Did This Delran Woman Fake Cancer?

On the day Lisa DiGiovanni found out her sister was going to start hospice care, she couldn’t stop thinking: I am such a jerk.

It’d been an emotional nine months. In February 2011, Lisa’s younger sister, Lori Stilley, had told family and friends that she’d been diagnosed with bladder cancer. Less than two weeks later, she revealed it had spread into the surrounding tissue, earning the dire diagnosis of “Stage III.” By the end of May, she told everyone that despite chemo and radiation, the cancer had reached “end stage.” “I have fully processed the notion that I am ‘terminal,’” Lori wrote on Facebook, where she’d eloquently journaled the details of her illness. Once she stopped treatments, the doctors expected “it would probably be a matter of weeks.”

Lori was 39, divorced and out of work. She had no health insurance. And she was also a single mom. Kylie was 11. Jack was just five.

Lisa was beside herself, worrying about what would happen to her niece and nephew when their mother died. She would wake up in the middle of the night, sobbing about how unfair it was. She hadn’t always had a great relationship with her sister over the years. But the realization that she was going to lose her only sibling made Lisa forget all that.

I don’t want to have any regrets, she thought. None at all. She organized a t-shirt fund-raiser for “Proud Members of Lori’s Team,” raising more than $3,000 for Lori; planned a dream wedding for Lori and her fiancé in just nine days; helped organize a beef-and-beer to benefit Lori’s kids, which raised another $5,200.

Hundreds of people rallied to help. They gave cash and gift cards, threw fund-raisers at local bars. They arrived at Lori’s South Jersey home in Delran with enough groceries to stock the pantry. (One woman brought dinner every Thursday for months.) Soon, Lori had 360 people following her on her “Team Lori Rocks” Facebook page.

“People were living it with Lori,” Lisa says now, sitting in her dining room in Gibbsboro. She pulls out a thick folder, stuffed with the emails, the bank statements, the letters, all of those Facebook posts do­cumenting the past year. “People were saying, ‘That’s what my mom went through.’ It was kind of cathartic for them … to be able to help.”

Except.

Lori’s story didn’t always add up. Why, for instance, did she insist on going to her chemo treatments at Cooper Hospital alone? Why wasn’t her hair falling out? Why didn’t she look … sick?

“Who would lie about having cancer?” Lisa’s husband Mike would say when Lisa dared pose such queries. She couldn’t stop wondering, though: What did it mean? That maybe … Lori … didn’t … ?

Lisa couldn’t say it out loud. What if she was wrong? Believing her sister was dying from cancer was actually more bearable than the alternative. Whenever something came up that made her doubt the severity of Lori’s i­llness—whenever something didn’t quite track—the story would take a devastating turn.

Like on October 28, 2011, almost nine months after the whole ordeal had begun, when Lori posted to Facebook: “Starting the morphine drip mid next week.” Oh my God, Lisa thought. How could I have questioned her? My sister is starting hospice. My sister is about to die.

I am such a jerk.

>>UPDATE: Lori Stilley plead guilty to charges of third-degree theft by deception in May 2013. Click here to read more.

Is This Nuts? More Couples Living Together After Divorce

As more couples get divorced, more people are living with their ex-wife or ex-husband despite their separation.

“They split up.”

“They split up?”

My friend and I were sitting side by side on folding canvas chairs, both wrapped in fleece, both clutching steaming cups of coffee at a way-too-early Saturday soccer game last fall. As seems to be required in such circumstances, we were chirping about people we knew. When I brought up a couple whose daughter played soccer with our girls last season, my soccer pal casually stated, “They split up,” as if revealing that said mutual friend had purchased a new pair of clogs.

“What are you talking about?” I said, too loudly.

“You didn’t know?” Soccer Pal asked, so incredulous that I momentarily wondered if the news had been posted on the township Facebook page: “There was a burglary on Virginia Avenue. Kristen and Bill split up. Leaf pickup starts on Friday the 3rd.”

I’d just seen them together at Dunkin’ Donuts, all of them, including the four kids. I recalled jolly laughter and the aura of bona fide togetherness-ness. Kristen and Bill were always together. At games. At the pool. At the block party. It wasn’t like Kristen and I were BFFs, but her cell number was programmed into my phone. We texted.

When I thought about it, though, I remembered I’d heard a few months back that it wasn’t exactly paradise in their beige colonial. Bill had been in and out of work. Kristen was holding down two jobs to bring home extra cash. Someone had mentioned that there were always a lot of beer bottles in their recycling bin, which I assumed was a good sign—that once the kids went to bed, they sat on the couch like we did, drinking pale ales and catching up on Homeland.

A few days after soccer, I saw Kristen in the deli at Wegmans and beelined my cart over to hers.

“I just heard about you and Bill,” I said. “I’m so sorry.”

“Yeah, it’s been about six months.”

“Really? I had no idea,” I said. Six months?

“I’m not surprised you didn’t notice,” she said. “We’re separated. Totally. But Bill’s always around. He sleeps over at least three nights a week.”

