Monthly Archives: July 2009

What’s Next?

It took three trips to load up my car after work today, what with the gorgeous pink orchid, the glass vase of sweet yellow roses, the very appealing bottle of wine, and the fancy box of deliciously scented body lotions; gifts from the families and staff at work.  All of this in addition to my usual two-bags-and-a-laptop made leaving a huge production.  Glancing at the driver’s seat with my extra clothes and towel- still damp from our preschool’s morning walk to the pool – wrapped carefully around fragile pots and vases, these generous tokens of gratitude were a jarring reminder of every last day of work I’ve ever experienced.  And yet it wasn’t my last day of work.

I’m not sure what it was.  I mean, clearly it was the last day of the LEEP into Communication preschool for this year, and we all celebrated having a full month off before the kids return in the fall.  But I will only be consulting to the program next year on a weekly basis, which is enormously different from working in it three days a week.  And so in a way it was my last day – but just of this one part of my job that has taken an incredible amount of my time and energy and simultaneously been one of the highlights of my career thus far.

Perhaps even more overwhelming was the fact that I was driving home to also say good-bye to our wonderful nanny, Carmen, who has cared for our boys three days a week and became a true part of our family over the course of the past two years.  With the preschool on break, and Lyle going off to full-day kindergarten in September, there is no need for a caregiver besides me for the next month.  And, frankly, with the bulk of my work hours ending for a while, no way to afford one.

These endings were possibly too much for me to even register today.  In retrospect, I’d have been wiser to plan them for two different days so that I could have focused my thoughts on one or the other more fully.  I think that I will gradually become aware of these changes in the coming days and weeks in ways that are likely to surprise me; today my response is physical and emotional exhaustion.

And what’s next for me?  This is a vast question and I am not even sure how to answer it tonight.  I am opening myself and my schedule to new possibilities, and there appear to be viable and exciting options.  But truly, I have so many distinct thoughts and feelings about these endings I’m experiencing and what my professional and personal future holds that I can’t think or write straight tonight.  I sense a lot of blog posts coming on as I sort it all out.  In fact, making more time to write, more time for me to just be, is central to the entire plan – insofar as it has been planned.  I know that is what I need, and so I choose to believe that the rest will sort itself out even as it feels a bit like riding a roller coaster blindfolded with no hands.

In the meantime, I intend to get a good night’s sleep.  I’m very curious to see what tomorrow brings.


The Libertyville Four

Once upon a time, lo those many years ago, there were four boys growing up in the Chicago suburbs.  We’ll refer to them as The Libertyville Four.  They are pictured here in high school, although they went much farther back, with two of them having become best friends as long ago as second grade.


These particular guys had a lot in common: all of them very bright and curious, good students, interested in music and theater, able to debate the details of anything you put in front of them – whether they knew anything about it or not – until late into the night over bad coffee at the local Denny’s.  And handsome: just look at them!  They suffered the usual teenage angst and had their ups and downs, as you’d expect.  They even formed their own band, the Satan Alex Choir, which perhaps none of us needs to hear (*ducking*).

But something about these friendships?  Well, they held.  They stuck.

Over the years, these four guys – having gone to colleges near and far – got married, each in turn, and settled down in one big city after another, eventually having children of their own.  One is in Seattle, another in St. Paul, a third in Brooklyn, and – of course – the fourth is now here in Chicago.  They stood up for each other in their weddings, but these were the only times the four were in one place at the same time in all the years since high school.  And as anyone who has ever been married or for that matter attended a wedding knows, that meant there was always one who could not exactly relax and hang out all weekend.  That’s not to say that the guys’ families haven’t gotten together whenever possible, and that we haven’t all known each other well over the years, we just hadn’t all been together in the same place.

Fast forward 18 years from the Senior Prom to 2009.  One of the wives has a family cabin in Wisconsin and her parents generously allowed The Libertyville Four and all of their wives and children to spend a weekend in it.  This was not just any cabin – it had more than enough room for all of us, and the amenities were beyond compare. A lake in the backyard complete with more rafts than you can imagine, a motor boat, a hot tub on the deck.  You name it, that cabin had it.

And this was not just any weekend.  It was a time to reconnect, to get to know each other’s children better, and to talk, and talk, and then talk some more.  To put the kids to bed and sit around exhausted for a while and then get our second wind and make the most of the nights together.  Try to imagine four couples who adore each other, who could split up in any combination at any moment and be able to talk, laugh and simply enjoy each other’s company for hours.




And then imagine seven young children, ours being the eldest, who form bonds immediately and get along swimmingly for 4 days.  Toddlers who are proficient in sign language sitting in a circle playing with trucks.  Preschoolers playing “bunnies” and Lincoln Logs, and an 8-year old who entertains them all by reading to them, feeding them breakfast, and playing whatever they want.


In the end, The Libertyville Four has become The Libertyville Fifteen.

