Sunday, December 30, 2012

Dear sons: No one owes you anything

While driving this afternoon I was listening to a holiday commercial for a car. I've seen the television commercial version, too. There's pre-teen or young teen boy giving his request to Santa and ending by saying  "I'll be driving soon, so you better hook me up."

I couldn't help it. My mind wiped out everything else in the verbal advertisement and focused on that last line. And I thought that it was pretty arrogant of the kid to expect that. I don't like when I see kids expecting and demanding things of others. I know I grew up in a different time, but I never expected other people to do things or give me things. When I was given a gift or someone did something nice for me, I was very appreciative. Kids who get everything often don't appreciate what they do get. And somehow we've moved into this way of life where so many people feel entitled to things - they don't feel like they should work for things or reciprocate, just that someone owes them something.

I want to make sure that you boys grow up feeling a sense of appreciation for what you get. I don't want you to expect others to give you things or do things for you. As your mother, I have a responsibility to take care of you and see that your basic needs are met. That means providing food and shelter and love and keeping you healthy - not making sure you have expensive shoes or the newest generation of electronic devices. And it's only your parents that have that obligation of tending to those basic needs. No one else in the world owes you anything. If you're blessed by others, consider it just that - a blessing.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Road trips for the holiday break

The past week was hopefully full of presents and food and time with family as the Christmas holiday was celebrated. It’s always such a whirlwind of activity and most kids in the region still have at least another week off of school, so there’s time for lots more fun. The upcoming week is a perfect time to connect as a family with a little road trip. It can be short or long. It can be near or far. If you have an empty calendar this week and are looking for some family fun, here are some of my suggestions based on our family’s wintertime trips of the past. Hop in the car and have a little fun, either in your own back yard or a little beyond. Be sure to check hours in advance as some attractions close on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day or have shortened hours.

1)      Indiana Welcome Center – This place is just a hop, skip and a jump away, but through January 6, the free “A Christmas Story Comes Home” exhibit remains on display, with elaborate scenes from the classic movie, “A Christmas Story” created by Hammond Native Jean Shepard. The John Dillinger Museum is also located in the center and can be toured for a nominal fee. Because it’s a tourism center, it’s also jam packed with brochures and booklets that you can peruse to start planning your next family trip together. Finish off the afternoon with lunch next door at Cracker Barrel and then head over to Peteyville at 3033 Crane Place in Hammond (last day up is December 31) to check out the elaborate holiday display.
2)      Chanute Air Museum – This expansive museum in Rantoul, Illinois is dedicated to the accomplishments of Octave Chanute, the Chanute Air Force base that once occupied the site and the history of military aviation and Illinois aviation. For any fans of aeronautics, this is a wonderful collection of aircraft that spans decades. I especially liked learning about the area and how it was once a bustling base. Kids will love seeing these planes up close and seeing how huge they really are. We visited in early January and the crowds were small and there were opportunities for some great photos.
3)      Springfield – Anyone who lives in Illinois and who hasn’t been to ours state’s capital needs to add it to their travel bucket list. Not only is it worth it just to get a glimpse at the many government buildings (the interior dome of the state capitol is amazing!) but there are also the many Lincoln attractions to be enjoyed, many of which are free. Lincoln’s Home can be as well as Lincoln’s Tomb. The Abraham Lincoln Museum is a must see, with two state-of-the-art theatres that will amaze you, rooms full of Lincoln family artifacts and detailed historic information on the Civil War. We stayed at the Hilton Springfield, which is within walking distance of some attractions.
4)      Splash Universe – A favorite activity of our family when traveling is to visit water parks. With the frightful weather outside, it’s nice to be able to splash in the water inside where it’s warm. If you’re up for a drive, there are several great spots in Wisconsin Dells to visit with plenty of indoor water fun. A little closer to home is Splash Universe in Shipshewana. The area is home to a big population of Amish and while you won’t be able to visit the roadside farmstands or see an abundance of buggies going down the road, the area always seems so tranquil and slow-paced and it’s a perfect place to relax for a couple days. The indoor water park is ideal for ages 10 and under.
5)      Chicago – It’s always fun to play tourist for a day or two and see the big city that’s so close. Navy Pier has lots of indoor fun, including the Chicago Children’s Museum. Recently, our family made our first visit to the John Hancock Center Observatory, which was a lot of fun. Lincoln Park Zoo is a fun spot if you’re willing to brave the weather.

And a few others that make for a nice cold-weather road trip or day trip:
Fort Wayne, Indianapolis, South Bend, Fair Oaks Farms, Michigan City in Indiana; Battle Creek or Grand Rapids in Michigan; Milwaukee, Kenosha in Wisconsin and Galena, Rockford or Gurnee in Illinois.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Do you have a bucket list?

I was searching for something today and came across this column I wrote for my Mom Moments column. Just thought I'd share it as everyone is making lists of resolutions. :) It's from the Times on 2/13/11.

The bucket list is on my to-do list

Do you have a bucket list? Everyone should have one, I’m told. But I don’t. It’s not that making a list is that hard. It’s not that I'm lacking possible entries. I’m just still a little unclear on what to put on it. And it seems like it would need to be updated often. As you go about life, things change and your priorities change.

