Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Millennium Turns Ten — CMB Post

This post originally appeared on the now defunct Chicago Moms Blog.

So the aughts are over. All the hoopla about Y2K seems like just yesterday, yet here we are a decade down the pike. Of course, all the hoopla over the Bicentennial doesn't seem that long ago to me, either, so what do I know?

It's been a running joke in our family that, when I feel like my kids are growing up too fast, I tell them sternly "No double digits." In other words, I wanted them to stay little forever. Like all four of my children, however, the Millennium is completely ignoring me and rushing toward adolescence, that terrifying time of turbulence, defiance and change. I'm not sure I'm ready to face four teenagers and the 2K teens all at the same time.

The aughts for me were a decade steeped in parenting. We welcomed 2000 with two eight year olds, one three year old and a toddler not quite two. We're saying goodbye to 2009 with two graduating high school seniors and two middle schoolers. How did that happen? I know my parenting days will never truly be over, but my child-rearing days will end before the next decade does, and that just feels strange.

For nearly two decades now, I've known more or less what the gig would be. Play dates and school and carpooling were the ebb and flow of life. My kids, grownup though they are, still let me read stories to them at night, when there's time between homework and after-school commitments. What will it be like in 2020 when they aren't home any more? Maybe I'll read to the dog. She'll be an old lady by then.

Don't get me wrong. I have a life. I'm not one of those completely neurotic parents who live vicariously through their children. It's just that it's been fun. I've liked being the mom in a house full of noisy, wild, wonderful children. While it's true that they make me completely crazy, it's also true that they make me laugh – out loud – every single day.

So while other people are counting down the minutes to midnight January 1, 2010, my countdown stretches beyond another seven years, to when my youngest boy will head off to college or life or wherever he's heading. I've promised myself that I won't miss a minute dwelling on the end. I guess that's my New Year's resolution: to live in the moment and pay attention.

Happy New Year! Pay attention. 2020 will be here before you know it.

This is an original Chicago Moms Blog post. When Susan Bearman isn't busy waiting for the ball to drop in Times Square on New Years Eve, she can be found writing at Two Kinds of People.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

It's Not Easy Being Green

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who send holiday cards and those who don't. 

I've sent my own holiday cards every year since I left for college. Last year, I chronicled our ridiculous photo odyssey in a post that showed all 23 "oops" photos that we had to take before we finally got one that was holiday-card worthy. The good news is that this year it only took four shots. Maybe that's because we didn't try to include the dog. (That's the best one up there; don't they look cute?)

We've been doing the stairway shot every year since we moved into this house, nearly 12 years ago. The youngest guy, on the lower right, was just an infant when we started. It's a great stairway, a perfect backdrop, and even though the kids keep getting bigger (despite my threats), they all still fit. It's a tradition I love.

In addition to my usual tardiness at getting this holiday project started, I'm struggling with the whole idea of sending cards. On the one hand, I love getting real mail — snail mail, if you will — with stamps and envelopes, delivered to my IRL mailbox. I love seeing the cards our friends and family have chosen, the photos they send and the stories they share.

On the other hand, the idea of sending cards this year doesn't feel very green. Plus, at 44¢ per stamp, it doesn't feel very economically sound, either. 

So, after weighing my options, I am (for the most part) going with this e-version of our holiday card this year. Know that my warm wishes for a happy, healthy, peaceful New Year are still sincere. Know that I love and miss you and hope we can make time to get together soon. Know that this is not just laziness on my part (OK, it's partly laziness — but not 100%).

I'm also going to make it easy for you to send your holiday greetings to us. All you have to do is click here and leave a comment.

May your holidays, however you celebrate at this time of year, be joyful and bright. Best wishes for 2010.

The Bearmans

P.S. Over on The Animal Store blog, Kenn is giving away a $100 gift card. Just click here and leave a comment for your chance to win on December 22. Pass it on.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

iPhones — New Help for Special Needs Kids — CMB

This post originally appeared on the now defunct Chicago Moms Blog.

Disclaimer — I do not now nor have I ever worked for Apple, and they haven't paid me in goods or dollars for this post (although I'm open to negotiation).

Last month, my twins turned 18. I'm still in deep denial over what is clearly a blip in the time-space continuum. I know for a fact that it was just a few days ago when we were huddled around their isolettes in the NICU, watching in awe as their tiny 24-week bodies struggled to survive. And now … well, I just can't go there yet.

We have been so blessed, so lucky. Their delays, while significant, were just that — delays. They are both fully-functioning, healthy, happy (adult?) human beings, enjoying their senior year in high school and starting to think about the future. My daughter has taken the wheel on her road to life and is well on her way to independence. Her brother, who has had more physical and learning issues, still has a way to go.

For their 18th birthday, we got them each iPhones. During such difficult economic times, it's reasonable to ask why would we spring for such a hot, trendy, extravagant gift as an iPhone. That, I can tell you in two words — assistive technology.

The lingering issues that continue to affect my son as a result of his extreme prematurity are:
  • low tone/graphomotor issues — he explains it like this: "It's really hard for me to think and write at the same time."
  • short-term memory deficit — he would explain it to you, if only he could remember. Seriously, one of his teachers once told me: "He seemed to understand. He repeated it back to me exactly." He does understand — he understands everything, he just can't remember once the cue is gone.
  • sequencing disorder — trouble breaking down tasks into reasonable chunks and completing them in the right order in a reasonable amount of time.

I have long believed that my son was lucky to be born when he was — that technology would be his friend. I still believe that, but there have been some bumps along the way: an addiction to video games and losing three (count them, three) cell phones his freshman year. During the few days he managed to hold on to his cell phone, he never remembered to turn it on, so I couldn't reach him any way.

Then, last year, he used his birthday money to buy himself an iPod Nano. Miracle of miracles, he did not lose it. He kept it turned off during school, but remembered to turn it on after school so he could listen on his way home. About a month ago, we had a meeting with his assistive technology specialist at school. A long-time PC person, she recently got an iPhone and is tremendously excited about the potential it holds for many of her students.

