Wordless Wednesday: The Night Before Back to School Edition

How Do Parents Really Feel About Back to School?

Me? I’m thrilled that my kids start school tomorrow and the day after.

I mean the summer was fantastic for my kids. Even though they had to be out of the house an hour earlier (than our usual school-time mornings) to get the bus to camp, their days were filled with fun and exploration. Each afternoon, they came home exhausted, filthy and happy. They ate their body weight in food for dinner each night, guzzled their milk and slept like babies. I absolutely believe they both grew a foot in height and gained a virtual pint of confidence and joie de vivre. Their bodies are toned, they have gorgeous tan lines and their hair is bleached. I look at them and see perfection, as only a mother does.

But I am beyond ready for a return to the regular routine of the school week. Our whole family needs the structure that the school week provides. My son in particular, given the latitude of the summer months and his tendency to take a mile if given an inch, really needs the grounding infrastructure – dare I say restraint? – of school: for him, the order and discipline of school helps to amplify and reinforce the behaviors we expect from him at home. For my daughter, starting kindergarten cannot come soon enough. She is extremely ready for this next stage in her journey. She is hungry to learn, eager to become “a big girl.” I am so incredibly excited for her.

And I wondered how other parents feel about this time of the year. Relieved and eager like me, I presumed? After all, I’ve seen tweets aplenty from other Moms expressing their bittersweet farewells to summer and their welcome embrace of the return to school.

So I decided to conduct some very informal, unscientific research among my networks and was actually surprised by the variety of responses. I asked parents to express from 1-10 how they feel about back to school, with 10 being the superlative (where I’m at.) Here’s some of what I heard:

0 – downright miserable:

I want them home with us and not have to get them up (which is torture for all of us) and then homework and routine and then we cannot go on trips and then we have to deal with the schools and then bus and I could go on, and the cold weather …

5 … reluctantly returning to reality:

The summer went by too fast! I want to play some more! I also don’t want to get back to the routine of rushing in the mornings, homework, sports and reality…..

8 … super excited:

I am super excited because my children are looking forward to school. It also gives one of the best people in my life some one on one time with my littlest one and hopefully more time for her to get everything that she wants to do, done ….

15 … (remember the scale was 1-10!):

The time has come. We need some structure back into our lives.

So, Moms and Dads, how do you feel? Will you be whooping and cheering as the school bus drives off or grumbling through the next few days?

Life Lessons From A Golden Retriever

On Friday morning, I came downstairs dressed in my workout clothes and sneakers, ready to shake my booty at a Zumba class. Upon seeing my attire, Angel, our almost 10-year old golden retriever bounced up, ridiculously excited. Of course she assumed, from my clothing and footwear, that we were going for a W-A-L-K (shhh, don’t say it, dogs can spell.) Much to her disappointment, off I left, without her.

Guess what happened though when I came home, sweaty and exhausted, an hour or so later? Yup. She saw my workout clothes and sneakers and leapt to her feet grinning, assuming once again that we were going out for a W-A-L-K. But, of course, I went upstairs and showered.

I felt bad for giving Angel false hope however, when I came downstairs later on, there she was, happy to see me, eager for a belly rub. And I thought to myself: if we humans modeled our behavior on the character and boundless optimism of a golden retriever, we’d all be a lot happier and chilled. Think about it.

  • Golden retrievers are enthusiastic about almost anything. They perk up at the mere hint of a treat, a trip to the park, grooming or just a good rumpus in the backyard. Every time you come home, they greet you exuberantly, as if you’d been gone for weeks.
  • Their aptitude for forgiveness is endless. So I didn’t take her for a W-A-L-K. No biggie. Maybe she didn’t get that slice of bacon being cooked at breakfast-time. Ah well. She still loves us, ready and eager for the next opportunity.
  • Laziness, one of my favorite characteristics ….. Golden retrievers make it an art form. Lounging on the front porch, car slows down ….. she’ll barely open an eye, flip an ear up an inch to see if it’s really worth bothering getting up for. Snoozing at the bottom of the stairs, she lets out a huge sigh. Ah yes, life is good.
  • Golden retrievers are not picky eaters: children take note. They will cheerfully consume pretty much anything that’s available. If you’ve dropped it or left it within reach, double points.
  • Good manners: Golden retrievers listen to instructions and generally do what they are told. More so than most children I know.
  • Like many other canines, for Angel, exercise is fun, not a chore. To dogs, it’s not about burning calories or getting ripped, it’s about the sheer joy of running, jumping, swimming, rolling in the mud, digging.
  • Exploration is a constant. We humans tend to err on the side of caution and stick to the known, whereas golden retrievers with their big brown sniffy noses will happily check anything out. Maybe give it a little chew. If it’s really smelly, maybe roll in it.
  • They’ll be your BFF. Not just you, their master, but pretty much anyone. The mail man, kids, visitors, vets, strangers, other dogs, even the cat. Golden retrievers love everyone – no matter their race, color, religion, creed or smell.
  • Goldens are humble, never vain. They are blithely unaware of their beauty and general cuteness. They appreciate being groomed but not for the silky coat, rather for the fun and attention. They don’t care how they look or smell, whether they are muddy or even if there are dingleberries hanging from their behinds. They don’t even need fancy, expensive toys. Often, a simple stick is the best-toy-ever.

