Thursday, June 28, 2012

Odds and Ends

Our summer routine is now in full swing!

Sylvia had her dance recital this past weekend, officially wrapping up school year 2011-12. Her technique has improved tremendously in the past year, and she was gorgeous.

I'm so proud to say that she's now a volunteer at the Club, teaching Dance to children ages 9-12. It was all her idea, and it's going great!

We've started rehearsals for The Music Man, and it's already a blast.

I've also added a few titles. I'm now serving on the Board of the Leadership Burbank Alumni Association, and as the Chair of the Corporate/Real Estate Education section of Los Angeles Paralegal Association. Because being a single mom, working full-time, going to school part-time and doing the play weren't quite enough for me! But I love it all, of course.

I haven't mentioned that there's been something strange going on, for fear of jinxing it, I guess. I've actually been getting child support. X paid the full amount he is supposed to in May, and so far, half the amount for June.

Of course, there are years worth of back child support due, and I'm in no way, shape or form counting on this money, but it has come in handy.

Now that the girls are both officially adolescents, they're eating twice as much as they used to, so it has become cost-effective for me to join Costco. Since you can't use credit cards (except for Costco's) there (which I never knew...did you know that?), I can go a little beyond my budget if/when the child support money has cleared the bank. Because everyone knows you can't leave Costco without spending $100!

Costco is also great for gas. I'm driving a little less this simmer, but I did a happy dance after paying $3.63 for gas at Costco, and then seeing $3.79 at another station.

(No, no disclosure here. I just like Costco that much!)

Riley went to Palm Springs for a week with my parents to start off her summer vacation and brought back these lovely pillows. One for me:

One for Sylvia:

And finally, for Riley herself:

She (or rather, Grandma) bought the pillows at a Fair from the woman who made them. She added glasses to the last one just for Riley!

That was probably enough odds and ends for two posts!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

More on Unions

Interestingly enough, someone recently commented on my Anti-Union post, the next in my retrospective series. They asked what I thought of Actor's Equity.

I remember getting my AFTRA card, my SAG card, and my Equity card, and what a huge deal it was each time. They were milestones of achievements.

As it turned out, the show that earned me my Equity card was also the last one for which I got paid for live theatre. Even then, it only paid enough for my cost of living during the run. The very next week, I needed another form of income.

As I've said before, the creation of unions was valuable and important at the time it occurred. Just like with any other group of people that had to sacrifice for the greater good, I remain grateful for the people that helped make that happen.

Someone told me that when it comes to unions like Equity and SAG, "union" seems to be a misnomer. It's incredibly difficult to earn your way into this elite group, and is better designed to keep people out than to let people in. You have to land a job, but of course, it's rare to even get an audition for a union job without being union! The union only brings together about 1% of actors.

Having said that, I do believe that Actor's Equity and even SAG/AFTRA offer better benefits to its members than many other unions out there. I loved the SAG/AFTRA credit union, and that Equity card was the golden ticket into an easier life on the cattle call line. I never made enough from any of them to earn health benefits, but I will have a teeny tiny pension one day.

While I do have my issues with the actors' unions, I would say that in comparison to many other unions, they support their members a lot more. There is one particular office workers' union where every member I know (a) is forced to be a member in order to keep their current employment, (b) has dues going up every year while their benefits decrease every year, and (c) has had bad experiences with those who work for the union when it comes to customer/member service. I have heard those kinds of stories for other types of unions as well.

As I've said before, I think there are many laws on the books (especially here in CA) to protect workers, but sadly, many workers aren't protected from union leadership that isn't running things in the best interest of its workers, nor do they have the right to withdraw from a union and keep their job.

I am no longer a member of any union. I love my job, I love my boss and colleagues, my hours, and I am treated fairly and respectfully. And I love the freedom to act for fun in community theatre. Sometimes, there can be great benefits in being union-free.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Middle of Loneliness

I know I mostly write about how happy I am to be single, and I am. That doesn't mean, however,that I don't experience loneliness every so often.

It wasn't until I felt relatively settled in my role as a single mom that I began feeling loneliness. At first, I dealt with it the way most people deal with it: try and find someone.

For a variety of reasons, that didn't work. I think the overarching reason was that I didn't really want it to work. Once I accepted that about myself, the feelings of loneliness would usually only last a couple of minutes. I would think about what life is really like living with someone else (besides the girls), and that would be enough to get me over it.

