Monday, October 27, 2008

Halloween — It's All in the Theme — CMB Post

Originally posted on the now defunct Chicago Moms Blog.

"Are you still working on those stupid costumes?" This is the chorus that rings in my ears each year throughout October. Members of this cantankerous choir include my parents, my husband, most of my friends and virtually every other parent at my kids' schools — in other words, everyone except my children.

I realize that, to outsiders, our tradition may seem a bit OCD. So I spend 200 hours a year sewing Halloween costumes for four kids, at least two of whom are now really too old for trick or treating. So what if I'm up till dawn in the days counting down to the 31st, trying to put the finishing touches on Broadway-worthy costumes that will only be worn for a few hours. When the witching hour finally arrives, our theme will shine. (Do you doubt? Click here for pictures.)

It all started 16 Halloweens ago. My premie twins, born the November before, were finally out of the woods after a harrowing year of near-death experiences, five months on the NICU and 11 months on oxygen. Halloween '92 was the first holiday in their nearly year-old lives that we were actually going to celebrate.

These lucky babies were barely sitting up and not remotely ready to party, but my husband had just bought his pet store and our theme was clear. The tiny boy became a frog and the little girl transformed into a little bunny. We held the store's grand opening over the holiday weekend and the cutest animals in the shop smiled at our new customers from the depths of the Pack 'n Play.

Boy/girl twins lend themselves pretty easily to themed costumes; we did Raggedy Ann and Andy, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, and a couple of clowns. But then came one baby brother followed closely by another and the theme got complicated. The Wizard of Oz worked well, even though Dorothy towered over her Tinman twin, and when my middle guy first saw his costume, he sobbed because he was afraid of it. We assured him that this was a perfectly appropriate response for the Cowardly Lion. The little guy, just barely toddling, couldn't have been a cuter Scarecrow.

One year, the world's tallest Tinkerbell reigned over Peter Pan, Captain Hook and Tick Tock, the alligator who swallowed Hook's hand. But once we had exhausted all the obvious themes featuring three boys and a girl, we had to get creative.

By now, the kids were fully vested in the theme and had their own ideas. One year, we did candy: a Hershey's Kiss, a chocolate bar, a red M&M (or would that be just one M?) and a Tootsie Roll. They were game pieces one year, and objects of the universe another. Sometimes the theme was stretched pretty thin, like our "nautical" year (Captain Jack Sparrow, the Pirate Queen, a Navy admiral and a scuba diver). Last year, they were royalty — Julius Caesar, Anne Boleyn (complete with bloody neck), a shiny knight and young King Arthur.

So here we are, mere days before Halloween and I'm further behind than ever. It's not entirely my fault, since it's harder and harder to achieve consensus. For example, my daughter has a new obsession and insisted that she wanted to be a forensic anthropologist for Halloween. OK, you figure out how to make that costume — and where's the theme?

After much obnoxiously loud arguing spirited debate, my youngest came up with a "Halloween" theme, where everyone would represent one of the iconic Halloween symbols. He claimed the girl could have her forensic wish and still comply with the theme if we made her a skeleton and labeled the bones (she actually bought that!). The genius with the big idea is going to be a spider. ("Not a cute spider, mom, a scary spider.") The oldest boy is going to be a Charlie Brown ghost — you know, a sheet with 27 eyeholes cut out — and carry a pillowcase that says "I got a rock." And the middle guy will be a mummy.

My daughter recently pointed out to one naysayer that our days of themed Halloweens are numbered; the twins will be seniors next year and that will be that. So, the answer to that perennial question for this penultimate Halloween is, yes, I'm still working on those stupid costumes. And loving every minute.

This is an original Chicago Moms Blog post. When Susan isn't busy sewing her fingers to the bone, she can be found typing them to the bone at Two Kinds of People and The Animal Store Blog.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Can You Guess Our Theme?

There are two kinds of people in the world: normal, regular people who take Halloween in stride, and crazy, obsessed people who spend way too much time and money on the whole thing. 

I'm a little embarrassed to admit that my family (at least the kids and I) fall into the latter category. An in-depth exploration of how the idea of a Halloween "theme" first took root in our household is posted on the Chicago Moms Blog, so check it out. You can also see our very first Halloween theme on display at The Animal Store blog, where we are celebrating the 16th anniversary of our grand opening. 

In the meantime, see if you can spot the theme from our past Halloween exploits. I'd love to hear how you celebrate. Leave a comment here

This theme is pretty obvious, 
but can you guess which two are twins?

Star, sun, moon and (believe it or not) Saturn.
Get it?

