Monday, December 17, 2012

All We Have is Each Other

I've written so many draft posts about my reactions to the shooting on Friday, and just keep deleting them. Like everyone else, I'm going through all the emotions: shock, anger, grief, to name a few.

I'm not going to pretend to have all the answers. No one does. And I'm going to refrain from chastising people who are lashing out on FB, their blogs or wherever. They're writing from a very raw place right now. I can't blame them for being where they are.

And I guess that's the message I have. Be where you are, and let others do the same.

This event is just as unthinkable as 9/11 was. And we're all trying to process something none of us should have to process.

There's going to be misplaced anger. There's going to be depression. There have been and will continue to be hurtful words, but as long as no one gets violent, they're just words.

I see all this hurt, all this sadness, and I remember how connected we all are. How our lives affect one another.

Of course, I'm me, so I can see the Sondheim song in this: "No one is alone. Careful. No one is alone."

I hope that we can get through this without forgetting it.  I hope that we can wake up every day, seeking not just to embrace the day, but being mindful of how our actions can affect others in our day.

Be someone's friend today. Not just in words, but in actions. Be there for someone today. And let someone be there for you.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Not Quite Balancing My Budget

It used to be when I was going through a rough patch, I immediately would turn to blogging. Lately, however, I usually want to wait until I'm through whatever it may be. So I've been waiting. And waiting. And waiting.

Maybe, even if it doesn't feel as natural as it once did, maybe what I really should do is blog through it.

Things are finally getting less crazy busy, but it's allowing me more moments to see what is still missing. And what's missing is financial security.

I had another scare last week when my "check engine" came on. Thankfully, the $1400 I'd put into my car the week before meant that it was nothing. This time. But this whole thing has awakened me to the reality of how little things have changed on that front. And the likelihood that it won't for a very long time.

I've focused a lot on how much has changed for me and the girls in the last 9 years, but some things have hardly changed at all.

We still live paycheck to paycheck. I still have no emergency savings. I still have credit card debt. As much as I try to plan for the future, something in the present always takes that away.

I may have a working car today, but in 6 months, a year or maybe even two, I will drive this car into the ground. And, in the meantime, Sylvia will reach the age where she can start driving. But before I can even think about helping her get wheels, it's going to cost a couple of hundred dollars just to get her through the required classes. And let's not even get into the insurance.

My sister had warned me, it doesn't get any less expensive when they get older. It may not be child care anymore, but everything from new ballet shoes to uniform pants costs money that is not in my budget.

And the crazy part is, for the last 6 months, I've actually been getting child support! But when I ask myself, why don't I see it, I realize that we've always needed it. However we were getting by before, it was never enough. Which I know is one of the reasons that 9 years later, we are still barely making it paycheck to paycheck.

I look at everything we're doing, and anything I'm not and I know that I'm doing everything I can. 

I just wish it were more than just barely enough.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Budgeting Update: Car Troubles & Xmas

I couldn't post last week because my emotions and thoughts were too jumbled. I found out that my car had an oil leak, and after 4 days without my car and nearly $1400, I finally have my car back!

I'm grateful to have a mechanic that I actually trust and had warned me that something like this may be coming, but of course, the more they tore my car apart, the more they found wrong with it. And my usual guy ended up being out most of the week with the flu, so the owner was calling me to ask what's wrong with it.

I ended up telling him that, basically, my guy had told me that if I gave them lots of money, I would get my car back. My brain just cannot handle that sort of information. It ended up that they had to replace the valve cover gasket, timing belt and water pump, along with other incidentals.

So I wiped out my savings, and put the rest on the credit card I just paid off. Yuck.

At least I could do that, I know, but I really, really didn't want to. And then there's the reality that my car is 12 years old and has nearly 150,000 miles on it and knowing that the older it gets, the more expensive it will get to maintain until finally (hopefully, at least a hundred thousand miles later), I will need a new car.

It's frustrating to try and figure out how to save for the long term when these short term problems keep coming up. And then, of course, there's the holidays and the expected gifts. It would make so much more sense if Xmas took place around the same time as tax refunds!

At one point last week, I was kinda hoping for the world to end later this month, but then I found out that's supposed to be the 21st; a little too close to the big day to wait and see if I won't need to buy presents after all. Especially for an online shopper like me.

I looked over my budget again, but I was only able to find about $14 a month to cut. I will put any unbudgeted funds into paying off the credit card (again), but at this point, the budget is as tight as it's going to get. And while there are still a few luxury items in there, like the satellite TV, I know myself well enough to know that if I try to cut them, I'll just either end up putting them back or spending more somewhere else and ending up with the same amount of money going out, at least.

I'm still not sure how I'm going to pay for Xmas, but I never am, and somehow, I always manage to get a few presents under that tree, so I'm not going to stress over that too much right now.

Such is the life of a single parent: one step forward, two steps back. But we still manage to get through it.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Bonnie Remembered

Riley wrote this poem for Bonnie. Today, the one-month anniversary since we lost her, seemed like the day to post it here:

My best friend
When it comes to an end
Smiling though in pain
She doesn't die in vain
She makes everyone smile
But only for a while

We used to play
Every single day
It happened so fast
It's now in the past

She was a fighter
you won't find anyone like her
I love her so
If she could only know
She is in my heart
Though we are so far apart

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Inevitable Thanksgiving Post (2012 edition)

In one of my classes, we were discussing Guardianships, and she showed us a sample of a form that a legal guardian must fill out once per year as an added measure to ensure the guardian continues to act in the child's best interest.

The form includes things like last immunizations, school of attendance, average grades...stuff every parent would (or should know), but then the instructor pointed out some questions she thought some parents would find hard to answer. In particular, "what are your goals for the child in the coming year?"

I may have given up my mommy blogger label, but I remain grateful for this blog and the opportunity to not just think about such things, but actually write about them. I am grateful for the blogs I read that think about parenthood on this level.

I am grateful that even though I may not be as active in this community as I used to be, I am still part of this community. I am grateful to feel connected to bloggers.

And, because I'm me, I just have to include my "official" Thanksgiving song:

Happy Turkey Lurkey Time! 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Dancing Through Life

Okay, so I stole that title from a song in Wicked, but this post is inspired by another song, "Marilyn Monroe" from the musical Blood Brothers. The chorus repeats the word "dancing," but in different contexts as she talks about different stages of her life.

She starts off as a young girl, dancing with her beau. The next chorus is about dancing at her wedding. She has kids, her husband leaves her, and there's "no more dancing."

I totally remember feeling that way. Nearly a decade later, I feel like I'm dancing through life.

Our schedule is totally insane. I spend at least 3 hours in the car every day, it takes creative planning just to do laundry and get to the grocery store every week, and every day, there's at least one mini-crisis, whether work-related, kid-related, or home-related. And I don't think I've ever been happier.

It's not always a graceful dance, granted, but it's consistently filled with doing things I love with people I love and finding the humor whenever possible. And if I don't necessarily love every activity, I know I'm doing it for the right reasons and that makes it worthwhile.

10 years ago, still married and living in the coldest climate I've ever experienced, I'd almost resigned myself to merely existing. 9 years ago, I was adjusting to single motherhood and still thought it'd never be good again.

Now, it's got a good beat and I can dance to it.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Balancing Homework

My hope is that, by the time this publishes, they won't need any more signatures, but here is the link to sign the petition for the National PTA to adopt and promote homework guidelines.

Interestingly enough, I also came across this post where over 100 people have commented on the question of whether homework interferes with their parenting approach.

I've written time and again my feelings on homework, but I did want to share this approach that one of my instructors uses that I find quite valuable.

We are given the opportunity to do every assignment twice. The first time, along with the grade, he'll give us his notes on how to fix it. The second time, if we implement his changes, we can improve our grade.

This, to me, meets the objectives of homework without undue stress. Even if I struggle the first time, I can get the instructor's input and learn the information I need to know to do it right.

At the beginning of class, he'll address any issues that he saw multiple times; it gives him the chance to clarify and re-teach any concepts we didn't seem to get the first time around. And we get the chance to do it right, which will reinforce the right concepts.

I have seen (and felt) the agony of spending a lot of time doing an assignment wrong, and then getting marked down for it. Unless you're given the chance to re-train your brain, you won't have the confidence that you actually know the material when it comes around next in a quiz or test or even (gasp) real life!

This method actually promotes learning. And isn't that supposed to be the point of homework after all?

