Monday, June 27, 2011

Monday Reading

I was supposed to post this weekend reading update 2 weekends ago. Oh, well. Here are my latest Parentella posts: one is on our gratitude for changing Sylvia's counselor. The other is about how a child's dreams can make for a better reality.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Our Unexpected U-Turn

I worked on a cruise ship as an entertainer when I was 19. We had one cruise that took us through the Panama Canal. I wasn't aware of this at the time, but it's apparently pretty common for people to die during this lengthy cruise. I think our total body count by the time we docked in Los Angeles was 19 - something like that. But that's not the story.

The night after we went through the Canal, all of a sudden, the ship started to list. We were turning around! Murmurs of "man overboard" were traveling through the ship faster than the waves!

Our crew got that man on the ship. He was naked. That was weird. But we still celebrated late into the night in the OB (Officer's Bar) with everyone taking turns buying drinks for our life-saving crew.

The next morning, it was discovered that this guy had not gone overboard from our ship. He wouldn't answer questions about his identity. The crew decided to chaperone him.

At lunchtime, we felt the listing again. What now?

Sure enough, that same man was overboard again! He had thrown off his clothes and jumped overboard!! The crew, a bit more grudgingly this time, went out to save him again.

This time, he fought them, saying "You are the Devil! I am swimming to God!" They were only able to rescue him by shooting him up with a tranquilizer.

Once on board, he lost his stateroom privileges and was taken to the brig. His picture was sent to the Feds for identification. We never learned the name of our devil-fearing exhibitionist. He was taken off the ship in Los Angeles. that's where these people come from!

*I originally posted this over 3 years ago, but was reminded of it while reading The Unexpected Circumnavigation as this month's From Left to Write book club. And the links to the book are connected with my Amazon affiliate account.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Been There...Don't Think So

Thanks to Missy for bringing this to my attention. Zillow has concluded that of the 10 Best Places for Single Moms, Rochester, NY comes in first! This made me laugh out loud because the first thing I did to truly start my life as a single mom was leave Rochester, NY.

As it happens, I'm familiar with a number of these places, and prefer where I live now to any of them.

Rochester, NY. Ice storm on my birthday. In April! Need I say more? Yes, I am a California girl, and simply not equipped to handle weather below 60. And while the summer was beautiful, it was full of mosquitos. Many of the people I met were really nice, but I note that most of those I knew there have since left. Hmmm....

Bakersfield, CA. Mention this place to my mother, my father, or my sister and they will most likely groan with dread. I think I'm the only member of the family with any fond memories of Bakersfield. I remember we had an awesome backyard, and my 5th birthday there rocked! It was also my first encounter with "the media," since they filmed a commercial in our pool! It was a great pool. But the rest of my family insists that it was a horrible place to live. I'll take their word for it.

Fresno, CA. Granted, I only know Fresno as a place you pass through on your way to somewhere else. But doesn't that say it all, really?

Pittsburgh, PA. The place I was so anxious to leave, I was actually the one to get us jobs to move to Rochester, NY! I know my misery in Pittsburgh had a lot more to do with my marriage than our geographic location, but one of the things I remember was feeling like I didn't fit in because I was a mom. It's a college town, and it just made me feel old.

Now, before you get all ready to write mean comments about how dare I say that about the place you love to call home, let me get to my real point.

The best place for you to live as a single mom is the place where you feel you can most thrive.

For me, that was ultra-expensive, "un-family friendly" Los Angeles.

First and foremost, my parents are here. Having them close means the world to me and my girls. And my sister is only two hours away. Having our whole family close is everything. Having lived far away from them, I know that distance does matter. A phone call or email is not the same. You just can't fill a room with laughter and love that way. It's worth the cost of gas, housing, all of it.

It's home to me. While in my childhood, we lived in Santa Cruz, Bakersfield, Cupertino, and I was born in Huntington Beach, if people ask where I'm from, I say, Los Angeles. We moved here when I was in 6th grade. It's where I learned to drive. It's where I had my first job. It's where most of my memories are. Coming back meant being able to find that part of me that was lost during my marriage; that part that believed that anything was possible, that part that defined me. I had to re-define myself, of course, but now that I have, I feel complete by being home.

Living here makes everything that's great about our lives possible. From the opportunities that Sylvia and Riley have of getting to meet and learn from Nickelodeon writers and Cartoon Network animators, to hanging out with my parents in Griffith Park, to seeing musicals at the Pantages and the Ahmanson.

