Sun and Structure

It’s the last day of school, and I am extremely prepared. I recently attended a training at our local school district given by a Behavioral Specialist. It was about the importance of maintaining structure and adhering to a schedule of carefully curated, developmentally appropriate activities throughout the summer months. I couldn’t agree more. And it starts on Day One.


The Night Before Day One:

It’s business as usual. Yes, we went out to my daughter’s favorite pizza restaurant and even ordered ice cream to celebrate the completion of her first year of kindergarten. But now, it’s bath, brush teeth, story and song, and bed on time, right honey?

Or not. By 9pm, I have been negotiating with a screaming, crying, pleading, ridiculously stubborn, and surprisingly tactical six-year-old for almost an hour about this one debatable point: why can’t she go to sleep in her soaking wet mermaid tail?

You have to understand, my daughter is a filmmaker. She’s already won an award for Best Film in the K-2 Division at her elementary school. And in tonight’s particular film, the character falls asleep and wakes up as a mermaid. And she’s very Method. So…

She did finally fall asleep (sans tail) at 9:15pm. How? I drugged her. Zarbee’s Melatonin 1 mg Grape flavor–if you’re looking for a fix.

And then I got to work.

Per the Behavior Specialist, I went online and printed out these adorable daily schedule activity cards, cut and laminated each one, stuck Velcro tabs to the back, created a daily schedule board complete with a crafty sun decoration and complementing Velcro tabs. I created the schedule for Day One, hung the rest of the activity cards with some fun, summery decorations to inspire enthusiasm, and finally went to bed.

Day One:

Squeals of excitement, hugs of joy–my hard work and artistic flair have paid off–she can’t wait to start her two-month adventure of sun and structure!

“After I just make one little short film, Mom.”

We end up shooting footage of the entire schedule of activities. Which is kind of fun. I can picture maybe editing it into an instructional video for other moms who may not know about the exciting world of daily schedule activity cards and could use my experience as a guide. Granted, my daughter is wearing a torn and dirty mermaid tail for every single activity and referring to herself as Ariel. But it’s summer. It’s supposed be fun, right?

Structured fun.

We start with a science experiment. She loves science. We make a sparkly, red volcano.

Then it’s Friday Free Choice–she gets to choose between music, art, writing, and blocks. She chooses to do 15 minutes of each. Great! The more the better, right? The music was a little loud, but the watercolor she did was exquisite.

Snack, chore–she’s balancing upright in her tail while she sorts silverware–then, storybook. She sets up a whole class full of stuffed animals for the story. It’s adorable. But as I’m reading the story and answering a question from her stuffed bunny, Peeps, I turn and all of the sudden… she’s gone. In the water. With her tail.

Well, swimming is on the schedule, just not until later. Good thing for these Velcro tabs… I’ll just switcheroo. No big deal, right?

Wrong. This must be what the Behavior Specialist meant about adhering to the structure. One little switcheroo, and the whole train can come off the wheels.

Now, it’s barely 1pm and we’ve blown through (or blown up) the entire daily schedule and we’re screaming bloody murder about how all the other kids are watching as much YouTube as they want right now, and she just wants to watch one more home movie about a family she’s never met in the southland, and I won’t let her, so I must be the worst mother in the world.


Breathe. It’s okay. Just hold the iPad steady. I operate the camera, while my little filmmaker introduces every single one of her stuffies to her audience, in preparation for the bed scene–the one in which she will go to sleep and wake up as a mermaid in full mermaid tail.

I let it go. It’s not that wet. Her bed will dry.

By 5 she’s in the jacuzzi, and I would have a glass of wine, or many, if not for the nasty sinus infection I’ve pretty much had since she started preschool four years ago.

At this point, I remember… I’m not a full-time mom. I have a career I’m hoping will blow up, I have students and clients and dreams and ambitions, and, overcrowded or not, I should have looked into more summer camps.

But, as I’m tucking my little mermaid-clad Scorcese into bed, she tells me, “I can’t wait to see what’s on the schedule tomorrow, Mommy.”

Was that a dare? I never shrink from a dare.

So, I go back to it. Velcro tabs and switcheroos and agonizingly endless debates with myself about where to put the superfun activity that unfortunately involves sugar so could prove disastrous if placed too early or too late in the daily schedule.

And, it’s 10pm.

I remember a few weeks back saying, “It’s actually a good thing I didn’t get staffed this season, because my babygirl really needs me at home.” And I think–for her sake and mine–that that is the stupidest thing I have ever said in my life.

But I can’t waste time now on regrets. I have to get to bed. Because tomorrow–duh duh dum–is Day Two…


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Never Quit

I want to hide. I feel like I didn’t really know my own fellow Americans. I am so full of fear and doubt and confusion and disappointment and horror and deep, deep sadness, that all I want is to stay under the covers and pretend it didn’t happen. I don’t want to go outside and discover that my neighbors are actually happy today.

