Where Are You Making Do?

My hair dryer exploded this week. Literally, sparks came out of the little box where I have plugged it into the wall for I don’t know how many years. I really thought the whole thing might start a real fire. I smelled that weird electrical fire smell and sniffed the outlet several times, in between concealer and mascara. I stopped short of texting my husband, who was traveling for work. Because what could I say? Hey, honey, there might be fire in the wall.

There wasn’t. I’m lucky like that.

Even luckier, my hair was about 98% dry when it happened.

Just a few days earlier, for the first time in a long time, I thought I was probably going to have to get that on my list: buy new hairdryer. Because it’s been broken. For a while. And I’m not just talking about that melted part where it got overused while defrosting the freezer because household appliances must multi-task to earn their keep in this house. One of the many, many times I dropped the dryer, I broke the mechanism that holds the handle in place while the thing is in use. The same one that “un-holds” for handy folding and storage. For a week or two after I broke the handle I was determined to get a new dryer.

But that task never made it to the list.

In time I learned how to hold the handle just right so that drying my hair was almost the same with the damaged tool as it had been before. That happened about 2 years ago. Rather, I should say at least 2 years ago because I have no idea really, except that I remember it was broken before we moved. All those years accommodating something broken, holding it just so in order to make do. Not only because buying a new one never made it to my list, but also because why did I need a new one when this one still worked?

I take a certain pride in making do. It’s seeded deep within me. Which is why it took an explosion to make me take action. An interior designer once assessed my house and declared, “Well bless your heart, you’re just using what you have.” I didn’t know there was another way. And I’m not alone. I have a friend who asked a group of us to hold her accountable for buying new shoes because, although she went back to work nearly a year ago, she has been “making do” in her wardrobe. I have been making do in my office at work for almost 2 years. Maybe it’s time to settle in and make it pretty.

My new hair dryer is slick. It’s very light and it has fancy red lights where the air comes out that make it look like a heated up burner, which is actually kind of terrifying, but also makes me smile. The hair dryer incident made me think about other things in my life I’m just making do with, and that I might want to replace before they threaten bodily harm.

Where are you just making do? 


 

Working Mom Life: Don’t Worry, Be Happy, Say No

Working Mom Life is an interview series featuring real working mothers who are figuring out how to get the job done. Because there are more ways to be a working mom than there are ways to fold a cloth diaper, we can all learn from each other. Join the conversation #WorkingMomLife.

Working Mom Life - Amy Bradley-Hole and Family

Amy Bradley-Hole is a force of nature. I know because I’ve been in a room with her. Her energy and ideas seem to be never-ending. She’s got two young sons and a resume full of stops and starts and start-overs. I really relate to her squiggly career path, and so admire her tenacity and her ability to lead with her talents and let everything else fall away. I know you’ll enjoy getting to know Amy, but if you’d rather fake it, here are 3 takeaways you can use right now:

  • Remember that fathers are fully capable of running households.
  • Ask for help, and accept help.
  • Become brilliant at saying no.

LD: Going back to work is different for every mom. How did you do it?

AB: I worked up until about the 6th month of my first pregnancy. At that time, my husband’s job had us relocate from Reno down to the Vegas area. As much as I would have liked to have gotten a job when we moved, no one was going to hire a visibly pregnant woman! So I enjoyed the rest of my pregnancy, and stayed home with my first son for the first 18 months of his life. When we relocated to Florida, I found a great daycare and went back to work on a part time basis. I carried on with the part time work after my second son was born. THEN we moved to Arkansas. I was eager to earn more money, so I went back to work full time for a few years.

LD: You’ve worked for yourself for a while now, first as a freelance writer/editor/publicist and now as founder of Bonta Toscana food company. Why did you decide to go out on your own?

AB: I enjoyed the income of working full time for someone else, but the stress was terrible. I hated missing my kids’ activities or school programs, and I hated that they were in after school care every evening and all summer long.Trying to juggle everyone’s schedules got more difficult the older they got. So I quit working for other people, and started working for myself. I work a ton of hours now, but I can at least set my own schedule, and that’s what matters most. My boys are 10 and 8 now, so we’re pretty busy, but they’re also more capable of doing things for themselves, so that saves me time.

LD: Every successful working mom I know has a few tricks that keep her sane and keep her family fed and out of jail. What are yours?

AB: We are creatures of habit, and are very routine-oriented. I have been like that since the day my first son was born. Our morning routine, our after school routine, our evening routine — they’re very ritualistic, even when we throw things like sports practices or special events into the mix. I’ve found that the more we can keep a steady routine, the calmer everyone is. Everyone knows what to expect.

I couldn’t live without the Cozi Family app and website. It’s where I keep everyone’s schedule, and grocery lists, and notes to each other, etc. It’s always at my fingertips whenever I need to update anyone’s calendar, and it makes it easy for me to send messages to my husband about schedule changes.

LD: That’s a great resource, and speaking of your husband, would you say he’s an equal partner on the domestic front?

