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.

Summer Camp Preparation: A Business Woman’s Guide

Twenty-one days. That’s how much time is left until my family’s weekday morning schedule has to adjust backwards by an hour.

Excuse me while I hyperventilate.

Yup, summer camp is almost here. And we all know how I feel about summer camp: it’s a love/hate thing. But the few weeks leading up to the transition from school to camp make my stomach churn with anxiety. How the heck are we going to get out of the door at 8am every morning, when doing it at 9am every day during the school year is so freaking challenging? The drama, the yelling, the last minute “oh I need a penguin for today’s xyz project?” or “I can’t find my shoes” or “mama I have no underpants” calamities.

And yet, every year, we seem to manage. I’m driven largely by a deep-rooted fear of missing the camp bus which would mean driving the kids 30 mins to a place that is entirely the opposite direction from my office. Yes, fear. It’s a big motivator.

So, to mitigate against drama, chaos, panic and so on, preparation is key and for this, I draw upon a few fundamentals from the world of business:

Procurement: Be sure to stock up on sufficient kids clothes (so you don’t have to do laundry more than once a week) and other essentials which will get lost, despite all and any attempts to label them or nail them to your kids backpack or body. These include: socks, shoes, T-shirts, underpants, swimsuits, towel, water bottles, hats, sun lotion, bug spray, goggles, lunch boxes (and innards), and so on. Not to mention lunch and snack stuff.

Inventory: No matter how much you have procured ahead of time, odds are it will not be enough and at some point during the summer weeks, you’ll run out of something mission-critical. Or they’ll lose their back pack. Or wreck their shoes. Be prepared to maintain and strategically top-up inventory.

Logistics management: I cannot stress how important it is to keep things moving to avoid a great big pile-up of drama-inducing chaos. Yes, this means doing laundry semi-regularly and actually moving things from the washer to the drier and back into closets. It means making sure that shoes get taken off at the end of the day and actually put somewhere where they will be easily found the next morning. No matter how much you have drilled your kids in doing their own laundry or shoe-putting-where-they-need-to-go, during the summer time, you will probably need to take back these duties or at the very least micro-manage them. It also means fanatically accounting for the whereabouts of everything. Which usually goes a little something like this:

Me: “Didn’t you take a blue water bottle today?”
Kid: “Yes I did.”
Me: “So why did you bring home a green water [or no] bottle. “
Kid: “I lost/traded/forgot mine.”

Business processes: New household processes must be executed. For me, this involves rinsing out the kids’ swimsuits each night because if they get actually washed in the laundry too often, they start sagging at the bottom. (Note: this is because I buy cheap swim suits. See point 1.) And nobody likes saggy swim suit bottoms. It also means ensuring that bedtimes are observed because late nights mean late mornings which means panic, drama, yelling and me being late to work. Working backwards, if prompt bedtimes are to be observed, this means that dinner needs to be ready swiftly upon getting home at the end of each day. Which means we need to know what we are making for dinner each evening. Which requires aforethought and, you know, grocery shopping. (See procurement/inventory.)

Workforce management, scheduling and integration: In an ideal world, both parents are fully invested in the New World Order that summer camp season mandates. Similarly, adaptations usually need to be made to who’s doing drop offs and pick ups. It may take a while for all parties to adapt to the new routine so be sure to integrate it into the family schedule. If you have one. (Note to self: work on family schedule.)

Closed-loop feedback: Communication is absolutely essential. With all parties. Spouses/partners. Kids. Bus drivers. Camp counselors. Other parents. It also means reading every crumpled, dusty and damp piece of paper (why are they always damp?) that get stuffed into backpacks informing you about something important happening, like “It’s Green Day tomorrow!” or “Dress Like a Parrot Day.” (Confession: I usually ignore these because the procurement/inventory/supply chain is simply not flexible enough to allow for unexpected wardrobe changes.)

Twenty-one days. That’s how many days are left.

Pass the brown paper bag.

20 Ways To Not Piss Off Your Parenting Partner

Being a parent is hard work. Being married to/living with a parent is also hard work. So here are a few handy tips based on my personal experience (and some from my friends) to help navigate the tough/busy/emotional times, balance out the domestic to-dos, and avoid frustrations, snark and general spousal pissed-off-ness. Note the below applies not just to husbands, but also to wives (like me). Read on, for marital and domestic bliss awaits you.

