Risa is having her friend "T" sleep over on Saturday. The requests (begging) for a sleepover started last year, and I kept postponing them with "next spring you can do it." This was arbitrary, mind you, but the idea planted in her head, and now spring is here, and the idea of a sleepover bloomed in full. T comes tomorrow afternoon and spends the night. I don't know how to describe the joy in Risa's brain. "Exploding fireworks" comes to mind.
"Can you and I come up with all the things that T and I can do Saturday night?" Risa asked me yesterday.
"Sure, you guys can have dinner, paint your toe nails crazy colors, and play XBox soccer," I offered.
"No, like can we come up with a plan of exactly what she and I can do from the moment she arrives until she leaves on Sunday? Like, EVERYTHING we can do. Like a real list."
Ummm, what? That's a bit excessive, I thought. It might even scare T off. It's scaring me off.
But then I remembered...
The excitement of your first sleepover, when you suddenly have hours and hours to play and talk and just hang out without looking at your watch and worrying about when adults will cut off the fun. Tack on the pride of knowing you're a little more grown-up now, ready for sleepovers and not just playdates. Suddenly you'll have social bragging rights about your sleepover at school on Monday. Plus, there's the fun of having someone else - a friend, no less - sleeping in the same room as you for the whole night, with silly secrets to be spilled. (And for an only child, there is the added thrill of having another kid in the house for that long - balancing out the adult-to-kid ratio for a full 24 hours.) Sleepovers - which I also remember sometimes come with tears and hurt feelings and exhaustion and adults gone wild with frustration- are all about the endless possibilities. For once, you've got time on your side.
It will be my job to tell the girls at least three times that "It's time for bed" and then add "I'm not kidding!" and then use my sternest voice while I threaten to separate them if they don't pipe down. (That's what I do, right, other than make french toast in the morning?) But yesterday, I allowed myself for my girl's benefit to get swept away in the enthusiasm and helped Risa make her crazy list. "Okay, T, will come at 5 PM. At 5:02 PM, she'll take her things upstairs and you can get the beds ready like you like them for later that night, At 5:09..." We've even got Mad Libs so now it's a sleepover. I just better not hear the words "Truth or Dare" coming out of anyone's mouth - or I swear I will separate those girls.
YES, this has happened to me several times already this week! I wish there was a polite hand signal we could use that means, "I appreciate you want to tell me about this new app you adore but I'd like you to stop and understand that I neither care nor have enough brain capacity to take in any of what you're saying." Apparently my look of utter confusion and dismay is simply not subtle enough.
I LOVE MONDAYS Tip of the Week
This morning, I walked into my office to check whether RCN is coming today or tomorrow to look at our phones. I can’t remember why. On the (very short) journey from the kitchen to my office, I wondered, Did I remember to sign Risa’s permission slip? Yes, last night. Phew. I took a few more steps and froze. Yikes, I forgot to sign up to volunteer for the spring fair this week. I strode into my office with purpose, sat down and looked at the options for the fair sign-up. Dunk tank? No. Wacky Castle Bouncer? God, no. Flip a Frog Game? Yeah, okay. I typed in my name for the 7 PM slot with a desperate hope that the game doesn’t call for real frogs. (It can't, right?) Thirty minutes later, I remembered that I hadn’t checked about RCN. The buzzer rang (it was RCN.) I remembered that I need to get back to my producer about something important...what was it?
This is a fairly typical Monday morning for me. There are ideas zinging around my brain like popcorn exploding wildly at the end of the microwave cycle. It's hard for me to sit still and focus on any one idea--which is why I get so irritated when I hear that women are natural multitaskers. I used to wonder if something was wrong with me. Was I missing some XX gene?
Then, while doing research for my book, I came across the following quote from Senior Editor Christine Rosen of The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology and Society in an article called “The Myth of Multitasking”: “Multitasking is now shorthand for the human attempt to do simultaneously as many things as possible, as quickly as possible, preferably marshalling the power of as many technologies as possible.”
That’s not healthy, I thought immediately; that’s crazy-making. What could be less natural? And what I’m learning from talking to moms around the country is that most women don’t feel competent when it comes to multitasking. Sure we do it all the time, but we don’t feel successful at it. (Okay, some women somewhere do; some men too.)
The way to complete any task--getting successfully from point A to point B—relies on focus. Throw in ringing cell phones, bleeping email alerts, a mountain of to-do’s, and kids asking us to sign their permissions slips which, by the way, got wet when the water bottle spilled and…well, who CAN get to point B? We should throw a parade for ourselves any time we accomplish any task!
