Tag Archives: mothering

Bottle Patrol

28 Jul

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Everyone has their thing.

My husband’s thing is to be OCD about windows and doors in the house, specifically windows and doors being open or closed at certain times of day. And fans being on or off at corresponding times of day, to maximize air flow in our “naturally” air-conditioned home.

And my thing is bottles. That’s right: bottles.

Specifically, it drives me crazy when people (i.e., my husband, and following in his footsteps my son) open a new bottle of something when there is already an available bottle that is not yet empty.

This is a significant issue in the refrigerator and in our bathroom. It happens with ketchup, mustard, pickles, and personal care products. I have come to believe that this issue is associated with the regular requests from my husband and son that go something like:

Where is my ___________?

Note that I get this question on a daily basis, in person, via text and voice mail. I can guarantee that if I have an early morning flight, as soon as I arrive at my destination I will hear this question from either my husband or my son.

Another variation on this same theme:

I can’t find the milk (I just bought) in the refrigerator. Where did you put it?

My response:

If you just bought it and put it in there, why can you not find it yourself? Do you still have eyes?

And,

Why do I have to know where all of your stuff is?

If I am not around to answer these questions, then a new bottle of (fill in the blank) gets opened.

I have dubbed myself “Bottle Patrol” in order to keep this problem in check. This is a real-life story about the hell I go through to keep this house organized in terms of bottles.

Two weeks ago, I had to consolidate body wash, dandruff shampoo, and conditioner in the bathroom because there were so many opened bottles of the same thing. It took me an hour to do this, upending bottles and draining them into corresponding already open bottles, rinsing out the empty ones, and putting empty and washed bottles into the recycling.

This morning, Bottle Patrol was on duty yet again. This is often the case after my husband makes the bi-weekly trip to Costco. He grew up Mormon and therefore has a natural instinct for stockpiling large amounts of supplies. The man has strong survivalist tendencies. His philosophy of “More is better” gets him in trouble with the Bottle Patrol.

Upon entering the bathroom this morning, I noticed that the problem I’d cleaned up two weeks ago had reappeared:

Three bottles of dandruff shampoo (two as of yet unopened) and two bottles of body wash (one still unopened) were overpopulating the shelf in the shower.

My response (he was not here to hear me say it):

No, no, and NO! Why do you keep doing this! We have tons of storage space for all your extra supplies. Why do you have to put the new bottles into rotation when the old one is not yet empty? Why, why, WHY?

I often go on to ask myself:

What does he think will happen that he puts so many flipping bottles of stuff in the shower? Will he for some reason be taking a shower and finish off the opened bottle of dandruff shampoo, and then have to be forced to open BOTH of the new bottles? The man has no hair. I cannot imagine this happening!

My son, as mentioned, has these same tendencies. Being a newly minted pre-teen, he is all of a sudden uber-hygiene-aware. He is stuck on Dove Men’s Body Wash EXTRA FRESH with Cooling Agent and Micro-Moisture. Promptly upon opening a new bottle, he announces:

Mom, I need more of the Dove Men’s Body Wash, THE GREEN EXTRA FRESH KIND. Can you get me three bottles?

Clearly, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree when it comes to bottle accumulation.

I will train that kid, but my husband is beyond help.

Intellectual Elitism

22 Dec

Image: Evgeni Dinev / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The other day my son issued this complaint:

Mom, at my school the kids either don’t read or read boring baby books. There’s no one I can talk to. All of them are dumber than me.

