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She’s Got Another Project

Every now and again, something touches my cold, dark little heart and warms it. Or, sometimes it digs in my eyes and makes them leak a little. When this happens, I am often pulled into one of my “projects” as they have come to be known in our house. As cynical, grumpy, and sarcastic as I am, I am almost an eternal optimist. After all, I am a mom. When you’re a parent, if you worth the honor of being called that, since so many deserving people aren’t, you have to have an optimistic view to a certain extent. We have to raise strong, kind, independent children to live in a world that frankly, is pretty messed up. Part of that optimism is living in one’s own bubble probably more than we should. After all, everyone has their own problems, their own responsibilities, and it’s easy to wrap oneself up in that little bubble because let’s be honest, you can only focus on so much at a time. Most of my projects and stepping out of my bubble happen when I probably don’t need it to.

Some of my attempts to help others have backfired horribly. So horribly, in fact, that it became a source of amusement for my family, sort of a shaking one’s head and chuckling at how bad things went. There was the time I stopped to help a blind person navigate a busy parking lot. I almost got hit by a car and ended up in a loud argument with the driver. I tried to feed a homeless woman, and then went to give her my gloves and hat out of my car since she didn’t have any and it was brutally cold. Stupid me locked myself out of my car and had to use the last moment of my cell battery to call someone to come get me. In the meantime, I was stuck in the snow with a homeless woman who turned out to be mentally ill, telling me stories about people getting cut up with an ax. Not my most comforting moment, for sure. Of course, she had my hat and gloves at this point, and I was super cold. That being said, we had a nice chat, despite the ax murder conversation, and I still think of her to this day (I didn’t see her around much after that afternoon). There was the time I helped the woman hospitalized with what turned out to be cancer by feeding her cats and looking after them. She had neglected to tell me she hadn’t changed their litter box in months, and I had to navigate and clean an entire floor of a turd minefield. I came home and wanted to light myself on fire. After getting everything cleaned, I looked after her cats and home, making sure to turn lights on and off, shoveling the snow, and a team of people helped get her furnace fixed and oil put in. When I headed in for surgery last year, the woman who took over was positively mental, and started harassing me. She ended up moving away after the state was called in and she was accused of elder abuse.

Last month, I found out kids at our school didn’t have coats, right before a polar vortex that slammed the country. I dove right in, collected over 150 coats in 4 days, as well as hats, gloves, scarves etc. This spiraled into a bigger project, where our kids in need can get items they need for free from our “kindness closet” which is currently being set up in the school. I am overjoyed by this and am so proud I got to help.

The other day, I got a call from my neighbor, who said her coworker had dropped off some supplies for the kindness closet. I went over and there were bags all over her porch filled with brand new huge boxes of ziplock bags (great for toiletries, and singling out new underwear or pairs of socks for if little kids have an accident), feminine products (some of the kids don’t have these at home, sadly, and the nurse has been buying them out of her own pocket). There were also some coats. Lastly, there were bags and bags of books. It appears the doner has kids and cleared out all their bookshelves, and by the looks of it, the family loves books. I wasn’t sure what to do with those, as they were out of the realm of my project. That being said, I was grateful to have them, as I was sure I could find a home for them.

I loaded up the car with stuff for the closet, including my cart. I have a little collapsible wagon that has been a godsend to me in my endeavors with the coats and closet. I load it up to the brim and head in the school easily (although navigating the multitude of security doors is no joke dragging a heavily filled wagon sometimes). After I dropped the items off, I wandered down to the library and met with the librarian. I asked if she would be at all willing to take used books as a donation. Her face lit up and she said she ABSOLUTELY WOULD. She asked why I was donating them and I explained I was “the coat lady” as a lot of the staff knew about the coats but didn’t know who I was, and that someone had generously donated books that I wanted to find a good home for. She and I had a chat about how exciting the closet was going to be for the students, and I headed home to get the books.

The books were in multiple bags on my neighbor’s porch. I now had to be a porch pirate and go grab them. I got really nervous someone would call the police because there has been so much package theft recently. I half expected to have the cops show up and knew it would be awkward explaining what I was doing. I shuffled back and forth with bags and bags of books, loading up my car. I then went upstairs and emptied my daughter’s bookshelves of all the books she had outgrown. There were a ridiculous amount of books. I’m a huge fan of reading and have always told my kids, “you may not always get a toy, but you may get a book”. I really try to encourage reading. I ended up making two trips to the school to drop off books.

