Thursday, July 31, 2008

The List

Whether she admits it or not, every woman carries a list around in her head - a checklist, that is, for evaluating men. I'm not talking about the is-he-marriage-material list. I'm talking about the would-I-ever-consider-dating-him list. These are two very distinct lists. Passing the preliminary pre-dating list gets a guy in the door. Passing the marriage-material list moves a guy into the house.

I'm sure every woman has her own variation on the factors on this list. But, I am willing to bet that most women have lists very similar to my own. A friend and I were recently discussing my list, and I got to thinking that it would be a good public service announcement to all men. Perhaps there are several of you out there who are not aware of the list. Well, here you go. Learn something.

(1) Age.

There is probably no specific age requirement when looking for men, but men around the same age tend to have similar interests and life experiences. Personally, I have dated older men and tend to be attracted to men who are older than I am. However, I am not looking for someone who is my father’s age. That just creeps me out a little bit. So, when I’m looking at someone’s age, I usually evaluating within the 25-45 age range.

(2) Height.

This is a big factor for me and for many women. With all due respect to short men, I just can’t see myself dating one. I’m 5’8" and I absolutely prefer someone who is taller than I am, even if just an inch or two. I think it’s sort of a girl thing - I don’t know many women who want to be perceived as bigger than their mates. Sorry, short guys . . . I just don’t want to feel like an Amazon.

(3) Hair.

This category covers a lot - hair on your head, hair on your face, eyebrows, and body hair. Of course, no uni-brows. And please - no trying to cover up baldness. If you are going bald or already bald, it’s just much sexier for you to be comfortable with it and not try to cover it up. A good haircut is a necessity. I’m not saying it has to be done by a fancy salon, but something that fits you and your face.

Facial hair also depends on the person. Some men can carry off facial hair; some can’t. Full scraggly beards scream "UNKEMPT!" Moustaches alone scream "COP!" Pencil thin line beards on men with fat faces scream, "I’M TRYING TO DEFINE MY NON-EXISTENT JAW LINE!" You are not fooling anyone, guys.

(4) Teeth.

Two basic requirements for teeth - clean and all present. If you are missing a tooth, get it fixed and come back later. If you are missing more than one tooth, I think you have other underlying problems that tell me to stay away from you. Straight teeth are also preferable, but as long as you aren’t a snaggletooth, you are probably fine. A subcategory here is good breath. If I’m evaluating you on my list, it means I might consider dating you. If I am considering dating you, I might consider kissing you. However, if you have bad breath, you are not getting through my initial evaluation.

(5) Clothes.

Price doesn’t matter. I frankly don’t care where you bought your clothes or how much you paid for them. What matters is whether they fit you well, indicate a personal style, and fit the situation we are currently in. I love a man in a well-fitted suit. However, if the suit has not been tailored to fit you specifically, you might as well be wearing a wife-beater and tighty-whities. Whatever you are wearing, it needs to fit the situation. Don’t wear dress slacks to a BBQ. Don’t wear a T-shirt to a nice restaurant. And, for god’s sake, don’t wear a tie with a short-sleeved dress shirt.

(6) Shoes.

Ah, men’s shoes. The shoes probably are the biggest factor to switch a guy from dateable to undateable. Again, they don’t need to be expensive. But they do need to be appropriate for the situation and your clothes. If you are wearing a suit, the shoes better be clean and polished. And, if you are wearing sandals, please evaluate your toes. Long toenails are really, really disgusting.

(7) Earrings and/or Tattoos.

Some guys can pull these off, some can’t. It all stems from knowing yourself. I love a well thought out and well placed tattoo. However, I’d think twice about a guy who has some other woman’s name tattooed anywhere on his body. Talk about the elephant in the room, jeez. Why not just invite the ex into bed?

