Sunday, December 24, 2006

Baaa Humbug

I started my Christmas shopping at PetSmart. The dog needed food and since I was there, I bought the loot for all the pets’ stockings as well. Being in Holiday-time-saving-mode, I wasn’t about to make two trips to PetSmart, of all places.

I had to be in time-saving mode. I really procrastinated this year, leaving myself only one week to shop. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it sooner. I get so fed up with the holiday crap. It’s just so wasteful. Nobody really needs anything.

I buy a box of unnecessary crap for you. You buy a box of unnecessary crap for me. We’ve just wasted money, natural resources and contributed to the deforestation of China, all because we needed to supply each other with thoughtful Holiday garage-sale fodder.

And I’m not a big fan of gift cards, either. It’s too much like getting a project. Now I have to actually physically go to a store to redeem it: I give you a gift card. You give me a gift card. Why don’t we just sit down and write each other checks?

Everyone on my list got a goat this year. Not a real one, although the idea of actually physically sending a goat to some people on my list cracks me up—but a Heifer goat. I made several goat-sized donations to Heifer International and they will send an actual physical goat to a poor family in a third world country. The family can live off the goat’s milk, sell what they don’t need and it enables them. It gives them a way to not only survive, but hopefully to thrive. They’re also under obligation to breed the goat with other Heifer goats in the area, thus perpetuating the “wealth.” It seems like such a great idea. I only wish it were more like those adopt-a-child places, where you get a photo of your goat and its family, but in reality, the donated money goes into a pool at Heifer and doesn’t buy one individual goat. That’s okay. It’s the idea that’s important to me. Very few trees die in the process. I just hope I don’t ever see a 60 Minutes special in which the president of Heifer International sails away from the Cayman Islands on his new yacht, “The Kid.”

You probably think I’m a great big Grinch. Maybe I am. But I know I’d love it if someone got me a goat. I hope the people on my list like theirs. I’m still fretting over my decision to buy everyone a few token boxes of crap—to borrow my own words—and then have their “big gift” be a donation to a charity of my choosing.

Maybe that’s why I ended up at PetSmart first, buying gifts for the only beings on my list without expectations: my pets. The only ones who don’t care, who won’t be disappointed, who won’t evaluate how much I paid, or the time and consideration that went into their presents. My dog and two cats will simply be thrilled that they got something new to play with. Perhaps they’re the ones who have best appreciation of the idea of Christmas. Okay, maybe not. But they’re definitely not the ones who’ll have me standing in return lines on Tuesday.

When my son Kyle learned of the stocking stuffers for the other pets, he realized his fish needed something too, “So he won’t feel left out.” It was off to PetSmart—again—where Kyle insisted on using his own money to buy his fish a sculpture.

It was a weird kind of pet store wisdom, a lesson on the spirit of Christmas giving that I obviously need to learn.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

CallerID and Priorities

Some guy I don't know just called. Normally I wouldn’t have picked up the phone, but the number looked familiar. We went round and round. “Who is this,” he asked.

“Who are you?” I replied. “You’re the one who called me.”

“I saw your number on my caller ID,” he said.

And this is where I have a problem. Who are these people with nothing better to do in their lives than to call back all the people who called them and didn’t leave a message? And why, especially, are they bothering to call back people they don’t know?

This isn’t the first time this has happened. I’ve received many such calls over the years. I don’t get it. I don’t even call back my friends when they don’t leave a message. I just figure it must not have been that important. Or maybe they’d called with an urgent issue: Can you come over and extricate me out from under this bookcase that fell over? As soon as they realized there would be no human answer to the phone, they were on to the next person on their list.

The guy on the phone got irritated with me. “Your number’s on my caller ID,” he said indignantly. “Someone there called me!”

“Why would anyone here want to talk to a butthead like you?” is what I wanted to reply, but my kids were in the room. Maybe this guy needs some kids, I thought. Then he’d have to prioritize. Then he would know that keeping tabs on every wrong number is a big stupid waste of time.

I remember how, before I had kids, I used to think lots of stupid things were important. Like filing. I would get agitated if a few weeks had gone by and I hadn’t put all the paid bills into their appropriate files. Now that my boys are nine, I know that pretty much you can go for six months without filing before there’s any adverse reaction. As you approach a year, well, then there are hazards. The stack might fall over and hurt someone.

Now I have a laundry list of things (laundry included) that I thought were important and of the highest priority, before my kids were born, which I now have come to realize can go for a surprisingly long time without getting done. Were you aware of how many warnings the phone company gives before they actually shut off your phone?

Making beds, dusting, watching TV shows, actually hearing the radio, getting film developed, making sure the calendar is on the right month. All these things have dropped down, if not right off, the list. Raking leaves, shoveling snow, changing the oil in the car, heck, sometimes even putting gas in the car (It’ll drive amazingly far while on “E”. Although, conversely, it won’t drive far at all once the “Fuel” light comes on.)

I later discovered my babysitter had misdialed my cell phone number when trying to call me earlier this morning, which is why Mr. It’sOnMyCallerID’s phone number had looked so familiar when I saw it on my callerID. The number was pretty darned close to mine.

“But someone there called me!” He’d been so upset. Apparently he really needed to know what we wanted from him.

“Maybe it was just a wrong number,” he finally conceded. “Yeah,” I mumbled. I held on the line for a moment, and then just hung up without saying anything more.

I don’t have the time to spend my life on the phone with strangers. I need extricate my children out from under the files.

Penguins and Poles and the Tenacity of My Resolve

Can we join Club Penguin? When can we join Club Penguin? We’ll pay for it. Can we join Club Penguin after dinner?

This is only the tip of the penguin-topped iceberg. I’ve been hearing about Club Penguin for days. I’m sick of Club Penguin. But I marvel at my son’s tenacity. I suppose I should be more understanding and tolerant of it. He has the same form of tenacity that I do.

I’m not certain when or how I developed my stick-to-itiveness. I suppose if you wanted to call it stubborness, you can say I inherited it genetically via my Belarussian roots. Obviously, my children inherited too. If they want something, say a toy or to go see a certain movie, they hold on with such resolve. It’s like watching a dog with a bone.

In this regard, my kids are a lot like me. And don’t you dare tell us we’re not capable of doing something. That’s how I ended up an airline pilot. “The airlines are all laying off pilots, you’ll never get a job.” “You have an aptitude for engineering. You should be an engineer.” I was fourteen. The only kind of engineering I understood concerned the guy who drove the train. “Why would you want to be a pilot? Women aren’t pilots.” “No one will marry you if you’re a pilot.” “You won’t be able to have a family if you’re a pilot.” Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. Sometimes stubbornness--I mean tenacity, has its rewards.

Another example would be my telephone pole, a favorite reminder of the adage, “feel free to keep telling me what I’m doing is impossible, while you sit there and watch me do it.” Whenever I’m at the sink doing dishes, my telephone pole makes me happy.

