Tuesday, July 8, 2014

If You Read Only One Thing I'll Ever Write, Let This Be It

I need to start off with an honest disclaimer that this story is not my own.  A very wise Minister shared it with me, and I must share this very paraphrased version with you.  
(Though I've a talent or two, I'm sorry a photographic memory is not one of them.)

Many years ago, a mother lost her only son in a gang related shooting.  An innocent victim, he was the unlucky target of a deadly initiation process.  Thankfully, the young perpetrator was caught by authorities and convicted.  At his sentencing, the victim's mother stood in the courtroom and shouted repeatedly, "I am going to kill you".

Months later, the still-grieving woman found herself visiting the shooter in prison.  Unsure of her intention, or even whether or not she would speak, she felt compelled to look into the eyes of the boy who had taken her son's life so prematurely.

Again and again she visited, often bringing him toiletries or baked goods.  With no other visitors, the boy was completely alone.  In many ways, so was she.

Years went on and eventually the boy, who'd since become a man, was nearing his release date. "What's your plan?", she asked fearfully.  His answer, simply "I don't have one", was unacceptable to her.  She knew where his poor planning had landed them both.

So on the day of his departure, the woman took her son's murderer to live in her home.  Helping him get back on his feet was better (and safer) than leaving him to face the world with no support, she thought.  As time went on, he proved to be helpful, responsible and committed to becoming a better man.  So through a friend, she was able to find him employment.  Eventually he saved some money, got an apartment and packed up to set out on his own.

But before he did, he reminded her.  "I remember that day, in the courtroom.  You screamed over and over again, 'I am going to kill you'".

"I did", the woman said, "I killed you with kindness".

Friday, June 27, 2014

My Daughter Ruined My Husband's Birthday Surprise (And Made Me a Better Person Because of It)

I thought renting a classic car was the perfect birthday gift for my husband.  We were headed down to Orange County to spend the day celebrating my niece’s birthday.  We could drive down there with the top down, maybe cruise the beach, and return both refreshed and sun-kissed.  Or, at least I thought that was the way things would turn out.

Granted we got on the road to pickup the 1964 Oldsmobile Dynamic a bit later than I’d hoped, but it’d be a quick transition from the safe seatbelts of our own car to those of the rental.  In fact, I’d passed on the 1965 Mustang in exchange for this beauty only because of the owner's promise that it had functioning seatbelts.

Let’s face it.  Any self-respecting, minivan-driving mama knows where this is headed (even though I will never drive one of those God forsaken things).

The car didn’t have working seatbelts.  And my daughters, who are 4 and 6, have been conditioned to NEVER ride in a car without being buckled in.  In fact, for years my eldest would say “buckle me” when she wanted to cuddle snuggly.  They are hardwired.  So when my youngest saw us trying to safely rig a broken waist belt into something the CHIPs wouldn’t lock us up for, she melted down like Erik Estrada in a nightmare over losing his hair.

The renting agent reassured us that because seatbelts were not required by law when the car was designed, it was legal to drive without them.  But regardless of whether or not I was okay with that excuse, my 4 year old wasn’t.

Fifteen minutes later, I found myself urgently releasing her from a makeshift seatbelt even MacGyver would love in order to get her out of the car before vomiting on it’s 50 year old interior.  She had worked herself up so such and extent that singing no amount of Disney songs was going to calm her.  Off to Plan B.

We returned the Dynamic, hopped back into our own car, and drove down to Orange County not in the silence of frustration or huffs of anger, but to the continued meltdown of a still unsettled toddler.  Her lengthy reaction was unlike anything I’d see her experience before, heartbreaking and infuriating at the same time.

Ultimately, she fell asleep moments before arriving at the party.  My eldest and I, more than fashionably late, rushed in to celebrate.  Twenty minutes later, my husband carried our youngest into the party, looking refreshed and like nothing had ever happened.  In fact, she’d had the best disco nap of anyone.

The rest of the day was sweet and uneventful, especially compared to our morning.  Clearly we hadn’t ended up with the beautiful day I’d dreamed up, but it was beautiful in another kind of way.

