Archive for the ‘Tales of a True-Life Supermom’ Category

Maiden Voyage

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012


Less than 30 minutes after passing his driving test, my eldest son, Quentin had already swapped out the 8-year-old “Toyota of Riverside” license plate frame for the “I’d Rather be Climbing” Sports Chalet freebie he’s had tucked away in his room since before he had a driver’s permit. And then he was off on his “maiden voyage” to work. As a veteran parent of a teen driver, I can honestly say that sitting at the DMV, waiting to find out if Quentin passed, was far more nerve-racking than the proverbial “letting go” associated with this particular rite of passage. Somehow I doubt that those to come will be so painless.

Compassion for the Dreaded Helicopter Parent

Monday, September 24th, 2012

flyingwoman1Helicopter parents, identified by their tendency to hover over their children, have elicited far more derision than understanding for their part in creating a generation of young people who are unlikely to succeed without extensive support. Anita Bruzzese recently explained that the children of helicopter parents – “teacups” – leave home, and often college as well – unable to handle criticism, advocate on their own behalf, or bounce back from failure. I trusted personal experience with the annoying hovering behavior of my students’ parents would guard against my own urge to prevent my children from “blowing it” – at least too quickly or too completely to recover.

Easier said than done.

My son Quentin’s first day of college is Thursday; he has a class at 8:10 AM. Yet he has not bought his books, or even checked prices on the laptop computer he took a student loan out to buy. He’s scheduled to work at 7 AM and has asked just enough questions about attendance policy in lectures to justify parental concern. It is all I can do not to call his manager and negotiate a work schedule to accommodate his school schedule. And I have to still my mind, stop its wandering toward plans to intercept any effort by Quentin to skip class in favor of work. Thank goodness, my calendar is booked nearly solid on Thursday.

I get it. I don’t like summer to end, and I haven’t just enjoyed the longest, most lucrative and free – read full of rock-climbing opportunities – four months of my life, like Quentin has. I also recognize that the financial prospects for young men without a college degree are abysmal. And I wonder, just what is the appropriate level of parental "involvement"over the decade it could take for my genuinely brilliant young son to “grow up”?

F. Diane Barth's summary of experts’ advice on how to stayed involved, which is key to the young adults’ success in college and beyond, without becoming overbearing or worse – obstructive – includes these suggestions

  • Set up guidelines for staying in touch. Key is to generate responsible behavior by being available to provide support and balance.
  • Give advice sparingly, but always offer a thoughtful response when asked what you think about something. “When you do offer advice…understand it for what it is – your idea or your experience or your thoughts about what you might have done in their place…When you are setting up a requirement such as that they get a job or cut back on partying, make it clear that this is not gentle guidance, but a specific demand.”
  • Try to stay out of administrative issues unless your child is in genuine psychological difficulty. ” Do not run interference.”
  • Be brutally honest with yourself about your motives.  “Stop trying to control” your child, but for your own and your child’s emotional health, find ways to stay connected.

Group Project

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

Or “family affair”?


Olivia’s “Land Forms Project”

I don’t get it. Seven-year-old Olivia’s first ever science project – a 3D map or diorama including at least three land forms – is due tomorrow and I couldn’t get anyone to help…until tonight, when it was time to paint, glitter, and “plant.” I made the salt and flour paste/dough earlier today, which Olivia used to create the mountain, volcano, and island according to her pencil-and-paper schematic. Her older sibs claimed credit for the realistic colors, beaches, and lava. And the jungle? That’s “mine.”

She got an A.

The End IS in Sight

Monday, September 17th, 2012


At long last, my eldest son, Quentin, has begun his Boy Scout Eagle Project – constructing 30 benches for seating at our local, Flabob Airport's community events. Quentin and his dad built the prototype Saturday, and cut all of the wood on Sunday. Next week, Quentin’s fellow Scouts, friends and neighbors, and family members will help out with the assembly and painting.

If you’re looking for something to do, and just happen to be in the Riverside, CA area, your assistance would be welcome.

On Men’s Obsession with Bodily Functions

Monday, July 30th, 2012

I wasn’t going to say anything. Really, I wasn’t. But then a Twitter friend, Emily, commented that the “dudes” she was sharing a cabin with talking about “how long it takes them to take a dump.” And at breakfast, no less. I couldn’t help myself. I had to respond.

