Category Archives: Parenting

Single mom, sexuality, dating, two-year-olds, infidelity, divorce

Blindsided by Wanderlust: Tips to Get By

ThelmandLouise

I’ve got that twitchy foot again. And this time it’s bad. I mean REAL BAD. I feel boxed in and just want to get on a plane or get in my car and GO. Of course, I can’t do that. But lately, the feeling is becoming overwhelming. It’s been building for months. I periodically go through this every year since becoming a full-time single mommy of two boys. It usually starts in February. (Here’s a photo montage on how I tried to cure my wanderlust through local trips last year: A Single Mom’s Wanderlust: A State of Mind.)

The aching wanderlust hit full tilt earlier this week when I had an ichat with my ex. He was in a taxi with this amazing light flashing in an out of the window and wind blowing lightly in his hair. He was driving through Brussels at sunset and smiling at me and James, our five-year-old who was sitting in my lap waving. My ex looked so happy. He looked so free. And suddenly, all I could think was “I’ve got to get out of here.”

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that my ex is living his dream and that he seems so happy. Truly I am. (I know some of you don’t believe me!) We’ve been through a lot over the past five years since he’s moved back to Europe. We are now friends again. But even if we weren’t, I’d still be happy for him. It’s just the way I choose to be. My wanderlust isn’t about him. I’ve always had it. And now that I’m boxed in, I start going crazy after two months without a weekend off. Waiting until August is going to be tough…although it can’t be helped. So, it’s only natural that I start to miss some aspects of my old life. There, I said it. Six years ago, when living in London, I was able take advantage of a lastminute.com sales promotion or a craigslist house swap and with a few clicks I’d purchase rail tickets and we’d be off to Paris for the weekend.

My life is clearly, completely different now. I love this small beach town. I do. Really. I love watching dolphins every day. I love biking and watching surfers. I’m obsessed with sunsets and sunrises over my stretch of the Pacific Ocean. I love looking for treasures on the beach with my little guy. But…I appreciate this small town and my two boys SO much more when I get a chance to refuel, get away and come back. So, while I LOVE these boys more than anything, I’m starting to go LOCO. Here’s a list of what I’m calling survival tips for wanderlust. If you are someone who is also afflicted with a periodic need to see new vistas, meander in new distant cities, sit in cafes and people watch, sans children, or crave the freedom of getting in your car with the windows down and driving AWAY, to ANYWHERE…sigh…these survival tips are for you:

