I LOVE MONDAYS Tip of the Week
I was planning to post yesterday for my "I Love Mondays" tip, really I was. But then life kicked in with all its selfish neediness and demands, and then I remembered that I'm my own boss for this blog. I don't have to hit every deadline or hire a proofreader (sorry for this) or get my "face time" on. So here for you is my I Love Monday tip of the week on a Tuesday...and it feels kind of rule-breaking good.
A week ago, I was giving a talk for about 30 working moms on practical strategies we can all do to bring down our stress levels when it comes to the tug-of-war between motherhood and career. Toward the end of the night, one of the moms admitted sheepishly that on occasion she lets the TV babysit her daughter for a few hours when she is on a deadline. (Her facial expression would suggest she'd just admitted to slaughtering chipmunks for kicks.) "Yep," I told her, "We've all been there.." She looked skeptical. "Ladies," I said to the rest of the room, "could you raise your hand please if you've felt guilty about leaving your child parked in front of the TV for too long so you could get your work deadline met?" (Every room in the hand shot up.) The woman who asked the question smiled and appeared relieved. It didn't solve a problem; it just felt good, I suspect, to realize she was in excellent company.
This brings me to a few points on letting TV act as your in-home, free babysitter...
1. Get real about the damage. Allowing your child on occasion to watch a few extra hours of Sesame Street or iCarly repeats or a Netflix movie is not going to create significant mental damage to your child. I don't need psychology or pediatric experts on this one. If watching too much TV wreaked havoc, I (and most of my friends) would be non-functioning and illiterate today given how many hours we wracked in front of the old boob-tube (just on The Love Boat alone, for heaven's sake). In truth, most of us are over-achieving and damn well-adjusted except for our inability to focus on objects for more than a few seconds at a time (just kidding about this last part). Leaving your child in front of the TV for six hours a day every day is clearly not okay; doing it for 3 or so hours every once in awhile is just not a big deal.
2. Stash a bag in your closet. That said, it's good to have a list of ideas (and materials) on hand for those days when your child is home with you on a deadline day with the clock ticking, ticking, ticking. Mostly, moms use the TV as a babysitter because we don't have time and energy to come up with a Plan B, C, or D. Create a list of possibilities at a time when you don't need them so it'll be waiting for you. Ideas: puzzles, books on tape, craft projects (with glue that hasn't dried up in the bottle; I hate that), science kits (ideally, that don't include noxious chemicals), blocks and LEGOS, stickers, a scavenger-hunt list, sewing kits...you know what your child likes best.Stick at least a few of these in a bag in your office so they're fresh and new when you need them.
3. Don't hide your cracks. Talk to other moms about the fact that you let your child watch way too much "Dora the Explorer" or "Yo Gabba Gabba" (or whatever else you did when you put work ahead of parenting to meet your deadline the other day). Assuming you're talking to a good friend, she'll offer you empathy, encouragement and her own confession. When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable like this, showing the small cracks in our parenting--and admitting we are not Mommy Poppins--we help each other feel calmer and certainly more normal. If you're feeling there's a true disconnect between you and your child, fix it. Block off periods of time when you can really tune in with one another (sans cell phones, pagers, faxes, or emails); but carrying guilt around for small mommy blunders just doesn't help you or your child.
Oh, no! Risa discovered email, and the addiction has officially kicked in. My husband set up a gmail account for her years ago just so another “Risa Cove” wouldn’t snatch up the log-in name. Last year, he told her about her account, and she couldn’t wait to get on and send an email to her grandmother. He showed her how to create a password, explained that it was private, had her sign in, and let her type and send an email. Damn him. Enabler.
Luckily, Risa then forgot her password. That's my girl! And then she forgot about email altogether. Nice. Except one of her friends apparently sent her an email recently and wanted to know why Risa never wrote her back. This was the impetus Risa needed to suddenly remember her password and log on. There were 17 new emails waiting from various friends, that had been sent months ago: picture attachment of girls’ cats, images of cupcakes, jokes, all innocent. No gossip, no rumors, no scandals…not yet. Risa kept asking my husband “What can *I* send to my friends?” She doesn’t realize that you can actually just use email to say hello. Ah, the innocence.
“Now that I’m getting my own emails,” she asked this morning, “can I have my own computer?”
Me: No, not yet.
Risa: Why not?
