Tuesday, December 29, 2015

My 40 Years In 40 Photos That Any 40-Something Can Relate To

I just turned 40.  4-0.  Forty.

No matter how I say, type or print it, it just doesn't seem true.

Then looking back at these photos, as I searched for a way to commemorate my climb to the tippy top of that proverbial hill before tumbling gracefully down the other side,  I realized that this milestone is meant to be a celebration- a remembrance- just like the memory of things that made those years exactly what they were.

Each of these things, good or bad, happy or sad, has left an indelible mark on my first 40 years- and helped bring me here- to where the next 40 are supposed to be.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

I Grew Up With Snow Days... My Kids Just Had A Bomb Day

We returned from a weekend away well after midnight on Sunday so I kept my kids home from school on Monday because I knew they would be exhausted.  I kept them home today because of a bomb threat to their Los Angeles school district.

A plumbing problem?  A computer system failure?  Or a massive power outage that is somehow impacting their campus but not our home less than one mile away?  What am I supposed to tell them about why their school is closed today?  My daughters are only 5 and 7 years old.  One is in kindergarten and the other is in 2nd grade. I guarantee they will be excited to have an extra day of play but are bound to realize quickly that today isn't what they'd usually call an "S" day (unless that "S" is for scary).

The fact is, no matter what I tell them, they are going to hear the truth tomorrow.  There is no way for me to shield them from that.

A week ago I was concerned about a classmate who told my eldest that her parents are Santa Claus.  While I think I covered that one up for now,  it will inevitably come up again.  I won't be able to preserve her Christmas magic forever.  But how do I preserve the fact that my children should feel safe in their classroom during a history lesson, on the playground at recess or with best friends while eating their favorite snack?  The bottom line is, I can't.  Today is a stern reminder of that.

As Southern Californians, we are strongly encouraged to leave a personalized Earthquake Kit in our classrooms.  On the list of items to pack is a handwritten note of support and encouragement.  "Hang tight, sweetheart!  Mommy or Daddy will be there soon to get you."  There are a million positive ways to spin the message but somehow I've never settled on the right one.  What if I don't get there?  What if that message is the last I'll ever communicate to my daughter and I didn't say absolutely everything she needs to hear?

Humankind has survived so many great threats, plagues, wars.  Those victories are the things I want my daughters to learn about in history lessons.  I want them to learn about the forefathers (and mothers) of our beautiful country.  I want them to learn about our biggest discoveries and most life-changing inventions while cultivating the knowledge and experience they need to make an amazing history of their own, no matter how big or small.

I don't want them to learn about terrorism or Al Qaeda or ISIS.  I don't want them to learn about the failure of our government to keep us safe while simultaneously manufacturing lethal weapons without drastically changing our own laws to protect us from them.  And I don't want them to learn the importance of paying attention during the same school safety drills that I laughed about as a child.

Then again, I need them to learn about all of those things.

Whether today's bomb threat is a credible one or not, the reminder I've heard over and over again is how it's better to be safe than sorry.  I think that rule applies when getting to the movie theatre early so tickets don't sell out.  It applies when throwing out cheese that may or may not have gone bad so no one gets a belly ache.  It even applies when hiding Christmas toys outside the house just in case your Santa Claus cover-up wasn't nearly as strong as you thought.

Today I realized it also applies when keeping your children at home because of a terrorist bomb threat to their school and every other in your city of millions.

I just wish that were a lesson my kids never had to learn.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Most Important Teacher's Gift You'll Never Give

A 47th mug, an engraved picture frame, even a homemade maybe-an-ashtray/maybe-a-sombrero clay tchotchke thingy.  Almost any teacher gift is better than this.

I’ve seen several versions of this wine bottle floating around on social media.  The problem is that I am seeing them as real life gifts, personalized with photos of children I know and love, as opposed to memes poking fun at what I find to be one of the most inappropriate teacher gifts since the naked selfie.

Don’t get me wrong.  My kid can be an asshole, just like yours.  And my kid drives me nuts to the point of complete insanity, so I cannot imagine what she can do for someone who doesn’t share her DNA or call her family.  But the very last thing I want to think of my daughter being is responsible for driving her teacher to drink anything but a triple shot espresso.

And it’s not even labeling my child as the catalyst for drinking that bothers me.  If she can drive me toward a cocktail, God bless her underpaid teacher.

I’ve never been a goody-two-shoes.  I was known for a pretty mean keg stand in college and have tried almost every drug imaginable.  I smoked more marijuana in my mid-twenties than I ever did in college, which is saying a lot.  Hell, I’ve even shared here about the time celebrating Jerry Garcia’s life with a strange trip of my own landed me in my small hometown grocery store believing I was being engulfed by honeydew melons.


I don’t enjoy sharing more information than my mother would ever want to hear but am willing to do so not only because I am way too old for her to ground me but also because a reminder is clearly needed that you never can guess what someone’s true experience has been with drugs or alcohol.

