Michelle’s College Essay

The youngest, Michelle, is a senior in high school. She has been doing some major essay writing recently. The one below made me laugh. Maybe the apple didn’t fall far from the tree!

This is the prompt from the university:

Beyond your impressive academic credentials and extracurricular accomplishments, what else makes you unique and colorful? We know nobody fits neatly into 500 words or less, but you can provide us with some suggestion of the type of person you are. Anything goes! Inspire us, impress us, or just make us laugh. Think of this optional opportunity as show and tell by proxy and with an attitude.

This is the essay:

       I like to think of myself as the funny sibling in my family. I am the youngest of three girls, and as the youngest I have made it my duty to keep family dinner conversations, holidays, and hangouts exciting. You can always find me carrying a speaker around the house blasting music or convincing my sisters to play my favorite game, the No-Smiling-Game. The rules of the No-Smiling-Game are simple: the players try to make each other laugh while also simultaneously trying not to laugh in the process. No matter how annoying my sisters say the game is, they always give into playing because they know it is a guaranteed laugh. However, most recently I’ve found a new way to entertain my family and me: word mashing. 

            One may ask herself, What in the world is word mashing? Like the No- Smiling-Game, it is just as it sounds, taking two words and mashing them together. I’m not really sure where my word mashing, or as I like to call it “washing”, habits started. I think it was sometime during quarantine when I was extremely bored. I got my sisters in on the joke early on because I was constantly combining words around the house. However, my extended family wasn’t exposed to it until our annual summer vacation to the mountains of West Virginia. 

            The first word mash of the week was random, but in my personal opinion, the best of them all. My grandpa was telling a story about his very close encounter with a bear and mentioned bear territory. So naturally, I created “bearitory.” The beauty of word mashing to me is the accomplishment felt when finding a really good match.  After announcing a new word mash to the family and explaining exactly what word mashing was, everyone got in on the fun. 

One night at dinner my family and I were on a mashing roll. It all started when our waitress announced we were having spaghetti for dinner. The spaghetti noodles and spaghetti sauce came to the table thus “spoodles” and “spauce” were born. My uncle, Jesse, catching onto the trend, added that we were also having a “vedley” for dinner as an alternate way of saying vegetable medley. My 75-year-old grandma even joined in when she was inspired by the toppings on her salad: “Oh! I’ve got one,” she said tentatively, worried her word mash might not meet the high expectations of the experts at the table. She proceeded with caution, “Blumbles? Like blue cheese crumbles?” The entire table busted out into laughter. That night we came up with quite the list of “washes.”           

Throughout the week the list grew. Each day brought dozens of new and brilliant mashes to add to the collection. We even created a sort of point system for our new game. For example, the more obscure the word mash the more points earned. Additionally, if the word mash included two large words put together or if it consisted of two innocent words that sounded inappropriate, such as dill pickles (I’ll leave it at that), there was extra credit.

Once we left West Virginia, it was hard to return to a world where word mashing wasn’t commonly used by those around us. However, I’m not sure I would want everyone in on the fun. I sort of like the uniqueness of our family. Little things like “washing” or the No-Smiling-Game often bring the most laughter and create the best memories for me. 


The Dreaded Camp Drop Off


Posted by Danny

Although I worked at Camp Sea Gull and understand the value of resident camp for kids, I still get butterflies when I drop my girls off at Seafarer.  It was hard when when Lisa was here; it’s harder now.

I remember when we first signed DJ up for Camp Kanata when she was seven.  Lisa was determined to begin helping DJ gain some independence, something she desperately needed.  I, on the other hand, was worried sick. 

That Sunday morning we were working to finish up the laundry.  Bailey was clearly concerned.  Every time I’d look at her I’d get a lump in my throat – “I’ll go check the laundry,” I’d offer.

“Didn’t you just check it?”  Lisa would clarify.  “Good Lord man, it’s a week of camp in Durham.  We’re not sending her to Indonesia for the summer.”

Lisa did all of the packing for camp.  Another thing I was totally unprepared for.  I started pulling out bathing suits a week or so ago – we seemed to be fine, there were several.  Then we headed to the pool last weekend.  By the time we were ready to go, this nice little hand-me-down bikini that fit just perfectly at 2:00 was sagging to Michelle’s knees by 5:00.  The outer material covering her butt just drooped – like an old lady’s butt.  I’d never seen anything like it. 

