Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Photo:  3 pigs craft and flannel board story - Creative Commons, by Mommachels-Flickr

I have only touched briefly on the school changes that have happened with us over the past few months, but I want to give a bit more background because this has impacted us a great deal. Around December of last year, it was becoming painfully clear that (1) due to staffing changes, Ceeya’s preschool was not providing the type of care we had become accustomed to; and (2) it was becoming cost-prohibitive to send her there. The preschool was struggling financially so it was understaffed and couldn’t afford to bring in different teachers, and we became aware of an exodus of kids from the school.

Ceeya’s preschool teacher had taught 3rd and 4th grade previously but she had no classroom experience with this age group. I didn’t feel she was engaging the kids at the appropriate level – she seemed to default to arts and crafts and coloring, which I felt was a missed opportunity for this age group. They are little sponges for information at that age, and school can be so much fun for them. I also noticed that Ceeya’s toileting hygiene started to slip because the teacher wasn’t as on top of it as the previous teacher. The children in the class were a mix of three-and-four-year-olds, so they were all potty trained but still at the age where I would say they needed regular reinforcement on how to wipe and wash their hands.  At home in the bathroom with her I realized she had stopped wiping at all and no longer even flushed the toilet. It was infuriating and I had to have repeated conversations with her about how important it was to keep herself clean. I also had conversations with the teacher that seemed to go nowhere, since there was no change.

As things deteriorated, we started working with Ceeya at home in the evenings and on weekends with materials we got from Lakeshore and various online sites because we felt her fine motor skills were stagnating (a relevant concern due to her sensory processing issues) and quite frankly because she was bored with school.

At the same time, I started looking into other preschools in our area, most of which were (1) just as, if not more, expensive and (2) not accepting new students. The situation was looking desperate. And then the skies parted and the fates conspired to have me run into a former coworker/ friend/ neighbor at an event that I would not usually have been at, but was asked to attend because another coworker had a dentist appointment. And there, my problems were solved, because she told me about a FREE LA Universal Preschool (LAUP) program in our old neighborhood, which was collaborating with a FREE pilot pre-K program at Viva’s school (which, hello? How did I not hear about it?). They were in need of additional kids for the program because it was still new. 

So in February, Ceeya began attending two FREE educational programs and our only cost now is before and after care, which saves us $500 a month. Instead of coming home with coloring pages, Ceeya now comes home with sheets to help her trace her name. She is learning to read sight words (the, and, this, etc.) and can read some books by herself. In LAUP, they have done a unit on the life cycle – so they have hatched real live chicks from eggs, they have a tank full of tadpoles, and they recently acquired caterpillars and are learning about chrysalises. She has a new best friend named Miles, who is crazy about her.

All of this is great, except for one thing:  the naps.

Due to the structure of the LAUP/Pre-K programs, there is no nap time scheduled for these kids. The person running the LAUP program also runs the after-school program, which includes older kids. There is no separate quiet space for the younger kids to nap.

Ceeya is awesome when she’s well-rested. When she’s not, it is – how do you say? – challenging. Basically, she falls apart at the slightest perceived provocation. Witness, last week at around 5:30:

I have just gotten home and I have gone into the other room to change my clothes. Ceeya and Viva have unpacked their lunches and are sitting on their bed talking.

Ceeya:  Guess what we had for snack today?

Viva:  What?

Ceeya:  Tacos and chips.

Viva:  Chicken nuggets.

Ceeya:  [falls out screaming and crying]

Mama [runs into their room]:  What happened?

Viva [wearily]: I have no idea, all I said was chicken nuggets.

Ceeya [after 3 minutes of unintelligible cry-talking]:  I said I had tacos and she said I had chicken nuggets!  [screaming and crying again]

Mama: I don’t think that’s what she meant.

Ceeya:  But I didn’t HAVE chicken nuggets! I had tacos!

Mama:  I understand. So if YOU know you had tacos, then you had tacos. What difference does it make what she says?

