Street note


'What about fiting in with the kids at the school and what if they don't like how you are dressed?'

As I was loading up the car to go to a birthday party on Sunday, a cluster of papers caught my eye. One was a piece of  lined paper folded in eights and tucked into my fence by the garage. Below it was a crumpled paper bag, a plastic cup and an empty pint of Jose Cuervo Gold. (After reading the note, I wonder if the items are connected.)

I unfolded the paper. Written in blue ink in the penmanship of what looks like a preteen boy with a shaky command of the language is a heartbreaking string of words. Here’s what it said:

“Do you think that it is bad for kids to move? I do because they have to meet other kids and make new friends at the new school. They have to get along with teachers and get use to how the teacher teaches.

If you start the new school in 1/2 of the year that is bad because they might have a test as the end of  that trimester. You miss all of the information at the begging of that. So you’d had to learn the stuff that they are learning now.

What about  fiting in with the kids at the school and what if they don’t like how you are dressed. They can beat you up just for not look cool. What about lunch you don’t know anyone from the school so who are you going to sit by and no one likes you because you don’t dress like them. Maybe that is why no one want to sit by you @ lunch.”

I live two blocks from a combined high school/middle school. The note could be real. I’m imaging a plainly dressed boy in a plaid flannel shirt, a coat with a hood and jeans, sitting cross-legged on my driveway chewing a ham sandwich and writing this note. For one moment I entertain the idea that the boy is washing down his sandwich with tequila shots, but discard that image in the  too-damned-depressing bin.

I imagine the boy hearing the bell ring, folding the note and tucking it in the fence, tossing his lunch bag on my driveway and following the sidewalk back to his personal hell. I wonder if he wanted someone to read it, to know his pain, to hear his soul  cry out with the agony of forced segregation. If that  is true, then here is your validation, sad young man.

Of course, it might be a joke or a class assignment that fell out of backpack. Perhaps a neighbor out walking her dog picked it up and tucked it in the fence in the off-chance that the student might look for and find his note.  But being who I am, I’m clinging to my first impression of lonely new kid eating his lunch off-campus to avoid the pain of social rejection.

I know that one.

My family moved the summer between my sixth- and seventh-grade year. For most of seventh grade I was alone. This was a shock to me. We moved from a very warm, tight-knit community of people who were all about the same economically to one in which there were defined lines of status. Needless to say, we were on the wrong side of the line. That was made apparent on the first day of school when the two girls walking in front of me  kept turning around, eyeing my JC Penney clothes up and down, and whispering to each other. In my old neighborhood, my friends thought my shoes and socks and shirts were cool.

All of seventh grade I managed to find two friends, both of whom were transplants like me. But before I made those friends, lunchtime, gym class and free times were  long stretches of agony.  The new school kids didn’t think my jokes were funny like my old friends did. They didn’t think my style was worthy of praise or emulation, only ridicule and scorn. I’m sure I penned many notes to no one that read much like the one in my fence. I wonder if any blew out of my backpack and landed in a nearby yard?

God, it sucks to be the new kid.

Flannel-plaid-wearing boy with the blue ink pen, I hear your cry for help. I understand. I  wish you strength and courage. It will get better someday. I promise.

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Back on the other side again — sort of


By evelynishere via creative commons

This week I had a revelatory moment. It struck me as I was walking into a building and caught a glimpse of my reflection in the plate glass. I saw a smartly dressed woman with a laptop bag slung over her shoulder.

“Where have you been the last three years?” I asked the mirror image as I pushed the intercom button to announce my arrival.

As the door buzzes open, I consider how it feels to wear a black dress with flowing red scarf tied loosely around my neck, stockings, heels and all-business glasses. Even if I feel a little shaky on the inside, I have all the right props. No one here will have any idea that I haven’t done this full-time in three years.

I was glad to leave my current persona at home for a while. I liked wearing my old self even if just for a day.

I love my children. I love my husband. But they cannot define me and be enough for me. I need a little more. It feels good to be working again.

Several weeks ago I accompanied my husband on a business trip to Chicago. Mostly I did it to get away. Partly I did it to witness the presentation I’ve been hearing about, and helping him with in small ways, for more than a year. Afterward the organizers invited us to dinner at a popular restaurant in the downtown business loop.

