Sunday, September 27, 2009

Weekend Wrap-Up: Children and Art

Thanks, everyone, for your support about my financial situation. I know I'll get through this. I've gotten through similar times, and some way worse. I'm just tired of it, you know? I'm tired of just getting through this. I want this aspect of my life to stop being the constant struggle that it is. I know I'm not the only one that feels this way, obviously. I know I'm lucky to still have my job! That's not to say, however, that it doesn't still get to me from time to time.

It's been a crazy busy week. On Monday, Riley had her first drum lesson! She absolutely loved it. She's so little, you can barely see her over the drum set, but what I saw was my smiling Riley, loving every minute. From the drum lesson, we rushed off to a meeting to discuss the upcoming Arts Day that our PTA is sponsoring for Riley's school.

On Tuesday night, we had Sylvia's school's Family Fun Night, where Sylvia was giving her first performance with the school choir. She did a great job (if I say so myself :), and the choir is quite talented. It was unfortunately insanely hot, though. They were in a room, but the room's fans were off (I'm guessing for noise), and we were all sweating. It was lovely!

On Wednesday, I went to learn about a new website for kids, FaceChipz. The fabulous Jessica Gottlieb and wonderful Sarah Auerswald were also there, and you can see their comments on Whrrl.

FaceChipz is a social networking site for kids ages 8 and up - those too old for Club Penguin, but not old enough for Facebook.

FaceChipz are an actual chip with emoticons on them, as well as a registration code. In order to be friends with someone online, you have to give them one of the chipz and the registration code will link you up with them online. This means, of course, that you can only be friends with those that you actually know in real life.

The FaceChipz are available at Toys R Us and online at their site. The Chipz are very reasonable at $4.99 for a pack of 5. To register a family, parental consent is achieved by a $1 credit card charge, and that's it. There is no monthly subscription fee. They make their money by selling the FaceChipz.

Parental controls allow you to see what your child is doing online, and we especially loved the feature where you can deactivate their account without completely deleting it (great form of consequence).

The girls already love the site, and can't wait to give the chipz out when the site officially launches on Monday. They also plan to give some chipz to friends and cousins that don't live in the area so they can exchange emails and pics with them online.

Friday was Arts Day at Riley's school. I helped out with the Choreography/dance classes, and the children also had the chance to learn about Photography, Visual Arts, and the older kids had Literature in class.

It was a perfect blend of parents, teachers, and our school's administration collaborating for the kids' enrichment. It was also exhausting! 3-4 classes into it, I was seriously ready for a nap. But I was so happy to be a part of this, and the kids absolutely loved it.

Friday night, we continued our family's own arts enrichment by going to see the new Fame. Being an old school girl, it didn't compare to the original for me, but Sylvia (who has never seen the original) totally went gaga for it. Riley also really enjoyed it.

On Saturday, we went to see Disney Live Rockin' Road Show at the Nokia. I whrrled it, but I couldn't get any good pics with my camera on my phone. Riley loved the show, but I couldn't really get into it until the 2nd act. Sylvia, of course, is much too old at nearly 12 to really enjoy this show (or so she would like us to believe). It was a family fun night.

Today, Riley has her first band rehearsal, and she is so excited. She's going to be playing a Taylor Swift song at the PTA's Rockin for the Arts fundraiser event. And I'm also looking forward to tonight's TV line-up. :)

Oh, and have I mentioned that Sylvia and I are totally Gleeks? The scene from this week where one of the characters came out to his dad...incredibly touching and beautifully done. And we can't wait for Kristin Chenoweth's entrance into Glee starting this week!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

totally f**ed

I'm drowning. Financially, I'm completely overwhelmed. I still haven't been able to catch up from the extra costs of summer child care, and I have to pay $150 for Sylvia's choir costs, and $75 for Riley's drum lessons, and all these extra little things that are just adding up to too much for me right now.

And now, a past creditor has come back to haunt me. From the X days. All the bills are in my name because, of course, that's why he was with me. I had a good credit rep at the time.

The best part about us having moved so often was because it was taking these people forever to find me. And now we're coming up on the 7-year mark so the ones that can find me...well, here we are.

