Fathers Day Hotline 2020

Good morning and welcome to the First Ever Fathers Day Hotline.

Please listen carefully as we have never tried this before.

If you never listen, please press buttons at random.

We understand. Drive this like a remote control race car down the Santa Monica freeway. Your Fathers Day, your rules.

If you need a pat on the back, please press one.

If you’re not sure how to explain your Dad job, please press two.

For a better understanding of this delicate interplay of fatherhood, please press three.

If you need a reminder that this dad gig is for life, please press four.

For a quick supply of Dad Jokes, please press five.

If you’re wondering whether or not to get a “Dad Bod”, please press six.

For a list of things Dads should never say, please press seven. (For things husbands should never say, press seven and a half. You’re welcome.)

If you’re raising daughters, please press eight.

If you’re raising sons, please press nine.

Thank you for calling the Fathers Day Hotline. Enjoy your family. You are their Hero.

Mother’s Day Hotline 2020

Good morning my dears and here are some cheers for the Mothers Day about to arrive.

No need to fret that the mall’s not open yet or the family has nowhere to drive.

Buying diamonds online is so unrefined, though flowers from the lawn might do.

But laughing is free and we always have tea, so relax with this bit just for you.

Good morning and thank you for calling the Mother’s Day Hotline.

Please listen carefully, as our menu has definitely changed. Who are we kidding?

The planet has definitely changed.

If you were the perfect mom….until you had kids, you’d better press 1.

If you feel like crying along with your toddler, press 2.

If you just need to unwind (un-wine?) with a girlfriend, press 3.

If you need to explain “boredom” to your middle school kid, please press 4.

If “distance learning” is now part of your life, please press 5.

If you are raising teenagers, please press 6.

If you need a heartwarming reminder that it will all be okay, press 7.

If you are the kid and need ideas for your own mother, better press 8.

If you are parenting fur-babies, please press 9.

If you need a reminder that you are rocking this mom gig, please press the pound key.

Thank you for calling the Mothers Day Hotline. Enjoy your tea. Be kind to yourself. Breathe. You are loved.

(We’re having a special this year on last year’s Hotlines! To access previous Mothers Days, please press here: 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016)

The Mural

The mural joined us in the fall of 2006. It was painted in acrylics over the space of a few weeks. The finishing touches emerged, swirling into corners and bleeding occasionally onto the ceiling and spattering, no matter how much I scolded, onto the floor tiles we had chosen deliberately for our oldest child’s room.

He was the firstborn of five offspring and it took us that many attempts at reproduction before it was apparent that none of the little versions of ourselves in any way resembled each other or danced to any drum but their own. He drew his first lizard at two years old, with a crayon, on the back of his granddad’s giant sheet of unwanted street plans; a purple curvy amphibian basking across the black and white, straight and narrow, professionally engineered road map.

During grade school, what began with a proper mother’s encouragement grew into a secret mother’s certainty that her eldest child was a creative genius. It was as quickly quenched when all parties concerned were summoned into the middle school office. No one could understand how a sullen, doodling pre-teen could sit in the back row ignoring the teacher until called out for it; said pre-teen answered the questions correctly, aced the test, and doodled his way back out the door. No one could decide whether this was an academic or an attitude problem.

But my son’s art got better.

In high school, he enrolled in an art class and dropped it again after one week. It took three more semesters before he came to an understanding with the teacher and stayed in the class to play with different mediums. One day I went to pick him up from water polo practice and found the team huddled around a player, intently watching my eldest. He had dared the player to shave his head and in return, my son, using a black sharpie, drew an intricate Maori design on it that completely covered the scalp. With neither a beginning nor an ending, the design was both a prank and a masterpiece.

And my son’s art got better.

Meanwhile, our small home underwent a third and final renovation. The baby was almost ready for kindergarten, and bursting the seams, we added a new garage, den, laundry room, bedroom, and bathroom. While it was under construction, our eldest decided to live in the rafters of the new garage. He laid a plywood floor, moved crates of clothes up to it and wired some lights. He had no use for a ladder. He swung himself up like a gymnast and enjoyed his privacy. In this aerie, his art advanced to include nudes, interlaced fingers, fantasy-scapes, cyclops.