While I’d secretly hoped for a quiet dinner for two, so I didn’t have to worry about how many glasses of wine I’d ordered, and I could kick off my uncomfortable shoes under the table, it wasn’t to be. Instead I felt “on” since it was more of a business dinner. I had to watch my words and not get all, well, the way I can get sometimes.

After a few exchanges of pleasantries I was asked: “So, what do you do?”

I mentioned my  part-time freelance business that is temporarily full-time.

“Oh, so mostly you are just a mommy then.”

Why the instant leap? Why the dead-end of conversation once the leap is made? I felt crushed.

Mommy — not even mom or mother — mommy! was said the way someone might spit out the word pedophile.

And I had thought the guy was pretty nice at first.

Just this week I logged on to Facebook to find a so-called friend had sent me some application quiz that determined my dream job was to be a wife and mother. Huh? First of all, this person knows I’m trying to return to the workplace. Where  this whole you-are-better-off-at-home sublimation comes from I’ll never know. Rather than fire back some snarky remark, I just deleted the whole post.

But back to this week: I check in at the front desk, hand over my business card and announce who I am. Then, I’m led down a long, polished corridor that winds its way to the CEO’s office to conduct a joint interview with two high-ranking members of this organization.

I was taken seriously. I engaged in adult conversation, discussed plans, strategies and  deadlines. I had a schedule to juggle, appointments to confirm and my planner was bleeding ink to the margins. It all felt so natural. People were paying attention to me. I wasn’t so-and-so’s mother or somebody’s wife. Not that those things are bad but I do have a name and my own identity. Motherhood and marriage can shove those things to the back of the closet.

That’s the upside.

The downside: My poor, poor house is a wreck. Tasks both inside and outside sit uncompleted. There are three family birthdays fast approaching, not to mention the whole holiday stress-fest.  I have a mother who feels ignored, a visiting brother who feels slighted and probably a husband and two daughters who feel they’re not getting the service they’ve grown to enjoy.

Sorry, folks.

This is my first big paid gig and I feel the need to do a good job, to be viewed as dependable, reliable and able to deliver on time, as promised when we set our terms in September.

It feels good to have a task, a deadline, responsiblity. I’m hoping these seeds planted will nurture a larger garden of opportunity down the road. If nothing else, I learned what I needed to do to be successful working from a home office.

I’m on the other side  — even though it’s a short visit.

And I like it.

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Spam, you have me all mixed up


Do you read your Spam?

I do. It’s that sick part of me that pretends I have so much fan mail that it takes pages and pages to get through it all.

… ahem …

Here is a sampler of what my fans around the globe say to me:

Hi there, I found your blog via Google while searching for first aid for a heart attack …”

“New here .. Found this site for searching for criminal/dwi/dui attorneys on Long Island, New York.”

Gee, thanks. I’d like to think if I were having a heart attack, someone would call 911 rather than search the blogosphere for first aid advice. That’s just me, though.

On another post about my blogging anniversary, I got a little battle of contradictions:

One guys asks: “what r u talking about?”
Another thinks I’m a softie: “So mush Info”
While another declares: “Hey good stuff…keep up the good work!”

Roy90, whom I have never met, seems to have me mixed up with someone else, but I’ll take the accolades anyway.


What’s with the medical advice? Do babies have hemorrhoids? If there is someone other than a nursing mother wearing a nursing sports bra, I don’t want to know about it, OK?

Hi, I have been looking into some natural hemmorid treatments and cures and I am looking for anyone that has tried them? … I am just looking for something safe for my baby…I am pretty much staying away from any chemical/medicines…just to be on the safe side.”

“Hello to all Moms…!

I need assistance on market researching nursing and sports bras.

Please, only moms reply.”

And my advice regarding the following diatribe is that mothers and sons should not be shopping for bondage gear together, OK?

A mother, her son, and why women on top of 50 bondage gear should look after some brand of modesty”

How about Mr. show-off Pierre, who makes me feel like my husband is being a cheap skate on our anniversary?

“I’m Pierre. I bought my wife a dress, renovated our living room and took her on a vacation,

but the thing that stirred her the most was without a doubt my intention to buy loose diamonds for our gold wedding anniversary.”

