Someone Get Me a Xanax, It’s Finals Time

Look closely at that photo: On Friday she was barfing her guts out with the 24 hour flu; the bucket’s still there but now it appears papers are what’s been barfed out. What a way to study! 

I think the greatest testament to the first year of high school is the fact that I haven’t blogged about it since November 1st.

This year went by at times painfully slow and on whole, remarkably fast. Today is the first day of finals (first semester finals were a joke but that’s for another blog), so today is the first “real” final for biology. And I am a wreck.

I know it’s not about me. 

I don’t have to take the darn test. But the Herculean effort I have put in to helping this kid learn how to learn all year long is coming down to two days: today and tomorrow. And this morning’s breakfast is still a rock in my stomach until 12:20 when I see Katie to hand her her yearbook (that she forgot this morning) and look at her face to see if she survived – oh, and maybe got a passing grade (because seriously, I do NOT want to do this over again).

Oh there’s so much to share about freshman year and now that it’s coming to a close, I think I will have time to reflect, record and release (you knew I had to find another “r” word because school is all about the three “r’s” isn’t it?).

So for now, this blog will serve as my faux Xanax as I wait for word and get ready for tomorrow’s second mad dash to her math final (thankfully English isn’t having one – first time that horrible teacher has done something good!).

And then I will start a list of blog topics: How I Survived Her Freshman Year. 

UPDATE: I got an excited text from her that she got 100% on her lab book – her choice to focus on that last night was a good one – and she thought the final wasn’t that bad. She’s off the lunch with friends before sweating the math final tomorrow. Whew. One down, one to go!

Just Got Off the Bus in Times Square

You can’t have her, she’s alllll mine….

A good friend of mine remembers his adolescence amazingly well.

As I described to him the changes going on with my 14 year old daughter, a freshman in high school, he said, “It’s like she just got off the bus in the middle of Times Square. She is so overwhelmed having to adapt to these new surroundings – learning the language, how to dress, what music to listen to, where to go, how to be, noticing what the older kids are doing – her brain is over flowing.”

His recollection and description truly helped me. Before he explained this to me, I really couldn’t grasp how she could sit down to eat and keep forgetting to get a fork. Seriously – she’s been eating since – well forever! The fork is now a hard thing to remember? Yes, he helped me understand. But it doesn’t change the fact that I feel like Jekyll and Hyde living in two very opposite emotional states of mind.

I want to shoot her.

She has been brain dead at home. Worst grades ever. No ability to string two thoughts together. If I ask, “What’s your plan?” she looks at me like I am speaking French – no wait, something far less interesting – like I am speaking whale. Or like those teachers on Charlie Brown.

“Mom, I want to live in the moment,” she says clarifying as she heads back to her bathroom to make yet another cosmetic adjustment. Fifty-year-olds don’t spend this much time on their faces. My god.

“That’s fine honey when they are all your moments, but in this case, you need me to drive, get food and frankly put my life on hold while you figure things out,” I say while I am often picking up another pair of her shoes (not co-located) or moving her crap off the table an into a single location.

And thus the battle begins. No matter how hard I try to eliminate any challenges, just simple communication seems to be impossible. And she’s explained to me it’s perfectly normal: all her friends hate their parents. Gee, awesome. Let me run right out and get the special yogurt you want.

I am missing the crap out of her. 

My friends theorize since I am a single mom, it’s probably harder for me than most. But I don’t think that’s it. I’ve busy and fairly fulfilled – I’ve been working like crazy and I am blessed to have a fantastic, diverse group of friends.

No, I think it’s because she and I actually got along really well and liked each other’s company. I always counted my blessings I got a kid that liked to do what I liked to do (wasn’t the case with me and my mom – she was an orange and I was an apple…well, actually she was more of a banana). I miss the time I would spend with her getting into mischief – even if her friends were along for the ride.

Just keep swimming.

So here we are.I’m 90% sure I haven’t changed on iota since September 1st. Yet little miss NYC is caught in the swirl of emerging adulthood and is fifty shades of different: excited and overwhelmed in the middle of Times Square. Please tell me I’m not just a pigeon on the sidewalk trying to avoid all those feet.