Screen shot 2012-07-30 at 9.10.13 PM

So what is it about dumps and deuces, farts, leaks and writing one’s name in the snow that so engages the “men” among us?

As I pecked out my response, I recalled A.J. Jacobs's 2010 Esquire article on how to raise sons, which includes a list of behaviors commonly associated with having a Y chromosome, including “intrigued by bodily functions.” Unfortunately, Jacobs does not explain why bodily functions are so central to male bonding…er, tribalism, according to the article.

Emily and I are not alone in wondering why the tail end of the human digestive system so often figures prominently in male conversation. Early this year, Margo Kelly asked pointedly, ” What is it with men and poop?”

Another dad (that is, in addition to Jacobs), Craig Grella, points out that men are simply “proud of their flatulent abilities” and consider “bagging” one’s first pull-my-finger victim to be a right of passage. In Grella’s experience, men’s pride in flatulence and related bodily functions is the result of their parents’ failure to teach them manners.

Interesting. That is exactly what contemporary guys say. In response to a girl’s query about the import of a male friend’s unabashed discussion of farts, a couple of guys say that this friend has no manners. Or he’s just really comfortable.

Despite men’s apparent comfort with their own bodily functions, many of them continue to have issues regarding the just as natural, and far more predictable, bodily functions of the women with whom they share their lives. Yashar Ali likely goes to far by claiming that men’s interest in women’s reproductive biology is limited to the function of their vaginas in sex; however, I’m guessing that the reality of everything they heard about in sex ed. does not hit a lot of men until the first time they purchase tampons – solo.

Trial Run: Mt. San Gorgonio – 11,500 Feet

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

IMG_1001One of my daughter Reiley’s goals for her 15th year was to climb Mt. Whitney, which at 14,505 feet is the highest peak in the lower 48 United States. “Okay,” I said, completely oblivious to the annual lottery process used to allocate hiking permits, the near certainty that my assent would entail donning a backpack again for the first time in more than 20 years, and the reality that hiking a 14er from home at roughly 1200 feet might just require more training than I’d bargained for.

We really lucked out. Just about the time we’d figured out how to enter the lottery, a friend who’d scored a permit for this summer posted on Facebook that he was looking for four more hearty souls to join his group. Within weeks, we were hiking regularly – with weighted packs. For the record, when you need to carry little more than water and a wind-breaker, even ultralight feels like hell over 10,000 feet at the end of a long, hot day.

Thankfully, we actually needed our packs this past weekend. We hiked Mt. San Gorgonio, the highest mountain in Southern California. We loaded up with everything we expect to need on Whitney, sans fleece and a bear canister, and headed up the Vivian Creek Trail. Of the many trails to the San Gorgonio peak, none is as steep as the Vivian Creek trail, which climbs more than a vertical mile in less than eight miles to the summit.

I’m happy to report that with the exception of Reiley’s bout with altitude sickness, we did okay. Setting out after noon on a 10+ mile round trip hike from camp to the peak may not have been our brightest move. (That made day one a 13+ mile hiking day!) And the final half mile or so was pretty hellish. But I learned the value of salty, reconstituted food eaten directly from the bag it cooked in, and easily earned my two-hour post-hike nap.

Facts about Mt. Whitney:

Description of the Vivian Creek Trail to Mt. San Gorgonio:

Overview of Altitude Sickness:

I Never Thought I’d be Dumpster Diving

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012


I know, I know. I should be more sympathetic. After all, I have actually accidentally tossed my own retainer into the trash. But I just did not relish starting the day with trip to Hangar 18 rock climbing gym to root through their trash for my daughter Reiley’s retainer. While her little sister, Olivia, was climbing last night, Reiley went out for a taco (and grilled onion) snack, which required her to remove her retainer, and she accidentally threw it away. Unfortunately, whoever Reiley talked to at the gym last night failed to leave a note for the opening staff and they emptied the trash can into the dumpster. “Ugh!” I thought, when I heard. Lucky for us, whoever was at the front desk this morning hopped into the dumpster and followed Reiley’s instructions regarding “where” to look and “what” to look for.

Amazingly, “we” actually found Reiley’s retainer! Saved – to the tune of $200+.

