Category Archives: Single Mom Living

Book Review: My Single Mom Life

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Several years ago, as my marriage was crumbling, I came across this book at Walmart and I snatched it up immediately.  When the Good Lord hands you a guide to the next phase of your life, you grab it, of course.

It was this book that helped me to understand that my new life was not a tragedy, but an opportunity to make a better life for me and my kids.  An amazing life.

The author, Angela Thomas, found herself in a life she didn’t choose as the single mom of 4 children.  Her first response was to fall apart and grieve for 3 long months.   With the encouragement of her parents and a bossy friend, she turned to her faith and began to piece together her life and bring a wholeness to her family.  In an ironic turn, she sold her wedding ring to buy furniture for their first home and with that, began to feel like they were going to make it.

As she walked this journey, she shares her experiences in solo-parenting, finances, dating, setting boundaries and changing her perspective.  While it is an uplifting story with practical advice on how to put one foot in front of the other and decide to have an amazing life, she shares her lonely-mom side, too.  She skewers the idea that since we have children, that we are never lonely.  We are.  God made us for companionship.

She has a wonderfully wholesome outlook, using her faith in God to establish a framework for her Single Mom Life.  There is no bitterness here.  There is no blame.  Her story is about taking survival to the next level.  It’s about living with integrity and passion.  It’s about thriving in your circumstance.

Her storytelling style is an easy read and with a graduate degree in Theology, she carries her spirituality through out the entire book.

I bought this book 5 years ago.   It gave me hope and conviction that the kids and I will have a great life together and that my faith and my attitude was going to make all the difference for me and for them.  I have read it again each year and I find something different each time that I can apply to my life at the given moment.

I recommend this book to anyone who is a Single Mom or preparing for life as a Single Mom.  Whether you are surviving or thriving, you will find this book to be inspirational.

~Dona~

Money and the Single Mom – Savings

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Savings!

I’m not talking about what you “could have” spent if you didn’t get those shoes on sale.  I’m talking about purposeful, methodical accumulation of funds.  A savings attitude will serve you well when Wealth Building for retirement and kid’s college funds.  However, first and foremost,  you will need to build a healthy Savings account.  This Savings Account, known as an Emergency Fund, will be the buffer between you and that sense of doom, that horrible overwhelming feeling when disaster calls.  Believe me when I say disasters come in spades.

Surviving or Thriving?

A well-funded Emergency Fund is the key difference between surviving and thriving as a Single Mom.  As a Thriving Mom, you are taking control of your money.  You are on a budget, out of debt and now you are building a safety net to keep you and your kids safe from the unexpected pitfalls of life.  Things like illness, job loss, or any interruption in income can be difficult for most two-income families.  It can be devastating to a Single Mom.

Last October, my son had to be hospitalized for 3 days from an infection from an indoor swimming pool.  While still paying for what the insurance didn’t cover, he then had to have his front teeth rebuilt from a biking accident.  This month alone, my slab has sprung a leak ruining my laundry room and hallway flooring and my car bumped fenders with another car (so not my fault but no one wants to believe me).  Of course, I have insurance, but I also have deductibles that need to be met before my insurance will kick in for the rest.

The point is… disasters will happen and sometimes they just refuse to wait until you have recovered from one before the next disaster takes up residence in your life.

Enter the Emergency Fund!

As recommended in my blog “Money and the Single Mom – Debt” , you should have a small emergency fund of $500 – $1000 to cover unexpected emergencies as you focus on getting out of debt and stop using credit as a safety net.   The next step is to make a BIG Emergency Fund.  This fund should be large enough to cover your minimum living expenses for up to 3 – 6 months.  This fund can support you should you lose your job, or have to take time off from work for a child’s illness, or even replace a refrigerator or buy a reliable used car.  This is not the “Momma needs a Cruise or a New Car” or “The Kids Deserve an Xbox” fund.  This fund is your security blanket and your Superpower.

How to Start Saving

The rule of thumb is to take 10% off the top of each paycheck and start socking it away into a savings account.  Sounds easy enough, but most people who don’t have a habit of saving will most likely find this a difficult step.   Most of us are stretched to the limit, as it is.  Here are a few ideas to help you get your Big Emergency Fund started:

I recommend reading “Live Your Life for Half the Price”  by Mary Hunt (Everyday Cheapskate) to get great ideas on how to live well for less.  Borrow the book from the library and start shaving that 10% off your lifestyle and moving it into your savings account.

