Monday, December 18, 2006

Stage mothers from hell and their evil spawn

I've written before about my struggles with my inner stage mother. "Hello my name is Jessica and I'm a stage mother." I admit it and I've given myself over to a higher power to assist me in my efforts to talk about things other than my children and their forays into show business.

But my recovery efforts were hampered today because I took A Girl to a shoot for a McDonald's commercial this morning. I thought I could do it - I've been away from other stage mothers for some time now. My husband usually takes her to auditions and jobs and he's able to ignore the stage mothers. He doesn't get involved in the one-upsmanship (one ups-mothership?) that goes on. He reads the paper. He reads a book. He's perfectly comfortable sitting in a room with other people and not actually conversing with them.

I, however, feel compelled to converse. It is my sickness. I must help fill the silence. But when those other people are stage mothers, things can get ugly. I at least half-heartedly try not participate in the competition. I can dish it, when I feel like it. I can talk about the work A Girl does, compare different agents, dish about other stage mothers and just generally talk the talk. But nothing I've experienced before could have prepared me for today. Today I met THE stage mother from hell. And her evil spawn.

A Girl was working with two boys. The mom of the first boy - we'll call him "Al" - was about as close to normal as we stage mothers get. Other than talking about Al (and her three other children in the business) and how "special" he is, she talked about the pool in her backyard, the numerous restaurants her parents own (one of which she used to manage until she quit to be a full-time stage mother) and the mansion her parents lived in before their divorce. The mansion with the movie theater complete with stadium seating. And cup holders.

The second boy - evil spawn - shall be known as "Freak Boy". His mother was quite possibly the most annoying person I have ever met in my 42 years. And I have met some REALLY annoying people. This woman was not even in the same universe as reality. She was so full of shit. Because I want to share my pain, here's a sampling of the things this woman said (and I SERIOUSLY am not making up one word of it):

"I love my son's school. I gave everyone on the staff a three day vacation as a holiday gift from Freak Boy. There are only 65 of them so I thought it would be nice to treat them all to a little vacation." Assuming this is true (and I have little doubt that it's utter bullshit) I can't even begin to articulate how inappropriate it is to do and even more inappropriate to talk about with total strangers.

"My mom isn't feeling well. I bought a vintage mansion in Hyde Park so Freak Boy and I can move in with her. It has 8 bedrooms and 11,000 square feet. Well, that includes the basement which is about 3,000 square feet so we have 8,000 square feet of living space." Um, I can do the math, thanks.

"This will sound corny but I was watching Richie Rich with my son the other night and I realized that kids today need to know about a lot of different things to be successful. Like investments. I want my son to be at a school that has a class in investments for nine year olds." Yeah, I'm pretty sure there aren't any of those. Because it makes NO FUCKING SENSE.

"It's not like we're rich or anything but I find that the other parents at Freak Boy's school don't have the same goals we have as a family. I mean, the other parents voted NOT to have Japanese taught at the school. They just don't understand what it takes to be successful." If it's so important to you and since you apparently have more money than God, I'm sure you can afford a Japanese tutor for Freak Boy. But just because you want it doesn't mean that the PUBLIC SCHOOL your child goes to should pay for it (assuming it can actually afford it).

"My son is in the gifted program at xyz school. He got 99.6% on their gifted test. So that's why I decided to send him to that school. They have an excellent gifted program." Um, ok.

"I told my son that he can't do commercials if he doesn't maintain all A's in school. He's really smart." Yeah, ok.

"I tell my son all the time 'You're a winner!' That's why he's so successful." Really? Wow, that's just stupid.

"I don't want my son to be able to see me while he's working. When he sees me, he tends to over-achieve. He always wants to be the best when I'm around." Actually, he's just trying to get your attention. You apparently are so busy imagining that you're buying mansions and giving inappropriate gifts to the school administration that you forgot to pay attention to your child. I'm totally going to call DCFS on you.

I'm sure you'll believe me when I say that being in the same room with this woman for over an hour was positively excruciating. But because I'm dense and didn't see the warning signs (see especially the last two quotes), I wasn't prepared for Freak Boy.

After the kids were done getting their wardrobe and make up and stuff, the production people were nice enough to allow us to hang out at the back of the set. I was able to indulge myself and take a picture or two (or five, but who's counting) and be there to help A Girl relax during breaks.

In the commercial, the three kids are sitting at a table playing with Happy Meal toys. Not surprisingly, they're supposed to be talking to each other, laughing and showing each other their toys. Instead of playing nice (and being a normal human being), Freak Boy decided it would be more fun to "torment" (his word) my daughter. Despite the fact that the director had to tell him - before, during and after EVERY take - to stop tormenting A Girl so much, Freak Boy didn't let up. The "mom" in the commercial kept saying through clenched yet smiling teeth "Freak Boy, play nice."

During breaks, he wouldn't leave her alone. The kid cannot shut up. He talked back to the director. He talked back to the assistant director. He talked back to the producer. God help me - I wanted to drop kick that kid across the room. All the while, his mother stood there beaming. Positively proud of her evil spawn and his cheeky ass ways.

The other kid was a little better. At least he wasn't tormenting my daughter or talking back to everyone in sight. But every time they took a break, Al ran over to his hand held video game toy and started playing. Every time they wanted the kids back on set, they had to pry that thing out of his hand. His mother stood there, watching this and essentially forcing the assistant director to spend his precious time getting Al to do the work Al was being paid for.

I'm not saying my daughter is perfect and I fully admit that I'm a stage mother. Most likely, I've annoyed more than my fair share of other people. But my husband and I spend a lot of time and effort making sure that A Girl understands the importance of being professional. Virtually everyone who has worked with her has commented on her focus when she's working. She takes direction well. She doesn't goof around and waste people's time. Off the set, she's a normal kid. But when she's working, she's more professional than many adults. If she was bothering someone on set or talking back to the director, she'd hear it from me or her father at the earliest opportunity.

Working with Freak Boy was really hard on her. It made it hard to do her job and that's what really pissed me off. Even more frustrating is that I couldn't do a thing about it. The production people were doing what they could to stop him, he just wasn't listening. He wasn't actually hurting her and I didn't feel that I could step in to demand that he stop annoying my child. It's not my place and would hurt her more than help her. All I could do was keep him away from her during breaks. And that wasn't easy because he appeared to want her attention more than anything. Even more than his mother's attention. Or maybe he figured that was a lost cause.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Travel blogging

Apparently traveling dampens my desire to write. So much for my dream of being a travel writer. Right now I'm my room at the JW Marriott on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C. Nice hotel but I'd rather be at home with my family. Anyway, I figure that I should just force myself to write. My worry when I force myself to write is that what I write will be boring or weird or just plain bad. In our house, when you're afraid of something, you have to do it anyway. So here I go.

On the flight to D.C. I sat next to a 6 foot 4 inch Marine on his way to a conference on new helicopter weapons systems. He's one of the guys responsible for quality control in the aircraft the Marines buy. In my job, when something gets f'd up, I'm prone to saying "Well, nobody died and nobody went to jail so let's not get freaked out." So here's this guy who has a job where when something gets f'd up, people actually do die.

He's new to this particular job and said he still can't get over the fact that the Marines had a contract to pay $9 million for an instruction manual for just one part of the weapons system on one particular helicopter. Then the manufacturer said, "Well, some things have changed so now we have to charge you $18 million for that manual." So tell me - who the hell buys a multi-million dollar helicopter that doesn't actually come WITH the instruction manual?

I usually sit next to interesting people on flights between Chicago and D.C. The last time I was here, on my flight home I sat next to this guy's sister. Ok, so she was kind of an indirectly interesting seat mate - but actually she was really nice and equally as chatty as me. Which is hard to find. Come to think of it, the Marine was particularly chatty too - surprising since I tend to think of Marines as the strong, silent types. Funny how generalizations tend not to fit when you actually talk to someone you've generalized about.

Friday, December 01, 2006

I'm back!

I can't believe our long-awaited vacation has come and gone. I would love to tell you all about our great trip to Maui but jet lag is kicking my butt and I can't blog with my eyes closed. For now, I'll just say that Maui is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been.

We came home on Wednesday to a balmy 60 degree day so the re-entry was smooth. It's a good thing we gave Pele back her lava rock before we left. Otherwise the snowstorm that has virtually shut down O'Hare Airport today probably would have shown up two days early.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

More first grade ficshun

M Girl made up a story for me tonight before bed. I can't recall how we got on the subject of rain and umbrellas but somehow we got to this:

Once there was a man who didn't have an umbrella. He was the only person in the whole universe who didn't have an umbrella. He never went out in the rain and he never bought an umbrella. One day he bought an umbrella and he went out in the rain and he died.

You can see from this story and this story that she has a slightly dark and twisted sense of humor, which I love. (Kind of like Alanis Morissette, I guess.)

