A Working Mom’s Evolution: The Tween Chapter

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A little more than two years ago, I read a blog post by Lindsay Mead which stayed with me. Called “Parenting a tween: an exercise in presence,” Mead gently wrote about the need to simply be there for your kids “often silently, often without acknowledgement” – especially during the middle school years.

This post planted the seed for what is, this week, the next phase of my life as a working Mom – working part-time. It’s something my husband and I had been planning for – potentially for 2018 – but which has arrived on our doorstep a little earlier than expected.

If my 12-year old could drive, I could continue work full-time.

The tween after-school conundrum is a mix of this: the kids are technically old enough to be home alone after school without setting the house or the dog on fire or maiming each other. But then there are the activities to which they need schlepping. And homework that needs supervising or odds are it wouldn’t get done. Basically, they need a grown-up in the house and ideally, someone qualified to drive.

Trade-offs in the search for work/life balance

Everyone I’ve told about this choice is excited for me. I think I’m excited for me too but truth is, I’m not sure. There are lots of trade-offs involved that are making me feel temporarily nervous about this transition.

On the plus side, I’m thrilled to get quality time with my kids during these critical years, less work-induced “how do I do it all?” stress, plus time/space to run some errands so they don’t eat into the weekend. Also not sitting on my arse at a desk all day is going to be great for my whole bod.

On the negative side: the obvious, reduced income. Also the handing over of some of the most stimulating parts of my work (being part of a management team, having operational responsibilities and managing/mentoring staff.) I worry I will miss the intellectual challenges these have afforded me till now.

Here’s the other thing. Learning how to “work less” is going to be a journey too, especially since I work in the always-on, news/social fueled PR environment that operates a mile a minute. It’s not just something you can switch off and on easily. Particularly since my brain is engineered in a parallel way – it’s an all-in beast that’s constantly flowing with ideas and to do lists, day and night.

Another concern: letting people down. For this to be successful, I need to be sure that my schedule changes inflict zero impact on my clients and teams.

Relief for the dual working parent struggle

I don’t know how we working parents do it, I seriously don’t. The thing I have HATED MOST ever since I went back to work when my youngest was an infant was the relentless tension over the schedule. The stressful machinations of figuring whose job or meeting was more important than the other’s when a child was sick or on one of the many, inexplicable early release days from school. Never mind doctors appointments, teacher conferences, requests to chaperone field trips, help in the classroom and so on. It has always felt like the whole system is architected to be anti-working parents.

Preschool, elementary school after care programs, nannies, babysitters cost a fortune. Not all of us have families around to help out in a pinch. If you are lucky (like me) you have an amazing network of other parents who can help if needed. But it pains you to always be the one asking for assistance driving your kid to this or that after-school activity.

But while I’m giving up income and some mental stimulation, what I’m gaining is multitudes of blessed relief from the constant tension of dual working parenting. No longer will my husband have to worry about cutting short his meetings out of state to get back in time to pick up a kid – I can carry this load now. And I’m hoping I can repay the kindness of my village too and provide relief to many of those folks who have so generously helped me.

The real winners will be my kids

Back to Lindsay’s post. These tween years are challenging. The kids might be independent but they are – at least to me – at their most vulnerable and susceptible. Raging hormones can color every situation, heightening the opportunity for drama, frustrations and sheer stupidity.

Being more present for my tweens during these years will, I’m hoping, provide a foundation of comfort and assurance. While they might not listen to me, I’ll listen to them more than I’ve been able to till now. I’ll learn more about their passing thoughts, their circles of friends, what they’re excited or fearful on. I’ll be there for the small everyday conversations but also for the big ones – whether they happen in the car, at the kitchen table or at bedtime.

And by watching me navigate this journey (they know how much I love my work), they’ll maybe come to understand and respect the lesson of finding value in both work and your personal life.

To me, this is worth it all.

