Tuesday, September 30, 2008

My Campaign Ad

By Melanie Lynne Hauser

Well, here we are at the beginning of yet another uneventful week...I mean, it's not as if we're on the verge of economic collapse, the election itself is in doubt (if one candidate is to be believed)...Oh, wait. Yes, it is.

I am usually loathe to talk about my political beliefs here. I know it can get so contentious, and I'm hardly an unemotional person. I get very, very passionate. So I try to keep things light and merry, most of the time.

This post, really, isn't about what I believe. (Although for the record I think Barack Obama is our only hope. He alone has acted rational and presidential these last few days, and yes, I thought he won the debate. And I'm sorry, I can't help but believe McCain is the one, the only one, who inserted partisan politics in the bail out negotiations. (Well, aside from Nancy Pelosi yesterday - sigh. But still, that can't be the only reason the bill failed.) And to talk about cancelling the debate? Now, more than ever, we need debates. Saying now is not the time for one of only three non-partisan official opportunities to see and hear both candidates, side by side, is ludicrous. And neither candidate needed to be in Washington because neither candidate is the Treasury secretary, chairman of the Fed, nor even on the finance committee involved in negotiations. Also, watching Sarah Palin being interviewed by Katie Couric made me physically ill at the thought that this person might be president some day. Although it sure made for a lot of fun when Tina Fey re-enacted it on Saturday Night Live!)


These are my beliefs. But here's the thing - they shouldn't be yours, just because someone like me spouts off at the mouth.

I came to my beliefs on my own. And that's what I want to urge everyone to do, regardless of political party. Watch, read, listen - to the candidates themselves. Not the pundits. Not the blogs. Not cable networks that try to cloak opinion as "news" - and yes, I'm talking about Fox "News" Channel.

There is so much spin, so much misinformation. I get emails daily from people who should know better, who try to tell me things like Barack Obama eats little children. People pass this stuff along as truth. They don't bother to check it out; they just swallow what they're fed, without question. And pass it along as gospel truth.

Folks, most of the crap we're force fed, on a daily basis, is just that. Crap. The Internet, and email, has really made it easy for people to pass this on. And people, I think, want to believe what they want to believe. If crap shows up in their inbox, or on TV, and it happens to reflect what they want to believe is true, then - they believe it.

This is what concerns me, as we enter the home stretch of this election season. This is what I urge:

Check it out. Check everything out. Watch with your own eyes, listen with your own ears - and don't believe the spin from the pundits. The Internet may have given rise to a lot of crap, but it also is extraordinarly helpful for sorting out the truth.

If you missed the Palin/Couric interview, don't go over to Fox and hear what they had to say about it. Go to YouTube and watch it - all of it, not a mix of it - yourself. And make up your own mind.

If you get an email that says Barack Obama eats babies, go over to a wonderful site called FactCheck.org. This is a completely non-partisan site dedicated to telling the truth about both candidates. They address all the crap, and sort it out, and give you the facts. Just the facts.
Snopes.com is also an excellent resource.

So - please. Just open your eyes, your mind. Make your own decision. Ignore the crap and the hype. And -

Vote. Of course, for heaven's sake, get out and vote.

I'm Melanie Lynne Hauser, and I approved this message.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Eye on the Prize--Visualize! By Suzanne Macpherson

My new mantra is VISUALIZE OBAMA. Because I truly believe that if we focus our minds to that outcome it will unfold. I know there are many people out there that that will connect with this idea, and I know this little bit of cyber chatter might reach them. I send it out like a little breeze rustling our consciousness.

This means turning our heads away from all the press, polls, predictions of doom, and bad news. Actuall,y it's not a bad time to just Zen out a bit, is it! Curl up with a book or sit in the sunny yard for a while, not letting it all make us crazy. Step away from the TV. Yes, I honor the stories, but for me the power lies in visualizing a better tomorrow.

I'm imagining Michelle leading tours of the White House. I'm seeing the girls romping in the rose garden. I'm seeing the Obama family Christmas tree. Hold a space for this outcome in your imagination and give it time. water it like a plant. Imagine it blooming. brush away fears and keep our eyes focused on the energy of change.

Imagine peace.
Imagine no hunger.
Imagine a brotherhood of man.

John Lennon was trying to tell us something.

Vote, Volunteer, Donate, and --Visualize

Friday, September 26, 2008

I'm So Hot (And Not In a Good Way) by Barb McKone

I can't wait until Paris Hilton is forty-nine.  

I can't wait to witness the "Entertainment Tonight" moment in which she stifles her "that's hot" catch phrase because she realizes the trickle of perspiration traveling from her forehead to her chin can actually be seen on national television.  She'll coyly turn her head, smile, pout, cover it up. But we'll know.  Those who have gone through it will know.  

She will, of course, have a different catch phrase by then.  Probably something deep like, "That's deep."  Who knows? 

All I know is, I'm hot.  And not in a good way. 

I'm the girl who has always slept in sweatpants and socks.  My husband has accused me of wearing this armor to ward off advances on super-sleepy nights.  Not true.  Well, not entirely true.  The truth is, I'm freezing.  Or at least I was.  I fleece up because I've always been the cold one, my whole life.  I'm the one with the ice-cold toes on summer nights.  I'm the one who buys a sweatshirt on vacation when everyone else is buying flip-flops, and needs an extra blanket on family movie night.  Being that person, I cannot express the surprise of realizing, while sitting comfortably at an evening college football game in a tank top, capri pants and sandals, that the rest of the cheering throng was in sweatshirts and jeans.  Some were blanket huddling!  WHAT IS HAPPENING?  If my life were a movie, the trailer voice-over would say something like, "She was a wife, a mother, a friend. Until she started melting, from the inside out..."

From what I gather, women start this hormonal hell anywhere from thirty to sixty.  I say, "I gather," because no one seems to talk about it until I bring it up.  When I fan myself and say, in a group of middle aged women, "I'm so hot, and not in a good way," it's as if the dam has burst. Stories of hot flashes in workplaces and on college visiting days abound, and it always makes us all feel better.  I have a friend who experienced her first hot flash while on a plane to Florida. She made the pilot, who had started taxiing the runway, turn back and let her off.  She thought she was dying.  Although mine started sneaking up on me rather than hitting me over the head like hers, I can relate.  It's quite a shock to the system.

I have friends completely finished with "The Change" by the time they're forty-five, and others who haven't started the dread sweat-fest by the time they're sixty.  It doesn't seem to matter, except that my sister says that her doctor told her that having your cycle intact for as long as possible keeps you looking younger.  This doctor has patients who medicate to sustain the whole thing. Too late for me. At the rate I'm going, I'll be looking sun-dried by the time I hit the big 5-0.

So, where does all this leave me, besides in my own personal puddle?  I guess I'll get one of those hormone scans.  See my doctor.  All that good stuff.  In the meantime, I'll just be really shiny and hope for an early fall.  This year, I look forward to the nip in the air more than the change of colors.  Come find me at the football games; give me your advice on this subject. 
I'm sure you'll be able to pick me out.  I'm the one in the tank top.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Weather or Not

by Jenny Gardiner

Right around this time a couple of years ago, we found ourselves bracing for the onslaught of Hurricane Isabel, a storm that wreaked a punishing havoc throughout our region, an area not known for hurricane vulnerability. For days preceding the hurricane, in my household we held vigil over the Weather Channel, trying to glean some nugget of information that would give us an edge over the storm, provide us with that comforting element of assurance that would carry us through the worst of it. Or at least offer up some entertainment while waiting for the roof to blow off the house.

Over the past several weeks, we’ve again seen these tropical tempests dominating the headlines. And we all know that when bad weather approaches, anyone with cable or a satellite dish turns to the Weather Channel for guidance, in much the same way that we tend to gawk as we drive by a car accident along the highway.

What did we do before there was the Weather Channel? Does anybody remember those dark prehistoric days, when our only chance to find out what great weather disaster was soon to befall us was to tune into the local nightly news? Where some helmet-haired news anchor-wannabe in an ill-fitting polyester suit served his penance before the blue screen, spewing out weather forecasts he probably barely understood himself?
I remember those days, but only vaguely. Long before we could sit down with a glass of wine, tuned--at least until the power would go out--to Jim Cantore, Bill Keneely, Marshall Seese, or whatever Storm Expert of the hour is on, and a handful of interchangeably perky women in conservative suits coaxing us through our anxiety, as the storm thrashes our rooftops and the winds batter the surrounding trees.