When we bought our house, it didn’t have a garage. No big deal, we thought, we’ll build one. But the telephone pole was right where the overhead door should be. As we got estimates, all the sales guys told me we’d have to put in a two-car garage. But we wanted a three-car garage. One guy made the mistake of saying they used to move telephone poles, but not anymore. That was the Danley guy, busy doing a hard-sell, and he wanted me signing a contract for a two-car garage right that minute.

But he’d given me an idea. That it might be possible to move the pole. I told him I’d get back to him as soon as we got all the estimates in. “You can do that, but then it wouldn't be a Danley garage.” He exhaled out the sentence with such a pompous sigh, it took a lot of control to not scream, “Get out of my kitchen!”

I called ComEd. Yes, we move poles. Where do you want it? (I don’t know why I was so surprised; the house was here before the electricity.) I called AT&T. Yes, we ‘ll move our stuff to the new pole, but it’ll cost you.

Compared to the price of a new garage, compared to the added resale value of a three vs. two-car garage, AT&T’s fee felt reasonable. My only regret is that I’ll never see the look on the Danley guy’s face if he ever happens to drive past our three-car, Steele & Loeber garage, to find that telephone pole sitting twenty-five feet to the south.

Whenever I feel my resolve start to waiver, my husband kindly points out I single-handedly moved a fifty-foot telephone pole.

I try to remember I’m capable of that kind of resolve, as I sign my boys up for Club Penguin.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Halloween Frights

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. I love the dressing-up part. I like the idea of costumes and pretending to be someone you’re not. (No snide comments, please, on the witch-hat I wear when taking the boys trick-or-treating.)

For a party several years ago, I was an Asian Long-Horned beetle and my husband was a frighteningly convincing Spock. But it’s most interesting to me to see what my children will choose to be for Halloween. The last time I had any say in the matter, they were two. I dressed them as Thing One and Thing Two, and darn it if they weren’t cute.

As they get older, I watch them striving for the creepiest, scariest, most disgusting costume they can imagine. I try not to mind. I try to look at it like they’re trying to be the opposite of their wonderful little selves. But I miss the Dalmatian costumes, the Thomas the Tank Engines, and the bears and wolves.

Several years ago, my son Kyle wanted to be a wolf for Halloween. A fact previously unknown to me, is that wolf costumes for seven year-olds are impossible to find. The only wolf costumes we saw were for babies. After an internet search, we finally did find the perfect plush grey wolf costume on E-Bay—in a size 2T.

Now, I don’t know how to sew. I’m not Craft Mom. But when Kyle’s face screwed-up into tears because he couldn’t get that wolf costume, I promised him we’d find him the perfect wolf costume—somewhere. I promised him if we didn’t, that I would sew him the most god-awful wolf costume he’d ever seen.

Apparently he came up with the same visual picture I had: tail hanging from sleeve, paw where ear should be—but his tears instantly dissolved into laughter.

Sew, there I was. I did own a sewing machine. A dusty one. I went to Joanne Fabrics. In keeping with the Halloween theme, I found it a scary place for a Non-Craft Mom. But I was thrilled to find a pattern for a wolf costume, and some grey plush fabric on sale. I began Project Wolf, as we now like to call it. It took me a while to sew that costume, and thankfully, grey plush fabric is amazingly forgiving of errors. I managed to make Kyle the cutest darn wolf costume you’ve ever seen. (If I may say so myself.) The only logical explanation I have for this, is that I must have been paying closer attention to Mrs. Pella during eighth grade Home Economics than I realized at the time. Either that, or I channeled my grandmother.

I even finished without a single swear word.

However, after spending an entire week working on Kyle’s wolf costume, I had another problem: a boy whose costume I hadn’t toiled over. “So what do you think, Ethan, do you want me to sew you a bear costume?” It’s weird the sentences you hear coming out of your mouth when you’re a mom. It’s like all of a sudden, you just picked a new foreign language and started speaking it.

When Halloween came, they didn’t want to wear their bear or wolf headpieces to school. “But, but they’re so cute! And they go with the costume! I worked so…Well, okay. Wear whatever you want. Today, it’s all about you.”

They still looked adorable and I was still proud of my work. Until I dropped them off at school, and had the most terrifying thought of all.

“Wait! Whatever you do, don’t tell your teachers—especially not your drama teacher—that your mother knows how to sew.”

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Time Sinks

I was up to my elbows in thorns and roses and madder than a hornet to boot. I was stuck in a time-sink project.

The trellises holding my rosebushes had fallen down—thanks to a thunderstorm the night before. We had company coming over in three hours. Our icemaker was busted and we needed ice. And the inside of my house looked like the after-effect of George Bush’s foreign policy. The last thing I needed was a time-sink, but there I was, wrestling with a rosebush, watching precious time slip.

My friend Deb was the first person I ever heard use the term “time-sink project.” I immediately latched on to it. I don’t know if she made it up or heard it somewhere else, but it was a term that didn’t need explaining. Time-sink projects filled my days.

A broken car. Or a pipe that bursts. Perfect examples of time-sinks. By definition, the worst part about a time-sink is when you’re finished, you’re not ahead, but merely back where you started.

Time-sinks are frustrating, but it wasn’t until I became a parent that they began to enrage, rather than just frustrate me. I remember going out to the garage to change a car seat that had been peed in. I wasn’t mad at the son who’d done it—these things happen to newly potty-trained boys. (Well, okay, maybe I was a little mad.) But I was furious at the Chrysler Corporation and their stupid tether-strap latch that I couldn’t get loose. I was mad at Graco, the company that made the car seat, for making their tether strap hook so incompatible with Chrysler’s latch. I was mad that this project was taking longer than it should have—longer than I’d anticipated—and that something that should have been so simple had become so difficult and that I’d been completely stymied before I could even complete the first step: remove car seat from car.

I cried over that car seat. I sat in the back of the Jeep swearing and crying over a piece of furniture and I remember thinking, “It’s finally happened. I’ve lost the rest of my mind.”

I was at that point with my roses: distraught that the trellises refused to stay up despite my repeated efforts and that one of the main canes had splintered beyond repair. I was repeatedly getting scratched with thorns and was starting to look like I’d been in a reality-TV show catfight. A thorn had broken-off in my thumb, the sharp end embedded in it like a splinter and I couldn’t pull it out. As I swore and ranted in the backyard I wanted to blame anyone or anything else. I was acting so crazy it’s since made me wonder if it were more than a coincidence that, two days later, the for-sale sign went up in my next-door neighbor’s front yard.

My husband, on the way to the store for ice, stopped to help. His calmness, his analytic approach and his understanding at my frustration was the marital equivalent of pulling the thorn from the lion’s paw.

I wish I could be that calm in the face of a time-sink. Perhaps it's because he doesn’t have to deal with as many of them as I do. He spends his days in the business world—used to results. Or maybe he’s just used to being in a world where everything is a time sink.

Regardless, we’re all busy. We want our projects to produce results.

