Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Wednesday Why: About Dinner

Dinner is my favorite meal.  It’s the celebration of the end of the day.  It’s the meal that involves more forethought than the others, and is generally more nutritionally balanced, creative and interesting.  Family dinner conjures up an image of everyone sitting around the table enjoying a yummy meal and each other’s company. 

Apparently, I have seen too many commercials for Pillsbury crescent rolls.

Naturally sometimes dinner does look like the all-American ideal.  Sometimes I manage to get my chopping and other prep done early so everyone, or at least the kids, is sitting down to eat by 6:15 p.m.  But usually, what happens is, we stay too long at the playground or a playdate, so I wind up frantically throwing something together, with children screaming and hanging on my pants so that my ass is hanging out as I hustle and bustle around our kitchen.  It’s funny, but also humiliating – not at all what I thought my life would look like.

There’s also the scenario where I have my act together. When I chose a kid-pleasing recipe (one based on something they’ve liked before), bought all the ingredients, did the prep during naptime, prepared everything carefully and lovingly and no one will eat a thing.  Maybe I fed them too many just-keep-out-of-my-hair snacks. Maybe they just don’t like what I’ve got.  I know that the eating habits of a young child are as predictable as Rihanna’s hairstyles, and I shouldn’t take it personally, but I can’t help feeling betrayed, hoodwinked, exploited, frustrated, enraged and heartbroken. 

So, here’s the Wednesday why - Why is dinner so damned hard?  And if it’s not for you, then what’s your secret?

This post was requested by an MNS reader.  If there’s a topic you’d like to hear about, let me know!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Vacational Studies

No, Mom’s New Stage hasn’t gone dark!

The family and I took our show on the road, which as a wise friend of mine calls it, is what you do when you go away with young children.  Basically it’s your same old schtick, except in a new place.  We went to St. Joseph, Michigan, a charming town on the Lake Michigan shoreline, two hours from our Chicago home.  Like any time with small children, it had some high highs, and some low lows, all of which added up to a truly terrific vacation.

I won’t bore you with the blog equivalent of sitting through someone’s vacation photos. Instead, I’ll wax philosophic on some of the topics that made our vacation what it was. 

The only thing I find more upsetting than packing for a trip is a three-way with Dick Cheney and Snooki.  Yes, I hate packing that much!  There is so much potential to overpack, underpack or mispack, like when you think your trip is going to be like an episode of Sex in the City, and due to bad luck or bad planning, your clothing instructions might as well have been “Please dress like an extra in an Applebee’s commercial.”

Add to this the task of packing up two small children. Which means, aside from all the crap one needs to meet every possible contingency during a week at the beach, we’d be bringing diapers (regular and swim), wipes, a stroller, a pack and play, a booster seat, sippy cups, bottles, some child friendly cutlery, toys, bath toys, beach toys, their favorite bath towels and books.  Of course there were stores nearby, but did we really want to spend our time searching for and shopping in the local Wal-something? For the first time in my life, I lamented the fact that our family vehicle wasn’t a Winnebago.  Our ride is a Honda CR-V, a car that fits our family and fits into almost any parking spot in the city.  I considered renting a car, as well as, investigating how to get a roof rack, before realizing that was bulls—t.  If we couldn’t fit it in the car, we’d taken too much.

But somehow, Hubs did get everything into the car, leaving the back window clear and us in the front seat without suitcases in our laps and our noses pressed against the windshield.  Truly a testament to his packing skills, the more-than-you’d-think cargo space of our little car and the fact that maybe we’d packed okay after all. 

We timed our ride to coincide with the kids’ naps.  But we left an hour late, and as we all know, but can’t fully understand, overtired children don’t sleep well.  Both Riley and Aria were sound asleep twenty minutes into the drive.  We praised the Gods.  When we stopped at a toll, twenty minutes later, both were wide awake. 

I spent the rest of the ride placating/force feeding the kids with veggie booty, their water bottles, grapes, every snack I could get my hands on.  About a half hour from St. Joe I heard a whistling sound from the back.  The driver’s side rear door, next to Riley, was not fully closed!  Of course the indicator light was on, but neither of us noticed.  Oh, CR-V, you can be packed like a drug smuggler’s belly, but why can’t you TALK?!

I wasn’t sure if the door hadn’t been closed properly from the get go, when we snapped Riley in, or if he had somehow been fiddling with it.  Must we tie his hands and feet during car rides? My overactive imagination went berserk, envisioning Riley being sucked out of the car like some sci-fi character, the fully open door then being ripped off by a semi, or J pulling over on the shoulder to close the door and getting…. 

I sat, my heart palpitating, willing J to drive both slower and faster, and wondered if we’d run out of gas before the effing next exit.  Finally we pulled into a particularly shady looking McDonald’s, closed the door and impressed upon our firstborn that if he so much as looked at that door his hand would fall off. 

The Beach
At our first vacation with Riley, when he was nine months old, we were stupid enough to bring reading material.  Like bringing a six pack to the symphony!  This time we didn’t dare.  With two kids the beach is like the playground – it requires constant supervision and maintenance.  Did the kids have enough sunscreen?  Were they running too close to the road/water? John said two words to each other, only to turn to see fifteen-month old Aria gunning into the waves and falling on her face.  I sprinted to her, scooping up my sputtering and screaming little girl.  The waves were strong – what if we’d caught her five seconds later?  I envied the parents who could lie down and relax, as their kids ran in and out of the lake and built sand castles.

