working mother

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Flip Flops

My gnarly, flip-flopped feet!

It’s Memorial Day Weekend, a time to celebrate those who have served our country, spend time with family, barbeque, and hit the pool for the first time. For me, it has always marked the beginning of summer. Although I’m now 40 years old and the working mother of 4, I still get a thrill at this time of year.

School isn’t out for the summer for me and my work schedule will remain unchanged, but I do feel like life gets a little less structured for the next few months. I’ll get a break from having to keep a rigid daily calendar chronicling my kids’ school activities, I won’t have to make school lunches or schedule time to help with homework in the evenings, most of our meals will be cooked on the grill and not on the stove, I’ll spend most days wearing flip flops rather than shoes, and odds are, we will feed and bathe our kids at our swim club so that when we come home, the littlest ones are already in their PJ’s and ready for bed. What’s that saying? “It’s summertime and the living is easy…”!

There is a lot to love about summer, but there are also a few things of which I am not so fond.

I do NOT love having three teenaged kids lying around the house watching TV all day. When I was their age, we spent our summers at the pool, riding bikes, or playing kick the can with the kids in our neighborhood. I don’t even remember watching television that time of year. Now, with cable TV, DVR, and on-demand, their favorite shows seem to be on 24-7 and their bottoms are firmly planted on the couch!

I also do NOT love the fact that while my kids have all this free time I do not. This time of year, I am more than a little jealous of my friends who are stay-at-home moms. While I’m glued to my computer in my air conditioned house, they go to the gym and then bring their kids to the pool for long, lazy days of sun, swimming, and playtime. The perfect world for me would be to work a half day and then bring my kids to the pool to join in the fun, but that is definitely not in the cards for me any time soon!

If this year is like every other, summer will pass in a flash. Looking ahead, I hope that I can find the time to enjoy the best parts of summer, and I wish for my kids that they will recognize what a special time this is in their lives. All too soon, they’ll be grown up and in the working world and like me, the lazy summers of their past will have live on in their memories.

Now that you’re all grown up, what are your favorite childhood memories of summertime?

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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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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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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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Its a Start!

I blog for a living. I also tweet, post to Facebook, and surf YouTube – all on someone else’s dime. Let me explain. My husband and I own a boutique marketing consultancy, and I run the social marketing practice. So most days during the hours of 8:30 to 5:30 pm I can be found in front of my computer doing what most 15 year olds do when they have time to kill. Only I’m getting paid to do it! I love my job…

When I’m not working, I’m “mommy-ing” my three year old son and my three teenaged stepchildren. Mommy time is comprised of cooking dinners, grocery shopping, shuttling children around, helping with homework, doing laundry, and trying (but not always succeeding) to keep the house clean.

It was only recently that I realized that while I’m spending so much time on social networks on the behalf of others, I’m not really investing in my own piece of the online universe. I like blogging and enjoy writing and editing others’ work, but ultimately, its much more fun (and easy!) to write in your own voice about your own interests and thoughts. So I’ve decided to blog…

The biggest challenge for me was trying to figure out what to blog about. Nobody really wants to know about the minutiae of my day (put another load of laundry in … but just realized that I’ve run out of detergent – darn it!) – its not edge-of-your-seat excitement, after all. Having said this, its hard work this “working mother” life. Trying to balance a demanding job, business ownership, and the needs of four children (not to mention a husband who I hope won’t get lost in the shuffle!) is often stressful but frequently rewarding. And here’s the thing … I’ve got to believe I’m not alone in the stress and the joy of it all.

So there you have it. I’ve decided to write about working, being a mother, and balancing work and motherhood. I figure its kind of like being pregnant – nobody wants to hear you talk all the time about your constipation and swollen ankles unless they too are pregnant, in which case, bring it on!

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