“So we need to run to Target to get a birthday present, and don’t let me forget to – look, guys, an excavator! Ooh, and a big crane, you see it?”
It’s like I have a strange form of Tourette’s. I’ll be in the middle of a conversation and I’ll randomly shout out things like “Police car!” “Ambulance!” “Big red dump truck!”
As the mother of 2 boys, these sightings have become par for the course. Reflexively, I point out things of interest to them wherever we go, and they do the same.
“LOOK, MOM! A cement mixer!”
I have to admit, I was almost excited as they were the time we passed a trailer on the highway that was carrying 2 tractors with wheels the size of a VW bug. You don’t see that every day. And while I find the endless readings of books about construction vehicles and farm equipment mind-numbingly boring, it IS sort of interesting to see them in action in real life.
What’s embarrassing is when my kids are not around and I lapse into truck-spotting-lady in front of other adults. My friends look at me like I’m crazy if we’re, say, having coffee on the patio at Starbucks and I go nuts pointing and waving when a helicopter flies overhead. Unless they have small boys, too, in which case they probably don’t even notice my weird tic.
Usually my random shout-outs are limited to large vehicles, but sometimes I like to point out wildlife, too. I was beside myself yesterday when I looked over at a stop sign and there was a family of little brown rabbits munching grass right next to me. And no one was in the car to share it with!!
Really, anything is worth pointing out to small kids, especially if they’re stuck in the car on a long trip or a round of boring errands. Look, kids! Balloons at the car dealership! A giant American flag on the roof of the bank! An electronic billboard advertising Hooter’s! Well, that’s just inappropriate...
So if you ever happen to be having a conversation with me and I cut you off to point out a dog wearing a sweater or one of those SmartCars that look like something Lowly Worm might drive, just ignore me. I’ll grow out of it eventually.
“So we need to run to Target to get a birthday present, and don’t let me forget to – look, guys, an excavator! Ooh, and a big crane, you see it?”
My parents just celebrated their 41st anniversary. Think about that for a second: 41 YEARS of being married! To the same person!! (Embarrassing side note: last year on my blog I congratulated them on their 30th anniversary. Soon after my mom asked me, “How old is your brother?” Um, 39? Why is she asking ME? Ohhhh… I get it. Sorry, I inadvertently shaved a decade off their marriage. Math was never my strong suit.)
Anyway, I think we can all agree that being married for several decades is a major feat. There are some days I marvel at staying married to MY husband for 7 years. Like on days he calls me at 4:30pm and the kids are screaming and fighting and starving and I’m counting down the minutes till their dad gets home and then he says, “Oh, by the way…” and mentions a work happy hour he’s supposed to go to that night.
I remember on our honeymoon, there were several other newlywed couples at our resort and we all ended up at the same restaurant with some older married folks one night. Someone asked one of the older couples what their secret was for a long and happy marriage and the wife said it was about letting the little stuff go.
I should have asked her to define “little stuff.” Does that mean not flying into a rage when -– for the millionth time -- he leaves his muddy, sedan-sized sneakers in the entryway for you to trip over? Or does it mean overlooking his ineptitude at dishwasher-loading? (Very funny post on that subject here.)
So obviously, I’m still working on the “letting stuff go” thing. But I will note that the husband of that long-married couple said the secret to a happy marriage was that his wife was always right. I would say MY husband is still working on THAT one.
Just today he coerced our boys into agreeing with him that it was totally my fault we missed the exit for my brother’s house on the way to Easter brunch. It’s not enough that we drove 20 minutes out of our way? He had to get our 4yo to chime in, “Yeah! It’s all Mama’s fault!” Obviously, C. didn’t get the “Yes, dear” memo. Good thing he’s cute and makes cute kids.
I like to imagine that 34 years from now, MY sons will be asking me what the secret is to our long and happy marriage. I’ll tell them, “It’s that I am always right.”
QUESTION O’ THE WEEK: Speaking of marriage, who’s looking forward to the royal wedding this weekend? I don’t think I need to wake up that early to see it live, but I’ll certainly DVR it.
I first started following Hollee Schwartz Temple (the one on the left) on Twitter mainly because she’s an author and I loved the title of her book: Good Enough Is the New Perfect: Finding Happiness and Success in Modern Motherhood
Then I heard her speak at a conference on a panel about work-life balance. Hollee began by asking the audience, “How many of you were raised to believe you could do anything and be anything?” Most hands went up. “And how many of you took that to mean you should DO EVERYTHING and BE EVERYTHING?” Everyone laughed -- and raised their hands.
