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    It's a gloriously summer-feeling spring evening and the setting sun has filled the street with golden light. There are five -- no, six, seven? I can't keep count, they're moving too quickly -- little boys playing in the quiet suburban neighborhood. Basketballs fly back and forth, squirt guns are deployed, somebody has a double-bladed plastic lightsaber and is making that bszzzzew, bszzzzew sound. My 8-year-old runs by with a neighbor boy, my 6-year-old is giggling with his younger cousin. They're filled with so much electric joy, it's pouring off them in visible waves.

    I'm sitting with the adults, watching this scene unfold. It's a suburban dream: kids playing, grownups chatting, everyone just a few steps from their own home. I'm thinking about our own neighborhood, and how it's nothing like this.

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    Do you watch Shark Tank, the show where entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas to a panel of potential investors? My husband and I are borderline obsessed with it; I can't think of another show that feels so interactive in terms of causing us to repeatedly pause the TV so we can hash out our opinions of any given deal ("Ugh, royalty in perpetuity? Classic Mr. Wonderful" "Oh what a complete surprise, Robert's out, who could have seen this coming?").

    I like assessing the products I see on the show, but I can't help noticing that out of all the various parenting-focused products that have cropped up lately, none of them truly address MY needs. In fact, it seems like for every day-to-day parenting challenge I face, someone out there has invented a solution ... that doesn't even remotely solve the problem.

    Here's what I'm talking about:

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    Once you're out of school, spring break no longer holds a ton of appeal, does it? After all, it's not like the working world celebrates by shutting down for a week. Those of us who are parents are mostly burdened with trying to keep our children occupied during their time off while simultaneously juggling all our normal tasks. It's not exactly a smorgasbord of bikinis, beaches, and beer bongs.

    That's what I had thought, until my entire worldview changed after I experienced the never-to-be-forgotten Spring Break Without Kids of 2014. It all went down last week, thanks to my boys staying with their grandparents for a few days, and I'm still recovering from the riotous atmosphere that took over my house. My god, it was epic. There isn't a college student in existence who partied harder than I did, I can tell you that right now.

    Behold just a few of the nearly illegal activities that I engaged in:

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    Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I find myself in a compromising position with a near-stranger. It's usually a man, and we're locked in a strange sort of embrace. My fingers might be laced together on the back of his head, pulling his face close to my neck. His hand might be gripping the back of my shirt, one elbow pressed against my cheekbone. We shuffle around awkwardly as if slow-dancing in a school cafeteria to "Lady in Red," softly kneeing each other in the groin.

    Later I drive home, battered from head to toe, a giant bruise already blooming down my arm like a long winter shadow. I can see in the rearview mirror that my hair has pulled loose from my headband in unflattering sweat-slick tufts, and the majority of my makeup has probably been smeared down someone's shirt. Every part of my body aches. I turn up my radio and lustily sing along, butchering the lyrics and caring not a whit. "Clap along if you feel like a broom without a hoof!"

    I'm completely and utterly exuberant.

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    I wrote something on Twitter a while back about being glad I was the parent of boys because it meant I didn't have to have anything to do with that Rainbow Loom bracelet-weaving crapola. People didn't waste any time correcting me: it seems the Loom is embraced by plenty of boys. Plus, but as one of my friends explained it to me, "Imagine an 8-year-old, awake but silent for hours at a time -- at only the cost of some rubber bands. This is the power of the Rainbow Loom." Touché.

    I was wrong in assuming that loom-ing was mostly a girls-only activity, so let me rephrase: my own boys have zero interest in making rubber jewelry, and that's more than fine by me.

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    Do you try to avoid spending money on tons of extra things your kids don't really need? Don't call yourself frugal, call yourself on-trend: you're part of the minimalist parenting way of being. Sure, saving cash by not filling every room in your house with the latest battery-powered Fisher-Price Blat-N-Learn may sound like a fairly basic concept, but you guys, it's totally cutting edge. It's a Pinterest-friendly lifestyle movement. (And if you're a thrifty dad, you can officially call yourself a manimalist.)

