can be because of athletic prowess. Or because of legacy. Or development potential. You can read something else into her use of the term “hook”, but it seems she was referring to the gigantic group of students who have an advantage in the application process due to something unique (and often outside the control of the student).

    I suspect my “geographic diversity” was a component of my acceptance to a very competitive medical school. I was the only student from my state in years, and one of the few from my region.

  101. For those interested in a deep dive into selective college admissions, check out “Who Gets in and Why” by Jeffrey Selingo, a journalist who embedded in three college admissions offices during a recent season. If the only thing that applicants and their parents take away from the book is the very few minutes that admissions staffers can devote to each application, it’s well worth the read. His observations were very consistent with my experience as an application outside reader. The whole process at very selective schools is considerably more random than many would like to believe.
    And, yes, hooks are extremely important at selective schools that are overwhelmed with applications from highly qualified students.

  102. Based on Scarlett’s recommendation, I just went to the website of our public library and requested a copy of “Who Gets in and Why.” There was no one ahead of me with a hold on the book — I’m the only person who wants it right now! I must live in a non-totebaggy area. Or, alternatively, maybe my area is very totebaggy, and people have bought their own copy. :)

  103. I am firmly convinced I got into my nursing undergrad and NP programs because of my gender.

  104. Ada You can read something else into her use of the term “hook”

    It sounds like you are jumping to the same conclusion she did.

  105. DD has a chem final due at 11 that requires a webcam. We’ve been without power since 4, and the estimated time when it will be restored keeps moving out. The latest update said 10. So I am going to go sit in a restaurant with her and apologize to the wait staff and order drinks and tip well. That’s more stress than she needed tonight!

  106. The test has to be taken using lockdown browser and the camera monitoring is within the app. She can use the phone as a tether for her laptop but they tell students not to try to take the exam from their phones. For chem, she needs enough light to work out problems on scratch paper in addition to needing a reliable wireless connection that won’t drop in the middle of the exam. I’m sure she’ll figure something out,

  107. My DS knows of two students who already know where they are going to college – via athletic recruiting.
    From what I have read (this may be true of false) my kids will start off with negative points in certain majors because they are perceived to be an over represented minority in those majors. The Harvard case shone a spot light on the fact that it is not a level playing field and there are so many factors considered other than academics in holistic college admissions.

  108. Louise, there have ALWAYS been factors other than academics taken into consideration in admissions decisions

  109. Louise, there have ALWAYS been factors other than academics taken into consideration in admissions decisions

    True. I didn’t grow up in the U.S., nor did I attend high school here. I had little idea of the college admissions process at the undergraduate level until I had kids.

  110. RMS — Thanks for the book excerpt. I’m going to give that to DS to read. I want to make sure that both he and we (DH and I) have a realistic picture of the modern-day college admissions process before we start going down the road of DS thinking about specific schools.

  111. Can anyone explain this to me:

    Our auto insurance is renewing next month so I went on to the Progressive site to play around with our coverage and see if I could get the price down. Four cars and two teenagers are expensive to insure :) I noticed that there were no occupations entered for DW and me. I entered DW’s, and it dropped our rate over $200. Then I entered mine and there was no change. Why would our rate go down so much just for entering an occupation?

    I’m torn on if I should get ride of collision on the Highlander. It’s 10 years old, but still has a book value of about $8k. I decided to keep it for now because that’s still a good chunk of change to absorb if it gets totaled.

  112. DD – I don’t know about the occupation question, but I’m in the same boat with collision on the van. Same book value. I’ve maintained it for now, but probably not for much longer.

  113. DD – it is all about the actuary. :)

    My guess is that the default risk factor for everyone to a ‘risker’ occupation, unless told otherwise. In my world (which isn’t car insurance), those that work in medical are considered higher risk for a number of reasons. Your DW’s occupation is generally not filled with higher risk individuals doing risky behavior.

