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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Too Much "All"

I saw this coming. I tweeted that almost two weeks ago. This is a rough week.

I have a lot of meetings at work. The kind of meetings that require many days of wearing suits to the office, and being in the office on my usual work from home day. Marc also has a lot of meetings, which usually doesn't matter too much to me, except for when there are also a lot of school commitments.

Which, of course, there are. Today I had to drop off the kids along with a big project Hannah completed, then I had to leave work early to attend her parent-teacher conference. Tomorrow morning is the parent visiting time for the project, which at least is respectful of working parent schedules and only 20 minutes long at the start of school, but with my schedule means I'll get to work two hours later than usual. And I can't make a conference call that got scheduled with less than 24 hours of notice. Marc met Hannah at home for early release today, since I was at work, and is taking the kids to school on Thursday and will stay for about an hour to attend Max's class Halloween party. Oh, and I worked from home on Monday, accompanied by a semi-sick Hannah, who probably could have gone to school, but I was staying home anyway because I had to deal with the car.

Because the parked car was hit by someone this past weekend, breaking the mirror. So that needed to be reported to the insurance company, and of course no note was left, so we're paying for that repair because we haven't hit the deductible on the policy yet. I had at least planned to stop for breakfast and calmly drink my coffee before taking the car to be looked at, with Hannah tagging along, but abandoned that plan when Marc accidentally locked himself out of the house, so I had to drive back home and let him in again. Then after the appraisal was complete and the repair scheduled for later this week after the parts are acquired, I came home and conducted a major analysis for work with the strains of Teen Nick and commercials for Degrassi High in the background.

Add to that commuting hassles, taking 15 minutes to unclog the toilet this morning when Marc had already left for work, planning travel for my next business trip (Nebraska, anyone?) and my new mantra of "I'm not getting sick, I'm not getting sick, I'm not getting sick" while ignoring my sore throat. And I just realized we haven't actually carved our pumpkins, or made a plan for Halloween itself. At least I bought the Halloween candy (priorities!).

It's just a rough week. I've been here before, and I'll be here again. As always, I'm tremendously grateful for all the flexibility, and I know how lucky I am that these are my problems. But still, it's quite a week. See you on the other side.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Having It All Project: Heidi Rybak

Heidi and I go way back--summers at Jewish overnight camp and me being jealous of her exotic Canadian accent--way back. It's such a thrill to have her and so many other camp friends in my life today. She'll tell you more below, but Heidi runs a side business making fabulous cakes. Even super-organized me has a lot to learn from her! Here's how Heidi is having it all.

Briefly describe your life and what you think makes it unique.
Okay, I admit it. I am a control freak. I like things done my way and yes, I believe that my way is the right way…and don’t try to argue because we’ll end up arguing circles around ourselves. So, now that I have said that, you pretty much know all about me. I like order, organization, lists, planning, and all things that keep other things in check. Then I had kids...

Having kids, in my case, makes the life of a control freak more challenging, but I met that challenge with gusto, and worked out a schedule for our family that works for us, while still allowing for some flexibility. We are a family of 4, with a big dog, and we like to do fun stuff in our city like visit the zoo, the local amusement park, local farms for pick –your- own fruits and vegetables and more. Yet we are just as happy to spend an afternoon playing Candyland or Zingo or reading books and playing dress up…so long as everything gets put away. My husband of almost 10 years and I both work full time, and I also run a cake business from home. Our oldest daughter is in Grade 1 , while our youngest is at Pre-School. Lucky for me, they are both at the same location, so it’s only one drop off in the morning. Our kids crave routine, which definitely makes me happy, and as such, they anticipate our outings and there is less of a struggle to get out the door…most mornings.

What are some of your favorite tips and strategies for coping with the chaos?
One of my favourite things we do as a family is eat dinner together at least 5 days a week. Usually Monday to Friday, but sometimes I work late on Tuesday, so we make it up on the weekend. We have always eaten with our kids, and we all eat the same meal. Almost 8 months ago, I began a 5 week meal plan. It has literally changed our lives. We can’t live without it now and my oldest, Joely, loves to read ahead to see what meals are coming up. Each week (we plan for Monday to Friday) has a grocery list at the end and we can check off what we have and the leftover items become our shopping list. We do a big “meat” shop once every 4-6 weeks and everything I bring home gets divided, pre-cut if necessary (chicken strips for fingers, chopped for stir fry) or portioned (for ground meats, for burgers or meat loaf or tacos). This saves a ton of time when prepping. Having a meal plan has eliminated the drama of what to cook and has made my hubby more independent in the kitchen too. We have flexibility to switch meals sometimes, depending on the day and meal, and if a meal gets bumped a day (because we decide to go out to eat) then everything gets bumped and we end up eating one of our meals on weekends. Not only a time saver, but meal planning has given me the chance to try mew recipes with our family and have the time to let my girls help in the kitchen.

We make it a priority to no over program our kids. As busy as we might be, we make sure there is time to rest and relax too. We limit the extra-curricular activities to 1 per season, so that there is plenty of time to do other things. Our kids always take swimming lessons in the fall, and in the winter, it’s a toss-up between skiing, skating, dance and karate…they usually get to pick, with some encouragement from us. Sundays is Religious School for Joely (our kids go to public school, and through our synagogue, attend Sunday school) and Arley gets one on one time with Daddy (if I go into work for a bit) or both of us. That still leaves us plenty of family time, and time to attend birthday parties and other fun events.

