Tuesday, December 25, 2007


As I sit here Christmas morning while the rest of the house is still asleep, I realize how fortunate I truly am. OK...there is that snarky little credit card issue that rivals the national debt, but grading on the curve, I am extremely fortunate. I have two amazing kids who are beautiful, healthy and who I adore. I think they like me just as much...well...generally they do. I have a mom who's health could probably use a pick me up, but she makes us laugh...and we her. I have a good job and great friends. Although life isn't perfect, it is all pretty good and I am blessed.

There is a cup of hazelnut coffee at my side. I am toasty warm in new jammies and a chenille blanket wrapped around my toes. Surf and turf is waiting for us at dinner. Santa's presents are the only gifts under the tree since Kat and Adam opened most of their gifts last night. White lights and ornaments adorn our tree. Some ornaments are our standards...others newly added this year. The moment is peaceful. Although I love Christmas and look forward to the day, I can't help feeling a little blue.

This year has flown by in a blink. In 2008 I really need to learn how to savor the moments. In my mind, flashes of 2007 memories pop into my head. Many of them are moments from the year when I didn't stop to savor what was happening. One that comes to mind is trying to take the perfect shot of Kat as she received her diploma only to have the camera malfunction and me miss the moment completely. I have a picture of a blur. There were also times taken for granted which slipped away like sand in a sieve. My arrogance thought there would be other opportunities, or moments to savor. I want to reach back and grab them and hold tight, but its too late. The moments are gone.

Sometimes along with the moment, people leave too. One of my fatal flaws is that I rarely stop to smell the roses. I am always moving on to the next "thing". It could be the whole prickly ADHD thing we discovered this year, but even on meds I tend to just keep spinning my wheels. (Remember the Flintstones when they had a prehistoric squirrel on a wheel running kitchen appliances and lawn tools? That is me on a daily basis.) Kat told me the other day I was like the energizer bunny. She's right.

A very wise woman suggested that I remember to stay present on Christmas. Take in the moments. Enjoy my children. Enjoy the day. Even if I have to stop and remind myself, that is what I plan to do.

The month of December is always so busy for me. Not that everyone else isn't. It's just my busiest time of year at the office and then add the craziness of the holidays, I forget to enjoy the season. So today and starting this day forward I plan to live in the moment. Not take people or things for granted. If there is joy to be found take it in. Love to share - share it. Don't think that just because someone is here today means that they will be here tomorrow. I'm not talking about death, although that too is a very real possibility. My friend, Maggie, told me about receiving an email from a friend of ours stating he decided to move to California. He never said goodbye - he just moved. He sent the email after he was already settled. Poof. He was gone.

Maggie also is spending this holiday with someone who means a lot to her. He flew in on Sunday and is flying home tomorrow. Poof - he is here. Poof - he will be gone. I'm sure that after he flies home it will seem extremely surreal for both of them. Were they really together this Christmas? It will be such a brief visit that it will probably be more like a dream. One thing I know for sure, Maggie is someone who never takes moments, or life events, for granted. She is quite sage and one of the calmest women I ever met. She knows to savor the time they have together because they will be separated all too soon.

I've had too many poof moments this year. I want/need to relax. Enjoy the day. The event. The moment. I want to lie on the couch at dusk and watch the snow fall. Not think about where I should be, or what needs to be done. Just be. Last January there was such a moment. I was lying on someone's couch watching a brand new blanket of snow fall around. It was dusk and the sky was a Cerulean blue with big fat fluffy snow flakes floating everywhere. It was beautiful to watch and I was content to be snuggly warm under a blanket and watch the snow. And just be. I hadn't felt that calm or peaceful in more years than I care to admit. It was a perfect moment. As content as I was, because I wasn't home, in the back of my brain I felt the need to leave that sanctuary and be the responsible parent. I "knew" I would have a moment similar to experience again. I was wrong. The moment I stood up...POOF...it was gone...and a similar moment never again materialized.

Lesson learned.

Living the moment is so important. Therefore, if in a conversation, I need to be actively participating, not thinking of 50 other things at once. I want to be present for my family, friends - all the people I truly care about. I don't want to poof. I've poofed too much in my life.

What this truly means is that I need to relax. I am always reacting to what life throws my way. I need to be an active participant in my life. That may sound weird to any of you reading this, but honestly, I spend the majority of my life reacting to others. Maybe in order to live in the moment, I need to stop reacting and start participating in what is happening around me.

The one thing I have done this season to start and end my day is to sit by my tree. With all the other lights out in the room, the only illumination comes from our tree lights. While I sit, there is either a cup of coffee/tea, or a glass of wine in hand to sip and reflect while I soak up its simple beauty. Sitting and enjoying our tree is my little slice of heaven. Occasionally, when I walk down the steps to the living room, I stop mid stair and just take in the moment of my tree.

So I AM learning to relax. In another week our tree will be gone. After we take it down, I'm not sure what my new ritual will be. I could actually attempt baths. I have always been more of a shower person, but this could be my new endeavor. I once had a roommate, Gail, who LOVED baths. That girl could soak for hours! She is more of a type A personality than I am, yet she knew how to relax. I'd try the bath thing on occasion, glass of wine in hand, candle and a book. The pages would get wet, the water cold and I'd get crabby. That was then. Since after the first of the year, I won't have my tree to aid in my relaxation and I did receive a few spa essentials for Christmas this might be the year to try it all over again. Hmmm...I wonder.

This writing has taken a completely different vain than I initially planned. I no longer remember what my plan was. This all just rather spilled out. And as usual, I'm not sure how to end my writing.

So, to anyone reading this, remember to enjoy whatever you are doing at the moment. Be present. Actively participate in what is happening around you. Do not take life, or the people around you, for granted. They may not be here tomorrow for a variety of reasons.

I think I just received my favorite Christmas gift before anyone has woken up - the knowledge and the wisdom to enjoy this day, the people I am with, as well as the friends and family that I will not see today and the memory of the people no longer in our lives. To all of you - Merry Christmas!!! Enjoy your day. Love those with you and those you wish were with you.


Monday, December 24, 2007

Alexis' Angels

This post is difficult to write on many levels. To talk about Alexis evokes tears just as I start typing. Some of the tears are due to the senseless stupidity of her loss. Some are for the questions that will never be answered. Other tears are because we never got to the hospital to see her. Then there is the fact that family parties are not the same without her. It's not that my relatives are boring, it's just that Alexis pretty much embodied the life of every party. The final set of tears are because Alexis' parents, Patty and Jim, took their loss and transformed it into a way to help others. That final set of tears and thought process - Alexis, her illness, Patty and Jim, transformation and helping others - takes all of two seconds in my brain, but in actuality it took about 2 1/2 years in the making. The outcome and enormity of their actions still blows me away.

I guess if this is ever going to make sense, you should first know a little about Alexis.

Alexis Christine White. To write about her seems to take away some of her vivaciousness. She was so unique that words really can't capture her properly. I loved how Alexis would tell a story. Actually, she did not tell the story…she re-enacted it. The story itself did not have to be of any importance, but she made it amusing. She was pure kinetic energy. As she told a story, her whole body was in motion reliving the events, her voice becoming faster and louder with every word, stringing words together until you swore the story was just one very loooong sentence and at the end she would be giggling with peals of laughter. Sometimes laughing so hard she couldn’t finish. The more dramatic the story the better. I was never sure which was more entertaining, the story Alexis was telling, or how she told it. I still don’t know.

If I was to free-associate in describing Alexis, the words that come to mind are: funny, loud, irreverent, loud, bright, loud, a little ditzy but at the same time quick-witted, fun and did I mention...LOUD. She loved loud music - the louder the better. She also loved a good debate and was never afraid to speak her mind...loudly. Oddly, these are the same characteristics that I use to describe Kat. Kat is now the same age Alexis was when she died. That is another reason I cannot wrap my head around the chain of events. I can't imagine losing Kat. She is too vibrant, just like Alexis.

Alexis hadn't been feeling well for a while. It started out with her arm hurting. Nothing more, just an ache in her arm. She eventually had aches in other joints as well, severe lethargy and horrible headaches. There really wasn't any specific symptom There were a battery of tests, all inconclusive. One doctor suggested that being 15, she was probably just bored. She should lose 10 pounds and find a hobby. I would seriously LOVE to know if that doctor's medical license arrived in a cracker jack box. Her blood work showed that she had an infection, but still nothing showed leukemia. They tested her for everything including Lyme disease, which in Alexis' ditziness stated they tested her for limestone. Finally, after months of testing, on July 15, 2005 they determined Alexis either had leukemia or lymphoma. They would know for sure on Monday. They determined on Monday that Alexis has Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL).