I was just keeping my head above water for some time. But now, I'm slipping. There is no place to go. No reserves to tap into. I'm 36 years old, and I have nothing. I have an 8-yr-old car that is thankfully paid off with my parents' help. And I have credit cards almost maxed out.

And all I can do right now is listen to "Totally F**ed" from Spring Awakening on repeat. Because this is the moment I know.

**UPDATE: Okay, I've taken the song off repeat. I checked my credit report and have found that almost everything from the X days has fallen off my record, and it looks like my report should be completely clear of negative items by the end of this year.

I'm still broke, but no more broke than I thought I was yesterday. I just won't be able to get insurance from the company I wanted.

I'm not real sure how long it will take for me to feel financially secure again, and the thing that really concerns me is that it will only last until next summer when my child care costs quadruple again, but I think I'm only partially f**ed now.

Thanks for your support!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Homework success!

My girls have been back in school for a month now, and already, I have had my share of homework battles with my 4th-grader. The cajoling, the pleading, the warnings and threats, and the need to stop everything else in the household in order to stand over her so she'll do it.

I came into this school year with higher hopes and goals about homework. Over the summer, I read The Case Against Homework and the author's blog, Stop Homework. I felt armed with knowledge and tools to ensure that every weeknight during the school year wouldn't be filled with tantrums and tears (sometimes mine) in getting the homework done.

And then school actually started.

The first couple of weeks went fine, as the girls were excited to be back in school and started the year off right. It was the changes in schedules that started the downhill slide. First, there was the first PTA meeting of the year. Then, my older daughter was performing at an event that kept us out very late one weeknight.

Setting aside the irony of the PTA meeting taking time away from the kids, those little changes threw our whole schedule out of whack. My 4th grader was now giving me attitude about getting homework done. She wasn't doing nearly as much as she could at her after-school program, and leaving too much to be done at night.

I would say over and over to her, "Riley - homework!" and she would settle down and start to do it. Then I would turn away to make dinner and the next time I looked over, she would be tying a shoelace to her chair! Or going to sharpen her pencil. Or the bathroom. Or petting the cat. Yes, anything but doing her homework. I would scold again, louder and louder.

Once she finally completed all of the math and any other writing assignments, it was time for the really fun part. The reading log.

In most of my daughter's schools, 20-30 minutes of reading is required a night. I'll buy them whatever books they want to accomplish this. I'm an avid reader myself, so at first, I thought this was great.

But, as so often happens, as great as the concept is of ensuring our kids read every night, it doesn't always go as planned.

My heart sinks when I see my girls roll their eyes in frustration at having to read. Yet, when I take a step back and try to see it from their point of view, I understand it. They've finally gotten through all the rest of the homework, and now they have to read for an entire thirty minutes! There is no way to accomplish this assignment quickly. It has to take a set amount of time.

They save it for last because they don't want to take the time to do it at their after-school program, which I also get because it's their time to play with their friends there. (Not to mention, it's nearly impossible to find a quiet place to read.)

Now, they both will pick up a book and read for enjoyment's sake, so I know they don't hate reading. And sometimes they'll get lost in a book. But they say they hate reading. Because they've been forced to do it for 20-30 minutes a night for their scholastic careers.

A few nights ago, I finally decided to put my original plan back into action. I'd avoided doing so because my fear was being seen as the "uninvolved parent." The parent who didn't take their child's education seriously enough. The parent who just wanted to fight the system.

That's really not my intent. I want to think of my daughters' teachers as my partners in education. I want them to get the best education possible. Most importantly, I want them to actually like it.

So I wrote a lengthy email to her teacher, stating much of what's in this post. Riley came home that night and said that from now on, the nightly reading will be 15 minutes. And she read. And when her 15 minutes were up, she kept reading until the end of the chapter.

Originally posted on LA Moms, Sept. 20, 2009.

Weekend Wrap-Up (ahh, downtime!)

After last weekend's trip to TX and back, I've been looking forward to this weekend and the opportunity to sleep in since Monday.

