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.

Blog Action Day 2012 – The Power of We is the Key to Successful Parenting

There is nothing that rings more true for a single mom.

I chose to be a single mom. When I wasn’t married at 34 – and there were no prospects on the horizon – I decided I would go ahead and have a kid using a sperm donor. I also knew I would be on my own raising my child and I decided early on that my journey would embrace anyone who wanted to participate.

The Power of We

became a rallying cry for me. I found a care provider for Katie who had worked in early childhood development and taught me ways to parent and guide her (in particular about the RIE method* that has helped me with Katie and so many other children).

The Power of We

was a promise my old college roommate, Sandra, made when she jumped in and helped me when Katie got colicky. She’d walk in to check on my around 6pm every day and I could walk out and get some fresh air and a break. Thirteen years later Sandra is still very involved in Katie’s life providing a welcome respite from a driving mother (me) offering different energy and an fantastic extended family (she’s Creole with six sisters and a zillion relatives).

The Power of We

brought my mom and me together around a common goal as she taught me to master all the operational issues associated with being a mom – from feeding to sleeping to mastering the bath. Over the years I have called her with every kind of problem looking for advice or just a shoulder to lean on.

The Power of We

is just another way of saying “It Takes a Village” and anyone who has raised a child knows you really, truly don’t do it alone. It takes an orchestra of teachers, coaches, friends, family, and so many more that provide guidance, direction, inspiration and correction to both you and your child as they grow.

The Power of Weis what I teach Katie now that she’s old enough to start giving back. It started with her friends and teaching her how to listen and offer support and help. It moved into taking action in the community with Girl Scouts and the Second Harvest Food Bank. And now I am seeing her consider “the greater good” as she thinks through ideas for her science project or thinks about what she might want to do with her life.

In a world where so many want to emphasize individual achievement and rugged individualism, I believe The Power of We is our hope for the future. Not to sound too “Obama” about this, I truly wouldn’t be where I am today without the support of my family, friends and community.

That is The Power of We.

*Interesting, I did RIE with Katie nearly 12 years ago and loved it. I always told Katie what I was going to do with her before I did it and I still do it today. Even as an adult, there’s nothing I hate more than one someone tries to make me do something without a heads-up. No wonder kids always scream when someone shoves a Kleenex in their face without warning! In searching for a link to REI now, I see that somewhere mid-2000’s, it became a “fad.” Whatever you read, know you can adapt REI to fit what works for you. It’s the intentions that are meaningful.

Unlearning Parenting

“Mom, you have to stop,” Katie tells me firmly but still calmly. Thank goodness she’s patient.

“You know,” I said, “I think I am having an epiphany. I need to unlearn how to parent you. I have been doing these things since you were born and now I need to stop doing them. And that’s going to be hard.”

I went on telling her that from the beginning, I had to anticipate what she was doing, redirect her or tell her what to do almost all the time. From brush your teeth to look both ways and everything in between. As I broke it down – and as she caught on and started thinking of things on her own – we both realized how many things parents do all day to help their kid grow up.

But, as a very smart therapist once taught me, the habits we learn that once served us well, often become bad behaviors when they are no longer needed. This was truly one of those moments. I realized I need to unlearn parenting.

It’s super hard.

I am basically trying to break habits that I have worked hard to cultivate to keep Katie safe, to teach her to be a good person, to care for others, to stand on her own. Now I need to shut up because I did my job. She’s good. Really good but me telling her what to do now is driving her crazy. And I can see how parents fall into power struggles with their kids at this age – 13 (almost) – because we have been telling them what to do for ages.

But now, it’s time to trust them and let them figure it out. They know. Seriously, I know she hears me in her head. My work here is done. If I want to have a relationship with her going forward, I need to stand back and let her go it on her own. Will she screw up? I certainly hope so because that will only positively reinforce my voice in her head.

Of course I’ll be there if I see her making big mistakes.

But my approach will be different. Offering her suggestions and alternatives but shutting up in between so she can weigh the options and make her own sound decisions. Oh yeah, and I still have to shut up. Talk less. I tell that to myself all the time. It’s horribly difficult. I pride myself on being right. But that doesn’t matter. Right this time is backing off and butting out.

We ended our talk with me asking her to be patient with me. That unlearning takes time. That I would totally blow it and tell her to wipe her feet before going inside and to brush her hair before we leave and all the other little things we have done for so long to get to this wonderful place of self-sufficiency.

