Monday, August 26, 2013

And off they went

This year was probably the least emotional school sendoff for me. No bemoaning the solitude of life without my little guys or pitifully worrying whether they were making friends or having fun or missing me...

Nope. Not today.

Today Julie went off to second grade and Johnny started his second year of preschool. Each year has meaning of course, but this wasn't a big milestone year.

So, off they went all shiny and excited. New backpacks and lunch bags. Pony tails and Daddy's hair gel.  Adorably coordinated outfits. A new year. A new beginning. Not a tear was shed. Just a quick hug and kiss, a wave goodbye and one last backward glance. The kids were ecstatic to be back at school, and I was so happy for them.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Our List

Somehow summer is over.
Well...technically three more days until school starts, but we're pretty much done.
This summer was fantastically busy and adventurous---vacationing on both coasts, grilling, camping, marshmallow roasting, boating, biking, swimming, golfing, hiking, making new friends, keeping the old, cleaning up after new puppies... Everything summer brings we did it and more.
Why, then do I feel like we're not finished? How could I possibly feel like we missed something or maybe didn't do enough?
Because there's always more to do. That's why.
I was completely determined to end the summer on a superior note. As this last week of precious summer neared, I couldn't  help but reflect on all those afternoons I spent holed in my office, working while the kids entertained themselves. We could have been exploring the city or finding a new hiking trail or trying a new sport, or anything.
Not that the kids were deprived in the least this summer, but there was still more to be done. So, we created a list. A completely wonderfully secret list of all the things we would still like to do before the summer is over. We wrote down our wishes on scraps of paper and put them in a bowl. (Julie of course helped Johnny.) Each day this week one person picked a wish and we did whatever was written.
This has been such a fun end to the summer. We met friends for ice cream one night at Red Mango, our favorite frozen yogurt spot. We spent the day at the super fun pool that resembles a water park, and today we explored the Shedd Aquarium, which was such an awesome experience. Tonight we had special Mommy and Julie and Daddy and Johnny dates where the kids picked out school clothes and slurped on smoothies.
I'm not sure what tomorrow brings, but we already decided the weekend will be filled with campfires, marshmallows, a Friday night concert and picnic and a trip to one of our favorite restaurants where the kids can play in the lake.


Monday, August 19, 2013

Monday Munch: Harry Caray's

I know this is a super touristy thing to say, but we love Navy Pier. Chicago natives groan at the thought of riding the Ferris wheel in the summer months, and they probably wouldn't dare rent one of those bicycles built for four, or splash through the fountains or take a cruise on the Chicago River. Chicago people are so over the touristy parts of the Windy City. Luckily, we MacKabens are kind of still tourists. So, we still love exploring and exploiting the cheesy touristy parts of the city. This brings me to today's Monday Munch: Harry Caray's---arguably one of the most crowded restaurants on Navy Pier. But, it's great and probably worth the wait. There's sports memorabilia, a fun theme and the food is pretty good. Try the Italian beef sandwich or (don't laugh) the veggie burger smothered in goat cheese and olive spread. It's good. Seriously. Usually we stop by Harry Caray's when we have visitors in town, and it's usually a good time. Who wouldn't have fun drinking a bloody mary out of a Slim Jim?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

And then there was a puppy.

As a kid I had this reoccurring dream. It was Christmas morning and I had opened all my presents but one. When I unwrapped the last gift, out popped an adorable little cocker spaniel puppy exactly like "Lady" from Lady and the Tramp. I hugged and kissed the puppy, as she licked my face and jumped excitedly into my lap.

Waking up was of course a huge letdown as I realized there wasn't any puppy. There never would be. Growing up Kelly and I wanted pets more than anything, but we knew that wasn't an option because Mom was allergic to dogs and cats. So, we had quite a menagerie of strange pets: lizards, fish, love birds, turtles, hermit crabs, and bunnies, which we discovered later also bothered my mom's allergies. Unfortunately none of these pets lasted longer than a year, though we got pretty attached to each one. We were just as happy with our nontraditional pets, though we still envied our friends and cousins with dogs and cats.

As I got older, I just assumed I would never have animals. I guess I really didn't give it much thought. Never growing up with pets, I didn't really know what I was missing I guess. Then came a husband who grew up with dogs and two kids who, especially recently, became completely infatuated with animals---specifically dogs. Every time we saw dogs, Julie and Johnny would go absolutely bonkers...shrieking in delight, squishing little doggy faces and talking in baby voices. Their reactions were so completely happy and cute, albeit a tad annoying.

