Busy Mom

A few weeks ago, I read a thought provoking Harvard Business Review blog by Sylvia Ann Hewlett of the Center for Work-Life Policy. The title – “Does Female Ambition Require Sacrifice?” – was enough to grab my attention. As I read the blog, I was taken aback by some of the data cited, beginning with 2010 research from the Center for Work-Life Policy indicating that approximately 1/3 of women who begin their careers wanting to climb the corporate ladder no longer have that same ambition when they reach their 40’s. Even more surprising to me was that 41% of women who achieve executive-level positions do so without an “intimate partner” and 40% do not have children.

I’ve had a hard time getting this blog post – and the fundamental question it poses – out of my mind, and recently, I decided to do a bit more digging to try and form my own answer. This digging (and plenty of Google searching), led me to a New York Times article on “Marriage and Women Over 40” which details an interesting trend regarding marriage and college-educated women. As it turns out, women with a college degree have historically been the least likely to marry, but over time, the gap in marriage rates between college-educated and non-college-educated women is closing.

Interestingly, at the same time that marriage rates for college educated women are increasing, data indicates that so are the number of men who are marrying wealthier and more well-educated women. This seems in stark contrast to the stereotype of women looking for their “sugar daddies” and trying to snag an older, wealthier man for marriage. Now, more and more men are looking for a “sugar mama.”

So what does all this mean? And how does it help answer the question of whether female ambition requires sacrifice? To cut to the chase, I’m not sure there is an answer to the question. As a self-described feminist, I have a hard time thinking of women as victims of their circumstances, but I also recognize that as women, we’re forced to make tough choices and often difficult trade-offs to have the lives we want. If I’m honest, I’ll admit that I simply don’t WANT it to be true that success requires sacrifice – especially in this day and age. Too many women have fought and worked too hard and for too long for that still to be the case.

When I consider the data cited above – on marriage and career ambition over 40, and on the trends regarding men marrying wealthier women – I find myself hoping that the answer to Hewlett’s question is “yes – but that is changing.”

I do believe that for women of my mother’s generation, it was much harder than it is today to achieve an executive-level position and do so while married and raising children. Note that I said “harder”, not “impossible.” There are certainly examples of women who have managed to have it all (at least from outside appearances!), including former Ebay CEO Meg Whitman (married with two adult sons), CEO of international media conglomerate Pearson and former CEO of the Economist Group Marjorie Scardino (married with children), and Xerox Corporation Chairman and CEO Anne Mulcahy (married with two children). But the list of these women is not very long. While women make up over half of our country’s workforce, only 12 Fortune 500 companies and 25 Fortune 1000 companies have female Presidents or CEOs.

I think – or at least I hope – that in 10 years’ time we’ll see a different picture as women of my generation reach that point in their careers where an executive-level position is an attainable goal. Thanks to the work of our mothers and grandmothers, we were raised with the expectation that we can – and should – have it all.

I’m trying to have it all right now as the mother of 4 and the Owner of my own company. It’s hard work, and exhausting, but if I thought it wasn’t possible I wouldn’t be putting this much energy into it. And if you told me today that I would have to sacrifice my marriage or family to have a stellar career, I’d give the career up in a heartbeat. But that’s just me. One of the beautiful things about being a woman today is that we can all make our own choices and lead the lives that make us happy and fulfilled. If that choice involves career success but not a husband or children, that’s fine. But so is choosing not to work if that is what makes you happy.

Thank goodness having it all is still an option too, and for those of you out there who, like me, are trying to have it all while losing sleep and gaining a few more gray hairs, I say “Bravo!!!!” (and feel free to email or IM me at 1 am, when I will surely be up working and folding laundry!).

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In the last few weeks, my 68 year old Aunt passed away unexpectedly and a friend’s 64 year old mother has had two strokes. Both women seemed otherwise healthy and in both cases, these turns of events came out of the blue. I feel as though overnight, I’ve traveled into a new stage of my life – one in which the people my parents’ age are becoming frail and, in some cases, passing away.

It’s strange how life passes us by in phases. When I was young, the years were marked by birthday parties. After college and into my early thirties, weddings were the big events. Then came baby showers, followed quickly by divorces. All of a sudden – in the space of the last few weeks – it seems that funerals, nursing homes, and hospitals have taken on a new prominence.