Assistive technology runs the gamut from wheelchairs to customized computers that allow quadriplegics to communicate with eye blinks. The field is exploding, but much of it is hugely expensive. While the initial outlay for the iPhone (about $200 for the middle-range iPhone) isn't too bad, the $30 monthly bite per phone for the data package adds up fast. We learned, however, that unlike computer programs, iPhone apps are pretty inexpensive (often free), and there are new ones every day. While there are many PDAs out there, the iPhone offered some distinct advantages, first and foremost the fact that it would be my son's new iPod, so we were pretty sure he would hold on to it.

It's fairly obvious how the calendar and organizational apps could help someone with short-term memory problems, but the iPhone apps offer much more than simple datebook functionality. For example, there's an app called VoCal that allows my son to record a voice message on his phone, which then translates into a written calendar reminder.

And it works! Our first iPhone success came after a missed orthodontist appointment one Friday. That night, he added the orthodontist's phone number to his contacts and entered a voice reminder into his phone. That entry sent him an alert after school on Monday to call the orthodontist for a new appointment. My son gets out of school at 3:35. By the time I called him at 3:45, he had already made the new appointment and entered it onto the calendar, which automatically sent an email to me so I could put it on the family calendar. That may sound like a small thing, but it was one giant leap toward independence for him and peace of mind for me.

That ability to recognize voice commands is a huge advantage for a kid with graphomotor issues. The sensitive microphone allows him to use his voice in a variety of ways, bypassing the need to write (and even draw). For example, there is an app called Omni Note. Say his horticulture teacher draws a picture of a plant cell on the board and tells the class to copy it for a quiz on Monday. This would be extremely difficult for my son to do, and the end result would not look anything like the original.

With the Omni Note app on the iPhone, my son could take a picture of the diagram, draw directly on that picture, add a typed and/or voice message to the picture and send it immediately to his computer at home so he could study it over the weekend. How cool is that?

His teachers are also on board, allowing him to keep his iPhone out and on throughout the day. He doesn't text and we haven't given out his phone number, so there is no risk of interruption during class. As part of his sequencing disorder, he has trouble organizing his thoughts into a coherent structure in school papers. One of his English teachers had the brilliant idea of having him research new apps and, as an assignment for class, write out the directions on how to use it (a great sequencing and organizational exercise), and include a paragraph or two about how he, personally, is using the app (a good way to practice his analytical skills).

Right now, our district would have provided him with an iPod Touch, which has some, but not nearly all the functions of the iPhone. The integrated microphone of the iPhone is a big part of the functionality my son needs to make this tool work for him, so we opted to make a family investment.

I understand that this is new technology, which is often scary and expensive for schools to contemplate, but I urge educators to jump on this bandwagon early. The potential of the iPhone for special needs students is vast and untapped, and this generation of students is already immersed in technology. This seems to me to represent the best that technology has to offer — a chance for students to overcome (even bypass) their disabilities and get right to the good stuff — the learning.

How did we justify making the same investment for our daughter? We told her it was because it would be a good tool for her at college next year, and it will be, but really, this is just one of those times when she should be darn grateful for her twin brother.

This is an original Chicago Moms Blog post. When Susan isn't busy trying to figure out how such a young mom can have such old children, she can be found writing at Two Kinds of People and The Animal Store Blog.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Fog Produced the Compass

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who have a good sense of direction and those who don't.

In 1993, technology gifted the directionally impaired with the 24th Navistar Satellite, completing the network now known as the Global Positioning System, or GPS. My girlfriend calls her GPS "Jill" and wouldn't leave home without her. My husband loves his GPS (affectionately known as "Gypsy"). "Take next slip road left," Gypsy says in her calm British accent. It took several months before we figured out that a "slip road" was an exit ramp. Who knew? Gypsy is now several years old and a bit past her prime, so, like every other man in the world, he would love to trade her in for a younger model. 

Personally, I have enough people telling me that I'm headed the wrong way, so I don't need to invite an electronic nag into my car. Plus, I've always had a pretty good internal compass. Of course, it helps that we live in the Chicago area, where the lake is always east, you can see one of the world's tallest landmarks (still and always the Sears Tower to me) from many miles away, and the whole city is organized according to a numbered grid.

But I maneuver well even beyond Daniel Burnham's brilliant organizational plan for the Windy City. Sure, I print out my Mapquest route before heading someplace unfamiliar, but I'm not afraid to veer off the beaten path. Nor am I afraid to stop and ask for directions when things get a little confusing (you try finding the Comfort Inn in Mt. Vernon, Ohio at 3:00 in the morning). 

My kids and I are intrepid road trippers, tackling the 1,200-mile trek to visit my parents in Florida at least twice a year for at least six years now. Our greatest dread is getting stuck in traffic on the Interstate, so we often take the next available "slip road" in search of an alternate route. With our trusty compass, we know that as long as we are heading mostly south and a little east, we can't go too far wrong. You have plenty of time to correct course over 1,200 miles, and it always feels better to be moving — even meandering slowly on surface roads — than just sitting. 

If only the metaphorical road of life were as easy to navigate. Lately I feel like my life compass is completely out of whack — like someone tied a blindfold on me, spun me around for a couple of years, and has now shoved me away, shaken and dizzy, to find my way.

I don't think I'm unusual feeling a little turned around at this particular stage in life. My twins are high school seniors now, and getting ready to begin their own journeys. The "little" boys are in junior high, and while they may still need me to drive them around, they have definite ideas about where they want to go.

I feel like I've reached a kind of crossroads, a place where I need to choose the right direction or I could get seriously lost. So, here I sit, stuck in the traffic of inertia, waiting for a sign to point me in the right direction. I hope I don't need to follow Chicago's example and burn the city of my life to ground before I can develop a workable plan. Perhaps I can rely on our current state of financial emergency for the necessary inspiration. Victor Hugo said:

"Emergencies have always been necessary for progress. It was darkness which produced the lamp. It was fog that produced the compass. It was hunger that drove us to exploration. And it took a depression to teach us the real value of a job."

