The California Road Trip

The California Road Trip

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Waterfall at Hetch Hetchy

7 days, 983 Miles, A Castle, Elephant Seals, A Coyote, A Kringle, Beaches, Waterfalls and a National Park

A year and a half ago my family made the decision to leave all of our friends and family in New York and move out to the West Coast. I had lived all my life in New York except for the four years of college. My parents grew up in New York and my grandparents (except for one) were all born in New York. Even my great grandparents came off their boats into New York. So it was pretty radical for us to pick up and relocate. People asked us if we moved for work. But we said, “No.” Others asked if we moved to be closer to family. Same answer, “No.” We moved for a family adventure. We wanted to see different people in different lands. Now, California may not seem so different but it is. We were moving to see another part of the country and get to know it.

This year my son is in 4th grade. Thanks to a brand new initiative started by President Obama, he and my entire family get into any national park for free. Given this great opportunity and the fact that this is the centennial year for the National Park system, we decided to make spring break a road trip. For seven days we would see some of California’s state treasures, including the breathtaking Yosemite Park.

Our trip was magical. I don’t mean nothing went wrong or it was all perfect. It wasn’t. But it was an opportunity for the four of us to spend literally 24/7 together disconnected from the Internet and our electronics. We had no computers, no cell service and no WiFi. And we survived. Here is a summary of our fantastic trip with some details in case you too want to take the same trip.

Day 1 Santa Barbara, Solvang and Pismo Beach

We left Southern California and headed for Santa Barbara. My friend, Ellie, told me we had to stop at La Super Rica. She was right. It is an off-the-beaten-path gem beloved by Julia Child for homemade Mexican food with handmade tortillas created the moment they’re ordered. Among other things I had the rajas, which is grilled green chiles sautéd with onions and melted cheese. Sounds simple, but I tell you this is one of the best morsels of food I have ever had. I will dream about the rajas.

Traveling with children requires a special itinerary. In my family we set the schedule around food. My kids are happiest when they can get a special snack and visit a bookstore on vacation. The town of Solvang in Santa Barbara County was a perfect second stop on the way to Pismo Beach. It was a wee bit out of the way but totally worth it. Solvang is a Danish hamlet in the middle of nowhere. It has windmills and clogs and Dutch-looking buildings. We stopped at The Danish Village Bakery and Coffee Shop. The baked goods all looked amazing, but when I spotted the Kringle (like a Nordic pretzel stuffed with custard) I knew we had to get it. Another great choice. We had so much dessert we skipped dinner. That was a first for us. Solvang also had a fabulous independent bookstore where both kids bought a book to keep them busy for the rest of the journey.

Solvang Bakery

Solvang Bakery

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This is a Kringle.

 

We ended the day checking into the SeaCrest Oceanfront Hotel in Pismo Beach. It was late and after some initial hotel room excitement the kids went to bed for the night. Lacking electronics, I happily did, too.

View from SeaCrest Hotel Room

View from SeaCrest Hotel Room

Day 2 Architectural Graveyard

The SeaCrest offered a mediocre breakfast. But at the meal I met a nice lady who visited the areFullSizeRendera every year. She recommended The Architectural Graveyard at California Polytechnic State University, then Hoagies restaurant for dinner. We really didn’t have anything planned for the day so we took a trip to see Cal Poly and the graveyard. To get the graveyard one must take a 2.5 mile hike at a slight incline. The massive structures built out of steel and concrete were left there as part of a senior engineering design class at the college. In April (especially in an El Niño year) the wildflowers were rampant. After running through the flowers, a la Laura and Mary from Little House on the Prairie opener, we wandered through the structures. Some could be climbed, others were just amazing to behold. It is unlike anywhere I have been and probably one of my favorite portions of our trip.

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After a quick lunch we headed to the Morro Bay Estuary (where a river meets the sea) for a little bird watching.  This place is an absolute gem. My son took out his California bird guide, and we went hunting for birds. Turns out that area is a rookery (breeding colony on the tops of trees) for Herons and Cormorants, both of which we saw nesting. We headed onto Morro Bay Main street for a quick bowl of clam chowder, and then we were off to find the otters. Morro Bay is home to loads of otters that hang out in the kelp just off Morro Rock. The sunset was breathtaking as we made our way back to Pismo beach so we pulled over to watch the show. The kids weren’t feeling it so they relaxed in the car as we gazed over the water. All tuckered out at nearly sundown we rolled into Hoagies for a great low-key, family-friendly dinner before we all collapsed in our beds.

Morro Bay Estuary

Morro Bay Estuary

 

Day 3 Elephant Seals and Hearst Castle

For day three we scheduled a visit to Hearst Castle. But before we left Pismo beach we stopped at Old West Cinnamon Rolls for their famous, well, cinnamon rolls. Sure, they are a bit sweet and excessive for breakfast but we were on vacation. On the way to the castle we stopped suddenly because we saw zebras on the side of the road.

With the zebra

With the zebra

Yup, zebras. Apparently they are descendants from William Randolph Hearst’s collection of wild animals. Then we stopped to see the Elephant Seals at the Piedras Blancas rookery in San Simeon. The beach was so covered with seals that my son didn’t even notice them at first. They lounge and throw sand and somehow get in and out of the water. We could have watched them for hours.

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Elephant Seals

Finally we parked at the bottom of the hill from Hearst Castle and waited for our tour to begin. It is necessary to buy one of the tours to see the castle. Make sure to book in advance because they sell out and you don’t want to get all the way there just to see the parking lot. The castle is beyond extravagant. Our guide was a bit wordy and loved to tell a winding story, but he was also incredibly knowledgeable. I left the castle feeling like a dreamer. It’s just that kind of place.

 

After an eventful day we hopped back in the car and headed toward The Oaks Hotel in Paso Robles. The drive was spectacular, with rolling green hills and the most amazing cows. Were I to be a cow, I’d want to live somewhere between the coast at San Simeon and Paso Robles. Cows have acres of pasture to eat and roam as they please. I probably stopped 1,000 times to talk to the cows and take pictures. I love those cows.

