Breast Cancer Awareness Life with the Girls

My Sister, Myself

Alice Hurley’s older sister MaryAnne always looked out for her—so when MaryAnne needed a mastectomy, it was Alice’s turn to step up. Read on to find out what support can look like in this Breast Cancer Awareness Month edition of “Life with the Girls.” 


Alice (left) with MaryAnne and Buttercup.

The longer we live, the more my sister means to me.

Sis is seven years my senior. Calling her MaryAnne was for other people. We shared a bedroom with matching bedspreads. She did magical, thoughtful things: One Christmas Eve, my old striped stocking was replaced with a bigger, more cheerful patterned red felt one she had sewn and hung for Santa to fill.

The first time I left home for a sleepover, at Aunt Claire and Uncle Anthony’s Bronx apartment, Sis came with me. (I still cried.) She took me clothes shopping when I got my first New York City magazine job. She lived in a brownstone and invited me often to sleep over on her pullout sofa. (I was no longer scared.)

She took me under her wing. Our mother had died from colon cancer at 56, when I was still in college. Sis watched out for me. She was a scientist; I am a writer. She was a Peace Corps volunteer; I am an avid shopper. But our love overlaps.

Her mastectomy was in May 2019. My auburn-haired sister had just turned 65 and lived alone with her sweet also-auburn Dachshund, Buttercup. She had been widowed for two winters.

I had gone along to meet the breast surgeon. We had questions for Dr. Guth who, we agreed, reminded us of our late, beloved Aunt Claire—surely a good sign. We talked in the examination room about how Sis loved fishing and boats; she and her husband had met sailing. Without saying the words, I wanted Dr. Guth to know: This isn’t just any old patient. This is my sister. 

“We’ll get the surgery done in the spring and have you back out on the water,” Dr. Guth said. We believed in her.

Sis chartered a fishing boat the Saturday before her surgery to take me and my family out on the Long Island Sound with her; she predicted it might be a bit until she could hold a rod again. She baked the fish we caught for dinner.

While I was with Sis, my husband held down the fort. I left our car in suburbia, took the bus through the Lincoln Tunnel to the Port Authority, walked across town to Grand Central Station and boarded the train to Connecticut schlepping my jumbo, overstuffed pink tote (I read that pink makes both wearer and observers feel better). I arrived the day before surgery, feeling a bit like Mary Poppins unpacking in Sis’s guest room. I had books and salted cashews to share; pink tops and dresses; sneakers so I could walk Buttercup; and an umbrella, though, unlike Mary Poppins’, mine was only in case of rain.

I also brought, standing behind me, our parents, our Irish and Italian grandparents, our aunts and uncles, our two brothers, my daughters.… I stood alone before Sis, but I stood for everyone who loved her. I was the helper, ever upbeat and cheerful. We had been Girl Scouts, after all. I was dependable.

Yet I was also naïve. I didn’t fully register the deadly seriousness of having a breast removed. I didn’t anticipate the pain Sis would be in, how hard it would be for her to rest, to lift things. How she would be unable to bathe herself. I had not researched what a drainage tube entails.

“For the first time, our roles reversed. Though she forever has what I need in her handbag, now I had to bring my big sister what she needed: support”

For the first time, our roles reversed. Though she forever has what I need when I need it—hand sanitizer, a mint, tissues—now I had to bring my big sister what she needed most: support.

We rose in the dark of early morning, and I drove us into New York City, my cell phone updated with all the contacts I had to call after surgery. I took my place in the waiting room.

Once Dr. Guth said all had gone well and Sis’s lymph node sample was clean, I started the phone chain. I fetched her meds at the pharmacy. While doctors zipped in and out of her room, I made too many visits to the cafeteria, nervously eating to bury it all, to soothe myself: a bagel with cream cheese and lox, dark chocolate, endless coffee, fancy cookies, mashed potatoes, cheese blintzes, soft black licorice.

I slept on a cot by her bed. I liked being by her side again.

Alice on the fishing trip last June.

Back home, I checked Sis’ bandage and applied new tape. I changed her sheets and the water in the flower vases. I grocery-shopped, coming back with extra presents that would ultimately replace my presence: a pink petunia for the terrace; pink peony hand soap.

