The Gene My Mother Didn’t Give Me

(This is the story I read at the recent, amazing Listen to your Mother show – video coming in the summer!)

Today I cooked for my family and nobody died.

It’s always a good day when my cooking doesn’t maim, injure or kill. Because every time I cook, I am convinced that someone will turn pale, clutch his or her belly, foam at the mouth and then sprint for the bathroom. Or just keel right over.

Needless to say, I am not a natural in the kitchen. I try. After all, I’m a Mom. This is part of the job description, right? It’s supposed to be part of my maternal DNA.

I definitely did not inherit the cooking gene from my Mom. She’s the world’s greatest cook. I yearn for her meatloaf and cheesecake. When I’m sick, her chicken soup is the only medicine that heals. Her trifle is legendary in England. I have fond memories of helping her measure and stir, as she’d prep and bake. Osmosis, however, failed me.

Like me, she wasn’t actually a natural-born cook. But once married, my Mom experienced a culinary metamorphosis, blossoming into this competent, fearless creator of deliciousness. Hoping to nurture similar qualities in me, my parents sent me to an all-girls school. Alas, while I did well academically, my grades for “domestic science” were well below average.

Fast-forward to my 30’s. One evening, I invited my soon-to-be-fiancé over to my place, intent on making a romantic meal. I prepared the only dish I really knew. He wanted to hang with me in the kitchen, sizing up my qualifications for future wifedom, motherhood and domesticity. But he quickly recoiled when he saw that every ingredient was either from a can, a carton or the freezer. Mortified, I banished him from the kitchen.

Did I mention he’s a professionally trained chef? No pressure, right? Well, despite his horror at my pasta mush, he still married me. Maybe he thought my culinary skills might emerge, like they had for my mom? Fortunately, our relationship is based on many other qualities, like good humor and forgiveness.

These days, I can be inspired by a recipe, game to give it a go and expose my family to something new. I’m all about Pinterest. My “recipes to try” board has more than one thousand pins of culinary delights. I’ve attempted about three of them. My success rate is, well, low. Usually the end result looks nothing like the picture. It might taste good but my kids usually turn their noses up when served something that looks, smells and tastes suspiciously different from chicken tenders or mac and cheese. My husband, bless him, praises my efforts, chews his meal with enthusiasm and makes all the right “mmmm” noises. He coaxes the kids to try at least a bite. The silver lining? Plenty of leftovers.

It wasn’t always this way. When they were infants, they ate everything I cooked. Yes, cooked. I was really really good at making purées. Because, boiling and mushing stuff, that I can do – like a pro. And, since I wasn’t able to nurse my kids when they were infants, preparing food this way made me feel like mother of the year, all wholesome and nurturing. I was an over-achiever in the purée department; my fridge filled with baggies of green, yellow, even purple frozen cubes of homemade nutrition. My kids willingly consumed vegetables that today are considered devil spawn. Beets. Parsnips. Spinach. Even black beans. It was good while it lasted.

I’m happy to tell you that one of my cooking adventures has in fact become the stuff of legend on social networks. Allow me to introduce you to the Hippo Cake.

It was Rosh Hashanah and like all Jewish festivals, it’s celebrated with food. A few days before, I called my mother and asked for her wonderful honey cake recipe, thinking it was my maternal duty to bake one for my family at this auspicious time of the year.

I’ll never know what really went wrong. Did I confuse the measurements? Maybe I omitted the baking soda? Perhaps the oven was the wrong temperature (after all, British recipes are in Celsius not Fahrenheit)?

Never has a photo posted on Facebook received so much attention. “What is that?” was the most frequent comment. “Um, it’s a honey cake,” I’d respond. “It looks like a hippo,” quipped someone and everyone resoundingly agreed. And so the notorious Hippo Cake was born. Every year now, friends and family clamor for me to re-post the Hippo Cake photo on Facebook, claiming that the holiday cannot properly commence until I do.

So this is what it comes down to. I can bake cakes that look like animals and purée like a champ. Evidently, as a mother, cooking is not my strongest suit. But at least I haven’t killed anyone. They say genes can skip a generation, so I’m hoping my kids will inherit their quick wits, good looks and self-deprecating humor from me – and their cooking skills from their grandmother.