The Oaks in Paso Robles looks like a La Quinta from the outside. Ordinary. But then you step into a hotel that is cared for like a beloved bed and breakfast. When I booked the room I asked for them to leave the kids a surprise by the bed. It didn’t matter what it was. My kids love hotel rooms and all the mysteries waiting behind an unfamiliar door (free soap! Conditioner!). Anyhow, this time the hotel staff left a basket chock full of goodies. The breakfast was extensive and included any kind of eggs you wanted made on demand by the chef.

Day 4 Mariposa and The Gold Rush

Right after breakfast we embarked on our three-hour drive through wine country and farms to Mariposa. Mariposa, California is a sleepy town founded as an outpost for gold miners. It doesn’t look like much has changed in the town, in a good way. The kids were ready for a treat so we stopped at Jantz  Café and Bakery in the village. My daughter got the behemoth and delectable coconut cream pie with real meringue that tasted like marshmallow clouds. The crust was light and buttery and insanely fresh. I had a fruit pocket (think Pop Tart) made form the same piecrust. They were so delicious we stopped back at the bakery on our way out of town the following day for four more pockets.

A The Restful Nest

Chilling at The Restful Nest

We spent the night at the Restful Nest Bed and Breakfast.

I’ve stayed in many B&Bs across the country. I have never had a better breakfast or one that was prepared by someone more thoughtful than owners, Lois and Jon. Breakfast consisted of two types of homemade sausage, stuffed mushrooms, thick cut bacon, muffins, several types of eggs, fruit plates, a Spanish tortilla with potatoes, cut vegetables with homemade hummus, and assorted other goodies. Lois and Jon made sure that every food allergy and preference was accounted for. They are lovely people. The room wasn’t fancy and the furniture has probably been around a while, but it was spotless. We were all sad to leave so soon.

Breakfast Feast

Breakfast Feast

Day 5 Welcome to Yosemite National Park

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El Capítan and Half Dome with Waterfall

We had a great trip so far but I couldn’t wait to get to Yosemite National Park. We drove into the park from the west on route 140. The rock formations were imposing and majestic. The wildflowers blanketed the hillside with orange splendor. It was so magnificent it all looked a bit manufactured, like a grand movie set. We made our way east and then north in the park toward Hetch Hetchy, a reservoir formed on the Tuolumne River. This is an out-of-the-way area in Yosemite and many of the roads and trails in the park were still closed due to the winter snowfall. This made it feel like we had the park to ourselves. We parked and walked across the dam, through a long dark tunnel and onto the trail that followed the rim of the giant lake.

Hetch Hetchy

Hetch Hetchy

The park ranger told us to hike until we saw the second waterfall. This would be about five-mile walk round trip. It was a warm, sunny day and my daughter was dragging a bit. But then we made it to the second waterfall and the magic happened. The kids decided to slide down the rocks and into the mini pools of water. I happily watched as the plunged into freezing cold-yet-invigorating water.

Feeling refreshed we walked back to the car and drove the short distance to The Evergreen Lodge. The lodge reminds me of the hotel in Dirty Dancing, just a good old-fashioned family vacation spot. They have activities throughout the property including billiards, ping-pong, a rope zip-line swing, climbing elements, a pool and adventure games. Every night we rushed to the giant fireplace to enjoy smore’s with families from all over the country and the world. It felt oddly like being away but also being home. Full from dinner and sticky from our s’mores we turned on the gas fireplace in our room and drifted off to sleep.

Day 6 Yosemite Valley

Behind our room the woods was home to birds and animals galore. We awoke to find families of deer roaming and gorgeous Steller’s Jay birds. On the way to the valley we stopped to hike down to the Giant Sequoias in Tuolumne Grove. It is a 3-mile hike down and then through the forest. The hike back up is a little challenging but we managed. The trees are like statues or monuments. Massive and vulnerable, yet sturdy and strong. There is one tree you can walk through and one that has fallen and decayed so that you can tunnel through it along the ground.

Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake

We left the trees behind and headed to the Yosemite valley. Along the way we spotted El Capítan, Half Dome, and many wondrous waterfalls. Since the snow was still melting throughout the park there were waterfalls around every turn. One waterfall was as high as the Empire State Building. We parked at the Yosemite Village Visitor center and hopped on the bus to the trail for Mirror Lake. The hike to Mirror lake was easy and well worth the effort. The lake lived up to its name—it was as still as glass and reflected like a perfect mirror. After another long day of hiking and driving we settled back into The Evergreen for dinner, s’mores and bed.

Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake

Day 7 The Final Day

We grabbed breakfast to go out of the Evergreen convenience store and hit the road. Just wanting to enjoy one last bit of Yosemite, we left through the south entrance on Route 41.

Before leaving the park, we spotted a bushy coyote. We pulled off the road and he walked right up to the side of the car and just stood there. Time stopped, we had our moment with him, and then he wandered off.

On the way out of Mariposa County we stumbled upon Coursegold Historic Village. Walking through this unique shopping area with teensy-tiny historic buildings was like taking a walk in the 1850s. After a quick pause for coffee and Italian soda’s from Zanders, we were on the road again.

An emergency bathroom break took us off the highway into a McDonalds about 30 minutes north of Bakersfield. Before getting back on the highway we realized we were in McFarland, made famous from “McFarland, USA,” a terrific film that you should see. We drove up to the high school and they were having a giant track meet. Considering the movie is about McFarland High’s impressive running program, this was thrilling. My kids couldn’t care less, but I exited the car to snap some pictures.

McFarland, USA

McFarland, USA

The kids regularly watch “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” the Food Network show. We all love to eat and travel so it’s a family classic. When we travel we always try to find a restaurant that was featured on the show to stop for a bite. We uncovered a winner with Moo Creamery in Bakersfield. The place is a little hard to find (it’s tucked in the back of a parking lot), but when one enters she steps into an updated-but-retro version of Al’s Diner from Happy Days. The food was great—especially inventive ice cream flavors like cereal milk and maple bacon.

