Friday, December 31, 2010

Ouch! Curse you (for now), Wii Pilates!

I stayed in bed a few extra minutes this morning. I wasn't tired - I was in pain. My butt hurt. My back hurt. And there was definitely something funky going on with my left thigh.

Then I remembered. Ah, yes, the Daisy Fuentes Wii Pilates DVD I'd checked out last night. Daisy looked so sweet and nice on the cover. And I'd done a little Pilates before; it seemed like a good way to start to get back in shape.

But Daisy was not particularly sweet - even after I took the time to change her little avatar into a more modest outfit, one that didn't show quite as much of her "wankies," as my kids would say. She was strict. And I wasn't very good. Apparently, I'm weak. But I'll get stronger.

Of course, maybe next time I'll read that handy exercise tutorial before diving in. As for today, I'm heading for the Advil.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

It's just a little sleepover, but still . . .

My boy is staying over at his friend's house tonight - it's his very first sleepover. He was ecstatic about going, didn't seem the least bit nervous. This is his very best friend, after all, and they haven't seen each other all through holiday break. For an 8 year old, that's an eternity.

I packed his pajamas, his toothbrush, his Pillow Pet - all the essentials he'd forgotten in the excitement of packing those all-important toys. I taped our phone number to the outside of his bag, just in case he decided this was a sleep-under, not a sleepover. But I don't think it will be.

The house seems so quiet without him already, without his goofy antics, his laughter, his constant questions. I know I'm being silly - he's only been gone a few hours. And I know he's having fun.

But I miss him already.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Time to slow down and catch a breath

I'm restless. Already. You probably know how it is. You've been been so hyped up for Christmas; you've shopped, baked, mailed, decorated, done everything you need to do to fulfill your holiday obligations and you've succeeded.

Your days have been overflowing with Christmas spirit.

But ... now Christmas is over. Just. Like. That. And don't get me wrong - it was great. I loved it. And I miss it already. But it's just when you've been going, going, going for so long, it's kind of hard to stop.

So what to do? Slow down, catch a breath, find your rhythm again. Decide what comes next. For me, that means goal setting. Oh, you can call it setting resolutions if you want, but I don't. Too much pressure

First on the list: Get rid of all those dang cookies in the cookie jar.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Best holiday gifts aren't what you'd expect

The kids crept in to wake us up at 6 a.m today, just as they promised.

I'm sure they'd been up much longer, but they know the rules - no one goes downstairs on Christmas morning before 6 a.m.

Soon after, the squeals and oohs and ahhs began. But not for the presents I expected.

The big-ticket items were appreciated, of course. But my son's favorite gift wasn't the Wii game we splurged on. It was a Mario figurine stocking stuffer from Santa. ("It can move its arms!")

And our daughter wasn't quite as excited about the Wii art tablet we thought she'd rave over. She was, however, mesmerized by a battery-operated beginner sewing machine.

Me? I'm now the proud owner of a Kindle, and I'm truly very excited. But my favorite gifts, the ones I'm most thankful for, are those two kids who make me appreciate the holiday season more and more every year.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Hello? Oh sure, (flush!) I can talk ...

So I had a little meltdown at work today. You know, holiday stress, last-minute assignments, all that fun stuff. And so I snuck out of my cubicle kingdom for a minute to go take a few deep breaths.

I went to the ladies room. Not a good choice for a variety of reasons, but my options were limited. I locked the door of the stall and just stood there, trying to organize my thoughts and tell myself that yes, I could get everything done, and no, I wouldn't have a nervous breakdown.

And then I heard it. Tweedle-dee-deedle-dee-dee. Tweedle-dee-deedle-dee-dee. A cell phone. Right next to me. I smirked a little. Well, not everyone has great timing, right? But then, I froze. Because someone ANSWERED it. From the STALL.

Taking calls while indisposed? Is this the new trend? Are we that busy? I should have maintained my dignity and swept out, disgusted. But instead - quite possibly due to stress and sugar overload - I started giggling and couldn't stop.

"Yeah, mmm-hmmm," said the voice. Rustle, rustle, rustle. "I guess, if you have to, but I don't know when we'll get there." Shift, rustle, rustle, FLUSH. "Okay - wait a minute."

The door opened. I didn't have the courage to look and see who it was. I was red-faced from my sophomoric attack of giggling. That meltdown? Ancient history.

And I owe it all to Chatty, my bathroom friend. I hope she had a great conversation. I hope she got to wherever she needed to be. But most of all, I hope she remembered to wash her hands.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Goodbye, sanity - I'll miss you . . .

The children have been out of school one day - yes, one day - and I can already feel my sanity slipping away. I'll miss it.

My daughter is already using the time off to ask a few questions, like: When can she get her own computer? Why is her brother being so annoying? Why can't she have a kitten? Or a puppy? And what does Santa have to do with Jesus, and what is the significance of a Christmas tree?

My son doesn't have any questions. He's an entertainer. Ta da!!! So far, I've been serenaded with more than a few giggly stanzas of "Winnie the Poop," and "Christmas Cookies and Holiday Farts."

Goodbye sanity.I'll miss you.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Middle school stress solution: Tae kwon do

My daughter was incredibly excited about graduating from elementary school. A budding artist, she even drew a portrait of herself and her friends with the words "We're middle schoolers now!" above it in bold print. But the beginning of the year was a disaster.

The bus route confused her. The school pace was intimidating. And then, in gym, she hesitated before passing a sheet of paper to her partner. "Give it to me, you retard," the girl said. My daughter looked back to see the girl and her friends whispering. She was sure they were talking about her.

"I hate school," she whispered to me that night. She cried herself to sleep. She wasn't the only one.

I woke up the next day, determined to make everything right. I'd go over to that school and I'd talk to the teachers and that bratty kid and ... then I realized what thousands of moms likely realized before me. You can't do it. You want to, but you can't. You can't always be there for your kid. My daughter, always academically brilliant but socially shy, had a tough row to hoe.

But I had to do something. I remembered a few years back, when I'd been a reporter, doing a story on a program called The Ophelia Project, which is all about creating safe social climates for students. The Web site had a section on increasing self-esteem for girls. It suggested tae kwon do. Tae kwon do?

My daughter is an artist, not a fighter. But on a whim, I suggested it to her. She agreed, tentatively, to try it. I chose carefully - a small studio with low-key instructors I liked. Amazingly, she loved it. And she's good at it. She's made friends. Accepted challenges. She's stronger, more independent. This past weekend, she graduated to a color belt.

I'm sure it's not all the tae kwon do, but her confidence is back. So's her smile. She's talking about starting clubs in school; she laughs off the girl drama she sees. I know there'll be more challenges down the road. But for now, I couldn't be happier. More importantly, neither could she.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Cookies, cookies, let's make cookies!

We are baking Christmas cookies tonight. Lots and lots of cookies. And by "we," I mean me and the oven.

See, the kids and I had decided awhile back that we'd make batches of cookies for their friends and teachers. But time got away from us, and here it is just a few days before school vacation starts.

And we have all these pretty boxes to fill.

