Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Last Post of 2011

Skimming through to pick my favorite posts inevitably led to some reflection of the year. I completed a leadership program, the girls changed schools, and I performed on a stage for the first time in over a decade. X drama was at an all-time low, and I don't think any of us sat on a therapist's couch at all this year!

Posting became harder because of it. Turns out being content doesn't compel me to write as much as despair, frustration and anger do. But you know what? That's okay. I'll take it. I also partly blame the commute (only partly because it only started in August). Being away from home from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. doesn't leave a whole lot of time for blog reading or writing.

I'm trying to think of any life lessons I can take away from 2011. I guess it's that progress is slow, but definitive.

We started 2011 not knowing where the girls would attend middle school and high school, and then they both got into our dream schools for them, and those dreams have (for the most part) paid off.

Sylvia is struggling a bit academically, but I see slow, definitive progress that makes me believe it's going to be okay. She had to change some, I had to change some, and together those small changes are already making a big difference.

Riley's progress was swifter and more readily apparent, but it has been her steadiness that makes me confident it can continue not just this year, but for all her middle school years (so long as nothing drastic changes).

I've also been making small, definitive changes. Some make me a better mother, a better friend and employee, a better person. The biggest, most definitive change has been that I'm more patient with me. It's so easy to get caught up in always seeing the negatives, to get mad at myself for not doing this or that, but I've stopped wasting all that energy. I acknowledge, and then I go straight to thinking about how I can solve the problem for me. Turns out I don't need all the self-flagellation in the middle. And yes, that includes blogging about some failures, which can easily turn to dwelling.

There are some problems for which I haven't found a solution. If it's been a few minutes, and nothing is coming to me, I've gotten much better about letting it go. It's still swirling around, and sometimes, the answers reveal themselves unexpectedly. Others? Well, I'm still waiting.

The biggest change, however, is acknowledging that I'll never be perfect and that's okay. No one is! I will make mistakes with my children, at work, with friends. I will say and do incredibly stupid things sometimes. I either laugh about it, or hope for something shiny to come along soon and distract me. Eventually, enough time will pass and I will laugh about it. (Tragedy + Time = Comedy)

I don't expect any big changes in 2012, but I also know that you never know. But if 2012 ends up being as quiet as 2011 was? That would be as perfect as life can get!

Happy New Year!  

Thursday, December 29, 2011

These are a Few of My Favorite Posts (2011 edition)

Mama’s Losin’ It

1.) This year in blog posts...choose a favorite post from each month of 2011 and share.

Jan. 2011: My Yahoo! Mother Board post on Managing a Paycheck-to-Paycheck Budget was chosen as an editor's pick. (I wrote a follow-up here.)

Feb. 2011: One of my single parent rants.

March 2011: There were 3 in March that I really loved, but I chose Free Spirit. Because I still want to be her when I grow up.

April 2011: While The Latest on Finances is a sort of post that appears in variations throughout this blog's life, BigLittleWolf's comment is what really stuck with me, and makes it worth a re-post.

May 2011: Balance De-Mystified was featured on BlogHer. 

June 2011: Yes, I get a little righteous in After the Dust Has Settled. Probably because I'm right! 

July 2011: How Easily We Become "that" Parent. Just a few harried moments in the life of a single, working mom.

Aug. 2011: Are Single Parent Families Really So Different? Nope, not really.

Sept. 2011: My first post in celebration of National Unmarried and Singles Week, Discovering I'm Single at Heart.

Oct. 2011: Great Memories; Past and Present. That was supposed to be a colon between Memories and Past. Oh well.

Nov. 2011: Stuff I Don't Miss. The advantages of having a tween and teen.

Dec. 2011: Not Over, but Through. Sometimes, you don't just get over it. You get through it.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Parenting in the 21st century: About Facebook

Friend and fellow blogger, Jessica Gottlieb, recently posted why she won't friend her daughter on Facebook. I love her, and I respectfully disagree.

As a caveat to joining Facebook on her 13th birthday, I told my daughter she had to be friends with me. Not because I needed to up my friend numbers, or to show the world how close we are, or to helicopter, but because this is the Internet, and what she does there could have consequences.

