183 posts categorized "Mamahood"

"Mama, you never keep promises"

February 19, 2014

"Mama, you never keep promises," she says.

You know what hurts most about being a working-poor single mama of three remarkable girls who deserve to receive everything life has to offer? It's not necessarily the political or policy issues that work against me. Or even the need to defend myself while simultaneously doubting myself. It's those words.

I do keep the promise of good food, a comfy bed, a trip to the doctor when they need it. But those are non-negotiable items in the contract of motherhood: I meet their basic needs no matter what it takes. And as oft I can I give them an ice cream cone, a day at the beach, a guinea pig, even. Those are childhood entitlements, so I consider them basic needs, as well, though they have no idea how challenging it is to provide them.

But the day at an amusement park, the weekend camping, the lessons in whatever interests them or the big gift they really really want, well, those are un-kept promises, it's true. Actually, I don't promise them, I typically tell them "Someday I will make this happen for you when I can." So they want them. From me. Because I'm mama. This is the part I think is hard to understand for anyone else outside this fishbowl. It means that even the most simple things for me are left undone - a yoga class, an hour walk, a doctor visit - because they all have a concrete cost that's just too hard to justify. To me they are not fixed expenses or basic needs. Yes, I would love to focus on my art, take care of my body, take care of my heart.  Of course that makes sense to me.  But in the balancing sheet of the life and sacrifice of single motherhood, it just doesn't make sense to move dollars into your children's 'expense' column, even though they go into your 'income' column.  It just doesn't feel right.

I'm left with little emotional bandwidth to do much else as my own dreams quickly diminish in the rear-view mirror on our journey.  I make compromises to my heart that anyone looking inside might find unimaginable, but they don't see the internal accounting in my head. Yet even still, I'm left with those words, so innocently spoken as mere fact from her perspective.  I'm meeting the basics, yes, yet there's still more because you teach your kids to dream, and childhood is magic; they deserve *that* childhood entitlement even more than anything else.  Yet, it's also true too that I have been home teaching my youngest girl (and one more though he recently moved away) for months now because I just couldn't fathom sacrificing the gift of time and focus that my prior professional life stole from me with my first two.  And she just sat down and read her first book to me, at age 4, with a look on her face of having conquered the tallest mountain and an air of confidence that displayed to me *of course* she conquered the tallest mountain.  I gave her hope and knowledge.

That's how it balances out and I pray that someday all three of my girls will have the graceful gift of perspective to see this.  Someday, with any luck, my girls will know this struggle to be present for them right now is the greatest gift of all.  It sure is hard when you're raising your kids alone.  I want to be someone who keeps promises.

Mamas: Finding your BFF

January 13, 2014

Moving to Portland was scary and exciting all at the same time.  We heard rave reviews of the city, we were thrilled at the opportunity to try it out for a spin.  We arrived, 7 months pregnant with 3-year old in tow, and we knew just one or two other people, my partners' colleagues.

The rest is almost history.  That was over ten years ago, and I met my mama BFF within months of moving to Portland.  When we first moved, I was eager to hit the mama-dating circuit, to meet other like-minded families, to share fun & adventures with new-found friends.  We gave birth to urbanMamas.com where countless other mamas & papas have made connections - found life-long friends, care providers, jobs, support through transitions like moves or divorce - all through the urbanMamas community.  Needless to say, I found my mama BFF plus so many other dear, close friends.  

And, then: we moved.  

Two years after the move, I have to say: I am still seeking a new partner-in-crime, a new best mama pal.  I am still seeking that special someone(s) who will make me laugh so hard I pee, who will talk to me about peeing when I run and how to deal with it, who will talk through career issues like working part-time or trailblazing mamahood in the workplace.

Maybe when you find your mama BFF, it's one and only.  Maybe it just takes a bit more time.  Maybe it requires being even more outgoing than ever.

When you move to a new place or start at a new school and start afresh: how do you make friends?  What are you looking for?  Candlelit dinners & walks on the beach?  Similar-aged kids, similar lifestyles, similar family structures or values?  What have you found was the absolute thing that draws you to another mama?

 

Mamas: We are NOT supernatural

August 27, 2013

I have always had this tendency to overcommit.  Back in college, I recall getting involved in so many campus activities, in addition to taking a full academic load, plus working.  One day, I just crashed.  I went to bed, exhausted, at maybe 7pm one night, and I did not wake up until 9 or 10pm the following day.  I literally slept for over 24 hours.  I also had a moment in college when I was so overcommitted, I had to drop half of my courseload part-way into the semester.  I had gotten so far behind that I knew I couldn't pull myself back.

As a mama, I struggle with similar tendencies.  I watch fellow mamas struggle with the same.  What is the right balance, how much should I volunteer even if I am working a full-time out-of-the-house job?  As school is ramping up once again, I am already receiving requests to coordinate an event or lead another initiative and - "oh, by the way" - could I also pick up the donated pastries for the first-day-of-school coffee social?

I had to stop and remind myself: Mama, you are not supernatural.  I am starting this school year with a cold, disorganized from a late summer vacation, and overwhelmed returning to a full load at work.  There is no way I can take on much more than I had originally committed to at the end of the last school year.  So: my goal.  Say "no" to a commitment, but say "yes" to another one, one that serves a grounding or self-preserving function.  So: say "no" to picking up those pastries, but say "yes" to a yoga class this week.  Say "no" to heading another committee, but say "yes" to taking a 30 minute walk with a neighbor.

We have enough to manage with our kids' extracurriculars.  We should keep it simple for ourselves.  How *much* do you do?  Where do you draw the line?  How much is too much, and what is on your "no" list?

The END is coming!

June 06, 2013

Yesterday, my kids told me that they were having parties in their respective classrooms. I interpreted that to mean that I didn't need to pack them lunches. They report they ate chips and cookies for lunch (one of them ate five cookies). *shrug*

Nine months ago, we were up at the crack of dawn each morning. I was baking a fresh loaf of bread (in a machine) almost every morning. We had fresh ground nut butters for sandwiches, assorted fruit for smoothies, mom's homemade hummus. The fridge was stocked. Today, the fridge is empty. We don't even have beer.

Nine months ago, when the classroom parents emailed announcements, I reviewed every word and made sure to make note of every calendar item. Yesterday at 10pm, I realized that today was the end-of-year picnic and I had to send my child to school with a potluck item to share.

The list goes on and on, and I had to chuckle and snort as I read "Worst End of School Year Mom Ever" because: isn't it so true?

Aren't we all waiting with bated breath for that last day of school?

WSJ: To Start, Please Don't Call Me 'Mommy'

April 26, 2013

We have talked a lot about the guilt of travel as working mothers, and how exhausting it is to coordinate child care for business trips and conferences. Even when the conference is brilliant, inspiring, rejuvenating, and chockful of connections that will help us down the road -- I can say all those things, for instance, about the one I attended this weekend, the Oregon Writers Colony spring conference -- when we get home there is the inevitable crash back into the family, both literal and figurative. I walked into the door Sunday late afternoon and my five-year-old ran crash into me with a hug; and I walked into the midst of my boys crashing after a little too much sugar from grandpa. They were wired and the house was extra chaotic and I -- oh, I was happy, to see my boys and on a high from the weekend, but this was so much work.

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my room at the Sylvia Beach hotel at this weekend's conference. Blissful.

Since I'm a mother, however, according to a recent and blatantly sexist/is-there-such-a-thing-as-momist? article by the Wall Street Journal, all this is about is escapism.

The WSJ utilized that tried-and-true journalistic condescension, picking out all the very least important bits and turning it into the lede. ("Katherine Stone, a 43-year-old mother and wife from Atlanta, wants to leave her husband and children." [beat] "Just for a few days. On her trip, she will listen to panels addressing issues of concern to mothers, network with other bloggers, and stay in a hotel room that someone else will keep tidy.") Katherine, the mother getting the focus of this condescension is, by the way, a woman who blogs about postpartum depression.

Everyone who goes to conferences (let's be honest) enjoys them a little bit for a few of the wrong reasons. Who doesn't like to stay in a room they don't have to clean themselves? Who doesn't enjoy getting together with colleagues and friends they rarely see except virtually? This has nothing to do with being a parent. And definitely nothing to do with being a mom.

I'll be going to the same conference for which, supposedly, Katherine Stone is eager so she can leave her family behind. Like her, I'm really not that eager to leave them behind; it's just pretty expensive to bring your kids and spouse with you on a business trip where you're going to be working nonstop. This is why so few people do it. I'm also committed to forging partnerships for my magazine and presenting a panel on crowd funding for creative projects.

I'd like to ask the WSJ not to call me, or any of these women, a "mommy," unless actually we are your mommy. And I'd like the WSJ to think about these "mommy" centric pieces, and ask, is it any different for non-parents? Is it any different for men?

Well, other than relieving oneself of the childcare juggle, no. With all respect to Sheryl Sandberg, I really think that the kettle logic and regression fallacies offered by media outlets in support of the theory that mothers are flighty, pleasure-seeking, and unserious when compared to fathers and non-parents is the real problem keeping women from rising through the ranks of organizations.

It's hard enough to go through the second-guessing and priority-juggling when going on a business trip, without a supposedly serious financial newspaper poking fun at you. I'm all for print you know. But not (any more) the WSJ.