Like a good neighbor

Late Friday afternoon we were treated with a torrential, start-building-the-ark, downpour. In keeping with our Murphy's law lives, one of the tires on our car blew out while my husband was taking M Girl to gymnastics. Lucky for us we have AAA but they said it would take two hours before they could get there. And two hours from then was the time A Girl needed to be at the theater where she's performing.

So I left the office a little early, made it home on the bus and contemplated the sheer impossibility of getting a cab to take me to the gymnastics place to pick A Girl up and then take us to the theater. I also contemplated the vast amounts of cash the long cab ride would cost at rush hour. Then I remembered that our neighbors had offered to lend us one of their cars if we ever needed it. Thankfully, they were home and were glad to help.

I drove more carefully than I have ever driven in my life. The last time I can remember driving someone else's car, I got into an accident on a California freeway. (This is something I'm surprised I haven't blogged about - but that's a long post for another day. Suffice it to say that the accident wasn't my fault - really.) Anyway, I drove slowly, not in a rush. I barely even swore at all the crappy drivers on the road! I didn't want my negative driving mojo to infect their car. I picked up A Girl, got her to the theater on time and was happy that the rain was down to a mere drizzle as I made my way home - with the neighbors' car still intact.

I got into our garage and wound my way up to the 9th level where they park. I had a little trouble finding their parking space (I met them in front of my building - I didn't have to get the car out of their space earlier.) Much to my dismay, their space is a bit tight, with a concrete wall on the right and someone's nice little Lexus on the left. Also, their car is a smallish SUV - I've never really driven an SUV so it's hard for me to know exactly how wide the car is. (You know where I'm going with this, don't you.)

I realize how small the space is so I back up, realign the car and slowly start to pull in and then I hear "SCRRRAAPPPPEEE!" from the right side of the car. Holding back tears, I pull back, adjust and pull in again without incident. I (carefully) jump out of the car and run to the other side where I see a huge scratch along the front passenger door. I stare in disbelief. I try to rub it out (yeah, I knew that wasn't going to work.) I briefly contemplate not saying anything and hoping they don't notice. (Yeah, I knew that wasn't going to work either and I enjoy being able to live with myself.)

I nearly start crying in front of the doorman when I leave the keys at the front desk. I ask for paper to leave a note. It says "L & J - Thank you so much for lending me your car. I'm really sorry but I scratched the door. Of course I'll pay to fix it. Please call me." I left a message on the wife's cell phone, amazed at my ability to do so without crying.

They called me around 10 p.m. and they were laughing. Yes, laughing. The husband (whose car it was) said "Are you sure you did that? I got a little scratch on that door awhile ago." Since I would never have called that scratch little, I said "No way. I heard it scrape on the concrete. It's a bad scratch." The wife told me that she's been in so many fender benders in the school parking lot that it's not even funny. She told me to take a look at her car next time I'm in the garage - which didn't make me feel any better because it was her husband's car that I scratched. They were unbelievably nice about it. They said they could care less about scratches on their car and they would let me know if they were going to fix it but in the meantime I shouldn't worry about it.

I felt a little better having talked to them but I couldn't help thinking they might be singing a different tune when they looked at it the next day. It was a serious scratch people!

In the afternoon they called, laughing again (these people laugh a lot). The husband says "Guess what! You scratched the step, not the door. I told you there was already a scratch on the door. There's a black mark on the wall where you scraped by but who gives a [hoot] about the step. Nobody gets the stepped fixed. But if you want to pay to repaint my door, you've got a deal."

Friday, November 10, 2006

Welcome to the neighborhood!

Sarah at Sarah and the Goon Squad wrote a post about her first experience with fall weather. She noted that when she didn't rake her leaves one week, her neighbor came and did it. And that reminded me of this story . . .

When I was a teenager, my dad remarried and we blended two families of three kids into one house (lots of stories for other posts). We moved into our new house at the beginning of the school year, just before the leaves started falling. Our parents thought - well, we have six kids living in this house, they'll rake and mow the lawn as part of their chores. (Yeah, maybe in a parallel universe where they actually had some semblance of control over the children in the house). Anyway, the leaves didn't get raked - for several weeks into the season.

Then one day a note appeared in our mailbox - type written, unsigned - that said: "The leaves from your lawn are blowing all over the neighborhood. Your neighbors spend lots of money maintaining their lawns. A pox on you for messing everything up." Or something like that. Clearly our neighbors weren't as neighborly as Sarah's neighbors!

So the next day my dad hired the landscapers that everyone else in the neighborhood used. (As I mentioned the last time I wrote about this story, it's entirely possible that it was the landscapers that left the note - excellent marketing technique, I might add). Nothing worked on my parents like a little neighborhood peer pressure.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Why I hate February

Here's my entry for this month's Blogging for Books contest. We're supposed to write something about the weather. This is a little difficult to write today because it is a beautiful, sunny and surprisingly warm fall day here in Chicago. But having lived through a few too many Midwest winters, I can summon the painful memories long enough to write this . . .

Why I hate February - specifically.

  • When I was a junior in high school, it got so cold that there was ice on the walls of our house. On the inside. I remember doing my homework in front of the fire with a crocheted blanket on my lap. Kinda like Little House on the Prairie in the suburbs.
  • In college I went to a toga party. Don't ask me why someone had a toga party in February in Michigan. We were 19, and apparently we weren't very bright. So, at this toga party I sprained my ankle. The very next day there was an ice storm. Picture me trying to "walk" on crutches across The Quad, on the ice, with a backpack.
  • In law school, for reasons that are now lost to me, I had to get up at Oh My God O'clock and serve coffee to my fellow law students a few times. One particularly lovely "morning" as I walked to school I felt the tears in my eyes freezing upon contact with the cold wind. When I walked into the over heated building, I felt those tears melting down my cheeks, along with my mascara.
  • Let's go back to college, shall we? Ski trip with the girls up to Boyne Mountain. There's so much damn snow piled up at the side of the road that the streets are no longer wide enough for two cars. When the driver of our car tries to slow down to try to navigate past an oncoming car, the rear of our car slides out into the street and collides with the oncoming car. Not only was the car nearly totalled, one of the girls in the back seat broke her pelvis. Seriously.
  • And finally, have you ever tried to push a 20 pound stroller containing a 10 pound child along a slippery, snowy unplowed sidewalk? How about trying to get that stroller across the street after the plows have been through and there's a foot of snow along the curb? So - don't use a stroller, you might say. Well, it's also not fun carrying your precious child in the Baby Bjorn while attempting to navigate around ice patches and over piles of snow all the while praying that you don't fall over and crush the baby. (Try while dangerously sleep deprived, that's when it's the most terrifying).

Did all these things happen in February, as opposed to January or December? Probably not. But I blame February for all of winter's ills. I like winter in December - it's essential to have a white Christmas. Otherwise how does Santa get his sleigh on your roof? (Forget for a moment that we live in a 50+ story high-rise. "Santa uses magic. That's how.") Also, I'm cool with winter in January. It's a new year, a new beginning. The cool air is rejuvenating and refreshing. Until February. At that point, winter needs to go away, but it hangs on and on and on. And that's why I hate February.

So after reading this, you're probably wondering why the hell I still live in Chicago. Partly because it's a vibrant city with lots of cultural and culinary delights. It's diverse, down to earth and still relatively affordable. But in part, I still live in Chicago because of days like today - sunny, 60 degrees, crisp and beautiful. When the weather is like this, there's no better place to live. So I guess just have suck it up and deal with the winter (at least until we're wealthy enough to be snowbirds).

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

I am not old!

Apparently, my youngest child seems to think announcing her mother's age in public is a good thing. First there was the incident at the zoo and last night there was this:

We were at our local yuppie pizza restaurant for our older daughter's birthday dinner. The waiter (who my younger daughter started calling "Hungry Guy" because he kept begging her for a bite of her pizza) was guessing how old A Girl was. He said, "I know! You're 45!" and M Girl says (loudly, of course and pointing right at me) "No, but my mom's almost 45!" Cue embarrassed laughter from everyone in the restaurant.

It's not that I'm embarrassed about my age. I'm not - if you ask me, I'll tell you that I'm 42 and that I earned every gray hair that I haven't managed to cover with highlights. But I don't necessarily want to call it to the attention of the patrons of random restaurants and food courts across the city. But that's just me.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Lowest common denominator

I was reading about this case (Brown v. Card Service Center). Since most of you would likely rather get hit by a truck than read judicial decisions, here's what it says in a nutshell:

If I owe on an account that has been referred to a debt collector (meaning it's way over due) the debt collector can't tell me "If you don't make arrangements to pay us within 7 days, we could sue you." It's not that the debt collector has no right to sue. It does. It's because the debt collector probably won't sue (since it's really expensive and doesn't make sense unless I owe a lot of money). And debt collectors aren't allowed to make false and misleading statements. This lawsuit was filed under a law that was meant to prevent debt collectors from threatening to break people's kneecaps and from doing stuff like bang on people's doors in the middle of the night or take their cars without notice. It wasn't (in my view) meant to prevent debt collectors from warning people about the potential consequences of failing to pay their debts.

Outside of the fact that it shouldn't be illegal to remind someone that they could get sued for failing to pay what they owe, what really bugs me about this case is that the court said that debt collectors can't assume that the debtor is a "reasonable" person. They have to assume that the debtor is the "least sophisticated" person. What this means is that, in addition to trying to figure out how to get deadbeats to pay their bills, debt collectors also have to figure out how stupid their stupidest debtor is and tailor their collection letters to that person.

So, in the interest of helping these debt collectors*, I've written a collection letter tailored to fit the court's decision:

See Jane. See the bank. See Jane borrow money from the bank. See Jane spend the money. Spend Jane! Spend!

See the bank ask Jane to pay the money back. Ask nicely bank! Jane did not pay the money back. Bad Jane. What will the bank do?

The bank will write a letter to Jane. The bank will remind Jane nicely. See Jane ignore the letter! Poor bank.

Bank will tell other banks that Jane is a bad person. Jane will not be able to buy a house. Jane will not be able to buy a car. Jane will not be able to buy a pot to piss in. Poor Jane.

*During one semester of law school, I worked for the U.S. Attorney's office and my main project was getting certain people (farmers and former medical students mostly) to pay back debts they owed to the government. These were not people who couldn't pay back their debt. These were people who didn't want to pay back their debt and did all kinds of crappy shit to avoid paying their debt. Lucky for the government, it has the resources of the U.S. Attorney to collect debts. Credit card companies and banks have to find other ways of collecting legitimate debts. Don't give me any "big business" crap - just because someone borrows money from a big company (or the "big" government) doesn't make failing to pay legitimate debts right. And it is plain stupid to make companies assume that everyone they're dealing with is a moron that can't understand the importance of paying back debt.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Thrursday Thirteen - Cincinnati version

1. I'm sitting in a conference room with a view. Thank God because there are few things worse than a windowless conference room. The bad thing about most business travel is that you don't get to see the places you travel. At least I feel like I'm able to enjoy something real about Cincinnati even if it is just a small view through a window.

2. The office building I'm in appears to have been dropped into the middle of a residential neighborhood. I'm used to views of high rises so this is a nice change of pace.

3. In the rain, most of the trees still look mostly green but there is one lone tree that is defiantly dark red.

4. If I was an architecture buff, I could tell you the style of the homes in the neighborhood across the street. On the right ride are older houses that look kind of like farm houses but without the farms.

5. On the left side the houses are all nearly identical brick rectangles. The only difference appears to be the color of the brick. Some are light brown, some are dark. I live in a high rise and those things tend to be the epitome of cookie cutter. And here I am wrinkling my nose at cookie cutter houses.

6. I'm clearly a hypocrite.

7. I can see a church steeple over the trees not too far in the distance. Beyond that are tree covered hills rising in the mist. It's very peaceful.

8. But I'm in a conference room listening to a relatively boring discussion about option trading strategies. I'm trying to look like in taking detailed notes of the meeting.

9. I wonder if anyone even imagines that I'm actually blogging. I also wonder if many of them even know what a blog is.

10. We had dinner last night in a private room at The Phoenix. It's actually called a "gentleman's club" which just generally cracks me up. If it wasn't so archaic, I'd be offended.

11. Just in case you were wondering, there were no lap dances. It's not that kind of a gentleman's club.

12. The meeting's almost over. Now they're talking about legal issues which is my thing. That just means I don't have to work as hard to listen while I try to think about what I'm writing.

13. Now that the meeting's over, I can eat lunch and look out the window. And I don't have to be surreptitious about it.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

I've been brought to tears but . . .

I'm in Cincinnati right now. I wish I wasn't here. Not that it isn't a nice town (it's actually much lovelier than I expected) but I would really rather be home. Anyway . . .

I have a question for you, Internet (and I don't mean to be blasphemous or anything, I'm being serious here) - what does it mean to bring someone "to the Lord"? I'm asking because I sat next to a perfectly lovely woman on the plane. She was telling me about her visit with her grand kids in Florida and then she said "And then I got to bring my two grandsons to the Lord. And it was just a double blessing." And then she sat back and smiled at me in a way that clearly indicated that she thought I would know what she was talking about. I've heard about people "going to the Lord" when they're dead. I'm certain that she didn't mean that she killed her grandsons. She said the two boys are 14 and 18 - does it mean they were baptized?

I'm not anti-religion, but I'm not religious. Spiritual, yes. Religious, no. You can tell from this post that there's not a lot of talk about God in our house. Maybe I'm sensitive about it, but religious people seem to talk about religion to perfect strangers as if they expect that person to be as religious as they are. This woman is from Arkansas so there's a good chance that many of the people she comes across near her home are Christian. So maybe it's not such a stretch for her to imagine that the person she's speaking to is Christian as well. To be honest, I was really worried that the next thing out of her mouth was going to be "Have you accepted the Lord, Jesus Christ into your life?" I don't know what I would have done except thank the Lord (no pun intended) that it was only a 45 minute flight.

Monday, October 16, 2006

It's contagious

Me to my six-year old: Your breath is a little oniony. Did you eat tuna salad today?

M Girl: No, but A Girl did.

Me: Um - onion breath isn't contagious.

M Girl: Let me smell your breath.

Me: Haaaa (exhaling in the general direction of her nose)

M Girl: Mmmm - broccoli.

Me: I didn't eat any broccoli today.

M Girl: But Daddy did.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

First grade ficshun

We went to the parent open-house at the kids' school last night and got to read our first grader's writing. I just had to share her first attempt at fiction (or ficshun, as she wrote it). I wish I could do it with her phonetic spelling but we couldn't take her journal home just yet and I can't really remember how she did it, so you'll just have to imagine it.

Once I was on an airplane. It was really windy out. When I opened the door I fell out but I had a parachute. Then the pilot fell out. He didn't have a parachute.

Maybe I'm just weird but I love that story. Even funnier - her older sister, upon hearing the story said "So what happened to the pilot?" (Apparently, she likes to have things tied up nicely.) M Girl said, matter of factly, "He hit the sidewalk and cracked his head." Her sister said "That's gross." So M Girl said "Ok, he fell on the sidewalk and broke his arm and got a cast." Talk about censorship!

In other writing news, our fourth grader's class had a project where they had to write the most important things about themselves. Our daughter wrote "The most important thing about me is that I have a great younger sister. She's really generous. Also, I have blue eyes and really white skin and I LOVE to sing." How sweet is it that she thinks the most important thing about her is her sister? I'm totally saving that to show her when she's a teenager and she wants to rip her sister's head off.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Shadow of a Girl - Blogging for Books

It's that time again folks. What time, you ask? Why, it's Blogging for Books time!

The Zero Boss says:

For this month’s Blogging for Books contest, create an entry on one of the following themes:

  • A tale of a Halloween past, either from your own childhood or from your experience as a parent;
  • A “ghost story”, either real or sprung from your imagination;
  • Any time in your life when you were frightened out of your skull.

So here's my entry and it's called Shadow of a Girl.

She’s been on the corner of Madison and LaSalle, slumped incongruously in front of the ornamental cornices of the bank for as long as I can remember. Even though I saw her everyday, I didn't really see her. I saw her the way you see the No Parking sign you walk by on the way to work. You don't take note of it or think about it. You just keep going where you're going.

Today I stopped and looked at her. I don't know why I did. There didn't appear to be anything different about her that made me take notice. The same ratty, brown coat was pulled up around her neck. Her head was bowed but her eyes were turned up, as if she was afraid she’d get punished for looking at other people. I pulled a few coins from my purse and tossed them in the old coffee cup forever gripped in her small hand. Despite the rush hour foot traffic, mine were the only coins in the cup. I stood, riveted. And then, without moving, she began to speak.

“I'm invisible,” she said, her voice surprisingly clear and light. “Sometimes I wonder if I'm real. Then someone puts a coin in my cup and I know I’m still here. Sometimes I want to shout, “Look at me!” but I don't. It’s not good to draw attention to yourself. Only the crazy ones do that and I'm not crazy. Mostly I just sit and watch people walk by.” I swallowed the guilt and fought the urge to walk away.

She continued to talk, still hunched over. “Sometimes I walk around. If I find a good fare card on the ground, I ride the bus. I just take the first bus that comes along and I ride it until they go back to the garage and chase me away. Or until I have to go to the bathroom, whichever comes first. I don’t like to ride the trains. I don't want to go underground. It's dark and it smells funny. It's not a good place for girls like me. The crazy ones ride the trains and I'm not crazy.”

She shifted slightly and lifted her head, just a bit, as if she was just realizing that I was still there but she didn’t want to scare me away. I nodded to let her know she could keep talking.

