Volunteer and Service

Jaren and I have done a lot of service over the years.

I would say my passion for volunteering began when my employer asked me to help organize the United Way Campaign for the employees.  It was a week long event where we shared video’s, personal stories, and the many ways to give and serve.  I had benefited personally from United Way charities like the Good Will store that our mother shopped at from time to time for us kids, as a single mother of three.

I began to get more involved in service when I worked with WaMu. They were a very service oriented company and gave their employees 12 hours per quarter to volunteer during work hours.  It was a wonderful gift. It allowed me to do more, as a single mother. Its harder when you’re a single parent.  Time is so precious. Leave in the morning, drop off your child at school, head to work, put in at least an eight hour work day, plus lunch and then pick up your child and head home to cook dinner, homework, sports, spend time together, get them their bath and ready for bed and do it all over again the next day.

I loved volunteering and serving.  I always walked away feeling good.  So I began to look for service that I could do with my son.  I didn’t want for him to be home with a sitter while I was out volunteering.

We served in many different ways, from awareness/charity walks, to serving Thanksgiving dinners at a homeless shelter, to working with special needs kids and many other various events.  It really was so much fun serving side by side with my son.

However, I did do a few things without my son, like in 2006, Jaren’s school invited me to join their Campus Involvement Committee.  It was a one school year commitment.  I enjoyed that and learned a lot about how the schools work.  I also got to provide input.  It was a great group of professionals to work with.

From 2005-2007 I was invited to join the Community Involvement Team at WaMu and was the Secretary for one of those years.

And lastly, one of the employees of UnityDallas asked me to join their committee to help organize their family event, called Where’s the Beach, which I did in 2008 and in 2010.  I was the volunteer coordinator.  It was about a six month commitment for the planning of the event.

When I resigned from the bank in 2012, I volunteered at UnityDallas, my church, for about nine months, working one to two days in the office, answering phones and handling minor office duties.  It was a lot of fun.

Then, when Jaren got to high school, he began to go even further serving with our YOU youth program at church.  He already had the experience.  And he enjoyed serving.  Even when the folks at the church needed a hand, they knew they could ask him.  When they had Open Mic night for the YOUers, who took turns performing along with adults on a small stage, it was Jaren who worked the sound booth, taking a short break here and there to eat or perform his song.  And when he graduated, he was able to get his service recognition, thanks to his sponsors and UnityDallas.  I will tell you, that meant more to me than any academic or athletic award.

Giving service, whether we are thanked or not, whether we get an award or not, whether someone parades us on stage or not is really irrelevant.  In the end, when I walk before God and he ask me and my son, what we did for his people, we will be able to reply, “We did this and we did it humbly with a grateful heart.”

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Dinner for Two

My son Jaren has been gone this week on a youth trip with our church.  He has gone on this week-long spiritual vacation for the last two years.  As much as I enjoy having some “me time” I do miss my son being here at home.  I get bored and frankly, get lazy.  He keeps me on toes, running here and there, cooking, cleaning and whatever else moms do with their children.  I’ve only made one partially home cooked meal this week which is unusual for me.  Yes, I’m kind of old fashioned that way.

This is one tradition I’m glad got passed down.  My mother was a good cook and always seemed to enjoy cooking for her family.  She took pleasure in it, whether it was a simple and easy meal or a grand holiday feast.  Having dinner around the table with my parents and siblings is one of the fondest memories I have from childhood.  And with everything else that I experienced, this may have been the saving grace that helped me persevere.  The Family Dinner Project

Cooking didn’t come naturally for me at first.  I was the younger sister so I didn’t get the hands on experience that my older sister Colleen got.  I have evolved over the years.  I am an eclectic cook.  I like to make my ethnic foods, mostly Italian and German and classic American cooking.  But I also like to try new things.  My Texas friends have taught me many delectable Southern, Soul and Tex-Mex recipes, which are all my son’s favorites.  I’ve gotten pretty resourceful on a tight budget and have learned to make good use of my leftovers.

Pork Heart

A couple years ago, Jaren came home from school and told me his teacher posed a question to the class.  His teacher asked, “How many of you have dinner at the table with your family every day?”  Jaren said he was the only one to raise his hand.  He said he looked around …surprised.  He said his teacher was equally surprised.  Then the teacher asked how many of them have dinner with their family once a week…once a month.  Jaren again was the only student to raise his hand both times.  And lastly the teacher asked “once a year” and added and/or if they have dinner in the living room.  Finally a few students raised their hand.   This started a conversation among the class.