Mama & Me: staying relevant in my Tween's life

September 25, 2012

My daughter & her girlfriends were hanging out (at this age, they don't "play".  they "hang out".) upstairs when they rowdily came downstairs to the kitchen, where I was in the midst of a little craftiness (which came in a surprising spurt last weekend).  I was making shortbread cookies, frosting them with orange and decorating into basketballs, for my son's birthday celebration.

The girlfriends squealed: "See?  Your mom *is* cool!"  

I felt smug.  I felt affirmed.  I felt welcomed.

It was almost like I myself was back in middle school, wanting somehow to fit in, wanting to be wanted.  Wanting to fit in with my daughter and her friends, wanting to be wanted by my daughter and her friends.

I feel like my tweenagehood and teenagehood was so recent.  I remember it vividly.  I remember feeling increasingly estranged from my mom, from my parents.  I remember feeling the angst and wallowing in it, feeling lonely with only one or two people I would really regard as confidantes.  

This is new territory for me, parenting a tween daughter.  Have you been through it?  Do you remember feeling like you wanted to be wanted, feeling encouraged when labeled "cool" by her friends?

Parent Statements: euphemisms of judgement?

July 11, 2012

"My child doesn't get much media", said the mama to me as we watched our kids sit in front of a video, "so he is totally sucked in when he gets it."  I said: "Oh."  I feel like I have heard myself say the same thing of my own child.  

Later that weekend, after allowing my child to have a juice box offered by another child, I said, "My child doesn't usually drink juice," noting my child's high-energy response to the drink, "so he is totally hyper when he drinks it."

As I hear myself saying the above, I hear my unspoken thoughts "your child shouldn't drink juice".  Then, I hear the other mama's unspoken thoughts (or what I assume they could be): "your child shouldn't watch videos".  I had a sinky feeling in my stomach.  I am juding.  I am being judged.  But, it doesn't sound like it, does it?

No doubt you have heard similar statements before.  Maybe you have even made them.  Does it feel judgy only if one is already sensitive to the issue?  Or, this might go into the category of "over-thinking" things.

Oh, June: The mama version of graduation anxiety

May 30, 2012

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For as long as I can remember I both loved and mourned June. Every June for almost half my life meant goodbyes. Every teacher to whom you would never turn in homework again; every classmate who would graduate or move away in the summer; every community established so quickly and experienced so wholly. Each grade, from kindergarten all the way up to my second year of business school, had its own uncanny friendships and serendipitous societies and secret-keeping, had its possibilities and magic. And it had to end.

I was reminded of my memories of my junior year in high school during the Great Journal Revisiting that occurred when I performed early this month in Mortified Portland. I'd written a melancholy good-bye to my friends, the seniors, who were graduating. And I've been feeling the same way about the 11 days left of school for my kids.

This year, it's not teachers and fellow students I'll miss -- though indeed I will miss Truman's retiring teacher, Donna Zimbro, who was just what he needed. It's this time I'm having with my youngest, Monroe, who gets to hang out with me each day while his brothers are in school. He'll be in kindergarten next year, and our time together will change in character and intensity. Though I'll welcome the wide open possibility of 5.75 hours each day (!!) utterly to myself (let's do another !!!), I'm already nostalgic for this time we have. There's something irreplaceable about the time with a baby, a toddler, a preschool-aged child; I'm not ready to let go.

When his brothers come home from school on June 13, that time will have concluded, forever.

How has your relationship to the end of school changed as you have become a parent? Are you sad, or happy, or a sentimental mix? Do you mark these ends-of-eras in any special way?

Don't steal my thunder: things that only MAMA should do

May 14, 2012

My children are fortunate frequent recipients of little knick and knacks from their family members - maybe a package of socks, maybe a bundle of those silly bandz (which are so "out", by the way), maybe a new kids' magazine, maybe a bag of their favorite dried fruit, maybe a new notebook, maybe a bunch of stickers.

In a recent care package, they received a stack of new camisoles and frilly underthings, among the items for my older [11.5yo] daughter were a couple of bras, full out cupped with double-hook closures in the back.  A couple of years back, when my daughter was bra curious, we picked out a couple of short cami numbers, pullover type of sports-bra looking things.  "Trainers" perhaps one would call them, but I really thought of them as half-camisoles.  (wondering where to get your daughter fit for a bra?  here are a few suggestions.)

Anyway, I have to admit: when I saw that someone else had given my first-born, my eldest daughter, her "first bra", I felt miffed.  I mean, should *I* be the one to go pick one out for her, buy it for her?  Isn't it a right of passage, stepping from childhood to teenagehood, from girlhood to womanhood?  Or a small step?

I am reminded of an episode of Parenthood, when a boy's mom's new boyfriend offers to take the boy to a football game.  His dad, however, wasn't keen on the idea of someone else - especially his ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend - taking his son to his first football game.

There are "firsts" and there are special moments that ought to be shared between parent and child, or perhaps I am just nostalgic about it.  Among the things I feel that only mama should do: buy a girl her first bra, have a first alcoholic beverage with their child (whether it be at 21 or before), give baby his first bath, teach the tyke how to ride a bike, take him for her first hair cut ...  what other "firsts"?  I am sure there are more.  What are yours?  Is it a big deal or no?

Separation Anxiety: when Mama/Papa feels it

April 18, 2012

An urbanMama recently emailed:

I am curious about people's thoughts on time spent away from children.  How much is essential, at what point do you feel guilty, etc?  At what age do you think your kid needs a break from you as much as you need a break from him or her?  Do parents sometimes foster separation anxiety in children?

Read some potentially related posts:

How to take care of mama: physically, emotionally, spiritually
Begnin "neglect" of our children
Are you all-mama, all the time? 

And so many more in our Mamahood section.

Some urbanMamas Get Away

April 03, 2012

In my 11.5 years as a mama, I had only had 1 mama getaway.  I had a couple of handfuls of work-trips, without my family, there was one weekend when I planned a long weekend away to see friends back in New York City.  The weekend was spent going out, sleeping in, not worrying about making meals or doing chores.  It was a great weekend, probably about 6 years ago, now.

When I left Portland, a friend, who also left behind many friends after relocating coasts, encouraged me to keep in touch with friends by going on regular girls' weekends.  She herself never skipped a year, never skipped an occasion.  Her girls' getaways were sacred to her.  True to form, I can recall many of her travels in past years, usually beachy meet-ups in all parts of the Northern Hemisphere, as her girlfriends had now spread themselves throughout the US.

At the turn of the new year, three of my BFFs from Portland got to thinking "let's do a destination marathon": the Nike Women's in SF (Oct) or the Napa Trail Marathon (March).  We soon nixed that idea: too much effort to train, too much money to register, too much time competing when we were supposed to be spending quality time together.  We then thought about a really long trailrun together (30+ miles), an unofficial run where we could just enjoy the miles and miles of trails in the hills I am discovering here.  But, "eh".  I guess that idea lacked pizzaz.

Then: a new idea.  One of the mamas had a weekend at a house in Sonoma, compliments of the Beverly Cleary School auction.  And: a bold suggestion.  We should bike there: 56.1 miles one-way, add on vineyard-hopping by bike, then the return trip, and it would amount to over 100 miles, plenty of wine, thousands of giggles, and endless stories.

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What do they want? A mantra for parenting and my own fool self

March 26, 2012

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I spent yesterday immersed in all the loneliness and fervent belief and highly embarrassing prayers of my high school years. I had a screening for Mortified PDX -- Mortified, in case you've never heard of it, is a series of live readings of poetry, journals and other horrifying writing from one's own teen years -- and I'd spent a half-hour with the producers talking about what, exactly, I wanted as a teen? All afternoon, I sat in the basement and, later, at my dining room table, poring over journals and papers (with perforated edges thanks to our old dot-matrix printer!) and binders full of my deep thoughts and doodlings.

What did I want? I actually had an answer when they asked me at the beginning: I wanted to be popular. See, I knew I seemed popular from the outside -- I was a cheerleader, I ended up as student body president, I was involved in nearly every school organization to some capacity, I was even voted 'Most Likely to Succeed' -- but I didn't get invited to parties and I rarely had much in the way of boyfriends. I had lots of crushes and crushees and dates to the prom two years running -- but it wasn't ever because of my yearbook-worthy couplehood.

Now, I have what I want, even speaking strictly within my high school peer group (and I'm married to one of the guys I crushed on in high school); after our 20th reunion I had lots of old friends come up to me and say how much my soul-baring on my blog, on Facebook, and/or here had resonated with them; I'd become popular by, paradoxically, telling all the embarrassing, true-self-opening stuff I kept to myself in high school. Weird, but true. I'll just go ahead and quote myself from October 23, 1987, 7:51 p.m.: "There is an abundance of things that boggle my mind, including mostly eternity and the universe."

Which brings me to parenting.

Continue reading "What do they want? A mantra for parenting and my own fool self" »

Happy New Years, Resolutionaries!

January 01, 2012

I'm sure my friend Brandy didn't make up the word "resolutionaries," but I saw it first on her Facebook page and so we're going with that. "Resolutionaries: people who you see in the gym in January." It's not just in the gym, of course, but shopping for vegetables instead of candy bars and filling the coffee shops with their laptops, writing a screenplay, maybe, and taking walks with their kids.

