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Friday, November 29, 2013

The Having It All Project: Kate Lair

I'm so thrilled to feature Kate here on The Having It All Project. Kate and I attended high school together--we even posed for prom photos together at our friend Marti's house--but we didn't know each other all that well. Now, reading about all that she was going through then, I'm a bit sad for the time lost, but honored that she's sharing it all here now. Here's how Kate is having it all.

Briefly describe your life and what you think makes it unique.
I'm a married, work out of the house mom with one awesome 8 year old daughter, Maya.  I always want to say that I'm just your "typical" work out of the house mom.  But, the truth is I'm not typical.  I have a progressive, degenerative neuromuscular disease called Charcot Marie Tooth Disease (CMT).  Most people have never heard of it (in spite of the fact that it is actually the most common inherited neurological disease) but the bottom line is that my nerves are dysfunctional and thus messages from my brain can't get to my muscles.  As a result, I have significant muscle wasting.  It makes everyday things like walking, climbing stairs, opening bottles etc. much more challenging for me.  It is an inherited disorder, so I've had it my whole life.  It is progressive and does get worse as I get older. On top of CMT I have been plagued with various orthopedic problems and other minor health conditions like obstructive sleep apnea and hypothyroidism.  I've had 5 orthopedic surgeries since 2001.  I have arthritis in my knees hips and shoulders.  In many ways, my life is very similar to many other working parents with decent professional jobs.  I work a normal 40 hour week with occasional overtime, my daughter does after school activities, have to keep up with housework, yadda, yadda, yadda. I just have added physical impairments which make trying to live a "normal" 35 year old person's life more exhausting, painful, and challenging.  

What are some of your favorite tips and strategies for coping with the chaos?
I'm very much a one moment at a time kind of person.  I can get easily overwhelmed when I think of all that needs to get done at any given moment.  I try very hard to break things down into steps and take things one step at a time.  I love lists.  Few things are as satisfying as crossing something off the to do list.  I also refuse to do it all alone.  I try very hard to not take on more than I can handle and if I am overwhelmed I try to force myself to ask for help.  I'm not all that good at that to be honest, but I'm trying to get better.  My 8 year old daughter is very capable and we have been trying to instill a sense of responsibility and competence from a young age.  I give reminders, but some things are her job and she has to suffer the consequences if they are not done.  My husband is also a true partner and helps minimize the chaos because he does his fair share.  When I'm acutely recovering from an injury or surgery he actually does way more than his fair share and doesn't complain about it.  Plus, he can always make me laugh so just when I am at the end of my rope he will say or do something that cracks me up.  Any amount of chaos is bearable when you have plenty of laughter and love. 

Please share a moment  where it all broke down, and how you got through it.
I find it hard to pinpoint a "moment."  I am pretty good at coping in the moment, but cumulative stress and exhaustion really takes a toll.  I suspect I'm not alone.  Usually, the point where I lose my ever loving mind is not about whatever is going on in that moment.  It is a cumulative effect of small pressures building until finally, I reach a boiling point.  At that point, get out of the way because it is likely there will be collateral damage.  

For example, this spring and summer were extremely challenging.  I had been having problems with my right shoulder for about a year.  In January of 2013 I finally started going to the doctor to get relief.  I tried rest, physical therapy, I went round and round with the orthopedic surgeon and finally in April, I got an MRI.  It looked like my rotator cuff was torn and I elected to have surgery.  This was done in late May.  Did I mention that my job had just moved locations and we were in the beginning of a huge project to restructure the way we do business?  Also, my husband and I planned on moving in the summer of 2013 because of the office location move, searching for a better commute and better schools, etc.  We had to find a new place, pack up the old one, move, unpack, etc.  We didn't have the luxury of hiring packers and movers.  We planned to do it all ourselves.  

So, I scheduled the surgery for the end of May, tentatively planned the move for sometime in August hoping I would be recovered enough to at least be able to pack and unpack boxes.  I worked my tail off at work trying to get as much done and in good shape because I had been told I would be out of work for 6 weeks.  The surgery was uneventful (which is a very good thing.  I once had a severe reaction to anesthesia that almost killed me, so anytime I have surgery I get nervous).  Turns out the rotator cuff was not actually torn, just some impingement and damaged tendon tissues.  I had my follow up with the surgeon and he said I could go back to work with restrictions after just 10 days from surgery.  So, I went back to work.  I was exhausted.  The night after my first full 8 hour day I tripped and twisted my foot.  My husband was away on a business trip.  I managed to get my daughter off to school the following morning with the help of a friend and got myself in for an x-ray. Not broken!  Yay!  Just a severe sprain!  So, I kept working.

Meanwhile, at work, I had been selected for a pilot team to test a bunch of new ways of doing business, one of which was the development of a brand new role.  I was told I would be testing out this new role (which was not yet defined).  It was a great opportunity for me.  The kind of opportunity which may not lead to immediate promotion, but certainly had potential for me to impress people.  

So, in spite of the chaos of my physical issues and attempting to find a place to live, pack the house and do all the moving transitions, I approached the challenge with enthusiasm, a sense of humor and gave it my all.  I put in extra hours, undergoing enormous change and stress to try to create a new role and make it successful.  Based on the feedback I received at work, it seemed like I was doing well.  

