Hair: a Reprise

Is it too soon for another post about hair? I cannot avoid it. There it is atop my grateful head, making me look exactly like… a mom. I have mom hair. April, who is the sort of friend who will tell me these things, counseled me to commit: either keep growing, or abandon the effort and aim for an edgier ‘do. At this point, I’m waiting out many more months sporting too-cutesy-for-40 barrettes and headbands until my bangs reach ponytail nirvana. In the meantime, I’m your go-to girl for bake sales, playdates, orange quartering, and quinoa recipes. I’m the woman-most-likely-to-get-out-of-the-minivan. No one doubts for a soccer halftime second that I have Purell and granola bars in my purse. And unless I pledge another four inches of hair growth, I’ll be trapped under the Mommy helmet, wearing the duck boots, holding the L.L. Bean tote bag.

This isn’t entirely about hair, I suppose. Anything that incessantly reminds me of my mom-ness, robs me of a bit of Britt-ness. In my mind, I’m swinging my little skirts all over town, brightening mundane errands with witty zingers and a hair toss. When completely preoccupied with mom duties, I forget to look in the mirror. I once spent an entire day with a gummy apple affixed to the butt of my unflattering jeans. (No one told me… because dowdy mommies with small children are invisible.) When entirely–gleefully!– busy with the exhilarating and exasperating day to day doings of small boys, I am fulfilled and smart and brimming with love and gratitude. But, for me, these moments, no matter how sweet, don’t Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman. Only a swish of long hair, a full glass of bubbly, and a child-free evening in expensive shoes has me seconding that emotion.

Back in college we used to tease Jason that he was “living his hair.” Freshman year, Jason had the cascading ringlets of a mall-lingering girl wearing neon.

Somehow, it was even wilder and redder than this.

Somehow, it was even wilder and redder than this.

Jason was loud and always singing and loud and playful and loud and brilliant and loud. LOUD. Even his hair was loud… all red and curly and all over the place. But by senior year, Jason had mellowed a bit, now a Phi Beta Kappa Philosophy major, New York Times tucked under one arm, a cup of black coffee, up all night in the computer center, punctuating his deep thoughts with scotch breaks. It was time for Jason’s hair to match, so he engaged a gaggle of girls to tame his mane in a pictorial that now looks a bit drunk and hedonistic… just like Jason. (In fact, I’m reluctant to post it here even with his permission. Never has a haircut looked so… naughty.)

Today, Jason is shave-it-all bald, sporting only a yarmulke as his head coordinates with the self-discipline of his Orthodox Jewish faith. Jason is the very passionate director of a theatre company, all serious and successful, and now his hair matches this.

Too busy, handsome, and important for hair

Too busy, handsome, and important for hair

Unlike Jason, I’m not living my hair. I’m nostalgic for the locks I lost instead of embracing the evidence that I’ve made it this far. This isn’t to say my hair isn’t fabulous. Oh, it is. At the airport a few months ago, a woman sidled up sort of embarrassed with her odd request: could she take my picture? She wanted her stylist to see my hair. She wanted my haircut… as if this were a real, on purpose, not cancerous feat of fashion. I let her snap 360° iPhone images of my head, and when she left, Teddy had a theory.

“Do you think one of your friends told her we were here? And that she should say that? So you feel good? I think that’s nice.”

It was nice, but my boys couldn’t quite believe that someone wanted to look like this. Because this hair still haunts us with memories of why it’s not long. This hair, this mom hair, is blonde and adorable and ready for its close up. But I’m not loving (or living) it. I’m growing the hair that matches the girl in the swinging skirt, the one who has shelved the terror, the one who is ready for a mighty fine time. (Because we always had a mighty fine time.)

Jeremiah, in sexy blonde splendor

Jeremiah totally gets me.

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Dating, by Steve Safran

Steve is dating: a process brimming with the potential for family flare-ups, justified teenager defiance, logistical scheduling difficulties, and the unmistakable solicitation of help from a Higher Power.

Oh God, dating.

Yes, the subject causes me to invoke the name of Britt’s beloved deity.

This is not another a Dating Is Hard essay. We all know that, so stop with the complaining. Dating should be hard. If dating were easy, we’d never go to work. We’d be too busy making reservations. No– dating should be difficult. You’re looking for a match, and that’s tough to find. Post-divorce dating carries the added struggle of comparing the new girl to the ex, which although unavoidable, is unfair.

