Friday, August 27, 2010

My unique family

I've been busy pretty much every night this week, and crazed at work, and my way of winding down has been to veg in front of the TV and then stumble off to bed. One of the shows I watched was a re-run of Becker. This episode featured George Wendt, formerly Norm from Cheers (with Ted Dansen as Becker, of course), and Becker was feeling sorry for himself for being alone. But after telling "Norm" about his life and the characters in his life that make up the ensemble, "Norm" pointed out that Becker was far from alone; that each one of these people cared for him and it sounded like he had a great family.

This week for me was all about my own family, and what a fantastic support system that the girls and I are so lucky to have.

I had my Parents Advisory Committee meeting for the Club, our extended after-school family that is there to enrich my daughters' lives every day, year-round. My daughters are pursuing their dreams because of the Club, have discovered their dreams because of the Club, and now, the Club is nominating Sylvia for a scholarship. It's a long way to actually get it, but that they thought of her and are doing their part for her means so much to me.

The following night was our fundraiser for the Club. It's one of those where you eat at a restaurant, give them a flyer, and 20% of your bill goes towards the Club. My parents and a friend of theirs came, Sylvia's former principal came, friends from work many came to support the Club. We had a great time for a good cause.

The next night was my orientation and the welcome reception for the leadership class I'm taking this year. It's quite an impressive group of classmates I have! One is the editor of the local paper, another is the Superintendent, various people from City departments, along with employees of non-profit organizations, a doctor, a fire captain, a police officer, and others who work in the private sector. I am totally honored to be among this group.

But what really made my night was that my boss came to support me. My boss, my parents, Riley, my friend that first told me about the program were all there to cheer me on. I was totally nervous when it was my turn to speak (I'm a blogger, not a speaker!), but seeing all those faces smiling back at me made it so much easier.

And among those attending the reception, I knew others that I didn't even know would be there! It hit me that I already am a part of this community.

So work is crazy and Sylvia's busy with rehearsals every night, and next week, I have to figure out again how to be in two places at once, and before my first official class, I have to take a test, read a book, and interview two people. I have to do my minutes for the next PTA and Booster Club meetings, and help at the Book Fair and deal with all the everyday stuff that comes up.

I love all the labels that I wear. I love our extended family.

I love my life.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Weekend Wrap-Up: off and running

School's definitely back in session. There was no easing in for Sylvia; homework started the very first night. But she seems to like all her teachers; most importantly, she likes her Algebra teacher and feels comfortable enough to ask for help with her. Big change from last year!

We were also busy every night. Thankfully, my parents were able to help out for the night I had to be in two places at one time. Sylvia had rehearsals most nights, plus we had the first PTA meeting of the year, plus Riley and I had a meeting about her 5th grade science camp field trip. She's so excited - they're going camping for 5 days. We saw a short video about the ranch/school and got many of our questions answered.

We were happy to see so many parents turn out for our first PTA meeting of the year - oh, and Booster. Did I mention I'm also the Secretary of the Booster Club now?

Next week will be even busier. Sylvia has rehearsal every night this week, plus I have a parents advisory meeting at the Club, a Club fundraiser the next night, and the night after that, I have my orientation and reception for the Leadership program. I'm getting really excited about the Leadership program. Plus, I have a friend from the Club in my class!

Work is also getting busier. I've got three major projects, plus the everyday stuff.

I don't have much writing mojo right now, and while I'm trying to keep up with reading blogs, I'm afraid I'm not commenting very often. The blogosphere will just have to survive without my input for a little while.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Thoughts on the First Day of School

I'm not going to try and put a beginning, a middle, and end on this post (I know; when do I ever?). These are just random thoughts on the girls' first day of school.
  • Riley thinks her 5th grade teacher is the best teacher ever because she only assigns homework on Mondays and Wednesdays. I'm inclined to agree.
  • When Sylvia told me her English teacher doesn't do spelling tests, I was thrilled. That high quickly evaporated when I found multiple typos/misuses of grammar in her syllabus.
  • While Sylvia's Algebra teacher gave her far too much homework on the first day of school (30 problems easy), I love that she gives them the answers, too. They still have to show their work and do the assignment, of course, but having the answers will let Sylvia know immediately if she's on the right track or not. 
  • The Algebra teacher was also the only one who asked the parents to tell her about our child. I let her know that I suck at Math and will be no help to Sylvia, and that we are both terrified of this class. 
  • I'm a little concerned that Sylvia's rehearsals for her upcoming play might interfere with her school work, but thankfully, starting on Friday, all of their rehearsals look to be complete run-thrus of the play. Sylvia's only in the 2nd act, so she'll have all of the first act to get her homework done. At least the craziest part is at the beginning of the year; should make the rest of the year look easier to her once rehearsals are done. 
  • Riley cannot wait for the 5th grade camping field trip. This is so up her alley, and I'm excited for her. (And also pleased that I don't have to go. Camping is not my idea of a good time.)
All in all, they had a great first day of school, and no grumbling about going back today.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Weekend Wrap-Up: Summer's Over

