Thursday, August 28, 2008
As you can see from my picture at the top of this page, I'm a woman of color. What you can't see is that I'm a woman of many colors -- my mom is from India, but she's of Persian decent and looks Greek; my dad is from Haiti, but his family's roots go back to France, Germany, Africa, and the Arawak Indians who were the natives of Haiti before everyone else got there. I've never been able to choose one facet of my ethnicity over another -- when it comes to race, I've always checked "other", and if "other" isn't an option, I either check several different things or nothing at all. So when it comes to race in the workplace, I really have to think about where I stand and how, or if, it has affected me.
When I joined the company I still work for, back in 1994, my coworkers joked that the company covered a lot of ground with one hire. I represented many minorities -- young, female, non-Christian, multi-ethnic -- and, except for the youth part, I still do. But out of those four categories, I think my age and my gender were harder hurdles to overcome than my race or my religion.
Time took care of the age issue pretty quickly. And motherhood, I think, has presented more professional challenges for me than anything else so far.
Some of those challenges have been entirely internal. I was a national and political editor during 9/11, and after the news-cycle dust started to settle I discovered that I was more concerned about why our then-4-year-old had started sleepwalking than I was about making deadline. When my husband and I decided to have more children together, I obsessed over maximizing my maternity leave and paying the bills, not over keeping my name in print.
Some of them have been entirely external. A former boss, who no longer works for the company, wrote on an evaluation that my judgment and my ability to be a good editor was negatively influenced by my parenthood. There are very, very few women in glass offices who also have children at home and, for most of them who do, each one's child (yes, singular) was born after they already had already climbed the corporate ladder.
Now, the fact that race hasn't been an issue for me at work may be a factor of my location (Massachusetts) or the size and age of my company (big, old, and well-established) or my own life experience. There are plenty of women with whom I work, but I'm the only woman of color in my department -- in fact, over the course of nearly 15 years, I can count the number of women of color I've worked with directly on one hand (and none of them had children).
But do I experience more pressure at work because of my race? Not that I'm aware of. But I'm sure I'll be more aware from now on.
Any other working moms of color out there? What have you experienced in the workplace?
By Lylah M. Alphonse, Globe Staff
Rich, bold, smoky, and complex, Merken is a traditional spice blend created by the Mapuche Indians of the Araucania region of Chile ($9.50 for a 1.78-ounce jar). A staple there for centuries, the coarse, coppery powder -- a combination of smoked Cacho de Cabra (Goat's Horn) chilies, toasted coriander seeds, and salt -- tastes a little like chipotle, but with far more richness and bite. You can use it to take your end-of-summer barbecue to a higher level or add depth to a simple soup, but we can't get enough of it sprinkled on warm, roasted cashews -- the savory smokiness is a perfect foil to the buttery sweetness of the nuts. At Williams Sonoma, Copley Place, 100 Huntington Ave., Boston, 617-262-3080, and other locations. [More]
When people talk about working mothers, it’s usually in the context of how we juggle work and family, how we want to maximize time with our kids, how we can (or can’t) have it all, daycare vs. hiring a nanny, and working at home vs. working out of the home vs. being a stay-at-home mom. What they don’t talk about, usually, is how having two parents who work full time impacts your relationship with your spouse. ... [More]
Moments later, I heard an adult female voice calling my name. My daughter had the presence of mind to remember what I had taught her -- look for another mommy with kids and tell you need help looking for me, use my "grown-up name" instead of "Mama." She was out of sight for maybe two or three minutes but, I swear, it was the longest two or three minutes of my life so far. Next time, I might not be so lucky.
That experience led me to appreciate the idea behind these temporary tattoos, which I wrote about in my Gearing Up column on Sunday for The Boston Globe's Travel section. They're cute, sure, but they have a serious purpose:
Temporary Tattoos With a Purpose
By Lylah M. Alphonse, Globe Staff
It's a parent's worst nightmare: You're in a crowded area and, all of a sudden, you can't find your child. These "Lost and Found" temporary tattoos from Tattoos With a Purpose can help. Apply the decal to your child's skin; when it's dry, write your information on it using the included pen. Unlike a note (which can get lost) or an ID bracelet (which can be removed), the temporary tattoos last for three to five days. A travel kit of six tattoos plus a pen and everything you need to apply - and remove - the tattoos costs $9.99 at tattooswithapurpose.com or by calling 800-357-1521. [More]
1.) Work in a work-out. It may seem counterintuitive (why expend energy when you feel like you have none to spare?) but a little bit of exercise can bring a big energy boost. You don't have to devote a big chunk of time to it, either; just 10 minutes can make a difference. Try taking baby steps: Park your car at the far end of the lot and power walk to the office door, stand up and stretch at your desk, or try any of these great work-out suggestions from Work It, Mom! members.