And during the last semesters of high school, he graced his brand new bedroom with a singular mural. It developed like a polaroid, integrating shapes from his night terrors, from our garden, from a place deep in his mind that sparked colors and vivid imagery that he interpreted in paint.

Always spontaneous, always unexpected, his art got better.

After he graduated and moved out, when it was time to repurpose his room, the mural was painted over in comforting soft pale green. A cover that, in hindsight, I think I wanted to caress the mural with, and preserve it along with the painful period of growth it represented. To plant it, perhaps, beneath moss and clover and allow it to become humus – eventually, fertile ground that attracts roots.

I mothered the mural because I could not mother the man-child.

His art is always getting better. No matter the medium, his signature style is stamped into it. He wanders the world, collecting no moss, pushing straight lines into flowing curves and painting them brilliant purple.

Shaken Awake

Has anyone seen the 90s?  The 1990s…end of the century…any of this ringing a bell?

I recall the hubbub about Y2K and laughing it off but sort of curious whether, if it went and knocked out technology, we would be able to live off my fabulous garden and three hens.

Answer: yes.

The year 2000 came and went. I  looked up for a minute and marked the occasion with a shrug, but the 1980s were so fabulous, it sort of made up for skipping the decade between.

I spent the 1990s raising zippy little kids and we lived in a little feisty bubble that extended only as far as our little red wagon could carry us: elementary school around the corner and preschool around the other corner. We didn’t have TV by choice, but rented VHS movies from the library (also around the corner, or “river bend” as Pocahontas explained), watching Disney movies, science videos, musicals.

I have a lot of video footage (that’s when video came on film, people, you could measure it in actual feet) of my kids singing  their “ABC”s and learning how to somersault (you bend over until your head touches the ground, then your sibling runs up behind you and gives a mighty push) but nothing on the rest of the planet.

I can’t tell you who was president then. I have no idea what the fashions were. If a food craze or fad diet swept by, it must have bounced off our bubble and landed elsewhere, because we were focussed on not choking on a Lego.

But on September 11, 2001, I was shaken awake (alive?). On my birthday no less. Not that turning 34 was such a deal. We had an alarm clock radio that woke us up at 6am every day with the news, (that explains so much…if you whack the snooze button, mission accomplished and you still have no idea what’s happening on the planet) but this time the sounds coming from that little box were absolutely foreign.

So much so that we flew out of bed and into the living room, turned on the TV and adjusted its crooked antenna. On the east coast, in New York City, one of the twin towers had been hit by an airplane. Just as the shock of what we were seeing hit, another airplane flew across the screen and into a second building. Right in front of us.

It couldn’t be real. We stood there, frozen, not breathing, as black smoke billowed into the Manhattan sky.

Minutes dragged by. I never changed out of my ratty lavender bathrobe. The kids wandered the house. I changed the baby’s diaper on auto-pilot. The TV announced that a plane had smashed into the Pentagon. I looked through the window at our clear – deserted – morning sky.

These weren’t accidents. I cannot think of a more surreal moment. It might as well have been a zombie apocalypse. Eventually, Hubby had to tear himself away and go to work. Just to feel normal. A voice in your head says, “If we go through the motions of a regular day, this will turn into a regular day”.

The kids foraged for Cheerios. A large truck pulled up in front of our house, and I stumbled out and signed papers for a delivery of gray blocks. The driver and I had no words. We exchanged looks that said, “Did you hear what they just said? Can they have possibly gotten this wrong? What’s happening?”

Or maybe it was just, “Lady, drag a comb through your hair already.” And he left. My phone rang. The baby cried.

After yet another plane crashed in the middle of a field, I have to wonder how, or even why, I got the kids to school that day. Perhaps the 1990s routine was that strong. Can you still tie your shoelaces if the world is blowing up?