I had never heard the term until a few years ago when I watched a movie of that name that starred Morgan Freeman (one of my very favorite actors) and Jack Nicholson. The two men, who met in the hospital, became friends as they shared the contents of their bucket list (the list of things to do before you kick the bucket.) The two terminally ill patients set off to fulfill their wishes on a road trip.

I figure there’s a few ways you could go about it. Would you list the things you’d like to do and are easily attainable? Say, walking a 5K. Or things that you know are extremely unlikely and that you would find admirable, but would take a miracle for you to accomplish? Like running a marathon. Does writing them down make them more likely to happen? Or is it supposed to just be a huge wish list of what you dream could be if money were no object, there was no accountability and there were no roadblocks to prevent them from becoming reality?

I’d like to learn to play an instrument, but right now there’s not the time or motivation for it. So, do I write that one down or keep it off the current bucket list and put it on my retirement bucket list? How many bucket lists should you have anyway?

There are trips I’d like to take, topics I’d like to publish books on, skills I’d like to learn. There are things I wish I would have done, but the opportunity has passed, like wishing I’d had the nerve to wear a bikini back when I was a size 4, which I completely realize I will never be again.

I kind of feel like creating a list would make me feel pressure to get it done. The last thing I need right now is another “to-do” list of items that aren’t getting checked off. Maybe it’s something that needs to be done in baby steps. Write down one thing, accomplish it and then set a new goal. I kind of feel like looking down the line trying to be something you don’t feel like you can really be can be discouraging. And that’s not really what a bucket list is supposed to do. It’s supposed to foster encouragement and drive to do what’s out of your comfort zone.

I kind of like my comfort zone. I’m comfortable with where I am now and kind of enjoy the rollercoaster of not really knowing what comes next or if it will be something I can cross off my list. Being a mom means preparing for the worst and embracing the best – and knowing when the throw the plan out the window and just go with the flow. I think I’d rather go with the flow, than trying to change the flow. Maybe I’m just thinking too much into this.

For now creating the bucket list is something that has remained on the to-do list. Not the “to-do-before-I-die list” that is intended to be the bucket list, but the to-do list of chores. You know, the list of things you really don’t want to do. It’s wedged in between cleaning behind the refrigerator and re-organizing the sock drawer. It’s one of the things you kind of should do when you get around to it, but there’s no immediate rush. I’m in no rush to rush to do more before I die. Right now I think I’ll just live it as it comes, savor it and take what happens to be waiting around the next corner.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Make yourself grateful

Many years ago my mom gave me a gift - The Simple Abundance Journal of Gratitude. It was a companion book to Sarah Ban Breathnach's book Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy. At the time it came out in 1996 there was this big gratitude movement and I'm pretty sure the author appeared on Oprah. I never did read the accompanying book, but I loved the journal that mom gave me that had inspirational quotes and spaces for writing things that you were grateful for each day.

At the time I was a young sleep-deprived mom, buried in laundry and educational toys and books and sippy cups and changing diapers around the clock. Although you love your little one, those days are stressful and sometimes stepping outside of yourself and looking at the whole picture and recognizing all those little blessing can help you see things differently.

For most days that year I recorded at least 5 things I was thankful for that day. Not once did I have trouble coming up with 5 things to be thankful for and most of the time, I went on to write a dozen or so. Sometimes it was a warm coat or a long, quiet shower or ordering pizza or having clean drinking water. Just little things, but ones that you don't always take time to appreciate. And in the years since, I sometimes start up again with recording daily the things I am grateful for, especially when I find myself having a pity party over something pretty trivial. I often have to remind myself that I have a home, a place to sleep, food to eat, beautiful and healthy children and that I live in a free country where I don't have to live in fear for my life each day like some others in this world do.

In November, so many of my Facebook friends were posting things they were thankful for each day. I started in, too, but well, you know...sometimes life gets in the way and I didn't follow through 'til the end of the month. But I've realized that it's just fine if rather than writing it down you end your day by laying down in bed and saying a silent little prayer of thanks for those blessings. That may be even better than writing it down. As long as you feel it, that's what matters.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Memory Tree

It's tradition in our family to get a real Christmas tree each year.  We've been going to the same place in Highland for three or four years, followed up with dinner at Texas Corral, which is a favorite of the kids because you get to drop your peanut shells on the ground. They know the drill. We go pick out our tree. We don't leave until mom gets a decent picture of the whole bunch.

I get a little out of the Christmas spirit when we're bombarded weeks in advance with holiday displays in the store. It started even before Halloween that I was seeing wrapping paper and trees in the stores. By the time Thanksgiving arrived, I was already overloaded.

But, once we got the tree inside and got lights on it, it felt like Christmas and everything seemed brighter.

After 21 years of marriage, we have accumulated a lot of ornaments. Way too many to put on one tree. So, this year, I decided that we'd put up just a few special ornaments (like my Chicago Cubs, Elvis and Chamber of Commerce glass ornament) and then the rest of the tree would have only ornaments that had names, dates or pictures on them. All the Santa and snowman and teddy bear ornaments are taking a year off and staying in the boxes. We really could fill a tree with just the homemade ornaments that the kids have made at school over the years. I love those. It 's a tree full of memories.

 This one has a name on the back of Abbott, our first family dog.

From my nephew, Ryan.

