Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Were they always so mean?

One of my earliest memories of elementary school was when a group of 3rd grade girls walked by me in the hallway, stared at my inferior 2nd grade-self and called me a slut.  I couldn’t tell you who my teacher was that year, or anything I learned for that matte but I’ll never forget that feeling of confusion and hurt.  When you’re seven years old, it’s pretty much guaranteed that you’re not a slut.  The 80’s were a different time.  If your parent’s didn’t have HBO, you really had no idea what sex was or what a person did to become a slut.  It’s not like now where most 7 year olds know more about sexting than I’ll ever comprehend. 

I remember telling my cousin and her friend, Jen, about the encounter.  I looked to them because they were also in 3rd grade and clearly knew a lot more than I did about this whole “slut” thing.  I remember Jen telling me to call them a “hoe”.  My cousin looked at her as if she were crazy and exclaimed that no one knew what that meant.  Jen insisted that it was the new word for slut.  In retrospect, Jen was damn right.  Who knew both a 3rd grade white girl and Eazy-E would be so cutting edge.

The next day when the mean girls passed me in the hall, they once again proclaimed “slut” and I uncertainly mumbled “hoe”.  (Note the singular usage towards a group of three girls- I obviously didn’t comprehend the need to pluralize “hoe”) They just stared at me and didn’t respond.  At that point, I didn’t know if they were surprised that I knew how to speak or if they were just as dumbfounded at this new word “hoe”.  Regardless, they never picked on me again.  I had found a voice.

My father once told me that I should never start a fight, but if it happens, to make sure I was the one that ended it.  I’m proud to say that never, ever have I ever gotten into a physical fight with someone.  I mean, I traded blows with my brother, but who hasn’t?  Somehow through elementary school, middle school, high school and college, my big mouth has always gotten me out of trouble.  I guess I should thank those little hoes for teaching me how to stand up for myself. 

This has always been in the back of my mind.  When I became a parent, I began to worry.  Who was going to be the first kid to call my Hayden a name? Would she know how to react?  I see it on the playground often.  The older kids will start pushing, calling her a baby, and I bite my lip in rage while she smiles and moves aside.  Let’s be honest, I want to grab their parent and use my big mouth to tell them to get a grip on their asshole kid- but alas, I’m a grown up and somehow that’s no longer acceptable. 

Recently, there’s this story about a father in Shelton, CT who allegedly hired a 17 year old girl (paid her a whopping $21) to beat up his daughter’s bully.  Now, my first reaction was probably similar to yours- What parent in their right mind would possibly do that?  But then his 15 year old daughter detailed what this bully had done to her- She had spread rumors throughout the school that she was pregnant.  Random boys would come up to her and rub her belly and ask her how far along she was- This bully tormented her, called her all kinds of names, and had other students behave the same way towards her.  She was so embarrassed and distraught she wanted to switch schools.  $21 to see this bully get punched in the face doesn’t sound so horrible anymore, does it?  I probably would have paid a lot more than that if some loser kid put my Hayden through that ordeal. 

Another friend of mine texted me recently to tell me about a twelve year old girl who randomly locked her and her three year old daughter inside of a bathroom when they were on a ferry.  Her daughter was scared while she banged on the door until someone let them out.  I calmly asked her if she called that twelve year old a little cunt, she replied no, there were too many people around. 

This comes with a double edged sword as far as I’m concerned.  The real world outside of the classroom has plenty of mean girls (and boys!)- Children need to learn how to deal with them just the same way adults need to.  Yet, there needs to be some guidelines now that social media has taken hurtful words to a whole new public dimension.  Do I have answers? Absolutely not.  I'll leave it to Lady Gaga to figure out.  What I will do is give Hayden the same advice a wise old man gave to me though- never start a fight, but if one should happen, makes sure she’s the one who ends it.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Hayden's 1st Car Accident

You ever hear people say “That stuff only happens to me”?  I’m actually that person.  I remember someone came up to me after one of my comedy shows once and accused me of making my stories up.  I wish I could say that I had that creative of an imagination.  I don’t.  I really believe that God has a sense of humor and finds its amusing to put me in awkward situations. 

This is a true story.  It happened this past Friday at 2:10 pm.

