Back to school blues

© Silviaantunes | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Silviaantunes | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

Slamming the snooze button delays the dreaded alarm clock bell from ringing for three heavenly minutes, then it’s back to reality. Recess is over and it’s time for school to start again.

I know a lot of parents are jumping for joy that summer is over and they can finally escape from their kids–I guarantee you the toasts will be flying at Starbuck’s come Monday morning–but I’m not quite ready to escape from my son. We had such a nice, laid back summer; I’m not ready for it to end.

Maybe after Labor Day. Isn’t that the official end of summer?

It seems ridiculous to be going back to school when the waves have been so perfect and I’ve finally mastered the fine art of carting towels, beach chairs, boogie boards, skim boards, sand toys, sunscreen, hats, clothing changes, reading material, snacks and small children from the parking lot to the beach in a single trip.

What kind of diabolical-powers-that-be traded my summer for extra weeks off at Christmas and Easter? I’m not one to point fingers and call them anti-Semitic, but that is not a fair trade, let me tell you.

I’m not ready to start worrying about bedtime and balanced meals again. I hate the sound of that evil alarm clock in the morning almost as much as I hate going to bed before 1 a.m. so that I won’t have to hear that frigging evil alarm clock.

And you know what I’m really not looking forward to? Homework. I hear third grade’s a lot harder than second, and that they really pile on the homework. And you have to use cursive writing. I’m really worried about that. My son suffers from something called “dysgraphia,” otherwise known as “bad handwriting,” which teachers really hate.

I’m also worried because Koss has another disorder called “wiggle wormitis“–he has a hard time sitting still. It’s pretty common in little boys. In fact, Koss’s teacher last year (who was maybe 12) had been diagnosed with “wiggle wormitis” too, so he was very understanding and let him stand up and wiggle while he read or wrote or drew or whatever he needed to do. Do they let you wiggle in third grade? I’m not so sure.

I’m a little bit worried about those third grade teachers. I hear they can be kind of intimidating. What if they don’t like us? What if we don’t get any of our friends in our class? What if they make us sit still and write in cursive? What if all the other kids make fun of me for being 43 in third grade?

PTA is worrying me too. I didn’t hear anything from them all summer, and then all of a sudden, this week, there were 347 emails and 52 phone calls related to PTA. Oops, make that 53 phone calls. Thank goodness for voicemail. How will I get any actual work done with so much volunteering to do?

Plus there are all those healthy lunches I need to find time to prepare. And the holiday gifts I want to get started on. And of course I’ve got to increase my workouts at the gym, but at the same time I’d really like to get started on that novel I keep wanting to have written. No wonder I’m so stressed. How am I ever going to get everything done?

Koss actually seems excited for school to start. Something about friends, yadda yadda. But what about me? Doesn’t he realize the pressure it’s putting on me?

Sigh. I still have time. It is still August, after all. No matter what the school says, MY summer doesn’t officially end till next month.

When Leslie’s not stressing about school, she can be found soaking up those last rays of summer at the beach, with her trusty laptop in tow. For surf and tide information email email . For more columns visit

Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on August 24, 2007.

I Dream of Oprah

9781464511448_p0_v1_s260x420Some girls dream of fancy cars, furs, and jewels. Others fantasize about being the first president of the United States or running the United Nations. For me, it’s all about meeting Oprah.

We’ve had so many imaginary conversations, I know when we actually meet on her show it’ll be like sinking into the couch of my new best friend.

And boy will we dish.

It doesn’t matter what the subject of the show is, Oprah and I will both have plenty to say.

I might be promoting my new book, or that movie I found time to write between Little League innings. I could offer cooking tips (order takeout at least five nights a week, the other two you can eat leftovers) or investment advice (play both the Mega- and Super-Lotto to maximize your winnings). Whatever the subject, I know that Oprah will find me charming no matter what happens to slip out of my mouth. Best friends are like that.

Since it’s clear that Oprah and I will be best buds once we meet, I just have to figure out a way to get myself on the show. Which is why Steve Harrison’s email promoting a free telephone seminar on “The Three Big Secrets of Getting Free Publicity On Top National TV Shows” immediately caught my eye.

If Oprah’s former guest booker Michelle Anton was going to be on the call, then deadlines schmedlines, I was going to be on that call too.

I made sure my teeth were lipstick free as I nervously dialed the phone. Harrison had already started. “You are one idea away from accomplishing anything you want,” he boomed, with the pumped up passion of a preacher.

I hurriedly jotted down my ideas of things I could talk about. How to stay married without killing your husband; the top ten ways your screw-ups make other parents feel better about themselves; a 17-point presentation that proves Glenn Close and Meryl Streep are actually the same person; why chocolate should be at the top of the food pyramid; the Leslie science system; how to create a theory and write a column about every random idea you’ve ever had.

Clearly the big ideas are not a problem for me.

Harrison went on and on about why television appearances are so much better than advertising and how being on TV would make me ten times more famous and ten times more successful than I am today–which let’s face it, still wouldn’t really make me all that famous or successful. But that’s OK, because all I really care about is making friends with Oprah.

