Father’s Day 2014

My Dad is one of the reasons I am the way I am. Everyone says we’re a lot alike, and I can’t disagree.

From the earliest memories I have he would tell me ‘You do not need a man, you don’t need to get married, and you should always be independent’- in fact he said it so much when I made my Confirmation in 8th grade my special trait on my rock that we painted said ‘INDEPENDENT’ …

Then I met Aaron and thought for sure they wouldn’t want me to live with a boy – at least not yet, after a very violent and horrible relationship they helped me get out of. My Mom was skeptical… a story Aaron loves telling because she was so mean to him the first time they met. (Imagine my Mom being mean to anyone…it’s sort of funny) and I met my Dad on Amelia Island while he was away on business and stayed with him …with the intention of telling him I wanted to live with this boy and we were going to move in together and I really hoped he wouldn’t be mad.

Not only was he not mad, he told me I would marry him one day. And that he knew this was the right man for me. I was stunned. I had my Dad’s blessing and Aaron had his respect. When Aaron moved to California to take his first VFX job we broke up for a bit and I was devastated. I knew this was the man I was supposed to spend my life with and if this wasn’t ‘it’ then I have no idea what was. My Dad, as I cried and cried, said ‘stop being so upset, he’s going to marry you- mark my words’ … and sure enough he was right.
….
Then, year later, after the wedding and after life…we welcomed a son and Aaron went from being the guy who never wanted kids to being the most amazing father ever. Seriously. He’s the guy who should have had 20 kids because he’s just THAT GOOD with kids. A few more years later and we welcomed a daughter. Which scared the hell out of him, but he took it in stride, knowing full well he’d protect her and teach her how to handle boys like the teenageHIM.

Hala's gift to Dad
Our daughter’s gift to Aaron today…a snuggle blanket for the two of them

Jack's gift to Dad
Our son’s gift…a video game controller organizer so they can have even MORE game time together

I am so thankful every single day that I have a husband who isn’t just a father, he’s a damn good father. He might have to work his ass off daily to make sure we can eat and have a place to live and can afford nice things, but the moments and time he has with his children he’s like SuperDad. He makes them feel like they can do and be anything, while teaching them all he knows. Even if it’s something as simple as grilling a good piece of meat. He isn’t afraid to snuggle them and tell them stories of his childhood and all the things they should try and do and all the things they CAN do. They look at him with wonder and awe and they should. He’s their play friend, their disciplinarian when need be (but luckily not often) and their #1 hero.

He may not think he is, but I know two kids who find him to be the most amazing man on earth. They talk about him to their friends, they brag about THEIR Dad. And when other kids come over to play they giggle and laugh because he’s even awesome with their friends.

He adores his nieces and nephew. In fact, I remember him holding his newborn niece and thinking what a great Dad he was going to be someday…he was so natural.

I was right. If he does nothing else in this world, he will be forever known as one helluva a father. It is his most important job and role ever, and he’s knocking it out of the park.
I’m so thankful to have such great men in my life.

Red, Blue, Purple and Persnickety

For the first time ever my children and I were confronted about our ‘otherness.’

We are not people of color, we are not minorities in any sense, unless you count being Democrats in a Republican town. We don’t encounter issues with police, or neighbors or well, anyone really. We are lucky to be able to live our lives in relative peace with the world.

Hair!

Except when some people get a glimpse of my tattoos. Or, as is the case this month, I have purple hair (I’ve been dying my hair purple every May for Lupus awareness month…I was a bit late this month, but I made it for the last few weeks of May and now into June) my son has a red streak in his hair, and my daughter’s hair is a nice turquoise. Standing together if you glanced over at us you might see nothing but a rainbow of hair color and the Mom’s wrist tattoo.

I never really think twice about these things. It is just not a big deal. My daughter and I have been dying our hair since the first Lupus awareness month we celebrated back in 2011 or so. This year, my son decided he wanted to dye his hair too…but he wanted red. This lead my daughter to think about blue and well…it didn’t make much difference to my husband and I. It’s just hair. They can do whatever they like.

