Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Last Post of 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year!  

Thursday, December 29, 2011

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

Mama’s Losin’ It

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

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

Feb. 2011: One of my single parent rants.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Parenting in the 21st century: About Facebook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Post-Christmas Post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas morning recipe: Popovers

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

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

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

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

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

You will need:

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

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

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

Hope your family enjoys them as much as we do!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Question of Friendship and Sharing

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

I think both of these statements are far too oversimplified.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Riley's First Semester

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Sylvia has one more week to go.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Accidental Hiatus & Randomness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Tears of Awe

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Belated Weekend Wrap-Up: Party, party, party

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Not Over, but Through

Mama’s Losin’ It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Savvy Shopping

Give me a few days off from my routine, the opportunity to do nothing, and I'll absolutely take advantage of it. Just getting back into the groove again.
We had a lovely Thanksgiving with my family down at my sister's house. Hope you all did, too!

My big news: at last, I have an iPhone! My work allowed me to upgrade from a Blackberry to an iPhone, and I spent a lot of the holiday weekend playing. One of the first apps I downloaded: Savvy. Particularly at this time of year, this app will come in handy.

Basically, this free app can save you money in 3 different ways:
  1. My Buys. Scan a pic of the bar code of your purchase from a participating store.  If the item goes on sale within that store's stated time frame, you'll receive an alert from Savvy with instructions on how to redeem the difference.
  2. Deal Maker. Scan a pic of the bar code of an item you want, but not at that price, and tell Savvy how much you're willing to pay. If the item goes on sale for that price, Savvy will alert you.
  3. Watch List. Scan a pic of the bar code of an item you want, but not at that price. Savvy will tell you if it goes on sale at all. 
 Currently, there are about 40 stores participating, and of course, Savvy hopes to keep that list growing.

And now, disclosure time: Savvy fed me brunch and gave me cash to try out the Savvy app. (At the time, I didn't have an iPhone, and they were kind enough to allow us to extend an invite to a non-blogger friend, who was also impressed with the app.) Oh, and they gave me a Savvy iPhone cover, which I am totally using! I have not received further compensation, and all opinions are my own.

And the best news? You don't actually need an iPhone or Droid (Droid app coming soon) in order to take advantage of what Savvy has to offer. You can also manually enter the bar code at the Savvy website. 

Please keep in mind, Savvy is still in Beta, so you may encounter a few glitches here and there, but I'm sure those savvy (and sweet) folks will work any issues out promptly.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Turkey Day

This song, particularly this version starring the fabulous Donna McKechnie, always makes me and the girls smile.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

I'm Both Involved and a Slacker

Twice in two days, I was complimented by people on my successful efforts to get the girls admitted in their current schools. Just a few days later, I felt like a total slacker mom.

Riley informed me she had to do a project. Just the word alone makes me cringe and groan. She had to make an Egyptian pyramid. Oh, joy.

I know some parents love these kinds of things. I'm totally not one of them.

With Sylvia, it was easier. She's got that artistic ability to make something out of nothing. Riley, on the other hand, wants everything just so, and cannot think of worthy alternatives if/when things don't work out that way.

And as I wrote that, it occurred to me how odd this is. Riley is such a great problem solver in every other area. She's also a great student. I guess she inherited my "hate school projects" gene.

Eventually, and admittedly after much attitude on my part, Riley was able to finish her project, both without my having to shop for supplies, and without my having to help.

I have also been a slacker mom when it comes to parent meetings at Sylvia's school. Like I haven't been to anything. I totally would've gone to Back to School Night, had I not had tech rehearsal that night. I've been available time-wise to attend everything else...and haven't.

In my mind, I spend 3 hours on the road in my commitment to my daughters' education. In my mind, as it is, we're not going to get home until close to 7 and we have to eat, and there's still homework to do, and what are the girls going to do while I'm at the meeting. In my mind, the time I could spend at a parents meeting is time I could actually spend with both my daughters, and I choose my daughters.

While I was involved on the PTA board at Riley's old school, and on the parent committee of their after-school program last year, neither of those commitments felt as much like sacrifice. I'm quite certain that was because our weekdays weren't as long as they are now.

I realize my slack may color some people's perceptions of me as a mother, including their teachers. But I'm okay with that. Well, not okay necessarily, but I don't seem to care enough to change it.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Surviving Tween/Teen Daughter Tantrums

A couple of years ago, when Sylvia was 12, sucked. Her mood swings were completely unpredictable and she was far too big for time-outs. I've never considered myself a patient person, and I was fairly convinced that I'd used it all up to survive her toddler years. I was at a loss.

I wrote a desperate email to sweatpantsmom, begging for survival tips. If you've read her posts (or lucky enough to know her, as I am), you won't be surprised that her response was thoughtful, funny and chock-full of empathy for my situation. Just the validation was helpful.

She mentioned something about finding her "Zen," her peaceful place in those moments where your hormonal daughter is pushing all of your buttons.

My previous methods for finding my Zen place during Sylvia's toddler years were no longer effective. Consequences weren't working, even trying to lock myself in the bathroom wasn't working. I would try so very hard not to respond, but she could see that she was close to breaking me and sometimes, she did.

After the email exchange, I felt rejuvenated enough to try something new.

The next time Sylvia got out of control, instead of trying to order her to her room or leave the room myself, I would think of something that needs to be done in the room. (And hey, something always needs to be done.) I would wash the dishes, sort the mail, dust, anything that was an accomplishment of sorts that didn't require thought.

That productive act would allow me to be distracted and also feel okay about myself. Sylvia would continue to taunt me for a while, but when she could see she was no longer getting to me, in frustration, she would go to her room. After she'd calmed down, she would come back and apologize to me, and it would be over.

I've never known telling someone to "calm down" to be effective in actually calming anyone. Telling Sylvia to calm down didn't help; telling myself to calm down wouldn't help. I think the reason this method works for me is that it's not trying to dissipate that energy, but instead, use that energy proactively. And no matter how small, it's hard to feel angry or frustrated when you've just accomplished something!