In Los Angeles, we went from surviving as a single parent family, to living to thriving, and I'm not sure that could've happened for us anywhere else. It has its downfalls, just like anywhere, but given what's important to us, given what we love, it's the best place for us.

I suspect some readers would hate to live here, and that's totally fine...and again, my whole point here. No survey can answer this because no analysis could allow for all of the variables!

Like not having any desire to drive in ice and snow 6 months out of the year.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

After the Dust has Settled

A conversation with a friend brings me to this post about what it means for the long term when you're a full-time single parent.

So you've gotten your divorce, you have sole legal custody, you've found your routine as a single parent family. Congratulations!

At some point, a fear creeps in: what happens if something happens to you?

If you're in a situation like mine, where your ex is not a viable option to care for your children (and you have sole legal custody), you need to get your will & last testament in order to ensure that your children are left with the right person(s). As soon as I had the final legal decree, I went onto LegalZoom, got my legal papers in order, and handed them to my father so that he would already have everything he needed if something happened to me. (While you're there, you should also do a living trust.)

But that wasn't all.

I realized that someone would need to know my banking & other financial information. I suppose through the court process, they could find out eventually, but it seemed a lot easier to just pass that info along to my sister.

And someone should probably notify blog readers, so a friend has my google account information.

And, as I'm writing this, another thought occurs to me. I should probably leave some final thoughts to my daughters. Of course, those thoughts will change with each year as they grow older, so I think on (or around) my birthday, I should write them each a letter, and I've asked a friend to please make sure they get them.

The more I write this, the more I realize it's not just for single parents. While some couples may talk about this, there's also the possibility that a couple may go together (I remember attending one such funeral). I think that might be one of the reasons why I'm spreading the wealth; my parents know some, my sister knows other, and a few friends know the rest. That's something couples might want to think about as well.

I know, most people don't like to think about death. It's just that when I do think about it, I prefer to be productive about it!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Family Meeting Update

Like so many of my brilliant ideas, this one fell away for a while, but I called a family meeting recently. The girls both rolled their eyes, but sat down ready. They ended up being really glad.

I watched Suze Orman's Money Class PBS special recently, and fell in love with one of her ideas.

I've heard both sides of the allowance argument (it's good/it's bad for our kids' future relationship with money), and felt that both made valid points. My indecision led to no decision until hearing Suze's take.

Suze recommends that children should have the opportunity to earn funds by doing more than what we feel they should be doing as members of the household. She also says that some jobs should be worth more than others (just like in the real world), and that children should first have to accomplish the lower paying jobs before being given the opportunity to do more for more money (again, like the real world - you work hard, you do a good job, you earn a raise...theoretically, of course).

I thought this was an awesome idea. So I came up with a list of $2 Opportunities, $5 Opportunities, and $10 Opportunities. I valued them both by the time and amount of work it would require...and also, how much I dread doing it myself, and would happily pay for the help! They have to work their way up, and I've also put a cap on the amount they can earn each week (just like my pay - and I've added the maximum amount to my own budget). I will, of course, have to evaluate and approve their work before they've officially earned it.

The girls were SO excited. They had tons of questions, and of course, they came up with things I hadn't thought of yet, but I noticed as well that they're pretty used to me by now and waited for me to think it through. They wanted to create their own schedules to figure out how to get the max every week. Eventually, we'd exhausted every "what if" question they could think the time. I also told them that they're free to come up with other opportunities for us to discuss and define a value. (Although I did draw the line at any opportunities beyond the three dollar amounts; that's complicated enough, I think!)

Riley tried to negotiate when it came to an opportunity that she can't actually do just yet. Of course, I added the opportunity to do laundry, but Riley's too short to reach inside the top-loading washer in our laundry room. I reminded her that there were plenty of other opportunities, and that they are indeed opportunities. No one is obligated to do any more than they already do. She eventually relented, and then amused herself by calculating just how much they could make this summer if they earn the max and not spend any money, and then if they did half the max and not spend any money. And then what the minimum they could earn for the summer. (Of course, I told her that the minimum is $0.)

We also talked about what they could buy with the money earned. If they weren't with me, could they just get what they want? I'd prefer they run it by me first, but I also expect them to use their reasonable judgment. I said if they came home with something that was completely unreasonable (i.e., a shirt with inappropriate language), they would not get to keep it, nor would they get that money back.

Sylvia wanted to know if she could use the money to buy herself lunch when she starts school. I make them a lunch every day but Fridays. I said, hey, it's less work for me, but at the same time, as her mother, I am responsible for feeding her every day, so maybe we split the cost? She reminded me that it was my money in the first place, so I would have already paid for it!