Thank you, Matt, Alex, Kevin, and Ryan, for choosing such compatible wives and passing on your fabulous qualities to all of our beautiful children. I feel so lucky to have every single one of you and your families in my life.

And may we never have to wait another 18 years to all be together.  Love to you all.


First World Fits

john_mcenroe_4There’s a fabulous topic “hashtag” on Twitter that my husband makes especially good use of: #FirstWorldProblems.  It’s the perfect ending to a statement referring to a challenge that is pathetically First World, meaning that it could only be a problem for someone who has nothing better to worry about and might benefit from a little real world perspective.

I’m starting to think about a great many of my kids’ meltdowns as #FirstWorldFits: the kind of tantrums that children in Second or Third World nations could only dream of.

Take Baxter for example.  This evening, after a particularly easy-going, pleasant round of afternoon errands with the boys (during which I thought to myself, They’re really quite spectacular when no one’s having a cow about anything!), I made good on my promise to stop and let them rent a couple videos at the video store.  This is still a treat for them, and they knew just what to pick – we were in and out of there in a heartbeat.  Baxter had his eye on some wretched Pokemon video and Lyle chose Pooh’s Heffalump Movie – which his big brother reminded him they’d seen a preview of and it looked “awesome”.  The boys were thrilled with both videos and agreed we’d watch one tonight and the other tomorrow with their babysitter.  Sounds good, yes?

It sounded so good to me and it was getting to be so late that I threw in a last-minute offer to stop at El Famous Burrito (wouldn’t you go, too, just for the name?) for take-out.  The offer was well received; this family loves Mexican food.  As we drove up Clark St, looking for El Famously Named Restaurant, the debate started about which video would be seen tonight.  Given that all three of us recalled that they’d seen Baxter’s first the last time we rented two movies, I thought this was a no-brainer.  Thinking anything is a no-brainer is usually my first mistake.  And thus it all unraveled.

The next thing I knew, I was parked in front of the restaurant at a meter on this busy street, with a young Mexican girl calmly helping her mother sell grilled corn and ice pops at their food stand right alongside my car.  I look in the backseat and there is my child having a classic #FirstWorldFit.  He is dressed in madras shorts and holding – of all things – a new tennis racket and wearing a white tennis sweatband around his head (that I’ve just bought him at the sporting goods store so that he can play tennis at the neighborhood court he loves so much) and looking for all the world like John McEnroe.  He’s pounding his fists, yelling at me that I don’t understand [by the way, there are people in this world for whom “I disagree with you” is automatically equated with “You don’t understand” – he appears to be one of them, but we believe we have time], and has taken off his glasses so that he can weep dramatically at the overwhelming injustice of having to watch one movie that he expected to be “awesome” this evening, rather than the other movie that he also expected to be, well,  “awesome”.   His attempts to negotiate were just outrageous – the kid was grasping at straws.  [If someone out there has an 8-year old who is excessively weepy for no apparent reason, this would be a good time to tell me.]

I stared at him in disbelief.  And then I asked him to please get out of the car so that we could go in and order our food.  He rudely insisted that he would stay in the car and sulk over his Pokemon book wait for us – after all, he was tired and – the clincher – “You know my order, anyway.” [Remember the tennis accessories when you’re picturing this scene, please.]

I believe this was around the time when my head split into at least a thousand pieces all over the car.  There was an ultimatum and he stubbornly refused to leave the car with us for the five minutes it would take to place the order, even after I pledged to leave without any food if he couldn’t be bothered to join us inside.  Then there was my decision to do just that and the screams of “It’s not fair!” that came from both sides of the backseat as I sped away [with them in the car, if you can believe it].

I am pretty sure I said something about not being his waitress and about his being part of the family. There was also something in there about certain children leading a “Golden Lifewhere everything goes just as they like, and having no idea how lucky they are and their inability to even be able to dream of actual unfairness.  There was discussion of the need to go with the flow even when things aren’t exciting or interesting.  Wonderfriends, I went uncharacteristically apeshit, but I maintain that it was well deserved.  I will not – repeat: will not – raise spoiled brats.

And that, my friends, was today’s Wonderfamily #FirstWorldFit.  C’mon, what are your favorites?

No Man’s Land

Not everyone in Chicago would say this, but summer vacation and the winter holiday season have more in common than you’d think.

For one thing, the whole world blows expectations all out of proportion for the kids.  How many times in May and June do the kids hear adults say, “You excited for summer vacation?”, “What are you going to do this summer?”, and “You must be looking forward to not having any homework for a while!”   The end of school parties rival the holiday parties around here (seriously – do we need a pizza or ice cream party for every single activity that is ending?).  By the time school ends they’re fairly frothing at the mouth with excitement, much like my kids the week before Christmas.

Further, the kids’ routines get blown through the roof, at least at my house.  I do think that in many ways, it’s the lucky kids who are in the same day camp all summer long.  For my kids, it’s day camp for these 2 weeks, then this long weekend away, then swim camp, then that long weekend away, then these visitors, then that trip, some days at home with little planned, then these other visitors, and on and on.  Their heads must be spinning, even with the monthly calendars I posted on the fridge for them in June.

