Thursday, May 31, 2007
Did I mention a girl called for him a couple weeks ago? It was mysterious; we never found out who she actually was, and therefore didn't put Baxter on the phone. Nothat he cared, he was doing his best impression of a clueless guy, lying on the couch reading a Pokemon book, totally uninterested in the unfolding drama.
I was walking down the street with Lyle when a perfect stranger looked at us and started laughing. "You two look exactly alike!" she exclaimed, delightedly. It made my day.
Baxter was getting into his swimsuit in the dressing area at the Y. He did something amusing and Lyle ran over, threw his arms around his big brother's waist, and said, "I fink you're really nice!" Baxter smiled with surprise, hugged him back, and said, "I think you're really nice, too, Lyle!"
You know you have been talking on the phone to family in the Bay Area with its horrible cell phone reception a lot when your 2-year old picks up his toy cell phone, says, "Hi? Daddy? Yeah, okay. Oh! You disappeared, Daddy!", then pretends it has rung again, and says, "Oh, there you are, Daddy! You disappeared! Daddy? Daddy? Oh. He disappeared again." Repeat.
Baxter was up in his bunk, Lyle down in his. I was stretched out on Lyle's bed, half-comatose, with my feet up by his head. "I feel yike I'm sweepin' with your yegs," he noted. This sounded good to Baxter, who immediately asked if he could come down and cuddle with us. He joined the fun, getting under the covers with his brother. "Yook! I rubbin' Baxter's back! So gentle! I'm not hittin' Baxter! C'I get a marble in the marble jar for that??"
The boys hugged and cuddled, laughing and rubbing each other's backs. I know this won't last forever. Even if they don't ever go through a period of major antagonism, I know it won't be like this little boy adoration always. But I do find myself hoping that having this foundation of love and sweetness has to help down the road. At least a little? Right? Never mind, don't answer that.
But I've digressed. It's summer and I'm so happy. Okay, the heat and humidity don't do much for me other than make my hair immediately begin to stand on end. So that's not so fun. But I had high hopes for last summer - home with the boys, lots to do in a new city. And for a whole host of reasons, it just didn't pan out the way I'd dreamed. This summer, though? This summer, I'm ready. I'm taking some time off from work (this is unprecedented!!) and I know the city better. I'm ready to take the boys on fun outings. I've joined the zoo (so we can ride that train as often as we want) and the Field Museum recently, and of course we'll spend lots of time at the beach. Baxter has tons of friends from school so I will have actual parents to call for play dates this year! We won't have to skulk around the new neighborhood hoping to run into same-age kids, only to discover that they are in camp or about to go on a 3-week vacation.
But, really, best of all is the idea that in only two more weeks, there will be no more homework. No more carpool. No more after school classes, special projects, gym shoes on gym day, and half days to keep track of. Week by week, the big question will be: "Camp or no camp?" and then we'll proceed with the same schedule day after day.
And, oh my Lord, I am so ready.
Monday, May 28, 2007
Each time I've come, I've run into this fascinating woman. I have begun to refer to her as my Other Self. This woman, who looks startlingly like me and is my very age, still lives here in California. She is unattached, has no children, and zips around town in a cute little green Prius rather than a beat-up green Legacy. My Other Self is quite busy with her private practice but still has time for lunch with friends, movies, and reading the newspaper. When her watch battery dies, she can stop somewhere and replace it in an afternoon; she doesn't understand why such a task might take me 2 months to complete. She even - gasp! - gets to go out for a run every morning. I'll bet she even goes to the gym regularly, although she doesn't have the heart to tell me this.
She walks around Stow Lake with her friend Barbra, finding the new baby herons way up in the trees and watching in amazement as one flies awkwardly right overhead. She goes to Arizmendi Bakery for some coffee and a scone, and then later meets her friend and colleague Liesl to see her new flat and have lunch with more friends. She gets to spend a few hours on a Saturday with her grandmother. She spends long, uninterrupted stretches of time with her parents, sometimes at home and sometimes in the hospital; but wherever they are, she can be with them, available to help when needed.
