Thursday, January 31, 2008

My daughter, The Thinker

I've been thinking a lot lately about my childrens' different personalities, and wondering how many of the characteristics they possess now will be carried into their adulthood. I think about the influence we as parents may have on that - and wonder how to strike the balance between shaping and molding the people we would like our children to be and nurturing and incubating the people they already are and are destined to be.

When my oldest son was born, I would look into his eyes and say, "it just seems like he's been here before." He was so observant and quiet, always happy to sit and watch - constantly taking it all in. I was surprised to learn I wasn't just a crazy mother, but there is actually a phrase for this - "old soul." Now he's 7 years old and in many ways, he still has a very "old soul." Incidentally, it looks as if my 5-month old goddaughter does as well. If you've ever made eye contact with one of these children, you know exactly what I mean.

My youngest son is the comedian. Only 3 years old, he loves to make people laugh and loves to perform.  He loves to sing. He is a ball of energy that can barely contain itself. He is more follower than leader, but the "leaders" always gravitate to him. Everyone loves him. If he were 16 we'd be having talks about living up to his potential in school and "applying" himself. He would be the kid with the high ACT scores and low grades, and I think he'd be very popular as the entertainer.

But this post is titled "my daughter, the thinker" because I had another conversation with her yesterday that blew my mind. This is the 4-year old who wants to be a doctor one day "so I can help people." This is the girl who once asked me to please stop talking to her because, "I am trying to think about how I'm going to help the world."

My daughter leans toward the dramatic. No, really. She often becomes so animated when she talks that she extends her arms out, palms up, and moves them up and down to help accentuate her point. Things most people would consider minor can quickly escalate to major in her world. She's not the kind of dramatic that drains you of energy, but it's easy to see the toll she takes on herself. 

I love this about her. I love this passion and if nurture has any clout at all in the nature vs. nurture argument, I hope I can help her keep this fire.

Yesterday she got into a fight with our youngest, the 3-year old. This is not that unusual, but sometimes these fights heat up - both sides too stubborn to back down - and the results are sometimes bad. So I intervened quickly and called them down to me. She was the only one who came, but I quickly got so caught up in our conversation I forgot to insist that the younger one come down too.

She started off explaining to me that she and Aidan were playing, but he decided to go into his room to play alone and he did not want her to follow him. Ever determined, she tested him and did it anyway and that was where the screaming match started.

But before I could really get into the, "he needs a little space sometimes, you wouldn't like it if you wanted to be alone in your room and he came in... blah blah blah" speech, she launched into this:

"Mommy, it's just that I'm not even 5 years old yet and I still have so many things to learn. I just am not learning very much. There are so many things I need to know."

(This is the preschooler who brought home a colored and hand-labeled map of the continents, plus an addition math worksheet this week. But she isn't learning very much!)

She continued, "For example, I just don't know how in the world all people have parents. And I don't understand how in the world people do the things they do. There are so many things I don't know the answers to."

Already, I was blown away. I was getting so caught up listening to her that I wasn't finding the words to try to help her. I pulled her close to me and tried to go over the list of things she is learning - not just at school, but the little things every day here at home. Trying new foods, picking out clothes, brushing her own hair... 

I also tried to explain that some questions just do not have answers, and even when she grows up and has had more time to learn more things, she may still not have all the answers she wants. It's part of life.

And then, she went on:
"I have already used up my three wishes." (Tears welling up for the loss of future opportunity...)

I tried to interject that in life, she will get more than three wishes, but she went on:

"For my first wish, I wished to be a Princess. And for my second wish, I wished to travel around the world so I could see lots of new things. I guess I do still have my third wish."

Briefly, I thought about telling her that she will likely never be a "real" princess, but of course she'll always be a princess to me. But then I thought again - how do I know that? How do I even know what the probability is? This is a child who, at just shy of 5 years old, talks eagerly about her heart's desire to travel the world and help people. For all I know, she's going to strike out when she's older and find for herself a bona fide Prince. 

In fact, I think the odds are increasingly in her favor.

As I was sharing this conversation with my husband later, I came to the conclusion that my daughter must just have thoughts and feelings that are beyond her physical development. I just don't think she yet has the skills to verbalize all the things she is thinking. Another restless brain in the making? Maybe. 

I just hope and pray the fires stay lit long enough for her words to catch up - I can't wait to hear what she's going to have to say.

