Tuesday, July 28, 2009


I'm so off-schedule with my blogging! It seems it's going to take me a while to get back in the rhythm of this.

I'm not even sure what my update is yet.

We did nothing exciting this weekend, which was kind of nice! It was our first weekend all summer long that hasn't had something on the schedule, so we just enjoyed our downtime. The girls even enjoyed it considering that they'd gone on field trips most of last week, ending with Disneyland on Friday. The girls went on Matterhorn for the first time ever, so it seems we get to add that to our itinerary. Maybe that means I can get them to skip Splash Mountain next time. Call me a dud, but I'm just not a fan of walking around drenched all day. Or even part of the day.

My next post will most likely be another education rant. I'm getting geared up for the new school year.

It looks like work is just going to get busier and busier, which is fine with me! The only downside is, it's getting harder to look at a computer screen at night after looking at one all day, which makes it hard to keep up with everyone in my Reader. I'll pop by when I can, but it'll be infrequent at best.

Sylvia and I had a lovely movie night on Sunday night (Riley did her own thing) watching Pirates of the Caribbean (the first one). I was surprised at how much of the movie I didn't remember, but Sylvia and I thoroughly enjoyed our evening. At the end, I was getting ready to turn it off before the credits, but Sylvia wanted me to wait until Johnny Depp's name. I had to laugh - "ooh, let's look at letters on a screen!" But we waited.

The other day when I was picking Sylvia up from the Club, she stormed out in a way that astonished me in how much she looked like a mini-me when I'm upset! (It was a fight with a friend, that quickly passed.) A small reminder in just how much they do pick up from us.

Oh, and I would love for you to read my latest Examiner article. Though it's slanted towards Los Angeles, I hope that the general tips are universal. (And yeah, that one's about education, too.)

I've been thinking a lot lately about one comment that I received from Clever Elsie where she pointed out how little of our education (no matter how far we've gone) we really use in our daily lives. Education has always been a passionate subject for me, and it's because I want it so badly to be useful.

In re-connecting with so many high school friends on FB, I realize that I got the most out of my education as a vocal student at LA County High School for the Arts. Not because, obviously, of my work today, but because of what I learned about working with others - from choir to jazz ensemble to the little mini girl group my friends and I put together. I learned there how to be a team player and share center stage. We cheered each other on, and supported one another when something didn't go well. We learned from our mistakes both in rehearsal and performance, and how to correct them for the next performance. We learned how to read between the lines of the lyrics to what the song was really saying.

Those are the skills I use today in my job. I give my drafts (my rehearsals) to the lawyer (my director), they tell me what's wrong, and then I fix it. I know who to ask what question by observing their strengths. I can leave everything behind at the office and enjoy a lunch with anyone in the group, just like no matter what had happened at the performance, we'd all want to celebrate together after an opening night.

I don't remember every song we sang together, just as I don't remember what agreement we worked on last month, but I remember the moments of humanity we shared, and the moments of humanity I share with my colleagues every day now is what make it a pleasure to go to work every day.

I know I'm very lucky. I know not everyone has the type of fantastic work environment I do. But I also know that I've learned that I don't have to do what I love to love what I do. (Okay I'm borrowing from Sondheim: "It's not so much do what you like as it is that you like what you do.")

I think, looking back, that the passion for music, for performing may have been what brought us together back in high school, but it's the people that we really came to know and love. And through our situation in high school (which, again, was a lucky break), we were able to learn how to appreciate the people in our lives.

Okay, now I'm just babbling incoherently, aren't I?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

My Open Letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan

Dear Mr. Duncan,

I was just about to log off for the night and go to bed, but then I read about your statement that you will withhold millions of federal education dollars from California. That threatens to keep me awake all night.

Sir, I have two daughters in California public schools. They, and the other millions of students, are not just the future of California, but of the world.

California is the 8th largest economy in the world. It shouldn't come as a shock to anyone that California has been hit hard by this recession.

And it shouldn't come as a shock to you, sir, that your threat does nothing to help our students.

