Category Archives: family

What a Parent Will Do for a Kid

As the work week is rolling to its close, I’ve been thinking about our plans for the weekend. A hair cut and color are a must. And I might squeeze in my fingers, toes, and eyebrows, if the line isn’t too long. (One of the drawbacks of scheduling maintenance on Saturdays.) The gym is a must; I’ve been way too lazy this week. A birthday party for one of the kids at daycare is a possibility. And then there’s harambe.

I first found out about harambe when a dad posted on the neighborhood new parents list serve, asking if parents would be interested in supporting some music and dance classes for kids at a local, dare I say alternative or independent, performing arts space called Bloombars. Of course parents jumped all over it. In fact, response was so positive that management added a Saturday class (and now possibly two!).

So, my husband and I took the kid to try it out last weekend.

Harambe is a Swahili word that supposedly means come together. And come together did parents and kids of the neighborhood that Saturday. Stroller parking was limited both upstairs and out front. (There’s something cute about watching dads lock up strollers on the bike rack.) Pillow seating on the floor also was scarce, so we picked out spots on the wooden pews that lined opposite sides of the room. It was starting to feel like a very strange episode of Modern Family, only we weren’t family.

Then Baba walked in. A giant black man with dreads past his butt and an island accident, he certainly made an impression. He sat down on the stage, grabbed a couple of bongo-type drums, and distributed a bunch of the other instruments–tambourines, bells, percussion stick things, and even something that looked like a gourd with beads wrapped around it that made a pretty cool sound when you shook it. Oh, and there was an electric keyboard on the stage, which I thought was totally out of place–at first.

As he gathered the “scholars”–that’s what he called the children (love it!)–he told the parents to not worry about their kids doing their own things because it would all work out somehow. This was totally reassuring to me because my kid had made a beeline to the keyboard and was banging–very loudly and sometimes with his foot–on it as Baba was talking. But Baba kept on smiling and got the show on the road.

Turns out harambe is not a spectator sport for parents. Not only is clapping and instrument playing a must, but so is singing. And dancing. And generally circling around the room. If I’m totally honest, I felt awkward because I didn’t know the words to many of the songs. Part of me also was totally on edge, as I was waiting for our kid to smash some other kid with a tambourine or something as I was in a conga line on the opposite side of the room. But I was rolling with it because watching this diverse group of kids get into the music–or not, as was the case for a few–was hilarious.

But it was totally fun and with the $7 donation, which is why I’m so planning on going again this weekend. And our kid loved it. I don’t think there was an instrument he didn’t have his paws on at some point and he only stopped jumping to pound on the keyboard from time to time.

However, I would be kidding myself if I didn’t say that at a certain point as I was walk-walk-jump-jump-running-running around the room with all the other parents that I wondered if any of my long-time friends would even recognize me anymore. I mean, I barely recognized my husband as the group headed into the so-called “welcome song.”

As the title might suggest, it’s a song where everyone is introduced. I can’t exactly remember the words, but I do know that there’s one part of the song where everyone claps and sings, “Welcome, so-and-so, welcome so-and-so,” and then there’s some line about that person becoming a new friend. There must’ve been 15 parents (at least in the room) and we did them all. Just when I thought the pain would stop, we did all the kids’ names, too.

But there was something both hilarious and heartwarming about this whole motley crew of parents, stomping around a room for the pure entertainment of their children. These people were probably lawyers and lobbyists, contractors and managers–true professional types–and yet they could’ve cared less about how cool, smart, or rich they looked at that point in time. Because the truth be told, we all looked like idiots. And it was awesome.

 

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Filed under activities, daily life, family, music

This Is My Life

The highlight of my last weekend was Sunday brunch with a bunch of friends. These of course were the same group of friends that, back when we were baby free, we used to go and spend nearly every Saturday together at a bar watching college football. Now, we’ve all got kids under three. And those afternoons (and if I’m honest, evenings) spent with pitchers of beers, big screen TVs, and lots of cheering are so far gone.

