Parenting with P.E.A.C.E.

I started this blog because I wanted to expose the truth about the challenges of parenting. I’ve talked about the importance of honesty in revealing the tough parts so that we don’t feel so alone. I’ve addressed postpartum depression, losing a pregnancy,  and the (not so) magic of babies among other topics. But something that I haven’t tackled much is specifics for how we can make it better.  Mostly this is because I felt unqualified to give parenting advice, since I have struggled with it quite a bit (spoiler alert: so do most people).

Recently I have been going through a period of major inspiration in my life.  I’ve been more productive and more positive than I have been in years. The happiness and calm that has been coursing through me has been such a contrast to the ball of anxiety and gloom I was from mid 2016 to mid 2017 (aka “the dark period”).  I have noticed that my parenting methods have improved pretty dramatically since I have become more peaceful and positive.  I’ve long believed, and seen the proof, that yelling doesn’t actually help the situation, but my frayed nerves prevented me from effectively practicing that on a regular basis before.

I have been working recently on a self-help and self-care philosophy that I’ve dubbed P.E.A.C.E. (gotta love a good acryonym!).  While I had originally built it as a method for helping myself and others with anxiety, I have discovered it has a number of other practical applications, including work issues like coping with stress, identifying priorities and managing people.  But it is also super good for parenting.

P.E.A.C.E. is simple.  It’s five steps that you run through during the course of a situation.  However, you can also access each of the steps independently depending on what you need at the time.

P: Prepare
E: Examine
A: Accept
C: Calm
E: Embrace

Here’s an example of parenting with P.E.A.C.E. in action:

You are going out to a nice dinner with your husband and toddler and another family tonight. You’ve had mixed results taking her out; sometimes she behaves great, sometimes she is a disaster, so you’re a bit nervous/stressed about how it will go.

Prepare: This is your pre-game. What worked during those successful dinners and what didn’t at the rough ones? Based on that you can prepare for a better outcome: Let’s go at 6 instead of 7 so she will be less tired. We’ll bring a few toys and books.  We’ll have cheerios to feed her before the food comes.

Examine: It’s game time. You’re in the restaurant. She starts to cry. You give her the books and she throws them. You offer her cheerios and she isn’t eating them.  You begin to get impatient and stressed. What if the restaurant throws you out? What if you can never go out to eat with her until she is a teenager? What if your friends think your a bad mom because their kids are sitting so nicely.

This spiral and frustration is what usually leads to the impulsive behavior – the yelling, the anxiety, the obsessive thoughts.  It’s time to examine what is really happening. Take a beat. Clear your mind of the worries and focus on reality.  I suggest that you begin to keep what I call the “bank of proof”.  This can be something that just lives in your head, or if you need it, something you physically write down, ideally on your phone so that you can access it anywhere.  Your bank of proof is a reminder of your “wins”.  Say to yourself: we’ve gone out to dinner 6 times in the last year and never been thrown out, no matter how she behaved. People are nice because they understand kids aren’t always perfect. You’ve had luck in the past calming her down by playing games with her – why don’t you try that?

Accept: You are now at the solution phase. It is what it is so let’s deal with it. She is crying. It’s not the end of the world. She will stop at some point. Try that game you remember working in the past. The one where you have to guess animals by the sound they make. Hey, that seems to be working.  Now let’s get some bread and butter over here and fill her up. Maybe she’s hangry.  If all else fails, you can always take her outside for a quick walk, or (last resort) let her play with your phone.

Calm: Do an emotional gut check. Now that you’re not zoomed in on your fears or anger, it’s a lot easier to process what is happening.  You want to enjoy the rest of dinner, and not feel worried she will do it again (but if she does it again, just keep going through E and A), or make a rash decision to leave.  You’ve got this, girl! You can choose to enjoy yourself tonight. There is this great quote from Mary Engelbreit that has always stuck with me “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you feel about it.” IT IS NOT EASY TO DO.  But it is SO WORTH IT to work on this.