Of course, Friday I found that I would not be able to sleep in on Saturday after all. Riley is going to participate in her school's Rockin for the Arts fundraiser, and we had a band meeting Saturday morning at nine. *sigh* Then Sylvia got invited to a party so Saturday didn't exactly go as planned.

Sunday (so far) is going the way I want. I'm watching Emmy coverage all day (well, while doing other things) because I am an awards show junkie. I'm totally excited about Neil Patrick Harris hosting.

I don't watch the Emmy favorites, Mad Men or 30 Rock, so I try not to get emotionally involved in who wins or loses these awards shows (but I really really wish Project Runway would win Best Reality Competition). Still, I'm hooked.

I hope you'll read my latest LA Moms post on homework. I will have more to write on the subject throughout the school year, I'm sure.

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of lunching with Aparna from Parentella, the really funny Jessica Gottlieb, fellow LA Moms bloggers/friends Sarah Auerswald and Elise Crane Derby, Lolita Carrico, and Marsha Collier, whose accomplishments are so impressive! We had a blast, and I'm still in awe of sitting at the same table with these amazing ladies.

I also had Back to School Night for Riley's school. That's a whole post in itself.

Lots on my mind lately. Can't wait to share more.

Happy National Unmarried and Singles Week!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Weekend Wrap-Up: Back from TX

We had a whirlwind of a weekend. Early Saturday morning, we boarded a plane to Texas for grandmother's 90th birthday party. We came back Sunday afternoon. Yes, I'm exhausted!

But it was fun. There are a lot of family members that I couldn't remember very well. Some of them, I haven't seen in 20 years, so I think that's to be expected. I think the best time was at my grandma's the next morning, hanging out in her backyard (perfect weather) while the kids picked pomegranates off the tree, and I chatted with cousins and the like.

My grandmother had nine children. Two of them went on to have eight children each. I have a lot of cousins. And second cousins. (Or is it great cousins? And are my cousin's children my children's second cousins?)

Quite a few of them have ended up in California. Only one daughter of my grandma's stayed there. People came from CA, NY, Virginia, Arizona, and generally from all over the country to celebrate her birthday.

She's still going strong. She still lives by herself, and while she gets help from my aunt and uncle that live there and visits a senior center to fill her days, she's very much an independent woman. I admire that a lot.

I, of course, forgot to bring my camera to the party, but I'm sure my mom and others will send pics for me to post at a future date. The family got there early to take pictures, and I've never before known what it feels like to have 7-8 cameras flashing! There was no red carpet, but we all felt like we were being swarmed by the paparazzi.

Everyone had a really fantastic time, even if we did forget some people's names and faces here and there. I suppose that comes with having such a huge and spread-out family.

I do, however, fear living to such a ripe old age. Grandma's house is paid off in full, and she has her late husband's pension to supplement the social security checks. Even if I do buy something someday, I can't imagine it being soon enough to ever be able to envision the day that housing is no longer a monthly expenditure. Even when my kids are raised, I'll still have to feed myself. I'm still living paycheck to paycheck and I don't even have a monthly car payment right now! I can't imagine a future in which I won't have to work to support myself.

Still, it was great fun to celebrate her 90th, and I hope we're all together again in 5 years for her 95th birthday.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Happy Blogiversary to me!

It seems fitting to do a blogging meme, stolen from Huckdoll, who stole it from someone else:

How long have you been blogging:

Two years today.

Why did you start blogging:

I had stuff to say. Stuff that I knew didn't fit with majority thinking for the most part, which was all the more reason for me to say it. I had no idea how the blogosphere would change my life, and certainly no clue just how it would do so.

What have you found to be the benefits of blogging:

So many things. The people, the support, the free therapy, and lately, the chances for opportunities that I otherwise would not have had: from becoming the LA Single Parenting Examiner, to the fun stuff.

How many times a week do you post an entry:

I think Google Reader says I average 3.4 posts a week.

How many different blogs do you read on a regular basis:

Take a look at my list over there. You'll notice that it changes all the time because it shows the last 25 in my Reader to have posted. But I confess, I no longer read every single entry of every single person I follow. And I don't comment anymore on all the ones I do read anymore, either. Still, there are very few I've actually deleted because I do like to check in with all of them from time to time.

