A moment of levity

All of my blog posts so far have been a bit on the intense side, so today I bring you a moment of levity.

Nanny dynamics are interesting, to say the least.   I have TONS of very dramatic, intense stories about nannies that I will share in the future when I am ready.  But recently I had a very comical, yet serious exchange with my current nanny, who has only been with us a short time.

“I need to show you something” she said to me, her face concerned.  Cue instant panic. I did not like the sound of this.  It’s like a boyfriend that says “We need to talk” or a doctor who says “We found something”.  It’s not going to be that she found a thousand dollars in the closet or that my daughter is able to recite the declaration of independence by heart at five years old.  I tried to stay calm.  The best I could hope for was that maybe she had broken something  that was not expensive and/or we didn’t care about.

“I found it on Friday, but I wanted to wait until I could show it to you, because, well, here it is.”  She went to a shelf and picked up a small plastic packet.  Inside were a number of smaller plastic baggies, each filled with a white, powdery substance.  I immediately knew what they were, but from the look on my poor nanny’s face, I realized what she thought they were.

I started to laugh, which might not have been the best move.  She looked at me wide eyed as I started to explain.  No friends, we didn’t have baggies of cocaine hanging out in the kids playroom.  That’s the good news. The other good news is that while I knew what the baggies were, I’m not quite sure what they are made from, so it was still best to get them into a safer place (ie. away from toddler hands).  I realized with a bit of paranoia that there is still a chance she might not believe me.  I tried to stay calm because while I knew I was telling the truth, my keeping her as my nanny really depended on whether she believed me.

These mysterious baggies are actually part of a fairly complicated art project Julia received for her birthday called Aqua Illusions.  You fill a tray with water that you mix with this white powder.  It creates a gel base that you can then squirt and drag paint over to create a design.  You then make a print of the design by placing a piece of paper flat onto the water and pulling it out carefully with plastic tongs.  It’s quite the commitment for a five year old, but we tried it a few weeks ago with one of her friends. It came with extra bags of powder, and when we put the project away that day bags must have fallen out of the box.

But imagine if you found tiny baggies filled with white powder in someone’s house.  Wouldn’t you assume it was drugs?  That poor woman must have been worried that not only were my husband and I cocaine users or even worse, drug dealers, that we had left the cocaine out in our children’s playroom.

The nanny relationship is one that is based on trust from both sides – and that can be really hard for both parties.  You need to feel a strong level of trust in the person who is taking care of your kids every day, and they need to trust that you’ll give them a stable and secure environment to work in.  Considering we’ve only had her as our nanny for a few months, I’m glad she at least asked me instead of quitting on the spot or reporting us to child services!   So, while I have plenty of CRAZY stories to share with you in the future about the complexities of childcare, at least this one ended in a laugh.

 

 

 

 

A Not-So-Dedicated Follower of Fashion

When I was 10, I decided I wanted to become a fashion designer. I became captivated by a particular Versace campaign. Christy, Naomi, and Cindy (the holy trinity) in graphic black and white, shot in the desert by Herb Ritts. I had never seen anything so glamorous.

I started making fashion sketches and reading Vogue. I wore all black for a while, not in a goth way, more of a simple chic sort of Audrey way. I dreamed about being old enough to go live in New York.

And I did it. I went to college, majored in fashion design (one year behind my co-blogger extraordinaire), and moved to New York after graduation to pursue my dream. I spent ten years working for big companies, and small houses. Mass market and red carpet.

Being a fashion designer came with an expectation to dress well, but little money to do so. I lived for sample sales and spent many a lunch break traipsing around the garment district from warehouse to warehouse in search of the best and the chicest at the lowest prices. Sometimes I was lucky enough to snag a freebie or two from the places I worked.

Clothes and body image are inextricably tied together. As a designer, I had to be always attuned to what women wanted to show, and conceal. I had never had major body image issues, but was always conscious, in the way I think every woman is, that there was someone with a smaller waist, bigger boobs, longer eyelashes. I spent my youth fighting those feelings and struggling with at times overwhelming jealously. Ain’t middle school grand?

Over time I grew out of it. Then I got pregnant. Here’s the thing–as a woman, you struggle with learning to love yourself, accepting your appearance. It takes years, if you ever get there at all. And then, if you have kids, you go through a huge body transformation right about the time you start to be good with what you saw in the mirror. All bets are off. You are back to square one. But this time you have to learn to love several different bodies in a pretty short time frame.

Some women revel in pregnancy. The dramatic changes that happen, the power of the female body. Others don’t. I suppose I was a bit in between.

Phase One: Lets be honest, it’s kind of hideous. You gain weight in all the wrong places, you’re probably trying to hide it at work so you start learning how to camouflage the best you can with sometimes ridiculous layering. You look, not glowingly pregnant, but like you just had two burritos for lunch and they gave you food poisoning. It’s not a good look.

Phase Two: You emerge from your layers when you start breaking the news, and then you hit the cute stage. A tiny round belly, and lots of congratulations from friends and family and random passers-by.  But you have to learn how to dress this little bump. There are tons of options out there, not all of them great, and usually the cuter ones are pretty expensive. The pricey stuff I admired but I just couldn’t get behind investing in a wardrobe that would last me for 6-8 months. I got away with, for a while, non-maternity things in stretchy fabrics, in larger sizes. But that only lasts for so long.

