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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Book Review: Lose The Cape - Realities from Busy Modern Moms and Strategies to Survive

Disclosure: I received a free advance copy of the book to review here on the blog, but all opinions are my own.

It turns out I'm not the only one obsessed with how working parents are having it all; my online friend and new author Kerry Rivera is too, and we met when I appeared on the Her Juggle series on Kerry's blog, Breadwinning Mama. So when this working mother of three managed to write a book on top of everything else, I was seriously impressed and happy to review it here at Busy Since Birth.

Along with Alexa Bigwarfe, Kerry has written Lose The Cape - Realities from Busy Modern Moms and Strategies to Survive, which is available now on Amazon. The book is filled with lots of advice and practical solutions for working moms, with a healthy dose of "this isn't right for every family, but maybe something here will work for you."

They discuss so much, from recognizing the signs of spousal burnout to how to find your mom squad to keeping bedtime routines manageable. There's a special section for new moms and another for single moms. They also cover my friend Liz's concept of invisible tasks, and suggest actually writing them down so they can be shared. What a revolutionary idea, huh?

While the book has its repetitive moments, they often serve to stress how difficult a lot of the tasks of parenting are, and they help to remind moms that they shouldn't feel alone.

It's exhausting trying to be Super Mom. So how about we all join Kerry and Alexa and try to lose the cape? 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Doing a "Big Job" With Kids

Earlier this month there were a couple of articles in The New York Times on how parents with "big jobs" manage to put in all of those hours and occasionally see their kids (the Motherlode blog takes it on here). Supposed 80 hour work weeks (with no kid responsibilities), in careers such as "investment banking, consulting and law," are long-professed to be standard in those fields, and I have no doubt that is the case for many people. I just don't seem to know them.

I think, technically, my job would be considered to be a fairly "big job," if not an official big job. I work as a product manager at an investment firm, working closely alongside the portfolio managers and several other departments to help those that invest with us in many different ways. It's a demanding job, and my days are usually very full. Email really helps us keep up with a global clientele, and if I'm checking my personal email account, I'm always checking my business account too.

But that's just the same at work--if I'm checking my work account, I'm often checking my personal account too. I recently did a presentation to 150 people, and the first email I saw after removing my lapel microphone was that Max had forgotten his lunch on an early release day (when no cafeteria options were available). The lines between my work life and my personal life are definitely blurry, but from my view, everyone in my life benefits that way. That's what the article generally revealed as well, that "if you have control of your calendar, you can work solid hours, and still score kid time."

I recognize how lucky I am to have that kind of control over my time, but as I have come to see the inflexibility involved in public school scheduling, I realize that so many parents have to have some measure of control just to make it all work. You can't bend the school bus schedule to your will just because you'd like it to be that way; somehow, parents are making a lot of things work.

For an article that had me nodding along for most of the way, however, the last sentence struck me as off. Here it is:

"But in some circumstances, if you’re hoping to keep that job and advance, excelling at work without drawing attention to your also-excellent life may be the best way to live to fight another day."

An also-excellent life? Being a parent and the responsibilities required aren't always "excellent." Having a work-life that allows me to take my sick kid to the pediatrician? Or the other one to an orthodontist appointment? Or to get treatment for a child with special needs, mental illness or addiction? Being a parent isn't just about attending the preschool Mother's Day tea time, although that is also a completely valid reason for needing some flexibility too. And further, the idea that if we want to advance, we should also have to shut up about our lives and needs outside of the office? That's a really outdated model, and surprising to hear touted as a solution to anything. It doesn't work for me, it wouldn't work for my employer, and it shouldn't work for any of us.

The quality of the work we do, and whether or not advancing is something we actually want, should be the sole determining factors in whether or not we can advance our careers. Needing to meet the responsibilities we hold as parents shouldn't mean we aren't capable of taking on "the big jobs." If it does, then frankly, many who have held those jobs probably shouldn't have had them either. Or maybe we need fewer "big jobs" and a lot more "middle jobs" where no one has to work at such a breakneck pace.  Hiding your "involved parent" status shouldn't make you more eligible for a promotion. People who are skilled at managing the needs of their jobs while simultaneously not making detrimental sacrifices to their family life should be just as suited to succeed.

What do you think? Do you have a "big job?" How do you manage it?

