‘Tis The Season

It’s that time of year again.

When everyone on Facebook (and other social media) begin to have mini meltdowns and tantrums over the holidays.

It all started about a month ago with ALL the complainers over the decorations that are ALREADY up for ALL the fall/winter holidays when we are barely out of summer. (Note: I bet you can’t use the word ‘all’ three times in one sentence.)

The entire month of October (ENTIRE. MONTH.) people bitched and complained about Christmas trees and ornaments that were already out and can’t we all just celebrate one holiday at a time?

Okay. Here’s the thing.

If you don’t want to buy Christmas decorations yet or you don’t want to do any Christmas shopping until black Friday or if you want to only focus on Halloween for the month of October, well, um, then just do your thing.

Why do you care?

My house has a bunch of Halloween decorations up. Last weekend I not only went hunting for my daughter’s Halloween costume and bought candy for tonight, but I also happened to go into a store that had a few rows of fall holidays and fifty rows of Christmas trees, decorations, and ornaments. I actually went in there, in October, to pick up a little Christmas gift/project I needed to get so I can finish it before my mom arrives in three weeks.

Does looking at the Christmas stuff bug me? No. I do not care one iota. I mean, why does it bother people? Again, who cares, really? Just walk past and move the hell on.

And then there are the complainers about this whole Thanksgiving is About Families and let’s all stand tall and refuse to shop on that day. It is a family day, after all.

Okie dokie.

If it bothers you that much, stay with your family on Thanksgiving and let other people do their thing. If YOU choose to NOT go out on Thanksgiving and support StoreXYZ and instead relax with your family over football and pumpkin pie, FAN-FREAKIN-TASTIC. Do that. If people want to get out of the house on Thanksgiving and do a little shopping will it really, truly, honestly affect me? No. I won’t even notice, to be honest. I’ll be too busy with the whole pumpkin pie thing.

But let’s say that some people are alone on Thanksgiving. Maybe their grown kids don’t live nearby. Maybe their kids are away at school. Maybe their kids are at their in-laws. Maybe, just maybe there is no big family hoopla and getting out for a few hours to walk around and work off the mashed potatoes isn’t so awful.

Am I going to do it? Oh hell no, I hate shopping on normal days. But either way it shouldn’t change the importance of family and the spirit of the holiday for my family if you choose to go to Target and knock out half your Christmas list. I’ll wake up the next day and feel exactly the same and as long as there is coffee, I don’t give a damn what you decide to do on Thanksgiving.

There is nothing wrong with counting your blessings on your way to the mall. Hey, I’m here to offer ideas.

I agree that our society has some mixed up, fucked up, ass-backwards morals at times and are one Charlie Sheen moment away from needing serious counseling. I get it. Our faces are in our phones. Kids don’t play enough outside. We need to eat more kale. Duly noted. But instead of getting all pissy why not just celebrate the way you want to celebrate and stop the tantrums on social media? You see the irony just a teeny tiny bit, don’t you?

The minute the kids go back to school and our suntan lotion is put away for the season and I get an email from our association that our pools in our subdivision have closed for the season, I am already in the mode of holidays.

All three lumped together.

So what if you have to walk by a row of Christmas trees for sale during the middle of October? Move on and do your thing.

Soon, another rant and more tantrums will make their way into Facebook land. The people who get their panties all in a wad over what employees around town who say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”.

Do people really think (I mean, really?!) that by saying “Happy Holidays” it somehow diminishes the meaning of Christmas? Does it make you a heathen? Does it just prove how far our society has fallen from, um, where? Happy Holidays is a lovely way to encompass ALL the winter holidays, not just one. So what’s wrong with that? (The theme of this post: the word ‘All’.)

Let’s assume you are all religious and stuff. Wonderful. Are you worried how you will look in the eyes of your lord if you say “Happy Holidays” and not “Merry Christmas?” Does that somehow belittle the importance of the birth of Jesus? I mean, if you are so worried and concerned then write those words all over your damn house. Put banners in every room. Print off a colorful green and red banner for your garage door. Put Merry Christmas on your front door. But let me ask those people with their panties all wadded up over the Happy Holiday debate: do you buy a bunch of gifts for your kids and grandkids? Do you run around like a chicken with its head cut off preparing for the holidays? Are you frazzled by all the work and social parties? Do you participate in gimmicks like Elf on the Shelf or layaway options? Do you wear a Santa hat to work on casual Friday? Do you wait in line with your little child/grandchild to sit on Santa’s lap? Do you use your credit cards during the holidays? Do you schedule family portraits and send out pre-printed Christmas cards?

