I often marvel that I was able to get through the first 35 years of my life without owning a cell phone. Mind you, these amazing communication devices were neither widely available nor affordable until then. My first handset was bulky, expensive and only good for making calls. Today, I use my smartphone so much it’s essential to be on the lowest price rate plan I can find (while still giving me the coverage and service I need). This can add up to a nice chunk of change when you factor in an entire family.
Which brings me to my daughter. She’s a good kid: she’s really conscious of the fact that we’re not made of money. She’s been carrying around the same basic mobile phone since middle school, and it doesn’t do a lot more than that clunky old phone I bought 20 years ago. She can make calls and text. That’s it.
This is my daughter’s five-year-old, not-so-smart phone.
I had wanted to replace it for a while. She’s ridiculously responsible and has proven she has the maturity to handle having easy access to the Internet — but she has always insisted that she was fine with the phone she had, and to be honest, I let it drop because I wasn’t too keen on adding yet another data account to our family plan.
But it’s getting to the point where carrying around a “dumbphone” is — well, dumb. She borrowed my car a lot over the summer so she could visit friends — and since she goes to a magnet school, those friends are scattered all over the Valley… and she
often once got lost, which had me wishing she had a smartphone with Google Maps, which now includes excellent turn-by-turn navigation.
When she receives a check, I often end up having to make the deposit for her because she doesn’t have the time. It would be so much easier for her to use one of those banking apps were deposits were as simple as taking a photo of the check with your phone.
Having a smartphone in your pocket means you also have a notebook, calculator, calendar, camera, voice recorder and more, at your fingertips.
She wasn’t interested. All I could do was wait it out. She’s had that phone for five years — nothing electronic lasts that long, right?
So I’ve been on cell phone death watch — until this week, when the folks at #cbias Social Fabric gave me the opportunity to try out a new MyTouch Android smartphone through Walmart’s Family Mobile service.
Walmart offers its own cell phone service? Who knew? And how could I be sure that the quality of the service was any good?
Those quality questions were put to rest when I learned that Walmart Family Mobile uses the 3G network from T-Mobile, which has been our family’s cell carrier for the last ten years. They have always given us good coverage in our neighborhood and in most of the areas we frequent here in Los Angeles. And when I’ve compared the cost of their wireless plans, I’ve always felt reassured that we would have a hard time finding anything cheaper.
But a cheap wireless plan from Walmart could be a game changer. I decided to do a little research.
Comparison Shopping for Best Wireless Deal: #FamilyMobileSaves
Some of the phones offered by Walmart Family Mobile.
We currently pay just under $140 per month for our family’s three phones. This breaks down to $80 for talk and text for all three handsets, plus $10 per month for unlimited data on the two smartphones my husband and I use. Additionally, we are making payments of $20 per month for my Apple iPhone, acquired a few months ago. The rest is for fees and taxes.
Adding another smartphone line to our plan will cost an additional $10 per month plus the cost of the phone. The myTouch model for sale at T-Mobile stores is $264. If I choose, I could pay for it over time at $20 a month for 24 months. Let’s say that’s what I do: This will make my monthly bill go up to $170 per month.
Our local Walmart carries a different version of the myTouch phone. The ones at T-Mobile have a slide-out keyboard, and the ones at Walmart do not. But the Walmart phones are just $129.88 right now, which is half the price. New customers also need to purchase a $25 starter kit to activate each line (this is a one-time fee). The monthly cost for the first line is $29.88, if all you want is unlimited talk and text, and $39.88 for unlimited talk, text and web.
Less than $40 a month for unlimited data is CHEAP, and this is a choice I would suggest to my niece and nephew who are no longer on their parents’ family plan.
Additional lines on the Walmart Family Mobile are $34.88 per month. So if all three of us were using Walmart Family Mobile, our pre-tax monthly bill would be a mere $109.64.
Because the third line on our current plan is only $10, this turns out to be comparable to what we would be paying on our current family plan if we did not have to make payments on the iPhone. But I wondered how Walmart Family Mobile stacked up against the prices other major companies were charging for their no-contract plans in my area.
If you look at individual service plans only:
Sprint is the only other major company that offers you unlimited talk, text and data without a contract. But their price for that is $70 per month. That’s more than DOUBLE what Walmart Family Mobile charges.
Verizon offers unlimited talk and text on a month-to-month basis, but not data. You’ll pay $60 per month for 2 GB of data and $70 for 4 GB.
AT&T has a similar plan, with $60 per month for 2 GB of data and $70 for 3 GB.
The Walmart Family Mobile Shopping Experience
You can choose to activate your phone in-store or at home with the $25 Walmart Family Mobile Starter Kit.
Purchasing the myTouch and setting up service at Walmart was super easy. Service is month-to-month, so there’s no need for the credit check required for the major carriers’ contract plans. All you have to do is choose your handset and purchase the additional $25 starter kit to activate service. I opted to do this in-store, but you can also assemble your phone, insert your SIM and activate it yourself at MyFamilyMobile.com.
This is also where you can manage your account. I will receive my first month’s bill via text in 16-18 days from when I activated the service with the first monthly payment due a couple of weeks after that. You have the option of visiting MyFamilyMobile.com to make your payments or to authorize AutoPay with a credit card.
