Thursday, August 30, 2012

One month later

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

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

Especially in the mornings.

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

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

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

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

So why am I going on about it here?

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

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

Monday, August 27, 2012

An Unexpected Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 23, 2012


Thanks to Mom for inspiring the name of this post!

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


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

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

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

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

3 More Years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Kids and Musical Theatre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wishing my entire musical family a magical opening night!!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Bullies, Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

That's no solution.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Bullies Grow Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The next school year went much better for all involved.

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

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

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

Monday, August 13, 2012

Balancing our Strong Wills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Negative Thinking Gaining Respect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Child Support Awareness Month

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 6, 2012

Halfway Through the School Years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 2, 2012


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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