Embrace: You are in the car on the way home from dinner.  You made it! The rest of the dinner turned out ok.  Your toddler wasn’t always happy, but she did eat some of her pasta, and you and your husband had a much needed glass of wine, and no one in the restaurant gave you evil looks, and now she is sleeping in the car seat like a little angel and you survived.  You can add this to your bank of proof. Build up your wins, and draw on them whenever you need.  Be proud of yourself.  You can embrace even the more shitty situations because there is always a redemption point in there somewhere.

I truly believe P.E.A.C.E. can provide a true path to changing your life as a parent.  I just practiced it on a week-long vacation with the kids and my husband in the Dominican Republic and it was amazing. I focused before the trip on not being apprehensive and obsessive or worrying about bad outcomes, which is something I often do before traveling.  I was able to go into the trip more calmly and parent with more enjoyment.  I very rarely get to spend that amount of concentrated time with my kids because I am a working mom, and I thought I would feel exhausted but I came home feeling peaceful and refreshed.  I am not saying the trip was all roses and sunshine because let’s be honest, we were dealing with a 3 and 6 year old here (I will write a post about vacation soon, because I highly recommend the resort!) But there was so much magic, so much fun, and so much happiness.  Were the kids behaving any better or worse than usual? I don’t think so.  But I did, and it made all the difference.

Think of this method like lifting weights. Day one you aren’t going to pick up the biggest barbells and hoist them over your head.  But with continued practice, you can build your strength and accomplish bigger goals. I believe you can find a path to being a calmer and more rational parent and be able to enjoy your kids and your life more!

Note: I will be writing a lot more about P.E.A.C.E. in the future and working on it’s various applications.  If you are interested in learning more about it, please reach out.  I’m looking for beta testers to give feedback on how to distill the idea with the most simplicity and also what specific tactics lead to the best outcomes! 

When life gets in the way

Here it is, the cliche blog post about how I’ve been too busy to write a blog post.  That’s not entirely true.  A person can always find time for anything that is a priority for them.  That’s why I have dramatically increased my time spent reading this year, and have gotten like three massages, yet I haven’t been able to “find time” for exercise since I was pregnant with Luca, ha.

One of the things I’ve been busy doing is parenting related, tangentially I suppose. I’ve written a children’s book.  It feels funny to write that down as it makes it seem more real.  But it’s pretty real at this point. I have written a kid’s book and am in the final process of editing it (I’m on draft 24 already) and am almost ready to start the query process to submit it to agents.

I wrote a kid’s book because I love to write, I love kid’s books, and I had something I really wanted to write about.  I have mentioned on this blog openly about having anxiety issues since I was a child.  As an adult, I’ve come to understand that my coping mechanisms for this anxiety were not tied enough to self-soothing, and relied a lot more on other people to fix things for me.  The intention with this book is to help little kids with anxiety think about ways they can help themselves.  The book is currently titled “Lulu Fox and the Fix-It Box” and I am really excited about its potential.

Imagine if Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes (I love all his books!) or The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn had a more kid driven solution than one supplied by a parent or adult. The first day of school can be scary, especially for an anxious kid who’s afraid of everything.  Thankfully Lulu Fox comes up with an idea – she can make a “Fix It” box to lock her fears away. Lulu wears the key to the box as a necklace to help remind her to be brave at school. The reader gets a front row seat as Lulu faces challenges that will test that bravery.

I have done a ton of research on the process of finding an agent, and it is supposed to be quite hard.  Even if you get an agent they then need to try and sell to a publisher.  So while I am hopeful that people will love Lulu as much as I do, it might take quite a bit of time before it sees the light of day as a book.  If I am unable to secure an agent I will go the self-publishing route, but that costs money vs. makes money (at least in the short to medium term) so fingers crossed that I find one!!

I am already working on my second book, this one about a little boy on the autism spectrum who loves music.  I’ve been having early versions read by those with experience with autism (either teachers or parents) to make sure I am capturing things accurately.

If you are interested in being a beta reader of either book, let me know.  Or if you are a fellow writer and looking to trade manuscripts, I’ve been having a lot of fun doing that with people all over the world, so let me know!  And please be patient, I have more mom stories in me to share with this blog, I am just on a slightly diverted path right now.