We sipped coffee and chatted. We walked Buttercup by the marina and watched the swans. I napped on the couch, safe in the presence of my big sister while I Dream of Jeannie, a show from our girlhood, was on TV. Even while she was recovering, Sis watched over me.

By June 2020, just over a year after the surgery, Sis was back on the water as Dr. Guth had promised, and I was there to celebrate with her. Covid had hit; we wore masks on the dock. She chartered a boat, and we caught big striped bass. Though some enormous swells rocked us, we held on for safety.

Sis and me, we were not going to let each other fall down or go under.

Life with the Girls

One for Me, Please

At a time when women are having fewer children than ever, Katie Arnold-Ratliff shares how fate and free will came together to shape her family size. Read about why a party of three suits her perfectly in this month’s “Life with the Girls.”


Katie and her favorite guys.

I’ve met women who’ve always known they wanted to be moms. I’ve met women who knew they didn’t. But I’m one of the only women I know who was never sure.

I grew up feeling I didn’t want kids, and then, over twenty-plus years, decided I did; was undecided; decided in the opposite direction; tried to get pregnant, then got divorced (this suggested the matter was closed); and finally, met a marvelous guy and got unexpectedly pregnant, ending the endless debate. My path to parenthood was less an ascending trek to a treasured dream than a train I kept boarding and bolting from, until fate punched my ticket for good.

It turns out the universe knew what it was doing. When I learned I was expecting, I was delighted, and since the day my son was born, I’ve felt monumentally lucky to be his mom. Now three-and-a-half, he’s a wonder: funny and zany and clever and sensitive. (Also, occasionally bossy and impatient and hangry and flatulent, but it’s all part of his charm.) If I could rewind time, I wouldn’t hesitate to make all the same choices that gave him to me.

But will I ever do it again—the is now the right time? pondering, the ovulation tracking, the goopy sonograms, the maternity pants that never stay up, the barfy glucose test, the massive hospital bill, the delirious newborn era, the maddening toddler era, the skipped naps, the bimonthly daycare colds, the potty-training nightmare, the circular arguments about how many bites of food were agreed to, a number now being reneged on?


Several years ago, before I was a parent, a friend said something I’ll never forget: “If you’re ambivalent about having kids, have kid.” She herself was a mother of one, and she understood the paradoxes of childrearing: It’s more and less intuitive than you think. It fills you up and it drains you. The days are long (a sample of my internal monologue: Please don’t ask me to play Halloween songs again, it’s May), and the years are short (sometimes I’m afraid to blink, lest I come to at his high school graduation). Some parts are effortless and others are torturous.

I adore my child, his inventive games, his adorably weird grasp on language (said upon drinking something too cold: “The ice pinched my teeth!”). But I also relish and fiercely guard my private passions, writing and reading, which I can only indulge when he’s not around. I love raising a child. I’m not built to raise more. I want to ease this marvelous boy into the world—then ease myself back into my own life. Luckily, my husband agrees. (He’s scheduled the procedure, thanks for inquiring.)

“Moms are supposed to love every aspect of mothering and be grateful they get to do it. But that’s frankly ludicrous”

I sense as I type this that some vestigial part of all our socialized psyches is screaming: BAD MOTHER! DEFECTIVE WOMAN! Moms are supposed to love every aspect of mothering and be grateful they get to do it. But that’s frankly ludicrous. I melted down hard in the newborn phase; I had a blast during months two to eighteen; toddlerhood was one long grinding battle of wills (our son has been called “the most stubborn kid our daycare has ever seen”); and now he’s occasionally threenagerish but mostly lovely and calm and hilarious. I can leave the room to pee without worrying he’ll somehow mortally injure himself, and he can tell me what he wants instead of wailing indecipherably for an hour. I don’t want to go backwards.

But hang on a moment, because I don’t want to give the wrong idea. It would be reductive to say that our one-and-doneness was born solely of the difficulty of parenting. That’s just one reason among many. Some are practical: We live in a sweet but small house; I doubt we could save enough for multiple college educations; I’m pushing forty, so the decision may not even be ours to make.

