Monday, November 25, 2013

Giving Thanks

Westley, Jack and Reese at Galveston Beach

Thanksgiving 2013 is only a few days away. The kids are spending this holiday with their father, so I have a little quiet time to reflect on what I’m thankful for. I’m not going to lie; these past couple of years has been full of pitfalls. Divorce, relocation and single parenthood are enough to make anyone want to reshuffle the cards of life. But because I have been blessed with so many people who love and care about me and my children, the transition has been made easier. And for that, I am thankful.

Grandparents’ Day at Westley and Jack’s schools made me realize how fortunate we are. My parents are the only grandparents the kids have left. My mom has health issues, while my dad considers this “extra.” He has come in the past, but has not always considered these things a priority. So, I knew I would have to ask some other “grand friends” to help me out. The kids’ always-faithful Godparents, the Paynes and the Bookers, filled in last year but had to work this year. So, I sent out an email to some of our close family friends. 30 minutes hadn’t passed before I received some responses. Within an hour, I had several people on the calendar to represent the Jackson household at Grandparents’ Day.
Never mind that they weren’t actually grandparents. Hell, they didn’t even have kids, but were willing to take time out of there busy day to be there for my children. And like any parent will tell you, when you’re there for my kids, you’re there for me. To top it off, there were even a few members of our village who were upset they didn’t make the cut (Brenda Williams). Don’t worry, there’s always next year.

I didn’t want to start naming names because there are so many friends who stand in our corner. However, a few honorable mentions couldn’t be ignored. Angela Payne, AKA “Aunt A,” is constantly on flood patrol. If she sees any of my children with pants above their ankles, there is a new bag of clothes always waiting on me the following week at church. Len Payne, AKA Uncle Len, is good for pep talks, football drills and drinks when mom really needs one or six. Janet Booker is always chastising and urging me to see the wonder in my kids, even when they've behaved like bandits and don’t deserve it. My cousin Nikie Sewell, AKA “Spirit of Peter,” is my ride-or-die chick and will shank a brother if needed, no explanation required. I could go on and on about Katy, my girl from high school, who always has my back, or the Nicoles, with the dog and without, who handle carpools, zoo camp and last minute babysitting, and Erica Miles, AKA “Auntie Erica,” who bought Reese her first pair of pearls.

I may have some trials, but I have nothing to complain about. Everyone from my beautician to my boss is a great source of support for me. I couldn’t manage this volatile terrain without them. When I’m down, I don’t have to scroll too far through the contact list to find someone to talk with, a shoulder to cry on, a friend.

 I am so thankful for the angels that God has placed around my family. I could not do this alone. To anyone who has ever done the slightest, smallest thing for my family, I want to say thank you.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Raising Reese

Reese on the 1st day of school 
I’m not sure I’m doing this right. This raising children thing is not easy. And if you have multiples, one size does not fit all. I’m learning the hard way that when you have more than one child, you love them equally, but not in the same way (I got that from my friend Katy Henderson). Learning the difference between the two can be a painful lesson for all. I have two boys, but raising Reese, my daughter, is completely different. While I realize the obvious distinction, the ones underneath take a little more scrutiny to detect. And when you’re a single parent, those hard-to-see traits can often be overlooked.

Those of you who read my blog are also probably friends of mine on Facebook. So you know that recently, I had an eye-opening experience at one of Reese’s soccer games. While I thought I was yelling encouraging words and helpful tips from the sidelines, she thought I was just yelling. I felt horrible for a few days because I could tell she perceived my over-zealous cheering to mean that I was not pleased with her or that she wasn’t good enough. I explained that I was just trying to help. She understood, but ask me to bring it down a notch. Agreed. Little did I know, she was feeling a lot more insecurities than I was aware of.

I had to find out from her teacher. 

