Monday, July 28, 2014

School Days, School Days

This year, I will have a kindergartner and a third grader. And I will spend every day wondering where the time went. They will say goodbye again to full days at the daycare provider's house - a daycare provider named Ms. Cathy who also happens to be my best friend and more like a teacher/aunt/grandma to my kids than anything else - and begin full days of learning at their school.

Their usual "Ms. Cathy says" will be replaced by "My teacher says..." The struggle my daughter and I have as I try to help her sound out letters and she defiantly tells me she doesn't need nor want to learn will be eclipsed by her desire to come home and read everything because her teacher taught her. I will again be schooled on why I shouldn't do something this way or that because their teachers tell them how it should be done. 

And I will again smile at their constant lessons because, though I wish I could keep them little forever, they are growing and becoming wonderful little beings because of the teachers in their lives.

I remember when my oldest started kindergarten. He couldn't read yet and barely knew his letters and though we worked with him (though probably not as much as we should have), he just didn't care much about learning. He wanted to be adventuring! I worried and worried those first couple months of school because I'd heard about so many kids his age who were already reading, and here he couldn't even sound out the word "and". Not only was I worried, but he was. 

In December of that year, he read me an entire book. Sounded out the words and while not all were correct, we got through it - and he did it. I cried when we were done. All the worrying, all the hours of frustration because he just didn't get it... gone in three months because of a teacher who knew what he needed to learn. 

At the end of his first grade year, we learned he was reading at a beginning 4th grade level according to testing. He'd asked to read Harry Potter and I thought, sure, go ahead, thinking that he could definitely sound out the words but the comprehension would be lost.


He read it and understood it. (And I learned quite a lesson about having faith in your kids.)

I know all children are different, and respond differently to various teaching styles. We've been lucky to have teachers that seem to really be able to reach our kids and get them excited about learning. 
Our daughter has had a strong start thanks to Ms. Cathy and her wonderful Pre-K teacher with learning letters and writing. Yet it's not just about the reading that I'm excited about now as my daughter enters kindergarten. I'm most excited to see how she grows as a person, because I think that's my favorite part of them heading to school. I send in a timid, shy, nervous little kid to that giant, decorated classroom for the first time. I go home and cry a little while they try and sort out the newness of everything around them and make sense of all the big-kid stuff. We repeat this every day for a year but I find that way before the end of the year even approaches, my child isn't timid, shy or nervous anymore. They're outgoing and excited; they're asking more questions; they're testing me and their dad about math and writing and more.

At the end of the year, when their teachers are exhausted and ready for summer vacation, I hope they realize that my children's lives are forever changed because of the time spent in their classroom. Who these children are is shaped in part by the love and patience and guidance of teachers who do so much for so very little thanks. And years from now when they are recalling stories of their favorite teachers, your name won't just echo off their lips. It will echo in my heart, too.

Thank you for all you do for all the children in your classroom, teachers!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Like You ... And Her ... And Her

A couple springs ago, I went shopping for a swimsuit (which, let's face it - no matter what size a woman is, this absolutely SUCKS.) As I was browsing, I heard one twenty-something girl say to her friend (while looking at me), "If I was that big, I'd never put a swimsuit on."

Ouch. Double ouch, actually.

Now, I'm not huge. I could stand to lose a few pounds to get healthier, and yeah, there are some parts I don't absolutely love, but I was pretty okay with myself. My body has the reminders of bearing two babies and I no longer fit into all the clothes I put away before I had them, but I still could find clothes I liked that I thought I looked pretty good in.

Me in all my full-bodied glory -- I'm the one on the left. Luckily those chickies weren't there to hear my singing, which is far more offensive than my body size.

But in that moment, I really felt ashamed. Obviously I was some creature, there to disturb these girls' image of perfection. I sort of pretended to look for a minute, then slowly eased out of the department and started to head home. I felt horrible and I can't lie - it really hurt.

