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O Internet, in all the glory of your collective consciousness, I’m in desperate need of an arbiter.

What do you do when you respectfully disagree with someone? Is it enough to admit a difference of opinion, or must you feign agreement on some level to avoid being judgmental?

Questions with broad strokes, I know.

I had such a disagreement a million years ago. More like two years, really. But it still weights heavily on my heart, in part because I was accused of being judgmental. And, quite honestly, that’s not one of the qualifications I had planned to add to my personal resume.

Pretend, if you will, my friend and I are shopping, when she spies a fur coat she can’t pass up. She knows I’m an animal rights activist, just shy of dumping red paint on unsuspecting passers by, but she wants my opinion. I rather unenthusiastically agree it’s lovely — that’s about all I can muster. And after she prods me, I admit I add that she shouldn’t depend on a coat to make her happy. Still, she wants my support. She’s hurt, and says I’m being judgmental. Why can’t I just act happy?

She’s my friend — and her purchase won’t change that — but am I obligated to push aside my opinions for her sake? Is my difference in opinion truly the same as passing judgment?

And am I right to be hurt that she’d want me to fake how I feel?

This was essentially the argument, just not about shopping and fur (for the record, I can claim to be a vegetarian, but not an animal activist). Now two years later, similar circumstances have unfolded, and I’m sitting here, disagreeing, and feeling defensive.

Would someone who makes the rules please stand up and advise me? Am I a miserable human being, or can people maintain their opinions and disagree without being offensive?

Sheesh: defensive, offensive. It’s like I’ve “gone pro” in law or philosophy (or, um, soap operas), and I’m so not athletic. Sigh.

Following up on an indirect online recommendation, I experienced an epiphany of sorts via the book Family Building by John Rosemond. Who honestly scares me a little. Makes me want to say, “Yes, ma’am,” and “No, sir,” to anyone beyond my 32 years. Which, for better or for worse, would really be odd in Chicago.

Before you worry that I’ve taken a giant step back to the 1950s with “traditional parenting,” note that — like my approach to education — I’m not comfortable drawing advice from only one source. Which is funny, because politically I’m the opposite.

But I digress.

The premise of Family Building (published in 2005, it may only be new to me) is our primary goal as parents. “Well,” I thought, “I want my kids to be happy! Healthy! Successful!” But happiness, health (to the extent we can control it) and success, Rosemond teaches us (or me, at least), aren’t goals. They are byproducts of raising decent.human.beings.

That, my friends, is where the heavens parted and radiant beams shone down to enlighten me in my quest to do everything right: encourage the right extracurriculars, choose the right schools, watch the right amount of television, sleep at the right time, build the right amount of self-esteem, wear the right shoes.

Not that I’m abandoning my children’s best interests. I just have a clear goal. And that is for my children to be good people. Good friends, good colleagues, good spouses, good parents, good neighbors. Because expecting or trying to be the best — the smartest, fastest, richest, coolest, whatever — doesn’t bring happiness.

And suddenly so many priorities fall into place, the first of which is teaching our children respect for others. The golden rule, if you will. When you learn to consider the needs of others and act on them, I’m willing to bet my dishwasher you’re more likely to find happiness.

The second is building their self confidence, rather than self esteem. My son and my daughter are special in their own right. But everyone is special, and no child needs to think he or she is more special than the next.

The third is placing more emphasis on our family. On spending the elusive “quality time” together, sharing responsibilities and learning from each other.

I know, I know… we’ll also be holding hands and singing Kumbaya together. Stay with me…

Rosemond also suggests parenting should not be hard. And, come on, that might as well be the first thing I think in the morning, the last thing I think at night: parenting, for me, is hard. It is challenging, draining and trying. If adopting a few of these strategies and priorities can help me build my children’s character and focus on how amazing and rewarding parenting can be, I’m in.

Does Rosemond have suggestions for dishes and laundry, too?

I’m so… so disillusioned. And I think Hallmark is to blame.

Since I was a kid, I’ve been looking for the ideal relationship that is sisterhood. You know, with hugs and sunshine and flowers.

First it was my cousin, the only other person in my family nearly my age. Even though we were raised on two different planets continents, I looked forward to her letters and visits. I wanted to be just like her: I tried a nickname that ended in an “i” (Andi never stuck), jumped off the high dive for the first time, changed my favorite color (pink) to hers (purple). In my defense, I was 7 or 8. And my favorite color is now garnet red. Ha.

I grew up four years older than my sister. I think our relationship had typical ups and downs including jokes and confidences, fights and jealousies. We were close as kids. But the gap between us — me, the old soul, and her, forever young at heart — feels four (or 40) times the four it is.

Our parents want so badly for us to be close. I want so badly for us to be close, and she might, too. I can’t decide whether it’s a relationship broken and malnourished, or if it’s simply different from what I imagined it would be.

