Saturday, December 10, 2011

Everyone Is Alive

When my kids were in elementary and middle school, we went around the table at dinner every night and each of us told the best thing that had happened to us that day. My theory was that sometimes there's something great to share, but there's always something at least a little bit good, and the smaller good things tend to get lost. A friend giving you a cookie at lunchtime or making it to the top of the monkey bars for the first time might pale in comparison with getting yelled at unfairly or someone pushing you down on the playground, and you just might come home focused on the negative--especially in middle school, where negative experiences outstrip positive by about 50 to 1 for a lot of kids.

Sometimes talking about the good thing can turn your whole view of the day around, or at least the way you're feeling in that moment.

Now that it's just me and Tori, it's not something we do all the time. We're always talking about the things that are going on in our lives, good and bad, and with only two of us in the house I don't have to work so hard to make sure everyone is heard. But every now and then, I'll pull it out.

So that headline there...that's mine for today. No one is dead. And please don't think I'm being cynical or using this as a backhanded way to say nothing good happened. I couldn't be happier that everyone is alive.

See, we were supposed to take my grandson Andrew home this morning, but yesterday afternoon while my son-in-law was on his way to work, his timing belt snapped. Fortunately, a relative loaned them a van almost immediately; if she hadn't, my stepdaughter Beth would have been home alone with no transportation when my younger grandson, Caleb (1), stuck a ruler in his mouth and turned to run from her, tripping before she could grab him and jabbing it through the roof of his mouth. But that didn't happen. She had the van available and swept him right out to the emergency room, where they shipped him to Indianapolis for some frightening testing and then determined that the blood supply to his brain had NOT been affected and they could just stitch him up, rehydrate him and, as soon as he was able to eat soft food and drink, send him on his way.

That hasn't happened yet. That means that his mommy (who is 6 months pregnant) was up all night at the hospital and Andrew didn't get to go home this morning...and he took it hard. So hard that when he told me at McDonald's Playland this morning that he had to go to the bathroom and I said, "Okay, let's get your shoes on," he threw a fit instead and stood his ground until he peed all over the floor. And that, of course, made him all the more hysterical, not to mention pretty darned uncomfortable when we went out in the freezing cold to take him back to my house and change him.

And Tori, who was up most of the night waiting for calls or exchanging texts with her sister at the hospital (and hasn't gotten a whole lot of sleep since she's been playing aunt-in-residence this week, anyway), actually fell asleep in the shower this morning and woke as she was falling. She managed to protect her head, but hurt her wrist a little and her ankle quite a bit.

So that's my good news for the day. We're all alive. If that's still true at the dinner table tonight, I'll be counting my blessings...if I can stay awake long enough to get dinner on the table.

Update: Though we're all still alive, I told the story of our day just a bit prematurely. Andrew took a flying leap into Tori's nose about 8:00 this evening and we ended up at the emergency room having her checked out for a broken nose. Verdict: maybe it's broken, but it's straight and her nasal passages are open, so no need to take any action. Go home, take some Motrin, put some ice on it, and stop envisioning slivers of nasal cartilege in your brain.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Few Things I'd Forgotten

1. Sitting in the car for an hour or driving in circle because I know what the rest of the day will be like if I interrupt an unexpected nap.

2. Really sticky kisses that for some reason aren't icky at all.

3. How long something like watching a train pass by can remain interesting to a three-year-old.

4. The warm weight of a sleeping child.

5. How HIGH UP tiny children look when they climb almost anything.

6. The smell of Johnson's Baby Shampoo.

7. The extreme difficulty of staying focused on the misdeed at hand while looking into big, shiny brown eyes.

8. The willingness to appear in public wearing antlers.

9. The fact that a small child will scream "help!" when the television goes fuzzy with the same tone and degree of urgency he might employ were he trapped in a burning building.

10. The immeasurable value of fresh-from-the-bath-in-clean-pajamas hugs.

11. The endless capacity for repetition.

12. Being unable to remember when I last found time to take a shower.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Best Things in Life are Three

Yesterday, as you know if you read this blog, know me in real life, are friends with me on Facebook or have crossed within 100 yards of me in the past few weeks, I picked up my three-year-old grandson from Indiana. He'll be staying with us for a week, and there are a lot of firsts involved: the longest he's been away from mom and dad, the longest car ride he's been on, his first trip out of state (and a few more to come).

Here's a little snapshot of our first twelve hours together:

I'm not really prejudiced, though. Some of the best things in life are also one.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Double the Power of Your Christmas Gifts

I suspect I'm not alone in that I always feel a bit torn at Christmas. Yes, I love buying shiny, expensive things for my children and grandchildren and watching them exclaim over them; yes, I love all the bright lights and sparkles of the season. And yet, it always feels a bit much, a bit greedy in light of what's going on all around us and far beyond our borders.

I love the idea of making charitable donations at Christmas, but they're hard to wrap and you can't hand them out around the tree, which typically means that I'm spending double the money every year, buying stuff for my loved ones and handing out cash to feed and clothe and otherwise support all those folks we should think about all year but often forget about until food drives and fundraisers put them back in our line of vision.