As 2012 dawned beautifully today, I ran up to Mt. Tabor and it was like those gorgeous 80-degree Sundays in June -- you know the ones. The ones that happen every few years, when everyone has taken a walk with their spouses and their children and their friends -- generations of family with walking sticks and strollers, on foot and on bikes. People were everywhere, running and holding hands and laughing. New Seasons was entirely out of organic black-eyed peas. It will be an auspicious year. (Mine will have to be auspicious with white northern beans and chili beans -- thank goodness I'm only affectionately superstitious.)

 I'm a little woozy with resolutions. I make some, but often I don't make them right away, or just promise myself to commit a little better to things I'm already doing. Like running: I try to always run on New Year's Day, but often I've run on New Year's Eve as well, and (if things are looking up) a few times on Christmas week. My cycles of commitment don't so much follow the Roman calendar as they do the school calendar and my own personal cycles.

But still. I've committed to a few things that seem perfect for the new year, and so far so good. I won't promise to do these every day all year. But I'm trying to become more consistent, more present, more focused at:

  • Baking bread. I started a big batch of no-knead bread on Christmas Eve -- I'm doing another tonight.
  • Writing for myself first. Instead of starting each session of writing (and, if auspicion shines around me, each morning) with a piece of writing for pay or for a blog like this, I'll write something that pleases me, even if it's just a few sentences. (I did it tonight!)
  • Getting up before my kids. It was pretty easy today (there has been some major, major sleep deprivation in our house). But even if it's 20 minutes or so earlier, getting up first makes such a difference in my day and my ability to be present for the boys.
  • Doing things instead of waiting for someone else to __. I've been waiting for someone to help me with the living room painting. Someone to help me fix the front gate and the window. Someone to fix the ceiling so I could clean off those shelves. Etc. Etc. Today I cleaned off those shelves! And I'm almost done with the living room painting. And there will be more...
  • Asking for help. I'm never good at it. I've been trying...
  • Saying "yes" to friends. I say "maybe" a lot and know that means "no." I'm going to try to say "yes" more. Three so far in the past few weeks have warmed my heart!

Are you a resolutionary or a committed life-changer each new year or a more (umm?) creative cycle follower like me? What will this year bring, you hope, for you?

One day alone: What would you do?

November 03, 2011

I'm in St. Paul, Minnesota, where as I flew in I said to my seatmate, "it looks like a picture book! Like... Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel." Today's beautiful weather is supposed to last through tomorrow, too -- clear and gorgeously sunny and cool-but-not-cold.
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I came to Hamline University for a reading of a piece for which I won an award; it was a little indulgent to make the trip, but worth it in many ways. I got to be a guest in a creative writing class today, and I have the reading tomorrow night. All the boys are staying with a different relative or friend, and are happy to have a few days with a beloved family member.

I'm in a university guest house and have nothing -- absolutely nothing -- I have to do between now and tomorrow at 7 p.m. I can't clean house or can tomatoes or go on errands. A glorious, perfectly rare, day alone. I'm planning to run 8 or 9 miles, go to a coffee shop, and write, and not worry about how long I'm taking with any of it. It is such a gift, and I'm grateful as can be.

What would you do with one perfect day alone in another place?

Periods: Are we afraid to talk about it?

September 30, 2011

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I've been using homemade cloth pads for the past few years (ever since that experiment with cup-style products), and I've noticed that I have a very much heightened sense of when my period is arriving, and exactly how heavy my flow is every day of my period. Moderate differences are very obvious when your absorbency is all based on cotton, not those high-tech absorbers in today's tampons and pads. While it's often inconvenient, and always a little messy, I feel somehow better without having what is essentially a stopper in my lady parts.

I have one day that's very heavy, one day that's somewhat heavy, and a few days of trickle. That heavy day is bad enough that I think about my period all the time. I try not to do anything on these days; if I have to, I often use tampons or the Softcup (I picked up a few free samples at Blogher -- the company rebranded and relaunched the product emphasizing ability to swim, do sports and have sex with the cup in; it doesn't seem a very mom-focused marketing campaign) because I pretty much have to be close to home to use cloth pads. Luckily, I'm there a lot.

So when I was invited to sit in on a conference call about heavy periods, I thought it would be interesting to hear what the PR firm arranging the event was pitching. I wasn't sure: what is the definition of heavy period? (Going through more than one pad an hour is, I think, the definition; the woman on the call representing heavy period sufferers says hers was far worse.) The belief of the PR firm arranging these calls is that women are afraid to talk about their periods, and that they are even timid about bringing up such complaints to their doctors.

I had to wonder, is this true for you? I've talked about my period to several close friends over the years, and I also chat about it (very superficially) with the teenage cross country runners I coach. It also seems that, every month, one of my kids barges in the bathroom when I'm changing a pad or wiping blood; I have to have the talk again each time. (I now say, for the record: "every month mama's body gets ready to have a baby. If there is no baby, the stuff that would have helped the baby grow gets sent out.")

Continue reading "Periods: Are we afraid to talk about it?" »

Mama vs. Papa: How our standards differ on volunteerism

September 27, 2011

I had already decided what to do when I posted my (I hoped) thought-provoking piece on "neglecting" my children to coach cross country -- for free! I've been volunteer coaching for several years, and even though my husband has just left for his second tour overseas, I spend all of my waking and sleeping hours with the boys save about 10 a week for cross country and Thursday night writer's group. I am comfortable with my decision; though some commenters pointed out that, with only one parent on the ground, I was depriving my boys, I have to disagree. The boys enjoy time with their babysitters, who frankly have lots more focus to give than I do. I struggle with being on duty 24/7; I end up so, so tired by Sunday evening that I can rarely stay up long enough to finish packing school lunch; the time away from the boys is life-giving. After a few charged discussions about it and chatting with some of the officers with whom he deployed, my husband agreed that my cross country time and babysitting expense was something we could afford.

OK: so that's my personal story. Let's chat about the universal. Today, a commenter chimed in about her experiences feeling resentful when her husband volunteered for basketball coaching. Another commenter said she, too, had felt frustrated at other dads doing similar things -- those that benefited other people's kids. While no one said quite this, the message is very much that dads don't have the time to spare. Any free time, the sentiment seems to be (and I can think of times I've thought this, from an outsider's perspective and not in my own family): dads need to give all available free time to their own children. Why should moms get a break?

I wonder if this sentiment stems from those 80's-sitcom-style family makeup: dad working 60-hour weeks, mom doing lots of volunteering at school and keeping the home spic-and-span and oven full of casseroles. This dad should not be leaving work early to coach middle school sports across town when he has grade schoolers watching He-man, neglected, at home.

I know a bunch of dads who volunteer, but I know way more moms and childless uncles who keep the youth sports machine churning and staff the fundraisers and political phone banks and non-profit events. Do we not give dads a break to follow their volunteer passions because we see them -- collectively -- as already spending enough time away from home? Is this a classic Freudian issue; those of us whose own dads were absent are the quickest to judge? Or is this just "the truth": dads should not, no how no way, be spending precious hours coaching or coding websites or organizing conferences or building bikes unless their own kids are being directly benefited? What do you think? Are dads and moms judged alike in their use/abuse of me time? Should they be?

Benign 'Neglect' of Our Children?

September 19, 2011

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For six years now, I've been volunteering as a high school coach at Cleveland High School. For the first two years, the head track coach coordinated some sort of honorarium for me -- a lot less than the salaried assistant coaches make (somewhere around $1,000 a month for roughly 20 hours a week of work, plus more for some weekend meets), but it was something! In the past few years, I've been coaching cross country, and the booster club hasn't seen it in their mission to bestow funds upon we running volunteers. I don't go every day -- last year it was only two or three days a week, because I was parenting my three boys solo and often didn't get home from school pickup until it was almost too late to catch the kids before they were off on their run.

My husband just left again last week for more overseas Army duty, and I have somehow wangled a great babysitter who can watch the boys for me -- I'll be able to go almost every day and meets too, and since the season only has six weeks left in it, I estimate it will cost me $500 or $600 in child care. Yes, to volunteer, for no pay whatsoever.

This has been a big point of contention for my husband. He has never been very supportive of my coaching; as an abstract thing, it seems great, but in reality he sees it as "ignoring my family" "for strangers." If I have to pay for the privilege? All the worse! We're locked in an unwinnable battle of wills. The way I see it: I'm giving back to the community that brought me into the running world (I ran track for Cleveland in the early 90s, and was nurtured by a wonderful woman, a mother herself, who even bought shoes for me when my cheerleading shoes gave me shin splints -- her son is a lead designer for Nike, so it was a bargain, but still!). I'm doing something I love -- working with high schoolers -- that I don't have the patience to do for a career (I would have gone into teaching if investment banking hadn't come along and stolen me; I have little patience, though, with school bureaucracy, and would likely have lasted this long as a public school teacher). I get to run four or five days a week; something I never do without the support of daily practice, and makes me happy, fit, and healthy. Most of all, I feel that I'm making a difference for these kids. Most of the coaches are men, and it's a co-ed sport; the girls tell me often that they appreciate my support and my conversation. It feels like the right thing to do and I always come home from practice and meets in a glow.