 

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.

 

Be my (mom) friend

Today at the pool I asked a nice blond woman for her phone number. Wait, that sounds weird.  Let me start again with some context.  Today, while hanging out with my two year old son at the pool, I noticed that the woman sitting next to me also had what looked like a two year old son.  Never one to miss an opportunity to make new mom friends, I started a conversation with her, which ended with us exchanging numbers for a possible future playdate.

Trying to make friends as a mom feels a lot like dating, especially in the years before your kids are old enough to self-select their friends.  Despite being friendly, smart, interesting and having a job in a similar field to me, she’s not my perfect match because she’s pregnant.  Her two year old is her oldest child, whereas Luca is my younger.  I’m not saying we can’t strike up a successful friendship and set our kids up to be friends, but as any mom of two can tell you, the ultimate ultimate is when both kids line up relatively close in age.

That’s not to say that some of my best mom friends have the right line up either.  Because you can’t always choose who you love, and if at least one kid matches and the moms make a love connection, then you make it work.  Two of my favorite mom friends (and two of my newest) are relatively bad match in the kid line up department.  First is a woman who has two boys, and at five, while Julia is still willing to play with boys, she definitely prefers girls.  Her other son is older, so no match for Luca.  And her husband, while being probably one of the coolest guys in the suburbs (a jewelry designer with long hair and hip clothes) works every weekend, so making a love connection between the husbands seems unlikely due to limited opportunities for them to hang out.  But she’s worth it; a woman that I would have been friends if we met before we had kids. She gets my sense of humor, she has great style, she doesn’t shy away from my oversharing and she’s a really interesting person.  We ride the train together home from work whenever our schedules line up, so more of our mom friendship is actually separate from our kids, even though we talk about them a lot.

My other new friend has a son more than nine months younger than Luca and that’s her only child, so no match for Julia.  We knew each other before we had kids on a casual basis at an old job, but I ran into her when she was pregnant and become one of the mom gurus who ushered her into motherhood.  Literally hundreds, if not thousands of dollars of the kids’ old stuff went to her, along with advice on everything from finding affordable childcare to sleep training.  Again, she’s the kind of person I would be friends with even if we didn’t have kids, and even better, our husbands love each other and have shared interests.

I tend to make friends easily because I am extremely outgoing (reader, I doubt you are shocked by this based on my previous blogs). But even I had a lot of trouble making mom friends when Julia was little.  This is largely based on being a working mom, because I couldn’t go to all those activities you might use for “networking”.  I did try a mommy & me class  on the Fridays I worked from home and asked some of the women out on “dates” , but there was no real chemistry.  Weekends weren’t much better, because Julia was born at the end of fall and going to parks, playgrounds and the pool aren’t things you do in the winter. I did have a few early successes.  The babysitter I hired when Julia was six months old had a daughter three months younger, and we ended up becoming friends.  She pulled me through some tough times those early days with my postpartum depression.  But only six months after we met, she and her family moved upstate.  We’re still in touch on Facebook, but it’s not the same as when she lived here and we’d go to yard sales together, put the girls in the same shopping cart at stores, etc.

My most successful and longest running mom friendship to date can be attributed to my bull in a china shop approach to making new friends.  The aforementioned babysitter/friend and I were pushing our strollers over to mommy & me class when we saw a woman down the block from the play place taking a similarly aged girl out of her car.  I went right up and asked if she was on her way to class.  It turns out she actually lived on the block (still does) and I got her number and met her the next week at that mommy & me class.  We’re still friends today more than five years later, and she has a daughter who is just a few months younger than Luca (but she did sandwich one in between, who just turned four).  We’re zoned for the same school district and out of six kindergarten classes, our daughters ended up in the same class.  This summer, I convinced her to enroll her in the same camp as Julia and they are in the same group.  Our friendship is not without bumps – I went through a very unreliable period where I’d screw up plans with her a lot. I’ve peppered her with hundreds of anxious mom questions and cried in front of her more than once, all of which she handles with her calm, non-judgmental tone.  She is a keeper, but we still need to work on getting our husbands to spend more time together.