Look closely at your budget and start getting rid of unnecessary expenses.  Revisit your insurance, your electric company, your cable and phone bills and find out if switching companies can get you cheaper rates or remove features that you really don’t use or could otherwise live without.  Do this on an annual basis.  You will be surprised how many new luxuries make their way into your budget each year. 

Selling stuff is a great way to clear out the clutter and beef up your Big Emergency Fund.  When I sell stuff, I immediately put the money into my SmartyPig account.  Do you have anything that you can sell in a garage sale, eBay or Craigslist?  Then take a picture and get it posted.

If you have successfully paid off all your debt, then move that payment into your savings.  You’ve been living without it all this time, you won’t miss it.

A second job or overtime is always a great way to stockpile money quickly, but is not always an option for a Single Mom.

Remember that 10% should be your target, but if you can only scrap together 3% or 5% for a while, then don’t let that stop you from getting started.  You will be surprised how fast it can grow even from the smallest input.

Where to put that Money!

That money needs to be some place where you can get to it when you really, really, really need it, but not so easy that you can just transfer it over to your checking account to cover an unexpected “retail therapy” shopping spree.

I recommend having it in a different bank all together and have found that some of the online banks like SmartyPig, ING,  Ally can give you the best  interest rates available.  Do your research  and you can set up an online account tied to your regular checking account with $25 or less.   Then set up automatic withdrawals on your pay dates.

Patience!

It will take some patience, some sacrifice  and some time to reach your 3 or 6 month goal and there will be setbacks, since emergencies come unannounced all the time.  Don’t give up.   There will be a peace like you’ve never know when an emergency comes to take a bite out of your fund.  While you will be sad to see the money go, (and it will be done with a lot of kicking and screaming) it will feel less like doom and more like a simple inconvenience.

Now You’re Thriving!

I recommend the following books for more insight into budgeting and other money matters:

The Total Money Makeover – Dave Ramsey

Debt-Proof Living – Mary Hunt

Next Wednesday:  Wealth Building

~Dona~

Money and the Single Mom – Debt

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Being a Single Mom is stressful enough with kids calling your name day and night, making demands on your time and attention, while juggling work, chores, bills, and laundry.  Being a Single Mom in debt is like have more kids, making demands on your hard earned money.  Maybe, even, interfering with your ability to make the bills or spend time with your kids because you have to work so many hours just to stay afloat.

In my last Money and the Single Mom – The Budget post, I mentioned that debt was like having extra weight.  It bloats your budget, slows down your savings and creates an underlying sense of unworthiness.

Is a debt-free life a reality for a Single Mom? Yes.

Debt Freedom Feels Like This

My Story

During the demise of my marriage, we split our debt as equitably as possible and each of us took responsibility for our portion.  We had furniture payments, credit card payments, and a defaulted student loan that, in hindsight, I should have never co-signed.  The remnants of a life that was no longer.  It was scary to be responsible for even half of this debt we had accumulated and have only a single income.  An unreliable single-income, since my job was on a contractual basis.

In my effort to remove this scary debt as quickly as possible, I made some poor financial decisions for a quick solution.  I was debt-free for about 6 months before I started accumulating again.  It was only when I started practicing the principles below, I was able to systematically eliminate all my debt and be truly debt free!  It was difficult to change my ways but the road to glory is never easy.  But it is definitely worth it.

There are two reasons we get into debt

Emergencies: What usually gets us into debt is the “Emergency” that forces us to turn to our credit cards to rescue us.  A flat tire, a car repair, an emergency room visit, a broken wash machine….. all at the same time!  Now imagine if you had $1000 or even a $500 sitting in a savings account just for those type of emergencies.   Wouldn’t that take care of most emergencies and give you more peace of mind than a credit card?  Imagine a life where you pay for emergencies as they happen and not get a bill for it later

Self-Rewarding: The “I need it now” or “I deserve it because I work hard” mentality causes us to live beyond our means.  It’s reaching for the credit card to purchase those new shoes because you’ve had a bad day and feeling pretty will cheer you up.  Or, like I did, take the kids on a Disney vacation because I’m more fun than their dad and we deserve it because I am a Single Mom. (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thrown the Single Mom card to justify what I want).   In reality, other than the food, shelter, clothing and utilities, you don’t really need much.  An neither do the kids.

