For Some, It’s More Than Just a Game

DSC_9465Last week I was finally able to attend one of my son’s baseball games. Both girls had napped, and for once the weather was cooperating. I was pretty excited as my husband had shown me some videos, and my son seemed to actually be fairly good – well good for a six-year-old boy, that is. So the girls and I got there and set up camp. Immediately, of course, both girls took off for the sandbox. (By the way, did I mention sand is definitely one of those four-letter words.)

Anyway, my son’s team performed, for the most part, as I expected. They screwed around a lot, cheered each other on, repeatedly climbed the fence and got yelled at, taunted the other team – you know, normal boy stuff. Then one boy went up to bat. And after numerous attempts to get a hit (I’m not quite sure what the rules are for this age because he swung his bat at least seven times), this boy was finally called out. And wow was he heart-broken. He walked back to the bench with his shoulders hunched down and immediately started crying. As in sobbing like he just caused his team to lose the World Series. And he wouldn’t stop. He cried all the way up until it was his team’s turn to go into the outfield.

Now my first reaction was oh, the poor kid. But as I watched him, I began to be amazed and overwhelmed – I’m not even sure exactly what I was feeling – at this kid’s intense emotion over merely striking out. None of the other boys really even seemed to pay attention to his reaction, and no one else, thankfully, seemed to get too upset if they struck out or made a mistake. I mean again, it’s six-year-old kids playing baseball. Practically every move is a mistake isn’t it?! Anyway, it really got me thinking about the pressure some kids feel about the need to succeed. And sure, I get it. I got a little nutty during finals or any test really and felt if I didn’t succeed I’d be ruining my life. (Oh the crazy hormonal mind of a teenage girl!) But this was a group of six year olds that were supposed to be just learning how to actually properly play a sport. And in my opinion, the only thing that should have been on their minds was how much fun they were having.

But is this where it starts? Are six year olds already feeling the pressure to be the best? Of course some people might immediately put blame on the parents. But this kid’s dad was there and he kept encouraging his son and reminding him it’s not a big deal, just try again next time. So yes while there are definitely a crap ton of insane parents out there, this dad certainly didn’t seem to be one of them. So again I ask myself where does this extreme pressure kids put on themselves, or feel from an outside source, come from? Because knowing me, had that been my kid I most likely would have brushed him off and told him to buck up and move on. But for some, that intense need to be the best manifests and can turn deadly. So as a parent, how do you know the difference between knowing that your child simply needs to take a step back and take a few breaths from knowing that they have one foot off the edge of that very dangerous cliff?

I’ve experienced my four year old tell me her day had been ruined because some other little girl decided that she didn’t want to play with her. It didn’t matter that five minutes later they were best friends again. My daughter’s focus, when asked about her day, was on that one minute of rejection. And yes that’s four-year-old girl dramatization at its finest, however it still causes me to pause and think “oh, shit is this a glimpse into her (my) future?” And if so, how will she handle rejection? How will my son handle not being good enough to make some sports team because there’s 476 kids in his class and only 30 kids will be picked to be on the team?

These types of issues that kids seem to face these days – at least in the suburbs where I’m raising my family – are things that I never had to deal with. Hell we had to recruit kids from neighboring towns just to have enough kids to make a team so we could even play a sport. And as for being a successful student, yes I absolutely put in my time and effort because it’s how I was raised, but looking back I wasn’t in the top tier of my class because I was overly smart. I simply studied more than most, and when your class has about 32 students in it, it’s easy to be up near the top. Had I been raised in these suburbs where you’re competing with hundreds of hard-core, studious, and determined kids, I never would have had a fighting chance getting into the University of Illinois like I did. I had wanted to go to Illinois since I was in junior high and I think it was the only in-state school I applied to (and of course my dad vetoed even the idea of paying for out-of-state tuition.) But if I hadn’t gotten in, what would that have done to my 17-year-old impressionable self? Would I have been able to handle that kind of rejection when I didn’t really even have a plan B? And to fully understand that one particular college wouldn’t determine my future, because that job was actually up to me. I would like to think so, but in reality all it takes is one out-of-your-mind moment to make a decision that could cost you your life.