The Walmart associate who helped me set up my new account was friendly and knowledgeable. One of the reasons we stay with GSM type mobile service is so we can use our phones when we visit my husband’s family in the UK. We own prepaid SIM cards from British carriers for each of our lines — this allows us to communicate with our family and each other over there without getting hit with international roaming fees. But most phones sold in the United States are locked so they only work on one carrier’s network.
T-Mobile has always helped us by unlocking our phones for international travel. My Walmart associate assured me I could do that with the new Walmart Family Mobile phone, too. All I have to do is dial 611 and I would receive the same customer service I already enjoy at T-Mobile.
Great Apps Are a Back to School Essential
My daughter shows off her NEW myTouch Smartphone.
While I was busy setting up our new Walmart Family Mobile account, my daughter was finishing up the last of her back to school shopping. We met outside the store and I handed her the phone. I repeated the advice of the sales associate: The equipment gets charged at the factory, so it’s still got some juice when you take it out of the box. She could use it right away, but should probably give it an hour or two in the charger once we got home.
She began exploring it. “This says 3G!”
Yes, I told her. You’ve got high speed data on this phone.
“I can get email on it? And Facebook?”
Yes, I told her. And when you need a quick answer on the Internet, you can use it to browse. You can also access Google Play for an entire library’s worth of apps: from alarm clocks to dictionaries to weather forecasting to photo editing… That’s one of the reasons smartphones are so smart.
“How much extra will that cost us?”
Nothing, I said. You’ve got an unlimited data plan.
A few hours after returning home, she let me know: “I’m kind of liking this new phone.”
I had a feeling she would.
English: A small box of Kleenex. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
My husband leaves for work really early every morning, so I’m used to sleeping through the 5:00 a.m. alarm. But today was different: School has started and once again, my daughter must begin her day with a cruel 7:00 a.m. 0 period. She instructed her dad to make sure she got out of bed at 5:30, which he did. Then he tried to do the same to me.
“I’ve got another half hour,” I mumbled.
This was true. Yesterday, my daughter noted that she would rather not lug a full lunchbox around school until they issue her a new locker — and that may not be for a couple of days. So freed of the responsibility of making her lunch, I made an executive decision to postpone my shower until after I drop her off… which allowed me to stay in bed an extra 30 minutes.
She spent most of Monday finishing up her summer assignments. I remembered that the light was still on in her room when I went to bed.
“How late were you up last night?” I asked.
No answer. That means she only slept for a handful of hours. I have stopped nagging her about this. Of course, she needs more sleep — but between her studies and assignments and that dreadful early period, it’s not possible. That’s why I also took it so easy on her over the summer, when she stayed in bed past noon nearly every day, as if she could bank all those extra hours of sleep for the Fall.
At 6:30, we were backing out of the driveway.
“Did you ever read The Crucible?” she asked.
No. Death of a Salesman is the only Arthur Miller play I’m familiar with, and it’s been a couple of decades since I gave it a good read.
“The first thing we’re doing is taking a test on it,” she explained, “and I’m having trouble keeping track of Putnam, Parris and Proctor. Too many characters beginning with ‘P.’”
So we drove to school in near silence while she tried to create a mental cheat sheet on which character was which.
We arrived at our destination at 6:50 — right on time. There were already several students milling about.
“I will see you at 3:00,” I said before she slammed the door shut and began her senior year of high school.
I drove away, feeling sad that I had not taken a photo of her to commemorate this occasion. I didn’t even try; she put the kibosh on first day pictures years ago. The only photographic remembrance I will have is the senior portrait she posed for last week, and she was not all that happy about doing that. I’m pretty sure the only reason she went along with it is that it was required for the yearbook, and her father and I insisted. We were happy to receive framed senior photos as gifts from each of her older cousins as they finished 12th grade and we plan to do the same.
“I think it’s weird to give people a photo of yourself as a gift,” she said.
Not if those people are your family and friends who love you.
I got home and fired up Facebook and saw all the updates from my friends with kids who will be graduating this year, and I was reminded of the day I walked her into school for the first time, 12 years ago. The PTA at our elementary school had a tradition of hosting the mothers of the new students with a reception they called the “Tissue Tea,” where the party favors were be-ribboned purse-size packets of Kleenex.
I could use one of those right now. I have a feeling I will need a case of them this year.
The Wheatland Amphitheatre near Sacramento. Copyright 2013 by Donna Schwartz Mills
I have a ton of things to do before I send my daughter back to school tomorrow. So why did I spend my weekend driving up and down the Central Valley?
It started back in April, when we celebrated Megan’s birthday. My sister’s gift was a ticket to a concert featuring one of my kid’s favorite bands, the Irish group The Script.
There was just one hitch: The concert was being held on August 10, the Saturday before the start of school. In Sacramento. This is where my sister and her family live.
Not that big a deal, right? My usual routine the weekend before the start of school involves a big Costco shopping trip for the things I need to pack in her lunch, but most years I get the other shopping done ahead of time. And even though this was not my usual summer — I have been out of town a lot — she’s going into her senior year. You’d think I would have everything under control…
…and you would be wrong, because that’s not how I roll.