“He sleeps over?” I repeated.

“On the couch,” she clarified. “But he takes the kids to school, the whole thing. It kind of … I don’t know … it kind of works. It’s better. For the kids. I didn’t want to uproot them. It’s their house. I’m not sure when he’ll officially move out. Or if he’ll officially move out.”

I didn’t want to be meddlesome and ask the obvious question: If you split but you don’t actually split, isn’t that the equivalent of, um, marriage? Instead, I blurted out a far less invasive query: “Are you dating?”

“A little.”

“Is he?”

“Maybe. I’m not quite sure.”

“Wow,” I said, nodding my head as if their arrangement was totally ordinary, as if I’d had the very same conversation with three other moms in the bakery aisle minutes before. I couldn’t help thinking that Kristen and Bill had to be the healthiest, most progressive, most selfless parents on the face of this earth.

Either that, or they were total nut-jobs.

 

Whenever I imagine my divorce—and I imagine my divorce roughly once a week, typically when I find a beer glass soaking in the sink again, as if beer glasses need to soak and can’t, for the love of God, just be placed directly into the dishwasher—it does not look like Kristen’s at all.

My divorce is normal. Thad moves into a nearby apartment. He takes the kids every Wednesday and every other weekend. We alternate holidays. No one periodically sleeps on the other person’s couch.

“How do you imagine our divorce?” I asked him one weekend as we drove to visit some college friends. I was pretty certain that Thad, too, imagined our divorce roughly once a week, typically after I found a beer glass soaking in the sink and proceeded to lecture him for 45 minutes on how I have to do everything. Turns out his fantasy divorce is pretty much the same as mine. I explained Kristen and Bill’s setup.

“But they’re always together,” he remarked.

“That’s exactly what I said.”

He didn’t say anything for a long time. So long, in fact, that I started to worry. Was he weighing the possibilities? Couch a few nights a week and getting to have sex with other women vs. every night in the California king with Mrs. I’m Too Tired And WTF About The Beer Glasses?

“I’m not sure I get it,” he said finally. “You might not be technically married, but you still have to deal with all the stupid little sucky stuff about being married. You’re still getting irritated about the direction of the toilet paper or eating the last piece of pizza or whatever. But there’s no payoff.”

He was talking about sex, but I pretended he was talking about those special married-people moments, like the side-hugs we give each other when we witness one of our children doing something nice, like almost punching a sibling but deciding at the last minute not to. We side-hug a lot. So I felt rather confident that the only time Thad would ever sleep on the couch was when I was bedridden with the flu and throwing up in a bucket.

The next day, full of marital confidence, I stood on the school playground for pickup and, as seems to be required in such circumstances, chatted about what was going on around town. One mom mentioned her neighbor, who was apparently living with her ex-husband full-time because they couldn’t afford separate households.

“In the same bedroom?” someone asked.

“No way. But their son keeps asking them why they never hold hands. He’s so confused.”

“That’s weird.”

“You know what’s weird?” I countered. “I know a couple doing that, too.” Then I revealed the nuts and bolts of The Curious Case of Kristen and Bill, minus the names “Kristen-and-Bill,” in case anyone knew them. I didn’t want to be that mom.

“My cousin’s story is better than that,” another mom cooed, as if we weren’t talking about people, but about who got the better scratch-off coupon in that week’s mailer from Kohl’s. Her story was better: The couple also divorced and stayed in the same Cherry Hill house, but when the dad started dating a friend of theirs, the mom got upset and set him up with one of her friends.

What?!” everyone screeched like hyenas. This was getting good.

Another friend whispered about a couple who split and their kids kept living in the house while they alternated weeks; a similar story involved switching off months. A couple out in Wayne did the same thing, but bought a small studio apartment nearby where each parent stayed on his or her off-time. Then there was the dad who moved out but came over every morning before the kids woke up to cook them breakfast.

The breakfast thing stopped me. It actually sounded … rather … nice. To have someone swoop in and take care of a meal, then swoop away? To spread out in the entire bed and still have a pseudo-live-in homework helper? And laundry-doer? And snot-wiper? To have hours, even days, of space? Of alone-time? Just thinking the word “alone” freaked me out a bit, not because I couldn’t imagine it, but because I could.

The following week, as I tried to determine if our town had a Weird Divorce Cluster, I casually mentioned to a friend at yoga about Kristen and Bill. She volleyed right back—a separated couple she knew who sent a joint Christmas card, complete with a Sears Family Portrait of all of them. Another friend knew a recent Villanova divorcée who hosted her ex-husband—and his new girlfriend—for Rosh Hashanah because, she said, “The kids should be able to look across the table at a holiday meal and see their whole family.”

I didn’t understand. Everyone I knew—everyone—seemed to know someone who was involved in some kind of unbroken breakup. Is this what divorce looks like now? Like the couple in Abington who, two and a half years ago, announced to their friends and neighbors that hubby was moving out? Fast-forward to now: They’re still living in the same house.

