Monday, August 22, 2011

Over 2,500 and 6 states-Just me and the kid

A lot of faith, a little naivety, six states, 2,500 plus miles over 10 days with just me and the 5 year old daughter in the car. I look back now and think I must have been a little enamored. Sure some planning had gone into the trip but what happened was more than a lifetime of memories.

For months, we had talked about going to Idaho to visit friends who had relocated there from California and then my husband was laid off from his job just weeks before the adventure was to begin. We were unsure on what to do. A job offer came in for him and we knew then the kid and I would be going and the husband (God bless his soul) would stay behind to tie up matters before his new opportunity was to start.

I admit I had no time to be scared at that point. There was a clock ticking. There were bags to be packed, food to buy and reordering the MasterCard (since ours was expired and American Express is not taken everywhere as Clark and I had learned on a previous road trip there. MasterCard was kind enough to waive the UPS fees to have my card delivered to our extended stay in Idaho).

I got enough cash that if any were taken it would stink but I would not be devastated. I wore minimum jewelry, as did my daughter. I carried pepper spray because you just do not know what trouble if any would occur. I tried to keep the cell phone fully charged.
I made sure the emergency kit in the back of the car was up to date. I also had reassurance every time I hit the blue tooth in the car, it would ask if I wanted to make a call or if I had an emergency. I had imaginary thoughts that a rescue team would come to my and Emma’s help if need be (even if we were halfway from the equator and the North Pole).

The last minute person I was on this trip I actually booked the hotels surrounding the stay around Idaho just a week before. Lucky for us our places of accommodations were superior but on a budget except for the last (more to come on all that later). I did not even map the six state drive out until the night before Emma and I left and I did it on Mapquest and GPS.

The night before the trip everything was packed. While our first night was going to be a hotel, I had a small overnighter bag packed just for that for when we reached our destination. I dressed Emma in sweats so when the dark hour came I could literally take her from the house to the car seat. As I drove away from the house, I thought, wow, I am really doing this without my husband.

After driving for 11.5 hours to Bend, Oregon, we stayed at the only place I could arrange because of the car show they were having in town. The Inn was fantastic. It was right on the river. It had an indoor and outdoor pool which we took advantage of. We met some teenagers there who were from Santa Cruz but now lived in Bend. I am not sure they were staying at the Inn but their perspective on life was sure interesting.

The next day, Emma and I left for an area near Sandpointe, Idaho here our friends lived. Not only did the Newsoms’ say they would leave the light on but a homemade dinner would be ready. After 26 years of friendship, you became like family.

Over the next few days Emma and I along with the Newsom family saw the The Spokane Youth Orchestra perform A Disney Symphantasy at the Festival at Sanpointe, went to City Beach, took the ski chair lifts up to Schweitzer ski resort to see the most marvelous views, went to Silverwood Theme Park, took a boat adventure on the river and finally to cap it all off a bonfire with family and friends. The days passed as quickly as the nights and the visit was over in a blink of an eye. At times it seemed like we were teenagers again our conversations were so honest and frank and other moments, life caught up with us and we were parents of young children. Our memories there left an imprint on our hearts.

Our next stop was Teton Village, Wyoming. Emma and I had planned to stay a few days to see Yellowstone and Jackson Hole. The drive was going to long again but worth it I knew.

We stopped in Drummod, Montana for gas and lunch. It was one of the rare times when we actually were taking a longer than normal break from driving. While outside a café eating lunch, a few older men drove up and starting to circle our table. I quickly grabbed my phone and called my husband. I carefully watched these men while whispering to my husband the location where I was and what they were driving. Obviously they could see Emma and I were alone and the only other car in the parking lot was ours with the California plates. The pepper spray, which had been a last minute purchase in California, was in a large suitcase in the back of the car (yes, a great place but I removed it from my handbag when we went to the Silverwood theme park). Emma and I waited and waited until they finally left. The whole time I stayed on the phone with Clark. Maybe nothing would have happened but when you are traveling alone with a 5 year old daughter all alerts are on high and you could never be too caution.