As a mom, I worry a lot about what my daughter will face as she grows. She came home this year from pre-school upset because a friend had said, "You can't come to my birthday party this year." First, the girl's birthday wasn't for quite awhile, and second, the next day everything was back to normal. Yet still, as a mom, I wondered how we will survive all the upcoming years of girl-drama if this is already starting at four years old?

When I really thought about it, I realized how many of my daughter's insecurities came from her seeing my own. 

"Honey," I'd say to my husband over dinner, "I haven't heard from so-and-so in a few days. I wonder if she's upset with me over something." My daughter hears this and instantly, the idea is pushed into her mind that if someone doesn't speak to her it must be because they're mad and she needs everyone's approval, not because they are busy or tired or just living life like is usually the case.

"Ugh, I look horrible in everything today," I whine as I stare in the mirror after a particularly awesome weekend of cookouts and fun and laughter with friends, because in my mind I still heard those girls - random strangers, by the way, who knew nothing about me - and their ugly words. 

"You look beautiful, Mommy," my daughter smiles, playing with her stuffed animals on my bed. "Don't put makeup on. Then you're not you." I frown in the mirror and toss on a baggy shirt to hide my flaws before adding mascara, because I just can't see what she does.

I used to hate the gym because I had to work out among women who were trained and fit and it was so intimidating. I'd walk into a party or a crowd on the street and feel intimidated by any slim woman in a pretty outfit because surely they're looking at me like I've just let myself go. I was positive they were internally rolling their eyes, wondering why I didn't work out more or try harder. I spent summers avoiding tank tops and shorts because, honestly, I'm paler than Casper and I have some dimples in my formerly-athletic legs. I didn't want to look at myself, so I thought, why would I show that off to anyone else? 

Two weeks later, my daughter comes into my room and, at four, says, "I look chubby today," as she twists and views herself in the mirror, trying (yes, trying) to pinch a piece of skin. My daughter was four and wearing slim pants - with the buttons pulled tight because she is so slim - because she is super-active and while she eats like a horse, she stays skinny (she has the metabolism both my parents did when they were young. And she lovvvves snacks. She'd eat an entire box of Hostess Cupcakes if I'd let her.). I told her not to say such things and that she was beautiful and healthy and strong, and she looked at me.

"But mommy, you are beautiful and healthy and strong and you say that."

Bam. Sucker punched by my own words. Is this what I want my daughter to learn from me? To fear what other people think? To think she's not good enough because she doesn't look a certain way? To seek other's approval instead of her own? Not at all. It was time for some change.

I tested out the waters a little over the summer of 2013 and found a comfort level with clothing. Then summer 2014 rolls around and it's hot. Really hot. (Though I can't complain after the Polar Vortex winter we had here in Chicago this winter.) I start heading out to my son's baseball games and two games later, realize that it is just way too hot to wear t-shirts and capris. But tank tops? And, God-forbid, shorts? They were still sort of a "yikes" for me. Yet the weather won out and I threw on a tank top and prepared for the onslaught of disgusted stares that surely must be coming my way.

Prepare yourself for the tanktop photo - I know, it's awful right? Avert your eyes! :)

And another one - tanktop and shorts?? I'm wild and crazy.

Nothing happened. No people running from the bleachers or making snide comments within ear shot. No one judging my freezie pop (only stopping to ask how much it was and where I got it). 

Life went on as normal. My kiddos still took pictures with me, the baseball moms didn't sit elsewhere in disgust. All the moms sat together and laughed and had a good time, and I started to realize that the only one who cared what my arms looked like in a tank top or what my thighs looked like in shorts was me. 

As women, we're fed this constant stream of what we should look like by the media, and most of it still isn't real. I am amused by articles like one I've seen recently where a woman is size 10 and considered plus size -- yet when I go to the store, plus sizes start at 16 or 18 or 20. So now they've got slim women they're calling "plus size," and that notion is pretty unsettling because of the double message there. If at a size 10 she's plus sized, what am I? (For the record, I think this woman is beautiful - but I wouldn't consider her plus size.)

