Friday, September 30, 2011

The Non-Negotiables

I never thought of myself as a particularly rigid or principled person.  On politics, I can swing right or left depending on the issue.  Judaism seems just as good a religion to me as Catholicism.  I like both the Chicago White Sox and the Cubs. 

When you take a look at the big picture, I suppose I appear rather wishy-washy.  Middle-of-the-road.  Spineless even.  A rebel without a cause.

Not so fast.

I've put together a handy list of things I stand firm on. Non-negotiable aspects of my life. Things that torture or bribery couldn't alter.   So without further ado, here are just a few of the big ones that define who I am as a person:
  
  • I will never participate in a water birth.
  • I will never judge or blame another mother for spanking her child in the mall parking lot.
  • I will never ask my family to purchase over-priced wrapping paper for a school fundraiser.
  • I will have done my job properly when my adult sons stand up when a lady enters a room instead of waving from the couch.
  • Thank you notes are mandatory.
  • I believe instant oatmeal counts as cooking.
  • I think having a couple really good friends is more important than having 2,000 Facebook Friends.
  • I think it's perfectly acceptable to walk away from people who drain you.  Or who don't send thank you notes.
  • I can be draining, and I sometimes forget the thank you notes.
  • The key to marriage is a partner who remembers the good, forgets the bad, and thinks you're still decent looking after 3 kids with a stomach that resembles Hiroshima.

I had some foggy notion about the Alamo as a methaphor for marriage, but my cold medicine kicked in.  I'll leave the analogies to you then.

So there you have it.  What are your non-negotiables? 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Laundry in the Time of Cholera

I guess I shouldn't be surprised I caught a raging 103 degree temperature.  How else would the universe punish me for making the boys do math sheets and piano while they were home sick from school?

Fakers.

As I was too ill to tackle the mounting laundry piles during my infirmity, I opted to sort through a year's worth of digital photos and place an order for prints with Shutterfly.

618 pictures later, my order was in.  I used the free delivery coupon code, the code for free 50 prints, and I bought a prepaid package that amounted to 9 cents a picture.  My grand total = $55.  Not bad for a woman suffering from delirium and the chills.

I did chuckle at this photo of Joey in Florida a year or two ago.  It always makes me laugh:

Joey could have taken him.
I know.  I'm sick.  In both the physical and mental kinds of ways.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Wicked Witch of the Midwest

This is what I get for downplaying Danny's bronchial cough and blaming CPS for over-reacting every year.

3 little boys =

1 visit to the pediatrician
3 diagnosis of ear/throat/bronchial stuff
3 bottles of Cefdinir
1 BIG bottle of Albuterol
1 JUMBO bottle of Prednisone (aka "the devil")
And a partridge in a pear tree

I'm thinking of doubling the amount we put into our Health Flex Spending for 2012
Did I mention I had to keep two of them home yesterday?  Of course, I'm certainly not one to waste an opportunity to get some extra piano practice in:

video

I like the little cough-sneeze right in the middle of the song...it really reinforces my madness.  These boys will rue the day they get the sniffles with me around. 

If it helps, I did give the kid a couple of cough drops when he was done as his "reward." 

I'm not completely heartless.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Unbeknownst to me, Joey's godmother queried him recently on what he would like for his fourth birthday.  Aunt Mary did this to circumvent my input.  Whenever the godparents question me for gift ideas for the kids, I have a prepared list:

  • Strappy sandals in a size 10 (women's)
  • A massage
  • Season 2 of Glee on DVD
  • Botox

I figure my ungrateful boys already have enough toys to circle the globe.  It's time to reward their creator.

But instead, Aunt Mary seized upon Joey's request and appeared at my house last night with this:

I'm starting to think I'm her least favorite sister-in-law.

That's right.  A cuckoo clock.  Because nothing says love like a chirping bird every fifteen minutes.  Apparently, this was Joey's sole request to his fairy godmother.   

Yet what Aunt Mary didn't realize when she ordered the gift was the nature of the creature that would be leaping out from behind its little blue doors.  This was no delicately carved forest bird.  Why, just have look:

video

Aunt Mary's cuckoo clock has a deranged chicken in it.  Somehow, this is all very fitting.

Later that evening, I wondered where my son got the idea for such a thing.  It's not like we have anyone in the family who owns a cuckoo clock.  But as I started putting away a few items in the pantry, it struck me:

Relax.  He eats Cheerios, too.

Can anyone guess what Joey's favorite cereal is?

I love that my son has embraced a theme.  I just wish it wasn't Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Cough

I swear, it's like my son is the Mayan Calendar. Daniel starts hacking away every year on the first day of autumn - the result of a bronchial cough that kicks off every Spring and Fall like clockwork. 

And every year, I've been the dutiful mother who alerts the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to not panic and send him home. They've tried convincing me to come get him in the past, but I've always refused. They tell me his cough is terrifying the other children, and I tell them that their selective enrollment process terrifies me. It's taken countless doctors' notes and paperwork to persuade CPS that this horrible, months-long condition is just normal for Daniel. 

The Irish are known for the ol' "weakness of the chest" (bronchial and respiratory issues). Everybody in my family has drippy noses, dry coughs, and asthma.  It's a curse.

Yet as I flipped through the medical forms for CPS last week and got to the line about "existing conditions," I paused. I knew the gates of hell would be opened if I checked that stupid box.

The calls from the nurse.

The appointments with the pediatrician. 

The endless faxes and letters back and forth. 

It is all designed to limit CPS' legal liability should Danny inadvertently hack up a lung on the playground. I mean, can't they just send the kid for a cup of water if he starts coughing during recess? Have him sit down for a few minutes?  When did common sense get replaced with a mile-long paper trail designed to cover one's ass?

At the end of the day, the kid is just going to cough.  And no amount of forms, school meetings or medical interventions will change this.  I will do everything in my power to minimize his suffering (cough drops, Benadryl, the occasional Prednisone, and a vaporizer), but I know from experience that Dan's cough is as much part of his permanent life as his big brown eyes.

