I, Claudia: Use these tips to prevent a nightmare incident

  • Written by Jeff Vorva




Our family just returned from a wonderful vacation in Wisconsin Dells.

Thank goodness this time we all stayed together.

The last time we traveled, a serious situation occurred.

“I need to make you aware of an incident,’’said my husband Don. He was remarkably calm standing at the kitchen sink of our villa, rinsing dishes from just having fed our daughter's Rhonda-Rene (4) and Donae (7) breakfast.

It was the last morning of our three day vacation in Starved Rock, a state park in Utica.

“An incident?” I said in my groggy, just-woke-up voice.

It was a little after 8:30 a.m. I was grateful to have slept in. It was my only request prior to falling asleep the night before. After all, it was my birthday weekend; the ability to sleep in was a priceless gift. That must have been why he allowed me to remain in my slumber while he lived a real-time nightmare.

He spoke quietly with intensity in his eyes saying, “The girls came into our room about 7:00 a.m. but I hushed them out, not wanting them to wake you.”


He sighed expressing, “I got up immediately. I told them I'd be right in their room, but I stopped to use the restroom first. When I walked in their bedroom, I didn't see Rhonda-Rene.”

 Rhonda-Rene has special needs. She’s primarily non-verbal with high sensory needs; it’s common for her to actively explore her surroundings. That's why we chose to stay in a villa as oppose to a regular hotel room. Her needs require extra space. We were in an 1,800 square foot, two-story villa built in a beautiful wooded setting. It had two fireplaces, a living room, kitchen and dining area, two bedrooms, two baths, a patio, full-size washer and dryer and two balconies with amazing views of the woods.

I stared at Don intensely.

As his story unfolded, my heart began to accelerate.

He said, “I asked Donae where Rhonda-Rene was and she shrugged, 'I thought she was with you. Maybe downstairs?' So, I looked downstairs and she wasn't there either. That's when I noticed the front door opened. I went outside and yelled for her but I still didn't see her.’’


At this point, I was beginning to grasp the severity of the situation. My eyes widen. I could hear the tumble of the dryer tossing articles of clothing as Don explained further.

“I yelled for her a few more times and she finally emerged. She was behind those tall, Evergreens trees, way over there, through that field,” he said.

He was pointing toward the opposite side of our location. She had been on a winding road, nearly a city block away. He said he raced over, scooping her into his arms and squeezing her in relief. It was a soggy October morning; the pavement was damp from the dew which had also saturated Rhonda-Rene's socks and bottoms of her pajamas. That's why the dryer was tumbling, Don had gotten her dressed, washed her pj's and set them to dry before I had even awoke.

My refueling was short-lived. It'd be nearly a week before I slept soundly again. I was haunted by various “what if’’scenarios that tortured me like demons for having slept through what could have resulted in tragedy.

The younger version of me would have allowed guilt to creep in. However, the person I am today acknowledges life is a classroom, meant to educate. I prayed for God to reveal the lesson He wanted me to teach others through our experience and the unspoken word I heard in my heart was, “prevention!’’

Here are the things we're doing to prevent Rhonda-Rene's incident from reoccurring. Hopefully, these suggestions will be of help to your family as well.

$11.       Travel with a mobile alarm system- For our own piece of mind, we now travel with battery operated, door/window entry alarm sensors that chime when ajar. There are several brands. They usually come in packs of two or four. Unless you've visited the hotel or resort you're vacationing to, it's unlikely to know what type of security their units offer. I suggest calling ahead. This particular villa didn't have a top latch or chain on the door. With one downward thrust, our daughter was outside.

    1. Travel with a child tracker-these are small devices that attach to the child's clothing while the parent or caregiver maintains control of a hand held activator. In the event the child wanders away, the adult presses the button on the activator emitting a beeping sound until the child is found. The radius on these devices are usually up to 100 feet. Don was hoping for something more permanent, like a GPS device implanted under the skin but no one offers that yet.
    2. Medical alert bracelet- because Rhonda-Rene is experiencing developmental delays as well as a speech impairment called, Apraxia, her ability to communicate is compromised. Therefore, as an added layer of protection she now wears a custom medical alert bracelet at all times.

When I asked Don why he didn't wake me immediately upon learning Rhonda-Rene was missing. He said, “I didn't want to alarm you. I felt I had the situation under control once I found her.”

 My faith tells me it was our Heavenly father who protected Rhonda-Rene until her earthly father found her. 