Phase Three: You are enormous. Insensitive assholes ask if you are having twins. You feel like a baby whale and have completely stopped looking in your full-length mirror. When you do, you often cry. Your feet are swollen and you have given up wearing heels. The time has come for full on maternity clothes. Large tent-like tops, pants with big stretchy panels that you pull up to your ribcage.

Post Partum (Phase Four): You are still wearing maternity clothes. A lot of people don’t know this, but just because you just dropped an 8 pound love bundle, doesn’t mean you suddenly don’t look pregnant anymore. Those insensitive assholes are now asking you when you are due, and you gave birth 5 weeks ago. Good times! You can’t throw away those maternity clothes just yet! (As much as you want to. And I KNOW that you want to.) You are disoriented and exhausted and sweatpants are your new best friend. I was never a big fan of sweatpants until Phase 4. You are tending to a tiny demanding baby and you may not change out of your pajamas in the morning. Why bother? You are going to get spit up on or pooped on, so it doesn’t really matter what you wear, right? (Yes, this is the fashion designer speaking!) And it better all be machine washable.

Phase Five: This is different for everyone but my Phase 5 was back to work and nursing. I loved wearing dresses to work, but having to stop and pump 3x a day while wearing a dress was awkward, so my wardrobe became pants and nursing friendly tops. Secret revelation: I was still wearing maternity pants. Once you get into pants with no fly or waistband and a soft stretchy panel, its REALLY HARD to go back to regular pants. REALLY HARD. After work I would race home to have a precious hour or two with my baby who would make sure to spit up on me one last time before bed, so I usually changed into a T-shirt and sweatpants when I got home. It got to the point where my husband rarely saw me not in sweatpants. Bless him for keeping his mouth shut.

Phase Six: I’m ready to give up my maternity pants. I fit back into some of my old clothes but not all, because while my weight is back to pre-pregnancy, my body is different. I know I want to have two kids, so I can’t burn my maternity clothes just yet. Aside from some shoes and accessories, I don’t really buy myself anything new, because I like to buy things that I can wear for several years, and I just don’t know what my body is going to be like after #2. Oh and also, once you have a kid you are acutely aware of any dollar you spend that should probably go toward that kid instead of you. $45 new top, or $45 to the college fund??? College is going to be one billion dollars a year by that time, so I really don’t need that new top.

Rinse and repeat. I’ve been through this cycle twice. My youngest is almost two. The maternity clothes have long been given away, but I’m still not shopping for myself either. My body didn’t snap back quite as well after number two as it did after number one. I have diastasis recti which means my abs didn’t completely come back together. The long and the short of it, is that I look a couple months pregnant. And some insensitive assholes have asked if I am. Mom Tip: NEVER EVER EVER ask someone if they are pregnant. EVER. If you can’t obviously tell they are pregnant you are treading on some very dangerous territory.

I have lots of things in my closet (even some still-great pieces from sample sales of my designer days) that just don’t fit me the same way, or draw attention to places I would rather not. I’m not ready to part with them. I’m not ready to accept this body as my own just yet. I’m a work in progress.

As it relates to pregnancy and fashion, I will leave you with a story. Once upon a time, Lisa and I were out to dinner. Young twenty-somethings living in New York. Girls on the town. At dinner we saw a group of women, one of which was pregnant. She was so amazingly stylish, we couldn’t help but notice her. She was definitely Phase Two. An emerald green open-back halter top over a black bandeau, white jeans, gold jewelry and gold platform sandals. Lisa, the more outspoken of the two of us, excused herself and went over and told her how fabulous she looked. It turned out she worked for a very popular online retailer and had access to great stuff, but she was absolutely thrilled for the compliment. I think about her often. I’m certain I never looked that fabulous when I was pregnant, but now I understand the effort it takes when you are pregnant to pull out all the stops, and that complimenting a pregnant woman is maybe one of the nicest things you can do.

5 Reasons why I let my kids watch TV

There’s a lot of discussion among moms on screen time.  Countless blogs, articles, research studies and playground talk focuses on the evils of too much TV for kids (and of course now tablets, laptops and cell phones enter the equation too as additional screens).  But I for one don’t buy it when it comes to TV.  I think it’s all about the who/what/where/when/how of the experience.

See, we’re die hard TV lovers in our house.  We have a high capacity multi-room DVR.  The TV in our living room feels like a small theater.  We designed our bedroom closet system to leave room for a wall mounted TV between the closet doors.  We watched a ton of TV before our kids were born, and when we decided to put a built in wall-to-wall cabinet system in the kid’s playroom, we left space for a large wall mount TV there too.