  • Detach. Detach. Detach.
    One of the biggest perks to traveling is that it lets you leave your little world, your little community and any worries within it, behind. My first taste of freedom happened when I was 16 and went to Russia and Europe for the summer with the People to People Student Ambassador Program. This was before cell phones and Facebook. Two months were spent in Russia, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, England, Ireland—I was off the grid. I didn’t speak to my parents, my boyfriend or any friends (all good for me to distance myself from at the time!) the entire summer. I was out of all the gossip and petty concerns. I didn’t have to worry about that boyfriend who was doing drugs and cheating on me. Yup. I didn’t have to worry about my parent’s marriage that was falling apart. I didn’t have to worry about trying to be a good dancer even though I have flat feet. … I got away from all the concerns in my North Carolina town and immersed myself in drastically different worlds and lives. I saw poverty, beauty and kindness in Russia. I met the most charming and entertaining people in Ireland. I could see the contrast from the proper and inhibited English and all the nakedness in Denmark—two nude beaches and nude hikers, go figure! It was a great experience and later fueled my desire to keep traveling. Which I did, to abandon. When wanderlust hits, I try to remember how it feels to be away. I meditate. I remember what I did in certain locales, or people I met and how little they may have had materially, but how much richer their lives seemed to be. I meditate and imagine exotic sounds or smells, like when I was shopping in Jaipur, India. I imagine the marketplace, the incense, the spices, the colors, the dirt, the broken teeth, the hooka tents, the cows, the tattered Bangladeshi children, etc. I put myself there. I drop into that place. If that doesn’t work, I meditate with a guided CD (my favorite being David Ji) which usually forces my thoughts to still. And finally, after 15 minutes, I’ve detached from this place and am able to garner a better perspective.
  • Unplug.
    My new habit during the week is to cut off the TV, turn off my phone and shut down the computer every night after the kids go to bed. If there are dishes to do, I leave them for the morning. I then go downstairs into my room where I have photos that I shot in Sweden, Denmark and Italy, and I turn on my little clock radio. Yup. The one that crackles. I play the public station and listen to opera, or classical or jazz. I open the window slightly, so I can hear the ocean. Then, I either start writing or editing my novel, or I read one of my favorite authors. I instantly feel like I’m away. I feel like I did when visiting Eastern European cities like Prague or Budapest or small coastal towns in Spain or Portugal. For some reason, there was never good wifi and few modern conveniences. So crackling music, sometimes in another language, feels just right. This is my time to feel like I’m completely away.
  • Find creative, inexpensive ways to get away!
    I am a BIG fan of Airbnb.com, VRBO and SabbaticalHomes.org. Here’s an article where I outline affordable ways to get away. Single Mom’s Budget Travel Tips. Just planning the next adventure can be a bit of cure for what ails ya. This May, for my birthday, I’m either taking the boys to New York, or to Yosemite. I’m trying to figure it out. In August, I plan to go to Paris or Barcelona for two weeks while the boys are with their dad. I want to put the finishing touches on my novel in a far-a-way venue. I’m listing my home and reaching out to friends for home swaps. It may not happen, but I’m trying and putting it out there!
  • Find a partner-in-crime.
    Thelma had Louise. Find your Louise. Find another single mom to swap babysitting with. Whether you get an overnite or a night out once as month, just make sure that it’s an equitable swap. So mom’s of three, don’t swap with a mom of one. It may take some time to find the perfect partner-in-crime, but SO worth the effort!
  • Be Grateful.
    Every night I make my boys say their “gratefuls”. James says 5 things he is grateful for, since he is 5. William says 12, since he is 12. (They both always go over!) We’ve done this since they were old enough to understand how. I used to do this as a child and find that now, more than ever, I need to do it. I tend to write down my grateful lists and I’m amazed at how long they’ve become! On especially challenging days, I’ll even stop what I’m doing mid-day, and start one. Thinking of what you are thankful for is the best pick-me-up on the planet. I can never find fear when I’m living in gratitude. Try it.
  • STOP comparing yourself to others.
    The minute I notice that my thoughts are veering down this path, I imagine the sound of an old fashioned record getting ripped by a needle: RRIIPPP!! And I stop. My path and my journey is just that. And I’m on a very unique one. I’m embracing my writing and my yoga teaching—both very creative and low-paying venues. But I decided a few years back that when I stopped doing these things and focussed solely on work that paid well with little flexibility, I wasn’t happy. So, I have to stop comparing myself to those who have more, do more, and maybe do what I want to do better than me. There will always be someone out there smarter, more flexible, more creative, etc. ENOUGH.
    Since I’ve shut down my computer every evening, I’m clearly not on Facebook as much as I was. This is really helpful! Do I really need to know what my crush is doing, or not doing? Honestly. It’s not with me, so time to move on! I also don’t need to know how many ‘friends’ are traveling to far away places or going out on weekends that I can’t. I used to get so jealous of all my ‘single parent’ friends who could still get away or go out on weekends because their exes or parents took the kiddos. My life is very different from theirs and I just need to not think about it. This life of mine must have been chosen for a reason. I’m much stronger now than I’ve ever been. I have a novel that’s pretty awesome and nearly finished. I have totally wonderful boys. I live my life on my terms. I need to focus on the positive.
  • STOP pining for the past or an unattainable future.
    Enough said. Being present is a gift. There’s a reason why it’s called present. If I live in the past I can’t move forward. Ironically, if I focus on what’s ahead, I miss what’s right here; right now. Try to focus on what your children say. Try not to check email or text when with your children. Just try to be. As much as possible.
  • Find ways to make your life work, just as it is.
    A good friend and intuitive life coach, Louise Hauck, wrote in her book Streaming Consciousness, that one has to strive to make the present work, even if it isn’t exactly what you want, to open up space for something better. I’m paraphrasing, but Louise wrote about one situation in her book where she coached a woman who was miserable in her job. Louise suggested that she work hard at making things better in her current position before quitting. So, that meant, communicating better with co-workers who annoyed her. Trying to be more patient with those who offended her, etc. When she felt much better in her job, ironically, her dream job offer appeared. Making the here and now livable, workable, enjoyable, helps you to be grateful and then opens up space for something better. For me, that means, getting rid of junk in my garage. Organizing this small condo so it’s more functional for my boys. Clearing out closets, old toys and inboxes on my desk to Fung shui. Planning for fun excursions with the boys. All of this makes the here and now better. It helps me to be more appreciative and opens up space for whatever it is that I’m trying to manifest. As Louise taught me to say and/or think, “Lord, thank you for this wonderful life. This— OR—better, please!”
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Single Moms ARE Sexy: A Man’s Perspective

kissingmom

This past Sunday, as I was packing up the car for my son’s 3rd soccer game of the weekend, a neighbor popped over. He’s single, younger and been a friend since I moved in the hood five years ago. The conversation began about him, as he’s trying to decide if he could get married or survive having kids with his girlfriend. He knew that this weekend was hectic for me, as we saw each other earlier in the week and when he shared his fun weekend plans, I shared mine: attending a yoga workshop and working on a magazine article and a PR project. But I also had to squeeze in long road trips Saturday and Sunday afternoons for a soccer conference an hour away. He laughed as I struggled with a soccer ball and a folding chair and said: “See, dogs are SO much easier than kids!”

I just chuckled thinking how I hadn’t showered after my 8 a.m. yoga class and probably looked like the poster child for contraception. I replied, “Well, parenting is a club that requires insanity to join. Kids ARE terrorists, but they’re worth it!”