Please share a moment where it all broke down, and how you got through it.
I’m not gonna lie and say it’s always easy, but I love working under the gun. My husband leaves before 7 to head off to work, so it’s just me, the girls and the dog in the morning. We have about 40 minutes to get up, get dressed, eat and leave and sometimes it doesn’t happen so easily. My oldest likes to take things slow and it sometimes frustrates me to no end and my youngest, Arley, has an opinion about everything she wears, and even if we pick out clothes the night before, she changes her mind in the morning (keep in mind, she’s only 2 ½). Some mornings I have to light a fire under their butts to get out the door, grab waffles for breakfast when there’s no time for cereal, and occasionally raise my voice, but we get there on time, usually. I will admit to “losing it” a few times, but I thrive in chaos and truly believe that if we can make it out the other side, we’ll be better for it. I just have to keep reminding myself of that. One day, when I have 2 teenage girls at home, it will be them “losing it” on each other in the morning, while I sit at the breakfast bar, sipping my tea, waiting to drive them to school.
 
Do you have any balance role models? Anything you try to avoid because it wouldn't work for you?
My dad worked 2 jobs when I was a kid, to be able to provide for our family, as my mom was ill most of my life growing up and couldn’t work. He left the house before 6:30am, came home for 5pm, spend an hour or so at home and then went back out for 7 or 8pm to work at a restaurant, waiting tables in their formal dining room. My dad is the kind of man that would do whatever it takes to make things work, and I think I am very much the same way. I think I got my love of organization from him as well as my strong desire to keep busy. I still look up to him as a fantastic role model, as someone who made it all work; family, work, life, health and everything else. Through it all, he kept a smile on his face and never made us feel like we were missing out on anything and I hope my kids feel the same way in the life we’ve built thus far. 

Think back to your 18th birthday. How is your life different from how you expected it to be then?
Ever since I was a young teenager, I knew I wanted kids. Originally, I thought I’d have 3 or 4, but as we all know, life doesn’t always turn out the way you planned. Looking back to when I was about 18, I must admit, I am pretty close to where I thought I’d be. Married, 2 kids, a job in a fast paced environment that I thrive in, a house, a dog and great friends. If there is such a thing as having it all, I feel like I do. While I don’t have all the money in the world, fancy cars and lots of jewels, I could care less about those things…to me, that’s not having it all. To me, having it all is the sweet “I love you’s” at bedtime, family cuddles on Saturday morning in our king size bed, giggles and smiles and hugs and kisses from my beautiful girls and my loving husband…that’s having it all.

Relate to what Heidi is saying? Leave her some love in the comments. Read other posts from The Having It All Project here. Want to participate? Send me an email at havingitallproject@gmail.com.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Progress We've Seen Since 1995

Letters to the Editor
January 14, 1995

Career Women Can Be Good Mothers

As a partner in one Connecticut's larger law firms and a mother of 20 years, I found Mona Charen's Dec. 23 op-ed page column describing why women who hold big jobs can't be good mothers to be not only offensive but ridiculous ["Women can't be good mothers--and hold big jobs"].

Her ideas are based on antiquated, negative stereotypes of women lawyers and executives and their spouses. She seems to base her column on three faulty assumptions: that womken who become corporate execdtuives or partners in law firms did not have flexible schedules when their children were young; that such women never have spouses with flexible schedules, and that such people do not need to work for a living.

My observation of female lawyers is that they typically coordinate their schedules with their spouses when children are young so that one or both of the parents is spending plenty of time with the children.

One of the spouses may work part time for a few years, or may be a student or a college professor or have another job with a flexible schedule. In fact, most lawyers have a flexible enough schedule so that they don't have to miss the children's school plays, doctors' appointments and other important events.

Finally, Charen seems to distinguish between women who hold big jobs and women who need to work for a living. In our American society, upward mobility is a reality, and many female attorneys or executives do not have rich families or rich spouses and are working to support their families just like everyone else. If they made the extra effort to struggle through night law school, or are paying back student loans, or both, why should such women also have to bear the burden of a negative stereotype?

Young women facing career decisions should not be discouraged from holding big jobs. Rather, theose women (and their employers) should be encouraged to pursue all of their goals, including both the goal of being a good mother and the goal of finding career satisfaction.

Fillis W. Stober
Newington, CT

***

That letter was written by my mother-in-law, which the newspaper ran accompanied by the drawing above (my mother-in-law did not choose the drawing). It's the archetypal "woman with a briefcase and a baby" before it became a stock photo!

Fillis has read every word of this blog, and we often discuss work-life balance and all of the accompanying issues. I asked her permission to share this because it's just so similar to the things I've been writing in the fifteen-plus years since. Ironically, it looks like Mona Charen hasn't followed the advice she gave in her original article, as she's had a very successful career as a writer, and is married with three children.

