Where are We Going to Live?

I think one thing we can all agree ranks fairly high on the stress-o-meter is the buying and selling of houses.  Both Pippin and I have sold homes before, and high stress has always been a given. Even when we were late getting out of the house during the winning bidder’s showing, they said to us as we exited, embarrassed: so sorry for the stress. 
So we decided this time we were going to try to do it differently: stress free.  I invite you along for the ride.
Last Friday we closed on the sale of the home we have shared for the past five years.  It was nothing special – really only one real bedroom and one bath. We essentially shape-shifted the rest, turning the living room into a shared bedroom for the two youngest girls, and coaxing a few more out of the large basement.  The market is booming in Portland, and we sold in the first weekend.  Now we have less than a month to get out.

True to form, we have no idea where we are moving.  I should be nervous as hell, cause I’m not that chill about the unknown,  but I’m not….yet.  Pippin and I had a conversation in advance and agreed that it could either be stressful or stress-free—that the road would be the same on the way out and the choice would be ours if we wanted it to be enjoyable. He makes a good point—but it’s not easy to just switch to that mindset.

To be honest, It takes great effort to push off the fear that keeps trying to creep its way in.  I am forcing myself into mind over matter mode, because if I don’t there will be a guaranteed meltdown by yours truly, which I just don’t have time for. In addition, and ssshhhh…we haven’t told the kids, but our vacation might need to be delayed.  Living stress free doesn’t come without compromise.  Anyhoo…I decided it’s time to start the search.

That’s step one.  But if we really are serious about purchasing the lot we’ve had our eyes on, we oughta start doing the research about home building in Portland.   At this rate, I’m concerned that we won’t even have time to build.  In any event, we need a Plan B.  I know enough that we aren’t rolling all our new cash into a house rental with no equity.

Of course I know that building a home is expensive, but I still have faith in our collective resourcefulness.  Portland is currently experiencing such a boom, there’s nothing remotely in our price range. I’m convinced we can build something far more space-efficient and have exactly what we want.
It’s a pleasant change telling my habitual free-ranging stress to take a seat. I’m going to join forces with Pippin’s unbridled enthusiasm for this up coming year. So this morning as Pippin fantasized about finally having a garage and a shop to work out of,  I decided to join in and imagine what it would feel like to have enough space for everyone, and everyone’s accumulated life-stuff.
How lovely to be able to imagine spreading out a little more. For now, at least, our world is wide open.
Deliberately Stress-Free,
So Called Mom

 

Date Nights Work

As Pippin and I blurted out during yesterday’s mini-blog,

we haven’t had a proper date since the ratification of the 19th Amendment.

But yesterday we received some earnest money from the sale of our house, and while “date night” may not be at the top of most people’s priority list, it was on mine.

One thing Pippin rocks at is Dates, and how to make this tired mom of 7 feel like she’s the 25 year old with only three kids that he fell in love with.  He took me to my favorite restaurant, Departure, which is at the top of the Nines Hotel.  For those of you paying attention, Leopold was born in the corner suite on the 11th floor.
We got there early enough to savor a few cocktails at the bar and look into each other’s eyes the way we used to. All I cared about was cherishing the guy who knew intuitively how to keep our freak flag flying.  Usually there’s so much going on in our lives, I don’t have a moment to think about tomorrow…I’m so busy reacting to today. Managing nine people who are growing in new ways every day, selling a house without having another in sight, an unplanned vacation in a couple of weeks – everywhere I look are potential mine fields of stress.

But the best part about last night was none of that existed.

Don’t get me wrong – being in the moment, where it’s just the two of us, takes real effort.  It means shifting gears and forgetting I’m an entrepreneur, a wife and a mom. I’m talking about being good company, being present as a woman who is flirting with her man and even getting a little drunk. This way, when the bill comes, drinks and dinner don’t qualify as a tax write off—but as an aphrodisiac that holds us together until next time.
Look, I don’t pretend to be an expert at this. But if there’s anything I learned from finally finding Mr. Right (who also happened to be Mr. Third Times a Charm) and being able to stay with him for more than 10 years—it’s to pay close attention to each others needs. And that may include ordering a pizza or two and getting the hell out of Dodge on occasion.

