Winter Warrior Woman

Hello, most recent Snowstorm.

You have met your match.

I watched my Facebook newsfeed nervously today, and when that dreaded announcement came, I had the most surprising feeling. Instead of the sinking depression, hopelessness and overwhelming anxiety that I was expecting to feel, I felt angry. And then something miraculous happened.  Snowstorm, you have awakened the guerrilla mom within. The mom who is not going to be shamed from voicing her frustration by people who are not in her shoes.  The mom who refuses to be painted as an employee on the “mommy track” who does not prioritize her career. The mom who is tired of resorting to yelling, time outs and threats to keep the kids quiet while she’s on conference calls.  After all, this is the same woman who landed a career-defining job before college graduation, managed to pass the bar on the first try, and successfully reinvented her career three times. In other words…you are screwed.

Being a working parent is hard. Really hard. It is an art that is practiced over many years, but never quite perfected. It is a constant balancing act, carefully patching together child care, coordinating drop off and pick up times, remembering homework, school projects, parent council meetings and responsibilities, snack donations and backup clothes, all while building credibility and proving yourself every day at work. It means doing housework at night or early in the mornings (or not at all) so you can spend your precious few hours outside of work with the kids.  This is NOT to suggest that being a stay at home parent is easy.  It’s just that there is a vast difference in the consequences of not doing housework during one snow day, and missing important deliverables and calls at work.  Schedule and routine are critical to the working parent’s success, and any anomaly, such as a business trip, must be carefully orchestrated as to not disrupt the balance. Anyone can manage one snow day, or even two or three. Facing eight snow days since the beginning of January, however, proves to be a special challenge. I wish that I had the luxury of spending this stolen time with my littles. I want nothing more than to do all the activities and crafts that I see on Pinterest with them. The worst is that the kids don’t get it. They don’t understand that I really am working, at a job that requires concentration and conference calls. They want to spend time with me, too, and I realize what a special (and fleeting) gift that is. I can’t describe how low I felt last week when Bree told me that she and Emma were wishing for “a big sister” so that I’d have someone to help me on snow days.

I work from home the majority of the time, and am so grateful for this. Not having to commute, or get myself gussied up for the office, saves me so much time and helps me be more productive at work. I do not want this privilege taken away. So while the one or two snow days would likely not put this at risk, eight snow days within five weeks is extremely problematic. Social media and online news resources are overflowing with people who are actually excited about missing school. It shouldn’t be a surprise that many of these people do not seem to be working parents. What is happening in Boston right now is unprecedented. It’s not just that we have a lot of snow and have missed a lot of school days. On the days when we do have school, it is virtually impossible to get around the city right now. The MBTA is not running consistently and is overcrowded (and not usual overcrowding – I’m talking crushing small children crowded) and many of the roads are narrow and clogged. Although some sidewalks are cleared, others only have a small path created by people walking – not wide enough for two people to stand side by side and certainly not wide enough to walk multiple children safely. If you’ve ever been in Back Bay or the Financial District during rush hour, you can appreciate what that does to the foot traffic. While I was away last week, it took Patrick two hours to pick up all three kids. And they are all the SAME city!!!  It took Patrick several calls to our City Councilor to get the sidewalks and streets cleared around Bree and Owen’s school, because as the City Councilor stated, the CITY WASN’T PRIORITIZING THE SCHOOLS.  Apparently, City resources were focused on prepping for the Patriots Championship Parade.  Priorities.

Feeling that I have been whining too much on Facebook, I was so happy to FINALLY talk to other working mom friends who shared my same level of stress and frustration. One admitting to having to do her conference calls in a closet last week. A few others set up a “child caravan” of sorts, carting a small group of kids from house to house for a few hours at a time while parents took turns attending critical meetings. Sadly, with three, my options are very limited – very few people offer to do “tradesies” with Traveling Chaos – and my youngest is too little for the usual backup care. But, as I’ve said Snowstorm, you’ve awoken the Winter Warrior Woman within, and I am not one to be messed with.