AB: We’re pretty much fifty-fifty, but honestly, we don’t even think about who does what. We both just chip in and do whatever needs to be done. Whoever is available, whoever has the free time, whoever will be close to the store — that’s who does the chore. We’ve hardly ever had a conversation about doling out duties. And when one or the other of us has to travel, the other just steps in and makes it work. I’ve never been one of those wives who has to make meals, lay out clothes, or arrange for sitters for a week before going out of town. I would lose my mind. My husband is fully capable of running our household beautifully in my absence.

LD: I have been that wife and it’s part of the reason I did lose my mind a little when the kids were young. I think it was part of my mommy guilt, which I believe is an inevitable part of motherhood. What’s been your experience?

AB: I really struggled when I was working full time during the summers. The kids would get invited to go swimming, or got to a movie, or go grab pizza for lunch with a friend, and I had to say no, because they were at daycare or day camps, and the logistics were too difficult for me to make it happen. They used to literally cry because all their friends got a summer vacation, but they went to school all summer (their care programs were at their school). I couldn’t accept that, so I overcame it by quitting full time work. (Paying a nanny or sitter to stay with them every day and drive them places was too expensive.)

LD: What is the best advice you have received about thriving in the #WorkingMomLife?

Your kids won’t remember the stressful times or the bad times as much as you do. They’ll just remember the good stuff. So don’t worry too much about those rough periods. It won’t do lasting damage.

LD: Any terrible advice you’d like to forget?

I’m not the kind of person who gets mad at unsolicited or bad advice. I truly think there’s something helpful to be gleaned from all advice. That said, I remember being told that the income I was making when I was working full time would make the stress and the time spent away from my kids worth it. It wasn’t necessarily bad advice, but it simply wasn’t true for me.

LD: What would you like to tell new moms who plan to work, or moms headed back to work?

Ask for help. Always. Don’t be afraid to tell people you need assistance. And if anyone ever offers help, take it! Whether it’s your mother-in-law offering to clean your house and do laundry after you’ve had a baby, or a friend offering to take your kids for the afternoon, or your husband offering to cook supper, say yes. This was difficult for me at first, because I’m a control freak. I like things done MY way, and I’d rather just do something myself rather than have someone else try but screw it up. I’ve learned to let a lot of that go. The stress of having too much on your plate is worse than the stress of someone else doing things differently than you’d like them done.

Also, have an in-case-of-emergency friend. I have one friend I know I can call on no matter what. If I’m running late and can’t get the kids from school in time, she’ll pick them up. If I need a last minute babysitter at midnight on a Wednesday night, she’ll do it. I’m her ICE friend, too, so I can always return the favor. Knowing that you have a safety net is a wonderful feeling.

LD: Running your own business takes a special set of skills. So does motherhood. I believe you can acquire and hone those skills over time, but stamina can’t be learned. What’s your secret?

Not giving a f*@$. I don’t care what the latest parenting trends are. I don’t care about how other families do it. I don’t care about SAHM/WOHM/WAHM competitions. I don’t compare myself to other moms. I just do what works for us, and that’s that.

Also, I’m brilliant at saying no. I don’t volunteer too much of my time, I don’t sign up for stuff, I don’t take on commitments I can’t handle. And I don’t feel one bit guilty for saying no, either.

That’s the perfect place to end, because we all could be better at saying no– to the wrong things– so that we have more time to say yes to the right ones. Thank you, Amy Bradley-Hole!
Learn about more working moms’ lives here:

 

Got Books?

Lela Davidson’s award-winning, best-selling essay collections. Short reads for busy moms who smile and smirk. Available on AmazonNookiTunes and every other place books are sold. But probably not at your neighbor’s garage sale.

 

How To Handle Change in 3 Easy Steps

Handling change is a critical skill for anyone. If you’re alive, you’re handling change all the time. But some life circumstances throw change at us faster than others. How we deal with it can be the difference between freaking out and settling in.

When I returned to the world of those who work with other humans in close quarters toward common goals I resumed the practice of some skills and started cultivating others in new ways. In addition to attending meetings and being held accountable for revenue and expenses, I now have the privilege of helping several people grow careers that are fulfilling and meaningful. One of the strong women I work with recently asked me, within the context of her performance and our team’s changing focus, “How have you dealt with all the changes?”

We work in an extremely fast-paced web-based environment, where technology and market forces can conspire overnight to change fundamentals in our business. And we have a company culture of moving with the changes. It’s what we do. But my colleagues question caught me off guard. I can’t remember what I said at the time, and I wasn’t satisfied with my answer. I’ve been thinking about the question all week. How do I deal with change?

The truth is I have no idea, because I don’t know any other way but change.

Step 1: Freak Out

During a two month period in 2013 I went back to work full time, my husband changed jobs after 13 years at the same company, my daughter switched from her big public school to a small charter, and we moved to a new house (before selling the old house). It was all very exciting and terrifying. But it was also just the way of my world.

My first job out of college was in consulting. Nothing static about switching projects, managers, and clients every 6-12 weeks. Then I had two babies and mommy-tracked over to the tax department. Big city tax work was very dynamic. Not so much at a regional firm. So I left. Because I craved change. Next came years of freelance writing, editing, publishing, speaking, content strategy and social marketing consulting. Never the same day twice.