Despite ups and downs, marriage doesn’t have to be a ‘life sentence’

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Claudia-NEWDon and I will celebrate our 13th wedding anniversary on Tuesday.
Upon mentioning this to a group of friends, a gentleman within my vicinity boasted, “I’ve been divorced 22 years!” I responded, “Well, how long were you married?” His face mirrored confusion.
“You mean, how long was I locked up?” he asked. “I got a judge to reduce my life sentence to six years.”
Twenty two years later, his remarks were like a paint primer trying to cover a stain on his heart. He’s gone the distance alright- but in the opposite direction of my desires.
Our friends, Pastor, Keith Allen and wife, Kathy of Kannapolis, North Carolina celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary June 15th.
They wed in 1985, in their late teens. Our paths crossed on a cruise 10 years ago while celebrating our third anniversary.
We had such a connection we booked a cruise together the following year. Keith being a minister, naturally began counseling Don and I about marriage as the four of us sat submerged in the hot tub on the deck of the ship. We wouldn’t learn until much later in our friendship that he and Kathy had experienced a marital setback in their third year of marriage.

Wives first
“After we had our first child, (they have two girls) we were drifting apart,” said Kathy. “He worked third shift, played on two bowling leagues and went drinking with his buddies- too often.”
Kathy said, in hindsight, she contributed to his detachment. “I was a first time mother; I made everything about the baby. We as mothers have to realize, we are wives first.”
By the time she gained that revelation, it was too late. The door had opened to her having an emotional affair.
“He was a handsome, single guy in management that I worked with. He started showing me attention and I fell for it.” Kathy said, “It didn’t take Keith long to notice I was becoming distant. He came up to my job a couple times unannounced and caught us talking. He wasn’t stupid; he put two and two together.”
Kathy said the relationship, while inappropriate, never went beyond conversation. “All I did was talk to this guy, but it took a toll on our marriage, the trust diminished. It took a year to get it back.”

Happily ever after? Not quite
Bill and Vicki Anderson of Aurora have been married since 1969. They celebrated their 46th anniversary June 21. They have two daughters also, Jennifer and Christina and one grandson, Jacob.
“I believe love is the strongest force there is,’’ Vicki said. “It’s the ultimate blessing a man and woman could have - but keeping love alive is the ultimate challenge.”
She said the beginning of a marriage is a mystery that unfolds incrementally.
“We promised we’d grow old together not having any idea what that meant, we both came from broken homes,” she said.
Bill joined the army and Vicki got a job.
“My goal was to make lots of money, save some, buy a car, a house, have lots of kids and live happily ever after,’’ she said.
Well, their happily-ever-after got interrupted right around the seven-year-itch.
“We were married seven years when infidelity happened with me.” Vicki said, “I left the door cracked for someone to come in.”
Years later, Vicki said Bill allowed someone in an open crack as well.
“Only the Lord could heal the hurt, damage and distrust that has fallen on this marriage,” she said.
Vicki said she and Bill repaired the damage over time by reaffirming their love and trust all over again.
“I’m not proud of sharing this but, if it can help save another couple from divorce it’s worth it,” she said.
I agree Vicki, using our mistakes to reroute others does make sharing worth it. I respect transparency. It’s liberating. Concealment can be toxic.
Don and I have several married friends and not all of their relationships are thriving. Yet, I’ve made a conscious choice to refrain from ever suggesting divorce. Regardless of the issue, it’s not my place to guide an individual to end their covenant.
Kathy agreed.
“If both parties are willing, seek couples therapy and give it your best effort,’’ she said. “Keep an open mind. If you work to salvage your marriage, it can be better than it was.”
“People who run a marathon finish because they want to be able to say, ‘I ran a marathon.’ How much respect does one have for the runner who doesn’t finish the race? None!” Vicki said. “There is a beginning and an end - a finish in everything. It’s the stick-to-it attentiveness that makes the marriage lasting.”
One of the attentive things that Vicki does for Bill today is place love notes in his lunch bag. She said he reciprocates by slipping love notes on her pillow, typically accompanied by a single rose from their rose bush.
 Kathy got downright mushy when speaking of her devotion to Keith.
“There’s not a man more handsome than Keith Douglas Allen. I love him more today than ever.” she said, “If anything ever happened to him, I wouldn’t remarry. He’s the only person I want to grow old with. We think alike--even crave the same food.”
Kathy said they keep their romance fresh with dates on the lake, riding their Harley, and going on cruises.

