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Incense, (Peppermints) and Guns

12 Jul

Photo: Robby Mueller

You would have thought I was negotiating to form my own drug cartel, what with the references to automatic weapons, marijuana and LSD. Throw in the odd request to stop at Burger King to appease a serious case of munchies and it’s no wonder I was feeling a little like I’d been dropped into an Al Pacino movie.

The conversation up front was all about allowing incense burning in our house. I graduated from high school in 1976. As I told my son, “I know about incense! First it’s incense and then it’s marijuana and pretty soon you’re a has-been rock star chatting about your dysfunctional family with Dr. Drew.” Ok, maybe I didn’t really say that, but only because I was interrupted by my daughter, who wants a gun.

I was prepared for the conversation with my son. I’ve lived through decades of don’t-do-drugs messages. It started with my mom saying, “Don’t do drugs,” rolled through “this is your fried egg on drugs,” then it was “Just say ‘no’ ” and I’m now firmly established in “Parents: the anti-drug” territory. As an anti-drug, I am supposed to be a powerful force in preventing my son’s appearance on Celebrity Rehab.

I am finding, though, that the anti-drug, like all things good for you, is best taken in small doses. So, the drug talk is a hit and run operation. I wait for an opening, drop in a “don’t do drugs because blah, blah, blah” and move off the topic. I have a short list of reasons for not doing drugs and I rotate them. One day I might use, “Drugs are illegal and you’d be eaten alive in jail.” Another day it might be, “Drugs impair your judgment. Just look at what the hippies wore!” Frequently, it’s “If you die stupid, I won’t go to your funeral and I’ll cry forever.” This one is particularly useful when a celebrity dies stupid.*

The incense issue came to the fore over a video game tournament my son has planned. My son isn’t big on organizing events, so when he decided an all day Zelda marathon was the way to while away the summer, I was onboard. Bewildered, but on board. Each of his friends was assigned an iteration of The Legend of Zelda that he would play through while the others watched. One friend wants to burn incense to “help him concentrate.” I try not to judge, but as the anti-drug, I am highly attuned to disturbances in my son’s force field. This friend is also enamored of the Beatles’ Maharishi Whatshisname period and wants a sitar.

So, it was easy to just say “No” to the incense. The Zelda marathon will go on, but there won’t be anything other than Axe body spray hindering my pot-detecting senses.

That brings us to the gun.

There are certain conversations you expect to have when a daughter comes into your world. There’s the one about how it isn’t nice to chase the boys and kiss them when they don’t want to be kissed. There’s the one about strangers with puppies. A little later, there’s the one about bra-lettes. And a little later than that, there’s the one about, you know, THAT.

I never expected to have a conversation about guns with my daughter. I know, shame on my feminist self.

Seems all the girls have guns now. Nerf guns, that is. But my daughter won’t be content with the little manually powered pump action gun. See, my daughter aspires to be a ninja like the ones in those bad Asian action movies. She’s already well on her way. Combining her gymnastics training with a friend’s Nerf gun, she’s turned target practice into something out of The Matrix.

She’s very good, she assures me, at performing a cartwheel, friend’s Nerf gun in hand. On landing, she executes a perfect bull’s eye into the target. The pump-action model is holding her back, though. “I have to stop and pump it up to shoot again,” she complained. The ideal gun, she assures me, will allow her to execute cartwheel after cartwheel, shooting all the while.

Her dream gun is the NERF™ Dart Tag Swarmfire Blaster. It has “a full-auto 20-dart attack! . . . and a rotating barrel for rapid blasting and a removable stock for high-mobility attacks!” Obviously, the euphemistically named “Blaster” also comes with lots of exclamation marks.

This cartwheel/weapon maneuver could well prepare her for a career in the military.

Here’s the fly in my daughter’s machine gun ointment, though. It will be a cold day in hell when I buy her a gun of any kind. And it will be a colder day when I let her sign on for a tour of duty. It’s not just the getting killed in action—or inaction—that scares me. It’s the fact that she’s more likely to be raped by her comrades than killed by any foreign enemy. Just for the record, I took the same stance with my son. No guns; no military duty.