Still it was fabulous to see the joy, freedom and awe on the kids’ faces.  The kids, especially Aria, loved chasing seagulls.  They also loved getting wet and rolling in the sand, like chicken ready for the fryer.  To them, the beach was like the biggest sandbox ever.   Aria continued to run straight into the water even after her incident.  Clearly Riley adores the beach, and we hope Aria does too, because in this family, she doesn’t have much choice.  And as for me, someone for whom the beach is like church, I made sure to leave while the kids napped with John, so I could sit and read by the water, all by myself.

On my birthday, my wonderfully sweet husband wanted to celebrate with a nice dinner.  I thought we’d go someplace kid friendly and fun.  When we walked in to the restaurant of the Boulevard Inn, the nicest place in town, my Negative Nancy got her cockles up.  There were some other children there, but still, things did not look good. Aria had recently taken to yelling, “Nooow!” - a sound that married a bobcat and a lady about to have her purse stolen.  I envisioned diners glaring at us, and being asked to leave. 

“What were you thinking?”  I hissed, as we scanned the menu.

“I wanted to do a nice dinner for your birthday,” J answered.  “I wanted to do something like the dinners we used to do.”

Sigh.  But since I had resolved for the ahem anniversary of my 29th birthday not to be such a you-know-what on wheels, I decided to try to have a nice time.

And we did, even though I ate my entrée like a contestant in a pie-eating contest and the servers didn’t sing to me because I was on my fourth keep-quiet walk to the lobby with the kids.  It was good, however, to be at a nice place eating a nice dinner. All the eating out we did taught me how to enjoy myself while keeping the kids somewhat in check. Riley generally does well at restaurants and Aria is fine once the food comes. For their age, their dining-out conduct is on target.  All kids screech and squirm at a dinner out – it’s a really long time for them to sit.  In terms of disciplining our kids, we’re pretty sensitive to other diners.  But if anyone says anything to me about their behavior, honey, it is ON.

The Cultural Experience
Hubs and I had forgotten what it’s like to really attract attention.  Not the passing glance kind, but full on stares.  Some people almost crashed their cars.  Seriously.  If you smiled at some of the starers, they’d smile back, especially those who were taken by our kids.  Others looked away or remained stonefaced, signaling some not so nice thoughts, bad manners and/or the intellect of a mothball.

But when J and I talked about all the attention we got, I remembered that I too gawk at interracial couples.  And when I’m alone, and I smile sheepishly and look away, I’m sure I raise the same questions.  At the yummy pizza joint in town, we noticed a table full of college age kids.  They were a U.N. of pretty people - black, white, Asian, Latino and South Asian, and I couldn’t help staring at them myself.

The multitude of reasons, both benevolent and unkind, people stare at couples like us is impossible to know.  In the long term, I hope that education, tolerance and understanding will diminish some of the more shocked and hostile stares. That and the Tiny Feyesque, pithy, withering comment all not-the-norm couples should have at the ready.

The Carousel
Every day, sometimes twice a day, we rode on the Silver Beach Carousel.  It was Riley’s favorite thing to do.  Because he was happy we all were. (Well, maybe not Aria.) Watching him weigh which animal to ride, then his growing anticipation as he sat waiting for the ride to begin, and the pure bliss on his face as he sailed around and around was worth the organ music that burrowed itself in my brain like a tic. 

Of course, our trip wasn’t a vacation brochure where that family of four, clearly in love with each other, holds hands and frolics on the beach.  Our trip did have moments of contentment, laughter and even utter joy, but there was also plenty of problem solving, scheduling and overcoming great anguish (Truly. Stay tuned for that post...).  I love my family even more after this vacation – it’s the most time the four of us have ever spent together.  As a group we are all adaptable, fun loving, and supportive of one another.  We take three hours and at least two false starts to leave the house.  One of us is always in a foul mood.  And we make it work.  Like Riley on the carousel, we go up and down and around and around, cycling through spaces both in our minds and in the world.  We take it all in, and when everything aligns just right, we break out in a huge smile, our happiness overwhelming us. 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Mom in the Spotlight: Rachel Newton

After eight years as a professional ballet dancer, Rachel Newton traded pointe shoes for construction documents in 1998 when she enrolled in the Pratt School of Architecture. After starting her career as Principal Designer and Project Manager for various private residences, Rachel joined Elmslie Osler Architect (EOA) as Senior Designer and Project Manager. At EOA, Rachel spearheaded major overhauls of private New York residences and commercial buildings. Most of her work, however, focused on creating new retail concepts for the Anthropologie brand of Urban Outfitters, Inc. As often as possible, Rachel’s designs incorporate sustainability strategies, such as the layers of sunscreening wood slats across the façade of the Anthropologie store in Huntsville, Alabama, or the reclaimed barn wood portal for the entrance of the Albuquerque, New Mexico store.  Rachel has returned to being Principal Designer and Project Manager, as a freelancer and consultant, beginning with two commercial projects: the conversion of a 5,000 square foot industrial loft space in an old brewery into an eco-friendly creative hub for the branding firm, BBMG, and the conversion of a raw space in the Gowanus area of Brooklyn into a lounge featuring artisinal cocktails and seasonal food. Rachel is also a documentary photographer, her chosen focus the work environments within obscure cultures. Her most elaborate essay is a six-year book project entitled Keep Iced that documents the Fulton Fish Market during its last days.  Some of Rachel’s honors include the 2009 American Institute of Architects New York State Design Award of Excellence and Interior Design Magazine’s 2009 Best of the Year Merit Award.