Nifty 50
Vicki and Bill like traveling also, they’re planning a trip to Ireland for their 50th anniversary.
 Speaking of the 50th…
 Vernon and Gloria Nash of Chicago recently celebrated 50 years of marriage. Don and I were privileged to be among 150 guests who helped commemorate their coveted Golden Wedding Anniversary.
“By the time I was nine, I started praying for my future wife because I wanted to marry a woman like my mother,” said Vernon. “When I was 15, I saw an attractive girl and asked my friend to introduce us.”
Vernon explained, his friend wasn’t paying attention and brought him the wrong girl.
“I took one look at Gloria and told my friend, ‘It’s alright, I can work with this.’” he said.
Fifty years, three sons and five grandchildren later, the Nash’s are still working it.
And so are me and Don.
Happy 13th Anniversary, Babe! From the lyrics of Dave Barnes’, “God Gave Me You,” “We are stitched together. And what love has tethered, I pray we never undo.”  

I Claudia: It's not just photos that were exposed

  • Written by Claudia Parker




Have you ever been exposed? Uh, yeah, that would be a yes for me!

Back before my husband, Don, and I had two little beauties, we took exotic vacations on cruise ships. Having been married on a Norwegian cruise liner in Hawaii, cruising became our staple vacation choice. We’ve taken at least five. If you’ve ever cruised, then you know the main dining room requires a little sprucing up for dinner. That’s what I thought I was doing when I put on my black, fitted, sleeveless sweater and dressy khaki, nylon capris with a pair of black pumps.

“Ugh. I can’t wear them.” I said to Don. “You can see them, can’t you?” I was referring to my britches. My capris fell on my hips in a way that revealed my undies.

“Take ‘em off” said Don. It seemed like an easy enough solution. “Okay.” I replied.

And I went commando.

During dinner, a photographer visited our table. “Would you like to take a picture?” she asked.

I am a photo fanatic.

If there’s a camera near me, I’m grinning.

“Sure.” I said going into a model like pose. Don interjected.

“Come over here,” he said.

We were sitting across the table from each other and he wanted to be included. I stood up, walked behind his chair while he remained seated and leaned my face beside his.

“Beautiful”, the photographer stated, as she snapped the shot.

As I walked by Don, returning to my seat, his facial expression screamed panic. “What?” I said, responding to his alarm. Without speaking he raised his eyebrows and motioned toward my rear end.

Potentially everyone on the eastside of the main dining room had learned the secret that I wasn’t wearing my Victoria Secret. I’d neglected to latch the hook on the back of my capris after removing my undies. When I stood up and bent over for the picture, they unzipped, exposing my backside. There are no words! I was beyond embarrassed.

Since then, I’ve been cruising through life, choosing not to be exposed involuntarily but doing so with the intent of helping others avoid my pitfalls. My memoir, “Becoming a Mother While Losing My Own,” is filled with my shortcomings and as long as I’m breathing,

I’m susceptible to future error. That’s just life, we’re not perfect people. The best we can do is live with a sense of purpose by engaging in behavior reflective of our morals and values.

SUBHEAD – My new headshot

 As of late, I’ve been picturing myself differently.

How do you identify with who you are? The previous Washington state NAACP leader, Rachel Dolezal recently came under an avalanche of scrutiny for portraying herself as an African American. In a television interview with NBC news she said, “I definitely am not white.” That’s rather interesting considering a white couple from Montana claims to be her biological parents.

     In other news, we have Bruce Jenner, a world class athlete, telling the world to call him Caitlyn. “I’ve always identified more with being a woman,” said Jenner, in an interview with Diana Sawyer.     

     All this true-identity-talk has left me pondering about who I am.

Before you sit up on the side of your chair, you can relax. I’m not interested in changing my race or gender but I am considering changing my profession.

If you think I’m quitting the paper, fat chance. No, not my part-time post.

I’m thinking of resigning from my fulltime gig as a stay-at-home mom. I’ve been at it nearly eight years. The hours are long and the pay is little. I’ve started doing what most people do before switching employers -- I’m sprucing up.

Hence, the need for a new headshot, I can’t imagine anyone taking me seriously with my ball gown on.

     A whole lot of good that MBA of mine is doing, it’s been hanging comfortably on the wall ever since I left corporate American back in 2007. It's time I’ve dusted off that resume and pulled my good suit out of the closet. I’m not in pursuit of a nine-to-five anymore, more like five-to-nine hours a week shooting photography!

