Monday, June 25, 2012

Only Six Months 'til Christmas!

(Photo Credit: Chris Bannon)
Christmas is exactly six months away. With my outdoor thermometer expected to top 100 degrees in a few days, I can't think of a better way to cool down than by sharing my holiday prep to-do list.

In the spirit of all things yuletide-y, here are a few things you can start on now:

* Start dropping the "S" bomb when you spot your kids, or even your spouse, behaving badly. A simple "Santa's watching" can curb just about anything from sloppy table manners to poor car-borrowing etiquette (leaving my car on fumes, re-programming my radio station buttons and re-adjusting the driver's seat).

* Carry a small notebook to record any conversations that start with a whiny "I want..." or a wistful "I wish I had...". That way, you can get a jump on your Christmas shopping well in advance of the holiday rush.

* Avoid those stiff, carefully posed family holiday photos by vigilantly watching for impromtu group photo ops. While photos of the family plopped in the middle of a pile of just-raked leaves is popular, they are clearly staged. Savvy plate spinners, forever bent on killing two birds with one stone, are likely to take it a step further by capturing their kids in the actual act of completing chores. I myself plan on getting a shot of my family from an upstairs bedroom that looks down on our driveway while they're washing my car. Nothing says "ho, ho, ho" like a couple of drenched kids sporting bubble beards.

* Start drafting that dreaded Christmas card letter now. Again, in your handy-dandy little notebook, record your family's accomplishments. That way, you'll have plenty of time to embellish if need be. With a candy cane pen and little holiday spirit, even the most mundane year can be spun into one that will make you the envy of your friends and family. That weekend spent pumping out your basement after a sump pump failure can be described as finally getting around to that "dream" home improvement project. And that weekend spent at the in-laws? A weekend getaway in a foreign land...

* Finally, what better way to cool off on a hot summer day than by having a Christmas in July party? Invite your friends over to decorate your tree and hang your Christmas lights outside. Wacky fun, right?  But clever plate spinners know better. After the last guest heads home, leave it all up and don't have anyone over again until December.

Now, if you have trouble staying focused in the balmy sunshine, just put on those jingle bell earrings, pop in your favorite holiday music CD and fill a bowl with some peppermint ice cream. You'll be ready for Christmas in no time flat.

Friday, June 22, 2012

It's Time to Invoke the Do Not Disturb Rule

It's summer, my kids are home from school and I work from home.

Talk about a bad combination.

Since the end of the school term, I have put in more hours at work than I care to admit. And, all the while, I've been fending off wistful children who assume that since they spot me making mad dashes for the coffee pot, that I too am on break.

While I'd love to play the "I was here first" card so they leave me to my employment-based obligations, I've decided it's time to invoke these three simple non-debatable rules:

#1 When my office door is closed, that means I am working - not surfing the net, not folding laundry in secret and definitely not napping. So, unless someone is seriously bleeding or the house is on fire, Do Not Disturb me.

#2 While I'm "at work", do not expect me to fetch things, make things or clean things that you can fetch, make or clean yourself.

#3 Just because I'm on a conference call, do not assume that I have pressed the "Mute" button on my phone. Trust me when I tell you that members of my project team do not appreciate the aesthetics of the  Muppet movie soundtrack as much as you do, nor do they care whose turn it is to mow the lawn.

Now, if I could just get the park district to install wifi so I could work poolside...

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Isn't Every Day Father's Day?

In the world of working parents, Father's Day is hard to miss, bombarded as we are with advertisements promoting everything from ties to watches, hammocks and canoes.

My dear Dad, now retired, believes that the third Sunday of June simply marks the culmination of Father's Day month, the kickoff of which falls, coincidentally, on Mother's Day - much to my Mom's chagrin. Nonetheless, my Dad is happy to receive a plate of his favorite homemade cookies and some new refrigerator art from my youngest.

My husband's gift, however, requires more deliberation and planning.

Memories of my mother whispering under her breath, "Isn't every day Father's Day?" echo through my mind briefly before they're pushed aside by a more recent image of my favorite stay-at-home spouse pulling a warm plate out of the oven for me when I arrived home after a long day at work.

With the big day right around the corner, my mind raced. Gift-buying is a plate I reluctantly spin because it must stay aloft until the perfect gift is procured. And let's face it, finding the perfect gift takes time, a precious commodity in and of itself.

