Wednesday, October 31, 2007

What I Learned Today

It's been a very interesting day. Today was my first "full" day on a debating moms' site where it's been me against a slew of very conservative Christians. We debated homosexuality and religion ad nauseum! But I actually learned something. I don't know if they did, too, but I'm not there for their educational purposes. I'm there for my own.
So here's what I figured out. Christians think homosexuality has been shoved down their throats, and those (like me) that support the gay rights' movement think Christianity has been shoved down ours! Part of me wonders why they're so upset about it because by my count, their side is winning.
However, it was a very interesting lesson in propaganda and visceral reactions.
They believe that the homosexuals "started it." It started for me when Bush tried to amend our Constituion to support segregation. But as I told them, I don't have the inclination to go back in time and see who shot the first bullet. I just find it really interesting that each of our side's propaganda about it says the other one did.
I have visceral reactions to people trying to quote the Bible to me or my kids. They have visceral reactions to people trying to say homosexuality is okay to them or their children. Really, it's our own strong beliefs that make us feel so strongly about it! Because I certainly didn't care when Riley had a fellow classmate that had two mommies - but I cared a lot when someone tried to show Sylvia "Passion of the Christ!"
Looking at it as a mom, I have to recognize that my children are going to hear things from others that aren't my belief system. It's my job as a mom to deal with it, as I have. A well-meaning neighbor left a postcard for a Halloween event her church is giving. My kids knew right away that we weren't going since it took place at a church, so they've obviously learned my belief system! And she's a very nice person who simply invited us to an event that I wouldn't go to, but I think I'll just tell her, thanks for the invite but we're busy - and not get into my whole "I don't believe in organized religion" thing.
In learning to accept that our children will learn different views, we learn to accept that our children are their own individuals. I wrote elsewhere about how my children delight me the most when they say or do something that I wouldn't necessarily expect (in a humorous or nice way). If I can supposedly embrace their individuality, shouldn't I be able to embrace that they're learning from others as well? Or that they can decipher the material with both my take and someone else's take and reach their very own conclusions about it?
In other words, I'm going to try and lighten up a little! This does not mean, of course, that I will stop espousing my beliefs and values to my children, but I will try not to become such a mother lionesse about it when someone mentions JC in front of them!
Being reasonable doesn't come easy, but when it comes to being a mom, it's always the best answer.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Kids and Communication

Let me start by saying I know I don't know everything, or even everything about this topic, but I feel like I need to say what I do think and I'm hoping that writing this will act as a reminder to myself as well on how to behave now and in the future.
Lunanik has written about the birth control debate that has been the subject of a forum on a community we're both in, and Mommy Needs Coffee wrote about the lessons she's learning as the parent of a teen. I thought one of the comments was very interesting to Mommy Needs Coffee's post regarding how this is a time when adolescents discover that indeed their parents don't know everything.
I have never said that I did. I don't think my girls are in for any great shock to discover that there are many things that I don't know. This is one of the reasons that I apologize when I'm wrong (another being, it's the right thing to do, and I expect them to do the same), that I admit when I don't know something and let's look it up on the internet together, that I allow them to see my humanity. I have never tried to pretend that I'm perfect to my kids, nor have I ever demanded perfection from them. I have expectations about their behavior in public and at home, I don't let them get away with "but I didn't know" as an excuse when it's something that they absolutely have been told at least 30 to 300 times before, and I continually tell them that I only get mad when I know they can do better, to which they both agree.
I found it interesting to note how many mothers on the birth control issue that were so adamant about this being a terrible thing don't actually have kids even in grade school yet! They are still experiencing the wonderful time when mothers might possibly know everything they need to know.
The other interesting thing about one of the comments on the Mommy Needs Coffee blog was a note that since Americans keep kids in school longer (than what country? I'm not sure) that we actually are dealing with adults but treating them like children. I completely disagree with this.
Considering that our brains aren't fully developed until we're 25, I actually think we're letting them out of the "nest" too soon. (This is why insurance is more expensive for under 25 drivers, btw.) However, they have reached a level of "enlightenment" that allows them to understand how little control we actually have as parents.
One of my favorite moments ever from "The Sopranos" was when Meadow had thrown the party at her grandmother's house, and Tony and Carmela were trying to figure out what they could actually do to her. Tony commented (probably not an exact quote), "as soon she knows we are completely powerless, we're fucked!" Truer words have never been spoken.
Any parent that actually believes that they have "control" over their teenager is just plain wrong. I even know a few mothers that have sons that tower over them!
Now, hopefully we've developed the sort of relationship with our kids that they will actually listen and follow rules, curfews, etc. When they don't, what's the answer?
Shouldn't the first step be talking? The phrase "a cry for help" has often been uttered as maybe not so much a reason but rather an explanation for why certain kids do certain things. Maybe that should be our first response as parents. Maybe we look at the "incident" as a symptom for an underlying problem, and deal with that.
If that's not the case, then what's next? Consequences seem to be appropriate. Taking away certain privileges, or allowing the school to deal with the problem when they've been brought into the situation.
After that, we must ask for outside help. We must recognize that we don't have the solutions and try to find counselors, organizations, other parents, other friends, anyone that is at least willing to step up and say, "hey, I might have an answer for you." (Of course, keeping in mind that we use some common sense here and don't send our kids to one of those camps that has been found guilty of negligence or anything like that!) I think really good parents are willing to recognize when their own solutions haven't been effective.
And sometimes we just need to step back and let our kids fall.
Already, I feel like my job from Monday through Thursday is that of a drill sergeant, and it ain't fun. Girls, get up! Get your lunchboxes. Get your glasses. Get your shoes on. Sylvia, what homwork do you have? Break's over, back to homework. Riley, stop bothering your sister, she's doing homework. Girls, finish dinner already! It's time for homework! Sylvia, I'm not signing your agenda until you put everything away.
And a few times, I've even taken a step back from that. The other night, I told Sylvia, "Don't do your homework. Get a ZAP. Go to bed." Of course, she protested (ZAP stands for Zeroes Aren't Permitted and when you get one, you have to stay an hour after school) and got to work.
Middle school has become a time where she's expected to take on more responsibilities, and there's only so much I can do for her. She did tell me once that she appreciated that I stuck by her and cared enough to make sure she got it done. I guess that's supposed to last me through these past few weeks of whining and carrying on about homework!
I'm still struggling to find the right balance there between being involved and letting her be. And I guess it's the start of a very long road of the next 8 years until she's at least legally considered an adult.
At our last breakfast with the Principal, he was telling us about a group of boarding schools that will be coming to the school in a few weeks to recruit some of the 8th graders. He mentioned that boarding schools offer the best education for high school. I'm wondering how much of that has to do with the absence of parent-teen conflicts. At first I had told Sylvia I'd never send her to a boarding school.
Now I'm beginning to re-consider that...