When I showed up, the librarian had me go into a room with a counter. There were kids in the library and they came to help unload the books. They were chatting excitedly. “I can’t WAIT to read this!” “Look how beautiful this one is! Look at the pictures!” “I want to read this one FIRST! One girl was mesmerized by a pop-up book, opening and closing, her lips moving slightly as she read the words. She looked up and told me she loved that book. I was overjoyed. Seriously. These kids were just so happy and grateful. These books made them excited about reading. It was awesome!

The excitement on their faces must have warmed my cold heart again, because now that I’m not the “coat lady” I’m turning into the “book lady” for a while. I was out last night picking up and messaging people about donating books.

Now here’s the thing. Where is the bad part of such a project you ask?

The bad part is getting my bubble burst. When I was in the school, unloading books, the librarian and I got to chatting. She is clearly, like me, a lover of books. She also loves the kids. She confided how super excited she was to get the books, and kept picking up various ones to admire them all. She commented “I can’t believe this! This is so awesome! This book alone is $16 new!”. The reason for her excitement? Her annual budget to buy books with is VERY low. over 500 kids in the school and her budget is about $3k. Now, three grand sounds like a lot of money, but when you think of it, it really doesn’t stretch when you need to buy supplies and books for over 500 kids. She also lost some funds this year despite the BOE moving tons more kids into our school (I’ve talked about our redistricting in prior posts). She has to be so selective, so careful, to get as much as she can for those kids, but while staying in a tight budget. This issue was made more complex by the district moving a whole lower grade into our school, so much of the budget had to go to buying age appropriate books for those kids. I also learned, sadly, that some of the kids in the school, don’t even know their letters. This hurt my heart. Most of the kids came in from other schools, and I can’t fathom how the kids were pushed ahead from Kindergarten and first onward not knowing these basic skills. It’s as if they are being set up to fail.

I am a firm believer in the power of books. I can often tell a frequent reader from a non-reader by looking at how they express themselves. Frequent readers often pick up really good vocabulary skills, spelling and grammar. Now, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t foolproof, as you can see by my blog. I make mistakes all the time! That being said, reading opens up new worlds and opportunities. You can learn to do just about anything by reading and researching it. Reading is a game changer. Seeing kids being passed from grade to grade without those basic skills is heartbreaking. It only gets harder for them, and frankly, the system is failing them. School will become a hardship, and those kids are more likely to struggle and dislike school. This may cause more to drop out early, or not go on to next level.

This has been bothering me to no end. I hope the kids being in our school will get the help they need that they may not have gotten before. I am hoping that some of the books taken in will be helpful to those that need them.

My son and I discussed this later in the evening, when I explained my sadness over the situation, and my frustration that our schools are struggling to get the supplies and books they need. He mulled it over and said he’s going to talk to his guidance counselor about setting up a school to school tutoring program between the middle and elementary school. They do this with another school in town (my son has been a part of the tutors) but he wants to extend it to his sister’s elementary school as well. Both children sorted their bookshelves and packed up bags and bags of books to donate.

I couldn’t be prouder.

At the end of the day, they are learning a valuable lesson here. They are learning they can make a difference. Even kids can make a difference. Small steps make huge changes. I think they are also seeing that while we don’t always have money for everything they want, they have what they need, and they are growing more aware that needs are what is important. They are seeing that others don’t always have what they need, and they are trying to find ways to help those people and make a difference in what ways they can. Sometimes, we don’t have the money or items to help, but others do, and they are willing to donate those items if you are willing to do the work. If you’re willing to coordinate, collect, and drop off, people will HELP you. If you ask the right questions, you will get the answers you need.

As for me, I learned a harsh lesson myself in all of this. Folks often hide that they are struggling. Sometimes you have to ask the right questions to find that out. I didn’t know our school was struggling because frankly, they are doing what they can and didn’t advertise that fact. They are so focused on doing what they can and I don’t think they normally ask parents for help in that way.

Our schools need help. I don’t think it’s just my school. I think MANY schools have needs that most of us don’t even consider. Unless you personally are deeply struggling, it may not even occur to you how deep the need is. I admit, I was blissfully unaware that some of the things I am now learning about were issues. I assumed things were fine. I assumed wrong.

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Letting my Inner Drag Queen Out…What I Learned at a Drag Queen Convention.

