Thursday, February 10, 2011

Ten Steps to Being a Happier, More Balanced Mommy

I recently watched an episode of The Simpsons with my family. In the episode, Marge reconnects with her "mommy" friends and starts creating a social life for herself outside her family. My favorite part of the episode is animation of Marge's brain, showing the different segments of her life. A very large chunk of her brain is labeled "Repressed Rage," but after just a few moments of hanging out with her friends, that part of her brain is pushed aside by the part labeled "Social Life."

My oldest boy interpreted Marge and the other moms as "hating their kids," because they wanted to spend time with each other and not be with their kids every moment of every day. I explained, of course, that was far from the case and that like me, even those cartoon moms love their kids, however, moms are people, too. I explained that it makes me happy to spend time with my friends or go places by myself and do things I like to do, just like he enjoys playing with his friends and doing the things he finds fun.

It took me the first two years of his life to realize that and start trying to find a sense of balance and sometimes even now, eight years in, I feel like I don't have the full and richly balanced life I want. But I try. I know that if I have things in my life that matter to me besides my kids, things that make me think and breathe and feel and wonder and use skills other than my parenting smarts, I am a happier person. I am woman, wife, lover, friend, cousin, writer, creator, dreamer, and believer. Not just mommy, cleaner of spills and wiper of bottoms, storyteller and consoler. If I model a balanced life for my sons, hopefully they will one day strive to create lives of their own that balance responsibility with their passions.

If you're a new mom or if you've found yourself stuck in the mommy rut, never leaving your house except to grocery shop, never talking about anything other than your kids or to anyone other than your kids, and more or less feeling like you don't know who you are any more, here are a few ideas to help you reconnect with yourself and rebuild a complete life that celebrates your role as mother and allows you to be fully who you are:

1. Spend some quiet time alone each day or as often as you can, doing nothing.

2. Pray or meditate.

3. Learn to say no to your children.

4. Resume a hobby you put aside, like writing, reading for pleasure, painting, playing music, etc.

5. Take a class.

6. If you're married or live with your significant other, let your partner get up with the kids when they awake early or in the night.

7. Turn off the Laurie Berkner and listen to music you love. (Watch the lyrics, though!)

8. Plan at least one night alone with your partner each week or bi-weekly at the very least. (If you can't afford a sitter, trade with friends. Or put the kids to bed early and have hubby pick up some take out. Turn off the t.v., put on your favorite music, and just talk.) If you're single, plan a night out with a friend or friends once a week or so to unwind and be with other adults (besides your co-workers!).

9. Read. Books. Magazines. Online newspapers. Let yourself be informed and entertained and feel like you know about something other than Sesame Street or Yo Gabba Gabba.

10. Exercise. Whether it's a walk around the block, a Stroller Strides class, Zumba, training for a marathon, or lifting weights, find a fitness routine that helps you burn off frustsration and do something good for yourself.

And always remember to be kind  to yourself. Parenting is hard work and whether you're a stay-at-home mom or work outside the home, there are few breaks from it, at least until your kids start school and that requires a different kind and level of mental energy. Just remember the person you were before having kids and know she's still in there and all the better for being a mommy.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The SITS Girls 31 Days to Build a Better Blog Challenge: Day 1

I've been blogging for nearly eight years now, sometimes with great frequency and passion, other times rarely and only then because I felt like I had to.

This year I decided I wanted to recommit to writing and recommit to this blog. I'm hoping to rebuild it from the ground up. I have a designer working on a new look and I plan to write, if not daily, at least thrice weekly. 

To get things moving along, I decided (two days late!) to participate in the SITS Girls 31 Days to Build a Better Blog Challenge

Day 1's challenge is to write an elevator pitch, both a short one and a long one. So, here goes:

Short Pitch: Tales of Domestic Divahood from Down South. (Tagline/pitch)
Long Pitch: Parenting is a blessing, but it's not always easy. provides inspiration and a place where you can tell it or hear it like it is. I write about family, friends, food, music... a little of this and a little of that with the occasional review or product giveaway thrown in for good measure.

Thoughts? Praise? Criticism? Bring it on!

One Angry Dwarf

Dear Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Georgia and Pfizer Pharmaceuticals,

This is an open letter to request that you butt out of my child's routine healthcare, other than to pay the bills, BC, which is what you get paid to do. Pfizer... Well, no one asked for your opinion.

Our family has a pediatrician who tends to all my child's healthcare needs that can't be met by me or Mother Nature. Our doctor is outstanding. You know, unlike your marketing department, Pfizer, whose primary agenda is making money for your shareholders while putting lives at risk with off-label marketing and pushing through drugs that haven't been thoroughly tested, he went to medical school and actually knows a thing or two about keeping kids healthy.

