Friday, December 26, 2008

Who's in charge here? Me or Santa?

"He sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake. He knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!"

The closer to Christmas it gets, the more kids start to act like little angels. "Em" has always been pretty well-behaved. I have rules for her and consequences for bad behavior. She knows these rules and follows them and rarely has to sit through the punishment of going against the rules. But she also knows who will enforce the rules. While she doesn't run rampant and go crazy when left with adults who aren't authority figures to her, she does know which buttons can be pushed on which people and during which situations. A friend took "Em" to Disneyland one day while I was out of town. My rule for "Em" at Disneyland is that she must walk the whole time (barring really crowded situations); if she asks to be carried, we go home. When my friend "D" took "Em" with her, the minute they stepped off the tram to enter the park "Em" told "D" that her feet hurt and she asked if "D" would carry her. They only stayed at the park for a few hours.

I know that when "Em" goes up to "Jake's" house in the summer or for a holiday, there is bound to be a lack of rules, if only for them to make her feel welcome and loved and not neglected. After a few weeks up there, it takes about 2 to 3 weeks to get her used to the rules of our house again. But she eventually gets back into the rhythm of things.

This year, due to financial struggles, "Em" stayed here for Christmas instead of flying to "Jake's" house. Christmas here is more than just a one-day event. This year, "Em" was a sheep in our church's Christmas pageant. Practice for the small production began about a week or so after Thanksgiving. Each time the kids and youth got together to practice was another reminder to "Em" that Christmas was getting closer and closer. Wednesday night we had the first service with the pageant that "Em" was in, and afterward we had some people from church over for dinner. A few of "Em's" friends came and when it came time to serve dinner, "Em" all-of-a-sudden wasn't hungry. It took some persuasion, but we finally got her to agree to eat with her friends. She was just too excited to eat; she didn't want to miss a moment of the excitement. Later in the evening, during the down-time before the late service, "Em" dozed off for about 1o minutes, but she insisted that she wanted to go to the service. She slept during the last 25 minutes of the service, too; she just couldn't stand missing anything.

When we got home and got "Em" ready for bed, I discussed the rules of Christmas morning with her. "Em" was not to go downstairs until everyone was up and ready. When it was time to go downstairs and open presents, I or my parents would let her know. But of course, with any four-year-old, it's hard to remember the rules on Christmas morning. In the morning, she crept downstairs and put on the slippers Santa left out for her. She said she'd only gone downstairs to play, but when you're 4, it's hard to control the excitement. She repeatedly interrupted adults in conversation. At dinner, she again claimed that she wasn't hungry. The day was topped off at bedtime by discovering she had an accident earlier in the evening, but had neglected to let anyone know. She just didn't want to leave playing with her new toys.

But when or where do you draw the line? Do you just let the rules slide because it's Christmas? Or do you enforce the rules no matter what and risk being the mean parent? I tried gentle reminders during the day, but the accident at the end of the night was the last straw. I had to enforce the normal consequences, even though it meant having "Em" cry. She had to sit in the penalty box, and instead of taking a toy away for a week, she will not get to use the light projection feature on her brand-new alarm clock for a week. And she did not get to have a story read to her. I felt bad, but I still needed to make sure "Em" understood that rules don't go away just because of one exciting day. But it almost felt like she knew that Santa had come and gone and that she could let her guard down for a bit. While she doesn't have a complete concept of time (a whole year before another Christmas is beyond her), she probably does know that Christmas is here and won't be back for a long time. Somewhere in her head, she knows that it's a long time before Santa's "really watching" her. Of course, it could just be the excitement. But you can bet that Santa's going to be watching year-round, just to make sure "Em's" following the rules everyday with everyone.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Call Waiting

Note from the writer:

While I do not presume to think that everyone believes the way I do, or that they should, I also do not intend to upset, anger, or offend anyone with the following blog...


"What do you want to be when you grow up?" A question asked of children many times. A question I've asked myself many times. I may be a young adult (approaching just plain "adult"), be a mom and have a stable job, but that doesn't mean I know what I want out of my life. When I was in elementary school, I wanted to be a teacher. In high school I wanted to be a music teacher. After I graduated high school I wanted to be a music editor. Secretly, I've always wanted to be a professional singer, but I get nervous every time I get on a stage. Now I'm a Sales Support Coordinator (fancy name for Administrative Assistant) for a sales team for a top health insurance company. How did that happen? Life, I guess. When you have a kid and get divorced, necessity overcomes passion. You do what you have to, instead of what you want to. I still don't know what I want to do. My associate minister (and close friend) has hinted that I should go into the ministry. Others have seen that quality in me, but I'm just not sure about it. It's a lot more school and I'd have to seriously cut back my hours of paid work to study. I don't know how good I would be at ministering to other people, but I know that if I don't try, I'll never know. It's like learning to swim: it is scary at first, and you don't succeed at everything right away, but after many lessons, you are more comfortable with the water, though still aware of it's power. But it's a pretty big leap from Admin to Minister. But isn't that what the ministry is all about? Faith? Faith that this is the path I should choose? Faith that this is what God is calling me to do? What does God call us to do?