Having been a teacher, I like to prepare for teacher conferences. I keep my kiddos worksheets and ask questions about whether they are performing well and what their dad and I can do to assist. However, I was not prepared for what I was about to hear. Mrs. Jennings, Reese’s first grade teacher, told me that Reese was doing an excellent work and that she was a delight to be around. What she wanted me to do at home was to build Reese’s self esteem.

“What?” I said dumbfounded.

“Reese constantly second guesses herself,” explained Mrs. Jennings. “She doesn’t realize that she is one in a million.”

I ended up crying in the conference. Not because I was full of joy over the compliment, but that someone else had to tell me how special my daughter was. You see, in all honesty, I don’t look for it. I don’t have time to. I am so busy trying to make sure that she knows her spelling words, or explaining how cleaning her room is an important responsibility. I’m giving her my two cents on soccer and singing in the choir. I want her to excel. When she tells me she had a good day at school, I say “that’s not the exception, that’s the norm. You’re doing what you’re supposed to.” I do the same thing to Jack. But he lets it go in one ear and out the other. I think Reese internalizes all of those comments as criticisms and believes she is not good enough.

It breaks my heart.  I would never hurt her.

She once compared me to Merida’s mom in the movie Brave.

“She fusses to much, kind of like you,” Reese would say.

“And kind of like me, Merida’s mom just wants what’s best for her.” I shrugged off.

I didn’t pay any attention then. Now, I realize she was right. I thought I was doing the right thing by pushing her, but it appears I was driving her spirits down instead of lifting them up. She knows how much I love her, right? I don’t have to keep telling her, do I? Yes.

I need to celebrate the many things that Reese is and not focus on the things that she isn’t. Because truth be told, I don’t care if she is the next Mia Hamm or not. I just want her to give her best at whatever she does. But she’s not Jack. My support may need to take the shape of motherly love rather than motivational speaker. She needs to know that I love her whether her room is clean or not, whether she scores a goal or not, whether she makes a perfect score on a test or not.

Some of Facebook friends and I are participating in a 30-day Mom Challenge: Mom’s Ultimate To-Do List. Each day, there is a mommy action item. But instead of doing laundry, it asks you to hug your children 3 times in a day or leave a sweet note for them. Until I started doing it, I didn’t realize how seldom I engaged in this type of activity with my kids. So, I am vowing from this day forward to be Reese’s mother and not her life coach.  I want her to know that she is special. She’s not Jack or Westley. She is my “sweet girl,” Reese….and she’s one in a million in my eyes too.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Keeping up with the Jackson

The Jackson trio in their variety of extra-curricular activities

It’s hard enough being a single parent. But when you’re crazy, like I am, and you allow them to participate in several activities, hard is putting it mildly.

The problem is that I want my kids to be exposed.

As a kid, I lived with my grandmother, so by definition my experiences were limited.  However, I was still involved in a lot of activities. I played sports, participated in show choir, performed with the drill team and was a cheerleader. I went on to a great university (go SMU Mustangs) and had some great times.  However, my grandmother would always say, “ I just want you to have a really good job, like at the post office.” Because of her limited exposure, not her fault…but society’s, that was her view of what would lead to wealth and prosperity. I want my kids to know there’s more to life than just the post office.

But DAMN. I am killing myself physically, and some months financially, trying to keep up with the Jacksons.

I have elected to put my children into private school. And as I have said in a previous blog, there is more to the cost of this decision than just tuition. When you’re in this environment, there is the desire (maybe pressure) to make sure that you keep up.  They need some exposure to organized sports and activities. How you ask??? By joining the soccer team, flag football, basketball, mini-cheerleaders, mini-drill team, cub scouts, girls scouts, Y-princesses, chess club, choir and we’re just in lower school.  I worry about gymnastics classes because I know that when cheerleading tryouts roll around in high school, some of the participants will have been on a tumbling team since age three.  I worry about private lessons for whatever sport we are playing because I don’t want my kid to ride the bench in the future. One of the choirs that my son auditioned for required a resume.  He’s eight!!! In short, I’m worried about whether I’ve made the right decision by placing myself in this competitive parenting environment because, frankly, I don’t know if I’m up for the challenge.