I figured the conversation was over, as we typically banter as I’m shuffling kids in and out of my house, or am parking my car, or on my bike returning from the strand. We never have terribly long talks, although we’ve been neighbors and friends a while.

He then surprised me by walking over and beginning a very serious conversation, that, not only made my day—but helped to renew my faith in dating, and in men in Southern California, in general.

First of all, I have ideas about what men who have never married and are without children would want—and I just don’t imagine that I’m on their list. AT ALL.

My friend gave me a gift that day of a perspective I hadn’t considered. And, he helped me see that by pursuing balance: by attending to my boys’ needs, as well as my own dreams and my own needs, I was on the right path.

It was just what I needed to hear, as I venture into my first attempt at dating in almost 15 years.  I hate to say it, but I’m a complete dating albatross from the 90′s. I met my husband in 1997, fresh out of a very serious relationship. I met him the day I moved to Atlanta from New York for an editor position. Even though I didn’t date him for 3 months, and stayed ‘just friends,’ he was the first date I had when I was ready. We were engaged shortly afterwards. Flash forward 10 years later. He has his mid-life crisis, finally leaving for good when our youngest is eight months old and staying permanently in Europe. Shellshocked from an international move, still breastfeeding and worried sick about my other son, the idea of dating, was just ridiculous. For nearly two years, I just kept my focus on taking care of the boys, staying positive and treading water. My first date, was actually a job interview, as I wanted to be an editor with his publishing house. Instead, we ventured into a very serious relationship that mirrored a marriage. So, as you can see, I have NO experience in casual dating—especially in a cool, Southern California beach town.

My neighbor, in his attempt to talk about his fears, ended up giving me an amazing gift from his perspective—which really touched my heart. I hope it does yours, too, especially if you’re a full-time single mom, like me.

The gist of his message was this: single men who have never married, want to know what their girlfriends will be like as mothers. They want crystal balls. They are terrified that their girlfriends, who were so cool and fun as singletons, will become obsessed and possessive with the children and never allow anyone to babysit. They have seen friends who rarely go out or go on vacation sans children. They have witnessed fun and intimacy drain out of their friends’ marriages after children arrive. They want to know that the future will hold moments of intimacy, excitement, travel and calm. They also want to know how their girlfriends will interact with their future children—but of course there is no way of knowing. So, when they see a single mom who has found ways to incorporate balance her life—it’s inspiring, hopeful and attractive. In fact, a woman who raises her kids solo, while also hiring sitters regularly, pursuing her passions and taking care of herself—while still finding time to be present with her children—is very attractive. It’s proof that fun, intimacy and individual pursuits won’t be forgotten once kids enter the picture.

Wow. Really?!

Here’s how the conversation began. Initially, he kept getting interrupted, as I was encouraging my 5-year-old to put on his shoes by himself (in the house) AND  to go up to his room to get his jacket. As I kept yelling through the garage doors: “I Can Hear You! Don’t worry!” to my 5-year-old, who is scared to run up to the 2nd floor alone without hearing my voice, my friend said: “My brother was just like that-scared of monsters. My mom used to yell at him. She yelled at all of us, all the time. You talk with your boys, not at them. You also don’t negotiate. It’s pretty cool.”

I was speechless. Who knew he had time to observe my parenting style?

He then told me how terrified he is of having kids. As I mentioned, he’s seen so many friends become miserable and disconnected after becoming parents.

When he touched on the reality of parenting being a struggle for intact couples who also have family nearby, I began to feel uneasy. I don’t like harping on my ‘story’ as I know that I am more than this story and it doesn’t define me. But the reality is, I have no family here and with an ex in Europe, I don’t get weekends off, like most divorced parents. I’m still a bit insecure about this, and imagine that I’m insanely unattractive to most men.

He then reiterated that he’s known me for five years and how cool it is that I hire my nanny and trust her. The reality is, I’m lucky that I can afford her. I spent much of my mother’s inheritance on sitter fees, but felt like it was an insurance policy for sanity. When my youngest was only 3, I spent a month in Italy. It was insanely expensive, but I’m glad I did and my boys were fine. It had been six months without a break, all of us needed separation. I had felt that it looked poorly on me as a mother. This sweet person was telling me that it, in fact, was the opposite.

He reiterated that single moms who are balanced, in shape, patient mothers, and still find time for fun, are incredibly attractive to single men. He encouraged me to not just date divorced dads who may be much older, a bit scared and emotionally unavailable from their divorces, and, perhaps, secretly want women to help them care for their children. Without saying it explicitly, he encouraged me to not sell myself short and to open myself up to more possibilities.

I’m not sure what the future holds, but isn’t that wonderful to hear?

So, my fellow single moms. Take heart. Focus on yourself, as much as your children. Be patient and present with your children when you are with them—as I’m sure most of you are—but pursue your dreams and your needs too. It’s not being selfish, it’s being loving to yourself. And as single moms, it’s rare that anyone asks us how we are, or what we need, isn’t it? So maybe we need to be our own advocates. And when we focus on these things, and making a better life on our own—and NOT on finding a significant other—maybe that is the right path towards more laughter, love, light and a compassionate circle of friends.

