Sunday, December 28, 2008

My day of simple living

All weekend long the after-Christmas sales have been calling. My daughter kind of needs some pants to go with the seven shirts she got from the grandparents this Christmas. My son kind of needs an extra pair of waterproof gloves to replace the pair he bit a hole through. I kind of need some new clothes for the trip we've planned this winter. And, of course, we could kind of use some half-off wrapping paper and lights to store in the basement for a year.

I'm proud to say that I ignored the siren's call of the mall.

Well, I kind of ignored it. On Saturday, my mother-in-law, my daughter and I had our annual "girl's lunch" at The Cheesecake Factory and then we walked through the new American Girl store near the Natick Mall, er Collection. And despite all the headlines about the 2008 recession (no links; just google it and you'll get more than 24 million hits), these places were hopping. Standing room only at Cheesecake Factory, people knocking into each other at American Girl. Could there be two better icons of gluttony? I mean, a Cheesecake Factory menu now has more pages than most print newspapers. American Girl's least expensive dolls go for $90. And, when I didn't think I could be any more outraged, I found a line 12-deep at the American Girl Salon. Mind you, this was a line for the dolls to get their hair done! Yes, there were five "stylists" working fast and furiously to braid the fake hair of the fake dolls (and, since you asked, it's $10-$20 for the privilege).

This is gross excess at its best. In my little act of defiance or whatever, I scrambled out of the store. Okay, with the traffic, it was more of a crawl than a scramble, but still...

(On the bright side, my 4-year old daughter was great. As entralled as she was with the American Girl hair salon, she didn't ask for a thing. And she knows the dolls cost a hundred dollars because I've told her. )

So it was on Saturday I decided that we don't need anything else. I'm not sure that I'm ready to subscribe to one of the more than 100 blogs on living simply, but this one decision was incredibly liberating. Today, instead of heading to the mall on this unseasonably warm December Sunday, I went for a long walk. And on that walk, I encountered two deer standing on the lawn of a nearby house. Channeling my inner Dr. Doolittle, I talked to them. Out loud, but just to remind them not to go into the road. Later, my son and I went for a rip-roaring bike ride through the puddles the melted snow made. He said it was the best bike ride ever. Finally, after dark, the family piled into the minivan and drove to see the lights that our neighbors put up. To our delight, we encountered another family of deer who, no doubt, didn't care that if they meandered down the road a just a few miles, they could get a sweater 1/2 off at Macy's.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Class Gift

I know the class gift has been the subject of other blogs. But I'm here to tell you that I won't ever organize another one.

I organized the class gift for both my son's public school first grade class and for my daughter's private daycare pre-k class. My experiences differed wildly, and in a surprising twist it was much easier to coordinate this for the public school than for the private.

First, the public school has definite guidelines as to how much you can spend. I believe the limit is $200. In his class of 20 students, I asked each parent to contribute $5. Most did, while a few gave $10.

Communicating with the public school parents was also much easier. I used the class email list and then went to the school and put a note in each student's folder. Finally, when the deadline was coming near, another mom called the last few parents who hadn't responded.

The results were great: I got a 90% response rate--17 parents contributed and one other told us she had already purchased the teacher's gift. With the $85 I collected, I was able to buy a $40 gift card to Barnes & Noble and a $40 gift card to A.C. Moore. Additionally, I asked the children to draw a picture of their favorite holiday or winter scene, which I put into a binder for the teacher. Add to that a $5 ornament, and viola! it's a gift! Today, at the first grade open house, the students gathered and gave the teacher her gift. And, in the true spirit of the holidays, she was much more impressed with the drawings than the gift cards.

Contrast that with my experience with the private daycare. There is no class email list, so I put a note in each child's folder. There is no class phone list so I couldn't follow up. I am not sure who got the note and who didn't so every day I would be surprised if there was a contribution in my daughter's home school folder.

For the daycare class, 12 out of 20 participated. However, the amounts they gave were all over the board--from $5 to $50. I ended up getting each teacher a $175 visa check card, and ornament, and their own book of drawings.

Today, with just 3 days before the school closes for Christmas, people are emailing me, telling me that they didn't know I was organizing this and could they participate? Sorry, no...the gift is already wrapped.

So what's my "lesson learned" here? Well, for one, people in private schools sure do pony up some big bucks! But I also learned that I don't know that much about my daughter's classmates...I certainly don't know many of the parents' names. That's probably okay, seeing that she's leaving the school next fall to join my son at our town's public school.

But the biggest lesson is that this is the last time I'm organizing the gifts. I'll contributed my $5 or $20. But someone else can write the notes!

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Division of Labor at Home

Is the division of labor (after childbirth!) equal between you and your partner? Many people (especially moms) feel they carry a heavier burden of family responsibilities. But there are ways to raise the topic for discussion and to try to b

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Oh my aching.... I guess it's my knees. Other days it's my back or my feet or my hips. Ugh, getting old is hell. The other day my daughter asked me this question: "Why, when grown-ups get down to play on the ground, do their knees go creeeeaaaak?".