We have a set of operating rules for our TV consumption, so it’s not as if it’s on 24 hours a day.  Here’s how we do it in our house:

  1. TV should only be used as a “babysitter” sparingly.  Firstly, our kids, especially Luca (who is turning two next week) can’t really be left alone in a room.  If Julia (who is 5) is in the room with him, TV can buy us a few minutes at a time to do things like set the table for breakfast, wash dishes, or put the laundry in without having them underfoot and/or whining.  In the morning we have it on for the kids in our room while we get ready for work.  They stay in bed instead of getting underfoot making demands in the short time frame we have in the morning.  It makes life so much easier and eases their transition into the day from their early wake up time.
  2. Don’t watch TV in place of being outside. Our TV consumption goes up a lot in the winter between activities and playdates because it is too cold to go out in the backyard or to the playground.  But when the weather is nice, there’s no reason to be indoors so much staring at a screen.
  3. If we hate a show, the kids don’t watch it.  I’ve heard people complain over the years about everything from Barney to Caillou and resent that their kids love it (we don’t mind Caillou but apparently he really drives some people crazy).  Our strategy is that once we’ve seen a show a few times and know we can’t stand it, we don’t really encourage watching it.  Since we’re with our kids most of the time that they are watching TV, why do we need to suffer through Max & Ruby (I HATE Ruby) when we could watch Sofia the First or Peppa Pig, which I genuinely enjoy and think have good lessons.
  4. Focus on TV that encourages interaction/activity.  Julia loves a weird Australian kids’ show called Hi-5 that she found on Netflix.  There is a lot of singing and dancing on the show, and Julia will often sing and dance with the show instead of watching it from the couch, which I much prefer.  We also put on YouTube sometimes and dance together to videos.
  5. Watch shows that teach them things. Right now  as I type this we’re watching an episode of Sofia the First that is teaching it’s OK for girls to like activities traditionally reserved for boys and vice versa.  This little boy was embarrassed that he liked ice dancing, but Sofia helped him accept it was OK to want to be on the ice dancing team instead of play hockey and encouraged him to tell his dad, who was a little old fashioned. When Julia was little we were all obsessed with these “Classical Baby” DVDs – there was one for art, one for poems, and one for classical music.  I recently took Julia to her cousin Allison’s orchestra concert and she loved it.  I’d like to think it’s because she has a familiarity with classical music from watching those DVDs as a toddler.

Like anything as a parent, the decisions that work for your family don’t work for every family.  I’m ok with my kids watching a few hours of TV a day, as long as they aren’t passive zombies, because selfishly I enjoy watching them too.  Peppa Pig is my jam, I could watch her all day.  But I know people who don’t let their kids watch TV at all or only a teeny tiny bit, so I will end with one of my key Mom Tips: You do you.  For us, that means embracing our love for TV and sharing it with our kids.

 

 

Lets Do the Time Warp Again!

clockWhen you have children, time becomes a strange and elusive thing. It stretches out for you in overwhelming infinity and then snaps back tight like a rubber band, giving you whiplash. I find myself wishing for time to slow down and speed up in the same breath. And feeling guilty for both of those wishes.

 

In the early days of my firstborn I felt like time was drawn out with the slowness of pouring molasses. Endless naps and endless crying and endless anxiety. I wished for my baby to be awake more, to cry less, to talk, to walk. Days went on forEVERRR.  In those days of maternity leave when my husband came home from work and asked me what I had done all day, I felt like I had done everything and absolutely nothing. I had had all the worries, all the struggles, all the emotions, but nothing to show for it. I did not earn a merit badge for getting through that Thursday. But I felt I should have.

 

I loved my baby’s firsts but I was constantly looking for the next. First solid food? Check, but so excited about when I could feed him his first Thai food.  First step, but when could he ride a bike?

 

I was also struggling and looking for the part I felt was beyond the struggle. When they could hold their head up, when they could feed themselves, when they could walk, when they could talk and tell me what was wrong with words instead of tears. I felt guilty for wishing time would move faster, guilty for not enjoying the baby steps more. And all along the way are people telling you how wonderful it all is. Usually grandmotherly types encouraging you to soak up every minute. “They won’t be babies forever!” And you smile weakly and nod, but you are tired, so tired, and it seems all uphill from here.  Their words cut straight to your heart. You feel guilty for not loving this moment. Being present in this moment. Let me tell you something- in this moment I was most likely not showered for at least two days, my clothes were stained with milk, or snot or spit-up (or bonus grand slam- all three!) and I exhausted to the point of seeing double. So, if I could go back to give myself some wisdom, it would be “You’re allowed not to love the present moment. Some of these moments are pretty unloveable.”

 

On a vacation to Puerto Rico, our flight was delayed three hours, putting us squarely past bedtime. Elliott was tired and cranky and could not get comfortable and he cried non-stop all the way back to D.C.  Time has never ever moved so slowly in the history of the universe. Surrounded by angry faces, those hours felt like decades.

 

Despite sometimes wishing away these moments, moving slowly through the quicksand of time that engulfs you, you hit milestones and wonder inexplicably, where the time went? You find yourself planning your little’s first birthday party and have no idea how you got there. Time warp.

 

With my second, it’s a whole different ball game. We only wanted two kids, so I know this is my last baby. I savor many more moments. I live for every giggle and gurgle. I hold him more, and for longer than I probably should. I am completely to blame for this one being an unapologetic Mama’s Boy. I try to stop time, to hold it tight. To keep him little and lap sized forever. Or at least a little bit longer. I love his goofy little voice and his strange foreign jabbering, and don’t wish for him to talk any sooner than normal. I find myself holding back from being the woman in the grocery store who tells that tired mama “They won’t be babies forever!” And then I remember that’s a terrible idea! I waver. Do I tell them instead, “It’s ok not to love this moment.”? What if they ARE loving this moment? Everyone’s moment is different. And the next moment will be completely different.

