Monthly Archives: September 2010

School Started, and I Stopped Writing

Well, it was fun to do a bit more blogging over the summer. I think I kind of knew I wouldn’t keep it up once fall was in full swing, but it’s still sad.

My days are long and full. I’m working three days a week, leaving the house at either 7 or 8am (depending on which carpool run I’m doing) and rushing to get home by 6pm.  We eat dinner later, the kids go to bed later. They love their babysitters, who take turns picking them up from school, getting the dog from “day care”, and bringing them home for homework and some playtime. They get help with their homework and music practice, and the dog gets walked. The dishwasher gets unloaded and reloaded, and if I need help starting dinner someone’s here to do it.

My schedule allows me to be home on Mondays and Fridays if the kids have a day off from school, which is at least once a month. When they’re in school, I fit in everything I can’t get to on my work days: doctor’s appointments, meetings, school visits and observations, reports, therapy notes, billing. There aren’t enough hours in those days, and they’re surely not the quiet work-from-home days with the dog that I had envisioned. But I’m grateful to have them.

I’m working late into the evenings and on the weekends to stay on top of things. I evaluated a lot of kids over the summer and then discovered that it was time to write a lot of reports and hold parent meetings. Then I got new referrals for evaluations and I’ve been writing their reports and meeting with their parents. And as soon as I was up to date on all those eval reports it was time to write progress reports on many of my regular clients again.

It’s a lot of work and it’s never ending. I spend so much time writing on my laptop that sitting down and blogging is not so appealing most nights. I would like to watch TV or hang out with friends in the evenings. Call my mom in California or my friend Cara in New Hampshire. But I’m falling into bed late at night, exhausted, and up early again the next morning. My alarm is set to wake me up before 6am again tomorrow and will be the next two days as well. I keep feeling like there’s a break in sight – but then when I get there, there’s something I forgot about, like more progress reports or the three speaking engagements I need to prepare for this fall, or end of the month billing. After the three day workshop I’m attending in the suburbs, I am “free” this Sunday only to face a team meeting at a client’s home that afternoon and then my husband leaving town that evening for a few days. He has four trips in the next 14 days. My Monday is booked solid and then I’m back in action at work again Tuesday. And I was in California last week for 3.5 days and saw more than 20 people.

It’s a crazy merry-go-round of a life at the moment.

I’m sorry to all those I’ve fallen out of touch with lately. I seem to only have time to stop in for a Facebook update or a 140 character “hello” on Twitter. The thing is, I’m not complaining. Aside from some shorter nights of sleep than I’d prefer, I’m taking good care of myself. I’m eating well, exercising as much as possible, and feeling good. My work is satisfying and I am very lucky about that. When I’m too tired to focus on NPR in the car after work I blast the Glee soundtrack and sing pop songs at the top of my lungs. The boys are doing great in school and are quite chirpy and cheerful these days. They are untroubled by my schedule as long as they can play Angry Birds together on an iPhone whenever possible. I give them as much attention as I can when we’re together, even if it requires me to dim the lights and put on new age music to slow down and be present with them when I get home and need to make dinner and do the bedtime routine. We still have our family dinners every night and I spend lots of time with them during the bedtime routine.  Life is fine.

I often wonder how people manage who have to work like this at a job they don’t like; I can’t even imagine how depressing that would be. So, yes, life is wild and exciting and I am awfully tired tonight, but no, I’m not complaining.

That Which Doesn’t Kill Us: Life on the Alley

I may have mentioned (a few thousand times) that we live in a condo building on an alley. Yes, a long alley that connects a whole heck of a lot of streets runs right alongside our home. It’s urban. There are Dumpsters outside our windows, and when garbage trucks roll by the drivers are at eye level out my window if I’m sitting on my bed. The alley runs parallel to the major thoroughfare at the end of our street and is often chosen by people in the neighborhood to bike, walk, or drive on rather than the loud, busy street. Lots of people take the alley to the beach. Our dinner conversations are often punctuated by men cycling over the steep speed bump outside our dining room and yelping in pain, causing all four of us to grimace and then roar laughing. It is also the “road” of choice for those who might want to act ridiculous at night and not be caught. (For a little history on the Chicago alley, check this out. Turns out we have the most alleys of any city: 1,900 miles of them.)

Did I mention it’s a college neighborhood, too? So, yeah, the college kids run up and down our alley at all hours of the night, especially around 4 o’clock in the morning when the bar around the corner closes and they’re headed back to campus or their apartments.

Basically, what I want you to understand is that it’s as busy as some city streets, busier than any suburban street at any hour of the day, and its denizens are probably ten feet from us when we’re in bed. The noise Matt and I have learned to sleep through after three years of acclimation now causes the dog to wake with a start and bark his head off. Right next to our bed. We use the air conditioning more often now, just so we can close our windows at night.

