Archive | September 2012

Weekend Pacing: Are Two Pumpkin Patches Too Many?

Have you ever noticed that some families do so much fun stuff on the weekends? We are not typically that family. One trip to Uncle Costco’s and a wild excursion to the gym pretty much does us in.

We are old. We are tired.

But then I run into people on Mondays who report their activities: “We went to brunch with the kids, then we built a house with Habitat for Humanity, then the kids took surfing lessons at the Rec Center.”

Well, I spent one too many Mondays trying to dress up a trip to a big box warehouse store to sound like something brag-worthy and faboosh. This weekend, we were going to shoot for the stars and aim for the fences all at once. It’s the perfect season for outings that sound good and feel good.

And that’s how we ended up at two different pumpkin patches this weekend. Each was 45 minutes from our house.

Being someone who generally considers having lunch out with her kids a big deal, I am unused to more elaborate day trips. I made mistakes. I forgot my Purell at the first pumpkin patch’s petting zoo but I didn’t realize that until after my children had gamely petted a baby sheep. I also left Simon’s diaper bag in the car, which was parked some acres away. Rookie mistakes.

By our second journey to the Great Outdoors, I figured out how to layer everyone’s clothing and keep a keen eye on my little wanderers without strapping a leash on them. I learned how to weather the shame of having the Corn Police call out my kids for “inappropriately tossing kernels out of the bin.”

I certainly get the allure of getting out for family adventures. We made great memories, took roughly 800 pictures of our children with various gourds, and have the fixings for a killer pumpkin soup.

But I’m still not sure I’m a two-excursion-per-weekend mom. The naps were shot to hell, our house looks like a Disney crime scene, and I found a dozen corn kernels in Simon’s diaper.

Fundamentally, this is probably another pacing issue. Maybe one pumpkin patch per weekend is enough. I don’t know. I either do nothing or put 170 miles on my car. It’s a wee bit black and white, like most of my thoughts and actions.

And we’ll probably spend the next two weekends recovering from this one. I suspect it will be a while before my kids embrace another outing to a pumpkin patch.

How do you plan your weekends? Can you handle two or more excursions? Do you ever miscalculate your family’s energy level?


Hello, Fear, Want Some Tea?

Every now and then I look back on a week and see I’ve been bullying myself. Stop being afraid! Stop avoiding writing because you are afraid of the new chapter! Stop letting vegetables rot in the fridge because you are afraid of cooking!

And this thing I keep expecting of myself– to not be afraid– how mean is that? I would never tell my kids not to be afraid of an avalanche of new things. I would put my hands on their backs and hold them tight or look into their eyes to assure them that it’s ok to be afraid. Hell, it’s smart and healthy to be afraid.

So how come I don’t let myself own and accept fear as easily? (Sure, I am 39 and not 3 or 1.5 But still.). I give myself so little room to be human.

So this weekend, while other people are out gathering pumpkins and apples or tailgating with their lifelong friends, I’m having a tea party for two. Me and fear. None of that fruity, herby tea either. It’s going to be a stiff mint tea from a boiling kettle.

I’m going to sit with it and let it show me it won’t kill me to be afraid of the future or where I’m going or how long it’s going to take. It’s even ok to be afraid of all the new things– the moms with their cute scarves and Germano-Japanese cars and golf-ball-sized diamonds, my new volunteer positions, and my dreams of finishing a book manuscript by Spring.

We are going to drink our tea, make peace, and maybe even color coordinate our outfits for the rest of the weekend. But then I’m going to get on with my business.

No more bullying myself out of bona fide emotions. And there will be no wallowing or balking at opportunities because of fear. It’s welcome to come along. As long as it can keep up with me.

(I saw the below image on the Creature Comforts blog. It’s an image by Jess of Someone Say Something, and it soothes my soul.)

Second Time Around: Still Crazy

One of the bonus features of having a second child should be that you get to improve the stuff that you Effed up the first time.

Um, it’s not working out like that for me.

When my first child was born, I signed up for classes all around town: Gymboree, cooking, art, dance, music.  Most of the time, I had a hard time enjoying them because I was so anxious about being sure Sadie didn’t fall off a balance beam or chop her fingers off.  All the other mothers seemed to be taking classes with their BFF’s, while I sat lonely and praying the 45 minutes would be over soon.

I never made a single friend in any of the classes, which I attribute to the fact that I exude a “get the fuck away from me” vibe.  (Still, shouldn’t some intrepid mother see through all that?)

