Monday, October 31, 2011

My Beautiful Sylvia

Happy, happy birthday, lovely girl!

I thought 13 was going to be a lot harder than that! 12, I think we can agree, was tough. But your first year of being a teenager was surprisingly wonderful!

We talked a lot, we laughed a lot, and hugged a lot. Yes, there were tears and trouble, too, but for the most part, those were all growing pains.

I can't tell you how proud I am of you. You have accomplished so much in your life already. You've been paid as a performer, you've been flown to New Orleans as a dancer and scholarship winner, you've been praised by so many. Every opportunity you've been given, you've cherished.

You're a fiercely loyal friend, you're not afraid to be yourself, and you can even laugh at yourself.

You are slowly but surely finding your footing in high school. You have made friends that will most likely be life-long friends. You are learning to take criticism just as gracefully as you take praise. You are having to manage an awful lot of responsibilities, and you are figuring out how to do that. You're learning when to ask for help.

You are my everything, as you have been for the last 14 years. I can't bear to think about how little time I have left with you; waking you up every morning, saying good-night to you every night. So I won't. Instead, I'll just cherish this day with you, as I have cherished every day of your life, and every day to come with you.

I love everything about who you are, and who you are becoming. Thank you for everything of your world that you share with me, because you are my world.

Happy birthday, Sylvia.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

My Beautiful Riley

Happy, happy birthday, Riley!

Words could never say just how much, how fiercely, how completely I love you; how honored I am to be your mom, to get to watch you grow up.

Not to mention, how proud I am of you. You are thriving in middle school and I'm so happy for you! Not just of your straight A student status, but you are happy, you are involved in so many activities, and every day, you tell me your day was awesome. It's everything I wanted for you, and you are taking full advantage of every opportunity.

I love that you are seeing the world differently now. I love that you understand how what you learn in every subject applies to not only the other subjects, but to everyday life.

I love your sense of humor. You make me laugh every day with your observations, with your silliness.

I love that you make sure we hold our family meetings, that you cherish family, that you're so appreciative.

You still have mad problem-solving skills, and you're not afraid to use them. You're not perfect, but you make every effort to learn from your mistakes. You're also getting better at not being too hard on yourself.

I have so many great memories of your 10th year. I can't wait to see what memories 11 holds for us.

I love you, Riley. I hope you have a wonderful birthday.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Great Memories; Past and Present

We went to Disneyland for the girls' birthdays this weekend, as we have every year for the last 8 years. They participated in one of the children's events, and were the biggest kids in the group. When did that happen?

I remember the trips where I'd be afraid they'd get lost in the crowd. I remember fighting through the throngs with the stroller, waiting in the long lines for the kiddie rides where there are no fast passes available.

Now, just the two of them will go on some rides and stay in touch via cell phone. We know when to hold hands and navigate our way through the crowds, and they want to skip the parades and fireworks just as much as I do. We were all ready to leave at the same time, no one upset that we didn't get to a certain ride, no threats given that if they didn't behave, we'd leave.

I had all these memories of previous trips this time around; when they danced with Mary Poppins and the High School Musical show, the first picture we took with Minnie Mouse, the day Riley was finally tall enough for Soarin'.

I was most struck, however, by the fact that I don't miss that. The memories are enough. I can appreciate the memories, but I also appreciate who they are today.

And I appreciate what hasn't changed. Like these annual trips to Disneyland that always end with churros.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Me and B

Mama’s Losin’ It

Writing prompt I chose:

4.) Share the story behind your current Facebook and/or Twitter profile photo.

That's me and B.

We met a little over 8 years ago, and she quickly became part of our chosen family. Sylvia has described B as her "other mom." B's that kind of lady; looks out for everyone.

She has cancer. She's been fighting it for a year now. She had two cancer-free months this summer, and then, the bitch was back.

When she was diagnosed, I made a Locks of Love donation in her name. My hair's not long enough to do it again just yet (though I will continue to grow it out and donate again...and again and again for as long as I can). I'm not smart enough to cure cancer, so what could I do? I could change my profile pic. Stupid, I know, but it was something. A way to send a message to her and all of our mutual friends that she's on my mind all the time.