In the midst of all this, we have to clean and pack the house.  At one point, I was helping my daughter get her room organized.  It was an absolute pig sty.  There were toys everywhere, clothing everywhere, you could barely walk through the room.  She is 8, I was still recovering from the shoulder surgery and sprained foot.  I was tired, in pain, crabby and really really stressed out.  She and I were in there, and like any typical 8 year old kid she was "cleaning" but getting distracted by every toy she came across and, ahem, not moving very fast.  As in, a sloth changing positions to find its next prime napping spot would probably have moved faster.  I lost.my.mind.  I started throwing all of her toys into a pile so I could clear a path to walk.  I'm yelling things like, "if you can't be bothered to take care of your things, then you will have no more things, I will simply throw everything away." My little hoarder starts sobbing and screaming because I'm throwing her toys and honestly, I probably scared her a little because at that point, Rational Mommy who understands what can reasonably be expected from an 8 year old and how to communicate with said 8 year old had left the building. Dragon Mom with eyes that shoot daggers and steam coming out of her ears and fire from her mouth had taken over.  We went on like that for a good ten minutes.  Screaming, shouting, crying, oh my!  I finally had to leave the room and physically and metaphorically cool off.  I went downstairs.  I had a glass of water.  My husband is all "what the heck is going on?" we talk.  I calm down, cool off and head back up the stairs to her room.  Like I said, I wasn't very proud of how I behaved.  

Once I got upstairs, we sat down on her bed and I apologized.  I told her that I was sorry I yelled and that even though I was really upset, and had good reason to be upset, it wasn't ok for me to yell at her like that.  I explained that while it was ok for me to feel frustrated that she wasn't taking cleaning seriously, that she had allowed it get to the point it was in, and that she was not treating her things with respect, how I dealt with that frustration was inappropriate.  We talked about other strategies I could have used (i.e. i should have left the room a lot sooner than I did).  We talked about why keeping her room neat on a regular basis is important, etc.  I again apologized sincerely, hugs and kisses were had and then we continued to clean her room with no further incident.

Although I still cringe whenever Dragon Mom makes an appearance, I can thankfully say it doesn't happen all that often.  Though I don't like it, I do think it is important for our kids to see that parents aren't perfect.  Also, they learn a lot from watching what we do in those moments.  The truth is, we all make mistakes.  I believe the true measure of your character is how you handle yourself after you've screwed up.  

Regardless, had all the other stress I was under at the time-recovering from injury and surgery, work stress, and moving stress not been smoldering, it is unlikely Dragon Mom would have made an appearance over something so minor as a messy room.  But, that is how it happens.  Again, not very proud of myself, but eventually, I reach a point where I just can't take any more and something small and stupid will just make me come unglued.  I think everyone has a boiling point.  I'm trying to learn from that though and keep things from getting too overwhelming again.  

Do you have any balance role models? Anything you try to avoid because it wouldn't work for you?
I can't think of any specific balance role models. I do try to learn from my mother. Sadly, she passed away when I was pregnant with Maya, but she was such an incredible mother. I miss her everyday. She was not perfect, and I try to learn from her "mistakes" as much as her successes.

I still marvel at all she managed to accomplish with 4 daughters to raise.  One lesson I've learned from her is to get my priorities right.  Her house (and now mine) was never spic and span perfect.  It was lived in, could almost always benefit from a thorough dusting, or mopping of the floors, but we had plenty of time with her.  She spent time making things for us (she was an extremely talented seamstress), helped with homework, always encouraged us, etc.  At this point, I recognize that I can't do it all.  I don't have the physical stamina to work all day and keep up with the amount of housework necessary to have a spotless house.  I'm not saying I live in a pig sty or anything, but my house could use a good dusting.  The floors need to be mopped, etc.  However, it is just not a major priority.  I would rather spend quality time with my daughter after work than mop the floors.  I've accepted certain limitations and try to focus my energies where I need them, my family and my job.

One of the "mistakes" I am trying to learn from her life is that she did not take very good care of herself.  She never made the time to make her health and well being a priority.  As a busy working mom, I completely understand how easy it is to brush my own health and welfare under the rug.  But, I'm really trying hard not to do that because I remember how devastating it was to watch as a child and I don't want that for my daughter.  I'm also motivated because if I'm not well, I'm less effective in everything I do at home and at work.   

Think back to your 18th birthday. How is your life different from how you expected it to be then?
In many ways, I'm living a life I barely dared to hope to have.  I think I assumed I would make more money and be more financially "ahead," but I had lead a relatively sheltered upper middle class life, so most of that was just naivety.  Plus, the economy bottomed out and I think most of us are not where we thought we would be.  But, beyond that, I knew I would want to be married with children and working out of the house.  Ironically enough, I never questioned that I would be a "working mom."  I just assumed I would never be happy as a stay-at-home mom.  Of course, once motherhood actually arrived there have been numerous times where I have wished I could be a stay-at-home mom. Even now, with just one school aged child I would very much prefer to work part time (25-30 hours per week would be ideal for me), but that is mostly a function of the advancement of CMT and less about motherhood per se.  I don't have the stamina to work full time and give what I want to my family and take care of myself as much as I should.  But, like many other families out there, me staying home, or even working part time is not feasible for us.  I do like my job, and I think I personally need to have some focus outside my family to feel like the best me (my 18 year old self got that much right), I just wish I could do it for fewer hours of the week.   

