OHBD 2015

OHBD 2015

Friday, December 10, 2010

Together We Can!!

Beyond finding creative ways to make the balancing work -- and I found it is an individual effort informed by what I gain from others -- I also learned to be fully present to savor those “mommy bliss” moments. They remind me, no matter what else is going on, that it is all totally worth it. I plan to share some here because they are key to my balance. Another key is hearing other mother’s "bliss" moments -- the next best thing to having your own.

I had one such moment recently. I blogged about our state’s art context called Reflections in an earlier post. It is a voluntary effort that runs across public schools. It has a central theme. But the kids decide what type of art work to contribute that speaks to the theme for them. I made my eldest son enter last year when the theme was "What is Beautiful." I enjoyed the finished result which gave me insights into what was beautiful in my son's eyes -- a rare treat. I found out after it was over that the contest was open to my younger son as well. I told them they would both be entering this year since they have limited options to exercise their artistic muscles with school belt tightening efforts.

The 2010 theme was “Together We Can.” We talked about it a little over the summer and they had some good preliminary ideas . .but nothing came of it. Then the school year began with all the craziness that starting 4th and 8th grade bring. We had a brief discussion in all hub bub . . but nothing concrete happened. Then about 10 days before the deadline for entries, I was leaving for India to attend a friend’s wedding. I reminded them of my expectations and stressed I would not be available to bounce ideas off so they needed to work together. They both nodded and said they understood and would do that. And they sounded so-o sincere and earnest.

I came home. And you guessed it . . nothing had come of it. At that point, the deadline was a mere two days away. I was not prepared to give up. I thought about how to make the best use of the limited time. So I suggested to my youngest he write a poem since that comes easiest to him. My eldest had his own ideas about the medium but wanted some thoughts on bringing the theme into our reality. We discussed how recycling and our family, with members from different parts of the world, were two examples of together we can.

After dinner that night, the boys got busy on their separate efforts. They both intently focused on putting together their submissions. They were adamant that they did not need any further assistance. I itched to watch the creative process in action. But I restrained myself and settled for enjoying the fact that they finally embraced the challenge. When they were finished, I was amazed at what they produced.

In viewing both, my heart melted. Like most moms, I am completely biased when it comes to my kids. But what gratified me the most was the sentiment that they genuinely shared in their very different modes of expression. What you don’t always see with motherhood, behind first the diapers, and then the homework and carpooling, is how they teach and inspire you often in unexpected ways. I am looking forward to seeing what they do next year and in their lives. My youngest brought me down to earth a bit when he said, “I hope I ‘at least get to state’ like Dimitri did last year.” And here I thought he just did it to be a better global citizen . . . good reality check.

"Together We Can" applies equally well to working moms and moms generally. For me, sharing the journey ,including the joys and burdens, makes the load lighter and the path more rewarding.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Giving Thanks on Thanksgiving

What I am thankful for today as a wife, mother, daughter, friend and career woman:

Having a choice of how I can live my life each and every day even if everything around me is constantly moving and changing

Living in a country where I have freedom as a woman to pursue my dreams whatever those might be and however they might evolve over time

Being raised by supportive parents who taught me the value of hard work, independence and the belief that with them anything is truly possible

Marrying my wonderful, completely opposite, husband who reminds me daily the value of diversity of thought and makes me laugh like no one else

Getting the privilege to raise my teenage son who made me a mom first; and now inspires and challenges me with his unique and beautiful views of life

Being mommy to my nine year old son who opens my eyes to see the joy in each moment while marching to the beat of his own quirky drum

Adopting our baby girl from Ethiopia who lights up any room she enters with her energy and life and lit up my life since I became her mom

Sustaining and gaining friendships that lift me up when I need it and show me all the different kinds of the beauty in world

Staying connected to extended family spread across the globe who anchor me in the ties the bind us together transcending time and distance

Maintaining good health for myself and my loved ones which I no longer take for granted since getting “that call” six years ago

Growing in a career that allows me to work with people I call friends and make a living doing something I believe makes a difference

So very, very much to be thankful for and so much joy to be had in the sharing. Pictured above is my wonderful family at a recent WACAP auction where the story of how Leyla joined us was featured. I am blessed! Happy Thanksgiving all.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Babies and Basketballs . . .

