Why “The Force Awakens” Made Me Sad


I was a “Star Wars” fan growing up, though that might be putting it mildly. I remember being captivated by the original (which is technically now called “A New Hope,” but that means I have to acknowledge the existence of those prequels, and I prefer not to do that, so I’m calling it old school “Star Wars”). So captivated, in fact, that I saw it over and over again in the theater, including multiple shows in one day. So like millions of OG fans I was excited to see “The Force Awakens.”

I bought the tickets for me and my two kids when they went on presale in October–even though we were on vacation in Hawaii (fittingly, I Fandangoed the tickets while floating in the lazy river at Aulani–Disney synergy!). Conveniently, the kids’ school break started Dec. 18 so I didn’t even have to pull them from school to see the movie (though I would have). The day came and I was definitely the most excited out of the three of us. The previews ended, the Lucasfilm title card came up and I got a shiver of anticipation–the thrill of the new and the rush of nostalgia colliding at once. I promised my kids I wouldn’t totally embarrass them by yelling out in joy during the movie and mostly kept to that (though a little whoop escaped me when they revealed the Millennium Falcon).


And I liked the movie. Rey was a great heroine, seeing the original stars was terrific and BB-8 was adorable (and so was Oscar Isaac). But when the movie was over and we were walking back to the car, I felt a little melancholy. I asked the kids what they thought and they both said they really liked it–no complaints, but no “wow, that was the best thing ever.” Initially, I chalked up my feelings to the fact that the anticipation and excitement leading up to the movie was over–months of build up and watching the trailers on YouTube and reading stories were behind us. But the more I thought about it, the more I came back to my kids’ reaction, and how different it was from mine after I saw “Star Wars.”

“Star Wars” fundamentally altered what I thought about movies, not just for me but for millions of people. It expanded my world and sparked my creativity–I spent hours playing with the action figures and even made my own “Star Wars” movie with them. But it wasn’t the same kind of game changer for my kids. For them, it was a cool movie and nothing more than that. They went back to their TV shows and video games and apps and all the stuff that is part of their regular lives. They will probably be just as excited to see the “Guardians of the Galaxy” sequel when it comes out.

And that made me sad. It’s not just that the “Star Wars” magic didn’t get passed down to my kids. I wonder if movies still have the capability to excite us with something new and groundbreaking, not when we have a world of content available at the click of a mouse or tap of a button. I wonder what is out there that will give my kids that same sense of awe that “Star Wars” gave me.


5 Rules for Road Tripping with Kids

Is it wrong that I’m already thinking about vacation a couple days after Labor Day?

Yes, I’ve already had my fill of signing forms, packing lunches and making sure everyone’s got clean socks and underwear for school. (But in my defense, we started four weeks ago, so the novelty of a new school year has definitely worn off. Like, three weeks ago.) While I can’t just up and take off right now (unless you offered me a free, four-day stay at a spa–in which case, my kids are on their own with the forms, lunches and clean socks/underwear), I can look back fondly on my vacations of this past summer. And no summer is complete without the road trip.

Doesn’t that look so peaceful, so relaxing–nothing but empty road stretching out for miles under the blue sky? Now imagine, out of the frame, kids whining because they have to go to the bathroom/need to eat/are bored/are driving each other crazy because one of them WILL NOT STOP TOUCHING the other’s arm rest and suddenly that peaceful stretch of road is your own personal highway of hell with no exit (and no fast-food joint or clean 7-11 bathroom). We’ve all been there, but this year, our semi-regular trip to Bass Lake, thanks to the generosity of friends who have a cabin hook-up there, was not too hellacious. How did I do it?

