Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2014: A Look Back

I am not usually one to make New Year's resolutions. Instead, with my birthday being at the exact midpoint of the year, I make a list on that day of what I want to accomplish before I turn another year older. And, much like those goals made by many on January 1, I pull my list out after a year and shake my head at the plans I let go unfulfilled. So, I decided to try something different. I am going to envision what I want my life to look like at the end of 2014 and pretend it is so. Manifest my own destiny in a way. It's like "The Secret" phenomenon peddled by Oprah several years ago -- visualize what you want and it will come true.

With the house quiet as both kids fell short in their valiant efforts to make it to midnight (eastern or central time), now seems like a good opportunity to reflect on the year that has yet to happen.


What an amazing year it has been! With all the wonderful moments that took place in 2014 it is going to be hard to let this year go. But, we need to make room for even greater moments in 2015 (like me turning 40 . . . yikes!).

Ian started kindergarten (!) this year, which means the Moore Trio has officially transitioned into a new stage of our family's life together. And no more day care payments for me! While I was not one to get teary when Catherine started school a few years ago (it probably didn't hurt that she walked right to her seat, started talking to the new kids around her, and didn't even notice when I left), seeing Ian sitting at that desk and meeting his new teacher was a bit emotional. He's my baby. A chapter is closed. He's doing so well, though, and is proud to step onto that bus with his big sister every morning and show off how well he is reading when he comes home at night. He played both spring and fall t-ball this year and his game has really taken off. I think I see a varsity shortstop position in his future! He has come a long way this year in growing out of those little boy tantrums and replaced them with more language and thoughtful expression. His confidence and maturity make me proud.

Catherine, of course, is in complete control of this third-grade business. I am in awe of her on those rare occasions that I am able to visit her at school. She is friends with everyone and is so outgoing. The complete opposite of how I was at her age! She knows she is one of the "smart kids," but encourages others to learn and never flaunts how easily school comes for her. Like her brother, Catherine also has grown up quite a bit in 2014. She is still navigating a world in which she wants to be a preteen but she isn't quite there yet, and is getting better at finding her place and being comfortable with it. I was just at her most recent piano recital a few weeks ago, and I'm so excited that she is playing Mozart! She has become more patient with herself when it comes to practicing piano, as she has a tendency to get frustrated when she doesn't understand something right away, and that has made a world of difference. She started playing softball this year and she likes life in the outfield. It's been a lot of fun watching both kids play.

We enjoyed our trip to Disney World in October. I told the kids we would go there one time, and this was it! We certainly made the most of the adventure. Catherine loved getting on all of the scariest rides that her height would allow and Ian got over his fear of humans dressed in plush costumes for some great pictures with Mickey Mouse. He also would tell you that the water rides were his favorites. I think this was the perfect age to take them. They were old enough to be somewhat independent and helpful, which I need when it's two on one, but still young enough to be completely enthralled by the magic of it all.

Whether traveling to the Magic Kingdom or sitting and watching a movie together on a Friday night, my time with the kids has gotten even better with the resolution I made and kept to put away my phone during family time. I knew that I didn't want my kids' childhood memories to be scattered with images of me staring at a small screen or sending text messages when we should have been enjoying conversations and laughter without interruption. This change has been one of my favorites of 2014 and a lot easier to do than I thought.

But what about me? Did I accomplish the personal goals I had set out for myself? Yes and no. By March I had gotten rid of those ten pounds that had crept on over the past couple of years. Eating only a limited amount of meat that always comes straight from that CSA through which we also now get much of our produce, drinking at least 100 ounces of water every day and getting to the gym at least three times a week even if it meant taking the kids there after a full day of school once in a while helped. The kids actually both told me multiple times this year that they were glad I was exercising and taking better care of myself because they were worried about me. With a stronger body, I was able to get back into running as I had resolved to do and finished several 5k and 10k races as well as the "Middle Half" in October (with a personal best time, thank you!).

I'm still hit or miss with my pledge to sleep (or at least be in bed and resting if sleep won't come) seven hours a night. There are many nights when I put myself in bed with lights off by 10:30pm and I feel amazing when the alarm goes off at 5:30am the next morning. It's been nice to take a half hour after that solid night of rest to read, pray and quietly prepare myself for the day before the kids get up at 6:00am. There are still times, though, that I slip back into old habits of sitting on the couch watching TV or surfing the internet until 1:00am because I want to avoid the quiet of bedtime and the racing thoughts that inevitably come. I know my problem with sleep is a lifelong issue, so I am pleased that this resolution has been at least partially met.

As I look around my house, I guess I have to admit that my resolution to keep every room organized and guest ready at all times may have been a bit too lofty to achieve. Blame it on the aforementioned decision to sleep more. But the kids and I did work together to develop a family chore chart and I can tell that they feel more invested in the notion I often share with them of the three of us being a team. Each member of the Moore Trio is essential and unique in his or her contributions to making our family as happy and awesome as possible. They like having their rooms in order and knowing that there is a place for everything and I've stayed ahead of the piles, both of laundry and papers that seem to accumulate over an average week. So, I'll declare this resolution to be a work in progress with our efforts headed in a positive direction.

I still am not reading as much as I would like. Part of the problem is that I bring a book to bed with me most nights but I'm nodding off after five pages. I have made a conscious effort to open a book in some instances that my first instinct was to crash in front of the television. But, I still am overwhelmed by the number of books I want to consume and don't see how it will ever happen. When I was in middle school, one of my best friends had a t-shirt that read, "So many books, so little time." Now, twenty-five years later, I get it. I will continue to make more time for reading a priority in 2015.

Along similar lines, I can look back on the number of blog entries for 2014 and see that I have written more than I did last year. That is really important to me. I'm glad that I have made this creative outlet a priority for myself, as I first promised to do when I set up this blog a year and a half ago. And, I'm even more excited that I finally have a solid outline and a substantial amount of writing done for my first book! Maybe I will have my work in print and bound when I'm forty like I have dreamed. Since I plan on self-publishing, at least for this first effort, I know my development of a comprehensive marketing plan for getting the finished product out to an audience will pay off. I can't wait to see what I'm able to write about regarding this major life goal when 2015 comes to a close!

