Tag Archives: suburban life

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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Now, THIS is crazy!

28 Jun

Image from Zazzle.com

It’s Father’s Day. I’m sitting with my Dad on the patio.

“How are you, Dad?” I ask.

“Not very good,” he says, looking down at his hands. I’ve never seen him this sad.

“Your mother rejected me,” he says and tells me, through tears, that my mother left him.

I start to cry, not knowing which is worse, telling my father that my mother died nearly four years ago or letting him believe she’s still alive and left him.

“Dad,” I say, as gently as I can, “Mom’s dead. She died almost four years ago. She would never leave you.” He looks up, confused. He’s confused nearly all the time now.

“You took such good care of her, do you remember that?” He’s trying. “She had emphysema and you took such good care of her. She was just too sick. We had to let her go, Dad.” I wonder if he remembers making the decision ending life support. He believes me. He believes and he’s sad, but he’s calmer.

I visit my dad every week these days, but I never know where it’ll be. Last week, it was Denver. He was waiting at his hotel, while my mother and grandmother shopped for houses. They’d come to Denver for a convention, something they did a lot. Traveling to conventions, that is, not traveling to Denver. He seemed anxious about buying yet another house, but he’d never really been able to say “No” to my mother. I told him I knew the feeling.

Another visit saw us in Hong Kong, having dinner with a group of executives my dad clearly didn’t like because they’d kidnapped me. Yet another visit saw us in Rochester at a bicycle factory. There was our visit in an undisclosed location in Romania, where my dad told me he was forced to sit on a minaret to escape the men trying to capture him in Saudi Arabia. Recently, my sister married the Shah of Iraq, so we have an Arabian theme going lately.

My dad’s delusions are nothing compared to the other residents. There’s the woman who gathers all of the baby dolls and stuffed animals and arrays them on a table. She dresses them all and sets them down to sleep then complains about how she has so many babies to care for. There’s the 105-year old woman who was once a singer. She still tries to sing but it comes out as screeching wails. There’s the woman who sits quietly and, when she catches your eye doesn’t say “Hello,” but “I’m afraid.” “Afraid of what?” I asked. “Of dying,” she replied.

It’s hard not to make the leap to The Snake Pit or One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest or whatever look-inside-the-loony-bin movie was popular in your particular generation. This, after all, is what crazy people are and do.

But I know better. My father and his housemates aren’t nuts. They have a terrible disease that literally eats at their brains, destroying the web that connects a lifetime of accumulated memory and leaving them with a stew of thought they continually try to make sense of.

No. They are not crazy; I am. At least, that’s what my society says. I have bipolar disorder; I am bipolar. I never know which description to use, so I use both. But no matter how I reveal my condition, I get a universal reaction, spoken or no. “That chick is crazy.” Someone even told me, “Wow. You’d never know to look at you!”

I suppose that’s a compliment; the self-harming, judgmental thoughts, over-spending and insomnia don’t show on my face. Of course, the medication helps. More likely, it’s an indication of how crazy Americans are about mental illness.

I happen to come from a family of crazies. Alcoholism, schizophrenia, drug abuse were things I learned about early. None of the crazies looked crazy. Well, ok, the schizophrenic lived in another state, so I didn’t see him very often and can’t really say he never looked crazy. Still, “you’d never know to look” at any of them that they lived with demons.

So, I don’t usually tell people I’m bipolar, though I’ve been doing it more often lately. Maybe it was the “you don’t look” it comment; maybe it’s my own growing acceptance. I’ve been more active in the blogosphere lately and the anonymity it affords makes it easier for crazies to hang out and connect with each other.

In America, you can pretty much tell who’s a flag-waving conservative by, well, the flags waving on their houses. I decided, some time ago, to take back the flag. This is my country, too, I thought, and hung the flag on our porch.

So, I’m taking back crazy. I’m a mom, a writer and a teacher. I have two great kids and the obligatory pets that go along with living in one of America’s most famous suburbs. I’m happily married.

This is what crazy looks like, people.

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.