But back in April, we did not think a quick trip up to Sacramento and back the weekend before the start of school would be that big a deal. The worst case scenario might include us just sending Megan up and down on Southwest, which would free us up to take care of whatever we needed to do on the weekend. We had lots of time to decide how to handle it, so we waited until we were closer to the date.
And then in June, our niece (one of the ones in Sacramento) graduated from high school, and her brother took a page from his mom’s book and gifted her with a ticket to see the band, Train, on August 9.
“It’s in LA,” he told her, and the plan was that he and she would drive down here together to see the show.
Here’s the funny part: The Script concert and the Train concert were both the same show, because the Script was opening for Train.
My daughter and niece didn’t mind. They thought it would be great fun to follow the band from here to there and see the same show two nights in a row.
At some point in this discussion, we realized that the concert in LA on Friday night was actually in Irvine. People who don’t live here tend to lump all of Southern California into a label called “Los Angeles,” but it’s quite a distance from our home in the San Fernando Valley down to the Irvine Amphitheatre, and that distance tends to be crammed with bumper-to-bumper traffic. But hey — this was going to be special. We could deal with it.
Then my nephew wound embarking to Israel on August 7, so he was not able to accompany her. So the new plan involved my sister and niece somehow arriving here on Friday so the girls could attend the show (while the parents enjoyed a nice dinner out), and then Megan would go up to Sacramento with them and then we would get her home to us somehow on Sunday, perhaps on a plane but maybe I would drive or maybe my husband would, too. We had time to figure it out.
By last week, we had still not figured it out.
My niece had taken a part-time job and she was scheduled to work on Saturday night (which was when she was supposed to see the concert with my daughter in Sacramento). There was a chance that she could switch hours with a co-worker, which meant she would work on Friday instead (the night of the tickets her brother gave her). In that case, they would send the Friday night tickets to us, Megan could take a friend to Irvine, and then we would have to get her to Sacramento on Saturday for the second show. And since we hadn’t really dealt with this until now, airline tickets were pretty much out of the question. One or both parents were going to have to drive.
“We can all see the show together,” my sister announced. That may have been in the back of her head all along: the ticket she gave my daughter for her birthday was one of a set of six.
“We saw Train at a convention a few years ago and we really liked them,” my sister explained on Friday after I met her and Maddy at the Santa Clarita Amtrak dropoff on Friday afternoon. It was about 2:30. We had just enough time to drop their bags off at home, pick up a blanket and bottled water (my nephew had gifted his sister with lawn tickets) and head down to Irvine. We expected to get there early, which would allow us to scope out the area and figure out where to pick the girls up when the show was over.
It took us over two hours to get there.
But our plan was good: The parking lot was just opening and we arrived among just a few folks who had come to do a little tailgating before the show. The parking attendants pointed out the best spot for drop-off and pickup. We learned that it was OK to bring food in to the show, so we decided to search for a Subway.
The nearest one turned out to be at the Irvine Spectrum, a mall that was just a couple of blocks away from the Amphitheatre.
We dropped the girls off and debated where to have dinner. We tried to estimate how long we had: The show was scheduled to start at 7:00, but likely wouldn’t begin right on time. There were three acts (Gavin DeGraw was set to start before The Script)… We would want to be back at the Amphitheatre at least a half hour before the show ended. We figured we had three hours to kill.
We weren’t all that far from beautiful Laguna Beach. We could sip mojitos and watch the sun set over the Pacific…
…or we could stay close by and have a relaxed dinner at one of the restaurants in the mall.
What do YOU think a couple of Jewish mothers would choose to do? Of course, we stayed close to our kids. We ended up having a really wonderful dinner at Paul Martin’s, one of a chain of American bistro-type restaurants owned by the same guy behind PF Chang’s and Fleming’s Steakhouse (you see, the guy’s name is Paul Martin Fleming). We stretched that dinner out with drinks, appetizers and dessert. It was all really, really good.
The girls texted us with updates throughout the meal: “We’re inside”… “Gavin DeGraw just started”… “The Script is playing”… “Train is about to begin.” And as we were paying our bill: “We’re OK with leaving any time you’re ready.”
We texted them back with our location back at the Amphitheatre parking lot and drove back to my house, making it back at 11:30. This was a good thing, because Maddy’s shift on Saturday began at 2:00 p.m., which meant we needed to be on the road the next morning by 6:00.
My sister decided not to go on Saturday night. She didn’t want Maddy to come home from work to an empty house (Jewish mother, remember?), so she told her eldest daughter to invite one of her friends.
So here’s the thing: There was a time when I was passionate about music. My dream was to be a writer for Rolling Stone, like Cameron Crowe. I got kind of close: My first job out of college was writing (and later producing) a nationally syndicated weekly Top 30 countdown show for the RKO Radio network (among others). Basically, I interviewed rock stars for a living and got to attend two or three concerts every week — for free. That experience made it hard for me to justify paying hard-earned money for the crummy seats I could actually afford to buy, so I stopped going to concerts.
And I wasn’t all that interested in going to this one. The only act I was familiar with was the Script, who remind me a little bit of U2 before they got huge. It’s not just that both bands are from Dublin: I think the Script’s rich sound and the quality of their songs make them a band to watch.
