Fortifying The Mommy Shield

One evening last week, within less than an hour of us all coming home from work and after-school activities, I managed to make both kids cry.

Without boring you with the mindless details, in each case, I snapped. In the first scenario, I expressed my disappointment with a situation which caused my five-year old to break into tears, lamenting her sorrow that I had hurt her feelings. In the second, I yelled loudly right into the face of my eight-year old who was tuning me out in favor of messing around like a clown when he should have been getting ready for his bath and I had already asked him more than three times. The shock on his face was blatant, followed by a fierce onslaught of hot tears and accusations.

I hate myself when I lose it with the kids.

I’m supposed to be the one that lifts them up, the one who makes everything silly, who keeps everything marching forward smoothly. Not the one that bears down on them with outbursts of negativity.

The good news is that this really does not happen that often because I try to work hard to fortify my Mommy Shield. It’s the Mommy Shield that stops you from driving off the road when the kids are squabbling at high-frequency in the back seat of the car. It’s the Mommy Shield that makes you take a deep breath and calmly reach for the paper towels when your kids spills his or her milk for the gazillionth time. It’s the Mommy Shield that helps you sit quietly on the couch while the kids run around and around and around with increasing velocity and volume and you know that, any moment now, someone could get hurt but they are having so much fun. It’s the Mommy Shield that lets you know—most of the time—which battle to pick.

But there are days when my Mommy Shield is frail and easily penetrable  Days when I pick the wrong battles. Days when I can’t take a deep breath. Days when yelling at them actually feels really, really good (at first.)

After the tears are dried, hugs squeezed, apologies offered and everyone is happy again, I try to figure out what I could have done differently. Often, it’s not about the heat of the moment but the events leading up to it. When I feel that, at any moment now, the Mommy Shield is going to blow, I try to deploy one few of these tactics to change the energy and hopefully reduce the odds of my snapping:

  • Playing loud music to drown out their shrieks or whining or squabbling.
  • Taking a bath. They can duke it out to their heart’s content without me in the room.
  • Wine. Takes the edge off.
  • Sending them outside.
  • Sending myself outside.
  • Using Facebook/Twitter to vent/distract.
  • Breaking into a silly dance.
  • Look at photos of them when they were babies.

How do you fortify your Mommy Shield?

When Sleeping & Working Get in the Way of Blogging

When I started this blog back in December 2011, I promised myself that to make it entertaining, shareable and fulfilling, I would write a new blog post at least once a week, if not more.

And for the most part, I’ve been able to do that. It’s never been a chore; at any given moment, I usually have a gazillion ideas for posts swimming in my head. I can usually find a quiet 15-20 mins over the weekend to write. Fortunately, I write fast, the words tumbling out of my head and onto the page.

But it’s been over a week since my last post and I started kicking myself about this. I have decent excuses – several nights of insomnia sucking the creativity out of me, house guests for the weekend, and work is crazy busy. But when I thought about it, I realized that there’s plenty of stuff I already do that sustains interest in and traffic to my blog, even when I’m not writing new posts. Namely:

  • I pre-schedule tweets about popular, already published posts 
  • I frequently comment on other blogs and articles, especially where the topic is complementary to one of my posts and I can link back to it.
  • I maintain a pipeline of potential guest bloggers who can provide good content that syncs well with my stuff
  • I retweet and share other bloggers’ posts – spreading the blog love around

Most of all, I’m not going to sweat it. I’m a working Mom and having it all is unrealistic. So if y’all have to wait another week or so for an awesomely witty or pithy or entertaining or educational or controversial post from me, then so be it!

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.

TV or No TV (Or Just Less TV?)

(This post originally ran on the Framingham Patch.)

I love good TV and when I find a show that I love, I’m all-in. Over the decades, there have been many shows I’ve truly loved: Friends, The West Wing, Ally McBeal, ER and, more recently, 24, Law & Order, Greys Anatomy, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Homeland, Downton Abbey. And many more in between. In fact, I’ve loved many of these shows and their characters so much so that I follow and often tweet with them on Twitter, which makes me feel ridiculously happy. (Yes, I know these are not real people but, please, indulge me.)

