“From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life.” ~ Arthur Ashe
I started working in a nasty corner charity shop that was dark and grey and smelled like dead old people. It was for my community service hours as part of a national philanthropy organization, which shall remain nameless. Never, even once, did it feel like I was working for my community or making the world a better place. It felt like a lame, monthly obligation. And it was.
I grew up helping people at events designed to give kids “community service” hours. It was good for our high school applications, and great for college entrance brownie points. But, it missed the point. My Community Service didn’t feel remotely like I was part of a community, and even less, providing a service.
Going out on a limb here: I want my kids to want to give.
I suppose if we were part of a church, there would be built-in community service. If we were part of Boy Scouts, then we’d have charity work at-the-ready. But truth is, even that kind of giving is forced giving. It’s what you have to do, not what you yearn for.
So, a year ago, I plated the seed with my then twin 9-year-olds. I told them when they turned 10 in July 2013, they’d begin service to their community. They’d pick their own avenue of giving, be as creative as they wanted to be, but that there were two rules:
- Each child must give their age in hours monthly. (So at age 10, they’d do 10 hours per month).
- You have to stick with your choice, however difficult, boring, tedious, for a period of one year.
July came around and the kids set out to pick their organizations. There is power in choosing where you want to put your free time and they were excited. But that faded pretty quickly when we realized that our community is not used to kids giving just for the sake of it.
My son tried his first pick, the library. No go. No kids can volunteer until age 13. Then came his second pick, Sacred Heart Community Services. Nope, no youth volunteers. My daughter tried ASPCA. No way, too much liability. Her second try at The Thrift Box — they don’t take kids, even with adult supervision.
Then the third, fourth and fifth tries came and went. No luck. No one wants 10-year old kids who want to give their time to help the community.
We’re stumped. There has got to be a way for our younger kids to learn the feeling of giving, however small.
Got any ideas?
If you’re a parent, you don’t need to read the rest of this story.
It’s the story of the kid and the Santa jig, and the jig is up, and you are left as the grownup fool telling your kids for the past eight years that a giant fat man breaks into their house each year. If you’re already a parent of a kid older than mine, you know the sock-in-the-gut feeling of your baby’s childhood blinking away.
Today was that day.
I picked up my sweet Thing 2 from school, a rarity since returning to work. I took her out for a special treat (curry meat pie — my girl is special) and we spied friends outside. While we were chatting with them, our favorite toddler boy, Teddy said, looking at his hand-me-down pink tricycle, “Dis bike too small fo-me!” And his parents replied, “Well maybe you.should.ask.for.a.new.BIKE.from.SAN.TA!
And that was it.
She got it.
In one sentence. It was over.
She looked at me, took my hand, squeezed hard, and said, “Yeah, ‘Santa, or Mommy and Daddy.”
Stunned, I took her by the hand and walked away. I stared at my buddies with that Oh-Holy-Crap-That-Just-Didn’t-Happen eye stare. But it had happened. And there was no going back.
I tried to undo-the-undoable. I told her that our friends were trying to talk their son into asking for a bicycle from Santa instead of from their parents because bikes are expensive. And parents can’t afford bikes. And Santa helps because he can. And, you know, wink, wink, wink.
She didn’t buy it.
She rolled her eyes at me.
So I took her for a fancy haircut at a grownup hair salon to distract her.
Or maybe, to distract me.
She got a bob cut.
It made her look young.Read More
Like it or not, I would work longer hours if I didn’t have kids.
Like it or not, I’d be less efficient if I didn’t have kids.
Like it or not, I’d be skinner if I didn’t have kids.
Like it or not, I’m healthier because I have kids.
Like it or not, I’m more emotional because I have kids.
Like it or not, I’m less emotional because I have kids.
Like it or not, I’d have more time for friends, if I didn’t have kids.
Like it or not, the friends I have are vital and precious, because I have kids.
Like it or not, I’d be less tired if I didn’t have kids.
Like it or not, I’m more awake and alive because I have kids.
Like it or not, I am a less creative marketer, because I have kids.
Like it or not, I’m a better marketing leader, because I have kids.
Like it or not, I’ve got less time for my parents, because I have kids.
Like it or not, I’ve got endless respect for my parents, because I have kids.
Like it or not, I’m less passionate about my career, because I have kids.
Like it or not, I’m more passionate at the work I do choose, because I have kids.
Like it or not, I’d be so much more wealthy, if I didn’t have kids.
Like it or not, I’m more driven to be wealthy, because I have kids.
Like it or not, my life would be more free, if I didn’t have kids.
Like it or not, I’ve never known life, before I had kids.Read More
You became a mother 40 years ago today on a rainy Wednesday afternoon. Your world at 20-something had moved into a new chapter, forever shifting your life’s focus to being a parent. I wonder how you felt that day. I wonder if you felt, as I did at the moment I became a parent, that you had just participated in a miracle, leaving you breathless and full of joy you’d never known — you had become a mother.
I gain my daily and my abstract inspiration from you, mom. Unlike me, you are Pollyanna, always finding the good in every situation. And as time passes, I have tried to learn a bit of that from you — call it a Pollyanna Placebo, if you will. Being a true woman comes naturally to you. I am reminded every day I see you, that being a woman means being as brilliant as your mind can take you, as kind as your heart can muster, and, as strong as your body will push you. Being a woman, I’ve learned from you, is never compromised by being a lady. Being a lady comes first. Mom, you are quite a lady.
Today, I am 40. Today, no different than yesterday or tomorrow, I will rely on you for guidance, and take only half of it. I will look for your nod of approval and then question it from every angle. Today like all days, I’ll not quite be complete without seeing you or speaking with you. Unless I don’t, and that’s okay by you too. Today you’ll make me beef stroganoff even though I doubt anyone in the free world eats beef stroganoff anymore, you’ll do it for me like you do every year on my birthday. And today, you’ll make me a lemon cake because I love lemon cake, even if you don’t. Because you’re a mom and I’m your kid and it’s my birthday.
I have a million birthday memories with you, mom. Most are happy, some hard, some just getting through the day. My first memory of my life is my birthday party in our backyard on Bundy. I was wearing yellow and you were wearing a white lacy shirt. You made my cake, of course, and brought it outside. It was a cold afternoon and my feet were tingling and wet from the cold bricks. There was a rectangular table and my friends and I wore party hats. I remember you bringing out my cake with candles on it. It had white frosting. I’ll never forget that first memory as long as I live: my beautiful mother and my beautiful life and my beautiful birthday cake in the backyard.
There are others too — I can remember a very rainy birthday party where you were sick, much like you are right now, and Aunt Maria was there. I remember feeling claustrophobic, playing Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Donkey on the wall in grandma’s livingroom on Teakwood. On my Sweet 16, you took a chunky, friendless girl and made a magical day for me, despite my pathetic teenhood. I remember my 21st birthday in college with a massive box filled with 21 gifts from you, each with a clue written on it and hand-wrapped. The 21st gift was a string of pearls. I love my pearls, I’m wearing them today. On my 30th birthday you quietly told me to pick boys over girls, not for judgement sake, but because it would just be less messy. Pregnant on my 32nd birthday, you bought me a soft black dress for a small fortune in a maternity size extra large. You made me feel pretty — and surprised! — at that secret fete.
Today, Mom, I’m excited to be 40. I can’t wait to celebrate with you. It is February 24. It’s the day you became a mother.
I love you.
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