The truth is, as I’ve gotten older I’ve become more and more curmudgeonly. I dislike crowds. I don’t want to deal with the parking. And I hate being the oldest person in the room.
I told my sister I would be OK with keeping her company at home. My husband, however, didn’t want to hear that. He wanted me there.
“Go,” my sister said.
So I did. And I had fun. It helped noticing that I wasn’t the only old fogie in the multi-generational audience. And the show was really good, with the three acts very well-matched.
I decided that I really like Gavin DeGraw, who was funny and charming and seemed to be having a really good time with the audience. I learned that I was familiar with some of Train’s hit songs, but didn’t like them enough to bother to learn the name of the group that performed them. It surprised me to see how popular they were with the audience, who were singing along as if they were the second coming of Springsteen. I felt like I do when I go to church with my husband and pretend to be familiar with the hymns everyone else is singing.
I ended up deciding that the cult of Train is like Jimmy Buffet’s Parrotheads. I never got into Buffet’s music, but I cannot deny that a lot of other people find it appealing.
But the bottom line is: it was worth it. The whole shebang — from the ordeal of driving to Orange County in rush hour to getting up at the crack of dawn to drive to Sacramento, and then doing the same drive back home the following day. This is something I had remind myself yesterday as we sped along I-5 for our second six-hour drive in 36 hours.
And now: School starts tomorrow and I’ve got a lot to do.
It was worth it.
Matt DAMON (acteur) (Photo credit: startinghere71)
Dear Matt Damon:
It has come to my attention that you and your family are moving to Los Angeles. As a lifelong Angeleno (with Massachusetts roots), I want to welcome you to our complicated city. Our diversity, energy and culture are equal to what you’re used to in New York — you just have to look a little harder and travel a little longer to find it.
Rest assured that LA residents are used to seeing celebrities in our midst, especially in the sort of neighborhood in which you are likely to settle. Locals understand the etiquette: pretend to ignore the famous face, no matter how excited you are to see it. The only problem with this is that it sometimes takes a few moments to realize that the guy you see in the supermarket looks familiar only because you saw him on TV — but I am certain this is also the case in the community you’ve been living in up until now. I’m pretty certain you’ll find that the baristas at your new Malibu or Beverly Hills Starbucks will be just as friendly and normal as the ones in New York.
The one thing I would like to clear up is your misconception about public schools here. I cannot deny that the Los Angeles Unified School District is a dysfunctional behemoth, subject to the worst kind of publicity in the nation, and that the quality of the 800-some schools in the district varies wildly (with those in low-income communities tending to fare far worse). I am hopeful that new funding approved by voters in the last election will help solve some of the inequities.
Believe me, had I enjoyed the kind of income that would have allowed it, I probably would have sent my own child to an excellent private school, as you have decided to do. But now that my daughter is entering her senior year at public high school, I am really glad I wasn’t able to go that route. Because I think it would have been a mistake.
You see, your reasoning — that the public schools in Los Angeles could not offer the same progressive education you enjoyed growing up — is false.
Balboa Gifted Magnet is one of the highest ranked schools in the entire state of California. It is known throughout the city for its high standards and challenging curriculum — and it is LAUSD. Holmes Middle School has been designated a California Distinguished School for its academic achievement and programs that emphasize both technology and humanities — and it is LAUSD. And the experience my daughter has had at Cleveland Humanities Magnet is akin to what you’d expect from a major university (in fact, most Cleveland graduates report that college is a lot easier). Again, a high achieving school within LAUSD.
And those are just three schools in the San Fernando Valley. There are dozens of other campuses throughout the city, with academically enriched curricula and unique learning programs from performing arts, to environmental science to aerospace science. Oh yes, and lots of math and technology.
I wish you could join us on our morning carpool, Matt, and listen to these kids talk about their classes and their wonderful teachers. They are thoroughly engaged as they learn and apply concepts of history and social justice to the world around them. It warms my heart — and I bet it would warm yours, too.
It’s true that her teachers are not all Ph.Ds, as is the case at the tony Marlborough School where some of our friends send their daughters. My daughter was not required to learn Latin (and with resources so low, Spanish was the only language even offered my daughter in middle school) and her elementary school science lab was far from state-of-the-art. But she and her friends have thrived and have the SAT scores to prove it. And she’s going to get so much more day-to-day use from knowing Spanish than she ever would with Latin, although that would be a helpful language for pursuits like solving crossword puzzles.
Now, I totally understand how someone as wealthy and famous as you would worry about your kids’ safety. That alone is a good reason to place them at Oakwood or Harvard-Westlake or Crossroads, with all the other rich kids.
But that’s the problem, Matt. Rich kids who go to private schools only ever get to meet other rich kids in private schools. Yes, there may be a few scholarship students in their classes, but there’s an awful lot of pressure on those kids to try to fit in, so they may not learn a lot from them. You may be able to counter with extracurricular activities like gymnastics or soccer — but your children may never fully understand how privileged they are. And I fully believe that one of the reasons so many wealthy people in this country care little about their fellow citizens is that they live in their own private enclaves and never get to know anyone but other wealthy people living in enclaves. I think it’s hugely detrimental to all Americans that we have so little interaction across the economic spectrum. That isn’t how it was back when I went to school, and I bet that isn’t how you remember your school experience, either.
