Monday, August 29, 2011

Day in the Life

6:00 a.m. Wake up, feed the cat, drink some coffee, get ready.

7:00 a.m. Grab everything, get in the car, and go.

7:25 a.m. Arrive at Riley's school, drop her off.

7:35 a.m. Arrive at Sylvia's school, drop her off.

8:00 a.m. Arrive at work.

5:00 p.m. Leave work.

5:35 p.m. Pick up Sylvia.

5:45 p.m. Pick up Riley.

6:25 p.m. Arrive home, dinner, homework, and start getting everything ready to do it all again the next day.*

(*all times approximate)

Of course, these are the easy days. These are the days
without rehearsal, dance or art classes, or other events keeping us out
much later. On those days, it becomes much more important to stick to
the routine as much as possible.

It's just not realistic to think any of us will wake up any earlier and catch up,
particularly if we've been out later. It needs to be done the night
before. We need to know what we're wearing, what we're eating, and that
everything we need is ready for us by the front door. We need to not
have to think so much in the morning.

I treat our mornings like a stage manager. I give them a wake up call, then a
15-minute call, 10 minutes, 5 minutes, then Places/Time to go - which is
really 2 minutes before we absolutely have to leave. Give me time to
prepare my to-go coffee mug, while the girls gather their belongings.

During the morning commute is when we really wake up. The
music helps a lot. During the drive home is when we share our day and
discuss what needs to get done for the next day.

Both of the girls are on rotating schedules now, where they have three of
their six classes every other day. I've stressed to them that I will help and
support them in any way I can, but I cannot be expected to keep track of
everything they have to get done. I can barely remember which 3 classes
they each had that day! Instead, after I've picked them up, I just ask
them questions while we're driving to help them organize it in their
head. What homework have you completed? What still needs to get done? If
we do have activities after work and school, I try to help them figure
out when they're going to complete it, but I also tell them that their
homework is ultimately their responsibility.

They've been told both by their teachers and me to not wait on finishing their homework. It's way too easy to get behind that way. They both have an hour after school to do the bulk of their homework before I pick them up, but sometimes, they
save certain things to go over with me at night. But the rule is that
homework's not done until it's put away. (Sylvia learned again the hard
way how true this is when she couldn't find papers she had to turn in that I'd signed because she hadn't put them in her school bag after I handed them back
to her.)

Our routine allows us to run on auto-pilot in the morning, and save our brain cells for when we really need them.

This post inspired by BlogHer's Life Well Lived Moments Sweepstakes. Read how others keep their mornings sane during the school year.

From the Mouths of Cupcakes

Riley and I were talking about an event that happened when I was pregnant with her. I joked that she was "cooking" back then, and that she still is. She came up with a better metaphor. Because she's awesome like that.

She said that she's now a cupcake, and I'm her wrapper, and when she's all grown, she'll be a cake.

That perfectly describes how I feel about parenting. I'm there to keep her safe, keep her warm, but eventually, she'll be a whole person without needing me protecting her at all times. I know I'll still be important to her, as my mom is with me, but her life will be full without me being responsible for her, 24/7.

I can see her basic ingredients already; her kindness, her empathy, her wit and intelligence. The rest is indeed the icing that she has already begun to add; her likes and dislikes, what she values in friendships, the activities she dreads and anticipates. Her essence is both savory and sweet.

And I admit, I kind of like the spices she's thrown in.

I was helping her with her writing homework, and she was getting annoyed with my suggestions of how to re-word her sentence (even though, I might add, she had been the one to ask me for help). I commented that she reminded me of someone we knew, knowing she would pick up on the reference to her older sister.

She immediately replied, "it's middle school, Mom. We can't help it."

I couldn't help but laugh, which eased the tension. After that, she accepted my help and we got through the rest of the assignment with ease.

She's still a little raw inside, but that's why she needs me. Even if she doesn't always enjoy being wrapped up like that, I won't let her go until she's good and ready.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

(Late) Weekend Reading

At MomsLA, I wrote about my most important back to school supply: patience.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

High School

This is just another, "OMG, my kids are growing up" post. Sylvia started high school today. High school. I'm kind of freaking out.

I mean, logically, I've known this is coming. I've been totally excited for her to start, and I feel a little stupid by making a big deal of this. But the reality of it feels like a big deal. I have a daughter in high school.

I keep thinking about where we were 8 years ago.

When I first started working here, and people would find out I have kids and how old they were, they'd say, "oh, you have little ones." They're not little anymore!