It’s Always Greener

6 Jun

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” the note said. “It will take time, but we can fix this.”

I knew there were problems. Hell, everyone on our courtyard could tell there were problems.  But I really didn’t think my lawn was so bad that the TruGreen® guy needed to leave me a personalized note.

The physical move from Oak Park to Naperville, IL covered only twenty-three miles. The cultural move, however, was more like going from a hippie commune to, well, to an All-American mom-and-apple-pie suburb in all its suburbity.

In Oak Park, where herbicides are only slightly less maligned than Agent Orange, my “if it’s green, it’s a lawn” attitude was applauded. In fact, if you’re not green in growing your green, you’d best not come outside until the sun goes down.

Mine was a typical Oak Park lawn. In short, I pretty much ignored it. It got mowed once a week, fertilized twice a year with an all-natural lawn food, and was watered when it rained. Sure, there was grass in my grass, but there were also some dandelions and a little crabgrass. In the shady areas, there was some Creeping Charlie and even some nut sedge. It was all green, it all mowed. It was a lawn.

In Naperville, lawn growing is a competitive sport. It’s not enough for the lawn to be green here; it should be a particular shade of green. A “good” lawn consists primarily of a single species of grass: Kentucky Blue. It’s really more of a dark blue green, but you get the idea.  The problem is that Kentucky Blue is the Naomi Campbell of the grass world. It requires copious amounts of exactly the right kind of attention or it does the herbivorous equivalent of flinging a flip-phone at you.

While a good Naperville lawn is a monoculture, mine is a veritable botanic garden of all that is low-growing and green. I’ve got Blue grass, of course, along with dandelions, some little creeping things, some other little creeping things, some ferny-looking creeping things, some thistles and lots and lots of clover.

I like clover. Clover is the right color. In fact, I think white clover leaves are an even nicer shade of green than Kentucky Blue grass. Clover has really cute little flowers. When I was a little girl, I made wreathes and garlands of white clover blossoms. My daughter makes them now. Clover is even an indicator of nitrogen—the stuff that turns grass green—in the soil.

The biggest reason I like clover, though, is the bees. Clover is perfect food for bees, especially honeybees. And honeybees are endangered. In grad school, I wrote an entire integrated lesson plan for third- through fifth-graders focusing on the importance of healthy honeybees to our food production capabilities. When I see clover, I see orchards full of fruit trees pollinated by happy little honeybees.

My neighbors? Not real big on clover. In fact, when they see clover, I’m pretty sure they see weeds. This wouldn’t be much of a problem if clover didn’t also spread so readily. One of my neighbors did not want clover in his yard so, in a pre-emptive strike, he sprayed my clover. He did this without asking while I was standing right there in front of him. Just took out his nasty Weed-B-Gone pump and blasted away at the clover on my side of the property line. I think I said something like, “Oh, you don’t have to do that. I’ll pull the clover out before it gets to your yard,” but I was thinking something like, “You presumptuous son of a goat!”

Well, the clover died. And left a very large dead brown spot in the middle of my front lawn. I left the spot there, hoping my neighbor would feel terrible about defacing my property. He never mentioned it. Finally, one day I began raking away the old dead foliage, preparing the soil for seed. Now, I may not be the best lawn-grower in the world, but I know how to prep a seedbed. I finished the raking, watered the soil to soften it and left the soil loosening for the next day. Imagine my surprise when I found that the bare spot had been seeded over. My neighbor had apparently felt guilty after all. He didn’t feel guilty enough to plant decent seed, however. This became abundantly clear when the new grass came in fluorescent green. He told me it would turn darker when it got older. It did not. It merely got taller. Eventually, I had a three-foot diameter circle of glow-in-the-dark grass in front of my house. Because the fluorescent grass was also stiff, after I mowed it, it looked like someone had stuck bright green toothpicks in the lawn. I lived with the toothpick lawn for an entire summer. My only consolation was that my neighbor used the same cheap, crappy seed to spot seed his own lawn. While I had a circle of fluorescence, he had little tufts of bright green toothpicks through his lawn.