L. 

xo

Season to be ‘Kindful’

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My five-year-old son yelled for me to come upstairs this morning yet again. He was really excited while listening to the “ta dum da dum dum” Christmas song.

“Hurry, mommy! You’re going to miss it!”

So, I stopped brushing my teeth and slowly climbed the stairs back up to the den for the third time that morning. Every time I tried to get ready for the day, he’d yell for me to come back up. He’s beside himself about Christmas this year.

“Do you know what Christmas is really about, mommy?” he asked with an infectious smile. Since he’s going to a Catholic preschool, I answered, “The baby Jesus?”

“Nope. Well, maybe. But that’s not really it. Know it?” His eyes widened and he had this ‘I one-upped you’ look on his face. “Hmmm, what is it about?” I answered.

“Well, it’s not about the presents and stuff. It’s kindful. You know, being kindful.”

I just love that. All my aggravation about our slow-moving morning faded as I kissed his forehead and thought about his new word. James has inherited my inclination to create words. My whole childhood was filled with merged words or dyslectic sayings that only I or one of my sisters could understand. But isn’t ‘kindful’ just wonderful? To me, it’s kindness married with being mindful and joyful at the same time.

And it’s such a good reminder for me right now, too. (My best teachers always surprise me.) It’s only December 2nd and I’m already finding myself stressed with an over-stretched schedule. There are at least five violin concerts, soccer practices, games and parties for me and both boys. There are Christmas travel plans to be made, (or not) and of course the biggies for me: my final two weeks of yoga teacher training and the book I’m writing. Phew—The book I’m writing—When do I find the time to squeeze in a bit more work on the sixth chapter? My most emotionally draining and engaging chapter so far. Dropping in feels like landing on the moon and after an hour or so of writing, I feel dazed and unfocussed on immediate needs and scheduling, as I think on heavy topics and characters filled with angst.

So…as I typically ramble on before getting to a proper point… I’d like to encourage all of us to take moments out of each day this month to be kindful. We can only do so much. I, especially, need to be kindful to myself. I’ve been through a lot lately. And, like many of you, I may not get as much done as I’d like. But if I can be kind, mindful and listen to my children, maybe throw in a few giggles, that will infinitely mean more to them than having the perfectly decorated house or perfectly orchestrated holiday. Right?

Isn’t it amazing that my five-year-old has become such an insightful teacher for me? What if I had stayed focussed on not being late for preschool and refused to go upstairs this morning? Think of what I would have lost. Later this morning, as I was getting James dressed, he looked at me squarely in the eye and asked, “Ok, who are you?” I answered my little buddhist boy by saying: “I’m your mommy filled with love.” Since he’s entered the age of being afraid of transforming monsters, I knew where this was coming from. He asked again, “Really, that’s who you are?”

And as I answered him again, that I was his mommy filled with love, I realized that in each moment I have the opportunity to answer him and my older son, by my actions. Each time I yell, or refuse to listen, or get frustrated and snap while in the car, I’ll be telling them that I’m a different version. So, it’s my time to stop, breathe and be the version of me they deserve.

You know, sometimes when we stop, breathe and stay in the moment—even if it means being late for an appointment—we open ourselves up to possible moments of joy and insight, that may stay with us a lifetime.

I may not write again in this blog before the holidays, as I’m working feverishly on my book Uriel’s Mask. So, I’ll take this moment to wish all of you ‘kindful’ moments. Next time you’re stuck in aggressive or slow-moving traffic, rushing to a party or an appointment, or frantically shopping, I hope you think of this post. Take a breath (like I will be doing) and think about the big picture. What sort of moments are you cultivating? Are your children in the back seat? Are they listening? Are you listening to them? What really matters in the end? Is it all of the presents under the tree? Or is it our presence? Is it what money can buy? Is it what neighbors think? Is it trying to meet expectations that others or family have set for you? Or is it trailing your own, mindful path?

Here’s hoping that we all take babysteps toward kindfulness this season.

Happy Holidays! x

How’s Your PMA….

Laura Roe Stevens:

So important today! Thank you Tracie! x

Originally posted on Tracie Louise Photography:

Brown Butterfly

It seems these days that chronic negative thinking has just become a way of being.  It’s normal.  It’s almost expected.  Complaining about the state of the economy… the weather… the aches and pains… and don’t even start me on the government.  Having things to complain about almost binds us together in commonality.  It has just become the way in which we communicate with one another.

But is it productive?

Is it helpful?

Does it actually do anything to solve to the problems we all face, or does it just give us a feeling of all being in the same boat.

Anyone who doesn’t take this automatic negative stand point is viewed as a pollyanna.  “But you have to be realistic” … is the catch cry thrown at anyone who refuses to see the world in a doom and gloom fashion.  “You have to be realistic”…. I really hate that saying…

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Yoga in the West Bank

Laura Roe Stevens:

How beautiful and inspiring are these women?! To find inner peace when living with extreme stress is a strength only found from within. I am in awe. Thanks for sharing Andrea!

