Monday, December 21, 2009

THE CHRISTMAS PARTY


I don't know how it is we never get any pictures of our party except of Jeff and me just before the first guest arrives. But here is the one pic we have!

On Saturday we held our annual Christmas party for our neighbors and friends in the area. This was our 12th annual event and they have evolved over the years from a casual open house to a big bash with kids invited to the current more intimate but elegant cocktail party (no kids) that we now have for about 40 guests.

We've done this long enough that the party follows a somewhat familiar pattern: 7:00 we stand waiting breathlessly for the guests to arrive, slightly panicked that maybe no one is coming. By 7:15 the first guests arrive and then a steady stream until the house is packed around 9:30. We usually cap out at about 45 people and then they start to drift off, some going home early, others to competing Christmas parties (darn that Khaki Voss who always throws her party the same night as mine! She is one of those incredibly nice people who also happens to do everything just a little better than everyone else and I'm sure she has a lot better food at her party than we do....) but anyhoo the party always finishes off with ten or so lingerers and Jeff and our good buddy Dan get the guitars out and sing and play and things wrap up around 1:00 or 1:30.

This year things went as expected. The only change we made was that I added a new convenient feature out front. I shoveled a spot at the curb and leading up the front walk for the ladies in heels and then, thinking it would be nice to make sure no one blocked the cleared spot I set up two sawhorses in the street with signs that said "Bag Drop" on them. The golfers in the group got it, pulled up and let their "bags" out then went to park. I'm thinking of patenting the idea.

The next morning we always have fun doing post-party debrief, sharing conversations and deciding things like who said stuff they shouldn't have and who wore the most revealing dress. This year (as usual) that would be me and me. The kids chime in and tell us funny things they saw and heard too as they are the official coat-takers and hostess-gift keepers. As Lilly said, "By the end of the night when the grownups came to get their coats they were all standing really close and talking loud."

Over burgers yesterday I even got to hear a story of a past party that I had never heard before. We were talking about party number five in 2003, the last time we invited children. We did that for several years until it got rather "Lord of the Flies"-like and when I went up to bed after that party I found Atticus (who was ten at the time) asleep in the hallway lying with his face in a pile of crushed Goldfish crackers not unlike Al Pacino in Scarface. I just checked my notes--we had 54 adults and 62 kids that year.

We were laughing about all that when Grace said, "Lilly, that's the year you hid in the bathroom and we couldn't find you."

"What?" I asked. This was news to me. We had had babysitters that year to help wrangle the kids so I guess I had missed the parallel kids' party.
"Yeah," she explained, "it was late and the grownups don't usually come upstairs so I ran from my bedroom to the bathroom to go potty in just my underpants but when I opened the door there was a grownup waiting for the bathroom so I slammed the door in his face and locked it."

"We couldn't figure out why that door was locked for so long," Atticus recalled.

"But why did you hide in the cupboard?" Grace asked.

"I was afraid mom might find the key and open the door and grownups would see me in my underwear. So I crawled in the cabinet."
That is not a big vanity --30 inches tops and it would be a tight squeeze even for a small five-year-old.
Ahh, good times.

I like to believe that these big parties with their mishaps and their funny stories that live on for years are as much fun for my kids as they are for us. I can think of no better way to usher in the Christmas week than with a house full of the parents of your friends who make up your world--adults you've known your whole life--all laughing and telling stories and just enjoying each other.

I hope your Christmas and holiday season is also full of love, and laughter, and noise and may you too have your own share of stories of locked bathrooms and crushed Goldfish crackers.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 14, 2009

DOES THIS MAKE OUR BUTTS LOOK BIGGER?



--> Just me in the Jeggings.




(below) Lilly and me in the same Jeggings.









My old high school friend Andy who lives in LA asked me to try a pair of pants she sells on her cool website, Repeat Possessions. She assured me that these awesome "Jeggings" (combo jeans/leggings) fit ANYONE so to prove that point Lilly and I got into a single pair and I think you can see that we do indeed both fit.
Then, a bit more skeptically I tried them on myself. I wasn't sure a nearly --cough cough--50 year old should be wearing leggings but I was kind of impressed with how flattering they are. As you can see they do fit nicely, look like jeans and I can assure you they are incredibly comfortable.

So if you're still looking for a great Christmas present for a daughter or girlfriend you should go to Andy's website and check out the Jeggings. Check out the other stuff too. I know she has cool clothes because she lives in Orange County and that makes her automatically hip and well-dressed (which she is because I saw her at the class reunion but unlike other Orange County housewives she still has all her original parts).









Thursday, December 10, 2009

CENSORSHIP



Grace tried out for the talent show at her high school this week. They were required to sing a passage from Don't Stop Believin that old chestnut by Journey which seems to be resurrected every few years by politicians, sports teams, and this year our new favorite show, Glee. They gave her a copy of the sheet music to practice and Lilly was looking it over when she said, "Hey, they cut out the line that says 'smell of wine and cheap perfume'. It just says 'smell of cheap perfume'." We all puzzled over this odd bit of editing. It was clear the word "wine" had been whited-out (is that the past-tense of white-out?). Grace worked on the music a while trying to figure out how you even sing the song without enough syllables.

The next day in glee club Grace's teacher mentioned it. "I cut out the w-i-n-e word," she said spelling it out as if it were a curse word.

Is wine a bad word now? This is the same school that just put on To Kill a Mockingbird and wisely kept the "n" word. What the fuh? The "n" word stays but the "w" word goes? I didn't even know it was the "w" word. What would this teacher think if she knew I sometimes have a glass of "w" right in front of my children!

The puzzling thing is that this appears to be the decision of a single teacher. It's not like the school has a "no singing songs with alcohol in them" policy (well, I don't think they do). Though if they did you might wonder how they would sing a lot of songs like Days of "w" and Roses or Bob Marley's Red Red "w". (A side note, The Days of Wine and Roses was the prom theme when my sister was a high school senior, which was only slightly more inappropriate than my prom theme which was Nights in White Satin which kind of makes you wonder where the adult supervision was in our school but then again that's what we get for electing a burnout as our class president that year.)

Anyhoo back to the censorship at hand: for some reason this teacher took it upon herself to edit the song. I don't know why. There are no banned books at my kids' school and this spring they are going to put on the play Rent. I hope this teacher doesn't get her hands on that script because instead of the play being about a bunch of gay people battling AIDS she might change it to a bunch of heterosexuals who all contract really bad cases of mono from kissing.

I'm kind of perplexed by this "w" thing. Would it be appropriate for me to protest to the school about censoring music? On the one hand it is a song by Journey and I'm not sure they've exactly earned the right to artistic freedom. On the other hand, if we let this go what's to stop it from escalating? I can only imagine the Holiday Concert in which Holly Jolly Christmas would have a line that says "and have a cup of cocoa" or the line from Baby It's Cold Outside (which my kids call the creepiest date rape song of all time--and it really is if you listen to the words) could be "hey what's in this milk?"

I was mulling over the right to free speech and my duty as a bleeding heart liberal in all of this when Grace told me a story that made me realize I did not need to intervene. It seems that during the audition process one of the seniors sang the song his own way in protest. He got a big laugh when he sang, "Smell of fermented grape juice and cheap perfume," and I have to hand it to him because really, one of the most effective tools against censorship has to be a good dose of teen-aged ridicule.

Don't stop believin.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

OUT OF THE WOODS

Okay, you know the self-righteous housewife doesn't often wade into the world of pop culture, as I leave that to the experts at People and Perez Hilton but this Tiger Woods story is too good for me to pass on. So here it goes:

There are so many weird pieces of the story we know (the story we don't know is probably sadly familiar) that I just have to comment on a few of them.

Point One: Rich and famous people don't know their neighbors: As pointed out by my son, how is it that Tiger Woods' neighbor did not know that was him lying outside his car? I mean, in my neighborhood, if Tiger Woods lived across the street and came barelling out of his driveway at 2 am hitting the fire hydrant I would at least KNOW it was him when I called 911. I would probably even run out to help him too. Yet this neighbor, (who was good enough to call for help,) did not know who was lying out there in his street.

You know that reminds me of the time this really drunk Asian lady I don't know fell through my front door, cocktail in hand, and looking up from the floor (she had not spilled a drop of her half cocktail) asked if she were in the Robinson house (name changed to protect my neighbor). They were having their annual Christmas party and she had missed it by a few doors. No, I explained, that was four doors down, but could I freshen her drink? See, now that's what neighbors do. They don't go calling the police and acting like they don't even know each other.


Point Two: Rich famous women smash out car windows to save their husbands: On Tiger's website you can read his statement that his wife "acted courageously when she saw I was hurt and in trouble." Let's review: he backed into a fire hydrant and a tree and she had to smash out the BACK window to pull him out of the car? Just how pinned in do you get when you back into a fire hydrant?How strong is this woman that she could drag an inert full grown man from the front seat and out the back window? Maybe she panicked and it was the butler's night off so she had to do it herself. And she just grabbed the first thing she saw which was a golf club which they probably have laying all over their house and yard since Tiger is a golfer.