It seems all this exposure is leaving me, well….exposed! Keeping up with the Jacksons is giving me 3rd degree burns. I didn’t grow up with all of this and I turned out okay.  Right?  I didn’t have a portfolio of activities for my resume by age 10. I’m still relatively successful. Right?

But like most parents, I want my children to leave me and my experiences in the dust.  I want them to know the sky is the limit. But the question I keep asking myself is whether they will know that because of the schools they attend or by the model they are given….me.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Learning from Letdowns

No dessert devastates Westley

Life is rough and then you die, right?

But when you’re a mom, you really don’t like the idea of your little one being hurt, heartbroken or devastated. We say, “Sometimes they have to learn the hard way.” But if we’re honest with ourselves, another cliché is also true when it comes to painful moments for our kids. “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.”

I felt that way just this week. Jack and Reese were attending camp at a local recreation center. After a couple days, Jack insisted on taking his Nintendo DS with him.

“No,” I said.

“Please, Mom? Everyone is bringing theirs,” pleaded Jack.

I went on to explain to him that it WILL come up missing. That’s the case at any camp-like function where there are a lot of kids and few adults. I also told him that when it does, he would take his case before Santa (aka-Granny) because I was not going to buy him another one.

Right on cue as I was picking them up, Jack appeared before me with red eyes and slumped shoulders. Since the cat had Jack’s tongue, his always-verbal sidekick, Reese, took over elaborating on the day’s horrific events.

“Someone stole Jack’s DS!!!” she proclaimed

“You don’t say,” I side-eyed Jack.

“Yes,” she continued, “but we know who did it. His name is…”

“I don’t care what his name is.” I turned to Jack, “Son, didn’t I tell you this was going to happen? I’m not going out of my way to fix this, because I warned you.”

I continued to scold, and he continued to cry. Finally, he yelled, 
“But he’s not being honest. Why is he not being honest and stealing other people’s stuff.”

Right then it dawned on me. This was more than just an incident of stealing. It was innocence lost.

 I know what you’re thinking.  What’s the big deal? You told him not to take the D-S, he did and he lost it. But the days that followed painted the picture. The recreation center took the kids to the movies. Jack was super-anxious about his money being stolen. He and Reese took some snacks one day. As soon as we got there, he asked the counselor if she could lock them up in her office.  Now, I’m all for a healthy dose of common sense and awareness, but I don’t want the child to think he is going to get robbed every time he leaves the house. He and his siblings had already been bowled over by the fact that their parents weren't perfect by living through a divorce. I don’t want all of the fun to be taken out of his life just yet. That will come soon enough. And to see the child-like trust in him dissipate a bit more, was…well, sad!

I know that eventually he needs to learn that not everyone needs to be trusted and to take the necessary precautions to be safe, but I was hoping I could shield him a little bit longer.

There was a happy ending though.  The culprit returned Jack’s DS, and all is well. But it won’t ever be the same.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Fast and Easy Chicken Pot Pie

As a working mom, it's hard to slave over the stove to provide your kids with a healthy meal. So, when I find a good recipe that is fast and slightly nutritious, I am more than willing to share. I found this recipe on the back of a Philadelphia Cream Cheese Savory Garlic tub and have been smitten ever since.

It's super easy.  I use about a pound of chicken breast tenderloins, but it's really your preference. You can use the whole breast or any other piece. The sauce is so good that it works for just about about anything. I chop, season and saute the chicken in about a tablespoon of vegetable oil.  Once browned, I add frozen peas and carrots. You can also use mixed vegetables for a little more variety if you like. Once the veggies are heated through, add the tub of Philadelphia Cream Cheese with Savory Garlic and heat until bubbly.  Pour the mixture into a deep dish pie crust and then cover with pre-made pie crust dough.  I trim the edges, pinch the two pie crusts together and score the middle.  If you're really an overachiever, you can put some egg wash on it to make it brown and pretty.  But it is delicious..and most of the all, the kids like it.  Serve with a little fruit, and you have all of the major food groups covered.  Try it and let me know what you think.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Paula and Prop 8 and Trayvon! Oh My!!!!