I admit, I had felt guilty and even angry at times about what was missing in my son’s life.  I had internally focused on what he didn’t have; like having only one parent (or family member) of Jaren’s (with a few exceptions) sitting in the stands at the soccer games, the basketball games, the football games, the school recitals, the choir concerts, the special performances at church, as I saw dual parents, siblings, and on occasion, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins showing up for the other kids.  I’d wonder, as my son tried to find me in the crowd and wave at me, did it matter to him or if he even noticed.  In addition, not having extended family around throughout the year or for years, some due to distance, some due to racism, and some I really don’t know why because they have had or have access to Jaren and many, many opportunities to participate throughout the year, has left me feeling concerned for my child and the impact this could have on his emotional intelligence.

So when Jaren came home and told me about the class conversation, it changed my perspective.  I could see how this conversation impacted him as he realized how different our traditions were as compared to his classmates.  This was a turning point for me and I think for both of us about how we viewed our family.  I began to see my role in Jaren’s life differently.  My focus changed.  I realized that it doesn’t matter if there are ten familiar faces in the audience or if I am the only family face in the crowd my son sees.  What really matters is that when Jaren looks out into the audience, that he sees me, his mother’s smiling face, looking up at him and seeing how proud I am to be his mom.

I began to see what Jaren has and the traditions that I have created for our family.  While we may not have spent birthdays and calendar holidays throughout the year together with our biological family, we spent it with loved ones who loved us unconditionally, who made every effort to include us in their spur of the moment cookouts or planned out traditional holiday dinners.

More importantly, I realized that it doesn’t matter if Jaren and I are eating at home or dining out at a table for two, whether our meals are three course home made meals or frozen entrees put together with can and box goods, or Friday night pizza in the living room in front of the TV, as long as we are making time to be together.  And it’s more than just about cooking my son a meal.  It’s about him knowing that he is my priority and me doing my best to make him feel protected, safe and loved.

To some, this table may look old and worn.  To me, I see little hands learning to eat, warm meals and birthday cakes, conversations and funny stories, disagreement and even tears.

Kitchen Table

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  Well, if this is true, then a table must be worth a million or more.

You Might Be a Single Mother…

I had worked for my employer since 1996 and I had accumulated a good retirement as well as a beneficial 401k which allowed me to take a year off from work in 2012. Since having my son, life has been a whirlwind.  Being a single mother, life was non-stop, always going somewhere, and doing something.  I didn’t realize how busy my life was until I took off that one year.  I began to think about what makes a single mother.

Taking into consideration for me and my single mother friends, here are some things that are common to single mothers or single parents.

If you are the only parent who has changed your child’s diaper, you might be a single mother.

If you are the only parent who taught your child how to talk, walk and ride a bike, you might be a single mother.

If you are the only parent who shows up for your child’s parent teacher conference, you might be a single mother.

If you are the only one who takes your child to the doctor, or stays home with them when they are sick, you might be a single mother.

If you’re a one income family and you’re the sole provider and protector for your household, you might be a single mother.

If your kids get new clothes (though maybe not in large quantities), while you haven’t bought anything new for yourself in many years, you might be a single mother.

If you shop at second hand stores, you might be a single mother.

If you use coupons, shop sales and sale racks, and buy marked down meats at the grocery store; you might be a single mother.

If you have ever wondered how you were going to pay the bills, you might be a single mother.

If you get paid and your paycheck is already spent on bills, daycare, groceries, lunch money, gas, and you only have $5.00 to last until your next paycheck or zero money or already have a negative balance in your account after just getting paid, you might be a single mother.

If you have ever called a utility company and asked for a payment plan, or an extension, you might be a single mother.

If your phone or your electric has ever been turned off since becoming a parent, you might be a single mother.

If your child hears the ice cream truck and ask you if she can buy an ice cream and you tell her no because you don’t even have one dollar in your purse to give, you might be a single mother.

If your child wants to rent a Redbox movie and you tell him you can’t afford it this week, you might be a single mother.

If you go to a fast food restaurant and tell your child that she can only order from the dollar menu, you might be a single mother.

If you go out with friends and you tell your child beforehand, do not order anything too expensive.  Then get to the restaurant and your child ask you if he can order a menu item that is pricier than the other menu entrees and you give him a dirty look, you might be a single mother.