In my weekly Bible study, we discuss the origins of our religion and denomination. Last week we discussed what God calls us to do. To seek justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8). To me, this can be done by anyone and is followed by many, even without knowing it. Seek justice: to help those who have been wronged and find an appropriate punishment for the wrongdoers. Love kindness: reward those who help their fellow man, and look for ways we can help others. Walk humbly with God: know that even though we are doing the right things in life, we are not to be considered gods or better than others; we were made in God's image, yet we are not equal to God. At last week's study, we also discussed how different people are called by God to minister in different ways: some are Bible study leaders, some teach Sunday school, some get the sanctuary ready for each worship session (in my Senior Minister's sermon last week, he spoke of how worship is what we do in the sanctuary, and service is what we do when we leave; hence my use of the word session instead of service), etc. But God does not call us to do things only for the church. God calls us to serve in different ways. Some are called to be firefighters or police officers: protecting the citizen from danger. Some are called to be social workers: offering help and a compassionate ear to those who are in need. Some are called to be teachers: helping our children to learn of the world around them and their place in it.

Perhaps my calling is to minister to others in the church, or perhaps it is to minister to the members of my employer to ensure that they get the health coverage they need. I enjoy helping people to make sure everything is the way it should be so they don't have to worry, but I also enjoy the anonymity of it. No one stops me on the street to say "Thank you" or "Help me please!" My sales reps come to me with the problems, I fix them, and they communicate the correction to their members. I like that the members don't know who I am, just that I exist to solve their problems. Perhaps this is related to my stage fright; I am as uncomfortable with praise as I am with having the spotlight on me. And also of failure; if I cannot get a problem resolved, I am not the one who has to tell the member the bad news. I don't deal well when others are disappointed in me.

How do we know when we are called by God to do something? Is it by listening to our closest friends on what they observe in us? Is it by doing something we enjoy that helps others and not just ourselves? Is it by doing something we excel at, or something that challenges us? Should our calling be easy to transition into, or something that we might struggle with? Do callings change as we get older? Are we called when we are ready, or when we least expect it? Is it possible to know as children what we are called to do? And should we help others hear their call? Perhaps it is hard to hear, and we must help them tune in. What does a calling sound like? God doesn't use text messages or e-mail, or even the United States Postal Service to deliver His message of what He wants us to do with our lives. How can we be certain we aren't misinterpreting the message?

It is said that everyone has a gift, something they are good at. What if you do not know what your gift is? Does it have to be something grand, like singing, or praying, or healing, or defending your country? Or can it be serving soup to the homeless, or auditing taxes, or restocking retail store shelves? Is it possible that the little things we are good at are somehow serving the greater good, just one small cog in the big machine of life?

Maybe it's like making a grocery list. Find all the different ingredients and figure out what you can make with them. Let's see if that works:

(Positive) Things I Am Good At

  • Singing
  • Cooking
  • Managing spreadsheets
  • Time management (of others, not myself)
  • Listening
  • Teaching (how to tie shoelaces, how to read, how to write, how to paint, how to line-dance)
  • Organizing (again, not for myself)
  • Correcting grammar/spelling

I need to fill in the blanks. I need to find more things that I am good at, without chastising myself for sounding too proud or arrogant. Perhaps these are the things that my friends and family can help me figure out. I'm sure there are other qualities that are missing, things I either consider too negative to include (procrastination, wasting time, spending money on things I don't need, writing long-winded blogs) or things I don't see or don't think count as a positive quality. Maybe part of being called to service is doing something you don't think you can do. Like being the chair of the Christian Education committee at church (thanks, O!) or going to seminary. I'm not sure callings are supposed to be easy. I think they have to challenge us so that we can help challenge others. Being called to do something not everyone can do probably takes a different set of skills than the average person has.

So, when God does call, how do we know it? What do we listen or watch for? Should we always be waiting to hear it, or will He whisper it to us when we're not paying attention? Perhaps the other people in our lives have heard the call for us and are waiting for the right time to give us the message. Does that mean I have heard my friends' or daughter's call already? How do I know what message to give them? When will I know when they are ready to hear it? Is 4 too young to receive a call? Is 13? 29?

