Tuesday, August 30, 2016

First Day

This is weird.

This morning, I put both my kids on a school bus for the very first time, waved to them, and then went about my business for seven hours.

That's never happened before.

I mean, I've been away from them for that long. But never without knowing that I could pick up the phone at any time and the person responsible for them would answer and tell me exactly what was happening. I didn't take advantage of that knowledge, but I knew I could.

You can't do that when your kids are in school. For one thing, the teacher is too busy being responsible for them and 20 of their soon-to-be closest friends to stop and take a phone call from a paranoid parent. For another, they go to a bunch of different places. Are they on the playground for recess? In the cafeteria eating lunch? Playing in the gym? Painting in the art room? Enjoying story time in the library?

So all day long, I've been wondering, "Where are they right now? What are they doing right now?" But in addition to that, I can't help but also wonder, "Were they scared or confused when they got off the bus? Did they like their new teachers? Did they find someone to sit with at lunch? Did they remember to wash their hands after they used the bathroom? Will they be able to find the right bus at the end of the day?" So many questions.

And with one hour left before the bus brings them back home, I'm trying to decide which of those questions I should ask them at the end of their first day. Actually, I probably shouldn't ask them any of those questions. What I should be asking them is things like, "Who was the nicest person you met today? What did you like best about your new classroom? What did you bring home in your backpack? What was your favorite part of the day? Who was wearing the cutest first-day-of-school outfit? (that one's for my daughter) Who had the coolest backpack? (that one's for my son) What was the most interesting thing you learned today?"

Because I know that my attitude will rub off on them. They'll understand my concerns about school, even if I don't express them in so many words. If I approach them with questions that assume their first day was scary and uncertain and unpredictable, they'll think of school as being scary and uncertain and unpredictable. But if I ask them questions that assume their first day was exciting and interesting and fun, they'll think of school as being exciting and interesting and fun.

And that's exactly what school should be: exciting and interesting and fun. And I bet that if I approach it that way, I'll be sure to get the right answer when I ask, "Are you looking forward to going back tomorrow?"

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Monday, August 29, 2016

2016 VMAs: Fashion Review

Because I am old and square (and because when I did turn the TV on for a moment, Kanye West was talking), I did not actually watch the VMAs last night. But I couldn't help but check out the red carpet fashion this morning. Because red carpet fashion at the VMAs is, if nothing else, outrageous. This year was not, perhaps, as outrageous as some years. But there were still quite a few, erm, memorable looks. Let's take a peek at some of them, shall we?

Although there were a number of genuinely unique looks on the red carpet, there were also a couple of themes that were repeated by two or more stars. I'll start my review with those groups.

 Hailey Baldwin

 Ashley Graham

 Rita Ora

These three full-body black lace overlays were quite similar in their basic concept: sheer black lace over visible black undergarments. Hailey Baldwin's slim, halter pantsuit was stunning. The lacy feather pattern broke up the lines of her black bra and high-waisted underpants enough that it didn't scream "look at my underwear!", and the tiny metallic belt and strappy sandals added a delicate, feminine touch. Her beachy blonde waves were a nice contrast to the black pantsuit.

 Ashley Graham and Rita Ora both wore lace dresses, but with very different accessories and details which made their looks very different. Graham's silvery-grey overlay had a high round neck, long sleeves, and a bit of a train. It was a nice look, but I would have loved a few slight tweaks to the details: her underwear was just a bit too "granny panty" looking. I would have preferred either a higher waist (similar to Baldwin's), slightly higher cut legs, or even full-on boy shorts. Also, the silvery color did not flatter her beautiful dark chestnut hair in the way that a pure black or even a hint of peach in the grey might have. But still, a very nice look.

Ora's outfit was the most outrageous of the three, with its fur-trimmed jacket, curved hem ending in black and red marabou feathers, and giant platform shoes. Her thick eyeliner and severe hairstyle worked with the look to send the message that this is a fierce woman and not to be trifled with. I won't say I loved the look, but it certainly seemed to send the message she intended.

 Baddie Winkle

The second "group" I noticed was see-through silver outfits. Beyonce opted for a see-through lace gown with a huge feathered collar rising into "wings", worn over what looked like a nude unitard, and finished with a wide silver-trimmed belt. I loved the way the sleeves ended in a gauntlet style and the careful flare of the skirt which balanced the wings. I disliked the way the shadow called attention to her crotch; a nude underskirt might have been a better choice. But overall, this was a good balance of glamour and outrageousness, so Bey gets a thumbs up from me. 