How many children do you have?  Boys?  Girls?
1 girl

How old is she?  
3 years, 4 months

Where were you in your career when your children were born?
I was doing well but putting in a lot of extra hours at a small architecture firm as a senior designer. I had been there since 2006. My daughter was born in 2008. I had freelanced prior, following graduation from architecture school and was enjoying not working in a solitary bubble.

You had a career change before motherhood came into the picture.  What made you leave ballet to study architecture?
Chronic injuries brought my ballet career to an end. I had told myself that I would stop when I reached 30, so that I could easily begin another career and not feel too old. I didn’t make it. At 26, I left Fort Worth/Dallas Ballet.  I had been attending numerous auditions and had had a great experience with a small creative company in San Francisco. Knowing, however, that there were no openings, I was not motivated to hang out, take classes, waitress and wait for someone to get injured. I also felt like my clock was ticking. Not to sound pitiful, but I did feel like damaged goods with my injuries.

I had always been interested in architecture. As a high school student, I had applied to architecture schools. After much reflection, I gave myself the chance to pursue a professional career in dance, something that could not wait. There is a shared language between ballet and architecture. Both are rooted in classical traditions organized by proportion, lines, and space. Both forms strive for and challenge the notion of Beauty. Architecture is an extension of the body, its behaviors and culture. It orchestrates a form of choreography between its occupants, tactile materials, and nature’s elements.

There is an impatient side to me to feel like I am moving forward. Upon leaving the company, I signed up for architecture classes at a state university in Texas to see if I would still be captivated by the field. I persevered, albeit with a lot of questioning. If I had been 30 and injury-free, things might have been different. After devoting over 20 years to dance, it is not an easy thing to leave. While your body is struggling to stay in its prime, you are just beginning to really mature artistically.

I still wrestle with the hard reality of sitting in front of a computer playing with lines on a screen for hours on end. I’ve gone from one extreme to the other. My knees are not thanking me in the day-to-day immobile lifestyle. Complain, complain.

When did you realize your attraction to and talent for photography?
While at architecture school at Pratt, I fell in love with photography. Every cell in my body felt alive when I was shooting and documenting the world around me. It was like a performance. I did not change majors, however, my goal was and is to always make photography a part of my life.  My daughter has taught me something about videography as she won’t stop moving.

Has motherhood changed the course of your career?  If not, how are you staying on the artistic path you originally set out on?
Yes. To the say the least, it has challenged my priorities and immediate ambitions that have always been focused on career. After a generous maternity leave due to accrued over-time hours at the architecture firm I was at, I went back part-time. And then, the recession and a loss of key clients forced the firm to scale down in employees. I volunteered to go, as working part-time was a financial wash for us. I wanted to use this time to assess my direction and my role as a creative, whether it was in architecture or elsewhere. I spoke to a lot of people and toyed with a lot of business ideas.  I started a blog about vodka and gin infusions. I am not scared to be entrepreneurial. Six to seven months into it, I agreed to partner with someone I had talked to my very first week of unemployment - someone with a vision to open a lounge/restaurant. I invested a lot of sweat-equity and money into childcare, working steadily three plus days a week for five months on the design.  Then, a lack of investment money brought it to a halt. A lot of lessons were learned. I am back to trying to find my direction.

Mothers often feel as though they are torn between motherhood and the part of them that misses doing, being or having something else.  Can you speak about this a little?
There is a lot of guilt to take on. You feel terribly guilty, not working. No matter what you read or people say, it is challenging to feel like an equal to my husband, as I am not contributing financially. When I’ve worked part-time at home, I feel guilty constantly trying to steal away to check emails, make a phone call, whatever. When I was working in an office part-time, there is conflict within when thinking about another person, not you, witnessing your child’s development. I am sure if I were working full-time, I would feel even more guilty.

However, when I am working, when I have that time to walk by myself to the subway, read on the train, get lost in my thoughts, sit down and get things done, it can feel really good.

Do you have any plans for when your daughter is in school full time and your days have a different focus?
Come the fall, my daughter will be in pre-school five days a week for a few hours, and I won’t be there. It is our first drop-off experience. I would like to be home when my daughter gets home. It would be nice to find part-time or freelance work. If it is creative, great! I actually don’t think I could take a job if I didn’t feel it was valuable or it didn’t seem challenging. And, if it pays well, that would be really great. It would be so much easier to find a full-time job than to do part-time work, or pursue my own project.  So, amidst all the floundering on my part, I just finalized my portfolio, resume and website. Right now, I am enjoying that satisfaction of completion, and I am following some leads.

What wisdom would you like to share with other mothers, especially those who might feel a loss of self as a result of motherhood?
First, talk to other like-minded moms. It really helps to hear their stories, struggles and self-questioning. It won’t feel so lonely.  But, let go of those conversations that increase the feeling of guilt or inadequacy.  A friend of mine, who happens to be single and childless, proposed that we get together bi-monthly to organize our ambitions and goals. I think that’s a tremendous idea.  I think that many of us could benefit from an inquisitive and inspiring ear.