A lot of motherhood involves thinking through potential consequences. We teach our children to look both ways before they cross a street, but we also need to remind them every time they cross for their first 10 years before we know we've engrained that in them. And chances are, we're there for at least half of those crossings and look both ways ourselves, too.

I can't just throw her out there without having her back. We talk about things that happen on FB off-line. We talk about what she posts, and how it might be construed. We talk about things that other people post. We talk about privacy settings, and how they can't be relied upon. I remind her again and again that what she puts out there is out there for always, and while you can delete a post, it's never really gone.

Of course I realize that there are things that happen on FB that I don't see happening because they're in private messages, or she's navigated some settings. That's fine. It's not about me seeing everything she does, but understanding that everything she does is obtainable, and that she's accountable for it.

Jessica mentioned that she might not want her daughter to see everything Jessica's friends post. Again, my daughter is free to change her settings so that she doesn't see everything my friends post, but I'm also not responsible for what my friends say or do online. I think also, that seeing someone post something inappropriate helps my daughter to understand the consequences of doing so, whether it be my friends or hers. We talk about that, too.

I'll admit, I was surprised when my own mom sent me a friend request on FB, but I accepted it, and frankly, it does help me maintain accountability for my own FB postings. If it's something I wouldn't want my mother to see, it does not belong on FB.

There might come a time when Sylvia no longer wants to be my FB friend, and if so, I won't cry or lose sleep over it, but I think that being friends now is valuable for her to understand and accept the accountability for any consequences.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Post-Christmas Post

Okay, now I can say it. I managed to go from Thanksgiving to Christmas without stepping foot in a mall, a Target, a department store! That's always my goal, but this is the first year I actually achieved it. I usually forget about stocking stuffers and find myself amidst the crowds, but not this year.

I also did not break my budget. Granted, I had a little help. During my Savvy shopping, I took care of all of Sylvia's presents. Riley's were a lot cheaper than I expected, so it wasn't a problem to finish my shopping for the others. I also didn't go overboard. I no longer feel compelled to have the presents outweigh the tree. And the best part: Sylvia mentioned that there were less presents, and that she liked it better that way! Seems there is something to that quality vs quantity after all.

I added something to our traditions, though. I wrote them each what they're referring to as a sappy love letter. They were, I admit it. I think it's nice every so often to give the girls something tangible that expresses how I feel about them. I know they hang onto them, and I hope they turn to them whenever they need a reminder that no matter what, I'm on their side. They call them sappy, but it turns out they're both saps.

I was especially proud when even my mom said she thought I did a good job with their presents this year. Sylvia got mostly clothes, and she liked them a lot. I completed Riley's Harry Potter DVD collection. Aside from the letters, the stockings were full of practicalities: pencils, socks, etc.

My parents gave me a beautiful ring. I am not a jewelry person, but this ruby and diamond ring is something I can proudly wear daily. It suits me perfectly.

The only wrinkle came when I almost forgot to take a couple presents to my parents' house (we spend the night there Xmas Eve). Serves me right for being so smug about avoiding last-minute shopping. I caught my error almost as we were arriving. At least we live close. 

All in all, it was a nice, quiet, content Christmas.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas morning recipe: Popovers

What?!? April's posting a recipe?!? The world is most definitely not balanced!

This will most likely be the one and only time I ever post a recipe.

My dad makes the whole Xmas dinner for the family holiday party. On the Eve, the girls and I spend the night at my parents' house and one of my favorite memories of Xmas morning are the popovers. A few years ago, we convinced our dad he only has to make the dinner once a year so now,  we just have the popovers on the big day.

I'm a fan of bread products already, and the popovers are great because you can dip them in honey or jam, or stuff them with cheese and deli meats, or just slather them with butter. Because of the plethora of choices, I have at least one each way. (No wonder why I don't want dinner after that!)

The kids (and the kid in me) love to pop them open; crispy on the outside, warm and soft on the inside. Of course, popovers don't have to be just for Xmas. They're delicious and fun any time of year.

