I've spent a lot of time in schools.
There was preschool, then my K-12 school, then college, with dance school there all the way through.
Then post college, while dancing, I was a teacher. I taught at studios ranging from Dolly Dinklesque to conservatory we-send-students-to-leading-companies-and-Julliard schools. I taught at a fancy and rigorous girls' school in Manhattan.
As parents at school went, I thought I had seen it all.
Then I became a parent sending her kids to school. While I have met some fabulous families, families whom I'd love to see become lifelong friends, there are (sorry if you think I'm beating a dead horse) some crazy folks on the lurk.
I really could have used a guide, like the one given to Lindsay Lohan's character at the beginning of Mean Girls.
Lucky for you, today's post will guide you through the jungle of parents at your kids' school, giving you a descriptions and strategies to help you emerge from potentially stressful or even dangerous, interactions, unscathed!
To receive your tour of Parentland, you'll have to put on your ruby slippers, and click your heels on over to Cocktails With Mom!
We'll wait for you to pour a drink. . .
Thursday, May 31, 2012
Monday, May 28, 2012
Once upon a time you were a well-read, articulate, and attractive woman. You had your you-know-what TOGETHER. Smart and capable, you took charge, kicking ass at most everything you put your hand to.
Then you decided to be a mother.
So if you feel like without coffee and wine you might do yourself harm; if you have ever wondered how you haven't misplaced your chillun (or, let's face it, have wished just for a moment that you did), if you are sure that the universe should at least give you a "A" for effort.
You knew you'd apply all that brainpower -- all that COMPETENCE -- and you'd be fantastic - a supermom without breaking a sweat. Those gals who said motherhood was hard? Probably couldn't even spell "baby." Not fit to look at your high-heeled shoes.
You'd read and study and ace this thing! You'd make Mother Theresa look like Jeffrey Dahmer; Mr. Rogers like Marilyn Manson.
Then it hitcha. Right in the boonda like a frat house paddle.
Ooo-ooo-oooh, so that's what they were talking about.
Reality Bites has a whole new meaning from what it did in 1994, don't it?
If you have wondered who the f--k this Supermom chick is anyway...
This Brite's for you.
Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Dear Lady A-
Yesterday was your birthday.
Please forgive me for being a day late. Yes, you are the second child and while things may be more relaxed with you, never, ever, for a single second think Daddy and I love you any less.
I cannot believe that two years ago you, our little miracle girl, were born. You came into the world not crying, but according to the doctor, staring at everyone with your big brown eyes.
Those are the big brown eyes I love to stare into every day. With their deep sweetness.
And their hint of mischief.
You are growing into one phenomenal little girl.
You are so polite. When you say "thank you" after receiving something, I melt.
You are determined to be independent, whether it's getting dressed, helping yourself to food in the fridge or trying to put on your own diaper. Really.
You are smart as a whip. Your way with words and knack for puzzles amaze me.
And you take no prisoners. Anyone who denies you your just due, had better watch it. You may love to play ballerina, and wear tights and tulle skirts, but YOU. WILL. TAKE. SOMEONE. OUT.
Even though I live for that little dimpled face, for those cuddles you grant only when you are ready, I can't wait to see the girl and woman you become.
You'll never know, dear, how much I love you. . .
Hope you had a Happy day, my baby angel.
Monday, May 21, 2012
Thursday, May 17, 2012
When you send your child to preschool, you think you are sending him or her to a warm fuzzy place where body, mind and soul will be nourished. You think you'll meet other nice parents, and expand your family's circle of friends.
And for the most part this will be true. Most adults have matured. They've shed the angst that makes them need to act like mean girls or rich prep school douchebags. Even parents who aren't friends smile, say a civil hello and walk on.
Except for those who decide that the parent body is the new old high school cafeteria. An environment where they can continue to role play middle-age, or approaching middle age angst. They can be the queen bees of a committee or they take on self-appointed roles.
And while they are few, these bullies are still out there.
I had the misfortune to interact with a parent who had his feet firmly planted in the bully/jerk continuum. I first met him when my father was near death, and being beside myself, parked my car in a less that efficient manner. This parent came to my car to explain to me about my thoughtlessness, not parallel parking tight enough. Like a schoolgirl, I tried to explain that I had forgotten, that other people had done it and you just deal with it, wait and move on. He continued scolding me.