It saddens me to think of my kids suffering, or any kids for that matter, because they did poorly on a test or didn’t get invited to a party or was the last out in the game. Kids tend to focus on THAT moment only and can’t grasp the concept that five years from now, hell five months from now, none of their current sorrows even will matter. Because to them and their developing brains, THAT moment is the only thing they can even think about. And whether it’s intentional or not, kids are indeed always under pressure. The pressure to be popular and have a lot of friends, to get good grades and ultimately be accepted to a good college, to be good at sports and aim for a scholarship. And the list goes on. But as we know, it’s impossible to be the best at everything and sometimes even anything. But that’s still okay.

As I’m writing this, my brain keeps attempting to go off on so many different tangents that can be associated with this post. But for me, I suppose my main purpose in writing this is to simply remind myself of the importance of my job. I’m not curing cancer or making people millions, but I do have three tiny monsters that depend on me to show them and to teach them how to shrug off that strike out or friendship rejection. But not only that, but how to shrug it off and still be happy; maybe not that at that moment, but having the capability and self-confidence to eventually get there. I’ve come to learn that it’s hard as shit to be a parent, especially a good one. But I also won’t forget that it’s just as hard to be a kid. To be engulfed with such intense feelings and emotions that all kids, at some point or another, struggle with and to not necessarily have the maturity needed to be able to properly manage those feelings. It’s hard work. Over the years, my advice to my children is going to change. But for now, my focus is on them having fun, being kids and being nice. Unfortunately, they’re going to feel the competitive pressure their entire lives. But for right now, it should be nothing more than a game.

Surviving the Mayhem that is Summer

IMG_2843Well, it’s that time of year again. Parents all over social media are posting all their “first day of school/last day of school” photo montages. People comment about how cute the kids are, how much they’ve grown, and how fast time flies. Sure, I participate in that trend too. Because it’s all fun and games until that first day of summer vacation actually comes around. You wake up to the sound of your kids barging into your room at 6 am with their latest list of wants and demands, and then they immediately start fighting because their wants are more important than their siblings’ wants and It’s Not Fair. And then the baby starts crying too because her diaper is down to her knees from the night and wants to be changed “Right Now!” And you’re barely processing any of it because you were still in the middle of your REM sleep from having gotten up three different times in the night to deal with whomever needed covering up or a drink of water at any given time. So you just stare at these screaming, yelling, demanding monsters and think “what the F is going on?!” And then it dawns on you that this is just your everyday morning, but have no fear the bus will be here soon and you’ll at least be down one kid. But then you really wake up and your brain starts to semi-function and now you’re at “holy shit, there is NO bus. It’s SUMMER!!” You immediately try to slip back under the covers and hope they don’t notice, but it only makes them yell louder, demand more and of course jump on you.

img_2767So yeah, summer vacation has commenced. Remember when you were that kid though and you couldn’t wait. And all you could think about was the freedom, the never-ending playtime and just all of the fun! Those were the days. Yet here we are now, on the other side of the fence wondering how the hell are we going to survive these LONG two and a half months?! I’ve decided it’s basically the same thing as Purgatory. You essentially have one foot in Hell at all times but you know you won’t be stuck there forever (even when it seems like you will). You have one mission for the summer: SURVIVAL. The key is understanding that it doesn’t matter how you get there, just that you GET THERE.

img_2774As a new parent or even a parent of just one kid, you might be delusional in your summer planning. As in you’re actually excited for ALL the fun grandiose activities and adventures you’re going to do. And hey, if that’s what you’re able to actually do (and enjoy it) then more power to you. For me, on the other hand, who’s in the midst of toddler hell, I know better. I’m in full on survival mode and trust me when I say it’s not easy. So here’s a few tricks I’ve learned that just might give you a slight edge to making it to August.

Step #1: Always have a calendar handy and in sight. You want to be able to see the days tick by and know at all times exactly how many you have left. It’s mainly for moral support to again remind you that this won’t be forever. And each day you get those kiddos to bed (well to bed and actually ASLEEP) it’s a full on WIN for the day. Because the key to survival is taking it one day at a time.