It doesn't matter what the calendar says, the girls started school today so it's no longer summer for us. As expected on a first day of school, they woke up early, excited and getting more nervous the closer we got to school. I hope they both have a good day.

Last week was the same as usual, except for going to the Hollywood Bowl on Friday night to see Harry Connick, Jr. It's always fun to go to the Bowl, but it was especially great to see him. First of all, there's just nothing wrong with looking at Harry for a couple of hours! And then, of course, he's incredibly talented. But he's also really funny. He had us cracking up, and also was so appreciative that even in that venue, it felt like an intimate concert, and my sister, my mom and I all had a blast! (This was a Mother's Day present from my dad, complete with picnic and two bottles of wine.)

After we finally made it out of the parking lot a good hour after the concert let out (yes, there's always a price), we ended up staying up until 1 in the morning, finishing off the wine with my dad and my bro-in-law. We all spent the night at my parents' house, and in the morning, my dad made us all chorizo and eggs (yum!) before we went on our way. It was a perfect start to our last weekend of the summer.

Aside from a costume fitting for Sylvia's show, the rest of the weekend was spent at home and was nice and relaxing. I woke up Sunday morning, freaking out that it was actually Monday and we were late for the first day of school! But this morning, everyone got up without drama, and we were ready in record time.

I did get some cool news last week. My city has an organization that provides a leadership program to enrich and strengthen our leadership skills and encourage community involvement, and I've been accepted into this year's class! I'm really excited and honored to be a part of this.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Love is easy for me

This post is inspired by Jessica, who claims I do not love her, but I really do. And there are plenty of you that I've told I love, and I won't take it back. (Ironically, Mid Life Mommy also recently posted about the definition of love.)

I don't think of love as something to be reserved for a chosen few. I think there's enough love to go around, and I surround myself with people I love.

Which is kind of funny, considering that I can think of quite a few off the top of my head that would proclaim me a people-hating bitch. And that's true, too. But let's not dwell on that aspect right now.

This post is about me finding so many so easy to love. I love Jessica because she's been a friend to me. She's thought of me for some wonderful opportunities, and I will forever be grateful to her. Love is the least I can give in return.

And that's pretty much all it takes for me to love: if someone goes out of their way to think of me or my girls, then yeah, I love them for that. There are friends that I haven't spoken to in years that I still love because they were there for me when I needed them.

Love, to me, isn't something to hold onto tightly. I don't love everyone I meet, but I love everyone who has added value to my life, or my girls' lives (which, in turn, means my life, too) because those are acts of love.

I tell my friends often that I love them because they should know that. I tell my girls that I love them about a hundred times a day. But true expressions of love aren't the words themselves, but in the actions: hugs, words of encouragement, spending time together, an offer to babysit or pouring a cup of coffee. It's the little things that say, "I'm thinking of you." That, to me, is love.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

My Budget is $200 lighter!

And I feel like I've shed 20 pounds!!

I've been staring at my budget on and off for a week and a half now, trying to find more ways to stop living so close to the edge. I've resigned myself to being a paycheck-to-paycheck person, but I'd like there to be at least a 2-digit number between my budget and my income. I've been whining venting, crying, calculating; basically stressing about it.

Then this post on Since My Divorce really made me ponder just how much I was trying to overcompensate as a single parent.

Most parents want to give their children everything; maybe not every tangible thing, but the sense that their children have the best of opportunities available. And it's not like I've never used the phrase "we can't afford it" ever before. Sometimes, though, I get concerned that I use it all too often.

I went back to the spreadsheet after I got the news that we'd been approved for partial financial aid for their after-school program. It's still $60 more than I'd originally thought, but $80 less than without the aid.

As I crunched the numbers again, I looked at the row for Therapy. It's a steal, practically, at $30 a week, but that still adds up to $120 a month.