Still, all those changes a couple of years ago had me spinning. I didn’t handle it all very well. I got overwhelmed. I cried. I felt sorry for myself. My husband tells me this is all a very normal part of something called the J Curve. I called it freaking out.

Step 2: Relax and make a [new] plan 

I’ve been obsessed with the question of how to deal with change because I’m a sucker for systems. I LOVE my routines. It’s Sunday as I write this. I’ve stocked the refrigerator and pantry. I know more or less what our family will eat for dinner every day this week. I have 5 outfits hanging in my closet that I don’t have to think about (thank you, capsule wardrobe), and I’ve walked my dog and hit my yoga mat today because it’s part of my routine. I live by these routines. But I also live to change them. (That’s a huge part of my love for Arkansas, by the way, the fact that there are distinct seasons here, natural delineations for changes in routine.)

The only thing I love more than a routine is a new routine. The only thing better than a great spreadsheet is a new great spreadsheet.But for me, when things are in flux, my need for order asserts itself. No sooner has change descended than I have a 7-point plan. And maybe a flowchart. The new plan might not work for long, but that’s okay, because we’ll need a new one soon anyway.

Step 3: Let go and repeat

Here’s the trick: Make the plans. Map the process, but don’t get too attached. Because you know what they say about our puny human plans. God thinks they’re funny. Embrace routines. Court stability. Of course. But when change comes along, take a deep breath– and make a new spreadsheet.

So, how do you manage change? 


 

Got Books?

Lela Davidson’s award-winning, best-selling essay collections. Short reads for busy moms who smile and smirk. Available on AmazonNookiTunes and every other place books are sold. But probably not at your neighbor’s garage sale.

6 Book Club Books for Working Moms

You’re a working mom and you’re in a book club. Time is precious. And while it’s super fun to get together with girlfriends and drink wine and eat snacks, and have opinions about books you may or may not have had time to read, there are only so many meetings in a row you can get away with not reading the book. (In my experience this is approximately 37% of the time, missing no more than two books in a row.)

When it’s your turn to select the book, take the opportunity choose one of these 6 ideal types of books for working moms to read in book club.

The Make-You-Better Book
Book club is recreation, but all the best working moms know how to multi-task. My book club read Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project a few years ago and I guarantee we’ll be reading her new title, Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives sooner than later. A great self-help book is a win-win for everyone mom in the room–working or not.

The Escape Book
All books take you somewhere, but some are better than others at immersing you in a world you’d never have the chance to experience. The 19th Wife, A Novel by David Ebershoff and The Other Bolyen Girl by Philippa Gregory are two of my favorites.

The Holy-Crap-How-Do-I-Get-It-All-Done? Book
Working moms are always juggling something, or spinning plates, or balancing on a tightrope. (Trust me, I’ve tried to come up with better metaphors, and when I do I guarantee there’s a book deal in it for me.) So when you’re wondering how others cope, check out Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte and Good Enough Is the New Perfect: Finding Happiness and Success in Modern Motherhood by Rebecca Gillespie and Hollee Temple.

The Depressing Thinker Book
What would you do in an impossible situation? Better to play our your choices in the page of a novel. Our book club really enjoyed The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman. We didn’t agree on how we would have handled the situation. And arguing over wine about the decisions of fictional characters is some of the most fun a girl can have.

The Empowerment Book
Sometimes you just have to take on the world. But if you’re a working mom, time’s tight. If you have a fantasy (as I do) of taking a extended nature sabbatical, walk a few miles in Cheryl Strayed’s hiking boots by reading Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. It doesn’t disappoint, but it does spark very good conversations. And don’t forget that other Sheryl– Sandberg. Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead is required reading for any working mother.

The Comedic Relief Book
I’ve written before about my favorite funny mom books for book clubsI Just Want to Pee Alone and You Have Lipstick on Your Teeth are anthologies by dozens of very funny ladies. But my very favorite new funny book that is the ideal book club read for working moms is, not surprisingly, Faking Balance: Adventures in Work and Life, which will be released in September!


 

Got Books?

Lela Davidson’s award-winning, best-selling essay collections. Short reads for busy moms who smile and smirk. Available on AmazonNookiTunes and every other place books are sold. But probably not at your neighbor’s garage sale.

 

 

Working Mom Life: Living Full

family photo 11 14 (2)

Working Mom Life is an interview series featuring real working mothers who are figuring out how to get the job done. Because there are more ways to be a working mom than there are ways to fold a cloth diaper, we can all learn from each other. I hope you’ll join the conversation #WorkingMomLife.

Michelle Unabia might be the busiest person I know. And not in that crazy to-do list, make up things to do busy, but in that way that women are when they refuse to let go of any of their ambitions in the face of unending motherhood. Unabia is a mother of 12-year-old twins and a 7-year-old son. She works full time in human resources, goes to school full time, runs half marathons, and is currently planning her 30th class reunion. How does she allocate her time? Very intentionally. As a woman who has also been known to fit a ridiculous number of things into a 24-hour day, I admire Unabia’s energy, and her structure. If you’re too time-pressed to read the whole interview, here are 3 takeaways to consider right now:

  • Working mom life is not and all or nothing game. It’s fluid.
  • Don’t judge yourself by others’ unrealistic units of measure.
  • Staying home doesn’t mean losing your mind, or even your professional skill set.