The infamous Hippo Cake

The infamous Hippo Cake


LTYM cast

The wonderful cast of #LTYM Boston – May 9, 2015

 

  

These 11 Things I Believe

  1. I believe in the magical powers of cheese.
  2. I believe a good night’s sleep trumps getting up early to exercise. But I also begrudgingly believe that one helps the other.
  3. I believe we all should listen more and assume less.
  4. I believe that bagpipes are the devil’s instrument. Much like country music.
  5. I believe in silliness.
  6. I passionately believe that every gun-related death is preventable and that more can and must be done to reduce gun violence. I believe Congress must pass the latest proposed bill on background checks.
  7. I believe that colors, flowers and Stevie Wonder can positively change your mood.
  8. I believe my son could be a future Conan O’Brien and my daughter may well become a tattooed drummer in an all-girl punk rock band — and that’s cool with me. I think.
  9. I believe in optimism and dancing; both are good for the soul.
  10. I believe I alone am responsible for my destiny and my happiness. (Cheese helps.)
  11. I believe Olivia Pope and I are BFFs. She just hasn’t realized it yet.

Thank You, Taylor Swift, for the Parenting Advice

I’m a big Taylor fan and not just for her toons. Mostly because “Shake It Off” has become the most awesomest parenting tool.

Her popular song has helped me reinforce some key messages with my kids. Stuff parents have said throughout the ages – but somehow now, with the Taylor seal of approval, now the kids are listening.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,” still rings true but telling a kid to “shake it off” when other kids say mean stuff seems to resonate more.

And yes, accidents happen, but if you can “shake it off”, child, then we can all learn and move on.

And so on.

I put Taylor’s words of wisdom to work recently with my daughter. We were selecting boxes of Valentine’s cards for her classmates. Now my kid’s a tomboy (and I love it) and in the past, she’s rushed to pick out Transformers or Star Wars-themed cards. But this year, she hesitated and instead, picked out a Hello Kitty box. Because, she claimed that her classmates don’t think it’s cool that she “likes boy stuff.”

Well, this made me mad. And so it begins, the peer pressure that makes kids feel they have to fit in rather than stand out. I get it, I really do. At their age, non-conformance is abhorrent. But I want my kids to be true to themselves and their passions. To stand up for their beliefs, have conviction. Even if that belief is that Transformers are cool. (They are.)

But how to instill in them that it’s OK to follow their hearts and be different? The kid and I had a serious chat. With tears welling in her eyes, she explained that she was embarrassed when the other girls told her it wasn’t cool to like boy’s stuff.

I looked her in the eye and asked, what would Taylor Swift do?

Shake it off, she responded, knowingly, her head held a little higher.

Thank you, Taylor.

 

My 2015 Word of the Year is: Energy

Or Slow Down.

Or Be More Selfish.

Or Seek Inspiration.

There are lots of words and phrases I’ve been playing around with to describe my intentions for 2015. They all come back to one thing. 2014 was, for me, just meh. I ended the year depleted and uninspired. 2014 presented a series of annoying obstacles, none too huge to be insurmountable, but combined they were like the unrelenting buzz of a mosquito. A car crash, bouts of either insomnia or leg cramps (or both), a frozen shoulder: all physical manifestations methinks of an unsettled soul that’s spent too much of herself racing along at an unsustainable pace, trying to keep everyone happy, holding together the fragile deck of cards that is the balancing act of being a working mother.

It wasn’t all blah: 2014 was punctuated by many moments of joy and gratitude – amazing family vacations, a night out dancing, attending BlogHer – and more. In these, I can see the germs of what makes me happy and the foundations for what I need to focus on in 2015 to get my groove back.

Because when you look forward to going to sleep more than waking up, you know something has to change.

So this year, you are going to see a more selfish me. I intend to end the year more inspired, with more twinkles in my eyes. Ultimately, with more to give to others because I’ve given more to me. To thrive, as Arianna Huffington put it. I’m not entirely sure how this will happen but I can feel its roots planting and I’ve got butterflies in my tummy with anticipation. Here are a few of the ingredients that I think will contributed to a more energized me:

More walks: Either we’ll get a new dog this year  or I’ll borrow one. Being outside, breathing in fresh air, talking while walking. It’s all good.

