Thursday, August 23, 2018

Growing Pains

The following appears in the August edition of Chicago Parent.


Two years ago, I noticed mom friends posting pictures of their kids standing next to them as their babies passed them up in height.

My underachieving oldest son, Danny, was nowhere near my size.

Of course, when your mom is 6’ tall, this milestone can prove challenging.

This summer, it took a slight tilt upwards to make me realize that the angle of our eye contact had officially shifted.

I couldn’t wait to capture that much-anticipated photo, but Danny quickly shot it down. He’s at that age where photographic evidence of his existence is frantically shunned.

My three boys are nearing the most confusing and hormone-driven stage of their lives. I’ve lectured them so many times on the underdeveloped male prefrontal cortex, that they use it against me:

“Sorry I forgot my shoes, mom, but you know…PREFRONTAL CORTEX.”

“I know I was supposed to call, but I got all prefrontal cortexy and you understand how that impacts decision making and impulse control.”

Jerks.

There are days I congratulate myself for having the foresight to keep my kids far away from social media. Yet I still feel the pain of other mothers as their kids are ostracized and humiliated because of it, often falling into deep despair. There are days I feel I’ve done everything wrong, perhaps being too strict and strident when a softer touch was obviously needed.

But as is true with everything in life, there is no perfect path.

There is no perfect kid.

And there is definitely no perfect mother.

I look at my very tall baby boy and see such of mix of his father and myself. He’s got my big brown eyes but his father’s thick hair. He’s funnier than I will ever be. He’s inherited both of his parents’ famed stubbornness but has more patience than either of us combined.

And the kindness he carries with him every day?

That’s 100% him.

The years ahead will be telling. I pray every night that he makes good decisions, aligns himself with good kids, and works to be the best version of himself possible. I once tended to Danny 24 hours a day. Now my main role is yelling at him to put down Fortnite.

So much of this is out of my hands. So I am forced to trust in the hands above and the ones that still hug me goodnight.

And for that, I am so grateful.


Sunday, July 15, 2018

Pucks & Purses

The following appears in the June edition of Chicago Parent.


Yesterday, I turned off the news after yet another segment where two different guests insulted and belittled each other. They asserted that only their side held the true moral high ground.

My children are growing up in an era where intellectual debate and ideological differences play second fiddle to hysteria and name-calling. Everyone is mad. Everyone is yelling.

And nobody is listening.

It is us versus them, often defined by age, race, wealth, sex, or politics.

Late last year, my middle son, Jack, was placed on a park district hockey team. At the first practice, I counted a LOT of ponytails.

Holy crap. The team was 50% girls.

Jack was not pleased. If ever there is a sub-category of people who do NOT see eye-to-eye, it is 12-year-old boys and girls.

I smiled watching the young ladies bounce into the ice rink wearing cute little pink shoes and purses. Then the transformation began as they sauntered out of the locker room with their game faces, sticks, heavy equipment and look of battle readiness.

Jack weighs 90 pounds at 5’3”. He is fast, but slight. As a second year PeeWee, some of the kids tower over him and outweigh him by us much as 70 pounds. While checking is still not technically permitted at the PeeWee level, many refs forget that fact.

The game is very physical. But those sweet little pony-tailed girls?

THEY WERE BEASTS.

Not only were they fantastic skaters, they were also the undeniable enforcers of the team, taking to task anyone engaging in cheap tactics.

Over and over, we heard the same comments before games. The organization is brand new, so the Horned Frogs must suck. The team is half girls, so the Horned Frogs must suck. It’s PARK DISTRICT, so the Horned Frogs must suck.

The Horned Frogs? The new team? The one with all the girls?

They won the championship. The celebration on the ice was symbolic of how they played as a team. It was a jumble of boys and girls, throwing their gloves in the air and coming together for a giant group hug before boy-girl embarrassment quickly kicked in.

I wanted to freeze that moment and show the world.

Look.

Look at what the kids can do.

Why can’t we?


Thursday, June 7, 2018

The Skinny On Marriage

The following appears in the April edition of Chicago Parent.

My husband recently dropped 40 pounds. He basically skipped breakfast for a few days.

As someone who has lost and gained the same 15 pounds multiple times over the last decade, I am a bit jealous. Joe looks incredible. His bright blue eyes stand out all the more. The boy band cheekbones from his high school years are back in play.

When we go out, waitresses take a second look.

And he’s still got the whole Chicago firefighter thing going for him.

As a haggard hockey mom with the accompanying floppy belly and minimal interest in fashion or a decent haircut, I started worrying about Joe making a move. 

Was he gunning for a trophy wife?

In a paranoid fit, I researched the signs. Fortunately, they weren’t there.

Joe is still wearing his too-big jeans from 2005. He asked if I could order him a hole-puncher for his loose belt on Amazon.

It hasn’t occurred to him to just purchase a new belt. Or new jeans.

In my heart of hearts, I know Joe lost the weight for health reasons. He is a devoted family man who saves his harshest words for men who walk away from their families in search of something “better.” He laughs when he tells stories about his own father who only found people attractive when there was a depth of spirit.

It didn’t matter if a person had Pinocchio’s nose or Dumbo’s ears. Where good existed, that is where beauty could be found.

So despite my wobbly stomach and Great Clips haircut, Joe still tells me I’m pretty.

Committing to one person for the rest of your life is definitely a gamble. People change. A long time ago, Joe married a young, thin woman with a good job who never, ever swore.

May she rest in peace.

I married a husky southsider who told me he was going to be a fireman one day.