Earrings are a general no-no unless you are rock-star famous. Same with other jewelry. Shiny bracelets or necklaces say "CRIMINAL" to me. Plastic watches are equally as bad - they say "I HAVEN’T STOPPED BEING THAT NERDY LITTLE BOY YET." Don’t get me wrong - nerdy men = kinda sexy. Nerdy little grown-up boys = sad. Pinky rings, well . . . need I say more?

(8) Car.

Again, the price and brand are not what most mature women are looking for in a guy’s car. In fact, if a guy has clearly spent an obnoxious amount of money on his car, it leaves a woman wondering where she will fall in the rankings and thinking it will probably be below the car. The car is evaluated for one thing - is this guy living within his means or trying to be something he’s not?

(9) Job.

First, it is important to have one. Second, remember that some women are not looking for men to support them, particularly women in their 30s. Us 30-somethings can support ourselves just fine, thank you. I make a pretty decent living and really don’t care whether you make more or less than I do. But, just like I don’t expect you to support me, I don’t expect to support you. (This changes, of course, when the relationship becomes a committed one, depending on each person’s circumstances. However, for the initial evaluation process, you’d better have yourself a job.)

(10) Eyes.

Sure, the way they physically look is important, but that’s not really what I look for. When I look at your eyes, I’m looking to see whether you make good eye contact with me. Listen, I deal with a lot of shady people, scam artists, and liars in my line of work. The one thing these people have in common? They won’t hold steady eye contact. Whether shifty-eye-ness stems from low self-esteem, criminal thinking, or general loserhood, it will get you booted off my list instantly.

Have I dated guys that don't meet all of the factors on my list? Sure. But after spending the last 20 years dating off and on, I've learned that this list can come in pretty handy.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

My best friend H is a HUGE HUGE Cubs fan. So much so, that she actually auditioned to conduct the Seventh Inning Stretch at Wrigley Field as part of a contest the Cubs are running in conjunction with Baby Ruth candy bars.


So, please, please . . . vote for her. My understanding is the person with the most votes wins. Here is the link to the voting page. Her name is Heather H. You can watch her audition video and vote for her or just vote for her! If she wins, you can share a little bit of her glory and mine. While you couldn't pay me enough money to sing in front of a crowd at Wrigley Field (or any field for that matter), she has the balls to do this and I am very proud of her.

Go Cubbies!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Reward or Punish - Punish or Reward?

In my opinion, this is one of the most difficult basic questions of parenting: when dealing with prospective behavior of your child, which is more effective: promising to reward for good behavior or threatening to punish for bad behavior?

I’ve got the system down for dealing with immediate past behavior: smacking your brother on the head - punish. Helping your brother reach a toy - reward. Spitting and then screaming "I DON’T WANT TO" at your mother when she asks you to go potty - punish. Going potty when asked - reward. Repeatedly kicking the car when your mother won’t sing the ABCs for a 40th time on the way home from work - punish. Entertaining your brother in the car during a long trip - reward.

In my house, we don’t really use the word punishment. I prefer the word "consequences." My daughter (and to some extent, my son) understands the concept of consequences for actions. If you throw a toy, you immediately lose that toy (it goes on top of the refrigerator until the next day - we have a lot of begging at the fridge in my house because the dog’s treats are also up there.) If you hit, kick, spit, bite, or push another living thing in the house, you go to time out (sit on the step, we call it.) If you scream, you go outside and stand by yourself on the back deck until you are done screaming. (As an aside, this has been one of the most effective punishments in my house for my daughter, a/k/a The Screamer. She doesn’t realize I can still see her from inside the house and almost immediately stops screaming when she thinks no one can see or hear her. I highly recommend it for age-appropriate punishment.)

I often talk about making choices with my kids - if you choose a certain behavior, you must deal with the consequences of your choice. I believe this is a good lesson for life in general. If you choose not to do well in school, there are consequences. If you choose to leave your job and not get another one, there are consequences. If you choose to spend your money on frivolous things, there are consequences. If you choose bad men, there are consequences. Anyway, I digress . . . .