You never know who is struggling to cut back on their drinking.  Or had their license suspended because of a DUI that could have killed you both (heaven forbid your child) and is now Uber-ing to work because of it.  You never know who lost their parent to addiction and is terrified of inheriting that deadly gene.  Or, passing it on to their own innocent children.

I guess you never really know until you know- and that painful reminder is no longer necessary.

Me?  I’d rather play it safe and give the clay thingy.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

How The Peanuts Movie Failed Our Children

Rejection after rejection after rejection.

As my high school classmates were receiving big, thick college acceptance letters, I was opening only paper thin, small enveloped rejections.  But it wasn't until opening a rejection from my "safety" school, the lowest ranking of any school I'd considered, that I started to worry.  See, though I'd applied to 8 or 10 universities, there was only one I was willing to attend.  I'm not sure what set my sights on the highly acclaimed Boston College, but I knew that was where I needed to be.  So much so that if I weren't accepted, I told my mother I wanted to take a year off and reapply.

While she never said so, at least to me, I know that declaration made my mother a nervous wreck.  "Numbers don't lie" people say.  So when my SAT scores came back in a three digit number, she had plenty of cause for alarm.  I held out hope.

When my college counselor spoke with the admissions department at Boston College, shortly after my acceptance, she was told I would not have been accepted if it weren't for my essays.  "By the skin of your teeth" people say.  And surely that's how I got accepted into Boston College, where I landed on the Dean's List 7 of 8 semesters and graduated with a double major.

Thankfully both BC and I knew I was worth way more than my SAT score.  Sadly, Charlie Brown may not know the same.

Overall, The Peanuts Movie was cute.  Visually it was well done, and though the main plot revolves mostly around Charlie Brown's silly crush on a new neighbor, the story successfully involves each of the characters in a nature true to the history of the franchise.  Charlie Brown is the same "lovable loser" as we've always seen him.

Until, that is, he learns he is the first student in the history of his school to receive a perfect score on a standardized test.  Once surrounded in the hallways by googly-eyed schoolmates staring at his "100%" on the bulletin board, suddenly Charlie Brown is worth something.  Not only to himself, but to everyone around him.  Suddenly he is the most popular, most sought after boy in school, showing more confidence than ever before.  Even Lucy wants to be near him.

It isn't until during a school assembly set to celebrate Charlie's achievements that he learns (*spoiler alert*) that the perfect score is not in fact his.  His cheeks blush, his voice cracks and his self-worth plummets right before the eyes of the entire school, the crush- and the young film audience.

No one tells Charlie Brown that his intelligence, imagination and value as a human being have nothing to do with the standardized test score.  No one tells him that his creativity and caring nature cannot be reflected in a number.  And certainly no one tells him that sending a message to impressionable children that their ability to succeed (or be loved) can be numerated by a bubble test is as dangerous as it is irresponsible.

I'd always assumed that by the time I entered my forties standardized tests would be a thing of the past, just as I assumed we'd be driving spaceships as cars like The Jetsons.  We've made some progress toward both, but aren't there quite yet.  My own daughters, now 5 and 7, don't have long before sharpening a number two pencil, squeezing their too long names into too few bubbles and answering multiple choice questions strategically written to confuse them and gage their ability at the same time.  And while I'd like to say their scores at that time will be somewhat irrelevant, I know they won't be.

Hopefully, no matter the result, I can convince them otherwise.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Do I Hope My Kids Dance? Sure. But I Hope They Do This A Lot More

I still remember the Polaroid of the first book my brother ever borrowed from our small town public library.  It was a closeup, not of him holding the book, but of the book alone on our royal blue shag carpet.  The photo was a celebration.  It was a celebration not just of my big brother, my mother's first child, finally old enough to read.  It was a celebration of the book itself.  Of the freedom the words on paper brought with them.  Or at least, that's how I remember it.

Three years his junior, I wasn't quite ready for my own library card.  Surprisingly, I don't remember the photo of my first borrowed book (although I am sure my mother took one, as she was incredibly fair in that way).  I do, however, remember aspiring to read on my own.

Before I knew it I was at a prestigious preparatory school studying Shakespeare, Orwell, Homer's Odyssey and likely a lot of CliffsNotes.  (By the way, thanks Cliff.  You are the man.)  Required reading in college was much of the same, with some Plato and Aristotle tossed in for good measure.  Now days away from my (eek) 40th birthday, most of those books bring only one word to mind.


Several years ago I set out to make my first New Year's Resolution in forever.  I skipped right over exercising regularly, eating healthily and cutting Diet Coke out of my daily routine as that'd merely be setting myself up for failure.  Then I remembered my brother's book.  I remembered the mystery, the power, the privilege sitting within his reach.  More importantly, I remembered the longing to make those things own.

