Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Year In Review

Wowza. You know, every December 31 or so, I've been known to write a letter to myself recapping the year and pondering what the next may bring. Thinking back on previous years, I'm always amazed at how unpredictable they can be - and this one has been no exception.

Think about it. One year ago today, where were you? Who were you with? What were you doing? How were you feeling? What did you expect for the coming year? Fast forward 365 days. How'd ya do with those predictions? Are you in the same place, with the same person, doing the same thing and feeling the same way? Perhaps yes, but probably not.

As you may have gathered if you're a regular Writing - It's My Thing reader, this past year was a roller coaster - full of twists and turns, ups and downs. In fact, it was so topsy-turvy, I, for the first time in I don't know how many years, didn't send out a Christmas newsletter. You know, the ones that highlight how great your kids are and how wonderful life has been for the past year? I joked on my Facebook page that mine would have read like a chapter out of a Stephen King novel. No one would believe it and it would be pretty scary.

See, if I wrote one, I'd want to hit all the highlights, which were pretty much monthly: 

January: High hopes for the new year!

February: My Green Bay Packers win the Super Bowl!

March: I put my house of 12 years on the market.

April: My otherwise active and healthy mother is diagnosed with kidney cancer, and has said kidney successfully removed, with no apparent residual cancer. Her recovery - which they said could last as long as nine months - is remarkable - just like her.

May: My oldest son is confirmed, has his First Communion, and graduates from 8th grade. We Kennards like to do our accomplishments in threes.

June: My house sells. My family and I take a trip that opens my eyes and changes my life, and results in me enduring one of the hardest summers I can ever remember. I lose 10 pounds.

July: Both sons celebrate birthdays! I discover that two of my friends have breast cancer, and I am somehow drawn to them even more and they become my inspiration.

August: After three weeks of living out of suitcases, we move into our new home.

September: My oldest starts his freshman year at a brand new school.

October: I get a team together to join a volleyball league at the RiverPlex. I begin to gain back the 10 pounds.

November: I celebrate my one-year anniversary of being employed. My sister-in-law suffers a stroke at a Bears game in Chicago. My mother is diagnosed with ovarian cancer, which apparently had nothing to do with the kidney cancer. Neither disease runs in our family. I begin compiling blog material to publish my own book.

December: My book is published! The family unites for a thankful Christmas and braces for Mom's surgery and subsequent chemotherapy starting in January. I start wondering what 2012 will bring, and hope I can write more like Erma Bombeck than Steven King at the end of it all.

Happy New Year to everyone, and may 2012 bring you everything you hope for, and nothing more than God thinks you can handle.

Friday, December 23, 2011

"Count your blessings, and forget the rest"

It's two days before Christmas, and this year more than ever, I'm not feeling it. Perhaps it's the ages of my kids - now 10 and 14. Five years ago, I would still have been frantically baking my 12th kind of cookie and making sure each gift was wrapped in different colored paper. I would have test-drove the stocking stuffers to make sure they fit in said stockings, and ensured that my video camera was charged and at the ready.

This year, I've made two kinds of cookies - one from a box. Most of my gifts are bagged, not wrapped, and I didn't even make sure I had even numbers of green and red tissue-wrapped stuffers for the stockings. In fact, I drank for the better part of my wrapping hours.

Inevitably, two days before Christmas, my kids will be watching TV (which is what they will do for the next 10 days on their "Winter Break") and suddenly say, "Hey, Mom! THAT'S on the TOP of my Christmas list!!!" I'll look at this item that I've never seen or heard of before in my life and wonder where the hell this little gem was a month ago when I asked them to list and prioritize their Christmas wants.

The older they get, the more expensive their list items become. And the older I get, the poorer I seem to become. You do the math. My older son has pictures of very expensive drum sets plastered all over the refrigerator. He's not a beginner musician, so trying to get one of those Ronco "As Seen on TV" drum sets isn't going to cut it. I'm also not ready to part with that kind of money, even if it's the only way to get him to smile and perhaps say, "Thanks, Mom! You're the BEST!"

I've tried to adhere to my rule - THREE GIFTS. Just like Jesus got. One big gift from Santa, and two from "Mom and Dad" (even though we're divorced, we share this expense. Thank God. I pity the divorced and/or blended families who are forced to do two Christmases and the kids end up double-dipping.) Anyway, a couple of years ago, I got sick of Santa getting the credit for the big gift. "Santa's so cool, Mom - you never would have gotten us that." and the inevitable, "You can't take that away from us! Santa gave that to us!" Screw that. Santa can give you underwear and socks from now on. You're 10 and 14 now. Mom rules; Santa sucks. Deal with it.

So like every other year, it's less than 36 hours before the big day and I'm worried that a) it's not enough; b) they're not going to like what they got and c) this Christmas will be the one that will go down in history as "The Year Mom Lost It".

