Sprigeo Says Yes to School Safety

Joe Bruzzese of Sprigeo, photo by Daniel Dreifuss for Santa Barbara Independent.

Joe Bruzzese of Sprigeo, photo by Daniel Dreifuss for Santa Barbara Independent.

When Joe Bruzzese founded Sprigeo in 2010, he wanted to help schools prevent bullying and provide a safe, anonymous method for students to report things that made them feel unsafe. The service has since evolved into a full-fledged school safety tip line reporting system, with a 24/7 call center accessible by phone, email, text, an app, or the website.

“Everything goes through the call center,” explained Bruzzese. “They triage those tips based on pre-set criteria to determine how serious of a threat the tip is. Some are very serious—‘There’s a planned school attack,’ or ‘I’m planning to take my own life and I’m calling or reporting to get help’—to something that’s far less serious, like, ‘I don’t like what they’re serving in the school cafeteria.’ We get the gamut of reportable tips, not all of which qualify obviously as a school safety threat.”

A virtual company from the get-go, Sprigeo now serves more than 4,000 schools across 28 states as well as administering the statewide tip lines for Oregon and Idaho. They recently signed on to provide the tip line for the state of Illinois, their largest customer so far.

That provides a lot of data to digest. One trend that Bruzzese sees is an uptick in middle-school students “really struggling with cutting and depression and other forms of self-harm.” Vaping is also on the rise, not just in high school but in middle school. Prior to the pandemic, Sprigeo was working on a series of videos featuring high schoolers telling middle schoolers how “uncool” and unhealthy vaping really is.

Unfortunately, that project is on hold at the moment, but one thing the company has been able to move forward on is an online educational conference that will launch on September 14.

“The culture around meetings and professional development really has changed, and people are now very comfortable with sitting in front of a screen and attending a Zoom meeting or a training session,” explained Bruzzese. “Districts still have the same professional development requirements by law, [so this is] helping them in a way that makes sense, which has been great. Everyone is really looking for opportunities for quality online training.”   sprigeo.com

Tech Talk Special Issue for Santa Barbara Independent, published October 1, 2020.

Tech Talk Special Issue for Santa Barbara Independent, published October 1, 2020.


Tech Talk Special Issue for the Santa Barbara Independent, originally published on October 1, 2020.

To read the issue as it appeared in print, please click here, Tech Talk 768_10_01_20


ParentSquare Makes the Grade

Anupama Vaid of ParentSquare, photo by Daniel Dreifuss for Santa Barbara Independent.

Anupama Vaid of ParentSquare, photo by Daniel Dreifuss for Santa Barbara Independent.

Entrepreneurs follow all kinds of inspirational paths. For Anupama Vaid, it was the halls of Santa Barbara’s Peabody Charter School that inspired her to start ParentSquare, a communication platform connecting parents to teachers and school administrators that is now used by 4,500 K-12 schools across the country.

A former computer engineer for Citrix, Vaid came up with the idea in 2011, when she took a sabbatical to be home with her young children and realized how much more school information was available to stay-at-home parents.

The platform’s development by Vaid and her husband, Sohit Wadhwa, emphasized a simple format that could be accessed via phones, laptops, tablets, and desktops for parents, teachers, and office staff. But making a solid product was only step one.

“Even if you build a good product, there is hindrance in adoption primarily because the education tech industry is a government industry and there are regulations and lots of things to learn,” explained Vaid, who spent almost four years learning the ins and outs of ed tech. “Education really teaches us about technology, but they are not the first ones to adopt technology. Whenever they are buying something, it has to be a collective decision. Plus, it has to be priced correctly because they are buying it with state funds.”

Upon cracking that nut, ParentSquare grew rapidly, but COVID-19 is presenting new challenges. The schools pay a fixed amount per student, but with online education becoming the norm in the spring, their normal usage patterns have gone up tremendously. “But we’re happy to be able to serve the schools during this time,” said Vaid. “It’s very satisfying to be able to do that.”

In addition to consistently delivering helpful tips for better online communication, ParentSquare also added Health Screening Forms to the platform to help schools prevent the spread of COVID.

A more persistent challenge is hiring developers, as ParentSquare uses the same Ruby on Rails web-application framework that’s also used by some of the biggest companies in town, such as AppFolio and Procore. “Obviously, their pockets are much deeper,” she said. But ParentSquare offers a unique advantage. “This is such a soulful company,” she said. “It’s a feel-good experience, and every one of the education industry people is so nice to work with because you know you’re all in it together for the common good. Unlike other industries I’ve been in, this is tech for a social cause, and it’s a different feeling being a part of such a company.”


