Every Day is Take Your Child to Work Day in My House

I woke up this morning to find endless articles, tweets and Facebook updates about people and companies talking about Take Your Child to Work Day.  I’m glad no one told my daughters about this special holiday, because then they’d be sitting right next to me at the kitchen table as I write this post.  And then they’d bother me to make them food at some point.  And then they’d interrupt my conference calls, and probably end up on a computer playing a game or watching Annoying Orange – which come to think of it is how many people spend their workday.  But, really it got me thinking about the fake Mommy Wars and how in the midst of all this Stay at Home Mom/Work Outside the Home Mom business there are so many of us who work at home, or at a coffee shop, or during nap time or until school pick up time or any combination thereof.

My problem is not that my daughters need to have a Take Your Child to Work Day so they could get an appreciation of what I do.    No, my problem is that my daughters see me working way too much.  When you work from your home and for yourself like I do there is no office to leave behind at night.  There is no commute to clear your head, no downtime between working and seeing your kids, no demarcation of work and personal space in the home.  My “office” gets cleared away to set the table for dinner, or make room for homework, but it just moves into the living room instead.

My husband also brings home his work in the form of constant email and the occasional project.  But it’s not like my work, which revolves around social media and a website that constantly needs to be monitored.  My work colleagues live on Twitter and Facebook.  They are not people I see for a set time during the day – they are constantly flickering through my world.  And it’s harder and harder to shut it off when there is a Twitter party that needs joining, another pitch or email to get back to, an event to plan, a site upgrade to approve.  Everyone in my space is working round the clock, and it’s become the norm to expect an instant reply no matter the time of day.

So instead of taking my daughters to work today I will try and do the opposite and turn off my work at 5:00 like a 1950′s dad would do, and shut my laptop and maybe even stow it away.  The cell phone too.  And the tablet.  And – this is going to be harder than I thought…

Undercover Mother – My Secret Life As A Crime Fighting Mom on the Street

Last week when the media world was all aflutter with Steven Slater the Jet Blue flight attendant and his incredibly brash and dramatic exit down the emergency slide, beer in hand and profanities flying, everyone wondered if all civility and decency had finally been lost in air travel.   But, this past Monday, according to news reports,  a Southwest flight attendant scooped up a 13-month old baby after watching its mother slap it repeatedly on the face and body.  Now the debate goes on about whether or not she was allowed to do this (legally the answer is no) but I couldn’t help wonder what were the other passengers doing just sitting there?  And what would I have done?

Twice in my life I have reported nannies I have seen abusing a child.  Admittedly reporting a nanny is lot easier than reporting a parent.  There is after all a parent you can call.  A nanny is an employee who can be fired.  But you’d be surprised how many parents don’t want to hear it or refuse to believe it.  I was always tentative about reporting the abuse or neglect I saw on the playground or around the neighborhood until one of my WOHM friends fired her nanny for things I had known all along (not outright abuse, but total neglect of the child on the playground).  When I told her that I had seen those things but felt awkward telling her because she wasn’t a good friend yet and I wasn’t sure how she would respond she told me to please, please tell her if I ever saw anything.  But there I was afraid of appearing like a” sanctimommy” – as if I was going to be the bitchy Stay-at-Home-Mom telling the Working Mom that her nanny was terrible and somehow that would be construed as me judging her for having a nanny in the first place.  But, after my friend (who went on to become one of my close friends) told me that she wanted to know, was so relieved when she heard feedback from people who saw her children during the day, I decided that I would never again stay silent if I saw abuse going on.

The first nanny I reported was in charge of a girl in one of my daughters’ afterschool classes.  The first week in the changing room I heard her call the little girl “stupid” and berating her for moving too slow.  I kind of chalked it up to her having a bad day.  We have all unfortunately been there at wit’s end and I thought I’d give her the benefit of the doubt.  The second week was the same.  The third week I was late and she was escorting the child to class as my daughters and I hustled into the changing room.  We sort of nodded to each other in acknowledgement as we passed.  Another woman saw that exchange and rushed up to me.  She asked me if I knew the sitter and if I knew the parents.  I said I didn’t that we only had this class together.  She shook her head and said, “I have never, ever heard someone talk to a child like that.  I wish I knew her mother.”  Well, that did it.  When a stranger comes up to me confirming everything I had thought too I knew I needed to act.  Long story short, I reported it to the director of the program who forwarded the info to the mother.  After a few emails back and forth where the mother expressed her total and utter disbelief and I just told her simply what I had seen and heard and the other woman as well I thought that was that.  But, two weeks later the nanny was still there with the little girl.  On her best behavior and certainly with a paranoid demeanor, but they had obviously kept her on.  It was really disheartening.