More socializing: Last year I’d rather be home with my hot water bottle than go out in the evening. Accepting lunch invitations was too much of an intrusion on my work load. How dull. Expect to see me out and about more in 2015. Coffee dates, lunch, drinks, dinner – count me in.

More dancing: Maybe I’ll find a weekend dance workshop. Maybe I’ll take lessons. Or maybe I’ll spend more nights out salsa dancing with the girls. Put simply, I gotta dance.

More time with my husband: We’ve grabbed a night away once or twice in past years but I’m talking more than that. Ideally a week away, together, so we can stop talking schedules and to-dos and finances and work and kids, and resume the conversations that connected us in the first place.

More adventure: I don’t know what this will involve but I plan to be more open to adventure rather than dismissing it as my default setting.

More fighting for a cause: Expect to see my participation in the fight for gun sense taken to new levels.

So there you have it. I have always told my kids that they are responsible for their own happiness – so I’m taking a dose of my own medicine. Check back here this time next year to see how I did.

Have We Reached Peak Pumpkin?

Friends: I’m very scared that, if we don’t all chill out, pumpkin will jump the shark.

Because the brands have figured us out. Those clever marketers have skillfully tuned into our collective pumpkin adoration and now Pumpkin Everything is Everywhere.

Not only everywhere, but everywhere TOO SOON.

Read my lips: It is still summer.

Let’s say that again, all together now. IT IS STILL SUMMER!

Now, I’m the first to admit that I may have single-handedly fanned the flames of society’s Pumpkin Obsession. Knowing my proclivity for pumpkin, friends hastily alerted me when Starbucks announced the arrival of its fall staple, the Pumpkin Spice Latte – ON AUGUST 25TH. Dear Starbucks, I have one word for you: SERIOUSLY? (Ironic, thereafter, that FoodBabe revealed that not only does the revered PSL feature no pumpkin whatsoever but its ingredients are potentially carcinogenic.)

(At this point, I’d like also to make it very very clear to my readers that, in my humble opinion, pumpkin should be eaten, not drunk.)

Let’s examine other evidence of peak pumpkin:

  • Pumpkin recipes and crafts all over Pinterest – in August and early September
  • Ben & Jerry’s proclaims its limited batch Pumpkin Cheesecake ice cream is here – a fact that drives me fairly hysterical with excitement but my gut tells me this announcement is about 3-4 weeks earlier than in past years. And I’m pretty sure last year they weren’t even sure they were going to make it. I’m betting that this year, B&J has seriously upped its production schedule and quantities.
  • Everybody sends me everything pumpkin on Facebook
  • There are just too many pumpkin-flavored things – edible and non-edible – in the stores. I agree wholeheartedly with this USA Today article.

If we can all agree to cool our engines a little, maybe we’ll avoid pumpkin saturation/desensitization.

So friends, join me in a pledge to put pumpkin back where it belongs:

In the fall (ie. late Sept-late Nov).

In pie.

Oh OK, in cheesecake and ice cream too.

In my belly.

 

 

 

 

I Could Have Danced All Night

Last Saturday night, while my husband was out of town, I danced with another man.

In fact, I danced with four or five other men.

Don’t be shocked.

I went out salsa dancing with two girl friends and we had a blast. Sure, I organize Moms’ Nights Out from time to time but this was most definitely a Girls Night Out. We got all sparkly and glammed up. We put our high heels on (well, they did.)

In truth, we had no clue what we were walking into, having picked out the Havana Salsa Club from a basic Google search. It could have been a total sleazefest filled with Lotharios on the hunt for some action. Instead, it was a room filled with perfectly normal people, some new to salsa dancing, some experts and everyone focused on having a grand old time on the dance floor. Once you get over the awkward fact that you have to hold a stranger’s hand, and have their hand on your hip, essentially forcing proximity usually outside the boundaries of personal space, then it’s all good. It’s so easy to forget all that and just get into the rhythm. As long as no-one steps on your toes or flings you headlong into the sweaty masses. We three survived without sustaining any injuries other than tired feet and aching legs.

If you’ve read my Twitter bio, you’d know that I describe myself as “happiest when dancing.” I’ve even blogged about my desperate search for a dance partner. Because I need to dance. And Saturday night reminded me – as I merengued with Bertrand and salsa’d with other nameless men – that dancing feeds my soul. It fills my tank. Makes me feel womanly, I guess. It’s also a crazy good workout.

