Monday, April 30, 2007
Friday, April 27, 2007
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Oh, Man! Have you had that happen before? You're mid-thought, the kids are making cat noises down the hall, and you hit "Publish" instead of "Save as Draft?" Then a kind anonymous commenter sends comments that you see in your e-mail, and you realize that your mid-thought draft was inadvertently posted? So your mid-thought rant is posted but not as a gripping intro and stunning realization?
It's not so bad. Really. (But I did finally take my husband's pleading seriously and am getting away for some alone time next weekend. The massage is booked and everything.)
Instead of going into the whole story of how the last few weeks have been tough, but I'm finally seeing the light at the end of this particular tunnel, I'll cut to the good part.
Amidst these very uphill battles of Ellie vs. Potty Training and Jake vs. A Good Mood, I changed tactics today. Instead of trying to be reasonable and rational with Jake, crying over his rendition of spilled milk, I had had enough. Nothing has worked so I made cat noises at him. With a stuffed toy cat and everything. Hissing, fur-ball coughing, screeching, fighting in an alley cat noises. It was what I had on hand, and I figured there was no way he'd cry through crazy cat noises so I'd make him laugh.
It's what Daddy would do. Then when Ellie made it to the potty for her very important business this afternoon, I cheered like she'd just medaled in the Olympics. Knowing that it would be a long evening without Daddy, after they finally put their toys away (not counting the 13 billion times I asked them nicely to do so), I hugged them both with love and sincerity, and I took them out for Happy Meals, even allowing Ellie out of the house dressed in pajamas, Dora slippers and a cow-print hat (she dressed herself, so what if it's a little, um, original). We ate our dinner picnic style in front of the television watching Barney and the children went to bed happy.
The lesson learned: sometimes less is more. Sometimes the best intentions are futile, and high expectations are recipes for disaster.
We'll see how things go tomorrow. I'm not out of tricks yet.
Posted by jakelliesmom at 7:59 PM
I'm not even going to ask if you've ever had one of those days. (Open another window and cue the Daniel Powter song, I'll wait.) Everyone has those days. And I'm going to go out on a limb and state that moms tend to have a few more of those days than the rest of the world's citizens.
These days are frustrating. They don't wrap up with a happy sitcom ending.
Posted by jakelliesmom at 5:54 PM
Monday, April 23, 2007
Now that my pal Adrienne has posted her clever and witty answers to the circulating interview meme, I figured it was also time to share an interview I did for my last MOMS Club newsletter.
Last newsletter? Big deal, right? Well, it is in a way.
If you're a careful reader, you've probably noticed some important facts and recurring themes in my recent blog posts.
1. Both my kids will be in school soon, and I will have some free time on my hands. (This makes me alternately cheerful and sullen).
2. Same children will be concurrently enrolled in fancy, private schools because we're hell-bent on giving them the best education we can. (It was one thing for one kid to be in one expensive school, but another altogether to have them both doing it at the same time. And did I mention that it will be for the next decade?)
What you don't know is that this week marks the fifth anniversary of my last day of paid employment. Probably not entirely coincidentally, I recently made the connection between not working and missing a sense of accomplishment that tends to come with a paycheck and not with diaper changes and sippy cup refills, not to say that the latter is not as worthwhile as the former, but as a full-time occupation, it is just not the same.
If you put the pieces together like I did, you'd see that maybe it is time to dust off the old resume and start networking again. I'm ready. It's taken me a full five years to realize that while I don't want to do exactly what it was I did before I left to have Jake (technically, to sit on my ever-growing behind for three months waiting for Jake to be born since my doctor insisted that my unborn child needed me more than my employer did), I think I could be very effective doing a version of what I used to do, from home, part-time. (I hope.)
MOMS Club is featured prominently in this blog. It was because of MOMS Club that I developed my voice as a writer. It has been my link to post-employment involvement, and I've made some wonderful friends while growing roots in our community. When my membership expires this year, I will not renew. I will not volunteer for a new position. And just like it was when I stepped down as President, moving on is somewhat bittersweet.
My last newsletter doesn't have to be important to you, but it was to me.
Mother. Artist. Entrepreneur. A profile of Tally Oliveau.
Tally Oliveau is like many of us. She is a wife, a mother of two busy children (with a third due at any moment!) She holds advanced degrees, but ended her professional life when she chose to stay home to raise her children. As her children have grown, she has reinvented herself and started a new career to suit her lifestyle. Once an environmental engineer, Tally is now working as an artist managing a successful paper goods company from home.
