The Balancing Act of a Working Mom

Mommy Guilt

It usually happens on Monday mornings, though occasionally it hits Tuesday morning. I am not sure where it starts, if I exude vibes of disappointment, or if my daughter realizes the routine and starts the leg grab; Mommy Guilt.

Inevitably there will soon be a whining toddler pulling the shower curtain back calling “Mama, mommy…..” My efforts to get out the door on time are impeded by the various obstacles of my toddler: crawling between my legs;  grabbing my clothes and dragging them across the tufts of dog and cat fur on the floor; “I brush my teeth with Mama;” and of course her refusal to get ready with my husband “No want Dadda, MAMA!!!”

The mommy guilt kicks in, I am faced with the choice of arriving to work late but giving my daughter the small time she asks of me to get her ready for the day. Sigh, just a few moments, will it make a huge difference?

My husband assures me “It is fine, get ready, I’ve got this.” He turns his attention to our daughter “Mama has to get ready for work honey; what would you like to wear today? Overalls?”

I see my husband has the situation under control, I have stopped trying to control every parenting situation a long time ago; it is ineffective in our journey as co-parents. However this doesn’t seem to resolve my own feelings of guilt.

Does he understand the urgency I have to go and do it all, how I have to restrain myself when she hurts herself and he is the first to the scene? And how watching as he picks clothes out with her, while I get ready for a day at a job I don’t love as much as being a mom, is physically painful?

Being a working, community active mom, is just unfair. I miss the simple enjoyment of helping her: getting dressed in the morning, getting ready for dinner, putting “jammies” on and even changing diapers; I see these everyday rituals becoming more and more foreign to me as I spend more time investing in “our future.”

I wonder what I am gambling with here, every parent I know tells me the same thing “enjoy the time while it lasts, it goes by so quickly” or “no one ever wishes they worked more on their death bed, enjoy those moments.” I hear these voices echoing in my head as my little voice offers a faint and meek whisper “what if you get fired?”

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Anxiety of Green Living

Hilltown Families Contributing Writer

I’m Going Green Crazy

Hilltown mothers of the world would be proud. Two months ago my family embarked on a journey to eat healthier, but as we began our trek through the grocery stores talking about healthy eating, living, BEING it began to spark some interesting conversations.

Our family began to talk about the environment. We began to think about how our unconscious stream of living was affecting the environment around us. The kids worried about what was in their snacks and cafeteria lunches at school. They began to inquire about our recycling habits and occasionally they turned off a light or two.

And conversation wasn’t the only environmental flame ignited. My family actually began taking some steps to implement some really sustainable habits.

For Earth Day we purchased a composter. That big, giant, hunk of plastic was as pleasing to my eyes as the beautiful butterfly bush that used to reside in the stonewall flower garden our composter now calls home.

About two days after that little treat, the McIlquham family began a home recycling center. I even spent an afternoon grilling my dad about the best way to separate our recyclables for our local transfer station since he’s the one who makes the weekly trek to dump. (Hey, he’s retired. It gives him something to do, and besides I think he likes it.) Thanks to that afternoon of quality father/daughter time and multiple phone calls later, I think I’ve got it figured out.

That same week, my 10-year-old daughter (now 11, her birthday was last week) commented on how green we had been living that week. Thanks to the car being in the shop we walked a mile to a friends house, bringing along our own healthy, semi-organic lunches to hang out for the day, and even walked the return trip home knowing we could have gotten a ride. We enjoyed that so much, that we opted to leave the newly fixed car at home and ride our bikes to the lake the following day.

My children were so impressed by their multiple displays of greendom that week that they asked to go out to dinner (some greasy dive down the road, not a chance that anything there would be healthy or organic), to celebrate.

OK we aren’t completely there yet, but “we’ve come a long way baby!” And to be completely honest I don’t think we will ever be 100 percent there — completely green, organic and sustainable. But I’m OK with that. We are living healthier and more consciously and the environment is better for it — and so are we!

But there is one thing about this whole “Green Mama” adventure that I am not OK with and that is the neurosis I have begun to develop in the process.

