Monday, April 28, 2008

Nobody Told Me My Belly Button Would Hurt!

I’m 32 weeks into my second pregnancy. My belly button never did pop with my first pregnancy, but it seems like it’s trying to this time. Everyone talks about whether or not their belly buttons pop, but no one ever mentions that it hurts! That poor little thing stretches and grows in ways it shouldn’t, and it is less than comfortable at this point. Of all things, that’s what seems to cause me the most discomfort.

People keep asking me if I’m ready to have this baby. I’m 32 weeks along – no one wants to have a baby that early! But my stock answer as become, “Physically, most definitely. But mentally? Not even close!” I look forward to the day when the scale actually moves in a downward fashion (please, may it move down quickly!), when I can lay on my stomach on the floor to play with my daughters and when I can move around in bed without repositioning multiple pillows along with me. And of course, there is that list of alcoholic drinks I can’t wait to get to – a fat glass of cabernet, maybe a cosmo, and there’s a new pear vodka I’d love to try. All in moderation, of course, but come on! There’s a world of good drinks awaiting me!

But, oh, how far I am from being prepared mentally. You’d think that, since this is my second child, there wouldn’t be that much to do, right? Wrong. We have to put the crib back together, get the sheets washed and on it, get all of the clothes washed and put away, get the carseat and install it. It may all be little things, but the little things add up to one giant list of to-dos. And when I see a list like that, I might freak out a little. Just a touch.

Of course, the frightening part is, no one actually knows when a baby will arrive. Our daughter, Megan, shocked us coming 5 weeks early. Talk about unprepared! We had no place for her to sleep yet, the carseat wasn’t installed, we hadn’t picked a name. And I think that’s what’s getting me this time – I know what a crapshoot a due date is. So, how much time do I have left, exactly? Will I get caught up on my scrapbooking before this baby makes her arrival?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Going Back to Work

Going back to work is one of the toughest choices to make. Consulting all the magazines and books in the world won’t make it any easier, either. Some of you don’t have a choice, some of you love what you do so much it would never cross your mind NOT to go back to work. But for the rest of us in the middle, well, it’s hard. My husband makes enough money; we could live on his salary. But I enjoy being out in the world (and having extra money), so I chose to return to work. I refuse to discuss with you that my decision had anything to do with the sheer terror and abject fear I felt at the thought of being alone everyday with just me and my baby. When his therapy bills come in 20 years from now, I don’t want to know it was 100% my fault, you know.

So I went back. And it was hard. And I survived it. And I learned that all working moms approach this differently, but feel basically the same about it. It doesn’t matter what your childcare arrangements are, either. Daycare, in-home daycare, nanny, babysitter, relative, spouse, monkeys, whatever – the first time you leave your child to go out into the big, bad world, you will be devastated to your very core. I’m not going to lie to you and tell you I have the answers on how to breeze through it. But (and I’m not bragging) I was a highly decorated Girl Scout in my day and I learned a few things about survival. (And some really great camp songs, which if you think will help, call me and I’ll belt them out for you.) In no particular order I offer up to you, new working mommy, my top 10 tips for surviving your first day back to work.

1. Do not look to your husband for help. I don’t know why, I’m not a psychologist or scientist, but it’s just different for men. They’re not as freaked out about it and if you try to consult him on “how he made it through” his answer (if he has one) will baffle you and anger you and sadden you. Call your mom. She’s the only one who cares about it like you do.

2. Do not put on your makeup until you are in the parking lot at work. I don’t care if you’re horrified of the thought of your Starbucks crush (c’mon, we all have one) seeing you naked, so to speak. It is far more horrifying to spend the day with raccoon eyes, looking like Saturday morning in college.

3. Do not bring your photo album with you. You are a professional. Yes, you had a life-altering experience and you want to share. But let me be frank here, your coworkers don’t care. Do not let it upset you. They want to see one, maybe two pictures, just to be polite. Save the album for your closest coworkers and only outside the office.

4. Expect to cry at least twice. At the most inappropriate times, too. Like when calling your best client to announce your return, or in the elevator. The crying will be difficult to control and you won’t be able to explain it. Don’t try. If anyone looks at you just smile and say, “Hormones!” Trust me, NO ONE will ask any more questions after that. They don’t want to know your drama.

5. Accept that you will spend your entire day in isolation. Not purposely, but you will just feel incredible lonely and convinced that no one else has ever felt this way before you. You will be completely lost and overwhelmed. Just go with it. Smile and nod a lot and eventually the numbing will subside.

6. Call your husband just to say hi and stay connected. But don’t expect him to kick back for a nice talk-fest. He’s been back at his job for awhile now, and while he’ll want to support you, he just doesn’t get it (read #1).

7. Do not allow your feelings to be unnecessarily hurt. While you were happy and snug in your little baby cocoon, the world did go on, your company did remain open, and your coworkers continued to interact. There will be many things throughout the day that make you feel out of the loop. The new Chinese restaurant that everyone now goes to, the new guy in Accounting that holds court in the breakroom, the infamous team meeting that gets rehashed constantly. You weren’t a part of any of it, and it seems no one is going to fill you in. It’s okay. A month from now, you’ll be back in the loop. These people aren’t trying to exclude you. Again, just smile and nod.

8. Do ask for face time with the boss. Your boss, if male, will harbor an irrational fear that you have changed. You have, certainly, but not as an employee. He needs to be reassured. Spend five minutes telling him you’re happy to be back, looks like things went great in your absence and hey, you noticed the sales figures have increased. If your boss is female, she knows you didn’t change, but she’ll be marginally worried that your focus has shifted. Again, of course it has, but you need to reassure her that you’re committed to the job. And it will never hurt to tell her she looks fabulous.

9. Do bring something for those coworkers who covered for you while you were out. Did they hire a temp? If so, take him/her to lunch, bring a plant, a gift certificate, something to say thank you. Did your work get spread out to several people? Maybe bring donuts for the office, send out an email announcing your return and thanking profusely all those that made it possible for you to enjoy your time off. Acknowledge their burden. Personally, if possible. If you do it well enough, they may even ask to see a picture! (read #3).

10. Do not break traffic laws in your rush home. Your baby is there, just waiting for you. Your baby did not even begin to experience the separation anxiety that you did all day. You had a rough time, but you did it. Savor your drive home as a time to reflect on the day. What was good, what was bad, what you look forward to about tomorrow, what you look forward to when you walk through the front door. But most of all, just enjoy a moment of reflection about the new you. You’re a working mom, now. Congratulations and welcome to the club!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

I’m Stuck

As you can tell by my screen name, I like to travel. A lot. I actually made the mistake of thinking that, since I like to travel, I would like consulting as a career. HA! That didn’t last long. There’s an enormous difference between vacation travel and business travel, and I quickly learned vacation travel is what I enjoy, while business travel? Not so much. Going to the same crappy location 5-6 days a week for months on end just isn’t my idea of a good time. And sticking this warm-weather fan in Michigan in the winter is akin to torture! So, I made the leap from traveling consultant, to consultant who worked locally (the commute was often horrid, but at least I slept in my own bed at night), to working for a travel website - now THAT is a better fit!

I have also learned, though, that I get mighty restless after about 2 months in one location. I don’t need to get away for some lavish vacation every few months, but a quick trip somewhere, even to my parents’ house, does me a world of good. I just need a change of scenery. My parents are the same way, so I come by it honestly. Although, they probably haven’t spent 2 weeks solid in one location in years, so they’re even worse than I am! But, I don’t love it when I’m not allowed to go anywhere. My doctor told me I wasn’t allowed to travel after 32 weeks. We took our last big vacation as a family of 3 when I was 30 weeks and went to Hawaii. It was definitely a good end to travel season! But, it also means I’m now stuck here. I can’t travel with a brand new newborn, so I know I’ll be stuck in the same city for at least 3 months, probably 4 or 5. It gives me the willies, I tell you. Right now, I have no travel plans at all. None! It just isn’t right.

I think there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, though. We realized last night that my husband has a lot of miles that need to be used. At the same time, we realized that, when our baby is about 2 months old, my husband will have to be away for a week. The same week when his very-helpful mom will be on a mission trip in Guatemala. What’s a girl to do? Travel! I do believe I’ll get a few plane tickets – one for me, one for Megan – and we’ll fly up to see my family. They’ve got a crib, a carseat for Megan, a changing table, even a Diaper Champ, so I wouldn’t have to pack a totally ridiculous amount of stuff, just a semi-ridiculous amount. I could go for two weeks, and get help from my parents and sister, while Megan get to spend time with her cousins AND everyone got to meet the newest addition of our family. I don’t know how I’ll do traveling alone with two small children, but if it means I can get away, I will find a way to manage. Two glorious weeks at home with my family and oldest friends – I can’t wait!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Rainy Days

A few weeks ago, we were hit with a spring storm that encompassed the entire weekend. While the rain was desperately needed and welcomed, I was also very discouraged at the prospect of keeping my 4 year old cooped up indoors. We spend our weekends outside as much as possible. Whether our own backyard or the local park, I’m committed to getting my family a little sunshine everyday. As an added bonus, when I’m outside I can’t see that laundry that needs folding, but really, that’s not my main motivation. Really.

So Saturday morning came with thunder, lightning, dark clouds, and rain. Not even 9:00am yet and already we all feel like caged animals. I’ve thrown myself into doing that dreaded laundry and ten other things on my ever-present cleaning to-do list, my husband has disappeared into the office under the guise of “finishing up some work” (Apparently, his company now requires him to research GI Joe memorabilia on Ebay – who knew?), and my poor little son was stuck following me around “helping”, playing with the dog and generally whining. On one pass past the front door, I happened to notice the water was rising alarmingly fast and was already up over the curb. Flooding? It didn’t seem to be raining that hard. Turns out it wasn’t, a water main had broken and it required immediate fixing.

Within an hour or so we had a lot of activity on our street – trucks with flashing lights, workmen in raincoats, backhoes. They had to break through the concrete to get to the water main in order to fix it. All the commotion drew my son like a magnet. He was plastered against the front door, his little nose all smooshed up, his trusty Ellie Elephant under his arm, the dog obediently sitting next to him. I was so happy for his distraction so I could get some real work done. He kept me updated, though. He would come running to find me to tell me all about what was happening. It would interrupt me and I found myself pushing him away. But his excitement couldn’t be contained. I thought how lucky he was to be so easily entertained. Then I was struck with the thought that we could ALL be entertained by this. And maybe it would pull me out of my bad mood, and get us some quality family time.

I stopped my cleaning (like I needed an excuse), made a big bowl of popcorn, got some pillows and blankets and hearded the whole clan into the spare bedroom. We climbed up on the bed, pulled up the blinds and ate our popcorn while watching the action. We had more fun in the next few hours than I care to admit. Now THAT’s the right way to spend a rainy Saturday. And that laundry? Still there. And I still don’t care. I’m anxiously awaiting to hear the weather for this weekend and a part of me really hopes there’s rain in the forecast.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Super (Single) Mom

I am guilty of having a wonderful husband. Yes, guilty. Sure, he’s domestically challenged (He’ll use paper towels before actually checking under the sink for toilet paper refills.), and he’s not that sensitive to romancing me (He bought my first mother’s day card on Mother’s Day, while I remained in the car with our son with the motor running.), but I must admit, he is great. I have forgiven him for not being George Clooney, as I’m sure he’s forgiven me for not being Charlize Theron. He’s an incredible father and a great life partner. So naturally, instead of celebrating this and shouting it from the rooftops, I feel massive guilt. Usually, the guilt is overshadowed by my even more massive working mommy guilt, but it’s still there.

Why the guilt? Well, I look around me and see so many women everywhere that are struggling to raise their kids alone. Single moms by choice or circumstance, it is still a tough hill to climb. I so admire them for their courage. My parents divorced when I was young and my mother raised 4 girls virtually alone, and my husband travels usually 2 days a week, so I do know what it is like, to a teensy degree.

Just when I think I’m doing a pretty good job at the whole balancing work/life thing and I go to pat myself on the back, I’ll catch a glimpse of the single mom – the one working 2 jobs and raising 3 kids whose bathroom is never dirty. How does she do it? I throw a party when I mop the bathroom floor and then I talk about this accomplishment for at least a week. And the single mom, well, she probably just rolls her eyes at me and goes right back to her own balancing act.

In the interest of providing you with more balancing tricks (and to add some to my own arsenal), I recently casually asked one of my single mom friends for some tips. She immediately knew I was trolling for blog ideas, but she obligingly shared with me some of her rules she lives by:

Get prepared at night. No matter how tired you are, finish everything - outfits, lunches, breakfast, briefcase, homework, and anything else. The morning will bring its own crises – don’t add to the pile by being unprepared. (I am so guilty of this.)

Do an errand a day. Do not wait until the weekend to cram them all in – if you plan your week in advance and dole out the errands day by day, you’ll greet your weekend with a sense of fun instead of the usual sense of dread. (As I have previously assumed most moms consider Saturday errand day, I am eager to start practicing this tip.)

Schedule in play time. Your children want your undivided attention, so give it to them, even if that means adding it to your schedule. (Um, okay – no problem there, I am always happy to put off dusting, you know, if it’s for the children and all.)

Use lunch times as “me” time. Figure out how to take a class, find a park, read good books – in other words, never skip your lunch hour. Eat at your desk if you must, but take the time to be with yourself. It is probably the only chance you’ll get all day. (As an employee who constantly keeps one eye on the phone for the dreaded “your child is sick call,” I am always trying to get everything done as quickly as possible. Relaxing in the middle of the day seems foreign, naughty almost. But I think I’m going to try it.)

Find other single moms in your area and form a group of sorts. Rely on this group for support, entertainment, babysitting, and everything else. Only those in your same situation will truly understand you. (At first, this one offended me – "Hey! I’m your friend and I’m not single!" I cried. "Yeah," she said, "and I love you to death, but you really don’t get it. No offense." So then I thought about it differently and applied to myself by thinking I would seek out more mom friends that work full time like me, have traveling husbands, no family in the immediate vicinity, and would never spend $300 on a toddler’s birthday party. This is my criteria and I know there has to be mommies out there just like this.)

While I am humbled in the presence of the true Super(single)mom, I am also inspired. Sure, their rules are born from necessity, but the lessons are still strong ones and can only help improve my balance.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Give Blood, Give Life!

So many people assume being good requires either a huge amount of effort or money, and sometimes both. As the Be Good Mom, I can tell you that I do not have huge amounts of either of these. I am constantly on the lookout for things I can do that put good karma in the air for relatively little. Donating blood is one of those things. I have been a blood donor for almost 20 years now, and in the past few years, I’ve switched from donating whole blood to donating platelets. I switched to platelets because instead of donating every 56 days, you can donate about every 2 weeks.

Don’t like needles? It’s certainly not my first choice of things to do either – get jabbed with a needle – but when I think about what that little jab does – helps save a life – that makes me not so squeamish. I hope you’ll consider adding “Regular Blood Donor” to your list of titles. Want a few reasons to make up your mind?

Facts about blood needs from the American Red Cross:

1. Every two seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood
2. More than 38,000 blood donations are needed every day
3. One out of every 10 people admitted in a hospital needs blood
4. Total blood transfusions in a given year: 14 million (2001)
5. The average red blood cell transfusion is approximately 3 pints
6. The blood type most often requested by hospitals is Type O
7. The blood used in an emergency is already on the shelves before the event occurs
8. Sickle cell disease affects more than 80,000 people in the U.S., 98% of whom are African American. Sickle cell patients can require frequent blood transfusions throughout their lives
9. More than 1 million new people are diagnosed with cancer each year. Many of them will need blood, sometimes daily, during their chemotherapy treatment.
10. A single car accident victim can require as many as 100 units of blood. See more facts on blood needs for various medical treatments

Besides being just a good thing to do and getting a free t-shirt, I also like to donate platelets because the process takes about 90 minutes, and so I stop by Blockbuster on my way and pick up a chick flick. Really, does it get better than that? Doing something for myself at the same time I’m doing something for others? What are you waiting for? Visit Carter Bloodcare for a location near you. Give blood, give life!

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Listening Jar

Megan is about to turn 3. You know how everyone claims it’s the “terrible two’s,” thus giving us first-time moms hope that when a child turns three, everything miraculously gets better? It’s a lie. A bold-faced lie. All of the moms of 3 year-olds I know say the three’s are even worse than the two’s. Right about now, I’m really not appreciating the way they gave me that false hope. Megan is as stubborn as ever, and discipline is a bit of a challenge.

One of my friends gave me an idea – a listening jar. We’re fresh out of jars in this house, so I’m using a little glass, but I’ve put 10 fuzzy balls in it, and if Megan stops listening, she loses a ball. If her listening is good, she gets a ball back. I started this on Saturday, when we had a particularly bad day. I was exhausted and needed a nap, and my child was clearly in the same boat, given her mood. But her nap lasted 10 minutes. 10 minutes, I tell you! Not nearly enough for either of us to calm down and get refreshed. The rest of the day went terribly, terribly downhill from there. So, I started the listening jar. We went out to dinner that night, and she listened very well so that she could earn some of her balls back. But of course, bedtime was a struggle, and she did her best to stall as long as possible to put bedtime off. The stalling resulted in her losing a listening ball. That seemed to really resonate with her, but perhaps it resonated a bit too much. At 3:30am, we heard her crying, saying, “I want my ball back! I want my ball back!” That’s right. She wanted to earn her ball back. At 3:30am. At 4:30am, I gave up, and she finally went back to sleep. Last night went markedly better, and she stayed in bed without a peep until it was light in the morning (which was what we told her she needed to do to earn another ball back). This morning, she was only too happy to drop the new ball into the listening jar.

So, we’ll see how this progresses. She certainly seems to be responding well, and she definitely doesn’t want to lose any of her listening balls, but something tells me this won’t be a cure-all. She hasn’t even turned three yet. It’s going to be a long year!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Can you make a wifi antennae from cedar?

Apparently, not. HighTechGreenWoodsMommy here... and I've found that even with my skills and resourcefulness, I cannot get a cedar to bring in a stronger signal out here. Sigh. I guess I can't "go green" on everything. But I try. Well, most of the time I try. The rest of the time I just fantasize about having the time to try harder. Between my full-time job, the company I'm starting, the log cabin building and my two year old, I don't always have the time to do all the things I'd like to. I'll admit, I've even thrown a couple of plastic water bottles away. I know, I know, but before you judge me too harshly, I have a carful of them right now because there's no place to recycle them out here in the middle of no-where and since we don't have a well yet, I have to bring bottled water for us.

I'll be posting from time to time as issues close to my heart come up.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Daycare Village

Daycare. That word evokes so many emotions, doesn't it? Some mothers when they hear it soften and smile, others shrink back in horror, and another group of us just remain ambivalent about it. I mean, we care. Of course we care. We send our children to daycare everyday, because we work. And we wouldn't dare leave our children someplace we didn't feel comfortable. But we don't quite know our roles as mothers of children in daycare, do we? We all know the cliché "it takes a village to raise a child," and we tend to think of our daycare centers as our own little villages, don't we?

We spent countless hours researching all the daycare centers. We rated them, got recommendations, decided on our "village," and in the first few weeks would spend extra time in the mornings making sure everything was okay. And then routine set in. A few months pass. We see new faces, and miss old ones, we get cute handprint pictures, and macaroni necklaces, but we don't have the time to stop and get involved. Most of us drop off our little ones in the morning and pick them up at night. We spend maybe a combined total of one hour a week in the place that our children spend more than forty. What do we really know about what they do all day? Well, along with being a working mom I'm also a pretty neurotic mom (really, who isn't?). While I felt comfortable with my daycare, I felt uncomfortable with the fact that I was comfortable about a place I spend no time. (Confusing sentence, I know, but confusing concepts deserve confusing sentences.)

So I decided to become really involved in my daycare. I made it my mission to really know the center inside and out. I carved out time in my schedule (who needs to exercise, anyway) and started my mission. I've spent weekends, weeknights, and some sick days (cough, cough) up at the center working on projects and carnivals and other such stuff. I got to know the staff on a personal level, and I found out what I needed to know: They love my little boy just as much as I do. Well, okay, not really, but enough so that I am now comfortable with the fact that I am comfortable.

Believe it or not, it's all about you, not your child. Shocking and unfair, I know, but these people know kids are kids. They are in their jobs because of their love of kids. They forgive kids, they teach them, nurture them, love them. But those same feelings don't automatically extend to the parents. The parents have to earn it. Here are some tips I've learned that will help smooth the way in your little village.

  • Get to know your children's teachers. Sounds simple, I know. And I bet you think you already do. So let me ask you, what are their last names? Their spouse's names? Children? Where do they live? How long have they been doing this? What's the last movie they saw?
  • Spend more time at the daycare. I know, I know, what time? Well, let's start with 5 extra minutes in the morning, and 5 extra minutes in the evening. 10 minutes a day. Not even an extra hour a week. Change up how you spend this time. One day, stay with your child in the room and chat with teachers, another day wander up and down the halls looking at the artwork or observing other rooms. Become a familiar face.

  • Bribe them with goodies. Bribe may be a bad word choice these days, but it's oh, so necessary here. Bake some chocolate chip cookies (or as I do, slice and bake, all the way), whip up some rice krispie treats, bring in a dozen donuts. Anything like that. They will love you for it. And even better if you have your children hand them over. Oh, the precious moment! It works like a charm. And then of course, wave away all praise with a flippant, "Oh, it's nothing. Just a little pick-me-up for all you do."

  • Become friends with the administrative staff. Don't just waltz right by each day. These people know everything. From the front desk person to the director, they keep the center running smoothly and rarely get much recognition for it. Remember them on teacher appreciation days, holidays, etc. 5.

  • Start a Parent-Teacher Association. Really, I'm serious. We now have one that meets once a month and we plan activities for the center, holiday parties for the staff, and discuss real stuff, such as curriculum, etc. I've made some good friends this way, and some real changes in the way the center is operated.

When I started this little mission a few years ago, I couldn't possibly have imagined that I would become so involved. But I'm glad I did. I feel more connected to my child. Which at the end of day, is what it's really about. It does take a village to raise a child, but it takes people to run that village, too. Become one of those people. You won't regret it.