In relatively short time, she has taken a hobby and turned it into a thriving business. She started with an idea – could she sell some of her handmade cards to local businesses to pay for art supplies? The answer - yes, but where she is now is not what she imagined when she began. With a patent pending on a greeting card concept she designed last year, Tally has seen her business grow from individually designed pieces to mass marketed items and now has distribution far beyond our little corner of Los Angeles.
I’m certain that I’m not the only stay at home mom who has dreams of bringing in an income doing something that I love that also gives me the flexibility to be home with my children when they need me. I asked Tally how she manages, how she finds the time, and how this change has affected her as a person and as a mother?
On starting something new: Tally suggests that if you have a dream, you just have to have the guts to try. People will say no, but you don’t have to accept no for an answer. Let people say no to you five or six times, then approach them with something else. Don’t take it personally – what you love doing might not be good for their business and while one piece or product or item might not be right, something else you create may.
On balancing work with family: Tally advocates spending quantity time over quality time – you never know when you are going to have magical moments with your children, so she makes efforts to do as much together as they can. She still carpools and takes her kids to classes and lessons, but when they are home and the kids are entertaining themselves, Tally is always present. She works when her kids are in school, after they’ve gone to bed, and for a period in the afternoon when she’s allotted time for her kids to watch television. On Friday afternoons, Tally and her kids always have a special outing - she calls it their Shabbat treat – it might be a movie, or a quick trip for yogurt.
Tally and her husband also make a point to have a babysitter every Saturday night, and they make sure that each has their own “alone” time to recharge and pursue their own interests; though hiring a sitter can be expensive, she says it is cheaper than divorce or therapy, and feels that even two hours together browsing at a book store is worth the time out of the house as a couple.
On how she’s changed: Tally says that her success in this venture has given her greater confidence, though she admits that confidence also comes from age and experience. She expects that as her business grows, she will need to make adjustments and find more help – both at home and with her work. She hopes that the growth of her business will eventually allow her family to travel more and be a bit more comfortable, and maybe one day she’ll be able to outsource some laundry folding and dish doing.
We can all dream.
You can find Tally’s cards and artwork at her web site: www.papierstudio.com.
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
So there I was, sorting through photos and thinking about my most recent and introspective blog posts, when two thorns kept poking at me (and no, it wasn't Jake and Ellie). First, was I always so blue? And second, what happened to my big plans for the future, the ones that don't revolve around my children?
As I put my pictures back into their sorority-girl fabric-covered puffy padded albums, I noticed something else. Evidence shows that I have been truly happy, not critical nor brooding. I have shining moments. Without further ado, I present ...
Each of these moments is, in itself, a great big Ta Da! (Can't you just hear the fanfare?) These are moments of completion and achievement, satisfaction and success. Look at that face! It's not just happy, it's giddy. It's "I can't wait to tell the world about how freaking great this is!" I am delirious. Ecstatic. Joyful.
As a person who loves a good checklist, I know that I am motivated by accomplishment. I am a high achiever. I like being an expert and a resource. I like mastering new skills. I like a clear path. I obey rules, and instructions are my guide. I like a beginning, middle and end.
I don't improvise in the kitchen, I follow recipes, knowing that if I do the steps in order, I will get the desired results. I like group fitness classes (and the dvds I can follow along at home). Slim in Six? If you say so, I'll give it a try. I am a process person. I like results. I like believing I can determine my own outcomes. I do not like uncertainty or taking risks. I like to know that if I'm going to try something, I will succeed. A favorite movie? The Sure Thing.(Do you see where I'm going with this?)
Beginning. Middle. End.
Motherhood is not this way.
I love my children, and I love being their mother, but a lot of this stay at home parenting gig is a grind. In the five years since I left my outside employment, I've not had one single raise or bonus. I've not had a report card with all A's nor been listed on the honor roll. I didn't even get into Who's Who of outstanding mothers in America.
Motherhood is not a competition, but I can see why some try to make it into one. We want to be valued and esteemed. We want to be lauded and congratulated on raising wonderful children and for taking the time to give it our best efforts, whatever those efforts might be.
Motherhood is as filled with uncertainty as it is with dirty diapers and tears. Every day is a gamble. Will he have a good day or bad? Will she be the terror of Mommy & Me again? Will they nap? If they do, will they go to bed? If they don't will they have nightmares? Will they eat? Are they growing? Will someone get hurt? How will I get through?
Beginning. Middle. End?
I keep hoping that someone else has the answer that I've missed or overlooked, but I keep coming back to the same realization.
No one else gets to figure out how to be a mother to my children.
And no one else is supposed to figure out how to make me happy.
This is the life I always wanted.
Now that I'm here, I have to figure out what I want next.
