Tuesday, December 24, 2013

My prayer this Christmas Eve

Dear Lord,

First of all, I thank you for all the blessings you have given me this past year that I often overlook. The blessings that many don't have - like healthy kids. A solid roof over over my head. A job that interests and challenges me each day. Enough money to make ends meet on most days. And about a billion other wonderful,basic things that I have that some don't.

Deep down, I know I'm blessed beyond measure. But on this Christmas Eve, when my emotions seem to be running amok, if you could find it in your heart to afford me a few more. 

Please bless me with the ability to be happy for others. Please don't make me so jaded that I look upon the success of someone's child, the loving thoughtfulness of someone's spouse or significant other or the realization of someone's career dream with envy instead of congratulations.

I have realized long ago that I am not going to be the other half of that happy couple. Nor will I be proudly wandering around prestigious colleges looking for "just the right fit" for my scholarly son. And there will always be that fire inside me to do a certain job that my life just doesn't fit into right now, and probably never will. Please grant me peace with this.

Please make me appreciate the fact that my kids can spend each Christmas day with both their mom and their dad, even though each year I wonder, "When will I get to spend it with my soulmate?" In that same vein, please help me stop the feelings that make me wistful for days gone by. My mom and dad are still here to celebrate Christmas as a family. That is a fact. Please help me to not feel so sad that mom is not bustling around the kitchen this year, making sure the bows on the packages are tied just so, and ensuring we all come to the house at the appropriate time.

Please give my dad, my sister and I patience with her confusion as we almost desperately struggle to correct her in the hopes that she will somehow realize reality all the time. Please help her realize that her move from skilled care to assisted living is a bridge to home, not a barrier. And Lord, please, let her come home soon.

Please give me the strength that my dad has, and give him all that he needs and more. This is tough for him, Lord, and there is only so much we can do for him. He feels the loss, especially this Christmas, as he struggles to try to make everything as normal as possible, down to being hell bent on making Mom's traditional Yule Log. Let him know we don't need all the traditions to make it Christmas. We just need to be together.

Give me patience when it comes to my children, Lord. Just because I am neurotic enough to think that I can make a perfect Christmas doesn't mean they're on board, too. Please keep me well in the boundaries of understanding their limitations, and stop me from expecting capacities beyond their means. Help me to be flexible enough to switch from one child yelling at me one moment to asking me for a plate of cookies in the next breath. Slow me down when they finally ask if I'll sit down and watch The Polar Express in the middle of the afternoon, even though I have a thousand things to do, all of which will make no more of a perfect Christmas than they would if I didn't do any of them.

Give me understanding of my family, Lord, and those who have chosen for whatever reason not to be with us on Christmas Day. Let them know I love them and I wish them peace. Help me keep my few strong family bonds strong in the next year, especially with my sister and older brother, for they mean the world to me.

Also help me in the coming year, Lord, to come to terms with my life and what it is, good and bad. Help me to learn to put my problems in their place, and when someone asks "How are you?" to simply say, "Fine." Keep me from dragging others into my pain, help me keep it in check, and realize that everyone has their crosses to bear. Help me to offer my shoulder to them, for I know that nothing helps one who is struggling more than being there for another who is struggling.

Finally, Lord, and I know this is a lot to ask, but please just give me a teeny, tiny glimpse into your plan for me. I am trying so very hard, Lord, and this year has been a true test of my strength and my faith. Show me that my work and sacrifice has not all been for naught. Bless my mother with her memory and her health so she can go home. Bless my father with continued good health so he can take care of himself and of her. Bless my older son with the ability to make conscious, good choices and to come to the realization that I do what I do for him because I love him. Bless my younger son with peace to overcome his worry and anxiety; burdens too big for a child.

Bless my sister and give her moments of peace as she works so hard for my parents, at her job, and with her family. Bless my older brother as he moves through life so far away, because deep down I know he'd like to be closer during this time. Bless my younger brother that he will find a way to manage the feelings he has about everything that has happened this past year, and give him the realization that family is now and forever.

Help me to stop thinking back to where I was a year ago, and look forward to where I may be a year from now. And most of all, please, please, please stay with me, Lord. I cannot do this without you.

With Love,

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Principal John Wetterauer: A man of integrity, compassion and honor

To: Peoria District 150 Board Members Rick Cloyd, Debbie Wolfmeyer, Rev. Linda Butler, Chris Crawford, M. Lynn Costic, Laura Petelle, Martha Ross

So what do I say to cut through the clutter of the hundreds of emails you as District 150 Board Members are receiving over the past few days? How do I eloquently reiterate what supporters of John Wetterauer and friends of Charter Oak School have been trying to say over and over? What can I do to get through to anyone who has any sort of power over this “force” that is from what I can see causing WAY more harm than good? 

I’m going back to the basics. 

I was a Charter Oak parent back in the days of Dr. Thom Simpson. Remember him? Wow, yeah, he was pretty awesome. He had that school running like a well-oiled machine and his reputation certainly preceded him. He knew every child’s name. If he turned out the lights in the lunchroom, you could hear a pin drop. He was accessible, intelligent, knowledgeable, forward-thinking, and incredibly well-respected and liked by both parents and children alike. 