Now if I were "acting courageously" and wanted to "help my husband out of the car" I would not grab a golf club. Why? Because my husband doesn't care about golf. I would grab one of his guitars and then I would "courageously" smash out his back window and "help" him out of the vehicle by beating him with the guitar. I'm just saying.

Point Three: Rich and famous people get to tell the police "We need some privacy" and that works: If you or I were to knock over a fire hydrant, and run into a tree, and CLEARLY were involved in the middle of a domestic disturbance, we would not get to tell the Police the following morning they should respect our privacy. Well, I guess we could say those words but I doubt they would tip their hats and say, "Sorry to bother you ma'am." In fact, since there are children in the home we would probaly get a little visit from DCFS too and I don' t think you get to tell them to "respect your privacy" either.

In conclusion, I guess things are different when you live in a gated community in Florida where the neighbors don't even know you.

Those people probably don't even have a block party there.

I'm glad I'm not rich and famous.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

JUST HOLD A TOWEL OVER THE WINDOW

My first car was like this Ford Fiesta.


I should be out grocery shopping and getting ready for the Thanksgiving crowd I am hosting this Thursday but instead I am waiting for an auto mechanic who makes house calls to come help me. My ten-year-old minivan refuses to start today. Well, technically, she can start--the problem is the key no longer turns in the ignition. Alas it is not a simple fix--the spare keys don't work either which means the key isn't worn out but the ignition is and banging on it with a hammer is not working.

My kids keep telling me we need a new minivan. I say, "You're a bunch of wimps." They have no idea what it's like to drive a real beater around. Right now the only thing wrong with my car (except for the aforementioned issue) is that the passenger window rolls down but doesn't always roll up. Which is why I say, "Quite whining and hold a towel over the window" when it rains. Usually it will roll back up but only after you drive around a bit pretending you don't care that the elements are coming in on you. The back wiper doesn't work either but so what? How many cars actually have back wipers anyway? The trunk latch broke a few months ago but I did replace that. You really can't have a mini van without the use of a trunk.

Other than that for a ten-year-old car with 100,000 mile on it, it goes great. It is NOT anywhere near the clunker/replace it now stage--and believe me I know.

My first car ever was a used Ford Fiesta my parents bought me when I graduated from college. Now that car sucked. It had fuses that blew if I made a left hand turn with the radio on (I knew how to change them without stopping, they were in the dashboard) and the gas gauge never worked so of course I was frequently running out of gas because I had miscalculated how far a tank of gas would go. It broke down constantly and was so poorly designed you had to pull the engine to do even minor repairs. In case you have never heard the words "pull the engine" let me translate. It means "will cost way more money than you have and take days to repair."

It is one of life's sad truths that only people without much money drive shitty cars that need a lot of money to repair regularly which is why I finally got rid of the car when they told me they had to "pull the engine" to change the oil. I am only exaggerating slightly on that.

My second car was a used Toyota Corolla. It was awesome! It NEVER broke down and the only money I put into it was for brakes. I would still have that car if I hadn't had kids. I can only imagine their complaining if I did still have it. It had vinyl seats, no air-conditioning, crank windows and NO radio which believe me you do not miss as much as you think you'd might. It was a stick shift (which I happen to drive with amazing skill if I do say so myself) and I loved tooling around in that.

Between the Corolla and the mini-van I bought my parents used Buick LeSabre. I know, it looked funny to see me get out of a Grandpa car with my two toddlers in their car seats but that was a nice car too. Very comfy and plush. The only thing was that after driving the Corolla with the manual, that thing was like driving a La-Z-Boy with wheels. Comfortable but boring.

I happily traded that up for my only new car--the now old mini-van and I've been very satisfied with that since. It does the trick when you have kids and it's a Toyota so it doesn't break down.

I had to borrow Coffee Friend 2's car this morning to go to a school appointment and she told me, "Why don't you quit being a cheap hippie and get rid of that piece of shit car before you break down on Lake Avenue like trash." Really. She says stuff like that to me all the time which is why she's one of my favorite people in the world.

But the fact is that even though I can afford a new car (or at least a new used car) I just don't know what I'd get. I still need a minivan and really, who gets rid of a car just because it rains inside occasionally or you can't turn it on when you need it.

Not me.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I am thankful I have a minivan and I can afford to repair it when it breaks down!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

PASTOR KRISTEN and THE NEW YORK TIMES

Landing Safely in Madrid

When we took a family vacation to Spain in '08 we had to fly on Friday the 13th and Lilly was convinced the plane was going to crash. Lilly is incredibly superstitious, has an over-active imagination, and is more than a little bit morbid. She went online and picked out her casket. It was a cute little thing with a teddy bear on it. She packed reluctantly pointing out that she would never get to wear those clothes anyway.

When she gets like this no amount of logic or reason can dissuade her from her morbid thoughts. Maybe having cancer at the age of four makes you this way. Maybe she would be this way anyway. I don't really know. When she was 7 she was obsessed with "What happens when we're all dead and the world ends?" This bothered her so much I finally made her go talk to our minister. I don't know what that wonderful Pastor Kristen said but after an hour in her office Lilly stopped worrying about the end of the world.

Until lately because now the news and internet are full of this "End of the world in 2012" crap that's been floating around lately. I tried reason, pointing out that the end of the world has been predicted many many times and it has not happened yet. Then that damn movie came out. "Why did they make a movie about it if it isn't going to happen?" she wanted to know. I pointed out that most things in movies don't really happen like old men floating in houses held up by helium balloons going to South America. She was not reassured.

It probably does not help that sometimes, having worn down all my logic and reassurance I tend to go to the sarcasm. Like last night when she brought it up again and I said, "Hey do we have an actual date on the end of the world?" Yes, Atticus informed me, it is December 21, 2012. "Awesome! I don't have to buy any Christmas presents. I could tell you I bought you a pony but I won't actually have to deliver."

Lilly countered, "You don't care if the world ends in three years because you're old! But I just got here." I had to explain I was kidding because I'm not worried about it. I tried to enlist some help, turning to Atticus who is well-versed in this kind of thing due to the hours he logs watching The History Channel. "Tell your sister. The Mayans did not predict the future." "Well," he said, "They did accurately predict World War II" This sent Lilly screaming from the room to go say goodbye to her rabbit.

Luckily, I am very happy to report that thanks to my beloved New York Times, this morning we put an end to all the nonsense because today they published an essay entitled, "Is Doomsday Coming?: Perhaps But Not in 2012" In it, the author assures us that according to NASA and other reliable sources, there is no evidence that the Mayan prediction will come true. I made Lilly read the whole article as she ate her eggs. She kept quoting the happy news, "Hey, NASA says so!" and "This scientist says 'Most of what’s claimed for 2012 relies on wishful thinking, wild pseudoscientific folly, ignorance of astronomy and a level of paranoia worthy of ‘Night of the Living Dead,’ " after she tripped over the word pseudoscientific she chuckled out loud.

She asked if she could cut the article out and take it to school. "I'm going to show it to all those crazy kids who are scared," she said, conveniently ignoring the fact that until ten minutes ago she was one of those crazy kids.

And so I sent her off to school, relieved for the first time in months that the world will not end any time soon and I felt good too knowing that Pastor Kristen and the New York Times have got my back.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

FRIENDS' PARENTS and PARENTS' FRIENDS

Jeff and Grace with Veerle, Max, and Laurent who are all destined to be mythical creatures.
Mr. E., the father of Lilly's BFF Danielle, is like a character in a movie to Lilly. He even has a tagline--whenever she calls he sings into the phone, "Lilly Ludwig--Lilly Ludwig--Lilly Lilly Lilly" before he goes to get Danielle. And ever since big sister Grace gave a speech at the eighth grade graduation last spring he brings it up whenever Lilly visits. "That sister of yours--she's going places. She can give a great speech. Wonderful skill. Alexander," here he pauses to look at his own offspring, same age as Grace, "You should be able to give a speech like Grace. That girl is going places." And as if that were not enough fodder to entertain Lilly for hours (she is a great mimic) Lilly went sailing with the family this fall and every time Mr. E. found a piece of litter in Lake Michigan he would head the boat toward it, fish it out of the water and hold it aloft shouting to the world at large, "This is nature's playground people! Is this how you treat it?"


When Lilly tells me all of this I am reminded of that wonderful, mythical creature of my own childhood--my friends' parents. I remember them all so clearly and with great fondness and amusement.


There was Mr. K. who was the nutty community college professor who seemed to have disdain for anyone less intelligent than him (or is it he? this would make him crazy) and his equally brilliant wife Mrs. K. who loved to do jigsaw puzzles then shellac them and hang them on the walls. The K. family thrived on order and predictability and actually had the same meal schedule every week. Monday was chicken, Tuesday meatloaf and so on. I loved that I could always get my favorite meal--a BLT on any given Friday of my entire junior and high school career.


