Saturday, April 30, 2011

Weekend Reading

At Parentella, I'm talking about my (mini) revolutionary moment.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

My Beautiful Riley

Riley was lucky enough to participate in the Young Storytellers program, where she's been working with a professional writer as a mentor to write a screenplay. A 5-page screenplay, but a screenplay nonetheless. She learned the craft of storytelling, she wrote her story, and we had the opportunity to see it performed by professional actors.

I was blown away.

And yes, I know I am her biased mom, but it just reaffirmed my belief that this girl has an incredible depth to her soul. At the ripe old age of 10.

Her play delved into the complex issue of loving without being there. And yes, I'm sure the lack of Dad in her life has something to do with it. But she had an ending; a conclusion. And it was one of acceptance.

That's what makes her so beautiful to me; her ability to accept people as they are.

She can sound cold at times. She'll make jokes at her father's expense. She'll say she doesn't care that he's not around. But I don't think she is cold about it. I think she makes jokes because hey, might as well laugh rather than cry. And it's not that she doesn't care, it's just that he's been gone so long, and she's living her life, and lo and behold, she can do that without him.

She's also one of the most joyous people I know. This might come out wrong, but she reminds me of a dog hanging out a car window, reveling in the flight. Riley loves life. She loves jumping up and down, snuggling, running for no reason. She's wise enough beyond her years to actually enjoy and revel in her youth.

I also love that she threw herself into this. Over and over, Sylvia has been in the spotlight this year, and it hasn't always been easy to be her little sister. But she hasn't let herself be a victim to it. She's cheered her sister on all the way, and proudly took this chance to let it be Riley's turn. She recognizes that she has different strengths than Sylvia, and utilizes them to her fullest.

Riley has this quiet strength. Of soul, of character, of self.

I wish I knew more grown-ups like Riley. I wish I was more like Riley.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Fearing the Known

Something that's come up a lot lately in conversations about kids and young adults is the fear they have of deciding the rest of their lives so early in life. I've also heard them call into the Suze Orman show, asking if they can afford a round the world trip to survive their Quarterlife Crisis.

According to what they're told, if they do well in school, get in a good college and maybe graduate school, they will then be set with a great job for the rest of their lives. This, quite naturally, scares them to death. If they do everything right, they will have 30+ years of doing the same thing every day for the rest of their lives. If you were 18, how exciting would that look?

When I look at my own friends and family, however, the reality is very different. There are very few people that have had less than 3 jobs. Some have changed careers more than 3 times (myself included). Just when you think you have life figured out, everything changes.

In my generation, we went from "what's the internet" to "what's your twitter handle?" Pensions disappeared, and work-at-home moms has become a phenomenon that barely existed outside of Avon reps when I was a kid.

The only thing we can truly depend upon is that everything will change.

I could never wrap my head around looking 5, 10 years into the future, and I thought it was just a personal problem. Instead, I turned out to be ahead of the game because I didn't have any preconceived notions of what my future would be. If I ask most people I know if they are where they thought they would be at this stage of their lives, most would answer a resounding, "hell no!"

Yet, almost none of them would say they wished things were different. It's the unexpected that teaches us what we really value in life. It sometimes takes the sky falling to turn us to a life filled with more love and happiness than we thought possible. It sometimes takes an actual crisis to save us.

Now, of course, I'm a  mother who hopes nothing bad ever happens to either of my girls. I wish them a life that they love and appreciate without having to experience any more loss or heartache. But I know all I can really do for them is just be there. To support them, to love them unconditionally, to help them find their way when their lives fall apart.

I wish there was some way students could learn this lesson without suffering, even if only a Quarterlife Crisis.

This post inspired by Mama Kat's Writer's Workshop.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Budgeting Buys My Kids Shoes

When it became clear both the girls needed new shoes (again), the biggest concern: when would we have time to buy them?

For once, the concern was not about how to pay for them. And the answer wasn't to put them on the credit card. On Sunday, the girls got their new shoes.

This is what I can do after budgeting for a year. I can buy my kids shoes when they need them.