When Dr. Simpson moved on to an administrative job at the district nearly a decade ago, I was not alone in my concern. Who could possibly fill that man’s shoes? And even if he or she could, how long would it take for the parents and children to “warm up” to him after having a leader like Dr. Simpson, who had made Charter Oak such a jewel of a quickly tarnishing District 150? 

That person was – and still is – John Wetterauer. 

I heard he had made great strides at Greeley School in the inner city, but it made me wonder what his attitude would be coming into the "if it ain't broke don't fix it" atmosphere of Charter Oak. What kind of guy was this? What would be on his agenda? What would he think of this posse of PTC members who were all very vested and involved in the school already? 

As he worked the room, wearing a Hawaiian shirt and shorts and providing lunch for the PTC meet and greet in the Charter Oak teachers’ lounge, I got the sense he realized he was walking into OUR school, and he knew he may have something to prove. He was humble, friendly, and very approachable. But my cautionary self said, “Wow, this guy really has a learning curve. We’ll see.” 

Short story long, Mr. Wetterauer in very quick fashion endeared himself to school staff, the PTC board, parents, and most importantly, the students. I was consistently amazed at how quickly he learned EVERY CHILD’s name, and he calls them by name, prefacing usually with a “Miss” or “Mr.” I would imagine standing at the front door every day holding it open for students and serving meals in the lunchroom helps quite a bit. Visiting each classroom every day and having an open-door policy probably doesn’t hurt either.

Mr. Wetterauer never needed to demand respect – he earned it – from everyone. Staff embraces him because he is open to their ideas and diligently works with them to improve teaching methods, curriculum, after school activities, in-school events, fundraising, parent participation and student achievement. 

When my children attended Charter Oak, from 2000 until 2011, I walked my sons to school every day and got to know many of the students. In fact, it wasn’t uncommon to hear “Mrs. Kennard!” yelled to me and to be hugged multiple times as I walked down the class line, while I zipped up coats and backpacks and asked where their hats and gloves were. It occurred to me – in such an economically diverse environment, coming to Charter Oak School was the BEST PART of some of these kids’ days. And why? Because of Principal John Wetterauer. 

Let’s look at who this whole debacle really affects. The kids. The parents are trying to disseminate the ridiculously little amount of information that has been provided to them, as well as the staff, who have to continue to teach and nurture these children. Don’t think for one second that these kids don’t sense something’s not right. 

I’m not here to list out the facts, or the lack thereof. I’m not here to ask why John Wetterauer is not sitting behind his desk in the principal’s office at Charter Oak School right this very minute. I think we all know why, and I think it’s time to stand up to it. What we all need to do is embrace leaders like John Wetterauer, and use them as models for all schools in District 150, not use them as a scapegoat to cover up for an administrative leader's inadequacies. 

I stand with a mountain of supporters of Principal John Wetterauer when I say, “We demand he be reinstated, for the good of the district, the school, and MOST importantly, the children of Charter Oak, present and future.” 

Dig deep on this one, District 150 Board Members. There’s more to this than meets the eye. But in the meantime, let’s get John Wetterauer back where he belongs – immediately.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Charter Oak School a Diamond in District 150's Rough

This post was written in September of 2009, but I felt it should be reposted today. Charter Oak parents and children, past and present, stand with Principal John Wetterauer through this difficult time. We apologize to him on behalf of Superintendent Grenita Lathan. We hope the Board will be able to see through the ruse and place Principal Wetterauer back where he belongs - continuing to run Charter Oak as a Blue Ribbon school, where he knows every kid's name like they were his own.
 September, 2009

There's a lot to complain about these days in District 150.

But as I referenced in a previous blog, parents need to become more involved in their child's school in order for it to succeed.

Charter Oak Primary School teachers, staff and parents have seen the fruits of their labors and definitely have something to cheer about these days.

The 2009 ISAT scores were recently released. The ISAT (Illinois Standards Achievement Test) measures individual student achievement relative to the Illinois Learning Standards and is administered yearly to students in grades three through eight. The results give parents, teachers, and schools one measure of student learning and school performance to determine their AYP, or Adequate Yearly Progress.

This year, Charter Oak ranked second only to Washington Gifted Middle School in Math and Reading ISAT scores, with a 91.2% Reading score (up 5.7% from 2008) and a 97.6% Math score (up 3.2% from 2008).

One must note that the makeup of Charter Oak students is quite diverse. According to the District Dashboard, 46.1% of Charter Oak students are "economically disadvantaged", compared to 14.5% at Washington Gifted and 29.7% at its closest "rival" in testing, Kellar Primary School.

This is a HUGE coup for Charter Oak, and a true testament to the leadership of Principal John Wetterauer and his dedicated teachers and staff. The children at Charter Oak are from all races, all walks of life, and all socio-economic backgrounds. The fact that they have come together to make such a statement in a fledgling school district is a success beyond measure.

Charter Oak School is definitely a diamond in the rough. In addition to its outstanding teaching and administrative staff, it has an incredibly involved PTO (Parent Teacher Organization), which I have seen firsthand make a true difference in my eight years there. These parents - and the countless volunteer parents who may not necessarily be on the board but serve their school in various ways - have made huge strides in improving the educational opportunities of these students.