Friday, May 15, 2015

Feeling My Feet: LTYM Boston Wrap

Our 2015 cast. Photos courtesy of the amazing Amy Emily Photography
This past weekend was the second annual production of LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER Boston, my second year as producer of a show. I am so, so proud of what I helped to create. Over this year and last, I helped 24 people craft unique stories of motherhood and sent them out into the universe. Two of my own stories were shared, and I know they resonated with people. I have new people in my life, many from around the country, who have shared in this story-telling mission with me. I am endlessly grateful to LTYM's founder, as well as the national production team, for having faith in me, for knowing that I had what was needed when I didn't see it in myself, for saying yes, it's yours, go.

But this year was really hard for me. Despite the show's ultimate success (it was), and my confidence that our cast would be amazing (they truly were), I struggled a lot with this season. I spent a lot of middle-of-the-night hours in a panic. And, worst of all for me, I basically didn't do any writing.

Reading "The Geology of Motherhood"
The one piece I wrote over the past couple of months (other than a few quick, not very deep updates here), is the piece I ended up reading at the show when one of our cast members was no longer able to participate. I liked the piece, but it didn't have a hold on my heart the way I had with Kitchen Sink. It's a piece on how just like the earth's plate tectonics cause endless shifting and reshaping of our worlds, so too does motherhood. I've been feeling a shift lately, and I tried to document it there.

I got into all of this because I got to read at a BlogHer LTYM Open Mic night, and everything changed for me in that moment. I wanted to help other people to feel the way I did then, that I couldn't feel my feet. I felt that way after reading in 2014. I think most of the cast members in both shows had that moment. This year, I didn't. This year, as I said in the piece I read, all I saw were the brute forces involved in getting to that peak moment, and not the sun-soaked view I deserved. But as I also said in the piece, it's a perspective that I need to work on improving.

That's a wrap on season 2. That shift I've been feeling is telling me something, and I'm trying to slow down and listen. I think it's saying that my feet have been firmly planted on the ground for all too long now, and I need to find a new way to fly.

LTYM-colored flowers from my super supportive family.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Unicorn Day Finally Happened

I went to a spa with two great friends yesterday.

I'm just going to let that sentence hang there for a moment, because it deserves some time and space to be absorbed.

I basically spent an entire Sunday without doing anything for anyone but me. The event is so rare and mystical that it can only be described as a Unicorn Day. And it was wonderful.

Years ago, when Hannah was maybe one or two, my mother-in-law invited my sister-in-law and I to a lovely spa in Norwich, CT, and we enjoyed a day there together. For my birthday last fall, Marc got me a gift card to go back there, and fortunately, it's still the same oasis of calm it was about a decade ago. It's a 90 minute drive from Boston, and I actually did all of the driving, which is huge for me. I didn't even mind that. It was an easy trip, and we chatted the entire way. We actually didn't stop talking for almost the entire day, except for the hour we spent apart getting our treatments.

I had a fabulous massage. We used the hot tub and sauna. We drank cold beverages on the patio. We had a lovely lunch, followed later by hot apple cider and scones. Our only regret was not scheduling more treatments or even staying overnight; once we were there, we definitely wanted more.

I only checked my phone once, very briefly. I didn't even text to say I was on my way back. (Though we watched Hillary's campaign announcement from the car because we couldn't postpone that historic moment.) When I got home, I was relaxed enough to ignore the waiting housework. Now you know that's truly remarkable for me.

We were already planning our next visit before we even left. The only problem with that? I won't be able to call it a Unicorn Day if it happens more often.

It's a risk I'm willing to take.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

I Can See Clear(-ish) Now (Most of the Time)

It's been just over a week since I had LASIK surgery to correct the vision in both of my eyes. I hate writing about things while I'm still going through them, and I very much feel like I'm still going through it right now.

The most important thing you should know is that I can, indeed, see. In fact, I could see immediately after the surgery while still in the room with the surgeon. I believe I gleefully told him that he had a face. I'm sure he knew this already, but to me, it was a face I couldn't see when I was led into the room without my glasses. It was a face I most definitely could not have seen under what I would have considered to be normal circumstances, meaning my contacts or glasses for the past thirty years or so.

Thirty years is a really long time. Deciding to get LASIK wasn't that difficult, as the options available to me weren't so great. I got glasses when I was in third grade, but I never felt that I could see all that well, even in the huge glasses we wore that were considered in style at the time. I got contacts before my junior year of high school, and was immediately in love. My vision was much better, and it was totally worth the pink eye I'd get in college. Um, yea. But I grew up some and started taking better care of my eyes, could afford even better contacts, and the pink eye stopped. I had a few good years before the corneal ulcers then began, first in December 2013 and then again and again this past fall. An eye doctor's off-hand, "you should just get LASIK" has basically changed my life.

