Friday, May 30, 2014

NEW FRIDAY SERIES COMING SOON!

THE IDEA

Andrea from Maybe it's Just Me and I got to talking a while back about using our writing powers for good and not for evil.  We discussed how often people complain about every little thing, and how infrequently people say nice, funny things.  After all, didn't our mothers teach us that you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar?

Why anyone would want to catch flies is beyond me, but whatever.

So in the spirit of spreading happiness and promoting competition, Andrea and I came up with "The Contest."  It was a way to improve our writing skills, possibly score free swag, and decide once and for all that most dire of questions:

Who is funnier?

THE CONTEST

1. The rules

We would each select one of our favorite products on a weekly basis and write a letter.  The letter had to be over-the-top funny and ask for absolutely nothing in return.  We had to actually use and enjoy the product we were writing about.  Yet every response was given a point value.

If the company called or sent a letter = 1 point
If the company sent a coupon = 2 points
If the company sent actual product, voucher for product, or gift card = 5 points

Let me tell you, Andrea and I looked forward to checking our mailboxes with the passion of a thousand suburban moms with too much time on their hands.  We were STOKED.

2.  The outcome

Each week, starting next Friday, Andrea and I will post our letters, the results, and our current point totals.  You will be amazed and dazzled by the outright lunacy displayed in scoring $1.00 off coupons.

And more.

SO much more.

Like quite possibly the motherload of swag.

So please stay tuned, place your wagers, and find out who is:

THE ULTIMATE PATRONIZER


To be continued.....

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Men, Women, and the Real Work at Hand

In the midst of another whole wave of feminist empowerment, I am torn.

I get it. I do.

Some men can be very bad.  Every woman has experienced unwanted advances, has been made to feel uncomfortable, and has been forced to think much longer and harder about her physical safety than her male counterparts.

It is wrong.

It is unfair.

It makes me angry.

I have boys.  Three of them.  We talk all the time about boundaries, respecting personal space, and treating people with kindness and consideration.

Yet I desperately fear my sons are going to again get lumped into that dreaded "All men suck" category which happens every time one of these campaigns gains steam.

My life experiences have been vastly different.

I was a tall, dorky girl throughout most of my schooling.  The other little girls were ruthless to me, degrading my clothes, bad teeth, and flat hair.  I was often left feeling worthless and ugly.

Girls did that to me.  Not men.

There was an older boy on the playground when I was in 5th grade who helped put an end to it all.  He called the girls out. He told them they were mean and that they should be ashamed of themselves.  He basically implied they had ugly souls.

If I knew his name, I would hunt him down and kiss him right now.

When I went off to a liberal arts college, the anti-man message was communicated early and often.  It felt like every literary work studied was presented as men being arrogant takers while women were the docile victims.

It was a female professor who gave me my first (and only) C on a college paper.  I received that grade not because the piece was poorly written, but because it was counter to her views.  She offered to have me re-write it, complimenting my writing style but criticizing my points.

I modified the paper and wrote about how much men suck.

I got an A.

Lesson learned.

When I entered the workforce, my first job was at a Japanese bank under a woman supervisor.  I diligently performed my duties, often working overtime without pay to correct previous employees' errors to ledgers and data entry. Whatever successes I managed were publicly attributed to my boss, and any errors were publicly transferred to me.  I was nitpicked and micromanaged. 

At other jobs, I found women bosses threatened by my youth.  I was made to be an invisible member of the team, not invited to key presentations where I had done 80% of the work.  It wasn't until I ended up with a male boss that my talents were finally recognized and I was put on a much faster track to success. 

Don't get me wrong.  I've also been asked to fetch coffee for men at meetings I was running and asked on dates by men 20 years my senior, even after saying no several times.

The thing is, some people are rotten.  Men and women both.  There is danger in painting everyone in the same bold strokes and creating an environment where men are perceived as universal aggressors and women as chronic victims.  Every time a valid feminist perspective degenerates into "Men are evil," the argument is lessened, the points now diminished.

It is divisive and destroys dialogue, much like the whole "check your privilege" nonsense. When you vilify another side or perspective, you've shut out people you are trying to engage in conversation to help sway the larger issue.  People may nod and smile, even pay lip service to the correct trendy terms.  Maybe they do it in order to get an "A."  Maybe they do it so they don't get called horrible names.

There needs to be more attention paid to human rights abuses against women throughout the world.  The causes for these atrocities span culture, politics, poverty, lack of education, and religion.  We need a global dialogue and action plan.  Chasing the men out of the room is not going to help anyone.    