That's our current doggie. ;)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Ramblings from a mammography virgin

I sat down to fill out paperwork and there was a space to write my age. I hesitated. I didn't want to write down that I was 40. It just doesn't seem right. In my head I usually feel more like 26 most of the time. I guess I hesitated a little too long because my name was called before I finished my form.

The technician was irked with me and chastised me for being a few minutes late. Whenever I'm early or on time for a medical appointment I seem to wait forever. This time, I was 4 minutes late when I got in line at the front desk and then it was another five minutes later when they called me back to the exam room. She gave me a robe and I expected her to exit while I changed. She didn't exit. "Come on, you need to get changing!" she scolded. I guess there's no such thing as modesty when you're having a mammogram. I guess there's no need to change privately and discreetly when a minute later your breast is in someone else's hand being flattened.(And on a side note, I sure would have been wearing gloves if I had her job!)  I guess we just didn't start off on the right foot. She was irritated with me as soon as I walked in, which made me irritated with her. But, hey, I was the one who was late, so I figured I needed to suck it up and be nice. And when I got nicer, she got nicer.

My husband told me this morning I've been crabby. I didn't realize I had been. But I know I wasn't looking forward to my first mammogram and maybe that had me a little on edge...or maybe that added on to the workload, the housework, the holiday craziness and all kinds of other stuff that I shouldn't complain about because I make my own bed and if I don't like things I need to kick myself and change it.

Anyway, after the mammogram I stopped to do some Christmas shopping and I also decided to look for an outfit to wear on Christmas. I'm never very happy with anything I try on. It's hard to get something that looks good when your arm length is a small, your shoulders are a medium, your boobs are a large and the middle is teetering on XL.

And this dressing room had the full-length mirrors on two sides. And I could see my back side clearly. And I looked at it and I was stunned. Wow...I never realized how bad I look from the back. I definitely don't have the ass I had when I was 26. All this made me feel way older than 26. Even older than 40. Incidentally  the extra mirrors did confirm my thoughts that my best feature is my hair. Even though I have a growing army of gray hairs, I've been keeping them at bay via highlights. And I've been told (or heard or read) a few times recently that age 40 is too old to have long hair. Who made that rule? This long hair is staying on my head as long as I can get away with it. Yeah, I guess I am a little crabby. And you know, sometimes I type this stuff out and ramble and put it out there like no one is ever going to see it. It's not like a have a gigantic number of followers, but a few someones out there will read it. And think I'm crazy. Or crabby. Or maybe hitting a midlife crisis. Or something like that. Oh well, tomorrow is a new day. Deep breath. Sweet dreams. Then back to 26.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Talking and listening

I'm not against talking to my kids about the tragedy that happened in Connecticut on Friday. I want to let them know I'm there for them and want to reassure them that they are safe and want to answer questions they may have. They are of varying ages and the conversations need to be very different. I've talked about it with two of them so far.

We don't really watch the news in our house, but kids hear things. They see the newspaper sitting out on our dining room table. Other kids will share details. They might hear something being said on the radio or overhear a conversation between adults. We all know that if you ask them to take out the garbage, they can't seem to hear you, but when you whisper something that you don't want them to hear, they seem to have supersonic audio skills. We have no way of controlling every bit of the content that goes into their ears.

My oldest son just graduated from high school and he watched some of the initial footage on television with me. Really, there wasn't a long intense conversation. We were both stunned.

I think sometimes in sitting them down and giving kids the feeling that there has to be a big serious conversation about something puts more fear into them. I'm thinking casual conversation is more the way to go. Every family is different and will handle it in their own way. I'm still trying to figure out what the best thing is to do here. And have I already waited too long?

I said to my 11-year-old today, "Did you hear about what happened it Connecticut on Friday?" "Yes," he answered. "How did you find out?" I asked. "When we watched wrestling last night there was a tribute to them," he said. I felt some relief that he learned of it by seeing a televised tribute to the victims rather than a dramatic news account with disturbing images and 9-1-1 calls playing in the background. He saw the good part that comes out of it, like you can even link the word "good" to anything about the tragedy. But what he saw was people coming together in remembrance. I'm glad that's what he saw. "What kind of idiot would go and do that and shoot people in a school?" he asked. I don't really have an answer to tell him. I have to be honest and say that I don't know and that there are a very small number of people in the world who do bad things that we just can't explain. I feel like I should have a better answer, but I leave it at that. I ask him if that's why his stomach isn't feeling well today. He says that's not why. I wonder.

There are more conversations to come with the other children, but the one I just can't imagine having is with my youngest one, my 7-year-old. Several of the kids who died were his age. It just makes so little sense. And nothing I can say to him is going to make any more sense of it.

Thinking and not thinking about the Connecticut shootings

As I thought and read postings over the weekend, I figured I just wouldn't post anything on the tragic shooting in Connecticut last Friday. What more is there to say that hasn't been said? It was horrible. I always try to stay middle ground and hear all sides. And I try to really listen and put myself in that situation and try to understand all sides as best as I can and see where that opinion is coming from.

On Friday morning my husband was on a field trip at a downtown museum with my 2nd grader and I was at home on deadline writing my Sunday column as I'd flip back and forth between Facebook and my Word document. It was on Facebook that I started seeing status updates about a school shooting in Connecticut. The first few posts said some kids were injured. The posts kept getting worse. I kind of froze and read a little bit. I wanted more information, but when there's such a tragedy I sometimes don't want the information. I don't want to know of more evil in the world and would prefer to be insulated in a bubble of disbelief and I don't want to feed into that desire for sensationalism that is arguably part of the problem in such mass murders.