I love that they're older, I really do. I love talking to them. I'm still not quite sure what they're going to be when they grow up, but I love that I get to be part of their journey.

But I guess the beginning of high school sort of feels like the beginning of the end. And that's just weird. How did we get here? I'm finally starting to believe all those people that told me it would go by fast.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Weekend Wrap-Up and Reading

At Parentella, my post is on why we chose a charter middle school for Riley. After the first week of school, I'm just as convinced that we made the right decision.

It hasn't been easy. It was exhausting. The days start early and on a good day, we leave at 7 a.m., and get home at 7 p.m. On top of that, we still have Sylvia's dance and art classes, my rehearsals, and my dad's in recovery from his knee replacement surgery. There's a lot going on, to be sure.

But every day when I pick up Riley, she's all smiles and has had a great day. If she hasn't finished her homework completely at her after-school program, she only has about 10 minutes left to finish. She's as passionate about Robotics as Sylvia is about her arts activities. It's so great to see Riley find her niche. Her favorite classes are Technology and English. English comes as quite a nice surprise as that's never been a favorite subject of hers, but she loves the teacher so that helps a lot.

Sylvia had her 3-day new student orientation this week as well. She's already made lots of friends, and is getting to know the campus. She's thinking of joining the leadership program at her school, which of course, I fully support. She's also starting to like her ballet class as her technique improves, which was exactly the point.

Their uncle from their dad's side of the family was in town, and we had a great day with him. I've always gotten along with X's siblings, and it was nice to see him. The girls got to tell their uncle all about their lives. He may be an "x"-in-law of mine, but he's still our family, and for that I am grateful.

We got tired and cranky a few times during the week, but overall, I don't think any of us would change a thing about our lives right now.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Day of Firsts

Riley's first day at her new charter middle school was next to perfect! When I picked her up, she was just beaming ear to ear.

They didn't have her schedule at first, so her day got off to a rough start, but once that was solved, she had a great day.

She loves her teachers, she's made new friends, and she loves the after-school program, too. She's chosen Robotics as her activity in the after-school program, and I think she'll have a great time with that.

While she has 6 different classes, she has two of the same teachers for most of them, and thankfully, really likes her teachers. I love that I not only have their email addresses already, but one of them even has a class blog!

Sylvia had her first day of orientation at her new school, and she also really loved it. She has two more days of orientation, and then another week to wait until her arts classes start, but she's thrilled to finally be starting. She's made new friends, and already feels comfortable with her classmates - something that took her nearly 3 years to feel about her middle schoolmates!

And I had a first day back at work. It's harder than I thought it'd be to get back into the groove, but I think I'll find it eventually.

It was also the day of my dad's knee replacement surgery. It went very well, and he's starting the long recovery process.

I'm too tired to come up with any deep reflections on any of it. All that adrenaline is starting to wear off, but it's a happy tired for sure.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Weekend Reading

At Parentella, I wrote about Inspiring Parental Involvement.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Last Day of My Summer Vacation

Today's my last official day of my two week vacation. Tomorrow, I pick up the girls, and Monday, Riley starts school. Sylvia starts on Tuesday.

I think I feel ready. For all of it.

Thanks to the time off, we got our back-to-school shopping done during working hours, which made it a lot less hectic. We went through last year's backpacks and cleaned them out. We re-claimed the homework desk.

On this last day, I've been trying to figure out what else really needed to get done before Monday.

The number one priority for today: thoroughly clean the coffee pot.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Budgeting Priorities

A few months ago, I started a separate account with my credit union (costs me nothing, love my credit union) that was going to be for a vacation. At first, I'd hoped to take the girls to Hawaii this holiday season, but I soon realized there was no way there would be enough in mere months. Then I thought maybe next holiday season, but then a new shiny object caught my eye. A laptop.

Our PC is 8 years old. In computer years, I think it would qualify for social security. While I've tried to be patient with it, patience has always been tough for me. And as the girls have gotten older, they want to play games and such on it. The hours of maintenance are now outweighing the hours of regular use. Enough is enough. So I took that vacation money and invested it in something that will last at least longer than a week on the beach (even in computer years).

One of the reasons I was happy to stay at home instead of travel is the thought of the actual travel process anyway. As fabulous as our NYC trip was, it was bookended by the hours not just in the air, but in the airport, waiting. And waiting. And waiting. Worth it? Of course.

