Category Archives: friends

The Blink of an Eye

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Once upon a time there were two little boys. So little. They became friends at age two, when their parents and I would do child care swaps, taking turns hosting a playdate before nursery school so that each week at least one parent had a few extra hours to get errands done or maybe just breathe.  Neither of the boys could properly pronounce each other’s parents’ names, and sometimes they even forgot each other’s names, if we’re being honest.  I remember giving out sticker incentives as they learned to pull on their own snow pants, hats, and tiny mittens, and striving to make a grilled cheese sandwich that would pass muster with a 3-year old who liked his mama’s sandwiches better and wasn’t afraid to say so.

And boy, did they have fun together. Playing with trucks and trains and big blocks, and on the rare occasion getting into a tiny bit of mischief. I can still see the two of them looking at me with huge innocent doe eyes, sitting under a table and shaking their heads earnestly, convincing me that they were of course not peeling all of Baxter’s Pokemon stickers from his treasured sticker book and dropping them one by one into the heating vent in the floor. What fun that must’ve been! Several years later, after sadly leaving another awesome play date, one declared that he was “born to play” with the other.

In our new apartment, the boys live a short distance from each other. They are big and responsible enough to take the El home after school together once a week without a grown-up, 10-year olds on a grand urban adventure. They head to one apartment or the other to eat a snack and play Wii, laughing and chatting for hours. I think they would still say they were born to play together.

There are parenting moments that go by so quickly you’d never believe it. One moment you are doling out colorful star stickers to tiny boys working so hard to put on their own mittens – oh, those awful thumb holes! – and in the blink of an eye you are looking at the same boys smiling broadly as they walk through a train station turnstile together after school and although you can just barely still see their baby faces in those expressions, you know you always will.

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Shadows & Light

Once upon a time I wrote here at The Wonderwheel with great frequency. The kids were small, I was new to Chicago, and I shared many a parenting roller coaster ride in this space. I’m so happy I did, because when I periodically return here and peruse old posts, selecting a month and year at random, I find so much that I’ve forgotten about the kids’ earlier years and my parenting experiences back then. I’m grateful for the time I took to write down what mattered to me.

Back in those days, I also made a lot of wonderful friends through blogging. We followed each other’s lives closely and offered true support to one other; though many of us were very occupied all day and we were scattered all over the nation, it was the virtual equivalent of a bunch of moms sitting together watching their kids play and grow up together, talking for hours. Over time, I met a great many of those amazing writer friends in person when one of us happened through each other’s part of the world, or when we all descended together on the annual BlogHer conference in New York or Chicago or San Francisco. I was never disappointed or surprised by who I found a virtual friend to be in person; when someone writes with her true voice you really do know her before you know her.

Many of us from back then still write, though some of us have moved to more private platforms as our kids have aged or because we have things to say that are not as appropriate for the public eye. The friendships have survived, either way, and the network of support that formed years ago holds fast. I am so grateful for it.

One of my very favorite people in the whole world is one such friend, the exceptional writer Kristen Spina. I’ve been lucky enough to spend weekends with Kristen every few years, on one coast or the other, and we are in touch almost daily. When Kristen was diagnosed with breast cancer just before Christmas one of the first things she did was to begin writing – and, lo, a blog was born. There we have had the privilege of reading what has been on Kristen’s heart and mind as she has ridden the sharp crests of denial, fear, and strong determination to this point. Now, just two days before her all-day surgery, Kristen is strong. And she is ready.

Today I’m asking this loving, supportive community – old and new Wonderwheel readers, Facebook friends, Twitter followers – to head over to Shadows & Light, where you can read Kristen’s beautiful, honest words. If you’re so inclined, help us support this fabulous woman in her journey by leaving little love notes of support, prayer, and positive thoughts.

We are all behind you as you head into surgery and recovery, my friend, whatever comes. You’ve got this, Kristen. I love you. xoxo

A Lot More Good

It’s been a rough one. I won’t get into too many boring details, but it’s been a swirling whirling hot mess of a day. I’m having trouble moving ahead on anything much, and had a major setback in The Great 2010-2011 After-School Babysitter Search, just 3 days before I need someone once again. I’m tense and tired, although a teensy bit of the tired feels good because I got up at 5 o’clock this morning to work out.

