Archive | March, 2012

Rants, Raves and Pie

29 Mar

I’ve been told I’m intimidating and frankly, I’ve never understood it. I’m tiny, no more than 5’ 3” tall. I am fine-boned and thin in most places. I am, as they say, petite. But apparently, in speaking my mind, I am the mouse that roars. Maybe it’s my inner sense of confidence about my beliefs that makes them come out sounding like proclamations. I spend a lot of time thinking about the things I believe, so I suppose it’s natural that I’m convinced I know what’s best—and worst—for the world. Here, for your edification, are my latest edicts.

Shirtless guys! Heads up! The only man who looks good running shirtless is Zac Efron. You are not Zac Efron. Put your shirt back on. I don’t want to see my middle jiggle, let alone yours. In fact, seeing your pizza dough bouncing up and down is as distracting as Zac Efron shirtless.

Instead of running shirtless get a pedicure and run barefoot. Frankly, I’d rather look at your shoeless feet than your shirtless form. If you must display your body, make it your primped piggies.

Facebook posters: stop putting words in quotation marks unless you are referring to something someone said or to a specific word. I don’t know what you mean when you write that the Tea Party cited “costs” for Obamacare at a much higher rate than the President. If you intended, as you say, to indicate that you are skeptical about what was actually considered in the cost estimate, then you failed. Pretend I have no idea what you were trying to say, because I have no idea what you were trying to say.

Here’s a thought, have a Mexican Coke before you hit the reply button. Savor the good, old-fashioned taste of a cola beverage made with sugar—real sugar—the kind of stuff they make out of sugar cane. No high fructose corn syrup, no fake sweetener. Just Coke made the way it should be. While you’re sipping on your soda, ponder a more accurate way of getting your thoughts in words.

Son! I don’t have to tell you to have Mexican Coke. You’re addicted to the stuff so much so, in fact, that you feel I owe you a case every month. Never mind that I pay for music lessons to the tune of $200 each month. Never mind that more than $350 dollars is marching out of my checkbook in the next two months so you can join the marching band. And let’s just forget that driver’s ed will drive away with nearly $400 this summer. It’s not enough. No, now you want percussion lessons and a second car.

It’s all for my benefit, though, he assures me. The percussion lessons will get him into college (huh?) and he’ll drive his sister to gymnastics if he has a car. I used to think Alec Baldwin was a monster for calling his teenage daughter a “selfish, little pig.” Now I believe he may have been holding back.

Daughter! You can make your own breakfast. I assure you, it isn’t hard. Back in my time, as my son would say, I made my own breakfast when I was ten. Or my sister made my breakfast. I can’t be sure. I don’t remember back that far because, as my son would say, that’s a very long time ago. Still, my mother wasn’t making my breakfast. I’m sure that, like all things in my home, my daughter’s inability to make her own breakfast is my fault. I’ve made the breakfasts up until now, of course. But things are gonna change. From now on, you can pour your own cereal, heat up your own cinnamon buns and get your own juice. And then you can carry the barely-eaten food to the sink and throw it away yourself. I mean it!

Husband! When a child says, “Dad, hypothetically, if I (insert terrible teenage thing to do), what would happen?” the child is not speaking hypothetically. There is no “hypothetical.” There is only, “Dad, I did this really stupid thing and I’m afraid to admit it because I’m really unsure of how you’re going to react.” Further, husband, when son presents you with a hypothetical situation involving terrible teenage things, you should immediately report said situation to me.

Oh! More on Facebook posting! Stop it with the “Post this if you support whatever-the-cause-of-the-day-is.” Posting something on my wall doesn’t do a thing for whatever the cause is, especially if it’s something like breast cancer or child abuse. Do you really think there is anyone alive who doesn’t think children get abused or that child abuse is a terrible thing? If you really want to post something in support of your favorite cause, write a check, put it in an envelope with a stamp on it and post that.

