Monday Quote: Are you ready?

“So mom, are you ready for school to start?

Well buddy, yes and no.

I know just what you mean. I’m totally dreading it, but I’m ready for something new.”

–          My 7 year-old son


This Monday quote comes courtesy of my youngest son and was part of a priceless conversation we had while lying on the lawn at Millennium Park, listening to Mozart’s “Cosi fan Tutte.” Pretty sweet, right?

His words have stuck with me because they pretty perfectly reflect my feelings, not just about back to school, but new ventures in general. I “dread” change, yet revel in the idea of something “new.”

We’ve had a great summer. Because I went back to working full time last month, my boys have enjoyed seriously lazy mornings. A variety of babysitters have filled their afternoons with pools, parks and field trips. We’ve had family adventures, lots of sports and general good times.

So I dread that ending. Back to schedules and homework and uniforms. And, come on, he’s 7. Of course he dreads school.

But he’s ready for something new? That surprised me. He really gets it. School is not just a return to the old drudgery. It’s a chance for something new. Every school year is a fresh start. Kids are so lucky to get that each and every year.

Monday Quote — Coming Home

“Standing here, in this quiet house where I can hear the birds chirping out back, I think I’m kind of getting the concept of closure. It’s no big dramatic before-after. It’s more like that melancholy feeling you get at the end of a really good vacation. Something special is ending, and you’re sad, but you can’t be that sad because, hey, it was good while it lasted, and there’ll be other vacations, other good times.”
―    Gayle Forman,    Where She Went

Oh how I hope Ms. Forman is correct. I am home from 7 days of complete relaxation and sunshine and I am desperately trying to hold on to that mood. But how do you hold on to the sense of timelessness when the alarm clock sounds, e-mails need to be checked and appointments need to be kept? Life is rushing at me with all its messy requirements — doctors appointments, deadlines, babysitting schedules and laundry included.

So I’m not sad, but, yes, melancholy sounds right.

We have vacationed at the same spot every year (save one) for 8 summers. Beachwalk offers us a short drive to a different world. It’s a world where my kids don’t fight,

we can spend hours each day on the beach,

I have seemingly endless hours to read brilliant books,

and sunsets appear brighter than ever.

I love this world. My husband and my sons and my mom also love this world, which makes Beachwalk even more special.

Meals and snacks are unscheduled. I am more inclined to open a new book than update my news-feed, leaving me disconnected enough to truly recharge. Whether my sons wake up and grab a fishing pole, or take a bike ride around the quiet streets or head to the park with balls and gloves, they are completely at home and entertained.We all know our way around the resort’s streets, providing a sense of security as our boys roam free.

Our Beachwalk world feels simultaneously fresh and familiar.

Now we are home. It’s definitely familiar, and I am refreshed.

I will not be sad. I will be thrilled at how great it was to live in that other world. I will look forward to my eventual return and the good times to come.

Monday Quote: Resilience

The heart is a very, very resilient little muscle. It really is.”
Woody Allen, Hannah and Her Sisters

I’m a worrier. I’ve covered this ground on my blog before, but I’m specifically talking about the way I worry over my sons. I worry about their skin and bones. I worry about the way the “world” forces its way into their minds. But, mostly, I worry about their hearts. I want to prevent that little muscle from breaking more than anything.

When my boys were babies and toddlers, I was repeatedly advised to not worry so much.

“You’d be surprised at how babies bounce.” (Yes, someone said that to me.)

“They don’t break easily.”

“Little boys are tough.”

“He’ll get over it faster than you will.”

I heard all of this and more, but still, I worry about their precious little hearts. Last week I tried to prepare by 10 year-old’s psyche for the sure-to-be-disappointing baseball tournament – our first ever. I had been warned by other parents that our team couldn’t really compete with the other travel teams in the league. Our city had, in fact, lost by a score of 32-3 last year.

But how do you tell a little boy, chosen for this All Star team for the very first time that he wouldn’t emerge victorious? Wouldn’t it be worse to crush his hope than to deal with disappointment? Every night for three weeks, we dropped him off for two hours of practice in the hot sun. He never complained about the heat, or the commitment. He donned all the catching equipment every day and soaked up his coaches’ praise like a sponge. In fact, he blossomed.

We made the 45-minute trip to the tournament site with a supremely confident player. It only took a ½ inning for all that bravado to disintegrate, as his team struggled to keep up. Plays that had come easily during the regular season now appeared impossible. I watched with my heart in my throat as my sweet boy tried to keep tears at bay returning to his dugout. The strong hitting he had shown all summer evaporated in the face of new pitchers.

