Wardrobe Meltdown & a Stranger’s Words of Wisdom

While Spring may technically be here, in reality, it’s still winter in New England and has been since November.

Which means I’ve been wearing the same set of clothes for work for roughly 21 weeks.

Which means I am sick to death of every item of clothing I own.

Which means that, this morning, as I needed to look respectable for client meetings for the third consecutive day (while battling a head cold), I had a total wardrobe meltdown.

Let’s call it a Working Mom Style Crisis.

In that, I have no style. And most of my clothes are either old, boring, and unhip.

My random assortment of clothes are usually selected according to the following principles: price, fit/comfort, flatteringness, color, available time to shop.

Most often, the clothes I buy are pulled from a rack in Target – without being tried on – while doing the weekly shop with kids in tow. (It helps that the women’s clothes section is strategically just across from the area where all the Pokemon cards can be found …)

Given that my style left the building a long long time ago (around about the time I became a working Mom,) I have somehow managed to feign some masquerade of style through an assortment of flashy earrings and necklaces and my kick-ass boots.

But this morning, as I lamented how much I hated all my clothes to Twitter, someone (another working Mom) tweeted to me that: “Nothing looks better on you than confidence.”

And I realized that, tatty clothes aside, I have ship-loads of confidence. And I can fake it really good too.

So, until the day comes when I have enough time and money and patience to shop for new clothes, I’ll be trying my best to wear my confidence – with style.


 

The Split Personality of the Working Mom

Guest post by Andrea Eaton

Duality (noun): an instance of opposition or contrast between two concepts or aspects of something. The state or quality of being two or in two parts. The term itself–”working mother”–denotes dualism.

The woman with a career plus the woman who mothers. The woman who shows up to the office looking (relatively) professionally polished plus the woman who, minutes earlier, had a breakdown at daycare or desperately dabbed spit-up off her shirt.

If you are living or have lived this, you know exactly how Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde or Superman/Clark Kent can feel. But you know that each persona is one you grip to, a precious part of you. Equally critical and non-negotiable.

You also know that the job of “mother” is the most stressful and seriously exhausting one there is. Angelic as your babies may be while you’re imagining them from the safety of your cubicle, let’s be honest: a few hours earlier there was at least a tiny part of you counting down until that moment you’re commuting … alone. This is not because you don’t love your kids. It’s because you do. You love them so very much, nothing is more important to you than how you care for and shape them. Their lives are literally depending on it. It’s a heavy load that you feel all the time but especially when you’re with them.

Sometimes I giggle to myself about how the “working” in “working mom” is the part that most implies duty yet feels most like a vacation. A respite from that all-consuming responsibility of rearing. Arms empty. Minds free to muse. Quiet.

Plus, we need to check in with the people we were B.C. (Before Children). A ritual of mine is to do this with the music–my music–cranked as I cruise to the office. We do it in meetings when we offer up our brilliance (which does actually extend beyond remembering to pack everyone’s hats, mittens and snacks). We do it in the hallway or kitchen when we compliment a fellow mom’s shoes. We do it when we tap creativity to help a client (which is similar to concocting an acceptable dinner out of only what’s in your fridge but different).

Schizophrenic as it may feel on our worst days–when we fantasize about how a singular focus would slash stress–”working mom” is a title we don with pride. It’s not easy. It’s a life smeared with spit-up, peppered with forgotten snow pants, injected with bits of independence and intellectualism … and riddled with rewards. “Carves some calmness out of what is mostly lovely chaos” is just part of the job description.

Andrea Eaton is a mother of two boys, 4 and 6 months. She has built a career in sales and marketing in the software industry.  Her “spare time” these days is spent playing with her boys, in class to become a certified yoga teacher and fantasizing about an alternate reality where she enjoys fame and fortune as a fiction writer.

andrea eaton

On This Bed

I’m 46 years old and, tonight, I sleep again in this bed at my parents’ house. This bed where I slept most nights during the puberty years, the teenage years and my young 20s, and here and there during my 30s and 40s as I’ve visited. And when you think about it, this bed has always supported and comforted me. On this bed:

I daydreamed over pop stars and heartthrob actors
I’d play with my sister
I’d sit anxiously waiting for a boy to call
I’d giggle with girlfriends, plotting parties, dates, outfits, makeup
I’d do my homework and revise for exams
I’d layout clothes and more than often cries tears of frustration over how I looked – or thought I looked
I’d read and read and read
I’d dream romantic dreams
I’d cry over broken hearts, altered friendships
I’d write letters and pore over photos
I’d talk on the phone for hours with friends
I’d fill out university and job applications
I’d sleep with boyfriends
I’d make love to my husband
I’d feel the kicks and hiccups of infants in utero
I’d snuggle with my babies, then toddlers, then little kids

Tonight, as I prepare to go to sleep once again here, I’m thankful for this bed.