Final Thoughts

The California coast and our National Parks are spectacular gifts from nature. Most of the best activities and sights in our itinerary were free or inexpensive and access was easy. We encountered deer, zebra, coyote, cows and more cows, elephant seals, otters and loads of amazing birds. This trip exceeded all of our expectations. FullSizeRender-13

Taking a road trip with a nearly 13-year-old daughter is supposed to be rough. Girls that age are purportedly moody, and they have trouble venturing away from their friends and (gasp) WiFi. My daughter has her moments but she was an absolute delight on this trip. Throughout our week-long adventure my daughter and I walked with her arm around my shoulders and mine around her waist. She isn’t much of a hugger and that’s just fine. But it makes these moments when she initiates putting her arm around me like camp buddies that much more special.   walking arm and arm casey solvang

We all experienced a little sadness when we returned home. It was just that good of a trip. On to planning the next adventure.

I’m the shorter one relishing the moment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Infected Eye, A Pathetic Wardrobe and What I Wish I Knew Before Mom 2.016

An Infected Eye, A Pathetic Wardrobe and What I Wish I Knew Before Mom 2.016

Mom 2.016 beauty is

I’m a social worker. I’m a mom. I’m a family coach. And I’m, um, maybe, a writer? I have been working on my writing for eight years. I’ve had some success and some embarrassing flubs and loads of rejections. It’s all part of the learning process. Because I’m new to the blogger scene I’ve never been to a conference. But when I saw Mom 2.0 was coming to my new hometown I decided to go to my first blogger conference. There were a few things I could learn from the bigwigs.

In the lead up to the conference I was inexplicably terrified. I’m a fairly confident person but not about my writing and not in a room filled with, oh, 700 of the best mommy bloggers in the country. So as the days grew closer my freak-out level mounted. I worried I would feel like a fraud. I convinced myself my clothes were hardly cool a decade ago. My haircut was too short and the color was turning orange. All of my insecurities were exploding.

But I’ve never been one to walk away from a challenge, so I went. And thank goodness. I didn’t simply survive Mom 2.0. I had a tremendous experience. Now that I’ve been through it, here are a few things I wish I knew before I dove in …

Everybody poops: There are some people at Mom 2.0 who are absolute superstars in their genre. They have tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of fans and followers. One woman I met has more than 1 million people on Pinterest following her pins. Wow! I heard so many prominent speakers say that while they have ________ (fill in the blank with an insanely high number of followers) on one social media platform, they only have 7,000 followers on Facebook or Twitter. In the world of blogging, followers are currency, and the richness of some can be shockingly overwhelming especially if you’re like me, and you’ve scratched and clawed your way to 5,000 followers. But then, just when you start feeling down, you enter the bathroom. And all those ladies who seemed superhuman five minutes ago are there. They pee and poop just like you do and you realize that, come day’s end, a person with 10 million Twitter followers is just like you: Human.

It doesn’t matter what you wear: I have slim pickings in my closet. I hate shopping and clothes never fit me (too big on top, too small on the bottom). In the weeks before the opening party, I heard people discuss their clothes and post wardrobe photos—and the private panic attack brought me back to middle school. I managed to pick out a few items that could pass as almost cool and felt at peace for two seconds. Then the weather turned windy and cold and I had to make last-minute changes. How would that go over? What would people think? Would I be an outcast? Eh, no. I wore jeans and sweaters for three days. No one gave a shit.

We all have insecurities: Blogging (and writing for that matter) is a singular activity done in the privacy of a bedroom or anonymity of a Starbucks. When we are writing we wear pajamas and our hair isn’t brushed. Most of the time there is a coffee stain or some bit of lunch on our shirts. Spending loads of time alone makes meeting up with a large group of people a wee-bit stressful. Everyone’s anxiety is raised right before Mom 2.0. Will I look good enough? Will the cool people talk to me? What if I say something stupid? Turns out everyone is nervous about something. But we are all good enough and cool enough, so we should stop worrying.

Not everyone has her best friend at Mom 2.0: Reading all of the Facebook posts it feels like everyone knows one another, and they are all the best of friends. I’m here to say that’s not true. Sure, some women are tight with bloggers and podcasters and influencers they met in past years. Yes, they can’t wait to see each other again after communicating online for a year. But there are way more who arrive flying solo and feeling like the only outsider. I met loads of friendly interesting women who were also looking to make connections because they too came alone.

If you say hello someone will say hello back. It’s that simple.

Don’t miss a meal: Chatting over a quinoa lentil salad somehow seems easier than walking up to a random person and starting a conversation. Look up from your cup of coffee every time someone new sits down and say, “Hi. Welcome to the table.” By the time you reach for your perfectly crafted Ritz-Carlton tiramisu demitasse you will have met eight new people. Now imagine meeting eight new people at every meal for two days. That’s a lot of new friends.

Wear a conversation starter: If you have a hard time meeting new people or initiating a conversation, wear an amazing necklace or color your hair pink or bump up your shoe choice. We are women, and we like to dole out compliments. Use that opportunity to open up the conversation and get to know another person.

Women at Mom 2.0 aren’t the mean girls we imagine in our heads: Somehow when a bunch of women get together we are reminded of high school. The cliques and gossip and mean comments about our weight are forever ingrained in our minds. But there is none of that at Mom 2.0. These ladies are nice. Not everyone became my new best friend but not one person was even remotely rude to me. Most of the time I felt like I was at a reunion from camp but I couldn’t remember the people.

It won’t go as planned: On the morning of the first day of the conference I woke up with my eye swelled to the size of a golf ball. Maybe something got in it the night before as the wind kicked up. Or maybe I had some disgusting infection. I had no idea. But with that gross eye issue I knew that taking professional-looking headshots was out. Doing a taping for The Today Show was probably out too. And what’s worse my already shaky confidence took a nosedive. But then I heard Soledad O’Brien speak and with the Dove #Beauty Is signs surrounding me I decided not to let my eye derail me. I put on my broken glasses and walked right up to the Today Show producer and made my pitch. I took my picture at Kia anyway (It’s frightening). In the end I relaxed, met loads of new people and even though the summit didn’t go just like I imagined, it was perfect.

