Does Your College Determine Your Future Success? Don’t Bet On It.

About Parenting

It’s spring, and instead of enjoying the melting snow and sunshine, high school seniors (and their parents) across the country are freaking out. College acceptances are on their way. No amount of college coaching, test preparation, tutors or essay revisions can help them now. In a few short weeks, the class of 2019 will know where they’ll be spending the next four years. Some students will be devastated to discover they’ve been rejected by their top choice, while others will celebrate their inclusion in the ranks of the chosen.

If you think things have gotten more intense since you applied to college, you’re not alone. The pressure on students today is frankly, insane. If you need an antidote to the madness, I encourage you to read New York Time’s columnist Frank Bruni‘s new book “Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be.” It’s refreshing and reassuring and rejects the mindset that 1) getting into “right” college an imperative precursor to future success, and 2) the “right” college exists only among the top ten or twenty colleges in the country. For a deeper discussion of the book, head over to Grown and Flown and read Lisa Heffernan’s wonderful review and interview with the author then get your own copy because if we’ve taught our children anything, it’s that you can’t rely on someone else’s notes, no matter how thorough. You’ve got to do the reading yourself. You can also read an excerpt from the book in the New York Times.

MPL.OpenBook2.Evite.c

This Sunday, March 22nd, I’ll be sitting down with Frank at the Montclair Public Library for the second (sold out!) conversation in this year’s Open Book/Open Mind series. He’ll be talking college, admissions, what education means, how to get it and how not to get sucked in to the crazy. If you have questions, send them my way and I’ll see if I can’t sneak them into the conversation. We’ve got kids, parents, educators, and journalists in the mix, so hold on to your hats.

 

 

It’s spring, and instead of enjoying the melting snow and sunshine, high school seniors (and their parents) across the country are freaking out. College acceptances are on their way. No amount of college coaching, test preparation, tutors or essay revisions can help them now. In a few short weeks, the class of 2019 will know

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I Want That Hour Back

About Children Parenting Raising Children Weird

Twice a year I get to rant about the idiocy of Daylight Savings Time. In the fall, I rail against “falling back” because, as any parent will tell you, kids don’t care that you’re getting an extra hour of sleep. They don’t sleep in. Ever. So that only effect of turning the clocks back is that they start demanding breakfast at 5 a.m. instead of 6. In the spring, I am so exhausted by losing an hour of sleep that I can barely put my rage into words. The added joy of trying to convince my son to go to bed when he’s NOT TIRED and then shake him awake in the morning to get to school is one of those things they don’t tell you about raising kids. Every year, I ask myself, “How is this still a thing?” and finally, the genius that is John Oliver answered me. And in case you were wondering – you can stop blaming farmers.

Twice a year I get to rant about the idiocy of Daylight Savings Time. In the fall, I rail against “falling back” because, as any parent will tell you, kids don’t care that you’re getting an extra hour of sleep. They don’t sleep in. Ever. So that only effect of turning the clocks back is that

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On The Importance of Being Seven

About Birthdays Childhood Children Elementary School Family Motherhood Parenting Raising Children

Today is Little Dude’s birthday. Only, he’s not so little anymore. He’s seven. This means he’s lost all traces of his baby belly and chubby cheeks. He is all coltish legs and angular features and perfect skin. He is energy trapped in human form. He chafes when I hover and ventures into the world instead of always clinging to my arm. He can read, write, add, subtract, walk to his friend’s house, get his own breakfast and make his bed. He has preferences and peculiarities. If seven is the number of deadly sins and years of bad luck for breaking a mirror, it is also the number that reminds me that my son is no longer an extension of me, but a person in his own right.

Every year I write him a letter on his birthday to try to capture what’s he’s leaving behind and what lies ahead. They imperfectly capture his life as I see it, but I hope if he ever wants to look back on these years, they’ll be here for him.

Dear Little Dude,

Today you are seven and I am amazed. You don’t know this, but every night I check on you before I got to sleep, and last night, I stared at you for an hour because I cannot believe how big you are. Of all of the things in my life, you are the thing of which I am most proud.