I am writing today to fight for the health and well-being of all boys and girls.

And this time, I will definitely not be changing my paper.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Do Moms Need Gold Stars?

What made you get into the parenting business?

For me, it had nothing to do with accolades or gold stars.

Full story click HERE in today's Chicago Parent.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Why NBC Doesn't Get It

Remember Must-See TV?

Remember when The Cosby Show, Seinfeld, and Friends made NBC into the sole powerhouse network for nearly two decades?

Now?

Not so much.

Still, I decided to give NBC another shot when my brother-in-law's brother, Jay Riordan, was a contestant on the reality series American Dream Builders.

This is the same brother-in-law who had a heart attack late last year, which occurred during Jay's filming (click HERE for story).  Jay was away from his wife, five boys, and family during a very scary time.  He understood and respected his commitment to the show, but it was all done with the understanding that he would have a fair shot at winning.

I excitedly watched Jay's big reveal of his makeover house on the finale last night. I felt confident he had it in the bag.  He took full advantage of his team's talents, understood the needs of a family, and put forth a gorgeous home.

My favorite part?

Jay added floor-to-ceiling glass doors and a glass balcony so there wasn't a single obstruction blocking the breathtaking ocean views.

And then we saw the other house.  Lukas' house.  Since I do not own photo rights, I have re-created the basic look with a Sharpie:

The other guy painted the beach house black.  BLACK. Like the kind of house you'd want to be in at night in London during The Blitz.  

And the inside?  Again, I am forced to re-create the basic design, but it pretty much resembles this:

White Q-Tip on white paper.  You know.  To give it "texture."
A white interior.  For a beach house.  With kids.  Kids with towels.  And shovels.  And adults with beer.

Sorry.  I'm southsider.  It's all about the beer.  And livability.

I was confident this wasn't even going to be close.

And I was right.

And yet so wrong.

The three judges LOVED the Oreo House with all its European starkness and despair.

They didn't care that little girls and boys would have the home finger-printed and sand-sprinkled in five minutes.  They didn't care how much the neighbors would hate living near a house resembling a fall-out shelter.  They didn't care about regular Americans who, you know, live in regular houses.

They want Americans to be artsy.  Fussy.  And appreciative of light fixtures that can't be dusted.

NBC has officially abandoned its roots of middle America and embraced a European culture of snootiness and impracticality.

Going back to WWII, let's all remember who helped bail out Europe during its darkest hours and who ensured Nazis and ugly-ass light fixtures never took over the world.

That would be brave Americans.

And on the eve of Memorial Day, NBC forgot that and awarded the big prize to a European-styled house that most Americans would hate.

I thank every veteran today for their service.

I will never forget the greatness of our country or the tremendous sacrifices made.

Which is why I will never support a black house absent of hope and beauty anywhere on sea to shining sea.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Best Chicago Grammar Schools - How to Spot Them

In Chicago, the process of selecting a grammar school can be grueling.  There are selective enrollment schools, charter schools, neighborhood schools and private schools.  There are schools that provide countless therapists for kids with IEPs and schools that foster an environment of faith and service.  There are schools that put kids on track for the Ivy League and schools where kids meet their lifelong friends in first grade.

Through my children, I've experienced just about every kind of Chicago school out there.

I've watched in dismay as witch hunts were conducted against principals and teachers.  I've watched politics decide which children receive preference in sports and academia.  I've witnessed scary and aggressive behavior by children that went largely unchecked.  I've seen mismanagement, misdirection, and missed opportunities all around.

Yet on the flip side, I have also experienced the beauty of these same schools.  I've watched parents and staff rally behind those in need.  I have smiled as young athletes develop new skills and gain confidence.  I have enjoyed countless chess tournaments and music concerts where cerebral endeavors are encouraged and celebrated as though they are the Super Bowl. 

I have also cried in the arms of many amazing teachers when my kids struggled.  I have done the Snoopy Happy Dance when these same professionals communicated small victories and strides.

A lot of stress and anxiety goes into picking out a school in Chicago.

So I am here to help.

You need to go to a school during pick-ups or drop-offs and park on the street. 

Then, try to pull back into traffic.

Count how many cars it takes before someone lets you back in.

If you have to wait 10 minutes before a good Samaritan waves you through, that's disappointing.

If the second you click on your turn signal and a mom in a minivan ushers you right in, that is a good sign.

I know it is arbitrary

I know it will not determine the fate of your child's social and academic future.

But for me, having a seamless drop-off is awesome.

