#39bucketlist

I had to give something up this year.  So I chose the gym.  Even though I’m probably three slices of bacon away from a heart attack, I accepted the fact that it is better for me to just allow myself to work out on weekends or when the opportunity strikes than having to feel guilty for not making the time to go to the gym on a regular basis.

Last year was the year to Just Say No (please refer to last post entitled “Just Say No”).  I was overwhelmed by having my two girls in public schools for the first time, taking on a teaching job, juggling work and home life and trying to prevent my husband from nominating me for Hoarders:  Buried Alive.  I said no to joining Parent Council, I said no to putting Emma in Orchestra and generally put the brakes on extending myself any further.  I even stopped writing my blog, which must’ve been sad for the three of you who read it. (Hi, Patrick!).

What a difference a year makes.

I am turning 40 this year, and this year is about saying yes to things that are important, that feel right, and that make me happy.  Yes, this is something that I shouldn’t need a milestone birthday to prompt me to do, but my 20s were kind of a mess and my 30s were about finding myself, so I hope that my 40s will be about me feeling comfortable in my own skin and enjoying my amazing family.  #39bucketlist is a frame of mind that I use to make choices that will help get me and my family on a better path.

Where has this journey taken me so far?

I changed jobs.  Like three times in one year.  I’m no stranger to moving around professionally, but even this surprised/embarrassed me.  It was so sad and painful to have to leave the other jobs, particularly because I really liked and respected my bosses, but in the end I arrived in the right place.  The funny thing was that I didn’t even apply for my current job – I decided to say yes to a call from a recruiter for a position I felt I was overqualified for and didn’t think I wanted.   It’s only been a couple of months, but it’s amazing what a difference the right job makes.  I’m doing work that I love (even when it makes me want to pull my hair out – my fellow HRBPs will understand what I mean) as part of an incredibly talented, smart and hardworking team of Type A personalities.   I don’t know where my career will go from here, but I absolutely know that I am in the right place right now.

I said yes to Parent Council at Emma’s school.  I figured that if all three of my children end up going there, it was worth my time and energy to get involved.  Now as a Parent Council Secretary, I help creating flyers, stuffing mailboxes and taking meeting minutes.  But I also get an insider’s look at the school, access to the administration and an opportunity to voice my opinion.

I said yes to applying to the Disney Parks Moms Panel.  Yes, that would be a third unpaid “job,” but it would allow me to write AND would legitimize my obsessive love of planning Disney trips!  I only made it to the second round but met some awesome people who are equally obsessive about planning Disney trips and learned a LOT in the process.  For example, nomenclature is very important to Disney.  I like to think that I did not make it to the third round because I forgot to put the “Disney’s” in “Disney’s Hollywood Studios,” and not because I wasn’t “magical” enough!  It was fun to see who made it through to the Panel, and I look forward to trying again in the future.  It also inspired me to restart my blog and to become more active on social media.

And coming full circle back to quitting the gym, I said yes to running again.  Specifically, I picked up the hobby popular with so many of my similarly aged and situated friends:  running races.  Please be clear – by “running races,” I mean to say “finishing races,” and short ones at that.  I’ve done two 5ks so far, and would love to work my way up to a half marathon by 2016.  By the way, if any of you have training plans that can get you shape to run 13.1 miles when you can only run once or twice a week, please call me!

I may not be a fast runner or on the Disney Parks Moms Panel, and I may have set myself back years in my career trajectory, but I know that all of these steps I’m taking are at least keeping the heart attacks at bay.  Which is good, because I’m not ready to say no to bacon.

 

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Parent Disorientation

I’d like to ask you to participate in a little reading comprehension test.  Imagine that you are a parent of a child entering Kindergarten this Fall. You receive the following notice of an upcoming event at the school:

“Open House for Parents: You will learn important information about classroom curriculum and school policies —please make every effort to attend.  Tuesday September 3rd for K0—K1 from 12:30-1:30p.m.”

Select the answer that BEST describes the meeting:
(a)  This is an important meeting for new Kindergarten parents to attend and learn about school policies and procedures;
(b)  This is an optional meeting to attend if you happen to live a life of leisure and have nothing better to do in the middle of the day; OR
(c)  This is an important orientation for your child to attend.