I just love it when I remember that God works in mysterious ways, and it is not for us to know His plan until He is ready to reveal it to us. Until then, just keep your ears and eyes open, I suppose. The next text message you receive may be a hint as to what God is requiring of you.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Karmic Penalty Box

When my daughter does something she knows is against the rules, she sits in the penalty box; one minute for each year of age (4 years old=4 minutes). She cannot move, speak or play in the penalty box. If she does, her time starts over. I typically set the oven timer for the amount of time, as I will forget that she is in the penalty box and inadvertantly make her sit there longer than is required. This punishment works the boredom factor; children have a hard time doing nothing and quickly learn that the penalty box equals no fun. She knows that if she breaks the rule again that same day, she sits for twice that time, until she learns to stop doing the wrong thing. She has only had to sit in the penalty box (a little chair) for more than her usual time a few times; once when she refused to swallow some food in her mouth, and a couple other times just because she was testing me. If she has an accident at school, meaning she's "too busy playing" to go to the bathroom when necessary, she sits in the penalty box and has a toy taken away for a week. Luckily for her, knock on wood, she's not had an accident in about a month. (I don't punish her when it's not her fault for having an accident. She is, after all, only 4). If she lies to me, she sits in the penalty box, has a toy taken away for a week and cannot watch T.V. for a week. So far, we've only had to do that once. There are no rewards for normal, acceptable behavior. If she does something extraordinary, then she might receive a treat or special toy. But she doesn't get anything for doing what is expected. Just like real life. The only reward she gets for having good behavior is a compliment on her behavior. This makes it more natural to her to do the right things instead of "being on good behavior" when company is over or she's visiting someone else's house.

The point of these punishments is to teach her that with every choice we make, there are consequences. The bigger the violation, the bigger the punishment. All to help her to make the right decisions later in life. Not to say that she won't make bigger mistakes as she gets older, but hopefully this will help to show her after she makes the first mistake, not to do it again, or the consequence will still be there.

So what happens when grown-ups make big mistakes? Something not illegal, but still not the right thing? Should they sit in the penalty box? How many times would an adult's time start over because they couldn't sit still and do absolutely nothing for as many minutes as they are old. Sure, we all sit still when watching T.V. shows or movies, but can you actually sit still in a chair for 35 minutes (or however old you are) and do nothing without falling asleep? Can you have something you have come to depend on taken away for a week? Can you have your favorite appliance in your house off-limits for a week? I have actually recently had this experience; I had my purse stolen and was without my cell phone and ATM/Debit cards for a week (actually, the phone is still gone, I've had to start over on an old one I still had in the house). To feel cut-off from the world by not having my cell, and to have to plan how much money I needed so I didn't have to keep going into the branch during business hours was very hard. I'm still collecting phone numbers from friends and family. I just yesterday got my replacement cards for my bank. I feel like I've had a huge part of my life taken away, yet really it was only a week before I felt mostly back to normal. But, I digress from the point I'm trying to make...

How long should one be punished for a bad deed? 1 week? 1 month? 1 year? 10 years? How long should the reminder last that you have done something bad? Forgiveness is taught in many religions; forgive someone who has wronged you. I've learned, at least for myself, that forgiveness doesn't mean forgetting or excusing the bad thing, just letting the other person, and yourself, know that that bad thing will no longer be in the front of your mind and taking over your life. You know that the person did something bad, but you're not going to keep focusing on it. You are going to move on with your life, and perhaps get back the relationship you had with that person, if so desired. If your best friend lied to you, how long would they be "in the doghouse" until you chose to forgive them? If they felt horrible about it, should that guilt shorten their sentence?

But there's another question I have, one that is always on my mind, most often on a certain day during the week: How long should we punish ourselves for something bad we've done? What if no one else in the world knew what you had done, would you still feel bad? Should you still feel bad? If what you had done had hurt someone you cared about, though they had no clue it was you that caused the hurt, how long would you feel guilty about it and how long would you keep the secret? Would you let the bad deed haunt you and prevent you from moving on? How do you know when, or if, you are forgiven by the universe/karma/God? How do you know when you are allowed to move on with your life, lesson learned? What if this bad deed was completely against what you have believed in your entire life? Can you think of yourself as a good person ever again? Can anything you do ever make up for it? How many good deeds does it take to make the bad one go away? Or are you eternally in the penalty box, forced to go without certain aspects of life, a constant reminder of what you've done wrong?

When will the timer go off, letting you know your punishment is through?

Monday, September 1, 2008

Unfair and totally legal...

Sometimes I just don't understand people's thought process. Something inside their brain just doesn't work the way mine does. And yet, though they make a mistake that causes my stomach to turn into knots, there is nothing I can do about it, because in the eyes of the law, it's not illegal. Just maybe unethical or stupid. And it's not fair. I have been trying to look at his from the other person's point of view, but I just can't do it!

