Going Back to Work: When is it Time?

We have been away for a little over 24 hours on a little "staycation" in the mountains. After five years of being a mama, I know this is usually how long it takes to clear out the fog of mommy-brain and just be. After eight years of being a wife, I also know this is usually how long it takes for us to decompress, unplug and get a little clarity.

And because we work together, we spend a lot of time talking about work even when we are "on vacation." Where is our company headed, and what role do I want to play in the company as the kids get older and need me less? Is the status quo working for either or both of us? Then, inevitably, the big question –

Is it time for me to go back to work full time?

I work now. But not full time, and not outside of the house. There are action figures on the window-sill of my office and Barbie dolls under my desk. I don't communicate via telephone because I can't trust the tiny humans to stay quiet long enough to complete a phone call.

This is the way I wanted it. It has worked for us for a long time. But I wonder how much longer it will work for. Lately, every time I am on the computer, a tiny human pops up with big, sad eyes and says "Mama, stop working, I want to play with you." I feel horrible about it. I can buy a little time by giving them the iPad or turning on a show outside of "screen time" limits but I still feel bad about it.

On the flip side, our little company is having a few growing pains. R could certainly use more help, but we both know when I say I can – even though my intentions are good – I really can't do much more than I already do. And I feel bad about that.

How will I know for sure when it's time to go back full time?

I've been thinking about it all day, and I still don't know. I know these years with my kids seem long but in retrospect they will be incredibly short. And I may wish I could go back and make different choices. T will start kindergarten in the fall, and A will pick up more days at preschool. And here are the things I know for sure:

  • No Daycare: There is a huge difference between preschool and full time daycare; I want A to experience the former but not the latter. T never had to and I want them to be even. (Note: if your kid is in daycare, I am not judging you. This is about me.)
  • Dream Job: I've got a good thing going right now. And if I choose to leave it, it will need to be for the perfect opportunity. Which in this economy may be as likely as winning Powerball. But still.
  • It's About Me: Kids are resilient. What they think is normal is still largely determined by R and I. My mom loves to remind me that she stayed home with us for the first years of our lives and we don't even remember. My kids are not going to be ruined because I went back to work.
  • And a Little Bit About Them: My mom is right, we don't really remember. But that doesn't mean that we don't know that she stayed home with us as long as that was the right choice for our family. What I do remember is how hard my mom worked when it was time for her to go back to work, and all the other things she did at the same time. And because she did both things it never occurred to me that I couldn't do anything I wanted when the time came for me to choose.

I guess I must not be 100% ready; it is not time yet. But it may be time to start doing more networking, catching up with old colleagues and seeing what else is out there. Because even in a down economy, job opportunities will come up. Maybe when I see the perfect one, I will know I am ready.

For A, On Her Third Birthday

A,

In spite of what you keep telling people, you are three today. Not five. I know T is five, and you want to be just like T, but you are my littlest one and I don't want you to rush anything.

You are the one who made all my dreams come true, little girl. You were the last piece of our puzzle, and when you arrived you made everything fit. I always wanted a little girl; I never expected you to be so…perfectly imperfect, just like me.

You are only three – three years, is that all – yet I feel like you have taught us so much already. You know things at three that most people struggle to figure out their entire lives. For example, 

  • You are a really big deal. I love your confidence and I promise to do everything I can to help you hold onto it.
  • Life is a special occasion. You wake up in the morning and insist to be changed out of pajamas and into a princess dress. With a tiara. At 7 am. Because anything worth doing – or wearing – is worth doing BIG. 
  • If at first you don't succeed… You are the most stubborn and tenacious person I know. At three. You can hold a grudge like no toddler I have ever seen. You even know when to pout and when to stomp your foot for emphasis. I think you can change the world if you set your mind to it. I think you are capable of anything once you set your mind to it.
  • You can't say "I love you" enough. Or, "I love you and like you." It makes me smile. Every time. Because no one ever looks back at the end of a life and says "I wish I said less 'I love yous'." 

From the second I knew you existed, I was convinced you were a girl. And from the second I met you, I knew you were meant to be mine. Thank you for turning our lives upside down and making us look at things an entirely different way than T prepared us for. Because there is only one you, and you do things your very own way.

