Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Parenting a Fashionista

My 13 year old daughter, Sophia, is infatuated with fashion.  It's my fault.  Last July, I was pining over a Burberry coat I found online, showed her the image, and that was it.  Ever since, she's been moving rapidly towards wanting to be editor-in-chief of Vogue Magazine.

Sophia is very serious about her desire to work for Vogue.  She has learned names of top designers and has lightly studied the history of style trends.  She has watched the documentary film, The September Issue, more than a dozen times.  Her fantasies of meeting the boys in the band Big Time Rush have been replaced with fantasies of meeting Anna Wintour, the current editor-in-chief of American Vogue.  

Her dad is also at fault for her obsession with fashion.  Last September, he took her on a trip to New York City.  Seeing designer clothing that can only be found hanging in stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and The Polo Mansion coupled with the intensely spirited energy of Manhattan added fuel to the fire.  And because of his connections in the clothing industry, her dad was able to get her a tour of Kleinfeld Bridal where she met the entire staff and cast of Say Yes to the Dress.  Oh yes, she was definitely star struck. But today when talking about Kleinfeld's, she talks more about the $10,000 couture gowns than Randy.

Sophia with Randy and a $10,000 gown.
I don’t have issue with Sophia's dream to be a fashion editor and I'm supportive.  She can write.  She has a talented eye for recognizing and creating things that are aesthetically pleasing. She's ambitious, smart, and a hard-worker.  I believe she can do it.  However, I do have issues with the images of fashion models flooding her brain on a daily basis.

Dialogue is key.  Sophia and I talk about images depicted in her monthly deliveries of Teen Vogue. Our conversations usually consists of me asking, “Do you think this is trashy or artful?”  

She replies, “Trashy.  The girls look too made up and the short skirts serve no purpose.  I mean, it's like the purpose is to show their legs and not to show the trendy skirts”

I say, “I agree.  It’s oversexualized.  I don’t think it’s necessary for the image to be sexy.  It ruins the beauty of the skirts.”

The conundrum of the debate over a short skirt being sexy or fashionable is just that--a conundrum.  But I try.
When I disagree with her deduction of a photo, I not only tell her why, I point out my reasoning for having an opposing opinion.  This can be tricky.  For example, she found this photo of Dakota Fanning posing for a Marc Jacobs fragrance ad to be artful.

Dakota Fanning (photo credit)
Hopefully you can see my issues with this one.  It’s obviously oversexualized and inappropriate. The juxtaposition of Dakota Fanning's young innocent look and the phallic-looking perfume bottle is downright disturbing to me.  But I wasn't sure if she was aware of it's inappropriateness.  I mean, what kind of former knowledge does she need to have in order to view this photo as inappropriate?  I hopefully thought, “Maybe colors make this photo appealing to her.  Maybe it’s the vintage look.  She likes vintage clothing.”

I proceeded with caution when discussing the young woman with the phallic fragrance bottle between her legs because my opinions were strong and I did not want to squash her willingness to share her thoughts and opinions with me. Too much passion on my part could cut off all conversation.  I also didn't want to delve too deeply into a conversation about under age girls in pornography and the many things that could be considered phallic symbols.

These tricky conversations happen frequently.  Hopefully, they are helping her to become more skilled as a critical thinker when it comes to viewing images exhibited in her field of passion, fashion. But, I ask, are our conversations enough to combat the multifaceted, underlying negativity in these images?  I am only one person who has one conversation with her approximately three times a week.  I mean, really.  I have a lot to cover—homework, time management, chores, respect and manners--and feel like I stand no chance at competing with the multitude of images that come her way every day.

Last Monday night, as I was tucking her into bed, I asked her about how she spent her free time at her dad’s over the weekend.  She told me she watched three episodes of America’s Next Top Model and explained she liked the show because of its clips of photo shoots and not because of the clips of drama between the aspiring models.  That was good, I guess.  I understand the appeal (I’ve been known to spend the weekend on the couch viewing trashy reality TV).  She proceeded to ask me about the winner of Cycle 14, Krista White.

Krista White (photo credit)
She said, “Do you think she is too thin?  I mean I was comparing her collar bones to Tyra’s and hers stuck out like a whole lot more.”

Collar bones?  My girl is observant.

The conversation turned into a passionate lecture given by me which included my opinion of how wrong it was for Tyra to pick someone so thin as the winner.  "I mean Tyra Banks has to know these young women are role models to aspiring models at home watching on TV!"  Well, it was more of a rant.  And it was lengthy.   

I did calm down enough to ask her what she thought of Tyra’s body.

She replied, “Tyra is beautiful.  She’s normal looking.”

Tyra Banks is anything but normal looking.  She is gorgeous.  However, I was relieved that it sounded as if Sophia had a trace of a healthy perspective of body image.  But I was still worried.  Did my rant sound as if I was putting down an industry that has lit her fire of enthusiasm and has inspired her to dream?

Dreaming.  Fashion is fantasy.

This post, this topic, has no end in site.  It is one that continues on a daily basis as I navigate my way through mothering a fashionista daughter in our media saturated world.  It's interesting because I am finding my own opinions of the images I see of women have changed over time. For instance, I used to see Angelina Jolie as the epitome of beauty.  Today, I see her as an example of a person who needs to be treated for anorexia nervosa, and whose disease is ignored because our ideals of beauty have become sickly skewed.  And it makes me mad.  Nevertheless, I hope to not crush any of Sophia’s dreams of being a fashion editor.  Heaven forbid I become known to her as, “My mother the dream crusher.” 
There’s a balance.  I don't know if I will find it.  But I won’t give up. The information and connections to others available via the Web make giving up on any parenting issue an act of inexcusable fear.  

