Friday, May 28, 2010

This Memorial Day

Let's remember what soldiers fight for: free speech and equality for all. I have no doubt that some soldiers that have fallen were forced into silence. Please sign the petition to end Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

School's Out!

You've either missed me terribly, or been grateful you've had less posts to read! As a housekeeping note, I know I haven't been commenting as much lately. I am trying to keep up by just reading posts in my Reader and only commenting when I feel like I have something to say.

It's the girls' last day of school today! Aside from my child care costs quadrupling during the summer, this is a good thing.

Sylvia will get a break from Mean Girls drama (I hope), and Riley and I won't have to battle over homework for a while. Weeknights can have a little more calm to them.

I could blame my lack of posting on the end-of-year chaos, which is partly true, but mostly, I've just been feeling very introverted lately. I really want to just find a quiet place to chill. I have a lot of half-baked ideas for posts, but they're just not ready.

I started this post with the hope of finding some resolution to complete this school year, but I've got nothing. I'd like to make sense of a lot of things; from the Mean Girl drama to budget cuts and furlough days, sensible ideas on how best to motivate my children academically, hopes for the next school year...unfortunately, none of these things have easy answers. Not for me, anyway.

Mostly, I'm feeling more like the proverbial chicken. I'm caught up in dealing with what's happening in each moment that I've lost sight of any long-term goals.

Maybe after a long weekend, I can come back rejuvenated. A girl can hope, right?

Argh, this post is sounding a lot more maudlin than I feel. I am not depressed or even stressed, really. Just...jumbled.

Monday, May 24, 2010

What my daughter and I learned

In the heat of the moment, I fired off a post about a situation involving a clique of Mean Girls with a touch of bullying behavior, and how my daughter's middle school counselor let us down. A thoughtful discussion took place in the comments section, and it's time for an update of what has transpired.

The matter is now resolved, thankfully. My daughter and the "bully" had a conversation, and have worked out an amicable acquaintance-type relationship.

I also discussed the matter with a staff member of the girls' after-school program, a program that has truly enriched our lives. We are trying to find a suitable expert to come talk to all of the middle school girls about the drama that too often consumes their lives.

One commenter brought up Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bees & Wannabees, and subject of a previous post on the roles that middle school creates for females in particular. Opening her book was a huge revelation for me, and I would definitely recommend it.

The real lesson here, however, was about holding back trust unless and until it's been earned. The counselor really let us down. While I don't argue that she meant well, I don't think she thought about the long-term consequences, and how to best handle the situation to allow all of the girls involved to be positively empowered. My daughter and I will think long and hard before involving the counselor in the future.

I don't believe that the Mean Girls are lost causes. I believe them to be just as insecure and vulnerable as my own daughter. They have simply found it easy to feel better about themselves by belittling others. I worry about the long-term effects for them, too. I wonder how many of them truly trust in their friendships, and their place in their hierarchy. I wonder if they feel relieved at night when they can let go of the act and be themselves.

After my daughter made up with the girl, I told her that was good, and I'm glad she felt better about the situation. I then suggested that anytime she has issues with a friend, she think about what she gains from the friendship. Does she feel like she can be herself, and accepted as herself, or does she feel like she has to put on an act and watch what she says and does? I told her that she will most likely make mistakes with her friends, too. She may hurt someone she cares about, and will have to ask forgiveness of them so it's okay to forgive someone who hurt you if that friendship really adds value to your life. But there will also be times when it's okay to let go; not be mean, not make someone an enemy, but simply distance herself from that person.

In my original post, my friend and fellow LA Mom Erin S commented that I should follow up with letters to the Principal, the Vice Principal, the Counselor, and even the Board so that the lessons we learned could help others. I totally get what she's saying, but at the same time, I'm having a few trust issues right now. I worry about how such a letter could impact my daughter, as she still has one more year at this school. I wrote about it here because I did want to share it with others who might benefit from our experience (and I'm grateful to everyone who reached out to me, both in the comments and off line). For now, I will ponder and weigh the pros and cons.

And I'll continue to do what I can to guide my own daughters to true empowerment: self-respect and respect of others.

Originally posted on LA Moms Blog, May 24, 2010.

Monday links and X update

X is out of jail. It happened sooner than we thought, but he's already left town, for which I am mostly relieved, but I was also worried about how the girls would react to it.
They didn't seem to notice that he left town without even trying to see them, so that's good. He left a message for Sylvia on Friday night, but she never returned his call. She was elated when she heard the message, but seemed to be more interested in continuing the life we already had going. She'd just finished her Showcase, and was looking forward to the party we were going to. She didn't call him on Saturday, either, again focusing on the plans we had for a family get-together.
On Sunday, he called again and she spoke to him. She teared up a little when she told him she missed him, but otherwise, they just talked about the Showcase, and that school was getting out soon (and then Riley talked to him and pretty much said the same thing), they said they'd talk to him again next weekend and that was it!
I'm glad that it didn't happen until after we'd gotten through the week. Sylvia had finals last week, and then getting ready for the Showcase at their after-school program so we already had our hands full. The timing actually couldn't have been better. I am glad that it hasn't seemed to cause any emotional problems for either of them. They took it in stride, and then got back to focusing on things happening in their lives, and then the Lost finale (of course).
The girls both did a fantastic job at the Showcase. Riley is a natural actress, and Sylvia shined in all 8 of her appearances :) She did 6 dance numbers, sang in a trio, and did an acting scene. I was so incredibly proud of both of them.
I've written an update on LA Moms about the Mean Girls drama from a couple of weeks ago, and am  continuing my series on Middle School at Parentella.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

These girls, they are a'changing

This month's SVMoms Book Club pick was The Body Scoop for Girls: A Straight-Talk Guide to a Healthy, Beautiful You, and the timing couldn't have been more perfect.

This year, both of my girls have s3x ed (trying to avoid any unwelcome visitors) as part of their curriculum.

I remember back when I was first prepping Sylvia for her future as a "woman." When she was 10, she would run screaming from me when I tried to bring it up! I think she really didn't want to grow up back then, didn't want to face that there were changes coming. Still, eventually, I was able to get the information out, and when her time came, she didn't even tell me! I was hurt at first, but then I was able to take a step back and realize that she wanted to handle this herself, and our preparation had paid off.

As for me, well, I suppose it was an eye-opener for what's to come. I'm so used to her telling me everything, become so accustomed to her sharing every piece of news with me that it was hard not to take it personally. But it's not about me, it's about her. And, as I say often enough, my job is to prepare them for adulthood, and my goal is to raise independent, productive, compassionate human beings.

I just didn't think I'd be one of those mothers who wanted my children to stay young! I didn't think I would have a hard time letting go. And I really wish I wasn't.

I think when Riley's time comes, it will be even harder for me. She is my baby, after all. It's so hard to think of her growing up. Even in 4th grade, she is still one of the cutest things ever. Yet every time I question whether I baby her too much, she'll do or say something so clever, so insightful, so wise beyond her years and I think that maybe the babying she receives is the only thing keeping her young!

I remember back to my first year of single motherhood, when I didn't know if I could survive one more day, my friend Nancy (mother of two daughters, now grandmother) would tell me that it goes by so fast. I would joke, "promise?"

And I know that, even today, as tears well up in my eyes at the thought of how quickly indeed it has gone, I know that next week, I will be so happy that the girls will have finished another year of school and we'll get a few months off from the homework grind. Perspective only goes so far when you're living in the moment.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Monday update: LotsOLinks

First, the best news: Riley's friend came back to school and seems just fine. YAY!

Thanks to everyone who shared their thoughts on my latest LA Moms post. I've had some really good chats with people over the past few days over the situation, and I think for the most part, the matter is closed. I will have to write a follow-up on LA Moms.

Hey, do you like the new look around here? Thanks to Florinda for helping me find one! I know, I still don't have a blog list up, but that will come when I start cluttering the place up again!

I was quoted in an LA Times blog on the latest study findings on day care.

Don't forget to subscribe to Parentella's blog. I will have a new post up soon where I rant about middle school.

Friday, May 14, 2010

What I Don't want my Daughter to learn in School

I'm dealing with a situation right now with my 12-year-old that has me fuming. And I admit, I made my mistakes, too, in this dilemma. I told my daughter to talk to the school counselor. I simply wasn't prepared for what would follow.

My daughter told me a couple of weeks ago that she had been physically threatened by a "friend." Granted, middle school girl friendships have their ups and downs, but all the parenting experts out there say that when there's a threat of physical harm, it's time to get serious. I encouraged her to go speak to her school counselor, Mrs. D, about it. Mrs. D has been helpful previously so I thought it was the right call. Little did I know that my little girl would come home more upset than ever, and I would end up apologizing to her.

While the situation is long and complicated, and I was not in the room for what exactly happened, what my daughter took away from it was that no one was on her side. Mrs. D told the "mean girls" that they could choose not to be my daughter's friend. My daughter and her friend got punished for trying to speak to one of them. My daughter rides the bus to her after-school program with the Mean Girls, who took advantage of Mrs. D's "advice" by isolating my daughter, and then telling everyone on the bus that it was her fault for going to an adult.

My daughter is a 12-year-old girl that wants to fit in. She wants to be liked. She wants to have lots of friends. While I would rather that she not want these particular girls' friendship at all, the truth is, she's 12, and she's simply not that discerning yet! Nor will she be if she is told that she has no choice in the matter, which is exactly what she got out of her conversation with Mrs. D.