So here’s what I say: we need to come up with systems and lists that work for staying organized to the best of our abilities, find ways to clear our busy brain throughout the day, and do the best we can. Let’s also realize that there is no truth to women being natural multitaskers and dispute it aloud when we hear it.
I was recently at a workshop for girls on body image sponsored by Dove at the Mom 2.0 Summit. It was part of Dove's "Unstoppable Girls" campaign, which is an effort to deal with the fact that 6 out 10 girls stop doing something they love (swimming, dancing, etc.) because they feel self-conscious about their body. In this workshop, led by Jess Weiner, the global ambassador for Dove, 20 or so tween girls talked about what messages they receive around body beauty from the women in their lives--moms, aunts, older sisters, etc. They were asked to write down what these family members say and then share with the rest of us. Almost all of them focused on their moms, not surprisingly, reporting:
"My mom always complains that she's fat. I ask her if she wants me to jog with her but she doesn't ever want to do it."
"My mom says she hates her hips."
"My mom complains that she can't fit into her clothes."
And maybe the most heartbreaking of all: "My mom says she misses her old body." The young girl who said this got quiet as she explained, "Basically, I'm the reason she doesn't like her body." (It was all I could do to not burst into tears.)
When the girls were asked how they respond to these statements from mom, they admitted over and over "it makes me sad" and that they try to come up with solutions:
"I tell my mom she is beautiful all the time."
"I try to give her ways she can get healthier."
"I give her suggestions about exercises she can do."
These girls should not be trying to fix their mothers' sadness and body shame. That's the job of mom. The girls in that room saw their mothers as beautiful--inside and out--and hated that their mothers couldn't see or feel that. How can we expect a girl to feel good about her own body if her biggest influence is going around talking about fat thighs, big hips, skinny calves, and so on?
I tell you this so you can do a check-in of what messages you're sending to your own daughter(s). I don't just mean the overt ones either ("I hate my hips," "These jeans make me look so big," "Take care of your body so you don't end up with one like mine") but the non-verbal ones. What expression do you wear when you catch your reflection in the mirror? When you receive a compliment about how you look, do you say "thank you" or deny it by saying, "Oh, I look awful" or "That's sweet of you to say, but I need to lose 10 pounds."
You better believe your girl is picking up every obvious and subtle message you send, and that her ideas about her appearance are being shaped right now by you. So for your sake--and for your daughter's sake--please start to focus on what's beautiful about yourself and let her know that you see it. I am trying to do the same. I told my daughter this week that I love my strong legs, and she smiled and told me she loves her strong arms. I know she worries other body parts; I intend to keep this up.
When you share with your daughter that you love your curvy belly, thick eyebrows, or hips that helped bring her into this world, she may smile or she may roll her eyes. Either way, I promise you she's going to soak it in and love hearing you say it.
I have no driving need for Risa to get straight As, win sports tournaments or land a starring dramatic role. I don’t dream of my only becoming valedictorian or getting admitted to Harvard. However, if I am being totally honest, I’d love her to join an acapella group someday. I know it’s dorky, but I’ve always had a little thing for quality acapella (oxymoron, you’re thinking, I can hear you). I would have joined a group myself if I had the gift. Alas, I can just about manage to stay in tune if I focus. Risa, on the other hand, won the golden pipes handed down from my jazz-singer grandmother. So my girl could live out my lame-o fantasy if she put her mind to it. Does she want to? I don’t know but I’m planting the seed by listening with her to WERS’s All Acapella program on Sundays. I even took her to an acapella concert (which, at age 8, she kindly deemed "not my favorite"). Doh!
Anyway, my point is that I am as susceptible as anyone to wanting my child to live out my pipe(s) dream, so I paid careful attention to a Psychology Today blog post called “Curbing Too-High Hopes for Children’s Success” by social psychologist/author Susan Newman, Ph.D., and I’m reprinting a few of her key points here.
First of all, Newman suggests there’s an easy way to know whether you’re pressuring your child too much:
Over-emphasis on excellence is relatively easy to spot in the school-age child. You can tell you are too demanding when your child turns to your spouse on a regular basis for entertainment, consolation or affection. A young child will walk away from the parent who insists that a dive be executed precisely or book be read without errors. She will march to the parent who accepts her skills at her level. A drop in the quality of schoolwork, extreme sensitivity to mild or constructive criticism and a lowering of his own standards are also indicative of an over-stressed child who is trying to live up to a parent’s desires. If he feels—or says—he’s lazy or dumb, if he appears to have stopped trying, you may be driving him too hard, or expecting too much.