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Astronaut Cady Coleman and My Swollen Eye

 

A Bat Mitzvah’s Meaning

A Bat Mitzvah’s Meaning

Grammy Casey torah reading

I’m Jewish but not religious. Leaning toward agnostic, but hopeful I’m wrong, I’m more like Jew-ish when it comes to following the laws of the Bible. However, I still have a strong Jewish identity. To me, being Jewish is like being West Indian or Irish. It’s more of a culture.

I went to Hebrew school to learn prayers and songs and stories of the Jewish people. I hated it. We all hated it because it was foreign and boring. I learned to read a language in words only. No one taught me what any of it meant. After 11 years of religious education the only words I knew how to translate from Hebrew into English were Sheket Bevakasha–“Quiet children.”

Even before I had kids I knew I wanted to raise them Jewish. And I knew I wanted my children to have Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. Despite my shoddy Jewish education I had a Bat Mitzvah, too. My parents had been recently divorced and I didn’t want a big party or event. So my mom made a lunch at the house for family and a couple of friends and then we took a trip to Israel. Although my Bat Mitzvah didn’t feel like an especially religious moment in my life it was deeply important to connect me forever to the Jewish people. I had to learn to really read Hebrew. I had to learn the prayers that my people had been saying before and after the Torah reading for centuries. It was my first big accomplishment.

When my daughter was six we enrolled her in Hebrew school. This was the precursor to the Bat Mitzvah. Over the years she often loved and then hated Hebrew school for all the same reasons I did. And even though I could totally relate it became non-negotiable. She would learn about her people and she would have a Bat Mitzvah.

This past weekend was the culmination of her Jewish education, her Bat Mitzvah. Since we recently moved across the country we figured we would have the ceremony in the temple and celebrate on a very small scale with just our immediate family. But it ended up being so much more than that.

Family from New York, Florida and Chicago made the trip. In attendance were first cousins and second cousins and third cousins. We had parents and grandparents and even great grandparents there. Some of our closest friends and neighbors also made it to the event. Our immediate family extended into the vast village of people who helped raise my daughter.

Every single thing for the weekend turned out perfectly. The weather held up despite the threats of an El Niño. No one got sick. The service and party went off without a hitch. Kids ran around barefoot in the sand. Girlfriends from school danced around and made silly faces for the photo booth. Adults gushed about how personal the rabbi made the service and about the cantor’s voice and about my daughter’s maturity.

neighbors on whaleIn the end none of that really matters. The most meaningful moment in the entire weekend of festivities was when my daughter read her Torah portion standing on the bema with her 96-year-old great grandmother at her side. There was something about the continuity of the ritual that hit home for me. I don’t care if my daughter continues her Jewish education. I don’t really care if she visits Israel for her birthright trip. She now knows enough to enter any synagogue from Venice to Argentina to Russia and despite a fundamental language barrier she can still participate in the service in the language of her people.

Our home will still be sort of Jew-ish. We will celebrate all the holidays and continue traditions such as having a bris or the Passover Seder but none of us is particularly religious about those rituals. We do them because our people do them. I hope my daughter learned that this weekend and it connects her to the Jewish people for the rest of her life and the lives of her children and grandchildren and great grandchildren. I can’t explain why but that’s important to me.

Yummy Snacks Anyone?

Yummy Snacks Anyone?

veggie chips

Not too long ago I received an email asking if I wanted to try out some new snacks for free. The goal of the email was for me to taste the product and write a glowing review thus providing some nice advertising for the company. I like snacks and I especially like the free kind so I signed up.

A few weeks later my snack pack arrived. Quite honestly I was prepared to dislike these chips. I am all for healthy eating but the chips were pushing it with gluten free, vegan, kosher, low fat, non-GMO and baked. How could something with all of those restrictions actually taste good?

Well, they do taste good. Not just good but delicious and so satisfying. These chips are made from peas and corn with a bit of oil and salt. They are as crunchy as Doritos with none of the guilt. The chips are also dry to the touch which is different from other pea crisps that I have had. I tasted three varieties: Original, Sriracha and Aged White Cheddar. My favorite by far is the Original. The Sriracha was too garlicky for me but some will like that. The cheddar ones were tasty too but I preferred the plain ones.

What I really like about these chips is that they are really really crunchy and really healthy. One good-sized portion has only 2.5 grams of fat, 120 calories, 4 grams of protein and 1 gram of fiber. You really can’t beat that kind of nutrition in a snack.

My kids tasted the snacks and no one was particularly moved by them. But I think they might grow on at least my son. So the bottom line is that I got the snacks for free but now I am a believer. I will have to head to Whole Foods for my next supply.

Are you wondering how you too could get free snacks? If you want to try The Real Deal Veggie Chips for free here is your chance. Send your email address to me at Catherine@thefamilycoach.com and I will raffle off a package of chips. Happy snacking!

veggie chip close up

Opting In: A Middle Ground Between Leaning In and Opting Out

Opting In: A Middle Ground Between Leaning In and Opting Out

Photo credit: Noel Besuzzi

Photo credit: Noel Besuzzi

A few weeks ago Mark Zuckerberg, the chairman and chief executive of Facebook, made an amazing and unprecedented announcement on, of course, Facebook . It had nothing to do with the company. It was a personal post stating that he had decided to use two months of paternity leave when his daughter was born. He cited research that showed that outcomes for children and families are better when working parents took time off to be with their newborns.

Contrast Zuckerberg’s announcement with that of Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer. Several years ago she took a mere two weeks off after the birth of her son. She just gave birth to twin girls and recently revealed on her Tumblr page that she planned to approach the pregnancy and delivery much like she did with her son by, “taking limited time away and working throughout.”

