Holding up half the holiday sky?

Grumble, gripe, and moan seems to be the less than merry refrain from nearly every woman I’ve encountered in the past week, as the break-neck pace of parties, school events, shopping, decorating, planning and scheming, card-addressing, and baking hurtles us toward Christmas. Women as a whole make Christmas happen, seemingly holding up way more than half the proverbial holiday sky. It’s a time of year that challenges the ever-teetering balance that we’ve carefully wreaked out for our lives. Yoga class, a daily run, healthy meals, time to sit and breathe, or any other form of hard-sought self-care seems to vanish like snowflakes in Dallas.  What’s a mother—or any other woman, for that matter—to do?

Change that harried voice in your head, the one that says either “I’ll never get everything done” or “I can’t stand this craziness.” Here’s some new phrases to try:

Mantra #1:  It will all get done. Just like one of my favorite lines from Shakespeare in Love, one of my favorite movies: “It all works out—magically.” That’s paraphrasing,  but you get the gist of it.

Mantra #2: You are not alone. Every other woman in your age/life group probably feels exactly the same way. Take solace in the fact that we’re all holding up this Christmas sky, shoulder to shoulder.

Mantra #3:  You are not a bad person because you hate the crazy preparations. Who can enjoy such stress?!! Try another version of one of my favorite mantras: love the kid, hate the job. You can love the end result, and still hate the process that gets your loved ones to that magical Christmas moment.

Mantra #4: It will all be over soon, and you’ll survive. Women do. Every year.

Meanwhile, just squeeze in twenty seconds for a great big exhale every hour or so. Calms that revved up fight or flight mechanism and brings a teensy bit of sanity. You’ve got twenty seconds.

Happy Holidays!

Mother’s Day, part 2: The Invisible Mother

After I did the previous post, my sister-in-law sent me this. Just had to share.

It all began to make sense, the blank stares, the lack of response, the way
one of the kids will walk into the room while I’m on the phone and ask to be
taken to the store. Inside I’m thinking, ‘Can’t you see I’m on the phone?’
Obviously not; no one can see if I’m on the phone, or cooking, or sweeping
the floor, or even standing on my head in the corner, because no one can see
me at all. I’m invisible. The invisible Mom. Some days I am only a pair of
hands, nothing more! Can you fix this? Can you tie this? Can you open this??
Some days I’m not a pair of hands; I’m not even a human being. I’m a clock
to ask, ‘What time is it?’ I’m a satellite guide to answer, ‘What number is
the Disney Channel?’ I’m a car to order, ‘Right around 5:30, please.’

Some days I’m a crystal ball; ‘Where’s my other sock?, Where’s my phone?,
What’s for dinner?’
I was certain that these were the hands that once held books and the eyes
that studied history, music and literature -but now, they had disappeared
into the peanut butter, never to be seen again. She’s going, she’s going,
she’s gone!
One night, a group of us were having dinner, celebrating the return of a
friend from England. She had just gotten back from a fabulous trip, and she
was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in. I was sitting there,
looking around at the others all put together so well. It was hard not to
compare and feel sorry for myself. I was feeling pretty pathetic, when she
turned to me with a beautifully wrapped package, and said, ‘I brought you
this.’ It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe. I wasn’t exactly
sure why she’d given it to me until I read her inscription: ‘With admiration
for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees.’

In the days ahead I would read – no, devour – the book. And I would discover
what would become for me, four life-changing truths, after which I could
pattern my work: 1) No one can say who built the great cathedrals – we have
no record of their names. 2) These builders gave their whole lives for a
work they would never see finished. 3) They made great sacrifices and
expected no credit. 4) The passion of their building was fueled by their
faith that the eyes of God saw everything.

A story of legend in the book told of a rich man who came to visit the
cathedral while it was being built, and he saw a workman carving a tiny bird
on the inside of a beam. He was puzzled and asked the man, ‘Why are you
spending so much time carving that bird into a beam that will be covered by
the roof, No one will ever see it And the workman replied, ‘Because God

I closed the book, feeling the missing piece fall into place. It was Almost
as if I heard God whispering to me, ‘I see you. I see the sacrifices you
make every day, even when no one around you does.