Sweet dreams.

Coffee or Wine?

Your dental hygienist knows a lot about you, I’ve discovered. During my first few years here in the US, when I was either single and partying, or dating my soon-to-be-fiance, or enjoying the life-before-kids times, my dental hygenist would often remark about the red wine stains on my teeth. “Hey, I’m young (ish) and having fun,” I’d retort. And yes, I’ll brush more thoroughly, I’d promise as she hacked away at the stains with her evil implements.

(On a side note, may I just say that dental hygiene here in the US has been a real revelation to me. Y’all are way more serious about having sparkly whites that we were/are back home in the UK. I now feel it a necessary part of my acceptance into American society to have remarkably white teeth. But I digress.)

Dental visits over the last eight years have painted a different story. In large part, because the red wine stains on my teeth have mostly been replaced with coffee stains. Strong, black coffee stains. My dental hygienist always points this out and then, with an almost nonchalant non-sequitur, asks “So, how old are the kids now?” She knows, she gets it.

The thing is, my relationship with red wine has changed. Flash back to 1997-2000, three glorious years living in France when the wine was abundant, cheap and good. I became more knowledgable about wine regions and my preferences but, quite frankly, if it was red and in my glass, I’d drink it. Lots of it. No matter how much it cost or where it came from. And then I went and married someone in the wine industry. My supply of good wine became perpetual! Hoorah! And I became better educated and much more picky and wines I like and wines I don’t.

And then I had kids.

Child birth will do strange things to your palette (among other things.) After kid #1 was born, I went off red wine altogether, much to the chagrin of the husband. Fortunately, after kid #2 “popped out” (hahahaha) my desire for wine slowly returned and, in the almost six consequential years, has remained. But with new terms and conditions, namely:

  • I only drink the wines I like
  • I can only drink when eating
  • No more than a glass and a half or I get heartburn and/or an upset stomach
  • There will be wine on Friday evenings when I crave it most—or else
  • Cheese = wine

On the flip side, my relationship with coffee has remained consistent. While red wine is a select pleasure, enhancing specific moments, coffee is my lifeline. I cannot start the day without coffee. It is the very first thing I think of the moment I awake. I cannot exist without a large steaming cup of strong black coffee within approx 10 mins of my neurones firing up.

I was pondering my absolute and profound need for coffee the other morning and comparing it to my relationship with red wine. If I had to, I wondered, which would I give up? The answer was quite simple. But, just to be sure, I thought I’d conduct a brief poll with a few of my Twitter and Facebook pals. So I lobbed the seemingly innocuous question out there. Within nanoseconds—maybe even less—I was met with a barrage of visceral reactions! Before I share them, here was the final count:

  • Votes to keep coffee: 5
  • Votes to keep wine: 7
  • Undecided: 4

But it was the comments that cracked me up the most, including:

Are you kidding?

Is nothing sacred?

What am I being threatened with?

If my world no longer included those things, it wouldn’t be much of a world ;)

I feel like this is a trick question somehow.

I don’t know this Samantha but I don’t trust her ;)

I plan on giving up both…shortly after I give up oxygen.

So, you, yes you over there sipping your Sunday morning coffee – which would you give up, if you had to: coffee or wine?

P.S. Get your teeth cleaned.

For the Love of …. Doing Nothing

I love doing nothing. It’s right up there with eating. And watching TV. And sleeping (which, I guess, is just doing nothing with your eyes closed.) I long to do nothing.

Back in my single, pre-kid days, I excelled at doing nothing. I practiced long and hard. Put in a lot of time and effort, mastering the art and skill of doing nothing. It was lovely, indulgent, righteous. I also did a lot of stuff: partying, studying, working hard, traveling, moving to new countries, making new friends. But there was always the option of doing nothing.

These days, there is not a lot of time available for doing nothing. Kids school, kids activities, kids play dates, school vacation, domesticity, family and a career all have this horrible way of getting in between me and my favo(u)rite pass-time. Society imposes this crazy requirement for being busy, as if a full schedule is the key to fulfillment. I beg to differ. The schedule is what causes the most heartburn in my life, especially as working parent. The schedule is one of the few things my husband and I argue over. Who is picking up which kid? Who gets to stay home to cover the kids’ early release days/snow days/sick days/school vacation day? Whose meeting is more important? Whose schedule/employer is more flexible?