Yes, they are 9 and 11. For some people. children shouldn’t be making their own decisions about their hair. Especially dying their hair. However we don’t subscribe to this sort of parenting. If they can decide what to wear and how they express themselves through their clothing (so long as it’s weather and age appropriate) we don’t really mind. My daughter spent a few weeks big on fingerless gloves and knee high socks. Cool by us. My son could care less what he wears so long as it’s comfy and he doesn’t have to think about it much. He is, however, very particular about his hair. He likes it long. Also cool by us.

So when we left the grocery store the other day and we were getting ready to load bags into the car I really wasn’t thinking about much of anything, certainly not our hair.

An elderly woman walked towards us saying ‘wow. WOW. wow. WOW. wow. WOW!’ and varying degrees from a whisper to loud to average speaking tone. Looking at us and now openly tsking, she began to shake her head as she uttered her ‘wows’ … and walked past us to get a cart.

The wows and tsks now louder, I finally turned around to confront her, as I could fee her still staring at us as she begged for my attention.

‘You know you are RUINING those children by allowing that ridiculous hair. You are RUINING them! And you doing it too…you encourage this? This.. this… ridiculousness? You are RUINING them!’

I took a breath and looked at the kids who both had their jaws hanging open. My brother has just pulled up with the car and could see something was going on between the woman and I but wasn’t sure what to make of it…

‘We enjoy expressing our individuality…I hope you have a really nice day!’ is all I could get out with a huge smile on my face.

The kids, now realizing what happened had varied reactions but mostly were in shock.

My daughter, with a confused look said ‘Wait…WHAT?’

My son, repeated the woman but in a totally different tone of questioning and confusion, ‘WOW…really?’

We got in the car and on the way home I told them that some people may think we look strange with our hair different colors. And some people probably don’t like my tattoos much either. But do we care what other people think of how we look? Nope. And how much do we love our hair? A LOT…we’re having fun!

They agreed and we laughed and I felt sad for the angry, elderly woman…who clearly was so upset by our hair she absolutely had to confront me. It was shocking to her. This made me sad. Not for us, but for her. To be so angry at people who are different. To be so upset by things that are weird or not the norm.

I wanted to go find her again and give her a hug. Although I’m guessing she doesn’t want one from me. At least not until the purple fades from my hair…

 

Team

I think most of us dreamt what our relationships with our children would be like before they actually came along…

I thought I would have a hockey playing son who was also a drummer in a rock band. He would be sensitive and respectful and love sports and animals.

I thought my daughter would be just like me. She would LOVE PINK, anything with a tutu, but also be able to debate fiercely about politics and current events and play every sport out there, preferably on the same hockey team as her brother. She too would be in a rock band, when she wasn’t at roller derby practice or campaigning for class President.

And then my two children were born, grew up a bit, and became their own, amazing, people.

Still holding hands

Everything I thought I wanted them to be was blown away by everything they are. I’ve never been more thankful to be entirely wrong about what I wanted.

My daughter loves to sing. And she’s good at it- really good. She is very independent and she is only nine. She pretends she’s a kitten instead of chases boys. She watches ‘Too Cute’ instead of listening to ‘One Direction.’ And she refuses to follow the crowd. If her friends like Minecraft, she will play Animal Jam. She wants to be different. She wants to be a leader. Today she’s asked if she can dye her hair turquoise … I said ‘sure!’ She makes sure everyone is included in the games she plays and won’t have it when others say ‘oh that girl can’t play with us.’ I’ve also shown up to school unannounced and found her having lunch with the ‘new kid’ … a boy… showing him around and hanging out with him because no one else would and she wanted to make sure he wasn’t alone and knew he would have a friend. She didn’t care that others were ‘oh, you’re talking to a boy’ teasing. I’m so proud of her.