In veritable Alexis style, she asked if she was going to die. The doctor's assured her that she would not. So, Alexis agreed to be part of a study to help others with blood cancers and then asked when she could be sprung so she could buy her mom a birthday gift. Patty's birthday was Friday and she wanted to buy her mom a Build a Bear. Since they weren't letting her out of the hospital for awhile, she sent her sister Brooke and Jim out to get the present. Alexis resigned herself to losing her hair...she had the most beautiful blond curls you have ever seen, but she was not thrilled with the idea of her braces being removed. Patty recently told me that removing her braces is the one thing that reduced Alexis to tears. Alexis had her first chemo treatment on Tuesday and died that evening from unforeseen complications. Alexis was waked on Friday - her mom's birthday.

There are a million questions that still go through my mind, but nothing will bring Alexis back. I often question why life takes such unexpected turns, yet I still can't comprehend these chain of events to even ask the right questions. We would all love to have Alexis back in our lives, but since that is not possible, Jim and Patty created something to honor Alexis which will benefit many other families in the future. They created Alexis' Angels to help children battling blood cancer at Christmas.

Initially, they created a team to walk in the annual Leukemia Lymphoma Society's Light the Night walk. The team's name is It's ALL About Alexis, named for her type of leukemia. Alexis died mid July, the walk was the 3rd week in September. It's ALL About Alexis raised thousands of dollars in just 6 short weeks. This wasn't enough. Patty needed to continue to stay busy so they organized a bowling fundraiser to help raise more money for It's ALL About Alexis. We have walked 3 years in a row and have had 2 bowling fundraisers.

This still wasn't enough.

Every year, Patty's siblings take turns adopting a family in need rather than buying each other gifts. It was Patty's turn to pick the family in 2006. So, Patty contacted the Leukemia Lymphoma Society (LLS) to ask if they knew of a family that had a teen going through chemo. LLS did not have a program of that caliber, but they would look into Patty's request and see what they could find. This one phone call was the seed of Alexis' Angels. LLS did find a family. They also found a sponsor and through word of mouth 9 children were adopted that Christmas. I remember walking into the LLS office in Chicago to drop off some gifts. It looked like Santa's sleigh exploded. There were gifts everywhere! What a great feeling to participate in something so rewarding.

In 2007 they expanded the program where complete families were adopted rather than children. Thirty-seven complete families were adopted throughout Illinois and Missouri. Jim and Patty personally delivered gifts to many of these families. Jim generally brings the gifts to the door. Patty stays back as she symbolizes what each of these mothers fear. Can you believe what they created out of their love for Alexis?

Patty and Jim were initiated into a club that no parent ever wants to join. The club's initiation fee is set way to high. They took that club membership and chose to create something to honor Alexis. Their strength amazes me. If it was me, I would have booked a padded cell at the local psyche facility and spent the rest of my days there. Not them. Their strength and fortitude is a true testament to their love for Alexis.

Patty told me that Alexis always wanted to help children. My belief is that she was so strong willed that she figured out a way to help kids even from a very far distance. She planted a seed in her mother's brain which has now become an annual event. She is an amazing spirit.

To read more about Alexis Angels please click here:


(I know there is an easier way to list Alexis' link, but for some reason, blogger and I are not getting along at the moment. If you still can't link to it, copy and paste the link to your browswer.)

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

It's Beginning to Look a lot Like Christmas - Part 3 - Santa

When I was little, I never understood why my father always suggested we leave a pastrami sandwich and a beer for Santa. Everyone else I knew left cookies for Santa and carrots for Rudolph. But in our house, Santa always asked for pastrami and beer. At the young, tender age of 5, and it being the 60's, the idea of drinking and driving never crossed my mind. I just wondered why Santa always wanted pastrami at our house. Was it better in Brookfield, Illinois? Did pastrami not exist in the North Pole?  Why us? Why did everyone else leave cookies? It wasn't until I was older that I realized why Santa wanted my father's favorite sandwich and a beer.

Soon thereafter I informed my mother that Santa wasn't real. Possibly because I put together the Santa/Daddy pastrami and beer puzzle? I remember stating my case matter of factly in the kitchen as she washed dishes. Being the youngest child, I think she wanted to prolong the fantasy for a few more years. Neither Mike, nor Mark, ruined the fantasy. To me it just seemed too impossible and I just "knew" Santa wasn't real. My mom didn't argue. She really didn't say anything.

When Kat and Adam were 6 and 3, a neighbor's daughter posed the Santa question to her mom. The girl's mom told her "the truth" and the child subsequently told her 3 year old brother, plus Trina and Adam. Admittedly, I was a bit crabby over the subject. I never understood the idea behind telling a child Santa wasn't real. It takes some of the magic out of the season. Therefore, from that moment on, I started a "We Believe" campaign at our house. I bought pillows that stated we believe in Santa. To answer the question as to how Santa enters our house when we don't have a chimney and fireplace, I bought a "magic key" that hangs on our door knob from the Saturday after Thanksgiving until the Christmas decorations are taken down. There is a magic to Christmas which embodies the whole Santa concept. Starting at the moment that the kids first came to me questioning Santa, I became and still am Santa's best PR rep.

Santa always vistited their pre-school on a Saturday. The pre-schoolers and their siblings gathered together, made Christmas ornaments and waited in line to tell Santa what they wanted for Christmas. Santa always gave the kids a bag of reindeer food so Santa could easily find their house. The reindeer food consisted of oatmeal and glitter that we sprinkled on the lawn. Every Christmas Eve we put on our coats and boots, trudged into the snow and sprinkled tons of reindeer food on our lawn. The glitter always looked rather sparkly and shiny on the snow. Yet I always wondered if it was safe for the raccoons, deer and squirrels that may also dine on 'reindeer food". Is glitter poisonous if eaten in copious amounts? It didn't stop me from putting it out every year, but I still wonder how many animals we may have poisoned in McHenry. Obviously, Santa's reindeer are special, so we didn't worry about them.

One year when the kids were about 4 and 7, they decided their father needed to go to the pre-school Christmas party with us. So, Kevin arrived and helped them with ornaments and stood in line with us to talk to Santa. We looked like any normal family, except we were the only divorced couple there. With the divorce rate well over 50%, there wasn't one other divorced couple at that preschool, or yet in our neighborhood! Excuse me, where were all the divorced, dysfunctional parents in McHenry county!? The kids loved having their father there with us and it was fairly Norman Rockwellish until Adam announced with Santa and a million moms standing around us, "Mom, did you know Becky lives in Daddy's house?" Kat then chimed in, "The cat is out of the bag now!" It was apparent that although the kids knew their father and Becky were living together, they were sworn to secrecy by their father. Every mom within ear shot could not wait to see my reaction and what Kevin had to say.

Yes, another dysfunctional family moment I will always cherish.

So, I picked Adam up and countered the question with a question (a skill I learned going through our divorce. If you don't want to answer a question, answer with a question.), "Do you like Becky?" Adam's response was yes. I turned to ask Kat the same question. Her response was the same. I didn't even look at Kevin. There were some very unChristmas like thoughts going through my head and I knew who was getting coal that year! It wasn't that I disapproved of Becky. I actually liked her. What bothered me more than anything was that their father swore the kids to secrecy.  He was teaching them it was OK to not be honest and forthright. 

As it turns out, Becky was terrific to Kat and Adam. She helped unlock Kat's artistic ability. She also received an emerald cut 1 carat diamond that was once promised to me. Rumor has it she bounced the ring off of Kevin's head at a bar when she broke the engagement. I always think of that broken engagement as why I am a firm believer in karma and as a delayed gift from Santa. I always liked that girl!

To this day, I still believe.

A few years ago, Kat walked in my room, very reminiscent of my confronting my mom over the whole Santa issue. She stated a very clear case. Every questions she posed, I countered with another question - a skill I continue to master.

Kat: "Mom, Santa's not real, right?"

Me: "Why do you ask?"

Kat: "It just doesn't seem possible that this old guy can fly through the air and deliver presents to everyone."

Me: "But isn't it fun to think that it could happen?"

Kat: "But it's not possible."

Me: "How do you know it's not possible? Wouldn't it be a very cool trick?"

The conversation continued something like that until she stormed off in frustration. (tee!  hee!)  A similar conversation occurred a year or two ago with Adam. He too gave up on convincing me that Santa is not real. He now starts every conversation about Santa with his fingers making the quotation sign. "Do you think (quote) SANTA (end-quote) will bring me an XBOX 360?"

The kids have now come around to my thinking. Prove to us Santa isn't real. We dare you. There is such a beautiful magic to this time of year. Everything is prettier, happier, shinier. We love this time of year.

In our house, Santa never wraps his gifts. His gifts were always under the tree ready to be played. Granted the years of the Barbie townhouse, tea cart and hot wheels racing sets were years that I stayed up until 2AM wondering WHY Santa couldn't wrap the #$#%$ gifts and let me deal with the batteries and assembly the next morning. One year Santa and I needed to swap gifts. I bought Adam a Kinex roller coaster that contained over 1,200 pieces and when assembled was 6 feet long and 3 feet tall.  It actually took 3 months to put together. I know, what was I thinking?! Once I realized all that was involved with the gift, Santa gave Adam something else (can't remember what) and I wrapped the roller coaster. But amid the chaos of Christmas morning, I knew why Santa's gifts were already assembled. As much as I love my kids, the idea of being bombarded with putting together "some assembly required gifts" without sleep and minimal coffee is not an activity I can handle on Christmas morning. Besides, this method gave them something to play with until Gramma woke up and we could exchange gifts.

