Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wait, I'm Still Learning

We had one of those days yesterday.

One of those crappy, crappy days where both parent and child fail to make the best choices.  One of those days where a teachable moment is squandered and instead becomes a lesson for the parent.  One where I whisper at bedtime that I am sorry I am still learning, sorry that they have to endure the days when my on-the-job training is not going very well.

But then those days turn into evenings spent googling parenting advice on how to properly handle our particular challenge.  And as happens when I do this post-parenting-fail-analysis, yesterday I discovered a wealth of wisdom that confirms I had made a list of mistakes while mishandling the situation.  But then - then! - I  found this nugget of brilliance from Anne Lamott called WAIT.

It stands for Why Am I Talking?

Anne's son is a young adult, and a father himself- and her point seemed to be about letting him live his life without imposing her opinions.  But I think it holds true even for the still-little ones.  Even though there is so much to teach, and so much to tell - what sometimes gets lost in our house is listening and understanding, and just as egregiously, leading by example.  As someone genetically-wired to bang on and on when making a point, I love this acronym.

So I am attempting less saying more showing, and less lecturing more listening.  And hopefully the next time adversity strikes, we'll come at it in a better way.

How do you regroup after a tough moment?  Do you apologize to your kids for mishandling a situation?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

My favorite season

There must be something in the air besides spring time.  Because this three-year-old essay by Kelly Corrigan keeps popping into my head, and it has nothing to do with the weather.

But I am realizing it has a lot to do with seasons.

The essay is about female friendships, and how large they loom in a life.  But it is also about middle age, which as much as my husband denies it, is the season we are entering.  Suddenly all the anecdotes that sounded good a few years ago are actually part of my ecosystem - the bake sales, the charities, the home improvements, work outs, and laugh lines.  But with them comes the Other List:  divorces, diagnoses, and most unbearably, death.  As the plots of our lives take unexpected turns, I find there's nothing quite like adversity to bring friendships to full bloom.    I am aware of this friendship so much now as I give it and receive it.  How funny that at a time in our lives when we are so immersed in family and our own dramas, I feel so connected to friends.

I have always loved the energy created when seasons shift - and the days, the wardrobe, the diet -  all transform into something at once new and completely familiar.  And this, Winter into Spring, is my favorite, despite the fact that March and April are restless torture for me, until Spring itself explodes in the month of May.

If life is lived through seasons - middle age is our Autumn.  How lovely that suddenly it's feeling like Spring.  Restless torture as we anticipate it - glorious, in it's own way, when it gets here.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Jumping the Gun

So I finally did it.  The totally weird thing I've been wanting to do for months now.

I asked another mom if they had guns in the house before agreeing to a playdate.

I know this is a weird thing to do because no one has ever asked me if we have guns in our house.

But I wanted to know, making this item #7,792 of things I worry about that my husband doesn't.  I want to know so much about the homes my children are being invited to.  Especially when I am working and our sitter is there for spontaneous playground-hatched plans.  But where you you draw the line?  Nice to meet you!  A playdate? Yes, that would be lovely.  Do you have any pets?  Teenagers?  Creepy step-uncles staying for a few weeks?  Prescription drugs lying around?  You can't ask all these things.

But I decided you can ask some.

In the rural part of the US where my parents live, it is safe to assume that most of the homes on the street have a rack of rifles in their basements or garages.  And one hopes that in hunting homes, the family has clear, hard rules about gun safety, and respect for guns is instilled from the youngest age.  But in our preppy little town you can assume - well, that's just it.  You can't assume anything.   When I was mulling this issue with a friend's nanny I said, "You just don't know who has a gun in their house".  Without missing a beat she responded,  "Well, we do."

It's a strange new world for me, the social dynamics of meeting new parents, new classmates, new playmates.  Our first playdate this year kind of threw me - it happened so fast, I hadn't asked questions, and there were some surprises at pick up time.  Nothing major, but I realized I had been too cavalier about letting my son walk off the playground with a parent I didn't know.  And when a father, who seems like the nicest dad ever, asked if my daughter could come over to their house after school, I was shocked by the feeling of dread, and then shame that followed, for feeling not ready to send her off with a dad instead of a mom.

How do you navigate school relationships?  What kind of rules do you follow for playdates?  And how do you talk about them with other parents?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Going Grey

There are certain lines you never forget.  Sentences so hard, meaningful, profound or just so plain true (or not true!) that they come to punctuate your decision-making, anecdotes and advice.  As I've engaged in the complex issues of working parenthood, whether they were my own dilemmas or somebody else's, there have been a few zingers that stopped me in my tracks, and then set me down a better path.

I am so grateful for them.  For the comments, and for the friends and family who made them.  My personal board of directors who have always bravely told me what I needed to hear, whether or not it matched what I wanted.

One of my favorites was advice to 'stop looking at everything in black and white, and learn to live comfortably in the shades of grey'.

It's the Either/Or ultimatum that gives oxygen to working mom guilt.  When you program yourself to believe that there are only good outcomes or bad outcomes, right decisions or wrong decisions, you are sunk as a parent, working or not.  Rationally, I always understood this.  It's sometimes harder to shake the mindset.  

Tonight my husband and I both had funny stories to share from this week about no longer being the hot young thing in certain contexts.  We laughed about the grey - and I remembered this line.  Grey - whether it is years of experience, or an ambiguously defined set of rules - is something I can embrace.  Finding and enjoying the grey - the good enough, the not so bad, the win-some-lose-some-who-cares-in-the-grand-scheme-of-things, has been priceless advice.

What advice made a difference to you?  Have you passed it on?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Moms Under the Influence

"Well maybe you should just put your kids up for adoption and get a goldfish instead!"