Tech Talk Special Issue for Santa Barbara Independent, published October 1, 2020.

Tech Talk Special Issue for Santa Barbara Independent, published October 1, 2020.


Tech Talk Special Issue for the Santa Barbara Independent, originally published on October 1, 2020.

To read the issue as it appeared in print, please click here, Tech Talk 768_10_01_20


Bodhi Path Offers Enlightened View of Technology

Bohdi Path Offers Enlightened View of Technology, from Schools of Thought, Santa Barbara Independent, November 7, 2019.

Bohdi Path Offers Enlightened View of Technology, from Schools of Thought, Santa Barbara Independent, November 7, 2019.

There have been many studies about technology leading to feelings of isolation, insecurity, and loneliness. We asked Dawa Tarchin Phillips, resident teacher of the Santa Barbara Bodhi Path Buddhist Center, for insight on dealing with this digital conundrum. 

Why do these feelings emerge, and how do we overcome them? When we do use technology, oftentimes we are isolating ourselves. Making an effort to connect with others, particularly around meaningful endeavors, is one way one can combat that. Whether it is volunteering for an organization where we care about the cause, or joining groups with similar interests — anything that gets us away from the screen and gets us around something that we find valuable is one way where we not only combat isolation, but [also build a sense of confidence through] involvement in something meaningful. … That also helps us with general insecurity, and doing it with others is something that helps us deal with loneliness. 

What are some techniques we could use? Practices such as mindfulness and self-compassion, which are proven to improve what is called positive affect, the general positivity of one’s thoughts and emotions. They help with releasing hormones in the brain that actually make us feel good or make us feel better. 

How can we help children prepare? The more that we can explain to children and youth about how their brain works, how their nervous system works, and how their emotions are generated, the more children are able to pay attention to that and also to restore their own balance by just understanding themselves better. 

Should we fear technology? Technology is not going to go away, so we need to move out of this idea of perceiving technology just as a threat to our well-being and to be asking the question, How can we work with technology in a way that does not diminish the quality of our lives and actually helps us maintain or increase the quality of our lives? 

Click here to read this story as it originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Independent on November 7, 2019. SB Independent Schools of Thought Insert 11.7.19

Free Screening of “Dislecksia: The Movie” and Q & A with Filmmaker Harvey Hubbell

DIS-400x600_R3Dyslexia affects 1 in 5 individuals, and Harvey Hubbell (who has dyslexia) is spreading the word across the nation that dyslexia is a difference, not a disability. The award-winning independent filmmaker screens his well-reviewed film, Dislecksia: The Movie at a special appearance at Santa Barbara High School on Friday, January 17 at 7 p.m. (700 E. Anapamu St.).

The event is FREE to the public and is the only Central Coast showing scheduled during Hubbell’s West Coast tour. A Q & A session will follow the film.

The film explores the issue of learning differences that are widely misunderstood, and the reason for much difficulty in school; due to increasing research and technological advances, these differences can be handled in a positive way  when there’s greater awareness and understanding.

The event is sponsored by the Santa Barbara School District, the Santa Barbara Education Foundation, The Kirby Jones Family Foundation and The Dyslexia Project. Spanish interpretation will be available.

For more information email TheDyslexiaProject@gmail.com.

—Leslie Dinaberg

Originally published in Santa Barbara SEASONS on January 13, 2014.

Spring Break With Java Boy

Photo by by Belovodchenko Anton

Photo by by Belovodchenko Anton

Ah, that rich, strong aroma of coffee. Its anticipation is the only thing that makes getting out of bed worthwhile most of the time. I understand the attraction to coffee and why some might call it an addiction. I really do. Not that I’m addicted. I can quit anytime I want to. I quit when I was pregnant and I could do it again anytime–if I happened to go crazy and wanted to quit.

But how do you keep coffee away from an eight-year-old boy once he’s had a taste of the good stuff?

It all started so innocently. It was Spring Break, which I suppose is a time when many a vice makes its first appearance. Ah tradition!

We were at a Starbucks somewhere near Hoover Dam when my son asked for a sip of my latte. Why not? I handed it over naively, expecting him to reject it as quickly as he did when he tried tuna casserole, peanut M & M’s or key lime pie. Anticipating that I would have my coffee back immediately, I held out my hand and was dumbfounded when he took a gigantic gulp. He finally came up for air with a huge cat-that-ate-the-canary grin on his face, only to chug the rest of my liter-sized latte down without even taking another breath.

