October 10, 2007

Welcome, Fall

Dsc00627 I admit it. I have wished away the sunshine, afternoons at the lake, iced tea, and tank tops. After a uniquely prolonged summer, with temperatures up to 90 degrees until just two days ago, I have dreamed of fall. The autumn colors were here, but with air so hot and thick with humidity, I couldn’t see them properly. They were a backdrop to a show that started late – so late that the audience had begun to shift in uncomfortable, worn seats, looking and listening intently for clues that might explain the unexpected delay.

This morning the air is chilly, less than 50 degrees, and there is no trace of humidity. Gone too is the brilliant sun, hidden behind steel grey clouds. I am reminded of the long, cold winter ahead, of those short grim days when it’s so cold we try to stay indoors if possible, days when that steely sky has left us feeling claustrophobic, wanting to be anywhere else as long as the sun is shining there.

I try to live in the moment, not wish away my children’s youth or the warm sun on my shoulders. But like the funny, adorable two-year-old you think you can't bear to see morphing into an older child, eventually even the warm sunny days of summer grow tiresome; change is a blessing.

Welcome, fall.

[Originally posted on Jordan's blog, The Wonderwheel.]

September 26, 2007

Natural Beauty in the City

Nature_center I love Chicago for all its trees, lawns, and huge public parks.  Coming from San Francisco, the green space here is really impressive.  However, sometimes I just want to see something a little, well...different.  For this reason, my family has been thrilled to discover the North Park Village Nature Center recently.

Located at the typically urban intersection of Peterson and Pulaski, this 46-acre nature preserve leaves you asking, "How could we still be in the city of Chicago?"  Deer abound (the fawns are adorable right now!), as do chipmunks, raccoons, frogs, turtles, salamanders, and a wide assortment of birds.  The trails are well-groomed and perfect for letting kids run ahead and make their own discoveries - my kids seem to fixate on the trail maps and love to determine our route as we wind our way through the various areas (woodlands, wetlands, prairie, and  savanna).  In the Nature Center you'll find a hands-on room and wonderful educational programs for all ages; we attended one of their Late Great Nocturnal Nights, when they're open until 8pm for evening adventures, and we all loved it!    

This is an absolutely beautiful place to take your kids -

Continue reading "Natural Beauty in the City" »

September 23, 2007

Remember Recess?

ImagesI have fond childhood memories of elementary school recess: jump-rope, double dutch, the climbing structure, the swings, kickball...and friends.  The playground was where our social life blossomed at school, where our bodies and imaginations could run wild and all the critical learning that takes place when children are playing would happen.  We got out that pent-up energy and went back into the classroom, ready to learn.

We had fairly long recesses in my small town in central Connecticut in those days; I don't know how long, but we must have had at least half an hour after lunch.  So it seemed normal when I went to work in a public school outside of San Francisco a few years ago that the kids had a nice long half-hour recess every day after lunch.  They also got a 10-minute snack/recess break mid-morning, and a physical education period every day.  This was in a typical 8:30-2:50 day.

Continue reading "Remember Recess?" »

September 20, 2007

Just Another He Surfed/She Surfed Story

by Matt

My wife and I spend our evenings – after the kids are in bed, of course – pretty much glued to our matching PowerBooks. Friends of ours, also parents, refer to time spent like this as "parallel play with laptops."

If you didn't look at our screens, you'd think that we were both up to the same thing: working, checking email, surfing the web. But if you stop and listened for a while, you'd hear more clickety-clack from Jordan's direction than you'd hear from mine. A lot more.

That's because, of course, she's busy writing, for this blog and her own. And composing emails, no doubt. And occasionally IMing with one of our handful of friends who even know what IMing is.

And what am I up to, over here

Continue reading "Just Another He Surfed/She Surfed Story " »

September 06, 2007

My Gym! It's Gone!