You will need:

6 eggs
2 c milk
6 tbsp butter, melted
2 c flour
3/4 tsp salt

Break eggs into mixer bowl; beat until frothy. Beat in milk & butter. Slowly beat in flour and salt. Batter should be light but not foamy (if batter becomes lumpy, strain it).

Preheat oven to 400. Generously oil custard cups (6 or 4 oz size) or popover pans or oven-proof coffee cups or even deep Pyrex cup measures, filling each to within 1/2" of the top. Arrange individual cups on a cookie sheet for easier handling. Place in preheated oven. Bake until very dark brown and well-done (about 1 hour for 6-ounce cups, 45 minutes for 4-ounce cups). When done, cut 2 small slits in the top of each to release steam, then bake another 5 minutes. Remove from oven. Release edges and sides from cups with a small, sharp knife; remove popovers from cups. Serve hot in a napkin-lined basket - but do not cover tops, or they will become soggy. Makes 8 very large or 10 ordinary size.
My dad clipped the recipe from a Parade magazine:  Popover For Brunch by Sylvia Schur printed on Jan. 11, 1981. Popovers have been a part of our family's Christmases for 3 decades now! 

Hope your family enjoys them as much as we do!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Question of Friendship and Sharing

I hear a lot of mothers touting that they are not friends with their children, and that we mothers shouldn't be friends with our children. I also hear an assumption that single moms are too close to our children, that we share too much with them and make them grow up too fast.

I think both of these statements are far too oversimplified.

I thoroughly enjoy my daughters' company. (Most of the time, of course.) When we get along, we get along great. We laugh a lot, we enjoy many of the same things, Sylvia and I even share a fondness for Johnny Depp. I am friendly with my girls most of the time.

This, however, does not stop me from limiting Sylvia's Facebook time, saying no to Riley having a Facebook page since she's not yet old enough, or saying no to either of them for things they may want, but do not need. They have endured many lectures from me. They have been given many time-outs and other consequences. I always maintain veto power for any and all family decisions. They may not always like it, but they respect my position of authority.

I have enough evidence of them doing so to know that this is true. I've heard Sylvia repeat back things I've taught her to friends, Riley becomes very anxious at the thought of not doing anything exactly as directed. Other people tell me things the girls have told them which come straight from me. They are incredibly good about asking permission for anything they want to do that I've not expressly said they could do at any time. They are both very good girls.

I think, actually, that their respect for my authority is why we can enjoy each other's company so much. There are things that happen every day when we're away from each other that we can't wait to share with each other. We laugh at ourselves and each other every day. We can talk about the sublime and the ridiculous, and everything in between. And I do believe that when they are adults, we will still be close and share the highs and lows with each other often.

I think the misconception that single moms share too much with their children is because when there's a dramatic divorce, particularly if dad becomes absent, the circumstances themselves are responsible for a child knowing and feeling things far beyond their years. It's not what I've said about their dad that has made them have to comprehend loving while not depending upon their dad, it's because he didn't show up for their birthday party, and he was 3 days late for a visit. Yes, I've had to frame it for them, but it's to help them get through these things.

Children of domestic violence victims, children of parents lost in a war, children that have suffered under unimaginable circumstances all have to grow up too fast. (I'm not necessarily trying to compare an absent, jailbird dad with a fallen soldier, but at least the soldier has a valid excuse for missing their child's birthday party.) The parents and other loving guardians that are left to pick up the pieces of a child's shattered world aren't responsible for the damage; we just do the best we can to repair it.

The girls may not qualify as my friends, but they do know me as well as (if not better) than my closest friends. They may know a lot of truths about their dad that they wish they didn't, but it actually got easier for them once they did understand that it really wasn't them, but him.

It's anything but simple, and I'd be lucky for them to call me their friend.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Riley's First Semester

She has a 4.3 GPA. Yes, a 4.3! Of course, we're both very proud and happy about that, but what makes it so much better is how easy it's been.

She gets her homework done without any fussing from me. She gets most of it done during her after-school program, and then finishes after dinner. Riley completes it with almost no help from me. Her teachers and the school's web site provide everything she needs to get it done on her own.