Along with the new bathing suits, I bought her new Crocs, Rainbow flip-flops and bug spray – because the 15 bottles we already have at our house just didn’t make the cut.  It’s that Target thing.  I just panic in there.  A counter full of bug spray when I know it’s on the camp list just won’t let me pass it by. 

“What if I’m wrong?  What if there aren’t five bottles of bug spray in the kitchen cabinet that I open and look at six times a week?  What if all five bottles are almost empty?  What if they have passed their expiration date?  She could be eaten alive by a pack of horsefly.  I won’t be there to look after her and I bet those counselors would never notice.  I’ll just buy the damn stuff.  Where’s the biggest bottle (her friends might need some) with Cutter.”

My child’s can of Off could spray down a camp of 1,200 girls for six years.  Twenty dollars it’s unopened when I pick her up.

What a bunk! Complete with egg crate, matress cover, matching sheets and a Camp Seafarer blanket. The bug spray is in her locker.

I had almost finished packing Michelle when I remembered that Lisa wrote the kids’ names on all of their clothes tags with a Sharpie marker.  Errr – I pulled it all back out.  I’m glad our last name isn’t Von Bibberstein.

Life size cut out, it's almost like she's there!

Michelle was worried that I might miss her so she created a life-size cutout of herself with the assistance of her babysitter.  She convinced me to tape it on my dresser so I’d remember her every morning and every night.  I kind of like having her there for the week.  I may put the cutout in the car and take her to dance and piano  – it’ll feel just like she’s here.

Stephanie rode with me for the drop off.  She worked hard to make sure I was OK even sporting a shower cap from the hotel on her head as a distraction.  “Do you like my new look dad?  Would you call room service and ask them if they’d bring a few more of these up here?  I think we should all wear them tomorrow when we drop Michelle off.”

Last year Michelle cried at breakfast, lunch and dinner I was told.  This year she was convinced that she’d be ok.  “You know dad, my buddy Annie has never been to camp before.  I’m going to tell her I’ll be there for her if she gets upset.”  I wondered who she was going to lean on when the tears were rolling into her scrambled eggs tomorrow morning.

Thanks to Stephanie and a year of maturity for both Michelle and me, things went alright!  I think we’re headed for a very good week.

Get Off Your High Horse Man

Posted by Danny

Yesterday afternoon I was in the car with Michelle and Stephanie and we were talking about Lisa.  After a few minutes of laughing about mom memories, one of the kids said, “What if you would have died and mommy would have lived?” 

I said, “Well, what would that have been like?”

Without hesitation, Michelle said, “That would have probably been better because mom could really relate to girls.”


Thank God for Stephanie.  My sweet child said, “Michelle.  It would not have been better; it would have just been different.”  She then proceeded to explain that I was funny and a good tickler and cuddler but that mom knew more about girls.  She also said that mom was very organized and didn’t really miss things like Awards Chapel at school. 

There must be comfort in having absolute confidence that your parent will show up for your special occasions AND will pick you up on time after school.

Stephanie then said, “But you know dad, we have DJ and she walks us up to the shopping center to get our nails done and stuff – so that’s pretty much covered.”

I’m sure she would be comforting Lisa in a similar situation.  That’s just what Stephanie does.

When I told DJ Michelle’s response to the question, she replied, “You shouldn’t have asked.”

When I start to get cocky about my parenting abilities, just when I jump on that horse, I’m immediately knocked off.   Thank goodness for kids who keep us grounded, I guess.

“I’m Bored”

Posted by Jesse

Being at home with DJ by herself is easy. Basically she’d just prefer you not be seen or heard, but be on hand to drive in case the store calls and her shoes come in. Easy enough. Stephanie likes to hang out, but if I need to watch a basketball game or write something, she can get lost in a book or a TV show or listening to music. Michelle, on the other hand, believes being entertained is her birthright.

She has no concern for your sightline to the television if she wants someone to crawl upon. She is indifferent to the computer she displaces as she slides into your lap. And she does not care what else you have going on when she announces, “I’m bored!” with the expectation that you will make moves to reconcile the situation.

