Toyota Sienna

One of the girls yelled, “Turn the music up!”

“Did you say turn it up or turn it off?” I asked. It was kind of hard for me to hear her over the din of the other five girls.

“UP!” more than one of them said.

Every Tuesday for the past few weeks, it’s been my job to drive six fifth grade girls home from show choir practice. SIX TWEEN GIRLS. This carpooling job is not for the faint of heart. It takes all my concentration to pay attention to the road with my minivan full of giggling, gossiping girls.

Last week, I had an oldies radio station playing, “oldies” being a relative term, since I was listening to 80’s music and that’s certainly not “oldies” to me. I was asked immediately, however, to change the station to more current music. They prefer Bruno Mars over REO Speedwagon and I’m okay with that.

The back row of seats is the prime spot. Is it because those seats are the farthest away from me, the adult, or because the three girls that fit back there get to talk to most, and the other girls turn their heads to join into the conversation? Probably a little of both.

It is dinner time when I pick them up and they always ask me if I have a snack for them. I don’t, because then I’ll disappoint them when I forget to pack a snack next time. I feel a little guilty that I don’t have something for them.

While I’m driving, I listen to the girls sing along to the songs on the radio when a good one comes along. I don’t interrupt as they talk about crushes on boys. They are at that in-between age where they want to have crushes, but most boys still have cooties.

How well I remember being that age! I remember carpooling to my volleyball games, listening to Queen sing Another One Bites the Dust on the radio, not knowing the real meaning of the song and feeling so clever as we drove past cattle farms, changing the lyrics to “another cow bites the dust!”

The car grows quieter as each girl is dropped off. They wave a cheery “Thank you, Mrs. Grabske!” as they head for the warm lights of home. Finally, I drive to my house with my daughter, ready to eat the tortellini soup that is waiting in the crock pot.

This is motherhood. There is nothing more like the suburban mom stereotype than driving a minivan and carpooling. And I’m going to roll around in that stereotype like a puppy in stinky ol’ socks and make it stick, because I’m so lucky. Because I have THIS life, stereotypical as it may seem.

THIS is motherhood after breast cancer.
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The Girdle

I am clearing out my sock drawer. Throwing out sock with holes in the heels, made by my rough skin rubbing against the fabric. Throwing out the ugly socks that I had no intentions of wearing. How did they end up in my sock drawer, anyway? I reach into the drawer, looking for something else to discard, and I pull out a cream-colored garment.

Holding it up, I automatically stretch it between my hands. I hear the elastic crinkle and pop as it stretches out and stays out. All the elasticity it once had disappeared over the years it was in my sock drawer.

I am holding up the girdle I wore eight years ago on my wedding day.

Girdles seem so outdated. I suppose they are no longer called “girdles,” but rather “shape smoothers” or something like that. No matter what they call it, it’s still a girdle.

The year I was to be married, I felt outdated as well. I felt like an old bride, getting married at the age of 33. Shopping for wedding dresses was extremely difficult; I had had a mastectomy when I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 27. That meant I didn’t have cleavage to show. My scar extends under my arm, where the surgeon removed lymph nodes. I have a nice bulge of fat by that scar. A sleeveless wedding dress was also out of the question.

Have you ever shopped for wedding dresses? Finding one with my specifications seemed like it would be impossible. I drove from wedding shop to wedding shop, looking at plunging neckline after plunging neckline. My budget was also slim, and so spending a lot of money on a custom-made dress was out of the question.

Not only that, but taking an estrogen-reducing medication for five years had caused me to gain weight. I was very self-conscious about that bulge around my middle.

Watching younger, skinnier women trying on skimpy, sexy wedding dresses made me feel old. Made me feel as old and stretched out as a piece of old, worn-out elastic.

But then, I found the dress. The dress I would wear. And it would do.

The day of my wedding came. As I gazed at my husband-to-be, waiting for me at end of the aisle, I could feel the love radiating from him. All those outdated feelings melted away. He only had eyes for me.

He still does.

This was my response for this week’s prompt at The Red Dress Club.

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Night at the Opera

Loretta: [after seeing La Boheme] That was so awful.
Ronny: Awful?
Loretta: Beautiful… sad. She died!
Ronny: Yes.
Loretta: I was surprised…
You know, I didn’t really think she was gonna die. I knew she was sick.
Ronny: She had TB.
Loretta: I know! I mean, she was coughing her brains out, and still she had to keep singing! 

~from the movie Moonstruck


I’ve always wanted to have an opera moment. The soaring arias, the tragic romances, the swell of the orchestra…what would more romantic than going to the opera with the man that you love?

Unfortunately, getting a man to go to the opera is difficult. Even a man like Ed, who plays the trombone in Sousa concerts and sings baritone in the church choir, did not want to take the love of his life (that would be me) to the opera. Ed won’t even take me to the movies. The opera? Forgitaboutit.

In December, I read a fabulous review of the Lyric Opera’s newest production: Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado, never dreaming that I would actually go see it.

It just so happened that shortly after I was lamenting that Ed would never take me to the opera, he happened to hear a radio ad about The Mikado. A couple of years ago, Ed had the opportunity to play the trombone in the pit orchestra for a community Gilbert and Sullivan production. While much of the stories in Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas are told in the singing, there is also dialogue. Plus, Gilbert and Sullivan were English, and so their operettas are also in English. Ed discovered that he liked Gilbert and Sullivan.