Ready with your answer? Ok, now imagine you receive this follow-up email a week later:

“This is a reminder for families of KO and K1 children that the  Open House will be this Tuesday 12:30 to 1:30 and Open House for K2 and Grade One parents is Wednesday 1:30 to 2:30. Although we have limited ability to provide child care during these times, we really would like you to attend. So if you are not able to obtain alternative childcare, you are welcome to bring your child to Open House.”

Select the answer that BEST describes the meeting:
(a) This is an important meeting for parents to attend and they are hoping you’ll leave the kids at home so that you can concentrate on listening to the presentation;
(b) You should bring all of your children as they’ve offered to provide limited childcare; OR
(c) This is an important orientation for your child to attend and you are of sub par intelligence because you failed to see the obvious differentiation between the phrases for K0/K1 children and the K2/Grade One parents.

You’re all smart, so  I’m sure you can guess what happened.

I practically strutted into Bree’s school for the Parent Open House, so proud of myself for making the commitment to a mid-day meeting and for actually being a few minutes early (thank god for flexible employers!) and excited to get more information on what Bree’s life would be like.  A very friendly woman (vice principal?) greeted me at the door and directed me towards Bree’s future classroom.  I saw a sign in sheet on a shelf next to the door, and two women setting up the class room.  “Hello,” I called.  “Should I sign myself in?”  The women looked up and one answered, rather coldly, “It’s only 12:20.  It’s not time yet.”  Not sure whether she was the teacher or someone else, I uncomfortably backed out of the door and mumbled, trailing off “oh sorry, I guess I’ll just go sit here in the hallway…” “Yes, please do that,” came the reply.

I could feel the tears stinging in my eyes and immediately started to panic.  What was I DOING here?   Why am I pulling Bree out of her school with all those lovely teachers?  The worst I ever get from them is the passing reminder that I forgot to bring a certain form YET AGAIN or a comment that I MUST be older than Patrick after telling them that he turned 40 this year.   How can I send my sensitive Bree to this cold, unfriendly teacher?

Another woman eventually joined me, along with her small daughter and older son.  She too was turned away from the inn classroom and was wandering the hall, looking annoyed.  Seeing an opportunity to make a new friend, I immediately went over to her and asked, “oh, did they send you away too?”.  To which she replied, “No habla ingles.”  My disoriented brain somehow couldn’t recall how to say, “I don’t speak Spanish” so I looked helplessly at her children.  Her son was there to translate.  “Are you the teacher?” he asked, noticing that I was alone and clearly confused why I would be there without a child.

It wasn’t until the other parents and their children started to arrive that I slowly realized that something was  wrong. I didn’t bring Bree, and this was obviously an orientation for her.  When we were finally granted access into the classroom, I pulled one of the teachers aside (the nicer one who didn’t snap at me earlier) and asked her if Bree were supposed to come.  She said yes.  I told her that because of the communication, I had assumed I shouldn’t bring my child and now it was too late to go pick up Bree to bring her.  She looked at me as though I was wearing clown makeup and a bikini and asked, “You didn’t think that you should bring your child to meet her teachers and see her classroom before the first day of school?”

The absurdity of the situation really sunk in while I was sitting in a child size classroom chair waiting for the parent meeting to start while “Tainted Love” played on a portable radio/tape deck that was so “vintage” that you couldn’t quite call it a boombox.

I was in Parent Disorientation and suddenly became a lot less sure of this next phase of my life.

Emma’s Orientation at her new school is coming up this Friday.  On the plus side, the message was idiot proof as the event was billed as a “Parent and Child” Orientation [emphasis added] and the email specifically noted for us to “please bring [our] child.”  On the down side, we just received the invite on Monday and had to rearrange our entire week’s work schedule in order to be able to attend…

I’m hoping that one of these orientations will eventually help ME improve my own comprehension of what it is that I should be doing.  Transitions are always hardest for the parents, right?

 

For the good of the family….

I reread the email several times, wishing I could take a shot of vodka or something similarly strong before hitting Send.  After several months of waiting to see if we’d be winners in the Boston Public School lottery (we were) and in the Brookline housing market (we weren’t), the time had come for me to email Bree’s current school and let them know that we are moving her to Boston Public preschool in the fall.