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Embracing my Inner Bitch

A few loving words of encouragement from other mothers (both working/single moms and stay-at-home moms) have allowed me to regain my hope and faith that most of us are indeed in this together so thanks to those who have taken the time to express that to me.
I've embraced my inner bitch again! I'm fighting the battles that I can fight and every time I do, I feel SO much better.
Part of me wonders if it's wrong that I'm gaining so much joy this way, but the other part of me is saying, you know what? Whatever works!
I've been quite depressed for over a week now. I needed something to get me going again. And, really, I am just defending myself here and calling someone on their ignorance and their misguided attacks. It's all helping me gain confidence in myself again, which can't be a bad thing. Tonight, I'm supposed to be charming and an asset to KIPP as one of their speakers for a fundraiser. I feel so much more ready for it now.
I cannot give up. I cannot stop fighting. I cannot stop being who I am...however much I want to sometimes. And if I'm given the forum to speak my voice, then that must mean I'm supposed to use it.
I realize this may be offensive even to some of those who have expressed their support to me. I can't explain it. But I can say that I think that this "bitch" mode is a transitional state. I think I will find my own "happy" place again. But some days, some weeks, it's just one step at a time that we can take.

I Was So Wrong

I really thought that the media had taken the "Mommy Wars" of SAHMs versus working mothers and completely distorted it. I really believed that most mothers supported each other. I guess it's time for me to accept the fact that, like most faiths I've had in anything, it's time to let this one go as well.
On a Moms board I belong to, two - not one, but two - are saying without question that it's working mothers that are the cause of "violent kids." That we don't take our jobs as mothers seriously enough, and that if we really thought about it, we'd find a way to stay home with our kids.
Of course, neither of them had a solution as to how I, a single mother, with a friggin' deadbeat loser addict dad for an ex am supposed to do this with no money coming in. I know in my heart they're wrong, and it's not so much that I feel the need to defend myself as it is that I hate being wrong about believing that women would treat each other better than that.
Oh sure, I knew there was more than one Ann Coulter out there, making trouble. But I really thought that they couldn't affect me, couldn't hurt me. And I know, I shouldn't let others affect how I feel, but since I've posted so much before about how we need other people even to feel anything, then I think it's safe to say that yes, I do give them the power to hurt me. But if I didn't give them that power, I couldn't also accept help from the people that offer me that. How do you have one without the other?
And you know what else?
Sometimes I wish I were them, those other mothers that can just sit there and believe that I'm perfect and find blame in everyone else in the world for all the faults that surround us. Sometimes I wish I could hold onto ignorance as a way to get through this world, as a way to find answers. Sometimes I wish I could even turn my heart off.
But wouldn't that make me a bad mother as well? By not being open to listening to others? By not showing that other people deserve my respect of being taken seriously?
I don't have any answers today. Being proved wrong takes everything out of me except questions.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


My sister sent me this email. Thought I'd post my answers here instead:

Complete it, then send it back to the person who sent it to you and the rest of your friends!

Two Names You Go By:
1. April
2. Mommy

Two Things You Are Wearing Right Now:
1 Pants
2. heels (I'm actually wearing heels today!)

2. Two Things You Would Want in a Relationship:
(I am going to assume in this case romantic relationship)
1. Laughter
2. Thoughtfulness

Two of Your Favorite Things to do:
1. Sleep
2. Smoke (yes, I'm all about health)

Two Things You Want Very Badly At The Moment:
1. $$$
2. No more unexpected bills

Two pets you had/have:
1. Bobbie
2. Sissy

Two people who will fill this out:
1. hate these questions
2. n/a

Two things you did last night:
1. Watched "Pushing Daisies"
2. Brushed the girls' hair

Two things you have eaten today
1. Coffee
2. coffee

Two people you Last Talked To:
1. Terry
2. Lisa

Two things You're doing tomorrow:
1. work
2. laundry

Two of your longest car rides
1. Driving from Denver to Los Angeles
2. Driving to Santa Cruz, a number of times.

