Wednesday, December 28, 2011

If life were vacation, it would go something like this . . .

During the year, when I'm at work, I like to moan and groan about how busy I am. Life would be very different, I say, if only I had more spare time.

Well, I'm on vacation this week. And I think I'm getting a taste of what would happen if I allowed myself to live a totally unstructured life:

1. I would watch a lot of Food Network.

2. I would go to the gym in the morning and then go home and crash into bed.

3. I would eat too much candy.

4. I would play Mario checkers with my son - and lose.

5. I would have long conversations with the dog, who would start to look slightly bored.

6. I would drink many different types of coffee.

7. I would hang out at the library with all the other cool people.

8. I would  talk a lot about how the house was really messy and how I should clean it up. And then I would watch Food Network.

9. I would write.

10. I wouldn't have any excuses not to do all the stuff I've been putting off ... and I'd watch more Food Network.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Injury causes Christmas slowdown - but it's not all bad

It's Christmas Eve, and I'm barely moving. Oh, it's not fatigue, although like most everyone else I know, I'm pretty beat.

I'm injured. I have no idea how it happened, but somehow I managed to pull, stretch or somehow mangle the band of muscles that surrounds the chest and upper back. I woke up the other day, somewhat alarmed at feeling pain in my chest, but soon realized that I could barely take a deep breath without my muscles screaming.

It's  frustrating, annoying - I feel like I've been in a fight. I've been walking in slow motion for the last few days, trying to avoid quick movements and sudden turns.

But I can honestly say I've found the silver lining that surrounds this cloud. I've had to slow down - I've had no choice but to step back from the holiday rush. To my surprise - and guilt - I've found this makes my children really happy. Oh, not the injury, of course -but the accessibility.

We've read Christmas books. We watched Christmas movies. My son showed off the videos he's been making; my daughter demonstrated all the airplanes she's created in her problem-solving class.

I'll likely be moving a little slower through Christmas. But maybe I was moving too fast to begin with.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Real Christmas magic and miracles come from families

I've been pretty cranky at work lately. Oh, it's nothing really, just lots of tension in the office - tight deadlines, lots of projects, fraying tempers.

The gray skies, bumper-to-bumper traffic and constant drizzling rain haven't been helping my mood much, either. But when I walk in the door of my house, that all changes. No, I don't have a fancy house - not at all. But I'll come in, crabby and bedraggled, and my husband will greet me like a princess; he'll have dinner already started and the dog walked and fed, to boot.

My kids will rush over to show me their school projects, not even noticing I look like something the cat dragged in. They'll chatter excitedly with each other and giggle and wrestle while I peel off my purse and my boots and my bookbag, and every time they laugh I'll feel my mood lighten.

By the time I walk upstairs to change my clothes I feel like an entirely different person.

I just finished a little Christmas book of short stories recently. It's called Magic, Miracles & Mistletoe. I started it on a whim, deciding for no good reason to start a project about holiday magic. The dedication was the last and easiest sentence I wrote:

"This novella is dedicated to my family: Without them, there'd be no magic at all."

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Birthday party amid holiday rush takes premier planning skills

I have a friend who is a schoolteacher, and she carefully planned out her conception so her kids were born in the spring.

I've never been that much of a planner. That's why my husband and I are putting together a birthday party right after Thanksgiving and smack dab in the midst of the holiday rush.

Our little boy is turning 9. Wow! That doesn't sound very little anymore, does it? Ok ... I'll deal with that later. Right now, we're trying to order a cake, plan a party and find gifts - unavailable in stores, naturally - all while handling the usual holiday mayhem.

"What do you want this year?" I asked my boy, halfway hoping he'd say he was forfeiting his gifts and sending money to Hong Kong or someplace like those kids I see occasionally on the news. No such luck.

"A Wario plushie," he replied. "And a green Angry Bird."

Um, ok. Wario, I knew was a character from the Mario games. And Angry Birds, heck, that should be easy, right??  WRONG. The GREEN angry bird is so elusive I'm pretty sure it's only sold in some Angry Birds store in Hong Kong.

This is starting to remind me of the time my daughter wanted to be Lavagirl from "Sharkboy and Lavagirl" for Halloween and I had to come up with a costume. Not good.

But we're trying. I'm calling parents to make sure families will be in town on the weekend, ordering a cake from the bakery girl who hasn't heard of Mario and, oh yes, buying Christmas gifts on the side.

I should have planned ahead. Way ahead. Soooo ... you wouldn't happen to know the area code for Hong Kong, would you?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Maybe at Christmas, everyone wants a happy ending

I have a confession to make: I'm addicted to the Hallmark Channel.

Oh, not all the time. In fact, the channel has been available to me all year and I didn't even know it. But something happens to me around Christmas. I get ... softer. Sappier, even. I want cute stories. I want happy endings. I want everything tied up with a bow and a smile in 90 minutes.

It's so out of character, it's alarming.

"WHAT are you watching?" my husband said as he peered in on me curiously the other day.

"Trading Christmas," I said promptly. "It's a really cute story about this widow who trades houses with  . . ." He hurried down the hall. "No, that's fine," he called back. "I was just wondering."

But it didn't start with Trading Christmas, which is also a very fun book by Debbie Macomber. First was Mrs. Miracle. Then there was Call Me Mrs. Miracle. Both of those, coincidentally, are also books by Macomber. I'm betting she loves the Hallmark Channel, too. But it doesn't stop there. There's Holiday Engagement and Mistletoe Over Manhattan and Lucky Christmas and, well, you get the idea. It's Hallmark's Countdown to Christmas.

The movies are sweet, charming, formulaic. The set-up, the situation, the glitch and the solution. Normally, that would make me crazy. Where are the plot twists? The car chases? The murder, mayhem and mystery?

But not these days.  I'm settling in with them with my blanket and my cinnamon tea and I'm perfectly content.  Maybe, around Christmas, everybody wants a happy ending

Friday, November 18, 2011

A few minutes of mom support can change everything

I made it to the elementary school this morning in the nick of time, bedraggled and out of breath. It wasn't even 8:30, and I had already made three breakfasts, walked the dog, found lost homework, conducted a mock spelling test, located misplaced socks, cleaned up cat barf and packed three lunches.

Now it was time to go to work. You know, real work. The kind where you collect a paycheck.

I felt beat.

A pretty blonde woman sidled up next to me, also dressed in office clothes. "You know, I have to wonder," she said as she trotted past, "Does this ever get easier?" We both broke out in laughter.

And I realized, suddenly, that my morning wasn't anything out of the ordinary. Moms - and dads - all over the world were doing the exact same thing, every day.

"I hope so," I replied. "I feel like I'm barely making it as it is."

She stopped and turned toward me.

"Really?" she said.  I nodded.

"That makes me feel SO much better," she continued. " I feel like I'm the only one who's saying, 'Hurry, hurry, hurry - it's time to get in the car.'"

I shook my head. "No way," I told her. "Half the time, it's time to go, and my son has wandered back to his room and is playing with his Angry Birds."

We both laughed again and parted ways.

I felt immeasurably better. Our little exchange only took about two minutes, but it's amazing what a little mom support can do.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

8-year-old filmmaker finds inspiration from the toy chest

I watched a very special episode of American Idol the other night. Mickey Mouse was the host. Raggedy Ann was a pretty awful contestant. And Woody from Toy Story sang the theme from the popular show "Victorious," besting competitor Barney by a mere boot length, as noted by Judge Mario.

It was put together by my young son, who has a new hobby - raiding our expansive, little-used toy chest in the basement for characters, then making up skits and filming them on our new video camera. I think that, so far, he has put together at least 30 shows.

Kermit battled Mario and Luigi to a truce, while Winnie the Pooh and Arthur are often  leaders of an evil lair. Ken has lost his suitor status, and now often plays a villain chasing the beleaguered Mario. And at one point, a few oranges with faces drawn on them became bad guys, as well. (Those came from the kitchen, incidentally, not the basement).

It's hilarious. I have to remember when to laugh, and when not to laugh, though, because even though I think that drawing faces on fruit and making them villains is funny, the filmmaker often does not. Sometimes, in fact, if my prying is too intrusive, my young Spielberg will shut the door to his room, only divulging his masterpiece when it's complete.

He wants his own YouTube account - he watches videos other kids have out, and he wants his uploaded, too.  But I'm hesitant to go that route - I've seen the cruel comments other videos get. So for now, he'll just have to settle for a toy chest brimming with heroes and villains and a devoted family audience.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Boo! Are you ready to take charge of the Halloween party?

I love Halloween. I love it so much I decided to head up my little boy's class party for the holiday. Now, assuming that someday you, too, will want to head up a class party, allow me to share a few things I learned:


  • Find out if the other moms are wearing costumes. That way, you won't come in dressed like a cat - complete with painted-on whiskers - and find out no one else dressed up. (All together now: Awwwkward!!)
  • Find out if you're in charge or if you're just "helping." If you're in charge, you want to have your problem-solving hat on.  Because a few unplanned scenarios might pop up -  like, how do you serve apples with caramel dip when no one was assigned to bring a knife to slice apples? (Answer: Run to the teacher's lounge and borrow)
  • Bring Halloween music. Or don't complain when you hear the theme to "Ghostbusters" about 12 times.
  • Be patient. Really, really patient. Yes, you want to start the games, but six grandmas want to take pictures with their adorable Ghostface or Demon Hunter. Smile and wait.
  • Don't bring treats designed for grown-ups. Like "witches' fingers" made of string cheese with a bell pepper fingernail. Grownups will say, "I love it!" But a lot of kids will make faces and say, "What's that red thing?"
  • Smile and eat the leftover candy. It's Halloween, after all.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Racer's death leaves little boy searching

I saw my son get kicked in the stomach this weekend. It was hard to watch.

