You’re Killing Me, September

by Abby on September 22, 2016

The September tsunami has hit. I had high hopes that this year would be different, and the back-to-school stress would be minimal. I tried. Oh, how I tried.

I went school-supply shopping — blessedly without the kids (their idea) — painstakingly digging through the picked-over bins at Target, Michael’s, Rite Aid, and Big Lots (yep, FOUR stores), looking for the exact right type of erasers, journals, and dry-erase markers.

back to school shopping comic

Fun fact: my kid’s school supply list demanded 12 dry-erase markers and they only came in packs of 10, and there was only one pack left, anyway. The list also stipulated 3-hole wide-rule paper and they only had college-rule with no holes.

I ran into a friend, wild-eyed and frantically clutching her kid’s supply list. “I need a white plastic pocket folder. They don’t even MAKE white folders! Do you see any? Text me if you do!” she shrieked across Target. School supply shopping is like the least fun scavenger hunt ever, where the prize is an empty checking account.

That’s unfortunate, because September is also fundraising month. You remember how I was brought to tears by giftwrap? Well, that’s just the start. We’re also being hit up multiple times a day for charity races, political fundraisers, and Girl Scout cookies. And what kind of monster can say no to a Girl Scout, I ask you?!

I should start a charity to replace items my sons lose at school. We are barely a month in and we’re already down one water bottle and a uniform sweatshirt. That I painstakingly applied iron-on name labels to, I might add. Do you know how many uniform sweatshirts my younger son lost last year? 5. That’s right, FIVE. That includes a pricey Gymboree one that he had for LESS THAN A WEEK.

So I did what any desperate, broke mom would do and pawed through the disgusting lost and found. Alas, no Gymboree sweatshirt. I was tempted to steal a Ralph Lauren one but I have morals. Also, it had that kid’s name ironed on it.

Guess what else September brings: homework. But wait. Someone remind me: do we like homework now or do we hate it? We hate it, right, because it takes away from quality time with family and playing outside and our kids are overworked and stressed enough already? Or do we like it because it reinforces learning, teaches them responsibility, and prepares them for college? Whatever, I hate it.

I hate homework because the rules keep changing. Are we supposed to let them do their own work or are we supposed to correct it for them? Because I’ve gotten stern emails from teachers saying both. Either parents are admonished for taking over the take-home projects and turning in work that first-graders CLEARLY could not have done themselves (ahem, a scale model of the White House made out of popsicle sticks). Or we’re scolded for not correcting their spelling. Which is it, educators??

BTW, who watches Odd Mom Out? You must. It’s delightful. There’s an episode where Jill, an Upper East Side New Yorker, goes to a birthday party in the neo-hippie enclave of Brooklyn, where the moms are still breastfeeding their 7yo’s and making placenta smoothies. Jill starts to tell her daughter how to spell “quinoa” and the Brooklyn moms all gasp. “You’re not supposed to tell them how to spell! … It hampers their creativity.” Watch Jill’s hilarious response here.

So my 5th grader comes home the other day in a panic. The science project he thought was due at the end of the month is actually due tomorrow. I check his binder, which has been set up according to a specific school-sanctioned system that’s only slightly more complicated than filing a tax return. No mention of the project on that day’s homework agenda. (Yes, there’s an “agenda.” It’s like a day planner with cartoons in the margins.)

I dig through his “in box,” which I have cleverly set up for each child in an attempt to corral the massive piles of paper that come home in their backpacks each day. I flip through the math quizzes, fundraising forms, requests for additional classroom supplies, and lice awareness letters. There it is, the science project assignment. Crap, it IS due tomorrow! And wouldn’t you know, Dad’s out of town on business and we have soccer practice tonight.

But that’s not all. Amidst tears and moaning and copious amounts of pretzels, I encourage my son to tackle his homework. (You’ve got to nip procrastination in the bud or it will come back to haunt you, take my word.) My other son has put on his PJs, is gorging himself on cheese sticks and ordering LEGOs off Amazon, judging by the sounds coming from his iPad.

We can’t find the laptop’s power cord, which causes a tense moment when we fear all his work so far will be lost. Frantic texts to Dad go unanswered. We find the cord! We go to print the paper and… we are out of printer ink. Frantic texts to a neighbor are answered! She prints the paper, brings it over and… it’s the wrong version. We email her the correct version, she prints it, and we make it to soccer practice in the knick of time.

As if the cleats and shin guards and socks weren’t enough gear to keep track of, we are now required to bring an alternate white T-shirt to practice because a parent complained about the “shirts vs. skins” scrimmages. Either it stifles their creativity or promotes negative body image, I can’t remember. What is this, Brooklyn?!

