Monday, October 16, 2017

Being Impressionable

I admit that I am impressionable. I sometimes don't want to hear about the latest "amazing" health craze because I might buy into it. I became a vegan for five years in my twenties because a friend's sister had me read some information that proved to me eating meat and dairy was bad. I have been known to buy matcha, spirullina and a rebounder trampoline the same day I read about the health benefits. People can pick up both negative and positive traits from being impressionable, but being stubborn gets you nowhere but stuck.  I don't blindly adopt new ideas, but I am open to hearing about them, and if they make sense I can't not consider the idea.

Observing my young children navigate their friendships I see examples of when they are both impressionable to their friends behavior — and I cringe. Sometimes, I want to pull them aside and say, “Do your own thing” or “You don't have to be a copy cat." I think of what was often told to me when I was a kid, "If your friend jumps off the Empire State Building, would you do it too?" On the flip side, I’ve also seen my kids be the bossy leaders who lead their poor, unsuspecting friends down a mischievous adventure. I have come to the conclusion that neither are bad once in a while.

Being impressionable doesn't always need to mean vulnerable. It also can mean open. When I began dating guys that were interested in running, cooking or new music, I learned to open my mind to new tastes. When making new friends who loved certain movies, and were excited to share their enthusiasm with me, I opened my mind to new art. Sure, people can pick up positive and negative traits by being impressionable, but the alternative is being stubborn and that doesn't get one anywhere but stuck.

Stepping out of myself and observing my own behaviors, I can recall times when I am confident and strong. I can also recall times where I am out of my comfort zone and chose to remain a fly on the wall. Depending on circumstance and what is going on around me, I speak my mind loud and clear, or I can't find a single thing to say that would fit the conversation. This week though, when approached by another parent who voiced some concerns about a certain behavior my child exhibited, I took pause. Was I being too sensitive, or was she? Was she right, or was I? Was there even a right or wrong, at all? Was I just following her lead and her reaction to my child, and not forming my own opinion? Was I being too impressionable to her?

Navigating other parents is one of those grown-up situations you don't ever imagine having to deal with until you are an bone fide grown-up. The "serious" confrontations with other adults. I remember my friend talking about when he was a kid he heard the words like “mortgage" and "miscarriage" thrown around in his house. He knew they carried the weight of grown-up proportions, but when he grew up to say them as an adult he still wasn't prepared.

Despite being uncomfortable in these kinds of confrontations I think I handle them well enough. I often don't think of the right thing to say in the moment, but I thank the person for reaching out and then say I need some time to process the information. That is what I did last week. Then I try to figure out what I actually feel about it. When I come to somewhat of a gut feeling, I run it by my husband. I am impressionable to his opinions because I respect him and want to know what I can learn from another perspective. Then I mull it over some more, and decide how long I want to wrestle with it and put a cap and time limit on it. No big decision I make for myself is ever decided by someone else, but its also not decided without the help of others. I am impressionable that way.

Monday, October 9, 2017

A Drive Down Memory Lane

We recently went back to the gymnastics studio where my daughter used to take classes before we left Beverly Hills and moved to Culver City. She had been going there since she was two and we never found a great replacement for it where we live now. She said she missed gymnastics and since it's summer and we have a bit more time, I got her a private lesson with her old coach as a special treat. In LA traffic this could be an hour away, so we decided to make a day of it. We drove to her favorite diner, Nate and Al’s, for her favorite meal of matzo ball soup. My husband used to take her for dinner there while I was pregnant, because I couldn't eat or cook without getting sick. This became a ritual she never wanted to end. 

We also stopped at the little local toy store we used to frequent in downtown Beverly Hills. The layout is exactly the same including the mechanical coin operated horse that the kids would ride. So much on the street was the same. Sure, there were a few new shops, but most were the same ones that were there before we moved. It is amazing to me, how much an area, a street or even a home can remain so comfortably fixed in your mind. It was second nature to pull into the parking garage to turn left at the corner and to find a specific crosswalk, even though you haven't crossed it in years.

After lunch we drove up over our old canyon. We passed a park that I used to take my kids too frequently. I didn't say anything, and my daughter asked if we used to play there. As sharp as these memories are for me, they are cloudy for her. To move away from someplace at five or six is so different than it is for an adult, or for my son who was two and doesn't remember much at all. We passed by the house where our close friends used to live, and when I pointed out to my daughter she struggled to remember what it looked like inside. Up the road just a little bit more was our street. I didn't turn up, because we didn't have time, but also because it would just make me sad. Our house was redone on the outside, and it actually looks a lot better, but it also looks different. I have driven up that Benedict Canyon Drive so many times, it felt strange not to hang a right on our old street, pull into our driveway and walk right in. It is not our home anymore though, and I miss it.