Then he introduced the panel, which included people from Fox News, the Today Show and the View. Of course, I only had ears for Oprah (and her surrogate, Michelle).

Finally Michelle, who is considered a media expert having worked with Oprah, Leeza Gibbons and Danny Bonaduce, gets on the line. She says, “It’s important for prospective show guests to develop a relationship with the producers. They may not have a guest spot for you right away, but if they know you then they’ll call you when then right opportunity presents itself.”

Of course. That makes so much sense. I make a note to invite Michelle over for fruity frilly umbrella drinks next week. We’ll bond. Hey, maybe she’ll even bring Oprah over with her. I’m sure she will. I’m sure they’ll both come, and bring a lovely house gift, like a car or a houseplant. I wonder if she likes Manitaropita Mushroom Packets or Lemongrass Chicken Stix?

“Your first phone call is a mini audition,” Michelle advises. “When you leave a producer a voicemail, make your passion for your subject come through in your voice. The idea is so we can see what an entertaining guest you would make.”

Ah, another great tip. Thanks, Michelle. I wonder how much it would cost to get Glenn/Meryl to read this column into the phone?

Oh, well, enough with the wild fantasies. I’d better get back to cleaning the house, so that my mother won’t be embarrassed when Oprah drops by.

If you have the inside track on Oprah, email us at email. For more of Leslie’s columns visit
Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on August 17, 2007.

How can I hate you if I won’t look away?

© Leeloomultipass | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Leeloomultipass | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

I felt a little sick to my stomach when the wax model image of Lindsay Lohan in prison garb flashed on the TV, with a ten-year-old girl posing adoringly next to it. What a Kodak moment for her proud mama. Lindsay and the little girl even had matching alcohol-detecting ankle bracelets.

And yet, it’s hard to look away.

I muster my will power and flip the channel quickly. There was a report about Britney Spears declaring, “Now I’m a Brainiac!” while playing topless truth or dare with some college kids.

I feel dirty, and not in a good way.

I turn on my computer to learn that Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie’s recent antics have inspired a new porn movie: “Paris and Nicole Go to Jail.”

Their parents must be so proud.

I’m repulsed by these girls on so many levels; I hardly know where to start. Yet I’m attracted to them too, like a train wreck, I can’t look away. Their dalliances with sex, drugs, high-speed car chases, fame, millionaire boy toys and fashionable clothing are more over-the-top than any plotlines on Days of Our Lives, yet still they hold my interest.

What kind of a person am I that I know more about Paris and Nicole than I do about Hezbollah and Darfur?

Why are these girls and their predictable plotline patterns –watch how the mighty fall, rise, forget to put on their panties, and fall again–so fascinating? Little girls may be in danger of wanting to grow up to be like Lindsey and Britney, but I certainly don’t look up to them. I mean my gosh, they’re so skinny I could crush them both with my left elbow.

So why do I continue to follow their hijinks? Is it some kind of attraction repulsion compulsion syndrome, or is there actually a lesson to be learned from their stories?

I suppose on some level their screw-ups make me feel better about myself. As Nora Ephron wrote, “How fabulous to look at those Hilton parents and say to yourself, well, whatever I did as a parent, it wasn’t that. Whatever my regrets, whatever my failings, whatever my ineptness, however much I worry that I forgot to tell my kids about how to use the soup spoon, at least I am not on the phone to Barbara Walters in the middle of the night trying to negotiate a television appearance for my daughter on the occasion of her release from prison.”

My friend Louise thinks we should all stop reading the tabloids and watching the Rehab All Star News because our interest in girls behaving badly actually causes it. “I mean, how shocked are you that these girls whose every body part, boyfriend, and bad hair day has been publicly debated, scrutinized and drooled over have a few issues? We should all just leave them alone.”

If only I could, but their stories are hard to avoid and a lot easier to digest than the rest of the news. Perhaps that’s the real reason for the explosion of gossip on TV, newspapers, magazines, and the Internet: real life is too scary to deal with right now. Paris, Lindsay, Britney, Nicole–they’re just scary enough.

I may feel dirty, but I’m not above a shameless plug. If you’d like your daughters to read about some positive role models for a change, check out Leslie’s new children’s book, “Women in Charge” (Child’s World 2007) available at

Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on August 10, 2007.

Treat Your Children Well

© Kornilovdream | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Kornilovdream | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

A Look at Some of the Nonprofits Serving Children

What could be a more universal cause than striving to give children a brighter tomorrow and a more fulfilling future? Literally hundreds of opportunities exist to give back to children in the community. Unfortunately, we can’t include them all. Here’s a look at just a few of the many organizations working to on behalf of children’s issues and the solutions to their problems in the areas of at-risk youth; education; arts; and medical, emotional and physical health and safety.

Family Service Agency is Santa Barbara County’s first and oldest non-profit human service agency, offering several programs, including Healthy Start, which connects at-risk families with existing community resources; the Family Build Project, which addresses the needs of families living in government subsidized housing; and a variety of counseling and child guidance programs.