 To be continued. . .

This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week.  For more information visit NEDA.

photo credit: pyrocam via photopin cc


Monday, February 27, 2012

High School Reunion, Yay or Nay?

Majorettes (photo credit)
It’s time for Monday Listicles, a weekly blog link up hosted by Stash at A Good Life.  Today, due to a suggestion by Rachel (Totally Ovar It), the Listicles blogging community is exploring the pros and cons of attending your school reunion.  For me, it’s a timely subject to contemplate.  I graduated from high school in 1987.  Put your eyeballs back in your head.  Yes, that’s 25 years ago.  I know it's shocking because I don’t look a day older than 30.  But I'm not sure about attending my 25th high school reunion this summer.  If I had Angelina Jolie’s right leg to take along with me, I might feel better about going.  

Angelina Jolie (photo credit)
Pros and cons for attending my 25th High School Reunion:

PRO: I am still hot. I could strut my stuff and superficially enhance my self-esteem for a few hours.

CON: I am still hot.  I could be talked about behind my back by jealous former cheerleaders who spent their high school careers doing that very same thing--destroying me with their meanness. 

PRO: I am no longer afraid of bully-type jealous people and could open my heart to forgiveness and thus, become a better person.  Possibly this transformation could lead to me becoming a humanitarian on par with Oprah Winfrey and go on to be awarded the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the 90th Annual Academy Awards.  Do I have to be in a film for that? 

CON: Even though I am friends with many of my classmates on Facebook, I haven’t spoken to anyone since my 10th reunion in 1997.  At that point in time, I was still drinking and don’t remember much of what transpired during that celebration.  I think maybe my behavior while under the influence has hindered some of my relationships with H.S. folks.  I don’t know and am frightened to find out.

PRO: I no longer drink.  I can leave a much better snapshot in former classmates’ minds than was left for them in 1997 and would not have to return to another reunion in order to clear my reputation.

CON:  Perhaps in my drunkenness during the 10th reunion, I criticized the chosen location of the party.  I mean really, a bowling alley?  The organizers may be waiting to beat me up or throw gum in my hair.

PRO: I can take in the loveliness of the reunion venue and my former classmates with sober, clear eyes.  This could be considered a CON, I am not sure.

Me, 1987, center right
CON: With the exception of marching band and a handful of people, I really hated high school.  I don’t see the point in reliving the torture of my four years of life spent as a confused and scared high school girl.  Really, I don’t.

PRO: Last I saw, the venue for the reunion may be at the casino.  I could win the jackpot and use my winnings to fix up my house, get a new car, and finally fit in among the wealthy people in my 2.5 square mile insulated community.  Maybe I’d even move south of Broad Street, but I doubt it.

CON:  My Alma Mater is two hours away by car.  Gas costs money.  That would be money I would rather spend on tickets to the Forecastle Festival which is during the same month, and tickets for Madonna’s concert taking place in Cleveland in November.  

Do you have a reunion coming up?  Will you attend?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Itsy-Bitsy Spider

I typically dive head first into depression beginning in October of each year.  Well, maybe not dive.  It creeps up on me, like an itsy-bitsy spider.  As I admire the beauty of the changing colors of the leaves and bemoan their eminent demise, I firmly plant my feet on the concrete and watch that creepy arachnid scurry to face me.  Even though I know I am bigger and can merely step on it and end its life, the sight of its icky appendages paralyzes me.  It crawls up my pant leg, making its way to my left nostril, navigates its way through my nose hairs, finds an empty space in my brain, and camps out  until it is washed out during the first spring rain.

The spider was not spinning its web too fast this year.  I finished school in November, was semi-wise with finances during the holidays, and managed to gain only about five pounds.  Pretty good.

Wait.  That’s not right.  The Penn State scandal hit in November and then Mercury went into retrograde.  Pretty bad.  So maybe this year's spider was growing at an exponential rate.  I don’t know.  

I do know that I was able to start Sperk* at the same time the itsy-bitsy spider came crawling.  I do know that the experience of disclosing information about my childhood within the walls of Sperk* has proved to rid me of fear, writer's block, and other ailments that can prevent one from blogging.  I also know that the connections I have made thus far within the blogosphere are meaningful to me.   

Which brings me to last Friday, the day I received a comment on Exit Stage Left: No More Intolerance from Literal Mom.  The comment was a welcomed one, of course.  I hold Missy at Literal Mom in very high esteem.  Her words prompted a flood of thought and I was excited. I was thinking about what I would write and how I would write it while happily vacuuming the house.  I was looking forward to writing the post after I returned home from dropping off the girls at their dad's for the weekend. I got home and. . .

WHAM. Thug. Clunk. Ouch.
Spider violently spinning. 
To the couch.  She’s out.
I was on the sofa the entire weekend.

After two and a half days of very bad television, I rose.  With the girls’ return imminent, I showered, cleaned house, and made a quick trip to the grocery store.  Movement felt good.  Yes, indeed.  Also, I felt good.  It was strange.  Was it the Tony Robbins interview on Oprah's network?  Was it knowing that compared to the moms on Big Rich Texas, my skills as a mom are stellar?

Maybe I was just done with the self-loathing pity party that was taking place inside my brain.  You know the one hosted by the itsy-bitsy spider?  And I knew Yeah Write was coming up.  And I read Sweaty's post at Just Be Enough that gave me just enough kick.  I had to write.  Get back to life.  Get more out and take more in from not only my blogging community, but also the big fat world.

The spider has been exterminated.

The trouble with waking from depression is the onset of panic that ensues when you feel the weight of all the stuff you’ve put off.  Calm down.  Make a list.  Or just do some pinning on Pinterest and create a killer playlist on Spotify.  One thing, one day at a time. 