  1. Leave like a thief in the night. Yes, the exhaustion will hit you at about 7:45 a.m., but leaving before sun up has its benefits. First, the kids love it–it’s an adventure. Up in the middle of the night? Cool! They may even wake up before you and get all dressed and ready ALL BY THEMSELVES, they are that excited. Plus, there’s no time to do any last-minute scrambling for toys or books they forgot to pack, so everything is organized and packed in the car the night before. And once the excitement wears off, they can go back to sleep in an hour and buy you some peace on the road.
  2. Take the tech old school. Unlike my generation, kids today do not have to pass hours on the road trying to find all the letters of the alphabet on billboards and license plates. They can watch videos on their in-seat DVD players or TVs, or play games on their DS or tablets. But this year, we relied on the relatively ancient technology of the audio book. The audio book is, quite simply, magical, and I didn’t realize it’s magical properties until I was on the road for almost five hours. Each kid downloaded a few titles on their tablets, got their headphones and listened to their books–they worked through all the titles by the time the trip was done. Plus, no one got carsick from staring at a screen too long and no fights broke out over whether they should watch “Cars” or “Frozen” for the umpteenth time.
  3. Cut the drive time. Usually Bass Lake is a good six hours from our house. This year, we split the drive by staying at my dad’s house in Orange County the weekend before and leaving for the lake from there. Cutting an hour and a half from that drive turned what usually seems like a mammoth trek into a fun little jaunt.
  4. Snacks are a lifesaver. You wouldn’t like my kids when they’re hangry. (Or me for that matter.) The kids went to the store with me prior to the trip to load up on Trader Joe’s Inner Beans and trail mix granola bars and popcorn. And regular eating rules go out the window. You want to eat Annie’s White Cheddar Bunnies at 5 a.m.? There’s the bag, knock yourself out. If you have a new car or have “rules” about not eating in your car, well, forget it–the extra 15 minutes it will take to vacuum the crumbs out of the car seat crevices when you get home are worth avoiding the agony of cranky, hungry kids wondering when you’ll pull over for food. (Before we left I found our “breakfast” pit stop on Google Maps and told the kids exactly where we were going, thus eliminating the inevitable mid-trip battle over McDonald’s vs. Carl’s Jr.) (Hint: the winner should always be Starbucks, where you can get an ice-cold/piping-hot grande of whatever your preferred caffeine is to get you through the rest of the trip.)
  5. Seat the kids in an orderly fashion. In the immortal words of Offspring, when it comes to kids on road trips, you’ve got to keep them separated. I am lucky in that my oldest is now big enough to sit up front with me, which means my daughter had the middle row all to herself. When my son needed to stretch out, he hit the very back row. Keeping the distance means keeping the peace.

And there it is–our successful summer road trip. Though next vacation, we are traveling by plane…

5 Cheap Dates with Kids This Summer

Part-time working moms cannot live by camps alone during the summer. Day camps are great–my kids can learn new skills, like acting or surfing, while I have a good chunk of time to get work done–but I can only afford so many of them, plus I do like to actually hang out with my kids during summer. So I am always looking for affordable things to do with them. Here’s some things we’ve found that are tried-and-true winners:

1. Dollar movies. Our regional chain, Regal Theaters, offers a summer-long lineup of movies for $1 admission. (No discount on popcorn, unfortunately, but if you are looking for cheap dates with the kids, you probably already pack your own.) These aren’t summer blockbusters, but stuff you could rent from Redbox, order On Demand, or maybe see on premium cable. We got to see “Paddington” this summer after we missed it during its first run because our showing was sold out. On a hot day, there’s nothing better than a movie, unless it’s…

2. A pool or beach. We are exceptionally fortunate to live near the beach and we’ve already spent quite a few days of this summer break going there in the morning and hanging out (and hanging 10) for half the day. (I pack a few snacks from home and we usually are home in time for a late lunch to keep our beach gear to a minimum.) We also have a pool in our community, as well as friends and relatives whose invitations we happily accept when they are extended.

3. Summer library programs. I loved these when I was a kid, so I make sure my kids participate in them every year. They sign up, read a certain number of books or hours, and get prizes when they reach their goal. Along with the reading, there are usually a lot of special events–magic shows, ice cream parties, animal and science shows, music and dance performances, story times for little kids–and it’s all free. Plus, the kids are reading, and that’s always a good thing.

4. Groupon, Living Social, and other deal sites. So far, we have gone paddleboarding, ice skating, and trampoline jumping on the cheap thanks to deals from these sites. Sign up for e-mails from them and you can usually score even cheaper deals at 15% to 30% off the already discounted price.

5. DIY camp. If you’re like me, you have a ton of stuff lying around the house. So put it all to use–break out the paper and paints for art day, make a family meal for cooking camp (and bonus–you can teach your kids to make their own lunch at the same time), or round up some neighborhood kids for a game of soccer.

What’s your favorite cheap date with your kids?

Not-so-lazy days of summer

There is a reason I am a writer and not, say, a travel agent. Or someone who works in mass transit. Or the person in charge of drawing up the Major League Baseball schedule. For I have tried to plan our summer schedule, and juggling trips, work, camps, activities, and family time made me exhausted before the last day of school.

Working from home gives me the flexibility to hang out with my kids, which is great. But deadlines don’t stop for summer, which is not so great. Without the kids in school five days a week, I need to carve out some other time to get stuff done.

