Hard To Say Good Bye, But Worth the Pain

Our exchange student begins her journey home today after living with us for the past 10 months.  It’s hard to believe that this day, that once seemed so far away, is here.  It’s been a bittersweet last few days as we’ve all seen it looming larger and larger on the horizon…I cried in the car on Saturday, Emmie cried last week, Cleo cried yesterday…we all cried today.  Cleo doesn’t want to leave and we don’t want her to leave, but she must, and so we have to learn how to deal with this new kind of loss, new for all of us.  We’re saying good-bye to a daughter, a sister, and a friend.  Not gone forever, but gone from our everyday life, gone from our family dynamic, and so very far away.

Earlier today I decided to play the “what if” game with my thoughts.  What if she miraculously got to stay another six months, or a year? Would that work? And I realized that she’s almost 18 and needs to go back so she can finish her studies and start making her future plans about college (this school year abroad didn’t count toward her high school diploma).  Plus, she needs to share her experiences with her friends and family in person, more than she’s been able to share via phone and computer (although I did tell her to explain, when she shows her friends her DVD of “Kourtney and Khloe Take Miami”, that the Kardashians are not an example of an average American family!).  In addition, we’ve all got to move on so that our families can visit together in France some day, and further learn and grow from this amazing experience.

Yes, it has been an amazing, wonderful experience, filled with both positives and negatives, but the good times far outweighed the bad.   I think all five of us need to pat ourselves on the back for being able to “fall off the horse and get back on and ride again”, to not let setbacks define us or rule us (gee, does that theme keep reoccurring on this blog or what? I think I ought to have it engraved on my tombstone…)  As much as I would have loved for everything to have been perfect, I think we all grew a lot more because it wasn’t, especially Cleo.

Not only are she and Allison friends again, but part of my advice for her earlier this year was to make more friends outside of Allison and the other exchange students at her school, and she did.  Friends from the country, friends from the city, friends from other schools…I told her that she needed to dry her tears and make the most of her time left here, and she did…with her friends, she went to sleepovers, movies, shopping malls, Prom, political speeches…spent a week in Washington, D.C., celebrated the Mavs win on Victory Plaza, and even attended a service at a charismatic, conservative Texas “megachurch” (definitely different from anything she’d ever  experienced in France, she said).  Back home with us, she cherished family time together even more…watching “American Idol”, being with us when we got a new dog, going on road trips, exploring Dallas…even doing chores.  And though sometimes we still had communication problems, we all became so at ease with each other that usually we could joke about it.  She imitated our accents and we imitated hers, and we both had fun with stereotypes as well—I know we will miss her exaggerated attempts at “Howdy, y’all!” and she will miss hearing me say, whenever we’d leave the house, “Let’s go get in zee cah!”

I highly encourage other families to host a student through AFS. You don’t need to have an extra room (they allow students to share rooms with other family members  if necessary) and you don’t even need to have children of your own, or even children near the same age as the student. You just need to have an open mind and an open heart, and the financial resources to feed an extra mouth (current IRS rules allow families to claim a $50 charitable tax deduction per month). You can provide transportation if necessary, but many foreign students are used to using public transportation or walking so that is often not an issue.  AFS families come in all shapes and sizes, and if a pairing doesn’t turn out to be a comfortable match, AFS has a network of volunteers ready to help move the student to another family.  They also host get-togethers throughout the year where families can share experiences and get advice.  I’m hoping that they’ll host something soon, so we can talk with others who are going through this same loss.

Of course, there is irony amidst all of our sadness. Because the things we tried to restrict the most in order to help Cleo learn English while she was here, Skype and Facebook and the phone, are probably going to be the things we turn to the most in order to keep in close touch with her and find comfort, and the things which will most help her remember the English that she did learn.