If you’re going to a friend’s house for a BBQ and they ask if you can pick up some soda’s or chips or deserts and it’s during one of those times when you have spent all your money on the bills listed above but you don’t want to tell your friends that you’re broke, you might be a single mother.

If your pantry and refrigerator are bare, not because you don’t cook at home but because you don’t have enough money to buy groceries for the upcoming week, you might be a single mother.

If you have a thousand ways to use leftovers, you might be a single mother.

If your child asks you if she can eat something before getting it out, because you have told her that the food (cereal, Ramon noodles, Hot Pockets) all cheap single parent foods, needs to last until next payday, you might be a single mother.

If you drive an older car or have no car at all (use public transportation), you might be a single mother.

If you’re coworkers ask you to go out after work for happy hour and you decline because you don’t have a babysitter, nor can afford a babysitter, and you don’t have enough money to buy even one drink for happy hour, you might be a single mother.

If your child gets invited to a birthday party and you don’t have enough money to buy a birthday present, you might be a single mother.

If you have ever made a homemade Halloween costume for your child and tried to get them excited about the creative process because you couldn’t afford to buy a store bought costume, you might be a single mother.

If you’re long overdue for a haircut, not because you don’t want one, but because your child’s needs come before yours, you might be a single mother.

If you feel like you are rushing all the time; get up, get kids ready, make breakfast, drop kids off at school, drive to work, get off work, pick kids up, get home, cook dinner (some of us still do this), clean dishes, take kids to sports or other activities, help with homework, get them ready for bed, and do that for 52 weeks of the year, you might be a single mother.

If you have ever felt stressed and overwhelmed and wondered about your role as a parent, praying to God to help provide for you and your family, you might be a single mother.

If your weekends feel as stressed as your work week; catching up on cleaning, laundry, bills and paper work, and spending time with your kids, you might be a single mother.

If taking a weekend nap or getting pampered with a manicure, pedicure, or a massage is worth more than a million dollars, you might be a single mother.

When your kids go everywhere you go and there’s no such thing as, “Honey, watch the kids while I run to the store real quick,” then you most likely are a single mother.

And if your ex (husband or child’s father) has never gotten up in the middle of the night to feed, change or comfort his crying baby, nor dropped off or picked up his kid at school, nor showed up at his child’s school functions, stage performance or sports game, nor cooked his child a meal, nor helped his child with homework, nor carried his child on his insurance, nor stayed home with his sick child, nor has provided any physical or emotional support to his child or you, no Daddy weekends, monthly or bi-annual visits, and no financial child support, then you are not a single mother, you are a single parent and you ROCK!

What some intended for harm, God intended for good, part 1

My first born son is a high school junior this year.  It’s hard to believe.  I think back to the time when I first discovered I was pregnant with Jaren.  Yes, he was unexpected.  Yes, he was not planned and under my own limited human perception, unintended.  And even with all that, I was not afraid of my future or our future together; despite his father’s lack of enthusiasm.

Even my family was happy for me.  Until…

Yes, until.

Until about seven months into my pregnancy, they learned that my future son would be half of another race of a man that they did not know nor ever met.  Jaren’s father was mostly African American along with some American Indian.  They acted as if I had done the most horrific thing.  And although I was thirty-four years old and lived more than a thousand miles away, they began to scheme on ways to talk me into getting rid of my baby who had not even been born yet

Then the phone began to ring.  This is how coercion begins.  Mom’s sister called first.  I had not talked with my aunt or seen her in many years.  However, she is calling me not to congratulate me or support me or to ask me how I was doing; no, none of those things.  She was calling me to ask me to “give up” my future infant for adoption.  She was very persuasive in her argument.  Even though just months before she had supported my pregnancy and was a guest at a baby shower given in my honor by my family back home, race had now played a very big factor in my decision to parent my own child.  She thought it would be more difficult to raise a bi-racial son as a single mother.  Apparently raising a white infant is easier than raising a bi-racial infant, especially if the race includes African or a darker skinned race.

It’s not like I didn’t know how my family felt about race.  I remember as a teenager, my mother had a variety of cabbage patch dolls.  One of them was a black cabbage patch doll.  When my niece was a toddler, she would play with the cabbage dolls and carry them over to my step dad.  He would allow my niece to place them in his lap except for one.  Whenever she placed the black cabbage patch doll in his lap, he would throw the doll across the room and call it a derogatory name.  Not the n-word but other derogatory names.  My niece would go get the doll, give it back to him, scold him, and they would repeat this performance several times.