Laptops and projectors for 2nd-4th grade - all part of the Smart Board system they are working toward. A new computer lab. A new playground. A computerized Accelerated Reading (AR) program and incentives. Classroom supplies for teachers. The list grows and is attended to by this group of people who have made the decision to be a driving force in their child's school.

I have seen firsthand that involved parents CAN make a difference. Teachers who care CAN make a difference. An administration that puts the child FIRST can make a difference.

Let Charter Oak Primary School be a positive example for what the whole of District 150 should - and can - be.

Click on the link below to see District 150's Adequate Yearly Progress standards chart from 2003 - 2009:

AYP Progress Chart

Sunday, December 1, 2013

A vote for Superman is a vote for all Unsung Heroes

A few weeks ago, my sister emailed me a link with the message, "We HAVE to do this for Dad."

The link was to a contest called the CEFCU Payback Project, where individuals could nominate their "unsung hero" with the potential of 1) raising money for one of three charities and 2) winning a grand prize.

A few weeks later, we submitted a video story of my dad, not realizing the emotion it would take out of both of us to compile it, and never anticipating the outpouring of support we would receive as a result.

I could take this opportunity to tell you why we feel my dad is so deserving of this award. But the truth is, he is a representation of all the people like him who are just as deserving. My dad, and the way he has chosen to live his life, is the epitome of strength, giving and humility - all great characteristics of the heroes of old and the heroes of modern day. He gives EVERY DAY - quietly, and with grace and honor, no matter what he does.

Dad didn't know we created this video. My sister and I knew he wouldn't necessarily welcome the attention. He found out about it while volunteering at Habitat for Humanity ReStore, when a couple of ladies working there were shedding a few tears while watching it. But as much as my dad shies away from any sort of recognition or accolade, I think he appreciated it. Because deep down, I think it made him realize that he is an inspiration - not only to his children, but to anyone who has the pleasure of knowing or meeting him.

Please take 90 seconds to watch the video and you'll see what I mean.

CEFCU Payback Project: SUPERMAN

I'd love for you all to cast your vote for Jack Talcott, aka Superman, which you can do every day until December 12. Every time you vote, you can designate one of three charities and CEFCU will donate $1 for every single vote. My dad has given much of his time over the past decade to Habitat for Humanity, so that's where my designation is going, but that is up to you.

And if we win? First of all, the monetary prize will go toward my mom's care at Liberty Village, as she recovers from this past summer's aneurysm and brain surgeries. For now, that bill is being footed 100% by my dad, and it's a pretty hefty sum. But above and beyond any dollar amount, what we win is the chance to inspire others to "Be Like Jack." To be great. To be humble. To be a hero every single day. And God knows what the world needs now is a few more heroes.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Catastrophe, comfort, and everything in between

Two things. First, tornadoes are bitches. 

Second, I wasn’t sure if I should write about them and the devastation they caused – you know, the ones that slammed into the communities of Washington, Pekin and East Peoria last Sunday around 11 am?
Yeah, I figured you’d heard about them. 

My house wasn’t hit. My kids and I and our dog were safe and sound. I had a coworker who lost his home, and friends of friends who lost theirs or had damage. So why do I feel so affected? Why do I feel this overwhelming sense of – I don’t even know what to call it – sadness or guilt or helplessness – knowing that just a few miles away there are thousands of people literally with nothing but the clothes on their backs?

Just a few miles away. I think that’s it. 

We are glued to the television, radio and internet when any major tragedy occurs. A plane crash. A school shooting. A tsunami.  Doesn’t matter what it is. If it’s sudden, unexpected, and tragic, it catches our attention and makes us pause – for a few hours, a few days, even a few weeks. 

But this time, it hit home – even if it’s “across the river” – in places I rarely go because I don’t know my way around to save my life. I saw people LIKE ME with families LIKE MINE who I probably have crossed paths with in the grocery store, or the mall, or the movie theater. Yet I’m the same, and they are changed forever. 

I just saw a video of the F4 tornado that hit Washington taken by a man from the window of his living room. As it approaches, you can hear his daughter screaming in the background. The video goes black as he retreats to the basement just in time. Not 20 seconds later, he reappears to utter devastation. No walls. Just pieces of house and home piled everywhere, blowing in a gentle breeze. 

In a matter of seconds, those families’ lives were changed forever. FOREVER. In this case, that family will always be known as “Survivors of the 11/17/13 Washington, IL Tornadoes.” When that daughter grows up and is asked about defining moments in her life, she will say, “I was smack in the middle of a tornado that destroyed my house and my community.” What do you say to that? 

For those of us who were close but untouched, it’s a sense that’s hard to describe. It’s this uneasy, helpless, guilty, almost desperate feeling. It’s difficult to focus on work when you’re inundated with news feeds and conversations and reports of the latest devastation information and who needs help and where to go to give it, but since you weren’t “directly impacted” you know you have a responsibility to move forward and help cover those who can’t right now. You want to run to the site and help find every single lost pet and important memento before the rains and excavators wash and haul it all away, but you know you’d only be in the way and besides, you have your own kids to take care of.

You want to give SOMETHING but you don’t have much – which is why so many gave clothes. They’ll never disperse them all – they don’t need them all – in fact they’ve asked for people to STOP donating them. But I understand. For some, it’s all they can do. 