Me: We’re not there yet. I’ll let you know when we are.
Risa: Well, when do you think we will be there?
Me: All I can tell you is not YET, and it will not help your cause to badger me.
Risa: Do you think I could get a cell phone next year?
Me: I’m walking away now…
Risa: The reason I need a cell phone is…
(Muffled sounds as I go upstairs.)
I’m not ready for this. I don’t have the brain capacity at this particular time to think through youtube filters and blocking sites and safety lessons and porn-avoidance (which is getting shockingly harder) and limit setting and time restrictions and all the other hazards and demands that come with giving our kids the keys to the technology kingdom.
I can feel the sands of time gushing through the hourglass on this one, but I’m just not there yet. Risa is already starting to borrow my iPod and walk around the house listening to music. She is less interested in TV and more interested in playing games on the Tablet, which we have to keep time tabs on. She is already learning how to use technology to tune out REAL LIFE. She’s eight, and I don’t want her to get a jumpstart on tuning things out (like her mom). I know that’s coming. And I will do whatever possible to keep her plugging into family and non-virtual life…but it sure ain’t going to be easy. Advice welcome.
Last night, my family got home at 8:30 pm after spending six hours in the car ride back home to Boston from NYC due to hellacious traffic. It was a quiet ride, due mostly to the fact my daughter Risa was plugged into the laptop catching up on Nickelodeon TV shows. I was sitting next to my husband, escaping into my book while he drove on. As we finally started approaching Boston, I noticed electronic signs on the highway saying “Boston – we are one” and started feeling a little panicky all over again.
The moment we walked into our house and put down our luggage, Risa asked, “So what happened with the bad guys in Boston, and why did they do something that hurt so many people?” My first thought was, “Seriously?! After we just sat trapped in the car for six hours together? Now is the time you want to bring this up?!” Then I took a deep breath, sat down with her, and started to answer her questions, trying to remember what the experts suggested in articles all over Facebook. I vaguely recalled the suggestion of keeping it simple and focusing on the bad guys being caught and all the amazing teams of people in Boston keeping us safe. I could not remember the proper response to, “Why would someone do this?” It’s certainly MY question. And later in bed, I realized that it made total sense that returning to Boston would be the trigger for Risa to start asking these questions.
My childhood friend who lives in Boston called this morning to check in and admit that it’s getting emotionally harder and not easier with each passing day. I agree. The “bad guys” have been caught and there is certainly relief in knowing these brothers are not out there somewhere with explosives trying to hurt more people. There is also tremendous pride for many of us in the fact that Boston citizens did exactly what they were asked to do – asked – and stayed put in their homes so the police and FBI could do their job methodically, which they did with excellence. We also raised many millions of dollars (along with others outside of Boston) in less than 24 hours for the victims of the bombings. After so many years of complaining about this city's brutal winters, I feel a protective and fierce love for Boston that kind of floors me, to be honest.
Let’s not expect ourselves to move on without taking the time to let ourselves heal little by little. Let’s help each other by asking, “Just checking in – how are you doing?”
But this is not over for many of us. We have questions—weighty, possibly unanswerable questions. This isn’t a political event to us; it was a deeply personal blow and enormous violation. (It is obviously much more than that for those physically injured and killed by the explosions and their loved ones.)
This past week is not something that got resolved and wrapped up with a tidy bow. We are going to need time to process this, and it is essential that we keep the conversation flowing. We need to keep asking one another how we are doing rather than trying too quickly to get back to normal. I’m not just talking about with our children, but with our adult friends and family members. Some may not want to talk about it anymore; that's fine.They can let you know that; at least you asked.
When I reached out to a friend of mine who is a clergy member – who has been a beacon of strength and wisdom for many of us locals– and asked him how he is doing, he told me he was feeling overwhelmed and not faring well. He needs to talk through his own fears in addition to providing comfort to us; he is human.
So let’s not expect ourselves to move on without taking the time to let ourselves heal little by little. Let’s help each other by asking, “Just checking in – how are you doing?” Let's be extra thoughtful. (I am deeply indebted to my Bostonian friend Pam who left a little gift for me yesterday at my doorstep so I'd have something nice to see when I got home.) I have so much gratitude to friends and family inside and outside of Boston who keep reaching out in spite of the fact that there are no perfect words to say. We will each have our own time frame for moving through this; use whatever time you need. No pressure.