When I was 16, I dated a guy who drove a 1989 Ford Fiesta.  One day, we packed six of us into this hot little number and went out on the town.  I wasn’t wearing a seatbelt- He swerved- hit the car in front of us and my head went through the windshield.  Needless to say, since that day, I always wear a seatbelt.  Anyway, a day in the hospital, a few stitches and I was fine.  But that started my lifelong fear of car accidents.  I have one of those repeat dreams of crashing.  Once I had Hayden, those fears heightened because now I could fear being in a car accident with my child in the car.

Well, it happened.  I’m thankful that God made is humorous…

While I was stopped at a red light (directly diagonal from my parent’s restaurant, Via Sforza), I was rear-ended.  It was a very good smack.  I let go of the brake and I think that helped ease the hit.  Once it dawned on me that I was just hit, I frantically turned around to check on Hayden.  She was still sound asleep in her car seat.  I breathed a sigh of relief and got out of the car to check the damage.

Standing in front of me was a relatively normal looking guy.  He apologized and I told him that I had my child in the car.  He shook his head like he understood.  I checked to see if there was any damage to my Jeep and thankfully, there wasn’t any.  He had some dents, some scratches- but nothing on my truck.  (Plug for Jeep- I will probably never drive another brand again- Jeeps rule).  As I pondered whether I should call the cops or have Hayden checked out because maybe she had hurt her neck, he became a little irritated.  I told him I had to call my father (who I could actually see across the intersection at the restaurant) or my husband to make sure I was doing the right thing.  (Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about women’s lib, but let’s be honest, I barely know how to pump my own gas- This was a call that one of the men in my life had to make)-

He looked at me and said “I have caged raccoons and squirrels in the bed of the truck.  I’m concerned about their safety if we stay in the sun”. 

There was an awkward moment of silence while I digested this statement.  Of course there was the fact that it was a cool 70 degree day… or possibly that he had hit me, not the opposite… or simply that HE HAD CAGED ANIMALS IN HIS TRUCK. 

I looked at him and reminded him that I HAD A CHILD IN THE CAR THAT HE HAD JUST HIT. 

I called my Dad and he quickly ran over.  While he was running over the Raccoon Whisperer pleaded to me “Please don’t call the cops, they’ll take away my animal trapping license”… Dude, what? 

I peeked in the back of his pick up and sure enough… trapped animals.  While my father inspected my truck, he explained to me that the cages had slid forward which made him think he had been hit, so in turn he hit me.  This obviously made no sense.  I asked him what he does with the animals.  He didn’t answer.

My father gave Raccoon Whisperer a stern look and told him to get the hell out of there before the cops showed up.  That’s all he needed to hear.  He, and those poor trapped animals, were gone.

Hayden slept through the whole thing. I wonder if this is one of those things I'm supposed to write down in her baby book.  Who am I kidding? I have no idea where that book is and I certainly have never written anything in it since the day she was born. 

He had trapped rodents in his car and was more concerned about their well being rather than my sleeping three year old.  Again, just another day in my life. 

Wear your seatbelt.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Latina American Doll

Did you ever see those people who line up their stuffed animals in the back window of their car?  I feel like this was something that was very popular in the 80’s, but I still smirk when I see it today.  I was one of those kids who didn’t get the whole “stuffed animal” craze.  Why play with a furry bear when you can have seven thousand Barbies?  For some reason, I also thought they were dirty toys.  My mother’s ability to convince me that everything that cannot be Windex’ed/Pledge’ed is dirty is evident in my distaste for stuffed animals.  I remember being in the hospital and as family came to visit, I would almost cringe as they brought several “Her First Bear” stuffed animals.  Yet, like a good Mommy, I displayed them in her room- on the highest shelf- where she would never be able to reach them. 

Given this information, it should come as no surprise that Hayden is obsessed with stuffed animals.  Of course, she has her best friend “Orange”- a stuffed orange seahorse that was won at a carnival when she was four months old- Actually she sleeps with three Orange’s because I bought a case of them when I realized they were her comfort animal (Yes, insane… I know).  As if her wide collection of stuffed seahorses wasn’t enough, she sleeps with 22 other stuffed animals.  Yes, you heard that right, 22.  Hayden is no fool.  If one of her precious “friends” (as she calls them) is missing from her bed at night, we will go on a full scavenger hunt until that “friend” is retrieved and placed back on her bed.  I am not amused for her fondness of these stuffed, dirt collecting, animals- but I am also a sucker, so I let her have anything she wants.

