Monday, November 20, 2006

Have you ever found a perfect pair of jeans? They don't gap at the waist or drag at the ankles. They hug your butt without being tight enough to bring back memories of your Calvin Kleins from the '80s. They're even reasonably priced. There's only one problem. They're a size bigger than your regular size, and you swore you'd never wear that size.

What do you do? Do you really want to admit that you wear this size? Yet, the jeans fit just right. So you buy the jeans, cut out the size tag and wear them happily. Denial is a powerful thing.

I turned 40 this year. I feel great. I'm at a great place in my life. My body could look better, but it could look a lot worse. I don't look 25, but I don't look 50 either. Occasionally my joints will hurt, but I can still exercise, play volleyball and beat my children in a race. I just don't like to acknowledge that I'm 40.

I'm sure there are a lot of reasons for feeling this way. Most women in my generation tend to equate 40 with their 40-year-old mothers, who wore polyester pants and Grandma hairstyles. We do the math and realize that yes, 40 is about halfway between our expected life span, and the dreaded term "middle age" applies to us. How did this happen? When did I get to be 40?

So I've decided to tear off the 40 tag, so to speak. I'm now 37. If someone asks me my age, I'll be honest and tell them I'm 40. But in my mind, I'm 37. In a strange way, it works.

Denial is a powerful thing.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

What was that?

Back when I was an innocent youth, I worked with a guy who was hard of hearing. If you asked him a question, he'd often respond with a harsh "Huh?" and an angry look that had you quickly retreating. I couldn't understand why he was mad at me for asking a question.

Life has a way of coming back to bite us in the proverbial butt. As I reach my 40s, I discover that I'm not hearing things like I used to. I had my hearing tested and discovered that I'm still at the low end of normal, and I tend to hear lower sounds better than higher. As the mother of two elementary school daughters, this can be a blessing or a curse.

"Mom, xlkejflk jflkwej lkejsl!" This comes from another room while the speaker's head and voice are directed to the TV set.

"What was that?"

"Wlkjrlk klsjdflk werk!"

"Come over here and talk to me. Oh, and while you're here, empty the dishwasher."

Too bad it didn't start when the kids were babies. I could have had an excuse for missing those middle-of-the-night cries.

Anyhow, I've tried to be accommodating. TV is the worst. Why is it that dramas like to insert so much background music? I watch "House" with one hand cupped around my ear, like a little old lady. It drives my husband nuts. See, I told you it's a blessing and a curse.

I blame my car radio. All those times I cranked Aerosmith's "Tell Me What it Takes to Let You Go" have slowly killed off all those little hairs in my ear that are so conducive to moving sound to my brain. I also blame my genes. Dinner at my parents' house is a lot of fun, as we all punctuate our sentences with, "Huh?" "What'd you say?" "Say it again."

On a serious note, I hope I never lose the ability to hear my kids play the piano or tell their latest story. But at least I'm able to filter out some of the whines and demands that come from the other end of the house. Maybe it's a byproduct of motherhood.


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Back to work?

School's back in session. Don't get me started on the whole August start date issue. Yes, I know kids are no longer needed in the fields for harvest season. And I know many schools have air conditioning. But I hate giving up those lazy summer evenings, when the kids can play until dark and the parents can hang out in our lawn chairs, gabbing and swatting mosquitoes. Now we're all hustling to finish homework and showers each evening. Summer is over.

This school year marks nine years that I have been a stay-at-home mom. While I've been lucky enough to supplement our income with freelance writing work, I'm not raking in the big bucks by any stretch of the imagination. No, I'm making just about what I'd make if I were working a part-time job at Kohl's or another retail outlet. So the question isn't whether I need to go back part-time or full-time; it's whether our family can handle the transition from Mom being at home to Mom doing the full-time working act again.

We've been incredibly lucky. The husband doesn't have to worry about sharing morning kid duties or juggling dinner menus. If a kid turns up sick, there's no argument over whose job is more important that day. The kids get to see me at school on my volunteer days. I'm there when they get home to go over homework and tell them to quit eating so many cookies.

But even I have to admit that I don't do a whole lot of anything at home. I'm not Mrs. Fix-It or even Mrs. Paint the Walls. (Our house's outdated wallpaper seems to be superglued to the walls, making me even more reluctant to fire up the steamer and Dif.) A healthy paycheck would be a nice addition to our bank account. But what about the things we have to give up? What about the afternoon piano lessons? What about (gasp) soccer practice? What about lazy summer days at the pool and late mornings for my sleep-loving 9-year-old? The husband's job doesn't have set hours, and he's never sure whether he's going to be home on time. How do I find something flexible?

