Braving the School Field Trip

Ever since my oldest started school, I’ve always had the excuse of having a baby at home so I was never really able to volunteer much in my kids’ classrooms. Until this year. This is the first year that my youngest is in school long enough that I’m actually able to run more than one errand if so desired. So this year during the initial classroom information night I did the unthinkable – I put my name down as someone who was “willing” to help out at some point in the classroom. I don’t know if it was out of guilt, or curiosity, or simply out of pure insanity. Anyway, fast forward to a few weeks ago when I got the email – you know the one. The sweet request from the dear teacher asking if I would be interested in chaperoning a field trip. Well, F@*^, I thought. But of course I lied through my teeth like any respectable mother would do and responded that I’d be more than happy to help and to please keep me posted on details.

I told my daughter I was going to be going with her on her field trip, and she seemed at least semi excited. That sparked a little hope that we might not only get through it unscathed but maybe even have a little fun. So the morning of, I drove my kids to school and ended up waiting with a few other fellow moms who volunteered. One of them just happened to pull out this long, detailed instruction page of all the WORK we were expected to do. Say what?! I pretended not to panic and asked where they got it and if I could read it. Because of course my daughter hadn’t brought home anything for me to read. And if she did, it was still buried in her backpack stuffed with random JoJo bows, Sqeezamals and other very important stuff that every kid needs to attend first grade. But ok, I still thought, “I can do this. I’m 41. A mother of three. I even have a Masters degree in education. I. Got. This.”  So I simply smiled, made some stupid joke about having to work and pretended I hadn’t already sweated through my sweater.

The bell rang and we headed down to the classroom. We were handed clipboards with our responsibilities written down and an iPad. Great. I was responsible for kids AND school property. We were divided up into groups and then so began the excruciating ordeal of “last-minute bathroom trips” – which of course consisted of pretty much the entire damn class. Meanwhile in my group I had four girls, including my daughter who had barely acknowledged my presence, and one boy. After what seemed like an hour of bathroom trips, we herded our groups out to the bus.

Of course the girls were already being dramatic about who sat with who and my daughter wouldn’t sit with me because “her friends were there.” Fine. Whatever. Thankfully the boy in my group didn’t protest about sitting with the random old lady. Now I have not ridden in a bus in over two decades. You forget about all the noise, the completely upright seat backs – the SMELLS. I kept getting whiffs of vomit, and let me tell you it was touch and go for me more than once but I didn’t dare look around to see if I could find the source. Between that and the high-pitched screeches from all the girls, that 15-minute ride might as well have been five hours. But we made it.

Once inside the museum, I was handed yet another clipboard to carry (on top of my first clipboard, iPad and my purse) and we started making our way through the museum. My luck it was a history museum about one of the first farms in the area so of course I was enamored with all of the antiques and informational pieces…that I couldn’t even look at or read because of All. The. Jobs. I had to do with the kids. [But seriously this farm girl died a little inside when one of the first questions the kids were asked was, “What is this a picture of?” Um, it was a FARM. Is there even a remote possibility that any kid wouldn’t know what a farm looked like or was??]

Deep in discussion about Needs vs. Wants

Anyway we spent the next hour or so “exploring” the museum. I sweated quite a bit more trying to juggle all the things, remind each kid every five seconds or so that, “No, you cannot hold the iPad, sorry” and do my best to get the appropriate 10 plus pictures that were required. Meanwhile, the kids were constantly wanting to run in different directions, one of the girls got sick and the other three girls were having “issues” about who they were wanting to hold hands with. I felt like a damn Nazi constantly yelling, “Guys, wait. We need ONE more picture. Look at ME. Is that a NEED? Or a WANT? Just STAY TOGETHER.” But we survived. I survived. And most importantly no one was lost or injured…and only one got sick.

During the final wrap up with the museum instructor I stood in the back and simply observed the students. One was rocking back and forth with such intensity he seemed on the verge of flying away. One wanted to the play the harmonica so badly I thought he might explode in desperation. The poor sick girl in my group had tears in her eyes from her ear hurting so much. And the majority of the kids were sitting in ways that I can only dream of contorting my body. But all in all, bless these little energetic first graders who were doing their best to pay attention and stay focused.