But we and our neighbors have some awesome alley stories; it’s one of our favorite past-times, sharing these memories. They’re like our war stories and part of the charm (believe it or not) of city living.  There’s the guy who asked another shiftless passerby to help him get a double sink out of our Dumpster and when the dude did, leaning way in there, the first guy stole the other guy’s cigarettes and ran, prompting quite an argument; the drunk college girls hollering loud “Little Mermaid” songs and realizing with embarrassment that they couldn’t make it another step without peeing out there in the middle of the night; or the time we saw the young guys who pulled an enormous brassiere from a Dumpster and tried it on, strutting up and down the road.

Last night, round about midnight, I heard a crazy guy under the influence of something coming from a mile away. He was yelling at some unidentified woman who probably lived about ten miles back (or, even more likely, in another city altogether), at the top of his lungs. It was so loud as he passed by that Matt angrily slammed our window shut, causing us and the dog to nearly suffocate to death in here for the next six hours.

But when morning came and we acknowledged how little we’d slept, we actually had a lot of laughs about this episode. (I know; this is what makes us People Capable of Urban Living. It’s a choice between crying and laughing.) Matt created the “Labor Day Alley Quiz” over breakfast, which he dashed off via email to all of our neighbor-friends who were likely to have heard the guy:

1. According to the man who visited the alley at 12:17am today, a woman who lives nearby is a terrible:

A. Wife

B. Mother

C. Person

D. All of the above, I guess?

2. Has she ever been there for him?

A. Not ever

B. Never, ever

C. Not for a damn minute

D. All of the above

Answer key: 1:D, 2:D

Now, this, in and of itself, made my day. Suddenly, this dude’s screaming about his woman being a terrible mother who has never, ever been there for him, not for a damn minute, was hilarious. The friends who responded to the quiz – and our collective ensuing banter – had me laughing all day. Yes, this is what the adults were doing while the kids were sweating their way through their first day of school. First, there was Becky, a great college friend who lives behind us (up on the 3rd floor of their building: I tell you, the guy was LOUD):

I fessed up to Aaron at about 12:18 that yes, the man was correct.  I have never been there for him.  Never.  Not once.  Not for a damn minute.  Of course I don’t know who he is, but whatever.  He’s still right.

And then her husband Aaron (also an old college friend) chimed in with this:

You’re thinking about this all wrong.
I think it was a good communication strategy. The guy used clear and precise language and stayed on point the whole time.  And in a world where there are so many distractions (sleep, sirens, late night TV) he clearly got attention.
Plus, anyone trolling alleys within a few blocks now knows he’s single and probably up for a rebound. If you think about it, the whole “there for me” could have been a reference to Seinfeld’s “here for me.”. Maybe tonight we’ll be treated to a woman saying “I’m HERE for you loud depressed angry guy who swears too much and probably hurt his voice.”
And so suddenly, thanks to being surrounded by fun people with excellent senses of humor, my fatigue at being disrupted by Mr. Loud Ass was secondary to the fact that we got to laugh about it all day.
That which doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger.  And maybe a little punchy. Wish us luck tonight.

First Day of (Stupid, Stinky) School

Our end-of-summer was a lazy one. No last-minute trips out of town and very little on the calendar. Just long days to play at home and at the beach, with neighbors and each other. It was pretty restful. Over the weekend, Matt and I focused on getting the house organized and ready for a new school year. I’m a big believer in various “systems” to keep us all organized, mainly because I’d rather have everyone aware of their responsibilites and in a rhythm so that we’re not constantly telling the kids what to do and repeating ourselves again…and again…and again… It leaves us with a lot more time for fun. And so by last night we were ready. Responsibility lists were posted for each child for various parts of the day, our meal plan was tacked to the fridge, today’s lunches were made by the kids, and their backpacks were packed.

Baxter, who had been ambivalent about going back to school (the boy loves him some unstructured reading time!), started to look forward to it when we went in last week to meet his new teacher and drop off school supplies. He was excited to see his friends and find out what fifth grade is all about. He told Lyle today that he wasn’t nervous about school, because he reminds himself that there’s nothing to be worried about: “Every year, the teacher is really nice on the first day,” he told Lyle. I asked him if the same held true for the second day and even the last day of school and he agreed that it always had. When we got to school I had to yell for him to come back to us to get a photo taken with Lyle before he tore out into the masses to find his friends. Luckily, we were able to see him off as he walked in with his signature grin.