I can't help but wonder what effect Charen's words had on her readers though. If I'd read Charen's piece in 1995, when I was a junior in high school hoping to be a doctor and obsessing over college choices, it might have given me pause. I don't have the original article, so I don't know for certain, my guess is that it was a bigger deal than Fillis's response was. Sure, it's the same controversy we see all the time today, it sells newspapers (drives pageviews). But there are real people on the other side of this: young women thinking they can't be good enough, either at career or home life, and men who agree and maybe even subconsciously hold back the women in their lives.

It's been 18 years since then--basically an entire generation--and now it's me that trying to be high-level executive and manage family life in an involved, present way. Often, I've felt alone in this journey, and maybe that's because some women along the way were susceptible to portraits like these. Fillis tried to stem the tide, and I'm hoping to do the same. I'm a good mom and a good employee. It's possible to do both.

And I know Fillis did it well too. My husband, her son, is busy cooking our family dinner, right now.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

36: To "Life," Twice Over

Today is my 36th birthday. I always like to try to write posts on my birthday if I can, because hey, it's my blog, and I like reading the archives and seeing what I was thinking at various points.

In Judaism, 18 is a lucky number and the Hebrew symbols spell the word "chai," meaning "life." So getting to 36 is double the luck, double the life. It's like I've lived life twice over, and perhaps I've done enough already to feel that way.

I don't mind birthdays like some people do. Maybe I'm not old enough yet. Thirty-six doesn't feel very old, even written out with letters. I don't think the college intern we had at work this summer minded me too much, so I'm choosing to use that as a barometer of age. When the interns seem annoyed by me, I might have to face some hard facts.

I'm also choosing not to see the increasing number of strands of grey in my hair as an indicator of age. They're just tinsel. I like being festive year-round.

Seriously, though, 35 is going to be really hard to top. I started the year in Florida with Julie. Thanksgiving in Ohio is always special, though this year was particularly sweet. My mom came to visit us in December. Birthday season in January was another smashing success, and the Having It All Project began. February took us to Arkansas. March was another fantastic Passover with Marc's family, and the first time we hosted a seder. April showed me how much I love my adopted hometown. We celebrated at a family wedding in May. June brought satisfying work, preschool graduation and recorder concerts. July was my first BlogHer. August was getting to hear Max say "I love my life!" while floating in a pool. September was seeing Hannah list me as her role model because of my New York Times column. And this October was getting promoted to Product Manager just days before my birthday, and getting to take this picture.


I am blessed, I am lucky, and I am beyond grateful for all of it. Thanks to all of you who are part of my life, both in reality and virtually. You help make it so incredibly full. And busy. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Having It All Project: Hollie Rapello

Hollie is graciously appearing on The Having It All Project today. She's one of the bloggers behind Why Moms Rule, which is focused on marketing to moms. Here's how Hollie is having it all.

Briefly describe your life and what you think makes it unique.
I'm the mother of two children, Charlotte, 6 and P.J., 4, and I think what makes my life perhaps somewhat unique is the major change I’ve undergone with my husband in the past two years in order to prioritize our lives. I don't believe there is such a thing as 'having it all' really. Something has to give. In my case, I decided that I had to find a way to keep my career and be a very active part of my children’s lives.

A southerner by birth, I moved to New York City in my late twenties to pursue a career in advertising. I moved up the ranks of some of the largest advertising agencies in New York City and tried to take advantage of every minute I had in the city. Along the way I met my husband and we moved out to Connecticut to start a family. Fast forward two years, the birth of my two children and I was itching to get back into my career. However, as I began to contemplate the reality of having a career and raising young children in the northeast, I took a hard look at what my day would be--an hour plus commute one way to the city. That was more than I was willing to sacrifice. My husband and I had always toyed with the idea of moving south and we felt that now was the time to consider a big move since our kids were still preschool age. So, we put our house on the market. We didn't expect it to sell in three weeks (and looking back I think there was a part of me that hoped it never would!).

That was two years ago. Today, we live in Nashville, Tennessee, and I am the communications director for BOHAN advertising. I am also the editor of the agency's blog, Why Moms Rule, all about marketing to moms. Editing a blog is a new challenge for me and one I don’t think I would have pursued working at a larger agency. Because of my experience coming from the NYC ad world, I have been able to work out a very flexible work schedule and can be an active mom in the daily lives of my children. And, in a very funny turn of fate, I still get to work with some of my old colleagues in New York as I sit on the public relations committee of the American Association of Advertising Agencies. It feels like such an exciting time to live in Nashville as the city is experiencing huge growth and we’ve made so many good friends.

What are some of your favorite tips and strategies for coping with the chaos?

On days when things are falling apart, I use music to (help) transform my mood. I try to sneak off to the kitchen and turn on Pandora. I pick a song from a very carefree time in my life and try to get back to that happy place in my mind. Or, Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie” is my go-to feel good song. And, if I can’t escape from the kids, the Bare Naked Ladies have a lovely children’s CD called “Snacktime” that is fun for all of us (of course, my kids don’t know the name of the group!).

Also, texting my best girlfriends and unloading always helps. They are usually in the throws of kids/laundry/work chaos themselves and seeing just a few words of encouragement from another mom in the trenches always helps.