But mostly it’s not a good tired at all, and I’m heading into a long weekend where I’m working two out of the three days. Late this afternoon I was fighting tears as I logged back in to websites where I might find a babysitter willing and able to do the hours I need, for what felt like the fiftieth time. And may well have been. I looked around and saw kitchen counters piled high with dirty dishes, Valentine’s Day gifts, books, and random detritus. I’d been here all day and had not even unloaded last night’s dishes and reloaded it with the breakfast dishes. It was just a shitty day.

This evening, after getting the kids into their pajamas and seeing that they were calm, I took the dog out for a walk down to the beach. What I saw was amazing: a big, full moon over the lake with a beautiful reflection on the water. And right below the moon were at least six twinkling white lights spanning the sky: airplanes, waiting to land at O’Hare. They were perfectly spaced and appeared to be at a complete standstill in the air. Gradually, gracefully, the first one in line veered off and flew over the moonlit water. A few moments later the next one left the flock like a shooting star. But always there were more lights behind them. One after another.

I was struck by the neatness, the constancy, of this. It was in stark contrast to my chaotic, unpredictable day, and it was calming. I felt that I knew each of those shooting star airplanes, that they symbolized the constancy and love I have experienced amidst the chaos today:

One was the friend who reminded me that her house is a mess at the end of every week, and another was the friend who assured me that her bedroom was as disastrous as my kitchen.

The next was the friend who told me to order take-out for dinner at exactly the right moment.

Another was the dear one who told me to go ahead and let the kids fuss about tonight’s sleeping arrangements, that I am tired and should sleep in my room with my husband again for the first night in 10 days now that Baxter is doing much better. I love your boys, but let them cry, she said. I listened. She was right.

The next three gave me the gift of names and numbers of more local babysitters without being asked. They dug deep into their email archives and went back to old listservs to find them for me.

After that came the one who visualized a big glass of wine for me while I cruise babysitter ads on craigslist tonight, followed by the friends who simply felt my pain and commiserated.

Later I saw the light that was my husband, whose series of hilarious Twitter messages in which he pretended to be a flaky babysitting applicant brightened my afternoon considerably.

They just kept coming, in a steady stream of light.

When I got back home, the boys had climbed into our bed together and were playing a game called “Here’s what THAT felt like!” as they poked, hit, kicked, and pinched each other, laughing hysterically.

And the phrase that kept coming to mind was, There is more good than bad today. A lot more good.

Trying to Move On

When I went downstairs to turn off the boys’ light and forcefully pry their books out of their hands, seeing as how it’s nearly 9 o’clock, Baxter appeared quite tired. “Just reading about all these world records has tuckered me out!” he declared, rubbing his eyes, and handing over the 2010 Guinness Book of World Records.

While I found that humorous — that simply reading about “the tallest and the fastest”, as he put it, would exhaust my child — that’s kind of the way we roll over here. Sometimes I fear we are more likely to “get tuckered” from reading about other people’s adventures than from actually having them ourselves. My kids are the ones who start out running through the snowy street when I encourage a pre-breakfast, post-blizzard adventure, and then collapse from the effort or cry about the snow in their boots 2/3 of the way down the block so that we don’t actually see the snowy beach and I have to take a solo trip later to see it for myself. They’d rather go home and eat those blueberry waffles they picked out at Trader Joe’s.

This makes us the perfect candidates for a big blizzard with two feet of snow and a couple of lazy snow days without school. It has to be a “historic snow event” for Chicago to close its public schools, and it was: this was the third biggest snowstorm on city record. We listened to lots of music, I finally made the old-fashioned peanut butter cookies I’ve been dying to make with the kids, we played in the snow a lot, and they watched a great many Star Wars movies. We really did have an incredible time, and lived our small, snowbound life to its fullest. I had a blast, personally, taking in the sight of huge mountains of snow and neighbors banded together to clear alleyways that the city doesn’t plow. In fact, three days later, our own street has yet to be plowed, but I assume they’ll find their way here soon. People here have a lot of spirit and character. “Flinty toughness” indeed, President Obama. I’m totally impressed.

As is often the case for me when I turn away from work completely for a few days, I am having an incredibly hard time getting focused again. I could be using these days to catch up on paperwork that sorely needs doing, and yet it’s as if my brain itself were filled with two feet of snow. But today I was able to leave the alley behind my house in my car, and the boys went to school (Matt took them there on the El), and reality is coming around again as surely as those vehicles are being dug out of every street. Unfortunately, with Baxter’s tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy scheduled for next Wednesday, I will only be re-immersed in work for two days next week before I’m pulled back into family time all over again.