Because the weeks are so crazy, we try as a family to do nothing at the weekends. We try not to pack these precious two days with outings, activities, errands, parties, play dates and socializing. However it doesn’t work. There are always errands, parties, play dates and socializing. But that’s cool. As long as there are a few hours tucked away, reserved for vegging out on the couch watching a movie, hanging in the backyard, lazing in bed, taking a long bath.

There is however a really, really fine balancing act, I’ve found, between organizing stuff for the kids to do and letting them play freely. Here’s what can happen when you let them do nothing:

a. They play quietly
b. They get creative
c. They break stuff
d. They break each other
e. All or some of the above

It is currently day three of school vacation week. I’m trying to perfect a formula that mixes a variety of planned and spontaneous activities with free time for doing nothing.

So far, the kids have only broken one piece of furniture. The house looks like a tornado blew through it. Laundry is piling up.

It’s not exactly the kind of doing nothing I’d like to be doing on vacation. But it’s fun.

p.s. I’m not including a picture because I can’t be bothered to search for one.

Sweet Dreams

I didn’t realize, before I became a Mother, that I had the power to send you to sleep. That my words, proximity, sounds and rhythm held soporific powers.

As an infant, I would lull you to sleepyland with shushes, rocking, swaying.

As a toddler, I’d soothe you as you’d fight sleep tooth and nail, armed with fairy tales, lullabies and cuddles.

As a pre-schooler, I’d remove all specter of monsters and then rub your back in circles, over and over, until sleep snuck in.

As a kindergartner, we’d read, snuggle, have whispered conversations till you’d simply dismiss me, ready to welcome the excitement of your dreams.

As a second grader, you pretty much take care of business yourself, after a quick peck on the cheek, reading independently, falling asleep with your books askew on your pillow.

I have to admit that I miss the days of shushing, swaying, lullabies and stroking of backs and foreheads. Knowing that my touch, my presence was the drug you needed to transcend you from consciousness to a land of hopefully sweet dreams. It’s been an unexpected and heady privilege.

Good Night,Sweet Dreams

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My Zumba Journey

This morning I dragged my lazy derriere out of bed and to my 10am Saturday morning Zumba class. Every week, it’s the same. I really don’t want to go. It takes having a serious conversation with myself to talk (aka guilt) myself into it. Off I go, begrudgingly.

Fast forward 60-minutes or so and I emerge – sweaty, my muscles aching beautifully, invigorated and high on the having shaken my booty to great tunes! After all, I’m my happiest when dancing and that’s what Zumba essentially is.

It’s a mixed blessing that, as part of this, I spend an hour in front of a mirror forced to examine my pudgy, jiggly fleshy bits squeezed into my exercise gear. This mostly unpleasant vision reminds me why this weekly “torture” is required. However, what mitigates my negativity, is that fact that I am surrounded at Zumba my similarly bouncy, middle-aged woman. Ninety-nine percent of the class attendees are, like me, in their 40s, working Moms, trying to squeeze in an hour to themselves, trying to squeeze in some exercise, trying to squeeze into their Lycra. Some of them come to class fully made up, wearing dangly earrings. This confuses me. However,  together, we jiggle, strut, samba, cha-cha, groove and sweat, in a merry, flabby fashion. Sure there’s always at least one super skinny gal there, sporting a dancer’s body and a six-pack. I try not to look.

What I love most about the studio I go to – VavaVoom Fitness –  is it is focused on celebrating women, curves and all. Large posters on the wall display a fleshy Marilyn lifting weights, a seductive Beyonce, gorgeous J Lo performing and Shakira’s incredible body. Not a skinny waif in sight. No ripped muscles. Just images of sexy, confident, resplendent curvy woman. The goal is to motivate us to reclaim our bodaciousness, to celebrate our confidence and womanliness through dance. And given dance is something that inspires and motivates me, this is why I come here. However, putting aside inevitable self-consciousness and allowing yourself to circle your hips, grind a little, wiggle your butt, shimmy your shoulders and dance sexy is not always an easy journey. In fact, one of the male Zumba teachers often complains that his hips move better than ours!  The fact is that, in our day-to-day lives, especially as working Moms, there’s no time or, quite frankly reason, to act and feel sexy. Even long before becoming I mother, drawing attention to body through clothes or shoes was an anathema.

But every Saturday morning, for one hour, I revel in shedding this insecurity and I gloriously strut my stuff, buoyed by the music, the dance and the fact that I’m not alone in this journey.

On a Wing & a Prayer

I exist in “wing-it” mode.

Both personally and professionally, I get by thanks to a canny mixture of knowing just enough about a lot of things, being a master of the multi-task, taking life one day at a time, faking it, a large dose of silliness plus the occasional lightning strike of serendipity. Lucky for me, it works most of the time. Being in my 40s helps too – apparently I project a sense of maturity and confidence that makes people think I know what I’m talking about.