But, then I had another baby.  I was determined that I would do classes with him, just like I did with his older sister.  He will NOT be the deprived second sibling– not on my watch.  In my fantasy, I was going to make friends and be that easy-going mom who just loves her baby no matter what is going on in the class.

Plus, this time around, I avoided Gymboree because the forced cheerfulness and incessant sales job the teachers did gave me the hives.

My first foray into the world of toddler classes with Simon was music.  He loves music, and he loves me.  This should have been a slam dunk.

Mom, when can I take fencing?

Mom, when can I take fencing?

Yeah, a slam dunk right through the basket of my expectations of growing as a mother and a person.

But tell me this: Why does it always seem like it’s my kid who won’t pay attention or follow directions?  The chirpy teacher says, “Everyone gets 1 instrument from the bucket.”  Why does my son subsequently toddle over with some sticks, a kazoo, and some drums?  When it’s time to dance, guess who’s ready for that nap he hasn’t taken in about 7 weeks?  When we get our 2 minutes of quiet time to stare into our babies’ eyes and listen to a Bach concerto, how come Simon decides that’s actually the ideal time to pull little Lucy’s hair and body tackle Noah?

The biggest question of all: Why do I care?  Sure, I don’t want him drawing blood from the other participants in neighborhood music class, but short of that, why is it so upsetting that Simon doesn’t want to jig or spin in a circle when the teacher commands?  He’s 20 months old. Why can’t I delight in his affable chubbiness and just R-E-L-A-X?

Truth is, I don’t even know what the other kids are doing because I am so focused on whether Simon is going to use his sticks like Oriental hand weapons.  For all I know, none of the kids pay attention and all of the mothers feel lonely and anxious and just want to go home and scrape the burnt cheesy bits off the leftover lasagna.  Maybe the really smart moms, just stay home in the first place and don’t bother with the classes.

At this rate I am going to have about 8 more kids to get this right.

No Hard Feelings, Ms. Katie Couric

I am not going to cry when the show that should have been my show airs on Thursday.  I am a grown-ass woman, and I understand the vagaries of show biz.  I will be neither bitter nor small-hearted.  I am not holding a grudge.

But I will be a little melancholy when 3PM Thursday rolls around and it’s not me sitting on the couch next to Katie Couric.

Katie Couric's Daytime Talkshow (Photo credit: Ida Mae Astute/Disney-ABC)

Katie Couric’s Daytime Talk Show (Photo credit: Ida Mae Astute/Disney-ABC)

My hopes had soared high.  One of her producers called and interviewed me after reading one of my blog posts about how I buy things and hide them from Jeff.  She asked me probing questions about my spending habits.  I started out reserved, but ended up telling her most of my shameful money secrets.

I was “perfect” for the show that Couric’s producers wanted to do on “secret spending.”

The producer gave me a date that I would be flown to New York for the taping.  Experts were going to offer me financial advice on the air.  I pictured myself leaving New York with an invitation to join the Courics in the Hamptons for Thanksgiving.

I had never believed I was a fame whore, but I found myself fantasizing about the green room and the other stars I might bump into there.  Imagine the snacks she must serve her guests!  I bet they have chocolate muffins and pens emblazoned with Katie’s name on them!  I was gonna get me some of those.

I wondered if there would be opportunities to plug my blog on the show.

“Oh, yes, Katie, I recklessly spend at Nordstrom Rack, which distracts me from my blogging at!”

I gave in to wild fantasies about how fabulous it would be to be a guest on a daytime TV show talking about my dysfunctional relationship to spending at discount stores.  I told people about this unexpected opportunity.  My friends set their DVRs to record my network debut. I promised my mother I would wear something flattering on television.  I drafted an email to Nordstrom Rack asking if they wanted to wardrobe me for my appearance.  I watched Couric’s show every night so I would understand her mission and her vibe.

Yes, I was disappointed when the producer I had grown so attached to emailed me to say they were looking for someone with more dramatic spending problems.  For a moment, I considered grabbing the credit cards and plunging my family into real debt by buying a quarter horse or a leer jet.  You want dramatic, I will go Honey Boo Boo on you!  I can be good TV!

I let everyone know that I remain an ardent supporter of Ms. Couric’s work and implored them to keep watching her show, just don’t expect to see me there any time soon.

To myself, I resolved that any future TV exposure will be for something more admirable than my  habit of stashing impulse purchases behind my wedding dress.

So, I will be ok tomorrow.  I won’t cry, but I may swing by Nordstrom Rack for a consolation prize before the week is out.


That first Monday morning back, we all sat in the waiting room not making eye contact or conversation.  Like strangers on a blind date, we were scared to open our mouths, even though we had all been together for years.