I should feel very happy about the money we’ll be saving with two kids out of private, full-time (gold plated) daycare, but instead feel an incredible heaviness in my heart.

Bree has been going to this school since she was three months old.  It is all that she knows.  Over the first four years of her life, she has had some of the best teachers I’ve ever seen, and we have gotten to know some of the nicest families I’ve ever met.   Many of her best friends have already moved up to Pre-K as she’s a few months younger than they are (damn Fall birthdays!) and I don’t think it’s fully sunk in that she won’t be joining them in September.  We’ve been talking to her for several months about this possibility, even taking her to an Open House to visit her new school.  I’ll never forget her reaction when she walked into that empty classroom (which oddly reminded me so much of my old elementary school in Northfield, NH).  Instead of running around excitedly, she stepped in, stopped in her tracks and wheeled around, informing Patrick and I that “this is BAD!”  She sat on my lap during the Principal’s presentation, her big blue eyes wide as she watched her future classmates, some who weren’t even three yet, tearing the library apart, pulling books from the shelves, knocking over art supplies (and to my shock, USING the art supplies, which were not set out for our use).  Most of the other parents didn’t even try to stop their children, and I walked away from the whole thing wondering, what did I get our family into?

But I kept a big smile on my face that day, telling Bree that her school was great.  And I do think it is a good school.  The curriculum is focused on reading, and most kids are reading before they enter “real” kindergarten.   But do I believe that it’s the best place available for my daughter?  I’m not so sure.  So here’s the conundrum that we all face as parents – how and when do you make decisions that are right for your individual child versus for the good of the family?   If you are fortunate enough to have various childcare and/or school options, when do you decide that you’ll settle for “good enough” for one child in order to save your family a little bit of money?

While I’m sad that Emma is also moving on to a new school, I do not have the same concerns about her.  I know that I could drop Emma off in any environment, and she’d be just fine.  Emma has always had a preternatural and somewhat eerie confidence and independence about her so that on the times when she does have a breakdown/tantrum or admits some fear, I have to remind myself that oh yes, you are only five.  I also feel like I know more about Emma’s school and am confident that she’ll learn all the right things in Kindergarten.

Perhaps I don’t give Bree enough credit, but since the day she has been born, she has been an incredible force in our family – both in a joyous and a terrifying way.   At her best, she is utterly charming, completely amusing, and empathetic to her friends who are sad.  But she’s also very sensitive to how others treat her.  It breaks my heart when she tries to engage in a game with Emma, who just shrugs her off.  And for a while recently, she was having “bad drop offs” at her current school – crying and screaming when I leave, “Mommy, please don’t leave me!”  I’m sure at least part of it is an act.  At least that’s what I tell myself when I head to work.

Many people say that transitions like this are harder on parents than they are on children.  Maybe I’m just overly sensitive because I moved around a lot as a child, and hated the transition between schools. I made the decision that I would try to minimize the number of times the kids move. Maybe I won’t actually be able to control it; we’ll see. I love the idea of friends growing up together!  Bree is excited to go to her new school.  We let her pick out a new backpack and lunchbox (Brave/Princess Merida, unfortunately the “jazzed up” version).  We’ve made plans for her to continue activities with her “old” friends to maintain those relationships.  And since my job is the parent here, I will continue to keep up the big smile and the encouraging words and try to keep the faith that it will all work out in the end.

But will I be able to hide my tears at next week’s “Stepping Up” day at school?   We shall see…

Bree School

“Your presence is gift enough…”

Since I didn’t have “mom friends” until I actually had children (and even then, those friends were also on their first child), I didn’t have a mentor to help guide me through the politics of motherhood (Momitics?). I had a large 1st birthday party for my oldest daughter, Emma. We rented a hall on our favorite beach, brought in catered food and a Little Mermaid cake from Konditor Meister. Emma didn’t really have a lot of friends then, so the guests were mostly our family and adult friends. Plus, my future brother-in-law who was meeting all of us for the first time (brave guy!) and proved himself useful in hanging decorations from the ceiling. The pile of gifts Emma received was overwhelming and it quickly became clear to me that we’d have to find space for all of that stuff in our tiny apartment.