I say it constantly, every emotion has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Well, recently, the middle of loneliness lasted longer than usual. Riley was with my parents, Sylvia was at a meeting, and I was home alone. Usually, that's cause for celebration for me, but this time, I felt loneliness. And this time, I wasn't thinking about actually living with someone. I was thinking about courtship.

I was thinking, it might be nice if someone took me to the opening night of The Book of Mormon. Not a spouse or live-in boyfriend, but a date. Like, someone else paid for the ticket!

I've already bought my tickets for The Book of Mormon. I'm going with the girls and some friends, and I'm really excited about it.

But I just had that thought from nowhere, and I felt a little wistful. I didn't try to mask it with the TV or music. I just sat there and felt it. I didn't cry or even feel like crying. I wasn't fighting back anything. I was just feeling it.

And then it was time to pick up Sylvia, and I went about my life again. And I wasn't feeling it anymore.

Later that night, after Sylvia had gone to bed, I was alone again, but not lonely at all. Once again, the solitude felt good.

I have a pretty awesome life. And the not so great moments make me cherish the good ones even more.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A 6th Grade Year Worth Celebrating

Riley's 6th grade year couldn't have been more successful. While I don't have her final report card yet, we're pretty sure it will contain straight A's. But more important than that, Riley is still a happy girl, has gained more self-confidence, and we are as close as ever.  I credit Riley's school with this success almost as much as I credit Riley.

This school creates an atmosphere where academic success is applauded by their peers as much as the teachers and staff. As crazy as it sounds, it's actually cool to be good at school.

For Riley's 6th grade, she wasn't overwhelmed with too many classes or teachers. She had two main teachers that split up the core classes, a PE teacher (whom she loved; a vastly different experience than her elementary PE teaher), and her Advisory teacher.

Advisory was like an active Study Hall. Instead of just sitting there for that period, they would talk about their assignments, break down their schedule for projects, and also talk about goals outside their academics. Every week, she would have a Family goal, a Personal goal, and an Academic goal. Even though it's not their job to teach students how to be a well-rounded person, this school sees parents as true partners and supports us as well as asking for our support.

Riley had a blast in her after-school program. She was also on the Yearbook staff. She took advantage of every opportunity this school gave her.

While she's as happy as any kid that it's summer, it was never a problem to get her to school every day, even if we had to leave an hour earlier to get her there. She was enthusiastic about the day ahead of her, and almost every day when I picked her up, she'd say that her day had been "awesome."

My heart skipped a beat when I got an email from her Principal that some boys had been picking on her, but the Principal was writing to tell me how well Riley handled the situation. She reported it immediately, and the school was quick to deal with the situation so that by the time I heard about it, all was well.

I loved that the Parent Coordinator was always responsive to every one of my emails. At the beginning of the year, I was sure his head would explode at hearing from me yet again with yet another question, but he was always very pleasant and helpful. The Principal was also always willing to take the time to respond to any concern I had, and her answers were always satisfactory.

I love that even as a middle schooler, Riley still values her individuality. She appreciates what she has in common with her friends, but she also loves what's different about herself, and our family.  She couldn't wait to tell her friends that she was going to be in a musical, even if most of them haven't even seen a musical. Her teachers have told me that she's happy to help any of her friends that are having trouble in class, and she was chosen to guide a new student that came to the school later in the year. Her leadership qualities are encouraged, and she steps up every time.

I am so, so proud of Riley for the young lady she is becoming, and so grateful for this school that nurtures her as well as provides an excellent education.

I couldn't have asked for a better first year of middle school.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Life Well Lived: Resources for Getting Organized

The question: What are your favorite resources (Products, Apps, Books, Websites, etc.) to help you get organized? 

My first great lessons came from the FlyLady. Granted, she can be overwhelming at times, but some of her lessons have finally sunk in for me. Most importantly, the lesson to do as much as you can the night before to make the mornings go smoother.

My newest favorite resource is A Slob Comes Clean. I can relate to how her mind works! She's a funny and entertaining writer, and she's more forgiving than FlyLady at putting organization into perspective with everything else we have going on.

I tell the girls all the time, if you don't see me put something in my calendar on my iPhone, you can guarantee that I will forget. (And somehow, they keep forgetting that!) I've tried Cozi and a few other apps, but I have to keep it simple.

Having said that, I do have a great spiral-bound organizer that helps me manage household info only. I write down the menus for the week before I go to the grocery store, and the times we'll be having dinner with my parents.

