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February makes me think of two things: Valentine’s Day and chocolate. I’m pretty sure one could make the argument that they’re synonyms. This is the season for love expressed via cards and candy, and maybe a dozen roses.

OK, I lied. It’s also the season for public declarations of devotion. Think Romeo and Juliet, on steroids, and for the masses. Basically, February combines the commercial concept of “The Bachelor” with the retail romance of “Say Yes to the Dress.”

But this is 2016, which means the bachelor may be looking for another bachelor, which is fine, and anyone can lay claim to being the bride, which is fine, and it’s nobody’s business whether the person wearing the gown stands up or sits down when using the toilet, which is also fine.

None of that is shocking. What’s shocking is that grammarians are in the news. Well, not just grammarians. Also linguists, lexicographers and etymologists. And if you think that’s a lead-in to a joke about them all walking into a bar, well, have I got a gender non-binary Valentine for you.

[Want to finish reading? Hit the link]

http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/highland-park/lifestyles/ct-hpn-sally-higginson-tl-0211-20160203-story.html

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Unknown

Here’s what someone said, somewhere, to someone else: You’re only as happy as your least happy child. Talk about a buzz kill. I don’t care how motivated and crazed a parent might be, or how loving and smothering: sometimes it’s impossible to extract light and joy from our beloved offspring. Not to flaunt my depth of knowledge about adolescent behavior, but I happen to know that sometime between middle school and college, the cheerful part of a teenager’s DNA shrivels and sulks. It takes time for the happy gene to grow-up, apologize, and come sit at the table like an adult.

Rather than admit defeat, I say change the battle. At least, that’s what I determined after experiencing the following epiphany: You’re only as happy as your least functional appliance. Put another way, I thought everything was fine until my dishwasher died. Unloading still-dirty dishes, however, underscored how powerless I was in the face of appliance adversity. I was distraught, and that’s an understatement.

[to read more, click the link below]

http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/highland-park/lifestyles/ct-hpn-sally-higginson-tl-0128-20160120-column.html

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Felix Baumgartner takes a leap from space.

Here’s what I know from walking into a preschool class eighteen years ago with my first child. Every class has a Felix Baumgartner in it, and I don’t want my kids being friends with him. Or her. Or anyone who thinks it’s fun to jump because there’s a bridge, or climb because there’s an Everest, or dare because he’s a devil.

I’m talking to you, Felix Baumgartner, Mr. Risk-Your-Life-Jumping-Out-Of-A-Space-Capsule-For-Fun. Think about your mother, for goodness sakes.

Does this ring a bell? “It’s those friends of his. They’re a bad influence.” Every mother alive has blamed the first and second and sometimes third round of bad behavior on the company her kid keeps. Peer pressure is the scapegoat of every parent caught hand wringing in despair as she wonders why her child made bad choices.

So imagine if your kid hung out with Felix. Every night at the table would be the same old same old. “I don’t care if he jumped from a space capsule. I said NO.” Or, “I don’t care if he fell at Mach 1. NO.” Or even, in utter despair, “No, you may not jump from three atmospheres. Not today. Not tomorrow. Never. Understood? Now go finish your homework.”

Felix had to be tough at home, tough at school, and just plain tough. Maybe if he’d been in middle school now, he’d have been medicated out of his tendency to push the boundaries of fear and sanity. I’m not necessarily promoting the possible merits of medicating our youth, but perhaps on the right cocktail he would have been happy just bungy jumping or ice climbing or heli-skiing, like more typical thrill seekers.

The dinner conversation would still be the same, though on a smaller magnitude. “I don’t care if it’s a one-time-only opportunity to squirrel-fly from the Eiffel Tower. Not while there’s breath in my body.”

As far as I’m concerned, the fear-buzz Felix experienced before plunging toward earth could only be a fraction of what his mother felt. And I’m guessing she doesn’t enjoy the buzz from the emotional intensity of life-threatening activity the way her son does.

Sometimes it sucks to be the mother.

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Talismans of Youth: A scooter, stilts and a pogo stick.