This tradition never quite caught on with my mom. Considering we live in the same house and after years of telling her that Santa did not wrap gifts, she continues to wrap and write "From: Santa" on the kids presents. When they were old enough to questions why Santa wrapped some gifts with Gramma's handwriting, but did not wrap others, I just said that Gramma liked to pretend she was Santa. Her continued disregard always fueled the question of whether Santa was real. The kids had a great case about the Santa debate when there were already presents under the tree signed "Santa" in Gramma's handwriting.

After we moved into this house, Adam started sleeping on the couch in the living room right next to the Christmas tree hoping to spot Santa. He left notes in the tree asking Santa to wake him up and give him a sleigh ride. Adam became very crabby over never being woken up. One year, I found an ornament that is a tube where you can place a letter to Santa. It was used every year until this year. Hmmm...maybe I should put a letter in that this year. I sure could use a wish or two granted.

One year when Adam was asleep on the couch I dropped a present right by his head. If he woke up I was definitely caught in the act. There I was frozen in mid present delivery - completely conflicted on what to do next. Afraid to look to see if he awoke and equally afraid to look to see if the present that dropped was breakable. Thankfully, Adam sleeps like a rock!! (and the present was fine) Whew!!

Kat and Adam are now Santa's junior PR reps. The magic of potential and possibility is very real this time of year. If someone even suggests that Santa isn't real, there is a quiver of a lip, a sad face and a question raised in a very small voice, "You mean...Santa's not real?" It could be said by any one of us. As far as the three of us are concerned, Santa is real. To state otherwise is fightin' words.

We've seen the miracle of Christmas at work. My next entry will be about Alexis' Angels, which brings the true spirit of Christmas to light. Since it has to do with Kat's guardian angel, the two may be combined, or it will be a two parter. I haven't decided yet. Check back soon to see.
In the interim, have a very Merry Christmas!!

Ho! Ho! Ho!

Monday, December 3, 2007

It's beginning to look alot like Christmas - Part 2 - Christmas cards

I love my children. I do. I truly do.
If I sound as if I am trying to convince myself of that fact.
I am. I truly am.

Every year since Kat was born, I have taken a Christmas picture to put in our holiday cards. You would think by now, Kat and Adam would understand that this is a tradition. You would also think that by now I would realize my Norman Rockwell visions of these photo shoots are more along the lines of a Lohan or Federline/Spears family reunion.

It's not just the kids who have conspired against these events. When I was married, Kevin and my mother also wreaked havoc on these photo sessions. When Trina (which was what we called her then) was 2, I planned to take a picture of her in front of the tree in her jammies sitting on her red rocking chair with our cocker spaniel, Peppi at her feet. I gave her a bath, dressed her in a new Christmas red flannel nightgown with lace on the collar and cuffs. She looked adorable with her bare toes peeking out from her nightgown. When everything was set up downstairs, I realized that the camera was still upstairs. So, I bolted upstairs, grabbed the camera, extra film and dog treats for Peppi; knowing that neither my busy toddler, nor cocker may sit still for long. Fuzzy pictures and action shots of Trina getting up from her chair, or chasing Peppi was not the image I wanted to capture for our cards. I was upstairs all of two minutes. Two minutes!!! When I next saw my daughter she was covered with chocolate!! My mom gave her the chocolate and my husband allowed it. Neither one could figure out why I was so frustrated. A chocolate smeared face was not a look I envisioned for our cards. I considered murdering both of them but realized that the act was very un-holiday like and karma was gonna get me. Once clean with most chocolate stains hidden and two rolls of film later we had a very cute holiday card.

The following year, Adam had arrived. Trina was now 3 and Adam 3 1/2 months old. Again both dressed in Christmas plaid pajamas we were ready to try this Christmas picture thing again. I hadn't realized that we would have a running theme of chaos in these annual photo attempts. I didn't need to worry about Adam trying to climb off the chair as he wasn't quite mobile yet, but he was rather squirmy and Trina wasn't exactly gentle with him. There was never any malice to her actions. She just thought of Adam as a very realistic doll and she treated him as such. Trina didn't think twice about grabbing her doll by the arm and dragging it, so why couldn't she do that with this squirmy little guy? If I remember right, during this little photo session, Adam kept turning his head to look out the window. I asked Trina if she could please try to move his head toward the camera. So, being 3, and knowing Adam needed his head to face my way, she placed a palm on each one of his chubby cheeks and gently moved his head towards the camera. The only decent shot from that afternoon has Trina angelically looking down at Adam while she attempts to unscrew his head from his neck. The look is completed with Adam eyes the size of quarters with a deer in the headlights look, wondering what his big sister was doing to him. Yes, I still sent it.

For 15 years I have whined, argued, threatened, bargained and pleaded with my two favorite children; trying to get their pictures taken for the #$^&#(& holiday card. Tis the season to be Jolly...Fa la la la la la la la la. We did pictures at JC Penney. They always did a great job. One year we even included Peppi. But they got to an age when they didn't want to have "professional" pictures done. So for the last 5 years it's been me and my old school film camera. Last Christmas I received a digital camera, so this was the first "high tech" (or as "high tech" as I will ever get) Christmas.

Last year, there were moments of fun interspersed with drama. For some reason, Adam decided to "skate" (socks + hard wood floors) past the camera every time I tried to take a shot of Kat. Or he would dive through the air onto the couch. He was very comical and we laughed alot. Unfortunately, when we got the pics developed, Kat hated all of the pictures, stormed off to her room, slammed her door bellowing that she didn't care what I did. So, now that she gave me carte blanche permission, I went to Walgreens and ordered the photos I liked. Which she, of course, hated. More tears erupted when I reminded her that she "didn't care" which pictures I chose. Fortunately, she calmed down, we settled on two pictures (one she liked, one I liked). I called Walgreens and changed the order. We ordered half of hers and half of mine. The clerk was quite understanding. She was obviously a mom.

The other day, when the kids got home from their dad's, I mentioned that after dinner they would be participating in their favorite holiday tradition. Adam informed me that he suddenly had plans. He needed to wash the cat. Funny...we don't own a cat. Kat just asked if she had to change out of her sweat pants. Nope. I'll just shoot from the waist up. No one needs to know she was wearing her gray smiley face glow in the dark sweatpants...well...until now. Never being above bribery, I made them an authentic Mexican dinner from the cookbook they gave me for my birthday.

Sadly, Adam was angry before we even attempted to take one shot. Everything made him mad. One thing I have to say about my kids they rarely gang up on me at the same time. Last year Kat was the diva. This year it was Adam's turn.

Christmas music was softly playing in the background. The tree was lit. I started taking pics of Kat alone. Then Adam alone. He wouldn't cooperate - hated every photo I took until, finally, he settled on the last picture. Then I suggested they stand together in front of the tree. You would have thought I asked them to chop off their own foot! Comments were flying back and forth, some funny...some not.

"You mean I have to put my arm AROUND his shoulder?!"

"I'm not touching you, I'm not touching you!" (Adam says to Kat as he points a finger into her face - Thank you Brooke!!).

"Adam, you are such a brat. Mom, why didn't you stop with me?"
"Because she needed perfection, so she had me."

"Adam can you at least smile at the camera. Pretend you are having fun. It's just a smile!"

"So help me Adam, if Mom wasn't here, I'd beat your butt.  You know she's going to just keep taking pictures. The sooner you cooperate the sooner we'll be done!"

When I asked them to stand back to back, Kat asked if she was still taller. Uh, sorry, you're now the same height Hon. Next, they started bumping each other's butts. OH! MY!! GOD!!! At some point a shoving match ensued of which I should have taken pictures. The card would have been of my children trying to kill each other with the sentiment, "Peace on earth. Good will towards men." All the while a variety of Christmas music continued to play in the background suggesting peace, harmony and love.

It is these proud parental moments I'll treasure forever.

In every picture Adam had a similar deer in the headlights look reminiscent of his first Christmas photo shoot. Eyes huge and round and no smile...just A LOT more hair. He refused to cooperate, yet hated every picture. So I decided I would do the best I could with what I had. There was a great one of Adam which was snapped while Kat was making him laugh. I used that. He hated it. Adam stormed off stating something about looking stupid.

Who is his mother and how is she raising him?!! I then began questioning my parenting skills, why I had children to begin with and why I continue to torture all three of us each year. After a heart to heart with my son and my daughter off to the movies with her friends, I took a few more single shots of Adam which we both agreed we liked. He still looks a bit stern in the picture of the two of them, but I love the single shot of him alone.