I'm sure I subscribe to too many organizing and financial blogs, and I certainly don't read every entry, but I do think that's the best place to start. Eventually, a few will grab you and feel like they'll be most helpful to you and your challenges.

It's all too easy to get caught up in trying the find the best book, organizer, or site out there to help get organized. I knew I was in trouble when I had to organize all my books on organization! So I started implementing the lessons by donating the organizational books and products we weren't using.

The best resource, it turns out, is our own willpower.

Find 35 more resources on BlogHer. Enter their sweepstakes for an iPod Touch! 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Happy Father's Day, Dad!

I lament plenty about what it's like in a household of all girls. My dad has been outnumbered for most of his adult life! Somehow, he managed to maintain his sanity. Today's post is for him.

My father spent most of my childhood driving me around. He commuted from Santa Cruz to San Jose every day for his job, and as soon as he got home, he'd get back in the car to drive me to auditions or rehearsals or performances all over the Bay Area.

He was always there for me.

He was there during my first heartbreak. I was 8 years old and after 3 call backs, had just been cut from consideration for the national tour of Annie. It was my father who held me as I cried for what must have seemed like forever.

He was there for my triumphs. We joke about my first opening night in a non-children's theatre production when he waved to me during the curtain call, and I scolded him afterwards for being "unprofessional." (Yeah, I was annoying, and yet he gave me a pass.)

He moved us to Los Angeles when we learned of the public arts high opening there that I would end up attending.

He put more mileage on his car than I do, driving me all over Los Angeles for auditions, and sometimes jobs I booked.

He helped me make some difficult decisions, but always left the ultimate choice up to me.

My father has shown me how to be a better parent by being an amazing dad. He taught me about unconditional love by giving it. He let me make my mistakes, and then helped me find my way back.

And he's an awesome granddad. He taught the girls how to bike ride, how to swim. He helps me out when I can't be two places at once. And he respects my role as their parent; again, helping me talk through the difficult decisions, and always supporting my ultimate choice.

Like with my mother, I can't ever truly make up for the heartbreak I've caused him, but I know that I don't have to. I know that all I have to do is be content with where I am now, and he is happy. My parents are still the first I call to share my triumphs and troubles, and they cheer me on and support me all the way.

Happy Father's Day, Dad. I love you with all my heart.

Monday, June 11, 2012

A Freshman No More

Sylvia has completed her first year of high school! It has been a whirlwind year for her...and me. And Riley. It's impossible for one of us not to affect the others.

But much of it isn't my story to share, it's hers.

What I can share is what I've learned about me through this year. And some of it ain't pretty.

As I've said, I have the best intentions. I love her so much, and I want so much for her, and I believe that she can do anything.

But I admit, when I don't see her operating from that place, it makes me kinda crazy. I don't want her to waste opportunities. I don't want her to lose sight of the big picture.

Of course, she's 14. She's a teenager! She doesn't see it like I do. And she's not necessarily wrong. It just completely freaks me out.

So much of parenting is about trying to see ahead to the end; how their actions will affect them.

From baby-proofing to house rules, we are always trying to create an atmosphere of making good choices and, if they don't, protecting them from negative consequences.

We can't do that forever, though.

I was watching a discussion take place in a private FB group about inappropriate messages. Take away computer access, one parent suggested. Get more parental security software.

While I understand the desire to simply block access, and I too keep the computer in the main living area so I can see what's on the screen easily, I know that's only part of it.

I know that her friends have access to the internet on their devices even if Sylvia's phone is blocked. I know that I certainly got away with some stuff (or at least hoped I would) that I wouldn't want my parents to know when I was her age.

And I know all too well that we learn the most from our mistakes.

Still, that's my kid! I don't want her to have to learn the hard way. She has had to learn so much the hard way already that I would like some things to come easily to her, and I certainly don't want to see her waste any opportunity.

So I freak out. I lecture, she gets defensive, and round and round we go. We retreat, and I remember that there's only so much I can do.

I'm sure I will forget these lessons early in her sophomore year, but that's another lesson, isn't it? Sometimes, changing ourselves takes longer than we'd like.

So for now, we'll just try to revel in the summer ahead and our family play together, and save the rest for the next school year. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Balancing Fears with Riley

It turns out Riley sometimes reads this blog! She was asking me about one of her birthday posts, where I said that her fearlessness scares me, and if it still scared me.

I told her that I do believe that she makes good choices when she thinks about things, but sometimes, she still gets so caught up in the moment that her impulses can still get her into trouble.