Step #2: Do a little recon on your house. Take a few minutes and try to scope out a few different places that you can hide, even if it’s just for five minutes. You know they will hunt you down like dogs and they will do it quickly, but a few minutes of silence is basically the equivalent of Super Mario finding a magical mushroom that gives him that extra boost needed to make it to the next level. We’re stay at home moms; we wipe asses for a living. It doesn’t take much to find our next burst of strength to keep going.

Step #3: Lower your expectations. As in, stop having any. A successful summer is not the equivalent of having a full itinerary every single day. More than likely the kids won’t even remember visiting every single local park. Letting them run wild outside will be just as exciting and probably more memorable anyway.

Step #4: Use your village. Find a few core friends that have the same philosophy as you (as in they don’t give a shit and it’s all about making it through the day) and have play dates. Now, not the Pinterest kind of play dates, the kind that actually make sense. As in “kids, there’s the swingset, a bucket and a pile of dirt. We’ll be back in two hours to feed you so no one withers away. We’re going to drink mom juice and shoot the breeze in peace. Unless someone needs the ER, WORK IT OUT.” Because oftentimes if kids are left alone without hovering, crazy parents, they actually do okay. And even if they don’t, that’s okay too. Our job is not to interfere with every single banter or incident of not sharing. Let the little bastards figure it out. We’ll all be happier in the long run.

Step #5: Do whatever you can to make them more independent. You know they need us for everything, but even if we end up hearing just one less “mom!” in a day, it can make all the difference. Give them access to available snacks. Make sure their clothes are easily accessible so they can dress themselves. If they come down wearing their Christmas dress, so be it. Just remember it’s simply one less thing you have to do yourself. Sometimes it can be extremely difficult to let go of the control, especially when you see the messes they make from doing things themselves. But just keep your eyes on the prize: the more they do, the less you have to (well eventually, because in the beginning there will most likely be a lot of extra messes.) But they will get there!

Step #6: Ignore them. Obviously not entirely, but in those first few weeks when they’re fighting over EVERY SINGLE THING, stop trying to be the referee. It’s simply impossible to do, and you’ll be in the asylum before the end of June. Just keep reminding them that unless there’s blood, they need to work it out themselves. By the end of the summer, more than likely they will have all learned a few new choice words because you’re simply unable to control the not-so-silent mutterings under your breathe anymore. But hey, if they’ve learned to work out even one of their 74,382,974,389 fights in a day, you’re doing a great job.

Step #7: The most important step to surviving the summer is to just have fun. Most likely that will involve a fully stocked (wine) fridge and a secret stash of Snickers, but it is important to remember that this is your time too. Being a stay at home mom is a damn hard job and even though we live with one foot in the nut house, we’re lucky as hell to have this time with our kids. Loosen up and remember, they’re just kids. Give them the damn vats of Goldfish, let them pee in the yard. Because they won’t always be barging in on us in the bathroom or be around to climb in bed with us every night. It’s hard to truly believe, but deep down we know someday we’ll miss this.

So keep your friends close and your alcohol closer. And let the countdown to August begin.

To the ONE I’ll Never Know

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One of the few, albeit horrible quality, pictures of my Mom and I.

Sometimes I find myself wondering how I can possibly miss something, or someone, that I never got to know. And yet I do with an uncontrollable ache that isn’t possible for me to even put into words. Two unmemorable years was all we had. I’ve spent so much of my life asking why. And yet it’s a question that’ll forever remain unanswered. Who were you? At only 26 years old did you even know? At 40 I feel like I’m just starting to figure myself out. But if you existed who would I have become? Yes, I’ve inherited Dad’s short-fused temper and stubbornness and cursed with Grandma’s big hips, but for the most part I’m comfortable with who I am. What would you have given me? What was your favorite memory? What were your dreams? What kept you up at night? I saw a sign today that said: “You only live once but if you live right that’s enough.” Did you live right? Was it enough? You never even had the chance to learn the word “regret” because you’d barely started living.