I remember those days, before we got to laugh as Bill, and the other strapping young weather hotties, would entertain us by being blown hither and yon like dry leaves on a blustery late autumn afternoon, their signature Weather Channel rain gear inflated by hurricane-force winds to make them appear as if they too, would soon be swept skyward, along with the flying debris which they so successfully dodge.

One wonders if our weather stud muffins have low-level staffers or interns, relegated outside the camera shot to safeguard the handsome meteorologists, ready to absorb the blow from the roof shingles, the street signs, the heavy branches being flung through the air so randomly. Is there a hierarchy of saveability for these Weather Channel field operatives? Who is more expendable in a deadly storm? Do they have better life insurance than the rest of us?

I appreciate the Weather Channels’ ability to induce laughter in an otherwise somber occasion, as the reporters’ microphones are swept from their clutches when a sudden 135-mile per hour wind gust swoops down. As rain pummels their faces, the ladies’ mascara obviously waterproof. The willowy female meteorologist, poised beside a two-ton potted palm that has just been blown over by the gale-force winds, as she stands there in the driving rain in her chase-me beat-me pumps. Pumps! In a hurricane? Somebody get the woman a pair of L.L. Bean waders, please!

The Weather Channel has taught me to have strength under duress. That I, too, can withstand the torrent of nature, if only I have a trademark blue water proof jacket, a pretty good television face, and a sense of humor in the face of disaster.

Sometimes people reflect wistfully on days gone by, on how much better things used to be. But I for one never want to be without my beloved Weather Channel when disaster strikes. Yeah, it may be a little macabre to be kicking back on my living room sofa while I watch peoples’ worldly possessions soar past the camera’s lens as the storm takes hold. But in these days of reality TV in which we all share bizarre intimate details of others’ lives, the Weather Channel’s 24/7 coverage of weather disasters is reality TV at it’s finest.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Keeping up with Nobody

by Judy Merrill Larsen

Here are the things that got me most excited this past week--a new toothbrush, new bras, and making homemade pesto.

I know, you're thinking: whoa there, girlfriend. You're cuh-razy.

And at some point in my life (I'm not sure when exactly), I would have thought that was pretty pathetic and perhaps I needed to get out more. But, the thing is, I don't find it pathetic at all. I'm saying this in all truthfulness--I'm pretty tickled about these things.

I mean the toothbrush is an OralB cross-action vitalizer plus. In hot pink, no less.


I know, I should be a tad embarrassed but I'm not. I'm holding my head up high (what with my squeaky clean pearly whites) and standing a bit taller (thanks to the Soma Intimates Vanishing Lace Bra with little air pocket insert thingies) and looking forward to all the ways I can use the pesto I made.

And it all got me to thinking.

Here's what I realized.

I like being at the stage of my life where I don't need non-stop excitement--and, um, given that my husband and I have 5 kids between the ages of 16 and 24, and we're a "blended" family, to boot, so that we've come to see non-stop excitement as often involving calls in the wee hours of the morning when we'd both rather be sleeping, or interesting notices from various schools and/or authorities, or even just those plaintive looks from said children for more money/fewer questions from the old parental units--we've come to embrace the calm. The placid. The quiet.

And I'm really glad I've reached the point in my life where I don't feel like I'm missing out if I'm in bed by 10:30. Or if I don't have plans every night of the week. I'm more than okay with the thought that there are things happening and I don't even know or care that I'm missing them.

I spent the latter half of my twenties changing diapers, and burping babies, and juggling bills and occasionally feeling like I was missing out on some sophisticated single life (think Sex and the City before it was even created). Not that I was doubting my choices--marriage and motherhood. I just remember wishing I could try out the other path, experience what I was missing. In time I realized that what I was missing was probably mostly hangovers, sexually transmitted diseases, and feeling like my biological clock was running out.

But, you know what they say, the grass is always greener, right?

Then, I spent my thirties as a single mom. Knowing I was missing out on that nuclear family life I saw in too many commercials and TV shows.

But now, in my forties (which I get to hang on to for another year and a half!), it's great to not be wondering what else is out there. I'm not trying to keep up with some standard some screenwriter established. I can get excited about a boffo new toothbrush. Or bras. And still get a decent night's sleep (well, except for waking up for no discernible reason at 4:23 a.m. much too often).

Besides which, I have to rest up because three of my shows (Survivor, Grey's Anatomy, and Desperate Housewives) are starting this week and I need to save my energy to set the DVR to record them.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Gilding the Lilly

By Melanie Lynne Hauser

It’s funny. Back when my husband and I were young parents (which was just a year ago; as soon as our oldest went off to college we became old parents, it seems), we used to plan date nights fairly often. It was a big deal, a special event, just the two of us; precious alone time.

Now, over the years, we’ve both come to work more or less at home (when he’s not traveling), and so we see each other fairly often. Sometimes, too fairly often. So now that we don’t have to plan for a babysitter, now that we have pretty much every night open to do whatever we want just the too of us — we don’t. Do. Anything.

We stay at home in our sweatpants and sweatshirts, week nights, weekends; we hide out here, and we watch TV, and we eat casseroles and grunt at each other, and suddenly, we’re in danger of becoming Archie and Edith Bunker.

Why is it, I wonder, that when it’s a huge effort to find the time and money to go out, you do it far more often than when you have loads of time, loads of options?

Well, this past weekend, we roused ourselves with a great effort and made reservations for Saturday night. I even put makeup on, and I didn’t realize how long it had been since I’d done this until my husband asked me what on earth I’d done to my eyes? Mascara, I replied, and realized it had been months since I’d put mascara on.

Again — a conundrum: Why, when you’re young and pretty and don’t really need it, you spend so much darn time on makeup and hair and stuff, but when you could really use the help of a good concealer and lipstick, you just can’t be bothered? I dunno. I only know that I used to put makeup on, every day, even when I wasn’t going anywhere, and when my husband was about to come home I’d run upstairs and freshen it up a bit, fluff my hair. Now, though, he’s home all the time and I’m running around in sweats and nothing on my face, not caring at all. (And it's not just me; let me just say, it would be nice if the man showered before dinner most days.)

So all of this is just to say — boy, it’s been a long time since either of us have really tried to, well — dress up, do something special together, make an effort. Lately my hair’s an unkempt mess — I haven’t had a cute haircut in ages; I’ve started buying my clothes at Kohl’s and Target instead of Ann Taylor and J.Jill, I’m using drugstore makeup instead of driving all the way to the mall to go to the MAC store….in other words, I’m in a rut. I’m becoming the kind of tired, slightly deflated woman I see in the grocery store at 3:00 PM (the time when all of us older women shop because all the young women with babies are busy picking up their kids from school), pushing her half-empty cart, clad in sweats and sneakers with her gray roots showing, hair pulled back from her face with a plastic barrette. Buying both bran cereal and packaged underwear, because she doesn’t want to make an extra stop.

So it was nice, Saturday night. Nice to put on a pair of jeans instead of sweats, high heels instead of sneakers, an underwire bra instead of a sports bra. Nice to spend a lot of time in the bathroom on my hair and makeup, trying to get it just right. Nice to appreciate my reflection in the mirror; nice to appreciate my reflection in my husband’s eyes when I descended the stairs like Norma Desmond. Nice, too, to imagine, anyway, that men in the restaurant might have looked at me twice.

It’s good to shake things up, I guess. It’s good to plan a special night out even though we see each other all the time, there’s no lack of “quality time” between the two of us.

And even though, at a certain age, I think it’s normal to be tired out from decades of expensive, expansive upkeep, somehow, we must rouse ourselves. We must not give in to the temptation to buy packaged underwear at the grocery store. We should spend some time and effort and money on feeling pretty, feeling special, feeling prized.

After all, we’re worth it. More importantly — we’ve earned it by now. And really, back when we were young and firm and obsessed with this kind of thing, we hadn't. But now, we have.