This too shall pass. Right?

Workshop at the Santa Cruz Resource Center for Nonviolence

Last Monday Katie started a week of Crunchy Camp – that was her nickname for the workshop she was attending at the Resource Center for Nonviolence called Exploring Your Social Justice Community.

She really enjoyed herself. It turns out it wasn’t a youth workshop (that’s on me, I misread the description) so she was with adults and college students. There was only one other high school student there. But that was okay. She said the other participants were great people; really interesting and different from the folks she runs into every day.

At the end of the week, there was an exhibit at the Santa Cruz Museum of Modern Art (the MAH) featuring the collaboration projects they worked on during the week. The photos from the event are below. I was kind of surprised and a little impressed. They covered a range of topics and it was fun seeing photos of Katie and crew throughout the week’s events.

A pic of the gang during the workshop.

The good news is the workshop absolutely pushed her thinking. I got a kick out of hearing about her days and the things that happened that she didn’t expect or understand. Unbeknownst to her, I kept a little diary of her comments and observations and thought I would turn them into a quick list of things I learned by sending her to the workshop. I hope you enjoy!


Consensus can lead to missed opportunity.

Katie was stymied by how many times the group had to reach consensus to decide something. The one that really chapped her was the discussion about whether or not they should break early for lunch. As Katie noted, the joke was on them because after trying to reach consensus, the opportunity had passed.

Corollary: Pacifists need hierarchy.
Decisions need to be made, someone needs to be in charge and things need to get moving. Katie’s way more patient than I am about these things, so for her to notice and be bothered by it means it was “noticeable”. One thing about those fascists, I doubt there’s a lot of time wasted on who’s telling whom what to do!

Don’t ever tell your grandmother something shocking while at Whole Foods.
I really wish this was on video. While getting dinner at Whole Foods, with my mom, Katie says rather loudly, “I think I’m a Republican.” To which my mom gasps, then screams “WHAT?!” and nearly falls over. Right there in front of the pizza guy. It. Was. Priceless.

How can gender be unclear?
Katie is super close friends with a transgender boy (I even help them with their blog). They’ve been friends through their childhood and she was with him through transition. But on gender day, when the discussion turned to individuals who don’t identify with one gender or another, this stopped her in her tracks. “I get someone identifies male or female, but how can it be both?,” she asked. Clearly there’s more to be explored here.

Lettuce leaves aren’t salad.
The workshop provided lunch every day. Katie can do vegetarian pretty well (hey – way better than I can) but she ran into some more exotic foods than she’s ever seen around here (or on her travels for that matter). But the thing that really slayed her was the bowl of lettuce leaves at the Life Lab Garden at UCSC that was marketed as salad. “Leaves are not salad,” she stated emphatically. Duly noted.

 

Free first Friday at the Museum.
Things we can do as humans to create change.
Pic of Katie hanging from the tree.
Some thinking tree.
The pic and the pictured!
One of my soapbox issues: rape culture.
Assembled art piece.
Front of her collage.
Back of her collage.
I think this is from the gender discussion.
Slide show with more photos.
Not sure if I like this – she already questions authority.
Yep, that’s the group sign! Outside the exhibit room at MAH.

 

What if Alex P Keaton Attended a Nonviolence Workshop in Santa Cruz?

Alex and Katie: Separated at Birth?

Now that Katie’s home from her last great adventure (and has clearly slept more than any Koala Down Under), it’s time for her to re-engage with humanity in a constructive way.

Tomorrow she starts a week of learning about social justice at a student workshop called Exploring Your Social Justice Community. This is sponsored by the Resource Center for Nonviolence in Santa Cruz. It’s just the kind of thing you’d expect from Santa Cruz!

If you aren’t familiar with us, we’ll we’re kind of known for our liberal slant especially when it comes to individual freedom. So I’m expecting Katie will get a fairly biased indoctrination this week.

Update: Wanna know just how liberal this community is? This should make you chuckle.