In case you were wondering, Children's Benadryl works quite nicely on adults, too.
Fall has begun and my poor, bronchial boy will undoubtedly be driving his teacher crazy with classroom coughing disruptions for the the next 2 to 3 months.  His new front teeth are also growing in all fangled, and the dentist has suggested we start on braces soon.  And when you add in his enormous size, all signs seem to indicate that this is going to be a rough year for my Daniel. 

I remember all too well how this goes.  The cute little kids are the pets of the school - adored by teachers and administration alike.  The big loud hacking ones are cast aside like used tissues, relegated to emptying the trash cans for the janitor.

In the middle of all my angst, Daniel came home with an announcement: his teacher had appointed him to student council. He beamed and told me this was the first teacher he ever had who really seemed to like him.

Perhaps I had jumped the gun.  Dare I infer that my son has landed that rare breed of educator? Someone who understands Daniel's early-onset gawkiness and decided to act? Someone who peers right into the soul of each child, tending to his heart and mind like the most devoted of nurturers? 


Like a mom

It's probably too early to tell if Daniel's teacher is truly exceptional. Yet after all of the ups and downs I go through daily with CPS, I am opting to believe the best.  And something tells me that this teacher might have an even greater impact on Daniel than even his vaporizer.

Suddenly, things are looking up.
Thank you, Mrs. 2nd Grade Teacher.  Thank you. 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Food Blog for a Day

As an homage to fellow blogger Gweenbrick, I've decided to become a food blog for a day.  It was purely a business decision: those food blogs are ratings juggernauts.

Because I don't actually cook, perhaps some readers will feel I'm reaching.  I would disagree and instead argue that I did extensive research in the area:  I watched Joe.  Paying careful attention to my husband, I took special notes as he masterfully transitioned our leftover corned beef into the ultimate hangover recovery food: a corned beef hash skillet.  With a late night of friends, cards, pina coladas, and wine coolers, Joe got us all back on our feet with a high-fat, sodium-enriched breakfast of southside champions.

As I do not have any experience in translating cooking instructions to the written word, I will now demonstrate with pictures the steps you need to make your own "The Day After Hash."

First, you take the stuff you already made...

I actually helped with this part.  I dumped 5 cans of 7-Up on the meat and potatoes and cooked them for 5 hours at 350 degrees in a big oven-safe dish.

Then you eat some and put the rest in a plastic container in the refrigerator for 24-48 hours.   In the interim, pull out a big giant pan that looks like this:

This was the first birthday present I bought for Joe - a $60 cast iron skillet.  I feel he had ample ample warning about my culinary deficiencies, and sacrificed his right to complain years ago.

After your meat and potatoes are ready to be removed from the fridge, you're going to hack them up (Joe used the word "cubed").  I think he put some butter in the pan.  As far as other ingredients, I noticed the oregano, garlic, and cayenne pepper bottles were sitting on the counter when I cleaned up, so I'm fairly certain you put some of that in, too.

At the very end, you drop fried eggs on top your skillet.  I don't know how to make a fried egg, but I did have to put a spatula in the dishwasher.

So there you have it.  Here's what it is supposed to look like when you're done.  I added the umbrella because every great food blogger should have a signature move. 


It looks a little like dog food, but our vision was fuzzy from Euchre and Wine Coolers, so we didn't care.
 Bon appetit!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Cards and Coolers

Remember back in the day when you used to sit around old apartments or dorms playing Euchre and Hearts?

I don't.  I was never there.  In fact, I wasn't even awake.  Getting up for all of my 8:00 am classes required a healthy and sensible bedtime of 10:00 pm.  While normal kids drank and celebrated their early years of parental liberation, I was asleep in my bed with a copy of Pride & Prejudice stuck to my forehead. 

By the time I hit my 30's, the only card game I was any good at was Texas Hold 'Em.  This was due largely to Joe's insistence we watch the World Poker Tour on cable television.  I had no choice but to learn the rules and basic strategies for winning.

As we played at friendly tournaments, I found that there was a direct correlation between my winning and how much coffee I had to drink.  A good stack size lost its value if I started crashing at the final table.  God bless all those little Stok caffeine shots I added to my extra-large Big Gulps of java.

Yet with Doctor-Friend and her husband in for the weekend, I finally agreed to learn how to play Euchre.   A half-hearted attempt to recreate 1992 was made as I chugged wine coolers and listened to REM.  Let the Euchre indoctrination begin!

Nothing says a fun night like a case of wine coolers and the free deck of cards you got from your cousin's wedding.

Five hours later,  Doctor-Friend was wishing she'd partnered with somebody else.  The game felt too much like a cross between Uno and War and I kept screwing up the objective:

Gin!

I'm all in.

Uno!

Go fish.

Doctor-Friend's husband grew increasingly annoyed every time I called the clubs "shamrocks" (something I do when I play poker to secure being under-estimated...not really needed when I was playing Euchre. I sucked).

Regardless, I am delighted to have some of my favorite people on the planet visiting, and I wish only that they had a good time.

And a desire to play a little poker tonight.

The shamrocks are waiting.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Bendaroos and Beatitudes

People keep giving me Bendaroos - those silly wax sticks that children are supposed to mold into spaceships and lions. It's probably my punishment for all the glitter and paint sets I've inflicted on these same parents:

At the end of each night, I usually have 2 or 3 Bendaroos stuck to the bottom of my socks.

Yet I had to chuckle at the creation Jack put together the other day. 

A Bendaroo Scapular:

The kid has talent.
For those not versed in the timeless traditions of the Catholic Church, a Scapular is a neck adornment (my husband would kill me if I called it a necklace) that ensures the wearer will pass directly through the pearly gates without all the normal red tape and paperwork:


Funny...you're supposed to go right to heaven with a Scapular, but my husband has never once suggested I wear one. 

Joe has gone 30 years wearing a Scapular.  He wears his wedding ring only 4 or 5 times a year.  Devotion to me is apparently more of a crapshoot in terms of salvation.  I'm guessing he's hedging his bets and going with the sure thing.

