Wide Open Spaces…That We Never Saw – The Week in Review

Days off from school either fill parents with dread (“Now what am I supposed to do with them?!”), joy (“I finally get to spend quality time with my kids!”) or, as in our case, both…

8am-12pm – Yay!
12-4pm – Is it bedtime yet?

Last Friday was an exception. We jumped on the tollway and headed to the Morton Arboretum to check out the Lego exhibit. We’re Arboretum Amateurs, which means from the 1700 acres available to explore, we covered approximately 1. Our kids refused to leave the Children’s Garden, specifically any feature that involved getting soaking wet. There are only so many times you can say, “please stop hollering and hopping across the rocks like frogs on crack,” before your kids land firmly in the muck.

Poor Olivia suffered not 1, but 2 falls, including a face-plant off the side of a tree house. Fortunately, a kind dad was there to dust her off and make sure she was OK as I sprinted across the playlot.

No wait – that’s what should have happened. What actually happened was Olivia landed at the feet of a clueless dad who looked down at the bleeding, crying 4-year-old, shrugged, then went back to his iPhone 6. Tamping down my impulse to slap him till he bled, I scooped Olivia up, shot him a dirty glare, and resolved to enjoy the rest of the 3-day weekend.

Other highlights included:

Midnight Circus
If you’ve ever wanted to run away and join the circus, this would be the one. Yes, the tent was hot. Yes, our kids begged for popcorn to which these 1st and 2nd-gen FOB parents said, “No. You have food at home. Now watch the show.” And yes, Nick brought a book to read. But the show was fantastic, Nick eventually looked up from his latest SF novel, and the performers were incredibly gracious as they signed sweat-stained programs.

Paper Planes
A friend recommended this film. Good, clean family entertainment…in other words, not what I was expecting from the country who gave us Animal Kingdom and The Babadook. The movie wears its heart on its sleeve, which our cynical American kids were not expecting since they kept asking when the other Ugg was going to drop. They were eventually won over, nay, inspired, as evidenced by the paper planes covering every inch of our living room, bedrooms, and front yard.
Available on Amazon Video

Monkey Kingdom
The kids may be too young for 30Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, but they can still enjoy the genius that is Tina Fey thanks to our Sunday nature series. Monkeys may look cute from afar, but up close they are petty and vicious. (I do wonder whether the Fey’s Mean Girls history inspired the choice of narrator because the queens of this monkey pack were straight-up bishes!) Never one to stay silent during a movie – must be related to Lori – Nick offered non-stop commentary, punctuating everything with, “because that’s what I saw on Wild Kratts.”

I’m neither a fashionista nor a Noo Yawker, so I thought Carrie Donovan and Iris Apfel were the same person. This fascinating documentary not only set me straight, but also made me much more tolerant of Olivia’s AM clothing choices. (I am nevertheless counting the days until she can wear the school uniform.)

In my spare time (ha!), I read Richard Wiseman’s The Luck Factor and Night School – breezy, informative, research-informed books on a good life and a good sleep, respectively. On the nightstand this week are Emotional Intelligence and Radical Acceptance, or is it Emotional Acceptance and Radical Intelligence?

Either way, I need them all.


Seeing is Believing

“His hat looks like a – ”

The gentleman seated behind us used the “p” word, one with which we were very familiar since we do have 2 boys and are using anatomically accurate language so they are 100% comfortable with 100% of their body.


I had not expected to hear it at a Cirque du Soleil show, even if it was 100% accurate. If the kids noticed the language, they gave no indication, too busy fighting over the bag of popcorn that we passed and spilled back and forth down the row.

“Oh my God! No way! No way! Did you see the flip?! How is that even possible?! At the last show…”

I harrumphed in my seat, well aware of the rising tide of exhaustion and annoyance. After a full day of conference calls and last-minute deadlines, we had picked the kids up directly from school, hightailed it down to United Center, plied them with low-mess snacks which they nevertheless managed to spill all over the car, then side-stepped puddles in torrential rain to arrive at the Big Top cold, shivering and wet…which would have been fine had we not been seated in front of the cooling system.

And now, I had to endure the non-stop MST3000 commentary from No-Filter Man.