The bus ride back was pretty much more of the same. My daughter refused to sit with me. I held my breath as much as possible to minimize the whiffs of vomit. And my back ached for even a three percent decline. When we got back to school I wistfully watched other moms get nice long, appreciative hugs from their child whereas mine bolted ahead with her friends with me desperately yelling, “Bye, enjoy the rest of your day.” But alas, with that, I too, bolted to my car and headed out for coffee.

Despite my daughter ignoring me. Despite me needing a second shower from all my nervous sweating. Despite barely surviving the bus ride from ALL the bus things. Despite it all, I enjoyed watching the kids. Seeing their genuine curiosities. Listening to their questions about the “old dead people.”  Experiencing their willingness to explore…even if that exploration was playing with a typewriter and a rotary phone, you know, all the primitive “antiques.” Despite it all, it was a memorable adventure for me. And it made me appreciate my children’s teachers even more.

So go ahead. Thank a teacher. Volunteer to chaperone. Earn a “Good Deed Mom Badge.” I dare you. Just don’t forget to bath in bleach afterwards and say a little prayer that you don’t catch the plague from the cesspool of germs you encountered. And hope that one day our kids will remember and appreciate all the things we did for our precious little darlings.


Finding the Gold in the Dark

My family shows up. We are never alone.

It seems lately as we approach the holiday season and should be surrounding ourselves with all things “joyful” that instead, so many families I know, including my own, has been forced into one tragic event after another.

One of these awful tragedies was the death of one of my cousins a few weeks ago. The unexpected loss of this great young man leaves behind voids that I can only begin to imagine. I will say, however, that the intense grief, love, unwavering faith, and even some good ol’ fashioned laughter that I experienced during my brief visit with friends and family for the services left a remarkable impression on me. Seeing his teenage children weep for the loss of their father. Or the strength in his wife as she constantly kept watch over her two kids to make sure they were okay when the easier thing to have done was to simply not get out of bed. Hearing story after story of the lives my cousin touched and the hundreds of people he’s helped to better their lives. [That certainly made me realize how very little I actually do to make this world a better place. But that’s a different therapy session for a different day.] Seeing and being a part of such deep, emotional experiences left me spinning. Whether you’re 21, 41 or 91, these are pivotal moments in a person’s life. I do often wonder why it takes the death of someone to have some of these “Ah Ha” kind of realizations but I suppose no one ever said hind sight was anything less than a bitch.

But anyway after I got back home after the services, I spent the next week or so just asking myself “Why” over and over. And then later in the week, I came across a line in a book. It read:

“There is gold in every piece of your story.”

As simple as that line is, it stopped me in my tracks. Because my brain does not think that way. I focus only on the negative, and it ends up being a downward spiral of one bad thing after another until I’m only seeing bad things in every situation. And that’s not life. But seeing that line made me realize that I was asking myself the wrong question. Because at the end of the day, the “Why” will never be understood nor will it change the outcome. So instead, I started thinking about what I should be learning from this situation and what I would want my children to learn. I wanted – I needed – to see “the gold” in this part of my cousin’s story because from the outside all I saw was heartache. When I started thinking about the situation in a different light, I was amazed at all the “good” (and I use this word loosely in relation to anyone dying) things that I had seen and heard just in those two days.

While I could ramble on, for me I simply wanted to focus on what I believe to be THE most important message or the “gold” that I gained out of this situation. And that is simply: I AM [YOU ARE] NEVER ALONE. Life can be shitty. This year in particular seems to be exceptionally awful for so many. But damn, what I witnessed at this funeral, and even others this year, has just been phenomenal. Friends and family come out of the woodwork during these tragedies. And maybe you don’t see or even talk to them that often but just knowing that they are indeed there should provide some level of comfort. Because even when you think you’re at your lowest; when you think you’re all alone and no one can help you, all you have to do is look around because there will always be at least one, or 10 or even 100 people right there, wanting and waiting to help you.

