summer’s coming…are you ready?

If you’re a parent with young kids, there’s often a mixture of feelings swirling around you as summer approaches.

Good feelings:

  • a break from making lunches
  • a break from dragging kids out of bed each morning
  • getting to see those little angels more
  • family time away and at home

Bad feelings:

  • how do I work while I have my kids all summer
  • will expenses far outrun income?
  • why is summer so long?
  • why do I resent summer when I used to love it?!?
  • Argh!

As a 1-person, service-oriented business, summer can be challenging for me. My highest priority is to take care of my current clients rewarding their loyalty with my best availability. However, the phone still rings and new people want to come in for appointments too. Gift certificate recipients like to be able to schedule an appointment within a reasonable amount of time, redeeming the super nice gift someone gave them while they have some free time. So, summer can feel like juggling.

This summer we have 2 weeks away planned, one early, one late. Our son will be in a science camps 2 weeks and a cub scout camp 1 week. Thankfully in La Cañada there’s a great drop-in camp called Buff Buddies that he can go to when needed. Check out Buff Buddies – the program and facilities are really great. With no family in town, summer can be tricky to navigate. But…I have to remember life is not all work and having fun together is not to be forgotten in the hustle and bustle. Legos, Yu-Gi-Oh!, bike riding here I come!

How about you? Are there any other parents who find themselves with a mixed outlook on the summer ahead? It’s June and school’s almost out! Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Opting In, reflections

According to many studies, sons of working moms expect to raise their children, too, and sons of stay-at-home mothers expect a wife will take care of all those child-rearing responsibilities. Opting In by Amy Richards (Farrar, Straus & Giroux 2008 page 23)

I’m doing some preliminary research for a book I may or may not ever write about life after kids arrive. Opting In: Having a Child Without Losing Yourself by Amy Richards was the first book to arrive from my library request list. The author is a feminist and definitely positions herself in the flow of feminist dialogue. Of the books on my request list, I think it will win the longest bibliography contest at 11 pages. She covers a range of topics, the most interesting to me being division of labor in households with 2 working parents.

Regarding the quote above, I would imagine daughters of working mothers and daughters of stay-at-home mothers have expectations similar to sons. We often fail to articulate our expectations or even be aware of them. In our culture, the default gender to take on household chores and kid-care is the female gender. Regardless of how well we articulated the plan before kids arrived, when the rubber hits the road every day, our contentment or resentment is keeping tabs somewhere in the background, keeping score more-or-less if things seem fair.

It seems to me that more and more families need 2 incomes, especially in over-priced regions of the country like Southern CA. Fewer families have the choice to have one parent stay home, regardless of how they then work out the non-paid duties of keeping house and raising kids. So, how do we work it out? I’m sure there are a million answers to that question.

Sometimes one parent takes on parenting as their “job.” This may or may not ever be stated explicitly. And it may backfire.

Where incomes are equalized – either through earned incomes or through inheritances and other sources – individuals have more leverage. In fact, imbalances often emerge because “she” is taking on parenting as her job – she doesn’t help with his job; why should he help with hers? page 197

Often the balance of paid work and unpaid work (kid-care & housekeeping, etc.) shifts over time. Keeping the conversation current with shifting balances requires diligence and attention. Here’s another gem from the book:

If you spend a disproportionate amount of time being bitter with your spouse, it’s unlikely that you feel giving towards him or her. “Dads who do more child-care and household chores have happier marriages and are less likely to divorce,” Julie Shields documented in How to Avoid the Mommy Trap. page 199

If both parents are working, it begs the question “who does all the non-paid work?” Of course, we can outsource by hiring help for various parts of the equation like childcare and cleaning. We can eat more processed meals, lease cars that don’t require much maintenance and hire tutors to help with homework. All the families I know include some combination of the above strategies. We can also choose to cut expenses, live communally, and spend below our means (thereby requiring less income). Many families I know incorporate these ideas as well. If we can manage to keep from losing touch with our kids and our sanity by using some of these creative solutions, we can pat ourselves on the back for sure.

I enjoyed reading the book and found it spurred a lot of thought. Here’s to both opting in! Share your brilliant solutions about the daily juggle in the comments below.

supermom, good mom, good-enough mom

Early in my induction into mom-hood, I came across the concept of the good-enough mom. Whatever book I was reading at the time suggested, gently, that perhaps we do more harm than good trying to be a perfect mother. Good-enough will do very well by our kids as well as preserve our sanity.