Two Favorite Holidays:
1. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (no commitments - just enjoy!)
2. President's Day (same reason)

Two Favorite Beverages:
1. Coffee
2. wine

If you'd like to add your own two's, just comment to this post.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Balance between Independence and Interdependence

I wrote this post a few days ago about our need for human connection. But how much need is unhealthy? When does interdependence turn into a lack of independence, or, that common “buzz” word, co-dependence?

Having been married to a drug addict, I’d see people get that look, if not even just say it out loud, “aah. You’re a co-dependent.” And maybe it’s a lack of self-knowledge on my part, but I’ve pondered this and pondered this, and still can’t believe that I am.

It’s just so easy to slap a label onto someone, and leave it at that, but I just can’t – not surprisingly I guess, but particularly with myself.

I consider my relationship with my ex to be a labor of love. I didn’t go into the relationship, knowing that he was a drug addict and thinking, “I can save him.” I had already fallen in love with him before I knew the extent of what he was doing (crack, I finally learned). I don’t necessarily want to drudge up all of the details of the story, but the best answer I can give is that I believed that you don’t walk away from love just because it’s not easy.

I had a conversation recently with a friend about why I hated the movie, “Knocked Up,” which I didn’t actually hate, but I had a problem with the ending. [Spoiler alert] The movie is about a woman who gets pregnant from a one-night stand, and not anyone’s idea of an ideal father. He smokes pot every day, his “job” is putting together a website with friends about where to find celebrities’ breasts in movies, and he’s basically still living like a college frat boy (another generalization, but it gives the picture I’m trying to create here, so please forgive). By the end of the movie, he “grows up” and is a good dad.

I wanted to scream like Kathy Bates in “Misery”: “BUT THAT’S NOT HOW IT WORKS IN REAL LIFE!!”

And I suppose I was living in some kind of fantasy world where I did believe that somehow, actually having the girls would change him somehow. And, to both his credit and mine, he did try. But it would always end up falling apart. First, I stopped believing in him. Then, I stopped loving him.

Does that make me a co-dependent? I didn’t necessarily believe that I could change him, but I did believe that offering him the right kind of support, and sticking by him would mean something. And I guess eventually I did have to learn that I had to “accept the things that I cannot change,” but I also don’t feel like I’m in any danger of going through something like that ever again.

Now, having said that, I still depend on others. Co-dependent? Too dependent? A healthy balance of interdependence? You decide.

Sometimes, I think that I do need other people too much. Sometimes, I do need to reach out and have someone there.

I’ve been having a bad time of it the last couple of days. I had car issues, which led to money issues (putting it mildly), which led to me just feeling overwhelmed, bitter, and depressed. I reached out to a few friends.

I just thanked one of them for “giving me permission” to take some time for myself. We talked about how we both need validation (which was a constant theme of mine I learned through therapy), and both commented that it was probably an unhealthy need.

But the more I think about it, the more I don’t think it is unhealthy.

We are both single, working mothers. We don’t have the benefit of a spouse to go home to at the end of the day, who will talk us through stuff, help us unwind, help the kids with their homework, make the dinner for us, take out the trash for us, listen to our workday woes, make the coffee for us in the morning…

At the same time, we both pride ourselves on our independence. We have to. We both have deadbeat exes who don’t pay their child support so it’s up to us to take care of everything; from car issues to the parent teacher conferences. We do it all. Our way of accepting this is to pat ourselves on the back for being able to do it all. And, heck, why shouldn’t we?

You think back to the ‘50’s, not only did all moms get to stay home, they also had friggin’ maids to help them around the house! And not just upper class homes, either. Middle class homes had them, too. So we’re essentially doing the job of three people as single moms. And yet we still have to defend ourselves against politicians who bemoan single parenthood as one of the “problems” of this country. I am not the problem. But I digress.

My point is that I probably shouldn’t feel the need to apologize for needing someone to talk to on occasion, someone who gets me, someone who will help me when I can’t figure out what to do. Yeah, sometimes I need validation. Well, you know what? I’ll live if I don’t get it. But is it so terribly wrong of me to want it sometimes?

When you consider the amount of time I spend being completely independent, I probably shouldn’t feel guilty for the times that I do need to connect to human beings (other than my kids). Every now and then, is it so much to ask for a little counter-balance of interdependence?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Shades of Gray

I was thinking about this for other reasons, but then Kori's blog motivated me to actually write about it.

It goes back to why I call this blog "It's All About Balance."

I've read some things lately that make me feel like I need to talk about this again. The thing is, there are no absolutes. I don't believe in absolutes.

I talk in generalities a lot, but I've been reminded more than once (just today, even) on why that's dangerous.

Let's take something like "personal responsibility," for example.

Yes, I believe in personal responsibility. Someone like my ex-husband makes me champion it because he fights it so desperately. At the age of 46, he still doesn't have his own place to live, his own car, a steady job, let alone be able to live up to the responsibilities of being a father. The man has been in jail for the past 2 years on his daughters' birthdays. Yes, I have every reason to be a fan of personal responsibility.

But there are times when we all need a little help. There are times when those of us who exhibit personal responsibility for most of our waking hours deserve a little break and some support.

The issue of how much companies should be responsible for the use (or mis-use) of their products is one way I've been faced with it recently.

On this community site I belong to, the issue of the voluntary recalls of children's medicine is being discussed. More than one person has said that the parents alone are at fault for "mini-dosing" their children.

I have been there. When Riley was a baby, we did not have health insurance. So when she got a fever, I would get the infant's Tylenol. I read the label that said for children under 2, consult your physician. I didn't have a physician to call. So I took the first actual dose listed on the package, and cut it either in half or by a third and give it to Riley. Or, if I had consulted a physician with her immunizations, I would just use the dosage they recommended (are you really supposed to call every single time?).

