Behavior and Consequences – Without Yelling or Tears

In mid-February, I looked into my daughter’s bedroom and realized I had had enough. “All the way, up to here, couldn’t stand the mess one more minute” kind of enough.

“Clean your room,” had become a daily admonition, complete with lawyer-like arguments on her part, “You didn’t say clean all of it,” or “I thought you just meant pick up those clothes over there.”

My 11-year-old could have a bright future in the courtroom, but I was damned sick and tired of the mess that covered every surface of her room, crept along the floor, and had apparently begun breeding (if such things are possible).

I put my foot down, “This WILL be cleaned up, all of it, and you will NOT be involving me or your dad in the process. At this point, you do know how to clean your room, you have made this mess all by yourself, and you and you alone are responsible for it continuing to be like this.”

It took a week.

It took taking away her laptop, her Kindle, and eventually even television and ability to play with friends.

“I finished cleaning my room, Dad.”

My husband came in and inspected. He was satisfied. Then I came in and inspected, I had a few more things on my list. Surfaces were dusted, the floor was vacuumed, and I briefly looked up at (but did not climb the ladder to inspect) her platform bed. At a glance, all seemed fine.

The following day, I had to walk into her room to open or close her curtains and I happened to look up. A mound of empty soda cans, a bag of trash, and containers of snack foods were up on her bed.

The consequences were the loss of electronics again and the new rule: Eat in your room and lose electronics privileges for three days.

I had been willing to allow food and drink if it was handled responsibly – dishes not piling up, wrappers and food particles not on the ground, and food not stored in the room – but these rules had been repeatedly violated.

After that it was smooth sailing…until mid-March. Em was gone at a friend’s when I walked into her room to retrieve her laundry basket. I saw piles of candy wrappers on the floor.

So when she came home and came into my office to talk to me I said, “So, I went into your room to get your laundry basket and there were clothes on the floor, but I didn’t know which were clean and which weren’t. Also, there were a bunch of candy wrappers on the floor,” I paused and looked her in the eye and continued in a calm voice, “Want to tell me about that?”

Her shoulders sagged and she looked down at the ground, “I ate candy in my room. I know it was against the rules.”

“Yeah, it was. And the wrappers were all over the floor, which is one of the reasons I made the rule in the first place.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

I nodded and smiled at her. “I’m not mad, but you remember the consequences, right?”

“Yeah, no electronics for three days. So when does that start?”

“Well, it’s 3 p.m. now, and it’s a Sunday, so you can have them back on Wednesday after 3 p.m.”


Later that evening we talked more about it and I told her, “I don’t want to be a grumpy, mean mom, but there are times when I have to enforce the rules. You understand that, right?”

She nodded. “You said it in a really nice way and I knew you weren’t mad, but I also knew I had broken the rules.” She shrugged, “Break the rules, get banned from electronics for three days.”

I didn’t say it, mainly because I don’t want there to be any confusion or stepping over the line right now, but if she had just thrown her wrappers away, it wouldn’t have been a problem. I would not have objected to candy wrappers in her trash. Not at all!

I just don’t want the trash on the floor or dishes covered in food in her room or food stored in her room. Trash goes in the trash, dishes go in the sink, and food stays downstairs.

Basic rules.

I am thankful for her attitude, though. She is an amazing kid and I am very lucky.

Posted in Challenges, Parenting Techniques, Responsibility | Leave a comment


I’ve been on a book buying spree. Don’t judge me!

And a month or so ago, I bought a couple of money and entrepreneurship books for kids.

Kidpreneurs: Young Entrepreneurs With Big Ideas introduces the idea of entrepreneurship, something close to my heart.

How to Turn $100 Into $1,000,000: Earn! Save! Invest! was the second book I purchased. Heck, I’ll probably be taking notes on how to make this happen.

And last week, an email flew through the nethersphere and landed on my desk. It was from the local farmer’s market coordinator and I shot off a couple of questions to her…

Hi Jenna-Your post about being a vendor reminded me of something I had been thinking about – that of promoting entrepreneurship in children. I was wondering if the farmer’s market ever allows more infrequent vendors? I’m thinking something along the lines of a sweet tea stand that my 11-year-old could run. I just know that she’s 11 and wouldn’t be interested in every Thursday, and she will be in some summer camps anyway, so it would be more of an infrequent thing. What is the vendor fee for something like that?

She responded back and let me know that it sounded like a great thing, especially on the hotter days, and that it would cost $5 each time we wanted to have a spot at the market and that we would need to let her know a few days before.

Her First Summer Job

Do you remember your first job? Was it delivering papers? Working in an office? Asking if the customers wanted fries with that hamburger?

“This is going to be your first opportunity at a summer job,” I told her. “Not every Thursday, but definitely a number of them.”

She looked intrigued.


I was the one to suggest sweet tea. I figured it actually might have a higher profit margin than lemonade made with real lemons, or even the instant mix kind.

And then we started digging in…

Me: What if we offered herbal tea? Or made our own soda?

Em: We could give them samples in the little cups – a quick taste for a quarter?

Me: Or we could give those samples away and tell them, “Hi! Try a sample for free! We are right over there if you want a nice cup of ice-cold sweet tea!”

Em: [grinning] Yeah! And we could ask them what kinds of drinks they would like!

Me: We could make a list of potential drinks and then have them vote!

Added Value/Income

After that, I brought up the idea of having something extra for sale. “You are already there, so you might as well offer something else for sale. Maybe we could bake some cookies?”

Em’s eyes lit up. “That would be awesome!”

Financial Outlay and Fiscal Responsibility

“Now, we do need to keep track of expenses, and figure out what cup sizes we will need as well as best price on cups. I can loan you money, but I will need to be paid back, so you will need to figure out your profit margin and all that.”

She nodded, smiling.

Some of the potential costs that I have already identified are:

  • $5 vendor fee
  • Cups
  • Ingredients

Preparation and Responsibility

Since we don’t have an icemaker and buying ice will cut too deeply into her profits, Em suggested we buy a couple of extra ice trays to make ice in the days before the farmer’s market.

“We can store them in baggies in the freezer,” she told me.

We will also need to bring:

  • Table, chairs, and shade (if possible)
  • Drink dispensers
  • Cooler full of ice (we have the cooler, but Em will need to make ice ahead of time in ice trays)

Looking Ahead

It’s not quite mid-March and the farmer’s market doesn’t start until mid-May. Em doesn’t get out of school until late May, and although she would be out in time for the market, which begins at 4pm, I think we will hold off until the weather turns nice and warm, the perfect time for sweet tea.

It won’t be every week – Em will spend a week in San Francisco visiting her grandparents and extended family and she will have camp at least two weeks in July and one week late in August – but I think it will be good for her to dip her toes into a taste of entrepreneurship.

We will read through the Kidpreneur book and also How to Turn $100 Into $1 Million in April and May in preparation as well as do our research into the proper size cups and also do some basic profit/loss analysis…

How many cups do I need to sell to break even?

How much can I expect to earn?

Should I sell something else along with it – like cookies?

Should I offer multiple choices of tea and soda?

By the time the farmer’s market rolls around, she might be well and truly over it, but I would like to think that she will actually do rather well. The farmer’s market has been rolling along for over two years now, maybe three and by now they probably have a decent number of attendees.

It will also be a great experience for her to interact with others and really shine.

Create Opportunity

Back in the early 80s, I read the book Kidco and later saw the movie by the same name. That story, of a handful of entrepreneurial kids, has stayed with me for decades. I was so shy and self-doubting that it took most of my life to get to the point where I was willing to jump off the cliff and take a chance.

And while I remain rather conservative in terms of risk, I am far more willing to take a chance on creating money outside of the confines of an office/employee status now. I want for Em to have that opportunity and vision as well and not be afraid to take chances, albeit well-planned ones.

I think that with opportunity, comes freedom of choice, and perhaps a wider outlook in terms of who she can be. College or no, employee or self-employed, paychecks or her own accounting.

Opportunity – it’s what’s for breakfast around here.

Posted in Community, Entrepreneurs & Entrepreneurship, Events/Local Events, Homeschool - Mathematics | Leave a comment

An Open Letter to My Eldest Daughter

I have said relatively little in the public forum about the schism that occurred between me and my eldest last year. The really big emotions, the ones that need chewing on, they take time to understand. Her words, set in such a public space, were hurtful, at times dishonest and/or incorrect, and they set into motion a reaction I did not expect or understand for several months.

Nearly a year has passed. I have journaled, cried, rocked myself to sleep in the early days, gone through the stages of grief (returning to several of the stages time and again), and struggled with how to answer, or even if I should answer.

There have been plenty of sleepless nights – times when I woke up at 1 a.m., 2 a.m., and 3 a.m. – lying in bed thinking about it all and unable to sleep. Yesterday was one of those.

Years ago, when my second husband was convicted and sent to prison as a pedophile, I struggled to reconcile the relationship I had thought we had with the terrible acts he had committed. We were divorced by then and he was serving his sentence. It took me three years before I could summon the words to describe how I felt.