The reward v. punishment for prospective behavior issue has come up recently because my daughter has made the choice to be a complete sassy-brat during naptime at day care. She has always been hard to get to sleep at day care, probably because of the other people in the room. At home, she has no problems going to sleep - not once has she gotten out of her bed before being told to get up. But school is different. Her teachers tell me she is often the last child asleep, but she always eventually goes to sleep.

A couple of weeks ago, however, she refused to take a nap and turned into Princess Bratty-Pants during naptime. I actually don’t mind if she doesn’t nap during the day, she just goes to bed earlier in the evening. And I would be fine if she simply rested quietly on her cot at school and allowed the other children to nap. But, not my Princess Bratty-Pants. If she’s not sleeping, she makes it near impossible for other children to sleep. She does gymnastics on her cot. She knocks things off nearby shelves. She sings Baby Bumblebee and ABCs and Five Little Ducks at the top of her lungs. She talks non-stop. She screams at her teachers "I DON"T HAVE TO LISTEN TO YOU!"


All this behavior from a girl who is mostly well-behaved at all other times. Her teachers were not amused the first day she did this and stopped me in the hallway before I got to her room. I also was not amused and, before giving her a hug when I picked her, took her into the hallway to have a serious discussion about her behavior. Her hello smile quickly faded when she knew I knew what she had done.

"What happened during naptime today?" Smile fades and lower lip comes out.

"Did you take a nap?" tiny little "no."

"Did you use your mean words with Ms. Brenda?" tinier little "yes" and attempts to hug me.

"That makes me very sad. It makes Ms. Brenda very sad." attempts to change the subject to the new song she learned.

"No. What you did during naptime is not OK." Now, she’s planting little kisses on my hands and forearms.

"Now, there are consequences for your behavior. You will lose dessert tonight after dinner. And you must say you are sorry to Ms. Brenda."

After she went to bed, I pondered what direction to take to stop this behavior in the future. As I saw it, I had two options. The first was to tell her she would be rewarded when she did sleep. The second was to tell her she would be punished when she didn’t sleep. In general, I believe that rewarding good behavior is ultimately more effective. So, we worked out a treat system - if she takes a nap, she gets a small treat on the way home (I happened to have mini-tootsie rolls available). And that worked . . . for about two and a half weeks.

And then there was yesterday.

At naptime, her behavior was much worse and the teachers were not happy at all. This time, however, my daughter showed absolutely no remorse for her actions. When I said that I was very sad she had not taken a nap and used her mean words with Ms. Brenda, she replied, "I DON’T WANT TO TAKE A NAP!!!!!" and burst into tears and screaming and threw herself on the floor. (Exhibit A in support of the case for napping.) All attempts to discuss the issue were pointless, as she had clearly fallen off the ledge of the no-nap tantrum zone. She wailed her way out of the day care, into the car, and all the way home.

Once she was calmed down at home, we had the punishment talk. As a consequence for her actions, she lost her after-dinner dessert, her playtime before bed, and the storytime before bed. This realization caused her to wail again, but when she had calmed down I explained that the consequences of not taking a nap meant she was extra tired at night and had to go to sleep right after dinner. She was not happy, but after about 30 seconds of whining in her bed, she fell asleep at 6 pm.

We will see what happened today at day care. Hopefully, she took a nap and we can go back to rewarding. It has occurred to me while writing this post that the question can be answered without using "or," that the two options are not mutually exclusive. It may be that rewarding and punishing is the appropriate response to this situation. Well, that just shows me that the next time I have a problem, I should just write out the issue and it will resolve itself. Of course, resolving my daughter’s behavior may be much more difficult.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Adventures on Water Street

It all began with a trip past the Sears Block on the Water Street side. I haven't been by the fence since they painted it black, so I was a little shocked to see some additional painting being done on it. The artwork has now been replaced with various bastardized sayings in bright, 15 foot lettering. As I drove by, I read, "THEY HAD A DREAM," "WALLS TALK," and "PLAY IT AGAIN, PEORIA."