Long parenting friendships like the one mentioned above are in many ways aided by circumstances.  I find as a parent that keeping up with friendships is more difficult than when you are young and free, although there is considerably less drama within the relationships themselves. I have a friend group made up of the moms of girls from Julia’s old nursery school and for the last two years the girls have also taken dance classes together.  Our group, plus a few other moms, mostly others from that nursery school class have “moms out” nights every month or two at local restaurants.

I love these women, some of whom I consider my closest friends.  But our kids all go to different elementary schools now.  Most of the moms used to belong to the pool but this year many of them skipped it.  A bunch of them belong to the beach but Brian and I can’t join because our zip code isn’t zoned for permits for that beach.  Will our friendships survive our busy lives?

In my teens I had a few friend groups that soured because of jealousy, infighting and back-stabbing.  As an adult, I generally prefer to make individual relationships rather than groups, even though I realize adult women aren’t (most of the time) as catty as your average teenage girl.  This group seems relatively drama free but I am still prone to those old insecurities.  Are they hanging out with me? Yes, probably, as three of them have three year olds that all go to the same pre-school and several of them belong to that beach that we can’t join. But that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with me (although there could be…).

What I dream of, what I hope for are the parent friends for life that my parents have.  They somehow managed to find multiple couples they liked who had kids in very close age ranges to us that we liked.  They had friends we went on vacations with, others that came to family holidays. Most are still close to my parents to this day.  I want that for our kids, and for us too.  The parent friends I’ve made to date have made me a better mom and a happier person, and I hope I’ll be the kind of friend for them that they want to keep for life.   In the meantime, I’ll continue to hit on the women I meet that might make a good match.  That’s the main difference between dating moms and dating for a husband –  you don’t have to commit to just one.

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?

Self(ish)

I love having this blog as an outlet for my thoughts.  I am so glad that my friends and even some strangers are reading it, and that maybe my posts are connecting with them. But today I’m grateful for the fact that I am not a famous blogger, because I want to write about something that I know I’ll be judged for.

Now here’s the thing – my co-blogger Cristina and I started this blog to acknowledge that parenting is hard and we don’t always love it.  Part of that means admitting things that might not be so flattering to us.  But so far, our readers are mostly limited to people who know us, or know someone who does.  As far as those few strangers, my guess is that they are reading because they need to hear this kind of honesty.  My point is that we haven’t gotten any hate comments yet, much to my relief.

If you read any major blog, parenting related or no, there are always the trolls.  People who will write things, heinous things, that they would never ever say to a person’s face.  On the mom blogs, mom shamers come out in force.  And pretty much every mom’s secret fear is that they are shitty moms.  The amount of mom guilt that abounds in our culture is astounding and nobody needs that shit validated, even if the validater (I don’t think that’s a word) is probably a far shittier human being than you.  That’s the point of this blog.  To say hey, I’m afraid sometimes I’m a shitty mom, but you know what? Maybe you’re like me too, and if a lot of us feel like this, maybe it cancels out the shittiness and it turns out this is just the reality of how parenting is today for a lot of people.

Which brings me to my shitty mom admission.  I recently got a new job, which I start Monday (yay).  That’s not the shitty part. The job is awesome and exciting and different and I’m stoked.  My True Mom Confession is that I managed to work it out so that I had two weeks of time off in between jobs … and I didn’t give my nanny a single full day off.

This is not to say I didn’t spend any additional time with my children those two weeks.  I put them to bed every night, something I NEVER get to do when I’m working.  I spent parts of various days with them.  I stopped by Julia’s dance class to check in with the owner on how she was doing.  I arranged multiple playdates and I attended a few. I had some meals with them.

But I also did a lot of stuff for me.  I went to see not one, but two movies in the theater.  I went on a shopping spree….ok, I went on multiple shopping trips (although to be fair, I was shopping for a dress for my niece’s batmitzvah, full spring/summer wardrobes for the kids, summer clothes for my husband and getting clothes for my new job).  I had networking breakfasts in the city and lunches with friends in the ‘burbs.  I took a nap one day.  I read a few books.  I had a couple of manicures and a pedicure.  I got a chair massage.

