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