I need to remember that, from time to time.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Changes in the Air

by Margy McCarthy

My baby book is a gold-embossed, 60’s vintage, faux leather photo album bound with a silky cord. The mostly black-and-white photos that fill it are adhered to the pages with tiny triangular corner tabs. Among the snapshots on the very first pages are a series of pictures of stark, bare tree branches against a clear autumn sky.

This was my baby’s eye view of the world from my buggy, captured in perpetuity for my memory by my mother as she walked me in the parks of Kansas City in September of 1962.

Today is the first day of fall. It is also the first day of my forty-sixth year of life. I like that these two events have aligned for me this year; I do not remember them falling together this way before and I am greatly heartened by the auspiciousness of their synchronicity. I have always felt a rush of familiarity at the turn in the air from summer’s warmth to the crisp tang of autumn; it was like coming home. I was one of those kids who loved new school supplies, the smell of a new box of crayons, notebooks full of blank pages of promise, and a brand new supply of sharp yellow Dixon Ticonderoga #2 pencils. I loved the start of a school year- perhaps because a school year, like me, began fresh each September.

It’s my personal New Year’s Day. This year maybe more than any other that means something to me.

It might seem that with AARP looming on the horizon I have begun to “feel my age,” but other than requiring more moisturizer than I have in the past, no longer being a single-digit pants size, and occasionally shrieking at the mirror in the morning when I discover an inch-long chin hair that miraculously sprouted overnight-- (or at least I hope it did! What if it’s been there for a week and I didn’t notice? Yeesh.) I don’t feel any different than I ever did.

It’s the other changes lately that make me appreciate the gift of a clean slate and opportunity to reflect mid-year. Changes like the son who moved out of the house and on with his life. Or like the daughter whose social life and morning toilette no longer require so much assistance and guidance from old Mom. These changes give me new opportunities to explore and learn and continue to evolve into the person I want to be.

Happy first day of autumn to you all.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Blue and Golden by Barb McKone

My son is feeling blue. 

His first homecoming dance, Blue and Gold, is six weeks away.  For the past four fall and spring seasons, our daughter has supplied a constant rattle of dinnertime dance invitation updates. She regales us with stories of creative invitations carried out in the cafeteria or on the school intercom or at the football game, acting out the parts and leaving us breathlessly awaiting the invitee's response.  

Back in the dark ages, when we went to dances, being invited went as follows:  pick up the phone, pray for the right voice on the other end, listen politely and answer with an excited or polite "yes" or "no, thank you."  Simple, right?  Well, the invitations, they are a-changin'.  

My daughter was once asked to prom in song, her would-be date boldly interrupting their choir class to perform his invitation to a giggling and hooting audience.  He also brought her a cookie cake he'd decorated himself- stick figures dancing, with "Joe" and "Grace" printed underneath the dancers in charming boy scrawl.  After his performance he had her circle the word "yes" in gel frosting to give her answer, which she did, to a cheering audience.  While I'm usually shaken by  the "progress" of today's teen world, I have to admit, I like this new system of getting a dance date.  It's imaginative.  It's romantic.  It takes guts and shows the real measure of the man.  I could frankly do with a little of the same from my husband from time to time.  (Just once, I'd like to be asked to the movies with some panache.  Or, asked to the movies at all.)  It does, however, up the ante for the slightly shy sophomore boy asking his first date to homecoming.

His first date.  Awwww.

And that's just problem number one.  Problem number two is that even though Blue and Gold is six weeks away, many of the girls my son would like to take have already been asked.  

There are those prime girls that encroaching upperclassmen have "stolen," as my son tells it, from the sophomore class.  There are those girls who have established boyfriends within their class.  So, in a class of only 100 kids, we're already down several potential dates.  My son doesn't intend to stray out of the class.  He's loyal.  The phone lines are lighting up, and my son is dragging his feet.  I don't want to create a panic, but honestly- he's got to get on the stick. Stake his claim.  We all know how this works.  It's like a run on a bank.  Sneak in before the doors close!  We broached the subject at dinner tonight; he ignored us so completely I wondered if he was actually listening to his i-pod.  He's clearly no Joe.  He's not much looking forward to the task ahead.  He will be using the tried and true phone invite, I think.  He'll save the theatrics for senior year.  

Six-and-a-half weeks from now, I will provide an update.  No names will be used, of course, to protect the innocent.  In the meantime, it's just another milestone that screams, "You can't stop this!  He's growing up!"  After the first dance invitation, can Senior Prom be far behind? I hope I'm with good  friends on Blue and Gold night when I wipe my eyes to take the photos of my sweet boy in the suit we've yet to buy, pinning a corsage on dance partner to-be-named-later.  

Okay, so I'm a little blue, too.  But, I know it will be okay.  My son likes to dance, and I know he'll ask a nice girl.  So, as milestones go, I have a feeling that this one will be golden.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Self Help Help

by Jenny Gardiner

These days it isn’t hard to find a self-help book for just about anything. As I was dusting recently--something that I need a self-help book to motivate me to do--a quick perusal of my book collection revealed that I am obviously in need of some kind of self-help.

Whether wrestling with co-dependency problems, battling food as an emotional crutch, yearning to tame the strong-willed child, or living with a neurotic dog, I’m clearly searching. At least when I’m in a bookstore.

Maybe I’m just drawn in by the clever covers, with their all-encompassing cure-whatever-ails-you titles. Or maybe the notion that simply reading a 200-page book will solve all of life’s problems appeals to me.

So I end up buying these books. When I get home, I optimistically set them next to the bed, assuming I’ll pick one up before drifting off to sleep. But then when bedtime rolls around, the last thing I want to do is:

a) Confront my problems when I’m too tired to even think about them, and
b) Read anything that involves thinking.

So eventually, when I get around to cleaning (see “Talking Dirty with the Queen of Clean” by Linda Cobb), I shift these motivational tomes onto the shelves of the nearest empty bookcase. And there they sit, safe in the knowledge that they will be left untouched--not to mention undusted--indefinitely.

If only I could glean information through osmosis, then I would have solved my problems with denial, PMS, disorganization, and the latest one, ADD. I would know exactly how to approach handling my teenaged kids so that they don’t hate me and end up in therapy one day (see “GET OUT OF MY LIFE…But First Can You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall?” by Anthony E. Wolf). I would know how to take charge of my life and make something of myself (as per “If Not Now, When?” by Stephanie Marston).
But instead, I feel a knot tighten in my stomach as I realize that I have failed in the first step to self-help: getting help. Well, maybe it’s the second step at which I’ve failed, because, after all, I did purchase the books. And that step is learning about the problem and how to find solutions to it. So far the only thing I have mastered is how to dust around them. And truthfully, I hardly ever even do that.

I think what I need is a self-help book on using my self-help books. Something that will motivate me to pick up one of these useful ditties and read it, say, when I’m otherwise disposed in the loo. Or in line for pick up at the kids’ school. Or while brushing my teeth at night. Maybe I just need Dr. Phil to whip me into shape. Or maybe I should just drop the self-help books altogether and pick up a copy of People Magazine to read at bedtime; then I’ll feel better learning about everyone else’s problems instead of worrying about fixing my own.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Major (In)Decisions

by Judy Merrill Larsen

You know, when I think about it, I have no clue what most jobs entail. I mean, okay, a heart surgeon probably operates on hearts (I do watch Grey's Anatomy after all.). I'd guess a ditch digger spends most of his or her time digging ditches.

When I went to college, I quickly became an English major. It meant I could read books (one of my favorite things to do) and write (another favorite thing to do). I gave very little thought to what I "would do with it." Much to my father's dismay. I still have no real idea what an English major does . . . for a living wage, anyway.

Near the end of my junior year, I called my folks and braced myself. I'd decided to double major by also getting a degree in secondary education. I worried that they'd be upset that it was going to take an extra semester and summer school. They were so thrilled that I'd be employable that the extra money never mattered. Teaching is sorta like heart surgery in that most people have a general sense for what the job entails (until you're actually in the classroom and facing those kids for the first time. Then you think, holy moly, what did I get myself into?).