I have a fantasy for moms and dads. There are so many parents out there, smart and creative, who because of parenthood, want more control of schedule and more satisfaction in their careers to justify being away from their child or children. I think it is a ripe culture for creative and unusual partnerships.

To view Rachel’s work, please visit

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Wednesday Why

I realize the irony of this question, but it rings true, at least for me...

Why does it seem like my children are actively preventing me from being the fabulous mom I'm capable of being?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Suggestions When They JUST. WON'T. %$#@ing. NAP!

  1. Cry.  Despite what those focus-on-the-positive ninnies say, you have every right to be pissed off.  You’re exhausted and have been looking forward to this afternoon nap since you woke up, and now your chances of a decent break are fading away like bookstores.  What a suckfest!  So do it - wallow, feel sorry for yourself, sob if you have to, because, honey, the break you deserve today probably ain’t happenin’.

  1. Pick Yourself Up By Your Brastraps and Deal.  You are the adult here, so even though you want to scream, “Calgon, take me away!” and find yourself magically ensconced in your palatial bathroom soaking away in your garden-sized tub, you have to take control.  Splash some cold water on your face and tell yourself YOU. WILL. GET.THROUGH.THE. AFTERNOON.  And it goes without saying, without abusing things that come in bottles or bags, or putting a bottle of something into a bag…

  1. Soothe and Cuddle. Do whatever it takes to get your little one(s) to calm down.  If you have to carry up to 50 pounds worth of kid(s) around the house for a few minutes, then c’est la vie.  Surely shoulders up to your hairline and a sore back are worth a few minutes future peace!  If you can cuddle and hug a child without mellowing out at least somewhat, you are one mean blankety-blank. (Hint: Shaft is a bad one.)

  1. Read.  The goal here is to keep your ass on the couch for as long as possible! Read as much as you possibly can.  If your children lose interest and move away from the sofa, give them the book and let them pretend to read to themselves, or for talkers, let them make up stories or “read” to you.  If that fails, you just keep on reading, even if they're jumping up and down on the cushions and using the sofa as a vaulting horse.

  1. TV.  For better or worse, for most kids the TV is a magnet.  If you don’t believe in TV, then (chuckle), I’m sorry about that!  Anyhoo, and I can’t stress this enough, YOU MUST KEEP YOUR ASS ON THE SOFA! You can take the high road and do PBS kids or indulge yourself/kill off a few brain cells by watching some show that includes the words Moms or Housewives.  If you do choose the latter, just be quick with a channel change or a hand to the eyes when that violent, sexy teaser for a hot lady cop show suddenly pops up.

  1. Tire them out.  By now you should have had a decent amount of ass-on-couch time, and should be ready to get physical.  Put the baby in a jumperoo or exersaucer.  With toddlers and preschoolers, you can play chasing games, have a dance/gymnastics party or a ticklefest, it’s all good.  Let them go crazy!  And don’t be afraid of a MINOR fall – a little crying jag will bring that nap even closer!

  1. Laughter.  We all know the saying, “If I didn’t laugh, I’d cry.” So why not make everyone happy?  Unleash your inner Jim Carrey, and be as ridiculous as possible.  Make funny faces, invent silly words, fall, drop things – if they’re laughing you’re doing your job.  Don’t worry about making a mess – hopefully, you’ll get your break, and hey, your to-do list is already a mile long! What’s a little more housework, anyway?  It will do you good to take a hiatus from being that bitchy downer of a mom you’ve become!

  1. Take a Mommy Time Out.  Kids find this hysterical!  And this is killing two birds with one stone - you make 'em laugh and get a break.  Now, I did say that you are an adult, and locking yourself in the bathroom is totally unacceptable. I suggest you find a place where you can see them, but they can't see you so well, like, say, on the stairs, or even under a table.  Call a friend or get sucked into Facebook!  Whatever, just experiment with that laissez-faire parenting everyone's talking about, and peace out, grrrrl!

  1. Pray.  I don’t care what religion you are or not.  You NEED prayer right now.  Get down on your knees and close your eyes, or fixate on something in your home, such as that picture of Great Uncle Fred on the mantle or the two-day-old Cheerios      sculpture petrifying in the playroom.  If movement is your bag, visualize your kid(s) asleep in bed as you do paddle turns (Your littles will love it, see # 7!).  While spinning, you can beg forgiveness for whatever you’ve done to deserve this.

  1. Try again.  Put them down once more.  They are tired.  You are tired.  And by now, if you don’t get a break you are certain something very bad might happen.  But in the event they don't sleep, you WILL figure out what to do. Remember, you're a good mother, dammit.  Get in the car to run errands, or go for a walk in the stroller; neither will give you a true break, but at least they'll be asleep.  Or maybe they’ll power on through the afternoon and go down early for the night.  No matter what, lady, you must know that at some point, on this day or the next, rest is coming.  

Monday, August 15, 2011

Living in the Moment

I’d like to learn how to live in the moment.  In modern urban life, this is an impossible feat to accomplish all the time, but surely I could do it MORE.  I spend too much of my time thinking about the supposed-tos and the what-ifs. About what I could, would and should do after, or do instead. Right now as I write I’m editing what I just typed, and trying to remember for future paragraphs the clever turns of phrase that pop in and out of my head like bubbles.