He was sparring at tae kwon do class, and he let his guard down. His sparring partner didn't mean to hurt him, really, but he saw an opening and took it.

My boy didn't let on he was hurt, though. He just took a deep breath, gave me a thumbs-up and sat down.

That was Friday. Sunday afternoon, he was watching an IndyCar race with his dad when tragedy struck - popular racer Dan Wheldon was killed in a horrific, fiery crash.

My son, 8, is a big IndyCar fan. Like thousands of others, he was a fan of Wheldon. But he didn't see the crash - he'd left the room briefly. My husband had to tell him later. My husband, a former sports editor, was upset, too. He'd interviewed Dan several times, knew him to be a genuinely nice person.

He told Sean straight out what happened. "That's terrible," my son said. And he shut his door.

Later, though, Sean started talking about the crash. "I didn't see what happened," he told me. "Maybe I should watch it on YouTube."

"No," I said. "I think you should just remember him as a good racer and a nice person."

"Okay," he said.

He came up to me later. He was clicking his tongue, a nervous habit he has. "I didn't get Dan Wheldon's autograph when we went to the track," he told me. "I wanted to, but I was out of paper, " he said.

Click, click, click.

"I was out of paper."

"It's okay," I told him, and I gave him a hug.

He walked away, still clicking and frowning.

I watched my son get kicked in the stomach this weekend. Twice.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The birds and the bees and the bunk beds

Sometimes, moms just try too hard. Consider this funny anecdote I came across:

Little 9-year-old Tommy had been playing outside with a few other kids when he ran in, breathless, to ask his mom a question:

"Mom!" he said. "What's that called when two people sleep in the same room and one is on top of the other?"

Well, Mom was a little taken aback, but she decided to tell him the truth: "Well, honey, it's called sexual intercourse." And before she could say more, he said, "Oh, OK," and ran back outside to play with the other kids.

Five minutes later, he was back. And he wasn't too happy.

"Mom," he said, annoyed. "It's not called sexual intercourse. It's called bunk beds. And Jimmy's mom wants to talk to you."

(Hee hee!! I'd love to take credit for this, but I can't. I read a version of it in a little magazine called The Body Mind Spirit Guide. I adapted it just a little. There was no author, or I'd happily give a name.)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

It's School Picture Day! Are you ready?

Ahhh, School Picture Day. If you're lucky, your little darling gives you the flyer, and you know it's coming. But sometimes, it's just a last-minute surprise.

Regardless, it's a big day. Grandma's waiting for those updated photos, after all, and those new frames you bought on sale won't fill themselves. So you need to be ready. But there's something about School Picture Day ...


That makes your children forget how to smile and only bare their teeth like angry wolves, thereby making you wonder why you sprung for Package D for $29.99.

That reminds you your daughter needed her bangs trimmed. A week ago.

That lets you study the complexity of a cowlick up close.

That makes your son extra chatty while he's brushing his teeth that morning, resulting in the inevitable dribble of white toothpaste down his brand-new, straight-from-the-closet brown shirt.

That tells everyone what an inept seamstress you are, since all the threads are hanging from the top button - the only one showing in the photo.

That reminds you your children might not own any shirts without cartoon characters on the front.

That makes you really, really happy there's such a thing as Retake Day.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Dog park politics? But I don't speak dog

I've never had anyone reject an apology before. Oh, I've had people accept apologies in pretty non-graceful ways, and I've had folks tell me that yes, I certainly should be apologizing to them. But I've never had anyone simply say nothing and walk away.

I have to say I think that's rather bad form. Because it all started with a dog. My dog, of course, my mutly misbehaving dog.

I'd decided to be brave and take him to the local dog park by myself. Well, okay, I was with my daughter, but since she is texting constantly, I consider it just like being alone.

Usually I go with my brother, who is a dog expert. I feel braver, because he can help me handle more dog issues. But he was off on business and the dog needed exercise, so off we went.

For awhile, all was fine. The people were really nice. But then it got pretty crowded. My dog got really excited. He started chasing and barking at a smaller dog. I ran over to get him and pull him away. As I approached, the owner looked up at me. "Really?" he said nastily, as my dog barked. "Really?"

I stopped. "I'm so, so sorry," I said. His dog was a little springer spaniel, probably very expensive. Mine was the finest the local shelter had to offer. "I'm just teaching him manners," I said. "I'm so sorry," I repeated lamely.

But the owner glared at me, turned and led his dog away. I just stood there, feeling guilty - and feeling like he thought his dog was better than mine. That's stupid, I told myself. But I wasn't so sure.

Later, I saw his dog mixing it up with a few other pooches, but it didn't make me feel any better. In fact, we left soon afterward. I kept reminding myself these are dogs, not children, and dogs do what dogs do, but I still haven't gone back.

I know there's office politics, and I know there's even mom politics. I avoid them when I can, handle them when I have to.

But I didn't know there were dog park politics. That makes me extra uncomfortable. Because I don't speak dog.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Welcome to the School Parking Place Race!

If we leave on time, we can make it. If we get to the corner, and the light is green, we can make it. If the cars in front of us go straight, and not right, we can make it.

But if we get behind the slow-moving bus, we're doomed. Put on your shoes and start walking.

Welcome to the Daily School Parking Place Race at my elementary, courtesy of the new parking lot arrangement.

I don't even know what the new arrangement is, to tell you the truth. All I know is whatever was done, it eliminated precious parental parking places in the morning rush hour.If you don't get one, you have to park across the street and far away. Far, far way. Relatively speaking.

I know what you're thinking: Hoof it, lazybutt. Get some exercise. Breathe that morning air. Okay, okay, first of all, well, I really don't want to. Let's just get that out there. Second of all, I'm in my work clothes. And while I am reaching that old and frail age, (at least according to my children) I'm trying to avoid wearing those round-toe shoes with crepe heels. At least most days.

And so every morning, the great race begins. I have it timed just about right now. Because we can get a place. We only need it for a minute, I swear. Then you can have it. You know, if you're running late. In case you got stuck behind that bus.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Relaxation for mom? Are you kidding?

"Relaaaaax," croons the voice on my yoga DVD. "Relaaaax"

I stretch out in savasana, or corpse pose, flat on my back. I take a deep breath and let it out. Yes, I need to relax.

"MOM," shouts my son from the office room next door. "WHAT'S MARIO'S LAST NAME? IS IT MEATBALL? HOW DO YOU SPELL MEATBALL??"

I am not answering. I am relaxing - just like the lady on the DVD is recommending. I open one eye. The lady on the DVD is apparently in Hawaii. I am in our family room, and I can't help but notice that the rug I'm lying on could use a good shampooing. I close my eye again.

"Breathe," says the DVD lady. "Become one with your breath."

There is a voice in my ear. It sounds suspiciously like my daughter's. "Mom!" it hisses. "Picture day is on Friday. Did you know that picture day is on Friday? Because it is. I need to wear something nice."

I don't answer. Because I am one with my breath.

Suddenly, with a rush, all that breath is knocked out of me. Our new dog, all 50 pounds of him, has bounded down the stairs and landed on my chest.

I gasp for air. The children giggle. The dog drops his new toy, a soggy raccoon we have fondly named "Dead Rigby," on my stomach.

I sit up. I sense the DVD lady's disapproval. But I think I've had all the relaxation I can stand for one night.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

"Even a daddy's girl has to let go sometime"

I was freezing cold and soaking wet.

The parking lot had been full that morning, so my son and I had hoofed it from blocks away to the elementary school. I'd given up my side of the umbrella, so the icy rivulets running down my back were an unpleasant reminder that fall had arrived quite early this year.

But when I turned the corner of the hallway, I almost forgot my discomfort. The scene in front of me broke my heart.

There was a dad, on his knees, with his first-grade daughter in his arms. Today was only the third day of school, and she was apparently having a little separation anxiety.

Daddy, for his part, looked bewildered and miserable. He was dressed for work, in khakis and a nice sweater, with his cell phone on his belt. The first school bell had already rung, and the Pledge of Allegiance had already been recited over the loudspeaker. I'm sure he was late for work; I know I was.

But his daughter was sobbing; she was clinging and didn't want to let go. I could tell he didn't want to, either.

I knew the teacher - she was my son's teacher two years ago and she's wonderful. "Are you a daddy's girl?" she said. "I'm a daddy's girl, too. But even a daddy's girl has to let go sometime."

It will get easier, Dad, I promise. For your daughter, at least. But for you ... I think it might take a little more time. : )

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Making friends awkward for grown-ups

It's the first day of school, and there's a meet-and-greet for the new elementary school principal.

I'm standing against the wall, sipping my coffee, feeling incredibly awkward. I'm reminded again how hard it is to make friends when you're a grown-up. I've lived in this community for about four years now and I love it. But standing here, I still feel like an outsider.

Oh, everyone is extremely nice, of course. They always have been. It's just that it seems everyone has lived here forever. Their friendships go way back.

Today, everyone is in their own group. Moms with little kids. Dad coaches. Pregnant moms. Moms who craft together, work together.