Do you comment on other people’s blogs:

Guess I should've read ahead. See above.

Do you keep track of how many visitors you’ve had:

I used to keep track more regularly. Sometimes I'm pleasantly surprised, and sometimes I get depressed that the numbers haven't grown. So I've decided the best thing for me to do is to stop paying attention.

Do you ever regret a post that you wrote:

I have a few posts written late at night that I wake up the next morning and think, OMG, did I actually post that? But then I see some great supportive comments, and I no longer feel any twinge of regret. I had one post on Examiner that got me in a lot of hot water with some fathers' groups but I never regretted it. I was just taken aback by some of the response. Okay, taken aback is not nearly strong enough. Still, I don't regret it.

Do you think your audience has a true sense of who you are based on your blog:

I have great IRL friends, I really do. But I also have some people in my life that have known me for years, and I'm surprised by how they don't know me as well as some of my readers do. Still, I'll admit, I don't think my readers know just what a bitch I can be.

Do you blog under your real name:

Yes. As my X would say, the truth is easier to remember.

Are there topics you would never blog about:

Yes. I've talked about some of it here already, that there are some things about my children that I won't share here. And, sure, there are things about me that I'd rather not tell the world wide web, thank you!

What is the theme/topic of your blog:

I've progressed lately from talking about surviving to talking about thriving.

Do you have more than one blog. If so, why?

You all know that I contribute to LA Moms, Parentella, and Examiner. I do so because each offers me a challenge and other opportunities. I love the women I've met at LA Moms, and you all know that I love to blog about education, which is the opportunity that Parentella affords me. Also, Examiner is a great challenge because it's not actually a blog, but a chance to write more as a journalist than a blogger.

Have you ever deleted a comment from your blog?

Yes, but mostly those advertising something. And one particular commenter at their request.

So it's been two years. Two years of challenges, triumphs, and moments of thinking, "I have to blog about this!" I used to not share with people the fact that I blog. I didn't know what it said about me. Just a few weeks ago, someone asked how we got a special opportunity, and I looked him straight in the eye and said without shame, "I'm a mommy blogger." It is one among many labels that I proudly wear. Thanks for allowing me to be a part of your community.

Friday, September 11, 2009

It's All About Me-Time

This month, the Yahoo Motherboard has asked us to talk about me-time.

I'm a firm believer that me-time, as selfish as it sounds, is a necessary aspect of our lives.

I have had plenty of days that have felt like all I am and all I do is for the benefit of someone else: from work to kids, it's easy to feel like most of our time is spent pleasing others. And let's face it, it's true! If I feel like that too often, that can easily lead to resentment. Resentment is almost never pretty, nor does it allow me to enjoy my kids or my accomplishments at work.

Every night, after Sylvia's bedtime at 9 until the time I go to bed (usually between 11 and midnight), I make sure to take some time for myself. There are still some nightly chores to be done: making the lunches, getting the coffee-pot ready for the next morning, etc., but I can usually fit that in during a TV show or between chapters of a book or reading blogs. If I stick on my iPod during chores, it helps.

I sneak me-time in by bathing instead of showering. It doesn't take much longer - usually 15-20 minutes - but I also read during that time, or just lay there peacefully and daydream.

I'm appropriately selfish about my me-time. I won't answer the phone if I don't want to, or check my blackberry. For nearly 2 hours a day every day, I indulge my obsessions and go to bed happy.

Sometimes, I need longer. Sometimes I need a day or so of me-time. I'll usually ask my parents to take the kids for some time to myself. I'll skip a family birthday party or schedule a date night with a friend when I'm feeling particularly angsty (is TOO a word!). And yes, sometimes I will put more on my credit card than I should in order to enjoy myself. I consider it quality of life spending.

Me-time isn't always spent thinking just about myself, though. Sometimes, while watching some TV show or reading some blog, I'll come across a solution to a problem with the girls. I'll find someone else that voices a similar concern to one I'm having, and just that validation can buoy me. Not to mention, the time to feel like I'm just me makes me a better mother, a better colleague, a better friend.

Mothers, it seems, are lauded most when they're martyrs. I'm not sure if that's really a quality we should most embrace. It was, after all, our decision to have children. It is our responsibility to provide for our children, and many times that includes work outside the home. I don't necessarily want to be patted on the back for the sacrifices I make when that's indeed what I signed up for. The image that martyrdom conjures is that of someone who doesn't stand up for themselves.

As mothers, I consider it part of our jobs to role model self-love, self-respect, and self-confidence. We need to recognize our own needs and desires so that our children can recognize their own and be self-sufficient, well-rounded adults who realize that they are better friends, better colleagues, and better people when they actually like themselves. I'm not talking about narcissism or slothfulness here, but a healthy (dare I say balanced) dose of me-time, taken daily, can provide the best medicine for the soul.

Read other yahoo motherboards posts on me-time:
The Go-To Mom
SoCal Mom
Jennifer Wagner
Workout Mommy
Thien-Kim aka Kim
Jessica of It's my life
Tippy Toes and Tantrums
Hormone-Colored Days

Monday, September 7, 2009

Weekend Wrap-Up (latest obsessions edition)

While I vowed not to leave the house for three days, I'm going to have to break that vow to go to my parents' house for dinner tonight. Ah, well, means I don't have to cook, right? And Sylvia's going to make us apple crisp for dessert.

It's still been a great weekend, and we balanced productivity with inactivity quite well, I think!

On Saturday, Riley and I re-arranged the girls' bedroom, and we like it a lot better. There's still some de-cluttering to do, but half of the room looks great :)

Last night, we had Movie Night and watched Beaches, one of Sylvia's latest obsessions. And, OMG, I cried like it was the first time I'd seen it! But it is interesting watching these movies from a different perspective. Seeing it as a mother, as a divorcee and all that combined with remembering how I felt when I saw it fresh out of high school is an interesting experience. So in a way, it was like seeing it for the first time again.

We've also decided that our obsession for the Gilmore Girls isn't quite being fulfilled enough, waiting for new (to us) episodes to air on syndication, so I've just added all 7 seasons to my Netflix queue. And I can't wait. And while Rory Gilmore has been a great role model for the girls with her Harvard obsession, I'm not too sure how I feel about Rory's influence on Sylvia's decision to try coffee. I don't know if I can afford to have two Starbucks addicts in the house!

And my other favorite obsession is Bella DePaulo's Singled Out. I'm reading it in preparation for ATMP's next book club pick, her newest book Single with Attitude. (Okay, I'll 'fess up. I ordered the wrong book. But I'm glad I did.) I strongly recommend it to everyone, in or not in a relationship, wanting a relationship or not, and yes, I even recommend it to the happily married.

I've certainly had experiences where people have said things that they don't necessarily mean to be an insult to me as a divorcee/single person, but have nevertheless surprised and even hurt me. I don't hold it against them. I realize that finding the "one" is a huge part of our culture, and I've even joked about it: "I have bad taste." Still, the more I've sought it out, the more I've found a large number of people that are quite satisfied being single, and yet have to overcome the assumption that they're not happy. I'd like to see that assumption changed. I'd like for single people to be presumed happy as they are.

As with any significant change in our culture, it won't happen with just single people alone. We need the happily coupled to support that idea. Sure, if a single person says to you, "do you know anyone?" by all means, set them up. All I'm asking is that your first look isn't one of pity.

Oh, and I don't think I posted yet about Sylvia's spectacular performance with the SparKids at the LA Sparks game on Tuesday night. It was hard to get good photos of the actual performance, but I like this picture of the 3 of us.

Sylvia had a lot of fun, but I admit, it did throw us off our routine for the rest of the week. We stayed for the entire game and got home close to eleven that night. Sylvia also got to participate in an acting workshop and comedy workshop this week, and loved every minute of both.

The other news: I was proud and thrilled to see that my latest LA Moms post was picked up for syndication. So far, I've found it in three different papers' websites.