I used to think I was smart for waiting to have kids until I was past, I think my mother might have had the right idea in having all of her kids before she turned 26. Because I sure do feel old and I know I don't bounce back the way I used to when I was in my 20s.

But, seeing that my 401(k) is in the toilet and Social Security won't exist by the time I'm eligible, I will need to work forever. And since I'll never retire, maybe I'll never truly get old.

And maybe I'll get that knee replacement soon!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Tips for Buying a Home Computer for the Family

MAC, PC, RAM, DVD, CPU … researching a home computer can be more confusing than mortgage backed derivative swapping, given the can of "alphabet soup" it opens! Here we simplify the process and spell out all you need to know when buying a ho

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

High class (or high school?) problems

As I read some recent stories on parenting--even some of the ones I'm asked to write--I think, wow, now that's a high class problem to have. Or, maybe it's a high school problem...

Take The perils of 'mommy dating' from The Boston Globe last week, or The (Play) Dating Game from the My Turn section of Newsweek. In both stories, moms lament the fact that it's hard for them to make friends.

Of course it can be hard to meet people when you're an adult. People have their friends already and they lead busy lives. There's work, family, church, or any number of other things that compete with social activities. And, yes, it can be hard to break into cliques--whether the cliques themselves are real or perceived.

I am not an expert on friendship and some people might say I'm not even a very good friend. I'm not a big phone person and I have no problem being by myself. I don't have a ton of friends and I never traveled in a big pack. So maybe I'm not that sympathetic to this kind of "problem," but really, aren't we past junior high? Shouldn't we just be nice to each other and if we have something in common, we'll seek each other out?

I have friends who stop talking to other friends over a small slight. I have friends who've called their girlfriends and "broken up" with them. I honestly can't understand this. Isn't part of being a friend being understanding and supportive?

I read The Art of Friendship a while ago. It persuaded me to be a bit more thoughtful, to call people up a bit more. I'm not always the best at remembering birthdays, but I try. I also try to remember to send a friend a link to a book or an article I think they'll like. I try to invite people to dinner and to go to movies and ladies' nights out when I can. But there is a point of trying too hard, too...when you're not being yourself.

So I think some of these women ought to lighten up and not take themselves so seriously. If they have all this time on their hands to worry about making friends or fitting in, maybe they ought to go volunteer at a soup kitchen or something and see some of the real problems in the world.

Be the Best Aunt in the World

Whether or not you've got kids of your own, here's how to score big with the other youngsters in your family. Activity and gift ideas to make you the most popular aunt ever.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Kids don't feel schlumpy

You know how your mom always told you to make sure you looked presentable when you left the house? You probably scoffed, but she was right.

Take tonight for example. I took the kids for a quick after "school" haircut at Snip-its. I thought we were the last ones there and I felt a little bad for making the people stay late so I offered to pay up front so they could close out the register. The receptionist told me not to worry because the (big sports star's last name) family was coming in.

I thought I heard incorrectly, but in they walked, all blonde and beautiful. And suddenly, my mommy clogs and my huge oversize irish knit sweater were no longer doing it for me, fashion-wise. I did not look good.

But Mrs. Big star looked great. Her hair was perfect! She was dressed so nicely. And she was nice, too!

I felt like a schlump, but little guy was not insecure at all. This is why I admire kids. They have no inhibitions and they think they are the bomb. He overheard her little guy say he was six years old and my guy went right up to Mrs. Big star and told her that he was six, too. They got into a conversation about first grade vs. kindergarten.

Watching this, I forgot how schlumpy I looked. I often marvel at my son, and this is another time that he taught me a lesson. People are just people. Approach them that way, and they'll respond in kind. Another lesson my mom probably taught me and that I definitely did not heed.

When I told my husband about the encounter, he was excited too, but for a different reason. He just wanted to know if I asked her where she got her boobs done.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Big Week coming up--I'm excited!

I've got a big week coming up. It'll be the busiest week I've had since quitting in June. I've got an interview tomorrow, a conference for a potential consulting gig Tuesday and Wednesday, an article due Wednesday, another interview Thursday and a professional networking event that I'm hosting Thursday night.

I should be panicking about all this, but I'm not. I'm actually kind of thrilled. I got a haircut on Friday and I bought some new black pants and new shoes today--not because I really needed them, but because I wanted to feel professional and good about myself.

I've written about how staying at home—whether I’m working at home or no—isn’t good for my self-esteem. I’ve come to realize that I'm the kind of person who needs not just to work but to go to work.

I’m really looking forward to this week, kind of like I looked forward to business trips. I’ve been a bit restless for a while and I am feeling the pull of work.

But I think that I’m excited because this is a novelty for me. It’s different. If I had to get up and get ready to go to an office every day, day after day after day, I’m pretty sure it’d get old quickly.