These are not extraordinary things, but as a working mom of small children, these are luxuries.  These are things that maybe you could do one per month if you’re lucky.  And even if you get to do one, maybe you have to take the abridged version – like on a weekend when I can convince Julia to get a manicure with me. Its fun and cute, but also means I have to bring her snacks and activities, I’m not complaining about that because even that feels like a luxury – getting girl time with my daughter, relaxing, etc.  But my point is that this was truly an extended period of indulging what I wanted to do.  Putting Lisa first.

I’ve always believed that I am capable of being a good mom because I prioritize myself when I am able, but even I wonder, did I take it too far? Couldn’t I have shuttled Julia to gymnastics and sat with Luca in the waiting room?  Or maybe let the nanny go home early every day? And more so, is there something wrong with me that it isn’t what I wanted to do?

I find that piece the most confusing to me in terms of trying to understand my role as a mother.  As a mom, am I supposed to look at a two week vacation and think, I am so excited to spend all the time I can with my kids? Because I don’t, even though I don’t normally get to spend a lot of time with them. When we went to Disney I was super excited to be with them every minute, but that was because we were all doing something wonderful as a family and they were super adorable and well behaved the whole time. But real life in the role of a stay at home mom, even for two weeks, it just doesn’t…. it doesn’t do it for me.  I think you can guess now why I would worry about judgment for this post.  What I’m admitting here is that while I really love and truly adore my children, I don’t want to be with them all the time.

There, I said it.  Let the judging begin.

Facing the (ec)topic

A little before Julia turned two I finally got comfortable with the idea of having a second child.  Although having two kids had always been my plan, the PPD and general difficulties adjusting to parenthood had left me with a big question mark on the topic.  Finally I crossed the bridge from fear into acceptance and was ready to try.  I think it had something to do with Julia being slightly more independent – she was walking, talking, understanding the things we were saying, and I was starting to have more fun.   Ready to take the leap, I stopped birth control. With Julia, it took me around a year from when I stopped taking birth control pills to get pregnant, so I wasn’t expecting anything quickly with my second.

A few months after we started trying, I passed out on the subway.  Brian was with me and managed to drag me off the train at the next stop and onto the platform before I collapsed into his arms.  It happened suddenly and dramatically, but after stopping into a cafe and drinking some apple juice, I felt much better and I even went to work that day. I thought I might have had something called vasovagal syncopy , a fainting episode that can happen for a variety of reasons including low blood sugar and is relatively harmless. I chose not to worry about it too much and didn’t got to the doctor.

Then the next week, it happened again, also on the subway (weird, right?).  This time I was alone and felt the same sensation that I was going to lose consciousness. I leaned forward to brace myself and ended up smashing my head into the pole in front of me, which happened to have the benefit of propping me up.  Someone quickly gave me their seat and after I put my head between my legs for a minute or two I felt fine.  But two times in a week seemed odd, so I made an appointment with my primary care physician for a quick check in.  She asked some questions, ran blood work and didn’t find anything out of the norm, so she told me to let her know if it happened again.

That weekend Brian and I were scheduled to go on our first solo trip since Julia was born.  It was just two nights in Philadelphia in October, not exactly a tropical vacation, but we had lined up a bunch of fun stuff to do, including the Mutter Museum, which I’ve always wanted to visit.  It’s a museum of medical oddities, something I am really into (don’t even get me started on conjoined twins). I remember one display there was of a fetus at every week of development during the first trimester.  This was not the most unusual thing (they had giant tumors, casts of medical anomalies and an enormous collection of skulls) but the tiny little fetuses stuck with me as a mom.

Within a day of being in Philly I got terrible heartburn and stomach pains.  We had to stop at a drugstore to pick up Tums and Zantac to try and alleviate my symptoms.  I have celiac disease and although I am vigilant about not eating gluten, I occasionally get cross contaminated or accidentally ingest traces which can lead to symptoms like this.  Not fun, but not worth cancelling a trip over. While we didn’t get much romantic time, we still went sight seeing, ate some great food and generally enjoyed being childless people for a few days.