The kids wanted to help, they really did, but what they wanted to do even more than help was to sneak a bunch of cookie dough. Their next priority appeared to be giggling and smooshing melty chocolate chips on each other. And last but not least, chasing each other with cinnamon-sugar seemed to be high on their list.

So now it's late, they're both in bed, and we still have all these pretty boxes to fill.

But that's okay. The oven is is quiet, it's behaving, and when I fill it with cookie dough it actually gives back cookies.

Those pretty boxes might just get filled after all.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Oh, little laptop, I've missed you so ...

After four long days, my computer has come home. I can't believe how much I missed it. We've been spending some quiet time together, just the two of us, trying to get over the trauma of being apart.

It all started last week, when a strange message kept appearing on - and then freezing- my screen. I tried everything to get rid of it. But I had a bad feeling. I finally gave up and took it to the local computer doc.

As I waited in line, my laptop held gingerly in my arms, swaddled against the cold, I realized how much I used it - how much I needed it. But I'm not sure my attachment to the little machine registered with the man behind the counter.

"What is it?" I asked him anxiously, peering over his shoulder as he called up my browser. "Why does it keep doing that? What does that message mean? Is it okay?"

He shrugged. "I don't know - probably a virus." He sounded less than concerned.

But I was fuming. A virus? "A virus??" I said, my voice rising. "How can that be?? I use protection!!" Several customers turned my way. I composed myself and lowered my voice. "I mean, I have anti-virus software."

He shrugged again. "There's new viruses every day," he said. "It's hard to keep up."

He pried my fingers off the keys. "I'll have to check this in," he said. At my stricken look, his voice became a little gentler. "And it's Friday. Our techs don't work weekends. You can probably have it back ... Tuesday."

I stood there, mouth agape, as he wound my power cord and shut the lid. Tuesday. Four days. But ... How could I ...

I did, of course. And naturally, I'm being overly dramatic. It's just a machine, right? I mean, who cares?Who gets emotionally attached to a machine? Sheesh.

But maybe it can stay on my night table tonight. You know. just for tonight.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Together we can move (snow) mountains

It's all a matter of perspective, I guess. When I wake up on the weekend and the snow is falling in fat, heavy flakes, I want to stay inside. I want to bake cinnamon bread, drink coffee and curl under a blanket.

My children? They're scrambling into snow pants faster than you can say "Michigan winter." It's snowing!! It's snowing!! Time to get outside and build a gigantic snowman. No matter that there's not quite enough snow on the ground yet or that the snow that exists is heavy, soggy and stubbornly clinging to the sod - let's move it, people!!!

About 20 minutes into their project, I hear them call from outside: "Mom, we're moving the snowman to the front yard!"

I wonder briefly about the logistics of that endeavor. So does my husband, when he catches a glimpse of them about 10 minutes later. "Do you have any idea what your children are doing?" he asks me, sliding open the window. From outside, I hear sounds of exertion and breathless motivational direction. "Okay, push," my daughter calls to her brother. "Push harder."

My husband already has put on his coat. "I know, I know," he says. "I'm going."

Between the three of them, the giant base of Frosty the Snowman was finally moved to the front yard. I believe at this time his torso has been delivered as well, and soon his head will be in place. I just hope the big guy doesn't need a wife.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

My secret to success: edible Legos

Monday was a shopping day, Tuesday was a church class, Wednesday was a birthday celebration, and on Thursday the car was shanghaied by surly mechanics.

But I've been a bundle of boundless energy. My secret to success? Edible Legos, of course.

What are they? Why, they're tiny building blocks of pure sugar, that's what they are. You can build with them, just like real Legos, but then instead of stepping on them in the middle of the night and screeching in agony, you can EAT them.

Are they good for you? Well, um, of course they're not. I haven't read the list of ingredients, but I think it reads something like this: SUGAR. And, like all things bad for you, they're delicious - in a rock-hard, don't-eat-them-on-the-side-you-have-dental-work kind of way.

Now, they're not actually called "edible Legos." The Lego folks probably wouldn't like that, or more likely, they'd want a cut of the profits. They're really called "candy building blocks" or some such thing. But I know what I know. They're edible Legos.

And I never meant to become addicted. A friend told me about them when she heard I was throwing a Mario birthday party for my son. If you (or your kids) know anything about Mario games, you know that in a lot of them, he's basically walking on these little sidewalks and levels that look like Legos. So it would be a really fun addition to a loot bag, right? Wrong. Because now mom eats them. Whenever she sees them.

It could be as bad as my Stress Frosting addiction, and that took a really, really long time to break. For years, my husband wondered why there were always cans of frosting around the house but not a cupcake in sight.

Luckily, I've only found these candies at one place, and it's kind of hard to get to, and not really close to my house. So, I figure after the party that'll be it. I'll be done. No more.

I just hope the frosting cans don't start showing up again.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

OMG! A hand in the book depository?

So this story is creepy. Not Stephen King-creepy, not keep-you-up-at-night creepy, but creepy enough to jolt you awake without your second cup of coffee.

At least it was for me. Because this is what happened. I stopped at the library the other day on the way to work with my usual giant bag of overdue books. No big deal. The library was crowded, like it always is. There's a story hour in the morning, so there are dozens of moms and little kids running around, and there's just a nice, warm atmosphere all around.

I love the library. So making a quick stop is actually a pleasure for me, not a chore.

Now our library has just revamped its depository system - you can only put in one book at a time, and you have to do it a certain way ... I don't know why. Maybe people were being careless, you know, jamming it up. So there's an outside book deposit and an inside one. I decided to go in because it was freezing and I'm a wimp.

(I know, I know - this story is SO not creepy yet - but just wait).

Anyhoo, so I'm putting my books in the book depository, which as everyone knows, is just a big giant door that opens, and when I put the last book in I feel a HAND TOUCH MY HAND. Just think about that a minute. A hand - from inside the book deposit - touching your hand!!!!! Now that is creepy - you have to agree, right? Okay, it didn't grab me, and it wasn't cold or skeletal or bony, and it actually just brushed my fingers, but STILL. Peel me off the ceiling, folks. That is not where I'm expecting a warm friendly touch.

I know, I know. It was likely just a hapless librarian, working the other side to clear out a jam or unload the already crowded bin, but it didn't matter.

After that invisible touch, I drank decaf til noon.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Treat bags for 26? Are you kidding me?

My son's birthday is this week, and he wants to bring treats to school. So treats we will bring, of course. But there's just a wee dilemma. No edible treats are allowed.

Yep, that's right. No cupcakes. No cookies. Nothing yummy, tasty or fattening. Instead, the kids are allowed to hand out treat bags at the end of the day. You know,little goodie bags filled with tiny doo-dads like pencils, stickers and glo-sticks.

It's a nice idea. But with 26 kids in the class, filling those bags is a a feat that could thwart even the most clever cheapskate. And I've never claimed to be particularly clever.