  1. Don’t make assumptions. About anything.
  2. When opening the fridge, take note of what’s not there, and add those items to a shopping list (physical or mental).
  3. When popping into the store, think about what’s on the physical/mental shopping list, and buy them. Heck, buy two.
  4. Do not question money or time spent at the hair or beauty salon. Budget for it in the family financial plan and tell her/him she/he looks lovely.
  5. Check with your partner before making purchases over a certain amount. Pre-agree what that amount should be.
  6. Don’t just talk about scheduling items; go ahead and put things on the family schedule. Physically or digitally. Just do it.
  7. Participate in meal planning (see items 1 & 2).
  8. Share homework checking and backpack management duties.
  9. Schedule regular alone time or time out with girl/man friends. Then do item 6.
  10. Don’t contribute to the general messiness and disorder of the house. Or at least try not to. And if/when you do, pick up after yourself. See item 16.
  11. Always be thinking/doing laundry. It’ll avoid those “I have no underpants” situations. It might even get you laid.
  12. Have assigned duties/roles (e.g. he handles finances/bill paying, she ensures kids has an adequate supply of clothes/shoes that fit even when they are growing like weeds which is like always.)
  13. Be united in your kid disciplining approaches. Kids can see through any weaknesses in a nanosecond and will use all and any leverage they can.
  14. Don’t make assumptions. I know, I know I said that before but, boy, it is everything.
  15. Tune in to each other’s work/stress load and proactively offer to take the kids out or handle a chore you don’t usually handle. Even better, take the initiative: book a babysitter, make a ressie and take him/her out for the evening.
  16. Just do it. Don’t wait to be asked. Like, if you see a mess.
  17. Listen. Put down your smartphone and listen.
  18. Watch/listen for unspoken cues. Like sighing, eye rolling or, you know, door slamming.
  19. Quash the temptation to snark about each other in public forums; instead celebrate each other on Facebook. (Snark about your kids instead. At least until they are old enough to read or use FB themselves. Cos then you are in trouble.)
  20. Never EVER assume (or state the words out loud) that time spent alone at the grocery store is the equivalent of real alone time.

(Am printing this off and putting on my bedside table to review on a regular basis.)

(Actually, am printing another one off and putting it on his bedside table too!)

 

The Listen to your Mother Show: A Preview

What’s the one thing we all have in common other than, you know, breathing?

It’s mothers.

We all have – or had – mothers. Be they birth mothers, adoptive mothers, foster mothers, step mothers, grandmothers. Some families have two mothers. Some families have two fathers.

Many of us are, or were, mothers. Dealing with all the highs and lows that come with the title.

Some of you aspire to be mothers. Some of you became accidental mothers. Some of you really don’t want to be a mother. Some of you did, but life took a different course. Some of us are working mothers; some of us are stay at home mothers. Some of us are married; some of you aren’t. Some of us are divorced or separated from our partners. Some of us have infants. Some of us have toddlers. Some of us have teens. Some of our kids have grown up and become parents themselves. Some of our kids are healthy; some have disabilities.

We are all sons and daughters. We all have or had relationships with our mothers. Good, bad or otherwise. Some of us aspire to be like our mothers. Some run in the opposite direction.

Motherhood is a universal reality – wherever you fit in this spectrum.

On Saturday May 9 at 2pm, 12 women from in and around Boston will step up to the microphone at Boston’s Old South Church to share their stories of motherhood. These remarkable, talented writers are daring. They are strong. They are eloquent. They are nervous. They are entertaining. They are emotional.

I’m one of these women. And I can’t wait to share my story with you.

I hope you’ll attend this amazing event. I guarantee you’ll be riveted. I fully expect you to shed a tear. I’m hoping you’ll laugh. You may even learn something. I know that you’ll see reflections of your own story in every shade of the rainbow of motherhood and you’ll be grateful that you came.

Buy your tickets here or at the door.

See you there!

Giving motherhood a microphone

Boston’s Listen to your Mother show is on May 9

 

Dear Working Mom: I See You, I Admire You

Dear Working Mom of an infant. I see you. I admire you. I understand you.

I see you wearing lipstick and mascara. Maybe you’re trying to disguise your tired eyes or maybe you want to look pretty and presentable. It’s working. (No-one notices if there’s dried spitup in your hair or there are smears of something unidentifiable on your clothes.)

I see you juggling childcare. I also see you responding to emails, whether it’s from home, the pediatrician’s office, or elsewhere. Whatever it takes, I see you meeting deadlines and following through. I appreciate it.

I see you putting in a full day’s work, despite being up since the wee hours or maybe even most of the night. You hold your head high and get on with the job resolutely.