But I’m not saying that golden retrievers are without fault. Ours is affectionately known as Angel the Kleptomaniac. Yup, she’s a thief. Not only does she pinch stuff – she buries it! Socks, dish towels, toys, sippy cups, shoes, cordless telephones, even the TV remote … the list of things she’s been stealing and burying for the last seven years is fairly extensive. I’d love to know whether she she’s just acting out or if she’s genuinely trying to protect these items.

Check out what I dug up today – three socks, a cutting board, a pair of goggles and some random toy parts.

They say it’s a dog’s life.

I think they are on to something.

This Working Mom Has Had It All – For Eight Years

I am one lucky gal.

For the last eight years, I have been able to work either a four or three-day week while raising my kids. Next week my youngest starts kindergarten and, as per the plan my husband and I decided way back when we started our family, now is the time for me to return to full-time work.

Getting pregnant was not your usual “wham bam thank you Ma’am” affair for my us. It was stressful and scientific, that’s all I have to say. So when that line appeared on the pregnancy test, it was monumental. And I knew that, to protect and sustain this growing ball of cells in my womb, I had to make a serious change to my working life: I had to mitigate my appetite for my career and mute the pace at which I was working. I also knew that being a stay at home Mom wasn’t on the cards for me: both financially and intellectually, I needed to work.

“Having it all” for the last eight years was only possible through the trust and openness of some wonderful people, to whom I am eternally grateful.

Jim Barbagallo was my boss at the time I first became pregnant, eight years ago. Not only did he understand my desire to transition to a four-day week but he was also open to my longer-than-planned maternity leave. And then, when I was ready to return to work, he fought hard to get me my position and schedule back. When I became pregnant with my second child, my desire to cut back my time further coincided with the incredible serendipity of meeting William Agush. William, to me, was and is unique in realizing the winning combination of trusting experienced employees with workplace flexibility. Thanks to William, I enjoyed the working Mom’s hat trick: a three-day work week that was challenging and enjoyable, one whole day to myself every week, and time to be with my young kids. Fast forward to 2010, when I had the good fortunate to be introduced to Meg O’Leary and Beth Monaghan, principals at InkHouse. I was making my next career move but adamant about maintaining my four-day schedule. Beth and Meg, both working mothers themselves, had built this incredible, successful and vibrant PR agency with remarkable skill and talent but also with the humanity to understand that life happens, especially when you are a parent. We took a chance on each other that has paid off in spades.

It wouldn’t be fair to say that balancing being a mother and working a part-time schedule in a demanding, fast-paced industry was always sunshine and flowers. There were definitely compromises made, the never-ending juggling of competing schedules and priorities, stress and surprises. Financially, the cost of preschools, after-school care, and camps was shocking, if not crippling. Yes, there were times that I felt like I was outsourcing my kids in order to get my job done. And I’m sure that my kids thought (and still do think) that I spend as much time with my iPhone as I do with them. And none of this will change when I’m working full-time, I know. But my kids know they are loved. They know that, when they really need me, I am there. Thanks to daycare and preschool, they are sociable, optimistic and creative creatures. They also understand that work = money = toys. Which for them is really all that matters!

There were two other crucial components that made these last eight years possible.

The first is my husband. We went into parenthood – naive like most – but with an understanding that it was a joint mission and that both our careers and workaholic tendencies would have to modify. Fortunately, he works from home and sets his own schedule. For the first two years of each of our kid’s lives, he was able to be a stay at home Dad – on Mondays – giving him the unique appreciation of all that goes into caring for and entertaining a baby/toddler in the course of a day. He admits to it being both terrifying and incredibly special! The combination of my husband’s flexible work schedule, his uncontested commitment to his career and his success, his unfaltering support of my career choices – and quite frankly the wonderful man that he is – has made this journey feasible, practical and enjoyable.