I won’t whine about the difficulties of meeting single women, either. Thanks to the web, it is insanely easy to meet women. (Or men, or your same gender, or whatever inspires a 6pm shave and the good cologne.) Where was this wonderful tool when I was 20? It remains difficult as ever to find a match, but at least there’s a digital icebreaker now. Although I will say the questionnaire is a bitch, and my humor translates poorly to a Match.com profile. (Example: What are you looking for in a mate? “Someone with exceedingly low expectations.”)

Instead, this dating discussion is about the kids. When I date someone now, I date her kids; she dates mine. It’s Brady Bunch Dating. It’s speed-relationship-ing. (“The kids are at a dance. I have one hour now. Bring some popcorn and a very short film.”) If you have x kids and your date has x ± 1 kids, you have a geometric relationship with multiple variables and exponential difficulties. (Something like that. It’s a metaphor, so calm down, math majors.)

In baseball, if you can hit the ball four times out of ten, you’re a God. In the more than 125 years of professional baseball, it’s only been done once over an entire season. But even if you’re the Ted Williams of relationships, at least two of the kids are going to hate each other. Or everyone (especially if they’re teens). Or you. Probably you.

So you and the significant other (will someone please come up with a better term?) have an automatic handicap. It’s a given that some fraction of the kids is going to be displeased with the situation. That’s OK. You expected this shifting Venn diagram illustrating the get-along-ness of your brood with hers. So what do you do? Occasionally you think it might be easier to forego adult company for the next decade. But that seems lonely, if more affordable. You can live with the kids’ protestations, knowing The Divorce was bound to have repercussions past the logistics of who sleeps where. So you proceed with good intentions, encourage your mate to do the same, and hope you don’t cause more problems for the kids than you already have.

Which, of course… you will. I don’t know.

Oh, God.

An entire post could be made of Venn diagrams...

A math image seemed apropos. Drawing my own to illustrate divorced dating logistics did not.

Simple Things Are Hard for Me

It’s not that I’m especially stupid, or even terribly averse to new technologies, but I’ll never be that cool girl all jazzed about a new iThing. I’m the girl who inadvertently turns off the phone while it’s in GPS mode and we’re circling an unfamiliar city block with he-touched-me-stop-looking-at-me-are-we-there-yet boys in the backseat. I’m the girl who doesn’t know which icon to tap, or why the screen is black again, or why all queries lead back to iTunes. I’m the girl who asks the 8 year old how to take a screen shot and email the picture… exasperating said 8 year old in the process. So when my (first generation, I-hate-change) iPhone began to act all wonky, I attempted to hide it from the husband for as long as possible.

Him: What’s wrong with your phone?

Me: Um, it just kind of turns black if I send too many texts. Or check email.

Him: Is it the battery?

Me: (blank stare)

Him: You need a new phone.

Me: (crestfallen)

I’m assuming most people tear open a box from the Apple store rather immediately. Not me. Because I know that whatever is in there isn’t going to work. Well, it’s not going to work right away, or for me, or without a lot of cursing from the husband.

Him: Was the phone delivered yet?

Me: I think so.

Him: Did you look at it?

Me: I looked at the box.

Him: Go plug it in and follow the screen prompts to activate it.

Me: (radio silence)

Poor Bernie. After ten solid hours of surgery, husband returns to home and hearth and the ineffectual phone upgrade attempts by blonde wife. It was no surprise to either of us that my old phone did not appear anywhere on the computer after 45 minutes of spinning icon. I’ll never know where I sent all of my phone numbers, and funny texts, and fuzzy (first generation!) pictures of report cards and lost teeth. But kind, exhausted husband doesn’t balk at this, and does something with a Cloud and now the new phone looks like a shinier version of the old one and so, yay!, new phone, right?

Him: Now, just follow the instructions on the screen to activate the phone.

Me: It won’t let me type letters.

Him: There aren’t any letters in the activation code.

Me: There’s a “K.”

Him: Oh my God.