The depression Hugo referred to took place in the 1800s. I guess not much has changed in the intervening 200 years. 

If along your life path, you've discovered a successful short cut, please share it in a comment here. If you know anyone who needs a good freelance writer, please point him or her in my direction. And if you travel over the holidays, may your trip be easy, your journey rewarding, and your return safe and sound.

Photo credit: Compass by Ivan Prole

Friday, November 13, 2009

Women Authors Snubbed

There are two kinds of people in the world: men and women. 

Apparently Publishers Weekly has not figured that out, as evidenced by the fact that they did not include a single female author in their 2009 top 10 list of best books. This irritated me. Read about it on my latest Chicago Moms Blog post. Then visit, to see what a lot of other women writers have to say about this glaring omission. Comments welcome here. And we'll revisit that whole men/women as two kinds of people thing again soon.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Let's Hear It for Women Writers — CMB Post

This post originally appeared on the now defunct Chicago Moms Blog.
I try not to get my knickers in a knot when I hear younger women say that feminism is irrelevant in their lives. Memories are short, especially young, American memories, and many of these post-feminist young women may not have encountered (or recognized) blatant sexism, but it's still there. I know it is because women still only earn about $.77 for every dollar a man earns.

But I'm a writer, and I can't turn a blind eye to the fact that the recently released Publishers Weekly list of the Best Books of 2009 did not include a single female author. Not one. In fact, all but one of the authors on the list was a white male — not that there's anything wrong with being a white male author. I'm all for them. I'm all for any author achieving any form of success in a publishing industry that is struggling mightily to survive.

So, why is it such a big deal, that a top 10 list doesn't include any female writers? It's a big deal because it shows that women are still not held in the same regard as men who do the same job. PW claims that they "ignored gender and genre and who had the buzz," but what makes these guys "the best"? Any top 10 list is fraught with subjectivity, so not including a single female author on such a list is making a statement — to the world, to writers and readers, and especially to our daughters — that women writers just aren't good enough. In an interesting article about women, literature and feminist theory today published in Eurozine in June (months before the PW list came out), author Toril Moi states: "To make women second rate citizens in the world of literature is to say that the female experience of the world carries less value than the male." To me, that is exactly what the PW list represents — the idea that a woman's voice, a woman's story, a woman's experience is less valuable than a man's. I'm not the only one who was flabbergasted by the omission of women on PW's list. In fact, Women in Letters and Literary Arts (WILLA) started their own list on of great books published by women in 2009. I, personally, would like to recommend four books published this year by terrific women writers: Haven by Beverly Patt, This Lovely Life by Vicki Forman, Invisible Sisters by Jessica Handler; S is for Story: A Writer's Alphabet by Esther Hershenhorn.

Read them. Then read one of your favorite female authors. Share these writers with your mothers and sisters and daughters; share them with your fathers, brothers, husbands and sons. Then, maybe, you can read some of the books on PW's to 10 list.I leave you with this thought from Margaret Mead, a great woman writer:"If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse gift will find a fitting place."This is an original Chicago Mom's Blog Post. When Susan Bearman isn't worried that she has offended the editors of Publishers Weekly and will never make one of their top 10 lists, she can be found writing at Two Kinds of People and The Animal Store Blog.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Pet People, and Proud of It

"Animals are such agreeable friends – 
they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms." 
George Eliot (novelist, 1818-1890)

There are two kinds of people in the world: pet people and not-so-much pet people.

True confession (the irony* will become apparent shortly): throughout my childhood and into early adulthood, my idea of owning a pet was to visit a zoo twice a year. I liked animals just fine. You know, over there. Or in nature. Or as pets in someone else's house.

Growing up, we had the requisite number of family pets. Our first was a parakeet named Trini (for Trini Lopez, who my parents saw in a show while visiting Las Vegas). We got our Trini as a consolation prize, because back then it was considered inappropriate to take children to Las Vegas (or, for that matter, even bring them back a souvenir from Las Vegas). Then there was a black guinea pig named Silky and, finally, an almost-cocker-spaniel named Mitzi. My brother loved that dog, but I was ambivalent at best and highly irritated during my angsty teenage years, when I only wore black and she only shed blond.

Perhaps the trouble started when I was the lucky kid in third grade who got to take the guppies home from school. (Warning: the following anecdote contains graphic references that may bother sensitive readers.) I kept the fishbowl on a little stand by my bedroom window and, sometime in late fall or early winter, the water in the bowl got too cold, formed a thin layer of ice and, tragically, killed the guppies. I sobbed to my mother, who told me to take them into the bathroom and that we would perform the traditional fish funeral after the ice thawed.

Imagine my joy when, about 20 minutes later, I went into the bathroom to see the little fishies swimming happily around their bowl. I ran down to tell my mom about the miracle, but by the time we made it back up to the bathroom, the fish (in the bowl that had been sitting on the radiator) had again, and permanently this time, met their match. I had first frozen and then boiled them to death, all in the same day — tragic for the fish and traumatic for me.

I lived a simple, pet-free life for many years after leaving home, so will someone please explain to me how I ended up as the owner of a dog (Hazel), a cat (Pirate), two hermit crabs (Maize and Blue) and … wait for it … a pet store? "*Ironic, isn't it?" says my oldest son. It's true; my husband and I are owners of The Animal Store in Lincolnwood, IL. I'm still not quite sure how it happened, and friends who know me well mock incessantly. 

Still, pets are our family business, so I needed to step up. My role is limited to producing the store's blog, designing forms and signs, and other such writerly endeavors, while my husband, Kenn, does the actual hard work of owning a pet store (thank you, DH). People are often dismissive about owning a small business, but let me tell you, there is nothing small about it. The Animal Store has tens of thousands of SKUs (stock keeping units) and, think about it, a good portion of our inventory is alive. That means we don't close up shop for a weekend or a vacation. Those animals need to be fed and cared for every day.

Like a plumber with leaky pipes, I managed to keep my kids petless for a good long time. "Mama, can we have a bunny?" "Sure, honey, and you can play with it every time we visit Daddy at the store." Eventually, however, the kids wised up and started asking their Dad.