I promise to do everything I can to encourage you to keep singing, dancing and imagining your way through this life the way you want it to be. I will always think you are the biggest deal. I love you and like you, little girl, more than anything.

xoxo, Mom

Birthday Traditions

We don't really "do" kid birthday parties. We have birthday traditions, but in recent years they don't include a huge birthday party. For T's first two birthdays, we did the big family party – aunts, uncles, cousins, the whole nine. Just like everything with the first child – we did it BIG. And it was a lot of fun, but it also felt like too much. Too much planning, too much food, too many presents. And while it was lovely to have so many people and so much adoration for our little guy in the same place at the same time, it didn't feel like it was for him. It felt like it was for us. 

By the time A's first birthday arrived, our house was on the market – and possibly under contract. I didn't have it in me to do the big party. We did a joint birthday brunch with just the kids' grandparents, aunts and cousin. It seemed like a great idea – the people our kids loved the best and a smaller, more manageable celebration. And then my dad, sister and nephew all got sick and cancelled. So our already small scale celebration became even smaller. And thus began the birthday tradition of mommy scrambling to create small celebrations to make up for the lack of the one big party.

Over the years this has included trips to Friendly's, visits to the toy store to pick their own gifts, and sleepovers with my best girlfriends and their kiddos. And since the kids' birthdays are within a few weeks of each other, often they get joint birthday traditions. I think it is fun because it stretches the birthday fun out to a month or so instead of just one day. 

Until now. T is five now. He has his own friends and some pretty specific birthday expectations. So we made a list and sent out an Evite for fifteen kids and their parents. I bought party favors and created a board on Pinterest. The weekend of the party, my best girlfriend arrived with her husband and two kiddos in tow. I felt like we could do this – the big party.

And then there was a cough. Followed by a runny nose. Followed by a fever. Times two kiddos. Of course. We postponed the party, and we did cupcakes and presents just us. We let T pick out his own gifts from Target. Which I know, at this point, feels normal to him. But I feel like I failed.

So stay tuned, because T is going to get the big friend party this year. Even if it doesn't happen until May. 

For T, As He Turns Five

T,

Wow, five years old. FIVE years old. No more baby. No more toddler. No more preschooler, even. You are a kid now, a little boy. You have been for awhile, but this makes it official. You are five years old. 

Even on the day you were born, as I held you in my arms and marveled at your perfect little features and inhaled your baby smell, I knew – our time together is short. "You will think the world revolves around me for a little while, and then you won't. But I will have you to myself, little one, until you are at least five," I thought.

So here we are. And these are the things I know, after five years of being your mama – 

  • I could not have held you any more than I did. I didn't miss one moment, not one milestone. I was there, and so was your dad, for every single thing. And it was a huge deal – every single thing you did was a huge deal. It still is.
  • You were an easy baby. I know this because of your little sister, who was not.
  • You were the one who made us a family. People get married; sometimes they get divorced. We will not, but still – you are the tie that binds your dad and I forever
  • You are sweet and thoughtful in a way I didn't think a little boy could be. You are also full of energy, more than I ever dreamed a little boy could be.
  • You are so, so smart. I will continue to be amazed by what you know and what you can do. Always. At the same time, I will believe you are capable of anything. Always.

My timing was off, five year old boy. You know the world is out there, beyond my arms, but you still like me an awful lot. You still cry for mama when you are really hurt, and you don't mind when I hold your hand or kiss you goodbye at school. You tell me you don't want to go to college because you don't want to stay overnight anywhere but here. I get to keep you to myself for a little longer.

Thank you, T, for being the most patient child while your dad and I figured out how to be your parents. We already knew how to love you, and the rest came pretty naturally after that. But still – it was our first time around, and you were so, so good to us. 