This is on my mind because my younger son recently informed me that he's probably changing his major and he wondered what he should switch to. And even though I sent him an e-mail full of suggestions (mostly culled from his college's website of "available majors"), I have no idea what to suggest for him and he's at somewhat of a loss too.

Because, other than some very specific majors, we have no real sense of what jobs any given major will lead to. I mean, take "Business" for example. What does that mean? (Other, of course, something I'd have no interest in.) Or Poli Sci? (I mean he's never going to run for office.) Geography?

And even more confusing, when he thinks of a job he might want, no specific major screams out at us. Wouldn't it be nice to go back to the days of education for education's sake? When the idea was to learn things, to broaden your mind, and become a thoughtful thinker? Then, you would go and apply for a job and simply having the diploma was what mattered.

But no, now kids practically are supposed to decide in middle school. And start preparing right then and there. Am I the only one who thinks it's a little depressing that high school kids have to use their summers to pad their resumes rather than work on their tans? (Hmm, I can hear you muttering, Well, Miss-Not-Mother-of-the-Year, maybe your son wouldn't be in this quandry if he'd done something other than work at pizza parlors all through high school.)

But I'm still a big believer in kids being kids. In kids having enough free time to get bored and figure out what to do about it (hopefully without involving drugs and alcohol. Oh, and sex.).

Is it just me? And my sweet, hardworking, but slightly unfocused kid?

We're leaning to general business, but not with much excitement. And that makes me sad.

Ideas, anyone? Anybody out there have the answer? Anyone? Bueller?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

To Think or Not to Think

By Melanie Lynne Hauser

So I was thinking about something the other day.

I know, this is always a dangerous exercise. I should know better. Thinking can only lead to bad things, like impulsive acts of kindness, or fits of aerobic exercise, or a sudden urge to declutter-ize your life, which usually results in throwing away really sentimental family heirlooms or dusty bric brac that your mother will later tell you came over on the boat with Great Grandma Agnes, and was worth a fortune.

So I shouldn't think. I think I know this - oops! Did it again!

Anyway. I was thinking. And I was thinking about how, lately, I've been feeling kind of adventurous. Compelled by a recent burst of creativity, I actually had an impulse to hop a plane and fly to Europe all by myself to do some research for a new writing project. I could envision it so clearly, where I needed to be, how I could pack the most amount of research into the shortest amount of time; I could see myself walking down some paths I need to see with my own eyes, touching some walls, smelling air that is foreign to me, but very important to the setting I wish to create...oh, I just had such a fearless impulse! My heart soared, my fingers itched; I actually looked up flights and places to stay. I remembered where my passport was. I realized I have no real obligations keeping me here, my husband and younger son can certainly spare me for a few days.

Truly, my whole body thrumbed with anticipation, I felt so free and fearless and there was absolutely nothing holding me back anymore. Nothing, that is, except -


And this is the thing I was thinking. When I was younger I had so many fears, and then they got all wrapped up in my family and their need of me, and mine of them, and then my fears took on greater meaning because if something horrible ever happened to me, what would become of my children, and of course, there was no way I could ever just take off and do something adventurous even if I wasn't afraid, because of them.

But now? They don't need me every day, or even every week; they're almost grown, I don't have to worry so much what will become of them if I'm suddenly kidnapped by white slavers, and lo and behold, it seems as if I've outgrown many of the fears that hobbled me when I was young. I've reached the age where I can say, "Well, so what? I've had a good run here in the suburbs; now it's time to see what else there is."

I've reached the age where I'm no longer attractive to white slavers, too.

However. I've also reached the age where, because of the kids and college and certain career, uh, rest stops, I have less disposable income than ever. And thus, have to remain at home and content myself with Wikipedia and virtual tours of places I can't afford to visit.

And I think this is one of the cruelist ironies of the empty nest. We have the time. We have the courage.

We don't, however, have the money.

So I was thinking about all this, and of course, I got a little depressed. Which leads me back to the beginning of this post, which is -

Thinking is highly overrated.

(So, perhaps, is a college education.)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Football Circus by Suzanne Macpherson

If a man watches three football games in a row, he should be declared legally dead. Erma Bombeck

And so it begins. I’ve seen worse, mostly in television sitcoms and movies. Jerry McGuire comes to mind. Phrases like “use your inside voice, honey,” comes to mind, if my husband could actually hear me over his own bellowing.
I do have to loudly applaud the person that invented wireless headphones. Kudo’s for making all that static football background noise funnel into my husband’s ears instead of my entire house, although he does look like a complete lunatic screaming at a silent television. Oh wait, he is a complete lunatic- from September to whenever football season ends. Lunatic.

Can they hear you yet, honey?

I tried, I really did. The closest I came was when one of my sons played freshman football. I love fall, I love all that traditional stuff, you know, plaid blankets, warm sweaters, thermos of coffee, little bit of whiskey in there, okay just kidding. Rah Rah Rah! Freshman football is hilarious. It’s like watching circus clowns. No matter how serious they try to get about it, there are three good kids on the team and the rest are Bozo’s. My kids definitely had a red rubber nose under his helmet and I think I saw some rainbow hair sticking out. And after years of little league where the games take an average of five hours, football was a cinch!

So when my husband took us to a college game I figured it would be fun-- like a circus right? Well guess what? When those clowns grow up they are still running around the field with this ball trying to get it over the line and its just as stupid as it was when they were freshman but now they take it way way seriously! At that point I knew that football would not be something I shared with my husband.

I’ve learned that there are usually great movies on Sundays (I just finished watching Along Came as Spider-wow.) My daughter and I do lots of bonding while the guys do football, and Monday nights I signed up for the professional choir in our area while my daughter is taking tap lessons. Obviously both of us have learned to escape the seasonal insanity known as football season! I know plenty of women who love football, but I’m sorry to say, I’m not in that club. I seem to remember a movie with Lauren Bacall about her sports reporter husband married in a whirlwind romance called Designing Women: His world was all about guys and dolls, her world was all about gowns and glamor! Oh ya, that's me, glamor gal.

See you for chick cocktails at 5 on any given Monday during football season!

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Substitute Zone by Barb McKone

The Substitute Zone by Barb McKone

Three days ago, I was a kindergarten teacher.

There wasn't really much teaching involved.  I was a substitute for the day.  

During this lovely mid-life crisis, while I try to figure out what exactly I'd like to do for the next 15-20 years to help support my family, I decided to get myself on the substitute list.  Just for kicks.  Grocery money, plus.  Perhaps even pay for my daughter's college textbooks and sorority dues.  You know.  Real estate hasn't seen it's greatest year, and making a living as a writer just might be a better mystery than my last novel.  So, here I am at the corner of "What have I been doing for the past few years?" and "What now?"  That corner is smack-dab in the middle of what I like to call The Substitute Zone. 

The Substitute Zone is a frightening place.  First of all, and most shocking, is that the substitute, even if in a cute new sweater she cannot afford, is thoroughly invisible.  High school and middle school students can't see the substitute, unless she is giving a test or administering CPR.  I swear, it's true.  If the substitute is working the elementary grades, however, The Zone is a different place.  In grades K-5, the sub is Queen For The Day.  

It was fun, for the first hour or so, to be adored.  The kindergartners waited for every word I uttered with breathless expectation.  They were funny.  Precious.  They drew me pictures.  They needed me for more than passes to the restroom or library- passes that generally assure that the sub will not see the passing student for the rest of the class period.  But, by the second hour, I realized that kindergarten subs are actually needed to a frightening level.  My kids are in high school and college now.  I had no idea just how out of touch I really was with the tiny ones until I found myself lifting a kindergartner onto the one toilet over six inches high in the entire school.  It must have been a teacher's hideaway toilet that we happened to stumble upon while trying to find our way back to the gym.  All I know is that my kids knew how to "hold it" when they were in kindergarten.  Didn't they?