Now, I have nothing against skinny and slim woman. I think they're gorgeous. I also think that any woman, regardless of size, who dresses nicely in clothes that fit looks pretty beautiful. So why couldn't I think the same about myself?

Those summers when I wouldn't don a swimsuit and get in a pool with my kids, I did get disgusted looks. From my kids. Because their mother wouldn't go swimming with them, preferring to watch from the sidelines. I missed out on the fun of being in the pool, choosing to sit out. So I donned a swimsuit this year at the splashpad and get this: no one cared! The kids went about their play and us adults chit chatted and had a picnic, and not one person hightailed it out of the park because I had a swimsuit on.

Me and cutest little red-haired baby ever (not mine) at the splashpad.

I learned from a slim friend recently that she is incredibly self-conscious when she's at a party or walking around town, because she is sure that women who weighed more than her (and by women, she meant women of my size, she clarified) were staring at her and mad that we didn't look like her, and that we all thought she had an eating disorder. I've seen her eat (and she eats very healthy). I've also seen her drink. And eat (a lot) of chocolate. I've never looked at her and thought she looked anything other than pretty, even sans makeup. This woman who I think is beyond beautiful has been worried that I'm embarrassed to be around her because she's too thin, while I've been worrying she is embarrassed to be around me because I'm too fat.


Seems like we're all here thinking that everyone else thinks we're too this or too that, when the truth is that the only people who a) matter and b) are judging us on weight is ourselves. Sure, sure, there are men and women out there who do have strong opinions about overweight or too thin, but from what I've seen it's a very small percentage - and basically like saying that all doctors are bad because a handful make mistakes when most doctors are excellent at who they are. You can't judge a whole group by a few bad apples - and that's what I think many of us, as women, tend to do. If some random person is an ass about whether you're too thin or too chubby, guess what? Who cares?! Seriously? Will their opinion of you ever matter in the grand scheme of things? And if they're judging you for your outside, consider how insecure they might be to have to make such comments.

So my challenge to you is this: wear the tanktops. Wear the shorts. Put on the swimsuit. Eat healthy but enjoy some good things (like amazing lemon-tinis and chocolate in moderation. Well, moderation most of the time.). Be proud of who you are and more importantly, be proud of who others are. Make sure your friends know how beautiful you think they are and that it is not based on their size, but on who they are. Make sure you tell yourself how good you look. Stop saying you're too fat or too thin and just be happy that you're alive to enjoy whatever body you have. Smile at a stranger or give them a compliment and mean it.

And quit walking around thinking, "Oh geez, is she thinking about my rolls?" like I did when I went to baseball games. Because guess what? She's not! She's thinking about whether her son is about to hit a homerun and how hot it is outside or if there's going to be another game that day or if the dishwasher was run or where she is going to plant flowers this summer or why her kid insists on hitting his jockstrap repeatedly to show he's wearing it. She's not thinking about whether your arms flap a little when you're clapping because quite frankly, she doesn't give a damn! She's just excited for you that your kid just got a single.

Look at these beauties - every one of them!!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Working on the Decade List - 40 Things to do Before I'm 40

I'm working through my list, and a friend asked me to share what exactly is on this list and update where I'm at. So here it is - go ahead and make your own! I try and include things that are simple things that I just don't always make time for (and should), as well as some stretch goals. So, take a peek and let me know what you think. And if you do the same, share your list with me. I'd love to see it!