Halsey, on the other hand, gets a thumbs down. Her silver-white, striped, and spangled halter unitard wasn't bad in concept, but the execution left something to be desired. I won't even discuss the visible nipples, but the halter itself was pulled in too narrowly and too low at her collarbones and looked uncomfortable. The patterning on the bodice was pretty, but the angled stripes at her hips which narrowed as they went down the legs made her look wide in the hips and thighs, and the pant legs ending right at her ankle bones needed to be either longer or shorter to avoid making her look stumpy. Her dark hair and makeup were a gorgeous contrast to the silver, and the strappy sandals showing off her foot tattoo were great, but the overall look was not as flattering as it could have been. 

And the third in this group, Baddie Winkle (check out her Wiki - she's a hoot!) wore a see-through nude unitard accented with strategically-placed silver and pink spangles with a matching bedazzled cane and white wedge booties decorated with pink and silver stars. She gets my vote for being able to rock this ridiculous look at the age of 88. (Besides, if I diss her, she'll whack me with her cane.)


  Amber Rose

 Laura Perlongo

The next grouping is a look that's been popular at the Oscars off and on for quite some time: the shirtless suit. The classic version is, of course, a stylized tuxedo worn with a partly-closed jacket but no shirt, and with or without a bra. Cassie's take on this look included wide-legged, cuffed gold lame pants brushing the floor and a tailored grey military-style jacket with gold buttons and square shoulders, held partly closed with a tiny gold chain (a wise choice, considering that she opted for no bra), accessorized with a mini-briefcase style handbag and bright yellow hair. Although I appreciate the anime look of the yellow hair, the grey and metallic gold did not work together with it, nor really with each other. But other than the color scheme, I found this look a flattering and different take on the shirtless suit. 

Amber Rose kept to the classic black tux, double-breasted with a long shawl collar, wide-legged pants with pointy pumps peeping out underneath, and a black bra with just a hint of lace. Accessorized with mirrored sunglasses, slicked-back white hair, and scarlet lips and nails, this look was classic and striking. A big thumbs up to her. 

And finally, Laura Perlongo opted for an extremely casual version of this look, with a olive drab baseball jacket open to reveal most of her breasts and her very pregnant belly, paired with baggy black pegged pants and pointy nude pumps. If you're going to go casual at the VMAs, you need to punch it up with something other than just a lot of skin. This look was much too boring for this event. And if you're going casual when you're super pregnant, take advantage and wear something more comfortable than those shoes (and no bra, ouch!). 

 Stella Maxwell and Jeremy Scott

 Hailee Steinfeld

 Justine Sky

The third category I saw multiple examples of was lots of colors! Stella Maxwell and Jeremy Scott, along with Hailee Steinfeld, wore fabulously trippy, 60s-inspired styles in geometric prints. Maxwell wore a mostly red and gold halter and bell-bottoms with a circular mosaic pattern and escort Scott wore a shirtless black tux decorated with native American-looking patterns. The dark and the bright worked well together, and was fun and funky.

Steinfeld's minidress had more of an art deco pattern, heavy on the blues and reds, with a bronze hem and belt. The hem was the perfect length to make her legs look like they went on forever, emphasized by the metallic shoes that both blended with her skin and matched the hem of the dress. A fresh and stylish look that was eye-catching and age-appropriate.

And finally, Justine Sky wore a fabulous multicolored fringed jacket over a bright purple dress paired with hot pink pointy pumps and a glowing smile. Her look was fun and different without looking like she was working too hard at it. Sometimes, simple is better.

 Winnie Harlow

 Taylor Hill

 Dascha Polanco

 Britney Spears

  Sasheer Zamata

My final category, before I go on to review some individual looks, is the one-shouldered dress. There are always a few around at every awards show, but the VMAs had quite a few varied looks that incorporated it. First, and probably my favorite look in this category, was Winnie Harlow. I loved the way her dark bronze wrapped gown carried the diagonal angles throughout the bodice, waist and hips, and even the ribbons of her high-wrapped gladiator sandals. The full, see-through skirt of the dress ended in a neat train and had a thigh-high slit revealing the sandals. I also loved the contrast of her wild, full curls against the more traditional gown - it gives her look just enough of an edge to suit the VMAs.

Taylor Hill's magenta spangled gown with black-edged cutout and ragged, angled hem reminded me of Pebbles Flintstone, a thought which was reinforced by her high, round bun (no bone, sadly). It was a fun look, but not one of the more memorable ones. 