Anyway, I wasn’t savvy about children’s birthday parties then.  It never dawned on me that perhaps we don’t need to invite sixty people to a first birthday.  And it never dawned on me that a child that young doesn’t need to receive a million gifts, particularly when all she really cares about is the wrapping paper.  On a side note, I also didn’t know that you aren’t supposed to open gifts in front of the other kids (not sure when that started, but maybe it’s an age thing).  That was back when we had ONE child. Now we are in the same apartment, but with two additional children. We have extremely generous family members who love to shower their grandchildren/nieces/nephews with gifts. I too enjoy buying gifts for the kids, especially at Christmas.

So, to proactively battle the inevitable clutter, I became a fan of the “no gifts, please” trend starting with Emma’s 2nd birthday.  The grandmothers didn’t like it.  Some guests ignored it.  And some people approached me, feeling bad that they did not bring a gift when others did.  Now it’s become yet another  thing to track for the multiple birthday parties we attend any given weekend:  is this a “no gift” party?  Are siblings invited?  (Seriously, we note all these things on our calendar).

The wording on the invite comes in many ways:  “no gifts, please” or “your presence is gift enough” or “no need to bring gifts; just bring yourselves.”  I am always happy to buy gifts for the kids’ friends (all 40 of them), but I always honor the parents’ request if stated.  Now that the kids are older, they always ask about it which can be quite awkward when they ask in front of other parents and their children.  At one “no gifts” party we attended this Spring, we were saying goodbye to the birthday girl and her mom when Emma asked loudly, “What did we get Jane for her present?”.  Errrrrrr, I was not sure how to respond to this, especially in front of the birthday child!  Somehow “we didn’t buy a gift because her mom asked us not to” didn’t feel appropriate.  Luckily, the birthday girl’s mom, who oozes effortless social  grace,  simply said something like, “Oh Emma, you are such a good friend to Jane; we didn’t have gifts from friends today, but Jane has many gifts to look forward to opening at home with her family.”  Good enough!

Birthday parties in the city are a big business.  Most of us don’t have apartments big enough to invite guests over, much less the whole class of 20 children, plus siblings.  Some people opt to have birthdays in the public parks, which are great but  require a gamble that the weather will cooperate.  So most of us end up using facilities – Gymboree, My Gym, the new one called Jump On In!, gymnastics and ballet studios.  The kids love these locations and the structured activities that they provide, and the parents love the convenience and extra set of helping hands, but the costs for these parties really add up.   I can only hope that the birthday party gift giving does not become like etiquette for weddings – i.e. it costs X dollars for each child to attend, therefore you should spend Y on your gift.

Fast forward to Emma’s fifth birthday.  I thought I was so on the ball by reserving the party location and sending the Evite over a month in advance.  Unfortunately, I forgot about the whole “no gifts” thing, and we received a ton of presents.  But as we were opening them, I was really touched by the thoughtfulness that went into the gifts.  Our guests selected things that they knew Emma would love:  art supplies, crafts and drawing kits, musical toys, beautiful jewelry, dress up clothes and great new books.  One thing I can say about Emma is that she is very gracious  – as she opened each gift, she said, “oh, what a nice present!  I love it!”  Now, if only she was old enough to write out all of the thank you notes!

In the end, I don’t know what the right answer is for the “no gifts” issue.  I don’t like our friends to feel pressured to buy gifts for our children, but I also don’t want them to feel awkward with a “no gift” request.  I guess that all we can do is to teach our children to be gracious and appreciative of what they receive, and hopefully keep them from becoming spoiled by expecting a tower of gifts.  No one really knows what the “right” rules are for birthday parties, so I guess we will all continue to do what’s right for our family, and hopefully not feel pressured to outdo the last party we attended or the gift we receive.

We did, however, have another Konditor Meister cake for Emma’s party (Sleeping Beauty this time).  And it was delicious!

Emma's 5th bday cake

And with a single envelope, our family’s future has changed…

Whomever wished us luck over St. Patrick’s Day weekend – thank you!  No, we weren’t lucky with the house search.  We were outbid AGAIN for a great place!!!  For a great three bedroom outside of Coolidge Corner!!!  Emma could’ve gone to Devotion School!!!  Ughhhhhhhh…..

