Slutty Halloween Costumes for Kids

A piece of bubble gum and a starlight mint candy.

That was what my two daughters told me they wanted to be for Halloween last year. I immediately texted the information to my husband, punctuated by three words: “We freaking rock!”

It was actually the first time we’d given them a choice. Previously, Halloween had been a totalitarian regime. Blair, six, had trick-or-treated in years past wearing only mother-sanctioned attire: a giraffe, then a bumblebee, then a jaguar. All fuzzy. All cute. All little-girl-y. Drew, our four-year-old, had worn all the same costumes in the same order, because that’s what happens when you’re the younger sister and not old enough to care about what a control freak your mother is.

Last year, though, they both most certainly cared. And even as I asked the question, I was terrified of their answers. I expected requests for things along the lines of “cheerleader,” “mermaid,” “Hannah Montana” or “bunny,” knowing each would have translated in my mind to “stripper.”

When, instead, they asked to dress up as the things they happened to love most at that particular moment in their lives—gum and mint—I felt as though I’d won. That “Sexy and I Know It” song, which they’d heard somewhere and wouldn’t stop singing, be damned. And that second-grade girl who wore makeup to school? She was invisible to us. My fascism had paid off: My little girls were still little girls.

And so like Martha Stewart on meth I rushed to Jo-Ann Fabrics, spending way too much on white poster paper (which I cut into two big circles to make a sandwich board) and red tempura paint (which I used to artfully draw swirls on those circles). I bought shiny silver wrapping paper (which I spray-adhesived to a vest I’d cut out of cardboard to make a “gum wrapper”) and a pink balloon (which I blew up and tied to a pink headband to be the “bubble”).

When the girls first saw their costumed selves in the full-length mirror, Drew began jumping up and down very fast, and Blair screamed like, well, like a little girl, then ran and tackled me in a hug: “I love you, Mommy!”

That night, they couldn’t walk fast enough to the Monster Mash party at their elementary school. Drew the Starlight Mint charged right into the fray of kids doing the limbo. But Blair the Bubble Gum? She stepped through the gym door as though she fully expected a spotlight to shine down on her, to be followed by wild applause and, maybe, a gong. She zipped over to her group of friends—among them a gypsy, a genie and a black kitten—and I sat down on one of the metal lunch tables pulled out from the wall.

“Did you make those?” one mother asked.

“I did.”

“Those are the coolest costumes ever!” she exclaimed.

Yet just as I was about to explain that they were the girls’ own ideas, a pink balloon was tossed into my lap. Standing in front of me was a six-year-old with tears in her eyes.

“I’m embarrassed,” she whispered in my ear. “I should have been a gypsy.”

And I realized: This was it. This very moment was it: the beginning of the end.

Bathing Suit Rules for Moms

It was a bad night at the community pool. Bad because there were black clouds creeping overhead. Bad because it was less than 70 degrees out, which meant no one over 12 years old had pretended to put even a toenail in that water, heated or not.

However, the fact that this was a private party for all of the families in our South Jersey elementary school—m­eaning that everyone there knew everyone there—made the whole scene extra-bad for poor first-grade mom Debbie, who had a choice.

Her son Eliot isn’t a very strong swimmer. And he was begging to be released from the confines of the baby splash pool into the “big pool,” where his pals were doggie-paddling away. Trouble was, he couldn’t go it alone. Debbie had worn her bathing suit, which was more than could be said of 90 percent of the parents there—including her husband John, who was no-way-in-hell going to take off his Captain America t-shirt after viewing some of the buff and the not-even-kinda-buff dads who had paraded shirtless at the pool the previous summer. That left Debbie alone and debating: To disrobe, or not to disrobe?