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It’s Nothing, Really, Just Abstract

The Power of One: Art Smarts
BY HF Contributing Writer, Dana Pilson

There are few things more wonderful than a child’s creativity. Daisy recently crafted this family portrait from a kit of felt pieces that includes many more children and babies, cats and dogs. Usually her scenes are complicated affairs, large families with scads of children lined up in rows. I love the sparse, crisp quality of this little trio. I find it interesting that the girl is shown angling toward the mother. The mother, in turn, seems to lean away from the father’s hand-hold towards her little one.

Like most kids, Daisy likes to draw flowers, frogs and ducks, and the occasional rainbow, but people really are her ‘forte.’ These days, influenced by her Kindergarten friends, princesses are all the rage, replete with towering tiaras, wide billowy pink skirts, and pocketbooks festooned with plentiful bows.

This family portrait, on a magnetic doodle pad, is from about a year ago. I love that we all have big smiles on our faces. Here the child is sandwiched between her parents. Granted, she is closer to the mom (females are made up of a single blob of a dress, while males have a top and a bottom, like a shirt and shorts). Arms, apparently, are optional!

One of the luxuries of having an only child is the ability to focus on art activities together. There is no crying baby needing a diaper change right when the paints have come out, or an older child waiting to be driven to soccer practice when glitter is all over the floor. I dance a secret jig when Daisy asks to do an art project: other kids would rather toss a ball or watch a video. I’m just so happy she enjoys art as much as I do. Personally, I just love the smell of poster paints, the aroma of a new box of crayons, the feel of play-dough, and peeling dried glue off of my hands.

When Daisy was smaller, we somehow came across Susan Striker and her book about fostering creativity in children. This link from the Artful Parent, a wonderful blog about doing art with young children, sets it all out nicely.

In short, your child’s imagination should decide how art materials are used; never draw, paint, or write on a child’s artwork; never point out similarities to realistic objects or even show a child how to draw. Striker suggests not entertaining a child by making realistic pictures yourself, and never ask, “what is it?” Instead, praise use of color or design. And, the biggie: never give a child coloring books or dot-to-dots.

Of course, nothing beats reading Susan Striker’s book, Young at Art: Teaching Toddlers Self-Expression, Problem Solving Skills, and an Appreciation for Art. I recommend it highly, although you need to take what works for you, and put some of it on the back burner. Adhering blindly to her philosophy without flexibility could prove exasperating. When Daisy wants to color in the coloring books at our local food co-op, providing me with fifteen minutes of shopping freedom, I am not going to say no And I can even imagine Striker’s dismay at my allowing Daisy to play with pre-cut felt pieces — I suspect she would want Daisy to cut out from felt the people and their outfits herself.

Whether or not we can credit Susan Striker, Daisy’s creativity is boundless. She is a master at thinking outside the box. At a local museum’s family day, kids were filling bottles with different colors of sand. Each bottle was turning out quite nice, but all the bottles looked vaguely similar. Daisy decided instead to take the extra sand that was on the table, mix it together, and put that mixture into her bottle. Inspired, she then began making different combinations out of all the available sand colors. Her bottle, when finished, was truly unique. Other kids looked on in awe, and then they too began to create mixtures and experiment.

I must admit it took Daisy longer to paint and draw recognizable objects, and her pre-school teachers showed concern that she wasn’t making faces and people. Perhaps it was because I didn’t draw people for her to copy, but I think it was she just enjoyed scribbling, the feel of a crayon in her hand, the experience of color, the process of creating. Even now she still likes to doodle away — one time I asked her about a particularly ebullient painting, and she said, “it’s nothing, really, just abstract.” I love that she knows what abstract means, at age five. I think she’s doing just fine.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Dana “Dee” Pilson

Dee lives with her professor husband and young daughter in rural Pownal, Vermont, just over the state line from Williamstown, Massachusetts. She is an art historian and has worked in museums in New York City, Boston, and Williamstown. She has been an avid writer since the tender age of eight, filling journals with personal essays and short stories, as well as mounds of poetry, both serious and whimsical. New Yorker by birth, New Hampshire-ite by schooling, and now Vermonter by choice, Dee writes about art and architecture, the environment, books, food, exercise, travel, and green living. Her new blog, “The Power of One,” focuses on issues related to parenting an only child in today’s child-centric world. dpilson@aol.com