Perhaps the words not currently on the fence will explain it all to me, but right now, it seems like (yet another) misguided marketing attempt. Who had a dream? I think most Peorians now see the Sears Block situation as more of a nightmare than a dream. Or maybe they mean, "It was all a dream . . . " like on Days of our Lives. But again, more of a nightmare. Maybe it was supposed to invoke Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous speech. But is this really the appropriate place? I'm sure they mean to be inspiring and whatnot, but it's really just sad.

The WALLS TALK one made me laugh. If these walls could talk . . . . I don't think Lakeview or Cat wants people to go there either. Imagine what these walls would say if they could talk! Right now, all these black walls are saying is "FAILURE" no matter how many happy words are painted on them.

The funniest to me was PLAY IT AGAIN PEORIA. Play what again? It kinda sounds like begging. Come on, Peoria, believe in us again! Nevermind the crap you've seen and heard for the last five years. Nevermind the men behind the curtain. Nevermind the millions of dollars coming out of your pockets. Come on . . . come play with us!

I'm sure the people who deserve credit for these little tidbits are the same people who came up with the suggested names for the museum. Well done!

While still shaking my head over the black fence, I was attempting to go to the downtown post office and was stopped by a TRAIN immediately before turning into the post office. Shocked by the lack of crossing protection between the train and my car, it took me a minute to realize the really amazing thing about this train. It was the cleanest train I have ever seen in my life. The engines were shiny and polished, gleaming black, red, and gold. The cars were sparkly silver - no graffiti or rust spots anywhere. I don't even think a bird had pooped on these train cars.

Every single car was identical - all silver, all carrying massive piles of coal. All so clean, it made my eyes hurt. After watching in a trance for a few minutes, I also realized this was possibly the longest train ever. It took five minutes to clear the intersection and it was going at a pretty fast clip. (I'm sure there is a story problem in there somewhere . . . if a train is travelling at x miles per hour and takes five minutes to clear a crossing, how many cars are in the train?) I had to look down at one point because I thought I was going to throw up from watching the cars go by.

Anyway, I finally got to the post office and was surprised by a kind postal worker asking me to try out their new automated system. So, I did. It is pretty nifty, really, and I managed to mail a package to my nephew, a letter to my dad, and get a book of stamps all by myself with only three debit transactions (you must pay piece by piece, not all at once). But leave it to the post office to make an automated machine, which is supposed to simplify things, more complicated than the actual transaction would have been at the teller window.

First of all, there are too many words and choices. I consider myself an intelligent person and I found the number of choices overwhelming. Every screen is full with words and explanations. I skimmed most of it by reading only the first three words of every sentence and assumed I was pushing the right buttons. Plus, I had the post office lady standing right there telling me when I could ignore a certain screen.

Can you imagine what is going to happen when some old lady tries to use this thing? Or someone that insists on reading all of the directions before making a choice? Yikes. As if it were possible, the lines are going to be even longer at the post office. The good thing is it will be available 24 hours a day, unless of course you want to mail something bigger than the dropbox hole, or purchase special kinds of stamps, or do anything else complicated.

I'm now happy to be back in my office wondering why I ever try to run errands during my lunch hour.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

My First “You’re FIRED!”

For the first time in my life, I fired someone. I fired my house cleaning service and it was hard. In fact, it took me about a year to lower the axe.

I hired a cleaning service two years ago when it became abundantly clear that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the cleaning, my job, my social life, and add a child to the mix. Out of those things, I decided to give the cleaning job to someone else. The first year went well - the house was clean, they were reliable, and I was happy. Then the "team" of cleaners cleaning my house changed. And the house wasn’t exactly clean when I came home.

I made several attempts to correct the problems, notifying the company and asking for it to be fixed. And it would be fixed, for the next visit or two. Then it would go downhill again, and I would have to call and complain again. Over and over again.