The answer is yes. My world has blown up a couple of times, and all I can think is that the human heart is supple and tenacious, and if there’s a breath in my body, I’m going to tie my shoes and stand up. If only because – suddenly – so many others could not.

It felt like a physical punch to the stomach, and it was years before I could cry over the magnitude of such loss. Loss of life. Loss of innocence. Loss of a decade.

I can’t remember the 90s. I’ve misplaced that bubble. But I remember the day I was forced to pay attention to the planet again. And I think I learned how to somersault.

Moms Graduation Speech

As I ponder the idea of no longer being a participant in the public school system, the thought that I am rid of fund raisers, done with dirty basketball jerseys, shed of tracking a textbook assigned ten months ago and never used, and altogether destitute of paperwork to be filled out in triplicate with a blue ink pen…a single tear of pure joy glistens in my eye. My left eye. The one that twitches.

Let freedom ring.

I’d like to thank everyone who made this moment possible.

I could not have worn such a deep trench in the elementary school doorway, had not Hubby insisted that homeschooling was “not an option”. Thank you, Hubby, for challenging me to find a way to homeschool our kids anyway by bringing home sixteen years of creative projects for all 800 of the students I adopted there.

Thank you, Middle School Principal, for welcoming five siblings in a row, children who brought their bicycles with them instead of their mother, children who learned the value of a dollar by hustling duct tape wallets, the value of deodorant after gym class, and the value of functional stall doors in a bathroom. We learned there’s no place like home after all.

Shout out to my firstborn for teaching me that we all learn in our own ways during high school. Some of us learn while sitting in the back row, staring out a window, and doodling on the homework. We learn that teachers are furious when they call you out in front of the class and you actually know the answers.

Second born, thank you for becoming fluent in Spanish so that I don’t need to be. It’s as entertaining as the German, Russian, and whale your siblings pretend to speak. You taught me that there’s no such thing as too many boxes full of awards.

Middle child, my never-in-a-hurry-why-do-you-want-to-rush-stuff one, thank you for waiting until two weeks to graduating to decide that you actually did want to attend college. I think your degree in “Communication” is as authentic as the panic attack I had.

I appreciate the effort it took, oh fourth one, to move to a new high school, forsaking the legacy of our family reputation to create a name for yourself. You played varsity sports as a freshman, losing every single game for a year, and ended your senior year with mono. You taught me gumption. One of us deserves a gold sticker.

And now, the last man standing, he who had to grow a sense of humor at birth, the one who had no idea his vision was bad until twelve tender years of age, the man who can perform quantum physics yet struggles with a pencil and long division, is poised on the platform, prepared to join his siblings in the world of adults, so long as there’s no laundry involved.

Thank you for doing your homework, love. Even if I think it’s cheating to do “research” from your couch instead of fighting classmates over the last three reference books in an actual library a day before the term paper is due. Sorry about that dopamine addiction. We all thought educating through an iPad was a good idea four years ago.

I’m so happy. I’m so blessed. I’m so tired.

I hope I can make it through the ceremony.

In conclusion, an Honorary Mention goes out to my fellow moms. Yes, that award given to our kids at school assemblies, recognizing that they have been showing up and breathing in and out all day. The one that reminds us that we are all winners.

To the girlfriends who stood by me during Common Core Math and the common cold; those who heard my battle cries and administered hot tea and hugs. Thank you for reminding me that the school system with its trappings and traps, is temporary after all. Our educations are priceless. And our possibilities are endless.

Let’s do this.

Mother’s Day Hotline 2019

Good morning and thank you for calling the Mother’s Day Hotline.

Please listen carefully, as our menu has definitely changed.

If you are considering parenthood, you’d better press 1.

If you think that five kids are the perfect number of offspring, press 2.

If you are currently surrounded with toddlers, please press 3.

If you wore actual pajamas and a burp cloth in public yesterday, press 4.

If the words “this is your last warning!” was issued three warnings ago, please press 5.

If you think you are still cool enough to do the same activities as your middle school kid, please press 6.

If you now communicate with your offspring through text, please dial push click tap press 7.

If you no longer recognize your child beneath the teenager disguise, please press 8.