2.) Eat protein. Don't marathon runners eat a ton of carbohydrates for energy before a big run? Sure they do, but they're running, and I'm not so much running as... well, sitting here. If you're looking for mental energy and alertness, tuck into an egg at breakfast and munch on a protein-rich snack mid-afternoon. ("Protein-rich" doesn't necessarily mean "highly caloric" either; 10 almonds or a cup of low-fat cottage cheese will do the trick).
3.) Take a three-minute meditation break. A few minutes of meditation can help combat fatigue, according to Dr. Judith Orloff, psychiatrist and author of Positive Energy: 10 Extraordinary Prescriptions for Transforming Fatigue, Stress, and Fear. She suggests finding a quiet place and mentally focusing on an image that brings you pleasure -- your child laughing, your favorite flower, a crackling fire, whatever -- while breathing deeply (roughly 10 seconds for each inhale and exhale). Practice maintaining your focus for maximum revitalization. (For other ways to work a little meditation into your day, check out Karen Murphy's great post over at Catch Your Breath.)
4.) Try self-acupressure. According to a study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, students who were taught to self-administer certain acupressure treatments were more alert and less fatigued. University of Michigan Medical Center research investigator Dr. Richard E. Harris offers this trick: Press down on and rub the muscle between your thumb and your forefinger for three to five minutes; it's a well-known stimulation spot.
5.) See the light. A little natural light can go a long way to making you feel more alert and energized. You can't do anything about the fluorescent tubes above you at the office, but a small desk lamp with a full-spectrum bulb or one that mimics sunlight can help (especially if you can't get outside for a short walk).
What do you do when you need a boost? Please share your tips, caffeinated or otherwise, in the comments!
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Interestingly enough, a reader who left a drive-by parenting criticism several weeks ago stopped by to explain her thoughts in the comments -- I really appreciated that. There's a great discussion going on! Check it out (and share your stories in the comments!)
Look at it this way: It's more of an endurance challenge than running a marathon, as your kids get older it becomes more nerve-wracking than any routine on a 4-inch-wide balance beam, if you have a partner then you have to work on synchronizing your routine perfectly, and if you don't then you're swimming the 4x400 relay solo every single day.
Competition is fierce because, as Keanu Reeves's character, Tod, put it so succinctly in the movie Parenthood, everyone qualifies automatically, so the field is crowded. The opening ceremonies involve ice packs in odd places, pain killers of some kind, and sleep deprivation. (The fireworks were spectacular, but they technically came before the games truly began.) There are coaches everywhere, but their advice is often contradictory. There is no training -- or, rather, you train as you perform and the athletes who think they are most prepared are often not even in the running yet (though some are more than willing to judge anyway). Work is a separate competition, but one that affects your performance in this one.
If you do win some sort of award at any point for any event, it's hard to know for sure because your own national anthem changes depending on what event you've won. (Infant division? The sound of success is contented silence. Kid-level competition? A hug in front of your child's friends is more precious than gold. Teenager events? You're doing it right if you're accused of being "the meanest mom EVER.")
You're going for a record number of gold medals every single day, no matter what event you're in and not merely once every four years -- and you don't have a team of stretchers, high-tech uniforms, or 12,000 calories at your command. And the stakes are high; in the parenting Olympics, if you're successful, your kid is the one who really wins.
On second thought, maybe it shouldn't be an Olympic sport after all. It's harder than anything else out there -- and much more rewarding.
Friday, August 15, 2008
“What do you want in your lunch box, Sweetie?” I asked my preschooler the other day. And, without even looking up from the picture she was coloring, she answered, “Something not boring.” ... [More]
Over at The 36-Hour Day, I've put together five of my kids favorites, and asked readers to contribute a few of their own in the comments. Looking for lunchtime inspiration? Come and get it!
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
An "In-Focus" article about 5 things to do as you get ready to send your kids back to school (in a nutshell: Get physical, get organized, get motivated, get talking, and get involved; click on the link to read the details).