 

I do wish ahead, though. Even now. I still try to peek into time and find the golden moment that seems a little easier. I sometimes wish for my boys to be 3 and 6, which in my head is some magical time when they will be fully engaged and play with each other endlessly and we can go everywhere and do everything. They will be somewhat self sufficient and mostly potty trained and I will be finally unencumbered by a diaper bag. But I’m sure when I get there I will be wishing for something else. Whether I will be wishing to go forward or go backward, I do not know. Or maybe it WILL be that golden moment and I will want to stop time right there.

The importance of Diner Friday

When Brian and I first bought our house in the suburbs eight years ago, we spent time remodeling it ourselves before moving in.  Every weekend we’d work from sunrise to sunset and then drag ourselves to this diner we’d found in town to scarf down dinner and try not to fall asleep in the booth.  After we moved in, we established a routine of going out to dinner every Friday.  More often than not we found ourselves at the diner.

When we had Julia, my sister suggested that we continue to go out for dinner even when she was a baby.  She said she’d started taking her kids out when they were babies and they learned from an early age to behave well in restaurants.  Parenthood cramps your style in all sorts of ways, so we figured we’d try to keep this particular routine alive even with the variable of a newborn.

We made it through diaper changes, crying and nursing in the booth  Then we made it to the high chair, tantrums, and food throwing.  We also made it through some very fun, easy dinners, don’t get me wrong. We started making friends with other families who frequented the diner at the very early hour we did.  We got to know the hosts and hostesses, found a regular waiter who knew all our favorites – diet cokes, pickles and coleslaw for everyone before the meal, a bread basket to keep the kids busy, but no vegetable tray (who eats radishes by the way??).

I’ve written previously about how demanding my career is and how long my hours tend to be, especially when you add my commute to it.  I’ve also mentioned how early my kids go to bed.  Diner Friday requires that I leave work at the very early hour of 4:30, well before my colleagues, in order to make a train that gets me in at 6, and at the diner by 6:15.  By the time we’re finished eating we’ve pushed past both Luca and Julia’s bedtimes, but they seem able to rally somehow specifically for this night.

That’s why I do it every single Friday.  Four days a week, I only see my kids an hour a day.  But Diner Friday is my chance to have a meal with my kids.  My industry has a lot of young people in it, folks who can eat dinner at 8, 9, or 10 o’clock at night if they so choose.  That’s awesome for them, and I certainly enjoyed my time doing the same thing when I was younger.  But if I want to keep our Friday dinner tradition alive, I need to make the decision that’s right for me and our family.  At each job I’ve worked in since I had kids, I made this part of the deal.  Need me to put in hours of work Saturday and Sunday nights?  No problem, I’m home most weekend nights because babysitters are expensive.  But try to schedule a meeting with me at 5pm on a Friday?  Nope. That’s family diner night.

Mom tip: Decide what your non-negotiables are, at home and at work and stick to them.

 

I ugly cried last week. twice.

This post is by guest blogger Rebekah Farley and was originally published on her site Jaunty With a Side of Doubt in December of 2016.  Rebekah is a plus size model who currently works on air modeling for QVC.  She is also the mom of 2.  Son “C” is 5, and daughter “M” is almost 2.  “M” was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis at four months and Rebekah writes about her struggles with CF on her blog.  

I ugly cried last week.

twice.

one was at my son’s preschool; the mommy -n- me thanksgiving day concert, craft and snack, and i forgot the oreos.

the oreos!

i went up to the other mothers in the parking lot, hoping one would say, “oh, honey, i forgot the cheese cubes, you’re not alone, it’s all good,” but no, instead, everyone just looked at me with eyes of sympathy.
as i dropped little c off at his classroom, his teacher greeted him and his reply was, in the lowest of tones, “i forgot the oreos.”

my heart broke. my little 5-year-old taking the stress of mommy forgetting the treat of the day. i fought back my tears for about 5 seconds and then openly lost it and did a deep gut wrenching ugly cry on a fellow mom’s shoulder.

well, at least losing it in front of moms i’ve known for 4 years at our local church nursery school isn’t as bad as if i would’ve lost it in front of complete strangers at the cf clinic’s parent information night.

oh, crap. but i did…

so, our local cystic fibrosis clinic set up a parent information night. they had a rep from great strides, the non for profit fundraising organization for CF, it was great to reconnect and start talking about the walk in may.
the respiratory therapist was there demo-ing different devices that help people with cf exercise their lungs.
the smart vest company was there with different sized vests and here, we found out that we have had the wrong size vest for baby girl!!

add a little “grr” as well, since maybe a too big of vest has been part of the struggle??
well, we were able to get some contact information and made a phone call the next day and had a smaller vest sent and oh my gosh, it’s already so much better.

focusing on the good.

but the main focus of the program was a 26-year-old professional woman, living with cf. she was there to speak to us parents of kids with cf.
she recounted her life, her late diagnosis (at age 12,) and the emotional effects which then led to physical exacerbations.

early 20’s, she rebelled, stopped her treatments and then ended up in the hospital multiple times.

that’s the thing with cf, they need to keep up with their treatments, even when they are well, or the progressiveness of this disease takes the lead.

this woman spoke proudly of her parents, as they have always been and still are her biggest supporters and her loudest advocates.

she talked of having depression and the emotional turmoil of this disease.

and this is where it cut me.

here, she has two amazing parents, fighting for her, fighting with her, cheering her on…

all things we do, here as a family, for little M.