Uncool and Biblical

On our recent family trip to Iowa we took a tour of an Amish community– rode in a van with a tour guide through rolling farmland and saw homestead after homestead of Old Order Amish families, working in gardens, driving wagons down the highway, running through the fields barefoot… there are 2,000 Amish living near Kalona, Iowa (almost 200,000 in the U.S.) and according to our guide, the community is growing, thanks to their large average family size.   It was fascinating, like something straight out of the movie, Witness, but Emmie thought it was just plain stupid that anyone would want to live like that.  No electricity (the Amish stores we visited used only skylights for lighting), no in-home phones, schooling only through the 8th grade, long pants and dresses all the time, even in the hot summertime… They subscribe to this type of lifestyle due in part to a Bible verse that advises “do not be conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2) and similar verses in other chapters that refer to not being “of the world”.

While most of us gawking tourists probably thought we had nothing in common with the hat-clad people outside our van windows, it struck me later that all uncool moms and any parent who’s ever tried to pull their kids back from the “everybody’s doing it so why can’t I” attitude has a bit of the Amish, and scripture, in their actions (and if you’re really uncool like me and have your kids do their own laundry and other chores, you share even more in common!).  Who knew that “Just because your friends jump off a cliff doesn’t mean you have to do the same!” was inspired over 2,000 years ago?! (Well, God is a parent, after all…)

So, in addition to the postcards and apple butter I brought home, I’ve also got a few new items to add to my arsenal of parenting lines. Now when one of my kids defiantly asks, “Why can’t I?” I might choose to answer, “Because God says so!” or “Because the Bible says so!” or, “BECA– USE I’M GOING AMISH ON YOUR ASS, THAT”S WHY!!!”  (Oops, sorry, I wouldn’t really say that…I’m still a little sleep deprived from that long drive back from Iowa…)

The Unexpected Cheerleader: When Your Kids Support Your Blog

It’s tough trying to blog while on vacation.  But bloggers need to post regularly or they risk losing visitors as their blog goes “stale” (in my first year, I learned the hard way after being sick and waiting more than a week to post—the numbers drop was dramatic and took months to regain) and so it’s good to write some posts in advance that are “waiting in the wings” as finished drafts, so if you are “out of pocket”, all you have to do is hit “publish” when you need content and go on with your vacation (or illness, or whatever). Only for me, it was hard to stock up during busy May (remember, next to December, May is the busiest month of the year for parents of school-age kids with all the “end of year” activities happening all at once). So I found myself at Grandma’s house last week with no stockpile of posts, trying to write something fresh, and having a hard time doing so.  The down time opportunities were few and far between, and when I finally got a moment to myself around midnight each day, I was too tired to think.

Some very successful bloggers have assistants, and I often imagine what it would be like to have one…some young, social media-savvy person, like a communications major fresh out of college, who could help me better fit the nuts and bolts of blogging into my schedule.  In addition to pushing me to write lots of posts (once a week is the bare minimum that’s acceptable in the blogosphere—twice or more a week is preferred), my imaginary assistant would help me with blog promotion; managing blog money-making opportunities like advertising and product reviews; managing comments on my blog (weeding out spammers) and helping me find time to leave comments on other blogs; “art direction”, i.e. keeping the blog readable and visually interesting by keeping up with new blog features and text options; and would help me use Twitter and other social media (I get new followers with almost every Tweet I send, which I only find time to do once or twice a week—some bloggers Tweet many times a day!).  Yep, it’s a lot more complicated than one might think when you’re trying to make a decent wage off of blogging…and trying to work on other writing projects and manage a family at the same time…and visit Grandma. Little did I know I’d get my first glimpse of what having a blog assistant is like from my 16-year-old . 

People often ask me what my kids think of my blog, and the answer is that the kids are okay with it.  They sometimes loathe it, and sometimes are even proud of it, like when their friends say, “Your mom has a blog? Cool!!”  But in general, I just assume they’d rather not think too much about it.  So it took me by surprise the other day when Allison gave me a talking-to about blog promotion as we walked out of the Wal-Mart in Grandma’s town.  I was wearing one of my uncoolmom.com T-shirts, and as usual when I wear one, people were asking me questions.

