Sunday, January 30, 2011

Late Night Telephone Panic

Nothing good comes from a phone call after 10:00 p.m.  I learned this the hard way from all the middle of the night phone calls about emergencies my grandparents were having. 

Usually the call resulted in someone throwing on clothes and heading to the hospital.  In the weeks before my parental grandfather died, we'd get calls in the middle of the night regularly.  I can remember my parents going to the hospital and coming home several hours later only to get ready for work.  Ever since then, I assume a late-night phone call brings bad news. 

With my Dad still in the hospital, I'm on edge whenever the phone rings.  A few nights ago, it rang about midnight.  I silently swore and started thinking about the easiest clothing to throw on and the best route to get to the hospital.  It turned out to be a call from my husband's office.  There was a production problem that needed his assistance.

He went downstairs to deal with the problem.  I stayed in bed trying to get back to sleep, knowing that the next late night phone call might not be so easy to forget.

Friday, January 28, 2011

A Crash Course in Jumping Rope

***This was originally published on the Chicago Moms***

The girls really want to learn how to jump rope. They asked me to teach them as soon as we could get outside to practice. You know what this means, don’t you? I need to practice jumping rope.

As a child, I could jump rope, but I was never a jump rope expert. No one ever marveled at my ability to criss-cross my feet or jump between two ropes at once. No one ever invited me to jump competitively. I just did it for fun.

Now I’m feeling a little pressure since I haven’t jumped rope in years. I mean I picked up a jump rope here and there when the nieces were young. I occasionally jumped rope during a fitness class. Those days were far and few between — and a long time ago.

So, if you happen to see me in the backyard jumping rope, please don’t laugh. Yes, I know it’s good exercise. Right now though, I’m just trying to gain a little coordination so I don’t completely embarrass myself in front of my daughters.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Murphy's Morning Law

One thing I now know as a parent is that Murphy's Law (anything that can go wrong will go wrong) is most likely to happen as you are trying to get out the door.  I find this kicks in many, many mornings.  Today was the perfect example.

The girls were messing around and not listening.  I kept saying, "Let's go.  You are going to miss the bus."  Instead of getting ready, they kept giving Oreo more water saying, "He's thirsty."  I replied, "No more.  The dog will drink as much as you give him.  It doesn't mean that he's thirsty."  Of course, they ignored me.

A little later, they were upstairs and I'm yelling up the stairs, "Let's go.  If you miss the bus you will not go to school today."

They finally came down the stairs and remembered they still needed to feed the dog.  They finally fed him and gave him more water.  As they were getting ready to walk out the door, Oreo started peeing in the foyer.  I wanted to get mad at him, but four or five bowls of water will do that to a dog.  The girls started yelling at him, which frightened him.  He started running in a circle on the first floor of our house -- still peeing.

At this point I'm going to lose my mind.  The girls are yelling at the dog and I'm telling them to stop walking in the pee.  They ended up near our front door, so I started throwing things at them.  They needed their coats, boots, hats, gloves, backpacks, etc.  I didn't want them walking through the pee, so I just stood near the stuff and threw it to them.

We finally got out the door, and, of course, missed the bus.  I made them sit on the front porch with Oreo for a few minutes while I cleaned up the mess.  Then I drove them to school.

I realized that I told them they had to stay home if they missed the bus.  When I thought about it, I realized that would be punishment for me, not them.  They only had 1/2 day of school today.  A friend's mom was picking them up from school and taking them straight to her house.  If I made them stay home, I'd have to deal with them crying because they missed the bus and I'd still have to clean up Oreo's mess. 

In the end, it was easier just to send them to school.  We all needed the space from each other. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Grown-ups Don't Think Kids Can Do Anything

The brunette twin is full of attitude lately.  She was sitting in church watching the acolytes when she asked if she could be an acolyte.  I told her she could when she was a little older.  She said, "I could do it now.  It's not fair.  Grown-ups don't think kids can do anything, but we can.  We could do a lot of stuff if you'd let us."

Wow!  Talk about being put in your place.  I told her I thought she could be an acolyte starting in the fall.  This made her happy.

I asked her what she meant when she said grown-ups don't let kids do anything.  She gave me five or six examples of things that happened where adults told her she was too young or little to do something.  I thought that the adults were right in only one or two cases.  I thought she was right in most cases.  I'd bet that given a little direction and some practice, she could have done the things on her list.