Which is actually a shame, because when she doesn’t have the crutch of someone else to entertain her, the kid does some wildly creative stuff. You’ve already heard about Zelia the fortune teller, who has made multiple appearances.  But the list of characters doesn’t stop there.

Not too long ago, when we were at my mother’s house and I was watching my sister Sallie’s kids along with Michelle and Stephanie, Michelle got bored but realized I had to keep my main focus on the younger kids. So she started an impromptu “talk show” on the back patio furniture. She lined up family members as guests and asked probing questions like, “So, tell us what is up with you!”

Maybe she heard Oprah was retiring.

Recently Michelle asked what the paparazzi was and Danny explained it to her. The next morning she insisted I walk in front of her on our way to the car. I was curious as to why.

“To block the paparazzi, dear.”

She had created a new persona, this one half southern belle, half Hollywood starlet. I recognized this character when I saw her a few days later.

I was mowing Danny’s prize-winning lawn (two weeks in a row, for those of you scoring at home….I know I am) when Michelle comes out in a bathrobe, despite the fact that she had already been dressed for the day earlier. Her hair was also sassily done to the side. If I knew more about hair I could explain it better, and I didn’t have a camera because I was mowing the lawn.

As I finish the back yard, she is motioning for me to cut the mower immediately, and though she’s trying to look steamed, she’s having a hard time suppressing laughter. I finally cut the mower and saunter over. She lays into me.

“I am TRYING to get my beee-auty sleep and I cannot because of all this racket you are making!”

It’s the same character who was hiding from the paparazzi. She follows me as I finish the lawn, standing on the various porches, giving me the evil eye and telling me to shut it down, then giving me the “well, I never!” storm offs when I refuse to yield.

Later that day the whole crew is getting out of the car and Stephanie and DJ both have a few bags to carry in. Michelle doesn’t have anything, but she goes into character once again.

“I’m not really the carrying type, thanks,” she let us know.

We need to come up with names for all of her characters…the talk show host, the southern actress…I’m sure there are more to come. I’m not quite clear how she ever gets bored.

Magically Delicious

Posted by Danny

Their Magically Delicious, even if eaten off the floor

The other morning as we were rushing to get ready for school, I walked in the kitchen to find half of a box of Lucky Charms on the floor by the kitchen bar.  As I surveyed the scene, I realized that Michelle was about to lose it.  Apparently she was the culpret.

I went to get the broom and said “Don’t worry about it baby.”  Her face was turning red and water was filling her eyes when Uncle Jesse piped in, “She didn’t do that, it was me.  Sometimes I like to eat my breakfast off the floor.  It helps me stretch.

He then laid down on the kitchen floor and began to eat the spilled cereal.

Michelle grinned and watched the show.

Is there anything he wouldn’t do for these kids?

The Tooth Fairy Sabbatical


Posted by Danny

I’ve been out-of-town twice lately on business trips, and I am thankful to Jesse for keeping the girls.  They always have a great time when he’s in charge -although  I”m not convinced that all of the rules are followed when I’m gone.

Jesse talks a big game about discipline, “We need to set some strict guidelines for Stephanie to shore up her study habits.”  By we, I’m pretty sure he means ME.  “Michelle really needs to stop asking 8 times during dinner if she’s eaten enough.  I think if she asks once that she shouldn’t get dessert.”  Yeah, he’s a big talker but when I walk out the door, it’s cotton candy for dinner. 

But I have two nieces and was the fun uncle in my day too.  I understand when I come home from DC and find out that he watched movies with DJ and her buddy until the wee hours of the night.  And I’m ok with him using the Golden Corral gift certificates to take the crew out for a two-hour eating fest.  But what I don’t understand, is why when I go out-of-town, the Tooth Fairy takes a Sabbatical.

Michelle is losing teeth like NC State is losing basketball games (yeah, I’m a State fan).  And the past two times I’ve been gone, a bicuspid has sprung loose. 

Michelle gleefully shares the news with Jesse and calls me with full excitement.  She carefully places the tooth in the hand stitched pillow her Nana made her and tucks it neatly under her sleeping pillow.  I can just picture her dreams – the fairy flutters in wearing her pink tutu, sparkles sprinkling from her wand.  The dollar tucked in a nice lace pouch.