So, the question that arises from all of this. Will they look back on this "tradition" and loathe me for the annual Christmas picture, or will they look back fondly at the silliness that had us laughing?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...Part I The Tree

This is my favorite time of year! I absolutely LOVE Christmas. The lights. The decorations. The cheesy holiday music. Especially The Little Drummer Boy (my fav...pa rum pumpumpum.) Plus, the idea of peace on earth and good will towards men. What a concept! Really wish we could convince the world to work on that little possibility. Now THAT would be the best Christmas gift ever!

When it comes to Christmas though, I love our Christmas tree most of all.

As I sit here typing, my Christmas tree is fully lit. A glass of pino noir is sitting on the coffee table and I am comfy cozy on my couch, cross legged facing my tree and window. It is truly my favorite place in our house. It is even more of a favorite place as I look at my tree and the snow outside. In case you did not notice, I love, Love, LOVE this time of year.

When we moved into our house in April, 2003, it took an act of God to not tell the movers to put the Christmas tree box in the living room. I wanted to put up the tree right then and there. Common sense finally took control and I let them move it to the storage room. Yeah, I know my wanting to put up a Christmas tree in April sounds dorky, but we have this great bowed window in the living room. It has 20 panes of glass and I just knew the Christmas tree would look beautiful standing majestically in the beautiful bow. That fall, the Saturday after Thanksgiving (in normal tradition), I had to put up the tree. Sadly, serious disappointment set in as I realized that we owned a very anorexic looking Christmas tree. In our old house the tree looked fine. Not the best, but still it looked OK. In our new huge window, the tree barely took up a quarter of the space. It wasn't a Charlie Brown tree...more like Charlie Brown tree's older brother. It was too skinny and the huge window just made it look even skinnier.

Our anorexic tree stuck around until last year when I finally broke down and bought a new fat beautiful tree. It's huge, it's wide, it can be easily assembled in just 3 pieces, weighs about a million pounds (yes, a million...would I exaggerate?), has little white lights already attached to it and is absolutely beautiful. I love driving down our street and seeing our tree in the window. Besides that tree, we have 3 others. (We definitely like our Christmas trees.) A 3' white one was bought at an after Christmas sale because Adam always wanted a white tree. It has little multicolored LED lights at the end of the branches. It's very retro looking. There is also 3' green one my mom bought at some point which I should offer to Kat. There is also an outside light up spiral tree with clear lights.

The spiral tree stands outside with two movable light up reindeer. A couple of years ago, the reindeer misbehaved and refuse to completely light up. The front half would light up, but their butts both had shorts in the wiring. So at night they had a rather ghostly appearance. With only the front half lit up they looked as if they were floating in mid-air. We brought the reindeer into the living room and my mom decided she was going to fix this problematic electrical issue. She's not very electrically minded, but I gave her kudos for attempting to fix them. I neither had the time, nor inclination to attack pinched wires. Besides it kind of cracked me up to see the reindeer "floating" outside. Yes, I do have a bit of a sick mind.

It was too cold for her to work on the reindeer outside, so she kept them in the living room until they were fixed. For whatever reason, she also pulled the outdoor tree into the living room as well. So...we not only had our anorexic tree, but we also had 2 electrical reindeer and 1 light up tree in the living room along with two couches, a coffee table, a china cabinet and a partridge in a pear tree. Honestly, our living room isn't that big! If we wanted to get into the dining room, or get near the anorexic Christmas tree, we had to climb over reindeer or side step the spiral tree.

It got rather comical as my mom kept the reindeer all plugged in so she could work on them whenever she felt like it. So, if you looked in our front window, you would see not only the anorexic tree sitting timidly in our large window, but two movable half lit up reindeer with their heads moving up and down and a spiral tree in the background. I was trying to explain this whole scenario to a friend of ours. He couldn't stop laughing; insisting the material was good enough for a TV sitcom. I suddenly felt as if my life was an episode of Everyone Loves Raymond. Eventually, my mom gave up on the reindeer, but she insisted on keeping them in the living room hoping that they would fix themselves. If anyone stopped by, she would have them look at the reindeer to see if they had the magic answer. I no longer remember how they got fixed, but last year they were outside fully lit. This year, I haven't the courage to bring them up yet.

The final straw that year is that after the holiday when packing up the spiral tree, I saw a little note on its box stating that the tree could not be sold in California because it contained lead in amounts higher than they allowed. It also stated that any time you touched it, you needed to wash your hands. GREAT!!! And it sat in our living room from the first week of December to New Year's Day. Merry Toxic Christmas!!

This year, Kat and I put up our tree the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Again, it looks beautiful! But since we are both vertically challenged and we couldn't figure out where Gramma put the step-stool, there are fewer ornaments near the top and no star on the tree. At one point, Kat started tossing the non-breakable ornaments up towards the top hoping we could adorn the unreachable top foot. She has always had a good arm, so suddenly non-breakable ornaments were raining on top of my head on the other side of the tree. She was quite excited when the plastic Bambi grabbed hold of a branch and refused to fall. It's the little things in life that make her happy. We laughed a lot.

Her one request was I allowed them to put tinsel on the tree this year. Many years ago tinsel was banned from our house because the kids were little and tinsel appeared everywhere - from the kitchen to the bathroom to the laundry to even our cocker spaniels poop! I was sick of finding tinsel in the weirdest places, so we became lovers of garland. I still love garland but figured with the kids at 15 and 12, how bad could tinsel be? I bought two boxes of tinsel and we only used one. It took Kat and Adam all of 10 minutes to put one box of tinsel on the tree and they were through. Evidently the excitement of tinsel now is not nearly as exciting as it was 6 years ago!

So...this weekend, I plan to bring the light up reindeer and lead laden spiral tree to the front lawn and place them strategically to frame our window and inside tree. If they don't light up, I promise to take a picture so you can see how funny they look while "floating" outside. And if my mom insists on trying to fix them again, I'll post a picture of what the living room looks like with our Christmas menagerie.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

A little pick me up from a very dear friend

My friend Kathy has been battling sarcoma since last year. This summer she underwent radiation therapy and has just finished her final round of chemo. So, this year has not been a banner year for Kathy. But, for whatever reason, she felt the need to send me a little pick me up when I was going through a rather difficult time. (Please note: I realize my difficult time cannot even compare to radiation and chemo treatments, but Kathy felt that I needed to know how much she thinks of me.) She made a list of my positive traits. It may have been her way to reminding me that there are times when I can't see the forest for the trees.

I'm still blown away by the fact that she wrote this down when she was battling for her life. That speaks volumes on Kathy.

The list starts with:

"This list was written in less than two minutes. I could keep going. I hope you get the idea. You are someone very special!. Be proud and celebrate your goodness! With love, Kathy"


Super intelligent





loves music


loves theatre


good cook



loves her friends


great mom


good daughter

doesn't speak badly of others

super navigator of "the web"



not afraid to try new things


a hoot to be with





laughs at herself


great listener


hard working

OK...it's Mary again...I'm back. After each one of these, I could add some smartassed rebuttal, but I'll keep those to myself. Anyone who knows me, knows there is always a rebuttal floating through my brain. Yet, it's pretty terrific to know one is loved. Thanks, Kath! When you have been given the all clear on kicking cancer's butt, we'll go celebrate. Love you more!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

On-Line Dating

On-line dating in a 3 ring circus.

As one of the masses in the ever growing breed of single parents, it appears that I am way too busy to meet people and find the time to date. As an example, I work full time, am attempting a part time career in real estate in an abysmal market, plus try to be around for the kids and occasional house hold chores. Martha Stewart would be very ashamed of my house. A friend at work told me that he thought I needed a wife. I'd really prefer a sugar daddy!

I once read an article about places to meet men besides the bar scene. Some suggestions included your children’s school, a home improvement or grocery store and volunteer efforts. Speaking from the trenches let me dispel the rumors to these myths.

The idea of meeting a single, interesting guy at a PTO meeting, or at any school function only happens in sitcoms and contrived romance novels. From my experiences, stay at home moms are generally the only ones attending PTO meetings since these meetings are inconveniently scheduled during the day or immediately after school. As for school functions…please! If you are volunteering at a school fundraiser, you are so busy organizing games, taking tickets, corralling kids, or giving out prizes that you can’t even think about what intriguing person is around and if they are single, interesting, or interested.

As for house projects, the times that I have been working on home improvement projects, do you realistically think I’m going to walk into Home Depot with make-up freshly applied? NO!! If I am working on the house, my hair is pulled back in a pony tail, I’m in a grungy t-shirt or sweatshirt and am on a mission to find what I need and to get back to the project. The whole time I am praying I don't make a fool out of myself as my knowledge of home improvement projects is extremely low and my vocabulary of materials necessary for said home improvement projects is non-existent. Example: a molly to me is not a plastic doohickey placed in a wall to secure a towel rod. To me, Molly is an American Girl Doll. That said, picture me in grungy clothes - possibly showered - possibly not - hair up in a pony, sans make-up, trying to sound intelligent about widgets and whatsits necessary to fix whatever is falling apart at the house. There isn't a guy on this earth that would find me attractive while I'm trying to comprehend/translate the foreign language the Home Depot employee is speaking. This summer while redecorating my bathroom, I had white and lavender paint in my hair and on my hands for weeks. This was not the time for me to meet anyone unless they had a paint fetish and I am unsure that I want to date someone with a paint fetish.