Every inch of that drive was a memory. As we passed my house I remembered when a friend picked me up once and she turned too wide and we almost got hit by another car. It wasn't funny at all, but somehow we ended up laughing so hard. I also remember the time I got a call from my dad while driving, and with an odd sense of urgency in his voice, he asked me to pull over. I will never forget the exact spot I stopped when he told me my brother in law had died. Further up the road was the little strip of stores where my husband and I used to hang out when we needed a little people watching. I pointed out to my daughter how we used to drive from there to her school where she went to Kindergarten. 

I am not sad we moved to a place that has better schools, a stronger sense of community and so much more for families, but I am sad that we had to say goodbye to our home to do that. That house was my first adult home. We got engaged in that house, we had a wedding brunch there, we had many parties and much to celebrate there, and even brought our two babies back from the hospital to that house. When we set out to go to gymnastics, I didn't realize everything we would pass. I had originally thought maybe we could stop by my daughters old preschool, but there wasn't enough time. It's a good thing too, I think that one might have thrown me over the edge of memory lane.

Monday, September 25, 2017

It's Oh So Quiet

It's that time a year again. Stores have big sections of school supplies, kids are breaking in backpacks, and alarm clocks are going off early again. Back to school! This year my baby boy started Kindergarten. He is there all day with his fourth grader big sister, and so I have more time on my hands than I have had in nine years. I walked into my house after dropping them off at school and it is so quiet. After a whole summer with them at my side I really don't remember the last time my house was silent like this while the sun was shining. I hear cars outside and my refridgerator running.

Dropping off your youngest child at Kindergarten is nothing short of gut wrenching. He was fine, but as I walked away my eyes filled. The lead up to the beginning of school was way worse, but that unknown factor was concerning me. What if he cried like his big sister did? What if he begged me to stay? What if he doesn't want to go back each day? So far so good though. The only tears shed were mine.

I'm not sure what each day will look like for me now. While they have a new daily routine, that is organized and structured, I am trying to figure out mine. My intentions for this year are that I learn to manage my time, since I have more of it now. That I generate some more income, not sure from where yet, but I'm thinking. That I take care of myself and do some things that are enjoyable and fulfilling, not just running errands with my free time.  Lastly, I hope that while my children are off at school learning that I learn some new things as well. Maybe I will take a class, or read a new book (hopefully many) or maybe I will just discover something I never knew.

One step at a time, we will all get with this new routine. I am sure we will all have an adventure to share at the end of each day. I am excited for the new year ahead. When my daughter was three and my son was born, she was holding his tiny hand and she made up a song she sang to him. She sang "Try new people, try new food, try new people, try something new" I am going to find it now and take a listen. I am sure it will throw me over the edge into a crying mess, but the message is a good one.

Friday, September 15, 2017

"There's A Lake I Know"

Every summer since I can remember, my family has spent time in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. My parents were both teachers and in the summer they would work in summer camps to get us all out of the city. When they retired they bought a little house there so they could enjoy the area whenever they wanted. They have a little pillow on their sofa that reads, “You never know how many friends you have until you have a house in the Berkshires." This statement rings true summer after summer when I plan my trip home and have to schedule seeing my parents around all of their friends visiting them.

From the first few months my daughter came into this world, I have brought her with me back East. My first flight alone with her was when she was seven weeks old, and I flew cross country to stay with my family. I go for about two weeks each summer, and my husband joins us for about a week. My son entered the picture and these summers are just part of what we do. Just like me, when I was a kid, we leave the city and land somewhere filled with mosquitos, fireflies, crickets, frogs, woods, and space. Lots and lots of space. I look forward to it all year, and when it is over, I feel such a sadness come over me.

Some days when we are there we go to museums, or shows at the local playhouse. We always go to Tanglewood at least once, which is a beautiful outdoor concert venue. You bring a picnic, lie on the grass and listen to gorgeous live music. Every few nights we go town for ice cream at the local shop, but most days we just go to the lake. We pack our bag, and stay all day. It has a sandy beach, and a designated swim area. There is a playground too, and plenty of kids for mine to play with. We bring nets, and in between swimming my kids like to try and catch the tadpoles. We swim out to the buoys and sometimes even past them. If it is a nice day, that is where you will find us. Year after year, summer after summer, I see the same faces, the same friends.