And that's okay; I'll probably do the same thing this year and feel good about it, too. I want my kids and grandkids to have shiny packages that make their eyes light up on Christmas morning. I want everyone else's kids to, too.

But this year, at least, I've found one option that covers all the bases. If you're a regular reader here, you've undoubtedly heard me mention Kwagala Project before. Kwagala (fka Purse of Hope) is an organization that provides aftercare to young victims of the commercial sex trade in Africa.

I first became involved with Kwagala because my former employer, Total Attorneys, funded a house in Gulu where these girls could live, learn, become a family and prepare for their new lives. In the intervening four years, I have been consistently amazed by the resilience and capacity for joy in these young women. Many of them were kidnapped, sold or forced by desperation into prostitution at an age when our girls are still playing with Polly Pockets and dressing up as princesses. But instead of holding on to bitterness and focusing on what they've been through, these dauntless young women work hard, play hard, laugh, sing and are endlessly grateful for the support they receive and the new lives ahead of them.

I don't think anything has made me cry quite so often as the hearts of these girls.

One of the first things the girls can do, while they're starting to transition, when they have little training or limited time, is to make jewelry. For many, this jewelry-making is the first paid work they've ever done outside of prostitution, and their first step toward saving money to build new lives for themselves.

Now, Kwagala is offering that jewelry for sale in time for Christmas. Please check it out, and check back over the next few days--we'll be adding many more items. Wouldn't you and the recipients of your gifts like to know that you're supporting a courageous young woman in her new life as you shop?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thankful for Just about Everything

It's official: Thanksgiving is once again my favorite holiday. Well, for the moment. We haven't had Christmas in our new place in Rochelle yet, so check back with me after that. It's hard to know how having the Whos' Christmas tree in my yard will impact that holiday season.

Today, in celebration of our first Thanksgiving "back home", Tori and I stayed put. We didn't go to anyone's house; we didn't have anyone over. We cooked a little turkey in our kitchen (in Rochelle) and Tori made an elaborate fruit salad and we ate dinner and watched A Christmas Carol and went for a long walk around our neighborhood to look at Christmas lights and played with the dog and played a game of Scrabble, and...well, you get the idea.

And when the song about how "this is how life should be" broke out, I couldn't have agreed more.

So here's the short list; there's definitely more, but a little Yorkie dog who's high on the list is waiting for a last walk before bed, so I'll try to keep it reasonable:

  • All of the friends who have, in different ways, ensured that I haven't been alone in the many years I've been a single mother. They are legion, but I am especially thankful for Margo, Jo Ann, Barb, Todd, Mike, Don, Judy and Andrew. I think about you guys every day.
  • My totally amazing daughter, who makes everything fun and inspirational.
  • The other children who still let me be their stepmother many years after the separation (and the next generation that came with them...have I told you all that my grandson is coming to stay with me next week?)
  • Little Yorkie in particular :)
  • Rochelle
  • Being in Rochelle
  • How happy Tori is to be in Rochelle
  • The people in Rochelle
  • The way downtown Rochelle could easily be mistaken for Bedford Falls
  • The big windows and sunlight and clean whiteness and light wood floors in our townhouse
  • The fact that we're solvent (so far) even though I'm unemployed
  • The fact that I have had so much flexibility in the way we build our lives and I get to balance being a parent and supporting my kid
  • The many amazing people I came to know in the job I recently left and what I learned from them
  • The opportunity to put my skills to work for the forces of good
Yeah, I'm not even close to done. But Jake is threatening to leave the list and become someone I have to clean up after if I don't cut this short, so I'll leave it at that for now.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

My Virtual Family

No, I don't mean a bright and smiling easier-to-manage set of kids in Second Life or a farm full of Facebook cows that I milk instead of walking my real-life talk: I'm talking about the joys of technology for the far-flung family--and not even especially NEW technology.

As tends to happen as we age in the modern world, my three kids are in three different cities in two different states. One still lives with me, but the others are each five hours away...and not even the same five hours. To make matters worse, one of those distant children keeps my grandchildren in her faraway home.

There just aren't many days like this anymore:

And though we make an effort to get together when we can, too often it's hectic holidays and planned events and big crowds and none of those ordinary days that broke out into a squirt gun war or a multi-city quest for Tiddly Winks.

Last night, though, my girls reminded me (by example) that those days aren't about the perfect situation but about taking everyday life as it comes. I hadn't been feeling well all day and had ordered a pizza for an early dinner so that I wouldn't have to cook. When the pizza arrived at the front door, Tori was nowhere to be found, but the open front door provided a clue. I couldn't see her, but I could hear her voice: she was walking the dog and talking to her sister on the telephone. I called out to her that the food was here and she came inside, but rather than hanging up the phone she put it on speaker and set it down in the living room.

While we ate pizza and chatted, Beth bathed her kids and got them ready for bed. Tori likened this, later, to standing in the bathroom doorway and talking to her sister while she bathed the kids. And it was...except that we were 200 miles apart.