What’s interesting is that we three girls all went out dancing without our husbands but with their consent. In between dancing – as we were sipping on sangria, wiping the sweat from our brows and wondering which of us would get asked to dance next – we imagined how our men would fit into this setting. It went a little something like this:

  • My husband would probably prefer to be somewhere else but would come if I really begged him to because he knows how much I love to dance
  • Husband #2 would likely feel threatened by his wife dancing with other men
  • Husband #3 would totally act like he knew what he was doing, whether he did or not.

Ha! Still, we agreed that we had to come back and do it again – soon. With or without our husbands. With flat shoes to change into at the end of the night. With water bottles. And with confidence, flair and a whole lot of fun!

Join us?

 

The Things You Don’t See

See that smiling woman cuddling her kids, you don’t see her anxiety and her battle every day with post-partum depression.

You don’t imagine the insecurity that business woman faces as she addresses a meeting.

You can’t fathom the self-loathing of that young woman who’s fighting bulimia and can’t wait to stick her fingers down her throat.

That homeless man was once a father with a regular job.

You don’t realize that you’re talking with a confident Asian woman who actually wishes she were white.

The car that’s driving slowly or erratically in front of you, annoying you – you’re unaware that a Mom is dealing with a screaming kid.

Your friend who’s always smiling and composed, maybe she’s hiding verbal abuse or an addiction to pain meds?

That kid you think is a bully, you don’t see how shy he really is. Or maybe he’s just hungry?

Maybe that rude individual talking loudly on the phone is dealing with a family emergency?

A distracted, grumpy colleague? She just broke up with her boyfriend.

That person who’s in such a rush to end a conversation with you probably needs to pee really badly.

Your girlfriend who doesn’t want to split the restaurant bill four ways might be worrying about how to make her next credit card payment.

What about the call service rep who sounds disinterested? This could be the only job he could find and he hates it. But it’s a job. A paying job.

 

The fact is, there’s an awful lot we don’t, won’t or can’t see. But we are oh-so-quick to assume and judge. Myself included.

What you don’t see about me is the constant burning and itching on my forehead, the invisible remnants of shingles from a little over a year ago. I’m not complaining. In fact, I even appreciate it. This burning-you-can’t-see is my daily reminder not to assume things about the people I know and the strangers I don’t.

And it’s also a persistent reminder of my duty to teach my kids to also be thoughtful and respectful of all the people they encounter and all the stuff they are dealing with that we can’t see.

 

 

 

 

The Agony and Ecstasy of Summer Camp

School’s out, summer’s here. Parents everywhere are cheering. Or are they?

I hate summer camp

I hate that we have to be out of the house a whole hour earlier than during the school year, in time to catch the bus to camp. Our already-challenging mornings become even more compressed and panicky because, no matter how well prepared we are, kids just want to play – not pack their lunches, find their towel, apply sunscreen, brush teeth, etc etc. It’s the fear of missing the bus and having to consequently drive 40 minutes in the opposite direction from my workplace that fuels these mornings.

I hate that, no matter how well I’ve organized the camp clothing procurement process with the goal of having a sufficient supply chain of shorts, T-shirts, socks, swimsuits and towels, I still end up having to do laundry every single night. Because camp clothes aren’t just a little dirty – they are sweaty, sandy, muddy, dank, stained with arts and crafts and bug spray. They require boiling. I hate that stuff always gets lost, no matter how well labelled. Towels, water bottles, sun screen, swimsuits, lunch boxes, goggles, underwear.

I hate camp songs. Sure, they are cute at first. But when your kids sing them over and over, morning and evening and all weekend – especially those “repeat after me” songs – it’s enough to drive me loony.

I dislike “dress up” or theme days. Nine times out of ten we just don’t have the right costume, color or accessory just hanging around the house. Or, most likely, we forget. Then as we arrive at the bus stop and see other kids in whichever theme of the week attire it is, my kids are inevitably disappointed. (Side note: if they cared enough about it, they’d make an effort to remember. Right?)

I dislike family night. Not because I don’t want to experience my kids’ camp, meet their counsellors and friends, hang out and have fun – but because of the damn mosquitoes that see me and think “mmm, dinner.”