As dusk approached that day, we ended up in Teton Village and I never knew on how beautiful it really is. Last time we passed through Emma was a month old. Now I had time to really appreciate it. The Inn was perfect with a pool and a Sushi restaurant that Emma fell in love with.

Over the next few days, we traveled to Yellowstone and saw Old Faithful. While waiting for Old Faithful to do her dance, Emma saw the flags flying on top of the lodge including the United States flag. She said, “Mama, look, look, it is like the flag at the Newsom’s.” Now before I answered I knew Emma had seen this flag a thousand times, in fact this flag has hung outside our own home back in California on occasion. I answered as simply as I could, “Emma, Charley was an American solider and that is why the flag is hung at his home.” The words as they crossed my lips, created memories of Charley’s story of the wars he had been in serving in the Army; the life he had had that was so different from my and husband and I who went to state college. I let the silence stand and oddly the motorcycle bikers, the Midwesterners; the foreigners gave pause around us as well. It was as if there was a moment of silence. I had no more words for Emma. I knew someday Charley would tell Emma his story and coming from him it would mean more. Someday Charley’s story would be told.

We carried on throughout our journey. A park ranger was kind enough to let Emma help him take a temperature of a small, small hot spot. It was 165 degrees as Emma read the numbers off the thermometer the ranger explained that it hotter than a boiling pot of water. The video I took that day watching the ranger take off his hat and get down to Emma’s level was so touching.

Next stop was Jackson Hole and the obligatory picture of Emma in front of the park’s antlers. Ironically it was also farmer’s market day so it was interesting to see the difference between what Wyoming’s offer in their farmer’s market and ours. The music was also quite good.

Somewhere along the way to Nevada, Emma asked, “Mommy, why are there so many Gods and churches?” to which I replied since I had no clue to where she was going with this, “What do you mean?” And so a basic religious decision ensured that I am not sure we would have had if we had not passed so many churches alongside of the highway.

We stayed in a hotel in Nevada that had an off site pool. Now the service I used to book the hotel did not state that the hotel had an off site pool so to say we were disappointed was beyond measure. An off site pool apparently means the pool is at another hotel 3 blocks down. Yes, three blocks down. Good thing, I knew someone who recently moved nearby from third grade (and ironically in weird twist of distant relations sort of way has become a third cousin this past year) who was willing to come visit.

As Emma and I were waiting for Jen, I called my dad. My dad, first was floored I was staying in that city where it was only known for two things and neither one of those things were exactly moral and by the way my dad asked what industry was Jen in. I laughed. When Jen arrived, we laughed some more. She informed me (because my dad had forgotten) there was a third industry and it was mining.

As I checked out of the hotel the next day, I told the clerk my female cousin lived on a ranch right outside of town. I loved when the clerk’s eyes popped out of his head. It was priceless and made up for the pool being off site.

Our last stop was lunch in Nevada with someone from school and her daughter. It was fun and delightful. Both of the last stops in Nevada were made because of reconnection made on Facebook within the last two years. Technology is great for social media but there is nothing better than a hug or breaking bread with an old friend or a new friend.

As we headed home, I was homesick. Emma had been a little homesick since leaving Charley in Idaho. She missed her daddy and I missed my husband. Ten days was a long time to be away home but it made me realize no matter how many scars that life has handed you, no matter how miles you travel, you have to go beyond the four walls of your home and make memories. Make life experiences matter and share them with others. More importantly I think Emma has a tad bit of traveler’s soul like me. There is so much more road and life to go and I cannot wait to share them with my husband and Emma.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

In honor of my Dad-Happy Father's Day

My dad buying Emma her first "real" bike.