My original plan to alternate one week of the kids in day camp with one week at home quickly fell apart when I discovered that it was impossible to get camps coordinated on the same schedule that would fit my two kids, who have different genders, age groups, and interests. Take the half-day afternoon Lego filmmaking camp, which I knew my son would love. I couldn’t find a camp for my daughter at that same time to save my life. Gymnastics, drama, dance, karate–I tried them all and more, but they weren’t offered the same week as the Lego camp, or they were offered in the morning, or they were offered at the same time but in another town, making it logistically impossible to be in two drop-offs at once. And the week of my daughter’s theater camp is a big empty hole for my son, as I’m still trying to muster the wherewithal to get him some–any!–camp.

My enthusiasm is even more dampened by the thought of shelling out another couple hundred bucks (or more) for five days of camp, after paying for our other camps and a few days’ vacation. After racking up the camps fees on the credit card, I briefly considered quitting my jobs and running my own summer camp.

So we don’t have a perfectly organized schedule–heck, we barely have an organized schedule–which means just letting go and having as much fun with the kids as I can during the days. And working more at night.

Sorry Your School Sucks

It’s my fault, apparently. See, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant recently blamed working moms for the problems with American schools.

“Both parents started working, and the mom is in the workplace,” he said when asked by Washington Post journalist Mary Jordan how America got “so mediocre,” according to AL.com.

Now, Bryant seemed to realize he was stepping in it almost immediately, backtracking somewhat by saying both moms and dads working outside the home are challenged for time. And his statement is somewhat ironic, in that his wife worked outside the home while raising their kids.

What’s even more ironic, of course, is that “mediocre” schools often suffer from budgetary woes–and it’s people in power like the governor himself who makes those kinds of funding decisions. In California last year, we had to put initiatives on the ballot to try and get needed education funding in the state budget, as our legislators couldn’t get it together to do it themselves.

In fact, it was a group of moms–some of whom hold jobs–that formed Educate Our State–a group that lobbies to improve California schools. It’s busy building a grassroots network of parents across the state and educating them on how to get their voices heard on behalf of their children and the quality of their education.

And, really, if anything, it’s parents–working moms included–who are stepping into the breach and trying to help schools meet their needs when there isn’t money to go around. At our elementary school, working moms (part time and full time) oversee PTA fundraising, organize our Jog-A-Thon, write grants, keep track of PTA budgets, track student achievement in our schoolwide reading program, and volunteer in classrooms and chaperone field trips. And that’s just a partial list off the top of my head.

And by the way, that reading program at our school? Both my kids earned highest honors in it.

Didn’t We Almost Have It All? (Probably Not)

So. The “mommy wars” are seguing to the “having it all” debate in the mainstream media. Anne-Marie Slaughter’s piece in the Atlantic kicked things into high gear, as she wrote about the need for more flexibility for mothers in the workplace, and the home/work struggles that led her to quit her State Department job.

At least, that’s what I’ve heard. See, I haven’t had the time to actually read the darn thing because summer is here, and as any working mom can tell you, there’s probably no crazier time of the year. School had ended, but unfortunately the deadlines haven’t, so taking care of business while taking care of the kids is a trickier proposition than usual. And trying to go on vacation in the midst of all of this? Argh.

There are summer camps to help occupy the kids, of course, but I can’t do a lot of them because the cost is prohibitive. I also want to spend time with my kids, as that is the reason I’m working part-time in the first place. So I feel like I’ve added 20 more balls to my usual juggling act. Among the balls that I’ve been bobbling (laundry! cleaning the playroom! starting the mosaic project that’s been sitting in my garage for months!) is reading and keeping up on mom issues for this blog. My hopes were high when I started this at the beginning of the year that I would be all over this blog, writing at least 2-3 times a week. And anyone who looks at the date of my last post can tell I’ve fallen short of that goal. So when I read this reaction story to Slaughter’s article, this section jumped out at me:

“Is having it all in reasonable balance doable while more mothers in the U.S. wait out reforms that would make their lives better? Things like flexible hours, working from home or working part-time while raising kids and keeping careers on track? Is having it all worth having until then?
‘If you are defining it as living to your fullest potential in your field while also being present, both physically and emotionally, for your family at any time, of course it’s a fantasy,’ said Meredith Persily Lamel, a professor in the business school at American University in Washington, D.C.”