40 Things to Do By the Day Im 40
1.      Take a dance class.
3.      Write a complete book. DONE May 2012
5.      Go to my first Bulls game ever.
6.      Visit Nancy in Idaho.
8.      Take the kids to a big show at the Rialto or Paramount (or somewhere like that)
10.  Go back to New Orleans with friends.
11.  Go on an anniversary trip with Jaime. Somewhere. Anywhere.
13.  Go to my first Blackhawks game ever.
14.  Learn how to make cake pops. (Attempted December 2013. Unsuccessful. Will try again, so I won't cross it off. Yet. Cake pops: 1, Allie: 0)
17.  Get Jaime’s artwork displayed at a gallery.
18.  Tip a good waiter $50 on a $10 bill.
19.  Create a really awesome photo display somewhere in the house.
21.  Fix something big in the house myself, with tools, without asking for help.
24.  Decorate one room in the house so that it looks like a showhouse!
25.  Go wine tasting with the girls in another state.
26.   Start writing each kiddo a book about my best memories of them growing up.
27.  Travel to 5 states. (so far: Wisconsin, August 2011, Kentucky and Tennessee, August 2012; Florida, September 2012)
28.  Fly in a small plane.
29.  Go to Italy or Ireland.
30.  Get a song I’ve written sung in a public venue.
31.  Take each kid to their first concert.
32.  See every major museum in Chicago in one summer.
33.  Take each kid on a ditch day from school and do something totally fun.
36.  Go ice skating on State street
37.  Take Alex and Pey on a rollercoaster (Half done. Alex rode one at Disney. I have a feeling Pey might be 40 herself before she goes on one).
38.  Go to a Cub’s game in Milwaukee.
39.  Own a Dodge Charger.
40.   Organize all the bins sitting in storage.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Ride on the back of Jaime’s Harley. Decade Bucket List Goal #34

Seriously, did you expect photos of this? I'm all for excitement, but I need both hands to hold on until he gets a back for my seat. So until then (or until I purchase a helmet cam), you will have to settle for pictures of the beautiful motorcycle.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Be on television somehow (for something good, lol) Decade Bucket List Goal #35

So one late afternoon, I was perusing my social media feed when I noticed a post from a group I follow, which casts extras for Chicago Fire. They were looking for people to play teachers, and asked for a close up of my face and a full body shot, along with height, weight, and age.

Oh boy.

I am not a model. I am not a size two. I am not an actress. But, I am trying to stretch my comfort zone, so I figured why not? I plucked a couple photos and sent them in with the necessary info. I sat back and allowed myself a moment of pride in having had the courage to hit "send", and expected nothing else to happen. (P.S. The second pic there of me in the blue was in front of the house they were filming "Jupiter Ascending" in - we went to take a peek while they were filming.)

Ten minutes later (I kid you not, ten minutes), my phone rings, asking if I am able to be there the scheduled day, all day or all night (depending on shoot time). 

Um, yes please! I had vacation days from work to use, so this would be perfect!

Showed up to the designated parking lot at the allotted time and waited for the shuttle to take us to set, as all the actors walked past. So cool! (I know, I'm a geek.)

Arrived to the set at 6:30. They fed us some excellent food and the wardrobe people went through the outfits we brought (I had to change. Twice.).  We sat around with the other extras. They called us out (it was May, but 30 degrees out at night - brrrr!) I was a teacher, and we each had a handful of kids who escaped the boarding school fire who we had to keep an eye on between takes. Lots of time outside (no coats), doing a few times of each scene and then moving a little and doing it all over - interesting! Then in and out between scenes while they set up the next one. 

Seeing how they did the fire in the building was amazing. Very neat to see the behind the scenes.

And the coolest part: about 2 a.m., I'm outside on the sidewalk with four kids (3 boys, 1 girl) who are slightly restless, hopped up on Mountain Dew to stay awake. It's cold outside, and they were getting a little rowdy. So I offer the suggestion of dancing to keep warm. They do a dance move and I have to mimick it and vice versa. This goes on for a couple minutes until I'm doing the running man, and the kids start really laughing. When I ask what they are laughing at, they point to the fire truck 20 feet away.