I also went out to dinner, bought a new book, and went out for a drink with friends. None of it went on the credit card. None of it came out of my savings.

That's not to say there weren't compromises. I did some re-arranging in our dinner menu for this week and cut down my grocery list, and didn't go out to lunch on other days. They didn't feel like compromises, though; just a few changes to allow me to accept unexpected opportunities.

I'll still be saying no more than I say yes. I'll still watch my budget and bank accounts obsessively. I still have a long way to go to pay off my credit card. There's a long way to go.

Still, it's a great feeling to be able to give my children what they need when they need it.

The Dream versus Reality

At last it was going to happen. Sylvia had placement testing at a place where there just happens to be a Starbucks. It's always been my dream to be one of those people, sipping coffee, either reading or on a laptop, with seemingly nothing better to do. Not every day, but just for a few hours. This, at last, was my chance.

Got my coffee, found a table outside but not directly in the sun, and was prepared for my time. And then a mom with two pre-schoolers sits next to me.

Whenever I happen to be kid-free, I don't want to be around other families. I realize that time off from motherhood is not really time off. You never stop being a mom. But still, those parents actually with their kids feels like an admonishment somehow. An admonishment for wanting to enjoy a few hours sans kids, that I'm not spending enough time with my kids.

To be clear, I know there's no logical reason to feel guilty. Riley was in school, Sylvia was essentially in school, I'd taken a vacation day from work so I wasn't even playing hooky. I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I'd even told someone, "it's not often when I'm actually supposed to be doing nothing, so I'm going to enjoy this." That mom with her kids should not have affected me. So I tried to ignore it and go about doing nothing.

The mom read the kids a story. Okay, fine, no big deal. But then she started asking the kids probing questions about plot and character motivation. "Do you think the alligator was being a good friend?" "What do you think would have happened if the alligator did [x] instead?" "Draw a picture of this scene." OMG, she was relentless.

She'd taken a 10-page book and was guiding her pre-schoolers for a good 20 minutes on critical analysis!

I finally gave up and left.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Weekend Reading

Another report on Riley's book reports at Parentella.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Just What the Mommy Blog World Needs: Another Mommy-Bragging Post

Riley was more excited about my birthday than I was. She had friends of hers sign a card for me. She wrote a birthday message that I will cherish. She showered me with hugs and kisses. She spent the whole weekend devoted to ensuring my happiness.

She's so wonderful. She's so full of love. Whenever I want a hug, she's right there. Her love is so pure, she brings me to life in a way I never thought possible. And she's just so happy. She can't stay in a bad mood for long; she's just not made for it. Whenever we hug (and we hug a lot), the rest of the world just fades away. She's pure bliss.

Sylvia is growing into her own in the most beautiful way. Last year was so tough. She was consumed with fitting in, and it broke my heart to see her put so much of her self-worth into others.

She's not that girl anymore.

She has devoted this year to doing what she loves and doing it as well as she possibly can. She's been singled out by three separate adults in the past few weeks on how amazing she is. And she doesn't let it get to her, either. Instead, it just reinforces to her that she's on the right path and she keeps going.

Her friendships are stronger, too, because of it. She's grown closer to friends that respect and admire her for who she is. She's confident in her own skin now, and she hasn't had nearly as many problems with Mean Girls because of that. They just can't mess with her head anymore.

And our relationship is stronger. She hugs me more (in public, even!), she says she loves me more, and we talk more. Whether it's chatting or really talking, we're closer. I feel close to my 13 year old.

Watching them grow is hard. There's no turning back now. Sylvia will be in high school and Riley in middle school in a matter of months. They're just not little anymore.

But it's hard to get too sad about it because I'm so loving what wonderful young ladies they're becoming.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Woman at the ATM

Even if we hadn't needed to use the ATM she was using, we would have noticed her. She wasn't a young twenty-something, but she looked good in her work-out shorts and sports bra. The hazards were blinking on her luxury SUV so she could park illegally in the red zone. As she turned to leave, we noted the gizmo around her arm that either was taking her heart rate or counting her steps. She smiled at us as she turned like a dancer, with just a hint of superiority, but still friendly. (Hey, it's L.A.) We both said later that we would've remarked, "good for her" in a moment or two. Then she reappeared.