When my emotions are high, it is difficult to say things in any constructive way. And this is also why I have stayed silent on the subject, mentioning it only in passing and not digging into it and addressing my issues.

We spend eighteen years, give or take, raising our children and hoping for the best. We try to instill in them the values we hold dear and prepare them for adulthood as best as we are able. We make mistakes, flounder about, and try and try again. That’s parenting. It’s messy, it’s full of tears and struggle, hugs and messy rooms, adorable yet recalcitrant children, and frustrated adults.

It’s hard. It’s amazing. It gives you a reason to wake up in the morning and it breaks your heart.

Of all the things I will be in this life: a daughter, student, employee, consumer, wife, friend, confidante, business owner, writer – all of these pale in comparison to that of being a parent. It is a place where both my greatest achievements and my deepest sorrows live, etched into my soul. It has defined me for every step of my adult life and I aspire every day to be the best parent I can be. That, more than anything, is what I hope you, the reader, take away from this.

What follows is a letter written not for you, but for Danielle, my eldest child…

Dear Danielle –

It’s taken me a while to set my thoughts in order. I have some things to say, in detail, about what you wrote in your blog post last July. But before I do, I want to tell you that I love you. Someday, when you have a child of your own you may begin to truly understand how that love feels. It is wonderful, and awful, dizzying and full of despair, all at once. And if I am not there to see it, all I can say is, welcome to parenthood and enjoy the ride.

I’m Done Chasing You

When I was seven or eight, I attended Live Oak School in San Francisco. Each day I would take the L Taraval all by myself to school. At recess, Tom, one of our teachers, would occasionally chase the kids growling like a bear. We would scream and run and laugh – and each recess we would beg him to chase us again. It was terrifying and thrilling and I loved it.

I feel like I’ve been chasing you for most of your life. When you were a few weeks old, your dad asked rather petulantly, “When is she going to like me?” All you cared about was breastfeeding and getting your diaper changed, he was extraneous. Later though, the tables turned. You wanted him to pay attention to you and to spend time with you. And I’ve been trying to keep up ever since.

It’s felt like that recess on the playground gone wrong. As if, no matter how many times I chase you about trying to have a relationship with you, trying to prove my love, you are just out of reach. “Chase me!” you say, “Prove you love me!”

Last January you sent a letter that basically said, “Agree with everything I’ve said or I’m done with you.”

That’s not a relationship, Danielle. Or at least, that is not one I am willing to have with anyone, not even you.

I’m tired of trying to prove that I love you, that I want the best for you, and that I will do whatever I can to help you. No matter how hard I try, no matter the words I speak and write, you are determined to see malice when there is none, scheming when there is only honesty, and control when my hands are in the air.

Why is that?

Something Doesn’t Add Up

You lived with us for 18 months from the end of May 2015 until the end of December 2016. I was glad to have you. Honestly, I jumped at the chance. “Surely now I can finally have the relationship with Danielle that I’ve wanted for all her life – as equals, as friends.”

I was full of hope. And for the most part, we got along very well. At least, I thought we did. But if we did, if things were going as swimmingly as I thought, and as the rest of our family and friends believed as well, then why did you post what you did last year?

I still jump and over-explain when I perceive that I’ve done something wrong.

You paint a picture of PTSD or worse. As one friend said, “If Danielle was feeling that anxious or stressed while she lived with you, then she is surely the best actress I have ever seen.”

Something doesn’t add up here.

Jealousy is an Ugly Green Monster

The first time you visited with your then-boyfriend Mark and his son Tim, it was August 2012. There was a moment when the kids were being kids and Em was saying something about the game they were playing. I looked over at you and you were staring at Em and she and Tim played with this intense look of hatred. It has stayed with me over the years – and you yourself have admitted to feelings of jealousy in regards to your sister. But I think it goes deeper than that.

While you were living here, you would go through these periodic bouts of “I have to move out and live on my own!” – they seemed to happen about every 3-4 months or so. And I get it, you were frustrated, you felt like you weren’t prepared to live on your own, that you were stuck with crap jobs, minimum wage, and more.

I tried to help you brainstorm options – return to college for a degree, do housecleanings on the side so you had a flexible schedule, reduce debt, save money. Just when it seemed you had a plan, again you would wail, “I just need to live on my own.”

And honestly, it got real old. Perhaps you had a point, perhaps you needed to be by yourself and do your own thing. And so, after you had signed up for your fall semester and I thought you were all set for the next 2 1/2 years, and you again uttered that fateful line I just need to live on my own, I was over it. I guessed that you needed a bump, and after you started dating L, I started telling you what we would do with your room when you moved out.

Not because I wanted you to move out, but because I was 1) so damn tired of hearing how you “just needed to live on your own,” and 2) it felt like I was telling the tide to stop rising. You were 28, it was time to let you go, again.

And then the call from Panama happened and I found myself flying to another country for the first time in my life – unsure of what to do, but determined to do something about my dad. You didn’t have to leave right then. Yes, he was in the front parlor, but that was a primarily unused room – it wasn’t necessary for you to move out of the bedroom above.

But it did certainly suit your narrative to say that you moved out or…

I try to not be in the way. I don’t want to be a burden.

After I returned, with Dad in tow, those first two months were absolute chaos. I was still averaging 4-6 hours of sleep, we were dealing with a multitude of doctor visits, in and out of the hospital and the ER, and I was desperately trying to find equilibrium. You took my request, and it was a request, it was me asking and NOT assuming, for help with your grandfather for one night, and ran with it…

She automatically assumed, without asking, that I would be willing to stay up with my sick grandfather and take care of him–change his catheter and help him to the bathroom and monitor his glucose and whatever else it was that he needed. It was a big task. I don’t dismiss that taking care of an elderly, sick person is a big job that requires a lot of time and energy.

What bothered me is that she never asked. She assumed.

Assuming would have been me saying, “So you need to be here at 5 p.m.” Asking, which is just what I did, was me writing, “Is there any way you would consider staying here on a Tuesday night while we drive to Lawrence to see That One Guy in concert?”

Also, no one but a nurse can change a catheter, he didn’t need glucose monitoring at night and he had a walker for getting into the bathroom with. All I actually asked of you was to sit in the living room and watch tv for five hours on one night. I was worried about Dave’s and my relationship in the wake of all this thanks to his co-workers telling him that taking in elderly parents dooms a marriage. One night out was all I asked for.

You said no and after clarifying that I was asking you to help me out, not him, I accepted your answer.

It was you and only you who has continued to make it into something it was not, to manufacture visions of me angry at you for not saying you would do it, et cetera. In fact, since you had access to my FB feed, you should know that. I never once complained about you in that regard.

You have mistaken my silence in those days (overwhelmed by nurse visits and a man who was weak and near death), and my lack of ability to leave and come see your house as some kind of proof that I was angry at you. I wasn’t. Please do not label me with feelings I did not have. I know how I felt, I respected your stand.

This – the reaction to your sister, your moving out when you did, feels like jealousy. It looks and tastes like it too.

You have admitted to it with Em, but I have to wonder if it doesn’t extend as well to my dad. If I am hearing it correctly, it sounds like you are saying, “I had to leave because she chose my awful grandfather over me.”

And it was never a “him or you” decision. Not in my mind, at least. I had to do what I felt was right. As his only child, I had to make some kind of decision and leaving him to die in Panama was not the decision I was going to make. My moral compass drove me to get my dad from Panama and bring him home, and it is the same one that dictated I take you in when you needed a place to go. That is what family does. That is what I do.

I live in a better home and have a better husband than I did when I was raising you. I have a better life now than I had then. That is reality. The thing is, I can’t undo my life, or unbirth a child, or unanswer a phone call from Panama. Being jealous of it has no real purpose and is detrimental to you. Crying “if I had only been born when my mother was older” serves no purpose, it changes nothing.

I have chosen to care for my dad for as long as I can. My morals dictate that I do so. Caring for him gives us a small boost financially, one that I am using to further our goals for retirement, and it is benefiting him to be with family. When his health declines further and being cared for at home is no longer an option, off he will go to a nursing home. That is the reality we live with right now.

I believe that if you are honest with yourself you will acknowledge that there is this belief I have somehow picked others over you. And it is simply not true. I stood in two pairs of shoes for years – acting as your mother and your father – both financially and emotionally. I have taken care of you while your dad laughed and bragged about how he had tricked me and never had to pay a penny in child support. Danielle, have you forgotten how he treated you as soon as you turned eighteen? You were his meal ticket. He still regards you and Vanessa as nothing more than that. Fools and suckers, that’s how he sees the world around him when he isn’t bleating on about how “nobody cares about anyone else and someone should do something.”

You can blame your friends for it if you like. Tell me again how your friends tore up and burned the letters I gave you? The ones that are attached to the bottom of your post? In the days following our fight some 12 years ago, I was trying to get you home – whether you recognize that or not – I was reaching out to you, not throwing you away.

Cowardice Does Not Become You

In February of this year, you admitted to having access to (and reading) all of my Facebook posts and even my personal communications between my friends.

You stated…

All the revelations about how she, my mother, truly saw me, and how some people I considered allies saw me…I realized who my true friends were at this point…I saw her target my friends.

So a couple of things on this.

  1. No, you don’t know how I truly saw you because you have not had access to my daily interactions with Dave, my friends I saw in person, nor my journal entries. You saw a small piece of the agony, depression, confusion, frustration, feelings of betrayal and more. A small piece. You didn’t see the whole of it – the attempt to explain away your behavior, how I blamed and questioned myself, wondered how I could fix it all, and the overwhelming grief.
  2. I did not target your friends. Reaching out to Casey, who is my friend as well as yours, and asking her if she knew you had dropped out of college after receiving your funds and completely fucking us all financially was not targeting. I was freaking out. I knew the clock had begun ticking and I somehow had to pull $10,000 out of my ass because I had foolishly trusted you. I was busy kicking myself for being so incredibly stupid. I have the right to be displeased, the right to share that displeasure with others and the right to try and get some kind of understanding from one of your peers on why you would do such a drastic thing.

After taking in the fact that you had been, as one friend wrote, “Rummaging about in my panty drawer,” by logging into my FB account, I did some digging. What had I said? What had I written to others? It turned out my panty drawer was rather clean.

Along the way, I found the exact date you had changed the password on Facebook and removed yourself from having access to one portion of my private life. It was July 11th.

You posted your blog entry on July 2nd and reset the password on my Facebook account nine days later. Essentially, you read a few entries, mainly from my friends, began to see the enormous level of hurt you had unleashed, and then bugged out.

Was my sorrow inconvenient for you? Did you wonder, just for a moment, if you had done the right thing? Did you question any of it after seeing the tiny fraction of my response to your post? If you were going to stick around for six months, reading everything I had ever written, why stop when you did?

What did you think would happen, Danielle? Did you imagine me to be so malevolent and evil that I wouldn’t be affected by your words? That I would shoot back a response filled with vitriol and hate?

Cowardice does not become you. You left right after the shit got real. I spent six months trying to understand what you were thinking, trying to understand you. And then, when I get a piece of it, you leave. You really should have stuck around and read some more. You could have seen me break into a thousand pieces, pick myself up again, rinse and repeat. It took months, I’m still hitting some of those stages of grief on a regular basis.

And in the middle of it, I was dealing with my mother, who was in a snit and busy telling me I had no idea how much it hurt to have one of your family members reject you.

“Actually, I think I have a pretty good idea,” I said.

The Inconsistencies…and the Mistruths

I want to talk for a moment about some of the inconsistencies and mistruths in your original blog post and the subsequent update. You mentioned…

I’m a little tired of her taking control of the narrative

Which I found interesting since the rare instances I’ve put something in a more public forum, you have demanded I retract it or apologize for it. Which I have done.

However, there are several areas I could not let lay as fact because they are not and I’m a bit of a stickler for clarity and honesty.

Let’s start with pregnancy, shall we?

It was early 1988 when she realized what was happening in her body. And, unlike I would have, she welcomed the challenge.

Yes, I was 17 when I learned I was pregnant with you. I turned 18 in the months before you were born. And I was also terrified and plagued with nightmares throughout my pregnancy. I would wake up sobbing, “I’m going to be a terrible mother!”

Please do not denigrate my choices. It’s easy to look back and from the clarity of hindsight point out that I was stupid and thoughtless and foolish.

I was scared, beyond measure, at the thought of having a child. I wasn’t ready, I knew it, and Walt was busy telling me I would be great and we should get married and everything would be fine. And I had only him around me to look to for advice. My parents were still fully in the “you are a fucked up teenager” mode and spoke to me like I was five years old and beyond redemption.

One good thing came out of all this fear – I was determined to be the best mom I could possibly be. You think about all those stupid “Pregnant and 17” shows. How many of them were sitting there trying to figure out how to make it all work? Or were they too busy freaking out of stretch marks and whether or not they could afford a pedicure or if diapers and formula were cutting into their makeup budget too much?

I began to write to you, hoping you would look back on the letters and know that, barely an adult or not, I wanted you and loved you and was determined to do right by you. If that caused you to misinterpret my brave face as being “up for the challenge” I hope I have now disabused that notion.

The reality is that I have spent most of my adult life terrified that I am fucking up parenting beyond all redemption. Only now, with menopause and the months of self-doubt that followed your post behind me, do I see it with anything close to clarity.

Moving on to the “I’ve done a lot of research” bit…

The last is something I’ve come to the conclusion of after doing alotofresearch. It is not a clinical diagnosis. I am going full armchair psychologist over here. However, I cannot dismiss the parallels between someone with NPD and the person my mother is and was.

Um, bipolar disorder and manic depression are the same thing. Just so you know. Apparently your “lot of research” didn’t cover that part.

And yes, I took some time to examine the NPD diagnosis as my friends were practically screaming at me, “Someone has narcissism but it isn’t YOU!” Because, believe it or not, but I didn’t automatically dismiss it. I wanted to try and understand why you would say such a thing.

Some aspects fit, most didn’t. Which is as armchair a diagnosis as I, and the three people I sent it to, can manage. What did fit, was something far, far different.

Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder – which is basically PMS on steroids. As I read through the symptoms, I remember thinking, “Wow, I meet at least five of these!” Later I showed it to my husband and younger daughter and they identified even more symptoms.

There is good and bad news to this. The bad news? I could have been treating it all of these years if I had any idea it was a real thing. The good news? I’m post-menopausal now – and I don’t have these severe mood swings any longer. Anxiety, yes, frustration, absolutely, but the near-maddened rages? Not so much.

And your link above took me to Narcissistic Parent in Wikipedia and this line really stood out:

Typically narcissistic parents are exclusively and possessively close to their children and may be especially envious of, and threatened by, their child’s growing independence

Which is actually the exact opposite of me. You have heard the refrain over and over. I insisted you learn how to type by touch, so you would have a skill. I encouraged you to get a job, so you would have experience, money, and responsibility. I encouraged you to learn to drive so you would have a driver’s license and be independent. I was fine with independence, then and now.

My job was to raise an independent adult and I was dedicated to that cause. If you will re-examine my stances on so many things, I think you will revise your opinion on that. I have always encouraged your independence. It was the subject of many of our “car talks.”

I do believe we all have a touch of narcissism – it’s a necessary biologic imperative to take care of numero uno and to focus at times on ourselves. I think that writers often have an even larger swath of it. Especially non-fiction writers! We will fill in the empty air space left by others, anxious to tell our stories and share our thoughts. My social anxiety often causes me to babble non-stop, although again, post-menopause, I find I’m getting better at sharing airspace and listening to others.

In the end, I have to agree with my friends. Someone is showing strong narcissistic tendencies, but it’s probably not me. According to Healthline,

NPD can cause problems in many areas of life, including:

  • work
  • school
  • relationships

You have had ongoing difficulty in all of these three areas – swinging wildly from cleaning houses to call center to sandwich shop and you also dropped out of college multiple times. Same with relationships.

As has your father.

Me? Not in the last twelve years or more – at least when we talk about work and relationships, since I’m not in school. I have a wide range of friends, good people, you have met them, that I regard highly.

Now narcissism can be inherited and while you can blame me if you like, but please keep in mind that your dad should be the poster child for narcissism, so…call it what you will and point the finger at who you will on that one.


“Oh yeah, my mom is great—we even went out to ice cream last night.”

—but I don’t mention that the ice cream came after she screamed at me for forty minutes and told me that I was a worthless human being and she should have aborted me, and you don’t mention whatever it is yours did to you.

But we both know, don’t we? Wink, wink.

Okay, a couple of points here.

  1. In the times when I was not the best mom, when it could actually be considered abusive behavior, the LAST thing I would do after it was to take you out for ice cream. In fact, I avoided such behavior like the plague. Hell, I’ve watched the abusive husband beats the wife then brings her flowers movies. I did NOT want to be that person. I didn’t want to be the person screaming at you either. And I certainly didn’t want to follow that up with a tried and true oh so typical abuser/abusee cycle of then taking you out for ice cream or buying you a toy or any other crap like that. I knew that if I did that, I would be setting the stage for your future relationships, it would be the measure by which you existed and I couldn’t imagine you with that kind of future.
  2. Under no circumstances would I have ever, EVER said you should be aborted. Not ever. I’ve had an abortion and it was something I regretted deeply. I felt cornered, helpless, and was terrified. I chose YOU, Danielle, over that child growing in me, because I already felt I wasn’t doing right by you, how could I bring another child into the world? It would take away from you and you were my entire world at that time.

Please stick to the truth – you have enough of it to prove your point without veering into half-truths.

I was a burden. It was financially, emotionally, and physically exhausting to raise me. So I tried to make myself as useful as possible. I tried to disappear into the background and be as unobtrusive as possible…This is a behavior that has haunted me in my adult life. It helped lead me into codependent relationships where I tried to take on more and more responsibilities and tasks for my lovers so that I would not be a burden.