My 2-year-old, new to talking, said to me one time: “Mama, you good-enough mom.” I remember enough of the context to know it was NOT a compliment. But that was years ago AND before I was trying to strike that elusive balance between working for pay and working for the benefit of posterity.

How am I doing now on the continuum of supermom to low-down rotten mom? I’d say the answer for me and many parents lies in the criteria by which we judge ourselves. Most of us will never end on the low-down, rotten end of the spectrum, thankfully.

So what’s the criteria? I recently finished a book titled I was a Really Good Mom before I had Kids: Reinventing Modern Motherhood by Trisha Ashworth & Amy Nobile (Chronicle Books, 2007). As you can imagine from the clever title, it’s a bit tongue-in-cheek and very girlfriendish. I laughed aloud at points and saw myself somewhere in each chapter.

Some of the great recommendations in the book include:

– letting go of unrealistic expectations and therefore guilt at falling short

– swearing off comparing ourselves to other parents and second-guessing our decisions

– saying no to some things in order to say a more complete “Yes!” to the things that are truly important to us and our families

All of these things are easier said than done, and I appreciated how the authors used humor to encourage their readers. The day after I finished reading the book I had a little ah-ha moment.

I was dropping my son off for his last camp day of the summer and then heading to a day’s worth of work. He was staging quite a resistance and I was feeling predictably guilty. This is my number one struggle as a working parent. Although I feel it’s important to have a life outside parenting and housework; although we need me to work, financially speaking; and although I go crazy with too much kid-time, I still succumb to guilty feelings when he’s resistant to the kid-care options I’ve arranged for him while I work. By the time we got to the super-awesome fun place for kids, he jumped out of the car, half-skipped, half-jogged to the entrance and jumped right into playing with the toys when we got there. No protest, no drama. The knot in my stomach relaxed and I consciously let go of the guilt. He would be well cared for and have fun this day. He probably wouldn’t want to leave when I returned.

The guilt I felt was a complete waste of emotional energy. That’s my main lesson to live into. Yes, I’m a good-enough mom and proud of it.

Lastly, NO ONE responded to my last book give-away! Maybe some of you were scared off by me asking you to tell a story in the comments. So, this time, if you are interested in the book I’m giving away (featured last week: The Three-Martini Playdate), please just jot me a note in the comments below or send an email to me: susan (at) susanyoungmassagetherapy (dot) com. It’s a great book and I’d love to get it into someone’s hands. Someone who needs a good laugh!

one little change – multiple trips

Imagine this scene.

It’s 7:30 am and you are hustling to get yourself and everyone short you are in charge of out the door on time. After you drop the kids off at school, you’ll head to work. During lunch you have 2 small errands to run. If you’re really lucky you might grab 20 minutes to exercise before picking the kids up again. Then it’s back home by way of the store to pick something up for dinner.

If you’re like me or most moms I know, the scenario above implies that on your way from the house to the car, you have 20 bags of varying sizes, shapes and weights hanging from every appendage you own. There might be 2 bags on each shoulder, one under the left arm and 1-2 in each hand. On a good day your kid or kids might carry their own lunch bags, backpacks and favorite toy themselves. But if you’ve already had to wrestle them to brush their teeth and tie their shoes, you just might choose to skip one more battle and carry those items yourself to the car. To carry all these bags without dropping them, you probably need to hike your shoulders up high essentially making them pegs from which these bags can hang securely. As you deposit some of these items in the front seat, kids’ seats, and trunk, you’ll need to swing the bags left and right, contorting your body so the other bags don’t fall or tip. Can you imagine this scenario? I could throw a stroller into the scenario. You know, the kind that fold really easily (wink).

This is the first in a series I’m calling “one little change.” In this kind of post, I’ll suggest how making one little change in how you do something can make a difference in feeling comfortable in your body in some way.

My suggestion for this post is pretty straightforward. I hope I won’t insult anyone’s intelligence.

Make multiple trips. Ridiculously obvious, I know, but I often find myself needing to fight the urge to make one big huge hulking trip with everything I’ll need for the next 11 hours. It’s like a cosmic battle between efficiency and common sense. Act like a pack mule and you’ll likely feel a bit grumpy and sore. The one trip method overtaxes my body and its amazing appendages. Making multiple trips to the car to load up the day’s necessities has helped me stay sane this year. I feel less frustrated because I’m not taking the role of pack mule. My loads are lighter and I practically skip between the car and house (if coffee has already been consumed “tra la la!”).