I know why he's smiling.  He's thinking "I'll finally be free of that maniac because there's no way in hell she's getting past St. Peter."
I never really gave the practice much thought, but obviously Jack has.  The Scapular is something his Daddy wears, and if he couldn't get his hands on a real one, by God, he'd craft one with his own two little hands and a couple of overpriced wax sticks.

A Bendaroo Miracle if you ask me.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Chicago Baseball and Heartache

As Chicago marches towards October, baseball fans from both the north and south sides of the city will be packing up their World Series' dreams for another season.  Baseball has a long and storied past here in the Second City, but that's never been the leading narrative.  Instead, it has been the complete and utter incivility between White Sox and Cubs fans that has driven this town's baseball story.  It's like the Hatfields vs. the McCoys but with broader shoulders and less bootlegging.

I grew up a Cubs fan because my favorite grandfather used to let me eat endless amounts of candy-corn in a distracted state while he watched the games on WGN.  I would also visit Wrigley with my father, sit amongst the fabled ivy, and watch my heroes Ryne Sandberg and Rick Sutcliffe do little to secure a post-season.  But it was still great fun.

When I married my husband, my being a Cubs fan was a deal-breaker.  I had to convert.  Renounce my Cubs' ties and swear eternal allegiance to the White Sox.  I think a bible may have been involved.   My husband takes this stuff pretty seriously.

To me, it didn't matter much.  I am that rare fan that likes all things Chicago.  Cubs.  Sox.  Hawks.  Bears.  Bulls.  If Chicago is in the name, I'm a supporter.  So adopting a new southside team was fine by me - I had fond memories of great players like Carlton Fisk and Harold Baines anyway.

Yet the earth stood still this summer when I found my husband doing the impossible.  Our middle son, Jack, had expressed an interest in seeing Wrigley.  To my complete and utter shock, Joe agreed to do a "walk-by" for his 6-year-old son.  I took some pictures to convey the overall sentiment: 

Real mature, guys.

Joey hanging on the Harry Caray statue.

I know it's falling apart, but it still makes me nostalgic.

As the men in my life continued to check out the grounds, I grew fascinated by the personalized bricks purchased by Cubs fans to commemorate their long-suffering devotion:






I was moved by the bricks, and that's when I remembered driving past Holy Sepulchre cemetery shortly after the White Sox won the World Series in 2005.  There were hundreds and hundreds of White Sox floral arrangements on the graves all over the cemetery.  Sons and daughters remembered those special games with their dads and just wanted to let them know how important it was to them. And that finally...finally...their team had won it all.

It makes me think of my own grandpa, who loved the Cubs more than anything.   I dream of a day where I, too, can order up a big Cubs logo for his grave and deliver the good news under a shady tree at Holy Sepulchre. 

Cubs and Sox fans really aren't so different after all. 
  

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

An Eye for An Eye

First of all - thank you to everyone who submitted suggested titles for the new chicagoparent.com blog.  I laughed at all of them.  Let's see if the new boss goes for one.

This will have to be a short blog as I just got home after my 24 hour shift with post-cataract-surgery mom.  She's doing well, but I couldn't help but notice the striking similarities between post-op mom and Jack's recent drawing from school:

Same enlarged, disproportionate eye, same loopy expression.

Oh, and one last thing.  Do you think the eye doctor would have given any of these instructions to a man after cataract surgery:
  • No vacuuming
  • No washing the floors
  • No scrubbing toilets
  • No doing heavy laundry
  • No water aerobics (that one just seemed to come out of left field if you ask me)
There is no doubt in my mind that the male-version of post-op directions would have included:
  • No golf
  • No bowling
  • No mowing the lawn
  • No water aerobics (I think the doctor is just generally opposed to water aerobics)
Eh well.  Back to doing laundry, because I don't have a note from my doctor advising me to the contrary.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Coming Soon to Chicagoparent.com!

Sweet Jesus.   I really didn't think this would work, but the lovely new Digital Content Editor at chicagoparent.com, Carrie Kaufman, emailed me back about writing a blog for chicagoparent.com. In my mind, I had already anticipated the rejection letter:

Dear Marianne,

After careful consideration of your current blog and writing style, Chicagoparent.com has decided that you really need professional help.  You swear an awful lot.  Your husband sounds angry.  And we're not sure we really want to promote mothers who drink Mike's Hard Lemonade on a regular basis.  We can't figure out if you're serious or kidding, and that kind of ambiguity makes people uncomfortable.  You make people uncomfortable.  Please seek some guidance immediately and don't ever bother us again.  Your name has been given to security.

Kindest regards,
Carrie Kaufman

You can imagine my surprise when Carrie actually emailed me about starting a blog over there.  I flipped out.  When can I start? she asked.  Sh*t!

I'm taking my half-blind mom in for her second eye surgery tomorrow morning.  Before that, I've got to deposit my children at 3 different homes to be kept in a holding pattern until they have to start school.  Doctor-Friend and her family are also coming in this weekend and my house is a disaster.  Food choices are limited to frozen pizza and left-over hush puppies...and my friends are foodies:

I figure if I dress the hush puppies up for the evening, my friends won't notice that they're actually just re-heats of leftovers.  Or that there are only 5.

So here's where I once again need help from my half-dozen followers (minus one because mom won't be reading anything for about a week):  I need a name!  A new blog name for chicagoparent.com only.  Something that will entice all of Chicago to tune in.  Something about the southside?  Drinking?  Virgins?  Southside drinking virgins?  Come on, gang - think!

As a side note, how much swearing and sacrilege do you think they'll let me get away with over there?  Not too much, right? 

Yeah.  That's what I thought.

Monday, September 19, 2011

As Seen on TV

An outdoor movie.  A church carnival.  A Chuck E. Cheese birthday party.  You'd think this weekend would rate near-perfection to thrill-seeking little boys.  Yet the incessant complaining and squabbling left me re-thinking all my planning. Was I raising a brood of entitled little first class passengers who thought of me only as Julie, their ship's cruise director? And if this was the case, where the hell was Isaac?  I needed a drink.

In the midst of all the "fun," we headed to Orland Park Mall to pick up new jeans and gym pants for Daniel who insists on growing an inch a week.  His sensory issues resulted in an hour of whining and crying because he had to try on pants with the tags still on

These are soooo itchy.

