The Dinner Drill

July 14, 2010

I’ve never been a cook. I don’t have the gene that causes a person to derive pleasure from constructing a meal and watching people’s pleasure as they scarf it. I love to eat, and I can find ways to enjoy meal – making – but really – alien territory for me, mostly.

(Just ask the people who have had to eat my bizarre food combinations.)

Anyway, as a single working mother, I have to make dinner every single night – for two picky children, and sometimes for adults who require more sophisticated creations. Yikes.

One of my favorite ways to deal with this daily challenge is as pictured – my fresh fruit and veggies with hummus and cheese plate, easily turned into a ridiculous happy face, easily put together, and easily ramped up into something more spectacular. (I would assume.)

Make Me Dinner!
I will never forget the radio story I heard on NPR about the place in Spain where mamas whose children have left the nest but who want to cook big, traditional meals have formed an online service where young professionals who don’t have time to cook can order this home-cooked food – even form a steady relationship with a local mother.

Collective Solution
Wouldn’t that be fantastic? I would like to see more collective-type enterprises like this start up in Cville. I’m thrilled with the new local Retail Relay service – that’s the right idea – a grocery delivery service that shops at a variety of local stores and CSAs.  Sure, Cville has a bunch of stay-at-home moms and those who can afford help, but there’s a lot of working parents, too.

Toy shares, toy exchanges, CSAs… all heading in the right direction. I don’t think the barter thing took off… but I like the idea…

The only problem: I don’t know that I have either time or money to put in the pot. Unless you can somehow quantify my children – certainly their health and wellbeing is worth something to the larger society?

Thoughts, ideas?

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Those French, or Put Your Children Last

January 12, 2010

So, apparently the French don’t put their children first.

Those French!

I heard about a magazine article written by an American woman raising her child in France and discovering that the parents there expect their children to learn to accommodate them – not the other way around. Which means:

  • – no sippy cups
  • – no childproofing
  • – walking strollers in high heels
  • – no toys all over the place
  • – going to bed on time so parents can have their adult time

And more.

Wow! What a good idea! Certainly, this doesn’t just sound like some random invention of those cranky Europeans; it reminds me of ‘how things were done in the old days’ on this side of the pond.It used to be like that here – but in the last thirty years or so, we’ve gotten into this mindset that we ‘do it for the children’ to the point where things are pretty out of balance.

The outcome?

1) Our kids grow up with an inflated, egotistical sense of entitlement. With a “soccer mom” around, who needs a servant or a slave? Kids learn that their whims, needs, get catered to; they get cell phones and rides on demand; the family schedule revolves around their schedules; the family vacations, the house location – all of it is about what’s “best” for them.

2) Women become identified as “mothers” only – which, here, is tantamount to second-class status / near servility. Harried, exhausted, stressed, and completely banished to the sphere of children (playgrounds, PTA meetings, soccer practice, playdates, dr visits) whether working or ‘stay-at-home,’ the mother/wife/woman is a domestic servant. Her life, her needs, her friendships, her sexuality, her career, her hobbies, are LAST on the list. Not only does this ruin her as a person, but it sets up her sons and daughters to believe that this is the predictable status/end of every woman.

Let’s re-prioritize and re-balance our homes and our lives. Without a solid identity, a solid marriage or romantic partnership, without friends and a life and being valued as a person first, a woman-mother can’t be the example to her children for how to live a happy, fulfilled existence.

So: Let the kids struggle a bit with the regular glass. Teach the kids not to interrupt you when you’re on the phone. Make your children adhere to a sensible bedtime. Instill in your children a sense that they are part of a community, a household, a world – not that they are the driving center of it.

And they will grow up to respect you, others, and eventually themselves – and the world! – and you, likewise, will respect – and not dislike – your grown, adult children. If this doesn’t work: Send them off to France.


Ode to UniTaskers Everywhere

August 25, 2009

Stanford did a study and found multitaskers are less productive!

Now, “working moms” tend to promote themselves to the workforce as being ‘cable ready’ with the multitasking abilities employers seem to crave like candy these days – so why, you ask, am I joyous about this study, which might be damning to those of us who have to Do Everything All the Time?

Because I think multitasking is often a sham. Very few people really do it, and very few people really do it well.

Usually, multitasking means:

– I’ve got a good excuse for forgetting something

– I’m too busy to deal with you

– I can’t prioritize

– I’m not focused

– I’m disorganized

– I don’t know how to say No

– I’m reluctant to hire enough staff, so instead I’ll make one person do everything

– I believe that stress is a way of life and I’m willing to put myself and others through it

These days, if you use a computer, you’re a multitasker. You have ten tabs open, you’re Twittering and Tumbling and Fb-ing and emailing and maybe even working; you’re deleting all the Forwards of cute cuddling animals from your inlaws while you discuss the peanut policy at your kid’s preschool on the phone while you instant message your office mate about the toilet paper missing in the bathroom while you scribble a dinner recipe on your calendar.