I just want to hide.

But I can’t. I can’t because I’m a parent. And, as parents, we gave up the right to stay under the covers and call in sick today. In its place, we have the unfathomably inspiring job of raising a child to be a part of a better tomorrow.

But it’s a daunting job on this particular day. I was planning to wake up my 5-year-old daughter with the news that a woman has been elected to the highest office in our country for the first time ever and that sexism will be a faint memory by the time she comes of age. I was expecting to dance with her to Beyoncé songs while waiting for the pancakes to cook.

All I can say now is “Mommy’s sad.”

I look at her. Then I look at her wrist. She’s wearing a rubber bracelet she got from the leadership program at her school this week. It says “Never Quit.” There have been a lot of leadership slogans on a lot of rubber bracelets in the last week. “Learn.” “Engage.” “Give.” “Empower.” The only one I take issue with is “Never Quit.” I think that, as Secretary Clinton showed us so gracefully this morning, there are times for concession. There are also times when we have to stop and cry, and then reassess.

But does that mean that I quit on the idea that a woman can and should become President when she has more experience, has worked harder, and is smarter than her male opponent? No. Does that mean I quit on racial equality, religious tolerance, and the idea that people of all sexual orientations and gender identities should be treated with respect? No. Does that mean I think it’s okay for any American, let alone a President, to disparage people with mental or physical disabilities? Of course not.

So, I can’t quit.

I can’t quit on my daughter or on her future. So, I pack her lunch, get her to school, smile at the kindergarten teacher who’s head is hung so low today, but who showed up for our kids anyway, and I go home and take to my computer. Because I love America. And above all, I love our freedom of expression.

A lot of people expressed some very different values than mine last night. Obviously a lot of people want change in this country. And I can at least agree with them about that. And if we can start listening to each other and stop yelling and disparaging each other, maybe we can actually achieve it.

So, the biggest change I want to see for myself and for my daughter is one that I naively thought was already happening. I know we still live in a culture of rape. I know the numbers, and I’ve heard the stories from college campuses across America. They are stories that haven’t changed one iota from those of my college days twenty years ago. But when I heard Trump say that he could do anything to women because he was famous, when I heard him talk about women’s bodies with so much disrespect and heard him talk about taking sexual favors without consent, I thought it was over. I thought, sure, there are still men out there who think that this passes as “locker room talk.” But I was also certain that a vast majority of Americans could never vote for a man who would treat them and their wives, sisters, daughters, and mothers with so much disrespect.

And I was wrong.

I am heartbroken for the American-born child who is crying today because she’s afraid that her mother will be deported now. I am heartbroken for the Muslims of true and beautiful faith who are contemplating leaving the country now. I am heartbroken about what last night’s vote says about our country’s true racial divide. But the reason I can’t seem to stop crying is that I’m a woman. And I thought I was bringing my daughter into a better world.

But I won’t quit. This country was formed by many who believed, not only in their right to govern themselves, but also in the abolition of slavery. And slavery was abolished… 70 years later. The first formal meeting of the woman suffrage movement took place in 1848, and women didn’t achieve the right to vote until 1920. The Civil Rights Act passed in 1964. Over forty years later, we elected our first black President. The Equal Rights Amendment still has not passed in this country, but that doesn’t mean it won’t. And we still haven’t seen our first female President.

But we will.

And it may take my entire lifetime, or even my daughter’s entire lifetime, but I do believe that the culture of rape in our country can be destroyed and that Americans can rise from its ashes as women and men of noble character whom I will be proud to call my fellows.

Until then, all I can do is keep writing.


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Mama Envy

I’m sick of choices. I get the sense that my mother had an easier time making decisions. I know that many things were more difficult for her. But when it came to making decisions about how to raise her children, there simply weren’t that many options. If your doctor told you not to breastfeed, you didn’t breastfeed. American babies slept in cribs – end of discussion. You weren’t expected to surf the web researching and read five different books with five different approaches to sleep training and then choose the best method.

As a woman and a feminist, it feels ridiculous to rail against having choices, but I do. I hate choices. There are so many of them to make, how is a respectable mama supposed to get anything else done? Attachment parenting or babywise? To co-sleep or sleep train? Sticker rewards or natural consequences?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful that, as a modern day mom, I understand the medical and emotional benefits of breastfeeding. I’m grateful for all the information that’s available to me in the age of the Internet and that wasn’t readily available to my mother.

She, by the way, was the kind of exemplary supermom who would have put my mommy-site researching skills to shame if the Internet had existed back then. But it didn’t. And I envy her.

I also envy my mother for her sense of community. I grew up in a New York suburban neighborhood where my family literally knew every other family on our street. We actually knew most of our neighbors for a radius of four or five blocks. In the summertime, the fathers – yes, I know, but it was the eighties and still true – the fathers left for work, and us kids would take over the street with games of street hockey or bicycle races.

