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.