Kindergartners run in packs.  Watch out, they can take you down.  Walking from station to station, from the library to the art room, I wore a thick skirt of five-year-olds, clutching on to me, clinging to me like a life raft.  By the end of the day I felt like I might need to shower in Purell.  Honest to God, how can so many kids have colds at the same time? It was while lining up for dismissal that I decided to never enter the Kindergarten Zone ever, ever again. According to the cheerfully-colored sheet by the classroom door, I had one bus rider. According to the kids lined up neatly at the door in "Riders," "Walkers," and "Bus Riders" categories, with just five minutes to spare, I had four.  Four first-time bus riders and absolutely no information about what bus they should ride.  I pictured the headline.  "Kindergarten Sub Sends Helpless Students Home on Wrong Buses."  I pictured frantic moms and furious dads and an orange jumpsuit.  I found a TA and dispatched her to the office while the three lines waited on the alphabet rug.  Even with the help, we still had several kids in tears.  I went from "the greatest sub ever!" to the weird lady with the sweaty face trotting nervously from bus to bus.  I watched the news.  They all seem to have gotten home okay.

So, yesterday when I got the morning call to duty, I swallowed hard before signing on.  Middle School Science.  Oh boy.

The day went fine.  As I said, I got little to no attention, which, after kindergarten, was just fine with me.  They were forced to talk to me in a short assigned discussion about their most recent experiment.  Other than that, I was only there to find and hand out the colored pencils.  Lunch, however, was an experience.  Being invisible comes in especially handy in places like the lunch room.  Being invisible, the substitute can learn all kinds of interesting facts if she listens carefully enough. At yesterday's lunch I sat, by myself, of course, at a table by the far wall.  The only other people who sit at the tables by the wall are the students who also don't want to be seen.  My table was next to a table of what Hollywood would categorize as "misfits," or "nerds"- you know, the billionaires of the future.  I'm certain Bill Gates used to sit at a table just like this one.  

They were talking about some sort of internet game in which they liked to use swords.  The boys described their deadly battles with all sorts of creatures in great and lurid detail while the one girl at the table listened quietly.  Intently.  Being a cinematic type myself, I couldn't help but recognize the potential teen move story line:  shy girl trying to hide behind her mane of too-long hair befriends quirky table of boys.  Enter substitute teacher who recognizes her hidden beauty and offers makeover.  She's stunning.  Unrecognizable.  She's asked to prom by handsome school jock with jealous girlfriend who plots shy girl's demise at dance.  In climactic scene, lunchroom table of boys who have just won state science competition hear of plot and save the day with catapult invention that sends icky jock-girlfriend flying.  Shy girl wins Prom Queen but also wins what she wanted all along: the heart of head lunchroom misfit, who of course turns out to be a total stud when his glasses fall off and he gets a little dirty.  

My lunchroom musings were interrupted when I had the opportunity to get a closer look at the long-haired girl and realized that she was actually a long-haired boy.  Oops.  Scratch that video montage of shopping for the prom dress.  

It could only happen in The Substitute Zone.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

2 Old 2 Go Back 2 School Shopping

by Jenny Gardiner

*slight disclaimer: I wrote this for my newspaper column three years ago but didn’t dare run it, for fear of repercussions from my teenagers once they saw it in print. I figure they're blissfully ignorant about my blogs, so I’m safe, finally having found a venue in which to vent on this subject.

Okay, I realize that I run the risk of appearing like a frighteningly middle-aged mother with what I am about to write. Alas, as a frighteningly middle-aged mother, I no longer care if that’s how I come across, so I’ll take my chances.

I recently had the eye-opening experience of back-to-school shopping with teenaged girls, and at the risk of sounding like an old fart (I know, I know, merely acknowledging that means that I am one), I cannot believe how clothing has changed since I was a kid.

After spending hours at the likes of Hollister, American Eagle and Abercrombie & Fitch, the first thing that sort of depressed me about the current state of dress--or undress--was how downright sexual all teen clothes are. When I was a teen (back when they invented the wheel), clothing styles were downright goofy-looking. Nary a vampish outfit could be found, were we to know to look for them. In fact, I still remember a style of shoes that everyone wore back then--they looked an awful lot like those orthopedic shoes that very old people wear when their gnarled, arthritic feet can no longer accommodate a traditional shoe style. Trust me, there was nothing provocative about them.

Nowadays, it’s virtually impossible to find clothing for teens that isn’t seductive by its very design. Which tends to make me a little bit leery, especially after having recently lingered in the stores targeting these teens. Never before in my life had it been more glaringly obvious that I am so past my prime, and that these kids are so at theirs, perhaps, sometimes by the ripe old age of 13. The choice of clothing was extensive, but limited to basically two things: tops that leave little to the imagination and bottoms that require a professional wax job to wear publicly. There’s no doubt that this clothing looks fantastic on a young, lithe, body, all toned and tanned and raring to go. But is it right for middle-schoolers to look so, uh, hot?

Now I’m going to sound like a granny again, but back in my day, girls didn’t take on a sexualized appearance till they were much older--college, or beyond. In fact, I’m pretty certain that I bypassed that stage altogether. I went from Health-Tex stretchy shorts-sets to leggings and oversized shirts. Nowadays, girls, through contemporary fashions, are becoming more and more sexualized even before puberty. So much so that I found it challenging to find appropriate clothing for my 11-year old to wear without drawing the unwanted attention of any male from the age of 13-on up.

Another depressing observation I made during my recent shopping forays: while milling about these clothing stores, I couldn’t help but notice the profusion of undernourished girls honing in on the size 00 rack. I told my daughter (to her great embarrassment) that an awful lot of girls at the mall could do with a hearty meal of mac ‘n cheese or something equally carb-laden. It seems odd that in a country of such plenty that denial of food is essentially a fashion choice.

Which reminds me of something. I remember in college there was a pizza shop on College Avenue that pumped out its oven exhaust onto the passersby in front of the store. They knew that the aroma of pizza (albeit a mighty overwhelming smell, with the force of those fans) would lure buyers into the shop to spend money.

So right next to Abercrombie is a Mrs. Field’s cookie shop. Which used to waft cookie aroma in much the same way. However, Abercrombie--perhaps in a veiled effort to ensure their buyers remain stick-thin so they can buy their wares--now forces out massive levels of noxious perfume odors into the mall, overpowering whatever cookie scent might still exist in the shared airspace. And something about that Abercrombie perfume just screams Sex! Sex! Sex!

I don’t dare elaborate (much) about the barely-subliminal visual messages being bombarded at teens while they shop, either. Let’s just say that the jaw-dropping “packages” on the two-story tall posters of extremely sexy young men with zippers lowered enough to reveal that yes, they do wax, was downright astounding. Why, some of the shorter kids shopping were just about eyeball-to-um, balls, though their balls had nothing to do with an eye. Oh God, I guess if you get really factual about it, an eye would have been involved, too. Had those men have been completely naked, which they weren’t. Completely.

I am really not a prude. I’m an easy-going middle-of-the-road mom who has a high threshold for all things teen. And honestly, as I sat there being blasted by hearing-depleting music cranked well beyond AC/DC concert level, I quite enjoyed gazing at those enormous Abercrombie posters, even though I felt a bit pedophile-like lusting after guys probably old enough to be my kids. But really, must we lash these teens in the face with this? Whatever happened to subtlety?

I suppose I’m lucky that I’m not out shopping for toddlers any more. Lord knows that’s likely the next line of attack for slut-wear, now that it’s become the norm for anyone over the age of eight or nine.

In the meantime, I’ll bide my time, trusting that the days of leggings and long shirts just has to come back into vogue. In the meantime, you can find me in my granny pants rocking on my rocker. Maybe crocheting something useful, like a shroud, for the age of innocence, May it rest in peace.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Las Vegas Redux

by Judy Merrill Larsen

The first time I was ever in Las Vegas, February 2007, didn't go so well.

It began with me in tears, somewhere in The Venetian, dialing up my husband on his cell phone. He was there on business; I'd flown in to spend the weekend with him. I believe our conversation started off with me trying not to sniffle and whimper like a total girl, but failing miserably. I was completely lost, I'd been lugging my suitcase all over the fake Venice "marketplace" and I could no more figure out where the actual hotel started than explain the game of craps to you. My husband asked if I could tell him where I was. I looked around and then said, "Across from the Oxygen Bar." He told me to stay right there and he'd be there in a heartbeat.

