Love Me Some Local Mom Advice

Published originally in: The Mother Connection Newsletter, April/May 2015

In going with our focus for this issue, I polled moms on Facebook in various locales to find out info about their career hopes and dreams and how they balance life and work as a Mom. We got an amazing response from both the ANDOVER MUMS and Tewksbury Moms pages. So much so, that I am going to have to report this in 2 installments! I realize not all responders were TMC members, but this population definitely takes the temperature of the situation in our area. It is such a resource to have support and validation about motherhood, whether you are at the office or at home. Or both! And to know others are in the same boat in your same town…priceless.


Not surprisingly, we received a wide variety of answers. A few of you did end up in the career you mentioned as a kid, but most did not. I think that is pretty much the norm, right? Many of you seemed to have very rewarding careers and while it took some adjustment in most cases, a lot of you found the balance that works for you and your family. Here are the dream careers you told us about:

Nurse, Diplomat, Veterinarian, Horse Trainer, Hairdresser, Lawyer, Teacher, Doctor, Writer/Journalist, Artist/Illustrator, Whatever My Mom Was : ), Pediatrician, Writer of Mystery Novels, Private Eye, Super Hero, Photographer, Scientist, Engineer, Architect, High Powered and Respected Woman in a Corporate Role, Pianist, Baker, Marine Biologist, Astronaut, Businesswoman, Waitress, Pilot, Nun, Special Education Teacher, Child Psychologist, Dance Teacher



The consensus from the trenches: Going back to work is good for the Mom and good for the child! Don’t feel guilty! You can’t do it without a good support system (family and hired help). Find what works for you and your family. It may take a while. Don’t give up too soon. Here are samplings of the word on the street from the feet on the ground:

“Going back to work after maternity leave is difficult, but it is amazing how quickly your whole family gets into the routine, so give it time. My children are social and independent. I focus on those attributes and all of the other great skills they are learning at daycare and preschool when I am working 4 days a week.”

“As a new mom (and an experienced mom) one of the harder things we do is returning to work. The guilt we put on ourselves is awful. It surprised me more with my last child because I thought I’ve done this before, but it was still there. Please know that this is normal and what seems daunting will soon become normal and manageable. You will be overwhelmed, so use your support network.”

“It is a constant balancing act no matter how you approach raising a family, working or not. Cut yourself some slack and be patient with the adjustment of returning to work. Sometimes I think Moms feel the need to put on a front that all is going great. Be honest with yourself, call for help when you need it, and be comfortable adjusting expectations.”

“Accept that you cannot get everything done. At least, not at first. It takes a while to figure out the new balance and sometimes something has to give. It might be that the laundry sits longer than you would like, or you order take-out a few more nights than normal, but roll with the adjustment period and then reevaluate.”

My advice to moms returning to work is give yourself 6 months to a year to adjust to your working mom life. There were many days that first month back that I wanted to quit. For my second maternity leave, I knew to ask for a slower re-entry and worked 24 hours/week for the first few weeks, then 32 and got back to 40 hours after 2 months back. I wish working part time had been an easier longer term option for me. I would encourage new moms to ask for that. And lastly, I would encourage working moms to share their stories with other moms-to-be or newly returning moms. It is helpful for others to hear your struggles and how you got through them.”

“Know that you will never do both jobs 100%. You will miss out on things at work because you can’t take the time to be away from the kids and you will miss firsts with your kids simply by being away. And that’s ok. You aren’t failing.”

“It’s hard and was the hardest thing I had to do, but I do not regret it a bit. Being a career woman fulfills me and I am able to be an amazing mum because of it and cherish every second I spend with my child. I do have a work-life balance and my hours are divided between work and family. I have had to make some sacrifices. I lost some friends along the way who did not understand my desire to spend every second I wasn’t working with my family. My only advice is don’t feel guilty and don’t let people guilt you in thinking you are not a good mum because your kids are in day care. Look at it as having a village raise your kids. There are some things that you would never know to teach your children that they may learn from other people in their lives.”

“Let go of the guilt because your children will be fine. It helps tremendously if you can have a network of friends. I was lucky enough to find two of the most amazing friends in town. We shared carpooling, sleepovers; we helped each other Xmas shop, we call each other from the store and see if anyone needs anything so no one has to go out for just one or two things. We are there to vent to each other when needed, to support each other, and to ask advice. Even though we are all married and have supportive husbands, I really credit my two friends with helping me to be the mom that I am. I could not have done it without them! They made it so much more fun!”

“I would tell a new mom thinking of going back to work: Do it! There is a level of identity you get from a job that rounds out the parenthood identity you’ve just begun. In no way does it diminish your mothering or the positive influence you have on your children.”

