Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Two Year Mark

See that? That's my office. I used to toil all day in a miserable gray cubicle but now I work on my laptop in my pajamas, on my bed. I work there because I can only work when my kids are asleep, and my two-year-old has some kind of mommy homing device that detects if I've left the room and she wakes up screaming if I try to work elsewhere in the house. So in order to work, I sit on the bed with my laptop, my notebook, my breakfast and my coffee, typing away while my two-year-old sleeps a few feet away in her toddler bed (my four-year-old is usually also sleeping in there, on the floor... that's another blog post...).

I've been a work-at-home mom for just over two years now. I formally quit my full-time job 6 weeks into my maternity leave with my second daughter, on my 34th birthday. It has been the best birthday gift I've ever given myself, and one that keeps on giving!

So, how have the last two years of working part-time from home on top of taking care of two small children been? At first it was pretty unmanageable. When I started working part-time from home, I only had one child, a two-year-old who slept pretty well and napped very well. Still, staying home all day with a two-year-old is a very intense, demanding experience and I had just gotten used to that when my second daughter was born. Having two kids is a totally different ballgame from having one, and the fact that my second daughter was (and at two years old, still is) a particularly needy baby made working from home shall we say, not work very well.

There have been a lot of challenges and a lot of exhaustion and painful learning experiences, but about six months ago, I finally started to feel like I had a handle on not only staying home with two children all day, but fitting work in as well. Lately I really feel like I have a system down and it's great.

I am blessed with a part-time, work-from-home job in my former field, software testing. It can be done any day, any hour, any schedule I want. I get up at about 6:00 on weekdays and work until my children wake up, then most days, I'm done for the day. Getting up that early isn't fun for a decidedly non-morning person like me (especially since my two-year-old STILL doesn't sleep very well...), but it means that after all the cooking, cleaning, washing, scrubbing, caring for my kids, playing with my kids, playdates, errands and other duties are done, any free time I can scratch out is MINE, ALL MINE. Believe it or not, I am able to scrape together some free time, which is easier as my kids are getting older, and I adore every second of it!

I'm a whirlwind of activity from 6:00 AM to about midnight most weekdays, but that's how it was when I worked full time, outside the home, too, only I hated every last minute of that. Being home with my children is something I demand out of life, and it is worth every second of hard work, juggling and sleep deprivation to make working part-time from home work!

Work-at-home moms, what hoops do you jump through to make your work work? What goofy office setups do you have? Tell me I'm not the only one who works in bed, in my PJs!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Why My Kids Won't be Sending Thank You Cards Any Time Soon

This year, my friends and family won't be getting any thank you cards for the Christmas presents they gave my kids. It's not because I don't appreciate what their thoughtfulness or because I'm overwhelmed, or even because after years of typing almost exclusively, my handwriting has slid into the state of barely legible. No, we won't be sending cards in the mail (sorry, USPS. I'd feel a bit worse about this if you hadn't lost the present I sent my in-laws this year). This year, I'm making my directorial debut, as I lead my young children in a series of videos, thanking everyone for their gifts.

A couple of weeks ago I was talking with a friend about how to teach kids gratitude. How to get them to a point where they appreciate each gift they receive and not slide into that " gimme, gimme, gimme," mode. My friend gave me a great suggestion -- rather than me write out thank you cards for my kids (who at 4 and 2 1/2 are too young to write cards themselves), take a video of the kids, with their gifts, and have them thank the person for the gift and tell them what they like about the present.

Not only is this good training for getting kids involved in the formal "thank you" process, but it makes them go back and contemplate each gift they received and think about the person who gave it to them. So, we've started doing it (which is incredibly easy with a smartphone) and emailing the videos off to everyone. So far, people seem to appreciate it. They seem to enjoy seeing the kids playing with and holding the gifts they received.

When it comes to gratitude and good manners, there is no one silver bullet, that will instantly teach them to appreciate that which they have. Instead, it's a matter of employing a variety of techniques and messages that will all, hopefully, teach them how fortunate they are and help them to be grateful for all which they've been given. I think these video thank you's are one, helpful, step in that process.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Grandma's Christmas Eve Dinner - An Evolving Tradition

Last week, Slate ran an article about the downfall of the recipe card. For some reason, it whipped up a frenzy of nostalgia in me. While the author mocked the holly berry cookies her mom used to make, it made me instantly crave them -- by the way, this year I'm declaring those holly berry cookies to be retro chic and a holiday must. The next day, I went to the grocery store and loaded up on cornflakes, food coloring and marshmallows. The result has been delicious, though my husband was a bit disturbed by the manic cookie-making that overtook me and our entire kitchen...

Okay, back to the main point of the article... The author fondly remembers the grease-spattered recipe cards, that often represent a bit of family history. It got me thinking about the oyster dish my grandma used to make every Christmas Eve. My family had few food traditions, but that is one that has stuck with me. Sadly, none of us ever got the recipe from her while she was alive and I have no idea what happened to her recipe cards after she died. Not only that, but none of us ever thought to ask her why it was that she made breaded, fried oysters for Christmas Eve every year. I did a few Google searches, trying to find out if it was a Swedish tradition, but didn't find anything, so the reasons seem to be gone along with her. While that recipe is gone, I've decided to bring back Christmas Eve oysters this year -- with my own touch. I'll be making Oysters Rockefeller. Part of me thought I should try my best to create Grandma's dish, but then I decided that a tribute to her with my own spin might be better. I never thought to ask her to teach me how to make them while she was alive, so I know they'll never really be "Grandma's."

Thus, the tradition will evolve. And, maybe that's as it should be. While so many of us love traditions, they all seem to slowly change and morph over the years. Even the traditions I've created for myself have changed bit by bit. I love, love, love Christmas movies and watch a whole slew of them every year. This year though, I noticed that some of the movies I used to watch annually (like White Christmas and Miracle on 34th Street), I now only watch every other year or so. Also, new movies like Love Actually (it's terrible, but I love it so) and The Holiday (plot aside, I could drool over Cameron Diaz's wardrobe and Kate Winslet's house every year) have found their way into the mix. Maybe the importance of the traditions isn't doing it exactly as it's always been done, but keeping the original spirit and thought alive in the tradition.

The mystery over my Grandma's oyster dish has made me realize that while I'm okay with traditions evolving, I really regret not having learned that bit of family history while I had the chance. It's gotten me interested in learning more about my genealogy. I know some about my mom's side of the family, but virtually nothing about my dad's side. I know that on my mom's I've got Swedish, Irish and Scottish ancestry. But, I don't know what that ancestry is on my dad's side -- though I think there's some German in there, and maybe some English... I've decided that in 2012, I want to spend time going through the family documents and archives that exist and talk to the family members who are likely to know the most about the family history while I have the chance. Has anyone else ever delved into geneaology?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

This is your child. This is your child on Christmas. Any questions?

This is your child.

This is your child on Christmas.

Any questions?

Before having kids, I anxiously awaited the time when I would be a mom and my kids would be in those wonderful years where they truly believed in Santa and the magic of Christmas. I dreamed of angelic children, wearing pretty party dresses (and gorgeous red coats). The trips to the carousel downtown, pictures with Santa, baking and decorating sugar cookies, matching Christmas jammies... I could hardly wait to turn the few weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas into one long stretch of merriment. Cocoa and carols. Presents and parties. Oh, the fun we'd have.

Now, while we are doing all of those things (and for the most part they're wonderful), this year I've noticed another side to Christmas with kids -- the side of Christmas that causes parents to consume lots and lots of egg nog. At four, my daughter's enthusiasm is on a whole, new level. She seems to have an electrical current of Christmas excitement coursing through her little body at every moment of every day. In years past, we'd have our fun experiences and moments, but the rest of our days went on, largely as any other. This year however, it's a constant, pulsating thump of expectations and excitement.

We do our advent calendar right after breakfast, starting the day off on a high. While that miniscule drop of chocolate is hardly enough to give her a sugar rush, the fun, new infusion into her morning routine is enough to start things off on a wild high. Things pretty much continue on in that vein for the rest of the day. Christmas cards arrive in the mail, the tree lights are turned on and off, inflatable yard ornaments are sighted, carols are heard, Christmas specials are watched on TV...

All of this anticipation-building merriment and excitement has changed her at a seemingly molecular level. She less resembles a young girl and more resembles a top, spinning around out of control until she crashes (or I do -- I admit to calling my husband in tears more than once this season). A four-year-old, bouncing off the walls in excitement is bound to find themselves in a fair number of time-outs and enacting more than their fair share of naughty behavior.

I have found myself so close to yelling "This is Christmas! We're supposed to be having festive, holiday fun, damn it! Start behaving yourself."

A true "Christmas girl" myself, I never thought I'd say this, but I need to find a way to survive the holidays. Somehow, I need to figure out how to calm and center our lives at home, so that we can go out and enjoy the fun festivities without the constant crashes. If Christmas is crack for kids, how do I maintain a comfortable, base-level high, without the wild rushes and dramatic crashes experienced by less-careful drug users?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Bullying has to stop.

If you haven't seen this video yet, it is a beautiful, very sad video made by a 13-year-old boy who has been bullied. In this very moving video, he expresses the way being bullied has made him feel and how awful it has been. This video made me cry, because no child should ever be made to feel this way. No child should be treated this way. It also reminded me of my own experience with bullying as a child.

Bullying was considered perfectly fine back when I was a kid. At least it seemed like it was, because the teachers and parents either did nothing and just let it happen, or sometimes even joined in. It sounds like it hasn't gotten a whole lot better, but schools and parents are starting to be forced to take notice and begin to work to prevent bullying, after many children have committed suicide due to being bullied.

I was relentlessly picked on, insulted and made fun of from 3rd to 6th grade. I was occasionally shoved or punched on the playground. Why? I was different. First, I changed schools in 3rd grade, so I was the "new kid." To add to that, I came from a family that was not originally from the area, my father being from the south and my mother having grown up in Europe. This meant that I didn't speak with the "right" or "normal" accent. My father was also a university professor and my mother had a Master's degree in French, so being academics, my parents spoke like dictionaries. Learning to talk from them, this meant that so did I.

My parents being academics, they didn't care about or pay attention to the latest fashion, so I didn't have the right haircut or the right shoes. I went to a Catholic school that had uniforms, so at least most of the time the class bullies couldn't make fun of me for my clothes, but I was relentlessly made fun of for having unfashionable shoes and hair.

I was also intelligent and had a natural rebellious streak, which meant that I got in a lot of trouble in the very strict environment in that school. I was not academically challenged, so I got bored and acted up.

Different accent, different way of speaking, unfashionable clothes, unfashionable hair, frequently in the principal's office. That's what made me different. These are subtle differences. They aren't earth-shattering. But they made me different enough that I was a constant target of insults and rejection. I hated school with a passion and dreaded going there every day. If having a few subtle differences makes school this hellish for a kid, I can't imagine what it's like for gay children.

Somehow in 6th grade, my parents let me get fashionable shoes and a trendy, asymmetrical 80's haircut and this was enough to get the bullies to leave me alone for the most part. I still wasn't popular, but I got to be good friends with a few of the other "rejects" and they made the rest of gradeschool a lot more pleasant.

I am very encouraged to see things like the It Gets Better Project and to see schools and parents begin to take bullying seriously and begin to try in earnest to stop it. I think we're only beginning to realize how damaging and how serious bullying really is, though, and we're only starting to get rid of the idea that "it's just kids being kids." I worry that my children will be bullied for talking like dictionaries, the way my husband and I do, or for having offbeat senses of humor, also thanks to my husband and me. I already know that if either of my children are bullied and the school does not resolve the problem immediately and to my satisfaction, I will not let them suffer, I will yank them right out of that school.

I hope kids that are being bullied will see Jonah Mowry's video and not feel so alone. I hope that his video will continue to raise awareness of how serious a problem bullying is. And Jonah, if at such a young age, you can respond to being bullied in such a creative and beautiful way, I am confident that you will grow up to be not just fine, but better than fine. If you can handle the pain of bullying in such a healthy way already, I bet you'll grow up to be successful and happy.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

I Wish I Were the Kind of Person Who...

The other night, as I stared at the dry, cracked, end-of-day, residual make-up clinging sadly to my skin, I thought to myself, "I wish I were the kind of person who took her makeup off (and applied a good, nighttime moisturizer) at the end of every day." It led to a whole string of "I wish I were the type of person who..." thoughts. Like, I wish I were the type of person who:

  • Took the dog for brisk, mind-clearing walks on a regular basis
  • Was a decent housekeeper (Not even great, my aspirations aren't that high - just tidy enough so that our house doesn't look as though it's just been burglarized on a regular basis)
  • Flossed daily
  • Never yelled or snapped at my children, but always remained calm and spoke to them in a low, authoritative voice, which they responded to and respected
  • Ate healthier (and, let's face it, had the figure to prove it)

This list could go on and on and on and on. From what I read on other blogs and in other parenting news, it sounds like most women have the same kind of ongoing commentary in their heads as well.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we think we need to be Martha Stewart (both the home-maker Martha, and the CEO-Martha)? But not just Martha, we should also be a little Heidi Klum while we're at it - great figure, wonderful sense of fashion, loving (and, let's just say it, sexy) wife - with an overwhelming dollop of June Cleaver, Mother-of-the-Year on top?

Why don't our thoughts go more along the lines of, "I'm so glad I'm the type of person who":

  • Loves her children and does her best to keep them safe, healthy and happy
  • Cares about her friends and wants the best for them
  • Enjoys any sort of party or celebration
  • Wishes all of her Facebook friends a happy birthday
  • Is good about sending thank-you notes

Why do we focus so much on our short-comings and so little on all of the things we actually do well? I'd like to think that this would be my New Year's Resolution for 2012. But, I know it won't. I'll go right back up to the first list and try to keep improving on the old model-me.

Friday, December 2, 2011

A Little Girl Sewing Little Dresses for Africa

My cousin's daughter is 10 years old and wants to be a fashion designer when she grows up. While many kids may say something like this, she's actually taking steps to get there. This girl blows me away. She's an incredibly talented artist and has recently started sewing lessons as well, to help her reach her goal.

While I can operate a sewing machine (most of the time... I'll admit that after a long break from sewing, I find myself back at the sewing machine store, begging them to re-teach me how to thread the darn thing), I am by no means a sewer. My hems are crooked and nothing's what you'd call even. I like to think of my products as having a charming, homespun look... This girl however, her pieces, they're a work of art.

So... last night at a family birthday party, we were asking her how her sewing lessons were going. She told us that she'd recently made five Little Dresses for Africa. I'd never heard of this organization before, but I must say, it sounds incredible.

Little Dresses for Africa- This is a non-profit organization that encourages people around the U.S. to turn pillowcases into cute, simple dresses for girls in Africa, who are desperate for clothes. It's a simple idea, yet an inspiring one. (The picture in this post is one I borrowed from their site.)

In the news, we so often hear about the bad things that are going on with kids. The childhood obesity, the decline in U.S. test scores, the bullying, the cyber-bullying, anorexic five-year-olds... So, when I hear of something like this, it's refreshing. Here's a young, 10-year-old girl, spending her time to sew dresses for other little girls, halfway around the world. This next generation, it just may be alright after all.

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