So, yes, 2014 has been pretty amazing. I spent time with fantastic friends, got healthier and stronger, made some great memories with my children, concluded another year at a job I love (did I mention I got a raise??!!), got back to Maryland for the first time in several years, cried a little but laughed A LOT more and watched the Terps shock the world by winning March Madness and earning a spot in the national championship game in football (seriously, who saw that coming . . . guess moving to the Big Ten was a good thing after all). I finally have a functioning garage door and gas fireplace for the first time since moving in here three years ago and I got around to hanging curtains in my bedroom!

And, what about those midterm elections? No one predicted that would happen! Shocking.

Here's hoping for another great year in 2015! Cheers!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

TV Personality Suspended. Free Market Advocates Support the Rights of the Network. Oh, Wait . . .

I've never seen an episode of Duck Dynasty. But, I'm familiar with the premise and that the individuals featured on the show have become extremely popular. I also know that one of the elder statesmen of the program made some comments recently in an interview with GQ magazine regarding homosexuality and his own (very descriptive) preference for the female anatomy, and this has led to his indefinite suspension by the A&E network.

A&E made a business decision and now we will see what happens. Will the network regret the suspension as millions of Duck Dynasty fans decide to boycott any of the programming A&E offers (and we all know the sacrifice that comes with foregoing Bad Ink and Shipping Wars)? Will A&E find legions of new fans for its ideological stand?

Let's take ourselves back in time about a decade. It's 2003 and Natalie Maines of The Dixie Chicks proclaims that she isn't exactly a fan of then-President George W. Bush. The backlash from country radio is instantaneous. Stations across the country refuse to play The Dixie Chicks' songs. Gatherings are held so that people can be outraged together as they stomp on CDs and burn them. The future earning potential of both Maines and her two fellow band mates undoubtedly was forever altered by one sentence Maines uttered in an interview.

All of you who are now decrying the end of free speech for Christians due to Phil Robertson's suspension, I wonder if you also were standing up to the radio stations and yelling, "Hey, you better play 'Cowboy, Take Me Away'! That young woman was just exercising free speech. You can't hurt her livelihood because of that!"

It's the same thing.

I think Natalie Maines said something stupid. I think what Phil Robertson said was incredibly stupid as well. And, as I hope my fellow free market thinkers would agree, there are consequences to your actions. The consumers will decide if they still want your product. 

If A&E made a bad decision by suspending someone on its most popular television show and it loses millions of dollars as a result, so be it. If Robertson finds even greater celebrity and voice for his opinions as a result of this incident, so be it. That's market forces and consumer influence at work.

Phil Robertson still has his freedom of speech. The government is not putting him in jail for comparing homosexuals and terrorists in the same breath. He is still free to stand on any street corner and proclaim his views. He can give a hundred more interviews and express his love for the ladies and, thanks to our freedom of the press, it can be published.

Instead, Robertson's private sector employer decided that he no longer represents the network in a way that reflects its beliefs. A&E does not want to be forced to condone behavior/words/actions it finds offensive. If you have a problem with A&E's rights in this instance, then you also better stand on the side of President Barack Obama and the federal government in Hobby Lobby's fight not to have to fund contraception with its company's insurance policies. Do you agree that private entities have the right to make these ethical decisions or not?

If you embrace Phil Robertson's philosophy and choose to end your support of A&E as a result of this suspension, go forth and boycott. I'm all for that. Use the influence of your dollars to make a statement. (Anyone see how long those lines were at Chick Fil-A in support of its owner several months ago?) But don't lament the end of the First Amendment. We still have the right to say whatever we want. And that is partnered with the right of others not to like it.

Monday, December 9, 2013

One Year to Go

In the first days following my divorce, one of my very best friends--a woman who has sat for hours and talked me through many, MANY difficult moments but who also makes me laugh until my stomach hurts every time I'm with her and who was by my side when I gave birth to my son--said to me on several occasions, "You know you'll be remarried in five years." She was certain of it. I can still picture her looking me in the eyes and saying it. At that time, when I was just trying to get through one hour at a time, five years seemed too distant to comprehend. So, I just nodded my head in agreement.

Although this friend of mine is one of the wisest women I know, I'm afraid she likely was wrong on this one. With the four-year anniversary of my divorce papers being signed by a judge coming to pass last week, saying "I do" by her forecasted deadline is not going to happen. I'm hoping she didn't put any money down on my imminent nuptials in Vegas.

I've been on two dates in the past four years. Two. One was with a guy who spent a lot of time talking about his awful ex-wife. Fun. The other guy said during dinner that he lets his kids play lots of video games during the summer because it's easier than listening to them whine about being hot. Done. I'm not sharing this information about my lack of dating to embarrass myself and make the declaration that I'm "un-dateable" and destined to be single forever. I don't think either of those things is true. I think I'm rather fun and smart. And I believe that if I did not have children, or at least did not have them all the time, my social life would be different. I'm just not sure how having a boyfriend (which seems like such an odd term for someone in her late-thirties to type) or even just dating is supposed to fit into my life. Where is the time for that? Where is that supposed to fall on the list of priorities?  How do I get to know someone who would need to be in my life for months before I would consider introducing him to my kids? I have friends who have become divorced or widowed since I returned to single life who already have found new relationships or remarried. So, I know it must be possible. 

The first year and a half, I understandably had no interest in dating. I was pregnant and then caring for a newborn, in addition to a preschooler, and the notion of making sparkling first-date conversation after not sleeping for weeks and running around with two kids all day seems absurd. Besides, regardless of post-natal circumstances, I knew that I would not want to date anyone for a least a year to allow myself time to process what had happened in my marriage and also out of respect for the transitions that my daughter already was facing. She was suddenly in a single parent home with a new baby brother. Boom. That's a lot to handle.