I guess some would call me an irresponsible mother for doing so. I guess it's not surprising that I would disagree with that. But you know what they would've called me had I taken my little girl with a slight fever to the emergency room without health insurance? A drain on the system. Without health insurance, I simply couldn't win.

Now, if there were universal health insurance, then it would be easy, right? But "personal responsibility" advocates generally (sorry, I have to use generalizations) oppose that because, hey, it's my responsibility to have insurance, right?

Well, my employer at the time didn't offer it. And there are many employers who don't offer it. However, this employer did offer housing, so I don't think I was out of line in accepting a job that didn't offer health insurance. And most people think, just let me earn a paycheck, I'll figure the rest out.

What's ironic is, had I not had a job, not taken on that personal responsibility, I probably could have qualified for Medicare. But then, I'd be a "lazy, welfare mom" right? Like I said, sometimes you just can't win for trying.

Halloween was another issue that came up. Some schools have banned parades, even costumes and parties, for fear of offending people.

First of all, I find it interesting that some Christians find this absolutely acceptable, yet whine that their children aren't allowed to be taught the Bible at school. So, really, you want public schools to be Christian. Well, can't you take on the "personal responsibility" of teaching your children the Bible and telling your children whether or not they can participate in a costume parade? No, all of a sudden, it's the school's responsibility to do that for you. Personally, I don't want anyone telling my children what to believe or how to believe. From Adolf Hitler to David Karesh to the Catholic priests to members of the friggin' Senate, the religious ideology of others have caused so much pain in the world today, I don't know how anyone foregoes that personal responsibility.

Another issue is one that Kori brings up of the personal responsibility of sex education. Now, believe me, I'm going to be telling my daughters my views on this subject, as Kori did, but wouldn't it be nice if Kori had a little bit more support on trying to give her own daughter ALL of the information about sex? Or if they had at least put this under the category of a BELIEF system, not absolute fact.

Things like this actually make me want to be an atheist.

Dr. Laura Schlessinger and others love to tell single mothers how to live their lives. She's a fan of single moms marrying again, but she's not a fan of them dating. Now, first of all, how does that work? How do you marry someone without ever having the benefit of dating?

Second of all, there are reasonable ways for single moms to pursue romantic relationships without negatively impacting their children. I've gone out a few times over the years without my kids even knowing about it. But some people (and it particularly bothers me when it's other women) don't give us the benefit of the doubt that we can be reasonable, and that yes, we are allowed to be someone, to have a life outside of our kids.

Then there's the whole "Mommy war" thing - SAHMs versus working moms. I don't know how some of these women find the time to put that much energy into worrying and judging how other mothers are trying to get by. And, btw, great lesson by example that you're teaching your kids by putting that much effort into putting other women down (note sarcasm).

When we cling to absolutes, then that must make us absolutely "right" or absolutely "wrong," right?

Isn't it kinder, more compassionate, to say that we're simply HUMAN - capable of degrees of "rightness" and "wrongness"? When we accept shades of gray, we accept a certain level of leeway that allows us all to pick ourselves up and maybe even have a hand from some compassionate fellow human after we fall.

I know I'm not always good at it, either. I find it hard to forgive the folks who voted for Bush (particularly the 2nd time), I find it hard to not judge someone by their labels (Christian, Republican, etc.) But I'm hoping that by writing about this, I'll take some of it to heart in future dealings and remember that every choice and decision one makes can be affected by fate, or can adversely affect another. At the same time, every choice is also an opportunity - I hope most of us opt for choosing a compassionate approach most of the time.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Ranting re: LAUSD; Raving re: KIPP LA Prep

I just read that the Superintendent of LAUSD finally filled a few cabinet positions. Never mind that it took him almost a year to do so. His reasoning: "to find the right people, sometimes you have to be a little patient."
In the meantime, my daughters experienced another YEAR of LAUSD education. But never mind that, Brewer! Never mind that these kids have no time to lose since they've already lost so much time. I just need more patience. (This guy drives me NUTS.)
And who got these positions? Well, friends of his from the Navy, of course!! And guess what position still isn't filled? The Academic advisor one - the one that's supposed to fill in the holes of his lack of experience. But, hey, what does that matter when you're only the SUPERINTENDENT of a SCHOOL BOARD!! Oh, that's right! It's ME who needs more patience.
The good news is he did hire someone who's actually knowledgable about payroll problems. Guess you kind of noticed that people not getting paid for doing their job is kind of a bad thing, huh? Guess you couldn't get away with telling them to just be patient.
Well, guess what? My patience is OUT!
A while back, he wrote an article that said basically, I'm either with him or against him. (yeah, because it's really just that simple, is it?) Count me on the "against" side, then, because I'm SO done!
I have seen the light, and the light is called charter schools. Specifically, KIPP LA Prep Middle School (link below on My Favorite Sites). For the first time since my daughters commenced their LAUSD education 5 years ago, I finally have a partner!
Here's just a tiny example of what makes KIPP different, what makes them truly understand that parents and teachers can work TOGETHER.
For years now, I've been writing little notes on the PTA flyers about how they discriminate against working parents by holding their meetings at either 8:15 or 3:30 in the afternoon. Yet, I continue to get newsletters that say things like, "thanks to the parents who took the time to attend..." implying that I'm not willing to "take the time" - never mind that I'm a single parent who works on an hourly basis and can't just leave work whenever I feel like it. No, I'm just not taking the time.
Well, a couple of weeks ago, KIPP had a bbq at a nearby park and families were welcome to attend. I would've loved to have come, but it was on a Friday from 10-12. Wouldn't you know it, on the next newsletter, they thanked the parents that "were able to make it." Just that difference in phrasing said to me that they get it. They know some of us work. (They also have Saturday meetings for parents with the Principal, and hold things like Open House after work hours!)
At Open House last Monday, I was talking to Sylvia's writing teacher about my concerns about Sylvia's spelling. She mentioned that most kids from LAUSD had trouble with spelling.
I thought about that as I was helping Riley (still in a regular neighborhood LAUSD elementary school) with her spelling homework. There's always a little note saying what vowel sounds they're concentrating on (long i's, that sort of thing - which I still always forget what is what, and don't find it nearly as beneficial - but that's for another post I guess) that week. But when I looked at the words, there was no consistency to them whatsoever.
For one thing, they're concentrating on three different vowel sounds the same week. That doesn't make any sense to me. The words are random, and don't always seem to be high frequency words. For instance, two weeks ago, one of the words was "chomp." Now, really, how much do you use the word chomp? Their "concentration" is so unfocused, it seems silly to call it a concentration. If you really did want to concentrate on a certain vowel sound, shouldn't all the words have the same vowel sound, and just use all the different spellings?
And as I thought back, I realized that all of Sylvia's words up until now have also had no sense of cohesiveness about them. I mean, I'm no education expert, but I could choose better words than the ones Riley has!
Sylvia's words at KIPP, on the other hand (and, yet again) DO have the same vowel sound all week long. I expect that the writing teacher's prophecy will hold correct, and that Sylvia's spelling outside of the vocabulary words will improve as the year progresses.
Hey, maybe I could be the Superintendent's Academic Advisor. Oh, wait. I never served in the Navy. Never mind.