So I knew my family didn’t really care about my role as a single mother.  Neither was their concern that this new offspring that extended from our family tree would get adequate care under my supervision.  They were masking the truth.  They didn’t want to be the family with the daughter who got pregnant by a black man.  They wanted that branch to be removed or at the very least hidden.  If they could just talk me into getting rid of my new baby boy and hide him away through adoption, they would have succeeded; they would have won the coercion battle.

But God had different plans for my son and me.

You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.  Genesis 50:20

I don’t know where I would be if I had allowed my family to convince me that parenting my child was wrong.  I’ve thought about that many times over the years.  What if Jaren was somewhere out there in the world and I had no idea where he was?  It’s heartbreaking to think about.  Thankfully, I was stronger and God was louder and I am so very thankful I listened

God has been my source of empowerment and has continued to support and guide me all these years.  I won’t say it’s been easy as a single mother but most things in life are not easy.  But parenting my son has been worth it.  As for the racial aspects, I don’t think it has impacted my life negatively.  I would say I have benefited from the things I have learned as a mother of a mixed-raced family.  Sure, I’ve faced race issues but nothing that I have not been able to handle.  In fact, I would say my family has caused me more hardship about race than society in general.  All of which has helped me learn more about the human race and has increased my understanding and compassion.

As for my son, he is my life.  He has brought so much joy into my world.  He has raised my soul to another level of conscious learning.  I have experienced the greatest love I have ever known.  And I am so proud to have been chosen by God to be his mother.

Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Single Mother

I injured myself yesterday really bad.  We had some objects and boxes on the floor near the entry way of our apartment that my son and I had gathered the previous night to add some additional garage sale items for the next day.  Jaren’s godfather, Robert had allowed us to bring our stuff to sale in his garage sale.  Jaren had done an excellent job at cleaning out his room which is a really big deal because he likes to hold onto his things.  And I told my son that he could keep the money from my stuff that sold too.  I said, “This is your summer money so make it last.”

I got up in the morning, still sleepy with very little light in the apartment.  I had folded some blankets and walked to the coat closet to put them away.  Just before getting to the closet, I tripped over some of the garage sale items.  I went down hard along with our kitchen counter stool.  I knew I hurt something bad.  I knocked the wind out of myself and the first thing I thought was to tell my son that I was okay.  Because it was such a huge strain to be able to talk at first, it sounded as if I was crying but I wasn’t.  I almost cried though.  The pain was that bad.  I sat there on the floor for a few minutes, unable to get up at first.

When I was able to stand up, I knew I did some damage.  For one, my pinky toe that I previously broke a few years back had that same kind of pain so I was pretty sure I broke it again.  But that’s not what really concerned me.  It was my ribs on my left side that were throbbing.  I had a lot of pain.  Any movement was very difficult and painful.  At the same time, in the back of my mind, I knew my son was counting on me to help him with the garage sale.

Jaren and his godfather started selling on Friday while I was at work.  Sometime around lunch, Robert had gotten really sick.  He wasn’t sure if it was the flu, food poisoning or what.  Jaren took over selling for the rest of the day on Friday.  I picked up Jaren Friday night and helped him pack up and place all the sale items back in the garage for the next day.

With Jaren’s godfather out of commission, I knew Jaren needed my help on Saturday.  So I tried as best I could to put on my big girl face and push through the pain.   I told my son that I would help him get set up for the garage sale but that I also may need to leave at some point to go to the emergency room for x-rays.  Jaren understood.

We loaded the car and I drove us over to Robert’s house.  Robert was still very sick and bed ridden.  Luckily, Jaren’s godfather has two roommates and they were able to help Jaren carry the larger stuff (TV, etc) onto the front lawn.  I helped with the smaller boxes.  We got tables set up and organized.  I waited to see if the pain would subside or go away but it didn’t.  I was hoping it would.  We were trying to make money, not spend money.  But every time I reached down, sat down, or got up the pain would shoot into my side.  Not to mention walking around with my broken toe.

Here I had been without insurance for over a year.  During that time, I tried very hard to stay healthy and with God’s help, I was.  No illnesses, no flu, no injuries.  My insurance kicked in May 10th 2014 and a month later, bam!

I shouldn’t complain.  Thank goodness this occurred after I had insurance.

