Questioning my priorities

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Nothing quite like a kid in the hospital to put your priorities in order.

Let me explain.

The past 9 months have been a blur of medical drama, career chaos and general upheaval in and around BadAssMama Central (um, and kind of all around the world given the whole terrorists/natural disasters/economic destruction thing we've got going). After the last round of personal and professional drama, I felt like we were finally turning a corner and getting back to what we call normal.

And then Victor's fever shot up to 103.

It started as a regular cold - that annoying croup-y cough that all the kids have this time of year. He came home from daycare with a low-grade fever on Tuesday, but continued to play, eat and generally terrorize the house like any other day. Until late Saturday night when the fever struck. When I saw his labored breathing, I knew that we weren't coming home any time soon. I had no idea that it would be almost a week.

For the next six days, I spent 22-hours a day inside the four walls of Victor's hospital room as he battled a nasty bout of pneumonia. After the three-day stint last summer for his first sickle cell crisis, I knew that I had to get out of the hospital for at least a stretch of time each day to maintain some semblance of sanity - and to keep on my game face for my little boy.

Friday afternoon, the doctors sent us home. After six-days on high alert, I felt my body begin to relax a bit (though I remained vigilant for any signs of labored breathing or fever). The brothers had a joyful reunion (until they began bickering about 2 hours later). Dinner, bath, books and bedtime followed by laundry and a late-night run to BJs Wholesale Club (since tumbleweeds were blowing through my cupboards).

Have you ever had the sneaking suspicion that it was time for a change in your life? Some people describe the feeling as God whispering in your ear. Well, what started as a whisper turned into an all out wake-the-hell-up-shout over the past week. Too much has happened in my life over the past 9 months to continue living on auto-pilot. It's time to question my priorities and build the life that I truly want to live.

In church today, the pastor said "Tell me your commitments, and I'll tell you where you'll be in 15 years." As I looked over the course of my every day, I realized that while my marriage and family are what matter most in my life, they are NOT where I expend the most time and energy. I spend the bulk of my time driving my career or trying to squeeze my ass into the "right sized" jeans. Now, don't get me wrong - I don't neglect my family, but far too often family time is wasted on to-do lists, schedules and just making it through until nap time.

No more.

It's time to wake up and put my time where my heart is. While my career and health are important to me, it's time to change the way I live. The BadAssMama is taking a close look at how she spends her time and making sure that it lines up with what matters most. 

When Motherhood Attacks

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Being a working mom is easy! Except when it's not. The key is to compartmentalize. Except when you can't.

Let me explain.

Early on in my motherhood journey, I tried to bring my whole badass self to the office every morning. Loving mother, devoted executive (or was it devoted executive, loving mother? To-MAE-toe, to-MAH-toe...). I would mix strategy decks with playdate planning, diaper orders with conference calls. I had everything on my mind all the time.

And slowly but surely, I began to lose what little sense I had left...

It didn't take long to realize that the key to doing anything well was to give it my complete focus. Multitasking was a myth. In essence, all I really accomplished was to do a half-assed job at both of my full-time jobs (don't let anybody fool you - being a mother is a full-time job whether you work in or outside of the home). So, I learned to compartmentalize. Once I dropped the kids at day care, it was work mode. Read the paper, catch up on emails, finish my makeup and hair on the train (it happens) and presto! I became The BadAssExecutive from 7:30am until I stuck the key into my front door later that night. I make sure to religiously call the day care to check on the boys roughly mid-morning each day, then it's back to the grind. When I'm at work, I focus on work. When I'm at home, it's all about the family. Sure, I may run a second shift some nights after the boys are in bed, but on the nights that I'm home for dinner, bath and books it's a Blackberry-free zone until lights out.

And then there are days like today.

Well, today and any federal holiday that is recognized by the schools, banks and postal service but not 9/10th of corporate America. Take Columbus Day. Both the daycare and preschool were closed, so I had 2 boys and 2 full-time jobs to juggle at once. On those days, you put on your cape, charge up the Blackberry and hope for the best.

Today, I got into the office revved for yet another I'm-not-sure-if-I'll-get-to-eat-and/or-pee type day. Hair and makeup on the train (again), grabbed egg whites on a bagel on the way to the office and hit my first conference call before the clock struck 9. By 10:15 I got "the call". You ladies know what I'm talking about - that call that no working mother ever wants to get:

"Your kid is running a fever"

Shit.

Lucky for me, I married a keeper (and he was closer to the house and not at the mercy of the LIRR schedule), so The Hubs took the sick kid shift. After the check-in call to confirm that Victor was playing normally but running a temp of 101, I hung up the phone and attempted to go back to work. I could focus on my day because my son was safe at home with my husband, with a pediatrician's appointment at 10:45. Right?

Wrong.

