Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Tales of a Middle School Mom

I know you have seen this blog start this way before ... while I logically process that my first born child is now in middle school and 11 I somehow am still shocked to see that on paper.  

This week a flurry of school notices and bus schedules have reminded me that next week my child is going into middle school.

Whaaattttt?  First that means that summer is almost over, sigh and sadness because the beach and this time of year is by far my happiest place, and second it means that I have to get over myself and stop looking to make every day Throwback Thursday with pictures of when he was but a small boy.  

Middle school - something a little scary from what I hear from some - after all now there will be these 8th graders with hormones, something to prove and pre-teen angst surrounding my boy, and his friends, who are so much smaller.  The terrors in my mind far outweigh anything actually based in reality of course.  I was a mess with the school bus when he first had to take it, and though at times I was proven right that it is a yellow moving school of inappropriate discussions and some strife, and that turned out better than I thought.  For those of you who grew up in the 'burbs the school bus held none of the worries this girl who took graffiti, crime infested subways had because after all I could navigate that scenario better than this bus thing, what if someone didn't let my son sit down, what if they were mean to him, what if there were things told to him about everything from sex to other misinformation - ok so the sex and misinformation did happen here and there but it was manageable.  

So here we are - he will be fine, they sort of sequester the 6th graders on a different floor from the others but my son has some anxiety about being late for class when they switch, forgetting his locker combo and of course the whole idea of being expected to now be more responsible.   I can help him walk through his schedule along with the other kids at open house, I can help him remember his locker and combo but I cannot do the one thing that probably scares me most - help him grow up unscathed.  

I do not want to have him be small forever, he will always be my baby along with his brother, but I want the world to be that much kinder to him than it may be.  I want dangers to revolve around things I can somewhat control - falling off a slide, learning to walk, learning to not do something just cause I say "no".  It scares me to think of drugs, sex before he is ready, bullies or just plain scathing meanness  - I know it was not always easy for me with these things and I do not want his pain yet it is that pain, that ability to know when to walk away, when to say no to drugs because you just don't want to do it and don't feel you need it even with what are your world of friends,  that probably helped me grow the most.  I am coming to grips with the fact that for him to grow up he needs to learn to navigate and bounce back from these things while never losing sight of the fact that we have a good relationship.  A relationship that will mean I may not like what he tells me but I will always be there to help him.  

So off to get his school supplies, to show him he is ready and he has this because it will be one of many good memories he will have much like I do.  I will help him see that a bad day will one day be a memory that makes you laugh at how much importance a non-important event got.  He will get to middle school, get through it and be on his way to (YIKES) high school before I know it.  He is surrounded by friends that are great and most of all he is a confident boy who has overcome some things in his life that have already taught him that it isn't always easy.  

I will continue to love looking at his pictures, toothless and in diapers, but I am getting ready to look at my baby walk into middle school and onward to his future. 

As he goes here are a few things I want him and his middle school friends to know;

The most popular kid - be this by being yourself, being confident and most of all be kind to others - nasty wears out soon enough

The opposite sex - you are too young in 6th grade to think of more than a kiss and a glance - but that kiss will be all you think about and if it doesn't happen there is always 7th grade  - a good kiss is much better to wait for than a lot of bad ones

The work is bit scary - but you will get through it and at some weird random moment in adulthood will actually recall some fact you learned then and impress someone with your ability to master word problems until then I know who cares how fast the car is going to get Wendy to her destination

Bullies - tell someone and let me know - at times you may need to hit last but let's try and avoid that - don't be one, see point number one

Drugs, smoking, alcohol - oh boy,  they are just not good for you because they will take away your ability to choose - they will choose for you, they will choose your friends, take away what you like to do and replace it with momentary happy and lots of misery - so don't start and I am here always for you to think of how to avoid these things

Sadness - feelings get intense around now, this is ok, how can I help or if I can't I promise it is not always this much of a rollercoaster

Your parents are not as clueless as you think - we were there once, awkward and wanting to be cool too, thinking of all the same things you are - you can roll your eyes when I walk away but walk toward me anytime you need,  I may surprise you with what I can help with

ENJOY  the year kids ...  you all make me proud and happy to know what a future looks like from what I have seen with my sons and their friends/classmates. 

This blog was approved for publishing by the middle school son :)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The girl on the magazine cover

One of the things I like about August, the fact that it is still summer and beach time is my top reason, is toward the end the big fashion magazines come out.  There is something that I just love about sitting at the beach, scanning these fat books because the Fall issues are out, sound of the surf and the smell of the ocean.

I could go with the Playboy excuse, I buy them for the articles, but while there are some interesting articles in there I buy them for the centerfolds and every beautiful spread in between each cover.  It is a bit of a mystery to some people who know me and totally makes sense to others.

After all I am a proud feminist - the kind that thinks women should have all the same opportunities as men, who gets angry at any mention of gender discrimination, rabidly pro-choice and women empowered to have options for birth control.  I am the mother who teaches her sons their responsibilities in life include their behavior with and toward women as well as how to be embrace women who have choices in what they do for work or what they choose to do as work by staying home.  I am that feminist - love Gloria Steinem.