That glow does not extend to my husband's point of view on the matter: in his perspective, I'm leaving my children with a babysitter, spending family money unwisely, and neglecting my duty as their primary caregiver to do something that's benefiting other people's kids. Of course, I'm the parent on the ground, to use a militarism, and I get my way. But leaving aside the personal details of our argument, how do you negotiate this sort of balancing act? Is it ok (in your opinion and situation) to "neglect" your children if you're doing good work for the community -- volunteering for the neighborhood organization, the PTA, a blog that supports a needy community that perhaps doesn't directly help your children? How about support groups and church outreach? Political causes and extremely low-paid non-profit work? Co-operative projects and buying clubs and knitting circles? When you're doing something that doesn't directly, immediately benefit your own children, how do you suss out the justification for this benign "neglect"?

Inspiration From Mama Feats at Fiets of Parenthood

August 22, 2011

I thought I was speedy and skilled on my mamabikeorama. Two of my boys and I careened around the course Shetha designed for this summer's Fiets of Parenthood PDX yesterday at Clever Cycles, sure with Everett's jousting skills (which earned him first place in the Kindercross race) and my well-honed riding ability, I'd be at least in the top three.

While my time wasn't that bad, my skill level was nothing near the top of the Portland heap. I had earlier been watching a mom test out a huge platform-style box bike. She had her husband and a bunch of kids in it; Monroe hopped in, too, and she gleefully steered the passel of kids around the blocked-off street. "Is there a weight limit on this?" she asked, peddling in her dress, one hand on the handlebars.

Other inspirational biking parents were there, like Katie, who biked to the birthing center to deliver her infant daughter Kestrel -- she and her husband were pedaled home with the baby in a Pedicab. Kestrel, tiny still, was there after a jaunt with big brother Jasper and her parents to and from North Portland. A mom who had just picked up her longtail mama bike on Saturday stopped by with her two children. Travis and his family -- three boys, mom in stripey knee socks -- had made themselves matching tees, because you know, they were bringing it, their all to the competition.

I went first in the competition, and was quickly knocked out in both speed and overall skill. With a 10-second bonus for each child aboard, Emily -- with six kids of her own aboard one bicycling contraption (for the record: Bakfiets with four littles in the box, one in a rear-mounted bike seat behind that looked like it was vintage or European, and one attached via a Follow-Me tandem coupling -- a neat import that allows a parent to hook the child's bike to the parent's rear wheel) -- had most of us beat. Here's how this looks:

It's proof that my competitive spirit can be easily quelled by the wow-factor of an inspirational mama feat or two. I'm so inspired that I want to tell everyone -- did you see the mom with the six kids bike jousting? -- but it's not a one-time sight. She's bicycling Southeast Portland every day with her family, and she's not the only inspiration on the streets. Keep an eye out, and prepare to find wow-factor every day. Smile and wave when you see them, and tell everyone about the ordinary, extraordinary, Fiets of Parenthood around us.

(For the record, Travis was one of those who tied for first thanks to his three boys and four rings jousted -- and blazing speed! And next year, I think we should give extra bonuses for parents who pedal their co-parent around -- I think our winning lineup may have been different if we did.)

When Mama Cries

July 27, 2011

I had a very bad day today. I'm feeling extra vulnerable thanks to uncertainty over the future for my family -- can I survive on art alone? I'm feeling extra poor today. And my husband is on edge and somehow manages to say exactly the wrong thing at all the right times... the internet is sometimes a hard place to be all, you know, defensive and sure of oneself and stuff... I ended up entirely unsure of anything. We have a 20th reunion for our high school class coming up Friday, and I overcommitted and have a ton of responsibilities, all of which I want to get accomplished -- so everyone will have a great time, right? I spent half of the evening in tears.

Even the neighbor girl, 12, noticed -- our house is such that there's no real good place to be alone. She came up to me and put her arm around me as I sat on the front porch, hiding behind the grape vines. "Are you ok?" she asked. "Sort of," I said. Both Monroe and Truman gave me several wet sloppy cheek kisses as I, later, read them the Dueling chapter from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Everett was extra solicitous of me. I thanked them profusely.

I never know quite what to say when I dissolve in front of them. I've never been one of those people who can box their feelings up to let go later -- and anyway, our house is not the sort of place where one retreats with the vapors (if only). I just apologize and tell them why (in simple terms) I was feeling sad, and thank them for being so patient and kind.

How do you deal with the sometimes powerful emotions of being a mama around kids? Bottle up, let 'em rip, go for a run, call up your mother and tell all?

Out with the gig, In with the new passion

July 21, 2011

Back in February, a conference call was arranged very suddenly, at the same time rumors started flowing that a significant number of layoffs were occurring at AOL, where I worked for two-and-a-half years and freelanced for years after that. The Huffington Post acquisition was becoming more of a murderous coup d'etat. I was -- of all things -- at the Apple store with my kids, buying a new Macbook Air with my tax return. The pleasure of the brand new writing tool was immediately wiped away when I got on the phone -- it wasn't just layoffs. Every single person I worked with -- but one -- had lost their jobs in one fell swoop.

For the next month or so, the freelancers ran the sites, more or less -- and then the freelance terminations came, always sudden, in the very early morning or even the middle of the night. Hundreds of people lost their "jobs" with no notice, not even enough time to copy and paste the post they'd been working on with the notice came. I went for weeks logging in every morning as soon as I woke up, just to see if I could. The not-knowing was terrible. And then, the last termination seemed to have occurred and there were four or five of us left (a few I wasn't sure -- were they employees or freelancers?). We posted two or three or four things a day. I made way more money than usual, what I consider to be our bottom line income (enough to pay the mortgage and the utilities and buy groceries), which was good; my husband had just come home from a year in Kuwait and was, for the time, unemployed.

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Tuesday morning, another last-minute conference call yanked my safety out from under me. Well, not yanked exactly -- I have a "job" until August 1, when I'll start a new career as a freelancer without a regular gig. I'd like to devote more time to urbanMamas, so if you have ideas about things we can do with my time, please share them. I'm telling myself, this time, I'm only going to follow my passion -- no jobs writing about things I only care about a little. I'm pitching every morning; essays about family and journalist-type pieces about food. I'm going to try harder this time to get the regular mealtime established (this is my chief failing as a parent -- the food's great, the schedule messy). I'm going to work on my novel. I'm going to get the food book finished, and published!

Naturally, I'm in simultaneous mourning (it sounds weird, but I'll miss the software I've logged into nearly every day for the past six years -- it was built by a group of people I now consider my dearest friends, even though I like and respect almost no one in my department any more) and excitement. New things! A new practice! If I can just figure out how to make it pay... (On the new Google+, my 'what should I do' query was answered with universal agreement, 'make jam.')

What would you do if you got to follow your passion?

Mamahood: the sacrifice & the indulgence of it all

May 11, 2011

You may be able to tell that many of the urbanMamas are a running bunch (connect with them now on the run Mama run page).  Many of my friendships in Portland have blossomed due to regular running. Our time pounding the pavement/trails is time when we share about our children, their stages of life, our careers, our partners, and more.  

Last fall, I started a new running relationship that has really grown.  My running buddy started training for a marathon to celebrate her 50th year of life, and I followed along with her training routine.  For those of you who know me, you know that I am non-committal when it comes to registering for a run.  I don't know what it is.  Part of it is that I hate to spend "all that money" on myself for a run I could easily do on my own.  Who wants that t-shirt anyway?  Part of it is because I hate to put it on the family calendar, eating into precious weekend family time.  It seems so indulgent.

Before I knew it, I was running 20 miles on a Friday morning with my running buddy.  I would rearrange drop-off schedules so that I could leave at the crack of dawn and still be back for work meetings on a Friday.  It was indulgent: how many full-time working mamas could carve out time for a 3-4 hour run?  On the other hand, it was a choice and a sacrifice: I stayed up late many Thursday nights to work so I could get away with 3-4 hours away from the office the following morning.  AND, it really interfered very little with my family rhythm.  

Last week, in my heart, I committed to committing.  I opened up the webpage for registration for a marathon in June.  I had worked so hard this spring to increase my speed and distance.  I almost owe it to myself to let it pay off.  Before I hit "register now", I spoke with my husband about the idea.  And, due to other major life-changing transitions upcoming, he urged me to reconsider.  So, I did.  I decided not to run a marathon this June.

I am sad.  I feel that I have worked hard, unintentionally in the beginning, to train.  I didn't know what I was training for, but I realized that I am in great shape to run a marathon (NOW!).  But, as fate would have it, other life commitments will get in the way.  I am sure I am not the only mama who will let the family comes first, even if it means it will superceed my hopes, dreams, and aspirations (what a drama queen).  You know what I mean.  You've had that feeling before, haven't you?

What would you like most for Mother's Day?

May 05, 2011

My husband asked me recently, "Is there anything you'd like for Mother's Day?" I had no response. While we are a family that love celebrations, rather then being filled with pomp and circumstance, it's usually fairly informal. We try to do something together as a family, a special meal and an outing - typically a hike. Sometimes there are gifts but there have been some bleary eyed years when cards and gifts are forgetten and it is never a big deal. But I do appreciate nice functional gifts. My husband's question did get me thinking, here are a few ideas:  147365774_4a4d518a63

  • Though extremely utilitarian but on the high end of the price spectrum is an Xtracycle. Mine was a Mother's Day gift four years and has literally changed my life. I was able to transport kids, groceries, and gear effectively and efficiently. Expediency is questionable and highly dependent on hills.
  • Recently, I was given a pair of Bogs rain boots and it's made being outdoors watching muddy baseball games tolerable. While the rest of my body may be freezing, my feet are nice and toasty. I am looking forward to having a pair of comfortable boots to slosh around at soccer games and running errands next fall/winter.
  • I also enjoy running; and music during a solo run is a mama's best companion. My iPod Nano and Nike+ is great for early training runs when the company of another mama is not possible. I also like the ease of something else tracking and aggregating my time and pace.
  • How about the gift of running with hundreds of other fellow mamas? There are the handful of fun running events for the active mama like Run Mama Run, Run Like a Mother,or Hippie Chick Half
  • Above everything else, sleeping in and being served breakfast in bed is priceless. Nothing compares to this simple gift of a homemade meal and squeals of delight coming from the kids as they help out in the kitchen.