I see you trying to do it all. It looks like it’s working but I know – and so do you – that there’s a breaking point and you need to do something about it before it jumps out of the shadows and takes you down. Please, look after yourself. Ask for help if you need it.

I see you looking stylish. You might feel otherwise but I know the fact that you are showered and dressed – and looking good, mind you – every single day is an uphill challenge. But getting out of PJs and yoga pants, brushing your hair and putting on some eyeliner makes you feel like are a functioning, contributing colleague and I get that.

I see you keeping mum and not complaining about sleepless nights or fevers or teething to your colleagues. Go on, complain a little. It won’t damage our respect for you. In fact, we’ll respect you even more.

I want to tell you it will get easier. Maybe not for several more months, even years. But you will eventually get your sleep back. Today’s challenges will be replaced by different challenges, some smaller, some bigger.

I’m sorry to tell you there will always be laundry, and groceries to buy, and meals to cook – in spite of your having worked a full day. I hope your partner is an all-in contributor to share the load.

I’m here to tell you there will be a lot of wasted food along the way. And socks. So many odd, abandoned socks.

I’m reminding you that it’s perfectly OK if your house is not pristine. Clean homes are overrated. Weekends are for family time; your reward for surviving the work week. Weekends are not for scrubbing toilets. Unless you are cleaning up a blowout in which case please do scrub.

I’m want to reassure that you’ll be able to focus again. And have creative ideas. And plan and write and brainstorm and delegate and all that. But I’m also here to tell you that it’s unlikely you’ll ever get your sharp memory back. It’s called placenta brain. Because fetuses eat your grey matter. It’s the truth.

Mostly I want to tell you that I’ve been there. I understand what you are dealing with and how you feel. The relentlessness of it all. I admire you for getting up every day, dealing with it all its shocking, numbing weight, putting on a smile and doing your best. I respect and appreciate that. And I’m here to help whenever I can. Just ask.

 

16 Acceptable Snow Day Behaviors for the Working Parent

I may or may not have done – or be currently doing – all or some of the items below. Let’s get real:

  1. No bra, no makeup. Often no clothes. (But note: clothing is recommended when going outside to shovel)
  2. Lifted all restrictions on the kids’ screen and TV time
  3. Shaken your fist in rage at Mother Nature
  4. Threatened children with cookies/toys/violence should they utter a word during your conference calls or break their bones while jumping up and down on a creaky bed upstairs and directly over your work area
  5. Mandatory slippers
  6. Excessive Facebooking and Twittering
  7. Realized you’ve been sitting at your desk for 4 hours straight, jumped up (creakily) to do squats and a plank. Then sat back down for another 4 hours straight
  8. All day snacking (no meals)
  9. Worn headphones to drown out sounds of the children talking/fighting/playing/asking for lunch
  10. Banished kids outside in sub-freezing temperatures armed with shovels and snowballs
  11. Amateur homeschooling efforts
  12. Nervously and obsessively tracking weather.com to see when the snow will come to an end
  13. Pining for your colleagues’ faces
  14. Taking conference calls from your bathroom while hiding from children
  15. Jumping every time you get a text or a call for fear it’s the school announcing that tomorrow is another snow day (nooooooooooooo!)
  16. Lacing your hot cocoa while chanting repeatedly “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere”

Good luck fellow parents; may the force be with you.

My 2015 Word of the Year is: Energy

Or Slow Down.

Or Be More Selfish.

Or Seek Inspiration.

There are lots of words and phrases I’ve been playing around with to describe my intentions for 2015. They all come back to one thing. 2014 was, for me, just meh. I ended the year depleted and uninspired. 2014 presented a series of annoying obstacles, none too huge to be insurmountable, but combined they were like the unrelenting buzz of a mosquito. A car crash, bouts of either insomnia or leg cramps (or both), a frozen shoulder: all physical manifestations methinks of an unsettled soul that’s spent too much of herself racing along at an unsustainable pace, trying to keep everyone happy, holding together the fragile deck of cards that is the balancing act of being a working mother.

It wasn’t all blah: 2014 was punctuated by many moments of joy and gratitude – amazing family vacations, a night out dancing, attending BlogHer – and more. In these, I can see the germs of what makes me happy and the foundations for what I need to focus on in 2015 to get my groove back.

Because when you look forward to going to sleep more than waking up, you know something has to change.