Please share a moment where it all broke down, and how you got through it.
It was the day of our big move from Connecticut. The movers had loaded up all of our earthly possessions and my husband and I loaded up the kids and began our drive down south - what I called “the trail of tears.” To say that I am not very good with change is an understatement. I was an emotional wreck. To add insult to injury, halfway into our 15 hours drive, I discovered my daughter had lice! And guess who else did? Me! My daughter and I have some seriously thick hair—think the Kennedys. A real nightmare when it comes to lice. When we arrived south, we felt like a group of
refugees emerging from a long, dirty ship voyage! My husband really came through and spent hours each day for the next two weeks picking nits out of my hair, while I picked nits out of our daughter’s hair. It actually became something we laugh about now, but at the time, it felt pretty bleak.

Do you have any balance role models? Anything you try to avoid because it wouldn't work for you?
My close friend, Annabel Kelly, a working mom, is a great role model for me. She has a remarkable way of staying grounded and cutting through any BS to make sure she is spending her time on what really matters in her kids’ lives. She seems immune to the peer pressures of modern parenting and refuses to over-complicate her kids’ lives with too many activities, TV and plastic toys. That’s something I try to emulate (but it’s a constant struggle).

I also greatly admire Sheryl Sandberg and her “Lean In” movement. Some may say it’s just a big PR ploy, but I believe her when she says that she went against her advisors to champion this topic. I think it takes a person with her gravitas to take it on. Sure, she has nannies and opportunities that many women do not have but that goes with the territory of being good at what you do. She’s a real inspiration.

Doing it all doesn’t work for me. At one point, I tried to schedule my work so that I could be home with my son on the days he didn’t have preschool and work on the days he did. What ended up happening is that I had no time to run errands and organize the house, so the together time I had planned for us became me trying to catch up on everything I had to get done. Now, I have regular help and have learned that it is better for all of us when I’m not trying to do it all. “If Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

Think back to your 18th birthday. How is your life different from how you expected it to be then?
It’s hard for me to remember what I felt like at 18, and at 18 I don’t think I could even imagine being as old as I am now! But, I would probably be most surprised that I married a Yankee and lived and worked in New York City for as long as I did. And, I’m sure I would be surprised at how much children have transformed my life for the better.

Relate to what Hollie is saying? Leave her some love in the comments. Read other posts from The Having It All Project here. Want to participate? Send me an email at havingitallproject@gmail.com.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Flexibility Without Fear: A Post for National #FlexDay

The good people at Working Mother have decided that October 15 will be the first ever "National Flex Day" (warning: this link has a video that autoplays), "to uncover and celebrate the power of flex and advocate its use for all employees." Hear, hear!

I've been using a flexible schedule since I went back to work when Hannah was 12 weeks old. I went back to work with an 8 am to 4 pm schedule so that I could pick her up around 5 pm, and get more time with her in the evenings. At another point in my career I did the later shift, working from 9:30 to 5:30. Then I started my work at home Tuesdays. When Marissa Mayer called all Yahoo employees back to the office, I defended flexible work arrangements in The Boston Globe. And when Marc started a new job last year, I went back to working 8 to 4 so I could manage pick up in the evenings.

I've written a lot about flexibility: how my employer gets a more loyal and dedicated employee, how I'm more productive on the days I don't have to commute, how I can take care of small things around the house without losing time at work. I also don't mind doing work during an occasional evening or weekend day, especially when I've been able to take a sick kid to the doctor or make the school play that week because of that flexibility. I'm incredibly grateful to have not only an employer that allows flexibility, but a career that also helps me have it.

But one part of the whole thing that doesn't work for me is the fear that I have in using the flexibility. I'm keenly aware of my schedule, and hate being late to work because I already feel like I'm leaving early (despite having put in a full work day). I hate having to dial in to meetings that wouldn't have required a conference call otherwise. I don't like picking up voicemails, and calling coworkers back from my (strange to them) home phone number. I don't like having to remind people that I'm out every Tuesday, or can't stay for that 4 pm meeting. It's not easy to be flexible when it feels like you're the only one doing it.

Yet the rest of my life wouldn't be possible without the flexibility. I need to pick up my kids each day. I need to fill the gap of time on Tuesdays. I need to be in the office a lot of time too, but I am more than capable of doing a lot of my job remotely. And I need to believe that it's 100% okay for me to do all that, without fear that I'm letting anyone down in some way. Because I'm not. I'm a "flex" success story, and I think in time, there will be more and more people working like me.

What about you? Do you have a flexible work arrangement, or an understanding employer? I'd love to hear your stories!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Breaking the Pattern for Fun

Back in 2010, I wrote a post asking if other people have jam-packed weekends like ours. Of course, not many of you were actually reading this blog back in 2010, so it didn't get a lot of responses, but I've thought back on it often. We seem to have aged out of the crush of little kid birthday parties that used to occupy a big portion of our weekend time, but our weekends still tend to be very busy. There's the usual chores around the house, synagogue time, errands and shopping, but we usually manage to get some fun thrown in there too. Still, this past Saturday felt like a real rarity, as we basically went from one fun activity to another.