About four hours into the garage sale with my pain no less painful, I opted to go to CareNow Urgent Care.  They’re like doctors’ offices and ER’s combined.  They are open on the weekends, they have X-ray equipment, and the co-pay is much cheaper than the ER; mines was $35.00.  And the best part is you can do Web Check-ins which means you check-in online.  After you check-in, they call you to confirm your appointment and your illness/injury.  Then they ask you about how far away you are from the office.  This is so they will know when to call you to come in so that you don’t have to wait as long in the waiting room.

After reviewing the X-rays, CareNow confirmed that I had a broken toe.  They also said that I had a rib contusion.  The doctor said that a contusion is equally as painful as a fractured rib and the treatment is the same.  She gave me a wrap for my ribs and prescribed two pain meds.  The doctor said she had prescribed Ibuprofen, 800 mg and then said she also prescribed a narcotic.  I was like, “narcotic.”  I knew it was something serious for them to prescribe that kind of pain medicine.  I guess they knew something that I didn’t know at that point.  As with most injuries, breaks or bruises, if I hurt this bad on the first day, the next day would surely double my pain.  Since I was driving, I was unable to take the narcotic pain medicine so I took one Ibuprofen which did reduce some pain.  Especially, considering I had spent five to six hours moving around, lifting boxes, setting up for a garage sale, walking around, waiting on customers, any pain relief was better than no pain relief.

So I get back to the garage sale and share my diagnosis with Jaren, Robert and his roommates.  I sat down outside with Jaren as he finished up with the garage sale.  Then, just before cleaning up, we sat on the front porch for a moment, gazing at a most beautiful tree across the street. We’ve admired this tree in the past.  Jaren mentioned how healing it was to watch the tree so much so that it inspired him to write a meditation for a lesson he was doing for his Sunday school class the next day.  We both agreed that the tree seemed to be nurturing and comforting, almost mother-like.

Then it was time to close down the garage sale and we both were less than enthusiastic about packing up the remaining items and moving them into the garage.  Jaren was both hot and tired.  I was hot, tired, injured and in still in pain.  As we were packing up, I was making requests or suggestions which Jaren was not happy about.  Okay, maybe I was barking orders a little.  We both bickered at each other and I felt unappreciated.  Despite my injury, I was helping him as best I could.  Whether it was the meds, the long day, the pain, I’m not sure but I began to have an emotional  breakdown.  I reminded Jaren of my injury and that per doctors’ orders, I wasn’t supposed to be lifting anything.  Technically, I should have been sitting or laying down, healing.  I also reminded him that I was not benefitting financially from this garage sale in no way.  I was providing merchandise and free labor service.

It was not a shining moment for either of us.   In the midst of our argument, Jaren’s god father could hear us and came out to intervene.  Calmly, he mediated our conversation and diffused our anger and frustration.  Then he thanked us dearly for all we both had done.

Later that evening, Jaren humbly apologized to me.

Today, I dropped off my son to spend Father’s Day with his father.  Tomorrow is another day…

 

Humble

But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”  James 4:6

I was recently hired by the employer that I had been working as a temp for the last few months.  One of the things that I noticed at my new place of employment is the humility of the employees and even the management staff.  They even include the word “humble” along with respect, integrity and fairness in their employment contract.  Now that’s very unusual.  I can tell you that after working in the corporate world for the past twenty plus years, humble people is not a common trait seen among the corporate workforce.  What a concept.  To have humble, compassionate and nice people to work with.

A phone conversation I had over 30 years ago with the mother of the boyfriend I had been dating at the time turned very sour.  She had overheard a conversation and decided she needed to confront me about it.  Someone remarked, “Karen might be pregnant.”  My boyfriend’s mother immediately assumed that it was her son’s girlfriend (aka me), also named Karen.  After accusing me of being pregnant, she then tells me that I was not going to have this baby and that I needed to get an abortion.  Assuring her that I was not pregnant and telling her it must have been another Karen, I decided to go one step further.  I asked her why she didn’t like me.  What had I done?  I knew that she didn’t care for me.  A person knows when someone likes or loves them and when someone doesn’t.  That’s part of how friendships are formed.  Besides having things in common, we feel a warm endearing presence from another who also seems to enjoy our presence when we’re together.

Well, I didn’t get that warm fuzzy feeling from my boyfriend’s mother.  Her response, “You’re too nice.” 

