Saturday, January 26, 2013

Guest Post: Balancing in the Bay Area

Stock Image: BayBridge_5910_b Picture. Image: 130981
© Photographer: Joesparks | Dreamstime.com 

Please welcome our latest guest post on work-life balance from a mom of two and a lawyer from the Bay Area. "Not Nora", her nom de plume, is like a sister to me and is gifted in countless ways; writing is one of them.

I persuaded Not Nora to write a post for See Mom Work, speaking on how she attempts to achieve work-life balance. I didn't expect such a beautiful account capturing the rawness of emotion and guilt, common to working moms. I welled up several times and felt the familiar pangs of melancholy from my own struggle for balance.

***

I love San Francisco - so much it makes me cry. The enormity of the buildings. The historic skyscrapers crowded by newer, glossier models. My memories are embedded in the dirt - some ancient, some filth fresh from this morning. It infiltrates my clothes, my eyes, leaves a coating on my skin and briefcase. I’ll have to shower tonight when I get home to get it out of my hair. I dare not wheel my bag into the house - who knows what I’ll bring in? The doors of the hotel open and I recognize the air freshener - it smells like Bounce dryer sheets - the smell of chores and weekends. The people bustle by. Even the homeless have somewhere they are headed, though perhaps a little less quickly. The street musicians, the iPhones, the constant chatter and rumble of trolleys, honking taxis and clanging cable cars muffle my thoughts. 
 
There is the apartment where I lived when I was here in trial with my law firm. For six months when my son was a baby. For six months when my daughter was a baby. For six months when she was three. And really it’s just like any other of the many nondescript towns where I've been - working - for the last dozen years. Away from home, I have the strictest routine. Diet, exercise, sleep, work - they are the whole of my being. The times when I've strayed from this mantra or dared to enjoy any happiness are memories I treat like an illicit affair. Yoga on the beach. A glass of wine at a restaurant or dinners after a victorious day at trial. A walk outside enjoying the breeze off the Bay, laughing with co-workers at the craziness of the workday. These can’t be treasured because they were time away. Away from my babies and my sweetheart.
 
I’m waiting for the bus by the Ferry Building. The scents are different here. Food from the restaurants, the briny smell of the ocean and whatever the seagulls leave on every horizontal surface. The tourists are everywhere, headed onto the Ferry or the bus, exploring the waterfront buildings and craft fair across the street. They know I’m local. They ask me for directions. And though I want to tell them I’m not from here, I’m a visitor too, I can’t. I know the way to Fisherman’s Wharf from here and the best way to get there. 
 
Most of my working life has been this - being a visitor in my home and a resident of a city away from home. Diet, exercise, sleep, work. And it tears me up - tear like torn and tear like drops. From the time my son was an infant, sitting in his bouncy seat at my office while I juggled phone calls and discovery, I knew I was a failure. A failure at being a mother because what the hell is a baby doing on your desk?! And a failure at being an employee because 10 days was much too long to be away on maternity leave. So I did what any new mother would do - I called my mother, who dropped everything and came to do what I couldn't - be a mother to my baby. Five years later it was second verse, same as the first, as my mother came with me to the city to be a nanny to my daughter while I was in trial; my husband and son back at home. 
 
Just over a decade later, I faced some cold realities. The reality that I had missed - literally not been there - for a third of my son’s ten years. And that even though I loved what I did, living away from what I loved most was physically becoming a problem for me. My regimen of diet, exercise, sleep and work wasn't enough to counter the effects of sustained stress. I left my job. This looks so trite as I write it. How hard could that have been? How could it not be obvious that I needed a change? How could a mother so neglect her family for so long? But there was always an excuse - no, a good reason. A valid reason. Many valid reasons. I loved my job, loved my clients, loved the people I worked with. And I was good at it too. I had gotten so comfortable, so skilled; my days flew by in a busy blur. How could I have ever left that for a job where I knew nothing and was paid almost as little? In facing all of these quandaries, I have confronted what every mother faces - balance and choices. 
 
Years ago in law school, I met with a career counselor and told her, "My parents were both doctors and I never saw them. What job can I do in the legal profession that will allow me to be successful and spend time with my husband and kids?" I still remember the dumb silence, the blank look, confusion, total ignorance. Because, you see, there is no one right answer. There are many answers. And oftentimes they don’t feel right at the time. What took me so long to learn, what I wish the career counselor would have told me, is that many of our choices are our choices. It seemed like I worked for a firm that wouldn't understand the burdens and time constraints of being a mother. But after my second child, I did take three months off, and then came back to work part time for several years after that. There was flexibility in that environment and we could survive without my full-time paycheck. This brought up other challenges like not enough hours in the day for the work to be done, but that wasn't exactly new - that had always been the case. Leaving that job seemed impossible. We could never live on less money. And why would I want to start over in something new? I might as well study for the Bar again - it was so unappealing. 
 