The day started early, as Hannah and I went to get our hair blown out at the new Be Styled, which was really fun. Hannah's hair looked amazing, and she said she felt like an American Girl doll. I wasn't as thrilled with my hair this time around, but it was still fun to be together. Then we went home and picked up Marc and Max to head to Brooksby Farm in Peabody to take family photos. This was actually my birthday present to myself this year (my birthday is in a week), and once Max got over some initial nervousness, I think we all had a great time. Hopefully I'll have some great new pictures to share in a couple of weeks. The kids took the reins from there and we went to Friendly's for lunch, followed up by seeing the movie "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2." The kids liked the movie; I liked taking a little nap during it. :)

Saturday night was a rare night out for Marc and me, and we headed to Lowell. We had gotten tickets to see the play "God of Carnage," which was about two couples meeting in the aftermath of their children's fight on the playground. We really liked it, and had a lot to discuss about it with each other afterward. We also had a great dinner and even better drink before the show, which isn't something I do very often.

On Friday night, just before bed, Marc and Hannah admitted that they were both kind of dreading the following day. We were all really tired from the week, and had gone to synagogue that night too. It was late, and the next day's schedule looked like too much. I countered that it was all good things, a day of things we'd all enjoy. They were skeptical. But somehow, the day of fun did end up winning them over. We all had a great day, and it didn't follow any of our usual patterns at all.

Sunday was a bit of a wake up call--we're leaving a lot unaccomplished--but all of it can wait. I'm glad we seized the moment to have fun. And now I'm going to search the calendar for when we can do it again.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Having It All Project: Michelle Parrinello-Cason

It's another delightful BlogHer13 find! Michelle's academic approach to blogging at Balancing Jane means every post is well-argued from start to finish; a mini-PhD level defense in each piece. I really liked her recent post on the long-term effects of gym class, and love the perspective she brings to so many issues. She also writes at Something’s Developing, a blog about teaching remedial college English. Here's how Michelle is having it all. 

Briefly describe your life and what you think makes it unique.
I don’t know that there’s anything all that unique about any of the individual parts of my life, but I do think that my particular combination of labels puts me into a position to have some unique perspectives.

I am a wife, mother of a toddler, full time community college English instructor, part time PhD student in rhetoric and composition, blogger, feminist, and pop culture lover.

I also grew up in the country but now live in the city, grew up in poverty but am now middle class, and am a liberal living in a conservative state.

I think that my interests and experiences give me an unusual perspective on a range of issues and topics, things I usually try to navigate through a lens of rhetorical analysis (because if you’re going to go to school for 10 years to study something, you might as well use it, right?)

What are some of your favorite tips and strategies for coping with the chaos?
The number one thing that has helped me cope with chaos is to embrace the breakdowns.

For example, I know that the end of every school year is going to be too much to take. I’m finally done with coursework, but for the past several academic semesters, my own final papers in graduate classes have been due simultaneously with hundreds of papers to be graded for my students. The ends of school years are already hectic times (especially the fall semester, which coincides with the chaos of the holidays.) Every year, I had an emotional breakdown, moments of “I can’t do this” and “it’s all falling apart.”

Now I know that it’s going to happen. I even plan for it. I tell myself “you’re freaking out right now, and that’s okay, but you freak out every year, and you’re still here.”

My daughter was born in early December, so that year I had papers to grade, my own paper to finish for the one class I was taking, and a newborn. There was a point where I was wearing her sleeping in a sling while I graded papers without having slept for more than an hour in three days. That was not a fun moment, and if my every day were like that, I wouldn’t make it. But every day isn’t like that, and I have to keep that in mind in the moments that get to be too much.

Please share a moment where it all broke down, and how you got through it.
I went to drop my daughter off at daycare on a routine day, and there was a note on the door. “Sorry. No AC. We’re closed.” They hadn’t called. I was supposed to be in my office in fifteen minutes (at the time I was working in student support services and had a 8-5 while adjuncting a few English classes). I have no family in town. All my friends also work and go to school. My husband was already at work an hour away. I panicked. I had pumped milk in bottles for daycare that she wouldn’t take from me. I had to figure out how to nurse her throughout the day and still figure out how to get enough milk for the next day since I’d have to throw out any milk she didn’t drink within 24 hours.

I ended up taking her to the office with me. I had to teach some classes later that day, and I had to take her to the first one. She was still a baby, and I hoped she would just sleep in her car seat while I lectured, but there was no such luck. She sat on my knee and imitated the sound of my teaching voice with increasing volume. The students loved it.

For my second class (where having her there would have been really disruptive to the day’s plan), a friend of mine drove over an hour to come sit with her.

It was an incredibly stressful day, but I was lucky to have amazing friends and an understanding work environment.

Do you have any balance role models? Anything you try to avoid because it wouldn't work for you?
There are a few women in my graduate program who I greatly admire. They manage to balance motherhood and scholarship with grace and poise, while I always feel like I’ve just stumbled into the room backwards with mashed food in my hair and bags under my eyes. They assure me that their put-togetherness is all just smoke and mirrors, so the lesson I take from them is to just keep faking it and eventually the act will become the reality.

All of my balancing role models have demonstrated the importance of having a strong support system, usually in their partners. I could absolutely not live the life I live without my husband. He is my partner in every sense of the word. We share our responsibilities equally and make all of our decisions together.