Lately, the grocery store could possibly be an option. The men that I have met all love to cook. I could probably get (and probably could use) a few pointers. Lately, though, when I am shopping I am flying through the store doing my best impersonation of Flash Gordon. How fast can I get in and out the door? I do a lot of volunteer work, but have yet to meet any single men, or even married men for that matter. It seems as if I always meet women.

So, now that I have dispelled the rumors of where you can meet men, I have attempted to once again on-line date. Back in February I vowed never to attempt it again. In hindsight, never is a pretty strong term and, well, I would really like to meet someone to share my life. My attitude now with on-line dating is that if I meet someone, great. If I don't, it is a source of entertainment and amusement. I've been single for a very long time, yet I know what I want and refuse to accept anything less.
My first foray into on-line dating was January 1, 2007. Here was a brand new year full of possibilities, so why not? I met Mark that day. We met through a local dating site created by a Chicago woman. We both tried it out because it was free. We chatted for a couple of weeks, had many similarities, hit it off, but neither of us were ready to date. Mark for his own reasons. For me, I realized I never allowed myself to heal a long time ago. During my marriage, I shut myself down emotionally and 9 years later couldn't quite figure out how to be the "me" I am with my close friends or when I am hiding behind my keyboard. Basically, one-on-one I was rather stunted. I tried chalking it up to really great guy...really bad timing for both of us, but the fact that I felt as if I was 2 different people bothered me immensely.
There was the confident, witty, charming "me" that Mark met on-line. Then there was this other "in- person me" who was nervous and petrified. When I was married, I was constantly criticized, and therefore extremely insecure. Now, 9 years later, I found those old insecurities emerging again when they were supposed to be banished years ago. Old demons are extremely difficult to exorcise. They must require industrial strength holy water.
Although the relationship was very brief (ya think?), it was a catalyst of self discovery for me. By meeting Mark, I realized how much of an emotional nutball I truly was. There will always be some nuttiness to my personality. That's part of my charm and quirkiness which I completely embrace. Thankfully, though, I am a million times more emotionally stable than I was at the beginning of the year. Believe me, one could only go up from where I was.

So, with laptop in hand, I decided to give it one more try. I signed up with two sites and now that I know which one I like best, I am trying to figure out how to cancel the other. It sure is easy to sign up, but dang...trying to cancel requires an act of God.

I initially tried eHarmony, but realized I am way to shallow and time crunched for this site. Technically, if you are to participate in eHarmony correctly, you read each lengthy profile and decide if they are for you. In a perfect world, it is the perfect way to go about this, but in a time crunched life where you are just sitting down at the computer at 10:30PM the last thing I want to do is read lengthy profiles that may determine my fate. I neither have the time, nor the inclination to go through all of that work when I am bleary eyed from the day. I also realized that I'd be flipping through the bios and only reading the bios of the cute guys. Thankfully, they have a 7 day trial policy. So on the 7th day, I called to cancel. The customer service agent did her best schpeil on me; trying to convince me not to cancel. So finally when she asked what the main reason was for my cancellation I explained that I am too busy and way too shallow. She was speechless...but cancelled my subscription.

The two sites that I am now on are national sites - in fact one is an international site - someone emailed me from London. You meet a variety of people and would be amazed by some of the bios and emails. I honestly cannot take anyone seriously who starts out a letter to me with, “What’s up Sugar Buns?!” Or the guys from TX, FL, NC, HI or London who want to date. Really, I can barely schedule time to date someone within 30 miles of my zip code, so it's insanity to even think about dating someone across the country…or either ocean for that matter. Rarely do I respond to the out of state ones. With my luck, I'd fall for the guy in North Carolina which would require a long distance thing I don’t want to deal with. Besides, a judge once informed me that I could move to any state of my choice, but my "minor children shall reside in the same state in which their father resides until they are 18." So, unless Mr. TX, FL, NC, or HI want to move to Chicago, we don't have much of a future for the next 6 years. Although a trip to HI might just be what the doctor ordered. I DEFINITELY did not respond to the “Sugar Buns” guy.
There are also men (and I am sure women as well) who only want "an immediate intimate/physical relationship" (yes, that was actually taken from an email). Wow...I don't want to know how many women on-line have taken him up on that request. Ewww!!! Sorry, Babe! We're not even meeting for coffee unless you have a notarized medical report dated today that states you are disease free. I'm not a prude, but I'm not stupid either!

I am also learning that some things never change. The guys that I would love to ask me out, never do. One guy was very interesting. He taught at a prestigious local university and had been published. He gave enough information in his profile that I was able to google him to determine his validity. What he stated appeared to be true. He was an all around intriguing would love to spend the rest of my life with him, or at least meet him for coffee, kind of guy. Our profiles are very similar and so I emailed him. Just a brief note (strategically leaving out the wanting to spend the rest of my life with him part), but mentioned baseball and a few things we do have in common. NOTHING…not even a sorry, your not my type, or I only date blonds response. Just nothing. Crap! I felt as if I was back to high school all over again…liking the unattainable guy.

The kids are actually having fun with the idea of me dating. They are both old enough now and would like me to start dating. My guess is they think if I am occupied, they don’t have to check in as much. Little do they realize I am a master at multi-tasking. A few weeks ago I actually had a date (and hell hadn't even frozen over!). It was the same night as Kat's homecoming. So while I was dropping her off, Kat informed me that she would call after the dance. If I was having a great time, she would find another ride home. If I was having a bad time, she would ask me to pick her up. Nothing like having your 14 year old watch your back! Thanks Baby! He was walking me to my car when she called, so I picked her up…and never heard from him again. Which was OK by me. Nice guy, but absolutely no spark.

I've been skewered by well meaning relatives and friends because I am looking for a spark. Is that so wrong? I want my heart to flutter, my stomach to have butterflies and to feel that spark...not the burning of Atlanta (yet)...just a spark. "Give it time. A spark could appear. Don't discount someone so quickly." Granted, my instincts have never been spot on when it comes to relationships, but I need to feel something. Anything. Whoever I meet, I plan to proceed with caution. Jumping to the finish line, has disaster written all over it. But whoever this elusive man is, he needs to be intelligent, kind, honest, funny, creative and who makes my stomach do somersaults when he calls, emails, or when I just think of him. I want to be twitterpated. On top of all of that we need to feel a mutual spark. Maybe I live in a dream world. Maybe I've watched too many romantic comedies. I don't care. That is what I am looking for. I know that spark exists. Although a rare feeling, I felt it back in January. It is attainable. I want that feeling and won't settle for something less.

The kids are also fun to goof around with regarding dating. At dinner the other day, there was a lull in the conversation and I felt like instigating a bit. It was after I emailed the university/published guy who I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, or at least meet for coffee, but before I realized there would be absolutely no response, I told the kids that I met their future step-dad. I mentioned it as Adam had his fork to his lips and he almost choked on his dinner. It’s always good to keep the kids on their toes. Jeez, they do it to me enough…I might as well reciprocate! I later told Adam it was payback for the time when he was 7. He had heard the words humping and french-kissing on the playground and asked me their meaning just as I placed a fork full of rice in my mouth. I think I aspirated rice at that question and nearly choked to death! Anyway, this time around the look on Adam’s face was priceless. I then explained that I emailed a guy, but had not heard back from him. They think their mom is a bit weird. That's fine. They're a little weird themselves. It's genetic.

Adam would actually love to have another male around, so he is all for his mom dating as long as my dates are interesting, artistic in some way and fun. Works for me. At least he's not walking around with a picture of me in his backpack like Kat did when she was six. She would walk up to men with picture in hand and say, "Want to meet my mom?"

There are perils to Internet dating though. I actually ended up with my own on-line stalker. He kept emailing me through the site telling me he wanted to be my "forever friend", sending me emails telling me how beautiful I was (so he also obviously needs glasses) and giving me his phone number. Thankfully, they do protect your information. After 6 emails in 48 hours, I contacted the site and filed a complaint. I also, blocked him from viewing and contacting me. I realize he may just be a very lonely man and could be harmless, BUT it can be a bit unnerving. So, you have to be careful how much information you put out there. Heck, I was able to google the published guy just by the info in his bio. As in any other circumstance, you never know who you are going to meet. It can be scary.

So...this foray into Internet dating, or just dating in general, will be interesting. I can log on at my leisure, test the waters and learn about myself at the same time all the while staying away from those that start out with "What's up Sugar Buns!" yet looking for that intangible spark.

