Monday, March 30, 2009

By My Own Hand

These past months of dire economic news has got me to thinking about my own financial stability… or better yet, my ability to ensure my financial solvency in case Loverman or me lose our j.o.b.

I remember my grandmother always reminding us to have something to fall back on in case our Plan A falls through. My dad went to barbering school and cut hair on the weekends while he was in undergrad. About 20 years ago, my mom started making jewelry and now not only does she make and sell some fabulous stuff, she also teaches jewelry making classes to kids and adults. I’ve always admired my girl, Kim, because when she was a child, her mother taught her how to sew and she’s a wizard with the sewing machine.

Sure, I’m talented, but for the longest, I’ve been at a loss when trying to identify something I can make (and possibly sell) by my own hands. Well… no longer… I think I’ve finally found my “homemade thing,” that can keep a little mad money in my pocket. It’s CUPCAKES! That’s right--- cupcakes, the world’s most perfect food. I’ve been a fan of cupcakes all my life and sure, I know in chi-chi places like NY or LA, cupcake boutiques may be passé, but cupcakes are the original comfort food and as long as kids are celebrating birthdays, cupcakes will be in vogue.

I’ve been serious about baking cupcakes for the last 18 months, trying different recipes and pawning them off on family and friends for feedback. Most of my efforts have been successful, but despite how tasty they are, my icing/decorating efforts have been woefully lacking. In other words, they taste good, but look homely and homemade.

That’s until last week when Olivia and I got a hands-on cake-decorating lesson from a talented teacher at the kids’ school. This young lady decorated cakes as a way to finance her college education. She actually made wedding cakes on the side while getting her undergraduate degree. During our three-hour lesson, we learned how to use the pastry bags, couplers and different decorating tips. We had an absolute ball and are looking forward to learning a lot more.

Yesterday I decided to bake a fresh batch of cupcakes and practice my newly acquired skills in preparation of my babies’ upcoming April birthdays. Witness my newest creation--- Lemon Drop Cupcakes, and I’m happy to say, these little sweeties look as good as they taste!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Spring Has Sprung!

Today is March 21, the first full day of Spring, and yes, Spring has sprung and so has the funk. Earlier today, I was working in the kitchen with Miss Olivia and at some point I caught a whiff of her underarms, and my little girl to my surprise, was FUNKY! That’s right… a month before turning double digits and B.O. has settled in. We laughed, we joked and when I headed out to pick up Loverman a little later in the afternoon, I stopped by CVS and picked her up some Secret (Spring Fresh!)---- a mini-milestone sure, but a milestone just the same.

Happy Spring!

Friday, March 20, 2009

How Much is Too Much?

Where do you stand on homework? My kids’ school advocates a hands-off approach for parents, but this doesn’t work for me.

It’s not that I want to do their homework for them, but Mon. thru Thurs. the Mango Tribe doesn’t play and the routine is as follows---- once we arrive home after school, everybody sits down and gets to work on homework and there’s no T.V., computer time, video games, etc. until the day’s homework assignments are done and most importantly, done to Mango Mama’s satisfaction. Each child has a homework box with all of the necessary tools (dictionary, pencils, erasers, etc) to assit them in getting the job at hand done. Some may think this is a bit heavy handed, but I don’t know how kids can develop good school/studying/homework habits without ongoing parental involvement.

It’s even a bit harder for Loverman and me because both kids are in a Spanish immersion program and to be honest, half the time we don’t understand the assignment. I sometimes have to use the Spanish/English translator on the computer and now and then, I’ve even had to email their teacher for more detailed instructions. When I’ve done this, the reply is to simply leave it to the kids, they assure me that Olivia/Yannick have received ample instructions and really do know what to do. If I insist this isn’t the case, I’m instructed to tell the kids to pay better attention when the assignments are being distributed.

As Olivia gets older, she requires a lot less assistance, and handles her “homework business” quite well. Yannick’s in 1st grade and has a lot more work to do when it comes to retaining his focus. Olivia’s a big help in making sure he’s following the Spanish directions, but I have to be the taskmaster and make sure his handwriting is neat, legible and he’s completing each assignment. Lots of time, I act as the boy’s personal cheerleader, but fortunately, it seems to be paying off because his teacher says he’s doing well. I’m not sure she’d have the same assessment if I let the boy handle is own “homework business.”

When I was growing up, homework time was no joke. I remember doing homework at the dining room table with my dad as he did his assignments as a college student at Temple University. I saw him putting in his time and energy to do good work and therefore it then made sense for me to have to do the same.

I’m not sure if I believe kids will find their way in this area without parental involvement. Isn’t this part of laying a strong, firm foundation?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Not How We Roll!

Olivia’s not happy with me right now. Earlier this week, a parent of a student in her 4th grade class called and asked if Olivia could join her daughter and husband for the weekend at their vacation spot in New Jersey. She’d be staying home in the city getting some additional work done at her office. The request caught me off guard and I somehow mumbled that I’d have to check with Loverman and give her call.

I knew as soon as I hung up the answer was no, but I needed a moment to process. Olivia was sitting beside me at the time and as I hung up, I asked her what that call was all about? Olivia explained she and her classmate wanted to get together for a sleepover and thought this weekend would be best.