I think I need a Band-Aid.

Am I bleeding here?

C'mon, Mom.  Can't you take the tags off NOW? 

I was so annoyed and stressed that I took all my anxiety out on the Lancome make-up counter.  I frantically  loaded up on needless creams and magical potions meant to restore my lost youth.  There were free gifts!  My eye puffiness could be cured!  Oooh....wrinkle removers!  I bought eyeliner that cost more than my first car:

All this, and people would still tell me I look tired.

I realize now these were stupid and impulsive purchases meant to dull my ache for a single word of kindness or appreciation from the 7 & under crowd.  I will have to return them all this week.

There was one purchase, though, that will not be going back. I also stopped by the As Seen on T.V. store and bought the Ped Egg.  After a summer of going barefoot and wearing flimsy flip-flops, the callouses and cracked skin on my feet were out of control.  I had already tried expensive creams and pumice stones to tame the problem, but nothing had worked. 

I was in a sad and hopeless state on Sunday evening - feeling that all my mothering work was for naught and I was raising children that would think nothing of sticking me in a home. Yet after 10 minutes alone with my Ped Egg, my mood lifted.  Gone were the callouses and dry patches.  They were now relegated to a neat little pile of powdered foot.   Pink and healthy skin was restored. It was amazing.

It's like taking a cheese-grater to your foot.

So for the bargain basement price of $9.99, I headed to bed happy, callous-free, and committed to never ever doing anything fun with my children again.  Unless it involves the Ped Egg.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Hex Upon My House

For some inane reason, I thought taking the boys to Fisher Fest (St. John Fisher's annual fundraising carnival) would be fun. Joe was working and it was a beautiful day. What could possibly go wrong?

After several hours of losing the kids at various rides and enduring epic amounts of complaining, I had reached my limit. My nerves were shot. My money was gone. And my fuse was lit. So when Danny started playing with a Hexbug (mechanized toy bug) in the backseat as I drove to collect Joey, the buzzing toy reverberated through my very soul.

Me:  Daniel, turn that thing off.  NOW.

Dan: (unintelligible)....mean...stupid....hate....mom.....rrrrr....unfair

Fifteen seconds later, the buzzing started up again. Before Danny could say a word, my super-hero-like elastic arms reached behind me, grabbed the offending toy and swiftly threw it out the window before Danny knew what happened.

Dan:  Wha...MOMMMM!

Me:  I told you to keep that OFF.

Dan: But that was JACK'S Hexbug.

Jack:  WHAAAAAAAAAAAA

Hours after picking up Joey from my mom's house, I found myself on a dark Chicago street scouring the area to atone for my impulsive decision. All three boys slept soundly in the minivan as I searched endlessly for the dumb thing.

And wouldn't you know? Good as new. Well almost:

And all is right with the world.

Moral of the Story:  Take calculated risks.  That is quite different from being rash. (George S. Patton)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Something Special in the Air

After stalking every single senior executive at American Airlines (within legal limits) about our disastrous Chicago to Tulsa to Dallas to Vegas "direct" flight that arrived 8 hours after our original ETA, I put the matter out of my head.  It was cathartic to vent all my frustration on faceless executives in a somewhat venomous letter.  I figured my odds of getting a response within the year stood at around 9%.  Not that I'm allowed to gamble anymore.

The detour through Oklahoma did have its points of interest.
Of course the universe never fails to surprise.  I got an actual call a week later from a Deanne Mudd over at American Airlines (I wonder how many times she's heard the old "you're name is mud" from angry customers...how funny is that?). 

Deanne was pleasant, apologetic, and sent over a couple of vouchers should Joe and I ever find the time and money to take another trip.  I was confused:

Me: You're from the airlines?

Deanne:  Yes, I work for American.

Me:  You're not some kind of outsourced professional smoother-over?

Deanne: (confused):  Smoother-over?

Me:  You know, someone they hire because nobody there knows how to talk to people. Be nice.  Do the customer-servicey thing.

Deanne: Customer-servicey thing?

Me:  I mean you're calling me back and not acting like I did something wrong.  I guess my question is,  your paycheck says American Airlines?

Deanne: Yes, ma'am.  I work directly for American Airlines. 

I was dumbstruck.  With all the recession woes and job insecurity, I have found it shocking how so many people in customer service vilify and mistreat the consumer.  I've had Walgreens' cashiers refuse to get off personal phone calls with a line 6 people deep.  I've screamed for help in the middle of Home Depot and nobody came.  At Champp's this weekend, my friends and I waited 20 minutes before the waitress pulled herself away from her chums and flirty boy manager to finally take our order. 

I've worked these exact kinds of jobs (and worse) when the economy was great and finding a new gig was easy, but employees were still held accountable for their actions.  I just can't understand this take-it-or-leave-it philosophy.  And the sad part is, we're all learning to take it.

So Deanne is the reason I will be having crow for dinner tonight.  She couldn't have been nicer, more sympathetic, or happy to make things right. 

I just wish she'd get a job at CPS' contracted bus company.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Let's Hope Chicago Parent Hasn't Actually Read All My Posts

You guys already know I'm a sucker for a good bargain and that I frequent Goodwill and other second-hand stores regularly.  What you perhaps didn't know was that I also love contests.  Drawings.  Raffles.  Anything with a winner.  It's all tied to my gambling issues (which explains why Joe waited 10 years before he finally agreed to take me to Las Vegas).  Of course, the gods and American Airlines were conspiring against us on that one - see The Vegas Chronicles for full disclosure.

So when Chicago Parent Magazine's online webpage sponsored a contest to win a kiddie MP3 Player, I naturally entered.   Wouldn't you know who the big winner was? (hint: she still doesn't know how to program her own iPod).  That's right!  Yours truly.  As I pulled my prize from the envelope, I was giddy.  Stupid giddy.   I-called-my-mom giddy.  Even the salutation mimicked a triumphant slot machine, which is so up my alley:




Here's a picture of my fabulous prize that I'm saving to give to one of the kids for Christmas:

Since I already outed myself on the blog, my chances of a re-gift are shot.