But that’s where the fun begins.

They say kids are often mouthpieces for their parent’s politics but that is seldom the case in our house. While she does share my opinions on civil rights, she’s often the Alex P. Keaton around here arguing with me, my mom and anyone else who isn’t a moderate conservative! I don’t think these workshop people know what they are in for.

I’ve coached Katie to listen. Even if she disagrees. If she’s truly interested in a career in diplomacy, I explained, she has to be open to other points of view and to understand the rationale behind that point. That’s the only way she can influence people and help them see her point of view.

So we’ll see how this goes. I promise an update as the week draws to a close. I’ll try to capture little pieces of insights and learning along the way. At a minimum, at least she’ll have something to do this week!

Update! Here’s what happened!

It’s True, I Love Stealing Other People’s Children

It was so easy.

All I had to do to lure them away was send them a text. And then they were mine!

Much to Katie’s chagrin – she really can’t complain, she’s off storming the South Pacific with People to People – I swiped her friends and took them to a food fest at the Second Harvest Food Bank in Watsonville.

My glorious partners in crime, Emelia and Eva, are Katie’s friends and they are wonderful, fun and appreciative. They accompanied me to the event to learn more about the food bank and the local service organizations and foods we have in Santa Cruz County.

Free Food at the Food Bank!

We got there to find a great spread – lunch! I wish I could remember which group made the food. It was tasty. Enchiladas, salad and if you look, that’s a tri-tip sandwich on Eva’s plate.

It was sunny and warm and it was fun to feast with the girls and dish about my daughter! Well not exclusively, but there was a little gossip about her flirting with some boys in New Zealand. I hadn’t heard that story. It was so good to get the “deets” (that’s slang for details if you aren’t hip – it’s probably actually old-school slang at this point).

After lunch Bly, pictured on the right, gave us a personal tour of the food bank. We started in the offices learning about their marketing efforts like The Waiters Race organized by Soif Wine Bar owner Patrice Boyle to celebrate the French holiday Bastille Day and raise money for the Watsonville-based charity Second Harvest Food Bank.

We rounded the corner and found the sign (right) that noted half the people served by the food bank are children. That one hit home for all three of us. We also saw this huge whiteboard that lists where food is being delivered and when. It’s a two week window of outreach that extends all over Santa Cruz County. Very impressive and real.

The warehouse was next and thanks to a great Capital Campaign, the bank has racks now to stack the food that’s donated from many places. It’s rather amazing to see stacks and stacks of donated food. One of the girls said it felt like a “Costco for good.” Couldn’t agree more. We passed by strawberries donated by Driscoll’s and Happy Boy Farms tomatoes and more.

We ended looking at the inside of a box of food that’s delivered to families based on the donations given in those food bins that show up at the holidays all over Santa Cruz County. In the photo on the left that says Food Drive, you see what a family might get. I saw two cans of anchovies and it took me a minute to force down my gag reflex. They are so gross to me.

Then I realized, if I was hungry, that would be food and I would be grateful. I am grateful that I am not that hungry and don’t have to rely on Sardines. Very, very grateful.

We walked outside to find Sam Farr talking with the gathering about his support of the Food Bank. When I snapped the photo, he was surrounded by Plantronics Interns who always seems to be on hand to help out at these events (wow).

Before we left, we visited the various booths set up around the event featuring local growers and plenty of great produce. I buried myself in raspberries – like gold at the store and I could have as many as I wanted! – and the girls tasted tomatoes, apples, strawberries and more.

They gave us bags and we were invited to take home produce. We all left with lots of fresh goodies from organic carrots and radishes to home grown plums, apples and berries.

The girls expressed interest in volunteering sometime soon; maybe to sort food. I was glad to have the chance to share such a good time with them. They were terrific company and made me miss my daughter just a little bit less.

Stealing kids is totally worthwhile – as long as their parents agree! I just hope Katie won’t kill me when she gets home!

Wow – Just Changed the Blog Title to “It’s High School”

First day and last day of middle school. Damn.

Hard to believe the time has come.

Middle school graduation was last week – I can’t believe how much this kid changed in one year. Who knew eighth grade would mark such significant developments. For a kid who really had one friend in middle school, she ended with a posse! In fact, her great milestone, a zillion signatures in her yearbook – compared to last year which only had signatures on one page.

Katie considers this to be her greatest 8th grade achievement. I can’t say she’s wrong. She did great academically but thankfully that’s never been that hard for her. But making new friends, that’s proven to be much more of a challenge. She likes kids who are savvy and interesting and willing to try new things. She’s not interested in stoners or followers or people who have no imagination.
She’s off and running and I find that I am the one left facing a bit of “development.”

When I brought Katie home from the hospital, swear to God, the very first week, I cried like a fool telling everyone that she was going to leave me and go to college. I’ll be damned, I was right! But the leaving is starting now. All this time I wanted her to have friends but I didn’t realize that meant I would be back on my own again.

Oh sure, I see her sometimes, but even as I write this she’s in her room, on the phone or texting. She has been out all day on a bike ride (and an early dinner – what 13 year old says that? “Hey mom, we are heading out for an ‘early dinner’ on the wharf!”). I have been home working and then cooked (well, burned) myself dinner and dove into a Stephen King book (Under the Dome – why did I think I could read 1074 pages before the series starts this week?).

Anyway, this early empty nest thing isn’t going so well for me. I am truly having a hard time. I know I’m in the final countdown. Four years of high school is going to fly by. I’m clear. It’s time I get back to having a life, doing things with my friends, maybe watch a movie. The feeling is so uncomfortable and lonely. I miss that wonderful pre-teen who used to hang out with me.

But I’m proud of her too. This is what’s she’s supposed to be doing right? Growing up. Being independent. Taking responsibility for her own life.

So we begin. The last four years. This is high school.

LTS is the YOLO for the Over Forty Crowd

I think his nickname is OJ…just sayin’…
If you have been living under a rock or simply been too busy working or listening to the kids squabble, you could have missed YOLO. (You can watch this Jimmy Kimmel video to help you feel better about being so out of touch). 

It’s the current excuse to do anything that you would normally not do if you were using judgement. You Only Live Once is what YOLO means and the internets are loaded with videos of youngsters pushing the envelope to prove they’ve got what it takes to YOLO (great POV video here: warning, he uses adult language to make his point).

I suppose the upside of YOLO is it pushes you to step out of your comfort zone. And that push doesn’t have to be toward the negative.


But what if you are over forty?

Of course we YOLOed (I’m not sure how well that works as a verb). Except back then we called it partying or the walk of shame or spring break. Whatever the name, it was stupid, reckless and in the past. Thankfully we are still around to talk about it – although it seems many of you have selectively forgotten your YOLO days when it comes to your kids. Maybe a view stories from your past might serve as a cautionary tale for your teens and up your “coolness factor” at the same time?

But that’s not what this is about. It’s about a new acronym that I find myself using a lot lately probably because I am older and I have changed my point of view: LTS. Alright, it’s not really an acronym but I was trying to work some parallel structure into the story.

Life’s Too Short.

It has become my mantra and in some ways, my salvation. It really comes from getting older because it’s not until a good friend gets sick, or you lose someone you care about, or your own body doesn’t work the way it was supposed to, that you realize, life really is too short! Suddenly you want to grab every moment and make it last longer. And the tolerance for trivia goes right out the door.

Relying on “life’s too short” can be dangerous and perceived as meaning you don’t care. This first batch of examples have a hint of that intention.


  • Hey Jen, can you help with the dance committee? Me: No, sorry, my client load is really big right now (and life’s too short to sit on yet another committee of adults parsing snacks and streamers). 
  • Oh Jen, you really should read this new self-help book. It’s amazing and discusses the history of man’s struggle with pathos, ethos and parapsychology! Me: Wow, sounds fantastic, I’ll check it out (never because life’s too short to read yet another convoluted self-help book). 
Okay – those are easy. They are kind of sassy and trite and I think we all do them. But then there are the hard ones. The ones that require me to step up, take the higher road and move toward the greater good. And these are the ones I wish everyone would consider. They go something like this:
  • I am stressed out on a deadline and Katie walks in the door with lots to tell me about her day. I might might be tempted to say a short “hello” and then scramble back to work but. Instead I choose to sit down, relax and have a nice talk with her. Because life’s too short to let these moments slip by – she’ll be in college before I know it and I will never get this time back.
  • I know I’m going to a meeting with a few people who rub me the wrong way. In a perfect world, I’d avoid it, but instead, I employ my new saying and I show up AND I greet everyone and relax into letting it all happen because, life’s too short to let the discomfort get me down. 
  • I pay my money and take the time to do something cool – a meal at a restaurant, a movie, a special event – and I sit down and start to panic about all the things I should be doing that are more important that what I am doing. Then I smack myself in the head (internally) and realize life’s too short to not enjoy this moment right now; and not being present to enjoy it is the new walk of shame.
What do you think? Are you having this epiphany too? 

I have a good friend who shares my passion for this way of thinking. We are starting a business together and I am ever so grateful that this is her position. It creates a safe environment for disagreement and aligns us on the things that matter most: doing our best, enjoying the process and being delighted about the outcome – whatever that maybe.
Here’s to a great life regardless of how long it lasts!

Middle School is Almost Over – We Made It Through the Wilderness

First Day of Middle School
I’m so lucky. I have a fairly uncomplicated kid. 
 
Now that middle school is finally coming to an end, I realized what we really went through in the last three years. For anyone just starting out: hang in there – what comes out on the other end is totally worth it.

From Home School Back to Public School

When Katie started sixth grade, fresh out of home school, she didn’t really have any friends. She bravely sat through first lunch week after week, alone. After awhile it did get to her. She admitted it was hard. Eventually, she finally met a friend and while it wasn’t perfect, it was good. Her friend was smart and shared interests and finally there was someone for Katie to hang with at lunch.Fast-forward to the spring semester of eighth grade and Katie is now on fire. That one friend got her through the winter of this year and then finally, like a curtain raised, all the girls who I would say aren’t the “popular ones”; the girls that are more introverted finally found each other.
 
Katie has a “posse”!
The kids are good kids and they have all emerged from the middle school dessert as new people. They readily admit they feel different. More ready to take on the world. To hangout and try new things. It’s clear Katie’s natural leadership qualities has been the fuel to get these kids together, but they also had to be ready. And they are!

The big ice-breaker was a girl/boy bonfire at our house. At first they only wanted to plan it for two hours because everyone said they needed to get home. I quietly (ahem, I’m sure I was quiet about it), I quietly jumped in and suggested to Katie that really what was behind this rather crazy time constraint was social anxiety. She admitted I may have had a point.

The get together started at 6pm at our house. A few people were late, there was much texting and then the pizzas arrived. I went and hid in my bedroom and let the good times roll. With no effort they found their rhythm and had a great time. As it neared 11pm and I had to tell them it was time to go home and they were so sad! But I was relieved. These kids had no problems. They were awesome (they even left the house clean). 

There’s hope!

So what I am saying is if you are living the middle school years, there’s hope. Don’t freak. The boys are complete idiots in sixth grade (I was assured by a teacher friend, this is expected) and they are just now getting it together. It absolutely correlates to testosterone. The late bloomers are still struggling. The girls are either incredibly socially competent as they enter sixth grade or they go into a kind of torpor that they will come out of as the days get longer in eighth grade. At least that’s what I observed.
 
I’d love to hear your experiences. It’s sad enough to remember our own middle school years – I was not popular but played consigliere to the popular girls. So much drama. Now it’s our turn to watch. What are you seeing? 

 

A night of fun with the bonfire.
Shopping with the posse.

 

 

Every Body Eats! Unleashing Katie’s Passion for Learning

Yeah, it sounds nuts. What the heck am I talking about?
When I learned a long time ago that neuron connections are vital for a rich, healthy brain, it became my focus. I wanted to make sure that when I took information, I was building new connections and hopefully improving my ability to retain what I was learning.

More neurons equate to a more complex organism. A central preoccupation of neuroscience is deducing the way billions of neurons produce the human mind.” from 100 Trillion Connections

Ever since I walk around trying to take in new information and relate it to existing information hoping to connect and cement that new knowledge into my internal database. It seems to have worked for me and became my top priority for raising my kid. Build her neuron connections.
I have been less interested in what she learns than how she’s learning it. Whenever there’s been an opportunity to stop the conversation and relate the content to other things, I’ve done it. That “pause” button on our TiVo remote is the most-used button the dang thing. No show goes unpaused. We are always stopping to analyze, debate, question, relate and even fact-check the information that’s coming our way.
And last night, I got to see some of the fruits of my labors!

We attended Every Body Eats with a panel of guests and food expert, Michael Pollan. The venue was packed and warm and based on discussion; not the kind of event a 13 year old puts high on her list. I had no idea how the night was going for her while we were there but boy did I find out when I got home!
Katie blasted in the house at 9pm saying she needed to finish watching a video she has started on nutrition that is part of her science fair project. Okay, I said, go ahead. The next thing I knew she was asking me about details of the talk – Monsanto, DuPont, more about corn and GMO corn, nutrients – and I just kind of watched it unfold.
“Mom, tonight was totally about my project!” she exclaimed about 20 minutes later. She was suddenly synthesizing information in new ways and I was watching her connect information from different sources and getting how they related or conflicted with what she was thinking. I didn’t realize it but she was putting together the information that supported her hypothesis for the Science Fair and she was so excited.
I have loved watching her grow over the years.

Not just the obvious ways but how reading and math provided the foundation for learning more complex concepts. How she has been able to move from me helping her with home work to finding help online and with her peers. And now how she is taking responsibility for learning what she will not be taught in any formal way. That kind of learning many of us still pursue when something grabs our interest.
Her new holy grail: contributing to the body of knowledge. We’ll see how that goes. In the meantime, this is so fun. She’s helping me build new neuron connections!

It’s Grassroots Baby – One Otter at a Time! Join the campaign!

Um, yeah. Katie pretending to be a fish. Don’t ask.

I am a fan of Kickstarter.

If you don’t know about this organization yet, you owe it to yourself to learn more. It’s a giant portal that hosts projects asking for donations from folks from all over. I have helped three projects so far and I love the process. It’s grassroots, personal and powerful.
An organization puts their “ask” together, makes their case and sets a goal. Funders – like you and me – pledge a donation and if they make their target in pledges, we are all in. We pay. If it doesn’t happen, the organization regroups and figures out their next steps. It’s entrepreneurial, high energy and a lot of fun. It’s a cool way to be “in” on a project without having to do a lot of work.

Which brings me to my “ask”. Please consider a donation: it’s all about the otters.
Those are the otters down there. You can’t see them all.
Living in Santa Cruz, a favorite hangout is Moss Landing, just a few miles down the road. It’s a marine sanctuary (and part of the Monterey Bay) and there you’ll find so many birds, fish and animals you know you are someplace special. There the otters grow huge and they are hilarious as they spend their day eating, grooming and raising their families. But they are also in danger.
So imagine my delight when I saw this awesome Kickstarter project on a local Facebook page: Otter 501.
Your pledge will help the team continue their mission of environmental education. This is exactly the kind of outreach that has whet Katie’s interest in life sciences. Now that she’s in 8th grade, I can’t tell you how proud I am of her interest in the environment, biology and pursuing her education in a way that might lead to a career in research. I truly believe living in Santa Cruz County and having access to such amazing resources partly responsible.

Please consider a pledge to this worthwhile cause. You only pledge what you can afford.
I pledged $300 so I could get the presentation brought to Shoreline Middle School here in the Live Oak District. I want the message to reach as many kids as possible! I am hoping this Kickstarter Project is funded because I can’t wait to see this film with the kids from Shoreline.
Here’s how you can learn more.
They are so fat and happy here in the harbor. We love watching them.