It's the thought that counts, but do you have any favorite Mother's Day gifts or traditions?

Longing for another child, but I already have a few!

April 12, 2011

I know many mamas have struggled to conceive.  I have been so lucky in that regard.  Our first came a complete surprise.  I know there are many families who only have one child, for environmental reasons.  Our second was planned, conceived at what felt like a "good time" for us after we talked about our "thoughts on number two".  Before we could even talk about our "thoughts on number three", we conceived.  To be sure, each of our families are different.  We make our own choices and decisions.  We have the size of a family that is right for us.

So for me, right now, I am feeling like I am pining for another.  Number Three is now a year and a half, such a delight.  I never did feel that I had the time or opportunity to experience this longing, this deep sense of want, this intense draw to become a mother to a young child, yet again.   To be sure, this feeling is the result of my joy in mothering a toddler (I just LOVE this age) as well as knowing that he is probably my last.  Yes, "probably" my last.

Have you had that yearning for a baby feeling?  Did you put it to rest?  Did you conceive or decide to adopt to address the yearning?  Or maybe time helped ease the feeling?  Or perhaps that longing still percolates, to this day?

What is your *must have* mama item?

March 07, 2011

The mama is the queen of multitasking.  On most days, I work at home.  My most favorite multi-tasking mama *must-have* item is....  my bluetooth.  On a day with lots of calls, I can easily bang through my four loads of laundry.  Or, when the kids are tucked in, sometimes I like to catch up with friends far and near on the phone while sweeping, washing the floor, making lunches.

There may be lots of things in your bag, but what is the one item that simplifies your busy mama life?

The Novelty Parent: It's not me

March 01, 2011

Many evenings, while I get dinner onto the table, my partner is relagated to toddler- and child-management.  I bustle around in that very stressful pre-dinner hour, and I often hear squealing and giggles coming from the other room, surely the result of my husband nuzzling his head into the toddler's tummy.  More squeals come from the other kids, playing around with their dad little brother.

Not every household has two parents, but - for those that do - each of the two parents often settle into roles.  For me, thanks to my efficiency and love for edible arts, it is my role to mange the kitchen.  My partner, then, has the role of managing things outside the kitchen - in this case - the kids.  In other cases, I often still take on the role of primary caretaker, tending to the basic needs of my family such as laundering, kitchen inventory, handling the calendar.  It wears on me, while many times I find my partner takes on the role of playmate, sports coach, tickle monster.  To be honest: I get jealous.  To be honest: I sometimes get bitter.

To be sure, I can challenge the roles, start a mission to lowly change them.  But, who has the time?  Right now, I do feel that efficiency trumps, and I am indeed the Mistress of Multitasking.  My skill set is better suited for the caretaking and nurturing tasks.  I just want to know I'm not alone.  Does it happen in your house too?  Is there a primary caretaker, and does the secondary caretaker get all the fun jobs?  And, dare I ask: have you managed to swap roles here and there?  Has it worked well?

This year is MY year

January 05, 2011

Last year, my third child turned one.  The days of nursing multiple times a night, managing a baby-turned-toddler, tending to needs of the older children, managing a household, pursuing a career: the year came to a screeching halt, and I wanted nothing more than for it all to end.  It was all too much.  It got to the point where I was feeling physically sick, anxious, depressed at times.

I looked forward to spending the last week of 2010 at home, regrouping, having quiet moments just our family, working on little projects that have been sitting on the back-burning for the past year(s).  That plan was foiled when the blizzard of 2010 kept us out east for an extra five days, bringing us home at 1am on New Year's Eve.

I have had a day or two to settle in and to think: "what do I want to accomplish this year?"  I realize that I never did achieve any of my goals for last year, the top two of which were: 

  • to finish reading a book
  • to master a piano piece

Continue reading "This year is MY year" »

Holiday gratitude: Where does it find *you*?

December 10, 2010

Treegetting_one
Forget Thanksgiving; it's Christmas specifically, and December and the beginning of the new year generally, where I find myself needing to focus most on my gratitude. How hard is it not to get caught up in all the wrong bits of the holiday spirit? Plenty, what with a list of cartoon-commercial gifts a mile long and twice as objectionable, sugar proferred by friends, family and strangers at every turn, always too little money compared to your needs and wants, the pressure to have a "simple" and "homemade" holiday which turns into a snafu of overcommitment, and the family togetherness-or-lack-thereof, both of which provide tearfulness and emotional extremes in equal measures.

I need to carve out pockets and tar-pits of gratitude in a time like this. I'm finding it easy, if I let it be, even though I'm finding it hard sometimes to draw in a deep breath the way I'm coaching my kids, my athletes.  Where can I find it? Here:

  • ~On the bus, on the bike~. The man in a wheelchair this morning seemed to be looking out of the corners of his eyes instead of straight ahead, but he could tell Monroe was in a funk. "Sick," I said, so he offered him a tiny Mounds bar. Monroe's eyes lit up, he smiled, he reached for the thing, he said "it's good," by way of thanks.

    And Wednesday, the sun broke through just as we reluctantly, half-sobbingly, helmet-ed and raincoat-ed up, we rode past other families offering us a smile, a wave, a hello; a grandfather and his grandson working in the yard, Truman asked if we could come back sometime, and play; a pregnant mama, surely due soon, carrying her recycling bin down the steps as we looked for surprise rainbows. Open your eyes, see, I told myself.
  • ~On Foster Boulevard, in the fifties~. It was raining hard, I was looking for the Decorette Shop, seeing signs like: 'gloves for hides,' and wondering if that was literal, could I bring in a hide? Once inside the shop near 54th, I uncovered a rich landscape of things for baking: cakes and cookies of every shape and season. I bought crystal sanding sugar, I bought cutters for reindeer, acorns, maple leafs, a train and a car, Christmas tree baubles, an unusual star. It was less than $12 for my cookie-baking riches.

Continue reading "Holiday gratitude: Where does it find *you*?" »

Sunday blues worse during the holidays?

November 28, 2010

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We've written before about the looming stress that comes with a Sunday afternoon. All that we'd intended to do, and didn't, seems to come smacking toward us with the weight of a still-frozen turkey. No matter what our smart strategies for planning the day, no matter how great our kids and our fun times together have been, oh! the things that are undone, the immense go-all-the-time expectations of the week ahead seem overwhelming.

Today it's worse than usual for me, and I was already feeling the stressful anticipation yesterday. I'd meant to finish an important essay over the "relaxing holiday weekend" -- I haven't even opened the file since I made my last changes over a week ago. I know I shouldn't expect so much of myself over a holiday; it's not really a vacation when I'm mama of three, and especially not as a military-enabled single mama; but I do it anyway. I finished one pair of those mittens I meant to knit, I mucked my chicken coop, I spread my compost, I sheet-mulched a bunch of my garden, I did a little work (so I'll have money for Christmas gifts! or at least Christmas-coincident bills!), but how did I make my list so long and near-unachievable?

Anyway, I've gotten myself into a serious funk, and almost started sobbing on the phone with my husband. He told me something about how he was making plans for Everett to take martial arts classes with one of his high school friends. His comment about "it takes a village" was right on the money, but the village isn't up to my dreams; my needs from the village are way bigger than that. I've been biting back the mama meltdown all day.

Does this happen to you too -- the Sunday stress seems worse as a holiday period comes to a close? Do you, too, pack too many things into your imaginary relaxing, productive times? Do you ever sit back and wonder, in the midst of enjoying this family time, when your vacation is going to be? Or have you developed some great strategies for dealing with these blues?

Warning: mamahood could cause depression

November 08, 2010

Of late, we have all been under additional pressure, as school has ramped up (probably extracurricular activities too).  The weather might also have something to do with it; while it has still been lovely and mild, the cool air lets us know that winter is ahead.  Sometimes, though, it is just a plain hard period, regardless of season.  The tension of the day-to-day juggle can lead to feelings of intensity, symptoms of depression.  An urbanMama recently emailed, seeking your advice and suggestions: 

I have two kids in diapers, my husband and I just adopted a new work schedule two months ago. He works 4 days a week, I work the other 3 days of the week (all ten hour days) That leaves us zero time as a family. Lately I am crying constantly. My three year old asks "What's wrong Mommy?" and my 19 month old just screams his head off. I love them dearly, but this new schedule is killing us and add to that the wet windy winter weather. I am going to see my doctor tomorrow, I am going to do my best even if it IS against my nature to ask for help. I am going to start taking my fish oil, try to eat more protein, all those things I know I should be doing...if I can just stop sobbing uncontrollably for a day or two. 

So I ask of you, wise mothers of Portland a question two-fold:   Those of you who have faced depression head on...What worked for you?  And I need to laugh, I need great book suggestions re: raising kids and family, please!