Although his team rallied in the second inning, they lost via the “mercy” rule, down by 10 runs in the fourth. (By the way – I’m not sure the word “mercy” is any less cruel than “slaughter rule” when it comes to 10 year-old boys.)

As I feared, he took responsibility for the loss upon his own slim shoulders, blaming himself for every missed out and missed swing. His coach called it…telling him that he had the biggest heart of any player. That big heart was broken and there was nothing I could do but reinforce his coach’s message that they win and lose as a team, always.

Night two was more of the same. I secretly hoped that his coach would pull him out and let someone else catch just to relieve that sense of responsibility. But, he played every inning, just as he had practiced. Less than 2 hours later, the umpire invoked the “mercy” rule. His team was finished. Double elimination. Double heartbreak.

Shoulders sagging, tears brimming, he made his way to the car. I tried to stay positive. My husband and I told him we were proud of his play, his attitude, his poise. He stared out the window for about the half the ride and then, visibly, shed his disappointment.

I saw his posture change, his face brighten. “Well, at least I don’t have to go to practice every night anymore. And I get to keep my jersey and my hat. Isn’t that cool Mom?”

Worry not, Mom. Resilience comes naturally to little hearts.

A Tale as Old as Time in a Brand New Production

I was thrilled to return to Chicago Shakespeare Theater last weekend for the press opening of their Family Series production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. My review will be published in the August issue of Chicago Parent as well as

Chicago Shakespeare Theater has built its reputation on excellent quality productions reflecting Shakespeare’s love of storytelling, language and human emotion.

That has carried that through to its Family Series as well. When I learned that CST chose to premiere the 70-minute version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast for the summer children’s show, I was unsure how it fit the mission. However, after seeing this beautiful production, I’m more convinced than ever that CST is a best bet for families.

With a cast of only 16 people, they managed to provide the feel of a full-scale Broadway musical. Outstanding voices and swift choreography set the mood. Dynamic costumes and an ever-changing set complete with computer-animated graphics bring the enchanted world of Belle and Beast to life.

In fact, the scenes in the forest with wolves attacking and fog rolling through were so realistic that some young audience members cried out to leave. That’s certainly testament to human emotion.

Emily Rohm is perfect as the inquisitive, feisty and beautiful Belle. She brings something fresh to the well-known character, captivating the young girls in the audience. William Travis Taylor (Beast) and Jake Klinkhammer (Gaston) provide the perfect counterparts in the quest for her love. Klinkhammer makes Gaston’s smarmy and conceited villain the show’s comic relief. Taylor has the challenge of conveying Beast’s emotional journey through an intricate mask and mass of beastly hair. Using his voice and body language, he succeeds.

Once again, director Rachel Rockwell keeps the pace of the show and its ensemble members moving quickly. She milks the comedy, but doesn’t shy away from the romance inherent in the story. My 10-year-old son thought there were “too many slow songs” but, judging by the reaction of the audience, he was in the minority.

Girls and boys alike were lined up in the lobby after the show for their chance to get an autograph from, and picture with, some of the actors.

You can read more of my stories at Chicago Parent.

How can he be 10?

“I know it’s only one night’s sleep, but I’ll never be 9 again.”

Those were the final words my son had for me before bed last night. I knew just what he meant. He will not be fundamentally changed when he wakes on his 10th birthday – he will still be smart and funny and athletic and sensitive. He will still be the middle child. He will still have to brush his teeth, put away his clothes, and do his homework.

But 10 feels different from 9.

It feels different for him and it feels different for me. Somehow the passage to double digits marks a shift in childhood. He hasn’t been my fat-cheeked baby for a long time, but he’s still been a little boy in my mind. With age 10, the adjective “little” disappears. He is most definitely my big boy, and that’s tough.

At such a milestone I can’t help but look back. Have I done enough? Have I been the best mom for him? I joke about forgetting the first year of his life, swamped as I was with two babies. Now I think it’s not so funny.  I look back on his baby book and, despite all the parenting advice, compare his slim volume to his big brother’s 3-ring binder. Oh, the mom guilt.

So then I look at the big boy himself. Oh, the mom pride. I marvel at the person he has become. How have we managed to raise such a wonderful kid? He is loved by his classmates and his teachers. He takes pride in his work and his athletic achievements, especially in baseball. Sometimes quiet and reserved, he also possesses a kooky sense of humor we adore.