I'm as frustrated with the unions as you are. In fact, I might even be more frustrated as it is my children that are affected by them.

That doesn't mean, however, that my girls should suffer this consequence.

Nor do I agree with the assessment that implementing those testing standards on to the teachers will say anything about the quality of those teachers.

Particularly at a time when my daughter going into 4th grade will most likely be in a class with a mixture of either 3rd graders or 5th graders. Particularly at a time when our state government is already taking money away from our local cities and municipalities.

My daughters' schools are absolutely counting on the federal stimulus money.

I know that the system is broken, but I don't see how this slash in funds does anything more than shatter it completely.

This shouldn't be about unions. This shouldn't be about standardized testing (which still haven't proved to actually be an effective barometer in our future generations being able to do anything more than scan, discard, select and move on).

California schools are much like our Los Angeles river: surviving only on inches of water per year. If you go through with your threat, Secretary Duncan, you will suck California's public system completely dry and our children will give up on their thirst, their desire, to learn.

Balancing my singular pride

I haven't written about this a lot lately because I don't know if I can express myself to the fullest extent. But since I've read two separate posts from two different single moms I know and love that have basically said that choosing to be alone is not really a choice, I have to respond.

I'm not going to name them because I don't want this to turn into a personal attack thing. It's NOT a personal attack. It's not personal against them or anyone else in a relationship.

But there are plenty of people writing about being in relationships or wanting to be in one. I have chosen a different path for myself, and it's not sad or lonely or a defense mechanism. It's the choice that's right for me.

Kori and I have probably written about a million emails to each other in the past 2+ years. There's one in particular that I'll never delete. It's when I talked about the choices we were making. Kori, I hope you don't mind that I'm sharing some of this:

The fact is, we're making a choice to remain single every day - not because it's easy, but because we're strong.

'Member that guy that I met thru ____ a few months ago? He was a really nice guy and I totally could've taken advantage of him and roped him in to be a step-dad to my kids. I didn't because I didn't feel anything for him. I say I don't have choices, but really I do.

We are NOT stuck in bad marriages. We are NOT going out every night looking for a sugar daddy. We did NOT stay with losers.

We kinda rock, you know that?

Kori is now in a relationship, and I'm happy for her. I know that she's making the choice to be in this relationship, knows the risks and benefits, and has decided it's worth it to her.

So I'm going to do my little disclosure one more time. This isn't about her, or anyone else, but me.

For me, I'd rather sleep alone or have the girls crawl in bed with me.

For me, I want to know that things in the kitchen are as I left them.

For me, I want to spend time with our family and friends, but then have it just be the 3 of us at home at bedtime.

For me, I like getting la1d every now and then, but I don't want to play the dating game.

For me, I like bowling with friends or going with my cousin to D-land, but then sometimes, I want it to just be the 3 of us having a good time together.

Have I had moments of loneliness? Of course. But they're only moments. I used to think at times I would die of it in that first year or so of single motherhood, but you know what? I didn't.

I suppose you could call my friends, my family, my blogging, my writing for Examiner, my love for So You Think You Can Dance and West Wing distractions for my loneliness. I think that minimizes the importance of friendship, of family, of our internet connections, and the last 2? Happy hobbies that are a nice end to the day for me. I won't die without them, and they're easily replaceable with other fun, harmless hobbies to help me unwind.

As most of you know, it's also important to me to be involved in my daughters' education, to see musicals, to be politically active on issues that are important to me.

As I see it, it's a full life.

Every time I've tried to look into the option of dating, I always end up backing off. I can always find a reason not to date. So, if it never makes the top of my priority list, then how important can it really be to me? I don't think it makes me sad or pathetic or in denial. Of course, denying that you're in denial is almost impossible, but I stand by it nonetheless.

Do I notice cute men? Of course! I'm SO not dead yet. Do I flirt? Yes. Do I have s3x? Enough for me. Do I really want them to call me the next day? No, thanks, I'm back to obsessing about my daughter's homework load, or gay marriage or planning our next family vacation or worrying about money or happily busy at my job. (And all the while, emailing Kori & Natalie, talking to RadDude and Nancy, replying to texts from my daughter, dealing with the internet and/or cell phone company, and trying to read yet another post in my Reader!)

