The Two Words That Moms Love Most

(Other than “love you,” of course.)

Picture this. A crowded shopping mall, two and a half week’s before Christmas. I’m taking my son to Build-A-Bear for a pre-school class mate’s birthday party. I’m fully prepared to hang out for the hour or so, watching a gaggle of five year-olds stuff and clothe some furry creature. I know a few of the parents, I’m ready to chit-chat. But then, the parents of the party girl offer the following wonderful utterances: “This to totally drop off. Just come back in an hour or so.”

The angels wept. A free hour. In a mall. Christmas shopping. Without a child. Hallelujah!

Off I scampered, barely even glancing back at my son who, I knew, was far more interested in the impending stuffing (of bear and of cake) than whether his Mom was hanging around watchfully.

This was just the beginning of what I realized was a major paradigm shift – and I don’t use those words lightly – in my parenting journey. All of a sudden, every party was a drop off party. Every play date was a drop off play date (unless the Moms want a play date too! I mean, haven’t you read The Three Martini Play Date?)

Moving from having to negotiate the universe with an infant/toddler/pre-schooler constantly attached to your side (or at least within a meter’s arm grab) to a few sacred hours without them was an eye-opener. What to do with this free time? Most often, it was the gloriousness of solo grocery shopping which is so much more efficient ‘sans enfant.’ Or other such errands. Very occasionally, I treat myself to a mani or head to Starbucks and join the cool folks, sipping their lattes, comfortably ensconced in an armchair with the sunday papers or a good novel.

Let it also be known, being a fan of paying it forward and good karma and all that, that I also happily host the drop off play date and let my fellow parents experience the joy of a few solo hours. I can always see the relief on their faces.

So, to all the parents that have said to other parents those two delicious words, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Summer Swan Song & Back to School Angst

Well, that went fast! Here we are, just three days of summer camp left and back to school in a week’s time. It’s a time to pause and marvel at summer’s imprint on my kids – before I, true to form, start stressing about the imminent change to our schedules, logistics and my inevitable working Mom guilt.

Summer has a habit of showering my kids with one heck of a growth spurt: both mentally and physically. Mentally, they become more self-assured, strutting off to camp every day, confident in their character, willing to learn, practice and hone new skills, navigate complex social situations, make new friends – both peers and counselors.

Summer mostly leaves her mark on their bodies. Long days of constant motion and outdoor action convert their little bodies into long, lean, muscular, bronzed creatures. They grew at least two feet taller each summer – I’m not kidding. The sun bleaches the soft down on their foreheads and rains golden streaks into their hair. Their bums are shocking white in contrast with the rest of the lanky, ripped bodies! Summer renders them ever more beautiful.

Best of all, they return home from camp each night filthy, hungry and tired. They eat their body weight in dinner, chug several pints of milk, shower off the day’s dust, grime, sun screen and bug spray, and fall, clean and exhausted, into their beds and into deep, sweet dreams.

This evening, we talked about what they’d miss most about camp. Their friends and swimming every day were their answers. Then we talked about what they were looking forward about going back to school. Their friends and learning new things, they responded.

It amazes me how seamlessly and confidently they slide from one season to the next, without angst, without regret, with anticipation.

And so we go back to school. However, for me as a working Mom, the transition isn’t quite as carefree as the kids.

Back to school, for me, brings a change of schedule with school starting an hour later, meaning I get to the office later, compressing my already busy work day. It brings regret that I don’t have the time in my schedule to walk my kids to school. It foists guilt that I can’t be as present in the classroom as maybe I could or should be. lt slams me with frustration that I’m not able to pick them up before 6pm every day, meaning our evenings together are all-too-short.

Surely, they deserve more of me?

This is a state-of-mind and heart that I face at this time of year every year. I struggle with it. And then accept it, for my choice to work is my choice. And, luckily for me, my kids weather this time of year  better than I do – so I guess I must be doing something right.

Learning from the Mean Kids

My outie is better than your innie.

You’re not my friend any more.

Little makes me sadder – and madder – than when one of my kids tells me someone was to mean to him or her  and it hurt their feelings. My first instinct is to locate the brat and his parents and give them a good punch talking to. My second instinct is to envelop my kids’ heart in bubble wrap so that no wretched child can ever make them feel that way again.

We usually have these discussions around bathtime and bedtime. With their eyes wide open and teary, or sometimes with their shoulders caved in and chins dropped, we discuss who said what to whom and how it made them feel. And I have come to realize, through these end-of-day discussions, that my kids are counting on us grown-ups to help set things right again in their little but ever-so-large universes so that, tomorrow, when they get back on the school bus, it all will be OK.

But I’ve also realized that, Mama Bear rage and retribution urges aside, my job is to actually help them (figuratively) fight their own battles. These are life skills that will help them from the playground to the sports field to college and into the workplace – or wherever their journeys take them. Because there will always be meanies.