By isolating yourself and your family, you do not get to experience L.A.’s most dynamic resource: Our diversity. But maybe that’s just the way it has to be for the families of A-list actors. It’s a scary world out there. In a way, I feel sorry for you.
Anyway, I am looking forward to having the Damons join our merry band of citizens in Los Angeles, and I actually do support your decision. If you have not yet selected your family’s schools, I’d like to recommend this resource created by one of my MomsLA colleagues: Beyond the Brochure. Christina Simon will guide you through the ins and outs of the private school scene here.
Just don’t tell people you’re doing it because the public schools aren’t adequate.
The fact that President Obama was flying in to Los Angeles today for a Tonight Show appearance was rather ho-hum news. He may not spend as much time here as he did when he was campaigning for re-election, but few politicians with a national presence are strangers here — not when there is so much money to be made from deep-pocketed donors.
Then my friend Jessica Gottlieb posted a traffic advisory to Facebook with a list of streets to avoid over the next two days… And all I could think was, “WTF?”
All of the traffic will be here in the San Fernando Valley. Some of that makes sense, as NBC’s Tonight Show studio is located on our eastern flank, in Burbank. And it didn’t take me long to suss out the fact that the area around Sherman Way and Hayvenhurst borders Van Nuys Airport, which may be the city’s busiest hub for private jets.
I remember how back in the gymnastics years, some of the other moms and I would retreat to the bar at the 94 Aero Squadron, which offers great views of the runway at Van Nuys Airport. And one day, we noticed a woman in casual business dress sitting alone at a table near ours. She had binoculars trained on a plane sitting on that runway. “Secret Service,” whispered our waitress, who told us that the plane she was watching so intently had brought Laura Bush that afternoon for a school appearance in Northridge.
The published news of the President’s visit states that he will be landing at LAX, but probably taking a helicopter to the Valley, so I guess there’s no chance of going back to the 94th to see Air Force One. But the real head scratcher was the report that he’s spending the night in Woodland Hills, with the traffic advisory warning us away from the area around Warner Center. There are no mansions or billionaire compounds there – just office space, condos and shopping malls. And a couple of hotels, one of which must be where the President is bunking for the night.
The one thing my friends and I can’t figure out is: why?
Maybe he wants to get a feel for how the middle class works and plays in Los Angeles, I surmised. Perhaps he had some extra Hilton points to cash in. I bet he heard there’s a really nice PF Chang’s across the street from the Marriott.
Honestly… I have no idea why the President, who could stay anywhere in our diverse city, would choose an unremarkable part of the area author Kevin Roderick called “America’s Suburb.” Unless that was the point.
Naturally, I set my daughter up for a haircut at a salon in the Topanga Plaza mall, smack in the middle of the no-drive zone. So we may find ourselves in a Presidential traffic jam going home. (My friend Marsha expects to be in a similar predicament when his segment with Leno is taped.)
I’m actually confident we can maneuver our way around the President’s motorcade. I know lots of people who have plenty of experience doing so in more glamorous parts of the city. But I will be looking for news reports that explain why.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad
On Monday, the day after I returned from BlogHer, I went to my doctor’s office for what was (for me) a routine ultrasound. She looked at the image and shook her head.
“You have a new mess on your ovary,” she said.
I have a history of really large uterine fibroids, and it seemed perfectly natural to me to refer to them as a “mess,” because really, that’s what they are. It took me a few minutes before I realized the word my doctor used was “mass.”
A mass near or on my ovary.
That didn’t sound good.
I am really good at doling out health advice to others, but when it comes to my own well-being, I kind of suck.
I was pretty responsible up until I quit my full time job and the comprehensive healthcare plan that came with it. We went from two full-time incomes to one, and decided to give the HMO option a try. That meant giving up the beloved Beverly Hills-based OB/GYN who got me through infertility and delivered my daughter.
I hated the HMO. When the following year’s Open Enrollment came around, we switched back to a PPO. But my old doctor was not on this plan either — and so in my mid-40′s, I stopped getting wellness visits altogether. You see, I felt pretty good. OK, I was slowing down a bit and my knees had starting creaking a little. But I figured, if it ain’t broke I didn’t have to fix it.
Besides, as long as I felt healthy and I didn’t have any doctors telling me otherwise, why upset the apple cart?
That lasted until about five years ago, when I developed a pain in my shoulder. I lived with it for several months before I finally sucked it up and got someone to examine it. And the first thing she did was tell me I had a large mass in my abdomen.
After I finished freaking out over that news, I guessed that what she had discovered were my uterine fibroids, which my husband had assured me were HUGE (the lucky man witnessed their gargantuosity in the OR during my c-section). And a subsequent ultrasound confirmed that’s what they were (the two largest were the size of grapefruits).
I was referred to a new OB/GYN. My fears about getting routine medical help were confirmed: The fibroids did not bother me in the least, but they did concern my new doctors, who were alarmed at how anemic I was (the fibroids caused heavy periods which depleted my iron to frightening low levels). I told them I felt fine. They told me that probably would not continue.