Imagine you are babysitting a child whom you know well and whose parents you know well. Maybe you are even best friends with the parents and they ask you to watch their child a few times a year. And this time, the parents are gone for the weekend and you are watching their child for two, maybe three days. While the parents are gone, you decide that the child should have his/her ears pierced. You think they look great and can't wait to show the parents how gorgeous their child looks with these holes in his/her ears.

Now, this is hard for me to imagine myself doing because I wouldn't do something to a child that is not my own, no matter how much I love the child or how much I think I am like family to that child. Altering a child's appearance is a decision that should be left to the parents. Let me rephrase that...Altering a child's appearance is a decision that should be left to the person/people responsible for raising that child.

In child custody laws, there are two kinds: physical custody, and legal custody. Physical custody refers to who the child lives with the majority of the time. Sometimes physical custody is split 50-50 when the parents live close to one another. Other times, physical custody means the child lives with one parents for most of the year, and visits with the other a few times due to distance or other reasons. Legal custody means the child legally still "belongs" (for lack of a better term) to a parent, or both. If while in the presence of one parent the child becomes injured, if the parent has legal custody (though not necessarily physical custody), that parent can make a decision for the child to get the medical help they need. Legal custody allows the parent to make decisions for the child; decisions the child would not necessarily be able to make for themselves.

So, in theory, a parent could have legal custody but not physical custody and still decide whether to pierce a child's ears, get them a tattoo, cut their hair, get rid of their glasses and give them contacts, whatever, all because they still legally have that right.

Something like this happened to a friend close to me. She has full physical custody of their daughter, her ex-husband has visitation a few times a year, and they both still have legal custody over their child. My friend raises her daughter by herself; her ex lives far enough away that he doesn't help. He's supposed to pay child support, but he hasn't in a long time, and my friend is not in a financial position to try to take him to court over it. She makes all the day-to-day decisions for her daughter. She pays for school, lessons, food, clothes, housing, extra fun activities her daughter enjoys, has to make sure her daughter does her homework, completes her chores; all the joys of being a parent. My friend does this all on her own. Yet, this summer, while her daughter was on vacation with her ex and his family, my friend's ex decides to get the daughter's hair cut. Short. Very short. No calls to the mom to make sure it's alright, just up and does it.

Legally, he's within his right. My friend can't sue him for it. But ethically, it's just not fair. What gives him the right to avoid taking any responsibility for his child, yet make an appearance-altering decision for her. I know that hair grows back, but still! That's not something you do for someone who in all other terms is a stranger to you. At least not without consulting the other parent. What's next? Nose piercings and "I Love Dad" tattoo's?

Unfair. At least it seems that way to me. Am I wrong?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

There's no place like home

5 days and counting. Then my daughter returns home. I always have mixed feelings about the return of my normal life; part of me looks forward to it, another part wishes I could stay single, not single-mom. I have more freedom, though I tend to do nothing with my freedom. I always think I'll go out more with "the girls" or see more movies, but in reality, I just enjoy doing nothing. And the ability to do nothing goes away when my daughter comes home.

As a parent, whether single or married, sleep is a precious commodity. Any chance you have to catch up, you seize the opportunity as if it were gold. This last week I took a trip to Daly City (outside San Francisco), taking a 4-day weekend. I stayed with some friends with the plan to do nothing but sleep. And for two days, that's what I did. I slept at night, I slept during the day. I ate when hungry, but I didn't change out of my PJs until day 3. When I was finally unable to sleep anymore, I went out and did the "tourist thing." I walked and shopped in Chinatown and Fisherman's Wharf. While I had a good time, I was very lonely. My friends had to work Friday and Monday, so I was left in their house all day, in theory to sleep. But I'd slept so much, I was restless. I'd flown up there, so I had no car, and just about every part of San Francisco and outer cities is full of hills. As the crow flies, the nearest market/strip mall was less than 2 miles away. But with the hills, walking down the hill took about 20 minutes, and up about 35. So the motivation to go anywhere was quickly squashed by the thought of straining my knees up the hill.

I've always heard that the percentage of depressed people increases in places with perpetually rainy or cloudy weather. San Francisco in the summer can be very overcast and foggy. At one point during my stay, it was foggy and windy, so the trees were "raining" water down from their leaves. It reminded me of a camp I attended in February as a teen; not cold enough to snow, so it was always cloudy and "drippy." This in combination with my isolation lead me to feel very sad and eager to go home. But I also missed my daughter. "Em" comes home very soon, and I (and my parents) cannot wait, but at the same time, I find myself wishing for more time to myself. "Em" won't go to visit her father until Christmas this year, so it'll be another three-and-a-half months until I get a whole week to myself, though it'll be somewhat sad as I'll miss Christmas morning with "Em."