I am a former reporter and anchor, and I know that these past few weeks have been a newsmaker’s dream.  Paula Deen, the famed butter queen of the Food Network, admits to having said the N-word. Then, in two separate rulings, the Supreme Court overturned Proposition 8 that banned same-sex marriages in California, while ruling legally married same-sex couples must receive the same federal benefits provided to heterosexual couples. Last, but not lease, the murder trial of George Zimmerman, who is accused of killing African-American teen Trayvon Martin, got underway amidst a flurry of lights and cameras.  There is no shortage of opinions on any of these, so I’m throwing my two cents in, as well.

I’ll begin with Paula Deen. I DON’T CARE. I know this is not the popular opinion among most African Americans, but I am actually surprised that people are surprised.  She is a senior, Caucasian woman who has lived her entire life in the South…the Deep South…the O-G South. I honestly don’t know why people wouldn't expect her to say it. She said it happened 20 years ago, and maybe she is lying.  But, I want to give her props for admitting it at all.  Is it right? No. Does she need to issue an apology? It wouldn’t hurt.  But we have politicians, athletes, and Wall Street investors who lie, steal and cheat every day. They haven’t so much as missed a good night’s sleep, much less lost their means of income. Wal-Mart bailed on Paula, but is known for cutting corners and taking advantage of its employees. Who’s worse??

The fight for equality in same-sex marriages is a little more complicated for me. Whether I agree or disagree is purely a personal decision. But should we, as a country, let personal preferences affect the way we govern our constituents? I tend to think not. Should we deny people the right to get married?  I believe there was a time when slaves were denied the same right. And as for benefits, if you put in, you should get out, right?  If you have been a part of your spouse’s/partner’s life, you should be given the right to make decisions, make hospital visits and receive death benefits, right? Same-sex marriage is not for me, but neither is cauliflower. I don’t know if that means I should keep you from doing what’s best for you. I feel like we, as a society, are in a tight spot. Last I read, freedom was the premise for the founding of this country. We can’t stop following the rules now. But with freedom comes responsibility. And that’s always the hard part.

If Paula Deen hasn’t set black folks back 20 years, the Trayvon Martin murder trial has. A young African-American teen, wearing a hoodie and walking home from the store is considered to be a suspicious character. Because of this “unruly behavior,” he is confronted by George Zimmerman. An altercation takes place and Trayvon is killed. As the mother of two young boys, this scenario bothers me much more than Paula Deen’s slip of the tongue. When does WHWB, wearing a hoodie while black, mean you’re a criminal?   And the trial is no better. The star witness is a young girl who has a bad handle on the English language because English is her second/third language, thanks to Caribbean parents. But the prosecution has no problem mocking her and putting her on display for the nation to ridicule. Instead of being a trial about accused killer, George Zimmerman, it has quickly turned into a circus surrounding Trayvon’s friend. And if we’re not careful, this verdict will be determined by entertainment value rather than facts.

Indeed, it has been a busy news week. Everything from World News Tonight to the Wendy Williams Show has had something to say about the hot topics in the national news. What do you think about what’s happening?  Let me know.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Public vs. Private: Educating the Jacksons

School Days

Is private school better than public school? Yes and no.