So I’m going to enjoy my busy week and I bet I’ll enjoy my Friday “off” and my less busy week next week a lot more.

Monday, October 27, 2008

I'm Published!!

I sent this email out to everyone but forgot to post it here:

Many of you supported my decision to leave my corporate gig and find a new path and for this I'm very grateful. I'm still not sure what I'm going to be when I grow up, but I have started to write a bit.

Here's my first paid, published article: While it may not be prize-winning journalism, it's still quite satisfying to see my name as a byline. I hope you enjoy!

Again, thanks so much for your support!!

Are we having fun yet?

The latest big fight my husband and I had was about fun, and how we don't seem to have much of it anymore. Life is really busy, what with work, kids' activities, parents, work, the world series. It's hard to fit it all in! At the end of the day we're just too wiped out to have much fun together. Plus, with babysitters going at $15/hour and my current salary of $0/hour, a night out gets expensive!
Our weekend plans seem to revolve around soccer, birthday parties and church, all of which we're doing for the kids. And, lest you think I'm whining, I know that EVERY parent goes through this. But I do think that we've both changed. I used to be fun; my husband used to be witty. I'd like to get some of this back!
I recently did some research for an article on babysitting co-ops (I'll add the link when it's ready). It's intriguing, but also intimidating. I'm not sure I'd want to be in charge of running a co-op with 20 families, but the idea of free babysitting is so attractive! For now, though, here's what we're trying to do to have fun:
  1. babysitting "swap" with friends who have near-age kids. It's a playdate for the kids and the grown-ups can get a free night out too.
  2. potluck dinners with friends we like. We supply the beer and the place, you bring the pizza and the video for the kids.
  3. early dinner and movie for kids; candlelight dinner and wine for us. (of course, sans the candles because, well, who can be bothered?)
  4. Record SNL so we can stay current on the election but still keep our heads about it. This is a great thing to watch on Sunday nights before we start our week. (Shouldn't have to say it, but we can't stay up to watch it live!)
So far, these things seem to be a good start. But, especially when the news is all doom and gloom, what with the war, the economy and the election, we have to remember that fun starts at home.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

My Sandwich Day

Today was the perfect sandwich day for me. Actually, given the weather, it would have been a perfect day for a sandwich outside but alas that wasn't going to happen.

Today was a day when I was alternately relieved that I had quit my job and peeved that I didn't have one to go to.

Today was a day when I really needed to go to yoga but couldn't muster the energy.

Today was like this:
6:15 a.m. wake up, snuggle with daughter
6:30 a.m. shower and dress
6:50 a.m. feed kids breakfast and get them ready for school
7:50 a.m. cancel dentist appointment
8:00 a.m. get kids off to school
8:30 a.m. take phone call with doctor for breast cancer article
8:50 a.m. ignore mother's phone call
8:53 a.m. ignore mother's other phone call
9:00 a.m. ignore sister's phone call
9:15 a.m. call sister back
9:20 a.m. ignore the laundry
9:22 a.m. get in the car and drive 45 minutes to take father home from hospital
10:15 a.m. - 1:30 p.m. wait for father to be discharged from hospital
1:45 p.m. drive parents home from hospital
2:15 leave parents' home and drive home
3:15 p.m. try to edit breast cancer article
3:45 p.m. go to son's parent-teacher conference
4:30 p.m. pick up son
4:45 p.m. pick up daughter
5:00 p.m. try to edit breast cancer article while starting dinner

and on and did I ever work? And when can I go back? This caregiver job is DRAINING!!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Palin should put some money where her mouth is

If I were Sarah Palin, I would capitalize on this "Lipstick on a Pig" thing.

I would go to Revlon or Cover Girl or Maybelline and whip up a shade of lipstick and call it it "Sarah's Smile" or "Palin's Pout"--she could have a version for either outcome of the election.

I would sell it everywhere and use the proceeds to fund my campaign. Or make a big show of giving it to charity. Or buy a new airplane.

This act would prove her to be the ultimate American: this country is built on capitalism, and we really enjoy self-made people. Fame and fortune above all.

And, win or lose, she could still laugh all the way to the bank; wouldn't that really make her an all-American hero?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Volunteer mom takes over

It's official. I've become the ex-working mom who turns "momming" into my new vocation. Since leaving work in June, I have volunteered for a board position for a professional organization, to teach religious education, to lead the children's sessions once a month at church, and to be a room mom.

Oh, I really need a job. But now, since I have so many other obligations, it has to be part time!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Update on the Interviews

Okay, I think it was fifty-fifty on whether they liked me. One offered me the job on the spot and for the other, the sales guy liked me but the owner/techie guy nearly choked when I told him what I think I'm worth. I guess I might need to revise my expectations downwards!

A bit of context: one job was a personal assistant role for a self-employed consultant who is writing a book. There would be some marketing, but there would also be some picking up of the dry cleaning. The other job was doing marketing for a high-tech start-up company.