For some reason I’ve always thought that it was best to deal with my problems by myself, inside my own head. (Brilliant, right?! Insert eye-rolling emoji.) But that simply isn’t how life should be. I suppose I can say I’ve always known that but I think this funeral actually helped me see that. Don’t stay inside your head. It can get dangerous there. Try to find the gold among even the darkest parts to our stories. Because it is there; it just isn’t always easy to see. God or Buddha or the Stars or Someone gave us each other for a reason. Remember that. And repeat after me: You Are Not Alone.

Be that Inspirational Friend

IMG_4313Throughout our lifespan people weave themselves in and out of our lives. As kids and teenagers I feel like we strive for quantity over quality because we place popularity on such a pedestal and are trained to think the more “friends” we have the better off or cool we are. Yet the older I get the more I’ve learned that, in fact, just the exact opposite is true. The quality of the friends and people in our daily lives exponentially outweighs the quantity. Sure I have plenty of acquaintances and people I’m friendly with, but the number of people that I can truly say are my good friends, or “ride or die bitches” as we like to call each other, has been happily narrowed down over the years to a few select groups of people. These are the people that I talk (well okay, text with) on the regular. But even if we miss some time here or there, that’s okay too. These are the ones that we actually go out of our way to make plans to hang out with each other. Because we all know that life happens, but we’re important enough to each other to make it a point to still see one another on at least a semi-regular basis. These are the ones who know each other’s secrets, we don’t judge (or if we do, we certainly judge openly… And that’s okay too). These are the ones that make each other laugh until we cry, that give the best hugs, and always have each other’s backs.

They say that everyone comes into your life for a reason. And that I do believe. Sometimes, however, we can’t be rid of the crazies quick enough, but still I believe we have something to learn from everyone. A few years ago I was introduced to someone who today I consider to be one of my most special friends. When we first met, you can believe I was full of all sorts of judgement as I checked her out with her beautiful hair, perfect body and infectious smile. Thankfully my ridiculous judging didn’t last long once we started talking, and I discovered that it was truly possible to be both beautiful and a genuinely kind human being. And though we’ve only known each other for a few years, she is one of those people that has taught me so much.

Recently this sweet woman has been thrown a huge life curve ball. I feel deflated, heart broken and completely helpless. Yet while I have no control over the future of anyone’s life, what I can control are my words and my ability to share the important life lessons that this special woman has taught me. Because everyone deserves to have such a special and influential friend in their lives.

I think the most important thing I’ve learned from my friend is the importance of simply showing up. Despite all the grief I give her about her various luxuries in life, this woman works her ass off on the daily to provide for her family. To be there for them. And is constantly going out of her way to do special things for her girls to simply reinforce her love for them. But even after all that, out of our little local core group, it’s almost always her that is taking the time to plan outings for us or just simply dragging our exhausted mom asses out of our houses. She’s the one that’s sending out the group texts reminding us of the date for Wine Chat Wednesday, even though it’s supposed to be the same date every month. And even when it’s -50 degrees outside and all I want to do is lay on my couch in my fat pants, she has taught me that that simply isn’t good enough. Because friends show up for each other. Friends make it a point to hang out. And anything less simply isn’t an option.

Another huge lesson my friend has taught me is simply how to forgive. If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s holding a grudge (just ask my husband!) My friend is so much smarter than me. She knows that harboring anger and ill thoughts does nobody any good. She’s been such a great role model to me in simply forgiving, letting go of any negativity and moving on. Because life is just too short not to. The world would be such a better place if we all followed her example.

Along the way there’s also been several other “smaller” life lessons, although in my opinion just as equally important.

  • Bless this woman’s heart her taste in music could use some improving. However, even when surrounded by horrible music, she’s proved to me that it truly is possible to have a good time.
  • Not only is it normal, but it’s absolutely crucial to slow down every once in awhile and simply remember how to feel. We often get so caught up in our chaotic daily lives that we don’t necessarily give ourselves the necessary and imperative time we, as humans, need to acknowledge our own feelings.
  • Believe it or not, body suits can actually look good…on the right person!
  • Everyone has their own insecurities and faults. But if we can’t own who we are, we need to reevaluate. We’re all human and none of us are perfect. But there comes a point in our adult lives that if we don’t feel confident in who we are, albeit good or bad, it’s our responsibility alone to change what we don’t like.