Steps for Getting Out of Debt

1.  Build a Fund for Emergencies.  Depending on your income, this can be somewhere between $500 to $1000 to start.  Stop paying extra on your debts until you have this in the bank.  Sell off stuff you don’t need, turn off the cable, stop the extra driving around and start socking away the money and put it in a savings account that does not give you super easy access.  I use http://www.SmartyPig.com, an online savings bank, but there are many other accounts that you can tie to your bank account so you can move the money to and from your checking account without having “at the moment” access.

2.  Cancel your Credit Cards.  Quit carrying them around.  Cut them up.  You don’t need them.  You have an emergency fund.  And, no….. new shoes is not an emergency.   Too tired to cook is not an emergency.  A spa weekend for an overworked Single Mom is not an emergency.  Get out of the “I deserve it” mentality.

3.  Live by your Budget.  I cannot emphasis enough how important creating AND using the budget will be for a Single Mom’s peace of mind. As you build your first budget, it will take time to make one that truly works from month to month.  Keep learning from your budget and tweaking it each month.  It has to make sense for your life in order for it to work for you.  The budget will help you SET and KEEP your priorities straight.  It’s a wonderful tool I talk about here.

4. Develop a plan for paying off your debt.  List your debt from smallest to largest, ignoring any interest rate, and start paying extra on the smallest until it is gone.  Then combine that amount with your current payment on the next largest and when that is paid off, apply that payment to the payment for the next largest.  Continue to do this until all your debt is gone. For most people, with average debt, this could take up to 18 months or more.  Be patient.  I can assure you that it is worth it.

Like weight loss, debt did not accumulate overnight and it won’t disappear overnight.  To live a debt-free life, it requires a change in your mind-set, your behavior and it requires a plan (Budget and Payoff Plan) that you work every week.

Things NOT To Do To Get Out of Debt

  • Do not take out an equity loan or a consolidation loan to pay off your debt.  It sounds like a good idea, but you are just trading debt for debt.  Chances are you will be increasing the interest rate on the lower rate cards and in the end pay more interest each month and less principle.  Also, an equity loan puts your home in jeopardy should the unthinkable happen.
  • Do not cash in your 401(k) or IRA to pay off debt quickly.  This puts your retirement into jeopardy.  You are trading in a longer term cash value for an instant solution.  The longer money sits in these accounts, the more money it makes.  By removing this money from these accounts, that money is no longer working for you.  We will talk more about this phenomenon in future posts.

While these solutions provide instant gratification, there is no lesson learned.  I say this from experience, because I took money from my IRA to pay off my debt and within 6 months to a year, I was almost right back where I had started. And my Retirement account is much poorer for it.

This second time attacking my debt, I had to work hard to stick to my budget.  I sold things, like my motorcycle, reduced services like cellphone and cable and changed my habits.  The hardest thing was giving up my American Express Gold Card, because I kind of liked impressing people with my Gold Card status.  It was difficult to admit to myself that I was this shallow.

The rewards of being debt-free far outweigh the momentary gratification from having something new.  Once you are debt-free, then you can begin the next important step…. Saving …… Big Time!

Next Wednesday:  Money and The Single Mom – Savings

~Dona~

Money and the Single Mom – The Budget

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As a Single Mom, I am the CEO of  a little sole proprietorship known as, Mi Familia.  A multifaceted, non-profit,  organization with only one revenue stream…… ME!!

Scary thought!

When I was married, I paid all of the bills and drove most of the financial decisions.  So handling money, bills and reconciliations is not new to me.    However, Money Management was a whole new challenge with a reduced income,  no spending accountability and no fall back plan.  Where is the collaboration on how the money is to be spent?  Who is gonna stop me from buying another pair of shoes?  Who do I blame when the money runs out before the month does?

Since that time, I have studied many aspects of Money Management.  There are great tools out there that teach everything from the basics of Money Management through the intricacies of Wealth Building.  It became the difference between Surviving and Thriving for me.

And it all begins with the most old-fashioned of notions; Living within your means and sticking to a budget.

