Friday, May 29, 2009


Do you remember when birthday parties were small family events with a homemade cake? And maybe, every few years you might have a party for kids in your class and they would come over and you’d play “drop the clothespin in the milk bottle” (because all milk came in bottles then, not just the expensive organic kind) and you might play “musical chairs,” and then you’d open presents and have cake and ice cream and then your friends walked home and they wouldn’t have dreamed of expecting anything more at the end of the party. Do you remember that? You do? You must be really old.

Because now-a-days birthday parties are big big big events! First of all you must have one each and every year. No, it does not matter if you have three or six or ten kids you must plan and execute a full-on blow-out for each and every one of your offspring from the time they turn one (perhaps the silliest birthday party of all) until the last one is out of the house (which hopefully is before the current average age of 30 because you will feel pretty silly when your kid is 28 and you still have to send out dinosaur invitations.)

And the party must, never, never, never be held at your home! No, goodness no. Unless you hire a clown or a magician or a pony to ride on, then the “house- party” (yes the genre has a name) is acceptable.
You must also spend a lot of money on theme invitations and decorations and the required matching “goody-bag.” What the hell is a goody-bag, you might ask? It is the bag of goodies you give each of the guests when they come to your party because of course it is not enough for a child to go bowling or play putt-putt with his or her friends and eat pizza and later ice-cream and cake. No. Who would show up for that lame-o experience if there wasn’t a goody-bag to close the deal?
The goody-bag is a bag stuffed with crap you paid too much for such as erasers and pencils and little cheap yo-yos that last for just one yo, and plastic rings that no one would ever wear. When your children come home with the goody-bag they will paw through it for the candy, insist you keep the rest of the junk because it is “cool” and then never, ever, ever play with the stuff again. If you are like most moms I know, you will keep it around and then secretly throw it away along with 90% of their precious art projects that the teachers send home at the end of the year bound up in a fancy portfolio that a volunteer art mom got stuck making. Oops, getting off track again.
So that’s what birthday parties look like now. Over the years my kids have been to parties at bowling alleys, skating rinks, and pools. They have made hideous pottery items and gone on guided nature walks and gone to the movies. Now that they are older I expected this nonsense to trail off but it hasn’t. At 14 and 15 a lot of their friends are still hosting bowling or skating parties.
I confess that to some extent I have been a part of this ridiculous nonsense. We have indeed hosted parties that were held at bowling alleys and inflatable bouncy places. We have also bought goody-bags and stuffed them with junk. It’s not that I didn’t want to stop the madness, I did. One year I tried to give them all a book instead of a goody-bag but most of them looked at me and blinked like I was clinically insane. One child kept trying to hand the book back as if I’d made a mistake. The brat (there’s always one at a birthday party) actually asked where his goody-bag was. Another time, in a real rebellious moment, I decided there would be no goody-bags but kept that decision to myself. When my family asked where the goody-bags were at about 20 minutes before the first guest was scheduled to arrive, they all were so mortified (my husband included) that we ended up running around the house, filling brown paper-lunch bags with old pencils and erasers and any other trinket we could put our hands on. I’m sure the kid who got my tape-measure was delighted to have something so useful.
We have, I’m happy to report, had better luck with my equally crazy idea to host “house-parties”. The girls come up with their own theme and then run with it making the invitations and the decorations by hand. Then they invent theme-related activities. That’s how they ended up dressed like mice and playing “cat and mouse and cheese” one year. It was lovely and I even heard one of the little girls as she was picked up by her mother say, “Next year, I want a house-party!”
Her mother nodded and agreed, no doubt remembering the “house-parties” of her youth and wondering who the heck you hire to help you cater such an unusual event.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


Sometimes I find myself defending Facebook to those who haven't tried it. Invariably these people tell me it's a waste of time and they don't care if their friend is making baked chicken and rice pilaf for dinner. I understand their sentiments; I felt the same way a year ago. But that was before I joined the 70 billion other people on Facebook.

My Facebook habit started like most habits do. I 'only' signed up because I was trying to find a particular person, Wendy, who had been in Spain with me in the early 80's. I was hoping to organize a reunion for the seven or eight of us who shared that seminal time. The reunion never came to pass but I did find Wendy who now lives in Mexico married to the very boy she was dating all those years ago. I was delighted to reconnect with her if only in this little way.

As soon as I signed up I felt the heady rush of popularity as 'friend requests' poured in. All these people I know want to be my friend? Little old me? Of course now I realize that Facebook is set up so cleverly that people might be asking you to be their friend almost by accident. It combs email addresses and school affiliated lists to show you names of people you might know and might want to friend. Then, if you just twitch your finger near the enter button it shoots invitations out to them all.