I think back to my Christmases as a child - I don't really know what my parents spent on the four of us other than they made sure it was "equal" - as if we were mentally calculating our share of the pot then holding court later that night to determine who Mom and Dad liked best that year. I don't remember ever feeling gypped, slighted, or the least bit disappointed no matter what I got. So, either my parents were AWESOME at satisfying my EVERY need, or in the end, the things I thought I really wanted just didn't matter as much as I thought they did.

I don't know how my parents did it - and still do. Every year, Mom bakes cookies. Not from a box. The ones you make and chill the dough and cut out with cookie cutters and decorate. Yeah, those. She shops all year long for every child, grandchild, great-grandchild and all the other miscellaneous members of our family. She wraps each gift impeccably and yes, still makes sure that the four kids are equally gifted.

I feel like such a loser. To make matters worse, up until last year, Mom made virtually everything for Christmas dinner. We finally convinced her to do the main dish and the desserts, and we would bring the rest - whatever we wanted. Know what I'm bringing? Rolls, Jell-O Jigglers, and fruit. Why? Because that's pretty much all my kids will eat, plus my sister and brother took all the good stuff and are waaaaay better cooks than me.

*Sigh*. I do look forward to Christmas morning. My kids are usually genuinely thankful and pleased. It's nice to get the family together. And to get me through those Christmas night doldrums? Packers vs. Bears at 7:30. You guess who I'm rooting for and here's a hint. It doesn't start with a "B".

Seriously, win or lose, I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas experience, no matter where you are and who you are with. A friend of mine offhandedly made a simple remark to me today that really resonated:  "Count your blessings, and forget the rest." I hope you all will take time to appreciate the blessings in your life, and for just one day, forget the other stuff. I know I will certainly try - if not for just one day.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Dating tips from someone who doesn't really date

It's time for me to be that chick you hate. That chick that tells it like it is like she knows it all. The chick that says what you don't want to hear. Because you've been that guy. You've been that girl. And so have I.

Now I do a lot of people-watching, and people-listening, and I see and hear quite a bit of this little flirty singles dance that's out there. A lot of "He texted me this" and "I told him that" and "Can you believe he/she said/did THAT?" And just for the record, I'm middle-aged. This isn't my first rodeo - and if you're reading this, it probably isn't yours, either.

So here's the deal. I'm going to go all Patty Stanger on you (she's that in-your-face madwoman from Millionaire Matchmaker, who, to me, makes perfect sense nearly every time she speaks) and give you some no-brainer, no-shit dating tips that you should already know, but either you're too wrapped up in yourself to realize it or you're just bat crazy.

First, for the guys. You're all morons. You have no idea what you're doing, and if you think you do, you're full of yourself. If you're looking to get some drunk chick in the sack for a night, keep doing what you're doing and that's probably what you'll get. I guarantee she'll get uglier as the day gets lighter and you'll probably never see her again. Wait, you will, and it will be uncomfortable at best.

If you are looking for a relationship, swap the sexual innuendos for something a little more practical - like being sweet instead of sexy, intelligent instead of ignorant, and perspicacious instead of a prick. If you do by some act of God get her phone number, the texts should be kept to a minimum - a quick "Hi, it was great meeting you last night" or "Can you break for lunch?" or "Call you later!" will suffice. If you want this little bud of a romance to go anywhere, pick up the damn phone and call her. Texting that much is for losers. And it's exhausting to boot.

And if you're the guy on the other end of the spectrum - the sweet, quiet, shy guy who can't even make eye contact? WE DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'RE THINKING. We can't read your mind, but your face looks like a deer caught in headlights. Man up, because, well, you're the man. And if WE have to be the ones to man up, then there's a problem.

Now if a FWB (Friend with Benefits) is what you're looking for, try having that conversation with your lady friend about it instead of just "assuming" that's what it is, or just riding that train for as long as you can before someone (she) notices. Try this icebreaker: "Hey, I really like you and all, but not really enough to admit to anyone that I'm in a relationship with you. Plus I really want to keep my options open in case someone really out of my league decides that I rock their world. BUT, you're the only action I really get right now, so if we could just keep it on the downlow, that would be great. Here, let me pick up the check." What? You don't think that will go over well with your female buddy? Huh.

Girls, now it's your turn. Quit being such needy pansies. I'm not much for "self-help" books (obviously), but I once read a book that I'm embarrassed to admit to reading, but I've taken the author's advice to this day. Greg Behrendt wrote He's Not That Into You in 2004 (you probably remember the movie back in 2009). Anyway, the book was freakin' genius.