The Budget

This Single Mom’s best friend is my budget.  This tool, when used daily ( I do mean daily), allows me to own my world.  I think of my budget as an allotment of money, much like an allotment of calories.  If you overspend the allotment of calories for the day, then you will gain weight.  If you overspend your allotment of money for the month, you will go into debt.  And having debt is a lot like carrying around extra unwanted pounds.  Uuugh!

The concept of Zero-Based budgeting, as taught by Dave Ramsey , is how I plan my spending.  My budget for the month shows how every dollar will be spent before the month begins.   I know that all my needs will be taken care of each month and in sticking to my budget, a few of my wants will be satisfied, as well.

Zero-Based Budgeting

This is based on the idea that each and every dollar is spent, on paper, before the month begins.  Beginning with the basics, I write down the monthly amount for each of these:  Rent/Mortgage, Water, Gas, Electric, Food.  If I can pay these bills, then the kids have food and shelter and life is good.

Got money left over?  Good.  Then I write down the monthly amount for each of these:  Clothing, Auto, Insurance, Gas, Daycare.  If I can pay these bills, I have everything I need to get to work everyday.

Still have money left over?  I address my debt.   If you have debt, then get on a schedule to pay these bills off and add these to your monthly budget.  Remember:  Paying the minimum on your debt will keep them around FOREVER.  Pay as much as you can on the smallest bill each month until it is gone and then move that money over to the next debt.

Finally, I make sure I put some money for savings (10% is recommended) and some for giving, maybe some blow money (money to spend however I want)  and there should be $0 left to spend at the end.

A simple spreadsheet can help you set up your budget.

The Why’s of Budgeting

Debt is dangerous.  Especially for a Single Mom.  I have one income and controlling where that precious money goes is imperative to my survivability.   If you are living beyond your income, then you are incurring debt.  Stop that now!

Budget is a “NO” wins situation.  When my budget says “NO”, then I can win every argument with your kids.  You can always blame the budget, like it’s a third person at the dinner table.

I have found that planning my money ahead of time and spending accordingly makes it feel like my money does more.  Once you stop letting money slip through your fingers, you will be surprised how abundant your money feels.

A budget is empowering.  Making decisions over who will and won’t get MY money puts me in control and that can be very satisfying.

A Final Note

If the word Budget feels too constricting, please feel free to refer to it as a “Spending Plan” or a “Cash-Flow Plan”.  Whatever you call it, if you don’t have a plan, your money will just slip through your hands.

I recommend the following websites for online tools:

http://www.daveramsey.comFREE Zero Based Budgeting Tool

http://www.kiplinger.comOnline Budgeting Worksheet

I recommend the following books for more insight into budgeting and other money matters:

The Total Money Makeover – Dave Ramsey

Debt-Proof Living – Mary Hunt

Next Wednesday:  Ways to Avoid (additional) Debt

New Year – New Goals

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English: Picture I made for my goals article

In a previous post, I mentioned that I would be posting my 2012 Goals.  Not just my list of planned projects, but how I plan to improve/sustain my life in the various aspects of career, financial, family, physical, social, intellectual and most importantly, spiritual.  These are not New Year’s Resolutions, but rather a list of Pending Dreams.

I believe that setting goals is as important as making a grocery list.  If you don’t have a plan, you are just wandering aimlessly through (the aisles of) life. I also subscribe to the school of thought that by clearly defining and framing a goal and putting it “out there” into the universe you are a giant step closer to achieving that goal.

Setting goals requires some unfettered daydreaming.  If I was living the ideal life, what would it look like?  Oh, yea, sure, sipping fruity cocktails on the beach sounds like an ideal life, but difficult to finance.  Instead, I look at each of the categories I listed above (career, financial….) and think how my life should look through that filter.

For example, my career dreams look something like this:  I am self-employed with a flexible schedule, a passion for my work, and unlimited potential for growth.   (Notice my positive affirmation like I am already living this life.) My goal for this year is to:  Start my own blog with the intention of developing a following and finding advertisers.    With a blog, I will be self-employed, I will blog about things that excite me and there is unlimited potential for growth.