Since that time, life just kept moving. Days turned into weeks and then months. I got up, got kids ready, went to work, got kids home, made dinner, put kids to bed, cleaned the house (kind of), slept for a few hours (kind of). Repeat. It became all too easy for that grown-up part of me to disappear. There is office Sarah and there is mom Sarah. That's it. (With the occasional night out with the girls thrown in for at least a bit of balance . . . I do have some fun!) To an extent, I suppose I've let that happen. And I'm not alone. I've met other single moms who go years or even decades going through the motions and not realizing how quickly so much time has passed. My kids have quite a few friends at their schools who live with single moms and we've had conversations about the feeling of just treading water through each day.

Who knows what 2014 will bring? I'm open to all possibilities. Maybe my situation will be much different at this time next year. I'll start chatting with a single guy from high school or college on Facebook (I need more than one hand to count the number of people I know who are in relationships right now due to Facebook reunions). Or a friend will say, "Hey, there's this single dad I know . . ."  Or, perhaps it won't be that I find another relationship until the kids are older. Or maybe I'll pitch a new reality show to Fox entitled "Help! Find Me a New Man Before I'm 40!" Something catchy like that. Or maybe I will be single for the next fifty years and I will travel and enjoy wonderful friends and write a best-selling book or two. We'll see. But the point is, for now, the one forecast for my personal life that I remember being told to me so vividly during a period that now otherwise seems so (thankfully) far in my past and dim in my memory banks will not be proven true. And that's OK. I know there's a plan for my life, and it's unfolded in a pretty fantastic way so far, even though some curves in the road made that hard to see sometimes.

While I am thinking of it, my dear friend is rarely wrong and probably met her error quota for the decade. I should ask her opinion on the upcoming BCS Championship game . . .

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Our Otis


Otis came into our lives about a year and a half ago. He had spent many years loved by a family who no longer could give him the attention they knew he deserved and I offered to give this wonderful ten-year-old Collie/Sheltie mix a new place to call home.

The kids were so excited and proud when I surprised them with their canine brother. It didn't take long before Otis was engaging in indoor hide and seek, curling up under the piano bench while Catherine practiced and finding his way to the kitchen within 2.6 seconds of any sound possibly related to the availability of food. I loved to walk in the door from work and have him waiting eagerly with his tail wagging. I loved how he would curl up by my bed every night. I loved that when the kids were playing outside he would stare longingly out the window until we went out to join them. And I tell you, that handsome dog had an amazing smile.

On Thanksgiving morning, I took Otis for a five-minute walk up the street while the kids stayed in the warm house in front of a cartoon. Then, in an instant, our family changed.

Otis loved to bark at and chase anything with wheels -- school buses, trucks, cars, bicycles. His previous owner, a co-worker and friend of mine, said that Otis was born with this passion. His instincts drew him to the chase. He loved it and refused to let doggy training school take this passion away from him. This apparently had made for eventful walks his entire life. It always worried me, but with attention and a strong leash we were able to take long walks and stay safely clear of physical danger. At least that is what I thought.

As we walked about a block from my home, Otis stopped to sniff something of interest in my neighbor's yard. A pick up truck rounded the corner and, to my surprise, Otis didn't seem to care. Whatever had his attention in the grass was more appealing. But then, at the last second, Otis bounded full force out of the yard and right toward the street. I hit the brake button on his retractable leash, but he was not to be stopped. His speed and power broke the mechanism within the leash. He was struck and gone instantly. The whole event seemed to take a split second and two hours all at the same time. I just knelt on the street and held him. Several days later, the moment still seems surreal.

I am so sad and filled with "what ifs." What if we had gone for our walk a half hour earlier instead of after I had a cup of coffee? What if we had headed back to the house as soon as Otis was done taking care of business instead of letting him explore outside a bit? What if I had had a different leash? What if, even at his senior age, I could have somehow found a way to keep him from chasing cars? But those questions really don't do any good. I can't change what happened.

Otis was so very loved and given lots of hugs and attention. He was a beloved part of our family. His absence is palpable and I imagine it will be for a long time. Ian seems to be OK, but then I was clearing papers out of his backpack last night and found a paper on which he wrote that he was thankful for his dog. So, I know that he must miss him. Catherine has moments of tears and then a determination to remember the happy times.

First Walk -- July 2012

A good friend came over and helped me find a final resting place for Otis in the woods near our home. We will be planting flowers at his gravesite and the kids and I will visit him here. We will tell stories about him and look at pictures. I try to tell myself that he spent his last moments doing what he loved. He did not suffer. That hasn't really made it any easier yet. I tell myself that he had more than a decade surrounded by people who cared for him, and that's a good thing.

It probably will be a little while before I can consider bringing another dog into our family, although I imagine that time will come because we all loved having a dog in our lives. I just want to honor Otis for a while. I know how much Otis added to our home and I'm so glad we had the privilege of knowing him.

Otis, we love you and hope that you are running through sunny fields filled with cats and rabbits and school buses and garbage trucks and kids playing tag and chasing every one of them without harm.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Attention, Children: Disappointment Happens

Several weeks ago, I was at the local Chick-fil-A with my kids for superheroes night. As part of the evening’s festivities, the restaurant raffled two very large balloons of Batman and Spiderman. My kids were playing in the sequestered germ factory at the time of this announcement, and I decided to keep them ignorant of the contest to avoid stuffing a large mylar object in my car just to watch it slowly deflate in the corner of my home over the next two weeks.

The winners were selected and one boy sitting near me, who appeared to be four or five years old, fell to the floor in a puddle of tears and then proceeded to kick the table out of anger that he did not win a balloon. The response of his father was as follows, “I’m so sorry, son. I know you really wanted one of those balloons. Tell you what . . . we will head over to Party City right after dinner and you can buy one just like it. How does that sound?”