But mornings with mimosas are still an option. So, we had to get up at 7am on Saturday to get to our friends’ place by 9:30am to start imbibing. But it was worth it.

I’ve never had so much fun before noon–or at least since I’ve been a mom. My friends are amazing cooks–I’m obsessed with these jalepeno-stuffed mushrooms wrapped in bacon that they make–so that was the first plus. And mimosas, at least in my mind, are like sunshine in a glass. But what was the best was watching three toddler boys run around wild on a playground in the backyard until they near collapsed. Oh, wait, mine did. In a shopping cart in the grocery store. Not 20 minutes after we left.

Second best was watching the dads trying to turn a respectable family brunch into a man day. But tried as they did to conjure up their youth with a couple of cocktails, they couldn’t escape the fact that they’d turned into dads. Conversations about sports, new bars, and women–the staples of a single guy’s conversation–were replaced with debates over toddler discipline, language development, and more children.

But as I sat in my friends’ kitchen, gabbing with the girls (and stuffing my face with those yummy mushrooms), I realized just how different all of our lives were. And I couldn’t help but wonder what our single friends were thinking about how much our lives had changed.

I wonder what their tolerance is for all the talk about keeping the remotes out of little boys hands or trying to get the kids to eat something more than chicken nuggets and french fries. Do they feel like they went to another planet when the conversation turns to having another baby? And how interesting to them is all the venting about the annoying things spouses do?

For now, our single friends are very kind and accommodating to just how consuming having kids is. And they genuinely like seeing our kids and playing with them and of course catching up with us, the parents. But I wonder if they feel somewhat alone in a room full of parents. As parents, we can bond over anything kid-related–diapers, tantrums, daycare, sippy cups, kids videos. You name it, we parents can talk about it. But what we can’t talk about are new movies, restaurants, bars, or clubs–pretty much anything you would do after 7pm. So, maybe our friends go home from a morning brunch with us and thank god they are still single and don’t have to worry about any of the things we seem to spend a lot of energy stressing about.

But while I hope our single friends can still see the single people we were in the parents that we are, I’m okay with the fact that I’m a bruncher rather than a bar fly anymore. It’s nice to be home by 4pm after a really nice day.

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Filed under dads, daily life, family, moms

Vive les French Parents!

For me, there are few things not to love about the French. And I’m not talking solely about food or wine. So, I was psyched to read an article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday about the joys of French parenting. The headline says it all: Why French Parents Are Superior.

If you’re not a francophile like myself, an article head like that seems so, well, French. After all, the French are known for their high estimation of their cultural worth and an annoyingly condescending nature. (Part of why I love them, I have to admit.) But having spent a significant amount of time in France, I can say this article is pretty much spot on.

My first real experience as an adult observer of French parenting came when I was living in Paris in my early 20s. I was invited for dinner at a 30-something couple’s apartment. They had a preschooler and an infant. Around 7pm, the mother announced that it was time for the children to eat. The preschooler quietly and politely ate her meal. However, the baby was completely uncooperative. Screaming, fussing, and totally refusing a bottle. After about 15 minutes of futile attempts to quiet and feed the infant, the mother said very matter of factly that she was going to put the baby to bed for the night. I remember thinking, “Without dinner?” And then the French logic kicked in. The mother said, “This is the time we eat. If the baby doesn’t want to eat, fine. She can go to bed. But this is the time we eat.” (Only it was in French.)

At the time, there were so many things that were foreign about that whole scene. At that stage in my life, I couldn’t imagine having kids. In fact, I was ridiculously weirded out by especially tiny babies. And then there was the whole French-ness about it. I mean, I had never heard of an American mother doing such a thing. In fact, all I ever heard about was how new moms were always up at all hours of the night, breastfeeding or fetching bottles.