Well, Pierre, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, isn’t it? Stop throwing your money around. Your wife is probably plotting her getaway after cashing in those loose diamonds.

Next, a series of left-handed compliments:

“Thanks for keeping it on point! Speak slower, louder, quieter”

“Hey, I found your blog in a new directory of blogs. I dont know how your blog came up, must have been a typo, anyway cool blog, I bookmarked you.”

“In truth, immediately i didn’t understand the essence. But after re-reading all at once became clear.”

Some Spammers just need to get a life — or a better line:

“Hey Folks
I’ve been around here for a while now, and I finally found something worth writing about: I found a great deal on custom entertainment centers.”

“Hi! I’m looking for an advice where I can watch movies? ”

These two should get together. Anyone know a good Spammer matchmaking service?

“If you know someone around you who is being a little shady and you are getting uncomfortable around them, then maybe you might want to run a small background report on the person in question to make sure that they are ‘who they say they are’.”

“’I’m a lawyer.”

And, in closing, I leave you with these gems:
“Where’s the blog roll?
“If cash comes with fame, come fame; if cash comes without fame, come cash.”
”When is the next bus to the airport?”

Note: I didn’t bother cleaning up the typos, misspellings and other errors in the Spam. Why should I make them look good?

What’s in your SPAM folder?

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hearts and flowers and rainbows

Clearly I thrive on work. The more I get, the more I create for myself.

As a result, my house is a mess. Bills aren’t paid. Leaves aren’t raked. I finally had my roots touched up after — gasp — 16 weeks. Well, they were more like branches at this point than roots.

So, while waiting for a return phone call the other day, I decided to tear apart my office, move around furniture, clear drawers and dump out boxes.

During this purge, I overturned a hand-painted cardboard box. Out spilled a bouquet of heart-shaped messages, written by Girl from the West sometime during her elementary school career. What an unexpected surprise.


Ain't it the truth? "Everything you do is for everyone else."

Later this week, as I was sitting in my car, yup, waiting for another return phone call and watching the minutes tick away on the parking meter, I searched my laptop computer for the Photo Booth function. I wanted to take a picture of my new hair color to post on Facebook.

Yeah, like I said, busy.

I found Photo Booth, and discovered that Girl from the West has been using it for months. Anger boiled to the surface as I imagined her skulking around in my office when I wasn’t home, snooping around on my computer. I scrolled through the gallery amazed at her ability to strike engaging poses for a computer camera. Where, I wondered, did these pictures and movies end up on the Internet?

I clicked on one and uncovered another hidden treasure. As much as I’d love to embed it here, I am respecting our family privacy. Summary: She’s telling me how much she loves me and treasures our relationship. How can I be mad at her for that? The only thing I feel badly about now is that it took me this long to find it.

Oh, and I figured out how to look like a narcissist and a cheap skate at the same time. Here I am using free Wi-Fi in a parking lot outside Caribou Coffee, posing for my laptop. (OK, just to be fair, I was in Caribou as a paying customer but the piped-in music and the various coffee klatsches were making it impossible to work. I’m not one of those people.)


Who knew the MacBook camera would be the one to make me look good?

Oh, but I am one of these people: the kind who gets a bouquet of exotic flowers delivered to her front door but rarely answers the doorbell or checks the mailbox, so that when flowers finally are discovered, they are withered and gasping. That’s a true story and so is this:  A friend IRL as well as on the Web sent me a bouquet several weeks ago. What did I do? Unwrap them, trim the stems and tuck them into a vase of water? Nah. I let the poor things wilt in my inbox. Yet, another unexpected pleasure when I needed it the most. Thank you,  TeacherMommy.


To round out a week of unexpected delights, unicorns and rainbows, my whirlwind trip to Chicago last week concluded with a day at the Art Institute of Chicago. I spent most of my time in the Asian arts section not only because of Girl from the East but also because I’ve been studying the history of China and the history of Buddhism. I stood in awe at the base of probably the biggest Buddha statue I’ve ever seen. Then I rounded a corner, climbed a set of steps and found this:


Having an affinity for the southwest and for Georgia O’Keeffe’s work, I did what I always do when I’m standing before one of her pictures: I whipped out the camera, quickly snapped a picture, and then stared at the painting until my husband dragged me away.

Unexpected surprises and pleasures, all of them.