The truth is, neither job is the right one for me. I am not quite sure what I want, exactly, but working in isolation for really small companies is not it. So I have to stick it out.

But, I'm panicking a little. I am so used to working. I'm comfortable working, I identify with being the working mom. I was the little kid who babysat, had a paper route and took on extra chores to make money...when I was 11. I've been working ever since.

During the interview with the self-employed consultant, I wanted the job. I am like that: impulsive and eager to please. I hate to tell people "no" and I just jump into things without really thinking. That's what got me into this unemployed mess in the first place. Also, patience is not a word usually ascribed to me.

So as I continue on this path--or, reverse commute, as I'm calling it--I have to be patient and say no. Two things that I'm not used to. It's really hard, and it might be easier to just throw in the towel and go back to corporate life.

But in truth, neither job is right for me.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Do they like me? I hope they like me

I've had a couple of interviews this week; one with a marketing staffing company and the other with a start up firm. And even though neither is my dream job, I really, realy want to be offered both jobs. I'm that competitive. Or maybe that insecure.

My interview with the marketing staffing company was strange. Really short, really informal...I'm still not convinced about these places. Hopefully this personal meet & greet with the recruiter/staffing coordinator will help them think of me when a client request comes in.

The start up company interview was much longer, much more in depth. I know that I said most of the right things and the sales guy liked me but I also didn't connect fully with the founder/tech lead. We left it vague, so maybe I can do some contract or project work for them.

These experiences left me feeling conflicted (again!). Neither was a perfect fit, but I really wanted them to like me anyway. Maybe I need the ego stroke to prove that quitting my job wasn't a HUGE mistake.

I know I should wait for the perfect job, but is there such a thing?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

I’m not flying this helicopter, but if I were, I’d hover a bit less

Quite a few of my friends are the parents of teenagers. Lately there's been a lot of publicity about helicopter parents, generally baby boomers who are over-involved in their own childrens’ lives. (Read this Subsidized in the City essay in Newsweek for a first-hand account of twenty-something “kids” who don’t know how to balance a checkbook, and the parents who don't seem to care.)

In the past week I personally have had two separate encounters that illustrate how helicopter parents are actually holding back their children:

Incident one: Last week, my friend L called and asked me to run over to the Walmart nearest me to scoop up some 5 cent notebooks for her son, who is heading to college in the fall. Without questioning, I jumped in my car because L, a single mother who has ably stretched a buck to send her son to private schools since the third grade, deserves a break. (Alas, Walmart was sold out, proving that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. It also proves my "Walmart is evil" theory, but more on that another time.)

The drive there, the frustrating and ultimately futile search through the giant store, and the empty-handed ride home gave me plenty of time to think. First, I was peeved that in the era of $4/gallon gas, I was driving all around metrowest for a 5 cent notebook. But second, why is L buying her son his college supplies? Why isn’t this 18 year-old, gainfully employed, legally adult person getting his own damned notebooks? Not to act like the old man shaking his fist at the folly of youth, but you can bet that I bought my own notebooks before heading off to college. And my pens, too. (And I even had money left over for the $3 cover for the keg parties.)

Incident two: A few days later, we had friends over for dinner when the phone rang. Normally, I would not interrupt dinner to answer a call, but caller ID told me that it was the girl I had hired to babysit the following week. I picked up the phone, hoping she wasn’t cancelling, and was surprised when her mother, my friend S, greeted me. S informed me that she had good news and bad news. The good news was that her daughter could still babysit, but she, S, wanted to let me know that since her daughter is a sophomore in college, she normally charges $15/hour for babysitting rather than the $12 she quoted me. But, since we’re such good friends and she adores my children so much, she offered me a friends and family discount. And S, being a self-employed lawyer, educated her daughter on making business connections and discounting her rates for good customers. I was too dumbfounded to answer her…was she telling me to pay her daughter $15?

So, if this girl is such a good babysitter and worth $15/hour, why couldn’t she tell me herself what her going rate was? I think S should have had the conversation with her daughter, and let the girl learn a lesson: you get what you ask for. Maybe next time a customer asks her her rate, she’ll tell them the truth.

(Oh, and totally unrelated, the bad news was truly bad: S’s dog and beloved companion for more than a decade passed away; the juxtaposition of these two bits of news only confused me more.)

So, what will happen to these kids as they go through college? I don't know, but I'm also not sure that they're prepared well to do it on their own. My friend L (buyer of notebooks) has created a poster-board schedule for her son, showing him when his classes are, when he has time to study, and when he can go to the gym. S the lawyer is equally involved in her daughter's campus life, texting her between classes and scheduling her time off.

I'm trying my best not to judge, but I'm failing. I can't help but think this is too much, and I hope I learn from them so I fly a bit higher when my kids get to be young adults. The worry, to me, is that they're not helping these kids grow into productive, self-sufficient adults. And, ultimately, isn't this our job--our duty--as parents?

