Thursday, March 27, 2008

Knock, Knock.

Don't worry while I won't be knocking on your door anytime soon asking for a cup of sugar, I am The Mom Next Door. On this blog, I invite you to share your perspectives with me as I share my own stories with you.

I became a stay at home mom in time for the birth of my third child and have been discovering the secrets of this world since that time.

Myth 1: Now that I am at home, I will have time for all those projects I just couldn't get to when I was working fulltime in addition to working at the Mom Job.

This is a lie. An outright case of complete disillusionment. I have less time now than I did before because the kiddos are home with me ... Fulltime! While I have seen other moms venture out on a 4 hour shopping excursion, I am not that well coordinated or brave.

Myth 2: Stay at home moms have it easy and do nothing.

While I was never (and I mean never) a proponent of this silly theory, I heard it a lot. While there may be people that do nothing except eat bon-bons all day (I mean the expression must come from somewhere, right?) SAHM's are not the origin of that from all the moms I know and my experience. A typical day is an endless cycle of things that are done and must be redone multiple times within that day (wash dishes, cook meals, change diapers, etc). So while nothing is ever done, it is not because of doing nothing.

Myth 3: Women call have it all.

Yes, we can do it all. But have it all? No. There is always a sacrifice that we make when we are at our jobs versus at home with the kids. And I know first hand that the reverse is true, too. I think the best we can do is find the right balance for each of us individually and learn to support one another as a group. Long live the sisterhood of moms.

Join me as I share my insights on traversing the world of being at home, share tips for working moms, and try to keep up my juggling act of kids, life and love.

Monday, March 24, 2008

My Little Meltdown

I’m supposed to start slowing down now. My doctor thinks that, if I slow down a lot, perhaps this baby will stay put longer than Megan did. I sure hope that’s true. Although slowing down doesn’t really work for me. At all. I mean, how does a mom “slow down,” exactly? Can any of us actually sit around all day? Ever? But knowing that I’m supposed to “slow down,” and thinking about my giant to-do list, I have asked my darling husband to start giving me 30 minutes each night to tackle this to-do list. And the first night I asked that of him, he obliged without a word. Yay! I now have hours of his help each week, so this to-do list will be gone in no time, right? Apparently not. See, I forget that we sometimes need to remind our significant others about things like cleaning up clutter and doing housework. I’m not sure why I forget that, since I’ve been married for 7 years, but I do. Can I blame pregnancy hormones?

So the other night, my husband helps tuck Megan into bed while I look around the house at everything that needs a better home than it currently has. And the minute he gets downstairs, I lose it. “This house is too cluttered, and you’re not helping! You need to get rid of the clutter! Pick up the toys, because it’s really hard for me to bend down!” His response to picking up toys was, “What’s the point? Megan will play with them again and they’ll end up on the floor again, so why put them away?” Now, I’m sure that’s perfectly logical to some people, but it just slays me. For one thing, I’ve noticed that Megan tends to play more with things that are put away. I don’t know if it’s the fun of “finding” things, but if her toys are in a heap in the middle of the floor, she won’t play with them half as much as if they’re all tucked away in a basket. And for another, I would like my house to have some semblance of neatness at least a few hours a day.

If I thought I’d lost it before, I really lost it after that comment. I proceeded to make my way down to the floor, huffing and puffing, pick up the toys, and put them away, doing so, of course, while making as much noise as possible so it was quite clear that I was not happy. I’m pretty sure no one in this house needed to ask about my current mental status.

I think that part of this freak out is knowing the amount of clutter that can so quickly amass once a baby is here. And since the plan is for me to stay home with our girls once the baby does arrive, I also know that clutter is going to be mostly my responsibility to clean up. And even if I can get help with cleaning it, it will be mine to look at all day long, and stew at, and then blow up at my husband at when he least expects it. Because that’s what I do best! So, I need the clutter gone. All of it. And I’ve always been a bit of a clutter-friendly person, so de-cluttering is not easy for me. How do the truly organized, clutter-free people do it? And why didn’t I get the clutter-free gene like my sister?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Spring Cleaning for Balance

Spring is officially here! Ah, the smell of fresh cut grass, the shrieks from the playgrounds, the inch-thick dust on the blinds (no wait, that’s not a good part of Spring – let’s not think about that). Spring always fills me with this great sense of hope. Hope for great new beginnings, days of sunshine and laughter. And of course, I get that overwhelming urge to overhaul my entire life. Clean out the closets, cut my hair, buy cute sandals, plant some flowers.