Cleaning my house is not that difficult, if you like cleaning or if you are paid to clean. I really have just four requirements for a clean house:

(1) All dog and cat hair must be removed from all surfaces, including the rugs. This is the hardest part, really, because the amount of pet hair in my house is insane. But, this is why I pay someone else to do it.

(2) All floors must be clean. I know this sounds easy, but apparently it is not. Every time the service cleaned, I would come home and wipe a wet paper towel in various places on the floor. If it was still dirty (and it often was), I would call and complain. Seriously, people. I have babies - they spend a good portion of their time on the floor.

(3) Bathrooms must be clean, but especially toilets. To me, there is nothing grosser than a dirty toilet. And, again, we spend a lot of time on the floor, even in the bathroom. Although a toilet might look clean from above, it is not clean if you can see the black gunk around the rim when you are eye to eye with it. Shudder.

(4) All cobwebs must be removed from ceiling and light fixtures. I can’t stand cobwebs, probably because they remind me of spiders. How hard is it to clean cobwebs? Hard, apparently, as the same cobwebs would be present the morning before the clean, and the evening after the "clean." I have the proof. I took pictures.

That’s all I ask, aside from a general cleaning of the remainder of the house. I don’t expect them to make our beds (hell, I never make our beds) but they did it every time. I don’t expect them to take out the trash, although they always did. But then they would replace my trash bags with flimsy trash bags and, believe me, we are a family that needs HEFTY HEFTY HEFTY trash bags. I never asked them to clean my windows or the basement or the refrigerator or the oven. I never asked them to wash dishes or laundry (although my brother’s house cleaner does their laundry.) And it's a small house, relatively.

So, two weeks ago, I finally worked up the courage to fire them. What I really wanted to do was write a burning letter detailing all of their faults and failures to correct them and personally hand it over with a Donald Trump-esque "YOU’RE FIRED!" I wrote that letter over and over again in my head.

But, as it turns out, I’m a firing wimp.

Who knew? Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t shy away from confrontation, I thrive on confrontation. It’s what I get paid to do. I’ll tell anybody and their dog what I think of them if the mood strikes me and there is a good reason for it. I once had a two hour bitch-fest at the DMV because they were trying to charge me late fees for not paying my registration on time. (Admittedly, I lost that one. I mean, I had failed to pay my registration for a year. Oops. I was busy, what can I say?)

But firing a personal service company for poor service? I guess I’m just a timid little barn mouse. I couldn’t write the letter. Instead, I wrote a note that said, "Dear _______, Your services are no longer required. Please slide the key through the mail slot when you are done today." How embarrassing.

However, it didn’t really occur to me until after I fired them that . . . holy shit . . . if they aren’t going to do the cleaning . . . who is? Damn. I haven’t cleaned my house for two years. I’m not even sure I know how to anymore and I’m damn sure I still don’t have the time to clean.

Finding a new service was not easy. I don’t like strangers in my home and I really wanted to be able to trust a new house cleaner. So, after about 30 phone calls and emails, I finally found one. She is a friend of a friend and hopefully reliable. I informed her of my four criteria for a clean home. She seemed to agree. I told her some of the special rules of my house - toilet seats always down because the dog drinks the water and then pees all over; toilet paper hidden because the cat eats it; and leave the books in my bed alone - I’m reading them. Yes, all of them. Yes, all of them at the same time.

Gawd, I hope I don’t have to fire anyone else for a long time. It’s exhausting.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Standoff is Over

My cousin S and I have not spoken for a little more than a year. In some families, it may be normal to not talk to your cousins for that long. However, that is not so in my family. I only have six cousins, all of them are younger than I am. We are a pretty tight knit group, for the most part, but I have always been particularly close with S. She is the next oldest cousin after me and we grew up as almost sisters. She is three years younger than I am and only a year older than my brother.