The backlash against Mayer was vicious. Some condemned her for minimizing and even trivializing the importance of maternity leave. Many wondered why she bothered to have a child if she didn’t want to spend time with it when it was born. A small dissenting few thought she was an excellent example of a woman at the top working hard at her job. But in a blog post written for the Lean In website founded by another powerful working mother, Sheryl Sandberg, Mayer explained that her brief maternity leave had little to do with her desire to be a mother or her thoughts on maternity leave. “After 13 years of really hard work at Google,” Mayer wrote, “I had been envisioning a glorious six-month maternity leave. However, if I took the new job, a long leave couldn’t happen. The responsibilities were too big, and time was of the essence—it just wouldn’t be fair to the company, the employees, the board, or the shareholders for me to be in the role, but out for an extended period of time.”

And there it was. Mayer knew that if she wanted to succeed in her high-level career she would have to sacrifice time with her children. It is unclear if Mark Zuckeberg doesn’t have the same pressure because he is a man or because he is the head of what was once his own company. Being fired isn’t a probable outcome for him whereas Mayer is in real danger of being fired as her company’s profits decline.

The issue of leave after a baby is born is a hot topic. The United States is far behind the rest of the industrialized world in providing a paid opportunity for parents to bond with their newborn child. However, focusing on the few months after the baby is born only scratches the surface of some of the issues working women face once they become mothers.

Just before Zuckerberg and Mayer’s announcements, my new book agent called to tell me she was leaving the business. I was disappointed, and I wanted to know why, a mere month after signing me, she decided to bolt. As soon as she explained, though, I understood. With a sad resignation in her voice, my agent said she needed to quit her dream career in order to spend more time taking care of her young son. She said she was 100-percent certain the decision was the right one, though she seemed plenty unsure. What if she was making a huge mistake leaving her career? What if she regretted it and ultimately wanted her job back—but only after it was too late? Would the publishing world move on without her? Proceed forward as if she never existed? She loved her son. She loved her job. She wanted … both. But knew it was impossible.

These were the same struggles I confronted during my first pregnancy 13 years ago. After my daughter was born I changed jobs several times trying to balance my need to be with my child and my career interests. At the end of my rope in my current job I ended up accepting a seasonal summer job as a social worker in a sleep-away camp for homeless children. Although only a temporary position it was the job I was meant to do.

That summer I slept at the camp every other night. On the days away from my nearly one-year-old daughter I missed her terribly. Shouldn’t I be home with her instead of taking care of someone else’s kids? What milestones was I missing for the sake of my job? It was a hard summer but I made it through and by the end I was offered the job for which I worked the previous ten years. I was hired to be the full-time camp director at another sleep-away camp for low-income children. The job came with housing, and I imagined running the camp and being a mother simultaneously. We would be one big camp family.

But it didn’t happen that way. The dream wasn’t real. Real life was that I worked 16 hours daily, and I almost never saw my daughter. One day my child had a seizure while out with the babysitter. I wasn’t there and I couldn’t leave camp to meet her in the emergency room because I was also needed at the camp. You cannot imagine the pain a mother feels when she cannot be with her sick child because of a career choice.

Another year passed and I became pregnant with my second child. Faced with the thought of raising two children with my hours I decided to leave my job and my career. It seemed there was no way to be successful at work and successful at home in equal measure. Something had to be sacrificed and I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my children. It only took three years for me to realize that being the career woman I imagined and the mother I wanted to be were incongruent. I wouldn’t run a camp for special needs children. I wouldn’t travel the world on rescue missions. And I wouldn’t be making the world a better place in my job anymore. That hurt. I was a social worker. That’s who I was and what I worked for. Who was I now if I didn’t work?

In Sheryl Sandberg’s 2010 TED talk that was the inspiration behind her bestselling book Lean In she told women they have to sit at the table with male leaders . They have to keep their hands raised even after the men put theirs down. And they have find partners who are their equal in parenting. Instead of leaning back (away from a successful career to raise children) working mothers needed to lean in more. Sounds great. The problem is that there is no way to lean in at work and lean in at home. And what Sandberg and Mayer have that most other working mothers don’t is millions of dollars to spend on the highest quality of daycare.

In the years since I left full-time employment in an agency I have reinvented myself in ways I could never have predicted. After a year hiatus devoting all of my attention to my children I decided to begin my own business. Over time that business led me to a Ph.D., a teaching job, a syndicated parenting column, multiple Today Show appearances, and the ability to help thousands of families struggling with common parenting issues all while being able to attend school field trips, PTA meetings and playdates. I am not going to be the next Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook. High-level success for working women can be defined more broadly.

But it isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. I often feel torn between what I could accomplish if I devoted more time to my career and less to my children’s lives. I feel stressed a lot. But I don’t for one minute regret changing my path. I would have only regretted the time I missed with my kids. I can’t get that time back.

Sandberg and Mayer are the prominent role models working women have for how to manage careers and family. Well, I am not Sheryl Sandberg, and I am not Marissa Mayer. And I’ll never be Mark Zuckerberg either. But there is another path, and I found it outside of the traditional career.

Women who leave the workforce to raise their children have been labeled as opting out. Those words—opting out—sicken me. I didn’t opt out of anything. I simply discovered a work-life balance that I didn’t know existed at the start of my career. As far as I’m concerned I exceeded the expectations for a working mother. Until there are drastic changes to the American work world, changes that go well beyond paid maternity and paternity leave, more and more women are going to have to forge their own path if they want to continue to be working mothers.

Following Sandberg’s lean in philosophy might help more women find top positions in more Fortune 500 companies. But maybe there is another way. Maybe more women need to start their own businesses that from the ground up are created with the modern working mother in mind. Research shows that women who are self-employed work 7-8 hours less than those employed in the private sector or government. Those hours could go a long way in helping women feel a better balance at home.