“The night I left my sister's house I rode the train. I had nowhere to go and it was cold so I just went down in the subway and got on a train. When I first got on, there were a lot of people. I rode for a long time. I don’t know how long.

“I fell asleep and woke up to the smell of piss and booze. This guy with a stringy beard was pushing on me and breathing heavy, grabbing at me. I could barely breathe; he was heavy and smelled like a toilet. I pushed him away and tried to run but there was nowhere to go and no one there to help me. I banged on the door to the next car. I screamed as loud as I could but no one paid attention. The train is real loud. He grabbed me and pulled me to the floor. I hit him as hard as I could, slapped him in the face. He was grunting and pulling on me trying to get on top of me. When the train finally stopped, I kicked him hard. He rolled off long enough for me to get to the open doors. I ran away, off the platform, down the stairs, through the gate and into the street. I ran as fast and as far as I could until I couldn’t breathe. I walked until I found a doorway to a store and I sat down.” She took a breath and looked away from me. “That's the first night I slept on the street.”

She continued to look away from me, breathing heavily, but I didn't move. After a minute, she looked back at me, unsure. “Go on,” I said. “I'm listening.”

“My older sister had an apartment uptown. I used to sleep there on her couch. She had a TV and I would watch cartoons with her kids. I like cartoons, especially Sponge Bob. He’s crazy, Sponge Bob.” She laughed quietly and I could make out the faint outline of the girl she used to be.

“But her boyfriend? He didn't like me much. Said I was mooching and I was trash. Hit me once right here on my face. Real hard. His ring cut me. See the scar?” She pushed the hair off of her face, turning her left check towards me. I had to squat down to get close enough. She smelled like the alleys she surely slept in and I fought back the wave of nausea that hit me. There was a two-inch raised scar running from her prominent cheek bone to the bottom of her jaw. I sat down next to her, trying not to notice the passersby looking at me, puzzled. It must have looked odd – a middle-aged woman in a pantsuit and heels sitting cross-legged next to a homeless girl. I felt conspicuous while I sat with someone who felt invisible.

“My sister didn't want to get in the middle of it, said she had enough problems of her own so I left. I didn’t go back anymore. I don’t want to cause trouble.” She studied my face for a moment before she went on.

“I lived with my Momma before I went to live at my sister's. We had an apartment and I had my own bedroom. It had pink walls. I had a lamp that was pink, too. I like pink. It's a happy color.” A small smile and then the shadow of the girl she was faded as quickly as it came.

“It was just me and Momma after my sister left. Daddy died when I was three. Shot by a guy robbing his store. Momma got the insurance money but it wasn't enough so she got work as a cashier at the grocery store. After my sister left, Momma got married. Momma said we needed someone to take care of us; she didn't want to work anymore. She married a mechanic who lived down the block from us. He was fat and smelled like grease and beer. He was always sweaty. His hands were dirty; he could never wash the grease off. Whenever I came home from school, he was sitting on the couch watching T.V. He made me nervous so I spent a lot of time in my room.

“I remember one night I woke up and he was touching me. I screamed for Momma and she made him get out of my room. But the next day she said she didn’t want me around anymore. Said I was trying to steal her husband. Said I was a slut and I should go live on the street with the other sluts. That’s when I went to my sister's. I was 15.” She turned to me, looking at my eyes.

“Thank you for listening,” she said softly.
“I can listen some more, if you'd like.”

She nodded, looking down again. “After I left my sister’s, I tried staying at the shelter but I didn’t like it. It was too crowded. I had to share a room with these people. They took my stuff all the time. No manners. They're all crazy. I'm not crazy and I don't want to live with crazy people. The workers at the shelter, they tried to get me to go back to Momma’s. Momma said she wanted me back but I figure she just said that ‘cause she would look bad if she didn’t. He was still there so I didn’t want to go back. I can’t go back. Anyway, it’s better to just stay out here. I’m no bother to anybody. I keep to myself mostly.”

“Where do you sleep?” The question popped into my head and out of my mouth before I could stop it.
“In the park, under a tree.”
“Where? Grant Park?” Why in the world was I asking?
“Yeah. Do you want to see? I’d like to show you.” She said this and looked at me, smiling for the first time. It was as if she was going to show me her pretty pink room with the pink lamp.

As we stood up and I brushed the dirt off my suit I wondered whether I had lost my mind. Why in the world was I about to follow a homeless girl into Grant Park in the middle of a work day morning? I wasn’t the least bit concerned about my safety which I knew was crazy. Somehow I was drawn to her and knew I needed to go.

We walked the three blocks to the entrance of the park in silence. I followed her off the sidewalk and onto the grass. We walked to a cluster of oak trees rising above a set of park benches just off a path down to the lake. She stopped in front of the benches and pointed beneath the trees. I walked past her, around the bench and looked at the pile of blankets and crumpled plastic bags. Suddenly I knew why I was there. I knew before I saw the fingers sticking out from under the pile. I turned to look at the girl and wasn’t surprised when she was nowhere in sight. I pulled back the blankets. She looked like she was sleeping. She would have looked peaceful but for the familiar, jagged scar on her left cheek. I lifted her small wrist and searched for a pulse I knew I wouldn’t find.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Sorry John Lennon - sometimes, love isn't the answer

I was reading this post by Landismom over at Bumblebee Sweet Potato and it got me thinking about the idea of diplomacy vs. the use of force.

First let me say this - I'm not a fan of war. I think the loss of life and waste of resources is horrible and sad. I would love it if the concept of the United Nations actually worked. Representatives of every country sit in a room and talk out issues and war is prevented. Wouldn't that be nice? But I'm realistic enough to know that there are times when a show of force, or even a full-scale war, is necessary. Sometimes you're faced with an enemy who isn't interested in talking. You can't (and shouldn't) always turn the other cheek when you're attacked or threatened. Sometimes, force is necessary.

If your child was being bullied and the bully wasn't willing to resolve things peacefully, how would you tell your child to react? I used to agree with the phrase "Violence never solved anything." But when my little brother was being bullied at school, and all attempts at playground diplomacy failed, my brother (at my dad's suggestion) punched the bully in the mouth. Voila - no more bullying. Sometimes, violence is necessary to STOP violence. Or, said another way - violence begets violence. The bully started it, my brother responded.

Similarly, look at what happened with Israel and Lebanon. Lebanon allowed Hezbollah free reign inside the country (kind of like my brother's school allowed the bully to push other kids around on the playground). Hezbollah had its own army and was openly threatening Israel. Israel kept warning Lebanon but Lebanon (like my brother's teacher) pretty much said "Well, there's not really anything we can do about it." And then Hezbollah started sending it's army into Israel, taking hostages and killing innocent people. So - should Israel have continued to try to talk to Hezbollah while Israel's citizens and soldiers were being kidnapped and killed? Should Israel have begged the Lebanese government to do something about a problem that the government had been unable or unwilling to deal with? Most importantly, how can diplomacy work in that situation where Hezbollah and their ilk refuse to acknowledge that Israel even has a right to exist? The ONLY thing that stopped Hezbollah (at least for the time being) was war.

I'm not going to express an opinion one way or another about the Iraq war mostly because I simply don't have enough facts to argue with the all-knowing Internet on the topic. (I probably don't have enough facts to argue the Israel/Hezbollah issue, either. But that seemed to be a pretty clear cut issue to me.) In all honesty, I don't know whether we did the right thing in Iraq.

But I feel very strongly that you can't negotiate with terrorists. We can't play by one set of rules (talk nicely and don't hit) against a team that plays by a different set of rules (it's perfectly okay to kill someone who doesn't agree with you) and expect to come out of it alive and well.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Communication, or lack thereof

A note to my daughter’s first grade teacher:

We have been dropping our daughter off at school on time (admittedly, maybe a bit close to the wire sometimes, but still on time). Until you sent the school administration to talk to us, we had no idea that she had been late for class several times. Now that we think about it, we realize that she tends to be a bit slow in the morning and perhaps it’s taking her several minutes to put her backpack away and get herself situated. Now we know – we need to get her to school five minutes earlier. Problem solved.

But, in the future, if you have a problem with something we’re doing – or not doing – it would be really nice if you spoke to us first (or sent a note home or sent an email). Bringing this to the attention of the school administration and having them talk to us makes it seem like we haven’t been cooperating with you. That kind of escalation was totally unnecessary and really pissed me off.

If you had bothered to communicate with us directly, I think you would have found us to be very cooperative. Apologetic, even. Now we feel blindsided and a little defensive (although my husband did send you a nice email apologizing and assuring you that we would get her there on time from now on). I really, really wanted to come in and talk to you this morning. And ask you how you would feel if I went directly to the administration with a classroom issue instead of talking to you first. But my husband talked me off that particular ledge, pointing out that you’d probably interpret it as a threat. (Plus I'm PMSing and it would have come out all wrong and bitchy and would just have made the situation worse so thank god for my husband and his rational thinking.)