There's doesn't seem to be a group for solitary writer moms, or moms who work out of town.

I finish my coffee and contemplate leaving. But I did want to meet the principal. And there were donuts from Tim Horton.

Then I catch the eye of a little girl with glasses, eating raisins from a box. She gives me such a big smile I have to smile back.

And I realize she has the right idea.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Taking one long, last breath of summer

I was walking the dog past the subdivision clubhouse this morning when I noticed the deck chairs were gone. The pool had been drained and covered by a tarp.

I felt a sudden, immediate stab of sadness. I shouldn't have, of course. It's September. Summer is over. But ... September? How did that happen? How did summer slip away so fast?

I know, I know, it's cliche. It's just that at the beginning of spring, you feel like you have so much time. Winter has just ended, and summer is unfolding in front of you like a fresh, green carpet of possibility.

It's so nice to move so slow.

But now the respite is over. The Halloween stuff is out. Boots are on sale. I already feel rushed, like I'm behind in planning something - and I'm not even sure what.

I know I should use this long weekend to plan, to get ahead, to make sure I'm ready for school next week, but I don't think I will. I think I might take one last, long breath of summer.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Doggy devotion? That's just kid stuff, right?


I am a cat person. I've always loved cats. They're quiet, low-maintenance and they tend to mind their own business. I can appreciate that.

So I wasn't quite sure how I'd feel about having a dog in the house. I mean, dogs are loud and excitable, right? They chew things, jump around and seem to be a lot of work.

But my daughter, now in middle school, has been begging for a dog since second grade, and my son wanted one, too. We finally decided this was the summer of the dog.

Enter Copper, the "best dog ever," courtesy of our local humane society. He's a three-year-old lab mix who obviously used to be someone's pet. He knows how to sit and shake hands. (He also likes to drink out of the toilet and beg for food).

Copper is the kids' dog. I barely notice him. I mean, sure, he flops over for tummy rubs, eases his bulk into my lap, wakes me up in the morning with a lick on the ear and lies on my feet while I read at night.

But really, he's for the kids. I barely notice him.

Now, yes, I have been getting up a half hour earlier to walk him, but I figured that would be good for both of us. My brother Michael, my own personal dog whisperer, has been teaching me to stay calm and assertive with the leash.

"If you want to have a better dog," says author Jon Katz, "You need to be a better person."

I do believe that. Not that I really care, of course. Because Copper is for the kids. I barely notice him.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

No nagging from mom? What will happen?

I left home on Friday for a long weekend, spending some time with a friend on a writing retreat.

I wanted to go, I really did. But I left with a bit of trepidation. I'm not good at leaving home. I miss my family, even for a weekend, and besides, you never know what dad will allow when mom's not around.

Coke for breakfast? Dirty kids all day? No teeth brushing before bed? What will happen when mom isn't around to nag all the time?

A lot, apparently. But ... not in the way I thought. In fact, when I came home, the kids were clean and happy, the grocery shopping was done, the laundry was folded, and pictures that had been propped up in the hall were now hanging properly - and some new ones had been added too.

And for the piece de resistance, my shower - the bane of my cleaning existence - had somehow been scraped free of its buildup of grody rust and lime. My husband had found a cleaner (CLR - Calcium, Lime and Rust remover) and scrubbed it clean as a little welcome-back present for me.

Maybe I should leave more often.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Oh, no. It's family game night - rescue me

You know those ads you see for family game night, where the contented family is gathered around the table, playing some board game? Think back. Is the mom smiling? No, she's not. At least not in my house.

Oh, I like the togetherness. I'm just not a big fan of board games.

And that's too bad, because we have no shortage. There's Sorry, Monopoly, Operation, even Apples to Apples. We can Spill the Beans, Break the Ice, Connect Four and even sink each other's battleships. We can get into Trouble, too, although I will say the Pop-O-Matic makes it somewhat tolerable.

Family game night. Rescue me.

But I love my family. And my family loves board games. And so I play. Oh, I try to duck out - hiding in the bedroom, feigning sleep, even staying in the bathroom for oddly long amounts of time - but they wait for me. Because family game night just doesn't work without mom, does it?

My husband doesn't understand it. Growing up, his family - his extremely competitive family - loved board games. They played them constantly. I think my brother and I played Ker-Plunk once or twice and called it a day.

I mentioned off-handedly to my husband that there used to be this game I remembered called Masterpiece - it was about art forgery - that I thought wasn't so bad. God love him, he found it on eBay and bought it, hoping he would change my game-hating ways.

I still haven't played it. But I know I'll have to. Soon.

Uh-oh ... I think I hear the Pop-O-Matic. Time to go. It's family game night. Rescue me.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Kid surgery might be harder on parents

My daughter had an appointment at the oral surgeon this morning. We'd been preparing for months - we both knew what was coming. There was no avoiding it. She has this impacted tooth, facing the wrong way, and it has to be exposed from under the gum.

It's no big deal, the orthodontist assured us. Really. It sounds much worse than it is.

And when we showed up at our check-in time of 10:30, we were ready. Katie was in a pretty good mood. I'd been keeping her spirits up all morning, letting her look at pooch-related items now that dad has maybe, just maybe, relented on the dog issue.

But by 10:45, when three or four patients holding bloody ice packs to their faces had limped through reception, she wasn't quite as sparkly. Ditto by 11. By 11:15, when they called her back, she was a little jittery. So was I. Ten minutes later, they called me back, too.

"She's very emotional," said the very nice nurse. "I've been trying to make her laugh, but she's crying."

When I saw her, sitting in that chair, trying to act like she wasn't crying, I almost started weeping, too. But I didn't. I braided her hair. I sang a silly song. I took deep breaths with her. I crossed my eyes and made faces until she laughed. And when the doctor finally walked in and gave her a little laughing gas to prepare for the iv, I slipped out.

Then I went back into the waiting room, walked into the bathroom and cried and cried.

And I didn't even have a tooth out.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Mom, what did you do to your hair?

I found an old photo the other night - one of me and my mom, holding my then-baby daughter. My mom is smiling and my daughter is giggling, but I couldn't really look at either one of them.

I was distracted. Distracted by ....my hair. Perhaps I was being overly critical, but it looked absolutely awful. Scarecrow-in-Wizard-of-Oz awful.I mean, it looked like maybe I accidentally cut it in my sleep. The best way I can describe it is to say that it was short and shaggy and square. With bangs.

This is a little surprising, because I'm known to be somewhat vain about my hair. But having a baby around the house was far more tiring than I ever imagined - I think I stopped grooming for a year or so; maybe that explains it.

But it fills me with trepidation now, because I'm contemplating getting my hair cut short again. I just feel like it's time for something new, and until I saw this picture, I was very gung ho for a change.

I asked my kids what they thought about me going short. My daughter was diplomatic. "It's your hair, mom," she said. "Do whatever you want to do."

My little boy wasn't so easy. "Will it be blonde?" he asked me, referring to a past hair experiment of mine.

I doubt it, I told him.

"Hmmph," he said. "I like blonde." Typical.

Oh well. Maybe I'll just bring along a photo from the Wizard of Oz as a cautionary maneuver and hope for the best.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Birthday brings back childbirth memories

Thirteen years ago tonight, I was terrified. I was big as a house, six days overdue to have my first child.

I wasn't terribly worried about becoming a mom. I was very worried about having a baby. I had no idea that babies were actually much easier to care for when they're inside.

Once she was out, I thought to myself, what's the big deal?

Insert laughtrack here.

For weeks I'd been clutching my magic slip of paper, my "permission for epidural" that my doctor had given me. "You probably won't need it," he told me, smiling. "Your body will know what to do."

My body did not know what to do. My body wanted to be over at Friday's, eating nachos. I fully expected all the doctors and nurses to stay by my side, calming me, coaching me through this experience. I was outraged when they weren't.

They're probably still talking about me in the nurses' lounge.

When it was time for the baby to arrive, my husband changed into surgical scrubs in the bathroom, his legs shaking so bad he could barely stand. Despite my magic sheet of paper, I didn't get my epidural - I gave birth naturally. (I'll be reminding my daughter of that later, if she starts giving me trouble as a teen).

I remember standing by my hospital bed, holding up a tiny Newborn Pampers. I turned it this way and that, realizing I had no idea what to do with it. I just... stood there. I think I realized then how much I had to learn.

A teen-age volunteer walked by my room and smiled. "The little cartoon picture goes in the front," she whispered. I blushed. I looked down and my new baby stared at me with those big, trusting blue eyes. "Jesus God," I murmured. "What do I do with you now?"

Sometimes I still ask myself that question, and my daughter is turning 13 tomorrow. But one thing I know for sure: I love her immensely, completely; I can't imagine life without her. Everything else, we'll just play by ear.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Firefly season is fleeting - just like summer


My son has a new hobby, but he knows it won't last long.

He catches fireflies. He zips around the yard, diving, jumping, doing his best to outwit the twinkling little insects and capture them, for just a moment, in his jar.

Then he holds them up to the sky and lets them go.

Firefly season in Michigan is fleeting. For just a few weeks our weather is perfect and our yards glow. Our days are warm and our nights are clear and cool.

Mother Nature lulls us into forgetting the soggy spring we just had, the icy winter that's just around the corner.

We revel in our picnics, our pools, our fun and our fireflies. Because this season ends all too soon.

