Our Beautiful Mess

For a while now, I’ve been pondering writing a blog post about stuff. All the stuff. How there’s just so much of it. Everywhere. And about the futility of trying to erase, structure or organize the stuff because it just multiplies, rearranges and disperses itself liberally all over the place, no matter how hard or how often you try to tame it. I was going to describe how the stuff makes me feel like I am out of control, unable to master it with the necessary formulae and discipline.

How every couple of months I go nuts and, armed with a trash bag I hurl sweeping armfuls of the stuff – no matter if it’s new, old, missing parts, Lego parts, home-made, store-bought, homework, artwork, party favor, more Lego parts, Happy Meal made-in-Taiwan piece of crap, even more Lego parts, plastic, paper, metal, recyclable, animal, mineral – into the bag and haul it off to the trash. Often several, large, misshapen bag loads before the overwhelming urge to trash everything gradually settles and the guilt creeps in. Was that wasteful? Did I “accidentally on purpose” just commit a cherished something to an early demise? Haven’t I really just made room for the next inexorable influx of stuff?

But I’ve had a change of heart.

I took a long hard look around my home, taking in every room, and I realized something. This mess, this unruly, chaotic mess, is our mess. It’s a complete reflection of our lives, replete with activity and creativity and disorganization and projects and presents. It mirrors how we are constantly on the move, producing, consuming and creating.

It’s a beautiful mess. And it makes me smile.

I’ll still try to organize it, filter it, minimize it. Sure, I’ll do a sweep from time to time to get rid of stuff no longer played with or used. Probably before birthdays and Christmas. But I’m not going to treat it like the persistent enemy, anymore. I’m not going to let it guilt or shame me.

It’s our beautiful mess.

p.s. Have you tried the A Beautiful Mess app? It’s very nifty. You can add doodles or scribbles to your photos. Here’s one I made earlier!

IMG_6386

p.p.s Also worth checking out, Jason Mraz’s A Beautiful Mess. I love it.

The Conversation I Didn’t Want to Have

(Note: This post originally ran on Sunday on the Huffington Post. The good news is that, despite the tough and sad topic, my son and I ended up having a wonderful conversation about kindness and respect.)

As I sit here, my 8-year-old son is consuming his fifth waffle and watching some inane Sunday morning cartoon. His life is carefree, focused, as kids often are, on entertainment, fulfilling his needs, and fun, fun, fun.

But, at some point today, I have to sit him down and have a conversation I don’t want to have to have. One that will bring back memories of another conversation we had to have just over four months ago. One that upset him then and which will upset him now. One to which, when he asks why, we will not have the answers.

I guess this is parenting. I guess this is real life. It stinks.

Yesterday, we received notification from our kids’ school principal that they plan to hold Open Circles in class on Monday so the children can share any questions, concerns or feelings they have about this past week’s sadness and madness here in Boston.

First, let me say that I fully support the mission of the Open Circle program, which is described as:

  • Strengthening students’ [SEL] skills related to recognizing and managing emotions, developing care and concern for others, establishing positive relationships, making responsible decisions, and handling challenging situations constructively
  • Fostering safe, caring and highly-engaging classroom and school communities

Flash back four months to the days following the ghastly events in Newtown. School somberly informed us they’d be holding Open Circles in each class. I understand why it was necessary: many were distraught and we needed to provide a forum in which facts could be confirmed, mistruths corrected and, most of all, security and safety assured. But my husband and I, we struggled all weekend with the timing, feeling like ours hands were forced into having a discussion with children before school resumed, so that they could hear it from us first: the two people they depend on most for wellbeing, confidence, faith. I, for one, was not willing or ready for the responsibility of penetrating their carefree universe with the ugly reality that bad things happen to good people, without cause or sense. I needed more time to process, find the right words, consult with other parents. But the clock was ticking, the weekend hours running out before the Monday morning school bell and the wagging tongues of many kids.

To read the full post on Huffington Post, click here.

Fortifying The Mommy Shield

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

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

I hate myself when I lose it with the kids.

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

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

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

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

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

How do you fortify your Mommy Shield?

When Sleeping & Working Get in the Way of Blogging

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

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

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

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

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

My Avocado Dilemma

I woke up super early this morning. Actually I was awakened by my five-year who was evidently dreaming about something that didn’t work out for her and was crying out “I want it my way,” in her sleep. Well, don’t we all, sweetheart? After that, I couldn’t get back to sleep, my mind racing through the never-ending to-do list. So up I got and went downstairs.

As my coffee was brewing, my eye was drawn to an avocado sitting alone on the windowsill, where we had placed it about five days earlier to catch the sun and ripen. I gave it a squeeze.

Tell me, what is better than a perfectly ripe avocado?

But then dilemma set in. What to do with this solo avocado in the next 24 hours before its splendid green turns to mushy brown?

I figure I have two options – one involving my stomach and one involving my face.

First, the face. Winter is a bitch to my pathetic British skin. Put simply, my face is falling off, no matter how much water I drink, moisturizer I slather or how long the humidifier runs. I’m thinking this avocado could easily be mixed with some honey, oatmeal or yogurt to make an unctuous face mask that might salvage my skin. After all, it’s Friday and I’m working from home so there’s no-one to notice how strange I might look, sitting at my desk resembling a green monster. Fortunately, no Skype meetings today and hopefully no-one will FaceTime me!

