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Hurricane IreneHurricane Irene is heading up the East Coast and is expected to make landfall 50 miles East of us in Ocean City sometime late tonight. It has been interesting to see how differently people respond to the prospect of a hurricane. Some panic and stockpile food and water as though the end of days were coming, while others get a cold six pack of beer and sit back to await the fun.

Here in our house my husband John and I fall in different camps. I’m a big believer that it doesn’t cost much to be prepared, but the price you pay for doing nothing can be enormous if the worst occurs. John thinks the press and forecasters have blown the storm out of proportion and we’ll be fine. I’d be lying if I said this hasn’t caused the teensiest bit of tension in our house the last few days.

I started getting ready on Thursday by reviewing NOAA’s hurricane preparedness guides and buying groceries and bottled water at Sam’s Club. Yesterday, I filled up the gas tank of my car and took about $200 cash out of the ATM. Last night, I mowed the lawn (that has nothing to do with the hurricane – I just can’t stand when the lawn looks bad and with all the rain we have coming, if it doesn’t get done now, it’ll be at least a week before we cut it) and turned the refrigerator temperature to its coldest setting. After work, I asked him to help me secure our outdoor furniture and put away some random objects in our yard (lanterns, buckets, patio furniture cushions) that might blow around if we get high winds. He did, but we wound up having a little argument over whether he had done enough. In the end, everything got done and we’ll be prepared (at least to my standards), but it did reveal a real difference in how the two of us approach these situations.

Here’s the deal. Neither one of us is right or wrong. If the storm turns out to be a non-event, I’ll admit that I’ll feel a little silly for having spent so much time getting us ready. If it’s a big deal, I’m pretty sure he’ll thank me for taking care of everything.

I have a theory about why we react so differently. I think my reaction has to do with my natural instinct, as a mother, to nurture and protect. If big, bad Irene comes knocking on our door, I want my family to be warm, dry, well fed, and safe here in our house. I want to wake up the next day and see that there has been no damage to our belongings. Most of all, I want to be sure that my husband and kids come through unscathed.

It’s not that I don’t think my husband cares about all of this. Instead, I think he knows deep down that I’ve got all that covered and that we’ll be relying on him to jump in if and when things get ugly. He’s the guy that will have to go outside in the pouring rain and high winds and climb a ladder to clean our gutters if there is a problem. He’ll also be the one to figure out how to hook our submergible pump up to a marine battery so we can pump water out of our basement if the power goes out. In short, he gets the dirty jobs and he knows that I’m his “advance team.”

I realize that our division of responsibilities puts us squarely within our gender stereotypes, and I’m okay with that. I really don’t want to do the stuff he does, and he doesn’t want to do what I do, so it all works out in the end.

That explains the differing reactions in our house, but I wonder about everyone else. Why do some people go into emergency mode at the threat of a storm while others look at it as a reason to party? How do YOU react?

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I am fortunate to have a wonderful and supportive group of female friends in my life. They are a diverse bunch including lifelong pals that I grew up with in New Hampshire, neighbors here in Annapolis, college and grad school friends who now live far and wide, colleagues from my professional life, and fellow members of my moms and dads group. This network has grown and expanded over the past 40 years and my relationships with everyone in it have evolved as well. Gone are the days of getting dressed up and going dancing until the wee hours of the morning. My “new normal” involves sharing a glass of wine on my neighbor’s back porch while my kids play in the yard.

I love the new dynamic, and I’ve come to appreciate the perspective that these women give me. Being a mom isn’t easy, and neither is being a working mom. Thank goodness I have certain women in my life to act as a support network and provide me inspiration. This blog is a tribute to them.

I have to start with Gretchen. When I was pregnant, a certain friend told me that, as a mother, I would get lots of advice on how to parent my children. HER advice was to identify someone who has kids that I would like my children to be like, and to only take that person’s advice. For me, that person was Gretchen. She has three beautiful boys, all of whom are kind, polite, happy and healthy, and all of whom clearly adore their mother. Because I had a little boy, I turned to Gretchen for support in the early days of motherhood when I needed to get my then 3 month old son on a nap schedule.