And the greatest reason of all, more than the exhaustion and the money and the renaissance we’re planning for our empty nest years, is also the simplest: We really love being a trio. There’s something magical about the way one kid and two parents fit together—in conversation, as two doting faces lean in to hang on one boy’s every goofy word. In a bed, when a sick kid materializes in the doorway and wants to snuggle between his parents. In moments of distress, when four arms are the right size to envelop his quaking little body. We fly in one tidy airplane row. We fit in one bench seat on the zoo’s train ride. “We are,” our son loves to say, “a three.” After a lifetime of waffling, I feel the rightness of that in my bones.

So, I will repeat the advice given to me: Unsure? Have kid. Experience what parenting is in all its contradictory splendor, then move on with your life. When my son does graduate from high school, I’ll be fifty-three. Practically still a baby myself! Whole decades before me!

Too often we mistake the present for an eternal future—we think that life will always be as it is right now. But if all goes as it should, you and me and all of us will be on this planet a long time. There are plenty of years in which to live plenty of lives. One in which you cast about for an answer to an impossible question. One in which you devote your life to raising a sweet little guy. And one in which you finish that job and turn back to what you love—not to the things that make you a mother, but to the things that make you, you.

Life with the Girls

Perfectly Imperfect

In this Mother’s Day edition of “Life with the Girls,” Constance Costas reflects on how her lack of domesticity eventually (if accidentally) helped her daughter grow to rely on herself.line

When my baby girl said mama for the first time, I looked over my shoulder, wondering if my own mother–the real one–had entered the room

Oh, honey, I wanted to ask her. Are you sure we’re ready for that? 

I’d been winging it through our first sleepless months together, getting it wrong as often as I got it right. Like an intern suddenly promoted to CEO, I hadn’t yet earned the title.

I grew into the mother role, though. We all do. And now that my daughter has reached her mid-twenties, I’ll tell you a little secret: An imperfect mother makes a far better teacher than a perfect one. How do I know this? Because my own weaknesses have become my daughter’s strengths.

Life with the Girls

The Point of It All

One full year into the Covid-19 pandemic, Alyssa Hertzig has discovered a new way to practice self-care…and it’s about as old-fashioned as it gets. In this month’s “Life with the Girls,” she shares how she stumbled across a way to cope that keeps her hands busy and her mind at ease. (And no, it isn’t not baking banana bread.)line

Alyssa stitching her latest WIP.

There was a time as recently as 2019 P.C. (that’s pre-Covid, of course) when I was cool.

As a beauty editor, I spent my days attending fancy launches for new lipsticks, nail polishes, or anti-aging creams. I wore pants without drawstring waists and dresses that weren’t designed explicitly for naps. I had my hair blown out weekly in a salon, a practice that now somehow seems alien, dangerous and heavenly all at once.

Then the pandemic hit and, as it did for countless others, changed my life overnight. Events were canceled, budgets tightened, assignments disappeared. My life suddenly revolved almost exclusively around two things: 1) worrying that I or someone I loved would get sick, and 2) acting as a de facto school principal tasked with policing my first grader during remote school. Now, instead of lip gloss launches and article writing, my days were spent with my voice at an 11, screaming at my son to “KEEP YOUR FACE IN THE SCREEN!” and “LISTEN TO YOUR TEACHER!”

As it turns out, I’m a super mean principal. I felt stressed, angry, lost, and somehow both busy and bored. I desperately wanted a way to relax and temporarily escape, but with my usual go-tos like massages, pedicures or drinks with friends off the table, I was at a loss. (And showers are not self-care, don’t even go there.)

Life with the Girls

Finding True Love the Modern Way

We women have learned not to tie our fortunes to a Prince Charming. Now on the other side of 50, with her children grown and flown, Jasmine Chang shares in this month’s “Life with the Girls” how she found true love the thoroughly modern way: Tinder, texts, a lot of tears, tenacity and, at long last, wholehearted acceptance of “good enough.” 


Jasmine and her perfectly good guy.

There I was, approaching 50, and getting a divorce. Our marriage was in such disarray, honestly, that the finality of it all was more liberating than anything else. Even the kids were relieved.