Originally posted on YOGA & joyful living:

What would you do, living in an unstable country, your daily routine marked by either lack of food and resources, lack of security, an ongoing conflict about control of land – or even all of the above?

These Palestinian women have turned their gaze inwards, towards the only stability they know they can rely on. They do yoga to connect to what lies deep within, to cope with the stress of their everyday existence.

Jaleela Khwaja practices yoga in her garden in the village of Ni’lin on the West Bank.

And, let’s be honest: Don’t we all say we do yoga (at least to a certain degree) to cope with stress? Now in light of these women, I wonder if my so-called stress really is stress.

The fantastic article (read on here) reminded me of a workshop I once took. The teacher said: “We all…

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Don’t Run From Who You Are: Writing Advice From George Saunders & Cheryl Strayed

Laura Roe Stevens:

I LOVE the sentiment here. And I am especially in need of hearing this as I take two steps forward and one fearful step back with each page I do—or don’t write! Thank you Wes Janisen.

Originally posted on Thought Catalog:

I don’t know who said you should never meet your heroes, but I can’t help but feel that whoever it was probably spent too much time worshiping rap stars or professional athletes (I know they’re not ALL douches, but I’m extrapolating). Having had the great pleasure and privilege of meeting both George Saunders and Cheryl Strayed this year, two of my biggest literary heroes, I know that meeting people you admire isn’t always a letdown. Walking away from both experiences, I could not have been more delighted, or inspired.

In the unfortunate instance you aren’t already familiar, George Saunders is a renowned short story writer, whose recent book Tenth of December was hailed as “The Best Book You’ll Read This Year” by the New York Times. I look up to Saunders for his wholly original style and his unparalleled ability for mixing wit and imagination with piercing social commentary. For…

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HuffPost Helping us in our Nanny Search

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Yesterday I participated in a HuffPost Live panel entitled: “Good Help Is Hard To Find”. I had forgotten about my nightmare nanny scenario that I wrote about when the parenting editor of DivineCaroline.com.  A HuffPost producer read that article and reached out. Within a day, I was on a panel of experts discussing tips for parents on a nanny search. We weighed the pros and cons to such topics as whether new parents should use a nanny cam? Should all potential nannies undergo drug tests? Are there any questions that shouldn’t be asked during a nanny interview? Is it okay to ask about sexual preference or marriage status or whether the nanny has conflicts with her own children’s schedules, for instance. More importantly, we were asked to share our nanny nightmares. (You can see my video segment that HuffPost is running here.)

It was a very interesting and lively discussion and it brought back a lot of issues for me. (You can see the entire panel and chime in with your own written comments here.)

My nightmare scenario, in particular, is striking a chord with many viewers. In fact, AOL is now publicizing the event on their home page today (pic above). What that tells me is that I should dig further into the topic of what the telltale signs are for addiction. In my scenario, many years ago, I found out a potential nanny was an alcoholic. Luckily, I worked from home and was able to see her with my then three-year-old. Even though references checked out, I didn’t feel completely at ease. I didn’t trust my intuition as well as I do now, however. Still, she did all the right things with my son and said the right things to me. Her references LOVED her. I trusted that she wouldn’t steal from me and she was very sweet. I only needed her a few half days a week, so I could freelance. After a few months of working for me, I asked her to house sit and take care of our dog when we were away for a week.

Feeling the need to come home a few days early, I was able to pop in and discover the many, many vodka bottles. Afterwards, it all made sense. She was always chewing gum or eating mints. She always drank sprite or Fresca—an easy drink to mix vodka with. She never wanted to work early in the day. Since I needed part-time work, I was flexible. She had been let go from her job at a preschool, but she, and the preschool, both said it was because she was taking care of her aging mother full-time and it was getting in the way of her responsibilities. I’ve come to learn that some people want ‘to help’ an alcoholic. The belief that they’ll get better, and an underlying friendship, can lead some not to reveal there was ever a substance abuse problem.

Looking back, I see how trusting I was and how very lucky that I worked from home and popped back in on this woman. Clearly, if she started to drive my son to and from swim classes in heavy Atlanta traffic, that would have been incredibly dangerous.

So, as a few experts on the panel suggested yesterday, I should have conducted a background check, criminal check (that may have revealed a DUI), and a drug test.

Today, life is great. I have a wonderful part-time nanny who was actually my oldest son’s nanny when he was born in California, before we moved to Atlanta  and then London. We came back from London so I could give birth to my second, and I was ecstatic to not only find her again, but to find that her current family was moving and she was free to work for me! We are SO lucky. She’s everything any parent would want in a nanny. I found her through my doula/midwife at UCLA Santa Monica. In fact, my doula was her sister’s mother-in-law. The entire family is wonderful and her sister, also a nurse, and her mother have all babysat for us. We love them. They truly are family.

With that said, if you are looking for a full-time nanny for your infant and you’ll not be working from home, these tips should help:

- Find reputable references for your nanny search such as your doctor, your nurse, midwife, minister…as these people will likely steer you in the direction of finding someone you can trust. Even if you find yourself in a large city without many friends, these sort of people may offer better candidates.