Ultimately letter-free codes are found and new phone is all spinny icon and the computer promises me that it will send me a chipper email when it’s all done. Alas, no email. After 8 hours the shiny phone is still all spinny icon. Husband, racing for airport in the wee hours, tells me to I’ll have to talk to customer service people. Because current strategies of haphazard icon clicking and magical thinking aren’t working. Dread. Customer service people have questions I cannot answer. I know how it’s going to go already.

Them: Hi, how can I help you?

Me: The new phone looks like the old phone, but it’s still all spinny icon and I didn’t get the email.

Them: Let’s start with your order number.

Me: The one that starts with a “K?”

Them: Could you put your husband on the phone?

They start fielding calls from dolts like me in fifteen minutes. I feel bad for them already.

Fantasizing about bygone days and corded electronics that don't make me feel stupid... but glamorous.

Fantasizing about bygone days and corded electronics that don’t make me feel stupid… but glamorous.

 

*weekly writing challenge

The Importance of Angelina Jolie

The Breast Conservationists are on full alert. Angelina Jolie bares everything but her new rack, and now responsible scientists and doctors are scared that stupid, stupid women will be lining up for bilateral mastectomies like it’s the wedding dress sale at Filene’s Basement. Otherwise healthy women will be demanding expensive genetic testing, insisting on amputations, and requesting Jolie Boobs from their plastic surgeons. If Angelina Jolie did it, then it’s possible that stupid, stupid women will start shopping for their own, Celebrity Cancer-Preventing Surgery.

Have we demonstrated an uncontrollable need to Be Like Angie? Do we all have slit-up-to-there dresses in our closets and a gazillion babies? (To be fair, I do have my own, Asian Brad Pitt… but I had mine first.) I have to believe that we’re smarter than this. Most of us aren’t Golden Globe-winning UN ambassadors. And most of us don’t carry BRCA mutations: only about 5% of us with breast cancer have the unlucky genes. Angelina Jolie’s story is one of access to superb health care, intelligent, informed consent to risk reduction treatment, and bad-ass, story-sharing bravery. The Breast Conservationists worry that her boldness will undo years of work informing women that they do not need to suffer barbaric surgery to live. But I think Angelina Jolie has done more for breast cancer awareness than all of the pink crap in the world. Angelina heralded the possibility that breast cancer isn’t a dreaded path to ugly.

Perhaps we are all a bit more informed about BRCA mutations and statistics and recommendations than we were on Monday. But what this beautiful woman did in one day was to put a spotlight on breast reconstruction after mastectomy. Living in Boston, and specifically in the same home as someone who does this sort of surgery every single day, (and personally with my own set of silicone bags), it is impossible to believe that only 30% of women are offered or encouraged to seek breast reconstruction options after body mutilating surgery. Despite many, many studies showing that quality of life is significantly improved with breast reconstruction, many women are still discouraged from “unnecessary” or “cosmetic” or “long, painful, and risky” operations that would restore their sense of self. They are (ill-) advised that reconstruction will delay their cancer treatment. Of course I need to insert all sorts of disclaimers that some women are not eligible for current reconstructive efforts because of radiation or extent of disease or other underlying conditions, that some opt out of reconstruction and live comfortably with that choice, that there are always more risks with more surgery. However, everyone should have the information about and access to breast reconstruction. And although there are thousands of cancer bloggers cheerfully over-sharing about their bikini-rific , gravity-defying post-Cancer boobs, you know who they’re really going to believe? Angelina Jolie.

Because Angelina went public with the story of her reconstruction, it’s possible that she has inspired other women to advocate for their right to restore their bodies, to feel empowered, to feel whole. While any diminishment of her hotness was always impossible, she explains how it is also surgically preventable. She writes,

“On a personal note, I do not feel any less of a woman. I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity.”

Of course, those of us in the shitty sorority know what she’s not telling us: that she is changed, she’s scarred, and where there was once sensation, there is now the numb reminder of an ever-lurking Cancer. Strong, indeed. And she’s more beautiful than ever.

Bringing sexy badass to the Big Cancer Fight

Bringing sexy badass to the Big Cancer Fight

FAIL, by Steve Safran

Commonwealth of Massachusetts Trial Court
Probate and Family Court Department
Standing Order 4-08

This court finds that the interests of the minor children of parties appearing before it would be well served by educating their parents about children’s emotional needs and the effects of divorce on child behavior and development. It is hereby ordered that all parries to a divorce action in which there are minor children are ordered to attend and participate in an approved Parent Education Program. No (divorce hearing) will be held until the court receives a certificate of attendance from each party.