It wasn’t financially, emotionally and physically exhausting to raise you, it was poverty that made me exhausted and short-tempered. And poverty was something I was determined to end. Something I have ended through hard work, better choices, and determination.

When you first moved in, you spoke about feeling like you were a burden. I reminded you that we were your family, and that we loved you and that you were not a burden. I don’t know how to help you to understand this any better. Yes, having you with us was expensive and yes, it slowed down our ability to invest in the Cottage West renovations – something we will need to help prepare us for retirement. But let’s also be clear. You made a lot of promises when you moved in, kept a couple of them, and then you also said things to me like, “My cat is going to shit on the floor, you are just going to have to get used to it.”

You got angry at me when I insisted that he stay in your room instead of spreading his incontinence over the house and you inferred that I was being abusive by not letting him roam free to shit wherever he wanted.The $200 in rent you paid did not cover the increases in food and utilities, but I had agreed to do it and was happy to have room for you. My only mistake was in expecting you would be at least somewhat appreciative. Instead, you told me to “take it out of what [I] owed for the student loan.” If I had done that, you would have been hit with an $8,000 bill. I didn’t pull that number out of my ass, I actually compared before and after utility bills and grocery expenses.

I did what I did because you were my daughter and I loved you. In return, I was misrepresented and my wishes for a cat shit-free home were often ignored and certainly not agreed with.

We met at the bank to finish up a business arrangement between us. She gave me the last of the $10,000 I had loaned her from my student loans—a final $1,500 payment—and I signed a quit claim deed to the cottage that has been in my name a little over a year.

Why don’t we tell the rest of the story here? How your stupid, trusting mom not only gave you a house but believed you wouldn’t screw her over? Here goes…

Cottage West, which Dave and I purchased and had done a few thousand dollars worth of work on, was signed over to you, for FREE in the summer of 2015, in order to give you the chance to own a home of your own. I even paid the registration fee.

It needed a hell of a lot of work and we both hoped you could get some special deals and possibly a loan and find a way to make it a place of your own. I was handing over my hopes for retirement to you (the Cottage West will be a rental property) and with it a dream of you being able to own your own home, free and clear of any large debt, something I am still working on in my own life.

After about six months and a few limited attempts to secure financing, you gave up and told me you didn’t want it after all. I started getting the funds in order to fix it up. A few months later you decided to go back to school. You were the one who pushed the idea of getting the rest of the work funded on your student loan.

“Are you sure?” I asked. Oh yes, you were. And we ALL signed on the dotted line to get the loan, all three of us.

And then you moved out, almost immediately dropped out of school, and then demanded we either pay back the money immediately, agree to sign a contract, (we already had one, it was our co-sign on the loan) or you would sell Cottage West out from under us because you were still on the title. You refused for weeks to give me the loan number so that I could make payments directly to Wells Fargo, citing it was confidential information you didn’t have to share (except for the fact that Dave and I were both listed as financially responsible right alongside you). I’m not sure if it was the threat of taking the then $32,000 worth of investment we had paid into that property or the clear message that you were convinced I was going to fuck you over financially that insulted and hurt me worse.

Together it was too much. We trusted you and believed in you – and you repaid that trust by dropping out of college and then accusing and threatening me.

And then there is this…

My mom always played lip service to motherhood—talking about how much she loved me and bragging about all of my accomplishments. Only these days do I recognize that the consequences of bad behavior were severe, whereas my accomplishments were absorbed as hers.

Seriously? I have read countless books, I studied parenting and communication techniques, and I taught the parenting classes for years. I write about it still on this blog. And you call that lip service?

That is insulting and complete bullshit.

And how in the hell could I possibly absorb your accomplishments as mine? By being proud of you? By pointing out the bright young woman that you became, the artist, and the accomplished writer? How is that absorbing? Am I not allowed to be proud of my child? Should I have pointed to your shortcomings instead? “Sure, she’s a great artist, but getting her to clean her room is impossible.”

I avoid small, dark spaces. Is it because of that time when I was around four years old, and she locked me in a closet with no food, water, or way to relieve myself? She left me alone there in the apartment before she went off and tried to commit suicide. I don’t remember her roommate, but I’m thankful that she came home, discovered me, and reached out to my father.

Danielle, when you were three years old you were being a typical preschooler who was, having had an afternoon full of activities and no nap, rather overdue for bedtime. You were being a typical kid, obstinate, unwilling to eat dinner and generally grumpy. I was renting a room in Mill Valley at the time and separated from your dad. The closet had a set of sliding doors. I put you on timeout, called your dad, and talked to him for a while so that I could calm down and not be hurtful towards you.

I talked to him for twenty minutes, the doors were both slid over to the right and you were on the left side. You could see me, I could see you, and you fell asleep while I was talking with your dad. I got off the phone, picked you up and put you to bed. I was worn out and went to sleep right beside you. An hour, maybe two hours later, the knocking at the door woke me. It was the grandfather you hate so much, and his girlfriend Diane, they had listened to Walt’s tale of god knows what, and came to get you because “you weren’t safe with me.”

My roommate at the time was a pot-smoking man of few words who rarely spoke to me and preferred I stay in my room and never come out into the living room or kitchen while he was there. I did not “go off to commit suicide” with you “locked in a closet.”

Think about it. When did I ever leave you?

On that day, she didn’t try to hit me so much as throw a twenty-pound decorative rock through my windshield, but it was close enough.

For the record, and it is detailed in one of the letters I wrote to you at the bottom of the post. It was not a twenty-pound decorative rock. It was a wooden planter I held in my hands, it was in the shape of a toolbox. And I didn’t throw it. God, I was mad, damned straight I was. You had just told me you were going to quit college and move in with your drug addict meth head friends. You had just quit your part-time job citing that you couldn’t work and go to school and somehow you were going to move out. I wanted to shake you, hell, slap some sense into you – you were nearly 18 years old! And then, when I called you out for slamming the front door behind you as you left, you called me a fucking whore. Repeatedly, at the top of your voice, outside.

I was seeing red! That said, I grabbed the planter, filled with dirt, and thought about tossing it at your car. Mainly though, I just wanted you to leave. I didn’t want to hit you, I wanted you away until the fury passed. My heart was saying, just go away until I cool down and my ego was hurt by the names you had just screamed at me. The neighbors were staring and I was wrestling with hurt pride, embarrassment, and despair over what felt like another wave of you running away from your problems. I remember giving you a crazy look and hefting the planter in my hand while thinking just go away so I can calm down because I look as crazy as shit right now.

And you drove away.

Getting the call from the insurance company an hour later just felt like the last nail in the coffin. “Your daughter ran a stop light and was in an accident.”

And I was freaking out. Because life had spiraled from “I want to move out” to something far worse and eventually included dropping out of school, homelessness, and moving to California – none of the things I wanted to see happen to you. I was also scared. What if you decided to fuck us over and empty the bank account? You were on our main checking account and that was NOT a good thing, not with your immature decision-making skills of the time. So I had Dave pick up the key and the debit card from you. I figured we would all take a couple of days, cool off, and then discuss it. But that isn’t what happened, is it?

Either I have created an elaborate fantasy about what my relationship with my mother has comprised of.

Or, my mother suffers from a mental illness compounded by narcissistic personality traits and/or disorder.

How about somewhere in the middle? This isn’t either/or. I’m not a monster and you aren’t either. But you are taking half-truths, brandishing them about your head, and issuing inaccurate labels. You also threatened all of your friends after writing your July post. For a short time, and I’m going to guess this was because you had your settings set at public, I saw you post the following:

Line in the sand here folks. If you think my mom is the victim in all this, you can push the unfriend button right now.

Agree with me or get out. That is narcissism. From Psychology Today:

Narcissistic functioning at core is a disorder of listening.  Think of it as one-sided listening, with multiple features that emerge as a result.  The desire to sustain a friendship, never mind a love relationship, can quickly fade with someone who does not seem to see or hear you, who dismissively pushes away what you say, and who may be quick to anger if you attempt nonetheless to express your viewpoint.

One of my friends summed it up quite well after reading your initial post.

“Oh Christine, when I read Dee’s post all I see is that you were struggling and tried your best to be a good mom. None of us is perfect, every one of us have moments we wish we could go back and re-do. All I see here is that you weren’t perfect. And Christine, NOBODY is.”

And then there is this…

Stupid is my mother’s worst insult. She is intelligent, and anyone beneath her in intelligence or who stumbles in any way is immediately labeled as stupid. And this means that they can be dismissed. Her friends are all stupid. Her family is all stupid. The cashier, the lady at Time Warner, the plumber, the neighbor–they’re all stupid. It’s her way of dismissing anything anyone else goes through or anything they have to say.

Because when it boils down to it, her opinion is the only one that matters.

That is a somewhat accurate assessment of how I reacted to stress (or those who were more mentally slower than me) years ago. Having my dad live with me also reminded me of exactly where I got it from and how far I have come in changing this dynamic. Hearing it from his mouth and listening to it occasionally spout from Em’s mouth was a huge reality check. I made a concerted effort to remove the verbiage from my vocabulary because it caused nothing but negativity and pain. Not just for you, but for me hearing the words repeated back to me.