Afterward she put the kids to bed and Tori and I both started crocheting, sitting on separate couches with the dog curled up on my feet and we talked...and talked...and talked. Somehow, as we talked about the kids and laughed about escapades gone by and books and movies and yes, a few other family members, more than three hours passed. And it was much more like those nights we'd make popcorn and play a game in the living room or hang out late in our hotel room when we visit than I might ever have imagined.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

It's Hard to Get a Sick Day When You're Unemployed

I think it was a week ago that I woke up dizzy, queasy, kind of shuddering all over and generally feeling too weak and achy to get out of bed and then got up anyway and discovered that there was a small river running through my back yard.

One of my first thoughts was that it was a great time to be unemployed. I could stay in bed. I could take time out to do what I needed to do with the flood. I could, in short, pull the blankets back over my head and...

Well, no. I did have a few freelance projects in the works, and the deadlines weren't going to change just because I was sick and flooded. In fact, it turned out to be more complicated than when I'd had a full-time job: if I was really too sick to work in my employee days, I could just call or email one person and let them know and then that was it for the day.

Not so much with this freelance thing. There were three or four different people at different companies involved. There were different deadlines, and it was tough to know which (if any) would be affected, since I didn't know how long I was going to be sick. No one cared what I was doing that day in particular, which meant that no one needed to know that I was sick or that there was a newly formed creek running behind my house.

But the work still needed to be done, the dog still needed to be walked (in the rain, around the flooding), Tori still needed a ride to choir (in the rain, around the flooding)...and six or so days later, I still haven't gotten a down day to rest and recover, and I'm still feeling like crap. And still pushing to get things done, even though they're fewer things, because I'm not all that diligent or efficient when I feel like crap.

I'm starting to think it might have been very helpful to have a job to stay home from.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Because I Totally Didn't Have Enough to Do...

Since I've been unemployed, my life has been pretty hectic. I thought that I'd have all kinds of time to catch up on some projects that have been sitting for a while, but of course it hasn't played out that way. I've had some freelance opportunities; I had some e-books to wrap up; Tori's schoolwork is at a point that requires more input from me than usual. And then, of course, there's the whole looking for a job thing, and the fact that there were quite a few boxes still stacked around my house from that move we never quite finished.

So today, I did the only sensible thing and started another blog.

That doesn't even surprise you, does it?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

My Least Favorite Holiday

Halloween has never been my favorite holiday. I still remember the relief, in 6th grade, when I realized that I was no longer required to dress up for school or make the neighborhood rounds or otherwise participate in the "festivities".
I had this kid, though. Halloween was fun when she was little, mostly because she was just so damned cute and because she delights in everything. And sitting up late at night sewing star-spangled capes or searching stores for components of a costume she'd conceived in her mind and drawn for me became kind of fun. And she didn't have that moment of relief in sixth grade; she's 15 now and the whole Halloween season still delights her.
Which is how things like this happen to me and to Jake. And, somehow, turn out to be more fun than I remember or anticipated (though of course that's easy for me to say, since no one pulled my ears through little slits in my hat for the occasion. It's possible that Jake feels differently.)

It turns out, too, that there's more to Halloween than dressing funny and paying too much for candy that you can pass out to other people instead of eating it and then go around and try to gather up candy from other people to eat since you gave all yours away to strangers.

Pumpkin seeds, for example. I learned this year that you not only can but should eat them raw, which was a big bonus for me because I've never had much patience with that whole "let them dry overnight" thing. And having them available immediately provides a great diversion from the candy I'm supposed to be handing out to other people.

But it's not all about food. There are also corn mazes. I'm not sure why corn mazes are Halloween-specific: now that I've discovered them I'd like to go all the time and can't quite work out whether they're seasonal because they look Halloween-ish, because they're often haunted, or because that's when the corn is at the right point in its life cycle to form a maze instead of, say, dinner.

This year, we went to the Jonamac Orchard corn maze in Malta, and it was great--wide, clear paths, intricate pattern, and some fun checkpoints along the way where you could get a hint if you answered a question correctly or didn't mind singing Old McDonald's farm while pointing back and forth and counting in the middle of a cornfield.

At one point, we found ourselves alone in a clearing, surrounded by corn and bright blue fall skies, and Tori said there was only one thing to do in a circumstance like that. This isn't what I was expecting:

Then, of course, we headed out to teach neighborhood children to take candy from strangers. We'd spent Saturday morning creating this nice place to sit and hand out candy, and although it was a little chilly we weren't facing anything like the snow and slush my eastern friends were reporting.

After dancing around a bit, Tori announced that she was going to be a gypsy permanently. It's always risky letting her try something new.

Then, of course, we made our traditional holiday pizza and watched Scream 4.

Being a parent is educational in a lot of ways. You learn patience; you learn to go without sleep; you learn to smile even when you're stretched so thin that you're pretty sure you're going to snap; you learn to say "It's okay," in a soothing tone and not flinch when someone throws up in your hair...but I'm coming to believe that the most important thing we learn from our kids is how to see the world. In this case, that nearly anything is worth celebrating.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

My Career as a Reluctant Unpaid Extra

If we're friends on Facebook, then you know that my status right now is:

This may be the only chance I ever have to make a statement like this: I've left the kids in the street and gone to the bar.