Monday, January 28, 2008

There she is...

Saturday night was a big night for me. It was my own personal Super Bowl night - otherwise known as the Miss America pageant.

(I know what you're thinking. But the Miss America program is the largest single source of scholarship money available to women in this country and I will defend it to my dying day!)

Growing up, I can remember that watching the Miss America pageant was a BIG DEAL. The women were so glamorous and just seemed so elusive and exclusive to me.. the absolute smartest and prettiest women I could imagine all gathered in one place. I'm sure it helped that I was also in love with the local Miss Marigold pageant (we went every year because my dad sponsored contestants) and the Miss America pageant was the natural progression of that. It was at pageants like Miss Marigold  that future Miss America's got their start.

So I guess I've just always been fascinated by pageants in general. I get why critics don't like them, but I've just always seen them differently. I see them as a way to celebrate all aspects of womanhood - intelligence, talent, and yes - beauty.

Not that all pageant contestants possess those qualities. And Lord knows there are plenty of pageants that put an emphasis on beauty while completely ignoring talent and scholarship. The distinction is important and exists not just for teen-aged and young adult women, but for little girls as well.

So let me be clear when I say I love the Miss America pageant system. The mall pageants, not so much.

Over the past few years the ratings for the Miss America pageant have struggled and it seems show producers have sunk to new levels in an effort to bring them up. Maybe it's because we have so many television viewing choices now, but every new gimmick just seemed to sink the ratings further. The networks dropped it in 2004, and it has moved from its long-time Atlantic City, NJ location to Las Vegas. The date - traditionally two weeks after Labor Day - has also changed now to late January.

It's actually aired on CMT the last two years.

As a casual observer, I think the pageant has really been struggling and unfortunately making the wrong decisions in these areas. Luckily, I think, TLC stepped in the picture this year and a re-working of the pageant was set into place. They developed a 4-week reality show called "Miss America Reality Check" where they helped the contestants - many of whom were obviously well-versed in "pageant" - get more real. Oh sure, the show wasn't like watching the History Channel or reading a good novel, but I thought it was well done and definitely helped stir up interest in the grand finale. That was the point after all, right?

It's well and good to talk about Miss America as a role model, but it's harder to put into practice when she seems like this overly-choreographed, overly made-up woman. I think they did a good job of infusing some modernism into the pageant without being hokey (anyone else remember the "Survivor" style question and answer session on Miss USA a few years back?). 
I'm still not sure how I feel about announcing the "eliminated" contestants but it did add a bit of suspense and made things more interesting. 

They also apparently eliminated all previous scores once the top 16 were announced and I'm not really sure how I feel about that either. That means they completely disregarded the interview and talent portions from earlier in the week and instead started eliminating contestants based solely on their performance in the live broadcast. 

I personally still think the longer interviews conducted earlier in the week should have some bearing - they're typically the most important part of any pageant. (Really, they are - it's all about first impressions!)

In any case, kudos to the Miss America organization for getting on the ball... here's hoping they can continue on this path. (And kudos to my husband for taking the kids out of the house so I could watch the pageant in peace!)

I thought college was over... like 12 years ago!

I just finished writing a story for the paper.
It ended up being about 7 pages long (which translates into a LOT of newspaper inches, the editors are going to lovvvveee me...).
Seven pages... that's about the average length of the papers I wrote in college.
For the record, most stories I write are about 1 page in Word, so that gives you some perspective.
This particular story has to do with election coverage so of course it's important and really does require more time and space.
But man, I hope somebody (other than the candidates) reads it! :)

Friday, January 25, 2008


One time several months ago, I visited my goddaughter's grave with her mother, my best friend Tammy. For anyone who does not know, my goddaughter Natalee died unexpectedly - and to this day for reasons we really don't know - at birth.

It was a sunny, warm day and after we visited Natalee's grave we took some time to walk around and study the other gravesites in that cemetery. It's a nature preserve too and a beautiful place, and we were struck again and again by the sad stories that seemed to surround us. There are a number of young children buried near Natalee and many of their gravesites were decorated with various items.

We were both struck by the universality of grief. While we were ourselves struggling still, it was a stark reminder that we are not alone and that ultimately, grief is one of the few things we humans have in common.

I've been struggling with how to write this entry all day, but I'm reminded of that day in the cemetery again today as I watch tribute after tribute for a man who died last night. He was a husband, father, son, friend, and co-worker. Many knew him as a funny newscaster in Chicago.