As much as I hoped this would be my life, I didn't actually believe it would happen.  I got the message very clearly from my father growing up that because I was "damaged goods" it was unlikely any man would want me, and that if I did miraculously manage to snare a man, I should definitely not have children for fear of passing on this "dreaded disease" (there's a 50/50 chance with each pregnancy of passing on CMT)  That, coupled with my awkwardness with boys in high school had me convinced I was basically untouchable.  I never believed I was totally worthless (thanks in large part to my mother), but I definitely spent the better part of my adolescence and young adulthood feeling undesirable and unwanted.  Thankfully, I managed to develop some self confidence in college and graduate school.  When my husband and I started dating I really believed for the first time that the "happily ever after" I always wanted was possible.  It is not always sunshine and roses around here, but truthfully the reality of my marriage and family life are far better than I ever could have believed possible.

Relate to what Kate 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.

photo credit: mrp photography 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Hello Out There (Parentheticals About Things Bloggers Love)

When I started The Having It All Project, I made a goal to post at least once a week outside of the Project. I didn't want to run Project posts back-to-back without anything original from me in between. That's a thing with bloggers--we create all these rules for ourselves that no one else is even aware of. But still, it was my rule, and two weeks ago, I was thrilled to post not just once but three times between HIAPs, as I call them (bloggers really love acronyms, too).

But it doesn't feel like anyone's been reading my posts. I'm not super into my site analytics, but traffic has dropped off a cliff. The Ukrainian spambots that have found my site super attractive? They are winning. I asked other bloggers if they've felt similarly (bloggers love secret Facebook groups where we whine to each other about Facebook not showing anyone our posts), and they have, and we all seem to take it personally (what good blogger wouldn't?). In the past few days, two people asked me the question all bloggers dread: so what are you actually trying to accomplish here?

Of course the answer is that I still don't know, and if I don't know after six and a half years of writing into the abyss, I'm probably not going to know until I've actually accomplished something. Reverse bucket list, if you will. I didn't know I wanted to get a post in The New York Times Motherlode column until I did. But I do know that I didn't write something personal this week, and part of me didn't feel right until I was able to get almost everything else around me done and put off sleeping so I could write this now. As I'm typing this out, even with the knowledge that it's not the best work I've ever done, I feel better.

Last weekend, Marc and I saw the exceptional film, "20 Feet from Stardom." The documentary traces the history of background singers and interviews those singers and the front men they supported, as well as the efforts of several of them to become solo artists themselves. There were so many good lines during the film (better bloggers than me would have been prepared with a small notebook for jotting them down, but I didn't anticipate such an impactful film). I was particularly struck by the comment of one woman who tried to strike out on her own, where she basically said that she thought if she wanted it badly enough, and put all of her heart into it, it would happen for her. It didn't.

She wasn't a failure by any stretch, but she could have chosen to look back on her life that way. She didn't. She was happy and proud of all she accomplished, and she strutted into that recording studio like she owned the place. She may not have reached the pinnacle, true, but she didn't let that lacking define her.

I didn't write this week, but I did have an outstanding week at work. I had an impact on something with the potential to be big, and with it being so close to the start of my new job, the timing couldn't be better. The work is hard, and it's not like the rest of life ever slows down, so sometimes I may not write. And maybe that means this will never be anything. Because the truth remains that even if I want it badly enough, and put all of my heart into it, it may not happen for me. But the thought of me reaching any kind of pinnacle in my life still includes this writing, this vehicle for expression. It may not be much more than the spambots tagging along, but that's cool. I'm not just doing it for everyone else--I'm doing it for me (and at the heart of it, isn't that really what bloggers love the most? The thrill of writing for themselves. Yes, I'm my own biggest fan). But if you're along for the ride too, know how much I appreciate it (okay, okay, bloggers really love comments too. C'mon, just leave me one already.).

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Having It All Project: Dr. Jessica Smock

Dr. Jessica Smock is another Twitter find, and even though her child is much younger than mine, she seems to be coming to many of the same conclusions about motherhood that I've arrived at myself. She blogs at School of Smock and co-edited The HerStories Project, a book about female friendship. Check out how Jessica is having it all.

Briefly describe your life and what you think makes it unique.
I never imagined that one day I would become a sort of stay-at-home/working mom hybrid. When my son was a few months old, we moved from Boston -- where I had lived since college -- to Buffalo, NY, my husband's hometown. I had just finished the interviews for my dissertation in my doctoral program in educational policy. When we moved during the summer, I had imagined that I'd be done with my dissertation by the winter, and then I'd go out on the academic job market that spring. It was really difficult to complete a dissertation while staying home with an infant in a town where I knew practically no one. (That's an understatement.) But that extra year gave me time to reflect and realize that I didn't want to have a traditional career in academia. I had started a blog, and I realized that I wanted to pursue my first love, writing. And I also knew that I wasn't cut out to be a traditional, full-time stay-at-home mom. 

The flexibility in my day -- my two year old is in preschool for a few hours a day -- has given me the chance to pursue writing projects that I never could have imagined when I was researching my dissertation. Along with my writing partner, Stephanie, we're publishing an anthology of female writers' essays about female friendship, to be published in less than two weeks!