but what if that isn’t good enough for her?

what if she needs more?

what if she still finds herself in the depths of despair, beyond hating the disease — with just plain apathy — no longer caring for herself?

this broke me in so many ways.

my husband’s shoulder was my immediate comfort as i uncontrollably sobbed, as softly as i could, before i rushed off to excuse myself.

as i wiped my tears away in the sterile hospital restroom, i took in deep breaths to calm myself.

i had to go back into that room, but so much of me wanted to leave.

leave it all.

that is not who we are.

this is pretend.

this isn’t our life.

our life is C and i paying a babysitter right now so we can eat chips and salsa with a frozen margarita. we are not at the hospital, hearing story after story of each hospital stay for the kids of these parents.

this is not us.

i can not relate to the new mom sitting across from me, crying about her 8 month old.

…oh, but it is.

i somehow managed to walk back into that room and take my place — hoping no one noticed my exit…except there were a few tissues that had been placed on my seat by one of m’s nurses…

~~~~~~~~~

as the past week has gone on and i’ve had time to reflect (and cry some more) i can only say that,

we will never stop being her front line.

we will never stop struggling with her treatments and medicine.

we will never stop questioning the doctors’ protocol.

we will never stop voicing our opinions regarding staffs’ procedures, offering our input for ease of future visits and care.

we will never stop raising awareness.

we will never stop fundraising for a cure.

and we will never stop doing our best to be better.

for little c. for little m.
never ever stop.

Working, mom

I am a working mom. Some days I am not sure if this means I am a mom who works, or I am a worker who is also a mom.  Over the last few years, I’ve watched my career path take a few twists and turns that have made me think about the dual roles of parenting and career.

I never considered being a a stay at home before I had kids. My early struggles with PPD and general difficulty acclimating to parenting have proven to me that I am a happier, better mommy because I work outside the house.  I hope this goes without saying, but I want to stop here and say that I think stay at home moms are awesome.  Just because I don’t want to be one doesn’t mean I don’t have the utmost respect for them. Mom tip: Don’t judge other moms.

My career has been a great source of pride in my life.  There have been times when I loved it so much that I wanted to be at work more than I wanted to be at home with the kids.  This was partly escapism I think, especially when Julia was young and I was having a tough time.  But it’s also because I have a genuine passion for the type of work I do – I work in social media which is exciting and fast paced  in an ever evolving space.

In addition to being an exciting career, it’s also one that requires a lot of time in and out the office. I leave the house at 7:20 every morning and get home about the same time at night because I live in the suburbs of NYC and my commute takes about an hour and twenty minutes door to door each way.  My kids are already asleep when I get home. Most nights after my husband and I eat dinner I get back online to do more work.  At night on the weekends (since we don’t go out at night much because of the kids) I often do work to catch up.

What this means is that I don’t see my kids very much.  They are up with us at 6 am so I get a little time with them before work, but I spend the majority of it getting ready. Mom tip: Even though I’d love to see my kids when I get home at night and have thought about keeping them up later, their optimal happiness level seems to be when they go to sleep between 6:30 – 7pm.  Don’t force a schedule for your kids to fit you if it doesn’t work well for them.

I’m lucky that Brian has a job that enables him to get home in time to relieve the nanny and put the kids to bed.  I’ve noticed that a lot of my working mom friends have the bedtime shift. They either leave work even earlier than I do (I leave around 5:30, which where I work is really early) to put their kids to bed, or they have kids that go to bed later.  Many of them seem to be responsible for making dinner too, which I also don’t do.  Since Brian comes home first, he’s the one that heats up the leftovers.  But the reason we have leftovers in the first place is that he does all the cooking (he loves to cook and is excellent at it, whereas I don’t and have limited kitchen skills).

Yes, I know, I’m extremely lucky, like really really lucky, and so I feel like a shit for complaining.  And I don’t know if I am complaining.  I mean, I adore my kids, but I don’t feel like I need to be with them all the time.  I cherish their delicious faces, their funny expressions, their little kid voices, their enthusiasm.  But even on the weekends, I also cherish the minutes when I can do something around the house without having someone crying or whining or demanding something.

Feeling this way, this lack of “child first” in my experience as a parent makes me feel isolated. I am a working mom, so I don’t relate to stay at home moms, but I also feel like I don’t have the same experiences as a lot of the working moms I know.  Sometimes I relate better to the working dads, except they don’t seem to have quite as much guilt. Actually, who knows if that’s true – I am sure many working dads have as much guilt as working moms.  But they seem to talk about it less, or when they do talk about it, it’s more matter of fact.

Lately, I’ve been trying to focus more on what I want out of my life, because I’ve been going through some pretty significant personal and professional stress and it has been making me question both arenas.  While I haven’t been able to resolve or answer a number of my outstanding existential crises (I mean, who has? No really, who has? If you have, come talk to me!) there was one I came to terms with that kind of blew my mind.  I asked myself a question that was so simple but that in my parenting stresses and job stresses I never bothered to ask myself before: If you could have the career of your dreams or your family but not both, which one would you choose?  