As we celebrated our 19th anniversary on the 19th of August, I reflected on how my husband has been an integral partner in my balancing act. I remember before we had kids we had spirited discussions about who would have primary responsibility for child care when we became parents. We were both in demanding jobs. Our perspective then was colored by our backgrounds and assumptions. My mother stayed home when she had my three sisters and me. My perception was that she had to make many sacrifices because in her era there were less choices available and more expectations about what a mom should do when she had children. My husband was born and raised in Greece which is generally a patriarical society. He came to our relationship with preconceived notions of roles and responsiblities from his culture and his experience. His mother stayed home to raise him and his sister. He had a positive experience with this arrangement and he wanted his kids to enjoy something similar.

What we found was we both were changed profoundly through the experience of actually having children. During my first pregnancy, we made arrangements for me to return to work after 3 months and Michael to take on primary care giver duties during his summer break from teaching. This way Dimitri would go to an day care situation when he was around 7 months old. I loved being home with my new baby but found myself looking for outlets for the energy I normally put into my job. I made elaborate landscaping plans for our front and back yard that I executed myself. I also arranged and rearranged most of our possessions in our house. I had projects for Michael as well. At one point, he told me, "You need to go back to work." I wanted to believe jokingly but looking back I realize he was likely quite serious.

On a bit of a tangent, I was always a planner. I expected to be married by 25 (was a few months early on this one); have my first child at 30 (got that one); my second at 35 (was a year early) with an option for a third when I was 40 (was a couple years late on this one). I realized early on in our relationship that during basketball season Michael was pretty much sucked into that world from November until March. When thinking about starting our family, we decided we should try to avoid having a infant during that time of year. Both my sons were cooperative in terms of their due dates but both had the bad grace to arrive two weeks early. They share a birthday in mid-February which ironically ended up being during the play off season.

But the timing worked for Michael to take on caregiver duties for our sons during his summer. His summers with our two boys were pivotal in both our evolutions. He would strap them on his chest and coach his various camps and clinics. I also found out that sympathetic moms often helped him by holding or caring for one of my sons during those periods. At various events later in those years, women I never met would come up to me and greet my young son who was clearly familiar with them. I credit that experience in part to both sons' open and accepting natures.

Watching my Greek born husband struggle and persevere with diaper duty, getting out the door with all the required baby gear and lovingly care for our infant boys was an eye opener for me. I admired him for taking on the responsibility that clearly went against his heritage and did not come easily for him. He also shared with me that the process gave him a new respect for any parent who has primary caregiver duties.

As we brought our third child home, we joked about who would stay home with her. We had come full circle from the early days. Now we both had more of a desire to be the one at home rather the one who returned to work. In the end, we went with what worked well for us. We share parenting responsibilities as well as enjoy our lives and contributions outside the home. Because of his profession, our children all grew up to some degree in a gym - Leyla is no exception. Sharing some court side pictures from Leyla's first basketball season.

Since we became parents more than thirteen years ago, Michael is a full supporter and partner in my balancing act as he manages his own. Knowing his background and original position, I receive great comfort from his belief that I am a better mom to our kids (and wife) by continuing to work.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Adventures of the "Chore Lady"

When I first moved to Seattle, I did so with my two boys who were eight and four at the time. My husband stayed in Chicago for his job and commuted back and forth about every 10 days. It was a challenging time for us all. With a new demanding job and effectively being a single parent when Michael was in Chicago, I out of necessity involved the boys to help out more than they had before. I was raised that everyone in the family needs to participate in the everyday required activities. I gave each of the boys age appropriate chores. And surprisingly were able to lighten the load more than you would have expected. They would fold and put away laundry, fill and empty the dishwasher as well as pick up after themselves. I definitely had to modify my expectations but it was worth the trade-off. The boys were proud that they were making important contributions to keeping the family running. I also enjoyed the family bonding that came through this "team" approach.