Instead, my husband went back to the administrator he spoke with yesterday. He explained that you had never spoken to us about this. He voiced our concerns that the administration would think of us as uncooperative “scofflaws” who don’t care to get our kids to school on time. She had no idea that you hadn't talked to us first and she told us that you gave her the impression that we were regularly getting our daughter to school very late. Thankfully, the administrator was very nice. She knows us and knows that we care very much about our daughters’ education. She knows that we make every effort to follow the rules and work with the school when there are issues.

It’s too bad that you didn't give us a chance to show you that.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Kids and food

Sheryl at Paper Napkin followed up on my post from yesterday where I talked about the childhood obesity epidemic.

Sheryl asks the Internet in general: How often do you let your kids eat candy, dessert or sugared cereal? Do you take them to McDonald's, and let them eat chips? How often do you let them drink soda? Do you let them snack in between meals? How much TV do you let them watch? Do you encourage them to exercise a certain period each day? Do you make sure they're involved in sports? How much time do let them spend on the computer or in front of the TV? My inquiring mind wants to know.

Since my comment to her post got way, way too long, I figured it would be better to do a post of my own.

I had an eating disorder as a teenager/20-something. I'm very concerned about NOT passing on that legacy to the girls so we try hard not to make food a bad issue. A recent article in the WSJ talked about the influence mothers have on their children's attitudes towards food and weight. As if I needed more pressure . . .

We also have another issue - my husband is diabetic. Not because he's overweight - it's a genetic issue because his mother also had diabetes. That means that our children are significantly predisposed to diabetes later in life. We're very concerned about helping them be healthy children who grow into healthy adults. We have extra reason to limit the amount of sugar and carbs the kids eat.

We're big proponents of moderation. We figure that if we're too strict, the kids are more likely to rebel when they're away from us or become "sneak" eaters. If they eat healthy foods most of the time and get plenty of exercise, eating dessert a few times a week is perfectly ok.

They get mid-morning snacks at school and an afternoon snack (mostly because we generally don't eat dinner until after 6:30 p.m.) Snacks are yogurt, fruit, goldfish crackers, baby carrots with dip, a small bowl of cheerios, Fig Newtons, pretzels, small granola bars or Nutrigrain bars - apples with peanut butter is a big fave. For lunch my six-year old has been eating two slices of sandwich meat (no bread) with Triscuit crackers, baby carrots and fruit. My 8 year old usually has 1/2 of a sandwich with carrots and fruit.

Studies have shown that eating several small "meals" a day is better than eating three big meals. They have a good breakfast, a small lunch, two small snacks and a good dinner. Sometimes they're hungry before bed and we'll give them some fruit or cheese.

For breakfast we rotate oatmeal (the real kind, not the sugary instant kind), cream of wheat, eggs, cereal and yogurt or cottage cheese with fruit. We almost always have toast with cream cheese or peanut butter and we usually have sausages or bacon. On Sundays, my husband makes us the best pancakes in the world. (Seriously. They're the best. Ever since he started making them, I won't ever order pancakes when we're eating out because they simply pale by comparison to his homemade.)

We don't have dessert every night - maybe a couple times a week or on special occasions. (Like last night - Cold Stone Creamery had free ice cream. Free ice cream is always a special occasion.) When we have dessert, we have relatively small portions. And certain fruits count as dessert - like mango or pineapple - because they're special. My husband sometimes makes fruit smoothies (that we call "fruit soup"). When they get candy in goody bags or on Easter or Halloween, we put some of it away in bags that we keep on top of the fridge. Sometimes dessert is one thing from those bags - often it's a piece of chocolate or a lolly-pop. That's the kind of stuff that some people give their kids every day. But for our kids, it's a treat so they don't expect to have it every day. There's no sense of entitlement to sugar in our house.

We never have soda at home. Sometimes, at birthday parties or on airplanes, the kids get a little bit of Sprite as a treat - that happens maybe twice a year. Otherwise, no soda. This article talks about one of the studies showing how bad soda is for kids. Studies have also shown that drinking diet sodas can increase cravings for calories - apparently the sweet taste of the soda, unaccompanied by calories, triggers a craving. So, basically, any soda is bad for you. (Which stinks because I used to love Diet Coke). Juice is mostly sugar water and milk isn't necessarily good for you if you get sufficient calcium elsewhere. We drink water, almost exclusively.

Dinner is sometimes tough - I'm no June Cleaver and although my husband is a good cook, it's hard to find the time. We do pasta and meat sauce (ground turkey instead of beef), pork chops or ribs, soup, Hamburger Helper, Boboli pizza, roasted chicken from the grocery store, ground turkey with beans, mac n' cheese with chicken nuggets or Tombstone pizza (those last two are kind of last resort dinners when there's no time or nothing in the fridge). In the winter we make chili in the crock pot and eat leftovers for a few days. It's not gourmet stuff but it's fairly healthy and leaves us with time to sit at the table and talk to the kids.

I think the availability of Snack Well foods contributes to America's obesity epidemic - when SnackWell fat-free foods were introduced, Americans got the idea that so long as something was fat-free, it could be eaten with out limit. Now the craze is low-carb diets. Anything low-carb has to be good for you - right? An Australian friend once said to me, "Americans are weird about food. They eat all this horrible "diet" food and avoid the good stuff but they're still fat. Why don't Americans just eat the good stuff but eat less of it?"

As Sheryl points out, though, it's hard to know how much of the "good" stuff (as in, not so healthy but really tasty) is too much. With Supersized meals and outrageously large restaurant portions, Americans don't have a sense of appropriate portion sizing. I'm as guilty of that as anyone - I have a tendency to put too much food on the kids' plates (and my own!). If we're hungry, we'll eat so fast that our brains don't get the message from our stomachs that we're full before it's too late. We'll eat all the food on our plates and then realize we ate too much. Do that enough and you'll adjust to bigger portion sizes. My husband has helped me with this issue by suggesting that I visualize the size of their tummies and look at the food on the plate - the food on the plate taken as a whole shouldn't be a whole lot bigger than their tummies. We also try to remind each other not to eat fast.

We make sure that both girls have at least one after school activity that's physical, like gymnastics. On occasion we exercise as a family - this summer my husband took the girls to the park a lot to practice hitting and throwing a baseball, kicking a soccer ball, tennis and running. Living in the city, it's a little more difficult to get them outside play time because they can't just run out the back door and play with the neighbors like we did when we were young. You have to plan for it and an adult has to be around, which can be tough. We have a pool in our building and go swimming a lot.

TV and computer time varies - so long as they're getting enough exercise and spending time doing other things - practicing the piano, homework, etc. - then they can watch TV when they want to. If we think they're watching too much, we'll tell them to turn it off and go play with something. And they do. It just isn't really an issue most of the time. Also, our punishment of choice is to take away TV and computer time (and sugar) so there are times when they don't get to watch at all, which is just as well.

So, Sheryl, I don't know if this helps at all. There's no magic formula, unfortunately. As I said above, the bottom line is moderation. Lots of the healthy foods with a small amount of treats. Since my kids were toddlers, I've said to them "What's mommy and daddy's most important job?" And they learned to answer, "To keep me safe and healthy and to teach me stuff." After that, they don't fight us when we say "No dessert tonight, we had some yesterday." or "You've had enough mac n' cheese. How about some fruit?" Maybe someday they'll be using the same line with their kids!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Thursday Thirteen - Poor Parenting Edition

Thirteen of Jessica's rants about poor parenting
(Warning - this is totally judgmental so if you don't like stuff like that, don't read on).

1. Before I rant about bad parenting, let me say that I am far from a perfect parent. Some of the things I'm going to rant about, I've been guilty of myself. But I'm trying to learn from my mistakes. Some of these parents won't even acknowledge that any of this is their responsibility.

2. Here's a link to a big story in Chicago today. A five-year old girl died after being sedated at the dentist's office. My first thought was - what kind of dentist sedates a child? Apparently, according to my dentist, it's done all the time. Even by the best pediatric dentists. This is because it's hard to do dental work on a squirming child and because they don't want the kids to be afraid to come to the dentist later. Fine. But why in the world are a child's baby teeth in such bad shape that they have cavities to be filled and they need caps?

3. So my rant is this - way too many parents abdicate their responsibility for their kids' dental health. This was a totally preventable death - not because she should have been better monitored while she was under sedation (she should have). But because she should never have been put in the position to need sedation in the first place! There is no reason for a child's teeth to be that bad. My dentist said it happens because parents put their babies to sleep with a bottle of milk. What the f***? Unless you're a street person or illiterate, you KNOW how important dental health is. Every baby care book says you should not let your child sleep with a bottle in her mouth - not only is it bad for the developing baby teeth, it's a choking hazard!