How do you respond to that?

Years later, when I looked back, I would joke about it with some friends and comment, “I should have told her to go “f” herself and then maybe she would have liked me more.”

This wasn’t the first time that someone made this kind of opinion of me.  I recall my mother and older brother saying this is why they believed our stepdad liked my sister, Colleen better than me.  I think their exact words for the reason, “Dad likes Colleen more because she’s tough and doesn’t take any shit.”  He had more respect for my sister as opposed to me, because I was the meeker one.  Seems kind of strange, doesn’t it; to dislike someone because their too nice or to like someone more because they’re harsher.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rl_NpdAy3WY  (You like me, you REALLY like me!)

People around in my later years would be quite surprised to hear that I was “too” nice.  Boy, have I changed.

I guess being a mom has changed me a lot.  My protective maternal instincts sparked very early.  I started off battling prejudices from the time I got pregnant.  For those of you, who have children, imagine having to experience one of the most exciting moments of your life without the support of your loved ones.  I was a fragile fish, who just wanted to grow and nurture her baby, swimming among the sharks.

I would have many more opportunities to prepare my heart for battle.  Racism can make a person very callous.  Dealing with the looks, the rejection, the “we’re better than” attitude can be flat-out exhausting.  Then after becoming a birth mother, another layer of social assumptions and prejudices were added.  My skin got tougher and my meekness was slowly fading away.  I would look back and think how blind and naïve I was before I entered into this world of mixed races and birth families.  The reality can be disheartening at times.  I had no idea how the world was until I was on the receiving end.  I became bitter and insensitive.  Sometimes I was downright mean.  Nope, I had decided that I wasn’t taking no more shit from anyone.  I had listened to their shit and shoveled their shit for far too long.  If they wanted to throw shit my way, I was going to through it right back in their face.  See how they liked it.  

Sometimes I feel as though I’ve been given a test and I think that I may be failing.  But those who were placed in my life to love me unconditionally have failed on some level as well.  It’s a ripple effect.  Once the object makes contact with the water, the ripple begins and we can never go back and stop the movement.  The ripple has already occurred and the action is already in process.

Funny thing is though, once you allow yourself to become like them, you no longer like who you’ve become.  So I’ve been trying to find my way back to my meek heart.   

But I will always stand up against injustice.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”  Joshua 1:9

The Magic Show

Jaren has always been a unique and entertaining child.  There was never a dull moment in our household.

As a youngster, he had an inquisitive and peculiar mind which spawned him to say things that many times left me literally questioning his thought process.   When I brought an avocado home, he wanted to save the large round seed in the middle so he could plant it and grow avocados.  When we went to a craw-fish broil, he asked the host if he could take one home for a pet, which we did.  We named her Lulu.  Jaren also enjoyed singing, being on stage, and never minded being the center of attention.  He had a spiritual knowledge and insight far beyond his young years.  But all that creative energy sometimes left him restless and he went looking everywhere to exercise his mental interest.  On top of that, Jaren had asthma and allergies.  The medications he took to manage these conditions also contributed to his hyperactivity.

Kindergarten was a challenge for Jaren.  He suffered from some behavior issues that were mostly related to him not being able to sit still, focus, and follow directions.  And he was a talker.  At the beginning of the school year the students had a weekly chart that was marked daily with colored mood faces expressing each child’s behavior, that ranged from green(good), yellow(fair), orange(warning) and red(bad).  The charts were sent home daily so parents could acknowledge and initial the behavior noted for that day.   After the first couple weeks, Jaren rarely brought home a happy green face.  His charts mostly consisted of yellow and orange (with green and red being more rare).  It was somewhat discouraging.  Then I got the dreaded notice.  I needed to go to the school for a special parent/teacher conference.

Honestly, I was on defense at first.  I wondered if they were singling out my child for some social, political reason or if there was a real concern for my young son.

I drove to the school to meet with Jaren’s teacher, the counselor, and the vice principal.  I felt outnumbered.  I walked in sheepishly, trying to preserve my self-confidence and was ready to fight on behalf of my child.  Jaren’s teacher had all the examples that she recorded on paper of Jaren’s bad behavior moments.  The vice principal asked how Jaren was doing academically?  His teacher said he was a good student when he was capable of getting his work done.  Then, we were re-directed back to the issue of his class behavior.  They suggested I take Jaren to one of the local offices to have him tested for ADD/ADHD but maintained that it was my choice and that Jaren was still young and could very easily grow out of his challenging behavior.