Since my marriage had unofficially been over for years, I was looking forward to getting back out there. The problem was that I never was out there. I met my ex-husband at the tender age of 19 and had no idea how to really date-date. Luckily, I worked in a predominantly female office and everyone was supportive, loved giving me advice and rallied around me. They taught me the difference between a landing strip and a full Brazilian and coached me on how to dress for a man, not for other women. (Being an exclusive pant-wearer with the fashion aesthetic of Ellen DeGeneres, I found that more painful than the actual waxing.)

I wasn’t even really ready when I went out with old friends to a reunion of sorts, but there he was. At 49, I found myself in love with a guitarist, a man who was one of my ex-husband’s best friends. You know, the friend who always had a crush on you and never married. The one who said he’s been in love with you for years even though you were married to his best friend. I fell for it. His flattery and adoration enveloped me like a fleece blanket. Knowing I was lovable was an amazing feeling coming out of the tumultuous relationship my marriage was. I needed it so bad.

He was handsome as hell, always was, and I regressed to a teenager. After a make-out session (remember those?) he told me was going to Japan for two weeks, which he did that every year. I anxiously awaited his daily calls and texts where he told me how much he missed me.

Weeks after he returned, he broke up with me but couldn’t explain why. I really was 19 again, the hurt and sadness callow and raw. Turns out he forgot to mention he had a girlfriend in Japan whom he married a short time later.

After months of feeling sorry for myself, I reluctantly turned to dating sites. I was apprehensive but tried to think of it like a game. I remember comparing how many men reached out to me compared to my white girlfriends. We marveled and laughed at the number of sick men with Asian fetishes. I had to weed through piles of creeps to get to the few legit contenders. The process was exhausting.

“So many of us wounded hearts seek flattery, adoration, validation…”

So many of us wounded hearts seek any kind of flattery, adoration, validation. Why do you think so many men on these sites start a conversation with, Hi, beautiful? They may be idiots, but they’re not stupid. They know divorced women are vulnerable prey.

It took a few weeks to meet someone. He had two Porsches, spoiled my children with gifts and lavished me with vacations. He also never spent the night and would never let me near his phone. Red flags? Absolutely. If I squint hard enough, I can see them in the rearview. But we all bought what he was peddling.

“It’s your time, Jasmine.”

“You deserve a man with money, finally!”

“Men show their love with gifts.”

Everyone wanted desperately for me to be happy…including me. So despite the fact that he was the ethics officer of a Fortune 500 company, it came to light after four years that he was still married, had two children (he said he only had one) and had even become a grandfather during our time together. But wait, there’s more: He had another relationship with another woman going on the entire time, too. She’d had no idea, either.

It’s a wonder I didn’t crawl under a rock for good. This relationship should’ve closed me off from men forever. Maybe I had something to prove to myself. Maybe I hated being alone. But I was not going to let this con artist screw with my head when it was his that needed work.

A happy life is the best revenge, right?

I gave myself about five months to get over the shock of it all. Then I exhaled and jumped back in.

There were a few other guys that hung around for a little bit, but the relationships all ended for different reasons. I had fun with each of them and learned so much about myself. I found that I could talk to anyone for hours and make friends easily. I learned that if a guy wasn’t making an effort to find time to see me, he wasn’t into me. Eventually, you learn not to take it personally. Men can be such insecure beings.

It’s funny how the perception of love and partnership changes as you age. You’re no longer seeking someone who will become the father of your children or a provider, and that’s a huge load off. If you haven’t always been in charge of your own money, you learn to be. There’s so much less pressure to find the one. 

Now, at 61 years old, I’m with a great guy, almost five years in. What have I mastered? Nothing. No one is perfect. No one. For those who still dream of forever-after perfection, forget it. I always hated fairy tales. My man is perfectly imperfect. He is very tall, has a thick head of hair, went to Yale for grad school. He is also very untidy–okay, a borderline hoarder–and leaves his mouth hanging agape a lot. But there’s something about him that makes me laugh, and we rarely argue. My dog adores him, too; what else does a woman need?

He is good…enough. Could I do better? Perhaps. But can someone explain exactly what “better” means? Rich? Been there, hard pass. Great-looking? George Clooney is still taken. A buff gym rat? I don’t want to have to compete with that!