Like my son, we know. We can only hold it for a moment. We need to make the most of it.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Close call at the community pool

There was a rescue at our community pool the other day. It wasn't particularly dramatic. But it was scary all the same, and I've been thinking about it ever since.

I saw two little girls come in, fairly dancing with excitement as they entered with their grandfather. I noticed him in particular because he moved so slowly and carefully, almost like he was in pain. But he seemed very happy to be with the kids, and they were obviously delighted to be at the pool.

My attention was diverted by own kids, particularly my boy, who is absolutely confident he can go in any depth at the pool. He's had lessons and he can swim, but I would prefer he not go into the way deep without me. So I have to keep a close eye on him.

I was over by our deck chairs, getting some dive sticks, when I heard the lifeguard's authoritative voice. "Are you all right?" she called. I looked up to see her off her chair. Then I saw the the grandfather, standing to the side, looking a little confused.

The guard didn't wait for an answer. She jumped in, pulled out one of the little girls and lifted her to the side. Her grandfather patted her head and told the guard, "She just jumped in. She's supposed to wait for me." The little girl, looking both frightened and embarrassed, burst into tears.

I'm not sure what happened - but I'm guessing the child jumped in not realizing how deep the water was, found herself too far from the ledge, and started to panic.

My heart was pounding, but the grandfather seemed calm. Maybe he was just putting on a calm face for the kids. Or maybe he didn't quite realize what had just happened - I realized later he was very hard of hearing.

I noticed a few moms who knew the girls swam over after the incident and helped watch and play with them. The little girl was soon happy again. The grandfather seemed very grateful for the help with the children.

And I kept an even closer eye on my own.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

I'm not a gardener - I'm a virtual gardener

I love a beautiful garden. I love flowers, trees and butterflies. But I am coming to terms with the fact I might be a virtual gardener.

It pains me to admit it. But I think that when it comes down to it, I only like the idea of gardening. See, even though I've been really, really trying, I'm finding I'm not wild about being out there in the great outdoors. You know, with the bugs and the dirt and the worms and the, well, garden.

I have a picture window right outside my living room. When we moved into this house, there was a bare patch of land with a giant mound of dirt right next to it - it was very strange. My brother came over with his tiller and dug through it for me. I was a little nervous, wondering if I was going to unearth some unauthorized gravesite. But nope - it was just a whole lotta dirt. My neighbor later told me the former owners had big plans, but then were sidelined with back injuries. So here I had a little patch of shady land - right outside this oversized window - just waiting for me.

I'v been a dismal failure to this point. I'd show a picture, but I'm too ashamed. It's all weeds. Oh, maybe a wildflower or two, but mostly icky weeds, just smugly staring at me.

Today, for sure, absolutely. I'm weeding. But that doesn't mean I'm liking it. And that one big, smug weed is the first to go.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Tae kwon do brings out daughter's potential

Near the beginning of the school year, I enrolled my daughter in tae kwon do. I didn't know that much about it, but I'd heard it was good for kids' self-esteem.

She was starting middle school, and I could see the transition was rough.

I didn't particularly care if she excelled at martial arts. I just wanted her to have fun. But when I learned the translation of tae kwon do was "the art of kicking and punching" I thought twice about the whole idea.

Now, seven months later, she loves it. And she is great. My little princess is preparing to break her first board. In fact, her instructor has invited her to join his STORM Team. STORM is an acronym, standing for Super Team Of Role Models. She'll assist in teaching classes of lower belts, as well as the Little Dragons (kindergartners and below). It's the first step on the road to becoming a junior instructor, should she so choose, he told her.

She's nervous and excited. So am I. Sometimes, all the potential is right there. It's just that someone has to break a board over your head so you can see it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sick of pasta? Time to create that cookbook

Spaghetti. Pork chops. Chicken. Pizza. Tacos. Salad. And more spaghetti. I'm in a dinnertime rut. So I have a new goal. This weekend, while laundry sits and writing projects languish, I'll be clipping and snipping through years of cooking magazines, creating my own cookbook.

I've had it organized in my head for months: Salads, appetizers, main courses (maybe divvied up if I'm truly inspired) side dishes, family favorites, and then my favorite - desserts. But right now, all I have are mountains of magazines and a memory that's increasingly unreliable.

Yes, yes, I know. It should be high-tech. It should be scanned, it should be stored, it should be filed on my computer. Stop - I'm getting tired already. Right now, I just want ideas in my head and magazines off my shelf. We'll worry about getting all fancy later.

Seriously - I'm not sure I can look at one more bowl of spaghetti.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Separate schools don't untie sibling bond

I can't believe it's the last week of school. I know I'll sound 100 years old, but I have to say it: "Where did the time go??"

I still remember that first day - my daughter at middle school, my son still at elementary. And I remember my heartache: This was the first year they would be split up. I was afraid it would ruin everything - that they wouldn't be close anymore.

And now the school year's over. So many things have changed. But one thing didn't. My kids are still practically joined at the hip. Sure, they have their own friends now. But that hasn't lessened their time together a bit.

They watch cartoons together in the mornings on the weekends. They watch movies together at night. They take tae kwon do classes together and practice their moves (carefully!) in the basement. And now they play this new Beyblades spinning/battling tops game; I can hear their gales of laughter from upstairs.

Separate schools can't untie a sibling bond. Love isn't ruled by proximity.

If only I'd realized that back in September.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Son's bike riding means workouts for mom


I have a new exercise regimen - bike riding. But it's not what you think. See, I'm not riding the bike - my son is. I'm just running behind it.

Adding to the cardiovascular workout is the fact I have to constantly shout, "Careful!" and "Don't go too fast!!"

My son has mastered his two-wheeler. He had tried for awhile, become frustrated, then tried again. And now he's got it. He figured out how to balance the thing, and now he rides it everywhere. He's not quite a steering pro yet, so there are some iffy moments, but that'll come with time, I'm sure.

In the meantime, he couldn't wait to ride his bike to school. For months - this year and last - he'd watched those other kids zoom by, seemingly effortlessly, and I could see the longing in his eyes. Now it's his turn. He's incredibly excited.

But he wants me to come with him. Now, I could grab a bike, and we could ride together, but the sidewalks are narrow and the ride isn't that long, so I've chosen to puff along behind. I manage to keep up if I walk briskly and occasionally do the effective, if dorky, racewalk.

By the time I get home to get ready for work, though, I'm pretty much a sweaty mess. Oh, well. I'm just glad it's not a motorcycle.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

With one taste, a new fudge fan is born

A mother and daughter often bond over the simplest things - like an inside joke or a silly song. OR the amazing taste of Mackinac Island fudge.

But first, a quick note: Before leaving for the island for our mom-daughter vacation last week, I decided to buy a little flip videocamera. Now, I'm not particularly techie, and I did have a vision of dropping the camera over the side of the boat, but I tried to put all that out of my head. Instead, I just thought positive, and maintained a fanatical death grip on the device at all times.

And I loved it. I whipped out that little camera at every opportunity. Which is how I ended up filming Katie - much to her chagrin - experiencing the deliciousness that is island fudge for the first time.

She turned out to be a pretty good sport.


video

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Rescuing Cousin Christine's beach ball

My daughter looked distracted and troubled. She was gathering up her books for school, but I could tell her mind wasn't on the task at hand.

"When we came back from the pool yesterday, you brought the beach ball, right?" she asked suddenly, looking concerned.

"No," I said. "Sorry. I thought you had it. I guess we'll have to get a new one."

Big deal, right? It's just a beach ball. But my daughter's face fell. "But ... that's the ball Christine gave us," she whispered.

Oh dear. Christine. Cousin Christine. Cool cousin Christine. Cool cousin Christine who used to be my perfect summer nanny. Cousin Christine who is pretty, fun and always energetic - the antithesis of mom. She buys Slurpees, plays fun games, thinks of great places to go, and occasionally leaves behind treasured presents, like beach balls.

Christine was at college now, opting to go back to school despite my pleas for her to stay home and watch my kids. But my kids still treasure her gifts. If I would let them, they'd still have the gingerbread houses she built with them over Thanksgiving. This was serious.

"I'll go look for it," I told my daughter. "Maybe it will still be there."

But I didn't hold out much hope. That pool had been jam-packed. Our treasured Christine beach ball was now likely in some lucky kid's garage. But I trekked over after my daughter's bus left, just the same. The pool was closed and deserted, of course. And no ball in sight. But there was an older man sweeping up. I asked him if, by chance, he'd seen a beach ball lying around.

He asked me to describe it. I did. Then he unlocked the office door and gave it to me. I have to say I was absolutely astounded. All day. All those kids. And no one took it. Somebody turned it in. Amazing.

I smiled all the way home.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Sometimes, kids force you to have fun

I had plans for today, and they weren't particularly festive ones.

We'd just returned from vacation, and there were three piles of laundry waiting their turn for the machine.

I had some online work to do, as well, and I glanced outside as I carried my coffee to the computer, noticing that the weekend of rain had turned my little garden into a bed of weeds. Today's sunny afternoon would be a great time to fix that.

But I didn't count on the pool. And the kids. Today was the first weekend our subdivision pool was open, and I hadn't realized that our kids had been counting down the days.

"Can we go? Can we go?" asked my daughter as soon as she woke up. My son soon joined the chant. I didn't want to. I really didn't. I knew it would be mobbed. And really, I was ... busy. But looking at their faces, I couldn't say no.