Finally, when life has you down, there is nothing better to do than eat pie.  Say seeing Not Zac Efron running on your local trail has scarred your eyes. Eat pie. You’ll feel better. Say your child is sucking money from you faster than a Dyson. Eat pie. It’s cheaper than therapy. Say your daughter won’t make her own breakfast. Give her pie, then get yourself a piece. Say your husband presents you with some hypothetical teenage situation. Get some pie, real pie, because in life there are no hypothetical teenage situations and there is no hypothetical pie.

Bras, Condoms and a Drive in the Country

22 Mar

In the past week, I went for a drive, shopped for extra-large condoms and bought a training bra, all in the name of helping others. Before you picture me doing favors for unfortunate strangers though, I should note that these were not random acts of kindness. Each of the others I helped is intimately related to me.

From the time I became a mother, helping others has been a primary focus of my life. Admittedly, it isn’t always easy. Sometimes I’ve even resented it. Babies can’t feed themselves, change their own diapers, move themselves from place to place. And they can’t control when they need any of those things done. They don’t care if you haven’t slept more than two hours at a time since they were born. They need what they need when they need it and, if you’re any kind of decent parent, you help them get it.

Aging parents are, indeed, like children. Right now, my dad needs help moving from place to place, dealing with toileting and even feeding himself. The difference between caring for him and caring for my babies? Dad does care about who’s caring for him. He knows it’s tough and apologizes regularly. I sometimes wish he wouldn’t, but in the middle of a night where he’s gotten up three or four times convinced he needs to get ready for a meeting with an architect, it helps.

Being cute is a baby’s way of making its care less onerous. Dad has a sense of humor and even when he’s not trying, provides ample amusement. He can’t seem to remember his surgeon’s name, so calls him everything from Dr. Ballerina to Dr. Bubbalongname. The doctor’s name is Billimoria, but Dad’s names for him make me laugh, so I call him Bubbalongname, too.

Amusing Dad is far more difficult for me than caring for him. He doesn’t read, can’t really walk far, favors watching golf over cooking shows and doesn’t want to learn how to knit. I haven’t lived in my hometown for more than thirty years; I have no idea what to do there anymore. Neither does Dad.

There is one thing Dad has always loved to do though: go for a drive. Since I was a child, Dad’s been driving. Vacations were spent driving from Illinois to Florida, a two-day trip that Dad relished. I realize now that the drive was probably the most enjoyable part for Dad and not just for the thrill of making good time.

Dad loves driving for the process, not the destination. He doesn’t care where he’s going, as long as he’s going. I am goal driven; I hate the process. At the end of a long drive, there better be something worth my while because I’ve just spent a good deal of precious time doing nothing. So, getting in the car and having Dad say, “Drive out Route 14,” then promptly fall asleep is my idea of hell. Still, I get on 14 and drive, passing numerous turnoffs that look to offer promising destinations. Dad needs help satisfying his wanderlust and I provide it.

Helping my son has become complicated and conflict-ridden. This brings us to the condoms. Sometime ago, I bought my son a box of condoms, intending that he would check them out in order to be familiar with them when the time—preferably far, far in the future—came. There were three. He took one to school, put it (wrapped) in a friend’s sandwich and enjoyed the hilarity that ensued.

So, there were two condoms in my son’s side table drawer for quite a while. And then there was a girl friend. And then there was one condom. That afternoon, I met my son in the driveway and said, “Get in the car. I need to talk to you.” “Why?” he asked. “Get in the car,” I said. “We’ll go get ice cream.” Maybe my Dad is onto something with the driving thing, but a car ride is my go to parenting tactic when I need to confront—I mean—talk to, my son.

In the catalog of things a mother doesn’t want to hear, I think “I didn’t use it because it didn’t fit” is way up there with “I didn’t know the gun was loaded” and “You can’t get addicted to heroin with just one use.” I still can’t figure out how a condom doesn’t fit, but my son was insistent and is gloating about it to his dad. I find this rather unseemly, but figure that’s between the boys. In addition to stern lectures and profound disappointment, I provided condoms that should be large enough for my son, ego included. If he doesn’t improve his grades, I suppose Porn Star could be his fallback career.