And, because, I like to group things into neat buckets, lists and bullets, I figure there are four key ways to tackle the meanies:

  1. Respect: It’s tough then the mean kid is actually a friend, and all the more so, if he or she is  from a family you know. In our family, we talk a lot about how important it is to treat other people the same way you want to be treated (and my kids’ karate lessons do a great job reinforcing this.) So maybe this meanie needs a gentle reminder that respect is the foundation of friendship. I urge my kids to say: “That’s not a nice thing to say to a friend,” and to go find someone else to play with until that kid is ready to resume being a real friend.
  2. Empathy: The meanie might be unhappy or lonely or shy. This kid might be from a household that is dealing with stuff, or maybe he’s a little insecure. I encourage my kids to think about what might be going on behind the mean words. Perhaps they should consider this an opportunity to be empathetic and extend the hand of friendship?
  3. Forgiveness: People say hurtful things when they’ve been hurt themselves. I’ve seen this first hand when my son had a fight with a close friend. It doesn’t matter who said what first. If you really value your friendship, put injustices aside and say you are sorry. In our case, we talked it over, the boys shook hands and, within seconds, were BFFs all over again and in full Pokemon mode.
  4. Laugh it off: Comparing belly buttons, seriously?! Giggling together about whatever ridiculous nonsense is being thrown out can change the dynamic of the whole encounter. Maybe all the meanie was looking for was a way to make a connection? Turn the whole thing into a hoot and maybe you’ll find a new friend? (This often goes hand in hand with #2.)

These are not lessons that can be learned and applied overnight. Heck, I know many an adult who could learn them too and I’m including myself in that mix. But, you know me, I like to look on the bright side and I’m hoping that, with a little dose of respect, empathy, self-awareness –and let’s not forget, silliness – we can all get along a little better.

Guest Post: My Sister’s Secret

by Gabriel McGarry

My sister has a secret! And I will tell you!

My sister is awesome.

She is awesome because…  She plays with me and follows me.

So I will tell you how to be awesome.

Be nice help your  friends

And kids you don`t know. And make new friends.

If  a kid was lonely go to him and talk to him.  And you made a new friend!

Gabriel McGarry is 8 years old. He likes cats, nature and Transformers.

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Guest Post: Hosting The First Sleepover

by Paul Taylor

Although we try to keep our children as young as possible, they seem to have a mind of their own and desire to grow up faster than we’d like them to. As soon as he or she begins making friends at school, you child will undoubtedly start making plans for sleepovers. As a parent, there are many aspects of this innocent activity that you need to consider. Your child’s first sleepover will be the beginning of many and you should keep your wits about you during this social activity.

1. Your Behavior - You child isn’t the only one who needs to be on his or her best behavior. As an adult, we do and say a lot of things around the home that we can get away with. Why? Because we are adults and we can. However, you don’t want to scare away your child’s friend. Every parent has their own way of raising their children. What works in your home may not be ideal for another person’s child. Watch your behavior for it may put your child in an awkward position with his or her friend.

2. Meals - Find out from the friend’s parents which foods are ideal. You don’t want to inadvertently give them something they are allergic to. You don’t want to continue the sleepover in the emergency room. Make the child feel welcome in your home and provide his or her favorite dish. Even if it’s something you’ve personally never had before, it is a way to share culture with each other. You never know, you might find it to be a common delicacy within your home afterward.

3. Bedtime - You know that the children aren’t going to go to sleep immediately. Have some patience and provide a little leniency. The first sleepover is going to be the highlight of your child’s month and you can expect a certain level of excitement and hyper-activity to be going on. Don’t let the children use you as a doormat, but don’t be the sleep-tyrant either. Give the children a little slack especially if they are keeping the noise level down. Did you go to sleep immediately when you had a sleepover as a child?

4. Entertainment - Another aspect to consider is what kind of entertainment is acceptable for your child’s friend. While some households don’t see anything wrong with a family dinner watching “The Walking Dead,” some parents may be quite upset that you subjected their child to such television. Even video games should be monitored. Remember, not every household is the same and some don’t accept violence in any manner. Although it is your house, you should be respectful towards the wishes of your guest’s parents. It’s not your job to raise their child.

5. Privacy - It is possible to maintain vigilance over the happenings within your home without involving yourself in the play of your child and his or her guest. A periodic checkup is OK, but don’t try too hard to involve yourself in their activities. The children are having a sleepover, not you. It can be hard to let your child live their own lives without involving you, but they need to be able to establish their own path.

The sleepover is a way of life and children have been engaging in this activity for a very long time. It creates bonds between friends and is a way to continue the play for an extended period of time. There is nothing to fear from these and after the first few sleepovers, your stress levels will diminish. Just try not to embarrass your child too much.