Her talk really hit home for me, so I was thrilled when she sent me a copy of her book. (Can you tell by the picture I found a thing or 2 of interest?)
FINALLY, someone has addressed the real issues that plague me and most of my mom friends these days. Why, when we have so many choices, are most of us still struggling? When the real world isn’t as clear-cut as working or staying home with your kids, where are all the role models who are successfully navigating the in-between? And why do so many of us feel like we’re going it alone?
While Hollee and her co-author, journalist Becky Beaupre Gillespie, surveyed over 900 women and conducted in-depth interviews with 100 of them, it’s the authors’ personal stories that resonated deeply with me. When Hollee describes counting down the minutes until bedtime when her boys were small, then feeling guilty for not appreciating them, I thought, That is me. And when Becky describes how she didn’t want anyone to think she was “just a mom,” so when someone asked her what she did, she described what she’d done BEFORE becoming a mom? Yeah, that’s me, too.
I’ll be honest: at first, several of the high-achieving women interviewed in the book sparked envy in me. Prominent lawyers, a VP for Christie’s, successful entrepreneurs. But then I read on, and discovered all their worries and frustrations sounded eerily similar to mine. Also? The women who weren’t happy were longing not for more prestige or bigger paychecks, but for more time with their families, more fulfilling work, more connection with friends and neighbors – all stuff I have in spades. Hmmm, so if you look at “success” in THAT light...maybe it’s not just the moms with the impressive business cards who can claim it.
If there’s one common theme I’ve noticed among all the moms I’ve met over the last 5 years since I became one myself, it’s that nearly every one of them -- stay-at-home, working, or somewhere in between -- is WAY too hard on herself. I’ve heard moms apologize for letting their kids eat an occasional donut, for their child not being potty trained yet, for not enrolling their second or third child in enough enriching activities. I’ve heard moms beat themselves up for working too much, earning too little, and needing more help. It’s madness, people. MADNESS.
Not only that, but it’s a terrible example for our kids. You’re not successful unless you’re awesome at everything? Gwyneth Paltrow notwithstanding, that’s an impossible goal for most of us mere mortals. (BTW, even Gwyn admits she’s bad at math. Possibly the only thing we have in common.) Personally, I’d like my kids to have a broader definition of success -- and to learn that it’s OK to define it for themselves.
Buy the book. It’s $9.41 on Amazon. You probably spend that much at Starbucks on a latte and overpriced baked goods. I guarantee you will come away with a new perspective on success, motherhood, and what “having it all” really means to you.
QUOTE O’ THE WEEK: “We do not need to be perfect to be successful moms, professionals or women.” - Becky Beaupre Gillespie and Hollee Schwartz Temple
Back when I was single and childless, I got into a heated discussion with my future brother-in-law (also single and childless) in a cab on the way home from a bar one night. I don’t remember how we got into it, but we were discussing whether mothers should work or stay home to raise their children.
With the self-righteous conviction that only clueless 20-somethings can have, we were both convinced that we were completely right. My BIL was firmly in the SAHM camp; I was staunchly in favor of working moms.
Boy, was it a cruel wakeup call when I found out the issue wasn’t that black-and-white. I suppose I could’ve looked around the global media company where I was working then and noticed not a single person I knew was a mother of young kids.
There was a pregnant woman (what ever happened to her?) and there was one with school-age kids who lasted less than a year. But that’s it. In fact, the 3 most senior women in my department were all childless.
Marriage and kids weren’t even on my radar at that point, so I didn’t give it much thought. Though I do remember thinking that the on-site daycare they bragged about in those “best places to work” articles was kind of a joke. I’d heard ours was pricey and had a year-long waiting list.
That job was a bad fit for me for many reasons, not least of which was that while I ostensibly was hired for my editorial experience, I wrote almost nothing. Just a lot of e-mails and memos. I was essentially a highly-paid meeting attendee.
So when I got married and had a baby, I wasn’t all gung-ho to be that corporate working mom I’d argued so strenuously for in my 20’s. I’d found a nice little niche as a freelance writer and I got to spend time with my baby. And then I encountered another round of wakeup calls. Like how hard it was to work around a baby’s schedule and drum up assignments I could do from home. Also hard? Finding part-time affordable childcare.
Even now, years later, when I’ve finally found some semblance of balance, I am shocked at:
a) how many people think I don’t “really” work because I’m self-employed, don’t go to an office, and have irregular hours;
b) ask when I plan to get a “real job” (as if I could just waltz out and command a lucrative, flexible staff position in my field whenever I felt like it);
c) how many people still think staying home with your children full-time or working outside the home full-time are the only 2 options for moms.