Butterfly Kisses lyrics
Songwriters: Carlisle, Bob; Thomas, Randy;

There's two things I know for sure
She was sent here from heaven
And she's daddy's little girl
As I drop to my knees by her bed at night
She talks to Jesus and I close my eyes
And I thank God for all of the joy in my life
Oh but most of all

For butterfly kisses after bedtime prayer
Stickin' little white flowers all up in her hair
Walk beside the pony daddy it's my first ride
I know the cake looks funny daddy but I sure tried

Oh with all that I've done wrong
I must have done something right
To deserve a hug every mornin'
And butterfly kisses at night

Sweet 16 today
She's lookin' like her mama a little more every day
One part woman the other part girl
To perfume and make up from ribbons and curls
Trying her wings out in a great big world
But I remember

Butterfly kisses after bedtime prayer
Stickin' little white flowers all up in her hair
You know how much I love you daddy
But if you don't mind
I'm only gonna kiss you on the check this time

Oh with all that I've done wrong
I must have done something right
To deserve her love every mornin'
And butterfly kisses at night

All the precious time
Like the wind the years go by
Precious butterfly
Spread your wings and fly

She'll change her name today
She'll make a promise and I'll give her aways
Standing in the bride room just staring at her
She asked me what I'm thinkin'
And I said I'm not sure
I just feel like I'm loosin' my baby girl
And she leaned over

Gave me butterfly kisses with her mama there
Stickin' little white flowers all up in her hair
Walk me down the isle daddy
It's just about time
Does my wedding gown look pretty daddy?
Daddy's don't cry

Oh with all that I've done wrong
I must have done something right
To deserve her love every mornin'
And butterfly kisses

I couldn't ask God for more than this is what love is
I know I've got to let her go but I'll always remember
Every hug in the mornin' and butterfly kisses

Friday, April 1, 2011

Emma's pictures

Last weekend we had the most awesome experience of being able to go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium at night. Some of our friends came along with their daughter.

It just happened that I had two cameras in my bag. Emma took one camera and the pictures below are all hers. I think she has a gift, time will tell.

School projects

Moms Talk: When Does `Helping' With School Projects Hurt?

Well-meaning parents can overdo helping their children with schoolwork.

By Kari Hulac | Email the author | March 31, 2011

We moved to the Tri-Valley because we wanted our kids to attend the great schools here, but I sort of wondered what it would be like as I sent my daughter off to kindergarten in an area known for its "helicopter/overachieving soccer mom CEOs."

Was I immersing myself and my children into a world that put such a high value on academic success that it could be too much for all of us?

I tried to keep an open mind, but by the end of my daughter's first year of school it was clear that some of my concerns were valid.

I realized this when we were presented with her first take-home project: creating a barnyard animal scene. The teacher tried to stress to us that "kindergarten level" work meant just that.

I took it to heart and kept my own Type A hands off her project. I provided the materials, based on her vision, and tried my best to stand aside and let learning happen.

I do understand why parents might go too far "helping" their children. We want them to succeed. We want to spare our little ones the embarrassing moment of doing something wrong.

And I was guilty myself. I cringed a little at the results of that first barnyard scene — a shoe box haphazardly splashed with red and black paint, a pile of dead grass torn from our lawn glued to the surface, and some homely looking plastic critters milling about.

But that was nothing compared to the feeling of seeing her project displayed next to ones that were clearly the work of a 40-something parent rather than a 5-year-old kid. One of them, an exact replica of a 19th century farmhouse, looked as if it had gone through architectural review, its perfect yard framed by rows of toothpick picket fences.

I was horrified. I could tell she noticed the difference, and I hated thinking that she might think that such work was expected of her. I wondered how the child whose parent most likely did the work would feel as well.

Kathleen Schoening: If I do my child’s schoolwork, how will she ever learn to be a good student? I live in the Tri-Valley, and it is more than possible that my fellow moms are helicopter/overachieving soccer mom CEOs. In my current role I am none of those things as a mom.

As my daughter enters kindergarten in the fall, I keep reminding myself of a few ideas that are very important to us.

One is that this is Emma’s education, and she is ultimately the student. Two: Emma has to do learn her schoolwork. We will help and support her but we have been through the school system, and it is her time now. Three: Clark and I are not in competition with other parents. So if Emma’s project is lacking a CEO’s touch, we will be fine with that because Emma did it herself. There is a certain amount of responsibility, pride, accountability and discipline that comes with doing one’s own schoolwork.

If our daughter does not learn good solid study habits, will she ever be a good student? If we as parents do her schoolwork, what will happen when she gets to college? What about future employment?

