It’s Okay to Change Your Mind (aka: Finding Your Niche)

what-color-is-your-parachute-bookMy 15-year-old daughter recently complained that she’s not sure what she wants to be when she grows up. As she’s only a sophomore in high school, I would love to tell her to just relax; she’s got a few more years to really decide. But, being a long-range planner myself, I also get the anxiety of not knowing exactly where you’re headed in life.

She needs a “thing.”

I firmly believe that everyone has a “thing,” or a niche. Some of those niches may be better than others, though, especially when it comes to career planning.

My oldest son, who is a senior this year, has several niches: playing computer games, creating music for computer games, and listening to music on the expensive wireless headphones he decided he couldn’t live without. I am really, really hoping that he finds some way to merge these niches into some kind of lucrative career. Either that or just do what I tell him and study computer science in college next year. I’m kind of hoping he’ll find a more productive niche in that direction.

My youngest son’s niches also involve computers. His, however, also include developing computer games using simple code, like Scratch, and building complicated, programmable Lego robots. He is dead-set on becoming an engineer one day (woohoo!!). His other niches include writing stories and using his gigantic vocabulary to invent new “clean” swear words, like “Oh sheep!”

future-jobs-signs

My daughter has a lot of niches. She’s a great athlete. She draws anime and comic strip characters. She writes stories, and is constantly learning new skills, like HTML code and jazz dance. She thinks she wants to become a doctor, but is getting nervous that it’s too ambitious, or that she won’t like studying medicine after all.

“No worries,” I tell her. “Just plan to go to med school and become a doctor. You can always change your mind later.”

I should know. I’m kind of the queen of drastic changes in niches.

When I was six years old, I wrote an essay on how I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. That, and a tap dancer. The tap-dancing thing never got off the ground, but I have always been a writer. When I went to college, I was clueless about careers, and had no adult guidance. So I did the only thing I knew well, thanks to countless babysitting jobs – I got a BA degree in Child Development and went on to become a teacher of young children. Eventually, I was even a site supervisor and parent educator, too.

kids-careers-jobs-costumes At the time, it was my niche. I was great at belting out Raffi tunes, finding creative ways to teach phonics, and managing a classroom. It was also kind of cool teaching other parents how to parent. But know what? It was a boring, mindless career. And it barely paid enough to buy the gas it took to drive to work each day.

So, I changed my mind.

I returned to college to add a couple more small degrees. Then I landed my true dream job, in the IT industry. I still get to use some of my old talents, like teaching and finding creative ways to problem solve. But I also get to develop and administer software systems and databases. I get to use my brain. Which is nice, because it’s a pretty great brain, so long as I get enough sleep.

Yes, I still write. That will always be my greatest niche. I also still plan to be a tap dancer. Okay, I am totally kidding. The next time I change my mind, I think I’ll go into management. It seems kind of like teaching preschool, only you have to go to a lot of meetings, and you get paid more.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want (aka: Christmas Choices)

It’s nearly midnight on Christmas Eve.

I would love to be tucked into my bed, watching visions of sugarplums dance through my head, but no such luck. Because I’m the mom.

santa-lte-night

The mom gets to sit in the living room, sipping a glass of chardonnay as Smallville plays on the television, and staring down at a pile of metal bars and chains, which, when assembled, will somehow form a bicycle. Afterward, I get to rip open yet another cardboard box and start putting together a second bicycle. Two shiny new bikes for teens who actually really need them to get to school each day.

At least, I’ve convinced myself that they need them.

I like to choose Christmas gifts based on the familiar old adage:

Something they want
Something they need
Something to wear
and something to read.

Pajamas? Check. Books, check. They hardest part is discerning between something my kids desire to have and something they actually need. It is something that many of us Americans struggle with in this culture of excess. We stroll through a Target store, drooling over the shelves packed with sparkling novelties. Coffee makers that produce a perfect cup of joe at the mere push of a button. Water bottles with built in filters to make our clean tap water even cleaner. Powerful tablet computers that fit in a handbag.