It doesn’t help that I’m super aware of what’s going on around me, and therefore very easily distracted. I do try to find beauty and calm. But then usually, my sensibilities are ambushed by something like a pimped out car, a ludicrously low sag or (white) leggings on ham thighs, and I want to crawl into a hole and mourn the state of the world.

It's no way to live.  

Since motherhood is all about multi-tasking, consistently planning, being hyper-observant and always trying to be one step ahead, it's making my little problem worse.  I spend my day rushing two little people - who want nothing more than to live in the moment - around so we can stick to a schedule.  If a schedule exists for their good and mine, why does it make us all so crazy?  Life has become about getting to the next need.  It's getting kids who are playing inside, outside, so they'll have enough time to enjoy being out-of-doors. Then once they're happy being out, it's about rushing them back in, to eat and/or nap.  It's how to end a playdate so there’s enough time to get to the grocery store and make dinner. And of course, some of the most zealous not living in the moment occurs during the bedtime ritual  - when desperately craved me-time is now within reach.

Part of this always thinking ahead issue stems from my all consuming fear of The Meltdown.  Add to that the immediate consequences of haphazard meals, overspending on take-out, and my anxiety that leaving the dishes dirty for too long will push our family down the slippery slope to squalor.  My overdramatic imagination goes into a full drama of slacker parenting – pre-packaged meals, too much screen time, no reading, a family schedule like that of an unemployed trust-fund pothead -  and I see my children in the year 2040, their greatest achievement having been working a 7-11 cash register.  Shudder. So, I keep us all rushing through the day, in order to get things done, get myself some time off and to make sure my children are, if not wunderkinds, then well-rested, well-nourished, physically coordinated and intellectually stimulated little people.

During all this hustle-bustle, I sometimes remember that I'm not really interacting with my kids - I'm not really enjoying them and vice-versa.  I wrestle to change Aria's diaper and get her dressed without talking to her.  So involved am I in getting sippy cups filled and Cheerios into snack cups, that I'm not singing songs, or making  conversation with my children.  It’s as though I’m taking orders like a short order cook, trying to get everything right, so as not to offend my customers.  And sometimes I spend the better part of the day yearning for their nap.  Am I so involved in what I need to do to keep the house running and to meet everyone's needs that I'm hurtling through a very sweet time with my little ones?

But the craziness does make the pure moments stand out.  A hug where Riley or Aria nestles in to the crook of my neck and I can nuzzle his/her hair.  Driving around listening to music while everyone chats, sings or coos.  A family dinner where everyone is actually eating happily.  Watching the kids do “tumblebacon” (somersaults off the twin mattress in Aria’s room).   Sitting on our deck blowing bubbles and eating popsicles.  These moments do happen, the moments when all is right with my family and with the world.  When I can breathe.

Dancers live for muscle memory – when technical concepts and movement ideas cease to be merely cerebral and become a true extension of ourselves.  These moments are ecstatic, like how I imagine it would be to take flight.  These moments take work, and are hard won.  It appears to be the same with the pure, present episodes of parenting.  Maybe half the battle is accepting and valuing the fact that I've attained these blissful and rare moments, at all.  

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Mom in the Spotlight: Marja Germans Gard

Marja Germans Gard opted out of a career in psychological research to pursue a love of metalsmithing, and started her business, lemonade handmade jewelry, in 2009.  Gard, whose love for all things jewelry began as an obsession with wire and enameling during her childhood in NYC, is now firmly rooted in Oakland, CA, where she designs and creates each of her jewelry pieces individually and with great attention to detail.  Gard uses recycled metals and employs environmentally-sensitive practices to produce jewelry pieces with clean lines and a modern feel, creating interest by mixing metals and textures.  She strives each day to balance creativity, productivity, family, and housework, and tries to face it all with a healthy dose of humor.

How many children do you have?  Boys?  Girls?
I have two lovely children, one girl, Macie, and one boy, Julian.

How old are your children? 
Macie is 6, and Julian is 3 ½.

How many hours of sleep did you get last night?
The past few nights I’ve forced myself to go to bed before 11, so I managed to get 7-8 hours (YES!).  I have never been more grateful than when I had two kids sleeping through the night.

What did you do yesterday?
Let’s see.  Up at 6:20, get myself ready.  Downstairs to pack two lunches and prep breakfast for the kids and me (my husband leaves the house before six, so I fly solo in the mornings).  Start a laundry.  Check work emails, answer inquiries on Etsy, post to social media sites.  Both kids get up around 7, do the whole breakfast/ get ready thing- out the door at 8:10.  Drop J at his preschool, then drive M to her science camp 20 minutes away.  Back home finally around 9:30. Change laundry.  More emails from the website developer (finally learning to outsource!), then at long last it’s time to hit the studio.  Log in some studio time until lunch, then catch up on emails.  Recheck wholesale orders, then back to the studio until 2:15- now I need to clean up and prep snacks before I pick up the kids.  Leave the house at 2:30, pick up M from science camp, then get J from preschool.  Spend the afternoon wrist deep in Playdoh and city blocks, then let the kids watch some PBS kids while I make dinner.  D is home in time for dinner at 6:30- we all eat together, then get kids ready for bed. J in bed at 7:30 after some books (and some stalling), M is in bed at 8, after books (and even more stalling).  Catch up on more emails, pack up some orders to ship out while D cleans up the kitchen (YES.).  Then collapse on the couch to indulge in some awful reality TV (you know it).  Last email check before bed and then sleeeeeeeep.