Later, after a cocktail (Or, um three. Maybe four.), I apologized for my emotional meltdown. Then I made an appointment for a "raspberry sherbet pedicure." I felt better.

Then, the next evening we decided to walk down The Strip and soak in some of the ambiance. Ambiance that consisted of swarthy men handing my husband baseball cards which advertised "barely legal asian blondes." Hey, hello, I wanted to holler. Do you not see me? The blondish non-asian woman holding this man's hand? We're with each other. See, we have these rings which suggest marriage?

I decided a few more cocktails would help. They did.

By the time we left, I was referring to Vegas as "Disneyland on crack." And I'm not a big fan of Disneyland. Or crack.

So, why am I willingly hopping on a plane tomorrow to join my husband in Las Vegas? Well, um, it's practically free. There's that. And I believe in second chances. Plus, we'll be at The Bellagio, so maybe I won't get lost in plasticland.

But more than that, and more than two nights away with my husband (and no kids) in a fancy hotel with room service and beds I don't have to make and bathrooms with big plushy towels (and robes!! God, I love those hotel robes.), there's the fantasy aspect of it. (Stop. Wait. Get your heads out of the gutter.)

Specifically, Frank Sinatra.

Is there anyone cooler? (Maybe Springsteen. Or Dennis Quaid but they're not Vegas-y.) Now, I know that The Sands and The Stardust have both been razed. And I know Old Blue Eyes has been dead for a decade. But there's a coolness factor that he still knocks off the charts. (Or is that just me?) And I know that The Strip isn't the same as it was in the Rat Pack glory years. But I can pretend.

A cocktail will probably help.

(cross-posted over at Not Afraid of the "F" Word)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

His and Hers

A Play in Two Acts

By Melanie Lynne Hauser

Act 1

Melanie, packing to leave on an overnight business trip:

Running back and forth between closet and full-length mirror (inconveniently located in the boys’ bathroom, requiring much stepping over discarded Q-tips and globs of toothpaste), she tries on various combinations of outfits: the black denim skirt and the mauve-and-black camisole, the camel jacket, the dark blue denim jacket, the white skirt, the camisole again, now the black wrap shirt, repeating the above combinations with both the black boots and the mauve ankle boots. Finally she decides on two combinations, decides to bring a pair of jeans and a nice sweater just in case, runs downstairs, irons everything, brings it back up, but doesn’t put it in huge suitcase just yet. Now to think about the makeup: Is mascara necessary? Decides that yes, it is. How about lipstick? Yes, but she’s not sure which kind. And don’t forget the moisturizer(s)! Everything goes into a separate makeup bag. She packs the curling iron, the flatiron, all the hair care products (approximate weight: 100 pounds). Oops! Forgot about purses! Need appropriate purses. BUT — must also have a briefcase to carry around laptop. So she tosses two purses into the suitcase and decides to carry the briefcase separately. OH! This IS a business trip, isn’t it? Don’t forget the business cards, postcards, a couple of copies of book. (She can't locate business cards at first, though; eventually they're discovered holding up the uneven leg of an end table in the living room.) She then goes back and tries on outfits — this time with different bras, to see if silhouettes change significantly. (They do.) Then Melanie wonders if control top pantyhose is necessary; tries everything on once more, this time with control top pantyhose, and decides it’s definitely necessary for one outfit, but not for the other. Throws pantyhose into suitcase. She wonders if she’ll have time to exercise; decides she’d rather be safe than sorry, so packs exercise shoes, shorts and shirt. Also socks. Don’t forget underwear! But — is underwear necessary for control top pantyhose outfit? She decides that it’s not. But takes an extra pair anyway.

Entire scene takes approximately two and a half hours to enact.

Act 2

Her husband, packing to leave on a week-long business trip:

He digs around in dirty clothes hamper, removes a pair of unnatural fiber pants guaranteed never to wrinkle, sniffs the crotch, thinks a moment, shrugs, throws them in teeny tiny little gym bag. He grabs two of the approximately five thousand blue long-sleeved Oxford collar shirts in his closet (also made of unnatural, wrinkle-proof fiber), wads them up, puts them in bag. Throws one of two thousand blue striped ties in for good measure. Tosses in mini shampoo he stole from the last hotel stay, zips everything up, grabs computer bag and is good to go.

Entire scene takes approximately three minutes.

End of play.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Too Much Time on My Hands

By Margy McCarthy

I keep telling myself that this is my time.

For several weeks now, I have been down by half my offspring. The floor is no longer littered with gigantic dirty socks, I find less dirty dishes waiting on the counters to greet me in the mornings, and my laundry piles have shrunk beyond recognition.

On the other hand, I have not figured out how to cook appropriate quantities of food for those of us still here. Losing a teenage boy from the table is akin to a hungry platoon gone AWOL from the mess hall. The leftovers threaten us from every side; towering piles of delicious food teeter on the brink of no return- food that only a short time ago would have been consumed by a group of whispering teenagers skulking around after a late movie; plundering my kitchen by the light of a humming microwave.

I am putting out an APB on new recipes that call for milk. Send me your cream soups, your sauces, your smoothies-- I can’t keep up with a gallon a week any more.

Other adjustments have been easier; I have discovered to my delight that Shriek- the lone baby bird remaining in the nest- may well need a new blog name. The crystal-shattering squeals that were the soundtrack of our everyday routines are a vague and distant memory. When her brother phones (which is quite often) their conversations are of new, mature, moderate tones and peppered with soft laughter.

Huh. Go figure.

Shriek has also taken up the slack with regard to chores without complaint. She carries out the trash, empties the dishwasher, cares for the animals without the previously constant refrain of, “Why do I have to do it? I did it last time!” even flickering through her mind. She is amply rewarded for her willingness- paid in nail polish. Nail polish is the currency of modern thirteen year old girls.

I am suddenly at home by myself more than ever. With Sparky at work and Shriek away more and more for movies, or shopping trips, or overnights with her friends; the house is quiet, cool, and mine alone. It occurs to me that I actually have time to do the things I blamed holding two full-time jobs (teacher and mom) for preventing me from doing. I can start on that new novel. I can read uninterrupted. I can rise earlier and walk for miles along the canal to jump-start the diet I have procrastinated and simultaneously discover writerly inspiration in the wingspan of egrets, the downy fluff of ducklings, and the life-affirming promise of citrus trees heavy-laden with the winter crop of fruit.

I could do these things. Of course I could. I have lots of time. I could do these things and more. But I find myself looking at the time I have available now the same way I look at the huge bowl of leftover scallop scampi, or the half-full gallon of milk whose expiration date mocks me, or the lone giant sock pulled from under the couch.

I need to readjust.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Yes, I AM Ready! by Barb McKone

Yes, I AM Ready! by Barb McKone  

I'm a change resistor.  That doesn't just include things like having a hard time donating the old pair of jeans I haven't fit into for five or six years to someone who might actually be able to zip them, or not being able to fully commit to looking for a larger house even though we're bursting at the seams and my realtor's license is getting stale in my broker's drawer.  No, my disorder is also seasonal.  I resist the changing of fall to winter because I so love wearing my Talbot's orange fall jacket, winter to spring because I haven't used my crock pot enough, and spring to summer because I haven't yet planted my zinnias.  But mostly, I resist the change of summer to fall because summer just isn't long enough.  Peaches are still in season, and in Missouri, it's still hot enough to swim.  I have a new bike!  There are trails to be blazed!  So, why is my daughter off at college, and why are my boys back at school?  The end of summer.


I never think I'm ready for changes, but, when I'm forced to face them, I find they're really for the best.  I remember when my youngest child was finishing up his fifth grade year at North Glendale School, the wonderfully tiny neighborhood elementary school both of my children attended.  I'd watched the outgoing moms march in the end-of-the-year parade for years with tears in my eyes, dreading the day it would be my turn.  They walked arm in arm like soldiers bracing for the next phase of their lives: the MIDDLE SCHOOL years.  It looked scary.  It looked sad.  And yet, when I marched in the parade, I was shocked at my lack of emotion. Marching along, I thought about what time baseball practice started that night, whether or not I should bother turning in my receipts for the class party decorations one last time, and what to make for dinner that night.  What time would my husband be home?  He was still in exams. When it came right down to it, I was ready.  More than ready.  Truth be told, I haven't been back to the old school much over the five years since my son finished there, unless I'm walking or riding their track.  Time to move on. 