Oooh, I need that, we tell ourselves as we fill our red plastic shopping carts with far more items than would fit on our actual shopping lists. But in reality, we don’t. We want those things. We desire those things. But we so easily get what we want and desire mixed up with what we need.

wants-or-needs

My kids probably don’t need most of what is currently wrapped and waiting beneath the Christmas tree. Those are desired luxury items; scented lotions and electronic doodads that will bring moments of excited smiles and happy laughter as they rip open the colorful paper. My children already have what they need — healthy food, clothes that fit, and a mother who loves them like crazy. These beautiful new bikes (once they become bikes) are not a true need. They want bicycles, and I want them to have bicycles to get to school and around town. Could they have lived well without them? Absolutely. They already have.

As we transition into the upcoming new year, I hope to do a better job of separating the things that I want or desire from that which I really need. I also hope to transmit the correct value to these three terrific kids of mine, too. You can’t always get what you want. You shouldn’t always strive for what you desire. Believe it or not, life is better when you learn to be content with what you have instead of always looking to the next Big Thing that catches your attention.

Oh look — it is officially Christmas morning. And there are still these pieces of bike to be assembled. Santa doesn’t get much sleep on such a night. Time to crack open the toolkit and make this Christmas morning a merry one for my family.

I wish the same for all of you. Peace!

bmxmas

 

Never Have I Ever (aka: Stuff I Should Probably Try)

never-have-i-ever

My oldest kid, a senior in high school, did something recently that he has never ever done before. He went to his high school’s homecoming dance.

Yes, I know, lots of kids go to school dances, not a big deal. But for my son, a late bloomer, it was a first. Truth be told, he didn’t enjoy it all that much, thanks to a group of party-pooper friends who bailed halfway through. But he saw the value in attending, if only once in his lifetime. Now if I can just convince him to go to prom, too…

Have you ever played the game, Never Have I Ever? Here are the classic rules:

  • Friends sit in a circle with ten fingers pointing in.
  • Someone makes a Never Have I Ever statement, such as, “Never have I ever played Chinese Fire Drill at a stoplight.”
  • Those who have actually played Chinese Fire Drill remove one finger. Those who have never done it do not remove one finger.
  • The winner is the one who still has fingers remaining in the circle when everyone else has been eliminated.

drinking-gamesThis game sounds an awful lot like The Purity Test, which I used to play back in college and win every time, with a score of around 95% pure. And apparently, Never Have I Ever is also a popular drinking game, which I wouldn’t know, because Never Have I Ever played a drinking game of any kind.

While I’m trying to guide my kids toward taking calculated risks in life and trying a few things they’ve never tried before, I become glaringly aware of how many Never-Have-I-Evers are still on my own list. Of course, there are plenty of Never-Will-I-Evers on the list, too, like sex with a stranger, smoking cigarettes, or inciting a riot, but let’s just ignore those.

 

NEVER HAVE I EVER…


…caught a fish
(and likely won’t, unless I actually try going fishing one day).

…been intoxicated (What can I say? I’ve never had occasion to overindulge with alcohol. Once I drank three glasses of wine while relaxing at home alone, but I’m pretty sure I wasn’t too affected).

…traveled somewhere that required a passport (unless you count those teen missionary trips to Mexican border towns back in the no-passport-required days).

…gone out dancing as an adult (Well to be fair, I did get to dance at a couple of weddings around 20 years ago, and once at a conference party for writers. But I’ve never been out to dance at a club, which is probably weird for someone who loves dancing as much as I do).

dont-judge-me-meme

…been on a cruise (unless you count those 1-hr. ferry tours around the San Francisco Bay, but that’s not really the same thing).

…fired a gun (And to tell you the truth, I kind of have a phobia of guns and even the idea of holding one freaks me out. Can I play the girl card?).

…played golf (Seeing as I’ve played soccer, tennis, basketball, volleyball, baseball, and a slew of non-ball sports, too, it’s probably just a matter of time before I get sucked into golf world).

…been camping in the desert or on the beach (one of these days…).

…gone wine tasting (which is strange for someone who enjoys wine and lives less than two hours away from Napa Valley, California. But wine tasting just doesn’t seem like the kind of thing one does alone).