Images When we bought a condo up here in southeast Rogers Park earlier this year, I was excited about its proximity to Cheetah Gym/Edgewater.  I'd heard about this chain of gyms back in San Francisco when someone had sent me a Time Out Chicago issue on athletic clubs in the area, and I was drooling over it before we even got to Chicago. 

The time was right and the initiation fee was being waived, so I joined Cheetah about two weeks ago.  I have loved it.  The place is beautiful, clean, and has all the equipment I need.  I've been going 3-4 times a week, happily climbing out of bed before 6am to take advantage of my rekindled motivation to exercise.  I feel great!

Until yesterday, that is.  Yesterday was the day when I was notified - not by the gym itself mind you, but by a friend emailing me the link to a newsflash on Chicagoist - that it had closed down.  No warning, no

Continue reading "My Gym! It's Gone!" »

August 19, 2007

The Economics of Back to School

It's here.  Just around the corner, in fact.  Almost three weeks away if your child is enrolled in the Chicago Public Schools, probably sooner if you live in the suburbs or go to private schools. 

The first day of school.

Back when I was a kid in Connecticut, we prepared for this day with back to school shopping.  You know, some fall clothes, a pair of shoes, and - as we got older - some sort of organizer.  (Those who know me are probably tired of hearing how much I loved those damn Trapper Keepers.)  You know: the usual.

Fast forward a gazillion years, and here I am preparing my son for second grade in the Chicago Public Schools. Now, this is our second year here and yet I am still blown away by the "school supply list".  If you don't have a school-aged child yet, I know you've seen us anyway, loading up our carts at Target and Office Depot.  Moms and children arguing over which index card size the new teacher meant, and should the lined paper be "wide ruled" or "college ruled"?  We throw the 26 pairs of scissors in the cart, wondering what happened to the ones purchased for this class last year.  Did all 26 of them get broken?  All I can tell you is that, when all those boxes were checked off, we had spent $100 on the required supplies.  That was before we threw in the items on the teacher's personal list of needs for her classroom (e.g., tape, packing tape, white-out).  And we only have one child in school so far.  I can't imagine doing this for two, three, four children!

I initially imagined this to be a Chicago Public Schools funding problem, but I've been set straight.  So far, I know they do this in the suburbs of Chicago, in the state of Minnesota, and on Long Island.  Perhaps we were in the minority, not having to supply our own pens and pencils (not to mention Kleenex and paper towels) in California.

In fact, while talking to a relative who lives with her family in a well-off, predominantly white suburb of Chicago, I determined that we are actually lucky!  Here in the city we don't have to pay $130 per year for the kids' math and reading workbooks, nor is there a fee to keep your child at school for lunch.  That's right: in some places, they ask you to come get your child to eat lunch at home - and then bring them right back - because they don't have enough funding to staff the lunchrooms and/or build bigger cafeterias.  Sounds like a tax on working moms, if you ask me.  This relative of mine rattled off fees that, when added together, came to at least $200.  And that didn't include the school supplies.

There are more important battles to be waged with schools in 2007: the emphasis on test scores, the serious lack of physical education, the overcrowding in some places.  And yet, if it is difficult for my middle class family to hand over the money for those school supplies, how are families of lower socio-economic status, especially families living in poverty, doing it at all? 

Maybe next year I'll get used to this.  Perhaps the third time's the charm. 

But I doubt it.

August 08, 2007

A Boy and His Barbie

Barbie_dollLittle L picked up a brunette Barbie dressed in pink from head to toe at the doctor's office today: "Who's this, Mommy?" he asked with great curiosity.

"Oh, her name is Barbie!  She's fun to play with," I responded, wondering what would come next.

I watched, smiling, as Little L worked to bend the ever-limber Barbie this way and that to fit her in a too-small doll house, a Little People fire truck, and the back of a yellow dump truck. (She liked the dump truck best.)

I thought about how I'd probably be cringing if it were a daughter of mine playing with a Barbie with such zeal, and how silly that really is since I played with Barbies as a girl and loved them (despite the fact that my mother tried valiantly to keep them out of the house), and didn't end up all that warped on account of it.  I know I'd still be a little freaked out, though.