You have changed from a big, pudgy, joyful baby into a tall, skinny, joyful boy. You are kind. You are funny. You are gentle and loving and decent. You are mischievous and happy and exuberant. You say “Hey Mom” at least 100 times a day, and most of the time I can’t wait to hear what you have to say (although ten percent of the time I pretend I can’t hear you because I just need a break).

Six was the era of pretend shaving, mediocre tooth brushing, Pokemon card games with no rules, whining, dramatic playdates, Playmobil everything (although to be fair, that was also four and five too), lost teeth (including two to an errant lacrosse ball), hesitant questions about Santa’s existence, locker room hi-jinks, first grade, helping (even when it means cleaning out the neighbor’s chicken coop), requests for “alone time” and permission to cross the street without an adult (always denied, sorry), the color red, holding the vomit bag in the car by yourself, discovering the world outside of PBS, an aversion to bathing, drawing pictures, sending your brother to college, feeling left out, being brave, failing and trying again, reading, New Year’s “revolutions” and learning that it isn’t always about you. It was a hard and wonderful year. I expect this one will be too.

At the threshold of seven, you are full of opinions and good will and curiosity. You are gregarious at home, but shy around people you don’t know. You are bright, even as you make up words and phrases with abandon – “The dog is getting lick on me” and “I don’t know what these words say, they’re in curse” being two of my favorites. You are stubborn and sensitive in equal measure. Quick to forgive, you are also easily frustrated and sometimes selfish. You are eager to have friends over, but struggle to share when they’re here. You are independent. When you were two, I once watched you walk into the other room to play. As you left, you held up your arm and said, “Bye, Mom. I’m playing. You’re on your own.” I was thrilled at this expression of autonomy, exulting in a few moments of time to myself. I’m more ambivalent now, perhaps because these incidents are more common. You need me less and that’s as it should be, but I can’t say it doesn’t make me wistful.

You’ve become a real boy.

But even as you shed babyhood, ready to embrace the dirt and rough-housing and toughness of the life of boys, I am grateful that at your core you are warm and loving and affectionate and patient and optimistic and unjaded. I cling to what might be our last year of evening snuggles, and hugs and kisses to make skinned knees better because this softness is what makes you, you. I hope you never lose it. People will tell you to toughen up, get over things, and be a big boy, but on the cusp of a new year, I hope you ignore them. I hope you stay compassionate and kind and vulnerable, even though I know it will make things harder for you at times. I love you exactly as you are. We could work on the bathing thing though.

Happy Birthday!

Love, Mom

Today is Little Dude’s birthday. Only, he’s not so little anymore. He’s seven. This means he’s lost all traces of his baby belly and chubby cheeks. He is all coltish legs and angular features and perfect skin. He is energy trapped in human form. He chafes when I hover and ventures into the world instead

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The World May End In Ice

About ALS Family Life Lessons Parenting

Last summer I watched as the ALS ice bucket challenge took over the Internet. Celebrities, politicians and pundits participated, but I remained on the sidelines, like the kid who gets picked last for kickball teams at recess.

I didn’t mind though. ALS and I are old friends.

In a world where nothing’s real unless it’s on the Internet, my grandmother barely existed. Google knows only two things about the woman who helped shape my life – that Dorothy Corneal was born on October 1, 1921 and died seventy-three years later on December 20, 1994. Lost are her maiden name, her mother’s early death, and her father’s career as an art teacher. You can’t learn that she was a widow who raised five sons, remarried and divorced twice, doted on her grandchildren, wore lime green bathing suits, and made mediocre banana bread. Hidden is her honeymoon at a cabin that my grandfather and great uncles built with stolen materials where she brushed her teeth at an outdoor stone table with water drawn from the nearby spring. No one will discover that she drove my brother and me to the beach every summer in a blue Nissan station wagon, feeding us homemade tuna sandwiches at the Howard Johnson’s on the New Jersey turnpike. There is no record of the diamond earrings she bought herself late in life. Stripped from her history is any mention of her vivacity, her fierce devotion to her family, her stubbornness or her need to control everything around her.

