Travel...and the new discrimination

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I travel. A lot. Mainly for work, but with family on both coasts and in the Caribbean I'm often on-the-go with kids-in-tow.

I started my career as a management consultant - on the road 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year. I lived out of my suitcase and learned to pack for any trip of any length in less than 20 minutes. This is a skill that's come in handy as a mom (not to mention during high stakes Tetris tournaments). When traveling with kids, I have packing down to a science and never leave home without snacks, 1 toy each, books and lovies for bedtime and the old-faithful-iPad (mommy's NEW little helper...).

Being somewhat of a travel whiz, I was excited when my friends over at Working Mother Magazine invited me to represent their WorkMom Blog at the Residence Inn Mom's Night Out event in Times Square. I met a GREAT group of other moms (shout out to @Glamamom, @Strollerballet, @mommasgonecity) and got to spend a glorious night of uninterrupted sleep ALONE in a king-sized hotel bed.

Oh, the hotel was awesome too. Full-sized refrigerator, all suites (small for the rest of the country, but HUGE for NYC), hot breakfast every morning included in the price, HUGE laundry room, good gym. The have a free iPad/iPhone app for hotel guests offering walking tours of Manhattan and a truly child-friendly staff. Prices vary, but for off-peak/non-holiday travel it seems to be a very reasonable option for the otherwise wildly expensive New York hotel scene. Check them out if you ever come to my neck of the woods.

As part of the festivities, we had a Family Travel roundtable discussion. As we dug deeper into our travel routines, likes and dislikes, the conversation gravitated toward the challenges of traveling with kids. One-by-one, we began to recount tales of dirty looks from fellow travelers, immediate requests to be re-seated once our seatmates noticed our kids (whether they were screaming-at-the-top-of-their-lungs or not), dismissive flight attendants or hotel staff.

Suddenly, it hit me. I'd experienced more direct discrimination as a mother traveling with small children than I have ever felt as a black woman. Ushers requesting that my kids leave an event billed as a "family jazz matinee" because they were disrupting other patronss when they were simply asking questions (http://www.thebadassmamachronicles.com/2011/06/public-enemy-1.html).   Perfect strangers feel completely comfortable loudly complaining about a crying baby on the plane, letting out loud sighs and protests when kids are seated in business class or milling about hotel lobbies. Mid-scale restaurants banning children after 6pm and airlines restricting kids from business class.

If someone loudly protested that there were black people on an airplane, no one would hesitate to label it racism. If a person is told they are too old buy a ticket in business class, it's ageism. Women restricted from dining in a restaurant? Sexism. But replace any of these groups with the word "baby" or "child", and people feel no shame making blanket statements out loud.

I say ENOUGH. Families with small children have every right to ride on an airplane, eat in a restaurant or stay in a hotel. Our money is green and our freedom should be just as free. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not giving parents a free pass to let their kids act like fools in public. The BadAssMama believes in discipline and self-control as much as the next guy. But I also know that kids are KIDS. They cannot be expected to sit quietly in the corner for hours on end - especially during the preschool years. With families spread out across the country and around the world, families with young children should have the right to leave their homes without facing the blatant, often nasty judgement of perfect strangers.

So the next time you make a comment about why the hell a mother would travel alone with 2 small kids on a plane, put yourself in her shoes. How would YOU feel if you were being judged? And offer a helping hand...not judgement.

Top 10 Things to NEVER do at a Mother's House

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I've had a bit of a heavy week, so I've been MIA on the blog front. In the spirit of trying to make myself laugh (and hopefully YOU too), here is The BadAss Mama's Top Ten List of Things to NEVER do at a Mother's House:

10: Leave dishes in the sink - I already have 2 kids. If I wanted a third, I would be pregnant by now. Clean up your own shit.

9. Utter the words "You look tired" -  We KNOW that we look tired. Reminding us that we are close to breaking the record for "Most Nights of Interrupted Sleep" will not get you brownie points...but it may get you slapped.

8. Ask "Are you going for the girl/boy?" - That's kind of like asking any woman NOT in active labor when her baby is due. Or asking a random stranger about their sex life. Yet another way to possibly get slapped...