Sometimes I daydream about what I’d say if I was miraculously given a moment with you. But sitting here, thinking about you, I don’t think I would say a single word. Instead I would simply stare at you. Look over every detail and try to memorize the lines around your face. The shape of your hands. The color of your eyes. It’s hard not knowing in my own memories what you looked like. Pictures don’t tell the full story.

I hated you for years. You left ME. You were stolen from ME. You were taken away from ME. You were supposed to be smarter than that. Of course I didn’t really hate you. But I’m so good at being angry and so bad at being sad. You weren’t there to teach me. To show me how to cry. How to feel. But somehow we managed. When given no choice, you do what you can. And you picked a good one, you know. Not many could have done what he did. And did again. And does.

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My Dad and Mom at his vet school graduation.

What would you think of me? Do you see me failing over and over with my own kids? Do you see me punishing myself at the end of each day for losing my shit so often? What would you do? You never got the chance to find out. You aren’t here to tell me what to do. Can you feel my frustration, my worries, my insanity, my happiness, my love?

By not being here, you wielded me with a permanent suit of armor. It’s protected me. But it’s also failed me. Because it’s a hard burden to carry. And sometimes I get very, very tired. But I’ve lived so long with it, that I don’t know how to take it off. It’s become a part of who I am. And to take it off would leave me in a state of vulnerability that I’m not sure I can, or even want to, live with.

On this day I wish I had just one memory. Some small remembrance of a time we shared together. But instead all I’m left with are dreams that won’t come true and feelings I’ll never experience. However, you gave me life. You fueled the breaths that I take. And for that I thank you. For giving me the life that you were denied. On this day, and every day of my life, I will continue to think of you. To dream of you. And to wonder. Because once upon a time, you were more than just a nonexistent memory.

Love, the ONE you’ll never know

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My favorite picture

Toddlers, the 8th Wonder of the World

Toddlers. One of the magical words of the English language that has the power to evoke a plethora of emotions. Before a person has children of their own, oftentimes while watching other people’s kids from afar, one of their first thoughts is probably along the lines of “snot-nosed brat.” And then they have their first born and spend all their time admiring just how “smart and creative” their child is. Basically perfection. Until their second comes along and they begin to realize that maybe, just maybe, their child is not going to be the next up and coming president (although we do have some pretty low standards for that role these days). Anyway, once the third, or more, come about, you go so far as to wonder just who the hell these demons are and when was that pivotal moment of them taking over your house.

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Just your everyday tantrum

As I’m personally on my third bout of “toddlerhood” in my household, believe me I’ve been through the entire gamete of emotions associated with this delightfully crazy era of life. Yet unfortunately I’ve learned, through experience, that there just is no book, no friend’s advice (or warning, however you want to look at it) that can wholeheartedly prepare you for this trying stage. Because unless you have toddlers of your own or have lived through this, when people try to describe the pure unedited shit show that takes place on a daily basis, trust me when I say: you simply won’t believe it. There just is no way these supposed horror shows could really happen. Because you know that you’ll be a good, supportive and caring parent, so obviously being an award-winning parent would never lead to this unimaginable insanity. With that said I thought I’d share just a few of my own personal experiences and tell you what no publisher will ever print because it could potentially lead to the end of the human race.

Did you know that in order for a toddler to brush their teeth it is a requirement that they put toothpaste on EVERY surface of the bathroom? For some reason a “rice-sized” amount on a brush just doesn’t cut it. Nope. It needs to be smeared all over the sink, countertop, light switch, walls, vanity, mirror and yes, even the floor. I’ve tried various types of dispensers. Didn’t matter. I tried being the only one allowed to put the toothpaste on. Yeah, nope. That didn’t matter either. Apparently this is just one of the many magical powers that toddlers are blessed with having.

Now let’s talk food. For starters approximately 49 percent of their allotted food ends up anywhere other than in their mouth. This is still true for my almost seven year old. Although maybe he’s brought the percentage down to about 32. I’ve determined that that is the only possible explanation for them demanding a snack five minutes after they just ate a real meal. And then repeatedly every 10 minutes until it’s actually time to eat again.