 “My best advice for going back to work: if you are lucky enough to have a spouse or partner, go into work/parent life as a team. You and your partner should share the burden/joys of parenting regardless of who makes more/works more. That means negotiating and sharing covering pick up/drop off to child care and covering the dreaded sick/snow day for the kids. You will both have a much more rewarding/manageable parenting/work experience if you share the duties and your marriage will be better for it. Some days, nothing is sexier than when your husband says “I’ll take a sick day” when the baby is sick. LOL. My boys are 15 and 17 and my husband and I have always co-parented for child care, house chores, etc. I hope we have served as good role models for them!”

“It’s all in the prep. Give yourself a break. Ask for help when you need it. Some days you’ll hate it and some days you’ll love it and that’s okay.”

“Choose your childcare provider carefully and go with your gut. When you are comfortable with where your kids are, you will be able to focus better on your work.”

 “I was allowed to work from home after maternity leave and it sucked! Working from home with your baby is absolutely exhausting and not lucky or easy like most people will assume. I felt as if I could never properly give 100% to either task, and thus I was constantly struggling at both. There were no work-life boundaries. My boss, knowing I was home with a baby, knew I’d be available via phone or email from 7:00 AM – 12:00 AM. You need an office, with a door, away from the main living room to stay organized. There is no free time: it’s just sleep, baby, work.”

“My best advice for a first-time working mom is that you don’t get this time back, so work as your means allow, but don’t work so hard to have the best things for your baby that you miss out on time with them. The best things they can have are the memories they will have with you! At the same time, you should not feel guilty about reentering the working world. It’s a fine balance and it’s tough, but you should do what fits for you and your family.”

“If this is the choice you make, then it is the RIGHT ONE for YOU and YOUR FAMILY. Try to prepare a few meals on the weekend that you can just pull out during the week and remember PIZZA IS A FOOD GROUP!”

“My BFF & I work opposite shifts to make it work. He’s an EMT/dispatcher, so he can do overnights. Not everyone has that option. We couldn’t afford daycare at the start, but we had that opposite schedule, plus our parents. If you have such options, consider them all. Whatever you ‘have’ to do, know it’s not forever and things can and will get better.”

“Keep some memento at your desk that reminds you WHY you’re working, i.e., what would you be going without if your salary wasn’t around? I also like to remind myself that my kid wouldn’t know half the things he’s been taught (numbers, colors, ABCs, etc.), if it were up to me. I find that our time together at night and on weekends is more special since I’ve gotten a ‘mom break’ and can focus completely on him.”

“If you can, ease into it. I’d also recommend staying “somewhat” connected to work while out on maternity leave. Check email once a week if you can, so the first days back is not a shock to the system. Lastly, keep priorities straight. I found myself putting work in front of family at times and had to learn that people (bosses, colleagues, etc.) will understand when things come up. Just be honest and communicate.

Work-Life Balance Coming Soon to a Mom Near You


In September, my twin girls will start full-day Kindergarten and their brother will tackle second grade. How did I get to this moment? My (almost) eight years as a stay-at-home mom has seemed like an eternity and a blur simultaneously. I’m sure many of you can relate to that. As the due date of my first child approached, I couldn’t wait to get out of the rat race. Plus, the cost of full-time daycare wasn’t much less than my salary at the time, so it just made sense to be home and it was something I wanted. While it was thrilling not to have to get up and shower and be at a place of business each day, I have now come full circle and find myself wishing I COULD shower each morning before showing up to MY place of business (read: kitchen/bathroom/laundry room/car). The grass is always greener, right? It is hard for me (as I know it is for lots of parents) to accept that to be the best parent you can be, you need time away from the kids. And likewise, they need experiences with a variety of people. Every human becomes richer emotionally and developmentally for it.

Despite the fact there will be more balls in the air working closer to full time and raising my kids, I am looking forward to a new variety in my life. I have been doing a few hundred bucks of freelance work a year during these years of child rearing, and fortuitously, this is ramping up due to a unique situation. Ideally, I would like to have this freelance work combined with some part-time work in the presence of actual grown-ups. While I enjoy writing and editing, it is mostly a solo gig by nature. Being a stay-at-home mom made me realize how much of a social structure my life had had by default. Most of us have been in full-time school since age 6 and then full-time work as an adult. There was always a social environment of which you had to be a part of on an almost-daily basis. As at SAHM of infants and young kids, you have to build your own social network. While you have some concept of what that task might entail before the first child makes their appearance in the world, there is no way to know how it is going to feel. That could be said about the majority of things one experiences as a new mother, but this isolation hit me like a tsunami.