Anyway, when I was first notified via email from the new Digital Content Editor at the magazine, Carrie Kaufman, I got to thinking.  I read Chicago Parent I'm from Chicago.  I'm a parent.  I started wondering if they would possibly be interested in the musings of a lapsed Catholic from the southside of the city with an odd affinity for vintage Little People and Christmas ornaments.  Even as I drafted the email, I assumed I was just too niche for anyone besides my tens of loyal followers.

Well, wouldn't you know?  Ms. Kaufman responded and did the worst possible thing she could do if she really wanted to shake me: she offered encouragement:  Maybe there was a spot for me over at chicagoparent.com.  Let's give it a few weeks.  Mull things over. 

So here's the deal.  Click this link: http://www.chicagoparent.com/.  Any site manager will be able to see where an uptick in traffic is coming from.  If We Band of Mothers directs a little traffic their way, by God, think of the possibilities.  You may be looking at the next chicagoparent.com blogger. And you can tell everyone you knew me before I was cool.  Because Chicago Parent and Justin Bieber are practically the same thing.

As an aside, I actually do read Chicago Parent Magazine.  Their contributors vary wildly in their approaches to child-rearing, which merely supports my theory that there's more than one way to skin a kid...er...cat.

My global dominance has begun.  Right along with my descent into madness.  But at least I'll have a Crayloa MP3 Player to sing along with.   Seriously.  Click Chicago Parent from this site and I'll name my 5th and 6th sons after you.

(If you really want to make an impression, feel free to email Ms. Kaufman at ckaufman@chicagoparent.com and tell her how I've changed your life.  You don't need to lie or anything, but keep in mind that God never actually specified, "Thou shalt not exaggerate."

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Priorities

I stopped banking extra blog entries months ago because I felt like I was cheating on the promise to write something new every day for a year. It felt dirty to have "back-ups." 

The flip side is that when something comes up, I'm left unprepared.

Like last night.  The new season of Survivor began. I had the kids in bed by 6:55 pm.  I made popcorn. I cracked open a Smirnoff Raspberry Ice.  The phone was strategically placed right next to me for my husband's evening check-in call from the firehouse. Joe is always anxious to discuss the needless whining and crying on the show (in between his emergency calls for stabbings and shootings that is).

A more desirable picture would have been the pre-Survivor image where my popcorn was more fluffy and my drink wasn't depleted.  Hindsight.
I really feel like I should write a blog about Survivor and its impact on society, but the two bottles of Smirnoff Ice have wiped me out (along with the 7-mile walk Atheist-Friend and I took during Joey's two hours of preschool). 

My apologies (again).  The good news is the weekend is almost here and who knows what treasures will be unearthed at Goodwill that I can write about.  BFF didn't like the vintage Christmas ornament blog, she thought it showed too much of my eccentricity.  My response? 

That was the only one? 

Obviously, she missed a few.

BFF finds these "creepy and weird," but she has serious holiday hang-ups.  I think her tree is assembled Christmas morning and promptly disassembled December 26th.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Bike Named Sue

I grew up riding a boy's bike.  My oldest sibling is a boy, so every time he outgrew his ride, it just got passed down the line without any consideration to the gender of the next recipient.  I was the third child out of four kids, and as much as I coveted my friends' pink tasseled bikes with daisy baskets, I knew things could be worse.  I could be my younger brother.   Number four child (Joe) got saddled with "the beginner" bike well past the point of it fitting him properly.  Have I mentioned my brother is 6'6"?  Watching him ride a kindergartner's bike while trying to handle his paper route every day kept the entire neighborhood in stitches.

I believe now that abject humiliation builds character.  So when I got a great deal on a girl's bike at a garage sale last year, I snatched it right up.  My husband was indignant.  He insisted on removing all the flower stickers and then spray-painted the seat black.  Of course by the end of the summer, my sons would inevitably show up with a charcoal-colored asses.

If you ignored the purple pedals and handlebars, who would know?
When my sister-in-law was looking for takers for daughter's outgrown bike, I happily took possession of that, too.  It was in mint condition:

I love the complimentary shades of purple. 
By this point, my husband just dropped his shoulders in defeat.  Between my non-stop Broadway selections in the car, violin lessons and now girl bikes, I think Joe figured his chances of a Mt. Carmel football MVP son were shot to hell.

Mid-summer, I started hauling out the boys' bikes to adjust the seats and check the tires.  Joe's older brother, John, quickly spotted our assortment of pink and purple two-wheelers.  He didn't say anything at the time, but apparently his own wheels were turning.

A few weeks later during a family celebration, John surprised Joey with a brand new bike for his 4th birthday:

It really doesn't go with our current color scheme.
It was a generous gift and Joey can't believe that he has something brand new that is all his own.  When the steering became a little loose at the park and I asked him to stop riding it until we got home to tighten it, he threw the mother of all tantrums.  He was absolutely convinced I was going to throw away his new bike and end his whole life's happiness.

I thanked John's wife again recently for such a great gift, and she told me that John, a man of few words, would only say, "No Godson of mine is going to be seen around Beverly on a girl's bike."

Which now leaves me only two boys to publicly embarrass over the next few years.  I'm thinking of starting them up on Irish Dancing next Spring. 

(By the way, I have to credit the inspiration for this blog: Mrs. L.  For loyal readers, she is the wife of the guy who laced my kids' hockey skates all last season to prevent my nervous breakdown.  She posted a picture of a girls' lost bike helmet on Facebook to try to locate its owner.  My honest-to-God reaction was: "Geez, if nobody claims that, it sure would go great with Jack's bike."  And that's how blogs are created.  A picture of the helmet included below in case anyone out there really does know the rightful owner and doesn't want me to get my hands on it to further damage my sons):

Seriously, it's perfect.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Trophy Life

The boys had their first chess tournament of the season this past Friday. I suppose our Russian chess master figured we might as well get the gang used to not having a date or other plans on Friday nights. As has already been documented in this blog, my sole purpose as a mother is to raise the biggest chess-playing, violin-loving nerds I can. It's my insurance policy against becoming a grandmother before my time.