The majority of the time, toddlers are simply incapable of hearing you. You could be standing directly in their face screaming at them and you might as well be screaming at a wall. I’ve had the hearing checked on my middle child and I ask my oldest at least once a day if we need to get his checked. Most days I feel like I’m stuck on repeat as I’m literally repeating everything I say a minimum of three times. However when you get to that point when you’re legitimately worried about their hearing, this is what you do. Get a piece of candy. Be at least two floors apart and I personally like to try being behind one to two closed doors from the subject in question. Next, as slowly and quietly as you can, begin to unwrap the candy. Within two to three seconds, the toddler will immediately begin yelling from afar, “Mom, what are you eating?!” and they will sniff you out like a bloodhound. It works every time, because toddlers are indeed deaf…until they’re not.

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She’s driven me off the edge a few times.

They also have the uncanny ability to bring you to an edge you never could have dreamed existed. A place where you are so tired you can barely put together a intelligible sentence and you haven’t seen any semblance of patience in days. You’re to the point of wondering what exactly you’ll need to pack in your runaway bag. Or every time you get in the car (without kids) you think, “what if I just keep driving? How long until they notice?!” Even if running away is simply going to a gas station so you can go to the bathroom in peace. You’re so desperate for five minutes of alone time that you’re willing to risk catching any million of the possible diseases derived from all the unthinkable filth in that public restroom. Trust me, this edge exists. I’ve been there often. But toddlers are smart little shits, and one of their super powers is knowing exactly when you’ve reached that edge. Like a dog can smell fear, toddlers know just when you can’t physically or emotionally continue. And then they strike. They come up to you, give you a giant bear hug squeeze and call you their “best fwend.” And once again, they’ve got you trapped under the spell. Until the next edge appears, and the cycle repeats.

I’m sure we all know a few adults that make us whisper under our breaths that they seem to have a split personality. You just can’t understand how they can be so nice and happy one minute and turn into an angry beast in the blink of an eye. Oh, if only toddlers had merely two personalities. Instead, they have the incredible ability to be laughing hysterically, get instantly angry and bite their sibling, cry huge crocodile tears after getting bit back and be hugging again all in a span of 30 seconds. Trust me, there isn’t even time to attempt timeouts or give a lecture about the importance of being nice. As sane adults, our brains can’t even compute everything that happened because four very different emotions just occurred before you could get your first disciplinary word out. But that’s okay. As someone with three kids, I’m to the point I don’t want to be involved unless there’s blood and someone needs the ER or a trip to the police station to be put in jail (something I threaten often out of pure desperation.)

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She climbs all the dressers trolling for lotion.

Toddlers also have physical abilities that most adults would never believe unless they saw it for themselves. Because in actuality, they’re half mountain goat. Sir Edmund Hillary (one of the most famous mountain climbers ever) has nothing on the scaling ability of a three year old. Sure he climbed Mount Everest but could he have climbed walls? When someone tells you to strap down every piece of furniture you own, Do It. Even if you think it’s ludicrous. Trust me, you won’t believe their mad skills until you witness it first hand.

As a parent living through the toddler years, you will endure the impossible. Say the unthinkable and spend way too much time pondering if that really and truly just happened. There will be shitastrophes that give you nightmares for years. And meltdowns where you’re absolutely positive the end of the world is coming because what else could be the cause of such pandemonium. Your friends without kids might never believe your stories. Your parents, who’ve been out of this phase in life for quite some time, might insist you’re exaggerating. But the rest of us know. And we get it. However on the flip side of this insanity is all the laughter, memories and experiences we gain from this time in our lives. There will never be another one like it. And just remember, as I like to try and remind myself on a daily basis, it’ll always be better than the upcoming teen years.

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Just think how sane and bored we’d be without toddlers?!