To be clear, Sylvia is not a horrible child by any means. With a little distance, I knew that she was just overwhelmed. It was partly hormonal, but mostly, just being a 7th grader - the worst grade we've had so far. And part of the gig is that she knows she can pretty much do anything, and I'll still love her. I've created that safe haven for her, sometimes to my own detriment. Still, that's who I am as a parent.

I remember being on the other side, too. I remember feeling like things that seem trivial now did indeed feel like the end of the world back then. As I said in my post to my mom, I took full advantage of her unconditional love as well.

This is just what it means to parent a tween/teen daughter. (I can't speak for the other gender.)

I was talking to a friend of mind about this tactic, and it occurred to me, I don't think I wrote about this back then. As Riley will be 12 and in 7th grade next year, I could use the reminder!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Giving Up

The girls started a conversation in the car the other day about their dad. It started with Riley asking how I told them we were getting a divorce. Somehow, that morphed into a talk about how they're dealing with things today.

Riley started by saying she hated her dad, but I told her, she really doesn't. She's angry at him, and rightly so, but she doesn't hate him. She clarified that she has moments that she hates him. She said she hates it when he breaks his promises. Fair enough.

Sylvia said what she really hates is when people tell her she can't give up on him. We talked about how they just don't get it. That even if she tries to explain it to them, they will never fully understand what it's been like and how many times he's disappointed her. That for her, giving up is actually a huge step in the right direction. She's protecting herself from further disappointment by not setting herself up for it.

This is not to say that she wouldn't be happy for him if he did change his life around. But we talked about how he would need to prove it first, that words just aren't enough. And how she can't count on it, because all the evidence so far has shown that he can't.

I know most people wouldn't quite understand giving up on a parent, but at some point, we all face that our parents are just people. They see me as just a person. They recognize that while they've lost a dad growing up, I lost a partner and a co-parent. When they talk about how much they've been hurt by him, they know I get it because I was, too. Part of humanizing parents is recognizing our weaknesses, our mistakes. They've had to endure all his mistakes, and it's easier for them to do so when they see him as just a person.

We even talked about the fact that he's not evil or anything. He just can't quite do it, he just can't be a grown-up that lives up to his responsibilities. I can totally understand Sylvia's frustration at those who tell her not to give up, when giving up is the only way we can really cope with it.

We played a little of the "what if" game. If he did turn his life around, they would love it. If he could be a real parent, they would embrace that. But, they also said, he could never make up for the time he's lost. He would still never know them the way that he could have had he been around the last few years. I told them, that's his loss. But I know it's theirs, too.

I can't change any of it and of course, it hurts to know how much they've hurt. But I also can't help but feel so proud of them.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Weekend Reading

I finally posted somewhere else! At MomsLA, my post is on the lack of control we have as parents.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Smart Financial Tips

Okay, so stupid vs smart isn't necessarily the most accurate way to describe them, but it keeps it simple at least.

And I'm sorry that I don't remember exactly where I read/heard what, but at least the advice stuck!

The Budget is not set in stone. Actually, I think I heard this in another area entirely. I remember hearing the U.S. Constitution described as a living, breathing document, but somehow, I also took it to heart in terms of my budgeting. I'm always taking line items off my spreadsheet, adding new ones, messing with the numbers. For instance, I thought with the increase in our commute, I would be spending $40 a week on gas when I'd previously been spending $40 every two weeks. Well, the reality of it is I'm spending about $80 a week on gas. This is not an area where I can presently cut back; it is what it is. Other numbers have to change, and my budget now accurately reflects that.

Using the Triangle. Again, I didn't first learn this as financial advice, but I remember learning about the Triangle, where you can have two of the following: cost, time, or quality, but you cannot have all three. I think about that in terms of spending. It may be cheaper to buy produce at a Farmer's Market, but the hours don't generally mesh with my schedule. An item could be on sale, but is it worth it even then? For each line item in my budget, I try to assess its true worth beyond the dollar amount.

Splurge sensibly. I splurge on little things, like buying songs we want on iTunes, and going to lunch with friends. Anything over $20, however, takes a lot more consideration. As Suze recommends, I try to look into the future and determine if I'll regret it. Like this laptop on which I'm currently writing this post. True, I could've used that $$ towards paying down credit card debt, but I have not regretted this purchase. It's come in very handy for keeping the family peace. Over this past year, even this past week, there have been dozens of things I've considered, but haven't purchased. I don't regret those decisions, either. I generally don't actually spend the money the first time I've thought about it, but go back to it 3 or 4 times before hitting that "add to cart" button.

Shop online. You always get the benefit of the time factor, so the only things left are quality and cost. There's no pressure of salespeople or signs dramatizing the urgency of the discount. You don't have to settle, but can keep looking for exactly what you want. You can bookmark it and come back later if it doesn't fit in your budget right now. Even if that sales price goes away, you can look for the item on other sites for that price when you're ready to buy. And hey, if it ends up being a purchase you regret, it's so much easier to just fill out the return info and ship it back then find the time to go wait in a customer service line. (And the receipt is always easier for me to locate in my email than in my purse.)

First retirement, then your children's future. Since I basically started over 8 years ago, the very basics of Maslow's chart needed to be met first. After we were settled, it was time to start thinking about the future. I, of course, started hyperventilating at the thought of paying for college. But I've been told by colleagues and experts that it's like the airlines tell you: first, put the mask on yourself, and then the children. So right now, I'm maxing my 401k, trying to build savings and decrease debt before I can think about what I can do for them. While of course we hope for scholarships, realistically what will most likely happen is that they'll take out some student loans, and I'll subsidize their living costs.

People first, then money, then things. No secret where I got this Suze Orman mantra. I've covered "People first" into the ground already. While I may not have the latest tech gadgets, my bills are always paid on time. It's kind of like another way of saying, it's all about balance.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Faking It

When author Martha Beck is Expecting Adam: A True Story of Birth, Rebirth, and Everyday Magic, she is a full-time graduate student at Harvard. She talks about the persona, Fang, she developed in order to feel like she "fit in."