What did make me cringe was the 4-year old boy in the waiting room who was clearly disturbed by my little boy playing with Barbie, and commenting on it every chance he got. "Why is that boy playing with a princess?" he asked in disgust, turning away from the very sight of it.

I wondered idly if I should get my son a Barbie for his upcoming birthday, and wondered what this hypocrisy is all about, exactly - my discomfort about small girls playing with the busty, high-heeled doll on the one hand, and my amusement and encouragement of a little boy shoving her into trucks and getting glares from other boys on the other.

I guess it's mainly about messing with mainstream expectations, but I'm not sure that's exactly the right thing to do, either.

I mean, Barbie is Barbie no matter whose hands she's in.  Isn't she?

I'm still tempted to get one for Little L, though.

[Originally posted on The Wonderwheel.]

July 24, 2007

Chicago: A Virtual Tour

                                   xxxxxx                                                                       Blogher 866649040_066da225b0_m_2

Selfmademom has already provided our readers with many excellent suggestions about what to do in Chicago while visitng our wonderful city during BlogHer.  I am now prepared to supplement that information with a virtual tour of a weekend downtown!

My husband and I stayed in the Loop this weekend as a treat for ourselves because we haven't had a night  out of the house together since our almost-3-year-old was born as a public service to you all who are coming to Chicago for BlogHer this week!  My husband magically turned some air miles into a reservation for a suite at the lovely Renaissance Chicago Hotel [I knew there just had to be a silver lining to all that business travel he does] and my in-laws wanted to take the kids for the weekend, so we hopped onto Lake Shore Drive and in a mere 20 minutes became eager tourists in our own new city. 

And let me tell you, visitors to Chicago are in for a huge treat - my only problem with this city is that there is far too much to do.  How do we choose?  Here's what we came up with:

Day One

1. As soon as we checked into our hotel mid-day on Saturday, we talked to the concierge about getting tickets for a riverboat tour - there is no better way to be wowed by this city!  There are a couple of choices, but we were able to get last-minute tickets on Chicago Line Cruises Architecture and Historical Cruises.  We spent an hour and a half out on the water, and the views of the skyscrapers were heart-stopping.  I've always paid more attention to Lake Michigan, but now I get it: we are really lucky to have the Chicago River running through our city. Despite the fact that our particular docent appeared to have taken diction lessons from Marge Simpson, we enjoyed our tour immensely.  A tip: arrive early to get seats up on the deck!

2.  On the way over to the river cruise, we made a stop at HotTix for some half-priced tickets to a show that evening.  We were hoping to get in to see Wicked, but alas, it was sold out.  However, we were able to get tickets to a very good show at the Steppenwolf Theater, a venue I've been dying to get to since moving here.  There were tickets to many shows still available in the early afternoon, including some other excellent theaters.

And, for the record, it just so happens that HotTix is located directly across the street from Ann Taylor Loft - which is having an excellent sale so that we can buy new clothes before BlogHer they can clear out summer clothes - and Intelligentsia, the best coffee shop in Chicago! [And if you can get a good-looking guy to hold your coffee for you while you shop, all the better!]

3. After the riverboat cruise and a stroll along the River Walk, we headed back to the hotel to get ready for our night out. It's a quick cab ride ($8) over to Steppenwolf, which is in Lincoln Park.  We recommend dinner at Vinci, an excellent Italian restaurant, which is just down the block from Steppenwolf on Halstead.  The Vegetarian Plate was delicious!  We needed reservations, but made them that afternoon without a problem.  I would suggest taking advantage of the outdoor seating on a summer night.

4.  We took another cab back to the hotel, enduring the most harrowing ride of our lives.  We were both nauseated when we got out.  Not only did we not tip this driver, but we told the group that was eager to jump in upon our arrival to wait for another one.  Then we ran.

