Thursday, June 30, 2011

My kids think I work too much

I truly believe that work-life balance is a myth—at least, in the long-term. One might achieve it for short bursts here and there, but in general I think it's less about balance and more about juggling. Some times, the only balls that stay in the air are the ones related to your job, the ones labeled "deadline" and "business meeting" and "massive project," and by the end of the day all you can do is make promises about tomorrow being better. Other times, the most important meeting on your schedule is the one with your child's teacher or the daytime date with your spouse—or you're tapping away on the computer with one hand while holding a sick child on your lap, or trying to write a blog post with "Phineas and Ferb" blaring in the background (ahem).

The other day, I was trying to finish an assignment while my daughter was sitting next to me on the couch. I had my laptop open, and she was hunched over the coffee table, drawing and humming a tune that sounded a lot like "Bingo."

When I scooted closer to her on the couch to get a peek at what she was doing, I discovered that she had made up new words to go along with the song. And had made an illustrated guide to the new lyrics (spelled phonetically, of course—she's only in kindergarten).

There was a girl who worked a lot
and Lylah was her name-o
L-Y-L-A-H, L-Y-L-A-H, L-Y-L-A-H
and Lylah was her name-o!

I thought I was doing a pretty good job of getting out of work mode and morphing into Mama mode during the window between school pick-up and bedtime. But apparently not.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Summer travel with the kids? Bring these things

Last weekend, I tucked my youngest two kids in the car for a mini road-trip to visit family a few states away. The ride down was easy—we left crazy-early in the morning, encountered no traffic, and got there in record time. The way back, though? That was a different story.

Some people are perfectly comfortable on long car rides; others, like me, need to have contingency plans in place before they hit the road. Here are a few things that make a road-trip go more smoothy, no matter how many kids you have in the car.

  • Plenty of snacks. Pack individual lunchboxes for each child (a full meal plus a snack or two and an extra drink). It seems like a lot of extra work, but the moment one of your kids says she's hungry and then gets herself a snack without disturbing you or anyone else, it'll be worthwhile. Don’t forget the ice packs, and keep some treats hidden for doling out as bribes or rewards. (I know, there's plenty of food options on the road, but I'm one of those drivers who is reluctant to stray from the route, hates to stop, and, with a family full of food allergies to consider, I'm not a huge fan of fast food.)
  • An emergency potty. One Step Ahead offers a foldable, portable potty, but you can make your own in a pinch. It took me until my fifth kid to realize that a standard beach pail is about the same circumference as a toddler's backside; line a plastic pail with a plastic bag, place an extra diaper at the bottom, and stash it in the back of the minivan for the inevitable moment when your child announces that nature is calling and you're 28+ miles from the nearest rest stop.
  • A portable DVD player and a bunch of DVDs. Not everyone will agree with me on this, and my parents certainly didn't hook up the Videodisc player in the car when we drove from New Jersey to Canada, but I let my kids watch videos on long car trips. My Big Red Van didn't come with build-in DVD players; I picked up a portable set at Target. The screens strap to the backs of the front seats, and they’re connected to each other so that two kids can watch the same movie. Important detail: Each screen has its own headphone jack, which meant that on a trip to Washington, D.C., a few years ago, my preschoolers could watch “The Wiggles” while my nearly 16-year-old listened to her iPod behind them without going crazy. Be prepared, though: Your kids may want to watch their favorites over and over again instead of being interested in something new.
  • A power inverter. This handy contraption plugs into your car’s power source (formerly known as the cigarette lighter) and allows you to plug anything else into it using a regular plug. So you you can recharge your cell phone or laptop easily, work (if you're a hardcore telecommuter), or use those gadgets for which you don't have a car adapter. Note: Test out all of your electronics before you leave. It seems obvious, doesn't it? So much so that, on our last major road trip—to Florida, from Massachusetts—I didn't do it, and discovered we had an empty iPod on our hands instead of an excellent music selection.
  • Non-electronic entertainment. Even with a power inverter, there’s only so much battery-powered entertainment you want to deal with. Stash a few new (or new-to-you) age-appropriate books for your kids in the car, and pull them out when the whining starts. Almost anything you would use to keep your kids occupied in a restaurant works well on a long car ride; my favorites include paint-with-water books, hole punches, blank notebooks, dry-erase books, and wax-coated Wikki Stix or Bendaroos.
  • A roadside safety net. When most people think of roadside assistance, they're thinking of a program like AAA, where you pay an annual fee for certain services (and additional fees for others, like towing over an extended distance). That works well for people who use their membership often, or who take advantage of the travel-related perks that come it, but if you rarely need a tow but like the idea of having help available, Allstate offers an alternative: Good Hands Roadside Assistance. It's a pay-as-you-use-it program with set fees for certain services—$50 for jump starts, retrieving keys that have been locked in the car, tire changes, and fuel delivery (up to three gallons) and $75 for basic towing (up to 10 miles, $3 per additional mile). You can sign up in advance (it works in all 50 states, but not in Puerto Rico) and you don't pay anything unless you need their help. You can find out more or register for the program by clicking this widget:

This post was commissioned by Allstate; all opinions/reviews presented in it are my own.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Did Rep. Weiner resign, or just hit the political pause button?

AP Photo via Yahoo! Shine
We want them to be regular people—hockey moms and Joe the Plumber, people we'd feel comfortable grabbing a beer with or who can relate to the frustrations of the school carpool line. But then they show us their flaws and we feel betrayed. They're no longer fit for public office, even though their transgressions don't necessarily have much to do with their ability to govern.

Why do we put politicians up on pedestals?

Last week, I wrote about Rep. Anthony Weiner and his resignation from Congress. Or, really, his pseudo-resignation. Because after watching the four-minute-long press conference and studying his speech, to me it sounds more like he's hitting a political pause button than bowing out of politics forever.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Dear Huma Abedin: Please ignore Vanity Fair's terrible advice. Here's why.

Huma Abedin in Africa last week.
AP Photo via Yahoo! Shine
When I saw the Vanity Fair article offering up advice to Rep. Anthony Weiner's wife, Huma Abedin, this past weekend, my jaw just dropped. It seemed straight out of the 1950s: Don't worry about your career, you're pregnant. Think of your baby. Spend more time with your husband. All well and good, but really? What if she can't just dial back her job? And doesn't "spend more time with your husband" imply that his tweeting X-rated photos of himself to strangers is somehow her fault?

Here's my take on Vanity Fair's advice; you can read the full story, "Rep. Anthony Weiner's wife Huma Abedin doesn't need advice like this," over at Yahoo! Shine.

Friday, June 17, 2011

"Go the F*ck to Sleep" by Adam Mansbach says what most parents are thinking

My 4 1/2 doesn't need much sleep, and his oldest sister, who is now nearly 18, has always been prone to bouts of insomnia. I've probably chanted some variation of the title of Adam Mansbach's new book, "Go the F*ck to Sleep," silently to myself countless times for more than a decade.

As you can tell from the title, this is not a children's book, in spite of the gorgeous illustrations by Ricardo Cortes (who, like Mansbach, grew up in Newton, Mass., and whom Mansbach was friends with in high school and college. (Full disclosure: I worked for years with Mansbach's father, who is an editor at The Boston Globe, though he's not the one who told me about the book.)

After Mansbach gave a reading at the Fourth Wall Arts Salon in Philadelphia on April 23, pre-orders of the book, which was then slated for publication in October, skyrocketed. A PDF was leaked online, and within days it was number 2 on Amazon's best-seller's list with more than 100,000 copies pre-ordered—all months before the book was even available. The small publisher moved the publication date to this week, with a launch at the New York Public Library. The day before, I had a chance to chat with Mansbach about the publishing phenomenon his book has become. You can read my interview with Adam Mansbach over at Yahoo! Shine.

Like the book, this video of his reading in Philadelphia is not meant for little kids (it's probably safe for work if you have a good set of ear phones, though), but it's definitely worth checking out, as is the Audiable version of "Go the F*ck to Sleep" with Samuel L. Jackson (of "Pulp Fiction" fame) narrating.