LD: What did “going back to work” look like for you after becoming a mother.

MU: Currently I am a Sr. Human Resource Consultant and have been with PEMCO Insurance for 9 years. Prior to this role I was a stay at home mom for 3 years raising my twins. Having the twins 12 years ago was a dream of my husband and mine and we decided that it would be best for me to stay at home while they were young and then eventually we would trade spots and I would return to work and he would stay home. I loved every minute of staying home. I was always on the go with my children doing all sorts of things, and what kept me sane during those times was the structure that I had in place. I got my chores and meal prepping done in the morning while the children played or watched cartoons. Then after lunch we would be off exploring the parks or doing whatever. This system worked well because the kids knew that mommy had to get her stuff done in order to do their stuff so we switched between mommy tasks and kids tasks which met everyone’s needs.

By the time the kids turned three I felt that they needed to be put in daycare for more socialization and because I needed someone to help my potty train them. (Editorial Note: I. Hear. That.) So we decided that it was time for me to reenter the workforce before my skills went too stale. The first week I sat outside their class all day thinking that they would need me. They didn’t.

LD: I find that most working moms live by one or more systems. What are some routines your family could not live without?

MU: Time is of the essence for me so I have to make sure that I have everything pre-planned on weekends so that I know I will accomplish what I need to and have time to relax before heading back into a full week’s work. I have a rotating schedule of household chores that everyone contributes to. The twins help in the morning with getting breakfast for their brother. The kids do their homework on the way home in the car so that they have dedicated time to play when they get home. Sundays are family time where we attend church and chill at home. We all eat dinner every night at the table and we have Saturday movie nights where we all gather for a movie and eat popcorn.

LD: What does the split look like between and your husband when it comes to domestic tasks?  

Until all the kids got into school it was a real sacrifice for me and my husband managing the drop offs and pick up time with the kids. The twins were in school and the youngest was across town in a daycare so I would drop the youngest off at 7am and go to work while my husband would drop off the twins at school. Then I got off early enough to rally them all and race home to cook dinner. Life is much easier now because my husband retired and is now a full time dad. He does the housework and cooking during the week so that I can fully engage in my career to support the family. I do deep cleaning on the weekend like bathrooms, beds, washing floors and yard work.

LD: What is the best advice you have received about thriving in the #WorkingMomLife?

MU: Don’t sweat the small stuff. Nothing is more important than hugging and caring for your children. I had family members that measured my capability of being a mother by how clean my house was, how my children were dressed and whether or not I had meals on the table by 5pm. These are all unrealistic units of measure when you have twins or more children. There are times where I was stressing myself out because I didn’t get the house cleaned or the bed made because my child was having a melt down and I needed to stop and hold them. There were times when dinner didn’t get made because we were having too much fun at the park. At these times I had to ask myself which was most important? Playing tennis with my child which they will remember and you will cherish for your life or washing the floor? Is anyone coming over that will need to lick that floor? Of course not!

LD: What advice could you have done without?

MU: The constant judgments that stay at home moms have it easy and don’t have much to talk about other than their children. That is far from the truth. Our lives might revolve around our children and Sesame Street but we are smart and educated people that are doing the most important job in the world.

LD: Do you have any words of wisdom for new moms who plan to work, or for seasoned moms headed back to work?   

MU: For working moms it is to keep engaged with your profession and to remember that you have valued skills from being at home that can translate to the workforce. When I returned back to Human Resources I felt that people were farther along in their careers than I was and I envied them because I used to be that person who offered to take on big projects, who was able to attend networking sessions and could work those extra hours. When you have kids you give up that flexibility and have to take a backseat to those initiatives until your kids get older. Your primary focus is your children and not your job and that is hard to get used to at first. But I say cut yourself some slack because there will be a payback time.

For new moms my advice is to enjoy your children and try not to get caught up on being better than others. Be yourself and don’t forget to play music loud and dance as much as you can with your children. Take naps with them so that you have the energy to sustain yourself throughout the day. But most importantly make sure you don’t lose yourself in your children and that it is equally important to schedule in time for yourself to continue to do the things that make you who you are.

I love my life and how it played out but I couldn’t have done it alone. I needed my husband and his understanding. And there were times when he came home and I had a drink poured that was stronger than wine and he knew when that happened I needed a break and took action and I love him for that!

LD: Do you have a secret super-power?

MU: I love my job!

And it shows! Thanks so much to Michelle for letting us peek into her very full life. 

For more portraits of working moms’ lives, check out these posts: 

That Time I Went Insane Over Office Supplies

I got up at four in the morning. Crazy, I know, but my husband does it one day every week so sometimes I show my solidarity by getting up with him. It’s a bad idea, a pointless show of support that usually does not end well, but if I’m lucky I get a lot of work done before the kids wake up. On this particular morning I paid bills, cleared my inbox, and worked out a four-leg carpool schedule for my children’s cotillion class. We can all rest assured the children will be on time to the classes where they learn to say hello and where-do-you-go-to-school to a member of the opposite sex without shaking, sweating, or humping a leg.