As almost-sisters, we've had our share of ups and downs. During one whole-family visit at my grandparents' house when we were both under 10 years old, she accused me of stealing her blankie and retaliated by cutting off all of my Barbie doll's hair. When we were teenagers, she borrowed a book of mine and refused to mail it back to me. As it turned out, she refused to mail it back because she had lost it. Our relationship mirrored the relationship of our mothers, who are sisters, my mother is the oldest and her mother is the youngest.

But when I entered college, we became much closer, often spending many of our vacations together, despite the fact that I lived in the Midwest and she lived on the West Coast. We talked on the phone at least once a week. We jointly planned her wedding and I was her maid of honor. We talked about me moving to her city after law school and getting a job. That plan didn't really work out and things have been a little cooler between us since then.

Then, when my kids entered the picture, things really cooled off. S has always been jealous of some parts of my life she perceives as being "better" than her own. She often makes side comments about me making more money than her, which may be true now but has not always been true. She believes that the family looks down on her because she hasn't graduated from college and I have undergraduate and graduate degrees. (This may be true of our grandfather, but certainly no one else in the family.) But the kids were really the last straw, I think. She would really like to have kids but her husband always maintains it's not the right time. For this reason, I also think she envies my singlehood because I can make decisions without consulting a partner.

Jealousy cuts both ways. She may be envious of my higher paying job, but I am envious of her casual job which allows her flexible work days, casual work clothes, the ability to bring her dog to work, and working full time with her mother. She may be jealous of my education, but I am jealous of her lack of student loan payments. She may be envious of my children, but I am envious of her freedom from constant responsibility and her ability to leave her "child" (her dog) at home by himself.

Anyway, the current standoff started last year when our whole family gathered in the Pacific Northwest for my aunt's 60th birthday party. This event culminated in the infamous Dinner Party in the Woods fiasco. I won't rehash that disaster here, but it ended with me leaving the party early with my brother and his family. We were the only people who had young children and it was unbelievably inconvenient to be in the woods with them.

In prior family gatherings, S and I always make time to spend with each other, even if it is just a day together alone. We have often included our other female cousins, K and G, and the four of us have a great girls day. Well, it didn't really work out for me during that trip. We were only there for a few days and my parents really wanted to spend time with their grandchildren. So, I invited S, K, and G to come to our hotel and spend time with us, but they declined. They did something on their own.

I knew S was pissed at me the moment they decided to do something without me. I know her well enough to know she thought I was snubbing her. But I hoped she would understand how hard it is to juggle a six-month old who is off his schedule because he's in a different time zone, parents (who paid for the trip) wanting to spend time with me and my son, a nephew who I rarely get to see, a grandfather who was almost 89 and not in the best of health, an aunt (who is also my godmother) turning 60, an uncle who is dying of brain cancer, and more than 10 other relatives who want to see me. And fit all of that socializing into a four day visit.

Well, she didn't understand. Our birthdays are five days apart and occur at the end of the summer. Mine is first. I knew she was pissed when she didn't call on my birthday. I also got a clue when she didn't return my call on her birthday. I didn't hear from her at all during the fall and no word at Christmas (although she sent my parents a Christmas card). I knew she was pissed and I knew I would be the one who has to make the first step and apologize.

And I thought about her a lot. I missed her, but my stubbornness and crazy life got in the way of me calling her. After the holidays, I thought.

Then January hit. I added another child to my mix at the beginning of January. My son was hospitalized in February. I was in a terrible car accident in March. I had some horrible screwed up tax issues in April. My dishwasher crashed and burned in May, taking my entire kitchen with it. June wasn't so bad, and that is when I finally was able to get my soul and mind around dealing with my life. Well, life passes quickly, and I was sort of caught up in having a good time without the drama of the past 6 months. I just couldn't bring myself to face the drama of S.

Last night at 9:49 pm, my phone rang. The caller ID said it was S. When I answered it she said:

S: Look, I know we haven't spoken for a long time and . . . whatever . . . but I just got off the phone with G and she told me what happened with the car accident and every thing and I just wanted you to know I was sorry you were going through that.

Me: Well . . . thanks.