The look on the boy’s face was so buzzed and stupidly proud, for a second I thought I was back at a college frat party, with drunken freshman pledges yelling at each other to “drink, drink, drink.” His telltale milk moustache even looked just like beer foam.

Uh oh. The big red mother’s warning flag went up in my head. Danger zone. This kid–who doesn’t really sleep all that much to begin with–really likes coffee.

This can’t be good.

It definitely wasn’t.

Normally a bit hyper, he spent the next 9 hours in hyper-drive mode, bouncing off the walls–of our car.

This definitely wasn’t good.

He is normally kind of a physical kid, but now he was in hyper-touch mode, constantly hugging and wrestling anyone who came near him. The frat party visions came back again.

This was not good.

Finally the caffeine wore off. We all crashed hard.

For the rest of our trip, every time we came near a java joint we were greeted by pleas of, “Please, can I have a latte?” I have a hard time passing up an opportunity for a coffee fix in the best of circumstances. It didn’t help that on this trip we were guest room hopping and staying in cheap motels, so hubby and I were even more tired and in need of caffeine than usual.

“May I please have a latte?” replaced “Are we there yet?” as the chorus for the soundtrack of our trip.

One morning when we were particularly groggy he managed to order himself a latte at breakfast before my ears perked up. “He’s just kidding,” I said to the big-eyed waitress, who couldn’t wait for a cigarette break to share the story about those crazy kooks from California.

It didn’t help that our friends in Albuquerque allow their children to imbibe in decaf. “May I please have a latte?” now had a companion statement in the reprise. “It’s okay mom. I’ll have a decaf,” The fact that their fifth grade son is the same height as our third grader didn’t seem to deter our child’s desire for the stuff.

I guess I should just be happy he didn’t ask for a sip of my beer.

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on April 8, 2008.

The Boy in the Plastic Bubble

220px-The_Boy_in_the_Plastic_BubbleI’m not one to mess around when it comes to my son’s safety, so I was a little taken aback the other day when we met some friends to go scootering at a local elementary school.

He was the only one that wasn’t wearing a helmet. A couple of the kids were in full body armor, wrapped in Charmin from head to toe, like that kid in the old commercial, who goes out to play football and practically tips over from all that cushiony padding. But even the more “normal” (meaning less smothery) parents had put their kids in helmets. Every single kid had a helmet—except mine.

It was my James Dean moment. I felt like such a rebel.

It hadn’t even occurred to me to bring Koss’s helmet.

It’s not like he scooters very fast, or goes down hills. Even if he were to fall, he hardly gets enough speed going to skin a knee, let alone hit his head.

So why did I feel like such an irresponsible parent? Being the only one who didn’t even think about protecting her poor child’s skull made me feel like beating my own head against the wall. Should I feel guilty for not being concerned enough for his safety, or proud of myself for being less of a helicopter parent than my friends?

How much hovering does it take to qualify as a helicopter parent anyway? And how much swooping and attacking do you have to do on your child’s behalf to qualify as a Black Hawk pilot? Seems to me we’ve gone a bit too far on this air strike to try to protect our kids.

When I was a kid we played on asphalt playgrounds, jumping off and on those spinning merry go-rounds with wild abandon. Who cared if people had their arms ripped off by playing that way? There weren’t even any adults within earshot, let alone telling us to be careful ‘cause we might lose a limb.

I remember an old John Travolta movie called The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, about a kid who had some kind of a disease where he might die if he were exposed to the germs from the outside world. I felt so sorry for that kid in the movies, he hardly got to do anything.

I couldn’t imagine a world where I wasn’t free to walk to school by myself or roam my own neighborhood at will. That poor kid in the plastic bubble had it so tough.

Almost like kids do today.

More and more, the world of childhood has become helmetized. Forget going to the park by themselves, I know parents who won’t let their children go to another child’s house without doing a thorough background check on the parents. If your name is John Smith, forget about it – there’s no way to Google that.

I don’t want to be naïve about the fact that the world can be dangerous. But raising your children in a plastic bubble is also a risk. The risk is not letting them grow up into responsible people who know how to protect themselves and make intelligent decisions. Isn’t it better to let them fall or fail every once in a while? How else will they possibly learn how to pick themselves up and dust themselves off and get back on the horse—or scooter—again?


When she’s not discretely hovering over her son on the playground, Leslie can reached at Leslie@LeslieDinaberg.com. For more columns visit www.LeslieDinaberg.com.

Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on January 11, 2008.