I've spoken to some teachers about this method; most seem open to the idea, but are only concerned if they'll have enough time to grade something twice. Of course, each teacher should have the freedom to do what they feels works best.

I think the most viable option if a teacher does not feel they can offer this second chance opportunity is that every student should get points merely for doing the assignment, and the feedback necessary for them to understand what they did wrong.

Homework might not feel so dreadful if it actually gives a student the opportunity to learn.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Managing the Grief

Every so often, it hits. I'm not sad every day because I know Bonnie wouldn't want me to be. She reveled in laughter, in fun, in enjoying life and loved ones. But every so often, something brings me to a halt and I have to empty my bucket.

This time, it was a song. It was Bobbie's song, and I could see her in front of me, clear as day. And then I started thinking about Bonnie, and my heart just ached from the loss of these two.

It may not seem fair or right to compare the loss of a pet with the loss of a friend, but Bonnie and Bobbie had something fundamental in common: they both loved me unconditionally. Frankly, I don't know if that's harder to find in a human or a cat, but they did.

Whenever I was frustrated with myself for not being a better mom, Bonnie was the first to tell me that I was doing a terrific job. I wasn't always convinced of that, but her earnestness made me feel like at least I was doing good enough, and buoyed my strength that I could keep going. Whenever I felt like I wasn't strong enough, she'd be there. Her shoulder was always there for me, and her love had immense power. I think she truly believed that I could do anything, and I loved her for that. And whatever she could offer to help me, she would give me.

Sometimes, it feels unbearable to know that I'll never feel her hugs again, that I'll never laugh with her again, that I'll never get to talk to her again.

She did an amazing job as a mother, parenting this young woman who's become a dear friend to me as well. I miss being able to talk to her about that. I ask myself, "what would Bonnie say?" but the words don't always come to me.

I met Bonnie at a time where trust was difficult for me. She respected that, but she always let me know she was there. When I eventually poured my heart out to her, all I got back was love and support. She never judged me.

She cheered me on and celebrated my accomplishments along with my girls'. From helping me move into our first apartment, and then the second, to planning a party for me when I graduated college, to cheering my daughters at their talent showcase.

I am trying, Bonnie. I am trying to live my life as you taught me. I am trying to find more patience, more forgiveness, and to always let people know how much they mean to me. It's difficult without you here to guide me, but I will keep trying to honor your memory, your spirit, your love.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Not Really an Election Post

I drove the girls and my colleagues crazy last Tuesday by squealing repeatedly, "It's Election Day!!" Only Riley got to see my Election Day dance, but no one was spared my glee at it simply being Election Day.

In the early part of the day, some were confused by my giddiness. We didn't know any results yet, so why was I so excited?

It might just be my favorite part of Election Day, actually. Before there are any winners or losers. Before any talking head can pontificate on what the election results mean.

It is the day that I get to exercise my right to vote. My right to stand and be counted. It is the day that many have fought and died for; not just in America, but throughout the world. But, of course, it is a day that I can be proud to be an American, to live in a democracy, to get that "I Voted" sticker.

I vote after I drop the girls off at school, on my way to work. My polling place was busy, but I didn't really have to wait in line. I repeated my last name a few times before they finally found me on the roster.

I punched my ballot decisively, and slid my ballot. I wore my sticker until the end of the work day. It now sticks to my bulletin board. There are only two on there now, but I hope to have the border filled with I Voted stickers eventually.

Someone offered me theirs. No. It has to be accurate. It has to be for my ballots cast. Some have extolled the virtues of voting by absentee ballot. Nope, I want that sticker. I've been told I can drop it off, and get my sticker...but if I'm going to do all of that, I may as well vote while I'm there. For now, I'm sticking to voting on Election Day so I can revel in the glorious day that it is.

RadDude teased me; I was more excited than I get on Broadway days. It was like The Book of Mormon and Avenue Q all wrapped in one, he said.

I had a thought that stopped me in my tracks: The Book of Mormon done by muppets!!

That might be as good as Election Day.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Not a Mommy Blogger; a Blogger with Children

I always had trouble with the label Mommy Blogger. Or any labels, for that matter.

At first, I recoiled against being called a Mommy Blogger, then I embraced it, and now, as always, I just want this blog to accurately reflect where I am. (Or, at least, where I think I am.)

While being the girls' mom will always be number one priority, parenting them has become an act we'd prefer to keep more private now. Maybe 5, 10 years from now (OMG, will I still be blogging then?!?), I can tell more tales of these years. But right now, it's just between us girls.

In the meantime, there are a lot of other things that encompass my daily life, that shape me in different ways, which I'd like to explore more here.

Of course, this doesn't mean the end of talking about the girls completely. There's very little in my life that isn't colored by them. And every so often, there are stories they actually want me to share here!

But this isn't a mommy blog anymore - if it ever was. It's just a blog that happens to be written by a single woman with two children.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Looking Back, Looking Forward

This was photo was taken 4 years ago, just days after the election. Bonnie, her husband Richard, the girls and I attended a protest against Prop 8. Equal marriage rights had been defeated, and we felt the need to speak out.

Bonnie was a fierce supporter of gay rights. She can rest easier now that at least two states have won gay marriage rights by popular vote.

I can hear her telling me, "I told you so!" I wouldn't have believed it. Prop 8 was incredibly difficult for me to swallow and put quite the dimmer on Obama's first presidential victory.

I do find it fitting that Maine is one of the states. Bonnie's mother lived in Maine before Bonnie moved her out here to see her through her final days.

So we're still waiting here in CA for equality, but I'm so glad I have this picture and this memory of us fighting together.

Victory at last, Bonnie. Peace and love are in abundance, and I know that's what your heart desired.

Monday, November 5, 2012

My Beautiful Friend, My Bucket is Full

My dear friend, Bonnie, passed peacefully this weekend.

I was lucky enough to spend time with her in the days prior. Heartbreaking and beautiful. She was surrounded by love in her last days. Her family, and people like me, who felt as if she were family.

She had that way about her. She was there for everyone in her life that she loved. We gave back as much as we could.

She had made certain decisions that made it difficult, but also beautiful. She was in her home and there were no tubes. Just Bonnie.

She lasted more days than most people thought she would. When I wasn't with her, my heart still was.

She changed our lives in so many ways. I will never forget that.

She brought her loved ones to us, who continued to change our lives. We will forever be grateful that they are with us, and together, we will try to emulate what she taught us.

Bonnie was feisty, too. She made me laugh so many times with her sharp tongue aimed at those who didn't live up to her standards.

Her standards were high, but completely doable. Give what you can, and you can always give love.  She enjoyed life. She made it fun. She saw the beauty in those she loved, and we felt like we were better people in her presence.

She didn't believe in being false, though. She was the one that taught me, when your bucket is full, you have to empty it. You have to express your feelings to be free of them.

I only got sad this week when I was away from her. Somehow, it was easy not to cry in her presence. She couldn't respond with words, or even her eyes in the day before she died, but there was still something that made me believe she could hear me. She may not have understood the words, but somehow I feel confident that she understood my gratitude for her love, and my love for her.

I like to believe that our presence, our laughter, our love for her overshadowed her pain in her last days. She seemed at peace most of the time.

Yes, she was taken from us too soon. Yes, I will miss her for a long time to come. I have shed many tears this week and I will shed many more because my bucket is full.

The girls and I will hold you in our hearts forever, Bonnie. Thank you for having us in yours.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy birthday, my beautiful Sylvia

It's been another whirlwind year for you. Your first year at your new school, your amazing growth in dance, shining on stage. I hope you take a moment today to appreciate just how much you've learned and how much you've grown.

You gave your hair to Locks of Love to honor our friend, B, and to help children. You came up with the idea to spend part of your summer teaching young kids at dance, and did an amazing job. You impressed everyone so much at your dance studio that you earned the opportunity to assistant teach there.

You have so much going for you. You are bright, charming, talented, and giving.

At 15, you are on the brink of so much. We're juggling a lot lately, but I want to try to take some time over these next few months to explore all of the amazing possibilities for your future.

I love you so deeply, so fully, my oldest girl. And I am always and will always be here for you. Happy birthday, my beautiful Sylvia.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Budgeting Update: Pay Outstanding Balance

I did it. I paid off my high interest credit card. It has a zero balance, and I plan to keep it that way.

I'm not closing the account because I want to keep that available credit for my credit score, but I haven't even activated the new card they sent. And I hope to never activate it.