I hate the cost of 8-9 weeks of summer camp because, as a working parent, what else are you going to do? I also hate that I have to start reserving my kids’ spot at summer camp in January, for fear that it’ll book up really quickly and then we’ll be royally screwed.

I hate that many of the fun, smaller or specialist camps are not only crazy expensive but they also finish at 3 or 4pm? What’s a working parent to do?

But …. I love summer camp.

I love that my kids spend their days outside at camp running, playing, swimming, fishing, boating, archery, learning outdoor skills and much much more. It’s how kids were meant to spend their summers: carefree, making new friends, trying new challenges. Happy as pigs in …. well, you know. I love how my kids’ camp – the YMCA – provides sufficient structure for a camp of 800 kids but at the same time encourages discovery, expression and free-play.

I love how my kids’ bodies become firm and lithe during summer camp, their little arms and chests becoming toned and muscular thanks to twice daily swimming. I love how, every summer, their swimming skills get stronger. I love their stories of new friends and adventures. I love the relationships they build with their counsellors. I love their farmers’ tans, the healthy glow that bursts from their happy faces. I love how they grow every summer, not just in height but in strength (inner and outer.)

I love that they come home tired, filthy, and hungry. They eat their body weight in food for dinner and then sleep soundly for ten hours. I love that they are spending less time in front of screens. I feel like our money has been well-spent and my kids are making memories every year, building layer upon layer of character and confidence.

So yes, mention summer camp and I’ll both smile and grimace.  And yes, soon enough, the time will come that they go to sleep away camps for several weeks at a time. Then, I’m sure, I’ll be singing a different tune.

Why Am I Doing So Much For My Kids?

“I cannot help you; you’re too independent.”

My Mom said these words to me a few months back. I think she was complaining but I’ll take it as a compliment. After all, I’m the middle child. The older one got all the first son status. The younger one got all the youngest child attention. So I was always determined to chart my own course. Consequently, I firmly believe that happiness and success are my own choice. I alone am responsible for the decisions I make and their outcomes. I create my own destiny.

So why the heck am I doing so much now for my kids? I do their laundry, I clean up after them (I use the word “clean” quite loosely), I remind them (when I remember) to take their swimsuits/library books/signed forms to school, I arrange their playdates, I (sometimes) check their homework. I organize their clothes, get new ones when they outgrow current ones. We buy groceries, new shoes, toys. My husband folds their clothes, packs their lunch every day. We plan and cook their dinners, recycle their trash. We ferry them here, there and everywhere.

Is this not part of the definition and commitment of parenthood?

Yes, they do have some basic chores but inconsistency is ubiquitous (our fault, largely.) Take your plate/glass/cutlery over to the sink when you have finished your meal. Put your shoes/coat/hat/mittens away when you come in the house. Hang your towels up after you use them. Make sure dirty clothes find their way to the hamper, at some point. To me, these are all part of respectfully co-existing in the same household.

But I have decided it’s time for the grown-ups to back-off and for these kids start stepping it up. There is much much more that they can – and should – be doing to be active contributors to our home and hearth, otherwise known as this working Mom’s domestic crisis.

Starting today – albeit gradually and with best intentions – I’m doing less and they are doing more. They are nine and almost seven years-old and I believe it’s time. Maybe even beyond time. It’s going to start with bringing their full hamper down and then folding and putting away their own laundry. We’ll move on to making their own school lunches. Stacking and emptying the dishwasher. Sweeping the kitchen floor. On the weekends, they can make their own breakfasts and lunches. They can call their friends and arrange their own social schedules (checking with parents, of course, who still have to do the ferrying.) I’m sure my husband would appreciate help putting the trash out.

The whining will certainly be loud. Eyeballs will roll. They will be plenty of “fine” and “whatever” and pushback. There will be days when the particular pair of pants he wants to wear are not clean because he won’t have realized that the hamper was full.  They will inevitably say “I’m hungry” and get all stroppy when food does not instantly appear. They will learn. I know other parents who have successfully drilled these duties into their kids’ and I feel ashamed that I am still doing it all for them.

Over time, I’m hoping, these chores will become natural, second nature and hopefully, this household will hum with organization, goodwill and less mayhem. But this isn’t just about making my life easier (though that’s a huge incentive, I’ll admit.)