In the 17 years that we've owned The Animal Store, I've learned a lot about pets and their people. Pet owners are fervently devoted to their animals. Some pet people are partial to a particular species or breed – there are ferret fans, bearded dragon devotees, and African Grey aficionados. Others are equal opportunity animal lovers, often owning a few (or many) different kinds of pets at one time.

Kenn frequently takes some of his animals to visit nursing care facilities or group homes. Studies have shown that caring for pets and even just visiting with them can reduce stress, lower blood pressure and prolong life. They can even help pay your mortgage (well, at least in our case they do, so we are especially fond of pet-loving people). 

I've even learned that aquariums can be an essential and beautiful part of your home decor, and are often an important element in the art of Feng Shui (placing an aquarium in the proper corner of your home can purportedly boost your prosperity). I know for a fact that putting a baby in front of an aquarium produces a bounty of peace — all four of my babies were mesmerized by our salt-water fish tank.

You will be happy to know that, thanks mostly to my husband and his knowledgeable staff, I have learned how to care properly for our pets at home (no more frozen/boiled guppies). I have come to appreciate the joys that pets can bring. And there is still nothing quite like a boy and his dog (bonus points if you can tell which is which in the picture at the top of this post).

Now for a little SSP (shameless self promotion). As a special thank you to all our customers, The Animal Store is hosting a blow-out sale this weekend — lots of fun for the entire family, including great raffles, tons of giveaways and free glitter tattoos (for people, not pets). Learn more here. If you're a pet person, you won't want to miss it; if you're a not-so-much pet person, come in and say hi to Kenn anyway, and get a free glitter tattoo. Not local? We can ship to you.

Tell us about your favorite pet or pet story by clicking here. And, in case you were wondering, my mom (a children's librarian) helped named The Animal Store after a wonderful poem by Rachel Fields:

The Animal Store

If I had a $100 to spend,
Or maybe a little more
I'd hurry as fast as my legs would go
Straight to the Animal Store.

I wouldn't say "How much for this or that?"
"What kind of dog is he?"
I'd buy as many as rolled an eye,
Or wagged a tail at me!

I'd take the hound with the drooping ears
That sits by himself alone;
Cockers and Cairns and wobbly pups
To be be my very own.

I might buy a parrot all red and green,
And the monkey I saw before,
If I had a hundred dollars to spend
Or maybe a little more.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Rules of the Road — CMB Post

This post originally appeared on the now defunct Chicago Moms Blog.

There's a storm on the horizon, a battle brewing between motorists and cyclists, and it promises to be ugly, if not deadly. I'm not sure when bicyclists went rogue, when it became a badge of honor to cut off (and flip off) any motorist in their path, but suddenly I feel under siege by these two-wheeled renegades.

Don't get me wrong, I like bike riding as much as the next woman. I was thrilled when my youngest finally joined the ranks of bike riders this summer. Personally, I was an early and avid rider and, even during my most aggressively anti-exercise phases, I have always enjoyed a spin on the old two wheeler.

But lo those many years ago, when first I learned to pedal, we were taught that bike riders had to follow the same rules of the road as did motorists. While those rules vary from state to state and community to community, we all know the basics: obey traffic signs and signals, ride in the same direction as traffic, yield for pedestrians, school buses and emergency vehicles, and generally follow the rules and etiquette of right of way.

Turns out, I'm right. According to Jesse White, the Illinois Secretary of State, bicyclists "must obey the traffic laws." It also turns out that apparently Jesse and I are the only two people in the state who have read the "Illinois Bicycle Rules of the Road" pamphlet.

I get that cyclists may have a certain moral authority, as their choice of transportation is healthier for them as individuals, as well as for the environment and, by extension, the rest of us. But here's the hard truth of the matter: when push comes to shove, car beats bike every time. While bike injury statistics are notoriously underreported, the sad fact is that both the motorist and the cyclist will end up as losers in a serious collision.

As a mom, I have young drivers and young bikers in my family, and the current state of aggression between bikers and drivers has me terrified. My daughter, who has had her license for nearly two years now, still hyperventilates when she sees an aggressive biker or, even worse, a pack of wild riders. We never know when these scofflaws are going to dart in and out of traffic, blow through a stop light or make a sudden, unsignaled turn. On any number of occasions, she has chosen to hang back, driving behind the cyclist(s) and under the speed limit, which can present its own set of dangers and complications.

I'm equally frightened for my young bikers, who are dealing with allegedly adult drivers often suffering from road rage or cell-phone distractions. Early in the school year, a child riding her bike to one of the middle schools in our town was struck by a motorist. Thankfully, she was not hurt, but I'm sure both she and the driver were seriously rattled. I don't let my kids ride their bikes to school, in part because their backpacks are too heavy to balance well on a bike, but also because I don't trust the motorists in our community.

I really want our roadways to be safe for all comers — bikers, motorists and pedestrians. Simply painting a stripe down the right side of a street to create a bike lane does not solve every issue. We must all learn to be respectful, to share and, most importantly, to follow the rules of the road. End of lecture.

This is an original Chicago Moms Blog post. When Susan Bearman isn't nagging about travel safety, she can be found writing at Two Kinds of People and The Animal Store blog.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

More Than Meets the Eye

"I was walking down the street wearing glasses
 when the prescription ran out."

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who wear corrective lenses and those who don't.

If you don't need glasses, count your blessings … for now. Presbyopia catches up to everyone. 

In our family of eight, five of us wear corrective lenses, which puts us right about in line with the national average (78% of American adults wear some kind of vision correction, but not all our family members are adults yet). This takes quite a financial toll, since we don't have any kind of vision insurance and the average cost for a pair of prescription lenses runs between $50 and $350 (depending on the prescription). 

On our first tropical vacation together, my husband and I were astounded to discover that we needed an entire suitcase just for our eye wear: two sets of contact lenses (plus all the requisite paraphernalia), two pairs of prescription glasses, two pairs of sunglasses, two pairs of prescription sunglasses and, because we were going scuba diving, two diving masks fitted with corrective lenses. Thankfully, this was in the days before airlines charged by the bag (and when we could still afford to take tropical vacations).