I finally got my column e-mailed and then turned on the television where snapshots of families running from the school with children in hand were replayed. My 18-year-old sat at watched with me for a few minutes before he went off to work. Many of the first posts and reports I saw turned out to be false. As my heart was breaking for the parents of these kids, the staff at the school and the families of everyone involved and everyone in that community, I thought about the family of the shooter, too, and what kind of anguish they were going through, especially the older brother who was initially identified as the gunman. In one unimaginable act by a very troubled young man, so many lives are forever changed.

I don't want to debate things. In times of tragedy, I often am uncomfortable by the instant need to place blame and to spread it around among many. I tend to focus more on the victims and their qualities and the efforts of those coming to aid. But there is blame in such a situation and there has to be accountability. There is someone who committed a crime. I wish the blame could stop there, but it doesn't. Blame gets extended to the shooter's family who are somehow expected to have foreseen something so awful. Some say blame goes to the school for not doing more to prevent it. Others blame guns - either that they are too easy to get or that they aren't easy enough to get. Some say the media causes it by making the names of mass murderers household names.

I'm not going to jump on the blame game. There are other places I'd rather put my energy, like into my family, which includes a 7-year-old not much different from those precious first graders who lost their lives on Friday. But I do think that our country has ignored the need to care for those with mental illness. In a country that is a melting pot of different cultures and nationalities and we embrace and care for immigrants, legal or otherwise, we sometimes overlook those who have a great need for help.

I've known people who have spent time in mental institutions of the past, the terrifying places where shock therapy was the norm and where it might not have been so hard to have someone committed without an actual professional diagnosis. We by no means should return to those days. Those with mental illnesses are human and are loved by people who want to help them and are sometimes able to make it in the world with the support of others. I don't have any experience in the field of psychology that could justify me making any kind of recommendation of how mental illness should be handled. I do know, however, that mental health facilities are shrinking and in an attempt to incorporate and integrate everyone into society, some who are truly disturbed and in need of intensive care don't get it. It seems there'd be more of a middle ground, somewhere between the Hellish institutions of the past and in simply putting people in need of care out into a world they aren't equipped to be in. And even if we get there someday, where we have long-term solutions to care for our mentally ill, would it be enough to prevent such senseless acts as we've seen in recent years?

And the profile of the shooter in this situation seems to run similar to many other recent shootings. White males in their teens or early 20's. Loners. Extremely intelligent. Withdrawn. Shy. Not many friends. I can't tell you how many young guys in the world fit that description. They're not all going to turn and do something so extreme. But what do we need to do to change it? What can be done early on in the lives of these kids that could prevent such a thing.

Ironically, my kids' schools had a drill just last week on what to do if there's an intruder in the school. I'm thankful for that proactive step they took. When they did the drill, you knew they were doing it because it has happened elsewhere and it could happen here, but there's always that touch of denial that it won't happen. I thought about the layout of the new school, which is still unfinished with continuing construction. I thought about where the classrooms are now situated and where the main entrance is now situated and that there are rooms without a window to escape through. You can't help but visualize it happening where your kids go to school.

With every shooting, the world loses more innocent people and those who remain lose yet more of a world where innocence exists. This won't be the last. As long as there are people. And as long as there are weapons they can use. And as long as there are individuals that feel that this is how they will leave their mark, there will still be violence. I wonder really what might have been done to change the outcome. Could the shooters family done more to provide treatment? Could they have looked closer for signs? How can you predict that someone will do something like this? Could the school have had more precautionary measures? Would the outcome have been different if the mother didn't own any guns? There are lots of unanswered questions we can never know the answers to. And on one hand, you can't help but think that when someone has that intent, they're going to do it and find a way to do it. Maybe under different circumstances he would have killed 4 instead of 26. It would still be too many. Or maybe little things at pivotal moments would have caused it not to be.

I'm avoiding watching and reading about it. I feel for the families. I respect all those that are doing what they can to help. Right now I just can't look at the face of any more children knowing what their last moments entailed.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Are you suffering from room mom burnout?

When I became a mom, one of the things I could not wait to do was be a room mom. My mom never was one. In fact, she really was never at my school at all when I was a kid. She was a stay-at-home mom while I was in elementary school, but she didn't drive and I never had the opportunity to have her there for a school bazaar or a field trip or a musical performance. I always wished she was. Was I trying to overcompensate for her absence? Definitely.

I wanted to be at school to watch the class have fun, I wanted to organize games, I wanted to bake cupcakes, I wanted to plan activities and crafts. As soon as he was in school, I was ready. In his first few years in school, the school he was attending was like most. There were a few volunteers who stepped up and became room moms year after year. Every year at that school, there was at least one other room mom, usually two, and we split duties. It worked well. You'd think there'd be clashes and a struggle of power, I guess. But, for the most part everyone worked together and no one person was overwhhelmed.