You want to donate money so you give what you can, knowing it’s just a drop in the bucket. You’re desperate to help in some way. Some offer their houses or rental properties. Some welcome displaced pets into their homes. Businesses offer free products or services or discounts – I truly believe – out of the goodness of their hearts and because they can. Photographers offer free portrait sessions to families who have lost all photos. Restaurants donate portions of their proceeds or offer food to victims and workers. Me? I tried to help raise money. I made a couple of blankets for a displaced coworker’s children. I tried to share information as it came in. Doesn’t seem like much. 

And at the end of the day, I pull into my garage and enter my nice, cozy house and eat a hot meal in the coziness of my kitchen and feel just horrible for doing so. Because others so close to me can’t. And they may not for a very long time. 

The news feed on Springfield SHG's webpage
All I can say is maybe, just maybe, when tragedies like this happen in our community, it makes us more compassionate people overall. I see the folks at Sacred Heart-Griffin High School in Springfield reach out to the Washington Panthers team and fans when they could have just cancelled the game and gone on with their lives. I see the people of Joplin, Missouri – yeah, everyone knows Joplin now just like they’ll know Washington – giving advice and sending aid when they themselves are still rebuilding two years later.

Not that I think God had a hand in this, but maybe – just maybe – this is His way of saying, “Love one another – and don’t forget.” 

The feelings will ebb. The stories will stop. The coverage will diminish. But I hope we don’t completely lose sight of what happened here.  I hope we continue to support these communities even after the dust settles – and I hope that it makes us more empathetic when it happens somewhere else. 

“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40: 29-31

Here are ways you CAN help (as of 11/22/13): Washington, IL Relief Information Guide


Thursday, November 14, 2013

As far as it takes

How far would you go for your child? 

How far? 

It’s amazing the things you consider as perfectly logical in times of complete chaos. Especially when it’s your child. Like moving out of state. Or changing your name.

You quit holding your breath in anticipation – hoping he’ll bring home that good grade. You stop assuming that the words that are coming out of his mouth are the truth. You cease to care what others think about you and your child because their judgment comes from a place of ignorance and misunderstanding.  You assume that those who you reach out to in desperation may give you a few minutes, or a few days, or a few phone calls, but you know from history that they eventually will cease to become interested and involved – just like all the others. They have their own problems. 

You’ve exhausted your resources. All the “help” you thought was out there … isn’t there. It’s that awful day you realize … it’s just you. 

And that’s not said in a pitiful, self-serving way. Believe me, I’ve been called that, but I pay no mind. Those people have no idea. They have no idea the mountains I have climbed for this child. They have no idea the options I have had to consider and the decisions I have had to make. The conversations I never thought I’d have with people I never thought I’d have to talk to. The stones I have overturned in the search for answers. 

Second to the death of a child, watching a child suffer and deteriorate before your eyes is a parent’s greatest pain. It suffocates your every waking moment like a deadly, odorless gas no matter how hard you try to gasp for real air.  It ages you physically when you look in the mirror and see the bags under your eyes, the gray hairs you haven’t bothered to cover, and the body you haven’t had the will to exercise in months. 

This is the part of parenting they don’t prepare you for. "You'll have some rough times," the books say. "They turn the corner eventually," they predict. You don't see that corner coming, though. You’re that small percentage they don't cover in the books, because it was assumed you had it under control. You were a good mom, they thought. You raised them right, they thought. You seemed like you had it all together, they thought. 

So did you. Until you see your child in a place that you’ve only read about. And when you do read about it, and realize it’s your kid, you thought, “Wow. I must have been working off of the wrong damn manual. Because I’ve somehow really screwed up here.” 

Again I ask, how far would you go for your child? My answer? As far as it takes. Unfortunately, “as far as it takes” has consequences for your own life. Your own job. Your own livelihood, your own relationships and potentially your own future. Your own happiness. And that of your entire family.

It’s the most helpless of all feelings. It’s the loneliest of all feelings. It’s wracking your brain and reading the books and surfing the Internet for one more place to call; one more thing to try – and finding you’re out of ideas. 

Hope and prayer only go so far. This world is an evil place, and for a kid like mine, a virtual landmine of bombs just waiting to be stepped on – by someone with very unsure footing.  

The only saving grace I have is in my dreams, on the day where he finally gets it. The day he realizes he’s killing his own future. The day he realizes his real worth and has the confidence to go out and grab the world by the balls and show it what it’s made of.

The day he realizes that it’s OK to be different – it’s the different people who do the great things in this world. The day he looks in the mirror and likes what he sees, and sees my reflection staring back at him, a proud Mom who would go as far as it takes for a child she loves more than life itself.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

What it's like to be AK47

Yep. I'm 47 today. And right now, struggling with this cold that my 12-year old gave me, I feel like a jammed assault rifle. But as I do every year, I like to look back on the past 365 days of being 46 and wax nostalgic about what I feel thankful for.