Lying on the deck chair, with the sun warming my face, I couldn't say I'd made a bad choice Sometimes, kids force you to have fun. And that's not always a bad thing.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Little dog lifts spirits in a big way

In the morning, the elementary school is a very social place. After the moms and dads drop off their kids, they don't leave right away. With their coffee, their dogs and their toddlers in tow, they usually stop and chat for awhile.

They laugh, the kids play, and it's a very nice, relaxed atmosphere. Today it was even sweeter, because today I met Ashton.

I saw Ashton - a tiny, 13-week-old spaniel/poodle mix - as I was hurrying back to my car. He was sniffing about on the end of his leash, and he was adorable, as most puppies are. But what caught my eye was the red vest he was wearing. On one side it said "Service Dog." On the other side, it said, "Please Pet Me."

Well, I had to ask.

His owner told me she's started bringing him to the school to interact with the kids because it's part of his training to become very socialized, very at ease around children.

Ashton will have a very special job: He'll be visiting terminally ill children in hospitals. "The children love it when the dogs visit," Ashton's owner told me. "It's amazing."

I learned two things this morning:

1. You can meet wonderful people doing spirit-lifting things just about anywhere.
2. I should never leave the house without my camera

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Vroom, Vroom! - May means racetime


May is here, and the celebration has begun. The decorations are up, the flags are hanging and the excitement is palpable.

It's racetime - and that's a big deal at the Majeske household. The Indianapolis 500 is just around the corner, and for the men in the household, big and little, the excitement is almost too much to bear.

Conversations revolve around Will Power and Dario Franchitti. There's analyses of who might win, who will do well, who will make the race and who won't. The boys huddle together, studying the up-and-coming drivers and debating who needs to hang up the helmet. Sorry, Mom. No girls allowed.

It used to be just my husband who was a fan of Indy racing. For years as a sports editor, he covered practice, qualifying and the 500, enjoying every minute of it. But now, as my son has grown, he's become a race fan as well. And now, at the tender age of 8, Sean will be going to his very first race. He already visited the track once this year - charming the drivers and getting more than a few autographs.

One of those autographs came courtesy of Paul Tracy, who didn't make last year's race. As Tracy bent down to sign an old program, Sean said, "Sorry you didn't make the race last year." Tracy's reply? "That's OK. We'll get them this year."

The big prize, however, was the autograph from Will Power, Sean's favorite driver. Thanks to Merrill Cain, a very nice representative of Penske Racing, who saw Sean adorned in a Will Power hat and a Will Power T-shirt, Sean had his new Hot Wheels car autographed by his hero.

It made Sean's day, month, year and probably decade. He said loved it so much, he'd take into heaven with him.

I've never truly understood the allure of the race. But I don't have to. Just watching these two is enough.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Heading to the amazing Mackinac Island


There was a line in the movie "Eat, Pray, Love" that Julia Roberts' character uttered in the midst of complete frustration. She said, "I want to go someplace where I can marvel at something."

For some reason, that line flew into my head this week and wouldn't leave. I was burned out. I was tired. I needed to be amazed by something.

Now, I won't be going to Italy, India and Bali - at least not soon. I don't see a one-year leave like Julia's coming up. And frankly, I'm thinking the kids would balk.

But over Memorial Day weekend, my daughter and I will head up north to visit Michigan's picturesque Mackinac Island. I just decided we needed to get away. The boys will be going to Indianapolis to see race cars that weekend. This will be our getaway.

No, we don't really have the time, and we don't really have the money, and the traffic will likely be bad. But you know what? We probably won't ever really have the time or the money, and the traffic will always be bad. Sometimes you have to just go.

I want to ride the ferry and walk down the old-fashioned main street and feel the wind in my hair at the beach. I want to smell the lilacs and see the boats and pig out on that world-renowned Mackinac Island fudge.

I want to be amazed. And I want my daughter to be amazed, too. No, it's not a world tour. But it doesn't have to be. I still can't wait.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

"I love you more than Madden 11"


My little boy made a big card for me for Mother's Day. I might just have to frame it.

Mom,

I love you more than Oreos.
I love you more than Angry Birds.
I love you more than DS.
I love you more than an ice cream sundae.
I love you more than Mario.
I love you more than the Chicago Bears.
I love you more than Madden 11.
I love you more than Super Smash Brothers Brawl.
I love you more than pretzels.
I love you more than pizza.
I love you more than the color blue.
I love you more than tae kwon do.
I love you more than football.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom.

Love, Sean

Friday, May 6, 2011

Meet Mr. Whiskers, the bucket cat


Through sun and rain and sleet and worse, the bucket cat is on his perch. Okay, yes, I know that doesn't really rhyme, but trust me, nothing good rhymes with bucket, either.

Besides, that's not the point. The point is that in front of my porch I have a gigantic bucket. I didn't put it there; it was there when we moved in. I'm sure at one time it was filled with pretty flowers.

But for the last few years, it's been full of Mr. Whiskers. See, every time there's inclement weather - which we've seen a lot lately - the cat will whine to go outside. Except it's a ruse. He's not really going outside. He's just checking it all out from the safety of the bucket under the eaves.

The kids used to worry about the cat when he wanted to go outside and the weather looked iffy. When it started to rain or sleet, my son would say, "Mom, where's the cat?"

But now, I can just say, "Check the bucket!" and usually, all is well.

Giant bucket. Giant cat. Just thought I'd share.

P.S. I know the photo isn't the greatest, but Mr. Whiskers was annoyed at the intrusion and didn't care to pose. Sorry.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

My comeuppance from ... Wal-Mart

For years I've made fun of Wal-Mart.

I couldn't help it. The crowded aisles, the merchandise, even that little bouncing smiley face in the commercials that leads you to the markdowns - I've just loathed it all.

I can't even give you a real reason why. After all, I'm not rich, and I'm certainly not proud. I mean, I shop at Target. I go to the Dollar Store. But there was just something about Wally World that set my teeth on edge.

But this weekend, when I really, really needed something, when NO OTHER stores were open (at the crack of dawn), who was there for me? Wal-mart. And when I found what I needed - a white shirt - and was so harried I left a separate bag of groceries at the register, who let me re-shop for them two days later without batting an eye? Yes. You guessed it.

Wal-Mart. Oh, the irony.

It was like my own little corporate comeuppance. If this had been an after-school special, I would be cast in the role of the bullying mom who finally sees the error of her ways and eventually apologizes to the crowded, overgrown ... oh, sorry ... I mean, misunderstood, corporate kid.

Sorry, Wal-Mart. You saved my butt. I won't forget that. For awhile, at least.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

First Communion day brings stress, joy


My son celebrated his First Communion today, and I couldn't be prouder. But I'll be honest. I hit a few snags in the planning. And I almost let the the big day get overshadowed by a lot of little things.

I realized at the last minute there was a problem with my son's shirt and had to drive to Wal-Mart on Sunday at dawn in a thunderstorm. Anyone who knows my feelings about rising at dawn, driving in thunderstorms or shopping for last-minute items will know the stormy weather outside paled in comparison to the mood in the car.

I bought the wrong size nylons, because I never wear nylons but my legs are so white it would have been just plain sinful to show them in church.

Right after Mass began, I realized my cell phone was still in my purse. It's a new phone and I barely know how to operate it. So I held a frantic, whispered dialogue with my daughter, sitting behind us, beseeching her to figure out how to quietly turn it off. She did. I remembered later that the entire Mass was being videotaped, so my stupidity will live on through the digital age.

Then, as I sat watching my son receive communion, I realized that everything above - everything I just wrote - didn't matter. Not one bit. Because that's not why we were there.

I listened to the choir sing "Here I am, Lord," one of my favorite hymns, and I held my little boy's hand, and I could feel my eyes fill up with tears, I was that happy.

He had received his First Communion. But I was the one who felt blessed.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Are our lives becoming just too fast-paced?

I needed to make a doctor's appointment, and the receptionist put me on hold. Later, I complained to my husband.

"I waited at least five minutes!" I told him.

I had just pulled into the drive-thru at McDonalds. "One moment, please," said the voice through the screen. The woman in the SUV behind me leaned out the driver's side window. "Haven't they taken your order yet?" she yelled at me.

Awhile back I had two assignments due at the same time. "Which do I need to do first?" I asked my editor. "Both," she said.

My son woke up early this morning, and went downstairs to watch cartoons. He dozed off again for about 10 minutes while I cooked him some bacon. When I woke him up, he was cranky.

"I fell asleep because breakfast took too long!" he told me accusingly.

There is fast-paced, and then there is crazy. Sometimes - a lot of times these days, actually, when we're moving too fast to even take a deep breath - I wonder if our lives have crossed the line.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A motivational letter to the Easter bunny


My little boy used a paper towel to write a motivational note to the Easter bunny last night. Here's what it said:

Dear Easter Bunny

I hope you have a great time bringing happiness to the world. And Easter is one of my favorite holidays. I hope you like my letter.

Love, Sean

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Spring storm and SpongeBob a fine mix

The calendar said spring, but someone forgot to tell Mother Nature. The day started out with snow and sleet and now, late at night, lightning was flashing across a threatening sky.

I was tucking in my daughter when the thunder started.

"Mom!" I heard my son call from his room. "The angels are bowling!" I laughed and kissed my daughter goodnight. "Mom!" said the voice, this time much closer. "I wish they'd stop."

My son was out of bed now, right beside me, acting brave but looking more than a little nervous. Even my daughter, far too sophisticated for anything as mundane as an impromptu slumber party, decided tonight was a fine night for some company.