Hmmm. Perhaps a better definition of why we celebrate is in order. And news flash: you aren’t going to get a better seat in heaven if you rant and rave on Facebook about the awfulness and wrongness of saying Happy Holidays when that just diminishes the word Christmas. Oh, the horrors. Pass the popcorn.

If you are one who is fearful that saying Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas damages society and ruins the spirit of the season (or the “reason for the season”) then celebrate in your own world, happily, and all wrapped up in Christmas goodness. Why do you really care that much what the teller at the bank says? (Bigger question, why are you going to a teller? This is 2014.)

So, Happy Hallthankmas. Now pull your pants up.

Are My Characters Real?

I gave a prologue recently to a friend to read. I normally NEVER do that. For starters, they never know what to say exactly so normally they will gush about it (or if you are a relative of mine you will point out every missed comma or random typo, gah). Also, their feedback – don’t get me wrong here – is hardly useful. They will say things like, “Oh this is great.” Or, “You have a typo on that last paragraph.” Or, “Shouldn’t there be a period after that sentence?” Or, “Wow, you really are a writer!” Or, “This was such a great read.”

Basically: useless.

Even my husband, in all his support and attempts at being helpful, is hardly any better. “Yeah, this is really good, honey”…“I like this a lot”…“Very good.” It all sounds the same between reading a chapter of mine and helping our daughter with algebra.

Also, if they are not normally readers of my books genre, their input will hardly be on point anyway. I have a friend who only reads romance so giving her a historical novel to read will bore her endlessly. I was in a writer’s group about a year ago that had mainly science fiction writers. It was a mess. They were clueless about historical fiction (and bored) and I was totally lost and confused in their outer space worlds and strange animals.


I gave a friend my prologue on one of my books. (For the record, she gushed and said, “Oh this is great” which was exactly the sort of thing I figured she would say.)

I should also point out that just because someone says, “Oh this is great!” doesn’t inflate my head or pump up my ego – I know it is them not knowing what else to say. I mean, are they really going to say something like, “Um, I found the characters to be one-dimensional and the plot appeared to be going nowhere. I almost fell asleep before I reached page three.” No. Are they going to say, “Sorry to tell you this but this SUCKED!” No. They are going to do everything to spare my feelings and so they will just be overly nice.

Anyway. I digress.

Again. (So shoot me.)

After reading the prologue my friend asked me, “Is the Sophia character your mom? Because I totally thought that as I was reading it.”

Hold me.

Okay, look.

Are characters somewhat derived and ever so loosely based on real people? The answer is yes. They are. I mean, it is hard to live a life and encounter hundreds of people in your lifetime so far and not have a few lingering…personality traits, body images, language quirks, bad habits, horrible spouses, interesting talents, or fascinating childhoods…of real people you know in real life.

However, that’s where it all basically ends.

My characters MAY have a personality trait or a little quirk or a bad habit of someone I know. I may even get inspiration based on real people (that happens A LOT) but the characters themselves take on a life of their own usually (hopefully) right from the beginning.

And for fear of sounding mentally unstable – the characters begin to come alive in front of me as I outline. They also start talking to me too.

No, really.

As I develop characters and give them voice, features, quirks, traits, habits, what they love to wear, what they hate to eat, where their favorite vacation was when they were ten, even what their name is…they seem to start standing in front of me as I write (hands on hips, staring me down if I get something wrong, those pesky pain-in-the-ass characters. And no, I’m not on any special meds.)

I can definitely start to see and hear them the more I write about their story. (If they can see me is a totally different thing. I’m kidding. You know that, right? I’m almost a hundred percent positive they can’t see me. But to be honest, I’ve never asked them.) As the story develops suddenly their voice gets louder – and when I type dialogue sometimes I feel as though I am only the fingers typing on the computer – they are the ones doing all the talking and telling me what to say and how to say it.

In one of my novels, a contemporary book set in San Diego and features a host of characters, I had outlined the chapter one way and my character completely said something different and totally off what I expected him to say…I typed it and decided to leave it – even though it changed the course of the story a bit.

