Finally I Can Yearn for the Good Old Days

in lineGenerally speaking, I am not one to pine for the good old days – way back when life was easier in the early to mid 1980’s (way back then).  I like to think at least I am someone who embraces life today and cherishes the moment.  But after taking 16.5 to register for driver’s ed, finally I can yearn for the good old days.

Perhaps because we were recently talking about it, or perhaps I just remember – but the fact that there was nothing momentous about my registering for driver’s ed.  That’s a stark contrast to the 90 minutes we spent tonight getting the deed done.

Way back in the old days of 1984 (or maybe it was early 1985) I took a form a check and walked up to the office at the school where I took driver’s ed and I was done.  Tonight, we walked into the high school up the road, and there was easily 75 kids (and assorted parents) on a line snaking through the front hallway and down an adjoining corridor.

There were two women in the school’s office taking checks and forms – and writing (as in pen to paper) names on lists.  One of the parents commented that in 2016, there should be a better way…

Yeah I thought, they could do it like they did way back in 1984.  It wasn’t an event.  It really should not have been memorable.  In contrast I suppose it will be.

So, finally I can yearn for the good old days.  The days when putting pen to paper and handing in a check wasn’t an evening out – it was just another stop along the way.

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My Summer School

summer schoolWhile it’s not quite time to start preparing to go back to school here, with about two weeks of summer vacation left for my girls, I can look back at all that I learned over the last eight weeks.  As they get ready to go back to school, my summer school is coming to a close.

Lesson one was (and as if this writing is) 16.0’s lifeguard career at a semi-local water park.  Forgetting the driving and scheduling that I ended up jumping through – I can honestly say I am proud of the work ethic she has shown this summer.  It’s clear to me work ethic is a learned trait.  I saw my mother work hard to provide a home for her three children – and I’ve tried to emulate that.  From my days at Valley Caterers (perhaps even before that when I was delivering newspapers) through my career.

I’m pretty sure my girls have seen how hard I work to make sure they have a happy home to live in – OK, sometimes I remind them too.  They don’t get everything they ask for – but they know that nothing comes without work, and that is a trait 16.0 has shown this summer.

Lesson two came just this week when 13.5 had her orientation for high school.  I have to admit, having them both on the same school schedule will help me.  But 13.5 got into the orientation and took it seriously.  She even surprised me by jumping into fall athletics at the school (she tried out for and made the tennis team).  For her, this is a whole new approach to school – being active and eager.  We’ll have to go over to the school next week to get her into an art class she really wants to take (another sign of her taking an active interest in her education).

I spent a lot of time with her over the last 12 months talking about taking a new approach – no long lectures, no screaming matches.  Just timed conversations that seemingly worked.

Lesson three was also last week when 16.0 took a week off from lifeguarding to return to Camp Good Grief as a volunteer counselor.  This was something I introduced the girls to about five years ago as a way to be able to talk about the loss of their mother.  Both have said their years there were good – and I’m so thrilled 16.0 feels the need to give back a week to help other kids overcome an obstacle they’ve dealt with.

Two weeks to go until first bell at the high school.  I supposed that’s also two weeks to go until my summer school is out.

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Camp Good Grief – Another Year

Camp Good GriefWith just one more day left in summer for the girls, school here starts Wednesday, they spent last week on the east end of Long Island at their fourth year of Camp Good Grief.  If you want me to save you the click (although I would suggest taking the journey), Camp Good Grief is a week-long program for kids who have lost a close relative (think parent, sibling or grandparent).  This year at Camp Good Grief 15.0 was a counselor and 12.5 was a fourth year camper (normally it’s only three years).

Over the years I’ve used Camp Good Grief as a check in point to the emotional status of the girls.  They spend time in art therapy and group therapy – and on the last day of camp I can get feedback from both.  This year I’ll admit my level of concern was a little lower than normal, and with good reason according to the therapists – 12.5 is doing more than OK.

The broader experience this year though was both girls (although 15.0 more) got the feeling of giving back to the micro-community they belong to – children who have lost a loved one.  It happens.  It happened to me.  It’s part of life.  But there is a sense of peace that comes with knowing you’re not alone (at least that is what my girls have told me).

15.0 had such a great experience, she’s ready to sign up for another year as a counselor.  12.5 will be eligible to be a counselor next year – and it looks like she’ll apply as well.

