Stirring the pot, raising hell and rearing children in the Bay Area

Posts Tagged "children"

The Truant Mom

Posted on Jan 12, 2011 in Featured, School |

The Truant Mom

I remember rambling along in a long yellow bus filled with 60 second and third graders heading to the La Brea Tar Pits. Another month, another trip to see and touch the history, social science and life we’d been learning about in school. I saw tide pools, art exhibits at LACMA, Olvera Street and more. Learning used to include a vital tactile element. Today, my kids learn to test, not learn to learn. And certainly with the sad, sorry state of California schools, we are not teaching or learning for the benefit of building a whole child.

I refuse to allow my children’s education to be reduced to filling in bubble exams. Call me truant. I’m not going to stand for a lesser education for my kids because the California economy has held our schools hostage, reducing their  education to test taking frenzies.

So. I’m a truant mom, taking my kids’ education into my own hands and taking advantage monthly to support their public school education with what used to be best practices:  Shark “hunting” at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Fleet Week tour of military ships in San Francisco, a hands-on experience of planets and space at the Academy of Sciences, building claymation videos at Zeum to demonstrate art and computer science, and, the Impressionists exhibit at the DeYoung museum yesterday.

I’m not a home schooling type. It’s not my thing; it’s not the kids’ thing. But yesterday… yesterday was magic. We named our day: GO-GONE (in nod to Gauguin). Here’s how we spent the day:

8 a.m. — Spell out Van Gogh, Cezanne, and Gauguin for kids and have them research the artists they will see today. We used Yahoo! Kids to do the research.

9 a.m. — Draw and paint. Kids used Impressionist book to gain inspiration on drawing. We made paper airplanes and banners using colors of the artists. We talked about cubism — how a cone can be a tree and a circle its fruit. We drew what we thought was cubist in style.

10 a.m. — Meeting! We ate French crepes at a patisserie nearby in honor of the Muse d’Orsay (where the Impressionist collection is on loan from), and discussed one thing about each artist we knew. We cut out pictures of our favorite things we wanted to see. Van Gogh was the most popular: Sunflowers, Starry Night, the Artist’s Room. The kids knew that Cezanne had two sisters: Maria and Rose (my aunt and mother’s names, respectively). These tiny tidbits of information excited them.

11 a.m. — We head to the bookstore to find kid-friendly books on impressionist artists. Two books of Van Gogh led the kids to be bounding around the store talking about the Sunflowers and can’t wait to get to see them later today.

2 p.m. — The De Young exhibit is packed. The kids get their own maps, their own audio tour head sets (Thing 1 called it the “Mini DJ”). They hit the exhibit with excitement. One piece by another Impressionist featured a straw hat. My kid told me, “This is by Van Gogh.” When I told him it wasn’t, he told me, “Then why is Van Gogh’s hat in the bottom right corner of the painting?” A man standing nearby tapped me on the shoulder, “You have got to be kidding!,” he told me. I beamed — beamed! — with pride.

4 p.m. — We write stories on our Un Dia del Museo — an essay in Spanish on our day at the museum. Words come flowing from the kids — writing pouring from their minds to the page.

My babies fell into bed last night, exhausted and filled-up with colors and images and textures drifting them to sleep quickly. I am reminded again that parenthood cannot afford to be a complacent role. I literally saw my children learning by observance, growing from experience and applying their in-school learnings to real world beauty. I’m a truant mom. And I’m okay with that.

Read More

Skinny Mickey

Posted on Jan 3, 2011 in Featured, Food |

Skinny Mickey

On Christmas Day, one of my dear friends gave his (skinny witch) wife a trip to Disneyland for the first time with their daughter. She cried; heck, I cried. It was strangely romantic and sweet. Immediately we went into planning mode — where to stay, what to do that’s perfect for a 3 1/2 year-old girlie girl, what time of year to go and, like all California mommies do, plan on  how to conquer Disneyland without gaining an ounce. As you all know by now, food is my obsession.

Here’s our quick list of food friendly sneaks, snacks and killer meals at Disneyland for those of us who count every bite. Oh, and a hint: for fun, bring a pedometer — we averaged walking about four miles, and about 1800 calories per day.

1. Fresh food carts are your go-to. On Main Street, and in the back of the park near Dumbo, you’ll find a fresh fruit and veggie cart. Kids are so overwhelmed when they first arrive, it’s great to hit-up this cart on Main Street. Get a pineapple spear, some watermelon or fresh mango and sit on the curb to take in your first minutes. Another tip: don’t stock up on the fruits and veggies here. Instead use it as a resting opportunity. See a fresh fruit cart? Grab an apple and rest your legs. It’s a great way to keep on top of low blood sugar too…

2. Bengal Barbecue. Right outside of  the Indiana Jones ride is the Bengal Barbecue. They’ve got three or four different types of skewers (chicken, beef, shrimp, veggie). This is an awesome heavier snack/late lunch. Just the protein, low fat and food that is made for being on-the-go or on in line. Pass on the pretzels, chips, etc. and just get the skewer. Save the calories for something more fun.