Where were you in your career when your children were born?
My first career was actually not in the arts- I got my Ph.D. so that I could study the neural underpinnings of emotional and cognitive impairments in patients with schizophrenia.  I was in the middle of a neuroimaging postdoctoral fellowship when my daughter was born.  I had been commuting from Oakland to Sacramento each day to do my research.  After she was born, I tried to go back to work for a bit, but I just couldn’t be that far away from her, and I realized I really didn’t want to be away from her at all.  So, I quit.  I stayed at home with her, and my son, until two years ago.  It was at that point that, on a lark, I decided to turn my hobby of jewelry making into a career as a metalsmith.  Now I work 5 days a week in my home studio, starting once I’ve dropped the kids at school, pausing for afternoon school pickup/playdates/park/library/dinner/bath/ bedtime etc., and then resuming once they’ve gone to sleep.

Has motherhood changed the course of your career?  If not, how are you staying on the artistic path you originally set out on?
Motherhood has dramatically changed the course of my career in that I jettisoned my academic trajectory and ultimately ended up pursuing an artistic one.  Given how much time I had dedicated to my academic career, I don’t know that I would have even considered so dramatically changing tacks had I not had kids.  Having children was such a huge paradigm shift for our whole family that I think it freed me up to think about what I really wanted to be doing with my life.  It became clear that being a stay at home mother was paramount, and, surprisingly, it also became clear that pursuing my artistic interests was more important to me than I had ever realized.

Mothers often feel as though they are torn between motherhood and the part of them that misses doing, being or having something else.  Can you speak about this a little?
It’s a constant juggling act- as much as I’m committed to being at home in the afternoons with my kids, it means that there are limits to how quickly my business can grow.  With the kids this age, there is just no way I am going to leave them for a week to go do a big wholesale show in Baltimore, and I’ll just have to live without getting those accounts for the moment.  Also, I don’t have endless hours to play in the studio, and that limits the number of new designs I’m able to generate.  I do get envious at times of my colleagues who don’t have kids and who can lose themselves in their work for hours at end without worrying about showing up on time for school pickup.  But, by the same token, there are times that I do local retail shows for an entire weekend and don’t get home until after the kids are in bed.  I hate that and I miss them terribly, but I know I need to do some of that to keep building my business.  I’m constantly tinkering and adjusting to try to strike the right balance for that particular time- I think I’m finally realizing that it’s an iterative process and I’ll be continuing to adjust as the kids grow and as I grow as an artist and business owner.

Biggest piece of advice for new moms, especially creative, career-driven types?
Two pieces, actually.  First- be kind to yourself and cut yourself some slack.  New moms (especially career-driven ones) are often incredibly hard on themselves- often we’ve put our career on hold to have kids, and the intensity of that career energy can get focused on child-rearing.  Sometimes it’s hard to remember that if something doesn’t happen the way you’d ideally like, you are going to get a million opportunities for a do-over.  And second- allow yourself to have times when you are not being a mom.  For me, when my kids were babies, that meant really simple things- going out with girlfriends for cocktails, or taking a hip hop class at a local studio.  It wasn’t anything elaborate, but it gave me the opportunity to put on something that was decidedly not a nursing tank and be a person, not just a diaper-changing milk machine. 

To view Marja's beautiful work, please visit

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Wednesday Why: Checked Out Parents

Why is it that...

at the playground, the mom (or dad or babysitter) with the child most likely to maim one of his peers, is the one completely lost in a book or some form of technology?

Is it denial? Is it sheer laziness?
Is this person resigned to raising a future resident of Cell Block F?
Is it adamant refusal not to be a helicopter guardian, and to demonstrate a more laissez-faire parenting style?
Is it a passive desire to initiate a playground smackdown?
Is it a wish to conduct Darwinian experiments?

What is going on in these people's heads?  What?!!!!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Habits of the Mom Who Knows When to Say, "Aw, Fuhgeddaboudit!"

The following is a revised version of a piece I published on Yahoo's Shine last November.  Suggested for your reading pleasure is, you guessed it, a nice glass of wine.  If you don't drink, how about some chocolate or a nice piece of cake?


I read a list of mothering suggestions, entitled "10 Things Happy Moms Do," and I thought, How lovely, but can I really practice anything on this list without a serious personality makeover, if not a lobotomy?  I thought the author of the post, blogger HybridMom, had some lovely ideas, but her advice seemed like just not enough gas to take you to Happyland, if you know what I mean.  So I've taken it upon myself to comment on her ideas and add a few of my own.  

1. Find time for yourself
HM: Happy moms know they deserve a little time to themselves. When you know you're going to have a little room to breathe later on in the day, it's easier to take on everything that's in front of you. Our formula? Take 2 hours out for yourself every 3 days.