I suppose I could have left the rose bushes sagging, taken care of them the day after the party. But that splintered cane—it broke my heart. I took it, cut the end clean, dipped it in rooting compound and stuck it in the ground, tying the branches up along the fence. It looked beautiful that night and although I ended up cutting back most of it, the cane is still green in the ground. Perhaps it will survive. A positive time-sink result.

At the party that night, a friend said to me, “Your roses are so beautiful, I could weep.”

I smiled, said, “Thank you,” and told him sometimes, they made me weep, too.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Parking

I pull into the lot at the Midtown Tennis Club and almost swoon. Parking. Lots of it.

“Kyle, I predict you’re going to like learning tennis here.” This is, of course, unfair of me to say. You see, I already love it here—and we hadn’t even been inside. I eye the expanse of asphalt with a dreamy look in my eyes, row after beautiful row of brightly painted, yellow-gold stripes. The wide-open, empty spaces. I inhale a deep breath through my nose. Aaah.

Parking, or lack thereof, is part of life for city moms. It’s a subject I presume most suburban parents never have to consider, but it’s something I find myself considering every day, for just about every single child-based activity.

“A picnic at Sunshine Park? Sure! Sounds like fun!” Where will I park?

“A birthday party at the Goodman Theater? We’ll be there!” How will I retrieve my children without getting towed?

“A play date at 900 North Michigan? Huh? Me too? Ummm… Oh, there’s an extra space in your garage?” Whew.

Parking is the reason I wanted to buy our house. It has a driveway. After the showing my husband looked up from where we stood on the sidewalk and envisioned 110-years of Victorian charm crumbling around him. I looked down the long expanse of driveway that led to the alley and said, We have to take it!

You just want it for the driveway, he said.

And the problem there is, exactly what?

My husband takes the El to work. He doesn’t understand.

But my kids do. They even help me with the chant to the Parking Goddess.

You’ve never heard of the Parking Goddess? Sacrilege! I’ll bet you never get Hollywood parking, either. I know it sounds crazy, but prayers, chants and personal sacrifices to the Parking Goddess are all part of a city moms life. If you’ve never circled Lincoln Park thirty times while your Trotters To Go Chicken Salad warmed to salmonella temperature in the trunk and your kids started panicking as they watched the sun set on their picnic at Sunshine Park, then maybe you can’t understand.

I know I’m not alone in believing in the Parking Goddess; I’ve seen other moms in action—sure, different chants, different juju, but it’s all essentially same. We even debate the efficacy of our different rituals, but we all believe in her. Oh yes, we believe.

And you can’t forget, when you get that great space, to give thanks. The Parking Goddess is munificent, certainly—but merciless when thanks is forgotten. I had a stretch where I had to park blocks away from my destination and it lasted for several weeks, all because I forgot to give thanks for the space right outside the veterinarian’s that time I had to lug my nineteen-pound cat inside for shots. The next time the Parking Goddess finally saw fit to grant me a good space, I sacrificed a Volvo.

Every after-school activity and play date is given a lead-time based on time to destination—and time to park. The academy where the boys take Karate lessons is about a five-minute drive from where we live, but we leave 20-minutes prior.

Then there was the summer morning my son Ethan smirked when I said, “Hurry up! We’ll be late for the beach!” He figured it was just more of my dry humor. It was. I was kidding—just, sadly, not really kidding enough. You see, the parking lot at the Lake tends to fill up by 11:00 am.

And I thought my quarter hoarding days were over when we moved out of our apartment and into our first house, with a washer and dryer in the basement. Nope. Now I need quarters for the parking meters. At least in my neighborhood, a quarter buys you an hour. As you head south and east from here, that same quarter buys you less and less. A few times I’ve run out and found myself holding out two dimes and a nickel to complete strangers, Can you spare a quarter? Citiphiles get it. They reach into pockets and purses to help me out. Those of you from out of town, or who just moved in from Elmhurst, give me a wide berth—apparently having been warned about aggressive street people begging for change, even those with Prada bags.

I suppose public transportation would be the way to go, better for the environment too, but I try to imagine getting my kids to Karate on the #11 Lincoln. We’d have to leave the night before.

So instead of being environmentally conscious, I’m parking conscious instead: completely incapable of driving down any side street without thinking, “Ooh, there’s a good space.”

Today I tell Kyle, “Hurry up, we’ll be late for the parking lot—I mean your tennis lesson.”

I want to arrive early, so I can sit there and swoon.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Warcraft Widow


Most men, young and old, respond to a call for food with Pavlovian reflex, a pounding up or down stairs in the general direction of the kitchen with a stop for washing hands only when reminded by their wife or mother. That is most men not playing World of Warcraft.

Hey guys, I say to my husband and sons, What do you say to some pancakes or waffles for brunch this morning? I know the brunch part is pushing it—not a man-thing at all—but they’ve been at it for a couple of hours and I assume the bowls of cereal they had earlier have worn off by now.

Umm, sorry Mom. No waffles. We’re in an instance.

An instance? I don’t know what this is, but I know what it means for me. I am one of the many many women across the globe who has become a Warcraft Widow. This is not a new term. It is not one that I have coined. If I knew whom to give copyright credit to, I would do so, although I believe you can’t actually copyright a title or proper name. Anyhow, what I do know is, in this particular instance, I will be eating my waffles alone.

Men like computer games. Women, as a rule, do not. Now I’m sure I may get a few irritated comments from female computer aficionados, and I’m sure they’re out there. It’s just that I personally, have never met one.

When I was in high school, two of my best friends, Amir and Bill, used to drag me to arcades for Pac Man and Space Invaders and as I watched them dump countless quarters into the machines I would oftentimes find myself thinking, Gee, I could be chewing on broken glass right now instead.

The only thing more boring than watching someone else play a video game is watching someone else surf the internet—but it’s funny how it always takes a while before you realize, I’m watching someone else surf the internet and it is really really boring and there are just so many better ways for me to waste my time.

This family World of Warcraft fascination began with my husband. His twin brother introduced him to Warcraft several years ago and I’ve never forgiven him. My brother-in-law, that is. I try to tell myself that it could be worse. He could be addicted to something harmful—like beer, or the Gilmore Girls. At least he’s in the basement on the computer not out gallivanting around town in a state of inebriation. But still, it troubles me. Especially the times he refuses food. Or to stop for other things I deem important. “I’m sorry Kim, I can’t lift the bookcase off your leg—I’m in a group. We’re in an instance.”

So while my husband proceeds to not let down his Warcraft buddies by staying with the group (which I presume, unbeknownst to my husband, is actually made up of my old friends Amir and Bill), I proceed to free myself from under the bookcase by gnawing off my own leg.

He liked to play on weekend mornings and our boys loved to watch. Are you listening? The boys loved to watch someone else play a video game. It wasn’t long before they had their own characters and were traveling through fields and towns fighting the Alliance as members of the Horde, wielding night-elves at each other and taking care of their virtual pets, which only made me wish they’d take such great care of their real ones.

