My mom adventures in Fort Collins

Beauty = Bling, but not really

I have shared many parenting woes, some highs, some lows. I have divulged stories of baking and sewing, crafting and cooking. Well, now I would like to share with you the trick to calling upon your inner goddess.

Glitter. Rhinestones. Shimmer. Metallic. Sparkle. Crystal. Feathers. Flowers. Tassles. Ribbons. Beads. In a word: Bling.

I’m not kidding, every time I so much as put a necklace on and a little lip balm, my kids are all wide-eyed and complimentary. “Mom, you look so beautiful!”

And I say, “Why, thank you.”

Then, they say, “I love your (necklace, earrings, belt, shoes, shirt, sweater, scarf, bracelet, etc.).”

And I say, “Why, thank you.” It’s easy to take a compliment coming from a five-year-old. There is nothing insincere about a five-year-old. (Because, believe me, there are plenty of times when she questions my wardrobe choices.)

I have talked about beauty before, and instilling confidence in young girls. I read this blog post recently, and I liked it. The author’s point, if you don’t have time to click over, is that she’s started telling her daughters that she thinks she’s beautiful because she wants them to grow up to become women who can remember their mother thinking she was beautiful. She knows that someday their bodies will change, their breasts will sag, their lines will evolve from taut to tired. And through that change, she wants them to remember that their mother loved herself through it all.

I want that, too!

I want to love myself in front of my kids, not berate myself. I find that when I say something innocently after some silly accident or mistake, I might call myself a “dummy” or something like it, Scout is quick to come to my defense: “No, you’re not mom!” I won’t always have a defender. I won’t always have someone who wants me to see the best in myself, not the worst.

So, I am thankful that I have girls who recognize beauty. Now, it’s up to me to expand their definition of beauty. What do you think? What ways that you instill self-confidence and self-love in your children?

This is a photo of Cory and me from ages ago, and I got rave reviews on this dress from my girls: not sure if you can tell, but there are rhinestones sewn into this dress!

Reflections on the homemade dinner

My mother has this annoying adorable habit of sending me clippings. It started, if I recall correctly, when she would send me packages in college. The care package would be filled to the brim with lovely sundries such as Twizzlers and Skittles and new slippers, but lurking somewhere in the box would be the Newspaper Clipping. In the past, my least favorite of these clippings would be the ones from our local hometown newspaper (usually the Sunday announcement section) which would reveal the engagements, the occasional underage drinking tickets and numerous Dean’s List honors of my former high school classmates. She has continued through the years, but now it is mainly recipes or cute parenting articles. The newspaper clippings now arrive with coupons for Pull-Ups and the yogurt that she knows my kids love. In the best of these envelopes full of clippings, there is the article that does make me smile, smirk, laugh and think. Recently, I reviewed my piles of paper scattered all over the house and found this gem written by Katy McLaughlin of the Wall Street Journal.

The essay is McLaughlin’s tale of how she home cooks–from scratch–many different items, saving her family money and giving them a gourmet experience. Yet, she described her husband’s aversion to this lifestyle. Why? She thought she was giving her family a gift, but her husband saw it as sometimes infringing on their time as a family. While she busied herself in the kitchen for long periods of time, her husband would have to referee between their two boys.

While I cannot personally identify with everything she says–I for one have never made homemade yogurt and I can attest to ordering pizza more than once–I can understand the dinnertime drama that sometimes surrounds your best laid plans. As a mother, I despise the “witching hour” (the time around dinner when the kids seem to fall apart at the seams), and yet it never fails that the night I want to make a decent dinner for my family is precisely the night that by the time dinner is served everyone is spent and barely a crumb is touched.

A photo of “Christmas Dinner” last year–I purposely only made food that the kids would eat. Thank goodness they like ham! (And so do we.)

This is part of the reason why my family went out to dinner for Thanksgiving last year. Yes, we went out for dinner. I didn’t love the experience, but I justified it by the fact that I disliked the idea of going out for Thanksgiving dinner less than I disliked the idea of cooking for hours only to have barely anyone enjoy it. So, the four of us traipsed down to a hotel and enjoyed glass elevator rides between munches of turkey and mashed potatoes.

The girls enjoying their dinner at the hotel. I believe the word “fancy” was used more than once.

What I’m saying is this: Yes, there IS a price to be paid for a family dinner. I personally love any meal that will feed my family for days. We just recently ate homemade chicken noodle soup for three nights in a row. Whenever possible, I try to do my prep work earlier in the day. I try to use my crock pot whenever possible. And any meal that requires constant stirring (risotto and polenta come to mind), well, these meals must be handled delicately. I tell my hubby in advance on risotto night so that he can come rescue me earlier than usual. Wine also helps with the dinner-time issues (at least for me it does!).

Around here it seems I am constantly stressing to Cory that going out to eat has a huge benefit for me. Going out means that I don’t have to cook and I don’t have to clean up. Because he is a sweet man, he will say things like, “Why would we go out to eat when you cook such delicious food?” That’s when I remind him that his flattery, while kind, is an excuse for him not relieving me of what can sometimes be described as domestic drudgery. Don’t get me wrong, I genuinely like cooking and I like taking care of my family. I just don’t love the exercise of cooking/dancing/putting someone in time-out/setting a pick/cutting vegetables/comforting a kiddo/setting the table/suggesting crayons and paper/stirring the pot/running out of paper towels and forgetting to write it on the list because someone needs me to help them ‘wipe.’ A true test of the Iron Chef would be to have the chefs surrounded by a floor full of Duplo blocks, a child slung on one hip and the small rubberized Polly Pocket clothing stuck to their feet.