But there is a simplicity in the French parenting ethic that somehow completely escapes us as American parents. Maybe we just try too hard. The French have that sort of breeziness about them that allows them to do things like wear totally mismatched clothing and still look chic. Maybe it’s the same with parenting.

Unlike the article’s author, I have not spent the last three years studying French parenting principles and techniques. But I do agree with a number of the points that the writer makes about what makes French parenting effective:

  1. Family is about the parents first then the children.
  2. Independence is a virtue in a child.
  3. Structure and routine are paramount.

But I’m not fully subscribed to a couple of the writer’s other theories. First, I whole heartedly believe that discipline is alive and well in French parenting–and I dare say it is dealt much more swiftly and severely than most American parents can imagine. I’m not talking corporal punishment; rather, I’m saying that it seems like most French parents have a much lower tolerance for misbehavior than American parents. Maybe the word I should use is strict. I use a wonderful woman from my French mommy class as an example. At around a year old, she was sending her son to stand in the corner every time he did something she didn’t like. (She was inspiration for starting timeouts at around 16 months with my son.) There’s something that sounds a little horrible to me when I write that, but her kid is a fantastic, super well behaved kid. Obviously no permanent damage done.

I think the writer was also onto something when she talked about the French concept of educating a child. However, I still think she missed the mark a bit. For as much as the French are about education, they are arguably even more obsessed about the idea of formation. Formation is really about a curriculum or training. It’s about mastering a certain topic area or skill. And that’s really the ethic that permeates French parenting. It’s not just about teaching their kid stuff; it’s about training them to behave appropriately in any given situation.

With all that said, I wonder what the real French moms in my French mommy group say about us wanna-be French mamans.

 

 

 

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Filed under daily life, discipline, family, parenting

Where in the World It Pays To Be a Working Mother

I get a kick out of all those lists–and there are a ton of them–that that rank cities against one another based on some interesting set of criteria. In the past week, for example, I’ve checked out the Top 10 cap-and-gown cities, otherwise known as the most educated cities; the Top 5 cities for extreme couponers, or other people who are equally as cheap; and the Top 10 graveyards for geezers, which some might call retirement Meccas. There are even rankings of rankings, like this one from Area Development Online, which is a list of the 100 most desirable places to do business, based on what markets made the cut on the greatest number of related lists.

But this week was the first time I had ever seen this list from Forbes of the 50 best cities for working moms. I don’t know where I was the past two years to have missed the earlier compilations. My guess was last year I was too busy breastfeeding and the year before that I was probably too busy being in denial about being pregnant. But anyway, I took a good, hard look at this year’s rankings.

I was happy to see that Forbes added a few new metrics to its ranking criteria, stretching the evaluation beyond the obvious issues of jobs, safety, and education. Commute and childcare are definitely two huge issues for me as a working mom in our nation’s capital and definitely two of the major reasons that I work mostly from home with occasional appearances at the office. By including these factors into the evaluation, I think Forbes did a good job of leveling the playing field between true major metro areas (think Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., etc.) and those metro areas that I would consider second- or even third-tier cities. I mean, seriously, would Buffalo, N.Y., really have made anyone’s top list of places to be a working mom if there wasn’t some value attached to the cost of doing business (childcare) and time (commute)?

There were certainly other surprises on the list. Columbus, Ohio, for example, came in a No. 2 on the list, thanks to short commutes and cheap child care options. And Milwaukee also was a dark horse winner at No. 4, with short commutes and good medical care helping its final standing.

However, I wasn’t too surprised to see Washington, D.C., break the Top 10. It’s really hard these days to find a better place for jobs. Judging how full the restaurants and bars are every night, it’s clear this town knows no recession. Plus, it’s a great place for professional women. I remember reading this Richard Florida article a few years ago that mapped out which metro areas had female surpluses, so to speak; D.C. was running neck and neck with Philadelphia for the title, with 50,000+ more single women than men. So, it makes sense that some of those single women would eventually marry and start families but stay in the area because of the jobs.