The firetruck in which Taylor Kinney, Charlie Barnett, and Randy Flagler are sitting in (with others). Oh boy. I couldn't see who, but apparently someone in there was amused by my dancing skills! So I instead suggest the more mild rock, paper, scissors until again, the kids are laughing - and Randy Flagler is in the fire truck doing rock, paper, scissors! He motioned to me to do it, so one round of rock, paper, scissors went down. I can't remember who won, but it was the highlight of my night!

So anywho, if you watch the season 2 finale of Chicago Fire, I'm around the 6:38 mark, walking behind Taylor Kinney as he exits the fire truck. I know, it's two seconds of blurriness, but that's my claim to fame. I got on TV for a couple seconds.

Now I'll retire on top, lol.

 One of the awesome extras I met, Heather. (Like our smoke smudge makeup?)

Oh, look, there's me in the background on the left!

There's me again - this is actually from b-roll on YouTube of behind the scenes filming.

Me again.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Take Alex (well, the kids) Sledding - Decade Bucket List Goal #16

I know, seems like a simple goal, right? But I hate snow. And cold. So cold+snow meant I was very unlikely to go sledding. Alex has wanted to go for awhile, so for my birthday that is what I requested we do for the day. It was a blast! We didn't last long because it was super cold, but we had so much fun. Can't wait to do more things like this ;)

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Evolution of Dreams

When I was younger, I wanted to be a writer.

I loved journalism and dreamt of becoming a reporter. I would interview my neighbors and write up my own little newspapers, pretending to be a journalist with the feather in my cap.

I wrote my first book at seven using the computer at school. It was titled "Poison Ivy," all about a little girl who gets poison ivy. Six pages of emotional and riveting storytelling, I tell you.

When I hit my early teens, I fell in love with poetry thanks to my grandmother. I loved reading the works of Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson, picturing in my mind the visions they saw in their thoughts as they transcribed that emotion to paper. I wrote hundreds of poems (yes, when I should have been paying attention or studying), and started building on my dream of writing.

Then I toyed with the idea of being a teacher during my senior year of high school. I selected that as my major upon entering college. Within a semester I changed my major from education to mass communications. I adore teachers and think that they have one of the most difficult and fulfilling jobs on the planet; however, my heart just wasn't in it. I wanted to write. I wanted to change the world.

In mass comm, I fell in love again with broadcasting. During my time as president of our college television station, I delved into this newfound love of portraying the written word on-screen. I became part of our radio station rotation, hosting a show with two of my good friends.

Then I tried out for the play one semester. I loved performing in my very tiny, debut-and-only role; but moreso, I loved the idea of writing those roles.

And that's when my dream - the vision of what I wanted to do with my life - came alive. I knew, finally, what I wanted to do.

I wanted to write books and movies. And maybe books that became movies.

My plan was simple. I'd move to California, try my hand at getting some experience until I could find something that would give me the opportunity to pursue my dream.

Then my heart was broken by my college boyfriend and my mom was diagnosed with (and cured of) early-stage Paget's Disease (a form of breast cancer). I put my plans on hold, but became more determined to achieve my dreams. In the meantime, I found a job I adored and people I liked working with and began learning the PR and marketing ropes.

The day J walked into my life, though, my heart couldn't help but skip a beat. People scoff at the idea of love at first sight but for me, it was. I knew. I knew the moment we were introduced that we'd be married someday. I adored him, and while we remained just friends for a year, we eventually did date.

At 22, I knew I had plenty of time to make my dreams come true. Even better, with any luck, I would have the love of my life with me wherever I ended up, working on the arts he loved so much.

Then at 24, the path made another fork. My mom was diagnosed with brain cancer and given a few months to a year to live. That, however, is a story for another day (you can read about it here). When the end to her journey drew near, my heart was broken. I held on to the dreams I had because they gave me a focus on the future so that I hopefully would not fall apart when she left.

J and I talked about moving in together in Chicago, where I could get my foot in the door somewhere. Two months before my mother passed away - and a week after looking at apartments in the city - two little lines on a stick diverged into yet another fork in life's road: I was pregnant.