"Let's watch SpongeBob!" she suggested. And we did. I inched between my daughter and son - which is like being sandwiched between a pillow and a bag of tacks - and they laid their heads on my shoulders while we watched the adventures of the country's most famous undersea sponge.

Outside, the lightning flashed and the thunder crashed and Mother Nature did her worst, but in the dark, crowded bedroom, I didn't mind a bit.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Oh, anything mom can do ...

The sketchpad was on the table, and I was painstakingly teaching myself to draw tulips when my daughter noticed what I was doing.

"Ooooh, can I draw, too??!!" she asked excitedly. In a matter of moments, my little budding artist had put my rookie efforts to shame.

I had just put in a yoga DVD when my son zipped down the steps and noticed my pretzel-like position. He was immediately intrigued.

"Are you exercising?" He quickly joined me. "Is that stretching? You're not stretchng very far. I can stretch more than you. Look, look how much I can stretch!! Are you looking?"

I had just sat down at the computer when the two munchkins appeared behind me and began looking curiously over my shoulder. This time, I finished up hurriedly and wordlessly left the room.

I knew what was coming. Ahh, yes. The joys of having the children home for spring break.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Terrible, Horrible, No-Good Bad Day


Appearances don't matter, I told myself as I trudged into work that morning. Who cares that my normally obedient hair had gone rogue or that I was suffering from a very noticeable case of acne?

I was still me, right?

But when my computer crashed and my e-mail disappeared and my supervisor gave me another project I realized, with apologies to Judith Viorst, that this was a Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day.

So I shouldn't have been surprised when the air conditioner vent kicked on even though it was 40 degrees outside. It shouldn't have fazed me when my socks didn't match. I should just shrugged when they ran out of fries in the cafeteria. Because that's what happens on a Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day.

But it just got worse. That afternoon, I was interviewing a designer; it had taken forever to get him on the phone. I'd actually moved to a more isolated cubicle for the interview. The cubicle, unfortunately, was near the bathrooms. Which they were cleaning. The toilets flushed again and again and again and again and again. I sounded like I was chatting from a highway rest stop.

I called it quits and went home. At which time I realized I'd left my wallet at work. Because that's what happens on a Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Unwelcome 'book 'em' at local library

I live in such a nice little town that meeting someone unpleasant is always a bit of a slap in the face. But it happens, of course. I guess no place is immune.

Yesterday, my daughter wanted to go to the library. She's 12, and she likes to visit "The Teen Place," a special room that houses all the YA offerings, along with a few tables and a line of computers. It has a neon sign and is very hip looking. I knew she'd come out with an armload of Manga books.

Well, I love the library. Our library is wonderful, and I'll use any excuse to go.

So I said I'd meet her around the bestseller area. Despite the fact I have a stack of book at homes waiting for me, new books always prove an irresistible lure. Well, I stuck my nose in a book for too long. I looked up and didn't see her, so I decided to go make sure all was well.

A man was standing in the doorway of The Teen Place. When I tried to get by him, he put up his arm, barring my entry. "Sorry," he said brusquely. "No one goes in or out. The police will be here in a few minutes."

My heart began to pound. What was going on? I pushed against his arm. "My daughter's in there," I said just as curtly. But he wouldn't let me by. Using his body to block me, he turned his back and started talking on his cell phone.

The room is very small, and peering over this idiot's arm, I could see my daughter wasn't in there. But other kids were - quietly studying or reading at the computers. Who was this guy? Something was fishy. He didn't have on a library badge. And the whole door-blocking thing was monumentally creepy. If I couldn't get in, did that mean those kids couldn't get out?

I took off at a trot - first things first. I had to find my daughter. And I did, almost immediately. She was waiting for me by the front door, thank goodness. We headed toward the reference desk.

"Excuse me," I said to the librarian. "The man barring the door to The Teen Place, the one not letting anyone in or out, is he with the library staff?"

The woman looked startled. "Excuse me?"

I knew it! "Yes," I continued. "And ... he says the police are coming?"

The woman jumped from her seat, and before you could say my name backwards, the library security staff was over talking to the guy. Turns out someone had (supposedly) stolen his son's cell phone, and he decided no one would leave or enter the premises until he got the police to come over and check things out.

My daughter and I left soon after. I didn't think the guy would be too thrilled that I'd spoiled his little lockdown. Besides, my library had lost its charm for the day.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Big bed brings back little girl for awhile

Our daughter needed a new mattress - there was no getting around it. We had put it off long enough. But a new bed deserves a clean room. And our tween's room was overwhelming, to say the least.

It was so messy, I was embarrassed. How had I let it get this bad? Where had this mess come from? A burgeoning artist, our 12-year-old had piles of sketch paper seemingly EVERYWHERE. Not to mention pencils, pens, markers, pastels, books, erasers ... STUFF ... tucked into every nook and cranny.

And let's not even talk about the clothes, clothes, clothes that seemed to cover nearly every piece of furniture.

Two giant trash bags later, I was exhausted. She was cranky. But we were ready. My brother arrived in the F-150 and he and my husband took off. The two of them did the heavy lifting, setting up the new bed.

We'd gone for a bigger size, moving up from a twin to a full. Not a big deal, we'd thought at the time. Belatedly, we realized we'd need all new sheets and blankets. But my daughter was delighted. She stretched out and relaxed in her luxurious, clean boudoir and fell right to sleep.

Later, my husband called me to her door. "Look," he said. "Look how small she looks!" He was right. Our growing girl looked positively tiny in her oversized bed.

My husband's smile reached ear to ear. "It's like we have our little girl back," he whispered. "Just for a while."

Monday, April 4, 2011

"This is too great a day not to sing"


The sound echoed through the near-empty hallways. It was ...the theme from Scooby Doo.

"Lalalalala ....lalala," the little boy sang loudly and somewhat off key.

Since school had just started and the halls were nearly empty, he had excellent acoustics. He smiled.

His mother, however, appeared somewhat mortified. "Shhhh," she whispered to her young son as she hustled him out the door. "You need to be quiet!"

The boy stopped singing for a minute to explain.

"I can't, mom," he said. "This is too great a day not to sing."

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Small changes, better health? We'll see

I had to visit an urgent care office this weekend. Oh, it was nothing, really; in less than a day, Western medicine had done its job, and I was feeling considerably better.

But for something so small, this bug bit me pretty hard. And all the way to the doctor, I worried. What if it wasn't something minor? What if it was something ... major? (Luckily, it was a short drive.)

See, I think I'm like a lot of people. I'm pretty healthy. And I take it for granted. I don't worry about my health until something goes wrong. I tend to forget how lucky I am.

After this weekend, I'm thinking ... maybe that should change. I could start small. Exercise, at least a little. Maybe introduce something green into my diet now and again. And while I hate to even think it, maybe all the coffee I drink isn't really a good thing.

I'll never be a fitness fanatic, of that I'm sure. But I'm pretty sure I could do a little better with what I have.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Banished to beyond the double doors

At the beginning of the school year, I was among the privileged few, allowed to walk into the classroom.

In the mornings, when I walked my son to school, we'd see parents dropping off their kids from their cars. But my son wasn't interested in that. He wanted me to park, to walk with him into the school, into the classroom. We held hands. He waved a sleepy goodbye.

By the beginning of the second semester, things had changed a bit. I still parked, but I had been relegated to the hallway. I wasn't supposed to come in - unless there was a very good reason. Even then, I'd sometimes get a mortified look and a whisper. "Mom! What are you doing in here?"

A few weeks ago, I lost the hand. I understood. He was in second grade, after all, and his friends were around. He didn't want to be seen holding hands with mommy, after all.

But today, I was banished - to outside the double doors. I was unprepared for this one. It stung.

"Can't I come inside with you?" I asked, a little plaintively.
"No," he said decisively. "I'm fine." And he turned and walked away without looking back.

I waited, watching to make sure he turned into his classroom door. He did, of course, just like he had every other day this year.

I walked away quickly, my head down. Suddenly, the schoolyard didn't seem such a happy place anymore. I fell in behind two moms also walking back to their cars.

"Well, at least you got a hug," one of them said to the other.
The other one laughed. "True," she said. "But I don't know how much longer that'll last."

Maybe I'll laugh about it, too. Tomorrow.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

It sounds so simple, doesn't it? Be nice

The light had barely changed from red to green when the lady in the car behind me laid on her horn. I wasn't daydreaming. I hadn't hesitated. I literally had just started shifting my foot from the brake to the accelerator. I was a little shaken.

Standing in the work cafeteria line, waiting to pay for a bag of chips, I heard the man in front of me - the one wearing the $200 suit - let out a huge, wet-sounding belch. He glanced back at me and shrugged. No "sorry." No "excuse me." Nothing.

And yesterday, pulling out of the grocery store lot, I was cut off by someone who zipped out in front me and zoomed out into traffic.

A lot of stuff like that has been happening lately. Doors swinging back in my face. A mess left in the office kitchen. Rudeness I didn't ask for and didn't understand. It made me mad. Then it made me sad. I started thinking: Isn't anybody just plain nice anymore?

At church, our priest told the story of how he had taken his 92-year-old mother out to dinner at a local restaurant. It was crowded, and they were waiting for their names to be called for a seat. The wait was about 20 minutes. His mother ended up leaning against the lobby wall. Not one person - including a family with three able-bodied, texting teens - offered to give up a seat. They apparently didn't think about it, and their parents didn't tell them to.