When I take either of my children into his office for their well-child visits, I can assure you that he knows precisely which vaccines are due and he and I have been working together for at least 8 years now to ensure that my children receive the vaccines they need when they are scheduled, but that they are never given more than two vaccines at a time so that  – God forbid – should there be a toxic reaction to a vaccine, we can more readily determine which vaccine caused it.

The phone calls and letters "informing" me that my son has missed "an important vaccine," that appear to be coming from Blue Cross, but which are actually paid for by Pfizer, as noted in the fine print, are wholly unwelcome and dare I say, a conflict of interest on behalf of you, Blue Cross. First of all, is it not a violation of HIPPA for you to sell my private information to a drug company and then allow them to market their products to me under your name?

Blue Cross and Pfizer, I am not an idiot. Nor are most parents. We do not need you looking over our shoulders, or those of our trusted family physicians, telling us what drugs we need to take, all in the name of making your CEOs and shareholders richer.

I am not some crunchy mom who fails to see the life-saving importance of having my child inoculated against the world's deadliest diseases. I am, however, quite well-informed about the vaccines my children need and those that are of questionable use. Moreover, the vaccine you are pushing, Prevnar 13, while quite beneficial in the fact that it protects against bacteria that are drug-resistant, has only just come onto the market in the last month and a half, yet despite this fact, was indeed, given to my son at his last well-child visit three weeks ago.

If you want to market your new drug, market it directly to physicians rather than using scare tactics with parents to make them feel as if they have somehow failed their children. And if you're going to market it directly to patients or their parents, at least be sure they haven't already received it before you waste their time.

By the way, I'll be contacting my congressional representatives about this. Not that it will do much good since I'm sure you're both lining their pockets as well, but at least I will have voiced my opinion about your unscrupulous methods and maybe, just maybe, someone will care enough about real people to stop you.

Sincerely yours,

One Angry Mother

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

If You're Out There

DeKalb County Schools superintendent Ramona Tyson presented her recommendations last night at the DCSS Board of Education meeting. Surprisingly, my school district came out relatively unscathed. Rather than the 112 transfers that had been predicted for us, we're only getting 44. We keep our magnet program, and the eight streets that were on the block to be transferred to another school. Not bad. Of course, it's not set in stone and anything can happen between now and when the Board votes on the proposal March 7th.

None of this tenuous progress could have been made if not for the tireless work of a core group of parents with the energy and know-how to put together alternatives to the two original proposals put forth by DeKalb County's consulting firm. These neighbors of mine are rock stars as far as I'm concerned (even if one of them did call me out for my cynicism and negative rhetoric when I simply felt I was expressing my opinion and defending a friend from vicious attacks).

Still, the air of tension remains with the decision not being final and with the knowledge that not everyone is happy with the proposal. A lot of people are getting screwed.

There's a perception in the county that if you're rich and white you can have anything you want because a certain wealthy enclave within the county fought very hard to protect their school and neighborhood and basically got their way, with only four students from their area being redistricted from their school to one they didn't deem "appropriate" for their kids.

Meanwhile, students at one of DeKalb's most prestigious high schools are being shuffled to what is arguably its worst high school.

It's truly sad. I can't even believe that the county can legally transfer students to a school that has failed to meet AYP consistently for multiple years.

I'm truly sad for those families and those students, some of whom won't get to graduate from an outstanding high school after putting in three years of effort there. I'm sad for the 50+ families being uprooted from our neighboring elementary school in the district where they bought homes so that an equivalent number of kids can be transferred there from a different school.

The whole process makes me sick.

Rather than wasting time and money arbitrarily shuffling kids around and destroying property values, the DCSS would make better use of their resources by firing Central Office staff, hiring more teachers, reducing class sizes, and creating equitable programs at every school throughout the County.

Parents and all citizens who give a damn about public education need to get organized and prepare for what lies ahead, including the battle against giant 900+ student elementary schools.

In the meantime, I guess all we can do is wait and see what happens March 7th.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Talkin' World War III Blues

A proper left-leaning kind of gal, I've always kind of accepted the ideological and philosophical notion that war is bad, unless of course, you're saving the weak from a bunch of big baddies. Love thy neighbor. Kumbaya. Yada. Yada. Fucking Yada.

In the last two months, I have watched myself turn from a compassionate, empathetic, and reasonable person into someone filled with the fire of hate and anger. And I can pretty much honestly say that I have never felt less understood. Hell.... For a minute, I didn't fully understand what was going on myself, but I think today I figured out what's going on.

If you've been following the redistricting drama in DeKalb County, especially if you're a part of it, you can appreciate the tension of not knowing where your child might end up going to school. Or maybe not.