Supporting Only Children Through Literature

The Power of One: The Bounty of Books
BY HF Contributing Writer, Dana Pilson

Would Arthur be as amusing without D.W.?  Who would Stella impart all her worldly knowledge to, without Sam?  Sister and Brother Bear might squabble like grizzlies, but could we imagine one without the other?  Annie is spunky while Jack is shy, the two of them make a dynamic duo in their magic treehouse.   Could we imagine Laura Ingalls growing up on the prairie without her rhyming sisters, Mary and Carrie?   It recently dawned on me that my five-year-old’s  most beloved characters all have siblings! They all have their sidekicks, a foil, a partner, another half. My daughter Daisy has been constantly asking why she can’t have a big sister.  “Everyone else has a sibling” she insists, “in real life and in books.”

Thankfully, I can counter that no, not everyone has a sibling, not in real life, and not in books either!  The storybook universe is populated by plenty of precocious only children.  Little Bear is a favorite, and I might add he never seems to complain about being an only cub.  His human friend Emily seems not to have siblings either, but rather a doll that only she can understand.   Loads of books feature one child for simplicity’s sake, such as Rainy Day Together, a sweet story about a girl spending the day inside with her mom, or Frida’s Office Day, about a young ‘cat’ going to work in the city with her father ‘cat.’  Some stories are more self-consciously focused on the only child experience, such as My Only Child, There’s No One Like You (one in a series of ‘Birth Order’ books), and Mr. and Mrs. Smith Have Only One Child, But What a Child! and Here I Am, An Only Child, written from the child’s point of view.  I recently read these three books to my only child at the library, and while she sat patiently through them, she didn’t beg to borrow them, in fact, she was pretty bored by all this only child business.

Stories about only children are much more interesting when there’s more of a story than simply, here’s what being an only is all about.  The “Rose” series, the continuation of the Laura Ingalls Wilder “Little House” books, is our current favorite.  Rose is the only daughter of Laura and Almonzo Wilder.  Sure, sometimes she bemoans not having siblings, but the books follow her as she grows up in the Ozarks among other families, large and small, in the 1890s.  She plays in the creek, has crazy adventures with friends, rides her donkey to school, and wins the class spelling bee.  We love Rose! We read a new chapter every evening and we play “Rose and Laura” during the day.  Rose figures so strongly in our lives these days that she is basically one of my daughter’s best friends—actually, Daisy often plays that Rose is her big sister.  Read the rest of this entry »

Green Mama: One Hilltown Mother’s Journey into “Greendom”

Hilltown Families Contributing Writer

No Such Thing As a Perfect Parent

Nobody ever said parenting was easy, but we certainly don’t make it easier on ourselves … and I’m no exception.

I am a 38-year-old mother of three — almost-11-year-old twins McKenna and Max, and 8-year-old Shea — I am somewhat of a perfectionist in certain aspects of my life, and I am slightly competitive too. (People who are reading this and who know me are having a good chuckle right now.) So, OK … I am VERY competitive. Those traits have served me well in school, in sports, and in my careers, but as a parent? Let’s just say that sometimes those traits can cause a little anxiety, quite a bit of insanity, and a whole lot of guilt.

I used to handle my downfalls as a parent much better when my twins were younger. How was I supposed to know that if the childproof lock on the food cabinet broke that it would result in a “fluffernuttered” black lab? Or that if you leave Vaseline on a changing table outside your two-year-old twins’ bedroom that their heads would glisten for days, or at least until you and your husband discovered that vinegar would return their hair back to a normal sheen?

But after Shea was born, and all three kids began to get older, my parenting mishaps seemed to matter more, almost as if one little parenting mistake could set my kids on a path for failure, destined for a life of crime. And that’s when the guilt, that I know every parent has experienced at one time or another, began to set in …

Was I “really” doing the best job that I could as a parent? Was I reading enough to my kids? Playing enough? Teaching enough? Was I yelling too much? Expecting too much? Giving too much? The guilt became overwhelming and it was beginning to depress me … and as my husband has often said, “If mom’s not happy, nobody’s happy.” (I think that statement alone puts undo pressure on the mothers of the world, but that’s an entirely different topic.) But really, it was true — for a while.