The radioactive green grass has since died off, giving way to other things greener and hardier, including clover, but I’m thinking it may have altered the genetic makeup of my horticultural haven. Recently, my daughter came running into the house squealing, “Mommy! Mommy! I found a four-leaf clover!” Well, of course I thought she had smooshed two clover stems together to make them look like one four-leaf clover. But she hadn’t. In her hands, she held a perfect four-leafed clover. She gave it to me and ran outside to find more. “That’ll keep her happy for a while,” I thought, but she was back in the house in a matter of minutes. Turns out, one particular spot in my yard is full of four-leaf clover. My daughter and her friend even found a five-leaf clover.

I’m not a superstitious person on the whole, but I’m thinking the TruGreen® guy is going to have to find another yard to spray. In fact, the only way he’s welcome back is on his knees, looking for a six-leaf clover.

Copyright 2011 by Janice Lindegard. All rights reserved.

Neighbors and Naked Barbies

25 Apr

I like to sit on the deck looking at my garden. Some people find gardening relaxing. I’ve found that looking at the garden is actually much more relaxing than working in the garden. I particularly like to look at the garden in the morning and especially on significant days. So, it’s no surprise that Easter morning found me sitting on the step of my deck sipping a mug of hot tea while I surveyed my yard. What was surprising was the sight of three naked Barbies playing on the neighbor’s swing set, which sits just on their side of the property line.

My daughter’s Best Friend lives in the naked-Barbies-on-the-swing-set house. In fact, the naked Barbies are hers. I wasn’t so much surprised to see the Barbies as I was surprised to see them on the swing set. They had been lounging on the chaise in our gazebo for the past week or so. Saturday night we had celebrated Passover with friends of ours we seldom see. They have a daughter who is close in age to ours. When these two meet, they form that fast, frenetic bond that only children who rarely play together achieve, as if they need to pack years’ worth of activity into three hours or so. In the maelstrom of their interaction, the Barbies somehow went from the chaise lounge to the slide and whatever you call that thing that two kids swing on facing each other.

I smiled when I saw the Barbies and I knew Best Friend’s mother would smile, too. We have informally vowed to leave the area between our houses fenceless so things like naked Barbies on swing sets can happen while the children flow freely from one yard to the other.

These are the best kind of neighbors. I consider them my reward because I also live near the worst kind of neighbor. Best Friend lives directly behind us. Worst Neighbor lives next door. Worst Neighbor bought the house and moved in with his wife and son. Every couple that has lived in the house has divorced and it wasn’t long before Mrs. Worst Neighbor and their child skipped out of the country.

So now I live next door to Mr. Single Worst Neighbor. Given the current real estate market and the fact that he lives in “The Divorce House,” I’m pretty sure we’re in it for the long haul with Worst Neighbor.

Worst Neighbor, being single, neglects many things in his house, most notably his dog. I’m sure the dog was purchased to appease Mrs. Worst Neighbor but as the dog is the Worst Dog, the purchase was for naught.  We’ll call Worst Neighbor’s dog “Lucy,” because that is her name and I don’t care about protecting her privacy.

Frankly, Lucy doesn’t need privacy. She’s the neighborhood tramp. One particularly difficult day, I was pouring out my troubles in a phone call with my best friend. As we dished and drank our coffee I was beginning to chipper up, until I spied Lucy on my back deck and my own dog on Lucy. “I’ve gotta go!” I said, “Pogo’s humping the bitch from next door.” I separated the dogs and returned Lucy to her home. She was out and about soon afterward. Pogo lay whining in his cage.

In an attempt to contain his canine strumpet, Worst Neighbor installed an electric fence, but did it himself and did it wrong. Lucy continued to roam the streets, looking for love. Last year, Worst Neighbor finally had her spayed and I held out some hope for a more peaceful life for us and for Lucy. It was a dark and stormy night when my hopes were dashed. Really. It was dark and stormy. It was night. And there was Lucy, whining at my back door. I called Worst Neighbor. He asked me to hold on to her while he finished having dinner with friends. We don’t call him about Lucy anymore. We call Animal Control. Maybe Worst Neighbor and Lucy will be getting divorced soon.