Life is confusing, at times difficult, and every once in awhile it simply knocks you on your ass. And in these moments may we all be blessed enough to have a friend as special and inspirational as this one is to me. And more importantly, may we all be that friend to someone else.

May Today Always Count

IMG_7123Today was just another ordinary day. My kids drove me crazy. I yelled a lot. There were timeouts and tears. Nothing too good and nothing too bad. Just a normal day. Which, in hindsight, as my dad always likes to remind me, is not necessarily a bad thing. But then I thought I’d take a few minutes to zone out and peruse the “Book.” And the first post that popped up was from the husband of a girl I went to journalism college with stating that his wife had passed away after battling breast cancer. Say what?! Now granted, I hadn’t spoken to her in years but this was a girl I had partied with. Studied with. Done projects with. And endured all the same classes, headaches and learning experiences that one encounters at college. And now she’s gone. But even more sadly is that she leaves behind a husband and her five-year-old son.

As I sit here trying to write my way through my feelings, because that’s just what I do, I find myself really struggling. Obviously I don’t have the right to truly grieve my old friend. We haven’t kept up in our friendship, and I had no idea what was going on in her life. But my heart can’t stop aching for her sweet little boy. Because I too was that motherless little child. I know what it’s like to grow up without a mother. Him and his father have a difficult road ahead of them. They will adapt and persevere because they have no choice, but it won’t be easy. However, that isn’t even what truly has me struggling about all of this. What I can’t seem to wrap my brain around is the fact that someone my age, someone I knew, died. And not from some random accident. But from cancer. My dad is supposed to be in the era of losing people he knows from terminal illnesses, not me. Hell in my mind I’m still in the time frame of people getting married and having kids. (Obviously I know I’m way past that but if we’re being completely honest I’ll just admit I still think I’m 17. At this point I think I’ll feel that way forever.)

Last year I had a dear friend battle breast cancer – and beat it, YAY. Now, did I worry about her? Yes. Did I ache for the pain and suffering she was going through? Yes. Did I think she was a bad ass warrior for not only beating it, but simultaneously continuing to work, be a mother, a wife and a partner in managing a household? Yes. BUT, did I for even one second consider the fact that she could possibly die? HELL NO. Because people my age don’t get terminal illnesses and die. They just don’t. So hearing about the loss of a classmate to cancer has certainly given me a hard slap in the face back into reality.

I’m no stranger to death. As a result, I live my life with one eye open at all times because I’m just waiting for another freak accident to claim the next victim. I waste so many brain cells trying to come up with every possible (and a lot of impossible) situation(s) that could potentially harm one of my family members. It’s just my demented way of trying to “prepare” myself mentally. Because that’s what I know. I rarely think about normal harmful situations. And I certainly never, ever think about anything happening to me. That’s just one more worry that I don’t think my brain can take on.

Because as I sit here worrying about that poor boy, or worrying about just the possibility of losing someone in my own family, I’m reminded about a quote that I saw recently. It read: “One day you’ll look back and realize that you worried too much about things that don’t really matter.” Obviously I’m not saying things like death or illness or other similar scary things don’t matter. Because of course they do. But do the mere ideas or just the possibility of them matter? They shouldn’t. Because if I’ve learned anything, it’s that life is ultimately going to be whatever it’s going to be. And worrying about all the things that might happen won’t change a damn thing. Does that mean that I won’t worry? (Can you hear me laughing hysterically at this question?!) Of course not; worrying is my jam. But at some point I have to take solace in the fact that my family itself and also our support system is strong. Just as I’m sure this grieving father and son will be what they need to be and have what they need to have to in order to get through this horrible tragedy.

Life is full of curve balls. At any given unexpected time. And yes, some may get more than others. And even though I’m an expert on knowing how short life can be, it doesn’t necessarily make me always appreciate it as much as I should. But today as I’m reminded once again on life’s fragility, I’m going to yell at my kids with a bit more love. And even if they grow up with memories of having a crazy lunatic for a mother, and I look back at all the tattling and sibling fighting, the fact that we’re lucky enough to have any of these memories will make me forever grateful. Today we have everything. Tomorrow we may not. May we always make today count.

