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Keeping Up Appearances -- Just Don't Go Upstairs!

Here's a column that first appeared this winter on Amy Bordoni’s blog Don’t Stamp the Baby. 

Today my cousins who we rarely see or spend time with surprised us by coming to our church to hear Andrew "preach." As we stood chatting after the service I knew we should ask them over. I wanted to ask them over. I loved the thought of having them over. But inside I was cringing. Our house - as per usual when we're not expecting visitors - was a disaster. But I asked them anyway. And they came.

Photo by kjoyner on Flickr.I'm not sure what they really thought about the counters piled with mail and papers (seriously, piled), the dirty dishes in the sink, the floors that clearly needed washing. I'm pretty sure they noticed the bathroom sink that doesn't drain, the garbage cans that needed emptying, the fifteen pairs of boots and shoes piled by the back door. I pray they didn't go upstairs, open the refrigerator, peek behind the shower curtain or look under the couch cushions.

While they were here, I tried not to apologize too much. I was reminded of a gut-wrenching moment in the movie “What's Eating Gilbert Grape” when the mom, who has become so grossly overweight she can't get out of the house, says to her son's girlfriend, "I wasn't always like this."

Neither was I. In high school, I couldn't go to sleep if I knew that my dirty clothes had missed the laundry basket. I was a housekeeper at summer camp, five years in a row. When I was single, I washed my floors weekly, on my hands and knees.

Somewhere along the way, things changed. I don't like the mess, but cleaning and picking up just isn't a priority anymore. We do it, of course. We keep the main rooms tidy for lessons during the week and the bathroom clean. But keeping a house in order for the unexpected guest ... well, I choose to write and work and bake and play with my kids. Right now, in fact, I could be washing the pans from dinner or dusting the piano or vacuuming the stairs. All these things need to be done. But they're not going to happen. I prefer to write about them instead.

Someday I hope to be okay about this. And invite you over anyway. Just please don't go upstairs.

Editor’s Note: Make sure to read the comments Amy got to this post, including one from her – gasp – visiting cousins! This story also prompted quite a few reader comments when it first appeared on the home page.

Amy Bordoni of St. Charles describes herself on her own blog, Don’t Stamp the Baby, as a “writer, poet, mom, honey, friend, chef, collector, helper … meanie, hard worker, sleep deprived, broke, hopeful.” You can also follow her on Twitter @amybordoni.


True Confession! Mom of Triplets Gives More Advice Than She Takes

Today’s guest column comes from one of our regular contributors, Edith Tarter, who can throw together a “Weeknight Dinner” recipe in the time it take me to find a paring knife. She lives in Geneva with her husband and 8-year-old triplets Lidy, Mimi and Owen. 

There are some days when I feel I do nothing but tell others how to be a better parent, how to be a better homemaker, how to be a better spouse, how to be a better shopper … the list is long!  And, on those days when I’m dispensing my two cents to anyone who asks (and sometimes to those who don’t ask), I start to hear myself sounding like the teacher from the Charlie Brown cartoons.  Is anyone really listening?  I have great advice!

The Tarter triplets were at least good at acting like they were listening back then. Photo provided.Truth be told -- I live in a fantasy world where my surroundings are as tidy as a nurse’s station, the air smells of cinnamon rolls and mountain air cleanliness, and the children are sedate, well groomed and eager to please.  Those same children, in this imaginary world of mine, take turns waiting to talk, clamor to rub my aching feet, fetch me the remote and best of all, make their beds – and mine – everyday!  I did say this was fantasy, right?

Advice is only as good as the giver.  I can talk a good game, right up there with the Fly Lady,Martha StewartDr. Phil and the goddess of all advisors, Oprah!  Is my advice sound wisdom, hard-earned from baby battle and household stress?  You betcha it is!  Do I follow my own advice?  Heck no!

I never make my bed, I rarely brush my kids’ hair, I let my kids eat salami and strawberries for breakfast, and I largely ignore my faithful husband’s needs.  Yet, in some twisted mind game, I feel qualified to suggest to others how to run their households and manage their families!  What is that about?

All this makes me think of the old adage:  “Those who can, do and those who can’t, tell others how to do!”  So, in the true spirit of giving sage advice, here’s my best shot (of course, I’m not following this advice at the moment!):

Pay attention to the little things in life, because one day you’ll realize those were the big things!


Tales of a Preschool Class Parent: 'I Want My $5!'

Our newest guest columnist is someone I know very well. In fact, Suzanne Rowland was my boss long, long ago when we worked together in New York City for The Associated Press. I think it’s safe to say she’s the funniest boss I ever had – and luckily for us, her sense of humor shines through in her writing, too.

I knew I should have listened to the little voice inside me. No, no, not my conscience, the other one. You know, the one that tries to stop you from doing stupid things? But I ignored it and … volunteered to be a class parent.