Since 1970 women have moved from 13.5 percent of the labor force to 47 percent today. That growth by women has increased the gross domestic product an additional $2 trillion dollars. Increasing opportunities to keep women in the work force isn’t just good for individual women and families. It is good for the country.

No longer do working mothers have to copy the paths of their male counterparts. They can do it their own way.

That’s not opting out. It’s opting in.

 

I Don’t Care Where My Kids Go To College

I Don’t Care Where My Kids Go To College

getting into college

I’m going to say something a bit unheard of in modern times. My thoughts are anathema for most parents. But I’m done pretending.

Here goes …

I don’t care where my children go to college. I’m not saying I don’t care in the but-deep-down-I’m-hoping-they-get-a-full-ride-to-Harvard way. And I’m not saying that I don’t care because my kids are complete failures destined for a life of living in my basement watching Family Guy re-runs. Nope, it isn’t any of that.

I really don’t care where they go to college. Where they end up has no effect on me. I will be equally satisfied if they go to a prestigious university as I would if they decide community college is a better fit. They might even decide to travel the world and work for a few years before choosing a college and subsequent career. Fine with me.

I’ve been thinking about this for more than a decade. With general despair, I have watched parents—from the moment Junior emerges from the womb—dedicating themselves to the sole purpose of getting their child into the very best college. First, there was Baby Einstein and flash cards. Soccer is now beginning for 4-year-old children. Piano at 5. Karate and Mandarin at 6. Then there is travel baseball and private trainers at 10. By middle school children are so programed they have no down time. No time for family dinners. No time to decide for themselves what they enjoy doing. No exploring with friends in the woods behind the house for hours and discovering hidden passions and talents. No leadership that isn’t force-fed through planned undertakings.

In a recent meeting at our local middle school, with the focus on college planning for seventh and eighth graders, an expert said children need to start volunteering now—not because it’s good for the soul, but because it’s good for the resume. Her message was that in order to get into a “good” college students have to show they have values and demonstrate a string of volunteering opportunities that support those values. Real values? I’m not sure.

This idea that students have to excel at the highest level (with experience dating back to early childhood) is supremely flawed. If everyone is a black belt, fluent in Mandarin and the captain of [fill in the black] sports team, how can one differentiate any of these children? I was an admissions director for a master’s program for a short while. I can tell you after reading hundreds of essays that your child isn’t special. He’s doing exactly what all the other applicants are doing. Exactly.

I’ve made a decision: I am not going to steal my son and daughter’s childhoods so they may wind up at Yale instead of Westchester Community College. I am not going to force them be who I say they should be by signing them up for every class and making them stick with it. Instead, I am going to sit back and watch them find their own path. I am going to expose them to life and do it as a family. I am going on month-long family vacations in foreign lands and I am not going to worry about how it will look to the football coach or the college counselor. I am going to discuss issues of the day over slow family dinners. And I am going to teach my children that they can be successful doing whatever they want if they follow their dreams and work hard. Going to the best college won’t make that happen for them. Giving them the freedom to flourish in their own way in their own time will.

So I am going to resist every urge to push my children for the sake of college. I want them to learn. I just don’t want them to learn for a misguided purpose.

My position isn’t a popular one. Parents will be threatened by it. They will feel the need to fervently defend their children’s passions. And I imagine some parents will pity me and worry for my poor kids’ future. They can put their fears to rest. My children will be just fine. Their college application may not have all the clubs and sports and AP exams.

But they will be authentic. For me, that is enough.

Letting Go and Showing the Real Me for My Daughter

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When you become a parent something inside shifts. It happens slowly over time but it undoubtedly happens. People without children are free to act as they wish. They don’t have to pretend for the sake of the kids. For example, when I was a single person and I would stub my toe I could run around the room screaming and cursing until the pain had subsided. But now I have to hop around moaning quietly so as not to scare the children. Cursing is out of the question. I used to be able to sit on the couch and eat a box of Cap’n Crunch for dinner while watching an afternoon of The Real World reruns. Now I have to pretend like TV is the enemy and keep it off most of the time. I feel like I have to maintain order and act like an adult.

While these changes are subtle they undoubtedly exist. I feel more like a mother now than I did when the kids were young. I used to feel like I was pretending to be the responsible mother. Now I actually feel like the mother. For better or worse, a piece of me—who I was uncensored—is gone.

But every now and then a little tiny nugget of the real me is forced out. One time I let out a cursing rant when I accidentally backed the car into a pole. Another time I lost my composure when I was treated badly in a doctor’s office. Both times I forgot my mom self and acted like my real human self. I lost my composure, and I showed the kids a side I wasn’t proud of.

In the past I only let my guard down inadvertently. It would just happen by accident when I was pushed to my limit. I would never choose to act that way. Or would I?

This weekend I had an opportunity to go zip lining with my daughter. I am extremely afraid of heights and falling. I can get vertigo in a roller rink. I tend to play it pretty safe. So the idea of climbing up a tall rope wall to sit on the edge of a tiny wooden platform, then hurl myself down a giant cord over a ravine sounded torturous. And yet, I found myself following my daughter up the hill to participate with her. She could have done it herself, so why did I feel the need to push my limits? If I were alone I would never have given the zip line another thought.

But as we rounded the hill to the launch site I realized exactly what I was doing. I was being vulnerable. I was going to be afraid, and I was going to do it in front of my daughter. I would let down that wall and show her that I, too, get anxious. And instead of cowering on the ground watching her, I wanted to do what scared me for her sake.

I push my daughter to face her fears constantly. I don’t want her to feel she can’t do something. She shouldn’t let anxiety hold her back. We have learned that the best way to conquer fear is with positive self-talk. Tell yourself you can do this. Ask yourself what is the worst that could happen? And envision yourself doing it and being successful. It is so easy to tell my daughter what to do when I am not the one who is scared.

So we got outfitted with the harness, helmet and ropes. We did a practice run, and I felt confident—maybe even a little excited. But as I climbed that rope wall, higher and higher, my fears escalated. I wanted to back out. My daughter was climbing below me and quickly gaining ground. This was so easy for her. I was simultaneously panicked and proud that she could conquer this without fear.  My resolve was wavering, but I hadn’t backed down.