Although I know ADD/ADHD is a real medical issue, I felt like the school was looking for an easy way out to help make their job easier.  Jaren was so young.  I thought it was too early to assess or label him as having ADD/ADHD.

I was hurt and mad and tried very hard to hold back my emotions.  As I was leaving, I walked with Jaren’s teacher down the hall.  I couldn’t hold back my tears any longer and told her that I was sorry.  I further explained that I had tried everything at home; talking to Jaren, punishment, taking privileges away, but nothing seemed to be making a noticeable or permanent impact.  I said, “I feel like a terrible mom.”

As single parents and working mothers, it feels like we do so much and no matter how much we do, we still can’t do enough, and our best isn’t good enough.  We have stretched ourselves to the max with little or no reserves for unexpected disruptions.  We are trying to uphold a family balance and sometimes the slightest breeze can throw us off course.

My child’s teacher’s response surprised me.  “You shouldn’t feel that way.” she said. “You are a good mom.  You’re here trying to help your son.  Think about all the parents who don’t show up.”  She put her arm around my shoulder and assured me that she and the school would work together to help Jaren.  I immediately felt comforted.

The counselor and Jaren’s teacher formed a new plan for my son.  From that day on, instead of Jaren getting daily charts and weekly rewards, they began giving him progress updates throughout the day.  He could look at his chart that was taped to his desk and see his behavior progress.  It gave him a goal to work towards.

One day, Jaren asked his teacher if he could perform a magic show for his class.  Jaren’s teacher thought it was a great motivational opportunity and told him that he needed to get a certain amount of good behavior reports.  If he did, he could perform his magic show for his classmates.

Jaren worked hard on his class behavior at school and practiced his magic skills regularly for me at home and all that hard work paid off.

To prepare my son for his magic show debut I bought him a cape and a top hat.  As I beheld Jaren standing in front of his animated audience, I watched a problematic kid be transformed into a charismatic star pupil that day.  He was focused and poised.  His classmates were truly entertained by his magic.Image

Thank goodness for teachers like this, the ones who allow all their students to shine in unique ways.

Magic Show

The Best Date of My Life

At fifty years of age, you might say I’ve been on a few dates in my life.  Some were good dates, and some….well let’s just say I wasn’t eagerly waiting by the phone.  I can’t say that I remember having a really bad date; or for that matter, a really great date.  In fact, most of them escape my memory.  That is, until the day my five year old son, Jaren, asked me if he and I could go on a date together.

I wish I could remember how exactly Jaren asked me.

At first, I didn’t take Jaren seriously.  I thought the idea would fade but surprisingly, it didn’t.  It seemed like this was very important to him.  How could I refuse such a lovely offer to go on a special date with my son?  I couldn’t. So Jaren and I began to discuss how and where we could have our special date.  Jaren has always had a strong personality and likes to be in charge.  I put on my thinking cap.  I mean, he was only five.  We decided to have our date at our condo later in the week.  I allowed Jaren to plan most of the evening.

The morning of our “special date night”, we got ready for school and work.  Jaren reminded me, “Don’t forget about our date tonight, Momma?”  I assured him that I wouldn’t.

Later that evening, I helped Jaren get dinner ready and set the table.  We got out the good dishes, along with wine glasses and my cloth embroidered napkins, all at the request of my son.  We also set a candle on the table.  On the menu was Tyson chicken nuggets and french fries.  Since Jaren insisted on preparing our meal, I needed to make it as safe and easy as possible, with my supervision, of course.

Jaren also insisted on picking out my outfit for our date.  He had a dress code in mind.  It had to be fancy!   I waited downstairs while Jaren picked out my clothes and then laid them on my bed.  As Jaren strolled down to his bedroom to get ready, I put on my long silver shimmery skirt, an elegant blouse and high heel shoes.  I fixed my hair and make-up and waited at my bedroom door.   Jaren arrived a few moments later wearing his black dress slacks, a white long sleeve collar shirt and a red clip-on tie.  I told him how handsome he looked.  He smiled, returned a compliment, took my hand and escorted me downstairs to the dining room.

We gathered our food and the Kool-Aid (we’ll just pretend it is wine for now), and sat down.  I lit the candle.  Jaren turned on some soft music and then…we prayed.  For the first time, my son was not a five year old boy.  He was a mature, engaging young man.  He ate his food with such grace and etiquette.  I thought, “This is not my child.”