First on the list for today is to address the comment left for me last Friday by Missy, Literal Mom. The comment that I spoke of above.  The one that moved my mind.  It was formed in two questions and here I answer her inquiries complete with explanations, a result of some healthy contemplation (I ask you to keep in mind that the contemplation never ends, so my answers may change over time):

Question 1 - does your mom read this? I ask because I can't talk about mother issues on my blog - as they read every. single. word.

I think my mom reads this.  I am not certain.  My goal is not to hurt her.  My goal is to express my truth so that I can live.  I know no other way.  Ever since my memories of abuse surfaced, I have, in one way or another, been trying to get my family to pay attention to and acknowledge what has transpired in our family.  On occasion, I thought my mother, sister and I could support each other in healing.  I now know that I need to find support elsewhere, and continue on my journey to health.  I have been through a lot and put myself through a lot along the way, and honestly, am grateful to be alive.  I truly believe that every person’s birth is enough reason to live—if you were born, you matter.  Therefore, I surmise, I matter.  And I’m doing something about it—I’m writing.

Question 2 - did writing this make you feel better? I hope so, and just want to tell you wrote it beautifully.

Writing the post did make me feel better.  Then I was feeling vulnerable and afraid of how it would be received.  I can tell by the wonderfully supportive comments that my fear was in vain.  I was also fearful of what my mom would think or do.  I had horrific thoughts of comments posted, text messages sent, and incriminating photos uploaded.  I have not heard from her and have let go of worrying about her reaction.  I hope that even if she does not understand why I write, she understands that our story, my story, the story of our family is, unfortunately, not unique.  When I bring our story to light, I am saving the lives of others--figuratively and in some cases literally.  In my case it’s literal.

Thanks, Literal Mom, for the compliments, for reading, and for your questions.  Thank you, Yeah Write community, for your continued support.  I am full of gratitude.

For now, I bid you adieu, and wish you the best Fat Tuesday ever.  And remember, if you see an itsy-bitsy spider, step on it.  Wait. I am being over-sensitive and insensitive.  You may want to consider carefully getting the damn thing back to it's habitat.  Whatever you do, keep it far, far from me.


photo credit: Jason A. Samfield via photopin cc

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Wednesday's Woman: Addiction Crisis

Jane Velez-Mitchell:  
iWant, My Journey from Addiction and Overconsumption
 to a Simpler, Honest Life.

Over the weekend, we lost another amazing talent to the disease of addiction.  There have been numerous reactions to Whitney Houston's death, ranging from empathetic to pathetic.  There are debates over whether or not she is an icon or passing fancy.  My own reaction was one of sadness and anger. She in no way should be looked upon as a passing fancy, because if she is, we miss a moment to change the course of America's addiction crisis.

In my own reaction to Whitney Houston's death, I am saddened for the loss of a one-of-a-kind voice, but more so, am saddened that addiction has robbed another woman of a life that could have been beautiful.  And of course, my thoughts are heavy for her daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown.  My hope for her is that friends and family rally to support her through her journey of grief and on her road to recovery as an adult child of an alcoholic.

I am angry by some of the reactions I have heard in the media and seen on social networking sites, like Facebook and Twitter.  Reactions like, “who cares, I thought she had been dead for years,” or “she never should have married that loser.”  These types of apathetic and judgmental comments are cause for a missed opportunity to examine a social crisis—the crisis of women and addiction.  My hope is that we do not let yet another talented person’s death be in vain.   For that reason, this week’s Wednesday's Woman is a recovering alcoholic with 16 years of sobriety, Jane Velez-Mitchell.  

Jane Velez-Mitchell is a best-selling author and anchor on HLN and can also be seen covering high-profile cases on CNN.  I have not read her books and have not seen her on HLN or on CNN.  Honestly, I had not heard of her until this morning.  I found her after an extensive Google search for a famous female recovering addict.  There were few to choose from, most being already gone, like Betty Ford, or still in the throes of addiction, like Lindsay Lohan.  What stood out to me about Jane Velez-Mitchell was her willingness to cover the Whitney Houston story for CNN without glossing over the fact that Whitney’s death was one that should be examined as a national crisis of our unwillingness to accept addiction as a disease.  From the CNN transcript, Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell, February 13, 2012:

 Addiction is a disease. It`s not something that one casts judgment on a person for having. It is a disease. Just like you get cancer or you get another disease. We`re looking at this as a possibility, this idea that her disease took her down.

During the broadcast, Jane Velez-Mitchell made strong points about our responsibility as a society to stop ignoring the disease, to learn about it, and to support people who suffer from it.  I recommend examining the transcript and putting her latest book, Addiction Nation: an Intervention for America, on your reading list.  I am putting her on my list of people to follow and will definitely read her writings.  As a mother of two daughters, and knowing of the history of addiction within our family, I owe it to them to continue to educate myself about the disease of addiction.  Thankfully, I know enough already to talk to my girls about the tragedy of Whitney Houston’s death.  I know enough already to be angered by ignorant comments regarding the way she died.   And I know that it is important for this week’s Wednesday’s Woman to be Jane Velez-Mitchell, a recovering alcoholic and courageous advocate for those who suffer from the disease.

{Each week I feature an inspiring woman in Wednesday's Woman.  If you know of someone to be featured please let me know.  Last week featured Dr. Mae Jemison, the first African-American female to go into outer space.}

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Exit Stage Left: No More Intolerance

I am  gratefully acknowledging Jen aka Fox in the City by picking one question out of many to answer posed to me during last week’s 11 Questions blogging amusement:

Q: What is your customary order at Starbucks?
A:  Venti soy latte with an extra shot of espresso

I like caffeine, which explains the extra shot.  I am lactose intolerant, which explains the soy.  I have something to say about intolerance, which is why I chose the question.

in·tol·er·ance   [in-tol-er-uhns] noun
incapacity or indisposition to bear or endure

When one is intolerant to certain types of food, one needs to avoid these things in order to feel comfortable.  This is easy to understand.  If dairy makes me have terrible abdominal pain and results in distressing expulsions of gas, then by all means, I am going to deny myself dairy products. 