Finally, I snapped. "Are you really going to stand here and lecture me?" I said.
He shut up and walked away.
I ran into him at our kids' swimming lessons, and we appeared to make peace. I began to see him everywhere. It was my intention to say hello and move on, but he always seemed to want to engage me in some kind of conversation. One where he usually managed to pontificate and put himself on a pedestal.
Everytime I talked with him, after it was over, I wanted to take an elephant's dose of Prozac and a Silkwood shower.
He became unavoidable. At a neighborhood function, he called me over to talk to me about what I should do as a member of the Social Committee. Upon meeting my husband he said in an accusing tone, "Oh, I never see you."
While I'm not drawn to men all jacked up on machismo, right then I wished my husband were the type of dude who would have punched his face.
Not making eye contact made no difference. And maybe I was too nice. I longed to tell him not to ever blanking speak to me again.
Finally I would get my wish.
My 70+ year old mother took my kid to school a bit ago. Feeling that she too had parked less than efficiently, he similarly approached her car and told her, "Move up." No introduction. No, "Would you mind." Just a man with a Napoleonic complex and a likely desire to compensate for a small pecker.
When my mother got out of the car with my son, whom he doubtlessly recognized, he still didn't apologize. Just said, "Oh, I didn't know you had a child here at the school."
My mom was irritated, and called me. As soon as she said, "Who is the man with ----?" I knew.
And I wanted to get all Benihana on his ass. Who is rude to a grandmother? What man?
Not taking my own advice from the prior post, I banged out an email sans exclamation points and emoticons. I told him I was angry. I told him that when he did the same to me, my dad was literally on his deathbed. I reminded him that he was not the parking czar. I asked him never to speak to me or any member of my family again in condescending tones.
Minutes later I received a reply denying everything. He had spoken to both me and my mother in only the most caring, understanding and respectful tone.
And here is the kicker. He always knew I was volatile, since I yelled at him that first day. He claimed I yelled at him yet again in my email (with no capital letters or exclamation points?). He had never accosted anyone. He said he was now fearful of me (Wow! Little 112-pound me!). He would not speak, walk next to (Gosh I hope not!) or look at me ever again (Salem Witch Trials).
Praise Jesus, Hallelujah and Amen! Pump the ceiling, I'd gotten what I'd wanted all along!
I was shaking with fury, even though I was elated that I would never have to talk to this troll again. And I had to have a drink before 5 o'clock so I could see straight.
Ah, parents at school...
Anyone else out there been in a Parent War or dealt with a bully parent at school? How did it resolve itself? While I hope not to have more interactions like this, I have a lot more years of school left. Those of us with small children could use the advice of you seasoned moms.
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
If you are a people pleaser, you become overwhelmed and flustered in person-to-person confrontations.
You leave the discussion feeling defeated and resentful, rehearsing what you would have said like Seinfeld's George Costanza.
The next time, you send a letter or e-mail. Now you can tactfully say what you mean!
Unfortunately, you overcompensate. Direct to the point of insult, you burn bridges.
What to do?!
A direct, yet sensitive missive is possible with the use of emoticons and exclamation points! These trendy darlings of the punctuation world allow you to be blunt, but with a little hug!
Let the following outline help you craft the perfect piece of diplomatic correspondence!
Paragraph #1: Remind the recipient how much you like him or her. Be sure to exaggerate. Point to a specific time you spent together.
You know that I think the world of you! We have had oil tankers full of fun! Our conversation about alternative household uses for contraceptive sponges was one of the best times I’ve had without the aid of rubber cement! :-)
Paragraph #2: Communicate a spirit of mutual goodwill. Discuss your feelings and what you hope to avoid.
We work on the same team – as equals, and we respect each other!! I would never scold or patronize you :-) I hate, however, to let things fester!! I had a roommate who shied away from confrontation, but then would become very passive-aggressive :-( She slapped me Dynasty style when I helped myself from the vat of pasta salad she kept in our living room :-( I know!! So uncool!!
Paragraph #3: Humbly state your grievance.