One of my morning desk jobs required tape. It was urgent, in the way that only Scotch tape emergencies can be. But I’m nothing if not prepared and I took comfort in the knowledge that my trusty tape would be there, waiting patiently in my top left desk drawer.

Wrong.

My heart raced as the swell of anger grew. Such a mildly sticky substance should never cause this much distress. However, instances of lost tape have become a peeve of mine, along with missing scissors and borrowed mechanical pencils. I need little to practice my trade and manage the myriad amusements of our family. All I ask is that my simple tools remain in, or are returned to their proper homes. Is that so much to ask?

My children are infatuated with tape. They make things out of it—pictures, shoes, bicycle parts. They write notes on tape, and then tape them onto walls with more tape. They stick it to their faces. They make out with it. They’re totally going to have a double wedding with Scotch and masking. Duct will be the Maid of Honor.

Me? I just use tape. And when my little stick buddy isn’t where I left it, I get pissy.

I looked in the drawer, in the office supply cubby, and behind the bookshelf. No tape. At least three rolls of it—gone, vanished without a trace, like tissue in cold season. Maybe it was the hour, or my not quite fully caffeinated state, but I was livid. I wanted that tape. I wanted it NOW. But it was five-thirty in the morning. Instead of rousing my children from their beds in a mad woman’s frenzy, I plotted revenge. I would teach those ingrates the consequences of stealing a woman’s tape. It’s not like they hadn’t been warned. A few weeks earlier, I’d stocked up. And not just for me. Generously, I provided each of my two children with a personal roll of tape.

“This is yours,” I said. “You can let me know if you need more, but under no circumstances are you to take the tape from my drawer.” I had showed them the two rolls of tape in my desk drawer so as to underscore the importance of this directive.

“Got it?”

After the expected number of eye rolls, they answered in unison. “Yes, Mom, we got it.”

Clearly, they didn’t get it.

Before finishing my pre-dawn cup of coffee I devised a surprisingly rational plan. I would simply take the cost of the replacement office supplies out of their allowances. Each time I reached for something of mine that was not where it should be—cha-ching, show me your money.

When my son and daughter came down for breakfast I said good morning, hugged them, and calmly announced the new policy. One set of eyes narrowed, then teared up. The other just rolled back in its annoyed ‘tween skull.

Voices were raised.

The toaster was abused.

Corn flake shrapnel flew.

My daughter was most visibly upset, as she values money more than her brother does, more than shoes, more than breath, I sometimes fear. She shook while pleading her case of injustice.

“You just want to make money off us!”

Ah… yes, exactly. Exploitation of my children popped into my head shortly after peeing on the stick. My wicked plan to get rich extorting my own money for Scotch tape and paperclips was finally starting to pay off! And boy, was I in for a windfall with the scissors.

I resumed typical morning activities—cooking for my children, cleaning up after my children, writing checks so that my children can read books and attend enriching extra-curricular activities. However, I soon noticed that neither of them were speaking to me. Perhaps I’d been a bit harsh, a bit reactive. It occurred to me that picking a fight about tape over breakfast might not have been the wisest choice. And yes, I wondered if it was actually my husband who had taken the tape. But I had to stand my ground. This is the new normal, tape thieves. Deal with it. Because once you go too far down a road you need to stay the course or accept a kind of parental defeat that undermines every future disciplinary effort.

God help us if someone ever swipes the three-hole punch.

This is an excerpt from Lela Davidson’s award-winning essay collection, Who Peed on My Yoga Mat?


 

Got Books?

Lela Davidson’s award-winning, best-selling essay collections. Short reads for busy moms who smile and smirk. Available on AmazonNookiTunes and every other place books are sold. But probably not at your neighbor’s garage sale.

 

Faking Balance: Time Management by Panic Attack

I’m taking the day off today to take care of a few things. I’ll get to that in a minute, but first, this working mom thing, in case you haven’t heard, is not easy. And before you warm up your fingers to compose your strongly worded comment about how dare I complain, what with my good job and my supportive husband and my healthy children. Let me beat you to it. You’re right. I’m incredibly fortunate.

I have an amazing job that I love mostly because I get to work with really smart, really sensitive, really creative people every day. When I worked at Arthur Andersen right out of college I knew I worked with the smartest people I ever had before that. But working at a startup — a technology startup in Arkansas, no less — is different. My colleagues at Andersen were primarily corporate, family pedigree, fancy school smart. Now my days are spent with entrepreneurial problem solvers who are also next-level smart. And some of those days these individuals also drive me to drink. That’s part of the fun. My job is incredibly dynamic, fulfilling, and hard.

I have an awesome husband who cooks and cleans and also takes care of the manly things. Mostly cars and ducts and the printer I think. That’s the beauty of him taking care of things. I don’t have to think about them. He is the best partner I could have hoped to end up with. He’s a great father, a patient spouse, and a pretty damn good friend. But, news flash– marriage? That’s hard, too.