The reason I ditched the kids (just one of mine, and a friend of hers) in the street and went into a bar was that they'd committed to hanging out on the corner hoping to catch a glimpse of Zac Efron long as it took. I stuck it out for three hours before walking the half-block to a local bar/restaurant where I often have dinner when Tori is out with friends. I drank coffee and ate cheese garlic bread and chatted with the regulars and the bartender about what a long night it was going to be.

My daughter and her friend were herded off the street onto the lawn of a nearby building, from which they couldn't see a darned thing. I watched Zac Efron shoot about a hundred and seventy-five takes of the same scene while the girls huddled around the corner and wondered whether they were ever going to see him...and then a DA pulled me out of the bar and asked me to be an extra.

Fortunately, in the exact moment that I was stepping out onto the street, the girls showed up at the back door of the bar (a family-owned pub attached to a restaurant) and asked for me, and so ended up watching the final takes of the movie from a perfect vantage point directly across the street from Efron while I stood and chatted silently with a couple of other extras and the owner of the bar.

Yes, chatted silently. Turns out all those people you see talking and laughing in the background on the street aren't making any sound. It's kind of tough to do. Fortunately, they only shot "my" scene four times.

The crazy thing is, this is the second time this has happened to me in the past 90 days. My kid's interest in the film industry isn't playing out exactly the way either of us intended.

See that silver car in the background? Zac Efron was totally in that car. We saw him. And they let Sydney touch it.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Tori's Famous!

Okay, big exaggeration (from me...imagine that).

But the Motivational Growth website launched tonight, and her picture is on the front page.

It's been quite a while since I talked about the filming, though I'm told that it hasn't been all that long at all in film years. This project has been a real education for me in terms of what goes on behind the scenes in between filming and release, and it boggles my mind that movies get made at all.

Tori's part in this one is small, but it's been getting some good advance press from star Jeffrey Combs (of Star Trek fame) and could easily become a cult classic with a certain audience. I'll readily admit that I'm not that audience: too much blood, vomit and weirdness for my personal tastes. But I walked out after viewing the rough cut asking questions, and that's usually the sign of a movie that people will watch and re-watch.

Can't wait to see what happens with it. We've met some great people in the process and the talent is first-rate all around.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

You CAN Go Home Again

Last night, aptly enough, was the Homecoming dance in Rochelle. The last time Tori went to school and participated in school activities here was in the third grade. Though she's been taking one class at the high school since late August, this weekend she re-entered the social scene in her hometown and, somewhat to my surprise, she picked up without a hitch.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Maintaining My Sense of Humor

One week unemployed, a lot of unanswered questions and a surprising amount to do: I've just come back from a four mile walk and I'm feeling pretty good.

The dog is dancing to go out when I come through the door and I slip him into his harness and grab my phone and head out. I'm feeling thankful as I close the door behind me; I've just walked four miles and I have the energy to go right back out with the dog. I'm not short of breath. My heart isn't racing. I'm sure you're all sick of hearing about it, but it wasn't all that long ago that I thought it would never be possible again.

Smiling, I shift my phone to the hand with the leash so I can lock the door. The dog yanks. My phone flies out of my hand and lands face down on the concrete, shattering.

Who knew Yorkies were so tough?

Okay. Deep breath. I'm pretty sure I have insurance. I try to dial customer care and the call goes through, but apparently they can't hear me. All I get for my troubles is an index finger full of tiny glass slivers. When the call disconnects, "No Service" pops up and stays.

Have I mentioned that Tori is on a field trip out of town? Or that they didn't know what time they'd be home and I was waiting for a call to pick her up? Or that we don't have a land line at this new place?

So I'm a little rattled and the dog doesn't get the nice long walk he was hoping for, but I'm still feeling pretty good. I've decided to run to Wal-Mart and pick up a TracFone. Not only have I come up with a solution in just a few minutes, but it's come with another "things could definitely be worse" moment--even though I'm unemployed, I didn't have to stop and think about whether I could afford a TracFone.

My luck held, too. I got my new phone purchased and activated just minutes before Wal-Mart caught on fire, and was already on my way to the door when they started to evacuate.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Birth of Kwagala Project

Anyone who knows me in real life has probably seen quite a few posts on Facebook and heard quite a bit in person about Purse of Hope, the charity founded by the amazing Kristen Hendricks and supported in a very significant way by the equally amazing folks at Total Attorneys.

When you look at the work that gets done and the lives that are changing every day, it's hard to believe that the organization is only a few years old, and that Total Impact House is even newer. Our first high school graduate just started at University!

Perhaps because the organization has grown so quickly beyond its roots, "Purse of Hope" no longer seemed to encompass all that it was...and that meant not only a name change but a whole new look. The organization is still providing full-service aftercare to victims of child prostitution, from education and vocational training to food, counseling, shelter and an incredible sense of family and community that many of these girls have never before experienced: it's just doing so under a different name.