You can imagine my eye-rolling when my mother declared that Hayden needed an American Doll.  For all of you that don’t know what American Dolls are- They are obnoxiously expensive (picture bride of Chucky-looking) dolls that come with different skin tones, eye colors, hair colors/textures, etc.  One must travel to NYC to the American Doll headquarters and have the experience of obtaining one.  I’m confident that the age suggestion on these Rolls Royce’s of dolls is eight years and above, but no, Hayden was turning three and clearly needed one immediately. 

Road trip.  My sister, mother, Hayden and I piled in and trekked to the city to get this magical doll.  When we entered, the Doll Concierge directed us to the third level where the American Doll babies were- Age appropriate for a 3 year old.  My mother was not amused and made a spectacle in saying that Hayden was far too advanced for this baby doll that (gasp!) didn’t even have hair.  Meanwhile, I stood back and wondered why this doll store, located on 5th Avenue in NYC, that was the size of the Governors’ Mansion, was teeming with girls of all ages.  Aren’t we in a damn recession?  My mouth almost hit the floor when we went up to the “Beauty Parlor” and I saw grown women giving these dolls makeovers and hair up-do’s.  You can schedule a hair appointment for your doll and have them made up.  Price ranges from $20 for a pony tail to $40 for a French braid.  These people are out of their damn mind.  Again, let me re-iterate, these were for the doll’s hair to get done, not for the children’s.

I stood back and smiled when Hayden brought my Mom an African American doll and insisted this was the one she wanted.  Not because we have a racist bone in our bodies, but because my Mom’s dream was that she would pick a doll that looked exactly like her.  Long brown wavy hair, brown eyes and alas, light skin.  I found the entire spectacle amusing as my Mom swept her up and confronted a salesperson and asked where we could have a doll made to look just like Hayden.  The woman explained that the 50 dolls they had on display were the choices and to just pick one of those.  Finally, Hayden settled on a Latina American Doll.  I told my Mom that Hayden has fantastic skin tone and gets quite tan in the summer, so she will look a lot like this doll.  Just as I thought we were done, it was then explained to me that the doll needed clothing.  Another full 45 minutes to pick out three outfits- A dress, casual jeans and sweater, and pajamas.  Each of these outfits was similarly priced as to what I buy myself at the Gap. Hayden also insisted that the doll needed her own hair brush, a carrying case and of course, sunglasses.

Hayden named this precious doll Princess Bella and she now spends her days on Hayden’s bed.  Ironically, Hayden loves Princess Bella just as much as her $3.99 Hello Kitty stuffed animal.  She doesn’t discriminate either.  She loves all her friends equally… That’s not true, she loves Orange the best.  All in all, it was a fun day with the girls in the city- but nothing made my morning more complete than to see my manly husband brushing Princess Bella’s hair and changing her from pajamas into her jeans (with a scowl on his face) while Hayden commanded him to change her.  Amazing what a little girl can do to a man’s pride J