3. World of Color picnic. You have to think ahead for this one, but you’ll be glad you did. The picnic comes when you reserve seats for World of Color (a really good idea with small kids). Munch on your picnic while overlooking all of California Adventure. There are two great options: the European and the Vegetarian. The meals are smallish, but that’s fine, since there are always opportunities to stop and snack on something fun elsewhere.

4. Sweets are a must. I grew up on Disneyland food, and the Carnation ice cream parlor was one of my favorite memories. But my metabolism is not 10-years-old anymore. I always pass the ice cream carts and head to Toon Town where I go to Clarabelle’s frozen yogurt shop. It’s in the little food court toward the back and it’s worth the trek to the back of the park. 20+ fat grams saved — voila.

5. Breakfast is hard at Disneyland. You might have early entry or have a character breakfast booked. Hear the phrase “Character Breakfast’ and know it’s going to be hard to get a super healthy meal, and even harder to pass up  Mickey pancakes. Do ones of these three solid options instead (a) Call Hearthstone restaurant at the Grand Californian and have them pack you a breakfast on the run, or stop in there early for an egg white omelete. (b) Go to LaBrea Bakery at the entrance to the parks. Get a coffee and a yogurt parfait. (c) If you’re going into California Adventure early in the morning, go to Schmoozies, a smoothie bar. They’ve got good selections and it’s a better use of time if you’re racing to get things done before the general public arrives.

6. Refuel at the hearth in the Grand Californian. We found this haven when the kids were about 2-years-old and we still do it every time we go to Disneyland. Go into the lobby of the Grand, park your stroller or your kids next to the giant hearth and tell the kids it’s quiet time. Order a glass of wine from the lovely lobby bar and ask to see the bar menu.

7. Slow down before going to the fireworks. At some point you’re going to crack and need to have a meal that is not on the side of the curb on Main Street and you’ll crave a napkin on your lap. When you do, the Napa Rose is where you’ll find your healthy peace. This is the best find for grownups at Disneyland, bar none. The menu changes seasonally, the service is rad and they are shockingly tolerant  with kidlets considering the high quality environment.

Now all good trips to Disneyland have to come with a splurge. I used my big calorie ticket on the pineapple slushie outside of the Tiki Room, the carnitas burrito at Tortilla Joe’s taqueria in Downtown Disney and on the last day, a piece of fudge on Main Street. It is Disneyland, afterall.

Read More

Disneyland Dazzles for the Holidays

Posted on Nov 29, 2010 in Holidays |

Read More

Organic Until Puberty

Posted on Oct 12, 2010 in iVoices |

Read More

Privacy Meet Transparency, Your Ugly Twin

Posted on Sep 29, 2010 in Featured, iVoices |

Privacy Meet Transparency, Your Ugly Twin

It has been a long standing debate in our industry about the value of transparency in communication. It breeds trust, gives tangibility and street cred. Being transparent is cool. Until it’s not. Equally, we look at privacy protections, safety of our families online and the need to use code names and words for just about everything from the dog to the husband. But transparency has come to a place online where being truly transparent and completely private online are both pointless, fruitless battles. It’s us against the (PR/marketing/Google) machine, and we’ve lost.

I’ve used code names for my kids and self for years. I worked hard to keep my LinkedIn separate from my blog. I put my online personas into buckets: Facebook/LinkedIn in one bucket; Blog and Twitter and Flickr in another bucket. I went so far as to set search alerts for my name with my user names and cross reference the searches with my kids names — all for the sake of being both transparent and private. But somewhere along the way, the web got smarter than me. Oh, it just took one link to here or there, one re-tweet, one comment that used my real name to put it all together. Mark 2010 as the year that the Internet truly began to never forget.

The biggest problem with working in online communities has always been transparency — both the lack of it, the strive for it and the freakout when it comes to pass. It’s true that most people I know online know me as Garza Girl, and when I introduce myself I expect the blank stares, but as soon as I use my online name, the recognition comes. But the yucky side of that is that if you know me online, you know my dirt, because it is there in the cloud, where I, like so many others, have the false security that I’m writing anonymously. Transparency as we know it is dead because if it has to be staged, hidden behind user names and goofy profile pictures, then it’s not really transparent. Online transparency has a new norm: bare all or someone else will.

My someone else day has arrived.