Friday, October 12, 2007

A new campaign is brewing...

I've just received a forwarded email from a woman who is passing on a copy of a letter she wrote to Vons:

Mr. Thomas C. Keller, President
The Vons Companies
618 Michillinda Ave.
Arcadia, CA 91007-6300

Dear Mr. Keller:
Yesterday I stopped into the Vons at 155 West California Blvd. in Pasadena to buy snacks before my daughter’s soccer practice. As we waited in the checkout line, I noticed that my children seemed fascinated with the magazine display. My son, age 11, and daughter, age eight, were eye-level with the latest issue of Cosmopolitan Magazine. That would be the issue with a nearly-bare-breasted woman on the front, and advertising such articles as “The Blended Orgasm: So Deep, So Strong. How You Can Have One Tonight,” “You Sex Goddess! Crazy-Ass Moves He Wants You to Do to Him There,” and my personal favorite, “Your Gyno's Secret Thoughts About Your Sex Life.” Perhaps you believe this is the kind of magazine your customers cannot find elsewhere. Perhaps you are right. However, I can also buy my groceries elsewhere, which is what I intend to do if I find myself unable to take my children with me when I do my marketing. I will also be sending a copy of this letter to every mother in my e-mail address book, so they can be forewarned about what to expect when they shop at Vons.
This is not about changing channels, monitoring internet use or supervising reading choices. This is about trying to get through just one day without having to confront the increasingly degraded environment in which I am attempting to raise my children.
I look forward to a prompt response.

I think this is a great letter, bringing up excellent points. I don't know this woman personally, but from what I gather, she is someone that, like me, believes that we can monitor tv shows and internet sites, but that this goes beyond what we can control. Except by doing something like this.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Crazy, Awesome...Wow

You really, really have to read the whole thing first. Promise me you'll read it all, and then come back to see what I say about it.

Okay, first of all, whoa, right?

And really, so many reactions to have. WTF?!? being the main one, I think.

But then this is my main reaction: What a fascinating tale of human yearning...yearning felt by everyone in the story. The one (or ones) that had to make up this whole fantasy life in order to fill the need for human connection, the one who bought into the whole fantasy, most likely justifying any clues along the way in order to believe in true love, the author of the article and his friends who cared enough about another human being to actually be there for her.

The things we'll do to feel...

Do you ever wonder how much drama is created by and between people in order to just feel something? It happens every day, around the country - the world, from the office politics of those trying to make themselves feel important and those that feel affected by it, to the playgrounds at schools where friendships are made and tested and proven, to the good ol' Internet, where judgments and statements and rants are read and dissected and fought and cheered on...

Now, this is not to say that people aren't really feeling what they're feeling. They are. Absolutely they are. But how would we feel anything if there was no one giving us something to which we could react?

I suppose it comes from my days as an actor. That old saying, "don't act. React." And it's true. You have to respond emotionally to what is happening in order for the audience to respond to it.

How can we, in reality, feel an emotion if there's nothing there to make us feel it? And if there's nothing there, and we feel and react, doesn't that make us crazy?

I talk to myself. All the time. I spend hours in my cube in front of a computer, talking to it, talking to me...I don't think I'm crazy, but I could be perceived as such.

I talk to myself at home. After the girls go to bed, and I'm watching t.v., and I have a thought which I would say out loud to a person were a person there...I say it out loud anyway. I know no one's there, but that doesn't stop me!

And, sure, sometimes I wish there were someone there to hear me. But it would really have to be the right someone. The someone who disappeared when I really did want to be alone, someone who would say to my girls exactly what I would say to them, someone who would put the dishes in the dishwasher the way that I like...there's simply no need to actually find someone, that most likely wouldn't meet even half my criteria, if all I really supposedly need in order to not feel or appear crazy is someone to be there when I say something out loud to the t.v. (and, really, I'm not all that fond of people to begin with).