Anticipating outrage from several quarters, I do not in any way believe that military service is not honorable. My dad and brother served and my niece is in the Navy. I realize, too, that my kids could die any day by just about any means. Still, I’m not out there pushing them in front of buses just to tempt the fates.

So, there will be no guns and no incense. Peppermints might be nice, though.

* Dying stupid includes: suicide with or without weapons, accidental overdose, accidental overdose involving either of the Olsen twins, aspirating vomit, driving cars into solid objects, stepping in front of buses, getting involved with drug addicts and being accidentally killed, allergic reaction to burning incense, choking on sandwiches, etc.

How to Drive Yourself Crazy This Summer

25 Jun

Enroll two kids in a few summer activities and let the good times roll. I’m not going to add up the mileage I’m putting on my little red Rav; it’s enough to tote up the cost of driving them. One more reason to look forward to the school year starting!

Here’s the link to this week’s column:

Why I’m Not Buying My Kid a Car

4 Jun

I was not given a car when I turned 16, when I graduated from high school or when I graduated from college. In fact, I have never been given a car. So, maybe it’s jealousy I feel when I see my son’s 16-yo friends getting cars–brand new ones!– but I think it might be something more sensible. Here’s my Monday newspaper column on the subject.

Did you have a car in high school? Who bought it? I used the family car until I bought my own.

Snoop Dogg Got Nothin’ On Me

30 Apr

I always thought it would be cool to be a spy and will admit to opening a few medicine cabinets in friends’ houses. Unfortunately, no one ever had anything like microchip plans or other valuables to sell. So, teaching and writing for me. Speaking of writing, here’s the link to my parenting column:

This week’s topic is covert operations in the familial sphere. In other words, spying on your kids.

Say you want some evolution?

2 Apr

I thought the idea of evolution was pretty much established as the way species work in our world. But, that’s not what I found when I looked into the subject. Here in the United States, you just can’t tell if your kids are getting the proper foundation in this foundational concept in modern science.

Here’s the link to my Naperville Patch column on the subject.

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.

Screaming Kids Make Me Want To Scream

27 Feb

Here’s the link to my latest Naperville Patch article. It’s new, it’s fresh, it’s about screaming children.What’s not to like?


God, Help Me! They Want To Help!

12 Dec

My husband calls me Thor. He does this partly because I am one-fourth Danish but mostly because I will try to do anything myself before asking for help. I move furniture. I haul wood. I reach for things on the top shelf.

I don’t have some “I am an island” complex, but I really would rather do many things myself. I like working hard and it feels good to be independent. Frequently, too, I’ve found the help people want to give doesn’t really feel helpful to me.

When I’m in the middle of making a big-deal dinner, say Thanksgiving, the last thing I want to do is find some job for someone to do. Someone comes at me with a “what can I do to help” while I’m in the middle of trying to strain the gravy and I’m likely to feel more irritated than grateful.

A friend pointed out to me, after asking how she could help with our Passover Seder preparations, that I was delusional. Preparing a seder, even a small one, is a lot of work. I said I did not need help. If my life were a western, this woman would be the rancher’s wife, ready to shoot marauding varmints right between the eyes. She looked at me with a “Puh-leeze” cock of her head and said, “You need help.” I felt her will seep into me and my head nodded in acquiescence. I accepted help. It was painful.

I’ve since developed a strategy that allows the helpful to help and me to keep my sanity. I plan in advance what tasks will be delegated and what things only I can do. Ok, that sounds really arrogant, but when I’m making dinner at my house, I get to decide who’s going to season the sauces and who’s going to set the table.

I helped around the house when I was a kid and I expect my own children to as well. Finding things they can help with that are truly helpful has been a bit of a challenge, though. My daughter believes it’s helpful to run a day spa in the family room on the weekend we’ve planned to decorate the house for Christmas. While my husband, son and I were moving furniture and digging boxes out of the crawlspace, my daughter and her best friend were coercing us into making massage appointments. An hour later, my husband was getting a massage in the family room, while I struggled and cursed to get a tree made of wire and green plastic bristles to look like something other than a tree made of wire and green plastic bristles.

