I Will Remember You

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It’s Memorial Day, and the weather in Chicago truly feels like summer. Today all over the country, outdoor chefs will man their grills and preside over cookouts for family and friends. Children will frolic on fresh green lawns, and public pools will be alive with splashing and shrieking.

Yet some of my Facebook friends have posted memes reminding us why we mark this holiday. Their photos of flag-draped caskets and loved ones weeping at graves remind us that Memorial Day is about our fallen soldiers. While Veterans Day honors all men and women who have served their country through military service, Memorial Day is a special day to assure those who died in service to their country that they are not forgotten. Or maybe it is to assure that we ourselves do not forget.

During World War I, Lt.-Col. John McCrae wrote the famous poem “In Flanders Fields,” a poem that reminds us what such sacrifices should mean to those left behind:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Today, as we enjoy the advent of summer, let’s take a few moments to remember. Let us keep the loved ones of the fallen in our thoughts and prayers. And let us give thanks for those who gave the ultimate sacrifice so that we could be free.

 

Mommy Wars: Which Stage Is Hardest?

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Whenever mothers of young children bemoan their exhaustion and lack of time, you can bet that someone will snidely remark, “Wait until they’re teenagers. If you think you can’t sleep now!” I know. I’ve made such remarks myself. If I’ve ever said that to you, I apologize.

The fact is that every stage of children’s development comes with joys and challenges.  The early years are physically draining. You have children literally taking over your body: nursing, being carried, crawling into your lap, hanging onto your legs. You can’t so much as use the toilet without making sure your child is safe.

On the other hand, little kids are so cute. I’ve always believed that’s evolution’s way of making sure moms don’t kill their young.  Even when a two year old is in full throttle tantrum mode, he is so small and vulnerable that most of us don’t have the heart to be harsh. Of course, children’s vulnerability is also scary. I remember sometimes just gazing down at my infant or sleeping toddler and being overwhelmed by her complete dependence on me.

As children get older, they become a little more self-sufficient. You can sometimes even finish that cup of coffee you started before it’s completely cold.  With said independence, however, can come more power struggles and sassy behavior. When my kids were school age, I used to joke that I never should have taught them to speak. In school, kids start to lose their innocence too, and issues with friends and bullies come into play.

Still, those milestones are so rewarding: first day of kindergarten, learning to ride a bike, even those school plays. I will never forget my kids’ third grade solar system play. One son was Neptune, and he played the role as a salty pirate. The other son was Jupiter, and he was  a he-man with a muscle costume.  My oldest child participated in the school talent show by singing “One Dark Night,” a song about the Great Chicago Fire.

I am currently deep into the teenage stage with two of my four children. With this stage come more grown-up worries about peer pressure, drinking and drugs, sexuality,  academic performance, and getting into a good college. Battles with my daughter over getting her homework done or getting enough sleep, as well as late nights waiting for my 18-year-old to get home, are not the most fun I’ve ever had.

Yet I can have meaningful conversations with my teens. I can enjoy their bigger accomplishments that go along with their bigger size and age. I can let them be not only in another room, but in another town or even state without me. I can pursue my writing, exercise, piano, and other interests that fell by the wayside when they were younger.

What stage of childhood is hardest for moms? The answer is: all of them. No matter how old they get, how independent and successful, I will always worry about them and be there for them in whatever fashion they need me.

 

 

 

 

Lamestream Media Indeed

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On May 15, The New York Times published an in-depth article about Donald Trump’s history of sexism and sexual harassment of women. The article barely caused a blip in the general media. There was some backlash from conservatives, and one of the women in the story said her comments were misconstrued. Trump, of course, declared the Times article completely discredited, and the mainstream media went quietly away, like a cuffed dog with its tail between its legs.

For years conservatives have decried what they call the “lamestream media” for its liberal bias. This includes the venerable New York Times. “Fair and balanced” Fox News was supposedly a reaction to this bias. But from where I sit, all the fawning attention given to Trump shows just the opposite. No matter what outlandish statements Trump makes about women and minorities, no matter what idiotic pronouncements he makes about what he will do as president (the latest: “I will unsign” executive orders made by Obama), the news media go out of their way to portray him as a legitimate candidate for the presidency of the United States.

This morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” the pundits spent an outsized amount of time hashing over allegations about the Clintons that date back to Bill Clinton’s presidency, allegations that Trump has dredged up in order to deflect attention from what a horrid candidate he is. They gave legitimacy to Trump’s claims that Bill Clinton was guilty of rape, a serious allegation that is completely without foundation. And apparently the irony was entirely lost on Joe Scarborough et al. when they discussed Bill’s alleged sexual harassment of women. No one brought up the numerous women in Trump’s organization who have claimed Trump said demeaning and inappropriate things to them on a routine basis, not to mention the women who said Trump made unwanted physical advances.

