Handle with Care

Dear Noah and Lucas,

Today I went to Target to get some fun stuff to send to each of you at school.

Noah, I felt so bad when I heard you were injured last night during one of the first soccer matches you’ve played as a college freshman and needed stitches in your forehead. Candy heals all wounds.

Lucas, you had asked me to send you the Under Armour sandals you left here after coming home for a visit last weekend, so I sent them along with some way cool socks I found that I thought you’d like.

I also purchased a few things for myself, and can’t seem to find one of the items. I packed your respective shipping envelopes in the Target parking lot rushing in order to get to the post office before it closed. In my haste I was a little careless.

So, if either one of you finds a bottle of nail polish called “Big Daddy” please know I did not send it to you on purpose. I bought it because I thought it would be a groovy color on my nails when Richard/Dad and I go to Vegas next week to celebrate his birthday.

Just to be clear, I bought the nail polish for me, not either of you. I bought it because I liked the color. It’s unfortunate that the name of the color is “Big Daddy” because it makes me sound a little less wholesome than I am.

Whoever happens to be the recipient of the nail polish, please just throw it out. We don’t ever need to speak of this again.

In anticipation of the horror I imagined would be on your faces had you not been warned before opening your packages from me, I thought I would just let you know that “Big Daddy” was meant for me. And, I just realized that last sentence did nothing to make this situation any better.

So, Noah, I hope you’re feeling better, and Lucas, I hope you won’t be too embarrassed to introduce me to your new friends when we come to visit you at school next month.

It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s a Bird!

Because it wasn’t raining Sunday morning, as it had been for 40 days and 40 nights in the Chicago-area, I sat outside by the pool with my dogs, a cup of coffee, and my laptop. I consider that to be a perfect way to start my day.

As I read e mails and blogs I heard a flapping noise right over my head and then a flopping noise coming from the pool. A bird had crash-landed in our pool and had obviously not been given swimming lessons as a gelding, or whatever you call a baby bird.

I grabbed the first thing I could find, which was a very small skimming net with a short handle, and ran over to try to coax the bird out of the water. I knelt down and sort of offered the net to the bird, which seemed like a stupid and hopeless thing to do. I knew I could never get close enough to save this bird, but it had other plans. It flopped on over to me and hopped right onto the little net.

It stayed on the net as I brought it over to the garden to dry out. It didn’t fly away and seemed perfectly happy and untraumatized. I can’t say the same for me.

Protecting his identity

Protecting his identity

It finally dawned on me that this was not your garden variety wild bird. Slowly I realized that what I was looking at was a pet-store-type bird; it even had a little band around its leg.

It was happy just hanging out in the garden, and then suddenly took off and flew right into one of our sliding glass doors. Fearing the worst, I went to assess the damage. The bird was totally fine and unfazed. I extended my finger and it climbed onto it. It was beautiful. I began to lactate.

It flew into a nearby bush at which time I realized:

1. I was home alone with no one to help me.

2. I have two dogs.

3. They slept outside through the entire search and rescue.

4.  I should take the dogs inside just in case they noticed the bird and wondered if it tasted like chicken.

5. I was still in my jammies.

6. I could feel the presence of our resident Cooper’s Hawk and, because I am a bird whisperer, knew I had better get the bird to a secure, undisclosed location before it became an amuse-bouche.

7. I don’t know nothin bout raisin no birds.

It turned its little head onto its little back and went to sleep on one of the little branches of the little bush. I took that opportunity to calmly lead the dogs inside, find a basket, get the mesh dome we usually use to keep flies out of the humus when we’re outside snacking, and a plastic cup of water.

Making sure the dogs didn’t follow me outside I walked over to check the bush, praying the bird was still there. It was still snoozing away. When it awoke I offered it a stick — hoping it would hop aboard, which it did — and placed it into the basket. I gently tossed in a few handfuls of grass and sticks and then poured water from the cup into the basket. The bird came up to the cup and drank the water as I was pouring it.

After it finished drinking, I placed the cup of water into the basket and then topped it off with the mesh dome. Knowing the bird was safe, I stayed with it while calling neighbors to see if anyone was minus a bird.

No one was. I called one of the local pet stores to see if they would take it in, but they wouldn’t. My friend Roberta told me to “tweet” on Twitter and post on Facebook about it to see if I’d get any nibbles. Not even a peep.