- Do background and criminal checks. These may reveal DUIs.

- Conduct a drug test.

- Use a nanny cam, but tell the nanny you will be using one periodically.

- Offer to provide health insurance and insist that she have a physical.

The news today is filled with nanny horror stories. The sad story of the nanny who killed the Krim children in Manhattan, is terrifying. The woman’s attorney is claiming she is severely mentally ill. This may be true. So how did the signs of mental illness not show at all? Last month, the nanny’s defense attorney says she is unfit to come to trial and that she hears voices. I wonder how she kept this side of her from showing? It’s something that must haunt the parents and family of those children. Mental illness is a mystery. This story is beyond tragic. Luckily, it’s also extremely rare.

For more tips on your nanny search, here’s a great article:

Seven Fundamentals of Effective Nanny Hiring

How to Divide and Conquer as a Single Mom

Larry Jones Illustration

Larry Jones Illustration

The past two months have been a blur. In one respect, they can be described as a struggle. If I flip this way of thinking, however, the two months have been filled with teaching moments.  I’ve been relatively absent from this blog. At one point, I wrote this post: Finding Forgiveness in Parenting, which will give you an inkling of how many of my moments have been filled. For two months I’ve been drowning in a sea of temper tantrums, kicking, hitting, spitting and other tyrannical behavior from my four-year-old—while also trying my hardest to be present for my 11-year-old’s important events:  soccer tournaments, violin concerts, open house, graduation, etc. (School ends in Calif. in late June!) As the child of a single mom whose dad is in Europe, I constantly worry about how hard it is for my older son to go to all of  these events: soccer weekend tournaments, graduation, open house nights at school, concerts, etc. where he is usually the only child without a dad present. I worry.

All the time.

But, of course, that worrying doesn’t do anything effective. At the same time, his little brother is behaving badly.

Very badly.

He seems to take out his aggression, however, only on me. So, while I’m trying to cheer on his big brother at a soccer game, or even during his graduation ceremony, there is screaming. “No!” Or his new favorite: “I hate You!” Or, his most effective tactic: he just starts kicking and hitting me with the occasional hair pull or spit in the face. I tend to leave wherever we are with the little brother, put him in time out—sometimes holding down his arms and legs when necessary to make him stay in time out. Some days I also take away the ice cream, or the playdate or the fun later in the day, etc. Meanwhile, the big brother doesn’t get any attention during his big moments. How many violin concerts have I left before his solo? How many times did I have to leave the soccer field before he made a goal or assisted with a goal? How embarrassing was it during graduation to hear his little brother scream? Clearly, garnering attention—any kind of attention—is exactly what the little brother wants. I’d love to leave him at home every time there is a big event. But I can’t always do that, as I can’t always afford the sitter costs for the many events I’d need them for.

Sigh …

Sometimes I just get defeated. Managing these two boys, as well as my burgeoning book and freelance writing, is about all I can do. And I don’t always do that well. Just this week, I took a break from a very important relationship. I need to right now. I barely have energy every day to tread water. And, it doesn’t help that my little guy doesn’t fall asleep until 10 p.m. every night as he’s filled with kinetic energy. (No he doesn’t get sugar or juice after 5p.m. … This is just his anxious, nervous energy state of being.)

So, it would be very easy for me to be filled with pity or exhaustion or just bitterness. It would be very easy to get jealous of the married couples, or divorced, but still in the same town, parents who can “divide and conquer”. You know, the mom who can take Johnny to soccer, while the dad takes Lilly to ballet. Kids sometimes need individualized attention. Mine certainly do. Clearly, my youngest will demand attention via a gut-wrenchingly loud decibel or with an equally painful kick, hit, bite, punch or thrown object. It’s not okay. I will stop it. But in the meantime, I’ve decided to accept and embrace this life. It’s just the way it is and I have to find ways to still have fun with my little guy and keep him from demanding all the attention from his big brother’s big moments.

I have worked with many people and teachers to create charts for good behavior with fun rewards. I’ve also come up with consistent discipline tactics. Nothing is working really well with the dynamic that currently is: both needing my attention now.

So, I’ve decided, to just divide an conquer as a single mom. Which is trickier than it seems—but I am becoming adept at finding ways to do this. While I don’t have any family here in California, I do have great friends, a good daycare and a wonderful babysitter. While it’s not always ideal, I am finding ways to make it work. The older son is often away for playdates and when he is, I find time to focus on my little guy. When we go to the park or the beach, he becomes a very different little boy. He thrives. He is sweet. He is loving.

 

When he is at daycare, I have fun with my older son. I relish our talks and I’m so lucky we are close and he trusts me.

