Reflections on my chaotic life of minivans, tantrums, deadlines, and diets ... a life I wouldn't trade for the world.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Working Moms and Quality Over Quantity

Does it ever get any easier?

This morning, I couldn't let my little girl go. I'm pretty sure she was super-glued to my hip, her chubby little hands around my neck. I knew she would be OK, that she would forget me as soon as I left her sight, but would I be OK?

As a parent to two small children, having to work is a blessing and a curse. I don't mind work--in fact, sometimes I look forward to Mondays as an end to a chaotic, exhausting weekend. I like talking to adults, eating lunch by myself, and using the bathroom on my own schedule (what a luxury!). I like that I can contribute to our household income.

The stats on working moms in 2011
But when my son says "Mommy, play?" as I am rushing to get out the door, my heart breaks. When I have to put my daughter down because I can't possibly get my stuff together with one hand, I am flooded with guilt. Guilt that I leave them with virtual strangers in a germ factory 40 hours a week. Guilt that I am missing their firsts and their lasts. But mostly guilt that I am not equipped to be a stay-at-home mom, and this is the best situation I can give them to maintain our collective sanity.

As much as I fantasize about not working, that fantasy usually involves afternoon pedicures and leisurely mornings at the coffee shop--not tantrums and diapers and endless pleas for snacks. I just can't do that 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Not to mention, working puts me on a level playing field with my husband. When he gets home from work, he knows that I, too, recently got home from work, and we are equally responsible for childcare. If I stayed at home, I'd be eager to thrust the kids at him and head for the hot tub.

Most important, though, is the fact that I really, really love seeing my kids when I pick them up at daycare. I relish the 2.5 hours between pickup and bedtime that I get to spend with them, as chaotic as that time is. Yes, sometimes I want to pull my hair out, trying to prepare dinner and watch them at the same time, but it's not out of exhaustion from being with them all day; it's because I just want to be with them and not cooking dinner.

I have several friends who love being at home with their kids, and have made a wonderful life of it. I have other friends who miss work terribly. So if you're a new mom weighing whether to go back to work or not, there is no right answer--only a right-for-you answer.

Friday, May 18, 2012

In Defense of Defensive Cycling

In response to the recent death of Kathryn Rickson, I'd first like to say how awful I feel for her family and friends. I can't imagine what they are going through. I just know that every time my husband leaves on his bike for the traffic-heavy commute to work, my heart races a bit, and I wait for confirmation he made it to work. I've seen drivers acting as though they own the road, sometimes yelling out their windows for me to get out of their way. I've been threatened by a driver for giving her a look when she parked in the bike lane. I even ran into a car once as it cut me off in the bike lane, resulting in an ankle strain and fried nerves on my part. It's a scary world out there for us bike commuters, and we put our lives at risk every time we head out the door.

A bike box like the one at the
intersection where Kathryn Rickson died
On the other hand, we cyclists carry a lot of responsibility for whether we make it to our destination in one piece. We can't ever let our guards down. A bike lane is a wonderful thing, allowing us some security that we are protected from normal traffic, but a bike lane doesn't protect us from human nature.

In the case of Rickson's death, there is a chance the truck driver just didn't see her. Maybe he looked, but she was in his blind spot. Maybe she was going faster than he thought. Whatever happened, I am sure Rickson isn't the only one whose life was ruined.

A 140-pound person is no match for a compact car, let alone a 30,000-pound truck. That is just the nature of the beast; no matter what our legal rights are as cyclists, fast-moving metal boxes will always win in a fight. And the easiest way to get hurt or killed is to assume a driver has seen you. The point is, some of the onus is on us cyclists to ride defensively.

I really feel for Rickson's family, especially her parents, who lost a daughter who had a long life ahead of her. But I hope cyclists will not react by persecuting motorists and truck drivers as a group, but instead focus on what can be done to increase bike safety--including a better, safer infrastructure for cyclists, as well as defensive-cycling education.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Quality Time

"Mommy run!" giggled my son.