I plan to get through this winter with my job and work arrangement intact, no matter how many snow days you throw at me. And here’s how I’m going to do it:
1. Plan the day’s schedule, down to planned meal times, snack times, rest times, and activity blocks (both planned and “choice” time). This will also include a couple of times for me to do something with the kids when I am able to take a quick break.
2. Set ground rules for the day. Such as, when I am on a call or in the middle of an important project, you must keep voices down. I will come out to check on you periodically, but do not disturb me unless it’s an emergency.
3. Gather materials for activities to include art and craft supplies, etc. in advance.
4. Have a morning meeting with the kids. During this meeting, we will go over the day’s schedule and ground rules. I will welcome input and ideas from all at the meeting.
5. Clean up as I go, and expect the kids to do the same. We’ll see how this one goes.
6. Designate authority in the form of a mother’s helper. Emma Sullivan, your day to be the boss has come. Make me proud.

So take that, Snowstorm.  You’ve thrown me a challenge and awakened my fiercely competitive spirit.  You may get the best of me in the end, but I will not go down without a fight.

XOXO,

Winter Warrior Woman

#39bucketlist

I had to give something up this year.  So I chose the gym.  Even though I’m probably three slices of bacon away from a heart attack, I accepted the fact that it is better for me to just allow myself to work out on weekends or when the opportunity strikes than having to feel guilty for not making the time to go to the gym on a regular basis.

Last year was the year to Just Say No (please refer to last post entitled “Just Say No”).  I was overwhelmed by having my two girls in public schools for the first time, taking on a teaching job, juggling work and home life and trying to prevent my husband from nominating me for Hoarders:  Buried Alive.  I said no to joining Parent Council, I said no to putting Emma in Orchestra and generally put the brakes on extending myself any further.  I even stopped writing my blog, which must’ve been sad for the three of you who read it. (Hi, Patrick!).

What a difference a year makes.

I am turning 40 this year, and this year is about saying yes to things that are important, that feel right, and that make me happy.  Yes, this is something that I shouldn’t need a milestone birthday to prompt me to do, but my 20s were kind of a mess and my 30s were about finding myself, so I hope that my 40s will be about me feeling comfortable in my own skin and enjoying my amazing family.  #39bucketlist is a frame of mind that I use to make choices that will help get me and my family on a better path.

Where has this journey taken me so far?

I changed jobs.  Like three times in one year.  I’m no stranger to moving around professionally, but even this surprised/embarrassed me.  It was so sad and painful to have to leave the other jobs, particularly because I really liked and respected my bosses, but in the end I arrived in the right place.  The funny thing was that I didn’t even apply for my current job – I decided to say yes to a call from a recruiter for a position I felt I was overqualified for and didn’t think I wanted.   It’s only been a couple of months, but it’s amazing what a difference the right job makes.  I’m doing work that I love (even when it makes me want to pull my hair out – my fellow HRBPs will understand what I mean) as part of an incredibly talented, smart and hardworking team of Type A personalities.   I don’t know where my career will go from here, but I absolutely know that I am in the right place right now.

I said yes to Parent Council at Emma’s school.  I figured that if all three of my children end up going there, it was worth my time and energy to get involved.  Now as a Parent Council Secretary, I help creating flyers, stuffing mailboxes and taking meeting minutes.  But I also get an insider’s look at the school, access to the administration and an opportunity to voice my opinion.

I said yes to applying to the Disney Parks Moms Panel.  Yes, that would be a third unpaid “job,” but it would allow me to write AND would legitimize my obsessive love of planning Disney trips!  I only made it to the second round but met some awesome people who are equally obsessive about planning Disney trips and learned a LOT in the process.  For example, nomenclature is very important to Disney.  I like to think that I did not make it to the third round because I forgot to put the “Disney’s” in “Disney’s Hollywood Studios,” and not because I wasn’t “magical” enough!  It was fun to see who made it through to the Panel, and I look forward to trying again in the future.  It also inspired me to restart my blog and to become more active on social media.