Hearing this, I had a mixed reaction, which went something like this:

  1. This is what I thought: I wish the kids at his school read more.  My is smart, no genius, but intelligent enough to think differently than most, perhaps more than most, often to his detriment. He does have close friends at his school who are wicked smart–many smarter than him. But the whole class isn’t like that…and is probably rare at most schools. Should he be at a school where he’s surrounded by kids who think more like him?
  2. This is what I said: “Never stop reading what you enjoy. I am proud that you read books that high schoolers read. You are a smart kid. But NEVER, EVER think that this makes you better than anyone else.”
  3. This is what I thought about some more: My son is a lot like me. I was a voracious reader in school and as the resident oddball enjoyed Dickens when I was in 3rd grade. I went to a good enough school, a public school with teachers who challenged me, and I was both too shy to talk with anyone about what I read and unlikely to find anyone my age who was reading that. I’ve always been drawn to esoteric stuff that most other people find boring. Over the years, I have grown to accept that this is at times a self-imposed isolation. I need to get out more often and stop taking myself so seriously…this is MY lesson. As a parent and having gone through similar feelings when I was his age, how can I help my son to not feel like he’s alone? Luckily, my son’s intellectualism is balanced by a huge personality (something that he got more from my husband). I’m confident that this interesting mix will result in amazing results along the way, but not without a bit of sanding around the rough edges.
  4. This is the most important thing: In feeling that sense of being “the only one” who’s thinking beyond, or differently, how can my son not begin to think he’s better than everyone else? This brand of intellectual elitism can be found in the ranks of many people who live on the coasts, who believe that everyone in Middle America is an idiot. I have friends and relatives who feel this way and will probably offend them by saying this but don’t care since they’ve already offended me. I’ve also worked with people who felt this way, that because they were intellectually smarter they were innately better. My hackles go up anytime I catch a whiff of this brand of intellectually elitist thinking.

Intellectual intelligence is without doubt one of the ways that we as humans can leave our mark and improve quality of life for our fellow human beings. But it is not the only way.

Social intelligence–the ability to engage thoughtfully and with heart–is a huge force for change. Where would we be without the supportive words of our parents or the unexpected hug from a friend? Social intelligence can motivate individuals and change the world as much as intellectual intelligence–and maybe moreso.

I think it’s important to teach our children to appreciate their strengths and nurture them. It’s also important for them to remain humble and to use their intelligence as a way to innovate for the greater good–and connect with other people rather than becoming more distant from them.

Apron Strings

17 Oct

When I turned 18, my mother gave me an apron. After I opened the gift, she took it from me, grabbed a pair of scissors and cut the apron strings. She said, “I am doing for you what my mother never did for me.”

With those words, she sent me on my independent way. I was halfway through my senior year of high school at the time. For Mom, the apron strings had great meaning. I understood and appreciated Mom’s gesture, and for good reason. My grandmother was overly protective and never able to let go of Mom. Up until the time she had her first bad stroke, Grandma was always there, hovering over Mom like she couldn’t take care of herself. She meddled in Mom’s adult relationships and always criticized her.

Mothering is not easy. It wasn’t easy for Grandma, whose husband left her to willingly fight in WWII despite flat feet and a bad asthma problem. He served her divorce papers at Christmastime midway through the war. My mom and uncle ate lots of ketchup sandwiches growing up, from the house my grandma ran in the South End for “unwed mothers.”

Grandma was smart and artsy. She also worked setting up the window display’s at the downtown department store, which in the 50s was “the place” to be. But she also smoked liked a chimney to manage anxiety issues and life in general. She was a hypochondriac. And she hated seeing men in uniforms. She did have issues, and goodness only knows what her married life was like. I’m sure there was fair blame on both sides.

I grew up being the one responsible for calling Grandma to come over to our house for dinners, because Mom just couldn’t deal with her. She treated Mom like she didn’t know anything. I think she was trying to protect her from getting hurt, too. But it didn’t work. When I was about 8, Mom started having severe agoraphobia. She was immobilized by fear when she left the house and had violent panic attacks. At her worst, she spent years confined to her bedroom. This from a person who loved being out and about. Occasionally she would try to go out, and I would accompany her as the one person she felt safe leaving the house with. Or, with her spatial memory, she would write out the grocery list for me to follow, aisle by aisle, and fixed me up with a blank check to the cashier at the corner store. Dad waited in the parking lot. He wasn’t much help.