The news media are also spending an inordinate amount of time on polls that show Trump with a slight lead over Hillary Clinton in the general election. It is as if since Donald Trump became the clear Republican nominee, the media have gone out of their way to help him. At the same time, they have escalated their stories questioning Hillary Clinton’s ethics and honesty. They portray her as a heartless shrew and talk about how disliked she is. This thinly veiled sexism is an example of the double standard surrounding the two presumptive presidential nominees.

Even Megan Kelly, who was vilified by Trump and accused of being “on the rag” as recently as last fall, made nice with Trump and sat down to an interview with him in order to reveal his softer side. I’d like to see Chris Wallace chat by a cozy fire with Hillary Clinton and ask her about her role as a grandma in order to reveal her softer side.

While media outlets keep beating the twin dead horses of Benghazi and Hillary’s emails, Donald Trump gets a smile and a shrug from reporters, as if to say, “What are  you gonna do? He has to be himself.” Sure, comedians make fun of Trump, but they’re part of the left wing Hollywood contingent, and as such, their mockery is dismissed as elitism.

I’d say the lamestream media title is well-deserved these days. It’s just not favoring the liberal elite the way the Sarah Palins of the world would have you believe.

 

Kids and Sports

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I am sitting in a hotel room in Champaign, Illinois, after a day of 8th grade girls basketball. My daughter’s spring schedule includes a number of out of town tournaments for basketball that include an overnight stay. Insane, right?

In addition to her busy life of basketball, she also practices soccer three nights a week and plays games on weekends (when she’s not away at a basketball tournament!) Add to this the fact that she just completed a season of track with her middle school, and you see we have crossed over to the dark side of youth sports mania.

Never mind that the desire for all this athletic activity is coming from my daughter herself. I worry that we are allowing too much emphasis on competitive sports and have to wonder to what end we are subjecting her to so much strenuous physical activity and potential injuries.

I am all for children living an active, healthy lifestyle. Sports are a great way to get kids outside, to help them maintain a healthy weight, and to give them lessons in team work and sportsmanship. All four of my kids have participated in sports to one degree or other during their childhoods.

Yet we have gotten to a place where our lives are dominated by these ever more demanding athletic programs. I worry that we are losing a sense of balance in our family life. I ask myself whether 10 years from now, we will look back and wonder why we let ourselves be so consumed by 5th grade football, summer swim team, or middle school basketball?

To be sure, my daughter is having a blast with the girls on her team. For her, sports are as much social as they are athletic. I enjoy driving a car full of girls to a soccer field and listening to their giggling and chatter. I appreciate the camaraderie of my son’s “band of brothers” on the football team. I have had many moments of pride as my children accomplished positive things in their chosen sports: my son’s MVP award in varsity football, my daughter’s spectacular assist on a soccer goal, my older son’s willingness to dive into a cold pool every morning at 5:45 for swim team practice.

I just hope that in years to come, my kids feel that the good things about youth sports outweighed the negative. I hope the hours of practice, the long drives, the wins and losses, victories and disappointments all add up to a positive influence in the development of their character as they move into adulthood.

Time for bed. It will be an early morning at the gym.

Sweet Sundays

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When I was young, Sunday was a family day. First and foremost, it was a day to dress up and go to church. My sisters and I always wore dresses, nice shoes, and hats or chapel veils on our heads. The boys wore nice slacks and freshly ironed shirts while my father wore a suit and tie.

On Sundays, we stayed in our dress clothes all day long. This practice was inadvertently responsible for my ruining my First Communion dress. My mother had sewn a white eyelet dress for the occasion. After I made my First Holy Communion, my practical mother decided to dye the dress green so that I could wear it more often. One Sunday I was sliding down a slide in my green dress when the skirt got caught and ripped horribly.

We had our biggest meal mid-afternoon on Sundays. It was usually something like a beef or pork roast. Afterwards, we would often visit one of my grandmothers. Grandma I. lived in the upper apartment of a two-flat. The vestibule always smelled like home cooking, and in the summer the Cubs game was always on TV. Grandma C. lived in a little bungalow with a large garden filled with Grandpa’s tomato vines. My Italian Grandma C. loved to feed us, and Grandpa C. would exhort us, “Mangia, mangia” from his place at the head of the table.

In the good old days of my youth, most businesses were closed. There was nothing much to do except play outside, read, visit family, or go for a drive. My dad loved to take us on these Sunday drives. We might visit the arboretum or a park called Cantigny, which was filled with World War I relics. Sometimes we would drive into Chicago and run around Buckingham Fountain, an ornate structure on the lakefront.