It reminded me of a conversation I had with my AP English teacher my senior year.

I had been in Honors or Advanced classes for nearly everything (except Math) from junior high, but I still didn't think of myself as smart. I may have made it into these classes, but I always assumed that I was the stupidest person in the room. (Is stupidest a real word? See, a smart person would know that already!)

As we got closer to the AP test date, I started to get really nervous that this would be the day that I was found out.

I went to my teacher to see if she thought maybe I should skip it altogether. I tried to explain to her that I didn't really belong in this class, and I didn't want my bad score to poorly reflect on her.

She said to me, "but you're here. You're in this class. Of course you belong here; otherwise, you wouldn't be here."

It was one of those light bulb moments for me. It had never occurred to me before that it wasn't by accident that I ended up in this class.

I passed the AP test. I didn't get the highest score in the class, but I passed. Turns out, I hadn't been faking it all those years after all.

I ran into her at a reunion some...years later. I told her how much that conversation meant to me, and thanked her for it. Turns out the conversation had stuck with her, too, and she said she repeated it often to students when they too were doubting themselves.

I told my parents about that conversation. My dad told me, "everybody feels that way." That, too, was a revelation. Was it possible that I wasn't the only one who wondered if I belonged there?

Beck has a similar moment in the book, so I am confident that it's not just me and my dad!

This post was inspired by the book Expecting Adam: A True Story of Birth, Rebirth, and Everyday Magic, which I received for free as a contributor to From Left to Write. I was not compensated for this post, and all opinions expressed are completely my own...but others might feel the same way! Since Amazon un-fired me as an associate (it's a California thing, not a personal thing), if you buy the book using this link, it will generate a small referral fee for me. Very small.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

My Beautiful Mom

I can never apologize enough to you for all the things I didn't appreciate when I was growing up. I never understood, of course, until becoming a mother myself.

I can never thank you enough for all the support you've given me my entire life. You always allowed me to pursue my dreams, regardless of what it cost you.

I can't take back the times when I screwed up and hurt you, whether directly or indirectly. I can see now you were only looking out for me. I can see now that you were usually right when you thought I was making a mistake. I can't take them back; I can only say that I did learn from them.

I can't take any of it back, but I also know that no matter what, you were always there for me and you always will be. Thank you for teaching me about unconditional love by giving it.

Happy birthday, Mom. I love you forever.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Stupid Financial Tips

Quick budgeting update: I shared in my Shine article on budgeting that I always round up to the nearest dollar what I spend. This really really helps when you've hit financial lows because then when you balance it against what the bank/credit union says you have (keeping in mind, of course, any outstanding payments that haven't been deducted yet), you just might find you have more than you think! I needed to use this, and found almost $200! Woo hoo!!

I realize this still doesn't make me an expert, but there is some so-called expert advice I've read (often more than once) that I could do with never reading again:

Skip the morning latte. I already do, thanks. Yes, I love Starbucks, but I'm rarely actually there. I make my coffee at home. And if I do go to Starbucks, I buy a grande drip which, with my reusable cup that I have with me at all times, costs me less than $2. Leave me and my coffee alone. It is not a budget-breaker.

Do your own mani/pedi. The last time I had a mani/pedi was 5 years ago and it was a birthday gift from a friend.

Bring your lunch from home. Okay, first of all, stop assuming that those of us looking for financial advice are stupid. Do you think this is a new concept that no one has ever thought of before?!? Most people that are willing to do this already are. And those of us that aren't? There are a variety of reasons. For some of us (like single, working moms), this is an excellent way to hang out with friends that doesn't involve hiring a babysitter. For others, it's an opportunity to network. For the record, I do go home for lunch a couple of times a week, sometimes I go for very inexpensive lunches, and yes, sometimes they're not so cheap. But this one is not so much a budget-breaker for me as an area for cutting back if/when the budget has gone topsy-turvy. But mostly, what bothers me about this particular piece of advice is the complete lack of originality.

"Never" or "always" anything. From "never pay full price for anything" to "always pay your credit card balance in full," the idea of always or never is usually not very realistic, and sets us up to think of ourselves as failures if/when the time comes that we break a so-called cardinal rule. To make it worse, we usually break these rules when something bad has happened; health issues, a lay-off or pay cut, divorce, car problems, etc. Financial advice should contain some room for the unexpected...and usually un-welcome stuff of life.

Cut back on _____. Whether it's cable, eating out or whatever the author found particularly useful for them does not make it necessarily so for the reader. Again, it's the assumption that we're stupid; that we haven't actually looked at where our money is going. We also each have our own priorities. We either already canceled HBO or we feel the cost is worth it. What I found to be much more useful was looking at my actual spending every week, every month, and finding which items I resented. Then, it became easier to cut back in areas that I personally felt were wasteful.

And thus begins a more positive look on what financial advice was actually helpful. More to come...

Friday, November 4, 2011

Education and Everything Else

Having said that, education can't be the number one priority all the time.

There are times when I've been the polar opposite of a Tiger Mom, and have let it slide when the girls don't get their homework done.

On Back to School Night (which also happened to be her birthday), Riley still had one assignment to complete, but I let her go to bed anyway. I thought about what would most likely happen if I tried to push her to finish it. She was already cranky and tired; it would've just been a battle and in that state, she can't do her best work. Sure enough, she figured out when to get it done the next day, when she was refreshed and alert, and it all worked out just fine.

I've also stopped being the homework enforcer almost entirely with Sylvia. While I still make sure she has quiet space and limit other distractions, unless she asks for my help, I don't get involved much more than that. I know that there have been times where she's turned in homework late, and the natural consequences of a lower grade are enough. These are not my grades, after all, but hers. She's in high school now, and her education is her responsibility.

