Thursday, January 18, 2018

Phased Out

The following appears in the January edition of Chicago Parent:

After taking a part-time job over a year ago to subsidize high school, future college funds and a possible tummy tuck, I was nervous about my kids’ functionality. Would they be able to get themselves up and dressed for school? Would they remember which days to wear uniforms for gym and which days to bring instruments for band? Had I done so much for them over the years, that they would fail miserably at this big inaugural test of responsibility?

At first, my fears proved correct. There were forgotten Chromebooks, gym days, and homework. Field trip days went without bagged lunches and help-the-poor days went without canned donations from the Walshes.

I had obviously failed once again.

Slowly but surely, my knuckleheads did pull it together. Dan began laying out all needed items of clothing and equipment the night before. Jack and Joey took to taping notes above their beds with reminders:




How anyone could “forget” to eat a meal remains a complete mystery, but whatever. They were figuring things out! They were growing up! They hardly needed me. Woot woot! Then it started to sting.

They were figuring things out. They were growing up. They hardly needed me.

My babies weren’t babies anymore.

This realization hit me squarely in the gut. I had invested the last 13 years of my life in a job that I knew would eventually be phased out. I wasn’t prepared for this first reduction in responsibility. I had already placed myself in a nursing home without visitors as part of a mental downward spiral of uselessness.

One morning, I got up early on a non-work day to see the boys off.

Joey had both pant legs firmly tucked into his socks. Jack had packed four Little Debbies and a can of my Red Bull “for lunch.” Nobody had brushed their teeth. Or combed their hair. Or thought winter coats necessary in 12 degree weather.

I pretended to be angry, yelling and screaming and waving my arms while quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self Reliance.”

 But secretly?

I knew I had a few good years left at the firm.

Which is a very good thing because I seriously love my bosses.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Pet Project

The following appears in the December edition of Chicago Parent.

In a moment of rare parental indulgence and surrender, I purchased a pet for my youngest son, Joey, last Spring. Every school assignment, every top ten wish list, every note to Santa for five consecutive years had included a request for some sort of domesticated critter. I was beaten down.

Thankfully, I did remain coherent enough to choose an animal that required very little maintenance.

I got him a hermit crab.

While Joey obviously would have preferred something that didn’t rescind into its shell whenever he walked into the room, my son demonstrated a strident devotion to his new friend. He did online research and quickly dubbed the thing “Green Shell.” He wet his drinking sponge religiously with my Ice Mountain and took him for daily walks to ensure he got sun. Green Shell was the most pampered and adored hermit crab the world has ever known.

Until Green Shell died.

I noticed several months in that Green Shell wasn’t rotating between his two favorite spots: sitting on top of his coconut shell hut and sitting INSIDE his coconut shell hut.


I was not mentally prepared for a dead pet and all that entailed. So I went into procrastination mode.

I snuck into Joey’s room that night and moved Green Shell from the top of his hut and instead placed him inside his hut.

Then I switched him back the next day.

Problem solved.

Joey continued to water, feed, and engage Green Shell in his daily activities while I played my twisted version of Elf on the Shelf. When a tornado siren went off in our neighborhood, Joey hustled upstairs to save his dead pet from imminent doom.

My husband expressed some concern over the macabre nature of my rouse.

So I distracted him with prime rib until he forgot what we were talking about.

Another month or two went by before I started feeling guilty. I decided it was perhaps time to bid farewell to Green Shell. My ploy was starting to resemble “Weekend at Bernie’s,” and even I had my morose limits. Plus, Joey was insisting I purchase more food, a fresh sponge, and a bigger cage for Green Shell. He also suggested that perhaps Green Shell could use a girlfriend.

I marched upstairs to Joey’s bedroom with a plastic bag to take care of business while Joey was at school. I scripted out a brilliant talk on love and loss. The moment had finally come.

I found Green Shell in the corner of his cage.

Hold up.

I hadn’t put Green Shell there.

It occurred to me that Joey must have moved him. So I reached in and wouldn’t you know?

Green Shell was the Lazarus of hermit crabs.

The creepy little thing that hadn’t shown the slightest hint of movement in months was alive and well. I saw his legs wiggle around when I picked him up. Surprised and slightly scared, I immediately dropped Green Shell on his damn coconut hut.

My dead crab script got tossed and I called my husband in a semi-hysterical state. He suggested I stay away from the mortuary sciences.

Then offered to pick up crab legs for dinner.

And people wonder why I drink.

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Cult of Parenthood

The following appears in the November edition of Chicago Parent.

I do not watch much television, stubbornly retiring my remote after “Breaking Bad.” The pinnacle of programming had obviously been achieved, so why mess around with crap like “Fuller House?” Still, I found myself inexplicably curious about the A&E series, “Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath.”