Now while most
of his insights had to do with getting over someone who had broken up with you, they can be tweaked for dating purposes. Like, "If he wants to call, he'll call." There is no, "He must have lost my number." or "Maybe he's in the hospital." or "Maybe I didn't indicate to him enough that I wanted him to call." If he wants to call, HE WILL CALL. So go on about your day and chill. Now, when he DOES call, we are NOT going to analyze every single thing that came out of his mouth. WHY? Because he didn't mean it ANY DIFFERENT OR ANY DEEPER than it sounded. Unless he is one of those incredibly rare, emotionally-available males who are deeply in touch with their feminine side, what you hear is what you get. THERE IS NO MORE.

Here's where there's more, Ladies. You may think that letting him know what other men have done to you is going to somehow endear you to him. IT'S NOT. You may think that if you don't go home with him he'll think you're a prude and never ask you out again. THAT COULD HAPPEN. And I hope it does. And as titillating as phone sex or sexting may seem at 2 am, it's really, really awkward at 10 in the morning. So, like, don't do it. Same for sending raunchy pictures that more than likely will end up on his Facebook page.

If you do make that love connection and start down that relationship road, make sure it's a reciprocal one. If you're surprising him with dinner, putting little notes on his car, or dropping off cookies at his workplace and there's nothing coming back your way, STOP DOING IT. YOU'RE BEING CREEPY GIRLFRIEND STALKER. If on the other hand YOU are getting cooki
es at work and little notes on your car and not doing the same thing, RUN DON'T WALK, and consider changing your phone number.

I'm sure some of this advice sounds jaded, and perhaps it is. But I can't keep my mouth shut when I see this happening all around me - on both sides. Men and women - doing this dorky dance like a couple of mating flamingos trying to figure out if they're pink enough for each other. Here's a novel idea. Talk for awhile. Get to know each other. Go out a couple of times on some fun dates. Go a couple of days in between without talking to each other (OK - a short text is permissible). You'll know if you're on the same page. If you even question it, you're not. If you have to have talk after talk after talk about it, you're not. MOVE ON. Like marriages, relationships do take some work. However, if they take THAT much work, you're better off cutting loose before you tie that knot.

Any other advice for men and women daters out there? Want to tell me I'm a freak? Go ahead. I may seem that way, but in the spirit of Patty Stanger, I know what I'm talking about.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

I have a secret....

Have you seen this site?


PostSecret is an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on a postcard. Creator Frank Warren said that the origin of PostSecret started with a dream he had while visiting Paris in 2003, which morphed into a "reluctant oracle" project in 2004, and finally, the PostSecret site emerged in 2005.

The secrets, posted weekly, range from fascinating, disturbing, enlightening, sad, intriguing, odd, and heartwarming... but all very, very real. They're humanizing admissions that make us all realize that no matter how much of an "open book" we say we are, we all have confessions, regrets, thoughts and feelings that we are sure if discovered would be judged unfavorably.

If I had something that secretive, I assure you I'd send it to PostSecret before I'd admit it publicly. But just for fun, I'll share a few secrets with you, if nothing else just to make you feel better about yourself. Feel free to share yours... if you dare.

25 Secrets I Won't Tell Just Anybody
1. I blamed it on your brother, but really - I did it.
2. Sometimes I really wish I would have been a high school English teacher.
3. When I told you that our toddler made that hole in the wall when he threw his sippy cup, I was lying. I punched it because I was frustrated with him.
4. I watch The Real Housewives and Millionaire Matchmaker.
5. If I think about you dying, it literally makes me cry.
6. You want to win me over? Think outside the box. Plan the date. Make me something. Show up early. Show me I matter. The independent front is all a ruse.
7. I totally regifted that.
8. I didn't wash it; I just rinsed it.
9. I worry if I'll ever be able to afford to retire.
10. I don't know which way is North.
11. You think I'm a certain way, but I'm really not. I just only show you that side.
12. I sometimes wonder if you do drugs.
13. I think you made a big mistake but I know if I tell you it will just make you mad.
14. I have clothes hanging in my closet that I never wear simply because I hate to iron.
15. I think about you more than you realize.
16. You don't smell good.
17. I do dance like no one is watching; and usually they aren't.
18. I still count on my fingers.
19. I hope I have the strength to be as tough on you as I'm going to need to be.
20. Your priorities are WAY jacked up.
21. If I had the money and my kids were older, I'd totally have plastic surgery.
22. I know you only text me when you're bored and have nothing better to do and it really pisses me off.
23. I have hidden you from my Facebook feed because I'm tired of reading your posts.
24. Some days, I eat about 1000 calories more than I should, just because I'm bored.
25. I have your password.

Ha - so do I have you thinking? See? Everyone has secrets. Some are no big deal, like the ones above. Some, like on PostSecret, are deeply moving and might be quite life changing if ever truly revealed. Honestly, I think it's great that there's an outlet for those who really just need to get that deep, dark secret out in the open, even if it's anonymously.