7. Mention how tired YOU are - There are few exceptions to this rule, including other parents (we hear you), night shift workers (ditto), on-call doctors, police/fire personnel, active military and astronauts. Other than that, shut up. You can't POSSIBLY be that tired. And if you're tired from going out the night before, get out of my house.

6. Offer unsolicited advice on how to discipline the kids - Fellow parent or not, unless you witness abuse or neglect keep your opinions to yourself. If we want your advice, we'll ask. And if you don't have kids - shut your mouth.

5. Ask "So, what's for dinner" - There are six mouths to feed at BadAssMama Central (including Kitty and Fishy Torres). On a good night, I get around to four of them (Angel and Victor are always on the list. Everyone else is hit-or-miss). Unless you have a to-go menu in one hand and cash in the other, these words should not cross your lips.

4. Ring the doorbell during naptime or after 8pm - Knock lightly, call or text. If you wake up my kids, you may end up on the 11 o'clock news.

3. Make a mess and leave before cleaning up - Kids are the ONLY exception to this rule. For additional detail, see Point #10.

2. Talk trash about the screaming baby on your last flight - Unless these words are followed by, "And then I offered to help the mother. I can't imagine how hard that was for her". Otherwise, I will fill my kids with Red Bull and candy corn, ask if you can watch them "for a few minutes" then leave for  a Harry Potter marathon...

1. Bring candy/cookies/caffeinated beverages for the kids - Unless you ask first and are willing to stay with them during the aftermath (while I go out for a drink...)

Little Miss Perfect

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"That which makes us good can also make us crazy." -The BadAssMama

I've known for quite some time. I am a perfectionist. An unabashed, unapologetic, nearly un-wavering perfectionist.

It started when I was very young. I don't remember the exact origin of my particular neurosis (neurosis, psychosis. Po-TAE-toe, Po-TA-toe...). Perhaps it had something to do with the night that my dad had me sit at the kitchen table and repeat the days of the week over and over (and over, and over) until I got them right. Not that there was anything wrong with that - he wanted me to learn the days of the week, so we practiced. A lot.  Thirty-some-odd-years and countless millions of dollars in therapy later, I'm good with it.

But seriously, I thank my parents for instilling me with a strong work ethic and pride in a job well done. Excellence was not necessarily rewarded - it was expected. Not in a creepy-Tiger-Parent-you-can-never-go-on-a-play-date sort of way, but in a supportive-yet-firm we know you can be the best sort of way. Fast forward to today, the constant pursuit of perfection (please don't sue me, Lexus marketing people) has taken me far in life.

It's also made me a bit nuts.

I have an insatiable need to be right. ALL. THE. TIME. Just ask my husband. I am a textbook teacher's pet, book worm, over-acheiving-type-A-lunatic.

Most of the time, I limit my relentless pursuit of perfection to myself. I don't demand the same level of crazy efficiency from those around me - either at work or at home. True, I may swear under my breath when the ticket-taking process at the midnight Harry Potter screening is less-than-ideal, but I don't make a stink about it or let it ruin my night (at least not ALL of it...). I celebrate the "Colossal Failure of the Week" in each team meeting at work because I truly believe that we can learn more in failure than in success. Well, I believe that others can learn more from failure. I accept little short of constant success from myself. I am learning to give my kids the space to be kids and learn through trial and error.

You wouldn't suspect my peculiar personality quirk immediately. In fact, few outside of my closest inner circle are aware of my maddening quest for total perfection. Most folks in my professional circle just think that I'm driven. Smart. Accomplished. Mommy friends and casual acquaintances marvel at my ability to effortlessly juggle career, family, fitness. They don't see me up at midnight balancing the checkbook or finishing a training run.

I hide my crazy well. I'm a highly functional lunatic.

My particular brand of crazy has served me well over the years. It has been rewarded with good grades, promotions, awards and recognition. But here's the thing. I have no interest in passing on this disorder to my kids.

True, I want them to have every opportunity in life - to have the option to pursue whatever it is they choose and make the most of it. But I don't want them to drive themselves crazy doing it. I want them to be the very best version of themselves that they can be. I want them to know that you don't have to be perfect to do well. That perfect rarely makes you happy.