Perhaps it was the basest of all human emotions. I wanted to check out the train wreck. Maybe gather some gossip on John Travolta and Tom Cruise along the way. Weren’t space aliens involved?

Ten hours of binge-watching later, I gained a different perspective.

Listening to the tragic trajectory of people sacrificing savings, belief systems, and families for something “more,” I was overcome with déjà vu.

It hit me.

Scientology is a lot like the cult of parenthood.

It starts out innocently enough. You are a parent! You are part of this fabulous club where everyone is BFFs and eager to share diaper coupons! The world is exploding with possibility, much like the volcanic cover of “Dianetics.”

Slowly, things change. You’re presented with the ladder to childhood success. What? You never signed your kid up for tee-ball? Music lessons need to start before age four. You bought that Irish Dance costume USED? What in the name of Xenu is going on here?

More time passes and you find yourself mortgaging the house for travel teams, private coaches, and boozy tournaments all in an effort to move up that ridiculous ladder.

Not that I’m opposed to the boozy tournament part.

You barely see your friends and family. You start sounding insane when discussing your nine-year-old’s hockey “career.” Anyone who isn’t equally focused on their kid’s development is considered an outsider and obviously “suppressive.”

Leah Remini delivered a wake-up call. Although my kids revel in a wide variety of activities, they didn’t need to be their very best all the time. It was fine to phone it in now and then. Skip the ladder. Take the escalator. Save your tired feet to fight another day.

With a renewed focus on reducing the intensity of our lives, I registered my kids for the inaugural season of a local Chicago Park District hockey program. It was a less intensive program than what we’d done previously. My middle son threw himself on the ground in protest:

“I cannot be a HORNED FROG!!!”

Too bad, kid. Now practice your ribbits.

Due to the massive savings, all three could play fall hockey. I was okay knowing two of them would struggle. They were thrilled for the opportunity nonetheless.

Danny is reminding me of a steam engine, but definitely up for the challenge. Jack is slowly finding ways to be supportive towards teammates just starting out. It’s not his nature to be patient, but he’s giving it his all. And Joey remains a maniacal drunken giraffe on skates, improving ever so slightly, but smiling up at the stands when he does.

I am relieved my kids aren’t playing AAA Hockey and I defer to others to pursue becoming a prince.

For now, it’s good to be a frog.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Recreational Obsession

The following appears in the October edition of Chicago Parent

I occasionally have been known to get obsessed with certain topics, researching theories and historical timelines until the wee hours of the morning. I am so well versed in my fixations, I could probably defend dissertation-worthy papers on my findings.

Unfortunately, my papers wouldn’t exactly fall under the “Ideas that Benefit Humanity” category:
  • How Jive Records Destroyed JC Chasez’ Career in Favor of the Less Talented but More Marketable Justin Timberlake 
  • Why George Clooney Never Really Got Over Kelly Preston 
  • The Truth Behind Matt Damon’s and Ben Affleck’s Secret Control of the Oscars 

Now before you take away my foil hat, I would like to point out that folks with OCD can go many different ways. There is my clean-freak sister whose house reveals no tangible evidence that anyone actually lives there. My older brother’s perfect vacuum lines and angles would impress Archimedes himself.

Exhausted after trying to keep my house immaculate with three boys and a husband who simply does not notice mess, I applied my genetic code to the world of celebrity gossip and conspiracy theories. It makes me happy. And possibly a little insane.

My youngest son, Joey, began demonstrating OCD at an early age. As a baby, he would sit in his high chair and scream bloody murder if we accidently left a drawer or cabinet open. By two, he was marching firmly towards hoardersville, saving candy wrappers, old socks, and free plastic cups from kid meals. In order to shake that habit, I told him he would most likely die under old boxes and dead cats.

Brutal, but it worked.

Yet recently, there has been a distinct shift in behavior. We visited Camp-Land RV. Joey was dazzled. He reviewed the brochures like a classical scholar inspecting the Rosetta Stone. He woke me up at 5 am the next morning to explain the differences between RV Class A, B, and C motorhomes. He took a tape measure to our narrow Chicago driveway and explained where exactly we could park an RV.

He is also researching financing.

My inclination is to let the obsession play out. If he is anything like his mother, he will eventually move to a new subject after a year or two of solid research, chart development, and cost analysis.

Or maybe he will grow up and find employment at an RV dealership.

Either way, I will always view those with OCD as kindred spirits. They are passionate and knowledgeable, and perhaps the best teachers out there.

Now ask me what really happened between Taylor Swift and Harry Styles. Totally know.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Bully Me This

The following appears in the September edition of Chicago Parent.

I love me some Steve Harvey like no other, so I obviously watch a lot of Family Feud.

Yet a recent question left me reeling.

