Teri Carter's Library

The Tic Tac Man

Drawing by Pablo Picasso

J.B. kept boxes of Tic Tacs in the top, left-hand, drawer of his desk. Whenever he felt like he’d offended me, he offered me some. “Hold out your hand,” he would say, opening the drawer, and I would hold out my hand and he would hold my fingers down while he sprinkled the white candies into my palm.

“There you go,” he would say, “A few of these babies will get rid of that bad taste in your mouth.”

And then he would tip his head back like a baby bird, tap in a few Tic Tacs, drop the box back in the drawer, and ease the drawer closed. Then we would both sit there until the candy, and the tension, dissolved.

This scene with J.B.—whom I’d nicknamed the Tic Tac Man — is the first thing I thought of when I heard the Donald Trump / Billy Bush tape. J.B. was a big money oil magnate, one of my biggest customers. My job was to keep his business, keep him happy, and this is what it looked like to negotiate with him.

When I hear Donald Trump talk about making American great again, when I hear his mostly white male supporters scream for a return to the good old days, I do not feel hope. I feel the churn of fear. What good old days are those, exactly?

There were the days when the big shot at the company dinner insisted that I (not the 4 other men at the table) drive him back to his hotel and we had to laugh and joke while strategizing in secret about how to get me away from him without pissing him off and risking his business.

The days when I had to beg desk clerks to let me change hotel rooms to hide from the men I was traveling with, men who would would spend their drunken nights tracking me like it was a game, like I was an animal. And then having to smile at them over breakfast and pretend like it was no big deal.

That time when I was the new and only woman in a conference room full of male department heads, and the Chief Operating Officer announced, “I guess this means we ain’t having our monthly meetings at the strip club anymore, boys. All those good girls are going to lose money because of you, sweetheart.” His colleagues laughed. To me he said, “Oh shit, lighten up. I don’t mean nothin’.”

That customer I had to tolerate through lunch while he downed his scotch and water and told me how pretty I was, how much he liked my hair, my dangly earrings, my calves (seriously, my calves?), my shiny pink lipstick on my soft sweet lips. “Oh, I’m harmless as a big old teddy bear,” he would say. “But hot damn, girl!”

The time when me and my female colleagues knew better than to report this kind of behavior because we knew our careers would be over, and because the boldest predator in our office was the Senior Vice President of Human Resources.

Those good old days?

Yeah. I think I’ll pass.

And if you feel the need to tell me stories about Bill Clinton, I’ll take a pass on that, too. Bill Clinton is not running for President of the United States, and it’s not the 1990’s anymore.

When I listen to the Donald Trump / Billy Bush tape, as horrific as the whole thing is, I get stuck at the part with the Tic Tacs.

The Tic Tac Man used to ask me what I thought of his ties, and would insist I touch them, “How does that feel?” he would ask.

The Tic Tac Man found every way possible to be alone with me, and would balk if I set up meetings with my boss or other department heads.

The Tic Tac Man made sure I knew he was doing me a favor by inviting me into his circle, the rare air of men and money and success. Did I know how lucky I was, the young business woman, to be treated to such access?

The Tic Tac Man often moved our meetings to his private conference room, the one with windows he could darken with the push of a button and where he could sit in the chair next to mine and rub his leg and arm against me while we “went over the numbers.”

And here’s the thing about the Tic Tac Man. Because he was rich and successful in business and oh so charming, everything he said and did was normal, expected, tolerated, excused, laughed about, dismissed (boys being boys!), encouraged, and even admired.




“You can do anything,” this new Tic Tac Man says, “Whatever you want.”

And he’s right. He can do anything, whatever he wants, to your daughters and mine. And still maintain the fevered, cult-like support of his followers. The Tic Tac Man is running for President of the United States.


This OpEd can be found in the Oct 13, 2016 issue of:


It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s Man’s World

Pablo Picasso Sleeping man and sitting woman
– drawing by Pablo Picasso

Friends, I’ve been un-friended.