At my age — 52 then — it was just a matter of time before menopause kicked in and I would stop producing the estrogen that nourished the fibroids. But that anemia was a problem… My two doctors sparred a little bit over how to treat them before settling on one procedure that resulted in an overnight stay at Holy Cross. It was deemed successful — until six months passed and I experienced the Period From Hell, which used up a half box of Super Plus Tampax EVERY DAY FOR A WEEK. I was afraid to leave the house lest I could not get to a bathroom in time to change every hour. It ruined my enjoyment of my daughter’s graduation from middle school, because I was terrified of a leak — and caused me to leave our group’s graduation party early to see one of those doctors so I could get some medication to MAKE IT STOP.
My doctor wanted to perform a hysterectomy, and she had a point. I didn’t actually need my reproductive organs any longer, and without them, I could live my life without fear of uterine or ovarian cancer. But I get emotional about losing my hair or getting root canals — I’m not real keen on losing an organ, if I can help it. And it’s abdominal surgery. Recovery takes several weeks, during which I would be unable to drive (and then how would my kid get to and from school?)
We agreed to just monitor the situation with regular ultrasounds. My last blood tests showed that I am indeed in the throes of menopause (as if I could not tell from the hot flashes!) I’m no longer producing estrogen and the growths on my uterus had been shrinking… which is why this new “mess” was so disturbing.
“Overall, your uterus has shrunk. But this new mass is unexpected.”
She ordered a blood test to detect the presence of tumors. “This test is not 100%,” she warned. “So if it turns up normal, I still want to do another ultrasound in a couple of months.”
I left her office and called my husband from the parking lot to let him know what was going on. “People in my family die of strokes and heart disease, not cancer,” I told him.
The routine doctor’s appointment had taken two hours. It was time for lunch, but I wasn’t hungry just then — and when I did get my appetite back, I decided I didn’t feel like sticking to my diet. Hell, if it did turn out to be cancer why bother with depriving myself of food I like? I was going to eat every single thing I loved that was bad for me.
And that’s why I was at Islands yesterday, scarfing up a basket of fries when the call came from my doctor’s office.
“Your test came back normal,” she said.
My next ultrasound is in October. Even if we see some shrinkage, I feel like the writing is on the wall and there’s some surgery in my future, and I’m OK with that. For most of last summer, I was unable to drive thanks to a broken right toe, so my kid was my chauffeur. She ended her driver’s training period feeling really practiced and confident and aced her driving test. And now that she has her own license, I can spend six weeks in bed without worrying about how my daughter will get to and from school.
And I will resume my diet… on Monday.
On Tuesday, I had to get my flu-ridden self out of bed and take my daughter to school.
No, the Fall semester hasn’t started THIS early (she still has another two weeks, but the summer still feels like it’s been too short). But as this will be her senior year, there are additional events and activities on her agenda. She’s been talking about next year’s prom for months, since her class raised enough money to secure fabulous space at our beautiful Museum of Natural History. And next week, she will sit for her senior portrait — so I really do have to get off my butt and make her an appointment for a haircut. And maybe a blow dry just before the photo shoot.
Today – August 1 – is when the college common application goes live for students entering next Fall. It’s show-time, folks. All the years of education, testing and prep have all culminated to this, and it’s scary as hell (at least, for ME). For my daughter and her friends, the scariest part is having to write the various personal statement essays that will accompany those college apps. So the wonderful teachers who coordinate her magnet put together an all-day essay writing boot camp to jump start the process, featuring a couple of established private coaches — and we parents were invited to sit in on the morning presentation.
As usual, we ran late — so the school library we entered was already filled with students and their parents. Fortunately, there were empty seats near Megan’s best friend and her mother, who greeted me with the confession that she isn’t ready for this.
Boy, can I relate. “I almost wish she was flunking out so I could keep her home a little longer,” I joked.
A dad at the table looked at me incredulously. “You want your kid to fail?” he asked.
“No, of course not,” I sputtered. No one is prouder of my beautiful, smart, high achieving daughter than I (except maybe her father). But the other mom got it.
“It must be a lot harder for you with an only child,” she said. “At least I still have two more at home.”
I nodded. It is REALLY hard to acknowledge that the best, longest job I’ve ever held is ending. Not “ending,” exactly, as I will always be her mother. But my role is changing, and I feel so very lost (which I suppose is what yesterday’s post was really about). Couple the sadness I am feeling over that with the anxiety I’m experiencing over where she will go to college and how we are going to pay for it… and I think it’s understandable that I’m kind of a wreck right now.
The presentation began with Audrey Kahane, who helps families hone in on the colleges and universities that are the best fit for their students. She talked a bit about why it is so much more competitive now than when we were young.
“If you got into UCLA or Berkeley 30 years ago, chances are you would not be able to do so today,” she said. The reasons:
- That same common college application that makes it so easy to apply to ten or even 20 colleges at once is one of the reasons: universities now have many more applicants to choose from, so their acceptance rates are smaller.
- On top of that, having a low acceptance rate makes them look good to the people who are doing the college rankings, so the colleges themselves are under pressure to keep those rates low
- This is one of the reasons why today’s universities recruit new students so aggressively; some even targeting kids right after they’ve taken the PSAT.