Day Two

1. We lounged around the hotel room for hours.  Sleeping in, room service, blogging reading the relaxation.  As my husband pointed out, just having 5 quiet minutes is relaxing when you have young children - so having a day and a half all to ourselves was divine.

2. Back to Intelligentsia by way of Border's for reading material.  I made that stop at Ann Taylor Loft that I'd been dying for since yesterday, and found some great bargains! 

3.  We walked over to Millennium Park, bought a picnic lunch in the Cafe there, and strolled over to the magnificent Pritzker Pavillion to eat on the lawn.  Live music, lots of families...there's always something great going on here, and don't forget to check out the Crown Fountain!  Here's the schedule of events.

4.  From Millennium Park, it's a short walk over to the Art Institute of Chicago - and wow, is it worth seeing.  This is a world-class museum, and we loved both the classic Impressionist art and the incredible modern art, especially the photography.  There's an especially impressive exhibit by Jeff Wall going on right now.  The outdoor cafe at the museum is excellent and I've heard that the indoor cafe is also a treat.

In the late afternoon, we got back in the car and headed home to relieve my wonderful in-laws.  It's remarkable how, in these child-raising years, a day and a half away can be all that's needed to feel refreshed and like a sane adult again.  (Equally amazing is that it's possible to do so much in such a short time when you're in Chicago without your kids!)

I feel so lucky to live in this magnificent city, and truly hope that all you visitors enjoy it!

July 01, 2007

Craftmobile Gets My Vote

Hats off to the Chicago Park District.  I mean, really.  I know they don't get everything right - they are, after all, a large urban organization.  I heard yesterday about a public pool that was closed prematurely due to inadequate staffing, much to the chagrin of the parents present.  But when my friend and I showed up at Senn Playlot Park in Edgewater this morning, there were a couple of long tables set up with necklace-making and paper bag puppet projects, staffed by relatively cheery women.  Our two-year olds sat there studiously gluing pom-pons on brown lunch bags and trying desperately to grasp a bead just right to pull that string through.  This, after playing on the fabulous new structures, jumping on the sproingy surface, pretending to put out fires on the big fire truck, and romping in the water sprinkler! 

Many thanks to the Park District's Craftmobile, which will visit Senn Park (among others) once a week for 6 weeks this summer. 

June 29, 2007

Pit Stop

It was 5:30 pm on a rainy Wednesday night when I entered the bar with my 6-year old.  Yes, you heard me right: bar.  Okay, so we didn't share a beer over the Cubs game, although I hope we will someday.  The truth was, the minute we walked in and my worried eyes met the bartenders', she said quickly, "Around this corner, second door on the right!" and my son and I both laughed.  And then ran in the direction she was pointing.

No, before you go calling DCFS, it was an emergency bathroom pit stop along Ashland Avenue on our way home.  Turns out my son had been ignoring the call of nature for quite some time before I even got to the Lake View YMCA to pick him up and drive him home with me up to Rogers Park.  With the traffic barely inching forward enough to let a single car through each green light, the words, "Uh-oh, it just became an emergency, Mommy," filled me with dread.

"How 'bout that place?" he asked, as we approached Ginger's Ale House.  "That's a bar," I answered, thinking there had to be another option.  There wasn't.  Not even a gas station in sight.  Where is one of those 140 Chicago Starbucks when you actually need one?  He wasn't going to last much longer, so I decided we just had to do it.

If you happen to be in the neighborhood (Ashland and Grace) and find yourself in need of a friendly place to sit down and have yourself a beer, I highly recommend Ginger's Ale House.  And while you're there, thank them for me.

June 25, 2007

Cross the Street at Your Own Risk

It's true what they say: Chicagoans are nice.  They stop and let kids pet their dogs, and they often say "hello" when you pass them on the sidewalk.  Store clerks are friendlier than in the East or West Coast cities I'm familiar with. Chicagoans will quite often go the extra mile for a perfect stranger.  I became very aware of it before we even moved here from San Francisco, and it was a happy discovery.  People here seem to value community more than I ever saw in the Bay Area, where things felt a lot more "every man for himself".  I love it.