I've made some progress in recovering from my perfect-addiction. Like any other addiction, I don't think that I'll ever truly be rid of my desire for perfection. I'm just learning that there are other things - better things in life to strive for. Letting you in on my dirty little secret is a big part of my recovery. I'm even trying to celebrate my failures. Most of them relate to parenting, but hey - I've gotta start somewhere!

How to be a great mom

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If you happen to have the answer, please let me know because apparently I don't have an f'ing clue.

Oh, you thought this was  "how to" piece? Clearly you don't read my blog much.

In my pre-mommy days, the rules of the road were relatively straightforward. Study hard, put in the work, get the reward. Sure, there was some luck and really good timing thrown in there somewhere, but 9 times out of 10 hard work lead to some type of reward. In school, it was good grades. At work, a positive review or promotion. When training for marathons, it meant crossing the finish line without passing out.

And then I had kids.

While it should have been relatively obvious that my formula for success in life would not have many direct applications to mommy-hood, I continue to find it REALLY HARD to shake the method that's worked for the past thirty-ish years (OK, closer to 40 but who's counting...). The first, and least obvious challenge when applying the "hard work = success" method to parenting is the definition of parenting success. What does it mean to be a good mom? Does it mean perfectly behaved kids? Ivy League admissions? Kindness? Playing well with others? All of the above? The challenge of defining parenting success is that the definition is ever-changing and highly case-specific. If your ultimate goal is to create strong, independent adults who have something more than reality-show fodder to offer the world you won't really know if you've succeeded for a good 20+ years - and by then it's probably too late to do anything.

The second challenge to my method-to-a-successful-life-thus-far is that the model assumes efficiency - that there is a relatively straight line correlation between parenting input and kid output. Well, anyone who has ever had kids (or been around young kids for anything longer than 15 minutes) can tell you that with kids NOTHING happens in a straight line. They learn through repetition - and no, I don't mean the neat-and-tidy writing your lines on the bulletin board over-and-over-and-over again repetition, but by asking the same question 15 times in a row to see if they get the same answer. Or dropping a spoon from the high chair over-and-over-and-over again to see if it always makes the same noise. Kids learn best through experience, and experience takes time, repetition and a boat load of mommy-patience (things that are in woefully short supply at BadAssMama Central, but I'm working on it...).

I think the biggest difference between mommy-success and career-success is that parenting is truly about the journey. Yes, I know that sounds like a corny Hallmark card, but the longer I'm in this mommy gig the more I realize that it's not about how old my kids were when they learned how to walk or write their name, it's about how WE got there as a family. The joy in Angel's eyes when he realized that the newborn Victor was "his baby" (and not just some random kid that we brought home for the weekend). The monkey-see-monkey-do act between big brother and little bro. The sense of accomplishment they feel when they realize they can do things on their own.

And the realization that they go from babies to teenagers in the blink of an eye, so we should focus on the journey much more than the final destination.

Your teacher SUCKS

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If the mother is the child's first teacher, then my kid's teacher sucks.

Let me explain.

The other week at daycare pick up, the amazing woman who runs the program mentioned that Angel was getting frustrated that he could write or recite all of the letters that his friends at school could. (Since Angel was in preschool 3 days a week last year, he did not follow the same curriculum at daycare as the other kids). She asked if he was retaining his lessons from preschool. The words coming out of my mouth were "I think so." In my head, the real answer was that I had no idea. 

I don't know what he was taught in preschool. They did not send home notes or homework assignments or progress reports. I assumed that they were following the curriculum that they laid out at orientation, but did not think to ask for more details (moron! loser!). We try to practice letters or workbooks with him (in addition to his speech therapy homework), but most nights barely have time to rush through dinner, bath and books before it's time to go to bed and start the whole routine over in the morning. 

So, my husband and I decided to dedicate the rest of the summer to teaching Angel to write his name and learn the alphabet (at least the capital letters). Last week was our family road trip, so we decided to hold off until this week.