And coming full circle back to quitting the gym, I said yes to running again.  Specifically, I picked up the hobby popular with so many of my similarly aged and situated friends:  running races.  Please be clear – by “running races,” I mean to say “finishing races,” and short ones at that.  I’ve done two 5ks so far, and would love to work my way up to a half marathon by 2016.  By the way, if any of you have training plans that can get you shape to run 13.1 miles when you can only run once or twice a week, please call me!

I may not be a fast runner or on the Disney Parks Moms Panel, and I may have set myself back years in my career trajectory, but I know that all of these steps I’m taking are at least keeping the heart attacks at bay.  Which is good, because I’m not ready to say no to bacon.

 

For the good of the family….

I reread the email several times, wishing I could take a shot of vodka or something similarly strong before hitting Send.  After several months of waiting to see if we’d be winners in the Boston Public School lottery (we were) and in the Brookline housing market (we weren’t), the time had come for me to email Bree’s current school and let them know that we are moving her to Boston Public preschool in the fall.

I should feel very happy about the money we’ll be saving with two kids out of private, full-time (gold plated) daycare, but instead feel an incredible heaviness in my heart.

Bree has been going to this school since she was three months old.  It is all that she knows.  Over the first four years of her life, she has had some of the best teachers I’ve ever seen, and we have gotten to know some of the nicest families I’ve ever met.   Many of her best friends have already moved up to Pre-K as she’s a few months younger than they are (damn Fall birthdays!) and I don’t think it’s fully sunk in that she won’t be joining them in September.  We’ve been talking to her for several months about this possibility, even taking her to an Open House to visit her new school.  I’ll never forget her reaction when she walked into that empty classroom (which oddly reminded me so much of my old elementary school in Northfield, NH).  Instead of running around excitedly, she stepped in, stopped in her tracks and wheeled around, informing Patrick and I that “this is BAD!”  She sat on my lap during the Principal’s presentation, her big blue eyes wide as she watched her future classmates, some who weren’t even three yet, tearing the library apart, pulling books from the shelves, knocking over art supplies (and to my shock, USING the art supplies, which were not set out for our use).  Most of the other parents didn’t even try to stop their children, and I walked away from the whole thing wondering, what did I get our family into?

But I kept a big smile on my face that day, telling Bree that her school was great.  And I do think it is a good school.  The curriculum is focused on reading, and most kids are reading before they enter “real” kindergarten.   But do I believe that it’s the best place available for my daughter?  I’m not so sure.  So here’s the conundrum that we all face as parents – how and when do you make decisions that are right for your individual child versus for the good of the family?   If you are fortunate enough to have various childcare and/or school options, when do you decide that you’ll settle for “good enough” for one child in order to save your family a little bit of money?

While I’m sad that Emma is also moving on to a new school, I do not have the same concerns about her.  I know that I could drop Emma off in any environment, and she’d be just fine.  Emma has always had a preternatural and somewhat eerie confidence and independence about her so that on the times when she does have a breakdown/tantrum or admits some fear, I have to remind myself that oh yes, you are only five.  I also feel like I know more about Emma’s school and am confident that she’ll learn all the right things in Kindergarten.

Perhaps I don’t give Bree enough credit, but since the day she has been born, she has been an incredible force in our family – both in a joyous and a terrifying way.   At her best, she is utterly charming, completely amusing, and empathetic to her friends who are sad.  But she’s also very sensitive to how others treat her.  It breaks my heart when she tries to engage in a game with Emma, who just shrugs her off.  And for a while recently, she was having “bad drop offs” at her current school – crying and screaming when I leave, “Mommy, please don’t leave me!”  I’m sure at least part of it is an act.  At least that’s what I tell myself when I head to work.