When it comes to getting help, I may have painted myself into a corner with the boy who cried wolf. I’ve been so insistent that I don’t need help that I don’t get it when I truly do. Not too long ago, I was cleaning a particularly heavy and unwieldy fountain pump at the kitchen sink. Every summer, I convince myself that a fountain is exactly what our deck needs and I contrive one out of the variety of pots, tubing and buckets that proliferate in my garage.

While the fountains are usually charming, they generate copious amounts of algal slime. Cleaning the pump is, therefore, a rather nausea-inducing task. So, I was at the sink, attempting to clean the pump without regurgitating lunch. Pump clean, I transferred it from one hand to another while reaching for a towel. The pump fell on my big toe. It hurt. I have a particular string of profanities that I only utter under extreme duress. I’m pretty sure I uttered them.

Once the initial surge of adrenaline subsided, I assessed the damage. My toenail was crushed, awash in blood. I pushed aside the visions of blood and algae slime and found the calm center of my mom brain. Efficiently but painfully, I washed the wound, bound it with a clean towel and made an ice pack. I hobbled over to the couch to watch Food Network while I iced my toe.

I turned on the TV to find my son had left it in video game mode. Now, I could have hobbled over to the TV, fixed the viewing mode and hobbled back to the couch. No, I thought. There are people in this house, my toe hurts, those people can help me. So I shouted, “Help!” My son, I knew, was in his room listening to music. My daughter was in mine, watching Sponge Bob. I shouted louder. “HELP!” No response. “HELP! HELP! HELP!” I yelled. I yelled for about a minute. Finally, I gave up. I hobbled over to the TV, hobbled back to the couch and iced my toe while watching Paula Deen make something like pork shoulder donuts.

Later, I asked my kids, “Did you hear me yelling for help?”

“You were yelling for help?” my son asked.

“Yes. I was. For quite some time.” I glowered at him.

“My door was shut,” he said.

“You could have heard me,” I said. “I was yelling pretty loud.”

He covered his lack of concern by deflecting guilt to his sister.

“Well, what about her?” he asked and pointed out that the door to my bedroom was open the entire time. My daughter could well have heard me from the very first pitiful cry for help.

“Did you hear Mommy?” She looked at the floor.

“Yes,” she said. “But Mr. Crabbs was yelling at the same time, so I couldn’t be sure.”

“You didn’t think you should come downstairs to make sure Mommy was ok?”

“No,” she said. “I really wanted to see Sponge Bob.”

We had a talk about empathy, thoughtfulness, caring for others and being grounded.

This Thanksgiving, my son actually asked “What can I do to help?” He was serious; I was astounded. My daughter made our signature ground cranberry and orange relish, operating the food grinder by herself.

I’m not confident yet that I’d win out over Sponge Bob, but I’m holding out hope for the future.

Welcome to the Library! Now, Please Shut Up.

7 Nov

Naperville is supposed to have the best library in America. Now, I’m sure that this ranking is determined in such a way that there are at least three asterisks. Still, it’s a pretty good library. There are three branches, all of them fairly convenient to my house. I can check out a book from any branch and return it to any other. They even have these totally automated checking out thingies that make cool beeping noises when you scan your books. When I go to the library alone, I get a secret thrill over not having to share the scanning fun with my kids.

We use the library at lot since we’ve been trying to live like church mice instead of fat cats. Just about every book or movie we want is there for the picking. Even if we have to wait a bit, the online hold system will let us know the minute our media is available. My son has assembled a large enough music collection that he believes he is entitled to an iPod with a much larger memory. I laugh at him.
Even with all of its wonderful conveniences, I miss the library of my childhood. It probably didn’t have near as many books; I don’t recall it being all that big. The catalog was kept on index cards. The music was all on vinyl. I have a particularly fond memory of my sister, headphones on, belting out “da na na na na na na na” for the entire library’s amusement while she listened to the theme song from “Peter Gunn.”