My Secret Mothers Day Wish

© Peterkozikowski | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Peterkozikowski | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

For those of you who have no exposure to TV or calendars or school art projects, it may come as big news that Mother’s Day is coming up.

Now, I wouldn’t say no to being showered with diamonds, although I’d settle for a real shower alone for 10 minutes without someone interrupting me on an “urgent” matter. Candy and flowers would be good, just not sour worms and dandelions. However, what I really want this Mother’s Day is my very own remote control.

No, this isn’t one of those columns about men and their need to control the television remote — although my six-year-old son has mastered the picture-in-picture swap features and figured out how to TIVO every episode of the Power Rangers for the next 327 years. How is it that he still can’t figure out how to get his clothes off his body and into the hamper?

Anyway, what I want for Mother’s Day is that remote control that Adam Sandler has in his new movie, Click.

What a perfect gift.

The next time Koss chatters incessantly about Pokemon — seriously, the kid can go at least 10 minutes without taking a breath — I could simply push the mute button, and smile and nod and think about George Clooney. Or better yet, I could rewind to when Koss was a year old, just learning to talk, and I reveled in his every word.

Still better, I could rewind my life to the time I “just missed” meeting George Clooney at a party because I spent that extra 17 minutes changing outfits because I couldn’t decide what to wear when I met George Clooney. Of course every outfit I’ve ever owned would look ravishing, if I could just rewind my life to that one summer when my height was actually in perfect proportion for my weight.

Ah, the good old days.

I could rewind to 1986, and meet my husband during that legendary summer when he was “peaking,” and supposedly had better abs than George Clooney. That I’d like to see.

That I’d like to be able to even picture.

But enough of the past, my Mother’s Day remote would have a wicked fast forward that I could use to have written a novel, lost 20 pounds, learned Spanish, run a marathon, and avoided a lifetime of awkward conversations — all without the actual effort of writing, dieting, studying, training or talking. That’s my kind of remote.

The pause button could be pretty cool too. Adam Sandler uses his to slap his boss around a little and hit a little kid in the head with a baseball, but I like to believe that I’d be a non-violent remote controller. When that lady with 14 items in the “10 items or less” line at Vons starts to count her $19.99 in change out r-e-a-l-l-y s-l-o-w-l-y, I would simply pause her shopping and place her butt in the appropriate non-express line. It would all be very civil, no violence required.

Same goes for the mega minivan parked in two spaces at Five Points. I would simply pause all of the other shoppers while I double-parked behind Ms. Minivan and got a few errands done.

Hey, maybe I could use the picture-in-picture function combined with the pause, and simply be in two places at one time. You know, like the lady who sits under the hairdryer at a salon but is also cleaning her oven. I could be sitting at T-Ball cheering on my team while getting a massage, or cooking a gourmet dinner while playing an exciting game of Klondike on my computer, or eating an ice cream bar while running a 10K.

What a great gift that remote will be.

Here’s hoping the batteries don’t run out while I’m speed rewinding past childbirth.

Happy Mother’s Day!

What would you do with a universal remote? Email email

Originally published in Santa Barbara Daily Sound on May 5, 2006.

That Other Mother

© Paha_l | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Paha_l | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

I was a much better mother before I actually had a child. I did so many things right back in the old days, when I was that other mother.

That other mother lost her pregnancy weight in two weeks, breast fed for three years, and had a child who immediately slept through the night, allowing her beautifully romantic relationship with her husband to be completely unaffected by parenthood.

That other mother was naturally slender, polite and patient. She cooked healthy, yet tasty food and kept an immaculately clean house. She was tolerant and fair and she didn’t make snap judgments when her kids appeared to be guilty of something. She wasn’t a pushover. Once she laid down the law, she stood her ground.

She spoke fluent Spanish, Chinese, German and French, and could play piano by ear and sing with perfect pitch. She taught her children sign language, and they did simple little experiments on her home particle accelerator.

Teachers and coaches were always telling her how wonderful her kids were. Her children were the ones that other mothers used as examples of perfect behavior when their own kids misbehaved. I can’t tell you how many times I heard, “I bet Leslie’s son would never talk back to his mother like that. I bet her son goes to bed immediately when told and does his homework without complaining a bit. He even likes to do the extra credit pages.”

This woman, this other mother, never once lost her temper with her child or her husband or even that lady with 14 items in the “10 items or less” line at Vons who always counts her $19.99 in change out r-e-a-l-l-y s-l-o-w-l-y and then finds a coupon in her wallet and has to re-count the whole thing again. This other woman had a street named after her.