I was in a denim skirt, and I didn't think it would shed water very well, but run I did. I ran through the very edge of the sprinkler's reach instead of right through the middle. To C, it was all the same--total comedy.

I dubbed yesterday Mommy-Son Day. My only agenda was to spend as much time with my 22-month-old boy as possible, time that has been hard to come by since his little sister was born in January, and since I went back to work.

We started the day off with a trip to the zoo to see the lions (off exhibit) and maybe the giraffes (also off exhibit). We found success with the elephants, who were outside basking in the sun, and C was proud to yell "eh-punts!" to everyone passing the exhibit. Mostly, C just wanted to run around, and paid little attention to the animals. I think C was just happy to have me to himself, regardless of where were were or what we were doing.

After lunch and a long, well earned nap, C woke up ready to go back outside. I needed to water the garden, so I happily agreed to laze around the backyard while C ran around. Well, as anyone with a toddler knows, lazing around was not to be had. C discovered that sprinklers are fun AND cooling, and simply must be enjoyed by all, including his reluctant mother.

C ran circles around the raised bed, soaking his fresh shirt, shorts, and leather shoes. He laughed non-stop, and begged me to run with him. So I did. And in the process, I realized how much I had forgotten about childhood--that running barefoot through sprinklers is really, really fun. That not caring how wet you get, or whether you might step on something unappetizing, was par for the course at age 2.

I also discovered a few things about C during our day together: He likes to push the stroller, which I'd never seen him do up until yesterday. He is generally happy and easy to please as long as he has my full attention and freedom to run. He is happy to wear his hat and sunscreen if it means more time outside. He will take off without warning, and runs surprisingly fast.

Life has been hectic since C's little sister entered our world, and our attention has been spread thin, but yesterday I vowed to myself to always make some one-on-one time with my kids at every opportunity. While sometimes it seems the spit-up and tantrum years will never end, I do not want to miss a single moment.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Yes, I Am Mom Enough: Why Attachment Parenting Isn't for Me

Anyone who has turned on the TV or computer in the past day has seen the latest Time Magazine cover, which shows a mom breastfeeding her toddler son, who is standing on a chair. The picture has sparked a lot of controversy among mothers and non-mothers alike, bringing to light two issues: the public display of a woman's breast, and the breastfeeding of a boy nearing kindergarten age.

Feeding my hours-old daughter
On the first issue, I applaud both the magazine and the brave mother on its cover. Yes, Time's motive was likely to spark the very controversy it did, thus increasing newsstand sales, but it also shed light on an issue that all breastfeeding mothers confront at one point in their breastfeeding careers: hide the hooters or let them shine? Breastfeeding is one of the greatest privileges of being a mother. It helps form an unbreakable bond between mother and child, one that no one else can experience. Breastfeeding is also the most natural act, and therefore should never be a source of embarrassment. The breasts (men, cover your ears) are designed solely to feed, despite what you see in the Victoria's Secret ads.

Some people take a different stance.

"Thank you for covering up," one waitress told me as I fed my daughter under a nursing cover. "Some women just let them hang out, and the men at the bar get all riled up."

I didn't know what to say. Here was a 20-something waitress who, by the looks of her narrow waist, had never had a child. I could get angry, and tell her all women have the right to breastfeed in public, covered or not. After all, I just chose to cover up because I am never one to want attention from random people. Or I could nod and smile and brush it off, knowing that I was only perpetuating the idea that breastfeeding is something that should be kept concealed by covering up my own breasts up.

It's the other part of the Time Magazine picture that really raised hackles: the breastfeeding of the woman's toddler son.

I have two children under two. With the first, I went back to work full time at three months. With the second, I went back to a part-time job at three months. In both instances, I spent meant countless hours of quality time in a locked conference room with my friend Medela Pump in Style. I had to work, and I wanted my children to have breastmilk, so it was the only option. 