While I've been saying that this is the book many parents may wish they themselves had written, my friends at bring up an excellent point. Though plenty of women relate to the idea behind the book, author Amy Sohn asks, "What if a mom had beaten a dad to the punchline and published a book called Go the F*ck to Sleep?" The consensus is that the reaction probably wouldn't have been pretty:

Apparently, even though we’re in this age of How Much Parenting Sucks and How Hard It Really Is, the Good Mother archetype still reigns supreme. As Connors puts it, “Any woman that exposes the uglier side of parenting or even humorously disparages motherhood gets a lot of blowback. There’s this powerful idea that mothers should be good. Dads are not held to that same standard so they have more leeway to be irreverent and dark and ridiculous.” All those voices ‘fessing up on the Internet for the past decade haven’t changed much about mothers’ perceptions of themselves and each other. “In the view of most readers,” says Babble contributor John Cave Osborne, “it’s OK for a dad to write a book like Go the F*ck to Sleep but not a mom. People think a clueless or inept dad is funny. That shtick still works, even though dads have come a long way since Ward Cleaver.”
Check out the video, read my post at Shine, and decide for yourself: Is humor simply humor, no matter who writes it? Or does the book work because it plays into our preconceived notions of what a dad can or can't handle?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The trick to a long life: Being able to rebound from stress

You've heard about amazing centenarians who swear that they reached their 100th birthday thanks to their good genes. Or clean living. Or selectively dirty living. Or the glass of wine a day that killed the germs. Or the weekly cigar that did the same. Or the strict exercise regimen that kept them running until their grandkids had kids of their own.

But researchers say there may be another reason: They live longer because they learned how to not just manage stress, but rebound from it.

There's a direct link between psychological stress and biological aging, says Thea Singer in her new book, "Stress Less: The New Science That Shows Women How to Rejuvenate the Body and the Mind." And, as I point out at The 36-Hour Day and Yahoo!'s Shine, that link goes all the way down to our cells.

In a groundbreaking study, 2009 Nobel Prize-winning cell biologist Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Ph.D., and health psychologist Elissa S. Epel, Ph.D., both at the University of California, San Francisco, discovered that that chronic stress "literally gnaws at our DNA—its tips, or telomeres, to be precise—speeding up the rate at which our cells age." In fact, Singer says, "Women who perceived themselves as being under the most stress had telomeres that were shorter by equivalent of 10 years."

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Can you keep your kids off limits if you keep taking them on tour?

I've been watching the media frenzy surrounding Sarah Palin's "One Nation" tour, and three main thoughts come to mind:

1. If you don't want the media following you, why not take a more discrete mode of transportation than this?
(Photo: Fox News)
2. If it's a family vacation, as Palin insists, why invite people to follow along with her trip on her website (not to mention fund it via a pop-up asking for donations and encourage fans to submit requests for special appearances)?

3. Can you insist on privacy for your family while simultaneously giving them roles in your public appearances?

I really do mean roles, and right now the focus is on her 10-year-old daughter's performance. When dropping the puck at a hockey game, The Guardian reported, Palin said that she decided to "put Piper in a Flyers jersey [and] bring her out with me" in order to avoid getting booed. (They booed anyway.) In September, Vanity Fair reported that Piper is coached to march on stage and swipes her mother's notes during long speeches. And just this week, the tween pushed herself between her mom and the reporter with whom she was chatting; maybe the girl was trying to stick close to a parent and not get lost in a sea of strangers, but even so, Palin stayed on message, kept talking, and didn't even glance down.

When Piper muttered "Thanks for ruining our vacation" to a Time Magazine correspondent while in Pennsylvania earlier this week, it's hard to tell whether she was talking to the media or to her mom. You can see the people surrounding them, but Palin isn't trying to push through or protect her kids; she's talking into microphones, shaking hands with the crowd, and stopping for pictures while her 10-year-old waits, looking bored.
(Photo: Reuters via Washington Post)
Alaskan schools are out for the summer, so the timing of the tour isn't really an issue. But getting into a gigantic bus emblazoned with your signature (and paid for by your political supporters—which is perfectly legal, by the way, since she hasn't declared herself to be an official candidate) and then insisting "I don't owe anything to the mainstream media" because your kids are with you and it's not a political trip? That's ridiculous.

Since her trip is being paid for by her political action committee, they'll have to disclose everything to the Federal Election Committee sooner or later. Until then, let her drive where she pleases—and leave the coverage of her trip to the local media in whichever town she pulls into. Right now, as my former colleague Susan Milligan writes over at U.S. News & World Report, Palin is playing the media beautifully. Maybe it's time for the media to stop worrying that we'll miss something important, and just let the Palin family—and their fans—be by themselves.