…been to an NFL or NBA game (another thing that sounds fun to do, but not by myself. Maybe I’ll take the kids one day, when I can save up enough money).

i-have-never

This list could go on and on. There are just so many things I’ve never done which many people have by my stage of life. Some things I’m not sure I’d really want to do anyway, but others I would absolutely love to try. Some of these things I could totally choose to do at any time. Others seem just out-of-reach, either due to a lack of financial resources or a lack of social companions to do them with. In just reviewing my personal list of Never-Have-I-Evers, there are two things I can say for sure:

  1. I still have a lot of things to look forward to experiencing in life.
  2. I would totally win the game of Never Have I Ever. Which I have never played, by the way. I guess I should add that to my list.

 

Gold Medal Summer (aka: Let the Games Begin)

Olympic Rings

That magical time is upon us again. Every four years, we gather around our television sets to boooo our opponents, to pump our fists in the air and cheer on our favorites. USA! USA! 

No, I’m not referring to the Democratic or Republican National Conventions. Although the presidential election political circus is in high gear around this time, too.

summer games video game 80sTonight is the opening ceremony for the XXXI Summer Olympiad in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Hooray! Hurrah! My kids and I plan to celebrate American-style by sitting around the television with slices of gourmet veggie pizza, commenting on the arrival of the olympic athletes and wondering where in the world countries like Tuvalu, Nauru, and Bhutan are located. Then we will ooh and aah at what’s sure to be a colorful, dizzying display of music and dancing of Brasilian Carnaval proportions.

Then finally, someone will ceremoniously light the ancient torch (insert more ooohs and aaahs), fireworks will explode overhead, and the games will officially kick off.

Rio Olympics racing runners track

I enjoy just about every sport in the Summer Games, except maybe wrestling. It’s so much fun to admire the displays of strength, speed, and grace as divers and gymnasts flip through the air, sprinters race like the wind, and soccer teams battle it out on the field. They are not only athletes – they are the elite, the amazing, the best of the best. The ones who spent hours every day training to bring home gold medals while the rest of us struggled to jog a mile on the treadmill a couple of times a week.

Our family’s favorite sport to watch during the Olympic Games is women’s artistic gymnastics. This is in part due to my 14yo daughter, the former gymnast. She once trained and competed at a level close to these elite Olympians, and still has the bulky shoulders to prove it. Some days, she is wistful, missing those chalk dust days in the gym, swinging and tumbling with her gymnastics teammates. But then she remembers how much work, commitment, and dedication it took to compete at such a level, and she is once again content to relax and cheer on Simone Biles and the rest of our national gymnastics team.

Rio Olympics 2016 Simone Biles gymnastics leap

Wherever you are in the world, I hope that you are able to gather somewhere with friends or family and cheer on your favorite country as they run, swim, tumble, and jump in the ultimate sports competition. May our athletes make it through without getting bitten by Zika-carrying mosquitoes. And may they continue to inspire the rest of us to get off our couches and into the gym, even if our greatest competition is against ourselves. Have some pizza, on me. And – LET THE GAMES BEGIN!

Winner! (aka: My Parenting Trophy)

I did it! I won a trophy!

Not just any trophy, either. The Best Trophy Ever.

Finally, after years of driving my three kids around to their events and watching them earn gymnastics medals, soccer trophies, science team trophies, and scouting awards, I finally had my turn.

Okay fine. It’s not like I’ve never earned awards before. After all, I grew up at the beginning of the High-Self-Esteem-Trophies-For-Just-Showing-Up era, when every kid was a winner. Of course, the moment the coaches’ backs were turned, the “real” winners stole the conch and Piggy’s glasses, then danced around a bonfire. And those trophies? Their fate was to be crammed away in some cardboard box in the garage until Mom tried to push them off on her grown kids. (No thanks, Mom. I’d rather keep the memories).

But today was different. Today, on the day before the last day of school, I opened an envelope that my 11 year-old son handed me. Every sixth grader heading off to middle school next year wrote thank you letters to their parents — a tradition carried on through the years at his school. My kid, who isn’t usually the mushy, sentimental type, wrote a love note that brought tears to my eyes. My heart cartwheeled in happiness.