My son is a self-proclaimed geek. He loves science more than anything and already has several ideas for companies. He wants to learn to be a pilot and has already taken his first flight lesson. He’s tested video games for Disney to earn money for additional flight lessons and can’t wait to get up in the air again. He has zero interest in sports and I don’t mind at all. He’s also found his voice this year…the one where he stands up to other kids at school for calling someone ‘gay’ as a slur. I couldn’t be more proud. I also couldn’t be more proud when others tell me how amazingly mature he is…he’s got a very old soul.

Both of them are nothing like I imagined they would be but so much more. SO SO much more.

My daughter has been finding new music lately and recently discovered Lorde. She loves the song ‘Team’ and I think it’s perfect for her…and us. There is nothing I love more than belting it out with her in the car, together. With her brother rolling his eyes at us. But we don’t care…so there.

We’re a team. We’re all learning to live with everyone’s characteristics and appreciate them. My son is learning his sister doesn’t want to play the same things he does…and he doesn’t want to play the same things she does. For the first time, that’s ok. Instead they hang out and play what they want, while sitting next to each other.

Still close.

Still near in case one wants to tell the other something.

All while I watch in awe at the amazing young people they are becoming. Half their father, half me..but so much different than I could have ever have imagined. But that’s fine…Because at the end of the day…we’re on each other’s team.

 

Benghazi!

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…that’s what I thought was going to be screamed next from the podium as the William S Hart School Board’s public comments were underway.

It was like watching a Fox News Tea Party convention, minus the annoying anchors.

Let me back up a bit here…

It came to my attention awhile ago that my local school board was not in compliance with a new law here in California. Actually, it’s not a new law…it’s from 2012. It’s called the FAIR Act and it basically makes sure students are learning about all sorts of figures in American and Global history, specifically it’s making sure LGBTQ, the disabled, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders are included. It also makes sure anything left in old textbooks that discriminates against these groups is removed.

Not too hard, right?

Well, apparently for my local school board this a monumental task that has taken them over two years to get off their asses and accomplish. The really sad thing? They claim it’s because they don’t have the money for curriculum or teacher training (at last check the district had an over $40 million dollar surplus) and that they have until 2015 to really have to do anything.

Turns out, the district is either lying, or is  just really, really wrong and incompetent. There is FREE curriculum being offered, including lesson plans, by a TON of organizations. There is also FREE teacher training being offered by various organizations. And that 2015 thing? After speaking to the California Department of Education myself AND the ACLU myself, turns out it ONLY applies to TEXTBOOKS for K-8 and does not apply to the supplemental curriculum that is and was due in classes immediately after the law was passed. You know, over two years ago.

So why is this so important? Because when students see people like themselves, families like the ones they live in, representatives of who they are (gay, straight, white, black, female, male, disabled, you get the idea) they are less likely to kill themselves, feel bad about their own lives, become depressed, and generally do better in school. And you know what else happens as a side effect? Less bullying.

Enter tonight’s nuttiness at the school board meeting. A group of parents, students, and community members decided we’d all had enough with the board dragging it’s feet and did what we could to support a senior at one of our high schools. He’s the President of his Gay/Straight Alliance club and he’s been pushing the board for the past SIX MONTHS to get this curriculum going and to comply with the LAW. With our help, we learned a lot of what I just posted above and helped him gather signatures on a petition and distribute a survey to his fellow students – to get an accurate idea of what they think about these issues. We all, also, agreed to come show support and speak at the school board meeting.

He had great stats, great studies, we found and printed out several examples of the curriculum and lesson plans the district could begin using to supplement in classrooms NOW and we all told our own stories about why the board needed to be in compliance with state law. I spoke about being disabled and bi- and that my kids were asking why their school board leaders weren’t teaching their peers about Harvey Milk or Helen Keller- people like in OUR family…like their MOM.