With all these gifts, it’s easy to forget his sensitivity. I worry about how easily his feeling bruise. His brothers have long figured out the quickest ways to push his buttons. Even at age 10, he can go from smiles to tears in an instant. I take more pride in the way in which he is sensitive to everyone else’s feelings.

Today’s crisis is who to pick as his birthday helper. As the birthday boy, he gets to pick 2 friends to help him pass out treats at school. He is so afraid of hurting someone’s feelings by not picking them. He just doesn’t know what to do. It seems a small dilemma to be sure, but I understand that for him, it’s enormous. I also understand that it is only one of many perceived crises that I will not be able to solve for him.

The trouble with growing up is that, more often than not, you have to solve your own problems. As much as I’d like to pick him up and whisk him away from any hurt, I can’t do that anymore.

He is 10.

I want my Mommy, not my sons’ Mima.

Today I leave for a long weekend with my mom. It’s our Mothers Day present to each other. No kids, just each other for a quick getaway. I’m more excited than I can express.  I will miss my husband and sons but will treasure a couple of days on my own. Besides, I adore time alone with my mom.

In celebration, I am sharing an essay I wrote in 2004. This essay was published in the May 2004 issue of Chicago Parent magazine. I wrote it before I had my third child. My world was so different, but the sentiment remains.

I hope you enjoy this post and I wish much happiness and love to all the mothers and grandmothers out there.

How can I be jealous of Mima time?

It’s been three years since my older son’s birth and I still have a hard time believing that Mother’s Day has anything to do with me. As each May approaches I consider ways I can make the day special for my mom. Since I have toddlers, going out for a crowded brunch is not a relaxing idea for anyone, so I host a brunch at my house. I prepare all week-carefully choosing a menu, thoroughly cleaning our house, arranging beautiful flowers, setting the table with china and crystal.

My friends think I’m crazy. Aren’t I supposed to be taking the day off? But she’s my mom, my best friend. For almost 30 years she was the most important person in my life. I want this lovely day for both of us. So the stage is set. The music is playing. In she comes, full of compliments about the table setting and delicious aromas. But before I can even offer her a cup of coffee, my boys are clamoring for all of her attention. They drag her off to the playroom where she happily builds animal parades, puts together puzzles and colors pictures all morning.

I watch from the dining room because when “Mima” is over I’m pretty much invisible anyway. I marvel at what an amazing grandmother she is, especially considering that she doesn’t come close to fitting the gray-haired, cookie-baking mold. But she excels in the endless gifts, pockets full of candy and zero discipline departments. It is no wonder my sons adore her.

Taken June, 2011

Even as I observe them together, grateful my sons are so blessed, I am jealous. On the inside I’m yelling, “I want my mommy.” I admit it. I want that radiant attention focused squarely on me. Not that she doesn’t try. I am never forgotten or ignored. She is always there for me when I need her and she never fails to know what I need before I do. Still, as I watch her with my kids I am aware that I have lost “Mommy” forever now that she is “Mima.”

I know I shouldn’t complain. My children are lucky to have her. I’m lucky to have her. I still can’t help feeling the twinge of resentment when she takes their side over mine. The issues are minor-candy before lunch or one more video before leaving- but still…aren’t mothers supposed to defend their own children above all else? How did I become the odd mom out?

She would argue that by “occasionally” siding with the boys she is supporting me, because her attention and spoiling take some of the pressure off of me. And she would be right. As much as I might resent her apparent shift in loyalty, I depend on her presence in our lives.

In fact, it’s rare if the boys and I go a whole week without seeing her. We generally spend Saturdays on “Mima adventures,” which might be a trip to the conservatory, museum or even an amusement park.

Occasionally I even make plans to meet her on my own for coffee or some shopping. I remember the first time I showed up for coffee without the baby in tow. The first words out of her mouth were, “Where’s the baby?”

I was so disappointed, not just at the realization that I was not the only light of my mother’s eye. I also wanted her to share in my excitement over having a couple hours with no crying, diapers or spit-up. As the boys have grown, she’s acknowledged my need to just be with her alone. Still, I’m more careful to warn her in advance when it will just be me. It saves us both the initial disappointment.

It’s strange that becoming a mother in no way diminished my need for my mother. I thought it would, like a membership to some exclusive club of strong, self-confident women. If anything, motherhood makes me more aware-emotionally, intellectually and physically-of the job she has done.