When mom died, I focused on work and pregnancy. When my little man was born, I tried to learn the ropes of motherhood without my own mother to lead the way. I thought, okay, I have a few years before he starts school and I won't want to move him away from his school friends. I still held out on that hope! After all, I was only 26.

We bought a house because we needed more space. We had plans to fix it up and sell it, moving on to something new. While California now seemed a little out of reach for me, I hoped that Chicago would present me with something close to home and still on the path of the dream I held: writing scripts and books.

Then the housing market tanked. (If I drew a picture at this point of all the forks in the road, it would look like the giant elm tree in my yard during the winter.) There would be no selling without taking a giant loss on the house, and I couldn't do that to us. Five years passed and we found ourselves married and parents to a little boy and a new little girl.

Then our son started school. And soccer. And Cub Scouts. And baseball. Our daughter started dance. Since the day they were born I saw my dreams started to shift from those I wanted for myself, to those I wanted for them. That doesn't mean I lost my dreams; they just became secondary to those of the beautiful little boy and girl I helped create.

Recently I was speaking with a friend and said something along the lines of, "Well, I will never be able to just pick up and move somewhere to give this writing thing a shot. Those days are past. I'm resigned to typing away in the comforts of my living room."

My son (the old-souled second grader), overheard me. (I should really know by now that even when his attention is buried in a book or a video game, he selectively hears everything I wish he wouldn't while ignoring everything I wish he would!)

He asked me later, "Mom, are you sad?" Surprised, I said no and asked why he thought that. He replied, "You said you always wanted to move somewhere and be a writer and you didn't get to do it because of everything you have to do here. Does that make you sad?"

Big learning moment for this mama. First, I need to watch what I say and how I say it around the wee ones, because I never want my kids to feel like I didn't get to do something because of them - they are the most important people in my life. Second, I needed to explain to him everything I just said up above, in terms a seven-year-old can understand. I believe it's important to hold onto your dreams, and set the example for your children to never stop striving for something better. To show them that life weaves a road for us and our dreams change or shift from time to time, but they still remain out there for us to achieve. But I also believe that sometimes, better dreams come our way even if we don't see them as such at first.

I sat with him and said that once upon a time, I did have some different dreams. I told him what they were and why I had them. And then I told him the very thought I think about every time I start to wonder what life would have been like if I'd have flown out to California upon graduation: he and his sister are my new, improved dream.

See? Aren't they cute?

It's true. There are moments where I wonder what if. When I wonder if I actually could have made it. When I wonder if I have any talent or skill. When I wonder if I could have made a difference in the world somehow by writing compelling and moving storylines for the big screen.

And then my thoughts shift to those two, beautiful, sweet, charming - and sometimes irritating when they fight with each other - kids that I get to love. I cannot imagine life without them. Not without children, but without those two specifically. My funny and loving son, who emptied an entire bottle of baby powder in the living room; who grosses me out with wiggly teeth; who laughs so hard he hiccups and burps at the same time. And the cute and cuddly daughter who plays dress up daily; who has such a strong will I've given up fighting her on school outfits; and who poses like she's the next top model in every photo I've taken of her since she was old enough to pose.

Okay, maybe she doesn't pose like a model every time I take a photo.

As we were wrapping up our little chat, he asked me if I thought I failed - "like when you fail a spelling test, mom" - because I didn't get to do what I wanted to do.

I said that no, I didn't feel like I failed. I felt like I found a path that led me to a better dream. I asked him if he thought it meant I failed that I wasn't writing primetime television episodes and wasn't famous. He responded by telling me, "Mom, everyone in my whole class knows you write books. You're famous in the second grade."

It might not be Hollywood, but it feels pretty good. I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up.

"A writer mom. Like you. And an artist and a drummer."

Sounds good, kid. Whatever your dreams are and however they change, may you have a little kid just like you to remind you that you have succeeded in life. Just maybe different than how you'd first imagined.


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