My friends that I grew up spending summers with in the Berkshires now have children too. Their little crew together with mine are quite a group. This summer all six of them did a little horseback riding day camp in the mornings for a week. It is wonderful to see how many new little people we've made that now get to appreciate summers outside the city. It is, like everything, also bittersweet. Each summer I spend with my parents, the less they are able to join in on the fun. The older and more tired they are. My parents had me pretty late, and I was also late to have my kids, and the obvious downside to that is that we have less time left to be together. 

As the end of my trip gets nearer, I always get sad. I am of course sad to say goodbye to what is truly a relaxed, beautiful vacation. I am even sadder to think that there is a time limit with my family. It's too hard to even think too much about. On our very last day this summer, I took my kids to the lake late in the afternoon when very few people were there. I wanted to squeeze in one more swim. I wanted to say goodbye to the lake.  I needed to get my fill to last me the year. I told my kids I was feeling sad about leaving, and wished I could have extended my ticket. My old-souled daughter responded by saying that if I did, I would only feel this way again next week. She is right, so we packed our bags and said our goodbyes. We plan on returning next year to the very same spot.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

What's Your Story?

The Saturday section of the LA Times is one of my favorite weekend rituals. We still get the paper delivered just for this section. It has restaurant reviews, an expose of beautiful homes all around LA, the latest health and fitness crazes, and my favorite "LA Affairs" stories of love, dating and relationships in LA. Week after week I read these stories about how people met, and are still together today, or how it went horribly wrong, and hearts were broken. Most of the time when a heart is broken in these stories I see a similar theme, where the person realizes they don't actually respect themselves to let someone love them, or that they are too afraid to put their authentic self out there so they put on these fronts, and then wonder why it didn't work out with another person. Or they chose the most unavailable person to be attractive to, and see if they can win them over and then wonder why the relationship doesn't have a lasting foundation.

Mostly when I read these I am so glad that I am no longer dating. I remember my twenties and definitely see some of these patterns in my past. I am pleased to say I grew out of many of my insecurities, and I actually do love and respect myself with confidence. I found someone to love that loves me for who I am and not a persona I created. Pretty impressive for LA, I think. But there is one area where I read these stories and don't think I have outgrown yet. What my "story" is.  From a very young age we learn to believe things about ourselves that may or may not be true. Yet when we grow up we own these ideas and it's hard to believe there is something about yourself that could be different than the way you think it is.

There are so many studies out there that if a child doesn't succeed academically before high school then they stop believing they can. Their identity is formed and they will believe going forward that they are not a good student. In order to help children succeed their confidence and abilities have to be built up before ninth grade. For girls the same idea plays into the way they feel about themselves. Their confidence starts to plummet around middle school, and the idea that they can do anything a boy can do starts to diminish. A couple of years ago there was an “Always" commercial that was so powerful. When young girls were asked to run like a girl, they were strong, determined and powerful. When they asked older girls the same question they did some ridiculous hand flapping silly run. I can see where my own confidence is shaken with disbeliefs of my abilities. I never loved math. I didn't do very well in it, so I believed I couldn't do math. I had one great teacher at the end of high school who was able to help me understand algebra, and I even enjoyed it in her class, but it was too late by them to help me with my SATs, and too late to help my confidence. 

My daughter is entering fourth grade soon. Up until this point I have been able to help her with her math homework. Over the summer, she has a book of school work to so each day, and the math is a bit more challenging for her than the other subjects. She is still a very strong student though. I suggested maybe getting her help from someone other than me and it backfired. She took it as needing help in math, and by the next week I heard her say, "I am not very good at math." I will not stand by and let her believe that about herself. I explained that she is actually great at it and just because it is not easy does not mean that she isn't good at it. I am committed to working on building her up in this department.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Why The Rush?

My son just turned 5. This feels like a very symbolic birthday. The end of baby, toddler and little kid. After the summer, he will join his sister in elementary school and go to Kindergarten.  For him, this will be the first time he is away from me all day. It will be a big adjustment for him to go to school all day, and although I know he's at the appropriate level and age for Kindergarten, I wonder if he is truly ready. I know he will be fine eventually, but this is not the Kindergarten we remember.