I waited for someone to make a joke that would shatter the tension.

A few minutes after 7:30 AM, he opened the door, and we filed into the group room.  I didn’t know where to put my eyes, because I was afraid of what I would see.  Was he ok?  Was he sitting funny?  If I looked hard enough would I be able to tell if he was dying?  I scanned him for traces of the cancer that kept us all apart for three weeks.

But I sure didn’t want to look down there.

I sat in my usual chair.  3 o’clock to his high noon.  Everyone else took their seats.  I wanted someone else to voice my anxious questions so I could concentrate on his face, even though that’s not where his prostate was.

The other group members started in with the questions.  Cathleen, ever practical, blurted out, “Are you in pain?”

Jesus, I didn’t know we were going to jump right into the deep end.  I was still searching for the courage to be at the pool in the first place, and I hate swimming more than bathing suit shopping.

Rob, or maybe it was Sandra, mentioned a fantasy about a Foley catheter and for the next 10 minutes the discussion concerned his purported incontinence and lack of sexual function.

Now, I am a brave woman, especially when it comes to emotional dark corners– I don’t shy away from those murky parts of myself; I charge in there with whatever light I can muster and face my residue.  But I have limits.  And discussing my therapist’s ability to urinate and have sex with his wife were limits for me.  Hard limits. (No pun intended.)

I wasn’t ready to joke about whether he could “get it up.”

He fielded our questions with the opacity that is the M-16 of the therapist’s arsenal.  Do they teach that stare in therapy school?  There was some of the coy, “What’s your fantasy about my sexual function?” responses, but mostly he was solemn and unapologetic about failing us by becoming ill with the scariest disease I could think of this side of full-blown AIDS.

At some point, he admitted to Cathy that, yes, he was experiencing some pain.

That’s when my denial about him having cancer slammed me all the way to the darkest, youngest corner of my mind.  That corner where the rage and terror were stored under old quilted blankets I’d been lugging around for my entire lifetime.

I didn’t want a therapist who was in pain.  Or that left me to tend to his metastasized cells. Why couldn’t it be diabetes? Or food poisoning? Or Crohn’s disease? Those I could ignore handle.

I wasn’t supposed to be thinking about whether he ordered his diapers from Amazon like I did for my infant daughter.

He was supposed to be different from other people. He should have been stronger.  Healthier.  Cancer-f*cking-free. 

It’s been three years, and I still search for signs of his demise.  Whenever he cancels a session, other group members assume he’s vacationing.  I, however, am always convinced he’s at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Treatment Center.  Even when he returns to his chair relaxed and tan, I won’t let myself believe he simply went to a beach to read back issues of JAMA while sipping icy drinks under a shady umbrella.

Because next time, I am going to be smarter than cancer.  I will see it coming before that first angry cell goes haywire.  Maybe it won’t be as scary if I was expecting it all along.

Internet, Am I Old?

Gray hairs– I got ’em.  I find them amusing and hope they will come in wiry so my hair will finally have a little bounce to it.  They don’t make me feel old; they make me feel transformed.

An aching back– I have that too.  It’s way less charming than my 4 gray hairs, but it makes me think of loving those fat-ass children of mine who love to be held and carried.

Failing hearing– Eh? What did you say?  Oh, you said you love my blog and want to offer me a book deal?  No? You just want me to shut up? Ok.  Sometimes it bugs me that I can’t hear very well, but it’s probably less about getting old than it is about listening to my headphones entirely too loud during some angsty times (say, that decade between ages 23-33).

Children I used to babysit are old enough to be physicists and prisoners.  My former teachers have passed to the Great Beyond. But none of this made me feel old.  It took a 1998 Illinois court case to make me feel every inch my age.

Have you heard of Greenlaw v. Dept. of Employment Security, 299 Ill.App.3d 44, 1st Dist., 1998?  I bet any of my vital organs you haven’t heard of it, because it’s not ground-breaking in any way.  In fact, it’s a wholly unexceptional employment case where an insubordinate employee ultimately loses her eligibility for unemployment benefits because of her outburst in her supervisor’s office.

What did she say?

In the white-hot heat of the moment, she told her supervisor, “You can kiss my grits.”

That’s all you need to know about this case to understand my subsequent existential crisis.  In a public setting today, I was discussing this case with some adults.  We were having a lively legal debate about old Ms. Greenlaw and her “abusive” language.  Offhandedly, I said to my interlocutors, “of course, we all know where Ms. Greenlaw got this insult, right?”