What is, what isn't and what might have been



A whirlwind trip to Chicago, the last season of an HBO series, and the death of a contemporary all have me thinking about impermanence.

As my husband and I strolled the busy streets of downtown Chicago last week, we noted the similarities between The Windy City and The Motor City. If you are from Detroit, you might agree. I don’t think residents of Chicagoland, however, would appreciate the comparison. In an up-close kind of way, the older architecture, some of the street names, the climate and geography all are similar enough to make us dream a little dream: We imagine that our home city has maintained the world-class status it held in the early 20th century, that it has continued to grow and prosper, compounding its assets rather than imploding into the decaying husk it is today. Things like this article and the reports from the “D Shack” seem edgy at best, as if journalists have been embedded in a war zone, and as the butt of a joke at worst. As much as I get angry about outside depictions of this area, a daily drive through it all only serves as a grim reminder of what is, what isn’t, and what might have been.

A day after our return to Day-Twah we attend a memorial service for a business associate of my husband. As we stand in the shadowy art gallery watching a still-photo montage of the guy’s life projected onto a wall, with tracks from the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” filling the painful gaps in conversation, I realize the obvious: This is all we have. This moment. This now, with its gnawing desires to be somewhere in the future or its aches for what’s left in the past.  I watch the images loop endlessly as the deceased progresses from a pink-faced teen with a mullet hanging out with his buddies in their suburban neighborhood to a grown man with the responsibilities of a wife and two children. Unlike life, the slide show allows us to rewind time and start again. For a brief moment, we can trick ourselves into forgetting that death is why he is a two-dimensional image on a wall, that maybe he’s in the audience laughing and weeping with the rest of the group. I see the grieving cling to what cannot be held in hand; in a defining moment death bounces what is into what is not. All that remains is what might have been.

Our thoughts shift to a friend we lost to suicide a few years back. He was an avid fan of  HBO’s “Six Feet Under.” We never watched it during its original run, but have been working our way through all five seasons on DVD. We are a half dozen episodes away from the finale.  I have grown so attached to this show, to these characters, that I agonize over the fact that it will end. We’ve decided not to rush through to the final episode, but rather we’ll watch a few each week and let the story marinate. We watch the show with added interest, knowing our friend often discussed the characters and plot lines with us, even though we were clueless at the time. Now, we look for clues in a show that suggests a thousand different ways to die. We now understand what attracted him to the characters and story lines. We hope we don’t see the way in which he chose to end his life at 40.

In his death and in the closing of this show I realize I cannot get all the answers.  I cannot make something go beyond its expiration date. Maybe I’m more Detroit than Chicago, not fully realized yet, but with some seeds of hope for bigger and better things.   Like the real Detroit, the one a visitor or embedded reporter may not know, everything has some element worth knowing, some reason to stick around to make what might have been or what is not into something that is.



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Do you ever wonder?


Why do we subject our pets to such humiliations?

Sometimes I wonder:

— Am I the only person who has one set of behaviors for public and another for behind closed doors?  The other day I was eating while reading a magazine. I took a moment to come up for air.  Crumbs were scattered all over the table and floor. I probably was chewing with my mouth open and paying no mind to my portion sizes. I was so lost in the sensory fulfilment of reading and eating that I lost all self-consciousness.

I though about how I am in restaurants: ordering very small portions, taking small bites, careful not to edge food too close to the side of the plate lest it spill onto the tablecloth or make rude noises while chewing. Which is the real me? Why such a big difference? You, too?

— Why I feel the need to fill in the gaps about people I barely know. Like the lady who sits in her big chair every night in front of the big screen TV.  She doesn’t close the curtains on her big picture window. Her house is on a corner where there is a long traffic light. Several times a week I’m sitting at this light and I always look in this window to see the lady parked in her chair within spitting distance of this big TV. No matter the time or day, she’s there.

At first I thought she  was lonely and bored. Then I started thinking she was just plain lazy. I envisioned a big TV tray with fatty foods, a sink piled high with crusty dishes, the smell of burnt food thick in the air.

Then, one day last summer, on a stroll along her street, I encountered her on the sidewalk and I felt my face flush with shame. She was obviously a stroke victim. She walked in slow, measured stops using a walker. One side of her face was paralyzed. Shortly thereafter I read a memoir in which the author tells of his mother’s agonizing crawl toward death from complications of Huntington’s disease.  His mother spent her final days strapped to a hospital bed in an upright position in front of a television set. It was, he said, all she had left in life.