My Other Self can read for hours before falling asleep and on weekends can sleep until she wakes up on her own and read some more. I am awed by the fact that her life - her pace - is her own.
There are times when I really envy this Other Self her apparent freedom. And yet I know I would not prefer her life. My Other Self is watching as her friends are marrying and having their first babies. She is yearning for a partner to come home to, who is smart and funny and responsible and sweet AND will also handle the entire household for a week so that she can help her parents. She doesn't know, but suspects, that there is more to children than dirty diapers and sleep deprivation. My Other Self can only guess at the joy of early morning cuddles, brothers holding hands in the backseat of the car, and screams of "Mommy!!" whether she is just home from work or simply out of the shower. She won't know how much she would love living again in a place where time is marked by four distinct seasons, the fun of playing with kids at the beach down the street or in the snow, how happy the autumn leaves would make her.
No, I am glad for the path I have chosen. But my Other Self continues to exist for me here and I love to visit her periodically; for the recharge, but also for the reminder of all that I have.
Sunday, May 27, 2007
Saturday, May 26, 2007
Also, a big public thank you to Mrs. Chicken for her support through this challenging week, and for posting a link to my "Notes from California" post over on her wonderful Chicken and Cheese blog!
Thursday, May 24, 2007
I remember when he walked into the house that afternoon, fresh from the hair salon where he'd gotten his pre-surgery crew cut. I hadn't seen him since Christmas, not a glimpse of him through his chemo and radiation treatments or during his hospitalization for heart issues, and wasn't sure what to expect. He looked terrific: fit and healthy. However, he was uncharacteristically quiet, having been through his pre-op appointment that morning and then an eye-opening visit with the pulmonologist; while his lungs were in tip-top shape, the doctor had given him a more long-term view of his recovery period (perhaps more realistic) than what he'd received from the surgeon. I imagined that the step-by-step description of the surgery would have been harder to handle the day before surgery than it was months earlier. I tried not to look at that Starbucks cup because to me it was fraught with meaning. I could imagine him stopping in for some chai, knowing that in less than 24 hours he would be recovering from surgery and unable to eat or drink for the next five days. And his favorite chai might not be on the menu for quite some time. I can't bring myself to throw out that cup.
I lived in the Bay Area for 9 years and have only been in Chicago for 11 months. And yet the vegetation - the eucalyptus and palm trees, the flowers, even the ground cover - already looks as foreign to me as it did when I first arrived here in 1997. The plants and trees of Chicago more closely resemble those of my childhood and early adulthood in New England and Minnesota. But the scent of the air here, it's herbal. It smells like nowhere else to me and reminded me this morning of so many hikes in the Marin Headlands and Glen Park Canyon, of this place that was home for a long while.
I have watched as friends and family have each handled my father's cancer in their own ways. Most of us have dealt with it without having to get on the roller coaster, at least not for more than a few hours or a day here and there, and I'd say that even my father himself has managed to stay off the roller coaster a good bit of the time. On Tuesday evening I felt like I was seeing him on the roller coaster car, starting to make its way to the top of the rise - you know, where you can already start to feel your stomach lurch in fear before the drop - and yet he appeared to command the inner strength to find his center again, stand up, and demand that the ride be stopped. He was plucked off and placed back on the Wonderwheel where he calmly rode down, all the way down to the lowest point, knowing that once he got down there, there was nowhere to go but up.
Monday, May 21, 2007
But, ahem, here in the REAL WORLD, I leave tomorrow. My Dad's pre-op appointments are tomorrow and then we take him to the hospital at the crack of dawn on Wednesday. He will, we hope, be released to go home right around the time I come home next Tuesday. I will be updating his blog as often as I can, so if you don't hear from me here, look for me over there. (And if you know Matt, please give him a call or drop him a line and give him props for all that he'll be doing on his own with the kids for the upcoming 8 days!)
Thanks for all your well-wishes, prayers, and good thoughts. It all helps.
Sunday, May 20, 2007
Guess what? I'm not asking for money anymore!!