In that moment I made a resolution to read more for pleasure.  I didn't set a specific goal.  Let's face it... Reading one book for pleasure that year would have been more than I'd read in years past.  So with even one novel in hand, success was literally at my fingertips.  I am unsure how many books I read that year, but it was a lot.

As a busy mother of two with an unpredictable work schedule and tendency to fill whatever openings do exist in my schedule with anything to help satiate an unhealthy desire to be SuperWoman, little time is left to read.  But the result is more grand than ever I expected.

E-Reader phobic, I've accrued quite the pile of novels on my nightstand.  In our hurry-up-and-wait society, I find carrying a book in my purse or on the passenger seat of my car as the perfect remedy.  How often do I read in those circumstances?  Almost never.  But the intent is there.  The dream.

Still, the most beautiful return on that resolution I have yet to mention.

My youngest daughter is a creature of habit, more set in her ways than you can imagine.  (Yes, Mom. I know.  Some apples don't fall far from the tree.)  But bedtime can be an exceptionally difficult time for her, as everything has to go just right.  Now a kindergartner, only two months into her school year, I am proud to say she is a full-fledged reader.  Like any younger sibling, she wants to follow in her sister's bigger footsteps.  So for the last several weeks, bedtime has consisted of her reading me a story before I'd do for her as I've done since she was an infant.  Then last week, something changed.

I was frazzled at her bedtime, even more so than usual.  I told her to start reading alone and that I'd be there shortly.  Several times I peeked around the corner to her bottom bunk and heard her voice, a sound I'd bottle up and save forever if I could, reading page after page.  With her happy, I took advantage of a few extra moments to do dishes, prepare lunches or something else insignificant.  When finally I went to read to her, I was too late.

Her flashlight, off.  Her ZippySack kitty blanket, pulled up.  Her book, closed beside her.  For the first time in 5 years and 7 months, my baby had read herself to sleep.  And what did I do?

I cried like a baby.

My mother once gave me a book filled with the lyrics of Lee Ann Womack's song, "I Hope You Dance".  For any mother, they all ring to true.

I hope you never lose your sense of wonder...
Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens...
I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean...
I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance...

I hope these and so many other things for my two truly amazing daughters.  And sure, even if they inherit their father's sense of rhythm, I hope they dance.  But way more importantly, I hope they read.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Who's To Blame For The Latest Inappropriate Halloween Costume? You Are.

A scary thing happens in this world once "Back to School" signage is replaced with all things "Pumpkin Spice".  Scarecrows replace swimmies in supermarkets and vanilla scented candles wipe out any lingering aroma of suntan lotion in homes.

(On a side note, I read once that burning an endless number of vanilla scented candles in your home will never cover up it's disfunction.  FYI.)

Being an east coast girl at heart (or at least by birthright) I cannot help but depend greatly upon the commercialization of seasonal change, as my car thermometer has read well into the 90's for the last week here in Los Angeles.  One thing I can't stand, however, is October's onslaught of articles aimed at "inappropriate", "tasteless" or "downright offensive" Halloween costumes.

Granted I've gotten a bit caught up in the hoopla before.  There was the one Halloween that planning a school party became so difficult due to multiple dietary restrictions in the classroom that I began to question how far is too far when it comes to limiting our children's intake.  Then there was the time even I got caught up in the fact that no size 2T Halloween costume should be called "Naughty Leopard".

I am still a firm believer that a woman (or certainly a little girl) doesn't need to be a slut to be a superhero.  But, the tone of so many costume-related pieces I've read lately has changed my tune a bit on who is to blame for this seemingly never ending cycle.

Whether it's complaints about Caitlyn Jenner:

or Cecil the Lion Killer:

or this interesting take on #BlueLivesMatter:

My opinion on each is the same.

I was a cigarette smoker through high school and most of college.  I will never forget the first shower I took after a night out in a bar as a non-smoker.  I untied my mane of long curly hair to wash it, and the moment the water hit my hair, it smelled like an ashtray.  I was repulsed.  But did I blame Marlboro?  No.  I blamed myself.

I believe the same applies here.

If we as consumers were not purchasing offensive costumes, manufacturers wouldn't be so motivated to make them.  Just as a television show can be pulled off the air mid-season because no one is watching, I'm sure that Party City would happily replace a poorly selling "Clock Bomb Boy" (inspired by 14 year old Ahmed Mohamed, who proudly brought a homemade timepiece to school before being handcuffed and questioned by authorities who suspected it may be an explosive).

To blame manufacturers for designing and profiting from questionable or tasteless Halloween costumes is diverting our attention in the wrong direction.

Blame the frat boy who buys "I Am Cait".  Blame the parent who buys fishnets and a garter for her young daughter.  Or, blame the person thoughtless enough to mock an incredibly intelligent Muslim teen who was scrutinized and shamed for doing what a blonde hair, blue eyed girl would have been commended for beyond words.