But then again, there’s my tummy. All the different, glorious ways I could eat this delightful avocado! Maybe I could just slice it in half and drizzle it with the heavenly dark chocolate balsamic vinegar I recently bought? Or maybe I could squirt some lime on it and  grill it, loaded with cheese (recipe here.) Or, or …

Choices, choices.

Happy Friday folks, hope there’s a perfectly ripe avocado in your future.

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!

Every Parent’s Morning Mayhem

Kids awake, brimming with energy and awesomeness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Panic!

Where are my library books?

I have swimming today!

Oops, I forgot to do my homework.

Do I have lunch money?

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

Tick, tick, tick.

Repeat Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday.

Sound familiar?

Confessions of a Working Mom

Not every working Mom wipes the snot off her shoulder, slaps on some lipstick, ruffles her Mommy hair and heads off to an office every day (but if she does, here are 20 ways to spot her.) Many Moms are lucky enough to work from home. Flexible hours. No commute. Serenity. Productivity. Right? A lot of the time, yes. But not always.

Whether you are working around your kids’ school, snack or nap schedule, or stuck at home on a snow day or with a sick kid, the truth is that kids and conference calls just don’t mix well – much like oil and water.

Try delivering a presentation over the phone, actively participating in a meeting, taking notes, or answering an important phone call from a client with a kid—or worse, kids—in the same room. Because the second you turn your back, speak up to make your point or try to focus, chaos, hilarity or whining inevitably ensues. It’s that sixth sense that kids have, knowing precisely when and how to exact the most torment.

I remember a few years back, stuck at home on our fifth snow day, participating in back-to-back conference calls and meetings with two kids suffering from cabin fever and excessive TV exposure. By this point, I had tried every possible form of entertainment, distraction, bribery and threat. I was literally in tears, weeping and begging them to leave me alone with promises of chocolate, new toys, trips to Disney—anything to get them to go the eff away so I could get some work done. It wasn’t pretty and I wasn’t proud but such is the reality of working Mommihood sometimes.

Looking on the bright side, as I like to do, I polled some of my working Mom friends, to unearth their stories and remind myself that I am not alone. Here are some of their confessions:

How about giving my son my iPad to play games while I worked on his sick day…until he downloaded $250 worth of upgrades to his games. To be fair, he didn’t know – it kept asking him if he wanted to purchase and he couldn’t read but he knew the word yes and he could see he got more coins to get better cars.

I remember one time being on a conference call and having the phone on mute and literally chasing my daughter down the street …

You mean like when my toddler cut his own hair? Not in the back or side but directly in the front? I didn’t even know it was possible to cut a whiffle…until he basically scalped himself (with safety scissors of course..I’m not THAT bad.)

I once was interviewing someone via the phone when my daughter yelled “Mom you need to clean the bed and the floor again, I couldn’t get to the bathroom quick enough and I threw up again.”

I remember my husband got held up in a meeting at the end of the day and I had to lead a hastily scheduled, late day, project kickoff with a client. I gave them coloring books and put on a show and a load of other things to keep them busy – all of which did not hold their interest. I vividly remember having to lock my door while they were banging on it and yelling my name to come help with something. It wasn’t long – maybe half hour tops – but I came out to my then 18 month old painting on the wall and my almost 5-year-old climbing on the kitchen counter to get a snack with crackers all over the floor.

I’ve been on the phone with patients with 3 kids screaming in the background … to the point where I had to put the baby in her playpen and lock myself in my room.

I was on a conference call once and my #2 came up to me and said, “Mom, I just went poop.” I tried to ignore her. Eventually she was screaming, “Mom, I just went poop!”

So much for “having it all”, eh? What stories do you have to tell? Please share and let’s get all confession-y together.

My Son is a Liar

This weekend I overheard my son telling a couple of big fat whoppers to some other kids at a party.

“I’m on level 9 of Skylanders,” he boasted. “And I have a Smart Watch, I totally talk to my wrist and can make phone calls from my watch”

Fact: He has never played Skylanders (whatever that is.) And he does not own a Smart Watch (whatever that is.)

You may call it creativity, showing off, a fib. I call it a lie: an untruth.

And it worries me.

It worries me because this is not the first big fat whopper I’ve heard out of the mouth of someone I thought was so innocent, honest, bright and un-sneaky. But it’s not. I’ve heard him telling his sister and friends small, insignificant lies. And I’ve caught him telling bold-faced lies, right to my very face. About small things, but ….

I can understand boasting and showing off; peer pressure and all that. I can forgive a little creative license. But I will not tolerate down-and-out mendacity. Where does it come from? What motivates it?

Every day, I try to teach my kids to be kind, to have good manners and to be happy. And very, very silly. These are the values that matter most to my husband and I and which we model. Now I realize that we have to add reinforcing and reassuring that telling the truth always trumps deception. I guess that security plays a big role in this. A child needs to understand that there is so more to be gained by spilling the beans than covertly hiding them. But don’t get me wrong, there will be also consequence when whoppers are discovered, especially if their motives are dubious.

I guess I would be lying if I told you this parenting business was a cake walk. Are your kids liars? How do you handle it?

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