Kwagala Project, so named because "kwagala" means "love" in Lugandan, is Purse of Hope grown beyond its seams--and growing in its impact every day. When you have a moment, please check out the new website and/or "like" the new Kwagala Project Facebook page.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Excuses, Excuses

I could tell you that I haven't posted in nearly a month because the end of July was crazy with moving and my Internet service has been sporadic and frankly crappy since I moved, and all of that would be accurate.

Truth is, though, if my Internet access were flawless I probably still wouldn't be posting much. I just have too much to do.

By that, I don't mean the old "I'm running behind at work because I just moved and I have these freelance jobs to keep up with and admissions consulting season is starting up and I'm not even finished unpacking," though all that is true.

I mean that the gym is close by and not a hassle to get in the evening, and that we go swimming at least a couple of times a week. I mean that it's so pleasant to walk here that I sometimes walk with Tori, alone and with the dog all in the same day. I mean that Tori started taking one class at the high school last week and comes home every day with some new plan or invitation--a choir picnic, a field trip to see My Fair Lady, an audition, performing at a football game...

The library is familiar and inviting; the Lincoln Highway Heritage Festival is going on downtown this weekend.

It kind of makes me laugh; I said to Tori the other day, "How is it that there's so much more to do in this rinky-dink little town than there was in the suburbs?"

I think I know the answer, though. I think that really probably all of the same sorts of things are going on in the suburbs and more, but it's so much more complicated to participate in any of them--longer drives, traffic, parking issues, crowds, etc.--and then they're populated by strangers when you get there. At least, that's my guess at why it suddenly seems reasonable to pop out to the gym or the pool more often than not on a weeknight, and why I see a parade as an opportunity rather than an obstacle to getting around town on a particular day.

And, of course, the normal stuff is still in play as well. I've been working on a new website for Kwagala Project, and Tori is getting set up to sell the jewelry the girls have made online. And last weekend, she was part of the Imagos Films team for the Windie City Shootout, which meant arriving in Chicago well before sunrise both days (on Sunday, we left home at 1:30 a.m. to start shooting at 3:30), so we're a little tired and not as far along in the decorating process as we'd like to be.

But not so tired nor so busy that we can't take a couple of hours out for a swim. Somehow, in this place, I never feel like there's something else I really should be doing--even when there is.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Moving to Who-Ville

So the truth is, the place we're moving into isn't the place we chose at all. We had a house all picked out--it wasn't perfect and some things weren't in as good condition as we would have liked, but the neighborhood was perfect and I was charmed by the breakfast bar and the tiny fenced backyard. The landlord even reacted favorably to my page-long list of repair requests. But in the process of making those repairs, and ELEVEN DAYS before my current lease expired, he decided that since the previous tenants cats had done so much damage, he didn't want this guy living there.

Obviously, we don't travel without him.

That left us in a crunch (read: complete, blind panic). We really wanted a house, but I'm nothing if not a realist and that just wasn't likely to happen in the handful of days I had to find a place and still give us time to get moved.

The girl at the one and only local property management company had a few townhouses and duplexes to show me, but I was having a hard time changing gears and I only agreed to look at them because I had visions of homelessness. Or, worse, having to renew my current lease and stay in The Wrong Town for another year.

At the very last place we looked, I saw this in the courtyard:

I'll admit that The Grinch was never my favorite Dr. Seuss story (even before Jim Carrey got at the character) and I really wanted my own yard, but who doesn't want the Whoville Christmas tree in her front yard? (Save your breath--if you claim that you wouldn't I won't believe you.)

Fair warning to my new neighbors: we will be decorating that tree. Yes, I did say "we".

So it's not everything we wanted, but it's in the place we call home. And the child who sometimes laments that we don't live near her grandmother in rural Indiana has this outside her bedroom window:

And she was so eager to establish that "I live here now" that she settled right in and announced, "I'm sitting in my living room. I took my shoes off."

And, you know, tiny people incapable of malice are going to gather in my yard and sing on Christmas morning.


Just a brief announcement for anyone who might be interested: after 6 very long years in the wrong place, we're finally going home. This week.

Enough said.

And it's a good thing it is, because between work and packing and picking up the keys and connecting utilities and organizing a truck and all of that, I really don't have time to say more. But I will.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

You know the stuff I'm talking about--the teenagers in the movie sitting on the hood of a car looking out over the city and talking about things that seem immortal in that moment; the kids jumping fearlessly off an old rope into the lake on a seemingly endless summer day; the moment when a man's hand touches a woman's at the edge of the water at sunset; the family singing together in the car.

It happens.