Here's me chatting with the West Wing's  much revered CJ Cregg

Here’s me chatting with the West Wing’s much revered CJ Cregg

Back when I was a kid, I watched a lot of TV, like most kids do today. Saturdays, in particular, you’d find my brother, sister and I lounging around watching Noel Edmands’ Swap Shop in the morning and Doctor Who in the afternoon. And much more. Until the day that my Dad decided we watched too much and it was, in his opinion, harming our grey matter and ruining our chances of future brilliance.

He took away the TV for a whole year; locked it up in a cupboard. Twelve months later, we kids were social outcasts, unable to join in the conversations at school about whatever were the latest goings-on on the popular shows. It stunk, big time.

When Dad eventually returned the TV, much to our jubilation, watching it came with terms and conditions. Dad and demanded we sign a “TV Charter”, which listed the rules that were to govern our TV watching. I remember, in particular, one clause relating to when we were allowed to watch TV mid-week during the day. “Only if genuinely ill and in bed,” the charter stated.

Did Dad’s extreme measures make an iota of difference to the amount of TV I watch? Not one teeny bit! I’m still a TV fiend.

Fast-forward to present day. I read in emarketer that, according to Nielsen, 2- to 11- year olds average 23 hours 34 minutes per week watching “traditional” TV. That’s almost one whole day per week spent in front of the tube. (By comparison, the time kids spent online was just shy of 2 hours per week.)

Even before reading this, I was feeling concerned by the amount of TV my kids were watching, even though we were limiting it to 30 mins each evening mid-week and longer on weekend mornings. The problem wasn’t so much what they were watching but their stroppy behavior when asked to stop watching and the spiraling moods as bedtime closed in.

Three weeks ago, after displaying some particularly bad behavior, we banned the TV in the evenings for a week as punishment. The first night the kids complained vigorously. “We’re so bored,” they moaned. “There’s nothing to do.”

The second night, we discussed their options for evening entertainment before they had a chance to start complaining (they built forts.) By the third evening, there was no discussion, they headed straight for their books, crayons, and toys and played. And guess what? Bath time and bedtime were less highly-strung, more relaxed and everyone went to sleep calmer and happier.

We’ve so enjoyed the transformation that we’ve decided to make it half-permanent. No TV in the evenings Monday to Wednesday. Honestly, I don’t think the kids have even noticed. My son heads straight to his books, my daughter to her Transformers. It’s a beautiful thing.

And, best of all, I can catch up on emails, blogging—and tweeting with my imaginary TV friends!

Every Parent’s Morning Mayhem

Kids awake, brimming with energy and awesomeness.

Parents arise, groggy, potentially irritable before the coffee infusion.

Kids want to play/fight/whine/negotiate. Parents want them to get dressed.

Kids want to play/fight/whine/negotiate. Parents want them to eat breakfast.

Kids want to play/fight/whine/negotiate. Parents want them to brush their teeth.

Kids want to play/fight/whine/negotiate. Parents want them to get their backpacks ready, shoes and coats on.

Repeat over and over and over and over. Tick, tick, tick.

Parents check emails, tweets, FB posts …. distraction.

Panic!

Where are my library books?

I have swimming today!

Oops, I forgot to do my homework.

Do I have lunch money?

Honey, can you pick up the kids tonight, just realized I have a meeting?

Tick, tick, tick.

Repeat Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday.

Sound familiar?

A Month of Gratitude: Part 1

November is here and with it, Thanksgiving, my very favorite US holiday. And not just because of the ample pumpkin pie to be enjoyed, but because it shines a spotlight on gratitude, a sentiment we rarely get the opportunity to dwell on, during the crazy pace of the every day. Last year, someone I know posted a daily gratitude post on her Facebook wall and she has inspired me to stop and spend some time every day during the month of November to consider how very fortunate I am and to catalog all for which I am grateful.