But what about emotional intolerance? 

I deal with my own emotional intolerance all the time and I am sure you do, too.   I can’t tolerate whining and complaining. Of course, I am intolerant to whining and complaining from my girls.  But I listen.  In these emotionally amped up expressions, my girls are telling me that they have needs that require expression and attention.  My job as a mom is to identify that the whining is a symptom of an inability to communicate effectively.  Simply stating, “Don’t whine,” doesn’t work.  That strategy negates the need, ultimately negating the person.  A better way to go about it is to say, “I hear you are whining.  Can you express your need in a different voice?”

See, needs are OK.  Whining is not.  And I want my girls to have the tools to get their needs met throughout life.  I want them to value their desires and know that their voices are of importance.  It’s in the delivery—not in the need itself.  I do not want them to be silenced.  I know what it is like to be scared into living as a mute.  And I won’t tolerate it for my girls.

Ok. That was easy.  Here's the hard part.

Right now I’m mad at my mom.  Like a teenager, I can’t stand her, don’t want to talk to her, and can barely bring myself to speak or even write about her in a mature manner.  Why?  Her actions continue to convey a lifetime of intolerance of me.  And it happened again this weekend.

She read Two Writing Prompts, a Bridge, and the Truth, wherein I expressed that I was struggling to write because I was afraid to express what was on my mind.  I wrote about childhood memories and my mom did not enjoy reading about them.  She sent a plethora of texts that were reactionary, hurtful, and expressed her intolerance of my truth and my expression of it.  It stunned me.  I felt like I was back in the throes of her insanity and had no control.  In one text she said (paraphrased), “Am I permitted to come see Sophia (my daughter) in the musical?”  This was followed by a few more texts in which she basically put me down and attempted to manipulate me into responding, then, “I am coming to the musical.”

I never responded.

She showed up to the musical with my niece, the daughter of my sister—the sister I haven’t spoken to in over three years.  Wow.  Was bringing my niece along a ploy to manipulate me into communicating with her?  An attempt to get me to pretend that everything was OK?  She used my daughter's performance as device of control, to employ her power over me, well-disguised as the picture of the supportive grandmother. 

What did she expect me to do? Greet her with happiness and gratitude for showing up at my daughter’s performance?  Well, I didn’t.  Because I’ve done it that way in the past only to have my voice silenced and my reality denied.  I wasn't willing to tolerate it.  

I could not bring myself to ignore my niece. I briefly spoke to her and my mother during intermission, but decided I wouldn’t stay after to socialize. I caught my daughter in the lobby of the theater after the show, and said, "Great job!  I'll be back to get you after your lunch with the cast."  She went merrily along to greet her dad and his family who also came to the performance.

At the time, I was uncertain if I made the right decision in leaving immediately after the show.  My niece, not understanding why I did not stay after the show to socialize, cried and my daughter was left feeling uncomfortable.  I know this because my daughter called from the theater and asked if something had happened. 

I felt so awful during our phone conversation.  How could I leave her alone to deal with my mother?  Luckily, seeing that I wasn't there, my mother and niece didn’t stay long.  Also, my daughter was shielded from the drama because she was surrounded by my ex-husband and his family who showered her with flowers and well-deserved accolades.  My mother wouldn’t dare say nor do anything in front of an audience that could witness and identify her manipulative emotional abuse.  Moreover, the victim she was looking for was me and not my daughter.  No victim in sight, no reason to stay.  And possibly, she had a moment of enlightenment, and realized that my niece's feelings needed to be spared.

I do not know what my mother did to console my niece.  The only thing I can come up with is that she probably chalked my absence up to rudeness and mental illness. You know, I don’t care what she said to my niece.  I just want my her to be OK.  I have no control over that and I struggle with it.  My niece should not have been permitted to accompany my mother to the performance.  Would I let my mother take my daughter anywhere near my sister in the guise of supporting my niece?  No.  You know why?  It’s not fair to put a child in the middle of an adult situation without protection and guidance.

Well, I digress.  And I am sure you are confused.  Wait.  What?  Daughter, niece, sister, mother.  Who did what?

Intolerance is the subject at hand.  You know why humans have trouble with intolerance?  They become most uncomfortable with things that remind them of their own pain.  And they will fight with all their might to avoid it, becoming intolerant of it.  Whatever "it" is.  Intolerance is fear-based.  And fear breeds harm.

I am experiencing my own fear at the moment.  I fear that this post will be misconstrued by some as an attempt to hurt my mother.  It is not.  This post is my declaration, that I am stopping the insanity, that I have become intolerant of intolerance of truth.

Truthfully, what can I conclude?  What can I tolerate?  I can tolerate this:

I have resolved to parent differently than I was parented.  I have resolved to keep my stuff separate from my daughters’ issues.  I have resolved to be tolerant of my girls' voices.  I have resolved to live in acceptance of my past and move on courageously without my mother.  

That was exhausting.