When I was younger, my dad used to play a game (and still does) called “Look it up.” The premise is if my brother or I did not know something, my dad would say, “Look it up.” As we got older, it became a competition on who could get the information fastest from the library, an encyclopedia, Google, etc. Our daughter now is starting to learn the family game from my husband and me.

So I ask the parents who do their children’s schoolwork, do your children know how to “look up” stuff? Are they learning to become good students? Or are your children learning that when school projects are due they can hand over the assignments to mom and dad for the work to be done?

Deborah May: When my oldest was in kindergarten, she learned to be proud of her work specifically because it was her own work—regardless of how it measured up when compared to other “student's’” efforts. She had to. So many of the other projects were clearly the product of significant parent involvement. I wondered if this was expected and I had failed to do my part? After the guilt subsided I convinced myself otherwise.

Projects are supposed to be part of a learning experience. I finally decided that if I can do something to enhance the learning experience then I do it; if I’m just enhancing the project, then I don’t. Teachers can clearly identify what a child has done versus an adult. As long as teachers don’t punish students who do their own work, I will continue to stick to this credo.

I imagine it gets more complicated when kids are older and grades matter and projects are part of serious competitions. At that point, the parents need to step back and hopefully admire their child working independently and applying the skills they have helped them develop.

Wendy Smith: Being a creative, artsy type of mother I generally delight in assisting with classroom projects. It gives me an opportunity to engage with my children at a much different level than just assisting them with normal homework. Projects that require constructing visual aids breaks up the monotony of rigid math and language arts homework that typically comes home.

While our current education standards are straight heavy academics, it allows little room for creativity and imagination, which I believe is critical in developing well-rounded children. With the current budget cuts to our education, classes that provide creative outlets, such as music and art, are being the first ones on the chopping block. I see this as a detriment to all students, especially those who excel at kinesthetic activities rather than straight book work.

Home projects are an opportunity to fulfill that creative outlet. Fortunately, I work from home and have the resources and availability to assist my children with their projects when the canvas is blank and they need direction. This gives the children a way to learn using tools not readily available at school such glue guns, glitter, buttons and crafty scissors.

It gives me an opportunity to teach them concepts such as symmetry, balance and creative use of color — concepts that teachers already burdened with stringent curriculum have little or no time to teach. Although I enjoy the opportunity to help in the children's art projects, I let them take the lead in all of their projects.

But in any subject, whether it is math, language arts, science or art, there will be students who excel at particular subjects. It's important to remember that some children are clearly artistic and that sometimes what appears to be completed by parents isn't necessarily the case.

So when you find your child comparing his or her projects to others, remind them of their strengths in school. Tell them they should be proud of their creations because no one's creation is as uniquely made, like the one he or she has put her heart into.

It's true that parents should not complete their children's projects, but it is a problem that will come up in school. By supporting your child's academic strengths and creativeness, you empower them to appreciate their unique qualities.


When Cancer Hits Home: A Good Reason to Join Relay for Life

Tri-Valley Moms Council member shares her family's cancer story to rally support for the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life.

By Kathleen Schoening | Email the author | March 30, 2011

Section Sponsored By patch

When cancer hits home...

Sunday, March 29, 2009.

Cancer. My husband has B-cell lymphoma.

He is almost 42 years old and we have an almost 3-year-old daughter.

How did cancer enter the equation?

We went from trying to having another child to this. From infertility treatment to a bone biopsy in a blink of an eye (before starting chemo, we will be banking sperm for a later use, God willing).

Someone mentioned to me that people are in our corner. I, we, are not cowered in a corner but are on the front lines in God's hands. I have said that cancer is a part of our lives but will not be our lives. We are young and strong. Clark's cancer has a survival rate of 70 to 80 percent. These are good odds.

The doctors said this will get worse before it gets better, so we know it will be a bumpy road, but we know crisis management. After all, both of us worked in the banking industry for years.

This road will not be pretty, but it will be our journey to getting Clark well.

I read those words now as tears spill down my face. So many of you know only part of the story. How I knew Clark had cancer for a week before it was confirmed.

