Thursday, July 31, 2008

Dealing with the Mommy Drive-By

A recent comment on my post at Yahoo about Mama Drama and an even more-recent experience with a really judgemental person made me think about the Mommy Drive-By and wonder why moms still do this to one another:
We’ve all experienced it at one time or another: The Mommy Drive-By. When a someone — a relative, another mom, a total stranger — takes it upon herself to question your judgment or criticize your parenting.

Single moms get flak about their social lives. Step moms are looked down upon for not being “a real parent.” Breast-feeding mamas get hit when they nurse their child in public; formula-feeding mothers get the evil eye when they whip out a bottle instead of a breast. Mothers from all walks of life are questioned for decisions large and small. And working mothers, well, they get a little bit of “all of the above.”

I’m positive that I thought I knew more about parenting before I became a parent, so I can kind of see why non-parents feel compelled to tell parents what they should do differently, whether are qualified to say anything or not. But when the drive-by comes from another mom, I’m baffled… why do we do this to one another?

One mom told me that I’m much too lenient with my kids, but “you can’t help it, you don’t get to see them much because you’re always working.” Another once told our older kids that she loved her kids enough to stay home, leaving my big kids to question my commitment to them. When my husband and I worked different shifts to cover childcare, I was criticized for “tag-team parenting” and being “too busy to be a good mother.”

Drive-byes don’t always happen in person, either. I got hit by a drive-by online last week by someone who has never met me before. My post about my preschooler and how her “Mama Drama” slays me sparked this lovely comment: “Wouldn’t it be easier to stay with your toddler and give her compassion and love from her mom, rather than drop her off with a stranger? Try being a Stay at Home Mom.”

The daycare question always triggers interesting drive-byes, with plenty of shrapnel to tweeze out of your flesh days and even weeks later. Yesterday, I was taken to task for saying that my youngest two kids go to preschool instead of just calling it daycare.

Never mind that my preschooler is actually in, well, preschool, and my toddler is in the daycare portion of that same facility. This person told me that she thinks I call it a school because it makes me feel and look better about what I’m “doing to” my kids.

I thought I’d be furious, but I wasn’t. I was surprised by the source of the drive-by, but mostly I was just tired. I pointed out that different solutions work for different people and suggested that, until she was faced with having to make the decision herself, it would make sense for her to stop criticizing me for mine. Then I changed the subject.

These drive-byes don’t make my question my judgment. But I sure am tired of being asked to defend it.

Have you been hit by a mommy drive-by? How did you handle it?

Shine on: When are you most productive?

Over at Shine Work + Money, we're talking about productivity -- what times of day we feel most productive, and how to handle it when we're not motivated. Read the comments and weigh in with your own observations; readers seem evenly split between early birds and night owls right now!

Dad's cleaning the house: Does it help or hurt Mom?

A few weeks ago, when I was up against a couple of deadlines simultaneously, I let the housework pile up. Mountain up is more like it, I think, but the bottom line is that I let it slide for a few days, thinking I could catch up once I'd gotten my work done. But my husband got fed up with the mess before I finished my assignments. When he started cleaning, I felt guiltier than ever. Why?
With five kids, two parents who work full-time, a 75-pound black lab who sheds hair like he's desperately trying to clone himself, no housekeeper, and my tendency to clutter, I don't need to tell you that my house isn't pristine. It's not filthy -- in terms of the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization's Clutter Hoarding Scale, we're not more than a 1, the lowest score. But still, I wouldn't happily eat off of the floor or anything. (My toddler is far less discriminating.)

The other day, my husband went on a cleaning tantrum. He started with the kitchen, moving things off the counter tops and scrubbing the stove and swabbing the backsplash with powerful detergents. He tossed the newspapers I'd left languishing in a pile on a chair and wiped down every surface he could find while I worked in the next room.

I was grateful. I was also mortified. I appreciated the fact that he recognized I was overloaded and couldn't get to the cleaning myself, but still... it made me feel like I'd failed, somehow.

In spite of everything I do, I can't shake the feeling that I should be able to do more. Is this the Achilles Heel of the modern working mom? Shouldn't I be able to keep my house spotless and clutter-free, decorated tastefully yet stunningly? Have all the clothes cleaned and folded and put away properly instead of heaped in clean or dirty piles in the hallway near the laundry room? Pack five exciting, delicious, nutritionally balanced lunches for the kids, preferably the night before, all while while working full time, supporting my family, freelancing on the side, socking at least 10 percent of my income away, and climbing the corporate ladder in 3-inch heels?