If you have been wondering about your own mother lately, better press 9.

If you, yourself, are a now Grandmothering, please press pound.

If you are parenting fur-babies, please press star.

If you are a MOTHER. If you are a LIFER. If you OWN this. Press here.

Thank you for calling the Mothers Day Hotline. Enjoy your toast and tea. See you again soon.

The 12 Steps

“Alcoholism is a primary, chronic disease with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations. The disease is often progressive and fatal. It is characterized by continuous or periodic: impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with the drug alcohol, use of alcohol despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking, most notably denial.”   asam.org

I think you already knew from today’s title that “The 12 Steps” refers to the Alcoholics Anonymous program for overcoming alcohol addiction. Many recovery organizations are modeled after it, and there are other programs that use alternative strategies to support people who are struggling to control their drinking instead of their drinking controlling them.

Talk. They hear you. Most parents have already discussed drinking, drugs, sex, smoking and other things that people use and abuse to help cope with their internal and external struggles.  It’s even more important to speak up if addiction runs in the family. It certainly does in mine. You might want to remember that perfectionism, bulimia, multi-tasking workaholic behaviors, gaming, and other actions are also our attempt to curb or numb things that hurt, scare us, or feel out of control.

What’s strange is that sometimes, the very thing we turn to can quickly make us feel…hurt, scared, or out of control. Making healthy alternatives available to ourselves and our family can help circumvent this cycle with better ways to cope with these feelings. I’m sure you can think of a great list, including what we learned last week at the end of our Stress Test questions.

If you are at Step One with alcohol, click here and begin the first day of the rest of your life. If you are unsure, click here and do some self-investigation. Alcohol abuse is not the same thing as being an alcoholic. Using prescription medication post-surgery is not the same as abusing it because of addiction to opioids. I’m by no means a “tea”totaller, but understanding what you do and why you do it is important for us and our families.

As addicts or alcoholics,

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Proverbs 20:1
“Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging, and whoever is deceived by it is not wise.”

The Forgetful Files is a safe, supportive space exploring different life challenges and big questions with courage, kindness, humor, and practicality. Please join the conversation by offering your unique perspective!

If a Gun Walks Onto Campus

Before the beginning of a school year, a mandatory meeting is held that covers the idea of what to do if a gun walks onto campus. Everyone from cafeteria workers to the janitor attends. Not halfway through the meeting, many are in tears. It’s inconceivable that a teacher might end up taking a life to protect themselves and their students.

The burden on school staff to maintain “a safe and secure environment” for students is heavy and unsung.

I imagine that people train to become teachers because they have the gift of teaching. Of leading young minds to new places and rejoicing with them over the growth of a school year. They certainly don’t become teachers to get rich or because they like job security.

What other profession receives a yearly “pink slip” along with the assurance that “very likely” they will be rehired in two months? But no promises. What other profession balances Common Core, administration, gangs, parents, class sizes increases, grades, students, budgets, politics, sex, standardized testing, religion, cell phones, puberty, attitudes, drugs, feelings, sports, and glitter glue? You know, sometimes in a single day.

It’s something no one wants to consider and unfortunately, many communities have already experienced. I don’t believe anyone decides to go into the teaching profession thinking they will also act as a body guard. Or worse. Because what if the gunman is also one of the students you teach?

Where are the days we only worried about earthquakes, pop quizzes, and whether our outfits were cool?

Today’s message is short and to the point: hug your kids. Thank your teachers.

Read this first. Can you even?

What schools are working with: training.

Should teachers be armed? The debate.

What kids may be thinking about it: view.

Resources that teachers use: words for processing it.

Are the schools ready? Is yours?

Psalm 141:10 Let the wicked fall into their own nets, while I pass by in safety.

The Forgetful Files is a safe, supportive space exploring different life challenges and big questions with courage, kindness, humor, and practicality. Please join the conversation by offering your unique perspective!

Vaping, School, and Your Kid

You know what I hate? Feeling naive.

If my girlfriend knows something I don’t know, she fills me in so that I can be as cool as she is.