Rural America – My Happy Place

 

For the first 18 years of my life all I could think about was getting the hell out of dodge, dodge being my wonderful hometown of Mt. Carroll, Illinois. I hated being stuck in the “middle of nowhere” with nothing to do, no stores to go to and nothing but cornfields to look at. Yet these days, with each trip back home, it gets harder and harder for me to come back to the golden bliss of suburbia. (And just in case you don’t actually know me, that’s me being sarcastic). Now don’t get me wrong, suburbia or not, I do love my home. With our move last summer we were able to get a house with a bigger yard for the kids (and myself) to play in, and over the past several years, I’ve made some great friends. But while Deer Park is where I currently live, it’ll never actually be my “home.” Not like Mt. Carroll was and even still is in my heart to this day.

Now to an outsider, it may not seem like much. I remember the first time I took my now husband back home with me, he was like, “wow, this is it?!” as I gave him the tour in all of three minutes. But where he sees rundown houses, I see beautiful old homes built with character and filled with memories. Where he sees only a Dairy Queen, I see the place where I spent so many summer nights hanging out with friends. Where he sees a deserted, dilapidated school, I see the place where I spent the most impressionable 13 years of my life. The place that not only formed the mold of who I would become as an adult but also the place where I met and grew to love some of the best friends that I still have to this day.

Mt. Carroll isn’t just a place where I was raised. It’s the place where I grew up. And what I didn’t have the sense to know or appreciate as a bratty teenage girl, as an adult I’m finally able to understand everything that it gave me. First and foremost it gave me roots. But not just because my family is still there. It’s more than that. It’s the entire community. It’s being able to walk into a store, see the mom of a fellow high schooler that I probably haven’t seen in over 20 years and still have a 15-minute conversation together. Or running into an old teacher and giving her a hug and filling her in about my kids. It doesn’t matter if you still live here or not, people welcome you back at all times with open arms and smiles.

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The kids and I on a recent trip back home.

Growing up in Mt. Carroll also gave the adult me a different perspective on the beauty and importance of simplicity. People back home just aren’t the same as they are in the suburbs. They seem to live in the the moment a lot more and stress a lot less on keeping up with the Jones’s. I’m the first to admit it’s easy to get sucked into the uppity idealistic suburban lifestyle, but it’s comforting to be reminded of what’s truly important in life every time I go back home. For example, during my last visit, my dad made a pit stop on our mule ride to “look for rocks.” My first thought was, “you’ve got to be kidding me.” But honestly, I think I had more fun than my kids looking for all the “pretty” things. I had forgotten that I used to spend hours by myself looking for fossils or fools gold as a kid – something my own kids most likely will never spend time doing (unless it’s with Grandpa.) Because in here, nature has been replaced by things like sod, manicured lawns and parking lots.

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High school besties, circa 1994

I often wonder if I’m doing my kids a disservice by not raising them in a rural community. Sure the suburbs have better schools and way more opportunities for them, but where the country lacks in educational opportunities, it makes up for it with offering experiences and life lessons that aren’t taught in a classroom. I went to school with a lot of farm kids. Kids who learned at a very early age what it meant to contribute to the family, join in the hard work and still go to school and participate in extracurricular activities. These kids weren’t coddled. They knew what was expected and they did it. No excuses. I certainly never knew anyone who had a stay-at-home mom that also had a nanny, something that seems to be extremely common where I live now. As kids we played outside. We got dirty. We laughed. We built forts. We were kids. Yet my kids’ free time is spent begging for any kind of screen time. Or complaining how bored they are despite having the entire Toys R’ Us store in the basement.

I’m sure these differences in the generations aren’t just related to the environment. It’s the technology craze we live in, the need for instant gratification. Regardless I still believe suburbia is perfecting the art of raising lazy, entitled brats who would rather stare into their phones all day than play outside or pull their share of the family load. Unfortunately kids that expect handouts eventually grow into adults that expect the same thing.

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Forever BFF’s, circa 1997

Country living isn’t just about working hard, however. There’s always time for play. From preschool to senior year I went to school with the same group of kids. Ed Sheeran nailed it in his song “Castle on the Hill” when he sings, “But these people raised me and I can’t wait to go home.” No other statement could be more true. This small group of kids were my life for the first 18 years. They were my influences, my confidantes, my partners in crime. And as a result, incredible friendships and bonds were formed that I still maintain to this day. Will my kids be able to say the same thing? In our district’s high school, there’s almost 2,000 kids. That’s more than my entire town. While I know my kids will make friends, when they’re 40 years old will they still keep in touch and even hang out with the friends they had? For their sake, I hope so. Because while I’ve made some incredible friends as an adult, my best friends are the ones that I grew up with. The ones that saw me thrive and also fail. The ones that stuck by me through the horrible middle school years and then again through the hormonal teenage years. These are the friends that know me better than anyone because like the song says, they’re the ones who helped raise me.