The answer was family, without a second thought.  I have a feeling there are very few people who currently have spouses and kids that would say career but if they do, I’m sorry for them. Please note, this doesn’t mean I’d be happy if I didn’t have my career. My job is super important to my identity as a person, and so it will always be something I’ll struggle with as I try and be the best mom and wife I can while working a demanding job.  I don’t see myself downsizing my professional goals to be at home more, but I do think I can commit to being more present when I actually am home. This commitment is going to take some adjusting of my life, if I am being honest. Even today was sneaking in laptop time whenever the kids were playing contentedly, and that’s got to change if I want to live in the moment and not on a device.

But at the end of the day, my revelation that I’d choose family over career is what makes me a (wife and) mom who works, and not a worker who is a mom.  Not even all the ambition in the world (of which I have a tremendous amount) can change that for me, because no job title or press quote or client accolade will ever be able to replace a family hug.

 

 

The days are long but the years are short

There are some parenting days that are exciting, delicious and fun.  Julia’s preschool graduation ceremony comes to mind.  It was so adorable it made me laugh and cry.  Each kid recited a poem about what they wanted to be when they grew up and they wore tiny graduation hats. But most parenting days are not those days, even the good ones.

I am a working mom, so I probably get a greater balance of the good days than stay at home moms do, because I’m not handling the mundane as much.  But yesterday was just a regular day.  No birthday parties, no trip to the zoo, no first steps or first words.  Luca and Daddy went to the supermarket, and Mommy took Julia to a playdate.

It was a pretty decent day yesterday. I didn’t yell at anyone, no one got hurt, there were no major arguments, everyone went to sleep on time.  So, especially if you aren’t a parent, you’re thinking, sounds pretty chill.  Except that every parent knows that a pretty decent day as a parent is a lot different than a pretty decent day before kids.

Pretty decent day before kids: Maybe you sleep until  9 or 10 am.  Run a few errands, laze around.  Eat lunch on the couch, binge watching some TV. Cook dinner, or maybe you order in.  It’s possible you read a magazine, or take a nap in the afternoon.  You make decisions based on what you want to do.

By comparison, a pretty decent day with kids is going to have a relatively high level of chaos.  First of all, there is not likely to be any sleeping in, at least not in our house.  Our kids are early to bed (Luca by 6:30, Julia by 7) but also early to rise.  Julia has a wake-up light in her room (a cow that is either dancing or sleeping) that tells her when she is allowed to get up.  The cow dances at 6:10 am because that’s when we get up for work five days a week, and it’s too damn hard to change the settings every weekend, so that’s our lot in life.  But it’s not like we could really sleep much later – Luca is up before Julia is, but we just won’t go in there until she wakes us up (thankfully he’s not a screamer in the morning).

We go downstairs on the weekends at about 7am to make breakfast, before which we all lounge together in bed watching TV (Paw Patrol is a favorite).  And by lounge, I mean that Luca attempted multiple times to slide off the bed and accidentally hit people with all the books he brought in. We did have two delicious minutes where Luca decided to sit on Julia’s lap while she rested on my lap and we had a cuddle party. For a second there it felt like what you picture when you dream of having kids.   But then Luca pulled her hair, and that was all over.

So, like most weekend mornings, Julia inevitably forgot to bring in “monkah”, her beloved stuffed monkey, and tried to convince us to get it for her (no).  She and I got into our usual discussion about her sucking her thumb (I say discussion because I refuse to argue about it anymore, even though the orthodontia is going to be a nightmare). She complained incessantly about being hungry but when offered the option to go downstairs and get herself something to eat she acted like I suggested she climb into a pit filled with alligators.

This week the hunger argument was particularly heated, because Saturday is the morning she gets to help fill Mommy’s pill box for the week. Mommy takes a lot of meds (I’ll get into that on this blog another time), and oddly Julia loves helping with the sorting (yes, she knows not to take them, don’t worry).  So she wanted a scenario where she can come back upstairs. Various debates/discussions ensued, there was crying, then screaming (both her, I stayed calm – Mom FTW!), then we finally came to an agreement and she ran off to get the squeezer on condition that she eat it downstairs, then come back up.

By 7:30 we were all playing nicely in the playroom while Daddy made breakfast (did I mention that my husband does all the cooking in our house? It’s heavenly).  Then Julia lost her will to live for a few minutes because she mistakenly thought the corn beef hash Brian was making from our leftovers was going into the eggs, and YOU CAN NOT PUT THINGS IN HER EGGS if she is unfamiliar with them and/or they contain meat or most cheeses.  Instead, she now wanted to have cereal and a cereal bar.  I said no dice, one or the other, and she should still try the eggs.  I am the worst person on earth.  She acts as if I am torturing her.  We clear up that the eggs will be regular Julia approved cheesy eggs, so she is then willing to have them and cereal, forgoing the cereal bar.  Crisis averted.

But hey, let’s stop here for a second.  We hadn’t eaten eaten breakfast yet and already I was mentally exhausted. I mean, it’s exhausting even describing it to you.  Yet, it’s the reality of parenting (the #truthinparenting , perhaps?).  I mentioned in my first post for this blog  that after a while, you just get sort of used to this.  Doesn’t make it easy, but makes it easier.  Because like I said, this was a decent day.

The thing about decent days is that they will mostly be forgotten.   There’s a relief to this, because it reminds me that things will get easier as they get older.  But there’s also a sadness because the very fact that they are rote in nature means I will will most likely forget them.  I will forget that Luca all of a sudden yesterday started calling his play computer a “peter”.  That Julia and I were doing coordinated clapping to Fitz & The Tantrum’s “Handclap” (Or was that today? I’m telling you, these moments blur together).

