working mom

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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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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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Yesterday, I returned from a week away with my husband and four children. We drove from our home in Maryland to Cape Cod, spent a day on Nantucket, and then drove to New Hampshire for four days with my parents. We packed a lot into one week … boogie boarding at the beach, movies, back-to-school shopping, skydiving (in a simulator!), mini golf, swimming at the pool, games of ping pong, and riding around on grandpa’s tractor. It was a ton of fun and I think everyone – from our 3 year old to our 15 year old – was suprised by what a good time they had.

While the last week was a great getaway, it was not by any means a vacation. My husband is famous for making this distinction. In his words, “there are vacations, and there are family trips.” The difference between the two? Kids!

We love travelling with our kids and cherish the experiences we have with them when we do, but travel with kids is not relaxing. Vacations are supposed to be relaxing, right? Everyone is different, but when I think vacation, I think about lying on the beach immersed for hours in a good book, romantic dinners with my husband, spa treatments, and leisurely walks around quaint towns with stops along the way to explore the local shops. For the life of me, I can’t imagine doing any of this with my kids!

Yes, its possible to do some or all of the above on a trip with children, but it requires leaving them in the care of a babysitter and venturing out on your own. And while we always manage to squeeze in one or two adults-only outings on our family trips, I actually like spending time with my children and wouldn’t want to lose too much of it on our family trips.

So we travel with our kids and spend car rides listening to Bob the Builder on the car’s DVD system, we eat hot dogs and mac n cheese on paper plates, we pile everyone in the car for a game of mini golf in the blazing 90 degree heat, and we referee the arguments that inevitably ensue when you squeeze four children in a minivan for anything longer than 30 seconds. But along the way, we get to see the wonder in our kids’ eyes when they ride a huge wave on their boogie boards, get to lift rocks using my dad’s tractor, are lifted magically into the air in the skydiving simulator, and – in the case of our 3 year old – sit through a full length movie (in a movie theater) for the first time. So worth it!

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