Gilbert and Sullivan! At the Lyric Opera! Ed definitely won the prize for the perfect and most surprising Christmas gift for his wife — tickets to the Lyric Opera!

I wanted to be prepared to enjoy my gift to the fullest. When I was younger, my sister and I listened and sang a few of the songs from The Mikado, such as Three little maids from school and Tit-Willow, but I wanted to know more. I bought a digital download of the album and put the soundtrack on my pink Sony Walkman. The Mikado started playing in my kitchen all day long.

It wouldn’t have be right to go to the Lyric Opera without a new outfit. On the morning of the opera, I went to Carson’s and found an adorable purple cardigan with ruffles to wear with my gray tweed skirt.

Ed and I drove downtown and had a nice dinner (without children!) before the opera. I wanted to take pictures of the sign and the opera house, but it was a typical winter evening in Chicago: bitterly cold and windy to boot. Ed and I rushed from the restaurant to the Lyric Opera as quickly as we could.

Getting binoculars along with my tickets should have been a hint about the location of our seats, which were in the second balcony. As I eagerly inquired about our spots, the usher told us we needed to go to the sixth floor.

Up the steps we started to walk. We walked up the elaborate staircase to the second floor and looked over the railing at the chandeliers. Below us was the main lobby, where opera goers were enjoying wine before the performance. We continued up the stairs. The soft, cushy red carpeting ended and we continued up the hard, marble steps. All the way up, as far as we could go. To the second balcony we went.

As we entered the balcony, I had a moment of vertigo. The steps going down to our seats were very steep and narrow. It was a looooong way down to the stage!

The Lyric Opera building, however, is fabulous. Although we couldn’t see the faces of the performers very well, the acoustics are incredible. The music was beautiful, the set was amazing, and the performance was simply outstanding. I am not an opera expert, so a review from me would not have much worth. Simply put, Ed and I were awed by the performances of the entire cast.

I simply smiled when Ed declared, “I would definitely do this again!” and my heart said, “Yay!”

A Conversation I Shouldn’t Have Had to Have

Emmy and I had just taken Lily to school. I left Emmy playing in my bedroom while I jumped in the shower. As I came into the bedroom to get dressed, Emmy paused in her playing and looked at me.

“Mommy, why do you have only one nipple?” she asked.

I was prepared for this question; her big sister had asked me that very same question when she was about Emmy’s age.

“I had cancer, and the doctors had to take it off,” I answered, as I started getting my underwear and bra on.

Emmy thought about this, and then she said, “Did they use a special scissors?”

How to answer that one?

“Close — the doctors used a special knife.” I suppose a scalpel is a kind of a knife.

Showing empathy with my close encounter with said knife, Emmy then asked, “Did it hurt?”

Well, I had been knocked out for the actual surgery. “No, the doctors made sure it didn’t hurt,” I told her, not wanting to go into all the pain I did feel after the surgery.

Emmy followed me into the bathroom. I smeared lotion on my face while Emmy peered up at me.

“Mom, I want to look like a kitty-cat today,” Emmy declared.

My children know what I look like. They know, and they love me just the same.

Saying Good-bye to Diaper Changes

Yesterday was a day of mixed feelings. I let go of something that I was happy to give up, and yet I was sad to see it go. A truck came to my house to take it off my porch where I had placed it. I was glad I was gone when the man came to take it away, or I might have come out of the house to tell him, “I changed my mind!”

Yesterday, I gave my changing table away to charity. Dare I say I spent hours standing at that changing table, changing diapers? On one hand, I am so happy that those diaper days are behind me. On the other hand, I’m sad to say goodbye to those wonderful baby days.

This is Lily on our changing table. She had just had her two-month-old check-up. She was such a happy baby, even after she received several shots at the doctor’s office! See that little round bandage on her pudgy leg?  We put that small, round mirror on the changing table for Lily to encourage her to look left. She was diagnosed with torticollis because she tended to turn her head only to the right. Personally, I didn’t think she had torticollis, but since I could only breast feed her on one side, I think she tended to look to only one side. She quickly grew out of that one-sided-ness!

I also took pictures of Emmy on the day of her two-month old check-up. She was always a little chubbier than my first little peanut! She was not quite as happy after getting her shots. She still hates them! While Lily is calm and quiet when she has to get a shot, Emmy will struggle and scream! I had to restrain her on my lap this fall just so the nurse could give her a flu shot.

See that little, red reading light clipped to the basket, next to the baby wipes? It was very bright, and I turned it on when I had to change Emmy in the middle of the night. I could see enough to change her diaper, and I didn’t wake up Lily in the process. Even though they have their own rooms, they are very close together. Lily started waking up again during the night when Emmy was born. I was one tired mama!

In the past few months, the changing table has been unused, a dumping ground for baby blankets, old baby shoes, towels, and baby wipe containers. Emmy has been potty trained since this past summer. We no longer have any use for a changing table.

Good-bye, good ol’ changing table. I hope another mama and baby will find you to help with that undesirable task of changing diapers!

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