Dascha Polanco gets points for trying to blend formal and casual, with her blue satin top cascading into a long, narrow side train over faded, lace-trimmed skinny jeans. I like that she opted for lace-trimmed jeans rather than distressed ones, but her skinny jeans were so skinny that the zipper was visibly straining. And I feel like there needed to be some kind of detail to tie the top and bottom together and unify the outfit - perhaps a matching bit of lace at the shoulder and the bottom of the train, or a few matching satin appliques on the jeans. This look was just too disconnected. 

Britney Spears wore a simple but effective one-shouldered black sheath with the sleeve ending in a gauntlet, a long open (but tasteful) slash running from the shoulder to her hip and an asymmetrical hemline, paired with pointy black shoes, long platinum waves, and natural makeup. Britney can go off the rails, sartorially, so this was a good choice for her - unusual without being crazy (which is just how we like our Brit-Brit).

The last look in this group is Sasheer Zamata. Zamata's magenta minidress sported a short but full flounce on the shoulder that matched paired flounces on the hips. Accessorized with a tiny silver belt, small clutch, and cute black shoes, this look was simple, fun, and eye-catching. And a spectacular color on her. 


The first individual outfit I want to mention is Kim Kardashian's. I almost put her in the first category with the see-through black lace outfits, but this dress didn't quite fit there, since it wasn't lace and despite being see-through, it didn't reveal her underwear (thank goodness). I suppose it could even have gone in the last category with the one-shouldered gowns, but I opted not to put it there since I'm pretty sure it wasn't meant to be one-shouldered, it had just slid down on one side (as evidenced by the saggy baggy sleeve). The look had other problems, too. I couldn't decide whether there was a strap going between her legs to prevent the skirt riding up or whether the ruching was just incredibly poorly made. And when the neckline of your dress doesn't make a straight line because of all the double-sided tape you need to hold it in place, it's not a good look. At least her shoes were fabulous...

Ariana Grande's black, lace-trimmed bandeau paired with long wide-legged pants and a narrow black choker and high ponytail was cute and fresh if a bit conservative, but the pants were way too long - they're okay if they skim the floor, but they shouldn't puddle. No tripping on the red carpet!

Alicia Keys often goes for an ethnic look, and I really liked the black and red pattern of her gown, but I found it a bit too voluminous at the hem, which made her look a bit bottom-heavy, even with her large updo. Perhaps either narrowing the skirt just a bit or adding a coordinating headwrap would have balanced the look better. She also looked like she wasn't wearing makeup, which called attention to her dress instead of her. A bit of color on her face would have put the focus where it belonged. Not a bad look, but she can do better.

In keeping with her more recent toned-down but still noticeable looks, Nicky Minaj wore a fabulous cobalt blue gown with a full train, elaborate criss-crossed bodice, and long see-through side panels and sleeves. Even with her subtle makeup and long straight hair, Minaj turned heads in this spectacular gown.

And finally, Joan Smalls showed how effective simple and sleek can be in this copper leather bustier with criss-cross straps paired with wide-legged black trousers accented only with an exposed silver zipper and circle zipper-pull, paired with subtle makeup and long, straight hair. Again, the pants are way too long and the puddle at the hem makes her look ding-toed, but that's the only ding I can find in this look. Sleek, sexy, and spectacular.

So no huge trainwrecks this year...but there's always next year!

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Friday, August 26, 2016

Reflections on the Incipient First Day of School

Today is T minus 5 days until my kids start public school. I'd be lying if I said this wasn't at the front of my mind most of my waking hours lately. I mean, I'm going from homeschooling 1 child and being the primary caregiver for both, to handing over the reins to two complete (albeit I'm sure very nice and perfectly competent) strangers. I am, in a very real sense of the term, losing my job in 5 days.

Unlike losing a "real" job, however, I have to stay around to see the results that my successors are bringing about in the projects that I have spent 5 and 6-1/2 years, respectively, laying the foundations for. I don't get to walk away completely and start something new. No, like a divorcee forced to live in a house with her ex and his new wife, I am constantly faced with the new relationship that I am not a part of.

Overly dramatic, much? Yeah. But also, no. These teachers - these wonderful, dedicated, experienced teachers - are taking away something I love more than my own life: spending time watching and helping my children become adults. These may be only the first steps toward adulthood, but I am very conscious that those steps are steps away from me.