A few years ago, I went to a reading by Author Kelly Corrigan, who had just written the book The Middle Place. Looking back, I have a new appreciation for the way she described that time in a woman’s life when you are parenting your children while also taking care of your parents.

I’m fortunate. My parents are still in great health and play a very active part in my life and the lives of my children. I can’t even begin to imagine what it would feel like to loose them, and I suppose I never thought I’d have to worry about such a thing until I was much older. After all, my kids are still young. At 4, my youngest son loves nothing more than spending time with his grandma and grandpa. I hope that he has many, many years left to do so!

I’ve thought a lot about my Aunt’s passing and the lessons I should take away from it. I really do believe that every experience in life – good and bad – can teach us something. It sounds trite (even to me as I write this!) but in this case, I walked away from her funeral feeling an urgency to live my life to the fullest and to spend more time with the people I love. I came home and happened to read Danny Brown’s blog post “Precious Time” and it was like he had captured exactly what I was feeling.

This really hit home after my Aunt’s wake when we went back to her house along with 40 to 50 out of town guests and family members. Many of the people there came from far away, and in many cases, I hadn’t seen them in years. Over a bite to eat, I was talking with another woman (whose name I unfortunately can’t recall) and relating how unfortunate it seems that in life, we get married and have everyone we love in one place, and the next time our loved ones all come together is typically when we die. Her response – that was simply not the case with my Aunt. To their credit , she and my Uncle really made a point of celebrating the special moments in their lives with family and friends. From their annual Labor Day Party to a fantastic 40th anniversary celebration, they knew how to entertain and made an effort to bring people together.

As I mourn my Aunt, I’ve come to realize the importance of taking the time each and every day to let the people I love know how I feel about them. But I’ve also realized it’s not enough to say the occasional “I love you” – maintaining relationships takes time and effort. It’s easy to get wrapped up in our day to day responsibilities while thinking we’ll make time for friends and family next week, next month, or next year.

This year, I’m looking forward to once again loading my four kids in our minivan and, along with my husband, taking a road trip up to my parents’ house in New Hampshire. We’ll spend a week hanging out in my parents’ house, playing in the yard, swimming in the local pool, playing mini golf and seeing movies. What in the past seemed like a run-of-the-mill visit to grandma and grandpa’s has now come to mean so much more. And pizza night at my mother-in-law’s is something I’ll appreciate in a new way, just like summer visits to the cousins’ houses and visits from family at the holidays. All of these occasions are really precious opportunities to form memories that will last a lifetime, regardless of how long, or short, our lives may be.

My efforts to make time for the important people in my life are still a work in progress. I’d love to know how others make this a priority. Tell me – how do you make time to see the people you love?

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Sometime this morning, my husband and I will sit down at our kitchen table with two copies of our Microsoft Outlook calendars and hold a strategic planning session. Although we work together in our business, we will not be talking about client meetings, project reviews, or our business plan – we’ll be planning out who will do what (and when and where we’ll do it) over the weekend.

Over the course of the last year, we’ve developed a very business-like approach to our personal lives. I print out the calendars for Saturday and Sunday, we each make a list of all the things we want to get done over the weekend, and we make sure that any obligations (kids’ sports practices, lessons, birthday parties, etc.) are recorded. Then, we begin the process of filling in all the empty time. My husband swims as part of a masters team every Saturday morning, so that usually gets added first. I run with a friend on Sunday mornings, so that is next. There are usually a variety of projects around the house, like repairing a broken closet door or weeding in the garden, that inevitably need to be included. Last come our personal lists – the things we each want to do for ourselves, but are not necessities. For me, it might be a trip to the outlet mall to look for new jeans, whereas my husband usually wants to spend time with our neighbor selecting the seeds they are going to order for their gardens this summer. Everything that we add to the calendar gets color-coded so that it is very clear who is responsible for each activity.

What we are left with at the end of this process is a pretty full line-up of events, activities, tasks, and obligations – and very little white space. It is typically at this point that we try and figure out a way for the two of us to spend time together. I’ll admit – there are many weekends when we don’t actually do that. Sunday night will roll around and we’ll climb into bed and my first reaction is to turn to my husband and say something along the lines of “Hello stranger! Nice to see you. What have you been doing all weekend?” I know that he often feels the same way.

