Monday, December 18, 2006


December 18, 2006

So yesterday, Grace (my 11 year old) spent nine hours on a school project. Yes nine hours trying to compile statistics on homelessness. I tried to help her, Jeff tried to help her, Atticus (our 13 year old son) tried to help her and two anonymous help-desk librarians tried to help her. But no dice. The stats she needed remained elusive.

At bedtime she was still struggling at the computer trying to find the homeless rate for Illinois. SHe had already found the homeless rate for the US--she showed me--it was 42%.

I said carefully, "Umm, honey, this number of 42%...." over her shoulder I could see Atticus trying to give me the "cut" signal. I shook him off. "Does it seem likely to you that nearly half the US is homeless?" I said gently.

She blinked behind her glasses and said, "Not really but that's the number Atticus came up with." Oh, man, she threw him under the bus.

Anyway, as I said, it was bedtime so I began the arduous process of trying to (once again) get her to grasp the concept of cutting bait--giving up--throwing in the towel -- moving on. She is like her daddy; she does not gracefully accept this part of the process.

I began by explaining to her that she had done all she could and she needed sleep more than anything right now. I assured her that even though the project was not done her teacher would understand when she explained how long she'd worked on it. Grace was not buying it. She dug in deeper and started pounding at the keys more frantically. Her voice rising hysterically and tears coming again.

I tried another tack. I told her that even if she got a bad grade in this class I would not care. This helped a little but I suspect fears of her "permanent record" were looming, so she kept Googling away.

Finally, I offered to email her teacher and explain how much she'd worked on the project--she would still get a bad grade but her teacher would not be mean about it, I assured her. Throughout it all Jeff bolstered my arguments by agreeing with me and Atticus backed me up on whatever I said about the teacher (it helped immensely that he had the same class last year). Finally, our combined efforts yielded the desired result and Grace relented. She reluctantly sighed and logged off the computer and headed to bed, her feet dragging on the stairs in defeat.

As she clumped up the stairs, Atticus joined me and Jeff in the living room. He was giddy with relief that we had worked together to negotiate a peaceful end to the stand-off. These scenes don't usually end so well. Usually they escalate to a fevered pitch and end when Grace turns into "Carrie-at-the-prom" and we all end up covered in blood (err, metaphorically speaking of course).

"Whew!" he said, "We avoided another disaster! I feel like it's the end of a thriller movie when they manage to point the bomb that was just fired at the US from some eastern European country like 'Kerzerkistan', " he warmed to his analogy, "It's like we were all in that dark NASA room staring at computer screens trying to figure out how to change the trajectory of the bomb, our ties all loosened, coffee cups everywhere and we did it. Now's the part where we all cheer and high five and stuff, because we saved Western Civilization!" and he did a victory dance.

We laughed and then enjoyed a quiet moment of commaraderie, my husband, my son, and I and I thought about how my friend Val always says a little dysfunction is good for a kid because it brings the family closer and I think she's a wise woman.

Friday, December 08, 2006


December 8, 2006

Today's post is from my friend Laurent who lives in the Netherlands. He recently took one of those "actual age" quizzes online and did not like the results. Here is his email about it--he is a quirky, single man whose passions are guitar, vintage cars, and wine...

" I did this test called 'your-real-age'. Now, three years ago it was 40.5 years, so actually what it really was back then.

I just filled it out truthfully again, and now it is 48.4 years!!!

This test also indicates what you should do to improve your health.

Amongst them--

-Eat more vegetables and fruit

I will, once they manage to increase the ratio of non-disgusting pieces of fruit above 70%, i.e. non-mealy-apples, non-potentially-rust-removing sour grapes/oranges, no tangerines that either eat away the intestines or make you retch because of their lack of taste)

- I should spend more time in building and maintaining long-lasting relationships with others.

Haha, very funny! Most of the stress that raised my 'real age' several years this should prevent COMES from me trying desperately to find someone to start a relationship with.

- Decrease your alcohol consumption to one glass a day.

Yeah right.

- Decrease your cholesterol level, increase your HDL-cholesterol level.

WTF? I indicated my levels were average! (well, what do I know?) And how the hell am I supposed to increase my HDL-cholesterol level?

- Decrease your average driving speed to the maximumspeed allowed.

Yeah, and have my 'real age' increased to 55, because that is about the age at which people start keeping to maximum speed limits at a regular basis.

- Get a dog.

- Always get airbag protection when driving a car.

I will, as soon they build classic cars with airbags.