Except this year, it's hard. I'll venture to guess this has been one of the hardest years of  my life. It's funny; people say they're "stressed." Or they "have stress." Usually, if I say I'm stressed, I know in the back of my head that I'm being a whiny bitch, because there are individuals in this world who have "real" problems. Like no food. Or no shelter. Or no family. Or are victims of horrific crimes. THOSE people can wear the label of "being stressed." I get that. But in my tiny corner of the world, even though I try to put it into perspective, this year has been kind of a bitch. However, amongst every single obstacle and every single "I can't believe this is happening" situation, there IS always something to be thankful for.

So here goes.

1. First and foremost, I'm thankful for my dad. He above anyone else has had a year that no one deserves, especially someone like him. He has seen his wife recover from major surgery, only to watch her struggle with chemotherapy, then sit helplessly by as a brain aneurysm f*%ked with her like the school bully on steroids. In that time, he has been the most loyal husband and father that I've ever seen. He has stood by her every single day, and done more than I think any man on this earth has done for another person. Through that, he has let my sister and me in, communicating with us and letting us in to his world, which is something that doesn't come naturally to him. If he wasn't able to do that, this time in our lives would be much more difficult.

2. Did I mention my 82-year old dad now texts? I can't begin to tell you how thankful I am for that.

3. I'm thankful for the staff at Liberty Village at Manor Care. You hear horror stories about how some residents are cared for at facilities like this, and I have to say I was dreading what my mom's life would be like once she entered the place she never wanted to be. That aside, from what I see of the staff, and I'm there nearly every day, they are exemplary. They are compassionate, caring, and joke with the residents there like they are family. They call my mom "Trouble", because of course, she is. They decorate for the holidays, have daily activities, offer to paint my mom's nails, and make sure she's not mixing navy blue with black when they help her get dressed in the morning. The administration there has listened to us when we've had issues, and has had a number of "family meetings" with us to discuss my mom's care, and what they can do to help her even more. I don't think  my family and I could ask for anything more.

4. I'm thankful for the friends who haven't given up on me during this past year. I've taken a step back from many of them. I don't go out like I used to; I don't stay in touch. I feel as if I'm a bit of a downer, and the few times I try to go out and "let my hair down," I find after about an hour that I just don't have it in me. A few of my friends have stood by me, listening to me on the phone, or checking in - bringing food when they know I have no time to cook, offering to walk my dog or just being there in Instant Messenger to check in on me. I know it gets old. It's getting old for me, too. But without these friends, I truly would not have made it through this year. You guys know who you are.

5. I'm thankful for the few (and I mean FEW) people who have helped me out with my son this year, who is going through probably the darkest of the darkest times in his life - and mine. I'm thankful for the people who "got it" when I said "this is serious" and didn't think I was overreacting. If you have amazing kids who only leave their clothes on the floor and maybe occasionally get a bad grade, you can't relate. Or you think you have the answers. Or you look at me like I'm doing something wrong. But you don't know. Ironically, these people I'm thanking aren't necessarily "friends." They are professionals in the community who have taken a vested interest in my son and his issues, see the seriousness in them, yet also see the potential he has regardless of his bad choices. If it weren't for you guys, I would be at a complete loss. Thank you for being there and doing what you can to help me save him from himself.

6. Though I'm thankful for both of my kids, because I love them both to the moon and back, I have to give a shoutout to my youngest kid. Because of his inherent compassionate nature, he is the one who gives me the smile I need when times are tough. At 12 years old, he still hugs me out of nowhere. He asks if I'm OK. He ask how Grandma is and is concerned that she won't be home for the holidays (she won't). I know I haven't been the best parent to him this past year. I know he's gotten left in the wings. And I hope in the next few years that I have the pleasure to have him under my roof I can be the parent he needs me to be. I am truly so proud of him and who he is.

7. That said, I'm thankful for my oldest. There's not a night that isn't sleepless for me now; there's not a day when I don't get or send a text or an email about him. I worry about him incessantly, and I feel as if I've gone to the ends of the earth to try to help him. But, at the end of the day, I know he's still here. Every once in awhile, he opens up. Every once in awhile, he lets me in. Because of that, I know there is still a chance. I know I haven't lost him yet. And I hope to God he knows I will never stop fighting for him, and trying to help him realize the incredibly awesome, talented, funny, intelligent kid he is.

8. I am thankful for my job. When I lost my old job back in May of this year, I was devastated. I loved that job and the people I worked with. I thought I respected and admired my boss. It was a tough blow. But my new place of work has blown that away. I love what I do, and the opportunities I am given to do more. I love the people I work with and the talents each one brings to the table. It is truly a melting pot of amazeness (yep I made that up) that just WORKS.

9. In that same vein, I'm thankful for my boss. He brought me in to this place when he didn't have to. He saw  my potential when I didn't even see it myself. He challenges me to do great work when I think I can only do OK work. He understands (well maybe not understands but allows) me the flexibility I need due to all the crap I have going on outside of work, because I truly believe he has faith in me that I will still get the job done - and done well. Because of him, I am able to juggle this crazy life of mine. Because of him, I truly love getting up and going to work every day (and even reading, sorta kinda.)

10. Ok, I feel as if I need to stop at 10, so I'll make this one about my dog. Right? My dog? I'm not even a dog person. But all the cliches about your dog being the one that loves you unconditionally no matter what? Yeah, it's true. I come home exhausted, or I've just had another run in with the kid, or I'm depressed about my mom, or just mad at the world, and there he sits - waiting. He just sits there. Waiting for me to acknowledge him. As soon as I do, he's all over me, showing me how ecstatic he is that I'm home. I don't give him enough credit to what he does for my day. Thanks, Domino. God put you in my life and I'm truly thankful for your canine camaraderie.