Yesterday I made the trip down to NYC to attend DragCon2018 at the Javits Center.  For those of you who are unaware of what DragCon is, it’s a convention for, you guessed it, drag queens!  Now before you look confused, I am a straight, married woman with 2 kids, who lives in the ‘burbs.  That being said, I have had a fascination with drag queens for a long time.  Of course, the beginning of Rupaul’s Drag Race fit right in with my love of queens.  At that time, I didn’t know of any queens by name, but I loved just seeing them on TV, in movies, or passing by if I went into the city.  I started watching the show, and it quickly became a favorite of mine.  Through all the seasons, I have been an avid watcher, and I’m always left a bit in awe.

I know it may seem a bit surprising to some that I am so fascinated by drag queens.  The fact is, I see what they do as an art form.  I love the makeup artistry (a skill I don’t have), the entertainment aspect, and honest? I appreciate how these people can put themselves so OUT there. I also can appreciate the fact that they take people out of their comfort zone, yet can make them feel comfortable at the same time.  Lastly, I find it kind of amazing (and also a little funny) that some of these men in dresses and wigs can look so incredibly beautiful and womanly.

I wasn’t planning to dress up for DragCon, although many people, including women, do.  My sister in laws were also going, and they were dressing up and getting into it.  (They looked absolutely AMAZING, btw).  I didn’t decide until a couple of days before I was actually going due to funds, and then it seemed too late.  My hairdresser (who has done drag)  firmly told me I’d better step up my game and do SOMETHING, even offering to bring me one of his wigs.  He brought in a massive wavy pink wig with dark roots, told me to brush it out and it should be fine.  Unfortunately, he didn’t have time to style it, and I would have felt bad asking.  He said he pictured me in a black leather biker jacket, ripped jeans, and a tank top with black boots to finish it off.  I had or got most of it, and I got a tank top I had made with a funny saying from the show.  I was ready to go, but I felt so….nervous.

I often assume I am “too much” for people sometimes.  I’m sometimes brutally honest, not seeing any point in blowing smoke just to make people happy.  I’m not good at sugarcoating things, although as I’ve gotten older I do try to be more tactful and gentle when laying down a truth sandwich.  I have red hair, I swear too much, I have tattoos and my nose pierced, and I feel that I can be overwhelming at times. I’m ok being too much, or at least I thought I was.

Yesterday the truth hit me like a truck.  What I realized yesterday, is that I am actually much more shy than I first thought.  As I have gotten older, I have turned into pretty much a “basic bitch” who likes her comforts in life.  Ugly Ugg boots, coffee, and jeans? Yes please.  I wear makeup daily, but not a lot. I’m awkward (reinforced on the DAILY, my friends!).  I also realized I have a harder time getting out of my comfort zone than I originally thought.

I got up early, slathered what felt like a ton of makeup on my face (but actually looked like regular outside makeup for many people), yet got slightly derailed when it came to my eyes.  I was fairly pleased with my eye shadow, but it started to go downhill with the liner.  I abandoned my standard pencil in exchange from a liquid black liner from Wet and Wild.  It’s waterproof, which I thought was a favorable choice.  It was fine on the outer edge but pooled a bit in the corner of my eye, then dropping onto my lower lid.  I learned something…..Soap, water, makeup remover cloths…non of them are any match for said Wet and Wild Liner.  I had to take everything off of that eye, and barely got the liner off.  I redid the eyeshadow, was able to correct the liner issue, then I attempted to put on false lashes.  I’ve never been able to get the suckers on easily or without incident.  This time, I managed to glue one eye shut.  While I was frantically trying to get that unglued, I had to then try to get the lashes placed correctly.  The damned lashes felt so heavy, I felt like my eyes were at half mast all day.  I pondered if eyelids have muscles, and could one strengthen them by lifting heavy false lashes on the regular.  I got the wig on, threw on my clothes, and set off for the train.  The wig felt MASSIVE.  While I have long hair, it’s not insanely thick. I kind of loved the baby pinks and mauves in it, although I felt like it made my hair line very reminiscent of Teresa Guidice.  I struggled to get it to sit just right.  It also kept getting stuck on my lipgloss.  I found new found admiration for you ladies with the thick, flowing locks.  In other words, I got the job done ok, but I was a hot mess during the process.  I was tired just from getting ready.

I sat down on the nearly empty train and started responding to texts I’d received.  Before I knew it, the train had gotten increasingly busy, and seats were scarce. The seat next to me remained empty.  A woman walked up, looked down at me, and turned to go look elsewhere.  Then I saw a look of resigned “oh, what the hell” cross her face and she asked to sit.  I’m not sure what it was about me that made her so hesitant.  The pink hair? The leather jacket? The hooker makeup?  She sat down looking uncomfortable, and I immediately felt very self conscious.  I tweeted what was happening, making light of it, but I felt awkward and shy.