Maybe your best friend cuts a foot off your hair in a dormitory bathroom one night, both of you giggling at your own daring; maybe you stand with an old friend at ocean's edge at sunset, your child by your side and hers in her arms, and watch an unexpected school of dolphins play in the surf; maybe a man spontaneously picks a flower for you walking by the river at dusk; maybe you and your closest friends drink wine coolers out of two-liter bottles by the lagoon late one night and end up singing old songs together on a tiny island; maybe a little girl carefully makes you a picnic lunch of bologna sandwiches and juice boxes to eat on the lawn with her on Mother's Day; maybe your conversation on a road trip with a friend keeps you laughing so hard that you almost don't want to reach your destination. Maybe you stand on a bridge at midnight and watch fireworks with all of the people you love most in the world; maybe a man plays a song just for you in a room full of strangers who will never know what it meant; maybe a tiny child looks up at you with shining eyes and says "this is fun!" and transforms everything about that moment; maybe wine tasting on a winter morning makes you reckless enough to say something you really, really should; maybe you dance in a downpour with your children; maybe you hang your purse in a tree one evening and roll down a hill with your oldest friend, forgetting for a moment that you're both in your forties and laughing like children; maybe a child who isn't yours gives you a heartfelt Mother's Day card; maybe any of a hundred thousand other moments you could recall happened when you least expected them, when you were walking down the street with a friend or awakened by a child or surprised by a lover or caught a glimpse of something magnificent.

Here's what almost never happens, though: you plan to have a magical movie moment and it turns into something memorable. The reason is both obvious and ironic. What makes those moments magical and memorable is their authenticity, the moment of connection, the spontaneous laughter, the way you feel when a certain person's hand covers yours. And you can't plan those things. You can plan the trappings, but the trappings don't really mean anything. Sunset doesn't make for romance; the sun sets every evening and most of the time most of us don't even notice it. It's the right company, the loosening of your sense of time when you're sitting with that person at dusk that lets you see the sunset differently, that makes it something memorable. And there's nothing inherently beautiful about a bologna sandwich. It's the tiny hands that worked so hard at making it just right for you and the tiny heart that motivated it that fix that lunch in your mind for the rest of your life.

How very sad that so often we get so caught up in staging the perfect moment that we're too busy to let one happen.

Friday, June 17, 2011

All That and a Bag of Ducks

Yesterday evening, I stopped at Chipotle on my way home from work. It's a compromise we've reached--Tori is obsessed with Chipotle and picks it for dinner every time she's asked; I won't buy it more than once a week. Getting tacos on the night I go in to work makes sense, since I don't get back into town until 7 or 7:30 and don't much feel like cooking.

But I have, apparently, opened with a digression. This post is about ducklings.

As I left Chipotle with my paper bag of food, I found myself stuck at a stoplight for what appeared to be an accident: a bicycle was lying on the ground in the middle of the intersection, nearly underneath a van with its lights flashing. As I looked around for the bike rider, I noticed a group of people behaving strangely in the street. From where I sat, that was the only way to describe it. They were running about in odd directions and waving their arms, changing course for no apparent reason. When I leaned out the window, I saw that the reason: six tiny ducklings running to and fro in the middle of the intersection of two heavily-trafficked four-lane roads.

The flapping people were herding the ducklings. But they were finding them hard to manage, and they kept getting them to relative safety on the grass in front of the gas station only to have them veer out into the road again. Finally, they settled under my car. Yes, truly settled--they lay down under my car.

The light changed, but I couldn't move. I got out of the car and looked under it; the whole family was snuggled up behind my rear driver's side tire. In all 16 lanes of traffic, no one honked or drove carelessly through the duckling area. While we were trying to figure out how to get the ducklings safely out from under my car--and "we" by this point was me, a teenaged boy who had been on the bicycle, a pretty blond college-aged girl from a neighboring car and a middle-aged woman who presumably owned the van standing in the middle of the intersection--two other women pulled up behind me and told us where the ducklings had come from and where their parents were. They knew because they'd seen them walking away from that field and followed them, trying at intervals to steer them back in the right direction.

Now we knew where to steer them, but it was a long way and the ducklings frankly weren't that good at being herded. They'd curve off in beautiful formation when you moved in on them one way or the other, but they wouldn't follow, and they'd strike back out in their own direction as soon as a gap appeared. The middle-aged woman suggested that if we had a box to put them in, we could carry them back, but none of us did. I checked my trunk and came up with only a plastic bag, which I was wary of putting them into. She thought it would be okay if she carried it open--it was only for a few minutes--but that was resolved when we discovered a hole in the bag.
Then she looked through the window of my car and said, "That paper bag might work." So I unpacked our dinner all over the passenger seat of my car, scooped up a couple of ducklings and set them gently in the bottom of the bag. The rest came easily. They were very soft and did not appear frightened. The driver of the van struck out on foot to return the ducklings to safety and I headed home, texting my daughter to meet me outside.

I very much enjoyed the cute softness of the ducklings, the efforts of the passersby and the fact that no one seemed angry or frustrated by the delay the ducklings caused, but I think my favorite moment came when I handed my daughter a foil-wrapped package of tacos and a plastic container of salsa and said, "You have to carry your dinner--I had to fill the bag with ducks."