It happened on a Friday night. I posted the video of Mr. and Mrs. Kahn—the Gold Star Muslim parents of a soldier killed in Iraq—with the caption, “America is already great.” These four words were apparently fighting words because, within minutes, a man I knew mostly back in school before we were of voting age commented he would be un-friending me until after the election. “Nothing personal,” he wrote. He was sure I understood why he had to do this, that he had to un-friend me in order to remain friends. He was just, to quote, “SO itching to launch truth missiles” my way.

I’m not sure what a truth missile is, but it sounds like war. War, over showing public support for a Gold Star family and stating that America is great? The low bar, it seems, can still sink lower.

It’s no secret I’m liberal in my politics, but at least half of my friends are conservatives and, while I admit I have no respect for the bullying rhetoric of Rush Limbaugh and don’t know where to find the Fox News channel on my TV, I read just about everything by prominent and respected conservatives like David Brooks and Peggy Noonan, and my latest Podcast Addiction Award goes to the brilliant and hilarious Mike Murphy, longtime Republican political operative and consultant to Jeb Bush. Murphy’s two-part interview with Mitt Romney was worth every minute. All this to say I do not need to receive truth missiles from a man enthusiastic about, I’m guessing here, the current Republican presidential nominee.

Which brings me to the most puzzling aspect of this year’s Republican candidate: he does not appear to be a Republican, or even a conservative. Mike Murphy and Mitt Romney claim they will vote, but write in some other name.

More than two dozen women friends, liberals and conservatives alike, have told me they can’t bring themselves to vote for either candidate. They will be sitting this one out.

Since women have had the right to vote for less than a century, this is both disturbing and disheartening. While it’s certainly not news that both candidates have high water marks for being unlikable, the reasons women give for not voting are notable.

Who can vote for a man who makes fun of the handicapped, who calls people Little Marco and Lyin’ Ted and Crooked Hillary and Pocahontas like a grade school bully? Who can vote for a man who insults and then refuses to apologize to a grieving Gold Star mother, who insists he knows “more than the generals” when it comes to ISIS, and who doubles-down on asinine assertions that the current President of the United States was not born here and founded ISIS?

Who can vote for a man who spends his opening remarks in a national presidential debate defending the size of his penis?

On the democratic side there’s Email Gate—the private server, the thousands of emails—and that the candidate comes across cold. But most always it comes down to this: disgust that she stayed married to a serial cheater, to a man whom she must have known was having sex with other women, who then embarrassed her publicly by trying to lie his way out of it.

I’m reminded of one of my dad’s Facebook posts, a photo of Monica Lewinsky with the caption, Nobody would know who I am if Hillary was the right woman for the job.

Her husband’s affairs had to be as much her fault as his. She asked for it, or was in on it. Who can vote for a woman who chooses to stay in a sham and call it marriage? How can you trust a woman like that to run the country?

As to my own Facebook un-friending, I did not comment nor reply. Eventually I deleted the post altogether. What else was there to say? I’m not normally much of a crier, so it’s humiliating to admit I spent that Friday night in tears. Not over the un-friending—we are all grownups here and can choose to be “friends” with whomever we like—but because I felt like I’d been slapped in public. Knocked down a peg. Taught a lesson. Surely I understood why he could not remain “friends.” Surely I understood not to take it personally. Surely I understood that I had, somehow, asked for it.

Would he, I can’t help but wonder, be this bent on launching truth missiles at a man?

This November, I will cast my vote. I will not vote for the woman because she is a woman. I will vote for her in spite of it.

I will vote for her because I don’t need to understand her marriage or like or love or be friends with her. I will vote for her because she represents the causes I believe in (a pathway to citizenship for immigrants, women’s rights, sensible gun legislation), but mostly I will vote for her because she is the most qualified candidate—raised working-class in Illinois, smart enough for Yale Law, First Lady of Arkansas, First Lady of the United States, Senator from New York, Secretary of State—who just so happens to be a woman.

I will vote for her because it’s a man’s world and men have been running this country for over 200 years. Isn’t it time to see if we can do a better job?

And admittedly, there is one very small bonus: I am fairly certain I will never have to watch her defend the size of her penis on a national stage.

