Tag Archives: Naperville

Head of the Class

9 Aug

Image: Designtechtonics.biz

Not too long ago, in my newspaper column, I wrote about my son’s friends being given cars by their parents. I had heard that kids with cars—and I don’t mean Power Wheels—was pretty common here, but didn’t really believe it until one newly minted driver after another was given a car. And we’re not talking old cars in funky colors, like the mustard yellow Pinto that was my first car. Two of my son’s friends were given new Priuses. Or is it Prii?

I wrote that no kid should be given a car, especially a kid who just learned how to drive. Let that kid buy a car and he’d appreciate it, care for it, drive it with caution, fill it with gas using his own money. Until he could do that, I wrote, my son would be asking to borrow the family car. I mentioned that we can’t afford to buy our son any car, but even if we could, there’s no way in hell that we would.

I was accused of having class envy. You need to understand where I live to fully appreciate this accusation. Money magazine has named Naperville one of the 10 best places in America to raise children—more than once! There are a lot of reasons to like Naperville: good schools, nice houses, lovely downtown near the historic district. A river even runs through it.

In Naperville, you could live here.

With all that good publicity from Money magazine, lots of people moved here in the past 20 years or so. So, you’ve got the old timers who mostly live in the old neighborhoods. Back when I was a kid, houses in those neighborhoods were very affordable for a young family; my own family almost moved there. If you moved here in the good old days, your $25,000 house is probably worth more than $500,000 now. Wealthier people have moved here and built even more expensive houses. And less wealthy people started moving here when builders started turning farmland into subdivisions; I live in one of those. Today, we even have town houses, condos and (gasp) apartments.

Or you could live here.

Or here.

What started as a pretty nice small (white) town has become a city of more than 140,000 people replete with every race, religion and socio-economic grouping. We even have a prostitution ring and a heroin problem.

In that context, I understand the anxiety that pushed an obviously wealthy long-time resident to think that when I said “ there is no way I’m giving my son 24/7 access to something that is a proven killer, particularly of boys” what I actually meant is “rich people suck.”

I don’t think rich people suck—well, not all of them. There are rich people that suck and poor people that suck. I’m equal opportunity when it comes to thinking someone sucks. So, me with class envy? Nah.

I have had several other types of envy. Like kid envy. There are children who make their beds every morning, get their own breakfast and go happily to school. There are children who join in school activities, practice their music lessons, do their homework and help around the house. There are children who respect their parents, walk the dog, get good grades and brush their teeth. These are not my children.

Frequently, I find myself wishing that my son were more involved in activities at school, such as anything. And I would love for my daughter’s room to not look like Lord Voldemort could hide in it. But, then I wouldn’t have a son who calls me on his cell phone and says, “Hey, Mom. I’m sitting on a couch on the corner of Sanctuary and Lowell.” When I drive to said corner, I do indeed find my son sitting on a discarded sofa, kicking back like a football fan on a Sunday afternoon.

I have had penis envy, too. When I worked in public relations, I made a fairly decent salary. We bought our first house on it. But, if I had a penis, I would have made $25,000 more. That would have also made us a gay couple, but we’re ok with that. Hell, we adopted our second child and lived in Oak Park for a while.

Do I even need to mention shoe envy? Massive quantities of shoe envy here. My sister and her daughter have truly gorgeous shoes and they wear the same size, doubling the number of shoes available to each of them. Not fair, right? When my husband finally got his PR business off the ground, I could buy truly gorgeous shoes, too. I paid lots of money for some pairs. I still swoon over the Italian ones made completely of leather. Does that mean I envy myself my shoes? I think it might.

I certainly envy my daughter’s shoes. She has narrow feet. With a lot of obese children in the US, they make cheap shoes really wide these days. So, the Empress—I mean, my daughter—can only shop at the pricey children’s shoe store in town, or Nordstrom.

But the envy I’m most likely to suffer is Writer’s Envy. Like most writers, I read a lot. I read all kinds of things, from crappy fantasy to classic literature. And when I find truly good writing, I want to crawl in a hole and never touch my computer keyboard again. I feel like Mike Myers and Dana Carvey meeting Aerosmith in Wayne’s World. “I am not worthy,” I think, “I am not worthy.”