Plus, she never had a bad hair day in her life, and looked perfectly groomed without a stitch of makeup. She was quite amazing, this other mother, the one I was going to be before I had kids. She was really kind of perfect, but in such a down-to-earth, good-humored way that nobody even hated her for it.

And then there’s me.

I’m the mom who asked her son what he had eaten on Saturday, and when he answered “pancakes and Pringles,” pretended to be horrified, but was actually relieved he had eaten anything at all, since I couldn’t remember feeding him.

I’m the mom who told her son that the swear words he learned at camp weren’t really the worst swear words in the world, and then, more interested in expanding his vocabulary than avoiding detention, went on to give a few examples.

I’m the mom who forgot to tell the Tooth Fairy to come to our house the other night, and then tried to blame her son for not putting his tooth in the right place. “Silly boy. Tooth Fairies never look under the left side of the pillow.”

I’m the mom who teaches her son logic by giving “because I said so” as the reason for making him do something whenever I can’t think of a better one.

I’m the mom whose son once told me I reminded him of the bossy girls at school. Then he shook his butt at me and, rather than punish him, I laughed. I couldn’t help it. I do that a lot–laugh inappropriately at butt shaking, arm farts, belches, and other behaviors that I absolutely know I should not encourage.

For example, when my son was three, he used to eat his boogers. When I’d scold him, like that other mother would, he’d always say, “tastes like chicken.” It cracked me up every time.

That other mother–not that her child would ever in a million years exhibit such imperfect behavior, but let’s just say for example’s sake that he did, maybe because some other mother let him eat too much cake, ice cream and cotton candy at a birthday party–would have scolded him gently and explained why that was disrespectful in kid-friendly language.

That other mother’s family probably sends her to the spa on Mother’s Day, just so they can take a break from her perfection and eat take-out burritos on paper plates and not worry about cleaning the kitchen.

Guess what I’ll be doing on Sunday?

Not being that perfect other mother, and maybe, just maybe, being OK with that.

Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on May 11, 2007

The Amazing Adventures of Danger Boy and Wimpy Mom

© Kapu | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Kapu | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

I stared up at Koss in amazement, as he confidently donned his bike helmet and harness to climb Gibraltar Rock. He looked so little, just a wisp of a boy, yet so excited and sure of himself. I couldn’t help but be impressed. Then I looked down at Rattlesnake Canyon 150 feet below, and almost lost my footing–and my lunch.

What kind of nut job mom lets their seven-year-old kid climb a mountain? Yet, there I was, terrified and shaking, watching from the side of the road. My Little Danger Boy was about to try rock climbing for the first time, with only a rope, a helmet and a harness to protect him from harm.

It was all his teacher’s fault. Teacher Danger Boy is an avid rock climber, and he promised the kids he would take them climbing as a belated Christmas gift. Talk about the gift that keeps on giving–grey hairs. Now it was time for him to “pay up on his promise,” and I was a wreck.

Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t have been anywhere near the mountain. It’s been well documented that I’m not exactly the queen of all things daring and dangerous. My fears are completely rational. When I was 16 years old I took a 25-foot spill down a cliff onto the beach, and therefore all cliffs–even biggish sand dunes–are extremely dangerous and should be avoided at all costs.

OK, I was wearing flip-flops and was too busy flirting with the boy I was with to pay attention to my footing, but that doesn’t change the fact that all cliffs–and even biggish sand dunes–are extremely dangerous and should be avoided at all costs.

But see, Big Danger Boy (a.k.a. my husband Zak) was off on a dangerous “mancation” of his own that day, kayaking down boulder-filled rivers, drinking way too much and supervising a bunch of Neanderthals wobbling their way through a testosterone- and alcohol-fueled makeshift firewalk.

Since Zak was unavailable, I had to be there to “supervise” Koss’s rock climbing adventure. I warned his teacher that I would be watching from the side of the road. Unfortunately, Teacher Danger Boy didn’t pick up on the massive waves of “please don’t make me come and watch this” vibes I was sending his way, and said it would be just fine for me to watch from afar. I could have strangled him with my bare hands, but Koss really wanted to go, and his Wimpy Mom just didn’t have the heart to say no.

Clearly I was the one that needed a helmet to protect me from the blow to the head I must have suffered that got me to edge of this cliff (if 20 feet away is still “edge”).

I flashed back to Big Danger Boy’s skydiving adventure a few years back. I spent what should have been a lovely Saturday with my nerves shot, chained to the telephone. I could have killed him when he came back with a house full of pumped-up revelers, complaining of groin pain.