One of the single moms wrote that we need other people. I don't disagree with that. I need my daughters. I need my parents. I need RadDude, and Nancy, and Kori and my LA Moms friends. And I think that they need me, too.

That's enough. More than enough. That's my life.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Embracing my Type A personality

A couple of colleagues and I recently talked about how difficult it is to remember all of the things on our list of tasks. Even though school is out, it's almost as difficult to keep track of summer child care hours, field trips and vacations because it's not our regular routine. At work, summer has simply meant that it's hotter outside while inside, we try to remember where exactly we are on each project, which email still needs a reply, and whether or not that meeting is still on.

And all of us have projects outside of being working moms. I write here (with a bi-monthly schedule to keep), I write as an LA Single Parenting Examiner, and I write my personal blog. Oh, and I belong to three - no, make that four - email lists, and three (possibly four) online groups.

I've also found myself with a social life lately. From reuniting with friends via Facebook and setting up lunches, dinners, and drinks to meeting up with fellow LA Moms bloggers at a variety of events to family plans, a weekend has yet to go by this summer without something on the calendar.

Another friend (single, no kids) said to me something I've heard for years now: "I don't know how you do it." I think that phrase became ubiquitous in my life when I started going back to school part-time (while working full-time) a few years ago. It used to freak me out. It used to make me wonder, just how am I doing this exactly? I started questioning whether or not I was giving everything in my life the attention it deserved.

The only way was to give everything my complete focus in the moment. It's easy for moms to stress about their kids when they're at work, or think about the file on their desk while making dinner for the kids. But I found that for me, multi-tasking was simply not the way to go.

When I was in a class, my class was priority number one. When I was at home, the kids came first. We all did homework at the same time.

After I completed my degree, I found myself feeling really restless, and in the beginning stages of depression. I was more impatient with the girls. I missed those hours of having something to concentrate on that wasn't work or kids!

So I started finding online communities to join, and eventually, started my own blog. I named that blog It's All About Balance as a reminder to myself. This blog was for me. Even though I proudly wear the label Mommy Blogger, I don't blog for my kids, I blog to connect with others. It's my place to write about everything I care about. It's my place to find perspective. It's my place to use my voice. And when I'm online, my first priority is me.

Because of that, I have more fun with the girls. Because of that, I have more confidence to delve into harder assignments at work. Because of that, I have more "me-time" with friends, and I am more relaxed at family gatherings. And I relish the opportunities when I have to do nothing.

Being busy doesn't stress me out, it keeps me sane. I don't wonder what I'm doing with my life because I'm too busy living it.

When people tell me now "I don't know how you do it," I don't get overwhelmed anymore. I love my kids, I love my job, and I love to blog. I don't know how I'd not do it.

Originally posted on LA Moms Blog, July 22, 2009.

Monday, July 20, 2009

So far, so good...

My internet at home is up and running! I'm just hoping it stays that way for longer than 36 hours.

So, where do I begin? Well, let's start with the write-up I just gave Brooke Shields' Tupperware Chain of Confidence party on Examiner. And give a huge thank you to Jessica Gottlieb for pointing this opportunity my way.

But alas, I have not spent the past several weeks just hanging out with the beautiful and famous in Malibu.

I have also been busy at work (yay!), reuniting with old friends from high school, taking the girls bowling with some dear friends, and otherwise, just enjoying my little life.

Riley wishes for the best while Sylvia looks on.

As far as catching up on my Reader, I think it's best to just mark all as read and start fresh!

This past weekend, I had a little mommy break when the girls went on vacation with my parents. On Friday night, I met up with an old friend from high school who treated me to a lavish dinner at a restaurant with former Top Chef contestant, Fabio Viviani. The butternut squash ravioli was amazing, and through the wine and martinis, my friend and I caught up on the last 20 years of our lives.