If the kid can’t learn to cope with the disappointment of not winning a balloon, he is in store for some serious tragedy later in life, like not getting the seats he wants at a concert or something. How about instead say something like this, “I know you’re really disappointed. But you know what? There were only two balloons to be given out and our number just didn’t get called this time. We don’t always get to win. Now, can you calm down enough to finish dinner and then play with your friends for a bit, or do we need to go home?”

As parents, we NEED to let our kids experience some disappointment. If we don’t coach them through those feelings at a young age, then they aren’t going to handle an unfair life very well as an adult. The more parents try to protect their kids and insulate them from any sadness and pain, the fewer opportunities they offer for kids to develop their own sense of strength.

I hug and kiss my kids every day. I tell them I love them and I think they are awesome every day. Pretty much every breakfast table conversation includes the question, “Who’s my favorite girl in the whole world?” and “Who’s my favorite boy?” (Then they usually say some other kid’s name and we all laugh and I say that I love that kid, too, but who is my FAVORITE and it’s good fun.) But I also, in age-appropriate ways, expose my kids to hurt and disappointment. Why? Because I do love them so much and I want to help them learn how to cope with those tough feelings. To avoid doing so is just cruel. Kids need those skills now, not suddenly to navigate them once they turn eighteen.

So I want my kids to know the following:

If you forget your homework and you are old enough to be responsible for your own stuff (which my nearly eight-year-old daughter is), I am not going to rush to school to bring it to you. You are going to have to face getting that zero in the grade book. I am guessing that won’t feel so good and you might be a little more careful the next time. (If, on the other hand, I take your homework folder out of your backpack to look over your work and then get distracted and put it down somewhere and then have no idea where I put it, I will take ownership of that and let your teachers know . . . not that such a thing would ever happen.)

You aren’t going to be invited to every party. I know . . . it isn’t fun to hear other kids talking about the birthday party they just attended the night before. But you aren’t going to get to do everything. That’s OK. You both have experienced this already. You were sad and I was sad for you. We talked about it. You moved on. There are times that kids only can invite a few people to an event. It doesn’t mean that they are mean kids or they don’t like you. Don’t worry, though; I’m paying attention. If you are the only kid in class not getting invited to a party or you never get invited to any parties, I’ll spend some time thinking about what is going on there and talk to your teacher about how things are going in the classroom. You can face some disappointment, but I don’t want you to feel left out all the time. That’s not OK, either. And, on the flip side, if you just want to invite just a few girlfriends to the movies or bowling for your birthday, that’s OK, too. But, you will not go to school the next day and talk about it in front of the other kids. That’s just bad manners and unkind.

Someone out there, maybe in your class or on your street, plays piano better than you and throws a ball better than you. It’s true; you are pretty fantastic but you aren’t the best at everything. Here’s my advice. Find those people who are better than you and watch them. Learn from them. Aspire to reach the level of achievement that they have. And realize it might take a while to get there . . . or it might never happen at all. But that’s OK, because you are better at something else.

Sometime in the next ten to twelve years, a boy/girl you like, maybe even love, is going to break your heart. It’s going to suck. You aren’t going to want to get out of bed. I will be there to listen and hold the tissues and stroke your hair. I will bring you ice cream. But, I won’t talk to that person for you and ask him/her why he/she hurt you. I won’t call that person’s parents. You will need to navigate that. And you will see that when you come out on the other side of that heartache, and you will, you will be a stronger person for it.

While you are in high school, you may try out for the lead in the school play or the varsity basketball team or compete in the regional science fair. And you may not get the role or the starting point guard position or the blue ribbon. It may even be the case that you deserved to win but someone else got it anyway. That is unfair and frustrating, and it will sting. If that happens, I will not call your teacher or coach to argue how talented or athletic or smart you are. But, I encourage you to meet with the person in charge and ask how the decision was made and how you can do better next time. When I was in high school, I was one of seventeen girls who tried out for open spots on the varsity tennis team. Only three of us made it, and it felt awesome that those hours I spent on the court practicing all summer had paid off. That same year, I also tried out for all-state band. Apparently my French horn skills were not adequate to earn a trip to Ocean City. I was disappointed when some of my friends went to the beach with their instruments, but I had to admit to myself that I didn’t deserve to go.

You may not get into the college of your choice. (If you even decide to go to college. As I’ve told you, college is far from your only option after high school.) You’ve bought the sweatshirt and the pennant has been hanging on your wall for two years. But that thin envelope in the mailbox means your dream school will not be your alma mater. At least not yet. You can try again later after a year somewhere else. Or maybe become a celebrity and then get invited to that school to give the commencement speech and get an honorary degree! But by this time, I hope that you’ve had some opportunities to face other small or medium-sized disappointments here or there and you’ve learned how to manage them. I trust that you will take time to be sad, and then you will start to think about the other amazing opportunities you never considered.

When my kids hurt, I hurt. Correction – When my kids hurt, I feel like my stomach is being ripped in two and my guts are being twisted as they are pulled out of my body. I hate it. But, it is going to happen, now or later. And instead of shielding both my child and myself from that pain, I am going to help them face it and handle it in a way that makes them both stronger and more sensitive as a result. They will not want to disappoint others, because they know how bad it feels. They will not want to disappoint themselves, because that often hurts even worse than anything another person could do.

Children need us to help them with their reading and math and how to say “please and “thank you,” but they also need us to help them know what to do when yucky things happen. And for those lessons to take place, we as parents have to hold our guts in, grit through our own pain and open the door to our kids’ disappointment.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Happy House Anniversary to Us!

Two years ago today, I signed my name and scribbled my initials about 157 times and became a homeowner for the very first time. That first night, I sat on the floor of my new bedroom with thunder booming overhead, just as it is tonight, and thought, "I love the way the pouring rain sounds on the roof and windows of my bedroom. MY bedroom." So maybe the bank claimed, and still does, most of the actual value of our house. But, I still consider it our home and that quiet moment sitting cross-legged in an empty room on September 2, 2011 is one that I will never forget.