For his part, Lyle was nervous. He loved his classroom when he saw it last week and his teacher was wonderful and warm. He was very shy and hid behind me, but he was smiling. Unsurprisingly, he was full of bluster this morning (typical when he’s nervous) and declared many times in a variety of ways, “I hate stupid, stinky school!” As I pointed out to him, however, he was saying this in a very cheery voice. I think he was nervous but also a bit excited. He has forgotten how much he loves school, but I trust that won’t last long. It helped a lot for me to tell him repeatedly that every child is at least a little nervous, and even his teacher might be a bit anxious about how the first day would go. Then I popped in a Nate the Great book on CD in the car to change the subject on our drive in.

This sums the morning up pretty well!


There goes my first grader, into stupid, stinky school!


Ready to go!


…and off goes my fifth grader!

I canceled my afternoon clients in order to be there to pick them up. I can’t wait to hear about their day!

Adding a Dog to Your Family

As many of you know, we adopted a four-year-old Bichon-Poodle mix at the end of March. We named him Gus, and he quickly became an important family member. I thought I’d write a post about what it’s like to own a dog for the first time, as I’m sure there are others out there considering it.

Neither Matt nor I had ever lived with a dog before. Matt had a cat growing up, my family had nothing more exotic than fish. In fact, Matt was quite fearful of dogs as a child and I was bitten by a German Shepherd at a young age, so we’d really shied away from them most of our lives. Enter Baxter, lover of all dogs and babies!  It wasn’t so much that he begged and begged for a dog and so we gave in, but rather that his love for dogs helped me start to notice them and appreciate them for the first time. And in a dog-centric neighborhood like ours, that was easy.

We carefully chose the time to bring a dog home. Last year I was home a lot during the day, mainly working out of the house, and we realized shortly before Spring Break that the boys and I would be home for the whole 10 days and it would be an ideal time to get a dog acclimated to our home. Plus, the weather was showing signs of improving here, so if we ended up getting a dog that wasn’t house-trained, we wouldn’t mind (as much) going outside a million times a day!

We were limited in the breeds we could consider due to our allergies. However, I was very surprised that every time we visited a shelter in Chicago, there were at least 3-4 good options for us. Somehow I’d previously thought that the only way to get a dog we could count on being non-shedding and low on allergens would be to buy one from a breeder, because we’d really know the lineage. Turns out, it’s not all that hard to tell if a dog is going to be okay as long as you’ve become familiar with your options. We had spent a lot of time with our neighbors’ Bichon-Poodle mix last winter and knew that a) this was a great dog for kids, b) the right size for condo living, and c) we weren’t allergic to him, so when we happened upon our little guy at the Anti-Cruelty Society, we felt confident we could have him in our home. Plus he was so extremely sweet and we loved the idea of rescuing this scared pup who so clearly wanted out of the shelter.

We read a chapter in one of Cesar Millan’s books about how to choose a dog in which he gave some suggestions about shelter dogs. There were some temperament tests we tried out (such as dropping a set of keys nearby to see how jumpy he was) and he passed them all. But you really aren’t going to see a dog’s personality emerge until 6-8 weeks after you bring him home, I’m told, so it truly is a crapshoot. Gus settled in as time went on, but just like people, no dog is without his challenges.

Our biggest challenges with Gus have been that he gets jumpy when kids run and are loud in our house (we can credit him with slowing and quieting down our kids, but we have to stay on top of visiting kids so that Gus doesn’t get freaked out and, in turn, freak them out), squirrels make him bonkers (we haven’t been able to let the kids walk him all summer due to the major squirrel activity outside), and he is very unfriendly towards other dogs and strangers when he’s on leash. Off leash he’s great (he plays happily with other dogs at daycare for hours at a time), but on walks we have to pull him aside when other dogs are passing, or cross the street in advance, and we try to warn people before they put their hand out to pet him. Which stinks because everyone always wants to greet him and pet him, he’s so damn cute! The theory is that some of his behaviors probably stem from not having been neutered until we got him at age 4 and that he hadn’t been formally trained; he was obedient and wanted to please, but he was “rough around the edges”, as our trainer described him.

We hired a dog trainer the week we brought Gus home, and that was a really good move that I’d highly recommend. We were referred to someone who comes to your home and works with the family three times over six months. It doesn’t sound like much, but a full hour of discussing  and working with your dog 1:1 with a trainer who can give you immediate things to work on in your own environment goes a long way. We only just needed our third session recently, 5 months after getting the dog. We worked on a whole range of basic commands, discussed the layout of the building and where his crate should be to cut down on alarming noises, and now have enough skills to keep him quite calm around other dogs and squirrels. I was also able to email her with any problems that came up between sessions and she gave me detailed instructions about what to do. For newbies like us, this was huge. This winter we are going to join her class for dogs that are overreactive to other dogs on leash and work through that.  I agree with a friend’s assessment that in another 6-12 months he’s going to be even more relaxed.