I grew up next door to my best friend Jenny S. Her dad was a huge man with a perverse sense of humor. He told his kids outrageous lies like "Eat the burned toast, it will clear up your acne." Once, returning from an excursion to see the fireworks they shoot over the Detroit river (we had been on the Canadian side) we got stuck for hours on the Ambassador Bridge. Both Jack (his son) and I desperately had to use the bathroom. Instead of trying to find a place for us to relieve ourselves or reassuring us he kept saying, "Think of running water, kids!" "Try to focus on sprinkling fountains!"


Equally intriguing were those people we saw less frequently but were no less mythic: the friends of our parents. Mr. and Mrs. W. who did not have children but had a poodle named FiFi who had her own bedroom with a pink princess phone! They were impossibly glamorous: they only drove Cadillacs and smoked cigarettes and Mrs. W. always left a smear of lipstick on her cocktail glass. And Mr. D. the three (plus) martini lunch man who occasionally called late at night, waking my parents to invite my father to join him at the bar. He was one of the original Mad Men.


In college I met a whole new cast of friends' parents, widening my circle. I was especially fond of Mr. and Mrs. D. Both were fabulously brilliant people of wit and words. A sort of Nick and Nora of Southfield Michigan. He was an editor for the AP and she was a Smith grad, something I'd barely heard of until I met her. They both smoked and could do the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle in ink and drank whiskey sours. I adored them both as they were the kind of couple who made you feel like they were just sitting by the fire waiting for you to drop in on them at any time.


As I go over all the parents of my friends in my mind I realize many of them stood just in front of a shadow I only glimpsed from time to time. As a guest in a friends' house, a child sees just a bit more than an adult would and I was aware even as a kid that sometimes something else was going on in a home. As an adult I now know there were in many households struggles with alcohol, marital problems, eating disorders, and abuse. But as a kid I never thought to ask about it or judge it--it was just there.


It is hard for me to believe that we are now the friends' parents and the parents' friends of many. What do they see when we are around or are being talked about? I know Jeff has gone a long way toward being an eccentric memory for our children's friends: between the fact that he never puts his guitar down and that he sings with great gusto as he plays and that he insists on greeting every child who enters our home with a conversation stopping, "So, tell me a story!" (he thinks this is a conversation starter) he is well on his way to being frozen as a childhood memory for some.


I do not really know how I am viewed by my children's friends. I just hope I am memorable enough to some day be immortalized as one of these great and mythical creatures--a friend's parent.

Monday, October 26, 2009

HALLOWEEN: THEN and NOW

Lately I've been on a "look at how things have changed" jag so at the risk of becoming Andy Rooney-esque I'm going to just keep going today with that theme. Today's topic is Halloween and how it has changed since we were kids. Come along and see if any of this is familiar.

COSTUMES: When we were kids we were either hobos or clowns or if our parents were rich and sprang for one of those lame plastic one-piece costumes we were superman or a princess. If our mother were handy with the sewing machine (and mine was) your repertoire could expand and I was even a pumpkin one year, my mother patiently sewing a many-gored costume she designed herself, but really, that kind of thing was rare. Now all the costumes are awesome. Even the cheapest costume at Target is of far superior quality to anything we had. Babies can be adorable fuzzy ladybugs and older kids can have elaborate horse and rider costumes all at affordable prices. This is all I'm sure due to global trade and I will try not to think about the fact that probably some Chinese waif was paid four or five grains of wheat to sew my kid's bunny suit.

CANDY: Man what was that crap they gave out when we were kids? Good N Plenty? Wax lips? Those god-awful peanut butter chewy things wrapped in orange or black waxed paper? And people were stingy too. None of this fistful of candy. You got one or two per kids. I remember SINGLE servings of Life Savers. I kid you not. Now my kids get handfuls of some of the best chocolate candy they make. Butterfingers, 100,000 bars, 3 Musketeers. The GOOD stuff. I suppose this is just another example of our super-sized mentality that has brought us our super-sized butts but I'll tell you one thing--it makes raiding the kids' candy bag a lot more fun for us.

DECORATIONS: I don't really need to tell you about the explosion of Halloween decorations do I? We all have a neighbor who now puts out more lights, hangs more stuff, and drapes more trees at Halloween than even the craziest of neighbors did at Christmas time when we were kids. Halloween decorations when we were kids? That meant putting out a pumpkin with a candle in it and a paper pumpkin on the doorway that you made at school (unless Ricky Soloway from down the street conned you out of your own paper pumpkin and his mom put it on THEIR door, not saying that ever happened to me or anything but it could and you might even be bitter about it 44 years later).

WEATHER: Now this changes every year of course especially since Al Gore got involved but since my youngest was born we have actually had many, many Halloweens that were fairly warm. Warm enough that you did not need a coat over your costume and that is weird because we live in Chicago. This NEVER happened when I was a kid. If you did not have long underwear AND a winter coat under or over your costume on Halloween you must have lived south of the Mason-Dixon line. And most of those nights it was raining too. Sideaways.

SAFETY: In this safety obsessed time when everyone is a stranger and we teach our kids to run screaming from them all it is hard to believe that at least for this one holiday our parents were even more paranoid than we are. That's because back in those days we were taught that there were crazy people who put razor blades in the candy. Our home town police even offered to x-ray the candy before you ate it. To my knowledge they did not once find a pin or a razor blade in the candy. I haven't even heard about this alleged scare in years. What does that mean? Did these crazy razor-blade toting, child-hating people all die off or did they all become strangers trying to lure our kids into cars with puppies? I have no idea.

These are some of the things that have changed over the years but for the most part, around here at least, Halloween looks like it did when I was a kid: Grandmas still open their front door and peer into the dark saying"Oh what a beautiful princess!" and "My what a scary monster!"; preschoolers to preteens still wander the streets past dark, safe for one night to cross the street without looking; and autumn leaves skitter at their feet pushed on by a wind that tells us snow is not far behind. Most of all it is still a magical night when every child gets to dress up and pretend to be anyone or anything he wants while filling up a pillow case with more candy than he could eat in a year.

Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 19, 2009

STAY AT HOME MOMS and USED CAR SALESMEN

This is a lovely and respectful depiction of my co-workers


Hey fellow stay-at-home moms, good news, there's a new movie about our wacky, unfulfilled, stressful lives out there! It's called Motherhood and it stars Uma Thurman (who ironically, is a working mom in real life). In the article I read, the women who wrote, produced, and star in it discuss how they are uniquely qualified to make a movie like this because men just wouldn't know what it's like to be a stay-at-home mom.





But then it goes on to say that none of them are stay-at-home moms either. According to the New York Times article:


"All the women who created Motherhood have made different life choices from Eliza (the maind character), in that they have all stayed in the work force and risen to positions of power. 'For all of her angst the fact remains that Eliza has the option of not working,' said Rachel Cohen, head of production for the iDeal Partners Film Fund, one of the producers of the movie and a mother whose son is 5. 'I didn’t have that option, and if I did, I think I would still want to work'. They work, the creators agree, because they fear becoming their lead character, who has metaphorically lost her voice and is struggling to figure out what to say about the choice she has made."

Err, excuse me?

Is there any career more horribly depicted in our culture than stay-at-home moms? Always shown as petty (New Christine), over-sexed (Desperate Housewives), depressed (Mad Men), and/or harried (Everybody Loves Raymond).

Maybe used car salesmen. I guess I have never seen a movie or TV show that showed the upside and fulfillment of that job but it, like any other job, has its ups and downs, its joys and sorrows.

Just once I'd like to see a stay-at-home mom on TV or in the movies that looks just a little like the smart, funny, kind, extremely generous moms who I know. Moms who look great in a pair of jeans, garden like Martha Stewart, and offer to watch kids when you're sick. Women who were once lawyers, business execs, and teachers who left it behind to do endless loads of laundry in exchange for the privilige of being present for every first step, new tooth, and birthday party. Moms who clean up every drop of puke, pee, and blood from every one of their blessed offspring. Who read Green Eggs and Ham a thousand times and then read it again. Great women who run church fundraisers and make meals for sick neighbors. Good friends who always know when you need a cup of coffee to discuss the latest child worry , or a glass of wine to celebrate a small rite of passage. Amazing women who know how to turn hydrangaes pink, install a light fixture, and get mud out of white pants.

But I guess the truth just doesn't make good TV or movies.

In fact, now that I think of it, there a few groups of women who are as maligned in the movies as stay-at-home moms --it's working moms (who are always shown as torn between two worlds) and career women (who all allegedly lust after babies).

I guess the message from our culture is clear then: no matter what you're doing--you will be ridiculed.

So here's to all of us- moms and childless, working and staying home. We're all terriffic-- we just aren't funny movie characters.



Wednesday, October 14, 2009

HIGH SCHOOL HAS CHANGED IN 30 YEARS

High school girls still do their nails!


Now that I have two kids in high school I'm pretty much an expert on the topic. Especially since I have both a boy and a girl there. Yes, two is definitely a statistically significant number when n is 2 and N is a bazillion. I learned that in statistics.

Anyhoo, here are a few observations in case you do not have a high schooler in your life and you would like to be in the know or a real "hep cat".