World's tallest Tinkerbell and her boys.

Who are they this time?

This is a bit of a stretch, but you can get it.
Come on, what do Captain Jack, the Pirate Queen
a Navy admiral and a scuba diver have in common?

Stumble It!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Not Quite Published, Not Quite Famous

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who have been in The New York Times and those who haven't. 

In the last 30 days, the pages of the venerable Times, which has been reporting the news in this country daily since 1851, of course covered both Barack Obama and John McCain in this historic 2008 Presidential campaign, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson as he wades through the muck of the current financial crisis, and the loss of Hollywood great Paul Newman. Regular readers have also been treated to the musings of the gifted Dick Cavett in his NY Times blog called Talk Show; would have seen 30 references to, quotes from and clips of Jon Stewart of the Daily Show; and would have found, disturbingly, 10 mentions of 15-year-old Miley Cyrus.

But discerning readers, those who pore over every word of what may arguably be the most famous newspaper in the world, may have seen another name, one that has never graced those pages before — mine. No, they didn't publish one of my blog posts. No, it wasn't a review of my yet to be published first novel. No, I didn't get my first major newspaper byline. It was a quote, and a relatively boring quote at that, about the election.

It all started several weeks ago, when I got a call to participate in a "nation-wide poll." I've lost my patience for people who invade my home via the telephone, but something about the pitch intrigued me and I stayed on the line. It turns out that I was one of 1,133 people polled by New York Times/CBS News Polls about the election. I spent about 45 minutes on the first call, and another 15 or 20 minutes on a separate follow-up call a couple of days later. Two articles resulted from that poll: the important one (i.e., the one that has my quote in paragraph 15 and which, ironically, is on the MSNBC Website, not the CBS News or NYT Websites) entitled Link to Bush still hurting McCain, poll finds; and the other one, McCain Seen as Less Likely to Bring Change, Poll Finds.

It was a fascinating process, listening to the questions and how they were posed. Some of the questions were open-ended, like "Regardless of how you intend to vote, what do you like most about Sarah Palin?" I said I thought she was good at reading a teleprompter. In looking over the poll results, my answer must have fallen into the "other" category. 

Other questions, in fact most questions, were multiple choice and, in several cases, I didn't like any of the answers. For example:  "If elected, Barack Obama would be 47 years old when he assumes office. Do you think his being 47 years old might make him too inexperienced to do the work the presidency requires, or do you think his age helps him have the fresh new ideas to do a good job as president?" The McCain version asked whether being 72 "would make it too difficult for him to do the work the presidency requires" or whether "his age helps him have the experience and wisdom to do a good job as president." 

In both cases, I answered that the chronological age of these candidates was the least of my worries and that I didn't want to choose either answer, which put me among the four percent in the DK (don't know) category for these two questions. I do know, I just thought those were stupid choices.

Now, if they had asked something like "Given the two people the candidates picked as running mates, who would you be most afraid of dying in office, McCain or Obama?" — that is a question I could answer. Unfortunately, it was not one of the questions.

The follow up interview gave me a little more wiggle room to answer questions directly, rather than just picking A, B or C. I tried to be honest and not sound like an idiot. Both interviewers asked if they could use my name, age and hometown, and I agreed. I think if you are going to give an opinion, you should be willing to stand by it and be identified. One of them asked if I would be willing to be interviewed on camera. This is where I had to draw the line. Rumor has it that the camera adds 10 pounds, and I just can't afford that right now. 

At the end of the second conversation, the interviewer asked me, off the record, what kind of work I do. I said that I was a writer. "Ah, that explains it," she said. Explains what? Why I was so snarky and opinionated? Why my answers took off like runaway trains? What, woman, what? I waited uneasily for her to continue. "You are very articulate," she said. "Most people just ramble on and and on and talk in circles. You made your point clearly and moved on." Those editorial comments, unfortunately, did not make it into the article. But at least they spelled my name right.

Have an opinion you would like to share? I'm polling your comments here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

For Sale: Mama Guilt — CMB Post

Originally posted on the now defunct Chicago Moms Blog.

I recognize that in this bear market, it might be prudent to hold onto my portfolio and ride out the storm, but I'm desperate: I need to dump about 10,000 shares of Mama Guilt ASAP.

It all started about three weeks ago when my youngest boy caught a cold, which devolved into the inevitable lingering cough. I'm a sinus infection girl, myself, but the lingering cough is our family Achilles' heel, and the one thing my four children share without fighting over it. That first week, he missed about a day and a half of school, a session of Hebrew school and one soccer practice.