     I’ve been drawn to photography since I was a 10-year-old walking around with a Polaroid. Photography captures the essence of life.

It brings you into the moment.

It allows you to relive the past and anticipate the future. It’s a form of storytelling words don’t always convey. I’ve always acquired the taste for professional training but never ceased the opportunity to learn until now. I’ve been taking professional photography classes online for several months now and I recently enrolled in another one at the Beverly Arts Center.

This little number you see attached to this story was shot by yours truly…well…actually, I let my husband push the button. I wouldn’t go giving him a watermark or anything -- it was totally my technical skill that went into this.

Give me a tripod and remote and I’m dangerous. I’m looking forward to where this journey will take me and moreover, the potential revenue. Collecting box tops and clipping coupons isn’t working for me.

     Expect to get glimpses of my work as I intend to compliment my columns here and there when applicable.

     And what’s to come of my children when this new found career takes hold of my attention? That’s an easy one, they’ll still be loved, fed and nurtured in the same manner they are today.

I believe when we suppress our innate desire it can breed resentment and confusion. Life is an evolving process. Our heartstrings know how to lure us into the direction we’re supposed to go. If we force ourselves to remain in areas we’ve been pruned to move from, we can become bitter, overstressed and tired.

That is not how I picture my future! 


I Claudia: They survived cancer so a little rain was no big deal

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Claudia Mug Shot-Color

Meteorologists predicted a stormy Sunday morning and that’s exactly what we got during Advocate Children's Hospital-Oak Lawn’s Running for Hope 5K run/walk race.

Most of us were finishing up when the heavy rain hit.

     Ask me if I’m faster than a sixth grader?


I ran alongside 12-year-old pediatric cancer survivor, Ayiana Hernandez of Plainfield. I’ve been her running mentor the previous eight weeks.

I don’t know what kind of turbo she had in her Saucony shoes but I got left behind when she saw that finish line. Her parents, Miguel Hernandez and Virginia Rivera cheered on the sideline with her older brother, Nathan.

There was great courage displayed at that race.

Sumaya Hussein of Bridgeview ran with her older brother, Omar, and her mentor.

“I loved every minute, even the rain,” she said.

She’s a survivor of Acute Myeloid Leukemia, diagnosed at the age of two.

All through training Omar’s been her guide, literally. They were tethered by a hand strap.

“Cancer treatment complications have left me completely blind,’’ she said. “Omar’s been right by my side, helping me whenever I need him.” 

Ayiana and I can attest to that, we’ve crossed paths with them and many others each week. Daughter and mother duo Valerie (Val) and Charlotte Lontka of Chicago preferred to walk with their mentor, Adriana Carmona of Bridgeview.

“It’s hard for me to run.’’ Valerie said. “I have Neurofibromatosis which causes fibrous tumors to grow in and on nerve endings, among other things I had 28 rounds of radiation in 1999, in 2006, I learned of a third tumor, a meningioma behind my pituitary gland caused from radiation. But, the good news is, all of my tumors have been stable since 2009.”

    After hearing that, I applauded her for standing, let alone walking 3.2 miles.

     Ayiana is one of the youngest Pediatric Oncology Survivorship Transition(POST) Challenger’s to race this year, and also one of the most recent in remission.

“In October 2013, Ayiana leaned to kiss me good morning and I noticed a lump on her neck,’” Rivera said.

After several doctor visits, she was diagnosed with Large B Cell Lymphoma/NHL.

“The doctor said, ‘Your daughter has Lymphoma,’’’ the mother said. “Ignorantly, I asked, ’What is Lymphoma?’ He said ‘cancer!’ I didn’t even know how to absorb news like that.”

     Ayiana’s Chemotherapy began Christmas of 2013 and went through the early 2014. Rivera said they had wished for a non-traditional Christmas that year but cancer wasn’t what they expected.

“We planned to take the family to Disney World. I guess God had other plans,” Rivera said, “Cancer has taken many lives, even though we’re believers, we thought it meant death. Seeing our daughter in pain allowed doubt to take us to a place without hope.”

     Jessica Mitchell of Bridgeview said she felt the same way at one point. “I’ve lost three of my best friends to cancer, in 2007 2008 and 2012. The friend I lost in 2012 had the exact same cancer as me. We were diagnosed one month apart to the day. She was the one person I felt really understood what I was going through. When I lost her, it broke me,” said Mitchell.