Here's what to do if you are:
If you can see you’re guilty of putting on the pressure, pull back. Join forces with your spouse or significant other to start fresh and ease up. Block out time so that the three of you can be together doing something enjoyable or sharing a task. You might start a garden, clean a closet, paint a room or piece of furniture to remove the focus from whether or not your child is doing well. Parents impose unrealistic expectations on their children for various reasons. Parents face their own childhoods while watching their children grow, and in doing so some want their children to have the successes that once eluded them.
Read the rest of Newman's post.
For me, what's tricky is that singing is actually one of Risa’s strengths, and if she wanted to put in the girl-hours, she could use her ability for acapella good (sigh). On the other hand, it’s quite possible other kids would throw icy slushies in her face a la Glee if she even made it into an acapella group. Even I know that. So I guess for now, I’ll just enjoy her sweet tunes when they come and also allow myself to belt out Pink’s “Raise Your Glass” in the car – enthusiastically and with the windows rolled up.
Mother's Day countdown: 3 days to go. My wish: your wishlist.
Here's the plan: You email me with your Mother's Day wishlist (include anything from "glass of Merlot" to "one day where my siblings don't try to poke each other's eyes out"), and I'll pick my two favorite responses this Sunday. Winners will receive one signed copy of I Love Mondays: And other confessions from devoted working moms (Seal Press, 2012)--made out to whomever you wish--plus my advice (via email or a phone call, your choice) on any issue you're struggling with in the tug of war between working and motherhood. Or you can give the book and opportunity for advice to a working mom in your life who's having a hard time.
Easy breezy, right? Happy Mother's Day!
ABOUT THE BOOK:
In I Love Mondays: And Other Confessions from Devoted Working Moms (Seal Press, November 2012), Michelle Cove—bestselling author, journalist, director, and producer of the award-winning documentary Seeking Happily Ever After--shares the most common confessions she hears from working moms. From “I’m tired of apologizing when I try so hard to please everyone” to “I stress about falling behind at work when my kid needs extra attention,” Cove explores the difficulties faced by working moms—and provides real-life anecdotes, helpful new perspectives, and mom-tested strategies for dealing with each and every problem. The book has been featured in numerous media outlets including Katie Couric's talk show Katie, Parenting.com, Working Mother magazine, Psychology Today and The New York Times.
I remember my own tweeny desperation to get into my mother's makeup kit and have at her red lipsticks, creamy rouge, and black liquid liners. I would beg my mother to let me wear makeup, something more than the small tube of Bonne Bell lipsmackers with their sugary smell and invisible appearance. I wanted color! Glamour! Sophistication!
At some point in my early teens, my mom told me that I was ready for makeup, and she sat me down for a proper lesson in how to apply cosmetics to maximize my features. She put a touch of mascara on my outer lashes to make my eyes "pop" and a little Vaseline on my lips to make them look soft and pretty. When I turned to look at the mirror, my heart sank. I looked the same, which was not the look I was going for.
Did it teach me to be subtle with makeup? NOPE. It taught me to go over to my friend Tanya's who owned a pillowcase full of beauty products and the subtle touch of a kabuki makeup artist. I'd sit excitedly on her bathroom counter while she'd give me the makeover I was yearning for - loads of liner, mascara, blush, and lipstick with actual color. When she was done, she'd smile proudly and say VOILA, while turning me toward the mirror. And when I'd look at my hyper made-up face--which would take take a bottle of remover to take off--I'd think, "Now we're talking!" I'd spend hours at Tanya's house feeling dazzling (a rare feeling, believe me), and then scrub it off sadly before returning home.
So when Risa told me that she wanted to play makeup last night, I said "Sure, why not? Should we totally overdo it and pile it on?"
"YEAH!!!" she responded.
This was the result. As you can see, I was working the avant-garde eyes, subtle lashes be damned. I can't say that Risa was feeling particularly glamorous afterwards but we sure had a lot of fun. Moderation is great - except when it isn't. Sometimes it's about going overboard.