Three out of the four years my girls have gone to Camp Good Grief, it’s been at the Peconic Dunes Camp Grounds closer to the end of the North Fork of Long Island than anything else.  It’s about an hour from our door to drop off – so it’s a long week of driving and logistics for me as the girls continue with soccer (15.0) and softball (12.5), and getting ready for school and catching up with friends.

For me though, it really has been time well spent.  Sure, the year it was only 20 minutes from our house (at a different camp grounds) it was even easier.  But to borrow (and butcher) Teddy Roosevelt, no one is saying it’s going to be easy, but it will be worth it.

Camp Good Grief – another year in the books and it looks like another year ahead.  And it’s OK.  I’ll put the time in.  I’ve tried to teach the girls about giving back to their community and family – so how could I complain when they are giving back to their micro-community?

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The Staycation-Adjusting Along The Way

staycationIn a first for us – I am taking a week off from work, and we’re not going anywhere.  Call it a staycation of sorts – but largely we’re not home.  For the staycation to work we’ll be adjusting along the way right until school starts a week from Tuesday.

Part of the issue is school starting a week before Labor Day – so the summer that was already feeling very short just got even shorter.

This staycation starts each day at Camp Good Grief where 15.0 is a counselor for the 11-year-old group and 12.5 is in her final (OK extra) year as a camper.  Normally when we do this, I work the week from a Starbucks near where the camp is being held.  But this year I decided to take the week off – because after camp ends at three in the afternoon – more running around ensues.

15.0 has soccer practice each evening from five to seven-30 and 12.5 has softball practice three times this week from five-30 to seven-30.  In between we’ll try to eat something, get hydrated and I may even get to the gym a few times this week.

In year’s past I was able to work out my schedule to be able to do calls and meetings while the girls were at camp, and then catch up after camp.  It won’t work this year.  And because there is not another week off before school starts, we’ll still have to fit in some last-minute back to school stuff.

A trip to the mall or at least a store to get sneakers will be an evening jaunt this year.  The hour or so to set up the locker and walk the schedule looks like it will be done in stealth mode on the day before school – when the teachers are there but there aren’t supposed to be students around.

With all of that going on – and a lot of vacation time available, I figured take one thing out of the picture – so here I am on “vacation” trying to cram more into a day than normal.  For the staycation, adjusting along the way will be the key to success.

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Planning for the Unexpected – Again

planning for the unexpected againProbably the one lesson I’ve learned as a single parent more than any other is that you can plan and anticipate – and then find yourself planning for the unexpected again.  When you mix a teen ager and an about to be teen ager into the process, sometimes its a wonder that I even try to plan in the first place.

The latest example of plans, and then planning for the unexpected again came early Sunday evening when 14.5 told me she was going to try out for the school soccer team.  And practices would start Monday morning at 7.

This is the girls’ second week home from camp, and in our house it has become “their week.”  Last week both girls went to Camp Good Grief for the week – which has become a nice place for them to be.  The deal we make is after camp they have Camp Good Grief for a week, and then it’s their week – I don’t plan it out.

My plans include(d) some key work related calls and some documents I had to finish up and deliver to customers and co-workers.  I was thinking about doing another trip to the beach with the girls (we go the Wednesday of Camp Good Grief week for lobster dinner), and haircuts for back to school and back to work for me.

My thought was in between all of that would be some chaffering around, some entertaining here at the house and we would wrap it up with a BBQ on Sunday for friends and neighbors.

Then came the two-a-day soccer practice schedule.  To her credit, so far 14.5 has gotten up by 6:30 in the morning to be on the field for 7:00 practice.  She missed the Monday late practice (5-8) because we had plans to be in the city.  Tonight, she had cold pizza that 12.5 and I had at dinner.

Out are plans for the beach, grandma was going to head to the Hampton Classic with them this week and who knows what else.  The important thing though is so far, she is enjoying it – doesn’t get any better than that, right?

So bring it on.  Yeah, we have plans, and we are planning for the unexpected again too.

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Camp Good Grief Again

Camp Good GriefFor the second summer the girls did a week at Camp Good Grief.  I wrote about it here last  year, so I won’t go too deep into the “what it is” and “what it’s all about.”  But in the end, Camp Good Grief again was a good thing for the girls and for me.