Even if there's no danger of your child being forced to change schools, maybe you can appreciate the concern of having the character of a beloved neighborhood school changed when it is forced to go over capacity while accepting 100+ students from a Title I school whose students are primarily non-native English speakers.

Or maybe you falsely assume that anyone who is concerned with that reality is racist. Or classist.


It feels like the war arrived upon my doorstep this week whether I wanted it or not. This exercise in futility that DeKalb County is putting us through has created factions in my community with those who want to save our school's amazing magnet program against those of us who bought homes in the neighborhood specifically to attend our elementary school as residents of the neighborhood (as opposed to living elsewhere and trying to get into the magnet program).  One of the DCSS' two plans involves surgically cutting eight neighborhood streets and redistricting us to another school, while the other plan would move the magnet program to another school.

And actually, I'm not even that upset about the actual idea of moving to another school, in theory. The other school is actually a great school, too. It's just not the one I planned for my children to attend. Not the one that we bought our home specifically so that our kids could attend. Not the one I have invested my time and energy into over the last four years.

What I am upset about is that there are people in my neighborhood who would choose saving the magnet program (and keeping their kids in it, natch) over protecting the value of homes throughout the neighborhood and keeping our community intact. We have been a part of this school for four years now. School was enough of a struggle for my son and he has built deeply meaningful attachments and relationships with teachers and support staff who helped us get him to the place he needs to be academically and emotionally with regard to school. And now, a select group who feel they are better than the rest of us because their kids are in the magnet program, would just tear apart all of the progress we've made with our son and shove us off to a strange school where we have to rebuild his trust and pray that all the progress we've made isn't undone overnight.

Of course, these same people say they don't want that. They want to save both the magnet and the keep the neighborhood together. Yet, when one of our neighborhood representatives suggested to the school board last week that if it came down to it we would want to prioritize keep the neighborhood intact and losing the magnet program in order to prevent overcrowding, a select few magnet parents went ballistic, accusing people of lying, and all but saying they'd just as soon get rid of us to keep the magnet program.

And in all honesty, they have a point. If you eliminate the magnet program and bring in over 100 low-income students who don't speak the language and whose parents work two jobs to support their families and can't volunteer at the school, and you try to keep the neighborhood intact, you simply have another school that will quickly spiral into mediocrity if not abject failure.

Hell, even if you keep the magnet program, the school is going to be so overcrowded that the benefits resident students received from having the magnet program in their school, i.e. science lab, will simply disappear.

The whole thing sucks.

Yet, if you dare say that in certain circles, you'll be accused of being racist and/or classist. And I don't really have a problem with that because I know that's not true. What I do have a problem with is that many of those who are pulling the race/class card are the same people who have declared they don't want their kids to attend Tucker High School. Now, most of them will say that it's because of Tucker's low test scores as compared to Lakeside's. However, we all know that any kid can get excellent test scores no matter where they go if that kid is a good student. Tucker has the highest score for technology readiness of any school in DeKalb County as well as a brand new beautiful campus. It's much, much closer to our neighborhood. It has an International Baccalaureate program. and it boasts a kickass football team. It's also mostly black. And I have literally heard a neighbor say that while it might be okay to send your sons to Tucker you couldn't send a daughter there.


And I'm racist and classist for facing the reality that our beloved neighborhood school will be forever changed by having to take resources away from our standard and high-achieving students to address the real needs of an incoming population of students who are, no doubt, going to need extra support.

These kids are coming from a school to which our school has donated food items collected by our student council in order to ensure that the students had food to eat over the weekends because the only healthy meal they got each day was at school. How can bringing those kids to our school not have a negative impact?

I am in no way saying those students don't have the same right to a great education as mine or anyone else's kids. Of course they do. Instead of randomly shuffling students around, DCSS needs to make real, substantive changes like those suggested here that actually improve all of our schools and provide a truly equal education for all students, not just those fortunate enough to win a lottery for a magnet program or able to buy or rent a home in a good school district.

I'm just saying that anyone who is eager to bring them to our school and thinks everything will be just as good or better than they are now is not looking at the situation realistically.

Whether we stay at our current school or get redistricted we'll make the best of it, but if we do stay where we are, I'll know that certain people in the neighborhood think their kids are better and more deserving than anyone else's and that the little magnet clique is of more value than actual residents of the neighborhood.

And for what it's worth, I'm really sick of those who don't live on one of the eight streets in Limbo right now telling the rest of us to play nice and that we all have to live together once the dust settles. They're not the ones being attacked. Nothing changes for their kids. They have nothing at play here, other than how the school will be affected by overcrowding once the new students come. And honestly, I guess if the school keeps the magnet and we're gone, the overcrowding won't be so bad for them and they win.

Yeah, I guess it would be easy for them to have their little group sing of unity and get their kumbaya-yas out.

No wonder I feel so alone.