Another veteran organization offering a variety of services to at-risk children and others is the United Boys and Girls Clubs. It has been working with young people in town since 1945, and now has four clubhouses that offer day care, summer camps, and a plethora of programs including sports, art, academics and leadership development. While the organization once emphasized servicing children from disadvantaged backgrounds, “today we’re open to everyone, because all children are at risk,” says Executive Director Sal Rodriguez.

Also serving both at-risk youth and the wider community is the Police Activity League (PAL), which offers opportunities for instruction in art, digital editing, hip hop dance, martial arts, and basketball, as well as a tutoring center and a teen youth leadership council that are open to all children. PAL also has a Campership Alliance Program that collaborates with a number of organizations–including the City of Santa Barbara Parks & Recreation Department, United Boys & Girls Clubs, Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, Santa Barbara YMCA, Santa Barbara Zoo, Refugio Junior Lifeguard Program, Elings Park Camps and Money Camp for Kids –to provide summer camp scholarships.

Endowment for Youth Committee is another broad-reaching organization, which provides a wide variety of educational, social, cultural and recreational achievement programs for children, with a special emphasis on assisting African American, Native American and Latino youth.

Girls Inc. also offers an expansive array of programs, but with an all-girl atmosphere that emphasizes learning to resist gender stereotypes and encouraging girls to take risks, acquire skills, gain confidence, become self-reliant, and practice leadership. Girls are also front and center for Affirm, another program that works only with girls, in this case focusing on empowerment, education, and identity for teenagers that are in the juvenile correction system.

Kids in trouble are also the focus for Noah’s Anchorage, operated by the YMCA. The group provides a Youth Crisis Shelter, which is the only program in Santa Barbara County that offers year-round 24-hour access to counseling, shelter, referrals, food and clothing for runaways, homeless youth and youth in crisis.

The Big Brothers Big Sisters program, run by Family Service Agency, also targets at risk youth, matching them up with adult mentors who provide positive role models and a one-on-one relationship. Another mentorship-based program is the Wilderness Youth Project, which offers after school, weekend and summer programs that utilize “nature-based mentoring,” where being out in nature facilitates crucial life lessons and connection with the natural world.

Working on the health and wellness front is CALM (Child Abuse Listening and Mediation), which acts to prevent child abuse from occurring and offers professional treatment for the entire family when abuse does occur. CALM works closely with police, the district attorney, child protective services and medical personnel to investigate alleged abuse in a supportive and child-friendly fashion.

The Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation is another organization that works with entire families, endeavoring to ensure that children with cancer receive the undivided comfort of their parents during the treatment and recovery process. Teddy Bear provides financial aid for rent, mortgage, utilities, and car payments, as well as other supportive services, thereby allowing families to focus on their children. “Teddy Bear is unique in that it adapts to each family’s distinct needs. We don’t provide just one service–we do whatever’s needed to help,” said Founder/Executive Director Nikki Katz.

On the education front, the Children’s Project is focused on developing an innovative boarding school and college preparatory academy for foster children and selected youth with mental health or delinquency issues. “People often ask me, ‘Why foster children? So many kids need help.’ While that is true, there is one big difference that separates foster youth from others in need. That is that we not only have a moral obligation to help them…we have a legal obligation. …The moment the judge removes the child from a parent’s care, WE become the parents to that child. We, as the community, step into that role. And I am convinced we can do a better job,” says Founder and CEO Wendy Read.

Another education nonprofit, the Computers for Families program, seeks to eliminate the negative consequences of the Digital Divide by providing students from low-income families with refurbished computers, Internet access and training. Thanks to this innovative program, Santa Barbara will be the first community in the United States to ensure that every child from a low-income family, beginning in the fourth grade, has a computer with Internet access.

For more than 43 years, the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara has helped local students pay for their higher education, giving out more than $7 million in student aid for the last school year.

Emphasizing the arts is Art Walk for Kids, an outreach program that focuses on benefiting special needs, developmentally disabled, at risk, terminally ill youth and adults in their positive environments through a specialized curriculum of art and vocational education. Art Walk projects have benefited a diverse group of nonprofits, including the United Nations, Summit for Danny, United Way, the Red Cross, Sarah House, the Santa Barbara Symphony, the Lobero Theatre, I Madonnari, the Multi-Cultural Dance and Music Festival, Vieja Valley School, Santa Barbara County Juvenile Hall, El Puente School, and Hillside House, among others. Its latest collaboration is with the Patricia Henley Foundation, a new nonprofit that offers unique, free opportunities for students to learn all aspects of theatre arts production and develop their creative talents.

The Family Therapy Institute’s Academy of Healing Arts for Teens (AHA!) also incorporates creative expression into its programs, which emphasize the development of character, imagination, emotional intelligence, and social conscience in teenagers, and helps them learn to set goals, stop bullying and hatred, support their peers, and serve their community.

These excellent organizations are but a small percentage of all of the nonprofits serving children in Santa Barbara. For a more comprehensive list visit the Family Service Agency referral service at

Originally published in Santa Barbara Magazine