I'm optimistically believing that the answer will be clear in due time. In the meantime, I'm printing out the substitute teacher packet for our school system and contemplating a retail stint during the holiday season. My hat's off to working families. I don't know how you do it, but I think I'll be finding out soon.

Monday, July 10, 2006

"Ashley, you're probably going to lose your first game, and it's all because your mother doesn't know where to turn!"

Poor Ashley. Poor Ashley's mother. A man I presumed to be her father was on his cell phone, demanding to know where Ashley was. Behind him, our local 3v3 soccer tournament was beginning, with handpicked teams ready to square off and show their soccer prowess.

What makes a parent one of those parents? How do you slide from the parent whose role is primarily driving to practice and making sure the kids have their water bottles to one whose life is dictated by their child's win/loss record?

There's a siren's song that calls to parents when their children show potential. While the sane part of you is saying, "Let's be realistic," there's another voice saying, "She might be the next Mia Hamm!" You get a charge out of watching your child play well and hearing other parents say, "Whose daughter is that? Wow, she's really good." You share your child's joy when she wins, and you wipe her tears when she doesn't.

But how do you keep from making her dreams your dreams? Or, how do you ensure that you're not forcing your dreams to become her dreams?

I wish I had the answer. Certainly, for every Ashley's father there's another parent who keeps his cool and tells his daughter that she'll get there when she gets there, and there will be other tournaments in the future. For every parent who continually lectures his daughter on improving her game, there's one who says, "OK" when his daughter says "I don't think I want to play this fall."

As for my 7-year-old, her team looked fantastic in its first three games. They made it to the championship, where they lost in sudden death overtime. One of our players accidentally kicked the opponent's ball while standing within the goal circle, giving the opponent an automatic goal. There were lots of tears afterwards.

Except for my kid. She said, "It's OK. I had a lot of fun. Remember, it's only a game."

That's my girl.

Friday, June 23, 2006

I'm going to perform an experiment on my dog.

Before you start calling the animal rights people, hear me out. When I was a kid, we had a beagle mix named Patches. Patches was a grumpy old dog, but that's beside the point. Twice a day, Patches would get a half of a Gainesburger in her bowl. Gainesburgers were these frighteningly red, crumbly food stuff that was packaged in a hamburger shape. You'd open the wrapping, crumble half a Gainesburger into the bowl and Patches went to town.

My grandmother's dogs preferred Chuckwagon. Chuckwagon's marketing point was that it made its own gravy. Each day, at 7:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Grandma put a scoop of Chuckwagon into each dog's bowl, added warm water and stirred the concoction until it formed its own gravy. Scampy and Brandy went to town on their Chuckwagon.

Patches, Scampy and Brandy all lived long, healthy lives, expiring at about age 15 or so. Same with the other neighborhood dogs who received similarly packaged grocery store foods. Interesting.

When we bought our first puppy 10 years ago, our vet wrinkled her nose at grocery store dog food. Sure, she said, give your dog the equivalent of Twinkies and Ring Dings. She recommended premium dog foods. They might cost a little more, but your dog will appreciate its healthy coat and digestive system. Nothing but the best for our dog. Kadi lived on premium dog food. When she developed seizures at age 6, we kept her on the premium dog food. When her legs started to bother her a few years later, we switched to a food that promised to enhance her joint health. As the epilepsy medications made her fuzzy, I tried a food that promised to help her mental state. When she died at 9, she was well fed and loved and prematurely gone.

Our neighbors have similar stories. The lab on the left had to be euthanized at age 8 when his hips gave out. The dog behind us lost his life to cancer at age 9. The one next door died at age 10 due to heart failure. All nice dogs. All premium dog food dogs. Not a speck of Gainesburger in sight.

So now we have this new dog, Ginger. Great dog. Healthy dog. No seizures yet. Strong hips and knees so far. Yesterday I bought her a bag of grocery store dog food. Granted, it's the top of the line grocery store dog food. I can't bring myself to do the generic stuff yet, and I can't find any Gainesburger. But I'm going to see how Ginger does on grocery store dog food. At least I'm going to try this 20-pound bag. Then I'll probably feel guilty for feeding my dog Twinkie dog food, and I'll go back to the premium stuff.