Saturday, March 10, 2012

We Ate Snowball

One of my favorite stories that I share about my childhood is when we ate our pet bunny for Easter.  I know this may sound horrific, and granted- it was disturbing at the time, but in retrospect, it is by far one of my favorite childhood memories to share.
Being Italian has a lot of perks.  I know how to cook.  I’ve grown up with amazing food my whole life.  I have over 30 first cousins and most of us are very close.  Our holidays are filled with love and laughter. My home growing up was spotless.  My grandparents lived with us.  The list goes on and on. Yet, Italians tend to view things a lot differently from “normal” people.  I use the term “normal” to describe anyone American or not Italian.  Growing up, whenever I would reference a family that did not have two parents who were born and raised in Italy, I called them “normal”.  Not until you are a first generation American child of Italian immigrant parents, do you understand how different you are from your American friends.
Sure, our curfew was 9 pm when we were 17 years old.  Yes, I was never, ever allowed to go to a sleep over (unless, of course, it was one of my cousins).  And it’s true that my father announced my first period with pride in front of my entire extended family.  Just comes with the territory. 
Insert Italian accent here: “Anna is a woman now…”  Sigh.
So, it doesn’t come as any surprise that we had a lot of pets growing up.  I think my parents are big fans of pets because they grew up with farm animals.  My mother always recalls how she would love and care for their pigs, and then on slaughter day, my grandfather would warn her so she could hide.  She would run far away into the fields so she couldn’t hear any of it.  It’s kind of hard to imagine being a farm girl in the mountains of Setti Fratti, Italy when you grew up in Fairfield County, CT.  Crazy part is that my parents are young.  In their early 50’s- and this was still their childhood. 
Anyway, so we had a rabbit.  My brother, sister and I had very poor imaginations, so we would usually just name our pets whatever colors they were.  Hence, Blackie, our dog…. (he was black)… or Stripes, our cat… (it had stripes)… or Whitey, our bird… (yeah, you can figure this out).  So our bunny was named Snowball because of course it was white… and fat… and we already had an animal named Whitey.  Poor Snowball had no idea that being fat would eventually cause his demise.  No one wanted to take care of Snowball because his cage smelled. 
As Easter came around, Snowball disappeared.  We were told he ran away.  As usual, we ate our rabbit during Easter dinner.  (For the “normal” people out there, it’s very common for Italians to eat rabbit- just as common as you may eat chicken).  A few weeks later, the jokes started and being the young Sherlock Holmes we were, we put two and two together.  We had eaten Snowball.  My father did not deny it.  My sister refused to ever eat meat again. 
Ironically, becoming a grandfather does strange things to a man.  Someone dropped off nine rabbits at my father’s house this week.  Obviously, they were not dropped off as pets, but to be eaten.  My father instructed my mother not to let my daughter, Hayden, see these rabbits.  He couldn’t stand the thought of having to explain to her where they had gone which she would inevitably ask after they were killed.  The next morning I get a call from my Mom.  Bring Hayden over, they were going to play with the rabbits and then set them free.  I kid you not.  Off she went to see “Nonno’s rabbits”, and as promised she set them free.  Her imitation of them “hopping away to their Mommy’s and Daddy’s” is hilarious.  My father couldn’t do it.  Becoming a grandfather made him soft.  Today, I stopped by and saw my Uncle roaming around the house.  I asked what he was doing- He said he was leaving some food in the yard, because some of the rabbits were still around.  Who are these people?
So, times have changed.  My father has changed.  But to this day, I still love the look on “normal” people’s faces when I tell them we ate our pet rabbit.  Thank God that Italians don’t eat dogs or cats.  I think only the Chinese do that. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Bracelet

I swear- I can't make this stuff up.
Hayden's pre-school was having a Valentines Day Potluck dinner. I'm not going to lie. I was excited. This was her first school event. They were going to have the children sing love songs. I mean, come on, how cute is that? So, like any working Mom who barely has time to accomplish anything- I had to make the decision- Do I a. Go find Hayden the cutest outfit in the whole world or b. Attempt to make a potluck dish that would astound all the other parents?... It was a difficult decision, so I did the one thing any multi-tasking Mom would do. I found the perfect outfit (complete with giant pink flower for her hair, pink legwarmers and an adorable Valentines necklace/bracelet)... and I ordered a catered dish from my parents restaurant. I made it a point to memorize all the ingredients so that if anyone asked me how I made it, I could easily lie and tell them. (One time I lied about making stuffed clams, someone asked me where I got the shells and I told them that Hayden and I gather them at the beach... Epic).
The event was cute and sweet. Granted, all the students sang their songs. Hayden was singing too... Not necessarily the same song as all the other kids, but that's why I love my child. She's independent. I call them her "remixes". She'll take all the songs she knows and mash them together... For example, this was last nights ballad- "Ol' McDonald had a baa baa black sheep, have any you any wool? And if you're happy and you know it squeeze your nose"... all to the tune of Lady Gaga's Romance song. It's not uncommon for her to tell me to sing her "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" but demand that I incorporate the term polka dot into it.
She kept taking her bracelet off. I warned her several times not to do that because she would lose it. So, of course, she lost it. She squealed that she had lost her bracelet. I gently reminded her that it was her own fault. She was distracted by a balloon and forgot about the bracelet.
Fast forward thirty minutes and we get in line for the bathroom. All of a sudden, Hayden screams that the girl in front of us with her mother has her bracelet. I immediately tell Hayden that it IS NOT her bracelet and that she had lost hers earlier. Then I look. She's right. The little girl totally has her bracelet. It was a matching set and not a common look. Please keep in mind, we are discussing a $2 plastic bracelet and necklace that is made to look like those Valentines Day heart candies. I don't know what to do. Part of me believes that it's Haydens own fault for taking it off and leaving it God knows where- the other part of me wonders if I should ask her mother for it since Hayden is now in full tantrum mode over the stupid thing. So, I say loudly- "Hayden, maybe that's the girls bracelet. You lost yours an hour ago". The little girl in front of us starts crying. Her mother looks down at her says what's wrong, I hear the child tell her "I don't want to give it back". The mother turns to me, looks right at Hayden's necklace and turns away quickly.
Now, I can't speak for other Moms, but if it was me in that situation, I would have ripped it off my childs arm and given it back to the rightful owner. Not this Mom. She swept up her kid and rushed off to another bathroom. She looked so normal too. I followed her to the other bathroom and went into an adjacent stall. Hayden wouldn't quit. "SHE HAS MY NECKLACE MOMMY- IT'S MINE. PLEASE MOMMY, PLEASE". My child is the definition of persistent. Now, I'm in an awkward position. Hayden was wrong for losing it. But clearly this woman knows her child has my kids bracelet. I don't know a lot of Mom's at this new pre-school and I certainly don't want to burn any bridges. After all, this is a dumb $2 bracelet.
I finally grow some balls, and stand by the sink and wait for them to come out of their stall so I can say something. Granted, I don't know what I'm going to say- but I had to say something, right? She didn't come out of the stall. I swear to God. I heard them whispering in the stall and they just didn't come out. After a few minutes, I realized this was way too complicated and embarassing. So, I loudly told Hayden I would buy her a new bracelet the next day and left.
Now, here's something you probably have figured out by now- I have a big opinionated mouth. So by the time I had gotten home, I had already told three other Moms.
So here's the real question- Do I drop it (which I probably will do) or do I approach her next time I see her? I mean, she hid in the bathroom with her kid to keep a plastic bracelet. I told you, I can't make this stuff up.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Not Afraid of the Dark