© Devon Corneal

© Devon Corneal

If the Internet deprives the masses of anything other than the barest facts of my grandmother’s life, it also hides from them the process of her death. She died relatively quickly from ALS, which is to say, not very quickly at all. We berated doctors, hoping for answers. She suffered on long car trips to appointments, embarrassed when I helped her to the bathroom; humiliated when we didn’t make it in time. Her once-steady legs started to fail, and within a year, the woman who had claimed independence from widowhood was confined to her bed in a nursing home. Her voice thickened and slowed. She grew frustrated when we couldn’t understand her. Knowing how little time she had left, she struggled to mete out admonitions and praise and advice. Her mind remained electric, even as her tongue refused to bend to her will. We removed her rings when her fingers swelled and watched her hands turn to claws. The nurses taught us to massage lotion into joints to ease the ache that settled into now immobile body parts. Her skin was paper thin and translucent. She was becoming simultaneously ethereal and earthbound. She would never make another loaf of banana bread or drive a car or brush her own teeth or see the ocean.

My uncle brought sweets to the nurses’ station – sacrificial offerings of food to ensure my grandmother’s bell would be answered quickly and kindly. My father sat by her bed going through family pictures, hoping that she could identify the somber faces in faded images. She was the last of her generation, the only remaining repository of the oral history of those who came before us. I combed her hair and plucked her chin – her vanity ever intact.

There was nothing we could do, so we floundered in the inconsequential.

Then she was done. She mustered the language left to her to ask her doctor to end her life. He refused. They found a middle ground. She signed a document refusing food and water and settled into morphine unconsciousness. We waited. We hovered. We stroked her lips with lemon-scented glycerin swabs. The process had dignity, but it wasn’t dignified. One night, assured by the nurses that she would still be there in the morning, we all went home. The house was decorated for Christmas, and we kept the tree lights on as a talisman against the dark. When my father woke me at 2 a.m., it was to tell me she was gone.

At my grandmother’s bedside, someone gave me her diamond earrings. I wore them at my wedding and I’m wearing them now. Which, I discovered, is all the awareness I need.

Last summer I watched as the ALS ice bucket challenge took over the Internet. Celebrities, politicians and pundits participated, but I remained on the sidelines, like the kid who gets picked last for kickball teams at recess. I didn’t mind though. ALS and I are old friends. In a world where nothing’s real unless it’s

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Embrace Your Christmas Lunatic

About Childhood Children Christmas Holidays

Thrilled to be up on Washington Post On Parenting today, in which I admit to being nuts about Christmas. I’m done with elf bashing, complaints about Christmas Creep, and eye-rolling about yuletide cheer. I hope I’m not alone, otherwise, this is going to be a sad and lonely holiday. Check it out: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2014/11/20/i-know-its-not-thanksgiving-yet-but-im-christmas-crazy-and-heres-why/

 

Thrilled to be up on Washington Post On Parenting today, in which I admit to being nuts about Christmas. I’m done with elf bashing, complaints about Christmas Creep, and eye-rolling about yuletide cheer. I hope I’m not alone, otherwise, this is going to be a sad and lonely holiday. Check it out: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2014/11/20/i-know-its-not-thanksgiving-yet-but-im-christmas-crazy-and-heres-why/  


Things Are Looking Bright Around Here

About Books Children Education Parenting Reading

I am a reader and I’m raising my son to be one as well. Anyone who spends any time here at Cattywampus knows how much I love books. Which is why I’m excited to be a contributor to Penguin Random House’s new website, Brightly. You don’t need to wait until the official launch in February 2015, because the beta site is up and running and it’s a great resource to help moms and dads grow lifeline readers. Need book recommendations? Want tips on how to encourage your kid to love reading? Brightly has that and more. Check it out at www.readbrightly.com and sign-up for the newsletter or register for your chance to win a library for your kid. A whole library! (Ok, not a whole library, because that would be insane, but a wonderful, starter library of 50 books). You can follow them on twitter @ReadBrightly if you prefer your helpful info in 140 character chunks. If you hurry, you can be Brightly’s 17th follower – and how often do you get to be one of the first 20 of anything?