Now my sons play Warcraft with several of their school friends. And don’t think I don’t feel the reproachful glares of their mothers. The game can be a little violent—but I tell myself, not any more violent than Saturday morning cartoons—and at least with the video game, they’re learning valuable skills, like math and how to vanquish mortal foes with a long sword. Just show me the boardroom where these skills wouldn’t come in handy.

Still, I worry the boys play too much. They speak their own language, and it’s not the twin language of their toddler years. Now they speak Warcraft.

“I’m a level 36 Warlock! I can’t run you through the wailing caverns.” “Let’s do some quests in Hillsbrad, maybe we’ll run into some PVP’ers.” “Okay, but we’ll have to watch we don’t get ganked.” Ganked? Do you see why I worry?

Even their “real” play is fraught with references to this game. “I’m an Orc and I have 26 strength and 14 life. I need 100 gold to buy that armor from you.”

Maybe I really should be happier. How many mothers get their Saturday mornings to themselves? I can write or go to yoga or sleep-in. I shouldn’t begrudge the men in my life this time together, off in virtual worlds, fighting virtual battles together, but quite selfishly, I kind of do. I suppose I could always grab a long sword and join them, become a level 1 Rogue…

Then again, maybe not. It’s a small price to pay for the opportunity to eat my waffles all by myself.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Mother's Day

Mother’s day is fast approaching, that marvelous day when we pay tribute to our mothers in the time-honored tradition of giving hundreds of millions of dollars to the Hallmark Corporation. Yes, Mother’s day is tons of fun, especially for us mothers. And who doesn’t need another bottle of Jean Naté?

My personal favorite part of Mother’s Day is breakfast in bed. My husband and the boys clatter around in the kitchen, then come clamoring up the stairs shushing each other, with the dog and cats expectantly in trail. When they enter the bedroom, I pretend I didn’t hear any of the ruckus and act surprised to see the breakfast tray. The experience is made all the more heartwarming if, before delivery, they’ve managed to take the foil wrapper off my Pop-Tart.

Two hours later, when I’m down in the kitchen cleaning up that very same breakfast tray, I ponder what Mother’s Day means to me. It’s supposed to be a day where we say thanks to Mom. Give her a day of rest. A day off. But I’ve never had a Mother’s Day off. I mean, a day off for a mom? What’s that? It would mean pretending you didn’t have children.

When a person makes the commitment to motherhood, a day off, for the rest of your life, is essentially out of the question. Sure, you can leave the kids at grandma’s for the weekend, but even then, although you’re children aren’t physically present, they’re still very much in your thoughts. Have you ever tried to see how long you could go without thinking about them? Worrying if they’re okay? Happy? Crying? Being stuffed full of too many cupcakes at Grandma’s house? I know I couldn’t make it for 24 hours.

This is the bond you make with the Universe when you bring a child into this world. You’ve created a link every bit as real as an umbilical cord. But here’s the thing: It’s more of a one-way cord. The love and concern and worry pours through to your child and sure, you get some of it back—but not all of it. And that’s okay. It has to be okay. It’s really the only way for the system to work. If you’ve done your job, your children will go out into the world with confidence and they’ll flourish, achieving all the goals and dreams they can dream and maybe even, occasionally on holidays, remembering to send you a Hallmark card.

That’s the reward. Not the card, but the happiness of your children. Nobody should decide to go into motherhood as a means of accumulating a collection of unopened bottles of Jean Naté. Being a mother isn’t about having or expecting the unconditional love of your children. It’s about giving your children unconditional love—without expectations.

I don’t think anyone who decides to become a parent really comprehends what it is they’re getting themselves into. I know I didn’t. I don’t mean that in a bad way. I mean that it’s a life experience that can barely, and only with very great difficulty, be put into words. When people tell you the tried and true phrase, “It’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do, but the best thing you’ll ever do,” you can hear it, but you won’t really get it, until your kids are already here.

Earlier in life, my maternal urges were thin to non-existent. I was the fun-loving, party girl. I still don’t know what the hell happened. I never had any great affinity for children, especially not other people’s children. Sure I babysat when I was younger, and I did a good job, but pretty much those little munchkins were just a means for me to put myself into a new pair of Calvin Klein jeans.

I don’t remember all the driving factors that made my husband and I decide to become parents. Everyone else is doing it—seems to come to mind. Certainly listening to new parents didn’t help the case for parenthood. I remember my husband saying things like, “It would be fun,” and “Kids add the unexpected.” Then the next thing I knew, we ended up with these kids.

The best thing that ever happened to me.

My boys have brought me joy and laughter every single day they’ve been in my life.

While these are just my humble thoughts on what it means to be a mother, I know the jury’s still out for me in terms of my performance as a mom. My kids are only nine. I still have plenty of time to completely screw them up. But I do love them more than my own life, and I have only the best of intentions with regards to their upbringing. In this, I imagine I’m not alone.

All I know is, at least for now, if you love your kids and do your job to the best of your abilities, when that breakfast tray shows up on Mother’s day morning—your little angels will have, oh so lovingly, removed the foil wrapper from your Pop-Tart.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Stay up Late

Do you think we have enough money saved up? Am I a good writer? If I died, would you get remarried?

All the questions I’ve bombarded my husband with over the years have now become a sort of standing joke between us. Punch lines. But they weren’t always so funny to us. You see, I always manage to bring up the heady topics right at bedtime, at the exact time my husband wants to put his stressful day behind him and start thinking happy, dreamland thoughts, not, “Do you think we’ll get our taxes done in time?”

With busy lives—kids, careers, pets, and a house to take care of, it seems the only time my husband and I have for private conversation on important matters is right before bed. We can’t talk about these things when he’s at work or I am, and certainly not when the kids are around. I’ve considered setting an alarm and waking him up at three a.m. to ask if maybe we should sell the Jeep (It’s starting to routinely nickel and dime us at the shop—actually, it’s more like it’s starting to Franklin and Grant us), but I doubt my plan would improve my chances of getting that Lexus.

It’s true what they say, about little kids meaning little problems. Now that the boys are older, the issues are grades and whether or not they’re playing too many computer games, versus, shouldn’t they really stop spreading peanut butter on each other? Finding time to talk about them, without them present, is becoming more and more of a challenge.

I don’t know what we’re going to do when they’re teenagers. Their bedtime now is already perilously close to mine. In fact, sometimes when I have an early wake-up call, I’m in bed before they are. The boys find this amusing. I find it amusing that nine-year-olds fight so hard against their appointed bed times, trying every trick in the book to delay: I’m hungry, I’m thirsty, I forgot to do my Spanish homework, while us forty-two years olds are trying every trick in the book to get into bed early—and stay there as long as possible, as in, I really am sound asleep and don’t hear the dog whining to go out.

Sure my husband and I find time to talk on our date nights. But after a glass or two of Pinot Noir and some seared wasabi tuna tartare, who really wants to talk about the science fair anymore? And aren’t date nights supposed to not be about the kids. I think so. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love my kids, but I love my husband too. I want to enjoy his wickedly funny sense of humor, the one he can only trot out when he’s not within earshot of anyone under eighteen. Besides, who wants to turn into one of those people who are only capable of talking about their children?

