Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Pretty Girl

It ain't easy being pretty.
Or, at least this is the latest drama in Julie's life right now. Being 8 is hard. I get it. But, sometimes our strong-willed little girl seems to find reasons to be unhappy.

Her latest angst is she hates dressing up.
"I just want to wear random pants and random shirts," she tells me. "Why does it matter what you look like on the outside?"

Unfortunately, for our deep-thinking daughter, there are times you have to look nice. Such, as Easter. Or a party. Or a school event.

The most dramatic incident happened last week when I informed Julie she had to wear a dress for a school performance. She was pissed. While rolling her eyes consistently, she promptly listed 20 reasons why a dress wasn't necessary. Number 3 was--"I hate being pretty!!"

Huh? That one really got me.

In second grade, I would have loved to be in Julie's shoes. I was probably 15 pounds overweight and I  frequently got mistaken for a boy because of my "pixie" haircut. Not to mention the mullet I gradually grew by sixth grade.

How can one "hate" being pretty?

After school that day, Julie handed me a story she had written about two girls named Sarah and Anna. Anna always looked beautiful---curls in her hair, gorgeous dresses, sparkly shoes. Sarah just rolled her eyes at Anna. Sarah hated being pretty and didn't see the need for it. Anna was spoiled and mean. Sarah, however, was nice and kind, and knew the only thing that mattered was inner beauty.

Ok. Ok. We get it Julie. Well played. But, you still have to wear that beautiful blue dress we bought you for the talent show.

Our pretty girl on a day she actually didn't mind dressing up. She was going to a dance with her Daddy.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Monday Munch: Carson's

Considered something of an institution, we had heard Carson’s mentioned by a few of our Chicago-native friends. Portions are generous and the sweet and tangy barbecue sauce is delicious. The restaurant is a tad fancier than your average barbecue joint, but families will feel at home here. The ribs were great and the au gratin potatoes reminded the kids of my homemade “cheesy potatoes” but “10 times better” according to Julie and Johnny.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Friday Field Trip: Crabtree Nature Center

Our newest mission for Chicago Parent?
Playing with nature!
For a big city, Chicago and its surrounding suburbs offer an incredible amount of open space, trails and forest preserves. The latest trend is nature play places where kids are encouraged to play and explore nature. The motto: "No child left inside" is perfect.

Johnny  and I had a blast exploring all the awesome nature play places around Chicago. My little guy is always up for an adventure, and he loves getting dirty--which is usually encouraged at the nature play places. One of our favorites so far is Crabtree Nature Center in Barrington Hills, which isn't too far from our home.

We visited Crabtree in early spring, so many of the trees and plants weren't blooming and the trails were muddy. But, this did not lessen our fun. Along the trails are rescued birds in cages. The owl was our favorite.

When we found the children's section, Johnny was ecstatic to build a "Batman" fort and climb a spider web like Spider Man. We climbed a huge pile of woodchips, then followed a little trail with a wooden bridge.

Playing at Crabtree is a magical adventure--I'm sure it's different for every kid. It's a place to play, imagine and create your own storyline.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Monday Munch: Chicago q

Here's the next stop on our quest for Chicago's best BBQ: Chicago q

Walking up to Chicago q we immediately sensed this wasn’t your neighborhood barbecue joint. The trendy little restaurant on Dearborn Street is all urban barbecue. Fun atmosphere. Cool vibe. Friendly staff.

And literally the best food we’ve consumed yet in Chicago. I’m not kidding. It’s no wonder with Lee Ann Whippen as the chef and partner at the restaurant. Scott was a bit star-struck when he discovered Whippen was the owner and chef. (She has appeared on Food Network’s Bobby Flay’s Throwdown and TLC’s BBQPitmasters series.)

We visited Chicago q for a recent Sunday brunch and tasted pretty much everything barbecue on the menu. Food you must order if you go: Kobe brisket, chicken wings (which are marinated and smoked not fried) and espresso ice cream covered in peanut brittle, which I have no words to describe.
Chicago q earns 4 MacKaben stars.

Monday, April 21, 2014

He's totally real.

There's a very real possibility that our youngest might blow the whole realm of fantasy for Julie. He just might figure it all out first.
Here's the most recent example:

Waiting  in line for the Easter Bunny, Johnny loudly announces "That bunny's mouth is fake.  So are his eyes. There's no way he can talk or see."

He had a point. The bunny was probably one of the worst we had visited.

Appalled, Julie looks at Johnny and says "No way. His mouth and eyes are totally real. He's just staring right now." Then, she pouts a little, seeming to ponder. "Look. His ears are moving. He's totally real."

Of course she didn't notice the fan blowing the bunny's ears ever so slightly.

Johnny kept talking about the fake bunny all the way until the front of the line, probably pissing off plenty of parents trying to keep the magic alive.

I have to admit. I've never been a real fan of the Easter bunny. He's terrifying to some kids, and to others, he's just unbelievable. I mean a 5.5-foot bunny?

It amazes me that 8 1/2 year old Julie has yet to catch on that this Easter bunny at the mall is just someone wearing a really crappy costume. I mean I think she knows that mascots are really people inside them, and that the characters at Disney World are actually people. (I think??)

I mean really---who wants to sit on this guy's lap??

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Happy 5 to my Super Hero

Dear Johnny,
You sure surprised us last night.

As we gave you one last hug as a 4-year-old, you began to cry. “I don’t want to turn 5,” you whispered, with a pouty lip. “I just love being 4. I want to stay 4 forever.”