I didn't get glasses until I turned 21 and I was sure I was going blind, since my prescription changed dramatically every three or four months for several years. It turns out my eyes were just going through delayed adolescence. Generally speaking, people either get glasses before or during puberty, or not until aging starts to wear away the elasticity of the eye, resulting in the aforementioned presbyopia and the need for reading glasses — usually around age 40. 

I struggled with contacts for years, due in part to an astigmatism (an abnormally-shaped cornea) as well as exophthalmos (slightly bulging eyes often associated with Graves Disease, which  sounds much worse than it is). Now, lucky me, in addition to the vision correction I need for my inherited myopia (nearsightedness — thanks mom), I also need reading glasses.

I used to think those half-glasses were kind of cool, and would pull my regular glasses down to the end of my nose to see how I'd look. Not bad, even now. The problem is that it's one more thing to schelp and track. If I wear my contacts, which gives me the best peripheral vision, then I need to carry the dumb reading glasses with me, and that's new, so I often forget them. 

When I was a kid, my mom was so nearsighted that she couldn't even answer the phone without her glasses. "I can't hear you," she'd say, "let me put my glasses on." So, it was bit disconcerting a few years ago when she had lenses implanted after cataract surgery and started walking around without glasses for the first time in my life. I kept offering to find her glasses for her. But, alas, it didn't last. Her distance vision is fine, but she can't stand not being able to read, so she got bifocals that are clear on the top and reading strength on the bottom. I guess old habits are hard to break.

My oldest boy claims he will never wear contact lenses. The idea of sticking something in his eye all the time totally freaks him out. As preemie babies, my twins suffered retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), a condition where the blood vessels of the eye develop abnormally and can, potentially, lead to blindness. Despite this ominous beginning, both cases of ROP resolved spontaneously. My son needs glasses as a result of his genetics (both his dad and I contributed to these bum genes), but my daughter won't need glasses until, well, she's my age now.

The first eyeglasses didn't make an appearance until the late 1200s in Italy. Even though corrective lenses are a mild pain and seriously expensive, I'm grateful to live in a day and age where people with less than 20/20 vision can live full, productive lives (as opposed to being eaten by predators that we can't see). 

I admire people who embrace their imperfect vision as a chance to make a fashion statement. I have several friends who collect prescription glasses as wardrobe accessories, matching the frame to the outfit or the mood. Of course, that's another way vision problems betray you — in photos, where your frames will forever date you in time. Why is it that no matter how cool your frames are when you buy them, five or ten years later they look completely ridiculous in the family photo album?

Despite being temporarily unsettled by my recent need for reading glasses, I came to terms with my less than perfect vision years ago. So, why this treatise, you ask? I'll tell you. Today was chilly, so I was taking a hot bath, as I am wont to do on cold days. I was, of course, reading in tub, which is what you do when you take a hot bath on a cold day, when all of a sudden one of my contact lenses popped out from behind my reading glasses and plinked into the water. This is not a good thing. It's not easy to locate a contact lens in a tub full of water with only one good eye. Was it floating? Did it sink to the bottom? Was it stuck on me or the side of the tub or the soap? 

I eventually found the damned thing and so I have some advice: if you are going to take a hot bath on a cold day and read your book with your contacts in and your reading glasses on, be sure to blink — often — so your eyes don't get too dry and your lens won't pop out.

Have you experienced an embarrassing lens loss, or have some other vision-related horror story to share? Just click here. Misery loves company.

By the way, don't take vision correction for granted. Donate your glasses with old prescriptions or dated frames, and share the gift of sight.

Finally, I'm pretty certain my latest Chicago Moms Blog post will stir up a little controversy with avid bike riders. Let me know what you think.

Photo credit: Rubber Duck in Glasses by SunShineLia-Stock via

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Be you busy?

There are two kinds of people in the world: busy people and crazy busy people.

I don't know about you, but I've been crazy busy lately, mostly for the good:
  • The Animal Store sale coming up on November 14 & 15
  • challenging and exciting client work
  • checking out colleges with my girl
  • preparing for my son's bar mitzvah
  • writing and submitting (the best work)
  • cleaning and organizing (the worst work)
Busy, busy, busy.

According to Henry David Thoreau, "Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it." Let's hope old Hank D. is right.

As I was trying to title this post, all I could think of were a couple of trite similes. Turns out that moldy oldy "busy as a bee" comes to us all the way from the late 14th century straight from Geoffrey Chaucer's pen in the Canterbury Tales:

"Ey! Goddes mercy!" sad our Hoste tho,
Now such a wyf I pray God keep me fro.
Lo, suche slieghtes and subtilitees
In wommen be; for ay as busy as bees
Be thay us seely men for to desceyve,
And from soth ever a lie thay weyve.
And by this Marchaundes tale it proveth wel."

Say what? OK, for those of you who need to brush up on your Middle English, here's a translation:

"Eh! By God's mercy! cried our host.
Said he:
Now such a wife I pray God keep from me!
Behold what tricks, and lo, what subtleties
In women are. For always busy as bees
Are they, us simple men thus to deceive,
And from the truth they turn aside and leave;
By this same merchant's tale it's prove, I feel …"

That Chaucer — always blaming the woman.

How about busy as a beaver, then? The origins of this idiom are a bit murkier, but dates it back to the late 1700s.

No offense to Chaucer, but busy bee has been done and done, and so for that matter, has busy beaver (not to be confused with plucky, Bucky Badger). 

Apparently, both Newfoundlanders and the Irish say "busy as a nailer" — no one knows why. (OK, someone knows why, but the explanation I found — that "those to whom the proverb applied did not use a treadle in heading the nails"  — was, well, yawn.)