The fact that my sister could cause a ruckus gets to the root of my problem with the Naperville Public Library.

It’s loud.

The library my sister and I used as children was quiet. It was as quiet as, well, a library. One strolled the stacks silently. If you happened to be at the library with a friend, or sister, hand signals and really exaggerated mouthing of words stood in for talking. Whispering was reserved for communications at the circulation desk. Any noise louder than a sniffle was met with a “Sh!,” hissed from the nearest librarian.

Walk into the Naperville Public Library and you would hardly know you are walking into a library. There are people talking in the lobby. There are people talking at the library catalog computers. There are people talking in the stacks. There are people talking at the tables. And they are all talking with their regular talking voices.

This is how bad things are at the Naperville Public Library: there is a Quiet Reading Room. Having a quiet reading room in a library is kind of like having a coffee drinking room in a Starbucks. I understand why they need the room, though. People talk on their cell phones in my library.

When my son was little, we went to the library often. I would take him to the children’s department and read him books. See, it’s ok to read books—quietly—in the children’s department. Lots of the kids can’t read yet. Even when they can read to themselves, kids still like to be read to. I like to be read to. I don’t think you’ve had the complete Harry Potter experience until you’ve had the books read to you by Jim Dale.

At the risk of sounding like a crank, parents today just don’t care about proper library manners. My kids make fun of me when I talk like this. My son sucks in his lips and pokes out his lower jaw, giving himself an oldman-ish toothless grin. Then he says, “Back in my time . . .” It’s very funny and I get his point, but when it comes to libraries, I’m not bending.
Back in my time, children didn’t scream in the library, even in the children’s department. They didn’t run in the library either, or chase their siblings. Elderly patrons didn’t fear for their hips because a rug rat could come barging out the front door at any minute. And parents didn’t shout at their children to get them to stop running.

Back in my time, no one wrote in a library book. I’ve checked out books that I really wanted to read and found it impossible because some blockhead thought it would be ok to write in the book. Even though said blockhead wrote very lightly and in pencil, as if that would make it ok, my eye was inexorably drawn to whatever blockhead had underlined. Reading the book became an exercise in analyzing blockhead, pondering who would underline this particular sentence when I would have underlined that one. I knew it was time to return the book when I became angry that blockhead didn’t see the book my way.

Back in my time, no one dog-eared pages. I once thought that the books I was reading that looked like they’d been to the kennel were used books, maybe donated by some charitable book lover. Recently, though, I checked out a brand-spanking new volume that was still on the best-seller list. I know the library got this book fresh. There were dog-eared pages. For crying out loud, ANYTHING can be a bookmark. Sure, fancy bookmarks are fun but a magazine subscription card works as well. So does a Target receipt or even an unwrapped mini-pad.

I realize that everyone in Naperville pays taxes to support the library, but, people, that doesn’t mean you own the books, can talk in the stacks or can let your kids use it as a playground. While I refer to the library as “my library,” I know that I share it with hundreds of thousands of other people. Back in my time, everyone knew that.

Two Steaks, Twenty Dollars and My Mind

15 Aug

When I moved to Naperville, I hated not knowing where I was. Oh, I knew where my house was in relation to the major highways, but I didn’t know the city the way I had known Oak Park. To be fair, Oak Park covers 4.7 square miles directly to the west of Chicago. Like Chicago, its streets are straight, running north/south or east/west. Naperville covers 35.5 square miles. There are a handful of straight streets, mostly in the older, downtown area. In the newer sections, and there are lots of newer sections, the streets have been designed to curve and wind gently through the rolling countryside, I suppose to make up for the fact that all of our houses look exactly alike. Actually, there isn’t much countryside left out here and any rolling is manmade.

Naperville seems to specialize in streets that take you right back where you started. In my own neighborhood, there are numerous “courts,” or cul de sacs. You enter and exit from the same point. That’s actually pretty straightforward. More confusing are the “circles,” which are streets that have two points of origin. My husband, who routinely blew off our street when we lived in Oak Park, would appreciate it if we lived on a circle. Then he’d have two chances to get driving home right.