I was reminded that everyone has good days, and bad.  The key is to keep on driving forward.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

How A No-Homework Curriculum Changed My Parenting (*tear*)

It seems like just weeks ago that we attended Back to School Night.  The positive energy was palpable as dozens of parents, both veterans or virgins (to the school, of course), saw the future of their sun-kissed shoulders fade in exchange for the refreshing change of a more regimented weekly schedule.  Once our Headmaster turned on her microphone, we quickly hushed as though being graded on manners at a school assembly from our teen years.  Clearly there was an important announcement to come.

After a great amount of research and consideration (blah, blah, blah), the kindergarten through fourth grade curriculum would no longer include daily homework assignments.  Once in fifth grade, the practice would be slowly introduced, in preparation for middle school.

There was an audible reaction from the crowd, though I am to this day unsure if it was of relief or concern.  With a kindergartener and preschooler, our family really wouldn’t be impacted by the drastic move just yet.  Still, I was impressed with the progressive nature of the decision and looked forward to learning more about it’s justification.  That said, I’ve since learned other families were unimpressed with such an important announcement coming at the start of a school year, when the opportunity to change institutions as a result was pretty much nonexistent.

Next up was a preview of Vicki Abeles’ documentary Race to Nowhere: Transforming Education from the Ground Up which we were all encouraged to watch in full (I recommend the same to you), and a list of suggested resources.  My husband and I not only watched the film, but also purchased literature written by some of the experts featured within it.

We were ready.  We were ready to let our children be children, while committing to knowing enough about their current curriculum that we’d be able to supplement their lessons with real life assignments at home.  When they studied fractions, we’d bake a cake to practice measuring ingredients.  When they had a lesson on the constellations, we’d break out a telescope and learn a thing or two ourselves.

I (nervously) anticipated stepping up to the challenge and being more involved, while noting that the decrease in my daughter’s workload may result in an increase in mine.  What I wasn’t expecting was how beautiful and rewarding the experience would be...

A couple of months ago my kindergartener began a unit on the lifecycle of the butterfly.

I was immediately reminded of the butterfly nursery that Santa had put under our tree and I’d stored away, likely to be forgotten by New Year’s Day.  We broke it out and I mailed in a postcard requesting live caterpillars.  (Now, that’s a check off the good ole bucket list.)  Shortly after, this arrived.

Every morning afterwards, the girls would awake with anticipation, hoping for this:

Each day, we spoke about the caterpillars development, photographed their progression, and reported back to teachers about what was happening.  Eventually, the hard work paid off.

We kept the butterflies for about two weeks, giving them fresh flowers and sugar water along the way.  Then, we said goodbye.

It was sad and beautiful at the same time.  I guess letting go always is.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Breaking Tradition Can Be The Best Tradition

Is tradition for all Americans synonymous with bulk, or is that only in my house?

I consider myself a pretty sentimental woman, who didn’t fall far from the tree.  I’ve often written about special things from my childhood safeguarded by my mother long ago that my daughters are now lucky enough to enjoy, like my first ever Barbie Dream House.  But several years into parenting myself, I’ve already accumulated bins of goodies… I mean crap… I mean goodies… Geez, I don’t even know what it is anymore.

There is a fine line between holding onto items for sentimental reason and because you deserve a spot on the season premiere of Hoarders.  Similarly, between real tradition and yet another excuse for excess.  Here’s an example.

Over a decade ago, my husband and I had a very traditional wedding.  We stated our vows in a magnificent Roman Catholic church before an enormous group of family and friends.  I walked the aisle to Pachelbel’s Canon, someone special read Corinthians 13:4 “love is patient, love is kind” and after kissing the bride everyone, we celebrated at a reception fit for a bridal magazine (IMHO).

Meanwhile, the UPS delivery man was hitting our small apartment on a daily basis.  Yet another “tradition” we followed was to register for formal dining china, service for 12.  “Lenox Hannah Platinum” it was called.  Dainty, beautiful, and a decade later still in it’s original packaging in my mother’s basement.