Seeking that all important re-connection to your partner means reconnecting with who you are too. I tell myself often: At one point this was everything you wanted. And revisiting those feelings on a date that feels like the first one is very much reminding you that this was what you wanted. And it still is.
Head Over Manolos,
So Called Mom

We Sold the House! NOW WHAT?!

It might be rainy still in lovely little Portland, Oregon–but we are entering VACATION MODE!

We sold the house and it’s time to make a list, knock it out and hit the road to relaxation…..but only after we get our DATE NIGHT!!!!

We’re excited, to say the least–Do you have any idea HOW LONG it has been since our last date? The fact that we can’t remember is enough of a sign that it’s been an eternity.

Looks like we’ll just have to make up for lost time!

Off the hook as of RIGHT now,

So Called Mom

Meeting the Dark Side of the Internet

Kids iPhones and ipadsSo Called Mom

Well, it happened.

Milla lost her privileges to all of her screens and all of her accounts. The hardest part was, that none of it was her fault—even though she still thinks it is.
About a week ago, I posted my thoughts about screens and kids. Well, today I did a 180 on that. Why? Because of a sudden need for maximum security.
As far as I can see,  I’ve identified two kinds of damage that surround screen use. The first is the common one: the addiction that comes with too much use, whether it’s social media or video games. Theoretically there’s a straight-forward solution: go outside and play, read a book or use your hands and create something.
The second is more unexpected and much more concerning. It’s made me look to the connective power of the internet as something that is more harmful than helpful. It’s made me question my laissez-faire attitude.

It’s even made me question the way I’ve made some mom choices.

Cutting to the chase: I think my 14-year-old was lured into a teen self-harm group – which is bad enough, but to make matters worse, the group may be linked to some kind of sex trafficking gang or occult. Maybe that sounds like a stretch, but at this point, I don’t care what it is—I just want my daughter as far away from it as possible.

So don’t misunderstand:  it’s  not like we don’t comprehend internet safety, we just never thought the bad stuff would happen to our own kid. But the depth of insanity that I’m going to reveal is enough to make you realize just how much you don’t know. And I hope it gives you goosebumps.  It’s certainly freaked the hell out of me.

So here’s the story: 

Last week, Milla’s internet girlfriend broke up with her. She was devastated, and I helped pick up the pieces. This week, one of the friends in the same group of online friends died. I had no idea this child had cancer, no idea she became a bestie, no idea there was even a circle of “friends” that Milla now referred to as her “family”and no idea just how much that family knew about Milla.
The truth is, I had noticed Milla acting depressed lately and becoming darker and more isolated. I noticed her real friends had completely dwindled—but I thought it was because she favored the online version. For some reason, I didn’t think to question that. I wanted to be open to the fact that we live in a new world, where kids can connect with different people in different cultures. That she was ahead of the curve on this, like always and I wanted to respect her privacy. I tried to put my foot down when I could, but ever so lightly because she was, after all, a 14-year-old girl who was navigating all sorts of stuff—sexuality, friends, trading middle school for high school…all of it. It’s only a stage, I told myself. At least you’re a part of it.

But I don’t know why I thought I was a part of it when I obviously wasn’t.

I was an outsider to a place she was increasingly visiting for answers. I had no idea that she was being swept away. It wasn’t until she was devastated by back to back events –  heartbreak from one “Friend” and the death of another – that I was suddenly clued into something more twisted and dark. 

It was Pippin who stepped in with some critical questions:  

Ok….I’m slow to the uptake. But here was my wake up call.

We looked through her devices and uncovered multiple accounts from a tight group of people who shared images of slashed wrists and made art about death and loneliness. One of them was our beloved Milla—you could literally scroll and see the darkness taking over her originally cheery and artsy account. In scanning through everything, and comparing images and postings, I have reason to believe that there were only a few people, masquerading as a lot more and reeling in vulnerable kids like Milla.  I also suspect that some may have been “killed off” to lure kids in even deeper with an end goal I can only shudder to imagine.  

Admittedly, my initial reaction was to feel paralyzed and shocked.

I tried to Google, searching for some answers.  This was so far outside my realm of experience or that of anyone I knew that I didn’t know where to begin. There was very little at this level—nothing that would help me come to terms with what happened. Sure there was plenty of info about cyber-bullying, but it all seemed oversimplified and centered on hurt feelings—nothing this complex. Then my mind started to spin out, thinking that Milla was very well catfished by that little girl who broke her heart. What if she was a little girl caught up in it too, brainwashed and pressured to recruit other kids?
I understand I’m sounding completely crazy, but with so little information I’m left only with speculation and my own detective work. But wouldn’t you agree that I have enough info though, to make me scour all phones and profiles, delete photos, accounts, apps and block people and phone numbers that aren’t family or known friends? And even so, the devices I’m most concerned about—Milla’s—are sitting, powered off. Those deserve a good cooling off in solitude.

How do any of us really know what they are doing on their social media?

We are caught between letting them find their own way around as we learn to let go, and letting them loose in uncharted and unregulated territories.  It’s the wild, wild west out there, and I had been letting Milla—and almost all of my kids really, explore it solo. I would love to give all of the above the benefit of the doubt, but at the risk of losing my child? No way in hell do I take that risk.
I know this feels like punishment to her. I have reinforced otherwise and tried to reduce all of this to the simple example stated above: It’s time to just go outside and play, to reestablish yourself with your friends, and yes, even go talk to someone professional about what happened—to return to ground zero and rebuild.
If anyone has had a similar experience or any kind of advice, please, please share in the comments below–not only would I appreciate hearing from you, but I really kind of need it right now.
Your personal firewall,
So Called Mom

The Importance of One on One Time – The Middle Child

I’ve posted a few things about parenting and realized once again, I’ve forgotten my middle child.  Which pretty much speaks for itself.


So called mom middle child MJ smiling

I think there’s a reason people speak out about the middle child being a little lost or neglected.  Imagine being the middle kid among seven. Well, MJ probably has a lot to say about it.

Here’s what I know:
MJ is the reason we started implementing a roll call wherever we go: vacations, the movies, the store, even as we pile into the van leaving home. I cannot tell you how many times this has saved us from leaving her places, and I will not tell you how many times we’ve actually done it. Managing a sea of children outside of our cozy home is stressful, confusing and sometimes impossible to pull off without one of us (usually me) losing their cool. 
kids reading so called mom middle child

So it’s not surprising that MJ can feel neglected.

I try my best to offset this by intentionally making time for only her – actually making MJ/Mom dates. But in a household that has multiple needs/desires/emergencies this doesn’t always happen as planned. Between homework,  dance recitals, singing, music and french lessons, skateboarding, an unplanned emergency with one of the chickens or the cat, dog or turtle, not to mention the taxi driving to get everywhere, plans can get changed more than they don’t. A trip to the dentist can knock out an entire day—try scheduling nine people back to back. I dare any of you to remain sane. middle child
Despite the overall busy-ness, I’m good at booking time with her, at least once a week. I usually give her full liberty—we do whatever she wants. Sometimes we go downtown and have gelato, sometimes we hit up an art store for new drawing paper or pens.
OK.  This is complete bullshit. The last time we hung out one-on-one was seven months ago when school started. I am only fooling myself—I wish it was like the dream sequence above. 
So called mom MJ waking middle child
So yes, MJ is neglected. There, I said it. Is this bad? Is she insecure or introverted because of it? Or has this helped her to develop some coping skills? I hope for resilience, but as usual, hope doesn’t give me answers. So I guess I have some serious time to make up with her. No more excuses. middle child

Indeed, I have to make more time for everyone—but how?

One-on-one time with kids is how their identities are shaped. Doing things together, just the two of you, so that they can eat up all of your attention is monumental. I really believe that this kind of attention fuels their confidence, and unfortunately in our home not everyone gets equal portions. I hate that she spends so much time with her iPhone, which has become her biggest companion. Although I do occasionally hear her on the phone or face timing her pals across town, I know that 90% of her time spent with that thing is in seeking a connection to the outside world, alone. 
So called mom MJ pensive middle child
So yesterday, I booked time with her and, as expected, our plans were delayed. She was stuck in the van in traffic across town with Pippin and I was waiting at home. MJ had texted me that they turned around in traffic twice and were re-routing again. It was getting late but I was determined to still have our time together, even if I had to rush through the pouring rain. We arrived at a little shop with ten minutes to spare and she put up some money she had saved up for a DIY terrarium kit. We took it home and spent time putting it together, which is now the centerpiece of our dining room table. middle child
So called mom art projects middle child

My hope is that it will remind us both to get together again sooner next time, and with any luck and a little planning, it will.

Unreliably yours,
So Called Mom