I’ll never forget when she came over. Gretchen took one look at Wyatt rubbing his eyes in his vibrating chair and stated, “This child is tired.” She then informed me that we were going to put him in his crib and the two of us were going to go sit on my back porch and chat. I was not to re-enter the house for at least an hour, even if I heard lots of crying. And, yes, there was lots of crying! But the great part was that the crying eventually stopped and Wyatt had his first nap in his crib.

The most beautiful gift that Gretchen gave me – and I still think about it almost every day – was to release me from my guilt as a mother and let me know that it was okay if my baby cried. I now use that same gift when I’m in the grocery store and Wyatt (now almost 5) wants candy. He can produce tears like a master thespian, but I know (thanks to Gretchen) that those tears don’t make me a bad mom and its okay to say “no.”

As Wyatt got older, I discovered other moms within my circle of friends who inspired me in different ways. One of the first women I connected with as a mom was my friend Julie. We shared a background in consulting and discovered that our two boys clicked well on play dates.

Julie has always blown me away by her ability to juggle. When I met her, she was raising her then two year old son and volunteering as the Treasurer of our local Junior League. Over the course of the next few years, she would expand her volunteering to include service on the Board of our community association, helping to found an anti-crime group in Annapolis, acting as the Treasurer of a local non-profit, serving as the PTA President at her son’s school, and working on the campaign of a State Delegate. Where she found the time (not to mention the energy), I will never know!

If Julie is my multi-tasking role model, then Kelly is my Slacker Mom partner in crime. Kelly and I have boys around the same age and we share a very laid back attitude towards parenting, as well as an appreciation for wine. In the Fall, Winter and Spring, Kelly hosts a happy hour play group at her house that I regularly attend. Every Monday, five or six moms descend on her back porch and share snacks, drinks and conversation while the kids play in her fenced-in yard. Inevitably, the group of moms falls into two categories – those (like me) who sit at the table chatting while their kids run around, and those who never sit down because they are running after their children.

I confess – I’m a slacker mom. My attitude has always been “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” This means if you eat a little dirt, you’ll be okay. If you drink out of someone else’s cup, it’s not the end of the world, and if another child pushes you, it’s not a big deal unless someone is bleeding. My mantra when the kids fight? “Work it out!”

Not surprisingly, there are many moms who don’t share my approach. Then there is Kelly. She and I are solidly on the same page about mothering and she makes me feel better about my Slacker Mom-dom. Her boys are great and I think my son is pretty fantastic as well (I know, I am really, really biased!). And while I kid around about being a slacker, I believe that what Kelly and I really share is the belief that kids need the freedom to explore, experiment, make mistakes, and pick themselves back up again. We both believe that by giving our boys a long leash, we’re building stronger, more independent men.

Another mom that I’ve always been blown away by is Phebe. She seems to have discovered the secret to that elusive balance for which I’m always searching. Phebe is married and has three children. She has a busy schedule, but always finds (or maybe I should say “makes”) the time for exercise and is a pretty competitive triathlete and runner. She also has regular date nights with her husband and always seems to be planning fun getaways with the family. She shuttles her kids to school and activities, but also makes the time to spend with each of them one-on-one. Throughout all of this, she is also one of the calmest, most peaceful people I know!

In the last two months, Phebe was diagnosed with a form of brain cancer and now, in addition to being the most balanced mom I know, she is setting the standard for dealing with health challenges. With her incredible attitude, endless energy, and unmatched strength, I know she will beat cancer. In the process, she will teach us all a lesson about living life to the fullest every day.

This brings me to Andi, my friend and neighbor who is due to give birth to her first child in the next few weeks. As I think about my experience as a mother, my advice to her is to form her own network of moms who inspire her. There is no one “right” way to mother and no one person can possibly be the perfect mom. Instead, the beauty of motherhood lies in finding the right approach for you and your child and then surrounding yourself with women who, as a group, can provide you the support and inspiration to stay the course and enjoy the journey!

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Today, I had a revelation about my own experience with motherhood. My husband is out of town on business for four days and I have all four of my kids with me and a business to run. In addition to client meetings, deliverables to complete, and a new employee to train (she started today!), I had school pick-ups and drop-offs, one child who had a tutoring session a half hour away, and a grocery run thrown in there for good measure.