But I’m not sure I would agree with D.C. ranking high on education. The survey gave the city a No. 4 rank for greatest expenditure per pupil. But spending lots of money doesn’t necessarily equate to good schools. In fact, in general, public schools in the district are atrocious; it’s actually pretty embarrassing. Traditional public schools are being shut down all the time because of failing test scores, leaving public charter schools to pick up the slack. But they can’t handle the capacity, so situations akin to those documented in the film Waiting for Superman are very normal. Kids basically need to win the lottery to go to the best schools.

Looking more closely at where the District ranked on the individual metrics, I saw that there was a real divergence between the pros and cons of being a working mommy in D.C. The city scored in the top 10 on four out of 8 metrics–female earning potential, jobs, schools, and healthcare; in the middle of the pack for safety; and in the very bottom of the heap on cost of living, childcare, and commute.

Given the costs of housing, no matter whether you rent or own in the area, I pretty much expected D.C. to fall in line behind San Francisco, nearby San Jose, and New York City in terms of expensive cities to live in, although I would’ve thought Boston and Chicago might have been a little pricier than D.C. perhaps.

But I was totally shocked to find that what I know anecdotally about the cost of childcare and commute times was actually confirmed by data. (It really is as bad as I think it is.) D.C. ranked No. 50 for cost of childcare with the average annual cost of full-time childcare coming in at $18,200, according to NACCRA, and No. 49, second only to New York, for commuting.

So, if I’ve got this straight, it’s great to be a traditional working mom in D.C. if you want to make a lot of money but spend a ton of it on childcare because you’re stuck in traffic. It’s no wonder that working from home is so the best option for mommies like me.

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Filed under childcare, daily life, family, moms, stay-at-home moms, working mom

Dadchelor Parties: A Dream or a Disaster?

I saw this segment on ABC Nightline last week about “Dadchelor” parties becoming all the rage among soon-to-be daddies. In fact, according to one expert interviewed during the segment, roughly 1 in 5 dads has a dadchelor party.

If you’re like me and don’t know a single dad whose had such a party, a dadchelor party is a man’s version of baby shower. And because its usually given by men for men, it tends to end up looking seriously similar to a bachelor party, with loads of booze and questionable entertainment generally lasting well into the wee hours of the morning.

It would appear that most soon-to-be mommies aren’t exactly big on this idea. It’s totally immature, but I personally think it’s brilliant.

Leave it to men to figure out how to take the idea of a baby shower to the next level. How lame do ladies lunches with traditional shower games seem next to a party bus full of raucous friends with a final destination of the nearest casino? And the diaper keg is ingenious. Basically how it works is every dadchelor party participant brings a box of diapers to the party in exchange for booze. I also really like the idea of bringing a new stroller full of beer or drink-with-me Elmo games, as shown in this dadchelor party spoof:

But while I find this whole dadchelor idea totally creative on the part of soon-to-be dads and their degenerate friends, I sincerely do think it’s a good idea. From what I gather from a lot of my mommy friends, nearly every husband has a freakout moment before the birth of his first child. (Mine most definitely did.) It most often looks nothing like a soon-to-be mommy freakout. Rather than coming on fast and furiously like a freakout does for soon-to-be moms (thanks, hormones!), soon-to-be daddy drama usually builds builds slowly and sort of festers before exploding, usually after some serious nagging by the moms to get off their duff and do something on that honey-do-for-baby list.

That trigger for a lot of soon-to-parents is the issue of the nursery. Moms totally stress about getting the nursery ready and especially about setting up the crib. Dads generally don’t have the same urgency in dealing with those tasks, which drives most moms absolutely nuts. I see this lack of urgency almost as a subconscious refusal to deal with the reality of having a baby. It’s like a last grasp to hold on to life as they’ve known it. No crib roughly translates to more time to still be the kind of married-without-kids carefree that they’ve enjoyed for some time. Conversely, the crib is a physical reminder that those days are seriously numbered. And this reticence has nothing to do with not being excited about a baby or the prospect of being a dad.