Don’t be shy. Pop over to see what I have to say about keeping your sanity as your child learns to read and why I have put my own booklist aside to read the books my kids are reading. There are other lovely contributors like Janssen Bradshaw who has a book list for kids who are obsessed with cars and trains and things that go and Iva-Marie Palmer who has discovered fairy tales your teens will love. But don’t take my word for it – go see for yourself.

_brightly_logo

 

I am a reader and I’m raising my son to be one as well. Anyone who spends any time here at Cattywampus knows how much I love books. Which is why I’m excited to be a contributor to Penguin Random House’s new website, Brightly. You don’t need to wait until the official launch in February

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Why I Buy My Kids Banned Books

About Parenting

Until this week, I thought I was an average mom. I cook dinners, make lunches and oversee homework. I live in the suburbs. I drive a sensible car. Today, however, I discovered that I am a hard-core dissident bent on undermining the fabric of our society. I am a radical in yoga pants. Why? Because I have filled my house with subversive books.

BannedBooksWeek-website-image

We own Green Eggs and Ham, Strega Nona, the entire Harry Potter series, Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, A Wrinkle in Time, Of Mice and Men, Where the Wild Things Are, In The Night Kitchen, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Lorax, Little Women, James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, The Giving Tree, The Giver, Harriet the Spy, Alice in Wonderland, Charlotte’s Web, The Hunger Games, Twilight, To Kill a Mockingbird, His Dark Materials, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Beloved, It’s so Amazing! A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies and Families, and every single Captain Underpants ever written.

I unintentionally filled my children’s shelves with books that have been challenged in schools or libraries on the basis “of content or appropriateness.” In other words, I am the mom who buys banned books. In my defense, I had no idea colored food and giant insects were so controversial. What could possibly be wrong with a kid in a candy factory? Who quibbles with a girl in ruby red slippers or a generous tree?

Apparently, quite a few people.

I’ve done more than just buy these nefarious titles. I’ve read most of them to my kids and encouraged them to read them on their own. Both Green Eggs and Ham and The Lorax were frequent bedtime reads when my son was a toddler. We’ve dipped our toes into Harry Potter and started James and the Giant Peach last night. I bought my oldest the Hunger Games trilogy when he was 13.

If I had known I was bringing these divisive tales into my home, would I have stopped?

Not on your life.

When I was younger, I read my generation’s provocative stories — Bridge to Terabithia, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, 1984, A Separate Peace, Julie of the Wolves, Go Ask Alice, and Forever. I guess I’m lucky I didn’t end up a promiscuous Eskimo drug addict atheist prep school student who longs for a totalitarian state. Instead, I became an insatiable reader, propelled from one story to another, until the books became more than stories. They became windows into worlds and lives I would never experience. They forced me to think deeply about relationships, justice, culture, friendship, politics, family, freedom, addiction, choices, love, and loss. I cried a lot. I got angry. I was occasionally confused. The more I read, the more my world expanded.

My parents never censored what I read, and the shelves at our local library contained titles that other communities sought to hide. I want my children to have that same experience. Stories can be discomfiting, shocking, horrible, scary, disturbing, vulgar, explicit, pornographic, sad, ugly, racist, confrontational, dark, depressing. So can life. Banning books that deal with reality doesn’t stop people from cursing and having sex and doing drugs and going to war. Which is why I’d like my children to explore those ideas in books before they meet them in person. I want to prepare them, not shelter them. I also want them to see that those same stories can be illuminating, cathartic, optimistic, brave, illustrative, clarifying, informative, hopeful, and revelatory. I want to broaden their thinking, not narrow it. I hope they’ll learn to navigate the complex and contradictory in life rather than shy away from it.

This isn’t to say I think every book belongs in the children’s section. Libraries have to balance providing books that are appropriate for a wide range of children with protecting younger readers from material for which they aren’t emotionally or cognitively prepared. I think we can all agree that Fifty Shades of Grey doesn’t belong in an elementary school. Generally, however, I believe that libraries should be sanctuaries. They should be neutral repositories for all the stories people want to tell, whether we agree with them or not. It’s up to us as parents and readers to help our children choose books and process what they read. I support parents whose personal beliefs lead them to make choices that are different from mine. I don’t support banning books from public institutions because someone is troubled by a given volume’s language or themes. I won’t allow my children’s world to be limited by someone else’s values, no matter how well-intentioned.