Ceeya:  Because she is MEAN.

Viva: WHAT? Oh my God. I didn’t even –

Mama:  Viva.

Viva:  What?

Mama:  She is deliriously tired. Let’s not make things worse. Let me talk to her. Why don’t you go relax yourself in the other room, okay?

Viva goes off in a huff. I am left to put Ceeya back together from a little puddle on the floor.

And repeat this scenario in various incarnations to infinity, and that is what our life is like right now on the weekdays. Sometimes Ceeya passes out at about 6:30 and we have to bathe and pajama her in a half-conscious state. Sometimes depending on his schedule Sweet Dub is able to pick them up from school at 2:30 and can manage to get Ceeya to take a nap by 3:30 or 4:00, but by that point since she wants to sleep for two hours she is impossible to wake up. Either way, it is not a good time.
For future discussion:  Ceeya just misses the cutoff point (must be 5 by October 1) for kindergarten for the fall. Her pre-K teacher says there is no point to her doing another year of pre-K. In the meantime, Viva’s teacher is saying that Viva is at the top of her 4th/5th grade class and she won’t have anything left to learn in 5th grade next year. I really wish I could just take one year off and take the kids out of school and travel. There is that whole pesky “how would we eat” dealio though.  Hmmm…


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

April is the Cruelest Month

Photo: Creative Commons, by allison.hare– Flickr

April…April is a helluva month.
We kick off April on the very first day with Viva’s birthday, which is fantastic, and it should be all fireworks and bonanzas from there. But just a few days later, we reach the anniversary of my grandpa’s death. And about a week after that, the anniversary of Sweet Dub getting laid off. (This year it is three years since he lost his well-paying office job, and three years of financial struggle as he has worked various freelance photography and videography jobs and done his damnedest to get some TV projects off the ground. We are trying to morph this into the anniversary of the day his own business was founded, turning lemons into lemon bars if you will. Some days we are more successful at this than others. Yesterday Sweet Dub got a flat tire and it turns out he needs two new tires for his truck. As we no longer have an emergency fund or any financial wiggle room, it was hard to put a positive spin on this.) A week after that is the anniversary of my grandma’s death.
So to recap:  for our family, April comes in like a drumline and goes out like a fugue. Added to that, last week was just ungodly in the number and magnitude of horrific events occurring across the country and the world.
Again, trying to look at things from a different perspective:  there is certainly room for something spectacularly amazing to happen later in April, to balance things out in the future. (Hint, hint, Universe.) I would not be opposed to that.
As Sweet Dub says, “It’s not much of a success story if there is no struggle.”

Monday, April 22, 2013

It's Personal

In my Internet travels today, I came across this article, in which the author describes how she read her 5-year-old daughter’s diary.

Her daughter had asked repeatedly for a diary so she could be like her older brother. She was clearly thrilled to have it, and happy to be a big kid and have her own secret book with its own key. She told her mom not to look, and she laboriously wrote down her secrets in it. The mom, Kim, started to worry that something was wrong.

She unlocked the diary and was pleasantly surprised at what she found. Her daughter, who at nearly 6 years old is still mastering how to print, was merely cataloguing all the things which made her happy.

Her relief was so great that she took a picture of the pages with all their adorable misspellings and posted them on the Internet – I’m not sure why, except to reassure the Internet, who probably was not all that worried about it, that her daughter was perfectly fine.

To me, it’s one thing if her daughter left the unlocked diary lying around; particularly if she left it lying open. It would be difficult to resist a peek. But she didn’t. Kim rationalized unlocking it by creating a problem that didn’t exist:  her daughter was being secretive, thus she must have something to hide.  

Again, this is a 5-year-old girl.