Status report from day one? Not so promising. I asked Angel if he wanted to learn how to write his name. He responded with an enthusiastic, "That's a GREAT idea mom!" I wrote out his name, had him repeat the letters to me, then made his name in dotted lines a few times for him to trace. After tracing the letters with him, I asked him to show Daddy. He told me that he didn't want to because, "I messed up. It was the worst day ever." 

And then my heart broke. 

Angel was frustrated that his letters were not straight on the dotted lines. Then he got frustrated that he could not remember the next letter in his name when we went on to repeat the letters aloud.

I have given birth to a perfectionist-replica of myself. A mini-me. 

Crap.

I am not a good teacher. I don't know the right way to help build his confidence while helping him retain knowledge. With a full time job, household errands and dreams of some sort of personal life (one day, one day...) there just don't seem to be enough hours in the day to get everything done - especially to give my kids all the attention that they need. My parents were home after school at 3pm to help us with our homework when we were younger, and review it when we were older. On a GOOD day, I don't even walk through the door until 6pm.

I don't know how I'm going to do all of this. I feel like I'm failing my kids and they're not even in kindergarten yet...

What I Learned on My Family Vacation...by The BadAssMama

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The BadAssMama Family Travel-o-Rama has finally come to a close. Six days, 7 states, several kid-friendly venues and family giggles later we are back at BadAssMama Central and I'm feeling equal parts exhaustion, elation and enlightenment. Exhaustion after a 500+ mile road trip with two occasionally-cooperative preschoolers and an AWESOME husband (he drove the whole way - thanks, Babe!). Elated by the fact that I not only survived but actually enjoyed the majority of the 10 day stretch of 24-7 mama duty. And enlightened by the lessons I learned by trying to view our family vacation through the eyes of my children.

So, in honor of the millions of "What I Did on My Summer Vacation" essays to be written by kids across the globe over the next several weeks, I bring you a list of what I learned on our family vacation:

Keep it simple. It's incredible how little it takes to amuse my kids. After the untold hundreds of dollars we've spent on educational toys, learning electronics, visual aids and what-not, who would have known that all it takes is a box to provide literally DAYS of fun? While Angel traveled with a "learning puppy" from Fisher Price for his first 3 years of life, Victor's travel companion on this family road trip was a simple box. He took that damned thing EVERYWHERE. Any time we left the hotel, Victor would ask, "Can I bring my box?" Big brother was forbidden from touching said box, and whenever Victor didn't know its EXACT location, mayhem would ensue. Sometimes he would just carry it around with a big grin on his face. He would spend what seemed like hours filling it with anything he could find (toy cars, spoons, Cheerios, napkins), dumping it out on the floor only to fill it up again.

Yelling is fun. After observing hundreds of kids at the water park, hotel lobby, children's museum, various restaurants and tourist attractions I found one universal truth. Kids are LOUD. And they seem to be at their happiest doing whatever it is that they are doing while screaming at the top of their lungs. They talk loud, sing loud, laugh loud, ask questions loud. When are they at their loudest? When they're having the most fun. Sometimes, the simple act of yelling alone brought my kids more joy than the 2 days at Sesame Place combined...

Nap in the middle of the day. There is nothing more beautiful, more perfect, more true than a sleeping baby on a summer afternoon. Almost every day of our trip, Victor would fall asleep like clockwork for a glorious siesta around noon. Often before lunch, and always after a rousing morning of toddler shenanigans. Quite simply, nothing is better than a nice nap after a morning of fun in the sun...

Ask questions. LOTS of questions. I think that Angel may have learned more on this vacation than through the countless hours of preschool-and-kindergarten-readiness-books that we've been through over the past 18 months. We didn't set aside "homework time" or go out of our way to make the trip overtly educational. For once, we let him ask questions to his little heart's content. And we answered them, ALL of them, to the best of our ability. He asked questions about railroads and babies and storm clouds and tractor trailers. Anything and everything that popped into his head. Each answer was invariably followed by a seemingly endless stream of "Why?" responses. And he loved every minute of it.