However...get these people in their cars, and it's as if they undergo an extreme personality transformation.  To test this, try crossing a busy street sometime.  Go ahead - find an actual crosswalk painted on the street that is not at a traffic light on Lincoln or Damen, say, and try to get across.  If you are not actually glared at as if your very pedestrian existence is an insult to humanity, then you know what it feels like to become completely invisible.  Sometimes I get more aggressive and just start to cross, and after a while I make it into the street.  However, I then find myself halfway across a busy street with no one allowing me to make it the rest of the way for a long time, cars whizzing by me on either side, drivers staring me down as if I were out there to piss them off.  And now even I stop less often for pedestrians trying to cross legally because, inevitably, someone appears right on my tail who goes totally berserk.

So thanks, Chicagoans, for being such a friendly bunch when we're face to face - but could you just slow down once in a while and let a nice mother cross the street?

June 14, 2007

He's That Kid

I am somewhat alarmed that my younger son is going to be heading to a sweet little co-op nursery school this fall.  No, not because he's not ready, it's not that.  It's not as if I am unprepared to see him start his first school experience, either.  It's not even the fact that somehow we have to potty train him this summer. 

It's because he, well, acts like a second child.

"I hate this green bean!" Little L hollers, as he chucks it across the dinner table.  Hate?  From my 2-year old?  My overprotected first-born didn't utter that word until he was about 5 and a half.  Gulp.

"Dis game is borin'," he declares with a shoulder slump that is in perfect imitation of a first grader.  This after I kindly play a game of catch with him for as long as he'd like.  Boring?  Hmm, let's think about that.  Nope, Big B didn't use that word until kindergarten, either. 

"What Pokemon character do you want to be today, Mommy?" Little L asks as we start our day together, referencing the big poster depicting the characters on the kitchen wall.  "Bulbasaur? Pikachu? Maybe Polywhirl?"  Oh. God.

He's that kid.  You know, the one with the big brother. The one I used to listen to in my son's preschool and cringe about each time he opened his mouth, sneaking a quick look at Big B to see if he'd heard the reference to some movie I'd never in a million years let him see in preschool, or the vocabulary I was carefully shielding him from.  It's not that Little L is mean or rough or nasty, he's not.  He's as sweet and kind as they come, and often quite shy.  It's just that he may well be the one who is going to teach someone else's overprotected first-born words like boring and hate.  When his new friends are playing house, it's quite possible that he'll be looking for someone to engage in a Pokemon battle. 

Let's just hope there are a few other younger siblings who want to play Bulbasaur to his Polywhirl. 

May 29, 2007

Notes from California

I woke with a start at 5:30, thanks to mild jet lag.  My mind was immediately flooded with thoughts of yesterday: the waiting, the difficulty of seeing my father right out of surgery, awake and in so much pain. The wave of relief upon seeing him a few hours later, sitting up and talking to us, the pain more manageable. This makes the ups and downs of my day-to-day parenting seem like a walk in the park.  When I turned over in my parents' guest room bed, I was facing my father's desk. His Starbucks tea cup stood to the right of his computer where he had placed it Tuesday afternoon.

I remember when he walked into the house that afternoon, fresh from the hair salon where he'd gotten his pre-surgery crew cut. I hadn't seen him since we were here with the kids at Christmas, not a glimpse of him through his chemotherapy and radiation treatments or during his hospitalization for heart issues, and wasn't sure what to expect. He looked terrific: fit and healthy. However, he was uncharacteristically quiet, having been through his pre-op appointment that morning.  I supposed that the step-by-step description of the surgery would have been harder to handle the day before surgery was to take place than it had been months earlier. I tried not to look at that Starbucks cup because to me it was fraught with meaning. I could imagine him stopping in for some chai, knowing that in less than 24 hours he would be recovering from surgery at Stanford Medical Center and unable to eat or drink for the next five days. And his favorite chai might not be on the menu for quite some time. I can't bring myself to throw out that cup.

