Thursday, September 25, 2014

Family Movie Night with Netflix.com


Aiden and I have been on the hunt for family-friendly TV shows since he first fell in love with Full House, The Cosby Show, and Instant Mom a couple months ago. And this week, with the premiere of Black-ish on primetime television, our hunt is now over.

Unfortunately, we don't always have time to watch TV during the weekdays because of school and work and the evening grind to get ready for the next day.

Enter Movie Night. And enter Netflix.com.

It's a real treat for Aiden and me to relax and unwind during a Friday or Saturday night by just hanging out in our apartment, lounging on the couch, and taking in a movie. 

Here are three movies that I know Aiden'll love to watch during our Mother-Son Family Movie Night:


Cloudy with A Chance of Meatballs 2
This little dude loved the first one, and who can blame him?! It was funny and heartfelt all in one! In the sequel, inventor Flint Lockwood battles mutant food beasts created by his machine, including shrimpanzees, tacodiles, and jellyfish sandwiches. Definitely a must-watch for Aiden!


The Avengers
Aiden wouldn't be Aiden if he didn't love him some superheroes! In this all-star lineup of superheroes, which includes Iron Man, the Hulk, and Captain America, they all team up to save the world from doom. 


Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Star Wars is quickly becoming one of Aiden's faves so I know he'll love the movie. (Seriously, though, if I have to read that Lego Star Wars book one more time…). In the movie, you can follow the animated adventures of the Jedi knights, including Anakin Skywalker and his master, Obi-Wan Kenobi. (And, FYI, Season 6 is available only on Netflix.) 

What movies do your kids like? What do you like to stream on Netflix.com for Family Movie Night?

{Disclaimer: As a member of the Netflix Stream Team Ambassador Program, this post is being sponsored by Netflix. All opinions expressed herein are my own.}

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Fall Activities at The Bronx Zoo, Central Park Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo, and New York Aquarium

The air's beginning to feel crisp and cool, the leaves are starting to change colors, the school year is in full swing, and candy corns are selling out in every store! That could only mean one thing: fall is upon us! 

As the season changes, the Wildlife Conservation Society's zoos and aquarium has so many fun and educational events and activities that'll be sure to keep the kids busy and engaged! Check out the list below and get your planners ready because you won't want to miss this!


Zoo Play: Toddlers (ages 2-3 with adults) and Kinders (ages 4-5)
Fall 2014If your little one is curious to know how animals change throughout the seasons, then you'll want to sign them up to participate in these 6-session "caregiver-and-me" programs where they will use dramatic play, sensory bins, and games to connect to nature in a very hands-on way. Each session includes live animals and loads of fun! Visit The Bronx Zoo registration website for more information. 

Prospect Park Zoo
Breakfast in the Outback
Sunday September 28 from 9:30am -- 11:30am 
Bring your appetite -- and the entire family -- as you all enjoy breakfast at the zoo with the dingoes. Everyone will eat special treats on the Discovery Trail, take a tour of the animal kitchen, meet an animal close up, and learn how the zoo feeds about 800 animals in one day! I know, I know... that's a lot to take in. But the kids'll love it. And they'll be so full -- with knowledge and food -- afterwards! Visit the website for more information. 


Central Park Zoo 
Fall Fiesta 
Sunday, October 12th from 11am -- 3pm
Grab the whole family and get ready for games, themed crafts, scavenger hunts, meet-a-keeper, animal encounters, live performances, and so much more! Visit the website for more information. 

Fall on the Farm
Saturday, October 4th and Sunday, October 5th from 11am -- 4pm 
Head to the Queens Zoo and meet the barnyard bunch! This year’s Moo at the Zoo event celebrates the season and all things domestic, from the Flemish Giant rabbits to the massive Texas Longhorns. Check out animal keeper chats, cheese making demos, hands-on butter making, a cow milking simulator, farm-themed crafts, and and so much more! Visit the website for more information. 

Sea Stars – Spineless Wonders
Saturday, October 4th from 11:30am -- 12:30pm and 2pm -- 3pm
Head to the aquarium to create your very own sea star as you discover fun and interesting facts about these amazing marine invertebrates. Visit the website for more information. 

{Disclaimer: I am an Ambassador for the Zoo Crew and this post is part of a sponsored series. All opinions expressed herein are my own.}

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Amex EveryDay Makes Dreams Come True

Aiden. Austin. Mariska. Me. 
I love it when my dreams come true and I can scratch something off of my bucket list. It makes me feel all kinds of accomplished and determined and giddy on the inside. Real talk.

Such was the case a couple weeks ago when Aiden and I had the opportunity to meet, hang out with, and play a few rounds of tennis with one of my best friends in my head, Mariska Hargitay. Yes, you read that right. I was chatting it up with the Olivia Benson from Law and Order: SVU! For those of you who've been hanging out with me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram know that I haven't been able to stop talking about it since then.

It's not everyday that a kid gets to play tennis with James Blake...
Not only that, but Aiden and I got to meet famed tennis player, James Blake, and Aiden was even lucky enough to go a few rounds with him as well. After watching Aiden show up and show out, I may or may not have a future tennis player on my hands. I'm here for it. All of it.

