The abominable snowman is me

Thursday I was a monster.  A selfish, tired, cranky, inpatient mom that wanted desperately not to be on mom duty and did a pretty shitty job of parenting.  I feel the need to confess this to you, partly because I’ve been feeling incredibly guilty about being such an asshole and partly because I am hoping that maybe I’m not the only one.

It all started Wednesday with a predicted 1-3 inches of snow for today.  Then suddenly it was 3-5, then 5-8, then 50 hour winds, then a bomb cyclone (whatever the hell that is!) and then the apocalypse.  School was cancelled for Thursday even before Julia’s bedtime on Wednesday.  My nanny texted by nine pm to check if she should come.  YES PLEASE PLEASE is what I wanted to say.  But even I am not that big of a bitch.  She just got her car back after a month in the shop and it’s not exactly the kind of vehicle I’d want her to drive in heavy snow and wind.  Plus what if she got stuck here and couldn’t get out?  If I wouldn’t want to leave my house, why would I make her do it?

That meant someone had to stay home with the kids and that person was going to have to be me.  Why? Well for one, my husband had appointments with clients lined up at work as well as a doctor’s appointment, so he was prepared to brave the weather and go in. Secondly, on Wednesday I had soul crushing heartburn that made me feel like I was going to vomit, and I legit went to bed with a Tupperware container next to my bed just in case.  I managed not to puke but I did wake up several times throughout the night for various reasons so I didn’t sleep much at all.

Fast forward to 6 o’clock Thursday morning, the kids’ regular wakeup time, feeling like I had barely slept, and staring down at a full day trapped in the house with a six year old and a two and a half year old.  Oh the horror! I’m kidding, I know that doesn’t sound so bad. Stay at home moms do that every day.  But I’m not used to solo parenting for long stretches. On the weekends Brian and I co-parent, and on top of that we often split up the kids, with me taking Julia to a birthday party or out shopping while he hangs out with Luca, or he talks Julia to the grocery story and I stay home and play with Luca.  So I am not used to being alone with the kids for a twelve hour day, particularly not one where you can’t leave the house.

My key mistake of the day was to decide that I should still try to work while they were home, instead of just giving in and taking a day off.  You can’t get consistently productive work done with small kids home while being a good mom.  I cancelled most of my meetings but I was still online all day, responding to emails and instant messages and generally trying to act like I was at work. This wasn’t fair to the kids and it wasn’t their fault that they got restless and cranky and acted up.  Instead of building magnatiles or playing with kinetic sand or baking cookies together, I put on the tv and then pretty much yelled at them for wrestling with each other, or grabbing toys out of each others hands or jumping on the couch or whatever super annoying but completely normal and age appropriate acting out they were doing.

And the worst part is that I knew – I knew that I was being a jerk, but I still resented them.  For not playing quietly.  For interrupting me when I was on the phone.  For Julia being so physically aggressive with Luca that he had marks on his neck hours later.  Here’s the weird part – I am not sure that the kids knew.  I don’t think they had that bad of a day.  Julia has informed me many times that a particular day is “the worst day ever” and I didn’t get even one of those.  Her and Luca didn’t cry that much, despite repeatedly fighting with each other.  They both got fed moderately nutritious meals and snacks, had naps/rest time, watched movies, snuggled with me, etc.  So did my kids actually think I was a monster? Or is it just me that feels like a monster because I know what was in my head.  Because I was thinking: I don’t want to be here doing this. I don’t want to be responsible for these people right now.  I want to be responsible for myself and my work and nobody else.  I want to watch Netflix while I write my emails.  I want to take a quick nap between conference calls.  I want to work hard, but at doing work for my job, not at working at what’s really my more important job, which is being their mom.

They’ll probably never remember this day, and if I didn’t immortalize it in a blog I likely wouldn’t either.  If I had a popular blog, I’m not sure I’d publish this piece, as it makes me look particularly ugly.  But there is something cleansing about admitting the darkest parts of me, and even if you can’t relate, maybe it will make you feel a little better by way of comparison.  There’s always going to be someone out there better than us, and someone worse.

