Saturday, February 26, 2011

Weekend Reading

At Parentella, my post is about parenting the procrastinator.

At CherryTree, I discuss why we choose more progressive parenting ways than our parents.

And I'm exciting to also be a contributor now at MomsLA. My first post is on why, despite all its problems, I still think LA's a great place to raise a family.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Yes, Virginia, there ARE single parent families

Sometimes, I can wave it off. People are used to this way of thinking, I remind myself. But when confronted with it - or rather being ignored because of it - I have to take a stand.

I'm a single parent, and that's not going to change. I exist, my children exist, and we're here to stay.

I went to two seminars where the speaker's attitude towards single parents was either negative or entirely absent. I'm not sure which one is worse.

In the financial seminar, the speaker was trying very hard to be inclusive; maybe you're married with children, or maybe you're single without children. Over and over, those were the choices. Here's what you do if you're married with children, and here's what you do if you're single without. Okay, then maybe I should just GO because clearly, I don't exist in your mind.

In the seminar on education, the speaker was addressing some of the challenges children may be facing; divorce, death, or drug use. Yes, folks, coming from a "broken home" is just as bad as having a dead parent. There are a number of divorced parents who interact with their exes just fine and both parents are still involved in their children's lives. But one of them may just as well have died. And if a spouse did pass away, then you don't count to the speaker from above because you're no longer married with children or single without.

This is 2011!! And yet, still, somehow, we can't get away from thinking about families in one way. Or if we do happen to acknowledge a difference, then it's an acknowledgment of irreparable damage.

I agree with the speaker that said drug use can be devastating to young children. Which is why I initiated the divorce! And I refuse to believe that we are hopelessly damaged because of it. In fact, the repair began with that particular dissolution. (And disillusion.)

I didn't say anything to either speaker. It wasn't the time or the place. But it's been bugging me ever since. It can be frustrating at times to live in a world where so many refuse to acknowledge my existence.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


As much as I blabber here, there is still so much left unsaid. Those moments that we're living our lives, I don't necessarily remember to record. So every so often, I'll post about these moments that are worth remembering.

  • As is our custom, we were watching Glee together, and while we were already excited about the Diva-Off between Rachel and Mercedes, the song choice literally made Sylvia and I yell "YAY!" and sit up! As soon as the first few notes of "Take Me or Leave Me" from Rent were played, one might have mistaken our simultaneous squeal of delight for a team's winning touchdown! I love that Sylvia and I did the exact same thing in the exact same moment.
  • I was in the middle of watching a harrowing scene (one of many) in The Killing Fields. Riley came out with a game, and asked if we could play. While playing a board game may seem like a trivial response to seeing a man walk barefoot across a country to save his life, somehow it seemed appropriate to appreciate that we have a roof over our head and the time to enjoy each other's company sitting on the floor, playing and laughing together.
  • Sylvia's gotten into the Power of Negative Thinking...but her negativity goes a trifle too far sometimes. She rolled her eyes at the thought of going to the zoo with my parents. I've already told her that I'm not going to take her dread too seriously, because she usually ends up enjoying whatever she's dreading. Sure enough, I get a text from her: "Mom, we just saw a baby koala!" My smile was two-fold: first, that she was enjoying herself, and second, that she wanted to share that with me. 
  • I procrastinated my weekend grocery shopping until Valentine's Day. Big mistake. So many people (men, mostly) rushing in to get flowers with balloons and such! But that's not what cracked me up. It was my cart's contents that were oh-so-typical of a single woman; I had picked up some dark chocolate, a big old carton of cat litter (it was on sale!), and yes, even Ramen noodles for a Chicken Lo Mein recipe I was trying. I had to laugh at myself!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Making the Time to Write

There hasn't been much time to blog lately, and even less time to read others'. We've been too busy living life! As I'm getting through the laundry, the girls have been very understanding that I need to write. I've written three different posts for three other sites, and oh yeah, I have this blog, too!

I love that my daughters get this blogging thing. As I was reading It's My Time to Write's post on Exploiting My Baby, I started to understand on a new level why this is important.

