Author Archives: chicagowench

Teach your children well

Teach your children well

Dear school. I realize that a presidential election year affords unique opportunities for tying coursework to current events.

When my child opens his mouth and advocates for marriage equality, not basing policy or laws on religious views, and raising taxes on the rich, please make sure he doesn’t get shunned like Hester Prynne. Thanks.



Today, you informed me blithely, is the first full day you are 9 all day.  Because yesterday you weren’t 9 until o’dark thirty.  But today is all 9, all the time.  You told me this as you lolled about in a slightly too big but already beloved t-shirt, courtesy of one of the most brilliant people I know at work, and boxers, making your already long legs seem impossibly longer.  Your hair’s a mess, and your glasses are slightly askew, and you’re still plugging along methodically assembling some of the legos you got yesterday.

Today, I ponder, is the first full day I’m halfway to not being utterly and totally responsible for you.  9 years from now, if you do something stupid, you’re an adult.  If you want to sign legal paperwork, get a tattoo, sign up for the military, you can.  9 years from now you have to sign up for the draft. 9 years from now is 3 weeks, give or take, before you graduate from (oh please god) the Upper School, where you’ll wear a tux and the girls will be wearing white dresses, and your name will show up on the sign at the entrance announcing where you’re heading for college in the fall, where you’re fledging off to.  9 years from now is when  we let you go, hovering in the background like a twitchy spotter but no longer holding on.

But this morning, as you clamber into my lap and give me a ‘3 day snuggle’ before I head out of town, you are 9.  Wonderfully, cubically, comically, strangely 9.


I love you, little man.

If I do nothing else

If I do nothing else

Today is Sean’s last day of Spring Break. Coincidentally, it’s also his belt test day, so the plan was to keep things light and fun.  He got a haircut, and then we pranced off to the bookstore with no worries about how long we spent there.  We went to TJ’s, to spend the $25 gift card I won on new things (aaaand since he got to choose, I know you’re all shocked that it was largely cheese, salmon iterations, and chocolate cookies).  We snagged lunch at Whole Foods, and piled into the bed to play the new angry birds side by side on our iPads.

And then, during a break from blowing up evil space pigs, I saw this:

My hand flew to my mouth, and belatedly I kicked myself.  Because, of course, the gesture caught his attention, and then there were questions.  How do you tell your 8 year old that a 17 year old boy was killed because of the color of his skin?

Straight up, as it turns out.  Straight up.  I told him what happened.  Where young mister Martin had been.  The actions of his killer.  The fact that there was now evidence that flew in the face of the ‘Stand Your Ground’ statute.  That I, as the mother of a white boy, don’t worry when I let him sit at a table in Whole Foods, or wander Barnes and Noble.  No one’s going to look at him in- yes- his hoodie, and baggy jeans and rumpled t-shirt and think he’s going to try to shoplift or steal a purse.  I taught him the word privilege and that he has it- oh, how he has it- because of the color of his skin (and, I added as an aside, his economic station and his maleness).  I mentioned classmates- how if L was a boy, and dressed like him, she could well be suspected just because of the color of her skin.  That’s not fair, he protested.  Darn skippy, I told him.

Hate stops with you and your friends, pal. If I do nothing else as a parent but teach you to be good to your fellow humans and not judge them based on the color of their skin, what god they believe in, or who they love, I will have done a good job. Be whatever you want- garbage man or president of the United States, brain surgeon or robot inventor or writer or whatever. Just be good to others.

He looked at the photo.  “So who are they?”  The concept that athletes so good they earn millions of dollars and are household names likely had to put up with racist bullshit like this as children blew his mind.  “It says a lot that they did that, doesn’t it?” he asked.  The conversation ebbed away, the thought of someone’s child being killed overwhelming him, the knowledge (It could be S! It could be B! he blurted, naming friends who are not lily white. I reassured him, even as I knew crap like this can happen anywhere) that there are people in this world who would judge- and kill- others based on prejudice making him burrow against me and hold Rhino tight.  I stroked his hair, reminded him that he’s safe, and let him retreat to the benign world of blowing up evil space pigs.