 

When we are all together and the little guy is screaming or throwing items in a restaurant or anywhere else, I try my hardest to stay calm and take him out. He doesn’t get desert. Yesterday, after multiple temper tantrums, I sent him to his daycare. I was trying to have a fun, family day. It didn’t work, so off he went. It’s a small daycare where he has 3 very good friends. Plus, he is an angel there. (His tyranny is only directed at me.) But since he was kicking and hitting me, he didn’t get to go out for ice cream with me and his big brother. Sounds a bit sad, but last week the little guy picked up a broom and tried to hit me over the head with it. NOT OKAY.

We will survive all of this. And I refuse to give up on this little guy. And somehow, I’m managing to stay calm, and to still focus on writing my book for an hour or two almost every day. This journey is a hard one, but it’s forcing me to become a better person. I’m finding that even when I’m at my limit, I can push through with kindness, while still being strong. It’s amazing to me that I am grateful for this life. Isn’t that bizarre? I am so grateful to be these boys mom and I will find a way to make it work. Right now, it’s taking some personal sacrifices, but I have to. And you know what? In between the crazy tantrums and the exhaustion, I have plenty of silly moments to be grateful for. Yesterday, after a lengthy time out, I picked up my little guy and went to the pool. While he made a ‘cake for mommy’ out of pool toys, he screamed: “I LOVE YOU!!”

And I thought, “Ok. We are getting there,” as I tickled him.

Here’s hoping the summer will be strewn with small moments of silliness and peace.

Guest Post: Father’s Day as a Married Man

Kimathi

This is truly a year of firsts for me and for my beloved family. My name is Kimathi Thompson. My wife Melissa, also known as Meli, and I are coming up on our first wedding anniversary this July. We went on our first family vacation to the beach a few weeks back with both of our boys. (In the past they’ve all gone with her girlfriends and another of my oldest son’s friends.) I stay back because my work schedule usually doesn’t permit me to be away for a number of days consecutively. My biological son, Journey, (almost 2 ½ years old), Meli and I have been to the beach a couple of times without my oldest son, Jyson (9 years old), because he was away visiting his biological father.

As I write this, we are all in Columbia, SC attending Meli’s father’s family reunion. This is not only a first for me and the boys, but also for Meli. Family reunions are very few and far between for many families, including ours. (The last time Meli’s dad’s family had a reunion was 30 years ago until this weekend!) Meli never attended that reunion because she was living with her mother (now deceased from cancer 27 years) in New York at the time. We are actually pretty excited to get to meet everyone and learn more about her dad’s side of the family.  It will be fun seeing the boys meet and interact with all of their cousins and great aunts and uncles for the first time.

This will actually be the first Father’s Day that I recognize Meli’s dad as my dad as well. During the goodbye part of a recent phone conversation with her dad, Meli told me he said that he loved me too, after telling her he loved her and the boys.  Needless to say, that was a first as well!  It really touched my heart to hear that he said that. Yesterday I bought him a Father’s Day card and I will give it to him the day before Father’s Day at the family reunion. We are going to head back home Saturday night to get ready for the week and relax at home as a family on Father’s Day.  It will be one of the rare days that we all get to be together without a ton of activities or me having to work.

The picture of all of us is from the first wedding that we all attended together. It was the first time Journey ever wore a tuxedo as he was the ring bearer! He was so cute and handsome and grown looking all at the same time. I was, and am, so proud to be his father (as well as Jyson’s) and I am so blessed to be received so well by Jyson as a father figure—despite the fact that he has a very good relationship with his biological father (Jise). I have never been in a relationship with the unique dynamics of sharing the role of fatherhood with someone else, being that I just had my first biological son not too long ago. However, it really helps that Jise and I actually get along rather well. When he comes down from NY to visit Jyson, he stays at our house. Jise actually loves Journey as if he was his, and it is all very confusing for anyone outside of our family. But the fact is, there is absolutely no animosity or jealousy to be found. Jise and I communicate openly about the raising of Jyson and his development as best as anyone could imagine. I know this may be hard for some to understand, but it’s critical we all get along for our boys.

Of all of the aforementioned firsts, one of the most memorable mile markers in my life is the fact that this year is my first Father’s Day as a married man.  I am so blessed to have such a beautiful, smart, and loving wife with whom I can share my marriage and boys. All of the experiences that have recently been firsts for me have been due to the fact that I am now finally married, and my wife challenges me to explore and experience things that I’m sure I would not do on my own.  Getting married to someone whom I will share the rest of my life with and raise a family with has been a lifelong dream of mine that has now finally come true!  Something that I realized while writing this blog is that all of the firsts that were mentioned would not have happened if I wasn’t married. I’m a sentimental guy, and I now have the family that I have always wanted to help me create and share sentimental memories.

To me, marriage brings a sense of permanence and dedication to the table that is only a concept if you aren’t actually in a marriage where both people have that mutual intent. As a married father, the challenges are big, but they require me to grow and stand for things that I would normally run from if I weren’t married.  Some men aren’t ready for all of the challenges, and I think the difference for me is that I rely on prayer and my faith in Yahweh to get me through the most challenging times. I also grew up with a dedicated mother and a father.