With four children (three of whom are with us only part of the time), our own business, and a tight budget, we have found that at this point in our lives, there is very little free time for us to spend together and not a lot of money to spend on babysitters, date nights, or weekend getaways. We are both big believers that it’s important to invest in your marriage, but we are not always so great at following through on that when the days get busy. This being said, the important thing is that we’re working on it. We talk often about the need to spend more time together and we’re always looking for ways to do it that are both practical and affordable. And one of these days, I’m pretty sure we’ll figure it out!

So my question to you is – how do YOU make time for each other in your marriage? I’m sure we’re not the only couple facing this challenge and I’d love to know how other people manage to juggle family, work and time with their significant other.

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Last weekend, I had a parenting revelation.

I’ve written quite a few times on this blog about the difficult balancing act that working mothers are faced with every day. We are often forced to choose between working and parenting, and while this choice (on paper, at least) seems like it should be easy, it’s not. Many of us work out of necessity. We have to provide for our kids and working gives us the resources to afford the necessities (like a roof over their heads and groceries) as well as many of the luxuries (including private school, camps, tutors, and vacations). In short, our quality of life, as well as that of our children, would suffer if we didn’t work. Given these facts, it’s easy to convince yourself that work should take priority.

Having said this, I’ve also written about my belief that we should work to live and NOT live to work – and I really do believe this. Work is simply NOT worth it if it prevents us from enjoying our lives. When that is the case, you should change your work or at least reevaluate why you are doing it.

Why am I rehashing all of this?

Well, one would think that given the amount of blog real estate I’ve dedicated to this topic, I’d be leading the charge of mothers who know that when the workday is over, you should put down the laptop, turn off the Blackberry, close the iPad, and stop taking calls. After all, one of the most important things you can do as a parent is to simply be PRESENT with your children – to truly live in the moment and learn to revel in the smallest, most precious details like the look on your child’s face when they discover something new, their laugh when they hear a funny joke, the face they make when they taste a new food, or the incredible imagination they bring to playtime.

I confess – I stink at this!

I absolutely love and adore my children, but shutting off my work self is like trying to kick an addiction. I can be sitting with my kids reading books or building leggos, and I find myself checking my Blackberry for emails. I might be baking cookies with the older kids and taking cell phone calls. Other times, when the rest of my family is heading out for snowball fights or a game of soccer in the backyard, I’m inexplicably drawn to Facebook or Twitter on my iPad.

The worst part? The whole time I’m doing this, I’m thinking “Stop! Show your kids that they are your only focus. Make your time with them the priority.”

All of which brings me back to my parenting revelation.

Last weekend, my husband was out of town with friends, my stepkids were with their mother, and I found myself alone with my four year old son. I should preface this with the explanation that he is ALL boy – high energy, doesn’t sit still, has no interest in playing quietly alone while I do things like work, fold laundry, read a book, etc. With two full days of one-on-one time looming in front of us, my thoughts turned to how I was going to keep him entertained – and thus, “Mommy-Wyatt Day” was born.

The first every “Mommy-Wyatt Day” occurred last Saturday when I made the commitment to my son and myself that I would do no work – and by no work, I mean nothing related to my job, but also no house work, no grocery shopping, etc. The day was about one thing and one thing only – having fun with my son.

Not suprisingly, Mommy-Wyatt Day was a big hit. It started with a lazy morning at home. We slept in and stayed in our pyjamas until 11 am. After a leisurely breakfast, we fulfilled our one obligation for the day by attending Wyatt’s ice skating lesson at noon. With that out of the way, we headed out to McDonald’s (or “Old McDonald’s” as he calls it) where my son had a Cheeseburger Happy Meal (the giveaway, which prompted our visit, was a Tonka Truck – whoever says the toys don’t sway us is just plain full of it!). We then went to the Mall for our first-ever visit to the Build-A-Bear Workshop, where Wyatt built an Owl and dressed him as a firefighter (did I mention he’s all boy?). This was followed by a ride on the mall train (literally, a train that rides through the middle of our local mall), an ice cream in the food court, and a showing of the movie Tangled. All in all, it was a pretty action packed day, and I’m proud to say that throughout it, I checked no emails, took no calls, and did no “work” (I did, however, post photos of him on the train to my Facebook page for the grandparents to see – is that cheating?).