For me personally, one of the hardest parts of working part-time while raising kids has been the pressure I put on myself to excel at my career. I have definitely put my career on the back burner so I can volunteer on the PTA and hang out with the kids after school. But I feel like there is an expectation (mine and society’s) that I should be much farther along in my writing than I am. But how can I always produce top-notch work when I am sometimes writing late at night after a long day? To see someone say in black and white that it’s not realistic to be able to do it all at an optimum level is eye-opening. (Or as eye-opening as anything can be at midnight.)

I’d love to wrap all this up in a neat bow with some witty ending line, but I feel like I’m chewing over how to put this acceptance of not having it all into practice. (And, you know, it’s midnight.) So anyone out there, do you feel the pressure to have it all? And if you don’t, what is it you do want to have, and how are you working toward achieving that?


Thursdays with Mary

I have just dropped my daughter off for her last day of preschool. While she blithely told me I could go so she could play with her friends, I tried to keep it together and not sob all over the “vegetable soup” she was making in her classroom’s play kitchen. That ache inside me intensifies when I think that my daughter and I have one last girls’ day together–each week, she goes to school for three days and we trade child care with a friend for another. That leaves us one day a week that we spend together, just the two of us. And while the working mom side of me can’t wait until she starts kindergarten so I have more time during the week to get things done, I’ve been hyper aware that the flip side is that Mary and I won’t have our special days together anymore.

As most parents quickly realize, time goes much too fast when your child is growing up, and it seems like this spring we’ve been in hyperspeed. My months’ worth of girls’ days have evaporated and I am wondering if I’ve done enough with her, made the most of that mother-daughter time. There have been days–too many, I feel–when I’ve rushed around with her, and had to cram work in here and there, even though I promised myself I wouldn’t do that. Trying to manage the very porous boundaries of all the roles in my life has been my biggest challenge of working at home on a flexible schedule.

While I know rationally (and it’s hard to be rational when your baby is on her last day of preschool, but I’ll try my best) that I’ll have many more opportunities to bond with my daughter, just the two of us, I can’t help but feel there is something momentous about tomorrow, that it will be the end of an era, so to speak. So we are making plans to go out to breakfast and our favorite public garden, get a Father’s Day gift and go to dance class, maybe have a picnic on the beach, even though it is much too cold. And I will try to get all my tears out today, so I can focus on Mary tomorrow, and how fortunate I’ve been to have this special time with her this year.

It’s About Time (Magazine)

So, yeah, I’ve seen this…


Supposedly, the story inside is about Dr. Sears and attachment parenting; I say “supposedly” because Time has most of the story behind a paywall so I can’t read it. But really, the cover is what’s getting all the buzz and eyeballs, and for a newsweekly dinosaur that’s probably more important to Time anyway.

Because (cynical media vet that I am) this story wouldn’t have gotten nearly the play on social media had there been a pic of avuncular, kindly Dr. Sears instead of a hot, young blonde breastfeeding her photogenic–and not-so-little–boy. (He turns 4 next month.) Aside from the awkward posing of the shot–the kid looks really uncomfortable; I believe the photographer said he brought in the chair for the kid to stand on, so I don’t think this is their common breastfeeding pose–I don’t have a problem with this. You want to breastfeed until your kid’s in preschool? Right on. And I’d hope this woman would be totally nonjudgey about my strenuous (and stressful) efforts to breastfeed my kids that resulted in weaning them a lot earlier than 3 years old. (More like 3 months, but that’s another blog post.)

No, my problem is with that blaring headline: “ARE YOU MOM ENOUGH?” Because God forbid we write a story about motherhood or parenting without fueling the flames between women–just swap out “stay at home” and “working moms” for “extended breastfeeding” and “vaccines” and you’ve got a different take on the same old “mommy wars.” Namely, that there is an implied “right” and “wrong.” 

Just read the comments on the Huffington Post, Politico, or any other website that’s run a story about the cover. (Believe me, those stories are not hard to find.) Someone is appalled about the cover; someone else is appalled that the first person is appalled; others chime in with links, accusations, and just for good measure, some random name calling here and there.

There are people who parent one way; other people parent differently. And so it has gone since the beginning of time, or at least since the beginning of self-help publishing. Is this news, or just a blatant play to make a shallow splash in the social media pool by pushing well-worn buttons of mommyhood outrage? How about some real news that affects children? I’d love a cover shot of our school district’s 29 teachers who are being laid off because the budget is in tatters and the state’s education priorities are shameful. Maybe if all the teachers are breastfeeding 4-year-olds then we’d have a shot.

“Mommy Wars”

I have been so busy lately! No time to blog with a two-week spring break, kindergarten registration, PTA activities and meetings, work, health issues, etc. It’s a good thing that the “war” between stay-at-home moms and working moms hasn’t been in the news at all.