The sweet dream is rudely interrupted the following morning when she awakes and finds that her tooth is in the exact same place she left it the night before.  With disappointment she questions Jesse, “Why do you think she didn’t come?  What’s going on?”  I know those big eyes kill him.  And the stories, oh the stories, he extols.

“Well, it came out late in the day.  She probably had her calendar booked with other kids who lost teeth at an earlier hour.  She’s not a Genie, she’s simply the Tooth Fairy.”  As if you don’t have to have some sort of super power to sneak into millions of houses each night replacing money for teeth.  Or, “Maybe she’s at a conference like your dad.”  To my knowledge, there is not a conference for the Tooth Fairy!  What sort of semiars would they conduct?  The New Price of a Molar?  Change or bills?  Things You Can Do With Leftover Teeth? 

He once told her, “I bet she hurt her wing in a game of Lacrosse.  I”m sure she’ll be better soon.”  Yeah, like when your dad gets home.

Today he even suggested that perhaps I was having a rendezvous with the Tooth Fairy on my “business” trips.  I’m hard at work, missing my family and he suggests that I’m away sleeping with the Tooth Fairy.  Unbelieveable!

I’m sort of glad that I’m the only one in the house who knows how to get in touch with the Tooth Fairy.  Jesse’s so good, if it weren’t for that, I’m not sure they’d need me.

So Much Talent

I wouldn’t consider myself musical.  I can carry a tune fairly well and did have a few solos in productions as a high school student.  Once I played Adam in The Apple Tree.  My costume was a pair of khaki shorts.  I was so skinny, you could have seen the missing rib God used to make Eve. 

My mom was a piano teacher but couldn’t teach me because we fought too much.  She couldn’t take my whining.  I couldn’t take her frustration at my lack of rehearsal.  One of her friends was also a piano teacher so they switched sons; a win for all involved.  I can plunk out a tune with the sheet music, but you’d better plan plenty of time for pregnant pauses in between measures.  On the dance floor, I can shag fairly well, but I won’t be staring in A Chorus Line any time soon.

Jesse on the other hand is musical.  In fact, one of the few things that I don’t like about him is the fact that he has so much natural talent, it’s just not fair.  At weddings he has been asked if he was a paid dancer coming to get the party started.  He’s performed in Ira David Wood’s A Christmas Carol at Memorial Auditorium as a main character.  He’s also a good basketball player and if you put him in front of any group of people, they will no doubt be WOWed.  I have him licked in a couple of areas – more hair, more money and thus far have proven better at producing offspring (granted, he’s never been married, but I’m still claiming that as mine).  Now, me bringing this up is not a desire for comments on how many talents I have (especially you mom and dad).  I’m simply pointing out that Jesse is remarkable in many ways (he ain’t perfect though!)

The other day I came home to a house full of music.  It started with Jesse on the guitar and Stephanie sitting at the piano.  One of the girls favorite songs right now is Grenade by Bruno Mars.  As I listened from the kitchen, I began to hear Jesse talking Stephanie through the chords of the song – “Now play a D minor chord, A minor, yes – good job.”  The song unfolded.  Stephanie listened intently.  I could see the lightbulb going off in her head – “This is why I’ve been taking piano for the past three years!” 

Talent abounds

Takes after her uncle

A few minutes later, Jesse was at the piano, Michelle belting out Grenade at the top of her lungs (and she really has a strong voice!)  DJ is also learning to play the guitar thanks to Jesse’s tutelage. 

Pretty soon we’re going to have the Dixie Chics on Dellwood Drive.  $$$ (I’ll take care of the finances, another talent of  mine).

Don’t Get Much Sleep, But We Have A Little Fun

Not my actual bed.

Posted By Jesse

Last Sunday morning I heard a light tap on on my bedroom door, followed by a twist of the knob and slight cracking. I turned my gaze from Sportscenter to the room’s entrance, anticipating the appearance of a bored 8-year old looking for someone to entertain her. Sure enough, Michelle peered through the doorway with an “I know I wasn’t exactly invited, and I know it’s kind of early, but….” look on her face. When she saw me smiling rather than shooing her away, the door flew the rest of the way open and in three quick steps she had bounded into the room and up onto my bed.