No, thanks.

I’m living my happily ever after right now.

Life with the Girls

Nobody’s Mother

Mara Reinstein has become many things in her 40ish years—a writer, film critic, satellite radio host, world traveler, friend, auntie—but one thing she never longed to be called was “mom.” Hear what it’s like to choose to defy the greatest enduring expectation of women in this month’s “Life with the Girls.” 


Mara on a stoop of her own

I plopped down at the cozy corner booth expecting a long-awaited catch-up dinner with a former coworker. I didn’t realize it would be an intervention with a side of bread.

“You really need to freeze your eggs, Mara,” Leslie instructed me while the menus were still on the table. “It’s for your own good. By the time you realize you want to be a mother, it will be too late.”

Leslie had been struggling with fertility issues, so I know she had the best intentions. That’s why I listened and nodded politely and deftly attempted to change the subject. I just didn’t have the heart to reply with the thought that instantly formed in my brain: “Look, I know I’m only 36, but that’s not happening. I’d rather spend all that money on my next trip to Europe.”

Now that I’m in my mid-40s, I can say it proudly and hopefully without judgment from others: Motherhood is not for me.

Life with the Girls

On Ice

When she was dealing with her father’s death and her own dependency problems, becoming a mother felt increasingly out of reach for Abbe Wright. But she wasn’t about to let today’s pain get in the way of tomorrow’s plans. In this month’s “Life with the Girls,” find out how Abbe froze time for her future.line

Abbe is sober now and in a relationship

I awoke to the sound of my biological clock thudding in my ears sometime in my mid-thirties. I became aware of its steady, anxiety-inducing drumbeat slowly, groggily, as if coming out of a coma—at first, I could barely sense it and then, all of a sudden, its syncopation was all-consuming. While I hadn’t been in an actual coma, I had certainly missed a large chunk of my life.

My dad was diagnosed with cancer when I was 26. At the time, I was living in Manhattan, working at my dream job, dating a man who wasn’t entirely right for me, and partying—spending most nights mixing alcohol with a cocktail of uppers and downers, eager to achieve that perfect night-out balance of not getting too drunk, while also not remembering the morning after. I’d envisioned this big life for myself, and here I was living it—having achieved it through a blend of blind ambition and dumb luck, fueled by youthful energy and lots of booze.

But when my dad got sick, everything changed. His illness gripped him quickly and, almost immediately, it was Capital-B Bad. For four years, he was in and out of the hospital, eager to try things like a bone marrow transplant, which, while promising to extend his life, nearly killed him in the process. He achieved remission a few times, but it always came back.

I was no longer living that carefree life. I would work all week, barely able to focus, then take the 6:32 PM train to Philadelphia on Friday nights. My weekends went from day drinking with friends to sitting beside my dad’s hospital bed, encouraging him to eat something, anything. Watching a parent die slowly feels like your own death by a thousand paper cuts. You’re constantly worried that the conversation you just had will be the last, that he’ll be gone before you see him again. The fear and anxiety wrap around your throat; it’s hard to remember what life felt like before you were choked by it.

Life with the Girls

The Attitude of Gratitude

On the eve of Thanksgiving and her 40th birthday, Gabrielle Porcaro gets grateful. In this month’s “Life with the Girls,” she recounts the ways she’s gotten okay with getting older…even during the most tumultuous year she’s ever lived through. 


Gab in Central Park two weeks ago

The year leading up to a milestone birthday is supposed to be contemplative. Add in a global pandemic and contentious election, and the minutes spent being introspective are innumerable.

At the risk of stating the obvious, I’m not exactly spending my 39th year how I planned.

I have decided that the concept of 40 is scarier than the actual age. While I’m not sure how you’re supposed to feel, minus some muscle aches I don’t feel all that much different than I did at 25. People make surprised faces when I tell them how old I am, proving I don’t look the part, either.

What I do know is that I have never been more in-tune with or secure in myself than I am now, which began way before the hours of self-confinement and puzzling (existentially and literally).

