Friday, March 22, 2013

Just A Girl

Image from Milwaukee Public Television site,

So…after the debacle of Black History Month, Viva came home this week and told us that her class is now studying women’s history.  Because March is Women’s History Month.

“But it’s already mid-March,” I said. “And Spring Break starts next week!”

“I know, right?” said Viva.  “But I don’t really care because I’m kind of sick of learning about history.”

 “Happy Women’s History Month Week,” I said, snorting. “Okay, I know you are over it because of Black History Month [which felt like it lasted 10 weeks in our house], but women’s history is pretty cool. And I doubt that Mr. B_____ is going to focus on anything particularly violent.”*

“Oh my God, let’s hope not,” Viva said.

“So who are you learning about?” I asked.

“Nobody yet. He made us do research to find three women who made a difference in history, and he made it really hard.”

“What was so hard about it?”

“He wouldn’t let us use any of the women we learned about during Black History Month! So you’re not allowed to use Oprah, Michelle Obama, Sojourner Truth…”**

“So who did you find?”

“I don’t remember their names. I think one was a lawyer?” Okay, I got on her a little bit about that, but I figured there would be more to the assignment and this would be reinforced.

And then, two days into Women’s History Month Week, her teacher took the rest of the week off, going out of town to start his Spring Break early. 

Sorry, Mr. B____, but you get a FAIL from this child of the ‘70s, Free-to-Be-You-and-Me lovingSeven Sisters College-educated, 40-something feminist. I am the great-great-granddaughter of slaves, so I appreciate the Black History focus, but give my African-American daughter equal time to learn and appreciate the contributions of women to our history.  
By the way, I did a little Google research and found a variety of links about teaching kids about women’s history. Here’s one I think we’ll be using at home...perhaps during Spring Break, before Women's History Month is actually over. It's pretty incredible to me that in just a few minutes on Google I found lesson plan after lesson plan that her teacher could use, and yet it appears that the kids in my daughter's class are only getting two days of women's history.
* Which, my God, let’s face it –doesn’t mean he couldn’t focus on violence against women if he wanted to. Lord knows there’s enough of it. And let’s not forget that the violence that was perpetrated against African Americans during slavery and post-emancipation was certainly not limited to the men. It makes chills run up my spine to think about the horrors that were done to female slaves.
** Yes, she did say Oprah first. Lord, give me strength.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Follow Your Bliss

Wow, I love this story:

For Guzmán, teaching is not just a profession, it's a vocation. "You really have to feel inside that you can do this," she said. Asked what keeps her going every day at the age of 80, Guzmán laughed.  "The children," she said, "are my energy capsules."
Do you love your job so much that you’d still want to do it when you’re 80? If not, what are you doing about it? Is your job just a job, or do you feel it is a calling?

While I am not in my dream job, I know what my vocation is. I have always been a storyteller and I expect I always will be. I am hoping I will still be writing, in whatever capacity, when I am 80 and beyond. I imagine I will still have something to say. I intend to be an outspoken old broad!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

You Just Call Out My Name…

Have you heard about the Lifeboat project?  I stumbled across this today and even as I type this, I can hear a little voice in my head* intoning that there are no coincidences.**

You see, I was just thinking recently about how I miss our old house, as it was in the flow of things and friends would kind of regularly drop by. We were just down the street from the local elementary school and the park where many in our circle played Little League and basketball. We averaged one to two drop-in visits a week, and it was nice to be so plugged in to our friends' lives.

Since we moved to our apartment a year and a half ago, we are out of that pleasant little loop. We are just a few miles away, but parking on our street is challenging to say the least, and there’s the intercom to deal with, and the maze of our complicated apartment complex that newcomers have difficulty navigating. However, even beyond that little circle of local friends, I miss my larger circle of friends and how full my life has become that I live in the same city as many of my friends and still don’t get to see them.

So, back to Lifeboat, a “movement of people rediscovering great friendships.” Apparently in this hyperconnected age, it is quite common for people to have tremendous numbers of Facebook friends but still spend only 4% of their actual face time with their friends. The movement was spurred by a couple who were lamenting the decline of their relationships with their friends the further they moved into adulthood (in their case, their 30s). Well, good heavens! You might say this is a very first world problem to have.  But I do think there is something to this, as our emotional relationships are so very important to our overall health. I can say that despite my busy life, there are times when I do feel very lonely.  I love my husband, and I love my children, but sometimes I just need a girlfriend to vent to or hang with, and sometimes it just seems like such a project to get it together that I stop before I’ve even started as the thought of organizing something exhausts me.