If I do nothing else in this career as a mom.  Let it be that he never forgets me weeping over a dead 17 year old in Florida.

The hard stuff

The hard stuff

Just because the world keeps spinning, the GOP shovels out an amazing amount of anti-woman rhetoric and actions, work piles up, and laundry needs to be done doesn’t mean the hard work of parenting eases up. Sadly.

A few weeks ago, I had one of the hardest conversations I have ever had with the kiddo. Because of a fundraiser coming up, it was long overdue. And so, he now knows that his beloved ‘Little John’ didn’t just die, he committed suicide. Sean is a processor. He asks a bunch of questions and then stews. And things pop out from time to time as he keeps chewing things over in his head. And so after a bunch of questions, some tears, and lots of sadness, I waited. Waited for the glimmers to start.

Sean has not wanted to cook with me very much since that horrible day in the fall. John had promised to bring him into the kitchen and teach him. John was his Brookside market buddy. So I had my suspicions. I’ve not pushed it, but have given him opportunities to help and join in, and let him scamper back to whatever he was doing when he hits the ‘done now’ point. This morning we made cheese crackers, and it was the longest he’s stuck with a recipe since the fall.

“This is fun!” he said, sounding mildly surprised. “Yeah, it is” I assured him, nudging him and grinning. After the crackers were all cut and ready to go, he slunk off, calling back ‘please bring me crackers when they’re done!’, but he was back downstairs before I could bring them up. As he popped one in his mouth he nodded appreciatively, then sighed.

I gathered him close and buried my face in his ridiculous hair. “We,” I whispered, “Can still have a wonderful time in the kitchen together. It’s not being mean to his memory. He would want you to love to cook.” Sean went wide eyed, as if to ask how did I know what he was worried about, then squeezed me so hard I gasped.

This is the stuff the books don’t warn you about. Sleep on the one side and don’t eat deli meat and no advil and don’t start regular milk too soon and and and. There’s no map for this. And so the Lad and I stumble along, armed with our verbal machetes, trying to clear a path for the little man.

Where did the baby go?

Where did the baby go?

Because there’s this creature wandering around, whose feet are almost as big as mine (and bigger than his Auntie A’s), having extraordinarily mature conversations, getting himself up half the time, voluntarily practicing his TKD and multiplication, doing his own laundry, throwing himself in the shower, and generally being a remarkably independent creature.

What the everloving eff is this?!

What could possibly go wrong

What could possibly go wrong

5 weeks of camp out of approx. 13 weeks of summer vacation.
Selected camps: Lego Mindstorms I II III, VEX Robotics I II III, Rocketry, CO2 Dragsters, and Fencing.

If he didn’t play guitar and have rock star hair and dress like a hipster, you’d swear he should be rocking high waisted pants and tape on his glasses with a schedule like that.

Why hast thou forsaken me, Lego?

Why hast thou forsaken me, Lego?

When I was a young kid, by far, the best toy I had was dented and dinged and in craptastic shape. It was a popcorn can- one of those giant holiday ones that my dad had received as bakshish from a vendor- sans popcorn and filled with legos. It was the great equalizer. It was the toy my dad and I could play without quibbling (the man would not, for love or money, wedge onto a tiny chair and play tea party). It was the toy my guy friends- and I had plenty of little boys as friends- and I could agree on, when the weather was too lousy to be in the pool and we had driven my mother insane with fort building. It was the toy that could let me pretend I was anywhere, could do anything, be any one.

Lego has changed quite a bit since I was a kid- themes and special pieces and licensing and whatnot. For all of my original grumbling, though, that the themed sets didn’t give as much scope for imagination, Sean has pretty much disabused me of that notion (see: General Grievous and his 6-not-4 arms, his unmet need for tea and crumpets, and that being the true cause of his fall to the dark side. I swear to you, I could not make this stuff up if I tried). And so yes, I’m sure a kid could use next year’s new line to pretend to be whatever they want. Sure maybe Kai from Ninjago has a huge backstory too, and surely some kids go off plan.


But but but.