The second element is my work ethic combined with my passion for my industry. To put it succinctly, I work hard and I am experienced at what I do. Getting to this point required determination, self-awareness, conviction, give and take, and plenty of hard graft. To working Moms or Moms-to-be who are weighing their priorities and maybe considering a shorter work-week, I offer this advice (while understanding that everyone’s situations and choices are distinct:)

  • Work your butt off in your 20s and 30s so that no-one can ever question your productivity, skills, desire and results when the time comes that you wish to change your work schedule.
  • Pay it forward: go the extra mile for team mates, put in the extra hours, be proactive, go for the win. I call it credit in the bank that you can tap into when you need to take that extra hour to participate in your kid’s classroom activity or take him to a dentist appointment.
  • Never make anyone feel short-changed by your work schedule.
  • Be accessible, even when you are not technically working. But at the same time, establish boundaries so that, when you are with your family, you can focus on them.
  • Be prepared for compromise. Something has to give.
  • Ask for help when you need it.
  • When you are working, work!

With both my kids now in elementary school, it is time for me to work a full week once again. I realize this will bring a new set of challenges and that I’m going to have to figure out how to carve out some me-time in this new world order. But I’m excited. With this extra day, I feel like I will be able to contribute more, achieve more, focus more on the parts of my work that I really love.

Hello Fridays, are you ready for me?

Wordless Wednesday: Genius Edition

Wordless Wednesday

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The Ultimate Guide to Finding Your Mojo

My mojo seems to have left town (along with my abs, but that’s another topic.) If you’ve been following along the last few weeks of our staycation and then my poor hubby’s sickness, this present state of affairs won’t be much of a surprise. I’ve been dragging my lazy ass around for a few days now. I sat at my office desk for 2.5 days last week and achieved nothing and contributed nothing. I’ve been feeling tired and bla every day, going to bed early and waking up exhausted.

I understand this is a temporary lull; usually my mojo is quite active and pumped up, ready for silliness, primed for a giggle. So I need to get it back – stat. I started the quest to unearth my mojo from wherever it is hiding yesterday. It felt good but we’re definitely not there yet.

So I asked some friends to let me know what they do to re-find their mojo. I’ve meshed their suggestions with several of my own re-mojo-activating tactics to create what could possibly be The Ultimate Guide to Finding Your Mojo. Here’s hoping that by Monday morning, I’ll spring out of bed, rested, with my mojo fully restored, ready for action.

The Ultimate Guide to Finding Your Mojo

  • Lie on the couch and watch re-runs of Friends, Ally McBeal or whatever show or movie takes you to your happy place. Do not watch any weepies.
  • Play music that makes you happy. Or in my case, music that makes you groove. In fact, I think I’m going to create a Mojo Playlist. Today, I’ve been shaking my booty to some newly discovered tracks including Calvin Harris “The Rain,” and Fun “We Are Young.” My other mood-and-groove-enhancing favourites include Abba “Dancing Queen,” Bee Gees “Night Fever,” Stevie Wonder “Living for the City,” Katy Perry “Firework,” Jackson 5 “I Want You Back” and The Pretenders “Brass in Pocket.”
  • Read (I often return to Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist to set me back on the right track. Or anything by Bill Bryson for his laugh-out-loud travel experiences and wry observances of human nature.)
  • A good chat with a good friend; try picking up the phone and calling someone you’ve not spoken with in a while (Annemarie, you’ve been warned.)
  • Work up a good sweat (pick your poison: dancing, exercise, sex, weeding, pillow fight ….)
  • Get a mani/pedi – or some other indulgent spa treatment. (I am sporting some freshly polished, vibrant purple toe and finger nails!)
  • Write (a letter, a blog, a to-do list, some goals – by the way, this would be a good time to plug my pal Matty P’s great new book Goals Gone Wild.)
  • Clean/organize something you’ve been putting off – might sound weird but it feels really good to finally get to it.)
  • Sit on the deck and listen to the soundtrack of nature.
  • Imbibe – whether it’s coffee to give your system a jolt, or a large glass of wine or sangria ( my latest addiction)
  • Shoe shopping.
  • Do something nice for someone else. It feels good to be both the giver and the receiver, believe me.

So there it is, the formula I’ve already started using to hunt down and rekindle my joie de vivre. What do you do to find you’re mojo when it’s left town? What would be on your Mojo Playlist?

(P.S. If you happen to find my abs, could you kindly return them – much appreciated.)

(P.P.S Here are some links to some other good mojo-finding blogs and resources:

Have You Lost Your Mojo?

How to Give Your Mojo a Boost

Finding My Mojo

10 Ways to Get Your Groove Back )

In Sickness & In Health

For the past week, my husband has been sick. Not man-cold sick (though I thought so at first) but genuinely sick with a nasty tick-born disease – erlichiosis (look it up!) Poor guy has been wiped out for over a week now and it’s been tough to watch him suffer. And while I know this is not life-threatening, and hasn’t required hospitalization (thank heavens,) it’s been stressful for the whole family.