So no, my opinion is not the only one that matters.

In the end, Danielle, you seem to think I’m incapable of change, when it is quite clear that, over the years, I have changed tremendously and continue to do so.

There is more, plenty more, that I could argue, take issue with, or clear the record on, but I’m closing in on over 8,000 words as it is, so I will instead say this.

You have stated more times than I can count that you “can’t remember most of [your] childhood.” Instead, it seems that you remember most of the negative and little of the positive. I hope that your pursuit of those missing memories will be the subject of future therapy sessions now that you are seeing a therapist again. Holding me solely responsible, dismissing your father’s complete lack of accountability, glossing over your own behaviors, and omitting the parts that make you look bad does not paint a full picture of the truth.

The Irony Has Not Escaped Me

I have come to an understanding of sorts as well. It may not be completely accurate, but I think it is a little closer than it was before.

When I get old and need help, I will not be asking you. You have already made it clear what your priorities are. Several times you have told me exactly how it will work. You said:

  • Vanessa will just have to take care of Dad
  • Emily can take care of you and Dave
  • I’ll take care of Uncle Dave, Aunt Anne and Uncle Zane

It sounds so perfectly reasonable. And I’m sure your sisters will be on board with that. The fact that the only ones that currently have any money (and plenty of it from what you have told me) are the three you plan on taking care of.

Just in case you were wondering, I wasn’t asleep at the wheel when you said that and the irony has not escaped me. But it has brought home the understanding of inheritance and wills and what decisions I need to make as a result. And as you said:

I don’t feel like I owe her anything. Not my time, my attention, or my presence. I feel as though, at this point, we are even, and we can finally be quit of one another.

I think we both agree. We’re even. Any wealth I create in the future, that remains after my death, will be directed towards Emily and any potential adopted child. They will have shared my time with those projects, they will be contributing in some small way to that wealth-building, so it is reasonable that they should inherit it all.

If the events of last year have taught me anything, it is that I will not end up like my dad, living out my final days with nothing but SSI to depend on.

You have made your preferences crystal clear, and I thank you for that, I know exactly where I stand and what value I and the other people in your life have to you.

You’re Getting There, But…

When I read your post from February, I asked a friend to look at it. “I think she’s, you know, admitting some accountability for her actions there,” I said, “Owning up to going through my Facebook posts. Do you think it is a step towards reconciliation?”

She answered back. “I don’t see that, not at all. No apology, no remorse, nothing.” And this was from a woman who, upon reading the initial letter you wrote to me in January had urged me to do whatever was necessary to reconcile with you. “I just can’t understand how it has come to this,” she said after reading the letter. She held that line of thought until your post came out in July.

I went back and read this…

I’ve done some fucked up shit in my life. I’ve lied. I’ve stolen. I’ve said things, and done things, that I’m ashamed to admit to. I tried to run away when I was fifteen and rope several friends into doing the same. I stole expensive jewelry from my grandmother to fund the expedition.

I’ve pushed my way around at parties and amongst friends to get my way. I’ve bullied and berated. I’ve manipulated and cheated.

And so has almost everyone else on the planet.

I never read your journals. I could have. I certainly had ample opportunity to. But I didn’t.

Shortly after you were arrested for truancy and they found over $20,000 in antique Native American jewelry of your grandmother’s in your possession, the arresting officer said, “I’ve looked through her journal and uh, there’s some rather interesting stuff in there. I think you really need to take a look at it.”

And I probably should have. But I remembered my mother invading my privacy. She did it while visiting me at my dad’s in San Francisco for my 16th birthday. She took things completely out of context, both of them did, and it was at a crucial juncture of my adolescence. I never trusted either of them again. I also realized that, if they could read what I had written and misunderstand it so badly, if they could label and categorize me, then there was really nothing more for me to say or do. I might as well go ahead and be all of the things they accused me of, hell, why not, they already thought I had done them and wouldn’t believe me when I tried to explain.

I didn’t want to do that to you. I wanted the trust to stay there. I needed you to trust me, above all else, because at that age you were vulnerable and you needed to finish growing up. I didn’t want to read your inner thoughts. They were yours and yours alone. So I guess I’m not that “almost everyone on the planet.”

The point here is, you shouldn’t be either. Perhaps you have figured that out already or perhaps you are still laughing at the stupid woman who trusted you so implicitly. No matter what – I hope that you take full responsibility for your actions and stop making excuses.

Lastly, and Undoubtedly Where You Will Stop Reading

If you are even reading this now.

No, I’m not okay with your choice of partner/boyfriend/husband. You asked me once if I would tell you what I thought. And I’m telling you now.

I wanted to like him, I really did. Mainly because you liked him so much.

But I don’t. And I’m going to tell you why, but you aren’t going to like it. Some you may already have read, but I want it clear and transparent, so there is no confusion. I am not happy with your decision because…

  1. Severe mommy issues – his seem even more significant than your other relationships. His reaction to them is unique and disconcerting. And while it might seem amusing that he carries his mother’s ashes with him to events he thinks might make her head spin (like LGBTQ festivals), it also points to a level of hatred I am not comfortable with.
  2. Tranny porn (as in turning it on our computer in the middle of a party we were hosting that had children attending it) – Yep. Said it in this public space. Sure did. And here is why. Every single person I have mentioned this to has not only been shocked, most have had very strong reactions – ranging from they would have contacted authorities, all the way to “My husband would have beaten him to a pulp.” He didn’t just “misjudge the room” – that would be when you put on rap in an easy listening crowd. He took it to a level that was completely inappropriate for his surroundings and one that had children on the premises.
  3. Creepy vibes – I got them from him. And that means little, honestly, except when connected with other people saying the same thing. It isn’t my friend’s husband’s fault that I “wouldn’t let you see your sister.” It was that weird vibe, combined with his report of a weird vibe, combined with #1 and #2 that made me go, “Uh, uh.” And I will say it again here, you are absolutely welcome and encouraged to see your sister, but she isn’t staying the night there.

I did learn something from my disaster of a second marriage. I am more suspicious, leery even, and err on the side of caution. And I don’t apologize one bit for it. I will go to my grave filled with guilt over what happened to you and angry at myself that I did not see it. I’ll be damned if I let anything like that happen to Em. If I could take away what happened to you I would and I hope you know that.

I would rather be dead wrong than absolutely right in hindsight. And I truly, truly hope that I am wrong. The alternative to that is something I truly do not wish on anyone.

This might leave you angry and defensive, and I’m sorry, but that is where I stand. It has nothing to do with money, as L apparently told my friend’s husband, and everything to do with gut feeling and traumatic experiences.

In Closing

You have made many grand pronouncements in the past, ones in which you said you forgave me for the mistakes I made in your childhood, but you haven’t. And that is perfectly understandable, I haven’t forgiven myself, so why should you?

She was always careful to pull back just enough so as not to permanently damage me. Except for that once. She is brilliant, as I’ve said.

But you have laid at my feet all of the accountability and little of the accomplishments. You have created an image of a person who is clever and evil in her abuse, and utterly without regard for your emotional health or future.

That is not me. And if you feel it is, then I absolutely agree with you, it is better that we not have contact. Not ever again.

All of my childhood, adolescence, and adulthood – I have longed for a family to surround me. I don’t need fame or fortune, I don’t require awards or fancy cars. I wanted you, Danielle. Always, I wanted you – in my life, laughing, sharing music and movies and our “car talks” together. I dreamed of you long before you were born. I still love you. I always will.

But I don’t trust you. And after reading what you wrote, it all describes a person you have created in your mind order to blame for your feelings of insufficiency or doubt. Just hearing you say repeatedly how you told people about an abusive mother who threw you out on the street without a stitch of clothing or a dollar to spend so you could get FAFSA funding for college – that really hurt my feelings. I should have said something, but I think that some part of you knew it hurt me to hear it, yet you said it anyway. You might object and say, “I just said that so that I could get the funding.”

But the fact is, you said it. And you said it again and again and again – enough times that I think you began to believe it and absorb it as reality.

So, here’s the deal: I don’t want to have my mother in my life anymore. I don’t feel like I owe her anything. Not my time, my attention, or my presence. I feel as though, at this point, we are even, and we can finally be quit of one another.

You have made it excruciatingly clear how you feel about me. You have also done your best to paint a picture of an indifferent mother, but it doesn’t reconcile with my memories of sleepless nights and the desperate and deep love I still hold for you. Those are my memories, I own them, and I will not let them go or be told that they do not exist.

It hurts. I won’t say I’ll get over it because I doubt I will. I’ll just learn to live with it. That’s what life is – you embrace the happiness and do your best to get through the sadness. You learn to accept that it won’t be perfect, that people won’t always be nice or kind, and you choose your path and you walk it. And when being around certain people causes you too much pain, then by all means, walk away. I thank you for that lesson. It took your words, there on your blog, to finally bring it home to me.

Despite all of this, I do wish you the best life possible. I hope that it is filled with love, fulfilled dreams, and peace. I hope that you will live it to its fullest.

