Wednesday, July 16, 2014

It's not summer 'til I've been to a concert

I was not one of these adolescents or teenagers who went to concerts. As much as I would have loved to, I just never had an opportunity to go to one. There were some pretty awesome artists touring when I was growing up in the 1980's. I can imagine how awesome it would have been to see Madonna, Michael Jackson or Prince. I was 19 years old before I went to my first concert and it wasn't a rock concert. It was a country singer, Travis Tritt. An evening of watching him perform in the intimate Park West venue and I was hooked. Ever since then I've loved attending concerts and have been to way more than I can count.

My first concert at a big venue was Garth Brooks at the World Music Center, which was then the Tweeter Center and is now First Midwest Bank Amphitheater. A group of us went to the show, including my sister-in-law, Sherry. It was 1992. We watched from the lawn seats.

Well, a lot has happened since 1992. I've had 5 kids. Sherry's kids are all adults. But we both still love concerts and country music, so this summer we decided we'd go see Toby Keith's show at the First Midwest Bank Amphitheater. My summer just isn't complete until I've been to an outdoor concert at the First Midwest Bank Amphitheater - and there's always more than one.

The day before the concert there was some nasty weather. Huge downpours flooded the lots at the concert venue and a Journey concert had to be cancelled. Luckily, enough of the water had dried up the next morning for Toby's show to go on. We headed to Tinley Park and crossed our fingers for good weather.

We stopped on the way for dinner and martinis at Gatto's Italian Restaurant. I also write a food blog, (Chicago Foodie Sisters - so I'm always looking for new places to dine and this one was new to me. We then went over for the show and I took her on my secret route (well, not really secret, just much less traveled road than the one leading to the big parking lot) and we were there in just a few minutes.

Toby Keith's gorgeous daughter Krystale Keith was on stage and she has got some pipes on her. Up next was Colt Ford singing some country rap. Not exactly my thing, but you could tell he was having a blast up there on stage and how could you not love watching that?

As Colt Ford finished up, I went out seeking nachos and saw the Illinois Lottery tent. I'd applied through a blogger program for their "Anything's Possible" Music Tour to attend the event and blog about it. Unfortunately I wasn't picked as a blogger for this concert and we purchased tickets and attended on our own, but I stopped at the tent and they had a pretty cool set-up with some nice gifts if you purchased $5 in lottery tickets. 

I talked to the staff to see if any other bloggers had cancelled and if I could possibly get into the lottery section for the show. We were escorted there, but just after we walked up on deck, it started pouring down rain. Since we were getting soaked, we realized we were better off back in our regular seats. So we hung in the lottery section for about five minutes, took this picture and then went and sat back down in section 104.

We had pretty good seats and enjoyed Toby's show. We decided in recent years that if we were going to a concert we needed to bite the bullet and buy pavilioin seats. The days of hanging in the lawn are behind us. Toby didn't disappoint. He always puts on a good show. This was my third time seeing him in concert.

As I watched him sing "I'm Not As Young As I Once Was," I thought of my friend, Fran, who went with me to see him in concert at the First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre about 5 or 6 years ago. She loved country music and we'd go to a lot of concerts together. Fran passed away last month at the age of 80, so it was quite bittersweet.

Toby is known for his patriotic anthems and at each show I've been to he has ended it with his songs touting the good 'ol USA and has had military personnel in uniform join him up on stage. It's always special and a little emotional, this time even moreso since Sherry's two sons, my nephews, James and Jeff, are in the military. One is in the Marines and the other in the National Guard. 

So here's a peek at the grand finale.

It was a fun night where we got to be a little nostalgic and relive our days of attending country concerts back in the 1990's. Can't believe it's been so long since our first concert there. When we got home I posted the following on my Facebook page:

"Sherry and Carrie at a concert in 1992: 
- Lawn seats in the rain. Who cares?
- Hang out in the parking lot following the show. No one's moving. Who cares?
- Contemplate what bar to go to after show
- Call in to US99 to chat with DJ about the show and make requests
- Head to White Castle

Sherry and Carrie at a concert in 2014:
- Dinner before the show.
- Seats in the pavilion so we don't have to sit on the lawn in the rain.
- Plan for fastest route out of parking lot so we don't have to hang out in parking lot.
- Yawn as we make our way out of the parking lot.
- Home by midnight."