The characters begin to transform from a one-dimensional name on a piece of paper into real, thinking, and breathing human beings.

In the case of this prologue my friend read: it is a story that features (more or less) my mom’s childhood home. And it is a story that features a small grocery business…which my uncle also ran. And there are kids that went to boarding school like my cousins did. Other than that, it is just a fictional story because the story is not about my mom or my uncle or my cousins.

In fact, my mom is eager to read the story (even though it isn’t totally edited to my liking yet) and I had to warn her: some of the details may sound familiar to you but this is NOT a story of YOU and YOUR FAMILY and your childhood living in Los Angeles in the 1940s. This is a totally fictional story with fictional people and events.

There is something that I remember reading about writers that I love. If you are around writers be careful what you say (or do) because it just might end up in their book.

Many phrases or scenes that have actually happened…I have turned them into sentences in the book. For instance, there is a scene about women at the church cooking in the kitchen for a big feast the following day. I can’t tell you how many of my afternoons as a child was spent with my mom and grandmother at the church watching these Italian women cook, laugh, and play cards with their 7up and biscotti after preparing for a feast. I have used these memories…and more…throughout the book. I also interviewed my brother (a baseball historian) a few times regarding facts and details that were unclear to me regarding the Los Angeles Dodgers and a few phrases and a few of his memories have become part of my characters voice and memory…like how my brother lost his collection of baseball cards, for example.

So, I told my friend: “No, Sophia is not my mom. She is not anyone but a character in my book.”

(Sophia is standing here in front of me with her floral apron on, hands on her hips, shaking her head at me. She hates when I refer to her as a character.)


There is something about entering into the month of November that now makes me a little nervous. No, it isn’t the fear of leftover turkey sandwiches or fighting the crowds on Black Friday (I hate shopping and never go out on that day). It’s that every late-October I have one thought: Will I Be Able to Write another Novel?

This November I will be embarking on writing my ninth novel.

When I wrote that very first (young adult) novel a couple of decades ago, I was in school, knee-deep in writing everything from speeches to marketing pitches to press releases (hello, communications degree, howyadoin’?) so I didn’t give this little young adult novel much room to allow fear to enter. It was technically just a school assignment.

However, the span of almost twenty years exists between that first novel and the second novel. I ended up writing a non-fiction book in between because I was now too afraid and uncertain of my abilities to write another novel…and felt the non-fiction piece was less threatening.

And while I count the first young adult book in my completed pieces of fiction – it is hardly much. I want to say it teeters around the 30k-word mark but to be honest, I am unsure. It is printed on a dot-matrix so that will tell you chances were good my 1990-something computer did not have the capability to offer a word count.

Then I discovered National Novel Writing Month a few years ago. I went back and forth wondering if I should participate. Could I write a novel in thirty days? What if I can’t? I took the leap and never looked back. That “second” novel came in around 52k words after thirty days and I stood back and thought, “Holy shit, maybe I CAN do this.”

Every October I begin to feel the same way again. Can I write ANOTHER book? Will I freeze up on page twenty and not know how to continue? What if I don’t finish? (I never worry, however, whether or not the manuscript will be a piece of shit because all the first drafts are horrible with a side of awful and a sprinkling of ‘you call yourself a writer?’ seasoning.)

This November I am tackling a contemporary book that spans a few decades but isn’t necessarily historical fiction. It was an idea that came to me one day and never left me – even though I have dozens of works in progress I could have pulled from. Sometimes with novel writing you have to work on the projects that seem to call your name and won’t leave you alone! This was that book.

I finished my chapter-by-chapter outline (42 chapters strong) about a week ago along with all the background and character information I could come up with at this stage of the process. My information is in a 3-ring binder which I will read over again next week before the first day rolls around – and the chapter-by-chapter outline is in another folder, all ready to go. (Can’t wait! Excited about this story!)

At 42 chapters it means I need to do more than one chapter every single day in order to finish by the end of November. I know the book will be more than fifty thousand words (the requirement to “win” the National Novel Writing Month challenge) and so I should have no problem reaching that by the end of November – but I like to have the novel completely finished by the end of the month as well.

Are you participating in National Novel Writing Month?