In addition to education, it's almost my job to prepare them for the rest of their lives. We talk about money often, and they're welcome to look at my budget spreadsheets anytime. (So far, only Riley has taken advantage of that.) I've told Sylvia that watching every episode of Suze Orman her senior year will be a requirement. (That's not to say that Suze's a god or anything, but her program offers a variety of topics that can be used as a starting point for more in-depth financial discussions.)

It's also a family effort to balance school and work with everything else in our daily lives. They recognize as much as I do when our schedule has gotten out of control, and share in my goal of attempting to keep Sundays drive-free days. They have a few household duties, and little by little, we add more. Getting together with family and friends is also a priority. Of course, there are always movies or events we miss, but we talk about why it was probably best that we did.

Riley in particular talks about which things are "more important." Sometimes, we disagree. They know I'll usually hear them out, but they also know that I always maintain my veto power.

Education is important. But it isn't everything.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

On Education Today...and Tomorrow

There are times when I'm sick and tired of making the girls' education the priority. I see the state of the job situation, I see the high cost of student loans with no guaranty, and sometimes I have to ask myself, why am I pushing this so hard? Just like I don't believe that the old American dream that being married with 2.5 children and living in a mortgaged home is the way to go for everybody, why is it so important for me that my daughters go to college?

I had a great email exchange with someone that reminded me that the state of the world today isn't necessarily how it will be 10 years from now. I heard about the bill Obama's introducing regarding student loan debt. I'm not necessarily convinced that will solve anything (nor that it will even pass), but it reminded me that indeed, things can and will change. Not necessarily for the better, but there's nothing more inevitable than change.

I also remembered something else. School is the hardest thing I've ever done. It was also the most fun I ever had, and the most accomplished I ever felt.

In school, expectations are clear, deadlines are set, and for the most part, you get back almost exactly what you put into it. Some teachers may be tougher than others, but once you have a grade, that's it; you're done. And at the end of it, you get a pretty diploma to frame.

At work, if there's a change in regime, there will most likely be a change in policy or process...usually, without any prior notice. At work, deadlines change constantly. You could work tirelessly on a project only to have it completely scrapped and all that work was for nothing. You could have a great day at work, but then screw up the very next day, and feel like there's more time and attention to everything you did wrong, and no time and attention to everything you got right. You're reviewed on an annual basis, but you know that all anyone remembers is what you did the week you got reviewed. There is no end, or at least, you hope there's no end!

The diploma, the report cards, aren't the end-all, be-all, but they are much more than that to me now. They remind me of my AP English teacher, who convinced me that I actually did belong in an AP class. They remind me of that great Communications class where we talked through how our weaknesses were our strengths overused. They remind me of that silly poem I wrote to represent what I'd learned in Listening & Lit. The friends I had, the laughter we shared, and that one time that my friend and I cried over how grateful we were to our parents who had sacrificed so much for us. And yes, the times I didn't do so well, which I can now acknowledge were entirely my fault. (I mean, come on, I skipped Biology almost once a week! Was I really going to get better than a C in that class?)

The expectations may have been clear, but that doesn't mean school was easy. Preparing for tests wasn't always fun, writing the papers didn't always come easily, and staying alert during the lectures could sometimes be the hardest part. I'd get nervous every time a test grade or paper was about to be passed out.

Work, for all its problems, is easy, comparatively. Very few of us are actually curing cancer or working as rocket scientists and for most of us, the hardest part is enduring the monotony of it! Another day, another dollar, we say. Another day, another agreement. It looks almost exactly like the one I did yesterday except it's not so I have to go through this one just like I went through the last one. And will have to go through the next one. I actually love my job, and feel like it does at least challenge and engage me, but it's not particularly hard. There are fewer opportunities in any job to try completely new things like one does in school.

I value my education not just for what I learned, or even for what it allowed me to accomplish. I value the educational process, and want my girls to value it as well. Because they will miss it. Even if they're not always so sure about that. So yes, in this regard, I will continue to believe that their education should remain a priority for all of us. They may not ever thank me, but they will look back on these days fondly.

P.S. (because I'm big on posts these days), there will be a Part 2 to this post. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Stuff I Don't Miss

So both of my girls added another number to their ages in the past week. If I were a better mom, I suppose I'd be crying about how they're growing up too fast. But I'm not. Instead, I'm counting the things I don't miss about having babies, toddlers, pre-schoolers, or elementary schoolers anymore:

  • Halloween parades, Holiday pageants, etc. Part of this is purely practical. I don't have to worry about taking time off work to attend these events, I was always bored more often at these events than entertained (because of course, all I really cared about was when my kid(s) walked or performed), and I don't have to worry about buying/making party favors/foods for such events. 
  • No longer needing a stroller/baby seat/car seat. When we went to Disneyland, I updated my FB status that I so don't miss trying to wheel a stroller through the throngs anymore. I also don't miss heaving the baby seat from the car to the grocery cart, or checking a car seat on airplanes. I still hold my girls' hands when we cross a street, or even a driveway, but it's nice not to be wishing for extra limbs anymore.
  • Grocery shopping with the under 10 set. One of the first blogs I ever read was the e-Bay listing from the mom who was selling trading cards that her child added to the conveyer belt without her knowledge. While I only have 2 to her 6, I could still relate all too well! I totally celebrated whenever the opportunity arose that I could shop without my "helpers." What's interesting is, I actually like to have them with me again. It's nice talking to them, and it's nice that they're actually of the age where they can help when I remember while checking out that I forgot the pesto sauce and they can go grab it for me!
  • Trying to throw unforgettable, but fairly cheap and easy, birthday parties. Again, making me a Scrooge for bday celebrations, I used to do the trips to Disneyland plus the birthday party plus the birthday meal. Too, too much. 
  • Playing the Tooth Fairy and Santa. I still do to a certain extent, but if I forget to place the money under the pillow, I can just hand it to Riley the next day. I still put From Santa on one major gift to each and fill up the stocking, but I was never crazy about fictional characters getting all the credit, anyway. I like getting the hugs and thank yous, thankyouverymuch. 
  • The Tantrums. Oh, the tantrums. And Sylvia (sorry, hon) was a champion tantrum-thrower. And it's all my fault, really. I was also famous for my tantrums as a child. Well, Mom, I have been sufficiently paid back, and now we just wait and see if/when Sylvia will get her due! 
  • Being able to watch non-family programming. I like being able to watch the news in the morning without worrying what little ears might hear. For one thing, I like to see what time it really is (because I set all the clocks about 9 minutes ahead) and also, just in case something major happened. I also like that the girls and I can enjoy some of the same programming on prime time. And they might not love (or get) The Daily Show with Jon Stewart quite as much as I do, but hey, they can always leave the room.
  • The Noise. Our house is usually peaceful these days. Without the tantrums, with separate rooms and separate space, our house isn't nearly as chaotic as it used to be. We may crank up the music sometimes, but our usual form of communication is at acceptable decibels again. We actually talk. We laugh a lot, but they can also appreciate that sometimes, Mommy wants to be alone for a while. I can tell them, "I'm writing" and they don't freak out. During homework time, I read. It's all very civilized. 
Oh, I'm sure the time will come where I'm weepy and miss the chaos, the noise, but for now, I appreciate my girls for exactly who they are today. Not entirely grown up yet, but not entirely needy (and noisy) anymore, either. 