Because we agreed not to send emails without the other checking it over, you regularly proofread and “correct” my writing :-) I can’t help noticing, however, that you might be more than a little spelling challenged :-) :-( !! On several occasions you changed my work, and inserted the WRONG homophone :-( :-( !!! This was a huge issue for our clients, Da Rhodz Skolaz, who are sticklers for good writing :-( :-) Upon receipt of a message stating, “I’m sorry your throat is soar. Please stay home so it can heel,” Mista Sock Rateez questioned whether I had passed kindergarten!!!! This hurt deeply :-( He knows I went to Yale!!!!!!!!!
Paragraph #4: Using I statements, declare your feelings and defend yourself.
I am concerned that I will be blamed for losing DRS, clients of the highest value, when I, in fact, speak their language!!! At their last visit, we talked for hours about Christian symbolism on Jersey Shore. I AM capable of producing a very well written letter!!! Did I mention I went to Yale :-) :-) :-)?
Closing Paragraph: Summary. Statement of future goals.
It is my sincere hope that I was not unduly harsh :-( I merely wanted to be honest and forthcoming :-) !! I think you are a queen of a co-worker!!! With a little focus you’ll attain the writing skills of that kindergartner in no time!
In the above outline, please note the following:
- Exclamation points show the reader that your statements, no matter how straightforward, are delivered with a smile!
- Sad faces convey MILD dissatisfaction at silly or careless acts, letting the recipient know that s/he was not smart enough to know better! What could be more sympathetic?
- And smiley faces are a pat on the head for a mistake, which again s/he couldn't help but make! They turn every thing you say into a little ray of sunshine!
These days, with emails and texts taking the place of face-to-face, or even phone conversations, the ability to write compassionately is key. Imagine the above letter without the emoticons and exclamation points?
Cruel and unacceptable.
Isn’t this the sensitive, yet honest message you would love to send to someone who has upset you?
If you had offended someone, wouldn’t you feel relieved and comforted to receive such a considerate message?
You tell me :-) :-) !!!!!
Friday, May 11, 2012
Sarah Cullen Fuller began her formal training at the Academy of Movement and Music in Oak Park, Illinois, under the direction of Stephanie Clemens. She continued her studies at the Boston and Joffrey Ballet schools before graduating from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a BFA in Dance Performance. The recipient of the Lisa Carducci award for excellence in dance performance and the U of I Women's Club scholarship for academic excellence, Fuller continued her post graduate work as a Ford Foundation Fellow in Madrid, Spain. Upon graduation, Ms. Fuller studied with the Paul Taylor dance company before returning to dance with the Chicago-based company, the 58 Group, under Ginger Farley. In 2001, Sarah joined Hubbard Street 2 under Julie Nakagawa, and was promoted to HSDC's main company soon after. Ms. Fuller has danced the works of such leading choreographers as Nacho Duato, Jiri Kylian, William Forsythe, Ohad Naharin, Lar Lubovitch, Susan Marshall, Marguerite Donlon, and Alex Ketley, among others. After her retirement from HSDC in 2008, Ms. Fuller returned to teaching at the Academy of Movement and Music, the Lou Conte Dance Studio, and Loyola University. Sarah is the founding teaching artist of the "Parkinson's Project" at HSDC, where she teaches contemporary and modern dance techniques to those living with Parkinson's disease. In 2011, Sarah set her choreography on the Cerqua Rivera Dance Company and in early 2012 traveled to Baton Rouge, Louisiana as an artist-in-residence for the contemporary dance company, Of Moving Colors. She has had the great pleasure of re-staging HSDC repertoire for HSDC scholarship students and for teaching company class for Luna Negra Dance Theater. Ms. Fuller has choreographed and danced in numerous works for both the Momenta Repertory Ensemble and for the Momenta dance company since her retirement from HSDC. Sarah is privileged to be on faculty at both the Academy of Movement and Music in Oak Park and Loyola University Chicago, where she teaches ballet, pointe, and contemporary dance techniques.
How old are your children? Boys? Girls?
I have two incredible boys. Levi is 2 1/2 and Ronan is 4 months.
You were a longstanding member of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. How much was becoming a mother a part of your decision to leave the company?