When I was three, instead of going to preschool, my mother and the mothers of three other girls my age would each take one day a week to host all four of us in their home, creating art projects and teaching us to share, while the other three mothers got a break for a few hours.

I’ve always been grateful that I grew up in a place where I had so many built-in friendships. But now, I can see how invaluable that must have also been for my mom.

This neighborhood was idyllic even by the standards of that day. Today, I doubt if it exists anywhere. Instead, my parenting books talk about the importance of “creating community” – reaching out online to build a “support system.” And I’m doing it. It’s honestly one of the reasons I’m writing this blog. But sometimes I resent it. Why should I have to build or create anything? Why couldn’t I just walk out my door, daughter in hand, and call on the proverbial village it’s going to take to raise her?

Well, honestly, because I don’t speak the same language as most of my neighbors. Because cars speed so fast down my street that I’m scared to death every time I take my daughter out for a walk. Because I live in the beautiful, but isolating, city of Los Angeles.

I’ve met some wonderful families here. And I do feel like I’m starting to build a strong community. But it’s been a push. It’s been a struggle. It’s a network held together by threads of text messages and FB posts and the occasional in-person play date, and sometimes it just feels thin. And when it feels like that, I envy my mother.


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People think the seasons don’t change in LA. But today a chilled wind blows through my street, ripping down thick palm fronds onto my roof, and I know it is finally Fall. There’s a part of each of us, a part we don’t often speak about, that yearns for death. It’s the natural order – without death, nothing can be reborn. It’s the part of me that wants to go running through the crisp autumn wind even though the sky is falling all around me, breathing in the cold like a fresh start. And it’s the part of me that needs to grieve for what can never be mine again. My husband will never be who he was before I started calling him “Daddy.” My daughter will never be who she was before she learned “Mommy always comes back.” Those pieces of them, and of me, have fallen away like the palm fronds in my front yard. I wonder with excitement and trepidation about the new people we will be to each other now – the possibilities of the Spring to come. I look for my daughter with bright eyes, which suddenly brim with tears for the baby she once was. That is the bittersweet taste of Fall to me. Today it feels like wind.


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Spinning Plates

It’s 7am. I watch in silence as my two-year-old completes the puzzle I left out for her last night. The first, and often only, quiet moment of the day. Then it’s sippy cup, diaper change, a healthy breakfast, dish duty, a careful negotiation involving Playdoh and a magic crown, a wildly successful pre-school drop-off, a Skype session with a new client for the consulting business I’m trying to get off the ground, a trip to the dentist to get some cavities filled – a result of falling asleep without brushing one too many nights when Jenny was an infant, a less successful pre-school pick-up, a mermaid kingdom exploration, a failed attempt at naptime, a conference call with my managers who give me notes on a spec script I’ve been writing while we all listen to Dora the Explorer in the background, mommy and me swim class, a nutritious dinner of fish sticks and untouched veggies, bath, books and bed, and finally… no wait, there’s a mermaid mess in the living room to be tidied up, my husband’s laundry to be switched, and the phone call I’ve been meaning to make for my volunteer organization. Now, finally… I can get to work.  

It’s 8pm. My eyes are glazed over before I even start. But I push through for almost two hours of writing before I decide to turn it in and do some reading. Instead of my usual parenting books, I click a magazine article about the so-called “opt-out generation” of stay-at-home moms.

Every time I read something on the debate about balancing mommyhood and work, I imagine a simple scale – two hands in balance, a pile of paperwork on one, a baby on the other, the scale tipped just slightly too far in one direction or the other (did I see that on a magazine cover?) But my life doesn’t feel that simple at all. My life feels more like the guy at the circus who balances a dozen spinning plates on every possible body part – his hands, feet, nose, chest, head… use your imagination. I’m so disgruntled by the black and white simplicity of the article that I start writing again.

My life has been a balancing act for as long as I can remember. I’m an artist. I spent my twenties pursuing my passion for theater, piecing my income together from temp work, non-profit work, teaching, and my own side business. When I got pregnant, I was in grad school preparing for a new career as a screenwriter, earning my keep with tutoring gigs and one graveyard shift a week at a law firm.

In my naiveté, I assumed that I would “go back to work” after three months like the rest of America. But how do you go back to work when “work” isn’t a place that you go to for 8 hours a day, but rather an amorphous amalgamation of daily tasks and inspirations that seemingly define you – that is, until there is suddenly a beautiful little angel sucking at your breast, giving your life a whole new meaning and purpose?

It’s 11pm, and my husband finally comes home from his own exhausting day. He asks what I’m doing awake, and I tell him I’ve decided to start a blog about it all.

“You’re crazy. You need to go to bed.”

He’s right. I manage to muster half a kiss for him before we both disappear into REM.


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