Now if you live in a place where your car is far from your house, you’ll need some more clever solutions. Of if you are a beloved member of the public transportation community, God bless you! Roller bags, carts or light backpacks might be part of your solution set for keeping your body comfortable. If you’re a devoted bike rider, I am giving you a standing ovation right now. Right now! Panniers, of course, are fabulous for carting stuff without it hanging on your shoulders. Both bussers and bikers, by necessity, have learned to chose their loads strategically and keep them light.  I must admit, living in Southern CA has shaped me into quite the car-dependent person as you can see my bias as I write. And I realize not all my readers have short people they are in charge of, are moms (or even women) or have bad habits like me…but if you find this pep talk useful or transferable to your life in some small way, I’m happy.

The bottom line here is: please don’t overtax your lovely shoulders by carrying too much at once, even for short distances. Outsmart your task by breaking it down and your lovely shoulders will thank you. They are not truly intended to be pegs, hiked up to the ears to keep umpteen bags from falling off. Your SPINE will chip in with a hurrah too.

Cheers! Here’s to lighter loads for all!

lazy, I mean, energy-efficient parenting

All parents develop a repertoire of games they can play with their kids where they expend the least amount of energy possible. I’m sure this is linked to our survival as a species. Fact: kids have way too much energy. No, of course they have the right amount of energy and coffee is a poor substitute for us grown-up’s.

My first awareness of these energy-efficient childcare games was “monster on the couch.” Basically the adult sits on the couch, arms extended and waving randomly. Kid(s) run past trying not to get caught by the monster. If you have the fortune of having a house where kids can run out of view and back into view, the monster can slouch into the couch while the kids are out of view. Younger kids can happily play this for about an hour. Every once in a while you have to catch the kids and tickle them to make the rest of the slouching work.

Last year after dropping the kiddo off at kindergarten I had a lovely walk around the Rose Bowl with some other moms. As we chatted and traded fabulous bits of wisdom with each other this topic of energy-efficient parenting came up. Everyone had some version of “monster on the couch.” I added one of my personal favorites “injured hiker.” Ever since we got our earthquake preparedness backpack, my son and I have enjoyed playing injured hiker. I am the injured hiker. I usually pretend to fall off a cliff while hiking and land, where else, on the bed. Sometimes I sneak a pillow under my head. My son grabs the first aid backpack and comes running up the pretend trail or rappelling down the imaginary cliff to deliver first aid to me. I always have a lot of injuries so I have to lay there a looong time! If I happen to doze off, well, that’s a sign of hypothermia or shock…and the pretend search-and-rescue paramedic can learn about how to treat that too! The other moms were in awe of “injured hiker” and thanked me profusely.

Today I came up with a new one. I would be lying if I didn’t admit I’m proud of myself. My son and I like to wrestle and roughhouse. With a very small apartment, we’ve viewed the bed as a play space out of necessity. While this is not good for the mattress, I realized today there are some advantages. When we wrestle I’m usually a Decepticon and he is always an Autobot. There is a lot of falling down (on the soft, cushy bed) involved in wrestling and battling each other. Sometimes I fall dead for a little longer than he does, sometimes sneaking a quick pillow under my head (wink). Today’s brilliant breakthrough was incorporating “stasis” into my wrestling playtime. Statis, as any Transformer knows, is a state of hibernation for robots. Stasis is my new energy-efficient parenting trick.

In fact, I think I feel a little stasis coming on right now.

If you haven’t copyrighted your favorite lazy, I mean, energy-efficient parenting tricks, feel free to share in the comments.

Ashiatsu Oriental Bar Therapy

At the end of the week I’ll be heading to Scottsdale, AZ to attend the second part of a training for a massage technique called Ashiatsu Oriental Bar Therapy. A rather long name, I know. It’s a great modality where I use my clean, smooth feet to deliver a great massage to the back of the body. It’s perfect for those who like deeper pressure (and aren’t put off by feet!). Here’s a link if you’re intrigued. http://deepfeet.com/

I learned the first part of the modality in June ’09. The first part involves what are called seated strokes and one-footed strokes. Some of the strokes are delivered to the back while the therapist is seated on a high stool. The one-footed strokes are performed standing on the table with one foot anchored on the table and the other foot surfing around on the back, hips and glutes, and back of legs. What I’ll be learning next are the two-footed strokes. There are lovely, deep strokes up and down the spine as well as up and down the back of the legs. It almost looks like the person is getting rolled out like pizza dough (happy pizza dough). I’m excited to not only have the chance to learn more of the Ashiatsu technique, but also to have a few days off from mom-duty.