When I had my first son, I knew I wanted to go back to work. First, my then husband and I could never have lived on one salary. But more importantly, I like being out and about, and an afternoon with Barney was not my idea of happy hour. So, all of my children have spent time in daycare centers.  However, being a teacher at that time, I knew they wouldn’t be able to show up to kindergarten without knowing some A,B, C’S and 1,2,3’s. Therefore, my kiddos began attending a local “church school” that started in Pre-K and went up to the 8th grade. This began their journey through private school terrain.  Honestly, I never intended for them to continue down this road.  The plan was that the Jacksons would attend this school until they could go to the local public school.  Then, I had dinner with a long-time friend who suggested I apply my oldest to the private school where her sons attend. Yeah, right!!!

Low and behold, “Thing 1” was accepted!! I was completely shocked. Who knew he was…well, smart. He certainly didn’t demonstrate any form of real intelligence at home. Anyway, once he was fully engulfed in private school life, I could see the horizons broadening, the opportunities for him to see and be involved in a wide variety of activities increasing. I liked it. So Thing 2 and 3 would follow in his private school footsteps.  I liked the idea of expanding their vision of what they could ultimately achieve in life.

I know what you’re going to say. I’ve had this argument, I mean conversation, with many of my friends and family. It’s no secret that private school tuition is no joke.  Monthly payments for their schooling tip the scales of a balanced monthly budget and cause many lean days. So why spend the money? Why do this when they could just go to public school and get an equally good education?

I agree. Public schools provide a great education.  The thesis for my Master’s in Education was on public school versus private school education.  The outcome was that no matter where your kid goes to school, if the parents are involved, the kids would be successful. I believe that. When I taught 7th grade English, those kids whose parents were always volunteering or fundraiser or visiting or even emailing were more concerned about their performance. However, they were far outnumbered by students who didn’t have much parent involvement. Every year, I saw students who went from being model citizens during the first month of school to becoming the classroom catastrophe.  Not because that’s who they were, but because that’s who they needed to be to have friends.

Am I saying that private schools don’t have their peer pressures? No.  I see it every day. The pressure to compete on an economic level is mind-blowing. My kids play soccer with kids who have private coaches.  What the What? They are in elementary.  They play chess with kids who have private coaches. They have play dates with kids who have “media rooms “and share vacation stories with kids who travel abroad for spring break. We went to Home Depot for spring break. I’m not hating…well maybe a little. But eventually, I know my kids will see they don’t stack up in terms of dollars and cents.  Let’s not even talk about my fears for them when they reach middle school and high school.  I know there are recreational drugs and alcohol that these kids have access to that I couldn’t even afford to buy! Did I mention that my two youngest are the only African-Americans in their class? I know that private schools have their diversity challenges. I’m just hoping the good outweighs the bad in the long run.

So is private school better than public school? Yes and no. My decision is that I want my kids to experience the exposure that private school offers.  I realize that exposure comes at a price. But doesn't

Sunday, May 12, 2013

What I Want for Mother's Day...A Nap!

Mother’s Day is the one day that mom’s get the recognition they deserve.  Be it a box of chocolates or a bouquet of flowers, the world stops and takes notice of the hard work moms put in on a daily basis. And we love it.  We want the Sunday gospel-jazz-bottomless-mimosa brunch, the dozen long-stemmed roses, and the tear-jerking Hallmark card to show all of our friends.  Am I right, or am I right? Well, when you a divorced mommy, the list changes a little. The only thing on my list right now…a nap.

This year, Mother’s Day falls on daddy’s weekend. So the kiddos will be with their father.  All of my married-with-children friends were aghast. “You don’t want to be with your kids?”  “What will you do?” “Will you be sad?” That is usually followed up by a litany of invitations to various activities with their families. I will admit, the first year I was divorced, holidays were hard. I dreaded the first Christmas without my children. I couldn’t even enjoy the holiday because I was so overwhelmed with grief. No kids on Christmas?!! You’ve got to be kidding me? That’s when a mature, aka older, female friend shared some sage wisdom with me.  She said to take these times to rest and rejuvenate. Being a single mom, I mean and divorced mom (sorry Toni Williams) is hard work.  You are a better mother when you’ve had some down time.