It was actually anger that finally motivated me to stop making excuses for using that credit card. After being a good loyal customer for years, I went out of town and missed one payment, and they raised my interest rate to the highest legal limit. (Oh, and I was already frustrated because I'd originally gotten the credit card with one bank, and by this time, it had been gobbled up by Chase. And I hate Chase!)

So after that, I said, "that's it. I'm never using this card again." And I didn't.

There were times where it certainly crossed my mind. A large car maintenance bill, a necessary flight, Xmas. But my anger kept me in check and I held my ground.

I probably could've paid it off last week, but I wanted to do it the way I've been doing it; by just paying what I've budgeted every week for hundreds of weeks now.

On payday, I went through my budget, paid the other bills, letting the moment of anticipation build until I got to that line item. I've never been so happy to go to Chase's website because this time, I got to click that button that I think I've only clicked once before in my life "Pay Outstanding Balance."

I made my budget for next month, deleted that line item and carried over the budgeted amount to my low interest credit card. I'll admit, that's gotten too close to the limit lately for my liking, but I try not to beat myself up for it because it is what it is.

I've been bringing my lunch from home approximately 3 days a week now. I'm building the "present" account to help me out this Xmas, and all the present-giving occasions to come. I'm getting through it, even if I still live paycheck-to-paycheck.

I honestly don't know if/when I'll ever be able to pay off my low-interest credit card, but I do believe I can keep the balance at a manageable level if I just keep at it. And now, I know I can do it, because I've done it.

This feels really, really good.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Happy 12th Birthday, Riley!

You had some great firsts this year. Your debut in a musical, and the first family musical. Your first school year ending in straight As. Your first experience with contact lenses.

Your nickname of Smiling Riley isn't just because of your great smile, it's because you make those around you smile, and no one more than me.

You make me beam with pride and wonder at who you are. I feel like you're too good for me most of the time. You're much kinder, much more thoughtful, much more level-headed. You are funny, bright of course, and beautiful inside and out.

Every so often, I try to think of who you'll be in the future, but I get distracted by how much I love who you are now. And that's been happening since you were born, twelve years ago. So I think I'll just continue to love who you are now when you're 12, 13, 18 and so forth.

I love you more than I can say, my Riley. I hope you have a great birthday.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Puzzling Mid-Term

Last week was a blur. Mid-terms, put together a workshop (coming off attending a conference on Saturday), worked like a madwoman - even went back to work one night, went to Disneyland on Saturday, and by Sunday, I was practically comatose, I was so mentally and physically exhausted.

Out of all that, the topic I've most wanted to blog about was what happened at my first mid-term last week.

Basically, a woman of a certain age threw an incredibly immature fit in class and accused our teacher of things she in no way deserved. And all before we had our class lecture that happened before the mid-term.

One day, after all my classes are done and I have my certificate, I would love to sit down with her and find out how the students have changed in the past two decades, or even, if they have. I would love to know if the challenges of teaching have changed, if her students are more or less prepared than they were 20 years ago.

The whole event would have astonished me less if the woman was closer to the age of a high school graduate. I don't know exactly how old she is, but she certainly looks older than me...and I'm almost 40. So neither of us could be accused of being young or inexperienced.

This class isn't an easy A, by any means. You do have to work at it. You do have to be prepared. And the teacher does express some annoyance if someone asks the very same question she just answered. Even I had to laugh when yet a 3rd person asked the same question!

But even that wasn't what set this classmate off. No, she decided to throw a fit because she was marked down half a point for something that, if I had done it at work, my bosses would've looked at me impatiently, and asked "Really, April?" It was a standard formatting issue that should only be an issue for someone working with a typewriter on Mad Men!

And I only know what the issue is because the woman decided to be loud enough so that everyone in the room could hear. The teacher tried to take it outside and make it a private conversation, and the woman yelled, "no! You're mean! You're abusive!"

I almost laughed at the absurdity at the remark, except I was also pretty incensed that she would throw that word around.

I have had my share of bad teachers. I have had my share of bad bosses. This teacher in no way fits that bill.

And, frankly, I can't get past how clueless she is as to what "mean" or "abusive" really means. And I'm just a touch jealous that she's managed to live this long with her rose-colored glasses still intact.

I kept my eyes down, and my fury under control at least enough so that I wouldn't burst.  She continued her tirade for an uncomfortable length of time until finally, thankfully, another classmate spoke up and soon shut this woman down.

But I still felt bad for our teacher, who was clearly flustered as she started her lecture. And I think all of us were off our game a bit, thanks to the events.

I know a few people in the class agreed with this woman, but I notice they're the same ones who talk during the lecture, who ask questions that have just been answered, and who failed the first quiz.

Personally, I'm not as good a student as I was when I was younger. I have to work harder this time around, my memory is shakier, and I'm juggling more than I ever have before. Still, I perform well in my classes, and I know I deserve every A and B I've received. Sure, some teachers are harder than others, but once you know how they grade, once you've taken one test, you get an idea of how they test, and what to study. And yes, this teacher definitely tests us on everything she's taught!

I'm not sure what I'm missing about her that makes others see her as mean or abusive...but in this case, I'll be grateful for that particular ignorance!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Single Mother Unbound

Okay, I've been trying really hard to stay out of the political stuff on the internetz, but Romney decided that the first time he would mention single parents in the debates was to blame us for gun violence. Dude, you totally started this!

Romney, I know you don't want me to be a member of the Republican party, so there's no point in really trying to talk to you, but let me just say to anyone that believes as he does that one of the solutions to gun violence, or any violence as another prominent Republican has stated, is to get those parents wed already: you're no leader. Of human beings anyway.

You don't seem to understand that human beings are complex. You don't seem to understand that issues of love, marriage and children are complex. For that matter, you don't seem to understand violence, either.

You don't seem to understand that a significant percentage of single parents are single because they divorced abusive spouses. You don't seem to understand that for many of us, getting wed or staying wed would be the biggest mistake we could make, or continue to make for our children.

Yes, I realize that you tried almost immediately to take back your words and add your disclaimer that there are some great single parents out there. But you blamed us first, and it's the first time I've heard you speak of us in the debates. And it was to answer a question about gun violence. That says more about you, Romney, than it does about me, my marital status or my children.

If love were truly enough, then one in two marriages wouldn't end in divorce. If anything, too many are getting married.  I know you haven't tried to get a divorce, so let me let you in on the truth: it's not that easy. Particularly when there are children involved. You have to wait 6 months to finalize it, so divorce isn't a decision that can be made in haste. And, as we know from some infamous Vegas stories, it can be far too easy to enter into marriage!

Your comment that getting married to someone is a great idea is against my belief system! It's far too easy to get married without understanding the legal consequences of that action. And, as we learned from the housing crisis, no one should sign a legal contract without understanding it.

And, as I've said before, you don't seem to understand that single parents and children of single parents can hear you! (And, psst, you were debating a man that was raised by a single parent!) Yes, I do count myself as one of the better single parents out there, but that doesn't mean I'm still not offended. I'm incredibly offended.

So offended, I think I'll end this rant and donate to your opponent's campaign now.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

National Costume Swap Day

I get about two dozen emails a day from companies and people requesting a shout-out here on this blog. I'm not trying to complain or brag, but just give you a sense of how little of those requests I actually do. This one seems pretty cool.

This Saturday, Oct. 13 is National Costume Swap Day. I love this idea!

Find your location (and last year's costume) and participate in the National Costume Swap!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Still in Need of a Homework Free Election Night

I posted this four years ago, but quite late in the game. Today, I'm re-posting it (with slight edits) and will also be emailing all of my daughters' teachers, as well as the principals:

I just heard about this and think it's a great idea. As concerned citizens,we should request our teachers make Election Day a homework free night so that we can discuss and participate in election results as a family.

Personally, I support making Election Day a national holiday, but we're not there yet. The least we could do is have Tuesday night free for family discussions on elections and democracy. 

Argh, I just realized, I have class Election Night! Yet another reason to support making it a national holiday!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Making a Vow (aka Budgeting Update)

First Person Singular is holding a contest, and the winner gets a $50 GC to Crate and Barrel. Now, I don't normally promote other people's contests, but their question for the entry is the inspiration for this post:

What is your single vow?