Scott and I first started seriously talking about getting a dog a few months after we moved to Chicago. Our house was big enough. Our yard was adequate. Everyone in our neighborhood has dogs. And, the kids absolutely were begging for a pet.

I, of course, was the one resisting. I didn't want the responsibility. I didn't know how to take care of a "real" pet. I liked our freedom to travel. We always used to roll our eyes at our friends who would have to cut their nights short to let the dog out. I just didn't want to deal with all that.  Then, there was the problem of my mom's allergies. She and my dad visit a lot and we didn't want to make her feel uncomfortable. There were a whole list of reasons to say no.

But, then there was an entirely other realm of reasons to say yes. There's the fact that animals teach responsibility, patience and empathy. Caring for another living thing isn't easy. What a confidence booster to put some of that responsibility in the hands of little kids. Then, of course, there's just the fun of sharing life with a furry family member. There's walks and picnics. Camping trips and dog beaches. Above all else is the pure joy. The way Julie and Johnny light up in excitement and love around animals is unrivaled by very few things. Scott and I both knew how happy it would make them.

So, I caved and we got our first puppy. Kelly found the puppy for us, raised him and loved him for two months. Then, she handed him over to us last weekend in Deep Creek. Poor Kelly was heartbroken to give up her little furry baby.

But, just look at the pure glee in this picture. Makes it all worth it.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A better tradition

It's not easy to change family traditions.
People get stuck in their ways. Sometimes they feel like change means the end of all the good times....especially when the memories they have are so sweet.

I'm one of those people. I have some incredible family memories, and I'm a stickler for tradition. I find myself longing for things to never change. The family get-together on my dad's side of the family is one of those things I never wanted to change. Since before I was born, the Wilsons faithfully gathered in Western Maryland at Grandma's house for Thanksgiving. I can't begin to describe how much I loved that time of year, and how anxiously I anticipated that very special day. Early on, Kelly and I determined that Thanksgiving was our favorite holiday---even better than Christmas.

Traditions of course aren't always forever. When grandparents pass away, older generations age, and families grow, things change. Sometimes traditions end. Sometimes they improve.

My sister and I were the most loathe to change our Thanksgiving tradition. As attendance dwindled each year, we vowed to never miss a Thanksgiving and we gave the rest of our family members heck for not showing up.

Then, we kind of just got it. I'm not sure whether we grew up or forced ourselves to deal with change or learned to adapt like mature adults. Somehow along the way, we understood and became kind of OK with change.

It helped a bit that our family get-togethers didn't go away. They became bigger and better. They have transformed into weeklong summer vacations in Deep Creek Lake, Maryland. We rent four houses on the lake and spend the week boating, golfing, swimming, fishing, relaxing and just enjoying each other.

We just returned from Deep Creek, and I have to admit is one of the most enjoyable weeks of the summer. I felt like I got to know my cousins even better and there's nothing like seeing your own kids bond with your cousins' children.

Julie went tubing behind the boat for the first time, navigated a ropes course and she was brave enough to belt out a song during talent show night. Julie and Johnny rode the mountain coaster and played nine holes of golf with Scott and our cousins. We dressed in 50s garb for our sock hop night and played a rousing game of musical chairs when storms kept us inside for game night.

It was a great week of bonding that I now look forward to every year.  I'll be hard-pressed to change this tradition.


Thursday, August 1, 2013

Do I have to?

So far I have successfully escaped PTO.
I have quietly enjoyed Julie's school from afar...happily reading stories at book club or organizing games at field day or baking treats for the bake sale. But, I have not been asked to be room mom or serve on a board or join a committee or head a big project. I was in the backseat and liking it.

Well, apparently that's all over.
I have now been enlisted to write and publish the school's monthly newsletter, as well as join the book club committee.

How exactly did this happen?
More I really have to?

I know that sounds completely terrible, but it's not what you think. I really love participating in school activities and being there for after school events with Julie. What I don't like is the commitment. Working at home and staying at home with kids, I feel like my life is already overbooked. I don't want to feel committed to one more thing. I don't want to be stressed about finishing a school newsletter on time or worrying about who's going to watch Johnny while I organize activities at book club meetings. I don't believe immersing yourself in school activities makes you a better parent. I think it just makes you a busier parent...something I really don't aspire to be.

I want to be there for Julie and Johnny and their school activities, but I don't quite have the desire yet to be a head volunteer at the school.

Despite my reservations, I said yes to both requests. What can I say? They picked the girl who can never say no.