“Wait, are they fish? Look at that! They’re waving their tails like fish! That’s hilarious!”

I could turn around. I could give him the Disapproving Stink Eye that my kids, unfortunately, know all too well. Or I could-

“Olivia! Stop cramming all of the popcorn into your mouth! That’s disgusting!”

Nick yanked the bag from his sister’s grasp, spilling most of the contents into the aisle. “Now look what you made me do!”

“It’s not A Gusting, Nick. You’re A Gusting!”

“That’s not even a word,” Nick retorted, then bent into the aisle, cupping his hand.

“What are you doing,” I hissed.

He shrugged. “Five-second rule.” The d’uh was implied.

Gabe popped his fingers out of his mouth long enough to complain, “Great! Now there’s no popcorn for me!”

“Gabe, quiet! Nick, you are NOT eating food from the floor.”

“Yeah, A Gusting,” Olivia chimed in.

“Still not a word,” Nick muttered.

“We are here to watch the circus and have fun,” I snapped, and that’s when I saw it. The harrumph from the row in front of us, the sideway glance, the smug shake of the head.


What do you know, Mr-Hipster-Hat-Who’s-Blocking-My-Kid’s-View? Just wait until you have kids and try to give them some cultural enrichment! You have no idea what we’re going through back here! If you could just step out of your Portlandia Paradise for one minute and stop judging us –

I froze.
Then blinked.
Or rather I tried.
But the beam in my eye wouldn’t let me.

Breathe. Accept. Release.

No-Filter Man resumed his commentary, or maybe he’d never stopped and I just hadn’t noticed. But now I heard his joy, the immediacy of his wonder. And now, I could hear the murmured assent from his companion. I sneaked a glance at the couple – his eyes wide with excitement, her head content on his shoulder, their hands intertwined.

“They must practice at least 5 hours a day. Maybe more.”
“Mmm Hmm.”

Nick still tried to convince me that not all of the popcorn was dirty. Olivia still complained about her sight lines. And Gabe still mewed about not having enough to eat.

“”Mmm Hmm,” I replied to each.  “At intermission, we’ll get a new bag of popcorn and split it into 3.”

The I smiled, leaned back, and finally enjoyed The Show.


Random Thoughts from Last Weekend

Family Movie Night
Our neighbor gave us the idea for Friday Family Movie Night. It’s been a challenge finding movies that are multi-age appropriate, interesting to adults, and don’t contain objectionable content. Fortunately, our friend stumbled upon Popovich and the Fable of the American West.

“World-renowned circus performer, Gregory Popovich, and his talented group of former shelter animals come together to create the greatest circus performance on Earth!”
90 minutes of good, clean, hero’s journey fun.
Available on Amazon Instant Video

Nature Sundays
A new thing we started to give the kids screen time that is educational and entertaining. As creative marketing folks, of course we’ve branded it. This also makes it much easier to choose movies and puts some guardrails up on the kids’ choices.

IMAX Born to Be Wild
Perfect for a wind-down on Sunday.
“This heartwarming film documents orphaned orangutans and elephants and the extraordinary people who rescue and raise them-saving endangered species one life at a time.”
Held the attention of a 4, 5 and 9 year old.
41 minutes
Available on Amazon Instant Video

Live Experience
Marvel Live
Another family movie, or…a live re-enactment of a movie? We decided on the latter. Enter Marvel Live.

2 hours with a 15-minute intermission. All the biggies are present – Spider Man, Hulk, IronMan, Thor, Black Widow. There were probably some other superheroes, but they were onstage during my 20-minute power nap, so I missed them. Nevertheless, the kids had a blast. And yes, we caved and bought each a memento (ray gun, giant lollipop, Hulk stuffed animal).

We’re on a live theatre kick this year in an effort to round out their media consumption and to introduce them to as many new experiences as possible.

Family Meeting
We’re in the process of tweaking our weekly meeting format. It currently runs 20 minutes, but feels like 3 hours. Part of the issue has been people talking over each other, so Nick introduced “the talking ball” which is his Magic 8 Ball (“Will this meeting ever end?” “Outlook not so good.”). In addition to each person having time to say whatever is on his or her mind, we have also added the following quick-response questions for each week:

  • What made you happy?
  • What made you sad/mad?
  • How did you help someone?
  • What did you learn?