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Motherhood and the Summer of Deprogramming: Week 2

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Last week, I wrote about my first week of deprogramming and the emptiness: the space the kids left behind as they went off for a summer of adventure at sleep away camp, leaving my husband and I home alone and childless. I also wrote about my revelation: apparently I have become boring and bored since I couldn’t figure what to do with this precious time I finally had to myself.

Well, week 2 was quite different from week 1.

Week 2 I remembered what it was like to have a social life and to go straight out after work for a drink and a bite to eat with friends. Talking, laughter, relaxation, connection.

Week 2 involved spontaneity, deciding at the last-minute what to do, where to eat. That’s novel!

Week 2 also involved barely needing to run the dishwasher, negligible grocery shopping, minimal laundry, going to bed later than 10pm and waking up whenever I wanted to wake up.

Yes, I still missed the kids enormously but it was less. Less lump in throat inducing, less – dare I say it – desperate? Yes, I still made a point each morning of wandering into each of their bedrooms, inhaling, looking around, trying to capture a fleeting sense of their presence. But I’ll also admit they were not on mind nearly as much. I’m not ashamed to say even a day would go by without talking or thinking about them.

In truth, this week was fun. And busy. And tiring!

So here are my two revelations from week 2 of deprogramming:

Revelation 1: My kids don’t need me as much, right now. And that’s OK. They don’t need me to organize them, to anticipate what’s next, to be their audience, their sounding board, their emotional crutch or target for whining and neediness. They are learning independence and decision-making and it’s all good. Sure, when they are back, they’ll need me for all the usual stuff: back to school supplies, arranging playdates and activities and general chauffeuring duties. But right now, I’m ok with not being needed. In fact, it’s refreshing.

Revelation 2: I figured out how not to be boring! When I realized last week that I have no interests, I thought, what a loser I am! So I set about focusing on what used to make me really happy and what gives me peace. And I landed on two things: dancing and art.

I love dancing but, as a parent, it rarely happens anymore other than the occasional spontaneous dancefest at breakfast or slow-dancing with my kid to Careless Whispers every night for a week after George Michael died. Well, what do you know: Boston Salsa Festival is coming to town precisely when my husband and kids will be out-of-town in a few weeks – it’s a weekend of workshops, performances and social dancing. Count. Me. In. Immersing myself in dance for a weekend is precisely the kind of kick up my butt I need to get that groove back on.

Then I thought about how I felt recently when accompanying my son to one of those paint places – the zen I felt selecting and mixing colors, dipping my brush in paint and sweeping it across a canvas. Now, I’m no natural-born artist like my son, but it’s worth taking some classes to explore this further. So I’m going to sign up for some adult art classes in the fall.

And now here we are, week 3 is starting: what new revelations will it bring? This deprogramming business is good for me, methinks. Stay tuned.

Motherhood & the Summer of Deprogramming: Week 1

coffee-smartphone-desk-penIt’s been one week since both of my kids, aged 10 and 12, have been both away at sleep away camp, having the best summer of their lives.

Woohoo! Freedom!

“What are you going to do while they’re gone?” everyone asked.

“Make sure you do things for yourself,” they advised.

My husband and I made plans to dine out lots and catch up on all the movies we hadn’t seen in the last 12 or so years, because, you know, kids.

So far we’ve watched one movie, we are going to the cinema tonight and we’ve dined out once. I’ve also stayed home a lot, watched a lot of TV and spent way too much time on social media. I’ve cleaned out the kids bedrooms, organized their stuff.

But, oh, my head and my heart have been dancing a jig.

I’ve missed my kids terribly. There’s a physical and emotional vacuum in our house that’s usually filled with a whirlwind of energy, hormones, laughter, combat, mess and routine. Concern for their well-being – even though I know they are safe and happy – pre-occupies me. I scour every photo their camps post on Facebook for proof of life and evidence that they’re ok. The every day anticipation for a letter from camp is antagonizing.

Meanwhile, I’ve also had several revelations.