So I made her a promise.  I'd try to remember that she was a big girl and let her do more things.  She promised to tell me when she thought she could do something, even when I tell her I think she's too young or little to do something.

I see big changes in my perspective.  My babies are growing up and I need to remember that they are more capable that I'd like to believe. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Winter Dog Walking in Style

When we brought Oreo home, people said, "Wait until it's cold and snowy.  You'll regret getting a dog then."  Well, they were wrong.  Here's the thing about winter that most Chicagoans understand.  It's supposed to be cold and snowy.  And, because we live here, we have our own fashion sense when it comes to keeping warm.

I always figure warmth beats fashion any day when it comes to winter clothes.  This is especially true when I'm walking Oreo.  I have a look that others wouldn't dare to try.  It's not going to get me into a fashion magazine, but I'm warm.  Here's how you can steal my look.

Start with long underwear. 
Layer on a long sleeve shirt and jeans

Put a hoodie over the long sleeve shirt

Put the hood on your head

Add ear muffs on top of the hood

Tie a scarf around your neck

Add a coat. 
*I alternate between a long wool coat and Tom's ski jacket.  I'm particularly fond of the ski jacket because it is really bright pink, purple and white. You can see me a block away.  The wide white stripe is really great at night.  Any headlight that shines near me will see me in that coat.  Plus, the sleeves are really long.  I can put my hand with the dog leash in the sleeve, further reducing my wind exposure.

Zip up the fleece lined boots
*On icy days, I add the slip on cleats to keep from falling. 

Put on your gloves
*Thinsulate is the best thing to keep your hands warm.

Now you are ready to walk out the door.  Yes, I know that right now you're thinking it's a great look.  You are right.  For an added fashion bonus, I have different color ear muffs I borrow from the girls.  There's nothing better than the brunette twin's winter white, sparkly ear muffs over my dark blue hoodie.

Unfortunately, the girls don't have my awesome fashion sense.  They do seem to tolerate my winter look though.  As long as they don't have to go out with me to walk the dog, they don't care what I wear.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

And the Oscar Does Not Go To

It turns out I'm not a very good actress.  The blond twin walked up to me and stroked my cheek.  She said, "What's the matter Momma?  You look so worried."

I told her I was worried about Grampa.  She said, "Don't worry.  He'll be okay."  She hugged me and kissed me on the cheek.

Some days I find it hard to believe she's seven years old. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Waiting and Pretending

My Dad is in the hospital again.  Mom took him into the emergency room yesterday.  He's very sick, which is what happens with end-stage COPD and congestive heart failure.

So now we're waiting.  Waiting to hear if he's going to get better.  Waiting to find out if he's going to come home.  Waiting until we can go to see him.  We're not naive.  We know he's not going to get better as in he's not going to be back painting the house or mowing the lawn.  It's smaller now.  Will he get well enough to come home again for a little while?  Will he be mobile and independent when he comes home? 

In our house, we're pretending that things are not as bad as they are.  The girls know Grampa is in the hospital.  They must sense how really sick he is.  The blond twin said, "Is Grampa going to die this time?"  I held my breath for a minute so I didn't start crying.  I hold my breath a lot and try to keep the tears from falling.  They know how sick Grampa is, but they don't really know what it means when he dies.  I do and it hurts a lot to realize we're headed there sooner rather than later.

We're going along so the girls days stay as normal as possible for as long as possible.  Yesterday we went ice skating in the drizzle.  It was a strange way to end a tense day, but ice skating in the drizzle made them laugh.  It was worth it to see them so happy.  Soon enough they will be overwhelmed with tears and sadness.  For now we're still pretending -- if only for their sakes.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Let's Surprise Daddy

Let's surprise Daddy are magic words in this house.  I can get the girls to do anything if they think it's a surprise for Daddy.  In the past week I've convinced them to that Daddy would think it's a good surprise if they set the table for dinner, help me change their sheets and clean up their toys. 

Let's surprise Daddy works because they adore Daddy.  They would do anything to make Daddy happy.  It also works because they like to be in on the surprise.  They want to be part of the secret, even if it's only a secret they need to keep for a little while. 

Sometimes they come up with their own surprises.  Everything from changing into their pajamas while Daddy watches the end of a game to making coffee while Daddy is walking the dog generates the same excitement for them.