7:30 AM found me heading out my parents' front door into a sunny California morning. I popped in my iPod headphones, scrolling down to find Andrew Bird's Armchair Apocrypha as I walked down the path in my shorts, t-shirt, and running shoes. I love this new album and in particular the second track "Imitosis", which I listened to twice.

I lived in the Bay Area for 9 years and have only been in Chicago for 11 months. And yet the vegetation - the eucalyptus and palm trees, the flowers, even the ground cover - already looks as foreign to me as it did when I first arrived here in 1997. The plants and trees of Chicago more closely resemble those of my childhood and early adulthood in New England and Minnesota. But the scent of the air here: it's herbal. It smells like nowhere else and reminded me this morning of so many hikes in the Marin Headlands and Glen Park Canyon, of this place that was home for a long, long while.

As I made my way along the wide street up here in the hills of San Carlos, I looked at the stunning view of the Bay and thought about things. I was considering this idea of the Wonderwheel, or Ferris Wheel, as a metaphor for life, and how it captures the never-ending ups and downs but doesn't account for those moments in life when the universe plucks you out of your gracefully rising or falling seat and drops you onto that other ride, the one that I literally cannot stomach: the roller coaster. You know, when life is on cruise control until the phone rings with bad news or the doctor gives you a shocking diagnosis. Like cancer of the esophagus. And suddenly the floor gives out beneath you and you are on a ride, a faster, more aggressive, sometimes panicky ride where the highs and lows are so much higher and lower and also come rapidly, leaving you feeling out of control.

I have watched as friends and family have each handled my father's cancer in their own ways. Most of us have dealt with it without having to get on the roller coaster, at least not for more than a few hours or a day here and there, and I'd say that even my father himself has managed to stay off the roller coaster a good bit of the time. On Tuesday evening I felt that I was seeing him on the roller coaster car, starting to make its way to the top of the rise - you know, where you can already start to feel your stomach lurch in fear before the drop - and yet he appeared to command the inner strength to find his center again, stand up, and demand that the ride be stopped. He was plucked off and placed back on the Wonderwheel where he calmly rode down, all the way down to its lowest point, knowing that once he got there, he had nowhere to go but up.

For the sake of my children, may I handle the roller coaster rides of my future with such grace.
(Modified from the original post at The Wonderwheel.)

May 17, 2007

An Open Letter to my son's PTA

Dear PTA:

First and foremost, I'd like to thank you for all that you do for my son's elementary school.  The fund raising, the teacher gifts, the special events - the school wouldn't be the same without you.  In fact, your strength and success are among the reasons we chose this fantastic school for our boy when we moved to Chicago last year.  When I sat there in San Francisco, trying desperately to imagine my new life here, you were part of the picture.  That is, I just knew that I would be among you on a regular basis, devoting some time each week to the betterment of my child's school.

What's that?  You don't recognize my name?  No, I know, I shouldn't be surprised.  One of your members introduced herself to me for the third time recently at the Book Fair, and I was too embarrassed to tell her that I knew exactly who she was because we've talked a handful of times before.   Instead I allowed myself to be an invisible mom, one she'd never met. It was close enough to the truth.

I am not a guilt-ridden mother.  I have devoted vast amounts of time, energy, and love to this first-grader of mine, and I don't fear that I should have given him more.  I love my career as a pediatric therapist and find the work enormously satisfying.  I do not regret working part-time. I believe that the idea of the "perfect" mother is crap and am generally content to be the "good enough" mother.  So why is it that I feel such guilt about my lack of involvement at school?