Most of the answers have been about taking better care of ourselves and my answer is just another spin on that, but I felt like I had to say how I was going to take better care of myself:

I vow to do a better job at sticking to my budget so that I can retire one day, and not have to rely on anyone even in my last days.
I'm proud and relieved to say that every year as a single parent, my financial outlook gets a little bit better. I haven't truly worried about how I'm going to pay a necessity bill in quite some time, and I've even added some "luxury" items that make my life easier (like paying for the girls' school lunches instead of making them). It's still very much a paycheck-to-paycheck budget, however, and I don't even have a month's savings, let alone the 8 month emergency fund that Suze Orman recommends.

I have come to terms with some of that. I have made sure that the girls have everything they need in school, and a few extras. I enrich our lives as much as possible with plays and other outings.  I splurge in relatively moderate doses.

Still, there are a few items in my budget where I splurge too excessively. The biggest culprit? I buy lunch at work almost every day. And I have lunch with friends quite regularly.

I remember four or five jobs ago (before I was even pregnant with Riley), my friend/colleague and I started bringing to work a loaf of bread, cheese, alfalfa sprouts, and avocado. I still remember those lunches as some of the best work lunches ever. Of course, the avocado is a bit of a splurge, but is really what completes this simple sandwich!

So I vow here on this blog to add those items to my grocery list and every time I don't have lunch plans, I'm making myself a yummy sandwich. That alone should save me about $15-$20 a week.

In less than two months, I will have paid off one of my credit cards entirely. I vow to actually do the right thing with that $100, and put it towards my lower interest rate credit card to bring that balance down faster. It is my current "emergency" account and the faster I can whittle it down, the faster I can build a real emergency fund.

I have also added another item to my budget that should make a difference with both my credit card usage and available cash. I'm putting $25 towards a present account. I've been stupidly stashing those purchases under "unexpected/miscellaneous." Duh, those aren't totally unexpected! I know the dates of everyone's birthdays, and the gift-giving holidays. It won't completely save me this holiday season, and it isn't a whole lot of money going in there, but it's a good step in the right direction.

And, I'll admit it, I've been quick to spend that child support that I've been getting these last few months. I've rationalized it by thinking, it's not money that I'm not counting on, so I can just use it to go to Costco or take the girls to the theatre. Knowing me as I do, I will still do some of that. But I vow to only do that with half. The other half will go towards savings. I'm still not counting on it. I'm just planning what to do with it if/when I actually receive it. (To continue the rationalization, the not planning is part of why I end up just thinking of it as free money.)

I'm not vowing, however, to add more to the savings line item on my budget. Yeah, been there, tried that. All I end up doing is just moving it eventually into my checking and spending it when I need to...or feel like I need to, at least.

I'm trying to think about where my money really goes, where the red font most consistently shows up when I enter my actual expenses into my budget spreadsheet.

Now, it's a single vow because it's about taking care of me in the long term. It's about not being a burden to the girls or other family if/when I'm unable to take care of myself. It's about preparing myself, in tiny steps, for the time when (hopefully) the girls are taking care of themselves and I can make decisions solely on what's best for me.

And, even if you aren't single or don't want to enter the contest, I do encourage everyone to think about what vow you want to make exclusively for yourself. Not about your family or your friends or even your favorite charity. What do you want for you? What can you do today for yourself that might make the rest of your lifetime a little bit better?

Monday, October 1, 2012

Balancing means Letting Things Go

I hate that it's been a week since I've updated, and I'm afraid I read almost no blog posts last week, either. We've been incredibly busy.

On top of our three hours on the road, work/school (work being insanely busy), my two classes, and Sylvia's 4 dance classes a week, I also got together with friends one night, we went to see a play, Riley went to a birthday party, and I had a meeting at Riley's school, a Board meeting, and a luncheon.

That is not meant as a complaint at all. It was a great week. Just really really busy.

Given that, it seemed like an appropriate topic would be on balancing, and giving up some things sometimes.

Just like I gave up Back to School Night a few weeks ago, I had to cancel on two friends this week and tell my parents I couldn't help them this weekend. I do wish I could have done everything, but I know I can't.

At work, prioritizing has been all about who is the most desperate for their documents. Since a good dozen came in all with the same start date, we couldn't prioritize merely by what was most timely!

It's gotten to the point where every outing; from the grocery store to the gas station, has to be immaculately timed. Anything that could wait, did. Like mailing Sylvia's Locks of Love donation. That took a month!

I'm learning, too, that even when people are desperate, I need to put me first sometimes. Otherwise, my Outlook refuses to send any more emails until I spend at least an hour cleaning it out.  Or, I rush things and don't do as well as I could and should; from homework to parenting the girls.

I know myself enough to know that I need down time to regain my sanity, get the laundry done, and do my homework. 

I joked to my friend that this week will be downright boring, considering one of my classes and one of Sylvia's classes got canceled. Boring never sounded so appealing.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Embracing the Past

I didn't comment on a friend's FB status because I disagree:

Be careful NOT to bring your past into the present. It's a clear sign of being stuck in realm of time that no longer exist!

When I moved back to L.A., back in with my parents, back to being single, I believed something akin to that statement. I felt like I'd completely wasted the last decade, and had accomplished nothing; except now I had debt and two kids to support.

Driving down streets where I'd thought my life would end up so differently was depressing for a long time. Look at who I was. Look at what I could've been. Look how much I screwed up my life, and now, the lives of my daughters. I did feel stuck.

Over time, after starting therapy, I was able to see it differently. I started searching for old friends from my former life. I wanted to remember who I was, and each connection brought me back to the person I was then, but better.

I was able to start re-building my confidence, but with a better awareness of my faults. I was able to connect more strongly with both old and new friends, but only after I knew I respected and trusted them. I was able to give my daughters a revised, yet stronger vision of family, now that we were geographically closer to my parents, my sister, and plenty of extended family.

And instead of looking back with regret, I look back with a stronger sense of self.

I am no closer to perfect today than I was then, but I have accepted who I am, while still having goals for improvement. I can laugh at the things I thought or said or did that was so stupid and naive, but I can also appreciate that my life up until 20 or so was pretty damn special. And by having memories of things like my 19th birthday in Bermuda, and seeing Les Miz on Broadway two months after it opened, and dancing at the Pantages, how could I possibly feel stuck or stifled now?

By appreciating the realm of time that no longer exists, I can better appreciate the realm of time today.

And, looking at it from another perspective, I hope that my girls will look back on this realm of time with appreciation, and feel like their past enhances their present.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Accepting the Gift of Singlehood

This will be the final post for National Unmarried and Singles Week 2012.  

In a single parents online forum, one member wrote that "finding real love and companionship is a gift, and I feel it's up to me when or if I receive it."

For me, trying to remain available for such a "gift" meant keeping a hole in my life. It meant focusing time and energy and attention on this invisible relationship that may or may not come to be.

It meant that my life was somehow incomplete as it was.

Sometimes, closure is good.

Sometimes, accepting exactly where you are is the best step to truly moving forward.

No less importantly, it also means that I get to live a life that few daughters get to see. They don't see me as incomplete or longing or even lonely. They see me dance around the house, enjoying a good moment. They see me laugh with friends and sing on stage and study and work and volunteer and maintain a household.

I want them to be open to accept the gifts of friendship and discovery and trying new things. I want them to be just as crazy busy and happy as we are now for always. I want them to find their own ways to give back to their communities, to express their creativity, and go for their dreams.

I want their lives to feel fulfilled and complete no matter their relationship status.

Happy National Unmarried and Singles Week to all who celebrated! (And yes, that includes anyone that accepts and appreciates that any relationship status can be someone's happily ever after.)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Two Parents Not Always Better Than One

I've talked about why I love being single this National Unmarried and Singles Week. Now I have to talk about the challenges, particularly as a single parent.

It's not about not having help, or not having a second income, or any of the other advantages one might believe makes being a single parent harder. Not to say that those aren't challenges, but for the most part, we've overcome and/or accepted them.

No, the real challenge is in somehow having to prove my worthiness as a parent because I'm single. 

Particularly during campaign season, politicians and pundits love to talk about how two parents are better than one. And unlike me, they never feel the need to add disclaimers to that statement. Always, no matter what, two are better than one.

Now, why get worked up over it, you might ask? Why do I have a problem with government funding going to promote marriage? Why do I take issue with politicians and pundits and bumper stickers that say that all research supports that?

Because I have two daughters who live in this same world.

Because I have two girls who shouldn't feel the need to defend me, their dad, or their life because I happen to be single.

Just like it would be wrong to blame a child for being born, it's wrong to make a child feel less than because of their parent's marital status.