One of my favorite things to do as a kid was go to Grandma’s and spend the night. At Grandma’s, we sketched or walked around the neighborhood and talked. We played card games, Trouble, Scrabble, pool, and a board game that her German dad carved and handpainted. Grandma was crafty in more ways than one. She made up rules for the game on the fly…rules that sometimes worked to my benefit and sometimes to hers. I always had favored status with her as the only granddaughter among five grandsons. She never dominated me the way she did with mom.

She did annoying but cute things like hide money in my pockets–despite being a case study for someone who would have been on the street without Social Security–and send me away from her house with grocery bags of government cheese and rice that she never ate, because she never ate anything. She called herself “Snake Hips.” We made each other laugh. We both wore goofy hats. She kept me apprised of the daily status of her “bowels” and once informed me that things had recently been “explosive.” Grandma was a fan of Metamucil.

When Grandma died, I was the saddest I’ve ever been. Mom was on vacation when it happened. I will never forget when the nursing home staffer told me, “Mrs. Foltz has expired.” Grandma would not have been happy to know that her life was given the same freshness metric of a Twinkie.

Mothering was not easy for Mom, either. I was an obedient kid but a rebellious teenager–typical but not a walk in the park. After she cut those apron strings, I had a total of five hotel parties with my friends during the rest of my senior year. I knew when it was going to happen the first time, because I could see her bright blue trench coat through the open curtains as I was waking up in the hotel room. She tried to let me go completely but had to set some limits on my behavior, being the parent and all. Mom kicked me out of the house twice during those six months, and I stayed at friends’ houses. Their moms were extraordinarily supportive without getting in the middle of Mom’s and my issues. It was a nice vacation, but by the end of the school year, I was living back at home, by my own choice.

Looking back, I think I wanted to be more mothered. Mom would be surprised by that after her own experiences with Grandma, and by my stretching the limits of what she could condone. But it’s true. I’ve developed friendships that give me that unconditional acceptance.

As I’ve grown up and seen for myself how difficult mothering can be, I have more appreciation for the challenges Mom went through. And Grandma. As a result of being mothered by both of them, I probably have by default landed on an in-between approach for my own kids. I am not always the best at being emotionally there, but I am very good at being in the moment with them when I’m “on.” I’m not perfect, but I’d like to think that I’ve taken the best of what both offered.

I guess the point of the apron string symbolism is this: You can cut the strings, but they’re still your kids. Yeah, they’re your kids, but you can’t control what they do, say or think. No cutting, or holding on too tight. May be best to put on the apron yourself and give them their own, and make the best of it in the middle ground.

The Freshman

6 Sep

Today is my firstborn’s first day of her first year of high school.

I am too overwhelmed to write much about it, but in her honor I am posting the link to a well-written new online mag for teenage girls called Rookie, where a friend’s daughter is now a columnist.

Remembering my own first day of high school, all I can say is that I hope my daughter enjoys hers more than I did mine. I was too nervous to truly appreciate it.

What a special milestone, for both The Freshman and her parents!

Why I Love Modern Family

12 Mar

I watch very little television and am predictable in the programs I watch.

Project Runway,” “Glee” and “Modern Family” normally get my attention. I rarely watch when they air and either DVR or catch them on Hulu.

Lately I’ve found myself being fascinated with the characters on “Modern Family” and have even watched a couple of episodes multiple times. The writing, acting and general family dynamics have captured me. I have a crush on “Modern Family” and readily admit it.

Why is this? I’ve been asking myself why I spend 20 or 40 minutes a week so engrossed in network programming. Why bother? There are probably things I could to that would better feed my brain, or make more efficient use of time.

Sure, it’s entertaining. It’s funny. And the convuluted circumstances cooked up by the writers and played out by the genius of Ed O’Neill as Jay Pritchett or Julie Bowen as Claire Dunphy are pure perfection. But here’s the thing I’ve figured out:

The storylines, character nuances and complex interplay are all achingly familiar to me. I can see myself and my own family in several of the characters. This is why I love it so much. It’s poignant and true in a “you can’t make this sh*t up” way.

As they say, true life is always more interesting than fiction. The great thing about “Modern Family” is that in its fiction, it manages to strike a chord that’s true in me. And in so many of us.