Then he rallied, although not completely (cough, cough), and I sent him back to school. I'm pretty lenient about sick days, because I loathe when people send their infectious children back to school before they are ready. But, frankly, if I kept my kids home every time they coughed, they would grow up illiterate.

On and off over the next 10 days, he would look a little tired and pasty, so I'd give him a steamy bath, some over-the-counter elixirs and an early bedtime, and by the next morning, he would be up and ready, if not raring to go.

Then the weekend rolled around, with soccer practice on Saturday and a game on Sunday in the pouring rain. (OK, it was a heavy drizzle, not a downpour, but from a spectator's point of view, it was miserable. The boys actually seemed to enjoy it.) Throughout the game, huddling under my broken umbrella and cursing the entire soccer program, I made my first acquisition of Mama Guilt stock for the fall season as I began to feel uneasy about allowing him to play. This is ridiculous, I thought. He's had a cold for two weeks. He's going to catch pneumonia.

Mama Guilt, Round 2: Relax, I argued with myself. He's not a baby anymore; you've got to stop hovering. A little water never hurt anyone.

Mama Guilt, Round 3: The next day, I couldn't even wake him up to go to school. He slept until 10:30 a.m. and spent the day hanging out, but didn't really seem sick (except for the aforementioned lingering cough).

Mama Guilt, Round 4: Tuesday morning, I again argued with myself — send him to school, or keep him home again. This is ridiculous, I thought. School's barely been in session a month and he's already missed nearly a week. So, off he went. Not three hours later, the phone rang and I just knew it was the school health clerk. I brought him home and he promptly fell asleep for three hours, waking with a fever of 102°.

Mama Guilt, Round 5: "Bring him right in," they said when I called the pediatrician. She listened to his chest, frowning; she listened to his cough, frowning; she tested his blood oxygen level, frowning. "He's really junky," she said. "We're going to treat him for bacterial pneumonia. He'll either feel a lot better in two days or you'll have to bring him back." And even though she assured me that I was not a loser mother, that I had done exactly what I should have done, it was too late — my portfolio runneth over with Mama Guilt.

The good news is that he's responding well to the meds and I find I'm ready to divest myself of Mama Guilt, so if you know anyone in the market, I'm selling — cheap!

When Susan isn't busy wallowing in guilt here at Chicago Mom's Blog, she can be found wallowing on her own blogs, Two Kinds of People and The Animal Store Blog.

For Sale: Mama Guilt

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who feel guilty about everything and those who don't. For many of us, guilt was a part of childhood. My mother was great at administering guilt in just the right dose (but I'll save that discussion for another post). 

Once you have crossed the line into parenthood, however, guilt is here to stay. Read about my latest bout of Mama Guilt on my new post at Chicago Moms Blog. Feel free to leave a comment there or here.

Photo credit: Image 313291 by Aaron Murphy.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?

Once I built a railroad, made it run, 
made it race against time.
Once I built a railroad; now it's done. 
Brother, can you spare a dime?
Once I built a tower, up to the sun, 
brick and rivet, and lime;
Once I built a tower, now it's done. 
Brother, can you spare a dime?
There are two kinds of people in the world: those who fundraise and those who are hit up by fundraisers. Seems everyone has a hand out these days. Magazine sales for two different schools. Pleas from WBEZ, my beloved local NPR station, to shorten the fall fundraising drive by pledging now. Dunning notices. Late fees. A plummeting Dow. Yikes, man.

I think we are all more than a little frightened about money these days, and with good reason. The Dow fell 777 points on Monday, the biggest one-day drop ever — bigger than the Black Tuesday that precipitated the Great Depression; bigger than the 684 points it fell on the first trading day after 9/11. I like to joke that a falling stock market doesn't affect me — I'm too broke to own any stock — but the fact is, we are all affected by the economic mess in which we find ourselves. 

I'm no financial genius (huge understatement here), but there is one investment I know will never fail: education. If we want our children to make a difference in this world, to build a clean, cost-efficient public transportation system and make it run, to build a green tower using the power of the sun, we must support public education.

This post is a response to my first Chicago Moms Blog challenge, in which those of us who contribute have been asked to write about Last year's challenge helped more than 75,000 students in high-need public schools. I have mixed feelings about hocking my readers for a donation, so I offer this post as information only. I've checked out the group and it seems pretty cool. One of the most interesting aspects of it is that it allows donors to choose which specific educational project they would like to support. 

This is the time of year when many of us count our blessings, as well as our pennies. As you you count yours, if you find a few extra pennies under the cushions, considering passing them on to a cause you support. It's free to comment or make a pitch for your favorite cause by clicking here