That's it for AK47. Another year  - one that I couldn't have predicted if I had tried. My wish for the year ahead? Two things. Two huge things that I pray to God for every day. That my mom's condition will improve and she will at some point be able to return home to her husband and family. That my son will have that "aha moment" that I so desperately want him to have and come back to me like the kid I know he is. Tall order, maybe. But there's always hope. And thanks.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Bite me, Monday

 I'm not usually one of those sorry individuals who posts those pitiful comics on Monday morning lamenting how awful it is that the dreaded first day of the work week is here and how they wish the weekend was just "one day longer." Nope, not me. Why? Because I know better than to blame the crazy-ass things that happen to me on a case of the Mondays. Because shit happens to me ALL THE FREAKIN' TIME.

Now. Before you think this is going to be another one of those whiny, tear-jerking posts describing how tough life is and how challenging my kids are and how dark and twisty I feel, think again. This time it's going to be different. Because it's going to be FUNNY.

And ya know WHY? Because if I don't start laughing about this shit I'm going to run screaming naked through the streets of this affluent little suburb I mistakenly decided to plant my non-affluent self in. And you know that NOBODY wants to see that.

It started early this morning, being woken to the startling barking of a seal down the hall. But we don't have a seal, and seals can't talk, and this seal said "Ow! Mooooom!" after every bark. One lozenge, two tablespoons of nasty cough medicine (who flavors this shit?) and a 20-minute hunt for the vaporizer that hadn't been used in years and probably did more harm than good and we were back to bed. But not really. 'Cuz this mom's awake. And you know what's on TV at 2 am? Crap. Two hours later, I'm exhausted yet have still managed to purchase P90X, the Magic Bullet and a pair of jeggings.

My 5:30 am wakeup call was met not with my loveable, friendly mutt of a dog licking my face, but with him standing there, looking pitiful. Upon further inspection of said dog, it appeared he was unable to wag his tail. That's right. My dog was wagless. Without wag. His wagger had no swagger. Not only that, he couldn't sit on the damn thing, which I found out after I told him to "sit" and he looked at me like this:

Trying to figure out what to do about a wagless dog, I pressed the button for my coffee and was met with with a pitiful drizzle. The coffee was there, man, it was THERE. I just couldn't GET IT. DAMMIT. Gulping the fourth of a cup I did manage to get to trickle out, I heard the seal move from the bed to the couch and the defiant teenage thing grunt something about waffles. Ignoring him, I ventured outside to walk Wagless the Dog.

He was happy to walk even though he couldn't wag, although peeing was a bit of a problem, what with the whole "I can't lift my tail" issue. And he wasn't sure what to do with his bad-ass self when we encountered this:

This is a great blue heron, right? In the middle of the sidewalk? Really? This has to be a new class of bad luck, like a thousand times worse than a black cat crossing your path. "A black cat is bad, man, but a dead blue heron? That blows."And honestly, it wasn't until this point that I started to think, "WOW. This day MIGHT SUCK." I was greeted by verification of this as I returned home and noticed ALL of my hosta plants sitting in areas where they don't usually sit. Now, I can be thankful hostas can sit, since my dog can't, but I was nonetheless intrigued, and discovered that something had completely uprooted every one of them and tossed them like,well, hostas.

It's probably trolls. With my luck, it's trolls.

Back inside, I pushed defiant teenage thing out the door and waited until he actually got on the bus, it pulled away and gained enough speed so I was sure he wouldn't jump off. I made arrangements for the seal to be tended to and remembered I should probably put on some appropriate clothes for work and maybe do something about my bloodshot eyes. This resulted in me being 45 minutes late for work (if my boss is reading this I totally made this part up just for effect.)

So for the record, that was my first three hours of the day, the rest of which was sprinkled with work, Nerf guns (don't ask,) work, calls to the veterinarian, work, calls to the pediatrician, work, some random tears (because I'm a WOMAN), some replanting of some wilty-looking hostas, a demonstration on how to give a seal an inhaler and some yelling at defiant teenage thing. All while being stared at by Wagless the Dog.

Mondays usually aren't any different than any other day, but this Monday? This one can BITE ME. I'm going to bed. And wait for the seal to bark.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

FYI: Fall is the new summer

Up until this year, if you asked me what my favorite season was, I'd say unequivocally, "Summer." I mean, who doesn't love summer? The kids are out of school, the days are long and hot, filled with splashy days at the pool, lunches on the patio, water gun fights, going for bike rides and playing flashlight tag.

Oh, wait. My kids aren't seven years old anymore.

Hence why, for more than the reasons stated above, my favorite season is no longer summer.

Here's the deal. Back in the day, meaning, the day when I wasn't working, summers were pretty chill. Now I'll admit, they're filled with more nostalgia and happy memories now that I can look BACK on them. At the time, I was a SAHM (stay-at-home-mom) "just getting through the day." Then for a few summers, I was a SAHDMCICFAJ (Stay-at-home-divorced-mom-cuz-I-can't-find-a-job.) Not sure which was worse.