I decided to start the conversation with my son early. “Mommy’s going to be gone next week for a few days,” I offered during a cuddle time.  “Yes!” he replied, raising his hand in the air enthusiastically. “Now Daddy and I can implement our secret plan!” Oh, gee, I’m so sorry you’ll miss me. Seeing as how he gets at least 50% of his trouble-maker tendencies from me, I asked “What’s your secret plan?” “I can’t tell you, Mommy!” rolling his eyes. “It’s a secret.”

A couple days later my son asked if we could go to In ‘N Out Burgers instead of eating the fantastic meal I was preparing. “No, but I bet when I’m gone, Daddy will take you there.”  “Yes!” was his reply, cunning in his eyes as he began to realize what amazing potential there could be in Mommy leaving town. Will I miss him/them? Sure, but I will enjoy a few days off from making lunches, nagging him to get up, get dressed, brush his teeth, get in the car….need I go on? Parents are always working. We only get paid for some of it.

You called?

A cardinal rule of business, big or small, is to be responsive to clients. All the experts agree – return phone calls promptly. That sounds pretty straightforward. True confession time here:

Phone calls, at times, are my Achilles heel!

Here’s the back story – I had been married a year and had agreed with my husband that we wanted to try to have a kid or 2. I was accelerating towards burn-out in my job of 6 years. I had explored some education options for a career move. I wanted something that would provide flexibility, something that might blend well with having a family. When I looked into massage, things clicked and I pursued an education in this field.

Almost 7 years into the experiment I would have to say that massage was a great choice for me. Although my work life has taken different iterations at different times in the life of my little guy, we have a pretty good groove down now, balancing family life and paying the bills. Most days I pick him up from school and spend time with him doing homework, playing, and being together. My husband and I agreed that we really didn’t want our kid to be in other people’s care for huge chunks of his life. This choice has had specific financial implications. But a young kid grows up so fast and the early years are so important that we’ve felt it has always been a great choice.

Things get more complicated when we turn our attention to returning phone calls, that pillar of good business practice. I try my darnedest to not take or make phone calls while I am on mom-duty. There are 2 reasons for this. If you’ve ever made a phone call to a parent while their kid is around on the other side of the call, you’ll know why. Parents answering phones are like magnets for kids. The brain of a child is apparently hard-wired to view the phone as a direct threat that must be countered. Reason #2 is fear of reason #1 even when my kid cooperates with me.

As I reflect on the frustration that simple phone calls cause me, I realize that our communication options have profoundly changed in our culture and re-shaped our expectations. With the advent of cell phones, text messages, and the like, we have come to expect that we can get a message through or obtain a reply from people at practically any time, in any place. There are very few off-limit times and places left. I personally draw the line at the restroom. I have a strict no-answer policy if I’m in the restroom. I know first hand from some public restrooms that others do not draw the line there.

I have been noticing this new normalcy of constant availability in my church. The church attracts a younger crowd and I often notice someone responding, at least visually, to a phone during the service. I was incredulous when I saw the drummer check his phone during a song! Well, if this is how 20-somethings view normal life, imagine what perspective my son will have when he’s 20. I can’t even imagine.

Yes, modern life is changing us. And it poses one more challenge to the balance of family life and work life. Where I draw the line on answering calls and checking email while I’m on mom-duty sends a message to my son about a variety of things: the importance of my work, the importance of time with him, what it’s like to juggle both. Perhaps my choices will result in a lost client on occasion. I can only hope that most days we come out ahead in this experiment that is my flexible-career-that-allows-me-lots-of-time-with-family scenario.

I’ll end with this story. I hope you’ll find it funny. One day my son and I had some time to kill before heading into the YMCA. There’s a nice track that we sometimes walk around. He suggested we play a game while we walk. He put his hand up to his ear and said “buzz-buzz, buzz-buzz.”  It took me a second…what was he doing? And then I got it. He was calling me (phone on vibrate setting). We proceeded to talk on our pretend cell phones as we walked the track side-by-side. Yes, that paints a modern picture, doesn’t it?