The Grand Illusion: Mogul, Mom & Maid

A real conversation from early December:

Husband: “Honey, when will our Christmas cards arrive?”

Me: “I’m sorry, I haven’t even ordered them yet.”

Husband: “What? How come? We’re already receiving loads of cards and should be sending ours out now too.”

Me <insert snark> : “Oh, I didn’t realize. I’ve been lying here on the couch watching reruns of Desperate Housewife and filing my nails.”

Husband: “I know you are busy, I get it. But I’m surprised the cards aren’t done because you always seem like you have everything under control.”

BOOM. The moment of truth. It always seems like I have everything under control. Hahaha!

The reality is: I don’t. It’s all a thin veil or, rather, a grand illusion. Scratch the surface and there’s a hot mess of confused priorities, a healthy dose of anxiety, a fair amount of disorder, random spots of remarkable focus and OCD, a pinch here and there of laissez-faire and, more often than not, a wing and a prayer, a shrug and a nervous giggle.

Or, as a friend who is also trying to figure out this working Mom thing calls it: the sliding scale of incompetency.

Reality #2. Also back in early December, Liz O’Donnell, author of the new book Mogul, Mom & Maid: The Balancing Act of the Modern Woman” asked me to contribute to a blog carnival with other working Moms, to share our tips and perspectives about our balancing acts. Irony: it was one of those weeks when all around me, life was exploding and there was no time to blog for me, let alone anyone else, let alone blogging about my balancing act! So, Liz, here’s my post, just a few weeks late …..

So, I ask myself, what of this grand illusion? Does it help or harm me? One the one hand, apparently I project this image of a confident working Mom, managing all that comes with it, with a smile on my face. This is good, surely? Heck, I even fool myself most of the time. I achieve this illusion, like so many other women, thanks to my ability to prioritize, multi-task and to turn on a dime when it’s really needed. It’s also thanks to several handy tools that help save some precious time and the wonderful invention that is Waterproof Post-it Notes which, quite literally, ensure the contents of my brain don’t disappear down the shower drain. (Buy them now …. hurry!)

On the flip-side, existing in this mode is a scary place. At any given point, there’s a terrifyingly strong chance that I will screw something up big time. The fragile card tower that I hold together all day and night is precarious. One missed deadline, one forgotten item at the grocery store, one overlooked play date invitation – not to mention the fun and games of hormones – and it can all come toppling down. The energy involved in keeping the cards propped up and balanced is exhausting.

So this is my balancing act. With the emphasis on the word ‘act’. But would I exchange it for not being a working Mom? Nope! This is my bed and I chose to lie in it.

Oh, and back to those Christmas cards. Yes I did get around to ordering them but so late that they ended up arriving on Christmas Eve. Have I had the chance to mail any out? No. Will I? The likelihood is probably not. Sorry folks. Because here’s reality #3 which, thanks to Dr. Seuss, I use day-in and day-out as a filter for the choices I make when prioritizing the 23697,2466,00000 things on this working Mom’s to-do list:

Those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind!

The Incompetent Chef & the Legendary Hippo Cake

Last night, I cooked meat and I didn’t kill anyone.

The truth is that every time I cook with meat of any kind, I’m convinced that I am endangering someone’s life. When it comes to cooking, I am insecure, unconfident and a generally a klutz. It’s as if my hands turn into giant lumps, unable to coordinate, cut or stir with precision. Timing several items to be ready simultaneously causes me to break out in hives.

The fact that I am married to a professionally trained chef just makes matters worse. “Just make a roux,” he’ll suggest. Like I know how to make a roux and what you do with one? “That’s the wrong knife!” is a common complaint. Scuse me, it’s metal, it’s sharp, it cuts – so what is wrong with that? Also, I need to improve my stirring technique, apparently.