... or Mariska Hargitay
This was all thanks to Amex EveryDay. Amex EveryDay hosted a US Open Live viewing party at Brooklyn Bridge's Pier 1. The event featured cool activities for everyone involved -- from a pop-up picnic area to a kid's tennis courts to a photo booth to capture the amazing view of the city as well as #EveryDayMoments.


As they so eloquently state, "The Amex EveryDay Credit Card was designed with the multi-tasker in mind, juggling family, work, and personal lives. The Card rewards Card Members at the places they may already shop, and includes access to the retail protection, security, and service expected from American Express."

Once in a lifetime special events, #EveryDayMoments, and rewards? Sounds like a credit card worth having to me!

Visit Amex EveryDay or following the hashtag #EveryDayMoments on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram for more information.

Thanks so much to Amex EveryDay for a fun-filled afternoon. Aiden and I made lots of great memories!

Friday, September 12, 2014

#WhyIStayed: On Understanding Domestic Violence and What Nightmares Are Made Of

Seven.

That's how many times, on average, it takes a victim of intimate partner violence to leave the abuser. Seven.

Seven incidents of humiliation. Seven incidents of confusion. Seven incidents of thinking, I can't believe this happened to me. Seven incidents of self-blaming and self-loathing. Seven incidents of thinking, But maybe it'll get better if only I could love harder/be more supportive/be less demanding.

Seven.

Some victims leave long before. Some leave long after.

All are scarred for many, many years following the experience.

I know this personally.

I know because not only have I studied the statistics, but also because I was a victim of domestic violence. And at the hands of Aiden's other parent. I've written about this before. More than once. I know because I stayed far longer than I would have ever imagined. I know because I left after way too many incidents.

The very last incident took place in my apartment. That's when he strangled me until I passed out... three times in one night. He was mad at me for getting mad at him for taking money from me without my permission. (In the real world, we call that stealing.)

The time before that took place in my bedroom. That's when he snatched my cellphone away from me while I was in the middle of a conversation and attempted to throw it. He was mad at me for not giving him the attention he wanted.

The time before that took place in my living room. That's when he strangled me until I passed out... twice in one night. He was mad at me for getting mad at him for arguing with two random guys during our date night at a bar. After I woke up, he took my keys and cellphone so that I wouldn't call anyone or try to leave my apartment. (In the real world, we call that holding someone hostage.)

The time before that took place by the foyer in my apartment. He dragged me across the floor. I still have the scar on my shoulder from the rug burn because of it.

The time before that took place in a hotel room while we were out of town celebrating my birthday. He threw me up against the wall and then body slammed me unto the bed. He was mad at me because I wouldn't give him my hard earned money to leave me alone in a hotel room and go to a strip club during my birthday weekend celebration.

The time before that took place in the bedroom. He handcuffed me to Aiden's crib because he was jealous after I received a phone call from a male friend. (He used to be a security guard so the handcuffs were from his job. And yes, Aiden was in the crib at the time.)


When I was in high school, I remember witnessing my foster brother drag his pregnant girlfriend down a flight of stairs and punch her so hard in the face that it almost immediately swelled up. I remember talking to some of my closest friends about the incident. I remember saying, "She should leave him!" I remember judging her and her situation. I remember thinking, why is she staying with him?

Ten years later, I found myself in a similar situation. Only difference is that this time I was the victim. And this time I was the one staying.

Thing is, "she could easily leave" is such a heavy, loaded statement. It's not that easy to leave. It's not that easy to walk away. It's not that easy to break those strongholds. It's not that easy to break the chains, to break free, to face the truth.

Denial and oblivion... sometimes it really is bliss.

Truth is, I don't know why I stayed with my ex for so long. Maybe I got caught up whenever we had our honeymoon phases. (They pretty much happened after every violent episode and they confused the hell out of me. But they also gave me hope that things will get better.) Maybe I was afraid to embrace the "single mom" status. (Y'all know all the statistics, thoughts, and assumptions attached to that label.) Maybe I was in denial. (Denial and avoidance are my defense mechanisms of choice.) Maybe I was afraid of being alone. Maybe I believed that this time would be different. Maybe I thought that my love, my unconditional love, would be enough to motivate change in him.

It wasn't.

There was no change.

After a while, I came to terms with the fact that some folks are just broken beyond repair and there's nothing you could do or say that would help to "fix" them or help them deal with their mess. And some folks just don't have the capacity to empathize or feel compassion towards others. Control and power, that's all abusers want. And those honeymoon phases or those "I'm a changed person" speeches are just more ways to manipulate the situation, and exercise control and power over victims.

Call me heartless and judge as you many, but it is what it is. *Kanye shrug*

Once I was honest with myself about what was happening -- really happening -- I could no longer deny that I was living in a cycle of domestic violence. And I could no longer deny that my life -- and Aiden's life -- was in danger.