The vase is blue.

That reminds me of the time I saw something blue when I was with my kids.

Yawn.

Sometimes my husband and I manage a private conversation at the table, after the boys have finished eating and we’ve sent them upstairs to take showers. We’re oddly comforted by the raucous stomping above our heads, the screaming and thuds that accompany the shower running—and in the last few weeks, the water dripping into the kitchen from the new hole in the ceiling under their tub—because at least then we know they’re not listening to us complain about work or talk about finances or who needs to work more on their division fact triangles.

Women are, of course, from Venus and I do need to get in my quota of 2200 words each day, to my husband’s four. On days when I’m home writing, it’s entirely possible I’ll need to get in 1800 words between 10:30 and 11:00 at night. My husband can be unbelievably patient in letting me vent, but I can always provoke a sideways glance when I stray into heavier topics like career change. That’s when I’ll pull out one of our punchlines, “If I died, would you remarry?”

At least we’re laughing. Perhaps my husband should be more grateful to be in a marriage where we like to talk to each other. I see those other kinds of couples on our date nights. I’ll bet you’ve seen them, too, out driving in their cars, two stony faces and no conversation. I don’t get it. Some days my husband is the only person on the planet I want to talk to. He’s my best friend. I couldn’t imagine my life if I couldn’t talk to him, vent my frustrations to him and have him, occasionally, look up from his paper and grunt.

So when I see the silent, stone-faced couples, it makes me sad. I’ll look over at my husband, to see if he noticed them too, which is when he usually looks over at me and says, “I'll bet she just asked him if he thought they had enough money saved up.”

Birthday Blues

It used to be just my birthday that I dreaded, but now I dread my kids’ too.

You see, their birthday means I need to plan their birthday party.It’s not that I dread all the work involved or that I don’t want them to have a fun party with their friends. I just don’t like the excess of it all, how over-the-top kids’ birthday parties have become. And all the stuff. I dread the stuff—the influx of plastic crap into my house. We’ve barely recovered from Christmas.

Before the boys started kindergarten, I’d have their birthday parties in our home. When they started school, it had an inclusion policy—which, by the way, I wholeheartedly agree with—that requires the entire class to be invited to all birthday parties. The boys were in separate kindergarten classes. This meant 22 four-year olds.

Not in my living room.

I wasn’t the only parent who took this line of thinking, but I only took it to Chuck E Cheeses. Some parents took it far. Really far. By the time they’d completed junior and senior kindergarten, they’d attended birthday parties at United Center (The Barnum and Bailey circus), Café Brauer (chi-chi Lincoln Park Restaurant—my friend Margie got married there), and The Saddle and Cycle Club (exclusive north-side country club.) My husband quipped that maybe for the boys’ party we could hire-out Cirque de Soleil.

During those two kindergarten years, the entirety of my social life was children’s birthday parties. We had one every weekend. Sometimes more than one. I spent my whole life cleaning the kitchen and buying gifts for other peoples’ kids.

I felt like doing a Susan Powter-type shout out: Stop the Insanity! But I also felt like I was the only one in the crowd who thought it was insane.

At their cousin’s birthday party—in a rented out gym, with a DJ and fancy lighting—in lieu of a goodie bag, I think the parting gift for each kid was, like, a Buick or something. Very similar to all the gala’s we’d been attending. At one point my cousin Steve, the party girl’s father, pulled the video camera away from his eye and deadpanned, “I remember my birthday parties like this when I was a kid.”

Finally. Someone who gets it.

There were no parties like this when we were kids! The parties I remember going to were not annual events at venues. When they happened at all, they usually happened at someone’s house. In the basement.

I miss that. Which is why I don’t think the underlying cause of my birthday party procrastination has anything to do with a fear of venue one-upmanship—or lack thereof. In fact, when I think about our creepy basement, the idea of twenty-two nine-year-olds running around down there doesn’t even scare me. Although, it would probably scare them.

I know the reason for my procrastination is really about all the crap—the plastic gifts that inundate my house beginning at Christmastime and ending when the last birthday present is received.

I hate the crap.

The boys, quite frankly, don’t want for a thing. They received more toys for their fifth birthday than I had my entire childhood. They have more Lego’s and stuffed animals and board games than can fit in their playroom and I get disgusted with the moreness of it. It makes me feel dirty. Decadent. Like a fat American.

I know it’s hard not to give your kids everything they want, everything maybe you didn’t have when you were growing up, especially when you have the means to do so. Maybe it’s a form of guilt that drives us to shower them with parties and presents, but I guess the better question isn’t, “Can we?” but “Should we?”

Maybe I am just lazy, because I especially hate it when someone buys me a project. You’re familiar with the project presents—the gifts that inevitably mean more work. I’m busy. I don’t have time to make a space rocket in 400 easy steps, with Step One being, Order liquid hydrogen from Edmund’s Scientifics.

I probably sound unappreciative. Maybe I am. I know people are just trying to be thoughtful, but can I really be the only person out there who gets a present and thinks, “Darn it, another thank you note I have to write?”

Laser tag is now the front-runner for the boys’ birthday party this year and I’m thinking that’s fine. Instead of gifts, I’ve tried to talk them into having their guests make a donation to a children’s charity. They look at me blankly. No way, man. They want the loot.

I’m resigned. We’ll do a laser tag party with all the bells and whistles. (The folks at Cirque de Soleil can breath a sigh of relief.) And they’ll get presents. Lots of them. Who am I to deny them their crap? But I’ll do it with my fingers crossed, holding on to the hope that someday we’ll all outgrow this rampant materialism—and also that, maybe, Edmund’s Scientifics will run out of liquid hydrogen.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Coffee Shop Rant

Every nine months I need to go my airline’s flight training center for testing. Because, contrary to what you may have been told, those big jets don’t just fly themselves. So, every nine months I prepare for this testing, with both the preparation and the testing being, coincidentally, about as much fun as childbirth.

The flight-testing and its in-depth systems exam is a subject for another blog. Today, we discuss the extremely sorry state of this city’s coffee shops. Or, more accurately, the people who frequent them.

My studies send me to coffee shops because I struggle to study at home. At home I’m distracted by things like my children, the phone, my email—the refrigerator. During these cram sessions, the two or three weeks before my check ride when I frequent coffee shops, I see a lot of people just like me, there for the same reasons I am. They want a quiet place to work. With no interruptions. And this brings me, finally, to my point.

I don’t go to Gymboree to study. So why does every mother with a free-spirited toddler feel she needs to bring Junior to Starbucks for Gymboree? Now I don’t begrudge any mom time at a coffee shop with her kid. My boys and I used to go. I loved the adultness of it. But my boys sat at the table with me, drank their hot chocolates and ate their muffins. They didn’t run screaming through the place throwing Cheerios.