For a while after we moved, knowing how to get Target was sufficient. Soon, though, I wanted more mastery over my geography. With no lake to serve as a point of reference, Naperville proved a geographical nightmare.  So, I would get lost. On purpose. What with the circles, cul de sacs, unincorporated areas and streets that change names mid-street, it’s pretty darned easy to get lost in Naperville. Obviously, I always found my way back home.

I haven’t always been lucky in loss. Frankly, I’m a world-champion loser. I am resisting the urge to write, “Just ask my kids,” but, clearly, I am losing that battle with myself. See? I really am a loser.

I have lost all kinds of things. Recently, I lost two steaks. They were big fat rib-eyes, grass-fed, that I snatched on sale at Whole Foods. In the pantheon of things that will stop your heart cold, rib-eyes are up there with an air embolism and Tori Spelling without makeup. I make myself believe that, if I buy them at Whole Foods, the good I do the Earth balances the evil I do to my body in a sort of personal health “cap and trade” program.

I got the steaks home and then they disappeared. For days, I rummaged through the refrigerator and the freezer hunting down the steaks. Eventually, I gave up, assuming I’d find the steaks the same way I found a pound of hamburger I lost when my son was a baby—by smell. But, the house didn’t start smelling like the stockyards on a summer afternoon so soon enough, I forgot the steaks.

I don’t just lose meat; I lose money. Now, I’m not talking about making bad investments. I don’t need to invest one cent to lose money. I lose money just by letting it out of my hands. The problem is that I don’t let the money out of my hands in a controlled, habitual manner. If I were to take money that is given to me and immediately place it in my wallet, I would not lose money. But I don’t, thinking that if I do, I will then spend the money. So, I put money all over the place. I put it in my back jeans pocket. I put it in my jacket pocket. I put it in the cupboard with the coffee cups. I put it on top of my clothes drawers in the closet. I put it in any of the three or four pockets inside my purse. I put it on counters, in drawers, in cups, in nooks and in crannies

I love winter, but not because the snow is pretty and covers up all the ugly gray drabness that is Chicago after autumn. I love winter because I find money in just about every pocket of every coat I own. The first few weeks of winter are like winning the lottery. Every day, I find anywhere from one to ten dollars waiting to make my day. So far, most of the money I’ve lost has come back in due time. Still, there is a twenty-dollar bill floating around the house somewhere.

I lose my keys, but everyone loses their keys. I lose whatever book I’m currently reading at least two times per day. I’ve found them all sorts of places, like in the gazebo, under the dining room table, in the car. Once, I found a paperback on a shelf under the sink in the bathroom.

Something I’ve never lost, though, is my mind. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder sometime after I had my son. I’ve been treated for depression. I’ve been treated for dysthymia. Never, in all the years I’ve been treated for my myriad of mental maladies, have I misplaced my mind. Frankly, there were times I wished I could. I was naturally curious then when I discovered iCarly, the kids’ show on Nickelodeon, would be airing an episode titled “iLost My Mind.”

I was warned that this episode would present a terrible picture of mental illness and institutions that treat it. Mental health support groups implored parents to boycott the show. Of course, my daughter wanted to watch it. So we did what we’ve always done when my kids wanted to watch something I was pretty sure was crap. We watched it together.

“iLost My Mind” is crap. I did not say, “I told you so.” We did talk about what was funny and what was not. Not funny: dirty walls with signs on them saying things like “Don’t eat the puzzle pieces” and “Friends don’t kill friends.” Funny: a male character dressed up as one of the other character’s moms. My daughter admitted that she understood that delusional people don’t act the way the characters in the show did but she thought one of them was funny anyway. And, we talked about how people with mental illnesses are a lot more like her mom than the characters in the show.

I found the steaks. They were delicious. I have no idea where the $20 went. Perhaps my son knows. And my mind? Firmly and permanently ensconced in my skull.

© Copyright 2011 by Janice Lindegard. All rights reserved.

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