After we finished our meal, Jaren asked me to dance.  We slowed danced and he carefully dipped me at the end.  Afterwards, Jaren escorted me to my room and I thanked him for a lovely evening as I kissed him on his cheek.

My son is fifteen years old now and we have not gone on any dates since then.  But I will always remember our special date.  That night, my son showed me how a woman should be treated on a date, the kind of respect a woman deserves and the kind of love a woman deserves.   I felt beholden to Jaren.  That truly was the best date of my life.

Thrift Store

You know times have changed when a song about shopping at a thrift store (Thrift Shop, by Macklemore) wins Billboard’s rap song of the year 2013.

I am a big fan of thrift stores.  I don’t get embarrassed to shop there.  And after becoming a single parent, I have shopped there whether I could financially afford to shop elsewhere or not.  My first memory of a thrift store was when I was a kid.  My mother, a single mom of three at that time, didn’t have a lot of extra money.  I remember one winter, us kids wanted to go ice skating.  Mom took us to the Goodwill Store to shop for ice skates.  They had a black pair that fit my brother but had only one other pair that my sister and I could fit into.  Mom said that my sister and I would have to take turns.  No problem.  We were just happy to be able to go ice skating.

My mother continued to shop at thrift stores all my years in school and still shops at them to this day, although she surely does not need to shop there.  She loves a good bargain.  I’ll admit there were times when I was in high school I was a little embarrassed for someone to see my mother shopping at the Salvation Army.  After all, my mother had remarried and although my parents weren’t rich, they weren’t poor enough to necessitate shopping for second-hand merchandise.  What would people think?  Teenagers are so self-centered.  Well, some of us.

Earlier this year, my son wanted to go to the Lady Gaga concert.  I had treated him to the Nicki Minaj concert six months prior and informed him that I wasn’t able to afford another set of concert tickets.  One concert ticket purchase per year was more than fair.  His response, “Then I will try to win them.”  He just knew he was going to win those tickets somehow.  I love his optimism!

The weekend before the concert, I went online to search the local radio stations so I could verify if and when they were having Lady Gaga concert ticket promotions or contest giveaways.  Most of the radio stations were doing the usual “10th caller” contest.  My son listened all weekend, calling every time the DJ announced, “Tenth caller wins Lady Gaga concert tickets,” with no luck.

One station did their contest a little different.  They were having a drag queen contest.  The contestants entered online and described to the radio station how they would dress up in their best drag queen costume.  I submitted my idea:  mobster pin-striped suit, a gangster hat and high heel shoes.

One day before the concert I got a call from the radio station.

I answered, “Hello.”

“Hi, this is Nick from i93.”

He told me they liked my idea and invited me to come down dressed in my drag queen outfit for a chance to win the Lady Gaga concert tickets.  I was overjoyed.  However, there was just one small problem; I didn’t have a pinned stripped suit hanging in my closet.  I also didn’t have the money to go out and buy a new one.  I mean heck, if I could’ve bought a pinned stripped suit, then I could’ve bought the concert tickets in the first place.

Luckily we have a local thrift store that I have visited many times over the past few years.  I prayed to God that they would have the item I needed on one of their racks.  It seemed like it was a lot to ask.  I mean, really.  I needed a suit, a pin-striped suit, a suit that would fit my size, and be priced reasonably.  But I was faithful.

I walked into the store and went right to the men’s section.  I figured I would have a better chance of finding the suit I needed in the men’s section than in the women’s section. Since this was more for a theatrical costume rather than for an evening out on the town, I didn’t need it to fit exact or perfect. A little big and roomy was fine.  Actually that was the style I was going for anyway.

Thanks be to God, I found the perfect pin-striped suit for $5.00. But wait, then I get up to the register and they inform me that the suit is on sale and was marked down. What? You are kidding me! How wonderful is that?

Not only did Nick from i93 hand me two Lady Gaga concert tickets for the first level, the DJ’s even interviewed me on live air for my unique drag queen costume.   All the while, my son had a look of amazement and an endless smile on his face.

As parents, we don’t get opportunities like this often.  At that moment, I felt like a great mom.  I’m reminded of that old credit card commercial:

Pinned striped suit, $3.00

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Gansta Hat, $12.00

Lada Gaga concert tickets, Free

 

Look on my son’s face, Priceless!

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