As Toby sang, "I'm not as good as I once was." :) But that won't keep us from having fun at concerts. I'm hoping I'll get a chance to attend some other concerts this season as part of the Illinois Lottery Anything's Possible blogger team. This was my second concert at the venue this season and I'm ready for more. Hoping the next one will be some classic 80's rock with one of my boys.

Monday, June 30, 2014

The end of the lazy summer month

After twenty years of parenting, I've learned that lazy days of summer are hard to come by. The summers of my youth were completely unscheduled. My dad was at work all day. My mom didn't drive. We hung around at home or in the neighborhood and played all day. We weren't in any scheduled activities and pretty much the only time we left our little block or two was when my sister-in-law would drive us to a pool in a nearby community. And it lasted until after Labor Day.

Things aren't like that anymore. Come July each of the kids has at least one thing scheduled. One is going on a trip with church to Colorado. He's also starting driver ed. class. Another will be going to a nine day camp on a military base. Another will be in a two week theatre camp. My youngest will be at scout camp. Then there will be some outings in between I'm sure to the pool and festivals or farms.

Once the 4th of July hits the school supplies are out in stores and the pressure is on. Then as soon as August gets here, there's school registration and just a few precious days to run all over checking 73 items off of 4 school supply lists and then they're back in school.

June is the calm month. The month when we get to have a few of those lazy days. School was out a few days later than expected due to our crazy winter weather that caused some snow days, but we had a good week after that when we all slept in and didn't do much of anything other than finishing up the last few games of the spring soccer season. Then it was off on a vacation that was much needed. But the month is done and it's busy times ahead. It was nice while it lasted. :)

Monday, June 23, 2014

No More Perfect Kids: The beginning of a review

For a couple years, at the urging of my younger sister, I attended the annual Heart at Home Conference in March in Bloomington, Illinois. The conference grew out of a ministry started by Jill Savage, who created Hearts at Home to support mothers in their important role and encourage them. Attending was a great experience. The words of each speaker were ones I could relate to in some way. It was a weekend of just moms connecting and learning from one another. They covered so many topics - managing money, parenting a large family, helping your child to grow in their faith, setting limits and boundaries and much, much more. 

My sister introduced me to Jill, who she had been in touch with via e-mail. Jill seemed the perfect mother who had it all together and had it all. She spoke confidently, but relayed stories that let us know that she deals with the same struggles as other parents and that no one is immune to difficulties in child rearing. 

The next year when I attended the conference, Jill was facing marital issues and everyone could feel her pain and she didn’t try to hide it, but stood on stage in front of the crowd and talked about the difficult time she was going through. This year I wasn’t able to attend, but through following her blog and getting e-mail and Facebook updates learned about her diagnosis with breast cancer and ongoing treatment. The battle she has been going through is heartbreaking, yet so inspiring. 

In the spring, I got an e-mail asking to be one of a group to preview her new book, No More Perfect Kids with co-author Kathy Koch, PhD and review it. I was happy to. I find her so inspiring and in her writing, she expresses so many things that other moms feel. I value her experience as a mother of five and know that she has a lot of wisdom to pass on.

I feel like a little bit of a failure for not finishing the book in time for the launch, but as even Jill might say, life happens and we have to adjust to it. I tend to do my reading in the more relaxed summer months when I don’t have my day mapped out with chauffeuring and I can stay up a little later to read as I am not up doing drop off at 7 a.m. the next day. 

So, I can’t give a full review yet, but so far I’m enjoying it and finding it useful especially as it relates to treating kids as individuals - that’s so important when you have multiple children. You can’t have blanket rules and expectations as you are setting yourself and them up for failure. Each one has his own thoughts, beliefs, passions and when we see that and recognize what their strengths are, things can go so much more smoothly.

I’d gotten through the first few chapters reading them as my son was at his archery lessons. When archery finished up it went in my tote bag and I haven’t gotten back to it. Now that it’s summer, I’ll be shifting back and forth between it and “The Book Thief” which I started after seeing the movie and only got 20 pages in. Here’s to a relaxing summer with lots of good reading. I’ll post more on the book later, but if you’re looking for some interesting reading this summer to help you improve your role as a parent, this is a great book to pick up!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Turning things around

I love when I have one of those clarifying moments that seem to open my eyes and make me look at everything a little differently. Recently, I went to school to help out at the book fair. It was following an extremely cranky evening - on both my part and the kids'. Nothing was making them happy. Nothing was making me happy.