This was not just a letter. This was proof. Proof that my children think I’m pretty special. Proof that I haven’t been screwing up this parenting thing. Proof that the experiment is working. Hooray! Yahoo! This letter from my kid is my trophy. The only trophy I need. And I don’t know, maybe I will frame it and hang it in my closet. So anytime I feel like I’m failing in the mom role, I can read my son’s honest, loving words and be reminded.

Hey Mom. You’re doing just fine.
LoveLetter FromConnor

Roller Skates in the Kitchen (aka: The Late Bloomer)

old-fashioned roller skatesMy daughter is trying out her new roller skates in the kitchen. “You know Mom,” she says as she whizzes past me, “most moms don’t let their kids roller skate in the house.”

“They don’t?” I say, frowning. “Why on earth not?” For a brief moment, I feel a tug of concern. Maybe there is some good reason why other moms wouldn’t be okay with their teen roller skating in the house. But geez…if I had just gotten new skates for Christmas, then I would be skating in the kitchen, too!

It happens all the time. One of my teens will look my way with raised eyebrows and point out how “Other kids’ moms don’t watch Vampire Diaries.” “Other kids’ moms don’t do cartwheels at the park.” “Other kids’ moms don’t play video games/let their kids eat cookies for breakfast/play Nerf ball catch with their teenage sons.” My kids don’t mind, though. They rather like having a mom who’s like a teenager. A very mature, sophisticated, and responsible teenager, I must add.

I have always been a late bloomer. I played with dolls until I was fourteen.  I didn’t learn to drive until I was twenty-six years old. Although I had several so-called high school “boyfriends,” I went on my first real, actual date when I met my now ex-husband, during my third year of university.

Leo the late Bloomer childrens book

I’m not sure why I progress through life at such a slow pace, clinging to youthful interests. Maybe it is arrested development, due to fear of the unknown world of grownups. Maybe it is a genetic tendency — some biological indicator of slow aging. Or maybe it’s just that being young at heart makes life so much fun.

Aldous Huxley Secret of Genius quote

When I allow my inner child to roam free, I feel more content, at ease, and connected with life. If growing up means sitting in the sand and staring at the sea, then I would rather join the kids, shrieking and splashing as we jump and surf in the waves. If I must join the throngs of grownups in the dull, grey world, then I will be the one wearing a rainbow-colored dress, covertly throwing paper airplanes into the crowd.
I know, I sound like a female Peter Pan. And in a way, I suppose I am. I will never be like the “other kids’ moms” if that means I must leave behind that magical world of youthful fantasy. Why must I, when life is so much richer, and so much more adventurous when I balance with one foot in the grown-up world and one foot in Neverland?

I am a late bloomer. That is who I am. My kids are late bloomers too, I think, and that’s okay by me. Know why? Because the rose that blooms early also wilts early. And I have no intention of wilting anytime soon.

Never Grow Up Not Me

 

Overload (aka: A Little Brain Fried)

Dear Readers,

MMM Fried-Brain HomerOh how I would love to write for you a brilliant poem filled with astonishing metaphors and dazzling word-pictures. And how I wish I could post a few brilliant new Italian or Chinese or Indian curry recipes complete with spectacular photos for your Pinterest collection. Or offer you a wealth of advice on weight loss or parenting or doing fun activities with kids.

But I won’t.

Because I am a student. And yes, I am also a single mom of 3 kids. With a job. And yeah, a fiction writer, and recreational soccer player, too. All that. But you see, sometimes I get a little over my head with schoolwork; like right now, when my poor brain is so fried from studying that I’m afraid that any moment now, I will begin typing in hexadecimal or Perl or SQL like the computer geek I am becoming.

(It’s true. I now walk the straight and narrow path of true Revenge-of-the-Nerds geekdom.)

I feel like I’m forgetting something important. What was I saying?