And now we come to the training bra. My daughter is perched precariously on the verge of puberty. She can be as smart-mouthed as her older brother one minute and talking baby talk the next. She’s convinced she’s beginning to bud, but her pediatrician and I disagree. Still she’s tremendously modest and I was reminded of this when her shirt obeyed the laws of gravity, revealing most of her upper body as she hung upside down from the neighbor’s monkey bar. We hustled off to Target and secured “bralettes,” which are actually more like cut-off camisoles than bras.

She was understandably and adorably eager to wear one when we got home. In her haste to remove her shirt, she got stuck with it half over her head. Helping her was so easy, I nearly cried; I untied the sash she’d forgotten about. She popped on the bralette, threw on her shirt and ran outside, shouting, “I’m wearing a sport bra!”

The day will come when I need help the way my loved ones do now. I hope it’s later, rather than sooner. When it does, I hope it doesn’t involve extra-large condoms and training bras.

Why I’m sick of the self-esteem blame game

19 Mar

Here’s my column for the week at Naperville Patch, where I write about anything parenting related. This week, I write about “Am I Pretty?” videos that tween and teen girls are posting on YouTube.

These Are A Few Of My Favorite (Stupid) Songs

15 Mar

Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, but I judge music by the lyrics almost more than the melodies. Oh, I’ll occasionally love a song for a bass line or a guitar solo (Beat It, anyone?), but generally good lyrics seal the deal for me.

Some of my favorite songs, loved for their lyrics, are Billy Joel’s And So It Goes, When She Loved Me by Randy Newman and Bad Sneakers by Steely Dan. I like song lyrics that make a statement; Imagine comes to mind. I like song lyrics that make me feel all mushy about my kids. I can’t keep from crying when I hear Bruno Mars sing, “. . . and when you smile, the whole world stops and stares for a while” because that’s exactly what happens for me when I see my kids smile.

Funny lyrics can save a song for me. I run to Sexy and I Know It because it’s freaking hilarious and I need that at about mile three in a four mile run. I have a soundtrack for every run, in fact. Train in Vain and September are perfect for that first five-minute warmup, just the right tempo for a quick walk. Wanna Be Startin’ Something cues me that it’s time to pick up the pace. Towards the end, when I need an extra kick, there are the songs that push me to run just a little faster. Try running to Four Sticks, which has the added distraction of keeping up with that wacky time signature. A few songs make the playlist just because their titles make me smile in the context of running. There’s Long Road to Ruin and Everlong by the Foo Fighters.  Finally, I find it amusing to cool off to Hard To Concentrate, a Red Hot Chili Peppers tune.

My favorite lyrics, though, are stupid ones and there is such a plethora! Try this:

They say
Winners and losers are two of a kind
You know, it’s that way

Really, winners and losers are the same? I thought winners won and losers, well, they lose. Those seem to be diametrically opposed ideas. In fact, if I were teaching my second graders about antonyms, I’m pretty sure they’d pick “loser” as the opposite of “winner.” Probably not a big surprise that the band responsible for this idiocy has a really stupid name: Hamilton, Joe Frank, and Reynolds. Why some of the players are known by their first names and others by their last is a mystery. These are the same guys who were going to “lay me down and cry for a hundred years.” Do you think they’re still crying?

Journey’s Any Way You Want It is a gold mine of stupid lyrics. As if “any way you want it, that’s the way you need it” weren’t dopey enough, the song also includes “she loves the lovin’ things.” I used to think Steve Perry was singing, “she loves eleven things.” I’ll admit that’s even dumber than the actual lyrics, but not by much. Then there’s “she loves to laugh, she loves to sing, she does everything,” as if the lyricist hit writer’s block and only vague generalities came to mind. I picture him, tapping his pencil on the keyboard, desperately trying to come up with something that rhymes with “sing” but isn’t completely idiotic. How about “she loves a lot of bling” or “she loves those cherries Bing.”