My latest parental guilt fest occurred about a month ago, when I was watching an episode of Oprah. (No, I don’t have time to watch it daily, but I do TIVO it and try to sneak an episode or two in every weekend.) The episode previewed the new “Food Inc.” documentary about the food industry, and what we as a society were putting into our food and in turn, our bodies. Suddenly, the words of my friend, who I consider a “stereotypical hilltown” mom, were echoing in my brain: “Our kids only get one body in this lifetime, so I’m going to make sure I give my kids the best one I can.” She was talking about eating organically, and doing without the extra chemicals and preservatives that have become a major staple within the food industry. She wanted to ensure that she did everything she could to ensure that her kids were feeling the best they could physically and mentally.  Read the rest of this entry »

Guest Blogger: Lynne Marie Wanamaker (An Open Letter to Rachel Maddow)

An Open Letter to Rachel Maddow
By Lynne Marie Wanamaker, HF Guest Blogger

Dear Rachel Maddow,

It’s been a few years now, and I know you’ve had a lot of exciting experiences in the intervening time. But you might remember me as the listener who brought her puking baby into the radio station way back in the day when you were a morning dj and I was a stay-at-home mom, hanging on your every witticism to get me through those early daylight hours. Whole Foods had sponsored a free breakfast buffet at the studio that morning; you know a little spit-up wasn’t going to keep this nursing mama from all the wheat-free vegan French toast she could swallow.

I also called in a few times; once I told you my birth story, saying childbirth was akin to sexual and religious ecstasy. You seemed shocked to hear that. I was a little surprised that I said it out loud, let alone on the radio, but the combination of prolonged sleep deprivation and the lactation hormone cocktail sure does a number on a person’s verbal inhibitions.

I misplaced the baby once when we were on the phone too. I put her down and then she crawled away and I had to run through the house looking for her while trying to answer the quiz questions. I won the coffee mug though. Right from the start of this parenting adventure I’ve been a mean multi-tasker. I’m sure you can relate.

Your meteoric—and completely well-deserved; I mean no disrespect— rise to fame has given me pause to consider what can happen in different human lives over the same span of time. For example, one person may experience tremendous professional success and find herself on the covers of magazines, while another may spend the same five years periodically drenched in disgusting bodily fluids. One person can enjoy frequent and stimulating conversations with the likes of Ted Coppell, Barack Obama and John Stewart, while another can go weeks without speaking to another rational adult.

Sometimes the mind just boggles at what can be accomplished within a five year span: Get your own TV show! Influence the political thoughts of an entire nation during an historic election! Become a Jeopardy question! My job, and I’m proud to call it that, is a little less quantifiable. But I can accurately conclude that I’ve done at least 1500 loads of laundry in the past five years, and washed dishes by hand for the equivalent of 22 straight days. Such diversity in the human experience, even among women of the same nation, region, generation and sexual orientation! It’s downright inspiring.

It’s not like I haven’t been doing something important, though. I’ve been nurturing the soul of the next generation! Enriching my child’s life with my motherly presence! I’ve had some set-backs, but I’m sure that’s true of anyone. I know it took you a while to get that MSNBC gig. So I’m not going to feel bad that I forgot to teach my kid how to hold a fork properly. There’s no reason she can’t learn now; someday she’ll be able to eat a whole meal with utensils without biting her own hands. I can feel proud of my contribution to society, especially if I choose to forget reading that study that said kids actually want to spend less time with their parents, and the other one that said kids who go to daycare do just as well as kids who have a stay-at-home mom. And also if I disregard the economic predictions that college tuitions, currently at a dollar figure curiously close to my household income, will continue to skyrocket throughout my daughter’s adolescence.

Fortunately forgetting is not challenging for me. I seem not to have recovered the brain cells lost in the first three months of my child’s life, a time that I fondly call baby boot-camp. Just this week I lost an entire basket of clean laundry, which inconveniently contained all my underpants. Right now I can’t find the pile of handkerchiefs I painstakingly ironed yesterday. I draw a direct connection between events like this and that long-ago night when I couldn’t remember how a person could possibly tell time if they were far from a clock, pinned in an armchair by a suckling parasite. I knew there must be a method; maybe I could invent something that would be helpful, a little later, when I was not so tired? (Hint: wrist-watch.)