I get that I'm an anomaly. I'm a single mom and if you check out the statistics, the chances of me owning a home aren't so good. Even better than that, if you had asked me to pick the perfect neighborhood in which to raise my children, where I am now would be the one. How awesome and fortunate is that? I get that what I value may not matter to someone else. I did not check on the test scores at the local elementary school (turns out, they are fine . .  still don't care, though . . . but my thoughts on standardized tests can be saved for another time) or how many people had moved out of the neighborhood recently (turns out, not many) or what stores were nearby (OK, I already knew that because we had just moved from an apartment five minutes away). But here are some reasons that where we live is perfect for us.

I live in a place where kids are always outside playing. In fact, I counted the number of basketball hoops and kids running around and toys in the yard when I was deciding on this house. There are sidewalks. That's important to me. My girl can jump on her bike and ride around the corner, by herself, to knock on doors and find friends ready to play. We still live by the rule that you stay outside until the streetlights come on and she ends most evenings sweaty and dirty and happy. Her most common partners in trouble are these guys --

but there are at least a half dozen other kids within a block who can be found running up and down the street and in and out of each others' houses all the time. I just can't get them still long enough to snap a photo!

Not to be left out, my boy can walk five houses down and find his buddy and they then spend hours discussing how long it will take a slug to fall off a brick --

or playing baseball in the street, using a sewer cover as home plate --

Whenever it rains, the ditch behind my house becomes a wonderful, muddy creek that many of the neighborhood kids use for swimming, boating in plastic containers, or the always reliable "I dare you to try and jump across this thing without falling!" Just beyond that, there stands a line of woods that offers its own set of adventures. The kids have used these trees to create a clubhouse, search for wild animals and play some intense games of hide and seek.

The adults around here are pretty amazing as well. They give my kids the opportunity to live with and learn from people from so many backgrounds and life experiences. That's important to me. On our block we have two parents and single parents and stepparents. Grandparents as parents. Straight parents and gay parents. Black, white and Asian parents. Blended families and empty nesters, and boyfriends and girlfriends. We have people who have lived in Tennessee their whole lives and those who moved to this country less than a decade ago. The men and women on our block are schoolteachers and accountants and lawn care guys and waitresses and stay-at-home moms and engineers and Goodwill shelf stockers and construction workers. And we all have a special sense of community. The guy several doors down walked our dog while we were out of town recently and took it upon himself to fix our front door latch. The woman across the street loves on my kids like her own grandbabies and brings them coloring books and stickers when she can. The couple next to her are marathon runners and they encourage me to keep up my own training when I'm convinced I don't have the time.

And then there is Paula. We are convinced that we were destined to be next-door neighbors.

Paula is from the same county in Maryland as me (what are the chances??!!). We made that discovery the day I was moving in and wearing a University of Maryland t-shirt because, as most college graduates can relate, most of my old "moving day" clothing is connected to some school athletic event of yore, likely thrown or catapulted in my general direction by a cheerleader during a time out or handed to me by the guy trying to get me to sign up for an ill-advised credit card.

Paula and I are both single moms and we have run errands for each other, babysat each other's kids (sometimes on a weekend one of us will take all of the kids for an hour so the other can nap and then we will switch . . . it's glorious) and, most importantly, spent hours on the porch sharing our concerns and hopes, supporting one another and laughing . . . a lot. I love her, and so do my kids.

So, yes, the neighborhood and the people around me are great, but I haven't really shared much about the inside of our house. It isn't going to be featured in a Southern Living spread. I have yet to put curtains on most of the windows and I've hung all of three things on my walls. There may be a folded load of laundry that gets left on the couch too long and some toys on the floor and perhaps I could dust more often. But I decided recently that all of that is OK. We live here. We play here. This stage will pass and that stuff will come and the clutter of youth will dissipate, but as it is now I get precious little time with my kids (I calculated 3 1/2 hours total on a typical work/school day). I give myself a pass to worry about those details later. My kids each have their own room that reflects who they are and we have a great space on the floor upstairs for board games and puzzles and big windows that offer super sunlight and we have a place for our piano and our beloved dog has favorite spots for napping and we even have beautiful new flooring downstairs thanks to an icemaker mishap about this time last year that didn't seem so super cool when it happened. It's all wonderful. Besides, my daughter once told me that she feels cozy and safe here and that thinking about our home makes her smile . . . that is more than good enough for me.

I worry about my kids. I wonder if I'm making the right decisions. I wonder if they know how much I love them. I wonder if I'm enough. I wish I had more patience. I know I mess up somehow every day. But one thing I'm convinced I did right is this house. It's perfect for us. It's our family home. So, happy anniversary to us, Moore Manor. May we have many happy years together.

Monday, August 12, 2013

College is Not the Only Option

My son's dream job

 As older sisters are prone to do, my daughter enjoys sharing the depth of her wisdom with her younger brother. Ian is convinced that Catherine knows everything . . . and so is Catherine. As the new school year is now in full swing and Ian already anticipates NEXT fall, when he finally will get to ride the bus to school with his beloved big sister, he offered this glimpse into his future, "I am going to go to elementary school and then high school and then when I turn eighteen I am going to go to middle school!"  Catherine was quick to correct:

"No, Ian, that's wrong. First you are born and then you go to elementary school and then middle school and then high school and then college and then you go to work and then you start to die."

While I certainly appreciated my daughter's straightforward, albeit somewhat sobering, synopsis of the path of life, I had to offer one adjustment to her explanation:

"Actually, Catherine, you don't HAVE to go to college. There are lots of great jobs you can do without going to college. Maybe you will decide to go, maybe you won't."

Now, I know that flies in the face of advice she will be getting from every guidance counselor and teacher and all those politicians who find some great merit in setting goals to raise the number of college graduates in the city, state, or country they happen to be charged with governing. But I feel strongly that I do not want my kids to go to college just because that is the expected next step after high school.