Now, this girl knows that’s not how the Mango Tribe rolls. Since day one, Loverman and I have set and exercised very clear parameters in regards to play dates and sleepovers. They include:

• Mommy /Daddy accompany Olivia/Yannick to the first playmate, whereas we engage the parents in the sometimes awkward discussion about firearms in the home or any past or present investigations of pedophilia of any family members currently living in the home;
• No sleepovers prior to at least three previous play dates;
• Mommy and Daddy must like the parents;
• At least one of the parents has to be present during the play date.

To date, we’ve never joined this family on a play date. The Mango Tribe was invited to the class' year-end picnic they hosted for the 3rd grade class last June. I couldn’t make it, but Loverman did take the kids and seemed to have a good time, but since it was a class party, he didn’t feel the need to hit the hosts with our usual questions. I’ve interacted with both parents at various school functions and on school committees and they are very pleasant people, but this has been the extent of our interactions.

I also didn’t like the idea of the mother not being present during the weekend. Sure, it might not be fair to lump my misgivings on the dad’s shoulders, I have no basis for linking the guy to any inappropriate activity with young girls, but this simply didn’t sit well with me or Loverman.

Beyond going through all these details with Olivia, I simply rested my decision on the longstanding family rules. To say this didn’t sit well with Olivia is an understatement. After hearing me out, she took her case to Loverman and I sat back and waited for the fireworks, because I knew what his response would be. As I expected, he too, vetoed the request.

Angry, disappointed and hurt, she moped around the house for most of the weekend. I’ve tried to patiently discuss our position, but she’s not having it. She thinks she’s outgrown these rules and we’re not being responsive to the fact she’s growing up and has good judgment. I’ve assured her that yes, she does demonstrate good judgment but no, the rules are still relevant because they provide us with peace of mind when we leave her and Yannick in someone’s care outside of our immediate circle of family and friends.

I’m also a bit befuddled by her desire to go and spend two nights with virtual strangers. Sure, she’s very familiar with the classmate, but she really doesn’t know this people. Despite our assuring her that we think these are fine people, we (and she) don’t know them and have no idea what they’re like behind close doors.

I guess for Olivia, the opportunity just represents our acceptance that she’s growing up.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Need to Please

I suffer from a debilitating disease. There’s no cure for this particular ailment, only a self-administered treatment, which I’ll have to diligently implement for the rest of my life.

I suffer from a “Need to Please", sometimes referred to as “I Just Can’t Say No Syndrome.” Unfortunately, I’m not alone in suffering with this dreaded disease, but at the beginning of the New Year, I committed myself to proactive plan to deal with my little problem that isn’t so “little” anymore.

In January, as I admitted I had this problem, I stumbled right out of the gate when I agreed to attend a finance meeting with a few of the board members of the non-profit I work for. My boss requested my presence at this meeting that was scheduled for the evening of January 19, which also happened to be the M.L.K. Day of Service this year. When I questioned my boss about the date of the meeting she assured me she realized the office was closed for the day, but it was the only time the relevant parties were available to meet. In addition to coming in on my day off, the Mango Tribe had planned to get on the road by mid-afternoon to head down to Obama’s inauguration. Now, despite all of this, I still agreed to attend the meeting---- gritting my teeth all the while. Back at home with Loverman, and on the phone with my friends, I bemoaned my boss’ insensitivity, completely dismissing my own responsibility to simply say, “No, I can’t make it.” Finally, a day before the meeting, I called my boss and let her know that this wasn’t working for me and I’d have to miss the meeting. I was torn, because I hate to disappoint people, but I also I have a greater responsibility to my family and getting on the road early made more sense. Guess what, when I returned from the inauguration, I learned the meeting was inevitably postponed due to scheduling conflicts of some of the board members. I felt vindicated.

About 10 days ago, I got a call from a colleague asking me to participate as a panelist at a grant review in Boston in mid-April. The foundation facilitating this grant review is offering a modest honorarium and would handle my travel and lodging expenses. During our initial discussions about the process, I provided the dates in April I wasn’t available, explaining that I’m teaching on Tuesday afternoons until early May. After getting the available dates from the other perspective panelists, it was determined that the panel would meet on Weds, April 15, with everyone traveling to Boston Tuesday afternoon--- everybody but me. I assured them I didn’t mind missing the dinner they were providing for Tuesday evening, but asked whom should I speak to about making my travel arrangements? They told me to go-ahead and book my travel arrangements, they would reimburse me, and to let them know if I needed a hotel room for Tuesday night. After going to, I soon learned that a roundtrip, non-stop ticket would cost more than $700, and a less expensive flight with a layover could take me out of my way as far as Durham, North Carolina. A train from Philly to Boston is six hours and the earliest Id be able to get a train is 7pm, which would get me to Boston after midnight. Surely, this was out of the question. Again, I hemmed and hauled, not wanting to disappoint my colleagues, I tired to justify going out of my way to make this happen. I talked it over with Loverman and thankfully, my well-grounded man helped me to see the light and I called the foundation and withdrew my commitment to participate. Soon after I spoke with them, they sent an email offering to make my travel arrangements, but I remained firmed and explained that at this time, this wouldn’t work for me. I felt better.

Now, my need to please doesn’t mean that I’m a doormat or a pushover. But in these troubled economic times, I’m grateful to have a job and regular opportunities to bring extra money into the house, it’s sometimes just at the detriment of what’s really reasonable. I simply would like to be more realistic about what’s in my best interest at the outset, rather than having to go through a convoluted ordeal to extricate myself from something I had no business agreeing to in the first place.