Gain and Loss



A good friend of mine recently dropped her youngest child off at college several hundred miles away. Even after a couple of weeks, she can’t talk about it without crying. For a number of reasons, having her youngest go away has hit her particularly hard.

From the moment our children take their first tentative steps, they are moving away from us, developing independence, and becoming themselves. It’s just that when our one-year-olds take those steps, they are still so connected to us that we don’t know enough to feel sad. We are jubilant at their development, at least until we leave them at the kindergarten door for the very first time.

All gains also involve a loss. If we get a new job, we lose precious free time. We have more money but less time to spend it. When we marry, we gain a lifelong helpmate (at least we hope) but lose some autonomy. As we get older, we grow in wisdom and knowledge but lose some of our idealism and innocence.

Nowhere do I feel this dichotomy as strongly as in the arena of parenting. When my kids were little, I dreamed of solitude and rest. Just a nap seemed like a luxury I could ill afford. As my children grew, I applauded their achievement of new skills and their maturation. Sure, I worried about new friends and situations I thought might be scary or dangerous for them. But mostly, I knew they were doing what they were supposed to do – grow up.

The first time I felt a keen sense of loss was when my oldest daughter went away to college. She had gained entrance into her dream school, and I was bursting with pride in her accomplishment. I was happy for her chance to take the next step in her life. But I was unspeakably sad at losing her. Sure, she would come home for holidays and breaks. But she would be her own person now, truly on the path to independence for which we had been preparing her her whole life.

My dear friend will eventually adjust to her empty nest. She may even find some benefits to having her time entirely to herself. After all, if all gains involve some loss, it’s also true that good things can arise out of a loss. My parents are a perfect example of this. Out of the tragedy each experienced losing a beloved spouse, they found each other.

Meanwhile, we can console ourselves with the knowledge that our children are getting to experience what we did when we were their age: the exhilarating, frightening, fabulous journey to adulthood.

Why Back to School Sucks



I finally booted my final child out the door for her first day of school. For a change, I had her completely prepared the night before right down to the shoes she was going to wear. Yet it wasn’t until I got up on that first day that I realized why I hate back to school time.

  1. Two words: school lunches. Packing a lunch for my two kids every morning is something I dread. What can I pack my son that will stay decent in a brown paper bag? There is little variety to his daily fare, and that makes me feel bad. My daughter, on the other hand, doesn’t see why a packed lunch can’t be a hot one. She has a nice thermal lunch bag, so I can stock it with a cold pack and various fancy cut-up fruits or a thermos filled with soup or mac and cheese. The scramble to feed the kids both breakfast and lunch sets me in a whirlwind first thing in the morning.
  2. Back to school traffic. Suddenly my quiet suburban streets are full of moving targets like a re-enactment of the movie Death Race 2000. It’s a mixture of terror that I am going to hit a pedestrian/bicyclist/giant SUV and annoyance that all these people are clogging the very same roads I need to use to get my kid to school.
  3. The nightmare of the school drop off scene. If you want to see people at their worst, have them jockey for a spot to deposit little Johnny or Janey safely at school and then take off like bats out of hell for the office. It’s an infuriating experience that makes me long to rack up points in that Death Race 2000 game. (Look it up.)
  4. Homework. Instead of being the benevolent dictator of summer, I am now forced to rule with an iron rod, overseeing the completion of school assignments. This can and does include the angst of coming up with an essay topic, my shame in not being able to help with math, and the stress of late night printer malfunctions as my little procrastinators attempt to get tomorrow’s assignment ready. And if I have to sign one more document lying that I’ve read and discussed the rules of Mr. X’s class with my kid, I’m going to scream. I already went to school. I shouldn’t have any homework.
  5. Supplies. No matter how many notebooks, pens, and pencils I buy, there is always something else one of my kids needs for school tomorrow. I find myself dejectedly wandering the aisles of our local Target, searching through the picked over back to school merchandise. Here’s a hint for purveyors of school supplies. If you run out of the same materials every year during the back to school scramble, next year order extra!
  6. The quiet. Yeah, one would think this would be a welcome treat after a summer of kids hogging the TV and needing snacks 24/7. But I kind of miss those unstructured, anything goes kinds of summer days. Now I am forced to get things done. No more Gilmore Girls marathons for me.

