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.


Monday, December 18, 2017

Pet Project


The following appears in the December edition of Chicago Parent.


In a moment of rare parental indulgence and surrender, I purchased a pet for my youngest son, Joey, last Spring. Every school assignment, every top ten wish list, every note to Santa for five consecutive years had included a request for some sort of domesticated critter. I was beaten down.

Thankfully, I did remain coherent enough to choose an animal that required very little maintenance.

I got him a hermit crab.

While Joey obviously would have preferred something that didn’t rescind into its shell whenever he walked into the room, my son demonstrated a strident devotion to his new friend. He did online research and quickly dubbed the thing “Green Shell.” He wet his drinking sponge religiously with my Ice Mountain and took him for daily walks to ensure he got sun. Green Shell was the most pampered and adored hermit crab the world has ever known.

Until Green Shell died.

I noticed several months in that Green Shell wasn’t rotating between his two favorite spots: sitting on top of his coconut shell hut and sitting INSIDE his coconut shell hut.

Sh*t.

I was not mentally prepared for a dead pet and all that entailed. So I went into procrastination mode.

I snuck into Joey’s room that night and moved Green Shell from the top of his hut and instead placed him inside his hut.

Then I switched him back the next day.

Problem solved.

Joey continued to water, feed, and engage Green Shell in his daily activities while I played my twisted version of Elf on the Shelf. When a tornado siren went off in our neighborhood, Joey hustled upstairs to save his dead pet from imminent doom.

My husband expressed some concern over the macabre nature of my rouse.

So I distracted him with prime rib until he forgot what we were talking about.

Another month or two went by before I started feeling guilty. I decided it was perhaps time to bid farewell to Green Shell. My ploy was starting to resemble “Weekend at Bernie’s,” and even I had my morose limits. Plus, Joey was insisting I purchase more food, a fresh sponge, and a bigger cage for Green Shell. He also suggested that perhaps Green Shell could use a girlfriend.

I marched upstairs to Joey’s bedroom with a plastic bag to take care of business while Joey was at school. I scripted out a brilliant talk on love and loss. The moment had finally come.

I found Green Shell in the corner of his cage.

Hold up.

I hadn’t put Green Shell there.

It occurred to me that Joey must have moved him. So I reached in and wouldn’t you know?

Green Shell was the Lazarus of hermit crabs.

The creepy little thing that hadn’t shown the slightest hint of movement in months was alive and well. I saw his legs wiggle around when I picked him up. Surprised and slightly scared, I immediately dropped Green Shell on his damn coconut hut.

My dead crab script got tossed and I called my husband in a semi-hysterical state. He suggested I stay away from the mortuary sciences.

Then offered to pick up crab legs for dinner.

And people wonder why I drink.


Friday, November 3, 2017

The Cult of Parenthood

The following appears in the November edition of Chicago Parent.

I do not watch much television, stubbornly retiring my remote after “Breaking Bad.” The pinnacle of programming had obviously been achieved, so why mess around with crap like “Fuller House?” Still, I found myself inexplicably curious about the A&E series, “Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath.”

Perhaps it was the basest of all human emotions. I wanted to check out the train wreck. Maybe gather some gossip on John Travolta and Tom Cruise along the way. Weren’t space aliens involved?

Ten hours of binge-watching later, I gained a different perspective.

Listening to the tragic trajectory of people sacrificing savings, belief systems, and families for something “more,” I was overcome with déjà vu.

It hit me.

Scientology is a lot like the cult of parenthood.

It starts out innocently enough. You are a parent! You are part of this fabulous club where everyone is BFFs and eager to share diaper coupons! The world is exploding with possibility, much like the volcanic cover of “Dianetics.”

Slowly, things change. You’re presented with the ladder to childhood success. What? You never signed your kid up for tee-ball? Music lessons need to start before age four. You bought that Irish Dance costume USED? What in the name of Xenu is going on here?

More time passes and you find yourself mortgaging the house for travel teams, private coaches, and boozy tournaments all in an effort to move up that ridiculous ladder.

Not that I’m opposed to the boozy tournament part.

You barely see your friends and family. You start sounding insane when discussing your nine-year-old’s hockey “career.” Anyone who isn’t equally focused on their kid’s development is considered an outsider and obviously “suppressive.”

Leah Remini delivered a wake-up call. Although my kids revel in a wide variety of activities, they didn’t need to be their very best all the time. It was fine to phone it in now and then. Skip the ladder. Take the escalator. Save your tired feet to fight another day.

With a renewed focus on reducing the intensity of our lives, I registered my kids for the inaugural season of a local Chicago Park District hockey program. It was a less intensive program than what we’d done previously. My middle son threw himself on the ground in protest:

“I cannot be a HORNED FROG!!!”

Too bad, kid. Now practice your ribbits.

Due to the massive savings, all three could play fall hockey. I was okay knowing two of them would struggle. They were thrilled for the opportunity nonetheless.

Danny is reminding me of a steam engine, but definitely up for the challenge. Jack is slowly finding ways to be supportive towards teammates just starting out. It’s not his nature to be patient, but he’s giving it his all. And Joey remains a maniacal drunken giraffe on skates, improving ever so slightly, but smiling up at the stands when he does.

I am relieved my kids aren’t playing AAA Hockey and I defer to others to pursue becoming a prince.

For now, it’s good to be a frog.