The second time I reported a nanny took a little more sleuthing.  This child’s nanny had grabbed him by the hair, out of nowhere, and thrown him to the ground right outside our playground.  There were a group of nanny friends and their kids with her and as she proceeded to yank the boy up by his ear and curse at him all of her friends pointed out that a group of moms were around watching her.  Well this sent her off the deep end and she started cursing at us too ending with “They don’t know who the f*ck I am what are they going to do about it?”  Well, that was like challenging me to a duel.  After finding out from the child on the sly at the playground what school he went to I emailed the principal of the school.  She immediately got back to me.  I described the child and the nanny as best I could, she sent me a picture to confirm.  Thankfully this nanny was fired and the principal told me the parents were very, very grateful.  Although the saddest part of this was that when I confirmed which child it was the principal said, “I’m not surprised.”  Really.

So, those are my two stories.  There are hundreds of them at I Saw Your Nanny, a website where people can report nanny abuse and even submit a cellphone pic when there is just no way for you to figure out who the parents are.  And please, I am not a nanny basher.  I have friends with incredible nannies – women who are the most kind-hearted, generous people you’ll ever know.  And when I used to work with nannies at a former job I heard all kinds of boss horror stories.  I know. The Nanny Diaries didn’t begin to tell the real or right story.  But, this is not about that.  This post is just to say don’t feel helpless when you see a child in need.  It might take a few extra steps or couple of hours of your time but is there anything more worth it?

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If You Knew Suzy – Could You Be Objective About Your Mom?

What will your children say about you when you die?  What would you want them to know?  These are a couple of the questions swirling around my brain since I recently finished reading If You Knew Suzy, A Mother, A Daughter, A Reporter’s Notebook, a memoir by Katherine Rosman, a journalist at the Wall Street Journal.  (Aside from being a kick ass culture reporter I should add in the interest of full disclosure that Ms. Rosman (Katie) is both a friend and by way of the mystical forces of Jewish Geography she is tangential family.)  If You Knew Suzy is not your typical memoir, and I don’t just mean that there is no abuse, addiction and giant AHA moment ala Oprah (there isn’t).  What’s unique about If You Knew Suzy is that it has none of those melodramatic cliché elements that seem to permeate every memoir yet is completely compelling and moving.  It reads with the kind of clarity and insight you’d expect from a Wall Street Journal reporter and the kind of humor and exasperation you’d expect from a smart, savvy, sassy daughter.

After Katie’s mother Suzy died from a long and grizzly battle with lung cancer Katie decided to deal with her grief by doing what she knew how to do best – go out and research her mother’s story.  Her mom was a very private person and Katie set out as a reporter, not just a grieving daughter, to find out what her mom was all about underneath the oft repeated family folklore and her perfectly fit, coiffed and couture ready appearance.  I’m not going to get into the details here about the beautiful and poignant moments Katie uncovers; the people her mother touched, nurtured and in some cases saved and the incredibly funny moments that only a daughter can fully revel in.   The book is full of these wonderful and sometimes painful stories, but even more than that it is about a daughter discovering her mother as a person.

It’s a funny thing reading a memoir about a mom written by a friend who was her daughter.  Our moms are from the same generation of 1970s moms and Katie and I are exactly the same age.   It would be easy to read from the daughter’s point of view, yet I am also a mother and so many of the issues of identity and worth still come into play today just as starkly as they did in the 70s.

After reading If You Knew Suzy I was left with the nagging questions I posed at the beginning of this post.  What do I want my daughters to think about the life I’ve led, the choices I’ve made and how much of myself do I want to reveal to my children?  As a Stay-At-Home Mom, and now a Stay-At-Home Writer (or Stay-At-Starbucks writer?) I can see my daughters try to make sense out of what I do and I welcome their questions.  Yet I think there needs to be a sense of mystery about your parents.  That day when you realize that your parents are also people is a disappointing, scary and sad day.  I actually shredded all of my old journals – the box of 20 or so of them chronicling my entire pre-adolescence through college life that survived move after move.  I decided that I didn’t want my children to some day find them and “discover” their mom as a kid.  No, that was my life and mine it will remain.  On the other hand, I hope my daughters never stop asking questions and looking for answers.  And if those questions are aimed at me I guess I should be flattered that they’re hoping there are answers worth finding.