I hope you always want to take things apart to figure out how they work and get down on their level for a better look. I hope you are always sweet to your sister (even if only when you think no one is looking). I hope you never get too old to like us or to need us. And I hope you always remember, no matter what, that we love you to the moon and back. We will always remember that perfect baby, that five year old boy, and every age between and beyond who made our lives truly worth living. For some things there are no more words, so just know – we more than love you, T.

xoxo, Mom

Girls Being Girls

I was watching A in her ballet class last week, and the way she interacts with the teacher and her friends. We were a little bit late, so her arrival was a little disruptive. Mostly because she ran into the middle of the floor yelling, "HIIIIIIII!" As if they had all been waiting for her arrival at that very moment.

The ballet class is for the littlest ballerinas – 2-3 year olds – and every week I love to watch the little girls being little girls. Their teacher is amazing, and has the patience and grace of a saint. 

This week, I noticed A when she walked up to one of the girls and said "do you like my dress? Isn't it beautiful?" And the other little girl said "ooooh, it is beautiful. I like the sparkles." Then they kept dancing – girls being girls.

That little moment took my breath away, because in that moment, A asked for exactly the result she wanted. She wanted someone to notice her beautiful tutu, and when no one did she asked. 

How old are we when we stop asking our people for what we need from them? 

I cannot even count the number of times I have gone out of my way to do something special and the person I was making the effort for did not notice. Instead of calling their attention to it, I let my feelings get hurt and then I feel bad for being so silly.

I wonder how it would feel if I just said "hey honey, did you notice that I xyz for you this morning?" Maybe I would feel like I was fishing for a compliment, but at least I wouldn't feel like the effort was wasted. And maybe the next time, that person would realize that I was looking for acknowledgement and give it right away. Mission accomplished.

I love A's confidence and her little voice and actions saying "pay attention to me, I am a really big deal." I want to encourage her to keep that going for as long as I can, because I think a lot of us lose that ability, and ourselves, along the way. Somewhere between three and thirtysomething, we lose it and stop asking for what we need.

Keep up the good work, little girl. I will always think you are the biggest deal. 

 

Being Here (Gratitude, Final Days)

Thanksgiving has come and gone. I took a break from writing. It was unintentional, at first, then I realized that any time I took over the weekend to write the blog would be taking time away from something that I wanted to do more. So I didn't write; instead I focused on being here. Not just physically being present but really being here with the kids. Less iPhone and iPad time, less tv, more playing and laughing and talking and being. Okay, and a little online holiday shopping. Because I am still me.

Holiday Traditions

Now that we are past Thanksgiving, we are well into "the holidays." Some years I love this time, others I find it stressful and can't wait for it to be over already. This year I am loving it. 90% of my holiday shopping is done, the tree is up, the house is decorated, and I feel like for the next few weeks I can just sit back with the kids and focus on being here with them. 

T is closer to five than four now, and this age is the most fun we have seen for the holidays. He is really starting to "get" stuff like the Elf on the Shelf and other holiday traditions. For the first time ever, he sat with me while I addressed all of our holiday cards. We cranked up the Michael Buble holiday station on Pandora and T stamped and stickered every card while I addressed and return addressed them. It was like a holiday assembly line. And even though he was tired, T stuck it out and stamped and stickered every single card. We were both so proud of his handiwork. 

So for my final gratitude post, I am grateful for all the writing in did in November. I think it got me back on track. I look forward to writing more in the coming weeks, but not feeling like I have to write every day. I bet the next posts will be more genuine and representative of my real voice.

I am also grateful for the coming weeks and all the things we have to look foward to with our holiday traditions. Hopefully I can remind myself to focus on being here, creating holiday traditions for our little family and letting the other stuff go. 

 

Play Rooms (Gratitude – Day Ten)

On the 10th day, I am grateful for play rooms – and that our basement playroom is finally finished! I am not sure who is more excited – the tiny humans or me. 