Fortunately, Michael was able to join us in Seattle about 10 months later. The boys still help with chores. Since they are older, they can assist with more complex tasks. They help take care of their little sister, do the laundry themselves (although they never seem to check the pockets and have washed the likes of cell phones and i-phones - ouch!) and cook some meals. None of this happens, as any mother will tell you, without some level of "reminding" or if you ask the boys "nagging." My eldest is now a teenager and enjoys poking fun at his parents more. He calls me the “chore lady.” At least that is what he says to my face. When he is alone with his brother, I can only imagine.

One evening recently, I was exhausted and more than a little frustrated that I was telling him and his brother to pick up their room for the umpteenth time. He noticed how worn out I was. He asked me, "Mommy (he still calls me that if no one his age is around), why do you keep reminding me and Damian even though we forget so often." I explained that it was my job to continue to work to develop them into responsible individuals until they reached adulthood. He responded, “Please stop trying to make us be better, it’s exhausting you!” I couldn't help but laugh out loud which led to a quizzical look from him since he was being quite serious. He then gave me a big hug which always lifts my spirits . . but he still had to clean up. Below is a picture of the teenager helping with the toddler during a recent vacation. (I will spare you a picture of the room he shares with his now nine year old brother - we are still working on that.)

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Blending work and home

As a working mom, you need to decide how much to bring home to work and how much work you bring home. For me, I try to blend my working life with my one at home. I found they tended to bleed into each other naturally. Over the years, bringing my kids to visit at my job became a way to include my kids in that portion of my life. It started rather innocently when my first son was 10 months. I took him to my job dressed up as a pumpkin because I was taking him to my husband's school after work. You can see him below enjoying a blue lollipop.
The visit morphed into an impromptu trick or treating event for him as he met my colleagues and they him. Everyone had so much fun that my department set up something more formal the next year. And my son and the children of my colleagues loved coming. Now all three of my children get in on the fun. My current job does something similar. Here is a picture from our most recent at work trick or treating event. The pumpkin grew into something much larger as you can see and is joined by two other characters played by his brother and sister.
I also bring my three children to take your kids to work day as well as one or two times during the year just because they enjoy just being there with me (and of course I with them). I am still somewhat perplexed that my kids find coming to my workplace such a special event. I think part of it comes from wanting to understand and be a part of the piece of your life they don't see into on a day to day basis. I believe having that view into where you are when you are not with them is comforting. And it makes them feel like they have a role in that part of your world too even if it is just an occasional cameo.

I also noticed my kids especially enjoy seeing their pictures and artwork (and making new contributions) in my workspace when they come. As my boys got older, they moved on to helping me pick out pictures to hang on the walls. I found that process gave me some insights into each of them. My eldest picked the most beautiful picture of a single perfect pale yellow rose. It was a realistic portrait of a lovely flower. My second son picked "A starry night" which is a much more abstract rendering. Interestingly, the colors were complimentary but the moods were starkly different. My boys share a birthday and have much in common. But they are definitely two unique individuals. Seeing those two posters side by side on my wall was a interesting pictorial reminder. Finding ways to blend the different portions of my life and the learning that comes through the process provides much color, some unexpected, in the "art" of managing the "working mom" role. . .at least for me.

The Power of Sleep

Sleep is one of those thing you take for granted and even maybe resent having to do until you can’t get it. I remember hating to take naps as a kid and trying to take a book with me or other activity to keep sleep at bay. When you become a new parent, you are at the whim and mercy of a little person who has needs 24/7. Allowing you the appropriate time to catch the recommend 8-9 hours at a stretch is not within their consideration set. Kids on the other hand find their sleep as they need it as demonstrated here by my daughter asleep in her stroller as we were visiting my work.

