Monday, February 23, 2009

Watch This Space

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

It's been about a year since my inaugural post here on Two Kinds of People. I claimed then that my primary reason for starting a blog was to get help naming our new puppy, Hazel. Truth be told, I started blogging to learn, well, how to blog.

I've been a writer my entire adult life, and while I firmly believe that good writing will always be good writing, how and where we read and write is changing by the minute, shifting ever more quickly from the page to the screen. A recent study of online behavior found that consumers now spend more than twice as much time online as they do watching television, and eight times as much as they spend reading newspapers and magazines.

The way we communicate and our definition of community is transforming daily. We Twitter and Tweet and meet and greet in ways that weren't even dreamt of ten years ago. I haven't bought into it all (yet), but I love the instant gratification of blogging. There's no waiting for acceptance or rejection. It happens now. And if I were a control freak (which of course I'm not) I might be all aquiver over so much power — my words, my graphics, my layout, mine, mine, mine. (I am not a control freak. Stop saying that.)

The feedback is the best part. In case you didn't know, bloggers live for comments. (Leave a comment, dammit!) It's a conversation with friends and strangers from around the world. That little widget on my sidebar called Feedjit let's me see how and when readers arrive at my site. Someone recently visited from Cairo (Egypt, not Illinois). How cool is that? Another reader landed on my poetry post by doing a google search for the Coleridge quote I used.

I've met really interesting people — other bloggers, of course, but published writers, other moms, entrepreneurs and techies, as well. The women writing with me on the Chicago Moms Blog and the rest of The Silicon Valley Moms Group, have become a family of sisters, mentors and friends. The connections I've made have been fascinating, even though I've only met one person from the blogging world face-to-face. And I've even won some cool free stuff along the way.

It turns out the internet works like my brain (a scary concept, I know). It can take you in a straight line if you're in a hurry, or you can meander along interesting paths if you are easily distracted a creative thinker.

My goal when I started was to learn, and I've learned a lot, including:
  • a little html
  • how to transform a PowerPoint into a video
  • how to embed video and add third party code
  • a bunch of tricks for uploading and exporting and importing and digitizing
  • how to let go of a piece writing and not edit it to death
It seems like I learn something new every day, and that's exciting. With all this emphasis on the new, I thought after a year it was time to shake things, so I dropped the old standard blogger template and learned how to do a little online design. What do you think? I even learned how to create and embed a poll to see how you really feel about this new look.

Recent estimates set the number of blogs in the hundreds of millions. Thank you for taking the time to read mine. I'm having a blast. Keep reading and leave a comment (please) by clicking here. Then jump on over to the Chicago Moms Blog to see my latest post entitled Kids are Gross.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Kids are Gross — CMB Post

This was originally posted on the now defunct Chicago Moms Blog.

A good laugh is hard to come by these days, so I welcomed the one I ran into the other day, even though it was at someone else's expense. I was talking to an expectant first-time dad who was so excited about all the plans he and his wife have made for their new baby. His enthusiasm was infectious and I remembered how thrilling it was when we were planning to bring our own twins home from the hospital.

I listened, smiling, as he talked about having to put the crib together twice, their concerns that the baby already has more stuff than the two of them put together, and whether their first "baby" (a six-year-old Chocolate Lab) would welcome his new little sibling. It all sounded perfectly normal, until he told me about an agreement he and his wife had made. "I plan to help with everything," he said, "except poopy diapers. That's just too gross!"

I laughed — out loud and right in his face. "Kids are gross," I said. "Get over it." I will grant you that moms have a leg up on improving their GTF (Grossness Tolerance Factor), what with all the interesting changes we experience during pregnancy and the less-than-pleasant after effects of childbirth. What mom will ever forget the first time her milk lets down in public, soaking the entire front of her shirt? All of that is personal, however, and we develop a pretty high GTF for our own bodies. But babies and kids are a whole different story.

I so wanted to burst this new dad's bubble by telling him about the booger bubbles his new baby will blow out of his or her cute little nose, and how you have to learn to suck out the junk with those weird, bulbous nasal aspirators. Turns out babies can't use a tissue for years and, even then, you have to hold it while they blow, and then you get to dispose of the mess.

Or how about when that baby boy waits until he is de-diapered and then takes aim right in your eye — or worse, your mouth.