The best part for them is when Daddy reacts with complete surprise.  Sometimes a little birdy whispers in his ear so he reacts appropriately.  Sometimes they tell him as soon as he walks through the door because they are just bursting with excitement.

As long as Daddy reacts with some excitement, it encourages "let's surprise Daddy."  I'm happy because I don't have to yell at them to get stuff done.  Daddy is happy because they are so excited.  They are happy because they get to surprise Daddy.  It's all good for as long as we can make it work.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Our Snow Dog

On our Christmas card this year we put "We're ready for sledding."  We wrote it on the assumption that people would see Oreo's photo and understand that he's a Husky. What do Huskies do?  They pull sleds.

We picked up a copy of the movie Snow Dogs at the Friends of the Library book store.  It's about a Miami dentist who ends up in Alaska with a pack of Huskies.  We're watching it now.  Who is enjoying it the most?  Oreo.

We're spending half the time watching the movie and half the time watching him watch the movie. The dog is sitting a few feet from the television just staring. He isn't moving.  Whenever the other dogs are on TV, he jumps to attention.  It's really funny to watch.  It's as if he actually knows what is going on in the movie. 

When we have family movie nights the girls pick the movie.  Oreo never really paid attention to any of the other movies, so this is a new adventure for all of us.  Now that Oreo has a clear favorite, I wonder if he'll have a voice in the movie choice.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Age of Endless Possibilities

Last night our park district had a night skate program at a local park.  The girls and I ice skated for nearly two hours under the floodlights.  It was so much fun.  One of their friends came a bit later and just lit up the ice.  She skates competitively, so she is on the ice six to ten hours a week and takes two private lessons each week.  It really shows.  She was showing the girls her latest spins and footwork.  They were mesmerized.

Of course, on the way home from skating, they decided they wanted to drop out of everything and just take ice skating lessons. 

One of the great things about being seven is that they are at the age of endless possibilities.  No one has told them that they are too tall to be gymnasts or they are not disciplined enough to be prima ballerinas.  They believe they can be concert pianists and astronauts at the same time.

And, why not?  At seven you start to see all your options without realizing that there might be limitations.  You know that someone designed the building, but don't realize the amount of math and creativity it takes to be an architect. 

It's a fabulous age for them.  We like watching them discover new possibilities and encourage them to be whatever they want to be when they grow up.  Soon enough they will discover that endless possibilities have real limitations.  For now they should just explore and enjoy.

Friday, January 14, 2011

He Won't Bite You

In the three months we've had Oreo, we've learned a lot about him.  When we first adopted him, I wouldn't let anyone near him.  He's big enough to hurt someone without meaning it, and I wasn't sure if he was a biter. 

One thing I'm pretty comfortable saying now is that Oreo will not bite you.  When strangers come up and ask if they can pet him, I almost always say yes these days.  I don't worry that he's going to bite their hands or attack them.

Will he hurt them?  Possibly.  He's still a puppy, so he gets really excited when people play with him.  He's a bit clumsy, so he runs into people when they try to pet him.  He tends to jump still, although he's getting much better.  The biggest concern is still when he's around little people -- or as I like to remind the girls "Anyone Gramma's height or smaller." 

Last week the girls had friends over and they all played with Oreo.  He was pretty good, but he kept running over one of their friends.  She's only four years old, so she's still pretty small.  She would run and then come to a sudden stop.  He doesn't react quickly.  He'd keep running and run her down.  We quickly put an end to running around with the dog. 

We also know he will protect the girls -- even from us.  Yesterday they were completely ignoring me (shocking, I know) so I yelled at them.  He started barking and came between me and the girls.  If he thinks you are going to hurt his girls, all bets are off. 

Knowing that he won't bite strangers is a big relief.  I'm not saying he'll never bite anyone, but I feel comfortable enough that when a stranger looks frightened at the site of Oreo, I will say, "He won't bite you."  Of course, I say it as I'm walking the dog right by the person.  I'm confident, not crazy.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Myth Dog Owners Tell

When the girls were little and waking up every two hours, twenty-four hours a day, people would say,"It gets better once they start sleeping through the night.  You just have a couple more months to go and they'll be sleeping through the night."

I always thought this was just one of those myths experienced parents tell new parents so we'll survive the first year.  During the first few months, nothing was more enticing than the thought of an uninterrupted night of sleep. 