I realized that my abuser did need help, and some type of change did need to happen in his life. But I also realized that that's work he needed to do on his own. Without Aiden and me around or along for the ride.

So I bowed out. Gracefully. 

*Dusts dirt off of shoulders* (That was a Jay-Z reference.) 
Looking back at that tumultuous time in my life, I know that God must've thought that I had a purpose in life because I can't even begin to fathom how I survived. But I'm so thankful for God's grace and faithfulness and protection. It's the only thing that helped me to survive and live to tell what nightmares are made of. 

I'm here. To share my story. 

I hope that it brings healing and comfort and strength to some. And understanding and compassion and clarity to others. 

So the next time you're thinking of asking the question, "Why is she staying?," remember the number seven, and then think again.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Proof That The Best Things In Life Are Free

Beach bumming

"What was one fun thing you did this summer?"

"I went to Pier 2 to swim and play."

That was Aiden's response to the questions his new teachers asked him during their student-teacher conference. (Yes, there's a such thing as a student-teacher conference. It's where the teachers meet with each student for about a half hour to talk about what they did over the summer, their goals for the school year, what they'd like to learn, and all that jazz. It's a great way for the teachers to get to know them and a bit about their learning style.)

I was fully expecting Aiden to mention our trip to the amusement park or our day trip to legoland or summer camp or the restaurants we visited. After all, those experiences weren't exactly free. And they weren't cheap either. But little man was all about mentioning a spot we visited quite often this summer. It's also one of his favorite spots and one of his go-to spots if there's nothing on our agenda for the day. Or if he's not quite feeling what's on our agenda for the day.

And guess what? It's free!

This was the first summer in about four years that we didn't take a vacation vacation. Like a new-city-new-country-tropical-island-I-never-wanna-leave-this-place vacation. Between working and adjunct professor-ing and his school schedule and my school schedule, I just couldn't make it happen. Not gonna lie -- I felt all kinds of terrible when I finally came to terms with the fact that a vacation wasn't in the cards for us this year. But I tried to make the best of it by having a fun -- and free -- NYC staycation.

And guess what? That's what Aiden remembers the most. And that's where we made some of the best memories.

It's totally proof that the best things in life are free. Trips to the playground, trips to the pier, splashing around in the pool, playing Marco-Polo, talking about anything and everything, good conversations, hugs, laughter, love... that's all free. And magical. And that's what the kids'll remember the most.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

{Personal Style} Striped


I have a new favorite dress. It's gray and comfortable and sophisticated and hugs me in all the right places, in a quite conservative way.

I paired it with a bold statement necklace, stacked bracelets, and an over-sized ring, because accessories make every outfit better, right? Right. 



I knew this dress would be great with a jazzy pair of pumps because when I turn around, this dress is fun. And striped.

Magenta striped. Delightfully striped. Deliciously striped!


Matter of fact, I think the magenta stripe is my favorite part of the dress. It's just so whimsical and fun. And kinda sexy.


Hope you all are having a great week. Stay stylish!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Little More Faith, A Little More Fight


Sometimes I get happy when I think of all the situations that I've been through in my life. Not just because I overcame the situation, but for the situation itself. I've learned how to navigate through some tough stuff, push pass messiness, and come out on the other side triumphant.

A little stronger. A little wiser. A little better.

And all because of tough situations.  

I'm not talking about becoming a mother at an age when I was still growing up, figuring out adulthood, coming of age, and trying to create a career path that makes my soul happy. 

I'm not talking about when I made it through the toxic and abusive relationship with my ex and decided embrace this single mom gig.  

I'm not just talking about when I made it through graduate school as a single mother and got those two master degrees. Don't get me wrong, taking your two-year-old to class with you because you couldn't find a babysitter and didn't want to miss any of the work isn't easy.

But it's not impossible either.

Faith. 

I'm talking about tough situations and circumstances that took place in my life before I peed on a stick and found a positive oh-my-freaking-goodness-you're-pregnant sign staring back at me. 

I'm talking about laying on the couch with my birth mother as the marshal came to knock on our apartment door and evict us for not paying the rent. I'm talking about living in homeless shelters because we literally didn't have a place to stay. I'm talking about entering the foster care system and moving from one foster home to another because I was being physically abused.

The odds to succeed were against me. But I beat those odds.

Fight.

I learned how to endure and I learned how to perseverance. I learned to have a little more faith and a little more fight. I learned that if I could just make it pass certain hard times, things will be better on the other side.

I knew that something good was going to happen if I just worked hard and excelled in school. I figured out how to be self-sufficient and solve problems at a high level. I learned the importance of being proactive and re-grouping and re-strategizing when things didn't go well the first time. Or second time. Or fifth time. I learned that defeat was a time to get back up again and start back over again. 

Resilience. It's damn near half the battle, right? 

Hard times helped me to learn that I need to have a little more faith and a little more fight in me. It taught me that it's okay to feel a little frustrated and a little downtrodden. But then it's time to get back up again and push pass the struggle. 

A little more faith and a little more fight. Sometimes that's all it takes to get to your success. 

{This post was originally published here on August 14, 2013.} 

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