My daughters do not need to see a bumper sticker or poster promoting mothers to wed their child's father. They don't need to hear that our family is a "drain" or a "tragedy" or some other negative connotation. They don't even need a sympathetic (one might say condescending) look from a teacher for not having a dad around.

And it's simply incorrect to say that our family is a drain on the system. I am not on welfare or any other government program. I pay my rent, my utilities, and even their school lunches at full price.

That was not true when I was married. We were a drain when I was married, thanks to my X constantly emptying my bank account and landing in jail. And while it did take a few months of government help, we weren't in the "system" for even a year. It did exactly what it was supposed to do; helped us get on our feet again.

My daughters have been through a lot, absolutely. I won't deny that the first few years were rough for all of us. I will say that the last few years with X were harder, though. And I will say that the girls absolutely believe that we are all better off now than ever before.

And while I do try to brush off all those pundits and politicians because I know their words do not apply to our family, I do remember when they really did make me feel less than, when they felt like salt on a fresh wound, and it made it that much harder for me to build my strength to be the best mother possible to my girls. And I wonder how many single parents, still in their "surviving" mode, it hurts today. I wonder how many sons and daughters feel like victims to their family's "single" status.

I want to wrap my arms around every single one of them and shield them from that kind of hurt and helpless feeling as these talking heads bash them with their oh-so-smug superiority. They know single parents and children living with single parents exist, but they seem to think none of us can hear them.

We hear you. And while you might hurt us for a while, in the end, we are the ones who are superior in our compassion for our fellow parents and students, in our ability to overcome challenges, and in our hope for the future and our children's near limitless options. Because we won't let our children become sorry statistics. Because we won't let our marital status stand in their way. And neither will they.

I know some might find this heartbreaking or appalling, but single parents and our children are here to stay. And every day, more and more of us cross the threshold from surviving to thriving. I find it breathtaking. In a very good way.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Finding My Happily Ever After

I'll go ahead and 'fess up. I'm no good at relationships. I screwed up any of the good ones, and stayed too long in the bad ones.

I would make that classic mistake of obsessing far too much over the relationship and not spend nearly enough attention on the other aspects of my life, even if they were more rewarding.

There's a moment that I always remember. I told a friend something that most people say at some point: if this doesn't work out, I'm never trying again.

Here's the thing, though. I remember that moment. There's a lot that I don't, but that moment comes back to me often. And I think it's because I regret not sticking to it. I think it was a moment of honesty that I'd been convinced to brush off.

Instead, I made that relationship my first failed marriage. And after that, my next failed marriage.

They say that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results, but most people don't think that applies to relationships. For me, it should.

Because eventually, I found more happiness and a stronger sense of fulfillment when I stopped trying to make dating or relationships work for me.

As has been said before, I exhaled. I felt free. I felt at peace. I felt comfortable in my own skin. And I still do.

All journeys have their ups and downs and mine is no different. I won't pretend that I'm at peace every moment of every day. But I will say that, just as some might say their lives took a turn for the better when they walked down the aisle, mine got better when I embraced my single status as a permanent one.

Written in celebration of National Unmarried and Singles Week 2012. The fabulous Eleanor Wells is hosting a giveaway with prizes *almost* as fabulous as she is!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Finding Rome and Mexico at 24th Street

The 24th STreet Theatre invited me to their production of Roma al final de la via (Rome at the End of the Line).

I'd never been to this theatre, nor had I ever been to a play performed in Spanish with English supertitles. I'm very happy I decided to attend.

This two-person play is performed with exquisite perfection by Julieta Ortiz and Norma Angélica, making a special appearance here in Los Angeles from Mexico.

The play is about two females, starting at age 7, and then again at 13 (as pictured here), 20 and so forth until they are 80. At these intervals in their lives, they visit a train track in their small town with the hopes of boarding and making their way to Rome. 

While the play follows their journey of balancing their hopes and dreams with their reality, it is truly a story about friendship, and how their friendship helps them both cope and dream.

I brought my 14-year-old daughter, who thoroughly enjoyed the play, and found it a lot funnier than she expected. I went in with no expectations, and was thoroughly immersed in their journey.

Probably the most surprising was how much I enjoyed the transitions. What could've been abrupt halts in the flow were instead beautifully directed (by Alberto Lomnitz) mini-scenes that kept the audience both informed and captivated.

Another nice surprise was the sound design by Alejandro Lopez Velarde and Javier de la Peza. In a small theatre like this one, the high quality sound added depth and understanding of the characters and their world.

The 24th STreet Theatre is celebrating the premiere of their 15th season with Roma al final de la via, billed as not your typical TYA (Theatre for Young Audiences). Sylvia and I especially appreciated that their mission includes teaching children about loss and heartache in addition to love. Roma... is recommended for ages 12 and up, and that seems appropriate. Each play, as their executive director Jay McAdams explained in his curtain speech, will have its own age recommendations.

Roma al final de la via is running now through October 7; Saturdays at 2 and 7:30, and Sundays at 2 pm at The 24th Street Theatre, located on the corner of Hoover and 24th St, with a small parking lot across the street for $5.  Tickets range from $10-$15, with a special 24 cents price for North University Park residents. Like 24th STreet on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.

Disclosure: I was given two free tickets and free parking to attend. No other compensation was given, and the opinions expressed here are completely my own (plus Sylvia's).

*While this post was not written in connection with National Unmarried & Singles Week, I find it appropriate to post about this play at this time. While the characters talk about their romantic relationships, it is the celebration of friendship and its importance in their lives that is the most inspirational message of the play.

Monday, September 17, 2012

National Unmarried and Singles Week 2012

It's National Unmarried and Singles Week! Our annual quest to inform the nation that there are indeed alternatives to married and/or partnered life.

I decided to go back to last year's posts, the first of which ended up being a personal fave.

In it, I mentioned that I usually make sure to tell the girls, "if you have kids" or "if you get married." Just a few days ago, we were talking about something, where they both ended up saying, "if I have kids." It seems my message has been received.

I was having dinner with some friends, where one of them admitted that she really hopes her daughters get married and have kids and love their lives as much as she loved hers. I responded that anything that could make her daughters that happy would probably make her happy. That's her "happy," and that's great. She's got a great husband, two wonderful girls and she does indeed love her life. I think all she really wants is for her kids to love their lives, too.

And I think that's what it comes down to; understanding and appreciating that what is working for you isn't necessarily what works for other people.

Of course, it's always hard to see things out of our schemas;  I'll never understand how anyone can like mustard! But hey, it's a valid preference. 

We need National Unmarried and Singles Week to build awareness that remaining single is also a valid preference.

So this week, I'll be sharing more about how and why it works for me.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

5 Years Later

It's my blogiversary!

5 years ago, I was restless. I felt as settled as one can in single parenting. I wasn't feeling challenged enough at work. I had received my BA, and didn't feel any different. I wanted more.

Now I'm on two boards, chairing one committee, on two more, and taking 2 classes. We have plans 4 out of 5 weeknights, and only Sundays are unscheduled.

With everything going on, it's harder to find time to write. It's harder to get myself in the frame of mind to step back and get perspective. But every time I do, it's so worth it!

It reminds me that I love my life, that the current challenges and obstacles of the day can be overcome, that I wouldn't have it any other way.

Whether you've read one post or 50 or 500, I'm so grateful that you're here, sharing this with me.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

My Open Letter to LAUSD, especially Steve Zimmer*

*Slightly edited, here's the email I sent to all the LAUSD board members:

I'm a parent with a daughter attending a charter school, and I am writing to strongly, vehemently oppose Zimmer's resolution regarding charter schools.

Mr. Zimmer, I take this assault on my daughter's education quite personally and I am absolutely furious that you are trying to take away my opportunity to provide my daughter with the absolute best education that she can get.

I'm a single parent of two daughters. My daughters have attended public schools in both LAUSD and Burbank Unified, as well as two charter schools and an alternative high school.

My daughter's experience thus far at her charter school has been the absolute best by far. She finished 6th grade with straight As, something she never had accomplished in public schools. She is engaged in after-school activities, and she is absolutely thriving there.

On my income, I make too much to qualify for financial assistance scholarships, but not nearly enough to afford two college educations. My daughter has a much brighter future, thanks to her charter school.

Her teachers are amazing, the principal is fair, and the entire atmosphere is one that encourages learning on the deepest level possible. I feel supported as a parent; that I have a true partner in my daughter's education.

I understand that LAUSD, as well as other districts, as well as this entire state is in deep financial trouble. I see no reason to drain resources into this resolution. LAUSD has more than enough on its plate as it is.