That made me even sadder. I don't want to be like that. I don't want my kids to be like that, either. I vowed I wouldn't; that I would go against the grain and try to be nicer. Then I found out I wasn't alone.

Check out http://www.operationnice.com/Because you know what? The world is mean enough already.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

"Oooh, ahhh ... your dryer lint is beautiful"


It's not always easy to hold the attention of 30 second graders trapped in a classroom on a sunny, almost-warm Michigan morning. Unless you have a secret weapon. Unless you have ... DRYER LINT!!!

I was talking about art to the kids in my son's classroom and telling about artists who made creations from modern-day things.

I'd told about Stan Munro, who re-created incredible architectural classics from around the world out of toothpicks. I'd discussed Jason Mecier, who'd created a jaw-dropping installation in a friend's house from more than 185,000 colored pencils. I'd shown photos, of course.

The kids thought it was all pretty cool. But there was still some shifting and whispering. Then I got to Heidi Hooper - admittedly my absolute favorite. She's a Pennsylvania-based artist, a former sculptor and silversmith who found herself weakened and slowed by cancer. But an artist is an artist, and she longed to create. So she began making art with .... DRYER LINT. She makes beautiful drawings, many of adorable animals, with, yes, lint.(She has a sense of humor about it. But it's pretty amazing. Check it out at http://www.heidihooper.com)

Anyway, I wasn't sure that second graders would know what a sheet of dryer lint would look like, so I grabbed one from our dryer's lint trap right before I left.

As I pulled it from my bag, I heard the collective gasp.

"That's beautiful," said one girl.
"It looks so soft," said a boy. "It's like ... a lamb."

They held it, passed it around, fought over it. Then I had their undivided attention.

I graciously left it with the teacher. The kids were so impressed, it almost made doing all that laundry worth it.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Stuart Little, Chicken Little, whatever ...


My son picked up a box on the couch, looked at the cover and then looked at me.

"Mom, what's 'House'?" he asked, holding up a DVD set of the TV show "House" I had just borrowed from my brother.

"House is the last name of a doctor," I told him. "He works in a hospital with sick people."

My son looked vaguely alarmed. So I decided to calm him down by using a term his second-grade class had just learned.

"But the show is fiction," I emphasized. "House isn't real. He's just a character." Then I made what I thought was a brilliant connection. "In fact, the actor who plays House is the same actor who played the dad in Stuart Little!"

My son just looked at me for a minute. Then he started laughing - laughing really, really hard.

"THE CHICKEN??" he finally said, gasping for air. "HE WAS THAT BIG CHICKEN??"

Um, what? Then I realized his mistake.

"No, no, honey," I said. "Not Chicken Little. Stuart Little."

He stopped laughing and slid off the couch. "Oh," he said, hardly as impressed. "Okay."

Don't pay any attention to him, Hugh Laurie. I still think you're great.

Monday, March 14, 2011

How Katie reminded me to be grateful

Once a month, our family attends a little program at our church that's designed to help us understand the Bible. Now, before that sounds too heavy, let me add that the program usually includes skits, dinner and a lot of giggling from our table.

This month, one of the exercises for the kids was to write something from the heart. I asked my 12-year-old daughter if I could share what she wrote, and she said yes. Here it is:

"Dear to whoever is reading this, be grateful.

For even the poorest and the sickest of the church mice are blessed with everyday miracles, even if they don't realize it.

Life, laughter, joy, emotions - humans are blessed with all of these. Cherish them."

Katie M.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Txting the peeps? Who IS this kid?

My daughter was sitting in the back seat of the car, very excited about her new phone and not at all interested in what I was saying.

"Just a second, mom," she told me, looking up distractedly. "I'm texting my peeps."

What? Who IS this kid? Who is this kid who is teaching me how to upload videos to YouTube? Who already has an online art portfolio? Who texts with her thumbs almost as fast as I type on home row?

She's 12. I think when I was 12, I was reading "Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret."

She's not all grown up, of course. We still snuggle together on Friday nights to watch movies, we still giggle late at night when everyone's asleep.

I can't make myself say "Kids grow up so fast these days," because I know I'll sound like I'm wearing supp-hose and those stretch pants with the waistband that settles in right under the boobs.

So let's just say I'm clinging to all the mom-daughter moments I can get. Because I kow they won't last too long.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Tae kwon do brings kids together again


As I write this, my son and daughter are playing downstairs. I don't know what they're doing, exactly, but there's a lot of thumping and bumping and they're laughing like crazy. Just listening to them is making me laugh.

My daughter is 12; my son 8. I know lot of parents who have trouble with their kids fighting at this age. After all, Katie is a tween, and Sean isn't too fond of girls his age. But I'm lucky. Since the day Sean was born, Katie has always taken care of him. And he has always idolized her.

In the early mornings, they'd make each other giggle as they watched cartoons and got ready for school. When Sean started kindergarten, Katie held his hand. They'd walk home together.

This year, things changed. Katie started middle school. Sean is still in elementary school. The mornings are quieter. Sean was lonely sometimes, and he said so.

But now they're in class together again - in tae kwon do. For months, Sean has gone with me as we took Katie to class. He'd play and color while I read. He never showed the slightest interest in joining in. Until one day, he did. Last week was his first class. He loves it. She loves being with him in a blended class; she's so proud of him. The teacher thinks it's great.

Tae kwon do is hardly the venue to get overly sentimental. But seeing them together again makes me incredibly happy.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Please, no more - I've been over pitched

I'm cleaning out my e-mail listings this week. Ruthlessly. I just can't take it anymore. I've been over pitched. Stop trying to sell me stuff. Just stop.

Goodbye, motivational coaches, whose weekly posts are thinly disguised ads for your services, self-promotions, and heaven help me - your cruises. No offense, but if I go on a cruise, I want champagne and roses - not whine and cheese.

So long, self-help gurus, who send weekly dollops of advice sandwiched between constant ads for hundred dollar luncheons and promos for the services of your equally overpriced friends. What did I buy that got me on these lists in the first place? Sheesh. How needy am I?

So see ya, daily and weekly ads for silly products I can't afford (automatic vegetable slicers?) and makeup I don't need. Bare Escentuals, I love you. But at $25 for foundation, you need to lay off the mass mailings.

All I'm keeping is the ads for book sales. I love you guys. And independent merchants, you're cool. Otherwise, it would be nice to open up my mail and find ... a letter.

Oh, hello. I believe you've just met my mother.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Mom's calendar can be exhausting


When I was back at school, I used to occasionally have something my roommates coined Sunday-night syndrome. You know, the nervous stomach, the fatigue ... that unsettled feeling.

It wasn't because I was a bad student, or I was dreading a test or anything. I would just look at everything I had to do that week and feel overwhelmed.

Little did I know how easy I had it back then - just me, work and classes. I can't believe I complained.

These days, I look at my helpful mom calendar/organizer on the bulletin board, and I sometimes wish I hadn't. School is back in. But then there's a day off. And here's an orthodontist appointment. And a doctor appointment. And jury duty for husband - where did that come from? And then there's a project due at work ... the one where no one's returning calls. Arrgh.

And there's lunches to be made, and bills to be paid. And sleep ... we all need sleep. No problem - I'm tired already.

But it's like we tell our kids,right? Just take it step by step. Pretty soon you'll be walking.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

"C'mon TEAM, Let's GO, GO, GO!!!"

I don't think my husband has ever yelled at me. Not once, really. He's an exceptionally laid-back guy.

Until, of course, it comes to watching sports. Then his voice reaches decibels previously unknown in this household.

I don't understand it; I never will. Screaming at the TV? Yelling at your team? Maybe it's a guy thing; I don't know. It doesn't seem like fun to me, but since he's been doing it faithfully every season - football and basketball - for nearly 20 years now, there must be some appeal.

Of course, now that we have children, his vocabulary isn't quite as colorful. There's far more, "God Bless Americas!" and "C'mon now, guys!! and far fewer epithets then there used to be.

Actually, God isn't mentioned nearly as much as He used to be. That stopped the day after a particularly stressful Chicago Bears game, when my young daughter and I were driving to the store.

"Jesus Christ, mom, roll down a window," she told me. Dad and I had a talk later.

My husband says the team senses the enthusiasm. My little boy seems to get a kick out of it. As for me and my daughter, we'll just stay upstairs, watch movies and eat popcorn. Sans screaming, thanks anyway.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Time vs. attention can be a balancing act

We've played Apples to Apples four times already. We've watched old movies. We've drawn pictures with these cool markers that are filled with paint.

I've been pulling out the stops trying to make sure that the kids are entertained during their winter break - especially since there's been yet another blizzard and we can't really go anywhere.

But over the weekend, it hit me the kids weren't looking for entertainment. They were perfectly happy spending time with me, even if I was just loading laundry or making breakfast.

My son wanted to talk to me about his Mario game skills. My daughter wanted to giggle about these hilarious YouTube videos she'd seen. A few times, they'd put on little impromptu skits to make me laugh.

They didn't want my entertainment. They wanted my attention. They deserve it. But as any harried parent will tell you, that can be the hardest thing to give. So I'm trying. But it could be a long week.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

"I don't need the money. I have enough."


He was waiting for me when I got out of the bathroom, and he was holding a tiny, bloody tooth in his hand.

"I just wiggled it a little bit," my little boy told me. "And it came out. I didn't even think it was that loose."