The challenge was to fend off this tsunami while being responsible for keeping a human being alive. I know that sounds dramatic, but it doesn’t feel that way at the time. I remember leaving the hospital with my newborn and saying out loud in the elevator, “Are they really going to let us take him home by ourselves?” After that epiphany come the sleepless months constantly wondering if the child is breathing. No one can prepare you for these scary feelings. Obviously, things worked out fine, but I felt very alone at the time. I needed validation from peers of the normalcy of this stage of life and didn’t have many opportunities to get it simply due to the sheer intensity and learning curve of taking care of a newborn. It was such a struggle to rectify that personal social need without feeling guilty. After all, this amazing child that took years in the making was right in front me. Wasn’t that enough to make all things right with the world? I know I suffered from depression during this period of my life. No doubt about it.

I remember being so excited when my neighbor told me about TMC. She was past the child-rearing years, but I know she could see the social isolation was not good for me. I was yearning for validation and friendship on this tough new frontier. I sent in my money and paperwork and then didn’t hear from anyone at TMC for over a month. Looking back, I realize my first contact with TMC was just before Thanksgiving—not the best timing for anyone, let alone people with families. But the reality was, I didn’t quite understand that not hearing from another mom for several weeks is nothing personal—especially not when they are investing in something in addition to being a mom, like their own personal fitness (God, forbid!) or even volunteering for mother’s group. It was what it was. I am in a completely different place now and thoroughly understand and have needed (in countless instances) for others to understand the same about my (lack of) responsiveness.

Well, I started this article intending to discuss the “work-outside-the home” work-life balance that is soon to be upon me, but I have ended up digging into the intricacies of the SAHM work-life balance. Be assured, it is a highly underrated challenge of which only you can be the judge. Stay strong and be good to yourself, new mommies!

My Place in the Sun

Like you, I am still reveling in the fact that winter is over and warmer days are more of a regular occurrence after this “Blizzahd of 2015” business. Summer in New England is always a big treat no matter what kind of winter you experience. However, despite the fact that coats and boots are put away, the constant sunscreen slathering process of small children starts—and, more recently, for me.

I was not a huge sun worshipper in my younger years, but consistent and daily application of sunscreen was definitely not the ritual it is now. Burning did happen. Granted, I don’t have much going for me dermatologically in terms of family background (English, Scottish, and German roots). If I were to travel back in time to my teenage years (ouch!) and be asked to guess who among us would be most likely to get skin cancer, I would bet on friends that worked as lifeguards all summer (No bad karma intended, my friends). My grandmother had patches of skin cancer on her face later in life and had them removed from time to time, but she was a GRANDMOTHER at that point. Not a woman about to give birth to twins at age 40. And yet, it was so.

The date: December 2010. The event: my annual dermatologist appointment. Most people probably don’t go to the dermatologist every year, but I started to in my mid-thirties, in light of the fact that I had always had moles and they multiplied after each sun-filled summer. It was also hard to ignore the summertime nickname of “The Great White.” At this point, I was about 3 months pregnant. I pointed out a pore on my nose to my doctor that seemed to always bleed, figuring it was just a stubborn blackhead having some kind of hormonal overload or challenge due to my delicate condition. In my experience, dermatology docs run about 45 minutes late and then the appointment lasts for about ten minutes. I feel like I want to say, “Are you sure you really checked EVERYTHING? Are you sure you aren’t just pushing me through because you are so off schedule?” Not that I don’t trust their credentials, but would you really want to miss something like skin cancer as a dermatologist? Shockingly, my doctor was actually taking a while checking out this feisty pore and then calmly recommended a biopsy to rule out skin cancer. The results indicated that I had the least dangerous form—basal cell carcinoma—the type that is slow to spread. “Can you come in March to have it removed?” they asked. “March? Hmmm.” I said out loud. In my head, the analysis went something more like this: “March 2011. I will be six months pregnant with twins. This procedure will (at minimum) require me to be in the prostrate position for more than 15 minutes. Yeah. Not so much.” Luckily, due to the slow growing nature of my affliction, the medical team agreed I could wait until after delivery of the twins, but that I should definitely have the procedure before summer was over. Thank goodness, because by end of January, I was already “sleeping” in a recliner.


My beautiful girls, Alex and Maja, arrived in late April. I could never have imagined that skin cancer surgery on a lovely June day in 2011 would be my first day off in two months from handling newborn twins. Not my first choice for a “break” of sorts, but a change of scenery wasn’t scoffed at this point. Plus, I got to hang out with my Mom for the day in Boston. OK, IN Mass General in Boston, but still! I was not a pretty sight for several weeks. Well, in my opinion, for several months, but the truth was I couldn’t really leave the house for the next two years anyway. And while it was a rough and tumble two years, all healed well, and my girls just turned four. I am looking forward to lathering up in the lotion and enjoying idyllic New England summer days with them. Idyllic, that is, until the simultaneous whining and tantrums do me in. I wonder if Mass General needs a “patient” to fill a bed for a few days in July?