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
As the children's day stretches into evening, and they are readied for bed, we have the most interesting discussions. Fortunately, my husband is almost always home to help ease their transitions, giving me a few minutes in which I might catch my breath.
Daddy: Ellie, what do you say to Mommy?
Elizabeth: Thank you.
D: No, Ellie. What do you say to Mommy after plugging the toilet with all that toilet paper?
E: YAY, ELLIE!
D: No, no, Ellie. You made a mess and now there's pee pee all over the floor. What do you tell Mommy?
E: (Reluctantly) Sorry.
Daddy: This is Jimi Hendrix. He was really good at playing guitar.
Jake: (Considers this for a moment) I'm really good at hopping!
Monday, April 09, 2007
Last week, I started to break out of my blog-shell a bit. It's taken me, oh I don't know, about eight months of blogging to realize that a) bloggers like to be read, b) bloggers like comments, c) not all comments need to be perfect, clever or witty, and d) generally, if you comment on a blog, a blogger will comment back to you.
Encouraged by the comments to my blog-love post, I stepped out on a limb and volunteered for to be interviewed by Paige from The Avery Lane Experience. See below her thoughtful questions and my well-considered responses:
You invented motherhood. Are there any other inventions of yours we should know about? If so, what are they and what inspired you to create them?
One morning, I caught myself turning off the news before Jake might hear all of the terrible things that were being reported. I imagined myself creating a blog or web site collecting good news stories. Before I go into all the detail on how I was to become the clearinghouse for all worthwhile things happening on Earth, I'll cut to the chase. Google will give you 958,000,000 references to the same great idea.
My next brainstorm: a business. I have a girlfriend who is handy (I'm not), and I thought she could teach other women how to make home repairs (I'd figure out how to market and run the operation). Rather than hiring an expensive handy man or contractor, one of those know-it-all guys who makes you feel unskilled and powerless, you'd have a sympathetic woman teach you the basics of home repair. And I'd call it "Handy Ma'am." Another great idea, right? Yes, because it was a PBS show, that became a book featured on Oprah. (To my credit, I didn't know this. I was still working and not eating bon bons in front of the television every afternoon.)
In your blog title, you also ‘fess up to being an optimist. How do you manage to remain glass-half-full in a world that involves two children?
It's easy. My family is (knock on wood) happy and healthy. We have a roof over our heads and food on the table. I am grateful for every day. Half full or half empty, at least we have a glass.
Outside of your optimism, what are your most prominent personality traits? And which of your children seem to be developing those traits? Are there any traits you wish they wouldn’t develop?
I see a lot of myself in both kids, but more in Jake. He is thoughtful and sensitive. He is also tremendously stubborn and has a thing about always being right. Ellie is fiercely determined, and also very stubborn. So I guess I'm very stubborn. I am also loyal, caring and encouraging, and I love to see Ellie being enthusiastically supportive, saying things to me that I say to her. They are both a little bossy, as well as highly independent. It could be worse.
If Ellie would sleep in, tell us what you’d do for a night out on the town in that fabulous Nicole Miller dress of yours.
A world in which Ellie is a late sleeper is a kind of fairy tale land where we can afford to go out for exquisite tasting menus at the finest restaurants in town, chauffeured in a luxury car. In this magical world, copious amounts of champagne leave you feeling refreshed when you wake.
Where do you see yourself in five years, ten years, twenty years?
Let's see, in five years, the kids will be 7 and 9, and I'll be (gulp!) 41. I expect I'll have figured out how to work full-time while still being an active mom. In ten years, I'll be dealing with a preteen Ellie and Jake in puberty. In twenty years, Ellie will be finishing college and I imagine Jake will be in some kind of graduate program, designing super efficient trains, rocket ships or roller coasters.
I think it is a relevant observation to note here that I have no idea where I will be in the future, I can only imagine where my children will be. I expect that we will still live in this house, but it will be remodeled and have a very pretty yard. I think we we will have traveled more and raised our children to be confident and successful. While doing that, I will have unlocked the secrets to my own happiness and will still be deeply in love with my husband (who will have made millions playing poker).
Complete this sentence: Children who resist naps are... going to bed very early tonight!
Thank you for taking the time to get to know me, Paige! Is anyone up for an interview? I promise to be nosy, but not the least bit intrusive.
Update! Liz posted her interview responses at her new blog.
Another update! Ann posted her responses, too!
Friday, April 06, 2007
Do you ever catch a reflection, wondering who that woman is, and realize it's you?