“People think he’s too cheap to pay support and she’s too lazy to get a job,” sniped the friend who told me the Abington couple’s tale over coffee. Each parent takes responsibility for their two daughters a few nights a week and every other weekend. On the dad’s off-weekends, he stays at his girlfriend’s house and the mom’s boyfriend moves in. On the mom’s weekends off, the dad’s girlfriend sleeps over. During the holidays, the four of them would be at the same neighborhood parties together. And back at the neighborhood block party in the summer.

“My kids know their kids. They don’t really think anything of it,” my friend explained. But she figured it had to be confounding for the little girls when, last winter, their parents—just the mom and the dad—took them skiing at Camelback. “When I saw the mom later,” my friend said, “I had to ask: ‘Was your boyfriend okay with that?’”

I asked Randi Rubin, a divorce attorney in Center City and on the Main Line, about all of this. Turns out she now sees these setups all the time. Call it the Divorce Halfway House. “It’s much more common,” she says. “People don’t have the means in this economy to live separately, and it usually doesn’t hurt the kids as long as everyone stays civil.”

But dating was often why couples got into the mix in the first place. At a cookout last year, my friend Amy (wife of Joe, mother of three) shared the gooey details of her friend’s situation. Married couple, separated. Still living together. Husband dating another wo­man, who is also separated but living with her ex. Wife dating like a sorority girl.

“Can you imagine?” she asked me.

“No, I can’t, actually.”

“I mean,” she went on, “doesn’t it sound … great?”

Great?

“Think about it. You get to have sex all you want with whomever you want. You get to have the family fire burning at home. Of course, as soon as Joe started dating, I’d lose my shit. I’d probably kill him, but … ” She trailed off dreamily, then strolled away.

Wait, I Have to Buy a Gift for the School Janitor?!

At first, I couldn’t figure out why our neighbor’s daughter was carrying so many bags. She was walking to school with my kindergartner, Blair, and me, as she did almost every day. But today was special. It was the day before the holiday break, a half-day, no less, that would be filled with nothing but jingle-belling and nondenominational word searches and the donning and strutting of various gay apparel.

As we approached the corner, the girl reached out to hand one of her bags to Emma the Crossing Guard.

“Happy holidays!” the girl exclaimed, all joyous and merry.

“Thank you, hon,” Emma the Crossing Guard replied, all joyous and merry, and handed the neighbor girl a candy cane. Emma then handed a candy cane to Blair and—as if it couldn’t get worse—one to my younger daughter, Drew, whom I was pushing in a stroller.

The fact that I didn’t say out loud what was pulsing in my head was a bona fide Christmas miracle: “Oh, shit.”

I thought I’d done a pretty good job for my first foray into elementary-school holiday gift-giving. At that very moment, in Blair’s pink-striped backpack, were two bigger-than-her-head loaves of banana bread—one for her teacher, and one for the teacher’s aide. Blair had helped me bake them. Kind of. I measured out the flour, she dumped it in. I measured the sugar, she dumped it in. I measured the buttermilk, she zombie-walked toward Dora Saves the Snow Princess on TV. Before Blair went to bed, I made her sign little gift cards. I wrapped the loaves in tin foil, then in crisp white dish towels with red reindeers on them that I’d bought at Pottery Barn in February for 75 percent off.

Homemade. Useful. Festive. Cheap.

Not once, not even in a passing daydream on the elliptical, had it ever occurred to me that I should be making banana bread for Emma the Crossing Guard, or for Becky (or was it Betty?) the Other Crossing Guard. What about the art teacher? The gym teacher? What about the janitor?

There wasn’t much time before the 12:30 dismissal bell to make it right with the crossing guards, even though I wasn’t exactly clear on what “it” was. Still, I jogged over to the daycare to drop off Drew (along with the 10-for-$10 small bottles of holiday-smelling lotion—“Sugar Plum,” “Gingerbread House,” “Sap”—that I’d bought at Jo-Ann Fabric and individually wrapped in flouncy red tissue paper for the whole staff). Then I ran home and preheated the oven to 350 degrees.

The last banana in the basket looked more like a charred cat leg than fruit, but these were desperate times. I poured the batter into two small bread pans and, as it baked, tore through the attic in search of those plastic snowman gift bags my mom gave me approximately 13 years ago, “just in case.” At 12:15, I posted a frantic query on Facebook: “Emergency! The Crossing Guard at the corner of Center and Melrose … Becky or Betty?” A mom down the street responded seconds later—“Becky.” Check. If I said I didn’t write the cards with my left hand to make it look like they’d been written by a five-year-old, I’d be lying.

I picked up Blair with the bags of loaf hidden in my purse, waiting until we were out of the crosshairs of other parents before I pulled them out, placed them in her mittened hands, and whispered, “Give these to the crossing guards.”

“Why?” she asked.

“Because … ” I said, then stopped, reviewing the events of the morning and feeling pretty certain I’d just emerged on the other side of a psychotic break. “You know, I’m really not sure.”

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.

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