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My partners in crime for life

I suppose I could ramble on forever about all the wonderful things I love about my hometown and also just the rural lifestyle in general. Obviously I wish I would have appreciated it more growing up but I guess that’s all just part of the aging and maturing process. I will forever be grateful for the memories, the experiences, the lessons (both good and bad) that my country-living youth taught me. And while my family may live in the heart of suburbia, I certainly will do my best to give them plenty of opportunities to make their own country memories and experience the beauty in nature and simplicity. Home is where the heart is, and my heart will forever remain in Mt. Carroll.

“And I’m on my way, I still remember/ This old country lanes/ When we did not know the answers” – “Castle on the Hill” by Ed Sheeran

Four Decades and This is All I Know

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A recent practice run for my birthday. Cake, wine and a kid-free moment. Perfection.

Okay, folks. “F” day, as I like to call it, (or my 40th) is right around the bend. And as I’ve been sitting around being depressed about it lately, I’ve also been trying to think about if I’ve actually learned anything in my four decades. Overall I still think I’m pretty clueless but I do think I’ve figured out a few things about myself personally and also just about life. So go ahead and read carefully because my wisdom is pretty mind blowing (just kidding, I really don’t know shit). But here goes (in no particular order):

  • Every once in a while it’s okay to treat yourself to a dinner that costs as much as a week’s worth of groceries. It may seem asinine and reckless, but there’s something unbelievably satisfying about eating not just a phenomenal meal but also having it served to you. And don’t forget not doing any of the cleaning up! I may be a meat and potatoes farm girl, but it is nice experiencing how the other half lives every once in awhile. Treat yourself.
  • Some days are harder than others. Some days it takes every ounce of your being to peel yourself out of bed. And on those days if the most productive thing you’ve accomplished is simply taking a shower, than so be it. Give yourself a high-five and call it a win. Tomorrow is another day.
  • To me, one of my favorite things ever is finding a great book that I just can’t put down. Even when it’s 11:00 pm and I know I should stop. And then when it’s suddenly 1:00 am and I still haven’t stopped. But you know what, screw it. I survived months on end of barely a few hours of interrupted sleep. So when I find a book that I just can’t put down, I’m going to relish it. I may regret it when I have to wake up in a few hours but I’ll always appreciate the enjoyment it brings me in the long run.
  • Stay off the scale. No, seriously. All it does is mess with your head, and the only thing that matters is a) if your pants fit and b) that you’re healthy.
  • Along those lines, I’ve also discovered I’ll never do any form of a diet. I just can’t. I’ll exercise for an extra two hours a day (well not really because who has two entire hours to work out in a day?!) before anyone can make me give up alcohol, pizza or my seasonal candy corn.
  • As a lifetime resident (to date) of Illinois, death, insanely ridiculous taxes and asshole toddlers are the three guarantees of life.
  • I’ve started to accept the fact that I’ll always hear phantom crying or someone calling “Mommy” every damn time I take a shower. I’ve finally accepted these delusional noises and have stopped actually turning off the shower to check. But they’re never going away.
  • My dad was right.
  • Despite whatever crazy article one might find on the Internet, kids can definitely survive on peanut butter and mac-n-cheese daily. And it doesn’t even have to be organic.
  • There is no such thing as a miracle face cream. Over the past 10 years I have personally tried a countless number of prescription and over-the-counter products, all in the hopes of reversing the signs of aging. But let me tell you, whether something costs $10 or $200 these “smile lines” are coming in fast and furious, and unfortunately no product is going to make me look 21 again.
  • At the end of the day, stuff will always just be stuff. But if that stuff makes you happy then who cares. Buy the stuff.
  • A person should never be too old for an impromptu dance party. Music makes the world go round, and it does wonders for livening the soul. Just make sure it’s loud enough.
  • Don’t ignore the small stuff. Oftentimes it’s just as important, if not more, than the big stuff. (Remember from my previous post?!)
  • It doesn’t matter if you’re 14 or 40, the drama never leaves you.
  • It’s okay to “Waste a Moment.” Thanks, Kings of Leon for that wonderful life lesson. Not every second of every day needs to be filled with something productive. It doesn’t matter that your to-do list is a mile long. Take five minutes every day and fill it however you want. Watch the birds. Read a blog. Pet your dog. Sometimes nothing is everything.
  • Kids can go way longer without bathing than adults.
  • The older I get, the more I want to move back home… with or without my family depends on the day.