The Choice

My Mother, age 18, 1963

Until her early death at age 56, my mother carried a massive weight of regret and shame. Regret for mistakes made. Shame within her large, devout, Catholic family, with one aunt who answered her phone, “Hello, Praise the Lord.” Shame within her small Missouri town. And shame within her family’s Sprigg Street church where her father had paraded himself for years as a pillar of purity and faith and righteousness, even has he threw his wife—mother to his 8 children— into the backyard some midnights while sitting inside the door with a rifle, drunk and laughing and daring the whore that she was to try, just try, and come inside.

My grandmother was poor and uneducated and not allowed by her husband to drive a car or to work outside the home or to write a check without his signature, and with so many children to care for, she did not have the choice to leave. She had no rights.


You can find me over at The Manifest-Station today.  An essay about our right to make choices about our bodies and about our lives, and what happens when we have no choice.

A Stepson’s Summer Visit


My stepson is smart. He knows his mom and dad make the decisions. He knows his mom and I never (why would we?) speak.

He knows I have less authority than a teenaged babysitter. “What are you going to do?” he says sarcastically over a giant bowl of Cheerios. “Call my mom?”


IH12Q1k7_400x400Mothers and stepmothers are supposed to hate each other — but who made up this rule?

I’m over at Motherwell Magazine with a story about what can happen when mothers and stepmothers work together. If you are a stepparent or stepchild, I would love to hear your thoughts and stories in the comments section!

And as always, thanks for reading.

The Serena In Us


Serena Williams is arguably—though I can’t conjure any reasonable argument—the greatest female tennis player of all time, both fiercely respected and roundly feared on the court. And yet with the start of each tournament, especially the majors, the unrelenting commentary on Serena begins.

At this summer’s Wimbledon, the comments are about her dress. More specifically, the comments are about her breasts. More specifically than that, the comments are about her nipples.

Serena is number 1 in the world, about to turn 35, and playing in the championship match at the most respected professional tournament in the world, going for her 22nd major title. But the mention of her name brings this before all else: you can see her nipples through the white dress and can’t she for god’s sake do something about that, find a way to hide them, cover them up, strap those things down?

I am a fan. Of tennis in general and of Serena in particular. I’ve almost passed out in the searing heat at the U.S. Open. I’ve snagged lucky on-line tickets to Wimbledon. I’ve spent the entire first week at the Australian Open from the opening of the gates until closing. And for the last 2 decades, I’ve watched Serena become a champion as the barrage of criticism, rarely if ever about her tennis, has only gotten louder.

Look at that ass, someone jokes. Those thighs. You’d think she’d try to cover that up, but there she is on the practice court, in leggings. In white leggings! In shorts!

Her face looks odd doesn’t it, her nose is smaller? Come on, she’s had surgery, you can tell. And what’s with the eyebrows, the long painted nails, who can play tennis with nails like that? The big dangling earrings, showing off the diamonds, a belly button ring for god’s sake. Is that permanent eyeliner?

And what the hell is she wearing, can’t she afford a dress that doesn’t fly up?

On the first changeover in every set she plays, Serena Williams does not stroll to her chair. She does not pause for a drink of water. She does not grab one last thing out of her bag or waste time refolding a towel. She does not make her opponent wait. Excepting sister Venus, Serena is the only player who, holding herself accountable to this most basic (though never enforced) rule of the game, walks around the far post and stands ready, always ready, to resume play.

Arms like a linebacker, a friend laughs, maybe she’s part man. Those biceps, those shoulders!

Sore loser. Never gives her opponents the benefit of saying they played well. Surly in post-match press conferences after a defeat, arrogant, nasty, angry, dismissive, egomaniac.

Oh man, has she gained weight? Again?

Compiling this list—the laser-like focus on Serena’s body, her clothes, her jewelry, her makeup, her temperament—I feel exhausted. A familiar pattern emerges. The unrelenting attention we pay to pounds gained. The clothes in our closet that may never again fit. The need to hide, or at least make some grand effort to disguise, the size of our breasts, our asses, our offensive, ungainly thighs. Too much makeup or not enough. The pressure to follow such a long list of fake rules while tamping down our anger, our competitiveness, our desires and aspirations, all to be more lady-like. To be more tolerable to everyone else.