Eventually they did start sleeping through the night, just as everyone said. 

A woman at church said something that gave me a flashback to those days when I would dream about sleeping through the night.  We were talking about how active Oreo is and she said, "I remember when our dog was like that.  Then he hit two and a half and boom.  Now he just sleeps all day."

I think this is the new dog owner's version of telling new parents that one day their children will sleep through the night.  It's not that I want Oreo to sleep all day.  It's just that I would like to see some sign that after a two mile walk he's at least well-exercised.  Right now he starts running around the house like a crazy dog immediately after being let off the leash.  It's like he just woke up and needs some exercise, rather than just returned from a two mile walk.

She's not the only one who has told me that one day Oreo will be a fully mature dog who is more mellow and less active.  I'm just not sure I believe anyone who tells me that right now. 

Monday, January 10, 2011

Unusual Names are really a Burden for Children

I'm happy to say I've recently started writing for  If you're not familiar with Technorati, the official "about" blurb says it was "founded as the first blog search engine, Technorati has expanded to a full service media company providing services to the blogs and social media sites and connecting them with advertisers who want to join the conversation, and whose online properties introduce blog content to millions of consumers."

The article below was first published as Unusual Names are Really a Burden for Children on Technorati.  It's my first article for Technorati, but not my last. 


When your first name is Shari, you spend a lot of time spelling your name. A typical conversation with a new service provider involves a lot of time spelling my first name. Just today I ordered something that required a phone conversation. The clerk spelled my name as Sherrie, Cheri, Sherry and Scherri before I finally interrupted her and spelled my first name. She said, "Oh, you don't see it spelled like that very often."

I think about this every time I see an article about how more and more parents are choosing unique baby names. I know why these parents are choosing unusual baby names. It's not really that they want to give their child an unusual name. It's that their names are Sue or Linda or Jennifer or Tom or Mark or John. They think that by giving their children unusual names, they will help them stand out in the crowd.

What they are really doing is dooming their children to the life of a spelling bee contestant. Their children will spend their entire lives spelling and defending their names to people who are thinking, "Who would saddle this lovely young woman or nice young man with that name?"

I know because I do it all the time. Whenever I hear that a baby is named Abygayle, I cringe. Whenever I see a name I need pronounced before I can figure out the letter combination, I feel sorry for the child.

A friend did her Master's thesis on unusual names. Her research found that Riischa is less likely to be high on the corporate ladder than Rene or Reena. Jaymees is not as likely to be a partner in a law firm as James. Basically, she found that unusual names are cute on toddlers, but not in the workplace.

It's something for parents to think about before naming their children. Yes, people think it's cute that your daughter's name is a combination of both your names, but will they hire her when she graduates from college?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Saturday Lessons

We're embarking on a new adventure today.  The girls are taking their first piano lesson.  We inherited a piano from my grandmother, so it's natural for them to start taking lessons.

For me the biggest part of the adventure is we're breaking the Saturday lessons barrier.  I always resisted putting the girls into Saturday lessons.  Since I work from home, I always had them take lessons during the week.  I find those lessons are less crowded and more relaxed than Saturday classes.

With their current school schedule, we couldn't find a place/time to take piano lessons during the week.  No matter how we tried to work out the calendar, a weekday lesson meant the girls were either rushing immediately after school or staying up late.  It's crazy enough during the week since they don't get home until nearly 4:00 p.m.  I wasn't eager to add to the stress.

The only answer was a Saturday lesson.  The new teacher comes highly recommended from a friend and seems quite nice.  I'm sure the girls will enjoy lessons.  I'm not sure that I'm going to enjoy working the rest of our Saturday plans around an ongoing lesson.  I know it's the price you pay for your choices.  If we want well-rested girls during the school week, we have to give up a couple of hours on Saturday morning. 

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Where's My Crystal Ball?

We spent an hour with the blond twin's ENT tonight.  We made the appointment after she had her second ear infection in December.  The pediatrician who treated her for the second ear infection said, "You need to see the ENT."

We already made the appointment before seeing the pediatrician.  We knew two ear infections in one month was a bad sign.  We were headed down the same path as last year where she had an ear infection, recovered and had another one a week or two later.

It seemed so easy.  We were ready to schedule surgery to have tubes put into her ears.  It just seemed like the right thing to do to save her from another season of the ear infection/antibiotic merry-go-round.