I wonder if it’s true that we all turn into our parents. It’s hard to believe at this stage. I remember the mom of my childhood as being fun, filled with ideas for outings and art projects, never disciplining us or raising her voice and always, always keeping us neat and clean. It’s with these ideals in mind that I strive to be a great mother. I can’t help making the comparisons between us.

To my mom’s credit, she rarely offers unsolicited advice on how to parent. She listens and sympathizes, offers alternatives when I’m frustrated, and praises often. In other words, she mothers me.

I’m sure that with each passing year, Mother’s Day will begin to feel more real to me. I will continue to watch my mother and my children share an unbreakable bond, probably continue to be envious. But I’ll also know that I am a link in that chain, adored by both generations.

I can sip my coffee, surrounded by crystal, china and lovely flowers, knowing I receive the ultimate Mother’s Day gift every day. I am loved.

Kids LiveWell means better options for families

* This post ran originally on I have added photos for alenaslife.

My oldest enjoying his new hat!

I am one of the lucky ones. My sons do not fall under the category “picky eaters.” Although each has different tastes and preferences, they all pretty much eat a well-balanced diet, including fruits and vegetables. My husband and I have raised them in the school of “everything in moderation” so they enjoy candy, the occasional soda and fast food lunches on weekends. None are obese; nor are they scrawny.

I believe one of the reasons for their well-balanced diets is the fact that we do a lot of cooking at home. We have managed (until recently) to avoid the trap of picking up dinner at the drive-thru or doing fast casual dining several times a week. But now that their schedules continue to get busier and our time at the dinner table seems to disappear more often, I’ve realized just how difficult it is to find quick, healthy, economical food options, especially on the run.

It was with this realization in mind that I jumped at the chance to attend an event hosted by the National Restaurant Association to promote their Kids LiveWell program. Launched in July 2011 with 19 restaurants, the association announced that the count now stands at 96 different brands, with locations in every state.

According to their website, “The Kids LiveWell choices emphasize lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy, as well as meet stringent nutritional criteria.” The dietitians present at the press conference stressed that qualifying entrees must be under 600 calories with less than 35 percent coming from fat, less that 10 percent from saturated fats, and less than 35 percent coming from total sugars. Meals must contain fewer than 770 mg of sodium and contain at least two food groups. This is all excellent news with childhood obesity rates at an all-time high.

For a restaurant to qualify on the Kids LiveWell Plan, they must offer at least one child’s entrée plus a side dish. But a quick look at the menus from participants makes it clear that most places offer even more. Apple fries, fresh steamed veggies and grilled (instead of fried) chicken are becoming more common as consumers (parents) demand better options.

And, in a nod to parents like me who are spending more time on the road and away from home, the restaurant association unveiled a mobile app to help us identify locations and menu items. Free to install and quick to download, the Kids LiveWell app immediately located my position and found 21 restaurants within a few miles of my house that have qualifying entrees. When I tapped a pin, I was taken to the restaurant’s exact address along with a list of menu choices. Terrifically convenient.

As I commit to making healthier choices for myself and for my kids, it’s nice to have restaurants standing by my side.

For a complete list of participating restaurants or more information on the new mobile app, visit

Disclosure: I received compensation from the National Restaurant Association’s Kids LiveWell program for my time reviewing and writing about their program. The opinions expressed are solely my own.

My mission to find healthier restaurants

I have been writing about family friendly dining destinations for Chicago Parent magazine for a few years now. I don’t necessarily cover “kids” restaurants, but try to focus on establishments whose menu and ambiance appeal to adults while remaining open to children. It’s a great gig which has allowed my sons and I to eat at many places which we would not have normally chosen. One of these days I’ll get around to making a list of all those places, but all of my stories can be found at

Earlier this year, I received a press release about a Chicago group called Healthy Fare for Kids.

The Healthy Fare for Kids initiative is a grass-roots project seeking assistance from restaurants to offer healthier food for children on their menus.

Our goal is to improve the overall health of children in America, starting with kids in our own back yard. With the rate of childhood obesity escalating at an alarming pace and the City of Chicago surpassing the national rate, we are asking our restaurant neighbors to help with this issue.

We believe that restaurants are partners in helping children make the connection between what they eat, how they feel and the health benefits of nutritionally rich foods. Healthy menu items in restaurants help children make good food choices and continue the life-long journey of being healthy.