I wonder if these parents, who want to give their children the world, are raising a generation of people who wouldn’t know what to do with the world once they got it in their hands.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

When well-rested becomes restless

I'm turning a corner that I'm not sure I want to turn.

I quit my job two months ago for many reasons: stress, burnout, lousy work situation, lack of work/life balance, insomnia, floundering marriage, bratty kids, general unhappiness, you choose.

For the past two months, I've been pausing, taking a breather, getting my head and my home back in order. I've gone on vacation, taken day trips with the kids, gone to the beach, weeded the garden, and cleaned the house. I've started to be a professional stay-at-home mom, which means that I've started volunteering.

Now, after more than 60 restful nights, I'm looking at the corner and trying to see around it. I feel restless and I want to know what's next. I've updated my resume and have started to look at job boards. I am talking to recruiters. I think I might be ready to jump back in--but this time, it's going to be different.

This time, I will be patient, because I want the right role. It needs to be a flexible, maybe part-time, gig that allows me to use my brain and my experience. A job that ends when I turn off the computer at the end of the day. Something that energizes me, instead of draining my energy, and doesn't keep me tossing and turning all night. Something that doesn't pull me apart.

Does it exist? Or will I have to create it for myself?

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Christmas Tree and the Toilet

Now that I’m not working, I’m watching some daytime TV. Not a lot, because I actually have a lot of work to do. A few weeks ago I was watching the Rachael Ray show while I was doing some of my work for the IABC. I figure the TV is nice background noise, and maybe I’ll be inspired to cook something new for dinner!

One of the guests on the show was a stay at home mother who felt left out. She quit her job to stay home with her child, but she found that it’s not all that she expected. She didn't think that she was connecting with her son and felt like a third wheel when her husband gets home because her son is overjoyed at seeing him. She said she "feels like the furniture."

Aha! I’ve been saying this to my husband for years—maybe a bit more crudely, though, to get my point across. Even when I worked—full time or part time, it didn’t matter—I was the primary caregiver. I was the one who managed most of the daycare issues, handled the meals, did the grocery shopping, dressed the kids, made sure the house was clean. Essentially, after working a full day, I came home to another full time job. And I’m not alone—many of my working mother friends say the same thing (and this study backs it up).

And the kids never thanked me for it. My husband just expected it.

I told him that I felt like the toilet—literally crapped on all the time. I was useful and necessary—in fact the house would collapse if I were not working (just think what would happen if your toilet stopped working)! The worst thing, though, was that the kids treated him like a Christmas Tree! YAY, Daddy’s here!

But the show did provide some helpful hints to battle “third wheel syndrome”. I’ve paraphrased them here but you can also go to the episode and check out the whole segment.
· Look at your sleep and ask if you feel rested.
· Make sure you are eating healthily, as a family unit.
· Is your work fulfilling? If not, find something that can make you happy
· Are your intimate relationships where you want them to be?

So, being the action-oriented person I always told everyone at the office I was, I have to bottom line it: Bottom line, you need to take care of yourself if you’re going to take care of others. You have to acknowledge the issue(s), then address it, so you can take responsibility for your own actions.

Now, back to cleaning the toilets!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

My six word bio...or why I quit the corporate world

At a professional networking event a few months ago, we were asked to create and share a six-word biography for an ice-breaker activity. I was at the height of my stressful period, working 50-60 hours a week (and I should have been working more), taking care of the kids and the house, ignoring my husband, and falling, exhausted, into a fitful sleep each night. Here's what I came up with:

Work, kids, home, pulled like taffy.

That really summed it up for me. Not long after, I quit my job. Now, I'm taking a "pause" and looking for something that gives me more time with my family yet allows me to use my brain. Good luck, right? I guess I'll need another six-word bio soon.

What's your six-word bio? What six words would describe who you are, or where you are right now?

P.S. I can't take the credit for the six word bio; it belongs to SMITH magazine.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Working from home: A personal cost/benefit analysis

The other day I rushed to pick up my sweet, innocent little boy from camp. When I scooped him up in a hug, he scowled and pulled away, “Uh, Mommy, you wore that yesterday. And the day before,” he said, disgusted. “And your hair smells yucky.”

Busted. Such is the life of a work from home mother.

I love working from home. I think it’s just about the best benefit any company can offer, particularly when I think about balancing my work and my life. And now, with gas costing upwards of $4/gallon, more and more people are doing it. (Here’s a good article about how telecommuting allows both parents to work full-time, demanding jobs, yet parent the way that they want to: And here’s another on the benefits of telecommuting during bad weather (great Boston accents on the video):

Telecommuting really makes my life work. While I can’t say that working from home is going to save the world, it sure keeps my work/life/work/life roller coaster on track. Plus, it really appeals to my cheap side. Honestly if someone told me I had to come into the office every day, I would ask for a raise. A pretty big raise. The other night my husband and I were tallying the costs of commuting from my lovely suburb 20 miles west of Boston into the city. Now, this was cocktail napkin figuring, but here’s what we came up with:

  • Keeping son in daycare an extra 1.5 hours/day = $175 more a month

  • Keeping daughter in daycare an extra 1 hour/day = $50 more a month

  • Parking = $300 more a month

  • Gas = $300 more a month

  • Food/coffee (let’s say I’m really good and bring my lunch half the time) = $150 more a month

Add in clothes, makeup, shoes (all that stuff that I frankly don’t put any effort into right now) and I'm saving about $1,000 a month by not commuting!