My girls, while far from being perfect, are in pretty good emotional health right now. They haven't talked to their dad since they saw him, but it doesn't seem to be a thorn in their side right now. Our dilemmas are more of the garden variety; I've got a moody adolescent on my hands, and there are too many places we need to be at once. Just typical family stuff.

So I emailed their therapist and told her that I was canceling their weekly appointments, and would call on an as-needed basis. It's not a need at this point and I'm pretty confident that my children won't go off the rails because they're not in regular therapy anymore.

Just like that, there is a little bit of breathing room between our expenses and my income. I still need to be frugal, and I'm nowhere near Suze Orman's financial goal of 8 months' savings. I still have to work on getting my credit card debt down and I will continue to look at my budget critically and regularly, but I no longer feel like I'm living on the financial edge. And that feels good.

*edited to add: Please visit the virtual baby shower today for Kori's daughter.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Monday, August 9, 2010

Trying to get on board to go back to school

We're pretty much ready. I was able to get free backpacks, complete with supplies, through our after-school program and the girls are so excited. We have the desk all set up and ready to go. At Sylvia's registration, I picked up all of her textbooks. The girls have arranged (and re-arranged) their backpacks in anticipation. One more week.

One more week to get my attitude straight about school. One more week of wondering if Sylvia's school has straightened out her schedule so that she can switch to the elective she actually wants this year. One more week of no homework! One more week of not knowing who Riley's teacher will be this year. One more week of hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.

Both of my daughters will be taking part in "Promotion" ceremonies (the new term, since commencement and graduation are officially inaccurate) and while I'm sure I will be emotional in the moment, right now, I'm starting to count the days.

I am burnt out. Summer was not long enough for me to get geared up. Usually at this time, I'm counting the days until school starts.

My oldest is going into 8th grade, and my youngest into 5th. In the last 8 years, I have had some amazing experiences in education and some appalling ones. I had one parent tell me, during Multi-Cultural Night of all things, that she was transferring her daughter to another class because there weren't enough white kids in the current class. I have sat at a birthday party of Riley's classmate and been completely ignored for three hours. I have cried in a Vice Principal's office because my children were on the waiting list for after-school care, and I had no one to watch my children after school. I have written letters and emails to school Boards, participated in rallies for more school funding, spent hundreds of dollars on gift wrap and chocolate, had countless phone calls with teachers, have argued with my children about homework, have set timers for homework, have written posts on homework, have used the word "homework" more in the past 8 years in relation to my daughters than my entire scholastic career (including college, which I completed as a single parent, working full-time). I have taken minutes for the PTA meetings for the last school year (after finally finding a PTA that didn't treat me like an apathetic parent just because I work), I have read to my child in kindergarten (making special arrangements at work to do so), I have read to my children at night, I helped at Arts Day last year, been to a state PTA convention, baked goodies and brought donuts and pizza to parent meetings. I have worked with incredibly smart, inspiring people who are helpless to actually reform education, and have endured well-meaning, but misguided approaches.

I'm exhausted.

I'm not trying to sound like a martyr here. I have done everything in the name of what's in the best interest for my children. It's my job, and I'm not complaining about actually doing it.

I'm saying I'm frustrated. I'm frustrated because it seems unless I quit my job and homeschool my children, or pay endless amounts of money to tutors, every year, the system gets worse and worse. They tell us that parental involvement is the magic elixir, and yet, parents are actually powerless to reform the system. The PTA can't raise funds to save a teacher's job because the PTA is not empowered to pay teacher's salaries. The PTA no longer involves teachers, either, and should consider changing its name. And some PTAs just aren't all that effective, too caught up in power games to focus its attention where it should be.

While I agree that parents have to be involved to show that their children's education is important to them, schools need to start treating parents as partners rather than assistants.

This post was inspired by Yahoo! Mother Board's monthly topic, Back to School.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Weekend Wrap-Up of my week alone

The girls are heading home soon, and I can't wait to see them.

It was really great to have this week by myself. I got some real quality time alone. I accomplished stuff around the house that seem almost impossible to do when the girls are here, I went out a couple of times and had a blast, and I communicated with the girls via text and phone calls multiple times every day. It was a very productive week.

I think my parents are exhausted, though. 7 days is an awfully long time, and I don't think they'll volunteer to take them on vacation for this long again. Still, I think soon enough, they will all look back and focus their memories on the good times.

I have more energy than I have in a long time. The day to day struggles of waking kids up, arguing over the little things, sibling rivalry, emotional outbursts just weren't there to exhaust me.