Look, my son wants to work on an "excavator truck" and to be "a fixer man." Tonight as we were reading a book about these very occupations, he asked how he would get such a job. I responded, "When you finish high school, you find someone who does that job really well and work for that person and learn all that you can." I didn't say, "Well, son, continue on with your education and earn a business or a sociology or a political science degree and then in four years you'll be no closer to being trained to do what you want!"

Perhaps these goals of moving around dirt and constructing houses are those of a four-year-old boy and they will pass. Maybe not. If his dreams change, I will support him and offer my advice for his best course of action. If in six or seven years he says, "Mom, I want to be an engineer who designs the most fuel-efficient vehicle ever to roll off an assembly line" or "I want to cure pancreatic cancer," then my advice to him will become quite different.

We live in a time where more college graduates are returning home to live with their parents than ever before. Sure, the troubled economy plays a role here, but maybe some of these young men and women shouldn't have gone to college at all and would have been much happier and more fulfilled . . . and quite gainfully employed . . . if other possibilities were deemed acceptable by parents, teachers, coaches, friends, etc.

Experienced plumbers and carpenters and electricians are waving red flags and screaming that the number of people in the generation behind them who have the skills for these professions is far too small. Do you know how much a person who can rewire your house can make? Or what kind of job security is in store for someone who knows how to fix a carburetor or unclog a toilet? Our children and teenagers are being discouraged from pursuing these important trades anymore. Why?

Two years ago, Mike Rowe, host of the television show Dirty Jobs, testified before Congress about the desperate need for skilled labor. I loved every word of it, so allow me to share extensively here:

Right now, American manufacturing is struggling to fill 200,000 vacant positions. There are 450,000 openings in trades, transportation and utilities. The skills gap is real, and it's getting wider. In Alabama, a third of all skilled tradesmen are over 55. They're retiring fast, and no one is there to replace them. 

In general, we're surprised that high unemployment can exist at the same time as a skilled labor shortage. We shouldn't be. We've pretty much guaranteed it. 

In a hundred different ways, we have slowly marginalized an entire category of critical professions, reshaping our expectations of a "good job" into something that no longer looks like work. A few years from now, an hour with a good plumber, if you can find one, is going to cost more than an hour with a good psychiatrist. At which point we'll all be in need of both. The skills gap is a reflection of what we value. To close the gap, we need to change the way the country feels about work.

We've eliminated the vo-tech programs in high schools across the country, wonderful courses that helped students to build real skills and perhaps find their occupational passion. We've told kids the lie that they need a college degree to succeed. High school administrators pat themselves on the back when they can brag that a high percentage of their seniors are going on to college. Great. We now have a bunch of students at four-year institutions taking remedial math and English courses after doing the minimal work needed to finish high school. That's a fantastic accomplishment. How about instead a high school principal announces, "We have a graduating class in which 87% of students are really excited about what they are doing next!" Get my kids to that school!

Every spring, my church recognizes its high school graduates. They all walk up on stage and the youth leader announces where each one will be attending college. I asked someone this year, "What about the kids who aren't going on to college?" The response was, "I don't know. I guess they just don't come to church that day." This is not a knock against my church, which I love, because I've seen this same emphasis repeated in other environments time and again. Other post-graduation pursuits just don't seem to be as valued in our society anymore.

Why can't we applaud the member of a graduating class who scored an amazing job working for a well-respected home builder or the one who wants to be a chef and therefore is waiting tables at a prestigious restaurant while forming a relationship with the sous chef who promises to teach her everything he knows? How about the phenomenal seventeen-year-old violin player who knows she wants to spend her life making music and whose talents are being scouted by professional orchestras now? What about the guy who is excited to wake up early the day after high school graduation and get to work on an "excavator truck"? He might be the one who finally gets that mess on I-440 running smoothly.

I'm not saying college is useless. Not at all. I LOVED school. I loved buying textbooks every semester and listening to fascinating lectures and taking part in great discussions and even taking exams. I graduated with honors, always made Dean's List, was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, blah, blah and so on. I also loved all that college taught me outside the classroom, like the earth-shattering revelations reached during 2:00am conversations that seem so deep when you are nineteen years old and how to live (somewhat) independently and the important tool of time management (such as -- how do I stay out in D.C. as long as possible without missing the last Metro back on a Saturday night). But, I am not going to teach my children that is their only possible path. It may be the one they need to take in order to achieve their dreams. But, perhaps they will follow the words of Robert Frost (who I will make sure they know whether or not they go to college) and take the road less traveled by their peers.

In about fifteen years, for one reason or another, you are going to need a "fixer" for something . . . and you might just be calling my son!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Child Activist or Inappropriate Pawn?

Photo taken from examiner.com. Admittedly not the bastion of high-brow journalism, but I researched and found the photo reprinted several other places and no evidence that it was photoshopped

I applaud civic activism in kids. I discuss current events, in an age-appropriate matter, with my daughter and son on a regular basis. They know who the president is, and some of the men who preceded him. We talk about how government is structured and what laws are. We discuss civil rights and voting and international relationships and our collective humanity. Being engaged in the world matters to me and I want it to matter to them. One of the most important things my mom ever said to me growing up was, "You are not allowed to say, 'I don't care'." Pretty good rule to live by.

I don't need my kids to agree with my political and social opinions (even though they are all correct). In fact, I hope they study the issues on their own and come back and challenge me. It will make for fantastic Thanksgiving conversations as they get older. Even if we never vote the same way or they someday march in D.C. for an issue on which I find myself completely opposed, I will respect their convictions if they come by them honestly and intellectually. (Well, I should stipulate that this appreciation for differences has its limits. If my son ever leads a rally promoting forced child labor or my daughter gives a speech about how genocide isn't so bad after all, I will know I have failed them as a parent . . . but I'm optimistic that neither of these things is going to happen.)

But, here's the thing. While I'm all for kids participating in the political process and holding up their own poster board signs, pictures like the one above are just sad. This photograph was taken during the showdown over abortion that took place recently in the Texas state legislature. Regardless of where you fall on the abortion issue, I would hope that you would find using this girl as a pawn to be offensive.