While some mornings aren't fabulous, she never really doesn't want to go to school; just some days, she'd like to sleep in a little longer. She never complains about her day. Every day, she's filled with stories she wants to share. She may have a hard time with a friend every so often, but she usually works it out herself and just shares the problem as well as the solution with me.

She gets along with all her teachers, and most of the students. She tells me about what she did to help out her friend, and I even got one email from the Principal about how Riley advocated for a friend that was having trouble. She really is a good citizen.

She is now more adept at PowerPoint than me. At her after-school program, she is learning DJ Beats and having a marvelous time. She loves the school lunches, and the Parent Coordinator emails me when her account is running low.

Oh, the Parent Coordinator: my go-to person for every question. He is responsive, nice and always treats me with respect. Everyone treats everyone with respect. No, really! It's a middle school that doesn't feel like a prison! The kids all smile and treat me with as much respect as all the teachers and staff do! It's a pleasure to walk in. (The complete opposite of how I felt every time I walked into Sylvia's middle school.)

She does have homework packets to complete over the winter break, but has already worked out the schedule herself, and has even started them...without any prompting from me.

This isn't just what I wanted for Riley; it's a lot more. She is happy, she is confident, and she is eager to learn.

I know we still have a long way to go, but I'm so grateful that I actually have no complaints right now. I couldn't ask for a better present for both of us.

*Sylvia has one more week to go.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Accidental Hiatus & Randomness

I didn't mean for a week to go by without posting. We've been busy, but it's all good. Holiday obligations, school stuff, busy at work...all good, but time-consuming!

So here are a couple of random things I've been meaning to post:

The girls and I were talking about the whole concept of Santa. I told my girls earlier than most parents do, I think, and it was because of my own discomfort with the whole thing. I just don't like flat-out lying to them. I was devastated when my parents told me the truth. It kind of rocked my world that they'd lied to me like that! So I was curious how the girls felt about the whole thing.

Riley said she thought it was sweet to give kids a "belief." I pulled Sylvia out from her iPod to ask her what she thought about Santa, to which she responded "I think he's a big, fat creeper!"

So there you have it. Three different people; three entirely different perspectives. At least they weren't appalled that I'd lied to them.

While we weren't personally affected by the winds, several of my co-workers and my parents were left without electricity for a day or so. And driving was...interesting; avoiding trees, several stoplights out of commission. It changed my perspective of trees in general. Pre-wind, I thought of trees as a nice form of cover, pretty to look at, all kinds of happy thoughts. In just one night, trees became these potentially menacing, towering creatures.

A couple of nights ago, we were driving in the cold, dark, rainy night, and Riley randomly yells "Tree!" I got very tense. "Where?" I'm searching the road in front of me for a potential car-killer...turns out she was looking at a pretty lit-up Xmas tree in the distance.

I've found a new way to amuse myself during my commute. While listening to my show tunes, I start picturing the non-musical theatre people in my life performing the roles, doing jazz hands, I put the entire production number together in my head. It just makes me smile.

Whenever the girls or I want to change the subject, we'll start singing "Mahna Mahna." So glad the Muppets are back!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Tears of Awe

Mama’s Losin’ It
2.) What is it about that movie that makes you cry every time?

I need to first disclose that I'm the kind of person that can cry at a commercial. I cry during every episode of Parenthood I cried every time I saw Les Miz (all 8 times). In other words, it doesn't take much to make me cry.

So it shouldn't come as too great a shock that I can't get through Spencer Tracy's final speech in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? without tears.

It's the combination of things. It's the incomprehension (to me) that a union between a black man and white woman could be illegal in some places, or questioned at all. It's the knowledge that Tracy died shortly therafter. It's the look that he gives Katharine Hepburn where the love between them is palpable and true and pure. It's when his own voice breaks that I crumble.

I have seen this movie hundreds of times, and I'm not exaggerating. You simply cannot find better actors than Sidney Poitier, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, and every single time I watch it (every.single.time), I find a moment in one of their performances that I hadn't previously noticed. I would rather spend hours of my life watching this and experiencing greatness than mediocre movies that don't have the heart, depth, and talent that this one movie holds.