Need Me Some New Blogs

There used to be a time when I wrote on three different blogs every single day, including weekends. Then, I ditched two of them and wrote only on the one, every single day. Then, I stopped posting on weekends. Then I began a new blog over here at the Wordsmithery and I most certainly don’t update everyday but I certainly try and update as often as I can. My folder of idea clips is overflowing and had to be moved into the filing cabinet. And all those ideas are great and all but they do nothing just sitting there patiently waiting…

I also enjoy reading blogs (I certainly hope you do too) but recently I noticed a terrible trend among the blogs I read: NO ONE UPDATES REGULARLY.

Or, even kinda regularly.

Hell, one blog’s last update was back in April. Another in August. Yet another in February. And that is just a sampling of three. Many I have given up on completely and have deleted altogether.

Some went to the dark side of parenting. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a parent and there are plenty of times I blog about my kids but something happens to a blogger who becomes a parent for the first time.

And then when the realities of writing sets in the rest of the bloggers give up feeling like all this writing was just Too. Much. Work.

So now I am on a mission to find me some new blogs to read.

Do you have a blog? What are some of your favorites?

Not From Here

I hail from the Los Angeles area. And every year on New Year’s Day we would sit in horror as the secret of our lives were broadcasted across the country via the Rose Parade – which was a mere two miles from my house and when the Rose Bowl game played later that day the blimp could be seen out our windows.

Without fail New Year’s Day would be a mild 70-degree something, the skies would be a bright cobalt blue without a single cloud, and the sun would be gloriously shining. Ahhhhh, January in southern California.

But then.

Everyone would notice our blue skies and sunshine on the first of January as they peek out their own windows at a cold, snowy, grey abyss and think…hmmm…maybe we should move to southern California…

Hence, our melting pot.

Truth be told, we were used to people flocking to the area. It was no different when we were in San Diego – same thing happened. Flocks. Of. Seagulls. People. (Sorry, my 80s came out there for a second.)

People came to southern California for a different life. Something better than what they thought they had. They craved sunshine year-round. They craved traffic. (No, that can’t be right.) They craved those cobalt blue skies they saw during the Rose Parade and couldn’t believe a place like that existed in January – as they shoveled five feet of snow off their driveway and froze their asses off on their way to work.

And people moved OUT of California for the same reason: they wanted a different life. Less traffic. Less people. Less crime. Less sunshine – yes, it’s true – but we like to say, “I wanted a place with four seasons”. They wanted a better place to raise a family. They wanted a slower pace of life. They wanted to live somewhere where their dollar went a little further and a place where you could actually breathe without your neighbors listening.

There were many reasons we left southern California. High cost, too many people, too much traffic, and we lived in what I referred to as a fish bowl. We wanted out of the rising cost of living in San Diego with its one season and growing crime rates.

Somehow the people of Idaho didn’t get the memo about people moving into their town. They don’t have a yearly Rose Parade watched across the country. They are therefore confused as to why people would move here. No, not confused. Pissed off. They don’t want people to move here. And they especially don’t want people from California to move here.

Without fail there are comments on Facebook whenever there is talk of increased crime or a traffic accident or road construction or houses being built in new subdivisions – “you people need to go back where you came from.” “Go back to California.” “Californians need to stop moving here!” “This was such a great place to live until all the Californians moved here!” I’m surprised we aren’t blamed for the cold winter and Boise State football losing against Ole Miss.

I want to shake them and tell them it is just the facts of life. People move around. People go places where they feel they can get a better life. Instead of being bitter, pissed, and angry at us Californians for “ruining their small town” they should feel happy and proud that we would all move away from a place where the sun shines 350 days a year to their little corner of the world – where the sun, well, doesn’t shine 350 days a year.

For such a quaint, friendly, small town when we first moved here ten years ago – I now see nothing but bitter and cranky people who despise anyone who isn’t born here.

Maybe Boise needs a parade.

…In the fall when it is gorgeous around here. On second thought, never mind.

Banking on a Low Moment (part three)

I worked for a large, very well know bank in Burbank for many years as a financial services officer. I loved that job so much. I worked for an awesome boss who gave me free rein as long as I produced loans and numbers, and I always did. Next to me on the platform (across from the tellers) was the new accounts woman who was relatively new but we hit it off and had a good team going.