As a working mom, I have to really pay attention to my schedule, as it can quickly get out of hand in my fervor to sweep away winter. Sure, it’s easy to look at the sunlight illuminating that dust on the blinds and realize I need to add “clean blinds” to my list, but there are a host of things that I also need to get done that aren’t so obvious - things that help me in my quest for optimum working mommy balance. Here is a small list of seemingly random things to do to help get your Spring cleaning off to a great start. None of them will take much time to complete, but can potentially save you a lot of time and hassle on down the road.

  1. Update your emergency contact list, both at work and at home. Make sure the doctors haven’t changed, significant other’s cell phone, etc. Your work needs to be notified who to call in an emergency, and your babysitter needs to know the numbers by the phone are correct.
  2. Get your insurance information and copies of any living wills to your closest hospitals to work and home. This saves a lot of hassle if you land in the emergency room for any reason. You won’t be distracted by annoying paperwork and can instead focus on the reason for the visit.
  3. Rotate the pictures in your frames at work to more recent photos, giving you a little lift every time they catch your eye. And while you’re at it, switch the ones in your wallet, too.
  4. Clean out your medicine cabinet and stock it for summer. Throw away expired medications and buy new. Check your stock of bug spray, sunscreen, bandages, various cut and scrape medications, etc. Not things you want to find out are expired and/or missing when you need them!
  5. Update your resume. Not that you have any intentions of looking for a new job, but taking stock at least once a year on your current job and your recent accomplishments will ensure your resume is always fresh and reflects your work accurately.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Hello! TravelingMom Intro

Hello, blog readers! I am TravelingMom, because, well, I really like to travel. So much so that when I graduated college, I thought consulting would be a great job for me, because I’d get to travel a lot. I quickly learned that business travel, going to crappy cities and being away from home 5-6 days per week, is actually not very fun at all. It’s vacation travel that I enjoy! Plus, I was engaged. Planning a wedding in Seattle while living in Dallas and working in Michigan left a bit to be desired, and I didn’t want to start a marriage seeing my husband for a day a week! So, I left that job and found a consulting job that was in-town consulting only. It was so much better than the traveling job. I got to sleep in my own bed every night, and when I took a trip, it was purely for fun. Sure, I didn’t rack up the miles and hotel points, so I didn’t get free vacations, but my quality of life was much improved, so it was a good switch. But then, I got the client from hell that was also a 35 mile one-way commute. I was stuck there for a year-and-a-half. While I got to sleep in my own bed every night, that’s about all I had time to do! We were also getting ready to start a family, so it was time for the next job change. This time, I moved to corporate, non-consulting America. And not just any corporate job, mind you – I started working for a big travel website. Not only was my commute now a daily 15 minutes and no more, giving me lots more time at home, but I was also technically a travel agent as I worked for a travel company, so I got travel agent benefits like cheap hotels. Woohoo! It was right up my alley. It was at that job that we started our family and had our first child, Megan, in December of 2004. It was also at that job that we furthered our family, and I got pregnant again with our second daughter in 2007. She’ll be here soon, and is yet to be named. And at this point, I’m thinking my time in corporate America is about done. We’re hoping that I’ll stay home with the girls once our youngest (and last!) is here.

Megan is a super cool 3 year-old now. She talks like an adult (I swear – other people say it, not just me!) and she’s as fun as it gets. Yes, she’s challenging. Oh, she can be challenging. She's pretty quick-witted and she’s very logical, so she can trap you pretty quickly by what you say. But overall, she is such a great kid and my husband and I enjoy her so much. And, since I’m TravelingMom, Megan is a traveling kid. She took her first trip at 11 weeks, to see my family in Seattle. Since then, she’s been to Seattle at least half a dozen times (although probably more), California several times, and Hawaii. Some airplane rides have been a bit less fun than others, but on the whole, she’s a great traveler. She’s one of those kids that people typically say, “Wow, I didn’t even know she was here! She was so good on the flight!” So, I’m pretty fortunate, because goodness knows I’d be in trouble if she wanted to stay home all of the time!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

On Santa and Being Good

Hello MomCheck Blog readers! New poster here! I'm the Be Good Mom. And while yes, E.T. comes immediately to my mind, too, when I hear "Be Good," this blog is not about awesome 80's movies (though that would make a great blog topic). I'll be blogging about charity, philanthropy, random acts of kindness, and the like. Pretty much All Things Good For Your Soul.

I have been mulling over how best to start off this blog. A plea for help with a particular charity? An opinion on the State of the Charitable Nation? If my goal is to inspire you to Be Good, then perhaps I should start with my story, so you can get a sense for how I came to Be Good. (And please note, I will probably never post this long of an entry again, but this story deserves telling with no editing.)