I think of blogging as a way to fulfill the need to connect. You write, you hope that people respond to it, you hope that you don't sound crazy :)

Human nature...and all the variations of degrees of the needs in humans...will never fail to fascinate me.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Fate Works in Mysterious Ways

This weekend, I took my girls to Disneyland, where it happened to be Gay Day. (Fave t-shirt: "Doing My Part to Piss Off the Christian Right") I normally love taking the girls to D-land, just the 3 of us, and couldn't figure out why Gay Day was making me feel left out, until it hit me. I miss being part of a community.
It's the major disadvantage of not belonging to any group/organized religion.
For the majority of my life, I belonged to the theatre community, but I learned that trying to mesh motherhood and theatre don't work together very well. I loved being a part of the Antioch community as a college student...then I had to go and graduate! Of course, there's the "forced" community of work, but that's not the same when your major common ground is the need to make money.
So I was feeling all sorry for myself, lamenting on the idea that instead of a community, I simply had a network now of online and email friends.
Then I came across two really upsetting articles, both having to do with the Roman Catholic Church, and their methods for paying out the court settlements having to do with the child abuse cases.
The first one talked about how in San Diego, they're asking their parishioners for the money. The really sad part to me is that some people are actually willing to donate!!
The second one was about the nuns in Santa Barbara that are being evicted from their convent so the property can be sold (yes, because so many NUNS were found guilty of child abuse).
It made me re-think the whole need for a community thing. I'm better off with the network idea: where I can be who I am, keep my priorities the way that I like, and pick and choose my friends. In turn, I can also let others be who they are, and while I spout off my opinions and may disagree with some things, I know that my friends know I will always love them and support them.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The TV shows I'm Still Watching

It's still very early in the season, but so far, I'm most excited about "Pushing Daisies." It's original, has great characters, and a lot of heart mixed with some darkness. I look forward to new episodes and think they have enough possibilities to make it interesting for a long time to come.
The other "must-see" for me is "Dirty Sexy Money." Now, I say it's a must-see, but at the same time...see my previous posts about lack of time lately, and hopefully you'll understand why I haven't made it through the second episode yet!
"Private Practice" has been about what I expected: disappointing. I haven't watched the 2nd episode of that either, but I'll keep it on my DVR list and get to it when I get to it.
"Desperate Housewives" was also disappointing. Didn't we already do the "mysterious neighbor" thing? The best moment was when Marcia Cross and Dana Delaney were having the neighborly spat about the tree. It's a perfect example of what this show does best, and I hope to see more of it. Otherwise...
"Brothers & Sisters" did not disappoint. "Boston Legal" had a great season opener, but the 2nd episode wasn't as funny as I would've liked. "The Office" season opener was also a trifle disappointing, but I hold out hope. "How I Met Your Mother" had a good season opener, a less satisfying 2nd episode, but again, I'll stick with it. And I do enjoy the nostalgic feel of "My Name Is Earl" that wraps everything up neatly by the end of the episode!
I did give up on "Cane" and "Kid Nation." I previously posted about my problems with "Kid Nation." I watched about 45 minutes of "Cane" and then decided...I don't care!! I found the show to think too much of itself for a first episode, expecting me to feel something for characters that I didn't even know yet. I know pilots can be a little heavy on the exposition, but you do need some!
And, whenever there's a drought...there's always "Cash Cab."

The Balancing Act of Homework

Enrolling Sylvia into KIPP LA Prep has solved the majority of my problems with the public education system. She's learning critical thinking skills, she's got teachers who believe that EVERY child is capable of succeeding, we have access to the teachers and staff cell phone numbers and email addresses, I have a parents website where I can access her grades, the principal has a breakfast meeting with the parents once a month, she's in school longer hours, she has P.E. and music and art as part of her curriculum, and she's doing theatre and is now an Ambassador to the school. I'm seriously in love with this school.
The one problem that hasn't gone away, and has actually gotten worse, is that of homework. She's usually doing homework until 9 pm, and the last 2 nights it's been until 10 pm. Not only do I think this is excessive and that she's not getting enough sleep, it's also cutting into my precious "me time."
I've been trying to be there for her because I know my involvement means a lot to her. I've been offering her what I felt was more moral support then academic help. I never give her the answers to any question, but I confirm when she has the right answer, or help her brainstorm ideas (again, mainly offering validation), I help her manage her time. I have her take 10-minute breaks and set the timer for her. But lately, not only is this taking up more of my time from getting laundry done or vacuuming (I know, so exciting!), she also seems to need more of my actual help in getting the work done.
Two nights ago, I worked with her on every problem of her math homework, which was finding the Least Common Multiple. There were about 20 problems, and each one probably took at least 2 minutes to solve. That's 40 minutes right there, and then there's the 20-minutes of reading, there's the page of journal writing, the vocabulary exercises, the social sciences homework, and the homework for music and/or technology and/or art.
Last night, I started to feel like she was taking advantage of me in helping her with her long division. I was trying to show her ways to break it down, since it seemed to terrify her. I was telling her to do some estimating to guide her in finding the right numbers, and leading her through the problems. A little more than halfway through, I started to get very irritated. For one thing, I was completely ignoring my other daughter (thankfully, she just went in her room and is good at being by herself, but it doesn't make me feel any less bad about it), and for another, I felt like Sylvia was leaning on me way too much and wasn't really taking in any of the information I was giving her.
I walked away, told her that she needed to do this by herself since I won't be there when she takes a test on it. I knew I'd done the right thing when she lost it, crying and whining (some day, I'll have to post a blog/poem or something on how much I despise the sound of whining). I left the room and she was yelling about how she can't do it, and I stayed out of sight for a little while. I came back in and just "stopped by" on my way to the kitchen to tell her to break it down into smaller numbers, and good luck. Then I turned on the water full blast and started the dishes.
About 2 minutes later, she said, "I did it!" I just smiled, and said, "good. I knew you could!" After I finished with the dishes, I came over and saw a couple of problems were wrong so I took her back through them, and showed her one more "trick." She only had a couple more left to do and this time, when I asked her more open-ended questions about what she was going to do, she had much more productive answers than "I don't know."
It's tricky to find that balance between helping your child, and helping your child be more independent. I think I teetered over the edge of being unhelpful by helping too much, but I found my way back!
Now, if we could just do something about the length of homework assignments...