Clark had had three biopsies, essentially three surgeries. At one biopsy, the surgeon at Hayward Kaiser said to me over the gurney that Clark was on, "You know, the only reason we are doing another biopsy is because we know he has cancer. We just want to know what kind."

I was stunned. I had no reason to doubt the surgeon and in fact out of everything that we had been told up until then it was the only thing that made sense.

Of course, Clark had lost the ability to move his arm almost completely and holding our child was out of the question. No doctor had said it before then and no one had prepared us. Eight months and FINALLY we were getting true answers.

Clark was awake on the gurney but did not really hear the conversation. I told him after, but no one wants to hear they have cancer. In fact, we did not receive confirmation for a week.

What a journey to heaven and hell it has been. My husband was and is a true cancer soldier. No one knows that journey of cancer until they have been given the boots to wear.

Nothing in life could have prepared me to be a caregiver of a cancer patient and a mom of a young toddler at the same time.

Nothing in life prepared me to want to take care of my husband and at times fight what seemed an inept medical system. Like when Clark's chemo was going to be delayed, I raised every flag I could to get treatment sooner because his cancer was aggressive, his tumor was growing quite large. For me, time was ticking and cancer was killing my husband. I was not willing to let someone else stand in the line of Clark's treatment.

As a wife, that is what you do.

As a mom, I told Emma that Clark had cancer. It was like telling Emma that Clark had the flu. I did not and do not want Emma afraid of the word "cancer" and I did not want her to be with others and hear that Daddy had cancer. It was important she hear it from us and know it was going to be fine.

Now, two years later, Clark is cancer free. I never knew the words I wrote back then would be so true: "It will get worse before it gets better."

Our life now is richer with love and time, two things you can never have enough of.

Join us.
Relay of Life of Livermore
American Cancer Society
June 25, 9 a.m.
Livermore High School
Contact me for more information,
Kathleen Schoening


Moms Council: March Madness Is the Onslaught of Spring Sports

How do families cope as baseball, soccer and softball kicks off a busy time of the year?

By Kari Hulac | Email the author | March 18, 2011

As springtime sports like Rage soccer and baseball and softball kick off, I am utterly perplexed by how every family but mine seems to juggle the after-school activities of multiple children effortlessly.

We have just two, and I get dizzy remembering when and where the practices are, when the games are, what equipment needs to go where, what socks are clean, etc.

They each are enrolled in one sport and even that, combined with nightly homework and dinner, can be overwhelming.

So this week we asked members of our volunteer Moms Council how they cope.

Kathleen Schoening: Clark and I agree on the importance of our daughter being involved with extra activities outside of school. Emma learns to be an individual with her strengths and to be part of a team. We stood firm at two such activities (until recently) and we let her choose. This year it has been gymnastics and dance. It sounds simple enough. Emma is at a recreational level so the cost is low.

Gymfinity has open gym two days a week for her age group. It is a great deal because it is included in the price of the annual fee and the monthly tuition. However, I am driving Emma there two times a week plus the weekly driving to Triple Threat Performing Arts for a dance lesson. She loves all the lessons and watching her joy is worth the time and money.

After an overly aggressive child pushed our daughter one too many times, our two-rule activity had to be amended and we decided to enroll Emma in karate. At Livermore Martial Arts, Emma is learning how to be a true martial artist in addition to self-defense. The owners stress discipline, respect and humility (along with hugs and kisses from mom and dad as nutrients to grow on). As parents, there is no price tag for us to pay for our daughter to be able to do this.

I try to schedule her classes during the day after school or right after dinner so the stress is moderate. None of the activities are on the same day and none are more than an hour and a half long. Bags with the appropriate attire and snacks/water are laid out the day before the activity.

Emma knows in the next year she will have decisions to make about what she wants to do. This summer there are swim lessons, art camp, vacation Bible school and the list goes on. Final choices we will discuss as a family.

Deborah May: I have three children and between my job, school/homework, and the basics of life it is really hard to get the schedule to work for everyone. We are leaning toward one to two activities per child. They can choose one activity for their bodies and one for their minds, and this helps with balance—they don’t necessarily choose both, though.

