Sunday, May 10, 2015

Getting ready to face an empty nest

After 21 years of priceless homemade cards and many bowls of soggy cereal lovingly served to me in bed, I regret to inform myself that this Mother’s Day will likely be the last one I spend with either of my children for a while.

My youngest daughter is 17 and will graduate from high school in a few short weeks. Soon she will be flying off to college in the footsteps of her older sister, rendering my nest completely empty.

That sound you hear is my heart shattering.

I’m about to be handed the ultimate pink slip. “It’s been real, Mom, but we’re all grown up now. We’ll take it from here.”

I always knew this day would come eventually. The moment the nurse hands you that burrito-wrapped newborn in the hospital, the clock starts ticking. Your children are officially on loan to you from God. Lest you get too attached, you need to remember that the promissory note comes due in about 18 years, at which time you will carve out a huge piece of your heart and hand it over as they carelessly toss it in their suitcase and walk out the door toward their own destiny.

When my daughters were born, four years apart, I started keeping a digital diary for both of them. I needed something to do in the middle of the night between feedings. But mostly, I felt compelled to document every wondrous stage of their growth. Cliché as it is, children really are miracles, and I wanted to remember every moment of their childhood. My intention was to present each diary to my daughters when they became young women and were ready to head off to college.

What I never imagined, at the time, was that these precious moments and milestones that I tried to keep track of would end up being a gift to myself and provide the comfort I needed as a soon-to-be-empty-nester so many years later.

My younger daughter and I butt heads a lot, probably because we are so much alike. I had been racking my brain for six months trying to come up with one, last desperate attempt to bond with her. A mother/daughter spa day? A weekend road trip? Something she would remember for the rest of her life. Talk about putting undue pressure on myself!

Then a few weeks ago, I came across a copy of her diary that I had printed out about two years earlier. I offered to read it aloud to her, and she agreed. For the next week, every night before she went to bed, we relived her childhood, moment by moment. Seventeen years packed into about 200 pages. There was so much that I had forgotten. Moments you think you will remember forever, but your human brain can’t possibly store all those colorful details.

Like how she used to suck her toes while in her baby carrier. And the time the toddler almost got hit by a school bus when I turned away for a second to talk to another mom. And how much she loved apple juice and reading. And how, after her dad and I split up, my then 3-year-old came home one weekend after staying with him and said, “Mommy, I missed you. You were in my heart.”

With each entry, a new revelation. I had forgotten how funny and smart she was from day one. (Teenagers have a way of making you forget the good times.) And I think she had forgotten how patient and dedicated I had been to her.

Forget the spa day and the road trip. This diary was the missing link between us, and I believe it has brought us closer together, just in the nick of time. Just as she’s about to wave good-bye.

As parents, we’re riddled with guilt and regret. We always wish we could have done more, said more, played more, taught more, modeled more patience. But I learned, through my own words written long ago, that I had not done so badly after all. I loved my babies with all my heart, and when I became a single mother, my daughters remained my priority above all else.

This diary has been a blessing to both of us. It is the story of my daughter’s life, and she will leave her childhood behind knowing how special she always has been.

My own words have delivered redemption to me. I forgive myself for not being a perfect mom. But I was the best mother that I could be, and I am ready to move on, with no regrets, to the next phase of my life as a woman, a writer and always, a mother.


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Texting is the New Parenting