Maybe I'll go to Disneyland after we do our little family stuff in the morning. I hear it's one of their busiest days of the year.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Warning: Safety Scissors do not prevent accidents

Safety Scissors: blunted tips to prevent cutting of little fingers, cuts through felt, construction paper, yarn and ribbon. Oh yeah! And hair!!!

I'm not sure what the fascination is with little kids cutting their own hair. I never did it. Perhaps it was because I learned early on that my hair is hard enough to deal with, let alone with an amateur trimming. Neither my sister nor I cut our own hair as children. I suppose a lot of it has to do with curiosity, but probably also the independent feeling that comes with it. "I know how to use scissors, so why should Mommy or Daddy take me to someone else to cut my hair? I'll just do it myself!" Honestly, I don't know what kids think when they do something like this. The explanation I always hear is, "I wanted to cut my hair." Who knows.

But when a child cuts their own hair, I revert back to the old gun vs. person theory: guns don't kill people, people kill people. I don't know where I stand on this issue, and right now, I don't care where anyone else stands on this issue. But when it comes to kids cutting their own hair, that's the argument, sort of. Is the child responsible for cutting their hair, or is the adult in the room/house responsible for leaving the scissors around? Sure, the child made the decision to cut their hair, but they couldn't have done it if the scissors were put out of reach. Remove the object of temptation, you eliminate the crime. Kinda.

I don't care if the object of temptation was a pair of safety scissors. I know a child is less likely from physically hurting them self with a pair, but that doesn't mean the scissors won't cut things they aren't meant for. If it can cut yarn, it can cut hair. And children aren't too rational. They don't think of consequences beyond a few minutes. You cannot expect a 4-year-old to know not to cut their own hair, or anyone else's hair for that matter. So, who is to blame? Who should have their T.V. privilege taken away? Who should have to sit in the penalty box for as many minutes as they are years old?

Safety scissors are just safer knives. Not a guarantee that they won't be used for their primary purpose. Don't use your hair dryer in the bathtub. Do not ingest household cleaner. Do not leave scissors of any kind near an unattended child.

Common Sense? Apparently not. Now I get to make a "fix-it" appointment with my stylist.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Big Bird and Batman

Responsible. Knowledgeable. Mature. Sensible. Cautious.

Words that should describe a parent. Though, obviously, not always. Just because one has a child doesn't mean one is any of those things. However, one can only hope that eventually a parent will acquire such traits.

When my ex and I started our divorce proceedings (in another state), we were required to take a parenting class on how to deal with children of divorced parents. I laughed at first; I was not required to take a class on how to raise a child and be a parent, yet I have to take a class on how to effectively separate from my spouse without totally damaging my child. In the end, the class was effective, if not yet applicable as our daughter was only a year old. It's a fact of life for her that her daddy doesn't live with her mommy. To her, it's always been that way. And even at 4-years-old, we've had the discussion as to why we aren't together anymore: as we got older, we realized we had different ideas and grew apart from each other. It's the truth, if not all of it.

When you become a parent, you are no longer responsible for yourself only. HomeEc classes in high school (rare as they are) teach teenagers the "joy" of taking care of an egg or flour sack. Take it with you everywhere you go and make sure you don't break it before the assignment is over. What isn't taught is that while taking care of a baby is hard, you only have to take care of a baby for a few years. Then you're raising a child, a tween, a teenager, and an adult. It is an 18+ year commitment (longer if the child stays home while going to college). Taking care of a baby is easy, you feed it, you burp it, you change it's diapers, you put it to sleep. For a year or two, it's the same routine over and over again. Then everything changes. Now, instead of a baby, you have a little person who depends on you to teach them everything about life.

My daughter is very perceptive and aware of her surroundings. Occasionally we listen to music on the way to school/work, but most of the time, we listen to the local news station on the radio. She always knows the date from the radio. "Today is Wednesday, August 13th, 2008." Everyday, the radio tells her what day it is. And everyday, the radio tells us news from around the world. She pays attention to everything; she has the "Sit 'n Sleep" tag line "You're killing me Larry!" down pat. She knows the whole commercial for a copper re-piping company from start to finish. But she also hears the sad stories about people who were killed in car accidents or robberies gone bad, etc. And she asks the tough questions: What does "killed" mean? Where do we go when we die? Do we come back from heaven after a while? And though I do my best never to lie to my daughter, since she is only 4-years-old, I soften the truth a bit. "You die when you are hurt so bad that your heart stops and doesn't pump your blood anymore. Killed is when someone hurts you so badly that you die." I don't go on to explain how people die when they are killed, and she hasn't asked me yet. I dread the day she does, because her world will change completely. I want to shield her from that for as long as possible. She should live in a world where Big Bird and Oscar live on the same street as regular people and worms go to outer space.