* crickets *

* blank stares *

Hello? This was back when TV offered quality gems like this. (photo credit:

Hello? Remember these people? This was back when TV offered quality gems like this. (photo credit:

Maybe they didn’t hear me.  “Remember, Flo and her contentious relationship with Mel? How hot was their sexual tension?  The precursor to Bruce Willis and Cybil Shephard in Moonligting and Sam & Diane in Cheers!”

* more crickets*

Not one of the nine people to whom I was conversing had ever heard of Alice, the 70’s sitcom featuring the one and only Linda Lavin.

Can I really be standing before almost a dozen people who have no idea what TV show I am talking about?

The answer is yes.  They had never heard of Alice, or Mel, or dizzy Vera.  I feel really sorry for them.  No wonder their generation is so self-obsessed– they have never seen realistic depictions of what it’s like for a single mother to raise her teen-aged son in the big city while waitressing for a tyrant: those sexist pink uniforms, those little cows they had to pour the cream into, the lack of customers.  Those were hard times! It was hard to watch, but I did because this was before moms had to entertain their children 24/7 with organic snacks and environmentally friendly hide-and-seek games.

I toyed with asking them if the names “Mork” and “Mindy” meant anything to them, but I was too depressed.  As the conversation broke up (probably because I was sobbing about my impending death because I am so old), I dismissed them all, but just under my breath I was humming, “There’s a new girl in town, ’cause I’m feeling good!  Got a smile, got a song for the neighborhood.”

But, I was singing to myself, because none of them knew the inspiring anthem that was the theme song to Alice.

And I may be old, but I have memories of great TV.  What do they have– besides youth, Mad Men, and Apple products to stave off the fear of death?

Reclaiming Willie Nelson

I feel like cursing right now. I know that can be offensive, so I am giving you this warning so you can avert your eyes.

When did I get so fucking courteous?  I am sure it won’t last.

But I am sufficiently emotionally scrambled from the Willie Nelson concert I attended the other night. Let me tell you, the Red-Headed Stranger (FN 1) fucked me up.  Not only am I listening to his music non-stop now (you try running a few miles to To All The Girls I Loved Before”), but I am flooded with memories from my childhood in Texas.  Willie Nelson’s music is the soundtrack of my youth.  When it was time to go to bed, my dad would sing, “Turn Out The Lights, the Party’s Over,” and I remember where I was sitting in our living room when he explained to me that Willie Nelson penned the Patsy Cline signature hit, “Crazy.”

Willie Nelson at Farm Aid 2009 (image credit: Wikipedia)

Willie Nelson at Farm Aid 2009 (image credit: Wikipedia)

But here’s the thing, since I left Texas in 1995, I purposefully left certain things behind.  I am not sure why exactly.  Maybe it was a normal part of individuation and coming of age, but going to the Willie Nelson three days ago was like stepping back to my past and grabbing a piece of the old stuff for myself.

It feels so fucking weird.

For all these years, I divided the world into things that belonged to me, and those that belonged to my past and my family back home in Bush country.  The things for me included Chicago, therapy, and liberal politics. The things I left behind included the Catholic Church, college football, and Tex-Mex food.  While I have had some success sharing parts of myself with them, I haven’t been as successful at joining them with the things I consider “theirs.”

Until Thursday night.

Willie Nelson took the stage and started with my mother’s favorite song: “Whiskey River.”  I felt my heart lurch along with the steel guitar.  I didn’t see anyone else there welling up during “On the Road Again,” but I was.  I could see the allure of Willie– he’s irreverent, talented, and his “I don’t give a fuck” attitude is charming in an expected way.  Half way through his show– around the time he dipped into his gospel tunes– I realized I wanted a piece of him for myself.  I wanted to share Willie Nelson, and all he stands for in my own history, with my family.

Me? Wanting to share? It’s unheard of.

I will note that Willie Nelson’s obsession with getting drunk and high is a tad bit distracting for me, but his talent is larger than all that.  And, OHMYGOD, he’s 79 years old and still going on tour to sing the classics that his fans want to hear.  There is plenty to admire in Mr. Willie Nelson, just like there’s plenty to admire in some of the things I left behind (even the Catholic Church, I suspect).

To say that the concert was a trip down memory lane is an understatement and a cliche.  More precisely, it was chance to look backwards and reclaim a forsaken part of myself and my history so it can live and come with me into my future.

The best part of it all was that I bought myself a red bandana and decided who I was going to be for Halloween.

Look for me next to the Tootsie Rolls singing “On the Road Again.”


FN 1: Nickname for Willie Nelson? The Red-headed stranger.