No act of kindness you’ve done, no sequin you’ve sewn on, no cupcake you’ve
baked, no Cub Scout meeting, no last minute errand is too small for me to
notice and smile over. You are building a great cathedral, but you can’t see
right now what it will become.

I keep the right perspective when I see myself as a great builder. As one of
the people who show up at a job that they will never see finished, to work
on something that their name will never be on. The writer of the book went
so far as to say that no cathedrals could ever be built in our lifetime
because there are so few people willing to sacrifice to that degree.
When I really think about it, I don’t want my son to tell the friend he’s
bringing home from college for Thanksgiving, ‘My Mom gets up at 4 in the
morning and bakes homemade pies, and then she hand bastes a turkey for 3
hours and presses all the linens for the table.’ That would mean I’d built a
monument to myself. I just want him to want to come home. And then, if there
is anything more to say to his friend, he’d say, ‘You’re gonna love it
As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we’re
doing it right. And one day, it is very possible that the world will marvel,
not only at what we have built, but at the beauty that has been added to the
world by the sacrifices of invisible mothers.

Share this with all the Invisible Moms you know… I just did. And remember to COUNT all those zillions of “invisible” tasks you do each day.

Mother’s Day Movie Fun

Happy Mother’s Day to all my readers!

Mother’s Day videos abound–to enjoy, personalized or not, and share. So I made one for you, my dear readers. I appreciate you all, moms and nonmoms, and hope you enjoy this selection. Pass it on!


If you want to make your own, check it out here. There are two more to choose, from one of the funniest shows on TV.

On failing to ask for help

“I don’t want to bother her.” “I’ll just drag him down.” “It’s my job to be strong.” “I don’t want to be a burden.” “I can do it myself.” Excuses abound for why we fail to ask for help–whether practical pitching in on chores or emotional support that could ease us through a tough spot in our lives. The cultural press, in this nation that so prizes independence, is to do it ourselves in order to not irk or stress others.

What about the flip side? Think about when you are able to support someone who is dear to you. How do you feel when you can listen, give a hug, or lend a hand? There’s lots of research expounding upon the psychological and health benefits of giving to others–in many forms. I’m sure that you are aware of the bonus for you when you help a friend or loved one. You get a little glow, a boost to your own day, from feeling valuable to another.

So next time you find you are shutting down, failing to ask for help or confide to a loved one because you don’t want to “bother” or “stress” them, ask “who says?” Who are you to deprive another of a chance to feel good by helping you? Put yourself in her shoes. For example, I often hear women say “I can’t ask my mother for help–she has so much on her plate.” Then reverse the scenario. If you had a daughter, wouldn’t you want her to ask you for assistance if she needed it? You’d want to be helpful if you could be–every chance!

Of course, when we are asked for help, it’s healthiest to give freely if we’re able–and to speak up honestly if we really can’t step in with an open heart at the moment. No room here for passive-aggressive giving shrouded with anger or resentment. It’s each person’s job to police her own resources, and say “no” if a request is not possible. That’s the job of the person being asked. It’s not for the person in need to ‘prescreen’ and second guess.

Give your loved ones a chance to show love and support–ask for it! Benefits all around will abound.

A self-care holiday?

The Irish have St. Patrick’s Day, and many of us non-Irish-types grab the coattails for inspiration. This year, are you in need of a celebration with less of a stretch? Then it’s time for National Mom’s Night Out(NMNO)! Inspired by Rachel Wright, author of Mom’s Night Out: Even Inmates Get Time Off For Good Behavior, the 5th Annual NMNO is March 17th. What a good excuse to practice skills I love to recommend, essential for all women: self-care, fun, and connecting with friends. So grab your BFFs, plan a relaxed or raucous evening, and enjoy the good excuse. You especially need it if your life feels like this, smothered in love:Funny Pictures - Cute Kittens
“Get Momma a Drink.”