Another community member read a very powerful letter from a 2013 graduate of the district. She was suicidal and did not feel supported by the district or her school during her time in high school. She said the FAIR Act would have shown her that people like her DO succeed, that they can do great and important things and that yes, it does get better.

This is how we went on…and on…standing up and speaking about why this Act needed to be implemented yesterday and how, it may seem to some, the district was discriminating against these groups by delaying.

Of course, the local school board member/conservative shock jock took our Facebook posts supporting the FAIR Act to be an attack on his free speech. (I have no idea, your guess is as good as mine here…apparently because he called it the ‘Looney law’ and has also tweeted incredibly insensitive things about the LGBTQ community and is generally against equality he assumed we were there to ask for his head on a platter.)

And cue the clown car.

As we spoke on the Fair Act, up came speaker after speaker testifying to what a wonderful human this guy is and why we are horrible socialists out to destroy America! and the Constitution!!. One woman even held up a Saul Alinsky book claiming it to be our Bible and telling us to ‘BRING IT ON!’ I actually couldn’t hold my laughter in and lost it in the back of the room. (for the record I’ve never even seen the book and have only heard about it from conservatives who swear it’s my Bible…)

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I actually snorted at one point by the sheer comedy of it all. There was even a mother of two boys who told us her 12-year old was VERY upset about the ball player who came out and the subsequent media coverage and why everyone cared where he put his penis because it was interrupting his TV time.

I wish I were kidding.

I was expecting someone to shout Benghazi! and, of course, blame Obama for California’s FAIR Act, but sadly the night grew long and the speakers finally were finished before tin foil hats ACTUALLY appeared as they sang the praises of a radio talk show host/school board member…instead of backing the students asking for their help.

And here we were, with our facts, our stats, our stacks of free curriculum, and our support for the student presenting it all to the board. I, personally, told the board they should be embarrassed a student was pushing them to comply with the law and they should be doing their JOBS so I can tell my kids they represent ALL kids, even ones from families with a disabled mother. But it all seemed lost in the clown car show.

And just when you thought it couldn’t get more humiliating for the board member, the ego of this man somehow compelled him to speak at the end of the public comment session (which, if you go by rules isn’t supposed to happen but hey, they don’t seem to comply with the law, why would they follow meeting rules?) – School board member and radio host Joe Messina told the crowd it was great to see ‘democracy’ in action in front of him and thanked both sides- even the ‘opposition’ (I’m sorry, opposition to what? Him? Um… no…opposition to board inaction? SURE!) as it became about HIM and again, NOT about the FAIR Act we all spoke about or the students…despite his assertion about how much he cares about these students.

Let me just say this, if Joe Messina cared about the students, he would have used his time at the end of public discussion (breaking the rules)  to have asked the rest of the board to do something about complying with the law instead of thanking the clown car.

It’s a sad day in education when a young, gay man with three weeks left until high school graduation stands before his board of education begging them to take action on a law already imposed upon them by the state so that no one has to go through what he did…and the only board response was from a straight man thanking everyone for the attention HE received that night.

As a disabled mother in the district I feel as if the board is willfully discriminating against me and my family – and I applaud Andy Taban for standing up and speaking truth to power at such a young age.

Even if it means I have to fight this with legal action or continued pleas in front of the board, Mr. Taban will be one of those American heroes future Hart District kids will read about in their new history books. Even with the clown car all around him, he stood tall and proud and OUT and refused to be silenced. That’s one hell of a start for a Senior in high school dealing with adults who were clearly less mature and informed.

Benghazi!

For My Kids

Sometimes you just have to tell your doctor some things are more important than staying away from germs, despite your immune system being entirely compromised.

You can't hear Happy Birthday on the morning of your #9th b-day without a brother squeeze #allhailhala

Sometimes you just have to sit down with your husband and discuss the ramifications for your family if you open your  mouth on an important issue, knowing full well it’s brought death threats and hate to your door before.