Books and blogs about parenting are changing how we parent. We are expressing our doubts and fears and challenges and de-mystifying parenting from those old stereotypes of "mothers always know" and "wait until your father gets home." And I think part of lifting that silence will actually bring parents and children closer together.

Part of what tears adolescents apart from their parents is that the teenagers finally get that we don't know everything. They're terrified to the point of anger that we can't always make everything better anymore. Their troubles can't be solved with a bandage and a kiss from Mommy, their mistakes have greater consequences than a time-out, they are about to enter the world independent of us, and feel in part that we've failed them for not prepping them enough. And some things are just too embarrassing or shameful to discuss with Mom or Dad.

By parents throwing open the doors to our own fears and challenges, admitting our mistakes on a blog, even sometimes crying in front our children, we are more vulnerable as humans than most parents before us. Even in our boasting about moments of triumph, we show how we got there. Our journey is there for all the world to see. Including, in the case of us bloggers, our children.

Sometimes, I've asked Sylvia to read what I write here, or elsewhere. Sometimes, I ask her to read it before I publish it, when it's about her and the Mean Girls or whatnot. I don't know if she ever reads my posts without me, but I feel okay with what I've written if she does. And I can't begin to describe the pride I feel when she tells me, "you're a good writer!" or "I'm so glad you blogged about that!" or even, "Mom, you should blog about that!"

Of course, reading other people's blogs or books on parenting is a great way to get different perspectives and new ideas. I find myself thinking about other people's posts long after I read them, even if my poor memory can rarely recall where I read it! And parenting has changed greatly now that we're no longer stuck to only our neighbors that generally think along the same lines we do for conversations about parenting. While the unfortunate consequence has been the judging of other mom bloggers, I gain a lot of value from those other moms, even if I don't always agree with them. I appreciate learning why they parent the way they do. (At one point, I was going to write about the Tiger Mom article, but then it all just became too much...noise.)

I find it hilarious that we stress so much value on reading and writing...and then criticize people who do just that. I'm proud to be a Mommy Blogger. I barely qualify anymore since that title usually only includes moms with young children, but I'll still call myself that. As long as I feel it just as important to make the time to write and read as making dinner; it feeds our family's soul.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Weekend Reading

Regular readers know I'm a huge fun of Glee. At Parentella, I wrote about its messages that bring greater meaning to the show.

At Cherry Tree, my post is about why positive reinforcement works.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Giveaway winner

The winner of the Geffen giveaway is Chris! Looking forward to seeing you on Saturday!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

(Sur)real motherhood

Exploiting My Baby: A Memoir of Pregnancy & ChildbirthRecently, Riley had a bad fall off a scooter at her friend's house. She came to me, visibly shaken, needing her mom. I cleaned her wounds, applied ointment and bandages, and she buried herself in my lap. One of those quintessential mother-child moments.One of those moments where I found myself thinking, "wow, I'm a real mom!"

Like Teresa Strasser, author of the hilarious Exploiting My Baby, motherhood wasn't on the top of my priority list when I was a child, imagining my oh-so-fabulous future as a starving artist. My "dream home" was a warehouse straight out of Flashdance.

Long story short, my life took a completely different turn and here I am, feeling full and complete in healing my daughter's wounds and finding the best company in my two girls.

Riley tells me often that I'm the best mommy in the world and in my head, I'm always thinking, "that's just because she doesn't know any better!" And just waiting for the day she no longer believes that.

Because I still have those moments where it all just feels so...surreal that I'm actually their mother.

When the girls were younger, I felt validated in my motherhood by side-stepping Legos and washing bibs. Then it was in attending their holiday concerts and signing report cards. Now, it's in keeping track of their schedules, and picking them up at the appropriate time. These are things that mothers do!

Yet, like Teresa, there are still times where I don't feel quite part of the club. Maybe it's because it wasn't my childhood dream to be a mom that I still feel this need to prove my membership. Like, having the kids and raising them somehow isn't enough! Maybe it's just an insecurity thing.

And the moments that aren't picturesque? Like I'm supposed to know what to do when one of them misbehaves? It feels like one very long improv class, and I'm simply making up the rules as I go along. Like motherhood is a role I'm playing...for the rest of my life. So I play it to the fullest. Blog about our lives and say, "We were here. I was Sylvia and Riley's mom."