That’s where Hallmark comes in.

I wonder, now, if my expectations are realistic. If some sibling relationships are the stuff of greeting cards, but others simply are what they are. Or what you make them. I’m not even sure what I want from my sister. Or what she wants from me.

I daresay no relationship is static, and I believe this one will change, with help. Hopefully for the better, for the closer, for the more fulfilling. And when it does, I’ll buy the perfect card for the occasion.

In case you happen to miss my daily shout from the rooftops, I’ll spell it out for you:

I’m done.

If you also are done, my statement needs no explanation. But I’ll elaborate for the rest of you. Today I babysat for a friend’s youngest son, who is young, indeed. Shy of 3 months young. He’s a smiling, cooing, fuzzy-headed bundle of sweetness and joy. At least he was for the 20 minutes I watched him, changed him, danced around my house talking and singing to him. He could warm the heart of the grinchiest baby grinch.

Those 20 minutes — while my son was bowling at a birthday party and my daughter napping in her crib — brought me back to a time and place when the world revolved around me and my firstborn. When I was on maternity leave and life was simple. Of course it didn’t seem simple at the time. Caring for one newborn is only simple when you have more than one child.

Those 20 minutes were particularly peaceful, I think, because I didn’t yearn for another new baby of my own. And that’s saying something because I love me some babies. I’m done, and I’m at peace with my decision. (I suppose I should add that my husband agrees with this decision. So far.)

I’m not done because I didn’t have enviable pregnancies, or because I’m afraid of experiencing another miscarriage, or because children are exhausting and expensive. I’m done because I’m so ridiculously happy with my family. My son and my daughter are amazing little people. As they grow and their personalities emerge, I can’t help but beam with pride knowing I’ve had a little something to do with them.

I’m done because our family feels complete. We have each other; no one is missing. Except maybe a fish, per my son.

I say it again and again, and I don’t waiver. But I now have three friends who have welcomed their third child after swearing up and down they, too, were done. “Never say ‘vasectomy,'” my husband says. So you never know. (But I’m done.)

I think about my obituary as often as I think about the inner workings of my appliances. Which would be not at all. And I generally think that’s a good thing. Until something goes horribly wrong (like lint clogging the dryer vent… but that’s another subject altogether).

So I’m sitting at home two weeks ago, minding my own business — not contemplating my existence in the least — when I receive an e-mail from our church sharing news of the sudden death of one of the church staff.

We’ve upgraded from Christmas-and-Easter Catholics to twice-a-month Catholics, but still I didn’t personally know this man. I get the impression he was well-liked, and it’s a tragedy to lose anyone at 47. Still, I admit I went on with my day.

Last week my mother-in-law opens the Chicago Tribune to the obituaries. Cheery, no? And she brings my attention to an article about the man from our church (my in-laws miss nothing, I tell you). I didn’t even know him, but I read it.

And I saved it.

And I keep thinking about it.

It’s the most amazing profile of a life, someone who had such a profound affect on the lives of others. And from an unlikely source: a custodian. A husband and father. Not someone noted for his power or wealth, but instead for his character and compassion.

Now I can’t help but contemplate my existence. What will my obituary say? Because the way people remember Gilbert Gonzales? That’s they way I hope someday someone will remember me. Gilbert Gonzales is changing my life, and he’s no longer here. That’s a legacy.

I hope I’m beating a dead horse. Preaching to the choir. Whatever. But here goes:

I’m not looking for a Nobel prize for the life choices I’ve made and the work I do. I love being a mom, and that’s enough. I have but one request: acknowledge parenting is hard. I don’t have all the answers, and neither do you.

In my vast experience (nearly five whole years) with my many children (um, two) I have learned that all children are different. They bring new meaning to the word individual. I remember being pregnant with my second child, smiling smugly as I envisioned applying the sum of my mother-of-one wisdom to my new baby, thus rendering motherhood easy. You’re laughing at me, aren’t you? Unless, of course, you have less than two children.

Then my daughter arrived — smiling equally as smugly — and proved ridiculously different from my son.

Consider me humbled.

From that moment I decided I had a duty to remind parents that our job is a lot like physics. We’re constantly applying different theories with the hope we’ll find the answer to our biggest question. Like how some physicists are all hung up on learning why our universe is the way it is and cannot be any other way. We parents just want to know how to raise our children. We want them to be healthy, happy, successful, confident, intelligent. Or, depending on the moment, we may just want them to sleep through the night or poop on the potty.

This is my long-winded way of saying, “Welcome to my blog.” There may be more questions than answers, seeing as I don’t know what the hell I’m doing am not an expert (who let me have two kids?). But I invite you to watch as I muddle about trying to unleash the awesome potential I see in our children.