— If I lived 100 years in the past or in the future, would I still be me — including all my quirks, tics and odd little phobias? Does historical context define character? Does enduring a war, a famine, a Holocaust or great personal tragedy give you depth, strength and wisdom that you wouldn’t have if you lived the life of a pampered royal? Do you ever wonder if you were given a do-over of your life, if you made different choices, would you end up different or the same?

I do.

Wallowing in swine flu data

Disclaimer: I have not been tested for or officially confirmed to have the swine flu. When I asked my doctor if I had it, he answered: Probably.


My head is spinning and it’s not all from Tamiflu and antibiotics. Trying to get solid information about this year’s H1N1 pandemic is enough to make you just want to curl up under the covers and wait for spring.

  • Are vaccines bad or good? Should we get them or not?
  • We are encouraged to get our vaccinations now. However, clinics are either canceled or have hopelessly long waits.
  • The president declared a national emergency. News reports focus on the lethal H1N1 cases, particularly children. Some doctors I have encountered seem very unconcerned about what kind of flu they are treating, only that they must treat it.
  • At what point does hand washing become excessive and in the territory of OCD? At what point do you decide that the excessive hand washing you engaged in did absolutely no good to prevent the flu since all you needed to get sick was to breathe the air inside your home?
  • Is there a link between worrying excessively about getting H1N1, rubbing your hands raw with alcohol-laden hand sanitizer to the point of extreme irritation, and actually contracting it?

On Friday, as I sat slumped in a metal and plastic chair at the medical clinic, with my Girl from the East draped over my lap like a towel, I asked the doctor if we had H1N1.

“Seasonal flu, H1N1, what difference does it make?” he responded.

At first I was taken aback. This is the second time I’ve been greeted with a blase attitude by the medical community about the swine flu. Last summer, Girl from the West attended music camp. One week later,  some orchestra members from that camp came down with the flu. They were not allowed to board their flight to Europe because of it. When my daughter became ill and I took her to the doctor’s office and inquired about swine flu, the doctor brushed it off as “just the flu.” Let it run its course, she advised.

What in hell is going on? If you watch TV, read online or in print, you are led to believe H1N1 is the Black Plague. Yet, all but ONE doctor I’ve asked has minimized the concerns.  I’ll admit, I’ve allowed myself to be swept up in the media frenzy. I have kids. I worry about them more than myself.

So, when the doctor seemed blase about my H1N1 inquiry, I fired back:

“It’s all over the media. There is paranoia everywhere. It matters to me.”

“Well, then, yes, you probably do have H1N1,” he replied.

Then he handed me  prescriptions for Tamiflu and antibiotics for our secondary respiratory infections and sent us on our way.

My always-on-the-go husband has been in bed for six days with what started as the flu and quickly turned to bronchitis. Most likely, he waited too long to see a doctor. Based on this, I didn’t waste time.  I packed us into the car and headed to the doctor 24 hours after coming down with symptoms.

We had a long wait at the clinic.

We had an even longer wait at the pharmacy as Tamiflu is in short supply.

Know what I think? I stressed myself out so badly about getting H1N1 I trashed my immune system.

I suppose the lesson in all this is to take care of yourself, wash your hands, and if you do develop symptoms get to the doctor immediately.

If you are wondering how it’s affecting us: On Thursday I felt fine when I woke up. By noon I was knocked flat on my back with a 102 fever, chills and severe joint pain. Within 24 hours I’d developed a respiratory infection. My Girl from the East, despite a deep cough and a high fever, was bouncing around like a monkey. She had one rough night.

But the larger questions remain: What is the truth? Are some doctors downplaying this? If so, why? Is the media overplaying it? I’ve always believed in immunizations and I get a seasonal flu shot every year. I know it doesn’t protect me from everything, but it’s always kept me standing when everyone around me dropped like flies with whatever flu strain was going around.

So I guess I should be relieved. Now I don’t have to worry anymore about getting the flu shot. Plus, I had a whole weekend to do nothing but goof off on Facebook, Twitter and my favorite blogs.

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