The best part of Mommy-Wyatt Day, other than the joy on my son’s face, was gaining a real appreciation for how much fun it can be for ME to unplug and spend time with my kids and how little impact it had on my life to do so. The house didn’t burn down, the business didn’t fall apart, and viral riots didn’t erupt on Facebook in my absence.

In short, life went on. And while it did, I gave my son some of the most fantastic memories of his 4 year old life and had a pretty good time myself while doing it.

My newfound commitment to unplugged parenting will soon be put to the real test. In less than two weeks, Wyatt and I leave for a week’s vacation on the beach in Florida with my parents. It’s one thing to stop working for one Saturday, but another entirely to step away for a week.

My husband thinks I should start a betting pool regarding how long I’ll last. What do YOU think the over-under is?

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I turned the big four-O last October. I still have a hard time thinking of myself as being 40. In my mind, I’m really only about 32. Turning 40 wasn’t the big, traumatic life event that it seems to be for some of my friends, and getting old really doesn’t bother me, I think because I’m pretty happy with where my life is at the moment. 

Instead, 40 was like a wake up call – as in, “Hey, wake up! You are halfway through your life! What is it that you want to accomplish?!” This feeling first hit me last winter – about 10 months before my 40th birthday. I was going through some old pictures and came across a shot of myself bungee jumping Kathleen Bunji Jumpingoff the bridge over the River Zambezi (at the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe). My first reaction was “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I jumped from that height,” and my second was “boy am I glad I did that in my early 30’s, because I’m not sure I’d have the guts to do it today!”

Thus began a chain of events that led to the beginnings of a bucket list for me. I’ve never had a bucket list before. I always felt like I had done the things I wanted  to do – learned to speak fluently in another language (Spanish), traveled the world and seen things like the Great Pyramids of Egypt, lived and worked abroad (in Spain), completed a triathlon, etcetera. In general, if I want to do something, I do it and I don’t let fear or doubt hold me back. Or so I thought!

As I sat there looking at the picture of myself bungee jumping, I started thinking about getting old and looking back on life and I wondered – what else would I want to have done before I die? And then it hit me – I wanted to run a marathon. Anyone who knows me will appreciate why this was a big deal. I have never been particularly athletic and have always – all my life – insisted with great conviction that my body was simply not built for running a marathon. I honestly thought it was not possible for me, and that all those other people who run them must be built differently.

I’m not sure why, but this feeling changed that day and I became convinced that I had to run a marathon, and that it had to be done that year. To make a

Marine Corps Marathon

Sprinting up the hill at the finish!

long story short, I did run a marathon last year. It was actually the Marine Corps Marathon on October 31, 2010 – about a week after my 40th birthday. Not only did I run it, I surprised myself by finishing strong with a sprint up the hill at Iwo Jimah.

That marathon did two great things for me – it made me feel so positive about turning 40 (probably because I was in the best shape of my life), and it proved to me that there is almost nothing I can’t do if I put my mind to it.

So now I have a bucket list and I’m checking things off. Check – I ran a marathon!

The next “check” happened yesterday with the Maryland State Police Polar Bear Plunge. This is another thing that I swore my whole  life I would not be caught dead doing – and I guess it’s for that very reason that I did it. It feels so good to prove myself wrong! 

Polar Bear PlungeIt was a balmy 36 degrees outside when I went in for my plunge and – suprise, surprise – I kind of liked it!  I might actually plunge again next year (unlike the marathon, which I will probably not do again due to the incredible amount of time I had to devote to training, and the burden this placed on my very understanding  husband).

With the marathon completed, and the plunge done, the big question is – “what’s next?” Maybe the Chesapeake Bay Swim in 2012?  Sky diving? Or, perhaps learning to play a musical instrument? Regardless of the next challenge, this year has taught me that the possibilities are endless. Turning 40 doesn’t mean getting old – it means gaining the confidence to try new things, challenge yourself, and overcome your fears.

Forty, in short, is fierce!!!