Remember, it’s not selfish, it’s self-preservation.

It’s the thought that counts

“It’s the thought that counts” is a popular phrase, used to extend the benefit of the doubt to others. Behavior CAN be less than stellar, but if intentions are good, we overlook minor transgressions. This is good. Relationships improve when we focus on the underlying well-meant effort, accepting that someone is simply human, busy, gave us an inappropriate gift, etc. Turn the phrase inward, however, and personal judgment rolls in. Women do this all the time, chastising themselves for perfectly normal, incredibly human thoughts. Thoughts like:

  • “I can’t stand this kid/partner/relative.” Guilt seems especially strong with thoughts about our children and mothers.
  • “I just want to run away.”
  • “I have everything I’ve ever wanted and my life still sucks.”
  • “I understand how parents throw a child against the wall.”
  • “I don’t care if I ever have sex again.”

Sometimes, it’s NOT the thought that counts. It’s the behavior. What counts is how we follow through, how we continue to love and care for others who frustrate us to the point of impersonating Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.” Go ahead–have a powerful internal scream. Embrace your truly human emotions. Cut yourself some slack about thoughts. Focus instead on actual behavior–big picture, over the long haul. You’ve thought of walking out of a store with your purchases rather than stand in a mile-long line, too. There’s nothing the matter with you, if you override thoughts and behave in the ways you aspire to, the majority of the time.

The passing of an icon

Barbara Billingsley, age 94, died Saturday in Santa Monica, CA. The actress was best known for her portrayal of June Cleaver, the cookie-baking, pearls-while-vacuuming mom of Beaver and Wally Cleaver on the classic television show, Leave It To Beaver. Every Mother’s Day, June Cleaver is voted ‘best TV mom.’ The character set the bar impossibly high for moms everywhere, causing many anxious, perfectionistic women to feel like failures, falling short of June’s level of calm, organized, wise domesticity. And June inspired me to write Even June Cleaver Would Forget The Juice Box to give women a tool to battle unrealistic expectations.

But June was not perfect. She only had to parent 20 minutes a week–and had a script writer to back her up. We could all do as well! In an early episode, June mutters to Ward, as she makes sandwiches for the boys, “I don’t like that Eddie Haskell. He said mayonnaise upsets his stomach, so I’m putting some on his sandwich.” Aghast! June was imperfect–with normal human emotions. This aspect of the character seemed to disappear as the show progressed, sculpting her into the icon she became.

Unlike June, Barbara Billingsley was human. In an interview, she once commented on the pedestal she’d been placed by her role, when she was just another working mother, fighting for her own work life balance. Thanks, Barbara, for sharing your best comedic and human self with us all through the character of June. May you rest in peace.

Wand target, #2

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons by Snaily

Theoretically, summer is waning. But with record heat all over the world, the season seems intent on keeping it’s hot little mitts on us awhile longer. With the dog days, it seems that the volume on the lament “these kids are driving me crazy!” raises a notch or two. Working outside the home or in, moms feel guilty when thoughts like that percolate in their heads. “I hate that I don’t like my children.” “I hate that I don’t love every minute of time with my kids.” “It’s summer, we should be having fun–and I can’t wait for school to start.” “I can’t stand them climbing on me one more minute.” The elevated expectations of summer, to orchestrate more fun for our kids, make many women feel guilty against the reality of day in, day out summer.

Recognize the all-or-nothing thinking? When it comes to our loved ones, whether we’re parents or not, most women shy away from embracing the completely normal range of feelings that permeate relationships . Most of us feel badly unless feelings of love and good will materialize 110% of the time. We feel like bad moms, bad partners, or bad daughters or friends. We wish for that magic wand: POOF with fairy dust! We would never feel negative toward a loved one, child or adult, again.

Feelings of frustration with others in our lives are the badge of being human. Many women can accept such feelings aimed at the family of origin. As a small child in the grip of sibling rivalry, you accepted that you hated your sister. As a teen, it was status quo to hate your mom, and maybe your dad too. Underneath, you knew in your heart that you truly loved these family members. You just were momentarily (okay, maybe it was months that these feelings festered in your teenage heart) unhappy with the behavior, even though you still loved the person. Chances are, as an adult, you’ve come to terms with this reality with your significant other, as well. Backing off from black and white thinking, we can understand that this person-behavior distinction applies.

Nonstop sticky, sweaty, demanding kids clinging to your legs or lap ARE annoying, but embracing that reality doesn’t make you a bad mom. The mantra to memorize is “love the kids, hate the job.” Fleeting hate does not mean you are a witch. It means you are simply flesh and blood and emotion, rather than an autopilot Stepford creation. Negative emotions are a package deal with the joy. It’s all about the ratio. Tune into the fun, loving moments and you will see that the wand is not required.

If you need a few ideas to survive the end of the season, check out the August 3 podcast of The Sanity Hour. Perfectly good moms send those kids into the back yard to amuse themselves under the sprinkler while they sit in the shade with some deep breaths, a cool drink and a good book.

A perfect Mother’s Day–blah, meow, woof.

Unless you’ve been orbiting in the space shuttle or hiding in an Afghan cave this week, you’re aware that it’s a big week for moms. Media hype and advertising = skyrocketing expectations about the perfect way to honor mom this Mother’s Day. Blah, blah, blah. Just as with any holiday–or for that matter, any regular old run of the mill day–unrealistic expectations are the most powerful, direct route to disappointment. The more we expect, the more hopes can be dashed.

I remember the painful first year that I didn’t have a daughter at home on Mother’s Day. My husband tuned in to my angst and made plans (earning many husband points!) I’d always loved the fancy hotel Mother’s Day brunches, and he surprised me with brunch reservations. Given the holiday crowd, the hotel moved the event to the massive, dim, chandeliered ball room, away from the usual intimate, sunny garden cafe setting. There we sat at a tiny “two top” in the midst of lively parties of dozens of family members, from great grandmothers to infants– most clad in gay spring hats! Just our little 2 person table, awkwardly adrift in this sea of flowering families. Given my expectations for a great time, I was surprised at how bereft I felt.

What’s a mother to do?

1. Ask for what you want. We’d like to think that on this day, out of the whole year, our loved ones will just know what we want. But family members are simply human, and likely not psychic. And don’t be afraid to ask for them all to disappear for the day, if time alone is what you truly crave. Or here’s a fun list of truly invaluable gifts.

2. Stay in the moment, and recognize the love in the intent. Embrace whatever is offered in celebration.

Too often we’re like cats in our expectations: we demand it all. At least silently, in the solitude of our minds, we expect to be pampered, stroked, fed all earthly delights between lengthy, luxurious naps, as the world revolves around us. At least for one measly day a year.

Not that mothers don’t deserve it. Parenting is the hardest job we’ll ever do, and a cat’s life is what moms deserve. However, “deserve” and executed reality don’t always align, and then disappointment can rush in. Unless we meow, or maybe howl, really loudly, for what we want. Refer to #1 above!

However, a better way might be to live in the moment like dogs. To dogs, every day is the best day ever: “I chased a squirrel!!!!” “I smelled a rotten smell!!!!” “I got scratched behind the ears!!!” “I got to go for a walk!!” Most wondrous day ever!!! In the current issue, Psychology Today explains that those who are happier, and luckier, definitely adopt this canine attitude, embracing wonder in every twist and turn of life. Woof, woof!!

On <em>The Sanity Hour this week, guest Cheri Ruskus shared this poem written by her mother Jeannine Landreau. Cheri discovered the poem after her mother’s death last year.

Do not take this moment lightly for it is the most important moment of your life
It is all there is of the present. Live it to the fullest for it will never come again.
All that has gone before it is a memory and all that will come after it is only a hope or dream of future things.
It is more than the beginning of tomorrow and the end of yesterday.
Make it a great moment, it is your life right now and you will never live it again!

Rein in your expectations this Mother’s Day, ask for what you want, and hope for perfect moments, not a 110% perfect day. With canine expectations for every moment, every day, the joy of Mother’s Day might extend throughout the year.

Happy Mother’s Day.

What works?

I know everyone is busy–but can I tell you about my week? Two evening events, the arrival of the corrected book proof and the flurry of first bulk orders, and a day held hostage to the carpet installers (you know, when you must stay home all day because workers are in your home). I could have written a blog entry–or at least a “sh*tty first draft– as in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
author Anne Lamott says, on that day. Then, during one evening event, my house of course, the cat with interstitial cystitis decided she’d join ranks with the Tea Party activists in the nation’s capital by placing dime-size circles of urine on every other tax document the tax preparer (i.e., my husband) had spread out on the bed. Interstitial cystitis, chronic inflammation of the urinary tract, flares up under stress. Stress, to a cat, you ask? Stress to this cat (and her sister/litter mate, who in true sibling copy cat fashion also has developed interstitial cystitis) is any change to her environment that prevents her from sleeping 22 hours a day. Like carpet installers who bang on floors, drag carpet around, and prop the door open so scary neighborhood cat smells can waft into her territory. Phew. All of this is to say forgive me for the lack of lengthy, meaningful post this week. Simply don’t know where the time went. Now you know you’re not alone–and this is a week when I need to honor my own advice and write a “Did Do” list. However, this does not mean that I haven’t been thinking about my devoted readers. I’ve collected a short list of events that triggered “who says?” in my head this week, bringing to mind two of the thinking traps from Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Juice Box: Cut Yourself Some Slack (and Still Raise Great Kids) in the Age of Extreme Parenting. (Thinking traps are the culturally-ingrained myths about expectations of women and/or mothers that we keep in our heads.)

More, better, all is essential for success Always striving for the newest, fastest, latest improvement in anything and everything? A friend related how she and her husband just had to have a king-size bed. That was the pinnacle of “we’ve made it” adult success. And now they need not touch, ever, in bed. With plenty of room for avoidance, could the allure of king size mattresses be a factor in the epidemic of sexless marriages? A revved up, satisfying sex life is not easy if you never touch your bed buddy.

My grandmother shared another version of this same cultural drive to junk the old for the new. In the 70s, brass beds were all the rage. I was wishing aloud, hinting that one might lurk in the dusty, dim corners of her wondrous attic. She told how they had put the old solid brass bed frames out for the junk man, in favor of spanking new wood bedroom suites of furniture. The Pottery Barn catalogue look was not the sign of success in the 1930s and 1940s.

Moms have to protect their children from everything. One mom was lamenting that her children eat many French fries each week. Her preschooler was stuck on fries, eating only fries, as that age often fixates. Some say (my mother, a nutritionist by training) French fries are saving this country from scurvy because potatoes are rich in Vitamin C–and the only source of vitamin C for many. Another mom confessed guilt as all the other moms at the park slathered their kids with sunscreen. She chose not to do battle with her toddler over the process. Ah well, sunshine is our major source of Vitamin D. By slacking off on the sunscreen for that one hour, she decided she’d saved her kids from rickets.

Challenge the thinking traps, buck unrealistic expectations, and keep perspective. Does a king-size bed really define us? Is it really devastating to let your child eat French fries four days a week for three months, to make sure something passes her lips, if she eats healthy food before and after the terrible twos? Does one sunscreen free hour–or even several a season– over the course of your child’s life equal a certain health risk, if overall he is protected from serious sunburn? What works is what matters–not some arbitrary ideals about timetables we should keep or standards we should enforce or achieve. Embrace what works for you: a smaller bed, more fries, an hour of play sans sunscreen. And I’ll keep my own brain chatter going about the fact that this week, this late entry is what worked for me.