Sure, it looks calm. But these classrooms hide a lot of drama. Photo by barnabywasson on Flickr.I had good intentions … sort of. I volunteered in my 4-year-old daughter’s class mostly to avoid being swayed by the increasingly urgent pleas for class parents in my 2-year-old son’s class. (It’s hard to keep up with the 2-year-olds; they all still sort of look alike and I can’t understand a word they’re saying!)

And when I volunteered? Well, my daughter’s teacher clinched it with flattery. She immediately announced to her assistant teachers that The-One-They-Wanted-To-Ask-But-Didn’t-Want- To-Pressure had volunteered. I’m sure they say that to everyone, but I totally fell for it. I always do. Seriously, if you complimented my bathroom cleaning skills – which you most likely wouldn’t -- I’d probably come over and clean yours too.

Anyway, I started off like some sort of Stepford Class Parent, sending out a gushy email to all the parents welcoming them to the class or welcoming them back (it’s a class of 3- and 4-year-olds so some of us are in our second year) and collecting information for a master class list to help everyone plan playdates and birthday parties. I even thought about hosting a class party at my house!

Then it came time to plan the first get-together.

Through an email poll, the class decided to order pizza for the event. So we asked each family to contribute $5. Yes, you read that right -- $5 to feed their entire family dinner. Most people paid, but some didn’t and I was too nice (stupid?) to keep asking for their money so I just covered the difference.

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Having a Baby Boy and So Happy ... But Worries, Too

The following comes from our new guest columnist Stacia, who as she puts it, writes about "the underbelly of parenting." You can get to know her better by reading the introduction she did for GWYM last month, as well as by following her own blog Dried on Milk

I’m in my 2nd trimester now, and I was super-excited to find out what we are having. And it turns out we’re having a boy, which couldn’t be more perfect since my mind frame is similar to a 13-year-old boy’s, after all.

Photo by handmaidenbymaria on Flickr.My nearly 3-year-old daughter Ava kept telling me this whole time it was a girl. She’s totally fired as my psychic. I didn’t have a feeling one way or the other, but I think I was leaning heavily toward girl since I already have one, am one and have all the stuff. Seriously, Ava has more clothes than Paris Hilton. When the ultrasound tech used the mouse to make it very clear... “you see that long thingy and those two thingies next to it? It’s a boy.” Sqweeee, so happy!

So naturally the very first thing that ran through my mind was how do you clean him when he craps all over the place? No, really. Baby poop is so freakin’ runny and messy. With a girl it’s so easy, nothing to clean around. Friends have told me little boys’ parts aren’t as delicate as you think. I guess you also have to be quick with a diaper lest you get sprayed. Come on man. I have worry about him spraying our house? My cat already does a good enough job barfing on everything; I would prefer to keep urination out of the mix. Oh, I’m not saying I’ve never been peed, pooped or spit up on but this is a whole different level, this is an actual hose as apposed to a spigot. Get what I’m sayin'?

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Hero at the Table

I’m so pleased to welcome a great new guest columnist, and she’s the most recent member of theMompreneur Directory as well. Jennifer Downing’s home-based business, called Nourish, offers cooking experiences in her Batavia kitchen, with an emphasis on sustainable, local and natural ingredients. She offers classes for kids and birthday parties, too. Check her listing for more. But here, Downing writes about something simple you can do that’s so good for your children: Eat a meal around your family table. -- Tara

As a child growing up in our fair Fox Valley, I was never much into heroes.  The mystique of Superman, Wonder Woman, and their marvelous friends always escaped me. I remember watching “Batman” with my brother in the family room of the house where I grew up.  As memory serves, along with his faithful sidekick, the Gotham City protector appeared after school just as dusk was beginning to settle but before “Son of Svengoolie.” The room would grow dim with only the yellow flickering light of Channel 32, and our eyes glazed over. It seemed hours had passed when reality returned and, with it, the call for dinner.

Photo by Jennifer Downing.Mom always had dinner on the table and always at a reasonable hour. We weren’t on the run, and afterschool activities were limited or sometimes non-existent. Everyone sat together, there was no television, no phone calls, and texting didn’t exist. The table was set and graced with a complete meal including salad and sometimes Jell-O. Busy days would come and go, but dinner always seemed to be a priority. Some of my fondest memories take place around a casserole at that small iron-based butcher block table. Conversation was good and included odd facts gleaned from WTTW. At that table I tormented my brother into repeating the “r” words he practiced in speech.  Mom taught us to hang spoons from our noses – I have pictures. We learned to keep our elbows off the table, chew with our mouths closed, and ask to be excused.

These memories include my grandparents’ pickled oak table, too. While the food was delicious, the best part of the meal was when it was over. The dishes would sit and the real conversation would begin after “the men” would retire to the living room. Here I learned about distant family members I had never met and sat quietly hoping to be privy to the smallest, tasty morsel of family gossip, even if I didn’t really understand it. There never seemed to be a thought to the dishes piled high in the tiny kitchen.  They weren’t going anywhere and since eventually we would leave Grandma’s, having that time together was what mattered most.