I know, I know... I just wrote about how, sometimes, working moms do it all by not doing it all. But I want to be good at everything, even if I don't have the time or the wherewithal to do so. And, really, I suck at housekeeping.

My husband has moved on to the dining room, and I think I should move on, too. Instead of being upset that I can't do it all, I'm going to try to be grateful that my husband is doing this. Maybe, together we can get it all done, if we take turns. And, if that doesn't work, I'll take solace in the fact that our house is still a few clutter-levels away from utter chaos.
Amy at Equally Shared Parenting has a very interesting take on the post; check it out here (thanks, Amy!). Do you feel bad when you can't do it all, or are you over it?

Inflatable bed rails for traveling tots

Another new product to make traveling with kids easier -- this one is so good, I'm using it at home, too!

July 27, 2008
Gearing Up
By Lylah M. Alphonse

Every time I think my 3-year-old is ready to sleep without a guard rail, I find her curled up at the edge of her bed the next morning, flat against the rail's mesh screen. Sleeping somewhere else requires careful planning and a stash of strategically placed pillows on the floor. Bed Bugz, Toddler Coddler's inflatable bolsters, make sleeping safely easy. They attach to any type of bed and don't require a box spring to stay in place, which makes them perfect for travel. Deflated, they take up as much room in the suitcase as a pair of shoes. They cost about $30 at Wild Child (395 Massachusetts Ave., Arlington; 781-483-3566) and $39.95 online at [More]

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Here's what this working mom really wants

Advertisers, writers, editors, business people of all kinds are trying to figure out how to pitch to women. I can't even count the number of emails I get each day, touting the newest "Women's This" or "Working Mom's That." Websites geared toward women, however, seem overly stocked with three things: Advice for brand-new parents, celebrity news, and diet tips.

But what about women like me? Moms with school-age and older children? Women who don't know Nas from Nelly? Women who don't diet? Working moms who want to know how other woman manage their career-family juggles?

Women aren’t one-size-fits-all when it comes to fashion, and we’re not that way when it comes to our interests, either. So, what do working moms really want, in a website, at least? Here are my top five:

1.) An online community that’s engaging and supportive instead of snarky. I want to be able to connect with women who have been in my high heels, who understand where I’m coming from and know where I’m going (and can help me get there). I’m a working mother who is juggling a career and a family. I don’t need a new BFF, I need an ally. ... [More]

Read the rest at The 36-Hour Day, and tell me what you really want in the comments!

When is a child school-aged?

My post about my preschooler and how her "Mama Drama" slays me is up at Shine, and has sparked the beginning of what could be a very interesting discussion about education.

One commenter writes, "Wouldn't it be easier to stay with your toddler and give her compassion and love from her mom, rather than drop her off with a stranger? Try being a Stay at Home Mom."

While it's interesting to note from her own blog that she a.) works outside the home and b.) is not a parent and says she never wants to have children and c.) is a teacher herself, her comment did make me wonder... if dropping your child "off with a stranger" for her education is such a bad thing, why aren't more stay-at-home-moms homeschooling their kids? Why is formal education (taught by well-qualified, certified, experienced "strangers") acceptable for a 5-year-old in Kindergarten but not a 4-year-old in preschool?

So, at what age is it OK for a child to go to school? And when does "Mama Drama" stop being considered indicitive of something the mother is doing wrong and start being something the a person -- the mother or the child -- just has to manage?

What do you think?

Getting in the way of my own juggle

I was working on a post for The 36-Hour Day the other night when my husband, who was playing "Rock Band" with the big kids in the room behind me, handed me the microphone and asked me to join the band. "Oh, are you working?" he asked, noticing that my hands were poised over my laptop. In an instant, I knew two things for sure: a.) that I was going to choose "Rock Band" over writing for the moment and b.) I had no one to blame for missing deadline but myself.

After I finished my (stellar, off-key) solo, helping our band Killasaurus Something-or-other earn about $20 and 230 new fans, I scrapped my original post and wrote this:

I've just finished twisting our 12-year-old's curls into about eleventy-billion tiny, two-strand twists, and my hands are still slick with conditioner. The little two are tucked in bed, stuffed animals clutched in their sweaty little hands. The other big kids are playing "Rock Band" with my husband, just a couple of feet away from me in the family room. It's past bedtime, and bits of conversation (like "We should be concentrating our efforts on Killasaurus," and "Daddy! We should play San Francisco now!" and "That's such a sweet song and then they hit you with the 'f' word...") grasp the edges of my concentration as I try to write.