However, I know I can't sustain the pumping thing forever, and my youngest may eventually join the formula-fed crowd. If I could skip the window of time where formula is the only option besides breastmilk, I would be elated. But even if I were a stay-at-home mom with the flexibility to breastfeed full-time, I cannot see myself breastfeeding past a year. My mind can't get past the awkwardness of feeding a child who could theoretically ask for the breast and lift up my shirt. This is just my issue. I do honestly believe that breast is best, to a point. 

Parents who follow the theories of attachment parenting believe that kids should be on the breast as long as they want to; that is, the child decides when to wean. They also believe that children should sleep in the same bed as their parents, that they should be "worn" (e.g. in a sling) instead of put in a stroller, and that they should never be left to cry. 

I don't fully buy into these ideas, as I believe they detract from a child's independence and self-reliance. I also believe they can lead to a lack of an authoritative role for the parents. Not to mention, sleeping with two kids in the bed could drive a literal and figurative wedge into my marriage. Even if I did believe in the theories of attachment parenting, it just isn't practical for most working parents, and it doesn't work for me.

But, I do not judge those who live by these rules. I have friends who were raised this way and turned out fine. Parenting is a series of decisions, and all of us parents do what we think is right for our children at any given time. Motherhood is the hardest job I have ever had, and I struggle every day to do what is right, and if anyone ever tried to challenge that, you'd see another side of me come out.

That being said, as uncomfortable as I would be feeding my walking, talking son in public, I don't fault the woman on the cover of time. She is doing what she believes is right for her son, and no one has the right to judge her for that.

So more power to the woman on the Time cover, who simply put on display what nature intended. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Runkeepin' it Real

The score is 2-1, Andersons. We're off to a good start.

On April 30, my sister proposed a friendly challenge between the team of her and her wife, and the team of me and my husband. The goal is to work out as many times as possible in the month, with the winning team earning a loser-sponsored dinner at the end of the month.

The rules:

  • Each workout must be at least 20 minutes long
  • Each workout earns one point, whether it's 20 minutes or 60 minutes
  • Walking counts, but the intent must be to work out--not take a leisurely stroll

Me in my previous life ...
Now, you might be thinking 20 minutes is not very long. Exactly. Our mantra is "no excuses" (a la Biggest Loser).  I have two kids under two, a busy part-time job, a fledgling freelance writing career, and a house to maintain. My days of 5-hour bike rides are over. I am more likely to get out and exercise if I know I only have to squeeze in 20 minutes to earn a point. Every little bit helps to whittle away this spare tire.

How are we logging our workouts? We use Runkeeper, a web-based app that helps you attain your fitness goals. You can use Runkeeper to track your running, biking, and swimming workouts, as well as other sports, such as skiing and hiking. It even lets you track workouts done inside, such as on the elliptical.

Do you need peer pressure to motivate you to get off the couch? You can create Street Teams in Runkeeper, which enables a Facebook-like social experience, complete with status updates. You can also search for other Runkeeper users nearby and possibly reach out to them to keep you motivated. Runkeeper integrates with Facebook, as well, so you can post your latest fitness endeavors for the world to see.

And the piece de resistance: Runkeeper also has a mobile interface for iPhone and Android, which uses GPS to track your mileage as you work out. Your phone will call out your splits, based on the settings you've selected (be sure to turn down the volume if you don't want people to hear you just ran a mile in 15 minutes). I've found the GPS to be kind of testy, but that could just be my phone. For the most part, mobile use has been seamless.

There is a free and a paid version of Runkeeper. I have only used the free version, which has been plenty for me, but I understand that the paid version offers "real-time" workout tracking. As though running more slowly than most people can walk weren't humiliating enough, I could potentially broadcast my workouts to my friends, some of whom have a laundry list of athletic endeavors that put me to shame.

Long story short, I am looking forward to the dinner Bill and I will so deserve at the end of the month. No excuses!