The Hardest Part was Peeing in the Woods

Monday, July 16th, 2012

Reiley and I had company on our Mt. Whitney training hike yesterday. Two of my other children, 16-year-old Quentin and seven-year-old Olivia, and family friends joined us for what was billed as a "super easy short hike" to 8,201-foot Bertha Peak near Big Bear. It was actually a moderate seven-mile hike that culminated with a strenuous climb up a steep access road to the summit.

IMG_0980Olivia had to “go” well before we reached the almost-two-mile marker where the Cougar Creek and Pacific Crest Trails meet. After several unsuccessful attempts to assist our youngest hiker in mastering the art of peeing outside, I gave up and hoped she’d hold it until we could get back to the trail head located right across the parking lot from the Big Bear Discovery Center. When Olivia parked her skinny behind on bench intended for taking in views of the lake, and proceeded to tell us repeatedly and in increasingly frantic tones that she "just" wanted to potty indoors and it "doesn't feel better" to keep walking, I thought it prudent to regroup. The teens went ahead to the peak, while the adults waited with Olivia, with the intention of hiking to the peak once the older kids returned to "run" Olivia back.

Though my co-leader, Don, would protest, I swear the kid's ensuing tantrum could be heard back in town. Ever sensitive to my fellow hikers, when one of them was prompted by Olivia's despair to offer tips on the "buddy system" option for peeing outside, I nearly waivered, grabbed the little monster's hand, and marched her back to the trail head. But then I would have missed Don's valiant attempt to reason with Olivia to the tune of, "opting to pee in the woods is very likely less uncomfortable than 'holding it.'"

And...I would have deprived Olivia of, finally, and desperately, if not willingly, peeing in the woods - back up against a tree, or "throne," with a view of the valleys below.

Her business complete, we continued up the trail, passing the teens on their way back and trailing Olivia to the peak. "We made it!" she exclaimed, looking "back" at us as we finished the climb. IMG_0981

The Girls' Guide to Peeing Outside offers the following advice:

- Find a secluded spot to do your business that is at least 200 feet away from flowing water.

- Avoid slopes, so that liquid landing on the ground does not flows towards your shoes.

- Bring toilet paper with you if possible.

- Never let your pants drop past your knees, or you’ll have to explain the wet spot to your friends.

And it provides this handy list of top-rated positions for peeing in the woods:

The Squat: Move you feet apart to find a good balance, pull your pants down but not past your knees. Crouch/ squat down as if you are sitting in a very low chair. Use one hand to pull your pants which are around your knees towards your knee caps to keep everything out of the line of fire. Make sure you keep your bottom out and low. Just think of yourself as sitting on a very low chair or stool.

The Buddy System (referenced above): Stand face to face with a friend or family member who isn't freaked out about seeing you pee, and lock hands. Then lean away from each other and squat so that your thighs are parallel to the ground. And go!

The Throne (Olivia's preferred method): Press your back against a tree, so that your thighs are parallel to the ground. Make sure your feet are squarely planted on the ground so that you are sitting on an imaginary throne.

The Tripod (Buddy System with a tree): Find a tree with a thinner trunk (but not a sapling that may not support you) and grip it tightly. Your feet should be at the base of the tree. Stick your bottom out and go.

The Assist: Sit down on a fallen log, stump, or rock and scoot forward as far as you can without falling off and let loose.


Girls' Guide:

Post on Climbing Bertha Peak:

REI guide on hiking with children:

Strange Society at 10,069 Feet

Monday, July 9th, 2012

My teen daughter, Reiley, and I hiked Mt. Baldy yesterday. For the uninitiated, it’s a relatively short trek (6.4 miles round trip) from the Mt. Baldy Ski Resort, but steep – beginning and ending on poorly marked trails over slippery gravel. Consequently, much of our own hiking conversation, as well as our exchanges with other hikers, consisted of deliberations on just when would it end, and tallying slips and falls.

That changed when we reached the top. There it was all about socks.

P4210040The Mt. Baldy summit consists of a large gravel mound pock-marked by wind breaks constructed from rock. It’s not unusual to find virtually all of those who reach the peak huddled behind these stone structures to avoid the customary high, cold winds. I’m happy to report that, yesterday, it was cold, but far less windy than usual on top. Hikers swarmed around the windbreaks appeared less interested in avoiding the wind than the sun while they enjoyed summit munchies and conversation.

