Thursday, April 22, 2010


The local high school has been hosting some French students the last few weeks and I seem to hear about them all the time. The local paper did a feature on them; both Atticus and Grace have met them all since they came to speak to their French classes; and Lilly's friend Carolyn's family is hosting one of them. That's some of them in the photo wearing sunglasses they received as a gift from the American students.

It seems everyone loves them. They are beautiful and they speak with that most coveted of all accents. Lilly gets updates from Carolyn about the student they are hosting. His name is Tristan and here are the stories she's collected so far:

On day 1 when he woke up after sleeping off his jet-lag for hours, Carolyn asked if he would like something to drink. Tristan responded, "No thank you, I do not thirst."

Day 3 he discovered Eggo Waffles and now each morning he asks for them.

Day 4: his host mom asked if he'd like to drive the car and he said yes. She asked if he were scared and he said yes.

Day 5: when asked if he wanted more Eggo Waffles he said, "No thank you. My stomach is already crowded."

So when Atticus and Grace brought a note home from their French teacher asking if we'd be willing to host a French student who may be stranded by the volcanic ash incident (a different group than the Glenview group--these kids have been in Ohio but are scheduled to fly out of O'Hare tomorrow) we raised our hands enthusiastically and said "OUI".

Cute French kids that say hilarious things like "my stomach is crowded". Heck yes, sign us up.

Unfortunately for us, with the planes flying again it looks like we won't get one after all. In fact, even if they are stranded we may not get one because it turns out that we were just one of 40 families who raised their hands and said "OUI" and there are only 9 students who might need to be housed.

And you gotta love that. I'm quite certain that all over the US there are families opening their doors to stranded exchange students and the same thing is happening in Europe to stranded American students.

So despite the lost commerce of last week's volcanic episode you gotta love the whole thing: that we were reminded that yes indeed, Europe is very, very far away and hard to get to without planes; that it isn't just terrorist attacks that ground planes but mother nature too; that when people are displaced and need a place to stay there are always friendly families willing to open their doors and just say "Bonjour, may I get you an Eggo Waffle?"

Thursday, April 15, 2010


These are the days of self-doubt and reflection for me and my peers. Many of us are coming up on 50 and our kids are about to launch into the real world. With this collision of events you could not be human without having doubts about where you are in life and whether or not you've done a good job with the kids.

I just spent time with a friend who expressed doubts about her parenting. This was shocking since she has --by anyone's assessment-- some of the most talented and nicest children I know. But still she wonders if she's done enough and worries that mistakes have been made. This is proof I suppose that only a bad parent would never question the job he or she has done. The good ones take a look at it frequently and readjust as needed.

But how are we supposed to know if were doing a good job? Too many parents look to the easy assessments--grades, advanced/honors classes, elite college acceptance, awards, athletic accomplishments, invitations to dances. Yes all of these achievements (or lack of them) are easy to quantify but that doesn't make them valid assessors. We know they tell a very incomplete story. We know the super star athlete who is so stressed by the pressure he commits suicide or the over-achiever with the big smile who has a secret eating disorder. We also know these superficial measures of success do not predict future achievements or happiness. We've seen it all by now, the valedictorian who didn't do much; the homecoming queen thrice divorced; the captain of the football team who never surpassed the glory of his senior year. So how DO we know if we've been doing a good job?

My friend Christie Mellor has a list of how to measure success that I like very much in her new book"You Look Fine, Really" which deals with the self-doubt women in their 40's and 50's have that leads them to do silly things like get plastic surgery or inject their wrinkles with botulism. She also talks about the bigger self-doubts like wondering what on earth we've done with our life--doubts that make us wonder if we are successful. Then she lists a wonderfully insightful and reassuring check-list for us all. She suggests we:

"take a cold, hard look at what the heck you have been doing for the last forty or fifty years. Have you been learning new stuff? Have you become friends with some good people? Do your friends love you and do you love them? Do you laugh on a regular basis? Are you excited about what's coming next? Then you're a very, very successful person."

I thought of this list today after I talked to my friend and inspired by Christie I have a similar list--this one to determine if you have been a successful parent:

Take a good long look at your child. Is he kind? Is he respectful of you, teachers, grandparents, and his siblings? Does he help when he sees someone in need? Is he very good at something (it does not matter what--just one thing that is "his thing")? Does he know how to work hard to achieve a goal? Can he hold a conversation with an adult? Does he have at least one good friend? Is he happy? If so then you have been a very, very successful parent.

If you can say yes to all of that you've done a fine job. The rest--finding a fulfilling life vocation, building a loving family, and whatever hopes and dreams you have for your child will take care of itself because you have provided him with the basic building blocks.

So my friends, stop worrying, you look fine, really. And yes, you are very,very good parent.

Saturday, April 10, 2010


The waiter circles back for the third time to check on Jeff and me. We have been deep in conversation for some time so he says politely, "Do you have any questions?"

"Yes," I say looking up from Jeff, "Is our 14-year-old daughter too young to date?"

