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I have great clothes. Really. I have a closet full of beautiful clothes for every occasion in only two sizes, perfect for the life I think I’m living. I have coordinated outfits and signature pieces, perfect for the office I pay for but rarely go in to, perfect for the camping trips scheduled but abandoned, mountain weather I’m rarely in, the soirees I attend but can’t find anything to wear to and every imaginable combo for the vacations I take and over-pack for. Theory and reality.

Most mornings I wake up at dawn, pull on a t-shirt and a pair of snappy yoga pants I bought for the classes I’ve paid for yet never gone to, take my son to school, return home to make a delicious hand-crafted cappuccino and head to the desk in my home office. I fire up the computer and the laptop, open my contact management program on one, my writing program on the other, log on to the MLS… and Facebook.  (You know where this is going, don’t you?)

All of this is fine really, and  I do get things done. I mean, something must be going right to be able to pay for  the multiple devises, the software, the yoga classes, the office desk fee and the closet full of clothes. And I devote enough time to writing to keep calling myself a writer.  But where is the gap between the life I think I’m living and the one that takes place day-to-day?

The question of theory is a check-in on the goals and resolutions for 2016.  In theory I’m the girl who gets up at dawn, pulls on those yoga clothes, does the school drop-off, heads to the gym/yoga class, showers and dresses into the sassy ensemble I’ve carefully packed and loaded into the car, and shows up at the office for a full day of work as a busy Realtor. At the end of the day (in my mind) I return to my home office and work for an hour or two on the Great American Novel before throwing a few shallots in the pan to sauté.

As a self-employed single mother, my time is flexible but never my own. Like most in my profession, I wake up every day unemployed and have to get my hustle on, as we all do, but rather than punch a time-clock, I have to time-block to get all that prospecting, house showing, contract writing, negotiating, parenting, exercising and creativity in. Don’t we all? Frankly, I’m not sure how anyone does it, who has time to bake cupcakes, or which day “laundry day” actually is.

But this is not specifically a productivity rant, rather an inquiry into the glitch that keeps us from writing that book or taking that tango lesson. Modern American life asks us to buy into images of perfection, because without feelings of personal deficit, how could we sell things? Madison Avenue must create the perpetual void to be filled with luxury cars, hamburgers, fashion trend and heartburn. We’ve grown so uncomfortable with the empty space within, the interesting space, we hurl ourselves moment-by-moment, away from it with busyness. I call it perpetual prepping; getting ready to be ready. It is the yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes, seeking a way in or a way out. 

2015 was a “structural” year for me. I opened the windows, dumped out my toy box, and got rid of what I’d outgrown, was no longer entertaining and/or working. The result was the grand realization that what I want I already have, I just want it more clearly. No sweeping changes or mid-life crisis, only the desire for simplicity, authenticity, and presence. I could dump my theory into the mixing bowl, add a dash of focus, blend until it becomes reality and, boom. Cupcakes!

I try this, making the commitment write more, I add time. I rearrange my head to include my body, specifically exercising before the caffeine has fully hit, a yogi move for sure. The night before, I  pack my gym bag, my work clothes, briefcase, and put them in the Subaru. So excited to become that new and improved Tracy, it’s hard to get a good night’s sleep, but pop of bed at the first alarm. Being met with  a “Hello” from Adele at sunrise should only happen if you’re just getting home holding your high heels, but I rally. Dropping Gabe at East, I pull into 24hr Fitness by 7:45 feeling pretty damned good about myself. Maybe I can be ‘that girl’ after all, I mean this is going great, right?  Workout complete, I’d even remembered the towel, my self-esteem rising with the hot shower. Pulling on the nude fishnets I’d never worn, I’m troubled by the fact that the crotch seems to want to stay halfway between my knees and hips, the hem has fallen out of my skirt, there’s a spot on my blouse which hadn’t come out in the wash and I’ve not packed mascara. I soldier on into the office looking like a hot mess, reminding myself it’s day one. The next day goes better, though I forgot to pack a bra which wasn’t my best look at 25 either.boobs in pants

Day-by-day, as I morph my theoretical life with the reality I dream of, I learn how much courage it takes to truly be yourself. How much clarity it takes to slough off cultural concepts of needing to fill a void. I am that void, that mystery, and with all the new space in the toy box it’so much easier to find what I’m looking for. And though a few million things need practice, today I will be more present, plan, and try not to forget my foundations…my mother’s word for the brassiere department.

my christmas childWith the past month’s headlines full of unspeakable violence, how do we talk to the children? In her Denver Post article, For families, conversation is evolving (12/09/2015), journalist Jenn Fields explores how parents are navigating the daily violence and the effect on their children. I find it particularly poignant as we head into the holiday season when the conversation would (or could) naturally turn to things like peace on earth or goodwill toward men. Okay, that may be a little optimistic in our current Trumped-up culture, but the juxtaposition of love and fear are certainly in need of discussion. I got a call from Jenn to be part of this interview, and because I’ve always had a pretty open topic policy with my children, I gladly obliged.