I’m not sure exactly when the girls decided I was less of a guest who was not to be bothered and more of a family member who is only granted semi-privacy, but it was a welcome change from my perspective.

On this particular morning, Stephanie had had a night of restless sleep and coughing, and Danny was letting her sleep in a bit in his bed, which is where Michelle had undoubtedly begun her quest for a playmate. But he booted her to let Stephanie rest, and 8 a.m. is just too early in the morning to start playing with dolls I suppose.

So Michelle and I did lounging stuff. I tickled. We snuggled. We wrote letters on each other’s backs and tried to guess what the message was. I wrapped her up like a burrito in my comforter and pretended I couldn’t figure out how to get her out. I acted like I feel back asleep on top of her, smothering her until she could stop laughing enough to belt out, “Get! Off! Me!” All in all…it was probably the best Sunday morning I’ve had in a while.

I’m not overly eager to have another human completely dependent on me. But if you put enough of these types of moments in the brochure to draw in people to become parents, I’d probably get suckered into signing my life away without looking too closely at the fine print.

Lisa and Danny’s bed used to be the main hub of activity in the house, I have gathered. That is because it was also Lisa’s throne. Danny tells me in the evenings she would set up shop in her bed: Law and Order re-runs on the television, laptop computer open for work or Disney planning, she would welcome kids to her bed to review flash cards, plan summer activities, or just plain snuggle. In fact, any time I ask Michelle about memories of her Mom she brings up snuggling in her bed.

Danny probably recognizes some of Lisa’s sedentary traits in her brother, because after dinner I often post up with a laptop on my bed and dial in the evening’s sporting events on the television. I’m not nearly the center of activity Lisa was, but I’ve come to find that more and more the girls treat hopping up on my bed–to chat, to play, for study help–as a regular thing, and not something they have to ask permission to do. And I love it.

Yes, there are times I’m trying to bang out an article that I have put off and put off and now have to write double-time just to get it in a day late. And there are probably times when I would enjoy sleeping in. But I’m trying to put the word out that my bed is open for family business.

It may not be “Grandma’s Feather Bed” and it certainly can’t compete with Lisa’s throne, but my bed is starting to work its way into the rotation of family hang-out spots. DJ will stop by if Danny is putting the other girls to bed and she needs someone to quiz her on vocabulary words. There are still a pair of Stephanie’s dress shoes in my room from when she got home from church and sprinted to my room to let me know how lazy I was for still being in my pajamas….and ended up staying for a while. And, of course, the world is Michelle’s playground, so she’ll come in looking for entertainment any time she pleases.

Moving in with the Tanners, I basically forfeited the right to lock my door. Best trade I ever made.

Just Between You And Me

Posted by Jesse

You may have already seen this video of the twin baby boys chatting each other up in the kitchen. You can check out more of these web darlings at their mother’s blog, www.twinmamarama.com (the mother also happens to be a twin). When I came across the video yesterday I immediately posted it onto the Facebook wall of the set of twins I’m closest with. Between seeing what a great relationship those twins have, and now getting video confirmation that twins are just plain awesome, I’m more convinced than ever I want to have a set of twin boys at some point.

The video also reminded me of my own secret language, that of the third child. Four years ago when we were both bored waiting for food at a restaurant, Michelle and I began talking to each other in “third kid speak”. I told her it was a language that only third-borns could understand, and it was basically a series of squawks and squeaks not all too different from the twins’ dialect.

It was really more of an acting game, and what made it fun for me was how quickly Michelle picked it up, especially at a young age. Though the words were nonsensical (“bee-da-BOO-bop?” and “ahhh…latta-beeka-woo”), we would use inflection, facial expressions, body language, and repetition of sounds to really give the impression that we were talking to each other.

For example, when sitting in a restaurant, if you tap the person sitting next to you and say, “Lapaaaaa…A-rak-a ma-kee-na-do-way?” and look around quizzically as if you’re looking for something, you can clearly communicate that you are looking for the restroom. I might have replied to such an inquiry from Michelle with some head-swiveling to survey the restaurant, a point to the back corner and “Raaaah…la pee-ta ruku she-ma-too-da, a-rashana mayku ratalama”, which of course means, “Ummm…I haven’t been yet but I think it’s back over that way.”