So how am I also using my feminist card as a book mark in these magazines?  Recently my brilliant, totally looks like a cover model, virtual best friend (virtual only cause distance is not an issue for our friendship) wrote a blog about how thrilled she was when she first saw Cindy Crawford on the cover of Vogue.  It took me a minute to see how every girl out there who was not blonde, blue eyed must have felt for so long.  I can imagine not seeing your face if you are a woman of color, mixed heritage, or even just brown haired must sort of make you wonder what is beautiful.  I have yet to find me on the cover of any magazine.  Yes me - you know hair curly and large (with frizz that is battled), bigger boobs but real ones so they are not gravity defying volleyballs, belly not abs, stretch marks from the babies (oh ok and the Hagen Dazs), gummy smile, age spots and freckles and not a size 0 - not even when I decompose will that apply.  It took me this summer and a Dove discussion on a tv show to try and embrace my curls - did not chemical them straight like I usually do because I am trying to give the hair a rest (I love blonde, on me, so that is enough process I think at times ) from the pulling, tugging, chemical relaxers that it usually is subject to.  All in the name of that Breck swingy hair  - so I embraced it, ok I didn't but it was a lot easier to do it this way and products for curly hair are much better, or I learned to live with it but I look wistfully at my pictures of straightened hair and know that is where I have learned to like it better.

Back to the magazines - I shouldn't like them - they are never me - half of the stuff I would have to get the whole spread tailored together to fit on my frame as it is meant for folks who seem to not have the love of food I do.  I may be blonde but I am not the blonde on the covers.  Yet I love them, look forward to them and have come to make peace with that kind of like with my curls, they are a part of me.  I love fashion - for the artistry, the creativity, the daring and even for being so out there that it is only meant for photographs.  I love picking up ideas and refreshing my wardrobe or laughing out loud at the audacity to actually show and design something that is frankly ridiculous.  I like the models because they found a way to make money off an asset they have - who are we as women to not support them ??   I love being a woman and not being a man .. there is beauty to me in our genders, or our chosen genders these days or is it should have been genders, and being feminine is not weak how could it be when as a feminist I embrace the idea of being female.

We have to become comfortable with ourselves, to see more variety in the covers but to also look at the covers not as reflections of ideal beauty but glossy pages of art that may not translate to reality.  We could look at the fashions and demand that they be more considerate of the workforce they use but not that we toss them aside.  I will never embrace that idea of drab, grey, boring clothes lines- I left a Soviet bloc nation and their lack of esthetic was one of the things I left behind.  Fashion like art is beautiful but it only defines us if we let it.   It is ok to want the beautiful things in life it is only when we never see the beauty in what we may already have that it becomes destructive.  I see these the same way I see much of life, entertainment and not always a political statement or an apology for liking something, goodness am so over that mantra as it leaves so little time to actually embrace life and make it beautiful for you and others.   So yeah if I could I would totally jump into a fashion shoot, spend the rest of the time asking for that photoshop airbrush and then go home and be the feminist I have become -  the one who has the choice to make her money to buy the fashions or not.  I am ok at my age to be the one who will give you her gummy smile or not and most of all the one who see these magazines are part of my days at the beach, where with my sons I am content, not as an escape from that reality.  

Now like Madonna said "everybody Vogue".....

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

I am an immigrant...I am American

Not going to give the clown running for office (which one may have come to mind of many of you) any more publicity by mentioning his name but his anti immigrant stance has really ticked me off.  Almost as badly as the religious fanaticism we are seeing on the far right, the anti-choice campaigns and a host of other science denying that just make my blood boil.  After all I am an American by choice which means I feel I have the right to disagree without being afraid. I get upset in general when we are not as great as I think we can be but these are the topics that ticked me off in the past few weeks - there are others trust me but then blog would be book. 

That's right I am an American by choice not by birth - that pretty much will cover many of today's current citizens, and potential citizens.  It means that while I can see room for improvement to me the US is still the home I want to live in and the one that I want to fight to make better.  I love the speech from the opening episode of the Newsroom, if you have not seen it Google it, it ends with some of my favorite language  something like "...no we are not the greatest country in the world but we could be".

There is nothing wrong with patriotism it is not nationalism, kind of like nothing wrong with faith until it becomes mandate.  This country still stands for opportunities and for potential.  Yet it cannot reach it's potential unless we are willing to go through what is basically our puberty as a nation.  In the scheme of the age of the world's nations this is at best tween time.  We see the struggle still for equality among our people - racial, gender, gender identity.  It is puberty right now in the US - between those who see the country as the parents who want you just to not grow up and those who are vying for the independence that is much needed so we can become adults.

My family and I watched a movie about the struggles of a town in California where migrant Mexican workers live - my sons, natives, cannot really imagine what it must be like to have to work like that and try to have an education and fight to not be seen for less than you could be and worry about everything every moment of every day. Yet they can empathize and know that they should treat all people equally for we are better as a country and as a people for it.  So if my 11 and 8 year old get that we are all people who are here by choice, by birth who have the same hopes why can't the bozos running for office?!!!