  114. Interesting (to me) scuttlebutt on the ransomware attack a few weeks ago. I knew they were still rebuilding and having issues — they sent around an email saying report cards were delayed — but they got back online within a few days and continued classes, and it seemed like most everything was back to normal. Wrong. Apparently the “real” story is they didn’t pay the ransom and lost everything. As in, the teachers don’t have any records of the kids’ grades/assignments so far, or even parental contact information for kids who aren’t showing up in class. And there’s no estimate for when that will be back. Fun! Glad I don’t have to worry about DS. Don’t know why you wouldn’t just pay the ransom, though; I have to guess that they just couldn’t, but as far as I know, they didn’t even try to get more money from the state or anything. Did they think they were going to crack it themselves — presumably using the same IT professionals who let the ransomware in in the first place?

    Meanwhile, DD is now officially done with the semester — exams F and Sat, followed by finishing her independent research project all day Sunday (she was very mad at the prof. for not assigning it until Thursday, because it meant that she had to work after her last exam!). It’s definitely eye-opening to see how hard she’s been working and how organized/scheduled it is, because it’s SO different from the kid I knew.

    My happy news: my stained glass transom is now soldered and in one piece — and it didn’t fall apart! Next weekend is the cleaning and the putty — which is going to be a HUGE, annoying undertaking — but then I will happily be turning it over to DH and moving on to the sidelights.

  115. Our power issue was resolved. DD set herself up in the backseat of the car in the driveway, with the interior car light on and the cell phone plugged in to make sure she didn’t lose charge. She brought a serving tray out there to give herself a worksurface to write on. We had discussed going to a local restaurant, but she was worried about the AI on the lockdown program causing her a problem with all the background noise. (You have to rotate your camera showing the whole room and that you are alone, no notes on the table, etc and you are not allowed to have people or noise in the background. I’m not sure what the consequence is, but she said if you lean out of view of the camera to get something it licks the screen.) Apparently it’s pretty picky, but I don’t know much about it. Right as she got set up, the workmen showed up on the street, so she waited another 1/2 hr and the power came back on so she was able to come in the house and take the test. Never wait til the last minute, kids!

  116. Becky, glad your power issue was resolved.

    NoB, I took borrowed the Who Gets in and Why book a couple of weeks ago from my library. There was only one kindle copy and it was available. I think some people no longer read books about the process. Many of my neighbors talk about college non stop, but they listen to webinars or they dial into free Zooms about the topic. Thanks to the pandemic, there are many free discussions about similar stuff that is in the book.

  117. Becky, glad it worked out!

    LfB, that’s really frustrating about the school stuff, but glad the transom is getting done!

  118. Collision coverage on older cars.

    I took collision off at about the $5000 value level. I probably had a $500 deductible. They were kids’ cars and I told them I was doing it so if they had an at-fault crash it would be on them if they wanted to replace the vehicle.

    Conveniently, Credit Karma tells me the value of DW’s Q7 on my dashboard page (~$18k). More than I want to absorb if she causes an at-fault crash.

  119. I need to remind myself that I keep maximum deductibles, so I’m not insuring against the value of the car, but the value minus like $2k, iirc.

  120. We are finally considering getting rid of our 2003 MDX. Trade in value = $1,000-$1,500. Since we are both working from home right now, we discussed going down to one car until conditions change.

  121. LfB – I’d love to see a picture of the transom window if there’s a way you can post it here.

    On the ransom – could paying the ransom just set you up to continue paying? Once they know you’re willing to pay, they’ll just keep bleeding you? And if everyone refused to pay ransom, then that could decrease the incentive to hack into systems for ransom money. I know that’s a giant “if.”

    Becky – I’m glad that worked out for your DD – how stressful!

    And SBJ – belated congratulations to your kid.

    Denver – go Beavs! If your daughter would like to talk to mine about her experience, let me know.