"Do either of you have a cell phone I could use?" Her self-satisfied smile was gone. "I locked my keys in the car."

We had to laugh, and she let herself laugh, too. And we apologized honestly, but we'd just run out of the office to grab something to eat. Neither of us had brought our phones, so she turned to ask someone else for help.

I can pretty much guarantee that anytime I'm feeling like, "I look good," or "I totally got this," I will stumble. And I mean that literally. I trip on sidewalks, carpet, or smooth marble. Oh sure, sometimes I can blame it on a fallen branch I didn't see, but usually, it's all me.  Whether or not someone's with me, I laugh.

And hey, if someone's laughing at me, well, I'm glad I could brighten someone's day!

Monday, April 11, 2011

It's All About Bacon

I had the chance to try a chocolate cupcake topped with bacon, sprinkled with cayenne. The chocolate was a little too sweet for my taste; I prefer my chocolate as dark and bitter as possible. But the bacon with cayenne: those flavors work really well together!

Sylvia is the bacon master in our house. I'm too scared of the spattering grease. For my birthday, she made the bacon; Riley made the eggs in toast. I love breakfast for dinner.

Too bad the girls aren't into spicy yet; I look forward to the day where Sylvia is willing to make bacon spiced with cayenne for me! Just hold the cupcake.

While I obviously don't post every day, I subscribe to The Daily Post, and when they suggested bacon as a topic idea, I couldn't resist!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Best Present is Enjoying the Present

I'd found pictures from last year's dinner to see just how dressy people get for this thing. I'd picked something that was both comfortable, but appropriate for the occasion. I'd changed shoes, after Sylvia had chimed in, and agreed that they looked better. I had resigned myself to, "yeah, this is as good as it's going to get."

And then I remembered. No one really cares! Beyond the fact that I was dressed appropriately, no one would be paying much attention to what I looked like. In fact, most of them would be mostly concerned with what they themselves were wearing! We're all pretty self-absorbed that way. And I am reaching the age where frankly, to try much harder would be completely inappropriate! And then I completely let go of any anxiety and could actually enjoy the event.

I can't imagine wishing to be younger, like the protagonist in 29. Maybe I can't appreciate it yet, as there will be 38 candles on my birthday cake, not 75.

Still, unlike the character, I feel pretty confident that I'm living in my present. I don't long to change the past, I don't think much of the future beyond when's the next free weekend we have. Mostly, because I don't want things to change.

I love my job (most of the time), I feel like I've finally got a handle on parenting one day at a time (most of the time), I look forward to spending time with friends, and I also look forward to having no plans at home. While my life isn't perfect, I am perfectly content with it.

When I was 29, I was pretty sure it was just a matter of time before my marriage was over. When I was 29, I couldn't figure out just what I had accomplished in the past decade, beyond having two beautiful girls. But I knew I wasn't living up to my own standards of motherhood. I knew I wasn't living up to my own potential in any aspect of my life. Just after 30 was when I changed my life completely.

At 38, I am exactly where I want to be. Happy birthday to me!

*This post is inspired both by that inevitable changing of the age, and also by this month's From Left to Write book club pick, 29. Read more posts inspired by 29 at From Left to Write. While I was given the book to read for free, I have not been compensated for this post, and all opinions expressed are entirely my own.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Latest on Finances

As quickly as there was good news, there was bad. Isn't that just how it is? In the past 8 years, these things don't get to me as much as they did, but it's still there.

I realized this weekend that I could pay off the largest of my summer child care bill now and be done with it. Not have to work it into the budget for the next two months, but just pay it. It meant taking it out of savings (i.e., tax refund), but it was still a huge relief to get that paid. And then I realized, after this month, I'm done paying for after-school care forever, quite possibly! The girls finish school at the end of May, Riley's new school provides after-school care through a grant, and Sylvia will be in high school with a longer school day.