This is all a long wind-up to telling you about an amazing new book, Good Enough Is the New Perfect: Finding Happiness and Success in Modern Motherhood It delves into all these issues and more, backed up by new research and extensive interviews with all sorts of working moms -- doctors, lawyers, pretzel entrepreneurs, mom bloggers, web-TV hosts.
I devoured my advance copy in 3 days. In another post, I’ll tell you more about the book. But for now, I’m happy just to report that it assured me I’m not crazy, I’m not alone, and I don’t have to choose between 2 oversimplified options that don’t fit my life.
QUOTE O’ THE WEEK: “I don't believe the world owes me a living, although for the amount I make, an apology would be nice.” -- Unknown
In theory, meal plans sound like a great idea for busy families. Plan out your meals for the week in advance, buy all the ingredients in one trip to the grocery store, and it’s smooth sailing, right? Only I’ve never quite been able to get the hang of it. Inevitably, I end up staring into the pantry at 5pm, night after night, a few ingredients shy of whatever dish I’m trying to make. Add in 2 picky, impatient kids, 1 vegetarian, 1 low-carbotarian, and it’s a recipe for failure.
So when a woman I met at Blissdom contacted me about trying out E-Mealz, a site that lets you customize a meal plan for your family, including vegetarian, low-carb, and meals based on sales at your local grocery store, I said “Heck, yeah, sign me up!”
Here’s how it works: you pay $1.25 a week for the service, or $15 for 3 mos. (No, seriously. That’s really how little it costs. I waste 5 times that much each week buying random ingredients I never end up using. Like mushrooms. And weird cheeses.) You can choose plans for 2 or 4-6 people, for a specific store (Walmart or Kroger, for example) or any store. I did the vegetarian 7-day family meal plan for any store.
So you log on to the site and pull up the weekly menu. (See sample menus here.) You also have access to the previous week’s menu if you want. Then you print out the recipes, along with a grocery list, which lists the ingredients you need, listed by aisle. The grocery list ALONE was worth it for me. No more losing scraps of paper on which I’d scribbled “2 bell peppers, froz. spinach, eggs.”
The pros of E-Mealz: how easy it was, how you only buy what you need, and how there are so many options. The cons: how much food the plan produced. I soon realized I couldn’t keep up – with the cooking or the leftovers. On a good week, I manage to cook dinner maybe 4 to 5 times, tops. Then I peter out and it’s takeout and Trader Joe’s frozen entrees. But it’s also because we don’t eat that much food. I soon began off-loading the leftovers to my neighbor. (She didn’t complain.)
The meal plan also highlighted how picky my family is. Unfortunately, there were lots of recipes I had to rule out right off the bat because I knew they’d never fly in my house. Like Walnut Cheddar Loaf. Not happening. But I did try a few new things like Quinoa- and Vegetable-Stuffed Peppers (good, but lots of chopping) and Greek Eggplant (easy and tasty!)
The bottom line: I think E-Mealz is a great idea and the price makes it a no-brainer. It could actually save you money if you’re prone to wasting food like us. For a family that eats pretty much the same thing every night, I say give it a try. For us? Until the kids get a little less picky, I’m better off cobbling together our own meal plan based on the limited recipes my whole family likes. But I sure will miss those print-out grocery lists.
DEAL O’ THE WEEK: E-Mealz is offering 15% off for new subscribers. Sign up here and use the code BLISS at checkout. (Note: this is an affiliate link.)
RECIPE O’ THE WEEK: Believe it or not, this Linguine with Shrimp Scampi was a crowd-pleaser in our house. I left out the hot pepper flakes for the kids.
I don’t know if it’s the spring-cleaning articles in all the magazines or what, but getting organized has been on my mind a lot lately. A recent post on a friend’s blog reminded me that I, too, feel peaceful and happy when everything’s in order. May explain my feng shui phase in my 20’s. (Tip: Always close the toilet lid. Something to do with containing bad energy or allowing good chi to flow, I forget. And also, if you have flush-happy toddlers around, it just makes sense.)
Too bad my family could care less about being organized. I mean, what’s the point of having a coat rack, a shoe cubby, key hooks, and a change jar if everything gets dumped in a big pile the second everyone walks in the door? Work with me, people!!!