Of course, we didn't leave with any resolution.  It turns out that putting ear tubes into an older child is much more complicated than putting tubes into an infant or toddler. Things we do all summer, like swimming, can actually cause ear infections in children with ear tubes.  Given the amount of time we spend in a pool, it's a real concern that we might be shifting the ear infections from winter to summer.  There are other complications to consider as well.

We're not feeling good about any of our options.  On the one hand we just wait and see if she ends up with multiple ear infections this winter.  On the other hand, she ends up with ear tubes and complications like a summer of avoiding the pool or ongoing ear infections.

Neither option makes up feel good right now.  We wanted to walk out with a plan, but we just ended up more confused. 

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

One Quilt Down

When the girls were little, I started keeping favorite shirts so that I'd be able to turn them into a quilt one day.  At first it was going to be a baby quilt, but as time went by it grew into a twin size quilt.  Eventually I had enough that I could make the quilt tops. 

I was a little worried about which quilt to start quilting first.  I didn't want either girl to think I was playing favorites by working on her quilt first.  The problem resolved itself when one of the sheets I wanted to use as a quilt backing was on back-order. 

The past few months, I've been quilting the brunette twin's top.  On New Year's Eve, I finally finished quilting the brunette twin's quilt.  She woke up under it on the first day of 2011.

I promised the blond twin I'd start on her quilt on Grampa's birthday -- January 15.  Even though I'd really like to get her quilt finished too, I need a little break between projects. 

One down, one to go. 

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Substitute Teacher Problem

***This was originally posted on The Chicago Moms***

The girls’ teacher (Mrs. P) has been on emergency leave since Thanksgiving. Her husband was in a serious car accident while patrolling on Thanksgiving Day. As a result, he broke both legs, an arm and a wrist. He’s in bad shape and we all understand that Mrs. P needs to be home right now.

The girls had the same substitute for all of December. She’s a nice woman who used to teach full-time at another school. The good news is there is consistency as they have the same substitute every day. The problem is she is a substitute.

Mrs. P did a good job differentiating within the class. She had four levels of work to make sure all students were challenged to their abilities. She worked with different groups to monitor each student’s progress and move students between levels based upon the student’s needs. She did all of these things in part because this is how our district works. Mrs. P did other things because she was truly interested in each student. In short, she was wonderful.

Now they have a substitute who lumps all the students together into one low-level group. She wasn’t trained to differentiate, and she doesn’t make any effort to do so. Somehow the students are so well-behaved each day that they “earn” extra recess or free play time. On the one hand, she is doing what needs to be done to meet the state standards. She does make sure students know what they need to to do well on the ISAT and MAP tests. On the other hand, only some of the students’ needs are being met.

The biggest problem right now is that no one knows when Mrs. P will be able to return.

We’ve been talking about this a lot during the break. The girls are bored in school. They come home every day complaining about how easy the work is and how much they miss Mrs. P. We know we need to talk to the school about how to better meet our girls’ learning needs. It’s a delicate balance because we need to advocate for our daughters without coming off as difficult parents. We’re trying to figure out how much we can ask of a substitute teacher, but if she’s going to be there for months on end, can we still think of her as the substitute? I think it’s only a question we can answer after we speak with the girls’ principal.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

My 2011 Resolution

I'm not big on resolutions, so I only have one for 2011.  I will laugh more at the girls' antics in 2011.  This comes from two places.

The first is I make a common error among parents with high-achieving children.  All the books I've read talk about how parents need to remember that their children are only as old as their age.  This means that even though the girls excel at advanced language arts and social studies, they are still only seven years old.  They will make the same mistakes and be the same emotional age as most seven-year-olds.  They have the same fears, feelings and issues as other seven-year-olds.

Related to this is the idea that they are tall, but they are still seven.  Nearly everyone who meets the girls for the first time asks if they are in third grade.  It's their height that throws off people.  No one has ever looked at them and said, "What cute first graders."  This is related to the first issue.  Just because they are tall doesn't mean they are more mature than other first graders.  We have been told that they act older than they are by several teachers.  I have to remember just because they act older in certain situations doesn't meant they are older.

So, for 2011, I resolve to remember that the girls' are just your average seven-year-old children and laugh at them more than I get mad at them.  The more I remember that they are just seven, the more I hope to laugh at what they do.