I could -- should, really -- go to another room so I can get my work done. I mean, the work has to get done. But I'm loathe to leave. Even when my husband hands me the mic and asks me to sing "Maps" -- an obvious sign that I'm not going to get much done if I'm also expected to sing lead -- I don't go.

Sometimes, the thing that really gets in the way when I'm trying to juggle work and family is myself.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Vaccines and Autism: The Debate Continues

Actress Amanda Peet fanned the flames when she told Cookie magazine recently that she feels that parents who don't vaccinate their kids "are parasites." And some parents in New Jersey are up in arms over legislation that requires all kids entering preschool or day care in September to get the flu shot.

While I see the benefit to protecting kids from infectious diseases, and I really see the benefit of reducing the number of sick days taken and the amount of school missed because kids keep getting sick, I have a big problem with making this particular immunization manditory. Here's why:
It's not the "Big Brother" aspect of it, per se, or the fact that the influenza vaccine isn't really that effective (it works on less than 15 percent of the people who exhbit flu-like symptoms). It's the fact that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the flu shot is one of the few vaccines that still contain thimerosal, a preservative made up of approximately 49-percent ethyl mercury that has been linked anecdotally to autism. ... [More]

Read the rest of the article at Work It, Mom! and weigh in at the end of the piece. Do you vaccinate your kids? Why or why not?

Can Dad take care of the kids as well as Mom?

A recent article by Carolyn Hax’s at The Washington Post really struck a chord with me. In the article, which Hax writes was adapted from an online discussion, an angry working mom complains about her stay-at-home husband’s parenting skills (he left the baby alone, in her playpen, to answer the mom’s phone call). A stay-at-home dad responds with his own story of micromanagement.

But what Hax’s piece really made me wonder about was this: How can moms complain that dads aren’t involved enough or nurturing enough if they don’t trust their husbands to be good parents without supervision?

When I went back to work after having my first baby, I was working days while my husband worked nights. He’d hang out with our baby during the day, then take her in to the office at the start of his shift. My shift ended when his started, and he’d hand her off to me and I’d take her back home for what I called my Second Shift with the kids (my first baby was also our fourth child).

I often said that the thing that made returning to work after my first maternity leave most manageable, for me, was the knowledge that my baby was spending the day with her dad instead of with someone I didn’t already know and trust.
We’ve all heard the jokes about how dads are clueless when it comes to their kids. Diapering the wrong end, dressing them in stripes and polka dots at the same time, letting them eat chocolate cake for breakfast (it has flour, milk, and eggs, just like pancakes!), etc. We’ve all heard stories of fatherly incompetence from our friends from time to time, and horror stories about neglectful parents, male and female.

And, goodness knows, there have been times when my husband has wholeheartedly given the kids permission to do something that I definitely would have vetoed (like playing “Rock Band” until 1 a.m. or watching Predator on cable). But, during the year and a half that our now-preschooler was home with my husband during the day, it never, ever occurred to me to micromanage his parenting.

Maybe it was because he was already a parent when we met — since he’d done the baby thing three times already, why would I have to tell him what to do with his fourth child? Maybe it was because I assumed that a nearly 6-month-old baby who loved to nap (three hours at a stretch! I miss those days) would be a piece of cake. Or maybe I was so worried about earning enough money to support our expanded family that it was a relief not to have to worry about who was taking care of her while I was at the office — even if it meant my husband and I were like ships passing in the dead of night for a while.

What about you? Do you feel the need to micromanage when your child is alone with his or her dad?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

10 Ways to Tell Whether You're a Working Parent

I keep running lists of things I never thought I’d say as a parent. You know, things like “Don’t lick the microwave” and “Pennies are not for eating” and “No, you can’t ride the dog.” The other day, as I flaked dried applesauce off of the sleeve of my favorite black blazer, I looked at the “Dora the Explorer” bandage on my cut finger and decided to start another list: My top 10 signs you’re a working Mom.

So, with apologies to David Letterman (and possibly Jeff Foxworthy), you know you’re a working mom if…

1.) You put things you’ve already done on your to-do list, just so you have something to cross off immediately. ... [More]

Have any signs to add to my list? Tell me at The 36-Hour Day!