Being bipolar actually has its benefits in dealing with Writer’s Envy. Reading something truly fabulous will send me into a tailspin. But all I have to do is wait for the next mania train to pull into the station and I’ve got myself convinced I can write a bestseller . . .in a month . . .while still working . . .and raising my kids. You jealous yet?

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How Old is Old Enough For Home Alone?

18 Jun

How old were you when you first stayed home alone? My kids think it’s great. I think it’s a terrible idea, imaging every kind of disaster possible. So, of course, I wrote about it. Here’s the link:

http://naperville.patch.com/articles/how-old-is-old-enough-to-stay-home-alone

Do you remember staying home alone? How old were you? I had an old sister and younger brother so was seldom home alone. Maybe that’s why I love being alone now. Hm….yes! Let’s blame it on the siblings!

Battle Hymn of the Pussy Mom

3 May

In my continuing effort to assess the parenting book competition, I recently read “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” Lots and lots of people read the book; lots and lots of people thought the author, Amy Chua, a monster for how she treated her children. I’ll confess that I had an ulterior motive in reading the book, though. As the white European-extracted mother of a Chinese girl, I’ve been conflicted about how to raise her since the day I first bounced her on my hip. Maybe, I thought, I can learn something about raising a Chinese daughter from a Chinese mother.

Not that conflicted feelings about motherhood are something new. Second Guessing is the dirty little secret of every mother I know, right up there with buying print blouses not because they are pretty but because they can hide a boatload of baby spit up.

For me, Second Guessing started with giving my son his first bottle of formula. I remember filling the bottle, breast-feeding failure seeping out of me. The stuff smelled vile. How, I thought, could I feed this poisonous brew to my boy? What about his immunities? What about his IQ? Never mind his “failure to thrive,” which was obviously the fault of my faulty boobs, what about my mom cred? The little heathen sucked the stuff down like an alcoholic after a three-week dry out. Now, he’s seldom sick and his IQ is just fine, but I still feel like Bad Mommy every time I see a successful breast-feeder and her chubby offspring.

Bad Mommy still visits. Hell, I see her more often than I see my husband. She’s particularly active, where my daughter is concerned, around Chinese New Year. My husband and I have managed to cobble together a family life that incorporates his Jewish-ness, my Catholic background and a little sprinkling of Buddhism for flavor. We celebrate Passover using a haggadah we wrote ourselves that mashes together e e cummings, socialism and the traditional Passover stories. We have a Christmas tree that has some Chinese ornaments and Stars of David scattered among the bells, Santas and South Park characters. A statue of Buddha is the first thing you see when you enter our home. Well, that and a pile of shoes and backpacks.

But Chinese New Year? From an auspicious beginning of a party with like-constructed families, complete with dragon dance, we’ve devolved into dinner at a local Chinese restaurant. Sure, the kids get some money presented in a red envelope and I hang a string of fake firecrackers on the front door for ten days, but I’ll be the first to admit that our Chinese New Year celebration is pretty hollow.

Maybe, I thought, it’s pointless to try to celebrate holidays that I’m only familiar with through what I read on the Internet. We’ll go to Chinatown. We’ll watch the parade. We’ll go to that big, expensive banquet the Families with Children from China puts on every year. I made all these virtual plans forgetting that Chinese New Year takes place in winter and we have no money. It’s freaking cold in winter in Chicago. We’re broke. Hello, Square One.

Taking a different tack was easier once we moved to Naperville. One reason I chose this suburb is the concentration of Asians, Chinese in particular, who live here. The only area with more Chinese than Naperville is Chinatown. Since we came here for the schools and our son isn’t Chinese, we decided Naperville was the better option, though it still feels pretty foreign.

What I immediately learned on moving here is that celebrating Chinese New Year and eating Chinese take out every six months aren’t the essence of growing up Chinese. No, if my daughter was to truly feel Chinese, she’d need some Chinese parenting.