So, maybe a dadchelor party is just the cathartic experience that some dads need to reconcile their fears with reality. Sure, life changes in a big way post baby, but it’s in a good way. You don’t just stop being the person you were, but you do start to learn more about the person you are. I get that for a lot of dads it’s scary to be looking at an overnight change. Personally, I wished I’d have known about these dadchelor parties back when I was pregnant. I think my husband would’ve totally benefited from one last blowout before getting down to the real business of baby.

Admittedly I would’ve also been jealous had he had one. I’m not sure when I’ll get a night on the town dadchelor style. But maybe that’s where a compromise is in order. Dad gets a dadchelor night out and mom gets a post-baby moms-gone-wild night. Sounds like a deal to me.

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Filed under daddy care, dads, diapers, family, infants, marriage, maternity, mom style, mommy care, moms, nesting, newbie parents

Stay at Home or Work? Every Mom’s Big Decision

As I was trying to shovel applesauce into a screaming toddler’s grimacing mouth the other morning, I saw this news segment on TV that asked: Who’s got it worse, working moms or stay at home moms? According to a University of Washington study, stay-at-home moms are more likely to be depressed. But the caveat is that those working moms who try to be super moms–meaning they have unrealistic expectations of work-life balance–were more depressed. The big takeaway being that any way a mommy slices it, she’s likely to run up against depression at one time or another.

I have thought a lot about this question over the past couple of years, as I struggled to decide whether to stay home full time with my wee one or go back to work. I’ve also seen a lot of mommy-friends come up against the same big question–and come up with different answers. But as I look across the spectrum of full-time moms to full-time professionals with kids on the side, one thing is clear: No one has it easy. Each work-life permutation that I’ve come across has moments that are positively overwhelming and definitely worthy of a whimper or two.

Of course I’m painting with a very broad brush, so bear with me, but most of my stay-at-home mommy-friends’ struggles stem from the fact that they are indeed home all the time. While it’s wonderful that they get to spend every waking moment with their precious wee ones, many of them seem to feel that they’ve lost a little of their shimmer and shake along with their connection to the working world. They’ve got a good grip on all things domestic–their laundry baskets aren’t overflowing and the litter box doesn’t stink–but finding things to do and places to go with the wee ones other than the grocery story and Target isn’t exactly easy. Hooking up with playgroups, classes, and activities can be as much work as dating or interviewing for a new job.

Life for working moms, on the other hand, is seriously programmed. From the moment the alarm rings to moment the last kid is in bed, it’s go-go-go time. In a way that’s good because a day can just fly by,  but one small glitch and the wheels are nearly going to fall off. There is absolutely no time for stuff like misplaced keys, runaway dogs, or flat tires. (My mommy meltdown of the week was over a broken back gate.) There’s so little time to take care of the basics that anything that requires extra, special, or immediate attention feels like a way bigger deal than it probably truly is. But having way too much to do in way too little time is the reality.

So, whether its about feeling invisible or inadequate, life for any mom, regardless of employment situation, can be stressful if not downright depressing. This realization begs the question whether there can really ever be a good work-life balance.

One of my brother-in-laws had a very good “dad” response to that question. He said that he knew he was close to striking that point when he felt like he was just doing in his estimation “good”–not fantastic or great but not bad or terrible either. It sounds a little depressing, but I get what he meant. It’s like if he was being a super star at work, he knew he wasn’t being the dad he wanted to be. And if he was being super dad, he probably wasn’t putting in the time or effort at his job that he should. So, when he was doing well enough, that was balance. I guess that makes him the good-enough father before there was the good-enough mother.

