Friday, May 29, 2015

The Sleepover


The following appears in the May edition of Chicago Parent.

Over the years, I have reluctantly allowed my kids to attend overnight parties with friends. While safety issues are handled after careful screening for appropriate firearm lock-up, working smoke alarms, and the absence of transient relatives, there are still concerns.

Namely, I know my children will be returned with zero sleep after a steady overnight diet of Sugar Smacks and Skittles. The next day, kids are prone to meltdowns and a prodigious channeling of Regan from The Exorcist.

One can hardly blame the poor host parents. Their sunken eyes and dropped shoulders during pick-ups reflect a valiant attempt at crowd control and order. Sadly, defeat is inevitable. Hell hath no fury like ten-year-old boys amped up on junk food and Xbox.

Some of my favorite memories from childhood were born during such sleepovers. Those evenings were spent contacting dead celebrities with our Ouija boards and making friendship pins. There was endless talk about boys we liked and teachers we didn’t. Mandatory viewings of Grease occurred with sacred understanding that the movie reflected EXACTLY what high school was going to be like. It was under this nostalgic influence that I finally agreed to host my very first sleepover.

I quickly realized that boys are a tad different from girls in the overnight arena. My charges were not interested in crafting potholders. They did not talk about girls. The one movie they all begged to watch (the hockey film Miracle) captured their attention for exactly seven minutes.

Operating in a household without a finished basement or gaming system, the guys seemed confused. How would they expend their limitless energy for the all-nighter they had thoroughly planned? More importantly, how would they keep edgy Mrs. Walsh from losing her precarious mind?

They opted for shinny hockey.

Which they then played for five straight hours.

With knees red from rug burn, egos hurt from losses, and heads matted down from excessive sweat, I directed my mini-Patrick Kanes to where they would be sleeping. Having been assured by every overnight parent out there that not a single kid would drop off before 2 am, I hunkered down for a long night. Ten minutes later, one boy decided to move over to the guest bedroom, citing his need for some serious rest.

Fifteen minutes later, all six boys were OUT. It was 11:30 pm.

Based on the warnings I received, I had consumed enough caffeine to hold vigil until dawn. But now? I was wide awake in a house full of sleeping lads. I tossed and turned for hours, trying to make sense of what exactly went wrong.

At 7 am, that smart little guy who claimed the guest room poked and prodded his buddies until they were all awake and armed with shinny hockey sticks. It was time for the “Gold Medal Round.”

Expecting the unexpected has been a central theme of motherhood. I assume things will always go wrong and nothing will ever go as predicted. As one little boy leapt out of my minivan during drop-offs, he stopped abruptly to declare:

“This was the best day of my ENTIRE life, Mrs. Walsh!”

Just like that, my sleepover phobia ended and I promised the kid to do it all again soon.

And by “soon,” I mean sometime before college. I still am only human.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Mother's Day Reflection

Somehow, I wound up nothing like my mom.

She tells me that is okay.

Full story in today's Chicago Parent, click HERE.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Top 10 Life Lessons of Chess


The following appears in the April edition of Chicago Parent magazine.

I spend inordinate amounts of time trying to convince my kids to embrace traits that are completely foreign to me. Patience would top that list. I cannot tell you how often I have yelled in a public place: “CALM DOWN AND STOP ACTING LIKE LUNATICS THIS INSTANT!” For effect, I might then throw something to the ground. One time, it was my phone - which promptly shattered into a million pieces.

The irony is not lost on me.

When I first taught my sons to play the game of chess, there were ulterior motives. Outwardly, I shared extensive data regarding chess and child brain development with anyone who asked. Yet inwardly, I knew the truth. I was relying on a board game to impart critical life lessons. My children have been students of chess most of their lives and are fair players. As their first teacher, I worked hard to instruct them on the basics, but then quickly turned them over to more experienced players and tutors. If the kids ever knew my deep, dark secret, they would be shocked.

I HATE CHESS.

I suck at it. Without the patience, strategic mind, and attention span needed to win, I become distracted with my own maneuvers and fail to notice my opponents’ tactics. With my boys, there was a strong desire to impart a level of discipline I always lacked. Chess was the answer.