I've been loving my two reality talent shows, So You Think You Can Dance, and on BBC America, How do you Solve a Problem Like Maria? If you're planning any trips to London, you might want to catch the season finale this coming weekend to see if you want to see the new Sound of Music with the reality show winner. (And I now defy you to get that song out of your head! Or is that just me?)

I've also been developing some weird syndrome in relation to the use of my Blackberry keyboard. I don't know if it qualifies exactly as carpal tunnel, but the BBerry version is definitely worse!

Tomorrow, it's already time to register Sylvia for 7th grade, and they'll be back in school in four weeks. Not that I'm counting. Really, I'd be fine with it if my child care costs weren't quadruple what I pay during the school year! I'm not sure why, but my salary doesn't quadruple when my costs go up.

Oh, and check out the newest additions to my sidebar (because it just didn't have enough going on there already). First, there's the bling to show off my Yahoo Mother Boards membership, and also, a button for the new Friends of Maddie organization, headed by Heather and Michael Spohr to support families with premature or critically ill babies in NICUs across the nation. I so admire and applaud their desire to turn their own tragedy into something that will help and nurture families everywhere. So please take a moment and support this worthy cause.

I'm so glad to be back and look forward to re-connecting with everyone!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Waiting for Monday...

When I will be getting my brand spanking new internet service. I have finally ditched ATT, and am hoping to have better luck with the cable company.

And then, look out! I will be back, commenting on your blogs, writing on this one, whrrling, tweeting, status-updating...

We've got a whrrl page for the story of the Tupperware party hosted by Brooke Shields that I attended with Jessica Gottlieb, Kim Prince, and Erin Schachory, all fellow LA Moms Blog writers, and there are more pics at Facebook. Take a look at the view, and that's pretty much all you need to see to know it was an amazing night!

It just got better, though. The people were as nice as the atmosphere.

And this is after a lovely brunch with yet more LA Moms bloggers from our brunch last Saturday!

Special thanks to Sarah (2nd from the left) for hosting. From the left, that's Bernadette, Sarah, Elise, me, Kim, and Yvonne (who is an amazing baker). Laura was also there, with her adorable daughter.

These women are spectacular.

And that's all the time I can squeeze until my internet is back at home!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Why our 4th grader might be smarter than our 5th grader

*July post for Yahoo Mother Boards.

As I mentioned last month, one post per month will be on a topic provided by Yahoo Mother Boards. This month, they've asked us to explore the idea of summer learning, the research that states our kids can lose as much as 2 months' worth of learning in the summer months, and how we as mothers handle this.

It reminded me of what I would say in response to those who would talk about the show "Are you Smarter than a 5th Grader?" The show is successful, and the adults sometimes not, because we have become a nation of test takers.

Back in the '90s, we were actually debating the merits of standardized testing, and whether or not these tests were an accurate measure of the quality of our child's education (guess where I'd come down in that debate).

Then we had No Child Left Behind. And it seemed like everyone gave up on fighting this fight.

Now, we have sites like GreatSchools.net that tell us how well the neighborhood school, or the nearby charter school that we're considering, did in last year's testing. I've read many articles in the LA Times questioning the value of charter schools because some of them don't have high test scores.

I'm sorry, but what happened to wondering what the test scores tell us?

The test scores tell us how well our kids can take a test. They do not tell us anything about how much they retain.

From my own learning experience, I was never the *best* test-taker, but I wasn't the worst, either. I took my share of AP classes and other advanced English classes for most of my academic career. But I can't answer a good amount of questions on that TV show, either.

I can, however, tell you the three federal branches of government. 2/3 of Americans cannot.

I can tell you that in my own education, I've retained more when I had to write about it than any scantron test I've taken.

I can express myself at least well enough so that you know how I feel about gay marriage, but I can't say that I remember the exact years of World War I. But really, beyond possibly winning some money on a game show, I can't say that not knowing has cost me much.

My point (and I do have one) is this: I don't care so much if Riley goes into 4th grade not remembering what she did the last two months of 3rd grade for a few reasons.