Of course, she had no choice, because mothers will do amazing things for their children, like running into burning buildings to save their lives, and stripping down to near-underwear-level in public so they can swim. As Debbie pulled down her skirt to reveal her very modest black one-piece halter suit, she smiled in that way you do when a very old relative informs you that you look like you’ve gained weight, and you want to appear as if you couldn’t care less, as if you won’t need six months of follow-up therapy as a result. Then Debbie ran … ran … to the pool. “A mad dash” is how one mother who was there later described it to another mother who wasn’t, someone who also knows Debbie, who lives on the same street as Debbie, who can see Debbie’s front door from her own front door. Debbie’s solo strip-down had become, as they say, the talk of the town.

“I’m generally a positive person,” Debbie explained to me at school drop-off the next day. “But exposing these thighs to the general public? Not so much.”

Except this crowd wasn’t exactly the general public. The Shore? That’s the general public, which is why it’s such a non-issue for so many there to casually reveal regions that couldn’t get any more nether. Neither you nor those gloriously anonymous people on the blanket next to you care that the teeny bikini you strapped onto your Mack Truck self squeezes out your parts like those balloon animals clowns make.

“The community pool?” Debbie reflected. “It’s just … weird.”

It’s weirder than weird. Because already, we’ve spent the whole year with each other, running into our neighbors at the cheap gas station, and at the hot-dog stand at the farmers’ market, and on the playground after school. We sit next to each other at PTA meetings, and run the BreastFest 5K together, and wait in line together for the moon bounce at the fire station’s open house. We work really hard not to be (or to appear not to be) crappy parents, so we co-chair the school auction and co-coach the pigtail softball team and co-mingle along H­addon Avenue during the Halloween parade.

Then the Crystal Lake Pool opens.

And we all gather there together … and take off our clothes.

Your Husband Watches Porn

Online porn is infiltrating the American home, and as more men admit their porn consumption, their wives wonder what can be done.

“Does your husband look at porn online?”

Of all the conversations moms have started­ with me as we’ve sat on park benches and watched our kids dangle from various formations of plastic play equipment, not one has ever included the word “porn.”

I was … thrilled.

Porn!

As in not sunscreen, Madagascar 3, or that other mom sitting on that other bench over there.

Jen and I were talking about porn!

Porny porny porny porny porn!

“Why?” I asked, using my most convincing­ I-talk-porn-all-the-time tone lest I scare Jen (obviously not her real name) away from what would no doubt be the most interesting discussion I’d have all week.

“I found a stash on our computer this morning.”

“Noooooo.”

After her husband left for work, Jen was hunting for a craft project (really) that she’d bookmarked. When she clicked the drop-down menu, she saw a page that looked odd.

“It was photos … of that girl … from Glee.” Of course it was. Heather Morris. The dumb-blonde cheerleader/dancer chick who is 25, but plays a teenager. The shots were near-naked. And booby. And involved red leather. Scumbag, Jen thought. She began to dig. Inside the “Dad’s Favorites” folder was the “Corvettes” folder (because the man loves his Corvettes), and inside that was the “Corvette Kit Cars” folder, and inside that was … more Heather Morris. Doing gymnastic-y moves … in a bra and panties.­ And there were other blondes, in various states of undress. Plus some links to sites Jen was afraid to click on.

Jen then did something extremely unexpected, something that might make both Larry Flynt and Gloria Steinem equally proud. She grabbed her camera, took off her clothes, and started taking pictures of herself. And they were dirty. Angles that “only the ob-gyn has ever seen,” she says.

If Marcus wants to look at porn, she thought, I’ll give him porn. She uploaded the shots into a folder titled “Housewife Bares All,” which she added to the “Corvettes” folder, which she had subtly renamed “Dad’s Porn.”

“I can’t wait for him to find it,” she said, having transformed her attitude from scumbag to not-psychotic-at-all. “I just want him to know that I know.”

But suddenly, I wasn’t feeling so playful anymore.

Did my husband watch porn online?

Food Nazis Invade First Grade

 

 

The parents at Thomas Edison Elementary were pissed.

Already we’d watched our little muffins take hit after hit over the past year, what with the Haddon Township School District shaving $3.9 million from its budget (reading program, schmeading program), and then Governor Christie losing that $400 million in federal education funding due to a typo (too bad, sweethearts), and then the union getting so mad about contract negotiations that it discouraged teachers from taking kids on field trips (no Please Touch Museum for you).