“Mom, why did you just say, ‘It’s a website’ when the checker asked you what it was?” said Allison, exasperated.  “Don’t you see? She already knew that, because of the ‘dot com’ in the name. Why didn’t you say something else? You should have said, ‘It’s a parenting blog’ or ‘It’s my blog’. Then she might have wanted to read it!” Allison went on to say that I kind of appeared reluctant to tell about it.  “When you get the opportunity to tell someone about it, be more excited! You were almost mumbling!”

Well, I don’t know if it was exactly mumbling, but I do know that now I was almost speechless, for two reasons. Number one, my teen was being very supportive of my blog, and number two, it felt like I had an assistant! “Well, okay,” I said. “You’re right. I never know quite what to say.  I need to have a better line.”

We brainstormed on other things I might want to say. I told her that a lot of times, I don’t say it’s mine because I want people to think I’m just a fan, see, to let them know that the blog is so big that there are fans all over the place, wearing T-shirts.  She disagreed. “No, I think they’d be more likely to go check it out if they knew they’d met the blog’s author,” she said.  “Also, they’d have a more personal connection and want to go check it out to help you out.”  Hmmm, spoken like a true marketer.  I thought about it and liked what she was saying, and agreed to follow her suggestions the next time someone asked about it.

Which happened in less than 10 minutes after we had that conversation. We stopped off to pick up fried chicken and the guy at the Lips 2 Go counter asked about uncoolmom.com. “It’s a parenting blog,” I said proudly. “I write it.” 

“Cool,” he said.  “Is she really uncool?” he asked Allison.

“I guess so,” she said.  “You’ll have to check it out to see.”

Wow, spoken like a true blog assistant.
(Wonder if she runs out for coffee and picks up dry cleaning, too?) J

Random Acts of Art: Why Yarn Bombing, Flash Mobs, and Other Unconventional Creations are Good for Kids…and Communities

An article in the newspaper recently caught my eye, about the “Surfing Madonna”, a mosaic that has been causing a commotion in California after it was installed clandestinely this spring on Good Friday/Earth Day, in the beach town of Encinitas.  The 10 ft. x 10 ft. rock and glass piece, depicting the Virgin of Guadalupe hanging ten and the words “Save Our Ocean” along one side, was created elsewhere and then brought to the site by people disguised as construction workers, and installed with powerful epoxy glue.  Though much of the public loves it, city administrators got in a huff and hired an art conservation agency to study how the mosaic could be safely removed and displayed elsewhere, since “grafitti” is against the law. After receiving thousands of dollars from the city, the agency told them the best plan for the artwork is to leave it where it was, protected from the wind and rain.  Gee, I could have told them that, for far less money… I mean, it’s not like it was a gang symbol sprayed in Krylon or a larger-than-life cuss word.  The city of Encinitas should be glad they got free art to beautify what normally is pretty ugly: the underside of a train bridge.  Yes, the colorful piece described as “breathtaking” and “inspiring” was installed on a bridge support.

It reminded me of the guerilla knitters that have “struck” Old East Dallas recently.  People there were waking up in the morning to find that the bases of a few street signs and lamp posts had been wrapped in colorful knitting– kind of like a “pole cozy” I guess.

An example of yarn bombing–
one street sign people might actually pay attention to! (See more
examples at the links below.)

The city called it littering and, when they could find it, had it promptly removed.  Guess they didn’t realize it’s a privilege to be “yarn bombed”, and that it’s part of an international movement to “change the urban landscape one stitch at a time”.  (And, by the way, International Yarm Bombing Day is this week, June 11th, so if something outside looks a little more colorful and fuzzier than usual on Saturday, you’ll know why!)  There has been a lot of support for this kind of public art (a local yarn store even offers classes on yarn bombing), but also naysayers as well.  “Why don’t they use all that yarn and time to knit blankets for preemies in the hospital!” some spout, without realizing that local yarn bombers in fact knit hundreds of blankets and caps for hospitals, and that the yarn they use for public art is usually old yarn not fit to snuggle against a baby’s skin anyway…