It’s about getting them to think, anticipate and understand the ingredients of an independent life so that, as they get older and obstacles (emotional, physical and academic) plant themselves in their path, they’ll have the muscle memory to face them. Be responsible for their actions. Take failures and inequity in their stride and ultimately, create their own success – whatever that will be.

Emptying the dishwasher, putting away clean socks and remembering their library books are just stepping stones in this journey. Independence is the goal, but happiness is always a choice.

The Facebook Post That Made Me a Terrible Mother

by Kristin Parran

I can’t keep it in any longer. I must be the worst mother ever. It doesn’t matter that my not-yet-3-year old son adores me. Or that he climbs in bed with my husband and I and tells us we make the best team (then asks for high-fives). Or tells me he loves me more than cars. CARS! None of that matters.

Two things I have read today make me believe that despite all of these things, I must be a terrible mother. First, I read a blog post about breastfeeding. Or, rather about not breastfeeding. The author shared her honest feelings around the disappointment – and subsequent judgment – around not being able to breastfeed. The point was that mothers should leave other mothers alone – breastfeeding or not. Funny, though, all of the comments from women who felt judged about not breastfeeding came from a place of not being able to breastfeed. I didn’t see one from a woman who CHOSE not to breastfeed, like I did. It’s hard as a new mother to not feel at least a little judgment with every decision you make – even if it’s self-inflicted judgment. But, I am increasingly finding that mothers like me – those who choose to bottle feed for one reason or another – don’t exist in public forums. They sit back, try to stay unnoticed and feed their babies the best way they know how. Some choose the expensive organic formula. Some pay for soy-based. Some do extensive research to understand which product is best for their babies. But the thing that connects all of these women is that they love their babies just as much as breastfeeding women do. I love my son no less than the next woman. I firmly believe – and would argue til I died – that in the way I know how, I have given my son the best chances for a life full of love, happiness and health. But it’s hard to find people like me out there. At least those who admit it.

The second thing I saw was on Facebook. This kind of thing usually doesn’t affect me the way it did today. Maybe it’s because I’m more sensitive, or because my stepdaughter is visiting and that always has my emotions doing somersaults. Either way, it hit me. An old acquaintance just went back to work and posted that she’s missing her babies more than ever. But that’s not it – it’s what she said next that hit me: “I know every working mom would rather be at home with their babies all the time.” I dropped everything and started this post. I couldn’t help it. My brain is screaming. You ARE a good mom. You ARE a good mom. But, am I? Really? My response to that post was not: “Sister…you are so right! I would so much rather be at home with a screaming toddler, playing with cars and arguing about naptime Every. SINGLE. DAY.” Rather, instead my response: “That’s BS! While I LOVE my baby, I also LOVE my job. And the people I work with. And the opportunity to be ME. And the socialization. And that I contribute something financially to my family. I love having both. I NEED to have both.”

I get the sense that a lot of mothers will read my response and gasp. GASP. HOW COULD YOU SAY THAT!?! How could you say you love your job AND your baby? How could you not want to spend every single waking moment with your child? The answer for me is simple. Being me – the me who loves my job and my husband and my son and my friends and my time alone – makes me the very best mother I can be. Whether or not that mother meets standards set by others is something I can no longer judge myself against. I wish I could say that feeling follows me everywhere, every day. But, it obviously doesn’t. Rather than reading that post and saying: “There are mothers of every color, and I happen to a bright pink” I took it as a jab. A knife turning in the heart that is still trying to heal from post-partum. So, I’m not perfect. I do let some things get to me. But after the initial crazy self-judgment and guilt wear off, I once again see that I’m not such a bad mom. My son is an incredible human being. And, at the end of each day, I have to believe that I have something to do with that.

Kristin Parran is a mother of one (nearly 3-year old) boy and wife to a husband who anchors her in peace. Wise enough to know life can (and should) have balance, brave enough to listen to her gut – but not always smart or Zen enough to stop sweating the small stuff – she recently moved her family 1,100 miles to give everyone the best shot at equilibrium. She spends her days working from home for a tech PR firm and shedding tears of gratitude for newfound peace – which is soon interrupted by the impatience of reality. Each time she leaves her house, she secretly hopes to be discovered by Keith Urban, Brad Paisley or Dierks Bentley as a (silent, yet energetic) back-up singer. Or, to someday see her name on the cover of a book.

KP

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