Because of that, the one thing that wouldn’t work for me (that I know works for other people) is a split shift where someone is always home with the kids but the partners work different shifts. I need that time every day to see my husband and talk to him about the mundane and the philosophical. It’s where we get the practical plans of our week nailed down, but it’s also where I feel the most loved and remember why all of this work is worth it.

Think back to your 18th birthday. How is your life different from how you expected it to be then?
At 18, the only thing I could think about was getting out of my hometown. I thought I was going to go to school and study biology. I switched to English after my first semester at college. I never would have imagined that I would become an urbanite, and I (being the first in my family to even go to college) had no idea that graduate school was in my future. I didn’t label myself as a feminist at that age (though the principles were already rooted in my mind), and I definitely didn’t know that I would be meeting my husband two months later. (I turned 18 in June and met my husband on the first day of college).

I don’t know that the 18-year-old me would be shocked by any of these developments, though. I knew even then that I wanted my life to change radically from where it was, and I was pretty optimistic and open about how those changes might take place. I couldn’t have predicted it would look like this, but I think that my teenage self would be happy with the results.

Relate to what Michelle is saying? Leave her some love in the comments. Read other posts from The Having It All Project here. Want to participate? Send me an email at havingitallproject@gmail.com.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Dangerous

A little over a week ago, someone read and commented on one of The Having It All Project's posts, saying that she found the post "dangerous." She made claims in her comment that were factually incorrect, so I took the comment down. Since then, she has written a blog post about her views and invited me to comment on it. You can read her post, and see my comment in response below. I wrote so much that I felt I should publish it here, too. She wants to keep the dialogue going, so feel free to comment here or on her site. Here was my response.

I first want to say that you seem to have read just one of the many (over 30) perspectives I’ve posted in The Having It All Project. You might find more in common with Gina, or Rachel, than Jeannette. One of the goals of the Project is to present a variety of viewpoints for how people are managing their lives. Not everything will resonate for everyone.

I’m going to try to respond to many of the thoughts you’ve posted here, as there is a lot to cover. As I said on my site, I don’t disagree with all of your points, but I do not agree with all of them either. Starting from the top…

I agree, I worry about how women have so many expectations placed upon them. But, I think things are evolving, and men have many of the same expectations placed on them too. For many, if not the majority of families, both parents are working. So while you might think it’s dangerous or an unsustainable model, most families don’t have a choice either way. Families, both men and women, need to navigate how to balance work and family life, as well as housework work, and time for friends, hobbies and self care.

Katrina Alcorn’s book is on my nightstand right now, and I’m planning to read it next. The book summary says she also “offers readers a vision for a healthier, happier and more productive way to work and live.” While I haven’t read it yet, it does seem like work is still part of her conclusion, as I said above, it usually *has* to be.

I still would like you to point me to the research that explicitly says being a working mother leads to mental health issues. I haven’t read everything on your research list, but have read and seen some of it, and I don’t think the complete list of research you cite would have led to the same conclusion (particularly the MAKERS documentary, which is filled with women who worked, parented and initiated social change). Yes, some women cope with mental health issues, but so do many women who don’t work at all.

I also disagree that it’s only women who are career-driven, thin and beautiful soccer moms can claim that they’re successful. Since you use yourself as an example, I’m going to use myself too. I am incredibly successful. I’m married to a great guy who helps around the house, with two wonderful children, a fantastic career that gets better every year, a house, two cars, camps and vacations. As my kids have gotten older, I’ve found more time for my hobbies and exercise, and am working on my self. Now, all of that sounds like a horrible brag, which is probably why more women don’t say all that out loud and claim themselves as successes, but I have yet to meet a woman who isn’t doing all she can for the betterment of herself and her family, and that’s *my* definition of success.

The blogosphere is FILLED with women who are taking apart the hard parts of parenting and not just glamorizing it all. My friend Julie writes a blog called “Next Life, No Kids” about how she’d do it all differently next time. Over 100,000 people–no, that’s not a typo–shared Kveller.com’s “We Need to Quit Telling Lies on Facebook” and started a movement to share the less glowing moments of parenting. And Katherine Stone of Postpartum Progress is completely amazing in her advocacy for women’s health and advancement. The Internet is an incredible medium for finding support when you need it, and given the lack of support in families and communities as you mention, I think we’re fortunate to have access to so many resources that can be accessed easily and on your own terms.

Yes, the adjustment to parenting is difficult, and I agree that it would be wonderful if there were more societal supports in place, both in terms of communities and extended family. When my children were born, I was largely on my own as both my parents and in-laws were still in the work force themselves. I’m not sure women in Bangladesh have it all that much better than we do though–40 days isn’t very long either–and what kind of work life balance do they return to after those 40 days are up?

Yes, I agree, we need to keep talking about these things and I’m sorry Jeannette’s post made you feel “threatened.” I find posts like hers inspiring. Your research also refers to Deborah Spar’s new book, which I have yet to read, but I am very turned off by the idea that just because it’s hard to be wonder women, we shouldn’t even try. I am working and parenting and all the rest, and I want to succeed at all of them to the best levels that I can. What’s the alternative? Just to settle for mediocrity? My aim isn’t perfection, and no one’s should be, but I don’t think aiming for better is really all that bad. I think most people are only aiming for better.