First of all, the sign contains the implication of a word that would not be included in any movie this girl would be allowed to see in a theater. But, more importantly and much more disturbing, the sign sexualizes this young girl. I imagine she can read. Did she not look at the sign and wonder why she might want to "f*** a senator"? The other signs the kids are holding . . . great! You've got my full support with that message. But who are you rallying to your side with the written exclamation from a girl who appears to be nine or ten years old that she will just march into the Capitol building and have sex with an elected official if she really wants the government to find a place in her uterus?

I'm hoping, and I imagine, that the woman who provided this girl with her lovely sign and those who yelled "Hail, Satan!" as politicians opposed to abortion gave speeches in the State House are part of the fringe. Both sides have got such folks. I'm not one to say, "The woman in this photo represents all pro-abortion activists!" But the photo struck me because it captured several ideas about which I'm passionate, both in its illustration of the potential for success and the actual utter failure. These ideas are: 1. Teach your children to care about people and issues; 2. Encourage your children to think for themselves; 3. Approach number 1 and number 2 with respect and kindness for self and others, both in the language that you choose and the actions that you take.

I hope that events like the one in which this girl participated excite her to pursue a life of civic engagement. That would be great. And when she is older, if she decides to make signs that reference a hypothetical sexual encounter with someone in power, then so be it. But for now, I just feel sorry for her.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

I'm a Snitch

I receive birthday money every year from my parents. Maybe that makes me sound like I'm twelve, but I always look forward to it. The intention is for me to spend the money on myself, which is a rare occurrence, and most years I've been pretty good about doing just that. (Occasionally, other life necessities have taken precedence over indulgences.) This year, I decided to use my birthday money to renew my membership at the Y.

I used to go to the Y several times a week and found it to be a welcome opportunity for alone time and recharging when my life was consumed by baby and toddler life. But when I got my full-time job two years ago, there just didn't seem to be the time to go and the monthly fee was being wasted.  Circumstances have changed, though, and I now have both kids by myself all the time, 365 days a year without breaks. I decided I needed to allow myself an hour a couple times a week to kick my own butt in the gym. With this long holiday weekend off work, I've already been three times in five days and it feels fantastic.

One of the benefits of our particular Y location, and one of the reasons that my kids go to the childcare without complaint while I exercise, is the outdoor pool that all three of us enjoy once I've exhausted myself on the treadmill and weight machines. 

In order to access the pool, everyone first must walk through a locker room. There is a women's locker room and a men's locker room. If your child is of the opposite sex and over the age of six, he or she is supposed to depart from your side for the few moments it takes to journey through the locker room and meet you on the other side. While my daughter is of the same sex as me and therefore this rule does not apply to her, she is seven years old and I would have no problem with trusting her to navigate from one end of the locker room to the other by herself.

I share all of that to bring you to the point of my story. A couple of days ago, the kids and I walked into the women's locker room after a couple of hours outside at the pool. Standing at the lockers was a mom with her two boys, who appeared to be around nine and eleven years old. The older one was as tall as his mom, and she wasn't particularly short. The mom was pulling together the towels and other accessories they would need for their time poolside while the two kids roughhoused and asked when she would be done.

I get that there are circumstances involving special needs of children and I'm very sensitive to that. Of course age limits do not apply then. But, let's assume that such needs were not a factor, which appeared to be the case here.

The way I saw it, I had four choices:

1. Do my best not to care that boys of that age were in the women's locker room and just move on with my day. My daughter already had poked me and then pointed in their direction, so their presence was obvious to her as well.

2. Adopt the passive-aggressive approach. which would involve something like me whispering loudly, "Wow, those boys look awfully big to be in here, don't they? Do you think they're only six?" Admittedly, not the most mature approach.

3. Walk up to the mom and politely ask her if she was aware of the policy that boys seven and over needed to use the men's locker room. How do you do that without seeming completely annoying and self-important?

4. Snitch.

I decided on the last option and, to be fair, it wasn't a straight out snitch. It had been a year since I'd been to the Y and when I last was a member, there were signs on the doors of the locker room that clearly stated the age policy. Those signs were no longer there. So, I walked into the membership office right next to the locker room and said, "Has the rule about opposite sex kids in the locker room changed since last summer, because there are some boys in the women's locker room who look much older than the cutoff?" I honestly wanted to know the answer and if enforcement was a side effect, so be it!

The Y worker jumped out of her seat and ran right to the locker room, saying as she went past me, "No, the rule hasn't changed, and we take it seriously." To reinforce that point, the next day I saw the same employee stop a dad who was about to take his two girls, who appeared to be around the same age as the boys I mentioned earlier, if not even older, into the men's locker room. The employee reassured the dad they would be fine in the women's locker room, and I saw with my own eyes that they were happily reunited by the pool moments later. (Side note --  I would MUCH rather my eleven-year-old girl walk through the women's locker room solo than spend any time in the men's locker room.)

Since this incident, I have asked several friends of mine with boys who range in age from seven to thirteen what they thought of their sons joining them in the locker room. I just wanted to make sure that I wasn't being unreasonable in my opinions as a parent who isn't faced with such circumstances yet. I don't go with my daughter into public restrooms anymore, so I guess that's similar at least. All agreed that their kids take care of bathroom needs and locker room walks without them. And, in the case of the Y, I'm not talking about showering or anything that requires extended solo time . . . I get why that would be an issue . . . I'm just talking about walking through to the pool.

If anyone out there is reading this, I want to know what YOU think. What would you have done in such a situation? Or, are you a parent who takes older kids of the opposite sex with you in the locker room and you think I'm totally off base for taking issue with it?

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Proud . . . or Humbled?

On the evening of September 14, 2001, I stood on a random street corner in Arlington, Virginia with a crowd that grew larger and larger as the night progressed. Only a few blocks away from the still smoldering Pentagon, we hugged and sang songs and waved to honking cars passing by. Among the lyrics that we offered with our collective voice in that moment were those of "Proud to Be an American" by Lee Greenwood. I think it's a great song because I DO love this land and I WILL defend her. But, I sometimes get stuck on the word "proud."