I believe that I should claw my way to the surface of reality and be a responsible clinician and business owner, at least to catch up a bit before Baxter’s surgery, but instead I edit and organize my Flickr set from the blizzard and spend too much time creating a video montage that expresses what these few days have been like for me. Then I watch it too many times, even though so much visual quality has been lost from the original photos. When I do some laundry or wash a few dishes I feel I’ve accomplished something.

Perhaps tomorrow I’ll be ready to move on. I wouldn’t put money on it, though.

The Battle Between the Very, Very Good and the Insane

First there was Matt’s initial illness, which I can’t even remember anymore. Then he got a little better and went out of town but the day he left I got sick, and that one lasted a couple weeks, as you may recall. But then I got better and he got sick again, and he and Baxter both turned out to have strep throat that week, and someone sick always seemed to be sleeping in the guest room. There were more work trips for Matt in there somewhere, too. And then a couple days after Baxter’s antibiotic ran out he was swallowing hard and pretending not to be sick because it was the day before Halloween and he wanted to be fine. But we had to take him in for another round of antibiotics because, yes, the strep was still in his system. Which is only good because it probably means that he’s the only one of us sure not to get the dog’s pinkeye. Yes, that’s right, the dog has pinkeye, had to stay home from doggy day care one day this week (thanks, Matt), and we can easily catch it from him. While I think pinkeye is super gross, the idea of getting it from my dog makes me want to vomit. But that’s one illness we haven’t had this fall, knock on wood. Thank god I haven’t gotten that pinkeye, after plying the dog with treats, propping his eyes open and putting a “ribbon” of ointment across both of his eyeballs 3-4 times a day for the past 4 days. I stared at the vet in horror when he demonstrated that one for me. But only 3-6 more days of that to go!  And that’s good because I finally finished preparing a slideshow for a new presentation I gave the other night and have that behind me, and we have survived yet another Halloween “season” (why o why, when it used to be ONE DAY??). And speaking of those two things, I didn’t have time to remove my black Bat Girl nail polish before the presentation and lo and behold it is still on my nails today, except not only black and Goth-looking, but also chipped at this point and yet there it seems to stay. And while we’re on the subject of me and black, you ought to see the black circles I found under my eyes this morning, which I thought was mascara left over from, um, I don’t know, that day last week when I wore mascara, and tried to wash it off but it wasn’t actually removable.

The weekend is coming and we’ll all be home together and no one (besides the dog) appears to be sick in any way, and we are so excited because we can clean the house! In preparation for a cleaning lady to start next week! But the house is so grimy that I don’t even want to turn the lights on when she comes by to see the house and get the lay of the land tomorrow night, so I just scrubbed a toilet and wiped down a section of bathroom floor that hadn’t seen the light of day in — oh, wait, my mom reads this. Hey, Mom, look over here! Halloween candy! —  but anyway, quite possibly, not having all surfaces of our house encrusted with dust will help our allergies just a little. God help me if my allergist or my mom is reading this. And did I mention adding seven – yes, seven – new clients in the past couple weeks? That’s funny, I thought I had half a brain! But, see, now that I decided to add another partial day of work we realized can hire the cleaning lady we’ve been needing so desperately (because who can clean when they’re working ALL weekend??) and I can afford more help with billing at work so that if That Insurance Company sits on three thousand of my dollars again I’ll figure it out a bit sooner than I did in October. And dang it, those kids are cute and fun to work with and I have no regrets.

And somewhere in the midst of it all – despite the fact that my husband is again out of town right now and I can’t even remember which city he’s in this time – there was a small son telling me that I looked “pretty cute” in my huge fleece LL Bean robe this morning, thrilling developments in the Firefly & Friends project I’m working hard on in my extra minutes, and the mother of a new client telling me with tears in her eyes that she sees her son completely differently and more positively now that she’s worked with me a couple times. For the record, I wasn’t wearing the robe at work, so that had nothing to do with her teary eyes.  I have a child who’s going to move into double digits in just ten days, and there is no shortage of excitement about that. Plus I get to have dinner with some friends on Monday night and I’m thinking I might go out on the front porch right now and start waiting for them to pick me up. In the rain. Without a raincoat.

Somehow, and even I don’t know how it’s possible, the very, very good in my life still outweighs the insane.

Pool Party Success!

We had a sunny, warm end-of-summer day; perfect for Lyle’s 6th birthday party at a local Park District pool and playground! I chose an outdoor venue this year since Lyle wanted to invite more kids than ever before (he invited 18, we were so happy that quite a few of them could make it!). You may recall what happened when we hosted last year’s party at our house. I knew we had to move beyond these four walls this year!