My husband has been trying to thwart my intentions at every turn, insisting on hockey, soccer, and baseball. When a mother seeking intellectual development has children with a father seeking athletic prowess, the end result is inflicting a horribly over-scheduled life on their unsuspecting children.

Of course had I known I'd be spending 3 hours watching kids play chess in a church basement on a Friday night, I may have reconsidered my whole master plan. Instead, I witnessed a bunch of Bobby Fischer's kicking my kids' asses. Thankfully, Daniel attends a Bobby Fischer type school and his team placed 1st in the tournament.


They'll be managing my 401k in a couple of years.

Jack, being the only representative from his school, left with an "everybody wins" medal and no trophy. I bought him a chess key chain at the souvenir desk as a consolation prize. 

My youngest son, Joey, is obsessed with the whole trophy thing.  He waits expectantly at home with his father any time he hears that his brothers are at "Awards Night" for whatever activity I signed them up for that week.  He was inconsolable this summer at soccer when his brothers refused to share their trophies.

Due to my thrift store tendencies, I have neutralized the situation with the purchasing of several used trophies. 

The kids mocked Joey's "99th" place trophy.
Somewhere out in the world, there is a Jeni Thompson who was "Rookie of the Year" for the Aurora Sharks in 1999.  I wonder if she knows her mother dropped off all her old trophies at Goodwill last week? 

Hopefully, she doesn't read the blog.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Sex & the City for the Target Crowd

It had been a long week. The school stuff. The bus stuff. The 10-year anniversary. So I did the only thing I could think of when Joe headed off to the firehouse Sunday morning:  I got a sitter and called the girls:  Atheist-Friend and BFF (I'm still working on a better blog moniker for her).

It was time for breather.  Or a bender.  I wasn't picky.

We decided on Champp's sports bar because (1) Atheist-Friend likes the salads there, (2) I like the Bears, and (3) BFF likes a good Long Island Iced Tea.   A few beers and a 4-shot of Ibuprofen to kill my migraine did just the trick to ready me for our day ahead.

After lunch, we hit a litany of stores.  Perhaps there are husbands out there who believe these shopping excursions are completely selfish in nature and designed to feed an insatiable desire for over-priced shoes.  I am going to blow the lid off that stereotype right now.  If anyone is interested in the truth behind the non-glamorous purchases middle-aged women make, keep reading:

Atheist-Friend
  • "House shorts" (Atheist-Friend told us she needed a pair for cleaning the house.  We couldn't quite figure out what she was talking about until she showed us a pair. Apparently, they are just soft, comfy shorts that are way too inappropriate for a 40 year-old woman to wear in public.  So they are relegated to in-house use only, hence the name). 
  • Squash for some very odd macaroni and cheese recipe that Atheist-Friend found
  • A pack of Cottenelle wipes
  • A vat of pretzel pub mix for hubby
  • Clothes for daughter

BFF
  • A book on the mortuary arts
  • A pack of Swedish Fish (that I ate most of)

Me
  • House Shorts (because now I was just curious)
  • Jeans for Danny
  • The Jaycee Duggar biography
  • A new back-up hair dryer (the old back-up is out of play because our current hair dryer fizzled out today)
  • Rice Krispie Treats for the kids' lunches

My new "House Shorts."  Currently on clearance at Target for $9.
Atheist-Friend insisted on a final stop to Costco, or as BFF outlined, "the only place where you can buy tires for your car and a year supply of tampons."   As we pulled into the lot, we started to worry about only one of us having a current membership, and how we could pass ourselves off as a family:

"Lesbian Love Triangle?" I suggested.

"No.  Sister Wives," countered BFF.

Atheist-Friend just rolled her eyes and begged us to just wait in the car.  Not when there were bulk fruit snacks to purchase!

As the day wound down, Atheist-Friend helped carry some items into my house and the sitter advised I was out of milk.  Apparently, she had to borrow some from her Grandma's house down the street when she made the Macoroni & Cheese.  I told her to go ahead and use the coffee creamer if ever such a disaster occured again.  

"You have hazlenut cream, dummy," reminded Atheist-Friend.

"All the better," I responded.

Atheist-Friend drove my babysitter home and called a few minutes later to let me know she had dropped a gallon of milk off on my doorstep. 
I have given her a lot of shit  over the years for not being much of an emoter.  She tells me that emoters are a dime a dozen.  She's right.  People who are actually willing to walk the walk are few and far between.

I am so lucky to have friends who let me eat most of their Swedish Fish and friends who deposit milk on my front door like stealth cow bombers.

Sister Wives indeed.  

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Denise

Somewhere in my house, I have a bunch of things I put in a box about 10 years ago. Emails. Lists. Names. Hospital numbers. I have not opened the box in nearly a decade. I thought maybe I would need it one day to remind me of the events of September 11, 2001.   I couldn't anticipate that ten years later, everything would remain so vivid and clear in my mind.

My most haunting memory comes not from one of those horrific moments caught on television that day.  Instead, it was a few days later when I had to inform distraught family members to collect combs and toothbrushes to bring to the New York Armory Building to assist with identification.  I remember trying to be professional and calm at the time, as though it was all so normal and matter-of-fact.  I was an ass.  I think I was trying to not let it in.  Too much work to do.  Keep it together.  Cry later.   The families were kind and understanding, because back then, hope was still very strong.

On September 11, 2001,  I worked for Aon's Chicago office in the communications department. Aon occupied a number of floors at Two World Trade Center.  When I was first hired 6 years prior to that day, my co-workers teased me mercilessly when I asked what "2WTC" meant on all the interoffice envelopes. I didn't even know what a World Trade Center was. I was as green as they come, appearing out of nowhere with an impractical English degree and a resume that included working at Old Country Buffet and Eastern Illinois' food service.  I'm still surprised I wasn't laughed out of the interview given most of my previous jobs included hair nets.

I began in licensing and worked with brokers in dozens of offices. My job was to make sure all the brokers throughout the country had up-to-date licenses in all the states they conducted business. It was a lot of phone work and I built relationships with many of them over time. 