So here we go:

Thursday November 1: Today marks my second anniversary working with InkHouse. When I took the position, I knew I was going to be in a for a wild ride of deadlines, creativity, challenges and successes. Naturally, there are days that are better than others but overall, I am intensely grateful for 1) having a job, 2) being able to practice my passion – communicating, 3) having a job that pays well, 4) working with a group of talented, entertaining, creative and warm people.

Friday November 2: Grateful today for a job that allows me to work from home on Fridays. Grateful that, unlike the poor souls in New York and New Jersey suffering from the impact of Hurricane Sandy, I have a roof over my head, heat and power, food and gas. This could have been a very different story.

Saturday November 3: I’m grateful today for music and dancing. On Saturdays, I try and get to a Zumba class and, once I drag myself there, I emerge energized and invigorated. Today I’m also in awe of, and thankful for, the amazing people and organizations that have come together to help Sandy’s victims. Everyone talks, these people actually do. I should do more.

Sunday November 4: Today, I’m grateful for a day to spend with my family. A walk in the park where the colors are still breathtaking, watching my kids skip and play, my dog delirious with the thrill of running free. My husband at my side. I’m also grateful for great screenwriting, random I know, but have been enjoying watching Homeland and tonight, concluded season 1, complete with nail-biting and racing adrenalin.

Monday November 5: For almost 13 years, I’ve been living in the US but have not yet taken the steps to become a citizen so that I can vote. Today I realized that’s it’s time. I’m grateful that I live in a country where democracy  is the norm and aware that, compared to the  many frightful situations in so many other parts of the world, this is not something I should take for granted. Also, I’m grateful for leftover Halloween candy. And pumpkin cheesecake. Both of which I have consumed today! I’m also grateful for hot water because I am cold at night now and sleep better clutching my hot water bottle. Yes I am an old lady already.

Tuesday November 6: My day started with my almost 8-year old climbing into bed for a snuggle. I cherish every single  snuggle and hug with my kids, the chance to both physically and emotional connect, if only for a few minutes. Today I’m also thankful for Twitter. Strange though it make seem, Twitter augments my world, connecting with me valuable new resources and some of the cleverest, nicest people.

Wednesday November 7: So grateful to be waking up to the news that Obama remains President for another four years. For many, many reasons but, mostly, to quote his acceptance speech:  “… if you’re willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or where you love. It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight, you can make it here in America if you’re willing to try.”

Check back next week for another week of gratitude.

These Are a Few of My Favorite Pins

Like many of my fellow PR, social and Mom types, my latest addiction is Pinterest. Everyday I open up the app, eager with anticipation to take a spin through the newest colorful pins my fellow addicts have posted or repinned.

They say the demographic of Pinterest is mainly women. They also say that Pinterest is now the third most popular social network, driving large volumes of traffic to the sites and blogs marketing themselves through it.

They may be right …. but I say, for me, Pinterest is like a delicious distraction from reality to a land where I can look fantastic, have a the perfect home, whip up fabulous meals, be expertly crafty and travel to exotic places. Yes, to me, my daily (sometimes two or three times daily) dip into Pinterest  is like a concentrated dose of a good girlfriend catch-up combined with a speed read through the latest editions of Vogue, People, Parenting and Food & Wine magazines.

It turns out my boards are actually an intensely revealing portal to my life. Or the life I’ll get to one day when I’m not so busy being a working Mom, wife and blogger. Here’s a quick review of my favorite boards:

Recipes to try – my most populated and frequently refreshed board filled with images of recipes that are scrumptious, healthy, kid-approved, supposedly simple or otherwise, just plain mouth-watering. All of which I will make one of these days and which will never look like the beautiful images I pinned.

Style – If only I was taller, thinner, richer, less of a slob. This board exemplifies the wannabe in me with looks that I wish I could carry off. Plus a load of shoes I’d wear (if they didn’t hurt my back) and jewelry I’d like to own. If only ….

Cheese – it’s quite simple. I love cheese. Therefore I love pinning images of cheese so I can look at them and drool.

Men – hey, we’re allowed to look, right? So I created a board where several of my most “admired” guys can reside, so I can look at them and they can stare back at me …..