As I reviewed the day in my head, I realized that I do a pretty good job of running a tight family ship despite our crazy schedule. My kids even commented on how smoothly things went today – they got to school a bit early, a home-cooked dinner was on the table at a reasonable hour, the laundry (three loads!) all got done, homework is finished, and the house is clean. After I finished giving myself a mental pat on the back, I started thinking about why I was able to pull it together so easily when on many nights, the situation is much more chaotic.

The answer? Motherhood is like project management and I work better under pressure.

I come from a management consulting background and in any consulting field, project management is a critical skill to master. To carry a project successfully from start to finish, you’ve got multiple balls to juggle:

  • A clear set of expectations for what will be accomplished;
  • A good plan with all the major tasks identified, responsibility for their completion assigned, and clear deadlines and accountability;
  • The ability to manage your client (ie. Keeping them happy while making sure they are giving you what you need, when you need it);
  • Consistent communication with your client and team members;
  • Strong leadership skills and the ability to work well with a team;
  • A solid work ethic; and
  • The ability to work well under pressure and manage people and tasks during a crisis.

Motherhood is no different. It’s all about balancing the mundane (checking things off the “to do” list) with the sublime (giving each child some individual attention and love) while not losing sight of the master plan. To do this successfully, you’ve got to apply the same concepts employed by the Critical Path Method, namely:

  • Compile a list of all activities required to complete the project (day);
  • Determine the time that each activity will take to complete; and
  • Understand the interdependency of the various activities.

In my case, this plays out something like the following. The tasks included me getting a shower and looking presentable for work, everyone getting breakfast and taking their various vitamins/medicines, packing lunches for school, dropping kids off at school, conducting an orientation for a new employee, taking said new employee to a weekly marketing meeting with a client, completing a deliverable, checking and answering emails, preparing dinner for the kids, picking the kids up from school, getting my stepson to and from math tutoring, buying groceries, picking my other son up from daycare, feeding all children dinner, washing and folding several loads of laundry, taking the garbage out, cleaning the house, and touching base with my husband (on the business trip) and my parents. Whew!

In order to get all of the above done, several important things needed to happen. These included getting the coffee pot ready to brew the night before, having my breakfast made the night before, waking up 45 minutes before my kids to shower and get dressed, laying out everyone’s vitamins and medicines and lunchboxes so nothing would be forgotten in the morning rush, preparing dinner the day before, and combining the grocery run with the tutoring pick-up/drop-offs.

In addition to these tasks, I needed the cooperation of the kids. This means having plenty of patience while I ask my stepson for the 5th time to clean up his dinner dishes, not getting too upset when I return home to find popcorn kernels all over the kitchen floor (the result of an ambitious afternoon snack project), and having to delay by one day seeing my stepdaughter clean her room. But while I take some credit for keeping the kids on track by picking my battles, I also recognize that they were fantastic today all on their own. They seem to sense when I need them to pull it together and help out – like when my stepdaughter offered to clean up the dinner dishes and my stepson helped me to take the garbage out. Have I mentioned how great my kids are??

The point is, there was a lot to get done and plenty of interdependency. In order to get started with work on time, I had to take care of a lot of the morning activities (coffee making, breakfast prep, etc.) the night before. To get the kids fed on time at dinner, the meal needed to be made ahead of time so we could simply “heat and eat” after tutoring. To find any time to buy groceries, I needed to take advantage of the half hour window while my stepson was at tutoring.

Our busy schedule really plays to my strengths. I work well under pressure and love it when I figure out ways to meet seemingly impossible deadlines. Don’t get me wrong – I am in no way saying I want every day to be like today, but I have learned to appreciate the times I’m able to rise to the challenges of motherhood. After all, let’s face it – there are so many times when we don’t live up to our own expectations as mothers and the guilt can be crushing!

I think what I love so much about today is it underscored why, for me, being a working mother is making me a better mother. I’m a big believer that everyone has to choose the best path for themselves and that there is no one “right” way to be a mother, but I still fall victim to the occasional bout of self-doubt on days that my stay-at-home mom friends are taking their children on field trips to museums or spending the day at the pumpkin patch. Getting back into the professional world has awoken my inner project manager and on days like today, she is ready to take charge! Knowing that my time at work is in some ways making me a better mother makes me feel better about the things I’m sacrificing and – I hope – teaching my kids about the importance of good planning, hard work, and patience. Yay me!

Now it’s time to do it all again tomorrow…. Sigh.

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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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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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