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Yesterday morning over toast and jelly, my daughter said, "I'm going to write until noon and then I'll have lunch and take my math test before voice." And I wondered for the hundredth time why I'd waited so long to rescue her from a school system in which she didn't read or write voluntarily and believed that she wasn't good at math.

I've done some pretty crazy things in my life, and for the most part I have no regrets. But I've heard it said that it's the things you don't do that you regret, and I'm beginning to believe that it's true. I started thinking about home schooling when my daughter started middle school, but it wasn't until the middle of 8th grade that I actually pulled her out--and at that point it was more a reaction to untenable circumstances than an actual decision.

As I watch her crank out 1,000+ words on her novel every day, return to her music, return to reading voraciously and tackle math and science reluctantly but diligently and with a new confidence, I very much regret ever having sent her into the morass that is public middle school. And here's the thing: I knew she'd be better off out of school.

At the time, I thought that I was concerned about issues like socialization and how I could manage to home school with a full-time job and sending the wrong message, but in truth those were never my concerns. They were concerns that others voiced so often and so strongly that I started to believe they were real issues. I'm not usually one to substitute other people's judgment for my own, but when it was most important--probably because it was so important--I didn't trust what I knew to be true.

When I was finally making the decision and nearly everyone around me was against it--some to a degree that was outright abusive--I remembered a moment shortly after I separated from my husband. My daughter was understandably going through a rough time then, and everyone had a conflicting opinion about how I should be handling that. My then-husband took a ring my daughter had bought me for Mother's Day a few years earlier--a silver ring with a heart-shaped pink stone that said "Mom" in the band--and put it on my finger. And he said, "YOU are Tori's mother, and you know what's best for her. Don't let anyone make you question that."

Given what so many parents and children go through during separation and divorce, that vote of confidence was a bit emotionally overwhelming in the moment. It was also one I took to heart because it was coming from the person who had lived with us and watched me parent for eight years. But I forgot it, when the judgments started flying from all sides again, and I let myself be swayed by the opinions of people whose judgment I knew I didn't trust.

"Never again" is a big promise, and one that I think most of us make and break at one time or another. But right now, as I listen to my daughter singing while she's doing algebra, I'm trying to stamp those words on my brain and on my heart.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

What's Really Happening Outside

Almost every week, I get an email or see a post on Facebook or in some online forum about how no one goes outside anymore. It's usually some touching lament about how "in our day" kids chased lightning bugs and rode their bikes and such, but now no one ever goes outside.

My daughter and I walk and/or ride our bikes for an hour or more every day, and here's what we've seen so far this weekend:
  • A young woman sitting by a duck pond reading
  • A group of pre-teen boys playing basketball in a driveway
  • Several teenage boys on skateboards
  • A multi-generational group hanging out on lawn chairs in a driveway
  • Three separate groups of young men working on cars
  • No fewer than five people walking dogs
  • A group of children of several ages riding bicycles
  • Two separate lone men riding bicycles
  • Five people jogging, alone or in pairs
  • A woman and her teenage daughter (I presume) out walking
  • A youth baseball game with many families in attendance
  • Kids hanging out on the school playground
  • A man and a ten-ish girl painting their house
  • A child sitting in the lap of an older man and "helping him steer" a riding lawnmower
  • A young woman walking a baby in a stroller
  • Two women sitting in a yard watching a toddler and a girl of about six play
  • A couple teaching their toddler to throw a ball
  • A man gardening
  • A group of elementary-school-aged kids playing kickball
After making it a point to observe on a few different days, we think we have an idea why those wistful posters don't see more people outside. We've come to the conclusion that they should shut down their computers and step out their front doors. But first, I want to say "thank you", because if I hadn't kept hearing about how no one goes outside or talks to their neighbors or plays in the grass anymore, I'm not sure I would have thought to take note of just how much life is going on in my own neighborhood.

Friday, April 8, 2011

How Facebook Has Changed the World

Earlier this evening, I left my office in the Chicago loop and hailed a cab. The train station is only about a mile from my office, but it was Friday evening and I had nine minutes to catch my train.

In typical harried downtown professional fashion, I slid into the cab and offered up my destination while at the same time digging for cash for the fare and checking the new email making my phone jingle repeatedly...and then I looked down.

Sliding out from under the driver's seat was a satiny black bra, somewhat padded, with rhinestones.

I looked at the driver. It didn't appear to be his size.

In days gone by, I would have debated about what to do next. Should I mention it to the driver? Pick it up? Pretend not to see it? Get out the other side in case cooties might jump off of it and assault me?

But no more. Today, my course of action was crystal clear: I snapped this picture and posted it to Facebook from my phone, before I ever left the cab.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

On Irony, McDonald's and It Just Not Being My Year

I was planning to make Chicken Parmesan with garlic noodles and Italian bread for dinner, but Tori asked for chicken strips from McDonald's. On a better day, I might not have gone along, but Tori has Torticollis, which it turns out is not an Italian food. Rather, it's a neck problem the doctor described as being akin to having a three day charley horse in your neck. I'm very indulgent of Tori right now.