At the current school, there's one person who is a head room mom. It's a little more effort and work required when you're planning all by yourself, but there always seem to be a few parents who show up to help and there's always other parents willing to send in cups or plates or drinks. It's a team effort, it's just that one person has to coordinate it all. But there's lots of involvement from parents, which is awesome. This year, too, the PTA took on the burden of doling out some money for the parties, which is a huge relief. It erased the responsibility from the head room mom of trying to collect money from all the families and pulling out even more out of their own pockets when someone didn't send in the $3 they owed. That was a tremendous help.

My oldest is now out of high school and it was when he was in preschool that I started my room mom days, so I've been at it a good 15 years. Every year. That's a long time. Some years have been easier than others. There were some years I thought maybe I'd take a year off and give someone else a chance to be the classroom party planner, but then no one else was interested so I took it on. I've even had years of being a room mom in two, three or even four different classes. It still breaks my heart a little when I can't be at all the parties. And breaks my heart a little when I think I've planned out a fun time for the kids to hear a 3rd grader tell me the party "sucks" or is "boring."

Today I was thinking that I have to get going on the arrangements for the holiday party (somehow the term "Christmas Party" went away years ago.) After so many years of doing, it you'd think I'd be able to come up with it with my eyes closed. But I'm also realizing that you can only play "hot potato" or "guess how many candies are in the jar" so many times. I kind of feel like the kids get cheated as I repeat my old standby games year after year. Baked goods became prohibited last year, which really bummed me out. Baking cupcakes was probably my favorite part of the whole affair. And honestly, I'm not all that motivated to scan Pinterest for craft ideas that involve scissors and glue and glitter. And I'm head room mom for one child, but really would like to be in his brothers' classrooms this time around. Luckily, another mom offered her help manage the party and I'm going to take her up on it. I'm hoping she'll have some fresh ideas and be happy to hold down the fort for most of the afternoon, so that I can spend some time with another grade being the helper and not the planner.

Each time I think that maybe I'll hang up that room mom hat for good, I realize that there aren't too many more room mom years left for me. I really should enjoy it while it lasts. Next year one son moves on to junior high where room moms no longer exist. And one moves up to 5th grade and the youngest moves up to 3rd. That means only three more years and then there won't be any more opportunities to visit the class for a Halloween Party or a round of "hot potato." I have to shake off the room mom burnout and remember how lucky I am to be at this point in motherhood. If you're the point of burnout, but still wanting to be involved, don't be afraid to ask other moms for help. It makes a huge difference. And often there are plenty of parents who want to pitch in, but don't know how or simply aren't asked. And keep in mind that the parties are for the kids to celebrate. Sometimes they are just as happy snacking on a bag of popcorn and watching a cartoon as they would be making elaborate gingerbread houses, gluing rhinestones on a blingy ornament or noshing on crap out of an overflowing goody bag. It doesn't have to be excessive. It's not a competition. It's a couple hours sans math worksheets and spelling tests and that can be celebration enough. Also, this should be obvious, but sometimes I forget about asking the kids for input. It is their party and asking what they'd like to do makes sense. So, happy partying this year to all the kids and room moms out there.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Moving on

The kids had a noon dismissal from school today, so I took my two youngest boys (ages 7 and 9) and friend to Funflatables. It's a local place full of inflatables, so it's a nice place to take boys - they can jump and bounce and wear themselves out.

I got there with them and took a seat with my Redbook magazine and watched them as they went back and forth from the slide to another bouncer to playing with some balls to climbing in and out of a little castle. I sat there and looked around at all the other parents who were pacing and chasing and hovering. I was the only one sitting. Part of it is because I was there with bigger kids. By ages 7 and 9, you don't have to follow behind them with every step they make. Because it was the middle of a school day, the place was full of moms with young kids. The other part, I thought to myself, is that it's the difference between new parents and experienced parents. Once you've had a few kids, you relax a little. But, 10 years ago, I was in their shoes. A couple of toddlers running around and one on the way. If I was there, I wouldn't have been seated. I would have been following and hovering. I'd have been watching every move closely to make sure that one didn't fall and that he was taking turns.

Now when I go to a place like that, I sit back and don't feel the need to watch so closely. I read a paragraph. I glance up to see what they're doing. My biggest concern is that they'll knock over a small child or that they'll get into a fight with each other. Again, years ago I wouldn't have understood. I didn't see how someone could go to a place like that and sit down and cut their kids loose. I couldn't see how a parent could drop their kids off at a birthday party and come back for them later. Now I get it. You can't be there every minute watching everything they do. You have to teach them well and set them free at some point. I could feel the daggers coming my direction from a couple young moms chasing their wobbly walkers and wondering why I was sitting there thumbing through a magazine instead of on my kids' heels supervising from inches away. I can't blame them. I was there once.

Now that I have been at it long enough and have gotten to the point where I feel comfortable enough letting the kids explore and play without me right behind them, I feel relief. It's exhausting to be a helicopter parent and it feels so freeing when they get to an age where you can (mostly) trust them to ease up a little. It feels good to move on from smothering them. To move on to having a little more freedom. To move on to letting there be a little more time for yourself.