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Hello audience (or lack thereof!). It’s been a long time since I’ve written to you. You see, my job has kept me very busy and when I’m not working, I’m trying really hard to hold it together as a wife and mom and at least appear to the outside world as though I’m on top of my game. Yes, life is busy…and then came the holidays and it got even busier. Christmas card writing, present buying (and wrapping! and hiding!), party hosting, party going, baking, drinking too much, eating too much….yikes! So much to do – so little time.

When I first started this blog, my intention was to post once, maybe twice, per week. I imagined it would be like my online diary – the place I got to rant and rave about all the mundane things that none of my real life friends want to hear me talk about over a great glass of wine at happy hour (see previous posts on how often I shower, my Sam’s Club shopping, and how I parent my dog). This part came true. I have definitely used this blog as an outlet for what I’m convinced no sane person would find interesting (after all, it’s much cheaper than hiring a therapist!). The part about posting once or twice a week? Not so much.

It turns out that making the time to blog requires discipline – the kind of discipline that the authors of novels have. My college roommate is a famous novelist who churns out one very successful commercial fiction novel after another on a yearly basis. I once asked her how she does it and her answer was basically, “discipline.” She sets aside a specific number of hours every day for writing. It’s her job, and even though she doesn’t go to an office building to do it, she treats it seriously.

The irony of the situation is that my real job – the one I do from 9 to 5 (and beyond) – includes blogging. My company provides outsourced social marketing services to businesses large and small and I spend almost every day writing blogs, not just for my company, but for my 8 clients. That is work. This blog – the one I think of as my online diary – is supposed to be something I do for fun.

When I thought about this, the big question that popped into my head was “why are we so disciplined about making the time for our work but not for the things that give us pleasure in life?” I’m not just talking about blogging – the same lack of discipline holds true for exercise, quality time with my husband, reading great books, and gardening. And I’d like to think I’m not alone here. Most of my friends – men and women – say the same thing. They get so wrapped up in work that they fail to prioritize the things that they enjoy.

I’ve always been a firm believer that you work so that you can have a great life – not the other way around. In this spirit, my New Years resolution for 2011 is to make the time for the things that make me happy, blogging included.

What about you? Do you make the time for yourself?

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Here I am at 7 am on a Saturday morning … working. This past Thursday, I was up until midnight … working. Sunday afternoon … working! In my 20’s, I used to get dressed up, go to an office and put in a solid day of work. It might not have been from 9 am to 5 pm, but it was at least something close like 8:30 to 6:30. Sprinkled in with those 8 to 10 hour days were the occasional late nights at the office. I never minded the long hours – I just assumed that by working hard when I was young I would be able to enjoy the fruits of my labors in my 40s and 50s.

Boy was I wrong! Now that I own my own business and have four children, I find myself working harder than ever. The hours are longer (technically, the work never ends when you are a small business owner!), the stress is greater, and there are more demands on my free time than ever before. It’s ironic, really. When I had the time to work long hours, I didn’t need to. Now that I have no time, I need to work more than ever!

So what’s a hard working mom to do in this situation? Well, luckily I work out of my house and my office is in my kitchen. There is a lot of running back and forth between the stove (as I cook dinner) and the computer (as I shoot off a quick response to an email). But I don’t want to be one of those moms whose kids feel like she is on her computer or Blackberry every chance she gets – I want to spend time with  my kids and play with them. So on most weeknights, I put down my work at 5:00 and don’t pick it up again until 9:00, after my 4 year old goes to bed. The hours in between are sacrosanct. We sit down to the table to eat dinner together as a family, we talk about our day, we play a little, do some homework, and go through the whole bath, books and bedtime ritual.

Those evening hours form the heart of our day as a family. The morning is too rushed – getting 4 children off to school on time with all of their gear, lunches, etc. is no easy feet! Its incredible how quickly the week goes by when you only have a few hours each day to spend together.

At the end of the day, the late nights, early mornings and weekend hours seem worth it if it means taking the time every evening to just “be” with my family. And much like my 20s, when I worked hard in the belief that the payoff was coming later, I now feel that the long hours and late nights are an investment that will pay dividends in the form of happy kids and financial security. So with that, I guess its back to work!