My friend, and bird enthusiast, Art came over to help. He immediately identified the bird as a male parakeet. I asked him to walk over to our neighbor’s house where an estate sale was in progress. Perhaps the bird had escaped in the midst of all the commotion taking place at their house.

But it wasn’t their bird or anyone else’s.

I called my mother who said, “Have you considered just asking the bird what its name is”? She is so smart, but the bird was not. It didn’t appear to know its name.

Finally Joanne, one of my neighbors, called to tell me she would take the bird for her 15-year-old daughter if no one claimed it, but she couldn’t get it until the next day. She said she had a cage but needed to find it in her attic, and wanted to get the appropriate parakeet accoutrements so it would be happy in its new home. I breathed a sigh of relief; the bird relieved itself in the cup of water.

As soon as Richard came home I asked him to watch the bird, even though it was safe in the MacGyver-style cage I had fashioned. I went to the pet store to buy parakeet food and, of course, a parakeet toy.

That bird ate like a …much bigger bird. It stuck its head into the bowl of food and didn’t come up for air for ten minutes.

I had plans with Rosa, who happens to be Art’s wife, that afternoon. She and Art offered me one of their bird cages to use until Joanne could locate her cage. The bird loved the cage because he had the freedom to fly around, eat, drink, and crap. Isn’t that what we all want?

The bird rested comfortably in the cage in my office that night. Meanwhile, the dogs still had no idea there was a bird living in the house.

Joanne, her husband, and their daughter came over last night to pick up the bird. I have never seen anyone as happy as their daughter was. As soon as she walked into the house, before she even saw the bird, her smile was so big I could see each and every one of her teeth. I should probably tell Joanne that from what I saw she should have her daughter’s wisdom teeth looked at.

Later that night Joanne called to tell me they had named the bird “Zed” and that everyone was doing well. I was exhausted. I had spent most of the day sitting in a pile of dirt babysitting a parakeet while in my jammies. There’s a sentence I never thought I’d write.

Getting Laid Off

My son is excited to be leaving for college in a few weeks. Me? Not so much. Yes, I’m excited for him; I’m just not that excited for me.

It really doesn’t help when people tell me, “You’ve done a good job! He’s ready to go to school! You should be happy for him! This is how it’s supposed to be”.

Yes, but I didn’t expect to lose my job.

I know I’m not technically losing my job, but after spending the past 24 years either being pregnant or caring for my children, it’s hard for me not to feel as if I’ve been fired.

Technically, I’ve never been fired from a job, so I don’t really know what that feels like, but I can pretty much imagine based on the way I’ve been feeling lately, which is a combination of sad, lonely, and nauseated.

The nausea is like “the bookends of being a mother” because I spent both pregnancies nauseated, and here I am again, feeling my stomach lurch its contents toward my throat all day every day.

I know he’ll come home. Even though he says he’ll see me in November, I know he’ll be home before then. But that doesn’t make me feel better about this because soon he won’t be here every day. As it is, I hardly see him at all because he lives in the basement (by choice), and we tend to come and go at different hours. But at least I know he’s here.

I know because I occasionally see his shoes by the back door, usually with Miles’, Kush’s, or any number of his friends’ shoes. I know because the Gummy Bears are all gone, and scribbled on the grocery list in his handwriting is, “Lucky Charms”, “Cinnamon Toast Crunch”, and “Powerade Zero”.

I try cooking his favorite things so that maybe he’ll be home more often for dinner, but I’m such a lousy cook that I can’t blame him for going to a different friend’s house almost every night.

I will learn to cook while he learns about life as a college student. I will be working on my new website and trying to navigate social media while he works to get good grades and navigate a new social life.

I’ve done this before. My daughter went away to school. I handled that transition by openly sobbing as I walked aimlessly through the aisles of Target. Now she lives at home, which is good because I’ll still have one of them here, at least for a little while. But this is the last time I’ll be doing this. Unless my dogs get accepted to a university, I’m out of kids to send away.

Richard walks around the house squealing, “I can’t wait to be an empty-nester” for all to hear, which bugs the crap out of me. I’m not ready, yet, and even if I were, I don’t think it’s appropriate to burst out into song and dance about it in front of the kids.