We've had so much going on this winter that I didn't have much time to fret over the surgery until the week before. On the last night of wearing my contacts, we happened to all go to the mall, and the kids got new jackets. I found myself walking a few steps behind, staring at them, trying to memorize the image. I kept trying to do that several times over the next few days. I lived under a cloud of anxiety the week before the surgery, not daring to actually say out loud, "what if I can't see again?" But I thought about it a lot.

The surgery itself took only about half an hour, and I was given a sedative. I'm super claustrophobic, and I knew that the hardest part for me was just how close everything was going to be on my face. It wasn't fun. I'm not sure I breathed very often, because I was so scared to move. I was given a stuffed animal to hold in one of my hands, and I'm not sure how I didn't damage it. I could feel my arms shaking. But the doctor was great, talking to me the entire time, telling me how well I was doing. I didn't like it, but I got through it.

And then I could see. Mostly.

It's still a bit blurry on the edges. My eyes have felt tired all week. My follow up appointment showed that my eyes are still swollen and dry from all of the medications I used to prevent infection, so I've been working hard to use eye drops often. But I can see, without glasses or contacts, and it's really amazing.

I may need reading glasses down the road, as many adults do, and LASIK can't correct for that. But I'm hoping to enjoy at least a few years of the relative freedom of not needing vision correction: not worrying if I lose a contact in the middle of the day (or on the lazy river ride), or if I packed my glasses on an overnight trip, or squinting to try to see the alarm clock in the middle of the night. It's pretty awesome.

I'm still healing, but I think the only hard part that remains is that I need to get my driver's license altered. I don't need vision correction any longer!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Why Glee Matters To Me

Tomorrow night, the TV series "Glee" quietly exits, its series finale shoved away on a Friday night, seemingly just moments after its last season began in January. I can't say I know many people who will publicly admit to watching the show anymore, especially 37 year old mothers of two with an MBA, but I am a loyalist: once hooked, I tend to stay with things to the bitter end. I don't feel that way about Glee though; I am truly, truly sad to see it ending, though I know it's definitely time to move on.

The central theory of Glee is that being part of something special, makes you special. It's a refrain said many times throughout the series, and if someone had told it to me when I was an eighth grader, it would have found a prominent place in my quote journal. I probably would have posted it in my locker too. Because back then, I knew exactly what that meant.

In eighth grade, in my own middle school in Ohio, I ate lunch everyday in our school's choir room with Jenny, Robbie and Marc (not my husband, though I might have wished this Marc was my boyfriend at the time) and our choir teacher. He was no Mr. Schue, but he was the closest thing I ever had to it. In seventh grade, he selected me as one of the 9 best female singers in our grade, and for the next two years, we were a choral group called Small Girls. That group meant so much to me; it meant that this awkward girl was actually good at something. I could sing. At the end of seventh grade, our choir teacher gave me the sheet music to "The Phantom of the Opera" and said we'd be singing it next year, and I spent a summer obsessing over every note and immersing myself in as much Broadway as I could find. Those choir room lunches in eighth grade were my pinnacle of cool. We sang every day. We endlessly discussed who would get which solos. I remember basking in the heightened atmosphere, of how it all mattered so much, and yet, we were just kids. Nothing was ever that serious. No matter what happened, we were all going to be okay.

Amazingly, one of us did make it to Broadway, but it wasn't me. By ninth grade, I guess something had changed, and I was never in the Glee-equivalent group at my high school. Or, well, I really don't think anything about me had changed, but my plus-size status wasn't what the high school choir director wanted, I guess. Because I could still sing, still can sing. I tried out for years, until I didn't, unable to withstand another rejection, and I had gone on building my life elsewhere. But the bitterness still stings that I was never a part of all that, when it was something I so desperately wanted.

In the magical world that Glee inhabited, those plus-size girls did get to be in the group. Maybe their choreography wasn't as tight, or they altered their outfits a bit, but they were there. And the Jewish girl was there, singing Barbra Streisand with abandon (I think I last auditioned with this song). All of the misfits were there, the literal mis-fits, people I would have loved to be friends with. There were even moments when it felt like the show was talking directly to me, when after some Sue Sylvester-induced disbanding of the Glee club, Brittany looked right into the camera and said "I'm a finance major at Brandeis. It turns out Glee club was really holding me back." I have to say that this Economics major at Brandeis (they don't have finance!), who never made the Glee club, had to admit to loving that one. Because even if I'm bitter about it still, life has worked out despite that disappointment. Maybe it made me stronger.