Plus, this happens to be one of the few pics of myself I actually like. It's because she's making me smile as usual, feeling the warmth of her love, and all the support she's given me and my family through the years. And she looks great, doesn't she?

We were at a fundraiser (because that's B; always giving back) with a 20's theme. We drank and laughed a lot that night. Most of our memories together are of drinks and laughter, tears and laughter, hugs and laughter. B is always love and laughter.

B, I love you.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Life Well Lived: Purse Organization

As part of BlogHer's Life Well Lived program, we were asked:

What are the biggest issues you have in keeping your purse organized and neat and what is the best advice you have to keep your purse neat and orderly?  What 3 things in your purse are must haves and what 3 could you live without?

I seriously love my purse. It's huge, it has compartments, and holds anything and everything I think I may need. I love it even more because it cost me $2 at a yard sale.  

So my advice? Get a bigger purse. And spend as little on it as possible.

This is where I lose my self-respecting girl status: I don't care if it matches, I won't change purses depending on the event, and I will use my purse until it falls apart.

3 must-haves:
  1. Wallet
  2. Keys
  3. Work i.d.
3 could live without (theoretically):
  1. Aleve (because I also keep a bottle at home and at work)
  2. Cell phone (only because I still remember a time I didn't have one)
  3. Blackberry (because I have...but it was really, really hard!)
How many things do I actually have in my purse?  Far more than that!

This may not sound very organized, but to me, it completely is. I keep my grocery list (and my calendar) in my Blackberry so that I'm sure not to forget it when I go grocery shopping. My purse even has a pen holder, which comes in very handy. In a pinch, the girls can play games on my cell phone if they're bored. I can hold my sister's cell phone or my daughter's wallet when they want their hands free.  I can usually find a quarter in there if I have to feed a parking meter. I can even fit the junk mail to shred at work in my behemoth bag.

Things I don't keep in my purse:
  1. Make-up (again, losing girl points)
  2. Receipts (once I take a glance, I recycle fairly routinely)
  3. Camera (still or Flip, I always forget the camera, which ends up being okay)
In the interest of full disclosure, this is actually my 2nd post on purses (weird, huh?), and while I did enjoy the Beijo bag, I eventually had to accept that I'm a big bag lady.

If you'd rather not carry your weight in your purse, check out BlogHer's Life Well Lived post on purse organization. And enter the sweepstakes for $250. How much of that $250 would end up in your purse?

    Tuesday, October 18, 2011

    Scrooge-like for Halloween

    I am so not a fan of Halloween. I think trick-or-treating is weird. I'm not all that into candy.  I don't see the need to pay someone to scare me. I don't like dressing up, and I don't like trying to help the girls come up with costumes. Even as a kid, it was never a favorite holiday.

    Of course, my first-born had to be born on this day. She loves it, and Riley loves it. When it comes to Halloween, they're normal, despite me.

    For years, I've swallowed my discomfort, I've put on a happy face (though not a costume), and have taken the girls trick-or-treating. I'm so ready to retire.

    I was hoping that with both girls out of elementary school, they would also be done with trick-or-treating. Nope, both still want to go.

    I know, this is supposed to be one of those cherished memories. I prefer remembering the trips to Disneyland, the family dinners, the laughter. I mean, not every moment of childhood can be cherished! If everything's worth remembering, then nothing's special.

    The girls want to plan their costumes and what we'll do. I just want it to be November already.

    What does one call a Scrooge for Halloween? Whatever it is, that's me.

    Friday, October 14, 2011

    More Single Mom Statistics

    A while back, I made a public comment at a city council meeting. I began by saying, "I'm a single, working mom, and the last thing I want for my children is to end up as a statistic."

    Another statistic has been released. The title: Single moms report worse health in middle life.Oh, joy.

    When I read the article, however, there was actually more substance to it.

    The findings suggest public health campaigns to promote marriage, which were started by the government in 1996 and aimed at single, low-income mothers, may not improve these women's health as once hoped, the researchers said.
    This reminded me, of course, of the debate I had with the pro-marriage dude who called me a national disaster. I don't remember if I ever wrote about it, but I also had a lengthy conversation with someone from the federal healthy marriages project not long after that. By the end of it, we had to agree to disagree. Still, I think it's time I followed up with him to inquire why our federal government continues to fund marriage incentive programs, particularly with all the other issues.