But this? This was the last straw:

No more cupcakes.

The blow came in August, in the last paragraph of the “Welcome Back to School” email from principal Eileen Smith: “Due to the increasing amount of food allergies among our students, the childhood obesity epidemic and in order to be compliant with our State and District Nutrition Policies, we will no longer permit birthday snacks/food in school … [or at] class parties throughout the year.” When the message popped up on my iPhone, I swear I heard a dark maternal growl emanate from every open kitchen window in Westmont: “Whaaaaaat?” Nothing? Not even a Rice Krispie Treat for a birthday? Or apple slices for the first grade’s morning snack? Or a clear plastic glove filled with Pirate’s Booty for the class Halloween party? Not a Capri Sun? A fruit kebab? Nothing? Ever again? Ever?

“Can you freaking believe this?” parents squawked everywhere we could—at Crystal Lake Pool, at the ShopRite, in frantic texts. The district’s three elementary-school principals were pummeled with phone calls. A few parents—those whose kids have vicious allergies—were pleased. The rest were not. Do you think birthday cookies are what’s making kids fat? Do you think kids with allergies and their parents are that unprepared? A few parents were personally offended: “Are you trying to tell me how to raise my kids?” The term “police state” was invoked at least once.

“My son needs a granola bar at 10 a.m.!” bellowed one mom at the first PTA meeting in September, staring Principal Smith square in the eye. By then, the administration had come to terms with the fact that perhaps it had gone too far. After all, just a year before, the Parent/Student Handbook had forbade “foods of minimal nutritional value” as defined by the Department of Agriculture. (Just Say No to Water Ice.) So in October, a second email appeared with a new policy attached: There could be food! And that food could be four items: water, fruit, vegetables and soft pretzels (because nothing says “healthy” like a soft pretzel). Oh, and another thing: No dips.

“No dips?” parents groaned for approximately 23 minutes. Then, everyone calmed down. Rules were rules. We hated them, but we understood them and, of course, would follow them. I, for one, moved on to stressing about more pressing matters, namely what to send in for my daughter Blair’s seventh birthday in March. Sure, it was five months away. But I’d need to be creative. Other parents were already sending in replacement loot for birthdays. If another sticker came into my home, or another temporary tattoo, or another seasonal pencil, I might just be forced to post a bitchy rant on Facebook.

And thus, all was again right at Thomas Edison Elementary.

Until November.

When two kindergarten moms went rogue.

Desperate Housewives: The Reinvention of the Main Line Mom

Michele Seidman didn’t know what to do with herself.

In a few months, her only son, Jared, would be starting first grade at Gladwyne Elementary … Jared, for whom she’d quit her past life as a publicist, and with whom she’d spent as many hours as possible for the past six years. And now he’d be gone, from nine to three every day.

“I couldn’t play tennis and do yoga and go to Whole Foods more than one day a week,” she says. “So I’d do that on Monday. What would I do Tuesday to Friday?”

And so it was decided: She would become—voilà!—a decorator.

Why not?

After all, she already pored over every design magazine on the newsstand. She blogged about the fabulous finds she made trolling estate sales and shopping at Anthropologie and Three Potato Four in Manayunk and Vintage Home in Paoli. She trucked to every show house that popped up between here and the Hamptons.

Plus, after she’d married Eric, a real estate developer, she’d decorated their house—a Penn Valley fixer-upper. When the couple, with a preschool Jared in tow, moved to Gladwyne two years ago, she repeated the feat, this time under the tutelage of interior designer Michael Shannon. But she picked out the furniture and the wallpaper, including the powder room’s stunning floor-to-ceiling birch trees by Cole & Son. Last spring, her house was featured in Main Line Today.

Everyone knew: Michele Seidman had excellent taste. And what else did a decorator need?