I think knowing there was end to it helped me enjoy it. If I were reaching empty nester status, I probably would've felt lost.

And now, I admit, I'm ready to get back to the mayhem and chaos and snuggles and laughter.

Friday, August 6, 2010

No rational basis

U.S. District Judge Vaughn said it all: "Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license."

Here are a few ways you can support this decision for equal rights:

Donate to the Courage Campaign. This case is almost certain to go to the Supreme Court, a costly endeavor. It's gonna take money, and the other side is well-funded (by a lot of non-California residents, I might add). We can be well-funded by residents across the country, too!

Boycott Target. This one hurts. A lot. I know, I know! But look at it this way: we can support more local businesses, and/or we can save a lot of money.

Stand up for equality every day. This scene from Glee had me in tears:

This is how we change the world. We don't let people use slurs in front of us or our children. We accept people for who they are, and we stand with them. We do not, under any circumstances, tolerate injustice.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Why I still love The West Wing

For the past couple of years, I've been addicted to the reruns of The West Wing on Bravo. I was addicted to the show when it originally aired, and after a few years off, that addiction has not waned. I think I finally figured out why.

It's not the politics of the show, although I love those, but it's the relationships. The show mostly focuses on the President's senior staff, and I can't get enough of them.

They spar, they trade quips, they debate passionately, and most importantly, they respect and like each other tremendously.

Maybe one of the reasons I love that so much is because I have that now, too. The people I work with are just as smart, funny, warm, and dedicated. The only difference, really, is that we all balance families, too, and if I do say so myself, we do so pretty damned well!

When one of us has a personal crisis, everyone is there to support our colleague emotionally and professionally. People first. Always. We enjoy spending time together, both on and off the job. We don't battle egos, but bounce ideas off of each other, learn from each other, and are committed to doing the best job possible. And we keep our sense of humor because it makes our day easier.

Obviously, the objectives and challenges of The West Wing have much higher stakes, but hey, that's what makes it a good drama. The characters feel real, complete with flaws, and they bounce back from failures by supporting one another, and moving on to "what's next."

This is why I keep watching this series over and over (and yes, over) again. Their journey as a group of committed friends and colleagues continues to entertain and inspire me.

*Just to be clear, no one paid me to promote a show that's long gone. These opinions are my own. But, sure, if you decide to buy the series from Amazon through the link above, I would get a small referral fee. Think this obsession will finally pay off for me? Yeah. Me neither.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

What this Daughter did when her Daddy was in Jail

I've heard the jokes about the children's movies that feature child protagonists with single parents. I don't think it's all that funny, though. I'm forever grateful for that.

While some creators may not have had completely sincere motives, what they've done is made relatable character for my daughters.

Even though we live in a time where divorce is pretty common, most divorced families they know spend equal time with both parents. My girls still don't feel like they know a lot of kids with their experiences. I've often joked that someone needs to write a book about what to do when Daddy's in jail.

While not a parenting book, one author has written about that experience. Tracy McMillan, author of I Love You and I'm Leaving You Anyway: A Memoir, is an adult daughter of a father that was in prison for most of her childhood. Unfortunately, she did not have the stability of a mother, either. She went from foster homes to a stepmother that would rival the worst of the step-villains in movies. Ironic as it might be, the parent she had the most connection with was her father.

Her book explores how that dysfunctional relationship affected all of her relationships. Like most female-oriented books, it concentrates more on romantic love, and while I agree with that premise, I was at first dismayed by the insinuation that this is the only kind of relationship that matters. McMillan is a successful writer, most recently for the AMC hit series, Mad Men and her life story, to me, is more about success than failure.

Yet, this isn't a story of defying the odds, either. The more engrossed I got in her story, told with a gripping narrative that takes the reader from the far past to the more recent past that highlights the parallels from there to here, the more I saw that the bigger picture is about the lack of real learning any of us get in how to couple.

Yes, McMillan's relationships with men were deeply affected by the abandonment she felt through her father's choices. Without ever seeing, knowing or having a successful long-term relationship to model, she was lost. Still, I think that not having anyone to share her deepest thoughts, fears and longings with were just as responsible.

We don't talk to our kids about love. Not without reason, we don't want them thinking about that too soon. Yet, how many children grow up without having a real grasp of coupling to know how to do it later? Even children who grow up in the nuclear family where Mom and Dad love each other to no end don't actually know how to do it. (Like, ahem, ME, for example.) Parents, all parents, hide some personal details of their lives.

