Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The 800th post

Cue drum roll. This is my 800th post!

I can hardly believe all that blogging has done for me. The friendships, the community, the opportunities and accolades. It blows my mind.

I'm proud of this blog because most of the time, I've kept it what I wanted it to be. I've shared my story, I've been honest about the struggles, and writing has always been my best method for gaining perspective.

I remember going to my first blogging event, so nervous and gushing to sweatpantsmom how much I love her blog. I still feel honored to call her my friend. And I'm proud to say I've had a few moments since then when people have told me upon meeting me that they like my blog. It feels like a standing ovation when someone says that.

I hear blogs are dying, and I know I haven't been writing as much, but I still plan to be here. After 800 posts, I admit, there are a lot of times when I don't end up writing what I'm thinking because it feels like a repeat. Still, I think there might still be a few more posts left in me!

Thank you for being here. Whether you've been here since the 8th post or have only read 8 posts or somewhere in between, it's an honor to have you here!

And a special thank you to Diane for the new pic!

Friday, May 25, 2012

My 14-year-old on 14

Sylvia got in the car and said she'd been in the middle of drama at school that day. "Uh oh," I said. Some girl had broken up with some boy, and he wasn't taking it well.

"But I love her!" he exclaimed.

"You're 14!" Sylvia told me she responded. "You don't know what love is yet!"

We've had our problems this year, for sure. But when it gets down to the stuff that really matters, it seems she has heard at least some of what I've tried to teach her.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Budgeting (and General) Update

I have been living too in the moment. It's just been about getting through the day, and the next, and so forth. This week, I'm focusing on long term planning. Or at least, the next few months.

Our big news: the girls and I will all be in a musical this summer! Riley's debut, and the first time the we've all been in the same musical. We're very excited.

In putting together the budget for the summer months, I've done what I can to minimize the costs, and now, summer doesn't entirely break the budget. Hooray!

I haven't been as vigilant about my long-term budget planning, either, so I wasn't sure how that was going to turn out. It does seem that I've been doing enough different thinking about money these past couple of years that even if I'm not spending 2-3 hours a week on budgeting, I'm re-conditioned so that I can handle the unexpected wrenches a little easier than in the past.

I'm less inclined to spend money now and figure it out later. I love, love, love seeing my credit card balance decrease. I use it when necessary, but I do everything I can to pay off more than what I put on the card from month to month. I love the months where nothing at all goes on the credit card!

That would be my main credit card. My second credit card hasn't had a new purchase on it in 2 years, and things are looking good (fingers and toes crossed) that it will be paid off in full by the end of 2012. (And then, of course, the world will end, but if there is a hell, then Chase and I will both be in it, and I won't owe them a dime!)

Let me go back a moment. What do I mean when I say I use my credit card when necessary? These are the necessary sacrifices for the kids, most of the time. The $90 (gasp!) yearbook for Sylvia, and all of her art supplies. The car maintenance.

While she really does need art supplies for school, I'm sure some would argue that a yearbook isn't necessary. There was simply no way I could deny her that. It may have been more than 20 years ago, but I still remember that excitement at the end of the school year of signing each other's yearbooks, getting that senior who barely knows you to add their autograph, taking up an entire page of your bestest friend's book. Yeah, that's a necessary joy of being in high school.

Now, I didn't have $90 to spare in my checking account, and this certainly didn't qualify as an "emergency" worthy of dipping into my savings. So I will add to what I'm paying this month on my credit card to make up the difference.

As BigLittleWolf and I discussed in the comments of a previous post, all parents make sacrifices for their kids, but I have learned to think about how today's sacrifice will affect each of us long-term, and minimize those impacts. Which doesn't mean that we aren't impacted...but at least I think about it now!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Life Well Lived: Balancing the Organization

BlogHer asks:  How do you help your kids develop good organizing skills?

Like with everything else in parenting, as the girls get older, the problem has shifted. It's not easier or harder; it's just different. We've gone from dealing with the toys and accompanying parts to organizing homework, art projects and our schedules.

My 9th grader has 13 classes a week, which includes 5 different art classes and 2 dance classes.  For every class, she needs different supplies. Teaching them about organization at this point has more to do with self-preservation. Between the three of us, we have 22 classes per week and there's simply no way I can take all that on by myself!

From the time they were young, I've told them that homework isn't done until everything's put away and ready for the next day. I'm a firm believer in doing as much as we possibly can the night before so that we don't have to think so much in the morning.That includes gathering the items needed for each class, picking out clothes, and for my older daughter, making her lunch.

We talk about our schedule several times throughout the week. We have powwows on Sundays to talk about the coming week, and then we talk about it again in the car, and then again the next day and the next...I've found that I generally have to tell them multiple times before they hear it! Both of them are slowly developing the habit of adding things to the calendars on their cell phones, but of course, it remains my job to see the entire picture. Both of their schools provide journals for writing down homework assignments, and also post the information online.

Of course, there have been times when they've forgotten something. My oldest daughter forgot her portfolio one day for her art class, which she didn't realize until we were 5 minutes away (and 45 minutes from home). At that point, there was nothing I could do for her. Nor did I particularly want to. She had to suffer the consequences, and she's gotten much better since then at making sure she's done her prep before leaving the house.

Basically, I look at it the way I look at most things when it comes to parenting. There are their problems, my problems, and our problems. I should only get involved when it becomes my problem or is a collective problem. When it's solely their problem, they will learn the lessons most effectively through their own trial and error.

Read more about teaching kids organization at BlogHer. And enter their sweepstakes for an iPod Touch.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mother's Day, Mom!

There's nothing like the first year of parenting a teenager to truly appreciate your own mother. So this Mother's Day, it's all about my mom!