Much as Worst Neighbor vexes us now, he is not the Worst Neighbor Ever. I believe that honor goes to the neighbors whose back porch rotted after years of neglect. With no safe way of getting from their back door to the garbage dumpster, they simply dropped their trash out the door into the yard where it accumulated. Eventually, of course, it attracted vermin, which were then attracted to the warmth in our house. I found them frolicking in the laundry hamper one memorable morning. Exterminators and health department officials got involved.

My husband insists even they are not the Worst Neighbors Ever. To his mind, the Worst Neighbor Ever was the woman who lived in the apartment next door to his in graduate school. Or, I should say, “women,” as the person in question clearly suffered from multiple personality disorder. Every other night, just about 2 am, she would argue with herself, screaming and railing. Eventually, she would kick herself out of the apartment, slamming the heavy metal door on herself and waking the entire building.

Sleep deprived, my husband called the landlord, who refused to believe him. Out of desperation and sleep-deprivation, my husband took to calling the landlord every time the women next door kicked themselves out. The landlord caught on eventually, answering the phone and immediately hanging up, but never evicted the woman/women. My husband moved out six months early but his middle-of-the-night phoning binge established a life-long habit of relieving pent-up frustration through creative, albeit hostile, retribution.

Lately, the Best Neighbors have been dropping hints about moving, mumbling such selfish nonsense as needing a guest room for visiting grandparents. Our declining property values have forestalled what is probably inevitable, but Mrs. Best Neighbor assures me that they are taking us with them when they move. I hope this is true. I am far too old to discover what could be worse than living next to a promiscuous pooch, a vermin farm or the local psych ward.

In the meantime, I’ll sit on my deck, survey my quarter acre of the American Dream and ponder where the naked Barbies will pop up next.

With Friends Like These

28 Mar

When I was a teenager, I fell in with a bad crowd. Cognizant that some of my loyal readers were friends of mine when I was a teenager, I should immediately state, “I’m not talking about you.” It is most likely that none of the bad crowd with which I fell in are regular readers of Snide Reply. I suspect one or two may not be regular readers of anything, but that is neither here nor there. My parents felt it their duty to point out that I had fallen in with said crowd and to do all they could to discourage further falling.

Though I don’t necessarily believe it, apparently the crowds children fall into these days are even badder—in the bad sense of bad—than those I encountered. There was binge drinking when I was a teen, there was sex when I was a teen, there were drugs when I was a teen. (Again, my high school buddies, I am not talking about you. Oh, OK, I am but I’m not telling who did what or with whom.) The drinking, the drugs and the sex are all bad enough and I’ve worried about my kids doing them since probably a day or two after they started kindergarten. I don’t need to think about worse vices my children may be pressured to try.

Now that I own a teenager, my parental friend radar has been tuned to high gear. It’s a wonder my son hasn’t noticed the brain hum in the background. Every time a new name is mentioned, my “who the hell is that” button gets switched. I try to be nonchalant as I grill my son.

“Fred?” I’ll say, “I don’t think I’ve heard you mention a ‘Fred’ before.”

“He’s a friend,” my son will say.

“Well, duh!” I think.

“Well, duh,” I say. “Where did you meet him? Is he in one of your classes? Does he drink, do drugs or have unprotected sex? Is he a member of a weird religious cult?” Well, maybe I don’t say that last bit, but it’s only because I know that’s not an appropriate thing for a parent to say outside of her head.

As if worrying about new friends weren’t enough, I’ve discovered old friends can go bad.

We moved to Naperville just as our son was entering fourth grade. He spent his entire first year here friendless. Oh, we made sure he saw his Oak Park friends and installed a phone line in his room so he could call them whenever he liked. Still, fourth grade was tough. In fifth grade, he made friends with a very nice boy. So, he had a friend. One friend.

Middle school started out miserably, friend-wise. Our son was placed into the gifted program; his one friend wasn’t. Friend ground zero all over again. But, having found his tribe, he started making friends more easily. Eventually, he had a bunch of friends.