MNS: Hey, if you've got kids that you conceived on purpose, you're probably old enough to remember the McDonalds slogan, "You deserve a break today!"  And you do, but how are you going to do that, between meal planning and preparation, cleaning just enough so that you don't have teams of roaches and mice racing across your floor, doctors' visits, taking the kids to soccer/ballet/music, playdates, making sure you don't look and smell homeless and just trying to be a decent wife?  So here's my formula. It's as easy as 1-2-3! One time a month, take two hours plus three days for yourself.  Once a month, pack a bag and plan where you'll go two hours away.  Don't forget your major credit card with the lowest balance!  Drive to the nicest hotel you can sort of afford and check in for three days.  Imagine how great you'll feel upon your return!  Everyone will forgive you because you'll be the wife and mother your family had only dreamed about.

2. Don't make a happy baby happier!
HM: We all do see your baby's head at what you're sure is an unnatural angle snoozing in their car seat. You just know he'd be happier if his head was straight.  So you move him. And he wakes up. And screams. Or, you see her playing happily in the sand. You just know she'd be happier on the slide. So you interrupt her and move her to the slide.  And she's angry. And she lets you know she's REALLY angry.  Here's the thing, she was happy. It can be hard to do, but if your kid's not complaining, leave him be!  Happy baby = Happy Mommy.

MNS: You're not kidding about this one!  If it ain't broke don't fix it, I always say.  Now if your child is playing happily with a friend and another mommy friend of yours is watching over both kiddos, I'm sure she won't mind if you ask to go to the bathroom at the nearest Starbucks! What a great way to sneak in a coffee break.  Just make sure you bring your friend and her kid back a treat.  Note:  this is NOT the time to go on your 1-2-3 trip.  
3. Embrace the mess
HM: So your house doesn’t look like something out of a magazine. That just means it’s cozy! Your children have hands coated in dirt from the playground and faces coated in spaghetti from dinner. It’s not gross—it’s an adorable photo op! Life is about how you look at things. Next time that pile of laundry that’s been sitting on the chair for three days starts to get you down, just remember… it’s probably feng shui.
MNS: Amen sister.  See everything in a whole new light!  Or not.  Because by keeping the house semi dark, no one will notice the chunks of food on and underneath the table, which you know is just a pre-set kids snack!  The toys all over the house aren't a broken leg waiting to happen. It's your children trying to design an obstacle course because they know mommy has no time for the gym!  And the piles of books, bills and mail all over the place - simply showing the children the importance of reading and math!  But if the garbage is overflowing, for God's sake, get your husband/partner off his ass and get him to take it out.  
4. Make time for your friends
HM: Your family can survive without you while you make time to see friends. You are a woman with your own identity and its imperative that you and that identity go out for some margaritas once in awhile!
MNS: Of course, you have to see your friends, but why do you have to go out?  Who can afford a sitter only to have substandard and pricey margaritas at some burrito joint? And hey, you need to keep your money for the 1-2-3 plan! My solution is the Boozy Playdate!  Kids love bread and cheese or chips and salsa and you and your mom friends won't have to feel bad about your clothes from three years ago and lack of make up in public.  And no worries about your kids seeing you tipsy.  Don't you want them to know, hiccup, that alcohol is a joyful part of life and is to be enjoyed responsibly?  
5.  Stop blowing yourself off
HM: While you may be the one taking care of everyone, it doesn't mean you can't also get what you want. Help your family realize your needs are as important as theirs and when mom is happy, everyone is happy, but when mom is not....
The only way not to blow yourself off is to completely blow yourself off. Neglect yourself into an unhygienic, flabby, angry mess.  Then snap, preferably at dinnertime.  Tell everyone, "Do you think I'm your slave? Look at me, I haven't brushed my teeth in days! I mean, do you think the dishes wash themselves?  And you kids, could you just do one thing I ask?"  Then lean against the wall and slide down to the floor. Sit there and sob. Say, "I love you all so much, but where is there time for me?  I have lost myse-e-e-e-elf.  Your family will call grandma immediately, thereby enabling you to use the 1-2-3 plan with their blessing.
6.  Get in the zone
HM: Take 10 minutes to do absolutely nothing but rest. Take a break from your day, close your eyes, breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose and exhale through your mouth.  Repeat several times. Think about a place you love that is relaxing, spend 10 minutes there in your mind.
MNS: Since you don't know what rest means anymore, you might have to look it up.  But if you go online to look it up, you will start replying to messages or looking up old boyfriends on Facebook, and if you find a real dictionary you will look at your dusty shelves and either actually dust them, or just get depressed.  So, you need to open a bottle of wine.  Smell your first glass for 10 minutes.  It's a great way to practice breathing.  Then drink the whole bottle.  Now you are the living definition of zoned out!
7.  Remember your dreams and goals
HM: Everyday we are encouraging our children to reach their full potential. But sometimes in the midst of being a parent we forget about our own dreams and goals. The best thing you can do to encourage a child is to lead by example –happy moms hold on to their dreams and goals and don’t let go.
MNS: Sad but true.  I once dreamed that I'd have a big career, live in a big house, drive a beautiful car and live a life of relative ease. I work part time and parent full time.  (Oh boy, do the math on that one...)  I want my children to know those happy moms who have accomplished big things.  So I simply open my alumni magazine and let my children marvel at all the people I went to school with - the presidents of corporations, the professors at prestigious academic institutions, the doctors and lawyers, the scientists, those dedicating their lives to serving the poor overseas.  If your daughter asks, "Why haven't they written about you in this magazine?" just rub her hair and chuckle, "Oh sweetie! Because then I couldn't be such a great mommy!"
8.  Be lighthearted
HM: Don't be the uptight mom. Be silly and dance with your kids to their music or tv show tunes. Be romantic and pull your partner into a waltz. Dance in slippery socks in your kitchen while making dinner.
MNS: Lightheartedness is much easier to come by after you've followed through with #6.  
9.  Bend the Rules
One of the best parts of making the rules is occasionally breaking them. Maybe it’s taking your child out of school for half a day on their birthday, or waking them up in the middle of the night to see a sky of shooting stars.  Happy moms know how to turn the mundane into fun.
MNS: Now this is just plain silly.  Who in their right mind would wake a sleeping child in the middle of the night unless the house was on fire?  As for turning the mundane into fun, why not have the kids wear their Halloween costumes while they do chores like Swiffer the floor, or for older children, clean out the garage?
10.  Mind your own business
HM: Concentrate on creating your life the way you want it. Take care of you and your family. Don’t get overly concerned with what other people are doing or saying. Don’t get caught up with gossip or name calling. Stop seeking the validation of others and be confident in yourself.
MNS: Create your life the way you want it?  Take care of your family?  That's how you got in this mess in the first place, am I right, or am I right?  You get up everyday resolving not to sweat the small stuff and to be more patient, kind and loving, and by 10 am when it has taken two hours to leave the house to go the playground, you're bitter, frustrated and swearing, and considering filling your Sigg bottle with vodka.  If the only way you can feel better is by dishing about that bitchy mom and her obnoxious kids, the one you see at the playground everyday but won't give you a boo, s--t or howdy, then have at it! That said, Mama, you should be confident of several things.  First no, you are not in control, not of yourself and not even of your children.  Second, this is a wild ride, a beautiful journey that you are lucky to be on.  And when your children are successful, independent adults, you will look upon these days with a smile and think, "I kicked ASS!"