August was 4 years old when Columbine happened. Gabe, the younger of two boys, was a toddler on Sept. 11, 2001.
So for Tracy Shaffer, of Denver’s Park Hill neighborhood, ruminating over how to have conversations with her boys about senseless violence is nothing new.
“I’ve spent 20 years thinking about, how am I going to talk to my kids about this?” she said.
It’s an evolving conversation for parents; as kids turn into teens, they’re exposed to more information, more media coverage about violence than what Mom and Dad allow on the living room television. And in the wake of the Paris attacks, and the shootings at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs and a holiday party in San Bernardino, Calif., it’s also an ongoing conversation about fear, safety and, ultimately, positivity. The recent back-to-back high-profile shootings are scary for kids, Shaffer said. “And they’re aware of that. It’s just a lot harder right now. The last couple of weeks, the month we’ve had, it’s just a lot harder to tell them that the odds are in their favor, that nothing’s going to happen.
“But it’s still true.”
Judith Fox, director of the international disaster psychology program at the University of Denver, said there’s an emotional toll for everyone after mass shootings.
“The events in and of themselves, I think, are frightening and really rock everyone’s sense of safety and security,” Fox said. “But that’s going to be particularly true for children and teens, who don’t have the larger context with which to understand what’s going on.”
Shaffer’s 17-year-old had an extra scare last week. She was on her way to East High School to pick him up Thursday when he called to say something was going on.
“I’m thinking it’s a hair-pulling, back-of-the-school fight like we did in the ’70s,” Shaffer said. “And I get there, and there are about 18 cop cars.”
East was on lockdown after reports of an armed person at the school. But Gabe was outside when it happened. So she picked him up and they left.
As he called to check on friends, she noticed: “After each phone call, he said at least once, “I love you, take care of yourself, I love you.’ ” It struck her. He knew what was important.
“If they can stay in that place of the sweetness and the compassion for one another — ‘I was concerned for you,’ ‘I was scared for my school’ — and not getting into the blaming and the bickering, then we may gain control in the long run.”
At the clinic at DU, Fox said, “Inevitably people are coming in with their kids feeling more anxious.”
Between lockdowns — real or drills — at school, what kids hear from other kids and the slew of media coverage, parents might feel like it’s an uphill battle to dial down talk of the shootings.
Having an open line of communication with your kids is essential, Fox said.
“You really want to be in a connected position to have an impact on how they think about things, and what they do. Children and teens, you want to watch what they watch, as much as you can. You want to be there, you want to limit the exposure, but that gives you the power to understand what they’re feeling and thinking and correct misunderstandings and help lessen confusion.”
With teens who are using social media, she said, talk to them about what they’re seeing there, and remind them that it’s easy to spread unrealistic rumors on social media.
Since her 12-year-old started middle school, Heidi Schmutz of Longmont said her family has been trying to balance out the information her daughter is bringing home from school.
“It’s an interesting age, because they are getting some information about current events at school, so we want to make sure we’re having a conversation about it at home so we can give her some context,” Schmutz said.
At school, her daughter watches CNN Student News, which is “designed for use in middle and high school classrooms,” according to the site. When their daughter comes home and tells them about it, Schmutz and her husband then open a conversation about what she learned.
However, she said, “there’s a point, especially at this age, where too much is too much.” As parents, they want to give information that’s age-appropriate, she said, and let the kid be a kid.
Kirsten Anderson, division director of child and family outpatient services and disaster coordinator at Aurora Mental Health Center, has another tip for parents: “Parents need to take care of themselves so they can take care of their own kids.”
It’s best for parents to minimize exposure to news coverage of these events — and keep in mind that images and sounds “tend to stick with us more than the words do,” she said.
Little ones don’t need to see any of this, she said, and teens don’t need to see it over and over again.
At Shaffer’s house, her teen self-regulated their television viewing after the most recent shootings.
“Gabe will go, ‘I don’t want to watch this,’ and so we’ll turn it to something really stupid,” she said.
If you’re the parent trying to steer the focus, aim for positive imagery instead, Fox said, “like, how are people helping each other? Noticing that side of things is really important. I think that was a very effective technique on 9/11, (and) it clearly happened around the support systems that developed post-school shootings, where people really band together and help each other.”
You’re not going to control everything kids see and hear — certainly not with teens, Fox said.
“I assume my kids are seeing absolutely everything,” said Shaffer, whose boys are now 17 and 21. “I can’t keep you from it, I can’t shield you from it. I can give you context. That’s the role of parents now, I think, is to give them context.”