I really could use a venti soy latte with an extra shot of espresso.


photo credit: betsyjean79 via photopin cc
photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc
photo credit: Leo Reynolds via photopin cc

Friday, February 10, 2012

Enter Stage Right: Mom's Growing Pains

My little one danced around the living room in her dress-up attire, freely feeling the music, and allowing it to move her into a frenzy of expression.  She sang along to the track, hitting the pitch of each note, allowing the world to hear her voice.  After months of this, I took action and enrolled her in music lessons.  I contemplated dance lessons with careful scrutiny because as a former dancer, I knew the demise of self-esteem that is brought on by staring in the mirror for 8 hours a day.  Yet, I found a top notch dance studio, and enrolled her in a creative dance class.

She loved it.  But then came November and pending auditions for the Nutcracker. I overheard parents talking about the potential for their four year old daughters being cast as mice or soldiers and their disdain for the chosen Mouse King from last year’s production.  At that moment, I decided she would not be in the environment of the performing arts.
In lieu of dance, over the years, there were piano lessons, voice lessons, and guitar lessons--not anything serious and performances were for "fun".  And there were stories I told, per her request, about my experiences as a dancer in the theater.  One summer, she begged to do an acting camp.  For the culminating production, she landed the role of the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland.

I thought it was a strange casting choice.  She was short and sweet and I could not envision her becoming a lunatic royal who enjoyed ordering those who crossed her to be beheaded.  But when I first heard her shout, "Off with their heads!" I knew.  She was a natural performer.

Most parents would have been thrilled with the discovery of their child’s talent.  And I was.  But I was also terrified.  I was transported back to a time when I would cry hidden away in bathrooms, hearing others talk terribly about me if I got a role they wanted.  The pressure to do it better, be better, look better.  The uncertainty of knowing whether or not the director would like me enough to cast me in a role.

I could not let my fear keep her from exploring her interest and developing her craft.

Last year she was excited to audition for what was, in her eyes, her first legitimate production--the middle school fall play.  She didn’t get cast and there was a flood of tears.

I said, “I am proud of you for having the courage to do the audition.  Focus on what you learned.”  And I encouraged her to join the crew.

In the winter, she auditioned for the middle school musical.  I was so nervous for her.  She had some voice training, but not anything that would prepare her for the stress and expectations of an audition.  She landed a spot in the chorus, performed well and had a great time.

It was, however, difficult for her to deal with the intense emotions felt the morning after the final performance.  I knew from experience that the end of a show’s run felt like the death of a friend--intense grief.  I honored her feelings, comforted her, and tried to distract her with a walk and baking cookies.  The exercise and sweet treats alleviated some of her sadness and life soon returned to normal.

I sighed with relief. No more performing until next year.

Next year arrived and she auditioned for the fall play.  She was cast in a supporting role and performed well.  It was wonderful to see her understand that she was, over time, improving.

She accepted that learning a craft takes time and involves growth.  She embraced her process.  And the grief brought on by the close of the show did not last long.  Auditions for the winter musical, Once Upon a Mattress, were in one day.

From the crew, to the chorus, to a supporting role.  Next?

When the cast list was posted online the night after call-backs, she screamed from her room, “I GOT THE LEAD!”

I was so confused.  I ran in and said, “I thought you auditioned to be Winnifred.” 

She said, “I did.  Winnifred is the LEAD!”

I was stunned, proud, excited, relieved, thrilled, and scared.

I had questions.  Would she turn into a diva?  Could she pull this off?  How much support could I give before I turned into a stage mother?

She worked very hard.  Rehearsals went late into the night and she kept up with her academic responsibilities.  She was humble and a cast member, not a diva.  She worked diligently on her vocal techniques and responded to acting direction well.

She was deep down to the bone beautiful during the entire rehearsal process.

Last night, Once Upon A Mattress opened.  I was blown away by her performance.

She was funny.  I know this because I heard others laughing.  Her vocal performances were stellar.  I know this because of the intensity of others clapping.  She not only was believable as Princess Winnifred the Woebegone, she was Winnifred the Woebegone.  I know this from the others around me who stood up onto their feet when she ran out from the wings for her curtain call.

As I write this, I struggle to find the words to appropriately express my wonderment and my fear.  I do not even understand the depths of what I am feeling.

What I do know is that there are three more performances.  I will do as I always do:  make sure she gets a good meal before the performance, help her with her hair and make-up, and remind her of the importance of warming her voice up properly.   

I will keep in mind that my struggles and fears are not hers.

And I will also make sure I continue to say these two things as she jumps out of the car before running into the school for the cast’s call time:

“Have a great time.  I love you.”

Sophia's February performance run in Once Upon a Mattress was a phenomenal experience.  She is now enrolled in private voice lessons and taking it very seriously.  She has helped the grade school theater students as a crew member during their play and has been asked to be a small part of the high school spring musical playing a child in Beauty and the Beast.  I couldn't be more excited and proud of her.  And I couldn't be more grateful to have such a wonderful community of bloggers to share this with--thank you yeah writers!

photo credit: slimmer_jimmer via photopin cc

Thursday, February 9, 2012

11 x 3 = 33

With gratefulness I accept the responsibilities bestowed upon me by the amazing women at The Mommy Padawan, Chosen Chaos, and The Momalog in this week’s feisty and friendly blogging bustle, 11 Questions.    

Here are the rules:

  • You must post these rules.
  • Each per­son must post 11 things about them­selves on their blog.
  • Answer the ques­tions the “tag­ger” listed for you in her post, and cre­ate 11 new ques­tions for the peo­ple you tag to answer.
  • Choose 11 peo­ple to tag and link to them in the post.
  • Let each blog­ger know that you have tagged them.

The observant reader will be able to figure out that because I have been tagged three times, I have 33 questions to answer.  However, knowing that our time on Earth is brief, I am breaking the rules and choosing to answer 11.  This will help to reduce my contemplation and composing time (I am very slow at both) and cut down your reading time (you can thank me now).  Also, instead of choosing 11 more people to tag and creating 11 questions, I am asking you, the one reading this right now, to answer one question in the comment section below this entry.  Here's the question:

 What would you do if you won the lottery?