But when there's only so much in the budget, when the credit card is put away and used only for genuine necessities (like my recent 120k mile car service that cost several hundred dollars), there's only so much left over for large expenses. I would rather use that $$ towards things that enhance our daily life.

When I was younger, I used to be all about experiences; fabulous memories. Now, of course, my memory is practically non-existent so I suppose that's part of what's changed my priorities. Still, I think it's more of an adjustment rather than a change of heart.

I still love going to the theatre, but I limit those experiences to what's available on Goldstar. I love getting together with friends, but we go to places with more reasonable prices or during Happy Hour so that the experiences are about being together rather than being at the "right" place. One of the girls' favorite places to go is Griffith Park, a free destination to all (with free parking, too!).

This school year, I'm no longer going to spend my evenings making lunches, but making room in the budget to allow the girls to buy.  Because we'll be spending more time driving and less time at home, I want to spend more of that time actually with the girls instead of in the kitchen. Riley's charter school is already committed to providing healthy lunches, and Sylvia will have options - and as a high schooler now, it's going to be her responsibility at lunch time to make the right choices. I know Sylvia won't always do so, but we have to start somewhere. Sylvia and I have also discussed splitting the lunch cost so that she will use some of her earnings to buy it, which also gives her some ownership. I'll be coming home more for lunch to make up the difference - and to enjoy a little time at home alone.

I want to make everyday life as enjoyable as possible for me and the girls. It's a priority every day.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

One Week Down, One to Go

I'm in the middle of my first two-week vacation since I started with my current employer 8 years ago. It is freaking awesome.

So many people asked where I was going. Nowhere, I happily answered. What are you and the girls going to do? Mostly, take a break from each other! They're home with me on and off during these two weeks, but I took the time so that I could actually not be with anyone.

I love my job, my friends, my family, but what I really wanted was to just be. Few expectations, few responsibilities, and do what I want to do.

It's been a busy summer, and once school starts, we're going to be busier than ever. So when this opportunity came along, I grabbed it.

Ironically, my work Bberry suffered a malfunction that rendered it useless my last day in the office. While it was weird for a while, it's been quite freeing not to have it. Whatever's going on is not my problem right now.

My past days off has usually been limited to a couple of days here and there, and my mind would be cluttered with shoulds. I should be cleaning out the closet, I should be doing this or that. This time, there's enough time that when I feel like doing something, I do it. And when I don't, there is no guilt to fight. I won't be able to do this again for at least a couple of years, so I'm enjoying it as much as possible.

I think by the time this is over, I'll be ready to get back to real life. I like my real life, so even if I groan when the alarm goes off again, I'll get over it soon enough.

Right now, I'm thrilled that it's still another week away.

Friday, August 5, 2011

In Memoriam: Annette Charles Cardona

Best known as Cha-Cha in the movie Grease, Annette Cardona (as I knew her; Annette Charles was her credit in Grease) died this week.  I was lucky enough to know her as my dance teacher. Not just my favorite dance teacher of all time, but also one of my favorite people.

Annette carried herself just the way you'd imagine. She was regal, she was a lady, and she had a warm heart. She pushed, but in the best way possible. The best dancing I ever did was thanks to what she taught me.

To be clear, I was never a dancer. I loved to dance, but I was most definitely a singer/actor who danced. Or moved well.

Thanks to Annette, I was actually a dance captain in my first Equity show, and the female lead dancer.

She was firm, but she never yelled. She would get quiet so we would have to listen with intensity.  She taught us how dancing with emotion actually improved the technique. I remember the warm-ups in particular. We would plie and breathe, and if we weren't breathing with every fiber of our being, we would do it over and over until the class was breathing in unison.

She taught us how to express who we are through movement. She didn't care who had the best extension, she wanted us to reach our own best.

Every so often, in lieu of choreographing a routine, she had us improv based on the music. Our dance was to match how the music made us feel. And one class in particular - ironically, one of my last classes with her - I was a dancer. A real dancer.

I loved watching her. I loved watching her on film, I loved when she laughed, I loved the way she carried herself. She had that 40s film star way about her. She was a true lady. Whenever I think of Annette, I automatically straighten my back.

We crossed paths at various times starting with my sophomore year in high school. We'd just connected again, thanks to FB. Even though it's been years since I stepped foot in her class, I remember it with more clarity than I remember last week. She's the type of person that's engraved in your soul.

I'm so grateful that she was a part of my life. And I love that, thanks to film, she was a part of all of our lives.