Chinese parenting, as I learned from my neighbors and Ms. Chua, is as exotic—and distasteful—to American sensibilities as thousand-year-old eggs.

When she was three years old, my daughter became fast friends with a Chinese girl being raised by Chinese people. My daughter’s friend took piano, dance, gymnastics and pottery classes. All day on Saturday, she attended Chinese school. My daughter took piano.  She practiced about 15 minutes each day, per my mother the piano teacher’s instruction. My daughter’s friend practiced 45 minutes each day; she was four at the time. Chinese Friend’s father, on hearing that I intended to let my daughter enjoy playing the piano and grow into a more ambitious practice schedule, said, “By then it will be too late.” He never explained what it would be too late for, but I left with the distinct feeling that I’d been Chinese parented. Bad Mommy kicked my shameful butt all the way home.

While Chinese Friend’s parents had nowhere near the ferocity of Tiger Mother Chua, they all had the same approach to parenting. Pushing a child to excel, accepting nothing but perfection and perfect obedience, creates successful adults. Failure is simply not tolerated. In contrast, my own parenting skills were downright destructive, guaranteed to produce complacent slackers and, eventually, the downfall of American society.

So, I pulled up my Tiger Mother undies and got to work. As it happens, I teach enrichment in math and English to a population of largely Asian children. I enrolled my daughter in the math program. We doubled her gymnastics lessons to twice per week. We grounded our son forever or until he is no longer failing American Studies, whichever comes first.

The result? My daughter whines about how hard her math enrichment homework is. We blow off the mid-week gymnastics lesson on a semi-regular basis. My son is home all the time, constantly complaining of boredom and boredom-induced hunger.

I am a failure at Tiger parenting. I am a pussy parent. I let my kids play when they might be practicing an instrument or completing extra credit. They have computers in their bedrooms. They go on sleepovers and have play dates. My son has had two girlfriends.

I wish I had the Tiger Mother’s selfless ability to let her kids dislike her. I’m going to have to be okay with my pussy parenting, though. My daughter makes straight As without prompting and according to Amy, only the piano and violin are appropriate instruments. My son plays the drums, guitar and can still fiddle around with a cello. So, while Amy’s daughters are studying into the night at Harvard, they’ll be listening to my son, the rock star, on their radios.

 

I know I have readers from all over the world. Tell me: are you a tiger or a pussy? What’s the prevailing approach where you live?

Let’s Make Nice

22 Feb

I don’t really let what other people say about me bug me too much. Not that I don’t have my moments of monumental insecurity over some seemingly innocent remark, but I can usually recover and get back to a normal background level of neurosis quickly.

Lately, though, I’ve been hearing things said about me that have me questioning some fundamental self-truths I hold dear. People are saying I’m nice . . .and meaning it.

Now, I know many things about myself. I am smart. I am funny. I am a perfectionist. I like to argue. I’m demanding. I’m fair-minded. I expect the same of other people.

But I am not nice. Nice people are, well, nice. I can be generous. I’ve been known to be empathic. I can even be silly and frivolous. But nice?

The first person to accuse me of being nice also noted that I am cheerful and optimistic. I know! I know! Me! Cheerful! Optimistic! Obviously, this was someone who knew me not at all. And, indeed, she was a reader responding to my Hanukkah column on my son’s refusal to participate in our Hanukkah festivities.

The short story is this: I was able to get him to help me light the driveway menorah despite his insistence that he, as an atheist, would not be celebrating the holiday. I wrote that I hoped he would keep Hanukkah with his own children when the time came. One reader noted how difficult it is being Jewish in Naperville and how her sons love Hanukkah and celebrate it despite being marginalized by the surrounding society. Another reader jumped on the “life sucks as a Jew in Naperville” bandwagon, giving me a literary pat on the head for my cheerful, optimistic presentation of what is the drear reality of the west suburban diaspora.

Never having been accused of being either cheerful or optimistic, I laughed out loud. I called my husband; we laughed out loud together. I’m pretty sure I told my sister and she laughed out loud, too. First, though, she said, “You? Optimistic?” Or maybe that was my best friend. The whole “Janice as an optimist” thing was so disorienting it could have been the cat saying, “You? Optimistic?”