“Name the worst grade of grammar school.”

Being a Family Feud devotee, I naturally scored the number one answer: 7th grade. Zero hesitation. And it had everything to do with the dawn of the bully.

The causes of bullies are historically varied: insecurity, unstable home lives, malicious strains in the DNA to name a few. The result is the same: indiscriminate attacks throughout junior high school, leaving kids in an anxiety-induced state of alert, needing to decide:

Run, fight, or follow.

For those who follow, the statistics aren’t good. Bullies face much higher rates of substance abuse, depression, unemployment, incarceration, divorce, and suicide. So when my first son approached 7th grade, he was warned. Prepare to walk away from friends who will follow. Prepare for kids being total jag-offs. But the toughest warning of all?

Prepare to have your heart broken. Again and again.

It was a difficult year for him and me. I fought the urge to march over to the stoops of parents: DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOUR KID IS DOING? DO YOU KNOW WHAT HE IS SAYING? IS ANYBODY PAYING ATTENTION IN THERE???

My sane husband talked me down. It didn’t stop me from giving the side-eye whenever I spotted certain parents, but I tried not be obvious.

Fine. I was completely obvious.

So as my second son geared up for 7th grade, I started having the same talk with him. He cut me off.

“My grade doesn’t have a bully. Whenever a kid tries to be one, someone stops them.”

“A teacher?” I asked, astonished at the prospect that some miracle educator had finally found the cure to this horrible multi-generational ill. Who could this Marie Curie be? How had she eviscerated bullydom? Give me her name, son!

“Jake Brady.”

Wait. Jake Brady wasn’t a teacher. He was a kid! An always-smiling, slightly shorter-than-average kid. Sure, he was good at sports, but there was nothing terribly intimidating or scary about him. How was this even possible?

“He just stops it. Right when it starts. And everyone listens.”

Call it leadership. Call it confidence. Call it the gift of true humanity finding itself in a 12-year old boy. My son went on to clarify that Jake stuck up for everyone, not just his friends. He even stuck up for kids he didn’t like because he thought it was unfair for bullies to go after them for being different. And suddenly, my inner 12 year-old girl with the awkward perm, lazy eye, and stack of books wanted to hug Jake Brady. For someone who has never known a day of cool in her life, it was hard to believe that people such as this existed.

So thank you, kid. You have shown us all that empathy lives. That kindness lives. That good exists.

Please don’t ever change.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Baby Shower

The following appears in the July edition of Chicago Parent.

After receiving an invitation for a baby shower last month, I immediately headed over to the online registry. I was curious to see how far child-rearing had evolved from when I last had a newborn. Surprisingly, the list was as timeless and practical as if it had been produced in 1950.

There was a strong focus on the necessities (diapers, pacifiers, bottles, bedding, etc.), but not a hint of the vegan/organic/gender-neutral lifestyle I assumed all millennials were now embracing.

Grumpy old Gen X’ers like myself are known to occasionally make sweeping and unfair generalizations while yelling at neighborhood kids to get off the lawn.

The stroller resembled something out of NASA, but I wrote that off to the ever-changing improvements in space-baby technology. The crib, which I dubbed Optimus Prime, had the ability not only to transform into a toddler bed, but also a twin bed frame and ultimately a tiny home.

Talk about sound planning.

My mind drifted back to the day I registered. Overwhelmed by the endless choices before me, I waddled around Babies ‘R' Us fighting back nausea and immense feelings of inadequacy. Was I going to need a breast pump? I didn’t know for sure I wanted to go that route. The bassinet was adorable, but our one-bedroom condo could barely fit a crib. And what the hell was a Pack ‘n Play? And an ExerSaucer?


I handed the registry gun off to my mom who proceeded to request 150 sets of baby sheets and mattress protectors.

“Trust me. You’re really gonna need those,” she smiled.

My shower came and went with a U-Haul full of items that were supposed to keep my baby alive, happy, and on course for meeting every developmental milestone.

Prior to that day, I always thought of showers as happy occasions. Instead, it was my holy crap moment.

What had I gotten myself into where I now required an entire aisle of Costco?

And as all moms before me, I became wise to the marketing. The most important item? A purse big enough to accommodate a diaper, a sandwich bag of wipes, and some loose Cheerios. My Nana’s gentle reminder also helped:

Half of our country’s presidents once slept in drawers.

There is one item I wish NASA could develop insofar as mothering. It is a time machine. The magic of expecting my first child was overshadowed by a lot of needless worry, angst, and fear. I would go back and tell myself it would all be fine. Danny would be fine. Joe didn’t need to re-screw every bolt on the crib six times. Taking three infant CPR classes may have been overkill.

I would instead have soaked up the miracle.

And realized my mom was right.

You can never have enough infant bedding. Especially when flu season hits.