What are some of your favorite tips and strategies for coping with the chaos?
I had a magical moment in the middle of writing my dissertation where I just realized that spending a good portion of my day doing housework was making me unhappy and taking time away from getting my project done. I decided to experiment and see what would happen if I drastically lowered my housework standards. Since then, I haven't looked back! And I've written about my "housework manifesto"! Our house is often a complete disaster, but it no longer stresses me out. I've also learned that it helps all of us if I encourage my husband to do more of the "invisible labor" of running a household: the planning, the invisible details of everything from remembering when medication needs to be given to planning out what my son will have for lunch at preschool the next day.

Please share a moment where it all broke down, and how you got through it.
When my son was a little over a year old, I started to get really upset that I wasn't making more progress on my dissertation. I had been hiring a babysitter for a couple of hours a few times per week, but I found that I wasn't able to concentrate when my son was in the house (he's a very loud toddler!) and it was too much of a pain to lug around tons of books to coffee shops. I wasn't meeting my adviser's deadlines that he was making for me, and I realized that something had to change fast or I wouldn't graduate that year. I immediately began to research preschools and enrolled my son in one that I loved. After my son went through a difficult transition of his first time in child care out of the home, I made fast progress and finished all of the writing within two months!

Do you have any balance role models? Anything you try to avoid because it wouldn't work for you?
Since I began blogging, I've met so many accomplished writers -- academics as well as journalists and fiction writers -- who have become my role models. They prioritize times of day that are most productive for them to write but also spend much of their days with their children. I've found it so helpful to talk with them about how to be both flexible and productive. 

I was a teacher and curriculum coordinator for more than a decade in schools. I realize now that teaching and raising small children wouldn't work for me. I'm an introvert and need a great deal of quiet time to process, reflect, and do my own projects. I know that I wouldn't be able to combine spending my days teaching children -- although I loved teaching -- and then return home and be an effective, happy parent. Teaching takes so much mental and physical energy that I don't think at this point -- when my son is so young -- that I'd be able to combine parenting and teaching.

Think back to your 18th birthday. How is your life different from how you expected it to be then?
In some ways, yes. In some ways, no. When I was 18, I wanted to be a writer. I had written a novel in high school and was an editor of my school newspaper. I was sure that I would either write fiction or become a journalist. Absolutely certain. I got off track of that for many years, but I think my 18 year old self would be proud that I returned! 

However, I don't think my 18 year old self could have predicted that I would get married at 35 and have my first (and possibly only?) child at 36 and then become a stay-at-home parent. I was just figuring out how and why feminism was important to my life then, and at that point, I probably would not have thought that being the primary, care taking parent was compatible with the type of feminism that I subscribed to. I'm still a feminist, but I know that life is far more complicated than what I had envisioned so long ago!

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

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Having It All Project: Vincent O'Keefe

Vincent O’Keefe is a writer and stay-at-home father with a Ph. D. in American literature (and, like me, a fan of Twitter). He recently finished a humorous memoir about a decade of at-home parenting. You can watch, read, and listen to more of his work at www.vincentokeefe.com. Check out how Vincent is having it all.

Briefly describe your life and what you think makes it unique. 
I am a writer and stay-at-home father with two daughters, ages thirteen and ten. Probably most unique about my life is that I went from Most Likely to Succeed back in high school to a Ph. D. in American literature to a Lecturer at the University of Michigan to a stay-at-home father trapped under a colicky baby. In fact, my journey from literary scholar to at-home humorist contained so much absurdity I decided to write a memoir about it. (I recently finished the manuscript and have begun seeking an agent/publisher.)

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

It sounds counterintuitive, but you have to force yourself to care for yourself (and your marriage). I remember reading all the advice books about taking naps while the baby napped, but who was going to clean all those pre-nap messes while I dreamed about wearing a stainless sweatshirt? In that tumultuous first year, there were days I didn’t even have time to glance in a mirror before noon. And when I did, I had to look away from my bloodshot eyes and stubbly face.

But I realize now more naps would have helped. It’s so easy to drown oneself in guilt and parental duties. Don’t do it. Of course, when I vent like this I have to remind myself of the luxury of the at-home parenting option. My wife and I count our blessings often, which also helps us cope with the chaos.

I also regret that my wife and I didn’t heed all that advice to nurture your relationship--e.g. by firmly establishing date night, ideally every Saturday. I strongly recommend this to all parents--especially new ones. Again, it seems counterintuitive to purposely leave your baby with a sitter during that first year especially, but trust me: your baby’s future will benefit from happier parents.

A few more tips for self-care and chaos-mitigation include using a calendar and lists to stay organized, exercising if it all possible (perhaps with equipment at home to save time), committing to tech-free family dinners, and most importantly, keeping your sense of humor!
 

Please share a moment where it all broke down, and how you got through it. 
When our firstborn was seven months old, we had to move to an Orlando, Florida hotel for two months while my wife took a GYN oncology rotation at a cancer hospital. Yes, that’s correct: I was a stay-in-hotel-room father to an infant for two full months. Let’s just say the Comfort Inn became uncomfortable in a hurry. To make matters worse, our daughter had recently started sleeping through the night, but that ended in the hotel’s rickety crib. The result? One exhausted family.

The breaking point occurred one day when my baby and I were speeding around town in our tiny rental car. After she fell asleep in her carseat behind me, I parked and tried to work on a book review in the front seat. I had not yet accepted that my becoming an at-home parent with a wife who worked long hours would seriously curtail my production as a writer, at least for a few years.