I love kids. I really really do. But I’m at Starbucks because my kids aren’t. I have work to do. I know you think your sticky little Connor stepping on my flight manual is adorable. And you know what, in a way, it kind of is. But it’s you, Mom, whose neck I want to wring.

I was in an empty Starbucks the other day. A mom came in with young Connor and where did she sit to feed him? Right next to me. I wanted to kill her. No one else in the entire place! I had to practice my Yoga breathing while they alternately chatted and squealed and Connor spit-up stewed plums. When they finally left, I felt mean for not smiling at them, being nicer—perhaps she’d been starved for adult human contact. I know the feeling. But she wasn’t going to get it from me—not two weeks before my test.

This brings me to the cell phone people. I don’t know what it is about a person on a cell phone, that one-sided conversation thing, which makes it so much more difficult to tune-out than a two-sided conversation. Maybe this is because cell phone people invariably talk about The Seven-Figure Deal or other fantastic topics I assume are meant to draw attention to themselves. But if you want to talk on your cell phone, why do you have to go to a coffee shop to do it?

Case in point: I was at a Caribou Coffee in Boys’ Town the other day, next to a table of eight gay men. For a moment or two I had a hard time focusing on the hydraulic system of the 767, because the men were talking about Viagra.

“It doesn’t make you horny. The ads never tell you that.”

“Nope, it only helps you get it up. The horniness, that has to come from you.”

Oookaaaay. This was information I really didn’t need, but my point here is, after the initial shock, I was able to tune them out. For a full hour I tuned out an entire table of gay men talking about erectile dysfunction.

But, when the guy next to me picked up his cell phone, I was helplessly irritated.

“I just want to clarify paragraph four,” he said, oh so loudly.

Boring! Pales in comparison to erectile dysfunction! But it was the cell phone guy I wanted to scream at, Shut up shut up shut the hell up!

Am I the only person who goes to coffee shops to get actual work done? Is everyone else there just starved for attention or in need of social contact? Maybe I should go to a library instead, but they don’t serve very good lattes at Sulzer and when you’re reviewing the Equipment Cooling System on the 767, you need lattes. Usually four of them.

Perhaps I’m oversensitive. Maybe I’m intolerant. But I don’t think so. I’m able to tune-out quiet cell phone conversations. I was able to tune-out a man and his son when they came into Red Eyes and talked and had a snack and the man read his paper while his son did his homework. I forgot they were there.

I guess I can only say, if you’re starved for human contact or feel the need to draw attention to yourself, call a friend from home, or better yet—go visit them. Don’t go to a coffee shop. Because, on the remote chance that something should ever go wrong with the hydraulic system on your next 767 flight, you’re going to wish the pilot flying said 767 hadn’t been sitting next to you at Starbucks

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Karate Kids

If it’s Wednesday, it means my boys are complaining. They don’t want to go to Karate. Actually, it’s not really Karate. The class they go to is a martial arts blend, but when they started taking lessons five years ago, somehow saying, “Put on your shoes, it’s time to go to your Degerberg Academy Martial Arts Blend,” seemed a little much.

The boys are getting ready for their green belts and about a month ago their sensei asked me, “Are you ready for the war?”

Huh?

“The war that’s going to break out when one of them gets promoted and the other one doesn’t.”

Uh-oh.

My son Ethan practices Karate at home. My son Kyle, does not. It’s not like Ethan is practicing every day, but he does, every once in a while, do a jab-cross or a crescent kick—hopefully not too close to Grandma’s torchiere lamp.

I told Kyle what the sensei said and naturally he got upset. I still don’t know if I did the right thing. As twins, there’s this subliminal level of competition and I certainly don’t want to encourage it, but I was trying to prevent a big disappointment. And, well, okay, I didn’t really want to drive them to two different classes. (Green belts mean advancement from Kids II to Kids III.)

What I did want is to motivate Kyle to practice. The sensei is strict. Sometimes, he yells. I don’t mind this too much; it’s more real world. A departure from all the womanly caring-nurturing they’re surrounded with on a daily basis. And the sensei doesn’t like tears, which sometimes come when they don’t get an expected or hoped for promotion.

They have come far in their lessons, but the classes are getting harder now. Hence the noise about quitting. So, I tell them they can quit after they get their green belts. I tell them I’m not going to let them quit just because it got hard and the going got tough. As soon as they’re wearing their green belts, I say, they can make a decision to quit or continue.

Evil mommy. I know as soon as they’ve accomplished this, they’ll choose to continue. Especially because Kids III means sticks. I see the Kali sticks behind the counter at the front desk of the Degerberg Academy and I shudder. I think— dental bills. This was the very reason we didn’t particularly encourage hockey.

But if they do choose to quit, I want them to go out on top, not to leave in discouragement. It’s a lesson my parents taught me. Once you quit something, it just gets easier and easier to quit the next thing as soon as it gets hard. As much as I cursed my clarinet growing up, I’m grateful for it now. It taught me the rewards of tenacity. Hard work and perseverance don’t scare me. It was such a potent lesson: One I want to share with my children. I’m hoping martial arts will be the method. Although, the idea of growing my own protection, two black belts to walk the city streets with me, has crossed my mind.

So, I corner Kyle and we practice. He works on crescent kicks and I notice he can’t raise his leg very high. Hmmm. Their doctor had mentioned both of them needed to stretch more because their muscles were too tight. Maybe, I tell him, if we stretch every day (I’m a Yoga Mom too, by the way), he’ll get his kicks higher. Maybe he’s just tighter than Ethan—the same way Daddy’s less flexible than Mommy—Uh you know, with his muscles.

This works. Kyle stretches and practices and over the course of the month improves. Vastly.

As we drive to class on the day of promotions, I try to prep them for whatever will happen.

I don’t know if you’ll get your green belts today, that’s up to the sensei. Try to stay relaxed and focused. If you make a mistake, just shake it off and keep going. Don’t let it ruin the rest of the test. You guys have been working really hard, so just be open. If you don’t get it today, you can try again next month. Oh, and if you feel like crying, do you remember what you should do?

What?

Look up at the ceiling—and think of something funny.

Now we start thinking of jokes. It relieves the tension.

In class, they shine. I watch with my hand over my heart. There are a few mistakes. I don’t know what the outcome will be. We line up, me standing behind them, before the ceremony starts. I whisper, “I don’t know what’s going to happen here today, but you guys rocked out there.” They nod. They know. They’re nervous.

The award ceremony is long. Other kids step forward for an intermediary stripe. Then the moment of truth. The sensei calls them forward for their belts. They beam. I sigh.

“I can really call you my Doublemint twins now,” he says, “since you’ll be wearing green.”

I see their faces in the mirror. Pure joy.

I am so proud.

I look up at the ceiling—and try to think of something funny.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Al's

My sons’ hair is too long and scraggly and this makes me ecstatic, because it means I get to take them to Al’s—their barber. I love Al’s. It’s quiet there.

I don’t know whether the silence is a result of my presence, or whether it’s just a man thing. I don’t care. I revel in it.