So tell me, what's your secret?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Traditions aren't necessarily things you do over and over

Traditions were a big thing in my house growing up. I don't know if they were intentionally planned or not, but they just seemed to fall into place, as opposed to the strategically thought out and somewhat "forced" traditions of today. Now, you read all these articles on "how to create traditions in your family" like it's something you cut out and glue together. I don't know that my parents thought it out quite like that. I think it just... happened.

Maybe they were more like habits. We had a lot of those. Or maybe "established practices" is the better term. I don't know. But some of my fondest memories of my childhood are things we did every year, like clockwork. They were things I looked forward to. Expected. Like picking mulberries in the morning for breakfast. Or strawberries. Or raspberries. (We had a lot of fruit in our yard.) Or jumping in the leaves in the fall (NOT raking them, mind you. I hated that.) Or taking the huge toboggan out sledding in the winter - all of us piled on.

Holidays were of course centered around church. Catholic church. Long, drawn-out Catholic masses, but somehow comforting nonetheless. Expected. Regular. The smell of incense during the Stations of the Cross before Easter. The choir at Christmas. And all those Holy Days that we got off from school (but still had to go to mass).

Whether they realized it or not, my parents rocked holiday traditions. Christmas was especially spot on. I don't quite remember the order of things, but writing it out makes it look like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

I have photos of us all gathered around the piano as each of the four children (and Mom) played selected Christmas tunes that we had been practicing in our weekly piano lessons. Dad read the Birth of Jesus from the Bible, then we had the procession to the manger. No, Jesus did not appear in our manger until Christmas Eve, and I remember being the proud bearer of the tiny ceramic babe to his rightful place in the fake straw of the stall. Then the stocking were hung by the chimney with care and we were off to bed with sugarplums dancing in our heads and all that other stuff.

I guess I just assumed that everyone did the same thing on Christmas and that things would never change. As the kids got older, moved out, got into relationships, had kids, got divorced, remarried, had step-kids, their kids had kids, and so on, and so on, somehow things got really complicated. My own divorce kind of threw a wrench in my traditions all together.

We had it down for a few years. Our oldest was in Sunday School so we attended Redeemer's "Birthday Party for Jesus" on Christmas Eve at 4:00. He sang fun kiddie Christmas songs with his class then we had a Children's message and then all sang Happy Birthday and had cake and ice cream afterwards. Now growing up, we'd go home to chili and oyster stew, but my picky kids weren't down with that, so it was usually Avanti's gondolas. And they usually weren't hungry. From all the cake and ice cream. *Sigh*. So much for that tradition.

Somehow, Christmas Eve ended up being a very cranky evening at our house, and I often felt like I was going through the motions making a big deal out of the stockings and the cookies and milk for Santa and killing time until my little cherubs went to bed. Because once we got them upstairs, the only thing I was thinking of was how late I was going to be up stuffing the stockings and loading up the Christmas tree. And I soon found out why my parents looked so bleary-eyed as they smiled weakly on Christmas morning gripping their steaming mugs of coffee.

Divorce turned the Christmas Eve tradition into meeting my ex at church for services before he headed in to work, then the boys and I going out to Avanti's for Christmas Eve dinner. For six years now, Christmas Eve has to be one of the hardest and loneliest nights for me. When we get home, we usually snuggle in and watch A Christmas Story, then put out the goodies for Santa. Now it's just me waiting for them to go to sleep, and the older they get, the longer I have to stay awake.

Christmas morning they're like toddlers no matter how old they are - and I love that. They're allowed to open their stockings as they wait for their dad to come over after working the night shift. Again, it's great for them that they get to spend Christmas morning with both their parents, and I just have to remember each year, "This is for them. You had your time." After the presents are opened and Dad leaves, we gear up to go over to my parents' with the rest of the family.

That's when I finally feel whole again. The traditions I have not been able to implement are still there when I go back in time and over to my mom and dad's house. Sister and brother, sister-in-law and brother-in-law, nieces, nephews, step-nieces and nephews, their kids... whatever relation that is.... all there under one roof, coming and going all night long.

All those traditions (including taking my mom's wooden blocks that spell out "Merry Christmas" and making inappropriate, non-holidayish phrases words out of them) in all those blended families coming together for a short time. Like clockwork.

I think it's hard in this day and age to have such "structured" traditions as we had back then, and I'll be anxious to hear someday what my kids remember about their "childhood Christmases". I hope above all that they will remember them fondly, no matter how "unstructured" the traditions ended up being. And I hope they'll take some of what their grandparents did for their mom and some of what their mom did for them and someday have wonderful, meaningful, memorable traditions of their very own.