You end your post saying no one can understand like other mothers–and I have found lots of other mothers who have supported me in my journey–but I don’t think you would count yourself among them. Calling another mother out as dangerous just isn’t helpful. Both Jeannette and I are living our admittedly very busy lives, but are doing so successfully. I sincerely hope your last sentence, that you don’t have “enough of any one thing that matters,” isn’t true. I hope you have enough money in your life to adequately feed, clothe and shelter your family, and to give back to your community on occasion. I hope you have enough health to enjoy your children and the world around you. I hope you have enough support from your spouse, family and friends. And I hope you have plenty of love, because without that, none of the rest of it is worthwhile. I don’t think anyone truly has it all, but most of us probably do have more than enough.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Having It All Project: Rachel Glazer

Rachel and I met through our participation in a women's networking group, or at least that's what we call it. It's not so much networking as incredibly supportive working women from all walks of life who get it. We've been meeting since the spring, and it's become one of my favorite things. Here's how Rachel is having it all.

Briefly describe your life and what you think makes it unique.
I am a work-at-home mother of 5 year-old twins living in Needham, MA. I run my own event planning and mission consulting business that I started in 2008 as a result of becoming a mother. I always envisioned myself going back to work full time but when my children arrived, my feelings and plans changed. I wanted to be with my twins, take them to classes and playgroups, and I still do. So for me, the flexibility that comes with working for yourself is extremely important and allows me to have a bit of both the working world and stay-at-home mother world. I am involved in my community, my children's school, our synagogue and various Jewish organizations where I volunteer and help organize events. I am also an avid runner and currently training for my 10th marathon and also running the BAA 1/2 marathon with the Dana Farber Cancer Institute awhile leading Team Ari, a group of 18 of runners united by a love for Ari Goldwasser and his family, and united by a commitment to raise money for Dana Farber so other kids like Ari can be treated and cured. I am constantly seeking the balance between my work, my kids school and their activities and the general day-to-day schedules and to-do lists.


My schedule is unique in that I work during the school hours, then transition into my children's schedules and return to work in the evening. I somehow manage, although not always in a good way, to transition from work mode to children mode several times a day. It has also been very important to me to keep up and stay involved in my extra curriculum activities during motherhood.

What are some of your favorite tips and strategies for coping with the chaos? 

I am a big list maker. I am constantly making to-do lists and have several planners with me at all times. This helps me plan, organize and prioritize what needs to get done hourly, daily, weekly and monthly. The lists serve as a guide for me and helps me plan my days and weeks. I also set aside time to exercise every day. For me, exercise has become a type of therapy and allows me time to think, be alone and release tension and stress.

Please share a moment where it all broke down, and how you got through it. 

I feel that there are moments each day when it all breaks down whether it be with the kids, my work or myself. During these times I try my best to stay calm and if all else fails, I allow for ipad or computer time! But on a more serious note, I let it ride its course. I am learning that no matter how much you plan, things happen. Accidents happen, kids get tired and hungry and plans get changed. I am not someone who deals well with change and chaos but I remember "this too shall pass" and it always does.

Do you have any balance role models? Anything you try to avoid because it wouldn't work for you? 

Until I became a mother, I never knew how much of a 24-7 job it was. The non-stop, ongoing role of mother was not apparent to me until my son and daughter were born. Now I appreciate and admire my own mother more than ever. As a mother of 3, she shuffled us all from school to a million activities for many years. She was a stay-at-home mother but one that was very active and is still active in her community and with various organizations. Somehow she made it all work and was there for her 3 children. The one thing that has become important to me is my career and to keep it moving forward while also raising my children. 

Think back to your 18th birthday. How is your life different from how you expected it to be then? 
When I was 18, the focus was on college life-how to adjust to living away from home, making new friends and having fun. I wanted to be an interior decorator and spend time abroad in Israel. Now 22 years later, I am decorating my children's lives to the best of my ability while trying to advance my career and business. Back then, I would not believe that I would become a mother of twins, running my own business and living the daily routine of a running a family. All of this was so far from my mind and did not relate to me but now I so thankful for all that life has brought me-a wonderful family, community and career.

Relate to what Rachel is saying? Leave her some love in the comments. Read other posts from The Having It All Project here. Want to participate? Send me an email at havingitallproject@gmail.com.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

General Busy-ness: September 2013

Can I get a collective sigh of relief that September is over? With the main Jewish holiday season starting on September 4th, and weekly extra things to do until the month ended, well, it was just a lot. I've already told you about the start of school, what it was like to be in The New York Times, and how my first big business trip went. Here's what else we did.

The first month of school and religious school has gone fairly smoothly for both kids. Hannah is very excited about taking clarinet lessons at school this year (she specifically asked me to blog on this very point), to be in the choir both at school and synagogue, and was awarded her classroom's "Citizen of the Week" designation during the second week of school. Fourth grade seems to be a big step up in responsibility, and she's taking it all very seriously. Max is settling into his new routine well, and has fully abandoned pirates for camouflage and secret spy activity. Kindergarten gets off to a very slow start, and he's excited to finally have his first "full" day in the classroom tomorrow. At synagogue, there was a special ceremony welcoming the kindergartners to the community, where he received a tiny Torah that is now a prized possession of his.