My boys, twins, were two when I brought them in for the first time and it’s as though, even at that age, they somehow psychically intuited that men don’t talk at Al’s. Silence for an entire hour. I was in heaven.

They were born with full heads of hair. And it never did fall out, as I was warned by well-meaning relatives, but it did turn red, then blond, as it grew and grew. And grew. They needed haircuts at six months. I couldn’t bring myself to do it until ten months, when it became clear there was no avoiding it. While crawling around, they’d begun to continually bonk their heads on our dining room table due to limited forward visibility.

I cut their hair myself for a while and thought I was doing a decent job, until my babysitter asked, and I quote, “Where do they get those haircuts?”

Perhaps it was time to enlist professional help.

But they were only one and a half. Would they sit still? Would they cry? Would they bite? I chose a Supercuts because it was nearby, but mostly because no one there knew us.

I told them they needed to sit still or they might accidentally get poked with the scissors, or worse—I grew solemn, their eyes grew wide—they might end up with bad haircuts.

They sat like they’d been hypnotized while Rosa cut their hair, a process made difficult by the fact that their mother was taking flash photographs to preserve the memory. I distinctly remember Rosa blinking at me with irritation after one particularly blinding shot. Despite the adversity, everyone survived. They even got great cuts.

We continued to see Rosa for about six month and all was well, until the whole idea began to grate on my husband. (Read: No sons of mine should get their hair cut in a salon.)

“But it’s not like it’s a girlie salon,” I told him. “Men get their hair cut there too.”

He looked unconvinced.

“I’m pretty sure the woman who owns the place is really a man—what with the Adam’s apple and all.”

This did not help my case.

Which is how we came to Al’s, my husband’s barber. Al’s probably been cutting hair at his place on Grace Street longer than I’ve been alive. He’s often nodded at a man walking into his storefront shop, telling me, “I’ve been cutting his hair since he was their age,” while pointing at my boys.

The walls at Al’s are covered with wood grain paneling that’s covered with taxidermied fish, fishing trophies and other such fishing paraphernalia. There are stacks upon stacks of sporting magazines and the Trib is always on the coffee table, but I never read when I’m there; I just stare at the fishing trophies or the stuffed larged-mouth bass on the wall, a goofy expression on my face, secure in the knowledge that neither it nor my sons will burst into a rendition of “Take me to the River.”

It amazes me the lengths a mother of young children will go to in order to find some quiet time. I suffer the irritated looks of other patrons, “A woman? Here?” and the uneasy body language they exhibit as they wait their turns next to me, but they are always polite, and offer up their chairs for me when we walk in. At Al’s, chivalry may be annoyed, but it’s not dead.

When the boys and I leave, I often wonder if they burst into conversation about the game or hot babes or whatever it is men talk about when women aren’t around. I suspect the truth is, they don’t.

After our first visit, Al gave the boys lollipops, then said, as if he’d somehow psychically intuited it, “Now guys, no more going to the girlie salon. You’re men now. You come to the barber to get your haircut.”

Gladly, Al. Gladly.

Education Mom

I was at Jewel the other day when I saw her. I could spot her from across the produce section. Not anyone I know, but I do indeed know her. In fact, I’ll bet you know her too.

Education Mom.

More cloying than Craft Mom, more insidious than Volunteer Mom, Education Mom was there wheeling her cart through the carrots and peppers, and I needed peppers, so I had no choice. I had to get close. Close enough to hear.

“Okay. Breathe,” I told myself. “Be Zen. Be positive. You might even learn something.” I looked at the glazed expression plastered onto the face of the helpless two-year old restrained in Education Mom’s cart. Maybe not.

I swallowed and guided my cart slowly over. It was her all right. All smiles. Talking and talking. And talking. Using that sing-songy voice, educating her little prisoner.

“Look Emily, here’s a cucumber. Cucumbers are green. Can you say green?”

“Emily! Here’s a tomato. Tomatoes are red. Red!”

“Look Emily, a psychotic-eyed blonde woman hitting mommy upside the head with a bag of carrots. Carrots are or—”

Thwump. So much for my Zen-minded shopping experience. I watched Education Mom slump to the floor.

Okay, I behaved badly, but what I want to know is, since when does everything in a child’s life have to be about education? Maybe it happened when Harvard raised its admissions standards, but you can count me out. I want to raise happy children. Children that can entertain themselves. Children comfortable with silence. But mostly just children that won’t turn sixteen and try to kill me in my sleep.

My lackadaisical attitude toward education in the grocery store might have something to do with the fact I have twins. When they were babies, I had to carry one in a backpack and the other in the shopping cart while racing through the store accumulating a week’s worth of groceries and diapers before one of them started crying or my back went out.

The terrible two’s were worse. I had to be faster. It was the only way to prevent an out of control accumulation of unbidden items in my cart. Telling my boys that cucumbers were green and tomatoes were red seemed a lesson best saved for another day. I didn’t have the energy or time to begin grooming them for the Ivy League. I was too busy celebrating each day that went by without a casualty. It was even more cause for celebration if my children escaped unscathed as well.

So I didn’t spend hours waving black and white toys back and forth at my babies, but I do have two well-adjusted boys now. They’re smart. They’re doing well in school. And they don’t need constant entertainment from me.

God gave me twins for a reason. To save me from ever becoming Education Mom. Perhaps if I were alone in the produce section with little Emily, I might be pruning her for Harvard as well as picking the perfect bunch of arugula. And maybe that’s the basis for my irritation with Education Mom; she reminds me that no matter how much I do for my kids, there’s always someone out there who will make me feel like I should be doing more.

It doesn’t change my opinion, however, that childhood should just be childhood—not a constant opportunity for learning or academic advancement. I know all Education Moms must mean well. After all, who doesn’t want the best for their children? For them to excel, to fulfill their dreams, be all they can be. Perhaps my kids’ only way into Harvard will be to buy it with their inheritance—the one they get after turning sixteen and killing me in my sleep—because, instead of being a good Education Mom, I was Lackadaisical Grocery Store Mom, and they couldn’t get into the college of their choice.

Even so, I guess I can find it in my heart to tolerate Education Mom. She’s only trying to do what she thinks is best. But if you’re ever in the produce section and you see a psychotic-eyed blonde woman glaring at you with a bag carrots in her hands, watch out.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Suburban Man

My friend Rick started it.

Rick has his own blog, (check it out at http://rickkaempfer.blogspot.com-it's great!) and he asked me to be a "guest blogger." I agreed. Shortly after The Birth of Suburban Man, there came the inception of City Mom. And the rest is history. Well, okay. Maybe not...


Tuesday, January 03, 2006
The Birth of Suburban Man


“The Birth of Suburban Man”
by Rick Kaempfer

I remember the exact moment I came to grips with my title of Suburban Man. It took me nearly ten years of gradual self-awareness to get to that moment, but it is seared in my brain. I was at a red light at the intersection of Rand Road and Elmhurst Road in Mt. Prospect, sitting in the driver’s seat of my minivan, waiting for the longest red light in the Western Hemisphere to turn green. “You Shook Me All Night Long” by AC/DC, a great rock and roll song from my high school years, came on the radio. And I cranked it.