Thank you, Annette.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Owning the Tough Parental Decisions

Big Little Wolf left a thoughtful comment (as always) on my last post that making the tough decisions as a single parent means we're that we're the ones left to help our children accept those tough decisions. I'd mentioned in that post that we have to own it.

In the beginning, I rarely made those tough decisions completely on my own. I went to friends and family, asking their opinions, and everyone would bring up great points from a different perspective that gave me a better idea of the big picture.

The hardest decisions usually came up when their dad was in jail. Do I tell the girls, do I shield them from it? I didn't want to lie to them on his behalf, but I didn't want to scare them too much, either. I took everyone's opinion into consideration, and figured out how to frame it with the help of a therapist. (And repeated this about 3 times.)

It was hard. They did struggle, and as BLW mentioned, I did have to deal with the fall-out. But again, I got help with that, and took them to a therapist (what we called a "feelings doctor"). They were always great about taking advantage of that, and not freezing up, but being open and honest with the therapist about what they were feeling.

After going through this several times, it hurt them less and less each time. As they grew in maturity, and knew they had many around them that loved them, they came to accept that his actions had nothing to do with them.

Our problems these days are of the much more, dare I say, "normal" variety. And as a mom, I have to deal with each and every single one of them. Or, I have to make the decision not to deal with the problem, and let the girls figure it out for themselves.

I still talk to friends and family about certain issues, I still appreciate the input they give me, and I still take full responsibility for the decisions I make. I can accept the consequences that come with my decisions because of my own faith that the decisions I made were the right ones.

Of course, I screw up now and again. I own up to those, too. I revise rules and tell them, yeah, that didn't work out. I explain when I think that it's valuable to them to understand, but I've also learned that sometimes, it's just best to shut the conversation down and move on.

I am extremely lucky to have amazing friends and family around me , but I'm finding myself making decisions more and more completely on my own. Which, actually, I hadn't really realized until sitting here, writing this. And hey, it only took me 8 years to get here!

Once I learned how to own that responsibility, without expecting or hoping anyone else would step up to the plate, I maintain that it's easier now on my own. Even if I start second-guessing myself, I don't need to worry about anyone else doubting me in front of the girls. I don't have to get anyone's permission to change the rules. The only relationships that I have to take into consideration are between me and my girls. Since the girls are always the reasons I make the decisions in the first place, I know I'm doing what I believe is right for us as a family.

Plus, I'm an admitted control freak. That helps, too.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Are Single Parent Families Really so Different?

Several themes come up when we talk about single parenting issues that, if we step back a little, aren't so different than the issues we would have if we were nuclear families.

Maintaining Routines. Every family has to change up their routines every so often. As children get involved in activities, families re-arrange their routines to accommodate softball practice or longer homework/study time or to make time for visiting relatives. I've found the best thing is to keep the kids as informed as possible...and yes, to repeat yourself, because it seems to take saying it at least three times before they hear it!

Two Households. While I've always had sole full-time custody, my parents' house has been like a 2nd home for my daughters. When I was getting my degree, the girls spent at least two nights a week at their house while I was in school. I worried about lack of consistency until someone reminded me that the girls will have to adjust to different teachers and classroom rules every year, and in middle school, every class. Once I let go of that concern, I realized that they had adjusted just fine. The girls recognize the differences, and see pros and cons in each. Which make both places home!

Sharing Responsibilities (or lack thereof). I remember during those first few months following the separation giving Riley a bath, wishing that just this one night, someone else was around to give the bath! Then I remembered back when I was married, and the begging and pleading I'd have to do to even get X to consider giving the baths! I realized I'd been doing everything by myself pretty much since the beginning; now all I'd lost was the expectation that someone else would help, and the disappointment when he wouldn't. I could easily let go of that!

Balancing Work and Family. No one is alone in trying to do this. In talking to married moms at work, there is not much of a difference. If anything, I'm having to manage a little less because I'm not trying to manage a spouse's needs, too!

Making the Tough Decisions. This is where we most deviate from married couples, but again, if we look at it from a different angle, we just might be better off! I don't have to worry that the girls will run to Dad if they don't like my decision. I don't have to worry that Dad won't present a united front with me. My decision is the law, period, and if I decide to change my mind, I'm at liberty to do so. (This may be different for parents that are sharing custody with their ex when it comes to some of the bigger decisions, but it still rings true for the momentary decisions we make every day in our homes. We just have to own it.)

Moms - of any relationship status - are put to the test almost every day. And we are united more than we are divided, no matter our relationship status.

Special thanks to Missy for the inspiration.