Can we get some PRACTICAL advice for a change?!?

I was going to post about something else entirely, but this article pushed one of my buttons, and I need to vent!
Thank you, NBC and the Today Show, for giving me more completely useless advice!! This is exactly why I have canceled all my parenting mag subscriptions. Not to mention there's more to "mommy blues" than separation anxiety, which is all this article really talks about, not "mommy blues" at all. And the advice isn't just useless, it's WRONG! (Particularly if the issue is separation anxiety, rather than "mommy blues.")
If the issue is separation anxiety, the frank way of putting it is "get a life." The less judgmental, less attacking answer is to recognize that you are still someone outside of being a mother, and to explore those other parts of you. I've taken up a new hobby (knitting), I read fiction, go to the theatre, talk with my friends, escape into television and movies, think about career options...I even got my Bachelor's. And I know that my "me time" makes me a better mom. Having the girls at my college graduation made it so much sweeter because I knew I was showing them by my actions that it's never too late. Escaping into entertainment turns my mind off for a little while and lets me relax, which we all need to do sometimes. I learned to knit because my older daughter wanted to know how, but now I love it as a relaxing hobby for me to do while still accomplishing something.

Now, in terms of "mommy blues" that are more about the aggravating, stressful daily activities that sometimes get us all down, I have many issues with their so-called "advice":

  • "Talk about your feelings." Like I posted about yesterday, sometimes this doesn't help. And sometimes, the more you vent, the more you feel "unheard." Yes, it's a good place to start, but if talking to your partner or a friend isn't working, then there's nothing wrong with going to a therapist for help. Sometimes we do need the guidance of a trained profession.
  • "Follow the anti-depression diet...get plenty of sleep." Okay, really, how realistic is it to tell mothers of newborns to get plenty of sleep?!? Heck, even with school-age children, I don't get more than 7 hours of sleep most nights. And then, guess what? I need coffee in the morning to get me going again...usually, all day long. And as much as it would be nice to always eat healthy and right, don't you think that advising people to do so who aren't might make them feel guilty, thus adding even more depression to their plate (forgive the pun)? And sometimes, a glass of wine really hits the spot!
  • "practice the attitude of gratitude" - great, now people who feel miserable about their lives might even feel guilty about not appreciating what they have. I think a more reasonable way to put this is to revel in the good moments. As mothers, our children usually give us them just when we need it the most!
  • This one's my personal favorite "start a support group." Yes, because that's all we need - more stuff on our plate! And what are single parents supposed to do with the kids? I actually tried this one, to start a single parent group at work...and learned the hard way why there aren't more groups for single parents. None of us have the time! Not practical advice at all. Instead, go web-surfing! Check out some mommy blogs that will make you laugh or sympathize or just find someone else that is going through what you are.

Not that I'm an "expert" or anything...but I certainly felt a lot better when I stopped letting experts influence me!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Online Diary Entry: There's Something About Wednesdays

I always feel my most blah on Wednesdays. I guess that's fairly typical. But it still comes as a surprise to me.
The day usually starts out like any other, but as the hours go by, I feel less and less connected with anyone in the world. I don't know why, but all the differences between me and everyone else seem more pronounced and generally feel like obstacles.
I also see my own faults to a greater degree on this day. I question myself more. I wonder what the heck I'm doing with my life, or why don't I do some things better?
When people talk to me, it feels like they're on a different wavelength than I am.
I know it'll pass, but I also know it'll get worse and worse until I'm with my girls again.
Somehow, this is also the day I appreciate them the most as we do our nightly routine. (Okay, maybe not always, but usually.) They get me out of my head and focused on them.
I need something to get me out of my own head! But it won't happen until 6 o'clock tonight.
Until then, I'll just be biding time, I guess. Such a waste, though, with only so many hours in the day. But what's a girl to do?