Suddenly there I was among these little people who seemed so genuinely happy to see me. I got a couple hugs. And then there were other gestures that just made me realize how kind kids can be. Kids can get a bad wrap these days for being mean and bullies and spoiled and lots of other things. And there's plenty of that out there. But on this day, everything seemed to be falling into place and everyone was behaving so nicely.

When one kid got a few coins back, she asked us to donate them for them to the fund for buying books for classrooms. Another child saw someone drop some money and promptly returned it to her classmate. Another child came up and bought something for her friend. Another child bought a book for his teacher.

I went into that situation feeling really grumpy and expecting that the kids I'd encounter would make me grumpier. They proved me wrong and I'm so glad they did. I left with a completely different outlook on how good and pure and full of hope kids can be and how much hope they can restore in me.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Happy Siblings Day

When we got married and decided to start a family, there was one thing that was a given. That there would be more than one child, probably a lot of children, but we knew we wanted our child to have siblings. I was one of 6. My husband was one of 4. My dad was one of 4. His dad was one of 3. My mom was one of 6. His mom was one of four. I liked the idea of having kids growing up having a companion.

Today is National Siblings Day and I have to say that I have always loved being part of a big family. I've sometimes felt like the oldest as there was a 13 year span between my older siblings and the older three were out on their own by the time I was in kindergarten. I have twin sisters that are two years younger. So, I was a middle child, but kind of an oldest child if that makes sense. I loved having older siblings and I always looked up to them. These days we don't see each other all that often since we're all living in different suburbs (and one sis is now out in Arizona and one is in Central Illinois,) but we really enjoy seeing each other and getting the cousins together. I'm so glad that I didn't grow up alone and that I had older siblings watching out for me and younger ones to grow up with.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

To be a parent is to never sleep the same again

My sister has a new baby and one that isn't sleeping much. Imagine that. I know it is something all moms have gone through - sleepless nights. I have five children, so I can definitely confirm the idea that every child is different. And sleeping habits are also so different. And there are so many things you try to get that much needed rest. How many sitcoms have you seen where new parents have resorted to driving their kids around in a car because the motion puts them to sleep?

My first son was a pretty good sleeper once we got him to sleep, but it was getting him to sleep that often posed a problem. I was young and a new mom and just followed anything I read that was put out by an expert and believed that it was the way you should do it not realizing that there are so many variables and that some things just don't work on some babies. The expert opinion at that time was to put a baby to sleep in a separate room in a crib on his side and to put him down drowsy but not fully asleep.

I had no problem getting him to drift off in my arms, usually as I rocked him. Then he'd fall asleep. I'd put him in his crib on his side in between the contraption I'd bought at Babies are Us of two wedges that kept him from rolling onto his tummy or back. At that time they pushed side sleeping as they believed there was a significant risk of choking if babies were put to sleep on their back.

So, he slept pretty good stretches. If he did wake up, I'd tiptoe in and pop a pacifier in his mouth and he'd usually go right back to sleep. But, he still wouldn't go to sleep if I put him in the crib awake. I was listening to all the experts and figured I was doing something wrong. I tried the "letting him cry" method, which is complete torture. I'd let him cry a few minutes. I'd go in and try to calm him without picking him up. I did it not because I wanted to but because I thought I was supposed to. I wish I'd listened to my gut more often than doing what I read was recommended. It didn't last very long. I didn't want to let him cry. He was crying because he wanted his mother and I was right there and I was letting him cry when it didn't feel right to let him cry.

I soon returned to the nightly routine in the rocking chair. Where he'd fall asleep nursing or cuddling beside the glow of a nightlight and then I'd put him in his crib and we'd all go to sleep. When I finally decided to ignore the expert advice and follow my heart, we were all much better for it. It was a beautiful routine that I cherished of rocking my baby to sleep in my arms. Once in a while he'd wake at 2 a.m. and I would have to rock him back to sleep and I would tell myself that one day he'd be grown up and I'd be wishing I had a baby to rock and sing to in the middle of the night.