The Boston Public School lottery results arrived that weekend.  And whether it was Irish luck, or because someone randomly pulled a government connection we didn’t realize we had, both Emma and Bree got into good public schools.  Emma got into the Josiah Quincy school in Chinatown, and Bree got into an Early Education Center/Pre-K program about a mile from our house (essentially free daycare!).   This news should have been met with pure happiness, as this is the luckiest thing that’s happened to us in some time.  Maybe it’s because the school search has been such an emotional rollercoaster or maybe just because I’m me, I freaked out.  Immediately, I assumed that Patrick would call off the house hunt, and sure enough, he had the audacity to suggest that we wait another year to buy to save up more cash.  I started to panic about staying here another year, and whether I did the right thing putting Quincy down for Emma instead of the Early Education Center or the Lyon School…Once cooler heads prevailed, we both agreed that we’d still look for a new place.  Now that we have a decent school solution for the girls, we are no longer desperate buyers.  Just very, very eager buyers.  We have time to wait for just the right place.  We could even consider buying something in Boston, where we would get a lot more for our money.  And while I’m not sure that one year will really help all that much in terms of saving money, we hope that our child care costs will go down at least a little.

Like many parents with children still in full-time daycare, we didn’t realize that care for school age children is still really expensive.  There’s before school care (Emma’s new school starts at 9:20 – what’s up with that???), after school care (most schools are out by 2:30/3:30 p.m.), summer camp (no, I’m not talking the situation I always dreamed about growing up – sleepaway camp in a mountain cabin retreat for the summer – I’m talking about the weekday “camps” working parents drop their kids off at over the summer), school vacation camps, etc.  I can practically hear you parents with school age children giggling at my naiveté.   Not to mention the million holidays schools are closed, snow days, sick days….come to think of it, school is only required to open 180 days a year….I’m no math major, but even I know that is less than half a year.  When I combine that with the fact that most people have to work more than five hours a day, I tend to believe that our current system is set up against working parents.

And if we do move into Brookline or Newton, we will have missed the deadline to sign up for before and after school care anyway.  A mom I met at Ballet on Saturday asked me why I didn’t JUST SIGN UP for before and after care in Brookline, and tell the schools that I’d be moving there soon…I had to explain that I don’t even live in Brookline, I live in Boston.  If they didn’t really check on residency, wouldn’t everyone try signing up???  Apparently she signed up for all SEVEN programs offered by Brookline even though she still hasn’t closed on the apartment they just bought.  Hmmmph!  One nice surprise about the Boston Public School system is that there are people working at the schools called City Connects Student Coordinators whose job it is to support families, including helping parents navigate care options.  While I was in the midst of my freak out, this really nice woman emailed me and Patrick with a few options for Emma including a before school orchestra where she could learn to play violin or cello.

I am quickly coming to the one conclusion I’ve been dreading – we are going to have to get a babysitter.   I will not detail here my feelings about leaving one person alone with my children for extended periods of time, but I will openly admit that I have NEVER had someone unrelated to me by blood or marriage watch my children outside of group day care for longer than 20 minutes.   And there’s a reason for that.  How much would it cost to install Nanny Cam in every room?  Plus, my house is the saddest place on earth, and I hate having to subject my children to it, much less inviting a stranger into the chaos.

But it is what it is, and while I know I’m not the first parent to struggle with this issue, I do wish I had known all this going in.  Perhaps I would’ve chosen a different career path or would’ve saved money more wisely.  Luckily, I don’t have to figure it all out tonight, sir, so I’m just gonna hang with my daughters.  Note to Patrick:  that’s a play on a movie quote.  But in the meantime, it’s good to know I don’t have to break out my old waitressing apron anytime soon to pay for private school tuition.  And that if we don’t find the perfect place to live by the Fall, it’s not going to be the end of the world.