For those not inclined to click, Camp Good Grief is a program for kids who have lost a parent (and it gets extended to those who have lost a close relative like a sibling etc).  Out here it is run by the East End Hospice and is set in a great campground on the east end of Long Island called Peconic Dunes.

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But the take aways from the camp are meaningful for all of us and for me directly, I get a chance to kind of check-in on where the girls are at emotionally with all they have had to process and deal with.  By and large, we all get a clean bill of health once again from the therapists at the camp.

It’s an interesting program.  They break down into small-ish groups, 7-10 kids about the same age and they spend time together doing “camp” things like boating and swimming and then time in small group therapy and art therapy.

I think the biggest lesson/reminder the girls get through the entire program is that they are not all alone in this.  There are other kids like them who lost a parent.  Sometimes when I think back to being 11 or 13, all of my friends had two parent households-I can’t even place a divorce in the crowd much less the passing of a parent.

In today’s world, there is a lot more divorce, and schools run programs like Banana Splits for that.  But there really is not as much available in the school for kids in a widowed household.  Now that both of my kids are in middle school (10.5 starts in two weeks), I really don’t want the weekly or bi-weekly pull out to occur.  I want them in class and learning and getting help when they need it.

So Camp Good Grief gives me that snapshot of this moment in time.  What are they thinking, what are they saying and am I still on the right path.  The good news is that based on the feedback, we’re all doing OK.  The big takeaway though from the therapists for both girls, the groups want to talk more about the deceased parent in the home.  Now that is not an easy one for me, but I will do my best.

It’s good to have goals I suppose.  So, next summer the girls will go back for a third year.  13.0 has already said she wants to skip her first chance at being a counselor at the camp and just be a camper.  10.0 wants me to try to push after next summer to get her a counselor spot early, so she can use this for her Mitzvah project.  So, I have great kids, I’m not complaining.

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Something Different: Camp Good Grief

Today is the third of five days I have the girls going to a program called Camp Good Grief.  For the uninitiated (and I was too) Camp Good Grief is a week-long day camp for kids who have suffered the loss of a parent.  One

of the counselors in 12.0 school recommended it to me in the middle of her sixth grade year after an incident at the school.

I did some research and it seemed like a good thing to try.  Certainly the price (free) was right and the timing worked.  The girls c

ame home from eight weeks at sleep-away camp a week ago.  After some down days of just hanging they are doing Camp Good Grief for five days (its 9-3 so they have time for friends to

o) and then a week before school begins.

In the weeks ahead of this week, East End Hospice (which runs the camp) has sent stuff about the camp to the house, and honestly maybe I need the adult version of Camp Good Grief, because I strugg

le to think about how the girls will handle the outline of the day.

The high level goal is to give voice to feelings and emotions that are perhaps bottled up.  There is safety in that all the kids at the camp are in the same place as my girls, so there hopefully is not an awkward feeling abou

t their situation.  The days are broken down into emotions, feelings, memories (good and bad) and finally putting words to the feelings.

I think largely because of the age difference and emotional difference the girls so far have reacted differently.  12.0 tends to be more like me and stoic.  9.5 is far more emotive and has been willing to share.

The other take away I get from this experience is a snapshot of their emotional state.  On the last day, I spend time with the counselors at the camp to find out how the girls are doing. I think they are doing well, but you never know.  Based on that feedback, we’ll figure out if we should resume private therapy once the school year starts.

One of the biggest struggles I have is expressing my own emotions, much less being more than there when the girls express theirs.  I encourage it, but at my own peril, because it’s not an area I excel at.  But that is probably not as important as the expression itself.

So, each morning this week we have been out of the house around eight, and almost to the end of the North Fork of Long Island.  I’ve worked from Starbucks or the pier in Greenport (great open wi-fi if you are in the area), all so the girls can have this opportunity and I can get that snap shot.

Who know, they may even want to go back next year.  If they do, they are in.

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Teaching the Good Neighbor Philosophy

In our house, I have long espoused the “treat others as you want to be treated” philosophy.  But rather than giving lip service to that, to the sometimes chagrin of one child or another I try to embody that philosophy and espouse it by example.

Looking back it’s easy to pick out last summer when parts of our town were victimized by Hurricane Irene.  Not only were we relatively unscathed (a small tree in the back lost a few limbs), we didn’t even lose power.  So we opened our house to friends who lost power-storing frozen stuff in our freezer and a spare freezer someone brought, sharing the AC and the TV.