I am a little surprised by my reaction to the upcoming unpleasantries (for me) because it’s not like I was a helicopter-y stay-at-home mom who did everything for her kids. My kids have been washing, drying, and putting away their own laundry for years, mostly because I tend to turn things pink, but the point is they are fairly independent.

I had a fabulously fun job at the local park district teaching kindergartners whatever I was asked to teach them for the past nine years. I wasn’t always home when the kids came home from school, and sometimes worked special events in the evenings and on weekends.

My kids can cook, drive themselves where they need to be, and make their own doctor appointments. They share a car and are pretty good about making arrangements with each other without parental involvement when it comes to who needs the car for work and when.

They regularly load and unload the dishwasher, and even take care of the dogs if we are out of town — And both dogs take medication twice a day! Maybe those things don’t sound all that impressive, but I’m proud of them for being able to take care of basic things like that.

I guess I have done my job well. I’m just not ready to stop doing it.

Note: If you leave a comment calling me a big baby, I promise you I won’t approve it.

The Family Picnic

Since ‘tis the season when families get together for barbeques, I thought I’d share a story that first appeared in Chicago Parent in August, 1992, Indy’s Child in July 1995, and online on msnbc.com.

Ah, the annual family picnic. It’s the one day each year when every relative you never knew you had climbs out of his or her time capsule to play Catch with you.

It’s one of those occasions that sounds like it’ll be a lot of fun until you realize, as The Day of The Picnic draws nearer and nearer, just how much you have no idea who these people really are who have come to play Catch with you.

It’s funny, but after all of these years, I still don’t know, let’s say, about…99% of the people who come to our family picnic. For all I know, by some strange quirk in zoning laws, all the people who attend our picnic every year might really belong to a whole other family who always ends up having its picnic on the same day, at the same time and place as ours.

I know I should know these people. Perhaps I just don’t pay enough attention year after year when my mother drags Richard and me over to yet another woman with a bee-hive hairdo, sky-blue eye shadow, and neon orange lipstick and says, “Leslie, you remember Aunt Tootie, don’t you? She used to babysit for you when you were about this tall”, gesturing to her knee.

Aunt Tootie replies, “My! Look how you’ve grown”!

“I’m 34, now, Aunt Tootie”, I think to myself. “People change”.

Aunt Tootie continues, “Do you remember me? I sure remember you! You used to love running around the house naked”.

Richard’s eyebrows crest as he says, “Oh, really? Well, come on, Aunt Tootie. How about you and I go for a little walk so we can discuss this further”?

Now, I know a lot of you are thinking, “Then don’t go. Stay home. Say NO to bugs”!

And that’s a very good idea, unless, of course, it’s YOUR mother who organizes the family picnic. Then, you have to go. And you have to like it. And you have to say, “Yes! Let’s do this again next year”!

I know I should consider myself lucky. I know a lot of people who actually have to travel by car with three screaming, Gummy Bear-throwing children for days just to play Catch with people they don’t know.

But when I stop to think about it, because we both come from such large, extended families, Richard and I spend a lot of time attending functions for and with people we don’t know.

Our good friend Tom once invited us to a very swanky party that we had to miss because one of Richard’s third-cousins-twice-removed had invited us to his son’s Bar Mitzvah. Tom asked Richard exactly how he was related to this boy and after Richard had finished plodding through his family tree, Tom said, “Gee! In most normal families, you wouldn’t even know that person”.

Which brings me back to our family picnic. Unlike Richard’s family picnic, comprised of a whole other family I don’t know, ours has no organized games that supply fun for the entire family. We have games for the kids, but his family plays games such as the ever popular egg toss, and the even more popular “Mummy Mommy” game during which all the darling children in the family race to see who can be the first to wrap their parents up in toilet paper.

Though my family’s picnic lacks the oodles of fun those games provide, we have our own brand of picnic fun known as “The Chase Sisters Hall of Fame”. This game requires a keen eye and a shameless soul, which is why only my sister Beth and I can play it. In this game we award mental trophies to our relatives in such categories as “Best Fake Smile” and “Most Colorful Bermuda Shorts”.

And so, The Day of The Picnic has finally arrived, and as we prepare to leave for the big event I have a feeling that this year will be different. I am actually looking forward to it.

