Because Fall

Because colors and sparkling sunlight
Because carpets of crackling leaves
Because the russet smell of the first fires
Because pumpkin spices and shades of port
Because fall makes me breathlessly happy to be alive

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How I Measure the Passing of Time

The sheer volume of Cheerios that can be consumed in one sitting

They still hold my hand

How quickly his buzz cut goes from sharp to disheveled

Her diminishing fear of auto-flushing toilets

They want their privacy

Volume of homework

Discussions waver at any given moment between poop, Pokemon and deep questions about religion, life and death and right and wrong. Also tooting.

Kids portions at restaurants are now too small (for him)

She still wants to snuggle with me at bedtime

Their beautifully expanding minds and vocabulary – including awareness of curse words

The escalating pencil marks and dates on the kitchen wall

Chapter books and intense reading sessions

The tooth fairy visits more often

Their bed times and mine are getting closer and closer

They need me less and yet they need me more

Wanted: Distraction Management (For Kids and Parents)

This post had several working titles including “Mommy’s Sorry She Has To Go To Work,” and “Your Focus Needs More Focus.” Either way, there was some serious working Mom guilt combined with a heavy dose of standard parental frustration going on this week.

Weekday mornings require the usual routine for all parties, including basics like getting dressed, eating breakfast, brushing teeth and getting assorted necessary items for the day in their designated places (lunch box, backpack, shoes, jackets…) My kids have been doing this all their lives, with varying degrees of support depending on their ages at the time. Currently, they are old enough to do it all for themselves. The drill has been practiced over and over and over.

And yet.

Pavlov’s dogs perform better than my kids.

Distractions are everywhere. And I’m not talking screens, as we don’t allow them in the morning. Physical distractions (oh look, it’s a Lego/book/cat/brother/sock — insert pretty much any given noun.) Mental distractions (staring into space). Emotional distractions (I’m so happy I’m going to skip around and around and around).

Because T eats her food molecule by molecule, a simple bagel can last a lifetime. (Pretty certain she would not survive in the wild.)

Because G cannot move three feet without finding a random Lego to build or a piece of paper from which to make his latest Origami creation.

Because T cannot brush her teeth without getting lost in the vacuum of her mind while staring at the mirror. If I don’t disrupt her, she could be rooted there for hours. (I’d love to know what she’s thinking, but even she doesn’t know.)

Because when I send G upstairs to turn off his bedroom light (for the third time), next thing you know, he has a nose in a book. (Not a bad thing, I know, but a distraction when the school bell will ring in less than five minutes. And school is more than five minutes away.)

You get the picture.

I suspect I am not alone in this quest to figure out how to handle the distraction management with grace and without completely losing my cool.

Which is what happened earlier this week, prompting lashings of working Mom guilt.

It wasn’t quite the standard morning. We actually needed to leave the house earlier than usual, as I had an appointment and, since my husband was away on business, my kids had to accompany me. We’d had the pep talk the night before. We agreed that we would cooperate, focus, get it done — even if it meant eschewing some playtime because our time was more compressed than on a “normal” morning. We even agreed that they could buy lunch at school instead of making their own lunches like they usually do — a rare “treat.”

And yet.

The morning was a complete clusterf**k. In retrospect, I should have seen this coming, prepared ahead logistically and steeled myself emotionally. But, reminder after reminder turned into nag after nag and eventually escalated into yell after yell. It culminated in us running anxiously to the car, all breathless and on the verge of tears. I promptly informed my kids that I was very disappointed in them. They had made me late.

Ugh.

The second the words were out of my mouth, I regretted them. There was shameful, sad silence from the backseat. My beautiful, creative, high-spirited son hoarsely whispered, “We’re sorry we made you late again.” His sister, the whimsical one, tearfully echoed, “Yes Mama, we’re very sorry.”

I hate myself.

I’m the one who should be building them up, showing them how to roll with life’s challenges, how to “shake it off” or “let it go” (depending on whether you’re a Taylor Swift or Frozen fan). Instead, here I was squashing their spirits, trampling over their egos. I’m not setting a worthy example. Instead, I’m mandating that their innate need for creativity, free play and imagination be set aside to accomodate my timelines, my needs. I disgust myself.

And yet.

I have to get to work. So does my husband. As we move through our weekday frenzied mornings, our minds too are elsewhere — on deadlines, to-dos, on our smartphones and laptops. We, too, are distracted. Emails, texts, news feeds, tweets, calls. For me, as a working Mom, my actual work day starts the second I awake. This is my self-imposed tradeoff for the luxury of not physically getting into the office till 9.40 a.m. (since school drop-off is at 9 a.m..)

It’s all rush rush and we are all distracted. No surprise then that it’s a formula for stress and disappointment. Often, by the time I make it to my desk, I’m already exhausted.