Yet as a 23-year-old Midwesterner, the New York office used to scare the living crap out of me. The brokers were brash, impatient, demanding, and brilliant. I never understood what "moxie" meant until I started talking with the New York staff. I always received the dramatic brush-off: "Marianne, I'm in the deal of my life here and I just got no time for this bullshit today...I'll call you next week *click*."

Nobody would call me back and my New York charges started falling hopelessly behind with their renewals and new licenses. I was in over my head, feeling certain I'd be fired at any moment.

And then someone told me about Denise Benedetto. The woman who would rescue my fledgling new career. She could move mountains, I was told.  And if she liked you, she'd even toss a mountain your way now and then.  Boy, could I use a mountain.

Our very first conversation revolved around what I needed. Denise was quick, concise, and friendly. I didn't even know New Yorkers could be friendly back then.  By the next morning, she secured all the signatures and certifications I had requested before her first morning cup of coffee.  Denise always arrived early. At a company where most New York employees showed up around 9 am, Denise typically arrived closer to 8 am. 

Only one time did she hesitate helping me - it was when I rattled off a name of a certain broker whose notarized signature I needed.   He was notoriously hard to deal with.  Could Super Woman actually be afraid of this guy?

"Marianne, this is the World Trade Center. This guy you need...he's like a block away on this floor and I've got a busy morning. He couldn't be further from me.  Do you know how long it would take me to get over there?   Next time they send you to New York, come by and I'll show you.  You'll need a mule. Send a fax. I'll make sure he follows through."

And she did.  And I wouldn't find out until years later that she had a serious spinal condition requiring surgery and had spent time in a body cast.  Denise wasn't one to complain. 

After a while, I learned to imitate Denise's tactics and was able to charm, bully, and coerce my way into getting the cooperation needed to renew licenses for even the most resistant of New Yorkers.  She had carefully taught me which names to drop and what days and times to bother certain people.  I had my own insider.

A year or so later, Denise and I had both progressed at Aon. A friend of mine recommended me to a new senior executive who needed an assistant. Apparently typing 85 wpm was my big selling point. Yet more appropriately, Denise earned an impressive and well-deserved promotion. She arrived in Chicago for some kind of training, and made her way to my floor for our first face-to-face meeting.

Over the phone, Denise seemed larger than life.  I thought for sure she would be tall and old.  Authoritative.  Imposing even.  Yet when I met her in person, I was shocked. She was this tiny little person.  As I hugged her, I thought she would break.  She was so much younger than I had envisioned, right around my age now, but still very much her own woman.

I remember she couldn't get over how big Lake Michigan was:

"Oh my God, Mar...I thought like..you know...Lake Michigan.  I imagined a big pond.  Look at it - it's like looking at an ocean."

She somehow convinced me to take her for a peek of the CEO's office and I figured we'd both be fired as she spun around in his chair. Yet how could I refuse? I understood that if it hadn't been for her encouragement and help, I would have never lasted a month at Aon. I would have never become friends with Milwaukee-Friend who worked there. Milwaukee-Friend would introduce me to Doctor-Friend. Doctor-Friend was the one who dragged me out that night I met my husband. And my husband gave me the three most wonderful boys to make everything worthwhile. Too often, one person makes such a difference in your life without even knowing it. For me, Denise was that person.

Denise died on September 11, 2001. The little, confident New Yorker who somehow took a naive greenhorn and turned her into a gal with moxie will always be on my mind this day.

And many other days.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Hoop Dreams and Debacles

I pay people to put things together.  For someone as cheap as me, this would seem antithetical to who I am as a person.  But the level of stress that visits our home when the box reads "some assembly required" is astronomical.  Joe and I are not patient people.  Nor are we particularly handy.  Still, my husband recently balked at paying $75 to have Jack's birthday basketball hoop assembled ("how would it fit in the minivan?").

Six hours after the project commenced, Joe was still sweating, pulling, swearing, and cursing every person who has ever written assembly instructions.  It wasn't pretty.

Having once played basketball, I was pretty sure this angle was a tad off.
Of course, filling the stupid thing with 350 pounds of sand proved no picnic either.  It took until Day Two before we figured out that cutting the funnel wider would make the process go a whole lot faster:

We're still about 20 pounds short on sand.  Joe suggested a final visit to the Warren Dunes, but I figured we'd be arrested.

The only hope I ever have to remedy our direction-challenged family is Daniel.  He is methodical and patient in building his endless Lego creations.  We stopped helping him with these when he was 3 because he could do it better than us.  It all just leaves me to wonder if I brought the right baby home from the hospital:

Who needs Handy Manny when we have a Handy Danny?
By the way, thank you to Caroline for the basketball net.  It was a kind and generous gift, and I am certain that we will all enjoy it for many years to come.  I've already beaten Joe at "Horse" twice.  Not that I'm keeping track....

Friday, September 9, 2011

Joseph and the Amazing Smiling Potatoes

While making dinner the other night, Joe performed a running commentary on the smiley-faced potato wedges. I ignored him and helped the kids with homework, filled out school forms, and debated aloud whether it was 2011 or 2012. 

Then I actually started listening:

"Hellooo, fellas.  You shouldn't be smiling...."

"Evil Alien Potato."  
"I wish I wasn't dropped on my head as a baby Potato."

"Irish Potato" (because he's talking out of the side of his mouth)
It was a rare moment of Joe indulging a silly stream of consciousness. I hushed the kids and listened as Joe continued assigning personality traits to our dinner.

In just a few short minutes, Joe successfully lifted the dark clouds that a stressful first week of CPS had brought us, and we all happily sat down and ate together.

Reason #82 why it's important to marry someone who can make you laugh.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Why I Should Never Have Access to the Nuke Codes

I had my first psychotic break this week.  Actually, several.  I am not sure what the true impetus was.  It could have been the school bus fiasco.  It could have been when my husband suggested we register for Saturday and Sunday morning hockey.  It may have even been the 2-page letter sent home from Jack's 1st grade teacher outlining weekend assignments that include diagnosing types of sentences.

But I had one.  A psychotic break that is.  It manifested itself throughout the week. It first came when I broke down as I wrapped my niece's birthday present in my usual selection of Christmas paper.  I teared up when I realized that wrapping a 3-year old's present in snowflakes is not something normal people do.  And I do it all the time.