1. First of all, no one says real hep cat. I'm not sure anyone ever did.

2. Hugging: hugging is very big in high school. Girls hug boys, boys hug boys, but most of all girls hug girls. They hug good morning and good bye. They hug when they run into each other in stores. They hug because they can. We never hugged. We only hugged people we were dating or when we said goodbye to friends at the end of the summer. No, not even then. We were repressed and more than a little homo-phobic. They are not. They are like Europeans or something--all this touching and hand-holding and cheek-kissing. I think this is a great development because it's healthy to hug and be hugged. Yet in our culture after hugging, snuggling and petting our kids like kittens for the first 10 years of their life we drop them like lepers when they hit puberty. No wonder they're in need of a hug! All this innocent hugging they do, I would think, could even postpone the inevitable "advanced hugging" which is what kids who crave affection often get into.

3. Dating: no one goes out on a date. Not like we did. No one. I repeat, no one calls a girl on the house phone (yes, that's what they call that thing plugged into your kitchen wall) and says, "Hello Debbie, would you care to go to a movie with me on Friday?" (partly because no one is named Debbie anymore. What happened to all the Debbies?) No. High schoolers tend to travel in packs and then sort of peel off unofficially to do their he-ing and she-ing. So the dating looks more like a pack of antelope heading off to the watering hole. If anyone is "asking" anyone on a date, it will take place in the form of a text or a message on Facebook. "Do u wanna go to da movies?" which means dads can no longer terrorize potential suitors calling daughters and they will never have the chance to yell "Tell that kid not to honk his horn anymore," because kids don't honk their horns in the driveway anymore they text each other.

4. They are much, much more connected than we were: With the aid of texting and "social media" (that means Facebook and MySpace) the kids all know where everyone is at any moment. And what they are doing. All the time. That's why as you drive to grandma and grandpa's for Christmas you will know that Maggie is on her way to see her grandparents in Ohio and Sam is going out to the movies with a bunch of friends, and Michael is skiing in Colorado. I kind of like this too. Somehow it takes away a little of the sting of having to spend long periods of time with your own family (don't pretend you don't remember that feeling.)

5. They are better friends than we were: Yes, I have to say that despite my concern that all this electronic communicating would result in the death of verbal communication and the decline of western society in general it doesn't seem to be the case. In fact, the opposite seems to have occurred. With all this connecting it is even easier to check on a sick friend, help a friend who forgot her homework, plot to decorate a locker for a birthday, and make plans to watch a friend at a swim meet. These things just lend themselves to a casual text whereas several separate phone calls might be just enough of an obstacle to pass on the whole thing.

6. They "joke" in electronic ways and they are dang funny: Have you been "rick roll'd"? Well that's what happens when a friend sends you an email with a link that might say "check out this video it's so cool funnycats dancing" But when you click on it (and I hope you will) you get transferred to a YouTube video of Rick Astley singing "Never Gonna Give You Up" which is quite possibly the most atrocious, cheesey, music video ever made. They pass along YouTube videos and jokes just like your friends do but theirs tend to be a little more culturally relevant than those ladies from the 30's doing that freaky circus barn dance.

7. Some things never change: Even though a lot of things have changed a lot of things haven't. There are still burnouts, now called "emo", and jocks and cheerleaders and the usual assortment of nerds --drama, band, chess club. And even though a lot of the lingo has changed a lot of it hasn't. Just the other day the kids were discussing a girl in their school who dresses inappropriately. Too short, too tight, too much. You get the idea. Atticus said, "We have a name for girls like that." I leaned in close, eager to hear the latest slang for "girls like that". "Really?" I asked, "What is it?" He knows I fancy myself a student of current slang and he knows he is one of the few translators that I have. So he grinned as he shared it with me, "Whore."

Friday, October 09, 2009

HOMECOMING IN THE NEW MILLENNIUM

It's homecoming weekend here in Glenview! The whole thing--pep rallies, parade, dance. Oh, yeah and I think there's a football game too. As I scoot around town I can see reminders of the big weekend everywhere: village workers hanging high school banners on street poles; a line at the florist as the moms order corsages/boutonnieres; another line at the dry-cleaners while girls wait to have hems pinned for alterations; and temporary signs around town warning us that Glenview Road will be closed for two hours on Saturday for the parade.

This has of course got me reminiscing about my own homecoming experiences. In my four years I went to two of the dances. I would have loved to have gone to all four but I was only asked to two and back in the olden days you could not go to a dance unless a boy asked you . Even when I did go, it was not with a boyfriend or one of the boys I had a crush on --in both cases I went with nice friends who asked me as a sort of sympathy gesture who probably would have liked to go with someone else too but did not have the nerve to ask. I was just so grateful to be asked, to be allowed to take part of the magical evening, to have a ticket in the form of a boy. The other two years I went to a movie with some girlfriends and sulked. (It's hard not to when your peers are all dressed up in their Gunne Saks going to Mountain Jacks for dinner and you're not.)



Well, I am very happy to report that those days of waiting for a boy to say the word to go to the dance are over. Yes, in case you do not have a kid in high school now (or recently) you may not know that this archaic custom is pretty much gone. To be sure, most of the kids attending the big dance do have a date--but many, many do not. That's right, this generation has figured out something that is so obvious that I cannot believe we did not see it right before our eyes. If you want to go to the dance, grab some friends and go!



Which is why tomorrow, though neither one has an official date, both my kids will be going to the homecoming dance. Grace (a freshman) will get all dolled up, meet her friends for pictures, dinner, the dance and a sleepover. They will look great because as she recently told me when I said boys don't care if her shoes match her dress, "We don't dress up for the boys. We dress up for the girls." Wow. It took me decades to figure that one out. Atticus (a sophomore) will be hanging with his posse made up mostly of couples but a few going stag. They will also go to dinner, the dance, then go play broomball, have a sleepover, and end up at Great America on Sunday.



If they were following the old rules of our day they would miss all of that.



So here's to the young generation. They have brought us texting and YouTube and now, much more importantly they have shown us that the world doesn't need a stinkin' date to go to the homecoming dance and I call that progress.



I'll end this with a special thanks to Mark and Neil, my sympathy-friend-dates. Thanks for the ticket in. It was a blast.

Monday, October 05, 2009

47, 48, 49 OBLIVION

My parents: do they look demographically obsolete to you?


They just said on the radio that the new H1N1 vaccination is being recommended to everyone between the ages of 2-49. And this morning I read in my beloved New York Times that The Big Bang Theory does well in the coveted 18-49 year old viewing demographic. And just now when I took a parenting magazine survey and they asked my age the final two categories were 45-49, 50 and older.

So what, you might ask? Well, I happen to be 49 and now realize I am on the verge of demographic obsolesence. This comes as a great surprise to me and perhaps even more so to my parents in their 70's and my grandmother who is 94. Really? Really, America you decide that anyone over 49 is no longer demographically significant? Soon you will no longer waste flu vaccines on me or care what I'm watching on TV or how I parent my kids?

This is especially funny to me when I consider that based on family history I will probably live another 49 years and will be watching more and more TV as I age AND that I have a whole lot more discretionary income than I did when I was 18. But do advertisers care what I watch? Well, yes, they do for another eight months but then it will be all, "Oh, you're 50 so you can't be cool anymore and we don't care if you watch Glee and MadMen because you're old."

Fifty? When did fifty signal the end of life? I mean, when since the medieval times when we all had babies at 12 and lost our teeth at 30 and died at 40, did 50 mean old? Whatever happened to that line "Merry Christmas to kids from 1 to 92" (I often wonder what my grandma thinks when she hears that line. I guess she has to acknowledge she is no longer a kid).

It is not fun to have to check the last box on a survey especially when it comes to age. Though, come to think of it, it is not fun to have to check the last box for a few things like marital status: (single, married, divorced, seeing someone, it's complicated, please mom get off my back, married in some states but not most).

With other categories it might be fun to check the last box say the one for educational level (high school, some college, college, some post-grad, graduate degree, PhD, good god are you EVER going to stop going to school?) or the income level boxes (0-$20,000 a year, $25,000-$40,000, $40,000-$65,000, $65,000-$100,000, $100,000 to more than anyone really needs).

It's getting so I am a little embarrassed to have to check that age box at all. Sometimes when I'm filling out forms in the doctor's office, I let my hand hover near the top of the list in case anyone is watching (which reminds me of the game we used to play at University of Michigan when we'd go see our grades posted--since they posted them in the order from 4.0 to 0.0 with our student ID number next to them we would all tilt our heads up as if looking at the top of the list while our eyes scanned down the list until we finally came to our actual grade--I nearly gave my eyes a hernia trying to keep my head up but see my calc grade).

Anyhoo, I am digressing. Back to the old age thing. I think it is kind of weird that Letterman who is 62 and Leno who is 59 are chasing after the 18-49 year old viewers (though not as weird as chasing after that age group in the office--bah-ding-bang!).