In an ideal world if they ever decided to look more closely into my life and the kind of woman I was I hope they do it with the joy, tenacity and wit that Katie Rosman pulls off in If You Knew Suzy.  And I have to hope for myself that I create a life that is worth finding out about.  It doesn’t have to be fabulous or flashy but at the very least a life that had some passion and meaning.  After all, Joan Crawford had one of the most fabulous lives ever – and look how her daughter’s book turned out.

By the way, don’t just take my word about why you should read If You Knew Suzy: here’s what the true critics have to say:

The New York Observer

Elle Magazine

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Motherhood Does Not Come With Sick Days

Rebecca It starts obviously enough, a cough and sudden burst of sneezing or big watery eyes and flushed cheeks, one of my kids is sick and happily looking forward to a sick day at home.  I mentally delete all of the things on my to-do list for the next day knowing that I will not get to any of them.  I probably won’t even be able to leave the apartment. At this point I’m so used to the adjustment in our house when one, or both, of my kids is sick that it barely registers as a surprise when it happens.

My daughters don’t like to be sick, but now that they’re in first grade I can tell that they love the idea of a sick day.  As twins they relish the unbroken full day of one on one attention from me.  They are natural patients; lounging on the couch swaddled in blankets, drinking juice with a straw and commandeering the DVR to watch TV on an otherwise forbidden weekday.  I admit I indulge them, realizing every day that these moments of pure childish dependence are growing scarcer and scarcer as my girls grow older.  I also know that I will not catch whatever germs are creeping all over them, festering in their snotty tissues, spewing from their coughs.  After all I’m the mom – I’m immune to all that.  Until of course, I’m not.

And so I found myself this past week with a fever, the chills, a sinus infection and basically sick enough to need a sick day.  The problem of course is that as a stay at home mom there is no way to phone in a sick day.  The bigger problem was that my daughter was home sick as well.  We muddled through it the two of us.  Luckily she was on the mend while I was just beginning to get the brunt of it.  I could manage the basics – getting her food, drinks and medicine.  I let Webkinz and endless computer time take care of the babysitting and entertaining.  We even managed to bundle up and taxi over to pick up my other daughter from school (thank you Dayquil).

My daughter reluctantly went back to school the next day, having been fever free for 24 hours as she so carefully counted in case she could convince us that it had only been 23 and a half.  I was feeling better but not good by any stretch.   That day spent at home sick with a sick kid left me wishing for a real sick day – a day of solitude, of nothing but pajamas, bed and old movies on TV.  Basically, a day free of responsibilities even if it came without the ability to breathe out of my nose.    However, something about a pile of dirty laundry, a bunch of writing not done and emails unanswered took the fun out of guilt free convalescing and I was soon spinning around the apartment in full mom mode.    I guess a benefit of motherhood is that I’ve become more resilient.  Or maybe it was just the buzz from all those decongestants…

This post originally appeared on nycmomsblog

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The Momiform Makeover

MomMy daughters’ field trip seasons are in high gear.  Every week it seems we are trekking to another zoo, aquarium, wet land refuge or theater.  In my stay at home mom guilt-daze I feel compelled to go on each and every one of them.  Since I have twins this means that I am often piling into a school bus with my bag lunch in hand at least once a week.  And, my daughters seem to appreciate it.  They like the comfort of having me there, know that they can hit up a vending machine since I’m there with spare change, and they get to pick a partner instead of waiting to be chosen themselves.  But, last week one of my daughters upped the ante.  While I was getting dressed to go on a Lincoln Center field trip she came into my room eyed me up and down and made a face.  “Can’t you dress pretty today?” she asked.  When I stared at her in surprise she said, “You know, not fancy, but not jeans OK?”

The sad thing is I knew exactly what she meant, and she was right. They say that Einstein wore the same thing everyday so that he wouldn’t waste time thinking about such unimportant things like clothes.  As a stay at home mom I have fallen into the same rut for a similar reason – its just easier not to think about it and pull on the jeans and sweater to get everyone out the door and on with our day on time.  Now, I am happy to say that I don’t own “mom” jeans and I don’t think I’d be corralled into some mom makeover, but I have come to stop thinking about any fashion identity or style since becoming a mom.  It was a gradual decline led by the fact that having twins made me more housebound in the beginning, and then by the hours, days and years spent at the playground.  Lets face it, when your main criteria for shoes is can they get doused by sprinklers, or will my feet hurt after pushing a double stroller up and down the city streets all day, you stop looking at the 3 inch wedges and start looking for the supposedly cute “athletic-inspired” ones.  Yuck.