I don't fear that I am letting my son down, not at all.  I know that the school can function without me.  Perhaps it's the comment of the PTA member at one of the rare events I attended in the winter, a fund-raiser kick-off at Cody's bar, that reverberates in my brain so often.  I was being introduced all around as new to the school and one mom flippantly said, "Well, now you've met all the parents who do anything at school!"  and even if she didn't know it, I knew that I wasn't among them.  I was an impostor at that gathering.

I think it has more to do with the fact that I believe in public education, and I know that in order for it to succeed we need as much parent involvement and support as possible.  I mean, really!  I'm all about kids and learning, it's what I do all day, whether I'm at home or at work.  I feel that I have a responsibility to be there, participating.

And yet.  Most meetings are held at 9:30 AM on a weekday when I work.  I see a speech therapy client at 9:30 on that day, and my commitment to her is my priority.  A few times, the PTA has held evening meetings, which are great in principle but somehow there has been a major conflict for us each time.

I think the reality is that I cannot handle one more responsibility without throwing our entire universe into chaos over here.  Honestly.  If I went, I'd sign up to help with something, and I cannot imagine how I would add it to the workload I already have.

I started to feel better a few months back when I read a short letter to the editor in O Magazine.  It was in response to a previous article about SAHMs and moms who work outside the home, I presume.  I wish I had it with me now (I cut it out of the magazine at the time) but the gist of it was this: "I may be the mom who is in the classroom volunteering all the time, and making my child handmade birthday invitations and party favors, but you are the mom who treats her for pneumonia when she gets sick. Why can't we value what each of us contributes?" 

PTA, I can't tell you what a relief it was for me to read that letter.  I delete about 5 emails from you a week, unable to fulfill your requests for help. I cringe with the guilt of it every time. But on my good days, I bear in mind that if your child were autistic and you needed a good therapist, you would be so grateful that I was at work, you wouldn't mind not seeing me at your meetings.


May 16, 2007

It's All About the Alley

Growing up in small town, rural Connecticut, the word alley conjured up dark, dank stretches of illicit goings-on in a big city such as, say, New York.

My six years in St. Paul, Minnesota rid me of that association.  In St. Paul, like in our first Chicago neighborhood over in Lake View, alleys were clean, bright stretches of car-parking and garbage collecting.  And that's about it.  I love the alley concept, I have to tell you.  A residential block is so much more attractive sans driveways and garages, and how lovely not to have trash and recycling bins strewn along the sidewalk all day every Friday.  When you are on a stroll with small children it is a relief not to have to punctuate every conversation with a screamed, "Stop at every driveway!  Guys...that was a driveway!!" as I had to do in San Francisco.

But here in Rogers Park, in the fascinating world that lies between Sheridan Road and Lake Michigan, the alley has an entire life of its own.  I think it deserves its own book, but for now a blog post will have to suffice.

There are actual intersections - with stop signs put up by neighbors, I have learned - in our alley, because alleys have been cut through between buildings, going north-south in addition to east-west.  So it's like a small neighborhood within our neighborhood.  Pedestrians pass through at all hours of the day and night, presumably because it's easier and quieter to travel through our alley than to walk along Sheridan (and no traffic lights).

Some visitors to the alley are pleasantly quiet, just biking, jogging, or walking through.  One warm evening we had the door to the deck open while I made dinner, and Baxter sat out there reading.  A 3rd grade teacher happened to bicycle by and stopped to chat with him about what he was reading.  I went out to see who he was talking to and had a nice conversation with her. Okay, so that was very nice, if surprising.

But others?  Not so quiet.  On warm spring weekend nights, rowdy Loyola students weave their way back to campus or the frat house down the street, laughing raucously outside our window and we wake with a start. It's not easy to get back to sleep.  You see, our condo is on the first floor and our bedroom windows face the alley.

Drivers seem to think that they can avoid slowing down before reaching the sidewalk out front if they honk 3-4 times as they approach it.  Again - that approach?  Outside our window.

