Holy Crap, Am I Grateful

I’m typing this post from a Starbucks. Because I like to leave while the housecleaner is at my house, cleaning.

For awhile I left because I just felt really awkward having someone clean my house, and escape was my avoidance-of-awkwardness-strategy. Because it really is awkward for me to have someone come and clean my house.

But my GOD do I love it.

I hired the housecleaner about 8 months ago, and I think it has become less awkward for me, because I am paying her a good amount, supporting a woman-owned business, and making my life more convenient by farming out a job I hate (scrubbing tubs and toilets, UGH.)

So in the near-absence of awkwardness, why do I still flee to Starbies when I could just be chillin’ at home?

1) Because I love a two-pump Peppermint Mocha

2) Because I love even more the magical feeling I get when I arrive home and the house looks and smells immaculately clean and it’s almost like a group of benevolent fairies have come and done the work for me. Or, maybe, house elves, but ones that I treat really well and DEFINITELY have given clothes so they know they’re free and they get  paid for their hard work.

It’s really that magic that I’m leaving for.

And as I sit here, sipping a craft coffee beverage and pecking away at my computer, doing a job that I love while my house is getting beautified, it hits me that I am incredibly privileged.

It’s hard to recognize how privileged and lucky we truly are in the day to day muckity-muck.

When the dogs are barking and the bills are due and the kids aren’t following the frickin’ to do list and I will LITERALLY have 90 minutes of driving to bring them to their various activities in the afternoon and DEAR GOD HOW AM I GOING TO GET ALL THE COOKING PREP DONE???

When all of that is flowing through my mind, it’s easy to forget that all my complaints come from a place of amazing privilege. So, on this most grateful of days, allow me to flip my complaints:

  • How lucky am I to have these two adorable animals in my home, who love me unconditionally and are the most kind and companionable of friends every day?
  • Even if organizing and keeping up with our banking and monthly bills is like a part time job, how lucky am I to be able, without worry, to heat my home, feed my family, PLUS have a glut of entertainment options like cable and Internet as well as Hulu and Netflix?
  • How lucky am I to be able to kibbitz about my kids not doing their homework or their chores right away, when so many children have to worry about hunger in their bellies, or where they are going to sleep tonight? My “worries” about my kids are laughable in comparison to the worries of parents who have to be concerned with how to meet their children’s basic needs.
  • And even though the incessant driving is annoying, how lucky am I to be able to offer my kids’ these opportunities? How lucky am I to have not only a reliable vehicle, but one that warms my ass when it’s cold and can seat more people than I typically ever have in it? How lucky am I to have two healthy children who can participate in lacrosse and gymnastics and all their other activities?
  • And even as I whine about Thanksgiving prep, how lucky am I to be able to buy and prepare more food than the 5 people at the table will ever be able to eat in one sitting? My dad, who has battled and overcome brain lymphoma (in remission for 2 and a half years now!) will be at that table, along with my husband and my kids. I’ll be surrounded by love, warmth and good food. How. Lucky. I. Am.

My life is one of extreme privilege…of excess, really, and holy crap, am I grateful for it.

Just for the record, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to whine and complain sometimes. But in these moments, and especially during Thanksgiving week, how can I not just take a moment and recognize the incredible bounty of my life?

Happiest of Thanksgivings to you and yours. xoxo

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Home Office Mom: A Love Story/Tale of Woe

I moved to a new team within my company about 7 months ago. Most of the team is remote, and for awhile I was doing a couple of days in the office per week, and a couple of days at home per week. But that just changed a month and a half ago–I am now officially a home office worker since my office consolidated.

I freakin’ LOVE working at home. I start early and I’m raring to go at 7am. I can get stuff DONE before the kids even leave for school. I have gotten into a pretty good groove where most days I have finished the bulk of my work to-do list by late afternoon and can help the kids with their homework/yell at them from my desk while I reply to emails/wrap things up.

I like the quiet. I get a lot more done at home. Of course, I enjoy office chatting, but it could always be disruptive to my work flow. Now, most of my chatting takes place via Skype and I can reply to a friendly chat in a few minutes after I finish up whatever I’m working on. Which is nice, because not replying for eight minutes to someone who is physically standing at your desk saying, “How was your weekend, Steph?” is just…awkward. But on Skype, it’s all good.

Also because of Skype, which captures my likeness in video from the waist up only, I can wear shorts/jeans/comfy pants every day and still be totally professional. I know there are some who would one-up me and say, “I work from home and I don’t wear ANY pants!” but I have not ventured into that expert-work-from-home-person territory yet. Maybe someday I will be so bold. Today is not that day, and tomorrow is not looking good either. I guess I’m just a pants person, ya know?