     Mitchell said her grief has been reduced by an unexpected miracle. “I was told my chances to have children were slim due to Chemotherapy. But, just 2 ½ years after treatment, I had a daughter, Anastazya. She’s five years old.”      


     Naturally so, Ayiana’s family’s concerns were normal. But Ayiana said her faith was strong.

“By March of 2014, I'd completed five rounds of chemotherapy.” she said, “Afterwards, I said – ‘that’s it, God healed me, I’m done!’”

     What Ayiana felt in her heart would later be confirmed by doctors. Rivera said Ayiana’s cancer is no longer detectable. March marked one year of being cancer free. To commemorate the occasion, Ayiana and her family finally took that trip to Disney World, compliments of Make a Wish Foundation.

“We never stopped praying for her. She was in good hands, ACH staff, are an excellent group of people, we consider them family. They treated more than cancer. They met her social and emotional needs too.” Rivera said, “When Ayiana lost her hair, she took an interest in makeup. It made her feel pretty in spite of losing her hair. While she was in the hospital, many of the nurses allowed Ayiana to do their makeup. They referred to her as ‘The Makeup Doctor.’ She even started a YouTube channel to show off her skills.’’

     Ayiana wasn’t the only one bald in her family. Members shaved their heads to support St. Baldrick’s Foundation, an organization dedicated to finding a cure for childhood cancer.

     I’m privileged to have mentored Ayiana, for the Running for Hope race. She’s a brave little warrior. 


Some more big, fat thoughts about us aging baby boomers

  • Written by Ray Hanania

Hanania-GrapevineThere are more than 65 million Americans who are baby boomers -- people born between 1946 and 1964.
This was the generation born after World War II, a war which took the lives of nearly 85 million people across the globe.
I was born right in the middle and all my baby-boomer compatriots are “coming of age” boosting the steadily rising senior citizen population estimated to be one-fifth of the American population.
We are a peculiar bunch of people, too.
Believing in our immortality.
We vote at a higher rate than any other population group.
We also have our quirks, reflected in the things we like to say.
I hear it all the time at Palos Health & Fitness Club where Baby Boomers “young and old” walk out thousands of miles on treadmills every week.
“Hey. How are you?” The answers: A – “Living the dream.” B – “I’m still alive.” C – “What did you say?”
Or, “You on Xaralto or Coumadin?”
We’re all taking one form or another of blood thinners hoping a blood clot doesn’t end our exercise routine before TV’s blond bombshell Elisabeth Hasslebeck, every senior’s idea of a “trophy wife,” finishes her mindless yapping on “Fox & Friends.”
We monitor our heart rate, and how many steps we take each day (the goal is 10,000), all for no reason. And we spend a fortune on computers, gadgets, and heart rate monitors.
We stopped enjoying meals a long time ago, cutting back on sugars, carbs, and ice creams. We think the Atkins Diet will save us, or at least help bring down our bloating guts.
We all have opinions and we talk a lot. We don’t stop talking for anything, except when those Viagra commercials come on the TV. You can hear the treadmill cycles whirring as actress Kelly King explains it’s not too late to have sex, if you would just get that prescription.
We try not to stare when a young girl walks past in yoga pants, but you can hear the treadmill speeds rising.
No one talks about Bingo.
Most men won’t be around when the age comes along when we will end up playing, and the bingo halls will be filled with widows who finally get to breathe a little now that the responsibility of pampering their baby husbands has ended.
Men just don’t live as long as women, and for good reason. Society couldn’t take a surge of old cranky men complaining about everything. Older women are just so mellow. They’ll shrug off anything, learning from years of turning away from our male egos over the years.
We love gym shoes, baggie Chicago Bears sweatpants and hats. Yes, old men still come into the gym wearing a hat.
Some things will never change. We still won’t take directions and would rather get lost than have a younger person tell us which way to go. A map is just a waste of money but the car navigation constantly saves us from ourselves.
We smoke cigars on vacation, cheat on our diets all the time, and buy our pants two sizes too small around the waist. If 60 is the new 40 in terms of age, 40 is the new 36 in terms of waistlines.
And we all want to drive a two-seater sports car, to look cool -- even if we can’t lift our fat derrieres out of the driver’s seats for the life of us.

Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and now President/CEO of Urban Strategies Group media consulting. Reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .