Jazz Parenting

I read a fascinating article in the New York Times yesterday. It compared the process of creativity in innovation to jazz music. While the most skilled jazz musicians are best known for their mind-blowing improvisation, they must truly be masters of the basics of music - tone, composition, rhythm, timing - in order to pull it all together.

I think this explains a lot about how we can go wrong as parents. Early on, I treated parenting like school. Read the books, take the classes, learn as much as you can in advance so you can get a gold star and ace the test. Funny thing with kids - rarely do they follow rules or fit the mold of many (if any!) "expert" parenting guides.

In many ways, good parenting is like great jazz. True, you need to master the basics (feeding, bathing, diaper changing and the like). You lay the foundation of love and protection, and the rest is really improvisation. The rhythm of each family - and each day within a given family - is different. To be a good parent, you need to learn to ride the beat and trust your instincts. Allow each member of the band to take a solo (and give them the flexibility to extend a beat or two when they're on a roll). At times, the result is utter cacophony - a combination of disparate, seemingly incompatible tones. A crazy beat that no one outside of your immediate circle can understand. At others, it's a masterpiece - clean and simple. But the sound is always true to your unique family, your unique situation.

I think we all could use a little more jazz in our lives...

I am the 1%...

NO! I'm not rich (although it would be nice).

I've finally realized why I've been so cranky over the past few weeks (months, whatever...). The BadAssMama has fallen into a rut that so many mothers - and others - can often find themselves. Instead of  focusing on the 99% of my life that is utterly, completely, ridiculously AWESOME, I allow my thoughts to linger, dwell and fester upon the 1% that is/was/might one day be not so great.

Come on - tell me I'm not the only one.

It's really easy to do. Instead of focusing on how adorable my kids are in their pajamas (how the fit makes them look like string beans with watermelon bellies), I bitch about how long it's taking them to go the hell to sleep. Instead of adoring how sweet it is that my boys love to play together and crack each other up, I get pissed that they're chasing each other around the house with boogers rather than putting on their coats for school. Rather than praising God that Angel transformed from a 32 week, 2 pound 13 ounce preemie into a brilliant, charming, outgoing, friendly, perfectly healthy almost-five-year-old, I complain that he doesn't listen as well as I'd like him to (really meaning that he doesn't comply like a mindless robot the second I issue any little command). Instead of rejoicing over the fact that Victor has medications that keep him healthy and safe, I obsess over the fact that he has a disorder that may-or-may-not cause him problems down the road.

So, today the BadAssMama is issuing a challenge. Rather than focus on the 1% in my life, I am going to embrace the 99%. I'm going to start by making a list of 100 things that I am grateful for - and I would LOVE for all of you to join me. In fact, let's start a revolution! Pass this challenge along to your friends and let's see how many people we can get to revel in the 99% of awesome. Spread the love people! What are YOU grateful for?

All work and no play...

You've heard the saying, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy". Well, apparently all work and no play makes The BadAssMama a cranky bastard.

Let me explain.

More than a few of you (including my mother - hi mom!) have pointed out that my posts have been leaning toward the negative side over the past few weeks. And while I maintain that The BadAssMama Chronicles is a place to speak the truth about all facets of motherhood - the good and not-so-good - I must admit that my rose colored glasses have been shifting more toward shades of gray as of late.

So, I decided to take a step back and try to figure out why. Why was I so irritable? Why did the cute little things that my kids do every day start to get on my nerves? Why was my patience non-existant? And then it hit me - I'm working way too much. Not just at my job (we gotta pay the bills, right?), but at life in general. I found myself slipping back into the well-worn habit of viewing my life as a never-ending to do list. Rather than looking forward to the weekends as a time to reconnect with my family without the time pressure of a train schedule, all I saw was a laundry list of karate classes, gymnastics, birthday parties and play dates. Buy the groceries, wash the clothes, balance the check book. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Yes - there are a bajillion things that we as mothers have to get done on any given day (often in the hours between midnight and 3am). But when we focus on the to do rather than the actual stuff of life, we are simply existing - not living. When we look at our kids as a collection of schedules and tasks to complete, we miss the joy of their laughter, the way they can linger over a bug or trace a rain drop running down the car window in the early morning mist. While we're rushing to make the 7:32 train, our kids are growing up right in front of our eyes...and we're missing it.

So today The BadAssMama vows to bring the joy back. Like the brilliant Gretchen Rubin in her book The Happiness Project, I am commiting to find more happy in my life - one day at a time. Rather than listing out all of the things that make me happy and attempting to do them consistently (that seems like just another "to do" list to me), I'm going to commit to doing one thing a day that makes me smile.

Yesterday, I went to a yoga class straight from work (rather than running home, stuffing food down the kids' throats, screaming at them to "hurry up" through bath and speed reading a bedtime story before running out the door to make the 8pm class - only to return home exhausted to start laundry at 10pm). This morning, I left for work on a later train than usual to let my son sing me a song, and watch the kids play super heroes "just one more time" before dropping them at day care.

Work has to get done. Bills paid. Laundry folded. But that doesn't mean we have to miss all the magical moments in between the work of our lives...

Cat on a leash

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I read an article in the newspaper recently about people who train their cats to walk on leashes. I'm assuming that the pet owners in question were big city dwellers (likely Manhattan, since I was reading the New York Times). My first thought was "Why the hell does THIS qualify as news?" My second was "Why the hell would you want to put a cat on a leash?"

Honestly, I already knew the answer to that question. Shortly after I moved to New York, I adopted a cat from the ASPCA. She was a cute little ball of energy, and shortly after moving her into my teeny-tiny studio apartment in Brooklyn I purchased a cat leash. Clearly she needed to get some air - stretch her legs, not be limited to the confines of my roughly-400-square-feet-including-the-bathroom-and-mini-kitchen apartment. I remember the day I bought the leash. I was SO excited to introduce Bailey to the world outside of my apartment! I would take her to Prospect Park, walk her up the block, maybe even introduce her to a few kitty friends and schedule kitty play dates (clearly all of this was before I had children). In my mind, Bailey would be just as excited about the leash and its ENDLESS possibilities as I was.

So, I rushed home from the pet store and put the leash on Bailey. As soon as I fastened the final buckle, she promptly rolled over onto her side with all four legs sticking straight out into the air. And she stayed there - motionless, soundless - until I took the damned thing off. I tried the leash a few more times - each with the same outcome. Clearly, Bailey would not be tamed (and she was NOT amused).

As I face another day of more yelling than I would like, I wonder what would happen if I just let my kids BE for a day? Allowed them to scream, yell, run around like tiny lunatics doing whatever the hell they wanted. Are my efforts to calm them, quiet them, wrangle them into semi-human manners much like my attempt to walk my cat on a leash? Am I making them CRAZIER by trying to treat them like tiny adults?

Happy Birthday, Baby Boy

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Three years ago today, I first laid eyes on our second son. Victor came into this world (all 8 pounds, 12 ounces of him) much the same way as he approaches life to this day - at his own speed. I had a scheduled C-section, but Victor decided he was comfortable right where he was. So, he hooked his feet into my ribs like a little bat baby and hung on for dear life. Despite his best intentions, he finally emerged from his snuggly cocoon and rather than crying, made his intentions clear by looking me dead in the face and sucking on his fist.

Yes, from the first moment Victor came into this world he knew what he wanted and he didn't stop until he got it. Our first night in the hospital, Victor nursed every 45 minutes for 8 straight hours until my milk came in. He was NOT going to wait three days - he was hungry! And what Victor wants, Victor gets.

He still takes his time to warm up to people - he'll smile and peek at you from behind my leg or daddy's shoulder. He even takes about 30 minutes to warm up to his grandparents! But, once he's comfortable - in his own sweet time and on his own terms - he'll come around (and maybe even share his toys with you).

Today my baby boy is three. I can't believe the time has passed so quickly. Truly, the days are long but the years are short. While I can barely remember him as a baby, I can't imagine our family without him.

Happy birthday, Victor-Roo...

Top Ten Signs You Might Need a Vacation

10. There is more yelling in your house than on The Real Housewives of New York

9. Your yoga mellow disappears faster than a Snickers bar at fat camp as soon as you open your front door

8. There are more wine glasses than sippy cups in the dishwasher

7. Nap time is your favorite moment of the day

6. By 11 o'clock each Saturday morning you find yourself wondering, "Is it Monday yet?"

5. The last time you read a book without pictures was...wait a minute, books come without pictures??

4. You consider a 7 minute shower "me time"

3. You're beginning to resemble a balled up dish rag

2. Your last date night was in 2005

1. You truly, madly, deeply love your children - but wish nothing more than to get away from them...

Get in the game!