Nevertheless, I headed off to the closest party palace superstore with high hopes - only to find that little party bags of yo-yos, pinball games and harmonicas came in packs of 8 or 10 and were priced from $2.99 on up. Sure, there were giant party bags for $10, but they were gender-specific, and I'll admit, I'm overly picky. I want fun - cheap fun. A bouncy ball is fun. A "superstar" sticker is not. It's the principle of the thing. I have a lot of principles. I just don't have a lot of cash.

Tired and overwhelmed by overpriced party supplies, I bought four bags of overpriced plastic harmonicas. Although my son was delighted and can now play a somewhat horrid harmonic Jingle Bells, it about blew my budget. But an emergency trip to the dollar store saved me. I managed to find just enough stuff to do the trick. Next year, though, I think we'll just regift treats from the Halloween party. Now that would have been clever.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Embarrassed by his mom, already

Today was popcorn day at school, and I forgot. Simply forgot. But I could smell my mistake as soon as I walked in the door. So I accompanied my son into his second-grade classroom so we could figure out what to do.

"Sean," I said. "We forgot about popcorn. Do you want me to run out and get some change?"

My little boy turned around from where he was unloading his backpack with a look of pure mortification on his face. "No!" he said. "It's fine."

I was a little puzzled. "It's no big deal," I told him. "I have a couple of quarters in the car and I can ..."

By this time he looked almost desperate. "Mom, just go," he said, pushing me lightly toward the door. "It's okay!"

So I did. I left. And when I got home, I looked in the mirror. I had on makeup. My hair was curled. I was wearing a sweatshirt, but it didn't have toothpaste or Pepto-Bismol dribbled down the front. My occasional serial-killer-worthy eye twitch seemed under control. Bottom line, I didn't look embarrassing.

I think I just was embarrassing. Just ... as his mom. Sigh. Already. In second grade. I thought I'd have a little time than that. At least it's only at school. For now.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

I like snow. I just like it from the inside

"SNOW!!" said my daughter this morning, looking out the window and jumping up and down with excitement.

"Snow," I echoed, considerably less impressed.

My girl looked back at me, surprised. "Mom?" she asked. "Don't you like snow?"

Ummmmm, well, sure. Kind of. I mean, in a poetic sense. On a Christmas card. Looking through a window. Watching it drift as I read in front of the fire. I like snow. Or, I like the idea of snow. You know, that pretty, picture-perfect snow.

Just not the soggy, icy, leaking-through-the-boot, slogging-through-the-expressway kind of snow. That's all.

But now my son had joined my daughter, and they were ooohing and aahhing out the window. What could I do? I joined them.

"Snow!" I said.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Overeager school play moms, exit stage left

My son is bashful. No, really, he's Bashful - as in the most shy of the seven dwarfs who take care of Snow White in the classic fairy tale.

See, he's part of his classroom's "Readers' Theater," and he's been practicing for weeks. "Readers' Theater," for those who have not attended such a swanky second-grade affair, simply means that there's no memorization involved - the kids are allowed to read from a script. But it's still a big deal, you know, because there's an audience and a stage and costumes, or, well, construction-paper hats.

Anyway, this theater presentation was particularly special to me because my son, who truly is somewhat bashful, actually had solo speaking lines instead of just a chorus part. So I was somewhat excited to see how he did. You know ... for the sake of education and all. Not just for me - certainly not. I mean, it was for education that I took a few liberties with the assigned speed limits to make it across town in time to sit in a a classroom overflowing with doting grandparents and parents.

I sat down, determined to keep my cool. Really, it's just a little play, right?

Until .... Until .... my little boy took the stage and put on his little hat. Then something inside me just ...burst. I was just so PROUD. He was just so CUTE. Maybe that's an explanation for my behavior. All I can say is now I have a lot more sympathy for those stage moms I see on TV.

Because normally I don't wrestle for camera space while smiling maniacally. I don't melt at golden nuggets of verse like, "Don't open the door, Snow White!" I don't laugh and clap at every turn of phrase. But that day, I did.

But then, my prodigy faltered. Maybe he was nervous, maybe he was bored, maybe he just has rhythm, but for some reason, my little stage star started rocking. Yep. Rocking. Back and forth, back and forth, moving on the risers like Whistler's Mother.

"No, no, no," I whispered under my breath, standing tall and still and hoping he'd mimic me. "Don't rock - you'll fall! Stand still!" He probably didn't hear me - although the grandmother in front of me gave me an odd look.

Only when a few other parents began giving me strange looks did I realize my ebullience for the theater might be a little over the top. But I couldn't help it. I mean, that's my kid up there! Onstage! Well, yes, he is rocking back and forth for some reason, but - onstage!! And talking!! Out loud!!! Isn't that exciting??? Oh ... you've seen it before? Oh, well, sure ... me, too. I just wanted to make sure everybody enjoyed the show, that's all. You know, for the sake of education.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Untangling tradition: The Christmas lights

It's the weekend after Thanksgiving, and the taste of pumpkin pie is just a memory.

Instead, I'm sitting cross-legged in our kitchen, trapped within the snake-like confines of Christmas-tree lights, and doing my best not to swear loud enough for the neighbors to hear.

Downstairs, Rudolph is playing on DVD, but I know no one is watching it. They're waiting for me. For mom. Because after mom hangs the lights, then and only then will the ornaments be unwrapped and the real fun begin.

"Give me five more minutes," I call downstairs. I'm fairly certain I hear a collective sigh.

Because everyone knows hanging ornaments is fun. Untangling the lights is not.

As a matter of fact, right now my left arm is numb because it's been trapped far too long within a python-like grip of a tangled light cord that I could have sworn was packed gently and carefully into its own little box last year.

I don't know what happens between now and then. But somehow, amazingly, cords tangle, bulbs burn out - everything changes. I have friends who say it could be spring cleanings and shifting boxes that causes the chaos. Others blame gremlins. Still others like to point the offending finger at well-meaning husbands.

Speaking of which, I do mention casually to mine that when I was growing up, handling the lights was the dad's job. I'm rewarded with a hurt, offended look. "I'm helping," my husband tells me. "I'm here waiting to be yelled at."

I sigh and keep untangling. Forget it. I'm almost there. Just one more strand. See, there's this one knot at the top and if I can just get it loosened ... Give me five more minutes.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Football - a game and a great learning tool

I’ll admit it ― I've never been a big football fan. Even after I married a sports editor, I was still a little lukewarm about the game. I thought it was a little confusing. Maybe a little too rough. But now my feelings have changed. Now that I have a football-crazed little boy, I look at the sport a whole new way.

It’s not just a game. It’s a learning tool.

See, my son is a football fanatic. College teams, professional teams - he follows them all. Closely. He has a particular fondness for the Chicago Bears, which he gets from my husband, but that's just the beginning. The child wants knowledge. He wants trivia. He wants facts, figures, favorite players for each team. He wants history, wins, losses, greatest moments and biggest defeats.

He wants to learn. And that's pretty big news, since over the summer the boy had informed me - at the tender age of 7 - that he really wasn't “a school kind of guy.”

So believe me - we're teaching. We’re just using football to kick off the lesson. (This is an editorial "we," of course. I'm not the football expert - my husband is. I am, however, an enthusiastic fan of the whole father-son bonding thing, so I love to watch it all in action.)