I’m thankful for being where I am and wouldn’t trade a thing to turn back time. Here’s why:

Life with the Girls

Waging Peace

After enduring merciless teasing about the size of her chest from classmates while she was growing up, Karla Walsh went to war against her own body. In this month’s ” Life with the Girls,” find out how she eventually brokered a ceasefire.line

Karla Walsh in a much better place with her body

Back in 1999, certain things in my seventh grade-life were welcome in super-sized packages: Boy Meets World episodes. Jelly Roll pens. Packs of Gushers.

But not my breasts.

As a self-conscious, early-to-puberty tween, I would have done anything to hit “pause” on the growth of my genetically well-endowed breasts—especially once a particular phys ed class filled with jumping jacks earned me the nickname “Big Tit Karla” (or BTK if you needed to save time). In fact, I tried to do many things to minimize myself, from doubling up on sports bras to wearing baggy clothes to slouching my shoulders to back-pain-inducing levels.

I felt so awkward about my chest that I wouldn’t even mention it to my own mother. Instead, on my way to declaring all-out war on my breasts, I decided to enlist in boot camp. As a Type-A perfectionist problem solver, I knew I could “fix” things and prove those classmates wrong, that I amounted to more than the sum of my parts.

The mission: Lose weight to lose breast size…and hopefully, along the way, gain acceptance from myself and my peers.

Turns out I can be damn good at things I set my mind to.

It started with one-mile jogs around the neighborhood, then I added 30-minute elliptical sessions and 30-minute rounds of weightlifting. Soon, those Gushers, my chicken nugget habit and other high-calorie, high-fat foods were given their marching orders. More exercise. Less food. Repeat. And one day, 180-pound me had somehow done a magical disappearing act. I looked down at the scale read-out: 94 pounds.

At that very moment, I felt scared. In control yet out of control. And as heartbreaking as it seems admitting it today, I can’t lie: I did feel a twinge of pride. Those DDs were now AAs, and my classmates sure couldn’t taunt me about that anymore.

But there was a lot of collateral damage I was far from proud of. My parents were at their wits’ end with me—we’d attempted to negotiate through peace talks with dietitians, psychiatrists, physicians and more to inspire me to declare a ceasefire and take a break from this Anorexic War.

Along with my body size, my energy level and any positivity I once possessed just tanked. Unlike silly fruit snack-munching Karla 1.0, Karla 2.0 was a shivering, skeletal and selfish human whose main goal was to make it through the day eating a little less than the day before (but do so while maintaining a 4.0 GPA and keeping up appearances, naturally). Everyone was afraid to talk to me, from my sisters to my friends, and honestly, I was afraid of what was going to happen next.

“I was able to rewrite the script and think of my body as an ally”

So I called in reinforcements. After a heart-to-heart with my Dad, who promised he and my Mom would send me to an inpatient treatment facility if I lost another pound, I inched my way toward accepting my psychiatrist as my battle partner. Very, very slowly, the number on the scale started to climb back up, but more importantly, the territory of my brain was no longer invaded by calorie tallies. I was able to rewrite the script and think of my body as an ally, food as a source of joy, exercise as a gift rather than a punishment.

After a more than decade-long recovery mission, complete with a few backslides and far more stretch marks, my brain and my body have declared a truce. Some days are more peaceful than others. Unlike nearly 20 years ago, though, I admire my chest as one of the many parts of the strong, whole me. Karla 3.0 has retired her battle uniform and exchanged it for flattering tops, fitted blazers and curve-hugging jeans. Super-sized or average, bouncy or perky, my girls are part of the greater me.

I like her strength, and I love living in a post-war world.

Life with the Girls

Extra Homework

After an unfair incident in the classroom left her embarrassed and confused, Meredith Bodgas is deciding to teach her sons that “bra” isn’t a dirty word. Read about how girls learn about double standards along with their ABCs and 1-2-3s in this month’s “Life with the Girls.” 


Meredith in her grade school days.

The first day I had on a bra, at 8 years old in third grade, I told my best friend about it. She, like me, was blossoming faster than most other girls in our class, and I thought she’d be excited about my news. She was. So excited, in fact, that she repeated what I’d told her, screaming at the top of her lungs, in the coat closet in our classroom. There’s nothing like the known presence of a bra to provoke a bunch of male pre-pubescents. 