Maybe I'll write to the TV station and complain about this age-ism. But I better hurry because in eight months my letter will just end up in the "50 and over" pile.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

THE SUMMER OF '03

I saw him for the first time in a long time the other day. He stopped by for a few minutes. We laughed and joked and just for a moment it felt like old times. But it didn't last long. I could tell he was thinking of her; the latest in his succession of women; I even know her name--it's Martha, a good friend who lives in the neighborhood. He always has them lined up like that --one right after another. Sometimes he even juggles two or three at a time. He's very organized that way plus he has Oscar and Alberto to help him with the heavy lifting.

I'm talking about my contractor of course, what did you think I meant!

Yes, my contractor, Michael. He stopped by to look at a leak in my bathroom ceiling. He's the guy who added on two baths, a sunroom and an expanded kitchen for us in the summer of '03. We saw each other every day back then, that golden summer, huddled over grout samples, discussing the placement of outlets and waste water pipes. Those were heady days.


I remember running into my friend Carrie in the grocery store during that time. "How's the construction going?" she asked me.

"Great!" I said, "I love my contractor."

"Oh that's good," she said, "That makes such a difference."

"No, I mean, I LOVE my contractor."

She nodded knowingly. "That's very common. Like falling for your shrink or your doctor. They're the perfect man. They do anything you tell them to."

"I know!" I said, relieved that I was not the only one. "And he knows what I want."

"Totally!" she said.

Oh yes my friend, Michael knows what a woman wants. He should--he's been pleasing them for years. He knows we want lockers for the kids' stuff, double-hung closets, and a counter to fold our laundry. Those are just the little things he remembers. He knows about the big stuff too like making sure the workers are there on time every day and having them clean up after themselves.


Yes, we spent a glorious summer together as he knocked out walls and built my dream house. And then one day when an autumn wind blew through, and the counters finally arrived, he finished installing the garbage disposal, hooked his thumbs in his tool belt, cocked his head and declared the job to be done. And he walked out of my life for good. (Except for last year when he came and redid the basement.)

It was good to see him the other day but I could tell his mind wasn't on my leaky ceiling. No, it was on Martha's drywalling that was going up that day. I could see that. It's okay. I know, that's just how it goes. Right now it's all about Martha and that's how it should be.

I saw Martha at a neighborhood party Saturday. I couldn't help but ask her how it was going.

"It's great. It's like having a second husband!" she enthused. "When he comes in every morning I call out, 'Hi honey!'"

Damn her! I never thought to call him honey. Maybe if I did he'd still be here, fixing that leak in my ceiling. Adding shelves to the laundry room. Re-doing the old bathroom that's causing the leak.

My only consolation is that this won't last. No, my dear Martha, when the counters go in and the garbage disposal is all hooked up he'll do the same to you that he did to me. He'll move on. Who knows where. Maybe an addition in Highland Park. Could be a teardown in Arlington Heights. But make no mistake, a man like Michael is always looking for the next job, moving forward, moving on. And then you'll be just like me and the rest of the women he's left behind--just another former client.

But take heart, you'll always have the summer of '09 --and that fabulous double-hung walk-in closet. No one can take that away from you.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

CASSEROLES CURE CANCER

The first lasagna came the first night I got home from the hospital. Jeff and I were switching off between the hospital with Lilly and being home with the other two kids and it was my night home. The doorbell rang and it was my neighbor Bill. He looked ashen and held a lasagna in his hands. "I'm sorry to bother you but Marjorie and I wanted you to have this. You can freeze it if you need to." Behind him I could see my next door neighbor Sue looking disapproving. It was her job to keep the crowds away and manage the meals. Bill had slipped by her and she wasn't happy about it. I smiled and waved her off.

Under Sue's expert management, the meals came twice a week. There would have been more if we had wanted between the nursery school, the elementary school, and our church we were inundated. At one point, I ran into a friend in the grocery store. "I tried to get on your meal list but it's easier to sign up for the Titan swim classes," she said, referring to a popular class that you have to camp out for to get your kid into.

The truth is I had plenty of time to cook. We only went to the hospital for chemo once a week and the rest of the week looked (though it did not feel) fairly normal. I kidded Jean the social worker at Children's Memorial. "It's like people think casseroles can cure cancer,"

She laughed and then said, "People want to help. Let them." And so I did.

And it was good. These women, having made countless meals for each other as each child was born were expert at putting together a fabulous, nutritious, kid-friendly meal with a bottle of wine thrown in for mom and dad. But it was more than that, much more than that. Their meals were prayers in action; a ritualistic offering; quite simply they were love you could eat.

I've been remembering those days lately because I've been called on to make a few meals for church members. Young and old, facing illness and too much time in a hospital. I am so very grateful for the chance to make these meals. To give back just a little to the universe that fed us so well seven years ago. To deliver a prayer in a casserole dish.

I always said that science cured Lilly and prayer got us through it.

And the casseroles certainly helped.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

PURE MICHIGAN

Stuffed raccoons for sale in an ice cream store
in a place called Michigan. Pure Michigan.
There are still places that can slow the world down just long enough for us to catch our breath. Reconnect with what really matters at one of over 11,000 crystal clear Michigan lakes, thousands of rivers and streams, and more freshwater coastline than any other state in the country. Find out what pure feels like on your Michigan vacation.

Have you heard these radio advertisements extolling the virtues of my home-state, Michigan? Here in Chicago we are bombarded by them. The narrarator sounds like George Clooney and he describes a near-Nirvana that you can find in Michigan. Sometimes I wonder what the hell he's talking about. His Michigan is magical, mystical, and full of wondrous beauty. My Michigan is full of wondrous beauty but after that, not so much. I have to believe he has never set foot in the state. For one thing, he pronounces the town I was born in as Yip-silanti, when it is really pronounced Ip-silanti. For another thing, he almost never mentions the stuff I think of when I look back fondly at the state I grew up in and still visit frequently.


So here, with apologies to my friends and family who still live in Michigan, is a more realistic advertisement for Michigan.


Cue the background music:


There's a place just 90 minutes from here where fancy cars give way to beat-up Ford trucks with charming bumper stickers that say clever things like "Gun control is holding it with two hands." A place where old cars are never sold or disposed of but are merely set up on blocks in the front yard for the neighbors to admire. Where you can keep your haute cuisine and just enjoy a coney dog.

In this magical place, everyone wears a University of Michigan or Michigan State sweatshirt even if they never set foot in a college classroom. Yes, school team loyalty is a passion sprung up no doubt in the absence of any decent professional team in a place called Michigan.
In Michigan there is a special time called hunting season which is so revered that auto factories simply shut down on the first day of deer season. In a place called Michigan, you can take the animal you shot, stuff it and hang it on the wall and it is considered fashionable decor.
Yes, in Michigan, pure Michigan, every major event is celebrated by opening the garage door, putting the lawn chairs out, and renting a keg from a place called a "party store". And at every graduation or birthday party in the garage, your uncle is sure to have snuck venison into the sloppy joes and then say proudly, "Bet you didn't even know that was deer meat, did ya city girl?"

In Michigan, pure Michigan, when you ask someone where they're from they don't need a map, they simply hold up their left hand and show you. And if you drew a line from the base of your pinkie to the base of your pointer (that would be Muskegon to Bay City) anything above the line is a wonderful place called "Up North."

Up North is a wonderful place full of bars where men wear baseball caps with the names of farm equipment manufacturers on them and women who should not, wear tube tops. And in the winter at these magical Up North bars, the height of fashion is to wear your unzipped half-hanging down snowmobile suit.
Up North is where everyone you know has a cottage (never a lakehouse or a cabin) and you are always welcome there where you can be sure to play Euchre and drink beer while it rains the entire weekend.
Yes, there's a magical place and it's waiting just for you, a short drive from here.

It's Pure Michigan.

Friday, September 04, 2009

THE BUDDHIST TAKES A TAXI

The Zen Mountain Monastery




Last month Atticus took his journey to the Catskills to attend a Buddhist retreat. This seemed like a totally reasonable excursion last February when he first asked if he could go on a retreat in France. No, I told him, France is a nice place to go for croissants and sidewalk cafes and to get treated rudely but it is not where you go for a Buddhist retreat. You should go to Bali or Thailand or something. But since that is a little far and a lot out of our budget you should find something in the states.


Which he did. In the Catskill mountains a few hours outside of Manhattan. But how will you get there? I asked. No biggie he assured me. I will fly into NYC and take a bus out. There's one that goes directly to the monastery, I can do this alone. Okay. Sounds reasonable and the retreat itself was very inexpensive. Turns out they don't charge you much to come sit and meditate for a few hours and eat vegetarian food and do chores in the hot sun. Not a lot of people signing up for that kind of thing I guess.


So we said okay but when he went to sign up he found out he had to be 18 or older to attend. We made a few inquiries to find out if they would make an exception. He was interviewed over the phone for about a half hour by a senior monastic (who no doubt wanted to make sure this kid knew what he was getting in to) and then he was declared fit to attend. So now, I thought, he's good to go.