Fortunately, after nine days, the drugs have finally kicked in and he’s turned a corner. Such a relief! I have my husband back.

It was a rough period, during which I realized that:

  • I am not cut out to be a nurse
  • I don’t want to eat dinner if he a) has not prepared it or b) is not with me to enjoy it
  • It’s awful to feel helpless
  • Some doctors are useless; others are fantastic
  • A parent’s sickness can super scary for kids, except for when they are oblivious to it – which is most of the time
  • Household management is a two-person job (read: I do not want to take the trash out)
  • Solo parenting is exhausting
  • Tending to a sick partner & 2 kids is a full-body workout (I’ve lost 4 lbs!)
  • Sleep is precious
  • It’s OK to ask for and accept help from family and friends (especially if sangria is offered)
  • I worry this is a slice of what life will be like in 20-30 years time as we both age

The good news is that, with the exception of this blip, we have our health. We have our humor. Sickness can test the limits of a relationship and we made it through this episode. I thought I was a bitch most of the time, but my husband seems to think I was an angel.

I’m welcoming the return to normality with arms wide open ….

10 Tips For Surviving Your Staycation & Having Fun

(This post originally ran on Framingham Patch.)

Ooof. Last week was a long week! The kids and I were staycationing and we had a full schedule that included swimming, bowling, butterfly visiting, mini-golfing, Jedi training, ice cream scarfing, hanging out and much more.

Friends and followers have remarked that I must have been competing for an Olympic gold medal in parenting and staycations. While I admit that earning the title of “Most Funnest Mom” was secretly my goal, the reality is that I wanted to fill my kids’ week with awesome summertime memories.

This staycation was primarily a cost containment exercise (i.e. no camp for two weeks) but it has also been a bonding experience as well as reconfirming that I am in no way cut out to be a SAHM!

If you too are staycationing, here’s some advice from me to you on how to make it enjoyable for the kids – and sane for you:

  1. Plan ahead: I do this by maintaining a list of all the interesting places and activities in and around our neighborhood. I’ve been doing this ever since my kids were toddlers so that I wouldn’t have to spend time thinking about what to do or where to go. As I embarked upon this staycation week, I was armed with a master list of options for destinations and activities.
  2. Use local resources to find timely events: I subscribe to these two site’s email newsletters and follow them on Facebook and Twitter - Boston CentralMommyPoppins Boston. And I also check my local Patch’s 5 Things You Need to Know each day. This way, I can learn about fun activities taking place on any given day. For example, we discovered a really fun Jedi training session that was running last Tuesday at a nearby public library. It was hoot!
  3. Don’t go it alone: Pair up with another family, if you can. By jamming into one car, you’ll save on gas and the kids can entertain each other, rather than pester each other and annoy you with endless “are we there yet?’ questions. Plus you’ll have a grown-up to converse with.
  4. Set a budget: It makes sense to figure out what your total budget for the week’s outings and activities should be ahead of time. Or set a daily limit. Or simply check out admission costs before you leave the house so you don’t get any nasty surprises. A couple of the places on my list were prohibitively expensive or charged entrance for adults. If you’re in and around Boston, check out the great free options made possible by Highland Street’s Free Fun Fridays in the summer.
  5. Check the weather before you head out: Nothing worse that getting rained on when you don’t expect it! Make sure there are some indoor activities on your list, just in case. We had to change plans twice last week due to storms!
  6. Say yes: As a Mom, I say no to my kids A LOT. This week, I’ve been trying my hardest to delight them by saying yes as much as possible, within reason. (Enjoy it while it lasts, kids.)
  7. Ice cream: On a daily basis. It’s summer, it’s vacation so why not? Yes, we built ice cream into every day! Also works as a great motivation for good behavior.
  8. Mix up the routine: I am a big believer in routine but staycation is the perfect time to throw routine out the window. Past bedtime? No worries. breakfast for dinner? Yes please. Watch a movie while eating dinner? Sure. Wear PJs until lunchtime? Yup!
  9. Be silly: This applies to adults and kids. How was I silly this week? Why, I had a light saber battle with a Jedi master, of course.
  10. Reward yourself: It’s hard work and patience-testing planning for, entertaining, driving and catering to your kids non-stop during a staycation. So go ahead, pour yourself a large glass of wine at the end of the day. Plan some much-deserved alone time once staycation is over. Meet a friend for lunch. Grab a mani/pedi

How did I reward myself? I went back to work and it was awesome!

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