I cannot help but feel shivved in the back by Lego. Seriously, guys? You think that little-girl-wench would have played with Legos more if only they had breasts, hips, stories about how they dream of being a singer in Hollywood while they mop floors at a diner, and have special brick colors in pastels? You think it needs to be a safely named line- Lego Friends- instead of the more adventurous Pirates, Kingdoms, or Ninjago, to compare to similar non-licensed IP lines? Do you really think so little of me as a female?

Maybe. Maybe I was over reacting to this new line. So when the catalog arrived today, I casually walked into Sean’s room and showed him. Absolute confusion washed across his face.
“Those don’t even look like legos. Who would want to play with them?”
“Well, read what it says. Who do you think they’re trying to get to buy them?”
After a minute, utter disgust registered. “Girls. And that’s lame. Because if a girl got that as a set instead of something cool, she’d not like Lego any more. And it’s not fair they treat girls like they’re stupid and can’t play with pirates and Star Wars.”

Dear Lego Company: when an 8 year old boy, who hates all things pink, tells you you’re screwing up your marketing to girls and your core business mission and message, you’re screwing up big time.



It has been quite the year. We’ve had dizzying highs- Sean truly hitting his stride with his posse of friends, the exhibit I worked on for four years finally opening and winning some pretty awesome awards, some research the Lad had worked on getting submitted in a sweet paper, mom’s surgery being a rollicking success and her supposedly fatal disease handled, a trip of a lifetime to Alaska. But we’ve also had some nasty lows. Rough patches at both of our jobs. The Lad’s grandmother died suddenly this summer, my grandfather died 2 weeks ago after being in the hospital since mid-October. It can be all too easy to be mired in the day to day and forget the big picture.

The other day, driving the kid to school, he and I were chatting. We started talking about our holiday donations- his allowance is split between mad money, savings, and charity, and at the end of each year he picks what charity to support. This year he wants to do Child’s Play and Save the Rhinos. The longest part of that conversation was narrowing down the options and explaining that we actually contribute to charity all year long, as he was concerned that charities needed money all year but we were only giving at the holidays. With that debate handled, what, I asked, was he looking forward to most about the winter holidays? His answer stunned me. I expect an 8 year old to be voracious, capitalist, and all about the presents and in second place, the sugar. “Lighting the menorah and eating latkes at Chanukah.” he said. I practically drove off of the road. “Uh, really? Not Christmas morning?” He allowed as how he liked Christmas just fine, but Christmas morning can be a little crazy, and could he please spread out opening his presents a little more so it doesn’t feel so intense, and, he added, “Besides. What I like most is being together and doing stuff together.”

I am thankful I have somehow managed to, so far, not raise a total self-absorbed jerk. The world has plenty of those.

I am thankful that I went to a grad school that ultimately was a horrible fit for me, and didn’t go to Yale which would have suited me much better.

I am thankful I persevered when that guy in grad school told me no way was he dating while in grad school, and if he did he sure as hell wouldn’t date within his department.

I am thankful that I walked away from my first career love.

I am thankful when that tiny company said ‘we want to fly you out here to consult with us for a day. We’ll pay for your travel, and eventually maybe we can contract you, but right now you’d be consulting for free’ I didn’t say ‘no freaking way’ and instead said ‘ok’, against everything everyone in consulting had ever told me.

I am thankful that I didn’t listen to the parenting books that told me not to have the hard conversations just yet.

“What I like most is being together and doing stuff together.”

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving everyone. May you not forget the good stuff.

Dear Starbucks at 76th and Good Hope Road

Dear Starbucks at 76th and Good Hope Road

Don’t you miss Sean and Jerry? All this travel. It’s nice to see places, but all this travel!
It’s ok Grandpa. We have a routine, and Sean’s getting better about it. Besides, this is a great museum project and it’s just to Atlanta. Trust me, I know where every Starbucks in Hartsfield-Jackson is.
That must get expensive! Those fancy coffee drinks!
Yeah well, I usually just get a coffee. If it’s been a rough meeting or I’m really missing the boys, I’ll treat myself to something fancier.