No, this is my life. This is September. And this is KILLING ME, people!!

P.S. I’m collecting money for a new charity called “BTS is BS.” It supplies boxed wine to moms stressed out by back-to-school. Can I put you down for a box or two?


I’ve Been Doing Self-Care Wrong

by Abby on September 7, 2016

Turns out I’ve been doing it all wrong. The whole time I’ve been an adult, and especially a mom, I have been approaching self-care the wrong way. But first let me just say that it took me a while to get comfortable with that term, “self-care.” It sounded so… cheesy? Touchy-feely? Indulgent? Far less appealing, anyway, than “working out” or “getting a massage.”

My son with cucumber slices over his eyes

But then I had two kids, and I was continually barraged with that old airplane metaphor people love to say to parents: “You have to put on your own oxygen mask first before assisting others.” Actually, sometimes it’s not a metaphor. On our last trip the flight attendant said this to my husband, who was sitting next to our kids. I was wisely across the aisle. He was offended. “Do I look like someone who doesn’t know that?”

Knowing it and doing it are two different things, however. I know that we all have to take care of ourselves and I even thought I was doing a pretty good job of it. I’ve been a life-long exerciser, I get enough sleep, and as a vegetarian for 20+ years, I eat pretty healthy, too. (Not including my late-night veggie straw habit. They’re basically potato chips in multicolored stick form, let’s be honest.)

But you know what’s interesting? Even though our culture claims to value self-care, I have gotten mixed messages about it over the years.

I work from home as a freelance writer and have ever since my kids were born. This allows me the flexibility to exercise during the day (after dropping off the kids at the gym childcare if they’re not in school). I have gotten a lot of “must be nice” comments, a lot of backhanded compliments about how “good” I am about working out, some side-eye as I wait for the kids’ bus in my yoga pants. “Oh, are you off today? I wish I had the time to exercise.” The subtext is: but I can’t because I have a real job.

Sleep is a tricky subject, too. Every parent I know will jump through hoops of fire to ensure their kids get enough sleep, but it stops there. For themselves, they view sleep as an indulgence. They brag about how little they get. “I was up till midnight working.” “I got up at 5:30 a.m. to make muffins for the bake sale.” “I never get more than 5 or 6 hours of sleep. I have too much to do.”

I’m embarrassed to admit I “sleep in” till 7 a.m. on weekdays, and maybe even till the shocking hour of 9 a.m. on weekends if the kids will leave me alone and watch cartoons. I have learned the hard way, though, that sleep is as necessary to my wellbeing as drinking enough water. (Lack of both has caused me to pass out and/or forget to sign checks.)

zen boy

I rarely even talk about my daily meditation practice because I don’t want people looking at me like some kind of weirdo. Reactions range from suspicious admiration (“Really? I’ve heard that’s supposed to be beneficial but I’ve never tried it.”) to eye-rolling from those who picture me chanting in front of an altar while burning incense.

I admit it took me a long time to get into meditation for all those same reasons. And there was a point when I simply couldn’t spare 10 minutes a day to meditate, my days were so packed with obligations. I only started when I read a book that said you could get the benefits from 7 minutes a day. (I know! Those extra 3 min. a day made all the difference… ha!)

It seems to me the only “acceptable” forms of self-care (for women, anyway) are mani/pedis, the occasional yoga class, and massages. Even so, I’ve heard women say they don’t tell their husbands when they get a massage because it feels too indulgent, like they did nothing all day. And several people I know say they’d never get a massage because it’s a waste of money. (Like my own husband.)

See? Self-care stigma abounds!

These are not the only forms of self-care, of course. I’m sure there are lots of people who do things like gardening or walking or reading who don’t label those activities as self-care but get the same benefits. One of my go-to stress relievers is to get outside in nature, preferably as far from other people as possible.

Miles kayaking

But here’s the part I was wrong about: I always got the impression that self-care is a reward, something you do AFTER the hard work of taking care of children or sitting through budget meetings. Or, if not a reward, then something necessary for recovery from the demands of our stressful lives.

As it turns out, self-care is actually what PREPARES you for the stressful events in life. I have learned this a few different times. First, when my husband was unexpectedly hospitalized for two weeks last summer, and again when he was laid off from his job this summer.

Both times, while I felt like I was hit with a tidal wave of anxiety and uncertainty, I was able to turn to the things that had become habit for help—sleep, exercise, meditation. There’s no way under those circumstances that I would have started these things if I hadn’t been doing them already. But they kept me grounded during extremely tough times. I had people say to me, “How are you not totally freaking out right now? If I were you, I would be.”