Three kids and fourteen years later, the twists and turns of these years have resulted in a few bumps and crashes along the way. Still, we keep our seatbelts on and navigate towards the next great adventure.

But mine now includes one with a ripped husband.

Marianne for the win.



Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Brawler

The following appears in the March edition of Chicago Parent.

Back when they were toddlers, my oldest two boys struggled with park rule breakers and preschool anarchists. Every time a child cut in front of them in line for the slide or pushed them off the swings, my sons would look at me expectantly:

TELL ‘EM MOMMY.

The problem was, I couldn’t. The little hooligans’ mothers were usually only steps away either ignoring the behavior or pretending it was fine.

But in the secrecy and safety of my home, I became the Godfather.

“You give ONE warning, and then you pop them in the nose. HARD.”

In case you missed it, I am vintage. The rules of the playground still count for a lot in my book.

The only problem? My boys never retaliated. It simply wasn’t their nature. They were scared to get in trouble despite my many assurances I had their backs when it came to bullies and scallywags.

Then came Joey. The youngest. The one I never thought was listening but who was actually absorbing every last word.

Joey clocked his first kid when he was two years old at a McDonald’s Play Place. The offender threw a ball at his head after Joey asked him to stop. I grabbed our Happy Meals and ran like hell.

When he was three, an older boy jokingly grabbed a stuffed animal out of Joey’s hands. Joey responded with a stiff uppercut and a blood-curdling scream of righteous indignation. I still fear for the long-term psychological damage to that child.

By four, Joey was the line minder at every amusement park, children’s museum, and birthday party he attended. Any kid who dared cut got an immediate dressing down along with a strong shove by Joey the Enforcer: 

THERE’S A LINE YOU KNOW.

The crazy thing is, Joey is silly and good-natured. He is always happy. He loves everyone. He has no real animosity towards anyone.

Until he becomes Inigo Montoya:

You killed my father, prepare to die.

Having boys on both ends of the dove-hawk spectrum, I do not know which is better.

But I do know that nobody will ever cut in front of me so long Joey is around.


Friday, March 2, 2018

Rarely Pure & Never Simple

The following appears in the February edition of Chicago Parent.

I came home the other day to an athletic cup sitting on my kitchen counter. Denials were issued all around.

I am not sure how I feel about living in a world where athletic cups wondrously appear from the heavens.

Yet, it was not the only miracle that week.

Earlier, I discovered an entire cache of Halloween candy wrappers shoved deep under my couch cushions.

The boys vowed solemnly that they were unaware of the witchcraft that placed them in this location. One son theorized a friend might have left them there. Another child suggested the wrappers were purchased with the couch. The last one speculated it was his father.

Deeply upset that my brood was obviously in cahoots with Pinocchio, I reached for the nukes.

God, one dead grandmother, and the risk of eternal damnation later, I still could not secure a confession.

Technology was confiscated. Treats were withheld. Tears were shed.

Nothing.

Frustrated and angry that my usual methods were failing, I thought about high school. If they were lying to me now over minor offenses, what would our world be like when the big dogs came into play? Drinking. Driving. Drugs. How could I keep them safe and on course when I couldn’t even get a straight answer on the durable hard-shell protective cup now sitting in my kitchen with “Protect this House” plastered across it?

In order to protect this house, I needed the truth! That’s when Joe called from the firehouse. He reminded me to order a new pair of athletic pants for Jack because his old ones were ripped. “I took out the cup, we can use those with another pair. I left it on the counter so you wouldn’t forget.”

This sounded vaguely familiar. I went for broke.

“Do you know anything about how a bunch of old candy wrappers wound up under the couch?”

Joe hesitated.

He’d make a terrible felon.

The boys are officially off the hook and I feel perfectly ready for high school. I totally got this.

Now please don’t hook me up to a lie-detector.


Thursday, January 18, 2018

Phased Out


The following appears in the January edition of Chicago Parent:

After taking a part-time job over a year ago to subsidize high school, future college funds and a possible tummy tuck, I was nervous about my kids’ functionality. Would they be able to get themselves up and dressed for school? Would they remember which days to wear uniforms for gym and which days to bring instruments for band? Had I done so much for them over the years, that they would fail miserably at this big inaugural test of responsibility?

At first, my fears proved correct. There were forgotten Chromebooks, gym days, and homework. Field trip days went without bagged lunches and help-the-poor days went without canned donations from the Walshes.

I had obviously failed once again.

Slowly but surely, my knuckleheads did pull it together. Dan began laying out all needed items of clothing and equipment the night before. Jack and Joey took to taping notes above their beds with reminders:

CHARGE CHROMEBOOK

EAT BREAKFAST

PACK LUNCH

How anyone could “forget” to eat a meal remains a complete mystery, but whatever. They were figuring things out! They were growing up! They hardly needed me. Woot woot! Then it started to sting.

They were figuring things out. They were growing up. They hardly needed me.

My babies weren’t babies anymore.

This realization hit me squarely in the gut. I had invested the last 13 years of my life in a job that I knew would eventually be phased out. I wasn’t prepared for this first reduction in responsibility. I had already placed myself in a nursing home without visitors as part of a mental downward spiral of uselessness.

One morning, I got up early on a non-work day to see the boys off.

Joey had both pant legs firmly tucked into his socks. Jack had packed four Little Debbies and a can of my Red Bull “for lunch.” Nobody had brushed their teeth. Or combed their hair. Or thought winter coats necessary in 12 degree weather.

I pretended to be angry, yelling and screaming and waving my arms while quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self Reliance.”

 But secretly?

I knew I had a few good years left at the firm.

Which is a very good thing because I seriously love my bosses.