That’s when the Starbucks cards started arriving. “Treat yourself to something on the road. Love, Grandpa”, with his crazily looped handwriting. Every year, for my birthday and Chanukah. Grandpa’s been at my side from coast to coast, north to south, on the airport trams in Houston, Dallas, Atlanta. Every latte order brought a smile to my face. I sent him a photo of me pounding a Starbucks in Hawaii at a conference and the impertinent email came back. “I thought your mother taught you better. You should be drinking something with fruit juice and rum!”

Thursday morning, I told mom I was heading to a Starbucks. She gave me the ‘you are crazy, there is a ‘restaurant’ downstairs here in the hotel’ look, and pointedly looked out the window to the dizzily falling flakes of snow. I ignored her attempt at momming me and not letting me behind the wheel of our rental land yacht, and headed out. If I was going to be hand-shoveling dirt in the snow in some highly proscribed ritual which was not of my brand of belief, this was the least I could do beforehand.

How’d you get the idea, Grandpa?
There’s a Starbucks not too far away. They said they sold gift cards. Seemed like a good idea.

So, employees of the Starbucks at 76th and Good Hope Road, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I apparently stunned you with an order for a 4 shot peppermint mocha, which when pressed I had once told Grandpa was my ultimate winter travel comfort drink. I’m sorry I started to cry when you asked if I’d be paying with a Starbucks card. I’m sorry the funny, sweet 98 year old man won’t be buying gift cards from you again. But thank you for treating the sniveling wreck of a woman with dignity.

Okay kiddo! Love you! Give my love to Jerry and Sean! Don’t drink too much coffee!
“I don’t think there is such a thing as too much coffee, grandpa. Love you too.”

Dear John

Dear John

We moved here 9 years ago, bereft at leaving our fair city. Within months we were welcomed into the foodie community. It kind of went beyond embracing and took on a borg-like quality. 40 Sardines was our home-away-from-home, due in no small part not only to Debbie Gold and Michael Smith’s cooking and hospitality, but also the good natured, hard working guy in the kitchen who towered over everyone else. One time, when I had to get the baby out of the house due to the exterminator being there, I swung by 40 for lunch. Everything went swimmingly until Jamie kicked on the cappuccino maker near us, and the sound freaked out Sean. Every server took a turn at trying to calm him, but it wasn’t until ‘Big Country’ John himself swaggered out from the kitchen, swooped up Sean, and started getting downright silly with him that the wailing stopped.

We were sad when he left 40, but thrilled he took over at Starker’s Reserve- a venerable grand dame on the dining scene here. And we were even more thrilled when he bought out the place. Barely 30, the chef-owner of a great place. Active in charity, always a spine-cracking hug, always asking how things were and meaning it sincerely. Now at 35, opening a second place, well ensconced in the young leadership of the KC culinary scene. We did dorky dances in the rain at Brookside and compared tomato growing tricks. He cajoled Sean into eating raw veggies other than sugar snaps straight from my market basket. We commiserated over the cost of sheep’s milk yogurt. John didn’t bat an eye when we started bringing Sean in for lunches to teach him white-tablecloth restaurant manners, instead loudly greeting us and making it clear to the disapproving lunchtime businessmen that oh no, he wanted us there. He got misty-eyed when he found out Sean’s name for him was ‘Little John’, because that, it turns out, was a pet family name for him. When we had the opportunity to swipe tickets to Green Dirt Farms dinners this summer, there was no question: we were going to John’s, period. My last conversation with him, we talked about carnitas and cocktails, about kids’ books and table manners, about new year’s and biscuit bars and infusions and melt-your-eyeballs vodka and the plaza art fair and how mmmmm girl, fuck the traffic, live a little and c’mon down, I’ll take care of you.

I don’t think I ever outright said how vital he was to KC becoming our home, and now I never can. I cannot bring myself to say ‘be at peace’ to you, John, because peace is not how I picture you. You laughed too big and lived too loud for that. You are likely dumping out vats of red crawfish on newspaper strewn tables in heaven. You are drinking like a mofo and singing along to your favorite band. I picture you happy, surrounded by an eternal harvest of heirlooms and rarities.

I miss you so hard, and it’s only been a few hours.