Turns out, a lot. “People think they can pick out fabric and wallpaper and that’s it. That’s not it,” Seidman says. Eric gave her a little pre-reinvention sit-down: “I don’t want you to go out and start another company. I want you to learn.” So she took a graphic-design course at Moore College of Art and Design, then enrolled in Philadelphia University’s interior design program. She even appeared on Fox’s Good Day as a spokesperson for new dorm-decorator biz Dormify, which gave her some real-life cred. She was approached by two aspiring pro hockey players to decorate their homes.

“But I’m not ready yet,” she says.

Still, Seidman is one of them—the women who forsook fancy careers in exchange for “being a mom,” as so many on the Main Line (and in Main Line-y places) did. “It’s become a status thing,” suggests one affluent ’burbite. “Their husbands don’t want them to work, because then it looks like they don’t make enough money.” But status or no, when the kids go off to school—whether it’s first grade or freshman year at Hamilton—these ladies inevitably end up in the same spot: standing at a cocktail party sipping an appletini, and not having a thing to say when asked the ubiquitous “What do you do?”

For some, that’s terrifying. They feel irrelevant, and often too far removed from what they did before to go back to it. “If you don’t do charity work and you’re not involved with things, what’s your meaning?” asks one woman who says she has this conversation with friends at least once a week.

All of this has wrought a new phenomenon: the Reinvention of the Main Line Mom. You can chair a fund-raiser, sign up for yoga-teacher training, finish that master’s in art history. But one avenue has clearly surfaced as the path of choice for the peanut-free-cupcake-baking, tutor-hunting drop-off diva looking for new purpose: Take a hobby, declare “I could do this for a living,” have fancy business cards made (with Facebook page sure to follow), and—poof!—you’re an “interior designer.” Or “stylist,” or “organizer,” or “publicist,” or “party planner,” or “novelist,” or “handbag designer” or “spirit guide.” One Main Line mom was recently spotted at her kids’ elementary school drop-off handing out new cards: She’s advertising herself as a publicist, designer and party planner all rolled into one.

“They decide they did such an extraordinary job as decorators of their own homes that they want to give back and decorate for others,” says Lisa Birnbach, who, through her snarky rich-girl tomes The Official Preppy Handbook and True Prep (which comes out in paperback this month), has become one of the nation’s wryest observers of the tennis set. “Really, though, it’s an excuse for getting new stationery and buying a brand-new wardrobe.”

It’s also an excuse for exploiting your friends. Who else will hire you but those who know firsthand what a gorgeous chaise you picked out for the three-season porch, or the Pucci scarf you found at the estate sale, or the pirate ship you (had) built for your son’s second birthday?

Danger! Danger, Mrs. Robinson!

How Lia Sophia, Tastefully Simple and Pampered Chef are Taking Over Women’s Social Lives

When I opened the e-mail, I knew it was the beginning of the end.

It came from my friend Jenn. My cool friend Jenn. My witty, irreverent friend Jenn in Marlton, whom I’d met at a moms’ group six years ago, after we had our first babies. Jenn always wore stylish shoes and had good haircuts. She drank wine. She read real books. She had a cool husband and cool, well-soled daughters, including her second, who was born four days before mine, because we planned it that way.

And here, that Jenn was asking for a favor: Would I host a party for her?

A jewelry party.

Noooooo! I screamed to myself. Not YOU, Jenn!

I immediately wrote back: “You went to the dark side!”

Jenn wasn’t my only friend who’d gone to the dark side—the world of direct sales (a.k.a. person-to-person sales, a.k.a. multilevel marketing, a.k.a. pyramid-ish scheming, minus the illegal part). I knew the drill, which hadn’t reall­y changed since Tupperware blew up in the 1950s: In order to get business going, Jenn needed to ask friends, like me, to host parties. I’d invite my friends, and Jenn would present her wares—in this case, Lia Sophia jewelry, affordable and costume-y and, most of it, very nice (though some of it very Madonna circa 1984). Jenn would encourage my friends to buy by explaining that the more they spent, the more free jewelry I’d get. In the end, she’d make 30 percent of the night’s sales in commission, but her real goal would be to convince my friends to host parties of their own. And maybe, just maybe, she’d also recruit someone to sell Lia Sophia and thus join Jenn’s “team,” so Jenn could eventually earn money on the recruit’s sales as well.