"Hmm, does her boyfriend drive or do you have to drive them everywhere?"

"He's 16 but doesn't have a license yet. We have to drive."

"Well, that's not dating, that's a playdate. Here's the wine list," he says and leaves us.
Yes, Grace, my Freshman has a boyfriend, Billy, a Junior, and love is in the air. This has caught us completely off guard. Whereas we know just the kind of boy Lilly (11) likes (short, muscular, dark, and slightly bad-boy), and Atticus has had girlfriends and friends who are girls since 6th grade, Grace never discusses boys even the movie star kind. Also, for some ridiculous reason, I thought because I was a late bloomer my daughter would be too. Silly me.
It's thrown the whole household off a little. Atticus mentioned that he saw Billy in school and wasn't sure how to react, "We made awkward eye contact," he said. Jeff seemed to turn into a bit of a neanderthal dad saying, "I need to meet this boy before you go out with him!" and I'm not sure what to do.
Only Lilly is sure of her supporting role. Over spring break, Grace and Billy did something every day. By Thursday they had run out of ideas. "Mom, what should Billy and I do today?" I had no idea.
Lilly jumped in, "Well let's see, you've been to the movies, had a picnic, walked around Lake Glenview, and he helped paint your bedroom. If this were a Disney movie today would be either wash the car and spray each other with the hose or have a mis-understanding and get in a fight day. You could have a mis-understanding about me--maybe Billy is threatened by our relationship."

"Thanks, but I think we'll just go to the park and he can push me on the swings," Grace replied.
When he came over one day to watch a movie in the basement I realized just how little I understood what my role was. "Lilly, go downstairs and make sure everything's okay," I said.
She looked puzzled, "What do you mean?"
"You know, spy on them and see if they're kissing or something."

"Well, aren't they supposed to be kissing?" she said reasonably.
"Umm, well, ummm," and again I realized I was in the weeds on this. In the end I just went down every half hour or so (the "or so" is key--predictability renders the exercise useless) and asked if they wanted a snack or something. I figured that somewhere between leaving them alone with a bottle of wine and candles and sitting between them like a human bundling board (look it up) lies my role.
So that's what's going on around here. Grace is twitterpated, Atticus feels uncomfortable, Lilly is coaching, and Jeff and I are so clueless we're reduced to asking single waiters at Wildfire for parenting advice.

Monday, April 05, 2010


My mother comes out from the kitchen and says to the room at large, "Who wants glaze on the ham?" Everyone's hand shoots up except my Grandmother who at 95 is understandably hard of hearing and fussing with her annoying hearing aid.

"What are you talking about?" she says to me as I am siting closest to her.

"Glazed ham!" I shout. She shakes her head no, she did not catch that. Now the room begins a ridiculous, yet all too familiar game of trying to get the hard of hearing person to hear you. My sister tries a little louder. "Glazed Ham!" My aunt tries, adding a bizarre hand gesture that presumably represents the drizzling of glaze on a ham. My children, lined up on the couch politely visiting with the adults are watching all of this are trying not to laugh but when Aunt Nancy adds the confusing hand gesture it is too much for them and they bust out laughing as does Jeff who is sitting with them.

"GLAZED HAM!" I shout. Grandma fusses with her hearing aid.

"It's talking to me," she says and I'm not sure what she means. Please lord, don't tell me she's hearing voices in her head. "It talks to me all the time. Tells me the batteries are going. Asks me about the settings I want."

"That's cool," I say.

She shakes her head no. "No it's not. I just want it to let me hear. Where's the button for that?"

My sister comes in from the kitchen with a note that says, "Mom wants to know if you want glaze on your ham." My grandmother reads it and registers a face that says, "Good lord is THAT all you were talking about?" She shrugs and says, "Sure."

This scene is familiar to me. As a child I was frequently in the room with an elderly relative with poor hearing. My paternal grandmother wore hearing aids for years and my great grandmother was stone deaf but wore the hearing aids in a futile attempt to hear something going on around her. I know all the tricks--speak clearly and directly. Try a different pitch rather than just talk louder. But even all of this does not always work.

My sister comments on how much this sucks. Why are hearing aids just never quite right? Unlike glasses, which seem to immediately correct the problem, I have never known anyone who popped those aids in their ears, looked around and said, "I can hear!" No, there is always the fussing and screeching and fumbling with batteries.

I already have a small amount of hearing loss--normal I assume for my age--but with the family history it is pretty much inevitable that some day I too will be staring blankly as my grandchildren shout "Glazed ham!" at me.

This will not be remotely fun for me but I hope at least it will be funny to my grandchildren. I know it is to my kids. This morning at the breakfast table I got a huge laugh from them all by just shouting, "Glazed ham!" Lilly added to the hilarity by imitating her aunt's hand gesture, the now accepted international sign for dribbling sugary syrup on a piece of pork.

Happy spring to you all. I hope you had a wonderfully glazed ham yourselves yesterday and I hope no one had to shout too much for you to hear them.