After all that excitement, neither of them chose to do a single opportunity that night. But they did suggest that we bring back family meetings!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Lessons from the Real Housewives

I ignored Bravo's Real Housewives series for the first few years. Then, well, you know how it is. You want something mindless on a Saturday, and there they are! So it was my solitary guilty pleasure for a while, but soon enough, Sylvia saw a moment or two, and then got sucked in.

I'm sure this will horrify many that I actually let my 13-year-old watch it with me, but it's turned into an opportunity for us to have some pretty great conversations.

As anyone who's watched even 5 minutes of any of these shows knows, these women act like Mean Girls. While they're not role models, Sylvia has already seen and experienced some of this type of appalling behavior just by surviving middle school! So when we watch, it's a perfect chance to see what not to do, and discuss other options.

Recently, during one of the squabbles, it became clear that one woman (for anyone who watches, Jill in NYC) was "dealing" with all her pain about losing a friendship (Bethenny) by getting angry at another HW (Ramona). Jill, of course, didn't say that, but that's the conclusion Sylvia and I reached from watching the argument between Jill and Ramona.

We don't necessarily choose sides. Sylvia once asked me who my favorite housewife was, and I said none, because they've all exhibited deplorable behavior...although we did acknowledge that some do so more often.

After most of the fights, we talk about how one or both (or more) could have handled the situation more effectively. We talk about their demeanor, how "in your face" some of them get, and how to communicate one's feelings in a way that the other person might actually hear and understand what you're trying to say. And also, how some people, no matter how hard you try, will simply never see the other side.

We've also talked about the women that seem to be completely ignorant of what their financial situation really is, and you better believe I took advantage of that opportunity to tell the girls that they must always know what's going on with their money. There's also an interesting story going on between Jacqueline and her 19-year-old daughter Ashley (New Jersey) about how independent Ashley should be.  (And yeah, I'm mostly taking Jacqueline's side on that one...but Sylvia hasn't tried to defend Ashley, either.)

While reality shows are often doubted for how "real" they are, they seem to mirror middle school incredibly well! And while it could never be confused for a show on PBS, there are a surprising amount of educational conversations that can be had from watching these women that know full well they're being filmed. Better get Riley sucked in as her preparation for starting middle school this fall!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Tony's are Coming, the Tony's are Coming!

While my current obsession is The Book of Mormon the Musical, I bring you instead the movie trailer for Stephen Sondheim's Company. I've purchased my ticket and cannot wait to see this! I read they'll also be performing at the Tony's. And one of my favorite celebs, Neil Patrick Harris, is the star of this and the host of the Tony Awards. 

Happy Tony Night!!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Wording Matters

Here's just a taste of why we're so excited about Sylvia's high school besides the arts education she'll receive. Both the local school and new school notified us that the whooping cough vaccine was a requirement for registration. Here's an excerpt from the letter from the local school (no emphasis added on my part, but theirs):

In order to pick up a registration packet: you must have provided PROOF OF CURRENT Tdap BOOSTER immunization to school nurse. 

And here's how Sylvia's new school notified us:

A new state law mandates that all public school age children receive an immunization for whooping cough. Please do this before August 2011 and bring your immunization record during our registration period.

The letter from the new school contains no ALL CAPS shouting at me. The letter from the new school bolds what I want them to bold: dates I need to add to my calendar. It includes the word "please," and treats me like an adult.

The local school uses all caps, bold, italicizes all over the place, and the word "must" appears in nearly ever paragraph. There's no sense of respect.

The information is the same, but to say so nicely doesn't take much, and is deeply appreciated.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Here We Go Again

Things have been mostly peaceful for months now, but I fear things are changing again. Riley is showing signs of pre-adolescence.

She gets irritated with her sister almost every night again. It helps that we're making the transition to putting her in my room, but not all the time. And every so often, she gets that tone with me. She's not rolling her eyes at me yet, but I'm preparing myself for it.

I suppose I've had enough time to recover from Sylvia's 6th and 7th grades that I shouldn't complain too much. And Riley still has plenty of moments of being sweet and fun. But I was also warned recently that Sylvia will start going through it again in 9th & 10th grades. So I'm thinking it might be time for some serious Negative Thinking, and start dreading the next 2 years.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Learning how to Learn from Our Mistakes

Riley had gone down to the car last night to retrieve something. I was annoyed when we went to the car this morning and discovered she'd left the car light on all night. Her first response was defensive: "I was looking for something!" "Then leave the car door open and the light will stay on. Do not touch the switch!" She was still defensive, but all I wanted was an acknowledgment that she'd learned from this and wouldn't do it again. (I'd gone through the same thing with Sylvia a few years ago, and it hasn't happened again with her.)