S: I just feel really bad that you were going through that and I didn't even know about it. There used to be a time when you told me everything that happened to you and now something like this happens and you don't even tell me. I mean, I just found out about tonight when G told me.*

Me: Thanks . . . again. I'm really OK now. It was not something I told everybody and since we hadn't spoken since the birthday party, I wasn't going to start our relationship again with that issue.

And then I asked her why we hadn't spoken for a year, even though I knew. I just wanted her to admit the reason. She did - she admitted she was mad at me for not spending time with her in July of last year. I apologized for my part in the standoff and said I wanted things to change between us because I missed her. I didn't get that much from her. But, at least we're talking again.

Why is only family that can play these games with me? If S were merely a friend, I wouldn't cave so easily, or let her back in so easily, or forgive her for being a selfish shit for the last 12 months.

*Although it is really beside the point, I know this is not true. S's mother, Aunt I, knew about the accident when it happened and I am sure Aunt I told S about it because Aunt I tells everything to everyone. If you want to send a message within my family, tell my Aunt I.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Offensive Balloons

Let me start by saying that I believe anyone should be allowed to march in a parade and express their viewpoints in doing so. However, I object to certain methods used by certain groups for audiences that consist primarily of young children. Specifically, I object to the serious lack of judgment used by the Right to Life group who marched in the West Peoria Fourth of July Parade.

My kids and I were having a wonderful time watching the parade regulars - bands, clowns, politicians, fire engines, etc. I was keeping an eye on the upcoming marchers so I could be ready for a loud or scary one and anticipate my kids' reactions. I noticed the Right to Life group coming our way, which didn't bother me per se because I don't have to agree with them and I can ignore them. Also, my kids aren't old enough to understand what the group stands for and will only see them as another group giving out candy.

And then I saw them. The fetus balloons.

They were handing out balloons with a picture of a fetus on them. To children.

As the group made its way to us, I was struggling. I knew my daughter would notice the balloons and other children getting the balloons and she would want one, desperately. At this point in the parade, no one else had given out balloons. Should I let my kids have the balloons, despite my horror and disgust as to the picture on the balloons and the message it portrays? Should I deprive my children of a small bit joy because of my political beliefs?

The group drew closer and closer. I tried to tell myself, it's just a balloon and they don't understand what the picture is anyway. But I couldn't do it. I watched the parents ahead of me tie the fetus balloons around their kids' arms and strollers. I felt sick to my stomach. It wasn't just the message that bothered me. Perhaps if the balloons had just said, "Right to Life" on them, I would have allowed it.

It was the fetus that really bothered me. I wouldn't let my children carry around a picture of animal being harmed by cosmetics testing, as is often seen in PETA campaigns. I wouldn't let my children carry around a picture of the torture perpetrated at Abu Ghraib or a picture of a starving child dying of AIDS. I wouldn't give them those balloons (assuming someone would be crazy enough to make those balloons) even though I agree with the message some of those groups are sending.

Bottom line - I wouldn't let my children possess anything with a picture of a fetus on it, including balloons. It's just not appropriate for my one and two year olds to be carrying around a balloon with a fetus on it.

As the group came up to us, my daughter said, "Balloons! I want a balloon, Mama!" I said no. Predictably, she said, "But why?" I replied, "Because I don't like what is on those balloons. I don't agree with it." She seemed to accept that and was quickly distracted by the next group of marchers. My son didn't even notice the balloons.

But I remain resentful. Resentful that this group forced me into a possible conversation with my two year old daughter about abortion. As I said above, I do not mind if they want to march in a parade and hand out candy and carry their banners. They have a right to express their opinions, as do I. But they knew what they were doing by bringing balloons. Children love balloons - they are a symbol of young childhood - of joy and celebration. This group knew the effect the balloons would have on children.