Some lessons of the game are obvious. Many are subtle and nuanced. There are a thousand hidden lectures on morality, temptation, and even mercy within the board’s rank and file. Preaching to kids the keys to being a good person is an exercise in futility, but having them experience it through a game can plant lifelong seeds.

For purposes of this column, I have narrowed down just a few of the pearls of wisdom gleaned from this storied game of kings:
 
The  Top Ten Lessons of Chess

1. The world is comprised of people who move in all different directions. Pay attention.

2. Sometimes, there is no going back no matter how badly you want to.

3. Protect those who may appear slow and vulnerable. There are kings amongst us.

4. A strong woman can go wherever the hell she wishes.

5. The most remarkable transformations are not instantaneous, but instead occur over long intervals, one square at a time.

6. Stay out of dark corners. Bad things can happen.

7. A knight in shining armor, by nature, will skip right over you.

8. Religion can be slanted.

9. During your final endgame, those most easily taken for granted often become the only ones who stand with you.

10. One bad move does not a person make. How you recover from your missteps is your lasting legacy.

There you have it. Everything you need to know about life right there on a checkered board. With minds young and pliable, I feel strongly all kids could benefit. Sadly for me, it is far too late. I pretty much tapped out at Candy Land, becoming frustrated over never landing the shortcut at Gum Drop Mountain.

Like I said. Zero patience.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Beauty of Motherhood


The following column appears in the March edition of Chicago Parent.


It was the moment I had been dreading since my son Jack joined his squirt hockey team last fall. My fears had nothing to do with injury. I was not concerned about locating some remote suburban ice rink. This time, my angst arose from an entirely new development.

I was going to have to attend a weekend tournament at a Wisconsin Dells water resort IN MY BATHING SUIT.

My husband, Joe, did not see the problem. He began Yelping restaurants in the area immediately. My kids discussed rides and slides. While the family rejoiced and planned, my post-Christmas body and I flopped down in sad despair.

Damn you, Snickerdoodles.
 
Damn you, pasty white skin.

Damn you, ice hockey.

After checking into our room, my kids and husband sprinted to the water area before unpacking a single towel. My swim dress and I opted instead for a slow saunter. This was mostly done to keep inner thigh “swooshing” to a minimum. Yet during the three-mile hike from one end of the hotel to the other, I noticed something unusual:

I was in the LAND of swim dresses.  I had finally found my people.

Indoor water parks attract minivan moms at a far greater rate than they attract twenty-somes with taut stomachs. Looking around, I realized my wobbly bits were in great company amongst women floating in lazy rivers and having a fantastic time with their children.

Nobody cared that my body was not perfect. Parents were too busy chasing down their own kids and spending exorbitant amounts of money on waterpark hot dogs to give me a second glance.

Inspired, I relaxed in a deck chair, ordered a fifty dollar beer, and thanked my lucky stars for having invested in several years’ worth of swim lessons for the boys. It was going to be a magnificent weekend after all.

Right around the third drink and fourth People magazine, my youngest son approached and stared incredulously at my fantastically gaudy glitter toe nail polish and raved:

“You look BEAUTIFUL, mommy!”

I never grow tired of how excited my kids get when I put on anything other than sweats. On the rare occasion I get dolled up for an evening with my husband, I feel like a movie star walking the red carpet.

“Twirl around, mommy!”

“You look so pretty!”

“Can we come??”

There is a lot to be said about being the mother of sons. In many ways, I am their gold standard of beauty and grace. It does not matter that I trip on air, or that there’s often lipstick on my teeth. They do not see my cellulite, wrinkles, or grey hair.

It is part of the magic of motherhood, and it reminds me of a line from Rodgers and Hammerstein:

Do I love you because you’re beautiful…or are you beautiful because I love you?

My heart knows the answer. To my boys, I am a goddess in a swim dress.

And it is the best feeling in the world.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Concussions, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Me

My obsession with sports injury is pathological.

Yet the universe (and patented military technology adapted for athletics) answered my prayers.

Full story HERE in today's Chicago Parent.

Photo credit: Unequal.com