I can attest to that: we used MY email address on Megan’s PSAT and SAT tests, so all the recruiting emails come to me — and we’ve been receiving dozens a week for the last three years. Some of the colleges reaching out to her are really well known; but the majority are schools I had never heard of. Most are private with tuitions of $40,000 a year or more. There is no way we can send her to one of those without MAJOR financial assistance, and I am not talking about loans. I am terrified of seeing her start her life with a college loan that’s equal to a mortgage.
“Everyone wants to go to USC, UCLA, Berkeley and Stanford, but the acceptance rates are extremely low,” Kahane said. “Be sure your list includes some great schools that are more accessible.”
But how? How do we sift through all those colleges? How do we find the ones who will love her enough to offer her the scholarships she would need to be able to afford this?
She has a list of colleges she wants to apply to, and most of them are the ones that are hardest to get in. I’ve told her she also needs to apply to at least one CalState (including the one that’s only a few miles from home — which actually offers the kind of program she is interested in). Living at home and commuting a couple of miles away is NOT her college dream, and it’s not mine either — but everything changed after the economy imploded and that is what we know we can afford. Even if she only went there for two years and transferred, it would make a huge difference in the cost.
Kahane talked about what colleges and universities are looking for:
1. They want to see applicants who demonstrate intellectual curiosity
2. They want to see students who have had some impact in their schools and/or communities, which makes them attractive as someone who would have an impact in college or even the world. Yale said they were looking for the next Einstein or world leader. (Well, it’s a good thing we’re not interested in applying to Yale.)
There are three steps to getting a good match with a college, Kahane said:
1. Know yourself
2. Know the colleges
3. Present your best self in the applications
Create a balanced list of likely schools, 50-50 dream schools and accessible schools (she doesn’t like to use the term “safety school”).
Once you find the schools that you like, you have to show them you like them. This does not apply to the Stanfords and Berkeleys on your list, but schools that are less selective do need to know that you really are interested.
The biggest way to demonstrate interest is to apply for early decision, but since that is binding, you should only do that if you are absolutely certain you will go if accepted. This is not a good route for someone who needs to compare financial aid packages between universities.
You could also apply for early action, which doesn’t require a commitment so this could be a good thing. However, this is not a good idea if you need an extra semester to up your GPA.
Some colleges actually track how long you spend on their websites. (Ha! This might explain some of those emails we continue to receive from schools that caught my fancy — but offer nothing my daughter is interested in.)
As Kahane spoke about the goals of the college essay, I realized that her advice could easily apply to blogging. I imagined hearing her advice at one of the BlogHer writing labs I wanted to attend but somehow could not find the space in my schedule to do so:
The goal of your essay is not to impress, but to create a bond with the reader (who may be reading hundreds of essays a day). Find a story that reveals something about you that admissions officers can’t tell from other parts of the applications. The most effective essays may focus on a moment that made students see their world differently.
Show that you are an intelligent person who thinks about things. And most of all, make sure it has personality, is concise and easy to read. It should have a conversational voice.
And remember: the first draft does not need to be perfect. Get it out and then rewrite it until it shines. (I wish I did this more with my blog, but I am such a slow writer that all I ever do is post first drafts here — which may be why everything I do is so flat lately, compared with my posts during the gymnastics years, when I spent my afternoons sitting in a gym with nothing else to do.)
That’s a lot, but the second speaker — Julie Ferber Frank — had even more to say. I am not going to even attempt to paraphrase her advice here, because the handouts she brought are online at her website, AdventureEssays.com. I left the parent part of the boot camp feeling both reassured — and more anxious than ever. I thanked my daughter’s teachers for putting the event together, and thanked the lecturers for sharing their knowledge with us all, and left my daughter and her friends, who were spending the rest of the afternoon beginning the first drafts of their essays.
On the way home, I told my daughter I thought we should hire one of the consultants to help us with her college search. This is a big concession for me, because I tend to think of private education consultants as unnecessary ventures, designed just to make me insecure enough to part with what little money I have. My kid has done very well without going through the private coaching and tutoring so many of my friends’ kids have endured. Could she have done better? Maybe. Would I have signed her up for extracurricular tutoring if she was not the kind of student she is? I’m sure I would. But so far, we have not needed it and it feels funny to be considering that now.
I never needed to hire a consultant to help me get into college, but everything was so different 40 years ago. For one thing, our high school offered counselors who took the time to get to know each of us. My daughter’s high school has one counselor for every 800 or so students, and getting in to see one isn’t easy. When I applied to college, my parents told me I could go anywhere I wanted — as long as it was a public institution in Los Angeles. I applied and got in to both UCLA and CSUN, with just a 3.31 average. As Kahane said, I would not be even close to UCLA today.
My daughter was kind of appalled at the suggestion that we talk to an outside counselor as we begin this process. She feels she has it all under control — from her college list to the essay writing. I wish I had that same confidence.
I look back at my daughter’s young life and realize that I felt this same anxiety with every new phase of her education: from choosing a daycare I could trust with my newborn infant when I went back to work… to preschool, to kindergarten, to middle school and high school. I stayed up nights, worrying — was I doing the right thing for her? Would my decision help or hinder her development? Would she be safe? Would she make friends? Would she do as well academically in public school as the kids who could afford the area’s best private schools?