Real estate wars

“I don’t think I’m ready to give up city living,” Patrick said to me last week, as we were contemplating putting in an offer on a great townhouse in Newton.  This took me by surprise as he never really was a “city person” and I’ve always suspected that he resented the fact that I dragged him here.  But then I thought maybe he’s finally fallen in love with the same part of the city that I have!  Several years ago, when Patrick and I first moved to Allston from our place in West Newton, we set out to explore Coolidge Corner, a Brookline neighborhood just a ten minute walk away.  As we neared the town center, we could see that a crowd was forming on the elementary school lawn.  Then, we heard a familiar female voice.  We looked at each other.  Could that be….Kay Hanley, the lead singer of Letters to Cleo?  It was!  She was performing a free concert as part of Brookline’s 300th anniversary.  And Buffalo Tom was set to take the stage later that day.  All sorts of people, college-age kids, families and young children were there, dancing.  That’s when I first realized what a special place Brookline was.  I started to notice old couples, walking hand in and hand and pictured Patrick and I spending the rest of lives here.

Three kids and almost eight years later, we have built a wonderful community of friends and families through our Coolidge Corner school/daycare many of whom live in the neat brownstones lining the streets.  Attending playdates at our friends homes has allowed us a peek into their lives and how we too could be living.  Popping into Panera on virtually any day at nearly any time means that we’ll bump into at least 2-3 families we know.

North Brookline is truly the best of both worlds; it is urban living in leafy neighborhoods.  You have the T, you have the bus, you have a CVS on every corner. Who needs a yard when you have your choice of a million playgrounds within a short walk? Restaurants, bars and shops?  Got it!  Dunkies or Starbucks?  Yup, and a few other coffee shops too!  In the summer, you have free family concerts and movies in the parks.   Do you have children?  If so, you can’t swing a dead rat without hitting a fantastic school.  What don’t you have in Brookline?  Trash on the streets, for one thing.   Brookline takes pride in its public works and it’s not unusual to see ride-on street sweepers driving up the sidewalks during the morning commute.  I went running one morning and nearly stepped on a (dead) rat, and it was gone by the time I was returning home.  Yes, there is crime.  Read the Brookline police blog sometime and all you’ll hear is shoplifting, shoplifting, not stopping at a stop sign, and more shoplifting.  But you don’t often hear about violent crime or murder in Brookline.  It is city living but with clean streets, excellent schools and relative safety.  We live two streets over from the Brookline/Boston line, and it’s like two different worlds.

However, there couldn’t be a worse time to buy in Brookline.  There is very little inventory on the market, which means there will be multiple bids submitted on the day of the first open house.  It’s not for the wishy-washy.  Like buying soup from a certain vendor on the TV show Seinfeld, you’d better know exactly what you want, quickly place your order, then shuffle down the line to wait.  But if it were only that simple!  People engage all sorts of strategies to get the winning bid – dropping contingencies (including inspection, can you imagine??), offering a 30% down payment or even PAYING CASH.  Seriously, if you have $600k just sitting around in cash, why the hell are you looking at these dinky apartments???  Then, there is always the sympathy vote – people sending letters to the sellers telling them how much they love the property, including pictures of their babies (I’ve even heard of people submitting a picture of their babies taken inside the open house – kind of weird).

Looking for a new place is like having a part-time job – studying the Redfin alerts all week, carefully planning our Open House strategy, researching the schools and before-and-after care, constant calls and emails with our Broker trying to get some inside scoop.  We go through the whole analysis on a weekly basis – do we move to the suburbs to buy something affordable, but then tack on significantly increased commuting time and cost and somehow having to coordinate the kids various drop off and pick up?  By the way, what’s up with school starting at 8:30 or later?  And no, I don’t consider 4-6 hours to be “full day Kindergarten!”  How do people actually work, especially if you work over an hour away?  Assuming we do find a good school solution for Emma, the smart thing to do would be to  wait another year, and save up some more money.  But that also means staying in this neighborhood with the constant parties and vandalism, the guy in the building who can’t seem to stop smoking pot in the common areas during the day, and in this horrible apartment with a kitchen not big enough for two adults to make breakfast in.   There’s the fact that I promised myself that I wouldn’t be here for another September move in, and particularly not with the same futon I’ve had for 20 years.  And the sad fact that I’d just like to live somewhere I wouldn’t be embarrassed to have people visit us.  I’m a 37-year-old mother of three with a successful career living like a poor college student.

Didn’t win Powerball tonight, so I guess it’s onward with the search.