Anyway, I also find that since I’m already home and working away on the computer, I might as well just eat my lunch as I continue chugging along on my daily tasks.

Sometimes I admittedly play with Photo Booth during lunchtime.

Photo on 10-17-14 at 1.50 PM Photo on 10-17-14 at 1.52 PM

coffee

I do drink coffee until, and sometimes beyond, lunch. Coffee is delicious, and it loves me.

 

Anyway.

My point is that working from home is amazingly flexible, which is definitely what I need right now, and helps me get shit done better and manage my life with two kids who need me to drive them to all of their many activities.

But…but…

It also poses an inherent dilemma. Because I’m home every moment with the unmopped floors and the dirty socks and the dogs (who, I have learned, bark at Every. Little. Thing. All. Day. Long.) Because I’m supposed to be working but there’s laundry and dishes and even though I got the client input on the second round draft and I created a sales training and I kicked off a new poster program and sent about 50 emails of some level of business importance, it still feels like I’m a lazy slob if the house isn’t tidy at the end of the work day. Because I was here all day, after all, and I didn’t even walk the dogs.

And the kids, holy mother of gym socks, the kids.

Wouldn’t it be nice if they came home and just took care of the stuff they know they are supposed to take care of so I could finish my work and we could all have a lovely evening together? Wouldn’t that be lovely? Yes, yes it would.

But does it happen?

Nope.

I’m not sure why it can’t happen that way. I think it’s because my kids WANT me to drink more wine, but that’s just a guess.

Because really, my kids are old enough to know better. To get that they have responsibilities. They have A List. A List of Things for Which They Are Responsible for Doing After School, Even if Mom Is On A Call When They Get Home.

But they don’t heed the godforsaken (kidforsaken?) list. Why? Why don’t they heed the list? The list is easy. It is just four things:

  • Empty your lunchbox and backpack
  • Do your homework
  • Pack up your homework/folder/lunchbox for tomorrow
  • Do your chore from the posted list

Seems simple enough, right? Common sense, even. These are basic responsibilities that my old-enough children should be able to manage without me berating them. Maybe they like to be berated? I can never be sure, but it seems to be the only thing that actually works.

It often goes a lot like this:

Me (to child engrossed in iPod): What are you doing?

Child (with deer-in-headlights look): Playing on my iPod.

Me: Did you do your homework?

Child (honestly not sure): Yes?

Me: All of it?

Child: I think so?

Me: Did you get your lunchbox/backpack/folder cleaned out and ready for tomorrow?

Child: Oh, I forgot.

Me: What’s your chore today?

Child: Oh, I don’t know. I forgot to check.

Me: (dies a thousand deaths, then begins berating)

I just don’t understand it. We have had endless conversations where they repeat back the four simple things on the list. We have had meaningful and productive discourse on how quickly they can complete their responsibilities, and then have scads of free time to do whatever they want. They have each independently learned this lesson in a multitude of different scenarios. For example:

  • You were right, Mom. I wish I had started this project much earlier; I wouldn’t have had to give up my entire weekend to do it now. I’ll know better next time. (FALSE.)
  • Ugh, I should have listened to you, Mom, and put the clean sheets on my bed right after I stripped the dirty ones off four hours ago (said at 9pm by an exhausted 12 year old who had to make up his bed…but then did the same exact thing next time.)

Don’t they understand that hearing them say these things should be a cause for me to celebrate a parenting win? Don’t they get how hollow it makes my mom victory when they can’t keep the lesson in their head? How I can’t truly enjoy being SO RIGHT when they keep forgetting how right I was the very next day? It’s maddening.

If I was in the office all day instead, they would complete all their homework under teacher supervision at the after school program, and I could pick them up and badger them–I mean, talk about responsibilities with them–at home without having to divide my attention with work.

So, in the end, I learn again that no solution is perfect. I continue to try and focus on being grateful for this nearly-perfect-but-not-without-its-drawbacks solution that I am lucky enough to have, and wait for that glorious day when the lesson finally, blissfully sticks in their heads.

(That day is coming. It must be coming soon. IT HAS TO COME, RIGHT???)

 

 

 

Moms, It’s Enough.

Ok, moms. We need to talk about the way we treat each other. Because I’ve kind of had enough and I’m guessing many of you have, too.

Yesterday I was in Whole Foods with my son and there was a bit of a ruckus. We had finished our shopping and were wandering over to the bakery case to see what looked delicious. Because that’s what we do. Because CUPCAKES.

Anyway.

As we passed the mini-coffee shop, which was crowded with a thick knot of people waiting to order their coffees, I saw a mom struggling with a crying girl, who looked to be about three or four years old. She simultaneously kept an eye on a boy of maybe a few years older who was nearby, eating a treat of some kind. My heart went out to this mom, as it always does to moms in those situations. I could see the panic on her face, and I felt her anxiety in my own gut.