The exploitation feels necessary in order to confirm that it is indeed happening. And if I'm lucky, Riley and Sylvia will believe I was at least good enough.

Read more posts inspired by Exploiting My Baby at the book club site, From Left to Write. While I was given the book to read for free, I have not been compensated for this post.

Amazon links are connected to my Amazon Affiliates account.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Re-Visiting Self Love

Two years ago, I wrote a Self Love post for Valentine's Day that I feel is worth sharing again (with edits to mark the passage of that time - but the feelings are the same):

6 8 years ago on Valentine's Day, I practiced the most self love I'd ever conjured. I told my husband it was over.

bell hooks wrote in all about love that love is an action verb. I didn't actually read that until years later, but when I did, it verbalized what I did that V-day 6 8 years ago.

I'd tried to leave X a few times before, but frankly, I didn't love myself enough to go through with it. I didn't trust myself to survive single motherhood. I was afraid of being alone forever. I didn't think anyone else would ever love me or know me like X did. I believed in that fallacy that two parents are always better than one.

But years of lies, and actions on his part that proved he didn't love me or the girls in the way that we deserved finally caught up with us. And that year, I just couldn't do it anymore. I couldn't celebrate this day with this man.

A few months prior, I remember telling him, there's a breaking point. There's a point where I will no longer love you. I could feel it coming.

And finally, it did.

It didn't happen just out of years of frustration, though. It happened because of other things going on in my life. It happened because I was having something that I could even call my life again. I was reminded that I was a capable human being. I was reminded that I could have fun, even. That I could laugh. That there was joy in the world.

And then there were my kids. It wasn't until after we left and were starting our lives over again that I truly realized how much I had given up of their childhood in trying to make my marriage work. By not having the best of me, they were missing out. Oh sure, I did the necessary stuff, and we had fun and all that. But there's no question that my unhappiness affected them, too.

That's the beauty of self-love. When we find it, we ARE better mothers, better partners, better friends, and better humans for it. When we're not beating ourselves up for our inadequacies, we have room to listen and hear others. When we're not crying, we can laugh, smile, hug. When we're not feeling sorry for ourselves, we can reach out and give to others in need.

Self-love is not narcissism because true love is not an ugly thing. Self-love can't be vanity or blind because true love allows for humanity's imperfections.

7 9 years ago, there is no way I could have seen myself or my kids where we are now. 7 9 years ago, I had given up and accepted that life was going to suck. 7 9 years ago, I felt completely alone and isolated from the man in bed next to me. 6 8 years ago, I opened the door for all of the possibilities to come.

I laugh everyday, and usually at least once a day at myself. I am loved everyday by my children, my family and friends. Finding our ways to true love are various and unpredictable, but I wish you all a Happy Valentine's Day, full of love for YOU.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Weekend Reading

At Parentella, my post is about dreading family fun projects.

At CherryTree, an introduction to our family's village.

And just a few days left to enter the giveaway for free tkts to In Mother Words at the Geffen Playhouse.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Adolescent safety

The days of worrying about child safety in terms of plug outlets and car seats seem like, well, child's play in retrospect. Now I get the fun of worrying about what my girls are doing online, whom (and what) they're texting, replacing play dates with trips to the mall with friends, school dances (and what goes on in any dark corners), and my personal favorite, exposure to drugs.

I started worrying about the drug factor back when Sylvia was 6! Not that she was doing any at the time, of course, but just how her father's history (and, for all I know, his present) drug use would factor into the girls' outlook later.

My hope, obviously, is that they've experienced all too well just how damaging substance abuse is, and would stay far, far away. But that's not always how it works. Some kids may use their parent's experiences as an excuse to make the same mistakes, some are more prone to addiction by heredity and an "innocent" experimentation alters their life course completely, and some do indeed stay far far away. Of course, this is just a small sample of possibilities. The statistics can be whatever they are, but parents aren't dealing with statistics; we're dealing with our children.