The Walk was a big success. Thanks to so many of you for donating! Our team raised almost $50,000 for autism research (at last count), and donations keep trickling in, so it may well be more. We were the #1 team! Chicago brought in well over 1 million dollars total. It was a great time, despite the fact that it was 40 degrees colder than yesterday. Yesterday: 83 Today: 43. Not so good for being outside for a few hours, but we managed. (Note to self: next year, you can put the winter gloves and hats away in late May, but be sure they are accessible in the storage room. Ahem.)
It was wonderful to see so many of the families I work with and some colleagues out there today. I am constantly impressed with the depth of connections within the community of special needs families and professionals here in Chicago; it is completely different from the Bay Area! It meant a lot to me to be present with them and to have my own family there supporting their families. And the boys loved the bounce houses.
The highlight of my day was being bear-hugged, kissed, and told "I love you!!" (repeatedly!) by three family members of one of my clients before I'd even found out how they were related to her. Now that rules.
Spotted on my kitchen counter tonight:
A big, huge mess, including such items as
- 1 swim diaper
- 1 Little People dog that is required to talk to Lyle when he uses the potty
- Today's unopened newspaper
- My planner
- 6 small nails, which I assume have something to do with the piece of IKEA furniture Matt started to assemble yesterday
- A wedding invitation
- An old, broken baseball cap
- Piles of paperwork from Baxter's school that I should be dealing with right now
- A random cookbook I got from my local Dominick's grocery store today. (Turns out, if you donate $5 towards breast cancer research, you get your very own cook book just chock full of great recipes -- collected from those who work at Dominick's! Wow! Listen up Dominick's: just because someone works at the grocery store does not make him a kitchen god. Think Al's Artichoke Dish, JP's Cheese Ball, and John Paleologeous' Watermelon Kicks. Now I don't know what Watermelon Kicks are, but you'd better believe I'm going to find out. I'll let you know. Better yet, come on over, and I'll make 'em for you.)
But the best part of all this is that I just noticed a Real Simple magazine that I bought at Dominick's today, promising to de-clutter and simplify my life, perched ironically on top of the mess.
Saturday, May 19, 2007
Friday, May 18, 2007
Thursday, May 17, 2007
As the quintessential baby brother, Lyle will often imitate exactly what Baxter is saying (to the best of his ability, given that half the time he's trying to say names of obscure Pokemon characters).
By some stroke of luck on our part, this does not bother Baxter. When he even notices it, he thinks it's funny. We like to say that we don't have a family pet, we have a family echo.
This afternoon in the car, Lyle was going strong, parroting everything Baxter said in a loud, excited voice. Baxter actually noticed. He said, "Mommy, I don't think we have enough furniture in this car!" I could tell he was trying to make a joke, but I wasn't getting it at all. Are you?
"There's such a big echo, we must need more furniture in here to absorb the sound!!"
First and foremost, I'd like to thank you for all that you do for my son's elementary school. The fund raising, the teacher gifts, the special events - the school wouldn't be the same without you. In fact, your strength and success are among the reasons we chose this fantastic school for our boy when we moved to Chicago last year. When I sat there in San Francisco, trying desperately to imagine my new life here, you were part of the picture. That is, I just knew that I would be among you on a regular basis, devoting some time each week to the betterment of my child's school.
What's that? You don't recognize my name? No, I know, I shouldn't be surprised. One of your members introduced herself to me for the third time recently at the Book Fair, and I was too embarrassed to tell her that I knew exactly who she was because we've talked a handful of times before. Instead I allowed myself to be an invisible mom, one she'd never met. It was close enough to the truth.
I am not a guilt-ridden mother. I have devoted vast amounts of time, energy, and love to this first-grader of mine, and I don't fear that I should have given him more. I love my career as a pediatric therapist and find the work enormously satisfying. I do not regret working part-time. I believe that the idea of the "perfect" mother is crap and am generally content to be the "good enough" mother. So why is it that I feel such guilt about my lack of involvement at school?[To continue reading, click here to hop on over to the Chicago Moms Blog...]
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
"That was the office at Baxter's school," he told me. Asthma problem? I immediately thought. "Ummm, Baxter was sent to the Assistant Principal for...breaking classroom crayons." Why did I immediately smirk? Breaking classroom crayons?? "There was a sub, apparently, and the sub sent him to the office." Oooo-kay. Can I remind you that the child is 6? "He had to write a note about it, and he'll bring that home."