I LOVE MONDAYS Tip of the Week
This past Saturday, I stood in front of 500 women at the Mom 2.0 Summit in Laguna Beach and offered my best tips on bringing down mama-guilt levels while travelling for work. One bit of advice, which I have written about on this blog, is the importance of not trying to assuage our guilt in being away by promising our kids extravagant souvenirs. All that does is add more stress to our lives – leaving us desperately trying to hunt down the perfect gift before flying home. Better to stick with small, inexpensive items that are easy to find at an airport (a state magnet, cute pin, etc). Women nodded along as I shared this tip, and seemed to take notes. I felt good about my talk…
…until I went back to my hotel room and there was a sweet bag of schwag from various corporate sponsors sitting on my bed, everything from beauty products and magazines to treats and soap dispensers. Whoopee, Christmas morning! And among the goodies was a big stuffed horse. My first thought, of course, was “Risa will LOVE this! So cute and so free!”
My next thought was how hypocritical it would be to bring home a big stuffed animal after advising moms to keep the bar low when it comes to souvenirs. “I can’t do it, “ I told my friend Kerry who I was bunking with, “She’s going to start expecting these types of gifts for now on. My days of hotel-soap gifts will be disappointing.” At this, Kerry rolled her eyes and said, “For God’s sake, Michelle, pack the horse. You advised moms to find souvenirs that are cheap and easy to find. It does not get cheaper or easier than a free stuffed horse sitting on your bed.” Point taken. So I jammed the stuffed animal into my suitcase, with slightly mixed feelings.
When I gave Risa her gift this morning, she lit up, grabbed the horse, and hugged me as hard as she could. She must have thanked me five separate times before breakfast. C'mon, what’s more fun than that for a working mom? And, of course, it’s not a huge deal. It’s fine – even wonderful – to spoil your child on occasion, right? It wasn't like giving her a shopping spree at American Girl Doll. But I also know in my heart of hearts that I just made things a little harder for myself the next time I travel. I just upped the bar, and there's no going back. It's like stepping up from carob chips to Godiva fudge, or Holiday Inn to the Ritz.
I explained to Risa this was a “special-occasion” gift and that she shouldn’t expect ones like this when I go away again on business trips. “Of course not,” she said, “I won’t think so!” But I could see it in her eyes. Soaps and magnets are for suckers; she's got souvenir fever.
Mamas, all I can say in this case is, “Do as I advise, and not as I do.”
This week I got two emails (yippee!) from working moms, brief notes to thank me for the strategies I offered in I LOVE MONDAYS. I can't begin to describe my delight when strangers take time to track me down and let me know that in some way, big or tiny, my book made a difference fin their lives; it is writer heaven.
If you've never done it, I highly encourage you to send a note to an author you appreciate. For some reason, my friends think I'm nutty when I say this. For instance, a pal of mine told me recently that she loved a book from a new author she'd discovered. "Oh, you should tell her," I responded. This was followed by, "What? I can't do that!" My friend assumed that the author wouldn't want to be bothered from "little old her." Authors are not rock stars, people, and most of us hear from disgruntled crazies (or no one at all) far more than friendly and appreciative folks saying hello.
Do we care that you write? We care like crazy. The reality is that we are holed up in our office or kitchen or living room for months slaving over structure and flow and ideas that may inspire or excite you. And we are worried, if not terrified, that you won't like what we've written or connect with our thoughts. But we keep going anyway because it is our calling, or we have a publishing contract that is legally binding, or we are certifiably insane. We keep tinkering and getting writer's block and freaking out and then revising until the words get blurry on our screen, making us feel slightly sick. And we try to answer our editor's questions and own self-doubts without throwing our hands in the air and our lap-top out the window. And then finally, we email off our completed manuscript to the publisher, and wait with baited breath until it goes out into the world. And all we want to know is what YOU think.
I email at least three to four authors a year whose books move me in some way. I don't know them; there is no authors' club or secret handshake. I just track down their email (usually right on their professional website because, again, they WANT to be found). I don't feel pressure to pen a brilliant essay to impress them; I just want them to know their ideas matter to me. Almost always I get back a lovely response from the authors thanking me enthusiastically for letting them know. And these are typically bestselling authors who you might suspect (wrongly) couldn't be bothered.
So if and when you finish your next read and can't wait to tell someone how fabulous it was, why not pick the person who wrote it? Make it your good deed of the week. Know that the author will be beaming (possibly dancing wildly) as he/she reads it. You may even give authors the motivation they need to start that next book. And in the meantime, readers, thank YOU on behalf of all of us, because without you, well, we're just spewing out a whole lot of words to no one in particular.
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.
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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