Got the fever?

Definition of “cabin fever”: an unhappy and impatient feeling that comes from being indoors for too long. Extreme irritability and restlessness from living in isolation or a confined indoor area for a prolonged time. The first known use of the term was documented in 1918. It is theorized that it came about from pioneer settlers having to endure long winters and also from sailors being at sea for extended periods of time.

—Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Synonyms for “cabin fever”: Temporary insanity, climbing the walls, neurosis, claustrophobia, distress, restlessness, sad, seasonal affective disorder


I don’t know about you, but I find that quite a few of these synonyms can apply to me at any season of the year being a stay-at-home mom. As summer and fall waned last year, I kept gazing up at the late afternoon sun thinking about how much time we were spending outside and how much it would be limited in winter. I know. There is skating and skiing and sledding and all those “s” words, but you have to admit it is quite a chore to motivate, dress, transport and supervise multiple wee ones in the six-and-under category in these activities more than once a week. At the core, there is just the whole head injury concern. Based on that comment, you have probably concluded that I am at the conservative end of the “risk-taker” spectrum. Ya got me. I didn’t try downhill skiing until I was in 5th grade and by that time all my contemporaries were schussing down the slopes at high speed with the sole purpose being to get down the mountain first. That was not exactly compatible with my slow and steady technique. Now I have my own children and, not surprisingly, my risk-taking tolerance has diminished further. When you walk out of that hospital after delivering your newborn, you develop overprotectiveness. It is just natural. Yes, there are different intensities of it, but if you think about it, DOES it make sense for children to slide around at high speeds with sharp blades on solid ice? You feel me?

Truth: Some of the most exciting and entertaining events to watch during the Winter Olympics involve helmets: skiing, snowboarding, hockey, speed skating, bobsled, luge, skeleton, and ski jumping. For goodness sake, where did anyone get the idea for those last three? Talk about wanting to get that heart rate up and scare the bejesus out of people who care about you. And it wasn’t like these activities were invented yesterday. We are talking about people in days of yore taking these risks when there were no such things as emergency rooms and MRIs. One can’t even compare the boredom experienced in a snowbound cabin in the 1800s with boredom experienced in today’s world. Based on that fact, I really shouldn’t judge these risk-takers from centuries past.

And before I start taking on symptoms of the above-mentioned affliction, I’d like to conclude with some lucid thoughts about ice hockey. I feel it was invented because there is really nothing else to do in the northern regions in the winter. Not that there is anything wrong with that. I would like to throw out the theory that the origin of winter sports may just have been started by a group of cabin-fever ridden stay-at-home Moms, who were desperate to get their kids out of the house. If the young ones are doing a sport out in that abominable weather, it looks healthy (for them) and it feels good to you parentally (and thermally), as you watch from yonder window. There is also the added bonus that as a caregiver of a winter sports enthusiast, you don’t have to worry about being accused of aggravated assault on a juvenile due to extreme weather exposure. “He just LIVES for pond hockey. Has been out there since 7:30 this morning. Oh, shoot. Is it lunchtime already?”

Out of it

What kind of cruel karma is it when the mom who despises grocery shopping and does not find enjoyment in cooking actually plans a meal a DAY AHEAD of time (turkey meatloaf) and drags herself to the grocery store on Saturday night to find they are all out of ground turkey (confirmed with staff). And gallons of skim milk. And 2% milk. And 1%. Yep. Just whole. I don’t know anyone who drinks whole milk besides those under the age of 2. Obviously, they don’t do their fair share or the store would be out of that milk too. Then I realized the reason for the milk shortage at least. The weather report. In the Boston area, if there is talk of snow (or any icky mix of said snow and rain), no matter the gravity of the predicted storm, the grocery stores are ransacked of milk, eggs, and bread. Is there some kind of subconscious reaction to winter weather reports that makes one want to cook French toast in great quantities? I don’t get it.

Nutritional Confessional

Hi there. I am the mom that serves chicken patties and mac & cheese on a regular basis. I knew I’d never be a gourmet or organic-only mom, but I know what good nutrition is and didn’t think I’d be doing this. I know these foods aren’t going to kill you instantly, but they do have a bad rap as being “kid food” and I guess I’d hoped my kids would be a little more branched out in the world of food. One of them likes hummus this week. Does that count as branched out? Never mind. Moving on.