I’m pretty sure Gino Vanelli had writer’s block when we wrote People Gotta Move. The chorus goes something like this:

You gotta move

You gotta move

You gotta move

You gotta move

People gotta move.

You gotta mo-ove

Gino should have gotten writer’s block on the first verse:

People come on and do it right
Shake your behinds like dynamite
Chuck all your worries and toss your thighs
To be tame is a pain when you realize

This song actually has potential for my running playlist. It’s about movement and I think it would make me laugh even in the middle of a calf cramp. I could hobble all the way home hardly aware of the pain in my lower leg while singing about tossing my thighs.

My daughter, son and I can’t agree if Selena Gomez sings a lot of stupid lyrics or not. In Naturally, she sings, “you know who you are and to me that’s exciting.” I think that’s just an awkward construction; I’d edit it out of a student’s paper. My son thinks it’s ridiculous. My daughter thinks Selena Gomez is da bomb and anything Selena says is solid gold.

I used to think the lyrics of Off The Chain were ridiculous. I mean, what does this mean: “The chemistry is crazy, and you make me feel amazing, and I can’t explain, your love is off the chain.” I’ve since learned that the lyrics aren’t ridiculous. I don’t get it because I’m too old. “Off the chain” is some new-fangled lingo for “da bomb.” So, my daughter wins the Selena Gomez debate.

We all agree that some of the craziest, laziest, frighteningly stupid lyrics come from Anthony Keidis and The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Here’s something from The Zephyr Song:

Did you meet your fortune teller?
Get it off with no propeller
Do it up, it’s always stellar
What a way to finally smell her

I’m pretty sure I know what he’s talking about when he sings about flying on his zephyr. “What a way to finally smell her”? I’d like to stay blissfully unaware of what that means. Then there’s this from Storm In A Teacup:

Come on come on baby
Let me show you what I’m talkin’ about
You try to be a lady
But you’re walkin’ like a sour kraut

A sour kraut? Does Anthony mean a German person with a bad disposition or is he referring to pickled cabbage? And if it’s the cabbage, how does it walk? Frankly, how does a crabby German walk? It doesn’t really matter, though. Every time I hear that lyric, I giggle. Lazy Lyricist Mr. Keidis may be, but his stupidity makes me laugh. And that’s what’s really special about stupid lyrics.

Please note: I’ve tried to include links to official videos where possible. If not, then I tried to choose a video that uploaded quickly for me. If it doesn’t for you, well, too bad. If you’ve got a little while, watch the Foo Fighters videos. They always star the guys from the band and they are always funny, sometimes hilarious, and really, really stupid.

Too smart for Special Ed? I don’t think so!

12 Mar

Here’s a link to my newspaper column. Today’s is about my struggles getting special education services for my son, who is both gifted and has ADHD.

Match Dot Mom

8 Mar

I have reached a truly pathetic stage in my life. I have so little contact with adult females I like that I almost consider the mail carrier a friend. She’s about my age, she’s sassy, she remembers things about me that we talked about months ago and she makes me laugh. Friend, right? Forget the fact that I’ve never seen the entire lower half of her body. I don’t have time to see her outside of her little white truck anyway.

When we moved to Naperville, our primary motives were good schools and a population that wouldn’t make our daughter feel like the speckled chicken in a farmyard full of Rhode Island Whites. While Oak Park prides itself on its diversity, it’s a reputation earned years ago by fighting white flight. I realize that Naperville is one of the places white people from Oak Park flew to, but it’s since become a destination location for people from around the world.

Of course, I had concerns moving here. In particular, I was worried about my son. The entire first year we lived here, he had no friends. The next year, he had one friend. Finally, in year three, he found his tribe and he’s been Mr. Popularity If You Like Outrageous And Obscene Humor. And really, who doesn’t?