If my kid knows something I don’t know, he hides behind a bowl of cereal, hoping no questions are asked before he runs off to school. Or in the case of my own brilliant and sarcastic child, he puts it in plain view and laughs at me for being naive.

Which, let me repeat myself, I hate.

Today I am advocating, once again, family conversation. The kind where the parent has to open a door, yank technology away from little Johnny, and ask some hard questions while remaining a calm, open-minded good listener. Like Ghandi. Or maybe Don Corleone.

He isn’t going to volunteer to have this conversation. Your education will be inadequate and you will glance into his room one day and notice the sweet little plants in his windowsill and think to yourself what a great parent you are that your kid knows about gardening and ambiance.

Little Johnny is growing pot. In his room. It’s so much cheaper than the dealer down the street, and organic, too.

Mom won’t figure it out. She is busy chasing toddlers. Or paychecks. Whichever.

As a parent, I died just a little when it was voted “legal” here in California because everyone interpreted that to mean “safe”. Pot shops opened up, serving a glamorous variety of goods.  Smoking a joint or a cigarette is just so pedestrian now…what’s a kid to do?

Enter vaping.

My contacts tell me that vaping has been the cool experience of choice in the school lavatories for the last year or two. Most kids are vaping socially, meaning there’s a party in the bathroom, and these kids are not really engaging their brains at the time – which, I suppose, is the whole point.

  1. It is illegal to have marijuana or nicotine in any form if you are under the age of 21
  2. but it’s the easiest form of both for kids to access
  3. and, the kids are pretty comfortable trying it and feel that a puff won’t hurt them.

Not the way popping a pill might, or drinking a shot of liquor might. And here’s why: because the industry says so, that’s why.

As you will notice during the picture time of this presentation, vaping is marketed to youth. Although the packaging is clear about what is in the product you are buying, this is the first thing thrown into the nearest trashcan. The vape pens are sleek little packages or covered in cute cartoon figures and the cartridges that you put into them come in fun flavors from bubble gum to gummy bear.

You won’t see this kind of marketing on prescription medication or alcohol. Not even on cigarettes. The potent thc content now on the market is scientifically engineered. This is not your mama’s pot. But the industry is going to make sure it’s your child’s.

Getting the rechargeable battery-powered pens is not too difficult. But this doesn’t matter because you can walk into the school bathroom during lunch and help yourself to the party pen being passed around. If I saw one in my kid’s room, it might register as another random piece of technology or a charger pack of some kind. It could be a pen or a highlighter. The different cartridges (“carts”) full of flavorful fillings can be purchased for $20 in the store, or conveniently at school for $30. I can see myself now, spotting some vape juice, “Oh, look, little Johnny is into essential oils!”

Vaping leaves a faint scent around you for only a few minutes as it dissipates. (“Wait, little Johnny likes scented candles now?”) Kids sometimes exhale into empty gatorade bottles and cap them tightly to contain the tell-tale smoke. Either way, you can walk into a classroom ten minutes later and no one will smell it on you. My kid can get high at school all day long and not be noticed.

“Why?” I asked certain knowledgable high schoolers, “Why would you want to smoke at all?”

They hadn’t really thought about that question. I had plenty more. Why would you pass around a communal anything and put it in your mouth? Do you know which product is inside it? Or what strength?

“Hey!” calls a friend from the little group huddled in the bathroom, “Try this! You just press the button and inhale.” Many kids caught vaping are just trying it.

“But I didn’t know what it was. It was just one puff. They’re my friends. It didn’t look like it was hurting them. What’s the big deal?

Well, for originality, ask the group if anyone there wishes they could quit.

There’s one who might be brave enough to confide in you. Nicotine is addictive. Sometimes they will tell you that they began vaping in order to stop smoking cigarettes. Ask how that plan is going. And the kid vaping alone in the bathroom stall? He’s not going to share.

(And this is where you might one-up your kid and mention you know that “dabbing” is not just a dance move.)