As much as I'd like to believe that I am Mary Kay Sunshine, The BadAssMama is a bit of a pessimist (shocking, I know...). My life is a semi-constant state of waiting for the other shoe to drop. I know that the boys have had their flu shots, but maybe it was already brewing. Will he have to be hospitalized? Will the antibiotics trigger a sickling crisis? Did Angel already have the "fever-cough" virus that's been spreading like wildfire, or was that just allergies? Will he get it next? Are we going to be in sick-kid-limbo for the next 10 days? (so much for compartmentalization).

And, as luck would have it, I had a late client meeting with a VERY important client from the West Coast, so there was NO way that I was heading out of the office early. So the torture continued until nearly 8pm. Victor is still running a fever, and I have yet another don't-think-I'm-going-to-eat-and/or-pee type day tomorrow.

Yes - it IS easy to be a working mother...except when it's not. The key is compartmentalization. Except when you can't. Some days, you just do your best to keep your head above water and pray for a lifeboat.

Putting Myself on the "To Do" List

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Today is Monday. I have a very full schedule. Back-to-back meetings, prep for a very busy week on both the personal and professional front. I've been fighting a cold for the past few days, but felt like I had things under control. I couldn't possibly miss a Monday in the office - especially THIS Monday. Not an option.

Then I woke up with a fever and the chills.

Fortunately, I had just enough common sense to make a run into the local urgent care center on Sunday when I felt the battle was going in the wrong direction (as soon as any cold travels south from my nose to my chest, it's bad news for The BadAssMama). I got some antibiotics (the doctor said bronchitis...something...ear infection...something else) and went back to bed. My hope was that she had somehow prescribed the Wonder Woman of all antibiotics and all would be well come Monday morning.

Not so much.

So, I am at home. Feverish, nauseous, with the chills. The good news is that most of my meetings could be handled by conference call in my PJs. The bad news is my day tomorrow is just as bad - if not worse - than today.

At least I had enough sense to quarantine myself to the bedroom, and spray Lysol in my wake whenever I venture out to the kitchen or bathroom.

Hopefully things will look better in the morning...


The Mom Cave

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Do you remember Tim "The Toolman" Taylor from that 90's show "Home Improvement"? Believe it or not, I actually loved that show. I thought the concept of the neighbor who you never actually saw (just his eyes and baseball cap over the fence) was hilarious. I loved the blatantly neanderthal "Argh, argh, argh" sound that Tim would make whenever he was in a particularly manly-man mood.

But my favorite part of the show? The man cave.

Many sitcoms and movies feature them. Even The Little Rascals had the "He-Man Woman Haters Club" (wow - am I dating myself or what?).  Most follow the same formula:  the remodeled garage, tool shed or den where dad can go to do his manly stuff without being bothered by wives or children. A place to hang out with other guys, or just spend time with his football game or baseball card collection.

I think it's high time to invent The Mom Cave.

While we might feature a bit different decor (or not - to each his own!), the basic premise remains the same. A place for mom to take refuge from the deluge of responsibilities, general hassles and to-do lists of her day and just chill. No kids, no husbands and no blackberries allowed.

Over the past several months, my laundry room has become somewhat of a mom cave for me. Yes, I know that's pathetic but stick with me for a minute. I used to lay out the laundry flat in the laundry basket - still hot from the dryer so everything doesn't end up a wrinkled mess that I have to wash all over again (because heaven forbid I actually pull out an iron...). I would lug the whole thing upstairs to fold in front of the TV - ostensibly to "relax" and catch up on some quality DVR time during my folding, but inevitably I would simply be annoyed that I had to fold clothes rather than simply enjoy The Closer or Burn Notice.

One day, I can't quite remember why, I decided to fold the clothes in the laundry room. The boys were upstairs screaming or playing or something (at a certain point, it's just all loud...), and I'd had enough. So staying in the basement seemed like a good idea. The room was quiet and still. The folding methodical, almost soothing. Zen-like. While I was down there, I decided to call a girlfriend who I hadn't spoken with in a while. I folded and we talked. Before I knew it, the laundry was done but the conversation was not, so I moved from the laundry room to the bathroom (since there's nowhere to sit in the laundry room and a perfectly good toilet in the bathroom...). Another 20 minutes or so passed, and we said our good-byes. I then took the laundry basket upstairs, put the clothes away and rejoined the real world. A bit more relaxed, refreshed even from my time in the Mom Cave.

I found myself looking forward to my time in the basement each week. Each load would be accompanied by a phone call to a dear friend which would inevitably linger well past the folding of the last sock. Sometimes I would just fold in silence, soaking in the white noise of the dehumidifier and enjoying the incredible sound proof-ness of our basement walls.

Reading back over the last few paragraphs, I realize that it may seem pathetic and oddly anti-feminist for me to extol the relaxing virtues of folding clothes in the basement (take THAT Gloria Steinem!). But the details don't matter. The point is, I found a place to escape the noise of my life on a regular basis. If I had my druthers, I would have a pleasant and finely appointed room of my own - something with a sage green and chocolate color palette, with a refrigerator for wine and snacks and a place to warm green tea. A comfy couch with a table to store my favorite books and a window to look out onto the world and relax.