In the past month, I have seen two movies: "The Dark Knight" and "Wanted." One PG-13, the other R (though in my opinion, both should have had R ratings). Both very good movies (again, in my opinion), but very violent and graphic. Hence the ratings. As most responsible, knowledgeable, mature, sensible and cautious adults know, R means restricted to persons over the age of 17 unless with a parent or guardian, and PG-13 means parents should really think about the content of the movie before letting a child under the age of 13 watch it. Again, here comes the part about not being responsible for only yourself, but for what your child experiences as well.

So why, at these two movies, did I see more than 2 families in the theater with children under the age of 5?? Did they think their kids wouldn't watch the movie? Or perhaps they thought their kids would just gloss over all the blood and guts and violence? Children are more aware of their surroundings than many adults realize. Maybe it was because they couldn't get a babysitter for the night. I'm sorry, but if you can't afford or find a babysitter so you can watch an R rated movie, then either you don't go, or you go in shifts. Dad sees the afternoon showing and Mom goes after the kids have had their dinner. But you don't tout your entire family to the theater just so you can have a good time. And just because you're an adult and responsible for those children, doesn't mean you can just say "I give them permission to watch this film" just because you want to see it. Very young children would be disturbed by the violence, and because they cannot process what they see in a rational manner, they could experience it again and again in dreams. Slightly older children take in the violence differently, either thinking that it is cool, funny, or normal. Many times during "The Dark Knight" did I hear children/tweens laughing at the twisted mind of the Joker. The character, while well played, was sick, and demented. Had I met this man on the street, he would have given me the chills and I would have crossed to the other side of the street. But these kids were laughing at the psychopath, like he had just belched the alphabet.

It took everything in my power to not walk up to the parents, and ask that they leave and come back without their children. I'm sure others would have like to do so, not for the sake of the children, but because the children were distracting from the movie. And that does irk me some, to spend $10+ on a film to have it interrupted by crying or toys being shaken. But what bothers me more is that these "parents" seem to think that their title and role gives them permission to be careless, all in the name of selfishness.

While I don't condone using the TV as an all-day babysitter, if you need 30 minutes to shower or cook dinner, by all means, let your tot watch Big Bird. But don't make him watch Batman blow things up or assassins shoot bullets through people's skulls just because you need a break. Either find a babysitter or wait for it to come out on DVD and watch it when the kids are sleeping.

Thus ends my rant on humanity, or lack therof

Sunday, July 27, 2008

I'm just dating you because I like your family...

One of the most commonly heard things when you're a single mom trying to date is, "I don't think I could be a dad right now." When I go out on dates (few and far between), I tell my dates up front that I'm a mom. Because, to be honest, if they don't want to date a mom, I don't want to date them. It's a waste of my time. I don't hold anything against people who don't date parents; I was one of them for a while when I first decided to date again. Sometimes I still feel that way. It's hard to date a single parents because of the kids' schedules, our personal schedules, and custody agreements. My one attempt at dating a single dad didn't last long; we never got to see each other. We're still friends, but we aren't trying to force the relationship. Then there's the ex factor.

Most often, a single parent is in contact with the ex. Custody exchanges, child support, football games, dance recitals, holidays, etc. And the boyfriend or girlfriend of the single parents almost always inevitably meets the ex and after a long courtship with their significant other, may have to deal with the ex during the above mentioned occurrences. This can create stress on the relationship because the ex is always "there," whether physically or mentally, sometimes leaving the boyfriend/girlfriend feeling that they are being compared to the ex. Or that the ex is measuring them up, feeling a bit jealous of the relationship.

In some cases, like mine, this never happens. I only see my ex 4 times a year: when I take my daughter to and from the airport for visitation during the summer and for Thanksgiving or Christmas. Other than that, it's minimal phone contact. My ex lives a few states away; there's no running into him at a concert or having him for dinner for the holidays. Yet, he's still a father to our daughter. My daughter has never confused anyone else for her father. She knows who her daddy is, who her grandpa's are, and who her friends and family are. There's no denying that she knows who is who and understands those ties.

So why has every man I've gone out with a few times who isn't a single dad given me this line: "I don't think I can be a father right now."? Did I state in my personal ad or opening line at our first date that I was looking for a replacement daddy and I want to get married tomorrow? No. All I did was give you a chance at the very beginning to gracefully bow out. I don't date to find my daughter's next daddy. She already has one. I date for me. Of course, I want my significant other to love my daughter for who she is and treat her like his own child, but I don't expect him to adopt her; she's still loved and cared for by her daddy. And I don't expect my boyfriend to love my daughter immediately, just as I don't expect him to fall in love with me at first sight. Relationships take work and time, whether it's a relationship heading for marriage, or a relationship with a friend or child.