From the kids’ perspective, it’s not all sunshine and s’mores – even when it’s, well, sunshine and s’mores.

This summer is an official No Man’s Land summer.  We had one the year we moved here from California, the summer before Baxter started first grade.  NEVER AGAIN would I move my family during the summer – we arrived strangers in a strange land with all the kids in our new neighborhood on vacation or in camp, with two months to live through before Baxter’s “real life” (school) started again.  The child was an angry, confused mess.  It was a disaster.  If I had it to do over, we’d have arrived with just one week to unpack before school started.  But you know what they say about hindsight.  It’s a bitch.

This happens to be Lyle’s very own No Man’s Land summer, as it turns out.  No longer in preschool, not yet in kindergarten (the unknowns of which he is very anxious about), and with his nanny of two years finishing up her stint with us in just three weeks, he has begun to unravel.  He clearly feels that he has very little that’s stable and normal to hold onto – except me.

Yes, me.  The child has me on a very short leash right now and his emotions are riding high.  Being his mother, it’s up to me to take it on.  I am not sure when he’s ever had so many fits and tantrums in his 4 3/4 years, but here they are, one after another throughout each day that we’re together (he’s fine the rest of the time, for the record!).  They are about the most minute things, and sometimes the topic of battle shifts mid-tantrum without warning.  Sometimes it looks like this, as he’s screaming about eating another s’more on vacation, or like this, when I stopped the Bob the Builder video exactly where we had decided we would.  He screams dramatically, flails his arms, calls me a “meanie”, yells that we “never” let him do x, y, and z, and generally gets out of control for a really. long. time.

But it’s not about the s’more, or the video, or even the chocolate milk or the cupcakes.  It’s not because he’s overtired or even spoiled rotten (as it may appear when he screams about wanting more cupcakes at a party and I have to finally take him home early because no one can stand another minute of it).  I know it’s not.

It’s about being unmoored, not feeling like he’s on solid ground, and trying to feel out the boundaries around him in this very strange No Man’s Land.  In my estimation, Lyle needs two very different things: 1) to be held really tightly and lovingly and told repeatedly that everything is going to be okay, that we’re here to help him and we know it’s a hard time; and 2) to see that the limits are still the limits and no amount of screaming will move them.

Let me just say that these are very challenging needs to try to meet simultaneously.  We’re working on it over here, but it’s a full time job right now.

And it’s not easy on any of us here in No Man’s Land.

Always the Sand

Sand in my toes and the back of my knees and falling out of every article of clothing.  Sand lining the drawers of the old wooden dresser in our room so that each supposedly clean item leaves a dusting of sand across the floor when it’s removed in the morning.

Sand adhering to my cheeks and nose as I turn and lie face down on a towel, feeling that perhaps the sun has overstayed its welcome on my face.  I brush it off again when I sit up to watch the kids playing in the lake with their cousins, aunt, uncle, grandparents.  Kids sitting in crashing waves with their Oma, riding new boogie boards in the small waves made just a bit bigger by the occasional motor boat or jet ski, and sifting through sand for treasures.  Sand lining the ice cream containers staying cold in the cooler of ice and sand surrounding the bottle of white wine we attempt to chill in the stream that runs into the lake nearby.

Sand strewn across our bed up in the room that’s been ours for three summers now, as I read a book to Lyle.  It’s a funny book, not from our library, but belonging to the house, and it reminds me of all the random books I fell in love with in the vacation houses of my childhood.  I read this book on our bed next to my freshly scrubbed child even though I remain in my swimsuit and beach shirt, both filled with itchy, scratchy sand, because it is the only way he will calm down and go to bed.  He wants his mama to read the story and no amount of explanation changes that.  With nearly every page turn, another child appears in my room and by the time I am halfway through, all four children are cuddled around me as close as they can be, arms and legs flung out over each other, laughing at the story, exuding sweet shampoo and soap after a long day outside, no longer covered in sunscreen and bug spray.

Sand in every suitcase and beach bag as we unpack today, here in our own sandy house in this sandy neighborhood, over here on our side of the lake in its different time zone, sun rising over the lake rather than setting there.

A thousand images of kids playing together both in our cameras and our hearts, and knowing that they will grow and change year after year and we will come together again each summer and measure the changes as we revel in the laughter, the negotiations, and the quiet conversations.

And the sand.  Always the sand.


Quotes o’ the Day

Lyle, apropos of nothing as he clears his dinner dishes,  “But Mommy!  EVERYBODY smokes SOMETIMES!”


The boys crash into each other in the hall.

“Move outta the way, stupid!” laughs Lyle.

Baxter collapses with laughter at the use of such language.

Matt says, “Lyle!  Please apologize to your brother.  Right now.”

Lyle, cheerfully, “Okay.  Sorry…STUPID!”

Both boys double over.