One person who doesn’t know me saying I was nice, cheerful and optimistic (I’m laughing while I type it! You’re laughing while you read it. I know you are. It’s ridiculous!), could easily be dismissed, but people who know me are saying it, too!

I’ll grant you that the sales clerk at the local music store is hardly a bosom buddy, but we’re on close enough terms for the man to make a fairly accurate assessment of my temperament. I swear I haven’t been on my best behavior when making my weekly—sometimes biweekly—appearances at the place. I have even been downright rude at times! And yet, just a few days ago, said clerk—we’ll call him “Bob”—said I was nice.

Now, he didn’t just say, “Hey! You’re nice!” He couched it in a very nice compliment about my appearance. “I haven’t seen you in a while,” said Bob. “You look younger!”

“Thank you,” I said. “I’m not feeling younger. I feel pretty old and tired, actually.”

“It’s probably because you’re nice,” Bob explained.

According to Bob, another woman he hadn’t seen in a while came in looking considerably older than she ought.

“What does being nice have to do with looking young?” I asked.

“Oh, all that being mean makes you look older.”

I saw no point in arguing with Bob about genetics, cleaning living and exercise. I left him with his delusional opinion of me. He told me I looked younger!

I’m not sure why I don’t feel very nice about being called “nice.” The nicest woman I know is a good friend. I like her a lot. She’s smart and funny, like me. But I believe she’s also got an unshakable conviction that the world is a good, good place. My strongest evidence of that is her existence.

My dad even told me I was nice recently. I suppose that shouldn’t blow me away, but it does. I know my parents loved and respected me but they weren’t exactly the cheerleading type. They were as aware of my failings as my fabulousness.

We were sitting in the living room of his home at two in the morning. We’d been trying to get him to sleep for longer than ten minutes at a time since about nine the night before. He’d brushed his teeth, put on his jammies, had his warm milk and gotten tucked into bed. He had pillows and blankets and all the things he could need to get his chemo-wracked body to submit. It wouldn’t. He would drift off for a few minutes, then some demon—anything from needing to pee to feeling driven to escape—would force him from the bed.

After five hours and two Ambien, we gave up. We sat in the living room, dad and I and the feeding machine. It whirred. The clock ticked. And my father stared into the dark wondering what he’d done to deserve his lot. “Everyone is so nice,” he said. “You, Alan, the kids. You’re all so nice.” As if whatever he’d done to earn this punishment should deny him the right to human kindness as well. We sat a few minutes longer, listening to the pump push food into his body. “Dad,” I finally said, “I may be nice, but I’m also tired. Let’s try to go back to bed.”

He did go back to bed, but he didn’t sleep any better. Since then, we’ve found out he also has Parkinson’s disease. While my dad was pretty confused, I know he wasn’t demented or hallucinating that night. He thinks I’m nice. So does Bob. And so do some of my readers. There are probably whole bunches of people who think I’m nice. It wouldn’t be nice to argue, though, so I guess I’ll have to suck it up. Hell, it might be nice being nice.

Resolved: Take Another Letter

2 Jan

Last year, I noted that I don’t really make New Year’s resolutions. This year, I decided they weren’t such a bad thing after all. My quibble with NYRs isn’t that I fear commitment, but that one can—and probably should—resolve to improve oneself throughout the year. If the Jews, the Muslims, the Chinese and the Europeans can’t agree on when each year actually begins, does it really matter when you make your resolutions? Plus, I needed fodder for my Naperville Patch column.

So, I made a resolution and made my family resolve as well. My husband resolved to eat carrot sticks. My daughter resolved to put away her clothes every night. I am pretty sure she thinks putting them in the laundry hamper counts. My son resolved to do his Chinese homework. Actually, he was pretty squishy about it, noting that he couldn’t promise promise because you never know what might happen and “really, Mom, I have ADHD, so the best I can do is try.” I was going to say that Justin Timberlake and Michael Phelps both have ADHD, but I have no idea if they did their Chinese homework.