We both reached the tiny platform at the top of the zip line around the same time. At this point I was no longer a mom. I could not take care of my daughter because I was a petrified woman with tunnel vision. I was shaking with fear of death. Before I could zip anywhere workers hooked me up to the line. My feet were dangling and all I could see was the long rope and the cavernous drop. I didn’t want to do it. I wanted to back out. But there was my daughter. And she said, “Mom, you can do it!”

And then I heard “OneTwo …” I told myself, “You can do this. Do it for your daughter so you can look her in the eye and honestly ask her to face her fears too.” And with the three! I launched myself off the tiny platform. Euphoria immediately set in. I was zipping through the air looking at my daughter zipping next to me. It was a moment I will be unable to forget, and I hope she doesn’t either.

For once I let my daughter behind the curtain. I wasn’t supermom. I had flaws and fears and insecurities. I didn’t hide them from her. And when she saw these traits in me, she wasn’t unnerved. She supported me like I supported her.

That day I really enjoyed my time with my daughter in a way that parents of tweens often don’t. I know it was because for once I came undone. We were in it together and we are both better off for it.

Coaching from the Sidelines

Coaching from the Sidelines

water polo

Today’s parents are not just parents. They are coaches and referees and umpires. I don’t mean the kindhearted people who volunteer their time. I’m talking about the parents on the sidelines. As parents, we don’t just watch our children play sports any more. We are in the game.

Lately I have been focusing on how parents behave at my kids’ games. I have seen some ugly behavior. So many moms and dads have no qualms about yelling at umpires who are only behind the plate because no one else volunteered. I recently saw a parent scream at his kid, “Come on! You can do better!” The child was 8.

I never viewed myself as that kind of mother. For the first few years of parenting my husband and I avoided organized sports. Our kids weren’t competitive killers chomping at the bit to play on a team, and we were plenty psyched to keep our weekends together as a family.

Inevitably, though, our kids decided they wanted to get in the game. My son played baseball and basketball. My daughter, who never cared much for sports, was strongly encouraged (by us) to find a healthy physical activity. She chose water polo—a game we knew nothing about.

Three times a week I watch my daughter in the pool and twice per week my son is on the field. After seeing the craziness many parents bring to youth sports, I was determined not to join the insanity. I wasn’t going to yell or advise. I wasn’t going to praise every minute play or action. My plan was to simply enjoy watching them enjoy themselves.

Only I couldn’t. As much as I tried, I still found myself shouting. I wanted my daughter to swim more aggressively. I wanted my son to put his hand behind his back while catching. He should swing through the ball more. She should call for the ball more. Blah blah blah. I became so disgusted with myself that I became determined to sit at a game and say not utter word of advice. But, well, I couldn’t do it. I failed. Repeatedly.

And then, in eight minutes, I was cured.

My daughter’s water polo team had a family polo game, kids against parents, yesterday morning. My husband and I suited up, put on the ridiculous headgear and eagerly jumped in. The old folks warmed up for a minute and tried to stay afloat. Everyone was laughing, giggling, having a fun ol’ time. Then, one second after the initial whistle from the coach, it became clear this was no laughing matter. We had to swim back and forth and back and forth. I could barely keep my head above water while trying to throw the ball. Another player nearly drowned me, appropriately, trying to get the ball (She’s 9). After three minutes I was tempted to tap out.

I didn’t, and wound up playing a whole eight minutes. I didn’t do the team’s requisite 20 laps as a warm up, and I didn’t practice for another hour after that. Eight minutes total. As I clumsily slogged out of the pool, deprived of breath and barely able to pull my own body weight, I realized I had no business telling my daughter what to do in the water (and there is no added benefit to nitpicking my son’s game, either).

My kids are not playing sports for the scholarship potential. There is absolutely no justified reason I need to coach them from the sidelines. The only outcome I can see is that they get so sick of hearing my commentary that they stop playing. I read in a recent survey that 70 percent of kids stop playing sports by 13. I can see why. There is so much pressure even without comments from the bystanders. From now on I am a spectator. I am not there to help my kids get better or stronger or more adept at the game. I am not there to teach the coach or the umpire how to do their jobs. I am simply going to enjoy the game, keep my big mouth shut …

When Censoring Isn’t Protecting Our Children

When Censoring Isn’t Protecting Our Children

#bringbackmack

Last week the students at Aliso Niguel High School in Aliso Viejo, Cal. were rightly euphoric.

They learned that their school won the Chegg + Macklemore & Ryan Lewis voting contest on Chegg.com. The hip-hop superstars—whose song “Downtown” is the duo’s fifth Top 20 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 List—would come to Aliso Niguel High to lecture on the entertainment and music industry. And that wasn’t all. Along with the celebrity appearances, the school’s meager music budget would receive a needed boost with a $10,000 David B. Goldberg Music Grant. Chegg.com is an educational website whose mission is to ensure that all student have access to higher education and low-cost tutoring and books. The music grant was named for the beloved late CEO of Survey Monkey, who passed away earlier this year.

If you’re Aliso Niguel High, this sounds great, right?

Well, you would think. The student body excitement came to an abrupt halt when the principal, Deni Christensen, cancelled the event and declined the donation after several parents complained that Macklemore and Lewis promote “alcohol and drug use and misogyny in their music.”

While the duo does, indeed, have songs that aren’t exactly clean, they’re best known for the powerful song “Same Love” about marriage equality.

The students and community rallied on Instagram, Twitter (#bringmackback), and created a Change.org petition to put pressure on the administration. In less than 24 hours, 8,713 people signed petition. After careful consideration of the various points of view, Christensen—to her credit—reversed her decision and will accept the donation and hold the lecture (permission slips from parents will be required).

Problem solved, case closed. Right?

Um, no.

