You’re Only 40 Once

I celebrated another friend’s 40th Birthday this weekend. Besides that most of the group was ready for bed by 11:00, it was a great time and a chance for me to reconnect with many friends that I haven’t seen in a long time. Thanks again Nelly – Happy Birthday buddy!

My 40th was back in December and I have been meaning to write about it since then. The first reason for the delay is a pitfall that I have fallen into many times since starting this blog: I wanted to write the perfect post about turning 40. Yeah, that post eluded me because of the second reason for delay: I was not inspired by this milestone.

It’s a weird situation and one that I’ve been chomping on for the past three months. The “thing” has nothing to do with our celebration. We actually had two celebrations, with both sides of our families, and both around meals (food being one of my favorite things). And it’s not so much about getting older. I mean, I’m not happy with all the changes I’m experiencing with my body, but we all get older so that’s just life. I thought it might have to do with my current position in life. Granted, I have friends who are making six-figure salaries, others who have tripled the bottom line of their family business, but they don’t all have kids. And you can’t really compare to children – I mean, c’mon, priceless. So it wasn’t any one of those things, but at times my lack of enthusiasm was caused by a bit of all of those things.

And so I’ve passed the last three months doing a lot of thinking. Reminiscing on “old times” and remembering all of the life that got me to this point. And thinking about the future, like what will I do when both girls are in school? After the past two friends’ birthdays I decided it was time to put thinking aside for a night and do some writing, so here it is. I don’t know if it is the perfect post about turning 40, but I put this out there for any of you getting ready for this birthday (I celebrated with many of you on Saturday!) and for those of you who have also recently passed this milestone. It may take a minute, but I hope you find a happy acceptance of this new decade.

While we were celebrating on Saturday many of us were joking that “40 is the new 30”. Looking at a picture of me taken ten years ago, at a 30th Birthday Party, I recognize that there is very little about me that is new. But it is a nice thought. I know that I am older now than at the start of the detour (deep, I know). And I do think I am more wise, but only because I pay attention. I am thankful for all I have to show for my time so far, and honestly, I think I am settling in with this 40 thing. As Sister Scales-of-Justice shared with me, “Celebrating turning 40 definitely beats the alternative”.

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Happy Halloween!

Well, the parties are over, the candy bowl is empty, the plastic pumpkins are full of treats and the girls are passed out. I call this a successful Halloween for our crew.

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween!

Despite being out of our neighborhood, Wife and I found a bunch of stuff to do this Halloween. So we already started laying the plans out for next year – not too shabby. The girls seemed to enjoy it all: parties with friends (see above) and bonfires and pumpkins and trick-or-treating – oh boy! So I hope you and yours also had a safe and fun Halloween, time for me to sort and hide the candy.

20 Year Take-Aways

There are limousines parked at the Olive Garden, Facebook is exploding with photos of teens in ill-fitting evening wear and reunions abound – we are in the homecoming season. We celebrated by attending my 20 year high school reunion. It turned out to be a fun night spent in the northwest suburbs (down the street from my high school) with many pleasant re-connections and funny memories. We did not take the girls with us, for obvious reasons. But I did try to remember a few things from the night to share with them as they face challenges approach older school years. I figure I have to record these thoughts now – my memory might not be so great by the time the girls can appreciate this wisdom.

  • Things change, people change. It was weird to look around a room full of classmates and pause with so many people. Some of the people who were big in high school are not so big anymore. And some people who were small are not so small anymore. Some people who were “too cool” twenty years ago are approachable and friendly. And some who were friendly then are now a bit too cool. Like everything else in life, people change.
  • The more things change, the more they stay the same. About halfway through the event it struck me. The novelty of the night was wearing off, the music was getting too loud to talk, and the alcohol was setting in. And people starting drifting into the groups that they knew twenty years prior. People went with what was comfortable, even if it was a bit older.
  • Everything shakes out, even if it takes twenty years. Again, the evening was full of pleasant re-connections. Gone were so many of the social constructs of our youth. The social strata was also largely absent. Nobody got loud and nobody re-hashed twenty-year-old drama. Interactions felt more genuine – we were meeting one another right where we were, and that was okay.

I know this stuff is not really profound. In fact, I am sure many people would just say it is just a sign of “growing up”. But I do hope to share these thoughts with the girls when they are in high school. My high school years were not traumatic, but there are things that could’ve been better. I expect their experience to be similar, so I want to have some good stuff to offer them.

So for all of you out there who were at the event, it was great seeing you. I am glad our detours crossed. Especially MN – congrats again on your success, so good to see you, girl. To all those from the “rival” high school, glad you crossed Camp McDonald. So now I guess we start looking forward to the thirty year – Go wildcats!

Winter Chicagoland

Last week we found ourselves once again home bound by frigid temperatures and winter weather. I am sure many of you dealt with the same conditions. This post came from my last-minute decision to buck the current attitude in Chicago. I caught myself trying to jump on the anti-winter bandwagon with the majority of the city (and country?) and lament the things that we have not been able to do because of the persistent cold. But I stopped in time and decided instead to celebrate a couple of the things that we have done during this snowy and cold winter.

Truth be told, I enjoy the winter. I was born in December, so of course I am biased. I have long been a fan of sledding and used to snowboard as well. And I am one of those people who do not mind shoveling snow, particularly on a quiet evening. I learned years ago in a Denver blizzard that good gear, i.e. boots, coat and gloves, makes a world of difference. So I am prepared for cold, snowy weather and enjoy it.

Now dealing with a toddler during the winter has been another story. But this year has been a great introduction to all things winter. Sweetie thinks snow is very funny stuff. She does not quiet get what it is, but smashes it around anyway. She too has all of her gear so she can go out to play. (Well, if she could move in the gear she could play – we have had Christmas Story flashbacks all winter!) We found some toddler sleds, so one day Sweetie and Wife and I met up with Big Daddy B, Momma Z and Linda for some sledding.