Cue soundtrack:  To everything, turn, turn, turn...

This summer has been hard to let go of.  

First of all, my daughter is off to her freshman year of college, as most of you already know.  I dreaded the transition.  I dreaded feeling panicked in the middle of the night, wondering where she was and what she was doing.  That feeling hasn't come.  I'm feeling pretty good.  Calm, in fact!  She sounds fine on the phone; much happier than she was here, with me, for the past few months. She'd been "dirtying the nest;" a school-counselor-official-psych-term for the strife we've had at the hands of our five-foot-two powerhouse of a daughter, all summer.  It's perfect. Our nest is fully dirtied.  Beyond dirtied.  She was ready to go.  SO ready.  She's where she needs to be.  She's living the life she needs to live.  We've done all that we can do.  I didn't think I was ready.  Turns out, I underestimated myself.  I was.

Secondly, I'm believe I'm into a full-scale mid-life crisis.  My husband being a teacher, I live on a school calendar.  Fall means I have to make decisions I've been putting off.  Fall means a decided lack of playtime.  Fall means I should probably decide, yet again, what I want to be when I grow up.  Great.  I've been making lists all summer.  Now, I guess I'll have to use them.

And, then, there's the son.  He's always been huggy, loving, adorable.  He suddenly has hairy legs.  He's sullen.  He sometimes forgets himself and jumps on the dogs and uses his old, squeaky voice: "Puppies!  Where are my puppies?!"  It's short lived.  He soon remembers his new, cool persona, lowers his few utterances by a couple of octaves, and goes to his room to listen to music or scan You-Tube.  Damn that new I-Touch.  I didn't buy it.  It was a freebie with computer purchase.  I don't want my sweet boy to change, but clearly, this  is a tide I cannot force back.  I will keep my mom-radar on full alert.  I will take any chance for a hug I can get, even by trickery, and I'll hold on for the ride.  Thankfully, he's still forgets himself and occasionally smiles.   We take what we can get.  

So, what's next for me?  First off, admitting that yesterday, the first day of school for my husband and son, was not that all that traumatic.  We survived the day.  My son likes his classes, and he took the time to lie on the floor at my feet and actually TALK about them before demanding supper.  And, I have to say that I'm feeling a sudden urge to find my crock pot and accompanying cook books. (Any great recipes? Send 'em my way!) Then, there's always the call of the shiny dry-cleaner bag encasing the orange Talbot's pea coat.  Yes, it's looking a bit worn, but I'm loyal.  It's still my favorite October friend.  

Okay, I give.  Fall is almost here.  I'm feeling okay about it.  Excited, even.  As always, when it comes right down to it, I'm ready.

Slow-Cooker Stroganoff, anyone?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

What a Week

by Jenny Gardiner

Sometimes as a parent of teens you have to just thrust the white flag of surrender as high up as you can get it, and give in to everything. And other times you just have to let the steamroller crush you, crush your willpower, crush your stamina, sometimes even crush your hope (but just don't let it stay crushed).

That was the kind of week we had in my town. Last week we'd been dealing with our youngest struggling with a tough transition to a new school. Nothing was clicking and we watched a happy, cheerful, very agreeable kid become sullen and obstinate in the blink of an eye. Which was frustrating, because you hear stories of kids who reach these crossroads moments in their lives, when something changes and it's something that person simply does not cope well with. And they change, often for the worse.

Over the weekend I think a full moon settled over this part of Virginia. Labor Day weekend, kids intent on a last hurrah before school started (except that for most kids here, school had already begun). A big college football game supercharged the atmosphere that day to begin with, and those teen revelers had to keep the momentum going at game's end.

For the younger teens? A night of egging houses, knocking down mailboxes, and just general mayhem that causes homeowners hassles and a bit of agita.

For the older teens? Milling about near the pool, kids hooking up in all sorts of places (rumors of a naked girl near the pool and another naked one in flagrante delicto in the pool (with, if rumor stands, a host of onlookers).

(In case you were wondering, it wasn't a kitty and a puppy in the pool...)

Did I mention that some of the teens broke into the pool--broke the fence down, broke into the pool house, stole all the beer and candy and snack food, partied all night poolside, trashed the place, and then denied it?

Now, we live in a small town. Everybody knows everybody. And I feel extremely fortunate that our oldest child is not even in town, and our other two were home with us that night, so we didn't have to worry whether our kids were either involved or on the periphery of the events that unfolded. But we know plenty of kids whose names have been bandied about as participants or at least onlookers. And a few parents who are mortified and mad as hell at their teens' abysmal judgment.

Monday at the pool saw a revolving door of cops questioning kids. A lot of sober-faced kids coming to reckoning with their idiotic wilding behavior. And no doubt a lot of regrets. Of course for a few of these kids, regrets won't count. Rather they'll face breaking and entering, vandalism and theft charges. They'll lose their spots on their sports teams and positions of leadership at their schools. And deservedly so, though guess what? This will only provide them with far more idle time in which to wreak havoc upon things.

Of course the pool on Monday was chock full of folks with immense outrage, and rightly so. And plenty of finger-pointing to go around. there were a couple of girls with dreadfully tarnished reputations (one of whom apparently was not naked as reported, but had been at the wrong place at the wrong time making out with the wrong guy and got pulled into the whole story because of her proximity to it. The other girl? I hear she's denied it, though apparently it was caught on security cameras. Maybe she can see herself on YouTube...

We took away plenty of lessons to harp on with our kids: guilt by association can be just as damaging as guilt itself. Just because you say you didn't commit the act doesn't mean people are going to believe that, and when rumors take on a life of their own, it's hard to dissipate them. A lesson you can repeat ad nauseum, but until they witness it in action, is meaningless. So perhaps those of us who were merely sideline witnesses owe a debt of thanks to the boneheads who committed the offenses.

And then it all got put into perspective Tuesday morning with a phone call my daughter received first thing. Some girl at her high school killed herself over the weekend. Reports are the usual teen angst was to blame: she'd broken up with her boyfriend, had a fight with her parents. And the rest, sadly, is irrevocable history.

And this morning, an obituary for a baby born several months ago to a teenaged girl whose brother played on a soccer team with our son. He apparently died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Such hard and cruel life lessons for someone who is still a child.

Those teen years are tough. Tough on everyone. Tough on the teens, tough on the witnesses, even, and sometimes tougher still on the parents. No one comes out of the teen years unscathed. But it does make one so grateful for small mercies, so thankful when things go right. Because sometimes it can go so horribly wrong.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The "M" Word aka "mother-in-law"

by Judy Merrill Larsen

I don't know about you, but I certainly grew up hearing mother-in-law jokes (not in my own family of course. Never. Ever.)

There was even a really stupid late-1960's sit com (I guess that's redundant, huh?) called, you guessed it, "The Mothers-in-Law". Starring Kaye Ballard and Eve Arden, the story line had these two women as neighbors who, while diametrically different (one liked to clean house and cook; the other didn't), were best friends and when their kooky kids were in college they fell in love and got married (natch) and since both moms wanted to be underfoot the kids lived in a renovated garage apartment between the two houses.

Hilarity ensued.

It seems as though M-in-L jokes have been a staple of comedy forever.

I remember one of the first times I realized I might be on the butt end of one of those jokes: I was pregnant with my younger son and frantically trying to finish a darling cross-stitch pattern to go over his crib. (Okay, real quick, did any of the rest of you cross-stitch? Do any of you still do it? Cause if so, I've got scads of floss and patterns and unfinished projects I can send your way.)

Anyway, I was showing the finished, framed product to a friend who was oohing and aahing appropriately when I blurted out, without even thinking, "Yeah, and when he grows up I can give it to his wife when they're about to have a baby and she 'll show it to a friend and say, 'I have to put this in the nursery because Eric's mom made it.' And then they'll both groan."

My friend, who was also a mom of a boy, looked at me and we knew. If we weren't careful, we were someday going to be the butt of jokes and snide comments from the women who'd married our sons. (Little did we know how much practice we'd have as the mothers of teens.)