Revelation #1: I’m not sure how to manage my own time when my entire schedule is usually 100% predicated by my kids’ schedule and where they need to be on any given day. What time do I have to get up in the morning if it’s just me that has to get ready and get myself to work? And at what hour do I leave the office if I don’t have to pick someone up from somewhere?

Revelation #2: In the process of parenting, I have become boring. And bored. I discovered this as I struggled to figure out what to do, just for me, as everyone recommended. Sure I can get a mani, I can read a book, I can lounge on the couch or go for a walk. But what I’ve really realized is that, over the course of a decade of parenting, I have forgone all hobbies or special interests that don’t fall into the category of eating, watching TV, exercise, working and shopping. My mind is usually filled with all the “mental stuff” of parenting, especially the challenges of being a working parent.  

So what now?

Clearly, this second decade of parenting is a time for some much-required deprogramming. I’ve come to realize that I’ve spent a decade anticipating my kids’ every needs and being all-consumed with them. This process of sending them off to camp is the much-needed catalyst for not only their independence and maturation – but also mine.

I need some reprogramming. I need to figure out what the heck it is that I want to do for me. It could be as simple as being more social, finding a class, taking some trips. Writing more. Or pushing myself outside of my comfort zone and trying something different, challenging, even scary.

I’m not sure where to start – but I have two more weeks while the kids are gone to figure it out. And I’m kinda excited.

 Every Day

I listen

I read

I observe 

I question

I worry

I doubt

I fear

I stress 

I am overwhelmed 

I prioritize 

I debate

I choose

I let go

I straighten up

I talk

I listen

I breathe 

I breathe again

I look up

I smile

I march forward 

I am grateful 

I learn

Rinse and repeat several times a day. 

You Guys, I’m Think I’m Having a Mid-Life Crisis

Which is not entirely unexpected really, given I’m counting down to months to my 50th birthday. I’m feeling unsettled. I’m doing a lot but feel I’m doing little well. It’s like I’m in between a lot of things, circling around them at the edges, unsure, ill-equipped or unable to dive in. I have more questions than answers and these doubts sure have loud voices in my head. So in an attempt to get it all out of my mind,  I’m laying it out here:

Career: I’ve been doing this PR thing for two and a half decades! I think I’m good at it. I enjoy it. I love where I work. But insecurities are creeping in. I sit in meetings with smart, eloquent, accomplished women and cower in the shadow of their virtuosity. Why can’t I be more like them? Do I need to be more like them? How do I do that? Do I even want to? Can I keep up with the relentlessly changing nature of this industry? And is my kind of expertise old news now?

Writing: Some of you may have noticed I haven’t published on this blog for more than half a year. The place used to have an identity: it was originally a blog about parenting, then about being a working mom. I loved blogging and my blog. Now? I dunno. Truth is the words seem to have escaped me. My writing muse has disappeared and I’m not sure where or who she is anymore.

Politics: Ugh. It’s scary and deafening and defeating. It’s huge but it’s also local. I want to do something that makes a difference but I’m not sure I can. There’s just so so much. And maybe I don’t want to be here any more, in the midst of it all. I was listening to NPR’s Fresh Air recently, an interview with a Pakistani author about his novel Exit West which is a story about knowing when to flee your country. But leaving is no simple thing, when you have a family, a home, a career. How do we know if or when to leave? Should we get out before the doors get locked. And how do you carry on day to day when leaving might be something we decide – or need – to do. Is leaving the right thing even to do? Stay and wait it out. Resist and fight? Or leave and save ourselves while we can?

Kids: The next few years will be critical, as our kids become tweens and then teens. I often daydream about having the time to be more participant in their schools, activities, studies – and less involved in my career. Would they even want me around that much? Would I go nuts? I think this is the age when they most need a parent nearby; when they are most vulnerable to social pressures, homework challenges, the call of independence and all that unchartered territory. I once read someone describing parenting tweens as an exercise in proximity. I think I need to be more proximate but not sure how to construct that.