Ideally, a school should reflect the priorities of parents.  Not surprising, parents all have different ones.  There will be great teachers at just about any school selected.  There will also be disappointing ones.  There will be enough injustices, aggravation, and miscommunication to keep a mom reaching for her Xanax weekly.

And there will be exemplary moments of community and togetherness. 

Yet in reading up on the long-term academic success of students, there is one factor that stands out above all else.

Having an engaged parent.

I have come to find that being an engaged mom requires folks to let me in at drop-offs.  It's such a small thing.  It means if I volunteer for a field trip or bake sale, I'm not going to be giving the stink eye to the mom who has never once let me in. Parents who allow you to go in front of them are parents who care about kindness and community.  Those kinds of parents often instill those same values in their own children.

When I look at the schools I have loved the best? The ones where I chose to involve myself the most?

Nobody cut me off.

I was allowed in.

It is time to spread the word.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Happy Days

What makes for a happy day for this mother of three?

It doesn't involve Fonzie.

Or even Ralph Mouth.

Click HERE for full story in today's Chicago Parent.

NOT Tiger Woods.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Why Grades Don't Always Matter

I believe in competition, capitalism, and the American way.

I think those who work the hardest and risk it all deserve the biggest pay-offs.  I don't subscribe to everyone getting a trophy.  Emotions are meant to be felt, not blanketed and bubble-wrapped in a magical fairy tale version of childhood.

Kids need to cry.

Then they need to dust themselves off, figure it out, and learn from their failures. 

Despite my wretched and much-maligned Mommy Meanest ideologies, I do not believe in grades.

I know, I know.  It is completely counter-intuitive to everything I stand for.  Why not measure every kid, every class, every grade? Why not dangle little A's out there like golden carrots to keep kids motivated and eager to learn?

I was an A student and I rarely had to work at it.  I smugly blew up the grading curve in countless high school and college classes, and I never once felt an iota of guilt. 

Yet when I look back at how grades influenced my learning, it was clear what actually guided me.  It was not an eagerness to learn.  It was not a desire to develop my critical thinking skills.  Instead, I subscribed to the LIFO theory of educational accounting.

In accounting, there are two ways to measure inventory.  FIFO is first-in-first-out.  The oldest inventory is always the next to go.  Dusty widgets have to be sold before newer widgets.

Contrary to FIFO is LIFO, or last-in-first-out. New widgets have to be sold first.

My entire education was LIFO.  I rammed my brain full of information for the next quiz or exam.  It was all instantly regurgitated and forgotten.  Information had no time to percolate.  Whatever knowledge or insight I was supposed to gain vanished before my number two pencil could hit the desk.

I never considered my LIFO principles problematic until I watched my husband (then-boyfriend) go through paramedic school. Joe would spend hours not only memorizing, but trying to wrap his brain around ideas and concepts. I thought he was wasting his time and encouraged him to get flashcards and make up acronyms.  Just get through the test and let it go.

Joe would just look at me.

And roll his eyes.

Finally, he explained that the information and techniques he was studying were needed for, like, ever.

Being able to assess a gunshot victim, take blood pressure, and administer life-saving drugs requires a level of knowledge and retention that I have never been able to master. 

I have a 10 second memory in a 60 minute world.

Crap.

Not surprisingly, Joe was the valedictorian of his paramedic class.  He is an excellent fireman and medic.  He takes an ongoing interest in new treatments, therapies, and pharmaceutical developments.  He is a proud life-long learner, despite being married to a woman with the attention span of a flea.

When my boys come home with their report cards, I am that rare mother that frowns at straight As.  I want to see struggle.  I want to see effort.  I want to see that they are not just spewing out the latest set of facts assigned to them.

I want them to be life-long learners and not LIFOs.

Now what was I walking about again?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Passing Days & Dandelion Bouquets

With each passing year, I watch as my children grow and mature. I am amazed and proud at how they demonstrate consideration, maturity, and independence. They are truly fantastic boys.

And yet.

I still look back nostalgically on those early years of parenting when my babies' needs were endless and I measured my time in feedings and diaper changes. Exhausted, I would complain to my husband about how much easier things would be once our children slept through the night, were potty-trained, or headed off to school.

Joe would gently suggest that I stop wishing away the days, for they would be gone far too fast.

I never believed him.


Yesterday, my older two sons had a baseball game. As I set up my favorite folding chair, I gave my youngest son, Joey, permission to play at the nearby park.  The dynamics of Little League have always held me rapt, so I was relieved Joey would be distracted with friends, swings, and monkey bars. 