As I sat there reading, a mom sat down a couple seats away. She had two kids with her who appeared to be maybe 4 and 5 or so. They'd bring her a ball, she'd throw it to them. I was thinking that since she had younger kids with her, perhaps she had older ones, too, and was an experienced mom like me - one who finally felt comfortable to let the kids play a little on their own while she sat down. After a couple minutes she started a conversation after both our kids reached for a ball at the same time. I encouraged my son to give it to her little girl. She encouraged her son to hand one over since his sister already had one. "I have five kids," she said casually. BINGO! I smiled a little...I was right. This wasn't a first time mom there with her two kids. This was a mom who had also been in the trenches a long time, just like me, and didn't feel guilty about sitting down on the job while her kids ran around. "So do I," I answered. So, we sat. We chatted a little as other parents looked our way and rolled their eyes. One day they'll get it.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Why I might keep the dumb phone

Last month I attended a blogging conference in Chicago. Since it was a local one, I opted not to do a hotel overnight, but to drive down just for one day of the two-day conference. It was full of useful information for bloggers and a good opportunity for networking. It was great to get away just for a day to the relaxing atmosphere of a downtown hotel conference room with a bunch of other moms.

It was the Bloggy Boot Camp put on by the SITS girls, Tiffany and Fran. The blogging gurus also lined up several interesting speakers.

This is me with my friend, Jen, a fellow writer and blogger who invited me to attend the conference with her. We actually felt quite spoiled that day as we accepted offers by our husbands to drive us there and back so we wouldn't have to deal with parking or bear that expense. Her husband, Tom, dropped us off. My hubby, Paul, picked us up. I kind of like having a driver. I could certainly get used to that.

Among all the valuable notes I took that day, one thing I walked away with was the advice from Tiffany on making sure that you take time to turn off and be shut down from work. Any writer or blogger knows that it's difficult when you're not punching a 9 to 5 clock. You have the flexibility of working at home at your convenience, but you also have that burden of feeling like you have to work whenever you have a bit of unoccupied time. You could be easily working 24/7. Truly, you need to set boundaries and stick with them so that you don't find your work overshadowing your family. For Tiffany, she said that it was at her son's baseball games where work was completely off limits. She didn't even bring her phone to games.

For the past three years or so I have been bugging my husband about switching our mobile phone service so that I can get an iPhone. At first he didn't really see the need and saw it as a luxury that didn't justify the expense. However, in the past few years there have been so many times that I have said that I wished I had a smart phone and I've convinced him of the value in it. 

It would really come in handy in so many situations and most of them work related. There are times it really would have made life easier if I'd had Google at my fingertips. There have been times I have been away from home and really needed to access an e-mail. I hate when I'm at a media event where everyone is snapping photos with their phones and tweeting them and I'm lugging my big Nikon around then downloading the photos hours later so that I can post them. I feel so behind the times and feel like I'm being so inefficient. If I had the smart phone, I could be so much more productive, I reason.

When we were at the conference and on the topic of balancing things and setting certain times when work is off the radar, I realized how much harder that would be with a smart phone. When I'm at home I spend a lot of time at my desktop. It is nice to turn it off and head out the door and not have to worry about what I left behind on the computer. It's nice that I might spend those few extra minutes in the car reading a few pages in a book, whereas if I'd had a smart phone in my hand, I would have likely spent that time updating a Facebook status. Heck, at that conference I'd brought my iPad and the hotel had wi-fi and I admit I zoned out a couple times during the presentations and sat there checking e-mails.

When I go somewhere with the kids, I am focused on them. If I had a smart phone, I'm pretty sure I'd be interrupted often by e-mails and alerts and they'd be cheated out of that time. I have a hard time shutting off work when I'm at home. I'd hate to have that tool of a smart phone taking away more time from my family. As much as it kills me sometimes not to have that technology, I am thankful right now that I don't. It gives me that breather that I need and keeps me off the computer, e-mail, Facebook, etc. for a while. I don't think I want to give that up. The dumb phone might not be so bad after all. I'm not saying it won't happen eventually, but that constant urge to upgrade has lessened and I'm grateful for the times when I'm not connected to everyone else and only to them.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Buy a smile

I know we hear all the time that money can't buy love and happiness, but hey, let's face it, it does have the potential to improve your life and make it a little happier. If I didn't have the worries of paying for a mortgage, car payment, utilities, food, insurance and other necessary expenses, it would ease my stress level a LOT. If I didn't have to work at all, I'd have time to do things I really enjoy doing. If I had money to travel, it would make me extremely happy because I'd get to see other parts of the world. If I had money to buy a larger house it might make me feel better than us all being crammed into an aging house that falls apart more day by day. If I could hire someone to do the tasks I don't want to do, I'd be happier being able to do what I really want to do. Don't get me wrong. I'm content. I have a beautiful family and they are the most important thing in my life and I am so thankful for them. Extra funds would allow me to do more with them, though and that's something that makes me happy. My point is, that although money may not be able to completely transform someone is already unhappy or give them back something they've lost, a little bit of unforeseen fortune can really make a difference. Not just for the recipient, but for the giver, too.