It was a great way for killing time, especially since waiting patiently was never one of my strengths, a third child trait that Michelle has in spades. We were even exclusive about it; sometimes poor Stephanie would want to play and might jump in with her own jabbering. We would look at her like she was crazy and making up words.

“No,” we’d tell her (in english). “You can’t understand it. It’s only for third children.”

Then we would laugh and go back to talking in our own language. (yes, yes, you can take me off of your uncle of the year ballot for that one, but I maintain it’s good to, every now and then, side up with one of the nieces against the rest of the family. Just ask Stephanie how much I have done for her advancement into the front seat of the car despite DJ’s threatening protests)

We don’t dabble in third child babble much any more. Regretfully, the last time Michelle engaged me in our private language I brushed her off because I was watching a basketball game. Like tickling and picking up and laughing at body noises, there’s probably a cut-off date when these things will no longer be amusing or even possible.

But I bet on, say, her wedding day I could lean in and whisper in Michelle’s ear “ma-kee-la a-tu-ree-ka-ma-do” and she would smile and know exactly what I meant.

Red White and I’m so Blue

Posted by Danny

Today was Red, White and Blue day at school for Michelle.  Why is this so difficult for me?

I’m not exactly sure why we’re celebrating red, white and blue in March – I would have thought we’d be dressing in green this month.  But I don’t care – my attitude has become “just tell me what to  do and I’ll do it.”  I don’t need any explanation.  I don’t need a reason.  If you need my kid to be at the circus at 5 pm on Wednesday wearing a tutu, so be it.  You want me there in one too?  Fine.  Just give me the time and an address.

I think I have issues with costumes.  I was Dracula in the third grade for an October birthday party and cried the entire time.  My red eyes worked well with the rest of the outfit.  When I return to my hometown and drive by that kid’s house on Dartmouth Road, my skin crawls.  It’s a horrible memory.

Two weeks ago I taped the flyer about Red, White and Blue Day to the back door to remind us to dress up.  There has been more than one time this year when every kid in class was prepared for an event – with show and tell or special clothes or a special snack – and Michelle was without due to her father’s lack of organization.  She’s actually learning to remind me of her special events.  Do you think 8 years old is too young to manage an outlook calendar?  She’s going to make someone a really good administrative assistant one day.

So last night she told me that we needed to pick out her clothes for this special day.  She was leaving this to a taped up reminder.  We headed upstairs to make our plan. 

I pulled out a pair of jeans. 

“We can’t wear jeans dad.  It’s not allowed at our school.”


I pulled out a pair of red Soffe gym shorts.

“We aren’t allowed to wear those either.”


The Great Clothes Migration hasn’t yet reached her room this spring.  Our choices were limited.  I hit DJ’s closet.  “Here’s a red scarf you could wear!”

“You said it was going to be really hot tomorrow.  DJ wears that in the snow.”


We head back to her room.  I dig deep.  Finally – a pair of light blue pedal pushers with white polka dots.

“I guess those will work Dad.  But I think it’s supposed to be the blue in the flag.”

“I think this is the blue in the Canadian flag.  It’s a country real near here.  I’m pretty sure it doesn’t matter which flag.  See if they fit.  I can iron those wrinkles right out.”

We choose a white long-sleeved tee to match – the sleeves were turning brown. 

“I think it looks good with the sleeves rolled up like daddy does when he goes to work,” I suggest.

She picks out a big red bow for her hair.  It’s squished – it looked like an Elephant slept on it since Thanksgiving.  But I didn’t say anything.

I head down with the wear.  I plug-in the iron and go to town.  Things are looking pretty good.  But what can I do with the bow?  Lisa used to stuff our Christmas bows with newspaper to keep them puffy during their 11 month hiatus. 

I nab the News and Observer and shove the sports section into the largest loop. 

I wasn’t sure that the paper was going to puff it up enough by morning.  Apparently it was a big elephant.  So, I decided to put it in the freezer for the night.  Freezers make things stiff – think about what it does to water.

This morning the bow was taut.  I put it in her hair.

“Dad, why is this bow so cold?”

“Get your bookbag.  I don’t want to talk about it.”

I can’t wait for theme days at summer camp.

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