Take care, Danielle.


Posted in Challenges, Love, Responsibility | Leave a comment

Three Minute Math and the Big Question

I’m a planner by nature. I like to know where I will be next week, next month, heck, even next year (as much as one can predict that). So when Em asked to return to homeschooling this fall, I began working on our schedule. It took a while to resolve itself, but after a couple of weeks I had a decent answer and it will give us a regular, dependable schedule that we can both stick to.

And now, being that it is March and only five months away (she says this tongue in cheek), it’s time to focus on what our curriculum will be. I’ve been thinking of math, in particular.

I fear that during the last parent/teacher conference I may have given a highly regarded math teacher a bit of an existential crisis. It went something like this:

Me: So I think that, in the fall, I will return to the basics, just to make sure it’s all there – addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

Mr. G: Oh, she’s got that down!

Me: [turn to Em] Do you, kiddo? What’s 8×7?

Em: Um, um

Mr. G: [looking aghast] But you know this!

Me: Eh, you know how it is, after a while I’m sure she will remember, but I really want the basics to be an instantaneous kind of thing. Almost habit, you know?

Mr. G: Well, yes, of course! They should be automatic!

Poor guy. He is a great teacher, by the way, but he has 30 kids at a time in his class. If I were teaching 30 kids at a time, I’d be a neurotic puddle on the floor.

I really hope I didn’t send him hurtling into an existential crisis. He’s a highly regarded teacher and has several awards. Perhaps he will walk away from that discussion with the question, though, of just how much IS being retained and whether he needs to revisit things and make sure the kids truly KNOW it.

In any case, the point of it all is that the basics should be automatic. She should be able to snap off basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, all the way to 12, without pause. Until she is at that point, I feel that the rest of it is pointless.

Three-Minute Math

So we have flash cards, which seem to be frustrating for Em as well as mind-numbingly boring for me. And since she has been spending a year in school, I know she has had a lot more exposure to worksheets. So I’m going to give some 3-minute math a try. Just a 3-minute review daily in addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division. Nothing crazy and extreme, but something that will consistently give her a review of the basics.

A quick Google search landed this helpful site: Math-Aids where you can customize the worksheets and even choose 1, 3, or 5-minute worksheets. I printed off several different worksheets – five each of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

After she makes her way through those, we will see where her skills are and either continue with the worksheet practice or move on to something else.

I can remember my eldest arguing with me about how she didn’t feel that knowing her multiplication tables was particularly necessary. But honestly, I really think they are. They (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) are the building blocks upon which everything else stands.

Math Games

I struggled with math when I was young. And I created games to keep me practicing my skills on a daily basis. In fact, they became a habit, and to this day I still practice most of these games automatically.

Digital Clock Game

When I was struggling with short division and fractions, I began practicing daily by dividing the hour into the minutes on the clocks throughout the day. In this case, 42/3 = 12. If say I had 6:45, I would do the division, 45 divided by 6 = 7 3/6 – and then reduce the fraction down – 7 1/2.

12:03 becomes 3 divided by 12, which becomes 1/4

11:53 becomes 4 and 7/11

And so on…

License Plate Game

This was one of my earlier games, devised on the endless trips between Flagstaff and Phoenix. We lived in Flagstaff, but Phoenix, nearly two hours away, was where the airport was. My dad was in San Francisco, my mom in Flagstaff, and I moved between them regularly.

I would get slightly carsick if I spent the entire time reading, so I played the license plate game to keep me from being bored to tears.

Take the license number above and convert any letters to their numeral equivalencies. So…

6  L  I  K  2  7  4


6  12 9 11  2  7  4

Now compare the differences between the numbers. The difference between 6 and 12 is 6, the difference between 12 and 9 is 3, and so on…

6  3  2  9  5  3

And then the differences between those individual numbers…

3  1  7  4  2

And again…

2  6  3  2

And again…

4  3  1

And again…

1  2

And finally…


When I played it, and I was young at the time, it always ended with either 1 or 2.

It helped me with addition and subtraction and also number/letter substitution which led to other codes and puzzles, all good for the growing brain.

Typewriter Game

In 7th grade, we learned to type on these old manual typewriters. They covered the keys with black tape. I had a hell of a time learning the letters and found remembering where the numbers were exceedingly difficult. Later I was happy to transition over to ten-key. Once I learned that I was golden, but that’s a story for another day. I liked typing on the typewriter, I wanted to be better at it because I loved words and writing, and it became a welcome challenge for me.

I developed the habit of typing words that appealed to me, whether I had a typewriter in front of me or not. Ones I heard, ones that were said – and I haven’t stopped. My kids and husband will see my fingers fluttering away and ask, “What are you typing?” Sometimes I don’t even remember! It is good for a laugh, though.

So the game, or habit really, comprised of typing words, any words, but the longer the better. I would not only practice the correct fingers to use by tapping my fingers as if they were on a typewriter, but I would also keep count of how many fingers I used and how often.

I’m starting to sound rather obsessive and weird, aren’t I?

With that in mind, let’s take the word obsessive as an example…

If I number my fingers left to right, one to eight (thumbs don’t count), the fingers used looks something like this…

7  4  2  3  2  2  6  4  3

It has nine letters and those nine letters take a total five fingers to type. So I would consider it a 9/5 fraction or one and four-fifths.

I considered it a “win” when the ratio went into bigger whole numbers like two or three. A huge win would be a “four per”

attendance – 1  4  4  3  5  4  1  5  3  3

ten letter word, four fingers utilized, so ten divided by four = two and two-fourths – so an average of 2 and one-half per finger. Not bad.

It enabled me to not only engage in much-needed typing practice (thereby firmly cementing it in my brain) but also to continue to work on my fractions which I struggled with at that time.

To College Or Not?

I know it is a ways away, but I’ve been thinking a lot about college.

The eldest amassed enough credit hours to probably be closer to a Bachelor’s – and has flitted back and forth with college over the past eleven years. It has made me deeply thankful that I did NOT find myself funding it.

My youngest is just as bright and curious as her sister – but the question of college is not as simple as looking at your child and saying, “Well, you are smart so you HAVE to go to college.”

This excellent article questioning whether “you must go to college” is truly the message we should be giving our children.

This isn’t a matter of stupid versus smart or economic status – it’s a matter of interest and skills.

If your child is crazy about taking things apart and putting them together again, she might be a fantastic car mechanic.

If your child is constantly creating art, perhaps they need to become an artist – and maybe,just maybe that does not mean with an art degree.

I remember when I quit my office job and started my cleaning business. I knew that I could control what hours I worked if I ran my own business, and honestly, that was my primary reason for choosing a cleaning biz. I could go to school, work around my learning schedule, and even have time to study – all without a manager peering at me over my shoulder or telling me I couldn’t have the time off.

When I was asked why I chose a major in Psychology and a minor in Creative Writing, my response was honest, “Typical delaying tactic. I can’t say I’m a writer until I’ve got the degree to prove it, right?”

But the reality was – I could be a writer and I didn’t need a degree to accomplish it. Just like I didn’t need a degree in business to run my own business either. Twenty plus years working in offices had more than prepared me to deal with clients in a professional manner.

Life experience, entrepreneurship, dipping our toes into the working world, and the lessons we learn at home from our parents and extended family are essential. College? Less so.

If you are planning on a position in the medical field – by all means, attend college. I don’t want some kid consulting Wikipedia and watching YouTube videos for instructions on how to remove a tumor. Years upon years of education is definitely a stringent requirement before you put your hands on a patient!

But at some point, we have to make a decision – and that decision is on just how much debt we are willing to encourage our children to be buried underneath. I took out a $10,000 loan in 1988 for secretarial school and a good chunk of it was money that my loser first husband and I lived on (mainly due to the fact that he had no intention of ever working for a living – that was for stupid people like me). Over 20 years later and probably at least twice that amount in payments back to them, I finally paid it off.

Our children are saddling themselves with debt – tens of thousands of it – and it needs to stop. Because there is no point in paying through the nose for a piece of paper if it is going to cost them their future ability to buy a home, a car or to ever hope to live debt-free.

Posted in College?, Homeschool - Mathematics | Leave a comment

Schedules, Promoting Writing and More

Schedule Rearranged

Beginning at the first of this month, I moved most of my cleaning clients to afternoon appointments. This was the first step in planning our fall schedule.

Em wants to return to homeschool and I feel more confident and prepared than ever!

One of the lessons I have learned though, is that we need a more regular schedule. The odd, ever-changing one I had before was frustrating, and it left me trying to squeeze in homeschool and my personal writing time into odd-shaped holes in the schedule.

After examining all of my client cleanings, I realized that over half were in the morning, during this early bird’s most productive writing/teaching time! That didn’t make sense, so I changed it, and with few exceptions I have nearly all of my client cleanings starting at 1pm.

This allows me to carve out a morning schedule of writing, and then incorporate homeschooling into the mix beginning in the fall.