Or when your newly potty-trained princess swallows a bright green plastic button and you get to fish her deposits out of the bowl and sift through them for SIX days to be sure she has passed the button safely and that it is not obstructing her digestive tract.

Or when your little boys decide to visit the bathroom together and use their streams as dueling light sabers (really, they do things like this). You won't even recognize your own voice when you hear yourself yelling: "The next time someone pees on the wall, you will all become sitters! Do you understand me?".

Or when your little girl explores the recycling bin, slicing her palm with the lid of a tuna can and giving you a graphic lesson in anatomy. You can't faint. You can't run away. You are the grownup!.

Or when they say: "Here, hold this," and hand you their ABC gum (that's already-been-chewed, thank you very much).

And even though you have told your little darling a million times that his shirt is not a napkin, he insists on wiping his face on his sleeve or the front of his shirt. Or even better, your shirt.

Or how about that time when your twins got their first bout of the stomach flu when they were four and you were pregnant and you spent five straight hours cleaning up her puke, running to the bathroom to throw up yourself, running back to clean up his puke … you get the picture … until your husband finally came home and took over (bless his heart).

Or how about when your beautiful baby girl comes home at the ripe old age of eight with BO so bad that she smells like the boys' high-school locker room and you have to buy her deodorant and invest in Dr. Scholl's foot powder.

I won't even talk about the disgusting things children will put into their mouths … and noses … and ears … and hair. My friend, the soon-to-be dad, will just have to discover those joys on his own, along with lancing boils, freezing off warts and clipping toenails.

In the '90s, there was a comedy duo called "The Mommies" and one of their funniest bits was about how intimate you become with your baby. Just yesterday, I found myself both gagging and giggling as I looked at my 17-year-old's frighteningly large feet and remembered The Mommies' reflections about how much they used to love to kiss their babies' little tootsies.

Poopy diapers, while certainly not pleasant, are just not that bad on the GTF scale. The good news is that children grow out of them in a few short years. The bad news is that when you bring a new baby into the world, something really terrifying happens. You become the parent. It's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it.

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

Friday, February 6, 2009

Little Kids, Big Problems — CMB Post

This was originally posted on the now defunct Chicago Moms Blog.

Until just a week ago, all my parenting experience as a mom and stepmom of six children (ranging in age from 29 to 10) has borne out the underlying truth of the old adage: "Little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems." Now I know that the problems of our little kids are big and getting bigger every day.

This week, our community was rocked by the news of the tragic loss of a fifth grade boy, who was found unresponsive in the bathroom at his public school and who later died, apparently of self-inflicted injuries. I cannot begin to comprehend the devastation the family* of this child is feeling and my heart breaks as they struggle with their pain and dispute even the possibility that he could have taken his own life.

While we do not know this family personally, the loss has had a profound effect on our family, particularly my own fifth grader, as it comes on the heels of a traumatic week for him. A week ago, he experienced his first encounter with verbal and physical bullying. The details are unimportant, but a few facts are worth mentioning. Though he felt threatened for several hours during the school day, my son never went to an adult for help. Though a number of other students in the fifth grade knew of the threats, they never went to an adult for help, either. When I asked my son why he didn't go to an adult, he said he was just scared. He was so scared, in fact, that he ran into the street without looking and was almost hit by a car.

I give credit to our school principal for the way he handled this incident. I think it was particularly insightful that he recognized and addressed the more global issues of keeping dangerous secrets. In speaking to the entire fifth grade, he explained the difference between tattling and going to an adult to keep someone safe. This can be a difficult concept for children to understand. You're not supposed to rat out your friends.

A few days later, in a completely unrelated conversation, my same 10-year-old boy told me that he has been feeling completely overwhelmed all school year and he has no idea how he is going to be able to handle the work and logistics of middle school. His 17-year-old sister smirked at the idea that his fifth-grade life is so hard. After all, she is having to take exams, and ACTs and SATs, and choose colleges, and pick a career, and make decisions that will affect the rest of her life. All he has is a little bit of homework.