I will not describe the brutality of Marathon Monday, or discuss any of the grim details. Lord knows, you can find enough of that by turning on your TV, computer, or radio. Instead, I'll share my thoughts on good guys vs. bad guys, with a huge emphasis on good guys, and offer an activity I think might help your kids feel a little bit safer this week.
A brief word on the bad guys: I wish I shared the belief that things will be better once we get to the bottom of who did this and why. I keep seeing messages in the media that justice will be served once we find the villain(s). We’ll get the bad guys and give them what they deserve. I personally don’t find this to be helpful, although it certainly needs to get done. Whether it’s a domestic person with crazy thoughts or a foreign terrorist with a political agenda…I’m not sure it matters. What happened was horrific, and the news of a capture can’t ease what happened to the victims and their loved ones; or the fear and chaos we all experienced on Monday; or the sorrow that once again we have to try to explain to our children (and ourselves) that the world really is a safe place. So by all means, find the bad guy(s); I just don’t believe it will repair me much emotionally.
What does help me is the sun shining this week and focusing to the best of my abilities on all of the amazing generosity of spirit showcased this week: runners who ran to hospitals after the marathon to donate blood for the victims; strangers who brought coats and Gatorade to runners who (thankfully) got stopped before getting to the finish line; offers from locals for runners to stay at their homes until travel plans got resolved; people (and not just first responders) running INTO the explosion to help the injured. And then there is all the love that is not only felt but expressed to one another after something of this magnitude.
Here's something else I've been thinking about: Last week, I taught a writing workshop for my daughter’s third-grade class about superheroes. I had each child in the classroom create his/her own superhero, describing the alter-ego (everyday personality, like Clark Kent) and then the superpower. The superheroes they came up with were hilarious and surprising and fantastic—everything from “Super-shoe” (which runs at lightning speed to the scene of a crime to help) to “The Eraser” (which erases the evil thoughts in the brain of villains). What I love so much about this exercise is that each child came up with a symbol of protection from their own minds that made them feel safe. I'm sharing how I led the lesson in case it's something you would like to do with your child this week.
My first step was having kids don an invisible Superwriter costume: boots (for stomping through one's imagination; goggles (for seeing ideas with clarity); and a cape (for protection from anyone else's judgmental thoughts). If you're home with your child for school vacation this week, you could even have your child create a Superwriter costume (see pic above).
Next, I had each child describe on paper (in a list, not an essay) in plenty of detail the alter ego and superhero qualities that their character possesses that helps make the world safer. Afterwards, I told the kids that if they chose to share their superhero with the rest of the class, they would get super-snaps from each one of us for being courageous enough to share their ideas. Needless to say, every kid shared their idea. Who doesn't love receiving super-snaps, right? Note: It's important not to get swept up in the fun and try to add to your child's character or offer suggestions - it belongs solely to your child.
Perhaps follow the activity by talking about the real heroes we are surrounded by everyday—and who we witnessed in their full glory on Monday right here in our state if you too live in Massachusetts. It is up to you which acts of heroism you feel are appropriate for your child to know. There will continue be bad guys in the world but there are millions more heroes walking around all over the place in their alter-ego disguises keeping the world safe and good.
In honor of Marathon Monday, I bring you a tip on psychological endurance, which is exactly what we moms need most (in addition to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep). On days when we say the exact wrong thing to our children or can’t figure out how to soothe them, we panic that we’ll be judged forever on our lousy parenting. We imagine our kids crying to a therapist as they talk about the time when we snapped because we hadn’t gotten enough zzzz’s; missed the school play because we were presenting at a conference; or ruined a few hours of family vacation by taking an important work call from our boss. It’s so easy to forget that our parenting abilities are not to be judged solely on a few screw-ups but also on the billions of moments when we do so much right.
I just read an article about “positive self-talk” on a running website called Peak Performance that discussed the importance of switching negative thoughts to positive (or at least bearable) ones while endurance training. The author says “Consider the negative self-statement, ‘My legs have gone. I will have to stop’. This relationship between feeling tired and what to do about these feelings is clearly terminal for performance. […] Rather than saying ‘my legs have gone’ we need to change this to a transient statement such as ‘my legs are tired’. This is more likely to be true in any case. Tiredness tends to come in waves during endurance running and intense feelings of physical tiredness can pass.”