But I didn't know that. I was flattered to be asked to be a friend. Yes! I will be your friend, I responded and so I jumped in. I didn't want to get "hooked" on Facebook of course, so I set up a policy for myself, 'I will only friend people on Facebook if they ask me first.' This is a little like saying, 'I will only eat the folded potato chips' to limit calories. It is a false and useless control system.

For a while I coasted by with that, only visiting Facebook if someone spoke to me directly (these messages come in to your email). Then I saw Richard B.'s name on someone else's friend list and I broke my first rule. Richard! I loved Richard! He was an old high school/band buddy who I'd completely lost touch with and I would love to know where he was and what he was up to. I friended him.

Now the floodgates were open. What happened to that woman whose wedding we went to in the eighties but had abruptly stopped getting Christmas cards from in the 90s? Want to know? Friend her! I started dreaming about people from my past. The neighbors we lived next door to for only one year in 1968. What were their names? There were seven kids and I played with Annette and my brother played with Ricky. Wonder what they're doing now? Look for them on Facebook! And Patti H. I was her BFF for one month in 1977 when we traveled to Spain with the Spanish club. She was from Pittsburgh; I from Detroit but we were pen pals for years. Whatever happened to her? Facebook her!

And so, like so many other people I am a bit of a fan of Facebook. After making fun of social media like the old cranky person I am, I am now a convert. I am not alone. According to Facebook the majority of their users are over 50 and that does not surprise me a bit. How else can you accumulate several dozen friends over the years unless you've lived several decades? And it is great for keeping in touch with all those people with whom you once had relationships in your storied past--from a co-worker at your first job to the kid you back-packed through Europe with--maybe you don't keep in touch by mail or phone but that doesn't mean they are forgotten.

That's the great thing about Facebook--just like email keeps us in touch in ways we would never have thought possible (my 10-year-old emails her 94-year-old Great Grandma) so does Facebook.

So yes, you nay-sayers, it is a bit of a time waster but I do indeed want to know that Wendy had fabulous salsa last week and Cher is thankful for the sunny day and Barb made a memorial rock garden for her sister this weekend.

In this tiny way I get to stay connected to all the people who were ever dear to me on a weekly basis not just through the dreary custom of Christmas cards (oh holiday letters, that's an entirely different blog). And in a world that moves ever faster I find that immensely comforting.

By the way, in case you were wondering, I'm making baked chicken and rice pilaf for dinner.

Monday, May 11, 2009


An anonymous reader suggested I comment on Elizabeth Edwards so I've been letting her rattle around (Elizabeth, not the reader) in my head for the weekend to see what I can come up with.

The truth is, I am so dumbfounded, stupefied, horrified, saddened, and mystified by the whole book and tour that I cannot form any really insightful or quippy thing to say about her. She reminds me of that girl in college who dated an asshole but felt compelled to tell us constantly just how great he was despite all evidence to the contrary. No, really, when you guys aren't around he's soooo wonderful. Really. We didn't buy it then, Elizabeth, and we sure ain't buyin it now.

What is her point of all this? It can't be to get rich off her book because she knows she will not live long enough to spend that money. Is it to make sure her kids have enough money? I doubt that--surely between the two of them there's a considerable estate. Is it for fame? No, I don't think so really--I mean that can't be important when you are on your way out.

The only thing I can think of is that she wants to die in peace knowing that her decision to stay with "the cad" (as Dennis Miller so aptly called him) was the right thing to do. And because she surely knows that is not the case, she needs to really, really convince herself that it is by writing an entire book about it and hopefully convincing the rest of the world that it's a really, really good idea to live with a man who would betray you in your darkest hour with a horrible, horrible woman.

Make no mistake here: while I think that Reillo woman (what the hell is her name? I don't want to add one more hit on Google looking her up) is indeed the lowest of the low home-wrecking, predators but her crime is dwarfed by John's crime of infidelity. To quote Laura San Giacomo's character in Sex, Lies and Videotape when asked she can betray her sister by sleeping with her sister's husband, "Hey, I'm not the one who stood up in front of God and everyone and promised to be faithful to her." (going on memory here, I think that's how it went)

But John did. So this twist on the whole thing in which Elizabeth portrays her husband as a sort of dupe to a cunning woman's wiles is disingenuos at best and pathological denial at worst.

Above all, I object to the spectacle for two reasons: 1) she is passing the whole thing off as a lesson in "resilience" when it appears to actually be a lesson in "rationalization" or maybe "denial" and worse 2) she is doing this in public at the expense of her young children. This is as unforgivable as the affair itself.