Shortly into my writing session, my daughter started crying. It was incredibly frustrating, but I knew I had reached a limit. Tired beyond words, I looked back at my crying baby in her carseat, and it seemed fitting that she was facing backwards and I was facing forwards. Obviously, I needed to be more in sync with her needs, at least for a time.

So I got through the breakdown via surrender. I quit writing that book review, and I did not pursue any new assignments for a while. I may have had it all, but it was all too much, and I couldn’t do it all at once. It was time to reprioritize. After doing so, I became a better father and our time in that hotel room (and the rest of my baby’s first year) went much smoother.
 

Do you have any balance role models? Anything you try to avoid because it wouldn’t work for you? 
I admire couples who share parenting. We know one couple who were both able to work part-time and somehow still enjoy quality benefits. I imagine they gained a greater understanding of each other’s plight, though I’m hesitant to see the grass as always greener. (Parents do that so much!) I’m also not sure my wife and I could agree on splitting so many duties.

I also admire couples who simply play to their strengths instead of trying to share chores 50/50. For example, even though I have two daughters, I will never, ever be good at hair braiding (believe me, I’ve even practiced on a fake head). But my wife happens to love styling hair, so she carves time out of her busy mornings to help the girls. While she debates “hot buns” vs. “low piggies” with the girls, I make the lunches and handle school forms.
 

Think back to your 18th birthday. How is your life different from how you expected it to be then? 
In many ways, my life is unrecognizable from how I expected it to be. At age 18, I was a captain of my high school baseball and soccer teams. Now, I’m a Dance Dad who often strategizes about the manliest way to hold a family member’s purse outside a women’s changing room at the mall.

Also at age 18, I dreamed of becoming a writer of science fiction. Now, I write parenting pieces that often appear in publications with the word “mother” in the title --e.g. the New York Times “Motherlode” blog and Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers. (My dad laughed hard at that one.) One could argue that my at-home odyssey has elements of a science fiction saga, but it was certainly unexpected.

Overall, however, I am thankful for all these revisions of my expectations. They have taught me that if you lead with gratitude and an open mind, good things usually follow. 


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

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Book Review: "Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink"

Writing this book review while prepping pasta for dinner.
Disclosure: None needed. I bought this book on my own. But the opinions here would be all mine anyway.

I was really excited to read Katrina Alcorn's book, "Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink" after reading this handy list of "just the facts," as she called them. The headline? "Working and raising kids pretty much sucks in America." It wasn't the least blunt assessment I'd ever heard, but this line was the one that spoke to me most:

FACT: Only professional families are making more than they did in 1979 (7% more) but they’re expected to work longer hours than ever. Those who don’t are often barred from the fast track. - See more at: http://www.workingmomsbreak.com/just-the-facts/#sthash.dIhqqZvb.dpuf
FACT: Only professional families are making more than they did in 1979 (7% more) but they're expected to work longer hours than ever. Those who don't are often barred from the fast track.

I order the book on the spot. Plus, I've often said I'm "Max'd out" after a long period of time with my five year old, so I couldn't help but relate.

And I did relate for the vast majority of the book. Though Alcorn writes of her career and life in the Bay Area of California, it wasn't all that different from the challenges of juggling it all that I've faced in the past ten years. The sleep deprivation of the newborn years, driving cars past their prime and too long commutes by train, endless series of colds and fevers, navigating coworkers' big personalities, trying to remain ambitious while also fitting in time for Mommy and Me. Each chapter tackles a different topic while moving through the story of Alcorn's life, and ends with a couple of pages of resources, tips, or other stories of commiseration.

But I spent the entire book waiting for it: the moment when Alcorn would break down, "max out." It didn't come until Chapter 22 on page 293 (out of 362). She doesn't go out in a burst of flames, but rather, just doesn't go to work anymore. She gets help, gets medication, and her husband, family and friends rally around her. She takes a year to recover, and then goes back to work on her own terms freelancing (and apparently, book writing).

I was disappointed to see so little of the book devoted to that time in her life. After all the vivid descriptions of late nights in the office and weekends running errands, I wanted to know what it's really like to just stop all of it. To go from two full-time salaries to one, from two parents to only one capable of handling it. These are things that have motivated me to keep working all this time--the fear of those unknowns. When I was out of commission with my back a few years ago, so much fell to Marc, and I felt terrible about it all. I still feel bad that missed Hannah's kindergarten parent-teacher conference. Maybe that part of the book was too hard to write, because she really wasn't herself then, and it's hard to remember it as clearly, but I would have loved to read it.

I really appreciated reading the story of someone so relatable, but not all books can be all things. I think there's value in exposing ourselves this way, so that others know they're not alone as they struggle to manage all the aspects of their lives (thus why I created the Having It All Project). Is there another book out there that discusses how hard it might be to have to walk away from everything, or how to keep going when walking away just isn't an option? I'd love for you to share any of your book suggestions in the comments.
FACT: Only professional families are making more than they did in 1979 (7% more) but they’re expected to work longer hours than ever. Those who don’t are often barred from the fast track. - See more at: http://www.workingmomsbreak.com/just-the-facts/#sthash.dIhqqZvb.dpuf