So, I’m going to make sure that I read banned books to my son this week. Lots of them. I hope you will too. I’ll also be wearing yoga pants, but your wardrobe, like your reading choices, is entirely up to you.

If you’re interested in more information about banned and challenged books, please visit the American Library Association’s website at http://www.ala.org/banned.

This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post and can be found at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/devon-corneal/i-will-always-buy-banned-books-for-my-kids_b_5862612.html.

Until this week, I thought I was an average mom. I cook dinners, make lunches and oversee homework. I live in the suburbs. I drive a sensible car. Today, however, I discovered that I am a hard-core dissident bent on undermining the fabric of our society. I am a radical in yoga pants. Why? Because

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Wait! Was I Supposed to Have Poisoned Apples?

About Parenting

I am not going to lie. Having a piece in the New York Times this morning is pretty fabulous. Check it out for my thoughts on being a stepparent, sending your kid off to college without crying and finally being able to see the floor of my mudroom. Trust me, it’s all related.

I am not going to lie. Having a piece in the New York Times this morning is pretty fabulous. Check it out for my thoughts on being a stepparent, sending your kid off to college without crying and finally being able to see the floor of my mudroom. Trust me, it’s all related.


The World May End In Ice

About ALS Family Life Lessons The Sad Things

No one has nominated me for the ALS ice bucket challenge. I’ve been watching the videos in my Facebook feed for the past week wondering with equal parts hope and dread if I’ll be tagged. I’ve seen neighbors and friends participate with varying degrees of enthusiasm and frigidity. You slackers know what I’m saying. It’s an ice bucket challenge people, not a cold shower. The Kennedys, Bill Gates, Keith Urban, Justin Bieber and Jimmy Fallon have gotten in on the fun. If the Kardashians are involved, what about me? For those of you questioning whether this is just another way for attention seekers to get their two minutes of Facebook fame, you needn’t worry. The ALS Association reported today that it has received $15.6 million in donations in the past three weeks (compared to $1.8 million during the same time period last year). Shiver on, people, shiver on.

Still, I was feeling a little like the kid who gets picked last for kickball teams at recess.

But then I realized, it’s ok. I’m already aware. I got my ALS education twenty years ago.

In a world where nothing’s real unless it’s on the Internet, my grandmother barely existed. My search only turned up two entries for the woman who helped shape my life. Google will tell anyone who cares to look that Dorothy Corneal was born on October 1, 1921 and died seventy-three years later on December 20, 1994.  Google also knows that she became a licensed practical nurse in 1980. Lost are her maiden name (McCann), her mother’s early death, and her father’s career as an art teacher. You can’t find out that she was a widow who raised five sons, remarried and divorced twice, doted on her grandchildren, wore lime green bathing suits, made mediocre banana bread and loved ginger tabby cats. Strangers will never know that she honeymooned at a cabin in the Poconos that my grandfather and great uncles built with stolen materials where she brushed her teeth at an outdoor stone table with water drawn from the nearby spring. No one will discover that she drove my brother and me to the beach every summer in a blue Nissan station wagon with the back seats folded down or that we ate homemade tuna fish sandwiches and pretzels at the Howard Johnson’s on the New Jersey turnpike to break up the five-hour trip. There is no record of the diamond studs she bought for herself late in life because no one had ever bought her a pair. Stripped from her history is any mention of her vivacity, her energy, her fierce devotion to the people she loved, her stubbornness or her need to control everything and everyone around her.