In walked our fairly strict teacher, Mrs. Nolan. The sister of the district superintendent looked like a cross between Jackie Kennedy and the Wicked Witch of the West, hook nose and all. And she was angry—horrified, even—upon hearing the boys’ uproarious chants of “bra, bra, bra!”

She yelled several decibels above the chorus, sent the other students back to their seats and sternly issued her punishment…to me, and no one else. For the high crime of talking about an undergarment, I would have to turn in more homework than everyone else the next morning. 

By the previous year, I had grown accustomed to kids teasing me for being fat. This, however, was the first time an adult made me feel self-conscious about my body. And it was the first time it occurred to me that womanhood could be a source of shame. 

It took some growing, both mental and physical, but by 12, I had embraced my B-cups. And when I became a mother, I developed a deeper gratitude for my breasts, but not just because they were bigger than ever. I was finally using them for their intended purpose: to feed a baby.

As that baby, Jeremy, grew into a preschooler, I borrowed my parents’ progressive approach and openly discussed topics Mrs. Nolan would have deemed taboo, though I opted for a lighthearted synonym in referencing those two body parts: “Moms have boobs to feed milk to their babies. Dads don’t have boobs because they don’t feed babies from their bodies,” I told Jeremy when he asked why my and his dad’s chests were so different. “I wear a bra when I leave the house because I feel more comfortable that way.” 

“She issued punishment to me, and no one else, for the high crime of talking about an undergarment”

By three-and-a-half, Jeremy was a big brother to my new baby, Zachary, whom I also nursed. I preferred using a cover in public, but in my house the girls (or at least one gal at a time) were exposed whenever it was feeding time…and sometimes when it wasn’t because, frankly, I was too tired to put on shirts in those sleep-deprived early days.

Occasional toplessness attracted more questions from Jeremy. I patiently answered each one, even though sometimes I wanted to snap, “Could you please get your face the hell away from my nipples?” I held back because I didn’t want him to think I was ashamed of my body. And more importantly, I didn’t want him to think he should ever make another female ashamed of hers (though I am teaching him that he needs permission to get that close to any person’s chest).

I’m fairly certain none of the parents of those bra-chanting boys ever found out about the incident, and, given the predominantly conservative area in which I was raised, none of those parents would’ve had a problem with the bra-wearer getting punished for riling up their sons. Still, I would feel awful if my own children responded to a girl’s confession of wearing a bra for the first time in a way that earned her admonishment. 

So I’ll keep tutoring my boys on bras and boobs (maybe I’ll graduate to calling them breasts one day) in hopes that they can be the calming voice of reason if another child—or another Mrs. Nolan—makes a girl feel even a little bit guilty for having them.

Life with the Girls

10 Steps to the Perfect Swimsuit

Laura Lifshitz has found that all it takes to get into the right swimsuit is time, patience, humility, self-tanner, her daughter’s approval and a total alignment of the stars. See if this month’s “Life with the Girls” sounds like an all-too-familiar process.line

There are few decisions more anxiety-inducing in life than buying a bathing suit. Deciding whether to swipe left or right, signing a divorce agreement or choosing the right time for a colonoscopy might be roughly equivalent to the level of thought that goes into whether I bring a given tankini home with me. And if you’ve never had the pleasure of doing any of the above activities like I have, well bless your heart.

Bikinis, bottoms, one-pieces, cup support, cover-ups…the options are endless. I so envy a man’s toughest decisions: blue bathing trunks or red? Clean pair or out of the hamper?

Of course, with all the excitement that goes with swimsuit shopping—summer, you came back!—I’m also furrowing my brow way too much and earning serious Botox units on the road to choosing the right suits. By the time I finally plunk down my credit card, here are the deciding factors that have already come into play:

Life with the Girls

Shopping While Black

Racism has a way of hiding in plain sight: Sometimes, it even follows like a silent stalker down the shampoo aisle. In this month’s “Life with the Girls,” Eboné Denise shows through her personal experience how fraught and unsettling a ho-hum errand can feel for a Black woman…and why she’s starting to have hope that things might actually be changing.