I needed a piece of paper. One last piece of paper. A piece of paper that showed that I, a divorcing parent, had attended a class mandated by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts instructing me in “Understanding the Effect of Divorce on Children.” My lawyer warned me: do not show up in court without this piece of paper.

You do not need to take a class to get married. There’s no required reading to become a parent. But the great Commonwealth requires divorcing parents to complete coursework. The need for this escapes me. I suppose the reason at heart is solid: you should know how to be a responsible single parent, even if you can’t stand your ex-spouse. And listening to my fellow classmates, that certainly seemed to be the mood. The 15 attendees were much more interested in talking about the bastard/bitch they were divorcing than listening to anything the state had to say.

And I was much more interested in listening to them. And, occasionally, debating them. Because, you know– me.

As if “Divorce Class” could do anything else, it is designed to make you feel absolutely awful about your impending split. The only practical advice given about co-parenting is “communicate with your ex-spouse,” but of course if we could do that, we probably wouldn’t have been in the room. Take that, Standing Order 4-08.

And although the State insists on shaping the quality of Divorcing Parents, it does so by providing material that is 30 years old. The extremely bored class leader outlined the syllabus for single parenthood using an overhead projector and transparencies. He screened two, ten-minute “films” off a VHS. (“What? No Beta?” I asked. Nobody laughed.) Bored Teacher showed us examples of children’s crayon drawings that are so on the nose, I cringed at what the state must think of me.

We see a crayon drawing of a happy family.

“What can we say about the family in this drawing?” asks Bored Teacher.

Silence.

“That they’re happy?” I half-ask, half answer.

“Good!” he tells me in the way you might praise your schnauzer for finally pooping outside. Then he shows a crayon drawing of a sad family. Frowns. Tears. Bad stick-body language. He asks what we can say about the mood of this family. Again, silence. Really? I’m going to be the only one in this class who answers stuff? I’m the only one who wants this to end?

“They’re sad,” I say, and I get the same verbal pat on the head. I get an unwarranted sense of pride. I have skillfully read the mood of a 6 year-old with a box of Crayolas.

Several drawings later, and it occurs to me that I’m not looking at a random selection. The state has picked the saddest drawings from the saddest children in the saddest homes. I begin to wonder if the state didn’t just draw these itself, using its left hand, and thinking about being picked last for sports. Another shows a plane labeled “747” with a crack right down the middle and a family falling out of it. Heavy. But I spot the glaring error: the plane has only one level, and 747s have two. Sloppy work, Standing Order 4-08.

The program is supposed to consist of two classes of about two and a half hours each. But I find a “condensed” class that is four hours on one night. I can get my piece of paper– in one hour less! Take that, system! Even though we’re supposed to be listening and asking about the information in the program, people can’t help but make it about themselves. So when the topic of safety comes up, one parent asks:

“What if my ex- decides it’s OK to go skydiving with my child, but I don’t think it’s OK?”

Bored Teacher agrees that could be (could be?) dangerous and that a conversation should be had and that there should be communication. Most of the night is like that– in the passive voice. Discussions should be had. Timetables should be set. Ideas should be shared. A ten minute smoke break should ensue.

Outside, I talk with a guy who has the thousand-mile stare. I make small talk. He lights up and goes right into his divorce history with me. He did nothing. She took his daughter. He will never marry again. He’s not mad, just disappointed. I nod a lot. I didn’t ask, so I’m not really going to follow up. But I’m all for venting, especially while smoking, so I let my companion ramble on.

Side note: I would never recommend smoking. However, if you ever find yourself bitterly complaining to a stranger in the dark, light up a cigarette. It really adds to the noir effect and lets you punctuate points with that small, glowing ember. And your deep sighs of pain and regret have a nice smoky air swirling about them.

Back into class. There are lots of discussions about me Me ME. It feels like a state-mandated self-help book club. I start to sort out the likely dumpers from the dump-ees. I know– there were plenty of mutual divorces going on, just like mine. But what fun is that to imagine? Plus, people were dishing. Some stories were unintentionally funny. Some, like the brave and wrenching confession of an abused woman, were decidedly not.