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I’m not sure how it happened, but in the last few years motherhood and work have taken over to the point that showering has fallen low on the list of priorities. As I sit here and write this, my hair is starting to look stringy and I’m growing a remarkably scratchy layer of leg stubble. This is not an unusual occurance – the stringy hair syndrome is common enough that I’ve developed a very effective hairstyle for masking it (it involves lots of upside down brushing of the hair and a barrette).

How did I get to this point? When did showering become a luxury like pedicures once were? I’m not sure there was one particular moment when I stopped bathing regularly. If I’m honest, it was probably a slippery slope that began when I had my son and got worse over the course of that first summer of motherhood when I was able to convince myself that a dip in the pool could double for a shower and shampoo. Now when I consider showering, I weigh the time it will take to actually bath, plus dry my hair and apply makeup, against all the things I could accomplish in the meantime (empty dishwasher, throw a load of laundry in, write a blog post for a client, knock out a conference call, etc.). Put simply, its all about opportunity cost, and apparently these days the opportunity cost of a shower is too great (until I get so scuzzy I can’t stand it any longer!).  

Summer is over, my son is almost four, and I’ve got to face the honest truth – its time to reacquaint myself with my shower, shampoo, razor, and shave cream and reclaim my freshly bathed, coiffed and smooth-legged self. The objective is not to look like the “yummy mummy” that my friends love to joke about (although I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t enjoy being referred to in those terms); it is to take back some time for myself and enjoy the knowledge that I look my best – even if I’m taking my best to the grocery store for a gallon of milk.

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Back in my twenties, when I was single and pulling in a great salary, I had a financial planner who told me, “you are at once the most promising client I have and the most frightening.” He went on to explain that I was promising because I was earning a great income from my consulting work, but frightening because I was blowing most of it on clothes and shoes. I confess … I was a shopaholic!

During my shopping heyday, I was known to spend up to $600 a month on a couple pairs of pants and a great pair of heels. Why not? After all, I had no husband and no children on whom to spend my hard earned money, and saving just seemed so, well, practical!

The irony is that these days, I’m still spending $600 a month shopping – only now, I’m spending it at Sam’s Club. It should come as a surprise to no one that I’m getting far less satisfaction from my current purchases than I did from the ones I made in my twenties. Don’t get me wrong – I love Sam’s. The prices are great, the product selection fantastic, and the quantities are actually perfect for my family of six. What I don’t love are the inevitable $400+ price tag and the way a trip to Sam’s (driving there, doing the shopping, packing up the car, unpacking the car, and putting all that stuff away) can eat into my day.

Let’s take today as an example. It was a Wednesday, so I would normally be working, but my kids are starting school again so I went to Sams to load up on school snacks, brown bag lunch staples, and easy weeknight dinners. I was a good girl and made a list before I left the house, but somehow my short list turned into a frenzy of bulk purchasing.

I’m not sure about you, but when I shop at Sams Club, I have a strategy. On a typical visit, I skip the electronics and jewelry (don’t need either and WAY too easy to get sucked into impractical impulse buying) and typically head straight back to the laundry detergent and paper towels. Then, I make my way up and down the shorter aisles that form the perimeter of the store, avoiding the dangerous middle section which is home to books, toys, clothing, seasonal items, household good, and “big ticket” stuff.

That’s a typical day. Today was not typical. The problems began when I went down the clothing aisle. I do this every year around the time the kids go back to school. Usually, I’m able to score great bargains on a few pairs of jeans or khakis for my 15 year old stepson, socks for everyone, and tank tops for my 13 year old stepdaughter. Today, I got all of these things along with a bonus – a pair of men’s Avia running shoes for $24 (perfect for the 15 year old and much less expensive than the $140 pair he wanted!).

After loading up on my bargain clothing finds, I then went back to my usual route around the store feeling very happy with myself for “saving” so much on the clothes I had never intended to buy in the first place. I did manage to get most of the things on my list, but I also went a bit crazy on novelty items such as “sugar pears” (not sure what they are, but they’re darn cute!) and maraschino cherries (we’ll be swimming in Shirley Temples for the next 20 years with the giant sized bottle I got). It didn’t look so bad when I pushed my load up to the checkout counter. I had filled up one cart (a regular cart, not a flatbed – flatbeds are for the real pros!) and it was far from overflowing. I’m great at packing things into those carts. As a coworker of mine said, its like a game of Tetris – each piece must fit perfectly as part of the whole or the entire system fails.