- Floss every day.

Hmm, why would this be so important? Probably because not having spinach or broccoli between your teeth increases your chances of finally finding a girlfriend
- Schedule time for yourself!

I did, that's why I got into that financial stress that raised my 'real age' at least two years."

Friday, December 01, 2006


December 1, 2006

This morning I ran out to Target in the middle of a blizzard to buy some boots. I woke up to 6" of snow--the first snowfall of the year-- and panicked when I realized that 1) the kids have the day off from school and 2) they have no boots. None.

Now this statement begs so many questions from you that I will answer them one by one.

How can you not have boots in December? Do you live in Arizona? Umm, err, no. I live in the Chicago area and I have lived in the midwest my entire life.

Why didn't you just cram last year's too-tight-boots on your kids' feet until the blizzard ended? Well, yes, this would be the normal thing to do but I foolishly threw last year's boots out at the end of the season, including my own, in a cleaning frenzy.

Did you say you threw boots away? Yes, sorry, I usually observe the unwritten, universal law of passing the boots on to the neighbor's children but this batch was particularly ratty and I didn't have the heart to saddle anyone with them.

Why didn't you wait until the blizzard stopped? Guilt. I felt guilty knowing that the kids would wake up and see the first snowfall and not be able to go outside right away. Also, I've made this mistake before and I know that by mid-day, you will not be able to buy, beg, borrow, or steal a pair of boots on the entire North Shore.

So there you have it. That's why I was at the door of Target at 8:00 am--the first, and only customer-- since no one else was stupid enough to go out in a blizzard. The manager chuckled and said, "You win the most dedicated customer award." At least I think he said dedicated. Maybe he said "demented". I felt a response was needed.

"Boots," I said by way of explanation. "Not one of us has a pair of boots!" I considered telling him we'd just been transferred here from Africa because only foreigner or an idiot can be found wearing tennis shoes in December in Chicago. But I resisted.

He was polite enough not to ask any of the above, italicized questions and instead just said, "They're over there," pointing towards the shoes (as if I needed directions--I could draw a map of my Target from memory ).

I bought the boots, and the half dozen other things I always manage to "need" when I go to Target and checked out.

In the parking lot I had to schlep the bags to the car because the cart wouldn't go through the snow. I got in the car and immediately got stuck in a snow drift. After about 20 minutes of digging with the handle of a scraper and rocking the car back and forth I was good to go. At one point I thought I was stuck for good like the four laughing young Mexican men in the car next to me who did not grow up in snow and had no idea how to get their car unstuck. But I said to myself, "I am from the midwest, I am from the midwest," until I willed myself out.

When I was driving home I asked myself, "Why am I, once again, running around town looking for boots on the first day of snow? What is it about me that I cannot think about boots until I am actually standing in snow?"

It's just that even though I know we will need boots by December I cannot feel we need them. Especially when we've been enjoying a freakish warm spell of 60 degree weather for a week in November. It's hard for me to buy boots when I don't really believe it could ever snow again.

I have to admit to myself that I ve exhibited similar behavior about other topics. Meals for example. I find it nearly impossible to think about a meal until I'm very hungry. This is problematic as I am the one in charge of making meals for a family of five. For years my husband thought this was a passive-aggressive act on my part. He's so wrong. I have plenty of passive-aggressive acts but failing to feed my family in a timely manner is not one of them.

This went on for years--my family wanting to eat--me not feeding them--until finally, I managed to overcome this deficiency. By sheer force of will, I made myself think about food even when I was not hungry. Now I think about dinner right after breakfast. Sometimes I even take something out to thaw or I put something in the crockpot or I make reservations. But make no mistake, none of this comes naturally to me. My being able to think about dinner at 10:00 in the morning is something akin to an autistic person training himself to hug his mother. We can do it, but it sure doesn't feel right.

I thought of all this as I battled the blizzard on my way home from Target. When I got home I realized I had left my new, favorite, leopard print gloves on a shelf in the boot department, the boots I had bought myself had a broken zipper, and the kids for whom I'd suffered so much were already out in the snow wearing old shoes with plastic bags over them, happily building a snowman.

Next year I'm going to make sure this doesn't happen again. I'm saying it here first--this is the last time I wait until the first snowfall to buy boots! I'll overcome this boot-planning weakness just like I overcame my meal-planning deficiency--by sheer force of will. I'm going to order boots online early in the season. I'm going to order those damn boots even if it's a 70-degree day in October.

But it won't feel right.