Today, Serena Williams was crowned Wimbledon Champion for the 7th time, tying Steffi Graf’s record of 22 major titles in the Open Era. She held her trophy high overhead, and as she smiled and twirled for the cameras in her white Nike dress I wondered how much of Serena is somewhere, buried, in all of us.

What champions might we become if we stopped worrying so much about the extra pounds and the fake rules and what we need to hide, and simply walked around the post, ready to resume play.

How To Be Divorced: A Stepdaughter’s Wish List


When asked, “How many brothers and sisters do you have?” I might give any of the following answers: only child, oldest of 3, or oldest of 5. All true. All lies.

This is what it means to be a stepdaughter.

1,300 new step-families are created every day. I am a statistic, a stepdaughter three times over, starting at ages 2, 9, and 15, with two half-brothers, a stepbrother and a stepsister. Everyone and I mean everyone offers advice. Over the years I’ve heard dozens of opinions from the well-intentioned about how divorced parents and new stepparents should and should not behave.

Most get it wrong.

If anyone, including my own parents, had asked, this is what I would have told them.


Do we really want “what’s best for the kids?” after a divorce, or does saying it just make the adults feel better?

You can find me over at The Manifest-Station today with a child’s thoughts on that question.

The Case for Calling

1011741_10201433159127281_2010972233_nMy mother, gone 14 years today, died before text messaging became a thing, and I often wonder if texting would have worked for her. For us.  After I left home, we talked at least once a week.  When she was sick, we talked daily and more, even if it was just to say hello.  We both, for our own very different reasons, craved that constant connection.

But times, as they say, have changed.  I recently wrote an essay about texting vs. calling my kids.  The irony of it being published on the anniversary of my mother’s death is not lost.

You can find the link here.

And thanks, as always, for reading.


“When I was growing up, my mother called her mother every day, and Grandma called our house almost daily. Unlike my grandmother, I feel like I rarely talk on the phone with anyone. Even my own children. Both of our kids left for college and, after graduation, found jobs in the Midwest and did not come back. There is a 2-hour time difference with our daughter, 3 with our son. We are a texting family. How did this happen?”

A Stepmother, Losing Her Marbles

Illustration by Allison Steen
Illustration by Allison Steen

The game was simple. Two clay jars rested heavy atop our bedroom dresser, one loaded with marbles, one empty. “Every time we have sex,” I said, “I’ll move a marble to the empty jar.”

At 31, I’d arrived childless into my marriage, but my new husband had sole custody of his children—a girl fifteen and a boy nine—and we had never spent an entire day, or even an evening, alone. “Once you’re married,” my friends warned, “you’ll stop having sex.” One friend confided she and her husband were sexless for seven years. This terrified me.

Click here to continue reading at The New York Times: Motherlode —
and join the conversation!

The Appointment

When you’re of baby-making age but not making a baby, trips to the OBGYN are hammer-blow reminders of who you are not.

OBGYN office

Waiting rooms full of pink chairs and women with round, expectant bellies.  A bulletin board plastered with photos of your smiling doctor holding newborns, though you’ve never actually met the doctor; your annual pap is only worthy of the nurse practitioner.  The questionnaire on a clipboard, “How many children do you have?  How many live births?”  Heels pressed into cold, stainless steel stirrups with accompanying lecture — while lying there, legs splayed, staring at the ceiling — about how women who do not give birth are more prone to breast, uterine and cervical cancers.

The blast of energy it takes to happy-talk your way through the appointment and get the hell out of there.


Then there was my first appointment after I became a mom — with a big twist.  You can find the whole story at Brain, Child – The Magazine for Thinking Mothers. (click here)


I’ve barely been at this stepmother thing six months, but I’ve already learned an important lesson: there is always someone to remind me who I am not.

Sometimes it’s the mom across the street or at the bus stop; sometimes it’s my son’s teacher at back-to-school night; and sometimes it’s just me staring into a mirror.

Today that someone appeared in the form of an OBGYN nurse behind the receptionist’s window.


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