And yet.

It’s not just the mornings; the evenings are similarly compressed and distracted. Shoes and jackets and backpacks are kicked off and discarded. Toys find their way to the dinner table. Unfinished homework needs finishing. Emails need answering (since I left the office at 5.20 p.m. to pick up the kids from their after-school program.) Dishes. Bath time, teeth brushing (cue shenanigans, bickering). Finally, bed and reading before they descend into the peace of slumber. More emails, unfinished work, deadlines to get a head start on. Fishing into their backpacks to discover a form that needs a signature, a party invitation. Who knows how long they might have been there.

My whole day — outside of time at the workplace — is spent trying to conquer all of these endless distractions and competing forces. How long can we continue this pace? I wonder. Is there an art to the distraction management that will make it all work better?

Because we could ALL use a little more zen.

(This article originally appeared on Huffington Post and on Medium)

 

Five Random Things About Me

My blogger pal Kimberly of RedShuttersBlog threw this challenge my way after she had been tagged by Phyllis of Napkin Hoarder who had been tagged by Casey of Life With Roozle who had been tagged by ….. well, you get the gist. So it’s my turn.

  1. If you know me, then you are less than six degrees from not just Kevin Bacon, but also Queen Elizabeth and Elton John.
  2. I speak French.
  3. I wish I was a Latin ballroom dancer.
  4. I love anchovies and hate watermelon.
  5. I met my husband on a blind date. The introduction was via my brother. Who had met his wife on a blind date a decade or so earlier. That introduction was via me. Boom.

You’re up next: Ben of DadoftheDecade, Lindsey of a Design So VastTarah of Don’t Mind The Noise and, let’s send this thing international ….. Benedicte of Eugenie StreetSpencer of  Stuff Happens and Sharon of Speed Skating Mom.

Tag, you’re it.

(P.S. Once upon a time, Boston.com Moms asked me for 20 facts about me so if you have nothing better to do (seriously, you must have something better to do), you can find it here.)

 

 

Dear Apple & Facebook: Your Egg Freezing Perk is a Disgrace

Have you read that Apple and Facebook are now offering female employees a $20,ooo perk to freeze their eggs, so they can delay baby-making and make the most of their career paths without the distraction of raising children?

I find this abhorrent, for many reasons, which I’m trying to sort through. Here’s where my head is at:

I forge my own path. I decide when I have a family. I am responsible for my own career success. I may bitch about the challenges of being a working Mom but it’s my decision, my choice.

Motherhood is not a “perk.” It’s not a reward for going above and beyond at the office. It’s not an incentive. Egg freezing has no place as part of the “package.” Eggs are not a tool for negotiation.

Making the choice to have kids is an intensely personal decision. And getting pregnant isn’t always as easy as they say. And it gets riskier and more expensive the longer you put it off.

Dear Apple and Facebook, why not take that budget and use it to create more supporting work environments and schedules for working parents? How about a daycare facility at the workplace? Here’s an idea: how about subsidizing childcare, after-school programs or camp costs?

Now that is what I’d consider a perk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Mama, I Have No Underpants!”

I’m sure you’ll agree that this is not what you want to hear on an already-nutty school day morning. Yet, it happens with shocking regularity when, for some reason, yours truly hasn’t kept laundry-doing apace with children’s general daily dirtiness. Oy.

The answer they usually get from me is: “You’ll have to fish yesterday’s out of the hamper and turn them inside out.” Gross though it may be, it’s either that or free-breezing as there’s certainly not enough time on a week day to get a laundry cycle done before it’s time to take the little darlings to school.

This morning, a conversation with my 7 year-old revealed part of the problem.

Mama, this is my last pair of socks,” she pointed out while getting dressed.

Well then, what does that mean?” I inquired, hoping the she’d realize the obvious.

It means that there must be clean, folded clothes downstairs that need bringing upstairs.

Ah, there’s the problem.

My children believe that somehow the dirty laundry that they deposit into the hamper upstairs magically transports itself downstairs, into the washing machine and drier, and is then neatly folded by the laundry fairies.

Ah.

Today this changes. Today, starts the beginning of a new chapter in the Annals of My Children’s Laundry. Henceforth, the onus is on them to do the following:

  1. Pay attention to when they are running low on key clothing items. Low is the keyword here. This is surprisingly challenging for them.
  2. Bring the laundry hamper downstairs. Bonus points for no eye rolling or dramatic sighing. Or fighting over who does it.
  3. Put dirty clothes into washing machine. Bonus points for actually adding detergent and switching it on (which I taught them today.)

If items 1-3 are performed dutifully, regularly and with the appropriate attitude, then there’s a strong chance that I may actually see the laundry through the conclusion, even folding their dry, clean clothes for them. (Because, ssshhhh, I secretly enjoy doing the laundry but don’t tell the little people.)