This morning, as Matt got dressed after his shower, three homeless men got into a loud, cursing brawl just a couple feet away from him because as one rummaged through our dumpster, another apparently stole his cigarettes.  I heard the ruckus from the kitchen and hadn't bothered to see what was going on, but Matt filled me in.  And he said something that stuck with me all day: imagine this going on outside the window of someone living in the suburbs, such as where our family live.  Libertyville? Buffalo Grove? Schaumburg?  Really.  Imagine it - three down-and-out men in tattered clothes are rummaging through people's trash, stealing each other's cigarettes, and hollering expletives at each other.  As Matt pointed out, the cops would've been called before those guys had even made it to the trash cans!  But here?  In our alley just outside our windows?  I don't even bother to go look; I just keep making breakfast!

It's not like it's attractive out there, either.  Most buildings, like ours, have their parking spaces out back along the alley.  Buildings that have gorgeous facades on the street side look completely different in the back; the alley shows the seedier side of each house or multi-unit building.

And yet it really is a little neighborhood of its own.  It's where we are meeting all of our neighbors.  Where I rendezvous with a friend for a 6:30 AM walk by the lake, and where the boys and I often wave up to little Anya on her deck when we come home at night.  Quite often I choose to leave the house through the alley instead of the far grander front entrance because there are friendly people to talk to out there all the time, coming and going.  They wave hello, introduce themselves, feed us tidbits about our new building and the neighborhood. Neighbors are washing their cars, heading out to walk their dogs at the beach, taking their kids out to play.  Standing around talking with each other.  The alley is the hub of neighborhood activity.

At any given moment, neighbors are chatting and - dare I say it? - actually building community out there in that alley.  And you know?  Just as I don't think the homeless would be seen rummaging through the trash, I don't see that happening in most neighborhoods in the suburbs, either.

(Originally posted at The Wonderwheel)

May 15, 2007

Bronchitis: FAQs

CoughQ: Is it a good idea to go to work when you have bronchitis?

A: No, decidedly not.  It is a far better idea to stay home in your jammies, reading and posting to blogs all day.  Especially when you are a speech therapist and need your voice to work.  You'd better just lay off the talking.

Q: Is it acceptable to go to the M. Ward/Norah Jones show when you have bronchitis and aren't going to work the next day?

A: Most definitely.  Especially if it's at the gorgeous Chicago Theater and you've already missed both a Wilco and a Lyle Lovett show in the last 8 months due to your children's illnesses.  After all, this is just a Mommy illness!

However, a few things must be kept in mind:

a) try not to tip off those around you that you are actually about to cough up a lung - hold your disgusting cough off until the applause period between each song;

b) although you have to drink water non-stop to keep from coughing, bear in mind that you will not want to leave the show to use the restroom except between sets - this is likely to result in extreme discomfort by the time the encore rolls around;

c) pretend that your cough drops are something less pungent - perhaps an after-dinner mint! - and be confident that those around you will find nothing more than your devil-may-care attitude contagious.

Q: Is it admissible to pick your mother up at O'Hare when you have bronchitis?

A: Yes, but keep in mind that you will talk to her the whole way home in the car, because how can you not? She's your mom.  This may set your voice back just a tad.

Q: At what point should you take yourself to the doctor, exactly?

A: How shall we put this?  Let's just say that when things get Super Nasty (official medical term) in your lungs, it might be time to throw in the towel and get thee to some antibiotics.  A secondary symptom is when your children automatically ask the new-and-improved bedtime questions, "Mommy, can you look at the pictures in this book with me?" and "Can I sing my own song now?"

Q: Should you go ahead and take your son to his Wiggleworms music class when you have bronchitis, haven't been going to work all week, and can't sing?

A: Absolutely.  So what if you're the only one in your pair who was going to sing to begin with?  You want your mom to see your son's cute music class, right?  Right.  Just be warned: when he vomits copiously all over himself in the backseat on the way there, forcing you to turn the car around and go home anyway, expect that the decision may start to feel a little foolish.

Cross posted at The Wonderwheel