It was tempting for me to smile at his worries, too. But I get it. As the youngest of six, this boy has a preternatural understanding of the fleeting nature of childhood. On the one hand, he sees clear-eyed what the future holds in store for him and that growing up is not necessarily all it's cracked up to be. On the other hand, he is holding on white-knuckled to what is left of his boyhood, trying to squeeze out every drop before the well runs dry.

And then we lost another fifth grade boy in our community. I knew when I heard it on the news that the rumors were probably already flying at my son's school. Fifth grade is all about gossip. I also knew that he was probably going to be very upset. We had a long talk that night. We talked about how sad we were for that other little boy and his family. We talked about living in the moment and trying not to worry too much about what's going to happen next. Mostly, we talked about the importance of talking. I reiterated how much we love him and helped him enumerate all the adults in his life he can trust and turn to whenever he needs them. I don't know if it comforted him. I hope it did.

There is no question that the stress our children face is increasing. My adult stepchildren are shocked at the amount of homework their youngest siblings are expected to do every night. When my high school juniors were in elementary school, they didn't even know when the standardized tests would be administered. Now, my little boys worry about them for weeks in advance. I can't help but wonder what else they worry about. I can't help but worry that we, the adults in their lives, are somehow failing them when they feel that they cannot come to us with their problems. Fifth graders should be thinking about books and video games and friendships and snacks and play dates and the myriad other exciting things that being 10 means. They should not be carrying the weight of the world. It's too heavy for those slender shoulders.

*The Oakton Elementary School PTA has set up a fund to help the family of Aquan Lewis. For more information, click

This is an original Chicago Moms Blog post. Susan also writes Two Kinds of People and The Animal Store Blog.

Photo credit: The Weight of the World by Jen via Creative Commons.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Mop Wars

Originally posted on the now defunct Chicago Moms Blog.

Warning: ridiculous rant ahead.

It’s not the big things that get us down. Sure, we’re all worried about the economy. Yes, the two wars we’re fighting weigh heavily on our minds. And I know that global warming threatens our very existence. These issues are a constant, steady burden — too big, too complex to push me into hyperventilation mode.

No, the straws that break this camel’s back are the little things, the final insults that make me scream “I can’t take it any more.” This week, it was my mop.

As housekeepers go, I have my moments — usually when we’re about the have company or when I’m really angry. If I’m perfectly honest, the reason we have company at all is to get the entire house clean at the same time. And there’s nothing like getting your mad on to make that porcelain shine.

The trouble with six people and a dog all under one roof is that getting the house clean and keeping it clean are two entirely different processes. When we are preparing for company, I clean one room at a time, forcing the family into smaller and smaller living quarters until the event has past. The night before Thanksgiving, we all slept in the front hall closet. For days beforehand, I sounded like a banshee screaming “Don’t go in there, I just cleaned that room.”

But now it’s mid-winter. The holidays are long past and there isn’t a hosting event in sight, so things have slipped a little. The kitchen floor, in particular, had reached a critical point, somewhere between my slipper sticking to that spot of spilled juice by the refrigerator and the health department shutting us down.

This was not entirely my fault. I needed a new mop head, as my old one had turned into a crusty, flattened germ dispenser, and I kept forgetting to buy a new one. Here’s the beginning of the rant: why, oh why, don’t mop makers make replacement heads that fit my mop? On Sunday’s trip to the grocery, I actually remembered to buy a new mop head, but made the mistake of leaving it on the kitchen counter. Who knew this plastic wrapped blue sponge would prove so enticing to the dog? She ripped it to shreds. Seven bucks down the drain.

So, on Monday’s trip to the grocery, I actually remembered to buy another one. I even double-checked the brand of my mop before I left to make sure I would buy the right one. Yep, this was it: attaches with two screws, folds in half and has a little red scrubby thing that you put on the edge.

I got it home, took off the old sponge head and put the new one against the frame only to discover it was an inch and a half too long and the screws were in the wrong place. Why would the company that sounds like afternoon delight do this to me?

I was furious. I was incensed. I was not going to be beaten down by corporate greed. I took my new mop head to the basement, used a hacksaw to cut off one of the imbedded screws, used an awl to poke a hole in the right place for the screw and took it back upstairs, victorious. That floor would be mopped, and it would be mopped now.

It didn’t work. The mop head was off center and when I tried to wring it out, the newly located screw popped off and flew under the refrigerator.