As the game ended, I looked around for "my baby" who was collecting a bouquet of dandelions for Mother's Day.  Joey marched towards me, handed over his offerings, and informed me I was the most beautiful woman he had ever met.

That was when reality hit me like a ton of bricks.

My baby is nearly seven. Seven is the age of reason. Seven is when kids commence rolling their eyes, refusing to cuddle, and criticizing their mothers' wardrobe selections. Seven is when a little boy stops believing his mother is, in fact, the most beautiful woman in the entire world.

Most tragic of all?  Seven year olds rarely pick their mothers dandelion bouquets.

I forced myself to shake off the sadness.  This inevitable evolution of children was beyond my control.  I reminded myself there would still be plenty of wonderful mothering moments ahead.

But in my heart, I cherished my bright bunch of crushed weeds just a little bit longer, and held onto them just a little bit tighter.

For these days did go by far too quickly.

No matter how much I wish they hadn't.

  video

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Secret Decoder Ring for Chicagoans

What does this picture have to do with living in Chicago?  It's complicated.  Find out by clicking HERE for today's Chicago Parent.

Makes me want bacon.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Sea Turtle, Inc. with a Side of Wine Sauce

I am going to lose a lot of followers today, but I feel compelled to tell a story.  So here goes.

I am not an animal person.

There, I said it.

True, as a child, there was a dog I loved completely, but it wasn't until Smokey's death that my ears finally became unclogged.  I was unknowingly allergic, but because I grew up with a four-legged friend, I never understood how good I could feel when one wasn't around.

And cats?

Even worse.

My allergies shoot into hyperdrive if Fluffy simply saunters across my side of the hemisphere, let alone the living room. I can sense a cat from 500 feet.

The irony is most animals love me, even as I gently try nudging them away with my foot and offering a few emphatic words of discouragement.

Words like, "Come near me again, Sparky, and you're barbecue."

KIDDING, PETA.

And NSA.

And mom.

Anyway, last month my family embarked on a road trip to South Padre Island, Texas where we visited the island's famed Sea Turtle, Inc.  The moment we walked in the door, my boys were mesmerized:


We checked out Allison, the only sea turtle to have ever been designed her own prosthetic:


Thanks to one of our hosts, Aunt Patty, who volunteers at Sea Turtle, Inc., we learned a lot.  We listened to how sea turtles face extinction, how a multi-national effort is underway to bring them back, and how tourists muck up the nesting grounds for breeding moms.  She also went on a rant against sea turtle soup, and we quickly understood how often she must have given the same diatribe when we went out to breakfast and a waiter-friend gave her a little ribbing:

For the record, Aunt Patty does NOT love turtle soup.
And then we heard about the hugely awesome Leatherback.  A Leatherback's sole purpose in life is to eat jellyfish.  In helping to keep the jellyfish population under control, the Leatherbacks also ensure countless fish species remain plentiful (jellyfish eat baby fish and fish eggs).  Yet with Leatherback populations at a near historic low, the jellyfish are eating up all the fish.

And then it came back to me.  Because it's always about me.

I LOVE to eat fish.  Catfish. Grouper. Halibut.

Yum yum yum.

I NEEDED to help keep Leatherbacks safe! 

Ironically, when I returned home to Chicago, I read how Mayor Rahm Emanuel has pushed through a plan to phase out plastic bags from stores in Chicago.  At first, I was annoyed.  I hate the new light bulbs I'm forced to buy.  I can't stand the light they emit.  I'm also forced to tell Chicago-hired vendors on a monthly basis what my diet looks like and how my stress is being managed because Chicago thinks that will make me healthy.

So far, it's made me fatter.  I eat when I'm annoyed.

Anyway, I have used these now out-lawed plastic bags for years to wrap up dirty baby diapers, spilled contents, and sucker sticks. I stow them in the car for whenever a kid turns green, like during our aforementioned Texas road trip:

Jack gave me a 30 second warning at which time the cars beside us on the expressway could hear my yelling: "GET 'EM A BAG! GET 'EM A BAG NOW!!!!"

Hardly a drop was spilled because of the amazing powers of the plastic grocery bag.

But then I remembered how often Leatherbacks mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and die because of it.

Maybe I could live in a world without plastic bags.  Because saving one Blackleather sea turtle means really cheap wine sautéed salmon for me.

Did I mention it's all about me?

And that Chicago Lives Healthy crap?  They totally want me eating more fish, too.

So I'm on board with saving the sea turtles. And limiting plastic bags.

And eating more cod.

Take that, PETA.