Now, let me be clear. I'm not yet a mother-in-law. And I'm not in any real rush. I'm even in less of a rush to be a grandma just in case anyone's wondering. For one thing, I'd have to find that silly cross-stitch picture. It's, um, somewhere in the house. I'm almost positive. (Yeah, I'll be more the Kaye Ballard role, I'm afraid.) But I seriously used to worry about being pushed aside. You know there's that stupid saying "a daughter's a daughter all her life but a son's a son 'til he takes a wife." I mean who the flip coughed that one up? And I also know that a wife's mom has her own bad rap from son-in-laws.

I'm here to call a moratorium on all M-in-L humor.

Because I'm also here to say that I just spent a weekend with the queen of mothers-in-law. She has it down to an art. And a science. She embraces everyone. She makes cookies and fluffs pillows and smiles. She's interested in everything her family does and is the biggest cheerleader for all of us. She encourages us all to be who we want to be and if she flinches at a grandchild's piercing it's always done in private.

Almost her entire extended family (kids, in-laws, grandkids, great-grandkids, nieces, etc.) gathered this past weekend to celebrate her 90th birthday at a Cubs game. She had a blast. (We'd also gathered last spring on the actual day, but she's so cool we wanted to celebrate again!). She's funny and smart. And she rolls with life.

So, Kaye Ballard and Eve Arden, you need to step back and learn from the master.

And so do I. Thank goodness I've got time.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

"Mom" is Not Another Word for "Friend"

By Melanie Lynne Hauser

I’ve been trying to catch up with my younger son, the one still in high school. For one more year. Then he'll be gone. Then I'll cry. A lot.

Anyway, while he's still here, I thought I'd, you know - talk to him. (I know, I know - what was I thinking?!) But he's so busy this senior year, and I'm busy, and my husband's busy, and it’s all good. Because if I wasn’t busy right now I’d be drinking.

However. Being busy means I’m worried that I’m not on my game, as a mom. So the other day, I did the unthinkable. I asked my son a question or two about his day.

Oh, the horror!

We had a little showdown about this. I asked — one too many times, it seemed — how school had been. I inquired about homework. I asked about his friends.

I received one-syllable answers to my questions, but I persisted anyway, looking for signs of drug use, alcohol consumption, tobacco stains on his fingers. There were none of these — thank God! — and I didn’t think there would be, but as a parent of teenagers I’m constantly told by the media & high school counselors that these things WILL happen to my children. Even though my children are the geekiest of the geeky, the nerdiest of the nerdy; computer & videogame & anime savants who still like to play “Cranium” with their friends on Saturday nights. Doesn’t matter. I’m told that all teenagers turn into drug abusers at some time in their lives. I, as a mother, am naturally anxious about this.

So I ask questions. So sue me.

My son got a little exasperated with me the other evening, though. I explained that lately, even though we’re all in the same house, I miss him. I miss him telling me about his day; I miss knowing every little thing going on in his life. I miss him because when he is here, he's always in his room or on the computer.

He frowned, but I could see that he almost understand what I was trying to say. But then he said, “But I hate it when you ask me stupid questions about, you know — stuff.”


“Yeah. Like when you come up to me on the computer, and I’m playing a game, and you ask me about it. Or if I’m watching a TV show and you want to know about a character in it.”

“But I’m interested — I’m interested in your life, I just want to know what you like and all…”

“But Mom,” he said. So patiently. “I don’t want you to be my friend.”


I didn’t know what to say to that. He didn’t want me to be his friend? He didn’t think I was hip and cool and someone he could just hang out with? Who did he think I was? My own mother??


Yes, I guess he did.

Double ouch.

He further explained to me that it was OK to be his mom — and as such, he understood that I HAD to ask, on occasion, about school. But to show an interest in his hobbies, his passions, to pretend to be interested in his music — that wasn’t OK. In fact, it bordered on downright creepy.

“I don’t need you to be my friend. I just need you to be my mom,” he kept insisting.


I want to be his friend. More importantly — I want him to be MY friend.

He's smart and funny and has terrific opinions about life. On the occasions when we do just sit around and talk about stuff — occasions which I know now never, ever to mention for fear of them never occurring again — I enjoy the hell out of him. I’m OK with the fact that he no longer needs me for everything. (Well, I’m not OK with that, but I’ve learned to suppress my despair.) I thought, though, that the pay off would be this smart, funny young man with which to share my life, my thoughts, the stupid things that happen during the day. A friend, in other words.

So when my son informed me he didn’t need a friend, he just needed a mom, I was a bit, you know — devastatingly crushed.

I guess we never stop being The Mom. On the one hand, that’s comforting. On the other, it’s demoralizing. Maybe it’s just too soon. Maybe my son is just in this place where he's not quite an adult, definitely not a child, and he's just starting to figure out his own place in this new world — he doesn't need to figure out my place in it, too.

I guess, like always, it’s my place to stand back, quietly accept my role, however disappointing, but be vigilant for any hopeful sign that he's changed. Constantly watching, as I always do, and I always have. Waiting for my chance to be his friend.

But until then, I’m The Mom. Forever and ever. Amen.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Our Lady of Blessed Peace and Quiet

By Suzanne Macpherson

“I have a theory about the human mind. A brain is a lot like a computer. It will only take so many facts, and then it will go into overload and blow up.” Erma Bombeck

Sounds like menopause doesn’t it?

Happy September! I’m the new girl on the block. I’ve been an Erma devotee for many years and am proud to join the channeling.

Two more days. The leaves are hanging in there, the kids are poised for re-entry and me, I’m ready to write!

True confessions—I have never been one of those mothers who choked up and cried when her baby left for the first day of school. Well, maybe the first child, and okay, maybe kindergarten. But after the fourth and final child I was booting her out the door with a new notebook, a new Ticonderoga #2 pencil, new tennis shoes, a shiny red apple to plunk on the teacher’s desk, and a hearty “buck up honey, you’ll be fine.” Okay, I’m just kidding. I made sure she was in her cutest little outfit (see photo) and safe behind the proper desk before I went out in the hall and did the happy dance.

Doing the happy dance in the hallway of our elementary school ten years ago was how I met my kindred spirit moms. An irreverent posse of women ready to party har-tee when the first September school bus finally took us out of our summer misery. We instantly created the First Day of School Bakery Visitation and Caffeine Blowout.

We have a patron saint too: Our Lady of Blessed Peace and Quiet.

Guess what? Eleven years later, we’re still celebrating.

No more frothy caramel laced summer frappuchinos for us. no sir! We go straight for the hard stuff: Double tall mocha, full fat, full chocolate, OH baby, buzz me now! Forget the low fat bran muffin; we’ve taken this day to its full cream cheese Danish potentiality.

These days after the "first day" party we all go home to shovel out the house from three months of summertime and the livin’ is easy. This is when all that sugar and caffeine come in handy. When you have teenagers, it’s like a frat party gone bad.

I have three boys and one girl. Boy one (A) and Boy two (B) are respectively: A) Married to the coolest girl in the world, employed as a chef, and B) Living the good life in San Francisco, working as a journalist writing for The Onion and other publications, free of parental support for the most part.

Thing Three (boy 3) and Thing Four (“finally, a girl!”) are living at home. I TOLD Boy 3 if he left food around the room eventually some type of animal would move in and live with him. Or maybe it was the mouse that laid a trap for a teenager. His very own teenager to feed him granola bars and leftover chocolate pudding in individualized cups. Interesting thought. Who DID order that mini-fridge?

Girl of course is completely organized and has made an itinerary broken into half-hour increments, posted on the wall. Before you shake your head because your girl isn’t like that, rest assured this is actually . . . not . . . completely . . . true. It has taken three weeks of nagging/bribes/yelling to get her to pull it together. The itinerary part is true. It was a grand way to procrastinate the full cleaning of her room. But that’s a whole other subject- procrastination.

Two more days and I’m going to dive into that novel writing thing I do like a sinful dessert I’ve been saving for three months - but it’s not stale.

Till then I’m going to light a candle to Our Lady of Blessed Peace and Quiet.