Charter schools will fail if parents and students are disappointed in the results. I drive 3 hours a day to get my daughters to their schools of our choice. There's no rationale for me doing so unless they are working for my children.

I urge all of you to oppose this resolution. Mr. Zimmer, I strongly encourage you to pull it entirely and focus on the schools already in your control. I'm sure the parents and students there would appreciate having your undivided attention.

Thank you,
April McCaffery

The vote has postponed until next month. I hope I can post about a positive outcome then! 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


So the play closed, and two days later, I started school again.

By the end of this week, our family will have at least 21 classes between us. And a 90% chance of more.

On top of that, I'm planning four events over the next three months in my various roles on committees, boards, and social host. And I'm joining another board, where I'm sure there will be more events to plan.

In order to most effectively manage our family's time, I am skipping Back to School Night. I realize this might make some teachers write me off as "uninvolved," but they are only seeing one piece of a rather large and intricate puzzle.

I have to do what's best for my family, not what is perceived to be best.

What's best for my family is having dinner together, catching up, and having time at home to get the homework done, get ready for the next day, and maybe even just hang out together.

I am learning to break this bad habit of mine of worrying how others are judging me as a mother, and just following my own instincts.  Well, okay, maybe I'm still worrying about it, but I'm not letting it run our lives!

I am hopelessly in love with this picture of Riley:

And yes, I am aware of how scattered this post seems. Matches my brain at the moment!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

One month later

It's been a month since our cat, Bobbie, died. I still miss her every day.

Thankfully, I'm not a blubbering mess like I was that first week, but her lack of presence is still felt.

Especially in the mornings.

Two mornings this week (so far), we were late. (The other morning, the girls spent at my parents' house so that doesn't count.)

I remember when I used to bitch about Bobbie waking me up too early or with a scratch sometimes. What I wouldn't give to have a scratch on my nose again! From her. (Still not ready to consider a new pet yet; for both practical and emotional reasons.)

When Riley comes back from my parents' house, she's covered in their cat's hair and it just makes my heart ache. I think she spends so much time with Max because she misses Bobbie terribly, too.

Neither of the girls really like to talk about it. What's to talk about? She was a cat, she loved us, we loved her, and she's dead now.

So why am I going on about it here?

I don't know. I just needed to commemorate the milestone of somehow making it through the past month without her.

I think, after 21 years, it will probably take at least 21 weeks - if not longer - to get used to this.

Monday, August 27, 2012

An Unexpected Update

A couple of weeks ago, X called and said he'd like to come see the show and spend some time with the girls. I told him that's fine, I'd leave our schedule open, but to please not say anything to the girls. Just in case it didn't work out. He respected that.
Sure enough, he called the day he said he'd be in town, and the girls and I spent some time with him. And it was a very nice visit.

He paid for meals, took the girls shopping, was where he said he'd be, and was pleasant to be around. I said things that just felt weird, like, "we're having breakfast with your dad."

They haven't seen him in two years, but Sylvia has been texting with him more regularly for the past few months. Of course, they hoped he would come see the show, but they wouldn't even voice that until I told them that he was here.

Sylvia jumped up and down immediately, of course. Riley's reaction was quiet, and she withdrew to her room. About 15 minutes later, she came bouncing out, "Okay, I'm excited now! I just needed to process."

He invited me to join them for lunch and shopping, which worked out to be a nice way for all of us to feel more comfortable. After a couple of hours, I left them to spend some time with him before I picked them up for the play.

He seemed to really enjoy it (I could hear his laughter a few times), and the girls were so excited and proud that he was there. He was so impressed with how well they did.

The next day, we all had breakfast together. (And it was weird for me to tell the host that we were a party of 4; I've gotten so used to odd numbers.) Then it was time to say good-bye.

The girls agreed, it was a very nice visit. I know it meant the world to them that their dad made a special effort to be there.  While we hope there are more nice visits in the future, we will remain prepared for anything.

After the good-byes, we went to our final performance and cast party, and Monday morning, back to our commute and school and work. As nice as the weekend was, it's also nice to get back to our daily lives.

Thursday, August 23, 2012


Thanks to Mom for inspiring the name of this post!

Sylvia's first day of school went fairly well. But this pic of her was actually taken at the end of last school year at her dance recital.


We opened the musical this past weekend! It's going very well.

And I got this great pic of Riley from the local newspaper's coverage.

Speaking of glimpses, my mother and I have been catching glimpses of each other in the mornings, now that I'm back on the road, driving the girls to school. A few days ago, she sent me an email "I saw you!" On such and such street. "You were wearing yellow." I look down. I'm wearing a pink and white striped shirt layered over a pink tank top. And I never wear yellow. So I wasn't quite convinced she saw me. A day or so later, I'm driving through Griffith Park, and I see my mom, walking. I practically come to a screeching halt, frantically waving to her, but she remains oblivious, lost in her iPod. Finally, yesterday, again through Griffith Park, we saw each other and waved. Every so often, this crazy city actually feels like our family neighborhood.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

3 More Years

My heart skips a beat as I realize, I have just three more years with Sylvia before she starts living most of her life independently. She starts her sophomore year today, and I am filled with so many emotions.

Just three more years of waking her up and driving her to school. Just three more years of attempting to give her all the opportunities I can before she's making her own schedule. Just three more years of knowing where she is at all times.

As my oldest, she has had to endure the most of my parental mistakes as I sometimes have to find my footing with a new development of hers. For the most part, I am the parent I wanted to be, but there's no question that you have to look at the person in front of you and, in the moment, have all the answers they need. Being human and all, I sometimes find myself ill-equipped.

Of course, we've also the issues of her father to contend with over the years, and it took me a while to find my balance with that. How much should she know? How much should I try to compensate for the lack of other parent? How much leeway do I allow her and how much is too much?

In this moment, I am very happy with who she is, our relationship, and that she still has the options to do anything she wants to do.

Still, I hope that the foundation we've built is strong enough. I hope that these next last few years of mandatory schooling are wonderful for her. I know that we will continue to have our ups and downs, but I hope that there are enough "ups" so that we're on speaking terms more often than not.

More than anything, I hope she knows how much I love her and believe in her. And thank goodness I have 3 more years to try and show her that.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Kids and Musical Theatre

A few of us adults in the cast were talking about how great all the kids are in the musical we're doing. Not just in terms of talent, but in their behavior, the respect they show everyone in the cast, and the manner in which they present themselves. We came to the conclusion that their involvement in musical theatre is an important factor in making them all good kids.

Our youngest cast member is 6 and our oldest cast member is probably around 60. These kids aren't just working with people in their age group; they're working with all age groups. I especially love watching the older kids (as young as 11) taking care of the younger kids; from making sure they're in the right place to cheering them on as they have their moments on stage.

Some of them have already started school. They're getting homework done while still paying attention to rehearsal so they don't miss a cue, an excellent lesson in time management skills.

They need to use their listening skills constantly. They've been directed to react to the other characters (and they do), they have to listen for musical cues, and they have to listen to the stage manager.

They also need to think on their feet. We did a mini-performance last week and none of us really knew how things were going to go until we were there, doing it. The stage was about half the size of the one we're used to and we couldn't do half our blocking, but miraculously, we collectively did and didn't do the same things!

Live theatre is awesome and terrifying for the same reason: when things don't go as planned. Sometimes, wonderful moments that were never found in rehearsals are created with the help of an audience. Sometimes, someone doesn't make their entrance and it's up to anyone on stage at the moment (regardless of age) to keep the magic going. Children involved in musical theatre learn mad problem solving skills in those seconds.

Cast members become a family of their own in this collective experience, and no doubt, there's much to be said about teamwork in a cast. At the same time, each individual knows what they did well and not so well. We may not be required to call a foul on ourselves, but we do acknowledge and apologize for any mistakes we make. We are all subject to one another, and we live up to that most of the time.

There is no more definite a deadline than an opening night. Tickets have been sold, your friends and family are coming, and they don't care if the blocking was just changed the day before. They expect you to shine on that stage. And somehow, you do. Even if there are safety pins sticking you in the ribs, and the hat you're wearing feels like a vice.  You will say your lines, sing your songs, and smile your biggest, brightest smile. And you'll do it all again the next night.

While I can reluctantly admit that musical theatre is not for everyone, I wish more people had more exposure to it to make an educated opinion on whether or not it's for them. I know all of the children involved in this one will look back on this wonderful, crazy journey with fondness. It may take them years to realize just how much they learned and accomplished in just two months.