Every child is different. But if she suspected something were seriously wrong, Kim could ask her to draw a picture. She could ask her if something’s bothering her. She could just talk to her. She doesn’t describe anything that I can see would trigger this sort of reaction – for example, was her daughter having trouble sleeping, did her eating habits change, was there some sort of radical change in her personality?  It sounds to me like her daughter was having a pretty developmentally normal moment, establishing boundaries, indicating that she is an individual with opinions and ideas that she is working out.

I understand some parents believe that they have the right to poke around their child’s rooms and through their belongings. To a certain extent, I agree that a child cannot expect unconditional privacy – sometimes poking around through their things is the way you find out there’s a fundraiser at school, or that they need $4 for a field trip. But if unlocking the diary did not already cross the line, publishing the thoughts that an evidently sweet and happy kid believed were private certainly did.

With the omnipresence of technology in everyday life, sometimes we forget that blogging and the Internet have not actually been around that long. We forget that we are kind of making these rules up as we go along.

I have shared before that Viva and I keep a mother-daughter journal. While I may occasionally share the things I write to her (as long as they are not too personal), I would not share anything she wrote in the journal with anyone without asking her. And honestly, I would think twice about asking her because I AM her parent and thus the power differential already exists. I wouldn’t want her to feel she had to comply.

I guess what I am trying to say is:  ease up a little bit out there, Internet parents.  Tread carefully. And this is as much a reminder to myself as it is to anyone else.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Don't Mess With Boston

"...I've found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay... small acts of kindness, and love." -Gandalf the Grey, The Hobbit (the 2012 film version, apologies to the purists)
Copley Square, Boston. Image courtesy 123rf.com, royalty-free stock photos.

I was born in Boston, and grew up there. One of my earliest memories is of being in Copley Square, leaving the Boston Public Library with my mom and sister, and running into my great-grandmother (my father's grandmother) Mabel on the way to the subway. I remember it because she was very old, well into her 90s then, but she was still out and about, on her way to the library from the bus. I remember it, too, because she stopped to talk to us even though it was chilly out, and I remember she looked at the three of us with such great love. I couldn't have been more than 4 or 5 years old. It was a small moment, in the scheme of things, but I rarely went through Copley Square after that without thinking of her.

As a teenager, I hung out in Copley Square frequently after school. I went to movies there, I ate ice cream there, I had pizza there. Hell, I went to the prom in Copley Square. 

After college, when I moved back to Boston, I worked on Boylston Street, a few blocks away from Copley Square proper, and I spent endless hours there after work and on my lunch hour. So yesterday, when I saw a tweet that there had been an explosion at the Boston Marathon, and then went to CNN.com to see the mayhem and devastation of a bombing in Copley Square -- I can't put into words how sick I felt. It was akin to seeing my backyard blown up. My backyard, where a friendly neighborhood block party went terribly, horribly, sickeningly wrong.

I'm sick, and I'm enraged. And it is not making me feel any less so that some are using the funerals of people killed in this tragedy as a jumping-off point to make some bizarre religious-political statement. I don't think Jesus would approve!

I can only hope that this horrible tragedy brings people together to build something positive. Boston deserves better than this. We all deserve better than this.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Life Lessons: Dealing with Conflict

What I would prefer to do.

Has someone ever said this to you?  “I don’t like confrontation, so…”

Does anyone really LIKE confrontation? I guess some people do get a charge out of arguing and trying to prove their point. To some people it’s a game. For me – having grown up in an unpredictable household – my survival instinct is always not to make waves, to fly under the radar, or whatever non-confrontational metaphor you’d like to insert here.

However, I have been trying in my grown up years to alter this tendency – not to become confrontational, but, when there is a conflict, not to back away from it. Today, I have been dealing with a work situation in which I have been treading very carefully and diplomatically around a top executive who felt they were being taken to task for something that was outside their control. I do not feel this person is completely absolved in this situation, but I can’t outright say that. Hence, I’ve been trying to tactfully suggest ways we can fix the situation without making things worse.