My children? Well, they recently informed me that “no one wants to hear about other people’s kids” so I won’t bore you with the brag. But they are 16 and 14, so, no matter how wonderfully above average they happen to be, you can use your imagination about how hard they are right now.

Being a working mom is difficult for me, with all my advantages. And yes, of course I understand that others have it a lot harder. All the more reason for me to assure you that despite my calendars and lists, my walking, my yoga, my on-and-off again affair with juicing, and my borderline pathologic love of spreadsheets, I am most certainly not the picture of work-life balance. Whatever that is. I’m faking it. And I’m cool with that because mine is the good kind of fake. It’s the kind of fake where you smile even though you’re pretty sure the world is going to hell in a hand basket, the kind of fake you need to get comfortable with if you’re going to accomplish much of substance in this life.

Because most things worth doing or having are hard: Education, relationships, homemade cheesecake with Nutella sauce and strawberries.

Don’t worry, there’s no big breakdown coming. I tell small stories. God willing, that’s all I’ll ever have to tell. One of my writer friends dreamt of writing for years, but she didn’t have anything to write about. Then her daughter died and she started writing. Like I said, God willing my stories stay small. Because small stories are important too.

So here I sit on a Friday afternoon at my favorite Starbucks, working the day job a little, working the publishing world a little, eavesdropping a lot, and generally taking a few hours to catch up on all those carefully laid plans outlined in my planner. But before I got here, I spent a few hours shopping for party supplies, making a casserole, and mapping out a plan for a big project at work.

Why did I take the day off to do these things? Because I’m so on top of it all? Because I’m practicing work-life balance? Because it was in my planner? Not exactly. The things I’m taking care of today are the things causing me to wake in a sweat, sick to my stomach, sure that I’ll end in ruin if I don’t get them done. Because, napkins got to match, you know?

Last fall I decided to be intentional about big personal projects, to be really honest with myself about what a big project really was, and how, you know, you can’t just keep adding on and adding on. I limited myself to three big projects. One of them is my husband’s 50th birthday party, which is next weekend. I want it to be nice, like Southern girl nice, not like the casual get-togethers I usually throw where I might be asked, “You do realize you’re hosting this thing, right?” (Actual quote.) So, I’ve been in a bit of a panic about candles, cheese, dip, punch, balloons, tiered cakes, and also napkins.

At the same time, a friend has been in the hospital with sick newborn and I’ve been wondering if I was going to be the friend who shows up with the casserole, or just the friend who sends quippy texts because she’s uncomfortable about sick babies and other scary things. So, I made some food.

I got cranky at work this week because I was mad at myself for failing to get in front of a project that needed my attention. So I took some time for that, because I spend a lot of time at work and I don’t need to be mad at myself while I’m there, or when I’m home but still there.

And then there’s this book I’ve been working on since before the launch of the last one, the final edit of which is sitting in my inbox because I’m afraid of something. I’m not sure what yet. Maybe that the third time will not in fact be a charm. Maybe that my editor was just being nice all these months and this is the edit where she finally tells me what an idiot I’ve been, and oh by the way, “No one wants to hear about other peoples kids.” Maybe just because once the writing is done, and it really is done already, all the marketing begins and I know there’s just. So. Much.

So yes, I am lucky to be in a position to take a day off so I can take care of all these things, and therefore keep my mental health in check. And yes, it’s all very wonderfully hard and I wouldn’t have it any other way. And yes, my time management skills would be strengthened by a stronger “no” reflex. But damn it, life is short and I want to do all the things.

You can have your life hacks, I’ll keep managing by panic attack*. And faking my balance.

*I reserve the right to use this term however I please. No offense intended to those who suffer actual, verifiable, medical, panic attacks.

Lela Davidson’s forthcoming book, Faking Balance: Adventures in Work and Life, will be released in September 2015.


 

Got Books?

Lela Davidson’s award-winning, best-selling essay collections. Short reads for busy moms who smile and smirk. Available on AmazonNookiTunes and every other place books are sold. But probably not at your neighbor’s garage sale.

 

 

My Daughter, My Stylist

My daughter asked me to go shopping yesterday—clothes shopping. This was a first. Until now, we’ve shopped for her or we’ve shopped for me, but we haven’t “gone shopping” together. I was excited to get her buy-in on her own wardrobe, but I had ulterior motives, too. My daughter, you see, is also my personal stylist.

“Mom, can we shop somewhere else this time? Besides Old Navy?”

But… I have coupons, and reward points, and—

“Like, can we go to Aeropostale? And Forever21?”

While Gaby is particular about what she wears, her tomboy chic has not yet required daylong excursions. Her uniform has been easy: Jeans—the rattier the better—a camisole tank with a t-shirt over top, bunched up in a ponytail holder in the back. That’s it. Every day.

Every.

Day.