Take for example the latest episode, “Two Monkeys and a Panda.” Jay and Gloria have an interesting disagreement about how to handle burial arrangements. She wants to be buried in the ground, “where God can find [her],” and Jay would rather be buried in a mausoleum “drawer,” where the bugs and worms can’t get to him. I won’t give away how they solve this dilemma. But the solution has more to do with the delicate balance of well-meaning manipulation that is present in the most healthy marriages.

Gloria and Jay are opposites in more ways than age. There’s a tension in their marriage that works. Like in most good marriages. It made me think a lot about the give and take in my own marriage. I can be the fluffy ditz in the same way that Gloria is sometimes, and Ben can be the sane one, the one who makes the steady and rational choices. Case in point: He is WAY better at dealing with money than I am, and we’ve figured out ways to compensate for all of that with our family finances.

But there are times when I reset him and “win” — similar to what Gloria did to Jay — lovingly — in the recent Valentine’s Day episode. Or the way that Jay worked through all of the what-if’s of Gloria’s future after his death, so that he didn’t end up being “The Putz” husband. His solution is something that I would have done.

Phil Dunphy’s cluelessness with his wife Claire is another thing that makes me both laugh and cry. All of us, including me, have a bit of Phil Dunphy in us. I’ve done things that I know have hurt my husband’s feelings — completely unintentionally. It’s a bad feeling to recognize these things in retrospect, like what happens to Phil in the “Two Monkeys and a Panda” episode when he gets some much-needed guidance from the ladies at the spa after they overhear his conversation with his wife Claire. At times when he just needs to listen and support, he tries to solve Claire’s problems. I do this ALL THE TIME with Ben.

Claire is tightly wound and at times righteous in ways similar to me. The episode when she stands outside the house with the bullhorn yelling at the unsafe driver…I have done this very thing (without the bullhorn) in front of my own house.

And I’ve seen bits of myself in Mitchell, trying to control the situation in “Two Monkeys and a Panda,” in the situation with Lily’s birth certificate. And withholding information from Cam under the pretext of protecting him, only to find in the end that it was not a good decision. We’ve all been there, in some respect. Thinking that we know best and discovering in the end that it’s bettter just to have tough discussions up-front rather than cleaning up the mess after the fact.

So there you have it. In the big scheme of things, TV doesn’t matter. But the little details in “Modern Family” have big meaning for me, and I assume or a lot of other people, especially since it’s become so popular. It gets us right at the heart of things. Where it really makes a difference.

Working Motherhood

14 Nov

Today I was chatting with a friend who mentioned an interesting workplace concern:

Mothers who do not pull their own weight due to “kid commitments” — doctor appointments, school drop-offs, parent-teacher conferences and the list goes on.

In all honesty, I have very little patience with this rigmarole.

Walk in the shoes of a working mother or father for just a day. It ain’t pretty.

The juggling act of a parent with a professional position requiring anything beyond 40 hours a week of work is backbreaking. I’m not saying that those without kids don’t work hard. What I am saying is that those with children manage a high-wire act difficult to imagine unless personally experienced.

Spare time is nonexistent. With what little time there is in that grey margin of time just before and after work, the trade-offs are make-or-break:

  • Please a client by going the extra mile one evening by writing another op-ed or go to the ballet recital.
  • Make the boss happy by attending a client reception or be at home for dinner with the family.
  • Delegate to junior associates or do the work myself while my son is going to sleep.
  • Work on the weekend to catch up on the email and “thinking work” that I’m too busy to complete during workdays filled with meetings, or let it go and spend time just being a mom.
  • Have a tough conversation with my boss with the phone on mute while I am transporting my extremely loud and arguing kids to X evening activity, or set the limit that we’ll need to talk about work tomorrow.

Kids remember when we are not present. And so do coworkers, bosses and clients.

Being a parent and a professional are both serious business. Frankly, the only way I’ve found to do both is to do quite a bit of work while my children are sleeping or otherwise occupied on the weekend.