Play every day. I'm almost embarrassed to write this, but I realize that I played with my kids more in the past 10 days than I probably have in their entire young lives. Maybe it was the fact that I had no train to catch, meetings to run, meals to prepare or house to clean, but I actually found a way to play with my kids for big chunks of time each day. We would dance, sing silly songs, have races, make up words. Nothing made me happier than to see their little faces light up, and hear their crazy laughter echo down the hall. Now, don't get me wrong. We had our fair share of tantrums and time outs. But we played every day. And it was awesome!

Quantity over quality. I used to think that to be a good mom, I had to make the most out of every second that I spent with my kids. Whether it be through structured activities, planned outings or age-appropriate events, I wanted to make sure that my kids had plenty of quality time with The BadAssMama. Well, after 10 days of solid family time, I've learned that the times my kids seemed to have the most fun were in the hotel room, rolling around on the floor - or walking through the lobby holding hands. Kids want big-honking-chunks of unstructured time just to BE with their family. They could care less about the venue. They just want YOU.

The last, and most impactful lesson from our trip was that it's not just me. At every meal, entry gate, hotel lobby and ride queue, I saw parents and kids - just like us - saying the same things ("Don't put that in your mouth! Don't touch that! We will turn around and go right back home!), with the same look of exasperation-tinged-wonder that I find spread across my face every waking moment. My kids aren't crazy - ALL kids are nuts! I'm not the only mom at the end of her rope. We're all hanging on for dear life.

And loving every minute of it...well, at least most of them.

Vacation scorecard

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So, we're wrapping the last day of the BadAssMama Family Road Trip today. I'm tinkering with a first-day-of-school-like "What I Learned From My Summer Vacation" essay post. Until then, I'll leave you with a little vacation scorecard. Wish us luck on the drive home!

Days on the road: 6
States driven thru: 7
Kiddie attractions visited: 4
National monuments toured: 5
Loads of laundry: 3
Mommy workouts completed: 5
Tantrums thrown: 12
Mommy/Daddy date nights: 1
Members of the Hall/Porter family touring the White House: 417
Hours of family memories? Tons...

The Vacation Curse

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There is nothing that I want to do less than take a road trip with my kids tomorrow.

Let me explain.

Maybe it's a tradition unique to my family. It seems, without fail, that before any major event, momentous occasion or uninterrupted chunk of time together (freed from the shackles of work and preschool), my children invariably lose their damned minds. It all starts out innocently enough. Shrieks of "Vacation! Vacation!" upon my arrival at the day care. Early morning wake up the next day, just to make sure that we are still actually on vacation. Questions regarding where we are going on our vacation. Happiness that mommy REALLY is not going to work. Really this time...

Then, it happens. By day 3 the kids are bouncing off the walls, no one is listening, I am screaming incessantly, my nerves are frayed and I begin to count down the days until I go back to work.

Is it just me? Does this happen to other families with kids in the preschool set? I know that their behavior is a sign that they feel comfortable acting out in front of the ones they love (or do they do this shit everywhere?). I know that their exuberance is a reflection of their joy at the thought of 10 uninterrupted days and nights with Mommy and Daddy all to themselves. 24-7. Day and night.

I do enjoy a break from the routine, and I love the fact that I can spend more than roughly 90 waking minutes with my children for a double-digit stretch of days. But do they REALLY have to drive me this crazy?

Part of me thinks that it's a case of unrealistic expectations. Visions of family bliss, Kodak memories and apple pie-dreams. Another part thinks that maybe I'm simply not cut out for this mommy thing. I am a perfectionist, impatient and generally annoyed with anything less than maximum efficiency. I yell a lot, and occasionally curse out loud. These things and motherhood don't exactly mix.

Then again, my kids are making me better every day (at least I'd like to think so), and my unique personality quirks do come in handy when trying to wrangle two rambunctious boys under the age of five.

Tomorrow we head off on a 6 day, 3 state road trip. There are plenty of snacks and entertainment packed and ready to go. We planned in lots of time to linger, tantrum and run free. I'm looking forward to seeing my kids enjoy themselves and spending a good chunk of quality time with them. I know that I'll yell far too much, and enjoy far too little.

But hopefully we can have some fun while we're at it...