P.S. How could I forget this one great perk? Sylvia's finally tall enough to reach into the top-loading clothes washer in our apartment building! Help with the laundry is a fabulous thing!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Budgeting Update: People First

As if it wasn't enough that I spent $1200 on car repairs, that expenditure took place just a couple of paychecks from the girls' birthdays. Oh, did I mention it was also right around my sister's birthday, my nephew's birthday and my mother's birthday? There were also Halloween costumes to buy, and birthday meals.

Before anyone mentions that it's not the price tag of the present counts, believe me, that was completely taken into consideration. Sales, discounts, points to cash in, I kept the costs down as low as I possibly could. I skimped in other areas, of course, and still came up short. (Not every budgeting update can be a success story!)

There was this moment where I was thinking about it, okay, stressing about it, and understood Suze Orman's phrase, "people first" on another level. These are my people. These people are my everything. I've been okay with it ever since.

Of course, I'm still trying to cut corners and make up the difference as best as I can, but I'm not beating myself up over it. The resources are finite and can only be stretched so far, but I will always put my people first.

Monday, October 31, 2011

My Beautiful Sylvia

Happy, happy birthday, lovely girl!

I thought 13 was going to be a lot harder than that! 12, I think we can agree, was tough. But your first year of being a teenager was surprisingly wonderful!

We talked a lot, we laughed a lot, and hugged a lot. Yes, there were tears and trouble, too, but for the most part, those were all growing pains.

I can't tell you how proud I am of you. You have accomplished so much in your life already. You've been paid as a performer, you've been flown to New Orleans as a dancer and scholarship winner, you've been praised by so many. Every opportunity you've been given, you've cherished.

You're a fiercely loyal friend, you're not afraid to be yourself, and you can even laugh at yourself.

You are slowly but surely finding your footing in high school. You have made friends that will most likely be life-long friends. You are learning to take criticism just as gracefully as you take praise. You are having to manage an awful lot of responsibilities, and you are figuring out how to do that. You're learning when to ask for help.

You are my everything, as you have been for the last 14 years. I can't bear to think about how little time I have left with you; waking you up every morning, saying good-night to you every night. So I won't. Instead, I'll just cherish this day with you, as I have cherished every day of your life, and every day to come with you.

I love everything about who you are, and who you are becoming. Thank you for everything of your world that you share with me, because you are my world.

Happy birthday, Sylvia.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

My Beautiful Riley

Happy, happy birthday, Riley!

Words could never say just how much, how fiercely, how completely I love you; how honored I am to be your mom, to get to watch you grow up.

Not to mention, how proud I am of you. You are thriving in middle school and I'm so happy for you! Not just of your straight A student status, but you are happy, you are involved in so many activities, and every day, you tell me your day was awesome. It's everything I wanted for you, and you are taking full advantage of every opportunity.

I love that you are seeing the world differently now. I love that you understand how what you learn in every subject applies to not only the other subjects, but to everyday life.

I love your sense of humor. You make me laugh every day with your observations, with your silliness.

I love that you make sure we hold our family meetings, that you cherish family, that you're so appreciative.

You still have mad problem-solving skills, and you're not afraid to use them. You're not perfect, but you make every effort to learn from your mistakes. You're also getting better at not being too hard on yourself.

I have so many great memories of your 10th year. I can't wait to see what memories 11 holds for us.

I love you, Riley. I hope you have a wonderful birthday.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Great Memories; Past and Present

We went to Disneyland for the girls' birthdays this weekend, as we have every year for the last 8 years. They participated in one of the children's events, and were the biggest kids in the group. When did that happen?

I remember the trips where I'd be afraid they'd get lost in the crowd. I remember fighting through the throngs with the stroller, waiting in the long lines for the kiddie rides where there are no fast passes available.

Now, just the two of them will go on some rides and stay in touch via cell phone. We know when to hold hands and navigate our way through the crowds, and they want to skip the parades and fireworks just as much as I do. We were all ready to leave at the same time, no one upset that we didn't get to a certain ride, no threats given that if they didn't behave, we'd leave.

I had all these memories of previous trips this time around; when they danced with Mary Poppins and the High School Musical show, the first picture we took with Minnie Mouse, the day Riley was finally tall enough for Soarin'.

I was most struck, however, by the fact that I don't miss that. The memories are enough. I can appreciate the memories, but I also appreciate who they are today.

And I appreciate what hasn't changed. Like these annual trips to Disneyland that always end with churros.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Me and B

Mama’s Losin’ It

Writing prompt I chose:

4.) Share the story behind your current Facebook and/or Twitter profile photo.

That's me and B.