I’m sorry, what did you say? There’s been a flap? A kerfuffle of some sort? The “mommy wars” (a term loathe only slightly less than “mommy porn”) have heated up?

Listen, I could hyperlink for days and still not get in all the media stories about the Hilary Rosen/Ann Romney brouhaha. And this had all the hallmarks of a good old media firestorm–issues of class, wealth, politics, and of course, the tired meme about women bitching each other out about their “choices” when it comes to motherhood. Because we can’t be accomplished at raising children, having a successful career, or doing both–we are just naturally catty ladies who can’t wait to pop out our claws, Wolverine style, if another mom gives us the side eye on the playground.

I would love to know moms who have the time and energy to devote to this. Seriously! Who are you, because I would love to have you come over and help me clean my house, do my taxes and bills, or just watch my kids for a while. See, I am busy being a mom, and I don’t care if you are working full time, have stayed at home since the day you got married, or–as it seems nowadays because of economic necessity–pulling together a patchwork of responsibilities both maternal and financial that we somehow make work for our families. Our school PTA is putting together its big fundraising auction of the year, and I can tell you that no one on the auction committee is griping about each other’s work situations–we are all making the time to work together to do something important for our kids.

In the end, that’s what it’s supposed to be about right? We are mothers invested in raising wonderful kids. How is all this crap over whose lifestyle choice is better actually improving our kids’ lives? The piece that I’ve read that has resonated most with me was Mary Elizabeth Williams’ Salon article. A fellow JAM (juggling it all mom), she calls for an end to the beef, and eloquently assess the collateral damage of the mommy wars:

“This conflict – both the loathsome, whipped-up media-frenzy version of it and the very real one involving snubs and slights lobbed at Chuck E. Cheeses and PTA meetings — never goes away because it stabs right at the heart of so many of us. It shakes us to our essential core: our motherhood and, by extension, our womanhood. It’s our place in the world, undermined on all fronts. It’s the message we get again and again from our politicians and our employers and so brutally, so pervasively, our fellow mothers. And it’s this: You are doing it wrong, lady. You are messing up your life and you are screwing up your children.”

I’d like to say that I purposely haven’t written about this story sooner because I was taking a principled stand against the mommy wars media coverage, against political manipulation of women. But really, I’ve been busy. Being a mom. And honestly, there are more important things to direct our ire toward: childhood obesity, the lack of strong parental leave and child care policies in many workplaces, the dire state of funding in public schools (for our California moms), and the nimrod in charge of scheduling “Revenge” at ABC. I mean, who puts a soap opera on a monthlong hiatus? I can’t even remember if Declan and Charlotte finally have a worthwhile storyline. (Probably not, but still.) Priorities, people!

I Am Not Superwoman: Exhibit A

Yesterday was a madhouse. Dropped my son off at his school, my daughter off at preschool, and then rushed back home for a frenzy of work, work-related phone calls, and joy of joys, work and calls about a refi. (I have to sign, scan, and email 29 pages of a loan doc today? Please, bring it on. Oh, and two years’ worth of tax returns? Sure, why not? I only have three deadlines approaching. Piece of cake!)

So I’m on the phone with our broker and I’ve got an eye on the clock because it’s conference week (of course!) and my son gets out right after my daughter’s preschool pickup time. I’ve got him on speaker while I’m getting ready to leave (because of course I’ve done all the work above in my sweats) and thinking, “If I can make it out of here by 12:35, I’m golden.” By the time I’m grabbing the keys and heading out the door, it’s 12:32, and I’m thinking I’m kind of hot stuff for powering through my morning.

As I walk across the greenbelt by my son’s school I see a couple of friends pull up in their cars and I go over to meet them. One of them is wearing her baby sling, and I think, “Oh, my daughter will be so excited to see the baby.” And then I think, “Hmmm, it’s kind of weird that my daughter isn’t here with me.” And then I think, “Where could she be?” And then I think (and yes, it did take me this long to process it), “Oh. I forgot to pick her up at preschool.”

My friends offer to get my son and I tear off back across the greenbelt to get home and get in the car and get to the preschool, breathlessly calling over there and telling them I am on my way. In the end I am 20 minutes late, and I am sure my heavy breathing and crazed countenance conveyed that I was in the middle of some crisis and thankfully everyone tactfully didn’t ask why, specifically, I was late.

So, yeah, I’ve pretty much got Mother of the Year locked up.