In my search, however, I did unearth a couple of smile-inducing similes that I thought I'd share with you:
  • busy as a one-armed paper hanger
  • busy as popcorn on a skillet
  • busy as a cat burying shit
  • busy as a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest
  • busy as a stumped-tailed cow in fly time
  • busy as a funeral home fan in July
Several great lyricists have also created stunning "busy" images, like Stan Getz in in It Might as Well Be Spring where he was as "busy as a spider spinning daydreams" ? Or how about when Henry Miller (not the Henry Miller) is called "just as busy as a fizzy sasparilla" in The Deadwood Stage.

And then there's, my current favorite — busy as a banjo player's digits. 

Of course, being busy with work is completely different than busywork, but that's a whole other post.

How busy are you? Not too busy to leave a comment, I hope. Here, I'll make it easy for you. Just fill in the blank: "I'm as busy as _______" and leave it in a comment by clicking here. And if you're not too busy, check out my latest Chicago Moms Blog post on the Premature Peace Prize.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Premature Peace Prize — CMB Post

This post originally appeared on the now defunct Chicago Moms Blog.

Let me be clear, I'm a liberal. I lean so far left that there are days when I'm in danger of toppling over. I voted for Obama and think he's the best thing that has happened to this country in a long time. He makes me proud to be an American.

BUT, does he deserve the Nobel Peace Prize? I don't know. My immediate response is probably not.

Obama has only been in office for nine months and inherited an outhouse overflowing with messy situations. I believe he's trying hard to address these issues, but that it has been more difficult than he may have initially thought. This is probably true for every president who has ever taken the oath of office; I know it's true of every parent. It's always harder to change things than you think.

I heard one pundit say that Obama was awarded the Peace Prize because he has put a new face on America's place in the world. Well, OK, I'll buy that. I wasn't too crazy about the last face we showed the world.

According to the Nobel Prize Foundation, Alfred Nobel established the Peace Prize more than 100 years ago to honor "the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses".

In that light, it's hard for me to see that Obama is a deserving recipient. I did a little more research, however, and discovered a broader interpretation of how the prize is awarded in an article by Francis Sejersted, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, 1991-1999. He explains:

"The Prize, in other words, is not only for past achievement, although that is the most important criterion. The committee also takes the possible positive effects of its choices into account. Among the reasons for adding this as a criterion is the obvious point that Nobel wanted the Prize to have political effects. Awarding a Peace Prize is, to put it bluntly, a political act — which is also the reason why the choices so often stir up controversy."

I get that the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize is a political act, intended to encourage actions that promote peace, not just to recognize achievements.

But as a parent, I worry about this particular choice. Upon hearing the news this morning, my 12-year-old son asked me what Obama had done to deserve the Nobel Peace Prize, and I was honestly at a loss. I tried to explain the reasonings as I understood them, but he put his finger right on the nose by responding that "those are things he's going to do, but he hasn't done them yet."

There is a great deal of controversy in the world of parenting about the dangers of overpraising our children and giving them trophies just for showing up. While we certainly want to promote healthy self esteem, research has shown that overpraising can actually have the opposite effect. So instead of telling my son that he's the greatest soccer player in the world (which he is not), I try to say things like: "That was a really good effort. Keep up the hard work."

My middle son is studying for his bar mitzvah in November. He went through a balky stage and I found that we were fighting about it all the time. I decided to try a different tack and offered to help him by establishing an incentive plan, where he could earn money toward a prize if he did the work every day with only a gentle reminder and no complaining. He thought that was a great idea, but wanted to know why he couldn't have the prize up front if he promised to work hard every day toward his goal. I explained that that would not be an incentive, it would be a bribe. As Chicagoans, we know that bribes are usually not very effective motivators. Once you have the prize, why should you do the work?

I'm not disparaging our president or his good intentions and efforts toward making this a more peaceful world. I did not expect him to be able to solve the complicated problems we face over night. But, we are still waging two wars in the Middle East. Guantanamo is still open.

So, what about this Nobel Peace Bribe? Right now, it feels a little like Obama got the trophy just for showing up. Then again, according to Woody Allen, "eighty percent of success is showing up." Let's hope that's the case and that being honored with the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize motivates President Obama to evaluate every policy he pursues through the lens of peace, and that he uses it to help us all keep our eyes on the prize. And to President Obama, "Really good effort. Keep up the hard work."

This is an original Chicago Moms Blog post. When Susan Bearman isn't encouraging presidents and future presidents with reasonable amounts of praise, she can be found writing at Two Kinds of People and The Animal Store Blog.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Chicago, Let's Clean Up Our Act — CMB Post

This post originally appeared on the now defunct Chicago Moms Blog.

Chicago's image has been severely tarnished over the last week or so. We lost our Olympic bid in the first round of voting, a defeat that happened so quickly, the crowds who had gathered for the announcement in Daley Plaza were left dazed and confused, while echoing strains of Peggy Lee's "Is that all there is?" seemed to float on the breeze.

Prior to the vote and the other recent events that have placed Chicago squarely on the world's front page, I had been feeling a great deal of civic pride. On my brother's last trip, he remarked again how clean Chicago is compared to other large cities. When good friends visited last month, we took the El from Evanston and spent the entire day on foot, starting in beautiful Millennium Park, where they ooohed and aahhed over the "bean" and Priztker Pavilion, then wandering north up the Magnificent Mile all the way to Oak Street Beach, where they marveled over our perfectly preserved lake front.

But then came the tragic beating death of young honor student, Derrion Albert, followed less than a week later by another teen beating that resulted in a cracked skull. The nation and the world are shocked by these horrific acts of violence, but are we, here in the Chicago area, equally shocked? Most of us would like to pretend that Derrion Albert's horrendous death was an isolated incident, but the fact is that more than 30 school-aged students were killed in Chicago last year. Chicago's Olympic plan promised "uncompromising safety for the games through a fully integrated security operation … without compromising the protection of the city and its residents."

Our city cannot even deliver uncompromising security to it's most precious commodity — its children.

A few weeks after school started this year, I was waiting around the corner from our high school to pick up my teenaged twins, who are now seniors. Across the street, a group of 10 to 12 students started a shoving match that quickly escalated when one young man picked up a brick. My younger son, who was in the car with me, was terrified. "Let's just go, Mom," he begged. Instead, I called the high school security department and waited for police to arrive, which took only a few minutes, since Evanston police routinely patrol the blocks around the high school campus at the beginning and end of the day. I remember my heart pounding as I anxiously watched the dustup brew into a potentially very dangerous situation.