There’s a problem here. A big one. And it’s not specific to Aliso Niguel High, or Seattle-based hip-hop artists. In the culture of Tiger moms and helicopter parenting, mothers and fathers and even educators have taken the concept of protecting children to a whole new level by trying to shield kids from any perceived inappropriateness. The problem is that censoring doesn’t protect children. It often has the opposite affect.

When people, especially teens, are told they can’t see a disturbing picture or shouldn’t read a particular book, their desire only intensifies. That’s why my friends and I ran to the library in the 1980s to secretly check out Judy Blume’s book Forever and why Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird has sold more than 30 million copies.

It’s noble for parents to care to control the media messages with which children are bombarded on a daily basis. But they can’t shield them from every objectionable phrase and song and film. It’s impossible. Not only do 95 percent of American teens have Internet access, but their online access is no longer tied to a desktop in the family room. Smart phones are ubiquitous. If your daughter doesn’t have one, her best friend does.

Once kids know their parents are strictly trying to censor information from them it becomes clear that those topics are off limits for discussion. Without the ability to discuss what they find on the Internet with their parents teens are left to decipher all sorts of confusing information sans supervision.

Lastly, freedom of speech isn’t some tired old cliché. It is an essential amendment of the constitution that resonates with young people. If not for the ability to speak out we might still have segregation. Women probably wouldn’t be able to vote. And the gay and lesbian couples would still be relegated to partnerships without the legal benefits of marriage. Limiting knowledge, even if one disagrees with it, leads to ignorance. And ignorance leads to racism and disapproval of difference. Furthermore, critical and analytical thinking are key outcomes of the new common core standards being adopted in school districts across the country. Students can’t think critically without being exposed to both sides of an argument.

Schools are prime grounds for debate about what kids should learn. Some parents would prefer evolution and climate change be omitted from the curriculum. Sexual education is prohibited in certain schools, too. But without the ability to create a dialog about controversial issues and without exposing children to that dialog we risk raising children who are devoid of opinions.

Last week I took my tween daughter and her friend to the opening of the movie He Named Me Malala. It is the story of a Pakistani girl who publically spoke out against the Taliban policy that banned girls in schools. Being threatened, shot, and nearly dying didn’t stop her. She is now the face of a movement to provide access to education for girls and the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Malala learned to advocate after countless discussions with her educator father. Those discussions fueled her passion to make the world a better place for herself and girls around the globe.

Let’s not take that passion from our children in the vane of protecting them from distasteful messages. Instead when controversial topics arise parents should talk to their teens about the family’s viewpoint and values. Parents should be open to the discussion and allow for a variety of opinions. That process, the one where young people have a voice based on all the information available, is the only way to protect our kids and community.

Barbaric Restroom Policies In School

Barbaric Restroom Policies In School

boy needs bathroom

My daughter’s middle school started up again earlier this week, and—as always—there was a flurry of forms for me to read and sign. This sheet asked for permission for the children to walk off campus with their teacher. OK, fine. That sheet made sure parents understand students will only receive 50% credit on tardy work. Yikes— harsh, but understandable.

So I was signing paper after paper after paper when my pen came to an immediate stop. Before me, in very plain language, was a policy that, at best, can be termed barbaric, potentially dangerous, and incredibly insensitive. In fact, I was so shocked I had to read it again. So I did …

“Students will be allowed to use the hall pass a maximum of 3 times per quarter. However, each use of the hall pass will cost the student 3 extra credit points. You will keep an individual hall pass log which must be presented each time a hall pass is issued. A lost log prevents the issuing of a hall pass and the awarding of any points. “

bathroom policy extra credit

Just in case there’s any confusion, by daughter’s school awards extra points for students who don’t use the toilet during class. In other words, if my child needs the bathroom when her body naturally tells her it is time, she will be penalized by receiving a lower grade.

I am dumbfounded.

Yes, surely teachers become sick and tired of students leaving class to dilly-dally in the hallways. It can be disruptive and annoying, and the kids might miss important lessons during their absences. However, what’s more distracting than sitting at a desk, squirming left and right, desperate to relieve oneself. While this policy may prevent hallway misadventures, it penalizes students who might actually need to use the bathroom.

Furthermore, the policy can have very serious side effects outside the classroom. Generally beginning in middle school, girls menstruate every month. There is no telling when the moment will strike. And there are often mishaps in management—particularly with youngsters learning how to handle the monthly flow. Teachers (especially female ones) should understand that delaying a trip to the bathroom is tantamount to branding girls with a scarlet letter.

Severe medical consequences can also arise from restrictive restroom policies. Children are more likely to have urinary tract infections, incontinence and chronic constipation.  Children are struggling with constipation at near epidemic proportions, with some studies suggesting up to 30 percent of school-aged children affected. The cost for heath care and treatment for children with constipation is estimated at nearly $4 billion per year.

One common cause of constipation is withholding when the body signals it is time to go. A common side effect is encopresis, which is when a child involuntarily leaks stool. This can be humiliating, to say the least. Furthermore, typical treatment includes the use of laxatives that permit children to eliminate several times a day. Restricting bathroom access is going against the medical advice of any pediatric gastroenterologist.

While these policies are clearly damaging, they are sanctioned by school administration. Teachers and principals are under increased pressure to teach more, have students test better and outperform so classroom teaching time is precious. The problem is this policy is also against education law, as least it is in California where my children attend school.

The issue of students frequently leaving the classroom can easily be rectified without such insensitive policies. Some schools ask parents to provide doctor’s notes for students who require more flexibility. This is ludicrous and embarrassing for students who may already be bashful about their condition. Teachers should require students to sign in and out each time they use the restroom. If a pattern emerges the teacher can intervene by discussing the lost learning time with the student. Teachers can also refer students to the school nurse as needed.

Don’t make the vast majority of students suffer because some children use the hall pass as a chance to escape the classroom. Err on the side of children who are responsible and need the restroom, and deal with the abusers as they come. I wouldn’t put up with this policy at work and our kids shouldn’t have to in their schools.