© Devon Corneal
© Devon Corneal

If the Internet deprives the masses of anything other than the bare facts of my grandmother’s life, it also hides from them the process of her death. She died relatively quickly from ALS, which is to say, not very quickly at all. We took her to doctor after doctor, hoping for answers. She suffered on long car trips, embarrassed that I had to help her to the bathroom and humiliated when we didn’t make it in time. Her once steady hands and legs started to fail, and within a year, the woman who had claimed independence from widowhood was confined to her bed in a nursing home. Her voice thickened and slowed as she lost control of her muscles. She grew frustrated when we couldn’t understand her. Knowing how little time she had left, she struggled to mete out admonitions and praise and advice. Her mind was as electric as ever, even as her tongue refused to bend to her will. We removed her rings when her fingers swelled and watched her hands claw in on themselves. The nurses taught us to massage lotion into joints to ease the ache that settled into now immobile body parts. Her skin was fragile – paper thin and translucent. She was becoming simultaneously ethereal and earthbound. She would never make another loaf of banana bread or drive a car or brush her own teeth. The ocean was relegated to memory.

My uncle brought sweets to the nurses’ station – sacrificial offerings of food to ensure my grandmother’s bell would be answered quickly and kindly. My father sat by her bed going through family pictures, hoping that she could identify the somber faces in the faded images. She was the last of her generation – we had no one else to turn to for the oral history of those who came before us. I combed her hair and plucked hairs from her chin – her vanity intact even as her face slackened and drooped. There was nothing we could do, so we floundered in the inconsequential.

Then she had had enough. She mustered what little language was left to her to ask her doctor to end her life. She was blunt. So was he. They found a middle ground. She signed a document refusing food and water. She received a morphine drip to render her unconscious. And then we waited. We hovered. We gently stroked her lips with lemon-scented glycerin swabs. The process had dignity, but it wasn’t dignified. One night, assured by the nurses that she would still be there in the morning, we all went home. The house was decorated for Christmas, and we kept the tree lights on when we went to bed as a talisman against the dark. When my father woke me at 2 a.m., it was to tell me she was gone.

At my grandmother’s bedside, someone removed her diamond earrings and handed them to me. I wore them at my wedding and I’m wearing them now. Which, really, is all the awareness I need. Every time I put them on, I am reminded of the ravages and brutality of ALS. And, miraculously, every time I see another ice bucket video, I hope that somewhere out there, there’s a cure.

For information about ALS, the ice bucket challenge, or how to donate to find a cure, please go to http://www.alsa.org/donate/

 

No one has nominated me for the ALS ice bucket challenge. I’ve been watching the videos in my Facebook feed for the past week wondering with equal parts hope and dread if I’ll be tagged. I’ve seen neighbors and friends participate with varying degrees of enthusiasm and frigidity. You slackers know what I’m saying. It’s

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Game of Throw-Ups

About Parenting

We stand at the ready. We wait, knowing that there is a very real possibility that no one will be left standing.  All of our preparations may be for naught.

Norovirus is coming.

Actually, if you believe the rumors, it’s already here. Forget Whitewalkers, we’ve got vomit. Well over 100 kids went home sick from our local high school yesterday with the stomach bug. My teenager went down at 3:30 this morning. The high school is a ghost town — kids are either sick or their parents aren’t letting then go into the building of death. Everytime I check the computer, I freak out a little more. Forget the tyranny of perfection,  these days Facebook is competing with the CDC to track infectious diseases in my corner of New Jersey. I can tell you what schools have been infected, how many kids are out, what symptoms they have, and what the best remedies are. Varys and Littlefinger are amateurs compared to moms looking for information to sidestep the plague.

I am prepared. I have gloves, 10% bleach solution, and a washing machine set to “sanitize.” Hot water and soap are my wildfire. My sick one is quarantined  in the basement, forbidden from touching anything, isolated in the darkness. I’ve taken every vitamin known to man. I kept my kindergartner home from school, which may keep him healthy, but it does make things more difficult. How am I supposed to find the time to entertain him when there is so much to sterilize? Still, I’ll take another round of Candyland over rushing him to the bathroom every 10 minutes.

This is the thing about parenting. Just when you think you’ve turned a corner, when you’ve survived months of polar vortexes, feet of snow and a million snow days, something else comes and bites you in the ass.

I bet Ned Stark was surprised when they cut off his head too.

 

We stand at the ready. We wait, knowing that there is a very real possibility that no one will be left standing.  All of our preparations may be for naught. Norovirus is coming. Actually, if you believe the rumors, it’s already here. Forget Whitewalkers, we’ve got vomit. Well over 100 kids went home sick from

Read More »