Adam - The Only Boy in Our Three Ring Circus

How do I describe Adam? He is funny, perceptive, slightly spoiled and extremely intelligent. When he is seriously sad, sick, or hurt, he refuses to show it, but if he wants to get out of school you would think he was dying. He just walked in my room to complain that his throat is killing him. It hurt this morning when he didn't want to go to school. It felt fine all evening while Nino was teaching him boxing, but as soon as it was time to go to bed, his throat was killing him again. He just "knows" he'll never be able to go to sleep from the pain. This is the same kid who went 30 hours with a broken arm before we had it set because he refused to admit it hurt that bad. Actually he didn't want to miss a sleepover at our house. I'm still feeling a little like Mommy Dearest for not taking him to the ER right away, but it didn't appear that swollen. I later learned that breaks don't always swell as much as sprains. Good to know...wish I knew that medical tidbit sooner.

I am very curious as to what Adam will do with his life. I see glimpses of a business mind, a sensitive soul, a creative side as well as entrepreneurial characteristics. He rarely cracks a book, or studies, but gets all A’s & B’s. At 12, he has a lot of time to decide. At the moment, he plans to form a band and be a chef, as well as author gory books on the side.
Yesterday while driving him to his guitar lesson, he told me a scene from the book he wants to write. The scene involved a werewolf who is hiding under a bed while his victim is sleeping. The werewolf shoves his arm through the mattress and rips the guts out of his victim’s body and dines on the blood and gore. He thought the look on my face was priceless, while I was trying to figure how not to throw-up in my car. Is this how Steven King got started? Is this how Steven King’s mother felt?
He is one creative tween. I forgot the current name of his future band. At one time it was Zero Negative, then Kewl Fyr, now it's something else...I think. He writes lyrics all the time and is quite perceptive in what he writes.

The restaurant he plans to open will be called Naked Pigeons (taken from pigeons flying in a lightening storm.) When he was younger he hated thunderstorms, so in an attempt to make him laugh rather than be afraid we started discussing birds flying in a lightening storm and what would happen if they were hit by lightening – their feather would probably fly off and they would be embarrassed and most likely barbecued. Picture a featherless pigeon trying to cover itself up with it’s wings – naked pigeons stuck. Although Naked Pigeons is unique, I am still unsure who would dine at a restaurant named after pigeons. I was pushing for a restaurant on a beach called Sandy Bottoms. (Admittedly, I stole the name from a burger restaurant on Amelia Island in Florida. I always loved the name.) Since it will be his restaurant, named from his own personal childhood fears, he should probably name it whatever he wants.

I once went to see a psychic who was uncannily correct on many areas in my life. I saw her in August, 2006. She predicted the features of the man I met in January as well as how I was going to feel about him, she predicted my mom’s health problems and the fact that I was going to go through a ton of money in the summer of 2007. I really wish she was wrong about that prediction, but she definitely knew what she was talking about. She also told me that I was going to get into a horrible car accident and if I paid her $350 she would make sure the accident didn’t happen. I didn’t give her the cash and the car accident has yet to happen, but she was so uncannily correct about everything else, I actually put a vial of holy water in my car. It may seem ridiculous to the masses, but honestly, she was too freakily on target with her other predictions that I was not about to tempt fate. She also asked to see pictures of Kat and Adam. When she saw Kat, she smiled and said that she had a ton of friends and to encourage her artistic side. When she saw Adam’s picture, she laughed and said while rubbing her thumb against her other four fingers in the universal sign of money, “He is ALL about money and he is going to make a lot of money in his lifetime.” From your lips to God’s ears Psychic Lady. Can you just make sure the horrible car accident doesn’t happen without me paying you the cash?

One thing I know for sure, the poor kid has no choice but to understand women. He has been raised with all girls…his grandmother, me and his sister. He has even asked if I would hurry up and meet someone as he is tired of being the only guy around. I'm trying, kid! I'm trying. It's just not that easy! As he so adeptly noticed a few years ago, even the pets are female. We obviously knew Sadie’s sex when we adopted her from Kat and Adam’s dad. When we bought JJ, Adam’s cockatiel, the bird was too young for us to determine the sex. JJ’s name even came from the ambiguity of not knowing the gender. JJ stood for either Junior, or Jewel. Adam really wanted JJ to be a boy. He hoped and asked daily when we would know. The bird’s features are rather fine, so I assumed JJ was a girl, but since Adam was hoping against hope that he’d have a testosterone laden buddy in the house, I couldn’t tell him my belief. I knew there would be a day when there would be irrefutable proof of JJ’s sex and patiently waited. And one morning…the sign appeared. At the bottom of her cage was an egg. Yep…as far as I can remember from physiology, no male bird was going to lay an egg. Boy was Adam crabby when he discovered the egg. The kid just can’t escape from estrogen!

Then Adam had a plan…if we got a boy bird we could breed cockatiels! Yeah…that’s gonna happen…maybe when hell freezes over! I can barely get him to clean the cage with one bird and he plans on adding another plus babies?! I don’t be thinkin’ so!

Both Adam and Kat are blessed with seeing the humor in everything. They probably get it from me as I have always found humor in life – even in the most inappropriate situations. Part of my charm? I'm not so sure, but if you can’t laugh at what life throws at you, you might as well be dead and buried.
One of Adam’s favorite jokes is: Why did the blond die after taking out her iPod ear buds? Because she couldn’t hear the recording, “Breathe in. Breathe out.” It’s a horrible joke, but he thinks it is hilarious! Besides, he is 12. The jokes aren’t going to get much better for awhile. At least the jokes aren’t about bodily functions and sounds…yet.

Adam does have a bit of a spoiled side. The other day I made tacos. He has eaten tacos at Baja Fresh as well as authentic ones at his friend Kevin’s house. Kevin’s parents are Mexican and cook authentic Mexican meals. The other day in a pinch for time, I made tacos but it was from a kit. If we wanted to eat dinner before 9PM, those tacos were going to be from a kit. Adam refused to eat the “fake” tacos. He would rather starve which, with that attitude, was perfectly fine by me. When he refuses to eat what we are having for dinner, I always remind him there is cheese, fruit or PB&J. He then reminded me that his best friend’s parents were from Mexico and he knew what authentic Mexican food was like and it didn't come from a box. I again mentioned the cheese, fruit and PB&J. I was not about to make another dinner. He whined about our boxed tacos, so I suggested that he and his sister buy a Mexican cookbook for my birthday and I would happily make any authentic dish out of it on any day that I didn't work, or have an open house - therefore any Saturday of their choosing. I am really hoping he takes me up on that suggestion. I'd LOVE a Mexican cookbook. Something tells me I should just go buy it myself.
Adam has told me more than once that he is the man of the house. Since the age of 6, he has always opened doors for women and lights up my world whenever he shows that winning dimpled smile and mischievous eyes. It is fun to watch Adam grow and develop. I do feel bad that he is the only guy in our three ring circus, but really don't know anyone who wants to sign on for a tour of duty in our little life of bedlam. Seriously, the guy would need to have his head examined to willing become involved in our family, but maybe we can fool him into thinking we are normal until it's too late...hmmmm...I wonder....

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Angel on my shoulder - Part I

I truly believe everyone has a guardian angel. Someone who watches over us, sending us common sense when we are lacking, or added wisdom when we are unsure. I always think of that tiny voice inside my brain which guides me as my guardian angel. If I was to guess who our guardian angels are, I would suppose that my cousin Meg is mine, my cousin Patty's daughter, Alexis, is Kat's and although I'm unsure about Adam, I hope it is my dad. A psychic (yes, I love psychics,have met a variety of them, and truly believe in an afterlife and spirits) once told me that my father loved to watch what Jr. was up to. When I questioned who Jr. was, he said that Jr. was my son. The psychic stated, "your father calls him Jr. because your father's name is to the side." Mr. Psychic wasn't told by me that Adam's middle name, Joseph, is after my dad. So, I guess Daddy is watching over Adam.

I am actually in search of a tattoo to represent our guardian angels. Considering the permanence of a tattoo, it has taken me forever to decide on the tattoo of choice. Anyone who knows me, knows that it takes me a year to pick out the perfect bedspread, or paint color, so something as permanent as a tattoo needs years of consideration. I decided we all need an angel on our shoulder (actually, my friend Dara suggested it one day), so that is what I would get. An angel tattooed on my left shoulder. I found one that was absolutely gorgeous, but she was quite long, it would be more of an angel on my back - not the subtlety I am looking for. Regardless, whatever angel is tattooed on my shoulder, our guardian angels' initials will be tattooed as well.

On my mom’s side of the family, I have two cousins with whom I have always been extremely close: Meg and Patty. Patty's mom was my mom's oldest sister. Meg's mom was my mom's youngest sister. Being sister-less myself, Meg and Patty were the sisters I never had. Patty lived closer – an hour away. Meg lived on the East coast her whole life. Patty 20 months younger; Meg 20 months older and me sandwiched in between. Oddly, Patty and Meg rarely saw each other. Family dynamics always intrigue me.

Meg's name came from her initials, Margaret Eleanor Goss - M.E.G. When we were 7 & 8, our first of only two arguments was due to the fact that I told Meg that her name was actually her initials. She already knew that fact, but didn't want to admit it and she definitely didn't need me to remind her. She was quite crabby about the subject. I always liked the idea of initials spelling a name. Although Kat's real name is Katrina, I always liked the fact that her initials were K.A.T. as well. My nickname of MAC also came from my initials. Adam wasn't as lucky with the initial thing, although his friends do call him AJ.