Also, we have, so far, avoided any activity that requires weekend participation. Weekends are reserved for family outings and just playing and relaxing. That leaves out team sports, but I personally don’t think that is really necessary at their ages (elementary school) and would probably take over our entire lives if we went that direction.

Every family and child has different needs, but some things that we have found useful are joining a gym and taking advantage of our PTA-run After School Education Program. Many gyms have children’s activities that are low-key, inexpensive (or included with membership) and the parent can get a workout at the same time. Our after-school program offers six-week inexpensive classes onsite right after school so I still have only one pickup time. There are three sessions a year and my daughter has tried something different each time.

Over-committing yourself and your child is stressful for everyone. They may be interested in everything when they first hear about it, but the daily grind will take its toll—especially long-term commitments such as learning an instrument. Parents, not the child, know best when a child is ready to truly get something out of an activity.

Moms Talk: Co-Sleeping with Your Baby

Our Patch Moms Council takes a look at sharing your bed with your baby.

March 9, 2011

This week, our Moms Council weighs the benefits and potential dangers of falling asleep with a baby.

The idea came to us after Walnut Creek Patch Editor Martha Ross shared her bedtime experiences with her son. She also examined the American debate over co-sleeping:

Co-sleeping is controversial in the United States, especially after the American Academy of Pediatrics discouraged the practice and the Consumer Product Safety Commission reported at least 515 deaths of infants and toddlers younger than 2 years of age sleeping in adult beds from January 1990 to December 1997.

Co-sleeping also has its proponents, who say it encourages breast feeding by making it more convenient for mothers, helps nursing mothers get their sleep cycles in sync with their babies and helps babies fall asleep more easily, especially during the first few months. Research also shows that co-sleeping may help prevent sudden infant death syndrome.

We checked in with our Patch Moms Council from the Tri-Valley about this topic. Here's what they had to say about sleeping with your baby.

Kathleen Schoening, a mom council contributor, writes:

Co-sleeping with a baby should be up to the parents, the family.

When our daughter was born, we chose to keep Emma in a crib for the first four months in our room because it made breast-feeding easy. Even when we transitioned Emma to a crib in her room, there was a bed for us. As a mom, I never wanted to be far away if she cried (letting the baby cry it out was not an option for us). We found ourselves somewhere in the middle of the co-sleeping issue.

However, as Emma made the passage into her room, I realized I had a limited amount of time with Emma as a baby. I would rock her until she was asleep. When Emma moved to her toddler bed, my husband or I would lie down next to her and read books. On more nights than I can count, one of us has fallen asleep with her, especially if she is sick. Fever seizures, croup, colds, you name it — when Emma has had it, I have slept next to our daughter.

Few things are sweeter in life than to wrap your arms around your innocent sleeping child knowing the days are numbering and the child will be grown. The time with our daughter will be gone in a flash, not to be captured again. I want to cherish every minute.

Now she is old enough. Emma sometimes wakes early and climbs into bed with us. She will take my husband’s hand and mine and place our three hands together and say, “We are family.”

If this is the middle ground of co-sleeping, I will take it any day, because we are family.

Contributor Deborah May says:

My three children are past the breast feeding and co-sleeping age now, but it would never have worked for us. I'm not an expert on the safety issues, so others can debate that angle. I can say that my husband, my children and I got much better sleep by choosing to put the babies in their cribs at night (even the twins slept in separate cribs).

Yes, they were all breast fed-- though half of the nighttime feedings were bottled breast milk served by my husband. We both worked outside the home and needed to get a reasonable amount of sleep, which just wasn't possible with a baby in the bed. My children all slept through the night fairly early and are excellent sleepers to this day.

Different families will have different needs and tolerances for sleep deprivation. There seems to be a lot of pressure these days to parent in certain ways and every expert out there has written a book telling parents (especially moms) how to make life perfect for their baby, often at the mom's expense.

Except in the cases of major medical or safety issues, parents should feel empowered to make decisions that work for their whole family. If co-sleeping works for you, and it's safe, then do it. If you want your adult space and privacy then don't co-sleep and don't feel guilty about it. Your child will not grow up feeling unloved because they sleep alone.