Do I feel a little better that the chicken patties I use are all-veggie “Chik’n Patties”? Yes. (And they are quite yummy. Even my very picky meat-eating husband enjoys them quite a bit). Does it make a health difference that my kids are eating Annie’s Organic Mac & Cheese instead of Kraft? Probably a tiny bit. But in a typical week on a typical night, I focus only on the disappointment in myself that I’m feeding them a breaded piece of something alongside white noodles coated in a powdered cheese mix. Oh, the green veggie is there too. But, as witnessed in the following exchange, is obviously not the memorable highlight of the meal. When my son had his 3-year physical, the doctor asked him some direct questions:


Dr: “What do you eat at home that is green?”

My Son: (Pursed lips. Furrowed brow. Lengthy pause.)

Me: (Oh God, he’s pausing. I try to look confident, but all I can think is: Is this doctor going to report me to DSS based on my son’s response?)

Dr: “You know, like broccoli, beans, peas…”

My Son: (Light bulb goes on) “Oh yeah, I eat all that! I like broccoli the best.”

Me: (Huge, but silent sigh of relief)

I once commiserated with a fellow Mom about our frustration with the small amounts vegetables our kids consume. She said something that I now think about every day: “I had to lower the bar. I was beating myself up thinking they should be eating green vegetables twice a day and it never happened. Then, I got hung up on the fact they were only eating them once a day. So, the bar went lower. Now, I figure if they get a veggie or two in the span of two days, I’m doing well. This guideline is more often met than not and therefore motivates me to keep trying new things.”

In the grand scheme of things, I feel this veggie guideline is emotionally healthier for the mom and still consistently healthy for the child. My kids do love fruit, nuts, yogurts, and whole grain foods, so I know they are getting nutrients. Whatever comes from the veggies is a bonus. There is always the quick bread route—pumpkin and zucchini breads. Not 100% veggie, but usually consumed in large quantities, so some of those veggie benefits are slipping in there.

Here are a few mantras, corollaries, or sayings I try to hold tight to when the nutrition frustration and shame kicks in:

  1.  Everything in moderation. This is a good rule for all aspects of life and calms me down when I begin to negatively judge my own decision making at mealtime. It’s also the perfect way to justify another half glass of wine while you finish making said meal.
  2. If they want the same thing for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, it won’t kill them. (I realize this contradicts the previous mantra, but somehow the two can coexist in this list.)
  3. Unless there are allergy issues, I don’t believe my child should from treats at birthday/school/holiday parties for the sole reason of maintaining good nutrition. I feel it is part of their socialization to join and do what the group is doing. I do, however, go thru the goody bags and pare down any treats in there if I feel the quantity is too much. How else am I going to sneak a treat for myself?
  4. Children are likely to try and eat things outside the home that they always refuse at home. This befuddles and frustrates me. And it creates inventory issues in the pantry because I go out and buy a plethora of what they chowed on at Grandma’s house and they never eat it at home. Anyone need applesauce or graham crackers?

I know I take the meal acceptance and consumption results too personally. I’m going to be faced with this challenge three times a day for years to come. It is not realistic to think I’ll make a rockin’ and completely healthy meal or bag lunch that EVERYONE loves EVERY time. That being said, I sure do wish I could. I also wish I had time to make myself a Panera-like salad on a daily basis. One issue is that I’m not exactly Julia Child and I hope someday when my babies are all older and don’t need me so intensely, I can improve the cooking and meal creativity skills a bit. However, right now, I have to be okay with serving mac & cheese and chicken patties on a regular basis. Anybody hungry?

High Finance for 2- and 5-year-olds

Playing with Piggy Banks

There’s not much you can teach a two and a half year-old about finance. Exposure to money, however, is more do-able. As soon as they are old enough not to eat coins, get that piggy bank going. They won’t understand the concept of saving, but gosh it’s fun to fill up that piggy and dump it out. And fill it up. And dump it out. You get the picture. It could mean you actually get to use the bathroom by yourself for more than one minute. And in light of the way commerce is going these days, kids should really learn what coins are before they disappear completely.

What kind of piggy bank is best, you ask? Well, at first all I could find was the ceramic type that you’d keep on top of a dresser until you went to college—not exactly two year-old friendly. I saw some plastic ones, but they either “talked” (no, thank you) or were of such cheap material that the “plugs” didn’t stay in well. Ironically, my husband came up with a very green idea. I say “ironically” because he isn’t exactly a huge fan of the Save the Planet movement, but he is interested in the challenge of reconstructing things. You know those huge plastic containers of animal crackers or pretzels that line the shelves at BJ’s and Costco? PERFECT piggy banks. After a few minutes with some fancy tool in the basement, Daddy cut a slot in the cover and voilà! A massive vessel for coins. These banks are so huge and probably won’t ever be full (unless I have a dedicated Scrooge on my hands), but I think the largesse of the container adds to the fun. Those shiny coins have a long cavernous fall which ends with a very satisfying PLINK!