I'd make a lousy researcher.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Ten years ago, my husband and I stood in front of our family and friends and pledged our solemn vows. I suppose I should be saying something like, "I can remember it as if it were yesterday," but honestly, it seems like a lifetime ago. I look at our wedding pictures and think, "Who are those young people, and did they have any idea what they were promising on that day?"

The wedding may seem like a lifetime ago, but it seems like just yesterday I was waking him up at 2 a.m. with an infant, begging him to take her for a couple of hours so I could get some precious sleep. Take her he did, even though he had to work in the morning. Later, when I thanked him, he said not to worry. "She's my baby, too," he said.

It seems like just yesterday we were moving into this neighborhood, complete with its cul de sacs and safe streets. We bought bikes for us and a bike trailer for the girls. The weather was kind. Life was good. So good, that we looked at each other and said, "No matter what else happens, we're going to remember this time and say it was good."

It seems like only yesterday he was taking time off work so we could go as a family to my mom's bedside when she was diagnosed with cancer. Only yesterday he told me not to worry about the girls while I went home again to be with my mom and my dad as they recovered from heart attacks. Only yesterday we took a trip to Chicago, away from the girls for the first time in almost nine years, enjoying a weekend without bed time routines and menu negotiations. Only yesterday we fought so hard, only to reaffirm that we both want and need to honor those vows we took when there were stars in our eyes and naive love in our hearts.

Did we know 10 years ago how much that love would have to grow and mature to meet our changing lives? Did we realize that the words "for better or for worse" didn't pertain to lottery winnings and catastrophic events, but rather to balmy summer nights and little irritations that we'd have to let go of in the name of a promise we made 10 years ago? Did we have any idea how much more we'd love each other 10 years out, and how that love is what we hold onto no matter what else goes wrong in our lives? Did we realize that we were signing up for hard times as well as good times, and that "as long as we both shall live" was more than a trite, familiar phrase?

Happy anniversary, honey. There's no one else I'd rather call my husband, no one else I'd rather take this journey with. You're the first one I want to share my good news with, and the one I need when the news is bad. I love you more than I did 10 years ago, and I'm in it for the long haul. Let's work through the bad times and hang onto the good ones, "as long as we both shall live" and maybe an eternity more.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Today I'm going to join 80 percent of my fellow Americans (and a few nice Canadians) and weigh in on American Idol's finale. Thanks to the miracle of DVR - the best $10 a month we spend - I watched the finale this morning and was able to fast forward through the boring parts.

Here's the deal. For the last four or five weeks, I've been wondering what's going on behind the scenes to propel Katharine to the forefront. I mean, she's like the little girl with the little curl right in the middle of her forehead -- when she's good she's very good, but when she's bad she's horrid.

They gave us the answer last night. Thanks to the miracle of DVR, I can confirm it and share it with you. After Kat's second or third song, they scanned the audience and had the words "Katharine's Family and Friends." And who did they show? Tori Spelling WhateverHerNewLastNameIs. That's it! If anyone in Hollywood knows how to pull the strings and pass by people who have gobs and gobs more talent, it's Tori Spelling. Forget the Scientology rumor. Katharine has a Spelling connection, and that's why Simon apologized and Chris was sacrificed and Elliot was edged out. BLAME TORI!

That said, I can only guess that TPTB want this to be a truly forgettable season, and therefore have assigned truly awful songs as the initial releases. What sort of drivel was that?

And finally, I'm going to say something I thought I'd never say. Was that Kellie Pickler in the audience sporting a smart new hairdo? Goodness gracious folks, she looked downright respectable.

My vote goes to Taylor, who makes me smile. I get the feeling he'd be perfectly happy to spend his career singing in bars. I respect people who can do what they love and make a living out of it, and I hope he enjoys a long, fun life of music.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

My husband thinks we shouldn't have ice cream in the house. He's come to this conclusion after talking to his brother-in-law, who is very biased against anything he considers to be junk food.

Here are brother-in-law's arguments:

Ice cream has little redeeming value nutritionally. Sure, you can make the dairy argument, but the kids would be better off drinking milk or eating cheese.

If ice cream is in the house, the kids will eat it. Consequently, mothers will eat it, too. Everyone knows that too much ice cream is not good for mothers, as it tends to force its way directly into the fat cells of our rear ends.

If you really want ice cream, you can always go out and enjoy a scoop at your nearest ice cream parlor. This way, the kids will know that ice cream is not one of the four food groups (good heavens, I just dated myself) and will consider it a treat, something you do sporadically.