HOWEVER, working from home does have some costs, some of which are very high and should be taken into consideration:

  • It’s freezing cold. Or it's blazing hot. This past winter was one of the coldest, snowiest of record in Boston, and the oil man cameth. So, to save some dough, the heat in my house automatically kicked off at 8 a.m. Thus, I spent most of my day wearing three sweatshirts and blasting a space heater at my feet. And, now that suburban Boston has decided that it wants to become SoFla with humidity at 110% this summer, I'm dealing with the other extreme, with the added bonus of frizzy hair.
  • My house is a mess. Because I’m here all day, I figure I can throw in the laundry or do the dishes at any time. Except I don’t…
  • I don’t exercise. In fact, I sit on my bottom for hours at a time. I’m so lazy that I even wheel myself around my little office on my chair.
  • I munch. Sometimes all day. But, there’s a trade-off: I have to get off my chair to get to the kitchen (I can’t wheel there because there’s a small step).
  • I look like hell. I only wear jeans and sweatshirts, or shorts and t-shirts. My hair is in a ponytail. My makeup is drying out in a case in the back of the vanity. I don’t shower. Well, not as often as I should (is that too much information?). Seriously, though, at 4:55, five minutes before I’m due to pick up my kids at school, I rush upstairs and do a quick rinse. I hardly ever wash my hair—I don’t have time.
  • I am a social half-wit …I have tons of “virtual” friends online, but I’ve forgotten how to make small talk in person!
  • I never turn off the computer--“Just one more check of email” is my mantra.

I know, I know, I’ve got to draw my own boundaries. I have to shut off the computer and walk away. I have to brush my hair. But, I’m so productive! And I’m spending all of my non-work time with my kids! And I respond to all my emails!

So, I have to ask myself if my plummeting self-esteem is a fair tradeoff for the time I get with my family. Right now, while my kids are young, I think it is…at least until they mandate webcams in the next roll-out of laptops.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Let me think about that

I read a post on Copyblogger a while ago about how the best writing takes a lot of time and thought. (Here’s the post if you’re interested: This part really grabbed me:

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you spent a couple of hours just thinking? You have a brain; use it. Get away from the computer. Put down the books and magazines. Burn your to-do list. Cut off your feeds. Stop rushing around for a while. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you slow down.

Personally, when I was working, I found that I had gotten away from thinking. I mean really thinking—you know, where you sit with a problem for a while, ruminate, let it grow, look at it from many angles, then—hopefully—see it clearly. Instead, I react. I give an initial passing thought and move on. Come on, I’ve got a lot to do!

And, I fear, many of us in the corporate world do the same thing.

I was surrounded by intelligent, experienced, highly productive people where I worked. We got a lot done in a day. Whenever I talked to my colleagues about how things were going, the answer was always “busy.” I was no different: I had a to-do list of about 20 items and I was sure that I left something off. I dual-tasked and multi-tasked, paying only half attention on conference calls while answering AIMs and getting through some emails. I reacted to questions rather than giving thoughtful answers. In fairness, some emails and problems don’t require much thought; they require my experience or a quick answer, and that’s fine. But all too often, I think we go with the first solution rather than thinking it through to find the best solution.

Toward the end of my tenure at big corporation, I worked with a team to write a presentation to high-profile clients. We started with a blank screen and had about 2 ½ weeks to create the deck. Seven different people were involved and we turned out about 15 iterations—that’s roughly one iteration a day. I wonder, now that I have time to reflect, if enough deliberate thinking went into the final product, or if it was all reaction. You know, you give your initial feedback and move on, then someone churns out the next iteration out for the next round of reactions. And so on.

Now, when I’m asked to get something “turned around” by the end of the day, I wonder if I’m sacrificing quality for quickness. And am I measured on how much I get done or on how well I do it? Is meeting deadlines more important than meeting quality expectations?

I have to believe that there’s room for both, and I guess it’s up to me to determine when it’s more important to be fast and responsive or when it’s more important to be deliberate and thorough. Because not everything can be urgent AND important.

So, starting now, I’m going to use my brain (good idea, huh?). I’m going to make a conscious choice to think a bit more about my work—and not just react. I’ll try to focus on the one task I’m doing, shut off AIM so I can actively listen on a conference call, close out of email when I’m working on other things. Maybe I’ll even pause before blurting out answers to questions or take a walk to let ideas roll around my head for a while before I write.