But as the date to attend the retreat grew closer I began to second guess my decision to allow my 15-year-old to fly into LaGuardia, take a taxi to the Port Authority and find a bus into the Catskills. He's no stranger to travel, he's comfortable in major cities, but after all, he is only 15. So I came up with an alternate plan. Together we would fly into Albany. From there I would rent a car and drive him into the mountains and make sure I liked the looks of the place. After that I would abandon him--I mean leave him there--and he would take a bus back to the Albany airport and fly home alone when he was finished. I chose Albany because it seemed a lot more negotiable than LaGuardia and was about the same distance as NYC to the monastery.


Anyhoo, that is what we did and it all went very smoothly on the way there. Oh sure, the people at the monastery did look at me kind of funny when they asked where I would be staying during the retreat and I said I was hightailing it back to Chicago. But other than that it went fine. And he stayed and had wonderful time despite the fact that he had forgotten to pack bug spray, shampoo, and soap. After five days it was time to get himself home.


He had to catch two buses to get to the airport. I had warned him that if he missed the second bus he was kind of screwed because if he waited for the next bus he would miss his flight and I really did not have a plan B for him. I gave him a wad of cash and told him he'd just have to wing it if that happened. Of course, that is what happened.


He got on the first bus just fine but unfortunately, it was late which caused him to miss the second bus. So there he was in Kingston NY about an hour from his final destination. Did I mention he was in the Catskills? It's a bit, umm, rustic and remote there. But, he took matters into his own capable Buddhist hands. He went out front and looked for a cab. He found one being driven by an old Indian man with a turban and a long beard and asked if he would take him to Albany airport.


"I take you anywhere you want to go,"the cabbie said.


"How much?" Atticus asked. (He had $150 in cash and was praying it would be less than that.)


The cabbie sized him and correctly guessed he was a rather desperate kid whose parents would be anxious to see again and quickly said, "$115."


"Hold on," Atticus said and texted me if that price was okay.


While I am a big enough idiot to leave my kid in the Catskills, I am not a big enough idiot to try to negotiate the price of a cab ride from the only cabbie in Kingston by cell phone so I texted back, "Hell yes and remember to tip him."

Atticus got in the cab which he described as a beat up very old Lincoln. The driver's window did not go down so the cabbie had to open the door to pay tolls. The passenger window did not go up but luckily it was a nice day.

As they pulled away from the curb the cabbie picked up his CB and spoke to the dispatcher. "Don't bother me. I busy for the next two hours."

"Where you going? Got a hot date?" the dispatcher asked.


"Yeah, that's it."


"No really, where are you going?"


"Albany airport."

"Sweet! How much you charging for that?"

Now--even a 15 year old Buddhist can tell he just got scammed but he only chuckled, grateful to have a ride.

The cabbie did not miss a beat and replied, "You know, the usual we charge for going to Albany airport, $115."

"Oh right," the dispatcher said finally catching on. "The usual. Good job!"

The rest of the ride was uneventul. The cabbie was cheerful and talkative and offered to buy him lunch, which he declined since he was anxious to get to the airport.

Atticus arrived in Albany safe and sound and on time. Unfortunately the plane was delayed three hours due to bad weather in Chicago which means he could have safely caught the next bus but of course he had no way of knowing that was going to happen.


Besides, if he had grabbed the next bus he would not have this memorable story and as any good Buddhist can tell you, it isn't about getting there the most efficient way, it's all about the journey.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

BIRTH ORDER

Are these two related?

Due to a complete lack of planning and foresight on my part, I have two children who are just a year apart in school. The oldest, I'll call him Atticus (because that's his name) started his Sophomore year today while his younger sister, Grace, started her Freshman year. These two children of mine, born a mere 19 months apart are as different as two people can possibly be.

They say (you know, they) that birth order influences our personalities perhaps more than any other thing and these two kids exemplify that. Given they were born so close in age, to the same parents, and raised in the same house, and attend the same schools, it is incredible they can be this different but I know from talking to other moms that this is quite the norm, not the exception.

Having two kids so different but living basically the same life can be somewhat discombobulating to me. Nowhere is this more apparent than their school experience. It's like they're going to two completely different schools in different towns or maybe different countries. But no, it's just the way they approach it that's different. Here are a few examples:

School supply shopping:
Atticus takes the crumpled list out of his pocket, scans it with his eye and says, "Let's see, I don't really need this, I can get this later, HA they never really use that, umm, okay I need a few spiral notebooks." We are out of Staples in ten minutes.

Grace pulls the supply list out of her folder marked "Supply List" and with the pen she has chosen for this project begins with the first item on the list. When she cannot find the exact brand and color the school suggests she grows very agitated. It takes me some time to convince her that it will be okay and only when I promise to go to other office supply stores does she move on to the next item on her list. She chooses pocket folders and sprial notebooks with girly designs that match. They have to match. She carefully checks each item off the list. In order. We cannot leave Staples until she is done. This takes over an hour.

School clothes: Grace had the first day of school outfit picked out last week and a secondary first day of school outfit picked out for Freshman orientation. She took photos of them and sent them to her friends so they could all vote on them. She modeled them for Lilly who pretended to care. She has been back to school shopping three times and still claims she needs "more tops".

Atticus has a dozen plain t-shirts (his only fashion rule is no logos, no ads), three pairs of cargo pants, and three pairs of jeans. He had them left over from last year, they still fit so he's good to go. Now, you are thinking, "Well of course--he's a boy." But really his indifference to clothing goes beyond this normal boy thing. He really, really doesn't care. He once grabbed the jeans that I had mistakenly put on top of the pile of clothing in his room, put them on, and did not notice they were his sister's. It was not until fourth period when one of his frenemies pointed out ever so helpfully, "Dude, you're wearing girl pants" that he even realized it. He looked down, shrugged, and said, "So what." He was in the seventh grade, not exactly an age when most of us are able to shrug off wearing our sister's pants. But there you have it. He is after all, the Buddhist among us.

Study habits: Grace comes home from school, gets herself a healthy snack, goes to the kitchen table and starts her homework. She works until it is all done. Then she does homework for stuff due later in the week. Then she studies for tests that will be given in a few weeks. She stops for dinner. Then she studies some more. She gets all A's.
Atticus comes home and gets a snack, tells me he has no homework, goes to the computer and does not get off until bed time. He does not get all A's.

I did not even know they gave out homework in Middle School until Grace got there and had the exact same teachers as Atticus.

Freshman orientation: Grace goes to any and all orientations that are offered. This despite the fact that her big brother tells her that most of them are repetitious and you will get all the information you need several times over. She finds her locker and practices opening and closing it. She memorizes where it is relative to her class. She makes sure she has her schedule with her at all times. She considers writing it in Sharpie on her hand in case she loses it.
Last year Atticus skips the first of the two orientations they offer. He is not worried. He passes on using the locker they have assigned him "It's too far from my classes, I'll just carry everything" Umm, winter coat? No worries, he just won't wear one. On the first day of his Freshman year in High School he arrives and realizes he does not have his schedule. (At this point, I apologize for the nightmare you are sure to have tonight just thinking about that, I know I've had several and so has Grace over the past year) Did this bother Atticus? Not so much. He just shrugged, found someone he knew was in his first period and said, "Hey what room do we meet in?" and got through the day like that.
Today those two loves of my life will come home after having both had their first day of school. Grace will tell me lots of stories about the first day, share some of the horrors like broken back-pack straps and lost IDs. She will talk about the different teachers and what she had in the cafeteria. When she's done she will make herself a fruit smoothie and start on her homework.

Atticus will come in, answer my question with a "It was great" grab a cookie and go to the computer. Strangely, he will not have any homework.


The oldest child and the second child. They inhabit two completely different worlds. I'm always grateful to be a part of both.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

FIRST DAY OF FIRST GRADE

It's been five years since I wrote this. To all the moms saying goodbye to first-graders and college freshman in particular--here's to you!



My youngest started first grade today and all week long everyone I run into says, “What will you do with your free time now?” A lot of people ask this in jest, knowing full well there isn’t much you can do with the few hours when all the kids are out of the house at once. Others ask in earnest knowing that a world of possibilities has just opened up.

I have some ideas. I’m going to start exercising again. I’m going to write more. I’m going to finish my novel. Some of my friends will go back to work with the help of sitters and nannies. Others will fill up the time doing more around the house, taking part-time jobs, or volunteering even more of their time to the schools. It is strange but as a stay-at-home mom if you do your job really well you are rewarded by having your job taken away from you little by little. Today I was demoted to part-time. It’s not a huge chunk of time; 9:00 to 2:30 due to staggered start times among my three children, but nevertheless it’s a much bigger chunk of time than I’ve had in eleven years.