I have to say, his argument makes sense. Then I considered other items in our house that fit the above description - items that, when taken in excess, can cause health woes and even (gasp) extra fat around the midsection. I considered those items that are readily available at the corner restaurant or grocery store for an occasional treat. I considered how much better we might all be if those items were limited to special occasions and not an everyday indulgence. After all, wouldn't we be better off if we stuck to healthier alternatives?

So I'm throwing away the beer.

OK, I'm not throwing away the beer. But I'm not throwing away the ice cream until brother-in-law throws away his beer.

Anyone want some ice cream?

Monday, May 01, 2006

Yesterday, we sat in the rain watching 7- and 8-year-olds play soccer. They were having fun, even if moms and dads were huddled under umbrellas dreaming of hot tubs.

But then there was the little girl on the opposing team who never smiled. She was good -- better than almost every other child out there. She ran like a gazelle and figured out the fancy footwork. It wasn't good enough, though. For some reason, Sunday wasn't her game day. It happens to everyone, and you have to shrug it off, right?

Not according to this child's dad. He was on the sidelines, shouting instructions, criticizing her technique, telling her how she needed to try harder and work harder to score those goals. All this for an 8-year-old. He must have given up, as he went to his car during the fourth quarter and waited while his daughter trudged off the field, getting out only to shout at the child some more.

What's going to happen to this sweet kid? Does the dad really think she'll put up with 10 more years of shouting so she can live her dad's dream? What ever happened to letting kids play?

Monday, April 24, 2006

A reluctant soccer mom

Originally, I considered calling this blog "A reluctant soccer mom speaks." I never expected to spend my weekends shivering in a lawn chair and contemplating just how long it was going to take to get all of that mud out of my 7-year-old's white uniform. I grew up playing pickup sports, choosing the sport by virtue of what type of equipment was on hand and unbroken. I mistakenly believed that kids would do fine with those unstructured play times, goofing off with whichever neighborhood kids weren't grounded that week.

Nope. In this suburb, kids sports are an industry. Participation is mandatory. Those who choose not to enroll their children are accused of making their children fat and potentially dashing any hopes of a college scholarship and professional career. (In this suburb, I'm not sure which is worse - a fat child or one that shuns college.) I've considered being the Anti-Soccer Mom, but I've managed to give birth to a child who inherited her father's athletic abilities. More importantly, she's grinning from ear to ear on the soccer field. What's a (soccer) mom to do, except suck it up and try to land a few more freelance gigs to pay for soccer camp?

I'd say something about soccer mom fashions, but that's another blog entry. Suffice to say, while I may meet the definition of a soccer mom, I often fail to dress the part. Stay tuned for those observations.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

I'm sitting outside with my new neighbor, who happens to work for a PR/ad agency. He knows I'm always loooking for freelance writing work, and he recommends a blog. (He also recommends that I get with the 21st century on electronically storing my clips, but that involves crawling under my desk and staring at several inches of dust. Scary.)

I'm not yet sold on the whole blog concept. I mean, who really cares what I think? But then I realize there's a whole audience of people out there who don't know me in real life and are therefore missing out on the boundless wisdom I can offer, if not actually use in my daily life. There are people out there who don't know the joy of eating a Poptart and drinking a Diet Coke for breakfast, or want to live vicariously through me as I try to keep my mouth shut around the in-laws.

With that in mind, I'm going to share a little tidbit I learned for dealing with - how shall I say this - challenging folks. You know the type. They prefer to preach rather than discuss things, and they assume you're hopelessly misguided because you didn't vote for the right presidential candidate. After 40 years of trying to have reasonable, rational discussions with these folks, I've stumbled upon an approach that helps me keep my mouth shut while offering abundant entertainment. It's called the Dian Fossey approach.

Remember Dian Fossey, the lady who studied the gorillas? She'd often provide a voiceover to the viewers, imparting her interpretations of the behavior on the screen. Guess what? This works in almost any situation where you need to keep your mouth shut. Just sit back and let a running commentary take over. You're now an observer, taking a purely clinical approach to the whole dysfunctional mess.

For instance, suppose you have a relative who likes to argue. Instead of rising to the bait, pretend you're Dian Fossey:

"The neurotic female relative begins to flail her arms as she speaks. When the younger female refuses to respond, the older one becomes more agitated and resorts to screaming. This has no effect on the younger female, who simply turns and walks away, leaving the older female a flailing, screaming mess."

It works. Trust me. :)

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

I just set this up. Let's see if it works.