So there you go, a cliff notes to my mid-life crisis – if you’ve made it this far. I guess I’m just not sure which way my compass is pointing right now. Maybe it’s time to re-read The Alchemist because I’m pretty sure the signals and omens are all right there; they usually are.

 

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The Space You Leave Behind

Have you ever felt something that isn’t there?

Every day – especially late at night and first thing in the morning – I feel the space you leave behind. It’s like one of those weighted blankets – it engulfs me and threatens to cut off my oxygen supply while at the same time lending comfort and assurance. Because I know that, even in your absence and in spite of my wanting you to still need me, you are safe and well and whole and happy. But still there’s a vacuum where your noise and energy once was. It’s as if, by cleaning your room so thoroughly, I accidentally also erased some of you.

Then I remember the sensation of how you once slipped your hand into mine. I look around, at the photos on the walls, the relentless artwork you create with your brain and your heart, and the littered legos that somehow are still here, there and everywhere and I’m reminded that your presence is actually – thankfully – indelible.

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How to Join the Movement to End Gun Violence in the USA (Updated)

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I am an optimist, pure and simple. Call me naive, idealistic, a dreamer: I don’t care. I believe in speaking up, I believe in taking action, I believe that, collectively, we can be better.

Because gun violence can happen to any of us. Anywhere in the USA.

To do nothing, to say nothing, to sit by and accept this as normal is, quite simply, not an option for me. Yes, you can be scared, angry, sad and frustrated – but you can also be part of the change. You can wait for someone else to speak up – or we can do this together.

But we need A LOT of you to make our voices heard. Unless the noise is deafening – I mean REALLY LOUD – our politicians won’t listen. (The siren call of the deep pockets of the NRA is also really loud.) And P.S. no, we’re not looking to take guns away from responsible owners.

Below is a list of a few of the organizations and petitions that you can support and join today that are actively working for change and to protect us – through grass roots advocacy, through lobbying, through awareness and education. What can you do? Whether you can take 5 seconds to tweet, give 60 seconds to add your email to a petition, spend a few hours making calls to connect people with their representatives, or join a rally or march – every little bit makes a difference.

I believe we can and must do this. Really, what other option do we have?

Thank you.

DisarmHate – join the rally in Washington on August 13 to demand equal rights and realistic gun law reform

Participate in September 25 – The Concerts Across America to End Gun Violence

Sign the pledge to become a gun sense voter

Petition to ban assault weapons

Here’s How to Contact All 535 Members of Congress

Obama: Speak up for gun violence prevention

Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America – join now, take action

Everytown, formed by mayors across the US

Americans for Responsible Solutions (Gabby Gifford’s organization)

Sandy Hook Promise, research-based prevention programs

BeSmart for Kids – a conversation about guns, kids and safety

Stop Handgun Violence

Newtown Action Alliance

(I will update this list so please check back)

Welcome to Nine!

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Once upon a time a baby girl was born.

Boy, were we relieved when we found out you were a girl! Here’s truth #1: I didn’t enjoy it that much when you were inside me, but once you were out and the doc said those three words “it’s a girl!” your Papa and I whooped with joy.

Visions of pink, swirly skirts, glitter, nail polish, braids, Barbies and princesses filled my future and I couldn’t wait. But no, that was not your plan.

Here’s truth #2: I’m more than okay with you not being a girly-girl. In fact, I’m proud that you’re not, in spite of all the branding and stereotyping in society. It’s way cooler that you get to decide who you want to be, what you want to play with, how you want to dress than society and conventions limiting you.

Being you means focusing on your karate because you enjoy the challenge and the structure and you get to work with weapons and to spar against both boys and girls. And you get strong and fierce in the process.

Being you means you can wear leopard print from top to bottom and own it.

Being you means mastering multiplication and reading mystery books and knowing a ridiculous amount of detail about different dog breeds.