I'm also worn out. For those of you who haven't been keeping score, thus far this year:

-my car died forever, not just in another state but in a rural stretch of Interstate at midnight on a Saturday night;
-after about a month without a car, we replaced it and got the old one cleaned out and scrapped just in time for us both to get sick;
-an unexpected new expense cropped up in my life to the tune of $500+/month;
-my doctor joined a local clinic of very questionable quality and integrity on no notice, leaving me low on crucial maintenance drugs and without a physician;
-my father was diagnosed with a serious medical condition;
-I got a serious flu--both bronchial and stomach--that lasted for more than three weeks;
-frustrating things started to happen at work, which is probably par for the course for most people but was pretty much previously unheard of in my formerly Utopian workplace;
-my stepson dropped out of JobCorps and didn't tell anyone in the program or the family that he was leaving or where he was going, so that we weren't sure whether he'd run away or been killed (turned out it was "run away");
-I lost my debit card and discovered that fact while I was downtown Chicago with $2 in cash;
-I spent Saturday night at the hospital being evaluated for a blood clot; and then
-I spent this morning at the ER with Tori and her neck problems.

(Looking for a much better Q2, by the way.)

But I digress.

I went to McDonald's and got the chicken strips. While I was there, I noticed a sign that made me think about a new blog post series. I was thinking something along the lines of "Signs that Shouldn't be Necessary". This one said "Sorry--free drink refills are available only for the duration of your visit. No free refills in cups brought in from outside the restaurant."

I left the restaurant thinking about why that sign had been necessary and wishing I'd gotten a picture of it to post on Facebook or one of my blogs but then, before I was out of the parking lot, I realized I hadn't seen the cashier put the sweet and sour sauce in the bag, and I pulled into a parking space to check.

My coke tipped over and spilled all over the floor of the car and my feet.

You can see it coming, can't you?

So I went back into the store with my bag and my now-empty cup to ask for the sweet and sour sauce. But the bag was wet from the river of coke in my car and started to tear as I was carrying it, and I didn't have a free hand. And no sooner had I gotten that under control than my pants started to fall off. No, really. I'd changed out of shorts to run out to McDonald's and the pants I'd put on were pretty loose...and apparently getting looser as I walked around. I'd been hiking them up the whole time, but this was a whole different ballgame...I felt them sliding past my hips. Long shirt or no, I had to rescue them...but I didn't have a free hand and I couldn't do it walking, so I ended up standing in the parking lot blocking the cars attempting to come out of the drive-through line while I reassembled my clothing.

Good news, though. I got the sweet and sour sauce and then no one even attempted to stop me when I refilled the cup I'd brought in from outside the restaurant after the duration of my visit had expired.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Seven Minutes…errr…15 Years Ago Today…

Absurdly, it’s Tori’s 15th birthday. I know it’s a cliché to talk about how the years have flown by and ask where the time went, but it’s a cliché for a reason—it’s a near-universal experience.

15 years and 12 hours ago, I was sitting at a rather grungy Denny’s, having been unceremoniously booted out of the hospital for not being far enough along in the process. The lasagna I’d made that evening was still sitting in my oven untouched, but that wasn’t why we went to Denny’s. Eating was out of the question, given that I was in so much pain I couldn’t even stand up straight. No, we went to Denny’s because it was across the street from the hospital, and you KNOW when you’re having a baby.

It was a long, strange night that seemed rough in the moment and has evolved over time into a fond and entertaining memory. My little sister’s pay phone fight with the condescending nurse has become legendary; we’ve all come to love the boy with the sno-cone colored hair whom I first met on that night. No one seems to remember who read Tori’s charts on the day she was born (or whether it was even someone anyone among us knew), but we all remember the dramatic predictions she (he?) made.

That part, I’ll admit, seems like another lifetime. Maybe more than 15 years. But something strange happened the very next day. I had a beautiful baby girl, and then she started kindergarten and a couple of days later it was middle school and now she’s 15.

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post about how each new stage in a child’s life brings its own joys, and I’m happy to report we haven’t reached the end of that road yet (though my friends with teenagers keep warning that the end is near).

In fact, it often seems to me that it's only the details that change--and sometimes not even those.

So rather than looking at all of the many ages and stages we've passed through and all the milestones my baby has left behind today, I'm thinking about how she's been the same remarkable, sweet, funny, positive, lovable and creative person for as long as I've known her.

And I've stopped waiting for something to change. I've stopped believing that one day I'll get used to her, and that she will come down the stairs in the morning and I won't notice all over again how beautiful she is. I'm going to stop believing that one day she'll run out of new discoveries to share with me, or that her enchantment with those new experiences will cease to enchant me. Yes, she will be driving in a year and I don't know how that happened, but it doesn't frighten me. Because I do know the sound of her half excited/half frightened laughter, and I can't wait to hear it the first time she eases her foot onto the gas pedal...I've heard it before, when she rode a two-wheeler for the first time, and it was delightful.

She's gone from baby to schoolgirl to "the big kid" to teenage aunt

and so far, every day is just as much fun as the one before. Somehow, I think that's going to continue even when she's all grown up.