In a few weeks, I will have gotten into a rhythm with school days.  The back to school flurry of papers to sign and open houses to attend will subside. I will resume a more ordered existence and potentially get a lot done. My kids will be learning and growing up, as they are supposed to do. I will be used to my quiet existence, at least until Christmas break, when they descend on me and undo it all.

Fashion Emergency


source: HuffPost)

Little kids have a quirky sense of style. My own four have certainly made some interesting fashion choices over the years.

My daughter, for instance, dressed completely for comfort when she was little. Bike shorts or leggings and a t-shirt – that was her uniform. If the t-shirt had a Disney character on it, so much the better.

One particular outfit that stands out in my mind was a Christmas one – a pair of red and white striped leggings topped by a bright red sweatshirt with a huge picture of a reindeer on the front of it. It was so loud and gaudy that even a kid at her preschool made fun of it.

My son was enamored with his brand new Batman underwear – so enamored that he wore it over his sweatpants. I felt a little conspicuous taking him with me to the school to pick up the little Rudolph groupie, but the teachers just chuckled. They assured me they’d seen it all.

My other daughter insisted that she had to wear “swirly skirts” because Ava, the fashion diva of the three-year-old set, wore them. Never mind that in Chicago there are about two days in the entire school year when a swirly skirt makes a sensible choice.

Early on, I gave up on trying to dress my kids to the nines. Concepts such as matching colors were just lost on them. Pink shoes with pictures of Nala on them go with everything, don’t they? And I just didn’t have the patience to finagle jeans with buttons and zippers or shoes with laces on my pint-sized wigglers.

Unfortunately, my kids outgrew these fashion quirks and have developed better (read: more expensive) tastes in clothes. Now we battle over brand names and pricey shoes, and I grow a bit nostalgic for those innocent days when they simply wore what they liked and liked what they wore.

First Born



Today is the birthday of my adored first-born child. Although she is now in her twenties, I remember her birth day as if it were yesterday.

I was feeling a bit melancholy as I contemplated the fact that my little world with my husband was about to change dramatically. A week past my due date, I was to undergo induced labor that evening. The nursery was ready, but I was not. I was scared.

The nurses in labor and delivery made me comfortable, and the doctor came in to check on me. She decided to wait until morning to give my little one one more chance to emerge on her own. I was hungry but not allowed to eat anything. It was hard to sleep that night.

The next morning I was given a labor-inducing hormone, and it slowly began. I was reading The Brothers Karamazov at the time, and that made the labor nurses chuckle. My husband tried by turns to entertain and comfort me, but several hours into labor, I was begging for narcotics.

We were convinced we were having a boy. Friends and even perfect strangers had insisted that the way I was carrying indicated a male was on his way. But twelve hours after my labor had started, in a fog of Demerol, I heard the doctor exclaim, “It’s a girl!”

“A girl?” my husband and I said simultaneously.

She was silent and blue because the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck. My husband and the medical staff bustled off to a corner of the room while I mumbled incoherently, still in my narcotic haze.

Then all at once, a little red-faced creature was placed in my arms. She had a pink and blue beanie on her head, and she looked very cross. Interestingly, I’ve seen that same look over the years as she was growing up.

But she was mine, my daughter, my first-born. I was horribly exhausted, insanely thirsty, and deliriously happy all at the same time.

My daughter was born on a Monday. In the famous rhyme, “Monday’s child is fair of face,” and that certainly applies to my beautiful girl. More importantly, she is that special one, the one who ushered me into the world of motherhood, a world from which I have no desire to escape.

Happy Birthday, dear heart.

Short and Sweet



The lamenting has begun. As kids head back to school, their parents have started to bemoan the fact that summer is nearly over. Each year, in fact, I hear the complaint that summer has gone too fast. As Shakespeare wrote, “Summer’s lease hath all too short a date.”

But isn’t its fleeting nature what makes summer so precious? Think about the best movies, books, or television episodes. They all seem to be over much too soon. My favorite songs tend to be under 3 minutes long, instead of droning on and on and making me sick of them.