It’s not a total shock of course. The free-time comes quite gradually really, from the crazed frenzied days of breast-feeding and diaper-changing to the slightly less frantic days of potty-training and pre-school schedules to the relative calm of kindergarten and early elementary days. But some parts of it are not so gradual. Like today, the first day of school. It’s a wrenching change in my life. My youngest is the best of my three children at expressing herself. This makes parenting her sometimes easier and sometimes much more challenging. Last night, she sat in my lap as I read “The Kissing Hand” and as I struggled to get through that tear-jerker she interrupted me to say, “Mama, I am not ready for first grade.” “What do you mean?” I asked prepared to give her a pep-talk, to remind her that her best friend is in her class, she has the same bus route as last year, and she can already read chapter books. “I’m not ready to be away from you for so many hours,” she said simply. This stopped me dead in my tracks because the truth is I’m not really ready to be away from her for so many hours either. I mean maybe more than the 2 ½ hours of a kindergarten day but I really don’t need her to be gone from me more than seven hours which is what it turns out to be with the bus ride to and from school. Can’t they have a four hour day in first grade while we all adjust? My eyes filled with tears but I turned my head so she could not see. I forced a cheerful answer, “But honey, you were gone that many hours just yesterday with Margaret when you went to her house and then to the movies and you didn’t mind that.” “But I can’t be away from you that many hours every day,” she countered.

Now I began to cry in earnest, thankful that children seldom look their moms in the eye and as I sat with her in my lap trying to compose myself and most unhelpfully I remembered a Dave Barry column in which he drives his son Rob to Kindergarten for the first time and as they sit in the car outside the school, saying goodbye, Rob asks, “Daddy, how long do I have to do this?” and he can’t bring himself to answer, but he thinks, “Forever and ever.” I remember crying when I read that column and I didn’t even have children then. I shook my head trying to get the image of Rob and Dave Barry out of my head and to distract myself I tried to figure out how old Rob must be now. He’s probably in college or older, and not nearly as close to his father as he was when he was five. That was no help so I lifted Lilly off my lap and told her I’d be right back. I went into the bathroom and closed the door and sobbed into a bathroom towel. I was thinking of all the other mothers in my town, in my state, and probably in the world doing the same thing; crying into a bathroom towel because who else can you cry to? If only we had some acceptable way to share our collective grief maybe it would help but parenthood demands we act cheerful and even relieved when our little ones begin to leave the nest. For the most part we are relieved. But we are grieving too.

So please remember that when you see us looking a little dazed at the bus stop in the morning or a little anxious for the bus in the afternoon. Do not be deceived by our breezy answers to your question, “What will you do with your day now that the kids are all in school?” Because we’re not really sure ourselves. Oh we have lots of ideas; but we are afraid that any them will pale in comparison to the wondrous job we are leaving behind, the privilege of caring for a little one 24/7.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

SUMMER HOLIDAYS




As most of you know, the last Saturday before school starts is the major North American holiday, known as "Molly-day the Holiday" (which is rather tricky to say as the words rhyme but not really--I think that is called assonance which I only know from that movie, Educating Rita. That was a good movie wasn't it?)

Anyhoo, if you don't know about this holiday,which was invented last year by Lilly and Grace, it is a day in which we spend the entire day celebrating our dog, Molly. You arise early and give her a special breakfast (the wet food she hardly ever has). Then you pull her back to bed and let her sleep in with you. Later you will take her to the park. In the wagon since she is the only dog in Glenview who really, really will not take a walk.

In the afternoon you might dress her up. Maybe in that dog Flamenco dress Aunt Beth helped you make (that's what she's wearing above). Then around 3:00 your friends with dogs come over with their dogs and you all run around the back yard and have a bona fide play date. After that, you will all come in the house (with gates placed strategically so mom won't lose her mind) and enjoy the dog cake you made out of kibble and peanut butter and the human cake Grace baked for the people guests.

In the evening you snuggle on the couch and watch (what else?) "Benji" and "Air Bud" and Molly's favorite, Animal Planet. And finally, you will go to bed where Molly will sleep right next to you. Oh, yes, well, she does that every night but tonight you will both be really tired from all the festivities of Molly-day the Holiday and your sleep will be especially delicious.

I hope you enjoy whatever it is your family does to celebrate this big day and remember, life is much too short to confine yourself to only the holidays on the calendar.

Monday, August 10, 2009

THE PARAPHRASING SINGER

See you in September
see you when the summer's through
here we are saying goodbye at the station
summer vacation is taking you awaaaayyyyy


I am singing to the (really) oldies station at the top of my lungs. Lilly asks, "Is this a really old song?"
"Yes it is. Why do you ask?"
"Because you actually know the words to it."

Oh dear. Am I that bad? Yes, yes I am . The thing is, if it is an old song (from my childhood) I have it stuck in my head for all eternity. If it is a somewhat old song (from high school and college) I can remember most of the words. Anything more "recent" and by that I mean in the past 2 and half decades, and all bets are off.

But I always remember what the song is about. I remember the gist of a line if not the actual words. Which is why you will often here me singing something like this:

Billy Jean is not my lover
I am not really the father
I had sex with her but check my DNA
You have to believe what I say


The kids either roar with laughter or cover their ears. They don't get it. They hear a song once or twice and remember every word. In the actual order in which it comes! This astounds me. As Atticus once said, "Mom, you know all the words to the songs, you just don't know where they go." EXACTLY! And shouldn't I get credit for that?

Of course they don't get it. They have freakishly plastic brains that recall everything. I noticed this the other day when Lilly was singing along to the theme song of a show called The Big Bang Theory. She has only heard this song when the show is on and we have only watched it, maybe, ten times. Here you can listen to this song and imagine for a second how long it would take you to memorize the words well enough to sing along.

Music is stored in our brains in a weird way isn't it? I can't remember my children's names in the proper order ("Grace! Atticus! Lilly! Molly! Oh christ, whatever your name is, get in here and pick up your shoes!") but the other day I remembered that show "Room 222" and could instantly hum the theme song. It has no lyrics but I'm sure I would rememember them if it did just as I know all the words to the "Here Comes the Brides" (the bluest skies you'll ever see in Seattle) and that ridiculous Bobby Sherman song, Julie, Julie, Julie. Geez what a waste of brain cells.

Anyhoo, I leave you all with that thought today--at what point did you stop learning lyrics to songs just by being exposed to them? Hopefully it was somewhere further down the line than it was for me as I do not remember much past the disco age.

Someone left the cake out in the rain
I don't think that I can take it
Cause it took so long to bake it....


aaagghhhh

Monday, August 03, 2009

MORE of WHAT PASSES FOR CONVERSATION AROUND HERE


Nice shirt. Could be pajamas too.

Summer School

This spring Atticus(15) asked us if he could take a summer school class. That's what the kids do around here--not so often to make up a bad grade but to get a class out of the way and have some breathing room during the school year. We were opposed to the idea. "You're only young once, why do you want to spoil it with school?" we asked him."Think of all that down time you're giving up." But he was not to be dissuaded.

"Please, Mom and Dad, let me take chemistry," he actually begged. At last we relented amd I signed him up for two summer semesters. Having allowed him to take this class (and paid for it) we wanted to impress upon him that he needed to take it seriously and get a decent grade. But we did not want to say "You must get an 'A'" or anything that definitive because as any parent knows you only cause trouble for yourself if you go around making such quantifiable demands. So Jeff tried a casual approach.

"You know, if you're going to take that class we want you to apply yourself."

"Yeah, I know," Atticus grunted.

"So you should, you know, stay out of the 'C-hood'," Jeff said and warming to his clever use of language pushed on, "And kind of shoot for at least the 'B-ville'," and now thinking he was handling this just right, "And really, we'd like you to keep it in the 'A-ness'."

At which point he had to stop talking because all three kids and I were laughing so hard he couldn't continue.

My T-shirt

So I like to wear my Obama t-shirt as a pajama top. It has his head and shoulders and the words "Obama 2008" on it. Because it is my pajama top, I do not wear undergarments with it.

One morning, as I sat in my Obama pajama top reading the New York Times, Lilly came in and got herself a bowl of cereal. After several minutes of silence she looked up at me and in a pretty spot-on imitation of our president said, "Look, umm, I'm just saying, if you are going to wear that and your breasts are resting on my shoulders, umm, you should at least think about wearing a bra and bring those things up to my ears."

Monday, July 27, 2009

SISTER BUDDIES


Sister buddies' latest project.

"I have a boy and a girl," my dental hygenist sighed last week, taking a break from cleaning my teeth. "I wanted another girl so my daughter could have a sister too, but it didn't happen. Everyone should have a sister."

Indeed. Everyone should have a sister and the best kind of sister is a sister buddy.

I am lucky, I have a sister and we are close but I am a little sad to say that we were not that close as children. We just couldn't have been because we are 8 years apart. By the time I even have any memories of her she was leaving home for college. She has memories of me but they are more about how she helped take care of me. We weren't really sister buddies.

I know what a sister buddy looks like though because I have two who live with me. Lilly(11) and Grace (14) have always been close. At one point they slept together so often we just pushed both beds into one bedroom that they shared for years. This ended when Grace hit puberty (as it should) and I worried a bit that their tight friendship would come undone. Lilly, always one to notice and speak aloud what is going on told me frequently, "Grace is no fun now that she's a teenager. She just wants to do teenaged stuff and she never plays horsie anymore."