In reality this list could go on forever because obviously the past 40 years is not solely limited to the 17 bullet points here. But I hope this list is a gentle reminder to everyone that we’ll always continue to learn no matter how old we get.  Hopefully through what we learn, we’ll continually improve ourselves and most importantly never stop having fun. Forty is a big year. I’m no longer in the reckless crazy years but nor am I in the era of being more concerned with how others perceive me than how I perceive myself. So here’s to 40. I’ll raise my glass, shed a few tears, probably drink too much and dive head first into the next four decades.

Memories on Wiker Drive

Amy's Camera 182
Whitebread Christmas 2003

After being on the market for quite some time, my dad and his brothers finally sold my grandmother’s house. She’s been gone for over a year and a half and while obviously I knew this was coming, it still hit me like a ton of bricks. This is it. This is the last outstanding item that belonged to my grandparents. And while it’s ultimately just a house, it’s still the house that my cousins and I filled with long-lasting memories over the past several decades.

I don’t really know what I’m hoping to accomplish from this post except to simply leave behind a sampling of memories so one day, when I’m old and (more) delusional, my kids might be able to understand just how special my grandparents were to me.

My grandparent’s house was a place that:

  • Every Sunday she would cook the world’s worst pot roast. Grandma, you would be proud. I’ve actually found a roast recipe that is not just edible but it’s delicious! I think of you every time I make it.
  • I would walk through the door and do my best not to immediately plug my nose from smelling the disgusting cigarette smoke that blanketed every surface (despite that they only smoked “in the kitchen”). Grandma, I promise you, it smelled everywhere!
  • The echoes from my grandpa yelling “Jean!” and my grandma responding with “Bob!” will forever remain in my treasure chest of unforgettable voices.
  • There was never a shortage of Casey’s donuts stashed away in the freezer.
  • One never was fully able to dry themselves properly after a shower thanks to my grandmother’s love for paper-thin towels that were practically the size of a washrag. Why, grandma, just why?!
  • My grandma and I would stay up until midnight eating Fiddle Faddle and watching Lifetime movies and Love Connection. How did that show go off the air? It was the BEST!
  • My cousins and I would jam to Michael Jackson’s Thriller in her boombox…the only cassette disc I believe my grandmother owned. And yes, she truly owned a legit ’80s boombox.
  • Once upon a time, my cousin and I had such small butts, we could both fit in our special chair that we claimed every Christmas. Boy, do I miss those small-butt days!
  • Speaking of Christmas, my grandpa would make all of us cousins line up in front of the tree so he could take our picture with his Polaroid. Oh how we moaned and complained, but today, looking back at those pictures, we’re reminded of some pretty terrific times. Thanks, Grandpa. You were right!
  • We all risked the imminent reprimanding we’d be getting to experience the brief  joy we got from turning on their (now) vintage dripping oil lamp and playing in the oil. Why was that thing so damn mesmerizing?
  • No matter how small of a chore I (or any of my cousins) ever did for my grandma, she’d always slip me a $20.
Gma
The last picture my cousin and I took with our grandma, September 2016.

Grandparents are extremely special people in so many way,s and I can only hope that someday I’ll leave behind my own legacy of memories to my grandchildren the way that mine left to me. And if you’re lucky enough to still have your grandparents around, don’t forget to remind them how awesome they are.