She promised me she’d cut me some slack. And she told me she’d be happy to start telling me what I needed to do on a regular basis. Sounds lovely. 

I hope I don’t pitch a fit.

They tell me 50 is the new 30. I don’t think so.

I turn 50 tomorrow. I was fine with it until about six months ago went it felt like everything went sideways. My best friend got breast cancer, I got a thyroid infection and suddenly mortality was scarier than any Freddy Kruger movie.

So, being a writer, I had to make a list of 50 things that are bugging me. My 30 versus 50 list. I bet there something on here that might resonate for you – and it if doesn’t, you’re not 50 yet! 

Please! Comment with your 30 vs 50 moments. Love to hear them.

The Old 30
The New 50
Examining my face for zits.
Examining my face for old man whiskers.
Fish oil for my cat’s hairballs.
Fish oil for my heart.
Perfectly full eyebrows.
Andy Rooney eyebrows.
Avoiding dirty old men.
Flirting with dirty old men.
Nursing my colon after a spicy meal.
Prepping my colon for a picture taking adventure.
“Are you a Cancer”?
Friends with cancer.
Not sleeping because the night is calling!
Not sleeping because monkey brain is calling.
Hitting the clubs at 10pm.
Hitting the sack at 10pm.
Where did I park the car?
Where did I put my keys?
I totally didn’t expect that!
I so knew that was going to happen.
Roller coasters are awesome!
Roller coasters mean whiplash.
The unexpected missed period (pregnant?!)!
The unexpected missed period (menopause?!)!
Friends talking about their hangovers.
Friends talking about their ailments.
Getting mail from Planned Parenthood.
Getting mail from AARP.
Sobriety tests.
Cholesterol tests.
Needing to try everything.
Happy just watching.
Fear of falling (drunk).
Fear of falling (bones breaking).
Not getting why people like the Grateful Dead.
Not getting why people like Dubstep.
Savings account?
Retirement account!
Knowing every brand out there cared about us.
Knowing nobody but pharma cares about us.
Finding a bra that looks good through clothes.
Finding a bra that helps me look like I have boobs.
Having cats because they are cool.
Having cats because they are easy.
Getting sun glasses to make me look cool.
Getting reading glasses because I freaking can’t see.
Sitting in a meeting that is taking forever.
Sitting in bed realizing another week flew by.
Planning to buy my first house.
Planning to retire and keep my house.
Being a flirt.
Being a cougar.
Posing for pictures to hide a double chin.
Posing for pictures to hide my turkey neck.
Fear of getting busted for having weed.
Needing weed so I can bust a move.
Getting excited about new technology – I am an early adopter!
Getting freaked about new technology – what? I have to learn something new.
I got cold because I refused to wear a jacket over my outfit.
I get cold because I got a chill and my huge coat isn’t keeping me warm enough.
Believing a President could change everything.
Knowing a President can’t do a damn thing with a hostile Congress.
Getting noticed when I drive around with the car roof down.
Nobody noticing me. At all.
My friends wanted to go for drinks.
My friends want to go for coffee.
Pulling my hair up to get it out of my face.
Tugging my hair down to try and get some near my face.
Trying to figure out all the things I should do before I die.
Trying to figure out if I can pay off my mortgage before I die.
Believing in opportunity.
Believing in hard work and a touch of luck.
Being called immature.
Being called “ma’am”.
Loving romantic movies (how sweet!).
Hating romantic movies (that so doesn’t happen!).
Checking my weight every day.
Checking my blood pressure every day.
Missing the happy hour freebies.
Not qualifying for senior citizen discounts yet.
Deciding if I should get renters insurance.
Deciding if I should get long term care insurance.
Looking forward to Christmas because it was magical.
Dreading Christmas because it comes around too damn fast.
Thinking having kids will be so hard.
Thinking having my kid leave for college will be so hard.
Waking up at 11am and thinking, just one more hour.
Waking up at 6am and thinking, crap, I gotta pee.
Working hard because I am building my business.
Working hard because I need to earn while I can!
Buying hair color to cover the bad blonde I chose.
Buying hair color for “gray hair” so I don’t look brassy.
Saving to buy that thing I really want.
Hustling to give more crap to the Goodwill.
Hating change because they way we were doing it was so cool.
Hating change because I just can’t adapt that easily.
That pain in my chest is heart ache. The jerk.
The pain in my chest might be a heart attack. Crap.
Life is just starting to get good!
Life is more than half over.

Holy Crap! I’ve Turned into a Curmudgeon

Um, no stopping in the red zone! Jeez.