 

Enjoying moments: stop and smell the roses

We are all really busy.  Who isn't?  I know many of us feel that there aren't enough hours in the day, minutes in the hour.  This is a painfully busy time for our family.  That's just the way it is.  We wouldn't change it, per se.  Whether we have one parents or two who work outside the home, whether we have one child or four, whether we live here or there, whether we bike or drive, parenthood makes our lives more full and - consequently - more busy.

Despite the schedule, I have been try-try-trying my darndest to enjoy those very simple moments with the kids.  After all, it really is all about the kids.  When one child had to potty at the supermarket, I was irritated that our schedule was being even further delayed.  In the potty stall, I started dancing to the overhead music and the kids followed in suit.  There was much laughter and plenty of smiles.  On the way home today, we saw a huge rainbow.  We stopped and looked and counted each layer of the rainbow, and we talked the rest of the way home about what it might be like if the end of the rainbow was in our yard.  Would we find a pot of gold?  What would we do with it?

I don't want to over-analyze or obsess about the decisions my family has made that has resulted in a very hectic lifestyle at times.  What I do want to do is hear more about those simple moments in your day that you love, the moments you share with the kids, the moments that you write about in their growing-up journals.  Share your moments with me.  I will find inspiration in them.

Laying on the Mother Guilt

October 04, 2010

I am going solo tonight, which is not an unusual occurrence.  What it means is that I get very short with the kids: mildly scolding, maybe yelling at them to finish their dinner, do homework, tidy lunch bags, brush their teeth, get into bed.  Without fail, there are special requests: can you lie down with me? can you get me my bag that I left outside? can you help me with this (when they full well can do it on their own)?  When I reach my point of saturation, I explode.

"Can you just do it on your own so I can go and have my dinner in peace?  I have been going nonstop since we stepped foot in the door, making your dinner, asking you to put away your clothes, helping you get your homework done, doing chores.  You need to go to bed now, so that I can eat dinner in quiet."

Continue reading "Laying on the Mother Guilt" »

Sunday Night Stress

September 12, 2010

It's only the first Sunday night of the school year, and already the stress turns on like a switch.  Promptly at 5pm, I feel unbelievably overwhelmed by lunches ("NO!  I don't want a peanut butter sandwich tomorrow!"), different requests for different dinners (which I no longer really accommodate), stray undone laundry (even though I have been doing laundry all weekend!), bath-times, tired children (didn't we have a relaxing day today?), empty cupboards (how did I just come back from the market and be fresh out of butter?), and all the rest....  I feel like screaming "Calgon!  Take me away."  

My partner has previously called me out on what a bitch I can be on a Sunday evening.  Even on Mothers Day, after a completely glorious day wherein the kids agreed to my every whim, once the clock turned to 5pm, I turned into a completely sour, rotten, moldy, and dilapidated pumpkin.  It's terrible, I know, but I have too much on my mind to prevent my spontaneous combustion.

Do you experience the same Sunday night stress?  Do you have some excellent tips to combat the condition?

Laboring through Labor Day

September 06, 2010

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[These are the words to start the post that buzzed through my brain that couldn't sit still that skipped through the weekend that ended the summer that Sarah built...]
In the ongoing debate between 'can't wait' and 'apprehensive about' school starting, I'm firmly in the latter camp. Much though I tempt the children with excitement in my voice and hope in my heart, I'd rather it just stay summer. I've done the Labor Day holiday many ways; camping trips and barbecues and (in the investment banking days) charity picnics where everyone wears big hats; but since I've had kids going back to school, it's been a buzz of preparation and me looking at a list as long as my arm of all the things I wanted to finish, but didn't quite, this summer.

There are peaches in a box in the floor and another one with 20 pounds of cucumbers for pickling; there is a pattern I printed out for preemie-size diapers -- my sister just had a four-pound, nine-ounce baby Friday, teeny and healthy as can be; the laundry with special new clothes is still hanging on the line; the snacks still need to be put into the backpack; I haven't washed dishes since yesterday night. On errands, we stopped to pick up dill from a friend's house for the pickles, and Suzanne was busy with tomato sauce while her son played in the backyard, having already done "all the pickles I need!" on Sunday. Other friends are tallying up their weekend like radical homemaking box scores, three loads laundry, three pints zucchini bread & butters, two apple upside down cakes, 32 pints tomatoes...

Though Labor Day is meant as a break from work, we mamas seem to be mostly laboring. It's nice labor, of course, but surely not what the Founding Holiday Declarers meant. How did you labor this Labor Day?

All the working mamas! (all the working mamas)... how do you find friends?

July 22, 2010

So many of us have been there, so many times.  Mamahood is hard to begin with, but being a working working mama can further complicate (and limit) opportunities to meet other mamas and other kidlets.  What are your best suggestions for meeting other working mamas?  Or, maybe: what are your best suggestions for working mamas to meet other mamas?  An urbanMama recently emailed:

...how do working mothers find mother frineds?  If they did not start out with frineds with the same age babies.  I find that all mothers groups take place during the woprkweek, as does baby storytime and other community offerings.  I just wanted to know if there is something I am missing and would love to hear other suggestions.

Parenting, home-keeping: Work that we love?

July 12, 2010

Monroe_farmersmarket
The thing is, this day pictured here was a hard day, as days go. Many of the days are hard. My sister was babysitting, a rarity for a Saturday, and Monroe wouldn't be left behind while I biked to the farmer's market. It's easier by myself. I can really chat with the vendors, a thing that is always fascinating and lovely; I can buy all the produce and meat and cheeses I want, quickly, and proceed with photographing or browsing; I need never chase or carry or negotiate with a strong, strong-willed child. Monroe cried, fussed, screamed, begged with tears in his eyes and hope in his voice, 'go wif you?" I couldn't resist him, I went, I could barely talk with anyone, I had to rush through my list and never once got to photograph a pile of radishes.

But this picture, as so many of my pictures are, is of joy. And as I look through my photographs I see all my children's personalities, and I see many moments of joy, moments that spark out amongst the hardness. I see much work, but I see love in that work, I see that it is all work that I love, every minute of it. The washing dishes, the gardening and the bread-kneading and the lacto-fermenting, the biking and carrying and chasing children, the bringing to events both minor and major, the "talking to children, answering questions with questions, and treating each child’s thought as a special contribution," these are the things I love most!

I have been reading two pieces meant, I am sure, to spark discussion and controversy. The first was a piece in Salon by Babble blogger Madeline Holler. The second -- also written about by Madeline, curiously -- is a cover story from New York Magazine by staff writer Jennifer Senior. Holler spends a lot more of her time comparing her own personal life -- and how hard, indeed, it is -- to the lives of others, specifically the "radical homemakers" of whom Shannon Hayes writes.

Continue reading "Parenting, home-keeping: Work that we love?" »

I yelled at them. Now what?

May 10, 2010

If I told you that I *felt* like yelling at them, I am sure I would be overwhelmed with suggestions that I go for a walk (how, when there's no other adult in the house?) or take a yoga class (with what money?) or go for a run (see item #1) or soak in a bubble bath (at 5pm when I need to get dinner on the table?) or find a friend (see item #1) or get a pedicure (is that a good use of my $20?)....  There are lots of suggestions, I know.  But, you know what?  Sometimes, none of those suggestions work, for one reason or another.  Sometimes, it's just too late.  Sometimes, I end up really friggin strung out.  And, I yell at them.

Yup.  I yell.  I scream, actually.  I am certain the neighbors hear us.  And, sometimes, they scream back at me.  And, me at them.  And so on and so forth.

So, now what?  I've yelled at them for not helping me when I need help, scolded at them for not listening to me when all they're "supposed" to do is listen, made them cry while I cry myself.  It is this awful heap of a household from 6 to 7pm when children are dirty, hungry, tear-stained.  While I regret all the yelling, I can't say that I could actually help it.  What do I do: take a breather, come back, and pretend nothing's happened?  Say "I'm sorry" and move on?  Tell them, "well, next time you should just listen to me!"?  Now that I've yelled at them, now what?

How to take care of mama: physically, emotionally spiritually

April 15, 2010

It takes a lot of work to keep everyone in the family happy, especially mama.  Mama's needs are often overlooked, thought our own happiness can have everything to do with how we manage to deal with the rest of our family's challenges.  An emotionally-drained urbanMama recently emailed, seeking some support, guidance, and specific suggestions:

I have a 3 and half year old and a two month old. Both children have medical issues.   I have been struggling with Postpartum Anxiety and Depression.   Anyway,  I need your help.  I am trying to schedule some self care activities for myself, both in and out of the house.  This is a hard thing for me to do, so hard that I am struggling to think of things.  Help me!!!  I would love to hear what other Mama's do to take care of themselves physically, emotionally and spiritually. I am looking for things that help you when you feel lousy.  Even if you could offer specific recommendations for massage therpaists, or good books, I'd appreciate it!

Related posts:
"When mama ain't happy"
"Post Partum depression help"
"More than the baby blues"

Not mid-life & not quarter-life, but the family-life crisis?

April 07, 2010

The other day, OPB's Think Out Loud discussed the "quarter-life crisis", a situation arising from "upwardly moble, college-educated young professionals" who are "dissatisfied with their careers", leading to feelings of "instability, isolation, frustration, and reassessment."