Next, I run this goal through yet another filter call SMART, which is explained very well in this link.  Setting Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely Goals….. SMART.  This step confirms that my dream statement has successfully converted to a goal with a specific outcome.   Again, let’s take this example to the next level.

Start a Blog

Specific:  Yes, this very specific goal

Measurable:  Yes, I can confirm this has been completed

Attainable:  Yes, this can be done with little funds or programming knowledge

Realistic:  Yes, I have a lot to offer in a blog environment

Timely: Yes, this can be completed in the 1st quarter of 2012

My Goal has passed the SMART criteria!

SCORE!

Now it’s time to identify specific steps needed to complete this goal.

1.  Identify a brand for your blog.

2. Identify and Secure a domain name.

3. Find a host for your blog

4. Plan a strategy for developing content

5. Write your first 10 blogs

6. Plan ways to draw an audience

7. Look for advertisers for your blog

And then I assign due dates to each of these steps.  Suddenly, it doesn’t seem so overwhelming.

As you can see, I did start my blog and I am on step 5.  I plan to have Step 5 completed within the next 2 weeks.  At this point, I am not worried about audience.  That is another step entirely.

Okay, there is a beach somewhere in my plan…..

So, lets get back to my Goals for 2012.

Career:

1. Start a blog

2. Obtain 22 PDU’s to maintain my Project Management Professional certification which expires in 9/2012

3. Improve my Production Company services and pricing structure.  Target a new project each month.

4. Complete additional Photography Training to improve my skill

Save Money

Financial:

1.  Pay off all debt by June 1st

2. Save 10% of income to savings

3. Increase Savings to a Target $$$  by August 1st.  This is my Emergency Fund

4.  Start Savings for New-to-me car with a target this year of $$$

5.  Increase Retirement Savings to 15% by end of the year

A Date with Your Family

Family:

1.  Plan and implement a family vacation to Virginia

2.  Write and Document a Family Mission

3.  Plan and implement a family adventure each month

4.  Have a ticklefest every 2 weeks

Physical:

1.  Train for and Complete a 10K

2.  Remove artificial sweeteners from our diet

3.  Take a walk with my kids 1x a week and laugh with them daily

Social:

1. Schedule time to socialize with my friends one weekend night a month.

Intellectual

1. Additional Training in Project Management

2. Read 1 Non-Fiction book a month in areas that support my goals

3.  Write a personal Mission Statement

4. Play strategy games that stimulate logical thinking at least 1x a month

Spiritual

1.  Increase Church Attendance by at least 2x a month

2. Read Scripture Daily

3. Supplement our Spiritual Training by attending a study group offered by our church.

4.  Thank God Daily for all my blessing

That’s it.  Lots to get done this year!  Look for this list in a reference page on the right side-bar and you can track with me or even hold me accountable through out the year.  After all, even Single Gals need to be accountable to someone.

Have you set some goals for you and your family this year?  Did you choose some fun goals or are they all so so so serious?  I went back and rewrote mine to add some lighthearted goals that are pretty easy to meet.  Write down your goals, have fun and Thrive in 2012!

Recommended Links:

http://topachievement.com/goalsetting.html

http://www.goal-setting-guide.com/goal-setting-tutorials/smart-goal-setting

http://www.mindtools.com/page6.html

We have a winner!!!

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We have a winner!!!

This weekend was the Pine Car Derby race for my son’s Cub Scout Pack.

I must stop here and give kudos for all the work that our Cub Scout parents put into this event.  Specifically, we have an electronic track with corresponding software that sets up the heats, tracks the time and speed of each car and then presents the standings.  Setting up and running this is a lot of work, but having everything all official makes it a lot of fun for the kids and the spectator parents.

To begin this narrative journey, I must explain that I am Cub Scout Mom.  As such, it fell to me to get my son, Mikey, on track with his car build.  He is 10 years old and I try to give him more and more responsibility for it’s completion each year …. and this year was no exception.  Except we were given little time (about  2 weeks with a Science Project deadline thrown into the middle) and we were facing the “week of”  without a car design.  This Mom had to take a leap and start the project while Mikey was off on a weekend with his Dad.  So…..  I picked out a really cute design I found on this website

Remember this picture I posted last week?