    I feel like every week I hear about some brand-new method of raising kids, but when I actually learn what the term means, it's not particularly groundbreaking at all. What's with our annoying tendency to lump diverse parenting choices into one specific buzzword, I wonder? (Aside from the fact that it drives advice book sales, of course.)

    If you're not sure what I mean, here are 5 more examples of "parenting trends" that sound WAY more complicated than they really are.

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    I wake up around 6:30 when I hear a combination of sounds: the shower running, my 6-year-old in the bathroom cheerily talking to my husband through the curtain, our cat yowling outside the 8-year-old's bedroom door. I lie in bed, cocooned by comfort and familiarity, while my husband pours Cheerios and kisses me goodbye. My youngest, the early riser, is puttering around in his bedroom singing to himself. The cat continues her relentless nagging. I get up as my 8-year-old emerges, and we trade blurry morning hellos.

    "Dad already gave me breatfask," Dylan says. I run my hand over the top of his head and smile: I never want him to pronounce this word correctly. Riley sits down to a mountainous pile of cereal and devours the entire thing while dreamily paging through a battered Calvin & Hobbes book. I pull my fuzzy blue robe around me, walk across the living room, and open the blinds on our front windows. Thus signals -- at least in my mind -- the official start to the day.

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    Here's what I learned last week on my 40th birthday: you can dread that particular milestone all you want, but it's going to happen whether you like it or not. Assuming you're lucky enough to live that long, that is.

    There was a time when 40 seemed absolutely ancient to me, and it's still a number that holds a non-trivial amount of weight. I mean, Justin Bieber, a legal adult, has a mother who is three years younger than me. Nixon was president when I was born, and gas cost $0.53 a gallon. I've been too old to apply to be on The Real World for TWO DECADES.

    Aside from my reluctance to permanently retire my spring-chicken status, I thought I had a pretty good idea about what life would be like when I hit the big 4-0. As it turns out -- at least so far, one week into my fortieth year -- I was wrong about almost everything.

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    The other day my 8-year-old son brought home his weekly envelope of class work for me to review, and among his spelling worksheets and carefully crawled mini-essays and crayoned drawings, I spotted a sheet of subtraction problems that looked slightly ... odd. He had two problems to solve, both fairly basic, but he also had three columns on the page in which he had been required to use different strategies to solve the problems. The first column looked perfectly familiar to me: one number was on top of the other, with a line drawn underneath both and his answer below. The second and third columns, however, made exactly ZERO sense to me no matter how long I peered mouthbreathingly at the "strategies."

    I have long dreaded the day when I could no longer help my children with their homework because their knowledge had surpassed my own -- but I hadn't quite imagined it would happen in the SECOND GRADE.

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    I am an alcoholic. For years, alcohol was the first thing I thought about when I woke up in the morning. All day long, I obsessed over drinking: when could I start, did I have enough, how could I hide it. Every hour until that first drink was steeped in unease and self-hatred. Every hour past that first drink was focused on the drink after that. I lived completely in the past or the future, in regrets and anxiety. The present was increasingly intolerable and so I sought escape. It was a vicious cycle that went on and on and on.

    You have probably had your fill of people using Philip Seymour Hoffman's tragic overdose as an excuse to talk about addiction. Forgive me for adding to the noise, but it's been hard for me to think of anything else lately. It's been hard to see the number of people condemning Hoffman for the "stupid, selfish" act that took his life and not feel painted with those same hurtful broad strokes.

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About This Column
Linda Sharps

Linda Sharps spends her days striving for balance in the always-unbalanced world of working from home while parenting two rambunctious boys. When she's not cursing the laundry or daydreaming about wearing heels again, she can be found writing about the ups and downs of her charmed life in her weekly Stir column "Mom, Interrupted."

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