Wishing my entire musical family a magical opening night!!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Bullies, Part 2

I got an anonymous comment on my Bullies Grow Up post that I've decided to respond to in post form instead:

I do believe we have to address the issues that cause children to be bullies. However, your statement of how the school "completely fouled it up" is judgmental and quite one-sided. The schools are being required to teach more, deal with more problems, fix all the ills of the world in a way that parents are not expected to. All of these expectations are in the face of increasing call by the public for decreased funding for schools, decreased respect for teachers, increased pressure to evaluate a teacher's every breath. I'm sure your school did not only what it could AFFORD to do (considering the fact that this situation was probably one of hundreds being dealt with at that time by a minimum of staff) but also what it felt was legally SAFE to do. In a society in which teachers/school staff are routinely brought to court over a hug given to a grieving child or a pat on the back for a job well done, schools are in a no win situation. I would suggest that you become a counselor in a public school yourself. Then you can become part of the solution rather than merely writing about it. jmo

Now, I normally don't like responding to purely anonymous comment, but since the heart of the comment completely missed the point of my post, I think it's worth responding because it seems I didn't express my point very well.

They took issue with me saying that the school fouled up. Yes, I do believe the school fouled up and I do believe that most schools are not solving the bullying problem in the most effective manner.

Every so often, we collectively come up with an answer, and we become the definition of insanity; doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results.

This school dealt with the issue the same ways most schools deal with the issue. "No tolerance" meant that the girls were to stay away from each other. So what I ended up with was my daughter sobbing to me that the girls were saying, "you can't sit next to us, you can't talk to us!" and basically using the counselor's so-called solution against her.

That's no solution.

The commenter seems to think that schools can't solve the problems effectively.

I firmly disagree because my other daughter attends a school that truly solved the problem.

I got an email from the principal one day with the subject line "Boys making fun of [daughter]."

Oh, boy, I thought. Here we go again.

I opened the email and by the time I was done reading it, I was smiling.

My daughter and her friend had gone to a teacher about these boys picking on her. The principal saw what was going on, and immediately came to assist. My daughter and her friend were commended on speaking up, the boys were both spoken to and given a lunch detention, and by the end of the day, my daughter told me that all was well with everyone concerned. The boys had apologized, the girls had accepted their apologies, and everyone was on friendly terms again. I was slightly concerned that my daughter would face some criticism from her peers about "tattling," but it didn't happen.

And I can tell you, I feel the difference immediately when I walk into either of these schools. The school with the firm policy feels like a prison when you walk in. I immediately feel defensive and want to leave. The school that solved the problem and moved on, I feel respected and welcomed when I walk in.

I do believe that schools, that people who work at these schools, can change lives. I do believe that excellent counselors, principals and teachers are to be cherished, and I do believe they ought to make much better salaries for what they do. And I do what I can to show them how much I appreciate them.

To suggest, as the commenter did, that I should become a counselor is a very bad idea. I'm not cut out to be a counselor, and I know that. I think it takes a very special person to be able to solve these problems delicately. To say that anyone can do it, frankly, undermines the people who do it so very well.

Yes, our schools, our teachers, the parents and the students are all facing some extremely difficult challenges. But to just say that it's too hard and we should accept less would be the greatest failure of all. We have to recognize and acknowledge when things aren't working and we have to make the necessary changes. 

To do anything less means that the bullies of all kinds win. That will not get any of us better results.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Bullies Grow Up

I thanked a PR rep for the opportunity to review a book on bullying, but I declined, seeing as that's not really an issue for either of my girls right now.

The more I thought about it, however, the more I realized it's an issue for me. And many adults I know.

From the drivers that wouldn't dream of going around the block and think it's better to hold up traffic so they can make their turn to the selfish, noisy "bad apples" that seem to work so hard at ruining your day, some people are just not that easy to be around.

I've heard folks lament plenty about how we parents are messing up our kids and the problems they'll have because of it, but I haven't heard that about what I do think is a very real problem, and that's any policy that includes the words "no tolerance."

Like our war on drugs, I don't think we're getting anywhere on this war on bullies.

Suspending them or removing them from the responsibility of learning to get along in a group is not doing any of us any favors.

To be clear, if someone has physically hurt another, there should absolutely be consequences. But we can't lose sight of the fact that we all have to live with each other eventually.

Ten year olds, fourteen year olds, and even twenty year olds don't have all the resources and tools necessary to cope. Our brains do not stop maturing until we're at least 25, and even then, we still have a lot to learn.

We did have a situation that got out of hand once, and after the school completely fouled it up, I went to our favorite after-school program for help. (Just so you know, it wasn't my child that was the bully, but she was the one who felt ostracized after the school counselor's solution was to tell everyone involved to stay away from each other.)

The after-school director put together a session for all the pre-teen females with therapists from our community program.

The girls separated into groups and talked about what they were each going through. From what I was told about the session, you couldn't really tell the Mean Girls from the Victims in these groups. They were all expressing similar needs: to be heard, to be valued, to be part of the group, and also cherished for their individuality.

Prior to the session, they just all expressed it differently. And, of course, not in a very healthy manner.

After the session, my daughter got sincere apologies from all involved. While they didn't all become best friends after it was over, they knew enough about their similarities to at least give a friendly nod and not give each other a hard time after that.

The next school year went much better for all involved.

There was one girl who wasn't involved in all of this. 2 years later, my child reached out to her to try and at least create a "friendly acquaintance" type of relationship, but the girl would have none of it. My daughter let it go, and wasn't angry or upset. Just a little sad that the girl was still holding onto so many terrible emotions. "Oh, well," she said. "I tried."

I think most bullies don't believe that anyone's genuinely on their side. They need to be heard and understood by someone. My hope is that it's by at least one of their parents, but if not, it's up to the other adults in their life to give that to them.

Because those bullies will grow up. And if we don't want them to become criminals, over-aggressive drivers or otherwise not equipped to work and play well with others, we should be teaching them how to get along in our community.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Balancing our Strong Wills

When I agreed to review You Can't Make Me, I thought it would help me with one daughter. It turns out it's the other daughter who meets more of Tobias' description of a strong willed child, or SWC. They both, however, meet the description. Big surprise, it also turns out that they get their heavy doses of strong will directly from me.

My strong will came out in full force when I saw the new sign posted in our laundry room of our apartment building. Among other things, it said "no loads of laundry can be started before 8 a.m." This really screws me up because I usually start my laundry before 7 a.m. on Sundays so I can be done before noon. My second thought was, "why do they care?" The laundry room is in the garage so it can't be bothering anyone. I only use one of the two so that someone else can also do their laundry. I hate rules merely for the sake of having rules without a point. Tobias points this out as a common conflict with SWCs. Don't just tell us to do or not do something without giving us the rationale behind it. 

I was truly surprised at the many references to God and religion. As many know, I'm more of an agnostic atheist myself. Most of the references seemed unnecessary, but Tobias' conclusion seemed like an awfully long chorus of "Amens" rather than useful, practical advice that could help all parents.

Still, the majority of what I read will be useful. Because what I really took away from the book is that when I'm in high conflict with one (or both) of my SWCs, what I really need to ask myself is, "what would persuade me?"

Tobias says that ultimatums pretty much never work because a SWC will usually choose the "or else." While I've certainly tried to use an ultimatum from time to time, I have also found them lacking in results. Particularly with the daughter with the highest SWC quotient. And I know, from my own SWC perspective, ultimatums rarely motivate me.

Being strong willed is not necessarily a good or bad trait, which I already knew. As usual, it's about balance.

A strong will can change the world. For better or for worse. And once those of us know that we have a strong will, you better believe we want to try it out!

That's awesome when parent and child are in sync about what needs to be accomplished. Of course, it doesn't always work that way.

Tobias includes many strategies to try, and she is quick to point out that maintaining the relationship has to be the number one goal. An SWC must know that in the end, their parents love them and believe in them. And the parent of an SWC needs to understand that it's not personal; your child does love and respect you, but the SWC believes that it will cost them something too great to just do it because we said so.

Oh sure, I have said that phrase many many times, and sometimes it works depending on the situation. But when both of us (with either child) are resolutely determined to get our way, I can almost guarantee that neither of us will.

Then it's up to me as the parent to take a step back and evaluate what's really important about what I want. Is my child willing to do it, just not in the way that I want? In that case, I need to let go and let her do it the way that she wants. Is the goal itself the problem? Then we need to work together to solve it.