I spent the hour before Baxter got home trying to decide if I was supposed to be upset. But the phrase "breaking classroom crayons" only made me crack up. I like the emphasis on them being classroom crayons - as Matt pointed out, these weren't his own crayons from home he was breaking - oh, no, they were the classroom crayons. (Which we parents had to purchase at the beginning of the year, incidentally.)
Now, I'm not in favor of destroying others' property, and I don't condone the breaking of classroom anything. But, seriously, these are very young children!
Baxter said he and a friend just started mindlessly breaking a few crayons at the Writing Center. He doesn't know why. As far as he knows, there was no warning, no substitute asking them to stop before sending them to the principal. So we didn't make a big deal about it; asked him what it was like, how he felt (he didn't seem too upset by the whole thing), and then took him to the store where he bought some new classroom crayons with money from his piggy bank.
Matt found his note in the backpack tonight. It reads:
"I am in the office because I broke craons in shool."
So tell me: is this type of vigilance good because it nips bad school behavior in the bud at an early age? Or do you see it the way I do, that a child young enough to spell like that is too young to be sent to the principal's office?
A fabulous, brand-new blog has just been launched today. It's called Chicago Moms Blog and is full of thoughtful, witty writing by brilliant, good-looking Chicago moms! This is a sister blog to the wildly successful Silicon Valley Moms Blog in my old stomping ground.
(Oops! Silly me! I almost forgot to mention that they've invited me to join them! My first post just went up today. It may look familiar to my regular readers...)
Come on over and check us out - and tell all your friends!
Okay, so now's the time: the walk is this Sunday! I will reprint the following as a public service - remember, when I say every $10 counts, I mean it!
Matt, the boys, and I will be walking with a team of families and colleagues, the Wiggle Walkers, which has raised over $31,000 to date. Although I do not agree with the way these sponsoring organizations portray children on the spectrum (as hopeless tragedies), this event raises funds for autism research. And we really, really do need more research. You can do it easily online at any time: donate here.
Sunday, May 13, 2007
Thursday, May 10, 2007
Q: Is it a good idea to go to work when you have bronchitis?
A: No, decidedly not. It is a far better idea to stay home in your jammies, reading and posting to blogs all day. Especially when you are a speech therapist and need your voice to work. You'd better just lay off the talking.
Q: Is it acceptable to go to the M. Ward/Norah Jones show when you have bronchitis and aren't going to work the next day?
A: Most definitely. Especially if it's at the gorgeous Chicago Theater and you've already missed a Wilco and a Lyle Lovett show in the last 8 months due to your children's illnesses. After all, this is just a Mommy illness!
However, a few things must be kept in mind:
a) try not to tip off those around you that you are actually about to cough up a lung - hold your disgusting cough off until the applause period between each song;
b) although you have to drink water non-stop to keep from coughing, bear in mind that you will not want to leave the show to use the restroom except between sets - this is likely to result in maximum discomfort by the time the encore rolls around;
c) pretend that your cough drops are something less pungent - perhaps an after-dinner mint! - and be confident that those around you will find your devil-may-care attitude contagious.
Q: Is it admissible to pick your mother up at the airport when you have bronchitis?
A: Yes, but keep in mind that you will talk to her the whole way home in the car, because how can you not? She's your mom. This may set your voice back just a tad.
Q: At what point should you take yourself to the doctor, exactly?
A: This last one is tricky due to the fact that I'm not really about grossing out my readers. Let's just say that when things get Super Nasty (official medical term) in your lungs, it might be time to throw in the towel and get thee to some antibiotics.
Q: Should you go ahead and take your son to his Wiggleworms music class when you have bronchitis, haven't been going to work all week, and can't sing?
A: Absolutely. So what if you're the only one in your pair who was going to sing to begin with? You want your mom to see your son's cute music class, right? Right. Just be warned: when he vomits copiously all over himself in the backseat on the way there, forcing you to turn the car around and go home anyway, expect that the decision may start to feel a little foolish.