I decided that rather than focusing too much on the venue or providing a full meal for everyone, this year’s centerpiece would be the cake. As many of you know, I have historically either made a box cake or bought something simple from Costco or Dominick’s. I’m not opposed to those options, but this summer I became aware of a new cake-baking genius who had opened up shop (in her lovely kitchen) right here in the neighborhood. Her name is Michele McAtee and she is the brilliant mind and hand behind Maddiebird Bakery. I “liked” her page on Facebook (you can, too: http://bit.ly/cOq6ce – or view her photos on Flickr!) and have been taunted by the sight of her incredible creations all summer, so I knew we needed one of those cakes this year! The cakes are highly individualized and after weeks of debate Lyle decided on a swimming pool cake. The second runner-up was a Toy Story 3 green alien cake, so Michele incorporated the cute little guys on the pool floatie she put her adorable replica of Lyle in! It was awesome (and incredibly delicious!). Take a look at the details: the ladder rails running into the realistic-looking water, the incredible beach towel on the edge, the tiny pair of goggles, the pool tiles on the sides and the depth numbers! Michele spent a lot of time on the phone with me discussing what would be meaningful and fun for Lyle and she pulled it off with style.

The party moved from the playground to the pool and then back to the playground. Lyle was incredibly happy to be racing around with his brother, a few friends from school, lots of neighbors, and his cousins. It was a very happy afternoon and when I asked him at bedtime what the best part was, he couldn’t begin to say.

“All of it,” he smiled.

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Lyle: Spring 2010

Guest Blogger Jennifer Recklet on “Princess Week”

Jennifer Recklet is a very dear friend I’ve known since we were 9 years old.  She lives outside of Boston with her (clearly!) wonderful husband Davide, and works in the Spouses & Partners at MIT program for the partners of international faculty.  Jennifer posted this as a Facebook note a few days ago and I was so taken with it that I asked her if she’d post it here for you.  And so, without further ado…

“Princess Week is coming to a close. Thanks to Davide and a beautiful tiara, it was lovely experience. Not having to do any housework or decide what to make for dinner for a whole week was just what I needed after the busy holiday season.

So why Princess Week? I just got tired of cooking, cleaning, food shopping, laundry, etc., so I asked for what I needed – a break. At first Davide laughed a lot at the idea, but agreed to waiting on me hand and foot for a week and also insisted that I get a tiara to make it all official.

I started off the week with a manicure, which I never do. During our weekend getaway, Davide drove me around on a snowmobile in a winter wonderland. I treated myself to lunch every day at work. At the end of the day I relaxed in the recliner while waiting for dinner. I wore my tiara at home in my pjs, when I was out at the grocery store, and during our weekly staff meeting at work.

I thought I might have some trouble letting go of the dirty dishes in the sink and what we were having for dinner, but for one week, I did okay. But I like things the way I like them, and it would probably drive me crazy after a while if the house wasn’t cleaned and organized the way I want it to be. So one lesson from Princess Week is that I need more practice letting go of control. Let’s see if I can lower my standards a bit.

One surprising thing about this week is how people reacted to the tiara. Those who asked about it wanted lots of details about Princess Week. But most people just smiled at me. How nice! I love how wearing a tiara can make an ordinary day feel special. I wanted to stand a little taller, take my time strolling across campus (princesses don’t have to rush), and make sure I smiled at everyone I passed. Royalty does have a responsibility to their public.

So the tiara is now available to anyone who wants to celebrate her own princess week. Your week doesn’t have to be like mine, just do whatever you need to do to feel like a princess. Take a day or a week to treat yourself like a queen. If you want to borrow the tiara, remember to appreciate your adoring fans, to receive the gifts that come to you graciously, and to smile. And don’t forget to ask me to teach you the official Disney wave.

I don’t know when I’ll ask for Princess Week again, and maybe the next time I’ll need something other than a week off from cooking and laundry. But I do know that in the meantime I’ll be wearing the tiara every once in a while, when I need a little sparkle in my life and a reminder to slow down and treat myself like royalty.”

If you’d like to celebrate Princess Week (or Month…or Year…) leave me a comment below.  I will select one commenter at random and get you your very own tiara  – because we all need to slow down and treat ourselves like royalty a bit more often.