France – where I lived and had the time of my life. One day, I’ll be back, mes amis.

Inspiration – not the usual board of quotes that many people have, mine is filled with Dr Seuss-isms because, man, he just nails its.

As someone who works in social media, people often say to me, “I really must get on Twitter” to which I respond, “why?” Most of the time, they have no clue. My advice to them is not to bother, if they don’t have a specific goal. But with Pinterest, it’s very different. If you haven’t jumped in yet and you’re a woman (or man, I suppose) looking for inspiration, shoes, decor and craft ideas, or just something to make for dinner, c’mon in and join the rest of us in fantasy land!

Parenting Payback: How to Get Your Kids to Do Stuff – for You!

I am by no means a perfect mother. I say ‘no’ a great deal, the naughty step is frequently used, I threaten to throw away all the toys that are widely distributed throughout our house, I bribe with chocolate and I’m not above feeding my kids a Happy Meal from time to time. I feel guilty when I put my work – or the next tweet or FB status – before their immediate need for x, y or z. My tolerance threshold for whining is very, very (did I say very?) low. There are many unanticipated realities of parenthood that keep me dazed and confused every day.

Still, there is a lot that I think I might be doing right. When I say I – I mean my husband and I – because it’s a team sport, this parenting business.

Right from the beginning, our wonderfully wise pediatrician told us not to become short order cooks for our kids. Dinner is what’s on their plates. Same thing for everyone. If you don’t eat it, it’s a long time till breakfast. We have tried our very hardest to maintain this policy, even when it’s meant our  four year-old daughter going to bed with an empty tummy and waking up hungry in the night. Call me mean, but the lesson is slowing seeping into her angelic and often quirky grey matter. Last week she voraciously ate swordfish! (Of course, this week she turned it down) It’s worked with my son too –  he now has a man-sized appetite and is (mostly) willing to try new foods.

Beyond the dinner table, we’ve taken this approach further. By that I mean that teaching our kids to do stuff for themselves is an everyday priority. Self-reliance, independence, resourcefulness – call it what you will, but teaching it to your kids from an early age is so important. It was tough for me at first. Being the control freak that I am, it was intolerably painful sitting by and watching my toddler figure out how to get into feety jammies and zip ‘em up by herself. Standing back as your kids pour cereal into their own bowls knowing that, at any moment, the entire contents of the Cheerio box are going to be avalanching out of the packet and cascading onto the floor. Waiting for your kid to figure how out to buckle their own car seat when you are already running ten minutes behind schedule.

The key, we discovered, was to drill this concept of self-reliance into them precisely during the “I want to do it by myself” stage (which starts around three) to the “teach me how to do it” and “can I help?” stages (which are roughly from four to seven – and who knows maybe longer.)

Patience, restraint and several large glasses of wine later ….  the rewards for teaching our kids to be resourceful is paying off. Not only are they doing more stuff for themselves (and feeling proud about it,) now they are finally doing stuff for me! See what I mean? Hooray!

My Secret is Out!

For those who you who know me, I am sure this is no surprise. But for all of you who don’t, I have a confession to make. I am a serial tweeter. My colleague Linda (@lindakay07) interviewed me recently for her post that just published over at the InkHouse blog!

Here’s an excerpt:

I am fascinated by serial Twitterers. We all know at least one or two and if you work in PR and social media, chances are you’re sitting next to one right now. I got to thinking about people’s different Twitter styles and how conservative Twitterers are different from the serial tweeting variety. I even have a (completely unsubstantiated) theory that those who tweet more than 10 times a day are more likely to put bumper stickers on their cars because they are prone to sharing more (Note: unscientific bumper sticker study in progress. Timeframe for results: TBD).

In order to find out more about what makes a serial Twitterer tick, I decided to go straight to the source. I asked InkHouse’s very own serial Twitterer @samanthamcgarry to tell me everything.

You can read the full post over at http://www.inkhouse.net/confessions-of-a-serial-twitterer/

Enjoy!

My Resolutions Report Card

Since I committed to putting my resolutions in writing for the first time, I feel compelled to report back after the first month. Here goes:

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