Each and every time, once we got there, my worries were laid to rest. She was in the exact right place at the exact right time for her. She’s done well and has grown up to be a capable, smart, independent young woman. Everything I want for her.
I tell myself I need to step back and let this process take its course. I need to stop worrying. Now is the time to focus on ME and what I will do next year when I no longer have a child to take care of. The thought of her leaving makes me tear up, even as I write this.
But of course, I won’t stop worrying — about either of us. Not yet. I’m not ready.
This year, I vowed to do things I had never done before at BlogHer, beginning with my arrival — because aside from a stopover at O’Hare Airport 30 years ago, this was my first time in Chicago.
I went on to do new things by (1) wearing a dress (something I may have done before but cannot recall, because it is pretty hard to make me don anything but t-shirts and jeans)… (2) participated in the annual 5k Fun Run (which in my case, was a walk)… And (3) actually spoke on a panel. (It was a sponsored session for US Cellular, so was not part of the official program — but I did have to speak to a small audience. And I am told that I did not do or say anything particularly embarrassing, so yay me!)
There were other firsts this trip that were less enjoyable. You know that “BlogHer flu” everyone seems to come down with after they get home? I contracted mine on Saturday, so I was feeling kind of miserable as I began writing this post back at O’Hare on Sunday.
I’ve delayed publishing this because I think feeling crappy colored my mood when I was writing this. Instead of walking away from BlogHer feeling inspired, what I was experiencing when I wrote this was more of a sense of … loss.
My Facebook timeline is plastered with excited posts from others who attended the same conference, and they are full of excitement and energy and inspiration. Just like my BlogHer posts of yore. And these posts go all the way back to 2005.
And I did get to spend some time with women I adore: Old friends like Liz Thompson and Jenn Satterwhite and Kim Moldofsky, and new ones like Melisa Welles, Stacy Jill Calvert and Michelle Lewsen (who may or may not be a distant relative). Inspiring women like Deb Rox, Shannon Colleary, Vikki Reich, Dresden Shumaker and Leslie Marinelli. Awesome, intelligent political women like Kelly Wickham, Anita Jackson and Jill Miller Zimon.
I got my usual hugs from Lisa Stone, Jory Des Jardines and Elisa Camahort Page, the three women who founded BlogHer. If they can’t inspire me, I’m a lost cause.
I spent my share of time on the Expo floor. I posed for pictures on Serta mattresses, and with La-Z-Boy chairs. I surprised myself by preferring Folgers Bold Silk coffee to my usual Starbucks brew. I had a nice long chat with a woman who represents gardening companies, who said she would put me in touch with someone who might teach me not to kill everything I plant. I won a three-month supply of a product that promises to do something about my thinning hair.
The Expo is fun — but BlogHer for me has always been about the sessions. And the people I meet. I did all the things I usually do when going to BlogHer, and came away feeling flat.
Maybe I’ve become jaded. I had hoped that making it to my tenth year of blogging would give me some new energy for this site, but instead I feel like I am at a crossroads. My daughter is nearly all grown up. It is time for me to start doing something else. But what?
I mentioned this to a friend while I was at Netroots Nation last month, and he set about trying to point me in the right direction. “What is it you want to do,” he asked.
I could not answer him. For the first time in my life, I honestly don’t know.
He named an array of the types of jobs and organizations I might want to apply for. Nothing sounded like a good fit.
My husband is frustrated with me, because we both agree I need to get back out in the world. But that world isn’t exactly rushing to welcome back 57-year-old women who have spent the last 15 years on the mommy track, no matter how smart or skilled or competent they might be.
A couple of weeks ago, I even applied for a job at McDonald’s and it was apparent from the application that they might consider me over-qualified (it asked questions like “Has anyone ever complained that you are not punctual”). I don’t really want to work for McDonald’s or Starbucks or any other fast food outlet. But in another time, not that long ago, that was a place you could go to bring in a little money while you figure out the next step. Now, those low wage jobs are being filled by people who really need them as their primary source of income. High school students and retirees have to compete with former middle managers for minimum wage. It doesn’t sound promising.
My sister is facing a similar dilemma. While we were in Chicago together, she finalized the sale of a business she started over 20 years ago. She is returning home a “free woman” — with no idea of what she’s going to do next.
We have been trying to get another blog running together, but so far have been unable to figure out what we’re doing with it. It’s got no direction. Just like us.
Linda read Sheryl Sandberg’s book, “Lean In,” and was excited to hear Sandberg speak at BlogHer on Saturday. Her advice to women resonated with my sister, but there was nothing in it that spoke to me and my situation, which led to another first for me at BlogHer: I cried.
I cried, and I left my sister in the ballroom as they were breaking into smaller, “Lean In” circles. She was concerned for me, but the truth is that I had wanted to sit in on a political panel that was set to start right then. I settled in, began taking notes and forgot that I was feeling sorry for myself.
And it occurred to me that I am not a “mommy blogger” any longer. The thing that excites me now is news and politics.
Unfortunately, those activities don’t pay, so the search for some kind of income continues. Perhaps it will be in partnership with my sister.
And this may turn out to be my last BlogHer.
I’m glad I finally got to see Chicago.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad
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