I don't know about you, but my house isn't that big and my kids' shit is everywhere, so that's not gonna happen any time soon.

But for now, I have my basement and the flow of folding laundry in peace - alone, or with the company of a girlfriend on the other line.

I'll take it...

Setting my own pace

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The bulk of my semi-adult life has been spent running at full throttle. The next degree, next promotion, next milestone, next challenge, next level - each time trying to get from the next-to-the-next-to-the-next at a faster clip. Trimming seconds, then minutes off of each mile. Beating my personal best in athletic or career achievements each time.

Then I became a mom.

And suddenly, the world felt like it was moving too fast. While my ambition did not waver, it was suddenly (and oddly unexpectedly) tempered by the expectations of what I was "supposed" to be as a mother. Was I "supposed" to want a bigger job, with more responsibility or was I "supposed" to want to spend every waking hour (and let's be honest, most hours were waking hours) with my kids? The weight of the expectations of unsaid "others" was almost as overwhelming as the non-stop nursing schedule that both boys kept me on for their first 10 months of life.

Something had to give.

It took me a while (almost 5 years to be exact), but I'm finally comfortable enough in my own skin and confident enough in my skills as both an executive and a mother to decide that it's time to set my own rules. I know what works best for my family, and I'm learning what works best for me. After the chain of events of the past 18 months or so, I've learned to accept that the life of perpetual motion is not for me.

I need to slow down.

Now, don't get me wrong. My cup continues to runneth over (as does my never-ending to do list). But for the first time in a long time - maybe ever - I feel no need to rush. I remain as ambitious as ever, but suddenly feel the need to take a step back and determine what feels right rather than rush to find the next big thing. What's the next RIGHT thing - for me and my family? What does that feel like? What does it look like?

I don't know any of the answers, but I do know that it's time to set my own pace.

I'll let you know when I get there...

Top 10 Signs You're the Mom of a Preschooler

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10. You know the words to Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do YOU See? by heart

9. Your weekend wardrobe consists of sweat pants, t-shirts, peanut butter and boogers

8. You get pissed off every time you hear the Alphabet Song because it will take you months to make your kid realize that LMNOP is NOT one letter...

7. Reading Christmas books in the middle of July is a no brainer

6. You find yourself screaming at the top of your lungs at least 3 times a day...and no one in your house seems to notice

5. You count down the minutes until bedtime every night

4. You know that the Terrible Two's have nothing on the Tempestuous Three's or the WTF Four's

3. You have replaced your choice curse words with "sugar" and "oh, snap"

2. You keep a running list of birthdays, doctor appointments, grocery lists and play dates in your head but can't remember where you put your keys

1. Your life has been turned completely upside down...and you wouldn't have it any other way

Re-education of a BadAssMama

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Quaker schools, catholic schools, college prep - oh my! Maybe it's just me, but it feels like I need to go back to school to figure out how to get my kid into the right school.

Let me explain.

Six years ago, The Hubs and I moved from the city to the suburbs in search of a better way of life. And by better way of life I mean trees, neighbors we actually know and public schools that we would happily send our at-the-time-hypothetical 2.5 kids to. Countless web searches, spreadsheets and realtors later we found our little slice of heaven - with amazing neighbors, easy commuter-rail access and great public schools to boot.

Fast forward, the neighbors are still amazing, the railroad accessible (while it makes me want to pull my hair out every once in a while) and the public schools are still good. The problem is that they are crowded. The 1:13 teacher/student ratio that drew us into our district has slowly morphed into a 1:26 ratio that will likely rise to 1:30 by the time Angel hits kindergarten next year.

While I still don't claim to know a great deal about this whole "parenting" thing, I do know my kids. And what I know about my eldest is that he is bright, energetic and entertaining. He is an extremely smart kid who I often underestimate in my uniqye recovering-perfectionist-sort-of-way. I also know that while he is smart and loves to learn, placing him in a public school with such a large number of kids in each class is unlikely to set him up for success.

About this time last year, I struggled over the whole public vs. private school debate. Should we send the kids to private school to give them an even stronger foundation than we had, or should we stick with the highly rated public schools that brought us to the neighborhood to begin with? Was it elitist to consider private school? Would I allow my super-hard-core-Type-A-bent to unfairly sway our decision on the best educational route for our kids?

Last year, after much soul-searching and debate, we decided to stick with the public schools. Now that the student/teacher ratio has changed so drastically, we are leaning toward the private school route. While I still don't know where we will ultimately land, I do know that whatever decision we make, the primary motiviation will continue to be what is best for our kids, their unique personalities and how we think they can be best set up to succeed.

I believe that education, like religion or politics, is an extremely personal matter. But, in the spirit of The BadAssMama Chronicles I'm sharing my particular journey with you.

Wish me luck, and please send wine...