Back in the day of banking in the mid-to-late 80s we had stamps in our front desk drawers that we used to identify ourselves along with an initial or a signature. Because I was an officer, the new accounts woman would come to me often to approve a deposit for a new account.

The boss at the Burbank branch got a promotion and within a few months he promoted me as well and brought me over to the neighboring Sherman Oaks branch of the bank where I had basically the same job.

At the beginning of one week I logged into my account, which I did almost every morning, to check and see what checks had cleared and what my balance was. I had a credit card from the bank that was linked to my checking account as overdraft protection. The first thing I noticed as I sat down at my desk with a cup of coffee was that a check for seven hundred dollars had cleared along with another check for nine hundred and a few more, making me severely overdrawn– not to mention all MY checks that were bouncing from here to the North Pole.

What the hell?

I didn’t write those big checks.

I quickly called over to my home branch in Burbank and spoke to one of the managers there – a friend of mine. He said he would have to look into the situation and call me back.

As it turned out, my account number was being used by someone else.

Apparently, after so many years of an inactive account, they close the account, and then issue the number back into circulation again. In my case, a little old lady from Burbank had found a stack of (old) checkbooks and began writing checks on an account that had been long since closed – which just so happened to be my account.

My credit card was working overtime trying to keep up – but in the end, everything was resolved. Of course, my life appeared to be in shambles if you looked at my statements and my maxed out credit card.

About two weeks later I was paid a visit from someone I didn’t know and who only asked to speak to me.

She pulled me into a back conference room, closed the door, and sat down with a thick 3-ring binder that had my name riddled throughout it. In fact, I recognized some of the paperwork – loan applications of customers, my initials on new account signature cards, copies of my credit card statements, random pieces of paper that had my writing and signatures.

She opened the binder in front of me and told me I needed to return the thousands of dollars I took from the bank.

I’m sorry, come again? What the fuck are you talking about?

She had copies of my Visa statements with the bank, copies of my checking and savings bank statements, and what looked to my young twenty-something self as my entire life in that 3-ring binder. It was humiliating, frustrating, and frightening all at once.

My heart began to beat fast and I felt my stomach lurch as if I swallowed the Pit of Doom.

I explained I didn’t steal any money.

She had proof of the contrary. She said all I needed to do was to give the money back and all would be okay.

I told her I didn’t steal any money.

She wanted to know why my account had been so overdrawn? Why had I been “living off my credit cards?” (Apparently a red flag and therefore proof of my wrongdoing.)

This went on and on for hours.

I finally told her that I think it best I talk to my parents or an attorney or someone else…I might have been in my early twenties but I wasn’t dumb and I could see the writing on the wall and where this was all leading…which was definitely not to the land of bubble gum and rainbows.

When I walked out of the conference room I felt the icy air around me. You know when you open a door quickly and there are people trying to listen with their ear to the door and they scramble trying to look innocent as if they had all just been walking casually near the door at the exact same time? That was the vibe in the bank. No one looked me in the eye.

The manager that had been my biggest advocate, who I hit it off with immediately, who I had worked with for over three years, who I invited to my upcoming wedding suddenly shunned me – as did every employee at the bank.

I was confused, hurt, and heartbroken.

I was also pissed.

I was innocent and yet I can see how all arrows were pointing directly at me.

Apparently there had been some accounts that had been opened fraudulently and my signature, initials, and stamp were all over every single new account signature card.


I met with more auditors from the bank.

And then I was in a room with several auditors, all trying to get me to crack and return the money they thought I stole.

And each time I told them exactly the same thing: Those weren’t my signatures. The problem with my overdrawn checking account and maxed out credit card was because of a rare fluke in the system that was already resolved. I did not steal any money.

Rinse and repeat.

Meanwhile, I explained the situation to my parents and my dad immediately called our family lawyer who told me not to speak to anyone anymore.

While I didn’t talk to any other auditors, I also didn’t talk to anyone at the bank either – who all avoided me as if by talking to me in the lunchroom they would somehow be accomplices and be forced to wear sashes that read “Thief”.

It was a very depressing time in my career.

In the end, I was cleared.

That lovely new accounts woman had been going into my desk and using my stamp. She was forging my signature too. All this came out when they finally did a handwriting analysis after I repeatedly told the auditors that the signatures she had on the cards in question were not my signatures.

The new accounts woman was fired and I was cleared but I never really escaped the cloud of doubt that followed me.