Today I am a mother to four great kids and have a worn black farm table of my own where the food is the star. When I read recently a parent can be a hero to their children every day in the kitchen suddenly, my laissez-faire hero attitude changed: Heroes are awesome! I try every day to prepare the best food from all parts of the pyramid of nutrition. I work harder for homemade and willingly pay for local, organic and sustainable. In thinking of the dishes I heroically serve my loving diners I became more conscious of the place I like to end my day. Like my mother, I make it a priority to gather my family.

There is a tremendous amount of information available about the importance of gathering for mealtimes around a family table. Statistics show it to be one of the most important ways to save our children from the ills of society. Avoidance of addictions, better communication skills, higher grades, and greater feeling of value are but a few of the weighty benefits. The humble kitchen table may offer a greater base for success than income level, afterschool activities or family structure.

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Two Families, the Beatles and a Rabbit Named Paul

I am over the moon to welcome a new guest columnist to Go West Young Mom. He’s Don Babwin, a former co-worker of mine, and he’ll occasionally be contributing stories here. I’ve read the following piece at least 10 times and it leaves me misty-eyed every single time. If you’re a Beatles fan, you’ll love it. But no matter what your musical tastes, this essay will make you ponder what warm family memories your children will treasure long after you are gone. -- Tara

It was my father who came home with the news that we would not be watching the second half of “Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color” on Sunday night. Instead, he announced, some of his buddies at the sheriff's office said there was something on “The Ed Sullivan Show” we just had to see. And he promised my brothers and I would like it.

The author with his father, Ed Babwin, in the summer of 1957.We'd seen Topo Gigio, Senor Wences and Robert Goulet too many times to think there was anything that would justify turning the channel a half-hour into Disney, but both he and my mother insisted. 

Nearly a half-century later I remember our family sitting in front of the black-and-white TV watching in disbelief what was unfolding in front of us. It wasn't just that we couldn't believe what we were seeing. It was that it made us – all of us – so happy. Two years later my father would die of cancer and three years after that my older brother would leave home for college, beginning the kind of splintering all families go through. But on that night, we were all together. We were a family. We were watching the Beatles.

Now it is happening again. Not in a living room, but in a car. Late last year, my wife decided we'd been trapped long enough in the car with the likes of the Jonas Brothers, Hannah Montana, Demi Lovato and the cast of “High School Musical,” that something had to be done to regain control of the radio and CD player from our 8-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son. Just drawing the line at singing chipmunks was no longer enough.

So she put in the CD player the Beatles' greatest hits, the one with every one of their songs that reached No. 1 on the charts, from "'Love Me Do" to the "Long and Winding Road."

And they liked it. Not all of it, of course. "Yesterday" was too slow for my son. But soon, they were asking for their favorites, my daughter requesting "Yellow Submarine" over and over and my son insisting on "The Ballad of John and Yoko," and then belting out "Christ, you know it ain't easy," along with John.

This was a huge deal. And not just because it meant we didn't have to listen to the "Camp Rock" soundtrack. My wife and I were older when we had our daughter – she was 40 and I was closing in on 50 – so we were big enough fans of the Beatles to count the night John Lennon was killed as one of those you-know-exactly-where-you-are-when-you-heard-the-news moments.

But for me, there was more. The Beatles aren't just part of history, they are, starting with that night in 1964, a chapter of my family's history.

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Save This Restaurant! Thai Zie Noodles and Bar in St. Charles

I never went to a bar enough to become a regular. But when my husband and I lived in Chicago, our apartment was located practically upstairs from a Penny’s Noodle Shop. We ate there enough that the waitresses and hostesses would greet us by name when they passed us on the street. (Thankfully they didn’t include our regular order in the greeting: Two orders of sliced chicken! One order of pot stickers! …)

When we said goodbye to the city to move to the western suburbs, we figured we were saying goodbye to great Thai food as well.

Photo courtesy of Thai Zie.And then we stumbled into Thai Zie Noodles and Bar. We were at one of the street festivals in St. Charles, hungry but not in the mood for any of the greasy options available at a booth.

Thai Zie is located in downtown St. Charles, at 11 N. 3rd Street, in a little commercial strip right behind The Filling Station Pub & Grill. There was hardly anyone in the restaurant that day – everyone was at the festival, I suppose – but we decided to take a chance. The staff was so friendly that we quickly felt like regulars there, too.

We have eaten at Thai Zie a number of times since then, and ordered takeout from there even more often. The food is always delicious.

But now I’ve learned that Thai Zie is in danger of going out of business. This economy has been incredibly tough on restaurants. In the past few years, the far western suburbs have lost a number of great locally-owned restaurants, including the iconic Mill Race Inn in Geneva just last month.

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