While I think that’s a truly honest assessment of the situation most young parents find themselves in, it’s not exactly prescriptive. The best how-to advice I ever heard was unsurprisingly from my best friend. (It’s always funny to me that you never really have to go far for good advice.) As an executive at a well respected, Fortune 1000 company, she’s definitely corporate to the max; however, she’s also a great mom who adores being with her kids, so she knows all too well how delicate that balance between a successful career and home life is. As I was blubbering to her about my decision to work or not to work, she finally told me the way she would have it, if she could: work 3-4 days a week, with the flexibility to work from home, and limited travel. And it dawned on me–isn’t that the way most mommies would have it? You’re home enough, but not too much, you have a little bit of income, and you still stay connected to the world that’s 18 and older.

But sadly, few of us are afforded that luxury of flexibility and those that have it cherish it. A lot of school teachers have a pretty good gig, working the same hours that their kids are in school and then summers off. But I learned recently that most female doctors only work three days a week because of this issue of family, and I instantly regretted my career decision. I certainly could have made a lot more money for the years I spent in school and have as close to a perfect work-life balance as possible. But I’ve got to imagine, or at least hope, that maybe the business world is in the process of changing to accommodate families needs to have moms and breadwinners. Maybe by the time Gen Y decides to have kids, the flex schedule will be more commonplace than it would seem today. Because the reality, at least according to that University of Washington study, is that as a mommy, you’re far from escaping depression at some point, no matter if you’re at home or at work.

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Filed under baby blues, family, moms, stay-at-home moms, working mom

Pimp My MiniVan

When our little bundle of boy was born, we had two vehicles. One was an SUV that we used mainly for long road trips and hauling stuff like my husband’s military gear and the dog. The other vehicle was a Volkswagon Jetta that was perfect for city travel because it was good on gas and a dream to park.

Move over, stationwagon

But all it took was one big trip to my parents’ house with baby gear plus all of the normal stuff for us to realize that the Jetta, for all its practicality, was rather impractical for us at this stage in our lives. So, when a friend of ours who was set to deploy, offered us the chance to buy his Volvo SUV for what he owed on it, it sounded like a great deal.

And it has been. The only thing that’s been a surprise is the fact that serious dudes with a serious interest in cars seem to especially appreciate my family mobile.

I don’t know much about cars. I don’t dabble in the aftermarket business at all. So, I had no idea I had some crazy pioneer Pioneer GPS/sound system or mad tires and rims. I’m not even sure the dude we bought it from knew all this.

But I’ve been learning. On top of the fact that we, on a whim, bought the safest SUV on the market, I’ve also learned, for example, that I have some serious low-profile tires and enviable rims. I usually know when a black guy with chains tells me he has the same ones. What size they are, I have no idea. But it’s instances like the one the other day that confirm it all to me:

So, there I am, pulling into Petco to buy some hyper expensive canned dog food because my dog craps out cow pies otherwise. I pull into a parking spot just as a dude is pulling into the space next to me. I see him nodding as I get out of the car and as I walk around to yank my kid out of the car seat, he says, “Nice ride.”

All I could muster out was, “Thanks.” But what I really wanted to say was something like, “Yeah, boo, the Graco My Ride 65 is how we roll.”

It is absolutely hilarious to me that I have milk stains literally coating the inside of my right, rear, passenger-side door and yet dudes who know stuff about cars always comment on my car, assuming I know what I even am riding on. I mean, seriously, if you weren’t into cars, you wouldn’t know that I apparently have fancy tires and rims. They aren’t tricked out in any sort of way or anything. In fact, for the first month, because of the low-profile tires, I thought I always had an under-inflated tire. (Shows you how much I know about cars.)

And yet, they do.

But there’s something about me that gets infinite amusement out of the fact that I’m carting my milk-stained munchkin around in a hot ride. Even though I’ve only committed to the SUV, I’m totally thinking that if I ever get to the minivan stage–hey, remote opening rear doors are pretty awesome–I’m totally going to have to pimp it out or lose some real street credit in the drop off/pick up lane at school.

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Filed under baby travel, delivery, family, moms, transportation