The same exact tool holds true for parenting. In moments when we want to burst into tears because we feel we failed our kids (i.e. let’s just say, we miss our child’s big concert performance because we are away on a business trip), it’s easy to think, “This is the worst thing a parent could do, and my kid is never going to forgive me for not being there.” This puts us into a tailspin where we then beat up on ourselves over and over. This self-punishment doesn’t help our child in any way, and yanks down our parenting confidence.
What is helpful is to let the feelings surface and then move through you. ("I feel really guilty and sad that I won't be there to see my child's big performance!") Then let them go. How? Make an intentional choice to quit punishing yourself and put your energy on the positive—remembering all the small ways you have been a terrific parent this past month, and then coming up with a fun plan for you and your child once you’re back in town. That will not only make you feel better, but it will actually help your child. We can only build our endurance and strength when we take care of ourselves.
As author William Barclay put it, "Endurance is not just the ability to bear a hard thing, but to turn it into glory." So keep going, moms, find glory when you can, and take breaks when you’re tired.
I know my biggest professional flaw, and it's my impatience. I tend to send in writing assignments a little too early - and before the deadline - because I'm so excited to get feedback. I know logically that if I can let an article sit for a few days, and then look at it with fresh eyes, the piece will be all the stronger; yet I feel a desperate urge to deliver it asap. When I send an email request to a professional bigwig, I expect (somehow) to hear back from that person within an hour and feel disappointed when I don't. Logically, I understand that said bigwig actually has other priorities and may not even be in the office. And yet, I feel the minutes ticking by and wonder what could be taking so long. This impatience, which has served me super-well and also horribly, comes from my passion and also an immature chase for instant validation. I am working on it. Ironically, it takes patience to do so.
In my personal life, I can be much the same. I like fast results. There is an upside to this: If I screw up somehow in a relationship, I will own up fast, take total accountability and change my behavior. If someone else screws up, I will tell that person quickly that I was upset by their behavior and what would have worked better for me. I will not be passive-aggressive or let my bad feelings linger too long. If I say things will get done, you can bank on me every time. The downside is that I often want my loved ones to change faster than they can and get easily frustrated. It's too high of a bar, and makes people feel pressured and understandably frustrated. So I'm working on this too - slowing down and not needing immediate results.
Meditation helps. I can let my swirly-whirly thoughts whiz around my brain while lying still and doing nothing about them. I have trained myself to just watch the urges ("Check in with that editor!", "Find out what's taking (fill in name) so long to respond!", "Why hasn't (fill in name) gotten back to me?!") buzz around like bees, while seeing them for what they are - worries and calls to action that seem urgent but aren't. I no longer run to the computer to "fix them." This is progress.
What's also therapeutic for me is engaging in activities that take time and have no instant pay-off. Risa and I sometimes sew Ugly Doll knock-offs, and this is perfect for me because you do a little sewing one night, put it away, pick it up a few days later, sew more, maybe forget about it for a week, and come back to it. Making them "ugly" on purpose is also ideal because I have no innate sewing skills. I can make "ugly." See?
Speaking of patience, in my very first blog post, I wrote about my orchid Gillian, whose flowers all fell off (which I believed was a result of my talking too much in her presence). But several of you encouraged me to keep taking care of her and assuring me she would bloom again when she was ready. So I kept feeding her four ice cubes per week, as one of you suggested, and giving her the time she needed. And look what happened last week! Just like you said, she bloomed again. And she's as lovely as can be. When I look at Gillian's spectacular petals, it is a reminder to me to take things slow, be more patient, and keep the faith. What's the big rush?
I LOVE MONDAYS Tip of the Week
I want to rock me some cowboy boots like these:
That’s just one of the things I learned while speaking at the “Celebrating Women: Mind, Body, Spirit” conference in Galveston, Texas last Friday. I mean, you don those babies and there is no way you aren't going to own the room. And unlike heels, which I still teeter in like a little girl practicing to look like her mama, I feel like I could get my true saunter on with these gems.
It was a fabulous conference filled with with bright, bold women exchanging enlightening information. It was also a glimpse into my future. I learned from Dr. Catherine Hansen about sex in our sixties (i.e. Did you know that Crisco is a safe lubrication?) and from Dr. Tristi Muir how to “mambo through my menopause” (I don’t know when it will hit but I want serious amounts of estrogen patches, air conditioners and good friends at the ready).