From the time a student leaves his house until the time a student returns home, the school has a certain level of responsibility for behavior. Whether my kid sells carts off campus or just delivered money from the sales, whether he took one puff at a friend’s house or bragged about it on social media, there are civic consequences. There are words like “suspended” “expelled” or “police” involved.

The burden on school staff to maintain “a safe and secure environment” for students is heavy and unsung. Next week we go further into it.

Our kids are in over their heads. They’re being advertised to and presented with something they know little about and understand even less. Vaping is touted as “safe smoking” and it’s clearly not. We need to have some conversations.

So I am here to fill you in and start you off. And you and I will be cool together.

(Resources are included via text links. Click em.)

Picture Time:

Sunset Sherbert. Delish.

Because you always wanted to smoke a strawberry. Admit it.

Now you know how to spell “Shwifty Sticks”. You’re welcome.

I CAN. NOT. EVEN.

The Forgetful Files is a safe, supportive space exploring different life challenges and big questions with courage, kindness, humor, and practicality. Please join the conversation by offering your unique perspective!

There Be Bullies

Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.

This month, we are focussing on issues in the school system (and this means any school system: homeschooling, charters, etc are not exempt) that are prevalent, insidious and hard for us to talk about with our kids.

Bullying has been around since Cain and Abel, but if Eve had given them smart phones I think they could have avoided going out into the field altogether and Cain could have ruined his brother from the comfort of his couch.

What this means for today’s kids is a perceived power imbalance (which is what sells technology in the first place) so magnified that the result, more times than we want to look at, is death. Death of an idea, death of self-worth, death of a child. Please stop right now and call, text, message, hug, or high-five a kid. It doesn’t have to be your kid. And you don’t need a reason. Every kid needs that little ping of positivity because – people listen up – we are fighting an undercover avalanche of insidious bullying.

And you count. I’ll wait while you send it….

According to my many teacher friends, schools are educating kids about proper web use and ethics. They know it’s hard for some kids to admit to being bullied, so it’s discussed regularly in the classroom. Some teachers have an app that can check a kid’s iPad at a moments notice to see if it’s being used appropriately. They have counselors, social workers, and technology staff and partner with police and programs for nonviolence and peace. The message they are sending out is: “Bullying is not right. Everyone deserves a safe place to be in school.”

But of course, there’s a flip side: how do you distinguish between bully behavior and normal, age-appropriate immaturity, or even teasing between two children who both think it’s funny? The “bully” label is easily triggered in students and parents alike and they expect dramatic reactive steps on the part of school staff, regardless of the circumstances. (Here’s my fun story on that.)

Usually a quick, real-time intervention by the teacher, having kids apologize or just a stern talking-to, resolves many incidents. Seasoned teachers definitely know the difference and they also know their students personalities.

But the teacher is not you, the parent. (Unless of course you are homeschooling like Eve was and we are praying for you. Get yourself a favorite aunt who will take your kid for ice cream and have this conversation.)

You, the parent, should also be using real-time intervention by talking to your kids about when they were bullied and also when they bullied someone else. The answers are perhaps not so important as the process of opening the discussion. We all have to find ways to get along on the planet and this is a good place to practice the conversation. Earn their honesty by trusting them to find solutions along with you. Suggest ways they can hand out those little pings of positivity, too.

Conversation Prompts:

  1. Technology is just a tool and you control the “off” button. No one can access you via technology unless you allow them to. Others can block you, too, if you lose their trust.
  2. Bullying can be physical, emotional, or verbal. Harassment or intimidation via technology is called cyberbullying. Look up your school policy on it and read it together.
  3. Make an action plan as a family. Consider and act out scenarios where you are the target, the witness, and the bully in turn. How do you feel? What can you say? What will you do?
  4. Restorative Circles will give you the dialogue you need, and here is the other side of that with examples.
  5. Find resources on stopbullying.gov.
  6. Find more resources from the national PTA here.

“Love your enemies as yourself” Lev. 19:18

The Forgetful Files is a safe, supportive space exploring different life challenges and big questions with courage, kindness, humor, and practicality. Please join the conversation by offering your unique perspective!