If I do this, think about the possibilities…

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Secret Life of a Soccer Mom

Did you see the reality show on TLC called The Secret Life of a Soccer Mom? The basic premise is that a stay at home mom gets a glimpse at ‘what her life could have been like…’ had she continued with her career.

In the two shows I watched, the wives left high pressure jobs to stay at home with their children. In one episode, a doctor’s wife gave up a promising career in high fashion nine years ago to care for her three daughters. In another, an up-and-coming chef decided to stay home with her two boys. To both these women, I say, good for you—great choice!

The show, though, can’t leave well enough alone. It upsets the balance these families have worked for and plops these women right where they would have been had they stayed on their career trajectory. The fashion designer has one week to design three new dresses and show them to professional buyers and a stylist. The chef has to create three recipes and serve them to a table of food critics. All the requisite ups and downs, tears and triumphs of reality-TV ensue. Ultimately, both women thrive on the adrenaline, succeed at their tasks and are offered full-time jobs. The hitch is that they need to accept the job within one day and start immediately. It’s all or nothing.

And this is crap.

First, I want to scream at these women that this won’t be their only opportunity. It’s not now or never. The world is changing, technology is evolving, demographics are shifting. There will be other opportunities. Maybe not with this particular designer or restaurant, but keep up the networking, keep your skills fresh and other opportunities will come. And all it takes is one right opportunity.

Worse, though, the show trivializes the sometimes heart-wrenching decisions that many families make when a mother chooses to work full-time. It negates the fact that others don’t have the luxury of a choice…look at the nurses, the teachers, the secretaries who run the world each and every day. The show takes the husband (or partner) completely out of the equation. This is wrong because in relationships, life-altering decisions are not made in a vacuum, they are not made based on what is good for just one person and they are certainly not made in one day.

(Oh, and who’s going to watch the kids on Monday when mom goes to work? I know it took me three months to find full-time daycare for my son when he was an infant, yet these people can make it happen over a weekend.)

SLSM deceives the stay-at-home moms out there who are fed this glossy image of what it means to go back to work. Sure, for one week, the dad is happy to stay home while his wife is “at a spa” and then of course he’s proud that she ultimately succeeds in a highly competitive environment. Oh, she’s complete, they say. Yay.

Show me the picture six months later. Show me these families getting up each day before dawn, making breakfast, coordinating showers, getting the kids dressed, doing drop-off, working 8+ hours, fighting traffic, barely making pickup, cooking dinner, bathing the kids, reading stories, giving hugs, cleaning the kitchen, crawling into bed. And then show them doing it day after day after day after day after day.

Show me these families haggling over who takes Junior to his dentist appointment. Fighting over who can cover pick-up so the other can do the late meeting. Juggling the business trips and covering the soccer practices. Show me how supportive these husbands are six months later when the adrenaline wears off and their wives are too tired to cook, to clean, to pick up the laundry, too tired even to watch reality-TV.

Let me expose the dirty little secret of a working mom: It’s a grind.

This show doesn’t do anybody any justice. Being a full-time working parent might be a lot of things—creative, fulfilling, necessary—but it isn’t glamorous and it sure isn’t easy. Maybe once we open up about this “secret”, we can stop pining for what could have been and just be happy with what is.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Jumpstarting my career...some good advice that I wish I had taken

(Note: I first wrote this piece last December, when I attended the Massachusetts Conference for Women. This is when I started to blog for my I'm taking some of these blog posts public.)

One of the sessions I attended at the MA Conf for Women was "Jumpstart Your Career." I chose this because I recently came back to work full time and also took on a new role (and promotion). I figured I've taken the leap, now I need to commit to it.

One of the speakers was Eve Tahmincioglu from CareerDiva, who put forth the Anatomy of successful women (she means top women leaders, profiled in her book "From the Sandbox to the Corner Office: Lessons Learned on the Journey to the Top"). I found this list to be pretty applicable to my corporate experience:
  • Mentor - get one, be one
  • Block out negative vibes
  • Know how to sing your own praises - or, as I prefer, be your own advocate
  • Be a work horse - success is not necessarily about work/life balance!
  • Pay your dues - in other words, stay with it
  • Pick your battles and stay focused

I like all these points, and the company where I spent more than a decade did a pretty good job in addressing some of them as they prepare people to "own" their own careers. The idea of finding a mentor, for example, is something that I've heard--and tried to put into practice--time and again over my 10 years there. I have a few people that I do look up to and trust and I have asked for counsel when I needed to make a big decision. I also try to mentor other people, but this is difficult sometimes. I don't want to "preach" at them or tell anyone what to do.

The other point I learned at the big corporate gig was to sing my own praises. I don't really like that phrase, though, as I fear that I may come off as arrogant. However, the phrase "Be your own advocate" is spot-on. Who wouldn't want to be his/her own advocate? So, looking at it this way, it makes sense for me to stand up for myself, let people know what I'm doing, and be noticed. So, maybe "advocacy" is a better way for women to think about this. Women are traditionally (or anecdotally at least) less apt to "brag" about their accomplishments. "So what?" you might ask. Arrogance is an ugly trait, anyway?