But if I were an employer, I would want to know if, counter to what is now the norm, can you focus and do one thing at a time and do it well? Can you be thorough? Can you complete a task?

I personally am one of those people who can get lost in a novel that I’m writing or reading, get wrapped up in a daydream or idea that I’m developing, get honed in on a job task I’m finishing, and burn the green beans on the stove and not notice my toddler is peeing on the floor and totally miss just about everything else. It’s a curse – and a gift – that I have that kind of ability to concentrate amidst chaos. One that I don’t tout to prospective employers, because it sounds antithetical to the multitasking they desire.

But sometimes you need to be able to switch gears from one to the other.

So I say – if you’re a true multitasker, awesome.

But if you’re really a better unitasker – be brave. Admit it. Own up to your truth. And cite this study if you need to for proof that not being great at multitasking doesn’t mean you’re a poor worker.

Now being a  mother… I need to learn to put the book down when I’m cooking…


Workforce News: When it helps to be underpaid, underemployed

July 22, 2009

Apparently, men are losing their jobs more than women are during this “economic downturn.”

Not surprising, really – because most of the jobs lost have been in the construction and manufacturing sectors, which are mostly populated by men.

The USA Today article notes that

Women are more likely to work part time than men, perhaps making them less vulnerable. Approximately 25% of women work part time vs. 12% of men, Mission Residential chief economist Richard Moody says.”When employers are actively cutting hours for the workers they do keep, it could be that those already working part time have a bit more security … as they are not likely to be receiving benefits and in general, are likely to cost employers less than full-time workers,” he says.

It’s great to know there’s an upside to being the underdogs in the workforce, isn’t it?

Now, the NPR story did wonder if, as women become the primary breadwinners of US households, if employers will start offering more childcare/eldercare benefits – and if the equal pay cause will get a boost.

I doubt it. Not to be bitter, but it doesn’t look promising. If the reason women are more employed now is because they make up the majority of teachers, nurses, health aides, secretaries, housecleaners, daycare providers, etc., it’s not exactly like they’re in some power position to broker additional perks.

And those of us who are not in a two-parent household, while we may have that part-time job, well, while that’s better than not being employed at all (maybe?), not having benefits or the wages of a full-time job may push us or keep us hovering around the poverty line – and stressed out.

And, isn’t it funny?

– That women are still the primary caregivers for children and the elderly – when are men going to fully engage in this? Until they do, I don’t see employers adapting policies to help with either –

– We still have such gender-segmented workforce populations? Will that ever shift? Will the guys down in IT ever get more than one geeky girl? Will the construction crew ever feature a host of buff women? Our stereotypes are so intimately tied to the jobs we do – still…


The Image of a Working Mother

July 3, 2009

This might be too self-gratifying for you, but as I face the imminent end of nursing my youngest child, I have to give props to myself and anyone else who has found themselves doing the Ultimate MultiTask:

– Working on her computer with right hand

– While in heels and skirt, eyeing her dress shirt, waiting next to the hot iron

– Taking a business call on her cell phone with her neck

– Nursing her insistent baby with her left hand

This was me the other morning, and somehow, what I’m describing was not a picture of chaos.

I’m edging myself back into the workforce after taking not quite a year off to be with my two young kids – daunting, in some respects, except that truly, nothing can be as hard as keeping your cool in instances like the above.

Too bad it’s not kosher fodder for a resume…


Give Me Space

August 5, 2008

Do you share your towels with your roommates? With your domestic partner? With your kids?

What about your laptop?

What about your working space/home office?

I’m happy sharing the kitchen, the living room, the bed, but I have my own personal ideas of MINE.

This may, perhaps, contradict the constant mantra of SHARE! that I recite to my toddler with the religious-fever of an OCD Tibetan monk, but I can’t help it.

I need my space.

I need my territory. And my territory is my journals, my towels, my laptop, and my work space.

My husband understands the first one. But he doesn’t get the towel thing – neither did my roommates in college, junior year – they dried themselves with whatever was nearby and I took to hanging up my towels in my bedroom.

I’ve given up on this one.

The laptop is a major point of contention in our house. My laptop, bought before we moved in together, is now kind of old. It moans and hums constantly, like a refrigerator about to take flight. It’s slow. It’s now missing keys, thanks to a curious toddler obsessed with her Letters. It’s an old, toothless, overweight specimen that I can hardly use for much. Even as I type right now, I’m on the newer, lightweight laptop that my husband’s been trying to get me to use for about a year now.

The problem? This computer is his. It’s got his stuff on it, his settings, his bookmarks in the browser. And he still uses it from time to time.

His argument: Why can’t we share?

Mine: I don’t want to.