Meg always cracked me up. She was extremely practical on most subjects. She didn't like giving pink to baby girls because she didn't want them stereotyped. She was also one of the few people I know who could never keep a beat. Meg consistently clapped or tapped her foot off beat. It was impossible for me to comprehend, but that was pure Meg. Another Megism was licking a lemon lollipop with a glass of water nearby. She would dip her sucker into the water because she swore it made the flavor last longer. I have tried it once or twice in my life. She wasn't really wrong. But since I tend to crunch lollipops, they never last too long to be baptised.

Meg and I were both intelligent (book smart), but when it came to people, we weren't quite as bright and extremely naive. Although she lived on the East Coast and I in the Midwest, we kept in touch and always knew what the other one was up to. My aunt and uncle usually rented a house in Michigan every summer, so my mom and I visited them whenever possible.

I always had to report to Gramma O'Shea as to what Meg was doing; teasing Meg about her being the favorite. (That was our second argument.) It's not that Gram never cared about what Patty and her siblings, or what Mike, Mark and I were up to, but mention Meg and you would be chatting with Gram O'Sh forever. Actually, in fairness, she rarely saw Meg or the rest of the Goss family, or our cousins out in San Francisco. Gram saw us all the time. The novelty of us had worn off a long time prior.

After college, I floundered a bit in a variety of jobs and relationships, met my ex-husband, married, started working for the theatre, had two children and subsequently divorced him. When I told Meg about my divorce she sent me a practical book on divorce. It was so Meg. I never had the heart to tell her that I didn't read the book, although it probably would have helped. With the kids so young and working long hours at the theatre, reading any book seemed impossible.

After Meg graduated from U Mass, she went on to law school at Georgetown School of Law and became an attorney for the Securities and Exchange Commission, had a few unsuccessful relationships and was told around her 37th birthday that she had 9 months to live.

Meg had a rare form of cervical cancer. At the time (and it's been a few years since I thought about this so my facts may be a little off), there were only 54 known cases in the world. As far as I know, there still isn't a cure. I have the name of the cancer written down somewhere – I think in my cedar chest. Most likely, the cancer developed due to a disease Meg had her whole life called Peutz Jaeger disease. Peutz Jaeger is genetic in which polyps form in your intestines and oddly you develop freckles on your lips. For whatever reason there seems to be a higher correlation between Peutz Jaeger and this specific cervical cancer. Her mother also had Peutz Jaeger and tragically died at 29 while delivering twins. My aunt and the twins were buried together. Considering the heartbreaking death of my aunt, as well as the fact that Meg was ill the majority of her life, I always understood why Gramma O’Shea was interested in Meg and why she was (forgive me, Meg) the “favorite”.

When Meg was given the facts of her disease, she chose quality of life over quantity; researching the disease and having medical journals translated from all around the world. She was determined to know as much about the disease as possible. She flew to the Mayo clinic and to Sloan-Kettering. She met with many doctors, but the prognosis was the same. Ultimately, nothing she unearthed from 2nd, 3rd and 4th opinions, or her medical journals would save her. So, she took some friends to a spa in Arizona for a week.

At the time I truly didn't understand the quality over quantity angle. I was angry that she was "giving up". Pure selfishness on my part. It took a long time for me to understand her reasoning. I wanted her around as long as possible. I didn't want her to leave. Understandably, Meg wanted to be able to enjoy the time she had left. I wanted to fly out to DC to see her one more time. She asked me not to and I honored that wish. One of the hardest things I ever did. Still, never quite understanding why, although my guess is that she didn't want to say goodbye.

Our last conversation was around Christmas of '97. Knowing she would not be well enough to put up a Christmas tree, we sent her a small one already trimmed with ornaments. I called to wish her a Merry Christmas although the irony of that statement did not go undetected by either of us. It made the initial part of our conversation a little tense. We talked for a bit about how she was feeling. By that time, she had round the clock care. The tumor was so large it was pressing on her stomach and she couldn't eat. Her friends were staying with her in shifts. She argued with her doctors until they agreed to let her go home. She wanted her last days to be at home, not in a hospital. One doctor even laughed and said he was glad he was meeting her on his turf rather than a court room because he had never met someone so tenacious.

Meg wanted to know what was going on in my life. She didn't want to talk about her illness any longer. So, I told her about Kat and Adam (who were 2 and 5 at the time). I also told her about the musical we were producing at the theatre, "Elmer Gantry". After I told her the story line of the musical, Meg said, "[Elmer Gantry] sounds like the kind of guy, I'd date and you'd marry." Damn, she was right! Any tension over my stupid "Merry Christmas" comment dissolved. We started to laugh. Then laugh so hard we cried. Then really cried. As memorable as the conversation was, I didn't realize when we hung up it would be our last.

I'll never forget that remark. I now think of Meg as my dating guardian angel. When I meet someone, I wonder if he is the type Meg and I were inclined to date many years ago. Fortunately, my taste improved over time. In fairness, most men are not Elmer Gantry types, but there are still a few out there and, dang, I can "Where's Waldo" them in a stadium filled with decent honest guys.

There have been times when she has been on a celestial coffee break as I proceed to do irreparable damage to relationships. Occasionally, I wish she would give me an angelic swift kick upside my head, but generally during those circumstances I probably wouldn't listen unless she materialized in front of me, wings and all, lemon lollipop and water in hand, and offered practical Meg advice. It's not that her guardian angel duties are lacking, it's more that my common sense at times is seriously slacking.

Long ago, Meg and I were Elmer Gantry magnets. Now, her statement is with me. When I meet someone, I really think about what Meg would say. Is he the type she would date and I would marry, or is he a kind, honest guy? With Meg sitting on my shoulder I can't go wrong.

As for Kat's guardian angel, Alexis, I'll write about her soon.

In memory of Meg Goss, March 14, 1960 - January 12, 1998

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Dating in a 3-ring Circus

In the 9 years since my divorce, I can honestly say that I have only been on a handful of dates...7 to be exact. Yeah, you read that right, 7 (seven). That doesn't even average out to one a year. And 4 of them have been in 2007. A banner year if you ask me.

Even in my teens and twenties I didn't date much. It always seemed that my romantic relationships evolved from friendships. I would be really good friends with someone and we took the relationship to the next level. Oddly, I've stayed friends with each and every one of these men. Even odder, the only man that I ever actually "dated" (until now) was my ex-husband and, well, we know how that turned out. Although we too keep in contact, if the kids weren't involved, we would have gone our separate ways never looking back.

So, dating has never been my strong suit. But now, I am a month away from my 46th birthday and I realize that if I ever want to share my life with a man, I'm going to have to change my ways and learn how to date.

The sad fact is that both of my children have better social lives than their mom...and Adam isn't even allowed to date yet. Kat has always had a posse of boys flocking around the house. It's not that the boys all had crushes on her. Kat just easily gets along with boys better than girls. Kat, being the anti-girl girl, was never into pink, never understood girl drama, hated dresses and for a brief time if she wore make-up it was thick black eyeliner, black lipstick and nail polish. Thankfully, the black lipstick was short lived and the black eyeliner thinned out. But the black nail polish is still her polish of choice. What I'm trying to say is that she never paid attention to the typical female thinking. She dressed the way she wanted. Looked the way she wanted and during junior high we had, on any given day, at least 8-10 boys in our basement...Kat's boys.

Can you believe that I've actually gone to my daughter about dating advice? I haven't a clue as to what men think. How men think? And sometimes IF men actually think. Although I am completely missing that ability, Kat understands men better than anyone I know. She can't spell to save her soul, but when it comes to the opposite sex, Kat, although not quite 15, is quite sage. Besides, who needs to know how to spell when there is spell check? But understanding men will help her in the long run - whether its with her brother, father, uncles, cousins, business or romantic relationships. Understanding men is important and a skill I seriously lack.

Although having a teenage dating sensai is great, dating while having children and parent underfoot always lends itself to be a little more interesting. Three summers ago, a friend decided to set me up on a blind date. The guy, Paul, was a Chicago cop. We talked on the phone a few times, seemed to get along well, so he asked me out to dinner. He specified casual. Fine with me. We decided to go to Palmers, a local restaurant known for burgers and beer.

Kat and Adam both knew that I was going on a date. It was a perfect summer evening - not too hot, nor humid - and since we were the "it" house that summer, every tween within a mile radius was hanging out in our yard. I pulled into the driveway to find it resembling a bike shop. There were probably 8-10 bikes in the driveway which meant there were a minimum of 10 kids (not including mine), plus a few stragglers that walked everywhere. GREAT!!! Nothing like getting ready with a million children underfoot.