It was late, really late, but somehow, the tooth fairy managed to find him that night. At our house, the tooth fairy is pretty thrifty. I've heard tales where she leaves $5, even $10, even higher, but here, she just leaves $2. (He lost a tooth, after all - not a limb.)

The next night, the boy came to me, tooth fairy money in hand. "Mom, you had a long day," he said. "You can have this."

I laughed, assuming he was joking. "Honey, that's your tooth money. Put it away."

He looked puzzled. "But I don't need the money. I have enough." He put it in my hand and walked away. The next day, his school library started a book drive; Scholastic was matching any monetary donations with books to non-profit organizations. I gave him back his money, and he gave it to his school.

I think I could learn a little something from that kid.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Spring can't get here fast enough for me


This afternoon, I couldn't wait to walk outside. It was, after all, a balmy 35 degrees.

Sure, it was a little chilly. But it was still about 30 degrees warmer than this time last week.

This winter has seemed endless. Maybe it's because it started snowing so early. Maybe it's just been too cold for too long. Or maybe I'm just getting wimpier as I get older. But I am more ready for spring this year than I've been in a long time.

I'm already dreaming of planting flowers and weeding my garden, and believe me, that is usually one scraggly example of back yard botany.

Every morning, as my daughter and I trek to the bus stop and shiver in the cold wind, we remind each other, "This is the route we'll take to the neighborhood pool."

Only now I'm actually starting to believe it.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Kids, moms, dads - do the Potty Dance!!

I just found out about the Potty Dance. I'm still laughing. It's so silly. And I have to wonder: If my mom had taught me to do a little dance every time I went to the bathroom, would I still be doing it today?

The Potty Dance, if you're new to this too, is this little routine made up by the marketing folks at Pull-Ups to reward kids for using the potty.

At least I think it is. Because at first, I'll admit, I was very confused. I saw this commercial where this mom and her daughter are at a park and the little girl says, "Mom, I have to go potty."

Now, in real life, the mom would get really frantic looking because she knows she has about 30 seconds before the kid blows. She'd grab the kid, pick up her gigantic purse,(in which she has likely stashed a roll of toilet paper or some wet wipes from the last time she was at Applebee's) and start looking desperately for a semi-clean bathroom or a big tree.

But no. This mom smiles. And makes her kid dance. What the ...? So, see, at first I thought the Potty Dance was some cruel and unusual punishment foisted upon a kid who has to go to the bathroom. But I'm pretty sure I just dozed off or something.

Because then I found out it's a little reward dance. A NINE-STEP reward dance, so it must have been quite a potty, but still. I'll just have to check it out. Of course, my kids are already potty trained. So I'll need to do the routine myself.

What? Why should kids have all the fun?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Fitness fest foiled by the Hamster Dance

Stupid Hamster Dance.

Why, if it wasn't for that song, I'd probably be a dancing queen by now.

See, I'd mastered Party in my Tummy, and I was grooving with Funkytown, but there was this one little bend and shimmy in that evil Hamster Dance that made my hip pop so loud my husband, reclining on the sofa, started into a sitting position.

"Whoa! What was that?!!" he exclaimed. "Was that your HIP???"

We were, of course, doing our new fun Wii "Just Dance 2" game, which consists of choosing songs and doing dance routines. Well, okay, we were actually doing the "Just Dance Kids" version, ostensibly because our kids were dancing with us, but in actuality so mom - not exactly in prime fitness condition - wouldn't keel over in front of the family and ruin the fun.

We just got the game, so my husband hasn't quite decided whether to participate. Of course, after hearing my hip pop like the top of a Pepsi can, there's a good possibility he may never be seen in that TV room again.

Aside from minor bodily injuries, though, it's pretty hilarious - even if I'm just singing along as the kids shake their little booties to "It's Raining Men."

Sunday, February 6, 2011

What if one day, mom just said, 'No?'

The other morning I was lying in bed in that blissful half-asleep state, and it was cozy and warm and quiet, when suddenly I heard it. The unmistakable scrape of the snow plow coming down my street.

I should have been happy, I know. I'd actually be able to get out of the driveway. But I wasn't. I was sick of winter, tired of being cold. And as I awakened and thought of all the chores the day had in store, I briefly - for just one, crazy moment - thought about just saying "No."

I wouldn't get up. The kids would stay home from school. Those projects at work? Well, someone else would do them, I guess. The laundry would stay in its overwhelmingly high pile, and the groceries that we needed would still be needed tomorrow.

We'd just all take a break from life - from winter, specifically. We'd stay warm and snug inside, watch cartoons, read books, eat leftovers, nap and simply not answer the phone.

It didn't happen. I got up - of course I did. Any mom knows it's not that easy to just stop - there's far too much momentum to put on the brakes that fast. But for a moment ... for just a minute there ... isn't it tempting to think about?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Keeping the dark away during the storm

Outside, the snow came down relentlessly The giant blizzard that had been predicted for days had finally arrived.

Inside, my son stuck to my side like glue. And he's an independent little guy. So it took me awhile to figure it out. I just knew that even with books, Wii games, DVDs, tons of toys and even his sister around, he wouldn't leave my side.

As the sun set and the snow continued to fall, he wandered with me into the bedroom. I noticed then he was carrying a small flashlight. It was for when the power went out, he told me. To keep away the dark. Then I understood. My husband and I hadn't been the only ones hearing the dire predictions from the weathermen. My little boy had been there, too, wondering and waiting.

So we curled up in blankets, he and I, and talked. I told him a blizzard doesn't necessarily mean the power will go out. Yes, storms can be scary. And yes, it was freezing outside. But we'd be just fine in here, warm and together.

Later, when I tucked him in, he handed me his flashlight. "Hang on to it," he told me. "Just in case."

Monday, January 31, 2011

Beware the husband who rises before dawn

My husband is about the nicest person in the world. If you want a problem solved, he can figure out the solution. If you're in need of an encouraging word, he knows the right thing to say. In fact, he'd probably give you the shirt off his back, he's just that sweet.

Except in the morning. That is the time you see the dark side of the man I married - a guy I call the doomsayer of dawn.

"I just don't remember winters being this bad before," he'll mutter as he gets dressed. "And you know, it's only going to get worse."

He'll also remind you that the cat threw up, a whole bunch of bills are due and something in the car is making an ominous sound - all before 7:30 a.m.

But as the sun rises, the doomsayer disappears. And the man swears it's not mornings he dislikes so much - it's just these long, cold Michigan winters. Of course, now we're on the cusp of another blizzard ... I might have to invest in some earplugs. But just until sunrise, honey, I swear.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Chatting in the dentist office? Think twice

Yesterday, I sat sweating in a chair in the dentist's office. In the waiting room. Because I hate the dentist. Yes, I know. Bad. But I can't help it. I've tried to change. But I've had some negative experiences. However, I know how important the dentist is, and I'm fanatical about dental hygiene. So my kids go regularly. And they don't mind much at all.

They were both getting their teeth cleaned, and I was biding my time, taking deep breaths and reading fashion magazines. "This isn't so bad," I told myself. "Everyone seems nice here. Dentistry has changed a lot since I was a kid."

Then an elderly gentleman sitting across from me asked me the time. I told him. He grimaced. "Sure takes a long time to pull a tooth," he commented. I gave a sympathetic nod. "I'm sure things are going fine," I said. He leaned forward. "Years ago, a dentist was drilling my tooth and it shattered. He tried to fix it, but he did it wrong and it caused an abscess all along the top of my gum line. There was nothing anybody could do. I lost all my upper teeth."

WHAT THE ...?!Who shares a story like that in the dentist office?? I must have looked absolutely horrified, because he added hurriedly, "Not here. They fixed me up with some new ones here. Real nice." And then he smiled.

I smiled back, still in shock. I was still smiling when my kids bounded back out, safe and sound, teeth unshattered. And I was still smiling when I left without making an appointment for myself. Oh, I'll make one. I might just need a little recovery time. Or a full memory wipe.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Art Mom, second grade and Van Gogh's ear


If you're going to be an Art Mom for a group of second graders, and you sense you're losing their attention, don't try to be clever and mention Van Gogh's ear.

Just don't. Even if you feel you're doing it for the greater good. Because soon you will not be giving a presentation on art. You will be giving a presentation on ears.

Trust me. I spoke today at my son's classroom - finishing a program on color and mood that got cut short last week - and brought in a wide variety of art prints to discuss. I thought I was being entertaining. My audience disagreed.

Yawns. Whispers. Giggles. Uh-oh...I needed something to hold their attention.

So I brought out my ace in the hole - Starry Night. Yes! Ooohs and aahhs - who doesn't love Van Gogh's Starry Night? But I took it too far. Talking about the artist, I decided to clear up a teeny, tiny misconception. He didn't cut off his entire ear, I told them - just the bottom part of it. Now I had their attention. Everyone was very interested in art. Or, um, ears.

"Ewwwww!!! Did it hurt? Did it bleed?"
"That story reminds me of getting my ears pierced. But nothing was cut off."
"My catechism teacher ... I have never seen either one of his ears."


I tried to move on. We talked about other artists, from Mary Cassatt to Jean Honore Fragonard. At the end, I held up another beautiful Van Gogh painting, White Roses, and asked the kids how it made them feel. Calm, they said. Happy. Then a boy in the back raised his hand.

"It looks like he painted that slowly," he told me. "Like, maybe, he was thinking about his ear."