Working Student Mom

Oh yes, school. Studying. Academia. And this is not limited to my own classes. Because I also get to put on the Mommy hat and listen very patiently as one child explains all about how Plato’s philosophies contributed to modern democracy. Then, of course, I have to answer another child’s questions.

“Mom, who were Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates?”

“Mom, what’s for dinner?”

Oops. That’s what I was forgetting.

I’m so glad that I’ve taught my kids how to cook. And to ask questions. And to be patient with a mother who sometimes wears too many hats at once and gets a little brain-fried. If only I had taught them how to write my blog posts, too…

There’s a Song for That (aka: Musical Motivation)

musical discipline Looking for an effective way to motivate your older kids and teens to clean up the house? It’s simple – just sing a song. I use this strategy all the time with my kids, and it goes something like this:

Me: Didn’t I ask you guys to wash the dishes and take out the garbage? Drop what you’re doing and get the work done.

Kids: Aw, but Mom, I need to finish this level!

Me: Video games can wait. Clean-up comes first.

Kids: *Ignore*

Me: You have five seconds before I start singing the Barney clean-up song.

Kids: Noooo! Anything but that! *Scramble to get the chores done.*

Okay fine, fine. It doesn’t work every time. In fact, thanks to the invention of super-expensive, high-quality, noise-canceling headphones, my kids are now immune to my Mary Poppins treatment. But when their ears are free, my voice allows me to become the all-powerful Enforcer. teens-headphones-ignore

If there’s one thing I learned from my years of teaching young children, it is that music can be a very powerful motivator. There is a song out there for every mood, need, or occasion in life. Need a boost to get into an energetic workout? Crank up the volume on your techno/electronica playlist. Need to relax and unwind at the end of a stressful day? Try some mellow smooth jazz or new-age tunes. Need to motivate your kids to clean up the house, improve their manners, or be kind to one another? Nothing motivates like singing the lyrics of Laurie Berkner, Raffi, or Disney showtunes. mary-poppins singing

Seriously. Want to see a sleepyhead teenage boy climb out of bed at record speed? Just belt out Let it Go at the top of your lungs. Works. Every. Time.

Now if only I could find some lyrics to motivate myself to stop procrastinating on my to-do list…

Are You Ready for the Summer?

smiling sun on a sandy beach

Sunny Summer Fun

There’s something about this time of year that brings to mind a yellow bus full of happy campers and a chorus of kids singing, “Are you ready for the summer? Are you ready for the good times?” https://youtu.be/USvMWm-ZqvQ

Of course, in reality, I will not be passing away the hot, lazy days of summer engaging in camp color wars with Bill Murray and the North Star CITs. In fact, much of my summer will be spent in front of a computer screen in an air-conditioned office cubicle, where summer doesn’t really exist. (But I’m not complaining, mind you).

When I was a kid, summers seemed to last forever. The days blended together into one long, sunny stretch filled with library books, cartoons, and swimming, with one glorious week at Y camp to break the monotony. Perhaps it is only nostalgia, but it seems that it was those lovely days of boredom and daydreaming that made childhood such a wonderful thing.

Now, my own three kids are filled with the same sense of excited anticipation that I remember from that age. “One more week of school, and then we’re free!” Free to swim every day. Free to read books and play video games until Mom makes us turn off the screens. Free to chase down the ice cream truck and spend our allowance on overpriced Spongebob popsicles. Free to run barefoot and color on the pavement with chalk and pick wild blackberries until our fingers are tattooed with purple ink. Free!

some things never change ice-cream-truck

I am excited for my kids, too, and happy that they still have this portion of their lives in which they can be relatively free of responsibilities (other than the usual household chores). In which they have the opportunity to try out new recipes, to create new games to play, to learn how to code, and to just be. That kind of free time in life disappears all too soon. Next thing you know, you’re sitting before a computer screen in some air-conditioned office, counting down the minutes until the weekend begins, and you can share some of those golden summer moments floating in a lake with your kids.