However, if items 1-3 are not performed, then it’ll be back to fishing yesterday’s smelly socks or skivvies out of the hamper.

I Get Around

…. to quote the Beach Boys.

Over the past 2-3 months, I’ve not just been blogging here but have also popped up in a couple of other spots that you might have missed. So I thought I’d do you all a favor and plop them all in one place.

At the end of July, Dr Portia Jackson of the Working Motherhood community was kind enough to invite me onto her show. Working Motherhood features podcast interviews several times a week encouraging us working Moms to share our challenges, points of view and successes. You can listen to my interview here. (Heads-up: it’s about 30 mins long and let me tell you, working Moms, if you have 30 mins to spare, my advice is to grab a nap or get your nails done rather than listen to my drivel.) My main advice? Don’t sweat the small stuff, take it one day at a time and don’t take yourself too seriously.

As some of you might know, I attended BlogHer ’14 also at the end of July which was an incredible experience. I was surrounded by so many amazing bloggers and it inspired me to up my game. Consequently, two of my posts were selected in August as feature blogs posts on BlogHer (which reaches 100 million women each month) which delighted me no end – Taking Off The Training Wheels and Before You Judge: Here’s What You Don’t See.

From time to time, I contribute to my local newspaper the Framingham Patch. In August, Patch asked for readers’ thoughts following an incident when a mom’s son was ousted from his school for something she posted on Facebook. Social Expression and Responsibility tackles the obligation to consider your words before you post. Most recently, I tackled the pressing question of current society: Have We Reached Peak Pumpkin?

Meanwhile, the BreadwinningMom blog invited me to answer some questions about how I “juggle”. Not the beanbag kind, the working-mom kind – you can find it here.

And, as this little blog approaches 35,000 visits, I want to say a huge and heartfelt thank you to every single of you who takes a minute or so out of your busy lives to reach my words. Thank you!

Don’t Look At My Daughter That Way

Being that I’m a mostly-exhausted, 40-something, happily-married working Mom, I don’t often get checked out these days. On the rare occasion it does happen, I’ve realized it’s usually my car they are checking out – not me. If some kind gentleman happens to sends an appreciative glance my way, I’m usually quite grateful and even somewhat relieved that maybe I have not lost my sparkle.

But when I see a grown man checking out my seven year-old daughter, that is a whole other thing.

It happened last night. We’d been out for dinner and I was driving my daughter home. She was in the back seat and had the interior light on so she could look at some toy or book. We slowed down at some traffic lights, waiting for the arrow to turn green so we could turn left. I happened to look over at the car in the lane next to us – a run-of-the-mill white Toyota, I think – and saw that the driver, a man in his late twenties wearing a grey hoodie, was staring at Tessa. Not a “hey who’s in the car next to me” glance, but a creepier, darker gaze. It was only a split second, then the lights changed to green, we turned left and he took off ahead.

My blood froze and I felt like vomiting. I checked and double checked that he hadn’t turned around to follow us. He hadn’t. I can never know if he was just looking or had some kind of other intent or desire in mind.

But it made me realize, with horror, that there are people out there who may look at my beautiful daughter and feel something very, very different from the way I feel when I look at her. Or our friends and family. Or most people we interact with. And I am disgusted and scared.

Of course, I think my daughter is a beauty. But what I realized yesterday is that her look is not traditional little girl “sugar and spice.” She has cheekbones, large oval eyes, long hazel locks. She’s a tomboy, won’t wear dresses or skirts. I’m not going as far as to say her looks are more mature or womanly than her age but I also think they will inevitably – yet obliviously to her – draw attention. And not always the right kind of attention.

How do I prepare her for this? I’m not a helicopter parent and she is an independent creature. Yes she’s a purple belt in karate but there’s no link in her mind behind the kicks and punches she learns at the dojo and their potential to get her out of a threatening situation.

Self-defensive skills aside, how do you teach a kid to have that sixth sense that can tune into malicious intent before it’s too late. Whether it’s a bully at the playground, an older kid with an unrequited crush or a predator?

I’m not sure I have any answers. Do you?

 

 

 

 

A New Way for Parents to Problem-Solve: Are You a Rock, a Cotton Ball or a Rubber Band?

Guest post by Rebecca Bell

I recently attended a fascinating parenting seminar entitled, “You’re not the boss of me! Help your child be a flexible thinker (by being a flexible thinking parent).” The presenter was Donna Shea, who runs the Peter Pan Center in Ayer, which provides social, emotional and behavior coaching for children. She acknowledged that the following collaborative problem-solving framework came from Ross Greene’s book, “The Explosive Child” (a misleading title, in Donna’s opinion, because it implies you need a “problem kid” to benefit from these strategies, which is not the case.)