Anywho, back in the day, I was Champion Activity Director for my kids. We had a membership to the local pool, Wildlife Prairie Park and Lakeview Museum. I made sure we took advantage of all the free morning movies at the local theater and spent my afternoons making gallon after gallon of Kool-aid and filling water balloons for the neighborhood kids. We took bike rides before sunset and I saved all our peanut butter jars for firefly catching after dark. Honestly, we ate summer for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was my favorite three months out of the whole year.

So guess what? Once your kids reach the pre-teen and teenage years, they no longer want to hang at the pool with you. And they could care less about wild animals or educational exhibits. They're too old for the free morning movies and have moved up from Kool-Aid to Gatorade. The bikes sit unridden and the fireflies run rampant, with no one to catch them.

Yeah, my kids totally buzzkilled summer. 

I'll admit, my past few summers have been pretty crappy aside from their whole growing up and wanting nothing to do with me anymore. There was the "I'm moving and getting marri......wait... no I'm not" summer, followed by the "I'm working full time and I have no one to watch my kids so they're home alone and I feel so guilty" summer, and the most recent one, "I lost my job and my mom had a brain aneurysm and I spent two months at OSF" summer.

Honestly, I hung on to summer until the bitter end. But at the end of our three month ride this past year, I suddenly realized pretty much all I did was wax nostalgic about all the things I used to do with the kids but couldn't anymore. Sure, we made a few feeble attempts to go to the pool. If they didn't have friends there, they were bored and got pretty embarrassed when their 46-year-old mom challenged them to a cannonball contest off the diving board. My older kid suddenly developed an aversion to any temperature over 80 degrees, and my once tanned, freckle-faced boy remained a pasty, winter-white all throughout the summer season.

So you can see, among other reasons, why my allegiance has turned to fall. And it's just been this year. Once the kids got back in school and the leaves started changing and I'd walk the dog in that early morning chill, I began to feel a little sense of relief. Relief that summer was over and I didn't have to keep trying to relive my glory days of Mom of the Year any longer, nor did I have to lament the fact that no matter what the season, my kids are just fine staying inside, watching an Adventure Time marathon and playing Madden 13.

Now they're back in school - in someone else's hands to an extent. My younger son is playing football for the first year, so I have practices to drive to and from and games to cheer at every Saturday. Fall gives me an excuse to take three hours on a Sunday and sit on the couch and watch my Packers play. I'd NEVER do that in the summer. Fall means it's not too hot to sit with my mom out on the porch at the skilled care facility, or take a walk around the block with her and my dog.

Fall means big, bulky sweaters to cover the extra pounds I didn't lose over the summer, and long pants to conceal legs that could use a few more squats and lunges. It means not wondering WHEN I'm going to have time to mow the lawn, or throwing out flowers that I just never got a chance to water. It's opening the windows and having my CILCO bill be under $100.

For the first time, I drive through the countryside and see combines harvesting and leaves turning and feel the temperature dropping and I don't feel sad. I feel comforted. I can't really explain why, other than I look at summer now as a season to "get through." Now I look at approaching summer with a leery eye, wondering "What's going to happen to f&*k THIS summer up?" Fall? Fall is untouched. Fall is clean. Fall is good.

Welcome, Fall. I'm not a huge fan of the season that follows you up, nor of the one that precedes you. But you? You're pretty cool.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

This post contains a lot of sex, drugs and general indecency

The other night in the car, my kids were joking back and forth. This is epic because a) my kids don’t always get along and b) my kids don’t always get along. So I was happy. Until I noticed that amidst the tomfoolery and shenanigans, the conversation was laced with verbiage like, “you suck” and “pissed off”.

Now, you can judge me two ways with this. 1) I can’t believe you let your kids get away with saying stuff like that, or 2) In this day and age, I can’t believe you even blinked an eye at this.

I don’t even know where to go with this because there is so much swirling in my head. In my perfect little family that I tried to raise, we never said things like this. If my little cherub said, “I hate broccoli,” my response was, “Now, we don’t say ‘hate.’ You DISLIKE broccoli. And really, what did broccoli ever do to you?” If the oldest called the youngest a “stupidhead” then he was immediately put in timeout and forced to apologize for wounding his brother’s spirit and potentially shattering his self-esteem with his negativespeak.

So it's come to this - "you suck," "pissed off" and a few other choice words that I can demand not be said under MY roof but that I know full well they hear commonplace every single day. Now, I know there are those parents out there who somehow, some way, manage to raise their kids to never, ever say a bad word, watch a TV show with questionable content, and generally be morally amazing. These are probably the same parents who don’t have cable. Or electricity. Or ever leave the house. I even knew of a mom who once complained to a store manager that there should be a magazine-free checkout aisle so her kids didn’t have to view the tabloid filth while going through the line. 

And guess what? As fuddy-duddy and unrealistic and prudish as it seems, I agree with her. 

I know the world evolves. I know back in the 50’s the planet had a field day with Elvis shaking his hips on national TV. I know that Dick Van Dyke and his wife had twin beds. I know if you filmed a man and a woman on a bed that one of them had to have one foot on the floor. And we as humans managed to bend our moral compasses bit by bit as time went on and the push for acceptance by the minorities became the consensus of the majority. 