It was THE reason I decided to leave. My time at HSDC was so incredible that people thought I was crazy to leave when I did. What they didn't know was that I was struggling to have a family. I had actually suffered two miscarriages while I was at HSDC and felt like in order to realize my dream of becoming a mom, I would need to give the same care and attention to having a family as I had to my career.
I just wasn't one of those dancers who could do both. Be pregnant and dance, that is.
It felt like a failure of sorts, and I'm still reconciling my frustration that I even had to make that choice.
After I made the heart-wrenching decision to leave, my time was filled with doctor's appointments, acupuncture, a special diet, yoga for fertility, meditation. All of my energy was directed at having a successful pregnancy. My husband and I even placed our mantra on the mirror in our bathroom. It read something like: " We are willing to do anything to have a child." We finally did:)
You are now doing a lot of work with Parkinson’s patients. Does this work play into your parenting philosophy? If so how?
I learn so much from working with this population. Like any dance class, structure and consistency provide the framework or backbone for which one can depart from. I've found that in parenting it's important to have that routine, but to also allow for things to change and develop. I find myself having the greatest days when I allow the children to set the tone for the day.
I try to find that in my work teaching dance, as well.
In the end I feel like it's really about being okay with failure and allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Authenticity is something that I admire in those dancers who also deal with Parkinson's. There's a curiosity, a zest for continued growth amongst great obstacles, and for continuing to try new and challenging things. I hope to bring those same attributes to parenting two boys.
Once a creative, always a creative. How do you satisfy your creative needs, especially while being a parent and running, or at least helping to run, a household?
It's tricky, no? I satisfy that part of me by recognizing how incredibly important it is to give in to it, to make time for it. If it were up to me I would do every project and take every opportunity I could...but there's just not enough hours in the day for all of that now.
For our family it means strategizing and finding space when there is none and coming to some sort of compromise.
It's such a challenge, but I've been afforded opportunities that are close to home and that are really fulfilling! Something tells me that going back to create will be a little bit trickier now that I have two. . .I'm still in transition at the moment.
Do you miss dancing?
Everyday. I miss the camraderie of ballet class. The funny things that happen in rehearsal or on stage. The smell of a theater. The long travel days and the amazing people you meet that become your dance family. I miss the freedom to fail. As an artist, I feel like I was really lucky to have those in a position of power that allowed me to take risks, to be vulnerable, to explore. I'm still figuring out how to do all of that as a parent without guilt or paranoia for how my kids will turn out!
But I have to say that I've been very blessed to have the opportunity to return to the stage since having my children. It was a huge sacrifice for the family and I couldn't have done it without a ton of support from my husband, Brian, or my parents, but somehow we made it work for everyone's sanity (you might want to check with my hubby about that)! My family knows that I'm even more crazy when I don't have my dance fix and so they rallied to help me through rehearsals, performances, etc.
Motherhood causes a dramatic reassessment of one’s body. For dancers, it’s not just about how it looks, but about its functionality. Can you speak about your how your feelings about your body have changed?
I put on 70 pounds with both of my pregnancies! At the end of the day I've come to the conclusion that your body has a purpose beyond the aesthetic. Did it really take me two kids and a myriad of sizes to realize that?! I have my days where I wish things were a little higher here or tighter there, but all in all I've come to appreciate that I can even have children! That my body allowed me that gift. And in turn that I shouldn't give it such a hard time! I like being fit, but I am enjoying the curves!
You have currently have two children under three, I believe. My children are 18 months apart and the first year I didn’t know my own name. How has the addition of another wonderful child been for you?
Whenever someone asks me how I'm doing these days I always reply in the same way. . . It's something like "crazy, but great!" I don't sleep, I eat the food Levi has decided to throw at me while I'm nursing, and I'm lucky if I wash my hair, but it's really quite fantastic! I have the incredible fortune of living just three blocks from my parents, both of which have jobs with young children. My father is a retired pediatrician and my mother is an early childhood educator. Jackpot, right?!
Even with all of that help I feel cuckoo! Balancing the needs of both of the kids and working is such a challenge for any family, and we are all in it together. I continue to fumble through parenthood, but at least I'm not fumbling alone! Surrounding myself with a support network of family and friends keeps me somewhat sane!
These days it seems that even against one’s better judgment parents feel compelled to sign their kids up for a million activities. As a dancer who obviously found her “thing,” her calling, what is your stance on this?