Is it too much to expect that people know what they want before they dive into a relationship? I don't mean what colors you want for your wedding or how many rooms you want in your house. I mean, can you date a single mom? Can you have a relationship with a woman and her child? Can you work to develop that relationship?

If not, tell me up front. Don't tell me weeks or months down the road that you can't date me because you can't be a dad.

I date for myself. I don't expect you to date me just because you want to be my kid's dad. Just like I'm not dating you because your mom and I get along.

Figure out what you want before you waste another person's time and efforts. It's not bad to not want to date a single parent. It is bad to string them along while you try to decide whether you want to date them or not.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Anticipation and Anxiety

Every summer my daughter visits her dad "Jake" in his home a few states away. We alternate who has her for the 4th of July; this year she was with me, leaving a few weeks later. Next year, he'll have her for the 4th as part of her visitation with him. As per our divorce and custody agreement, "Jake" has to fly here by himself, then fly with "Em" back to his house. When the visitation is over, he flies with her here, then returns alone. Until she is old enough to fly by herself (which I'm still not sure I want to do when the time comes; you never know what kind of people are on that plane), this is how it works, unless "Jake" wants to drive out here and drive back with "Em." But who wants to be driving for 18+ hours, let alone with a 4-year-old. So about 2-3 months before her visitation, I start looking at flight schedules and prices. About a month later we buy their "together" tickets; "Jake" buys his tickets for his flight with "Em" and I buy her tickets. "Jake" is then responsible for buying his own "alone" tickets. The majority of the time, "Jake" flies in the night before his "together" flight with "Em" so as to avoid any problems with delayed flights. He'll fly in, I pick him up at the airport, and he stays the night at our house. Then I drive them both to the airport the next day. Last year, we tried having "Jake" fly in the morning of their "together" flight, scheduled for early evening. What a disaster. To make a long story short, his flight was canceled, we had to change "Em's" departing airport and flight time, and she and I ended up running through the terminal (barefoot, since we'd taken our shoes off for the security portion) and I practically threw her and her belongings at "Jake" since their plane was waiting for them to board. I didn't get to say goodbye to her, and I cried the whole way home.

This year, "Jake" is flying in the day before. I still don't know which airport he's flying into, or when he arrives. For all I know, he's coming in on a flight that lands while I'm at work. He has either neglected or forgotten to share this information with me. Cuz, you know, I'm so hospitable and conforming, I'll just "work my life" around him. Whatever. Anyway, "Em" and I have things we have to do the morning and early afternoon of her flight, and I don't want to drive her around town then pick up "Jake" at my house and take them to the airport. I would rather not have "Jake" with us, as this is my last day with "Em" and it's special "Mommy/Daughter" time. So I left "Jake" a voicemail telling him that he'll need to get a hotel room for the night. I don't know if the airport he's coming into is the same as the one he and "Em" leave out of the next day. He may have to get a shuttle from his hotel to the appropriate airport. I don't know. But, even though I've put him up in our house in the past, there's nothing in our custody agreement that says I'm responsible for providing him a place to stay if he comes in the day before they fly out together. I'm not trying to be mean, and I'm sure he thinks I'm a (insert word for female dog here), but this is what happens when you don't share your plans with people and just expect them to be accommodating.

And I'm not exactly in the right mood to put up with him right now. "Jake" just finally started a job after being unemployed for almost a year. Therefore, child support payments have been few and far between. I can't legally prevent him from his visitation with "Em" until he pays me the 5 months of owed support, but it just doesn't seem fair. He chose not to work. In the beginning it was because of a pre-existing injury that was stressed by his previous job, but to not work at all while going to school one day a week seems just lazy to me. Why he couldn't get a job at McDonald's or a retail location? If you can't find the job you want, you get something to tide you over until you find it. Anyway... So he's been living off his V.A. partial-disability payments this whole time, which means he doesn't have money saved up in case of emergency. If something happens to "Em" while she's up there, he can't pay for medical services.