If you’re shrewd, direct selling can snowball into a $50,000-plus-a-year career. No wonder every woman from Collingswood to Wynnewood suddenly seemed to be hosting parties for buying/selling kitchen gadgets or makeup or candles or bags or jeans or lotions or meats. It’s a $28 billion-a-year industry; one million people hopped on the bandwagon in 2009 alone, shooting the number of multilevel marketers in the country—16.1 million—to an all-time high. They’re everywhere. Like zombies.

“It’s a million-dollar industry built on women doing favors for other women,” says Bonni Davis, senior vice president of marketing and sales at Lia Sophia, the world’s largest direct seller of jewelry.

The whole concept actually made me a little sick in my mouth.

I’d been to only one of this kind of party before. To avoid the guilt of letting down my hostess friend (and fearing she’d later snipe, “Vicki drank three glasses of wine and didn’t buy a thing!”), I bought. I ended up with a purse I later regifted to my mom, as well as a new mantra: “I will never participate in another home party, even if James Marsden will be there, manning a kissing booth.”

So I avoided hosting when my friend Sonya started selling Silpada jewelry, and when Michelle signed on with Tastefully Simple and all its prepared foods, and when Jennifer sent me her Pure Romance catalog, offering a potpourri of lubricants, arousal creams, and vibrators in various shades of Easter colors.

But how could I possibly say no to Jenn? Yes, I knew this was exactly how I was supposed to be feeling, because this is exactly why direct selling works. Still, how could I not host a party and call myself Jenn’s friend?

So we settled on a date. I sent out an Evite. And I waited for it all to be over.

Natalie Munroe: A Tale of a Teacher in a Digital Age

Natalie Munroe strolled into Central Bucks East the morning of February 9th as if it were any other Wednesday. As she wove her way through the Doylestown high school where she’d taught English for nearly five years, she noticed two teachers whispering to each other in the hall. They looked frantic. She kept walking.

“Something’s going on,” she thought. “I’ll ask them about it later.” After the first bell rang, she headed to the planning center, where she’d prep for her classes that day. But before she started working, another teacher came to the door and motioned Munroe over.

“Everyone’s talking about it,” the teacher fretted. “The students found your blog.”

“They found my blog?” Munroe asked, startled by the panic in her colleague’s voice. She quickly tried to recall the posts she’d written; not one raised a red flag. At most, she figured she’d have to answer some awkward questions, that people would talk about it for a while. And then everyone would move on. “Whatever,” she thought.

Even so, she opened her school computer, logged onto Blogger.com and promptly took down the blog. But a few minutes later, when she saw the school secretary in the doorway—sent by principal Abe Lucabaugh to collect her—she went numb.

Walking into Lucabaugh’s office, she spotted them immediately—her blog posts, printed out and stacked on his desk.

“Did you write these?” Lucabaugh asked, stern-faced and solemn.

“Yes,” she answered.

“Did you write them at school?”

“No.”

Lucabaugh then read a sentence from one post out loud: “I’m being a renegade right now, living on the edge and, um, blogging at work.”

“Look,” Munroe said, “if it says that, I guess I did. I’m telling you I didn’t routinely sit here and write blogs at school. Like, ever.”

“We can find out,” Lucabaugh warned. He explained that she’d be suspended with pay while the school investigated, then followed her to her office, where she gathered her belongings. She handed him a pile of photocopies.

“I just made these. They’re for the third block,” she explained; she didn’t want her students to fall behind because of this little snafu.

Lucabaugh led her into the hallway as students filtered to their next class. Munroe saw one of her students walking toward her.

“Oh,” the student cracked, “that sucks, Mrs. Munroe.”

WEEKS LATER, NATALIE MUNRO sits in a Panera Bread in Feasterville that isn’t her usual Panera Bread (too many students hang out there). Nine months pregnant, she is tired and huge and eating a salad, wishing the baby would come out already so she’d have something positive to focus on. It hasn’t been an easy month, and frankly, she can’t believe it all went down the way it did.