Fast forward to what we are willing to accept now. And yes, I know that by railing on this I risk being dubbed a middle-aged Mrs. Grundy who yes, listened to Van Halen in high school and never thought Hot for Teacher was a bad thing. I get it. I stand guilty. BUT….

I think we’ve gotten out of hand. No. I KNOW we’ve gotten out of hand. Not only has our moral compass been bent, it’s been tied and twisted and convoluted so much it can’t even point anymore. I feel like I’ve been bullied into “being OK” with the foul language and lewd behavior that is peppered all over the media, in the schools and in the home because “that’s just the way the world is now.” We pretend to stand aghast at Miley Cyrus’s performance on the Video Music Awards (no I won't link to it), but the point is, she was allowed to do it. And we watched it. And we watched it again. And we talked about it. And we spoofed it. And we laughed at it. And it's wrong, People. It's just wrong.

I’m going to say this right now and I know I’m going to be unpopular. I don’t like The Simpsons. Or King of the Hill. Or Tosh.0. Or a host of other shows that grace the airwaves during prime time each night with content I consider questionable to my kids and blatantly immature for adults to even entertain. And here's a HUGE social risk: although Breaking Bad was a well-written show, I can’t believe the accolades and following it got due to its subject matter. Seriously. Yeah, I just said that. Why? Because kids are impressionable. And kids watched it. You can slice and dice the theme of that show any way you want it and I'll still feel the same way. Sure, kids can turn it off. But they don't. Parents can refuse to watch it. But they do. Like I said, it was a good show. Very well-written. But I can't believe we as a society have gotten to the place where this kind of stuff is OK as means of entertainment.Oh, and don't even get me STARTED on YouTube.

And you are welcome to try to tell me that I can just not allow my kids to watch it - or play it - or listen to it. I’m just as guilty for joining the majority – albeit kicking and screaming. I am JUST AS GUILTY. There’s only so long you can police your kids until they get to the ages where you just CAN’T anymore. And there’s also that fine line you walk between being the house where kids want to go and hang out and being the house that NO ONE wants to visit. I strictly forbid M-rated video games in my house. They still play them elsewhere – oh, and I’m finding “demos” sneaked into our own game systems as well.  And they’re basically outcasts with their friends because they DON’T own Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto. Really. Even their moral, church-going friends. I just don't get it. Am I the only one who cringes at the sound of someone getting blown away or lying on the floor in a drug-induced stupor? 

I don’t know why there are naked people on TV having sex. I don't know why we're so entranced with the drug culture and why we basically give kids a road map into it. Don't even get me started on the dichotomy between the "Stop Smoking" campaigns and the ones to legalize marijuana. I will listen to your argument all day and still won't see the benefit - monetarily or socially. (Let the firestorm commence.)

I don’t know why George Carlin’s Seven Words You Can't Say on Television (1972) has become nothing more than a nursery rhyme today. I don’t know why there are shows glorifying making meth and teenagers having babies and Amish people leaving their communities so they can live sin-filled lives in New York City. I don’t know why I can’t listen to the radio without flipping the dial because Bob and Tom took it “just too far” for my liking again. I don’t know why “What's up, nigga?” is now a term used to say hello to another person. That's reprehensible no matter how much it's "just a joke" or "just how kids talk these days." I don’t know why kids think it’s OK to post what they post on social media. Really, parents. LOOK AT WHAT YOUR KIDS ARE POSTING. Look at the pages they’re allowed to be fans of. WHY ARE THESE PAGES ALLOWED TO EXIST??? It’s messed up. And I don’t know how or when this became OK. And if you think your kids aren't doing it, think again. THEY ARE.

The lines have become pretty blurred (yes, I know all about Blurred Lines and I won't link to that either) between what some consider “pushing the envelope” and “offensive.” And it's not any easier given the fact that I am in the advertising and marketing industry, where we're constantly looking for ideas that will pattern interrupt day in and day out. I guess I don’t understand WHY we have to push the envelope of our morals just to capture people's attention. What redeeming social quality does any of this have? Or is it that we don't really care about social quality anymore?

At heart, I think we’ve turned into a nasty, raunchy, inappropriate society who revels in one-upping the nastiness, raunchiness and inappropriateness. I wonder if we’ve come from where we were in the 50’s with Elvis’s gyrations to where we are now, where we’re going to be 50 years from now. I don’t even want to think about it. And I'm as guilty as anyone else for propagating it, sharing it and saying it - to an extent. But not the extent that it exists, and not the extent that's becoming the culture of the children we're trying to raise.

I had the best of intentions when I had my kids. I’m not saying they’re not going to grow up to be moral, upstanding individuals – I hope to God that amidst all the unscrupulous outside influences, coupled with the mistakes I've made that somehow some goodness sunk in and they have enough of an internal morality to not get sucked in by all the degradation in the world. 

I know I failed them by giving in – by throwing my hands up and knowing that there is no way I can shelter them completely or control everything they see and do. But I do strongly believe society has also failed them by setting and allowing such bad examples of humanity and decency. I can pretend to hope that my kids will rise above, but I honestly think they're up against some pretty serious odds.

Not really what you were hoping for when you clicked on this blog title, was it?