Sometimes it means a mid-week sleepover when other parents in the area are child-care constrained.  It happens to me probably more than I want to admit and I rely on others to help me out last-minute, so I return the favor.

Other times, like last night, we open our doors to neighbors and share our background and invite them to celebrate a holiday with us.

Passover is a great holiday to allow this.  In fact, if you want to look at the story line, we open the door for the prophet Elijah to come in-perhaps this is a metaphor for opening our doors and sharing the story and the experience?  While I am not sure I completely concur with what I just typed, I do know that part of being a good neighbor is sharing experiences.

So last night, 9.0’s friend from across the street and his mom joined our seder and the celebration.  And to keep the “celebration” going (and to give my neighbor a night of downtime as I had on Thursday night) her son slept over.

It’s all good.

Both girls, fueled more by 11.5 have taken to watching My Name is Earl on Netflix.  For those who are like me who missed this great moment in TV (2005-2009), the main character after winning the lottery decides to work on his karma and creates a list of all the people in life he wronged in some way-and goes back to them to make amends.  Karma is the driving force his path on life.

Well, my name is not Earl.  I have not won the lottery.  But still I hope to do the right thing more often than not, and hopefully teach my kids to do the same.

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Good Cop, Bad Cop, One Cop

One of the toughest aspects of being a single parent is coping with the loss of the good cop/bad cop dynamic with your kids.  Yes, traditionally kids will play their parents against one another, but just as likely and with more purpose parents will play these rolls with their kids.

From doing chores, to getting homework done to a visit to grandma’s house-in a solid working couple delivering the bad news is split so one parent does not have to be the one to take on all the gloom and doom.

For single parents, while there is no sounding board, there’s also no one to take on the opposite roll.  So sometimes when a single parent needs that second voice to move a project along, get a result they want or just need to mix it up-they have to play both sides.  The good cop this week, the bad cop next week and be the one cop all the time.

All of this is a little easier when time is on your side.

The case study for this was the first ski trip we took this season.  Now last year (when there as actually snow) and we needed to get out of the house for the holiday break, I took the girls skiing for the first time and they loved it.  We ended up skiing several times during  the 2010-2011 winter.  During our last trip in late March, we spend the day in a blizzard at Jimminy Peak in MA and had a great time.  Except by the time we came off the mountain we were soaked and the shuttle from the lodge to the car had stopped running.

Tired, wet and in ski boots we lugged all our gear back to our car-and then 8.0 was not happy about it.  In fact her hands got so cold they stung her and that was her last memory of skiing for the season.  It’s also the one that set with her for the year.

Which brings us to September/October of this year when we got our skis for the season.  There was some trepidation, but nothing that was unmanageable.  Then two weeks after getting our gear came the proclamation from now 9.0, “I’m not going to ski this year.”

Time was on my side and 11.5 definitely was up for skiing.  So it was on me to spend some time figuring out how to get 9.0 back on the slopes.  The new wrinkle this year was the soon-to-be teen sister realizing she had a lever to make her little sister feel bad-so there was a lot of back and forth between the two.

For me, it was being the good cop.  An understanding parent listening to the problems and helping 9.0 realize they were solvable.  New gloves with liners would keep her hands warm.  Warming up on the easy hills would give her a feel for the skis.  Going up the night before would give her the feeling of a fun adventure.

Then there was the tougher side.  We already rented your skis, if you don’t use them the money is coming out of your allowance.  You’re going with us anyway and you can sit the lodge by yourself all day.

The balance is to not sound like you are schizophrenic delivering those messages-and sometimes they are in the same conversation.

It’s an art more than a discipline to have both the good cop and the bad cop rolled into one.  Couples I know alternate the roles (we used to).  But equally it’s about listening and knowing your subjects and the message you want to deliver.

The real win was seeing 9.0 remember how much she loves skiing and taking on the challenges.  Frankly, she and her sister skied the crap out of an intermediate hill to end the day on a high note.

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The Second (and Third) Act

As I mentioned in a post a couple of weeks ago a friend of mine from my TV days got me thinking about how life changes and what started out as a set of goals and dreams morphes into a second and third act.

So here is Renee’s Good Enough Mom blog and the way I answered her questions about the second (and third) act.

Who knows when the curtain will come down on the next act?

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