Over the holidays, as we caught up with loved ones and talked about our plans for the new year, we let our friends know that my career break (which had been so enthusiastically welcomed by the crowd) is coming to an end and I'm gearing up to return to work.  Let's just say not everyone is keen on the idea.

And I can handle that - mostly.

The comment above was an obvious tease from someone I love.  I laughed politely.  Ha ha ha ha!  But hours later, I found myself wondering, preposterously, if maybe I shouldn't be going back to work yet?  Even though I am excited - like, really excited, about rejoining the working world.  Luckily I caught it, and was able to link the thought to the comment and discard it. I haven't always been able to do that.

I haven't always been clear on my choices as a working parent.  I gain a lot from exploring the topic.  But not all of it is helpful.  Sorting through the masses of opinion to pinpoint your own can be a bit of a minefield, especially for new moms in demanding fields.  For anyone with even a hint of conflict, the opinions of others can be as tempting and treacherous as forbidden fruit.

Much has been said of the influence mothers have.  Aren't we collectively responsible for the future of therapy as an industry?   As parents, as consumers, as a voting block, moms are an influential group.

But what about all the things that influence us?  Whether we are aware of it or not, we are influenced by a barrage of information and opinion from the media, advertisers, bloggers, online communities and friends, families, and of course, most powerfully of all, our own mothers.

Judith Warner's 2006 book, "Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety" in part recaps an exhausting history of dominating opinions about where and how mothers should fit into society and the socio-political factors that have ebbed and flowed over the last century and longer.  And how often, the attitudes of a generation of mothers is driven by the desire to avoid the perceived misery of the mothers before them, whether that was being stuck at home, or working full time.  Reading it you can't help but feel like a little bit of a chump for falling for any of it.  What a frustrating relief to find that generations of women have.  How liberating to recognize when the noise is, well, just noise.

How do you filter out the noise?  And what are some of the soundbites that have rattled you the most?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Relapsing vs. Relaxing Resolutions

It seems this New Year's I have accomplished one of my most important resolutions without even noticing it.

That illusive goal to Lighten Up.

Because more often than not, 'chilling out' seems to get lost at the end of the year when we look backwards and forwards and think about all the coulda, shoulda, wouldas, and lament the fact that so many of the things we aimed to accomplish in the past year go straight back on the list again.

And then to contradict all of that, always on my list, is to let go a little more, and sweat the bullshit less.

This year, I didn't engage in any of that. I think I forgot to.

Perhaps all that Who Cares! is finally sinking in.  Maybe I am just getting old and complacent.  Or is it possible that I am also, at long last, on my good days, finding the serenity to accept the things I cannot change (gasp!), the courage to change the things I can (shudder!), and the (really?) wisdom to know the damn difference.

I've discussed accepting the things you cannot change - but what of that courage?

I only realized my lack of resolutions when I saw this post from New Jersey CASA: "Working on that New Year's Resolution - why not give your time to a child this year and become a CASA Volunteer [?]"  Because for years I had wanted to become a CASA advocate but was afraid to do so - mainly fearing that I wouldn't have enough time.  It is just the kind of post that would have simultaneously crushed and motivated an earlier me. This year it has been six years since I took my training, and 4 years since I took my case, and two years since joining as a trustee of the Essex County organization.  I am deeply engaged in my work with CASA and this post reminded me again of how much fulfilment it brings.

So even though I have an acre-long to do list, a house in disarray, am drinking a glass of wine for no reason on a Wednesday night and just booked my son's birthday party two full weeks after the fact - I am using the time that I do have on things that are most important to me.   And I am squandering the little time that I do have messing around on the internet and blogging rubbish into the worldwide inter-web-o-sphere when I should be focussed and accomplishing more.  But you know what? I am otherwise at peace with my priorities.

So it turns out for me that the way to get rid of resolutions is to tackle the biggest ones and let the rest go.  I quit my job, in a terrible economy, to take a break and find one I could enjoy more.  I started a blog.  I volunteer my time on the things I care most about.  So pesky things like checking my phone too often, piles of clutter, a few extra pounds or being occasionally judgemental don't seem all that important afterall.

What recurring resolution keeps coming back at you?  What's really holding you back?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

judging you, judging me

This morning started with a fight.  Well, not really a fight -  more like a pissing contest.  On email.  Between a handful of moms I've never met.  Exposed to the 500+ other mothers who are part of a yahoo group about parenting in our town.

Some poor mom had posted a query about an accident that had happened which jeopardized the well-being of her infant but caused a minor injury to her brand-new uninsured care-giver.  She was looking for advice.  She got wrath, judgement - and apparently a threat or two - instead.

It carried on back and forth in my in-box and I found myself increasingly sucked in.  I know better than to engage the crazies - but they were polluting my otherwise very helpful little group and ganging up unfairly on this mom.  If online communities largely self-police, I felt I was being drafted.  In the end, I couldn't resist a short and carefully worded note on the importance of reserving judgement and creating a safe environment for us all to figure out how to raise our children the best way we can.  One of the pot-stirrers shot back a final snark.  I ignored it, the thread died, but the turkey got me down.

Then, I saw this, an opinion piece in the New York Times - yes, the New York Times, about moms who buy fancy cake pops for bake sales just to show off.  Really?  WHO CARES?  Who cares if she bakes, buys, or blows it off?  Who has time to analyze motives?   WHO CARES?

I suppose we all have a little sanctimommy in us.  One was definitely born in me with my first child - I probably spent half of my first maternity leave on urbanbaby telling everyone what was what.  And then I spent the next six years learning that parenthood is a humbling endeavour and a whole bunch of things I swore I'd never do/think/feel happened and taught me that judging too soon is a new mom's folly.

Or so I thought.  Perhaps I judged too soon.