Well, here’s the good news- Hayden is not afraid of the dark.  Actually, I’m wondering if she’s part vampire lately.  It’s common to hear a child cry because its nighttime and they can’t see.  I even have a friend whose daughter is afraid of shadows at night.  To me, that makes sense.  It’s easy to be afraid of what you can’t see.  Not my Hayden. 
We have one of those night vision video monitors in her room.  Yes, we are the insane parents who still watch their child sleep at the age of almost three.  Please keep in mind that her room is exactly eight feet from our bedroom.  We can hear her perfectly well if she coughs, yet as nervous, inexperienced first time parents, we were sure to purchase the most expensive video monitor Buy Buy Baby had.  (For the record, we did have our 20% off coupon when we bought it… and here is your Parent Tip of the Day… Buy Buy Baby which is part of the Bed Bath and Beyond family will take anything back… Seriously, anything.  My mother has returned pasta makers after using it for three years, no receipt, she’s not even sure if she bought it there… So after a full year with our video monitor, we brought it back in a Ziploc bag, claimed it didn’t work ((which it didn’t)) and they immediately replaced it with a brand new updated version.  Kick ass.  I cannot say the same for Toys R Us/Babies R Us which would rather you die from Leprosy than accept a return).
Anyway, I’ve spent hours watching Hayden in the night vision monitor.  I’ve watched her sit up in her bed and individually talk to each of her stuffed animals.  Sometimes it’s hilarious, “Orange, you’re my best friend, I love you so much… even more than Daddy”… Sometimes it’s alarming “Jingle, I hope a monster doesn’t come and eat you tonight.”  Regardless of what she says, I can’t get over the fact that she has no fear of the dark. 
The one thing we have been lucky with is that she rarely will get up out of bed on her own.  Somehow, she hasn’t figured out yet that she actually has the option to get up out of bed and no one can stop her.  Even if she has to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, she’ll call for me to come get her.  Of course, whenever this happens, I jump out of a dead sleep because I have the monitor six inches from my head on full blast. 
A funny thing happened the other night though.  I was passed out after working the late shift at the radio station- and despite the glaring lights and sounds from the monitor; I failed to hear Hayden embarking on a little adventure.  I rolled over to hear Paul mumble “What the hell is she doing?...” and watched him stumble off to her room.  The clock said 3:23 am.  I heard giggling, then Paul say calmly “Hayden what are you doing in the closet?”.  The child had filled her potty with pee, then decided that instead of getting back into bed, she would simply go lock herself in the closet.  She did all this is pitch black darkness.  How she managed not to pee on the floor and get it all in the toilet, I will never know.  Again, she may be a vampire.  And her response as to why she was in the closet, “I wanted to go downstairs but I couldn’t”.  Logical.  I’m just thankful it was Paul who went in to investigate the small noises, because if I would have walked in to an empty bed and an empty bathroom, I would have screamed Jon Benet, freaked out and called the police immediately. 
I think this would be a good time to point out that my brother has rigged his kids vido camera’s so he can watch them on both his television and computer while they sleep.  I use that as justification that he is crazy and I am not.  Feel free to judge.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Mommy Owned and Operated