Sometimes you just have to say BECAUSE EQUALITY MATTERS – and say it standing up, not in a wheelchair, without your cane, and hope they are paying attention when it is your turn to speak. Because you are standing up in tremendous pain so they can see your face, and you do not want their pity or their prayers. You want them to LISTEN. You spent the day having lifesaving drugs pumped into your body, and you know some of those starting down from their place on high think are a ‘taker’ unworthy of  life because God is certainly punishing you for your wicked ways.

Sometimes you have to cry because any of it is necessary in 2014, two years after a law has gone into effect, that you’re not treated like a second class citizen, that LGBT friends and family are not treated like second class citizens, that STUDENTS are not treated like second class citizens and that your children’s peers are not taught disabled or LGBT American heroes simply do.not.matter. by your local school district.

Sometimes you need to go to a school board meeting and speak your mind.

To be continued… 

 

A New Generation: From Breastfeeding at BlogHer to Blogging at BlogHer ’14

I’m always proud of our kids. Always. But I think that is typical of most parents.

I mean, we’re the type of people who jump up and down clapping when they pee in a toilet.

So imagine my pride when my son thought he might start a blog. I immediately began to give him ideas for posts, got him started on wordpress, asked him if he wanted to make a custom design… you know, the usual.

Flash forward about 24 hours and he was already bored with his blog.

It was then I heard ‘Hey Mom, can I start a blog?’

It was my daughter. The one who would rather not sit and read the hilarious blog post I had found just for her. The one who would rather get a shot at the pediatrician than write.

But flash forward another 24 hours and not only was she blogging, but she was loving every second of it.

Begging me to check and see if she had any new comments to approve while she was at school-  you know that darn school, always getting in the way of her blogging ‘No Mom, I don’t need any ideas for a post, I have like….a million’ she would say, typing furiously. ‘And can you make sure to tweet this to everyone, oh and show Facebook?’

I did my best to show her the basics, but she is a bit like her mother and rather determined to learn all on her very own.

During one of her lectures to me about how important it was she learn how to blog without my help, I remembered her on my hip at the BlogHer conference in 2006 in San Jose.

It seems like yesterday, but not.

Now she has her own blog. Now she has her ow ideas about what a nine-year old should talk about. And now she has her own pass to BlogHer.

Yes, Princess Peanut has a student pass for BlogHer ’14 in San Jose and her and I are going to have a girls weekend writing, learning about all the wonderful things and issues that come with being part of a community, and with me re-introducing her to all the women who met her so many years ago.

#AllHailHala indeed. See you all in San Jose.

Why Do You Blog? The Answer is Magical

So why are you still blogging? 

Are you hoping to make money? Become famous? Gain followers? Fans? A book deal?

Are you blogging because you want to share your family with relatives scattered across the world? Are you blogging because you found a community with which you relate? Are you blogging because you need to vent about life, family, friends, kids, partners, exes, bosses, or other bloggers?

WHY are you blogging?

It was a question posed by former-NFL receiver Donald Driver at Disney’s Social Media Moms Conference this past weekend-and it sort of knocked me off my chair.


(The kids enjoying family time at the conference on Main Street U.S.A. at Disneyland)

I haven’t thought about WHY I blog in such a very long time and it has changed over and over again.

At first I was blogging for something to do, to connect with other parents, to find my ‘tribe.’

Then I was blogging as an activist. Political posts ruled the day.

Then it was a smattering of parenting and politics and life.

Then I got sick…and everything changed. 

I didn’t know what to blog for a long time. So I just kept people up to date on my health. Until I broke down and began blogging about just how hard it all can be, about just how affected the kids and my husband were by my illness. I began blogging for myself, to just get it out.

Driver spoke to the crowd this past weekend about the motivation behind our blog posts, our tweets, our Facebook posts, our photos. His message was so simple, yet one I fear I have forgotten in the past 10-years as the industry has grown. Are you using your voice for good? 