My story really begins with my family – a mom and dad both dedicated to Being Good, although neither would characterize themselves this way. It was just second-nature. Travel back with me to the 1970’s. My father was a fireman and a painter. A fireman’s schedule is usually something like 2 days on, 1 day off, 3 days on, 2 days off, etc. In between on-duty days, my father painted race cars in his own shop. And during the winter, he was Santa Claus.

Back then, Toys for Tots was generally run by local fire stations, and in my town, this was my father’s. At the beginning of November every year, he shut down his paint shop and turned it into the North Pole. The days were spent hauling and sorting all the donations. I had 3 sisters, and this was most definitely a family event. We were responsible for lining up cardboard boxes and taping family names to them, and then hunting through the mounds of donations to find toys that matched the wish lists. When we received cash donations, we made special trips to different stores to buy brand new toys (the best!). Each of us was the “expert” on our own age levels and we gave opinions on what toys to buy. About two weeks from Christmas, my father would start to deliver the boxes to the families. Every night, he’d put on his Santa suit, load up the back of his truck, and set off into the night. He’d return home happy and sad at the same time. I never understood it. That is, until the year I put my foot down as an official spoiled brat and learned the lesson that set me off on my life’s path.

I don’t even remember now exactly what it was, some type of doll I really want. I remember I am 7. As we are sorting one night, I am overcome with a sense of entitlement and tell my father I want the doll. There is a big mountain of them, shiny and new, waiting to be sorted into the boxes, and I thought it would be okay to take one. My father explains in that adult way about how it’s for the less fortunate, and all that other stuff I refused to hear. I am a petulant, spoiled little brat about it. So my father says, “Fine. You can have the doll. But on one condition: You have to help me deliver the toys.” Fantastic! No problem! I work doubly hard the rest of that day and all the rest of the days leading up to the first delivery night. I could hardly wait for my doll, which I truly believe I deserve for sacrificing my time helping.

The night comes. I stand by impatiently as my father consults his lists and maps (no MapQuest back then!) to determine which boxes to load up and which route to take.

Before I go further, I need to talk a second about these boxes I keep referencing. These awful, sad cardboard boxes. It’s just a moving box, with an open top, and on the side is a piece of paper with magic marker saying something like, “Smith – Boy 8, Girl 7”. No first names. Sometimes a few wish list items have been provided, but usually not. And inside the box are an assortment of used toys and clothing, and at least one new toy for each child. No wrapping, nothing festive. The only thing Christmasy about the boxes were the candy canes we dropped in at the very last. This box pretty much represents Christmas in its entirety for the recipient family. Something that to this day still makes me incredibly sad.

The truck is loaded, the heater is going, Santa’s dressed, and me in a little elf hat. To this day, I still don’t know if my father planned it, or if it just happened (and if he were still alive, this is the one question I would ask). The first house we drive up to is in a part of town I didn’t even know existed. It is still so absolutely vivid in my mind. It is one of those post-war box houses built after WWII. White siding, less than a thousand square feet, concrete porch. My father hefts the box out the back and we walk up to the front door. I see in the box that there must be a girl who lived here, because she is getting that very doll that I can’t wait to get, too – my reward for helping, my prize for Being Good(!).

We ring the doorbell and wait. A minute or two passes, and finally the door creaks open and a little girl is staring me right in the face. She is my age, and we are the same height. But she’s dirty. As her eyes turn from me up to my father, they get huge as saucers and she gets the biggest smile on her face I’ve ever seen.

“Santa!” she cried, “Santa you’re here! I KNEW it! I knew it!! Daddy said you wouldn’t come because we’re too poor but I told him you would! I knew you wouldn’t forget me!” She turned around and yelled back at someone I couldn’t see, “I told you! Santa comes if you’ve been good! He’s here! He’s here!” Her mother comes to the door, takes the box; the adults talk for a minute, I assume, I’m not paying attention. I am completely riveted by this girl who is just like me, as she dances around her dilapidated living room, full of Christmas joy, smiling and laughing and happy about the cardboard box full of used toys we just gave her. Toys that perhaps came from the bottom of my very own toy box that I gave away to make room for the new ones I knew Santa would bring me because I’d been good, too. The door shuts on the scene and all is quiet again. I can still hear muffled shrieks of delight, and I imagine she has just discovered the doll.

We walk back to the truck in silence. We both get in and I see my father look over at me, and he seems to want to say something, but I turn my head. So he doesn’t. We drive on in silence. When we get to the next house, I tell him, “I think I’ll just stay in the truck.” I can’t do that again. I can’t even make sense of what has happened, all I know is I’m incredibly sad and absolutely shocked. I don’t think I knew this world existed. And if I did know it existed, I certainly didn’t know there were little girls just like me who lived in it.