I was minding my own business, hoisting the bottom half of  a couch out of our garage  in preparation for the AmVets truck pick-up, when Tim suggested that we give away a few other things. I nodded approval, because my idea of a good time includes getting rid of everything, and my idea of a great time is sweeping out a newly emptied garage.

Tim carried out a couple of brass floor grates, a rusted wrought-iron table, and my heart.

He didn’t actually hold my heart, of course. What he held was a set of stilts, a scooter, and a pogo stick. These were our younger daughter’s favorite toys, symbols of a childhood spent in constant motion: balancing, careening, and bouncing.

Twelve years of soccer, six Varsity letters, and one Alaskan NOLS expedition later, she’s still a force of nature. But as she grew up, I grew accustomed to her adult pursuits, running and biking and exploring her way through life.

One glance at these Talismans of her younger self reduced me to a nostalgic mess. That’s what parenting is, I guess. A series of matter-of-fact rituals occasionally interrupted by moments of overwhelming emotion.

My husband took one look at me at chalked it up to menopause.

But it was more than hormones gone awry in my sleep-deprived middle-aged body. Two days earlier, I’d spent the night in the hospital, keeping my eighty-year-old father company in the ICU  following his hip replacement surgery. A life-long athlete at the national and even international level, my father’s hips and knees and ankles are now failing him, taunting him later in life after having served him so well.

That night in the hospital, from the discomfort of my not-fully-reclinable Lazy-Boy bed, I found myself looking not at my father, pale from his surgery, but at his electronic monitor. Those brightly colored zig-zagging lines and beeping numbers offered more reassurance to me than the faint snores and coughs coming from his bed.

I thought about the heart-stopping fear I used to feel, watching my daughter climb and jump and race through life, missing corners and edges and danger by the narrowest of margins. And I thought about the heart-stopping fear I felt now, worrying that my father’s heart would, in fact, stop.

That’s what being a daughter  is, I guess. A lifetime of counting on the presence of a parent, interrupted by the overwhelming emotion of acknowledging the inevitable.

Nope. I reject that. Dad’s going to be fine. He’ll move from the hospital to rehab to home. He’ll swap the hospital bed for a walker, the walker for a cane, and then even the cane will be gone.

That’s what being an optimist is about. The stubborn belief that moving forward is always good.

I let the guys from AmVets take the stilts and the scooter and the pogo stick. But not before I snapped a picture. A gal needs a photo every now and then to remember these little moments. And then I rode my own bike to the hospital to visit my dad, who really is getting better.

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There are lots of ways to host a child’s suitor. I’m trying to figure out which of them suits me.

Usually, the Mason-Dixon Line serves as more than an historical marker for me. I think of it as a contemporary cultural divide: they like Sweet Tea, we like it straight; they favor rocking chairs, we sit on Adirondacks; they eat grits, we grit our teeth.

But every now and then, I recognize the Deep South gets a few things right. Take hospitality. No. Let me be more specific. Consider a gentleman caller.

That’s what’s about to happen at our house. In a few days time, we’ll be playing host to our college-aged daughter’s out-of-town beau. This visit has thrown me into a tizzy.

First of all, there’s the easy stuff, like maniacally getting the house ready so that he sees us in our natural habitat of photo-ready decorating merged with surgical standards of cleanliness and order. That’s a given.

The other first, which was really the first first, is the sleeping arrangements. I’m a thoroughly modern mother, which means that Winchester (not his real name but one I’m rather fond of using when referring to the young suitor) will not be literally locked in the turret room. But he will be quartered in the guest room in the attic, which means two things in our one-hundred and twenty-five year old house. Simply put, he may perish from the heat, and, should he elect to descend from his garret down to the floors reached by the air conditioning, or any other source of comfort, he must use the loudly creaking staircase.  Did I mention that I’m a light sleeper?

But who really cares about all of these sleeping arrangements when what is really important is setting the right tone for welcoming a young suitor to the family?

My brother, who married a girl from the Deep South, tells the story of how welcoming his father-in-law to be was when they first met. Steven describes walking up to the house and seeing George sitting on the porch with a shotgun across his lap. “Son,” George said, “I’d like to know your intentions with my daughter.”

George wasn’t one for idle chitchat.

(more…)

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