Over the years, we've gotten much better at reading each other; both of them will accept "because I said so" when they can see that there's no way I'm going to bend and to try me would be a big mistake. Other times, I will take the time to explain my rationale, and sometimes, as Tobias says, that is enough. If that's not enough, they negotiate and we come to a mutually acceptable agreement.

There are some looming concerns I have for both of them. And after having read the book, I think I'm more equipped to ask myself the right questions before I discuss those concerns with them. How would I want to be approached? What would motivate me? And what would make me feel like I'm
backed against a wall?

Once I can answer those for me, I will know a better approach for them. We're not exactly the same, of course, but understanding that our minds work similarly is a great start.

In the meantime, however, I will definitely be seeking a reason from my apartment manager about why it's okay to do laundry at 8:00 a.m. but not 7:58!

Disclosure: I was given the book to read. No other compensation was given.  All opinions expressed in this post are my own. The Amazon link above is associated with my affiliate account, and would generate a (very) small fee for me.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Negative Thinking Gaining Respect

Thanks to BLW for pointing me to this NY Times article titled The Power of Negative Thinking. No, it's not my post, just shares the same name.

Of course, the NY Times piece goes into more scientific evidence, but again, this is a personal blog and my own personal experience. I'll admit, though, it's nice to finally have some validation after being bombarded with the positive thinking mantra.

I'll say it again: if positive thinking is working for you, that's great. Enjoy.

What bugs me is this mindset that if positive thinking isn't working for you, then there's something wrong with you. I don't agree.

It reminds me of what we have heard from Olympic medalists and reality show contestants: that all your dreams can come true if you just want it bad enough. I'm sure there are many sitting at home who didn't make the cut who believe that they wanted it just as much as those who won the awards.

I have actually done that walk across the hot coals in a Tony Robbins seminar (and in San Jose, of all places) . And, no, I didn't pay for it; my boss at the time did. I made it about 3/4 of the way through before I felt them. And, yes, I thought it was my own mindset that made it burn. And so did many of the participants. I'm embarrassed to even write that now.

When things get rough, some people like to say, "well, at least things can't get any worse." "Oh, no," I say. "Things can always get worse."

For me, that attitude helps me to appreciate what I have now. Because even though my cat died and some aspects of my life aren't going exactly the way I want them to, some other things haven't fallen apart yet. The girls and I are having a fantastic time doing the musical together, I still enjoy the company and support of my colleagues, and every good laugh makes for a better day.

Whenever I need a little perspective, imagining how much worse it could be is what gets me through. That, and the knowledge that nothing lasts.

So if you find yourself feeling worse after your best efforts to think positively, you might want to try negative thinking on for size. And hey, if it doesn't work for you, then at least you weren't expecting much in the first place! 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Child Support Awareness Month

I've been a single parent for 9 years, and I never knew that August was Child Support Awareness Month. The article and comments have some interesting statistics (29.2% of custodial parents receive none of the child support due), but this is a personal blog so this will be my personal story.

I have been in that 29.2% for most of these 9 years of single parenthood. There were some occasions here and there where I would receive a hundred dollars here and there, but nothing consistently; nothing that I could count on to pay a bill.

Child support is just part of the story, actually. According to our paperwork, I am also owed for half the debt incurred while we were married, half the girls' medical bills until they're 18, and half of any amount I've spent on their education. But I gave up on all that a long time ago.

I can't believe I'm writing what I'm writing, but for three + months now, I have received the full amount of child support due every month and on time. I never thought I'd say that.

I am told that he's finally getting his act together. So far, this is the most evidence I've seen of that since before I divorced him.

I have no expectations that this will last, I will not rely on it, but it has already made such a difference.

It's back to school shopping time, Sylvia needs a lot of art supplies for the new school year, and of course, there are always unexpected expenses to try and squeeze into the budget. When the money is actually in my bank account, I can revise my budget and keep us on track.

I have previously relied on my credit card for those unexpected costs, and I still can't believe that I haven't used my credit card in over a month now. I have been able to cover everything with cash in hand.

To be clear, paying child support isn't just about the money. It is about freeing my personal resources to focus on the girls, and not on the bills. It is about being able to spend time with them, and not hovered over my spreadsheet, trying to make the numbers work. It is about giving the girls opportunities that they deserve. Sylvia was able to take a Master Musical Theatre Dance class this summer thanks to that money.

And money, of course, can't buy parenting. While he is working on rebuilding his relationship with the girls, no one can close their eyes to how much he has missed. (He hasn't seen them in two years.) The money doesn't bring them closer, but it is a tangible effort that enhances the other efforts he's making by calling and texting them more regularly.

It's not even a huge dollar amount, but it's enough. It's enough to make me breath easier, to enrich the girls' lives, and it's enough to show us that he even thinks about them.

And now for my disclaimers. I don't believe in sending deadbeats to jail for not paying their child support. I don't see how that does anything but continue to deprive the kids and their custodial parent. And, if a parent is unable to find a job, then the custodial parent should work with them to find other ways to make it up; letting the kids stay with the parent (if they aren't drug addicts, abusers, or otherwise incapable) instead of going to child care, being a coach for their child's soccer team, helping with homework, driving them to school, being engaged in their child's life. There are plenty of ways to actively parent.

But there is no getting around the fact that raising children costs money. It takes two to make a child, and both parties should be actively responsible for that decision.

I know that there are stories of all kinds out there. This is ours. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Halfway Through the School Years

As I drove Riley to her first day of 7th grade, I realized that she's now halfway through the mandatory years of schooling. Of course, we agree that she will be going to college, but she's got more school years behind her than she has to go until that momentous occasion of high school graduation.

I think we think about these things differently when it's our youngest child. While we've been there and done that, we know that this is our last time.

It doesn't quite feel like the beginning of the end, or anything that momentous, but it does feel like the end of something.

Maybe it's just a matter of being able to enjoy where we are, but I love having older kids. I love their original thoughts, their senses of humor, their ability to comprehend more abstract concepts. I love that I can send one child to one end of the grocery store while I grab what we need on the other. I love getting their texts. I love when their eyes sparkle with pure joy.

I have no delusions that parenting is any easier the older they get. I often say that their younger years are physically exhausting, and it becomes more intellectually and emotionally exhausting the older they get. Their negotiating skills are more honed now; their descriptions of their days are edited for parental consumption. It takes finesse and timing to have heart-to-heart talks.

While I certainly have my concerns, I have no problems boasting about how great I think they both are. They are loving, happy, funny and capable.

I know I'm only halfway through their schooling years, but I think we're off to a good start.

*I wrote a little more about the joy of firsts with older children on Moms LA.

Thursday, August 2, 2012


Jessica said it best: it's an empty house indeed without our Bobbie in it. Last night, after a great rehearsal with a lot of laughs, coming home hit me like a ton of bricks and I started bawling again. Riley gave me hugs and saw me through it. She said softly, "I miss her, too."

The girls have taken it better than I have. They understand why it's so hard for me because they saw our lives together.

Bobbie would stand just outside the kitchen while I made dinner; she'd been trained to stay out of the kitchen. She was actually a pretty well-trained cat. She had her song, and back when she could hear, she would come when we sang it.

She'd wake me up in the morning, I'd feed her, and she'd sit in the hallway while we all got ready. When we came home at night, she'd greet us loudly, and sit near us while we ate dinner. While I did dishes, she would take her place outside the kitchen and wait for me. She'd snuggle with me on the couch. She'd yell at me when I was in the shower, seemingly afraid I'd drown in there. She'd follow me around the house as I locked up for the night and, prior to her arthritis, she'd lay down with me at night. And then she'd wake me in the morning, with a cry and sometimes a scratch or two if she felt I was taking too damn long to get out of bed.

Being home without her doesn't feel like home at all. The silence makes me ache.

When I see people walking their dogs now, all I can think is that their dogs will die, and those people will be very sad. Why do we do this? Why do we fill our lives with these creatures that we know we'll outlive?

Sylvia gave me the answer. Our pets have happier lives because we were in them. Bobbie most likely would not have lived to be 21 without me. She loved her life. She loved us and we made it all worthwhile for her. And she certainly made our lives better.

Thanks to all for your support and thinking of us. I'm learning to live with the empty. It's a testament to Bobbie's life and her love. And a reminder of what a beautiful, rare and precious thing unconditional love is. I was lucky to have hers.