     I’m exhausted. I just had a lengthy and very heated discussion with both my daughters -- at the same time, mind you. My eldest daughter and I went back and forth about nursing school and all the expenses associated with that. And the youngest wants my permission (and signature) to get her driver’s license, even though she is nowhere near ready to do so. 
     Yep, I’m tired from all this bickering. But mostly, my cramped fingers need a rest.
See, I don’t have actual, face-to-face conversations with my daughters anymore. Oh, no -- those days are long gone, Grandma! Nowadays, I parent by way of text messaging.
     It’s a sad, sad state of affairs, this new age of “Parenting by Texting.”
     Trust me.  I resisted texting as long as I could. When I first heard about this texting business, I couldn’t believe that people never really talked on the phone anymore, and I refused to give in to this ridiculous fad.
I mean, what could possibly replace hearing another person’s voice on the other end of the phone? You know, REAL human interaction?
     I even asked my daughter -- who developed an entire romantic relationship with a boy long-distance by texting with him every day -- why teenagers don’t like to talk to their friends on the phone, and she said, “There are just so many awkward silences. And you don’t get that with texting.”
     Awkward silences? That’s what real conversations are about, for goodness sakes! Two people dancing together, and around each other, through words, nuances and timbre. Laughter, sarcasm, fear, anger, doubt, admiration, love, desire … all these beautiful emotions you can hear in someone’s voice vanish with a typed message. There’s just no soul behind it.
     So I tried to stand defiantly and heroically in front of this oncoming texting train. (Any parents with me on this?) Problem was, the only way I could actually communicate with my children was through the damn text messages. Whenever I tried to call them, the call immediately went to voicemail. But when I sent a text – voila! – like magic, I would get an instant response.
     “Oh, look! My teenagers are actually talking to me!” I would be giddy with disbelief. Getting a response, any response, from them sure felt good. And soon, like Pavlov’s dog, I was conditioned into becoming a full-time texting mama.
     I’ll admit, it is a rather convenient medium. Type a few words, boom, communication accomplished. But I feel so compromised – especially as a writer and an editor. I have spent the majority of my professional life self-righteously cleaning up other people’s writing, punctuation and grammar. Now, like every other texting literate, I just try to find shortcuts and the quickest way to respond. “You” has become “U;”  “To” and “for” have morphed into numbers. And “See you later” has been replaced by “C Ya!”
     And while it is sometimes easier and less confrontational to flex your parenting muscle through your fingertips, text messages from our children have left many of us parents bewildered and confused. With face-to-face interactions, you know when your kids are being disrespectful to you because you can hear it in their voices. With texting, you don’t know what’s punishable or not.
     “Did she accidentally send that text to me in all uppercase letters, or is she sassing back?” 
     This new age of text-messaging has weakened our authority as parents. The stern warning of a parent’s booming voice, “Don’t you talk to me in that tone, young lady!” has now been replaced with the texting version: “DON’T YOU GET ALL UPPERCASE-Y WITH ME!” Somehow, it just doesn’t pack the same punch.
     It took me a while to wise up, but I am happy to report that I’ve solved the texting/communication problem with my daughters. I’ve regained some dignity, respect and parental control. How? Well, whenever I’ve had enough of all the back-and-forth texting nonsense, I simply type back two words: “Call me.”
     If my phone doesn’t ring within the time that it takes to text a response (well, I do allow a few extra seconds for the old-fashioned switchboard operator to connect the line), I let my daughters have it!
     With a text message, of course – IN ALL UPPERCASE LETTERS!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The divorce bug is going around

           I know firsthand that being divorced can lead to a lot of sniffles. I just had no idea it could be so contagious.
          According to a study from Brown University that examined data from thousands of people over three decades, if you have a friend or a loved one who is divorced, it increases your chances of getting divorced, too.
Research indicated that “75 percent of participants were more likely to get divorced if a friend was divorced, and 33 percent were more likely to end their marriage even if a friend of a friend got divorced.”
          So what is going on here? Should we be calling on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to quarantine people inside wedding chapels?
          University researchers have called this odd phenomenon a “social contagion -- the spread of information, attitudes and behaviors through friends, family and social networks.” The thinking goes that if you surround yourself with people who are whining all the time about their relationship, it may prompt you to start thinking twice about yours, too.
          (But wouldn’t the opposite also be true? Could it be that couples head to the altar simply because everyone else around them is getting married?) 

           I have a better idea: Instead of dumping the spouse that you chose until death do you part and entangling yourself in all the nasty debris that accompanies divorce, how about if you just stop hanging out with negative people?