We’ve all had those moments, Moms, haven’t we? No matter how old or young your child is, we’ve all experienced those in-public moments where your child behaves in a cringe-worthy way. Typically, the children are acting out in age-appropriate ways–a three year old throwing a tantrum when the answer to ANYTHING is “no,” a teenager rolling his eyes and mouthing off–but how do the onlookers in the store/restaurant/bowling alley/doctor’s office/car dealership/WHEREVER respond? Do they think, “that’s just a kid being a kid” or “that poor mom–she’s doing her best!”? I hope so.

But the truth is, so many times, they think the worst. So many times, their silent judgment is palpable. I have felt that silent judgment, and most acutely I have felt it from other women. Other moms.

Ladies, pardon my frankness, but what the ever-loving hell are we doing to each other with this judgment?

Let me go back to Whole Foods.

We passed the mom with her daughter and started ogling some particularly tantalizing cupcakes. A moment later, over the din of the busy store, I heard an angry voice start to rise. Like most of the other people in the area, my son and I turned toward the near-shouting.

“Don’t you tell me how I should be handling my children! I’m a single mom, and working my a** off, doing my best! How dare you talk to me that way?”

It was the mom I had seen before, trying to hold onto her slippery, squirming daughter while confronting another woman.

I have no idea what this woman said to the mom. I didn’t see her face, only saw the back of her head, her long, reddish hair, and the man standing next to her. She must have replied to the mom, but quietly, because I didn’t hear what she said. I saw the mom’s eyebrows go up in surprise and her eyes widen. Her voice got even louder; she was shouting now:

“My son dropped a napkin on the floor! He’s a little boy! You’re talking to me this way because my son dropped a napkin on the floor and I didn’t pick it up!”

By this point, the entire area of the grocery store was frozen, staring at the confrontation…except for a few unconvincing souls who pretended they were oblivious and tried to keep up the appearance of shopping. A Whole Foods employee swooped in and hovered between the two women, saying something like, “Let’s just calm down, everyone.”

The red-headed woman must have said something else to the mom. If she was already close to losing it, whatever the woman said pushed her over the edge. “HOW DARE YOU TALK TO ME THAT WAY, YOU F***ING B**CH? HOW DARE YOU–”

At this point the husband stepped in front of his wife and told the mom she shouldn’t speak to his wife that way. The mom and the husband began to argue at that point, until the Whole Foods employee stepped in and asked everyone to calm down and requested the mom step away from the scene.

You guys, I felt so much compassion for this mom. I have been her, and I’m sure you have, too. I could see it in her eyes. She was at the end of her rope, all alone in raising her children and all alone in this sea of judgmental faces in Whole Foods. And SHE was the one being asked to leave, a pariah with her two children. My heart broke for her, especially as the crowd of people around her looked away, pointedly avoiding eye contact with the shunned woman.

Yes, she got carried away. Maybe many of the people in the store–maybe you, reading this–think she went too far by swearing at the woman.

Maybe she did. But to me, that’s not the point.

The point is that this mom, doing her best with two small children on what was clearly not their best public outing, faced unfair judgment from another woman, and she lost it. She snapped, and I don’t blame her, not one bit.

In fact, I have to say I was a little bit in awe of her. I can’t tell you how many times I have wanted to react in a similar way when I have been judged by others when my children chose the worst of moments to misbehave, as children do…but I never quite had the spunk to do it.

In that moment, I could see how alone this woman felt. As she started to turn away with her two children in tow, I walked over to her, touched her on the arm and said, “You’re doing a good job, Mom.”

The relief and gratitude in her eyes was evident. “Thank you,” she replied.

I’m not going to lie. I was really nervous to do that, to speak out and stand with that mom in a moment when she was clearly being cast out and vilified by the people around. My voice shook a little, but I made sure it was loud enough for the others around to hear.

Because moms, I’ve had enough, and I’m not going to look away and be quiet anymore.

I’ve had enough of us tearing each other down. I’ve had enough of us being expected by society to keep our kids quiet, and to be quiet ourselves. I’ve had enough of being judged for saying no to my kids and disciplining them, even when it means they yell and scream in a store. I’ve had enough of women’s stares and whispers, silently and not-so-silently criticizing another mother’s choices.

Now look, no one is talking about abuse here, so let’s just not have anyone read this and think, “Well, if someone is abusing their kid, I will criticize them and call the police!” DUH.

I’m talking about parenting choices. I’m talking about seeing a woman in a store, struggling with her two kids and then criticizing her because her little boy dropped a napkin on the floor and she did not immediately either 1) make him pick it up or 2) pick it up herself because she was just a tiny bit busy with her other child at that moment.