Sometimes, football is a geography lesson. The Indianapolis Colts? They’re right here, in Indiana, see? Yep, where the star is. That means it’s the capital of the state. The Bears? They’re in Chicago. Right over here.

When the NFL realigned its divisions a few years ago, teams were placed in divisions that made sense geographically (for the most part). So now my son understands where the South is because teams like Atlanta, Tampa Bay and New Orleans play in the NFC South. And the Bears, Minnesota Vikings, Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions play in the NFC North. Get it? My son does, too.

Other times, our dinner conversation is a veritable arithmetic lesson. For instance: If the Bears scored a touchdown, made the extra point, kicked a field goal, got a safety and scored another touchdown and went for two (and got it), how many points did they score? (Answer: 20.)

Seriously - he knows this. I don't. But he does. I love that. I love the look on his face while he focuses and works through the problem, and I love that look of pride when he comes up with the right answer and I hug him and say, "Smart cookie!!"

Apparently, the lessons are staying with him, too. The other day, when I dropped him off for school in the morning, his teacher stopped me. “Did Sean tell you about his math problem the other day?” she said. I shook my head, curious.

“We were working on 20,” she told me. “And he had a few problems worked out, you know, 10 + 10, 16 + 4, but in the corner of his sheet, he had written ‘FF TT.’ Well, I thought and thought and finally I asked him, “What does that stand for?”

I grinned because I already knew. I did, after all, marry that sports editor.

His teacher started laughing. “He said, ‘Field goal, field goal, touchdown, touchdown.’” And I just had to laugh. He was right. I think that's the first time a student has worked it out like that for me."

I hope it's not the last.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Ring-a-ding-ding - welcome back, anxiety

The bell ringers are out, ring-a-linging on street corners and in front of store entrances. You've seen them, of course, volunteers bundled against the weather, smiling and hoping you'll drop a quarter or two for charity into their bucket or bin.

Here's a confession: When I hear those bells, I feel a twinge of anxiety. But let me explain, hence I sound like Ebenezer Scrooge before December even arrives. I have no problem with the bell ringers. I have no problem with charities.

It's not about money. It's about being equitable.

Maybe it comes from having two kids. You know, one kid gets a bedtime story, the other kid gets a bedtime story. One kid gets a chocolate chip cookie, the other kid gets a chocolate chip cookie. Everything is fair and equal. Everybody is happy. And it's pretty easy because there's only two kids.

But there's about a hundred bell ringers. So if I give a quarter to the ringer at Penney's, do I give a quarter to the ringer at Meijer's? And if I give a couple of dimes to the ringer at the Kroger, then should I give a couple of dimes to the ringer at the Bed, Bath and Beyond? I mean, fair is fair, right?

They all look like nice people. Half the time, they all look like they're freezing to death. (Not yet - I'm talking last year now). But I don't have that much change. And besides, I don't have that much money.

Now, I know, the bell ringers are not like my kids. Never once have I had one stomp a foot at me and say, "Hey! No fair! I heard you gave money at Kroger's! Where's mine??" But I still feel a little guilty, or like I should explain: "I can't give you any money, I'm sorry. But I gave the guy down the street two quarters, and yesterday, I gave the lady at Kroger three dimes ... I only have a quarter left and I need it for popcorn money tomorrow at school. Sorry."

That, course, would make me everyone uncomfortable. Which I realize. So I just shuffle by with a little smile and some guilt. And a little anxiety.

Maybe I'll should give them each a chocolate chip cookie and call it a day.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

And a quick little girl follow-up ...

So yesterday I wrote a post about a little girl at my son's elementary school who approached me in the morning, looking a little confused and asking about breakfast.

Yesterday, I didn't feel like I helped her enough. So I tried to redeem myself today.

Using those years of reporting skills that I knew would come in handy someday, I found out the girl's full name. I stopped in at the office and spoke to the exceptionally nice principal, who is usually accessible right before school starts. He sat down, took out a pad of paper and a pen, and asked me what was on my mind.

I told him about my concerns. "I know that it's not the school's responsibility to see a child eats breakfast ...." I started.

He stopped me. "Actually, I think it is," he said flatly. "We want to make sure every child has a good breakfast."

That surprised me. So I continued. "But it was the fact the girl seemed so confused that bothered me so much, I guess."

We talked a little bit. He said he would talk to the girl's teacher, and they would keep an eye on the situation.

I left, feeling better but also hoping I hadn't been labeled a major meddler. When I got to the car, I saw that in my haste to get to the school that morning, I'd only applied my lipstick - which is not exactly subtle - to about half my lips.

I had to laugh. I didn't look like a meddler. I just looked like little Sean's crazy mom. I can live with that.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Lesson learned: A little is not enough

Two things struck me about the little girl standing by the curb in front of the elementary school this morning. The first was the enormous Bobby Jack monkey logo on her pants. The second was that she was alone.

You don't see many kids standing alone in front of that school in the morning. First of all, there are hordes of overprotective parents, like myself, rushing their sleepy kids to the proper entrances before the bells ring. Even after their progeny are safely within the school walls, the parents usually remain, chatting, with their dogs, their strollers and their steaming coffee cups, creating a cozy little protective community.

The transfer buses, too, have plenty of oversight. There are staff members who meet the kids right at the steps of the buses, taking their hands, greeting them by names and leading them inside.

So the fact this child was by herself surprised me a bit. However, some parents do stand across a little lane in the parking lot and watch their kids cross, so I thought that might be the case.

But I happened to look up from the lecture I was giving my son on the importance of hats and gloves as we passed and the little girl caught my eye. "Excuse me," she said. "Is it time for breakfast?"

Oh dear. The school served breakfast before school, I knew, but I was pretty sure the bell was going to ring in about five minutes. But ... maybe this girl had special permission. And she was alone. And she seemed small - maybe first grade? That may not seem small to some parents, but it does to me. Of course, all kids seem small to me.

"Hmmm," I said to her, bending down. "I'm not sure if they're still serving breakfast, but you can check. Go right in that door, okay?" I pointed to the front door, behind her. "Turn left, and that's where the cafeteria is. Do you know where it is?"

She nodded, and she started walking to the front door. I started walking away. I stopped and looked behind me. She was, indeed, walking in the front door.

I delivered my half-awake son to his classroom, fairly certain he was aware that gloves and a hat should be worn in cold weather (but not certain he would wear them), but I couldn't get that little girl out of my mind. On a whim, I headed to the cafeteria. It was empty. Deflated. I just stood there.

The kindly cafeteria lady, whose name I should know but don't, recognized me. "Can I help you?" she asked me. I told her about the little girl I saw outside, and what had transpired.

"Did you see her?" I asked hopefully. "Did she get something to eat?"

"No," she said. "But I know who she is, I think. She's new - she's pretty timid. She comes in here a few times a week. I'll keep an eye out for her tomorrow. Her mom probably wants her to eat breakfast."

I'm sure she does. What mom wouldn't? And I don't know why her daughter was alone, but I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt. I know I'd like to be with my kids far more than I am.