Tuesday, May 8, 2007
Me: Hey, Lyle, do you remember what my name is?
Lyle: Yes, it's Mommy!
Me: Yeah, but what's my other name?
Me: That's right! Do you remember my last name?
Lyle: Ummm... Jordan I-Love-You!
Monday, May 7, 2007
I would like to take a break from my regularly-scheduled nonsense to talk about something that is extremely important and far more worthy of your attention: autism.
Most of you know that I am a speech-language pathologist (communication therapist, as I prefer to call it) specializing in work with children with autism spectrum disorders. When I am not at work, I continue to learn all I can about the challenges these children and their families face. Late at night, I read a few pages of current books on the subject before falling asleep; I read daily emails from listservs dealing with the disorder (in particular, listservs focused on those using the Floortime intervention technique); I occasionally write for The Family Room, designed to share information with families; I read blogs written by parents with children on the spectrum. I am not "in the trenches" - my children are neurotypical - but I would say that I've claimed a little area alongside the trenches and have been digging for some years now.
I am inspired to post this today for a few reasons:
1) The Cure Autism Now/Autism Speaks WALK NOW Chicago event is coming up in less than two weeks. Matt, the boys, and I will be walking with a team of families and colleagues, the Wiggle Walkers, which has raised over $15,000 to date. Our goal is $20,000. As a family, we have raised $175 and I would like to increase that with your help. Although I do not always agree with the way these organizations portray children on the spectrum (as tragedies), this event raises funds for autism research. And we really, really need more research. You can do it easily online at any time: donate here.
2) I am reading a particularly poignant book on the topic right now. It is called "Mozart and the Whale: An Aspergers Love Story". It is a beautifully-written story of the relationship and marriage of two adults with Aspergers Disorder (often referred to as a "high-functioning" form of autism). This book is worth reading. It is a rare glimpse into the minds of two adults with this disorder and it also chronicles their experiences as undiagnosed children. The pain inflicted on them throughout their lives by others who do not understand them is unbearable to read at times. It doesn't lay blame, per se; after all, their families did not understand them, nor did they understand themselves. They didn't hear of autism or Asperger's until well into adulthood. They were children in a different time. However, it leaves me wishing that humans in general might show more compassion for people we don't understand.
The last book I read was also worth recommending. "The Boy Who Loved Windows: Opening the Heart and Mind of a Boy Threatened with Autism" is written by a mother (who happens to be a writer) whose son was born with significant developmental delays and eventually diagnosed with autism. Her journey to support him in overcoming his challenges is amazing. This is an incredible window into the life of someone parenting a very young child with a more severe form of the disorder. It can give parents great hope for a successful outcome, although I found myself distracted by the tremendous emotional cost to this particular family.
In addition to the fact that these are interesting, well-written books, there is a reason I believe we should all read these books, and that is because there are children and adults all around us who are living with autism. You may have heard the newest estimate that 1 in 150 children is now diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. If no one in your immediate or extended family has it, then I can guarantee that you have a neighbor who does. Your child will go to school with children on the spectrum. They will be in swimming class, gymnastics, and summer camp. Being so familiar with the various characteristics of the spectrum, I see children with autism everywhere. You, as a parent - we as a country - are going to need to understand autism in order to intelligently and compassionately talk to our children, interact as part of a community with children on the spectrum and their families, and support appropriate research, education and intervention. These children are intelligent, joyful, and as capable of showing love and affection as you and me. They deserve to be full members of our schools and communities.
3) Last, but highly significant to me, is the point that we as parents of both neurotypical and autistic children have a great deal to offer each other. I don't know how parents of children with autism managed before the Internet; it has become an excellent source of information, support, and networking for parents. And yet there often remains an isolation from parents with neurotypical children. Today I read a compelling post from an excellent writer, MOM-NOS (a play on the diagnosis often given to children on the spectrum: PDD-NOS). Please read it: you'll understand why it moved me to post about this topic. It left me thinking about how much we can all learn from each other and support one another if we open ourselves up to it.