We finish the night and go home. The next night, I hide in my room, hoping my father won’t come find me to go with him. He doesn’t. And that doll I wanted so bad? My reward? Somehow, I “forget” to ask for it, and my father “forgets” to ever bring it up again. Christmas morning dawns, the tree is peppered with gifts from Santa, and the day is spent oohing and ahhing over all the new toys, but for me, the brightness of the day is significantly diminished. My mind wanders back to the little girl, dancing around with joy, her belief in magic and Santa firmly planted for at least another year. And I wonder what she’s doing right that very minute. Try as I might, I cannot let go of the image of her. I can’t forget that night. I’m not supposed to forget it, I believe.

I learned something that night. Even today, I don’t think I can accurately articulate what occurred, but I can tell you that my life changed forever. Profound for a kid, I know. But it did. To this day, that story continues to haunt me. I think about it all the time. Christmas has never been about getting for me, it is only about giving. And I continue giving all year long. It is a daily goal, a way of life for me. Santa comes to those who have Been Good. Just as my father was Santa in a very literal way, I am also Santa – to other little girls who now get cardboard boxes for Christmas (I wonder if they still do it that way), to women in battered homes, to little boys with leukemia, to pets without homes, to victims of disasters, to those who live in foreign countries, to those that live next door – I am Santa. I give time, money, and support. I give to anyone and everyone. I sometimes give to my own detriment – there have been times in the past where I could not make my own bills because I had emptied my bank account to help someone in need. But I can’t change. This is who I am.

Whenever I feel overwhelmed and consider giving up this Be Good life, when I think about putting down the torch and letting someone else carry it for awhile, I hear her in my mind, “I knew you wouldn’t forget me!” And I know – I know - deep down inside – no, she is not forgotten, not as long as I’m in this world.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Why I Broke Up With My Bank

As you may know, in addition to working full-time, I am also an entrepreneur, getting a company off the ground with 3 other women. Recently, we decided to add all owners to our bank account (previously, for convenience, only 2 were on it). As I am the CEO and primary on the account, this seemingly simple task fell to me.

Our bank is a national bank, chosen for its many locations and frankly, because one of its main headquarters is 2 blocks from my work. I don’t want to name names, so let’s call the bank, ummm, how about Fiscal Company of the United States? Mind you, this bank sends me multiple marketing campaigns, urging me to get a corporate credit card, then get THIS one, and THAT one, and lines of credit, and everything else they have in the interest of getting more business from me, making me feel important.

I digress….

I carved out time one day and walked over to the bank and sat down with a banker to discuss. All I want to know is how to add the other owners of the business to the bank account as authorized signers. (And just so you know, I’ve done this for other companies with other banks, with nary a hitch.) The banker explains to me that all signers on the account will need to be present at the same time to sign a new signature card. I explain to her how logistically, this won’t happen (we are very spread out, and we all have other full-time obligations), I ask for alternative solutions – such as I add their names, they can each go to a local branch with ID and get added, I can get a company resolution authorizing this, and more.

This woman gets on the phone to I don’t even know who, and continues to tell me the only way to do it is everyone together at the same time. No exceptions whatsoever. No – I can’t even “start” a new card, and then have everyone come in when they have time and sign the same card, in the presence of the same banker – we must all 4 appear at the exact same time. (I did not get clarification if we must also use the same pen, but I am assuming this must also be a requirement.)
Really, I don’t think she understands the problem, and at one point tells me if I’m starting a business, then it should be important enough to get together to do this. Obviously, she has never started a business, and there's no way she has kids. But never mind. I continue to explain the situation, and offer up solutions, such as I personally will meet up with everyone and go into a branch, or I will get notarized signatures from everyone – anything at all as a workaround to all 4 of us appearing during banking hours at one location.

Truth is, we could conceivably figure something out where all of us can be together, but now, I’m just flabbergasted by the bank’s attitude.

Surely this is not how every single big company does this with Bank of Ame…I mean Fiscal Company of the United States? Surely, when Microsoft (pretending they bank here) adds another signer to the account, they don’t fly in every single signer and show up en masse to the bank to sign the new signature card altogether? (“Uh….Bill? Gonna need you to clear your schedule for Tuesday at 10:00 – gotta sign a new card again.”) Surely, there is another solution here, right?

And so I say this same sentiment to her – I use Microsoft as the analogy, as up to this point, I still don’t think she understands the big picture and I think this might help her see it in a different light, and I end with, “So, there must be something else you do for big companies, right?”

And she says, “Yes, but you’re not a big company.”

And that is how Fiscal Company of the United States became our ex-bank. Our new bank? Opened online with faxed signatures.