My mom always believed in me more than I believed in myself, and still does. Thank you, Mom, for thinking that I can do anything.

My mom always supported me in everything I wanted to do. Thank you, Mom, for giving me my wings.

My mom has always been there for me, and remains the first person I want to tell my best news. Thank you, Mom, for always listening.

My mom has chronicled my own girls' lives in hundreds of scrapbooks. Thank you, Mom, for keeping our memories.

My mom has opened up to me about her fears and concerns when I'm freaking out. Thank you, Mom, for treating me like an equal.

My mom has spent my entire life being there for me. Thank you, Mom, for everything.

Show your mom your love for her.

Happy Mother's Day!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Balancing Teen Communication

Sylvia was 10 when I posted Kids and Communication, and imagined what life would be like raising a teenager. Re-reading it now is like looking back at myself as a teenager and thinking, "ah, if I knew then..."

My core beliefs have not changed, but actually living them is a lot harder.

I still believe that the best first option is communication, but what's become so much harder is getting her to talk to me. And it's harder to keep myself from lecturing than I thought it would be. Everything is harder.

She's a great kid, she really is. She's funny, she's talented, she's sweet, and she is mostly happy.

And it's not that she doesn't talk to me at all. It's only when it's something important that she clams up.

It's hard for me to remember, when I'm trying to have a substantive conversation with her, that she probably genuinely can't answer me. I expect too much from her when it comes to rational and reasoned responses.

The truth is, she's 14. She doesn't always know why she does what she does, or what she was thinking at the time.

I also have learned that as much as it might seem like she doesn't care what I think, she really does. She clams up sometimes because she fears disappointing me. She may know in her heart that I love her unconditionally, but that doesn't stop us from clashing over issues, of course. I'm still her mother, after all.

I also try very hard to tell her something in as non-judgmental way as possible, but that doesn't always stop her from responding defensively. It may have nothing to do with me, or it may have everything to do with me. Still, no matter how many times I tell her, she doesn't trust that sometimes I tell her things because that's my job and not because I'm trying to criticize her.

And every so often, most often in the car and when it's just the two of us, she will open up. The lack of eye contact seems to help. Which is one of the reasons I don't mind our commute. If that's what it takes to have genuine communication, I will take it.

I still believe that the most important aspect of any relationship is communication, but my humility and patience (and a car ride) are needed to achieve it.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Taking the Institution out of Marriage

So I've grown up a little in the past 5 years. My first post on the subject of marriage was entitled The Anti-Marriage Blog, and that's inaccurate, of course. First of all, it's only a post, not an entire blog.

Second and more importantly, this is not about being pro or anti marriage. This is about the issues of equality, freedom, and government.

I still support gay marriage on the federal level because it's the fastest and easiest way for gay couples to obtain all the rights and privileges (and legal covenants) that straight couples have. It would not, however, address my own personal issues with marriage as an institution.

My dad and I are on opposite sides of the political spectrum, but one issue where we agree is the lack of informed consent to enter into this institution.

Couples may write their own vows, but they don't have the right to revise the contract. Once they sign that dotted line, once it's witnessed, there are agreements made that are never fully explained. And they usually only become an issue when you want out.

And it simply doesn't help when marriage is practically force-fed to all straight couples at an incredibly early age. I hear even Brangelina is folding at their kids' request. 

As things stand today, with no legal requirements for education on the actual contract, with standard covenants and court-mandated divorce, I believe that the divorce rate is relatively accurate.

I believe that the chance of couples actually wanting to stay together for the majority of their lives is less than 50%. The reasons are as varied as the people involved. We simply don't all adapt and change together. Some people let others down. Some people want something different.

While in some of our stories, people can understand and appreciate what lead to the divorce, in others, it's not quite so clear-cut. Yet very few of us know couples quite so intimately that we are in a position to judge. And that includes judges.

If we were able to re-imagine marriage, I think everyone would benefit.

Instead of this cookie-cutter approach, we should allow for informed consenting adults to live as they wish.

There are a myriad of decisions to be made and boxes to be checked when you're divorcing. We have to decide who will pay for the insurance, who will have the kids on weekends, who will live where. These seem to be decisions we should think about prior to saying "I do." We should talk about religion, life-long goals and bank accounts on the front end instead of making these decisions at an emotionally difficult time. We should go into these (supposedly) life-long commitments without rose-colored glasses or blinders. We should see if our heads agree with our hearts.

Marriage shouldn't be an institution. Marriage should remain a choice, but not the only choice.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Seeing Life after 70

I haven't read this post in years, yet to read it again now is eerily appropriate.

Just recently, I realized that I will be celebrating 10 years with this company next year (knock on wood, cross fingers and toes and all that). My previous record for long-term employment was around 14 months. In fact, I remember that was HR's biggest concern about hiring me; there was no longevity in my employment history.

I am incredibly lucky to work for a company that has a pension plan in addition to a 401(k). It is actually possible for me to see myself being able to afford to live past 70 now.

Having said that, I still don't fear death. Maybe when I'm on the other side of 40, I'll feel differently, but it's still not something that scares me.

Which, again, is not to say that I want to go anytime soon. I look forward to being able to enjoy my girls the way I'm now enjoying my parents. I certainly would hate to leave them without having some idea of what their futures hold. I still love the idea of getting together with them for Sunday brunches, laughing and drinking mimosas. I look forward to that day and as many days like that as possible.

Still, death itself doesn't frighten me. I don't worry about the afterlife. There are far too many theories out there for me to know what it holds, if anything.

I'm most inclined to think of the Witch from Into the Woods when I think about death: "When you're dead, you're dead." I'm okay with that.

And I'm also okay with contemplating a future.

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