I know most of my readers are parents of young children, and the majority of you have typically developing children. I strongly recommend adding at least one blog written by a parent of a child with special needs to your regular reading; and whether your child has special needs or not, comment and share your ideas and experiences. Please, help to open that dialogue. Here are a few of my favorites, but each of these sites has links to many more: MOM-NOS, The Family Room, and Special Needs Mama.
Also, here are links to a couple of fascinating articles that may interest you:
On the possible link between vaccinations and autism. (Rolling Stone)
On the theory that there is a higher incidence of autism in Silicon Valley due to all those math and science genes. (Wired Magazine)
Read up, my friends. Read, learn, doubt, ask questions. Talk amongst yourselves.
It'll do all of us some good.
No, no, just kidding. This is not about me, sillies. [Although perhaps this is a good time to admit that I do ask myself that (about, um, myself) on those rare days when I'm racing hither and yon and miraculously keeping all the balls in the air; I like to ask it in a TV voice-over kind of way to make myself laugh. Sometimes I even add the old commercial line, "...not a hair out of place!" which is even funnier because usually my hair is a mess. If you ever have an opportunity to spend a day in my head, you'll learn that I make myself laugh. A lot. As Matt says, "Nobody thinks Jordan's as funny as Jordan," and I can't deny it. I crack me up. I'm sure I should find this emabarrassing, but I don't seem to, so there it is.]
At any rate, no, let's focus here. This is about the amazing writer, Catherine Newman. I don't think I've ever read something by her that I didn't love, but some of them just really get me. She got me laughing harder than I should've been here with my lost-voice-whispery-laugh this morning with this new post at Wondertime. It so perfectly captures the stage that I see Baxter heading towards that I can hardly stand it. And she's just a damn fine - and funny - writer.
Sunday, May 6, 2007
It happens every spring. In the Bay Area it used to hit me in June, but here in Chicago it appears to be a May phenomenon. I literally lose my voice. The allergies hit and - wham-o! - within 48 hours I can do little more than whisper. Everyone here is amazed by what a bad spring it is for allergies, so I guess it's no surprise that I'm in the thick of it right now. It was incredibly frustrating at church this morning, trying to talk to people in a noisy room; worse still were my attempts to call out to the boys when they were within seconds of plowing down an elderly woman or running across a parking lot. Matt went out of town tonight and it was interesting to be a non-speaking mom at bedtime. The boys actually sang songs to themselves before going to sleep.
But the biggest problem of all is that my profession does sort of rely on me using my voice. It might surprise you to learn that I often do "non-verbal" sessions, in which I spend an hour with a child, playing without saying a single word, because it's a very effective way to improve a child's attention to facial expressions and gestures. However, for about a third of my caseload, that would not have any real benefit. So this shuts me down for at least one work day, sometimes two.
Which leads me to wonder if this is my body's very wise way of slowing me down when I'm sick. I've heard others talk about a particular area of vulnerability they have: for some it seems to be throat ailments, for others GI problems, and still others get migraines that stop them in their tracks. I mean, if I need to slow down and get more rest, what better way than to actually shut off my voice? Although I feel sort of tired and cruddy, chances are I'd have still gone to work tomorrow, figuring that I don't feel that bad.
So I always take the lost voice as a clear signal to drop everything and rest.
I'm curious: does your body have a particular way of making it clear when it's time to take a day off? What is it?
I know I have written before about our discovery of 2nd Unitarian Universalist Church here in Chicago. You know, the wonderful, social justice-minded community that has welcomed my atheist husband and myself with open arms.
Well, after an orientation meeting a couple weeks ago that left us feeling very comfortable with the whole thing, Matt and I took the plunge last week and became actual members. We did this just in the nick of time, because today was the semi-annual Child Dedication Ceremony at 2U. Unitarians don't take part in baptism - there is no original sin in our babies! - but we do have a special ritual that brings new children into the community, celebrating them as individuals who contribute to the life of the church. On this Sunday, all children are invited to stay throughout the service; there is music and also stories that appeal to all ages, and no one minds the restless noise of the children. My dear friend Cara sang in the choir - and did a beautiful solo today, no less - and Matt's parents joined us, making the morning all the more special. (Photos by Pops here.)