My sons cannot imagine what it is like to leave everything you know, your language, your people and come to a place that at times will be glad you are here and others remind you that you are not one of them.  They do not know what a struggle their mother still has when a piece of me is still European in thought and heart but grateful and devoted to the country I choose to love and live in.  I get mad at the things I see that we can do better, term limits, women as equals in the decisions/pay, race as something you have to add to the mix not be denied for, campaign contribution reforms and getting back to being the voice of science and progress not deniers. 

As immigrants we owe this country and it's native born a debt of gratitude, the respect to learn how to integrate with them while we share our own cultures, respect for the customs and common language that we need to use to become the successful nation we are meant to be.  We owe them - and they owe us for the work we do, for the additions we make.  We are more the same than different and as Bono once said America is not just a place but an idea ... a crazy, wonderful, ambitious idea.  So as immigrants who are Americans by choice and as Americans who were immigrants (by choice or not) it is time that we do not let those who point out the negative in us be our voice it is time to embrace one of the founding principles of this country and speak up for ourselves to a government that should be for the people by the people ... yeah we can be the greatest nation because what can be greater than all of the awesome pieces of the countries we have here from all over this wonderful planet we all share?!!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Sleepovers and other modern day parenting dilemmas

Full disclaimer these are all first world middle class problems; doesn't make them less to those who experience them but I feel fortunate that these are the issues that plague me compared to where will we sleep?  will my hometown be invaded and my children survive ? can I feed them ?  My 11 year old is reading as his chosen non-fiction book an autobiography about child soldiers - he is becoming a pacifist and it leads to some really interesting discussions but overall he is sad that children must suffer. 

So back to my issues as my kids got older I found myself on the deciding end of the following things and they are all coupled with teaching decision making, understanding today's world not parenting to the one I grew up in, learning from my parents, learning from my parents' mistakes aka shit I hated that they did to me, support and independence and sometimes a bunch of these in one shot.  I love being a Mom - more than I could have imagined but between the media blitz and the conversations around me I am often thinking about every decision in ways am sure previous generations never did. 

Sleepovers -  I grew up in an immigrant house this meant culturally you slept in your own bed - after all why would you even ask to sleep at someone else's house?  Also this was incredibly restricted to basically only people they interacted with.  This falls under the category of shit I hated that they did to me.  I mean it felt like all the non-immigrant parents, see a theme?, let their kids do this to their heart's content minus the Guantanamo interrogation of "who are these people?".  In the "when I am a parent" bravado I had pre-children I was going to be the opposite.  Then I did volunteer work with rape and domestic abuse survivors.  I learned that sexual abuse is more likely to be from a person a child knows - the trust factor - and that it has always been around, not more, not less just more acknowledged these days.  So sleepovers - every house had a potential for harm, then there was the I don't know these people discussions.  It is not in my comfort zone and ironically like most parents who aren't comfortable I am a hypocrite because I usually respond with "well they can sleep here".  I have come to triage this - it is a good experience for them - I choose parents I have a level of comfort with and who parent much like I do.  I speak candidly with my kids and we don't have "secrets".  I cannot protect them forever but I can limit their exposure.  This will be limited to who and where they go to at this point but they are learning some decision making from my explanations to them. 

Speaking of explanations  - we are raising a generation of negotiators.  I know my friends and I did not negotiate and explanations were only to help you with homework.  Not these kids - they have learned from day one to question the validity of any request - this is frustrating and awesome at the same time.  Maybe they will question the world on to why it is so messed up and wait patiently until they make you think about it from their vantage point. 

Video games - no not just screen time.  Before everyone gets on their soapbox some of this is generational - we watched tv (for the person who is about to say they didn't let's face it you were the exception) and probably more than we would care to admit.  This is their screen time.  We encourage them to interact, play outside, learn to communicate with more that K (seriously that O would have taken that much time ??) but overall they are also learning how to maneuver what their world will be. It is not worse or better it is both and it is neither but mainly it just is their reality.  Video games I struggle with - because they are my rated R movies that I snuck into way way before I was allowed to actually see them.  I saw "American Gigolo" at 12 - so not right - so in love with Richard Gere and Blondie - learned more than I should have but I did not grow up to hire or become a hooker.  So it's a balance  - these games are violent often or have negative stereotypes I can only hope I can hold them back until they will always know that also.  This is not reality and do you really need your escape to be the nightly news full of negativity and violence in a box?? 

Independence - toughest one for me as the others I can somewhat control for a while.  A long while.  I want my kids to be independent and today's world is statistically far safer than my childhood yet my kids have no real street savvy.  I was so much more free roaming in a much more violent and dirty city, my peers were the same and theirs are not.  I want them to know how to navigate the subway, the streets of NYC and to be generally able to pay attention to their surroundings but I have to some degree through best intent bubble wrapped them - I am slowly navigating how the 11 year old can venture more and I feign to worry less (feign because I believe you worry as much forever).   They need to learn to make choices and understand consequences ... yikes please be kind world. 

I know that these do not compare to the problems first mentioned but they are the problems my friends and I have and discuss and fret over along with teaching them empathy and how to be good world citizens so maybe their adult world is more about worrying about parenting and less about worrying about survival for every parent.