They were not just expressing a message. They were forcing a message on parents and children because parents who don't share their beliefs will be forced into making the decision I had to make. And many parents with older children will be forced into a much longer conversation than I had to have. I can imagine that if my daughter were just a year or two older, she would have pursued the issue further, asking why I don't agree with them and what is on the balloons that I don't like and why I don't like it. And I don't believe it is appropriate to have that conversation with a three or four year old either.

Before the right-to-lifers jump all over me for this post, think about it. You wouldn't want me to give your children a balloon that said, "Pro Child, Pro Choice" on it, would you?

Parade Politicking

The kids and I attended the West Peoria Fourth of July Parade last week. It was a great parade and the weather was beautiful. After they got over the eardrum-shattering sirens, they were all about the candy and fancy cars. I was more interested in the parade politicking.

Parades and Politicians always go hand-in-hand, and this parade was no different. Every possible political candidate was represented, if not personally walking in the parade. And they all have their own styles and gimmicks. Most had stickers, fliers, and candy for the kids. But some went a step further.

Joan Krupa gave out tiny bottles of bubbles, which was a good idea in theory but she should have tried to open one and get the bubble wand out before giving them to actual children. The bottles contained about one fluid ounce of bubbles, most of which poured out as I tried to remove the teeny-tiny bubble wand. They ended up in the trash, which caused much dismay with my children, despite the fact we have gallons of bubbles in the house.

Jehan Gordon gave out stickers and fliers. The stickers were smart, because my two year old slapped that sucker on her shirt within 5 seconds of receiving it. Hey, a sticker's a sticker, man. My complaint with Gordon was that she only personally greeted the senior citizens. She shook hands with the two seniors on my right side, skipped me, and shook hands with the two seniors (my next door neighbors) on my left side. I don't know . . . maybe she figures she has my vote because I am . . . young? A woman? Who knows.

But one politician exceeded the others in parade politicking by far - Darin LaHood. Of course, it must be in his blood or ingrained in his skin. But he got his name out there better than any other politician I have ever seen in a parade. The first smart thing he did was have his people come around before the parade started with plastic bags for the kids to put candy in. So, by the time any other politician got to us (particularly Lyons), we were already decked in Darin LaHood decoration.

Second, he also gave out stickers, which were promptly stuck under the Gordon sticker on my daughter's shirt. Third, he gave out balloons, which may have been more exciting than candy or stickers to my kids. (More about the balloons later.)

But the best was the Darin LaHood hand sanitizer. I kid you not . . . little bottles of hand sanitizer with a Darin LaHood label on them. It said something like "Let's Clean Up Crime in Peoria." It was ingenious!! I have been talking about that Darin LaHood hand sanitizer for days and showing it to everyone I know. It is going to take a place of prominence on my shelf of odd professional items, right next to my BOP stress ball.

My only complaint about the hand sanitizer was that the LaHood person (not Darin himself) who handed it to me said, "Candy for the kids, hand sanitizer for the moms." I hate that stuff. Why not say, "Hand sanitizer for the grown-ups" or the "parents"? Why are mothers always assumed to be more interested in their child's health or cleanliness than fathers? It reminds me of one of my least favorite slogans, "Choosy Moms Choose Jif." As if dads don't give a shit what their kids eat. Or if they're clean.

Anyway, is that bottle of hand sanitizer going to make me vote for LaHood? Well, no. Things like that make good conversation pieces, but won't influence my vote.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Pedicure a la Two Year Old

She's not that bad, considering her age and attention span. Sadly, they don't look much better when I paint them myself.

I also did her toes and we argued about whether either one of us would have her fingernails painted. She wanted her fingernails painted but I said no for two reasons. First, I can't stand little girls with fingernail polish chipping off their fingers. It makes them look older than they are. Second, she chews on her fingernails and I am using it as a reason to get her to stop (We can't paint your fingernails until you stop putting your fingers in your mouth!)

Then she wanted to paint my finger nails. No, for two reasons. First, it never lasts - even when a pro does it. Second, it is not professional for me to have pink fingernails. I just don't project the image of asskicker with pink fingernails.