In our lives, the stages we most prize seem the most short-lived as well. Who among us hasn’t felt wistful about our passing youth or our sons’ and daughters’ fleeting childhoods. How often have you thought, the minutes drag, but the years fly by?

So it is with summer. We savor the sweetness of summer fruits: berries, peaches, juicy watermelon. We admire the roses, sunflowers, zinnias, and other flowers during their short blooming season. We mourn the end of our family vacation and a return to work and normal life.

As the days grow shorter and the air starts to cool, we will look back fondly at our friend Summer and long for its swift return.

The 1960s House



Events around my house this week have inspired an idea for a new reality show: The 1960s House.

First our air conditioning compressor went kaput. Life in our hermetically sealed environment was disturbed. We had to (gasp) open the windows and use electric fans in the bedrooms to sleep at night. Luckily the summer weather was mild because as it was, my kids sweated as if they had worked on a chain gang all day.

Then the unthinkable happened. Our power was shut off for an entire day. Having no a/c and now no TV were bad enough. But no WiFi? We walked around like zombies with no purpose and no live humans to eat. I even spied my son on the couch dejectedly reading a paperback book!

This gave me the idea for the show. You may remember a short-lived reality show called The 1900 House. In it a family attempts to live as if it were the turn of the century, a time of butter churning and driving a horse and buggy. The show was not a huge hit, maybe because harking all the way back to 1900 was too far.

Enter The 1960s House. I’m picturing a contest format in which participants are forced to complete such challenges as looking up a phone number in a phone book, dialing it on a rotary phone, and then having a private conversation in the family kitchen, where the phone is bolted to the wall with a skimpy cord and there’s nowhere to hide.

Then contestants could take turns in the “change the channel” relay, where they would be timed getting off the couch to switch the TV to one of the other two networks. They would then have to endure the grueling “watching the commercials” test, as well as attempt to make popcorn on the stove by shaking a pan full of kernels and oil over the heating element.

Of course, this segment would have to be preceded by a vocabulary lesson in which participants learned that pause means “temporarily stop what one is doing,” play means “go outside and swing on the swing set,” and fast forward refers to NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (or, as we knew him back in the old days, Lew Alcindor).

We could add quaint historical elements to the environment, such as the milkman delivering glass bottles of the creamy stuff to the door and the Good Humor man driving his truck through the neighborhood without anyone worrying that he was a creepy pedophile.

There could also be moments of high drama on The 1960s House. For instance, the adults would lose all contact with the kids for hours when they rode their bikes downtown or to the park without cell phones. In the house, the phone could ring, and no one would know who was on the other end.

Yes, I can imagine many interesting experiences for the members of The 1960s House: the percolator brewing the coffee, a solitaire game with real cards, a stack of 45s and a record player. In fact, it might be a good show for my family to watch – that is, if the power ever goes back on.

Trump Card



The latest brouhaha in politics concerns Donald Trump’s nasty, defensive, and sexist comment about Fox News commentator Megyn Kelly. After the Fox pundit took Trump to task for sexism, among other things, in the first Republican presidential debate, Trump implied that Kelly’s attitude must have been the result of her menstrual cycle.

Predictably, most mainstream politicians and news outlets vilified Trump for his remarks. Conservative radio host Erick Erikson even disinvited Trump from appearing on his Red State radio show. Yet the internet blew up with mysogynistic comments directed at Megyn Kelly. The obscene name-calling was frequent and extreme. It seems a large segment of the public holds similarly sexist attitudes towards women.

This may be the answer to the puzzle of why Donald Trump, a man with no political experience and questionable beliefs, has become the front runner in the Republican presidential race. He is saying out loud what many people (sadly) believe. And his success seems to have the conservative establishment running scared.

Fox News in particular has been attempting to discredit Trump and his views through their television commentaries and even through the ruthless questioning to which they subjected him during the debate. Far more than any other single candidate, Trump was subjected to a grilling on numerous matters, including the sexism alleged by Kelly and his many filings for bankruptcy over the years.

No doubt the Republican Party would like to weed out the invasive species of a Trump candidacy, and conservative pundits seem to have the unenviable task of digging in the dirt for the party. Yet Trump’s poll numbers haven’t budged since the debate, despite the fact that he has refused to apologize for his remarks about Kelly, instead insisting she owes him an apology.