    The article goes on to state:
    It's important to note a bad relationship or bad marriage also can be deleterious to one's health.
    I can say this absolutely was true for me. I remember once, during my relationship with X, I looked at a list of the Top 10 Stress Factors (that pointed out that having 3 or more of them would most likely land you in a hospital). I was at the time experiencing 7 of those 10. The first few years of single motherhood were bumpy, no doubt, but the last 3 have been the most settled of my adulthood.

    The conclusion of the study seems to me the most important, most useful information for single moms, their children, and society at large:

    The study suggested policymakers should look for other ways to help single mothers improve their health, Williams said, such as providing access to job training, child care assistance and health insurance.
    Yes, single parenthood is hard, but it's made that much harder if you can't make enough money to support your family, can't find affordable quality child care, or you can't take your kids to the doctor.

    Most single parents I've met aren't looking for hand-outs. I know that the majority of my influence as a parent comes from I do, not what I say. I'm okay with telling them there's not enough money to go to the latest movie, or to take them out to eat every night. I'm not okay with them not having a safe place to go after school. I'm not okay with losing my job because of a massive lay-off (and not because of my work product). I'm not okay with not having adequate healthy dinners to feed them because the healthier grocery options are out of my budget.*

    It's important to look beyond the statistics, beyond a "sexy" headline, and get into what it really means to be a single parent family. Chances are, there are worse alternatives.

    (*Note: none of this is true for me today, but possibilities, prior experiences, and underlying fears.)

    Thursday, October 13, 2011

    Some Commuting Observations

    In Griffith Park (of all places), there's a sign that reads: "Haunted Hayride, Staight Ahead"
    (well, I guess we know where to go regardless!)

    I don't know why it took me so long to find this one, so obvious: "NIGTHCLUB"

    There's a pickle truck that I see a few days a week. They're so proud of their "HOMADE" pickles, they say it twice!

    There's an intersection where the left lane has a "stop here" line much farther back than the right lane. It's because a lot of trucks turn right there, and they need the extra space to make the turn. It's always a combination of funny and scary to watch the cars try to back up from my position in the right lane.

    One guy mumbles his way down the row of cars waiting for the red light. I've never been able to decipher a word of it. I've wondered if it's Spanish, English or another language, but I think it's his own. Never seen him get a dime. He's there every day, though. Except for the days when we're running early. He doesn't start until 7:45.

    There's a bright spot every morning when I brake at one particular stop sign and smile and wave to the crossing guard. She's always so happy to see me! It's not just me, it happens with several of us. That makes it even better. I actually missed her when she was out sick for a few days. I was glad to see her back.

    Wednesday, October 12, 2011

    Young Woman, Old Feelings

    During my morning commute, I was stopped near an apartment building that would only look inviting if your choices were being homeless or living there. A woman, mid-20s probably, was sitting in front of her iron-gated door. I could not see her face, but I could feel her despair.

    I totally remember feeling that way. I felt that way a lot when I was with X. Stuck, hopeless, and still not quite sure how I ended up there in the first place.

    I see the kids walking to school, hair neatly braided, and in the evenings, playing ball and beaming. I thought about those kids when I looked at this young woman. I'm sure when she was a kid, she beamed, too.

    I know I'm projecting. I know I don't know her real story, but I still felt this inexplicable powerful connection to this stranger whose face was turned away from me.

    When I felt that way, I remember thinking that it felt completely surreal. This was not my life.  I just didn't know how to change it for a very long time.

    I do know that things could not have changed for me without my family. It took me a while (okay, years) to figure that out, but eventually, I knew I had a safe place where I could start over.

    I hope that woman has that. Everyone should have that.

    Tuesday, October 11, 2011

    Bucket List-less

    Every so often, I come across other people's bucket lists, lists of what women should have done by the age of 40, etc. I was reading one such list of aspirations and wondered if I should try it. It took me half a second to decide, no.

    Not that my life is over or anything, but so far, I have had too many wonderful moments that came about in surprising ways to try and plan them. From my life on the cruise ship, to the opportunities blogging has afforded me, to the experiences I've had just from being at the right place at the right time, those are the little miracles that I look back on most fondly.