I would tell you what my resolution is, but I can’t remember it.

So, having forgotten my resolution, I am establishing a tradition with my second annual letter to people who’ve annoyed the crap out of me in the past year.

To the “Merry Christmas” cranks: I got the “Xmas” thing and I agreed with you. Definitely, let’s put the “Christ” back in there. But, do we have to keep reminding you to have a merry Christmas? Will you really forget to have fun on December 25 unless you are reminded multiple times in the four weeks preceding?

To the prayer people: Kids can pray in school. Honestly. I’m pretty sure they can cross themselves before hand, too. They just can’t be made to pray. Frankly, I’m thinking a fervent personal prayer has a lot more meaning than a rote recital of a generic devotion lead by the school principal, but that’s just me.

To the Pledge people: Yup. Kids can say the Pledge of Allegiance, too. Happens every morning in schools all over the United States with exceptions I am too uninterested to research. See above comment about rote recital.

To my husband: there is a reason office parties are called office parties. They are for people in your office. They are not for people who live 38 miles away and must drive through rush hour to get to them. I like the people you work with and am pleased that my frustration at driving two freaking hours to see them gave them such pleasure. Next year, they can freaking well find someone else to freaking laugh about. Except your boss. He can laugh at me all he wants.

To my children: I do not put vegetables in your food as a test of your manual dexterity. I swear they are edible.

To the man—it must be a man—who designed the white porcelain sink: every day my sink sees grease, coffee grinds and tiny bits of vegetable my children refused to eat. Please come over and tell me how to clean it without using toxins.

To the biodegradable, compostable everything people: stop telling me how wonderful your biodegradable plastic bag and compostable carryout container are. Both of them are going in the trash until we’ve got municipal waste composting facilities.

To the woman who wondered if the pockets on her jeans made her butt look big: yes.

To the Boomer-hating generations that followed mine: who do you think put organic food in your mouth, saved for your college education and made it ok for moms to work? We gave you Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Led Zeppelin. Now will you get off our backs and go make up for John Mayer and that Chocolate Rain guy?

Speaking of Bill Gates. . .

To the people circulating his “Rules”: he didn’t write them. Charles Sykes wrote them. It is an amusing list full of wit and wisdom. Let’s give Mr. Sykes credit.

To the people who insist on using less when they mean fewer: I have less and less patience with you. Let’s go over this again: if you can count the things, you have fewer; if you cannot count them, you have less. Let’s suppose I made many cookies for Christmas and that they were delicious. At the same time, let’s suppose that I pulled a calf muscle, which hampered my ability to run. So, I ate more cookies and ran less. I do not say I ran fewer over winter break. That sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Next year, I will make fewer cookies and run more. Right now, I will go throw away all of the cookies so that fewer will go into my body and I will have less weight to lose.

To myself: is it really necessary to call yourself an idiot when you forget something, lazy when you take a break or mean when you curse the cat? People your age forget things all the time, especially things like where they put their glasses. Unless you’re going to get one of those granny-looking glasses leashes, suck it up. Lazy? Even your son, who never compliments you on anything, says you’re the opposite of lazy. The cat? Ok, you’re mean to the cat, but he deserves it.

So, I guess I’ll resolve to be kinder to myself. I’ll make fewer cookies and try to be less annoyed by people. I’ll let go of the fantasy that my children will one day love vegetables and, given a year of recovery, might even consider going to my husband’s office party.

Thank you for your support. It’s been a terrific year for my blogging adventure. May the cosmos be kind to us all this year.

Happy Boxing Day!

26 Dec

I have no idea why today is called Boxing Day, but I’m willing to take it as a reason for a day off. Many of you know that, in addition to writing this blog, I write a parenting column for Naperville Patch, an online newspaper that covers my city. Now, the idea of me as a fountain of parenting wisdom is pretty amusing and should be amusing to many who know me. Here, then, is a link to my column for this week: http://naperville.patch.com/articles/hanukkah-rebellion-smells-like-teen-spirit

Enjoy and Happy Seventh Night of Hanukkah.

Janice

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.

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