Jenn Fields: 303-954-1599, jfields@denverpost.com   or @jennfields

Let me know what you think and how you may be having this conversation in your household.

Planning a trip to New York is always exciting, but planning a ten day trip with two teenage boys is a handsome cab horse of a different color. How could they see New York’s New York, my New York and find those “I Heart NY” moments for themselves? I knew I had to keep it real. With all of the touristy things on our plate, the trick would be to spin those with the sights and sounds, the smells, bells and flavors that make the city what it is. In New York the magic’s in the moment, so the more opportunities I could create for them to dance among its denizens, the better the interface would be.
Rule number 1.) Walk as much as you can.
Rule number 2.) Take the subway for maximum effect.
Rule number 3.) Do not put any limits on the day. Including what time it starts and ends.
And the bonus tip…No matter how well you know the city, allow yourself to get lost.

Throwing down a bit of historical context to match the immediacy of the New York minute, I worked in some tales of my time in Manhattan and a few irritating, “See that (painting, building, church, store, statue…)? It’s important!” stops along the sidewalks. Dinner at Joe Allen’s over Applebee’s, and meeting friends for picnics, lunches, or museum visits gave things the personal touch and sense of belonging. The overall effect…? “Mom. Can we move here?”

To read more on our adventure, plan your own or find out what made the boys’ “TOP 5 THINGS TO DO IN NEW YORK”, click here.

Sunday morning and the boys are still in bed. That’s good. Eventually they’ll raise their sleepy heads and realize it is Father’s Day with their dad no where in sight. I never wanted to be a father; being a mother is challenging (and rewarding) enough, thank you. I hold the roll in high regard and though I am a very capable woman, that job is completely beyond my ken. Today we honor the men who made our existence possible, trace their footsteps and the imprint they’ve made on our lives, I’m drawn to reflect on my father and on the father of my children.
My dad was a child of the Depression, my ex, a depressive. Dad stayed. Whether it was influenced by his own father’s absence during World War I or because doing what you said you were going to do is one of the defining characteristics of “The Greatest Generation”, I don’t know. But like getting up early on Saturday to mow the lawn, sweep the pool and wash the car, raising your children was just what you did; non-negotiable. Although they did eventually divorce, my parents waited until I, the youngest, was out of school and ready to fly. Well, ready to test my wings at least. My relationship with my father has provided some deep and lasting benefits and I’ve learned from his wisdom and his foibles alike. He worked in the movie business; animation, optical illusions & special effects at one point in his career. He’d tell me how a TV Jeannie got into the bottle or how Mr. Limpet stayed out of the drain, and the knowing took a little magic out of the movie, but it also taught me things aren’t always what they seemed. He drummed a few choice phrases into my head: “Life is always going to have it’s problems, Trace. Become a master at solving them.” and his perpetual query, “How’s your attitude?”. At one time I found this annoying, now I find myself beating the same drum into my sixteen-year-old’s cerebral cortex. Bob taught me to show up and stay in the game.

I logged into Facebook this morning and scrolled through the tomes to fathers, living and dead, I saw generous shout outs to mothers who played both roles and I wanted to post “Happy Fathers Day, especially to those who stayed in the game” choosing otherwise, for fear the lack of context might tip the post to the realm of the critical & bitter. I am neither and work very hard not to be. The vagaries of life being what they are, I’m not sure I ever truly believed that marriage lasts forever, but I do think parenthood ought to.
It is difficult to conceive of fathering by phone. How does that work? I know far too many single mothers with the same story of inconsistent or non-existent fathers, and I’m sure there are stories that work the other way from the male perspective. Life is hard, yes, but barring a situation where safety is involved, families work things out and remain families long after marriages end, or end and begin again. That was my belief, that schedules, finances and responsibilities are negotiated so that children don’t become the detritus of a once happy union. I can’t imagine, (though at times I do admit I fantasize) choosing a life without my sons; moving to Paris, trekking in Nepal or slugging it out on the streets of Manhattan as if what came before had never happened. Yeah, yeah, yeah, we all muddle along doing the best we can, but do we really? Can’t we always do better? I think we can. Even under duress, I know I can. Because that is what my father taught me… Happy Father’s Day.