FACT: Only professional families are making more than they did in 1979 (7% more) but they’re expected to work longer hours than ever. Those who don’t are often barred from the fast track. - See more at: http://www.workingmomsbreak.com/just-the-facts/#sthash.dIhqqZvb.dpuf
FACT: Only professional families are making more than they did in 1979 (7% more) but they’re expected to work longer hours than ever. Those who don’t are often barred from the fast track. - See more at: http://www.workingmomsbreak.com/just-the-facts/#sthash.dIhqqZvb.dpuf
FACT: Only professional families are making more than they did in 1979 (7% more) but they’re expected to work longer hours than ever. Those who don’t are often barred from the fast track. - See more at: http://www.workingmomsbreak.com/just-the-facts/#sthash.dIhqqZvb.dpuf

Monday, November 11, 2013

Wearing All The Hats

The kids having lunch in my office.
I've written before about my love for Bright Horizons back-up daycare. It's fabulous, and I'm tremendously lucky to have it as a benefit so I can cover the so many days the kids don't have school or camp. I don't have to use every moment of my vacation time for childcare--this benefit leaves me with enough time to take actual vacations. I'm grateful, really.

But these days when I take the kids downtown are mentally exhausting.

The transition time between home "me" and work "me" is non-existent. I wake up, get us out the door and on to the train, check them in at daycare and get straight to work. At lunch, I become Mom again, and at the end of the day, I have my elevator ride down to the daycare to decompress from work before Mom-me is on again. There isn't a moment spent on autopilot. Even in the elevator on the way back from lunch, I had to police who got to press the buttons (yes, apparently this still matters to nearly 6 and 10 year olds) and say the phrase "shoes stay on in the elevator."

It's also one of the only times when I'm so simultaneously a working mom. I catch a glimpse of my reflection standing over their seats on the train, and I can't believe I'm responsible for both of them, yet dressed in my work uniform of black pants and blow dried hair. But perhaps the most striking moments are when coworkers see me with the kids. There are over 500 people at my company, and only a handful know anything about me outside of work, so it's always weird. My kids don't know them, they don't know my kids, and I don't feel like their coworker anymore, just Mom. I'm wearing every hat I own, all at once.

Hannah realized the other day that she's getting toward the end of her eligibility for Bright Horizons, as she won't be able to go at the age of 13. Some day soon, she won't come downtown with me, and I'm sure part of me will miss these days. But not too much. I tend to get a little overheated wearing all the hats.

Friday, November 8, 2013

A Few Thoughts

Just some random ramblings to end the week.

  • I fell, hard, on Monday morning on my way to the train. It had been the first frost of the season and maybe there was a bit of black ice, or maybe I was walking a bit too fast in my fancy boots, but I had been feeling really good that morning and then had the wind knocked right out of me. I slammed down onto my left knee, and somehow avoided ripping my tights despite scraping the skin off underneath. By the time I got to work, there was a giant swollen area too. It's been four days and it's actually still a bit swollen and painful. Not enough to require medical attention, but OUCH. 
  • Tuesday morning I saw my new endocrinologist, after my decade-long relationship with my old one ended when she moved across the country. I was very worried about switching doctors after all this time, but this new doctor was recommended by my old one. I was immediately impressed when he had an A1C machine in his office that took the tiniest amount of blood and gave me (improved over my last visit!) results in six minutes. On top of it, he's warm and friendly and a good match for me. I will always miss Dr. McC, who got me through two healthy pregnancies, but I'm happy to know I'm still in good hands. Plus, he called me an anomaly (since I'm an overweight Type 1 diabetic), and it's kind of cool to be called that (though I wouldn't mind if I hadn't earned the label due to a chronic illness).
  • I got another label this week: baby-faced. So in case you were wondering, my insecurity over forever being "the young one" rages on. 
  • But then I got the label of co-producer for Listen To Your Mother Boston, so really, how insecure can I be?
  • I had to work late yesterday, and on the way home got off the train in Copley Square for a few moments. It was lightly raining, but I didn't bother opening my umbrella, as I wasn't going far. I used to come by this spot every day on my way home, but now I work in a different part of town, and don't get to experience it as often. It was a nice little reminder of how much I love it here.
  • And also a reminder of how much I miss having the flexibility to make little stops like that. Life is just too scheduled now.
  • Except for when it's not. Like today, when I was able to leave work 45 minutes early because I'd already gone above and beyond for the week. So I got home to the house that had gotten its every two weeks cleaning today, put fresh towels in the bathroom, started some laundry, unloaded the dishwasher and drying rack, put out the dinner dishes, and then sat down to write this before I go out and get the kids. To the people who ask me how I do this? This is exactly how--stealing 20 minutes to frantically type out the stuff that was already bobbing in my head.
 So that was the week. How was it by you?

The Having It All Project: Meredith Napolitano

Meredith is a former music teacher who left her job after her daughter struggled with health issues. She blogs at "From Meredith to Mommy" - and it's comforting to know I'm not the only one who likes washing dishes! Here's how Meredith is having it all.

Briefly describe your life and what you think makes it unique.
I’m a stay at home mom of two little girls – 3 and 20 months. I’m no longer employed, but I’m trying to grow as a writer and find the time to do that. We’re home all day with my husband, who although part of corporate America, works exclusively from his home office. It’s unique these days to have the entire family home, all day, every day. When the girls get to kindergarten age, we’ll be homeschooling, so this will be our life for many years to come.

I was an extremely driven public school music teacher before having my girls. I took on extra projects, for little (or even negative) compensation, and poured my life into my students and my subject. I never thought I would be able to leave that role. I loved it.