  • Plan A – adult (meltdown causing) – Rock
  • Plan B – Both (problem solving) – Rubber Band
  • Plan C – child (meltdown prevention) – Cotton ball

Plan A is to be used sparingly, mostly in matters pertaining to safety. Some things are non-negotiable. On these matters you are an unyielding rock. You do not debate these things with small children.

“No, you may not ride your bike without a helmet.”

“You must hold my hand in the parking lot.”

When you really need to use plan A, be firm but not angry – try not to yell. We lose ~30 IQ points when we’re angry, so the goal is to avoid full on screaming meltdown mode. You do not have to attend every argument you are invited to. Pick your battles, but then don’t negotiate. If your kid continues to pester, you can reply, “You already asked and I already answered.” Use Plan A in moderation, but be firm when you do.

One of the big revelations I had during the evening was when the presenter said, “Remember, if your child is complaining but still complying, you won – tune it out.” I know I have a tendency to keep cajoling when my kids are whining while completing a task, because I would rather have them perform it willingly and happily. But sometimes I simply need to settle for begrudging compliance and stop talking!

Plan C involves saying “Yes” to your child whenever you can, when the answer is of little consequence and you can truly not be resentful of the outcome. This may take work on your part!

“Yes, you may wear the tutu and the green striped leggings to the grocery store.”

“Yes, you can spend your allowance on another stuffed animal.”

Saying “Yes’ to kids is fun – do it whenever you can, instead of your default response being, “No.” It can be easy for me to get in a rut of assuming that everything my kids want is unreasonable, when in fact that is not the case.

Plan B involves 3 key steps:

1) Verbally express empathy for your child’s perspective. Repeat/reflect their words back to them.

2) State the position from your perspective. It’s important that this comes second, after you’ve expressed empathy. If you do step 2 first, you’re on Plan A. I know my natural inclination is to assert my parental authority first, and I need to work on being empathetic to my child’s perspective before stating my own piece.

3) Invite your child to a problem-solving party. This can take place immediately if you have time, or at a later time when the problem is not currently happening and everyone is calmer.

Don’t waste time in a prolonged yelling match when you could be using that time to teach negotiation, flexibility and compromise. Recognize that skill teaching is hard work, messy and time-consuming. But once it becomes second nature, it will get quicker and easier. Be a problem-solving detective and look for solutions that make everyone reasonably happy.

Finally, don’t compare your strategies to other parents. The real question is not, “Is this right or wrong?” but, “Is this working for us?” If it’s not, then it might be time to change something.

Useful links:

http://peterpancenter.com/

http://www.amazon.com/The-Explosive-Child-Understanding-Chronically/dp/0061906190#

 

Rebecca is a world traveler, a singer, a Scrabble addict, and a mom to two children. She’s a Brit who now lives outside Boston, MA.

Rebecca Bell

Have We Reached Peak Pumpkin?

Friends: I’m very scared that, if we don’t all chill out, pumpkin will jump the shark.

Because the brands have figured us out. Those clever marketers have skillfully tuned into our collective pumpkin adoration and now Pumpkin Everything is Everywhere.

Not only everywhere, but everywhere TOO SOON.

Read my lips: It is still summer.

Let’s say that again, all together now. IT IS STILL SUMMER!

Now, I’m the first to admit that I may have single-handedly fanned the flames of society’s Pumpkin Obsession. Knowing my proclivity for pumpkin, friends hastily alerted me when Starbucks announced the arrival of its fall staple, the Pumpkin Spice Latte – ON AUGUST 25TH. Dear Starbucks, I have one word for you: SERIOUSLY? (Ironic, thereafter, that FoodBabe revealed that not only does the revered PSL feature no pumpkin whatsoever but its ingredients are potentially carcinogenic.)

(At this point, I’d like also to make it very very clear to my readers that, in my humble opinion, pumpkin should be eaten, not drunk.)

Let’s examine other evidence of peak pumpkin:

  • Pumpkin recipes and crafts all over Pinterest – in August and early September
  • Ben & Jerry’s proclaims its limited batch Pumpkin Cheesecake ice cream is here – a fact that drives me fairly hysterical with excitement but my gut tells me this announcement is about 3-4 weeks earlier than in past years. And I’m pretty sure last year they weren’t even sure they were going to make it. I’m betting that this year, B&J has seriously upped its production schedule and quantities.
  • Everybody sends me everything pumpkin on Facebook
  • There are just too many pumpkin-flavored things – edible and non-edible – in the stores. I agree wholeheartedly with this USA Today article.

If we can all agree to cool our engines a little, maybe we’ll avoid pumpkin saturation/desensitization.

So friends, join me in a pledge to put pumpkin back where it belongs:

In the fall (ie. late Sept-late Nov).

In pie.

Oh OK, in cheesecake and ice cream too.

In my belly.

 

 

 

 

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