My daughter is infuriated every time she hears of another act of school-related violence. "Everyone thinks Chicago and Evanston students are a bunch of gang-banging thugs. Most of us aren't like that." When I asked if she is ever afraid at or around school, she said "No, I feel perfectly safe." I wish I had that same sense of security.

It's a running joke in our family that the only time the house gets completely cleaned is when we're expecting company. While I won't totally cop to that, there is something highly motivating about an impending visit. One of the reasons that cleaning up for guests seems almost fun is that you can concentrate on the surface and feel fairly confident that, with the exception of a few nosy in-laws, no one will look under the bed for dust bunnies or check out your underwear drawer to see what you shoved in it.

In many ways, I feel Chicago's Olympic bid was just that — four years of cleaning up for company. We polished our lake front and swept up the streets of the proposed venues, but we didn't look under the beds or in the drawers. Dirty laundry, however, begins to stink after a while and it gets pretty hard to hide. Instead of welcoming the world's elite athletes, Chicago will be visited by Attorney General Eric Holder and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who are both being sent by President Obama to address youth violence in Chicago. Let's hope we take this opportunity to clean up our act and protect our real future — the children of this city.

This is an original Chicago Moms Blog post. When Susan Bearman isn't busy airing dirty laundry, she can be found writing at Two Kinds of People and The Animal Store Blog.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Listen to the Rabbi

Indira Gandhi said: "My grandfather once told me that there are two kinds of people: those who work and those who take the credit. He told me to be in the first group; there was less competition there."

Great quote, right? In fact, two great quotes: me quoting Indira, and Indira quoting her grandfather — which proves once again that there is nothing new under the sun — which, by the way, comes from the Tanakh (also known as the Written Torah or, by Christians, as The Old Testament). The full quote is from Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) 1:9 — "What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun."

I hear the rumblings — "Why is she getting all religious on us?" I'll tell you. Today, at Yom Kippur services, our retiring rabbi, Peter Knobel, began his D'var Torah with: "There are two kinds of people in the world: those who wake up and say 'Good morning, God' and those who wake up and say 'Good God.'" It got a giggle from the congregation, but my family practically fell on the floor laughing. "Mom, you've got to put that in your blog," several children said. "Shhh," I said, "Listen to the rabbi," all the while trying to figure out a way to steal incorporate it in a post.

It is estimated that Kohelet, or Ecclesiastes, was written approximately 250 BCE, which means that even 2,000 years ago it was tough to come up with an original idea. This presents a huge hurdle for us as writers, who at best, can merely try to make everything old sound new again*. If we do it well, it's called originality; if we do it poorly, it's called plagiarism.

We all know that the first commandment of writing is "Thou Shalt Not Plagiarize". But writers are notorious copycats. Just peruse the lists of published works and count how many books about wizards have been released since the first Harry Potter debuted in 1997. Of course, accusations abound that Rowling stole her ideas from such diverse sources as Tolkein, Star Wars, an '80s B movie and a variety of unknowns. There are other writers, however, who haven't fared as well when their works have been held up to the derivative light (remember Harvard student Kaavya Viswanathan?)

So does it matter from whence our ideas spring? When we reference biblical or well-known literary sources in our writing, this form of stealing is generously referred to as allusion, a highly prized aspect of literary fiction. 

When, then, do allusions, quotes or paraphrases veer from the acceptable path of literary touchstones into the red zone of plagiarism. I like this guide from Purdue University, entitled: "Is It Plagiarism Yet?" This student resource advises that "the key to avoiding plagiarism is to give credit where it is due" and then cites a thorough list of sources that must be credited or documented. (In yet another aside, I discovered that the phrase "give credit to whom credit is due" was probably coined by Samuel Adams in 1777; it's worth noting that the Purdue piece does not give him credit.)

Although the Purdue piece gives some excellent advice for writing nonfiction, it doesn't touch on all the idiosyncrasies of creative writing. Pop culture references often offer a great shortcut for creating an image or setting a tone, but writers run the risk of copyright infringement, particularly when using song lyrics

What's a writer to do? We are told in workshops to read, read and read some more; to analyze — even emulate — our favorite authors. As the humorist Josh Billings once said: "About the most originality that any writer can hope to achieve honestly is to steal with good judgment."

In a sense, all artists must come to grips with the idea that creation is at heart re-creation. We take and we twist and we fold; we smelt and we hammer and we forge; we spindle and mutilate and commit acts of re-visioning until we have produced something that — if not entirely new — is entirely our own. 

It's true that I've let many other writers do the work of this post, while I am taking the credit. I can justify that with just one more quotation:

"If you steal from one author, it's plagiarism; 
if you steal from many, it's research."
Wilson Mizner (1876 -1933)

I love a good quote. In some ways, all writers strive for immortality through their words, so maybe dropping an attributed quote here and there isn't such a bad thing. (Would you have thought about Wilson Mizner before you read this post?) Share your favorite quote by clicking here.  

*To give credit where credit is due, the following clip is of the song "Everything Old is New Again" from the film 1979 film All That Jazz; music and lyrics  by Peter Allen and Carole Bayer Sager.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Inoculating Against Family Ailments — CMB Post

This post originally appeared on the now defunct Chicago Moms Blog.

Vaccinations are a hot-button topic among moms these days, and I'm sure the controversy will boil up again as flu season approaches. I'm not interested in stirring this particular pot — each family (along with its physician) should make informed decisions about whether to vaccinate, which vaccinations to get, how many and when.

In our household, after careful consideration, we have decided to get both the seasonal flu shot and the H1N1 ("swine flu") vaccination. I won't go into the details about what brought us to this decision other than to say that my middle son missed 25 days (Twenty. Five. Days.) of school last year due to illness. He got every bug that crossed his path, and at this point I would send him to Lourdes or do nightly ritual dances around his bed if I thought it would help.