On a recent trip to the grocery store, I noticed things that I knew would bring a smile to someone's face or make them a little happy. So, in a sense, it would be buying happiness. I got some flowers for my mom. I got my son his favorite cereal. I got the makings of a meal my husband likes. I got the dog a box of treats. There's thought connected to it, but with the thought and no funds to do it, it wouldn't happen. I'm all for buying a smile. The $1 garage sale book for my dad or 89 cent chocolate bar for my son aren't going to bring compete happiness, even if there was a winning lottery attached to it. But, it brings a smile and lets them know someone was thinking of them. So, I guess you could say money + thought = smiles, right?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Say thanks to our vets EVERY day

Today is Veterans Day and it's a day set aside to recognize our veterans and to thank them for their service and sacrifices and courage. And my thoughts are completely with them today. But not just today. I try to carry that on throughout the year. Everyone has a cause they believe in and that they work toward - for some it might be helping at an animal shelter to make sure animals find good homes or it may be lining shelves of a food pantry to make sure your neighbors aren't going hungry. There are so many worthy causes out there to dedicate your time to.

Showing appreciation to our vets and our current military personnel has kind of become my thing. It's the cause that's closest to my heart. It may not have the tangible results like delivering a pet to his new family or handing a bag of food to a family in need, but it's the one I feel most compelled to continue.

So today I simply again say the words we cannot express enough - THANK YOU! And I'm going to give you some visuals on why it's so important to me.

Back in the 2004-2005 school year, the first year my kids attended Oak Glen School, I approached the principal, Mr. Miller, and asked if I could start an "Adopt-a-Soldier" project there and collect items and letters from the kids to send care packages to deployed troops and keep in touch with them during the school year. I'm happy to say that the program still continues to this day. One of the first packages I sent out was to this guy, Ryan Hensley. He happened to have attended that grade school and on leave from his tour in Iraq, he showed up in his dress uniform to visit with the students in his old classroom. There's obvious well-deserved respect that we show for our older veterans, but I can't tell you how much I look up to these younger guys like Ryan!

Another one of those first adoptees was John Aylmer. He enlisted in the Marines at the same time as Ryan and the two were long-time buddies. (And that's his darling girlfriend, Brittany, beside him.) John was also kind enough to come to the school when he was home on leave to visit the students. That time on leave goes so quickly and I was so appreciative of them giving some of that precious time to visit the kids. I also have this connection to John because I learned that he was the great-nephew of Art Aylmer, who was my next door neighbor growing up. Art was one of the sweetest men you could ever meet and he was a proud World War II veteran, who had a sturdy flagpole in front of his house and flew the American flag faithfully.

 Last month, there was a program called Pillars of Honor at our local high school, which is a program and exhibit of a model of the World War II memorial in Washington D.C. It was a fantastic program that was attended by several local World War II veterans. I was seated behind this one. I adore this photo I took. I didn't get his name.

Then, last night I was at a celebration for the 237th birthday of the USMC and who do you think I saw? This time I got his name - Richard Yavenue. He was injured while serving in the Pacific at just age 18. His wife pulled a picture out of her purse to show me what he looked like then.

At the Pillars of Honor was another World War II veteran that I'd never met. His name was Rudy Hartge. He showed up at our next Lansing Historical Society meeting and asked for me. He showed me a picture from 1946 of a group of men in military uniforms. He said it was all the young men from Trinity Lutheran Church after they returned from the war. Rudy and his two brothers were pictured.

After that I asked my editor at the newspaper I write for if I could interview some WWII vets for a Veterans Day story. She agreed and I set up a meeting with Rudy. When I met him at the historical society, I told him I'd love to come visit him and hear more about his wartime experiences. My 13-year-old was with me. Rudy told him to come along when I made my visit.

So, last week I went out to meet Rudy - and my son happened to be off school that day. He brought along a WWII helmet he bought last summer at a military museum in Zion, IL. Rudy looked at it and relayed a story about how he and some of his fellow soldiers were in Italy and running around in just the helmet liners. He had me pick up each one to feel how much lighter the liner was so I understood why they didn't want to wear the heavy helmet all day long. He said that General Patton showed up for an inspection and threatened to knock his commanding officer "down to buck ass private" if the bunch didn't shape up. What a story. I'm so glad my son was able to meet him and hear about Rudy's experiences, even though some were gruesome and heartbreaking. When we were done, Rudy tried on the helmet.

The following day I went out to meet Ralph Boardman, a World War II vet in town who had served in the Pacific. A piece of shrapnel shot from a Japanese soldier on a mountain top left him blind in one eye. I had the honor of holding this case and its contents - his Purple Heart.

Here he is wearing his dog tags.

And here's that Purple Heart. I love this shot.

I left Ralph's house and went to Hammond to visit Andrew Orich, who served in the Caribbean in the Air Force during World War II. Although he wasn't involved in combat, he became gravely ill from malaria and dengue fever. He was an airplane mechanic and you should have seen the way his face lit up as he talked about the plane engines he worked on.

This is Laurie. Her husband was a Marine. And now her son is. We can't forget to thank the spouses and children behind our veterans!

Over the summer, a lady named Julie got in touch with me to thank my son. Back when he was 11 (he's now 18), he started a project called "Samples for Soldiers" and the library became a drop off point for toiletry items that we'd ship off to troops. While Julie's son, Ryan, was deployed, the gals at the library gave some of the items collected so that they could be sent in care packages. The collection took place at J.J. Kelley's, a local restaurant and bar, with wonderful owners, Jo-Ellyn and Vince, who are very supportive of our military. When Ryan came back home later in the year, there was a welcome home celebration for him. So many in town came out to greet him. And I went out to meet him and take lots of pictures. This one speaks volumes, I think.