I thought about my own reaction to making mistakes. Of course, the older I've gotten, the more I've learned to control that first impulse to defend myself.

One of my favorite directors taught me something I'm trying to pass on to the girls. When rehearsals get to the point where you're just running through the show, at the end of the run-thru, the director will give notes to the actors. There's usually some back and forth, and sometimes that's necessary. "You were late for that entrance." "I was still changing my costume." Then things need to be figured out to allow more time for the costume change. But most of the notes are about how things look out in the audience versus how they feel on the stage. It doesn't really matter what the intentions were; they weren't coming across so you have to adjust. This particular director would put a stop to an actor's protest with the words "just take the note."

That appealed to me. It made it clear that she wasn't looking for sorrow or shame on our part, just an acknowledgment to make it right.

It's not that we don't like making mistakes because it shatters some illusion that we're perfect; it's that we don't like letting others down. I don't want the girls to feel bad when they've messed up; I just need them to acknowledge that they've learned from it.

When I auditioned for the musical a few weeks ago, Sylvia and I were in the same group for the dance portion. I asked her afterward how I did. She said, "fine," but her eyes said something else. I encouraged her to give me feedback. When she did, she was very quick to say, "I'm sorry, Mom, I don't want to make you feel bad!" She'd told me that I did something funny with my hands, and I wasn't even aware that I'd been doing so. I told her not to feel bad, and I thanked her for bringing it to my attention. And it was the perfect opportunity to remind her that when I tell her something, it's not to make her feel bad, it's so she can learn from it.

After Riley acknowledged that she would no longer change the light switch in the car, I let a minute go by and then did something we do as our version of a hug when I'm driving. I reach for her foot, and she puts it out for me, and I squeeze it. Soon enough, she was singing along and the matter was closed.

And I don't think she'll ever touch the car light switch again.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Domestic Progression

I'm only half-joking when I tell people I think I stayed with X so long because he cooked. But it's only half-true because while he did cook sometimes, he was as reliable about making dinner as he was with anything else...which is to say, not very reliable at all.

When I was around Riley's age, I loved to bake, but there wasn't a lot of time for it and as I got older, only made dinner a few times. It just wasn't a priority.

I grew up in a household where Dad cooked. My sister continued the tradition. I figured it was one of my deal-breakers; he must cook.

(As a side rant, just one of those examples of the assumptions we make that everyone will couple up. Not something we should be passing on; for the past few years, married households have decreased to the minority.)

When the girls and I lived with my parents, I got a reprieve from the "what's for dinner" dilemma until we graduated into our own place. I admit, worrying about healthy dinners was still far from my mind. And when I would try, I would get stressed because I wasn't comfortable in the kitchen, and the girls would whine with hunger, and convenience food solved those problems.

They never had a weight problem, but the obesity in childhood was starting to make the news. I'd hear my colleagues talk about how their kids loved their edamame snacks in their lunches and I'd feel inferior. Then one of those colleagues told me about Dream Dinners. That became a perfect solution for us for a long time.

It was real food, but it was still convenient. It got me in the kitchen regularly, following their straight-forward directions. Eventually, I stopped clenching my teeth when it was time to make dinner.

About a year and a half ago, when I got serious about budgeting, I realized Dream Dinners was a luxury I could no longer afford. To save money, you really had to do it yourself. I found some recipe sites online and tried to just hunker down and do it. But I still lack imagination when it comes to food. The dinner question was stressing me out again.

After some more surfing, I read in a comment somewhere about E-Mealz. For $5 a month, I get a weekly menu, based on the deals happening at my local grocery store. Thankfully, I'm no longer completely left to my own devices, but can pick and choose from among the offerings (I only cook 3-4 times a week), and save money! Since I started doing this, my weekly grocery spending has reduced by about 20%.

Today, I went home for lunch and while I was there, I got some bread in the bread-maker to go with our dinner and made Riley's lunch for tomorrow. Yesterday, dinner was going all day long in the slow-cooker. I mentioned this to my friend Nancy, who has known me these last 8 years, and couldn't help teasing me for my "domesticity."

I don't think I'll ever be able to just whip something up with no planning or preparation. But I'm still pretty happy that I actually have an answer when the girls ask what's for dinner.