Many people say that transitions like this are harder on parents than they are on children.  Maybe I’m just overly sensitive because I moved around a lot as a child, and hated the transition between schools. I made the decision that I would try to minimize the number of times the kids move. Maybe I won’t actually be able to control it; we’ll see. I love the idea of friends growing up together!  Bree is excited to go to her new school.  We let her pick out a new backpack and lunchbox (Brave/Princess Merida, unfortunately the “jazzed up” version).  We’ve made plans for her to continue activities with her “old” friends to maintain those relationships.  And since my job is the parent here, I will continue to keep up the big smile and the encouraging words and try to keep the faith that it will all work out in the end.

But will I be able to hide my tears at next week’s “Stepping Up” day at school?   We shall see…

Bree School

Everything you need to know about life, you can learn in the business world

I’m a corporate kind of girl.  Other than the blip in my life known as law school, I’ve spent the vast majority of my career at companies of varying size, and always in fields that demand discretion, diplomacy and presence.  (Those of you who really know me may get a chuckle from that, thinking back on times in my life when I’ve severely lacked in those areas).  Anyway, I was recently reflecting on the rules of the corporate world , and realized that the keys to success are the same things that I should aspire to in my personal life:

  • Be responsive.  In the corporate world, this means get back to people timely, even if it is just to say that you are looking into something.  Employees become “go to” people because they always return messages promptly and even if they don’t know the answer, they attempt to find out.   Real world translation for me:  don’t put people on the back burner just because you are busy.  I’ve been known to completely flake out on dinner dates, birthdays and the like.  It’s not good.
  • Be kind.  I’m always amazed at how some people get to certain levels in an organization and believe it’s OK to treat those beneath them as if they are beneath them.  I believe that a true leader treats the lowest person in the organization with as much respect as their boss’ boss.  Real world translation for me:  get over yourself.
  • Be positive.  This can be extremely difficult as we all have bad days and let’s face it – there are always office politics to contend with.  In these  tough economic times, we are all doing more with less.  But it’s draining to have someone on the team who just complains all the time.  Real world translation for me:  save it for your blog.
  • Be a leader.  Seeing projects or initiatives stall because no one is driving them forward drives me crazy.  I’ve found that there are many people looking to take credit for something big; not too many who are actually willing to roll up their sleeves and get it done.   If you are Type A and enjoy leading, this is a good thing.  Real world translation for me:  if you wait for your husband to wipe down the table, don’t get mad when you are scraping off dried oatmeal at dinner time.
  • Be trustworthy.  One of the best parts of my job is listening to and advising senior managers.  It can be a challenge in my role as some of these people are reporting in to each other.  But I make it a point never to betray a confidence.  If I lose trust of my leaders, I might as well pack up my desk.  Real world translation for me:  it’s tricky when your best friend is your husband’s sister.   Just keep things on a need-to-know basis.
  • Be dependable.  Follow through on what you say you are going to do.  Senior executives do not want to have to chase you down.  Real world translation for me:  if you can remember to set up a follow up meeting about that group project, you can certainly remember to bring your son’s sippy cup to school.  After having been reminded three times.
  • Be ambitious.  Too many people in the corporate world complain that they are passed over for promotions or development opportunities, but take no initiative to move their own career forward.  People who seek out mentors, who explore new careers and jobs, who invest in their own development and education are usually the ones getting these opportunities.  Real world translation for me:  snoozing on the futon is not going to get you out of Allston.
  • Be accountable.  If you make a mistake, admit it.  And don’t blame someone else.  Figure out what went wrong and make sure it doesn’t happen again.  I always like to compare professional credibility to a bank account – if you build up deposits over time, you can afford to make a withdrawal (or two).  If you make too many withdrawals, your bad credit will follow you around.  Real world translation for:  on those very rare occasions when you upset your husband, say I’m sorry.  Unless it was his fault in the first place!

In sum, I’m probably one of those people who is better in the corporate world than in the real world, but I resolve to mentor myself in 2013!