Kindergarten is like the new first grade. There is even a term "red shirting”, for when parents actively choose to hold their kids back to give them an extra leg up. When my son starts at five years and four months old there will be kids turning 7 at some point in the year. The curriculum is much harder when we were young. They are expected to learn to read, write and do addition and subtraction. I know of a current kindergartner whose mom told her she has a play kitchen in her class, but the girl didn't know because it's hidden away. Playing is no longer how they are teaching kids to learn in Kindergarten, and it's a shame.

Of course I could home school my kid, send him to an expensive private school, or try for a Waldorf-type philosophy, but then we walk away from our local public school and take a step out of our community. We can't always get (or can't always afford) exactly what we want. We can try to make changes here and there, and we have to accept what is offered and take it or leave it. All of these life lessons I share with my children, but sometimes I have a hard time accepting them myself. The public school system has it's flaws, but it also has a lot going for it. I just wish it wasn't such a hard start for the little kids or such a big group for the older ones.

Our kids in this country have so much pushing them to grow up faster and faster. Social media exposes them to things prematurely. Peer pressure and bullying run rampant, and innocence seems shorter lived these days. I am doing the best I can to keep my kids young while they are actually young.  I wish Kindergarten would bring back sandboxes, water tables, and tricycles. Let's let them have fun while they still can. 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Long Way To Go

In seventh grade I started junior high school and my grades dropped. I was overwhelmed with how to keep up with so many different classes, lessons, and teachers. I was never the greatest with change but this one knocked my socks off. There seemed to be so much going on, and I just couldn't keep up. Instead of the teachers reaching in to help, seeing me flailing made it easy on them to pass the problem on to someone else. I was taken off the academic track I was on and put into remedial classes. At the time I was grateful because the work load was much easier, but I noticed, even at 12 that the system was flawed.

Growing up in New York City, diversity was the heartbeat of the city. My community had always been diverse. Culturally I was so lucky to be exposed to so many differences. I never noticed a room unless it wasn't diverse. In junior high, my classes were mixed with every race and ethnicity. It wasn't until I was moved to the "easy" classes that I noticed what was missing, or rather what was there. I was the only white kid: no Asians, no Indians, just Latinos, African-Americans and me. I felt given up on by the system and I was put into this class mid year. How long had these kids been in classes like this? If at twelve, they knew what I had known, how long did they know it. As early as seventh grade we were placed in classes that prepared us only for certain typed of jobs. There was no math taught that would help us for SATs. We were not the kids that they prepared for college. They didn't bother working on helping us back on that path either.

Years later, I did go to college, but getting there was not easy. I ended up getting into college without an SAT since I wasn't prepared for any material on the test. I got in because my parents helped me prioritize school. Not everyone had parents who could take the time to do that, and even if they could I think so many parents (as one would hope) think the system is taking care of kids. "No child left behind" leaves a lot to be desired still today. After graduating from college I moved out to LA, and was shocked at how segregated it was. Sure as a whole it is a diverse place, but unlike NY the communities are so spread out. When the education system is examined in LA, you can also see the broken track kids are set upon and how it fails them. Friends of mine who have worked in low income areas say that some schools put kids in front of a TV and give up on trying to teach. Of course there are exceptions, but this exists!

When I've watched movies like "Precious" or "Moonlight" I have sobbed. Not just because these were beautiful movies with sad stories, but because the characters were people who were failed by our system. A system that make claims and promises to take care of all of its people. There is a tremendous flaw in the hope the American dream offers. It's much easier for some to reach their potential than it is for others.When reading "The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace" I got so angry because it made me feel that African-American males are trapped. When hearing yet another story of a police brutality incident, or seeing the documentary "Thirteen",  I think of the words unfair and unjust and they even come close to describing the holes in our system.

The land of the free, and the home of the brave implies something other than it is. For hundreds of years minorities have been either enslaved or criminalized. Men and women have not been treated equally and certainly black men do not have the same opportunities as whites. After hundreds of years of oppression, there is anger, pain, frustration and a need to speak up for rights. This country has made a lot of progress over the years. The fact that we had a black President for eight years is a testament to the positive changes. We are going a bit backwards now though and it is not okay. Somehow, hatred and racism are seeping out from under the rocks that were hiding them, and it is not alright. The protection of our human rights are being threatened, and it is not acceptable.

The suffering of our country's past can never be forgotten. We have a lot of beautiful melting pot statements that our country prides itself on. We need to remember that our country is meant to be inclusive. Anything short of that is unAmerican.

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