We met a little over 8 years ago, and she quickly became part of our chosen family. Sylvia has described B as her "other mom." B's that kind of lady; looks out for everyone.

She has cancer. She's been fighting it for a year now. She had two cancer-free months this summer, and then, the bitch was back.

When she was diagnosed, I made a Locks of Love donation in her name. My hair's not long enough to do it again just yet (though I will continue to grow it out and donate again...and again and again for as long as I can). I'm not smart enough to cure cancer, so what could I do? I could change my profile pic. Stupid, I know, but it was something. A way to send a message to her and all of our mutual friends that she's on my mind all the time.

Plus, this happens to be one of the few pics of myself I actually like. It's because she's making me smile as usual, feeling the warmth of her love, and all the support she's given me and my family through the years. And she looks great, doesn't she?

We were at a fundraiser (because that's B; always giving back) with a 20's theme. We drank and laughed a lot that night. Most of our memories together are of drinks and laughter, tears and laughter, hugs and laughter. B is always love and laughter.

B, I love you.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Life Well Lived: Purse Organization

As part of BlogHer's Life Well Lived program, we were asked:

What are the biggest issues you have in keeping your purse organized and neat and what is the best advice you have to keep your purse neat and orderly?  What 3 things in your purse are must haves and what 3 could you live without?

I seriously love my purse. It's huge, it has compartments, and holds anything and everything I think I may need. I love it even more because it cost me $2 at a yard sale.  

So my advice? Get a bigger purse. And spend as little on it as possible.

This is where I lose my self-respecting girl status: I don't care if it matches, I won't change purses depending on the event, and I will use my purse until it falls apart.

3 must-haves:
  1. Wallet
  2. Keys
  3. Work i.d.
3 could live without (theoretically):
  1. Aleve (because I also keep a bottle at home and at work)
  2. Cell phone (only because I still remember a time I didn't have one)
  3. Blackberry (because I have...but it was really, really hard!)
How many things do I actually have in my purse?  Far more than that!

This may not sound very organized, but to me, it completely is. I keep my grocery list (and my calendar) in my Blackberry so that I'm sure not to forget it when I go grocery shopping. My purse even has a pen holder, which comes in very handy. In a pinch, the girls can play games on my cell phone if they're bored. I can hold my sister's cell phone or my daughter's wallet when they want their hands free.  I can usually find a quarter in there if I have to feed a parking meter. I can even fit the junk mail to shred at work in my behemoth bag.

Things I don't keep in my purse:
  1. Make-up (again, losing girl points)
  2. Receipts (once I take a glance, I recycle fairly routinely)
  3. Camera (still or Flip, I always forget the camera, which ends up being okay)
In the interest of full disclosure, this is actually my 2nd post on purses (weird, huh?), and while I did enjoy the Beijo bag, I eventually had to accept that I'm a big bag lady.

If you'd rather not carry your weight in your purse, check out BlogHer's Life Well Lived post on purse organization. And enter the sweepstakes for $250. How much of that $250 would end up in your purse?

    Tuesday, October 18, 2011

    Scrooge-like for Halloween

    I am so not a fan of Halloween. I think trick-or-treating is weird. I'm not all that into candy.  I don't see the need to pay someone to scare me. I don't like dressing up, and I don't like trying to help the girls come up with costumes. Even as a kid, it was never a favorite holiday.

    Of course, my first-born had to be born on this day. She loves it, and Riley loves it. When it comes to Halloween, they're normal, despite me.

    For years, I've swallowed my discomfort, I've put on a happy face (though not a costume), and have taken the girls trick-or-treating. I'm so ready to retire.

    I was hoping that with both girls out of elementary school, they would also be done with trick-or-treating. Nope, both still want to go.

    I know, this is supposed to be one of those cherished memories. I prefer remembering the trips to Disneyland, the family dinners, the laughter. I mean, not every moment of childhood can be cherished! If everything's worth remembering, then nothing's special.

    The girls want to plan their costumes and what we'll do. I just want it to be November already.

    What does one call a Scrooge for Halloween? Whatever it is, that's me.

    Friday, October 14, 2011

    More Single Mom Statistics

    A while back, I made a public comment at a city council meeting. I began by saying, "I'm a single, working mom, and the last thing I want for my children is to end up as a statistic."

    Another statistic has been released. The title: Single moms report worse health in middle life.Oh, joy.

    When I read the article, however, there was actually more substance to it.

    The findings suggest public health campaigns to promote marriage, which were started by the government in 1996 and aimed at single, low-income mothers, may not improve these women's health as once hoped, the researchers said.
    This reminded me, of course, of the debate I had with the pro-marriage dude who called me a national disaster. I don't remember if I ever wrote about it, but I also had a lengthy conversation with someone from the federal healthy marriages project not long after that. By the end of it, we had to agree to disagree. Still, I think it's time I followed up with him to inquire why our federal government continues to fund marriage incentive programs, particularly with all the other issues.

    The article goes on to state:
    It's important to note a bad relationship or bad marriage also can be deleterious to one's health.
    I can say this absolutely was true for me. I remember once, during my relationship with X, I looked at a list of the Top 10 Stress Factors (that pointed out that having 3 or more of them would most likely land you in a hospital). I was at the time experiencing 7 of those 10. The first few years of single motherhood were bumpy, no doubt, but the last 3 have been the most settled of my adulthood.

    The conclusion of the study seems to me the most important, most useful information for single moms, their children, and society at large:

    The study suggested policymakers should look for other ways to help single mothers improve their health, Williams said, such as providing access to job training, child care assistance and health insurance.
    Yes, single parenthood is hard, but it's made that much harder if you can't make enough money to support your family, can't find affordable quality child care, or you can't take your kids to the doctor.