Highs and Lows

I’m out of the habit of writing.  My life, which had been relatively mellow (for me, anyway) for a few months in the fall, became extremely busy with pre-holiday, pre-vacation tasks and a sudden uptick in consulting work in December. School ended, we took off for California immediately, and all I’ve been able to manage here since my return are some photos of our trip.  I don’t beat myself up about such things, but I’ve missed this space where I can sit and think and write and process life for a while.

Life is strange right now.  The highs are high and the lows are low, and I find myself floating between these poles, often quite quickly, feeling neither here nor there, just doing what needs to be done.  It’s hard to know what to write about or even focus on, in this life of extremes.

I’ve felt surrounded by death for the past few days, deaths which have been particularly shocking because it’s been young people who are passing away.  Within 24 hours I heard of three people younger than me who had died; two of them were relatives of friends and I didn’t know them, but one was the incredible, young, energetic executive director of the music studio the boys attend for private lessons.  It is so hard to fathom the loss of someone who was so full of life and apparent good health just a few weeks ago when she sold me the beautiful bag her mother had made for her to sell to the students, with the hand stitched name of the studio on it.  At the time, all I could think of was how proud her mother must have been of her daughter’s business venture and success when she made them – I visualized her, living out of state and carefully sewing these beautiful bags for kids to carry their music in to lessons at the studio and this image moved me to buy one – and now I picture that same mother grieving this illness that led to the sudden loss of her young daughter and it’s more than I can stand to think about.

In the midst of it all, at the other end of the age spectrum there’s my grandfather in Massachusetts  (the one I spent time with last fall when my grandmother was in the hospital) doing very poorly.  After spending a week in the hospital with a blood infection and cardiac problems, he was moved to a skilled nursing facility yesterday; he won’t be going home this time.  He’s asleep much of the time, but somehow still manages to crack his favorite old jokes in his awake, lucid moments.  His body is failing him and we are not sure how much longer he will be with us.  This leaves my grandmother living in their apartment alone, blind, and often confused, still deep in her denial of aging and death that has, no matter how frustrating for the rest of us at times, probably been what allowed them to live independently into their 90s.  I had to make the difficult decision yesterday not to try to go spend a few days with her next week, much as I would like to help her.  My cousin is there now and my parents will be there later in the week.  I am not prepared to leave my home or work life behind again after our recent two weeks away, and have some major conflicts this week;  unless something significant changes (e.g., there is no one else to visit with my grandmother and take her to see my grandfather each day), I am hoping to get grounded here before flying off again.  It was hard to make this decision, living as I do by a “family first” motto, but I am at peace with it.  I can’t do more than I can do.

The lows are very low.

And, as is the case so often, in the midst of being hit over the head with death of people far too young and the difficult realities of the end of my grandfather’s life, there is simultaneously new life on its way.  Tomorrow we will celebrate the upcoming arrival of my friend and partner-in-crime-colleague Lorell’s baby girl, due in just a few weeks.  I’ll be hosting the staff and mothers from the clinic here at our house, and enjoyed preparing the house, shopping for food, and buying all sorts of pink decorations to hang on my walls today.  (Truly, there has never been this much pink in our home!)

Further, there have been some bright spots in my first week back at work and I feel hopeful that 2010 is starting off to be a stronger year and full of new possibilities that I look forward to pursuing.  Back at home, I had a fun night out with a wonderful friend on Wednesday, and the boys are currently the best of friends and spent the day playing together non-stop and peacefully.  They seemed to bond in a huge way over the winter break, having no other kids around on a consistent basis. It’s remarkable and makes me so happy.

The highs are very high.

Without a doubt, this is life: highs and lows.  The difference at the moment is the intensity of each, and the speed with which things are happening.  It feels a bit like six months of ups and downs have been fit into a few days, and so I’m taking it slow whenever possible, sitting down to watch TV some evenings, getting the house professionally cleaned in preparation for the party, and sleeping in until 8 AM today.

And so I’ll hang out here in the midst of the chaos and be grateful for the chance to sit in a warm house by a cozy fire and think about it all for a while, because really, what a huge privilege this life of highs and lows is.

California in Pictures – Bay Area Visit

After Christmas, the four of us dashed up to the Bay Area to visit family and friends.  It was a whirlwind 2 1/2 days filled with lots of great fun, friends, and delicious food.  We spent one night in our old neighborhood, The Sunset, and another on the peninsula with my aunt and uncle.  We visited friends in San Francisco, Piedmont, San Carlos, and Redwood City, before heading back down to my parents’ house in Pacific Grove!

photo credit: Chris and Christa