I recently saw a great description of a typical day from a work colleague who is the father of a number young children on a parents group email. It went like this:
“Sleep is overrated.
8 p.m.: Put kids to bed, talk with wife.
11 p.m.: Finish my review feedback – turn off 7 year old’s reading light and take book off her face.
12 a.m.: Finish fixing the drain under the sink clogged by 5 year old’s toy.
2 a.m.: 2 year old wakes up, comes into my bed, squishing me up next to the new baby who just finished nursing. Get up, bring 2 year old back to bed, put his pajama shirt back on because he thinks he’s a super hero and should be bare chested.
3:30 a.m.: Wake to put 4 year old back in bed who just “rolled out.” Get wife glass of water cause she woke up. Check fatals for website & email an on call (have empathy with the SDE who gets the occasional midnight page).
6 a.m.: 2 yr old wakes up for good. Start coffee, put on Blue’s Clues, stumble into shower. Come to work – find problems, work problems, call home – hear about more problems, get feedback.
5:30 p.m.: Look up & gasp – run to bus, barely catch the next bus – run to catch transfer bus – miss it #$@%#%$@ walk the mile home, uphill, in the rain.
6:15 p.m.: Open house door – hear feet running. Tackled by children with a hero’s welcome. Priceless.”

When we just had one child, I could coordinate with his schedule and make it work. I am not saying it was easy because that certainly wasn’t the case especially because being new at the parenthood thing brought on more anxiety about whether we were doing it right, was he developing as he should, etc. When we had our second son, it got more interesting. I didn’t know how good I had it with the first (isn’t that always how it goes?). My first slept through the night at 10 weeks and within a few months, regularly slept 11-12 hours a night.

When my second arrived, I prepared myself for the same pattern. Survive the first few tough months and then settle into a more sane sleep schedule. My second had different ideas; he was hungry, a lot. The nurses at the hospital commented on it when he was born and that should have been my first clue. But I missed it. Many other clues were there and missed for what was to come. My second never lost weight as babies often do shortly after they are born. Nope – he put on a pound a week for the first 8 weeks of his life. His pediatrician joked that I should start bringing him in a wheel barrow when he hit 16 pounds at 8 weeks. What has eating to do with sleeping you might ask. Well apparently it is difficult to sleep when you are hungry. My second son did not sleep through the night until his second birthday (no I am not kidding). He got up to eat most nights (and trust me we tried everything!). I came to appreciate sleep in a whole new way after that stretch.

I had not thought much about these periods of my life until we adopted our daughter at 6 months old about a year and half ago. And we returned to night time feedings. I was older this go around and did not think I could survive another 2 year interrupted sleep marathon. With my daughter, I was reminded of the new parent anxiety I had with my first. There were many unknowns about the time before she joined our family. I was again faced with the questions: Am I doing this right for her? What does she need from me? I felt ill prepared although I was what adoption folks term “an experienced mother”. Over time as with my first, I found the natural connections and patterns. I trusted my maternal instincts about what was right for my child. I found that process one of the most breathtaking aspects of motherhood. Your baby teaches you as you teach them. Through the mutual learning you develop an amazingly strong and unique bond with each child - whether yours through biology or adoption.

It sounds obvious - balancing children and work (or other priorities) is that much more challenging if you are sleep deprived. Looking back I don’t think I realized how much more difficult the challenge is when you are not fully rested especially when this continues for extended periods. I just tried to power through it and sometimes that was really tough. I try to do a better job getting sleep now(or adjusting expectations if I can't).

My colleague’s description highlights how sleep issues becomes complex as you have more young children, close in age. We spaced ours out so we only had one baby at a time. I found that helped me balance. One baby (plus other older kids) and work was my kind of doable. The bottom line is the same – what you get in return for that sleep deprivation is totally worth it. Here are some photos from the period when our precious daughter was still calling the shots on whether we slept much during the night. Couldn’t say it better – PRICELESS!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Happy Mother's Day across three generations

Mother’s Day is a special day to me and I am sure most moms. It is the one day I feel I earned. I remember my first mother’s day with my oldest son Dimitri. My husband bought me roses to celebrate. The picture is below.