I think play rooms are important for kids, and important for moms and dads, too. Here's why: 

  • Organized Disorder: When I was little, my parents rarely made me clean my room. They were great that way. But if they were trying to use reverse psychology or use immersion therapy or something, figuring "eventually she will gross herself out and clean her room already," they were so wrong. My room was a pit. I think my kids deserve the same freedom somewhere in their world.
  • Be Creative: I think the kids need a space where they can play with all their toys at once if they want to. Building block castles while dressed as superheroes and taking breaks to play musical instruments or whip up something in the play kitchen? Play room perfection. 
  • Teeny Tiny Library: Long ago, my kids lost privileges to having access to all their books at the same time. Usually because they ended up in a giant pile that resembled what I imagine a book-burning looks like. So we put them in a book shelf – a "novel" idea, I know – and put them in a different room. When they want to read a book, they ask to visit the "library" and take out a book. Until now. Now that they have a play room, there will be a "book nook" with baskets of their favorite books and comfy chairs to read in. Stay tuned for how well that works out. But I do think it is worth a try. Kids need to read. 
  • Keep it Contained: Play rooms need doors. To keep parents out and toys in. The end.

I appreciate the hard work my husband put in the finishing the basement and helping me create a play room for the tiny humans. Here's hoping the play room makes the tiny humans a little less stir crazy this winter – which is supposed to be on the long and snowy side this year. 

Brothers and Sisters OR The Bounce Zone (Gratitude – Day Nine)

Today, I am grateful for brothers and sisters. And the Bounce Zone. Both. Equally. Because "with their powers combined" (Captain Planet? Anyone? Anyone? Alrighty then.) those two things made for a happy and easy Friday morning for this mama. 

I grabbed a large coffee, a couple Groupon passes to the Bounce Zone and prepared for the worst. Why? Because our Bounce Zone experience in the past has included:

  • Weird Smells – Indoor play place for tiny humans. Need I say more?
  • Weird Air – Some of the equipment has previously been in questionable condition, so there are holes, and air from the compressor just pours out. Like weird subway air in the city.
  • Big Kids – I hate kids who are bigger than mine. Their parents don't watch them because they're all "my kids don't need me to supervise." Okay, maybe your kids don't need you, but I could use a little help when your kid is using my kids' heads as stepping stones to the top of the big slide. Yes, you with the iPhone, I am talking to you. Jerk.
  • Power Struggle – My kids rarely, if ever, leave the bounce zone nicely. And it's a loooong way to the parking lot. It is a miracle no one has called social services as I drag my kids out of their by their arms. Well…maybe not. They're too busy with their iPhones.

Also, T and A have been going through this phase where they are the stereotypical brother and sister. "Stop touching me. OW. Moooooommmmmm." Multiplied by a GAGILLION times every day. So today I was dreading the Bounce Zone visit, but I sort of thought about it out loud in front of the tiny humans and then I was stuck. I was prepared for the worst. Instead, it. Was. AWESOME.

It was as if they declared a ceasefire. For one moment in time – or, more accurately, 90 minutes in time – they ran around the bounce zone like BFFs. I think there was even hand holding. It was weird. And awesome. 

And as I sat in the middle of the Bounce Zone floor with my iPhone (don't judge me, there was no one else there so my kids were NOT bullying other kids) I thought to myself, "I am so happy they have each other. Otherwise, they might expect me to climb in that weird smelling slide, like last time."

So tonight I raise a glass to brothers and sisters and the Bounce Zone. We really desperately needed a morning like this morning. Cheers!

Second Chances (Gratitude – Day Eight)

Today, I am grateful for second chances with the tiny humans. Which super-sucks and is NOT what I had in mind for today at all.

It snowed last night. T woke up at 5 am SO EXCITED about the snow. And didn't fall back asleep. Even so, I was excited for him and excited about the snow. As a true lifelong New Englander, I get excited at the beginning of every season – first day warm enough not to wear a coat, first beach day, first "brrr it's cold enough for a sweater and hot cider" day and, yes, first snowy day.

I ceased to be excited about the snow 'round about the time he shoved his oatmeal away from himself at the table with a declaration that "it smells funny." I hate it when my children refuse food – especially food they asked for five minutes previous – because there are so many children in the world who have none. It makes me irrational.

A quick peek at the clock let me know that we were running late for ballet and school pictures. Awesome. I find myself in this situation often, and I rarely handle it with any type of grace. So this morning, like many mornings previous, I morphed into "mean mommy." There was yelling (me), there was crying (them), and there was avoidance (R). It was ugly, and it totally killed the magic of the first snow of the season.