All was well until the friendly checkout lady totalled my bill and it came to almost $500! I swallowed the lump in my throat, swiped my debit card, and resolved to stick to the list next time. I then pushed my purchases to my car and spent about a half an hour packing the contents of my cart into 10 reusable grocery totes and the backseat of my car.

Back at home, the saga continued. It took five trips between house and car to get everything inside and another hour to put it all away. Some stuff went into my kitchen and some went into my basement, where I store the non-perishables and extra frozen items in a second refridgerator we keep down there. As part of this process, I had to clean out the snack cabinet to make room for all the new stuff, and I broke down all the boxes that my bulk purchases came in and brought them out to our recycling container.

Four hours and $400+ dollars later I was done – and by done, I mean exhausted! I can’t believe how much money and time I spent, and the truly scary thing is that my pack of hungry teenagers will probably devour most of the food in a week. This happens every time I go to Sams Club, and yet I keep going back. Go figure – this was the same problem I had in my twenties, when a quick visit to a boutique would find me $600 poorer, but the proud owner of some very trendy pieces that would be out of style in the blink of an eye. The more things change, the more they stay the same!

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Every mom I know worries about whether she is doing a good enough job raising her children. It seems that our best is never good enough – there are always other moms whose kids are smarter, or more athletic, or musically gifted, and who manage to somehow feed their children all organic, home-cooked, well-rounded meals, while at the same time limiting television and coming up with one fabulous arts and crafts project after another.

When I gave birth to my son, I decided early on that I wouldn’t strive for perfection and that I would try to remember that the best parents are the ones who shower their children with love while also providing them with structure and boundaries. I work hard at this – not just with my three year old son, but with my three teenaged stepchildren – and lately I’ve begun to feel like I’m actually succeeding. All four kids seem happy, are doing well in school, are healthy, and have great relationships with both myself and their father.

The problem is with my first baby … my dog, Destin. Destin is a five and a half year old black lab mix who came to us at 8 weeks old from a Lab Rescue program. I had her before I gave birth to my son, so in many ways, she was the guinea pig on whom I practiced my mothering skills. When she was little, she went everywhere with me. I was – and still am – working from home, and during the day, she would curl up on a cushion next to my desk to play with toys and sleep. When I ran errands – to the bank, the post office, etc. – she would come with me. Fast forward five years and for the most part, things haven’t changed much. I still work from home, and Destin still spends all her days and nights with me.

So what’s the problem? Well, despite the fact that Destin and I spend all of our time together, she gets very little attention or play time. During the day, I’m working and she is sleeping nearby. Every now and then she will venture out into our fenced in backyard to chase a squirrel or relieve herself. In the evenings, she lays around the living room in the hopes that one of our four children will play fetch with her, and at night, she faithfully sleeps either next to my bed or on my 11 year old stepson’s trundle. She is a fantastic companion for us all, but her only real break is when my stepson takes her for a walk around the block (his daily chore) or I take her on a run (which I do much less frequently now that I’m deep into a marathon training program which has me running too far for the dog).

Sadly, Destin’s current routine probably isn’t going to change much in the near future. The kids have just started school again, which means driving to sports practice, games, friends houses, and school performances, and somehow squeezing in my job, time to cook dinner, the laundry and – oh yes – a couple of minutes a day for quality time with my husband. Every now and then, I’ll fit in a walk with her or simply lay next to her on the floor and rub her belly, but most of the time she lays around looking neglected or bored – I’m not sure which.

I’m not sure if it’s the genetic destiny of labs to look melancholy or if our dog is really depressed, but every time I look at her she looks back at me with the face of someone who is feeling forgotten. My husband is always telling me that I’m projecting my own guilt onto the dog, but I’m not convinced.

Somehow, I’ve managed to keep a great perspective about motherhood while falling victim to the need to be the perfect mother to my dog! Its crazy how much pressure we, as mothers, place on ourselves – and its even crazier to extend that pressure to pets. How did this happen to me – and do any of you suffer from “dog mommy guilt??!!”

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