Hey, here’s an idea: instead of looking at that struggling parent and thinking, “Sheesh, she is really letting her kids run wild; she is a terrible mother!” how about looking at her and thinking, “Look at that mom. She is really having a tough time. Maybe I can help.”

Maybe, just maybe, instead of offering a criticism and a judgment, that other woman could have just, oh, I don’t know, BENT OVER AND PICKED UP THE DANGED NAPKIN HERSELF. You know, just to be a good person. Just because she saw this mother needed help.

I’ve had a couple of times when I needed help myself, and all I got was judgment and criticism. One time, especially.

My son was two, maybe three, so this was about 10 years ago. I was 29 or 30, in Target with him, wearing a baseball cap so I probably looked to be in my early or mid-twenties.

He wanted a particular Thomas the Train, and the answer was no. It’s the age-old story, am I right? Toddler demands toy, mom says no, toddler melts down entirely.

So I told my son in age-appropriate language that his tantrum was not ok, he was in time-out and I would speak to him when he was done crying. I gave hime some space but of course I stayed nearby, within sight of him at the end of the row.

It was hard. I know you know it was hard. I knew people nearby–who were pointedly NOT making eye contact–were judging me, thinking “Why is that awful mom just letting her little boy cry like that?” I could feel the hot anxiety in my chest, rising up, willing me to relent and just get him the toy so he would shut up.

And then it happened. A woman approached me, someone probably just a couple of years older than me, but it was clear she thought I was a very young mother. She had That Look on her face. The “I-Know-You’re-Trying-But-You’re-Doing-It-Wrong-And-I’m-So-Much-Better-At-It-Than-You” look.

“I know it’s hard,” she began. I was tense, so full of stress in that moment, but hoping that maybe she would say something encouraging despite That Look.

Nope.

“But it’s even harder for everyone around here to listen to your little boy cry. You shouldn’t just leave him like that to cry, you know. It’s very unpleasant.”

Ohhhhh, the thoughts that went through my mind as my face, I’m sure, registered shock and disbelief. Thoughts of telling her that I could show her what unpleasant was if she didn’t shut up. This was the moment I remembered when I saw that mom in Whole Foods and understood why she completely lost it. Because I wanted to lose it. It took every ounce of my personal restraint not to yell in her sanctimonious face.

Instead of screaming obscenities, I responded in a shaky, clipped tone. “My little boy is crying because I wouldn’t buy him a Thomas the Train. I am trying not to raise a spoiled brat and if you don’t like his crying, maybe you should move to another aisle. And take your parenting advice with you.” *

(*This is a general paraphrase. It’s been ten years. I remember so clearly how I felt, and what my voice sounded like coming out of my mouth, all nervous and shaky, but the exact words are a little foggy. Chances are, it wasn’t as eloquent as how I wrote it here, but you get the general idea.)

She just shook her head at me sadly, like I was a silly little teen mom or something, and walked away. Instead of making a connection, mom-to-mom, or woman-to-woman, because she may or may not have been a mom, instead of offering an encouraging word, she chose to tear me down. I cried on the drive home from Target that day.

It hurts to be cast out in that way, especially by another woman, even more so by another mom. Because we’re all just trying to do our best, follow our own parenting beliefs, and IT IS HARD. Parenting, mothering, is hard every single day. Why don’t we choose unity and encouragement over judgment, criticism and isolation? It would make mothering at least a little bit easier.

As mothers, we all make different choices. Here’s a news flash: all of our choices are valid, Moms. You may breastfeed, she may not. You may let your baby cry it out, she may not. You may give your eight-year-old an iPhone, she may not. You may be a stay at home mom, she may not. You may let your thirteen year old daughter dye her hair purple, she may not. You might have bought the Thomas the Train for your three year old, I did not.

ALL THESE CHOICES ARE VALID. Some are mine, some are yours, some are hers. None is better than the other. They just ARE.

Let’s all join together and say ENOUGH. Enough judgment. Enough criticism. Enough tearing each other down.

Instead, let’s have more compassion for each other as women, as moms. Let’s share the difficult experience of mothering with each other, whether we’re friends or strangers, and support each other, even when our choices differ. Even when we make mistakes, because we all do at some point.

When you see a struggling mom, reach out to her with a smile, or a nod of your head to let her know you get it. Even if you are nervous like me, walk over to her and say, “You’re doing a good job, Mom.”

And the next time you find yourself in that situation, anxious and struggling, not sure if you’re doing the right thing, not sure if you’ll face criticism or judgment, imagine feeling my hand on your arm, and hearing my possibly-shaky-but-loud-enough voice telling you, “You’re doing a good job, Mom.”

Because you are.