I had (and still have) grandiose ideas of having the kids artistically personalize these piggy banks, but the farthest I’ve gotten is writing each child’s name the containers in paint pen. So far, it’s helped with letter recognition. The next step will be to cut out and attach a custom label to cover up the food label. From there, the sky’s the limit with decorating ideas: markers, stickers, glitter, photo collages, cotton balls…I could go on. Now, if I could just use those few minutes of coin plinking to get these ideas in motion….

Birthday Present Bummer

I like to take my 5 year-old son to buy birthday presents for his friends because I like involving him in the decision-making and purchasing processes, but inevitably this experience can upset him because he doesn’t completely understand why he can’t get something too. If you forget about all the logic you know as an adult (like, um, it’s not your birthday; you already have 12 thousand Hot Wheels), and put yourself in the mind of a 5 year-old (skipping through the toy aisles, stopping every second to ogle something, reveling in the sheer excitement of being out and about), I can kind of see how it would make sense to expect this lovely experience to end with a parting gift. After all, we’re in the moment here. He knows he’s going to a birthday party and wants to bring something cool to his friend, but it’s not imminent and thus not a reality. All he knows is there are tons of cool toys in front of him and he can’t even stand still for a second before another one sucks him in. Then the attention-getting and explanations ensue: “Mommy, look at this! Look at THAT! My friend Michael has that one. I need to get this one to add to my collection. Then I’d have 2 blue ones AND 2 red ones. That would be so cool! Ooh, ooh, ooh…Mommy, come see THIS!” While I find the excitement adorable to a certain extent, my always-tired-and-beat-up Mommy brain is simultaneously trying to focus on the task at hand: “How much do we want to spend? I wonder if he has this already? Is this too young for him? Darn, I forgot to look for online coups before heading out! Did I remember to defrost the meat for dinner?” OK, that last one obviously wasn’t the task at hand, but creeps in somewhere on a regular basis. Ultimately, after some emotional ups and downs and reality checks, we get a gift and go on our way. By the time the party happens, all the store trauma is forgotten.

What have I learned from all this? Well, after several episodes of crying in the aisles and/or tantrums on one of these birthday present shopping adventures, I have learned to brief my little shopper BEFORE going in the store that the purpose of our visit is to buy ONLY gifts for the birthday child in question. No other presents (and here’s the important part) FOR KIDS will be bought.* This rule hasn’t completely eliminated tears, but it has toned down the tantrums. Sometimes. Which is better than never. Now, I just need to mentally (and physically, to be honest) prepare myself for doing this whole circus with the twins!

*CAVEAT: Cover yourself for goodness sake. You KNOW this is going to be the shopping trip where that one critical household or clothing item that has been eluding you all season is going to show up. And won’t that just conveniently blow a hole in your “rule of the day”?

Night Shift

There are many times during pregnancy when sleep becomes a challenge. Although this luckily wasn’t the case for me, in the first trimester many women are awakened each morning by the need to vomit. Lovely. I had some “evening sickness” between 7-9pm, but it never manifested itself into any time spent hanging over the porcelain. I was one of the lucky ones in that regard. More frequently, one can relate to the last two months of pregnancy as being tough for getting sleep—body discomfort and the need to pee every hour doesn’t make for very restful times in the old rackeroo. That is, if you can even lie down. I started recliner sleeping in the sixth month of my pregnancy with my twin daughters. Though I crave moments to myself now, back then it was a little lonely sleeping downstairs every night. Isn’t pregnancy the time in your life when you need to be the most rested for what lies ahead? What kind of evolutionary engineering is this? I still don’t know the answer to that question.

During the first few months of the twins’ lives, I think I was topping out at 2 hours of sleep per 24 hours. The “sleep while the baby is sleeping” advice barely works for one baby, let alone two. Even with my husband helping me at night during the first few weeks, there were just not enough hands to go around. And then there’s the noisy baby factor. Newborns are VERY noisy. No one prepares you for this, but your immediate reaction is that something is wrong with them. Nine times out of ten they are fine, but too late. You are awake. Or should I say, more awake than you were.

When I did get a short respite in a room sans babies, I was so stressed out about getting enough sleep that I couldn’t sleep. And then hearing the cries from downstairs…ugh. Even if I covered my head with a pillow, I could still hear them. No new mother can relax hearing their baby cry even if they have all the help in the world. I can definitely say from experience that sleep deprivation caused changes in my ability to think rationally. At one point, I remember seriously thinking I might die if I didn’t get more sleep. This sounds completely illogical and extreme to me when I reflect on it now, but at the time it felt very real. In researching this article, I found some medical retribution for my irrationality: “Insufficient sleep is associated with a number of chronic diseases and conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, obesity, and depression. Sufficient sleep is increasingly being recognized as an essential aspect of chronic disease prevention and health promotion” ( Obviously, a dramatic finish wasn’t imminent for me, but long-term health issues related to sleep deprivation are no joke.