 

It’s Alright to Cry

The other day I saw this post on a local Mom’s Facebook group I belong to:

“Is crying in your car on the way to work totally normal on days you feel like your failing at mom life, housework life etc? Asking for a friend…….. “

The responses from the group were overwhelming and unilateral: Yes.  Yes, it is normal.  Yes we all have those days.  I am grateful that a site like Facebook gives this woman a safe space to be able to reach out for her “friend” (she later admitted it was for herself, no shocker) and hear from others in her shoes.  Because the thing is all moms have been in those shoes – maybe you’re wearing them right now, sobbing into a glass of wine on your couch or reading this while you’re up late nursing your baby or between screams of a toddler tantrum or…. you get the point.

While I’m glad this mom turned somewhere to ask the question, why didn’t she ask her friends? I am sure this woman has friends.  I took two seconds to check when writing this post and she has over 1,300 friends on Facebook, and I am assuming some of them are real friends, and real moms.  The post on the Facebook group isn’t anonymous and the group has 11,000 members, so she was exposing herself to more people than her friend group by asking it on that page vs. her own Facebook page.  But for many women, for many people, really, its harder to say your truth out loud to people you know vs. people you don’t.

I am an oversharer on my Facebook page about my parenting struggles, which is how this blog came about.   I’ve admitted weakness, anxiety, depression, resentment – all sorts of fun stuff.  I’ve asked questions I thought were fairly benign that based on the answers showed a stunning lack of awareness on my part (trying to force my daughter to brush her teeth with fluoridated toothpaste even though she hated it so much she gagged and ended up vomiting was definitely not my finest hour as a mom).  In other words, I’ve been real.  But a weird part of my defense mechanism as a person is to call out my shortcomings before someone else can. So I share my shame. But I think for a lot of moms the mom shame burns inside of them, and they don’t know who to turn to to confess.

What I want to encourage, what I hope this blog and my Facebook posts encourage, is the idea of being real with the moms in your life when you are having trouble.  I know it’s not in everyone’s nature to share, and it doesn’t need to be done so publicly, but you need to find your support system.  Whether it’s your mom, your sister, your best friend, a new friend, a stranger you meet in a store, you need to tell your stories, good and bad.  You need to ask for advice. You need to cry, and be ok that you cried.  You need to know that you are not alone, that your feelings are not just yours, and that we are always stronger if we do this together.

I used to be judgy before I was a mom, and even for a while after I became one.  I won’t say that I’ve gotten over it completely, but what I’ve learned from mom confessional sessions with friends and strangers alike is that we’re all just trying to make it through this.  You want to judge the mom who co-sleeps?  Maybe her child has terrible nightmares that wake her up ten times a night, and mom is a zombie at work if she has to jump up and go into her kid’s room every hour so for now it’s easier to be able to just roll over and hold her tight.  You want to judge the mom who is bringing special food to a birthday party for their kid instead of having them eat pizza and cake?  Maybe their kid have such severe food aversions that the doctor told them that the next step if they can’t put weight on him is a feeding tube, and so they are just trying to keep their kid fed with one of the three foods he likes.   What about the kid you see in the store screaming and hitting his mom? You want to judge her for not having control over her kid?  Well maybe he’s on the spectrum, and he is feel overstimulated by his environment and mom needs to just grab 2 more things on her grocery list before she takes him home otherwise there won’t be anything for dinner tonight.

In other words, we are all struggling, we all have our secrets and we are all just doing what we can to get by.  Even those of you who love being a parent and find the experience to be like riding a magical unicorn through a fairy forest must experience moments of doubt or anxiety or exhaustion.  So tell someone.  Tell me if you want, but tell someone.  There’s a good chance she’ll have advice, support, a similar tale, or a nice glass of wine to take the edge off.

 

Showing up – the working parent dilemma

I know I haven’t written in a few weeks, and I apologize to the five of you who read this blog. Well, maybe slightly more than five people read it, but it’s not like I have thousands begging for my new content, so I figured I could get away with it.   The main reason I haven’t written is that I started a new job about a month ago and it’s been pretty busy.

I made a move from the agency side to the ad tech side in my field, which is social media.  This may sound like jargon to some of you, but the main point of me calling out this transition is that I just left a thousand person company that’s been in business 25+ years for an established but still relatively small startup that has just under 150 people and has been around for 7 years.  It was founded by college students, so the founders are also a good ten years younger than me.  This could have been a risk as a mom to go to a company that is small and young in both business and median age but so far it has been really great.