I contend that Trump’s popularity rises from a large contingent of Americans who are rabidly anti-immigrant, anti-woman, and anti-politician. For these people, Trump is merely telling it like it is. It would be amusing to see conservatives stumbling over each other to distance themselves from Trump – if it weren’t so scary to contemplate a Trump presidency.

In my view, the Republican Party will rid itself of such extremists as Trump only when it makes a concerted effort to forward policies and platforms that benefit all Americans, not just rich white men. Until then, the “clown car” rides on with Trump at the wheel.

Every Body’s a Nice Body



What is the most desirable body – a hard body, an hourglass figure, the waif look? What about the newly touted “dad bod”? The prevalence of fad diets, exercise regimes, Botox and plastic surgery in our culture speak to a deep dissatisfaction with our bodies.

From the time I became an adolescent, my insecurity about my figure caused me a lot of angst. I tried extreme diets and fasting. I was at war with food yet at the same time craved it, especially sweets. I made lame attempts to exercise but lapsed into inactivity. By the time I graduated from high school, I weighed the most I have ever weighed outside of during pregnancy.

But I realize that we have been looking at our bodies all wrong. Lately I have been thinking about how amazing the human body is. Our muscles and bones carry our weight around. Our joints give us the ability to walk, run, hold a child, open a jar, cook a meal, type a blog post.

We take every life’s breath without having to think about it, our hearts pump our life’s blood to every part of our body. And that magnificent organ, the brain, controls it all. How often do we go out to walk the dog or take out the trash and realize how lucky we are to be able to perform such mundane tasks?

Even people with serious physical disabilities are able to do phenomenal things with their bodies. For instance, para-Olympic athlete Tatyana McFadden, who was born with spina bifida and without the ability to walk, has used her upper body strength with great determination to win numerous gold medals and other accolades. My friend Beth, who lost her eyesight at age 26, navigates the city of Chicago with the help of her service dog and uses her other senses to read, write, and conduct memoir-writing workshops around the city.

Of course, we need to care for our bodies. Healthy eating, exercise, and good medical care are all essential to make the most of our bodies’ amazing abilities. Interestingly, it wasn’t until I started exercising for my health and not my looks that the pounds started to fall away. But dieting obsessively or constantly checking the mirror are not healthy.

Children are not self-conscious about their bodies. From the first smile to the first step to the first climb on a jungle gym, kids are jubilant about what they can do with their bodies. “Look at me, Mom!” they shout as they perform a cartwheel or doggy paddle in the pool.

It’s time to take our cue from our kids and start appreciating our bodies in whatever size or shape they happen to be in.

The Human Animal



The internet is all a-Twitter about the killing of a protected lion named Cecil in Zimbabwe last week. Predictably, there have been criticisms over the uproar. How can people be so up in arms about the death of a mere animal and not equally incensed over the shooting death of a Cincinnati man by a police officer in the same week? they want to know.

In the past, I might have been in that backlash camp. I have noticed that many of the most ardent animal rights proponents are somewhat misanthropic. (Ricky Gervais and Bill Maher come to mind.) And I often find the care people lavish on their pets a bit extreme.

But the online haters are missing the point. Protesting the senseless killing of Cecil does not negate our concern over the loss of human life. But rather, caring about animals and their suffering makes us more human. Who among us has not cried at the loss of a beloved pet – or at the very least, a showing of Old Yeller?

I have heard it said that a person’s humanity can be measured by his or her care for the least creatures. And the reverse – torturing and maiming animals – has often been associated with psychopaths and sociopaths.

Hunting animals for trophies is cowardly and cruel. What animal has a prayer against the weapons human beings have invented? Cecil’s death was slow and painful. His hide and head were taken, and his carcass left to rot. His death was not to feed a person but to feed an ego.

When my kids were little, they adored animals. We read books ad nauseum about everything from dinosaurs to dolphins. We visited zoos and petting parks. And their lobbying for a dog still hasn’t dissipated. Children feel an instinctive kinship with animals.

We too need to embrace our inner child and work to protect all living creatures, whether human or beast.