My daughter was only two or three but she didn’t miss a friend-making beat. Within a year, she had friends at preschool and friends on the block. Within two years, she’d solidified BFF status with the girl who lives across our backyard. Obviously, the child doesn’t live in the yard, but what do you call the people who live in the house that abuts your backyard?

I never even thought about my husband and friends. He made some friends about forty years ago and is content to never again go through the agony of finding new ones. He never sees them; he’s fine with that.

I, on the other hand, like friends. I had friends and family in Oak Park. (Ok, my sister technically lives in River Forest, but I think of River Forest as a subdivision of Oak Park.) My Oak Park friends and family worried about me making friends. I didn’t. I should have.

It’s not that Napervidlians aren’t friendly. I’ve found plenty of friendly people. It’s not that there aren’t PLUs (People Like Us) here. There are lots of people like us. The problem is that the place is so darn big that actually meeting friendly people who are like us is a job.

I tried church. It worked in Oak Park, so I figured it would work here. So I went to church. I joined the choir. At the first choir rehearsal, I sat next to a friendly alto my age. “Hm ,” I thought, “potential friend material.” She noted that I was reading a fantasy novel during break. She talked about her most recent visit to Comic Con, where she dressed as a particular Star Trek alien and snagged autographs from her favorite science fiction writers. She invited me to join her next time. I never went back. So, not only was I out a friend, I was out a church, too.

I tried the PTA. Think fundraisers and petty fiefdoms. Think poking sharp sticks in your eyes.

I finally made some really good friends when I went to grad school. It’s hard to spend two years with a group of people discussing educational philosophy and bitching about crappy professors without forming some really satisfying friendships. And, get this: we were the cool kids! I’ve never been a cool kid before. We were even the mean girls for a while. It was a gas!

Grad school came to an end and we’ve stayed in touch. Though I’ve failed to find a full-time teaching job, I did meet people I’ll consider friends for life. And it only cost $30,000! Now, if we could just get together more than once or twice a year.

For now, I’m pulling back from the friend hunt. My plate is pretty full anyway. When I’m ready, I could start really local. BFF’s mom is pretty cool and the awesomest neighbor ever. But I’m afraid it’s sort of like having a really good male friend. Take it to the next level and it could be great. Or you could lose a really good friend. I’m not ready to lose the awesomest neighbor ever.

Come summer, I might take a chance and have her over for a margarita in the gazebo. We’ll see. Until then, you’ll find me peeking through the curtains Monday through Saturday, on the lookout for a little white truck.

I’ve had it with ugly political talk. Have you?

5 Mar

Here’s a link to my column in today’s Naperville Patch. I’m sick of how we talk politics in the US. You don’t have to be from Naperville to find my comments relevant.

Don’t Hold The Mayo

1 Mar

I never really liked sandwiches. I was a hot lunch kid in elementary school, although this may have had something to do with my mother’s great distaste for cooking of any kind. I still would rather eat something that requires a knife and fork than a variation on the Earl’s invention, with the exception of the exceptional BLT from Buzz Café in Oak Park.

So I am more than a little annoyed to find myself part of the Sandwich Generation, that lucky group of people taking care of aging—and often ill—parents, while still nurturing nested offspring. In the words of me, it sucks.

It wouldn’t be so bad, I think, if it just sucked for me, but it sucks for everyone involved.

Let’s take the aging, ill parent. The ham and cheese in his sandwich scenario, he’s slogging through chemo, radiation, insomnia, tremors, muscle rigidity, chemically-induced anorexia, nightly enteric feeding because of the anorexia, and boredom. He’s on a break from cancer treatment, a little physical vacation in preparation for massive reconstruction of his digestive system to remove the tumor from his esophagus.