The day after we returned I was due to get my period but I didn’t.  I thought maybe the heartburn and weird stomach aches while we were away could be early onset symptoms of pregnancy so I took a test which confirmed I was indeed expecting. This was pretty crazy news to process, as we hadn’t been trying for long and I was taking a really exciting work trip the next day.

I would be flying to San Francisco to go to a Facebook conference at their headquarters.  I would also get to drop in on the Twitter headquarters  and it was to be my first trip at both.  I was seriously jazzed about going, in particular because my company sending me was an indication of how seriously they were taking my role in growing our social practice.   The morning of the trip my stomach felt worse than it had before, and more than that, it felt weird.  I’ve had a lot of medical problems in my life, but this was a feeling I hadn’t experienced, both dull and sharp at the same time and in multiple locations.  But I just felt couldn’t very well pass up this super exciting opportunity.

I met up with my coworkers at the airport but we were all split up on the plane.  During the flight, I passed out four times.  I didn’t even know you could lose consciousness when you are sitting down, but apparently you can, because I did.  I’d get this wave really fast of knowing it would be about to happen, my head would drop, and then I would come to a few seconds later, feeling tingly and sweaty.  One of my co-workers stopped by my seat to say hi mid-flight, and I told him what happened, but played it off as if it was a weird, lighthearted thing and not at all a concerning development.  When we got off the plane, I didn’t even mention it to the other two.  I was traveling with all men, and in retrospect I think this affected a lot the way I handled the situation.  I didn’t want to show any signs of weakness, especially since they were all in more senior roles at the company than me.

I struggled to act normal on the way to the hotel  and immediately called Brian crying from my room.  “Something’s wrong, and I’m scared”.  I remember trying to convince myself that I didn’t need to go to the doctor, because then I might miss the dinner scheduled with our Facebook team (um, seriously?).  He insisted I go to the doctor, pointing out that being pregnant made it literally twice as important.

As luck would have it, there was an urgent care literally next door.  When I stopped at the concierge to get walking directions there, I must have looked like a hot mess because the hotel insisted on sending someone to walk me there.  I shot a super casual email to my co-workers. “Hey, I’m going to run over to the urgent care as I have a minor medical issue I just need to check out before dinner!”

At the urgent care, my pain was intensifying.  I thought maybe I had an ulcer, or the world’s worst case of heartburn.  Once I got into the exam room and the nurse realized I was pregnant and checked out my current state and symptoms, she looked at me like I was crazy. She refused to let the doctor see me and insisted I go to the hospital and called me a cab. I really thought she was overreacting (denial is not just a river in Egypt, folks). I called Brian with an update from the cab, and he was getting more worried, but I still figured it would turn out to be something minor.  I am the master of random but not serious medical maladies.

At the hospital, I wasn’t allowed to get out of a wheelchair because I was a “falling risk” due to the fainting.  They took some blood, and while waiting for the results, the decision was made that I needed an ultrasound. They had to give me IV saline to pump me up with enough fluid to take a look which is rough because I am someone that has to pee ALL THE TIME. The IV saline was killing my bladder, plus the pain was making the need to go to the bathroom worse somehow.  I begged them to let me pee, but was told that doing so would likely extend the time until the ultrasound because they’d have to fill me back up.  I held off as long as I could but eventually I just had to go.

Not too long after I peed, an ultrasound tech came over to get me.  I told her that I wasn’t sure if I was ready because I had just peed and she made it clear that they had to do the ultrasound NOW.  Nobody said anything during the exam but they spent more time on one side than another.   I wondered if maybe my appendix had burst or maybe I had a kidney stone.  Quickly after the exam I was brought into a private room and given the news.  I was in a more advanced state of pregnancy than I thought.  I wasn’t just a day or two passed a missed period, apparently I had been pregnant as of the previous month, but because I got a light period and my temps had gone back down I never tested.  But here was the triple whammy: I was eight weeks pregnant, the pregnancy was ectopic and it had ruptured.  I was bleeding internally and likely had been for a few days.  They were amazed that I wasn’t septic already.  They said I required surgery to remove the fetus.