So children grow up talking to their peers about this - who are just as clueless. Some get lucky, some do seek real education on the matter from therapists or clergymen, but most of us learn these lessons from experience, and some of those experiences can be life-altering. And not in a good way.

McMillan doesn't preach, doesn't claim to speak for anyone but herself, and does so with honesty, wit, and an inspiring spirit. That spirit, to be sure, is responsible for all of her successes in her bio. McMillan teaches (in the best possible way, by showing) that the only way we can overcome our challenges is if we are willing to put in the work.

When there are so many books to choose from, McMillan's I Love You and I'm Leaving Anyway offers something fresh, something new, and with fodder for thought and introspection long after the last page is read.

This post is part of TLC's Book Tour. While I was given the book for free to review, I have not been compensated for this post and the views and opinions expressed are completely my own. The link to the book is connected to my Amazon Associates account, and any purchase made from it will generate a small referral fee for me.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Choosing emotional balance

I don't choose happiness; I don't choose gratitude. I feel what I feel when I feel it.*

I get emotional. I can't seem to let go of that emotion until I've had the chance to express it. Suppressing it doesn't work for me. If I need to have a good old fashioned cry, then that's what I need to do in order to let that emotion have its natural closure.

At the same time, when I laugh, I go all out. When I love, I do so with all my heart. Blame it on my acting days: I have to feel with every fiber of my being.

Ever since I accepted this about myself, I felt free and happy for no particular reason like never before. I no longer needed something spectacular to happen to be happy. I loved my life fully for exactly what it was. And is. Most of the time.

Some days, I'm not fine. Some days, I feel overwhelmed or frustrated, and I need to let myself express that until I can be okay again. I can hold on for some fairly appropriate moment. I can wait to cry until after the girls go to bed, or take a break at work and find a friend's shoulder. That is, if I don't try to hold onto it for too long. Then, the dam breaks and it can be at very inappropriate moments. Which, let's face it, just makes everything worse.

Maybe it's just me because I'm the type of person who immediately gets impatient upon hearing "be patient" or gets riled up as soon as I'm told to "calm down," but being told to just choose happiness simply makes me feel the opposite. I will feel happy when I feel like it, thankyouverymuch! And the happiness will be true bliss because it comes from within; from being truly in love with my life. And then I'll get annoyed, and grateful, and joyous all over again. After all, can we really feel happiness without knowing despair?

As Sondheim** said:

Oh if life were only moments,
Even now and then, a bad one,
But if life were only moments,
Then you'd never know you had one

*This may sound repetitive to some long-time readers, but I had to speak about this again.
**Stephen Sondheim, that is: "Moments in the Woods" from Into the Woods.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Weekend Wrap-Up: Alone at last!

After yet another busy week, my kids are gone! Oh, don't be alarmed; they're with my parents on vacation. They're spending the week at a resort, and most of it, I'd imagine, swimming. I love that I don't have to worry about them, that I know they're as safe as if they were with me, and surrounded by love.

They left Sunday afternoon, after Sylvia's rehearsal. She's been rehearsing most weeknights, as well as her dance class, and I figured out that my main role for the foreseeable future is that of chauffeur. But I don't really mind. Riley and I are getting some time alone, which is nice, and the drives usually mean good conversation with Sylvia so believe it or not, it really is quality time.

Sylvia is loving being a part of this show. She comes home absolutely glowing. It's a pretty great sight to see.

This week has still had its downs for me, though. I found out that the after-school child care is going to be double than what I'd previously budgeted, and I had a mini-breakdown about that. I can afford it; it's still less than what I was paying in the summer, but it means there are less discretionary funds than I'd originally thought. THAT gets tiresome.

I think I've done a pretty good job of balancing my week alone with actual alone time, some social time, and of course, work. Well, we'll see how I feel at the end of it, but I've been looking forward to this week for quite a while now!

As great as the Yahoo! Mother Board summit was, it didn't really allow for much time alone. I was thrilled to be in the fellow Yahoo! moms' company, but sometimes, I just need to be alone. Last night, I did pretty much nothing and it was awesome.

I thought I would spend my evening blogging, but I just vegged instead. I do have some blog posts in draft mode, and I'll warn you now, they're mostly rants. But don't get worried! I just like to get these things off my chest every now and again. A little ranting keeps me sane.

I'm trying to keep my expectations for this time alone realistic. We shall see...