I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I have matured. Maybe it’s because I finally realize how lucky I am to be blessed with so many people who care enough about me that they come to play Catch with me each year. After all, I have many friends who have no family in the area, and always tell us how lucky we are to share such closeness with our families.

Or, maybe it’s that I saw Richard pack Family-sized bottles of Tylenol and Advil into our picnic basket. I have a feeling this year’s picnic will be lots of fun.

Note: Mom: it’s just a story I really do love our family picnic. It’s Beth who hates it.

The Sandwich Generation

I knew the day would come when I would become part of what is commonly referred to as “the sandwich generation”. It’s defined as the time in your life when you are sandwiched between the needs of your children and those of your parents. And, I can tell you, after only having been in this pickle for a few weeks, it ain’t no picnic.

My kids are pretty self-sufficient at 15 and 19, but my son is in the middle of finals and my daughter is home from college getting ready to start her summer job. Before he starts summer school and she starts working there are orthodontist appointments, haircuts, and other details that I need to or want to be a part of.

And even though they both say they don’t need more rest than they are getting, believe me, they do. Recently on the news I heard someone giving advice on staying healthy. He said “If you wake up on a Tuesday, go to bed on that Tuesday. Don’t go to bed on Wednesday.” I thought that was hilarious, but it’s also really good advice.

Up until a few weeks ago, my parents had been doing pretty well. But now my Dad has a back problem that is so horrendously painful that every time he winces or yelps I feel nauseous. He is in the most pain I’ve ever seen a human being in without the benefit of having a baby at the end.

This “sandwich generation” stuff is not a tasty pb&j or a perfectly toasted grilled cheese. It’s more like moldy bread slathered with bacteria-laden mayonnaise that’s been sitting in 100 degree full sun all day topped with spoiled headcheese (would you even be able to tell if headcheese is spoiled?), and several other varieties of lunchmeat that are months beyond their expiration dates. By the way, I looked up headcheese because I wasn’t sure if it was something like bologna with round bits of cheese in it, or, as I suspected, something really gross. Well, according to The New Lexicon Webster’s Dictionary, 1988 edition, headcheese is defined as “meat from a pig’s (or calf’s) head, boiled and pressed in a mold, in its natural aspic.” Natural aspic isn’t much of a treat, either.

I am not complaining about being a sandwich. I am not the one that is not old enough to get a job or drive, nor am I the one that is too old and sick to enjoy life at the moment. But watching the struggles of my children — and mainly my parents– makes me feel as helpless and stressed out as a rapidly spoiling headcheese and mayo sandwich sitting in full sun on a picnic table in August with fancy toothpicks inserted in the middle of each half.

The stress is giving me daily stomach aches as big as a foot-long sub riddled with fancy toothpicks. I try not to let the stress get to me. I try to breathe deeply and take things as they come. But things aren’t just coming at me. They’re being hurled.

Again, I know I have no complaints. I am not the one studying until all hours of the night for finals. Well, let’s face it. Neither is my son, the one who has the finals. And, I’m not the one trying to adjust to living back at home after being away for a year, wanting to borrow the car, needing money, and wanting to stay up until the next day. I am not the one in the hospital writhing in pain, and I am not the woman he’s been married to for over 50 years watching him writhe in pain and staying with him from early morning until late at night making sure he is properly taken care of.

But I am now, for better or for worse, smack dab in the middle of the sandwich generation. And even if you add fries with that, it’s hard to swallow.

My Dad will have surgery in the next few days that should alleviate some of his pain. He’ll go into a rehab facility and that should help my Mom feel more comfortable and more able to take care of her own needs, like a full night’s rest.

My sister, another sandwich casualty, will be off work for the summer and be able to help out without feeling she’s being pulled instead of nicely sliced in half.

My brother, the third sandwich on this deli tray, will be able to come into town soon and help out, too. And, since he is undeniably the favorite child, he’ll be considered the Hero sandwich. And I don’t say that bitterly, like arugula. I say it with relish. He will be a fresh face; a squishy piece of white bread, relieving what’s left of the crusts of the rest of us.

My kids will settle into their summer routines. My husband and I will get to play some tennis or a round of golf, and my parents’ nightmare will soon be a really bad distant memory. Life will begin to get better for everyone. Then we’ll all go out and celebrate with big, fresh sandwiches. Hold the headcheese. And definitely hold the mayo.