I know; I’m being ridiculous. But I can’t help it. There’s some things I don’t want to have to negotiate time for. At the library, one checks out books and returns them, takes turns at the computer stands. That’s the library. At home, I want books I can thumb, drool over, even take notes in the margins of; I want a computer I can use at 4 a.m. when I wake up and need to write. I want a Laptop of my Own.

It’s even more important, right now, than the Room of One’s Own – though that is important, too, and another thing my husband doesn’t get. I have a desk set up in “our” office that I never visit, but a workstand in the art – laundry room that I love. The difference? “Our” office is full of his stuff, the art room is filled with mine. I’m fine with that. I don’t mind not sharing. He thinks I’m anal. He thinks I’m nuts.

I know I am not, because from Virginia Woolf to the author of The Mother Trip, women artists and writers and seekers and just women of all kinds have insisted upon, repeated their claim for some space in which to be alone, to sink into the relief of having to deal with only one’s own mind heart and soul. It’s not that we don’t like collaborating with our partners and children and friends; in fact, my ideal would be that I could sit at that desk in our office and work, laugh, trade ideas, share silent space… but I would still need that other art room for my own space.

Am I nuts? I was an only child, no siblings – did I just get used to having things my way, unto myself?


Tips on: Un/Becoming a “Working” Mom…

August 5, 2008

A friend of mine is transitioning from being a full-time stay-at-home mom – yes, I despise that term, but it’s handy sometimes to use annoying, conventional terms – more on that later – and she asked me for some advice.

“What should I know? Do you have any tips?”

I’m actually quite selfishly sad that this friend is working outside the home more and more. A year ago, I was the one with the full-time job; six months ago, I quit work and she started doing some part-time hours. Now we’ve completely reversed our positions on the spectrum. We’re like two repelling magnets…

Anyway, back to the tips: Here’s some, of the top of my head, but they seem completely inadequate to me, so I’m hoping my Dear Readers (if you haven’t all abandoned me in disgust) will pipe in with some gems (as you usually do! you guys rock!) to supplement my meager offering:

1) Don’t feel guilty. This may seem obvious, but guilt is insidious; It’s an invasive species, native to parenting. It’s not a question of if you feel guilt as a parent, it’s a question of when and what will you do about it once you’ve noticed it creeping in the undergrowth.

When you go to work as a parent, whether two months after the baby is born or two years, there will come a day when your child rolls over or recites the quadratic equation or something and you will miss it and because you are working, the guilt of having not been there will wrap around the fact that you are working.

Now, if you missed Junior rolling over because you were out having coffee by yourself you would blame your need for private time; if you were washing the dishes, you’d feel guilt about being too anal with housework.

The trick is to know that this kind of guilt would come no matter what; it will latch onto whatever is around and make you think that it’s the activity/choice that’s the problem, when really, the root of this guilt is deeper. It’s about the sense of inadequacy that you, however much you love your child, cannot prevent that child from suffering, cannot totally fulfill her every need, cannot, as much as you long to, Do it All.

It is a good thing that we cannot Do it All. But our instincts, perhaps to help the species survive or something, wants us to. Enter the Guilt.

Yes, the guilt will come, and what can you do? Recognize it; acknowledge it’s presence; then forgive yourself and let it go.

As a working mother, you will be tempted to feel a lot of guilt; others may even try to slap you with it out of some deep problem of their own (probably that coworker/coparent/doodoo head in the grocery line has abandonment issues) and it’s important to get in the habit of weeding it out right away.

You are not a bad parent because you are working outside the home.

Your children will not be screwed up because you are doing so.

Believe it or not – you may not want to believe it! – your child may even flourish under the kind care of someone other than you. And the time you do spend with your children may be even more quality than it would be if you all were stuck together 24/7.

2) Build into your day 10-minute stretches of transitional time when going from work to home and home to work. When you get to work, or on your way, take a few minutes to have coffee, write in your journal, enjoy the clouds, before you dive into work mode. Before walking into the chaotic house, take a walk,have a drink at the local pub.

Yes, I said it! There’s a reason why men go to pubs after work before going home; it’s because it’s nice to have some downtime between the demands of home and work. What I don’t understand is why women just fly from one to the other, race between the two, frantically. I know – we have time constraints and responsibilities; and I’m not advocating a nightly post-work sloshing. But thinking about building in snatches of time for yourself, time to be, between the demanding and intense hours of performing and serving and meeting the needs of customers, clients, and kids will make you a better worker and a better mother and a better person. It just will.

3) Find a way to stay organized that you will use, and then use it.

4) By lots of the kinds of things in advance so you don’t have to go to the store all the time (unless that’s your time alone; then please, intentionally underprepare all you want). Pantyhose, wipes, pain medication… stock up in advance.

Okay, that’s all I can think of. Stay tuned for tips on going the other way… and please, add your two cents / two dollars / pearls of wisdom!