I always planned on continuing, even after having my firstborn. I worked part time for a while, then went back full time. When my second was born only eighteen months after my first, my principal had a chance to show me her true colors and what she really thought about that work/mom balance, and I knew that as long as I stayed in that school, I would always be letting someone down. I hated feeling like I never saw my daughter while she was awake, and I knew I would only be stretched even thinner when I was balancing two. I hated feeling like I was never doing enough at school. Sure I have moments where I miss it, but I’m happy with the choice I made.

What are some of your favorite tips and strategies for coping with the chaos?
I plan, plan, plan. I have schedules for errands, for household chores, for laundry, for writing. I have lists upon lists.

Do I always follow them? No. Not even close. So my second tip is to forgive yourself. It is far too easy for women to beat ourselves up for not coping well enough with the chaos of family life. I forgive myself, adjust the plan, and try again.

I also give myself me time every day. No cleaning, childcare, writing, laundry. I take a bubble bath every night with a good book (and sometimes a glass of wine!) to get myself relaxed and centered.

I accept help when it’s offered. My husband working from a home office means that his hours are unbelievably long, but have a degree of flexibility. He’s offered to get up with the girls every morning and I gladly take him up on it.

Finally, I embrace the chaos. I could choose to stress myself out, or I could choose to find a balance I’m comfortable with. I love a neat, organized house, but with four people home every day, two of whom are toddlers, I need to relax my standards.

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

When my first daughter was just shy of nine months old, we had a health scare, on top of a professional nightmare. Our little girl had been struggling with ear infections. We just couldn’t seem to get – and keep – her healthy. I was missing a lot of school to stay home with her and bring her to the pediatrician over and over again. Finally we got the blessing to visit an ENT, who took one look at her and sent her in for surgery that day. He told us we’d made it there just in time, and would see an immediate difference.

We didn’t.

Long story short, it turns out the ears were merely a symptom of an underlying problem. Two days after the surgery – just after missing another day of school for my grandfather’s funeral – she was admitted to the hospital. We were there for five days while they took vial after vial of blood, pushed IV antibiotics, and tried to clear the infection out that had taken deep root. We were finally discharged with explicit instructions to keep her in isolation and consult with a hematologist as soon as possible. She wasn’t allowed to go back to daycare, so I couldn’t return to work. My principal wasn’t happy, didn’t really understand, but accepted the situation. I’d long since run out of family health days, so I was placed on unpaid family leave. Not ideal, but we were more worried about our daughter.

Then my husband was let go.

Although it was never stated explicitly, we believe his boss though that he was interviewing elsewhere and that the “my baby is in the hospital” story was a clever cover up. In less than a week, we went from two salaries to none, and from minor childhood illness to frightening blood and bone marrow tests for a condition we didn’t know anything about.

Nothing was right. Everything was broken. Our baby was sick in a way we didn’t understand, our ability to provide was gone. My husband was seeking another job, and I suspected my principal would never look at me the same again (I was right). We didn’t know what we were looking at in the future. It was hard to find anything to grab onto.

We got through it by compartmentalizing. I threw my focus into researching blood and immunity disorders, researching treatments and side effects, finding message boards, getting advice for coping with the isolation. My husband threw his efforts into managing our finances, and job hunting. He knew I was on his side, I knew he was on mine. By dividing and conquering, we weren’t overwhelmed. It was so easy for our tempers to be short, our nerves shot. It was so easy to slip into panic and despair.

And we got through it simply because we had to. I never could have imagined being the parent of a truly sick child, but when it happened, you aren’t given a choice about whether or not you’d like to deal with it.

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

I really don’t have any role models. I follow bits and pieces of what works for others and adapt it to my life, but there isn’t anyone I would say I try to emulate. Everyone’s situation is different and you need to find what works for you. I had a colleague who also stepped out of the public school system when she had children, but who was able to create a business for herself with private lessons and early childhood classes. I love the idea of keeping a foot in the teaching business, but she has four retired grandparents who fight over babysitting duties – for free. I don’t have that option, so her life wouldn’t work for me. I could resent that, or I could find another path that works for our life.

The only thing I try to avoid is people who try to tell me the “right” balance to have or the “right” way to live my life. There is no right way – there is your right way.

Think back to your 18th birthday. How is your life different from how you expected it to be then?

I was actually one of two high school students featured in the local paper a few weeks before graduation, where I was interviewed about what I wanted to do with my life. I looked back at it to see what I said. I was on the cusp of leaving for college to get a music degree, and I talked to the reporter about my love of being on stage, and how I couldn’t wait to work with high school students on the other side of things – directing, conducting, and leading a group of focused, dedicated, musical teenagers. I liked children, but I could never picture actually being a mom. I wanted to be a successful musician and teacher and that’s where I poured my focus.

Now that I’ve seen the life of a professional musician, and what a teacher in a high quality performance art is expected to do, I know that sort of all-consuming life is no longer the life I’m striving for. I don’t know if any 18 year old really knows what they expect, but I do know that I expected to feel fulfilled and happy – and I do.

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

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Announcing My Next Big Thing: "Listen To Your Mother: Boston!"

In November 2003, I was about eight months pregnant with Hannah, and Marc and I were beginning our annual Thanksgiving drive to Ohio. This time, it was imperative that we drive, because I was no longer cleared to fly on an airplane. But no matter, this drive is our tradition, and I was excited to do it, even if it meant having to stop more often than usual along the way so I could use the bathroom and stretch my legs.