Becoming a mother and being a mother over these years, has forced me to look at my view of my mother and mothers generally. My mother is Dutch. Her father died after a long chronic illness when she was seventeen. She supported herself since she was 18. My mother was a working woman until she had her first child, my older sister. Then she became a stay at home mother. I went through a period where I was very close to my mother, early childhood and preteen years, and then went through a time where we were much more distant, teens and early twenties. There was a cultural issue because I have Dutch lineage but I am American first.

As I became a mom and continued working, I found myself thinking about my mother more and having a new perspective on her life, her choices and our relationship. There is much I don’t know about my mother. She is a very private person. I remember pushing her very hard as a teenager because I truly believed she did not understand me. Not so long ago, she told me something that made me see that time in my life and her role in a whole new light. My mom told me of her teenage years when her father was dying and her mother was focused on his care. It hit me hard to realize that probably was a big part of why she did not understand me as a teenager. Acting out and pushing for independence were not part of her teenage experience so she was not well prepared when her daughter hit that turbulent time.

I have found myself wanting to know my mother better and admiring more what I do know. I held her up to a standard of perfection growing up and she fell short. I realized if my kids to the same to me, I would also fall short. I try to be open with my kids about my choices, including the one to work and my mistakes and weaknesses. I also talk to them about my mother and her choices. I don’t think there is a right choice for everyone. I don’t know if my mother truly felt she had a choice when she had children. I feel fortunate that I did but it’s a choice with consequences and responsibilities.

On mother’s day, I am truly thankful for my children who have blessed me in so many ways, for my husband who makes being a mother a partnership activity with lots of love, laughter and support, and my mother who made many sacrifices for her children and is a complex, beautiful person as well as a wonderful grandmother. When I was first a mom, I knew she did not agree with me returning to work although she never said anything. One time after a visit to help me with baby Dimitri, she hugged me and said, “You’re a good mom.” It brought tears to my eyes. My mother finds expressing emotional things difficult so that made it more special. I also did not realize until that moment how much I wanted my mother to validate my motherhood. Happy Mother’s Day to moms everywhere including my special mom (pictured here with baby Dimitri, baby Damian and baby Leyla)!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Surviving Bad Mommy Moments

Being a working mom (and I think it might true for just the mom part) comes with built in guilt. Am I doing a good job with my kids? Am I doing a good job at work? Inevitably, the requirements for both collide. The business trip I mentioned in my last post was one of those times. I needed to go to a conference for my job. It had been planned months in advance and the calendar looked all clear on the family front.

One of my favorite roles as a mom is to encourage my children to explore their interests and talents. My eldest son is very artistic but his school budget doesn’t allow for art classes. He is always busy with schoolwork and his sports teams. There was an art contest run at the state level through his school district that I heard about and wanted him to enter. He was less than enthused. . . I pulled out the mom credentials and told him to do it anyway. The contest’s theme was “what is beautiful.” My son asked if he could use a camera and the FLIP video camera. I said sure. And he went about his business without asking for any help. He put together a video which included pictures of his little sister, his pet parrot, flowers from the yard and interesting shots of items from around the house. It was all set to “Somewhere over the Rainbow.” Some of his photographs which represents what he finds "beautiful" are included below. It was a special peak through the lens of the camera into my son's view of the world.

I thought it was lovely but it was only a minute. I asked him if he wanted to take some time to extend it a bit because I didn’t think it was his best effort. He declined and said he was happy with it. When he turned it in, he came home a little discouraged. He thought some of the entries looked much better than his. And then he said what moms love to hear, “I should have listened to you.” When I saw that the district finalists had been chosen in a school email, I called my son since I thought he might be disappointed. He answered the phone and sounded a bit down. I asked him if he was okay. He said, “Yea.” He paused for a few moments . . .then said in an excited voice (apparently he was pretending to be down and I fell for it). “I won. I have been selected to go the district finals.”