    Most single parents I've met aren't looking for hand-outs. I know that the majority of my influence as a parent comes from I do, not what I say. I'm okay with telling them there's not enough money to go to the latest movie, or to take them out to eat every night. I'm not okay with them not having a safe place to go after school. I'm not okay with losing my job because of a massive lay-off (and not because of my work product). I'm not okay with not having adequate healthy dinners to feed them because the healthier grocery options are out of my budget.*

    It's important to look beyond the statistics, beyond a "sexy" headline, and get into what it really means to be a single parent family. Chances are, there are worse alternatives.

    (*Note: none of this is true for me today, but possibilities, prior experiences, and underlying fears.)

    Thursday, October 13, 2011

    Some Commuting Observations

    In Griffith Park (of all places), there's a sign that reads: "Haunted Hayride, Staight Ahead"
    (well, I guess we know where to go regardless!)

    I don't know why it took me so long to find this one, so obvious: "NIGTHCLUB"

    There's a pickle truck that I see a few days a week. They're so proud of their "HOMADE" pickles, they say it twice!

    There's an intersection where the left lane has a "stop here" line much farther back than the right lane. It's because a lot of trucks turn right there, and they need the extra space to make the turn. It's always a combination of funny and scary to watch the cars try to back up from my position in the right lane.

    One guy mumbles his way down the row of cars waiting for the red light. I've never been able to decipher a word of it. I've wondered if it's Spanish, English or another language, but I think it's his own. Never seen him get a dime. He's there every day, though. Except for the days when we're running early. He doesn't start until 7:45.

    There's a bright spot every morning when I brake at one particular stop sign and smile and wave to the crossing guard. She's always so happy to see me! It's not just me, it happens with several of us. That makes it even better. I actually missed her when she was out sick for a few days. I was glad to see her back.

    Wednesday, October 12, 2011

    Young Woman, Old Feelings

    During my morning commute, I was stopped near an apartment building that would only look inviting if your choices were being homeless or living there. A woman, mid-20s probably, was sitting in front of her iron-gated door. I could not see her face, but I could feel her despair.

    I totally remember feeling that way. I felt that way a lot when I was with X. Stuck, hopeless, and still not quite sure how I ended up there in the first place.

    I see the kids walking to school, hair neatly braided, and in the evenings, playing ball and beaming. I thought about those kids when I looked at this young woman. I'm sure when she was a kid, she beamed, too.

    I know I'm projecting. I know I don't know her real story, but I still felt this inexplicable powerful connection to this stranger whose face was turned away from me.

    When I felt that way, I remember thinking that it felt completely surreal. This was not my life.  I just didn't know how to change it for a very long time.

    I do know that things could not have changed for me without my family. It took me a while (okay, years) to figure that out, but eventually, I knew I had a safe place where I could start over.

    I hope that woman has that. Everyone should have that.

    Tuesday, October 11, 2011

    Bucket List-less

    Every so often, I come across other people's bucket lists, lists of what women should have done by the age of 40, etc. I was reading one such list of aspirations and wondered if I should try it. It took me half a second to decide, no.

    Not that my life is over or anything, but so far, I have had too many wonderful moments that came about in surprising ways to try and plan them. From my life on the cruise ship, to the opportunities blogging has afforded me, to the experiences I've had just from being at the right place at the right time, those are the little miracles that I look back on most fondly.

    Granted, most came about because of my goals, ambitions or aspirations. Those are necessary. Those are the reasons we get up every day. And that's what makes those memories so sweet. I put myself out there as an actor, a producer, a blogger, a student, and lo and behold: all these rewards came with it! They're the proverbial pats on the shoulder for going after what you want.

    I don't want to make a bucket list of places to go or adventures to have and then, 20 years later see that I've only checked off a few items and be bummed about it!

    It's like how I ended up here. None of this could've happened without a few dreams falling apart. What if I'd made a different choice than to have Sylvia? What if I hadn't stayed with X long enough to have Riley? Some of my dreams from childhood may have come true, but I can't really care about that. What I got was so much better.

    It's too easy to get tunnel-visioned into what you think you want. As Sondheim said in Into the Woods, "but how can you know what you want 'til you get what you want and you see if you like it?" Or, if you're sick of my Broadway musical references, there's also "you get what you need." I don't want to be so hell-bent on going to Hawaii that I may miss something that takes me to Australia. And if I look back in 20 years on some list that said Hawaii, then that means I didn't do something.

    No, I'd rather stick with lists of where I've been and what I've done and count the great memories. And look forward to the unexpected moments to come.

    Sunday, October 9, 2011

    The Little Things

    The week before last, it was car trouble. This past week, I was sick for most of it (it was so bad, I actually went three days without coffee!). Things have not gone as expected.

    I'm not really a silver lining kind of girl;  I've accepted that life is usually about getting through one problem so you can get through the next. Having said that, there have been a few reminders that even when things are bad, they're still pretty good.

    It's nice having the girls old enough, and kind enough, to help out when I'm not on top of my game. Riley was incredibly understanding of the times I needed to nap, the times I couldn't help her (though she hated not being able to kiss me). Sylvia was so helpful; she made dinner, took on some extra duties, and even went shopping for me. (They haven't shown any signs of getting my illness; another good thing.) They are, of course, very pleased that I'm finally beginning to feel better, and I'm sure they'll overcompensate next week. Still, it's nice to know that when needed, they can and will pick up the slack.

    It's easy to get caught up in all the things I could (and should) be doing better, but I also realized how much I've already improved in the last few years. A few years ago, a sickness would've put me weeks behind in terms of household duties. There were still plenty of things that I managed to get done without even thinking about it. That right there is good motivation to just add little by little to our daily routines; it's the little things that make a world of difference.

    As much as I bitched and moaned about having to spend money on the car, I was able to avoid the worst case scenario. I'm adjusting the budget as needed, and the beauty is, I can. Again, the little steps I've taken over the past year or so have made that possible.

    What's truly amazing is, I was able to write all this positive stuff without the help of the happy pills (i.e., Vicodin).

    Monday, October 3, 2011

    Simple, but Not Easy

    I heard someone say that the other day, and nodded in agreement. There are many simple tasks I want to accomplish that just aren't easy.