          When I was going through a divorce, it was a trying time and it certainly helped to talk about the situation with friends (new friendships that I had to cultivate, by the way, because my ex got custody of all our friends in the divorce settlement). But I was also socially savvy enough to know that nobody wants to be around a Debbie Downer all the time, so I spent a lot of time biting my tongue, and trying to be an upbeat, positive person.

          A strategy that did wonders for my mental health in the long run, too.

          So for all you wedded folks whose immunity to divorce is apparently being compromised by the destructive influence of divorced friends, I have this to say to you: Take a chill pill and give some serious thought to how divorce will impact you and your children in the long run.

          Marriage isn’t easy. Yes, boredom sets in and those annoying habits your spouse has may drive you to the point of insanity. But unless there is violence, abuse, infidelity or drug and alcohol addiction involved, you may want to hang in there, for better or worse.

          It may look like your divorced friends are having tons of fun, happily liberated from the old ball and chain. But freedom comes with a price, and you best be ready to pay up. 

          In my enlightened opinion, the best way to immunize yourself from the divorce bug that is going around is to marry the right person in the first place. Take all the time you need to find that perfect mate, despite the proverbial biological clock or the pressure from your impatient mother who is worried she’ll never have grandchildren if you don’t get on it soon.

          Deciding who you are going to marry FOR life is the most important decision OF your life, so choose well. 

          And if you’ve already found that perfect mate, then take two aspirin and call the preacher in the morning.

**NOTE: Researchers of the Brown University study caution that their study group, based in Framingham, Mass., is not representative of the country as a whole. That means their results cannot be said to reflect what would have been found if a nationally-representative sample of all adults had been surveyed.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Go ahead -- eat the head off that chocolate Easter bunny!

One of the saddest days of my life was an Easter Sunday -- many, many sunrises ago when I was young enough to still believe in the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and all those other fictional characters that lent a little magic to our childhoods.

I woke up excitedly at the crack of dawn and ran to the window facing our backyard. I pulled back the curtains, expecting to see the Easter Bunny’s handiwork – colorful baskets propped against trees, pastel eggs nesting in shoots of green grass and giant chocolate bunnies peeking out from their boxes. What I saw, instead, was the end of my innocence: My father running around like a crazy man, hiding eggs before his children woke up and witnessed his festive deception.

Since that day, Easter has always triggered a reset button in me; a time to check in with reality and make any necessary adjustments. Like New Year’s resolutions reborn in spring. What have I accomplished so far this year? Will I be able to wear a bathing suit this summer? Am I on track to have the best year of my life? Are my daughters happy and looking ahead to their futures?

          Good Lord  . . . I’m exhausted already, and we’re only one-third into the new year! So this Easter, I’m taking a much–needed vacation. When I pull back the curtains Easter morning in my hotel room, I’ll be looking out into beautiful, downtown Seattle. I’m meeting my oldest daughter there, who is considering a nursing program at the university.

I have never been to Seattle, so thinking about visiting this exciting new city makes me as giddy as my inner child on Easter morning.  Much like I remember my children running around the back yard hunting for eggs, my now-grown daughter and I will be running around that great seaside city collecting experiences for our own memory baskets. We plan to shop, tour, walk – A LOT – and even dine at the top of the Space Needle for the best view in all of Seattle.

But lest you think that this Type A mother has gone completely wild and carefree, I will confess that my spontaneity is somewhat calculated. See, I’m also going to Seattle to take it for a test drive, as there is a chance that later this year, I may be moving there. It’s up to my youngest daughter, really. If she decides to live with her father in Southern California for her senior year, my nest will officially be empty and I will be free to roam where I please.

For once in my life, I like not knowing where I’m going.  This Easter, my spirit feels renewed by unlimited possibility. And instead of nibbling carefully, methodically and deliberately at that chocolate bunny that could be a metaphor for my life, I may very well go all in and just bite its head off, first.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Teach your teens to save and work hard!