Riley's latest obsession: Talking to a friend of hers on the phone. I love watching her light up when the phone's for her! She's talked to him about three times a day this weekend. And she's definitely her mother's daughter: please don't ask if they've got a crush on each other. They're just friends. She's also going to start writing to a friend of hers from last year who had to move to a new school. Since Sylvia already has a pen pal, she's excited about having one of her own. Besides, I think she can empathize greatly with what her friend is going through. He wrote his old class a letter and said that sometimes he goes into the bathroom and cries, missing his friends. It makes me wonder if my girls ever did something similar, but also grateful that they can be good friends to others going through it.

And now, I have to go back to enjoying my awesome girls' company.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Dinosaur Train boards on Labor Day

This Labor Day, a brand new show will be coming to the PBS line-up: Dinosaur Train. Two of kids' favorites have been paired together to introduce children to the world of paleontology and adventure.

Riley and I had the pleasure of visiting the Jim Henson studio for Riley to tape one of the live action segments of an upcoming episode (don't know when yet, but you'll know when I know). I grew up on The Muppet Show and Sesame Street, so I was thrilled for this opportunity.

Riley saw a special preview of Dinosaur Train, and has already fallen in love with the characters. While she's older than the targeted audience (ages 3-6), there was still plenty for her to learn and enjoy. Dinosaur Train goes well beyond T-Rex, and includes some related species.

Dinosaur Train is mostly an animated show, where the characters' mission is to meet all of the different types of dinosaurs. Of course, their adventures also give them (and the viewers) the chance to explore and learn about other aspects of life science.

Dr. Scott Sampson is the paleontologist that hosts the live action segments, and is clearly passionate about his mission to educate children. He is a great asset to the team of PBS and The Jim Henson Company.

Dinosaur Train has an accompanying website, which allows children to play games and print out coloring pages and a field guide, early childhood educators can download lesson plans, and there are even activities for parent and child to do together.

While Riley and I were invited to participate, I only said yes because of my trust and admiration for PBS and The Jim Henson Company and their proven commitment to quality children's programming.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Seeking safety in a dangerous world

I was rocked to the core when I read about the 17-year-old girl, abducted and eventually murdered in a botched robbery. The part that shook me so much was that she'd actually called her parents during it, and they had no way of knowing what was happening to her.

My oldest daughter calls or texts me every day to tell me that she's safely on her way to her after-school program, and I've relied on those calls for my own reassurance. Now I'm questioning that reassurance. It was so much easier when my biggest worry was whether or not they were properly buckled in the car seat!

Like most mothers, I try to see through to the end. If I let my daughter do x, then what are all the possible ys? At the same time, as a single, working mother (heck, as a human), I have limits to how many of those variables I can actually control. I simply cannot pick my daughters up every day after school. I've found programs that I trust to handle their transportation and activities between school and the time I can pick them up from work. And I've felt comfortable with those.

I've talked to the girls about other people picking them up. They know who is allowed at all times, and who is never allowed. Their father has not met the conditions for visitation, so he is never allowed to pick them up. I've told them that if anyone, even people they know, show up and say, "hey, your mother said I should pick you up today" that only someone with a secret code word would actually be telling the truth. The girls know the code word.

Last night, we picked a code word to signal danger in the event that something like what happened to that girl was happening to them. I told them that if I heard that word, I would act like I didn't know what was going on and immediately call the police.

I've added ICE (in case of emergency) contact info to my oldest daughter's cell phone. I've also added the local police department and poison control to both our phones.

My oldest daughter (in 7th grade) has already asked why she can't just go home after school. Some of her friends are already doing it, but I'm just not comfortable with that. Her routine now, even if someone was watching, shows that she's always with someone. I don't want someone to be able to watch her go home alone every day. I've tried to explain that it's not that I don't trust her, I just don't trust anyone else!

I remember thinking that my mother was strict when I was growing up. She always had to know where I was going, who I'd be with, when I'd be home, and how I'd be getting home. Now, it seems inconceivable to me to know anything less of my own daughters' whereabouts. I've told my girls that I'm totally okay with being the strict mom, or even the meanest mom.

I know that I can't control everything in their lives. I know that it will get harder the older they get. I know that my main job as their mother is to develop them into mature, independent beings. Still, I can only do that if I know where they are at all times.

Originally posted on LA Moms.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Discussing Parental Involvement

Check out my first post at Parentella.