I now look at it like this: I didn’t implode from stress during these unexpected events because I had already laid the groundwork by years of practicing regular, intentional self-care—to get all woo-woo, touchy-feely about it. Believe me, that sounds as cheesy to me as it might to you. But it worked.

That’s another thing. I have always been a person who’s so obsessed with “what works.” If there aren’t scientifically proven benefits, I don’t want to waste my time. If there’s not an immediate payoff, what’s the point? If there’s no visible, measurable result, why bother? I’ve changed my thinking on this. My new mantra is, “Can’t hurt, might help.”

I mean, really. What’s the worst that can happen by going to bed 30 min. earlier, squeezing in a 20-min. walk, or focusing on your breathing for 10 min. a day? Are you going to regret doing those things? Are they going to keep you from doing other, more important things? No. They are not.

Self-care needs a PR makeover, in my opinion. The finger-wagging oxygen mask metaphor is getting old. The must-be-nice side-eye at people who walk the talk is tiresome. The mani/pedi Kardashian-ization of self-care is not helping. Neither is the om-chanting Lululemon-ization of it. So what’s the answer? How do we normalize what normal, healthy people should be doing anyway—namely, taking care of themselves as well as they take care of their jobs and families?

We can start by talking about it, and we can continue by prioritizing it. Not every day, not in every single way, not perfectly or even publicly if you don’t want to. But more often than not, more of us need to walk the self-care talk. Can’t hurt, might help.

LINK O’ THE DAY: This paddle board company started letting employees leave at lunchtime (with no pay cut) and increased revenues by 40%.

“When I tell people my team only works five hours a day, their response is always, ‘That’s nice, but it won’t work for me’,” says the CEO. But “having time to pursue your passions, nurture your relationships, and stay active gives you more emotional and physical energy overall—including to do your job well.”


Dreaming of Water

August 1, 2016

“Mama, sometimes I dream something that happens in real life.” “Really?” I don’t tell him then, but this has happened to me, too. A room, a rug, a place—snippets of subconscious that come to life at a later date. A flicker of recognition, a feeling of déjà vu. Where have I seen this before? Oh, […]

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Reflections on a Decade of Motherhood

June 8, 2016

My oldest son turns 10 today. I started blogging when I was pregnant with him. I’m glad I did, because I have a record of my thoughts and feelings as I made the transition to motherhood, memories that otherwise would have been blurred, misremembered, and even lost entirely to sleep-deprivation and aging brain cells. You […]

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On Cute Baked Goods, Folding Thongs, and Perspective

March 20, 2016

Somewhere along the line, women’s perspectives got majorly messed up. I’m not naming names (Sheryl Sandberg, Marie Kondo), but somehow we have absorbed the barrage of information and opinions coming at us and emerged with the idea that all successful women are killing it at Fortune 500 companies and folding their thongs. (Seriously! There’s a […]

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I’m Breaking Up With Winter

February 16, 2016

Winter and I do not get along. Oh, it starts out promisingly, like a new relationship. Those first fleeting flakes, glistening romantically against the evergreens. The cozy fires and hot chocolate. The sledding and impromptu get-togethers with neighbors and friends. It’s invigorating. A break from the routine. But then things start to decline. One snow […]

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The Blizzard of 2016 in Emojis

January 27, 2016

You may have heard we got some snow here in the Baltimore area. Up to 30 inches, to be precise. But on Friday when they cancelled school I was confused. Because there wasn’t any snow. Yet. So I cleaned my house and invited the neighbors over. Fun! By Friday evening the snow was falling fast, and […]

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‘You Might as Well Dance’

January 14, 2016
Thumbnail image for ‘You Might as Well Dance’

My last living grandparent passed away last weekend, just a couple of weeks after he celebrated his 103rd birthday. I’ve written about my grandfather before. He was a great storyteller. One of my favorites was about the time he ran away from summer camp and supported his solo adventures by entering and winning dance contests. His […]

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A Book for Creative Types Who Believe in Magic

January 6, 2016

I don’t buy many hardback books, let alone the week they come out, not because I don’t like to support authors but mostly because my shelf-space is already overcrowded with the entire Captain Underpants series and a perplexing number of nonfiction books about LEGOs. And also, because I don’t usually re-read books after I’ve read […]

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My Year of Saying Yes

December 29, 2015

Typically, women are told we need to learn how to say no. We do too much, take on too many things. We feel guilty if we don’t, and resentful when we do. Having just run through the holiday party/cookie exchange/teacher gift/charity giving gauntlet, I can certainly understand the importance of saying no. It’s just SO […]

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