Guess what.  She was right. Because I am in the fast lane all the time with the kids, I get overheated.  And there are some days when I know the kids can’t stand me because I can’t stand myself.  So nowadays when they are away, I take that time to revive myself. Now don’t get me wrong, I do occasionally go out and shake a leg (aging myself),  but sometimes I just like to put on what the kids call a night-night shirt, turn on Law and Order, and just kick back in front of the TV.  It’s not exciting, but necessary when you are the primary caregiver for three little ones.

So don’t think I’m crazy when I pass on the Bloody Mary bar or afternoon matinee for Mother’s Day.  I’m just taking a little breather, and Mother’s Day is the perfect day to do it. Don’t you think?

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Kids and Kars: The Whole Kit and Caboodle

School is almost out, and you know what that means.  It’s road trip time! Nothing says summer like boarding the pets, packing up the kids and hitting the dusty trail to the nearest family vacation destination. When I was a kid, I considered road trips an adventure. You never knew what was going to happen. I lived with my grandma and when Momma Nancy traveled, she packed everything but the kitchen sink. You had to be prepared. There weren’t any cell phones, only the CB radio. Onstar wasn’t going to show up if you had a flat.  You had to have all of your tire-changing gear on hand when that Good Samaritan stopped by to help.  Momma Nancy packed the whole kit and caboodle.  Our car was filled with everything from band-aids to brake fluid. Turns out, it may be a digital world, but analog tactics still work. Take it from me; you don’t want to be stranded on the side of the road with children in tow.  Be prepared.  Here’s how:

1.       The first item in your road trip survival kit should be a fully-charged cell phone and car charger. Cell phones are probably the easiest way to keep from being stranded. You don’t have to count on smoke signals (aka-the busted radiator) to tell oncoming traffic that you are in distress. Help is just a phone call away.  Driving through rural America always makes fun. You lose your signal and your otherwise reliable tool of communication quickly turns into something that’s only good for telling time. Just remember. Even if you can’t get service, you can still call the police.  It’s as easy as 9-1-1.

2.       No one ever thinks of jumper cables until they need them. It happens. You are in such a hurry to get your little bundles of joy out of the car and into bed so you can have a little peace and quiet, you don’t even notice that little Timmy has turned on the interior light. It’s been on all night long when you try to start your car the next morning. Click…click.  Oh no! Your plans for the best sightseeing excursion known to man hang in the balance. Never fear! A good pair of jumper cables can put you on the road again. Don’t be alarmed if you need a new battery. A drained battery does not regenerate itself like a lizard’s tail. But every town has a Walmart, right.  Just remind little Timmy of this extra expenditure when he wants the $18 super freeze pop and stuffed animal at the theme park.

3.       One word-Flashlight.  Being stranded in the dark is no fun, especially with children.  A flash light can assist adults in changing a tire, as well as be a keep-the-boogie-man-away tool for the children.  Dual purpose…you gotta love it.

4.       Being cold is no fun either. Bring a blanket… or three.  If you’re taking the annual road trip to grandma’s house for Christmas, it can get pretty chilly on the way. Load the thermos with hot chocolate and the backseat with Snuggies. This will be the only time your kids will want to snuggle with each other without it turning into a wrestling match.

5.       My personal favorite is the Fix-O-Flat products. There I said it, and I’m not ashamed. I can change a tire, I just don’t want to. This instant tire inflater is quick, easy and will allow you to make it the nearest gas station. Your kids might even think it’s cool to see the “magic” that unfolds when you revive the tire.  Most times, someone will take pity on you and pull over to help you change a tire. But waiting is no picnic. Minutes can seem like hours with little people who are hungry, have to potty or are “bored.”

Take a little extra time to pack the right items. It can save you some heartache on the road. These are just a few tips that could take the stress out of roadside emergencies. Make traveling with your family and adventure. Be prepared.