Here are my questions complete with answers:

1. What’s the best concert you’ve seen?
I tend to favor shows in small venues for their intimacy and energy.  Yet, I have been to 25 Dave Matthews Band concerts which have all been memorable, and three Pearl Jam concerts that left me feeling more alive than I ever thought possible.  However, the best concert I have seen is, by far, U2 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, PA, July 2011.  Powerful and epic.

2. What are the must have pizza toppings?
Fresh anchovies are delightful and make me very unpopular at pizza parties.

3. What makes you feel pretty?
Make-up and a good haircut. But, above all, hearing my girls say, “Mom, you are pretty,” makes me feel the fairest of all.

4. Which goal for yourself are you most proud of accomplishing?
Completing my degree.  I took my last class in November. 

5. What do you hope your child or children remember from their childhood?
Love and laughter.

6. What’s your best kid’s riddle or joke?
What do you call a boy with a dictionary in his pocket?  Smarty Pants.

7. What’s your favorite book?  Why?
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera.  Is lightness splendid and weight a burden?  Or does meaning only come from weight?  Philosophy.  Art. Love. Life.  It’s all in there.  And my ancestors are Czechoslovakian, like Kundera. Also, the book was given to me when I was a freshman in college.  It reminds me of a time when I became awake and aware of the amazement that exists in the world.

8. and 9. Do you make your bed every day?  Do your kids make theirs? Why or why not?
I do not make my bed.  My kids make theirs after they come home from school before they do their homework so that they have a neat environment in which to do their studying.  They do not enjoy making their beds and always ask for help.  They do not need help and I do not give it to them.  But they do enjoy the feeling of having a tidy room.  My room, on the other hand, is a disaster.  I only frequent it for sleeping.  As far as why I make them make their beds and the hypocrisy of me not making mine. . .that’s something they will work out in therapy.
10. If you lived just by yourself, with no one else to care for, what would you have for dinner?
Salt and Vinegar chips.

11. What’s your favorite quote?
There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action,and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. --Martha Graham

Found the Marbles

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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Wednesday's Woman: Astronaut, Innovator, Educator

My daughter recently renewed her interest in science during her 8th grade class study of space and the universe.  While looking online to find articles and videos that I thought may augment her learning, I came across today’s Wednesday's Woman.  She is also featured in the January/February issue of New Moon Girls, my favorite periodical devoted to and written for tween girls.

This week's Wednesday's Woman is inspired by nature, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.  She graduated from Stanford in 1977 with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering and fulfilled requirements for a B.A. in African and Afro-American Studies.  In 1981 she obtained her Doctor of Medicine degree from Cornell Medical College and later joined the Peace Corps.  The flight of Sally Ride in 1983 prompted her to apply to NASA.  After being accepted she worked in launch support and verification of Shuttle computer software in the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory.  When Space Shuttle Endeavour launched into orbit in 1992, she became the first African-American woman to orbit the earth.

Who was the first African-American woman to travel into outer space?  Dr. Mae Jemison.

Because of her love of dance and as a salute to creativity, Jemison took a poster from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Company along with her on the flight. "Many people do not see a connection between science and dance, but I consider them both to be expressions of the boundless creativity that people have to share with one another." Jemison also took several small art objects from West African countries to symbolize that space belongs to all nations. (Wikipedia)

Dr. Mae Jemison continues her inspiring work today creating and working with the Jemison Group  supporting learning, research, and uniting the arts and sciences.  Her list of current projects of current projects include The Earth We Share (TEWS) international science camp programs; the Dorothy Jemison Foundation of Excellence (DJF), established to honor and implement teaching principals inspired by her late mother, a teacher in Chicago Public Schools; the innovative medical device company, BioSentient; and TEWS

Science literacy is crucial to the well-being of societies and countries around the world. Every day technology becomes more significant in shaping the world’s economy, our homes, cultures and relationships.  The future prosperity of nations around the world is intimately intertwined via advancing information, transportation, and agricultural technologies and the environment.   The Earth We Share (TEWS) engages students and teachers from around the world in meeting these vital challenges.

More information about Dr. Mae Jemison’s current projects can be found on her website which offers an interactive timeline highlighting her career; educational areas designed for children, teens, and teachers;  and a Laboratory where fresh ideas are explored.  Dr. Jemison gave a brilliant TED Talk in 2002 wherein she proposed that arts and sciences should not be thought of as separate entities, but should be thought of as fields of study that cannot exist  without each other:

What I'm very concerned about is how do we bolster our self-awareness as humans, as biological organisms? Michael Moschen spoke of having to teach and learn how to feel with my eyes, to see with my hands. We have all kinds of possibilities to use our senses by, and that's what we have to do. . . my personal design issue for the future is really about integrating, to think about that intuitive and that analytical. The arts and sciences are not separate.

If you are looking for someone who can inspire your daughter to be fearless in her endeavors, point her in the direction of astronaut, educator, artist, and innovator--today's Wednesday's Woman:

  Dr. Mae Jemison  

{Each week I feature an inspiring woman.  If you know of someone to be featured, please let me know!  Last week, in accord with Digital Learning Day, Wednesday's Woman highlighted two stand-outs in the field of Educational Technology, Kathy Schrock and Judy O'Connell.}

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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Smartphones and Build-A-Bears

My girls spend their weekends at their dads during which time I receive updates regarding activities and the emotions evoked during happenings   via phone calls, text messages, emails, or direct messages on Facebook.  I never know exactly how the information is going to be delivered.  I have learned to employ my intelligent phone to be certain I do not miss an update.  Missing updates result in phone conversations that resemble this:

Daughter: “Mom, I am calling because you have not responded to my email.  Did you see my Facebook status?  I sent you the link in a text message.  And why haven’t you checked your voice mail? I explained the email which tells you about my Facebook update in it.”