The whole wheat and white bread holding his life together are my sister and brother, respectively. They do the heavy lifting, which often requires heavy lifting, of caring for Dad during the week. This consisted of driving him to doctors’ offices, hospitals and treatment centers, preparing his meals, coaxing him to eat his meals, and attempting to keep him awake during the day so he would sleep at night.

With the break from treatments, there is nothing much to break up the day, so now my sibs are looking for things to keep from shooting themselves in the head out of  boredom while providing a stimulating environment for Dad. My sister, an artist, has developed a homegrown art therapy program that consists of her encouraging his artistic talents through watercolor painting. My father is an engineer by training. My sister sets the stage, supplying Dad with brushes, paper and water. She encourages him, saying things like, “Dad, you really have a feel for the materials.” Dad, playing along because he’s that kind of guy, says something like, “My heart isn’t in this.” My sister then posts Dad’s artwork to Facebook, titling it “My heart isn’t in this.” Everyone’s happy-ish.

As boring as the days may be, the nights are full of activity. For the first two or three hours after hitting the hay, Dad sleeps an average of 10 minutes at a stretch, waking to do any combination of the following: readjust the sheets, walk to the center of the room then walk back to the bed, call out for confirmation that he is in the bed, or pee. These do not necessarily happen in a fortuitous sequence.

Once the initial settling in period is over, Dad will sleep for about 1 to 2 hours at a stretch. Naturally, so does the caregiver.

Obviously, no normal human could maintain this schedule for an extended period of time. My sister does a two-day shift, my brother another. Due to excellent financial planning on my dad’s part, he is able to afford a professional caregiver two nights each week.

And where do I fit? I am the lettuce and tomato in Dad’s weekly care. I’m sure everyone could get along without my assistance, but I’m really good to have around. I take the weekends. From sundown on Saturday to sundown on Sunday, Dad and I hang out together. Since I don’t paint and Dad doesn’t want to learn how to knit, we watch golf together. My dad doesn’t golf and I’d rather rub sand in my eyes, but we watch golf. My brother and sister get a break and I get to feel less guilty about them doing so much during the week.

If I’m the lettuce and tomato at Dad’s house, I’m the challah at home. And between my jobs, my kids, my pets and my husband, I’m feeling sliced pretty thin lately.

The jobs—there are three—are probably the biggest drain. See, each of them is the kind Rick Perry is so proud to have created: low pay, few hours and fewer benefits. But, hey, they don’t begin to pay the bills, so there’s that.

The kids are mostly doing ok. The son can be counted on to call Jimmy John’s or put a pizza in the oven. He can also be counted on to bring his girlfriend home from school, but that’s another blog post. The daughter is showing some signs of wear around the edges. She recently got unlimited texting thanks to her brother’s $300 worth of overage. So while I’m at Job One, I’m treated to messages every fifteen minutes. The most recent spate started with “I had a BAAAAAD day” and went through “I’m sad,” “I want to cry,” and “Why should I tell you?” until I had her dad call her to see what was wrong. “Nothing,” she replied to him.

The pets should soon be less of a drain. I think it’s only fair that with all the angst she’s added to my life, the new girlfriend appears ready to provide a home for the world’s worst cat. There is still the issue of the dog’s confounding penchant for soiling in his crate, but I can only expect so many serendipities in one lifetime, I suppose.

The husband is a wonder, which sounds sort of like something you’d say about an ugly baby, but he’s picking up what slack he feels comfortable with, trying to add skills that weren’t critical until now and, most important of all, being Mr. Good Supportive Husband. He’s even agreed that Mr. Perry can have back one of his jobs, so I’ll be saying goodbye to Stalker Boy soon.

I’m probably never going to love the life I’m living right now, but I’m reminded of one sandwich that I crave. Take two slices of white bread. Slather both with as much Hellman’s mayonnaise as they can hold without dripping on the counter. Place a slice of cold meatloaf in the middle. Enjoy. Proof of one of my life’s organizing principles: enough mayonnaise can make just about anything bearable.

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