The Charmed Life of Mrs. Bob Brady

DEB BRADY HAS COOKED ENOUGH FOOD to feed the entire 34th ward of Philadelphia. The spread covers the island in her kitchen: jalapeño poppers, taquitos, spring rolls, four kinds of dip, a cheese ball and a cheese log, the shrimp salsa that Janet brought — Janet who used to babysit for Deb when she was a kid on Atwood Road, barely a mile from where she lives now, in Overbrook. Deb’s daughter-in-law, Maria, made lemon cookies, to add to the two fruit tortes still in their boxes. And, of course, there is wine.

The six women — Deb and her best girlfriends — will never eat all this food. In fact, they’ve barely dipped a cracker before getting down to business — their monthly game of dominoes — sitting around Deb’s dining room table, which could seat twice as many (and does, every Sunday, when Deb feeds her family an Italian feast, simmering her grandmother’s gravy recipe all day long), all white wood in her white dining room decorated with portraits of the four grandkids, next to her white living room with the white lacquered baby grand in the picture window.
“Bob will eat some,” she assures in her soft-spoken, calming way, as the rest of the ladies crow about one’s jerky ex, and one’s 13-year-old who knows what a “ho” is, and the limo they took to Tavern on the Green four years ago for Deb’s 50th, and the poor girl with the giant forehead on “The Bachelor,” which is playing on the kitchen TV.

Soon enough, Congressman Bob Brady — the city’s all-powerful Democratic machine boss — comes home, his driver dropping him off after the daily two-and-a-half-hour commute from Washington. Bob passes the Bradys’ fluffy black Pekingese named Tian Shao Minzhu (“my sweet little Democrat”) who’s sleeping in the mudroom, then steps into the kitchen looking rather un-congressmanlike in his navy blue velour sweater, carry-ing the mail.

“Hello, ladies,” he says, even more soft-spoken than his wife. He walks around the table, greeting every guest with a kiss on the cheek.

“Aren’t you going to kiss your wife?” someone asks.

“If I gave her a kiss when I came home, she’d think I was having an affair or something,” he says, and then disappears down the hall.

For the Bradys, it’s always been the other way around — Bob in the middle of the action and Deb in the background, watching C-SPAN to figure out the House’s schedule so she knows when to start dinner.

But, last summer, the tables turned.

In August, news broke about the scandal at the Philadelphia Housing Authority. Every day, it seemed, the papers uncovered yet another, more damning allegation against then-executive director Carl Greene — sexual harassment, misused taxpayer dollars, general megalomania. Columnists wondered: How didn’t the board know? How didn’t anyone know? And in every article, a name that had rarely been in the press was now getting lots of it — PHA board member Deb Brady.

The $50,000 Kiddie Birthday Party

Tiffany Gabbay was shocked.

She’d just opened her estimate from the company that rents carnival-style vending carts for kids’ birthday parties. Gabbay was thinking small, just three or four stands — maybe one popcorn, one cotton candy, one hot dog, one funnel cake.

The total cost: $2,500.

Only $2,500? she thought to herself.

Twenty-five hundred was nothing … not when she had $13,000 to spend. That was the budget she’d allotted for her only daughter’s birthday party. At those prices, she figured she could rent twice as many food carts. Maybe more. So she added churros, ice cream, french fries, pizza, fried -Oreos, snow cones, fresh-squeezed lemonade and soft pretzels. New total: $5,400. “So far,” Gabbay says.

That wasn’t all. She’d already rented three moon bounces — cost: $1,200 — for the birthday bash. Plus carnival games, though she was still debating over those — should she rent them, or just hire a contractor to build them, using her party colors? Which meant, of course, she’d have to choose party colors — either traditional circus red, blue and yellow, or French circus pink, lavender and baby yellow. For the games. And the hats. And the banners. And the streamers. And the balloons, which would be outrageously large, the largest she could find. Hundreds of them. All over her aunt’s backyard in Cherry Hill, where the big event — 160 guests and counting — would take place in October.