What amazes me is that during all my years on this earth before having children, I’ve been sleeping away the nights while millions of mothers/caregivers are up at all hours, all over the world. I would think about that a lot that while gazing out at the 3 AM sky. It gave me mixed feelings—a little loneliness, but also an awareness of the camaraderie moms need to make it through this challenging, yet rewarding, part of life. Not that I had much time to get online, but one bonus to living in this day and age is at least you can reach out to someone 24/7. A few kind words from a person in the same middle-of-the-night boat and a smile from your little one can get you through to sunrise. You still may not get any sleep, but feel-good endorphins are powerful things.

Personal profile: I am not a morning person and I’m not a night owl. I love afternoon naps. So, what does this make me? Not cut out for motherhood? Lazy? Cranky? Antisocial? According to recent research on sleep, this makes me healthier. Pregnancy and caring for newborns just threw me for a loop for a while—as it does for every woman at some level. After almost four years since the twins’ birth, I think I’m catching up and a fog is lifting. With that accomplished, I can now look forward to the teenage dating years; when again, I’ll be up until all hours.

“…Sufficient sleep is not a luxury—it is a necessity—and should be thought of as a vital sign of good health.” Wayne H. Giles, MD, MS, Director, Division of Adult and Community Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion

How much sleep do you need?


Birth–2 months need 12–18 hours

3–11 months need 14–15 hours


1–3 years need 12–14 hours

3–5 years old need 11–13 hours

5–10 years old need 10–11 hours


10-17 years need 8.5–9.5 hours


Need 7–9 hours

Source: National Sleep Foundation

Things I love about the season I don’t love so much

Yes, I live in New England. Yes, I grew up in Northern New England. No, I don’t love winter. And did I make several attempts to leave the region during my lifetime? Yes. However, in 1997, I ended up back here because most all the people I know and love are in this climate. Why? I don’t know. Well, I have a theory. I’m sure you have heard of childbirth amnesia—that belief (or perhaps it is scientific fact) that your body has some unique ability to allow you to forget about the agony of the equivalent of squeezing a watermelon through your nostril. As a result of this memory wiping, more children are considered and conceived and delivered. There has to be some truth to it or why would women go through this? Ok, that’s a topic for another day. In the meantime, I’d like to explain my parallel amnesia theory about New England winters. You know those pristine New England non-humid summer days or even better, those glowing warm fall afternoons? Well, it is my theory that it only takes one or two of these show-stoppers per year to convince you to stay here forever and tolerate the 6-month season we call winter. It must be my regional ancestors who built this into the family DNA, because I definitely can’t make logical sense of it. Despite my utter dislike for the cold, I’d like to be a big girl and reflect upon the positive in all this frigidity. Here are few of my favorite things about my not-so-favorite season:

Sugar on Snow

Unique to New England? I’m not sure, but I remember scooping up snow in a bowl and bringing it inside to douse with maple syrup. There was no time to remove outerwear or you would miss that perfect sweet n’ snow texture in your mouth. I don’t ever remember adding milk, but was reminded and inspired with this idea lately after re-listening to one of my favorite kids’ album from the (ahem) 70s, Free to Be You and Me. For you fellow 70s babies, I am referring specifically to the song, “Glad to Have a Friend Like You” sung by Marlo Thomas that included this [abridged] verse:

Earl told Pearl

There was free ice cream when it snowed….

So they raised up the window and scooped all the snow together

Put milk and sugar in and ate it.

Full-Body Snowsuits

Besides for the snowmobiling crowd, I don’t know if these garments are still around for kids larger than infants, but we had these full-body snowsuits that rocked. Granted, the going-to-the-bathroom thing was totally inconvenient, but I could deal with that so as NOT have snow sneak in under my jacket and inevitably down my snow pants while sporting a two-piece ensemble. Sooooo….worth it.

Ice Hockey Games

While I don’t play hockey, I was raised going to them—they are part of my being, athletic or not. (And believe me, I’m not.) These events tend to be frigid, but as long as the rink is heated and hot beverages are available for sale, I can hack it. Pond hockey spectating is oh-so-regionally charming, but unless it’s a day of full sun with no wind, I’m not biting. Nostalgia only takes you so far when the elements are involved.