Sunday evenings meant suppers, a more casual, snack-like meal than our usual dinners. Being a picky eater, I found this simpler fare much more to my liking. Then our whole family would gather around the TV set and watch The Lawrence Welk Show or The Wonderful World of Disney. Sometimes my mom would make popcorn. I especially loved Jiffy Pop because you could watch the flat aluminum package swell up on the stove and hear the magical kernels popping.

Sundays nowadays are just as busy as every other day of the week. My kids have sports, my husband often has work calls or emails to make, and most stores are open so that I find myself fighting the crowds at our local supermarket. The days of visiting grandparents and aimlessly driving around are long gone.

I miss the peace of those Sundays. Maybe it’s time to bring backs those days of sweet nothings.

Legalizing Pot’s Not So Hot

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In recent years there has been a sea change in the way Americans view the use of marijuana. As more and more medical uses for the cannabis plant are developed and the stigma of pot use decreases, proponents have called for legalizing it. Several states, in fact, have recently legalized marijuana for recreational use, and even more have laws allowing medicinal uses of pot.

I have mixed feelings about the growing acceptance of this mind-altering substance.  I support the ability of patients to use marijuana to ease pain or for other legitimate medical uses, and I believe the sale and possession of the drug should be decriminalized. Far too many people are rotting away in prison for minor drug offenses, creating a financial drain on the state and unfairly burdening individuals with lifelong criminal records.

But I do think we should move with caution on out-and-out legalization of weed. For one thing, today’s marijuana is much more potent than the stuff my contemporaries were smoking on the quad at college in the 1970s. This makes it far more incapacitating than partakers might expect. It’s also hard to determine at what level in the bloodstream pot causes sufficient impairment to make such functions as driving unsafe. Because THC can stay in the bloodstream for long periods of time, testing its levels on drivers is unreliable. It’s true that there are far more drunk driving fatalities than ones involving pot. But this may be due in part to the fact that alcohol is legal and widely available while marijuana is not.

Also due to its illegal status, there is not enough knowledge of how the hundreds of other compounds in marijuana affect our health. I have been told by a clinical psychologist that regular use of pot can decrease motivation. Obviously, there’s a reason for the stoner stereotype.  Along with decreased motivation, pot use can cause anxiety and paranoia in some users.  This should concern parents of teenagers in particular. Once marijuana becomes legal, it will become easier for underage users to obtain, much in the same way that teens find easy access to alcohol.

The common argument for legalizing marijuana is that it is nowhere near as dangerous or detrimental as alcohol. I am not sure we can make such a case without more study and experience with widespread use of the drug. For example, the state of Colorado has seen an increase in the number of marijuana-related emergency room visits since the drug became legal.  Besides, the fact that alcohol use is fraught with dangers and health issues is no reason to add another potentially harmful substance to our list of legal drugs.

I would like to see marijuana considered a controlled substance available only with a prescription from a physician. To me that is the best way to balance general safety with the needs of patients for whom pot is beneficial.

When it comes to legalizing pot, our motto should be: Proceed with caution.

 

The Bittersweetness of Motherhood

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The Mother’s Day flowers are already wilting on my kitchen table, and my spirits, even on this fine May day, are a bit damaged too.

Why is it on this day set aside to honor mothers that I feel so inadequate? I am questioning my parenting decisions, my effectiveness as a mother. I am examining my failures under a microscope and find them teeming like bacteria.

I had kidded myself that after 25 plus years, I had finally gotten a handle on this whole motherhood gig. But I feel like an amateur, a fraud. I talk tough, but my kids can still wear me down and get what they want and make me regret some of the things I allowed them to do. I am still cleaning up their messes large and small. My inconsistencies plague me.

You see, for 25 plus years this has been my job. I “stay home” to take care of my family. I should have gotten really good at it by now. If it were a paying job, though, I doubt I would be getting any pay raises. I might even get fired.

Yet despite having these low moments where I convince myself that I’m a total screw-up in the parenting department, I have no regrets about dedicating my life to my children. They have been my reason for getting out of bed in the morning. Their laughter and joy have infected me at times and made me feel like the luckiest woman in the world. And they seem to be growing up into reasonably decent human beings in spite of me.

Maybe in the realm of parenting, mothers give themselves too much credit when their kids are awesome and way too much blame when they are not. The fact is that children – and mothers – are only human. We make mistakes and learn from them, and that is how we know we are growing.

It’s a beautiful Mother’s Day in Chicagoland. I have my daughter’s soccer game and my son’s rugby game to attend. We are alive and well. So no more moping about my inadequacies. As the Bible says, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.”

Happy Mother’s Day!