Motherhood is indeed transformational, and it transformed me into the kind of person who can’t recall the basic technology of modern life or keep track of inanimate objects. It was a little rocky adjusting to this seismic life change in the beginning. The nights were long but they always ended, and then your show came on the radio! You were there for me in those first days of stunning stupidity, and I’ll always be grateful.

Things are a little different now that my kid is more of a person than a parasite. Sometimes I can even form a thought, although she usually makes sure that I lose track of it with a well-timed interruption. I’ve read that you use earplugs at work so you can focus your brilliance on what you are reading and writing. If you ask me, your staff is a bunch of light-weights if they are bested by the equivilent of cotton-balls; a champion interrupter like my little darling could easily bypass a technicality like that. Have they tried climbing on your lap or breaking things around the studio? Jumping up and down right next to you is another tried and true strategy. I’m just saying.

I know you’re awfully busy now with all those radio and television shows, not to mention the book you’re writing. And I read in the New York Times that you still take the trash to the dump yourself. That’s nice. I still take out the compost most of the time, but sometimes my daughter helps now. She says it smells bad but I make her do it anyway. How many bad smells have I endured for her sake, I ask you? But I do have all that laundry waiting for me, and the disappearing handkerchiefs.

Thanks for this trip down memory lane. We should touch base again sometime, maybe five years from now? I’d love to hear what you’re up to.

Warmest regards,
Your friend and loyal fan,

Lynne Marie


About the Author

Lynne Marie Wanamaker is a karate black belt, a certified personal trainer and a feminist mama. She holds a B.A. in Women’s Studies and American Literature from the City University of New York. Lynne Marie blogs at www.mindbodymama.com, where you can also learn more about her personal training practice. She lives in a dilapidated house in western Massachusetts with her wife and daughter.

Having a Baby After Postpartum Depression

A Lonely Road: My Story and On-line Resources
By Lauren Hale, HF Guest Writer

Motherhood. What a powerful word and concept. To some mothers, there is nothing wrong with that word. For others, it dredges up painful memories, feelings of inadequacy, flashbacks of a delivery gone horribly wrong or the opposite of the expected outcome. For those Mothers, instead of feeling more connected to the world, they feel even more isolated and alone, blaming themselves for their failures and confused about why they are not happy like the Mothers in all the baby commercials on TV. However, they are not alone, not to blame, and they will be well. We need to reach out to them, give them our shoulders, our strength, and our hands as they travel the lonely road full of potholes called Postpartum Mood Disorders.

My entire life I wanted nothing more than to be a mommy, just like my mom. As a girl, I would place pillows under my shirt and pretend to give birth, lovingly caring for my infant pillow as gently as I could. Once it came time to birth a real baby however, I was strongly reminded by a line from Gone With the Wind, spoken by Prissy, Scarlett’s maid: “I don’t know nothin’ bout birthin no babies!”

My first labor was started with my water breaking the evening prior to an appointment at which we were to discuss induction as I was a week overdue. The following labor was intense and poorly managed by the hospital staff. The anesthesiologist attempted to place the epidural seven times during transitional labor and Pitocin administered without any staff offering any explanation. Once the epidural was placed, it quickly became apparent that my epidural was one sided and I repeatedly asked for an ice pack or heating pad to help with the pain but never received any assistance. At 8cm dilated, I felt the urge to push and started doing so quite involuntarily, again, with no assistance from staff. Once completely dilated, I pushed for nearly an hour and a half and nearly kicked the doctor in the head (yes, on purpose) during the birthing process.

My second labor was much easier and did not become traumatic until post-delivery when the Lactation Consultant discovered our daughter had a cleft palate and everyone piled out of the delivery room, leaving me exhausted and numb from the waist down and wondering where they had taken my daughter and if I would see her again. I sat alone for what seemed like ages with no communication from any staff. My husband finally returned to the room an hour later, able to update me on our daughter’s condition. This episode of PP OCD eventually landed me a weekend stay at a mental facility for observation. A negative reaction to the anti-depressant I had been on had caused me to spiral down even further. Once my meds were changed and after I stopped Exclusively Pumping for her at seven months postpartum, I began to improve and this is when I became involved in helping other woman through Postnatal Mood Disorders, which can strike 15-20% of all new mothers, with Military moms being at higher risk than most of the general population (Banas).