Tell me, what are some tricks you’ve learned over the years? What are some suggestions that you have found helpful in your own quest to put dinner on the table?

Read an essay, have a thought: Paid maternity leave

I’m instituting a new category called, “Read an essay, have a thought.” I feel it’s fairly self-explanatory. It’s prompted in part by all those links people post on facebook that I want to talk about, but I feel like a 1000 word comment might be a bit much.

There is this fabulous essay on the Moms in Maine website written by a woman named Michelle. It’s a thoughtful and eye-opening response to the Time Magazine cover. (Yep, the same cover that I talked about here.) Michelle’s thoughts are this: Who the eff cares? What you should be worried about is the fact that the US is the only developed country to not have paid maternity leave as law.

This essay brings up a bunch of different thoughts for me. Namely, my decision to quit my job would have been different. If I could have the benefit of staying home with my baby for 50 weeks at 55% of my salary (as Canada does), I would have absolutely hands-down taken the leave and came back to work nearly a year later with a smile on my face.

How do I know? Well, because that’s basically what I did, only 7 weeks after my first child was born. But I was one of the lucky ones, because my awesome employer allowed me to bring my daughter to work with me. And that’s what we did at least 2 days a week for the first 6 months that I returned from work. (I was afraid I wouldn’t get any work done at all if I kept her with me all day every day–as I said earlier, she didn’t nap all that well.)

This was my set-up in July of 2007: Pack-n-play and bouncy seat in the office

It’s interesting though, because returning to work when your baby is 7weeks old is challenging. But the next year-and-a-half of being a working mom was so much more challenging. I think that if I had been afforded 50 weeks of leave (or possibly even 12 weeks of leave, which my awesome employer did not have to offer me because they didn’t have to abide by FMLA), my life would have been so different. Maybe I’m just seeing everything through rose-colored glasses, but I feel like I barely knew what was going on, who my baby was, what her needs were, and I had to drop her off some place new with strangers, and then get myself over to work. Would a few more weeks of the parenting gig without the pressure of the daycare schlepp have made the difference? I’d like to think it would have.

But as it was, I was afforded a “private” lactation area (my office with a curtain).Time afforded to pump was a given. Storage of my expressed milk went in the fridge, and no one ever said a word about it. I was given a great deal of flexibility from my employer, including being able to work from home occasionally when my daughter was sick and she couldn’t go to daycare. I was allowed to bring my daughter to work functions and all of my colleagues were supportive of this. To be fair, I worked for a child advocacy organization, so it was very appropriate of them–not every company can do that. My first few months of working are filled with wonderful memories of my co-workers holding Scout, helping me, offering me wisdom, and cheering us both on.

And yet, I still quit my job.

So, Michelle, I would like to add something to your fabulous essay. Not only do American families need paid maternity leave (and paid paternity leave, while you’re at it), but American families need high-quality, affordable daycare.

As I said, I would have happily taken more leave after the birth of my first child. I think that would have made us a more stable family, and given us a little more time to emerge from the transition of becoming a family of three. As it was, we did a lot of racing around, and that first few months especially felt like a whirlwind. Would it have felt that way even if I wasn’t working? Sure. But would it have been a bit less stressful? Absolutely. Less balls to juggle means, well, an easier time juggling.

But the biggest issue for my family, one that my husband and I knew from the get-go, was that the cost of daycare for one kid was manageable, but the cost of daycare for two kids was unreasonable. I paid $900/month for high-quality daycare. This was actually $100-200 less than what some of my friends paid. I used a daycare center, not an in-home daycare provider, and the director of the facility was an RN. This place had a lot of space, toys, outdoor recreation, sleeping areas with dim lights, and most importantly a qualified staff with low turnover. It was a check I wrote willingly. In my opinion, daycare is not where you want to save a buck. I’ll sacrifice many things to save money, but my personal philosophy is, “Do not be cheap when it comes to doctors, dentists and child care providers.” But with two kids in daycare, after subracting $1800 a month from my take-home pay, my average hourly wage at that point is $3.75/hour. Add to this quandary the fact that part-time daycare is so difficult to come by (especially for a newborn), and the part-time employment offered to me by my employer as a happy-medium was actually not as good an option as it sounds.

Though the choice to become a stay-at-home-mom wasn’t entirely dictated by finances¬† (you can read more about that here), it was heavily influenced by it. I had a great job, with supportive colleagues, but it still wasn’t a great situation. I think if I had been given the opportunity to stay home longer with my baby, I would have. If there had been government subsidies in place to assist with the cost of daycare, I could have justified working. And I would have jumped at the chance to work part-time. As it was, I felt like my time with my daughter was limited and–if we chose to have another child–I’d be working to pay for daycare.

It’s my dream that my daughters, if they choose to have children of their own, won’t have to make a choice about their employment the way that I did.