I’ve also realized that one person’s organized is another person’s OCD. For instance, did anyone see that article on Jamie Lee Curtis in Good Housekeeping a while back? The woman wears dust-rags on her feet, repackages everything in her house from cereal to CDs, and has only has 3 colors of clothes in her wardrobe. Um, OK, Jamie Lee. She does admit, though, that her husband and kids don’t maintain her organizational vision, so she sees it as her job to keep things in order.
I don’t need my environment to be THAT orderly. I’m fine with having a pile of mail on the counter, a pile of books on the table, and a pile of dirty clothes in the corner. Hey, Jamie Lee has her Tupperware, I have my piles, OK? And I do love those fabric bins. At one point I tried to keep my kids’ stuffed animals in one bin, toy cars in another, and blocks in another, but now I don’t care if everything’s all jumbled up together as long as it’s off the floor and out of sight.
The important thing is being able to find something when you need it, right? I may not be the neatest person in the world, I may not have clear systems for everything, but I can usually tell you where something is. The extension cords? They’re in the bottom kitchen drawer next to the disposable placemats and flavored drink mix that no one likes. (No matter what, we end up with bunches of random stuff that don’t fit neatly into a clear category.)
And yet, I alphabetize my spices. For some reason, this is a source of great hilarity among my family and friends. Why?! Are spices not arranged alphabetically in the grocery store? What’s so crazy or OCD about that? If you want to spend 15 minutes rooting around for the cumin, be my guest. I have better things to do with my time. Like put everybody else’s stuff back where it belongs.
PICK O’ THE WEEK: Miles talked me into buying these dust-mop slippers. At first I thought they were ridiculous but now I think they’re awesome. Especially because the kids will put them on and slide around the kitchen. Anything to get them to help clean!
A big part of being a happy parent is learning to adjust your expectations. If you expect life after you give birth to be the same, just with an extra little person and lot more laundry, you’ll be sorely disappointed.
I say this, and yet here I am almost 5 years in and I still get bummed out when the weekend comes and there’s no happy hour, sleeping in till noon, or late-night dinners and dancing. Huh?! You mean I still have to change diapers and cut up grapes on Saturday AND Sunday? No more HGTV or E! marathons, flopped on the couch all day? No more leisurely brunches at restaurants without high chairs? Whose idea WAS this having-kids thing?! (See “Weekends: Then & Now” for more on this theme.)
Because I’m home all week with my boys, I sure as heck don’t want to spend my weekends the same way as my weekdays (mainly, breaking up fights over who had Doc Hudson first and cleaning up spilled milk and crushed Goldfish). Especially if Dad’s not around. So when C. had a weekend conference an hour away, we decided to join him at his hotel for the night. It would be fun! Or at least different. Let’s keep our expectations in check here.
So the boys and I piled into the car with the Pack ‘n’ Play, blankies, CDs, and enough snacks to fuel an Olympic rowing team. C. had showed me how to use the GPS on my smartphone. Good thing, because driving in DC/Northern Virginia is as confusing as trying to understand why Kanye West is invited to the royal wedding. (Seriously, WHY?)
We get most of the way there just fine, but disembodied GPS lady kept calling roads by their route numbers instead of the names I knew them by. So before I knew it, I had exited the Rock Creek Parkway and we were lost in downtown DC. (“Look kids, cherry blossoms!”) GPS lady kept spewing out nonsensical directions. (I said aloud, “What is she SAYING?!” and Miles chimed in, “Yeah! We don’t understand robot!”)
I kept my cool, though, even as we drove around in what seemed like circles. (“Look kids, a monument! Named after some president I can’t think of right now.”) Finally, I got my bearings. (“Look kids, Arlington National Cemetery!” Miles: “What’s a cemetery?” Me: “Uh, look! More cherry blossoms!”)
At last, we find the hotel, a pretty swanky place in Old Town Alexandria. As we pull up to the valet, C. is waiting for us. The kids tumble out of the family truckster in a shower of Goldfish crumbs, sippy cups, and coloring books shouting, “Daddy! Daddy!” Not 2 ft. away is a sleek black limousine, awaiting a bride in her flowing white gown and purple-silk-clad bridesmaids. Romper Room meets Modern Bride. Boy, I sure hope the photographer can crop us out of those shots.
When we get to our room, Miles – who loves to travel – immediately spreads out his blanket and plops on the bed, making himself at home. Riley, on the other hand, bursts into tears and starts wailing, “Ready a go! I ready a go!” Translation: get me the hell outta here, I wanna go home. We decided to hightail it out to dinner.