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As you can see, the dads were definitely the power-sources for the sledding. The new snow was so thick that downhill wasn’t so great, but the sleds went along the flats just fine. So we all enjoyed an afternoon at the park. Of course this was different from summer time at the park, but it was still a fun time spent with friends.

We have taken Sweetie and Linda to some indoor play areas as well. Momma Z and I figured that as long as we can get them in and out of the car safely, then it’s a go! This is the Little Beans Cafe in Chicago.

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It’s an open layout, loft-style play space with five “playhouses” and all sorts of pushing/riding toys. The girls ran around for hours. If you have a place like this near you, check it out. It is a must when playing outside is not an option.

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Another great thing about staying inside for days on end is the cooking (and/or baking )! We have said “Bah!” to plain chicken breast dinners and rice side dishes. I have been tearing through Wife’s cookbook collection trying all sorts of seasonal dishes. Hey, it helps break up the monotony! And don’t forget the sweets!

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Yes, those are Star Wars cookies. There is a funny story about those cookies that you can expect to read later. In all honesty, Momma Z bakes circles around us and has taken full advantage to her time inside. Thankfully, she likes to share and is quick to offer freshly baked cookies and cakes with her play date invitations!

All in all, it has seemed like a Chicago winter to me. I keep telling people, “This is how I remember Chicago winters.” I heard a great report on NPR where they interviewed a woman living and working in California. Her response to all of the winter animosity was simple, she said, “If people aren’t happy living in the cold and snow, tell ‘em to move here.” I agree with her philosophy. Chicago has always had strong winters with cold and snow and wind. I say prepare for it, dress for it and enjoy it. And if you don’t like it…move to California.

1 degree out, can you believe it?

1 degree out, can you believe it?

Meet ups and First Friends

Chicago spring is in full effect and charging right in to summer – now is the time to get out and enjoy the local parks. At the end of last summer and through fall, Sweetie and I took many walks around the park nearest to our house. So far this spring we had also stopped in at the organic greenhouse to check that out. But we had not explored the playground areas, not tried out the swings. I decided it was time to step up our park trips to the next level. No more solitary walks, it was time for park meet-ups. Meet-ups meant that Sweetie would have a chance to play in a new environment and I would have a chance for conversation.

Role call for the main family that we “meet up” with is Big Daddy B, Momma Z and their daughter Linda. We met these friends in music class at the beginning of the year. Among their fellow 6-12 month olds, Sweetie and Linda demonstrated superior musicality and quickly rose to the top of the class. We watched the girls interact well together, sharing toys and instruments. Big Daddy, Momma Z and I talked after class a few times and figured out that we lived a short distance from one another. And we worked out that Linda is about two weeks older than Sweetie. With so many things aligning we decided to get together outside of class.

Our first meet-up was at a park just down the road from us, in their neighborhood. This park is nice for the girls. There are swings and slides and small obstacles for smaller kids and larger equipment for the older ones. There is plenty of space so I don’t spend the whole time worrying about some rogue 5-year-old blasting into my daughter. They installed cushy rubber flooring everywhere so it is comfortable for crawling (our park is all wood chips). Sweetie definitely enjoys the swings but prefers cruising around the grounds while Linda enjoys the rhythm of the swings. Perfect – no fighting over playground equipment with these two.

Good times

Good times

Watching the girls at play got me thinking about first friends. My parents lived next door to the couple that birthed Captain Jack (see Gratitude for a bit more). Through their connection he and I became first friends. The 37 year ebb and flow of that friendship is an interesting slice of life. We moved out of the neighborhood when I was 1, but the families stayed in touch. We would see each other a couple of times a year, definitely around the holidays. Ten years later when we were in the fourth grade, he moved to my neighborhood. Over these years there were times when we were not the best of friends but thankfully we were never enemies. Historically, when we met up with one another we picked right back up where we left off. Since I moved back to Chicago five years ago we have enjoyed a great reconnection. We’ve seen each other get married and buy houses and grow careers – and he is totally into Sweetie. And once again we live right down the street from one another.

So maybe this is what Sweetie and Linda are growing. Obviously no one can predict the future, and kids are all over the place so you don’t really know what’s next. Wife and I aren’t really the types to force a friendship, and Big Daddy and Momma Z don’t seem like the type either. But so far the girls play great together and it is neat to watch them think of the potential. And technically speaking, whatever direction their relationship goes, they are still first friends.

All the gushy friendship stuff aside, these meet-ups are a great chance to get out of the house and interact with other parents. Grown up conversation is refreshing. I imagine many of you are like me and you speak to your child all day long. Sweetie listens attentively and sometimes responds, but it’s really a 12 hour monologue. So it’s nice to shift to a give-and-take conversation for a couple of hours. There is also the idea sharing and note comparing. Talking with Big Daddy and Momma Z has been a chance to talk through feeding routines and sleep habits and most recently, teething. And sharing our stories empowers us to support each other as parents. Overall it’s just been good to meet and get to know these guys.  We share many interests and they have some great stories as well. It’s also a nice reminder to Wife and me that there are, in fact, other people outside our home.

Same time next week?

Same time next week?

So park meet ups are a winner and we are big fans. I appreciate the grown up conversation and the chance to interact with other parents. Sweetie loves getting out, the change of scenery and new places to play. She has some nice new sod in the backyard and some fun toys, but not swings! I know she benefits from the playground socialization and the introduction to those life lessons she won’t necessarily learn from Wife and I. And she has made her first friend.

Bet!

Bet!