Recently, I had lunch plans with some girlfriends who had to cancel because they work together and got roped into working on a Saturday (March 2nd) at the last minute. As we were trying by email to coordinate our schedules around our children and other commitments, we realized that we probably wouldn’t be able to get together until nearly mid-April. We were all pretty bummed. A couple of hours later, one friend excitedly emailed that her stepson’s mom had emailed to ask to switch visitation weekends, so we are good to go for March 23rd.  Ultimately, it worked out, but it gives you an idea of how difficult it is to plan things. Lunch during the week is out because of distance and after work is out because two of us have issues with childcare.

That’s not to mention friends who I only see once a year or every couple of years, who live in various far-flung areas in Los Angeles County. It is not impossible for us to get together, it just takes some planning. In the Lifeboat spirit, I am trying to reach out and see people I haven’t seen in some time. Consider yourself forewarned.

Has the frequency of your friend interaction changed over time?  Do you think this Lifeboat movement might be helpful to you or are you appalled that such a thing exists? Or are you somewhere in the middle? I’m curious.

* Note that I am not hearing other voices. I am not having auditory hallucinations. But thanks, thanks if you were concerned. No, really, thanks!

** Note that I am really disturbed to realize that the voice I am hearing in my head is Master Oogway (one of the Worst Phonetic Spellings Ever, I have to add) from Kung Fu Panda saying, “There are no accidents.”

Monday, March 11, 2013

Flip Flop

I am seeing a shift in my children these days, and it is this:

The one who was miserably bored with school, now—with the shift to a new half-preschool, half-pre-K situation—jumps out of the car and runs to school. She chatters to me excitedly about volcanoes. She tells me they had green eggs and ham to celebrate Dr. Seuss’ birthday. She is eager to see the fuzzy chicks which are going to hatch ANY SECOND NOW in the incubator in her classroom.

Meanwhile, the one who has always LOVED school, who was not at all apprehensive about her 4th/5th grade combination class at the beginning of the year (despite my privately held misgivings), is now dragging her butt to school. Black History Month (more specifically slavery) is one reason.  Another is that the 4th graders were promised a whole week away from the 5th graders, who were all supposed to go to Science Camp for the week last week. And then only two 5th graders went to Science Camp (which at $200 a pop, is out of range for many of the families at school). She was looking forward to her grade having their teacher all to themselves for once. The 5th graders are a pain in the ass, a thorn in her side.

I am nonplussed. I am of course happy that Ceeya loves her new school, which she started in February (and I can’t believe I haven’t yet posted about that yet). But I am bummed that Viva is now really disliking school. Her grades are still good, but she’s really struggling with her attitude. I know, life is not all peaches and roses – Lord, do I know. But Viva is generally a pretty happy kid and now her general mood is one of Funk. And not in the way that I like.

We are planning Spring Break and her 10th birthday is coming up and I’m hoping that will help. And meanwhile, we keep talking things through. We keep talking. (And in Ceeya’s case, we keep talking loudly, generally right over somebody as they are in the middle of a sentence, and we get offended if it is gently pointed out to us that such behavior is rude, and then we tell everyone within earshot that we don’t want to talk to them ever again and they are no longer our best friend. And then twenty minutes later we wrap our arms around them and squeeze, lest they forget that they are always our best friend and must never leave us. Oh, Ceeya. She is a complicated little person.)

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Purpose, with a capital P

For Christmas, I bought Viva a mother-daughter journal for us to share.  It has writing prompts to help start discussions and also blank pages to write whatever’s on our minds.  I write on the left side, she writes on the right. When I’m done, I leave it beside her bed for her to read; she responds in a couple of days and leaves it on my pillow.

I enjoy it because it allows her to broach subjects she might not otherwise know how to bring up, and once I respond, it opens the door to a deeper conversation. And the things she brings up are not what you might expect. I won’t go into them here, because the journal is just for us and I don’t want to violate her privacy. However, one of the pages that sparked a lot of thought for me was (and I’m paraphrasing here because I don’t have the book in front of me):

What did your mother talk to you about when you were my age?  What do you wish she had talked to you about? 

My mother was pretty much an open book and talked to us about everything. She was very frank about sex and about our changing bodies and all that. She talked with us about racism and prejudice. She talked with us about her relationship and marriage with my dad, which ended when I was less than a year old. She probably gave us more than enough information on that last subject.  But one thing she didn’t talk to me about, and I wish she had, was about how to figure out what to do when I grew up.

I think mainly that is because she didn’t know herself.  And let’s be clear:  I don’t blame her for that at all.