Well, it matters: Read this New York Times article on the pay gap between men and women and then tell me that negotiation skills don't matter. Bottom line--if you don't ask for something, you're not going to get it!!

Final thoughts: this was a good session, timely for me. I liked Eve; although I found her to be tough, I also thought she was refreshing and had an air of candor and reality about her. I especially liked her point about being a workhorse, and how "successful" women really didn't have a work-life balance. That got me thinking about my own situation and my own definition of success. I'm not in the corner office--nor do I ever aspire to be--but I find that with each rung of the ladder I climb, the expectations are higher and the responsibilities are heavier. Do I want this? I'm not sure...but I'm willing to find out.

(Note: I didn't last long. I left my job six months after writing this post and now I'm trying to redefine success for myself and my family.)

Friday, July 11, 2008

Jack and Suzy Welch at the MA Conference for Women

(Note: I first wrote this piece last December, when I attended the Massachusetts Conference for Women. This is when I started to blog for my I'm taking some of these blog posts public.)

Jack Welch is an incredible business leader, no doubt about it. And, in many ways, he was the one who gave me the kick in the pants to start blogging. So, consider this another great career launched by Jack Welch!

I saw Jack and his wife Suzy speak at the Massachusetts Conference for Women last December. One of the things they pointed out that resonated most strongly with me was that our success depends on the choices we make…so this will be a recurring theme of my blog: choices.

This is something that spoke to me, as I have struggled for the past 6 years with both my ambition and my work/life balance. I like the idea of choices because it puts accountability back on each person’s shoulders. Each day we make choices, and I personally think we have to own the choices we make.

Anyway, I was prepared to not like Jack and Suzy Welch. I was ready to roll my eyes and make snide comments to Nancy throughout this talk. Instead, I found myself nodding in agreement and almost saying, “Amen, brother!” to some of the things they said.

Anyway, I thought Jack had some good pointers on what makes a good leader. It was all new to me, since I only have time to read Olivia books and such at night, but his insights into the 4 E’s of good leaders has been around for a while. Good leaders:
  • Have a lot of Energy
  • Energize others
  • Have Edge (defined further as someone who says “Yes” or “No”)
  • And can Execute. If you can’t deliver, forget it!

He added Passion…which I believe is true. Whenever people are passionate about what they do, they do it better. I know work better when I’m a believer in what I’m doing…that’s why I like internal communications. I feel like I’m the voice of the people or I’m trying to reach the people…it becomes personal to me!

Jack also said there were 4 types of leaders, and you can rate them on 2 factors: values and performance. The types of leaders you keep are:
  • A leader with both values and performance
  • A leader with the values, but not the performance yet…what you do is move this person around, room him/her, give him/her another chance.

It’s a no brainer that you don’t keep the leader who doesn’t have either values or performance, but surprisingly, Jack said you also have to dump the leader with performance and no values. Bottom line—or my take away—is that you can teach performance or skill people up, but you can’t teach values (integrity). You either have it or you don’t.

Another topic they tackled was how to spot a leader, how to hire someone for the top job. Three qualities Jack mentioned were authenticity, resilience (get back on the horse after you’ve been thrown off) and being able to see around corners, see what’s next.

That’s great when you’re looking for the next president of the division…but it also works for everyday people (like me). More relevant, though, Suzy said that boredom is deadly. To be successful you should always push yourself, be tested, and always want to do better. Jack picked up on the point and added that you should never be satisfied, be constantly reaching, and have the courage take risks.

I found Jack and Suzy to be refreshingly honest. When the host Karen Swenson tried to pander to the audience about “What about a work/life balance?” Jack out and out scoffed. You don’t get to be the CEO of GE at age 44 by having a work life balance, was the gist of his answer. YES! Thank you for telling the truth, Jack! I really wish more people would acknowledge this and then we could all move on!

For more on Jack and Suzy Welch, check out their podcast on Business Week or just do a search on Amazon—you’ll find tons of their books.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

I am the dichotomom

Merriam Webster dictionary defines dichotomy as a division into two especially mutually exclusive or contradictory groups or entities ; also : the process or practice of making such a division .

This is why I call myself the dichotomom: I am a mom divided between my kids and my work. The two are mutually exclusive and their wants are contradictory. Or maybe their wants only seem contradictory, because they actually want the same thing: Me, all the time. So I am the one who bifurcates; because I cannot clone myself, I tear myself in two. It has worked for a while and I’ve had a foot in the world of motherhood and a foot in the working world. The bad part, I’ve found, is that nobody gets the whole me. And I’m no longer whole.That’s the theme of this blog—how as a working mother I am trying to mend myself, stitch myself back together, while giving the best I can to my kids and to my work.

I know I'm not alone!