Rest in Peace, old friend. May your memory live on forever.


Don’t Let the “Buts” Override the Joys

“Talking About Our Problems is Our Greatest Addiction. Break the Habit. Talk about Your Joys.”

A few weeks ago an old high school classmate of mine shared this on her Facebook page. It immediately struck a cord with me, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. Mainly because It’s.Just.So.True. Rarely do I call my dad up with something “good” or send one of my fellow mom pals a text with something great that my kids did. Most of the time it’s simply me bitching. Me bitching about my kids. Bitching about my husband. Bitching about the weather. Just me bitching about anything and everything. Yet over the past few weeks as I’ve been ruminating on this idea, every time I try to think about something I’m grateful for, there always seems to be a giant BUT at the end. I’m grateful for my health…BUT I hate the feeling of getting old. I’m grateful for my kids…BUT boy do they drive me crazy. I’m grateful for my hardworking husband…BUT why won’t he do X, Y or Z? And it just keeps going on and on. I know I’m a Negative Nelly. I’ve been that way for as long as I can remember. But geez, even for me sometimes I think enough is enough. So I decided to write a post (mainly to prove to myself that I CAN remain positive for once) about my JOYS. The things that make me happy. And there will be no BUTS. The buts are my addiction and it’s true, I do need to break the habit. So here’s my first attempt.


One of my greatest Joys over the past few weeks has simply been the generosity and kindness of my gal pals. Recently I had a minor procedure done and was laid up for a few days. Now everyone knows I hate asking for help of any kind. I don’t know why I do, I just don’t ever want to be a “burden” on someone else. Yet these ladies simply took charge. I had homemade dinners delivered, goodies for the kids, milkshakes for me. I had numerous additional offers and daily text messages checking up on me as well. Even the women I work out with got together and all signed a card for me. Now these woman will all tell you this was “no big deal” for them, but I beg to differ. Some of these woman work. They’re all raising families, being chauffeurs, cleaners, chefs. Yet they went out of their way to help me. And they did it on their own. That is some good people right there. No buts needed for this Joy.

Now it would be wrong of me to write about my Joys and not mention family. However seeing as I feel this is just a “given,” I’ll keep it short and sweet. My family has each other’s backs. We’ve been around the block a few times in the Village of Hell and we’re are all sorts of crazy, weird and impossible, but that’s what I’m most thankful for. Because given a choice between The Cleavers or The Conners, I’d take the Conners any day. They’re a lot more fun. So even when my phone calls and texts are about 95 percent me talking about my problems, I can always count on my dad to remind me that “this too shall pass” or my faithful cousin, who’s a few years ahead of the parenting/life game than me, to talk me off that ledge. They’re my forever Joys. The lemonade to my lemons. (Sorry, sometimes, I like a good ol’ cliche!)

About a year ago, in my forever hunt for cool vintage items, I met a local woman who has a sweet little antique business that she runs out of her home. Recently she asked if I’d help her with the online portion of her business. Um, hello?! I get to look at and fondle beautiful, one-of-a-kind treasures AND get paid for it?! YES! This woman is grateful for my help, and I’m beyond grateful for simply having the opportunity to “do what I love.” I don’t necessarily believe in all the “you meet everyone for a reason” garbage that people like to say, but I certainly could not be any happier for having met this woman…despite having spent way too much money on all the pretty things that she sells. At least now however, my guilt is justifiably a tad less.

Now obviously there’s a million and one other things that bring Joy in my life. It’s candy corn season. The trees look freaking amazing. My kids are doing well in school. And my husband recently discovered what is currently my new favorite beer. Overall life is good. But it’s just so damn easy to spend so much time focusing on the buts and the negative side of things. (Candy corn makes me fat. Falling leaves means snow is coming. My son writes like he’s in preschool. Beer makes me fat. – See how easy that is??) But here I am, attempting to work on Amy 2.0 and trying just a tad harder to consider that my glass might just be half full instead of half empty. And on those days that I simply can’t do it – a 6-pack and a bag of candy corn make a damn fine way to end the day.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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