I'm almost done paying for child care!! Freaking huge, right? Well, it is to me.

Then Monday, I took my car in for its due maintenance. I'd suspected I was going to need new rear brakes, and I was concerned about my tires. Sure enough, I needed two new ones. And just like that, my maintenance cost nearly $500. (Which I may have suspected, but those suspicions didn't come with bonus money to pay for them.) And then, my mechanic told me to be prepared next time; it will be the 120k mile service, and it will be around $300.

Great. That's just freaking GREAT!

It's still cheaper than a car payment for sure, and I want to keep this car as long as it will possibly last. And you better believe, I will. But there it goes...back on the credit card.

I've been SO good about the credit cards! One of them, I haven't used in at least 6 months, the other one I haven't used this year. For me? That's awesome.

So I was feeling a little down about that, and a little down about finances in general. And then someone reminded me of something: I'm still not getting child support. I can pretty much guarantee that I will never see child support, and I'm still doing it. I'm still taking care of the girls, providing more than just the minimum, and we still enjoy our lives.

I may get mad from time to time about the fact that I don't receive child support, but since I've never counted on it, it's been a long time since I've considered the fiscal impact it has on us. It could be a clothing allowance, it could pay for celebratory meals out, it could cover a car payment. It could upgrade us to a 3-bedroom (because the thought of us all PMSing at the same time has dawned on me - and we will need our own space!), it could simply go into a savings account to provide for their college expenses down the line.

I forget that sometimes. Sometimes, I choose to forget because it just makes me angry. Sometimes it makes me sad. Or wistful.

But today, it just makes me proud that I know we will continue to thrive without it.

Mandy got more than she bargained for when she asked us single parents for our financial questions, and I emailed her about my frustration with financial advice that assumes we buy a latte every day or get our nails done once a month. I appreciated that she gave me validation for the reality that sometimes, it does take a credit card to get the job done. And it's not totally against Suze Orman's advice either: people first.

So I'm going to let myself off the hook for breaking out the credit card for this non-budgeted, yet totally necessary, expense. And I am going to let myself be proud of the fact that the girls and I still have a way to get around town and live our lives. 

Monday, April 4, 2011

3rd Family Meeting

Sylvia's still getting used to the idea, but her groans are more of that of a moody teenager; not to be taken too seriously. The more we do it, the more she'll accept it.

She liked some of the additions to the calendar, like knowing what's for dinner all week long. And it saves me from answering the question every day! I'm using E-mealz to help me with this. I love the idea of planning meals based on what's on sale at my local grocery market. And the price is low enough to make it an easy budget item to add. And my grocery bills have gone down!

Going through the calendar also gave us a chance to see where we were double-booked; well, Sylvia was double-booked. She made her choice and our schedule freed up (a tiny bit, anyway).

I didn't have any issues on the agenda this week. It had been a tough week at work, and I was still processing a lot of it. I was also really, really angry at someone and having a hard time getting past it.

The girls started to re-hash an event from earlier in the week that was still upsetting both of them. But as I talked it through with them, how each re-action just compounded the problem, I realized that it no longer mattered if I was still mad at this person or not; I was not going to let myself re-act, and make it worse.

My head knew that, of course, but I still couldn't quite accept it. There are times when I'm just tired of being the grown-up. Where it just feels like the world of justice needs to be a trifle more balanced than it actually is. I didn't wanna. I just didn't wanna.

But as I watched my own girls hold onto their resentment (hmmm, wonder where they get that from?), hold onto what they believed to be righteous just didn't matter anymore. As I told them, "it's okay to be angry; you just can't react with it."

It's like the Power of Negative Thinking; allowing myself to be angry actually freed me from it. I can still be just as angry as I want; I just can't show it.

The girls got through it in a more sibling manner; they bonded by rolling their collective eyes at my words of wisdom. Eventually, we were all laughing together and the meeting adjourned.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Weekend Reading

My first post for The Busy Single Parent is up.