This was not what I was expecting to happen. I was hoping that Mrs. D would give everyone involved the opportunity to talk, the opportunity to listen, the guidance to empathize and understand each other's point of view. While I certainly wanted the issue of the physical threat handled, I wasn't looking for punishment here. I was looking for a teachable moment. Instead, what we got was that every child involved, including my own, received a disciplinary consequence.

So this is how girls learn to shut down! What my daughter took away from this experience was she should never have said anything in the first place; that no one really cares how she feels, they just want the matter to go away. What I'm most concerned about right now is that she will take this experience to heart and she will stop talking about how she feels.

I'm absolutely furious that a middle school counselor, with years of experience, felt that this was handled appropriately. Mrs. D called me this morning to inform me of the events, and seemed truly shocked that my daughter felt so unsupported. I am shocked that she didn't see it coming. While I acknowledge that my 12-year-old is vulnerable, I submit that most 12-year-old girls are. Every book I've read on this age in development validates that for me. Mrs. D kept referring to the conversation as a "conflict resolution" session. I kept insisting that it wasn't resolved at all. The conflict is alive and well.

Originally posted on LA Moms Blog, May 14, 2010.

Finally Friday

This week has sucked for the most part. A few good moments here and there, but mostly, it sucked.

Riley's friend got hit by a car, and it pisses me off because it happened when he and his mother were jaywalking across the street to school. We have a crossing guard!! WHY did they jaywalk? We think he'll be okay, but Riley is worried about her friend and is really hoping that he comes to school today.

Sylvia's choir concert was mostly an experience in hell that will be posted about at Parentella next week. And then there was this. I really really hate middle school.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Mid-week Wrap-Up

I'm so far behind on posting, but trying to catch up here.

I do have new posts up at Parentella, but instead of posting individual links, I urge to subscribe to their blog and read everyone's contributions.

Here are some pics from our Mother's Day. We met up with my sis and her family and my parents at Bubba Gump's in Santa Monica.

My nephew took this pic from the Ferris Wheel.

And I've never seen this one before, but thought it was cool.

To tell you the truth, I wasn't much looking forward to going to Santa Monica after spending all of Saturday at Disneyland, but those views from the Ferris Wheel reminded me why I love living in SoCal.

It's also always nice to spend some time with my family, especially my sister. Once again, as always, we ended up both saying the exact same thing at the exact same time with the exact same inflection! I may not see her as often as I'd like, but she will always be my best friend. When my girls are getting along, I see their future and I know how much that bond will mean to them in their adult years.

Last night was Sylvia's spring choir concert. I will most likely write a Parentella post about these experiences in the middle school years. For right now, I'll just say I'm glad it's over! She tried out for Choir for next year, but doesn't seem to want to do it anymore. And that's fine with me. I'm actually glad that she's had both experiences of being a cheerleader last year, and in the choir this year, but next year, I think we really need to keep her extra-curriculars limited to what she does at the after-school program. The experiences are more rewarding for all of us!

OK, I'm not liking the new Compose platform in Blogger. I'm also really really sick of my template.

I have one more event to get through this week, and then things should calm down for a while.

Yahoo! Mother Board: How one email changed my life

In honor of AmeriCorps Week, the Yahoo! Mother Board has asked us to talk about volunteerism.

There's nothing more humbling than having to ask for help. I know. I've done it.

When I left my husband and came back to L.A., I had nothing. We came with our suitcases, our cat, and I think I had $100 in my wallet. After 7 years with my husband, that was all I had left. I had no job, no bank account, no car, and we were living with my parents.

With the help of my parents and food stamps from the government, I started a new life. I got a job, and then I made arrangements with my parents to take over one of their car payments so that I would have transportation. And then I had to go about finding my own place to live.

My parents were, of course, willing to have us stay with them as long as we needed, but I needed our own space. I needed to get to work on strengthening our new definition of family. I needed to be a single parent on my own.

A friend at work helped me find a place to live. That was the easy part. The hard part was making it a home.

I had no bed, the girls had no beds. I had no kitchen appliances, no fridge, no couch, no dining room table. I ended up crying to two friends at work, admitting my feelings of failure to provide for my children. The only thing worse than admitting it out loud was the knowledge that I couldn't do it alone.

My friends urged me to ask for help. So I took a deep breath and started the task of writing one of the most trying emails I've ever had to write. In the "To:" line was every single person I'd met at work and the subject was "Help."

And the replies flowed back. Someone had an old futon: bed for me - check. Someone else had a set of dishes. Someone else had a fridge. My boss had a dollhouse for the girls that his daughters had outgrown. Before I knew it, I had so many offers that I actually had to start turning some down!

We moved the first week of December. Two weeks later, my department surprised me with the news that our family had been the beneficiary of their Adopt-a-Family for the season. In addition to the grocery gift cards that freed up funds for me to buy my own presents to the girls, they'd bought me every item still outstanding on my list of things I needed to complete our home.