The Sound of Falling Snow

Didn’t think snow made noise? Have you ever taken a walk at night during a light snowfall? We used to walk from our house to the hockey rink a few blocks away and I loved watching the flurries pass by and be illuminated by the street lights. It was so quiet on our walks that you could hear the very faint sound of the flakes hitting the snow already on the ground…an almost fizzing sound, with tiny faraway crackles.

Snow on Christmas

It is a requirement for me—even if only a dusting. Just has to be. I lived in Arizona for one winter and I can tell you that a gravel front yard with a saguaro cactus decked out in holiday lights just does not even come close to cutting it for me. New England Christmases sans snow are just plain brown and ugly, so bring on the white stuff. I can deal for one day. Especially when I don’t tend to leave the house!

Frozen Eyelashes and…Other Things

As a kid, I walked to school year round in New Hampshire. I don’t ever recall being driven unless I had had doctor or dentist appointment and arrived late. While I can’t imagine sending my kids out into below zero temps to walk to school, I somehow survived it. Uphill. Both ways. In a blizzard. (You know the old story.) I don’t remember the bone-chilling cold as much as the feeling of my eyelashes freezing and sticking together as I blinked. It would freak me out a little at first, but then it was kind of fun to keep blinking and trying to freeze and unfreeze them. And before you think this is some sweet, innocent memory, I can assure you the accompanying frozen boogies always made my sister and I crack up. And then cringe a little because it kinda hurt to inhale. For the record, we did inhale.

Dogs Playing in the Snow

We had a black Lab growing up and after observing her never-ending enthusiasm for swimming, the next best thing was to see her leaping through deep snow like a tiny black Bambi. The next phase of this magical event consisted of her tunneling and reemerging halfway across the yard with a smile on her snow-covered muzzle that screamed pure, unadulterated joy. Besides the entertainment, it reminded me (and still does) to just soak up life and enjoy every minute. Even if it is wintertime.

A grateful citizen

The massive Ebola outbreak and the conflicts in the Middle East have been making me think more seriously about what I’m grateful for. Of course, my family and friends are extremely important, but what about the basic infrastructure of resources in our country? I feel we take this for granted in a major way on a daily basis. Not that that should make us feel guilty, rather it should engender a deep appreciation for basic things—accessibility to clean water, 24-hour electricity, ease of transportation, high-quality medical care, rights to education, and the security to be able to leave one’s own home without the threat of violence or a foreign or domestic military presence.

During my junior year of college, I lived in France and Spain. Granted, it was a far cry from living in Liberia or war-torn Syria and Iraq, but even living in Western Europe made me appreciate our way of life here. I remember being so psyched for each shower I got. To a teenager who was used to a daily full-blasting hot water shower, having to wait several days for each shower and having it be a trickle of water or a light spray while standing in a not-quite fully enclosed shower stall, well, this took some getting used to. During weekend jaunts around the continent, bathing was even more difficult, either due to not wanting to use the community shower rooms in hostels or having a room with a tub (no shower or curtain, mind you). Smack dab in the middle of the room. Just out there in the open when you were sharing a room with 3 other people. Like I’m going to take a bath with all the roommates watching, some of which were people I had just met a few weeks prior. As a result, we made a game of tallying up the number of consecutive hours one would wear the same clothes. Long weekends could achieve the “76 hours in jeans” status. I realize this isn’t major suffering by any means, but just the sheer difference of it was enough to cause me to reflect upon how convenient and expected things are here. On the plane home after eight months in Europe, all I could think about was a nice, long, hot shower—and the option to take one anytime I wanted in the privacy of my own bathroom.

Speaking of freedoms, one experience I had in Spain has stuck with me for over twenty years. And I am reminded of it every time I hear stories on the news about the US military presence in other parts of the world, which has been plentiful lately. It was 1992. I was out with some Spanish and American friends one night…I think we were in line to get into a club of some sort. A slightly tipsy Spaniard came up to us and questioned our nationalities. Once he knew we were Americans, he proceeded a soapbox-like tirade about how we have no idea what it’s like to live in the presence of another country’s military. “How would you feel if you had a Spanish military base in your hometown?” (There was an American base outside the city of Sevilla, where I was living.) “You Americans have no idea. Your military just plops itself down here in the name of protecting the world and we just have to accept it.” It was something I had NEVER thought of and I’m sure most Americans don’t either. There is just no way to relate to that being from this country.

So this year, I am going to take some time to be grateful for the daily conveniences here in the United States. No need to dwell for too long. I can’t solve all the world’s problems. But, I can tell you I plan to take a few extra deep breaths of gratitude each time I step into that hot shower or drive freely across state borders or watch my kids enjoying themselves at a local playground. How lucky we are in this part of the world.