Monday, May 20, 2013

Go Fry an Egg!

A few weeks ago, I heard Lenore Skenazy speak. If you don’t know who Lenore Skenazy is, search Google for “world’s worst mom” and you’ll learn all about the New York City woman who let her 8-year-old son ride the subway home from Macy’s all by himself. He asked to do it, they studied a map, and practiced the route. On the big day, they said goodbye in the handbag department and he went on his way with a subway pass. He made it home, couldn’t have been more proud of himself, and she never looked back. Until her blog post about this little rite of passage went viral and she became the World’s Worst Mom, exposing her son to all kinds of stranger dangers, germs, and death by giant subway rats. When the dust settled, she wrote a book called Free Range Kids and has become a national superhero of courage to banquet rooms of moms like me who are terrified to let our kids out of our sight.

So last week, when Amelia asked to make her own egg, I thought about Lenore Skenazy. 

What’s the worst that could happen? It’s an egg in our kitchen, not a Manhattan subway. So I gave her an egg and a bowl, and clearly I’ve made her terrified of breaking an egg, because she tapped it about a dozen times so gently it barely made a sound, let alone crack.  She finally whacked it harder, and surprise! Fingers in the eggshell.  Salmonella?  No, I told myself… let her keep going.  She proudly and carefully separated the shell and slid the yolk into the bowl.  Phew!  She did it right. Actually, she did it exactly as she’s seen me do it about a million times.  Hmmm.  
number 6 is Amelia's - ready to cook?

But back to the salmonella…go wash your hands twice, with soap. 

Only we weren’t finished. She also wanted to drop the egg into the pan and watch it sizzle. OK. We positioned a stepstool in front of the stove, and I placed a pan on the burner to heat. She climbed up, duly warned about NOT TOUCHING ANYTHING.  Raw eggs were no longer the biggest danger in the room, now we had EXTREME HEAT and I didn’t want to mention the potential for PAINFUL BURNS.  From about 2 feet away, she poured the egg from the bowl into the pan and got a satisfying sizzle. And that was it. She wasn’t interested in watching it cook, flipping it (thank God!) or anything else. She was off to play until it was safely on a plate on the table. 

Well, that wasn’t so bad. 

Before I had a kid, I read an article about having difficult conversations with children. It said to answer only what the child is really asking – so “where do babies come from?” for a preschooler is probably a pretty direct answer, without all the discussion a teenager (doesn’t) want.  Tell the truth, and be ready for her to change the subject.  Crack an egg, then go get the My Little Ponies.  Amelia’s growing up, sure, but this 5-year-old still has the attention span of, well, a 5-year-old.

She’s asking to do the things she’s ready to do, and I’m glad. Because coming up are a bunch of things that I’m not ready for her to do, so we’d better ease in. Things like ride a school bus by herself to kindergarten. Buy (and choose!) her own lunch. Go on playdates without me. Well, maybe that last one is OK.

So for now, when there is an egg to be cracked, Amelia is in charge. She hasn’t dropped one yet.

Thank you, Lenore.  You’re not the world’s worst mom. In fact, you're a lot like my own mom. Thanks, mom. And Happy Mother's Day!

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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Some of Everything

Can working mothers have it all?
I’m writing this from our living room couch, while Amelia watches My Little Pony before bed. The dog is snoozing at my feet, dishes are in the dishwasher and the laundry is mostly folded. Jeff is across the room, reading. It’s kind of a postcard of suburban domestic bliss. But maybe I’m supposed to be in Pittsburgh. 
Today is the second day of the Association of Children’s Museums’ annual 3-day conference. I’ve attended this conference almost every year since 1995. It changes locations each year, and I’ve been going so long that I remember the last time it was in Pittsburgh. It’s a professional development and networking event, and since I’m officially a freelancer again, networking is key. It’s also an annual gathering of old friends and colleagues, an opportunity to stay up too late in the hotel bar talking about exhibits with a bunch of people who love them the way I do, without spouses checking their watches. Last year at this conference, I was at a career turning point and the solid advice, unwaivering support and valuable perspective of my ACM friends gave me the confidence to make a change I desperately needed. Last year I was a mess, and this year I’m better. I was looking forward to going to this year’s conference to say thank you, check in, and pay it forward.
But last night was New Parents’ Open House at the school where Amelia will start kindergarten. And my decision to freelance full time was all about priorities. 
A few months ago, I saw a job posting that sounded great. I inquired about it, and it sounded even more interesting. I was definitely qualified, and strongly encouraged to apply. But I kept hesitating. Finally, my husband ran out of patience. Look, he said, I can’t keep having this debate. I will support you either way, but do you or don’t you want to meet the school bus?
Wow. That’s easy. I do want to meet the school bus. It’s what I’ve always wanted. But I also love my career and we sure do spend my paycheck. So I looked around. I have two interesting, challenging, rewarding freelance projects that will keep me busy through the summer. I have two more pending for the fall. There’s no reason to think there won’t be more after that. So at least for now, freelance work is a viable option with a lot of perks. Not only can I have the joy of meeting the school bus, but the fact that Amelia is ON a bus at 3pm means she doesn’t have to go to after school care. If I can earn a living and also avoid 11-hour days for my 5-year-old, well, any other option just seems selfish.
Have I found the elusive work-life balance that mothers everywhere dream of? If so, it’s still not perfect. There are choices and tradeoffs, because doing both means you can’t give everything to either one. Working for myself means the time management decisions are mine, and there isn’t time “reserved” by an employer. I can watch ballet class, but I will be up very late writing. If I go to parents’ night, I’m also deciding not to go to the ACM conference. 
But here’s the thing – there will be another conference next year. In fact, missing a year is a great incentive to call some of my ACM friends and catch up one-on-one in the coming weeks. Those relationships are intact, and networking can still happen. But Amelia won’t be starting a new school next year, and I’ll never have a rising kindergartener again. I’ve missed enough milestones already, and now that time management is up to me, I've chosen to meet the school bus.  
So I think you can have it all, you just can’t have all of it. Tonight, I see from the photos on Facebook that I’m missing a great time in Pittsburgh. But this year I belong here, on this couch, with my family.  I’ll see you next year, I promise!

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