Taking a look at all of the great backpacks out there (the preteen in me rejoices at all the cool, funky options).
Reviewing great gear and gadgets for our new shopping blog, "Affordable Luxuries."
Have your eye on a product that would be a lifesaver for busy working moms? Drop me a line!
I just got home from the airport. My three big kids are winging their way back to their mom and stepdad as I type this, and my husband and I have just tucked two heartbroken little kids into their beds. My husband is venting in the garage, working on one of his many car-related projects. I'm throwing myself into my work. The only things that makes this bearable is the fact that I know they had a fun summer and I know how excited they are to see their mom and stepdad again. The fact that there are people who love them dearly on both sides of this flight, people who have missed them the way we miss them now.
This stepmothering thing... you get used to it. You learn how to manage and juggle. But it never really gets easier. At least, it hasn't for me, even nearly 10 years into it.
It's hard not to resent the hours I spend at the office. The hours more I spend typing away after they're in bed I can deal with, because the only thing I'm missing out on then is sleep. I have to work; it puts food on the table and a roof over our heads and pays for karate and horseback riding and the million other tiny necessities you want to provide for your kids, whether or not you're the one who birthed them.
But at the end of my life, I'm not going to wish I had put in a few hundred more hours of overtime. I'm going to wish I had snuck out of work early to watch our oldest boy dance the "Cotton Eyed Joe" for the umpteenth time, or that I helped our oldest create a prom dress out of garbage bags and pink ribbon for dress-up day at her camp counselor job, or that I managed to get to our preteen girl's karate graduation ceremony to see her get her next belt in person instead of on video.
So I did. And I'm glad. If my work suffered, it's because our kids didn't, and that's a choice I'll make every time. I'm pretty sure, though, that work didn't notice that the circles under my eyes were a bit more pronounced, or that I was consuming even more caffeine than usual, or that I finished a project or two by 5 a.m. instead of 5 p.m. But the kids noticed that I was there for them, I think, and that makes everything else worth it.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Our time with our kids is short. Much shorter than it seems when we're right in the thick of it, hip-deep in diapers and Dora the Explorer and daycare.
But my time with my stepkids is even shorter. And I never feel that more acutely than when they leave and I realize that an entire summer -- with the stress and scheduling and juggling and clashes between siblings, big and little -- has flown by in an instant, and I'm left with a houseful of clutter that I'm reluctant to clean up, because I wish they were still here.
Working stepmoms, can you relate? How do you cope with your juggle?
August 10, 2008
By Lylah M. Alphonse
Regulations against carrying liquids on board a plane can make it difficult to pack your favorite products. Filling tiny bottles is tedious and messy, your full-size toiletries take up too much room in your checked luggage, and if you have children, you can end up with too many toiletries in your bag. Mysmartpac kits eliminate the clutter and the stress; the pre-packed 6 1/2-by-4 1/2-by-1 1/3-inch pouches contain everything you need for a short trip (face cleanser, face cream, body lotion, hair gel, deodorant, toothpaste, razor, toothbrush) pus the one-quart zip-top bag that the Federal Aviation Administration wants you to stow it all in. Each of the eco-friendly products is in a resealable, biodegradable packet that holds enough for six uses, and the kits come in "his" and "hers" versions. They're perfect for families on the go, since each child can carry his or her own kit. At $10-$15 each, they are available through the Magellan's catalog (800-962-4943) and online at mysmartpac.com. [More]
Thursday, August 7, 2008
Want to know my answers? Click here to find out!
Rebecca Woolf's new book, Rockabye: From Wild to Child, starts out with an introduction subtitled "On Unplanned Pregnancy, for a friend."
"When I first found out I was pregnant, I couldn't say it aloud for several days," she confides, and instantly you identify with what she's written. Well known for her poignant, funny, and sometimes raw posts about navigating the world of parenthood on her blog, "Girl's Gone Child," when Woolf found herself pregnant with her son, Archer, she was determined to embrace the responsibility of motherhood while avoiding the stereotypes.
"Sacrifice is not what motherhood is about. Compromise, yes, but not sacrifice." Now 27, Woolf began her freelance writing career at 16 and has since written for publications from MSN to Nerve.com to the Huffington Post. She lives with her husband, Hal, and son, Archer, in Los Angeles; she expecting her second child -- a girl -- in early October.