It appears to have blown over – the most recent emails I’ve received thanked me for clearing things up and my boss even went out and bought me a mini chocolate cake in appreciation (which for some reason, no matter what I do, will only appear here upside down. Ain't nobody got time for that.):

 Are you confrontational? Or are you an avoider? Or somewhere in between? 


Every problem has a gift for you in its hands. – Richard Bach

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

And Now For Something Completely Different

Is this thing on?

I have so many things to talk about. Let’s start with just one, because it’s so ridiculously entertaining:  have you heard about the quote-unquote song “Accidental Racist, ” a collaboration between country singer Brad Paisley and hip hop icon LL Cool J?


Evidently the intention of this song was to let Brad Paisley explain that being a white man in the South, he feels like he is walking on eggshells all the time around black folks, and to let LL Cool James soothe his rattled nerves.  “Hey, no problem, go ahead and wear your Confederate flag, it’s all good, brah!”

Let me tell you, Ladies Love Cool James, but this is a hot mess. It is like an SNL skit when it goes painfully wrong, like right off the rails. Here are some sample lyrics, just so you understand:

RIP Robert E. Lee but I gotta thank Abraham Lincoln for freeing me, know what I mean"
“If you don’t judge my gold chains… I’ll forget the iron chains” (No, for REALS.)

Needless to say, the blogosphere is having a field day with this, as it is just too good to pass up. Perhaps the most entertaining critical interpretation I’ve seen so far is at Grantland.

Here’s a taste of it (but please go read the whole thing, because it is quite funny):
"I wasn't there when Sherman's march turned the South into firewood
I want you to get paid but be a slave I never could"
Just so you're clear, LL is saying that he wants white people to make money, but would appreciate it if it didn't come at the expense of his freedom from slavery. It seemed necessary to spell that out, in case it went over your head.

I think it's laudable to try and have a dialogue about racial issues in this country - God knows we need it. This just ain't it.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

One of the Greats

Today is the ninth anniversary of my grandfather’s death.

Reggie was my mother’s father, but he was more than a grandfather to me. I am not sure quite how to describe our relationship: if I say he was my second father, it sounds disrespectful to my stepfather, but in all honesty he was the most consistent father relationship I had in my life. My mother separated from my biological father, George, when I was only 11 months old, and he had very little to do with me or my sister from then on.

But Reggie is a big part of my memory bank. My mother was quite young when she married and had children; she was only 22, with two kids, when she left my dad. We moved in with my grandparents for a while, a pattern which continued throughout my life. I honestly can’t remember how many times we moved in and out of their house, but the precedent was so firmly established that after one particularly nasty fight with my stepfather when I was away at college, my sister moved in with my grandparents permanently. At any rate, even when we weren’t living there, we were at my grandparents’ house every weekend. It was clean, and quiet, and the fridge was full, and hugs were plentiful.

I remember helping Reggie rake leaves, shovel snow, wash the car. He made snowmen with us in the backyard. He took us around the neighborhood and hovered at the ends of driveways while we trick or treated. He taught me how to ride a bike. He taught me how to drive a car. He insisted we go to summer camp. He paid for braces, and bikes, and ice skates, and God knows how many other things. When he peeled an orange, he would peel it in one glorious long peel and then cut teeth into it with a paring knife. He would then put the orange teeth into his mouth, bare his teeth in a horrible grin and chase us shrieking through the house. 

He was very reserved but then would turn unexpectedly goofy; he liked to joke a lot. While he was nowhere near as demonstrative as my grandmother, who was very loud in her loving of us, we never held back with him. My sister and I would fling ourselves at him and squeeze him with our skinny little arms and screech how much we loved him until he finally said, “Ditto,” laughing almost bashfully at letting us pull it out of him.

Reggie was the grandson of slaves, and impressed upon me early the importance of education and of getting good grades, of working hard and doing the right thing. He graduated from college during the Depression, and recounted how there were no jobs back then, especially if you were a black man. He went back to school and got a Master’s in Education because he wanted to be a teacher. He served in the Navy in World War II, and as a light-skinned black man was accidentally assigned to a white unit. In retelling the story, he said he believed they thought he was Italian, but as the military was still segregated, as soon as it was discovered he was summarily reassigned to the “Negro” unit. As he described it, it was a humiliating experience.

He met my grandmother on shore leave in Virginia in 1944. She said he was “soooooooooooo handsome” she couldn’t even understand why he was talking to her (which is ridiculous, because she was gorgeous). “In that uniform, oh! He was soooooooo handsome,” and of course he was. (Throughout my childhood, he was always beautifully groomed and dapper, even in his pajamas.) They were married in 1945 and settled in his hometown, Boston; and welcomed their first and only child, Cynthia, in 1947. He worked for the government for 40 years, retiring at 70.

He had very high expectations of me and would examine each report card with care. He was always trying to teach me something, and those lessons stuck, but I would say the greatest lesson was his example. He was hard working and thrifty, and he took care of everything he loved. He was fiercely proud of his lawn – having not been able to afford a house until he was in his 50s, he was extremely house proud. He was financially savvy but cautious. He did not live beyond his means, he chose his words and his friends carefully, and he always put family first. 

When he was alive, life made sense. And after he passed, the family was flung into chaos. All along, I believed my grandmother was the rock, the hub around which we all revolved – but after Reggie died, I realized that the hub was the two of them working in tandem, as a team. She was devastated when he died – we had to take her to the funeral in a wheelchair, she was that overcome – and honestly never recovered.

I really miss him today. I’ve had a lump in my throat all day. I hope he and my grandma are together, cracking jokes and sitting comfortably side by side, reading the paper or watching baseball. I hope he occasionally peeks down here and smiles at what he sees.

Some of us have great runways already built for us. If you have one, take off! But if you don’t have one, realize it is your responsibility to grab a shovel and build one for yourself and for those who will follow after you.
- Amelia Earhart

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Color Blind

Photo from blackradionetwork.com.

Last week, just before the admittedly hectic Easter/birthday weekend, I read an article which talked about Kim Kardashian’s thoughts on raising a biracial baby.
First, let me apologize for even adding to the amount of Kardashian commentary out there, but I just can’t help myself, because she made a seemingly innocuous comment that really bugs me.
In an interview with BET, Kim Kardashian said:
“I have a lot of friends that are all different nationalities, and their children are bi-racial. So they have kind of talked to me a little bit about it, what to expect and what not to expect. I think that the most important thing is how I would want to raise my children, is just to not see color. [Emphasis mine] That’s important to me.”
Hold the phone. What??
There’s nothing wrong with seeing color, Kimmy. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that people have different skin colors. You can choose to celebrate it or denigrate it, and that’s where the problems arise. 

If you teach your child not to see color, you are doing him or her a disservice – especially (but not only) if you are raising a child OF COLOR in America. Much as it’s been hyped, we do not live in a post-racial world. If you choose to teach your child to be “color blind,” to not acknowledge the differences that exist, you are teaching him or her to ignore people’s differences. And people are different, and they are beautiful. To teach your child to be color blind is to ignore the diversity of beauty within his or her own family, not to mention the world around him/her.

To raise your child “just not to see color” not only translates into not appreciating the beauty and richness of different colors and cultures but also translates into not preparing them for life as a person of color – and perhaps you think you may be able to shield them from that reality due to your fame and fortune, but let’s be real.

In a world where Forrest Whitaker gets stopped and frisked in a New York deli, let’s be real.

In a world where my highly-educated, law-abiding husband can get stopped on the street randomly because of his dark skin, or where a police officer can follow my minding-his-own-business dark-skinned teenage nephew home for no reason at all:  let’s be real.

Racism and prejudice are alive and well. And to be a parent to a bi-racial child, you can’t be blind to that fact. Like any expectant parent, I am sure you want to be the best mother you can be. But that means teaching your child to appreciate differences, not ignore them. And that means preparing your child for the reality that the world may treat them differently than they treat you, simply because of their skin color. I agree we should all strive for a world where this isn’t the case, but let’s not stick our heads in the sand.

For more commentary, visit here and here. Or just Google. Folks are a little irritated, Kimmy. It behooves you to try and understand why.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

To Viva, On Turning Ten

My oldest child, Viva, was born on April 1st, 2003. Yesterday, we celebrated her turning ten. Here is an edited version of the letter I wrote to her for her birthday.

Dear Viva,

You are turning ten and it is a big deal. I can remember the moment I looked at the home pregnancy test and realized it was positive. It just confirmed what I already knew:  something huge was about to happen and it was going to change my life forever.

And it did. And you have. And I am so proud and happy that we have each other. I can’t imagine my life without you in it. Here are ten things I know about you:

You are smart and kind and thoughtful

You are gorgeous

You are funny and fun; you love to make people laugh

You love to sing

You are sensitive

You are outgoing and make friends easily

You are an artist, with mountains of creative ideas

You are getting ever more responsible and independent

You are COOL

You are self-confident and brave

Plus one more:  You are a blessing to our family.

This year has been pretty interesting for you. You are in a 4th/5th grade combo class, which we didn’t expect, and you are excelling there. At the same time, this is the year things became serious. You learned about slavery, and about racism and discrimination. You learned about how cruel people can be to other people—people who look like you. Because you are so sensitive and because you believe that all people should be treated fairly, this has been very tough for you.

 I wish I could take this on for you. But I can’t. I wish such things didn’t exist in the world.  But they do. All I can do is try and help you learn to handle them, and that I can promise you, I will do.  It is not a one-time lesson. It will be, as so many complicated things are, a continuing conversation. I will try not to bore you. I will be as honest as I can. If there’s stuff I don’t know about, we will learn together. And I know you will come out all right in this, because you are strong and smart and brave.

Right now you are also solidly in your tweens, and your teen years are on the horizon. There is so much I want for you, and so much I want to tell you. I don’t have all the answers, but here are ten things that I want to tell you:

1.       You are stronger than you imagine. You are a [Blah Blah]! We ain’t wimps.

2.       You should never run away from your dreams. The things that you love to do, the things that keep calling you? Those are your passions and that is what you were put on earth to do. Do not let other people keep you from what you were meant to do.

3.       You are amazing and unique. There has never on earth been another person like you. You have unique gifts you bring to the world. Not everyone will understand this, and that’s okay – but anyone that tries to put you down or to smother your uniqueness is not deserving of your time and energy.

4.       It is okay to have a difference of opinion. You are old enough to have a point of view, and you should feel you can express it. As long as you are respectful when you are disagreeing, that’s okay. Don't pick fights, but know that your opinion is just as important as anyone else’s.
5.       You don’t always have to be right. Choose your battles. Look at the big picture.
6.       It is important to try new things. Stepping outside of your comfort zone is the only way to grow as a person.

7.       You are really beautiful. Inside and out. I want you to remember this, so I am going to say it again, louder:  YOU ARE REALLY BEAUTIFUL. INSIDE AND OUT.
8.       It is important to have time to yourself. This will become clearer as you get older, but time to yourself is really when you figure things out. Make the time to allow yourself some quiet space to hear what’s going on in your own mind. Listen to yourself.

9.       Do the right thing. And do it as soon as you can. A wise person once said, “Do difficult things while they are still easy. Do big things while they are yet small.” Don’t put off something to tomorrow if you can do it today. My experience has been the longer you put something off, the bigger and more complicated it gets.
10.   I will always and forever be your mother. Even if I yell, even if we are mad at each other, even if we are separated by thousands of miles, even when I am no longer alive. I am your mother and I will always, always, always until the dolphins fly and parrots live at sea, love you. You make me proud.

Happy Birthday, my love. You are one of my greatest treasures of all time.