Do you wonder what others see when they see you? What do your friends/kids/family see? When you picture the face of a loved one, do they look happy and joyful or do they look like this:
When I see pictures of myself, there are things that always find my focus. How does my hair look? Is it a good length? Can I get away with washing it less? What about my arms? My belly? Is it a flattering outfit. I see these snapshots for what they are - a moment captured in time - and also a reflection of who I am and what I am thinking.
Am I always tired? Worried? Expecting something bad to happen? Yes, unfortunately, I am. A lot. I think these are ongoing conditions of motherhood. I don't know who I would be if I wasn't always worried about something.
I can easily change my hair or lipstick. I can lose a few pounds and do more crunches. I can get rid of those unflattering pants and see through blouses. I can get a little more sleep. But how do I drop the attitude? Where can I get a contentment upgrade? I'd like to shed a bit of seriousness and find a reserve of fun. And while I'm at it, I'll take a little more amazement and an extra dose of wonder, too.
I also read Freakonomics this week, and decided that it's not that I'm lacking ability or motivation, I'm seriously lacking incentive to lose weight. My clothes fit fine. I'm not looking to drop a size. I can eat out, eat poorly, forget to eat, and still, my weight stays the same.
As I will be trying to discover my laughing place, I'm also going to think about a real incentive to lose my excess baggage.
Thursday, April 05, 2007
On Tuesday, we start to consider a week without grains and legumes seriously. But we still enjoy leftovers from the seder, and don't really notice the sacrifice. By Wednesday, it becomes very obvious. This Wednesday also happened to be Rafe's birthday.
For breakfast, I made matzo brei - softened matzo crackers scrambled with eggs, fried in oil, salted. Lunch was matzo pizzas, like Jake had made in school - a matzo cracker, a tomato based sauce, and shredded cheese. Ellie's had olives, ours had more vegetables. For dinner, the kids had matzo sandwiches (with mayo and cheese), celery filled with almond butter (not a favorite), and a lot of fruit. Rafe's birthday cake was matzo crumb, followed by some matzoh caramel crunch candy which is a real treat. (But seriously, cover just about anything in caramel and chocolate, and I'll eat it.) Around here, it's a scene right out of Forrest Gump. Matzo stuffing. Matzo tacos. Matzo lasagna. Matzo-dillas.
LAist featured a great piece, offering not only their recommendations for the best grape juice but also suggested local restaurants who can make the week a little easier (more matzo-pizza anyone?), and linked this hilarious animated short.
As Rafe left for work today, I offered to throw together some kind of matzo-meal, but he insisted that he manage with just fruit. I'm thinking I'll do a matzo-fast.
Tuesday, April 03, 2007
We wrangle as parents over the decisions we make regarding our children every day. For many stay at home mothers, sending our children to preschool will be the first time our child is in the care of someone outside the family. Preschool marks a time when someone new, very often a stranger, will lead a team of paid experts to meet your child’s every need - snacks, meals, fears, anxieties, sunscreen and the potty – and that’s before you even begin the content of the preparation for Kindergarten.A family needs to decide the ideal setting for their child’s early education. You’ll hear names and terms that sound vaguely familiar, though maybe from another time or language - Piaget, John Dewey, Steiner, Waldorf, Maria Montessori and Reggio Emilia. You may hear debates on the benefits of a developmental versus academic approach to your child’s learning. The experts do agree on one thing: call it what you want, early education provides children with the basic skills to enter formal education; upon leaving preschool, kids are more able to interact with their peers socially and follow the instructions of a teacher better than they could before they started.
I wouldn’t offer specific advice to families considering preschool as much as I would suggest things to think about and questions to ask:
- Do you know people with children enrolled in local preschools? What do they say about their school? When I was thinking about it, I asked everyone – my pediatrician, MOMS Club friends with older kids, and other parents at the park and gym classes. Trends emerged, and I visited any facility that seemed a close match for our needs.
- What is the school’s schedule? For some, the norm is a 9-12 day on Monday, Wednesday, Friday is common; for others it is just Tuesdays and Thursdays. Is that flexible? Are some children enrolled on a 3-day schedule while others in the class are there 5-days? Are there options for early drop-off or an extended day? Many programs have a structured morning and a more play oriented afternoon and can even accommodate children who need a nap.
- When you tour the facility, what do you see? Is it clean and well-maintained, are play areas safe, are fences secure? Are the classrooms bright, colorful and inviting? Is it an environment where you would want to play with your child?
- Learn about the faculty and staff of the school. Is the administration prompt in responding to your inquiry? Ask how they handle discipline and conflict management. How long have the teachers been with the school? Is there a lot of staff turnover? Watch how the staff interacts with children. Are they warm and nurturing?