I started blogging in 2002. My personal blog was called "The Pointy Toe Shoe Factory" and I mainly blogged about travel, culture, fashion and dating in Los Angeles. I'm pretty sure I had, like, two readers. It was very much an online journal that only a select few new about. When Archer was born, I closed the Pointy Toe Shoe Factory and opened a new blog, Girl's Gone Child, about being a new, young, city-mom. My blog slogan: "welcome to the new titty-flashing all-nighter." I knew no one with kids and was very much alone in my mommy-world so the blog started as a sort of monologue about my life as a new mother. I have written all my life so blogging has always been a natural outlet for spewing ideas, telling stories, making observations, regardless of whether anyone cares to read or participate.
How was writing a book different from blogging, and did your blogging style change after you wrote your book?
Rockabye was the first book I sold but not the first book I actually wrote. I wrote and finished two novels before my agent sold Rockabye on spec. I was actually working on a third novel when my agent sold my Rockabye proposal to Seal Press.
I would have never believed that my first published book would be non-fiction. I see myself as a novelist first, even though neither of my finished novels ever sold. I'm actually working on a new (fourth) novel, now, contrary to the advice of my agent. Fiction is a much more difficult sell than a memoir, but honestly, I'm not all that interesting and at this point in my life/career, I can't really see myself writing another memoir-type-book. Maybe by the time I'm ninety I'll be able to write some fascinating stuff but for now? The blogs are enough "me me me" writing. In the meantime, I'll keep writing novels and hopefully, eventually one will sell.
I'm pretty sure my blogging style is exactly the same. The book was exciting for me but the thing that most people don't recognize about publishing a first book is that -- unless it becomes some international sensation, life goes on as usual as does all writing done pre-publication (including blogging).
There's this great passage in your book where you talk about your son, Archer, doing his own thing while you work on your manuscript. Tell us more about how you managed to work on your book, at home, with a toddler in the house.
I wrote the bulk of Rockabye when Archer was napping and/or at night when he was asleep but of course there were days when Archer didn't nap or I still had more work to do so I basically told Archer that he needed to give me an hour to work and then we'd do whatever he wanted to do. I don't know how well he understood me but he was always really good at entertaining himself so I was able to get quite a bit of work done, so long as I really buckled down.
What's the hardest part about your work-life juggle now that he's older?
Time-management is everything, obviously. And there are some days when I should be working but am distracted by life and all its responsibilities. Now that Archer's in preschool I have six hours a day of me-time, but of course there is shopping and cleaning and life to attend to as well. Right now I'm spending (on average) about two hours a day working on my various projects (not including blogging) which isn't a lot of time. But it's what I have for now so I have to make the best of it. Eventually I'll get it all done... It's just a longer, slower process than it was pre-child.
How do you balance career and parenthood when you have to go tour to promote your book?
I left Archer with my husband and parents when I was on my three-week promo-tour promoting Rockabye. It was hard to be away from him for so long but it was important for me to enjoy my moment and do what I could to promote my book. I love my child more than anything but I believe wholeheartedly in the need to fulfill myself professionally. Every parent deserves a break and I'm lucky I have the support system (my husband, my parents) to wholeheartedly pursue my goals.
You've written so poignantly about the bittersweet aspects of pregnancy and motherhood, of the challenges you faced coming to term with the changes in your own life. Now, you're expecting your second child. How is this pregnancy different for you?
With a second pregnancy, I'm not only preparing for a new baby but I'm also preparing for the changes in Archer. I'm literally mourning my first baby, seeing that he's now become this kid, this brother... It's bittersweet, really. I'm also married to my husband this pregnancy (Hal and I were only dating a few months when we found out I was pregnant with Archer) and this time I have both friends with children and a community of bloggers I've befriended who have kids, so I'm not all alone this time around.
I also have a 3-year-old in front of me. It's amazing to feel this baby girl grow inside me as I mother Archer. And I look at him and think "Holy shit. There's going to be another one of you I'm going to love just as much."
It's hard to believe it's even possible.
Tell us what you wish someone had told you about pregnancy the first time around.
I wish I would have known how messy it was going to be after the fact. People are so freaked about labor and delivery and that's the exciting part because no matter how bad it hurts, you're about to meet your baby... It's like Christmas times infinity.
But then the child arrives and you're exhausted and bleeding like a mofo and uncomfortable and you have to wear those diaper-sized maxi-pads for a month and, yeah, I didn't know about all that stuff. I thought the labor was the only uncomfortable part.