Not exactly chic, but it’s clean and covered up. I can’t complain. I’ve always wished, however, that she were a tiny bit more girly. It might have been my fault for swaddling her in broken-in dinosaur receiving blankets. Maybe when I dressed her in big brother’s hand-me-downs football onesies I should have foreseen future ice rinks, where she would play hockey instead of carve circles while wearing chiffon and sequins. I tried to make up for my mistake during the preschool years, but it was too late. I dressed her up in seersucker dresses and matching bloomers for a couple of years, but by PreK she took a stand, quickly adopting a pants-only policy. I tried to frill up her closet with bright corduroys and matchy sweaters, but it didn’t work. No Davidson will ever forget the Easter standoff of 2007. Lime green and I lost big that day. The battle put an end to my foolishness forever and firmly established who controlled what Gaby wore.

Since then it’s been strictly jeans and t-shirts. Until now. Oh, the possibilities! I wanted to make a day of it, go to lunch and get a pedicure, but I had to play it cool. I would NOT skip from store to store singing like a deranged Julie Andrews who just found new curtains to slice up.

We found an adorable top at Charlotte Russe. “That is SO cute,” my daughter said.

“You’re right, that is super cute.”

“It would look SO good on you. Can we share it?”

Share a shirt? Things were moving quickly, indeed. Fortunately, back in the dressing room we discovered the top didn’t look right on either one of us. We did, however, find the perfect jeans—for her—and because they were buy one get one half off, I searched for a pair for myself. Since I am past my prime for skinny cut skinnies, I searched for a nice boot cut—the new Mom Jeans. They didn’t have those, so I tried something with industrial grade Spandex. The sales girl only snickered once, but the only opinion that mattered was my girl’s.

“They make your legs look demented.” She’s direct. We left with two identical pair of jeans for her, and a couple of age-appropriate tops for me.

I have no idea where my anti-fashion daughter gets her style instincts, but they are always right. Since first grade she has held veto power over my outfits. Anytime I come home with something I’m not quite sure about, she confirms my suspicions and back to TJ Maxx it goes. My clothing lives and dies by her judgments. It’s like having Stacy London on speed dial, except I can just yell up the stairs. Or, better yet, now—take her into the dressing room. As long as I continue to pass Gaby’s inspection I’ll never be one of those 40-somethings who think it’s okay to shop at Justice so long as they can squeeze into a junior size fourteen. Color me ForeverGrateful.

I realize I’m working in a very small window of opportunity, a brief moment in time that my daughter will want to go to the mall with me. Soon her interest in shopping with me will begin and end with my Mastercard. But this time was bliss. She even remembered to thank me when we got home. And I only have to return one tiny little dress to Forever21—the one she told me not to buy.

This is an excerpt from Lela Davidson’s award-winning essay collection, Who Peed on My Yoga Mat?


 

Got Books?

Lela Davidson’s award-winning, best-selling essay collections. Short reads for busy moms who smile and smirk. Available on AmazonNookiTunes and every other place books are sold. But probably not at your neighbor’s garage sale.

That One Time I Was Adulterous

It started out innocently enough, as these things often do. Just a text here, some slight dissatisfaction there. There was no big conflict, but rather a slow growing apart that snuck up on me. Everything became inconvenient. Nothing personal, but I had needs and he was no longer able to meet them. We had been together nearly ten years, almost half my adult life with the same man. He knew how to make me feel beautiful. But the idea of someone new, with new techniques, thrilled me and at the same time it made me feel guilty as hell. Before I knew it I was trapped in the throes of an adulterous relationship.

My friends were no help. They actually encouraged the betrayal. What’s the big deal? They wanted to know. You need to do what works for you, Lela. And on one level I knew they were right. I knew my relationship was over, but I clung to it, and in the clinging only hurt myself. I could see it in the mirror. Slowly, guiltily, I exchanged furtive texts with a stranger, and with them a troubling internal dialogue.

When could we meet?

Was I really ready for this?

Had I already crossed a line?

But in another town, another county, surely, I could keep this a secret. And who would blame me? It’s not like I’d gone looking for someone new, but I hadn’t guarded against this either. I had let things go too long.

So here I was, meeting in secret. We were awkward together. After all those years, to feel the touch of another, hands through my hair. After all those years, it felt scary and exciting. How could he possibly know what I liked? I soaked in the thrill of the moment while trying not to think about how I might feel the next morning. Would I regret my reckless behavior or was this the start of a new long-lasting relationship?

In the six months before I strayed, we had only “been together” once. I blamed myself. I’d gotten busy, couldn’t make time for him. But he had to take some of the blame. He wasn’t as attentive as he had been earlier in our relationship. He didn’t seem to listen to me anymore, or remember what was important to me. And then there was that spat. We’d had an agreement. He had vowed to protect me from myself. No matter how I begged or what celebrity resuscitated their style stature, he was never EVER to give me bangs.

And then one day, bangs.

Followed by his callous refusal to take responsibility for my actions.

That hurt, but I forgave him. So much history, after all. But we were never the same after that. Now, in the hands of another man, I’m torn between two blowouts, breaking all the rules. I don’t know if I’m ready for a full confession, a reckoning. All I know is I can’t go on like this. I can’t have it both ways.