But more to the point: I felt bad. I still feel bad. I think I would have felt better if the girl had said, "Do I have time for breakfast?" not, "Is it time for breakfast?" like she was confused. I have to think she lost track of time - I wish I had taken her hand, delivered my son to class, and then delivered her to the cafeteria myself. Or vice-versa.

I know we can't take care of every kid in the world - but I'd like to think we would help every one we can. If mine were lost or confused. I hope someone would help. I think I did a little - I hope I did - but not enough.

Lesson learned. A little is not enough

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Whoa, Santa - I need Thanksgiving first

In the grocery store, I heard Christmas carols playing. On a walk through the neighborhood in the early evening, I saw a few houses already lit up in red and green. And then the other day, my son said what I was thinking: "Boy, nobody really remembers Thanksgiving, do they, mom?"

I think he's right. Sorry, pilgrims. Too bad, Squanto, keep your corn. No offense, but your holiday has fallen by the wayside. We love Halloween. We adore Christmas. But Thanksgiving - ehh... not so much.

Halloween, after all, is that first holiday in fall. We're ready. The weather is crisp, the decorations are amazing, there's so much candy - I mean, what's not to like? And Christmas? Well, just about everybody loves that. Lights, songs, presents, toys ... whether you celebrate it for Santa or Jesus or both, Christmas is one glamorous holiday.

And the faster it gets here, the sooner we'll find that coveted peaceful joy-to-the-world feeling, right?

But I'm not sure it works that way. This year, I saw Christmas decorations in the store before Halloween. And it didn't make me feel good at all. It made me anxious. It made me feel like time was passing faster and faster and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

Besides, I need Thanksgiving. It gives me a chance to catch my breath before the cacophony of Christmas. I don't want to buy Christmas toys in July. In fact, I don't think that I could - I think there is something in my DNA that would physically prevent me.

Besides, right after Thanksgiving is my boy's birthday, and I'm told (by the birthday boy) that there should be some party planning afoot.

So Thanksgiving, I won't forget you. I will keep out my harvest wreath and fall leaves while others opt for their holly and lights. I will have my stuffed turkeys on the windowsill and a harvest angel on the shelf. And on Thanksgiving, we'll have food and family and give thanks and dig in.

Then we'll take a deep breath and move full speed ahead.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Burping, buttcheeks and little boy humor

The other night, the kids and I were watching TV when an Old Navy commercial came on. You know, one of those where the mannequins are supposed to be talking to each other. This time, their topic was an outerwear sale.

My 7-year-old son couldn't contain his laughter. "Outerwear??" he said. "I thought they said UNDERWEAR!!"

He repeated this at least five times. And when the commercial came on again, he said it again. And then again.

At bedtime, he was still giggling to himself. "Mom," he whispered close to my ear. "UNDERWEAR!!"

Because that is what is funny to 7 year old boys - well, at least to my 7-year-old boy. It's taken a little getting used to, sure. But now I know. Other things that may evoke uncontrollable bouts of giggles include:

Farting noises. Or farting noises made with a hand under an armpit. Or squeaking shoes that might possibly sound like farting noises. Or even plain old-school farting noise done with your mouth. Extra points if any of this is heard at school.

Repeating things. Repeating things. Repeating things. Repeating things.

Watching people on TV fall down. Extra points if they're yelling loudly.

Pretending to snore when it's time to go somewhere important. Extra points if we're in a hurry.

YouTube star The Annoying Orange.

Belching. (Just like dad. Hmmmmm.)

Pillow fights with his sister.

The cartoon show Adventure Time.

Saying, "Close your eyes and then kiss me goodnight." Then quickly whipping around so, if you're dumb enough to fall for it, you'll soon be kissing his feet or his rear end.

Putting his shoes on the wrong feet, shuffling to the door and continuously saying, "It's fine - they feel good," when you try to get him to change.

That Subway commercial where the little boy who never gets what he wants says, "Can I dye the cat?" and the dad yells, "No!!"

The word "buttcheeks."

Spongebob Squarepants doing just about anything.

Oh, and maybe I forgot: The word UNDERWEAR.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Well, how much money will you make?

I'm blaming it on the recession. Or the headlines. Or maybe the fact a couple of my friends are worried about losing their jobs. You hear too much news like that, and it starts to make you think. Overthink. And worry about choices.

So maybe that's why I said what I did.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. This story really starts with my 12-year-old daughter, the artist. I mean, seriously, she is gifted. She doesn't get it from me. I just draw little stick people doing funny things - "Mom toons," as my husband calls them. But ever since that girl has been little, she's had a sketch pad in her hands, drawing everything and anything, and doing it really, really well.

My daughter loves manga. You've heard of it, right? Those Japanese serialized comics? Well, I don't know when my daughter discovered them, but ever since she has, she's been drawing these incredibly detailed characters. She's also become fascinated with all aspects of Japanese culture. It's really pretty cool - she listens to Japanese rock, has convinced her stalwart Midwestern mom to try sushi, and now she's studying the language through the local library.

Which leads us to today - when we were reviewing her grades online. Straight As, as usual. "I want to start looking at art schools," she told me. "Really?" I said, only half listening. "What do you want to study?"

I didn't even expect her to have an answer - I was on Facebook, checking Twitter, doing this and that, not really paying attention. I mean, she's 12

But she answered promptly. "I want to draw manga," she told me. "And then maybe get into anime."

And I, the creative, free spirit of the family, had this to say: "How much money will you make?" Let me just repeat that so the awfulness will sink in: HOW MUCH MONEY WILL YOU MAKE?

I'm glad I didn't have a mirror in front of me. I'm sure I would have seen the face of that money-grubbing little Monopoly man. Or maybe Ebenezer Scrooge. Or more embarrassing, my college self, shaking her head at me reprovingly.

My daughter, God bless her, thought I was kidding. She laughed. "Well, I'm really good," she said. "So I'll make lots." And she danced upstairs.

I know that comment might not seem like a big deal. There's nothing wrong with making money, right? Everyone wants the best for their kid, right? And believe me, I like money as much as the next mom.

But I'm not sure reviewing the pay scale is the best way to support your child's dreams. Especially when she's 12.

I've always been fanatical about creativity with my kids. We have dance parties, we paint, write and read aloud - we put on little skits before bedtime. We've been known to pour flour all over the kitchen table, just to have something new to play in.

So, WTH, I asked myself? But I don't have the answer.

I don't know where this sudden visit from the accountant came from. But if he comes back, he'll need to watch his mouth.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Pop, pop, pop - a little help, please?

As I poured popcorn kernels and oil into a creaking, rotating canister, desperately trying to remember which parts of the machine were hot to the touch, I suddenly developed a very warm place in my heart for volunteers.

Any volunteers. Young volunteers, old volunteers, canine volunteers - but especially the popcorn mom volunteers at my son's elementary school.

Because this week, only a few showed up, So those few, which surprisingly included me, had to bust their butts to fill hundreds of bags of popcorn for an eager student body eagerly awaiting its popcorn fix.