I also had no idea how taxing on a relationship/marriage having a baby would be. I hear all the time about how couples have babies to "hold the relationship together" and I think, "how in the world?" Hal and I had to really work to keep ourselves from killing one another for the first two years of Archer's life.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about motherhood?
That the second you become a mother, you stop being yourself. One CAN and should be able to "do it all"... It just takes a strong work-ethic and passion. A great mother is someone who is fulfilled in her life, whether that means fufilling her goal to be a stay at home mother or finishing school or training to be an acrobat. For some women, myself included the word "mother" does not define them. And I think a lot of women are afraid that "mother" is the opposite of "ambitious career woman"... It just isn't the case.
Sacrifice is not what motherhood is about. Compromise, yes, but not sacrifice. We are all women, first. Women with dreams and wants and things we are passionate about both in and outside the home. And we should be nourishing those wants and passions (especially as mothers!) for what better way to set an example for our children?
I want my kids to know that they are my first priority but not my only priority -- that in order to be a loving mother/woman/person I have to nourish my creativity and follow my dreams. I have to make myself happy. I want to be a better writer and in order to be one, I must keep writing. I want to send that message to my kids. I want them to grow up knowing that their mother believes in herself so that they know to grow up with dreams of their own and have the tools to believe in themselves, too.
Share a bit of your life to-do list with us. What are some of your goals?
I just wrote a short film that I'm really excited about and is set to shoot later this year. I also just finished writing a one-hour cable pilot/proposal based on Rockabye and am currently shopping it with my husband who co-wrote it with me. I'm now working on a novel AND a feature-length screenplay I hope to have finished by the end of the year. Although, with a new baby due in two months, we'll see how that pans out. Ha!
What is your dream job?
To make a living writing fiction, both in book and on screen.
1.) Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project
2.) Kristen Marie Schuerlein's Affirmawords
3.) Alan Taylor's The Big Picture
4.) Despair, Inc.
5.) Geri Weis-Corbley's Good News Network
It goes without saying that Work It, Mom! is on that list, too! Why these five sites in particular? Find out at The 36-Hour Day, and share your favorites in the comments.
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
(Photo By Greg Keeler for Attitash)
August 2, 2008
Take the Family
WHO: Globe Magazine staff member Lylah M. Alphonse and her five kids, age 1
WHAT: Sliding down a snowless ski slope
WHERE: Attitash (Route 302, Bartlett, N.H. 800-223-7669. attitash.com)
From June 14 to Sept. 1, while the weather is warm, ski paradise Attitash in Bartlett, N.H., becomes a fun-filled summer hot spot. At least that's what my older kids think after spending an afternoon on the alpine slide there, making like Speed Racer on their converted Mach 5s.
You ride a ski lift to the top of the mountain - it's breathtaking, even more so if you're riding with a wiggly preschooler - and then careen down the mile-long track on a special sled that you control yourself. At the end, you excitedly compare relative speeds with your siblings, scoff, dare them to another run, and go up again. And again. A one-day ticket ($35 for people over 4-feet tall, $15 for shorties) gives you access to the alpine slide as well as to four waterslides, a kiddie splash pool, ski-lift assisted mountain biking, a rock-climbing wall, and a bungee-trampoline combo that makes you feel like you're in free-fall. (Pony rides, guided horseback tours, and mountain bike rentals are also available.)
It was a bit too chilly to hang out in the toddler-friendly Buddy Bear Play Pool when we went, but that was fine; there were rocks for throwing, wide pathways for running, and delicious french fries for sharing, so even the baby had a blast. [More]
Katherine Ellison, a journalist, mother, and the author of Mommy Brain: How Motherhood Makes Us Smarter, thinks there might be something beyond the cliche. “True, I was complaining a lot more,” she writes. “But I was also accomplishing more. Though I often felt frazzled, I was more motivated, excited by all I was learning at work and at home. … Although I’d had newspaper deadlines before, never had I faced the unparalleled urgency of a baby who needed to breastfeed, or a preschool teacher at close of day, both of which taught me a new kind of focus.”
It’s easy to assume fatigue is flakiness and chalk mistakes up to Mommy Brain. But does doing so set ourselves up for failure later? ... [More]
What do you think? Chime in at The 36-Hour Day.
Friday, August 1, 2008
Be sure to check out the other winners of Graco's Monthly Nod! I see quite of a few of my favorites on the list, and I'm honored to be among them.