Being Savvy!

My take on Staycationing is live over at the Savvy Source for Parents today -- what fun!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Staycationing, Email, and Juggling Work and Life

I'm sharing more juggling questions and answers and talking about how we still can't unsend email over at Shine, Yahoo's portal for women. Take a peek in the Parenting and Work + Money sections, and share your thoughts in the comments.
Over at Larger Families, we're talking about what we're doing on our summer vacations -- or, in my case, my summer staycation.

Keeping Baby Clean(ish) on the Go

I want to stick a set of these in every carryon bag and purse I own -- even though my youngest is well into toddlerhood and rarely wears a bib...

July 13, 2008

Gearing Up

Just Clip and Slop

By Lylah M. Alphonse

Was it Ben Franklin who said "A bib in time saves nine pieces of laundry?" No? Someone at the Oregon-based company Kipiis (kip-EEZ) is thinking along those lines with its special clips that let you make anything into a bib: a restaurant napkin, a paper towel in the car, a kitchen towel at home. Just clip the fasteners on two of the corners, adjust the back, and let your tot dive into the yogurt. The Bib Clips cost about $13 at Kiddly Winks in Longmeadow (413-567-0688), Magic Beans in Brookline (617-264-2326), Mulberry Road in Boston (617-859-5861), Right Start in Natick (508-650-1271), and online at [More]

How Do Working Moms Do It? Three Answers

It's the question most busy people get asked over and over again: How do you do it all? Three people asked me that recently, for three different reasons, and they each got a different answer:

The first answer: It’s amazing what you can do if you don’t know you can’t do it. That’s pretty much my mantra. It got me through college, when I worked two jobs while carrying a larger-than-full-time course load, and it gets me through life as a working mom with a larger-than-full-time life load.... [More]

The other two answers at The 36-Hour Day; go on, check them out! And while you're at Work It, Mom!, take a moment to weigh in on some of the discussions and find out how other busy moms do it all.

Older and Wiser? My Newest Resolutions

I gave up writing New Year's Resolutions nearly a decade ago; instead, every year on my birthday, I write out what I want to do to improve myself or my life. This year, I shared them with my readers at Work It, Mom!:

When I was a kid, my New Year’s Resolutions were all about the things I thought I was supposed to be doing — practicing my violin every day, getting As in school, being nice to my brothers, etc. As I grew older, the resolutions changed, but the idea behind them didn’t; they were still about the things I thought I was supposed to be doing. Each year, I’d vow to lose weight (why did I want to do this? I had a killer body back then, and no idea what to do with it), ace my performance reviews at work (the same as getting As at school, really), learn how to be less of a control freak (about 10 years ago I decided that you can’t be a control freak if you can’t control yourself, and I set to work on that instead). ... [More]

What to know what I've resolved to do as a Working Mom? Read the rest at The 36-Hour Day, and share your resolutions in the comments!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Tips for Getting Organized, Saving Money, and More

Undercover as the Work It, Mom! Team, I recently researched and wrote articles about getting organized, creating a family emergency kit, getting more for your money, keeping your career on track while you're on maternity leave, some great craft ideas for Father's Day (or any day), revamping your resume, and dealing with the "second shift" at home after work.
I also had a chance to chat with some really interesting working moms, includuing Lisa Takeuchi Cullen of Time Magazine, entrepreneur and singer Liimu McGill (who sang with Patti LaBelle's team on "Clash of the Choirs"), and several other great women. Check out the archive of interviews at Work It, Mom!

On Shine, I dug a little deeper to find more ways working moms can save $100 in a month -- that post is still generating discussion over at Yahoo! -- and my related post about how working mothers can whittle down their grocery bill was highlighted as their pick of the week. My most-recent offering (there's a new one every Tuesday) is about going on staycation -- be sure to check out Dory Devlin's great article about six staycation ideas, too!

When Are You Most Productive?

I've been feeling pressed for time lately -- no big surprise, given that I have a full-time job, a part-time job, five kids, and no staff -- but it occurred to me that I don't really know what I do with all my time. So I kept track for a while, and discovered that, like most people, I have windows of energy and productivity. Now, the trick is to schedule my tasks for those times, and cut back on the distractions, according to the experts.

“The first time I kept a time log, I only finished 15 hours worth of real work in a week where I spent about 60 hours in my office,” Steve Pavlina writes on his website. “Even though I was technically about twice as productive as the average office worker, I was still disturbed by the results. Where did those other 45 hours go?”