Me: “What?”

The aforementioned comes from my older daughter, Sophia, who is 13.  My 11 year old, Antonia, sometimes sends me text messages but typically calls at night right before she goes to bed to say goodnight.  Details about her day are brief, but I listen carefully for subtle changes in her voice that indicate how she is feeling.  I often wish she would text, call, or email more, but she is a different type of communicator than her sister.  It is interesting to compare Sophia’s multimedia narratives to the minimal reflections provided by Antonia.  When put together, I can get a pretty good idea of what has been going on during their time with their dad, step-mom and step-sister.

Antonia and her step-sister spend a significant amount of time playing school with their Build-A-Bears.  They transform their dad’s living room into a very detailed classroom.  They hang posters, set up work spaces, and line up their bears with name tags.  One of these school sessions can last an entire day.  It’s serious business and serious fun.

The Build-A-Bears are also serious business.  Antonia and her step-sister each have one special bear that is treated like a child of their own.  They go shopping for their child-bears’ wardrobes and change their clothes according to the day’s plans.  During the week, when Antonia and her step-sister are apart, they update each other on their bears’ activities.

Two weekends ago, while the girls were at their dad's house, communication from Sophia was normal.  On Saturday, I knew they went out to dinner and had a treat at home—cookie cake.  I knew that, as usual, Antonia and her step-sister spent time playing school with their bears.  Antonia sounded great during our brief nightly talk on the phone so I didn’t press for details surrounding her day.  But Sophia sounded annoyed.  I chalked up her irritation to stress and tiredness (the girl will not stop, even during the weekends).

On Sunday morning, Sophia called and illuminated the cause of her annoyance.  I asked her how dinner was, and she replied, “Mom.  We went out to dinner to celebrate the BEARS’ BIRTHDAYS and the cookie cake was for their party at home.  Dad even bought them each a $10 gift card to get a new outfit, AND they picked out a G-rated movie for them to watch.  MOM.  Can you believe it?”

Upon my girls' arrival to my house later that afternoon, I welcomed them enthusiastically and said, “Hey.  How was the birthday celebration?  It sounds like it was a good time!”

Their dad confirmed that it was indeed a fabulous celebration whereupon Antonia looked down at the floor from embarrassment and Sophia plopped her entire body down to the couch accompanied with a giant sigh of disdain.

I ignored the drama on the couch, took Antonia’s chin in my hand, lifted her face to mine and said, “You know, I had a doll I played with until I left home for college.  I kept her and her little suitcase of clothes under my bed so that my older sister wouldn’t make fun of me.  I changed her clothes and combed her hair every day.”

She smiled.  

I asked Sophia if she thought her behavior was appropriate.  She rose from the couch and apologized to her sister.  Their dad went home, we unpacked bags, and the week went on without the bears' birthdays being mentioned.

On Saturday of last weekend my phone was buzzing, alerting me to incoming text messages.  I assumed it was Sophia with updates.  To my surprise, the messages were from Antonia.  But there were no words.  Only photos:

I was thrilled to hear from her.  Although her messages contained no words, I understood.  To me, the photos of her "school" said, “Thank you for accepting me for who I am.”  

Then the phone rang.  It was Sophia. . .

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Monday, February 6, 2012

Top 10 Passions

There is a great community of writers who link up every week with Stasha of The Good Life fame for  Monday Listicles.  This week’s list is one that I need to reflect upon regularly in order to stay focused on the important stuff.  It’s all about passion.

My Top 10 Passions in Life.

1. Parenting.  I have devoted my life to parenting and it can sometimes take over and overshadow all of what I do.  So it’s vital for me to remember entries two through 10.

2. Love.  The significant other kind of love, the kind I have for my three Chihuahuas, and the world peace compassion kind of love.

3. Getting lost in or being awakened by the artistic expression of others: reading a great novel, seeing a great film, viewing an amazing photograph. . .
“You live like this, sheltered, in a delicate world, and you believe you are living. Then you read a book(Lady Chatterley, for instance), or you take a trip, or you talk with Richard, and you discover that you are not living, that you are hibernating. The symptoms of hibernating are easily detectable: first, restlessness. The second symptom(when hibernating becomes dangerous and might degenerate into death): absence of pleasure. That is all. It appears like an innocuous illness. Monotony, boredom, death. Millions live like this(or die like this) without knowing it. They work in offices. They drive a car. They picnic with their families. They raise children. And then some shock treatment takes place, a person, a book, a song, and it awakens them and saves them from death." Anais Nin
4. Writing Sperk*. Getting it out.  Challenging myself to express it in a way that is meaningful, authentic, relatable, and concise.  Getting to know my blogging community.  Every week, I am astounded by the great writing I come across—writing that is powerful, funny, truthful, empowering, and inspiring.  I wish I had more time to devote to it, but . . . see number one.

5. Music.  It’s been my most favorite and constant companion since I was a little one.  My significant other plays the bass, my older daughter sings, and my younger daughter plays the clarinet.  I absolutely love when any one of them practices.  iPods being docked and turned up loud is encouraged.  Sharing playlists on Spotify is a must.  And live music?  There is nothing that compares to being in the moment and part of the energy of a live concert.

6. Education, especially early ed.  Quality early learning can change the world.  We need to focus on it and pay early ed professionals salaries that are comparable to teachers of elementary, secondary, and post-secondary schools.