We also go around the table and have each person say something they like or admire about the person talking. Nice way to start the school week with an extra confidence boost.


Why I dig being “catholic”

“Is this even a Catholic church?”

I overheard the comment on the way out of mass – our weekly commitment to helping the kids develop a relationship God. I’d like to say that we started going to mass because we were both raised Catholic and inculcating a religious identity is important to us.

But, truth be told, we were both raised by immigrant parents, which means education is a high priority. So when Nick started coming home with not-so-smiley faces on his 1st grade religion worksheets, these less-than-an-A-is-an-F parents knew we had a serious problem.

Thanks goodness my mom found us a church. We weren’t strangers to the parish – after all, our 3 children had all been baptized there – but we weren’t active parishioners either given Rome’s less-than-stellar stance on homosexuality. Still, with selective enrollment HS looming ahead, we knew we had to keep the academics in all areas up.

(The Lord works in mysterious ways. And the way He got us through the door was through our over-achieving egos.)

Small c.
Definition: including a wide variety of things; all-embracing.

The older gentleman exiting the church was talking, so I’m not sure if he meant capital C or small C.

To me, they are the same.

When I look around the church, I marvel at the rich expression of the Divine in this life…

The extra room the choir makes for the Gundam-sized chair of one of its members…

The tireless sign language interpreter who models responses the rest of the congregation adopts as their own…

The bilingual song selections the choir director breaks down phonetically for those whose Spanish mainly consists of “taco”, “salsa” and “Corona”…

The patient, step-by-step training of Down’s Syndrome parishioners so they can be altar servers or Eucharistic ministers…

The interfaith outreach that encourages us to dive deep into all religions – not just own own…

The thoughtful – and sometimes uncomfortable – homilies on social justice – immigration, labor law, gay rights…the list goes on and on – and so do some of the priests! – that call for us to express our faith, not just profess it…

And when we join hands for the Our Father, we embrace squirming children and marginal homeless alike, followed by a Sign of Peace that erupts into a full-on Love-In as friends and acquaintances cross the aisles to deliver handshakes, hugs, and hearty slaps on the back.

It is a place where this “non-traditional” family of 5 can sit in the front row with nary an eyebrow raised.

“Is this even a Catholic church?”

As God is my witness, it is.


Teach Your Children Well


“Nick, did you finish writing your spelling words?”

I knew the answer before I even asked. Studying was his least favorite activity, but our deal had been that he would knock his words out before he played with his friends, which is why we were parked across this street from one of his favorite afterschool hangouts – the neighborhood park.

After an exasperated sigh and much bumping and shuffling in the backseat – followed, of course, by more loud sighing – he wrote the 20 words on a sheet of paper, saying each letter as he wrote.

“Measurement. M-E-A-S…”

Across the street I spotted his buddy, Mason, running after an older boy on a bike. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but from Mason’s facial contortions and the other boy’s frequent looks over his shoulder, the conversation was not going well.

“Hey, Nick, are you almost finished?“

Before the end of the block, Mason grabbed the handlebar, wrenching the bike away and the boys fell into a tangle of gawky arms and limbs as they scrabbled to stand up again. Unbeknownst to me, Nick had also been watching the melee and had flung the door open, dashing across the street before I could even finish saying, “look both ways!”

Nick wedged himself between the boys, shielding Mason’s splayed body as he looked up at the other, the boy’s arm raised in a mighty fist. Instinctively, he covered his face with his forearms – no doubt remembering my edict – always protect your teeth and glasses – his body braced for inevitable impact.

I sprang from the car, calculating the fist’s trajectory. My first thought – I’m not going to get there fast enough – followed quickly by my second – Don’t turn the other cheek! Defend yourself. Ugh! Why did we send you to Catholic school?!?!

In the time it took me to yell, ‘STOP” and sprint across the street, I was stunned to see the steady stream of train commuters part around the overturned bike, then reconverge just past the Nick and Mason. They were an agile lot – some high stepping it to avoid poo patties on the parkway, others doing parkour variations to balance themselves between the sidewalk and the wrought iron fence at its edge.