I'm excited that I get 5 weeks to be childless, but at the same time, I know I'll miss her. My friends ask me what I do when she's gone: party, shopping, date, vacation? My answer: sleep. For some reason, even if I get the recommended 8 hours of sleep every night, being a mom seems to sap all my energy away. So I recover for 5 weeks. Other friends, mostly parents, say "Wow, 5 weeks, that's a long time! Won't you miss her?" My answer: nope. I really will miss her, but I don't go crazy. Most "nuclear" families have a trade-off. Mom goes out with the girlfriends while Dad stays at home with the kids. Dad goes out with the guys, Mom stays at home. I don't get that. So these 5 weeks, in theory, are all of those trade-offs combined. But, my daily life changes little while she's away. When "Em" is here with me, she goes to preschool a few blocks from my work. So we get to carpool in the morning and evenings; a 20 minute drive-time versus 50+ minutes. But, when she's with her dad, I either have to fight traffic to get to work on time or convince my boss to let me do my morning work from home and get there at 10:00 after traffic has died down. But I can't get any overtime right now, so staying later at work to avoid rush-hour traffic is not feasible. I think I might start going to my gym, also a few blocks from work, until 6:30 or so. A little exercise won't kill me. But that puts me at home around 7, and by then there's no energy left to put into going out for the night. I am having a small party one Saturday while "Em" (and my folks remarkably) are gone, but the rest looks to be like my normal life, except with no child. And though 5 weeks is long for a child, it's short for me. It seems like just a few weeks ago "Em" turned 4; that was actually in April. And looking ahead, Halloween seems just around the corner; I've already turned in my request to my boss to leave early that day to avoid the mass of people trying to get home before dark. When "Em" and "Jake" take off from the airport, inside I'll sigh and say to myself, "Five whole weeks...what'll I do with myself." But before you know it, there's only a week left, and I haven't done anything different than what I'd normally do with "Em" here.

Ah, such is the life of a parent.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Welcome to me

I will admit this right off the bat: I know life is easier for me than many other single parents. But I don't want to discredit myself and say that life as a single mom is a cake-walk. My daughter and I live with my parents in the home I grew up in. I live rent-free and my parents do most of the grocery shopping. And yet I still feel the strain of bringing up my daughter without the support of a spouse. I love living with my folks, not just for monetary reasons, but because my daughter gets to spend so much time with her grandparents. She loves greeting them when they come home and covering them with hugs and kisses at bedtime. They enforce the rules that I have for my daughter and she respects them the way she does me, yet she knows that they are her grandparents and I am her mother.

My ex-husband and I are still on good speaking terms, so I won't bad-mouth him here. I will, however, post menial complaints just to vent my frustration. But to keep the peace and maintain my daughter's emotional stability, I never say a harsh word about my ex if it could come back to my daughter. For that reason, if I mention my ex, I will use the pseudonym "Jake." "Jake" lives in another state, so every summer, my daughter, "Em," visits him for 5-6 weeks. She also visits him on Thanksgiving every other year, and Christmas the alternate years. He calls her about once a month, and if she ever wants to call him, we almost always end up leaving a message on his voicemail. But more often than not, when she says "I want my daddy" or "I miss my daddy," it's because she's trying to get out of picking up her toys or brushing her teeth. I'll blog about how we deal with that another time.

I work full-time and make decent money...if I was just supporting myself. However, because in addition to car payments, insurance, gas for my car and my cell phone bill, I also have my daughter's pre-kindergarten tuition, dance lessons, swim classes and her clothes, having our own place isn't a reality. My take-home pay after taxes, 401(k), health insurance, and life insurance is enough to afford a studio apartment for my daughter and I, if only we didn't need to eat or need electricity. Such is the life of living in Orange County. When I was going through my divorce, my parents offered to let my daughter and me live with them until I could find a place of my own. Three years later, they've seen the prices of housing go up and would rather have me here with them than living in a scary part of town where I need three deadbolts. So, rather than have a place of my own, I live with my parents and save money.

I've thought about moving out of Orange County, possibly out of California. But my family is here. My church is here. It was hard enough moving out of state to be with my then-husband and his family. The only people I knew were his immediate family. When we decided that we were getting divorced, "Jake" told me to move back with my family, that he knew how much I loved and missed and needed them. My family and my church are my support system, and I don't know where I would be without them. I have a few friends across the country, but to uproot myself again would be hard, and it would be especially tough on "Em." The only life she knows is here in Orange with my parents and me. We moved back home during the divorce when she was just 16 months old; she has no memory of "Jake" and I being married and living together. This house we live in is her world, and to take her away from her family and church and friends at this age would upset her whole balance.

I've dated two men in the 3 years since my divorce, each for only a couple of months. I find it hard to date when my life revolves around "Em." I work, bring "Em" home, help get dinner ready, put "Em" to bed, then I'm just plain tired. And since I live with my folks, I do have live-in babysitters, but I try not to ask them to watch my daughter more than a couple of times a month, and when my part-time job has me out a few nights a month, it's hard to get out. And it's not like I'm the best pick in town. How would my personal ad run? "Divorced mom of one seeks single guy to be available whenever I am, but doesn't expect me to be available when he is. Must love kids that aren't his and must want to come second in priority." Yeah, not so much. I'm trying to believe that when I'm supposed to be with the right guy, I'll meet him.

Well, it's time I headed to bed. My hope is to post once a week. It might be more if I have a particularly hard day.

My fearless child, friends and I on Tower of Terror at DCA

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