It's not just a tasty treat - its a school fundraiser. Every other week, there's a popcorn day, and the money raised goes to a particular teacher's classroom budget.

I'm a little embarrassed to tell you I don't know all the particulars. I'm not a very good popcorn volunteer. In fact, I've only done it a few times. And the times I've done it, there have been lots of other moms here. I could have done it more, of course - I could have come in early, before work. But the other moms had more time than me, I told myself. After all, I had a job. I had errands. I mean, I had stuff.

So, I would show up once or twice, assuage a little mom guilt, and then forget about the whole thing. Until yesterday. When I showed up and nobody else did.

Well, that's not quite true. Amy, the organizer was there, like she always is, every single time. She looked incredibly glad to see me. Since I can barely make coffee and only make popcorn in a microwave - and not particularly well - I considered this a bad sign.

"Oh, thank goodness!" she said with a big smile. "A volunteer! Have you done this before?"

Only then did I notice that only one other mom was there, on her cell phone, trying to recruit a few others.

"It's so hard to get people these days, " Amy confided. "Thanks for coming!"

I felt a twinge of embarrassment.

But with little time to chat, I began filling up bag after bag after bag. And bag after bag after bag. Twenty-five orders from the a.m. kindergarten; 17 from one of the first grades. Fifteen from one of the second grades. And so on. Kids would come in, faces alight, dragging off the giant bags that we would fill with their orders.

Amy was working the creaking old-fashioned popcorn machine that beeped every five minutes. She began filling two giant bins with popcorn - one with plain, one flavored with cheddar salt. "Here," she said, demonstrating. "Just season it like this." She shook the salt over the popcorn and handed it to me. I shook it tentatively. A cheddary cloud blew up directly in my face. Amy gently turned it around.

"Oh, of course," I said with a fake laugh. Ugh. Dork.

Soon, another mom showed up to count the money (thank goodness!) and start dividing the bags for the classrooms. Amy's friend, her cell phone efforts exhausted, began helping me fill orders. But then, far too soon, Amy and friend had to leave.

"My car needs to be serviced," she told me regretfully. "But I'll show you how to run the machine." She pointed to the somewhat intimidating looking popper. I was suddenly reminded of the time I was supposed to make coffee for my entire sorority house and nearly caused a fire.

"Uhhhhhhh ...." I protested. "I don't think ..."

She clipped open a few packages of kernels and oil. "It's easy," she told me confidently. "You can do it."

I guess I could. Because I had to. And sheesh, it was popcorn - how hard could it be?

And it probably was easy - for someone with coordination skills. But I spilled a few kernels. And then the bag nearly snagged in the canister's stirrers.

So when a few other parents came into the lobby and said, "Ooh, that smells so good!" I had a very hard time not yelling, "Get over here and help me, then!!!"

It would have been inappropriate. And I know that until yesterday, I probably would have said the very same thing.

My son came home with two bags of popcorn. "I love popcorn day," he said happily. "Don't you?"

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Stressed? Just set that oven and bake

I think I've fallen prey to a new addiction.

Oh, I'm trying not to be too obvious about it. I usually wait til after dinner, when the kids are doing homework and the husband is downstairs. Then I sneak to the kitchen, open up my latest book, gather up the eggs, flour, sugar and such and ... bake.

Yes, I have become an obsessive baker. I bake cookies, cakes and quick breads. I roll pastry. I glaze, frost and drizzle. I admire my bundts from afar. I pore through cookbooks late at night. In the grocery store, I surreptitiously grab a Taste of Home here, an Every Day with Rachael Ray there. I have stacks of them now; I'm going to have to start clipping the recipes or those people from that A&E hoarding show will start sniffing around, I just know it.

I've become inordinately fond of Paula Deen, and I'm contemplating moving south so we can become friends. Well, not now. But someday.

It's not just because the holidays are around the corner - I know baking fever hits a lot of people then. Baking is cathartic for me. The more stressful my day, the more I bake. Maybe it's because recipes are so solid, so real. My assignments may vary, my projects my come and go, and I never know where my day will lead, but I am sure - yes, I am absolutely positive - what will happen when I mix together that sugar, egg and butter with some vanilla, baking powder and flour.

It's comforting. And tasty.

I guess you could call it a healthful addiction - relatively speaking. I used to drink wine when I got stressed - at least eating too many cookies doesn't leave you addled and performing Lady GaGa impressions for your friends.

It could, however, lead to another necessary vice: Exercise. Shhh. Pass the butter, and perish the thought.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

We did the Mash ... the Monster Mash

I have always loved a good party. Years ago, I'd put on my coolest outfit, get ready to hear some great music, dance and hopefully scout out a cute guy.

Well, things have changed a bit. I still love a great party - and I went to one just the other day. I put on a pretty cool outfit, I heard some great music, danced and I did leave with the cutest guy.

I was an organizer for my son's second grade Halloween party. And while it was very fun, I must say it took every organizational skill I have learned through years of working in the corporate world.

Working with grown-ups is one thing. Sure, they may disagree with you, but there's always that sense of decorum. They don't stamp their feet, stick their fingers in their ears and run away when there's an argument. They don't walk backwards and fall down. (Most of them, at least). They don't like to open their mouths really wide so everyone can see their chewed-up doughnuts. And most of them can sit still - at least for more than a minute or two.

It was a nice to see, however, that no one was typing on a Blackberry while I was teaching them to make Tootsie Pop ghosts.

But once I adjusted to the culture shock, we had loads of fun. I dressed up like a witch, much to the children's delight. We made crafts, played pin-the-nose-on-the-jack-o-lantern, hid Mr. Bones and reassembled him, danced the Monster Mash, ate doughnuts and drank apple juice. I got to walk in the annual Halloween parade, which twists through the local neighborhoods. That was a surprise. If I'd known the volunteers walked along, I would have worn sneakers, and not the appropriate, yet uncomfortable, witch boots.

And I haven't heard my name pronounced so creatively since my last visit to the license bureau. Mrs. Majeheske? Mrs. Pahewske? Mrs. Majajewske? Sean's mom?

At the end, I was exhausted. And sweaty. And ready to go to work. I couldn't wait to show everyone how a chewed-up doughnut looks in my mouth.

p.s. Happy Halloween!!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Remembering a little helps a lot

My sister would have loved Facebook. She would have bugged the living hell out of me with those Farmville animals, and I am absolutely sure she would be addicted to Mafia Wars.

But she isn't. She's not here, because she died - five years ago this week. It seems so strange to even be typing those words. It seems like I should be writing them about someone else. Bad things wouldn't, couldn't happen to her, to our family, right? Her husband wouldn't get cancer, she wouldn't care tirelessly for him until his death, and then she absolutely, certainly wouldn't die of a stroke a year later. It couldn't happen. But it did.

But I don't want to write about that. I've spent enough time cursing the fates and shaking my fist at the sky. I've spent hours crying buckets of tears. I just want to share with you some of the memories I have that keep me strong when I feel like my heart will absolutely crack in two.