Not one stopped to intervene.
Not one.

“Stop.” I said again when I finally reached them, my tone soft, but still firm as I placed one hand lightly on the older boy’s shoulder, the other cupping his fist. I saw the struggle in the boy’s face – how satisfying would it be to land this punch on Nick…or maybe redirect towards me. So long teeth and glasses!

“Let’s take a deep breath together – you and me. OK?”


No eye contact, but the tension slowly melted from his body.


Eyes cast down, he dropped one hand to his side.


He stepped back, dropping both hands and finally looked at me.

“There we go. Thank you. OK, so do you want to tell me what happened?”

Mason grabbed his bike from the ground, spitting his words. “Yeah! I’ll tell you. He wouldn’t get off the bike when I told him to!”

“But his brother said I would ride the bike to the corner!”

“But it’s MY BIKE!!!!”

“Mason, I understand that you feel angry and – “ Mason stormed off on his bike, letting out a string of expletives that I’m sure would earn his mouth a good soap scrubbing if his parents had been present.

“Mason, wait!” Nick trailed after him.

“It’s not fair! His brother said I could ride it! Man, this just sucks!”

The two of us were still parting the Red Sea of Commuters, some of whom glanced up from their phones, most of whom walked past with nary a look.

“I understand that this is a little confusing, but it’s not his brother’s bike. It’s his bike. And I know you heard him telling you to get off.” He broke eye contact, shrugging as he idly kicked dirt onto the sidewalk. I debated with myself – do I give him a crash course in first-year property law? Nah…this isn’t that type of teaching moment.

Instead, I looked up into his eyes – because yes, this boy had at least an inch on me – what are they feeding kids these days?!   “I didn’t get a chance to introduce myself. I’m Nadine.” I stretched my hand out.

“Taylor,” he supplied, shaking my hand.

“Is Mason one of your buddies at the park? Do you guys play together?”

“Yeah, I guess. Sometimes,” he said grudgingly.

“So, since you’re buds, you’re gonna have disagreements but then get along again, right?”

“I dunno,” he mumbled, looking over his shoulder at a group of tween girls down the block.

“Do you want to come back to the park?”

He looked over his shoulder again. One of the girls waved. “Nah, I’m gonna hang with them for a little.”

Twenty minutes later, the three boys were together again at the park playing touch football. Mason was high-fiving Taylor. Nick was yelling “good catch” across the field.

Apparently all was right in Testosteronia.

Boys will be boys. I get that. Maybe if I hadn’t intervened, they would have worked it out themselves.

Or not.

But as an adult, I cannot stand idly by and watch two kids pummel each other. I cannot let that be my message to them.

It’s OK to solve conflict with more conflict.
It’s OK to stand by as it escalates.

We are the village.
We are its teachers.
Every child is our child.
And they are counting on us.

How can we let them down?


It’s a Bling Spring Thing

Gabe's Personal Motto

“It’s so hot!”

My 5-year-old, Gabe flopped into the back row of our minivan, arms splayed dramatically across his car seat.

“Whew! I need to cool down!!” He stripped off his dark blue DINOSAURS RULE t-shirt to reveal the fuchsia t-shirt he had chosen that morning. His deliberations had almost cost us an on-time arrival to school, since he’d had tangerine, lime, and sky blue to choose from as well.

After stretching every inch of his lanky torso, he smiled gloriously until he caught a look of himself in the reviewer mirror. In an instant, he collapsed, shrinking into himself.


“Gabe, what’s wrong, buddy?” I was accustomed to the whiplash mood changes that characterized the preschool set, but this was out of character…even for him.

“Jasmine said I looked weird because I had pink on.”

“Well you tell that little b-“

Wait! Was I really about to say that to a 5 year old…about another 5 year old? Nana Bear needs to chill out. Just take a deep breath and be the equanimous parent – not the Equalizer.

“How did that make you feel?”

“Sad,” he sniffed. “It hurt my feelings.”

“Well, Gabe,” Nick shrugged with the all-knowing, world-weariness that characterized the 3rd grade set, “maybe you shouldn’t wear pink to school.”