I'm not sure how much they actually got done in May and June. May was testing month, and in the two to three weeks of testing, they generally didn't have homework and didn't have a lot of new things they were learning (yet another strike against standardized testing, if you ask me: it shortens the already too short school year). In June, there were special events, and short attention spans. And I can't even remember what I worked on in June, so how can I really expect the same of Riley?

The second reason is, it doesn't matter. Within the first few weeks, there will be assessment testing in her class (which will most likely be a mixture of two different grades, thanks to the budget cuts in CA), and she will be put in a reading group that most closely matches her level, and I don't even know how they're going to work having 30 different students that each have their own level (and speed) of learning.

Which is another reason it doesn't matter: even if Riley herself doesn't lose two months' worth of learning, some students will and some students will have lost less and some students will have lost more. There's going to be some degree of either catch-up or slow-down for every student in that class of fourth and/or third and/or fifth graders.

So as a parent, I'm more concerned (and frustrated and exasperated) at the state of our education system as a whole than a couple of months at the beginning or end of the year.

I understand that parental involvement is key in my children's education; I'd just like to see some involvement from the education system, too.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

I honestly forgot about this meme

MindyMom awarded me the lovely HonestScrap award, which comes with instructions to list 10 honest things about yourself. Part of me wonders if this implies that I've been less than honest in my other posts, but all I can do is assure you that I have! I'd completely forgotten about it, and haven't really come up with anything yet so let's see how this goes, shall we?

1. My latest fantasy is that President Obama asks me to participate in a single parents presidential task force. Seems my West Wing habit is getting out of hand!

2. Okay, I haven't told anyone this. I think I'm embarrassed about spending the money on it (I just piled it onto the credit card debt). I purchased the e-cigarette. I've only tried it a few times, and I can't decide if it's going to work for me or not. I love the concept, but the contraption gets too hot in my hand after a few puffs. And I think I need the cartridges that include nicotine because every time I "smoke" it, I need to have a cigarette afterward!

3. I'm 5'3". I used to be 5'2 3/4" but that just sounded stupid, so I'm glad I finally grew that 1/4"!

4. My memory sucks. There was one friend on Facebook that I knew I knew, but it took me forever to figure out just how I knew them! I mean, months. Embarrassing, but true.

5. I might feel a little guilt about this, but I can't get worked up about the elephants at the circus. So I took the girls to the circus.

And you can read my review at Examiner.

6. I told the girls they're not allowed to utter the name "Michael Jackson" ever again. That's how over it I am. Yes, he was a great musician. Sad that he died. I'm over it.

7. I tend to want to spend money like it's burning a hole in my pocket the most when I have the least. My finances are spread really tight over the summer, what with the extra costs in child care and yet what do I do? See #2. It's like when I see that I'm over the edge, I just want to jump over it already.

8. Writing that, it occurs to me that it's the part of me that's still self-destructive. For the most part, I've curbed that behavior, but I think this is where it still plays out for me.

9. As much as I want marriage equality for all, part of me is thrilled that I still have an excellent excuse to boycott weddings.

10. In response to my LA Moms post, Childhood Dreams and their parents' realities, hotmamamia asked my opinion on baby beauty contests. My answer is that I just don't get it. I don't understand telling girls at such a young age that they need make-up, hair extensions and fake eyelashes to be beautiful. I participated in plenty of talent competitions when I was young, but they were just that: talent competitions. I won by singing well, or lost because someone sang better than me. Other than looking professional, and wearing enough make-up to not have my face completely wash-out on stage, I didn't think about my appearance. And not being beautiful actually helped me land some roles that were my absolute favorites to play, like Gloria in Wait Until Dark. I would encourage any mother who wants to see their child shine on stage to absolutely let them audition for their local children's theatre group rather than enter them into a beauty contest!

And I now bestow this award to these bloggers (forgive me if you've already been awarded):

Jenna Byrd
Jenn at Random Thoughts

Monday, July 6, 2009

July 6, 2009 (or: can't think of a title)

*Updated with pics

We went to my sister's for the 4th, and had a really nice time. We swam, we ate, drank, talked, laughed, visited with family, and played poker. Sylvia's getting pretty good! She won a couple of hands, as did I, so we both got back more than the buy-in. Yay!