So, I don't really have much new to say about this topic, but the fact is, neither did Elizabeth but that didn't stop her from writing an entire book about it.

The only thing I can hope for is that it brings her some peace at the end of her life though if it does it comes at an exorbitant price--the future peace of her children.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009


everyone's a winner!

The month of May in Glenview (and in many school districts I suspect) means lots and lots of award ceremonies for all our brilliant and talented children. Of course, in a world where kids can't even attend a birthday party without getting a custom-made T-shirt, we would not expect them to finish up their school year without making sure each and every one of the little darlings is given an award, a plaque, a certificate and a big round of applause just for being you!

This means that as a parent you will get a letter or a phone call from the school inviting you to attend an award ceremony because your son or daughter has received an award for some great scholastic or athletic achievement at school.

At least that's what you think the first time you get one of those letters or calls. You get the video camera fired up and see if you can talk a grandparent or spouse or a younger sibling into going with you for the big event.

Imagine your disappointment (not to mention your mother's irritation) when you get there and find out the award is for "Good Effort In French" which is an award given to just about any kid who attended the class on a semi-regular basis. Heh heh you smile apologetically at your mom for keeping her from her pilates class as your brilliant progeny traipses across the multi-purpose room along with a dozen or so other slackers while Mademoiselle Jones hands him a "special certificate" she just printed out on her computer and says with a big smile, "Tres bien!"

I am only exaggerating a little here. To be fair, they also give out awards to children who really deserve the recognition for the nearly herculean efforts they put into the school year and the extra-curricular activities. The problem is that when you are invited to attend an award ceremony you have NO idea if your kid is going to get a real award or a bogus award. So you go, and since you've been duped before you don't make a big deal about it or even tell your spouse because you don't want him to take time off to watch your kid get an award for being above average in social studies. And THAT will be the time your kid actually wins the school award for all-around kid greatness that goes to only one kid and the newspaper will be there and they'll want a picture of your entire family and they'll wonder how such a great kid could come from such an apathetic family.

Well, that has never happened to me but it nearly happened to my friend Kelly who, a few years back, sent her husband off to work with reassurances that their son TJ would be getting some meaningless award only to find out that he was about to set a school record for receiving the most (real) awards. Thank goodness for cell-phones. We fondly remember that event as the "TJ Mihelic Awards Ceremony" around here.

Of course it helps if you can crack the code. Last year I was going to the meaningless award ceremony (You're only invited to this one if your kid is going to win several meaningless awards, I have at least figured that much out by now) only to see the parents of the superstars leaving the building. "Hey, where are you all going?" I asked naively. TJ's mom explained gently, "Oh,they have the school-wide awards first. They just finished up," she said, trying to hide behind her back the stash of gold medals and award statues her son had just won. She's a modest woman.

WTF? They have the real awards first then break up into classes for the meaningless awards and I didn't even KNOW that?

All of this came back to me yesterday when I got a letter inviting me to the Science Awards Ceremony at the High School. This is the first year I have someone in high school so now I have to try to decode the ceremony system there too. I was quite suspect of the invitation. For one thing Atticus is barely carrying a B+ in that class. Can they really award that? Maybe he found a cure for a disease or something. So I asked him about it when he got home.

"Oh that. It's nothing. I think the teacher has to give out a certain number of awards and our class is so lame he had to choose me. I wouldn't come unless you're incredibly bored."

"So you knew you were getting it?"

"Yeah. The teacher had me address the envelope to you."

Wow. That is an honor. Here, send this letter to your mom so she'll know we're giving you this prestigious award.

So I'm proposing an award system code that is just for the parents. The invitation to the award ceremony could have a three-tier code system like our oh-so-helpful homeland security threat system:

Code Blue: This is a perfunctory award given to your kid because he or she has not physically harmed anyone in this class and did show up, fully dressed almost every day of the school year. Come if you can squeeze it in between the grocery trip and the bill-paying.

Code Yellow: This is an actual award only the top 15% of the class will be given. Nifty certificates with their names printed on them will be given! You may want to attend this and even make an attempt to photograph the event on your cell-phone.

Code Orange (also known as the TJ Mihelic code): This is a REAL award. Your son or daughter not only got all A's but also headed up a project to implement an easy-to-use recycling system for the cafeteria that involves the help of the special needs kids AND led the basketball team to a state-wide victory (Judy, you will never see a Code Orange so just don't worry about it.)Bring your family and your camera and your video camera with tripod.

Happy awards season. I hope your children get many awards, real and otherwise!