Parenting fail #574. Who was this kid? Hadn’t we instilled in him unwavering acceptance of anyone who fell a little outside the norm since this was the place he regularly lived?! Had he not worn all manner of clothing on out-of-uniform days with nary a concern for what others thought of him?

There was the 1st grade dashiki shirt and matching pants courtesy his globetrotting aunt, the 2nd grade Hello Kitty shirt he’d worn until its $5 Target stitching fell apart after daily washings, and – his most recent obsession – the bright yellow rainboots that he wore…with shorts.

What happened to the independent thinker who was simultaneously inspiring and impossible? Ignoring Nick’s detour into conformity, I zeroed in on Gabe.

“What did Miss Yeltzer say?”

“Um, she asked Jasmine how she would feel if someone told her she looked weird.”

“And what did she say?”

“She said it would make her sad. And maybe mad after that. Really mad.”

Yes, that described Jasmine perfectly. If there was going to be a future leader of the Queen Bee Society, this kid was it.

Fortunately, Gabe found the Spider Man stickers plastered on the window remarkably fascinating, which gave me a moment to collect my thought.

Do I advocate being:

Revengeful – where he tells Jasmine to find a brush before she comes to school and actually use it?

Resourceful – where he explains that “pink” isn’t really a color, since it doesn’t appear on the electromagnetic spectrum so perhaps she is hallucinating?

Resolute – where he simply states that she’s entitled to her opinion and it isn’t his job to change it?

Or do I just play Free to Be You and Me and call it a day?

I opted for Reflective.

“How does wearing the shirt make you feel?”

“I like it.”

“I like it too!” Oh! Hello, Olivia. You’re in the car as well, aren’t you? I knew that…really, I did.

“Thank you, Olivia. Why do you like it, Gabe?”

“Because it’s bright and it make me feel happy.”

Olivia, our budding chanteuse, took this as her cue to launch into the pitch-talk, up-to-11, 3-year-old version of “Happy.”

Because I’m happy, clap along if you feel like a room without a tooth
Because I’m happy, clap along if you feel like happiness is a fruit.
Happy. Happy. Happy. Happy. Happy. Happy. Happy. Happy (repeat and don’t fade…ever.)

“So Gabe,” I shouted over Olivia’s record-skip singing, “that’s all that matters. Do you think you look good?”

“I think I look FABULOUS!”

I see we’re back to arms-flung-over-the-head voguing. It’s good to have you back, Gabe. We air high-fived, Nick gave a restrained thumbs-up, and Olivia – finally – took a break from her Pharrell homage to agree.

“Hey!” Her eyes got that Norma-Desmond-ready-for-my-closeup look that defined her AHA moments. “WE BOTH LIKE PINK!”

Why are my children so dramatic?

“And that is perfectly OK,” I underscored. “Some people are going to make fun of you for how you look, maybe even who you are.” I flashed back to my own grade school experiences – the dark face in a sea of white, the daily teasing, the constant trips made by parents made to the principal’s office, the weekly lectures from teachers about tolerance, inclusion and Jesus’ teachings…this was Catholic school after all. But that was my baggage to carry, not theirs. They’d be footloose and fancy free for as long as I could protect them.

“You are special. You are strong and no one is ever going to take that away from you.”

OK…skating a little to close to Stuart Smalley and The Help, but it’s the best I’ve got.

“Can I get an Amen!?”

A whoop of Amen’s filled the car, and I patted myself on the back for another self-esteem crisis averted.

“Tomorrow I’m going to wear my sparkle blue headband and sparkle blue nail polish!”

“And you’re gonna look great, sweetie.” I met his smile in the mirror, both of us grinning like fools. “Right, Nick,” I prodded.

He shook his head, laughing to himself before reaching back to grab Gabe’s foot affectionately. “Yeah, that’ll look awesome, buddy.”

“And I’m going to wear my headband, too!” Cue Sunset Boulevard flared nostrils in 3…2…1-


No, Olivia. Not actually twins. That was a concept we’d have to work on. But what she did know – what they all did – was that we stood up for each other.

And no one – and nothing – was ever going to change that.