With my second one it was really difficult. After an emergency c-section, I woke to a quick peek at my baby who then went down to special care where he spent the next 5 days sleeping naked on his tummy with his eyes covered because his bilirubin levels were extremely high and he had extreme jaundice. At five days old, I finally got to hold him. He came home with us and less than 48 hours later we ended up bringing him back to the ER because he wasn't eating or responding. He was then in the pediatrics unit for several more days - same thing - under the lights, unable to be held.

Once he got home, he only was content falling asleep on my chest. I attributed it to being so starved of human contact in those first several days. As much as I loved snuggling with him, it just couldn't be sustained with him sleeping that way all the time. I was still recovering and I had another child to take care of. The only way to keep him sleeping once he was asleep was to gently transfer him onto his stomach, which I hated doing because I was so terrified of SIDS. But, when dozens of attempts to put him on his side (the recommended position at the time) didn't work, I finally had to resort to letting his sleep on his stomach as it was the only way he would sleep when he wasn't on top of me. Finally when he got to the point where he was lifting himself easily and pushing himself onto his side or back, I felt a little better and just gave in to it. But in those early weeks when he would only sleep on his stomach, I wasn't sleeping at all because of the constant worry for his safely.

My next three slept in a variety of ways. One in a crib without the side pushed up against our bed or in a bassinet next to the bed. Another slept best in a pack-n-play in our room. Another co-slept. But we learned that we had to do what we had to do. Sometimes they'd sleep in a car seat or a bouncy seat or a swing. Sometimes they'd sleep beside me on the floor. Or on my chest. Or even in my arms in a recliner. We'd try the most recommended sleeping methods first, but when they didn't work, we knew we had to move on to something else. When they'd get hooked on the swing, they'd sleep in the swing for a couple weeks. By the time I was on baby #3, I knew that each phase was temporary and tried to get through it. And I learned to do what felt right with that baby.

When I had a son who was content being put down in his room to drift off watching a mobile above his crib, I did that. When I had one that I knew wanted to be rocked in my arms until he was asleep, I did that. When I had my last one and knew he would be my last one and he wanted to be close and I wanted to be close to him, I brought him into bed with me. Whatever the arrangement was, it was usually a deep dark secret I didn't let others in on as the onslaught of criticism to letting a baby sleep on their stomach or in a bed with their mom or spoiling them by rocking them to sleep every night could be brutal. Bottom line, I did what I had to do for our household to get some rest and I did what felt was right when I knew my baby needed to be comforted. We all made it through it. Sleep (or lack of it) is for sure one part of parenthood you can't prepare for and it's yet another part of your life that will never ever be the same again.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Dear Sons: I'm thankful for you every day

I'd been writing a series of letters to my boys that past couple years that I post here on my mom blog. It's been quite a while, so I'm posting this today.

Dear sons:

I love you guys. And I'm so glad I'm your mom. And I'm so glad for each day that I get to spend with you. I know I don't always seem happy and excited. I get frustrated when you don't clean your room or when you fight with one of your brothers or when I see a "D" on a report card when I totally know you're capable of better grades or when I have to tell you do take out the garbage four times and then just give up end up doing it myself. It's not an easy job to be a mom, but I love this job. And I know that if I ever lost one of you that I'd give anything to have you with me to tell you to take the garbage out one more time.

I am thankful every day that you are all healthy boys. I know other people with children who aren't healthy. Or who have lost their children way too early in life - to disease, to suicide, to war. And I have you here, all of you. And if I don't make it clear quite often enough how much you mean to me, I do love you with all my heart and am so grateful to be able to see you grow. Please don't forget that.

I was working on an article today for work on a young man who died at 19. It was hard to try and do an interview with a mom who had just lost her 19-year-old son. I have a 19-year-old son. It's just hit too close to home. She talked about all he'd done in his young life. I could feel tears streaming down my face as I didn't show it in my voice over the phone. All I could think was how heartbreaking it would be to lose a child at that age. She didn't seem sad. She seemed proud and talked about happy memories. She seemed confident that her son knew how much she loved him and that she'd made the most of her time with him.

None of us knows when our time will be up. But it is up to us to not waste the time we have been given. We should make sure those we love know that we love them. I feel very loved as a mom to all of you. And I want to make sure you know how cherished you each are just for being you -- for those quirks and characteristics that make you so lovable.