Looking back on it now, I remember that lots of people in my family and circle of acquaintances would tell me things they thought I should be. This was all very well-intentioned, naturally, but it had the effect of really confusing me. I was a very bright kid but pretty impressionable, malleable and eager to please. I had talents in several areas, which made it all the more difficult to settle on one thing. So I went in one direction, and then another, and tried half-assedly to figure out what color my parachute was, and ignored my facility for language arts and for anything artsy, and started college pre-med, then switched mid-stream to social sciences, and then toyed with going to law school.

I know that we each have our own path, and we are all going to make mis-steps, but if I can accomplish anything at all through this mysterious, messy, painful and wonderful amusement park ride that is parenthood, I would very much like to help Viva find her purpose. I would like to help her find what she most loves to do, and do whatever I can do, within the bounds of the law and of sanity and not-helicoptering, to help her be the best she can be at it.

So I have been ruminating lately on how best to help my kids be what they want to be – Viva has often said she wants to be a videogame designer, although lately she has become interested in acting (which is a whole ‘nother kettle of worms – how do I support her in this without being Scary Stage Mom, since she is specifically interested in television? But that is a post for a different day).

(Aside:  Ceeya wants to be a teacher—that is, today.  After all, she is 4 and most likely that will change.  At her age I wanted to be a dogcatcher. I thought it would be the most awesome job ever because I would get to play with puppies all day. Then I saw Lady and the Tramp and saw the flaw in that assumption.)

BUT! Very timely that I was thinking about this very topic and came across this article, sensationally headlined “I Don’t Want My Kids to be Happy” in “popular articles” on HuffPo (clicking on the link, you find that the actual headline is quite tame: “The Pursuit of Happiness). I particularly like this excerpt:

A life committed to a goal, even it means you struggle and fail and ask, "What the hell am I doing?" -- that's a life to celebrate. It's a journey that may require you to sacrifice your own happiness or well-being, as any parent on the wrong end of a sleepless night will tell you, but the rewards far outweigh whatever small moments of happiness you may miss.

As I am still on this journey myself at the ripe old age of 44, I am hoping that my, ahem, rather intense recent research on this subject will benefit my children at some point as they are figuring out their goals and such like. As their father has spent the past nearly three years since being laid off patiently and steadily building his own small business, I want them to see us struggle and make adjustments and learn that there will be setbacks but that they shouldn’t give up. I’m hoping to let them see us succeed.

Failing that, we can always find work as circus performers. I think.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Forward! Onward! And So Forth!

To meet a goal:

First of all, create one.

Secondly, do one thing every day to help you meet it.

My current goal is to remake my work life by July 1, 2013.

I chose that day because it is the beginning of the new fiscal year for many in the nonprofit sector.

I am trying to transition into copywriting somewhere. Ideally I would be able to work from home at least part of the time, perhaps two to three days a week.

Yesterday I wrote an email to reconnect with someone that I used to freelance for, and he wrote me back a very nice and complimentary note saying he remembered me and was very bummed when I chose a full-time job and could no longer write for him. I asked him to keep me in mind in the future, and he said I am definitely on his list. Now, maybe he was just being nice, but I don’t think so.

Today, I am keeping to my promise to write for 15 minutes a day and I’ve also been checking out the freelance job postings to see if any gigs have popped up. I am open to the idea of freelancing on the side for the moment. But I’m also looking at the freelance ads to see what kind of skills people are looking for, and to find out where my deficiencies lie. I am coming up with a nice list of new things I have to learn, but that is all good. I am cool with learning new things – in fact, I am excited to be branching out finally.

Good things are coming. And I am marching out to meet them.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Putting U Back in Fun

Sweet Chairoplane

Once, many many years ago, someone that I love very much was not in a good emotional place (unbeknownst to me). We were out on a beautiful summer day, in a park by the side of the river, grass underneath our toes, nowhere to be but there in that beautiful place, surrounded by other folks enjoying the day - walking about, holding hands, lying under trees, laughing, kissing, falling asleep in the sun. 

My dear sweet loved one turned to me and said, "I hate this place!"

"What? Why?" I said.

"Because everyone's having more fun than me!" she said, and she burst into tears.

I am sorry to say that my first impulse was to laugh, but her significant other and I managed to keep it together and after a period of time, got her to relax and enjoy herself.

Every now and then, I think back on that moment and I ponder how easy it is to look only at the surface of things and think people have it easier than you. Of course that's not true.

But here it is, Friday, and I am thinking about fun. And about having fun. And about how I am going to leave work and pick up my kids and go home and turn on some old 80's music and dance around and maybe have a sock fight. And then no one will be having more fun than we!