But I need to remind myself that this was the plan from the very beginning. From the moment I saw those two lines on the stick, my goal was to teach my children to become self-sufficient, independent adults, able to make their own choices and deal with the consequences, both positive and negative. I knew all along that my job was to lose my job. But it's very difficult to figure out when the children are ready to begin making their own decisions - and it's even more difficult to allow them to make those decisions.

This idea of allowing my children to make their own decisions and to fight their own battles came to the fore this afternoon as our whole family attended a school-wide cookout at their elementary school. The playground was open to all students, from pre-K up to 5th grade, and their families. Which meant that there was much competition for the best playground equipment: 4th graders hogging the ziplines; 2nd graders claiming the swings for half an hour at a time; pre-K kiddos literally pushing each other out of the way at the bottom of the slides. It was an education in the huge range of parenting theories and techniques that are out there. It was the law of the jungle.

I will admit that I gave in once, when I happened to be giving my son a boost onto the zipline and another kid tried to grab the handle out of his hands. I turned my head and was literally in the kid's face. His look was a challenge; this was not a kid who was going to back down just because an adult was there. I tried to keep my mouth shut. I swear, I really did. But I suddenly I heard my own voice saying, "You know, he's been waiting in line for a turn and you just had a bunch of turns" (I neglected to add "because you shoved a bunch of smaller kids out of the way"). The kid looked me in the eye for a second, then backed off and headed off elsewhere.

Should I have let my son fight that battle? Yeah, probably. But I'm still glad he knows that I've got his back. Even if I make him fight first, I want him to know that I'm always right behind him, to push him forward if needed, to cover his retreat if he chooses, to talk through his choices after the fact and figure out how to make better choices next time. To support his choices, whatever they may be.

We're all learning, my kids and I. They're learning that they can make their own decisions, and that sometimes they're wrong, and sometimes they're right. I'm learning that making wrong decisions won't kill them. Or me. But making decisions - even wrong decisions - will give them the confidence to continue making decisions throughout their life. Making a wrong decision and surviving the consequences is one of the most important experiences a child can have. If I try to deprive my children of that experience, what kind of mom am I?

Not the kind I want to be. Not the kind I will be. At least, not the kind I'm trying my hardest to be, 5 days from now.

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Friday, August 19, 2016

Back to School Fashions: Little Boys

Since I posted a bunch of great back-to-school fashions for little girls yesterday, it's only fair that I post something similar for little boys today, right? I used to think that boys' clothes were nowhere near as fun as girls' clothes - and that may be true for dressy clothes, but for everyday, casual wear, it definitely isn't any more. Boys have cool cargo pants, awesome graphic tees, and fun sweatshirts and jackets. And here are some of the best - and the cheapest.

My daughter is generally capable of putting together an outfit that is reasonably coordinated; my son, however, will throw on anything he can find, whether or not it matches (and whether or not it's clean, for that matter). So these pre-matched sets are great. Minions go with minions, lions with lions, Batman with Batman. Even my fashion-challenged son can manage that. And for $11-$13, you can fill his closet with these goof-proof sets from Burlington Coat Factory.


Boys go through tee-shirts like nobody's business, both in terms of having them always be in the laundry, and in terms of ripping or staining them past wearability. So stock up on these solid, striped, and print tees from Old Navy, at $6 or $8 each.

My son is very hard on pants - not to mention that he outgrows them very quickly! So this is another item we stock up on. Since he sometimes struggles with buttons and zippers, I love these elastic-waist cargo pants from Old Navy. $17 a pair.

Although he'd much rather wear graphic t-shirts every day, I like for my son to wear polo shirts every now and then. It's easy enough to find plain colors for $5 or $6, but these brightly-colored striped polos are still less than $10 at Crazy8.


Speaking of graphic tees, head over to Macy's for a ton of graphic tees for $7 each. Not only the Avengers, TMNT, Spiderman, and Star Wars, but Super Mario, Finding Dory, Lego, and lots more. You'll definitely find your boy's favorites here!


And if you want something warmer, JC Penney has great long-sleeved graphic shirts for $12 each. Stock up on Spiderman, Batman, Star Wars, the Avengers, Lego, Sonic the Hedgehog, Teen Titans, Paw Patrol, TMNT, and more.



But if you're at the other end of the spectrum and want something cooler, Kohl's has a collection of cotton shorts from $8-$12. Casual enough for comfort but a bit dressier than athletic shorts, these rugged shorts are the perfect balance between the ratty loose shorts he wants to wear and the crisp, dressy shorts you'd like him to wear. And most important, they have nice, deep pockets for whatever he might find out on the playground and need to bring home with him!

Happy shopping!

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