I wasn't much of an athlete when I was a kid. While I did play softball in high school, my role was more to raise the team GPA than batting average. Like most fat kids, gym was never a pleasant experience. My thighs would rub in those horrid blue polyester gym uniform shorts. I always came in dead  last during the weekly cross country runs. I preferred not to get dirty or sweat out my hair.

In my 30s, I finally became an athlete. Part of it had to do with preparing for my wedding, but a big part was a shift in my perspective. Instead of sitting on the sidelines, assuming that I was destined to be a fat kid, I wanted to see how strong my body could be - how much I could really accomplish if I tried. I learned to love running - completing 5 full and 5 half marathons over a period of 4 years. I took up strength training, spinning and most recently fell in LOVE with Bikram Yoga (talk about sweating your hair out!).

It hit me today that I've been living my life as a mom kind of like my life as a fat kid in gym class. Sure, I'm showing up and going through the motions - but I don't really want to get my hands dirty. I'm much more comfortable working AROUND my kids than rolling in the dirt (both literally and metaphorically) with them. I set up clothes and pajamas each morning, plan and prepare meals, make doctor, dentist and haircut appointments. Keep the family on a schedule. I read lots of books about work-life balance, talking TO your kids rather than AT them, how to raise confident kids. But that the zen state I experience while reading this stuff and planning all the ways that I can become a better mother gets shot to hell as soon as the first kid starts whining in the morning.

It's time to get my head out of the books and get into the game...

Confessions of a BadAssMama - Work Edition

I should not be as excited as I am to be back at work today.

Let me explain.

This was my first day back to work after the holiday break. After yet another small surgery (all good, thank you very much), I've been out of the office for about 3 weeks. The kids have been out of school for just under 2 weeks, with a combination of sick days and winter holidays. As excited as I was to have a good chunk of uninterrupted time with my family, I have to say it was fucking exhausting.

Don't get me wrong. I love going through mornings without the rush of getting 2 kids dressed, fed and out the door in time to make the 7:32 train. I really do enjoy watching my kids faces light up at new experiences. We went to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular for the first time, and Little A sat on the edge of his seat for the ENTIRE performance (Victor, on the other hand, promptly fell asleep after the second act - full orchestra and all...). I will forever cherish the looks of wonder in their eyes when we saw the humongous tree at Rockefeller Center, gigantic nutcrackers across from Radio City, and screamed "Christmas!" at every display up and down the streets of Manhattan. We went to the Children's Museum, Air and Space Museum, and took a road trip to the Please Touch Museum in Philly. We ate in restaurants in the middle of the week, had pajama days and screamed in delight when Abuela came to town for a special Christmas surprise.

Yes, it is wonderful to spend a big chunk of uninterrupted time with my kids. But it is fucking exhausting. The whining, the bickering, the constant soundtrack of "Mommy? Mommy? MOMMY!". True, the good times far outnumbered the bad, but as the days ticked on I couldn't help but pine for the first day back in the office. Yearn for the comforting routine of wake up, commute, work, commute, dinner, bath, books, bed.

This morning, I made the trip back to the office for the first time in nearly a month. I must admit, I loved it. OK, maybe LOVE is an overstatement but as the day wore on I was reminded just how much I truly do enjoy my work. There are everyday frustrations. I spent most of my day trying to connect the dots behind a multi-million dollar variance in first quarter sales results, dealing with the ramifications of a breached contract and revising a strategy to account for a sharp decline in consumer spending based upon on-going economic challenges.

It was all so geeky. I ADORED it.

I think it comes down to knowing who you are and accepting it. As Gretchen Rubin said in her wonderful book The Happiness Project, you can choose what you do, but you cannot choose what you LIKE to do. I like to go to work. I like analysis, coaching, presentations, dressing up in something other than sweatpants and peanut butter, combing my hair, carrying a purse instead of a diaper bag and considering accessories other than Power Rangers to go with my outfit.

I love being a mom. It is truly the most important thing I've ever done in my life. My children are making me a better person (and slowly driving me insane) on a daily basis. But I am good at my job. And I'm not ashamed to admit that I LIKE going to work.

OK - you can call ACS now...