It is a busy, yet workable, schedule now. Now that I’ve gotten two huge parts of my day figured out – housecleanings and writing – I can create a good schedule for homeschooling and decide what subjects will happen on what days. And I have plenty of time to figure that out – because fall won’t be here for five more months!

Big Changes on the Horizon

I’ve pulled our crib from the attic and wiped most of it down and began to set it up. We are weeks away from certification as foster parents and then it is just a matter of waiting for a little one to be born or come into care. We are open to all, but the room is pretty small. It can handle a toddler bed or a crib, no problem, but not something bigger. I’m pretty sure it was originally intended as a nursery or a sewing room.

It makes me wonder if Louise Abney, one of the original residents to live in this house, stayed in that room first. She was just two years old when her family moved into the newly built house.

We will be taking advantage of daycare during the day – both now and in the next year or two. I still have to work (my cleaning biz contributes around one-quarter of our monthly income) and in the fall we will be homeschooling, so I hope to have time set aside specifically for Em, to maintain our solid relationship and reassure her of her place in our hearts.

The goal with all foster care is reunification with the birth family – and I am certainly on board with that. If it becomes obvious that the child’s needs cannot be fulfilled by the bio parents in the eyes of the court, then we hope to adopt. Either way, the goal is care and love – in whatever form and future that takes.

When I was pregnant with Em, a full eighteen years after my first child was born, I had plenty of shocked looks when I told them her sister was nearly 18 years old. They shook their heads and asked me if I was crazy (“The end was in sight!”) and I told them that, if I did this again, it would take both medical and psychological intervention. And here I am, eleven, nearly twelve years later. Apparently, I was wrong – it has taken menopause and a move to the city to accomplish this major change!

It has been a long road to this decision and it will be a longer road still as we experience the ups and downs of the foster care system and welcoming a new life into our family. I welcome the challenge. I have learned a lot from 29 years of parenting. I added it all up and realized that IF we get a newborn and IF we end up adopting him or her, by the end of it, I will have 47 years of active parenting experience. Considering I am 47 (nearly 48) years old right now, that seems like a whole lot of parenting experience!

Then There is the Neighborhood Kid

And if all of the parenting/fostering plans weren’t enough, we do seem to have a young man here in the neighborhood that continues to seek us out. Well, he seeks out my husband, who is quickly becoming a father figure to the young man.

This is something that R needs desperately, as he lost his father last year to a car accident.

R is fourteen, and definitely in that stage where they think they understand it all. I think we all remember that age, don’t we?

He has had a particularly hard time this past week as it was the one year anniversary of his dad’s passing. He shows up on our doorstep at least 3-4 times per week, looking for a meal, looking for a ride, and Dave invites him in and helps him out.

I have stepped back and decided to let Dave run with this. I’ve done this for a couple of reasons.

  1. The kid made a rather transparent attempt to steal from us – which deterred me from wanting to get too close to him. What can I say, I have trust issues!
  2. He needs a father figure right now, not a mother figure – his mom is alive, but has stage 4 kidney disease and is on dialysis. Whether her life is measured in weeks, months or years, I do not know, but she is there now. Later he may need someone like that, but for now, what he really needs is a male role model.

Where this is all heading, I have no idea. For all I know, he might end up in the foster care system in the next year or two. We have talked about it a couple of times, but really, who knows what will happen? For now, we are simply trying to be there for him and help him out as much as possible.

Writing – Looking Good

A couple of weeks ago I received an email from Em’s homeroom teacher, Ms. L…

As you know, for a long time getting Emily to produce writing in a timely fashion was near impossible. Since we returned from break I have really noticed a switch. She seems more confident in her work and is now one of my most efficient workers. Her grammar and conventions have also improved significantly. It is always bitter sweet when they no longer need your help!

I was so excited to hear that. And I was even more pleased when Em read her project paper to me yesterday. She had picked out the subject – What Foods to Feed Your Puppy – and written it in an informative and personable manner. I love it when you can hear their voice in the words they have written – no bland, stilted writing for my child, she made me proud!

This got me to thinking about writing prompts and possible writing projects this next year. I did a little bit of rummaging about on the internet and found a great list of writing prompts for Middle School students: 100 Not Boring Writing Prompts.

Be sure to check it out!

My Creative (yet slightly creepy) Kiddo

Em creating this mask and came walking up to me one evening, playing it menacing and scary. I have never been a fan of scary movies and frankly, it was a bit much. I asked her not to do it to me again. But I did take some time to admire her work.

Later, upon noticing that her eyes and lips were visible in the photographs, she asked for some pantyhose she could color black. I happened to have some black knee-high stockings I didn’t mind her having and she taped the pieces over the eyes and mouth holes. She could see just fine and it really completed the look.

Creepy, creepy, CREEPY!

Our  Morning Reading Adventures

We recently finished the trilogy of “Bad Books” by Pseudonymous Bosch (Bad Magic, Bad Luck, and Bad News). I also purchased, but we have not read, the Secret Series by the same author. Em has really enjoyed these books.

Right now we are delving into “The Girl Who Drank the Moon” by Kelly Barnhill

After we finish that I have the 30th Anniversary edition of Hatchet to read to her. Perhaps then we will also see the movie and compare it to the book.

Emily reads well, but she and I both enjoy this reading time first thing in the morning. It is a great way to start our day. I sip coffee and read in a variety of weird voices for the different characters and she slowly sips her tea, gets dressed and brushes her hair.

At the end of it, she pulls out her cello and practices for 20-30 minutes each school day. She improves with each day that passes. This means less angst when her juries and the two scheduled public performances sneak up on us.

Overall, things are falling into place. Life is good and I feel like we have solid momentum forward. I’ll be sure to keep everyone updated as we add a new member to our household!

Posted in Advocacy, Bonding, Foster Parenting, Homeschool - Fine (and not so fine) Arts, Homeschool - Language Arts, Homeschool - Music | Leave a comment

Hard Lessons

We live in a neighborhood that is in transition. That’s a nice way of saying that we live in an area that is;

  • labeled as blighted
  • is often a dumping ground for the unwanted
  • sometimes called the ‘hood (even by me in jest)
  • a place where radio DJs have suggested folks go to if they want to illegally dump their extra trash
  • where prostitutes roam a well-trafficked road just a few blocks to the north
  • where gunshots and our favorite bird, a police helicopter, are a regular occurrence

We traded out a quiet existence on a suburban street where we never locked our doors for one where many bar their windows and lock their doors and are strong advocates (and owners) of concealed firearms.

A neighborhood in transition seems easier to say, however.

Last week, a young man approached our house and asked my husband if he had any work that needed done.

“Can I rake your leaves?” he asked and said he was “looking for weekend money.”

We prefer to let our leaves turn into mulch. In the spring we will run through the dried leaves with our mulching mower and turn them into good compost material so no, we didn’t need help with that. The next day, when Dave saw him again, he called out to the young man and asked him if he would be able to work on Sunday.

We didn’t have yard work, but we were planning on organizing the basement and hoping to finish the tuckpointing on the interior foundation walls of our 120-year-old home. After more than a century of living, the mortar between the stones was turning to sand. Chisel it out, vacuum it clean, and then apply fresh mortar. It’s a messy job and we looked forward to getting some help.

He said he was interested and we told him to show up at 10 a.m.

A few hours later, he was back at our door. “Could I get an advance on my work for tomorrow?” he asked. If it had been me, I would have told him unequivocally NO. I don’t get advances in my job and I would never ask for one.

I have a good reason for this. I know how it feels after you spend the money and then have to “earn” it after the fact. It feels like servitude. No matter that you asked for it and agreed to it, it has a different feel than working for a certain period of time and then being paid for it. And if that wasn’t enough, well, it isn’t good business.

Do the job, get paid. In that order.

I’m so weird about it that if a client sends me money through Paypal, I won’t transfer it to my bank account until after I have completed the work.

But I wasn’t the one who answered the door and that wasn’t the answer this young man got.

About an hour into our work on Sunday and no young man, my husband remembered that the kid had given his mom’s cell phone number as a way to get in touch with him. He called the number, and after hearing the story a very pissed off mama vowed to find her son and send him our way.

Hours passed, phone calls were made back and forth.

No kid.

We finished up for the day and took our baths, scrubbing the mortar dust from our skin.

I felt sad and disappointed. Not that I had lost $20 – that was nothing. Less than nothing. It was that we hoped it would be different. We wanted it to be different. We aren’t mad at this kid, we’re sad.

Let’s face it. Life is hard. It’s hard enough when you have two parents who love you and want the best for you. But as we found out in those snippets of conversation with the young man’s mom – that isn’t his life. His dad died. His mom is on dialysis. He’s having trouble in school, talking back, off with his friends and avoiding responsibilities at home.

And despite having seen the writing on the wall when he showed up at our house on Saturday afternoon asking for an advance, even now I wish for a different outcome. I don’t want $20 paid back to us, instead, I want to help. I wish I knew how.

I wish I knew how to explain to this young man how important keeping your word can be. That trust, when lost, is not easily returned. I wish I could tell him how difficult his life is going to be if he walks this road he is walking, and how much better it could be to walk a different one.