There is of course another side to the fashion malaise and that is good old fashioned stay at home mom guilt.  The guilt that says I’m not earning any money so how could I possibly spend it on “frivolous” clothes.  And moms are a judgmental bunch.  I’ve heard the sneering at the mom who shows up for drop off decked out like the latest Neiman Marcus catalog, or the head shaking over the mom teetering in heels at the playground.  I’m not sure when, but at a certain point a momiform has set in for the stay at home mom and, like any uniform, its pretty much defining me as my job.

Now my daughters are in first grade leaving me free to be an adult, a writer, a woman – not just a mom – for a good portion of the day.  I can no longer blame my fashion doldrums on having to be completely practical.  Now I have to refocus on me, on who I want to be and what I want my clothes to reflect.  I still have the same financial guilt over shopping for myself, but I have also come to realize that if I want to start considering myself as a serious writer once again, as a woman engaged in the world not just the playground, then I need to dress the part.  Its not a role with a clearly defined uniform, but that is what makes it more interesting and quite honestly, fun.  I’m not tossing the jeans just yet, but hopefully I’ll look forward to deciding what to wear each day and not see it as a waste of time.  And who knows, maybe Einstein would have had a richer life if he had had a striped tie in his closet after all.

This is an original nycmomsblog post.

This post was nationally syndicated by McClatchy/Tribune

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Wishing for a Homemade Halloween

4 There are many different forms of maternal guilt.  The too much TV, processed food guilt.  The formula vs. breastfeeding guilt.  The not enough quality time in the day guilt.  I don’t have any of that.  In general I find guilt to be a waste of time emotion.  But, then Halloween comes around and I am awash in an inexplicable, overpowering guilt – the guilt over not making my daughters’ Halloween costumes from scratch.

I know in the grand scheme of things buying your child’s Halloween costume at the store or from a catalog is perfectly acceptable, but I can’t shake the feeling that this is the ultimate cop out in a mass consumer world.  The Halloween costumes I remember the best from my youth were the ones that my mother made.  These are the ones that took both imagination and planning.   Some were successful; like the time I was a can of Tropicana orange juice and my best friend was a can of Delmonte peas.  Some were not so successful; like the time I wanted to be Olivia Newton John at the end of Grease (in the slutty, greaser outfit.)  My mother put me in a black leotard and tights for that one and I ended up looking more like Marcel Marceau than Sandy.  But, no matter what, come Halloween a costume was made and looked like none other on the streets of Brooklyn.

Its hard to persuade your child to don a homemade outfit when the store bought one is so shiny and perfect, a vision right out of TV.   Even worse, its impossible to fight against the dreaded princess costume – all frills and poufy layers, glittery and generic at the same time.  There is something so blah about seeing the parade of princesses up and down the streets with the same exact costume.   The color may vary but its the same thing none the less.  No one remembers the girl in the princess costume, but they all remember the kid dressed like an ipod.

So, we have improvised.  A store bought costume with a little customization thrown in.  One year my daughter was a unicorn which we purchased on ebay, but we attached a doll size baby carrier to it and put in a baby stuffed unicorn so at least she was a mommy unicorn.  The next year I had a homemade costume breakthrough when my daughter decided to be a tropical tree.  Her preschool did not allow stuffed animals from home to come to school, and my daughter was basically trying to figure out a legitimate way to smuggle them in.  I dressed her all in brown, built a nest in her hair out of yarn and filled it up with fake birds from Chinatown.  Then I sewed fake vines all over her and wrapped a toy monkey around her arm.  It was a costume she will never forget, not just because she was completely unique but because she was so incredibly proud of creating it.

This Halloween my daughters want to be a cat and a pirate.  They both ended up buying their costumes.  It was hard to say no and insist on making their costumes when they were both so excited about buying the ones they saw in the store.  But, hopefully we will be able to twist and tweak them, make them a little more personal and specific.  In the end I know that this homemade costume guilt is like most mom guilt, pointless and completely adult-centric.  For the last three years one of my daughters was some variation on a princess.  She was thrilled to dress up in that mass produced dress.  And, in the end, that is what Halloween is all about – the act of dressing up and being a kid out trick or treating with the feeling that you are something or someone else – homemade or not.  Though I’m secretly hoping that next year one of my daughters will want to be a washing machine or a lego or something that we can create together from scratch.  Until then I’ll be eating left over Halloween candy and dreaming of homemade Halloweens gone by.

This is an original nycmomsblog post