I think it depends on the kid. Levi has a voracious appetite for so many different things right now! He loves music, dance, art, sports, nature...it's one of my great pleasure in life-watching him inhale all that is new! He is currently in school a few days a week for a few hours and we have him signed up for a music class once a week. Once school started last fall we decided that if he wasn't feeling it or if he complained about going to anything, that we wouldn't go that day. So far that has really worked for our family, but he's still really young.
We've found that open play environments have been the best bet for Levi-places he can explore and be free to move about a space without being confined to "doing the right thing." Of course we want him to follow directions, but we also feel that he has his whole life to be in those environments. Right now it's about discovery-for him and for us!
What’s your best FML (f—k my life) mothering moment?
Oh! There are so many! They always seem to center around transition times. Getting ready for school, trying to get out of the house, going to bed. . .There's nothing quite like two kids falling asleep in the car, one in the carrier, the other dead weight, walking up three flights of stairs to our condo (sweating profusely), tripping on some kind of train concoction, the baby crying when you put him down, he wakes up the toddler, they are both now screaming (still sweating), I'm leaking breast milk all over the place, the phone is ringing, the cats are crying for food, I have to pee, the house is a disaster...And this is not unusual! This is the new normal! Crazy!!
What is your advice to women in dance who look at you and want to know how you do it?
I only am able to "do" it because I seek support and support has been given. It doesn't always work and many times I'm left feeling like I'm not succeeding being a parent or a dancer. I've found great comfort in surrounding myself with fellow moms who are going through the same things. I've found that just like in dance when something doesn't work out as planned, the beauty lies in figuring out how to navigate around it, make it your own, and embracing what one may call a "mistake" or failure."
Tuesday, May 8, 2012
|Lady A before all hell broke loose.|
One of my closest mommy pals recently joked that every time we are on the phone, I get in some kind of altercation with a stranger.
So, in an effort not to be Confrontational Carlotta, I kept my mouth shut.
And I wish I hadn’t because I let my little girl down.
We were at the Museum of Science and Industry, a world-class, interactive institution in our neighborhood. My two children and I were in line to sit on a huge John Deere combine that enables you to simulate threshing a cornfield.
The family before us had begun their turn before we got in line, and we waited for several minutes for them to finish. Soon thereafter, another mother with her son and daughter got in line behind us.
While my children might have been antsy, these two children were like soccer hooligans on the verge of stampede.
Finally Family #1 ended their time in the cab, and moved on. As it turned out the lady behind me knew the exiting family’s dad.
Mister R and Lady A climbed up the stairs and into the cab for their turn. The lady's children climbed the stairs and stood right behind me, so close they could have initiated a colonoscopy.
Even though protocol was to wait at the bottom of the stairs, the mom never said anything.
I tried to make my children aware that others were waiting. Mister R sat in the driver’s seat and Lady A next to him. R steered, enjoying the screen showing his path in the cornfield. Hubs/Dad caught up to us and joined me at the entrance to the cab. Mister R decided he’d prefer to go with his Dad and left Aria to finally have her turn.
This had taken maybe 2-3 minutes. Time that my children deserved. Time that also, was interminable to a waiting child.
As soon as Mr. R was gone, Kid 1 and Kid 2 rushed into the cab where Aria was still having her turn. As far as I could tell, their mom never restrained them. She never apologized or asked, “Do you mind?”
“Don’t get in the little girl’s way,” she said from behind me to her son, who was all over the steering wheel.
Um, how about wait your f--king turn, and get your kids the f--k out? But getting all Queens on her, as my bestie and the children’s godmother says, did not seem a good choice.
I was livid. My little girl looked at me with her big brown eyes as if to say, “Why, Mommy?”
Maybe I could say something sarcastic, yet subtle like, “Wow, they REALLY couldn’t wait to get in there, could they?”
“How old is she?” Clueless Mom asked.
“Almost two. And your son should be careful because she bites,” I offered feebly. At that point my overwhelmed daughter was as likely to bite as the Pillsbury Dough Boy.
Even though I was pissed at her, I had to admit that Mommy Clueless was a nice woman. Why didn’t I just say, “Listen, as you know from having two kids, and a younger daughter, my poor little girl has to share everything. She constantly has to defend herself from a strong-willed, mischievous and rambunctious older brother. Please. Just let her have a turn of her own.”