  122. We are also going to sell our MDX. It passed the inspection in November, but it is just sitting in our garage. It needs about $5000 in repairs and we were hoping to get rid of the car last year. We kept it because we didn’t need two cars during the pandemic. We are trying o figure out what to do now because DD really wants her own car. We are considering a small Subaru or Mazda for her car. I think that we should buy that car in January, and keep the MDX until we are ready to trade that in fro DH’s new car in late Spring/early summer. I still have my leased car that will come due in July. DH doesn’t think we need three cars until September 2021.We bought our MDX in 2013 so the trade in value is higher, but we won’t get much unless we sell it privately since it needs replacement tires, brakes, and lots of other stuff. Someone hit our car int he train parking lot right before the pandemic started. The police were unable to determine the other car that caused this damage so the car also needs body work.

    I can’t believe that that we end up up with three new cars in one year, but it is possible since we never bought the car we wanted at the end of 2019.

  123. Lauren, I’m not sure if it’s still the case but earlier in the pandemic there was a general shortage of used cars. If that’s still the case, that would make this a good time to sell your MDX, given that it’s just sitting in your garage.

    Is your not selling now because you think you’ll get more for it as a trade-in? Or is it because you don’t want to deal with a private sale?

    Others here have posted about selling through big used car resellers; IIRC, that process was easier than selling it directly to the end buyer yourself.

  124. I need to remind myself that I keep maximum deductibles, so I’m not insuring against the value of the car, but the value minus like $2k, iirc.

    Ours is $1k. I just noticed when I was playing with it that there is an option for class coverage on the comprehensive. I priced it and it’s an extra $72 per vehicle with a $100 deductible, so not worth it.

    Denver – go Beavs! If your daughter would like to talk to mine about her experience, let me know.

    Thanks SSM! I will let her know, but I’m sure her response will be something along the lines of “why would I want to do that?”

  125. Finn, I agree with you about the used cars. Some used cars were going above the asking price, but I am not sure what would happen now with the MDX. I would be willing to sell it in a private sale, but DH is not into the idea because of the hassle and covid factors. We did get an awesome offer from Acura if we bought another MDX, but Acura never released the new model. We were one of the original owners of this model and they had to delay the release of the new model due to the virus. Also, I think DH is tired of the MDX since we’ve owned one for over a decade. It is a good car, but there is nothing special about it. I like it for that reason…we never have to think about it and it rarely has any problems as long as we maintain it.

  126. lauren – is the $5k mostly the body work? otherwise, and you may have mentioned this before when I was incredulous about the costs you were citing, but what does it need? My van is, more or less, the same underlying car/light truck as your MDX, and the same vintage. We have three times the miles on it. And it’s needed only oil, some other fluids, tires, and brakes.

    Is it the Acura dealership that’s telling you some long list of stuff that it needs?

  127. The Toyota dealership keeps calling me trying to buy DS’ Corolla. It’s three years old with less than 10,000 miles on it, why the heck would I sell it?

  128. Denver – yes that was DD’s response when friend of mine (whose kid is a year ahead and in the same program at the school) offered to have her kid talk to DD when DD was trying to decide what college to attend.

  129. “It’s three years old with less than 10,000 miles on it, why the heck would I sell it?”

    Three years is about the time when DW’s uncle is ready to buy a new car.

  130. Milo, Con Ed ripped up about 50% of the streets in my town to install new gas lines. The project started in 2019. Many roads were never repaved because they open up the same roads at least once a week in different places. These are major roads that I have to use several times a day. It is hard to describe the wear and tear on the car unless you’ve lived through this for almost two years. They plan to pave in 2021, but the result is that many cars including my own need parts earlier than a normal cycle. For example, part of the engine separated from the car and it has be re attached. It needs new tires, brakes and multiple fluids. Yes, the 5000 includes the body work. The other car scraped two doors and it is all cosmetic work…but significant amounts of body work. It all goes away or becomes much cheaper if we decide to buy another MDX, but even the quote that I received from my local mechanic was not cheap. There were only a couple of things that we can skip that the dealer mentioned to us according to the local mechanic.

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