So this year, you are going to see a more selfish me. I intend to end the year more inspired, with more twinkles in my eyes. Ultimately, with more to give to others because I’ve given more to me. To thrive, as Arianna Huffington put it. I’m not entirely sure how this will happen but I can feel its roots planting and I’ve got butterflies in my tummy with anticipation. Here are a few of the ingredients that I think will contributed to a more energized me:

More walks: Either we’ll get a new dog this year  or I’ll borrow one. Being outside, breathing in fresh air, talking while walking. It’s all good.

More socializing: Last year I’d rather be home with my hot water bottle than go out in the evening. Accepting lunch invitations was too much of an intrusion on my work load. How dull. Expect to see me out and about more in 2015. Coffee dates, lunch, drinks, dinner – count me in.

More dancing: Maybe I’ll find a weekend dance workshop. Maybe I’ll take lessons. Or maybe I’ll spend more nights out salsa dancing with the girls. Put simply, I gotta dance.

More time with my husband: We’ve grabbed a night away once or twice in past years but I’m talking more than that. Ideally a week away, together, so we can stop talking schedules and to-dos and finances and work and kids, and resume the conversations that connected us in the first place.

More adventure: I don’t know what this will involve but I plan to be more open to adventure rather than dismissing it as my default setting.

More fighting for a cause: Expect to see my participation in the fight for gun sense taken to new levels.

So there you have it. I have always told my kids that they are responsible for their own happiness – so I’m taking a dose of my own medicine. Check back here this time next year to see how I did.

Wanted: Distraction Management (For Kids and Parents)

This post had several working titles including “Mommy’s Sorry She Has To Go To Work,” and “Your Focus Needs More Focus.” Either way, there was some serious working Mom guilt combined with a heavy dose of standard parental frustration going on this week.

Weekday mornings require the usual routine for all parties, including basics like getting dressed, eating breakfast, brushing teeth and getting assorted necessary items for the day in their designated places (lunch box, backpack, shoes, jackets…) My kids have been doing this all their lives, with varying degrees of support depending on their ages at the time. Currently, they are old enough to do it all for themselves. The drill has been practiced over and over and over.

And yet.

Pavlov’s dogs perform better than my kids.

Distractions are everywhere. And I’m not talking screens, as we don’t allow them in the morning. Physical distractions (oh look, it’s a Lego/book/cat/brother/sock — insert pretty much any given noun.) Mental distractions (staring into space). Emotional distractions (I’m so happy I’m going to skip around and around and around).

Because T eats her food molecule by molecule, a simple bagel can last a lifetime. (Pretty certain she would not survive in the wild.)

Because G cannot move three feet without finding a random Lego to build or a piece of paper from which to make his latest Origami creation.

Because T cannot brush her teeth without getting lost in the vacuum of her mind while staring at the mirror. If I don’t disrupt her, she could be rooted there for hours. (I’d love to know what she’s thinking, but even she doesn’t know.)

Because when I send G upstairs to turn off his bedroom light (for the third time), next thing you know, he has a nose in a book. (Not a bad thing, I know, but a distraction when the school bell will ring in less than five minutes. And school is more than five minutes away.)

You get the picture.

I suspect I am not alone in this quest to figure out how to handle the distraction management with grace and without completely losing my cool.

Which is what happened earlier this week, prompting lashings of working Mom guilt.

It wasn’t quite the standard morning. We actually needed to leave the house earlier than usual, as I had an appointment and, since my husband was away on business, my kids had to accompany me. We’d had the pep talk the night before. We agreed that we would cooperate, focus, get it done — even if it meant eschewing some playtime because our time was more compressed than on a “normal” morning. We even agreed that they could buy lunch at school instead of making their own lunches like they usually do — a rare “treat.”

And yet.

The morning was a complete clusterf**k. In retrospect, I should have seen this coming, prepared ahead logistically and steeled myself emotionally. But, reminder after reminder turned into nag after nag and eventually escalated into yell after yell. It culminated in us running anxiously to the car, all breathless and on the verge of tears. I promptly informed my kids that I was very disappointed in them. They had made me late.

Ugh.

The second the words were out of my mouth, I regretted them. There was shameful, sad silence from the backseat. My beautiful, creative, high-spirited son hoarsely whispered, “We’re sorry we made you late again.” His sister, the whimsical one, tearfully echoed, “Yes Mama, we’re very sorry.”

I hate myself.

I’m the one who should be building them up, showing them how to roll with life’s challenges, how to “shake it off” or “let it go” (depending on whether you’re a Taylor Swift or Frozen fan). Instead, here I was squashing their spirits, trampling over their egos. I’m not setting a worthy example. Instead, I’m mandating that their innate need for creativity, free play and imagination be set aside to accomodate my timelines, my needs. I disgust myself.