During my first year of sharing my story and building support for new moms in the same boat I had recently departed, I became unexpectedly pregnant. After reading Karen Kleiman’s book, What am I thinking? Having a Baby after Postpartum Depression, I started to blog (www.unexpectedblessing.wordpress.com) in an attempt to reframe the pregnancy in a positive light as well as share my journey for those who had boarded the same boat of being pregnant after experiencing a Postpartum Mood Disorder.

One of the more harmful side effects of Postpartum Disorders is the silence that goes along with the experience. Women are afraid to speak up to let anyone know they are not happy at a time when we are conditioned to be our happiest. They are also fearful of admitting any negative thoughts because someone may take their children or people will think they are a horrible mother. At my worst, I hated to go outside. I felt like a fish in a bowl at a pet store – everyone stared and knew my deep dark secrets and terrible thoughts that zoomed in and out of my head at any given moment. Repulsed by myself, I retreated even further into my dark world and built walls so no one else could see inside.

My third delivery went well until the time came to push and the epidural wore off. I found myself flashing back to my first delivery and completely lost control. My doctor was able to refocus my attention and I made it through. I am happy to report that this time around I have had a normal postpartum experience, something I am certainly not taking for granted.

RESOURCES

The most important resource for a new mother is family and friends who take the time to educate themselves and be supportive if the mother is experiencing problems adjusting.

Two websites that are wonderful for postpartum families are: www.postpartum.net or www.postpartumstress.com.

The first is Postpartum Support International. They have caring and knowledgeable Coordinators all around the world as well as a warm line you can phone and speak with a volunteer about how you are feeling.

The second link is Karen Kleiman’s site. Karen has developed a wonderful site full of wonderful suggestions and facts. She has truly dedicated herself to helping families in need. Please remember that you are not alone, not to blame, and you will be well with help. If you have a loved one or friend suffering with PPD, the best thing you can do is listen without judging. Sometimes they may not want to hear it but just keep listening, even if she is quiet.

Last, but certainly not least, here are some links regarding PTSD specifically:

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder After Childbirth: www.angelfire.com/moon2/jkluchar1995/

SOLACE: www.solace-southbay.org/

In closing, I urge all women to support one another for it is in supporting each other we will find our greatest strengths and virtues, sharpening our skills for motherhood and setting a wonderful example for generations to come.


Lauren Hale

A Yankee living in enemy territory, Lauren transplanted from NJ to VA and somehow ended up even further south in Georgia, marrying a good ol’ Georgia boy. Together they have three children age four and under. Any spare time Lauren has, she dedicates to supporting women and their families as they experience Postpartum Mood Disorders. She holds a B.A. in English Literature from LaGrange College (even further south than she is now!) and hopes for acceptance to UGA’s Social Work Graduate program for fall of 2009.

Rusty Teapot

In the Tree House

I empty the rusty teapot
of blue water, mud and leaves,
retrieve pink tea cups
from the sand box, play food
strewn through the woods.
I put cups back on their hooks,
arrange ham beside pepper,
cabbage and egg.
I would live here forever

but as I sweep
sand from the burners
on the painted toy stove,
sand my six year-old calls fire—
why can’t you just leave it?
I remember this house is hers,
and I have to give it back, leave
a little fire on the stove,
the sink, fire even on the floor.

By HF Contributing Writer, Amy Dryansky

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Valentine Contra Dance Fundraiser in Ashfield

(c) Hilltown Families - Valentine Contra Dance

A Heart-felt Dance Party

by Victoria Worth
for Hilltown Families

The songs are still humming in my head, and when I look down, my feet are still moving to a recent rhythm. Long after Saturday night’s Valentine’s Family Contra Dance has ended, the joyous gathering lingers on in my mind. At the Town Hall, good food filled our tummies downstairs, and when dinner was over, we joined a crowd of children and adults already moving to the beat of the music.

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