Those of us who have been around the social media block have watched the metamorphosis. We started out as just hobbiest looking for community. Sharing our ups and downs like friends do. As our voices became more powerful some of us just kept doing what we’ve been doing all along, others took the $$$ path to try and cash in on their new found attention. Starting new sites, trying to bring in the big traffic numbers. ‘Monetizing’ was the word everyone loved.

Sure I put ads up on this blog, but I lost out on a lot of opportunities because I wouldn’t write sponsored posts on this site. For me, it just didn’t fit. It still doesn’t. This is my space to share and talk about my kids, my life…not products.

However, with Driver’s words still ringing in my ears, I am wondering where Queen of Spain blog goes from here. I want to make a difference. I want to help people. I want to continue to share the ups and downs of living with a chronic illness.

I am inspired to DO MORE with this space I’ve been given and have cultivated over the years. I’m inspired to make the most of what I’ve been given-and just asking myself the question this big ‘ol football player so easily stated really changed my mindset. WHY am I blogging?

I know the answer:

I’m blogging for myself. I’m blogging for you. I’m blogging to change the world we live in and hoping to bring others along for the ride.

I’m determined to bring back the magic in blogging and the honesty, the transparency, the REAL stories of life and love and loss. Not the ones conjured up for traffic, products, brands, or sponsors.

This space is where my soul and my heart connect with others and I give you all of me- the good and the bad. And I still believe there is a place for that in the industry.

Let’s get back to basics. Let’s get back to storytelling. Let’s get back to connecting with one another just for the sake of connecting, not because it’s required to fulfill a contract by a pr company.

Let’s get back to blogging.

 

*I was invited to attend the DSMM Celebration. I paid my own conference fees and received gifts during the conference. All opinions, experiences and thoughts are my own.

As the Song Says…

Yeah…that whole thing about giving them roots and wings to fly and what not???? I’m failing at it terribly right now. Failing. Failing. FAILING.

My son is currently at his first ever sleep-away camp and I’m in bed thinking about driving there to either spy on him, or the more likely scenario of nabbing him and bringing him home. HOME. Where he belongs.

NOT out in some totally perfect world for him where there are scientists and ecosystems and OCEANS and MOUNTAINS….which leads my mind to rip currents and bobcats and bears and wildfires and his hating socks but being cold and DO YOU UNDERSTAND I’m not there to MAKE HIM put the socks on which would also then lead to his feet getting dirty and him probably NOT showering even though he has all the stuff needed in his suitcase to shower with. Not to mention the book and book light he brought in case he couldn’t fall asleep (no electronics allowed) and I should have packed him an extra battery for that tiny book-light and OMG I CAN NOT DO THIS SOMEONE TALK ME DOWN PLEASE.

Whew. Ok. Sorry about that.

Which is why it’s best I stay in this bed, right here, and try to breathe for the next few days.

With my phone currently tucked in my bra in case they call and he needs me.

But that is just it, right? It’s the reality he doesn’t need me. I’ve done my job, so he does not need me. My husband has done his job, so he does not need him. We’re doing what we set out to do when we created life. Created this awesome kid that we truly do not deserve because he and his sister are EVERYTHING good in the world.

They are pure joy.

This is such a fantastic opportunity for him and he was SO EXCITED getting on the bus and already geeking out over the organisms he was hoping to find and study. It was contagious. I was excited WITH him, FOR him. To just watch him go on this journey.

Now it’s dark. I’m wondering if he’s asleep. I’m wondering if the boys in his cabin are loud. I’m wondering if he’s laying there, like I’m laying here…wondering if we’re all thinking about each other.

His sister even asked ‘Do you think Jack is in bed thinking about us like we’re thinking about him?’

I am such a wuss. He’s off having the time of his life and I AM A BIG OL BASKET CASE. But it’s not because he’s ill prepared or that I’m worried something will actually happen. No. That’s not really what is going on deep down.

Deep down it’s all about letting go. Letting him go. Letting him go so he can become the amazing person he already is and is destined to improve upon.

But my god does it hurt.