Sylvia has mentioned that she's heard of drug use in her middle school. And sexual activities, and kids meeting up with online strangers, and pretty much any other horror story out there. I just remain grateful that she's told me what she has. I would be more skeptical if she said she's never heard of anyone doing any of the above.

And that's really the best answer I have to dealing with the dangers of the world: keep the lines of communication open. We talk about the latest news, and while the girls may roll their eyes or act shocked that I would even suggest they'd do such a thing, at least it's out there. Sure enough, many of those eye-rolling events come back to the girls on a more personal level, and that's when Sylvia tells me about what she heard of someone else doing at school, or how she's concerned about a friend.

I brace myself for the day that the talks will not be about someone else, but about one of them.

I have vowed to myself that I will not get crazy mad if I discover that either of my girls has experimented with drugs. That I will listen to what they have to say about it, and then explain as calmly as possible just how much harm they'll be doing to themselves and their loved ones if they ever try again. That being in control of your own life is a far greater high than giving it up to a substance. That we will attend Al-anon meetings or AA meetings so they can hear the stories of what those lost years did to real people. And then we will take it one day a time from there.

Yes, looking at just how much harder it's going to get before they reach adulthood safely is daunting and sometimes overwhelming.

Then I remember that they never stuck their fingers in a plug outlet, they do know how to cross a street safely (and will criticize others for jay-walking), automatically put on their seat belts, can chop vegetables properly and are cautious around a stove. We got there one day at a time, one accomplishment at a time. Just several hundreds more to go!

*This post is my entry for the The Safest Parent Competition sponsored by The Safest Line.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Now at TheCherryTree

I'm very excited about my newest blogging venture; I'll be contributing posts at TheCherryTree's blog. TheCherryTree is a brand new site that will help families give a little oomph to their positive reinforcement. When the site is fully functional (sign up for an invite), you'll be able to put specific tasks or goals onto the site, and your child will earn points for their accomplishments. Parents and family members can add words of encouragement or praise.

Families can use the points mechanism to track for a reward. For instance, I'm planning to use the site to encourage Riley with her reading. She'll get 10 points for every chapter, and once she hits 300, then I'll take her to dinner at her favorite restaurant. The child is responsible for checking in to obtain their points, which I also like about it.

My first post is up at TheCherryTree blog, about how our village has rewarded our family in so many ways.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Balancing support vs responsibility

The parental question of the week for me has been, how much do I support, and how much do I let go?

Sylvia has a lot to do to prepare for her audition for the arts high school that she wants to attend. Because she's auditioning in two disciplines (dance and visual arts), the responsibilities are double. She's lucky to have a professional dancer choreograph her solo, but she needs to rehearse it in heels. She has to put together a portfolio of her art work, and has to include certain types of pieces. She has to have certain attire for the dance class that's part of the audition process.

It would seem pretty clear which of those responsibilities are mine, and which are hers. I've given her the info on the portfolio requirements, bought her the necessary attire (and portfolio), and put her rehearsals on my calendar to get her there and pick her up on time. It's up to her to rehearse the solo (not just in rehearsals, but at home), make sure she brings what she needs to, and put her portfolio together properly.

Still, I'm struggling with the balance issue. I keep having to remind her to rehearse, I keep having to ask her about the art pieces, bring what she needs to rehearsal. And I'm so tired of it.

So last week, we had a long talk. I told her what she needed to accomplish on Saturday before her rehearsal on Sunday, and that I wouldn't be reminding her again. It was up to her to get it done on our free home day. But at 8 p.m. on Saturday night, I started nagging. Of course, her first reaction was to get defensive; I'd promised not to nag her. But see, it's 8 pm, and you haven't done anything yet! I'm not sure how much she ended up rehearsing, but she got half the portfolio done.

It's hard to know at this age just how much I have to stay on her, and how much to let her fail or succeed on her own. Of course, it's her life, and if she should be willing to put in the work to get what she wants, but at the same time, are the consequences too great if I step back too far and she doesn't come through? Is that too hard a lesson to learn at the age of 13?