Mommy Owned and Operated
I strongly respect local Moms who have taken risks and opened their own businesses.  I think it’s amazing that they have the knowhow and more importantly, courage, to go out on their own and make their dreams come true.  I was thrilled when I found a local children’s dance center that was Mom owned and operated.  (For the sake of their business, I will never reveal where it is… unless you ask me personally in passing- then I will quickly throw them under the bus.)
Anyway, I remember calling and being thrilled that they had a Mommy and Me 2’s program.  I almost jumped out of my skin in excitement when they informed me that they teach the children ballet and that there is a mandatory uniform.  I could envision my little princess with her tutu on, ballet slippers in place, performing perfect plies’ with the bar.  I immediately called my three closest Mom friends and gushed that we MUST send our girls there.  No arguments from them, we were all signed up and had “fittings” scheduled within a week.
All I could think about was my own childhood dance memories.  I danced at a place called Center Stage Dance Studio in Stamford.  They are still there.  Still Mom owned.  Still awesome.  They, unfortunately, did not have a 2’s program.  I strongly attribute my serious dance skills (whether it  be zumba or just shakin’ it at the local bar) to the amazing teachers I had from such a young age.  I couldn’t wait to give this to Hayden too.
At the fitting, I started to get the feeling that maybe this whole “mandatory  uniform” thing was kind of a rip off.  The tutu’s were very overpriced.  They were required to only wear their clothing.  And they pretty much insisted I would need a ballet bag.  I politely, but sternly said no, I could very easily transfer her ballet slippers in a Walmart bag.
First day of class- coloring.  Now, I don’t know about you, but when I envision a ballet class, I think music and possibly some dancing… not puzzles and coloring.  I didn’t pay a ridiculous amount of money that I can’t even admit to husband for her to color.  Next the Mom (owner) sat with us and explained how she wanted to send her youngest to the most expensive “elite” pre-school in the area but she wasn’t sure about spending the money since it would be her fourth child she would have to send there.  I wanted to tell her to get her ass up off the floor and teach my child how to dance since this is how I choose to spend my money. 
Here’s something you may not know about me.  I wear my heart on my sleeve.  That can, and usually does, get me into trouble.  I didn’t like this woman, and she knew it.  She made a few comments on the size of Haydens tummy (insinuating she was heavy for a toddler) and then as far as I was concerned, I would bad mouth her company forever.  I would like to point out that she, in fact, was fat.  Again, not something that would normally come across my mind, but grown women in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones at small girls. 
Another time, she announced in front of the class, that Hayden’s hair was unacceptable.  That all children should have their hair tied up in a bun for her class.  I had Hayden’s hair half up.  No one ever told me about this rule.  She would prance around the class singing while the kids ran wild and become annoyed that they would run off.  She had absurd flowery things hanging from her windows and literally almost had a heart attack when one of the children pulled one down one day-  I knew that I had led my Mommy friends wrong.  The girls did not belong in this establishment.  I applaud her efforts to run a “professional” dance center for children- but all I could think about was those poor Russian 11 year old gymnasts who will never get their period.  I could never let Hayden have that type of experience.
At my parent’s restaurant one night, I saw a beautiful young girl come in with her recital outfit on.  I eagerly asked her parents where she went and they told me about another local dance center that they very much liked.  Then, to my shock, they immediately warned me about the very place I had sent Hayden.  I laughed and shared my stories with them.  I’ve learned a lesson- Just because a place is Mom owned and operated, doesn’t mean it’s a good place.  Needless to say, none of us returned to this dance school and we joke regularly about how often they call/email us in hopes that we will return. 
I’m not taking any chances.  I don’t care that it will take me 30 minutes each way to get my daughter to Center Stage which is where I went.  I need to guarantee her a good experience so she will grow up with the same love of dance that I have.  Best part?  No uniforms.