In my mind, I wanted today to be "First Snow (Gratitude – Day 8)." I wanted to listen to Christmas songs on the way to school (too early? NEVER!) and make plans for playing in the snow in the afternoon and show the tiny humans that I was as excited about the snow as they were.

It didn't happen that way, and the morning was rough all around. T made it to school pictures on time, and A to her activities on time as well. I walked around with a yelling hangover, feeling guilty for ruining everyone's morning.

Then A fell asleep early for her nap, which meant I could leave her with R and pick up T all alone. He was thrilled to see me, and we talked about presidents and the snow and school. When we pulled into the driveway he said, "Mama, can we play in the snow NOW? "

Usually, I would say "sorry kiddo, I have to work while A is napping. Maybe when she wakes up." But today, that wasn't good enough. The snow had turned to sleet and was headed toward rain. I knew by the time A woke up, it was unlikely there would be much snow left to play in.

Instead of working, we played outside. We scrambled around and made snow angels and a (kind of sad, leaf and grass covered) snowman. We played until the sleet was definitely rain and we were soaked all the way through. Then we made hot chocolate and watched President Obama's acceptance speech – at T's request. A-mazing, all around. 

 

So today I am grateful for second chances, and that the kids are at ages where they are still sweet and forgiving. They don't hold grudges on the days that we have a rough start. They are gracious when I apologize and overjoyed when I make it up to them with something fun. I know my days are numbered with them being so forgiving, and wanting to be with me at all. I am trying to soak them up. Most of the time, my work can wait. But my kids' childhoods won't.

Figuring Out How to Keep Kids Rooms Clean (Gratitude – Day Four)

Gratitude, Day Four aka figuring out how to keep the kids' rooms clean. Why today? Because today we "fell back" with Daylight Savings. And we all know that on a day that we have an entire extra hour with our tiny humans (some of us the day after trick or treating, thanks to Sandy) gratitude is not the first word many of us are using.

how to keep kids rooms cleanSo I took the extra hour and took out every single toy my kids own and put in in the middle of their bedroom floors. They were in heaven, and it never occurred to them that I was also working toward accomplishing the ever-present "decluttering your life" goal by weeding out the toys as they played. With two tiny humans, 2 and 4, it seems like figuring out how to keep the kids' rooms clean is a lofty goal. But here are the things I know work for our family of four:

  • Everything In Its Place: Everything has to have a home. Even better if everything has a label, so the kids know where everything goes. Ditto for sitters, grandparents, Dad, etc.
  • Storage, Storage and More Storage: While a toy box is a quick and easy fix, it is disorganized and our toys have a way of getting lost and broken in toy boxes. I much prefer bookcase-style cubes with fabric boxes in them. They are cheap, easy to assemble, durable and replaceable.
  • One Thing At A Time: My kids are much better behaved when they are focused on one activity at a time. On the rare occasion I let them take out multiple things (today), they get overwhelmed and quickly abandon the clutter for another area of the house, trailing toys behind them as they go. To ensure that my tiny humans comply with the "one thing at a time" rule, they each have childproof locks on the closets where their toys are kept. That way they have to clean up what they were playing with before I open the closet to take something else out.
  • Set Expiration Dates: I don't have a schedule for when I go through the kids toys. Mostly I do what I did today – get bored or overwhelmed to the point where I just can't stand it anymore and tackle it. But at least twice a year – usually with the kids input – we do go through everything they own and either keep it, donate it, sell it or toss it. I would like to do it more frequently, but life gets away from me sometimes.

I know that decluttering your life is not a goal you achieve as much as it is a constant state of upkeep. But the above tips, when I stick to them, seem to be the key to how to keep my kids' rooms clean.

So after a loooong day (it feels like we fell back at least two or three hours, not just one) I am grateful to have had the opportunity and energy to tackle the kids rooms. Mostly I am grateful that it is done. And that when I finally wrestle them into bed tonight I expect they will be so tired from staying up an extra hour after playing with every single toy they own, it will be one of the easiest bedtimes in recent history. I am grateful for that, too.