And much of the time I do! I’m not full of BS. I have experience, credentials, some wisdom and common sense on my side. But existing in “wing-it” mode is not necessarily a comfortable place. One of these days, I’ll trip up, get caught out. It’s happened before.

Once, during my University years, I remember a small, French poetry class. Just as I took my seat, it dawned on me that I had completely forgotten to read the piece we were to be discussing. Worse, I was wearing a fuchsia-colored top! I don’t remember if I fessed up or if I kept my mouth shut or just was lucky enough not to be called on. Either way, I remember the gut-curdling feeling of exposure and vulnerability.

That was when it didn’t really matter that much. But today, I have kids to raise, a household to run with a husband as my co-pilot, and a career to maintain and thrive. It’s a fragile, complex and extremely important tower of cards.

How did I get to this “wing-it” state ? I blame a combination of “having it all,” the speed of life, being just a teeny bit smart and street-wise, and Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist.”

Being a working Mom means operating at warp speed, making judgment calls about which battles to pick, who to please first, figuring priority and productivity trade-offs, constantly planning and worrying about the details. This applies to both the home and the job. It’s a state of hyper-vigilance. Let one thing go and the whole precariously constructed tower of cards could come tumbling down.

But the truth is, I actually get a kick out of living in “wing-it” mode. It’s a little like stage fright. The adrenaline of knowing that I need to put on a good performance, precisely when it matters. Recognizing a signal (per Coelho’s writings) and seizing it. The thrill of discovering luck is on my side, buoying my wings.

Would I like to slow it down? You bet. But I’ve also a sneaking suspicion, I’d be bored.

What If?

What if I hadn’t been applied to a job posting for an au pair in Paris when I was 19?

What if my host family there didn’t have a friend from the USA who was visiting London?

What if I had never introduced that friend to my brother?

What if they hadn’t got along?

What if they didn’t move to the USA several years later with their kids?

What if I had stayed in France?

What if my brother hadn’t worked with someone who’s cousin lived in Boston?

What if I hadn’t bothered to contact him?

What if I’d hadn’t dared to meet him on a blind date?

What if I didn’t say yes to his marriage proposal?

What if we had decided to live somewhere other than our town?

What if it hadn’t been a struggle to have kids?

What if …….?

Life is so full of what ifs. They blow my mind, quite literally. If any of these questions had a different answer, I would be living a different life altogether. But I believe in serendipity as well as in creating your own destiny. Every decision we make shapes the next. We make things happen, they don’t happen to us. This is my credo. What ifs are about looking over to your shoulder and marveling at the path that has brought you to today. I march forward, savoring one moment at a time.

The Problem with Having it All: Mommy Hair

So many interesting articles and blog posts whirling around about women and our desire/challenge to “have it all.” Here’s the deal, there’s one slant to the issue that no-one has yet had the guts to touch. Ready? Here it is. If you want to have it all, the chances are that you’ll end up with Mommy Hair.

You know the look: chin or shoulder-length, relatively easy to “wash and go,” when we have no time to properly style it, a quick fluff with your fingers does the job.

Practical.

Blah.

As summer hits, and my mornings become abbreviated by the need to rush the kids early to their camp bus stop, I faced the reality of my need for Mommy hair. I need it to not require hours of attention and grooming. I need to not have to blow dry on humid mornings. I need for it not to look like something the dog dug up. I need for my daughter to not ask me if it’s “crazy hair” day!

A recent discussion with my Mom friends reinforced the reality of Mommy hair. Exacerbated by the story one Mom relayed about her daughter equating prettiness with women having long flowing locks. The next day I performed an unscientific poll of the women in my office. The conclusion? Ninety-nine percent of the Moms at work have practical (and stylish) Mommy hairdos; those without kids, lovely flowy locks.

Then I thought about celebrity Moms who still have their gorgeous hairstyles (and stylists galore, of course) – Jennifer Lopez, Beyoncé to name two. Do you think they have days when they find dried spit-up in their hair, or resort to a headband or scrunchy to keep the frizzies at bay?

Do I have a point, you ask? It’s this.

Screw practical hair. I want my pre-Mommy hair back. In fact, I’d like my 1980′s long spiralled perm back. Or I’d settle for my year 2000-2001 Julia Roberts as Erin Brokovich tresses.

Of course I write all this just hours after returning from the hair salon, having requested a more practical cut for the summer …. Oh well.

P.s. The following are some excellent articles and blogs on the whole “having it all” issue which, hair bitching aside, is a serious topic.

Why Women Still Can’t Have it All

Men Can’t Have It All Either

Children or Career?

Having It All Is Not A Women’s Issue

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