Did I give up? No! I found a rubber band (see photo), which lasted exactly long enough to get the floor mopped — once — and then I threw the whole thing out. Another seven bucks down the drain, plus the cost of a new mop. Well, I better start searching — we’ve got birthdays coming up in a couple weeks and company’s coming.

This is an original Chicago Moms Blog post. When Susan isn’t ranting about cleaning supplies, she can be found writing at Two Kinds of People and The Animal Store Blog.

Oh Curses, Foiled Again*

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

I would like to say that I am too genteel, too refined, too composed to use foul language. I'm not. I would like to say that my vocabulary is too rich, too deep, too sophisticated to reach lazily for those seven words George Carlin joked could not be said on television. It's not. I would at least like to say that, as a parent, I censor myself in front of my children. I don't (at least not as much as I used to or as often as I should).

I certainly can't blame my parents. My mother, a very bright woman with a master's degree, no less, managed to make it all the way into her thirties before she figured out that F – – – did not mean fart. I'm sorry, Mom, but this can still send me into fits of laughter. Readers, next time you feel blue, just play this little substitution game:

"Fart you, you mother-farter!"
"I really farted up at work today."
"I don't give a flying fart."

See, don't you feel better? But I digress.

I am a woman of words and, like the late, great Mr. Carlin, I believe all words have meaning and validity and importance. I recognize that Lenny Bruce went to jail for the right to use "dirty" words in his routine. David Mamet has raised the use of the profanity to literary art, winning a Pulitzer Prize for his play Glengarry Glen Ross and dropping the F-bomb 128 times in the film version. 

Choosing the right words is a delightful challenge for me and, when I find just the right one, it gives me profound pleasure. Sometimes, a particular four-letter word, or string of them, is the right choice. I'm not afraid of the deadly seven, or any other words for that matter. I'm just bored.

"The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug." — Mark Twain

My grandmother used to say things like "Well, he certainly uses some colorful language." The trouble is, these words, particularly the F-word, have become so ubiquitous, so banal that they aren't colorful at all — they're beige. 

The word "cuss", of course, is a bastardization of the word "curse", which literally means to wish harm upon or invoke evil upon someone or something. There was a time when we didn't rely on only seven little words to insult or damn someone. English has a rich history of cursing as an art form. You just can't beat some of the slings and arrows launched by Shakespeare's pen. How's this for calling someone a pig:

"Thou elvish-mark'd, abortive, rooting hog." — Richard III

For Shakespeare, someone was never simply fat:

"She is spherical, like a globe. I could find out countries in her." — The Comedy of Errors

One of the only true "swears" in our house is "stupid". Shakespeare had better version of that one, as well:

"He has not so much brain as ear-wax." — Troilus and Cressida

Though the Bard's insults were brilliant and funny, he is not alone in his verbal prowess. Will Rogers, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Dorothy Parker and H.L. Mencken are just a few who could hurl a high-brow insult at the drop of a hat. Even some of our most esteemed statesmen knew how to wield a wicked barb:

"He has all the virtues I dislike, and none of vices I admire." — Winston Churchill

"He can compress the most words into the smallest idea of any man I know." — Abraham Lincoln

At home, the language of 21st Century little boy insults is dragging me down. I'd like to inject a little of this literary fencing into our lives and, in an initial effort to upgrade our arguments, I propose the following: 

"Shut up, you stupid butt-head" — shall henceforth be transformed to — "Silence, you ignorant hindquarters of a domesticated ungulate!"

"Get your paws of my freakin' stuff" — shall forevermore be — "Remove your rotted, germ-infested metacarpals ere I sever them below the humerus."

I think it can be done, and the benefits will be threefold:
  • It will vastly improve all our vocabularies.
  • We will have to stop and think before we speak, perhaps allowing enough cooling off time that the need for the insult will evaporate.
  • Both the insulter and insultee will probably crack up, thereby ending the argument. It's hard to stay mad when you're laughing.
Best of all, I will no longer be bored. 

Have a favorite form of profanity or a particularly witty insult you would like share? Just click here.

I also have to admit to having dropped my fair share of F-bombs during last week's Mop Wars. You can read all about them in my latest post on the Chicago Moms Blog by clicking here.

*With thanks to that articulate arch villain, Snidely Whiplash.