I can tell you my brief experience with choosing a preschool for Jake. I first tried a Mommy & Me program at one school where the children were grouped roughly from age 1-2; I knew it wasn’t a good fit for us when Jake was upset and one of the other children was articulate enough to ask her mom why the baby was crying – nothing wrong with the kid, or the school, but I wanted to be somewhere that felt it was important to group kids closer in age and ability. No one from the school ever followed up with us to ask about our experience or to suggest something that might suit us better.
We then enrolled in a different Mommy & Me program that we loved, put in a deposit for preschool, and found out soon after that the school would be closing before we would have the chance to enroll that fall. We quit the Mommy & Me circuit for a while, and took some activity classes instead.
I toured another school that offered our family some amazing benefits (discounted tuition, fee waivers and mid-year enrollment), but didn’t have an actual classroom or teacher for the group Jake was to join in a few weeks. The school’s director kept us playing in the sand yard for the bulk of our tour, hesitating to show us the kids in the classrooms, and what we did see simply was not what I imagined an ideal preschool environment to be for my son.
When we found our school, it was the one where we saw every classroom, toddlers through Pre-K, interacted with students and teachers, and had a painting to take home at the end of the day. We also had a follow-up note from the director and a phone call from the head of the synagogue. It was a nice touch, but we didn’t need it. The school spoke for itself.
Ultimately, it is a very personal choice, and as parents, we have to balance our emotional concerns of leaving our children in the care of others with the actual operation of that care. A school is still a business and parents are very demanding consumers. Early education is not free, and though we are fortunate to have many options from which to choose, we are making an investment in our child’s future as well as in the school’s ability to meet our ongoing needs. Wait lists, accreditation, and policies aside, it has to feel right.
Written for and featured in my local MOMS Club's April newsletter.
Monday, April 02, 2007
Monday morning came again, and I was sure I was in for trouble. Jake is off school, so that means more fighting with his sister, more dawdling when we're trying to get out of the house and more boredom of a 4 1/2 year old kid who would rather do most things than run errands. Add to that finishing up the house preparations for the holiday, an appointment to take pictures (at the mall with the carousel and puppies no less), and an afternoon baking for tonight's seder.
Ellie woke up screaming again. I took her to the potty and convinced her to go back to bed. I looked at the clock, desperate for her to sleep until a decent hour - except it already was. It was past six. Six is so much better than 5 o' anything. I'd had a good eight hours last night.
Not bad. Not bad at all. But still, there was so much to do.
I finished the last of my cleaning and looked again at the clock. It was after nine. Our picture appointment was at 10. No way I'd be able to take a shower and get the kids dressed and ready to go. I called them both, and to my surprise, they arrived promptly. Ellie didn't argue over my choice of a dress for her and even agreed to have her hair made pretty. Jake dressed himself.
We were early.
This never happens.
I found my coupons for the photo place. I parked as closely as I could, steering the children away from the carousel and pet store with reminders that if they behaved for the photographer that we'd visit both. But that picture place. Oh, we've not had luck there lately. Two visits ago, I dragged a screaming Ellie from the store and ended up at the doctor's office with her first elbow dislocation (totally common in toddlers, but nonetheless scary and awful for the harried mom.) After the last time, I swore I'd never go back, but there is a new store at our fancy new mall and I figured I'd give it a try.
We were in and out in an hour, adorable pictures in hand.
I bet you already know, but this never happens, either.
We found a lunch spot in the fancy new mall's food court, conveniently located to a family restroom, because wouldn't you know it, both kids needed to use it at the same time, and the family restroom comfortably and conveniently accommodates my little group. Then the kids ate. Their whole lunch. And we rode the carousel and saw the puppies. And had a quick trip to Target (where I looked at the purse I've been coveting and decided I didn't really want the one they had, giving me time to decide if I really need it).
Tempting the fates, I figured we'd take a trip to Costco.
Both kids, in the cart, in and out of the store in half an hour, under $30. Top that.
Returning home, Jake and I baked our cakes while Ellie played quietly. As I type, the children are playing nicely together, not fighting, yelling or demanding to be set free.
The cakes are cooling, waiting for their frost, and I will have time to
exercise paint my toes, shower, finish desserts and will leave the house on time. Heck, the car's almost packed already.
I generally hope for the best, but expect the worst. I describe myself as an optimist, which my husband added "yeah, at 3,000 feet." It's true. I want to see the best in everything, but it's easier done from a distance. Close up leaves too much room for error. I expected today to be a struggle, but it wasn't.
What does that say about me?
Am I an optimist or a realist?