I often have the sense that I’m not paying enough attention to one or the other, but the simple fact is that I devote well beyond “full-time” to each. I know that most parents feel this way, too. Not all workplaces are sympathetic to working parents’ challenges. Children interrupt us at work, just as work interrupts us at home. It goes both ways. With the encroachment of technology and the stressors of the “new economy” — constantly feeling like we have to prove ourselves in order to stay ahead of the next layoff at work — it is often not fun.

For the most part, the policies of my employers have been open-minded to the situation of the working parent. I’ve been lucky in that regard.

What’s surprising is the attitudes of co-workers. Probably the most frustrating thing for me during my 14 years as a working mother has been the judgment of colleagues.

After my son was born, I took off nearly three months to be with him. Some thought this was too much time for someone in a leadership position like mine and let me know how they felt, but I don’t regret it to this day. You cannot get that time back.

Although I started working half-days before I returned, I still was not back at work full-time until my son was 12 weeks old. And when I was back, I took two 15-minute breaks and a 30-minute lunch every day. The breaks were to pump breast-milk that my husband could feed him while I was at work, and the half-hour-long lunch was so that I could be with him to feed him in person. I did this every day for about six months. And I worked more than 8 hours each day — usually something like 50-55 hours a week. Both the nursing and the work were priorities, and I did them both.

Because I took the breaks and the lunch on a regular schedule, often they interfered with other meetings that occurred at work. And that got noticed. I felt it. And there were one or two female colleagues without children who seemed resentful. It was stressful. I often felt rushed, running out of meetings to do the pumping or meet my husband in the parking lot with my son, so that we could sit in the car together for 30 minutes or so to nurse.

A few years ago, I was leaving work to attend a Girl Scout outing with my daughter — time that I made up after-hours. The following day, another working mom colleague shared with me that I needed to be careful about taking this time. She was subtly warning me that doing this was not generally acceptable at our workplace. I thanked her for the heads-up and took note. I also took note that people who left early to play golf did not seem to experience the same judgment.

Now that my kids are older, it’s not as stressful, but I often need to leave work right on time, or I arrive 15 minutes after our “official” start time. And I wonder whether it makes a difference or not that I am working well over full-time to make up the difference in the evenings. People can and do make uninformed judgments based upon what they see in the workplace.

The honest truth is that flex-time is over-rated. Because some of the time unfolds outside the regular work day, it’s easy to pass judgment that the time is “less than,” and thus the work itself and the commitment of the working parent are inferior.

I have no easy answer to this dilemma, for myself or for any other working parent. My own choice as a supervisor has been to support high-quality work and the people that do it, whenever and wherever they are able to complete that work.

There’s more to be learned here. I’m sure that I’ll get more clarity on this over time, but for now it’s just hard. It may sound like the easy way out, but I’m glad that I’m now counting down from nine years to the end of my time as a working mother of school-age kids.

The Guy from Philly

6 Oct

I put up post a while back about kindness. Last weekend, it happened again.

While in D.C. for a conference, we took time to sightsee on The Mall and at the Smithsonian. Josh and I needed to eat lunch, and I wasn’t particularly interested in the fare at the McDonald’s in Air and Space, so we went to a cafe at The Castle.

There was a ragtag group working that day, and it was late in the afternoon, 3-ish. A march had just finished on The Mall, and there was a crowd forming for food. The staff were not at their best, and frankly neither were we.

Josh and I made it all the way through the line, only to find that despite the cafe’s credit card signs, their machine wasn’t working. And of course I had no cash, because I never have cash in situations where I should.

The cashier wouldn’t budge, and I was not inclined to put everything back and give in to the McDonald’s. A guy behind us in line groaned loudly. “Okay, now we are going to have a scene. How could I be such an idiot!”

And suddenly, I realize that the loud guy with the big arms full of tattoos is really being very kind. He’s handing me a $20 bill to pay for the food. I politely declined, but he insisted.

When we got through the line, he said, “I just thought of being in that situation with my kid. Just mail me a check for $15.”

We exchanged addresses, and that was that.