There are several downsides to living on the opposite coast as most of family.  We miss way more big events than we’d like, it is impossible to keep everyone happy at the holidays and unless you plan, like, 10 years ahead, it is impossible to empty all your crap out of your parents house before you leave.  Joe and I planned on spending two years in San Diego, not over a decade in Los Angeles.

Fast forward to last month when my frustrated family finally hired a moving company to bring some cumbersome furniture, my wedding china and a significant amount of crap to Los Angeles.  (Let’s just say that if Kodak would refund me for all the photos I've developed of people I no longer recognize, I’d have gone to college for free.)

I freaked.  I don’t have a curio cabinet.  I don’t have an attic.  I don’t have a basement.  I don’t even have a freaking garage.  What the hell was I going to do with my wedding china?


My daughters thought the china was the prettiest, "fanciest" thing they had ever seen, and BEGGED me to let them eat on it.  So, I did what any self-proclaimed fun mother would do.  We used paper towel rolls, glitter spray paint and fairy stickers to invite my sister and niece to a very fancy party.

We ate chicken nuggets, pizza, macaroni and cheese (and some veggies) on this:

The girls wore makeup and my sister and I wore Louboutins (obviously).  We made toasts with sparkling lemonade under twinkling lights and kept our elbows off the table.  And in the end, we broke an old-school "tradition" to create a new tradition of our own.  Our first fancy party will certainly not be the last.

So thank you, nearly 11 years later, to everyone who purchased a piece of my beautiful wedding china.  This will never be forgotten.

Friday, April 25, 2014

I See London, I See France... I (Don't Want to) See Beyonce in Her Underpants

Of the many powerful women who have graced the cover of TIME magazine in it’s near century existence, only one was in her underwear.

Beyonce Knowles-Carter is a wonderful choice for the cover of this year's "100 Most Influential People" issue, hitting stands this week.  In addition to having sold over 118 million records in her solo career (and another 60 million with the girl group Destiny's Child), she has won 17 Grammy Awards and been nominated for a Golden Globe for her stellar role in Dreamgirls.  Add to that dossier her credits as fashion designer, social activist, working mother and self-proclaimed "modern day feminist", and it is impossible to find her undeserving of the title.  Why, then, is the often politically and fiscally skewed magazine showcasing only her sex appeal on their dramatic cover?

I've taken a look back at many issues of TIME featuring women on their covers, including this one published less than a month after I was born.

Clearly we've come a long way since the mid-1970's, but likely too far.  While Sheryl Sandberg's 2013 cover below may have played on the 1980's Pantene "Don't Hate Me Because I'm Beautiful" advertising campaign, I'm (somewhat) surprised we didn't have to see her in the shower.

Even this 2006 cover of country music sensation the Dixie Chicks demonstrates their gritty attitude and strong views on patriotism, but not without highlighting their toned physique and crazy sexuality.

None of us needs to be told that sex sells, but what we may benefit from is a reminder that so do other things.  I prefer the Dixie Chicks image over any other that I researched because of the balance it strikes between sexuality and strength.  It doesn't ignore the appeal of their feminine bodies, but uses them as a pedestal on which to exhibit other qualities that complete their character.

Many years ago, my mother started a fine tradition of saving important television news clips on VHS in a collection for her children as a keepsake.  Little could she have known back then that the same clips she rushed to chronicle in real time would later become available at the click of a mouse, but the sentiment was perfect.  I have since started saving important print media for my own children (both girls), as while the digital copies will be easy to reprint for all of eternity, nothing can replace the feel of a half-century old newspaper.

At first I was tempted to toss Beyonce's TIME cover, but have since had a change of heart.  Raising strong, well-balanced, emotionally secure women (and perhaps continuing on the road to become one myself) isn't about shielding ourselves from messages that upset or offend our ideal.  Instead, it is about embracing those differences in opinion and educating ourselves and others about them so one can truly become influential.

Rock on, Sasha Fierce.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


The last time I checked, there were no children for sale in the aisles of an art supply store.  Of course, anything to the contrary would be completely ridiculous, let alone abusive and flat out illegal.  Why is it, then, that babies and toddlers have become such a hot prop in today’s photographic arts?

I’m sure you’ve seen at least a few examples of what I mean, such as these.

credit: Sioin Queenie Liao

credit: @2sister_angie

Granted they are beautiful pieces, worthy of all the “awws” and (nearly one million) “likes” they garner on every single social media platform.  That said, they completely freak me out.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am all for using my children as inspiration.  There is little that inspires me more than my desire to stimulate, encourage, educate and provide for my kids.  In fact, they even inspire my darker side.  I love to poke fun at their bad habits, maddening tantrums and poor handle on the English language.  I even do it publicly.

The difference is, the only material I have is what they give me naturally.  I never make up a quote, embellish a story or put them in a costume they don’t choose for themselves (infant Halloween garb aside).

In short, I celebrate who my children are, not what I can do with them.  (Like this.)

credit: @MommyShorts/Ilana Wiles
I wonder how, if at all, the situation would be different if we were using teens in the photos as opposed to infants?  As a society we have become so sensitive, with good reason, to the exploitation and bullying of our youth.  And while significant progress has been made in those areas, I cannot help but fear we are taking an enormous step in the wrong direction with our younger generation.

Parenting is the greatest gift, and the greatest burden.  There is no job more difficult, more taxing, or more rewarding.  With it, I believe, comes a silent vow not only to do no harm to the child but to do quite the opposite.

For me, every day is a journey in which I learn a little more about what being a good (or bad) parent means.  I have no idea exactly what it means to anyone else, nor should I.  I can only hope that nowhere in their definition does it say a thing about acquiring likes on Facebook.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

OK, I Didn't REALLY Give Birth

I’ve often touted my opinion that having a C-section is still “giving birth”.

Well, it is. 

Sort of.

Not really.

OK, it doesn’t even compare.

Granted my younger sister and her husband spent much of their recent pregnancy considering their birth plan, as there are so many critical options to weigh.  Natural versus Epidural?  Vaginal versus C-Section?  Breast versus Bottle? Public School versus Private?

I may not have been a huge contributor to that debate, although my sister did ask for me to share some of my two medically required C-section experiences.  Thankfully, she was able to make her own decision, which was strongly in favor of a vaginal birth.

I really commended her decision.  Having been present in the birthing suite for two childbirths as part of a PBS documentary, I had seen the… ordeal… first hand.  And it was for that exact reason, in addition to the fear I had of seeing my little sister experience such a level of physical pain, that I opted not to be in the delivery room when my nephew was born.

That is, until she asked me to be there.

This was not part of the birthing plan I had anticipated.  I expected her husband to be the only one in there, way closer to one end than the other.  So when it became a bit of a family affair, as my mother (a former labor and delivery room nurse herself) received the same invitation, I went (silently, I think) into panic mode.

Typically a strong first responder in emergency situations, I called upon some previous experiences to help me prepare.  My own medical emergencies in addition to the previous deliveries I’d seen and a front row seat for a very lengthy facial reconstructive surgery while working on Extreme Makeover were just a few of the experiences I had to pull from.  And I had survived all of those.  Sort of.

But this was different.  This was my little sister.  This was the girl who despite all the incessant teasing, bitch slaps, and painful noogies, I would do anything to protect… even if that meant watching her endure agonizing pain in order to provide the slightest bit of comfort when asked.  Damn you, Jeni.

So, I prepared now just as I did then.  I gave myself the same pep talk my mother had given me before watching the plastic surgeries.  “You will not puke!  You will not pass out!”  (Read those aloud, like Bobby Knight would.)  Almost everything after that is a blur.

Everyone had a role in the delivery room.  Mine was take photos and video, which I believe I deserve an Oscar for.  Between takes, I attempted to make my sister comfortable by placing icy washcloths on her forehead and keeping her puke bucket clean.

Long story short, 40 hours of (frighteningly) active labor, 3 hours of (blood curdling) pushies, 2 cord wraps around his neck and one very strange vacuum later, I learned a very important lesson.

The mode of transportation is completely insignificant because the wonder of holding him or her for the very first time is just the same.

Welcome to the World, Tyler James Bianco! xo