    Granted, most came about because of my goals, ambitions or aspirations. Those are necessary. Those are the reasons we get up every day. And that's what makes those memories so sweet. I put myself out there as an actor, a producer, a blogger, a student, and lo and behold: all these rewards came with it! They're the proverbial pats on the shoulder for going after what you want.

    I don't want to make a bucket list of places to go or adventures to have and then, 20 years later see that I've only checked off a few items and be bummed about it!

    It's like how I ended up here. None of this could've happened without a few dreams falling apart. What if I'd made a different choice than to have Sylvia? What if I hadn't stayed with X long enough to have Riley? Some of my dreams from childhood may have come true, but I can't really care about that. What I got was so much better.

    It's too easy to get tunnel-visioned into what you think you want. As Sondheim said in Into the Woods, "but how can you know what you want 'til you get what you want and you see if you like it?" Or, if you're sick of my Broadway musical references, there's also "you get what you need." I don't want to be so hell-bent on going to Hawaii that I may miss something that takes me to Australia. And if I look back in 20 years on some list that said Hawaii, then that means I didn't do something.

    No, I'd rather stick with lists of where I've been and what I've done and count the great memories. And look forward to the unexpected moments to come.

    Sunday, October 9, 2011

    The Little Things

    The week before last, it was car trouble. This past week, I was sick for most of it (it was so bad, I actually went three days without coffee!). Things have not gone as expected.

    I'm not really a silver lining kind of girl;  I've accepted that life is usually about getting through one problem so you can get through the next. Having said that, there have been a few reminders that even when things are bad, they're still pretty good.

    It's nice having the girls old enough, and kind enough, to help out when I'm not on top of my game. Riley was incredibly understanding of the times I needed to nap, the times I couldn't help her (though she hated not being able to kiss me). Sylvia was so helpful; she made dinner, took on some extra duties, and even went shopping for me. (They haven't shown any signs of getting my illness; another good thing.) They are, of course, very pleased that I'm finally beginning to feel better, and I'm sure they'll overcompensate next week. Still, it's nice to know that when needed, they can and will pick up the slack.

    It's easy to get caught up in all the things I could (and should) be doing better, but I also realized how much I've already improved in the last few years. A few years ago, a sickness would've put me weeks behind in terms of household duties. There were still plenty of things that I managed to get done without even thinking about it. That right there is good motivation to just add little by little to our daily routines; it's the little things that make a world of difference.

    As much as I bitched and moaned about having to spend money on the car, I was able to avoid the worst case scenario. I'm adjusting the budget as needed, and the beauty is, I can. Again, the little steps I've taken over the past year or so have made that possible.

    What's truly amazing is, I was able to write all this positive stuff without the help of the happy pills (i.e., Vicodin).

    Monday, October 3, 2011

    Simple, but Not Easy

    I heard someone say that the other day, and nodded in agreement. There are many simple tasks I want to accomplish that just aren't easy.

    For the most part, I'm pretty good at communicating with the girls. I can put complex thoughts and ideas in ways they can understand, I can talk to them about uncomfortable subject matters, and we're close. But there are a lot of things I could do better.

    I loathe school projects. Riley had to make a model of the Earth and label all the layers. I'm a firm believer in kids doing their own school projects, but I admit, part of that is merely because I don't want to do it. As Riley worked, she mentioned, "you know, they said we could get help," and I grimaced. It's not that it's hard, it's that I don't wanna. Crafts are not my idea of a good time.

    I don't mind helping with the English homework. I enjoy quizzing her on vocabulary words, or helping her come up with sentences or summarize. Because I like it and I'm good at it. But I'm not good at Math or art, and most of the time, she's better off without my help. At least, that's what I tell myself. But I know in my heart of hearts that I need to get over it already.

    Helping Sylvia with organization is also a problem area. I've gotten better at organization over the years because I've had to, but I'm still no natural. I've tried to teach her what I've learned, help her make to-do lists and routines, but I'm not good at the follow-through. I want to just tell her what to do and let her go do it. That's not really working for either of us. I know it starts with me.

    Sometimes, I get all fired up, but then I burn out. Sometimes I can tell myself that there's always tomorrow. Other times, I freak out completely because time is running short and I may miss the few opportunities I have left.

    I know I'm a good mom. I just want to be better. Simple enough to want, but not easy to be.