That is, up until my mother’s illness spiraled. When my mother committed suicide from bi-polar/manic depression (I was 15), for a time it felt like my dad and I were all each other had. Although my grandparents were helping out a great deal behind the scenes, my father and I were adrift, together. That has always stuck with me, and if nothing else, has fueled me to be there for Meli and the boys. What I’m trying to say is that my father’s presence in my life was magnified that much more once my mother passed.

I want my boys to grow up with the same example and sense of love of family and dedication as I grew up with. There was always a feeling of stability that came with my family because the family unit was intact up to the point where my mother died. Even after she passed, my grandparents really stepped up to give me a sense of stability that I eventually grew to know I could always turn to.  That’s not to say that they were always there to bail me out of some tough situations that I created for myself, but I always knew where to go to find love, and I always had people to answer to when I was doing wrong. That’s important when a child or young adult goes running amuck, like I once did. It always brought the reality of things back to the forefront of my life and made me realize that in order to have the family that I always wanted, I had to get myself back on track.

All of that being said, the sacrifices of raising my boys are well worth it!  Truthfully, they are investments that I am making in their future and in Meli’s and mine as well. Jyson sees our sacrifices and soon, Journey will begin to as well. My hopes and prayers are that I am passing on and instilling in them, the same foundation of love, dedication, and stability that I grew up knowing and drawing from when I need inspiration. This first Father’s Day as a married man signifies the beginning of my dreams come true. Now I have so many more awesome experiences and firsts to come, due to the fact that I am a happily married man and a proud father of two beautiful young men!

Finding Forgiveness In Parenting

forgiveness

I took this photo months ago. It made me think of light shining through in the midst of dark and uncertain times. I also thought of forgiveness. Sometimes it takes just a shift, even a small one, to let the light peek through. Once it does, more possibilities bubble up, even from a sea of darkness. The evening of this sunset, I was specifically thinking of people in my life that I needed to forgive. Not necessarily to bring them back into my life, but to let go.

Today, however, after having some crazy, intense moments with my kids, I realize that forgiveness needs to be extended to myself. I need to be as forgiving of myself for not being a perfect parent, as I am of others. Why is that so hard for me to do?

As a single parent, I’m destined to have my fair share of more bad days to come. That’s just life. Parenting young children is hard for anyone—and days like yesterday and today evolve like emotional hurricanes leaving me breathless, exhausted and in a shell-shocked state of self doubt.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I just have to surrender to this life.  Weekends are tough. And it’s not because I don’t want to hang with my boys. It’s actually because I do—and I have high expectations that get dashed.  I am not in control of how my days will go.

And maybe I’m in this position because I’m trying too hard? Maybe I don’t have to let my oldest son do so many activities? Maybe I need to be tougher with both of them? Right now, it’s hard to figure it out because, honestly, I’m bone tired. But what parent of young kids isn’t?

When a child tantrums over and over again, it’s almost impossible to find a sense of peace or calm or reassurance that everything will be okay. For instance, yesterday my four-year-old hit me. Today, he spit on me when he didn’t get what he wanted and yelled “I hate you!” None of this makes sense. He’s a four-year-old now acting like a two-year-old. It was exhausting. And there’s no need to go into all the ugly details and analyze whether I chose the right consequences for his bad behaviors. (There were many more, including stabbing furniture, hitting big brother and throwing apples…sigh…) But trust me, I don’t need to dissect the situations any further. I’ve already done it numerous times in my head.

Of course, I punished him. No, I didn’t hit him—although I wanted to. But what stayed with me, like a poisoned stone in my gut, was guilt. I worried about everything from whether this poor child has ADD, or whether he just needs a father, or whether I’m tough enough, consistent enough, loving enough, etc. … It’s exhausting and I’ve been through enough already.

It’s time to let go of this self-critical voice in my head fueling guilt. I’ve been riddled with guilt my whole life for not doing everything perfectly. It doesn’t help that I’ve been a parenting editor and have read so many parenting theories and books. It seems to add to the continuous doubting voice in my head and ensures that I never give myself a break. When really bad behavior erupts, I start second guessing everything I do and this voice lays into me like a nagging family member.

My ex used to jokingly call me “Mary Poppins: Perfect in Every Way.” He’d say it in a silly voice when making fun of me while I was in the throws of creating the perfect party invitations or painting our son’s nursery … I threw myself into parenting my oldest son. I admit, my world did revolve around his every milestone for quite a while. Now, I’m just winging it and every day doesn’t work out the way I’d like. But I’ve been doing this solo gig for almost 4 years and I need to forgive myself for not always doing everything exactly right.  I don’t always respond immediately and firmly. Sometimes I yell.  But I consistently say I love you. I consistently say I’m sorry when I yell. I consistently keep trying. It’s okay that I can’t do it all.

I ran across this wonderful post “To Parents of Small Children, Let Me Be The One Who Says It Outloud” by Steve Wiens. I loved it. I feel it. And what it says to me, as a single mom, is that forgiveness is crucial.

So, today was a bad day. At times, I wanted to throw in the towel. But you know what? I never will.  And that is finally something to be proud of.