Bored Teacher finally got back to the materials. He talked a lot about our failed marriages. How we will cope after the failed marriage. What the children of a failed marriage can expect. How a failed…

And suddenly I turned off my humor meter.

It’s that word: fail. All of us in that room– the skydiving worrier, the smoking sigher, the woman brave enough to leave the abusive husband–we’ve failed. The state is telling us we are failures. As in getting an F. That there is exactly one guideline for a passing grade in marriage: being married until you die. Anything else is a failure. The couple that stays together 30 years after they’ve lost all interest in each other is a success, but the couple that decides to split and find new happiness is not? The woman who escaped abuse? She was supposed to stay in that situation to “succeed?”

I had plenty of failures in my marriage. And plenty of achievements–three teenage successes, for starters. So maybe I give myself about a C. But an F? We need to start grading marriage on a curve.

(Oh, and I still have that piece of paper. The state never collected it, yet I successfully divorced. Take that, Standing Order 4-08.)

Divorce Class didn't cover this.

This happened while their parents were at Divorce Class. (photo: DIYfail.com)

So Ordered

Steve writes about The End with brutal, hilarious honesty. The judge made it official, and the anticlimactic end to two years of divorcing is a Fluffernutter.

The divorce courtroom as you picture it: Last minute accusations. Long-lost lovers come forth with shocking revelations. Doors fly open with grown men claiming to be the divorcee’s long-lost son. Lawyers fly at each others’ throats as soon-to-be ex-spouses are restrained by beefy bailiffs.

The divorce courtroom as it is: The DMV meets your principal’s office. With Georgian columns.

The actual, final act of getting a divorce was as painless as the process was painful. It’s an exchange of paperwork: a very bored-looking judge, thinking “I went to Columbia Law for this?” looking over the 30th complaint for divorce that day. (“Complaint,” indeed.) Finally, the judge broke his silence. It was so quick it startled me, as I was spacing out considering what to have for lunch. A peanut butter and Fluff, perhaps.

My heart raced, as I feared I’d get something–like my name– wrong. A few perfunctory questions later and the judge pronounced the divorce “so ordered into the record.”

Briefly I looked at my ex. What is the etiquette for this? What does one do? A hug? Surely not. When you marry, the officiant spells it out: now, you kiss. But in this moment, a small tip would have been appreciated. Even a “You may now ignore the bastard” would have helped. I don’t remember what I did. Possibly some looking and nodding? Something stupid like that. A knowing look, like giving her a poker cheat. What can I say? I panicked. Nothing you have learned as a civilized, well behaved, Miss Manners Man prepares you for the protocol involving what you do as you “walk down the aisle” in reverse.

But I did not flash back on years of marriage and heartache (although my friend Jenn Lane describes this brilliantly.) No. I didn’t well up, as I thought I might. No. I thought about my kids, but only in terms of hopes for their future. Nope. In this awkwardly brutal moment, the only thing going through my mind was…

Don’t sneeze.

I had to sneeze so badly. Spring allergies. And the courtroom was dusty. And I hadn’t taken an Allegra. But I didn’t want to sneeze in court in front of the judge. I have no idea why. I must have thought “If I sneeze, he will see I am clearly the unfit person in this and will award everything to her.” It was a big, big empty room and the sneeze would have echoed… possibly through today.

Two days earlier I found myself in the state-mandated divorced-parent class. This is a real thing. You have to attend divorcing parent class before you can get a divorce. The class was exactly as useful as you would imagine a state-mandated class on being a divorcing parent would be. The materials were from the ’80s. They used an overhead projector with transparencies. They showed “movies” on VHS with health-class quality acting (inexplicably hosted by Timothy Busfield in his leaner, 30-something years). The only excitement came when a mom brought up how much she hated that her ex-bastard let her kids eat peanut butter and Fluff sandwiches, and there was nothing she could do about it.

Wait.

She was defaming Fluff? Into the fray I jumped, defending this New England confection, this ambrosia, this perfect peanut butter pal. Perhaps Fluff ended her marriage, I fancied. Perhaps he made One Sandwich Too Many. Perhaps he used Raspberry Fluff, for which there is no excuse.

I had thought of Fluff in the courtroom, as I didn’t sneeze, or hug, or listen to a judge who wasn’t paying attention to me. That was my divorce court experience: empty calories. How’d that happen? Two years of drama led up to this moment. There should have been something. A musical number. A trumpet. A small firecracker, perhaps? No?