It made me think - not that I was suffering from mid- or quarter-life crisis - but about moments when I felt that I was ridden with some family-life crisis, the same feelings arising from the pressures, stress, isolation, and expectation that accompanies the role of mama and life partner.  It made me think - when we are caught in an endless juggle, managing calendars, making dinner after dinner, carefully planning so grocery bills are within budget - it only makes sense that some of us would find ourselves in crisis.

I know it's hard.  For all of us.  When you really need help, when you really need a hand, and when you really need another ear to listen, where do you go for support?  How do we meet new moms, make new friends, build community around us?  Time and time again, we receive emails from urbanMamas new to Portland, new to mamahood, or new to unique life challenges, that leaves her in search of more.  What would be your number one suggestion?

The Family Calendar: How do you keep it all straight?

March 31, 2010

One Saturday morning last summer, I hurried the family to get ready for a birthday party.  The celebrant was a friend / classmate of one of my girls.  My daughter was so excited: there would be a clown!  It was a 10am start time, I do recall.  So, I was diligent about getting my Saturday morning chores out of the way in quick order so she could be at the party on time.  We knocked on the door - my husband, my two daughters, and I - and waited.  It was a protracted pause.

The celebrant - along with her mother and her father - opened up the door.  They were in their pajamas.  The house smelled of pancakes.  The girl had those big stuffed animal slippers on.

"Oh no!" said the mother.  "The party is next week!"

They offered niceties and even welcomed us in.  The welcomed us into their home, into their Saturday morning private time in pajamas!  I mumbled apology after apology.  In the steps leaving the house, I fought to hold back tears.  I felt so dejected, so inept, so disorganized, and so discombobulated.  My husband and my girls couldn't understand how I could have messed up the day.

Well, they probably couldn't understand because they actually have little to do with keeping our family calendar up-to-date and accounted for.  In our two working-parent household with two children who have varied social needs, not to mention varied academic needs, it is so hard to keep it all straight.  When are lunch order forms due?  When are books due at the library?  When are parent-teacher conferences?  When are NO SCHOOL days and where will the kids be?  And HOW much will it cost?   And, why are kid 1's NO SCHOOL days never the same as kid 2's NO SCHOOL days?  And, when do we have time for the doctor or dentist?  And, who will be taking time off work to take him/her to the doctor/dentist?  And, which kid has a birthday party when?  And when/what/where will we get for a gift?  And who has a late meeting on what day?  And - wait a minute - we BOTH have a late meeting on THAT day?  Then, what happens to the kids?

For certain, our family schedule is complicated by the fact that each parent works outside the home, late hours, and has some element of travel.  However, I just heard from another mama friend - a stay at home mama - who lamented that her daughter missed two birthday parties recently because she botched up the calendar and completely forgot about them due to other activites.  I do believe that calendaring complications can straddle mamas in different situations.

We have a paper calendar on the fridge, we have a dry-erase calendar where we write in all the highlights of the week, and we (my husband and I) have our respective outlook calendars that include our work schedules.  Still, it is ever so complicated and there are things that slip through the cracks.

How do you keep it all straight?  What is your no-fail method?  How do you keep the scheduling organized and everyone appraised of what is happening when?

Morning time: How long does getting ready take?

February 26, 2010

Morning_sunrise
After a week of actually having to get all three boys together and out the door in the morning (Everett's been going to school via bus for the past two-and-a-half years, and I've been working, more or less, at home), I've finally grudgingly acknowledged the truth of the matter: for me, it's a whole hour between the moment I get out of bed and the moment we're on the bikes in the driveway (or sidewalk, if we're walking or taking Trimet). I thought back to the old days when I used to work in an office, and only had Everett to get ready, and sure enough: it was the exact same truth. Doesn't matter how bad the weather is, what sort of conveyance we're planning, what I make for breakfast (or if we decide to stop for a treat on the way), if I try to pack getting ready into anything less than an hour, I end up stressed, pushing boys past their limits, and inevitably, 10 or 15 minutes late.

So today, we were a few minutes early to school! What a pleasure. As I coasted down the hill toward home, feeling satisfied, I reminded myself how pushing my snooze button is only making my job as a mama way, way harder. So, I wondered, how about the rest of you? What's your morning truth? Is it an hour for you, more or less, or do you have some amazing skills (or extra needs) that make your mornings special-in-your-own-way? What throws you off? What gets you streamlined?

Back to work after baby: Tell us your stories

February 01, 2010

Office_job
This morning, Olivia heads back to work, her maternity leave for her third babe concluded. I think I'm feeling all of the things she must be feeling, for her: it's so hard to go back to work! (Plus, we loved having her extra energy here on urbanMamas.) We know how many things are on a mama's mind when she heads back to work, and the more children at home (at least for me), the more conflicted I felt.

We've chatted before about some of the mechanics of going back to work; whether struggling to bottle-feed a baby who'll be without mama's breast for several hours a day, the logistics of a nanny share; some thoughts on how to return to work after a long absence; and about how much leave we'd want (were we to have a say in such things). But today, let's tell stories about returning to work: how long had you been at home? How did you feel? What was the first day like? Did you feel a little guilty enjoying that unencumbered walk to the coffee shop, the feel of "nice clothes" on your freshly-showered skin? Or did you sit down at your desk that first morning and resolve to fight for laws requiring longer, paid leave for parents everywhere? (yeah!)

Best in mama blogging

January 12, 2010

My_blog_on_iphone
I read Babble's 'Top 50 Mommy Bloggers' with mixed feelings. First, I was pleased that a local blogger or two and many mamas (and one dad) I consider longtime friends -- people who really deserve approbation for years of hard work and amazing content -- were getting recognition. There was ParentHacks, who won the category 'Most Useful'; I really think of Asha as an original urbanMama (in spirit if not in fact), she's been inspiring us for as long as I can remember. Dutch and Wood from Sweet Juniper are so warm, inspirational and creative -- and both eloquent and moving writers -- that I can't imagine any 'best of blog' list without them. (And yes, Dutch's popscycle is on my fave family bikes list.) Citymama used to be a Portlander (she'll always carry our city in her heart, yes Stefania?); Alphamom is generous and sweet and oh yes, stylish!; Mom 101 is so smart and connected; thanks to the fact that my job as a professional blogger started in parenting blogs, I've had the pleasure of meeting, chatting with or working with many of the other top 50 (but no, I can't say that I know Dooce, famous mommy blogger numero uno).

But hey: it's the in-iest of in crowds and the whirlpool of popularity, I feel, misses a lot of the true gems, the sorts of parenting writers who work their craft for no other reason than because they must, who forge beautiful writing in a "build it and they'll come" mindset to which I, too, have come to subscribe. No matter how many come, the castles of words and images keep slowly forming, each at their own pace. In my opinion, Sweet Juniper is the only true, sparkling treasure on Babble's roster; the other mamas I consider gorgeous, pearls of great price were receiving, at best, a few dozen "likes" from the open-for-nominations list Babble began after its editorially-selected rankings were published. Perhaps the soul-startling bloggers aren't great places for Mattel and H&R Block to advertise, but they're quiet and sweet and real.

If I were making a "best of all possible mama blogs in the best of all possible internets" list, it would include these:

  • Sweet | Salty. I discovered Kate only in the past year and we were well-met. Her journey to a mama's joy despite the loss of one of her sons as a newborn has me gasping.
  • Notes to Self. Kyran weaves stories with such mastery that my face is hot with emotion just peeking into one of her blog posts.
  • Secret Agent Josephine. Unfailingly charming and creative, Brenda always makes me smile.
  • Slouching Past 40. Sarah's poetry makes me weep and her parenting writing is so full of stunning sight and insight -- it's to what I aspire.
  • Oleoptene. Well-met in Portland, Mara's eloquent, cerebral musings are worth the time it takes to unpeel their layers.
  • Irene Nam. A Parisienne who writes in English just for us, each post a small gift, a poem. Her photographs sing to me in whispers.
Some of these are nominated on Babble's list; others aren't (you can vote for urbanMamas and me, too, if you're so inclined). It's proof that popularity is not always key to greatness, nor does greatness lead to popularity; it's proof that sometimes the quietest music reaches deepest into your heart.

new decade, new resolutions

January 02, 2010

I've never been much for resolutions, but something about this whole new decade, coming as it does in the middle of some new opportunities for my family (my husband just received his security clearance for the Army Reserves and may soon be deployed, for one) and in this administration of Change-with-a-capital-C, has me feeling hopeful and new. What are you resolving this year? Here are some ideas from our own resolutions, now and in the past, to get you going:

Resolutions_hendrik_weektwo

Snuggle time with babies is worth everything. New babies, like new years, are a chance to start anew: for this life, give all the love we can muster, and then some.

Resolutions_truman_toys_glorious
Enjoy these moments, and see as many of them as we can. Through the craziness of life, open our eyes, see the beauty of the sweet small things.

Resolutions_thankyou
Write letters. Handwritten notes may be fading away; I vow to help reverse that trend. Hand-delivery is good, too.

Olivia_shetha_chatting
Start a conversation. Stop and say hello; knock on a door; set a special time just to chat; get mamas together for a salon. Talk, listen, converse.

An_pie_beforetheoven
Eat mindfully, cook more. Local, sustainable, humane, organic, from scratch. Clear out the pantry. Add one vegetable seed to your garden. Switch to whole grains. Reduce sugar. Whatever your decision, vow to eat with your eyes wide open.