I liked this paper because it had Hanukkah colors.  Christmas, Hanukkah, birthday parties....I liked the flexibility.

Next up was my accosting the swim instructor.  After 3 years of lessons, I cringed as the kids were handed swim noodles and floating boards.  I snapped and stormed over to the instructor:

"Really?  It's been three flippin' years!  Can you teach the kids maybe a stroke this decade?  I mean, REALLY.  Swim noodles?  This is America!"

I guess when this session is up, I had better find a new facility as I'm probably on the barred list now.  Again.

The third episode had me screaming at the bus company about their on-time record (currently at 8%).  Atheist-Friend was there for that one.  After the dispatcher yelled at me about the 10,000 kids in the school system and how I shouldn't expect a bus to arrive at my house on-time, I cried.  Atheist-Friend is not good when people cry, so instead of an empathetic "there, there," she took me on a death march around Beverly to "burn off some steam."  My legs still hurt.

As I flipped through some of my recent blogs, I realized that I am now a perpetrator of "blog rage."  I am selfishly using this forum to express my anger and frustration at the whole wide world.  I need to calm down.  I need to ease up on the coffee.  And most importantly, I need to find the funny again.

And I did.  Stay tuned for tomorrow's blog:

How Marianne Got Her Groove Back.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Skating by on Good Humor?

The first day of CPS knocked me on my ass. Joey's not-so-magic school bus failed to show up until after school already started. When I called the bus company to complain, I was advised that they had over 10,000 Chicago Public School kids to manage, so I really needed to relax and lower my expectations as far as a timely pick-up was concerned.

I won't go into my reaction because this is a family blog. My primary emotion was fear: fear of them misplacing my son and offering up a lame consolation:

Well, we got most of the kids home safely, but it's not like anything is 100%.

Anyway, I found a few laughs on the camera of Jack roller skating at his cousin's birthday party.  He skates a thousand times better than I do, so at least all those years of ice hockey were good for something. The Tinley Park roller rink smells exactly the same as it did in 1984 when I used to go as a kid. And as far as I can tell, they have lovingly opted to retain the original carpet from 1978.


video


A grand time was had and the video made me forget how maddening the school year can be.

I am sure my aggravation will return when the packets of Innisbrook fundraising crap are sent home followed by a walk-a-thon packet and of course a request to purchase tickets to the Wine & Cheese tasting.  My checkbook still hasn't recovered from sponsoring the 10 or so kids I know CPS coerced me into paying for via the over-the-top supply list.  There is just no way one child needs 16 sticks of glue.

Yes, I'm feeling a little bitter* today.  Send chocolate.  Now. 

*Please note that my current bitterness is in no way directed at the wonderful teachers of CPS.  I am extremely grateful for all they do.  They are the sole beacon in this whole wacked out system of lunacy and madness.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Ode on a Coffee Urn

Ode on a Coffe Urn
By Marianne the Chicago Bogger

Thou still unravished pot of Starbucks bean
Thou foster child of cocoa and green tea
Target bought brewer with brown stains to bear
Set each morning to rendezvous with me.

With dried crust set sweetly around your rim
In need of sayers to determine our fate
You prayed I would simply put you through the washer
But my passion has found your chance too late.

I rinse it out each morning.  And afternoon.  And evening.  I like coffee.

Holy crap, trying to match Keats' meter and rhyme just took all the fun out of expressing my immortal love for that first morning cup.  Because with a 6 am wake-up time throughout the remainder of the school year, I am going to be worshipping the stuff.

The Chicago Public School year begins!!!

So here's what we got:

  • Danny dropped off at bus stop for selective enrollment school: crack o' dawn
  • Jack picked up by stiff uncle still recovering from roof fall during a fire: slightly after crack o' dawn
  • Joey picked up by big yellow school bus: your guess is as good as mine
A few short hours later (and if Joey's big yellow school bus can find us), I reclaim Daniel, Jack and whatever the last one's name is.  There's some kind of special order that I'm supposed to perform this all in, but I just can't keep it straight right now.

Oh, but there's more...

Without a full understanding of how many actual hours I have to work with, I managed to inject daily doses of study in the areas of  swimming, chess, basketball, hockey, violin, and piano.

I know I have no right to complain.  I did it all to myself.  This is going to suck. Yet even armed with that knowledge, I'm still researching a day that can work for us to fit in the White Sox baseball training program. 

If anyone's listening, can you please call Dr. Drew?

In the meantime, I'll make coffee.

Monday, September 5, 2011

One Day More

The gym uniforms have been purchased.

The school fees have been paid.

The teachers have been assigned.

And I have absolutely no information about Danny's bus route or pick-up time.  But that's how we roll here in the Chicago Public School system.

Regardless, I have spent the final hours before the first day of school labeling folders, notebooks, disinfectant bottles, and Kleenex boxes. I grumbled along the way.  Why am I sending postage stamps for the third year in a row?  Why so much glue?  How many kids I am covering because CPS knows only a third of the parents will actually buy supplies for their kids?  Is it too late to switch the boys over to St. Cajetan's?

I had to take out a second mortgage for Back-to-School shopping.  
I go through this every year.  Except this time, there is talk of a teachers' strike and I swear to God, if the politicians and teachers' union can't come up with a fair compromise, I'm just going to home-school, dammit.

That was a joke.

I barely survived the summer with these hellions.  If Charles Manson was the principal, I'd still be tossing them all on the CPS bus (should it ever arrive).   While Joey is on "Track E" for school (they go year-round and already started classes), I've had to wait and endure hundreds more Back-to-School celebrity robocalls before finding my peace.  Finally, at long last, I will reclaim a small snippet of the day where I'm not asked to wipe or wash something. 

I've been playing Les Miserables' One Day More consecutively for 18 hours: 

The time is now
The day is here
One day more!

So please, please Chicago.  Don't allow a strike.  Don't take away my only sliver of freedom and tranquility in an otherwise bleak and repetitive life.  Please.  Forget the children...

Do it for the moms.