Write me up as a bleeding heart, it certainly seems to fit here, but if that young man were to show up on my doorstep right now, there would be no recrimination. It would simply be a “Hey there, I’m glad you came by. Here’s what I need you to do.” Afterward, I would tell him, “Let me know if you ever need work again.”

He’s fourteen. He thinks he knows how life works, he thinks he has it all figured out. And he’s got a long, long way to go. These kids, they need someone to believe in them. They need a better hand than what they have been dealt. They need opportunity, patience, and boundaries.

How do we help them find the right path to walk?

Posted in Challenges, Community | Leave a comment

Not That Kind of Gross

This morning I was looking up the requirements/restrictions on claiming an elderly parent as your dependent.

Em peered over my shoulder, “Gross income? That’s silly.”

Homograph This

Homographs are words that are spelled the same and sound the same but have different meanings. Not to be confused with heteronyms – words that are spelled the same, have different meanings and sound different.

But as always, it was a teachable moment so I jumped up, grabbed a piece of chalk and explained the difference between gross and net income – something she will need in the future.

A tiny bit of math later and she understood the difference and why it makes sense to focus on net rather than gross income.


I’m waiting for this book to come in but I’ve already started the conversation. I would far prefer to see Em working for herself than for someone else.

We have been talking intermittently about this since a dinner table discussion about some billionaire who insisted his children all learn a trade. And not one you go to school for – but something like carpentry, housepainting, et cetera.

I remember pushing my eldest to learn how to type by touch and learn basic computer skills. I was able to make ends meet for nearly two decades by working in offices. And while it tended to be creativity-killing b.s. – it has always been a fallback.

I use so many of the skills I learned way back in the early days of working as a receptionist, office manager, and customer service rep. That experience provided me with a better understanding of business, customer service, and organization – and I use them to this day.

That said, I wanted to hear what Em would say to the question of learning a trade.

“I think I would want to learn how to paint houses,” she said, after a moment’s pause. She has already mentioned she wants to be an artist, but that was the first time I had heard of the idea of painting houses.

“Are you going to be okay on a ladder?” I asked, envisioning her high in the air on a 20-foot ladder propped against the side of a house.”

“Oh, well, maybe I’ll just do short houses.”

“Or you could just do interiors. That wouldn’t be so bad.”

“Yeah!” she looked excited at the thought.

At eleven, you might think she is rather young to be having these discussions. But looking back, I think I really should have had more of these discussions with my eldest earlier on than we did. I realize too that I was limited because I was still figuring out my own life, which has evolved drastically in the past twelve years.

In any case, I’ll be having more of these discussions as time goes on. Perhaps, as we ease back into homeschooling, we could make a study of careers and learn more about what other professions do. Perhaps I can even arrange interview time for her with different people on their work experience, the education needed, and the pros and cons of what they do. That could prove an interesting career path exploration class.

Posted in Challenges, Community | Leave a comment

Back to Homeschooling?

Back to Homeschooling?

Last fall, still reeling from a particularly harsh assessment of my parenting skills by my eldest, I found myself doubting everything, including homeschooling. And so I enrolled Em in public school, unsure if it would be a catastrophe or a saving grace.

And nearly four months later – it’s more grace than catastrophe.

As I look back over the time she has spent in school, I have come to a few understandings. Here they are, in no particular order:

  • Educationally speaking – Em was on track and doing fine. In fact, her assessment tests indicated higher scores than her peers in writing, reading and science.
  • Not getting recess or longer lunch breaks (just 20 minutes) sucks and not getting to talk with friends sucks more
  • I have really enjoyed the extra time to focus on my writing career
  • Our mornings together before school have been lovely
  • No homework at her school was a huge boon
  • Her teachers, mostly, ROCK. I adore her homeschool room teacher and science teacher especially – they are both fabulous people.
  • Em has made even more friends (I truly didn’t think it was possible for one kid to be so popular) and several came to her birthday party

There are a lot of benefits and some drawbacks. But after several talks back and forth, Em said to me last Saturday, “Mama, at the end of the school year, I really want to go back to homeschooling.”

“Why is that, Em?”

“I miss it. I miss co-op, I miss my friends and I don’t like having to ask to go pee or get told I can’t talk during lunch.”

But Not Until Fall

I nodded, “I can understand that!” And in the end, where is asking permission to go pee a skill you will need in life? Or being controlled in your free time by NOT being able to talk during lunch?

Her teachers are wonderful and I have truly enjoyed the past few months, but I love the thought of returning to homeschooling. Now that I have had a basic assessment to tell me what I should have already known – my kid is doing fine.

So we will resume in the fall. My plan is to do a mix of co-ops and homeschool through her 8th-grade year and then enroll her in a community college in 9th grade. Just 2-3 classes per semester (1-2 core classes and one elective) will give her enough credits to graduate with an Associate’s degree by the time her peers are finishing high school. After that, she can make the choice of what she wants to do educationally speaking.

Foster Care Training

I feel as if we have sailed into uncharted waters. It’s scary, intimidating, and heartbreaking as we dive into foster care training. So far we have taken two classes and we have one last Thursday night class and two all day Saturday classes to go to finish up.

The instructor is busy separating the wheat from the chaff by telling us endless horror stories. And after over 18 years of providing foster care to teens on down, she certainly has plenty.

We are sticking with it, though. I am certainly learning a lot about foster care and how broken the system is, as well as why the workers say what they say or do what they do. It can be scary, not just for the child, but for the parents as well.

If all goes well, we should have a new addition to our household in April.

Posted in Advocacy, Community | Leave a comment

Cat Box Roca and Other Stories

Twitter, the internet in general, it can be a huge time suck and sometimes it is just good for a belly laugh or two.

I was browsing through Twitter and saw a retweet posted by another dystopian author. Meg Elison has written The Book of the Unnamed Midwife and The Book of Etta, neither of which are appropriate for young children, just saying.

The tweet said…

Which of course led me to read all about it. Which in turn led me to read a little further in the book…

I howled with laughter and couldn’t help but remember last year when I had purchased a container of Almond Roca, which bears a strong visual resemblance to litter-encrusted “cat box roca.”

My husband played a terrible joke on Em, holding one of the Almond Roca pieces and declaring that the cat must have pooped. She about lost her mind when he popped it into his mouth and ate it.

I’m revving up for some short story writing for tomorrow, but I just had to share that bit of humor.

Now it’s your turn, share a funny story about your family or kids below…

Posted in Humor | Leave a comment

Schedule and Routine Makes a Difference


When I was homeschooling, one of my biggest challenges was dealing with an ever-changing routine. This mainly had to do with my work schedule cleaning houses, which fluctuated around my clients’ needs and schedules. No one day was the same!

And while my schedule of cleanings has not changed, our enforced daily routine of public school has made a difference and laid a path to how it could be better if we ever returned to homeschooling in the future.

Em is happy at her school and is doing well – both in her academics and social life – so, for now, we are content with keeping with a public school regimen for this year and quite possibly sixth grade as well. After that? Well, let’s just say I’m trying to get as much writing done as possible before that time rolls around.

When Em became so stressed over her juries in her music class (juries are basically assessment tests), we incorporated a small change that has really made a difference. Read on…

Cuddle Time

At 6:30 in the morning, I wake the kiddo up and entice her out of her lofty platform bed nest with hot tea. She drinks it just like her dad, Earl Grey with milk and honey. We sit in the library, me with my coffee, her with her tea, and cuddle on the loveseat as she takes a few minutes to wake up.


Each morning I read a chapter from a book to her. Currently, we are reading Bad Luck by Pseudonymous Bosch. Any other time of day, in any other position (other than sitting up) and I will fall asleep. But somehow, the combination of sitting up and first thing in the morning (at least for Em) and I am not a victim of reading aloud induced narcolepsy – thank goodness!

Emily absolutely loves me reading to her and it is just the best way to start off our day. Literary me is happy that she is experiencing a story, even if she isn’t reading it, and Em loves the attention and time with me. I can see us doing this every morning for pretty much forever.

She will be 30 years old, in her own home and I’ll still be reading…well…maybe not.

Cello Practice

With her wake-up time of 6:30, Em has an hour and ten minutes to wake up, get dressed, drink some hot tea, cuddle, listen to a chapter, and then finally practice her cello. And I love listening to it. I found a perfect place to store the cello, right next to my rolltop writing desk in the library part of the room (the other section is my office). After reading aloud, I retreat to my corner desk to deal with various to-do’s while listening to her practice. It’s the perfect fusion of productivity, time with Em, and practice for her mixed together.

And how she has improved! In just two short weeks, we have seen an enormous improvement not just in her playing but in her attitude. The successes she has seen in her abilities has spurred her to practice more and also given her a real sense of accomplishment. I think she realizes that she is in control of her ability and progress, and that is a powerful lesson.

What about your daily routine with your children? What have you put into place that makes a difference in your daily routines?

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Posted in Bonding, Connections, Homeschool - Music | Comments Off on Schedule and Routine Makes a Difference