Our Family’s Summer Wish List

Camping near Mount Shasta Roller coasters
Summer cooking project San Francisco for dim sum
Reading a ton of books Frisbee/Frisbee Golf
Watching TV (esp. Manga) Picnics at different parks
Play fort sleepovers in the living room Going to the drive-in
Family movie nights The Beach (preferably in SoCal)
Roller skating at the rink Learning how to code with Raspberry Pi
Swimming (in the pool and in lakes) Overdosing on video games
Kayaking and paddle boarding Building a new computer

summer boating fun

Stranger Danger (aka: Remember the Milk Cartons)

 

missingLike most kids who grew up in the 1980’s, I was terrified of strangers. The idea was drilled into our heads by paranoid parents and teachers: STRANGER = DANGER. Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t accept candy from strangers. If a stranger asks you to help him search for his missing dog, run away and tell a trusted grownup. Because if you go with a stranger, you may end up with your face on a milk carton, just like poor Etan Patz.

Remember Etan Patz? He was a cute 6 year-old kid who disappeared one morning in 1979 as he was headed to school. His disappearance shocked the nation, and started the milk carton movement. Suddenly, that carton of milk next to our morning bowls of Sugar Crisp cereal became a daily reminder to kids everywhere: Talk to strangers, and you will wind up kidnapped.

Adam Walsh 1981

Adam Walsh, who disappeared from a shopping mall in 1981. His father, John Walsh, later became the host of the television show, America’s Most Wanted. 

Kidnapped. To an 80’s kid, it was pretty much the scariest thing that could happen to you. Besides the news stories filled with sobbing parents and neighbors scouring their communities with flashlights, there were cartoon episodes, chapter books, and school assemblies training kids to be aware of their surroundings, and to act in self-defense if a stranger tries to grab you. There were after-school specials and even full-length movies about real-life kids who got kidnapped and murdered while playing, like Adam Walsh, the boy who went missing without a trace. The names of the kidnapped kids haunted us as we walked to school — Michaela Garecht, Kevin Andrew Collins, Polly Klaas.

face on the milk carton

Was there a single girl who grew up in the 80’s and didn’t read this book?

Now some would say that the whole Stranger Danger safety campaign went a little overboard. After all, the actual risk of a child being abducted by a stranger is pretty low. But thanks to media overexposure (and a ton of commercials reminding us to drink milk), we 80s kids grew up in a culture that compulsively promoted child safety, just short of locking us in the house and making us wear bubble wrap. Today, we try to be a little more relaxed than our own parents, easing off on the phobia-inducing Stranger Danger fear tactics with our kids.

Most of the time, I feel as though I’ve struck just the right balance of educating my kids to be stranger-aware. However, just the other day, my 10 year-old nearly gave me a heart attack. While out riding his bicycle in our neighborhood, he suffered a small crash and scraped his elbow against the pavement. In tears, he called me from a concerned stranger’s cell phone to inform me of what had happened. prevent child abduction

“Wait…whose cell phone?” I asked.

A stranger. And not just a stranger…a strange man who got out of his car and offered a cell phone. Those familiar feelings of childhood panic rose to my throat. My kid did not have proper Stranger Danger training. What if the stranger had been one of the bad guys who steal kids? My little guy’s face could have ended up on a milk carton.

And so, after we’d had a chance to clean up his scraped elbow, I sat my kid down for a good old-fashioned 1980’s fear tactic lesson on the danger of strangers and wolves in sheep’s clothing. It went something like this: If you are away from home and absolutely need help, and there is no police officer, security guard, teacher, or other trusted adult, then this is how to regard strangers:

Green Light: A mom with kids.

Yellow Light: A woman (older women, like grandmothers, because you can outrun them).

Red Light: Men. Just no. Run away.

Stranger Danger

Perhaps some people will consider this type of training to be over-the-top by 2015 standards. But I know that I am not the only grown-up child of the 80’s who still remembers what happened to Kevin Collins. Adam Walsh. Michaela Garecht. Polly Klaas. And many other unfortunate kids whose childhood was stolen from them. In memory of those kids, and of their families whose lives were ripped apart, I would rather pass on such safety lessons to the next generation, so that we will see a lot fewer kids’ faces on milk cartons, and a lot more outside, playing and riding their bikes.