Oscar Wilde once said, "Memory is the diary that we all carry about with us." I believe it. Memories can seem so small, so silly - just a few moments in time, really. But when we lose someone, they help. Immensely. Here then, just a few of my favorite entries:

My wedding day, when my sister, as my matron of honor, realized our caterers had hired as the bartender a local guy known far and wide as "Cross-Eyed Carl." With only a few giggles, she stepped behind the bar and helped him get a few drinks poured. In glasses, even.

Her cool signature dance moves - particularly to Aerosmith songs. There was this one that involved a fist pump and a leg kick and ... well, let's just say Steven Tyler would be in awe.

Her absolute loyalty to McDonald's coffee, which she insisted was the best. No matter how much I begged and pleaded for a Starbucks run, we'd always end up at the clown shop.

The day my timid, sweet-natured sister, bound and determined, waited outside at the animal shelter before it opened so she could have first dibs on the one available tortoise shell kitten. and how she, who loathed confrontation of any sort, stood up to the bully who tried to cut in front of her. She won, too.

I could go on and on, of course - about my sister's ability to talk non-stop about her three kids - how even my falling face-first in a faux faint into the couch couldn't stop her from regaling me with the exploits of their day. Those kids, by the way, are terrific - talented and funny and whip-smart. I think she's still watching over them like any mom would; just from farther away.

So memory is a diary, huh? I guess that's another reason I'll never stop writing.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Step right up to the Mom Confessional

I have always been of the mind there should be a special Mom Confessional.

You know, a place where moms - basically good moms, moms who were doing their best to keep it together, moms like, say, me - could go, step behind a door and admit all their transgressions. You know, get those little pseudo-sins off their chest, give them a chance to start anew.

For instance, you could tell a Mother Superior (Get it? "Mother Superior??") about your sloppy housekeeping, your slack personal hygiene or your lax disciplinarian efforts, any of those mom areas in which you felt you were lacking.

For instance, my week might read a little something like this:

My daughter had a test this week, and I let her have Krispy Kremes for breakfast.


My co-worker was telling me a compelling story about her bathroom redesign, and I was actually thinking the whole time about the chicken I had put in the refrigerator and wondering if I should have put it in the freezer.


I realized too late that the shirt I had chosen for work one morning had a hideous, undiagnosed yellow stain on it and instead of going home and changing I just borrowed a lapel pin from a friend and clipped together the material so it wouldn't show.

and finally

While folding pants in my little boy's room, I spied a little pile of underwear stashed in the corner. Where did it come from? How long has it been there? Should I just grab a pitchfork and bury it in the back yard? Good Lord.

See, here's the thing. I'm not a bad person. I'm not rude or disgusting - I mean, except maybe on that lapel pin day. But this is hard, balancing all this stuff - work, wife, mom, life. I think a Mom Confessional would make me feel better. Maybe it already has.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Treats for 20 tomorrow? Coming from me?

When I was in school, I was the queen of the last-minute request. I thought nothing of casually telling my mom before bedtime I needed two dozen brownies for the class, or that I was pretty sure my sugar cube igloo was due the next day.

Her surprised exasperation always puzzled me. I mean, we usually had hours to pull a rabbit out of the hat. What was the big deal? Of course, there was that one time that I completely forgot about our social studies assignment, the one where we were supposed to bring some type of food from a family recipe.

I knew it was a big assignment. But I'd remembered in plenty of time - the day before.

"I don't cook," my mom told me flatly. "Never have."

"Well, what about grandma?" I asked.

"Why do you think I don't cook?" she answered.

We ended up bringing a delightful butter cake from my German Aunt Lee ... um, that would be Aunt Sara Lee, just between you and me. My mother and I, partners in crime, placed it on a plate, garnished it and made up some story about how the recipe had been passed down from my German great aunt or some such awful tale.

My teacher ate it, but I don't think she bought it. She asked me far more questions than she did the other kids. And I had a clean plate, but not a terribly clean conscience.

It was at that point I started realizing that those last-minute requests can be a real pain. And now, in a fitting twist of fate, I have to teach that lesson to my son. It's apparently an inherited trait.

Walking out the door to school today, he tells me, somewhat accusingly, "We forgot my black folder yesterday, you know."

I was startled. "What folder?" He looked impatient. "For Mrs Harrigan." He walked out the door to the driveway. I ran to catch up. "Who's Mrs. Harrigan?"

He let out his breath, exasperated. "She keeps my books!"

His bookie? What the ...? For the record, I knew nothing of a black folder, Mrs. Harrigan or any books. I found out later she was a reading teacher, the folder was buried in a living room chair, and these were special books we were to have been reading together throughout the week. Good to know, son.

The trend continued later into the night after catechism class. When I picked him up, he showed me his latest project "By the way," he said. "We were supposed to bring back our green folder."

"Green folder?" I said, feeling an uneasy twinge of deja vu.

"The one in the car," he prompted, running ahead of me. Just for the record, I knew nothing of any green folder, and ... well, you know the rest. Yeah. It was crammed under the bench seat in the back of the mini-van. Good to know, son.

I have a bad feeling this is just the beginning of some fine last-minute scrambling, courtesy of my boy. Maybe my Great Aunt Lee will even make it back for a visit. Oh well. I hope she brings that cake.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Mr. Whiskers' early-morning adventure

Mr. Whiskers is the family cat. He is a tabby, big as a Christmas ham and just about as active, although he has been known to stroll about the back yard and lounge malevolently under the bird feeders.

He showed up at our house several years ago, skinny and hungry, scratching incessantly at the door, sure he was home. He was, of course. He had been declawed and neutered, and despite our best attempts to find an owner, nobody ever showed up to claim him. We decided eventually he just went looking for a better offer.

We think he found it. He is one coddled cat.

So this morning, the morning of his adventure, Katie and I were walking to her bus stop. It was chilly and very dark with an overcast sky. We were chatting about this and that, not anything at all, when suddenly Katie gave me a startled look.

"Mom!" she exclaimed. "There's a cat behind you! But ... it can't be ours."

Surely not. The bus stop wasn't terribly far away, but farther than Mr. Whiskers was used to wandering. Or so I imagined. But his size rendered him unmistakable. It was indeed our Mr. Whiskers.

Not good. The subdivision was coming to life. Cars were starting to zoom by, motors were revving, and our usually unshakable cat was looking somewhat shaky. But he still determinedly loped behind us. I scooped him up. Katie giggled.

"Now everyone sees you carrying the cat around," she whispered "Now they all know you're a crazy cat lady."

The reputation was cemented when the noisy, creaky bus arrived and Mr. Whiskers freaked. He jumped from my arms, and I, deathly afraid he'd run into the street, ran after him, alternately cooing and shouting for his return.

After the bus left, he crept out from under a parked car, looked at me accusingly, then attempted to regain his dignity by following me home. He then feasted on his favorite meal of Fancy Feast Turkey Florentine and curled up on the blankets for a well-deserved rest. As well he should.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Teddy bears worth their weight in gold

There is a time to put away childish things. And then there's a time to get them back out again.