And yet.

I have to get to work. So does my husband. As we move through our weekday frenzied mornings, our minds too are elsewhere — on deadlines, to-dos, on our smartphones and laptops. We, too, are distracted. Emails, texts, news feeds, tweets, calls. For me, as a working Mom, my actual work day starts the second I awake. This is my self-imposed tradeoff for the luxury of not physically getting into the office till 9.40 a.m. (since school drop-off is at 9 a.m..)

It’s all rush rush and we are all distracted. No surprise then that it’s a formula for stress and disappointment. Often, by the time I make it to my desk, I’m already exhausted.

And yet.

It’s not just the mornings; the evenings are similarly compressed and distracted. Shoes and jackets and backpacks are kicked off and discarded. Toys find their way to the dinner table. Unfinished homework needs finishing. Emails need answering (since I left the office at 5.20 p.m. to pick up the kids from their after-school program.) Dishes. Bath time, teeth brushing (cue shenanigans, bickering). Finally, bed and reading before they descend into the peace of slumber. More emails, unfinished work, deadlines to get a head start on. Fishing into their backpacks to discover a form that needs a signature, a party invitation. Who knows how long they might have been there.

My whole day — outside of time at the workplace — is spent trying to conquer all of these endless distractions and competing forces. How long can we continue this pace? I wonder. Is there an art to the distraction management that will make it all work better?

Because we could ALL use a little more zen.

(This article originally appeared on Huffington Post and on Medium)

 

Dear Apple & Facebook: Your Egg Freezing Perk is a Disgrace

Have you read that Apple and Facebook are now offering female employees a $20,ooo perk to freeze their eggs, so they can delay baby-making and make the most of their career paths without the distraction of raising children?

I find this abhorrent, for many reasons, which I’m trying to sort through. Here’s where my head is at:

I forge my own path. I decide when I have a family. I am responsible for my own career success. I may bitch about the challenges of being a working Mom but it’s my decision, my choice.

Motherhood is not a “perk.” It’s not a reward for going above and beyond at the office. It’s not an incentive. Egg freezing has no place as part of the “package.” Eggs are not a tool for negotiation.

Making the choice to have kids is an intensely personal decision. And getting pregnant isn’t always as easy as they say. And it gets riskier and more expensive the longer you put it off.

Dear Apple and Facebook, why not take that budget and use it to create more supporting work environments and schedules for working parents? How about a daycare facility at the workplace? Here’s an idea: how about subsidizing childcare, after-school programs or camp costs?

Now that is what I’d consider a perk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Mama, I Have No Underpants!”

I’m sure you’ll agree that this is not what you want to hear on an already-nutty school day morning. Yet, it happens with shocking regularity when, for some reason, yours truly hasn’t kept laundry-doing apace with children’s general daily dirtiness. Oy.

The answer they usually get from me is: “You’ll have to fish yesterday’s out of the hamper and turn them inside out.” Gross though it may be, it’s either that or free-breezing as there’s certainly not enough time on a week day to get a laundry cycle done before it’s time to take the little darlings to school.

This morning, a conversation with my 7 year-old revealed part of the problem.

Mama, this is my last pair of socks,” she pointed out while getting dressed.

Well then, what does that mean?” I inquired, hoping the she’d realize the obvious.

It means that there must be clean, folded clothes downstairs that need bringing upstairs.

Ah, there’s the problem.

My children believe that somehow the dirty laundry that they deposit into the hamper upstairs magically transports itself downstairs, into the washing machine and drier, and is then neatly folded by the laundry fairies.

Ah.

Today this changes. Today, starts the beginning of a new chapter in the Annals of My Children’s Laundry. Henceforth, the onus is on them to do the following:

  1. Pay attention to when they are running low on key clothing items. Low is the keyword here. This is surprisingly challenging for them.
  2. Bring the laundry hamper downstairs. Bonus points for no eye rolling or dramatic sighing. Or fighting over who does it.
  3. Put dirty clothes into washing machine. Bonus points for actually adding detergent and switching it on (which I taught them today.)

If items 1-3 are performed dutifully, regularly and with the appropriate attitude, then there’s a strong chance that I may actually see the laundry through the conclusion, even folding their dry, clean clothes for them. (Because, ssshhhh, I secretly enjoy doing the laundry but don’t tell the little people.)

However, if items 1-3 are not performed, then it’ll be back to fishing yesterday’s smelly socks or skivvies out of the hamper.

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