The bus is pulling up now. I know what it will smell like before I get on. Antiseptic cleanser of some kind. It still makes me nauseous. Then transfer to the train, which I can already hear in my mind. The horn that is just too loud to be so close and the sound of the wheels on the tracks - more shrieking than the adorable squeaks of Thomas the Train. My daughter’s laughter is woven in that memory - she loved the train and the thrill of the big bus, looking out over the Bay on our way over the big bridge. And my mother’s tense anxiety is in that memory too. Will we make it to the train on time? (Though we always did.) Will we remember all the bags and stroller and toys and snacks? What if the stroller wheels get stuck on the tracks or the baby lets go of my hand for a single second? 
 
I bid farewell to the city and feel the depth of the memories locked up in this town, untold experiences together and just a bit nostalgic - old friends meeting up for lunch. It’s just a day trip to the city and I’ll be home in time for dinner, bath, story and bed, just like every other day now. My bag is just a briefcase. No suitcase, no gear. And it’s not just my baggage that is lighter - my heart is too. I tell more jokes. (I’m the funniest person I know.) I laugh and it feels so good and free - and a bit naughty to be so frivolous! I’m the meanest mom ever - not just a visitor. And I’m there to kiss my sweetheart goodnight and save my babies from monsters in their dreams. My adrenaline rush is no longer deadline-based, but derived from planning school fundraisers and trying to get from soccer to a birthday party across town in 10 minutes - oh, and stop for a gift on the way. It may not be the right choice forever, but it’s the right one for now. A new regimen: dinner, bath, story and bed. And it seems to be working out just fine. 

-- Not Nora

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Monday, January 21, 2013

I Have a Dream

My dream is small but huge at the same time. I just want to be able to have everyone in my house play or work independently without my constant intervention. And to have a clean, organized, clutter-free house.

On this most awesome Martin Luther King Jr. day, when I am lucky to have the day off to spend with all the kids, without Daddy-O, plus an extra friend who came over to play, I am trying to focus on my goal of organizing the house's clutter. I'd like to get to the office mainly and my insurmountable paper piles.

Between my oldest chickadee's manipulation and bullying and my youngest chickadee's whining and crying and my l'il chicken hawk's insatiable curiosity and hunger and EVERYONE's general messiness, I have the feeling of being out of control and the rising anger. Upstairs the girls are doing something sneaky right now and I know when I go up there I'm going to find a disaster. I will raise my voice for certain. Then they will remind me how hungry they are and ask when we'll be having lunch. And I will say, "whenever you plan on making it."

My last thought before I go deal with them. I don't like chaos. I don't like feeling out of control. Raising these kids and spending endless amount of time with them makes me feel out of control and like they never learn what I'm trying to teach them. I try to be nice, and I ultimately end up getting mean because of their disrespect and tendency to ignore. 

I dream to have the power and patience to get through this day without losing it completely. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Peace

Photo Credit: stay tuned; I need to find out who posted it.
After the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, someone posted this on their Facebook to share the message of hope and comfort. It really spoke to me. I really enjoy looking at it when I feel small and helpless myself.

We can't control the evil that happens in the world, but we can comfort our children and each other when we're scared and sad.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

It's a Jungle Out There!

It's a jungle out there, Barb!
It hasn't even been a year at my new job and I'm feeling the familiar unsettled feeling and disenchantment. Given my work history, it was inevitable that I would fall out of love with this job too. But it's too bad that I'm never ever satisfied with what I have worked so hard to attain.

It is a seemingly perfect job with great benefits, adequate pay, flexible and family friendly. I'm starting to see the imperfections though and I'm no longer on my best behavior , making sure people like me. I'm just trying to get my work done so I can leave to take care of the three kids, dinner, homework and bedtime routines. I want to give them priority as well as my million ideas and writing projects that want to be born.

But in reality, blogging is not a money maker in and of itself for me. I just love writing for the sake of writing and I'm happy to keep it that way. It is so liberating and satisfying to publish my thoughts, ideas and opinions.

Earlier this year, I was inspired by Amy at Frugal Mama when she wrote Why I Am Dropping the Business Side of Blogging (My Truth about Making Money Online). Shannon from The Woman Formally Known as Beautiful also gave me new perspective on blogging when she wrote How to Make Money Blogging and Not Lose Your F'ing Marbles.

I've been blogging for several years now and any attempt to make a dime has possibly generated a penny or two. But I have gotten some fun products and tickets to events to review and write about as well as made great new friends online and in person. But blogging tends to take up a fair amount of my precious free time which detracts from my time with my children, husband and long-suffering domestic chores. (My office and entire house is so disorganized and a total wreck!) For anyone thinking they can birth a baby, start a blog and quit their day job, may want to reconsider.

I don't consider myself a "mommy blogger"; I'm a blogger/writer who just happens to mom. I don't write about coupons, recipes, fashion, crafts, news, politics, celebrity gossip or TV/movies. I try not to be too promotional or inauthentic and I'm not a self-proclaimed 'expert'. I typically write about my day-to-day experience at this particular stage of my life and my attempt to make sense of it all or make light of it.  That probably doesn't make for good SEO and site traffic, but so what? I'm happy that anyone reads my words at all. If they leave a comment, I'm stoked! Writing without feedback tends to get rather discouraging, but I'm learning how to deal quite well with the silence.  