When I arrived at the convention, I was in heaven.  Drag queens, average folks, men in leather….all together in one room.  I spent the afternoon roaming the floor, just looking at the artistry and the creativity everyone displayed.  I know I get inherently shy and awkward around celebrities, so I didn’t stand in lines to meet anyone.  I didn’t need to.  For me, the joy was in seeing the local folks, or even those starting out, and complimenting them on their looks.  One of my favorite local queens I learned of and met last year (Kari Kerning) was in a booth with a queen from the show, so I didn’t get to see her, but I met a delightful queen dressed up with a prosthetic pig nose and ears.  We asked to take a picture with her and she couldn’t have been more lovely and gracious.  If you see Selma Nilla on the scene, she was fun and kind, and I imagine her shows are probably great.  Another queen came through on stilts, which was pretty amazing.

My biggest takeaway from the convention, however, was how “out there” the people who do drag (and many who attended the convention) put themselves.  Whereas I felt shy and a bit nervous, these folks were rocking their outfits, rocking their personas, and were ok standing out. When some of these folks came out of the closet, they burst through in a sea of rainbows, glitter and lipstick.  In a world that often tells them they are “too much” they strive to be exactly as much as they should be.  I loved how bold and bright and happy everyone looked.  It was just such a happy vibe there. I think the best part was probably what a judgement free zone it was.  It was joyous.  If only we all were as uninhibited as some of the folks I saw yesterday, what a world it could be.

My amazing sister in laws I went with and I talked about how we would go next year, and that outfit/wig planning would begin much earlier.  I’m nervous, but excited to try to reach a new level of comfort with being fully out there, giving up inhibitions, and just rolling with it.

We could all learn a lot from a drag queen.  (And if one could show me the trick to false lashes, I would be eternally grateful).

Letting Kids Fly, But Not By Helicopter

Helicopter-Parenting-300x300

Ahh, vacation.  It’s my first day back from a weekend trip to visit family, and I already need another vacation.  Not because of the family, we had a fantastic time, but because I came back from a Saturday and Sunday away to a shitstorm of work to do.  I digrmyess, however.  Every year, my step mother’s sister throws an annual weekend up at her house.  Since my dad married into the family, they also include me, my husband and kids.  The weekend is filled with laughter, days spent at the lake, and lots of food and beer.  It’s always a fun weekend.  This year, I think we had 16 or more.

Saturday, while lounging at the lake, watching the kids play in the swimming areas and in the sand, I got into a conversation with my…let me see if I get this right….step cousin’s wife.  We were talking about our kids, and how they are growing up so fast, the usual.  She lives in Brooklyn NY, and she overheard her son tell me how excited he was for school this year because at his school, the kids are allowed to leave the school and go out for lunch unattended.  I was completely fascinated by this revelation, and his mom (I’ll refer to her as E) filled me me.  Apparently, starting in 4th grade, the kids are allowed to leave the school building and can go for lunch.  Completely unattended.  In Brooklyn.  I was a bit amazed that the school, never mind the parents, would ever go for such an idea.  I live in relatively small town suburbia, and parents here are CRAZY intense.  Helicopter parenting is mostly the norm, if not encouraged.  Parents direct every aspect of their children’s lives, friends, interests and activities.  Kids are placed into a LOT of activities because the general thought is that they must be active ALL the time.  They must be kept busy.  I have friends who have their kids in about 6 activities a week.  It looks exhausting, not only for the kids, but for the parents who have to drive to (and most attend) as well.  The idea that this school in NY would allow kids as young as 10 to just leave the building mid day and roam to a local restaurant unattended was something I struggled to fathom, but I was intrigued.

For those of you who follow my blog, you may remember I wrote a while back about how I was trying to let me kids have more freedoms, more independence, and promote a sense of self responsibility and good decision making skills.  It went swimmingly, until we had a falter when my daughter forgot to communicate she was going to a friend’s a few houses down and I couldn’t find her.  After that we had to place new rules and explain the communication process.  Things have been going really well, except that it got so hot the kids haven’t really wanted to venture outside too much, never mind riding bikes etc.  Hopefully, we will work on things more in the fall.