And that's Ryan, thanking everyone for showing up to welcome him back.

Sometimes we'd send off "Samples for Soldiers" packages and we'd get e-mails or notes or postcards, which we cherish. We got a couple pictures of entire units. One person sent us Iraqi dollar bills and coins. We never expect a thing in return and acknowledging that a package was received is always a blessing that just makes it even more worthwhile. Sometimes the correspondence lasts for a while, like with my friend, Celia. 

She responded with a letter after getting a "Samples for Soldiers" package. The e-mails continued from there and I learned she was also a big Cubs fan and that she had a young son back home in the Chicago area. When she returned from Afghanistan, I asked my sister, who has season tickets to the Cubs, if she could spare a set for me to give to Celia, who said she'd never been to a Cubs game. My sister, who didn't hesitate to say yes, gave me a set. I contacted Celia to let her know I had a couple tickets for her. She asked if I'd be going, too, so that we could meet. I went back and asked my sis for second set and she obliged. So, last year, my middle son and I went to meet Celia and her son to take them to their first Cubs game. And this year, we went to another game together, courtesy of my awesome sister. Last time, we both brought our sons. This time we both brought our dads (and it was her dad's first Cubs game.) I can't tell you what a thrill it was and what an honor it was to be able to spend that time with her and her family!

In October, our town has a big festival with a day dedicated to our military. Here's another of our local World War II vets, Robert Stech.

And here's my next door neighbor, Chuck, a Vietnam Veteran, and his wife, Fran. They were newly married when Chuck went off to war. She's been by his side for 50 years! They celebrate their anniversary next month!

Part of that festival included the Pillars of Honor. Leading off the ceremony were the Lansing Veterans Memorial Ceremonial Honor Guard. They present colors at so many events in the community. I adore these guys!

And these were some of the guests of honor.

LCPL Philip Martini enlisted along with Ryan and John, the two guys at the top of this post. Sadly, he lost his life while serving in Iraq. A plaque at Winterhoff Park sits in front of a tree planted in his honor. I organized the planting and ceremony with members of a club I'm in, the Lansing Junior Woman's Club. It's where I first met his mother and brothers.

My big brother, Mark, was in the Air Force National Guard when I was a teenager. It was a peaceful time for the most part, but he had little girls at the time and I remember how sad I was when had to go for weekend duty or when he went out of the country. One trip was to Honduras where I think he was helping to build a school. He came back telling us about how poor the kids were and how he and the other soldiers would hand out pencils to them and you'd think you just handed them $1,000 dollars. He made the choice to  get out of the military in the early 1990's. I was planning my wedding in early 1991 when we entered the Gulf War. I remember where I was when I heard we'd gone into Iraq and the war had begun - sitting in my car at the emissions testing station. I was so worried my brother would be sent over there and I wondered if we'd have one less person in our wedding party later that Spring. That's my 13-year-old in the picture below. My brother recently gave him some of the items he wore when he was in the Air Force, including this camouflage coat with his name patched on it. My son wears it pretty much every day.

Here's my father-in-law, a native of Germany whose first years were spent in that war torn country. He immigrated to the U.S. in his teens in the late 1950's, leaving his entire family and coming here alone, and served in the U.S. Army.

I mentioned that wonderful club I'm a part of called the Lansing Junior Woman's Club. A few years ago I came to the members with an idea to do a little appreciation luncheon for some local veterans in the basement of the church where we hold our meetings. It grew to be a full complimentary dinner for veterans and a guest with music, speakers and prizes that has now continued for several years. Each year it grows larger and I'm so happy to see how special this event is to many of the veterans who attend.

It was kind of like pulling teeth to get this guy there. That's my dad. He was in the Army in the early 1960's - between the Korean War and the Vietnam War. He tells me he doesn't consider himself a "veteran" because he didn't serve in a war. He's still a hero to me. By the way, his dad served in the Army at the end of World War I and his brother-in-law, my Uncle Roland, served in World War II, including the Battle of the Bulge.

That Veteran Appreciation Dinner has been held at the Edward Schultz American Legion post. I've made it a habit of visiting a local cemetery with the boys on Memorial Day. We took this picture last Memorial Day. Edward Schultz was the first person in town to die as a result of military duty.

This year I'm the vice president of the historical society and one of my responsibilities is to plan programming.  I thought it would be fitting to dedicate all the programming this year to World War II and we've had quite a nice response to the programs we've had so far. One meeting was a World War II memory night. People not only shared memories, but also scrapbooks and war memorabilia. I heard some very fascinating stories.

So, honoring veterans is something that has kind of been weaved into my life. I thank God for them every day. I am thankful that many of them share their stories with me and that I can call many of them friends. My gratitude grows with each story I hear. Some just break my heart. Remember John's great-uncle, Art Aylmer, who I mentioned above? He died several years ago, but his wife is still alive and well and when I see her she always talks about Art. About how he rarely talked about the war, but would jolt from bed with nightmares. One thing I remember her telling me that I can't even think about without my eyes swelling with tears is that his daughter was born while he was overseas. He didn't meet her until she was about 18-months old. It took a long time for her to warm up to the father she'd never met. There are so many more stories like that. So much that has been sacrificed. So much that is never the same when these boys join the military and return as men. They deserve our gratitude much more than just one day a year.