Last week was a killer. Lots of deadlines, lots of good intentions, with only a minimal success rate. A higher-than-average rate of tears. So the weekend, I decided, definitely needed something high on the fun scale. But what? I wanted to take a trip somewhere, but I didn't want the traffic and parking to end up stressing me out even more.

So I came up with what (I hoped) was a fabulous idea. I remembered seeing a sign awhile back ... I was almost sure ... for a teddy bear factory. And while I certainly like teddy bears and have collected my fair share of stuffed animals over the years, my daughter could easily be called obsessed. Oh, she's tapered off as she's grown, sure, but she still gets that gleam in her eye when the two words are mentioned together. So I had a feeling she'd be up for a little low-key adventure.

So I did a little (effortless) online research, and found out that, yes, I was a scant 38 minutes (says Mapquest) from Chelsea, Mich., and the renowned Chelsea Teddy Bear Company. (

The Chelsea Teddy Bear Company actually boasts a toy museum, retail shop, and factory - 10,000 little bears under one roof - and it offers free tours on Saturdays. So we left the boys behind and headed out on a little mommy-daughter field trip.

It was so fun. There were no big crowds or traffic jams, my daughter was delighted, and really, how can you not love teddy bears? We trolled about the museum, took a tour of the giant warehouse, giggled together, took photos, and yes, of course, I bought her a bear at the end.

It was no big deal, really. But taking a drive on a gorgeous fall day, seeing the delighted, excited expression on my kid's face, and forgetting all the stress of the week - to me, those little bears were worth their weight in gold.

Friday, October 15, 2010

If only I had Golden Arches in my kitchen

I know you've heard the research that says eating together at the dinner table strengthens the family bond. Personally, I'd like to chat with those researchers. Oh, I don't doubt their findings. I'd just like to see what's on their plates.

I happen to have given birth to two of the pickiest eaters on the planet. Now, my husband is exceptionally easy to please, and I'm always looking for new ways to tempt my palate without expanding my waistline, but my offspring, on the other hand, examine every new offering closer than those guys on CSI.

My son, at the age of 6, made the pronouncement that if he hadn't tried it before, he didn't like it. My daughter would prefer to exist on a diet of salad, Hawaiian bread and chocolate ice cream.

Unless, of course, food from the Golden Arches makes an appearance at the table. Then the sun shines, angels sing and radiant smiles instantly appear. Don't let the clown suit fool you - that Ronald McDonald is a big hit with kids.

Consider this: the other night I decided to make some ginger chicken. It goes on top of this really tasty pizza we call "190 North" pizza, in honor of this fun Chicago-based entertainment show that once had a segment spotlighting Chicago pizza places that inspired us to get creative.( The chicken was simmering on the stove while I worked on the computer.

My daughter walked through the room. "Did you feed the cat tuna again?" she asked, scrunching up her perfect little face. "Because I'm smelling that tuna smell."

I rolled my eyes. "No." I said. "There's no tuna. Just chicken."

My son wandered through next. He coughed. "Ugh," he said. "Get some Febreze."


A few weeks later, I had to work late, and just didn't have the energy to cook. I stopped at McDonalds, which was right next to the crafts store. Hesitating just a minute, I decided to run in - I just needed to find one thing. But the line took forever. I ran in the house, late, disheveled and apologetic.

"I'm so sorry!" I said. "This stuff is probably really cold."

But it didn't matter. It could have been coated with frost. The kids were already digging through the bag, giddy with delight, munching on their lukewarm nuggets and chilly fries.

"Delicious!" pronounced my son. My daughter nodded happily. "No one makes fries like McDonald's," she said.

Of course they don't.

Oh, those (unwelcome) teachable moments

SpongeBob was having a rough time. See, his grandmother kept treating him like a baby, and now the whole gang at the Krusty Krab was teasing him.

My son and I were lounging on the couch, watching the show. Well, he was lounging. I was engaged in a futile effort of cleaning up the toys, clothes and general junk that seems to constantly clutter our family room.

But I'll admit - I was watching, too. I like SpongeBob. As far as kids' shows go, it's not too bad. It beats that whole Tellytubbies phase, I'll say that. And let's not even talk about those weird Boobahs. (Remember them? What were they?

Anyway, at one point in the episode (which my son and I had both seen before), the cantankerous Squidward is teasing SpongeBob about a lipstick kiss he has on his forehead.

I know who loves you, SpongeBob," Squidward smirks. "Your grandmother!"

Suddenly, from the depths of the couch came my son's voice: "Kick him in the nuts, SpongeBob!!"

Um, What? Excuse me?

This, from my sweet-faced son, the boy who was so shy last year in first grade we had to remind him to make eye contact with his teacher?

Kick him in the nuts? Where did that come from?? At my horrified expression, my son realized he'd said something wrong. He immediately looked contrite, and I steeled myself not to overreact.

"Sean," I said evenly. "That's not really a nice thing to say."

He looked puzzled. "But isn't it a good form of payback?" he asked.

What? We don't live in the 'hood; this kid doesn't get into fights. I made a mental note to review his TV shows and video games.

"It's just not appropriate," I said, avoiding the whole "level of payback" issue. We talked about it a little. "So let's not say it, okay?"

He shrugged. "Okay," he said, and went back to munching on a snack with his adorable little mouth. I wonder what will come out of it next.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

I want to hold your hand, hand, hand

Every day I wake up while it's still dark out and I put on a pot of coffee, open up the curtains and start the same routine.

I wake up my daughter, not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination, and begin the arduous task of easing her into the day.

She's in middle school now, so it's the first year she and her little brother have been apart. She's in sixth grade; he's in second. Always before, mornings have been a raucous affair, with the two of them arguing and wrestling on the couch while I tried to maintain order, but this year, things are different.


Now Katie eats her breakfast of plain bread and milk - her choice, I swear - and I brush her hair while she gathers her things. We walk together out to the bus stop while she chats about her upcoming day. I'm the only mom out there, but she wants me to come, she says, wants me to wait with her. When the bus comes, she goes to the first seat, right behind the driver. She's never ridden a school bus before. She waves to me from the window, so I force myself to look happy, even though I miss her already. But I wave enthusiastically, and do a little dance on the sidewalk sometimes. She laughs.

Then I go home and wake up my son. A second grader, Sean is a bundle of boundless energy. Before he's even out of bed, he's full of questions. They're usually about football or NASCAR - I usually can't answer them, but he tries to be patient. "Mom, he says. "Try to learn!" I pack his lunch and a snack, and we head out to his elementary school, right across the street.

When he was in kindergarten, I walked him into his classroom. I hung up his coat, and I put away his folder, and I walked him to his seat and gave him a kiss. In first grade, he let me walk him to the door. Now, I can only hold his hand until we turn the corner of the building. He surreptitiously, and kindly, eases his hand from mine. "You don't need to walk me in," he informed me after the first week. "But I want to," I insisted. He turned back and looked at me waiting eagerly at the door. "No." he said firmly. "I'm fine." He gave my hand a pat and walked down the hall.

Just a few more years of them both being little - that's all I want. But that's not going to happen. So I smile and wave and do a little dance for him on the sidewalk. He laughs.