4. Which leads me to my next rant - the childhood obesity epidemic. The FTC is inclined to blame, at least in part, the significant number of advertisements for crap food that are geared to kids. News flash - it's not the ads that are making kids fat! It's the food they are allowed to eat that makes them fat. Parents have to take responsibility for teaching their kids good nutrition and not letting them eat junk all the time just because they want it.

5. My kids watch Spongebob, they see the same ads but they aren't obese. Why? Because we don't let them eat crap every day. They eat good food and learn about good nutrition at HOME so they can make good choices when we're NOT around. At least most of the time. They have desert a few times a week. We let them have candy occasionally. We don't want them bingeing on sugar elsewhere because they never get it at home. In fact, I'm having an easier time controlling my own weight because I'm trying to model good eating habits for the kids. Given the adult obesity epidemic, it wouldn't hurt the parents to eat better, too!

6. We go to McDonalds and other fast food restaurants on occasion. I don't have anything against it in moderation. However, when we go, all four of us split one medium order of fries. (Credit goes to my husband for that - given my absolute love of McDonalds fries, I wouldn't have been the one to suggest it!) Our kids get chocolate milk (usually - sometimes low sugar lemonade) and we never get soda. We never, ever supersize anything. It really makes me mad when I see children - CHILDREN - eating a supersize meal. Or walking around drinking a Big Gulp of soda. There is really no reason for that.

7. While we're on the subject of food - allowing your child to bring sugar to school for a mid-morning snack is not a smart choice. A sugar coated granola bar is NOT a healthy snack. Neither is a bag of potato chips. Same thing for M&Ms. Really. Not healthy. Every year the teachers beg the parents to give their kids healthy snacks - do these parents seriously not understand what that means?

8. Also, allowing kids to eat sugar cereal every morning is not good. Our kids get cereal maybe once a week. (Although - truth be told - if it weren't for my husband making a good breakfast virtually every morning, I would probably give them cereal way too often). Kids need a good breakfast. Too many adults don't eat breakfast and then they say "My kid isn't a breakfast eater." Gee, I wonder why. Moreover, kids need some protein in the morning to keep their energy level constant until lunch. Sugar (cereal, donuts, sweet rolls and juice) in the morning will give them a burst of energy for an hour and then they get the “sugar bounce” resulting in a loss of energy and ability to concentrate. How many studies need to be done that show that kids who eat a good breakfast perform better in school to get parents to understand the importance of this issue?

9. On to another rant - I've talked about this before but it really bothers me when parents take no responsibility to teach their children appropriate behavior. I realize that five year old boys can't be expected to sit still all day. I know that they - and many girls, as well - like to run around and might play rough sometimes. However, if you allow your child to hurt another child without correcting your child, you are abdicating your responsibility. I've controlled myself in the past but if I ever hear another mother justify her son's bad behavior by saying "boys will be boys", I will have to bitch slap her

10. Similarly, it drives me nuts when parents don't teach their kids to apologize. Kids who don't learn to apologize grow up to be adults who don't know how to apologize.

11. Basically, I have a hard time with parents who don't take responsibility for teaching their children. This applies to everything from being able to respond when someone says hello to them (even a child as young as three or four is capable of saying "Hello") to putting on their own clothes to eating well. These are learned skills. Although most schools have a unit or two in nutrition it isn't the school's responsibility to maintain your child's health. And the schools can only do so much to teach kids proper behavior. If the lessons aren't being reinforced at home, they won't be learned. Bottom line - parents are responsible for teaching their children, no matter how hard it is. Ultimately, we all pay for the poor health of other people and their children. Our insurance premiums and health care costs go up. Productivity goes down. It isn't just a personal issue - it's a societal issue.

12. Let me say again that I'm not the best parent in the world. I credit my husband with teaching me to be a good parent. Actually, more than a good parent - an effective parent. It isn't enough to love your kids. That, for most of us, comes naturally. It's the other stuff that isn't easy - denying them dessert despite the begging, telling them that no, they can't have Spongebob marshmallow cereal every day for breakfast. Disciplining them when they behave badly even though - gasp! - it means they won't get to watch TV for a week. (Try that one as a punishment - it's surprisingly effective AND it's good for them.)

13. One of our favorite quotes is from the movie Parenthood. "You know, Mrs. Buckman, you need a license to buy a dog, to drive a car - hell, you even need a license to catch a fish. But they'll let any butt-reaming asshole be a father." I know as well as anyone that babies don't come with an instruction manual. We all have to do the best we can, sometimes on little sleep, sometimes with not enough money or other resources. But there's not one thing I've mentioned in this post that isn't obvious - either from reading the most basic baby care book or the newspaper or just from having common sense.

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Monday, September 25, 2006

Out of pocket

I was reading this post by Sheryl over at the ever-insightful and funny Paper Napkin and it made me think of a story that was in the Chicago Tribune this weekend. Apparently, the father of a high school student was peeved that his daughter wasn't good enough to make the volleyball team. He says the school should either have a no-cut policy and let everyone on the team who wants to play or they should provide intra-mural teams. Sheryl's post talked about books being "banned" from libraries and she points out that just because a book is not available at your public library doesn't mean you can't get it through other sources.

See the theme here? Just because you want something, doesn't mean it should be free to you. The "public" (read - taxpayers like me) shouldn't have to fund this one girl's desire to play volleyball and check Judy Blume books out from the school library. (Note: I read all the Judy Blume books and think they're wonderful but if a particular school district decides that those books aren't appropriate for their school library, those interested in reading them can buy them or borrow them.)

Clearly, certain people think that the "public" should support the things in which they want to participate. There are people who think the public library should stock books they like - even if, as Sheryl points out, a group of purportedly rational adults has decided that they don't wish to provide those books. It doesn't mean those books aren't available on or from your neighbor or another library. Similarly, there's nothing stopping the girl who likes volleyball from trying to drum up enough interest to start a volleyball club after school. If there is enough interest, they might find a teacher or coach willing to work with them. If her father really wants to provide her with an opportunity to play volleyball or any other sport, he can enroll her in classes outside of school or hire a coach to work with her until she's good enough to make the team.

Before you assert that I'm against the first amendment because I support the banning of books, read Sheryl's post. I agree with her point - the fact that the public library in your town doesn't carry a particular book doesn't mean it's been banned. If the government burned all the available copies of a book and jailed anyone who sold or read it, THAT would be banning a book. And THAT would be a violation of the 1st amendment (among other amendments, laws, rules, regulations and just plain old human decency).

And although I think all kids should participate in sports, I don't think that all kids should be allowed to be on the team of their choice regardless of their level of ability. Just because I want more than anything to be a Rockette doesn't mean the Rockettes will allow my jiggly butt to dance across their pretty stage. That's life. We don't all get to do what we want to do. We only do our kids a disservice if we pretend otherwise. Again - I'm not saying this girl should give up her dream of playing beach volleyball with Kerri Walsh. I'm only suggesting that her local high school doesn't have to fund her attempt to get better at the game.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The danger of "reply all"

Dear assistant to our daughter's choir director:

If you're going to say something snarky about a child's parents in an email to your boss, you should make sure the child's parents aren't cc'd on your email.

And also, you shouldn't make assumptions about said child's parents based on the comments of a person who lost the child's paperwork and failed to notify the child's parents about the first choir practice until 15 minutes before the first choir practice started (and only because the parents called to ask when choir was starting). Because, you know what? The parents are perfectly justified in being a bit pissed off that the paperwork was lost and that they had to drive like maniacs in rush hour traffic in an unsuccessful attempt to get their child to practice on time.

And also, they had been told by two people over the summer that there was no need for their child to re-audition for the choir. It isn't surprising that they were a bit taken aback when they were told that their child, in fact, needed to re-audition and had missed the auditions. It isn't because the parents think their daughter is too good to be required to audition. They would have been glad to have her re-audition. If they had been told. But they weren't because the paperwork was never sent to them.

If you can't make allowances for our daughter to leave practice early a few times (because she's performing in a professional theater production with a major Chicago theater and has little control over her schedule), that's ok. Rules are rules and we understand that our daughter can't always do everything she'd like to do. There's no need to be mean just because we asked for permission to put choir second to another activity. We probably could have just done it - just pulled her out of practice early and dealt with the consequences later. But we were being up front and honest. We were acting like adults, which is more than I can say for you.

And also - BITE ME.

(Apologies to Kristen for stealing that last line.)

*Update* - We sent an email to this woman and various other people at the choir in response. It wasn't anything like what I wrote here but it was a bit pointed. Right after we sent it, one of the higher administrators at the choir called my husband and apologized profusely. Later, the woman who sent the email left a long and very apologetic voice mail. Although the beginning of the apology went something like "There was an email that was sent." "There was no intention to . . ." (It sounded like the kind of "apology" that reinforces the point of this post that people don't know how to apologize.) But apparently she was just warming up because by the end of the message she said "I beg your forgiveness and hope we can start fresh." You can't really ask for a better apology. There is a get together after today's practice so both my husband and I will be there and I imagine we'll have more apologies and discussions. I really hope we can move forward on a friendly basis.