This is how you’ll know I was in shock: My first thought was that I was going to miss the Facebook conference.  Next, I asked them if I could wait until I got home to have the surgery.  As in, fly back across the country.  The doctor looked at me like I had two heads.  “We have to do the surgery RIGHT NOW.  Immediately.  You are lucky that you came in when you did or you could have died.”  I had to call my husband and tell him that we were losing the pregnancy and that I would be having emergency surgery while he was across the country.  There was crying on both sides.  He assured me he’d find a way to get the first flight out there.

Here’s the third piece of proof I was in shock: My Facebook rep and my boss’s boss stopped by to check on me in the hospital on the way to dinner (I had sent them a follow up to my earlier email informing them that I was in the hospital and might be late to dinner) and I decided they should take a picture of me in my hospital gown giving the thumb’s up sign to post on Facebook in order to be meta.

lisa hospital

Let’s examine some layers here.  1) I posted a hospital photo of myself to Facebook.  2) I was giving a thumbs up.  3) I neglected to remember that despite my parents being on vacation in Australia, it was the modern era, which meant that they had internet sporadically and therefore the ability to check Facebook (they hadn’t been notified of my condition like the rest of my family had because we didn’t want to worry them on vacation)  4) I was losing my baby.  To my credit, if there is anything redeeming about this action at all, it’s that I didn’t actually tell Facebook that I was pregnant.  I just said I was bleeding internally and needed surgery. But still, but still, but still.  Have I ever mentioned I’m an oversharer?  Also, as it turns out, even though I am an obsessive thinker and can spend hours turning over a conversation or decision in mind, I literally turned my brain into a blank slate of denial and repression to deal with this situation.

My husband arrived the next morning after the surgery was over.  The surgery went well; they had to remove one of my Fallopian tubes because the damage was too severe, but otherwise everything went smoothly.  I was able to fly home the day after that, on the original flight I had planned to take home.  Amazingly, the seat next to me on the plane was free and we were able to book it without having to deal with it at the airport.  I cried some on the plane when Maxwell’s cover of Kate Bush’s song “A Woman’s Work” popped up on my playlist (it’s a song that was written for the movie “She’s having a Baby” about the scariness of childbirth) until my husband made me stop listening to moody music. Then I mostly slept.

My company was kind and generous in paying for expenses as well as offering as much time off as I needed, but I went back to work quickly from home, because I couldn’t bear to be alone with my thoughts.  Surprisingly, I didn’t mourn the loss of the pregnancy much.  I had only known I was pregnant for 2 days when it happened, and hadn’t begun to attach myself to the idea of a baby in my mind.  In addition, because I knew it was not viable, it helped me feel that it could never have been my baby.  Mom tip: Just because I didn’t struggle much with the loss doesn’t mean that is the experience of other moms who have gone through something similar, or any other kind of pregnancy loss.  It hits every woman differently and there’s no right or wrong way to feel.

But a few months after the ectopic, during the time it began to sink in that I might not be able to have a baby, I struggled pretty hard with something similar to PTSD.  It was as if the realization that I almost died just smacked me in the face one day, and I became terrified.  I withdrew emotionally, I cried a lot, I had way more anxiety than usual.  Everything I had closed in my brain just opened up and started spilling out.  This seems to be a bit of a pattern for me – I handled my postpartum depression the same way, not actually recognizing it until after it had been going on for too long.  One thing that helped was my doctor explaining to me that having one tube doesn’t reduce your chances of pregnancy by half, as women don’t consistently ovulate.  Some women might only ovulate from one tube, some might alternate every month, and some can ovulate on one side for three months and then switch.  He said I should trust my body to do it’s job and that I was still young enough to have a good chance of a happy outcome.

luca bearMy story has a happy ending, as you likely know if you’ve read my blog and remember that I have two kids.  Despite having only one Fallopian tube left to work with, after getting permission to try again after three months, I was able to get pregnant within a year, and that’s our delicious Luca.  And every year I make a donation to the Stanford Hospital in California as a reminder of what I’ve lost and what I’ve gained.  It’s because of them that I’m alive and I have my boy.

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.