Along with two other families, we were called up partway through the service. Each of our children's names were spoken and a blessing was bestowed upon them by our minister. They were each given a white rose, a symbol of their opening and unfolding lives. As parents, we were asked to share our wishes for the children. Matt and I decided to write a wish for both children, and Matt read it. Ours went like this:
Baxter and Lyle, our wish for you is that you will be curious and loving, and that you will always search for truth, say what you believe, and speak from the heart.
And really, what more could we ask for?
Saturday, May 5, 2007
A trip to a Land's End store isn't meant to be funny. I'm sure of it. And yet, well, today it just was.
Matt and I had the opportunity to take a day to ourselves to get some things done (thanks, Oma and Pops!), and we finally made it out to IKEA way out in Schaumburg to pick up all sorts of things that we needed for the new house.
A few hundred
But what is it about that company? Can anyone out there tell me? There are always some items that are great, and so reasonably priced that you want to kiss the earnest middle-aged saleswoman's sensibly clad feet in gratitude. And then there's that other stuff. I find myself wanting to like it (and why is that, exactly?). It's just kind of...dorky. And even the things that don't actually look dorky on the rack make me look like the Queen of Dorkitude when I put them on in the tiny dressing area that has the biggest coffee stain I've ever seen on the floor. Oh, wait, I am responsible for the coffee stain. But whatever, that's not the point.
On our way out the door, still giggling because I couldn't look at our cashier without super-imposing an image of the woman from the Dilbert cartoon over her face - you know, the one with triangular hair? she totally waited on us today - I paused and pointed to a men's red windbreaker in the window. "That jacket's kind of cool," I said to Matt, faltering even as the words left my mouth because I tried to picture my husband wearing it and realized that I couldn't, "...or maybe not so much," I mumbled.
He came to a screeching halt and stared at me in disbelief. And what he said was the funniest part of the whole venture: "Oh, my God!! You can't even see right after being in there!!! YOUR RODS AND CONES HAVE BEEN ASSAULTED!"
Friday, May 4, 2007
My six years in St. Paul, Minnesota rid me of that association. In St. Paul, like in our first Chicago neighborhood over in Lake View, alleys were clean, bright stretches of car-parking and garbage collecting. And that's about it. I love the alley concept, I have to tell you. A residential block is so much more attractive sans driveways and garages, and how lovely not to have trash and recycling bins strewn along the sidewalk all day every Friday. When you are on a stroll with small children it is a relief not to have to punctuate every conversation with a screamed, "Stop at every driveway! Guys...that was a driveway!!" as I had to do in San Francisco.
But here in Rogers Park, in our little slice of heaven between Sheridan Road and Lake Michigan, the alley has an entire life of its own. I think it deserves its own book, but for now a blog post will have to suffice.
There are actual intersections - with stop signs! - in our alley, because alleys have been cut through between buildings, going north-south in addition to east-west. So it's like a small neighborhood within the neighborhood. Pedestrians pass through at all hours of the day and night, presumably because it's quieter to travel through our alley than to walk along Sheridan (and no traffic lights).
Some visitors to the alley are pleasantly quiet, just biking, jogging, or walking through. One warm evening we had the door to the deck open while I made dinner, and Baxter sat out there reading. A 3rd grade teacher happened to bicycle by and stopped to chat with him about what he was reading. I went out to see who he was talking to and had a nice conversation with her. Okay, so that was very nice, if surprising.
But others: not so quiet. On warm spring weekend nights, rowdy Loyola students weave their way back to campus or the frat house down the street, laughing raucously outside our window and we wake with a start. You see, our condo is on the first floor and our bedroom windows face the alley.
Drivers seem to think that they can avoid slowing down before reaching the sidewalk out front if only they honk 3-4 times as they approach it. Again, that approach? Outside our window.
This morning, as Matt got dressed after his shower, three homeless men got into a loud, cursing brawl just a couple feet away from him because, as one rummaged through our dumpster, another apparently stole his cigarettes. I heard the ruckus from the kitchen and hadn't bothered to see what was going on, but Matt filled me in. And he said something that stuck with me all day: imagine this going on outside the window of someone living in the suburbs. Really. Imagine it - three down-and-out men in tattered clothes are rummaging through people's trash, stealing each other's cigarettes, and hollering expletives at each other. As Matt pointed out, the cops would've been called before those guys had even made it to the trash cans! But here? In our alley? I don't even bother to go look out the window; I just keep making breakfast!