Even though the area was loaded with cute shops, there was no time for that. We had kids to feed, bathe, and put to bed. Dinner was spent gulping down our food while trying to keep Riley from knocking over drinks and peeking over the booth at the diners next to us. By 8:30 pm, all the boys were sound asleep back at the hotel – including my husband. Nope, weekends sure aren’t what they used to be. When will I finally learn not to expect anything different?
RECC O’ THE WEEK: I'm a big fan of Kimpton hotels, a chain of pet- and child-friendly boutique hotels in about 20 cities throughout the U.S. The décor is really cool and funky, and the staff at ours was super nice. They even had a wagon for the boys to ride in. The bride can have her limo!
4yo: “Riley, if you go pee on the potty, you can have a special treat.”
2yo: “ ’Pecial teat!”
Me: “Miles! You are not his parent; *I* am. He just brushed his teeth and no one’s getting any more treats tonight, got it?”
You might see him as an encouraging big-brother. But I see a preschooler on a power trip. I have to remind my 4yo DAILY that he is not the one who makes the rules and calls the shots – especially for his little brother.
Every time I turn my back Miles is promising Riley treats and snacks, "helping" him open presents, and trying to bribe him into trading his best toys. He’ll even threaten, “Riley, stop bothering me or you’re going to bed early!” Wishful thinking.
I’ve heard other moms complain that their kids try to parent their siblings, too. Even funnier is when the LITTLE ones do it to the BIG ones. A friend’s 2yo was sternly lecturing her older brother, “No cookies! Mama said no.” Just what he needs, another mom.
Of course, I have to admit having a Mommy’s Little Helper DOES occasionally pay off. Like when I was getting ready the other morning and I heard Big Bro say to Little Bro: “Don’t throw your toys on the floor, Riley. Gram and Grandpa are coming today and we want to keep the house clean.” Wonder where he heard THAT?
And if I’m being honest, an extra little parent is quite helpful when it comes to that most odious of parenting tasks – potty training. Bribery with treats notwithstanding, my 4yo is quite an effective bathroom coach to his little brother. Not only do they have the same anatomy, but it was not so long ago that the older one was learning the drill himself.
However, Miles is what you might call an experimental educator. Some of his questionable toilet-training “techniques” include tickling his little brother on the potty. You know, to make him laugh so hard he’ll …? You get the idea. I can’t say it’s actually worked yet, but I give my eldest son props for trying. Funny, though. He has no interest in being the parent when it comes time to change his little brother’s diaper. Believe me, I’ve tried.
I’ve taught writing for a while now, and there’s one question that consistently crops up from my students: what do you do if you’re not feeling particularly inspired? What if you can’t figure out what to write about? What if you are faced with that dreaded scourge that’s crippled many a wordsmith -- writer’s block?
Answer: you sit down and start writing. Or, to put it another way, you just show up. As Woody Allen once said, “80% of success in life is just showing up.” (Note: I had to Google this to find out who said it. And there’s disagreement over whether it’s 80% or 90%. So I spent another 10 min. or so Googling some more. Then I popped onto Twitter for a bit. This is what happens when *I* have writer’s block.)
I used to not believe in writer’s block, BTW. I thought it was an excuse lazy writers cooked up to explain why they hadn’t finished their Great American Novel yet. But you have only to read a few dozen “Sorry I haven’t posted lately...” blogs to realize writer’s block can strike anyone. Even me.
When it happens, I just sit down and start typing. (After I’ve exhausted all my procrastination techniques, that is. E-mail, Twitter, cleaning, another cup or 3 of coffee.) Sometimes what comes out is boring, repetitive drivel, but usually something halfway decent emerges eventually.
And remember: we’re our own worst critics. I will never forget the time I forced myself to finish a paper in grad school even though I had just broken up with my boyfriend who I totally thought was The One and I could barely see straight, my eyes were so blurred by the bitter tears of disillusionment and shattered dreams. (How’s THAT for drivel?) Because even in the midst of soul-crushing heartbreak I was a perfectionistic teacher’s pet who could never miss a deadline.
Well, guess what? I got an A on that paper! It certainly wasn’t the best thing I’d ever written, but so what? Sometimes it’s enough to just show up.
It’s the same with parenting, I’ve realized. I’m not going to be the most happy, energetic, creative, super-present mother every day. (Or even MOST days, if I’m being honest.) But sometimes the kids and I end up having a pretty darn good day even when I’m not bringing my A-game. Or even my B+ game.
My final advice on writer’s block? Bloggers are lucky. Because if we ever get really stumped in the writing department, we can just post pics like this: