When the stars (un)align

The water sign, Scorpio, is sentimental, change averse and despises feeling out of control.

I am a Scorpio.

To a T.

So, when the pandemic impacted our traditional Easter gathering back in March, I may have gritted my teeth, but also knew we could manage. I declared the menu would remain the same, we would just recreate it ourselves and not travel our usual two hours to visit family. We could do it. Even if it was just Parsons Party of Four.

Bring on the ham and deviled eggs.

Then weeks turned into months. Vacations and flights were canceled. Fourth of July was scaled back with no firework displays in sight. Pumpkins were purchased in grocery store parking lots instead of off the vine. Now, I was beginning to panic.

I talked myself down during Halloween, which felt the most uninterrupted. My kids still dressed up—and masked up—and participated in our neighborhood Trick-or-Treat (bring on the Reese’s). Neighbors got creative with candy distribution and helped make the holiday safe, yet memorable, which boosted my hope for the upcoming months.

In early November, COVID cases were massively spiking and the heavy holiday hitters were around the corner. When we canceled our Thanksgiving plans, I fought every Scorpio urge to dramatically fall to my knees, shaking my fist at the heavens. Blame it on my astrological sign or the fact that we don’t live near family, but I am steadfast in tradition. Packing the minivan to the brim to visit all the aunts, uncles and cousins adds complexity, but it’s always been worth it for my kids to experience the holidays the way I was able to. We would spend days bouncing from one relative’s home to another and while it was exhausting, we’d always return home smiling, new memories in tow.

I recognize we’re lucky. Our holidays have always been full of boisterous laughter.

And homemade apple pie.

And reminiscing with hometown friends.

And so many people crammed into a house someone inevitably cracks a window.

And horribly off-key sing-a-longs.

And Italian goodbyes (it’s a thing. Look it up).

And 12 combinations of family photos—Quick! Before anyone leaves! Get the girl cousins! (See above. Italian Goodbyes).

And my mother-in-law’s gingerbread.

And…

2020 wasn’t the year for any of that. So, I was determined to pivot and recreate what we could. Turns out Scorpios do have some positive traits.

Thanksgiving may not have been typical, but it did have homemade apple pie (thanks, Aunt Ida for the recipe). It did have reminiscing with hometown friends (thanks, Zoom). It also had us staying in one spot. For the first time in 15 years my husband and I spent the holiday under our own roof. It was weird, but also weirdly nice.

By December I had accepted that there wouldn’t be cookie decorating with the little cousins. Or Christmas Eve Eve (yes, that’s two eves. We do December 23rd big) with the big cousins. Or an epic Christmas Eve charcuterie board with a signature cocktail at my in-laws’.

We’d be staying put.

Again.

And then something happened. We woke up on December 25th to snow. An actual White Christmas. With nowhere to be except with each other. We had never experienced a Christmas morning like this. Normally from the time we wake up we’re on the clock. Santa came! Open presents at one house.  Have cookies for breakfast. Open presents at another by 11 a.m. Is anyone hungry for lunch? Does a child need to nap? What time do we need to leave for dinner? When was the last time the kids had a bath?

This was a Christmas without timelines. Our girls bounded into the living room, shrieking with delight at the sight of their gifts, inspecting the chimney and discussing the logistics of Santa’s worldly travels. My husband and I sat together, observing, listening in on the sisterly chatter and smiling. Even the dog was curled up and relaxing by the tree.

As the girls’ imaginations ran wild exploring their new toys, I sat in my jammies—all day— leisurely sipping spiked eggnog. It was peaceful and truly joyful, even though it was different.

2020 taught me that new traditions can still be magical, change isn’t always bad, and we can recognize disappointment without allowing it to ruin our holidays. It also taught me that I might have an unhealthy correlation with food and celebrations, but that’s a conversation for another time…

 (Wednesdays. With my therapist).

Lots of things are hard. Here’s something that isn’t.

Excuse me while I have a little rant.

2020 is weird. We are living in the midst of a global pandemic. It’s confusing and scary and I’ll give you that in the beginning, information seemed to change by the day. But seven months in we seem to have a better understanding of what’s happening. Some of the best and brightest are navigating new findings and research as they work toward treatment and a vaccine for COVID-19.

Waiting is hard. However, we cannot simply throw up our hands with despair until then. There is currently (as in RIGHT NOW) a consensus among MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS on how to slow the spread of COVID-19.

We KNOW (as in not theorize or speculate or even perhaps THINK) that a COMBINATION of three things works to fend off the virus.

First, physically distance yourself from others. Ideally, six feet or more.

Then, wash your hands often and thoroughly. Sing the ABCs, Happy Birthday or if you’re in my house, Baby Shark, twice.

And finally, here’s the kicker, people. Wear a mask. And not over your chin or hanging around your neck. But rather, over the parts of your face that project germs onto other human beings, thus, potentially spreading the virus. This includes your nose (where mucus dwells) AND your mouth (where saliva resides).

Here’s what else we know:

This is not hard.

Much like the mantra I used to repeat before leaving the house, “phone, wallet, keys” now, there’s simply one more thing.

Phone. Wallet. Keys. Mask.

Four things. Instead of three. Not hard.

Also, wearing a mask to protect your fellow Americans is not political and is not about your personal rights. One more time…

WEARING A MASK IS NOT ABOUT YOU OR VIOLATING YOUR PERSONAL RIGHTS.

Here’s a situation that’s become increasingly more common. Last week my husband was grocery shopping in an upper-middle class suburb of Ohio. I describe the socioeconomic status because, generally speaking, there are educated, informed people who reside and shop there.

While in the store, my husband came across a 30-something-year-old male with his mask pulled completely off his face, resting underneath his chin. I won’t tell you what the man’s hat said because that isn’t the point of my rant, but feel free to draw your own conclusions. My husband told me the exchange went something like this:

Husband: You’re supposed to wear that over your face.

Unmasked man, smirking: Yeah, I got it.

Husband: Ooh bad boy. You’re a real rebel.

Something to note about my husband. He’s never been a fan of conflict. He’s more of a “sweep it under the rug” kind of guy, preferring to internalize opposition versus facing it head on. Over the years I have embarrassed him on more than one occasion for not being able to keep my mouth shut. A few days before I gave birth to our first daughter, we went to the movies for one last outing. A couple of middle-aged women sat behind us and talked for a solid two hours comparing each scene in the movie to the book that it was based on. When I hissed at the women to KINDLY STOP THE COMMENTARY he wanted to crawl into a hole and die.

So, when my husband told me the grocery store confrontation didn’t end there, I knew he had had it.

I imagined him aggressively wheeling his cart to the checkout line to dramatically flag down someone in management, but in fairness, the most aggressive thing about him is probably his scowl.

Husband to grocery store manager: Why is it acceptable for people to take their mask off once inside the store?

Manager: Well, we aren’t going to say anything to cause a scene.

Husband: Would you say anything to me if I didn’t have a shirt on?

Manager: Probably, but I get where that guy is coming from. I’m an anti-masker.

Husband: Well that may be, EXCEPT YOU’RE WEARING A MASK RIGHT NOW BECAUSE IT’S REQUIRED.

End scene.

But really. How did we get here? When did caring about other people (also known as LOVE THY NEIGHBOR) become political? When did we lose empathy and compassion as a human race? How is preventing the spread of a harmful virus a polarizing notion?

Those refusing to wear a mask are openly saying they don’t care about other people. The scoffing attitude says it. The no mask says it. The reality is you can’t plead ignorance anymore. The virus will not magically go away on its own. We have resources and an understanding of what we need to do FOR EACH OTHER. Maybe you feel invincible. Fine. But there are plenty of people around you who aren’t. I, for one, would like to actually hug my parents sometime soon, instead of having to elbow bump them hello in the driveway. And I’d also like to keep them around for a while.

In case my use of all capitalized words sprinkled throughout this rant was lost on you, I’d like to clarify that I’m doing it to PROVE A POINT.

I hope you took a minute to reflect and think beyond yourself.

It’s only a mask. Put it on.

Please.

And thank you.

What I want my daughter to know about resilience

Two weeks into the already tumultuous school year that is 2020, my three-year-old came home and announced that a friend was laughing at her. 

It’s been hard to watch my youngest child begin preschool during a pandemic. There are more questions than can fit into her little brain and she’s had a tough time leaving her best mommy at home (her words, I swear). So, weary with conversation that lay ahead, I sighed, and continued to cautiously probe.

Wanting to make sure I heard her correctly, I asked, “Your friend is laughing at you?” I tried to keep judgement and emotion out of my voice. 

Don’t overreact.

“Yes,” she nodded emphatically. “Every day at school she laughs at me.” Her tone was even and matter of fact.

My chest went tight with motherly rage as she confirmed what I thought I’d heard. Of course I know toddlers taunt and tease as they learn to socially navigate relationships with their peers. Still, my daughter’s words hit hard.

She’s being laughed at.

How do I guide and reassure my goofy, fun loving three-year-old in an age appropriate way? How do I balance what I want to tell her with what I should tell her?

When my girls were babies my parenting concerns revolved around physical development, socialization, proper nutrition and overall health and safety. I read all the books, blogs, tracked milestones and hung onto every word my pediatrician rattled off. Simply put, I just wanted them to be okay (as defined by the American Academy of Pediatrics that is).

This moment with my daughter catapulted me into a new phase. I was officially leaving “survival mode” and entering “tough issues parenting.”

My instincts were to scoop her up and tell her she’s perfect. But I have learned enough to know that coddling my children when faced with adversity won’t serve them well in the long run (see, I read the books). While I may have almost had to physically restrain myself from squeezing her…I managed to hold back. 

I knew her three-year-old brain couldn’t comprehend it, but the lesson I wanted to share–and someday will–is that I believe resilience comes down to two things: 

The ability to

  1. Reflect
  2. Move on

I believe moments of reflection evolve into self awareness. Both are crucial to bouncing back from things that negatively affect us. Your thoughts and feelings are valid. It’s important to acknowledge how an interaction made you feel. Be aware of how you react and respond. Once you’ve taken the time to reflect, don’t dwell (here’s where I need to take my own advice). 

Give credit to the moment, FEEL, then MOVE ON.

Someone made you feel crappy? You cried? Did you eventually stop? Yes? Great. Now, move on.

You felt embarrassed? Then you got defensive? Would you do that again? No? Good. Now, move on.

You’re angry? You responded with hurtful words? Was that a good idea? No? Okay. Now, move on.

The resounding lesson of my youth was it doesn’t matter what other people think of you. It matters what YOU think of you. But I don’t think that’s entirely true. Simply NOT caring what people think about you doesn’t equate to resilience. You should expect interactions with others to affect you. Even if logic tells you it doesn’t matter, you’re human. Of course it affects you. 

Give credit to the moment, FEEL, then MOVE ON.

As a mother, seeing the raw vulnerability of my child— that I can do nothing about— is terrible. Instinct is to protect, though I know experiencing these moments will eventually serve her well. After I mentally played out this life lesson I finally followed up with, “How did it make you feel when your friend was teasing you?”

Her little brow furrowed as she cocked her head in confusion. “No, Mommy. No one teased me. My friend laughs at me every day! Because I’m FUNNY! I love making my friends laugh!”

Her face broke into a smile and she jumped into the air to emphasize this sentiment. 

“Silly Mommy!” She belly laughed at the idea of correcting me, pigtails swaying behind her as she bounded out of the room.

I stood stunned, trying to find the words once my brain made the connection. 

Ohhhhhh.

What now?

Relief? 

Fear. I think fear.

We are in so much trouble.

Parenting—and working—in a pandemic

As a working mom of two young girls—who has lived through a “stay at home order” and now a “responsible restart”—there is no escaping the reality of our new normal. COVID-19 has turned our daily routines upside down and amped up our innermost fears and anxieties. Yet in the current environment my husband and I are considered privileged. We are in high-demand industries, with the ability to technically do our jobs from home. But while the paychecks are still rolling in, so are the challenges.

Early on we decided not to over explain the situation to the curious little minds in our house. We kept answers simple. We’re staying home so we don’t get sick or get other people sick. But as time goes on, there’s no sidestepping the severity of living through a pandemic.

We’re months (years?) into this new dynamic and admittedly, I thought I’d feel more settled by now. Though not as peppered with questions from the kiddos as I’d anticipated, we’re still trying our best to keep them busy and distracted.

All while trying to work.

Working from home is one thing when the kids are at daycare and I’m sipping coffee in my home office with the dog nestled at my feet. It’s quite another in the current environment.

I feel for those who are quarantined or social distancing alone. I can’t imagine how isolating and lonely the days must be. But my challenges are different. My children are young, active (massive understatement) and in constant need of things to do. Crafts and coloring only hold their attention for so long before they’re looking to what’s next. My conference call schedule is in competition with every snack request, every “are you done working yet?” and every tattle of “she’s not sharing!”

Luckily my kids aren’t school aged yet, so I’m not also faced with the challenges of homeschooling. I can’t fathom trying to teach long division on top of our current workload. While my husband’s work has allowed him to pick up the brunt of the childcare for now, we still find ourselves in a stand off of whose-meeting-is-more-important. Who will be overseeing toddler activity of the hour while on mute and inevitably asking, “Can you repeat the question?” while the other “luxuriates” in our quiet home office?

My productivity is being stretched along with my patience. No, I’m not on the front lines of the pandemic, but I do work in healthcare, which means there’s no escape, no “this can wait ‘til tomorrow”. The situation changes by the hour and much like my children, demands my attention.

Each day has been go go go. Just survive. Just keep moving. A balancing act all while trying not to snark at the spouse. Just keep smiling, feeding, working, feeding again, bathing, reading, sweet dreaming, still smiling.

Then it stops.

My anxiety sets in at night. When the constant buzz of the day fizzles out. When I have to remember to breathe. When life finally settles and the world goes silent. I find myself in bed, eyes wide, looking at the ceiling. My heart thumping in my ears, only interrupted by the soft snoring of my dog (and my husband). I never used to find the darkness haunting. But with so many layers of fear and unknowns and trying to hold it all together…the night is where I let myself feel.

It’s where I tell the anxiety to come in and get it over with already. I make peace with its presence and I play out the what ifs, the horrible worst-case scenarios and eventually, I do remember to breathe.

Of course logic tells me there’s nothing to do but handle each day as it comes and try to regroup every night. My regrouping may look different than others’, but it’s how I’m managing. It’s my way of proving to myself that even if I don’t believe it to be true in a particular moment, I have to know we’ll make it through. As a family. As a country. As a human race.

So, for now it’s a day of chaos—and a night of anxiety—at a time.

Here’s how I know I’m done having kids

One morning, after a rousing rendition of up-every-two-hours-with-a-teething-baby, bleary eyed yet caffeinated, I texted my best friend:

I am 100% done having children. I can’t do this anymore.

She came through with some sympathetic words, mood-lightening emojis and a gentle reminder that this is temporary. It’s the fatigue talking, she suggested.

But no. That morning sitting like a zombie in my office cube, I meant it. The night before as I rocked my youngest and stroked her wispy baby curls I knew I was done. She chewed on her fingers and looked up at me with wide eyes and a tear-stained face. We locked eyes and while I didn’t resent her in that moment (how could I?) I did feel a sense of finality with this stage of motherhood. I realized I’m ready to move on. I’m ready to watch her grow into a person and move beyond the baby years.

Eventually life moved beyond that evil emerging molar, and we settled back into our routine. I returned to a functioning member of my team at work. And at home I’d catch myself smiling, looking at my two girls as they played together with my husband. This is what our family is meant to look like. Life is loud and full and happy. I don’t need anything else.

Then one night as we were getting ready for bed, after a visit with some friends who are expecting their first baby, my husband said it.

I miss when you were pregnant.

My heart raced a little— surely he didn’t mean it. After seeing our friends he must be having a weak moment. HE had been the one adamant that two children is enough. HE had been the one to quickly shut down any “what ifs” that I’d raised. How does he say this right after I declare that we’re finished and I really, really mean it?

So, I reminded him. No, you don’t. You don’t miss my cankles and carpal tunnel syndrome. My complaining and flopping around as I’d try to get comfortable with no less than six pillows each night. My anxiety at each doctor’s appointment as I waited to hear if my blood pressure was rising again. Really, you don’t miss it.

Oh, but he did. He claimed it was the other stuff. The magic of it all. Feeling the baby move, wondering if it was a boy or a girl and what our family dynamic would be like when the baby arrived. Relax, he’d said. He was just being wistful. No more babies are in our future.

As he rolled over that night and went to sleep (easily, might I add) I lay awake reliving his words. I knew what he meant. Growing a family is a special time as a couple and it was filled with awe. After this conversation I was now 75% sure we were good with the two we have.

Life settled back in again, but this time my four-year-old threw me. She climbed up on the couch into my lap and put her arms around my neck.

“Mommy,” she sighed and paused dramatically as though a big proclamation was looming. She pulled back and looked me in the eyes. “I’d like a brother.”

I laughed her comment off and explained she had a sister, which was great. I only had a sister, Daddy only had a sister and we are all very happy. She brushed me off in a couple of minutes and ran off to play.

But then I found myself thinking. What’s one more kid really. We know what we’re doing. We’d be so much more relaxed. We already have a minivan for cryin’ out loud!

In my heart of hearts I believe we are done. I’m grateful for what I have and I love our family, but there are small moments where I catch myself wondering if a little boy would round us out. If we just waited until our youngest was a little older…

It’s little moments of second guessing, wondering and daydreaming. But it’s big moments of practicality (hello, daycare costs) and reason that reel me back in. We’re doing fine just the way we are.

So, like I said…

That’s how I know I’m 50% sure we’re done having children.

My experience of my first mammogram—at age 33:

There’s no two ways about it—  I’m considered high-risk for developing breast cancer in my lifetime. In fact, based on my known risk factors and family history I have a lifetime risk of 37%. While this number may not seem high on its own, anything over 20% is considered high risk.

Fortunately or unfortunately, however you look at it, I’m very aware of breast cancer and my risks. The disease is prevalent on both sides of my family in varying forms and degrees, and the reality is I’m 33 years old and I need to start paying attention.

I’ve always believed in the importance of being proactive in my healthcare. But that doesn’t make it easy to think about “what could be.” I could choose to stick my fingers in my ears, close my eyes tightly like a toddler and shake my head singing “lalala” to drown out reality. But that’s not the responsible thing to do as partner to my husband, a mother to my daughters or even to myself. Burying my head in the sand doesn’t lower my risk. So when my family doctor recommended that I see a breast specialist, I agreed.

After meeting with a genetic counselor and my breast specialist, we’ve now determined a regular cadence for my screenings. First up was a mammogram. I know this is hindsight, but I cannot stress enough that it’s really NO BIG DEAL. I’ve heard countless stories about women avoiding this test. Maybe it’s due to embarrassment, fear of pain or fear of finding something scary. Whatever the reason, and this may sound harsh, but, get over it.

I was nervous, too. For all the reasons I listed above. Maybe I lucked out because I have access to great care and a newer facility, but my experience was almost pleasant. If you’ve never had a mammogram and have any hesitations about going, here was my experience:

Even before I arrived, scheduling the appointment was a breeze. I called and was able to get in 24 hours later. Once in the facility I was welcomed, immediately brought back to registration and then taken to a waiting room with private lockers. A nurse showed me where to store my belongings, told me to undress from the waist up and gave my a robe to change into while I waited. (One note: wearing a white robe with nothing underneath in a freezing cold room may make an already self conscious woman even more so. I would have preferred a darker color or thicker fabric, but I also tried to keep in mind this wasn’t a spa visit.)

When the radiologist called me and walked me to the x-ray room, she did a great job explaining how the procedure would go and what to expect. It was a little odd to disrobe, but after giving birth to two children my modesty in hospital settings is pretty much null. 

The actual imaging was very quick. I was positioned two different ways for each breast, and only had to take one arm out of a sleeve at a time, preserving some dignity. It wasn’t the most comfortable process, physically or mentally, but it was efficient. The radiologist was friendly and apologetic as she clamped (yes, clamped) each breast onto the machine and directed me when to breathe or when to hold my breath. I was able to put my robe back on immediately after we finished.

The best part, which was unexpected as a first-timer, is the doctor read the results and talked to me while I was still there. I was under the impression that I’d be waiting 24 hours for results like many other tests, and that maybe “no news is good news.” That game is always a little anxiety inducing, so I appreciated the immediate feedback.

The doctor came in and talked me through what he saw (dense tissue, which at my age is to be expected) and what he didn’t see (anything alarming requiring further imaging). He mentioned the MRI would give a better picture, but that everything looked good.

Immediate relief.

I realized I’d been more nervous than I thought. I’d heard over and over, “getting a mammogram is no picnic,” but it really wasn’t that bad. So my breasts had the living daylights squeezed out of them for a few minutes. Ultimately the experience provided me with peace of mind and allowed me to feel more in control of my health.

My message here is twofold: One, find a healthcare provider you trust and make a prevention/screening plan together that you both are comfortable with. Two, follow through with that plan.

You owe it to your family and to yourself to be the healthiest you can. God forbid any issues arise, the earlier they are caught the better. Take the time to take care of yourself.

 

Dear, Husband, Let’s not wait another three years before we go away together.

Dear, Husband,

Let’s not wait another three years before we go away together.

Really. No more excuses. No more guilt. I promise.

We’ve put this off for so long, for so many reasons:

We get such little free time. We should spend vacations as a family. We shouldn’t spend the money. We can’t ask anyone to watch our kids overnight. Maybe next year when the kids are older.

On the heels of our first true parental getaway I’ve realized a couple of things.

I still really like you. Sure, our relationship has evolved over the last 17 years, between jobs and marriage and kids, but I’m proud that we’re growing together. Do we have days where logistics consume us? Of course. We may have perfected the kids’ bedtime routine with minimal depth of conversation and maximum efficiency, but in order to stay a “we” we need more than that. It’s hard to break out of the everyday and push ourselves to do something for us, but it’s essential.

I’ve realized there’s no one else I’d rather eat and drink my way through a new city with. No one else I’d rather share the eye rolls with as we judge fellow travelers who go barefoot on the plane and lack personal space. No one else I’d rather take a historical walking tour in blazing 90 degree heat with. Stay my travel partner for life. Let’s continue to make each other a priority, try new things and create memories.

When it’s just us, you remind me who I am. You encourage me to say yes more. Yes to staying out later than I have in years, drinking beer and singing along to live music with fellow patrons. Yes to trying new things, to making split second decisions about what to do or where to eat and (momentarily) forgetting about life back home. You show me that spontaneity is a good thing, and push me to think bigger without being a slave to “the plans.”

It’s healthy for everyone to have a break. Before we had kids I always thought our “break” would be during the work day. Why would we more need time away? As a somewhat seasoned mom, I now understand we still need a break from relentless, hectic schedules. It isn’t just work— it’s the morning routines, the overflowing inboxes, the errands we squeeze in at the end of the day. It’s okay to recharge. Part of the reason we put off going away is because of the guilt. Our time spent as a family is already limited, how could we rationalize spending more time away? I felt like I was defending our decision before we even finalized our travel plans. But I now see that it’s good for everyone. We had time to reconnect and explore the world without the restrictions of a 5 p.m. dinner bell, strollers, nap schedules and diaper changes.

And with us out of town our children get the gift of quality time with their grandparents. We see family regularly, but living two hours away has its limitations. We tend to cram as much in on our weekend visits as possible, running from house to house, shoveling in rushed meals to make the rounds. Often on our Sunday drives back home I’ll look at you and wryly say, “Hi. How was your weekend?” because we’re so consumed by the non-stop action that we barely talk.

Trying to make the most of our time with family also gives the grandparents the short end of the stick. They only have so much time to spend with the kids and usually it isn’t one on one. I now think it’s a bit of a gift to the grandparents (though, we know they work for it!) for even a couple of days where they can enjoy our kids to themselves.

Now that we’ve done it—the first real mom and dad getaway under our belt—I promise I don’t need any more convincing. I will make you a priority. Make us a priority. Next time we leave you’ll have to race me to the car as I wave goodbye to the kids over my shoulder, barely containing my excitement.

I get it now. They’ll be fine. And you and I will be even better.

What I’m really saying when I say ‘yes’ to mismatched toenail polish

“Mommy! When did you do THAT?” my three-year-old asked me in awe after she noticed my fresh pedicure. She crouched down near the ground to get a better look, carefully analyzing the hue of pink on my toes. She approved my color choice and EVERY HOUR FOR THE REST OF THE DAY she begged me to please, please, please paint her toes. When I finally gave in she informed me that her left toes would be pink and her right toes would be purple.

Um.

I’m embarrassed to say I flinched at her suggestion. I attempted to reason with her and launched into an explanation about how it looks better when we match and use one color. But she persisted and stood firm on her request. I took a breath preparing to counter again, and then I caught myself.

I swallowed the Type A, rigid nonsense I was spewing and told her to pick whatever colors she wanted. She could barely contain herself as she sorted through my nail polish collection. I realized by reframing that moment I was doing more than just approving her nail polish color.

What I was really saying to her was:

It’s good to be creative:

At three and a half, you love color! Every day there’s a new “favorite” and why should nail polish be any different? Be proud that your fashion sense doesn’t conform. There’s so much time to worry about what people think. When you’re 13 I’m sure we’ll be having a very different conversation. So for now—do what you want and do it with pride. Your creativity is blossoming more each day and I promise to embrace it.

I value who you are:

You don’t have to be just like me and that’s okay. We can disagree and like different things. It’s empowering to make your own choices (within reason—you are still in preschool after all). As you grow and learn more about the world around you I want to show you that what you think matters.

As your mom, I will try to let go:

Up until now I have made every decision for you. I decorated your nursery. I chose your clothes. I bought your toys and books. I’ve decided what you’re eating for each meal. But now that you’re becoming a person with your own identity and opinions, I need to let you have a say. It goes against everything that is natural for me, but I will do my best to let go.

Once we settled on a couple of colors, we spent the new few minutes excitedly talking together, filing nails and then carefully painting. My daughter’s grin was wide the entire time as she beamed with pride over her choices.

The next morning when she woke up and kicked her little mismatched toes out from under the covers, I was reminded of her spirit, perseverance and individuality. With her eyes barely open and messy curls splayed over her pillow, she glanced down at her feet. Her face lit up as she remembered her toes were painted. She gave me the biggest smile and said, “Look, Mommy! Remember what we did? Left in pink and right in purple.”

Murphy’s Law for business travel: When Mom’s away…someone will definitely puke

Last week I was on a business trip and received a text from my husband at 6:30 a.m.

“What’s the worst thing you could wake up to, child-wise?” he asked, somewhat rhetorically.

Puke. Oh no. Puke. Someone puked.

Sure enough the baby had been hit with her first stomach bug. I was helpless, hundreds of miles away and riddled with guilt. My husband tried to assure me he was fine and all would be well, but I felt terrible. I looked down at my running shoes, fresh off an uninterrupted workout. Then glanced at my room service tray— complete with hot coffee unaided by multiple microwave warm ups. And tried to avert my eyes from the book peeking out of my bag that I’d actually been able to read on the plane.

Guilt. Guilt. More guilt. And throw in a little extra guilt just because.

Business travel is a part of being a working mom, and though I don’t always mind it, I am acutely aware of how much it impacts my family.

For my husband it’s a complete disruption of his work schedule. Daycare doesn’t open until 7, which is when he usually arrives at his school. With almost an hour drive after drop off, he has no choice but to ask colleagues to cover his classroom until he arrives. He assures me it’s not a big deal, but I know his mornings are much more hectic than he’s used to. There’s no relief at the end of the work day, because the second the last school bell rings, the chaos spills into the evening. He’s back with the kids doing pickup, dinner, bath and bed. Instead of working a 9-5 shift, he’s on the hook for 16 hours each day that I’m gone. And that’s when the kids are healthy. Throw in a puker and it’s a whole different ball game.

For my kids we’ve now entered the phase of parenting where I have to explain why I’m leaving, where I’m going and when I’ll be back. In some ways it’s harder now that my oldest daughter understands. I’m peppered with questions:

But who will take me to school?

But why do you have to leave?

But I will miss you!

I do my best to stay upbeat and set a positive example. We talk about keeping commitments and why working is important. I always say how much I’ll miss them, but try not to dwell on it.

For me I’m conflicted. I look forward to uninterrupted sleep, morning exercise and maybe reading the novel that’s had a bookmark in it for two months. But it’s certainly not a vacation. I tend to work longer hours while I’m away on travel and have to fight the urge to check in at home too often. I miss my family, but I know they will be okay without me. 

•      •      •

Later that evening I called my husband to check in. He was in surprisingly good spirits as he recounted yet another episode of projectile vomit by the baby while our three-year-old shrieked in horror. He laughed with a “what can you do” attitude then asked me how my day had been.

I had wrapped up a full day at my conference with a little sightseeing and was enjoying a top-notch Italian dinner by myself. I was sitting in an open-air restaurant on a beautiful spring day, facing the sidewalk, people watching and sipping on a glass of red wine. My meal was stellar and still hot when I finished it. No one interrupted me. Even the server seemed to sense how much I was relishing in dining alone. He didn’t come by until I was very clearly ready to be rolled out with my gluttony.

“Oh you know how these things are. Meetings…networking and such…just grabbed some dinner,” I fumbled, trying not to give away how carefree the last couple hours of my day had been.

With a knowing chuckle, he said, “I’m glad you’re having a good time. We’re fine, but miss you. We’ll Facetime later.”

He said this with such sincerity that my guilt melted away—just for a minute. I was left with gratitude for a partner who truly steps up without resentment. My husband knows I feel terrible being away, but he also know we can’t change it. So he accepts it as part of the deal and jumps in seamlessly. Even when the special hell that is Murphy’s Law rears its ugly head.

Being a working mom is hard. While traveling and being away can feel brutal at times, I also know how lucky I am. As I hung up the phone, reveling in appreciation, I remembered no one was around to tell me I couldn’t grab dessert at the bakery next door. So I stopped in and indulged for another quiet minute before heading back to my hotel for a night cap of email.

When bad parenting happens to good moms

Last night I experienced what can only be described as a parenting fail. I was a complete floundering mess in parental uncharted territory.

My three-year-old has been in swimming lessons for nine weeks. For some reason at the beginning of last night’s class there was a mixup and my daughter was momentarily confused about where to go. Her teacher patted her head, attempting to reassure her, but as her class walked over to the showers, I saw her come unglued.

She anxiously scanned the crowd of parents, locked eyes with me and immediately ran my way. She collapsed into my arms, bursting into tears. Though it was out of character for her, I knew what triggered it. I saw the confusion in the beginning of class shake her, but assumed she’d power through.

I was wrong.

I knew the tears and death grip she had on me meant I needed to bust out some masterful negotiating skills, but inside I was panicking. This is not my child. Why is she acting like this?!  I tried to stay positive as I pulled out every trick I could think of.

Let’s take deep breaths!

Let’s go for a walk, calm down and come right back!

Let’s just dip your feet in the pool until you’re ready to get in!

She wasn’t budging. In fact, her mood was rapidly deteriorating. Now she was wailing (in front of everyone), “I want to go homeeeeeeee!”

My compassion was dwindling. I was losing control. I reminded myself that the three-year-old does not dictate the schedule. I AM THE PARENT. We were not leaving. I was determined to get her to come around.

I shifted my strategy. Upbeat Mommy wasn’t working. I morphed into Stern Mommy who meant business. Surely she’d sense my tone change and cooperate.

“GET in the pool.”

“You do this every week.”

“Right now. Get in. Get in. Right now.”

By this point her tears had dried, but she was not backing down. She stared at me, unwavering, standing her ground.

“No. I’m not getting in.”

Stern Mommy had left the aquatic center. Desperate Mommy was now in the building. I stooped to the level of taking things away and making threats. To a three-year-old.

“If you don’t learn to swim now, we can’t go swimming at Nana’s this summer.”

“Good. I don’t want to swim at Nana’s.”

“If you don’t get in we’re not coming back next week.”

“Good. I don’t want to come back.”

“If you don’t get in we’re going home and you’re going to bed without reading ANY books.”

“Good. I don’t want to read.”

With each threat I was becoming increasingly more desperate. As the words were escaping my lips I knew it was wrong, but I couldn’t let go. I crouched down to her level, cursing my choice of long sleeves in the 9,000 degree aquatic center. My emotional state only added to my raising body temperature and beads of sweat trickled down my back as I pleaded with my daughter.

For 30 minutes we continued this back-and-forth before I finally conceded. I took her by the hand (maybe a little too tightly) and headed to the parking lot, completely mortified. Neither of us spoke on the ride home.

My daughter doesn’t act like this. She’s brave. She’s well behaved. She’s sweet. And if she’s not, she rarely reveals her stubborn side in public. But if I’m being honest, she’s also shy. She takes a while to warm up. If she isn’t comfortable she licks her lips nervously and shifts her weight. She clams up. Often she puts a brave face on, but in times of uncertainty or embarrassment she’s capable of a breakdown.

Instead of embracing my daughter’s emotions and chalking it up to a bad day, I almost lost my composure. I was embarrassed by her unwillingness to participate and furious with myself for letting her win.

The reality is neither of us won.

Later, as she was getting ready for bed she was still pouting a bit, but I told her I loved her. I left her bedroom saying, “Let’s not think about swimming lessons anymore for tonight and start over tomorrow.”

Start over tomorrow. Words of wisdom I offered my daughter when I needed to take my own advice.

In my few short years as a parent I’m learning just how inadequate moments like these can make me feel. They come on quickly, seemingly out of nowhere— and almost always hit when I’m on a smug high of “my kid would never…”

Maybe these moments happen to reign me in and teach me humility. Maybe toddlers are just unpredictable beasts with limited reasoning skills. Whatever the reason, I’ve realized parenting comes with highs and lows just like everything else. I have “good momming days” and bad ones. This was definitely a bad one. I was lost for answers and unsure of my next move. Even in the moment I knew I wasn’t doing my best. So I gave myself the night to sulk, but was determined to take my own advice.

I’ll start over tomorrow, too.