I haven't seen it in a few years because it got to the point where I was noticing flaws in the perfection. I'd gotten too close to it so I'm taking a break. Still, when I come back to it, I know I will cry once again when Tracy says, "that's everything." He's right. This movie is everything I love about movies, about the cinema's ability to humanize larger issues, and the right director, screenplay and actors making something beautiful and unquestionably worthy of a few tears.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Belated Weekend Wrap-Up: Party, party, party

People ask what I blog about. I don't know; basically, it just follows my journey of being a single mom trying to have a fun and meaningful life.

I had three holiday parties in a row, starting on Saturday. My parents throw an annual holiday party, and a couple of my closest friends were able to attend. I haven't seen one of my best friends since 2004 so I was thrilled to spend a few hours with her and her nearly 18-year-old son. We met before high school when we were both in a girls' band (yeah, you can laugh), and then we went to high school together and even lived together for a time when her son was two. Frankly, it doesn't matter that it's been years since I've seen her. We've been in each other's hearts this whole time.

Sunday night was the MomsLA Holiday party. I've been absent from most events this year so I was thrilled to see Yvonne, Elise, Sarah, Jessica, Florinda, Amy, Kim, Bern-Baby-Bern, Adrienne and meet BrigittaAmelia, and a few others.

Monday night was my Leadership Alumni holiday get-together. What I love about these people is while we all share a common goal of wanting to affect positive change, none of us take ourselves too seriously. There's always laughter and a common desire for a glass of alcohol and food to enjoy while we try and change our small part of the world.

These three events in a row brought to light that my life includes a wide variety of interests and people that make it hard to pigeonhole myself. It can also be found in the variety of sites I've bookmarked. I have mom bloggers and theatres, our local paper and the Secretary of State (of California), a couple of jails that X has/does call home and single parenting resources, education sites and my day job sites. 

I'm used to it most of the time, but sometimes, I take a step back and think, my life is weird.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Not Over, but Through

Mama’s Losin’ It

I chose: 1.) What did you go through in order to get out? “The best way out is always through”  (Inspired by  Shatterboxx and some dude named Robert Frost)

I hate the phrase "get over it." I drove my own self crazy trying to get over the fact that X would never be the man I needed, and then again, trying to get over the fact that X would never be the father the girls deserved. Truth be told, I didn't get over it, I accepted it. I got through it. And the girls are getting through it, too.

Getting over it implies that it's over. It's never truly over. My marriage may long be over, but a few years ago, I had to accept that it would never really be behind me. And every time I thought it was, something would happen that would snap reality back in. It could be a call from a bill collector, a call that X is in jail again, or a reminder of a lie that he'd told me. Just the other night, it was something on the floor that reminded me of a crack pipe. (It wasn't, of course, but it still made me shudder.)

Those moments got easier to get through when I learned to accept that it was never going to be over. When I stopped beating myself up over having those moments. It doesn't matter that I've now been a single mom longer than I was married, that Riley can't remember a time when he ever lived with us. Those years, the father of my children, can't ever be banished from our minds, our souls. And yes, when I'm having a particularly tough time with my budget, I can't help but be reminded of the years of child support not received. It's never over. It's just something to get through.

The girls have shown a remarkable skill of getting through it. They're reminded every day of the father that he's not a part of their lives; in how my father's there for me, in how their uncles are there for their children, in a conversation with a classmate of what they did with their father last night. They can't get over it because it's always there.

They can and do get through it. They have father figures in my dad, their uncles, other loved ones. They have X's family and my family and so many others.

I remember a trick I used to use to calm Sylvia down when she was younger and any bad thing would make her miss her daddy. I would start listing all the people that she count on, starting with me, of course, then our family members, and soon enough her breathing would normalize and she would join me in adding to the list.

Of course, there are some things in life that do have an ending. This blog is full of times where I thought nothing would be good again, and now, almost everything is. I also know, whatever comes next, we can and will get through it.

Frost's quote perfectly summarizes what I've come to believe. If you can't get over it, you can at least get through it.