Being you means playdates where you play “Rey” and he plays “Finn.”

Being you means loving music. And hating sauce. And adoring your stuffed animals and your “guys”.

Being you means wanting to learn to play the piano, but only after you get your black belt.

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Here’s truth #3: I do hope you continue to take care of your long hair so I can continue braiding it. Because it’s the only “girly” thing I get to do with you.

Dear T, please keep on being you.

Because you is the best.

Make 9 your greatest year yet!!

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He Is Not The One

You are standing in the airport lobby, fists balled at your sides alongside your luggage, smarting with fury and disappointment. The hubbub around you is a blur as you grind your teeth and hold back hot tears, wrenched from your own stupidity and the damning futility of having dared to believe.

You just got dumped.

He had invited you to stay the weekend, a few months after you had met one hazy, late summer weekend in Nantucket. You bought a plane ticket, some new clothes and you fell hook line and sinker into that dangerous playground of hope and anticipation.

And why not? There were sparks. You had connected, could talk for hours on the phone.

So off you flew, into the lair.

The first 24 hours were divine. But it slowly nosedived from there. Then he dumped you.

It’s me not you and all that.

And here you are, among the faceless travelers rushing from A to B, seething with disappointment. At first, rage at him for being so spineless, for not being brave enough to take you on.

There, in front of the Delta check-in desk, you fought the self-loathing, targeted squarely at your pathetic foolishness, such an infantile romantic. The sheer stupidity of daring to think that he might be the one. Dumbass.

You loved someone before and he didn’t love you back. Didn’t you learn from that experience? At least he didn’t give you pause to hope. His was love cloaked in friendship. But it hurt.

This time around, it felt like you had due cause to let hope in. But you were wrong, and you were wronged. Stupid, stupid you.

He is not the one.

(You don’t know it now – as you take a deep gulp, pick up your bags and your self-esteem, and board the flight home – but The Real One, well he’s actually waiting in the wings. Give it a few weeks, and you’ll see.)

My 2016 Word of the Year is: Listen

Do you hear that? No, nor did I.

Since my 2015 word of the year was energy, my year was noisy, filled with the throes of everyday life, with busyness and activity. It was a good year overall: I felt like the family and I thrived. I achieved a consistent exercise routine, I slept consistently well. I felt like I hit a new stride at work – while the demands and pressures didn’t change, I was able to sail through. The kids were well and happy, my husband nurtured his passion for karate and reiki. Overall it was a year without too much personal or family drama and for that I am grateful.

But it sped by so fast. Scary fast. So fast in fact, that I worry that I didn’t take the moments in. I missed some cues. I was so involved in the busyness that I neglected some people who matter enormously to me and in the process, damaged relationships – something I never intended to do and am working to fix.

Bottom line, I didn’t listen enough.

Strangely enough, in Hebrew the definition of my name – Samantha – is Listener.  And, as a communicator by nature and by profession, I know that listening is as important as talking or writing, maybe more so.

So this year, I’m committed to being a better and more active listener. This will force me to be more present and to slow down. I’ll need to attune my radar to the signals and inputs all around me – both the explicit and the inferred – from my kids, my husband, friends (both near and far), colleagues, clients, even strangers. I’ll need to look up more, open my eyes and my ears, say less. Lean back and take it in before speaking up. Maybe the cues might exist elsewhere – in music, art, books or nature – but unless I’m open to them, I’ll miss them. To quote Paulo Coelho, “I believe in signs … what we need to learn is always there before us.”

I’ll also need to listen to myself more. Not to the voice that often says “eat more cheese” or “go back to sleep” (instead of going to the gym.) But to my instincts and my gut. I tend to second guess myself a fair deal, apply too much logic, but sometimes the better answer is found in the instinct. So, I’m going to listen more to that too and see where that takes me. Less rationale, more impulse-based listening and action.

So bring it, 2016, I’m listening.

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