I just finished reading this terrific book called “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin (I highly recommend it by the way).  One of the things she says repeatedly is “The days are long but the years are short.”  It sums up exactly what it feels like to go through the early years of parenting. There will be so many days like this and many of them will drag on for what seems like an eternity.  But looking back I’m sure I’ll remember so little of them.

So what is there to do?  It sounds like I should end this post saying that I’ll try to be more grateful for these days because I’ll look back on them with wistfulness.  True, gratitude is important.  I actually started keeping a gratitude journal a few months ago and I have found it has helped me appreciate my life more. I write down five things every day that I am grateful for. Some of them are certainly related to my children.  But it feels pat to say that gratitude will solve all my parenting struggles because it’s not true.   What the gratitude journal helps me do is also remember more.  Even when it is hard, I want to remember.  I think that’s what will help get me through.

#MomsWeekend2017

This was it. #MomsWeekend2017. We came from eight states and the District of Columbia. We got on planes. Alone. We carried handbags that contained no diapers, no wipes, no Cheerios (ok, well maybe some remnants down there in the bottom). We drank wine. Maybe read a magazine, watched a grown up movie. Not one person demanded we accompany them to the bathroom. We landed, one by one, in Austin, TX. 

It all began with a post my friend Jordi and I put on our neighborhood listserv five years ago. It was a little hopeful. It was a little desperate. It was, if I’m being honest, a cry for help.
 

“Any soon-to-be new mommies out there? Want to get together? My friend and I are both due in a few months and we thought it might be nice to reach out and see who else is going through all the same things. You know, first trips to Buy Buy Baby, figuring out the best stroller for neighborhood sidewalks, learning how to swaddle, etc. We are thinking about heading over to SOVA this Sunday morning at 10:30am. Anybody want to join us?”

 
As Jordi and I met on the sidewalk that Sunday morning, we were nervous. Maybe no one would show up. Maybe people would show up and we wouldn’t like them. Maybe we would take one look at them and bail, like a bad blind date.
 
I think something like 30 women came to that first meeting. It was pretty hilarious to watch one pregnant woman after another stream through those doors. We took over the second floor. We were legion and we were large. 30 preggos take up a lot of space. We definitely scared some other patrons away that morning.
 
We talked about everything. Hormones and sleeping, nursery decor, baby showers. Diapers and doulas, drugs or no drugs. Hold up, no drugs?? I started to get nervous. One woman after another said they were going to have natural childbirth with no drugs. I gulped. I had a pretty short birth plan. Short and sweet. To the point. It said, “Drugs, please” in the middle of a giant white piece of paper. Actually, it said DRUGS PLEASE!, because I had strong feelings about this. In the words of my wise mother-in-law, “You don’t get a better baby for doing it that way. They give you the same baby. They don’t throw you a parade or anything.”
 
I looked over at Jordi on the other side of the room. Her eyes were big. She gulped too, then she raised her hand and said, “That’s cool you guys, but I’m pretty sure I want the drugs.” My hand shot up in solidarity, “Me too.” And it was fine. The record didn’t skip, 28 pairs of eyes didn’t whip around and silently judge us. Everyone was cool. We were in this together, but doing it our own way. I think we were on to something.
 
Our group ebbed and flowed, but over time it crystalized into a smaller group of regulars.  We had more coffee dates, we talked, we listened, we found comfort in staring down the unknown together. 
 
We had our babies. One by one we all became mothers. We survived. We are still surviving. We have a higher rate of survival due to each other. I mean, I cannot tell you how crucial it is to have a friend you can call at 11pm and ask what you’re supposed to do about mastitis. (Don’t know what that is yet? You will.) Mom tip: Find your tribe. Its a wild ride, you need people on that roller coaster with you. Or at least people who have ridden it that will be honest.
 
Here’s where I quote the 1994 movie Speed to you. The part where Keanu Reeves tells Sandra Bullock, “I have to warn you, I’ve heard relationships based on intense experiences never work.” And here’s the part where I tell you that he’s wrong. Five years later, we are still friends. Fifty years from now, we are still going to be friends. (If we are alive! Having kids seriously accelerates the aging process in a way no one warned me about.) Having children is the hardest, funniest, most frustratingly wonderful thing you will do.
 
And thus comes the part where you need to get away. Kiss your precious lovies on the head and tell them Mama will be back Monday. (Or just sneak out the back door when they are not looking like I did. Don’t judge-my younger son has serious separation anxiety). This is #MomsWeekend2017.
 
Over the past few years many of us left DC and scattered all over the country. We were overdue for a reunion. It’s pretty amazing that we got 13 women (with 23 children between us) to leave their families for a long weekend. What this goes to show you is that Mamas need a break. Mom Tip: Take time for you. The easiest thing is to put yourself last when you have (a) tiny beast(s) with very immediate needs. But you can’t pour from an empty cup, so remember to look out for yourself. You deserve it.
 