I’m sure everything would have worked out fine if I had said just that. But I didn’t. I stewed for a minute before grabbing Lady A from the drivers’ seat and taking her to see something else.
Yes, the mom was clueless, and while I’m 99% sure that I’d have handled the situation differently, I’ll cut her some slack. Maybe her son had emotional and behavioral issues. Maybe she wanted to avoid a discipline-induced meltdown.
Or maybe her kids were brats and she was a wimp. Who knows?
But I was just as much of a wimp, for not standing up for my kid.
This time Lady A was little, and I’m sure it didn’t really register.
But if it happens too many times, or when she is a little older, it will.
Saturday, May 5, 2012
|Photo: Daniel Stranahan|
While colleagues pored over IRS revenue documents in their spare time, Elena Marre devoured cooking magazines.
Her job as a transactional tax attorney was just that. A job.
But it wasn’t until she had a vision of herself ten years later still doing the same thing, and finding out that she had six months left to live that she knew. She knew if that happened she’d feel deep regret that she’d never escaped a career that left her unfulfilled.
That she’d never taken the leap to marry her passion and her work.
Having enjoyed making food for her own sons when they were babies, she developed a business plan, obtained a good lead on funding and prepared for the national launch of a frozen organic baby food.
Although it had been a few months since Marre had left her job, she didn’t feel confident about forging ahead, as the investors were pushing pretty hard on projections. Plus the baby food window was a finite time in a family’s life.
She scrapped the idea.
Toying with the idea of teaching people to make their own baby food brought her to her mission. Her children's Montessori education, based on hands-on, practical life experience, led her to the idea of a family cooking school. As a mother, Marre knew that children, especially picky ones, with dietary restrictions like one of her boys, would be more likely to eat something if they had helped prepare it.
She developed the business plan, and in 2007 The Kids' Table was born.
In addition to being a resource for parents who seek to foster a love of food in their picky eaters, Marre sees food, specifically the slow food movement, as essential to good health. Marre is devoted to the Hippocratic idea of “let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” She is an ardent believer in the idea that, “there is a connection between what we eat and how we feel.”
Furthermore, Marre views preparing food as a natural means of stimulating conversation with kids. “Let’s talk” and “tell me about your day” seem to have the opposite effect. Especially with teens and tweens, “communing in the kitchen is a great way to actually talk to them,” Marre says. In interacting and experiencing in the kitchen, kids can become connected to a creative process that sustains life.
And then of course there’s that sneaky benefit of making kids curious – they won’t be able to chop and mix without stealing a taste.
Even though The Kids’ Table has been in business for five years, and Marre has realized the vision of her dream job, there are still goals ahead. Marre would love to expand her outreach work, in the form of field trips and after-school programs, especially with school communities with low access to nutritious, unprocessed food. She also has a cookbook in the works.
And then of course as a mother, there’s that old life/work balance thing.
I had the fortune to take Mr. R to a parent/tot class at The Kids’ Table with a Groupon I had bought. Upon entering, my little man made a beeline to the play kitchen. We immediately knew we were at a place that takes enjoying food seriously.
We had a great experience making shepherd’s pie. Mr. R got to wear and apron and a chef’s hat, and had his own cutting board and chopper to use.
(This thing is genius! You must buy one! It looks fun and it makes fun-to-eat krinkly carrots and fries!)
We learned about proper hygiene when cooking. In addition to proper chopping technique, we briefly discussed each veggie before chopping. When chopping was done, we washed our utensils and the pie went into the oven.
Like magic, by the time cleaning had finished, our pie was ready. Although Mr. R liked it, he wasn’t as gaga over it as I’d hoped. Still he’d had a fabulous time, and felt like a big boy.
I bought him that chopper, in hope that I’d get him in the kitchen and groom him for Top Chef in 20 years.
With the hustle of modern life, and our unseasonably warm early spring, this hasn’t happened as much as I’d hoped.
But I can dream can’t I?
Mention Mom’s New Stage for $10 off your first class at The Kids’ Table! This discount cannot be combined with other offers.
For more information and to register for classes, please visit The Kids' Table online. Or call