Healthy Fare for Kids has partnered with really outstanding Chicago chefs including Sarah Stegner (Prairie Grass Café), Michael Kornick (MK) and Paul Virant (Vie and Perennial Virant). The more I read about the organization and the participating restaurants, the more I have considered trying to focus my Good to Go column on the delicious and nutritious ways families can enjoy dining out. (That’s not to say I won’t include the occasional ice cream stand – but I can find the balance.)

Our first foray in an official Healthy Fare for Kids establishment was brunch at Nookies Edgewater . We loved it and were so impressed by the multitude of options, even within the Healthy Fare standards. If you’re interested in reading that story, you can find it at

Next week I’m scheduled to attend the National Restaurant Association Show  in Chicago on behalf of Chicago Parent. I am specifically going to learn more about their new initiative Kids LiveWell . Restaurants across the country are recognizing the epidemic of childhood obesity and, apparently, many have made the commitment to offer “healthful” options. I am hoping to find more local places I can visit and write about.

My own sons are pretty healthy eaters, but burgers and fries are always the top choices for my oldest. As I make the commitment to actively scoping out restaurants with better options, my sons have no choice but to go along for the ride. I hope I can get them on board.

A Rescue at Sea

A life preserver, or toroidal throwable person...

A life preserver, or toroidal throwable personal flotation device. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This week I had the pleasure of reconnecting with some very special people. When I got Suzanne’s e-mail suggesting that our old playgroup get together for lunch, it hit me. It’s been 10 years since this particular group of women rescued me from the choppy waters of baby life.

Don’t get me wrong — I was treading water fine. Two boys under 17 months. Working from home about 10 hours a week. Still tenuously connected to my theatre company. Plenty of support from my husband and our families. But I knew I was being pulled out to sea. I was losing hold on the life I thought I knew. Who was this new person? I couldn’t focus on anything but keeping these little boys alive and happy.

I faithfully attended Mommy & Me classes just like I had with my oldest son, but this time with a toddler in tow. It was all more complicated, harder. Those days, I felt like a piranha – the only woman I knew with kids so close together. People either assumed they were twins (proof that people see what they want to see) or stared at me, mouths agape, wondering why I would choose to have sons so close in age.

When the gorgeous and exotic Ana invited us all to her house for lunch after the last class, I was thrilled to be included. We laid our babies in a circle, ate lunch, took pictures, traded stories and asked questions. Most importantly, Suzanne gathered all our e-mails. It was the start of something very special.

Without any formal structure, we launched a playgroup. Suzanne merged the names and e-mails from the moms in a couple of her classes and once a week, we each took a turn hosting the gathering of moms and kids — different times, different places, different formats – but the same core group anchoring me.

Within that community, I knew I would find sympathy, advice, laughter and perspective.  Far from feeling awkward, my playgroup friends accepted my two kids without question. In fact, they boosted my confidence often as they turned to me as a mom who “had been through it once already.”

This is a sculpture in Rosses Point, County Sl...

This is a sculpture in Rosses Point, County Sligo Ireland, for people lost at sea. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I still marvel at this group’s random beginning. We are all so different. We lived in four different towns. Some worked outside the home. Some were home for the first time. We are the parents of boys and girls. We live in houses large and small. Our children are biological and adopted, single and multiple. We are black, white, Hispanic and Asian, Christian and Jewish. We spoke to the kids in a variety of languages, accents and dialects.

Motherhood trumps all of these distinctions. Sleeplessness knows no ethnicity. Food allergies have no religion. And first steps are marvelous in any size house. Over time, the moms were the ones in a circle as our babies first crawled, and eventually ran, around us. But we still ate, took pictures, traded stories and asked questions. We buoyed each other in rough times. We celebrated each other’s triumphs and we marked milestones together.

And, inevitably, we drifted apart. Kids started preschool. We had more babies. Schedules no longer permitted us to gather during the day. Instead, we transitioned into a monthly “Moms Night Out” group, which was fun in a whole new way. But that too eventually melted away.

Only 7 of us were able to make the lunchtime reunion, at which we ate, traded stories and asked questions (no pictures though). Once again, our common bond overshadowed our many differences. Once again, we shared our triumphs and challenges. These same women threw me a life-preserver as I talked about my trepidation at the “next phase.”

I will carry all of these friends in my heart no matter if I see them weekly, monthly, or once every few years. I thank them for the many rescues. I treasure our shared journey.