Saturday, May 30, 2009

Goodbye is the hardest word.

The last day. The drama. Handholding, hugs and a general malaise similar to a hangover. They even took exception to the goose who was "harassing them".

Saying goodbye isn't easy. Meanwhile, we mingle with others saying goodbye to their middle and high schools. Promwear strolls along Navy Pier. It's so bittersweet, all of it. I feel the connection between these girls and all the other kids along the pier and I am so fulfilled to be a witness to it. Facebook is, if nothing, a testament to the connections made at this time in one's life and the lifelong bonds that are formed. Why else does one register with one's high school after all? There's no denying the power, good or bad, in the relationships of youth.

Some attempts at humor along the walk, having a chat with Bob Newhart, whom none of them have ever heard of nor cared to know more about.

Goodbye for now, sweet English girls. The gate agent leans in close to me and with her hand pointed in a takeoff position says, "You cannot leave until they are.....airborne." It's an ominous exchange more for her than me, as she does not want to be stuck with two fourteen year old girls for a last minute six hour delay. However, all goes smoothly and they depart ontime.

I ask Ally in the airport, "Are you sad?" She replies, "Not really. I was sadder in England because I wasn't sure I would ever see them again. Now I know we're going to see each other again." Youth is not wasted on the young afterall.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Public art

It occurred to me this trip that public art is such a natural part of city life. I think it might be the kind of thing that when you don't see it you don't think about it, but when you see it and experience it, you realize what a gift it is and how much you take it for granted. I even appreciated the rather intestinal coppery blobby effort by the Cheesecake Factory. Sitting inside, however, is a little disconcerting as the theme is consistent and you do feel as if you are having dinner within someone's gut.

Today was about toting bags, managing finances of fourteen year olds and shopping in stores that don't carry my size. I mostly used my travel time to experience what the streets of Chicago have to offer. No admission fees and really interesting installations. Even the Tribune Building walls offer literal pieces of history from all over the world.

It was a chilly day, but I insisted we use some of their parents' money for cultural enrichment. They groaned and exchanged looks with one another, but took their medicine like good girls and forked over their precious dollars for an architectural river and lake tour. One less t-shirt they could buy, but I think maybe they won't regret it in the long run.

Chip and I ducked out for one drink in the Signature Lounge of the Hancock Building while the girls started their scrapbooks, counted their loot and took a rest. If you know me at all, then you can guess I believe firmly that if you are going to pay an admission price for a view, it had better include a drink in my hand to go with said view.

The precious cargo flies home Friday. What will I do with myself when they are gone?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


I guess travel is my muse because even though I'm not the traveler, it's still been an exhilirating week. The English girls have blown in such fresh air to our musty collective state of minds that it will hopefully sustain us through the last few weeks of school and my second job interview via the phone. I still don't get it, but I've decided to pretend that my mind is young and nimble and go with the flow. The job I've applied for would be especially good for me and I for it.

So, our last day in Madison, the English girls went to the 8th grade for a day. That was quite enough for them. The experience almost took their sparkle away, so I was glad to load them in the minivan and head south for the windy city. When a Madison public school teacher says to you, "I knew you must not be from here because you aren't dressed normal.", it's time to run away.

A few days in Chicago before these sweet things leave us. I can imagine that next week will feel pretty lonely for me and for Ally.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Love Actually

Ally and I waited impatiently at the international arrivals gate....the plane landed at 1:41pm, ten minutes early, and by 2pm, we were pacing. Two unaccompanied minors flying from the UK to visit us for a week. Oxford chums who didn't forget their beloved American friend from the first term. What an honor to host such precious children. They arrived screaming, jumping and hugging and they haven't stopped since.

The Wisconsin sign just inside the border from Illinois. I confess I would have never stopped here without the urging of English children determined to discover all that is American.

They've already taken in a softball tournament where the English girls met the team and enjoyed a walking taco among many other junk foods of the day. There isn't a junk food we haven't fed them yet. They started their American journey with Capri Sun juice bags in the car for a good sugar load of corn syrup to prime the pump. Then Nerds purchased at the TA rest stop and that was even before we arrived in Madison. Since then, Auntie Ann's pretzels, Arby's curly fries, Taco Bell, Greenbush donuts, walking tacos, cotton candy, loads of soda and today....Brat fest.

Brat Fest is a Memorial Day tradition in Madison where cheap bratwurst, hot dogs and soda are sold to the community at large with proceeds to benefit local charities. The demographic is a wide swath of humanity. Mostly obese. We fed a family of seven tonight, two courses of brats and a variety of sodas for thirty dollars. I feel we are laying down a very solid foundation of primary goo in the hearts of these previously healthy English children. I am hoping that once they go home, their families will be able to save them with fruits and vegetables.

Some images for a fellow blogger who's traveling in Europe right now but might want to see some familiar scenes from Memorial Day at home.

It's chaos here at my house. Four children is so many more than two. I don't know how parents keep up. Four check ins about nutrition, hair, clothing, sunscreen, activities, rides. My head is spinning. And of course I love it.