*Update #2* - We went to an open choir rehearsal last night where parents were invited to listen in. There were apologies upon apologies - everyone from the choir director to the head of the community music school where the choir "resides" to the assistant who sent the email went out of their way to seek us out and apologize. My husband commented that in a way it's good that this all happened. Various people made assumptions about us based on a series of misunderstandings (none of which were our doing). Those bad assumptions would have continued - and maybe gotten worse - and we would have known nothing about it had this not gotten aired out. So, it looks like we will be able to move forward on a friendly basis. As my husband often says - everyone makes mistakes but if there's an immediate, appropriate and sincere apology, the hard feelings dissipate.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Random thoughts

I was reading today's post from Home of the Fringe (about a dream Kristen had) and it made me think of the dream I had last night. I was on the beach somewhere - I don't know where it was but it was really beautiful. Blue sky, bluer water, white sand and rocks jutting out into the water past the little sandy beach. The tide started coming in and I realized that our piano was sitting on the beach near the water. As the waves started rushing up under the piano I was walking away thinking "That was really irresponsible of us to leave the piano there." But, true to form, I wasn't doing anything about it. Although, in my defense, I apparently had a pressing need (having nothing to do with the piano) to get off the beach.

Then I noticed that two women - total strangers - had dragged the piano off the beach and up a grassy hill into a house. They thought it was my house but it wasn't. I thanked them but kept wondering how I was going to get the piano back to our apartment (and why the heck two total strangers would move a piano). I never did figure it out because M Girl came in and woke me up. After a little "bad dream" cuddle time and taking her back to bed, I never did get back to the piano problem. Clearly it worked itself out as our piano was sitting in our living room, looking no worse for wear, when I left for work.

I watched parts of Survivor: Cook Islands last night. Of course I have it Tivo'd so my husband I can watch the whole thing together. I've always loved Survivor (and I'm not a reality show junky, I only like the good ones and not the bad ones). I think dividing the teams by race is an intriguing idea and I'm looking forward to seeing it play out. The little bit I saw in the first episode showed the different groups talking a little bit about their own ethnicity and what it means to them. It strikes me as hypocritical for the "Black, Latino and Asian Caucus" of the New York City Council to ask CBS to cancel the show because it is racially divisive. Hmm - a group of people that have come together in a way that highlights their own ethnicity are saying that dividing by race/ethnicity is racist? It seems to me that certain groups are against any talk about race that they haven't framed to their own ends.

I'm going to a benefit tonight but I really don't want to go. My husband isn't feeling well. My oldest daughter has been fighting a cold that I'm just getting over. It's been a tough week at work and I just want to hang out with my family. But I'm on the board of a theater group that is having its annual benefit tonight and I have to go spend some money. Usually it's fun - it's a blue jean ball so it's not dressy or anything. People actually drag out cowboy boots and hats and there's line dancing and Bourbon Daisy drinks (which are quite yummy). But I'm just not in the mood for a party.

A Girl is in a show this fall. The show started previews last night (previews are basically dress rehearsals that people pay a discount price to watch). My husband and I were more nervous than she was. She says she gets a little bit of butterflies before she goes on stage but she knows they'll go away once she's out there. It's amazing to watch her progress from audition to rehearsal to production. She's so happy doing this - all of it. She loves being a part of the whole process and she's such a professional - at the ripe old age of eight. Yes, I know, I'm a total stage mom. It's hard to explain, without seeming obnoxious, what it's like to watch your child do something that most kids (and even most adults) can't do. She has a kind of confidence that few people have, regardless of age. And she's managed to do well in this industry and not become like Varuca Salt (the "bad egg" and my absolute favorite character from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). She's a good kid.

Speaking of good kids - little Miss M is joining the Brownies! I cannot wait to take a picture of her in her little uniform. They don't do the little jumper dresses anymore like we had. Brownies have evolved - check out the pictures of the new outfits here - they have skorts and pants for the active Brownies of today. We have such a crazy schedule that play dates are tough for us. So this will be a good chance for her to spend some time with her first grade girlfriends and do some fun stuff.

She got a Spongebob Squarepants Lego Set for her birthday last week and has spent all her free time since then working on it. I think she's always liked building-type toys but most of them are, for lack of a better word, boyish. We would have gotten them for her but she never really asked for Legos in the past because most of the sets are Star Wars-based and she's not really into that. They do have a line called Clickits that's geared to girls but as you can see from the link, it's very girly (as if boys are the only ones interested in building anything and all girls are interested in doing is decorating purses, picture frames and mirrors). I'm glad that Lego has come out with a building set that's more unisex. M Girl also likes Magnetix which are building sets with magnetic bars and balls.

Ok - enough procrastinating. I have to go act festive and spend some money. It's for a good cause but I really wish that I could do something like watch my favorite shows on TIVO for charity.

Monday, September 11, 2006


Never forget.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Shut up already, Ed!

I have been cursing my internal editor a lot lately. He is really driving me insane. Yes, although I'm a woman, I have decided that my internal editor is a man. If it was a woman, she'd have some pity on me. She would take a vacation every once in awhile. Or at least take a break for a spa day. But no, my internal editor is a type A workaholic who rarely sleeps. Aren't most of those men? I hate generalizations, except when I think they're true.

My internal editor, let's call him Ed (yeah, I know, not very original) sits on my left shoulder (my right shoulder is reserved for the good angel who reminds me to take my vitamins and tsk, tsks when I swear too much.) He sits there and whenever a story idea pops into my head, he takes out this big old fly-swatter and smacks that idea to oblivion. For some reason, he has it in his tiny head that any ideas that aren't fully formed, or don't hold together very well should never see the light of day.

I know, I know - I should write anyway. I should write stuff even if I know it's drivel. Then, in the editing process, I can separate the wheat from the chaff. Find the gold in the dusty gold mine. Shine the diamond out of the rough. (And perhaps I can do that without resorting to cliches.) But mostly my editing consists of hitting the delete button. And that's assuming I actually write anything.

I think about writing all the time. I have several story ideas that bounce around my head. Something comes up and I think "Oh, that would be good for xyz story!" Then I start thinking about the story line and, inevitably, Ed jumps out shouting "That makes no sense! That's not how real life is. And even if you're writing fiction, you have to be logical. No one will buy that premise!" He is deaf to my protestations that I haven't even figured out what the premise might be. That I have to write it down and see where it goes before I can determine whether it's going in the right direction. "Humph," Says Ed. "Go ahead. Write it down but you're just wasting your time. Go play a nice computer game or watch CSI. That's a good girl."

I've read a lot of books and articles about writing. There are some writers who write a first draft that's nearly perfect. I would call them the Mozarts of writing. They are geniuses and I wouldn't dream of comparing myself to them. But most mortal writers have to write and re-write before they get something even close to good. Why is it that I think I should be any different? Why don't I give myself the benefit of the doubt? Maybe, just maybe, even if what I first write is horrible, boring, illogical and poorly written, I might be able to work at it and create something that someone will think is worth reading.

But first need to find a way to stifle Ed. Does anyone have a teeny, tiny muzzle?

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Being rich means never having to say you're sorry

Apologizing is a skill that way too many people have failed to learn. A recent series of columns by John Kass in the Chicago Tribune provide an illustration of why people don't learn this lesson. I think it's because parents, in too many cases, don't teach their children how.

For those of you who aren't able to follow the links to the columns, here's the story: A long-time resident of Chicago's North Side was tending her garden when three boys from a wealthy suburb shot her in the face, arm and leg with a pellet gun. The three boys were working as summer painters for the nearby hospital where one boys' mother is a senior vice president. They shot 15 pellets into the woman's yard and fled when her son ran into the building to stop them. The police came and said the boys would be charged with aggravated battery. But the charges were lowered because they (and, I assume, their wealthy parents) convinced the police and prosecutors that it was all a mistake. A harmless prank by boys who "didn't know" they were shooting at someone. The boys were sentenced by a teen "jury" to 25 hours of community service. The woman is so traumatized that she can't bear to be in her garden alone anymore.

But the worst thing in all this isn't that the boys didn't get charged as they should have. (And try to forget the fact that if it was three African-American boys from the South Side, they'd be charged with the highest charge possible and probably tried as adults). The worst thing is that those boys have not apologized. Not once. And neither have their parents. Let's assume that it was a mistake. Assume the boys didn't see her in the garden and didn't know they were shooting at a person. If that's what happened, don't they owe it to her to say they're sorry they made that mistake?