    For the most part, I'm pretty good at communicating with the girls. I can put complex thoughts and ideas in ways they can understand, I can talk to them about uncomfortable subject matters, and we're close. But there are a lot of things I could do better.

    I loathe school projects. Riley had to make a model of the Earth and label all the layers. I'm a firm believer in kids doing their own school projects, but I admit, part of that is merely because I don't want to do it. As Riley worked, she mentioned, "you know, they said we could get help," and I grimaced. It's not that it's hard, it's that I don't wanna. Crafts are not my idea of a good time.

    I don't mind helping with the English homework. I enjoy quizzing her on vocabulary words, or helping her come up with sentences or summarize. Because I like it and I'm good at it. But I'm not good at Math or art, and most of the time, she's better off without my help. At least, that's what I tell myself. But I know in my heart of hearts that I need to get over it already.

    Helping Sylvia with organization is also a problem area. I've gotten better at organization over the years because I've had to, but I'm still no natural. I've tried to teach her what I've learned, help her make to-do lists and routines, but I'm not good at the follow-through. I want to just tell her what to do and let her go do it. That's not really working for either of us. I know it starts with me.

    Sometimes, I get all fired up, but then I burn out. Sometimes I can tell myself that there's always tomorrow. Other times, I freak out completely because time is running short and I may miss the few opportunities I have left.

    I know I'm a good mom. I just want to be better. Simple enough to want, but not easy to be.

    Thursday, September 29, 2011

    National Coffee Day

    Who knew this was a real thing, but apparently, today is National Coffee Day. I've always loved the song Taylor, the Latte Boy, but I think I may love the rebuttal even more.

    Tuesday, September 27, 2011

    Budgeting Update: Reality Smackdown

    Cars, as we know, cost us as soon as we drive them off the lot. My beloved car was driven off the lot 10 years ago. Over 120,000 miles ago. It's starting to get fun.

    Ironically, just as my car hit 120k is about the same time that I went from commuting about 9 miles a day to about 60 miles a day. Timing; it's everything.

    My check engine light came on. I made the mistake of trying to hope for the best instead of prepare for the worst. I'd hoped that my mechanic would find nothing wrong. Not the case. So I've had about 18 hours to figure out how to pay nearly a grand of unexpected costs.

    This is one of those moments where it feels worse than it should. For the most part, I can get along just fine, better than fine, given our circumstances. But every so often, the circumstances win. The reality is that I started over 8 years ago, am raising two kids completely on my own, and have chosen to drive 50 miles out of my way to give them the best opportunities possible. That doesn't have its consequences.

    The consequences are that I'm still living paycheck to paycheck, and there is no spare thousand lying around for these moments.

    If I believed in regret, I could start kicking myself, but then, how far back do I go? I could say I shouldn't have bought the laptop...or for that matter, gotten married, or for that There's no point in all that.

    So I have to put more on the credit card. So I have to come up with a little creative financing. So I'll have to re-evaluate the budget again.

    This is the life I've chosen for us. All things considered, I stand by those choices. Which includes, of course, paying for them.

    Still, kinda sucks sometimes.

    Sunday, September 25, 2011

    Presently April Dawn

    For approximately 15 years, I've been Formerly April Dawn. For the past two months, I've had the opportunity to be April Dawn, the actress, again.

    I keep having these moments of integrating my past into my present. This is another one.

    I've always hated labels, because I don't like to think of myself as just one thing. I'm not just a single mom, just a paralegal, just an actress, just a blogger. And there are very few times that I am one thing at a time. I like to juggle, but not just because it's challenging to figure out how to be two places at once.

    I think that each experience enhances the others. I think I can be a better mom, a better actress, a better employee because of what I learn from being a blogger, a Leadership student, a head of household. I like playing with these different facets. I like finding the unexpected similarities and complementary differences.

    I have only one regret about this experience - but since I don't really believe in regret, a lesson learned, really. I wish I hadn't limited my bio to my previous experience as April Dawn. I wish I'd included more of who I am today.

    As this experience comes to an end, I don't know what label will replace this one. I didn't know about this one until the opportunity presented itself. I will just continue to be open to new labels, new experiences, and finding new labels.

    Oh, in the midst of all this, I acquired a new label: I became a Top SoCal Mom blogger on Circle of Moms! Thanks to everyone who helped make that happen.

    Saturday, September 24, 2011

    Weekend Reading

    Sometimes, it feels like we're parenting in a fish bowl. That's the topic of my post for MomsLA.

    Thursday, September 22, 2011

    True Love

    Photo: Stock Xchng/flaivoloka
    My desire to celebrate being single can sometimes be misconstrued as a slam against couples. It's really not meant that way.

    There are a few couples in my life that I know with certainty belong together; their partnership strengthens each other, and they can't imagine a life without each other. Those marriages are very cool. You can see and feel the true love between them.

    True love can be about other relationships. Talking about loving my children is too easy. There are other true loves of my life.

    My best friend, K, is a true love of my life. We don't see each other often, but the connection remains strong. We bring out the best in each other. We respect, value, and complement each other. We just don't have to do so every day.

    One of my work friends is a true love. I know she will be a part of my life forever. Even though we live hours away from each other, have family commitments, and other obstacles, we still make time to spend together outside of the workplace. She is often my theatre date, and we have a wonderful time together. I can't imagine my life without her, and I know I don't have to.

    Theatre itself is a true love. It's been a part of my life since I was 6 years old, and it's my longest truest love outside of family. I will make personal sacrifices to see a new favorite musical, I've watched every Tonys broadcast since 1984. I crave them, can't get through a day without 'em. Musicals are my constant companions.

    I try to fill as many hours of my life as I can with things I love and people I love, truly love: respect, value, and crave. They give back in ways that fill my soul. From the day I could finally download The Book of Mormon, to the Thursdays I have marked in my calendar for lunch with my best work friend, to the moments in the car with the girls while we belt out our favorite songs from musicals, I experience true love every day.