I told him how excited I was for him. Then he said laughing, “See mom, I don’t have to do my best and it’s still better than most people.” Score one for my almost teenager. I have found as a mom that sometimes your intended life lessons boomerang on you and this was one of those times. Then he said, “I can’t wait to have you come to see me get my award.” I asked him when it was and my heart sank . . I was going to be out of town on business. Kids are not always very forgiving about these types of conflicts and I don’t think they should be. But a part of me wished that he understood better how hard it was for me also. I knew I was lucky that he wanted me to be there. We shared our artistic interests although I too find few outlets for mine these days with our busy life. His Dad, on the other hand, was the person he wants to talk to about sports. I told him, Dad will go. He looked at me rolling his eyes, “Really, mom.” I wasn’t doing very well. I ended up promising to go to a movie with just him after I got back. He was mollified but not happy.

Dad attended and the event was great. It gave my son and husband a unique opportunity to bond. My husband was so proud and impressed by our eldest's effort. And my son was pleasantly surprised by his Dad’s enthusiasm. As it turns out, my son’s entry was chose as a state finalist. Which, as he told me when I got back from my trip, now gave me the chance to, “come to that and make it up to me for missing this one.” I gave him a big hug – he still lets me (and I love it). I dodged a bullet this time. But there will be a next . ..

Guilt is part of the working mother’s, and let's face it probably every mother's, reality. Being a mom is a wonderfully challenging role that stretches and grows you in ways you could never anticipate. I do my best to be there for my kid’s important moments. But there will always be times that I can’t and I have to accept that is part of the deal.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

One plus One makes Three

I have been a mom for going on 13 years now. I was chatting with a friend on the way back from a business trip recently. She is about a decade younger than me and is ready to start a family in the not too distant future. We discussed what it was like to balance a career and kids. I shared some of the “tips” I had gotten from other working moms or had picked up along the way. She told me, “You need to write a book about all this stuff. I need it.” I laughed about her suggestion. But for some reason, it stuck with me. I enjoy writing but with three kids and a demanding job – writing a book wasn’t really an option at the moment. I have taken up blogging in an effort to “pay it forward” after adopting my youngest child from Ethiopia. I thought maybe I can start a blog about this too. It would allow me to break things up in small pieces which were more manageable for me at this stage in my life. And leave some record of these times and learnings for my kids as well down the road.

So here I am. One thing that I have learned is that there is no right answer or solution to the balancing act that goes into being a mom – whether you work outside the home or not. What works for one person, doesn’t for the next. Also what works at one stage in your family’s life, might not work in another phase. But we can all learn something from each other and sharing what is working (and what is not) makes you feel like you are not unique challenged. We are all trying to figure out how to make it work each day. The support from my friends – both moms and not – is a critical piece in keeping some balance.

Thinking about what to share here took me back to when I first found out I was pregnant with my eldest son. I remember crying – these were not tears of happiness – I was terrified. I was very concerned about whether I would be a good mom. I was also worried about how being a mom would fit in my already highly scheduled life with a full time job at a large law firm and a husband who was a high school math teacher and varsity boys' basketball coach. When I brought my first beautiful baby home, I was struck that I was the person (with my husband) who needed to make sure this baby got what he needed. I recall sitting in our family room and just staring at his beautiful face. I thought he looked like a pure, innocent, sweet angel. It was a bit of heaven on earth. . right up until he screamed for food, needed a diaper change or woke up cranky. The miracle of memories is you can edit out the parts that were less blissful. Below captured one of my moments of soaking up my new baby. Incidently, this baby is 13 and when he saw these pictures of me he commented that I looked a bit younger, thinner and prettier then . . all true of course just unedited by any tact or social mores. I replied that, "Yep, see what 13 years with you did to me?"

Being his mom changed me and gave me a new perspective on my. Life went from being a straight line that was generally focused on me, to a circle that was about the future of our child and some day hopefully his children. Now, it is hard to remember who I was and what life was like when I was not a mom. It changed my husband and I from a couple to a family. Our relationship grew and stretched and evolved in many expected and unexpected ways. Here is a photo from 1997 of the new family.