The company has a flexible working policy, which includes unlimited vacation days and no mandatory work hours, although a good amount of the people work on a schedule that fairly closely matches standard office hours. The policy is extremely helpful as a mom because to be part of a family with two working parents pretty much requires flexibility.  Although I am extremely busy so far every day and doing some work at night (which is pretty similar to my other jobs) I have been able to work from home already a few times. I’ve also managed to leave most days around 5:15, which means that I actually get home before Julia is asleep (she’s in bed already, but I get to chat with her for a few minutes, which is awesome).

This past Friday I worked from home so we could attend an event at Julia’s Kindergarten. It was an end of the year “Family Appreciation Day” held by her class.  It was adorable, the kids dressed up and performed a few songs and dances for us and I almost cried from cuteness.  But it was at 1:50 pm. It’s hard enough to go in to work late when there are events in the morning, But a 1:50 start time means that at best you’re getting a half day at work.  Let’s not forget that we work in the city and her school is in our home town in the suburbs.  I worked from home in the morning, but Brian had to take a 12:37 train to get back for it.

And this is just one of the events going on at the end of the year.  Thursday they had a field trip, which we didn’t volunteer for to be a chaperone, just like I didn’t volunteer for the last field trip a few weeks ago. Next week is a Flag Day performance (at 9:30 in the morning, which effectively means if I go I won’t be able to get to work until about noon with my commute if I go).  Then I just found out there is Field Day on the same day as Flag Day, if I wanted to go back to the school three hours later to watch that. And if I wanted to send my nanny in my place, too bad, because the school doesn’t allow siblings to attend so she wouldn’t be able to bring Luca. Then there’s the last day of school.  I figured unlike the first day of school, I wouldn’t stay home for it, until I found out that her kindergarten class parents have arranged for a pool party after school.  Unfortunately the last day of school pool party is the same week as Camp Orientation night which I am already leaving work early to attend, so I don’t think I can make both.

Then there’s first day of camp, which starts the Monday after school ends, and which I have to go to because our new nanny has never been there before and I want to make sure she has the process down.  And yes, I have a nanny.  And parents and in-laws who help out once a week each.  We’ve got something approximating a village working to raise our kids and we still can’t do it all.

How is a two parent working family supposed to manage all this?  I think this is a particularly challenging situation for families who commute longer distances like we do.  An event at school becomes not just the 30 or 60 minutes for the actual event, but then at least an hour and half past that – other than morning and evening rush hour, the trains around here only go into/from the city once every 30 minutes.  Then it’s a forty plus minute train ride (no expresses outside of rush hours) and then the subway trip to the office.  If I worked fifteen minutes away like some of the moms do, I’d only miss an hour or two at work at most.  But that’s assuming they have flexible schedules like I do, which is not entirely likely.  There are plenty of people who’d have to use up half or a whole of one of their few precious vacation days to attend these events.  And if they are one of the moms who only has an after school sitter and not a nanny like we do, that also means that the bulk of the rest of their vacation days are used for school breaks.

I know that traditionally women used to stay home, and that certainly there are plenty of stay at home moms still around. But it’s been at least 30-40 years that women have by and large been a major part of the work force, and I don’t understand how businesses (and schools) have not evolved to the needs of working parents (including dads).  There are certainly some great steps forward  – paternity leave policies that didn’t exist in the past, and more work from home flexibility for many workers because of computers and the internet.  But I feel like there is still a fundamentally flawed system yet not one that there feels like there’s an obvious answer to.

I can think of a few things that would help out on both sides.  Free wifi on commuter trains like the metro north where we live could help parents going into work late/leaving early score an extra 30-60 minutes of work while they commute.  More schools could have early drop off programs because if parents are regularly getting into work later than their counterparts, it doesn’t make it so easy to leave early.  Schools could offer affordable paid school vacation alternatives, like rec programs that would make it easier for parents to use days off for special events at school and not just because their kid has a winter break.  Businesses could offer a certain amount of “life event” days.  One of my former companies had these but they were limited to things like moving, bereavement or honeymoons.  Add in the option for 2-3 kid days a year would give a little relief.

I understand that I speak from a place of privilege, and that I have more resources and financials at my disposal than many parents.  So if it’s this hard for me, I can imagine how much harder it is for parents with less flexibility, less financial resources and less family around.   But regardless of the scale of who has it worse, the main point is this – we fundamentally need to figure out ways to make thing easier for working parents to be there for their kids.  Any ideas?

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.