Manufacturers are simply doing their jobs by turning profits.

We as consumers are the ones at fault.

Actually, I think the look on "Ahmed's" face says it all.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

It's The Most Wonderful Time... To Make a Difference (With Operation Christmas Child)

Operation Christmas Child is on my mind all year long.  When I spot classic novels in the Target dollar section in springtime, I scoop them up.  And when my daughters receive goodie bags at a summer birthday party, I squirrel the good stuff away.  I truly believe every little bit makes a difference.

I wish I could remember and thank whomever shared the very first post I saw about Operation Christmas Child on Facebook several years ago.  That's when I learned how this incredible program collects shoeboxes filled with gifts for a child who will receive nothing else on Christmas morning.  Nothing else.

That fall, I found the world's two most ginormous shoeboxes (one from each of my young girls) and packed them to the brim.  I've often wondered who those shoeboxes made smile more- me or the children who received them.  Selfishly, I'm pretty sure it was me.  The following year I wanted to pack more and more shoeboxes, but my heart was bigger than my checkbook.

I've never been good at asking for money (from anyone other than my mom).  When I ran the Boston Marathon in 2001 I was required to raise several thousand dollars for Brigham & Women's Hospital, who gave me my bib number.  Embarrassed to fundraise, I donated the money myself.  Years later, I regret doing that.  Had I worked up the hutzpah to ask for help, I'd likely have raised much more for the institution than the very minimum I was able to provide.  I wanted to make up for that.

So, sharing my first experience with Operation Christmas Child with my few but loyal readers and asking them to help me collect the goodies to help me pack more boxes made all the difference in the world.

While visiting family in New England this summer I came across The Legend of the Starfish for the very first time.

A vacationing businessman was walking a long a beach when he saw a young boy.  Along the seashore, there were many starfish that had been washed up by the tide and were sure to die before the tide returned.  The boy walked slowly along the shore, occasionally reaching down to toss the beached starfish back into the ocean.  The businessman, hoping to teach the boy a little lesson in common sense, walked up to him and said, "I have been watching what you are doing, son.  You have a good heart, and I know that you mean well, but do you realize how many beaches there are around the world and how many starfish are dying on those beaches everyday?  Surely such an industrious and kind-hearted boy like yourself could find something better to do with your time.  Do you really think what you are doing is going to make a difference?"  The boy looked at the man, and then he looked down at the starfish by his feet.  He picked up the starfish and as he gently tossed it back into the ocean he said, "it makes a difference to that one". (adapted from The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley, 1907-1977)

In life there are so many that need saving, and unfortunately not enough ways to save them.  But sometimes even the smallest effort can make an enormous difference.

Which, brings me back to Operation Christmas Child.  Here's the deal.

If you guys send me the goodies, I will purchase the plastic reusable shoebox size bins, pack them, wrap them and pay the $7 donation suggested per box for shipping.  You can send as many or as few items as you'd like.  You can shop at The Dollar Store or Barney's.  You can shop alone for peace and quiet or shop with your children to teach them a bit about the real spirit of giving.  You can even skip the shopping all together by making a homemade craft or a monetary donation (or both).

Some housekeeping:

- Click here to learn more about Operation Christmas Child.

- Each shoebox will be labeled with the sex and age of the child it is intended for (2-4, 5-9 or 10-14). In the past, I have received the least for the older children.  There is no collection for infants.

- There is a suggested donation list on the website.  I've included the standard stuff like crayons, coloring books, pens, pencil sharpeners and notepads.  People have also gotten really creative by donating wildflower seeds, aprons and glow-in-the-dark stars.  Sidewalk chalk, yo-yos, and jump ropes.  Or you can go the practical route with socks, undies, toothbrushes and soap.  Go crazy.  Shoebox-size crazy.

- Yes, I can take PayPal donations.  Personal checks are also wonderful.  I will save those funds until the end of the collection period and use them to buy whatever we are lacking.  Then I'll send you a photo of how far I helped your money go.

- Collection Week ends on November 23rd, which means my five and seven year old elves and I must have EVERYTHING packed, wrapped, labeled and ready to deliver by then.

Once the collection is over, I will provide an update like this one of how many boxes we were able to send and where in the world they went.  All that's left for you to do is take a moment on Christmas morning, I hope, to think of the child who will receive your gift and the smile it is sure to put upon his or her face.

If you have any questions or would like address information, please email me at klpm16@gmail.com.  I am also happy to help you find a local chapter where you can donate on your own.

I hope to hear from friends, family and strangers.  But most of all I hope that however you choose to spend your holiday season, a moment or two will be spent saving a starfish.

PS. There are 98 days until Christmas but only 62 until Collection Week begins!  So let me be the first to say... Happy Holidays!