I'm not suggesting that the boys' lives should be damaged by a felony conviction, maybe pleading down to a misdemeanor was the right thing to do. But ONLY if they apologized and made restitution to their victim. Otherwise, they haven't learned the lesson that you have to take responsibility for your actions and their consequences. Children who don't learn that lesson grow up to be adults who behave with impunity, without regard to how their actions affect others.

My parents never taught me to apologize. I rarely heard them apologize. And when they did it was along the lines of "I'm sorry if you think I did something wrong." Which doesn't count. If they never apologized, you can bet they never made us apologize. I certainly don't recall it happening. No one ever had to take responsibility for their actions. Things "just happened." Everything that went wrong was "an accident." I can't tell you how many times I heard my mother say "Oh, he didn't mean it," when one of my brothers did something totally obnoxious. And even when it was painfully obvious that he did, in fact, mean every bit of it.

If you can never admit you're wrong, you are going to have difficulty apologizing. That's the real issue in my family and one of the reasons that I'm estranged from my father (a long story for another day). He's incapable of admitting he was wrong. Incapable of apologizing. He felt entitled and he behaved that way. If he did something wrong - well, that was just the way it was, why should he have to apologize? If it hurt other people, it was their fault for being so sensitive. Because of that attitude, he's lost a relationship with me, my husband and our two beautiful daughters. And it truly is his loss.

Living where we live and sending our kids to a private school, we have many opportunities to see this kind of behavior in action. The other night we were at a school function, speaking to one of the teachers. We were in the middle of a conversation when another couple walked up and started talking to the teacher. Not once did they look at us and say "Sorry to interrupt." I know that's a small thing in the scheme of it all. But it's an example of people who feel entitled to do what they want, when they want to, despite it's impact on others.

Of course, because the parents don't know how to apologize (and rarely think it's necessary), the kids don't ever learn that skill. I can count on one hand the times I've seen parents make their children actually apologize for hurting another child. Most of the time the parents will half-heartedly tell their child to apologize, the kid doesn't do it and the parents don't do anything about it. What has the kid learned? That there are no adverse consequences to hurting someone else. That you don't have to take responsibility for your actions.

I'm not saying that all rich people are insensitive assholes and that those less monetarily fortunate are saints. I'm just saying that the sense of entitlement that wealthier people tend to have reinforces this kind of bad behavior.

I learned how to apologize from my husband. Among his favorite phrases is: "It's not the mistake; it's how you handle it that counts." Whether you meant to cause harm isn't the point - if you've done something wrong, own up to it, apologize, and fix it if you can. He has taught that to the girls pretty much from the day they could talk. I'll admit, it was hard for me at first. It's still hard sometimes (especially when I have PMS). I'm still learning to get over the urge to make excuses for my behavior. But I want to be a good role model to the kids and a kind spouse, so I'll keep working on it because love means learning to say "I'm sorry."

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Thursday Thirteen - Girly Edition

Thirteen Reasons that I enjoy being a girl

4. The amazing ability to give birth.

5. The ability to cry my way out of a speeding ticket. (I only did it once, I swear.)

6. I can do this

7. And this

without having to explain myself.

8. But I can also do this

without anyone questioning my womanhood.

9. I can admit that I love Chick Flicks and Chick Lit.

10. Did I mention the shoes?

11. I can also swear a blue streak when my browser unexpectedly closes and I lose nearly my ENTIRE *&;%$&*& Thursday Thirteen post because I failed to save it!!!

12. Not that long ago, I could comfort my babies with just the sound of my voice and my own two breasts.

13. But, in the end, no one can say it better than Maya Angelou.

Links to other Thursday Thirteens!
See the sidebar for lots more Thursday Thirteens - be sure and visit them!

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It's easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

Monday, August 28, 2006


Yesterday, we attended the memorial service for my friend. I'm struggling to find a way to write about it - I've typed and erased seven sentences so far. We were close colleagues and he was my mentor. I should be able to find the words to express what he meant to me.

Maybe the fact that we weren't close friends makes it more difficult. There were a lot of personal things I didn't know about him and he didn't know about me. But I clearly had an emotional attachment to him that I wasn't aware of before his death. With close friends you know you have an attachment. If you're an emotionally expressive person, you probably tell your friends what they mean to you - at least occasionally. He knew that I credited him with getting me started in my current law practice area. He knew that I was happy to be working with him again and how lucky I thought my company was to have him. I never told him - at least not directly - that I considered him to be my mentor. It's a compliment that I wish I would have given him.

What I learned at his memorial is that he was a mentor to many people both personally and professionally. It was his nature to be a guide and a teacher. He had a positive impact on so many lives and will be sorely missed.

It's at times like this that I want to make bold plans. I want to say that in his memory, I vow to be more positive, less cranky and more helpful to those around me. I want to say that I'll be a better person and leave this world a better place. But I've been around myself long enough to know that I won't be able to make such big changes. I'll just end up feeling bad for yet again failing to live up to my own unrealistic expectations of myself.

Judging from what I knew of him and what I learned about him at the memorial, I don't think that's what he'd counsel me to do. I think he'd tell me to live each day with integrity - true to myself but thoughtful, honest and fair with others. He'd say to work hard but have fun. Be present for the people you love. Most importantly, he'd tell me to take it one day at a time. And so I will.

Goodbye, Jim. I'll miss you.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Thursday Thirteen - yet another random edition

Thirteen Random Things

Yet again, I'm too busy (lazy) to come up with an actual theme, so here are random thoughts and stuff for this week:

1. I'm still really sad about the death of my friend. Being at work is hard because I still have emails from him in my inbox and projects pending that he would have been working on with me. His memorial service is Sunday. Maybe next week will be a little easier.

2. I can't believe the summer is almost over. Having kids reminds me of how long summers used to be. Someone once told me that summers get shorter as we get older because they make up a smaller percentage of our lives as a whole.

3. The kids have been taking piano for awhile now but it has just recently gotten to the point where they (at least the oldest) have actual songs to practice during the week. I really love when they're practicing as I get off the elevator coming home from work. The sound of the music is kind of like the smell of dinner. I know I'm home.

4. Work has been frustrating lately (if you define "lately" as, say "the last 18 months"). On a regular basis I'm just pissed off by the time I leave. Usually (as in right now) I have more to do than is humanly possible to get done in a reasonable period of time. That's one of the main reasons I haven't been blogging. I either don't have time at work to do a quick post or I'm too damn tired after work to do anything but spend some time with the family and then collapse. So, at least for today, I decided to take a little break and try to actually post a Thursday Thirteen.

5. I knit a baby blanket for the newly-born daughter of a co-worker. It's been done for several months, the baby was born a couple of months ago and I still haven't given it to them! We were supposed to plan a baby shower but the death of our colleague put that on hold. Maybe I should just bring it in.

6. On the stage mother front - our daughter got a lead role in a professional theater production that will run early next year. She's going to play a boy. She almost turned down the role when she found out that she'd have to cut her hair (I'm not kidding). But it's such a great opportunity that we all decided that a haircut (that they promise won't have to be too short) is a sacrifice worth making.

7. She's in a production at a different theater this fall and was on the short list for a feature film. She didn't get to the really, really short list for the film because she's only eight, the other contenders were at least nine and California labor law allows nine year olds to work one hour more per day than eight year olds. Not to say that she would have gotten the role if she was nine (I'm not that much of a stage mother), but she would have had a shot.

8. Sometimes I wish this blog was truly anonymous so that I could write more about my family. Not that I want to say bad things about them. But there are creepy and dangerous people out there. Who knows how they might use details from my blog - kids tend to feel more comfortable around someone who knows details about them. I'm not paranoid. Just more careful than I used to be.

9. I love reading the packaging for various beauty products because the spin those marketers put on things is downright hilarious. Tonight I noticed that my sample of Olay Definity cream says that it will help create a look that's "more flawless." How can something be more flawless? It either has no flaws and it is, in fact, flawless or it has flaws. Ridiculous marketing aside, I actually like the cream. It feels like silk on your skin.

10. I am totally running out of things to talk about. If you knew me, you'd think that was funny.

11. M Girl was procrastinating at bedtime tonight. I know, there's a surprise - a six-year old not wanting to go to bed. Anyway, as part of her procrastination technique, she almost convinced me that she did not know that there are 60 seconds in a minute. I am way too gullible.

12. I'm still not organized. Yet. I think about it a lot. Kind of like I think about writing but don't actually do enough of it. I'm trying to figure out what it is about getting organized that must freak me out on a sub-conscious level. My Tae Kwon Do instructor was telling me the other day that he realized recently that he was sabotaging himself financially because he grew up poor and his mother would always say nasty things about rich people. Now that he knows where his fear comes from, he's getting his finances in order. So what the heck could be keeping me from getting organized?

13. I'm really glad that tomorrow is Friday!

Links to other Thursday Thirteens!
See the sidebar for lots more Thursday Thirteens - be sure and visit them!

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. ItÂ’s easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!