Well, not really cute, as novel.  A shark car!!  I could picture this unusual shaped car racing down the track and everyone looking with approving nods at my son……….  So, I started cutting and shaping.  I found out quickly that this wasn’t what Mikey had in mind at all, but due to our time constraints, he reluctantly took over…..

Mikey shapes the Shark Car

We made quick progress until a scheduling conflict caused the Derby to be pushed out until mid-February.  Suddenly, we had 4 more weeks to complete the car.  Wow!  We can do amazing things in 4 weeks.  In fact, Lowe’s was giving a workshop on Pine Derby Cars and Mikey and I eagerly signed up.  We were hoping for some insight on making our little shark car a bonafide winner!

Kudos (again) to Lowe’s for having these workshops.  Not many parents have the tools needed to simply shape a car for this event and Lowe’s pulled out the big guns for this workshop.  A band saw and a Dremel tool was on hand to help my son make the car the REALLY wanted….. some low-riding gangsta thing he saw in a magazine.

Workshop at Lowe's

The awesome guys at Lowe’s even showed us how to polish the axles and the tires – key items for a winning car.

Now we had two car shapes for Mikey to choose and we had polished axles for two cars ….. and before we knew it …. other life events began inserting themselves in between our project and our February deadline.

Fast forward about 3 weeks and we are on a serious deadline.  Mikey makes the decision to work with the gangsta car.  I am looking at the unpainted Shark Car, visions of it swooping down the track fading, when I decide to finish it and race it myself.  (They have Rabble Round of the Derby, which allows parents and siblings to enter the race, as well. )

Mikey puts coats of paint on his Car, soon to be named “Noisy Boy”, from the robot-fighting movie, Real Steel.

Time to Paint

He painted his car glossy black and I added some Japanese markings that we think means “Noisy Boy”.  Here is his final product… without wheels, of course.

Noisy Boy Revealed

Since he was comfortable handling the painting and wheel placement on his car all by himself, I was free to finish my Shark Car.  And here is the big reveal.

Shark Car

Pretty cool, eh?  Mind you, I’ve been making these derby cars for years, under the direct supervision of a small male child.  We have had a Batman Car, a Silver Bullet Car, and a Yellow “M” Car and they have all looked just like, well,  a car.  However, this dorsal-fined, Italian Red, yellow flamed wave of undulating wood was right up my creative alley! I had so much fun making and painting her and even let Mikey name her…….. “Apocalypse”.  I think this is also from the movie, Real Steel.

The Friday night before the race was spent making finishing touches to the paint details, adding weights to meet the 5oz maximum weight and aligning the wheels for maximum speed.  We used a leveled 1×4 board on incline to ensure the car rolled straight instead of careening from side to side, which will slow it down.  We were more ready for this race than we have ever been.  I think both of us making a car, rather than being worker (and nag) and supervisor, changed our dynamics.  This time we both had skin in the game.

Race Day!  It was a working event for me, as well.  My production company was doing Winner Circle Photos and after we registered and weighed our cars, I had to set up my photo shoot.  I explain this because the next two pics will be from that part of my business.

Mikey is a Webelo I (that is 4th grade cub scouts for those not “in-the-know”) and raced with his Den mates.  He won all 4 heats and took the First Place trophy for his Den.

Portrait of a WINNER!

He also raced in the Final Derby race against all the Den winners and of 12 contenders, his “Noisy Boy” came in 6th, clocking 184 mph. (The winner clocked an impressive 190 mph)

I’m so happy that he did so well this year.  He usually places in the top 3 for his den, but this was his first “FIRST”.  Last year he made 3rd place and he was so upset about it because, in actuality, there were only 3 racers for his den, so he came in dead last.  This year, he is a bonafide Winner.  That was our plan, after all.

So, are you wondering how I did in the Rabble Round?   I came in 4th place, just missing the trophy levels.  My sexy shark car, Apocalypse, turned heads in every heat and performed a respectable 183 mph. That’s my girl!

Me and Apocalypse

My sweet boy insisted on taking this picture of me and my car and we happily went home with his very important trophy (cue walking away into the  sunset).  So ends the saga of how I ended up being a racer in the Cub Scout Pine Car Derby.

Have you ever found yourself totally immersed in something that was meant for one of your kids?  Like being their soccer coach or helping assemble a complicated toy and found yourself totally enjoying the experience?   Did it change how you related to each other?