But before we even left Brookline, we stopped at a CVS for some reinforcements. I had gone in the store by myself, and one of the things I'd brought to the cashier's counter was a bottle of Tums. And the conversation that took place then was one I'm still remembering 10 years later.

"That means the baby will have a lot of hair, you know," the cashier said, with a knowing smile.

"Oh!" I replied, fumbling, trying to pay and pick up all my belongings without dropping anything, because being an eight months pregnant woman trying to pick things up from the floor of a CVS was not what I wanted to be just then.

"Yes, that baby for sure has a lot of hair."

I stopped and looked at the cashier, a woman with mostly grey, short hair, probably in her early sixties. I wondered how many children she might have had, if she'd been speaking from experience that the babies that caused a lot of heartburn were indeed born with full heads of hair. But before that moment, I'd never have considered myself having much in common with the cashier at CVS. What I realized then, about six weeks before I became a mother myself, was that motherhood, and more broadly parenthood, is the most universal experience we can have as human beings.

Of course, the nuances are different, and the variety of experiences we can have as parents and as children is vast. But everyone has some story that helps define who we are as a person now, either with the mothers and mother-like figures who brought us into the world, to the mothers that we have become in our own right. Being a mother is an essential part of the story I am telling here, and I personally don't find anything more interesting than that.

So it is with tremendous excitement that I share the news with you today, that I am co-producer of Boston's first production of "Listen to Your Mother." What began as one show on Mother's Day in Madison, Wisconsin, with one of my blogging idols, Ann Imig, has become a national movement to "give motherhood a microphone." I'll be working with my friends Jessica Severson of Don't Mind the Mess and Phyllis Kim Myung of Napkin Hoarder, alumni of the Providence 2013 Listen to Your Mother show, to hopefully bring a wide variety of Boston's best voices on motherhood to the stage.

I've never done anything like this before, and yes, I know it's going to be a huge challenge. But it's a topic I couldn't be more passionate about, and so I know I'm up to it. If you're in Boston, I hope you'll consider auditioning, being a sponsor of the show, and most of all, buy tickets to come and see it. We'll be announcing more information on all of that in the coming months. (Not local to Boston? Chances are, there's a show near you - 32 cities this year!)

For now, I'll leave you with videos of Ann's vision, and Jessica and Phyllis's performances from last year's show, so you can get a glimpse of what's to come.

Oh, and by the way, the baby did indeed have a lot of hair. But the Tums were for my husband.





Monday, November 4, 2013

Grey's Anatomy Gets Some Work-Life Balance

Because McDreamy wasn't already attractive enough. He has to go and step down from work so his wife can focus more on her career, and he'll pick up the slack at home, with their newborn and preschooler.

Yeah, yeah, it's a TV show. Life is always much neater there, what with their four perfect mugs (how?!? We have like 18 mugs stacked up in our cabinet and I NEVER drink a hot beverage, ever.) And chances are, there will be some major calamity on an upcoming episode where their seemingly amazing 24-hour on-site hospital daycare continues to operate seamlessly while the doctors revive dozens from the brink of death.

But still, way to go Grey's. Can't wait to see where this goes.

(Hopefully you're seeing a video here. If not, this link should work: http://abc.go.com/shows/greys-anatomy/video/PL5520969/_m_VDKA0_5mh5ib5q.)

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Having It All Post: Kristina Grum

Kristina is a mother of three, a certified parent educator, and blogger behind Sew Curly. She's also got a shop with her creations - I particularly liked these chalkboard cloth placemats! Here's how Kristina is having it all.

Briefly describe your life and what you think makes it unique. 
My life is amazing! At 40 I am finally happy with who and where I am. I’ve been married for 13 years and we have three girls: 6, 5, and 3 years old. I think what truly makes my life unique is that just 6 years ago I was on the brink of despair. I was barely surviving motherhood with a baby and another one on the way. Once I was diagnosed with post partum mood disorders and began treatment, I was able to take steps to get my life back on track. I went from barely surviving to beginning to thrive in my role as a parent.

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

We had 3 kids in just over 3 years so chaos runs pretty rampant in our house. I try to plan and prep as much as I can in advance so I'm always ready. I rarely make or post a recipe that takes 30 minutes to make. I make everything as easy as possible in our home. I also work really hard at giving our kids choices and responsibility. They are really independent for their age and we all do chores around the house together. Our family is a team.

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

There are so many moments where it all broke down. Times that I rocked our oldest while sobbing through tears and times that I really wanted to just jump out the window. I'm thankful to have a super supportive husband who tried his best to understand and help as much as possible.

When things break down it usually means I need some time for self care. I try to get out alone for some quiet or something I enjoy doing. If I can't get out, I baby step it a lot during those times. I write down how I will get through the day hour by hour and what I will do. Seeing little steps makes the whole picture more manageable.

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

I have a few amazing role models in my life. They help to keep me grounded and remind me to live in the moment when life gets crazy. There are two things I don't do because they don't work for me. I don't try to do it all because I CAN'T - no one can. I also don't compare myself to others. I'm living a different life than anyone else so they can't be compared.

Think back to your 18th birthday. How is your life different from how you expected it to be then?

On my 18th birthday I don't think I was thinking ahead to my life. I think I was so self-absorbed with where I was. I always knew I'd get married and have a family but I don't know if I thought about the logistics of how many kids I'd have or if I would work or stay home.

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