While gift cards offer a quick remedy, I have to remember that this gift is for the guy who on more than one occasion has gone above and beyond the call of duty.

Take, for instance, the time he nursed a couple of sons back from tonsillectomies while I had commitments at work, or the valiance he displayed when, during a recent trip to an amusement park, I backed out of a promise to ride with the boys in the front car of the new roller coaster that was scary enough to prompt several safety warnings for the faint-of-heart.

These few examples, coupled with all of the limo driving, band-aid applications and hugs given remind me that something more special is in order for this stay-at-home Dad. Like a new car.

As much as I'd like to do my part to bolster the auto industry, monetary constraints forced me to set my sights on something a little more affordable. I considered a new tie, but since he hasn't stepped foot inside an office cubicle since our middle boy was born, he'd have little use for a patterned strip of silk.

I decided to confer with the boys.

While the older two wholeheartedly endorsed the new car idea, my younger two recited a list of video games that was strangely reminiscent of their 2011 letters to Santa.

When my only hope for inspiration appeared to be an excruciatingly long window-shopping expedition, my middle son, the voice of reason among his siblings, interceded.

"I asked Dad what he wants."

Huh. I admired his direct approach.

My son continued, "The zoo."

Assuming my husband was suggesting a place for us to go so he could have some highly-coveted alone time, a holy grail of sorts for all harried plate-spinning parents, I agreed.

"OK, sure. I haven't taken you guys to the zoo alone in a long time."

I beamed at my spot-on deductive reasoning before he clarified, "No, he wants us all to go to the zoo together."

Considering that a jaunt through the monkey house might trigger flashbacks of being stuck inside with all of my guys on any given rainy day, it dawned on me.

Maybe my Mom was right after all.

Just don't tell her I said so...

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Gifts for Grads

While scoping dates for my son's high school graduation party, I asked him if he had a gift wish list - should anyone happen to ask.

"Well, I need a laptop," he ventured, sheepishly.

"Yes, and I need a vacation in the south of France," I thought to myself before delicately suggesting things of a more practical nature like a laundry basket or a travel iron.

He rolled his eyes and left me alone with his draft of the guest list and memories of my own high school graduation.

With diploma in hand, my friends and I were only interested in getting the three Ts before heading off to college - a typewriter, a turntable and a trunk (on which to set said turntable).

That, along with a plank of wood and a couple of crates (in which to store our albums), and we would have the equivalent of the modern-day entertainment unit right there in our very own dorm room. The vision of it had us excitedly trolling the back lots of fast food places hoping to snag matching plastic milk crates.

In those pre-information days, we also had the added thrill of not knowing who our roommate would be until move-in day. Not a big deal, really. We were accustomed to speaking to other people face-to-face or, if need be, on the telephone.

For me personally, having shared a bedroom with my two sisters, co-existing with just one other female, I figured, would be a walk in the park.

If you can remember a world in which iPods and MP3 players didn't exist, then you can understand why a major source of concern for my friends and I was whether the stranger with whom we would be living shared our affinity for Peter Frampton, Journey and Supertramp. A worst case scenario, we imagined, involved being forced to share the cozy confines with someone who had brought along their entire collection of opera classics or any of that new icky punk rock stuff.

I remember adding "headphones" to my wish list and hoping for the best.

When I did finally learn the identity of my first-ever college roommate, I remember being thrilled to learn that she was not only bringing her brand new electric typewriter, but was willing to let me share it if I would supply the carbon paper and "White Out".

My son's return snapped me back to the present.

"Cash?" he asked, grimacing, his eyebrows nearly touching his hairline.

I mulled the idea for a moment. Having been to many graduation parties before, I couldn't recall ever seeing among the festive decorations and lavish spreads of appetizers and hot italian beef sandwiches a box with a slit on the top that had "Donations" scrawled on the side of it.

As tempting as it would be to have his guests foot the bill for his dream laptop, I replied, "Tacky."

"How about gift cards?" he mumbled.

"From which place?" I asked.

He rattled off a list of his favorite eateries.

Now it was my turn to roll my eyes. "I've got two words for you, pal - meal plan."

Before I start writing, "Your presence is the only gift needed" at the bottom of his invitations, what gift suggestions do you have for today's grads?