I once knew him as family and I think he is probably the reason I chose to go into television.

His name is Randy Salerno and when I was in high school, he married my then-stepmother's sister. Never one to get hung up on "step" family, I considered him an uncle. He was larger than life - both literally with his 6'5" height, but also figuratively with his Italian charm and gregarious personality.

I think I was enthralled with him from the first time I met him, and watching him in his career (first here in Peoria at a station I would later work for) and then as he and his wife found new jobs, first in Albany, NY and then in Chicago - inspired me. I realized that there was a profession for someone like me. Someone who loved to talk, (especially in front of people) who was inquisitive, who couldn't ever imagine a job that was the exact same day after day. The kind of job that might make me light up a room when I walked in the way Randy could.

I don't remember when exactly, but not long after they landed jobs in Chicago, Randy and Diane divorced. And you know, the funny thing about divorce is that you often forget about the "small-part players" who are affected - like the step-niece. In a little twist of fate, my husband was able to meet him covering a story in Decatur shortly after we married and then talked to him one other time as well.

I'm not the kind of person who can just cut people out of their lives and pretend they were never a part of it, and I don't think Randy was either. So I know he was genuinely interested when he asked about our family. And I was always interested in learning more about the family he has now. But exactly how does that e-mail start, anyway?

Sadly, I'm finally learning more  - through video clips and newscasts that are being devoted to him today. But it's so strange as I watch to realize how little I knew of this man who really had such a profound effect on my life. I just knew him differently, I guess... at a different time.

Even so, I am sharing in the deep sense of sadness and loss others who did know him well are expressing. I also have some regrets and the stark realization there's nothing I can do about them now - no chance to send him that e-mail to say hi and let him know how he influenced my life and how much *I* missed him after the divorce.

I've watched a lot of those newspeople in Chicago tell stories about him today, and they're all great and speak very highly of the person I remember. But the first story that came to my mind happened one day when I was in high school. 

Diane and Randy were visiting from Albany in the middle of winter. We lived on a lake and when I got home from school, I found that Randy had cleared a big square of snow off the lake with a snow shovel so that my stepmom and her sister could go ice-skating. It had taken him more than 2 hours of hard work, but when they finally got out there to skate it was so cold they only stayed out for five minutes! I felt so bad for him I went and skated myself for a while (and tried really hard to last more than 5 minutes!) I remember thinking how most people would have been frustrated that so much hard work had been for nothing, but he just seemed to laugh and take it in stride. If he was frustrated, he didn't show it.

You really never know whose life you may touch, and when you may be creating a memory for someone. And I'd have to be a fool not to see the lesson in all of this - I won't insult your intelligence by writing the obvious. 

The other lesson though, the one that isn't so obvious, is that sometimes people can be a small part of our lives for a very small time and years later we'll still feel a huge void when they're gone.

My thoughts and prayers to Randy and all his family and friends.......... 

Thursday, January 24, 2008



So how ironic is this?
The morning after I start a new blog about slowing down in my life, my son almost misses the bus for the first time ever!
Of course, I want to point out that we were following our normal morning schedule. The bus driver (who kept us waiting outside in the cold when she was almost 10 minutes late just two days ago) actually got here about a minute before we normally head outside. And for some reason, my son had left his coat and hat in his room upstairs - something he normally does not do.
So the bus driver waited and then impatiently honked the horn, while my 7-year old struggled out the door and through the snow still trying to get his coat on and get it all together.
I'm not sure he was even fully awake yet.
Ah yes - he's getting to be more and more like an adult every day!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

My new Blog

I do not have a quiet mind.

I've known this for a long time, but I only recently found the words to express it in a book I'm reading called "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert.

It's a fantastic book about a woman's voyage through self-discovery after reaching a crisis point in her life. On the surface, I don't appear to have much in common with this woman. Her marriage fell apart, she has no children, she is much better paid as a professional writer than I will ever be.

But the more of her book I read, the more I realize we do have in common. Maybe it's part of being human, maybe it's part of being a woman. Whatever it is, I find that I'm in no hurry to keep reading her book. Either the truth hits too close to home, or I'm afraid no other author has tapped into "me" like she has and when I'm done reading her book, I'll be alone again.

In any case, one of the things that most resonated with me is her description of her busy, restless mind. A mind that just doesn't ever stop, well, going.

I know just what she means.

I remember going to a concert back in college with one of my roommates. It was either Nine Inch Nails or Depeche Mode - an unimportant detail, I guess. What I do remember is that it was at the Assembly Hall in Champaign and the whole concert, I was mesmerized. Not by the music or the group, but by my surroundings. A large black curtain was stretched across the width of Assembly Hall and I couldn't help but ponder the logistics. How do they sew such a large piece of material? How many pieces was it originally? Where are the seams? How do they lift it up to the rafters? Where do they store something like that and do they actually fold it up?

And then there are the lights. How do they change lightbulbs in large arenas and theaters anyway, and how often? I've never been to the Peoria Civic Center without contemplating the catwalks that are suspended high above the floor near the ceiling, and I spent hours during lectures in Foellinger Auditorium staring at chandeliers and ornate architectural details wondering how it gets cleaned, painted, etc...

Once while studying with a friend in the old U of I Library, I asked him if he ever thought about how many books were around us that hadn't been touched in YEARS - just left to sit on the shelves gathering dust. It boggled my mind to think about it. It was a thought that would have never occurred to him.

I think this all must have started sometime in high school, because that's when I started falling asleep at night with the TV on. I needed it, and now almost 20 years later, I still do. My iPod will do in a pinch if I'm traveling or without a TV by the bed, but really I rely on the dialogue to distract my brain enough to allow it to *pause* and let the sleep creep in.

In college, I thought this restless brain thing was a blessing and helped me to multi-task. After all, my highest GPA came in the semester I had the most classes and extra-curriculars. I literally scheduled my time by the hour that whole semester, and learned I do best under pressure and with strict deadlines.

But as I get older, the restless brain seems to be working against me. I suddenly feel like an adult with ADHD as I struggle to get through a day and complete just one thing I've started. Of course, it doesn't help that I have three little helpers undoing a lot of what I get done in a day and I know part of this is related to motherhood. But seriously, I don't know how many times I've returned to the laundry room to find the washer full of water but the lid still open, or piled up dirty dishes in the sink only to realize later the dishwasher was empty all along. Many days, the simple task of getting dressed seems like a noteworthy accomplishment when I manage to fit it in.

In her book, Gilbert goes on a spiritual journey to get in touch with her inner-self, and she struggles with meditation. I can relate, I struggle with the idea of even trying to meditate. There are so many obstacles in my way I feel overwhelmed and just give up before I even try to start. A better disciplined me would set the alarm clock and get up early for a little quiet time, but anyone who knows me knows I value every last second before the alarm goes off.

But more than that - I worry about how I would possibly quiet my brain for meditation. Gilbert traveled all the way to an Ashram in India and struggled with this... how can I possibly get it done in my central Illinois bedroom? I can just imagine myself sitting there calm, relaxed, and posed and trying to meditate while my brain takes a joyride. Inevitably, I would start thinking about all the things I need to do (i.e. laundry, clean, feed kids, get dressed, answer e-mails, write stories, etc...) And when I finished that list, I'd move to the "want to" list - i.e. rent a dumpster and clear out the basement and garage, start a successful Ebay venture to justify my Gymboree addiction, find part-time work that lets me keep my stay-at-home mom status, plant some flowers around the house, etc...

The real downside to having a restless brain of course is that you're so often preoccupied with random thoughts that you lose sight of what's right in front of you. My friend and I call this the "what's next" syndrome and I know a lot of people - restless brain or not - who have this. I can't even make lunch without thinking about what we'll have for dinner and I sometimes miss out on fun things with my kids because my brain has hit fast-forward and moved on to bedtime, tomorrow, or their wedding day.

So my resolution for this year (although I hesitate to use that word because I do not actually believe in resolutions) is to slow down. Not to smell the roses, but to appreciate my life. Slow down my schedule, slow down my brain, slow down my life. I can't slow down the passage of time of course, and I can't make myself or my children or my parents stop growing older. But I can absorb more of it.

Maybe that means I try some meditation. I guess I look at journaling as a form of meditation, so I'll start with that. And that brings me back to why I'm starting this blog. Not to add one more thing to my day, but to give me a place to more regularly journal my thoughts. To record the little things that make me take pause, and the thoughts and feelings I want to hold onto. To chronicle this life of mine that seems to be speeding by. If you enjoy reading it too, that will be a bonus.