You were worried I wouldn’t be able to hold you anymore or that you’d be way too big today to sit on Daddy’s shoulders. You wondered whether we’d still love you.
I admit it. I didn’t want you to turn 5. If I could stop time I would, buddy.

I don’t want to give up those morning snuggles, and I never want to stop holding your hand. If I could carry you for the rest of my life, I definitely would. I want to play Legos and Super Heroes and Dark Train. I want to tuck you in every night right next to Elmo and your dream light.
It stinks growing up. I know it.

There’s so much I will miss about you being little, but you need to know I will always love you. And, I love you a little more each day.

Remember when you asked me to marry you? Well, technically, you were Batman that day, and I was Batgirl. That was one of the sweetest moments. Sorry that we can’t get married, bud, but you’ll always have my heart. Happy Birthday to my little Super Hero.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Just don't blow it.

Tiptoeing into Julie's room, I just knew I was going to blow it.
It was too much pressure.
I was juggling a tooth fairy certificate, a personal letter from the tooth fairy and a $5 bill (yes $5! can you believe it?) Meanwhile I had to frantically search for a tiny tooth on a cluttered dresser (we couldn't find the tooth fairy pillow. Don't ask) and a letter to the tooth fairy.
All without making a peep.

It felt like an impossible mission, but I did it!

Scott and I take turns being tooth fairy because we dread it so much.

Because if you blow the tooth fairy you pretty much ruin everything. The entire house of lies will crumble. Santa. Elves. Easter Bunny. Leprechaun. It's all over if you screw up the tooth fairy, which is why it's such a critical mission.

Fantasy is all fun and games until your kid is in second grade and you're this close to crushing her dreams. Luckily our kids believe in pretty much everything mystical.

Just an example--Julie, who apparently thinks the tooth fairy is her pen pal, asked the tooth fairy whether ice fairies exist. She also told the tooth fairy that she's "the best friend she ever had." This is the same girl who was convinced her friend, who was given a magic wand from the tooth fairy this winter, was able to turn winter into spring immediately. She was pissed when that didn't happen.

How in the heck are we going to deal with this child once she comes to terms with reality?

I  guess we'll deal when the time comes. At least it seems like we'll have a little while longer.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Monday Munch: Smoque

Scott was convinced there was no good barbeque in Chicago.
For his job, he has traveled to Memphis, Kansas City, Louisiana and Texas, and he was adamant that he wouldn't find anything as tasty in the Chicago.

He discovered he was wrong this weekend.

I'm working on another delicious article for Chicago Parent---this time about the best BBQ spots for families in Chicago. I love reading about food and restaurants in the city, and I've had my heart set on trying Smoque for quite a while. The little BBQ joint in Irving Park has earned excellent reviews from food critics, and I was dying to try it.

We stopped by Smoque on Saturday---after running the Chicago quarter marathon along the lake. The place was packed! A crowded restaurant is always a sign of good things to come. (Around lunchtime on weekends, finding a table might be difficult, but it's worth the wait.)

Because I was writing the story, we tried a few things on the menu: brisket, ribs, chili, baked beans...
Scott said the brisket was as good as Memphis, and I fell in love with the St. Louis ribs. (I'm not even a rib girl!)

The sides served in little tin cups were perfect. The homemade mac n cheese topped with buttery bread crumbs was delicious. The desserts, also served in little tin cups were scrumptious as well. Scott gobbled the bread pudding, while I devoured the warm peach cobbler.

We will definitely make a return trip for the best barbecue I've ever tasted. Next time we'll bring the kids. Johnny will be all over that mac n cheese, and the pork barbeque sliders will be calling Julie's name, I'm sure. Definitely a diet buster---but awesome food.

Friday, April 4, 2014

He's in his head

Johnny sits backwards at story time, ties his shoes in an unusual way, often stares off into space, and now apparently he has Dyslexia, according to his teachers.

I don't buy it.

Obviously if Johnny needs some help in some area, we will seek out all the help he needs. I just don't think he has Dyslexia. Johnny's teacher casually mentioned the possibility the other day. Explaining that Johnny does things completely different than other kids, but somehow ends up with the same result. Whether it's playing a game or tying his shoes, he finds different solutions to problems. She also said he sits backwards at story time every day and often seems to be thinking about something else during school. Somehow, this is a sign of Dyslexia. Admittedly, he sometimes writes his name backwards, but he also sounds out words correctly and forms his letters mostly in the right direction. So, I really don't think it's Dyslexia.

 I think Johnny is maybe just in his own little world at school...just like Julie was at that age.

Both Julie and Johnny aren't typical students. According to their teachers, they  zone off, seemingly not paying attention. When questioned, however, they know exactly what's going on.

When Julie was in preschool, she had about 15 imaginary friends named after various colors who she insisted she played with everyday. Whenever I asked what she did at school that day she would respond "I played with Blue-in and Pink-in and Green-in." She would elaborate on the games she played with these mermaid princess sisters named after colors. And her teachers would insist she wasn't following directions or paying attention. One of her preschool teachers told us "Her mind is with the fairies." Completely true statement.

Johnny, I believe, is thinking about super heroes all day. I'm serious. He doesn't come home and tell us that, but after watching him play on a basketball league I know that's what's happening. The entire time he played rec basketball, he pretended he was Batman. Flying around the court, crashing into the walls, pretending he was chasing the bad guys. Johnny's teacher says he often looks around the classroom or in other directions when she's talking. But when she asks him a question, she always surprises him by knowing the answer.

I can't tell you why our kids are this way. Creativity? Imagination? Stubbornness? Who knows. That's just the way it is. I will tell you, however, I'm not worried one bit.