Sylvia giving me a ride.

Sylvia told me that when the Club had Casino Night a few months ago, she was the only girl who knew how to play blackjack and poker! That's my girl :)

Oh, yeah, and we saw fireworks. We took the time out and all, but I have to say, even my girls seem over it. The girls wanted to go back in the pool, I wanted to go in the jacuzzi, and most everyone else wanted to eat. Are we terribly jaded? Yeah, whatever.

The girls on my cousin's bike:

My latest LA Moms post is up - it's about childhood stardom, if that intrigues you at all to stop by and say hello. Also, a few posts up at Examiner, but they're pretty local-centric. Single parents, please help me find topics for Examiner! What are your burning questions? Do you have a piece of advice that you're dying to share? Please email me: admccaffery at gmail.

Hope everyone (well, the Americans anyway) had a happy 4th!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Childhood dreams and their parents' realities

I moved to Los Angeles at the age of 12 to "make it" into show biz. Like many to come before, and many to come after, I never quite had my big break, but I had a few tastes here and there. Looking back, and looking forward as a mother with one daughter that loves to be in the center of the spotlight, I'm quite relieved.

We all know that Michael Jackson's legacy is not without its dark spots. We've all read about the various troubles that many childhood stars have had. We blame it on Hollywood, on uninvolved parents, on children growing up before their time, and all of that probably has some truth. Yet there are also some bright spots and beacons of hope for parents of aspiring actors and musicians to turn to: Ron Howard is a great example. Sarah Jessica Parker also seemed to survive it pretty well (for those who might not know, Sarah Jessica Parker starred as the title character in Annie on Broadway back in the day), and a few, like Drew Barrymore, were able to overcome earlier struggles. But parenting is not easy for anyone anywhere. Parenting through throngs of fans has to be a nightmare.

I recently watched the documentary "Life After Tomorrow" about many of the actresses that had performed on Broadway or in the national tour of Annie. Once upon a time, I was up for a national tour of Annie, so I was particularly interested to learn their stories.

They had all the expected fame and special treatment one would expect. Apparently, the Broadway cast got to spend a lot of time at Studio 54 (when it was - you know - Studio 54!), at the ripe age of 12! Their on-site tutors didn't have much authority to ensure that the kids actually got a valuable education. Some of the parents took advantage of their time away from their spouses to explore their newfound freedom, which led to a lot of divorces.

It was difficult for them to re-enter the "real world" after their year or so of fame. In Annie, once you reach a certain height, that's it. So with very little warning, these 12 or 13 year old girls were sent home back to their normal life. This is a difficult age for any girl, let alone one that's just stepped off the roller coaster. Many wished they'd had counseling to get them through this adjustment period.

Michael never got off the roller coaster. Many of the child stars from TV were pushed off when their series ended. In any of these cases, a strong support system was needed.

My mother also watched the documentary, and looked at that time in a whole new way. Whenever we had wondered "what if" had I gotten the job, we never considered what it would've meant to break up our family like that for a year. We never saw anything but the bright lights.

It's easy to make snap judgments about families that allow their children to pursue their dream. I watch my daughter now, and see how much she shines when she's on stage. I see a confidence in her that's not quite so present when she's not. I know how hard she's worked to perform so well. I see her thinking of others when she watches her spacing in a dance number, or gives her scene partner an encouraging nod. I know that every performance has given my daughter something I could never teach her by lecturing, or that she could learn in a book.

Yet I keep her away from the agents and managers and "opportunities" that we have here in L.A. I know for every job she'd book, there would be dozens more that she didn't. I know that I can't afford to jeopardize my normal 8 to 5 job to drive her all over town to the various studios and casting offices for auditions. And I know I can't, as much as I'd love to, give her the emotional support she would need to survive both the successes and the disappointments.

I try not to judge Jackson's family or anyone's family too harshly for helping their kids pursue their dreams. Still, there's a lot more to being a parent to a child star than many of us could ever fathom.

Originally posted on LA Moms Blog, July 5, 2009.