This time there was stomach pain (mine) as I grabbed my camera with one hand and a tree to steady myself with the other. I don’t even like writing about this, it just wigs me out again. If I could have sent him up there with full body armor and a hovering helicopter I would have, but all I could do at that point was cross my white knuckles, fingers, toes, and eyes and watch from afar as Koss climbed up that mountain like it was the most natural thing in the world.

Through the zoom lens of my camera I could see the huge smile on his face when he got to the top. He was so pumped up and proud of himself. For a split second I thought that maybe I wasn’t such a Wimpy Mom after all.

Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on June 8, 2007

Mothers in arms

Photostock (freedigitalphotos.net)

Photostock (freedigitalphotos.net)

Lifelong friendships begin with bonding over their children

Motherhood has a secret code. It’s something only those who have struggled with 3 a.m. feedings or juggled a car seat, a purse, a diaper bag, a bag of groceries and a baby or two can understand. While it sometimes feels like those needy little creatures rule your life, among the unparalleled joys of parenthood, many moms say their kids have provided them with wonderful friendships with other mothers.

“I just really cherish all the friendships I’ve made from my kids,” said Susan Manzo, who has a group of women she’s been close to since her son, Nick, was in kindergarten at Monte Vista with their daughters. The moms have remained close. Now Nick’s a sophomore at San Marcos, and instead of complaining, “can’t you be friends with moms of boys instead of girls,” he’s in love with all the cute girls at the group’s annual ski trip, Manzo said.

When the girls were in the fifth grade they started a mother-daughter book club. “Our girls have these great relationships with these other women who aren’t their moms,” said Nancy Lorenzen, who participates monthly with her daughter Kirsten, Manzo and seven other mother-daughter pairs. “We all really enjoy getting together. I think it’s easier to get together with people in a similar life situation or life phase,” said Lorenzen.

That urge to bond with others in the same phase of life is part of what drove the founding of PEP (post partum education for parents) 25 years ago, said board member Jennifer Brannon. In addition to offering support and advice via a 24-hour “warm” line and monthly expectant parent classes, the nonprofit group also has weekly groups, starting from when babies are about six weeks old. “Once that class has been meeting about 12 weeks, they spin out in their own groups and meet at parks. There are kids that are 14 and 15 and the PEP groups still meet,” said Brannon.

“I’ve always been amazed at how much your kids dictate who your friends are,” said Rachael Steidl, the mother of Emily and twins Ashley and Whitney. When her twins were born, Steidl joined both Mothers of Multiples and PEP. While her initial motivation was education, she also made friends. “I really cherish the friendships for the time. … I was one of the first of my close friends to have kids and my relationships for that first year and a half probably changed drastically. … I felt really inadequate because of the fact that I wasn’t working, that I didn’t really have anything interesting to talk about. I mean how many times do they want to hear how many diapers I’ve changed and how many loads of laundry I’ve folded.”

While the closeness shared in those early days can fizzle, many women become bonded for life. Now a grandmother, Fran Davis met seven of her dearest friends more than 30 years ago as a parent at Starr King Preschool. “I thank my stars that I found Starr King. It was the core of all my friendships. (It) was a window or a door to the world for me, and I have never looked back.”

Davis believes the cooperative preschool tended to attract like individuals. The group has been through divorces, remarriages and the death of a spouse. “We’ve shared all stages, which is pretty amazing.”

Over the years there have been camping trips, weekend getaways and other excursions, with and without their extended families. “When our kids were little we would go down to Toys ‘R Us,” Davis said. As their lives have changed, so have their activities. The women now meet regularly as a book group. “Half of our book group is devoted to talking about what’s going on with ourselves and what’s going on in our lives. Right now we’re talking about a lot about the situation in the United States and how distressed we are.”

The group has even discussed some kind of communal living situation, “for when we get really old,” Davis said. “We were pretty much all stay-at-home mothers. … I think that’s a really sad thing that women who have to work these days don’t have opportunities to spend the time that it takes to make good friends.”

Indeed, finding that balance between work and family is a big topic of discussion among today’s mothers. “For a long time I didn’t know what anyone had done in my (PEP) group. It’s like ‘Oh, that’s right, we all had careers before this, I forgot,’ ” said Steidl, who founded her business, Santa Barbara Parent Source, partially based on input from her fellow mothers. “I remember when those issues first started coming up and it was so interesting to hear what people had done and see them in the light of a woman and not just a mom.”

Originally published in South Coast Beacon