Gabbay barely had a month to get it all together. And she still hadn’t heard back from the Philadelphia Zoo — she wanted the portable petting zoo, big-time — and she was still playing phone tag with Stacey’s Face Painting. There were picnic tables to rent. And tents. And linens. And plates and silverware. (“The thought of plastic bothers me,” she says.) There was the photographer to hire. And the videographer. She had yet to settle on the invitations, though she’d just found a design she loved, shaped like a circus ticket, with a scratch-off to reveal the date, time and place. Plus, finding the perfect birthday outfit for her daughter Brielle had already consumed 20 hours of online research. Planning the party wasn’t the hard part, Gabbay wrote on her Facebook status in September: “it’s the outfit for sure!!!”

Even with all that, her biggest challenge was trying to work out a deal with the manager of Gymboree in Cherry Hill. The über-popular gym for little kids insisted that it only hosted birthday parties in-house, but Gabbay wanted the staff to come to the party, to bring their music and parachutes and gigantic tumbling mats.

“That way, my daughter can be involved,” Gabbay says. Although she knows, of course, that Brielle can’t eat the food or jump on the moon bounces or play Skee-ball, no matter what color the game is.

Brielle, after all, is just turning one.

Do Kids Cause Divorce?

In June, Melissa* packed the U-Haul with everything that was hers and everything that was theirs — the Disney videos, the Littlest Pet Shop figurines, the ballet tutus, the Dr. Seuss book about the places they’ll go.

And she left.
 
Left the house in Jenkintown she’d been living in for nine years.

Left the man she’d been married to for eight of them, the father of her five- and two-year-old daughters.
 
Left the life that was nothing like she’d imagined it would be back when having kids was just a hazy someday-down-the-road plan, all “white picket fence and happy, happy, happy,” she says.
 
So she took the girls. And left. For good.

“I’m scared,” she says. Will she be able to make it financially on her own? Will the kids hate her for taking them away from their dad? Was this the best decision for them? Or was it simply the best decision for her?
 
Melissa, 36, was certain of only one thing: She couldn’t stay married to that man.

And she wasn’t the only woman she knew who was feeling that way. Of the 10 friends she’d met at the Moms Club she’d joined just after her five-year-old was born, half were now talking divorce. One had already split; one was about to file papers. Two were in last-resort couples’ counseling. And one had a five-years-until-divorce plan.
 
“I feel like I’m surrounded by people with little kids who are trying to get divorced,” Melissa says. She wondered if it was just a weird coincidence among her Philadelphia friends, a “divorce cluster.” But the more she opened up about what she was going through, the more stories she heard about similar couples all over the country. The news wasn’t entirely shocking, given the widely quoted 50 percent divorce rate in this country. Except for one tiny detail: The divorce rate isn’t 50 percent. Not for Melissa and her friends.

If they’d gotten married in the ’70s and were now calling it quits after 35 or so years, they’d be part of the only generation ever to hit that 50 percent failure rate — which is where that statistic comes from. But ever since 1979, the divorce rate’s actually been dropping, says Wharton economist Betsey Stevenson, who studies marriage and divorce. These days, according to Stevenson, very few people like Melissa — college-educated moms who were in their late 20s when they got hitched — are filing for divorce before they hit their 10-year anniversaries. Their divorce rate? Just seven percent.
 
So why, then, are Philadelphia’s marriage therapists seeing more and more new parents on their couches? Why are divorce lawyers hearing more dads and moms debate preschool drop-off in their custody arrangements, rather than college tuition? Why are more kids participating in elementary-school programs implemented to deal with “changing families”? Why are so many parents having affairs, like the one Melissa started when her youngest was only eight months old?

“More of my new parent-clients are saying, ‘This isn’t good, this isn’t for me, I’ve had it,’ and that’s it,” says Center City divorce attorney Dorothy Phillips.
 
This isn’t good was exactly what Melissa was feeling. For her.

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