I can't say that Glee has been perfect. I'll never understand why the show still has a ton of fat-shaming despite its portrayal of some many different body types, but Glee has never been as perfectly tolerant as it seems. The school shooting episode still ranks as one of the worst hours I've ever spent in front of a television. Plot lines were sometimes dropped almost as soon as they were introduced, and characters were shoved aside. But then they handled the death of Cory Monteith so well, or the new-new-New Directions win at Regionals, and I'm back to loving all of it.

After the second season of the show, I went to see the Glee concert tour. It was one of the most indulgent things I've ever done, going with a group of women I barely knew, because I wanted to go that badly. I remember being struck by the way the cast all seemed just so happy to be there. They were supposed to be playing their roles on the show, not themselves, but they all couldn't wipe the grins off of their faces. They genuinely took in the moment, thousands of screaming fans around them, like it was still the first time it was happening to them, despite it having happened the night before and the night before that.

And there are moments like this, which, well, I'm not going to bother to explain, but oh my heart.
I know Glee picked up "Don't Stop Believin'" at an opportune moment in time, and I recognize what a cliche it's become. But the other day Hannah told me that her fifth grade choir is preparing it for their last concert of elementary school, a moment manufactured to make me weep. I might have cried at her performance anyway--I tend to do that--but I know I'll be crying about much more than fifth graders leaving elementary school when I hear it.

Thanks Glee, for all of it. I'll miss you.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Who I've Become After Eight Years of Blogging

I started my blog eight years ago today. With a post titled, "It's About Time," I took my first tentative step into writing publicly online. Well, semi-publicly, as I used a pseudonym back in the beginning. That's what all the "cool" bloggers did back then, or at least the ones I thought were cool. The ones I hoped I could be just a tiny bit like some day.

Most of them don't post anymore, and yet I'm still here.

Hannah and me, April 2007
What I didn't say in that first post, when I described myself as a 29yo married mom of a 3yo, living in the Boston suburbs, working full-time and about to finish my MBA, was that I was only a few months separated from the crushing experience of having a miscarriage. I read countless online accounts of miscarriages in those days, and they were harder to find then, but they were there. I needed to know that I'd be okay again, some day, and so I took strength from these women writing and telling their stories. I decided to contribute my own.

I think back to the person I was then, and it seems almost a lifetime away, despite it being less than a decade. I got pregnant a couple months later, and that pregnancy became Max. In 2007, Hannah was a relentless chatterbox who refused to wear anything but dresses. I'd just started with the group I'm still in at work, but had no idea that a career path like the one I've had was even possible. My degree that only had a few months left had taken me four and a half years to complete. Marc and I were in the middle of our kitchen remodel, and now we're about to start working on the rest of the plans we've had since back then.

While I'm still busy, it's a very different busy now than it was eight years ago. Things were so much harder then than they are now. Life with a preschooler and an infant, daycare centers in opposite directions on different schedules (plus the cost of two kids in full-time care), both Marc and I working hard to establish our careers, updating a 90 year old house, having only one truly reliable car. A solid year of back troubles, culminating in surgery. Managing diabetes through all of it, and eventually getting a Type 1 diagnosis. So much of the busy back then was beyond our control. There wasn't time for things like non-profit boards and producing shows and monthly networking groups. Back then, I was lucky to write one blog post a month.

Despite how hard it was, I always tried to see the good in all I was doing, and that's how I evolved to have a "having it all" focus. I was so tired of being told that I couldn't have it all, that I needed to opt out, that all you can hope for is a compromise. I was doing it, I was having it all, and I still believe that I am. I know there is a tremendous amount of privilege in that statement, but I also know that a lot of hard work has gone into it too.

Now? I have a lot more confidence than I did then. My kids are thriving, Marc and I are happy, I'm enjoying my work and find more and more pockets of time to do things I like. I've even been paid for writing things of my own invention and direction. I'm still learning and growing, but always grateful that I have this space to come back to, to help me process it all.

My blog predates my being on Facebook or Twitter. I still don't have ads or work with sponsors. It's just me, writing out into the abyss, hoping someone will read and find some connection in my story. After 480 posts and nearly 200,000 page views, I still can't promise that posts will actually revolve around a theme, or that they'll fit neatly into labels. But I'm glad you've chosen to read along, and hope that at least you've found it worthy of your time.

That's all I wanted then, and it's still all I want now.