But even if they only knitted for public display– what’s so bad about that? Does leaving up the Surfing Madonna or a lampost wrapped in yarn really open up the floodgates for all sorts of other anonymous, noncommissioned public art, as the mayor of Encinitas is worried might happen? I don’t think so, but we could stand to have a little bit more, anyway.  Doesn’t it lift one’s spirits to be going through a humdrum day and encounter something artistic and out of the ordinary? I’m sure those “flash mobs” (groups that show up in public places and look like scattered, random bystanders, who suddenly break into song and/or dance) that are becoming so popular lately are somehow illegal, too, but I know it would absolutely make my day to see one in person.

While I enjoy paintings and sculptures in art museums, I’ve always loved “unconventional” or “unexpected” art even more, and have enjoyed sharing that love with my kids in the hopes that that they will appreciate “thinking outside the box” (not to mention whimsy) and be broad thinkers themselves.  Over the years, together we’ve checked out art cars in parades and driveways; an installation of 500 pink umbrellas in a local park; a house completely covered in pieces of beer cans; a giant Indian sand art painting on the floor of a local business; giant ice sculptures, and giant butter sculptures, too; the Fred Garbo Inflatable Theatre; and let’s not forget the Cadillac Ranch.  And if the Surfing Madonna was close by or a yarn-bombed neighborhood, we’d go there, too. 

Yes, there is the question of public decency, and communities all have standards about sexual content, violent images and offensive language that of course I would want city workers to uphold.  And even if random art doesn’t violate any decency standards, it might hurt or offend a large group of people, like American Indians or Catholics for example, and if enough got together and voiced a loud enough opinion about a mural, etc., of course it would make sense to take it down.  But if it passes “the test”, why not leave it up? What if a lot of people spoke up in support? Communities who have embraced their quirky art and the unique talents of their citizens reap tourist dollars.  Believe it or not, Beer Can House, America’s largest art car parade, and the birthplace of the yarn bombing movement all reside in Houston, Texas, which has gained international fame for its folk art in addition to its oil, gas and rocket ships.  And people are flocking to Encinitas to snap photographs of its mystery mosaic and/or lay flowers beneath.  

I know people could argue, ‘well, what’s art to one is not art to another, so why should everyone be subjected to it?’ But every day in communities, we are all exposed to elements of art for which we have no choice– like the design and color of public buildings, commercial businesses and landscapes, some which we just have to shrug off and say, “Hopefully someone likes that”–  so living among “art” we like and dislike is something we already do anyway. 

And the stuff we don’t like may actually provide parents with teachable moments about something else that’s important for our kids to learn, a good skill to have when living among other people: tolerance. 

Links worth checking out:

About yarn bombing



About the Surfing Madonna


About art cars and Beer Can House

Flash Mob video

Friday Freebie: Green Giveaway for Father’s Day

The Greener Good,  a nationally-acclaimed green lifestyle boutique based out of the Dallas-Fort Worth area that features products and services for greening your life,  has donated a fabulous prize for my blog readers: one lucky winner may choose from The Bicycle Chain Frame (value: $20), or the Recycled Record Coasters (value: $20), a set of six coasters made from the centers of actual LPs.   Just write me at patricia@uncoolmom.com by Monday evening, June 7th at midnight with your name and the prize you prefer, and if your name is chosen, The Greener Good will whisk the gift to you in time for Father’s Day—or if you don’t have anyone to give it to, keep it for yourself to enjoy!

And, if you don’t win, or want to win even more, check out The Greener Good’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/thegreenergoodpage beginning June 13, where you can win a larger ($36) picture frame (one winner each day until Father’s Day), key chains made from recycled bicycle parts, and while there, print off a coupon good for a free solid shampoo bar. The Greener Good has been given high praise by Redbook, The New York Times, and AOL, among others, so this is good stuff!! Check out their website at www.thegreenergood.com to see their product offerings in home décor, lawn & garden, cleaning, apparel, body, baby and pets.  And stay tuned for more Greener Good giveaways in the future!