All of his friends, at least all that I’ve met and I’ve met quite a few, appeared to be fine young people. I might have written, “appear to be fine young people” but recent events necessitate a change in verb tense. One of those fine young people has turned out to be quite a . . .hm. . . what’s the word . . .well, it rhymes with “spit head.”

Spit Head has twice, in the last month, hurt my son’s feelings deeply. The first time, Spit Head convinced my son that he was over-reacting. I wanted to give Spit Head a good talking to, but held my tongue. If my son wanted to remain friends with Spit Head, then I needed to let him do it, I reasoned.

The second time Spit Head hurt my son, Spit Head’s mother got involved. Now, before you think that she was telling Spit Head he was behaving badly, stop yourself. Spit Head’s mother was proving the old apple falling from the tree thing. Surprisingly, my son has dealt with Spit Head’s latest antic much more calmly than me. “He’s a douche,” he said. “He’s a douche,” one of his other friends agreed. Then, they moved on.

Me? I never want to see the kid again. And I if I ever see his mother? Well, let’s just say Naperville is gonna look a little bit more like the Jersey Shore that day.

My daughter is having friend troubles but it wasn’t her feelings that were being hurt. Instead, my daughter is the grand prize in a battle for affections that is largely waged by a gang of siblings we’ll call “The Delightful Children” with all due credit to “Code Name: Kids Next Door.”

The Delightful Children include two brothers and their younger sister. She adores my daughter, who I’m sure she sees as a big sister substitute. Problem? The Delightful Children seem intent on breaking my daughter’s considerable bond to her Best Friend.

My daughter plays with Best Friend nearly every day. They can play together for hours on end. In the winter months, things are fairly quiet on the friend front. The Delightful Children are, for some reason, not allowed to play in other people’s houses. So my daughter and Best Friend trash, I mean, “play” in our house. Sometimes they “play” in Best Friend’s house.

In the summer, the wars begin. The Delightful Children have one of those redwood things with a playhouse on top. The monstrosity is nestled in the branches of willow tree so the playhouse is hidden from sight. I believe the tree may be a Whomping Willow because, invariably, Best Friend rushes home from the playhouse in tears. It being illegal to water board children, we’ll probably never know the details of what ensues in the Playhouse of Pain but it seems to involve harsh words from The Delightful Children toward Best Friend.

My daughter recently wailed, “It’s like I’m being forced to choose between hurting my Best Friend and hurting a little girl!” My little girl being the one getting hurt, I decided to lay down a law. No playing with Best Friend and The Delightful children together. My husband reports the law is being respected with unexpected results. Recently, Best Friend and The Delightful children played together while my daughter practiced gymnastics in the family room.

I figured we were finished with friend issues for a while until my son started a conversation like this, “Well, I was talking with one of my pothead friends . . .”

Puh-leeeeze Read My Post About Whining

14 Mar

I like to watch brain surgery. Really. I’m not being sarcastic. I am leading up to something, but, seriously, I like to watch brain surgery. My favorite brain surgery to watch is the kind where the top of the patient’s head has been taken off and the surgeon is rummaging around in the brain looking for a particular section that will elicit a particular response from the patient. The surgeon calls for the patient to be wakened. Then he (OK, or she) prods the identified brain section with his brain prodding thingy and the patient starts talking about some long forgotten incident. I’ve seen it lots of times and I still think, “Cool!”

I want a brain surgeon to open my head and look for a particular spot and then sever its neural pathways. The one I want him to find is the one that causes my entire body to convulse when triggered by that parental nightmare: the whine.

Whining slices straight through me. My entire body contracts, my eyes squinch, my brain crackles. I will do anything to make the noise cease. Some people can’t stand fingernails on a chalkboard. Some can’t stand ringing telephones. I can’t stand to hear the sound of whining children. This is a problem. I have children.

I don’t recall whining being a huge problem with my son. He wasn’t a particularly whiny kid but all kids have something they do that is completely and utterly obnoxious. My son’s obnoxiousness was physical. He liked to hang on people. Literally. We knew it was annoying, but we never tried to stop him. The then-current parenting fad was logical consequences. The logical consequence of our son hanging on people was that they would be annoyed with him and tell him so. They did. He didn’t care. The logical consequence of our attempts at logical parenting was that lots of people thought we were indulgent parents afraid to discipline our child. Who? Us?

Our daughter is the one who makes me want a lobotomy. Like many an eight-year-old, she is a charming child. She is beautiful and delicate. She is bashful around strangers. Her teachers report that she is popular, helpful, considerate and kind.

These people have never denied her a thing. I know the monster that lurks within her. I have told her, “No.” I know the keening banshee that lies beneath her placid exterior, the one who comes out to play when the Empress is thwarted.

A typical exchange might happen at breakfast. My daughter will say, “I know you’re going to say ‘no’, but can I have sugar cookies?” I will ask, “Have you had something healthy?” “No,” she will say, “but you said I could have them yesterday and I didn’t eat them then.” I will remind her that yesterday she asked to eat the cookies after she had eaten something healthy.

“You can have the cookies after you eat your bagel and cream cheese.”

“But I don’t want the bagel and cream cheese.”

“You asked for a bagel and cream cheese. You will have to get your own breakfast if you don’t want what I made you.”

“Ok. I’ll eat the cookies.”

“No, you may not eat the cookies until you’ve eaten the bagel and cream cheese.” By now, the pre-whine tone has entered her voice. I can feel the tension building in my toes.

“But I don’t want the bagel and cream cheese.”

“Then get your self something else that’s healthy.”

“You’re supposed to make my breakfast! I’m just a little girl!” She is now in full-on whine. I am resolved to remain tough. She is my little Zen master and I will not rise to her call to chaos.

“You know the rule. If you don’t eat what Mommy makes, you make your own breakfast.”

“Fine! I’m having the coo. . .” Before she can say “. . .kies,” I say, “No, we talked about this. You may not have the cookies. You must eat something healthy first.” I can feel myself slipping. The knife-edge of her whine has sliced my brain in two.

“You interruuuuuuuuuuupted MEEEEEEEEEEE,” she wails. “I’m trying to talk and you interrupted meeeeeeee!  You always do that! I’m trying and trying to explain to you and you interuuuuupt meeeeeee!”

And she has me. I cave.

“Fine! Eat the cookies!” I say, thinking I would probably let her eat glass at this point if she would just stop whining.

I don’t always cave in. Sometimes I hang tough. I remember that she is acting, that she can turn the tantrum off at will and that I have proof.

Our children do nothing together but bicker. We spend lots of money on therapy so that they will learn how to do something other than bicker. After two years, they are able to tolerate playing video games together for about 20 minutes, in the therapist’s office. Progress.

One night at dinner, our son was lobbying hard for some electronic or musical hundred-dollar-plus gizmo. Probably a Les Paul, but maybe a 40,000-gigabyte iPod Touch. Whatever it was, he was pushing with all his considerable negotiating talent. His father and I were resisting mightily. We were winning. Then, our daughter started whining. The whine turned to a wail. She was sobbing, tears were falling down her cheeks. All conversation stopped. We turned to her. “Sweetie,” her father said. “What’s wrong?” When she had all of our attention, she abruptly stopped wailing, looked at us and said, “Now will you give him what he wants?”

We did not give him what he wants. But, while condemning her methods, we applauded her solidarity with her brother.

There’s not much evidence that our daughter will leave the League of Fine Whiners any time soon. Why would she? It’s the most effective weapon in her arsenal. She may even be recruiting her brother. He has begun using whining as a tool to achieve his desires. So far, he does it playfully and it’s really rather amusing to see him smoosh his very teen-aged, semi-bearded face into childish pleading. He even holds his hands clasped together and gives me puppy dog eyes, while saying, “Pweeze, Mommy.” It’s ridiculously endearing. The first sign of serious whinery, though and I’m headed for the nearest neurosurgeon.

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