I begged Daddy-O to let me quit my job to work on my business ideas, but he scoffed. I promised him I would keep the house cleaning up and make better dinners, but he knows me better than that. I also keep reminding myself when I get lost daydreaming about other jobs I could do, "You don't want to work. Work sucks. You want to write and have a life of leisure." I keep telling myself that every time I think of getting yet another degree or specialization or changing careers. I want a quality life of leisure and to create memories with my family. That's what matters.

My mantra: "All work and no play makes mommy a dull chick."


Saturday, January 5, 2013

Book Review: Diary of a Wimpy Kid

My Bookworms are Hooked on Phonics Diary of a Wimpy Kid
When we first received Diary of a Wimpy Kid (book 1) in the mail, my chickadees thought I was saying Diarrhea of a Wimpy Kid, so they wouldn't have anything to do with the book. Then in true bookworm form, they cracked it open, started flipping through the pages and began chuckling.

Only one of them is a full-fledged reader (the 7 year old), but my 5 year old creates her own story line by looking at the pictures, which is always interesting. They read a variety of books, but they usually prefer girly-girl books; all things pink, pretty, and preferably with ponies. (How do you like that alliteration?) I wasn't sure if the Wimpy Kids books would appeal to them as I thought it might be too geared towards an older, male demographic. But fortunately, they proved me wrong. 

The cartoons are actually very clever and funny.  It seems all kids can relate to scenarios of being picked on or feeling small. 

My oldest daughter said of the book, "Diary of a Wimpy Kid is awesome because it's funny and a little bit gross. The pictures are cool because it has cool dudes." She especially laughed at the part where one of the boys was running for class treasurer and they didn't want to vote for him because he had had lice earlier that year. Ironically, all of us had lice earlier this year...

My youngest daughter said of the book, "The book is silly. I like the pictures." 

Daddy-O said of the book, "Every child can find themselves in at least one of the stories and relate."

For myself, I chuckled at several of the diary entries especially this one:

I've been quoted, "Real women have muscles." 
I also like the font that looks like handwriting and that it actually resembles a middle-schooler's diary with the simple (but genius) drawings.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid Fun Facts/PR

Twitter: @WimpyKid / Hashtag: #WimpyKid

Wimpy Kid is Now Available Electronically - 'Wimp-E-Books'!
Books 1-7 in the bestselling Diary of a Wimpy Kid series are now available for download as Wimp-E-Books wherever e-Books are sold.  Wimp-E-Books carry their own name and logo.

Author and illustrator Jeff Kinney was involved in all aspects of the transformation of the Wimpy Kid books into e-book form.  Says Kinney, “It was important to me to make sure the books look just as good on the screen as they do on paper. I’m thrilled at the way the books look on e-readers, tablets, and other devices, and I hope fans enjoy having them in digital format as much as they've enjoyed them as books.” 

About Diary of a Wimpy Kid Book 1
It's a new school year, and Greg Heffley finds himself thrust into middle school, where undersized weaklings share the hallways with kids who are taller, meaner, and already shaving. The hazards of growing up before you're ready are uniquely revealed through words and drawings as Greg records them in his diary.

In book one of this debut series, Greg is happy to have Rowley, his sidekick, along for the ride. But when Rowley's star starts to rise, Greg tries to use his best friend's new-found popularity to his own advantage, kicking off a chain of events that will test their friendship in hilarious fashion.

About Newly-Released Book # 7: The Third Wheel
A Valentine’s Day dance at Greg’s middle school has turned his world upside down. As Greg scrambles to find a date, he’s worried he’ll be left out in the cold on the big night. His best friend, Rowley, doesn’t have any prospects either, but that’s a small consolation.

An unexpected twist gives Greg a partner for the dance and leaves Rowley the odd man out. But a lot can happen in one night, and in the end, you never know who’s going to be lucky in love.

About Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Before the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books were published, stories from the first three books appeared digitally for free on the website www.funbrain.com, where they are still available. Books in the core series by Jeff Kinney include Diary of a Wimpy Kid (2007), Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules (2008), Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw(2009), Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days (2009), Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth (2010), and Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever (2011).

Jeff Kinney has also written and illustrated The Wimpy Kid Do-It-Yourself Book and The Wimpy Kid Movie Diary. The series is a fixture on the USA Today bestseller list and the Wall Street Journal and Publishers Weekly bestseller lists. It has also remained consistently in the top spots on the New York Times lists since publication of the first book in the series in 2007.

About the Author
Jeff Kinney is an online game developer and designer, and a #1 New York Times bestselling author. Jeff was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. He spent his childhood in the Washington, D.C., area and moved to New England in 1995. Jeff lives in southern Massachusetts with his wife and their two sons.

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of Diary of a Wimpy Kid book 1 to facilitate a review. All opinions remain my own.