So, I ran downstairs to find about 16 kids in my basement. Said hi to everyone and ran upstairs to get ready. Kat and Adam knew Paul was arriving around 7, so at 6:30 they all ran into our front yard. Since we are on a cul de sac of sorts there is a large area where they can play without being in traffic. So, there were kids throwing Frisbees, some playing catch, others hoola hooping and still more jumping on our trampoline in the back yard. I was informed they were all outside to give me a thumbs up, or down, when Paul arrived. How nosy (sorry...I mean...sweet) of them. I was nervous to begin with and hadn't been on a date in over 3 years. Suddenly my front lawn looked like the local orphanage.

That summer the group Fountains of Wayne had a song called, "Stacey's Mom" about a mom that was so hot all the boys in the area would mow any lawn, paint any fence, just to get her attention. It's rare for me to ever consider myself hot. Call it low self esteem, realistic, or just not part of my thought process. Whatever you want to call it, when you haven't been on a date in years, it is hard to consider yourself hot, or sexy. Nervous, yes. Excited, probably. Wanting to throw up...definitely. Sexy, probably not. But after I got dressed - definitely casual in khaki and sandals - I went outside to see if the kids could at least be less chaotic (fat chance). The "orphans" did serenade me with their version of "Kat's mom's got it really going on". They were sweet...even cute...but secretly, I wanted them all to disappear and they weren't going anywhere. Not much happens in this little town and my date was the biggest news to these kids. We really need to upgrade their standards and my social aspirations.

So, Paul pulls up in his Jeep; avoiding bikes and softball players. Kat's friend Ashley flew in the front door to give me a thumbs up and then ran back outside. After saying hi, I inform him that only two are mine. The rest are "visiting". We get in his jeep where he expertly dodges 4 different kids while backing out of the driveway. Yes, I was mortified.

We go out for burgers and beer. Perfectly casual, although he informs me that I am way overdressed. He's in khaki shorts, a polo and flip flops. I wasn't dressed much better, but that comment was a hint of the evening to come. Dinner was a disaster. As liberal as I am, he is conservative. Paul hates "everyone equally". I believe in giving everyone a chance. To him people are guilty until proven innocent. So that's how our justice system works? I always wondered. He hates gays. I have many friends who are gay. There is not one area on which we agreed. After many years in public relations I have the ability to chat with the best of them and have superficial down to perfection, but this evening it took all I had not to dump my beer on his cynical little head and walk the 3 miles home. When dinner was over, there was no pretense of lets go for a walk or let's have another beer. He paid the check, walked me to his Jeep and drove me home.

This is where the evening continues to slide the slippery slope towards devastation. It is now dark as we pull into my driveway where the majority of bikes have cleared out. There are just a few stragglers scattered on the lawn. Every light in the house is out, but there are candles lit in the living room. Our front window has 20 small panes of glass making 20 little shelves. Yes...there was a candle lit on every little shelf and additional candles scattered throughout the living room. Damn my candle addiction! With the right guy it would have looked amazing. With this guy, I wanted to die. Kat, Adam and the left over "orphans" decided to add a little ambiance to our "romantic" date. This man was in no mood for romance. He couldn't get rid of me fast enough. Finally! It was the one subject on which we both agreed. As he walked me to the door, I looked at him and said, "Welcome to my world." He said good night, turned around and left. Never to be seen again.

Little did I know that there were 8 heads peering out the windows. Kat and her friend Cory were fighting over who could look out the peephole of the front door. When I walked in the house the one question they all demanded was how come he didn't kiss me goodnight. Which lead me to the lecture of kissing and dating etiquette. (Like I really knew dating etiquette - it was my first flippin' date in 3 years!)

The friend that set us up called a few days later. It appears that Paul didn't have a problem with my kids or the craziness of my household. His one complaint was that she didn't tell him I was a %$#$ liberal!

That evening cured me of dating for about another year. The following June I went out on my next date with someone who went to my high school and graduated a year before me. We had mutual friends who thought we met somewhere during our high school years. If we did, neither of us made a decent impression as we didn't remember each other. We re-met(?) at Jane's birthday/Cinco de Mayo party. I'm a sucker for a guy who can make me laugh. I asked him out.

The weekend of the date, the kids went with their father to Northern Wisconsin for a week and my mom left for Kentucky to visit friends. The house was all mine for 5 whole days. I had plans set up for every night - my date, dinner with a friend from college, the opportunity to be in a friends music video which was being filmed in a biker bar, and just relaxing without having to account to anyone about anything. I could run through the house naked if I so desired. The possibilities were endless.

So, while getting ready for my date, I received a phone call from our friends in Kentucky. Donna informed me that my mom passed out upon arriving and an ambulance took her to the local hospital. Donna promised to keep me posted. I gave her my cell number and told her to call when she knew more. As I was walking to the bar, Tracey, the nurse at this itty-bitty hospital in London, KY, which I later realized wasn't qualified to give out band aids, called to ask me a variety of questions about my mom. Tracey questions scared me. I knew this was all very serious. Here I was hundreds of miles away; unable to do anything. So, I plunked myself down in the middle of the side walk and gave Tracey doctors' phone numbers, health information and any other information I could pull from my brain; mentally telling myself that I need to be a bit more aware of the medication my mom took. The doctor's weren't sure if my mom had a stroke, or needed a pace maker...yeah...not only was the hospital not qualified to give out band aids, I'm not sure if they were qualified to take a temperature. Anyway, Tracey said they could not tell if my mom had a stroke until they looked at her "skin". After a while, I finally asked Tracey what my mom's skin had to do with knowing whether she had a stroke. I don't have a medical degree, but checking her skin seemed very odd. That's when I realized we were experiencing a bit of a language barrier. Because of Tracey's southern drawl, I realized she had been saying "scan" as in CT scan. Oops. Sorry! OK, well once the doctor reads her "skin" please call me.

I then proceeded to call both of my brothers. Reached one, left a message for the other. I then walked in the bar...very late...for a date. I explained what happened and told him that my cell phone needed to hang out with us all evening. Anytime it rang with a Kentucky area code, or my brothers' phone numbers, I left the noisy bar to get, or give, information; each time hoping Tracey could tell me what Mom's skin said.

What a sweet guy! In between phone calls he'd ask for updates and then we proceeded to chat about anything else to keep my mind off of my mom...until the next phone call. He understood that there wasn't much I could do. I even suggested I could go home and wait for the calls, but honestly, it was nice to have some company while waiting for Tracey's next call. He even offered to help me find flights to Kentucky. Unfortunately, that was the last I've seen of him except for bumping into him at Jane's. Can you blame him?! In fairness, when we met, he was already in the process of moving to Michigan, but it's easy to blame the events of that night on no follow up calls. As of now, I believe he splits his life between Michigan and here. Rumor has it that he prefers women 20 years younger. Although I have been told I look younger than my 45 years and have been carded twice this year - a nice ego boost - even if the people who carded me had to have been legally blind - I don't look that young. And so I moved on.

As for Mom, I flew down for a rescue mission and one brother followed a day later. The skin(scan) showed she had a stroke and the events of our rescue mission will be saved for another writing.

But on to the perils of dating. The first date, although doomed before it began, the kids made me feel as if I was living in a TV sitcom. The second date, Mom unknowingly sabotaged, but he was moving and I wasn't in his preferred age range. And for the next guy (victim?), I didn't need any help messing things up. I did that completely on my own and quite successfully, I might add. Needing to be fair to myself, it was a mutual messing up as we both had "stuff" to deal with, but this one is still a bit too raw to write about. Not because of any one thing that happened, but due to the fact that after meeting Mark I realized there are some issues that were never dealt with after my divorce. I never let myself heal 9 years ago. And because of that, life blew up in my face in 2007.

There is a phrase I used after my divorce called the Cleopatra Syndrome - Queen of Denial. Yeah...I know...it's a really bad pun, but it fits. It was easier to ignore all that happened, immerse myself into being a single parent with 2 extremely young children than deal with the negative in my life. I ignored as much as I could because if I paid attention to what really happened in my marriage the pain would be too great. How do you care for two small children while grieving and hurting? Denial was easier. Maybe at the time it was self preservation. I'm not sure. I just know I focused on loving and raising Kat and Adam to the best of my abilities. It was more important to me that they knew they were loved and protected at all costs. Now that they are older its time to work on me - a definite work in progress. But, aren't we all?

It wasn't until I met Mark that I realized I was pretty much an emotional train wreck. It must have taken to actually have feelings for someone to figure out how scarred and scared I am. He accounts for the majority of my dates this year. As fleeting as the relationship was, I miss him and think of him often. He touched a part of my heart that hadn't been touched in a very long time. I actually thought that part of my heart was dead and buried. He made me realize it wasn't. It's a nice fact to know. I have yet to watch a Bears game, or see a picnic basket, without thinking of him. They are all good thoughts.

But...now I need to heal (ugh!). In hindsight, I wish I would have taken the time to heal a few years ago, but don't think I was ready then. I would love to share my life with a man and look forward to that actually happening one day, but before I do, there is more healing to do and probably another act or two in my 3-ring circus.