But over the past year or so they have compromised and adjusted and found a new sisterly way to be. In this way, Grace keeps one foot in childhood while Lilly dips a toe into teen-hood.

For example,they have a standing Friday night nail date in which they choose a movie on DVR-- usually a Disney tweener flick (this is a compromise in itself because Grace would rather watch a chick flick and Lilly would rather watch a dog movie so they split the difference) and spread out the forty or fifty bottles of nail polish that Grace has collected. While Grace carefully does her own fingernails, Lilly, out of solidarity, haphazardly does her own toenails. Then Grace bakes cupcakes for them both. It's an evening that has something for everyone.

Last week while Jeff and I went to the AWESOME Billy Joel and Elton John concert, the girls stayed home. "What did you girls do last night?" I asked Lilly the next morning.

"Grace put on a fashion show for me for two hours. She tried on every thing in her closet."

"Really?" I know this is not Lilly's idea of fun.

"Yes. She told me if I played fashion show last night, she'd come with me to the bunny shelter tonight."

Ahhh. Another wise compromise.

Like all couples they have their roles. Grace is the mommy: she cooks and bakes for Lilly and generally cares for her (Lilly accidentally calls her mom fairly frequently). Lilly is the entertainer: she comes up with elaborate plans and tells jokes and sings silly songs for Grace (her specialty is meowing opera songs and spot on accents). Together they like to devise and execute elaborate home improvement plans.

Yesterday I found a list on the table with the following words: Herbal Garden, Butter Nut Wood, Lilac Rose. "Grace, what does this mean?" I asked.

"Those are the paint colors we need to paint a mural in Lilly's room. We looked them up online. But first we're going to repaint the walls."

And off they marched. Under Grace's direction they gathered up the painting supplies and some leftover paint and turned Lilly's room from pink to blue. They assumed their roles: Grace directed the project and did most of the painting (she's no stranger to painter's tape) and Lilly entertained her while she sort of painted. At one point I walked past the room and heard Lilly doing her ghetto-talk. "Yo, G! You my dawg. This room is da schizzle."

While Jeff and Atticus and I went to stroll around the Glenview Art Fair, the girls finished up their paint job and cleaned the rollers. We found them on the couch relaxing after their hard day over an episode of "i-Carly"

Today we'll all go to Home Depot and buy more paint so they can complete the mural Grace has designed. It will be, as Lilly explains, "A mural of a meadow so Suzy Q. (our rabbit) can feel like she's outdoors."

I will not be asked to help (except to buy the paint) and that is okay, because this is a sister-buddies-only project.

Everyone should have a sister.

JEFF'S SONG

This is Jeff performing the song he wrote for me for our anniversary. I got him a nice card.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

SCREEN TIME

Maybe we do have a problem.
(I borrowed this photo from this blog, alas, it is not my own work)

Yesterday I noticed a thoughtful post on Facebook by my friend Amy B. who is looking for software that would limit the time her children spend on the computer. Now that's a great idea, I thought, having failed miserably at prying my teenaged son away from his virtual life so I went to the website someone suggested and checked out some software. It sounded great and even gave this suggestion for how it might limit the time: "For example you might want to set up a schedule like this --Monday–Friday 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm, with 15 minutes allowed for their favorite game, 15 minutes to chat and 90 minutes for homework."

After a half hour or so when I could stop laughing doubled over I went downstairs to the computer to find my son to read that line to him. We weren't sure which was funnier--the notion that he could limit his game time to 15 minutes or the pie-in-the-sky dream that he would ever spend 90 minutes on his homework (with or without the computer). He was so amused he even lifted his hands off the keyboard and made eye contact with me. "Fifteen minutes on my game? What the fuh?" and then we started laughing again.

I am reminded of the time I bought new carpeting for the family room when the kids were 5, 4, and 1. "Now," the salesman cautioned me, "You know you should vacuum once per week for every person in the household." I set the baby down, separated the two toddlers, wiped vomit off my shoulder, handed the baby a cracker, and then said to the 5-year-old. "Quick, you do the math, how many times a week would I be vacuuming?" He's a smart kid (or was before all the computer time) so he answered quickly, "Five times, Mommy."

I wasn't trying to be rude when I laughed at the carpet salesman. He looked slightly offended when we all roared at the notion of mommy vacuuming five times a week. Even the one-year-old chortled as she ground her cracker into the floor-room sample of our future carpet.

So allow me to laugh when I read the suggested computer limits for my son. Because really, if there is one thing I've failed at as a parent, (no wait there are many, many things I've failed at including getting my kids to eat fruits and vegetables as anything more than a condiment, and having them make their beds ever, and well, now I'm starting to depress myself) it is in the area of limiting screen time.

Make no mistake, I tried and I tried. And then I failed. But when I was still trying and we used to do that "TV Turn-off" week I was one of the few moms that actually included ALL screens. We went to the library. We played games, we rode bikes to the park all that week. Fat lot of good that did.

And I did move the computer into the kitchen as the experts suggest. That's helpful. I now can see the back of my kid's head at all times and view the ridiculous medieval war graphics on the game he's playing. I suppose this is a little like Mrs. Dahmer saying, "Well it's not that bad; I saw Jeffrey stacking up bodies in the back yard. What kind of mother do you think I am?"

When you learn about dog-training you learn that it is almost impossible to get a dog to stop a bad behavior unless you distract him with the job of a good behavior. Which is why you will see me, from time to time, tell my computer-addicted kid to come empty the dishwasher or take the trash out or help his sister with her math. He always does this cheerfully and willingly--most likely because he is aware that it is the price he pays for being on the computer for hours on end--and he would be right.

So for now that's where we are on this issue. I think I will pass on the monitoring software because 1) I would actually have to have him install it and 2) I would then set it on such ridiculous levels "No games after midnight or before 9 am" that it might automatically dial a family services line and report me.

As for Amy, I wish you nothing but the best and if you find some software that trains me to be a better parent too, just send me the link.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

GIMME SHELTER

Suzy Q: Our shelter bunny

Every six months or so for the past three years, Lilly (11) pulls out the phone book, opens it to the Yellow Pages section of Animal Shelters and begins her calls. "Yes, I was wondering how old you have to be to volunteer at your shelter?" she asks politely. In between rejections (you have to be 16) she comments to Grace (14) "They don't get it. They think we just want to go and cuddle the kittens." "Well don't we?" Grace asks.

No. That is not what Lilly wants to do. She wants to play with the friendless, wash the dirty, clip the long-nailed, clean the dirty cage, sweep the poo, scrub the grungy food dishes. In short, she has a calling and it is to care for shelter animals. But no one gets that. They just think she's another kid who wants to pet a puppy.

That is until we met Toni. Toni runs Red Door Shelter a rabbit sanctuary in Chicago. This wonderful place rescues the homeless and unwanted bunnies (think of the Easter pet that turns out to be more work than someone thought). It was to this shelter that Lilly dragged me about a year ago for "rabbit spa day" a fund-raising event where crazy bunny people get together to have their rabbits groomed and photographed and oh yeah, maybe take another homeless bunny home (which is how we got Suzy Q). Thanks to that event, adoption, and subsequent emails, Toni caught on pretty quickly that Lilly was not your average "can I come play with the bunnies" kid. Which is why she so very, very graciously said yes when I asked if she would make an exception to the age requirement and allow Lilly to volunteer.

The first day of volunteering was last Wednesday. All the way to the shelter Lilly was saying under her breath, "Oh yeah, Heartland Shelter, I'm too young? Oh really, too young you say!? Well aren't you sorry now." She was so excited she nearly binkied (that's rabbit talk for jumping with joy) out of the car as we pulled up to the shelter. I left her there in Toni's capable hands agreeing to return in four hours.

And it was there I found her four hours later, covered in rabbit fur and ecstatically happy about her new job. All the way home she told me about the rabbits she met and played with. About their (often sad) histories but their (almost always) happy endings. There was one bunny in particular she was taken with. Avery.

Avery, she explained, has been there for three years. No one wants to adopt him because he cannot be neutered. He has a heart condition and if they put him under for the surgery he most likely would not survive. So he stays there but not many of the volunteers want to play with him because un-neutered male rabbits have, ahem, some hygiene issues.

"Oh Mom," she gushed, "Avery is so great! I went in his pen and he binkied, then he sprayed to mark his territory, then he pooped all over, and then he humped my leg. I just love him! He's so full of life!"

From the backseat her big brother offered this advice, "Don't go falling for every guy who humps your leg."

Lilly ignored this and began in earnest on another story about two rabbits who were saved from Afghanistan. Seriously.

I know, I've said it before, but I have to say it again, there is no joy like the joy of watching your child find his or her bliss and by God Lilly has found it at Red Door Shelter. Here, at this magical place, she can finally spend time with her beloved buns AND the like-minded, dedicated people who care about them as much as she does. And since I am not so inclined to spend time with rabbits I am mighty grateful there is such a place that welcomes her.

So here's to Toni and her shelter and if my small tale moves you maybe you would consider a small donation to Red Door to thank those who take care of God's smallest creatures --like Lilly and homeless bunnies.