It's not like it's attractive out there, either. Most buildings, like ours, have their parking spaces out back along the alley. Buildings that have gorgeous facades on the street side look completely different in the back; the alley shows the seedier side of each house or multi-unit building.
And yet it really is a little neighborhood of its own. It's where we are meeting all of our neighbors. Where I rendezvous with a friend for a 6:30 AM walk by the lake on a regular basis, and where the boys and I often wave up to little Anya on her deck when we come home at night. Quite often I choose to leave the house through the alley instead of the far grander front entrance because there are friendly people to talk to out there all the time, coming and going. They wave hello, introduce themselves, feed us tidbits about our new building and the neighborhood. Neighbors are washing their cars, heading out to walk their dogs at the beach, taking their kids out to play. Standing around talking with each other. The alley is the hub of neighborhood activity.
At any given moment, neighbors are chatting and - dare I say it? - actually building community out there in that alley. And you know? Just as I don't imagine the homeless would be seen rummaging through the trash, I don't see that happening in the suburbs, either.
Thursday, May 3, 2007
Lyle seems to have changed overnight. He's sweet as the day is long (and we all know: sometimes the day is L-O-N-G), with a generous heart, and all warm cuddles. Lyle's easy-going. His 2's have been more terrific than terrible. He's not the parenting challenge that his older brother was at this age. At the same time, he's always been my more reluctant guy; the one who holds back in groups, who will barely peer out of my neck at a stranger. When we're dancing in music class he looks up with a panicked expression and insists, "Hold me." This has always been a striking contrast to his elder brother, whose entire world is fueled by social interaction and who only clung to me when he was hanging off of me like a monkey from a tree.
But, my friends, the times they are a-changin'. Today I watched as Lyle enjoyed playing "big kid" with friend and neighbor Anya, who is about 8 months younger. He did a perfect imitation of his kind big brother, getting things for her, helping her dig the play doh out of the container, "Like dis, Anya? Want more play doh? More dan dis?" When it was time to move our roving band of children over to Anya's house for nap time he couldn't wait to nap in a new place. "It's time to go to Anya's house NOW?" he asked during lunch. "Where I'm gonna sleep? What my bed dere yook yike? Can we go NOW??" And, much to my surprise, he was pleased as could be with his digs over there. Having never seen that room before, he hopped into the bed like a big guy and went right off to sleep. Wha-?
But the clincher was this: when we got to the YMCA for Baxter's swimming lesson this afternoon, Lyle asked to go into the child care. Without me. Without Baxter. Alone. He kicked off his shoes and wrestled himself out of his jacket before I could even sign his name on the sheet, and he was at the door asking to go in that minute. I kept waiting for it to dawn on him that I wasn't going. That he hadn't been in there in about 10 months, never without his big brother, and didn't know a soul in that room. I watched him go in, waited for him to turn back towards me with that look of horrified realization. He didn't. He never looked back. He ran in and jumped right into the "maze", a series of ladders and tunnels for the kids to play in. Then I waited for the staff to come in to the pool area to tell me that he was ready to be done, he'd hit his independence limit. I was prepared to be proud of him for as long as he'd managed it. Half an hour went by, then 45 minutes, then an hour. After the class, the shower, the getting dressed - finally, we were ready to collect him. He'd been in there for an hour and a quarter, happy as could be. "I climbed all the way to the top of the maze!" he exclaimed. "All by my own!" He was exhausted and thrilled.
With each of my boys there typically comes a time within a few months of their birthdays when I suddenly "see" them as the next age. I think I have a good inner vision of what the next age looks like because I've worked with children for over 20 years now, and I see it in flashes as they approach it. Today I saw Lyle as 3 for the first time, and I saw it multiple times; although he has three months to go, I see the three year old in him emerging.
And, wow. I thought 2-year old Lyle was amazing - but this new guy is phenomenal; a real power house.