Meal_at_mollys
Share a meal; show your love with food. For a special occasion, a new baby, a holiday, or just a week that's not quite so busy: invite friends over, or bring food to them. Ask someone to dinner, or lunch, or for zucchini bread. Bring a jar of jam to a neighbor. Make soup.

Resolutions_andrea_runs

Run as fast as we can. Whatever our pace, in races or just out with some friends, strive to run more, run faster.

Resolutions_organizing_wall

Organize something. Put toys in bins, clean out the fridge, file my old photos, finally clean my office. An ordered home helps bring order to my brain and peace to my heart.

Christmas for mamas and papas

December 23, 2009

Gifts_under_tree450
With a super-tight budget and plenty of holiday stress, I often leave the decision about what to get for daddy until the very last minute, and I've thus far been terrible about insisting the kids come up with gifts for their parents. I realize that, last year, my husband and I really didn't get each other anything. Now it's two days before Christmas, and though I really want to buy him the gift I know he needs: a new (to him) commuter bike, I really don't have the room in my budget. As I troll craigslist, beg for help on Twitter, and wheel and deal, I wonder: have your gifts for the other parent in your life fallen by the wayside since you had children? Who do you spend more money (or time) on? How about you? Do your children and partner get you plenty of gifts for Christmas, or do you end up watching your kids open their presents with a bittersweet mix of happiness (for them) and nostalgia (for the time when you had more to expect on Christmas morning)?

Art and motherhood: A difficult combination?

November 16, 2009

Everett_and_art
At Wordstock last month, I sat in on several readings and discussions by writer mamas, and recently I've been very closely following other mothers and writers on Twitter and Facebook. I'll admit to a fascination that's part curiosity and part ... jealousy? longing? ... as I watch them juggle motherhood and their art. From a distance, it seems they're doing it better than me.

I've finally gotten to the point where I believe I could finish my book proposal any day (really!) and I'm finally having a essay published in print this month. After years writing online, I'm coming into this artist-writer bit, slowly, with lots of squeaking and complaints from my family. It's been hard, especially on those nights where my oldest has decided to go off melatonin, a gentle sleep aid we'd been using to good effect, and I must restart the process of coaching him on calming himself. For three hours.

A friend Tweeted she was locked in her bedroom this weekend, finishing a few last chapters of her book as her husband wrangled her boys. Another acquaintance, a writer dad, seems as if he's frequently out of town on book readings and fabulous events, trading off childcare duty and glamorous writer things with his poet wife. I asked an author I admired at Wordstock how she managed to write with children -- and she's a single mother, having adopted a little girl internationally. "Very expensive childcare," she answered.

Then yesterday, I read in the Oregonian about this fabulous couple here in Portland. They're both visual artists and she's an accomplished writer. They're gorgeous and cute and funny and successful. They have a three-month-old baby. I'm so jealous! (On the same page: a story about the Decemberists' guitarist and his lovely girlfriend, Seann McKeel, who've started a series of concerts for children and parents to help entertain their three-year-old child. She's also an artist. Oh!)

In my house, juggling art and motherhood don't go that well. A two-year-old literally hangs from my arm when I'm in the middle of typing an especially inspired sentence. I go to a coffee shop to write for three hours, and when I come home, the slow cooked meal I'd begun has burnt and homework hasn't been done -- my husband was focused on the littlest and his nap, the laundry...

Are you, too, trying to combine some passion -- whether it's writing, art, a political or non-profit endeavor, or a really rewarding job -- and motherhood? How have you managed? Do you sometimes feel that everyone but you is doing great? Or do you have secrets, tricks of the trade, that make it all come together?

Emotional Transition from Infancy to Toddlerhood

July 09, 2009

It's so cliched, but kids do grow up so quickly.  And how many times have we all heard mamas with grown children look fondly at our little infants as they remember that special stage in a child's life?  Betsy emailed us recently to see if any urbanMama's have any advice regarding the sadness she's experiencing as her youngest transitions from infancy to toddlerhood.  She writes:

I have a nearly-three-year-old daughter Kaia and a just-turned-one-year-old daughter Elliot.  When Elliot turned one this year, I felt and continue to feel a huge sadness that she is no longer an infant.  I also realized that Kaia is fast growing up and I can hardly remember her time as a baby anymore.  With both girls, I am experiencing these feelings of mourning (?) - Loss for a time in their lives that I can’t have back and I can’t seem to move past the feelings.  I see the amazing ways they are growing and becoming beautiful human beings and I celebrate each new thing they try and accomplish but these feelings of sadness are putting up stiff competition.  I am trying to allow myself room for my emotions – acknowledging and accepting them.  This is proving to be a very difficult time for me.  I wonder how other mom’s handle this emotional transition from infancy to toddler.

'Brain, Child' salon pdx: Summer 2009

July 02, 2009

Mother_talk
Several months ago, a Brain, Child discussion group was hastily thrown together and ended up a (small) series of one-on-one conversations. But as soon as I picked up this season's issue, I was longing to talk to someone about it. So this time, we're doing it right, with two weeks advance notice (ish) and a proper location selected ahead of time!

Date: Tuesday, July 14, 7:30 p.m.
Place: Rimsky-Korsakoffee House, 707 SE 12th (the red house -- there is no sign)
Do I have to read Brain, Child cover-to-cover? No, but the more you read, the more we can talk. If we get enough "yes" responses, I'll order several copies from the publisher.

Respond, s'il vous plait, in the comments, and I look forward to getting all salon with a couple of other urbanMamas. Some of the articles are on the web site; you can purchase the magazine at several local bookstores and grocery stores.

Are you all-mama, all the time?

May 08, 2009

Last weekend, I was away.  For four days.  A loooonngggg time for this mama to be away from the offspring.  I went back east to spend a girls weekend with my soon-to-be-married sister-in-law.  I thought about my kids back home, every moment.  I missed them painfully.  My heart hurt to hear their sweet, sweet voices over the phone (funny how the voices are so sweet on the phone yet so irritatingly shrill in person!).  I missed the smell of their hair, their silly antics, their annoying tendency to not listen to my direction.  I missed it all; it was overwhelming.  While I was surely having some fun, there was also this underlying sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.

I am not very good at leaving the children.  It took me until each was age 3 before I left them overnight for more than a day.  Now that they are so much older, I still have a hard time: mama separation anxiety, perhaps?

In the company of the other ladies over the weekend, all of them at least a few years my junior and all of them unmarried and childless, I felt like my mama identity was a one-tracked.  I could think or talk of nothing but my children.

Am I the only one with this syndrome?  Any tips and tricks for easing the mama separation?  We have a nutty family calendar coming up, which involves a total of 10 days away from the kids over the next few weeks.  I am bracing myself.

Mamas & Blogs & Facebook: is it too much?

April 15, 2009

When we started urbanMamas almost 5 years ago, I was mama to just a teeny little babe who would wake me up at all hours of the night.  After a feeding at 2am, I would sneak downstairs, open up the computer, and check out the feeds I'd read.  I'd devour the stories, gobble them all up along with a middle-of-the-night snack.  Thank goodness Facebook wasn't around then.  I may have never slept.

Through time, I realized it wasn't terribly healthy to be crawling out of bed and catching up on mama blogroll, as it would keep me up for 1-2-3 hours during prime sleeping time.  I went through a period when I forced myself to stay in bed.  I had to resist the urge, that pull into the blogosphere vortex. 

Now that the kids are older, I am on a much more regulated sleep schedule, but I am still drawn to catch up with friends on Facebook or to check out what's the haps on urbanMamas and other favorite mama conversational sites.  I know I'm not the only one!  An urbanMama recently emailed:

I am hooked on Facebook.  I check it 3-4 times a day and love reading updates, new photos, posting status updates and commenting on my friends' walls.  I can't help it, I feel so connected to people miles and miles away.

I also check my blog rounds throughout the day during my breaks from school, our toddler, and all of our responsibilities. I like being a part of these social networks and forum like discussions but I feel like I am contributing to a society more in touch with ourselves, and less in touch with each other.

How do I moderate this habit?  Any suggestions that have worked for you?  When I am not around a computer I am more creative; and when I talk to friends and hang out with them it is so much more fulfilling than messaging or writing comments on their blog or wall.

Is our generation going through a change of communication, what's going on?  How do I balance traditional social etiquette and lifestyle while being modern, wireless, and digital?

"Other Mother" Cliques

March 07, 2009

We define ourselves in different ways, and we can be drawn to other mamas who may be like us in one way or another.  When we gravitate to other like mamas, do we then alienate and exclude others?  Do we find ourselves on the outside of a circle, do we struggle to find ways in?  How can we approach a group of mamas who already have such strong bonds and intimacy?  An urbanMama recently emailed about her experiences with mama circles and wanted to hear about yours:

I'm hoping to ask a question about dealing with the "other mother" cliques.  I have three children, two of whom are school aged.  For both of their classes, I feel like I'm back in junior high when it comes to interacting with other mothers.  There are sub-groups, parties they talk about, inside jokes, etc.  Unlike other adult relationships, I have to see these folks all of the time.  I certainly have some friends among them, but considering I'm an introvert, it can certainly be overwhelming.  I'd love to have some strategies before my third enters school.  Any thoughts?