Here’s something I learned from Texas comic Lyssa Graham, who sat next to me and kept me in stitches: proper etiquette in the South demands that after you make a snarky comment about someone (i.e. “That guy is as lost as a ball in high weeds”), it should be followed up with “Bless his/her heart.” Apparently, the latter puts you back in good graces. I’ve already gotten this phrase jump-started in the Northeast corridor among my friends. Thank you, Lyssa, for sharing this gift with us Yanks. We owe you one.
And now we are finally getting to the I Love Mondays tip of the week: when you’re travelling for business and have no time to get your daughter a souvenir, grab hotel bath-items to bring home as a spa kit. (Sorry, hotel staff, but a working mama does what she has to do.) Here’s the one I put together for Risa (I supplied the small basket):
I suggest in I Love Mondays that it is a big (if understandable) mistake for working moms on a business trip to promise souvenirs for their kids. It's a tempting way to cheer them up when they miss us ("I have a big gift for you!"), but it leaves us in the likely position of 1) letting down our kids, 2) having to keep upping the stakes on our travel gifts, and 3) most likely, making ourselves insane when we don't have the means/time to hunt down the gift. What we don't need is more stress in our lives! I like this strategy from one mom I interviewed last year: bring home a magnet at the airport from whatever state you're in--no problem to track down, cheap, and easy to pack. Let's keep it simple, mamas.
When I signed up Risa for a year-long chorus back in September, it seemed like a swell idea. She loves to perform – as in, she wakes up every morning humming and singing, volunteers consistently to take speaking parts at school assemblies, thrives in dance recitals and talent shows, and attends an artsy-fartsy summer camp. She’s not a showboat kid who belts it to the balcony but she clearly feels at home on stage. So we were pretty confident that she'd enjoy the nearby children’s chorus which has an excellent reputation. Risa auditioned and got in. All was well.
Except she didn’t like it. The whole thing, as it turned out, was just too intense for her with the rigorous rehearsals twice a week after a long school day. She also disliked the serious classical pieces they were given to perform. She wanted Taylor Swift, not Bach. Right away there were signs: she barely talked about the chorus and shrugged when we asked her how a lesson went. Hang on, some parents advised us, it will all come together at the first concert. So we waited. On the day of her first big performance, we watched intently waiting to see the magic. Risa took the stage, looked around, and then kept on looking around during the entire performance, stopping only once to whisper something IN THE MIDDLE OF A SONG to the girl next to her. Um, if we were going to be schlepping her to expensive singing lessons twice a week, this was not the pay off we were imagining.
My husband and I talked about it later that night, and decided to give her the out. The next day, we told her it was up to her whether she wanted to stick out the year or quit. Honestly, I was kind of hoping she’d pick the latter, but was proud when she honorably – and shockingly –opted to finish the year. Now, a couple months later, she has been miserable and deeply regretting her choice. There are only 2.5 months to go but we all know how long 2.5 weeks are when bored out of one's mind.
Is total boredom a good reason to pull our kids from a long-term commitment they made?
I've been going a little crazy trying to figure out the right thing to do. I strongly believe in teaching kids the value of honoring one’s commitment, and not letting down the team. Simultaneously, I believe in the value of getting yourself unstuck from a situation that is sucking the life out of you. Especially when you’re eight.
Finally I pulled the plug today on the chorus. Well, I should say that I first talked to the staff and asked them what they were seeing (basically, an unfocused kid who was not thrilled to be there). That was good to hear, frankly; we were all on the same page. I then asked if it would harm the chorus practically to pull out Risa while there were still performances left. They thought it would not be too disruptive (I’m guessing they may be pleased to not have Risa on stage picking at lint from her pants). So I gave my husband the run down, we discussed our options, and decided to pull her out. Tonight she’ll receive the news.
If I am this relieved, I can’t imagine how overjoyed Risa is going to be to get her time back. I believe this was the right decision, and I'm happy we finally made a decision at all. Yet a little part of me is left wondering, did we do the right thing in allowing her to quit something because it wasn't fun enough?
I am a journalist, filmmaker, author, wife, and mom to an 8-year-old daughter. My most recent project is I Love Mondays: And other confessions from devoted working moms. Other projects explore raising only children, happily ever after, raising strong girls, and hot topics for Jewish women.
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