Monday, October 1, 2007

The Bitter Divorcee Explains it All for You

After reading Mommy Needs Coffee's latest blog, I had to respond in my own. I find myself trying to explain to people why I'm bitter, why I come across as a "man-hater." It gets exhausting after a while.
I hate being a cliche, I really do. Being a person who dislikes labels, it's hard for me to accept that in many ways I've become one.
At the same time, how could I not?!?
I tried standing by my man; my man drove me over the edge. I tried believing in love; love only made it harder to leave. I even tried believing in marriage, but that didn't mean that my marriage believed in me.
I end up in therapy again at least once a year since my separation 4 years ago. I don't like having to go. I don't like having to admit that I still need help with this. I don't like admitting I'm still not over it.
But when everything you believed in has been thoroughly crushed, it doesn't just heal with time. Particularly since so much of that time is still spent picking up the pieces. I mean, I can't just fall apart whenever I want to! I'm still raising children, going to work, and spending most of my time caring for others. (Not that I resent that, of course, but it's just a fact that allows me less time to deal with my own crap.)
My friend, K, and I have been emailing about the issue of our deadbeat exes. While we both know we can't squeeze blood from a turnip, it still seems ridiculous that we're always expected to make up the financial differences even when the courts have found our exes to be financially liable. Besides it not being fair (which is a whole issue in and of itself), there's the issue that we do squeeze blood from turnips all the time! I don't know how, but I paid for the uniforms, I paid for the Scholastic books, I paid for the car mechanic, and my kids still didn't go hungry, and we have a roof over our head. So the fact is, I can squeeze it - why can't my ex?
Then there's the fact that I just know so many mothers who are in my same position; divorced from substance abusers and/or just plain old jerks that didn't live up to their end of the bargain. And while I know SO many women who have been through this, I only know one man (who was married to a flake, not a substance abuser). So how can this life experience not color how I look at men?!?
How could the divorce process not color me against marriage? What's laughable is, they apparently make the process "difficult" to discourage divorce. First of all, really? What if it were you that was married to a drug addict who screwed up your credit and your ability to get a checking account, let alone qualify for a mortgage? Does society really want to encourage me to stay with a man who steals cash from his own wife?!?
And second of all, what the process did was discourage me from ever wanting to marry again. Never, ever again do I want to take someone else's adult responsibilities on.
I also hear that I'm not in a relationship because I'm just too "scared." I've thought about this one a lot. It's not fear, it's exhaustion. And lack of quality men out there. It's not a cliche (or, it's a cliche for a reason): all the good ones are taken. And do you really think I'm ever, ever going to "settle" again? I couldn't settle for the girls' father...I'm not going to "settle" for someone who could never care or love these kids even the way he does!
But back to exhaustion for a minute: I spend my mornings rushing kids to get ready to go to school. Then I go to work where I'm supposed to leave all of that behind and care for my lawyers. Then I go back home to make dinner, help kids with homework, give them baths, get them to bed at a decent hour...and then, I get to escape into a book or tv show or movie. I'm not really sure where I would find the time or energy to care about someone else's needs at this point, or even their day. So, yeah, another relationship? Just sounds like more work to me!
So I'm completely aware that this all makes me the "bitter divorcee," but again, I could it not?
Something came up recently where my level of happiness was in question. I don't know if I'm "happy" or not. I know I have moments of sheer joy with my kids, and sheer hell. I know I can laugh, and I know I still cry sometimes. So, to wrap this up neatly with a song, I always go back to "For Now" from Avenue Q. The last line sums it up "everything in life is only for now."
I'm happy sometimes, I'm not so much at others. The thing is, I don't try to answer whether or not I'm a "happy person" anymore. I just try to recognize the joyful moments, and revel in them as long as I can.
But my natural state is probably more "bitter." And, really, can you blame me?

Real Mothers Unite

I was having a conversation earlier today with a friend at work, who desperately wants to have children, but is biologically unable to do so. She's struggling with the idea of adoption, which I'm trying to encourage...a really big departure for me. I normally don't try to encourage parenthood to anyone since I feel like it's such a huge decision, everyone should make up their own mind and not let anyone else's opinions interfere. Yet this woman is so suited for motherhood, and as sad as it is that she can't experience it the "old-fashioned" way, she and her husband just seem like the perfect example of what adopted parents should look like. So I've pushed my nose in and told her what I felt.
She mentioned that she also was worried that she'd feel guilty about taking her child to day care. This, like adoption, just doesn't fit in with what she thought motherhood would look like for her. While I certainly understand the desire to stay home, again, sometimes reality just gets in the way and we need to re-adjust our attitudes and perceptions and goals to make our dreams fit reality.
For me, it was the reality that I was going to have to do parenthood all on my own.
We had a discussion on a Moms site I belong to where we were asked, when did you feel like a mom? One woman was extremely honest in her answer that she struggled for quite a long time with that because she didn't feel like she thought she would.
I once had a bit of a meltdown in an English lit class, discussing Walt Whitman's poetry. I really dislike Walt Whitman, particularly how he glorifies mothers. Norman Rockwell is another offender.
These people, mostly men, have set up this expectation of what motherhood looks like and how we should feel and I think it can be incredibly detrimental to women who just don't look like the portraits that they've seen. Popular culture in the present hasn't done much to diminish these ideals. Exhibit A: the movie "Knocked Up," where of course the woman is ready as soon as she makes the decision to have the child to become a mom, but it takes the guy until the birth to "step up" (and it's unrealistic to believe that the guy would step up - trust me, I've lived it!). But I digress.
My point is, I'm so grateful for some of the women on the Internet who have been honest and forthright about their struggles with not fitting into the cookie-cutter image of motherhood. Blogs like Because I Said So and White Trash Mom have not only made me smile, but feel like I'm not alone in not feeling like Donna Reed. Also, I've just finished reading Jennifer Weiner's Goodnight Nobody where the main character struggles with not fitting in at the playground mommy group.
These are excellent reminders and, dare I say, role models for those of us who found motherhood to be not at all what we pictured. And I thank those parents that have given me the chance to laugh at myself, the chance to admit failures along the way, and the chance to celebrate and cheer on all of our successes as we let go of the quest to be the perfect parent, and embrace the goal of simply being the best parent we can be.