I am way too cool and too hip to be such a dud. I realized, while driving home from dropping off the kid at school, that there’s some insane super-ego voice in my head providing a constant narration of what everyone else is doing wrong.
Don’t try to hide, I saw you!
On the 2-mile drive this morning, I saw the following violations (in quotes as narrated by the insane voice):
“You are driving way too fast near this school, in the rain. Slow down chump.”
“Ha, ha, ha! When you cut through the gas station to try to avoid making a more sensible right turn at the light. Yet you still lose! Too slow!”
“Does your mother know you left the house in just a tee shirt when it’s pouring rain outside? Now you are going to be wet all day. How in the world can you learn if you are dripping and cold?”
“Trash cans are supposed to be out of the street within 24 hours of pickup. Now these things are road hazards in this darn rain.”
“How can your parents let you ride your bike in the rain? And without a helmet? Is this Darwin’s theory at work?”
See? I need to settle down. When did this happen to me?
I am not authoritative by nature. I am proud of my self-actualized existence; righteous in my commitment to acting on principle rather than rule. I can spout Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to explain away much of human behavior. But how do I explain the paradox of seeing myself as being principled but requiring everyone else to follow the damn rules?
I see my reactions playing out in how Katie is looking at the world. She was born an old soul and actually does a pretty good job thinking things through (and questioning authority). Generally, she uses principled reasoning but she can be a rule follower when her friends are around. Being a role model is so hard. I can hear that voice yelling at me to stop screwing her up.
Aww crap. It’s time to go pick up the kid.
Do you have this voice in your head? I would love to hear your stories! Comment!  

An Open Letter to Team Sports Folks: Please Don’t Sacrifice the Virgins!

Katie has never participated on a team sport.

Yep. Totally true. She thought she might do soccer but on the free trial day, she was clobbered in the head and never went back. She kind of likes basketball but not enough to commit. Instead, she’s been a dancer and an artist. Now fast forward to sixth grade and sports are happening at middle school. Her friends are on all kinds of teams but still nothing really called her name.

Then I had a great idea: what about softball?

We have a great league with a terrific reputation, plus I could walk while she practiced so we would both be “working out” at the same time. C’mon, I pushed, let’s give it a try. She acquiesced. Of course, that’s where the story gets interesting.

Our great local league sacrificed a virgin.

It started with the web site. Apart from figuring out how to register, there’s no way to know what we are really signing up for! When should I expect practices? When are games? I know they can’t commit to exact days and times but a little expectation setting wouldn’t hurt. Katie also had to attend a “pre-team selection screening” (my term not theirs). That was scheduled for last Saturday. Fine.

We arrived at the screening and immediately told the folks there that we were virgins: we have never done anything like this before and didn’t know what to do. They told Katie to warm-up. Hmmm, what the heck does that mean? Jumping jacks like Jack LaLanne? Throw on a blanket? We didn’t recognize a soul, we just looked at each other – lost. Katie was nervous as hell but to her credit, she hung tough. Finally, a woman spotted us struggling and she got Katie involved.

Then the actual “screening” began. Katie got in line and waited to do her first task: fielding a ground ball and then catching at first base. She was able to stop the ground balls just great but disaster hit at first base. Mind you, my daughter has never even held a glove before that day. The only reason she knows anything about softball is because the Giants won the Series and we made her watch every darn game. Otherwise, she knows nothing.

She caught the first ball.

Amazing. She used the glove and managed to catch that first throw. But the second one was well-thrown, fast and hit her full on in her stomach. The whole place gasped. She stood strong, tossed the ball home and walked off the field. Then, very quietly, she started crying because it hurt so badly. I managed to get her off the field and to the car without any fanfare (she was already humiliated, she so didn’t want folks to know how badly she was hurt).

I got her home and at that point, I think I was crying harder because I felt so damn guilty. I couldn’t believe I put her through that. I couldn’t believe they were making someone who had readily admit she sucked, said she was inexperienced, acknowledged she should be “last pick” on the roster, I couldn’t believe they would put her through that. To top things off, she got hurt. It was one super-crappy parent moment. Eventually we ate some lunch and Katie started to recover. Then she blew my mind.

“Mom, let’s go buy a softball,” she said.

“Really?” I looked at her completely shocked. Yep, she wanted to get a ball and head to the school to practice. So we did. We got two used balls, some cleats, went to the school, and started to practice using that glove. I could not have been more pleased with her. And she’s still practicing!

So the teams haven’t been decided yet and hopefully we’ll have a good season and a great “team sports” experience. But officially I implore team sports teams to make space for the virgins! Here’s what we need:

  1. On your website or brochure, tell us how things work. About how often are practices? When are games played? Where?
  2. What are the volunteering commitments?
  3. What kind of things does the child need to buy? Uniforms? Shoes? Equipment? What should we NOT buy until we talk to our coach first?
  4. Are novices welcome? And if so, can we get a “pass” on the tryouts because we are likely to get hurt or humiliated in front of our future team members.
  5. Please, please make sure you don’t use league code on things regular people read. I don’t know what a 12U is – just go ahead and use the extra words so we new folks can understand.

First impressions matter and taking time to help us understand not just the rules but also the culture is so important! We really want to join you and I know you want us.

In the meantime, we’ll get ready to play ball!

Out Here in The Middle: Changing America One Parent at a Time

Patricia Heaton as Frankie Heck on ABC’s The Middle.

I was extremely moved by the events in Arizona last weekend (and this week). I listened to President Obama’s speech, hanging on every word about the incredible people who died and those who survived the brutal attack. And I have been caught up in the national frustration this week of those of us who want everyone to settle down.

“All of us — we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations.” – Barack Obama (transcript)

I feel like Patricia Heaton’s character, Frankie Heck caught in The Middle. The show often opens with; “out here in The Middle…” referring not just to the middle of our country but also to the great unwashed masses of us who are simply doing our best to live day to day, trying to raise our children with good values with a hope they will be positive contributors to society; so much like those people in Arizona simply attending a political get-together.

I feel like Frankie Heck because I have no idea how to have an impact on my world beyond my small sphere of influence. I don’t want people to stop having opinions – I actually love a good debate. But I would like to regain our civility. And I do want us to live up to my daughter’s expectations. Just like Frankie who goes out of her way to make sure she’s there for Sue’s cross country track meet – no matter what she has to sacrifice to do it.

So I wonder, given this situation, what would Frankie do? And I realize, she would look at this situation the same way so many of us would: I need to operate within my sphere of influence. Based on that, I came up with a short list of things I can actually do:
  1. Turn off morning news shows. The network morning shows focus on the vitriol as entertainment. Don’t think so? Take a closer look. I want Katie to know about the news, I don’t want her to hear pundits and talking heads speculating and sparring. I used to have GMA on in the morning while we got ready. No more.

  2. Stop rewarding bad behavior. I am simply not going to support television people, radio people and others who offer no substance but a lot of hype. I have my list of who they are; you can choose your targets, but either way you slice it they need to be turned off. They don’t need to be on in my home. And if enough of us turn them off, they won’t sell advertising and maybe, just maybe, they will go away all-together.

  3. I vow to limit my vitriol. Most parenting is modeling. So I am making a concerted effort to monitor my reactions. When I disagree with someone, I am trying not to use a label (eg “that idiot”) and focus on explaining why I disagree. I am hoping Katie will learn more about my thought process and less about my extensive “off color” vocabulary.

Obama ended his speech speaking about little Christina who died so tragically last weekend. He spoke of the book being written about the children born on 9/11. He said:

“Christina was given to us on September 11th, 2001, one of 50 babies born that day to be pictured in a book called “Faces of Hope.” On either side of her photo in that book were simple wishes for a child’s life. “I hope you help those in need,” read one. “I hope you know all of the words to the National Anthem and sing it with your hand over your heart. I hope you jump in rain puddles.”

If there are rain puddles in heaven, Christina is jumping in them today. And here on Earth, we place our hands over our hearts, and commit ourselves as Americans to forging a country that is forever worthy of her gentle, happy spirit.”

My hand is over my heart. I am committed to working toward this goal. I look forward to having you join me – out here in the middle.


Here’s something to remind you of connection we share with our children:

What Movies Should Every Kid See for “Cultural Intelligence”

I am talking pop-culture here. Those movies we have all seen that people reference in comedy routines. I am not worried about television right now (I know that’s another whole can of worms) but really looking for movies that kids should know about so they can relate to grown-ups!

Post a comment here or tweet it to me @jcarole. I will pull together the list and post it shortly.

Here’s what I have so far:

Annie Hall
Breakfast Club
Back to the Future
Dirty Dancing
Ghost Busters
It’s a Wonderful Life
Karate Kid (original)
Rocky Horror Picture Show

What else…? Let me know!