Who would want two hairdressers, anyway?

This is an excerpt from Lela Davidson’s forthcoming essay collection, Faking Balance: Adventures in Work and Life, to be published in September 2015.


 

Got Books?

Lela Davidson’s award-winning, best-selling essay collections. Short reads for busy moms who smile and smirk. Available on AmazonNookiTunes and every other place books are sold. But probably not at your neighbor’s garage sale.

Working Mom Life: You Belong Here

Working Mom Life Kellee Mayfield and family

Working Mom Life is an interview series featuring real working mothers who are figuring out how to get the job done. Because there are more ways to be a working mom than there are ways to fold a cloth diaper, we can all learn from each other. I hope you’ll join the conversation #WorkingMomLife.

Kellee Mayfield keeps hearts beating, literally, as a sales and clinical specialist for pacemakers and defibrillators. She’s also a talented painter, and writes about life in southeast Arkansas on her popular blog Delta Moxie. Kellee is mom to a 9-year-old daughter, and is married to a doctor, so schedules can conflict. Here are my 3 favorite parts of Kellee’s answers:

  • Routines make life easier, even if life interrupts them often.
  • It’s okay to let your children hang out at work (we heard this from Eileen Jennings, too.)
  • “You belong here.”

Interview with Kellee Mayfield

LD: Did you always know you’d be a working mom?

KM: Probably entering college, I’d say yes. As I aged and advanced, my answer changed with my career demands and where we were located. Now that I’m older and have options, I want my daughter to see me working and contributing. I realize that may not be for everyone, but it is important to me. For many years she assumed I was a doctor like her dad, but I’m in medical device sales. She has been with me when I’ve had to check patients in an emergency and tells her friends, “My mom saves lives (even though she isn’t a doctor)”.

LD: Do you live by routines or do you wing it? 

Our family lives by routines, however we often find ourselves winging it due to our unpredictable work schedules (which happens when you are both in health care). During the week, she’ll stay with her “second mom,” our caregiver. For the everyday juggling of schedules, she has spent many hours in my husband’s office, nurses stations, or ICU waiting rooms as we finish tasks.

We have a strict morning routine that is easy because our daughter is a morning person. It begins at 5:45. Our daughter dresses herself in a school uniform and performs the normal grooming of brushing teeth and hair, washing her face. Once she is dressed, she eats her breakfast which is made the night before with an almond milk, whole rolled oats, banana, chia seed pudding. Her school lunch is also prepared and packed the night before. Makes it so much easier to grab and go.

After school routines are structured following her arrival home. She immediately begins her homework and we work together as a family keeping her on track. She takes dance on Tuesday, piano in our home on Wednesday and tennis on Tuesday. There are times, she will share a ride with a friend or receive transport from our caregiver.

LD: How do you keep the whole family on track? 

Communication keeps our family running. Thank goodness for FaceTime, texting and mobile phones. Also, on any given day, we have a vital network of friends that we can count on in a pinch. Relaxing and socializing with this group keeps us sane. Our daughter also plays a role in coordinating our family calendars and schedules. She’s a born leader and contributes to the organization of our family. She gets her calendar out and she marks upcoming events, special birthdays. The girl wants details. She must know our plans. What time will we leave? How long will this event last? What will I wear? What are you going to wear? Who will be there? Who is hosting? What is the theme? Who’s car are we taking? Do we take a gift? When will we have a gift? And if she isn’t going, she asks, “who will be keeping me?”

LD: I love that your daughter is so involved. How do you and your husband share domestic tasks?

My husband handles so much of the transportation as well as the kitchen area (including washing dishes) and I wash clothes. I hit the jackpot in this area. I am a road warrior and drive 50,000 miles per year. I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without the support of my husband.

We also have a wonderful caregiver and we lucked into the situation. Her daughter was one of our daughter’s first babysitters. Our caregiver’s daughter is now in college and loves our daughter like her own. If she hasn’t seen her in a week or two, she’ll call and see if our daughter will come spend the night or just run errands with her. To nurture the relationship…that’s easy, she and her family are part of our family. We also try to make sure we don’t abuse her generosity and we ensure she is well compensated. She is a gift from God.

LD: Have you ever received any really good advice about winning the #WorkingMomLife game?

Oh, Lela, I’m in a male-dominated field. The best advice I’d ever been given in my field was; you belong here. Be prepared and go for it. I have a mentor but she recently retired. She has become one of my best friends. On the corporate level, there are opportunities to join women mentoring groups, but I haven’t taken advantage of them yet. I did find a blogger named Marney Reed who happens to work for my company in California (different division) and I follow her blog, Stilettos on the Glass Ceiling. She is inspiring. I also learn from the men in my industry as well. There are many opportunities.

LD: Do you have any advice for new moms who plan to work, or for seasoned moms headed back to work?

Have backup plans for childcare, build a support network for yourself and your family. Allow others to help. Communicate. Invest in yourself. You are valued in the workplace. A great read is Sheryl Sandberg’s, Lean In.

Thanks so much to Kellee for sharing what works for her dual-working parent family!