As we talked, E explained that the school allows the kids to leave, unattended for lunch, mostly due to a problem with overcrowding in the school.  There really isn’t enough room in the cafeteria.  She said the kids have a radius that they can go to, about 2-3 blocks, and their are crossing guards at the intersections (and to make sure the kids don’t go outside of the “zone”.  On those blocks, there are a bunch of restaurants the kids can choose from, they bring their own money, and buy lunch.  I thought about how this would fly where I live and giggled, because it never would.  After hearing the layout of their school’s plan, it seemed like quite a good one.  The kids have choice, are given responsibility, there are crossing guards to keep them in the general vicinity, and frankly, it was a great way to keep local businesses afloat.  E explained also that the principal is a very strong leader, explains the process to the kids very clearly, and they are fully aware that one misstep means they lose the privilege.  They haven’t had any issues, because the kids take the privilege so seriously, they don’t want to lose it.  Also, with the volume of people in the area, parents feel that the kids are far safer than wandering in the suburbs.

I explained to her my realization earlier in the year that there were so many things I knew how to do at a young age that my children have never learned, simply because they have never had to learn it.  Road safety, because I am always there to walk them across the road, for example.  All those little things, that really are big things, because I am always there to do it for them.  She said she had had the exact same realization, and it really bothered her.  The interesting thing was that with one of us living in the city, and one in the suburbs, we each had a different set of skills we realized we had never taught our kids because we’d always been there to do it for them. Also, the kids needed different skills based on their location.  For my kids, bike riding was more important, but for her kids, there wasn’t much of a good place for her kids to ride.  For her kids, navigating their neighborhood during rush hour was more important than for my kids, who don’t see a lot of traffic in our area.

Both of us have decided a change is in order, and we are working to give our kids more flexibility, responsibility, and more LIFE skills they can do without us.  While the skill sets may be different based on where we live and the needs that arrive from that, the mentality is the same. Our parents let us learn the hard way, on our own quite a bit, and it taught us good, solid lessons.  We weren’t hovered over and coddled.  We were treated as little people who had to learn to live in a complicated world.  I see moms on social media claiming their kids are never out of their sight, that they do EVERYTHING for their kids, and that they keep their kids in activities and busy every minute of the day.  Know what that tells me?  Those kids likely won’t be able to entertain themselves if someone isn’t telling them how.  Those kids will miss many an important life lesson.  Independence and self discovery is important!  If someone does everything for you, how do you learn to do it yourself?

I recalled the conversation I had with the police officer who came that day my daughter left for her friend’s without telling me where she was going.  I was honestly really, really frightened and questioned my decision to let her do more on her own. (And trust, there were the people who had to make nasty comments about what happened, but you know what? 0 craps given.)  The officer told me that I was doing a GOOD thing.  That kids should be outside playing.  He also said that one thing he runs into all the time are kids of helicopter parents.  He said these parents hover over their child’s every move, thinking they are doing the right thing.  He said that he sees the end result of that, where if a parent goes to the store and runs 10 minutes late back, the kids (old enough to stay home themselves) the kids freak out because they don’t know how to cope for a few moments outside of expectation when the parents aren’t there.  He sees a lot of kids without some basic life skills, because they have never been taught them or had to learn them.  When I recounted this to E she thought it was really interesting, and we discussed how true this probably is.

Statistically, we are at a time of lower crime, but more ways to communicate it.  Our kids in some ways are probably safer than we were when we were younger.  Yet parents are more protective and are helicoptering.  I have seen parents call their grown children out of work.  I have seen parents doing laundry for grown children.  How did we get here, where we are so focused on our children that we have stifled them?

One of the greatest feelings I had as a kid was the feeling of being trusted with responsibility.  I felt so grown up, and appreciative of any new independence, that I worked hard to keep the privilege.  As a kid, I flew overseas by myself!  I traveled 3000+ miles myself, with some oversite from the airline.  I arrived, got my bags, and found my ride.  I navigated airports like a pro.  When I traveled with my parents, they had me tell them where to go, what our next steps were, etc.  In time, I learned my way around our frequented airports, knew how to travel responsibly, and became comfortable that I could manage travelling on my own.  If I got separated from my parents, I knew I had a plan to stay safe and find help.  I knew road safety on my bike. I knew how to speak to adults, how to navigate my corner of the world, and even another area of the world.  I walked comfortably across town at 12 years old in a town overseas.  It saddens me that after being pushed to hover over my kids, I have neglected to teach them some life skills, not for not wanting to, but for not thinking of them.  Why? Because I handled everything for them.  The more I talk to people, the more I notice parents having the same revelations.  This year, I am going to teach my kids the process of navigating an airport and how to travel safely.  Time to let them fly, just not by helicopter parenting.