Paul Taylor started www.babysittingjobs.com which offers an aggregated look at sites that help families find sitters and sitters find families easier than ever. He loves writing, with the help of his wife. 

Couple lying down with daughter

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.

Advice to My 16-Year Old Self

This morning, a tweet from MumClub asking “what would you tell your 16-year old self?” got me thinking. Often I can tweet a quick, snappy response but this I needed to mull over. So I stepped into the shower, and ideas kept popping into my head. Thanks to my waterproof Post-It notes, I wrote down the following advice to Samantha Stern:

  • Keep working on your writing and languages—they will be the foundation of your success
  • There is so much more than Duran Duran
  • You are not fat
  • Dating/kissing boys that are not Jewish will not be the end of the world
  • Friendships trump religious differences
  • Invest in your friends—you’re going to need them
  • Gary Morris may break your heart but there are lots of fish in the see—explore ;)
  • Red heads have more fun
  • Keep dancing
  • Go on blind dates (the last one will be the best one)
  • You are in charge of your future
  • Mum and Dad were right about many things (but not about only kissing/dating Jewish boys)
  • Find your own style
  • Keep traveling
  • Bacon is not evil
  • In two years, Mum and Dad will take you to see Les Miserables. It will change everything.
  • Try sushi: you’ll like it!

My 2013 To Do List

I envy people who are uber-organized. I’ve tried all manner of systems and apps but none ever sticks. Ultimately it’s my non-stop-brain-ticking that keeps me and my life somewhat organized without any formal prompts or processes other than random neurons sparking and daily holy crap moments that remind me to do stuff. As I’ve written before, I exist in “wing it” mode and, so far, it’s worked. Aided by random to do lists hastily scribbled and purposefully left in places where I hopefully cannot fail to find them (in the shower, on the kitchen counter, affixed to my computer screen, stuck to my iPhone) and actually cross off some of those items.

These last few days I’ve read blogs and tweets and FB posts galore about folks’ New Years resolutions—or the fact that they aren’t making any. If your resolutions are always the same (eat less, exercise more, blah, blah, blah) do they even count, I wonder? So I thought I’d try a different approach and make a 2013 to do list, right here on my blog. Yes, I know it’s a cop-out as I’m not truly resolving to do these things. But, to quote a colleague of mine, let’s consider them “directional”. Maybe with this approach, some will actually get done this year.

  • Get back to France
  • Host lots of dinner parties with varied friends—and make more lunch dates, too
  • Get out more (figuratively and literally and socially and exercisingly—yes I made that word up but I like it)
  • Listen to NPR less and my music more
  • Get my U.S. citizenship
  • Conquer insomnia
  • Book a personal stylist session at Nordstrom
  • Buy new bras (TMI? Sorry.)
  • Go to the theatre more than once
  • Dance (who’s with me?)

So there you have it.

A Month of Gratitude: Part Two

Last week, I started the process of taking stock of everything for which I am grateful. It’s an important exercise, stepping back from the daily grind and considering all that is good in your life. We should all do this much more often. It’s both sobering and uplifting.

Where did the last week go? Somehow, among the hustle and bustle, I was able to stop each day, if only for a few minutes, and mentally note the moment or moments that resounded in my heart and head. During the last seven days, these were the things for which I am truly grateful:

  • The teachers who taught my son to read. We spent five hours this weekend at Boston’s Museum of Science and my son’s new-found skill opened the experience up to him like I’d never imagined. It was fantastic to watch.
  • My husband. Because he’s away on business and of course, it’s when he’s gone, I truly appreciate all that he does for me. Warms my cold feet in bed. Brings me coffee in the morning. Puts the trash out. Cooks dinner. Makes me laugh. Most of all, I love to step back and watch him interact with our kids in his unique, special way and miss that most when he’s away.
  • My Mom friends. Thank heavens for other Moms. They just get it. Once a month, I get to hang out with a bunch of them and it’s like the best medicine for the soul.
  • Humor: I was sent this video this week and it actually made me cry with laughter. Everyone needs a tear-inducing laugh every so often. Watch this and you’ll get yours for the week.
  • Charity: This week I read about all the good works being done by so many to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy. When the rest of the world and news media had moved on, these people were still knee-deep in the collections and clean-ups. We should all be grateful for the work they are doing and the compassion in their hearts.
  • Words and writing: this blog started out as an experiment, a fancy and has turned into a much more powerful vehicle for me. Somewhere I can write for me (as opposed to my writing for clients) and share my thoughts and words with you. This week I published my 100th blog post and crossed the threshold of 11,000 views, just shy of my one year blogging anniversary. Wow! Thank you all for indulging me.

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 )

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