I turn around for one last look at the insanity of Brat Fest and find a serene sunset picture. You can't hear the Tilt A Whirl in a picture, thank God.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Birthday Eve

Birthday flowers by delivery. They're always a most pleasant surprise and in a vase, well, that's just living large. Set them on the counter and I feel like a rich lady on TV.

I got my first bouquet of flowers on my seventeenth birthday. My dad was living in New Orleans at the time and a basket of tiny pink tea roses was delivered to my house in Philadelphia. The classiest thing to ever happen in my young life. I guess so pivotal for me that I saved the envelope and card in a scrapbook. Vaguely, I remember feeling I must be growing up in my father's eyes for him to send me such a grown up gift. And I think I was touched and felt a little sad for him, that I could imagine that it must be hard to see one's child grow up. And then I'm sure my thoughts drifted gently to how and where I would get some beer for my birthday.

Cut flowers may have been an extravagance at the time unless it came from one's own garden because I don't have memories of flowers inside houses that weren't plastic...or dusty for that matter. My mom tended a few beautiful rose bushes in our side yard and we would cut a few stems when the bush got too full and I would take them for my teacher. They were crooked and thorny stems but the blooms were huge and a velvety deep purple-red and we would wrap the ends in a wet paper towel and cover them in tinfoil. I vigilantly protected them against the rabble on the school bus until I could get them to my teacher's desk and more than once bled from a thorn as part of my trouble. The look on my teacher's face was surprise and delight, totally worth the extra effort of getting them to school in one piece. The back of my school bus was a wild place for twelve years and is probably worthy of its own blog entry at some point. A mobile mosh pit replete with sex, drugs and violence at various points.

Today, a knock at my door.
"Hey, those must be for me."
"Are you Julie?"
"It's my birthday!"
"Well, happy birthday!"

What am I? Six?

Thanks for another classy birthday, Daddy.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Blood and cake

It's that time of the year when our minds turn to ridiculous cakes. My husband says goodbye to another cohort of students going off into the big bad executive world of human resources. He feels not like a parent but certainly a responsible mentor for these adults finding happiness and success in the next chapter of their work lives. Three graduating, all with jobs and that is a good thing. My friend asked me today if Chip had any prognostications about when the financial crisis might stabilize. My response was, "Who...Chip? Chip Hunter? He doesn't know anything about money. His currency is people, man." Cold comfort.

Good luck and congratulations to these new managers of human resources. In the end, after twenty years of the government and greedy financiers ransacking my children's futures, and as layoffs and unpaid furloughs and plant closings and cutbacks loom for everyone, I feel proud that my husband and his colleagues study and research the real goldmine in business, the quality and management of its work force. I get excited that maybe I'm a Marxist but Chip will insist that I'm still just a Fascist. Well, I can't help it if I do know what's best for everyone. It's a curse really. Me and Fidel, we get it.

Meanwhile, a daughter worries and even cries a little about her fears around giving blood on Friday. It's all she could talk about this week. She read all her Red Cross literature, had her permission slip signed and has been fully educated on her hydration and nutritional needs for the days leading up to her donation. She's committed to the donation in her mind and very afraid she's letting the Red Cross organization down if she freaks out and chooses not to give blood in the end. I used the "drop in an ocean" metaphor regarding her tiny contribution. Not sure what she'll do, come Friday, but I told her if I get a phone call about an "emotional breakdown" in the donation area, I will not be a happy mommy. My funny little A positive valentine.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

*Tink* *Scrunch*

It's not just flowers that betray spring's sneaky entrance. I'm sure many people are satisfied with the sight of the ferns unfurling and the tulips in bloom, but I'm a greedy person. I want the good all at once. Bring the heat, bring the smells, bring the noise, bring da funk, I'm ready.

To placate myself through the still chilly days, I fall back on my other senses. I listen for the unmistakable *tink* of the aluminum softball bats wafting up from the fields. And the *scrunch scrunch scrunch* of the trampoline springs perpetually and rhythmically as kids jump on and off.

The scents of lilac and apple blossom hit me every time I step outside and because it's a brief few weeks where the trees and bushes smell this good, I find myself wandering right up onto lawns and sides of houses and sticking my face in trees and shrubs while I can. I'm sure I look like a lunatic and am clearly what people might call a "trespasser" but this is obviously not a big concern of mine right now. The scents, the sights, the sounds of spring. Let them wash over me and take away the chill in my bones.

Spring even offers new vistas from which to be inspired by one's algebra.

Olivia performed beautifully at her piano recital on Mother's Day, doing two pieces from Les Mis as her gift to me. She performed with some other kids from the neighborhood, two of whom are 6 year old twins. They played songs I'm sure Olivia played in her first few recitals....Twinkle Twinkle, Happy Birthday, etc. With little bottoms scooting and feet swinging and tap dancing below the bench in a Parkinsonian dance, they still managed to find all the right keys at the right times, no matter where they were positioned on the bench at any given moment. Reminded me of another scooty bottomed kid ten years ago, nicknamed One Cheek Charlotte, her attention wandering, lips moving to another tune, fingers on the keyboard and up the nose in the same chord. Being able to sit still is apparently not a prerequisite to learning piano and given the level of play, I'm curious if in the end, it helps to fidget?

Happy Mother's Day to me