When that pounding bass and powerful guitar filled the van, I realized for the first time what a great stereo the minivan had. This was a rare outing without one of my three boys in the car with me, and I hadn’t properly broken in the stereo since we purchased the minivan two years earlier. I started singing along with the lyrics, screaming them with the same reckless rock and roll abandon of lead singer Brian Johnson. I bobbed my head to the beat. I had almost forgotten the power of rock and roll. Yeah! If I had a lighter in my pocket, I would have lit it and held it in the air. Rock and Roll! I may have been lost for the last ten or fifteen years, but I was back. This was the real me. This song was speaking to me.



“Knocking me out with those American thighs,” I screamed.

That’s when it happened.

In mid head-bob, I suddenly saw something with my peripheral vision. It was the driver of the car in the lane next to me; a 16-18 year old girl driving a Honda Civic. And she was staring at me. “Kimberly” or “Jennifer” told me more with one facial expression than I had ever been told in a decade of suburban life. I’m not normally a lip reader but I read her lips on that Thursday evening as she uttered one simple word to herself while watching me rock out to AC/DC in my minivan.

“Ew,” she said.

It was an out-of-body experience. I was suddenly sixteen years old again, and sitting in the Civic with Kimberly/Jennifer looking at the 40-something year-old man in the minivan. I could see myself behind the steering wheel, and it might as well have been my father driving his 1976 Cutlass Supreme station wagon. Of all the preposterous sights; my 40-something-year-old father was cranking AC/DC. I had the exact same reaction as Kimberly/Jennifer.

“Ew,” I said.

Reality overwhelmed me at that moment and made me look in the mirror for the first time since I moved to the suburbs in 1996. I’m 42. I drive a mini-van. I have three children, all of whom think my name is spelled “Daaaaaaaaaad” because I’m constantly embarrassing them. I haven’t actually been knocked out by American thighs since the Reagan Presidency. I have a 2 ½ car garage because I need room to store my bevy of lawn care implements. I won’t go into the city during the weekend because the traffic is unbearable.

I was painting an unmistakable picture of myself. I had become Suburban Man.

I came to my senses at the Rand/Elmhurst red light that evening. Somebody needed to turn down that infernal racket in the minivan, and quickly, before some Justin/Zachary pulled into the turn lane and saw the same ridiculous sight as Kimberly/Jennifer. I reached over and slowly returned the volume to its rightful level.

And I have never, and will never, crank the stereo in the minivan again.

The next time Kimberly/Jennifer sees me at a red light, she won’t be alarmed by the delusional man behind the wheel. Everything will look as it should. I may be enjoying a Peter, Paul & Mary song on the soft rock station, but the volume will not reflect the power of the lyrical message. Sure, she might see me singing “If I had hammer, I’d hammer in the morning.”

But it will only be because I’m on the way to the hardware store.

And there better be a parking spot close to the door…





The Origin of City Mom

When Rick asked me to be a guest columnist on his blog, I agreed without hesitation. However, when the time came to actually start writing, I sort of freaked out. I have to write a column? Containing my opinion? About anything? What was I thinking?

I didn’t have any idea of what I would say. Then again, I am the same woman who wrote a 350-page novel. Having something to say, for me, is generally not a problem.

So, I checked out Rick’s blog for inspiration. Good stuff. My favorite bit is Suburban Man. From the safety of the 773 area code, I read about Rick’s suburban trials and tribulations with a smug, self-satisfied smile on my face.

You see, I am City Mom.

Ha ha, I laughed, as Rick lamented his minivan. Ha ha—those suburban stoplights sure are long. Ha ha, Rick got caught rocking-out to some cranked-up AC/DC. Ha-h—

Wait a minute. Could I be envious? Of the stereo in a minivan?

I think about the sound system in our Jeep and— Whoops. I admitted to the Jeep. Now I’ve done it. I’ve admitted to committing the biggest urban parent, City-Mom cop-out: buying an SUV. A minivan in denial.

But I need the Jeep, I tell myself. I need a vehicle large enough to transport the kids (I have two) and the dog (I have one) and all the giant rafts of paper products I need to buy at Costco. And have you ever tried to navigate a Chicago alley in January without four-wheel drive?

Before the kids were born, my husband suggested we get a station wagon. I pretended to be considering it, until a vision of my parents’ blue Grand Torino floated into my head, with a visible shudder. Next suggestion? Minivan, he says. (He’s always been the sensible one.)

Now the shudder transitions to full-blown seizure.

No. No minivans! I am City Mom. City Mom’s are cool. We wear low-rise bell-bottoms. We eat sushi. We don’t drive minivans!

Being cool. That’s what it all boils down to. I can give all sorts of reasons why we chose (Okay, I chose, my husband agreed) to stay in the city. And those may be fodder for another guest blog, if Rick is ever gracious enough to invite me back after all the vitriolic comments I’ll probably receive regarding my disregard, however tongue in cheek, for motherhood in the suburbs. And before any suburban moms write those vitriolic comments filled with examples of their coolness, you should know that I’m not terribly serious about any of this, but, that being said, I am fully capable of driving my Jeep out to any suburb to investigate rumors of suburban fashion sense progressing past 1995. Oh, kidding again. Some of my best friends live in the suburbs. They even wear black.

I love the city and I really, really wanted to raise my children here, but I was surprised at the opposition I faced. Friends and family demanded answers to yet another one of Kimmy’s crazy ideas: Have you thought about schools? What about gangs? How about all crime? I told them my husband and I had lived in the city for eight years and had so far resisted the urge to join a gang, and we’d never once committed a crime. (I don’t think that one incident with the parking ticket and street-cleaning truck should count.)

Perhaps more than anything else, my stubborn nature is what made me refuse to let go of the idea of living in the city with children. “Kids need the suburbs,” I was told. Yeah right. Just like I need my Jeep.

The real reason I love city living is not the restaurants and the museums or the ability to hop in a cab after too much wine at a girlfriend’s house, although I do love all of the above, the real reason is simple. I think it’s cool to live here.

So as I read about Rick, our hero, Suburban Man, perhaps the smile on my face shouldn’t have been so smug. I laughed with him in his embarrassment at being caught rocking-out to AC/DC at a stoplight, but doesn’t my jeep have a Grateful dead sticker on the back?

Perhaps the only difference, other than the obvious one of gender, between Suburban Man and City Mom is the area code. In terms of the quantity of Skittles squished between the cushions of the back seat of his minivan and my Jeep, in terms of petrified french fries under the floor mats, Rick and I are equal. Maybe it’s time we passed on the “baton of cool” to the next generation, to generation Z, or whatever they like to call themselves these days. I really don’t know. That’s how uncool I’ve become. But when I pass on the baton, you can rest-assured, I’ll be wearing my low-rise bell-bottoms and handing it out the window of my Jeep.