Our sukkah
Our holidays were very nice this year. We spent part of Rosh Hashanah with Marc's parents, and part with friends. Yom Kippur was also a bit split as Max had a cold, but we all made it to the end of services and enjoyed breaking the fast with friends. Marc has trained both kids in using the power drill, and our sukkah went up and down this year with minimal involvement from me. :) We held our annual open sukkah party, and it just keeps getting better every year. I had a great time attending a few other sukkah parties, too! But by the Shabbat after Simchat Torah, I was a bit worn out from it all. So we took the day off from synagogue and headed to the Museum of Fine Arts instead, one of my favorite places in Boston.

Work was incredibly busy this past month--it doesn't ever seem to slow down for long anymore. I only made it to Zumba once the entire month, and I'm still struggling with the exercise component of my life. But, I am making an effort to pack my lunch at least a few days a week. I bought a nice container that fits in my bag well, and am focused on bringing healthy things that I can pack with as little effort as possible. I find I'm really enjoying eating my lunches from home, as I'm pretty tired of everything around my office as it's been almost eight years working in the same location. If you've got any suggestions for making this even easier, I'd love to hear them!

Veggies with hummus and feta. One container, no waste, minimal prep involved.
I'm looking forward to October. It's my birthday month, fall is my favorite season, and there's a lot of fun but low key activities already on the calendar. I'm very excited to be taking professional family photos this month. I've wanted to do this for a while now, and Hannah and I had a fun shopping trip looking for our outfits for the photos. Although I'm not really sure I can top how much I love this photo below.

Stacking Stobers
So how was your month? What are you looking forward to this fall?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Teaspoons of Pureed Peas and Doubt

I was thrilled just to make it out of the house. Hannah was five months old, the weather was lovely on that weekend afternoon, and we were headed to a friend's 30th birthday party. It was a casual, kid-friendly event at our friend's home, and I was excited to be doing something social. 

But knowing me, I was probably preoccupied with the logistics too. Managing the feeding, changing, and napping of this new little life while also figuring out how to be social? All of it was still a relatively new challenge to my 26 year old self. Those challenges didn't mean I'd rather stay home and skip the party--that's never been my way--but I was probably a bit nervous and fragile. 

I found myself seated on the couch with another new mom, her son right around Hannah's age. Since we knew nothing else of each other, we started in on the baby talk, and I fought that lump beginning to form in my throat, sensing early in the conversation that this was likely not to go well. She brought up starting the babies on solid foods, and then she went for the clincher: she asked how many teaspoons of food Hannah was eating each day. 

I didn't know the answer.

I looked searchingly at my husband, and he didn't know either. I started fumbling, saying that Hannah goes to daycare, and I don't know exactly how much she eats while there, and was given a long response back about how this mother carefully estimated every ounce of breast milk and spoonful of rice cereal. My mind raced as I stared at the happy infant in my lap, gumming a teething toy. Was I even supposed to be tracking things to that kind of detail? Her pediatrician never mentioned it. None of the constant babycenter.com emails I carefully scrutinized said so. Should I ask her daycare provider to count each spoonful? What about the times she didn't swallow all of it, and let half run down her chin instead? Did those count?

I want to be clear on this point: the other mother wasn't trying to be judgmental about how I was feeding my child or anything else. But I felt filled with doubt. Was I doing the right thing by sending Hannah to daycare so I could work? What would happen if I wasn’t there to count every spoonful of baby food? As a young parent, so much is new to you. Every decision feels momentous because you don’t know which ones will matter. It’s disorienting experience, and you begin to mistrust what once might have seemed like common sense.

It's been almost a decade since that conversation, and I still remember how I felt in that moment. In response to my New York Times Motherlode column, a commenter named Alex posted, "Very good piece. At the same time, it is a sad state of affairs that in 2013 women still feel the need to justify their choices. Work or stay at home, the kids will be all right. The most important thing is to have happy, self-fulfilled parents and/or caregivers modeling the behaviors and socio-emotional skills needed to be successful in life. Whatever your choice, own it, be proud of it and never look back." But despite generally being proud of my choices, they're still difficult to fully own and never question, even things like counting teaspoons.

Yes, earlier generations of working mothers paved the way for women like me to be able to make choices. But having more choices doesn't make it absolutely easier to be a new mother, nor do I expect any degree of social change to provide women with all of the support and clarity they need to stop second-guessing themselves. We’re parents, and we’re going to worry about whether we’re doing the right thing by our children. That’s true whether it’s 2004 or 2013, and it will still be true when Hannah is old enough to be a mother herself.

There are moments like this sprinkled throughout my parenting past. I'm still figuring out the emotional side to parenting. Not everything is a cut-and-dry, yes-or-no situation, nor are our responses to them. After all, thinking critically about the choices I make, and seeing what I can learn from those choices, is exactly the type of skill I hope to be modeling for my children. I own my choices by examining them closely, like when I concluded that knowing Hannah's teaspoon intake wasn't critical for this particular child at that point in her life. That conclusion came at the cost of a ruined weekend, though.

So I write about the doubt and the hard choices. Because maybe someone out there went to a birthday party with their new baby this weekend, and left feeling stung. Maybe knowing that someone else had doubts, LOTS of doubts, somehow still made it through, helps them to make it through, too.