Around this time every year, many people have money on their minds. With another April 15th nipping at their heels, those people who owe taxes are dreading the inevitable day of reckoning with Uncle Sam. And I would venture to guess that those citizens getting refunds have eagerly filed their taxes already and long ago spent their windfalls. 

      I know I have.

      We spend so much of our lives focused on money – working for it, spending it, stressing over it, fighting about it … and wishing we had more of it.
       It is that human desire to want more money without working too hard for it that has been a great boon to the Indian gaming industry, and one from which many natives are benefitting, including me.

Gambling is big business because it promises an easy way to get rich quick. The first time I ever played blackjack, I won $120 – snap! – just like that. To a 21-year-old college student, that was a fortune, and it planted the tiniest seed in my subconscious that gambling could be the answer to my cash-flow problems down the road.
Trust me, I considered that profession a few times when I was down on my luck after falling victim to the Great Recession of 2008. Instead, I took a gamble of another kind and started my own brick-and-mortar business, a gourmet cupcake shop.  It was, by far, the hardest work I have ever done in my life.
While the profits didn’t roll in as I had envisioned, and I eventually had to close the business, I am proud to say that at least I was able to employ nine people during a time when jobs were hard to come by – and I landed Nordstrom as a client!
 The greatest reward from this entrepreneurial venture, however, has yet to see its payday: the work ethic that I modeled for my daughters. They saw, firsthand, how hard their mother toiled to bring her dream to life, and I can only hope that my tenacity had a lasting impression on them.
In case they missed that lesson, we continue to talk about life goals and how important it is to work hard, even when you feel beaten down. I have taught them that the quickest way to success is to go to college, study madly, get a job, develop their talents and believe that they are capable of achieving anything they put their minds -- and a little elbow grease -- to.
            This mom-knows-best-approach to parenting seems to be working. My oldest daughter is hell-bent on getting into nursing school by June. And my teenaged daughter is already an award-winning video editor who has invited me to walk with her down the Red Carpet someday.
            Above all else, I have counseled my daughters that they MUST save 10 percent of everything they make -- something this single mom wishes she had done a lot more of.
            Because making a husband your retirement plan is a risky investment. Choose, instead, to bank on yourself and your own potential, and your wildest dreams will likely come true.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Canyon Bakehouse makes gluten-free a GOOD thing

             Dairy-free. Nut-free. Soy-free. Sounds like a recipe for something absolutely flavor-free, doesn’t it? Which is why you will be as surprised as I was at how wonderfully delicious the breads are from CanyonBakehouse.
             To be honest, I had never heard of this company before.  It’s a gluten-free bakery in Loveland, Colorado, that is co-owned by a woman named Christi Skow who has Celiac disease, but didn’t want to let that hold her back from enjoying all the yummy things in life, like bread.
            If you’ve never had typical gluten-free bread before, it tastes – and smells – like a wet dog. No kidding. When I was diagnosed with a slight wheat allergy, I went to Whole Foods and stocked up on gluten-free bread and bagels. Not only did the toasted bagel smell funky in the toaster, but honestly, it tasted like I imagine my cocker spaniel would coming in from the rain. I immediately returned everything to Whole Foods and decided just to live with a stupid little wheat allergy.
            So when I was asked to sample and write about Canyon Bakehouse breads, my expectations were very low. I wasn’t looking forward to biting into the taste of a damp pooch again.
     But what a surprise! These breads taste NOTHING like those funky, gluten-free varieties from Whole Foods. In fact, they are quite delicious – especially the focaccia bread, which I believe won some kind of national food award last year.

      My daughter and I especially enjoyed the raisin bread, slathered in peanut butter, with a drizzle of honey.

      So if the doctor has ordered you to eat gluten-free bread for the rest of your life, you’ll definitely want to give CanyonBakehouse breads a try. They have really taken the “ew” out of gluten-free bread. You really won’t be able to tell the difference between these specialty “allergen-free” breads and a normal wheat loaf.
Best of all,  they can ship them right to your doorstep if you can’t find them at a store near you.