One large group was particularly chatty, and loud. It included a woman whose voice featured an annoyingly authoritative tone and carried as if by intention. Her afternoon discourse was on the necessity of “changing” one’s hiking socks at mid-day, which she explained referred to the practice of switching socks from one foot to the other at mountain top before heading back down. Our hiking sock expert supported her instructions by reference to a sales associated at REI.

“Huh?” I thought. In all of my years hiking, not to mention many, many conversations with my sister, Terri, who works at REI, I have never heard such a thing. Of course, in addition to wearing sock liners, changing socks everyday during a multi-day hike can help prevent blisters. Similarly, carrying extra socks to change into in if your feet are likely to get wet – either due to weather conditions or sweat – is prudent.

Reiley interrupted my musings to ask if I’d ever heard of “that,” nodding to “sock lady” for emphasis. “No,” I said, looking over my shoulder at the woman and her hiking companions. Yep, every one of them was taking off his/her boots and socks, apparently with the intention to swap socks from one foot to the other.

Even funnier, as we crossed the summit to head back down, I noticed other hikers crouched in shelters nearby the sock lady’s group were also changing their socks! “Look!” I whispered to Reiley.

Later, I did a little research on hiking sock protocol. There is a lot of information on sock selection out there, followed by a good deal of advice on how to avoid blisters and other hiking-related debilities, but not a word about the utility of swapping socks from one foot to the other.

Routes to the top:
On the value of clean, dry socks:
100 things you may not know about walking, hiking, running:

Legs or Cleavage, but Never Both

Friday, July 6th, 2012

Unless you're a super-heroine, Marilyn Monroe (look alike), or very, very young.

courtney_stodden_marilyn_monroeMy sister and I returned to the club scene well in the wake of fashion gaffes by St. John's own Kate Winslet and gawks spawned by Courtney Stodden's Marilyn Monroe impersonation. Contemporary fashion police cited both of these women specifically for NOT heeding the maxim of sexy, not slutty, dressing: show legs or cleavage, but never both. Though we both erred well on the side farthest from slutty, there was  plenty of evidence in the casinos and on the dance floor to suggest that modesty is unlikely to will out in Las Vegas.

I know, I know...we must have been crazy to expect Las Vegas club style to reflect sophistication, let alone grace. Still, it got me thinking...To whom, exactly, does the "legs or cleavage" rule apply? And where, in a culture where Disney proteges appear nude or nearly so in public as a rite of passage, are young women supposed to learn how much skin it's appropriate to bear? The waters are muddied further as soon as we admit that we'd prefer a world in which any woman is free to wear what she wants, playfully experimenting with her identity and exploring her sexuality.

Unfortunately, we do not yet inhabit that world.

To that end, annual Slut Walks provide venues for standing up to women's oppressors, those in society who persist in blaming aggression against women on what they wear, how much they drink, and where and how they choose to spend their time. Slut Walks represent a 21st century incarnation of Take Back the Night, a 30-year-old tradition of marches and related demonstrations against rape and other violence against women. The first slut walk channeled women's outrage against Canadian Constable Michael Sanguinetti's admonition that "...women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized."

On April 3, 2011, 3,000 provocatively clad women gathered and marched  year in Toronto. A year later, Slut Walks had become the most successful feminist action in 20 years!

So can we say that the "cleavage or legs" maxim is passe? I personally wouldn't go that far. I would hazard to suggest that the 50-ish woman in the spandex sheath mini and five-inch heels is no more asking for it than she is necessarily trying to regain her youth.

To be honest, I have only very rarely been positioned to judge a middle-aged woman's evening wear. Rather, it's weighing in on the length of my teen daughter's hemline or the necessity of a (sports) bra for my seven-year-old. Admittedly, I do opine too quickly and adamantly at times...Yet, I trust that I overall convey that while the age- and occasion-based norms governing how we dress provide important guidelines, any one of us is perfectly within her rights to violate them. When we do deviate from such social norms, we invite criticism, but in no way justify rape or any other form of violence.


Take back the Night:

Slut Walk and Feminism: