Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Fear of the Public Toilet

Ah, the joys of potty training. Megan wasn’t the youngest child to potty train. We tried when she was about 29 months, and she got so upset about accidents, it was clearly not in our best interest to keep up with her. We tried again at 31 months, at daycare’s request, but after a bad accident there, she wasn’t eager to keep going. Finally, at 33 months, she turned a corner. I sent her to daycare in underwear at their request, and she held it all day. 9 hours. That’s clearly not a good thing, so as soon as we got home, I sat with her until she went. And when she went, boy was she excited! Ever since, she’s been potty trained, and has had just a few accidents in several months. Poop training is an entirely different story altogether, but the good news is, she waits to go until bedtime when she’s wearing a pull-up, thus saving Mommy and Daddy from ever having to deal with the vileness that is poop in underwear.

Obviously, she can hold it for awhile. Which is nice for the most part, but not so much when she holds it because she refuses to go in a public toilet. I would take her in any restroom outside of home, daycare, or her grandparents’ house, and she’d refuse to go, scrunching her face into this awfully sad look that said, “I just can’t, Mommy! Public toilets are bad!” But, we were about to go on vacation. An 8-hour plane ride to Hawaii, followed by 10 days there, and she sure as heck couldn’t hold it for 10 days. I asked her pediatrician if there was anything I could do to help her along, and in all of his helpfulness, he said, “Some people just don’t like public toilets, so I have no suggestions.” Gee, thanks. So, we bribed Megan to use public restrooms. We told her she couldn’t go to Hawaii if she wouldn’t use a public restroom. Finally, she used it. That’s not to say she’s happy about public restrooms, but I can get her to use one when it’s a necessity.

Now, I’m thankful that she’s not all that excited about public restrooms, because it means I don’t have to make a mad dash for them at the grocery store or while shopping, and I haven’t had to see the most unsavory of them and try to convince my child it’s okay to use them. But, it was a bit of a problem on the airplane. Have you seen the cleanliness studies on airplane bathrooms? Not pretty. And I don’t care how much of that blue water you suck down an airplane toilet – it’s still a dirty, dirty place. So trying to convince my child otherwise was less than simple. I’m sure it would have been fun to watch us squeeze in there, though. Me in my pregnant glory, doing my best to wipe every surface down with an antibacterial wipe, all while trying to comfort a nervous toddler and convince her that going potty in this terrible place was a good idea. And once I did get her to go, washing her hands and shoving her out of the bathroom as quickly as possible to try to avoid her coming into contact with any more of those nasty germs than necessary, all while doing my best to flush the toilet quietly so it didn’t scare the crap out of her. Because come on, that toilet IS scary!

But we survived. It’s still a battle to use most public restrooms, but at least we’ve made progress. I think my child is just too clean for bathrooms used by so many other people!

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Supermom's Secret

Psst. I know the secret to being a Supermom. I do, really. I’m going to let you in on it, too. But first you must be patient and listen to the story of how I got it. (Well, I couldn’t just tell you – that ruins the fun.) The other day I was lurking on a message board (I always lurk it seems, never posting. Plus I love to use the word lurk and lurking on message boards is one of the only times the word doesn’t have really bad connotations to it) and I came across a post by a woman who was at her wit’s end with the lack of support she gets from her husband around the house. She stated she works 40+ hours then has to come home to do all cooking, cleaning, etc. and the only time her hubby helps is when she berates him. She was looking for advice on how to change the pattern. There were lots of replies. And good advice, too, like have a sit down discussion about the issue, praise him when he does small things (on the pretense he’ll do more to get more praise), divvy up the chores and post it somewhere, etc.

All these are truly good suggestions and I’m sure they work for many out there. But not for me. As I read through all the answers, I kept thinking, “What if her husband is a clone of mine? What then? Because she’s out of luck with those suggestions!” I, too, am out of the house for 40+ hours per week, and my husband also is not the greatest on the domestic front. He simply doesn’t care. Doesn’t care if he gets all his clean clothes out of the laundry basket, doesn't care if every meal is fast food. Doesn't care if he has to squash trash into an overflowing can. I’ve tried everything, too. All the advice listed above plus more. I even put signs on the appliances. Our steam cleaner has a sign that says, “Hi! I work hard to keep your carpets clean, but please empty me! I stink!” (It still stinks, but now my husband calls the cleaner Betty.)

At one point I convinced him that we should “trade” dinner nights. We didn’t have to cook, necessarily, but just be responsible for the whole dinner experience. What to eat, where, etc. I shined on my first night, giving him a home-cooked lasagna and chocolate cream pie for dessert. (Notice I didn’t say homemade, just home-cooked. My little mini Supermom secret.) On his first night here’s what I got for dinner: A hot dog, a bag of chips, and a fountain drink all consumed sitting on the tailgate of his truck in the parking lot of 7-Eleven. Dessert was anything I wanted from the candy aisle. No joke! Now, to be honest, he did do it to prove how ridiculous he thought the whole thing was, but still. Still! 7-Eleven! You know what? He was okay with it. Let me repeat that. He was okay with it. It was me – all me – with the problem, not him. I need to point out that this occurred prior to having children, lest any of you think I would have allowed this experiment with my own flesh and blood – unless you’ve fed your kids similar meals because it was easy and you knew it would be a big hit, which in that case, maybe it’s happened a few times since then, too.

So anyway, it still comes down to this: I have a burning desire to be seen as Supermom. I must be able to work outside the house in non-wrinkled, non-stained clothing, serve hot, nutritious meals that I prepare, and have a house that doesn’t make me pretend I’m not home when I hear the doorbell. The problem is, I don’t know how to do this. I try, I really do, but I feel like a hamster on a wheel. One day, I finally break down and I ask my mother how she did it. How did she raise four children practically by herself with only two hands? Did little fairies come in at night and help her? She just looks at me blankly and says, “I don’t know. I just did it.” That can’t be true. I think she’s holding out on me. I press her. She denies it. I cry. She pushes cookies. I feel better (and fatter). And she tells me the truth. She says, “Honey, the trick is to only care about some of the stuff.” Huh? That’s the secret? Well that’s just dumb. That would make me just like my husband. That would mean…..aha! That IS the trick, isn’t it? Just decide what’s more important!

Gee. Maybe my husband’s been right all along. He decided that the house wasn’t important to him, and that’s just the end of it. Maybe it shouldn’t be that important to me, either. Well, okay, maybe a little important, but maybe not THAT important? Like, dishes are important, as is cleaning the bathroom (yuck). But maybe having perfectly folded towels isn’t as important as, say, ironing my shirts. I don’t have to do both. It’s okay to just do one.

So that’s it, then. The Supermom’s Secret, not to be confused with Victoria’s Secret, which is another article altogether. Decide what’s most important and forget the rest. Is this really all there is to it? It sounds simple enough. I’m sharing the secret with you, though, because I do think this is the answer. We spend our days convinced all other moms are doing it better than we are, but they’re not, are they? The ones who project that image aren’t really that perfect in all areas. They’re just “super” in the areas that are important to them, and they choose not to care as much about the other areas. Could it be that I can finally call myself a Supermom? Can I do this? Can I really live this way? I don’t know. I’m going to have to give it a try. I’m going to have to ask my husband what he thinks over dinner tonight. And I’ll treat him to dessert, too. Anything from the candy aisle.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Starting Preschool

Last February, I started looking at preschools for Megan. I hadn't really planned to so early, but I started seeing all kinds of advertisements for them, so I figured I'd better get on it. I found a few I liked, and decided on one. It's just down the street, comes recommended by my neighbor, and had all of the good stuff I wanted. Megan will be going two days a week, from 9:30am to 2:30pm.

It's funny. Megan went to daycare 3 days a week from 8:30 to 5 for two and a half years, and that wasn't so tough. I guess it's because I was at work all day. But now, I find myself a little sad that she'll be gone for 5 hours two days a week. I've gotten so accustomed to being home with her. She's so much fun right now. She asks a million questions, and while I tire of them somewhere around question #10,452, it's also really fun to talk with her, and to get to have conversations with my own child. The other night, we were out shopping, and I mentioned that the moon was full. She said, "what's it full of?" It was such a sweet question from a 3 year-old - asked so honestly and innocently.

So, in less than two weeks, my firstborn will be leaving me. My house will feel quiet (well, as quiet as it can feel with an infant!), because no one will be talking my ear off. And while I admit to napping most afternoons when the girls do, Emily will still be taking a morning nap for at least the next few months, leaving me some time in the morning all by myself. I don't think I can swing two naps a day. Does that mean I'm going to get to clean my house during the daylight instead of at night, when my kids are asleep? That could be really nice. But just you watch me goof around on the computer!

But seriously. The quietness. My baby girl, leaving me for a few hours, going to grown-up preschool. They really do grow up so fast. She's not a toddler at all anymore. She's a big girl, full of life, full of questions, full of fun. And I just know that in the blink of an eye, she'll be in elementary school, and then high school, and then she'll leave me for college. And then the tears will really flow.

Some Cooking Tips

After a recent cooking session with a friend, I realized other people might like some cooking tips. Because really, aren’t we all busy enough? I used to spend an hour in the kitchen on each meal, but once my daughter arrived, that went straight out the door! Prep time has to be at a minimum. I don’t care if something has to cook for 6 hours, but I can’t spend an hour chopping, sautéing and straining. My hands-on time is now for my kids, not my food. So, I’ll now share some of my favorite tips.

First, if something can be doubled easily, double it and freeze some for later. If a recipe sounds huge, such as a recipe for soup, make the whole thing and freeze it. There’s really very little that doesn’t freeze well – creams and uncooked potatoes, to name two – so as long as it’s not a cream-based soup, it will freeze just fine. So, I make a huge pot of chili, then portion it into sizes we’ll eat at once and use my handy vacuum sealer (LOVE that, by the way) so we can eat it later.

Second, make big batches of ingredients you can use in other things. Don’t just make enough mashed potatoes for dinner tonight – make a triple batch, then freeze the extra. When you want to make a shepherd’s pie, or just want a side dish, just grab them out of the freezer to skip half an hour of prep time. And never make just one batch of brown rice – make a huge pot. If it’s going to take an hour to took, you may as well spend one hour cooking 6 family-sized portions instead of just one. Keep it vacuum sealed in the freezer and you always have a quick side.

My very favorite tip? Every time chicken breasts are on sale, buy them in the giant value pack. Throw them in your crockpot with one can of chicken broth and enough water to cover, then cook them on low for 8 hours or high for 4. When they’re cooked, they’ll fall apart, so shred them and freeze them in 1- and 2-cup portions. Next time you want to make any sort of chicken casserole, soup, salad or pasta, you’ve saved yourself 30 minutes of cook time. Sure, it takes a little extra time to package all of that up one night, but it’s so incredibly nice to know you’ll save all of that time later.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Random Acts of Kindness

It’s the little things, isn’t it? Sure, big, great gestures bring big, great rewards, but life is made up of little things. I am a big “giver,” obviously. I support several favorite charities monetarily, donate household items, volunteer time and services…I even serve on the Board of Directors for a charity. And these are all wonderful things that help keep this world going in positive directions. But – I crave the human interaction of the little things. Writing checks, filling up boxes, and attending meetings sure doesn’t fill me with the sense of satisfaction I get when I, say, pay for the coffee of the person behind me.

Random acts of kindness are sorely underrated. And I don’t think there are too many people out there who actively practice it. It’s a great theory, and we love hearing about them, but how often do you commit one? I consistently commit one a week – more if I can. I’m addicted to it, actually. Doing little things that completely brighten the day of someone else. It’s an instant mood booster for both parties. It’s so simple to do, too. Random acts of kindness aren’t big productions – they’re usually spur-of-the-moment, opportunity-knocks kinds of things. I really encourage you to start looking for these opportunities. You will be amazed how many will cross your path and how good you’ll feel when you seize the moment and commit the act. To help inspire your thinking, I’ve compiled a list here of some little things that I’ve done:

1. Pay for anything for anyone behind you – whether at the coffee shop, the toll booth, the drive-thru.

2. Compliment a stranger. Just stop them and say something nice. “Great shoes” is one I use a lot. I even stopped a lady one time on the street and told her I thought she was absolutely beautiful. And then I just kept walking.

3. Write a nice note for your child’s teacher.

4. In hot weather, take a few cold bottles of water out to the mailman or garbage man when you see them come by.

5. Report good customer service to the management while still in the store.

6. Give a dollar to the homeless person. Who cares what they do with it? Obviously, you’re doing better than they are – so spread the wealth a little.

7. Tip really big – leave a $20 next time.

8. Have flowers anonymously delivered to someone you know could use a boost.

9. Consider yourself the Traffic Fairy for one full day – let all cars turn or merge in front of you.

10. When you see one of our troops, stop and say thank you.

Even committing just one of these will make you feel like a better person and a little more connected to the world. Go on, give it a try. I have fabulous shoes and drink a lot of coffee, so I'll be on the lookout for you.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Quitting My Job

Before I went on maternity leave, I realized that our bonuses would be paid shortly after my FMLA time was up. So, I called our HR representative and asked her if I’d still get my bonus if I left after maternity leave, and she told me I’d need to be employed the day the bonus was paid to get it. The way it turned out, bonuses were paid out 4 days after FMLA was up. And while my bonuses wouldn’t be tens of thousands of dollars, on a single income family, my bonus was definitely meaningful. So I decided that I’d return to work for at least those 4 days to get my bonus. My mom travels a lot, too, so she volunteered to come down to watch the girls while I went to the office.

My original thought was to tell work that I was quitting while still on leave. I’d tell them I’d come in for a few days to transition any remaining items that needed to be, then go. But then, a lot of people told me I shouldn’t do that, because they could very well just tell me not to come back, and I’d lose out on the money. And then, I worried about just how to tell them and when. Did I lie, and start work on that first day and pretend I’d stay, and then once I had the bonus in hand, quit? Or should I just be honest, give them my notice on my first day back, and risk losing the bonus?

I went with the honest approach. Today is the day I had to return to the office. And this morning, I told my manager I was quitting. Actually, we went in a conference room together (since I work in a cube farm), and he said, “Are you quitting?” I told him I was, then said I did want to help transition and also hoped I could still get my bonus. And instead of ushering me out the door, he actually told me I should make my last day next Friday, basically giving my two week notice. When I told him I didn’t have childcare for next week, he said I could just work from home. Since I plan to transition everything this week, working from home should mean answering an odd email or phone call here and there. My manager said he and our VP expected me to quit, and went on to say he was personally very happy that I was making the decision I was. He’s got twin toddler boys, and his wife is home with them fulltime, so he understood where I was coming from completely and was totally supportive.

I’m so glad I just stuck with being honest. I’ve been able to set expectations this morning that while I’m here, I’m a short-timer, so I’m not taking back any big projects and can really focus on making sure all of the information on my computer that might someday matter to someone else is in someone else’s hands. Or on their computer!

It’s weird to be back here, though. Before I left, we moved to flex space, which meant that no one got their own desk. Everyone just gets in in the morning and finds a place to sit. It didn’t go over too well, but we adjusted. But the problem was, there weren’t enough parking spaces in the garage for everyone. As a short-term solution, they started a shuttle bus from a nearby building. So if you got in late, spent 10 minutes trying to find a spot in the garage and couldn’t, you then got to drive a few minutes away to find a spot in a different garage, then take a shuttle to the office, where you had to try to find a desk and do it all again in reverse after work. Before maternity leave, word was they were going to build a new parking lot, so the shuttle would be a short-term thing. When I drove in this morning, I saw a parking space counter just outside the garage. It literally tells you precisely how many spots are left in the garage, so you can turn around and head to the other garage (or home!) if it’s full. And the line to get into the garage must have been 20 cars long! It was insane. And it made me very happy to quit, because I don’t want to deal with that forever! Apparently, they nixed the new parking lot, so parking woes will continue.

And now that I just called my mom and Miss Emily is refusing a bottle, I must run home and feed her, so I’m off for now.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Customer Service In Today's Economy Is More Important Than Ever

Recently, an acquaintance of mine had trouble with her lawn service company of 2 years. This company skipped 2 weeks in a row, one for rain and one because a crew member had heat exhaustion (both understandable excuses.)On the next scheduled visit day, the crew actually did not show up until 8:20 at night, after baby had already been put down for the night, and dogs let out to roam, because she assumed the crew was once again not going to show up. Needless to say, the cacophony of lawnmowers whirring, dogs running and barking, and the general melee of folks roaming around the yard, baby woke up, and mom ran around like crazy trying to quiet back down the household.

The following day, she sent an email to the owner of the company to complain about the hour of service and request in the future that all service visits be conducted prior to 5:30pm. She also requested a refund for the week's service due to the inconvenience. She forwarded me the actual correspondence, and it was very reasonably stated. The owner replied the following day with a shockingly nasty email.

In her email, the owner stated (in a very unprofessional manner) that her company had many, many customers, that the time of day was not unreasonable, no way would she ever guarantee a time frame, no way was she offering a credit because the work was performed and she better pay up, and lastly, if she didn't like it, go find a new company.

Yes, I am serious. This came from the OWNER of the company.

Well, needless to say, my acquaintance immediately discontinued service, and hasn't had time to find a new one because she's been busy telling everyone she knows about the event.

As a business owner, I am still in disbelief. (Kinda makes me want to go into the lawn service business simply because I could most definitely snag her customer base with nary a blink by simply being nice, but that's beside the point.) Perhaps she just doesn't understand customer service, and believes because she has so many customers, she doesn't need to be nice to them. In this declining economy, luxury services such as lawn care are one of the first things a family will cut out. She should be nervous. Very nervous. Not arrogant. I wish I could have coffee with this woman. I wish I could make her see the domino effect of her email. Well, since I do not know her, perhaps some of you can benefit from this event. If nothing else, think of it as a quick refresher course in customer service basics.

1. When a longtime customer has a complaint, whether you think it's valid or not, that complaint deserves attention. A phone call, not an email.

2. Apologize. Even if you don't believe your company was in the wrong. The customer thinks you are. So apologize. This isn't an ego contest. The customer is paying you, therefore, they are in the higher position. Apologize.

3. Apologize again.

4. If the customer has already told you what it will take to remedy it, do it. Anything less will not satisfy the customer, as they've already told you what will. In this case, the customer wanted to be credited a week's lawn service which costs, by the way, less than $40), and to have her lawn serviced sometime within a 10 hour timeframe.

5. If for some reason, you cannot accommodate the requested remedy, have a darn good reason why not and offer an alternative - an alternative that appears to give the customer more than they asked for.

6. If the customer has not suggested a remedy, ask. ASK!! Say these words, "Again, I can't apologize enough, how can we make this right with you?"

7. Agree on the remedy and follow through. Then follow up to ensure the customer truly is satisfied. When you follow up, apologize again, and thank the customer for allowing you to remedy the situation.

Had the owner of the lawn service company followed even one of the above, she may still have a customer. But she didn't. She allowed her own arrogance of being The Owner override her common sense. Because really, over $40 (the requested credit), and her adamant statements about being right and the customer being wrong, she just lost guaranteed revenue for the rest of this season of at least $400, future seasons with the same customer, and the word of mouth recommendation to others. (Which now is a word of caution - even more damaging.)

Just a word to the wise to all small business owners - in this economy, your customer service skills, or lack thereof, may very well be the thing that keeps you putting food on your table, or not.