Happily, our trainer told me last week that we are her favorite “shelter dog success story” and that every family should have a “Gus”. Our dog, who was jumpy and nervous when he arrived, has greatly mellowed. This week we had made so much progress with the squirrel obsession that I was able to give the leash back to Baxter to walk him because I felt confident that the dog wouldn’t yank his arm off if a squirrel ran by; this made us all very happy. Finally, a loose leash!

People aren’t kidding about the expense of a dog. Beyond the food, basic vet bills for a check-up and shots, and the few things you need to buy initially for your dog, there are plenty of incidentals, and they’re not all cheap. For instance, Gus has no serious health concerns (thank goodness), but his breed is prone to allergies and he gets hot spots very easily (allergic reactions that he very quickly scratches to the point of needing antibiotic ointment – we’ve gone through 4 tubes in 5 months). If you aren’t home all the time, you are likely to pay a dog-walker to come by and take the dog out during the day; while that isn’t very expensive (we’ve paid $10 for 15 minutes), it adds up over time. Our dog barks a lot when we’re out and, given that we’re in a condo, I don’t want to torture the neighbors. So he goes to a doggie daycare, which he LOVES, three days a week when I’m at work.  It’s nothing when you’re used to paying for childcare (i.e. a full day equals about 2 hours of a babysitter), but again, it adds up. And unless you take dog-friendly vacations (which we have yet to experience), there’s boarding. I’m so glad we have this amazing place five minutes from our house because Gus is so comfortable there and they do crate-free boarding, but it adds another line to the vacation budget.

Another thing to consider is how much freedom you’re accustomed to. Now that our kids are older and we can go out and do things as a family all day, it is hard to have to figure our dog into the plans sometimes. We occasionally still get swept up in some great plan for the day and then look at each other and say, “What about Gus?” and realize we either need to curtail the plan or drop him at daycare. I was recently going to go out in the evening but realized that since he’d been gone all day and Matt was away, it wouldn’t be right to leave him alone all evening. My friends were flexible enough to come hang out at my house instead. It really takes some getting used to.

The cost, the responsibility, and the effort are realities, and are probably what cause a huge percentage of families to give a new dog up by the end of the first year. I get it. There have been days, especially early on, when I have shaken my head and wondered what on earth I was thinking when I pushed to get a pup. And I wanted to make sure I discussed them here, because people need to know. It can be hard and there’s a real period of adjustment. But, truly, the benefits of having Gus in our family far outweigh the challenges. He is a delightful addition. He makes us laugh, we love to cuddle with him (especially in the evenings when Matt and I have him on the couch between us while we watch TV: bliss!), it’s an excellent responsibility for the kids to help take care of him, I love that he’s listening for unusual noises all night (especially when Matt’s away), and it makes me smile when I wake up in the morning and see that little face looking up at me from his bed next to ours. Also – and I know I’m a geek in this regard – but having a dog has been a wonderful education for all of us; it’s opened up a whole part of life I knew nothing about, and that’s been fascinating.

I’d do it all over again, and we’ve even occasionally discussed getting a second one (not happening anytime soon!), but I do caution anyone thinking about getting a dog to do some reading, talk to other people about their experiences, and make sure you can afford the time and money before jumping in – it’s not the same as adding another child to the family, but there are some elements of it that are awfully similar.

Dreams

When Matt came to bed last night I woke up just enough to ask, “Where’s Mom?”

“What?” he asked, laughing.

“Where’s Mom?” I repeated, getting annoyed. “It’s 11 o’clock and she’s not home yet!”

Thankfully, he oriented me pretty quickly. “She lives in California and you’re in Chicago…”

He could’ve really messed with my head. I’m not sure I’d have been so kind.

*********

I don’t know if the major dream I remember began with that confusing, sleepy conversation, but it seems likely.

I had a long, involved dream in which some kind of new opportunity came up for Matt in San Francisco, where we lived for almost 10 years before moving here in 2006.

In the dream we ultimately realized that there were more opportunities for us there (something we do joke about once in a while, as many interesting things for each of us have surfaced in the Bay Area since we left) and that we needed to move back.

I remember being in tears in my dream, overwhelmed with the idea of leaving my beloved Chicago, but making all sorts of practical decisions (such as deciding we’d go back to renting rather than trying to buy a home) at the same time. It seemed at the time that it was something we had to do and I was resigned to it.

When I woke up, I was shocked to find it was a dream and that I was more than a little sad about that.