Of course, she asked for an example. Luckily, one had just happened.

She thought it would be fun to walk backwards, and ended up running into someone. It was no big deal and no harm was done. Which is true for most examples I can recall.  But I told her I do still worry that one of these times, it could be a big deal, and I don't want to see her hurt or someone else hurt because of something careless that she did. And nor would she.

But I ended on a high note, and told her that I am confident that when she thinks things through, she will come to the right conclusion. She has shown that time and time again.

And she does have some fear. You might recall that she was very nervous about embarking on her first audition. I didn't want to pressure her, but I had to give her a deadline to make a decision so that she still had time to prepare. She decided before the deadline she wanted to go for it.

She didn't mind singing for me so I could help her pick the best song for her to sing. We watched a scene from the movie that I knew might come up as her scene audition. We talked about clothing.

She'd worked through all her angst. On the day of, she hid her nerves pretty well. It certainly helped that she knew almost everyone there. She didn't want me to watch, and I could barely hear her, but she got through it. She said afterwards that she was very nervous, but I could tell that she was also very proud of herself. Of course, I told her that I was proud of her, too.

I think it was a great experience for her to learn how to work through her fear. She did note that another girl auditioning seemed like a professional, and Riley said she probably didn't have a chance at the featured role they were both going for with that kind of competition, but she didn't seem to mind. She respected this girl's ability and knows that they're simply at different places.

She is thrilled to be in the musical as a member of the ensemble and can't wait for rehearsals to start. I notice, too, that she joins us more often when Sylvia and I will sing along with the CD in the car.

Riley just needs time, it seems. Time to work through her fears, time to think things through. And I love this time I have with her to learn from her. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Best Parenting Advice I Can Give You

At one event, one woman was asking me my opinions on some of the parenting hot button issues: teens and the internet, education, sibling rivalry.

I've tackled pretty much all of these in the blog from time to time, but here's the real advice I want to give to any parent:

Do what feels right for you and your family.

I trust that you have your child's best interest at heart. I trust that you are trying. I trust that some days, you're questioning everything you've ever done as a parent. I know I have.

But what gets me through those moments is looking back on why I made those decisions that I did. They were full of good intentions. And I'm not so convinced that they were the wrong ones.

Big surprise coming from me, but guess what? It really is all about balance.

If you feel you've been too lenient, then go ahead and lay down some new rules. Just because they're new doesn't mean that your kids can't adapt to them. And given that the only constant in life is change, you really are doing them a favor by teaching them how to abide by different rules.

If you feel you've been too strict, then stop and reassess the rules currently in place. Are some of them not that important to you? Let them go! Your children will see that (a) you're willing to admit you were wrong, and/or (b) you're willing to be flexible, and/or (c) the rules still in place are really that important to follow.

But again, I'm not trying to tell you how to parent. Those are just some examples of things that you may be second-guessing. And second-guessing is okay if you come away from it with renewed confidence.

Here's the thing: no doctor, no expert, no seemingly perfect other mom out there is parenting your children. Nor are they you! Each of us has our own unique qualities, likes and dislikes to bring to the table. Again, it's balancing out our styles with the others in our children's lives that will provide them with a fuller experience.

I, for instance, am not a fan of the great outdoors. I have no desire to take my kids hiking or biking and definitely not to the snow!

Thankfully, my parents love those things so my girls are not deprived of those experiences. Instead, they have cherished memories of their grandparents (and vice versa)...and Mommy gets to do something else while they're off having fun!

From me, they get a very in-depth look at musical theatre, balance (I hope!), self-introspection, not being afraid to try new things, and learning to laugh at ourselves. And there are other people in their lives to balance out the rest.

And, finally, my ultimate disclaimer: when I share things here, I'm not at all ever saying this is the only way to parent. I'm sharing my stories of how I parent, how I come to make my decisions. And I read other blogs for other perspectives that help shape my own, but I could never be just like another blogger out there. I am, for better or worse, me.

And somehow, my style has gotten me nominated as a Top Mom of Teens blogger! I know this sounds canned, but this one really is an honor. This first year of parenting a high schooler has been quite the challenge. I wish I could say it wasn't as bad as you've heard, and I suppose it could always be worse, but it has been difficult. And exhausting.

So it's a true badge of honor to think someone actually considers me a a Top Mom of Teens. And if you're one of them, I'd be delighted to receive your vote.