I was overwhelmed by their generosity. I couldn't get over the idea that people had made such an effort for me, for us. I don't think there was anyone that had received my email request that didn't reply with some offer. Even if they had nothing to give, they offered to help me move. They offered to watch my kids while I moved! They let me know they were here for me. More importantly, no one judged me harshly, as I feared. Their support helped me gain back some self-esteem.

Of course since then, I've become someone that gives to the Adopt-a-Family program. My girls and I regularly volunteer whenever we can. I'm proud to be a part of Riley's PTA, where we not only raise funds for the school, but we have also sponsored fundraisers for Haiti and the Children's Hospital.

Giving back is a source of pride for me in knowing that we've gone from those asking for help to being able to offer help.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mother's Day

No time to write today. Instead, I'll share what we did yesterday.

Happy Mother's Day!!

More check-ins at Disneyland
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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

I'd rather be real

There's been a lot in the pop culture realm these days about being happy, being grateful, and even settling. I've decided I'd rather be honest. By freeing myself to feel anger, sadness, and frustration, I found that I love my life. And I don't have to fake it.

There are times that my life feels overwhelming. Between work, raising two daughters alone, and trying to maintain my own sense of self, sometimes I just want to give up. So I find a few moments to close a door and just cry. I cleanse myself of these feelings by just feeling them. And then I take a few deep breaths, open the door, and go back to my life.

Then someone (my girls or my colleagues) will make me laugh. And I laugh hard. I may laugh harder and longer than is called for, but I'm going to enjoy it for all its worth! Life stops feeling so overwhelming.

Of course, I am humbled by the experiences that others are going through: by the friend who just fought and beat breast cancer, by the woman who had to bury her husband, by the victims of Haiti. Sure, my life seems like a breeze compared to others. Still, that doesn't make my feelings any less real. And when I've tried previously to bury them, to berate myself for being selfish, all I've felt is worse. My self-esteem suffers, my patience with my girls wears, and things look darker than ever.

I don't find comfort in the phrase, "everything happens for a reason." I find comfort in venting about it, and moving on naturally from disappointments. Just because something that upset me a year ago doesn't upset me anymore doesn't mean that my feelings weren't valid then; it just means that I expressed them and then I was able to be free of them.

Nor do I want to role model this behavior for my girls. Sure, the friend that said something mean to them may not be the end of the world, but if their feelings are hurt, I can't dismiss that. I can't tell them it doesn't matter, that there are children who don't have enough food to eat, and they should just be grateful that they have friends! I want them to know that their feelings should matter to those who love them. Maybe by giving them compassion, they will be compassionate to others.

I also think that some anger is healthy. Injustice is worth anger, and that anger has sparked things like the civil rights movement, strikes that ended worker abuse, given women the right to vote. Anger sparked me to leave a drug addict husband and demand better for my girls. Anger sparked me into getting my degree, which led to my promotion at work, which means I have more means to care for my children. Anger, when it's not left to fester and rage, when we learn to manage it and use it to work for us instead of against us, doesn't deserve the bad rap it's gotten.

I believe that by recognizing the things that aren't so fair in life, by feeling sad or outraged or simply worn out, I do appreciate the good times that much more. I know in my heart of hearts that this great feeling won't last, so I'm going to revel in it while it does. The moment can be as small as listening to a favorite song, but the smile on my face lingers a little longer. By being pessimistic about the future, I can be joyful in the now.

Originally posted on LA Moms Blog, May 3, 2010.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Quick Update

Wow, can't believe it's been 5 days already since I've posted. I keep meaning to sit down, write something thoughtful, but here we are!

We had a great weekend. I took the girls to Whole Foods for the first time, and you would have thought it was a candy store by how excited they the produce! Unfortunately, I went way over budget because, of course, I wanted to say yes to everything they wanted. I said no a few times, but not nearly enough. Lesson learned. Ouch.

On Saturday, we went to Dermalogica for a mom blogger event. The girls had their very first facials! I will post more about it at a later date.

That night, I went to a Help a Mother Out event, hosted by the fabulous House of Prince. Word is, over 3,000 diapers were donated! Given that there are no government programs to help the homeless buy diapers, we feel pretty good about that.

Sylvia went to see Chicago on Sunday night with the Club and had a great time.

I'm adding another title. Next year, I'll be the Secretary for the Booster Club as well as the PTA for Riley's school. Now maybe I can find out just what it is a Booster Club does!

Work is crazy busy, learning SO much, and still loving it.

On the bad news front: my car's engine light came on to warn me that a bill around $400 will be coming soon. LOVELY.

But to not end on that note, had lunch with the fabulous Jessica Gottlieb yesterday. Love her.