Within a few months I transferred to another branch. After my wedding I moved out of the Los Angeles area and began underwriting at the bank’s loan center in Orange County and never saw any of those people at that branch ever again.

Low Moments II – The Police Saga

The same thing happened to me two years in a row on exactly the same day. September 19. Day before my birthday.

My firstborn was a screamer. (He is 19 and he kinda still can be.) He was loud and rambunctious and to say he was full of energy is like saying the moon comes out at night.

After putting both boys to bed a couple of hours earlier, I went upstairs to check on them. It had been an exhausting day and I just wanted to marvel at their sweet little faces as they slept.

That’s when I noticed the flashing lights outside our home from the upstairs window. Then the pounding on the door.

Two police officers stood at our door and demanded they come in because there had been a complaint by a neighbor about neglect.

Neglect? Are you kidding me?

They were not kidding.

They walked upstairs to my firstborn while he slept and inspected his body with a flashlight. It was horrifying. Then, they went to the baby’s room and inspected him in his crib. It was equally as horrifying.

Satisfied that they didn’t have any signs of neglect, we went downstairs to chat.

I tried to explain what happened that day.

My oldest had a tantrum. This was not new. He often had tantrums. And I had read in a parenting magazine about keeping the inside of your house as a “scream and tantrum free” zone and if the child wants to partake in that kind of unsavory behavior they must do so outside.

So, I sent my son outside.

Now, in hindsight putting in the backyard might have been a better idea.

But I watched him through the living room window and he just sat on the grass in the front yard. But he was technically unattended. We also lived on a quiet street in the middle of a subdivision and nowhere near downtown or a busy road. Regardless, a neighbor saw him and didn’t see me and apparently called the cops.

The next time happened when I was napping during the day. And again on September 19.

I woke up to two things happening at once. The pounding on the door and the baby crying. I stood, in a still-sleepy haze, for a half second in the hallway wondering who I should go to first, the front door or the baby. When I looked out the peephole, I had my answer. The police were behind my door.

They walked in, stepping over the piles of laundry I had in the hallway because in Oceanside we didn’t have a laundry room – only the washer and dryer in a hallway closet thing. They said they received a call from a neighbor (my neighbors were just dandy in that neighborhood) complaining that the baby had been crying for a long time.

I explained that I had been asleep, tired from, well, motherhood.

They needed to see the baby.

Okie dokie.

Thankfully I was in the habit of making my bed every day because the baby was in the bassinet in my bedroom. One police officer stood at the door and the other walked with me to the bassinet. I immediately picked up the baby, who promptly stopped crying.

At that moment I felt as if I had been given the Worst Mom on the Planet award.

The police walked over and looked at the baby, checking arms and legs. All was well. They were very nice and I explained (again) that I had been tired and fell asleep and didn’t hear him crying.

These two incidents made me a nervous, panicked, depressed wreck. It made me doubt my abilities as a mother. And it caused my own mother to worry about me and my children on the heels of the Susan Smith’s of the world that had been in the headlines at the time.

I lived in a stressful, depressing place for many years back then. When your entire job as a mother brings police to the door with flashlights inspecting your kid’s legs and arms, you begin to doubt the job you thought would be the best one ever – especially when you get calls from your mother, who seemed to have the same doubts.

I remember years later when we were trying to potty train our middle son and he refused to use the toilet to do his business and we would have to bathe him each and every time he pooed. His bottom was as red as a tomato and so we used a rash cream following the bath. It was a nightmare. Despite the uncomfortable pain he must have been in that stubborn child of mine still didn’t officially potty train until he was almost four.

As my husband was putting rash cream on his bottom the sounds from the bathroom sounded like this, “Daddy, stop! Daddy, that hurts!” I kept telling them both to shut up or this will be something else I will have to explain to the police. I went around slamming windows every time the kid pooed in his pants (which was several times a day, mind you, but that is a totally different story).

To this day, on September 19 every year I think about those bleak days back in San Diego and the heartbreak that happened to my little world. It changed me. I doubted myself. I felt always watched and judged. I struggled with depression.

When I think back to mothering two small boys, the events that happened were low moments in my life, for sure. And something I doubt I will ever completely shake.

I am thankful that these days, I have a house full of teenagers who are all potty-trained and no longer throw temper tantrums.