I watched some of The Story of Us on the History Channel today, which now means I've seen at least part of the documentary at least ten times. It's one of my favorites. As the stories of the Boston Tea Party and Lexington and Concord and the Declaration of Independence were told, I felt a huge knot in my stomach. It still blows me away that a group of untrained farmers and silversmiths and fur traders gathered in the forests first of New England and then throughout the colonies to change the course of world history by toppling the most powerful military on the planet.

I read the Declaration of Independence every Fourth of July. These men pledged their lives and their fortunes to the notion that all of us are created equal and deserve life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. What a radical notion! I get chills every time I read it and imagine what it must have been like to gather in the streets of Boston or Philadelphia or New York City with fellow colonists and hear those words read aloud for the first time.

But, when I think about those who stood up to an empire or the beautifully crafted (although certainly flawed in light of who really had freedom in our country in the 18th century) founding documents that provide the foundation for the world's most successful and enduring republic, I'm not sure that pride is the word to which I am most drawn. I didn't have anything to do with those amazing events in history, after all. Even if I had been alive in 1776, my whole being a woman thing would have been frowned upon in Independence Hall. And pride is first defined as "a feeling of pleasure from one's own achievements."

Instead, above all else, when I take time to realize how fortunate I am to be an American, my overwhelming feeling is that of being humbled.

Somewhere, in another country, there is a woman who was born on the same day as me who never learned to read those books she admired in her family's living room because if she had, she may have been shot.

Somewhere, in another country, there is a woman who was born on the same day as me who has no fresh water for her children and already has seen three sons die at the hands of malnutrition.

Somewhere, in another country, there is a woman who was born on the same day as me who is told where she has to work or how many kids she is allowed to have or where she must live or which websites she is allowed to visit or how she is to worship.

But I was born here, in the United States of America. I joined this population of earth dwellers in a hospital in Washington, D.C., at 38 degrees latitude, 77 degrees longitude. I am no different from those women I described except for geography of origin, and for that one reason my opportunities and my experiences are completely transformed. I think about these women often and wonder, why me and not them? That's humbling.

So, I think I'm going to stick with humbled, and also grateful, when I think about being an American.  I am humbled when I watch men and women in uniform going off to defend the principles for which our flag stands. I am grateful for a natural landscape that offers oceans and mountains and deserts and rich soil and gorgeous forests. I am humbled when I hear of a fellow American who has overcome great challenges to achieve amazing success through hard work and perseverance in a nation that still rewards such efforts. And,  I am grateful that I can walk into my church every weekend without fear or persecution and also that I've had Jewish and Muslim and Hindu and Buddhist and atheist friends, roommates, and co-workers who can choose to do something completely different.

So, happy 237th birthday, America! I know how fortunate I am to live here. Our country isn't perfect, and we certainly argue loudly and regularly over what would make it better, but it is pretty spectacular. May I always continue to be humbled and grateful for the unique gifts and lessons you offer.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Happy Birthday to Me!

I don't write New Year's Resolutions. Instead, every year on the eve of my birthday, I sit down and make a list of "What I Want to Do While I'm ____ Years Old." As I face the waning hours of being thirty-seven, I must admit that I did not accomplish much on my list this past year. Yes, I can use the excuses that I work full-time and I'm a single mom to two small kids and that as a trio we've faced some challenges this year that aren't to be shared on cute Facebook posts. But, I also know that you make time for what matters to you . . . and writing matters to me. I pledged to myself that as a 37-year-old I would write more, and I didn't. So tonight, I'm giving myself the birthday present of this blog in hopes that thirty-eight will be better.

I've always loved to write. I love the way that paper smells. I love the way that paper feels after newly indented with ink or granite. In fact, most of the time that I type an article or book review or just minutes from a meeting on my computer keyboard, I've first written it out on paper.

As a child, I often would grab a blanket and spread it out in my front yard or back yard or in a corner of my dad's garden. Then I would open up a spiral notebook, pop open a Bic pen and write. About anything and everything. I started my autobiography when I was eight years old. I still remember the opening line: "I wouldn't say my childhood was always the best time, but is it really supposed to be?" I occasionally would write poems, but not very often. I wrote lots of letters to Ricky Schroder. Sometimes I would write fictional short stories. In fact, I won the weekly creative writing contest in my fourth grade class sixteen times. I don't share this to brag on my nine-year-old self. But instead, I think back on those affirmations of my writing while at James H. Harrison Elementary in Laurel, Maryland as an early sign that a piece of my happiness and my creative fulfillment would be found in writing.

When I got old enough to drive and was granted the car keys, I would take a blanket to the lake near my high school and write. I would put my feet in the grass, watch the birds fly across the water, and pour my teenage heart onto the page. Sometimes I would write about silly crushes or how I was getting along with my parents. Other times I would project myself into the future and write about my life in 2000 or 2025. I asked a lot of questions on those pages, most of which I would never speak out loud. I ranted through the ink about politics and current events. Even as an adult, some of my favorite writing has come from sitting by a lake on a blanket. And, I still rant about politics and current events, among other things.

Notebook and a Blanket is a reminder to me of how my love for writing started -- by grabbing an old blanket and some blank sheets of paper -- and to cultivate even deeper that love I have for how words strung together in just the right way look like a work of art and how each carefully crafted syllable, when spoken aloud, sounds like music.

I want to offer myself the gift of coming to this blog often. I want to write about working and parenting and religion and music and sports and, yes, still politics as well. Maybe no one else will read it, but I like knowing that I've created it and I'm putting my writing out there again.  The blog doesn't look particularly fancy yet, but I'll work on that. I've purchased notebookandablanket.com, and I'll figure out how to make it link to this account. That all will come. But tonight, with less than two hours left before I begin to tackle my "What I Want to Do While I'm 38 Years Old" list, I just wanted to start.