7. Children’s Advocacy.  Children are miniature people.  They are not second class citizens.  We need to honor their expression, keep them safe, and support them in creating their voice.  If we do so, when they grow up, the world will be a better place.

8. The Pittsburgh Steelers.

9. Sharing information..  The world has become smaller due to technology.  I am always blown away by the current ability to find and share information.

10. Peanut Butter.  I eat it right from the jar.

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Save It for Later Saturday: Empowering Your Princess

In Save It for Later Saturday you’re getting a brief run-down of the stand-outs from my week's "Read Later" list.  This week, like last week, please replace the word Saturday with Monday.  I thought about skipping my weekly recap all together due to its lateness.  However, my penchant for perseverance will not allow it to be.  Reality, though, is an unavoidable nuisance, and I must tend to other Monday duties.  So this week’s Save It for Later Saturday is brief.

I wouldn’t call myself a feminist of the stereotypical kind, but I am very passionate about female empowerment.  When I came across this article shared by @DrPriceMitchell, I knew it would be one I would include in this week’s review.  In 10 Wonderful Quotes from Women, Dennis E. Coats, Ph.D. give us his favorite quotes from famous females after acknowledging that, “Women raised the family. Men went out into the world, got educated and went to work. And so it has been mostly the voices of men that were recorded throughout history.” I was pleased to see included in his list a quote from one of my favorite authors, Ana├»s Nin: 
“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” 
One of the reasons I began Sperk* is because I saw blogging on a list of 100 ways to be a feminist.  Blogging takes courage.  No one knows this better than my fellow bloggers.  Let’s take it a step further and begin quoting each other.  Maybe one day it will be written that it has been mostly the voices of women that were recorded throughout history.

Continuing to focus on the topic of feminism, I bring you Princess debate part two: Peggy Orenstein on culture, gender, and parenting from Washington Post reporter Janice D'Arcy. D'Arcy interviews Peggy Orenstein, author Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girly-Girl Culture, which was released in paperback last week.  In the article, Orenstein reflects on the differences between girls and boys, the trouble with gender specific marketing (including the LEGO Friends controversy), and shares her insight about allowing ourselves to be true to our own visions for our daughters. 

In Dear Middle School Girl, Shannon Torrence uses wit and empathy to challenge girls to look within to become person who is being stirred by the voice inside:
Listen to and trust your own inner voice.  Act accordingly.  Do not try to be someone you are not.  Do not for a second think that anyone else is any better or cooler or more interesting than you are.  No one is perfect, but everyone has something wonderful to offer this world.  The point is not to be the coolest, most attractive, best-dressed kid in school; it’s to be a kind, thoughtful, responsible and compassionate human being.
Dear Middle School Girl is a great read filled with brilliant reminders not only for our daughters, but also for us as we navigate parenting through the middle school years.  I am thrilled to have discovered at Michelle in the Middle which was shared by Sisterhood of the Sensible Moms on that most powerful tool for the dissemination of information, Twitter.

See you next Saturday.

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Friday, February 3, 2012

The Paradox of Beauty

Photo credit
My girls have hair appointments at a salon somewhat randomly chosen from a list generated by that trusty search engine, Google.  I am nervous about this afternoon’s pending trip to the selected beauty establishment in the Short North, a trendy, artsy neighborhood here in Columbus.  Why be nervous?

First, this means I must style my own hair and find something presentable to wear other than my favorite red plaid flannel jammie pants that I’ve sported all week.  (Yes, my older daughter, Sophia, is planning to submit my photos to TLC's What Not to Wear).  Second, this means I must convince my girls that after five months, they do indeed need their hair trimmed.  For some reason, they think if they get a trim, their hair will cease to be long.  They do not understand that without regular pruning, their long flowing locks will turn into thin frayed wisps.  Lastly, I am not looking forward to meeting a new stylist.  The last two hair experts we’ve loyally employed turned out to be unstable professionally.  Oh, things always started out great. But one stylist stopped listening to what the client wanted for she could not hear over her own talking, and the other refused to return money paid for tinsel extensions that fell out in one hour.

The trip to the new-to-us salon cannot be avoided.  Next week Sophia is performing in her middle school’s musical.  She has the lead.  She can’t have stringy Marcia Brady hair and convincingly portray Winnifred the Woebegone.  Antonia, my younger daughter, complains every morning that she hates her hair.  This fascinates me because, although it does need shaped up, she has a gorgeous head of hair with perfect color, texture, and wave.  Are the talks about self-talk failing? 

So, haircuts, here we come.  

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Maybe it’s not the actual experience of the haircuts that I am dreading.  Maybe it’s that I despise the fact that I see my girls beginning to be crushed by the societal standards placed upon women to be pretty.  You know what, my girls are pretty—with hair or bald, new clothes or hand-me-downs, a broken out forehead or clear skin.   I am frustrated that they do not see their own beauty, honor it, embrace it, and give it the merit it deserves.  

This brings me to a heavily debated question.  What merit does beauty deserve?   

If beauty deserves no value, why am I concerned about my jammie pants?  I can chalk that one up to wanting to teach my girls what it means to be appropriately dressed and taken seriously.  Yet, left to be answered is why we celebrate celebrities and movie stars but put down the woman we pass on the street who needs to lose ten pounds?   

Maybe I'll make a statement against the value of beauty by rolling to the salon just as I am, right now, sitting at my kitchen table with no make-up applied, hair wild, and a Chihuahua comfortably cuddled in my lap.  Possibly too extreme.  I will continue to contemplate until it is time for this little dog on my lap to be let outside.  While he is frolicking in the winter sun, blissfully unaware of his beauty, I'll give in to societal standards by applying  my make-up and doing my hair.  The jammie pants?  That's a rough one.

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