Unlike my husband who is very patient with me and who can whip up a gourmet meal in a jiffy without breaking a sweat, I need the following conditions in place to even attempt cuisine success:

  • A recipe to follow, preferably with 4 or less ingredients and steps
  • A timer – and plenty of time for mistakes and do-overs
  • No husband within 10 metres
  • Plenty of space for things to spill, get dropped, messed up
  • No children within 5 metres
  • Alcohol
  • Clorox wipes

Many of my cooking miss-haps are now the stuff of legends among family and friends. This one, for example, has become fondly known as the Hippo cake. (It was supposed to be a honey cake.)

The Hippo Cake

I guess only practice can make perfect, right? As long as I don’t kill anyone in the process.

For the Love of … Tupperware (Not!)

My mother always says ‘there’s a lid for every pot,’ meaning there’s a match out there for each and every one of us. While this may apply to our love lives, it does not translate to my tupperware cupboard. Lawd, how I dislike tupperware.

And this evening, I lost it. I was looking for a particular-sized tupperware container. Meaning, I had to reluctantly rummage among the mismatched, chaotically organized lids and containers. Could I find what I was looking for? Of course not. Not only could I not find what I needed but the rummaging caused lids to fly and containers to topple. Ever so quickly, I tried to slam shut the cupboard door so that the lava of plastic vomit would not cascade out onto the floor. I managed to somewhat stem the flow but the dratted door wouldn’t shut. I opened it another teeny inch, squeezed my arm in and blindly waved it about, hoping to jigger the insides into a less imbalanced stack of plastic. But alas, the door would still not shut.

So I swore. And walked away.

Being somewhat of a control freak, maybe you are surprised at my lack of desire/need to corral these plastic tubs into orderly discipline. However deep my desire for neatly stacked, logistically organized kitchen cupboards, the reality is I don’t like the smell of day-old food hermetically-sealed in plastic, I don’t like packed lunches and I don’t much like leftovers.

Ergo, I don’t like tupperware.

So there you have 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.

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.

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?

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

Kids versus Grown-Ups

We try to co-exist in harmony, but the plain truth is that opposing forces are at work. No wonder parents feel exasperated all the time while the kids just rolls their eyes at us. It’s as if they are from Mars and we are from Venus. Like powerful magnetic fields, we are drawn to each other until someone turns the magnet around and it does that weird avoiding you thing. And apparently, it’s our job to convert these strange creatures into law-abiding grown-ups.

While we parents slave at trying to keep things calm, orderly, socially-acceptable, pleasant, clean, polite and educational, they are doing the exact opposite, including:

  • Distributing teeny pieces of Legos all over the house.
  • Picking their noses and wiping it somewhere that you are likely to find hours later.
  • Not flushing the toilet.
  • Writing on walls
  • Yelling like Clone Wars invading banshees while you are trying to rest.
  • Really really really really really wanting to buy new toys.
  • Leaving dirty clothes wherever they happen to discard them.
  • Stuffing their faces with sugary snacks 30 mins before dinner.
  • Trying to fly ….
  • Pouring a big glass of milk and justing drinking a little sip of it.
  • Using the floor as a trash can.
  • Using their top or sleeve to wipe their mouth and nose.
  • Wearing your makeup.
  • Eating play doh.
  • Spreading [insert unsavory/messy item here e.g. powder, ketchup, diaper cream, lipstick, poop] wherever it’s not supposed to be spread
  • Bringing their worm collection into the house.
  • Saying “fine” or “whatever” and stomping off.
  • Waking up early when you want them to sleep late.
  • Sleeping late when you need them to get up early.
  • Eating Jello on the couch.
  • Creating light sabers or guns out of anything. Seriously, anything.
  • Squirting way too much ketchup on their plates.
  • Pushing each other’s buttons.
  • Ignoring instructions.
  • Stuffing their gobs too fast, then burping like a trucker.
  • Eating food slower than a snail. Molecule by freaking molecule (especially if you are in a hurry).
  • Default = I want.
  • Finding a Sharpie & writing on the couch ( despite the fact you have 100s of washable markets !

Sound familiar? What’s a parent to do?

If you are reading on, thinking you’ll find the answers here, then I am sorry to disappoint. Fear not though; the glass is half full. See here’s the best part: we are all in this together!

And at some point, somehow, they become adults, no matter our attempts at restraining their beastly ways.

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