I’ve been selected to be one of 15 iVoices for NBC/Universal’s iVillage. This means attaching my real name to my real face to my real life. This means being a face of a two-mommy family. This means the world will know that I feed my kids organically to prevent my daughter from having early puberty. This means that my crossed-eyes can’t be hidden. It means being transparent about my opinions on parenting to the world, not just in my backyard between like-minded friends. It means my exes — from the super insane thief to the one that got away — will be able to access me in all my 10-lb weight gain glory.

This move toward transparency also means that I will be able to work on stories that I am passionate about. It means I will put my image fears to the forefront of challenging myself to look in the mirror and into the camera. It means I’ll be able to offer a peek at what it’s like to be a two-mommy family. Being transparent means I’ll have to keep myself in check (can’t rant at the kid’s teacher anymore), keep other’s privacy in check, keep myself open to failure when it comes. It means, above all, that I’ll be living externally and that my role is to ensure I’m living that same life privately — the best I possibly can.

Read More

A Little Montessori Goes a Long Way

Posted on Sep 20, 2010 in Featured, School |

A Little Montessori Goes a Long Way

If I could send my kids to The Waldorf of the Peninsula school, I’d do it in a heartbeat. I believe with my whole parenting self, that giving my children the freedom to find joy in their learning, the power of overcoming their fears and the strength of education is one of the greatest things I’ll do with my life. But education philosophy and budgets rarely match up. At $12,000 – $20,000 per year, per child, my hopes of my children being educated in the  Montessori philosophy are all but gone.

As the public school system in San Jose continues to decline to dangerously low funding, I find our school’s programs being cut — science, art, athletics — key cornerstones to a well-rounded childhood education. And, thanks to the not-even-remotely-helpful No Child Left Behind Act, our public school teachers are trapped by having to teach to test, not teach to learn. Even the greatest teachers around (ours included), can’t fight off an economy in peril and a broken school system. Teachers find themselves sneaking in art and music, wiggling around systems to find some creativity in their teaching and eek out moments of 1:1 time with kids.

Meanwhile, across town, for the cost of some family annual paychecks, children are learning by touch and feel and movement. Their worlds are filled with peace and balance and a basic belief that their brains are developing just as they should. It’s hard not to hate them. I want my kids to have that freedom to learn, despite our inability to pay $30,000 annually. I’ve thought about this a lot. If I cut our lifestyle down, could we afford Montessori? If I:

Gave up wine: $200/month or $2,400 a year. Nope, not even close.

Gave up organic food: $150/month or $1,800 a year. Why would I give up feeding my family organically?

Gave up both @la_gringa’s and my iPhones: $250/month or $3,000 a year. That won’t work.

If I went from full-time flexible consulting to completely full-time in-house, we’d be able to pull it off, but then, I’d need a nanny, aftercare and, most of all, wouldn’t be there to participate in the rearing of my own children’s lives. That might work for them, but what’s the trade off for having no mommy face-time?

After a year of jealousy, I’ve decided to bring a little Montessori to our home — if we can’t go to a developmental private school, the least I can do is bring a bit of it home to my kids. Although my plan is just coming into action, I’m finding Thing 1 and Thing 2 to be fully engaged in the new system. I’ve started with manipulatives: putting odd things in their art cart — a strange shaped item, a tool they don’t know how to use, a giant vacuum cleaner box. Next, I’ve planned time in their day to let them explore these things and others that they find interesting. When I take down barriers to activities, the kids seem to really respond. Answers that used to be no have turned to yes. Questions like “Can I make myself an Aztec warrior?” are answered with “Of course you can.” So far, I can’t believe how creative the kids have been, how receptive they are to failure, trial and error.

Next on the agenda is to loosen the physical restraints we put on our kids. A Montessori kid I know can climb trees all the way to the top. She has no fear. She’ll sit at the top of the tree, eat a snack and watch the world go by. I’ve seen other parents completely freak out at this kid (and her parents), but somehow I get it. This girl is in no more danger of falling out of a tree as others are from falling off a bike, or getting a concussion from a linebacker’s tackle. I want my children to reach for freedoms physically. Yesterday I told my daughter to go outside and climb a tree. She looked at me like I was nuts, and then, went and did it. A half-hour later she ran back inside, showing off her scraped hands and knees — “I was in the tree!,” she said, proudly.

Finances can keep us from attending private Montessori schools, but not from offering our kids the freedoms to explore the world the way they want and need to.  I’m working to get to the place where our home is full of  structured freedom — enough room to find their own way and enough structure to help them get there.

Three of my newbie tools:

Montessori for Everyone Blog

Children of the Universe book

Journey to Montessori Elementary video

Read More