There's also the point of respecting how much others have put into this. Not just me; obviously, I'm her mother and am supposed to do these things for her. But the woman that has choreographed the number for her and set aside time in her schedule to rehearse with Sylvia deserves the respect of Sylvia doing her part. Which was also why I said something on Saturday.

Having said that, I don't want to put too much pressure on her. I don't want her to feel at all like we'll be disappointed in her if she doesn't get in. The odds are basically 4 to 1. But that's all the more reason why she needs to do everything she can to do her best. Getting in isn't just about talent level, but about commitment. If she can show them that she's practiced tirelessly, that she's put her heart and soul into it, her chances of getting in increase greatly. And I do know that she wants it, and that it's also partly my responsibility to help her get what she wants.

This is the back and forth I've been going through for the past week. And I don't expect it to end anytime soon. I don't think there's a definitive answer here, but (big surprise) a balancing act. I just need to stay in tune with her enough to gauge what she needs in the moment. Yeah, that's all!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Weekend Reading

My latest Parentella post is on the school info sessions we've attended in preparation for next year.

I've been losing sleep, stuck in this limbo of not knowing yet where they're going next year. It's going to be at least another month before we know for sure. I hope I can last that long!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Proud to be a Pessimist

I used to be an idealist. Then I grew up.

One of my favorite posts of mine (if I do say so myself...and clearly I do) was The Power of Negative Thinking. And many of you have been graced with this link. And many of you have come back with three of my most favorite words: "you were right."

Yes, negative thinking has gotten a bad rep. And being the blogger who's not for everyone, I am here to stand up for it.

I still live my life according to the glass being empty kind of philosophy. And most days, I wake up loving my life a lot more than I did when I "hoped for the best."

Now, to be clear, this is not to say that I don't have nightmare scenarios.  Nearly every day, I wake up afraid that I'll get laid off or fired. So every day (so far), I'm grateful that the gate still opens with my parking pass. Every day (so far), I'm grateful for the girls' health because there is simply no way I could handle anything ever happening to them. Every day, I'm afraid that my X has discovered how to get into my checking account, so every day, I'm relieved that my banking balances is where I expect them to be. (Just checked again...phew!!)

Posting that paragraph? Is going to be the cause of tonight's insomnia. Because dammit, just like you should never say on an L.A. freeway, "hey, there's no traffic," my life is going to come to a screeching halt for just saying that I have anything good in my life. I mean, come on! When I tried to say, hey, I'll accept that the other shoe isn't dropping, it did.

But here's the difference between then and now that I'm hoping will keep me from losing my job, my home, and the three of us moving back in with my parents: I expect that things will change. I expect that some of those changes will be really, really hard. I expect that any day now, Sylvia will stop talking to me. I expect that I am about to lose some cherished friendships.

So what the hell, I'm going to revel in every boring moment now! I am going to let my friends know that I love them. I am going to hug Sylvia for as long as she'll let me.

Oh, don't get me wrong. I whine about work (especially since our move), I get annoyed with the girls, and I push my cat off my lap when I need to reach the keyboard. But then I'll have those flashes of what I can lose and I answer that work email at 8 pm, I'll smile when I check in on the girls before I go to bed, and I'll give my cat extra pets because I know she's going to die soon. (She's 18 years old; it's going to happen.)

And while I tried to read The Power of Now, The Secret, and all of those, none of them worked for me. It was dreading the next staff meeting, ranting about my X, and being able to visualize exactly how much worse it can get that makes me say, "this isn't so bad after all."

This post is inspired by The Daily Post's topic: Are You an Optimist or a Pessimist? Go ahead and guess.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Latest Budget Update

I opened a savings account, devoted to saving funds for vacation. We're hoping to get away again this holiday season, but it's going to cost. My credit union makes it incredibly easy to open a new account online so I've got a little in there, and have added it to my budget. I won't be adding to it every paycheck, but every little bit helps, right?

I've also created a grocery budget spreadsheet. I may go shopping every week, but I was shocked to learn that grapes cost seven dollars! So I'm inputting the price of everything I buy on the spreadsheet so that I can be armed with as much knowledge as possible before I walk in the door. Oh, and also see just how much impulse spending I do.

Work in progress indeed!