I was pretty stoked for a weekend with no one calling (or crying), “Mama, mama, mama,” to me for three days. It is amazing to be loved and needed. It totally is. It is also so mentally and physically exhausting. Some mornings when both kids are clamoring for breakfast and the dogs are dancing around my feet wanting to be fed, I become almost paralyzed by the sheer need everyone has of me. They need food, they need comfort, they need drinks, and napkins, and help putting on shoes. (I need coffee. But no one asked me what I want, so that is why I will drink cold coffee 28 minutes later). I was also pretty stoked about a weekend where I didn’t have to wash a single sippy cup. I mean, am I alone here? I feel like 85% of my day is spent washing sippy cups.
 
This was not a girls gone wild adventure. Don’t get me wrong, we hit the bars and drank some margaritas and did some dancing. But as most of our history together has been, it was a lot of talking and listening. (And wine. Definitely wine). We might have left our babies behind but we did a lot of talking about those littles. Moments of pride, stories of frustration, feelings of guilt. 
Of our group, I was the last to to leave D.C., relocating to Houston about 7 months ago. I’m still working on finding a support system here. After four days surrounded by these amazing women, goodbyes were tough for me. I got in my car and pulled on the highway for my 3 hour drive home. In a bit of a real-life movie moment Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up” came on the radio as I blinked away tears. 
 
Don’t give up
’cause you have friends
Don’t give up
You’re not beaten yet
Don’t give up
I know you can make it good
I will make it good – I’ll find a new tribe here. But this group can’t be replaced. And we will see each other next year at #MomsWeekend2018. We deserve it.

The truth in parenting

Two days before the birth of my first child, a little before 36 weeks of pregnancy, I was put on modified bed rest due to suspected preeclampsia. It hadn’t occurred to me that I might go into labor early (Mom Tip: If you’ve never done the whole having a baby thing, there are a lot of things you just can’t picture, so I’m telling you now – pack your hospital bag early). I even polled my friends and family to determine whether or not since the bed rest was “modified” that I could sneak out to my last movie before I was stuck at home with the baby.

For the record, everyone voted no, which was a good thing because I might have gone into labor on the spot while watching Twilight (don’t judge, at least I didn’t go!).  After two days of laying down at home, I was brushing my teeth at 10pm on an unseasonably warm November night when my water broke.  By 9am the next morning I was someone’s mom: Julia Ruth Cucinotta, all 4 lbs. 14 oz of her.

I had thought that when they put the baby on your chest your heart exploded with love and you were bonded for life.  Not me.  My blood pressure spiked during the delivery and they rushed the skin to skin experience so they could get her tiny little self to the NICU and get me on magnesium, literally the worst medication I have ever experienced, to avoid me getting eclampsia. Mom Tip 2: Did you know preeclampsia is not an actual medical condition but a set of symptoms that are a warning you could get actual eclampsia?  Again, the magical world of things you don’t know until you have kids!

For the next 24 hours Julia couldn’t come to me because she was in the NICU, and I couldn’t go to her because I was in hell.  On the magnesium, my body felt floppy and heavy, almost like I was paralyzed. I had to be catheterized because they can’t risk me  even getting up to go to the bathroom.  I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink in case I choked.  I begged the nurses in tears until finally I got a nice one to give me one or two ice chips in secret.  I was so hot my husband had to wear his winter coat to keep warm in the hospital room since we turned down the temperature so much, and still I needed cold compresses.  I was also practically delirious.

The next day,  after more than 36 hours with no food or drink, as the poison slowly subsided from my body, I was handed what looked less like a cute cuddly baby and more like a tiny chicken. I was cautioned that I couldn’t even breastfeed her yet because I might transfer the magnesium to her.  What was I supposed to do with this tiny mewling thing?

I’d like to tell you that after the drugs wore off and we brought her home that things were great, but they weren’t at first.  I was in a fog: afraid, sad, detached.  I am a lifelong anxiety sufferer and had a depressive episode in my early twenties, so postpartum depression was not out of the question. But I couldn’t articulate how I felt. I’m an over-sharer, but I couldn’t share this somehow. I mean, how do you tell people that you’re worried that you might have made a mistake?  That maybe you weren’t meant to be a mom because clearly you suck so bad at it and don’t really like it?  Even my well meaning family, friends and truly excellent therapist wrote off what they saw as the standard struggles of new motherhood.  But it was more than that.  I literally couldn’t believe it was going to be this hard.  And when would it get better?

It wasn’t until almost a year later that I realized I had suffered Postpartum depression.  And it wasn’t until long after that when I finally started opening up to people about the challenges I was (and sometimes still am) experiencing as a mother. I didn’t take to parenting easily and occasionally still don’t, even though I absolutely adore my kids (I have a son now, Luca, who is almost two.) My goodness what a difference it was to go through this stuff a second time, but we’ll get to that another day, don’t you worry!

A while back I started tagging Facebook posts where I shared my honest thoughts with the hashtag #truthinparenting .  The relief in posting my truth instead of trying to pretend I knew what I was doing as a mom was palpable. There was another upside – I started getting comments on my posts from people sharing their experiences, and then I started getting private messages, texts, phone calls and even in person chats with people who had read the posts.  It turns out a lot of people think it’s hard.  I get that not everyone’s experiences are the same, and that some people live for motherhood in a way I never will (and that’s awesome for them!).  But I am taking inspiration from what I’ve done on Facebook and bringing it to the longer form of a blog in the hopes that it will make some mom (new, expecting, or even an experienced one) feel better.  Because, Mom tip 3: we’re all in this together.