Monday, August 8, 2011

Angels Over My Angels

I’m a catastrophist with a vivid imagination.  This means that when I began driving, at age 30, I kept picturing myself mangled in a gory episode of vehicular carnage - like something you’d find in that Troy McClure driver’s ed film on The Simpsons.  

When my children were born and I assumed full responsibility for tiny, helpless beings that I loved more than I had loved anything previously, I had similar visions of disaster.  Would I drop them?  Roll over on Mr. R if we co-slept?  Would I turn my back at the grocery store and find Lady A in her stroller gone? 

Those fears were not relieved by anything I read.  In fact, most parenting material just made things worse.  Much worse.  Parenting magazine has a monthly feature called “It Happened to Me” that details horrible accidents, such as a child dumping a cup of boiling water  (placed near her by the server) on her lap at a restaurant or a baby rolling off the lap of a sleeping parent.  

The very helpful book Super Baby Food not only gives a Bible worth of tips for healthy eating and saving money, but also brings every disaster lurking in your home into the clearest focus possible.  And let’s not begin to discuss the omnipresent babyproofing industry.  Since forewarned is forearmed, all this information is meant to do parents a service. Except for the fact that while some accidents are preventable, others happen the second we turn our attention away, or result from the most seemingly harmless of actions.  

So much is entirely beyond control. 

Our children have certainly given us a greater familiarity with mishaps.  Some have ended in momentary pain, like a head bumped on the corner of a table because the corner covers were (thanks, kids!) recreationally removed.  Others have created more lasting and visible injury, such as when Mr. R initiated a very unstable hug that caused him and his dear friend to fall into a coffee table.  Mr. R ended up with a big goose egg on the outer corner of his right eye.  And then there are the events that required a trip to the E.R., such when during X-reme Horseplay (after bath and before bed), Mr. R slammed Lady A's right pinky finger in a bedroom door. The last two incidents were almost cinematically foreshadowed.  Unfortunately, J and I were powerless, or just too slow, to act.

But what about the times when the momentum of an accident is stopped in its tracks? 

A few weeks ago between the end of a morning birthday party and lunch, I was rushing to buy Lady A some desperately needed shoes.  I lifted Mr. R from his carseat on the street side and instructed him to stand near me on the sidewalk as I removed Lady A from hers.  I was just about to slam the rear passenger side door when something told me to check first.  

Mr. R’s fingers were in the little space between the two side doors!  

I screamed, more like barked, at him, “Don’t you ever put your fingers there again!  I could have smashed your little fingers right up.”  He began to whimper at my explosion, his little lower lip quivering.  I felt horrible and bent down and hugged him.  I apologized, explaining in kiddoese how scared I was that I could have hurt him very badly.  That we might have had to go to the hospital.  That I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself. We made a plan that next time he’d either sit in the front seat or wait close by me on the sidewalk.  For the rest of the afternoon whenever I thought of what might have happened I almost threw up.

Naturally, this isn’t our only incident like this, but it has left the strongest impression.  How did I know not to slam that door, something that in most circumstances I would have done automatically?  Was it luck?  Common sense?  Or was it something more divine or extra-sensory? 

There’s no way to know.  

The world becomes a more magical place when you have children, but it also becomes a place fraught with danger.  All the information out there about safety provides us neurotic worrywart parents with an inexhaustible catalog of horrific what-ifs.  We are extremely lucky, blessed really, that in even our worst family disaster, the finger slamming, Lady A's pinky was fine.  

I’m not religious, but after each near miss, I have to look up and say, “Thank you.”

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