Is This the Little Girl I Carried?

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My preteen daughter and I are not getting along these days. Here is a typical snippet of conversation between us:

Her:  I don’t want to be mad.(pause)

Me:   You have a choice.

Her:  I was just going to apologize, but you didn’t give me a chance. Now I won’t! (slams car door)

Me:  (sigh)

The world of tweens is fraught with anxiety. How they look, what they say, where they stand in the social arena (a brutal place that could give the Hunger Games a run for their money) – all conspire to make my adorable daughter angry and mean.

Preteens are caught in between childhood and adolescence. Some days my daughter is just a kid, happy and playful, practicing cartwheels and building forts in the snow. The next moment, it seems, she is a snarling, nasty critic, and every bad thing that befalls her is somehow my fault.

I should be used to this by now. She is my fourth and youngest child. But I am taken aback by the changes that seemed to have sprung up overnight.

I am thinking of rewriting the beginning lines of the famous serenity prayer:

God grant me the serenity to accept the tantrums I cannot change,

The courage to take away her privileges

And the wisdom to keep my mouth shut.

 

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Fair Weather Fan

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When the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup last year, I expressed delight at that rare treat – a successful Chicago sports franchise. My son promptly labeled me a “fair weather fan.” It’s true that I spend no time watching hockey and only notice the Hawks if they make the front page of the Chicago Tribune.

Still, as a Chicagoan I feel a sense of pride when one of our home teams does well. When the White Sox won the World Series in 2005, I cheered for them despite being born and raised a Cubs fan.

I understand the backlash when a team does well and suddenly everyone in town is on the bandwagon. Loyal fans rightly fume when a team’s new-found popularity makes game tickets pricey and hard to come by. And I get it when diehard fans who have sported their team colors for years resent the sudden proliferation of hats, t-shirts and jerseys on these fair weather fans. Where were you when the chips were down? they might rightly ask.

Maybe it’s the fact that I’m not that much of a sports fan in the first place that makes me laissez faire about the issue. Still, I don’t see anything wrong with applauding successes when they hit close to home.

This weekend I will be attending a basketball matchup between my husband’s beloved Michigan State Spartans and my alma mater, the University of Illinois. The weather has been anything but fair for my team, which is currently tied for last place in the Big Ten. Yet there I’ll be, sporting my orange and blue and cheering on the Fighting Illini, win or lose. Maybe I’m not such a fair weather fan after all.

Frozen

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Frozen

Our first winter back in Chicago (after living in LA for 9 years), I found a fanciful snowman decoration with the quip, “Let It Snow.” Three days after I hung it up in my kitchen, it snowed 18 inches and the temperature dropped into single digits. Although I’ve never been superstitious, I was tempted to take down the sign and pack it away forever.

I was reminded of that episode this winter because one of our worst winters in recorded history has happened to coincide with the release of the Disney animated feature “Frozen.” In the movie, a young queen’s anger and fear turn the entire kingdom into a land of snow and ice. I brought my daughter and some friends to see “Frozen” on an aptly frigid day in January when the piles of snow in the parking lot dwarfed us and our little car. After viewing the film, I felt as if the Snow Queen had put an icy curse on our town.

I also remembered that children don’t share adults’ dread of winter and snow. They see snow as a future snowman or fort – or fodder for an awesome snowball fight. Ice is something to skate on. Icicles are for eating. They don’t worry about pipes freezing, cars starting, or driveways needing to be cleared.

In the movie “Frozen,” the younger sister begs her older sister, “Do you want to build a snowman?” She represents the innocent joy and wonder of childhood. Her older sister holds the fear of her strange power inside and is consumed with worry. She cannot play or build a snowman.

As this long, brutal winter drags along, I will try to embrace my inner child, bundle up, go outside, and maybe even build a snowman.

Olympic Dreams

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We are such stuff as dreams are made on.

William Shakespeare, The Tempest

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by Mary Rayis

The Sochi Olympics are a showcase for the fulfillment of dreams. Like many, I have been captivated by the amazing grace and technical ability of tiny ice skater Yulia Lipnitskaya of Russia. Although a dark horse behind reigning champion Yuna Kim of South Korea, this teenage phenom is being called “the biggest star of the Olympics.”(Daily Mail) It’s her unlikely story, though, that captures my imagination. Not unlike celebrated American gymnast Gabby Douglas, she was raised by a single mom and made it to the Olympics against all odds. Yulia’s story is one of great determination (hers) and great love (her mother’s). Working numerous jobs to make ends meet and even moving to Moscow so that young Yulia could train, her mother has made many sacrifices so that her daughter could realize her dream.

While the whole world seems to know about Yulia Lipnitskaya, not as many know about another young Russian woman who has overcome many odds to become an Olympic champion. Her name is Tatyana McFadden, and she spent her first seven years of life in a Russian orphanage. Born with spina bifida, her condition was more than her birth mother could handle, and so Tatyana was brought to a St. Petersburg orphanage, where she was adopted by an American named Deborah McFadden. Tatyana’s story is special to me because her adoptive mother helped my family adopt our own beloved daughter from China 12    years ago. Tatyana will be participating in the 2014 Paralympics March 7-16 as part of the U.S. Nordic Ski Team. This latest achievement comes on the heels of her appearance at the 2012 London Olympics, where Tatyana won three gold medals and one bronze medal in track and field. Her appearance in her homeland will be especially poignant because her birth mother will be there to watch her compete. Determination helped Tatyana survive the difficult circumstances of her birth. The unselfish love of both her birth and adoptive mothers helped her realize her dreams.

An Olympic gold medal may be the ultimate accolade for an elite athlete such as Yulia Lipnitskaya or TatyanaMcFadden. But these girls have already won something much finer – a mother’s love.

Birth of a Writer

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Today is my birthday, but not in the usual sense of the word. I am celebrating my birth as a writer. Ever since I was a little girl, I have had a love affair with words. My sisters and I would play word games and make up funny parodies of songs. I still remember the pride of writing my first story in fourth grade. It was a thrilling tale of a girl who goes back in time to Salem, Massachusetts, during the infamous witchcraft trials.

But over the years, I have come up with every delay and excuse I could muster to avoid taking the risk of really being a writer. These delays include, but are not limited to, spending 7 years as a high school English teacher, getting married and having four children. Today, with the help of my friend and life coach Melissa, I decided to make a commitment to the writing life.

Just as in childbirth, there is pain, hard labor and uncertainty in becoming something new. But there is also exhilaration and great love. I will always remember this date as my second “birthday” and hope to celebrate many fruitful writing years in the future.