Using his time log, he could see that he was spending too much time checking email, doing tasks that didn’t need to be done, lingering over meals during the workday, and catching up on the news, among other things.

Sound familiar? It did to me. ... [More]

So now I have a plan of action -- sort of. Read more at The 36-Hour Day, and check out the discussions and articles about organization and productivity over at Work It, Mom!

A Day in the Life of a WOHM

Some days, it's not work that makes it difficult to find work-life balance -- it's life. A recent Saturday really drove this point home for me, so I detailed the drama over at The 36-Hour Day. The blow-by-blow of the morning is much too long to put here, so I'll get right to the heart of it:

11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Honestly, this part of the day is kind of a blur. ... I know I did four loads of laundry. I know I put away the groceries. I know I distributed ice pops and fed everyone lunch. I know I put the toddler down for an all-too-short nap, and that I refereed a few fights (including one that broke out after one of the big kids started lecturing the other two big kids about their previous fight) and ordered all three big kids to read in separate parts of the house because I was certain that they were going to kill one another if they stayed in the same room. I looked at my to-do list and realized that there was no way any of the freelance work on it was going to
get done. ... After dinner, there were baths and bed and cleanup and laundry. And, in spite of all of this, I still feel like I didn’t get anything done. And I’m trying to understand why. [More]
Working moms, do you ever long for the office so you can feel productive? Stay-at-home moms, how do you manage your juggle? Read the rest -- and share your comments -- at The 36-Hour Day.

Sunscreen, Hand Sanitizer, and Bug Spray That You Can Take On Board

Any time I can tuck a wipe in my pocket instead of schlepping a bottle around in my bag, I'm a happy parent. Non-liquid versions of bug spray, hand sanitizer, and sunblock are great for kids' at camp, too -- they don't spill, they're easy to apply, and they're pre-portioned. From the June 29 Travel section in the Boston Globe:

Gearing Up
Wipe Those Hands
Lylah M. Alphonse

With the FAA's restrictions on liquids and gels, many of the things parents tote around for their tots - hand sanitizer, bug spray, and sunscreen - cannot be carried on planes. Luckily, many of these come in nonliquid form. Sani-Hands antimicrobial wipes cost about $3 for 24 individually wrapped packets. Insect repellent with DEET (by Cutter, 20 for $4.49) and without (by Bite Blocker, 20 for $8.19) are available in wipes as well. And towelettes premoistened with SPF 30 sunscreen by Shady Day ($13.99 for a pack of 15) are waterproof and sweatproof. They are available at, and at many grocery and drug stores. [More]

Mandy Nelson, Voice Talent Extraordinare

I met Mandy Nelson through Work It, Mom!, and have been dying to write a profile about her from the moment we met. She's the voice you hear when you call places like Travelocity, Sony, and other companies; if you ever forget to return a video and get an automated call from a certain big-name video store, that's her voice on the line. She's also hilarious, incredibly talented, and adept at juggling career and parenthood. This feature appeared in the Globe Sunday Magazine on June 29, and my absolute favorite part is her answer to this question:

Ever use your voice to fool your friends or confuse a telemarketer?
That is one of my favorite things to do. Nothing like telling them the call is being recorded for quality assurance purposes in my "voice." It just makes me happy. I do it to friends sometimes, too. I like to tell them their account is overdue. [More]
Read the rest online at, or click on the images below!

Staycationing: When Home Is the Hot Travel Destination

As any working parent knows, a true vacation is a rare thing, and the term "family vacation" can sometimes seem like an oxymoron. The few times we've vacationed with all five kids, the kids have had a blast and my husband and I return more tired than we were before the trip.

Right now, vacationing close to home -- or "staycationing" -- is the new travel trend, and I can totally understand why. I've been a die-hard staycationer for years...

We almost always stay home for the summer. I say "almost" because there have been two exceptions: In 2003 we drove to Niagara Falls because the kids were complaining that they'd never been to another country (hello, Canada!), and last week I had to research a couple of family travel stories and so we went to an old-fashioned amusement park and careened down a snow-less ski slope on a bobsled and spent a night in a tree house. It was way cool. The kids loved it. My husband and I did, too, but I think that, while the kids came home re-energized after our little adventure, us parents were more exhausted after our "vacation" than we had been when we left.