Just Fluff.

Don't knock it.

Don’t knock it.

Weekend With Zealots

The Family Lee traveled south to witness the First Holy Communion of the most pious 8-year-old boy on the planet. Sweet Alex is a rare child who hugs without reservation or restraint, adorably recites all words to all prayers, and answers every “I love you” with “I love you… MORE!” Who hath wrought Pious Boy? Why, the Zealots, of course! My darling (Zealot) sister and her lovely husband (Uncle Kabobs) put on an impressive, Catholic show down there in Suwanee, GA. Pious Alex and his Saintly Sister, Kensley will yes ma’am you silly and can put all of the Commandments into the proper order. And on Saturday, the Family Lee, along with Teeny Twin Grandmas, Pop Pop, and Atheist Uncle Patrick filed into pews to resurrect our Catholic faith.

All of us, save my husband who was raised in the Taiwanese-Christian tradition of obey-your-self-sacrificing-parents, were baptized and catechized in the beat-my-breast-and-call-me-sinner style. It’s been a few years since I’ve been to a proper Catholic mass, but all of the prayers and responsorial phrases were as easy to finish as The Pledge of Allegiance. Their repetition through the entirety of my youth has kept them tucked away in brain junk drawers that hold childhood phone numbers and all of lyrics to Babe. (There might even be some Calculus under the piles of old boyfriend peccadillos, too.) But there I was, sit-stand-kneeling with the Faithful, and listening with my Episcopalian-prejudiced ears to the Message: if you are not Holy, you cannot be Happy.

Go ahead, try to get this song out of your head now.

Go ahead, try to get this song out of your head now.

Little girls in teeny wedding dresses and little boys suited up like miniature bankers were reminded that they would be wearing similar outfits when they returned to the altar for the grown up sacrament of marriage. And they were instructed to arrive as unsullied as they are now, at the tender age of eight. The priest generously offered another path: the convent and priesthood are also delightful options should these tiny treasures heed The Call. But I kept thinking that the Message of the Day was that Uncle Patrick, still single, and gleefully sullying up his life, certainly is not, cannot, be Happy.

It’s also possible that I got it all wrong. Maybe the Catholic Church doesn’t trouble itself with the sinning shenanigans of Atheist Uncle Patricks. Maybe the sermon was merely a wagging finger at the miserable wretches who would find happiness if only they’d jump on the Holy Train (neither helpful nor kind, in my opinion). In any case, I got the same queasy feeling similar sermons elicited in my youth. Even if I did my homework and emptied the dishwasher without provocation, I was still inherently bad. Catholics really take this original sin stuff to their self-flagellating hearts.

However, what I really admired about the whole, heavy-handed production was its refusal to be politically correct or to dilute its message for a modern audience. Telling 8-year-olds to remain pure and virginal to their wedding day, or (gasp) forever, may be naïve and old-fashioned (or weird)… but it’s not a bad message. And in a crazy, sexed-up world, Catholics have the parental easy button on this issue. Are they wrong? Any tipsy reprisal of first-times amongst trusted girlfriends would tilt the argument slightly to their favor. And though it won’t hold much weight in the back seat of the Jeep a decade from now, at least hearing an unwavering message during the formative years might prevent a few judgment slips, or at the very least, delay the inevitable, gleeful defilement of the family car.

I’ve got to hand it to Zealot Family. They’re no grocery store Catholics, picking and choosing which rules to follow, and which to ignore. They’re fulfilling obligations and sending up prayers and tithing and do-gooding more often than the Stockton Family makes trips to the package store. And when Pious Alex took the Sacrament, we were all a bit teary. Because Paige and Bob are raising him entirely within the Faith, it was a proud moment for him, one he took seriously with prayer hands and no fidgeting. We were honored to witness it, and possibly a little inspired to reclaim a bit of that innocence and purity the white robed guy was on and on about. And as I looked down the pew at the row of Sinning Stocktons in a collective countdown to cocktail hour, we were all beaming at this beatific boy. We might not be Holy. But are we happy? You bet.

Sweet faced pious boy, who loves everyone MORE...

Sweet faced pious boy, who loves everyone MORE…