But it's not the flu I'm worried about this season, it's a whole slew of other illnesses that have compromised the health of our family. For example, some time ago my two youngest boys broke out in a terrible case of sudden-onset Bicker Fever. One minute they are feeling just fine, and the next minute they are bickering about the minutia of their lives. Everything and anything can precipitate a spike in Bicker Fever. Just the other day they bickered about whether they were bickering. I've tried every cure known to mom-kind, but this particular strain seems to be treatment-resistant.

My middle boy (the one who suffered so many maladies last school year), has lately been afflicted with a near-fatal bout of the "yeah-buts". No matter what I tell him to do, he is incapable of responding with anything other than "Yeah, but … "
  • "Yeah, but I took the dog out twice yesterday."
  • "Yeah, but he did it first."
  • "Yeah, but I have to finish this game before I can study my Torah portion."
It's tragic, really. If this illness continues to progress at the same rate it did over the summer, I have serious doubts whether he will live to see his bar mitzvah in November.

Now that my youngest son is in middle school, I find that all four children are suffering from chronic adolescent-itis. In case you are unfamiliar with the symptoms of this serious disease, they include impertinence, orneriness and self-absorption, frequently accompanied by uncontrolled whining, pouting and eye-rolling. Sadly, there is no known treatment, but most children seem outgrow the disease by the time they reach their early-to-mid twenties.

You can see we are suffering. I believe in Dr. Mom, so if any of you have developed and tested reliable vaccines for the above mentioned illnesses, please let me know before I break out in a horrible case of Mom-has-lost-her-mind-again Hives. I'm sure my insurance won't cover it, but I can't wait for healthcare reform — I'm willing to pay cash.

This is an original Chicago Moms Blog post. When Susan Bearman isn't busy warding off illness with hand sanitizer and medicinal nagging, she can be found writing at Two Kinds of People and The Animal Store Blog.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Go Blue!

There are two kinds of people in the world: Michigan Fans and everybody else.

We are an obnoxious bunch, no doubt about it. Even after our humbling season last year (ugh, 3-9) we have not learned humility. Even though we're not crazy about our new coach, Rich Rod is looking a quite a bit shinier since our glorious win over those overweening Irishmen (affectionately known in our family as "they who must not be named").

I'm not quite sure why I love Michigan football the way I do. Sure, I was raised on maize and blue, watching my father and our Buckeye next-door neighbor exchange insults and carry out ridiculous bets. But my brother and my dad are sports fanatics. They would watch competitive tiddly winks if ESPN broadcast it. None of that carried over into my adult life — only football, specifically college football, more specifically Big 10 college football — but those other teams really only count insofar as how the outcomes of their games affect Michigan's ranking.

I could say my passion stems from my college days in Ann Arbor, during the height of the Bo years (the winningest coach in Michigan history), when I cheered on Rick Leach, Anthony Carter, Butch Woolfolk and my favorite kicker, Ali Haji-Sheikh. But, truth be told, as much as I loved going to the games, I often sold my tickets for much-needed cash. I could always count on announcer Bob Ufer to make me feel like I was at the game, though thankfully, I did not miss Anthony Carter's amazing catch against Indiana in '79 — I was there for that one.

Part of the allure, of course, is Michigan Stadium. There is no place quite like the Big House to watch a football game. More than 100,000 people file peacefully in and out every home-game weekend, where there's not a bad seat in the house, and you sweat together in September and freeze together in November. I remember the first time my dad and I took my daughter to see a game when she was about 8 year's old. We tried to explain beforehand that more people would be in the stadium that day than the entire population of our hometown of Evanston, IL. When she saw the crowd, her jaw dropped; when she watched the wave circle the stands, she clapped in delight; and when the 150-member Michigan marching band took the field, she danced and shimmied right along with them. Michigan football games are just plain fun.

Though I believe children should be encouraged to think for themselves, since the minute they were born, I've worked hard to indoctrinate my kids into the cult of Michigan. Their father has had nothing to do with it (what can I say, he went to Northern Illinois). We have pictures of every one of my babies in onsies, sweatshirts, baseball caps and Ts all emblazoned with big block Ms. If it's possible to have two favorite colors, ours are maize and blue. I actually wrote a letter of protest to the Crayola company when they tried to eliminate maize as one of the colors in the big 64 box of crayons.

The Victors was the first song I learned to play on the piano, and the first song I taught my kids to sing. On my daughter's third day at kindergarten, she came bursting through the door after school saying: "Mama, Mama, guess what I learned to spell today: G-O  B-L-U-E!" That's my girl.

So what is it about this team that makes us into such True Blue fans? How can go into the last game with a 3 and 8 record (as we did last year, in our worst season ever) and still show up for the Ohio State game hoping to win and knowing it will be a good year if we can only beat the Buckeye's during this final, best and always most important game? Why do we TiVo the games and cast the evil eye if someone threatens to be a spoiler before we can get home to watch the game ourselves.

It's a magnificent obsession, a heady curse that brings us Wolverines together on a dozen Saturdays each fall to experience once again the joy of victory and agony of defeat as only Michigan football can bring it. This year, we are trying to convince ourselves that this is still a transitional season, that it will take time for everyone to get used to the new coach and to build a new program. My brother claims he'll be happy with eight wins, a victory over one of our big rivals (Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State) and no more scandals. He's lying. Even though we beat the Irish, like the rest of us, he won't be happy unless we beat Ohio State to become the undefeated champions of the Big Ten. 

This year, we start the season 2-0. We feel good. We've got force in our QB with Tate Forcier. We've got another great kicker with a kick-ass name — Zoltan Mesko! We've even got our gloat back. Go Blue!

Where are your loyalties? Do you have a favorite team you cheer for, win or lose? Or do you think spectator sports are a waste of time? Do you have some other inexplicable passion or loyalty? Click here to show us your colors (Buckeyes need not apply). And if you want to see a real True Blue fan in action, do not miss Bob Ufer in the clip below, who had "never been so happy in all his cotton-pickin' 59  years," even after broadcasting 327 ball games. Now that's a fan!