Sitting quietly on the floor

Henry loves his daycare, but lately we’ve struggled with getting him there in the morning because he wants to stay home with us instead.

This morning I called his bluff and said fine, he didn’t have to go, but we had to get to work. For a good 20 minutes he sat on the floor in our office naked while we replied to emails. He just sat there because I sternly told him he couldn’t play or talk or do anything fun if he was going to stay home, and the couple of times he said “I’m going to help you work,” and got out a piece of paper and a marker or something, I told him no, he had to just sit there and do nothing if he was staying home. And he was butt naked because he refused to get dressed for school.

He was fully prepared to just sit there quietly all day. Poor kid.

Finally, hearts breaking for this naked kid just sitting there silently, we told him we needed to go to meetings so he had to go to school. Several cuddles and lots of tears and protests later, he’s on his way.

I’ve said it a million times, but the working mother’s dilemma is such a hard one. I miss him all day too and wish we could just play and cuddle all the time.

But we’ve got obligations. Clients to take care of, bills to pay.

So many times I see posts on Facebook that say things like, forget your sleep training, or forget your time outs — go to your kid when he’s crying and just be with him. That he’s little and he won’t always need you. To enjoy the moments and take every cuddle you can.

I try that; to remember that he’s only little once, and that if he needs me, he needs me. When he asks for a cuddle, I never say no. There’s plenty of time to learn independence, and I do believe he’ll be better at independence if he’s confident and knows how loved he is.

But there has to be a line… I just don’t know where it is.

And I don’t know if things are amped up because of the baby coming. I want to give him all the individual attention I can, before things change forever. This morning I don’t actually have any meetings until 11:30. I can stay up late to bang out work if I need to, though my brain doesn’t work as well at night.

Things ended well today. Cory said drop-off was easy. He was all smiles. But thinking of him just sitting on our office floor doing nothing because he wants to be with us that badly — I’m just having a heartbroken kind of morning.

Why full-time motherhood's not for me

I had some feedback on my superwoman post that hinted about Henry’s days being too much for a two-year-old. So today, a “Mommy-Henry” Sunday (Cory’s working 12-hour day shifts this weekend), we just stayed in and hung out.

It reminded me of why I like to get out and about with him. Staying in should feel refreshing; a chance to spend some lazy time together and catch up on what needs to be done at home. As it turns out, I really don’t like doing what needs to be done at home. I’d rather be working.

I mopped the floors. I’m ashamed to admit this, but it’s a super rare thing that our floors ever get mopped. Cory’s obsessive with the vacuum and we take our shoes off when we come inside so it seems all right, but it has definitely been a long, long while since the last mopping in the Austin-Avon household.

Well, that was an ordeal. In my head, it would go a lot like the scene from the Pippi Longstocking movie where everyone’s having a blast.

I gave Henry a spray bottle with water and vinegar and told him he could spray the floors as much as he wanted. Of course, he sprayed the carpeted stairs, the wall, and just about everything but the floor and quickly lost interest. The floors were mopped anyway, not that they look any better for it, and we moved on.

I made fudge for a friend, which seemed like a good idea until I was stuck at the oven stirring for the better part of an hour and the only thing that seemed to hold Henry’s interest was playing in the sink.

I told myself that all the water we save by being vegans (On average, a vegan, a person who doesn’t eat meat or dairy, indirectly consumes nearly 600 gallons of water per day less than a person who eats the average American diet. — National Geographic) is at least somewhat offsetting all the water that is wasted when Henry demands some sink play time.

It was difficult not knowing what demanded more immediate action, stirring the fudge so it didn’t boil over and coat the entire stovetop in a sticky mess, or Henry dumping water everywhere and being precariously balanced on a chair to do so. I wish I had extra hands.

The hilarious quips that should be the stuff of family legends for years to come just spout from him so quickly that I can’t write everything down, much less remember it to write down. We visited BobbyDeeDee a couple of times throughout the day and Mimi and Poppy came to say hello on their way to Florida.

He fell asleep in my arms at nap time, and I held him for a good twenty minutes just taking it all in, remembering that time is fleeting, and we are never promised any kind of tomorrow that will be exactly like today. I kissed his cheek over and over. He’s still so baby soft. (I also licked my thumb to scrub off some gunk on his face and flicked boogers out of his nose. It’s hard to fawn over your baby when they have a booger staring you square in the face.)

I found myself constantly wandering back in time, missing my little baby. Kissing his soft hair; the softest, sleekest dark stuff he had when he was born, before the light hair he has now grew in. The way he would rest his head against my chest and I could hold his whole body in my arms. But then I try to shake it off.

Because I’m not so far in that I shouldn’t be in the moment — toddlerhood is going to be fleeting too, just as his short time as a baby was. So I tried to take a mental snapshot of his tousled hair, his baby teeth, the way he murmured “Song,” a command to sing him to sleep, right before he drifted off. I had just read him “The Giving Tree.” He likes when I have a happy kind of cry.

Already he’s saying his words more precisely. He can say “Jingle Bells” instead of “Dingle Bells,” “Oh what fun” instead of “Oh what bun,” and has started to say I instead of Henry, as in “I’m stuck!” instead of “Henry stuck” and even “That’s MINE.” But still, there’s the way he says sea anenanenome, and omanent. Every time I teach him proper pronunciation, I mourn the loss of his adorable Henryspeak.

Back to my original topic, though. I came downstairs to a living room full of blocks on the floor, lunch not yet cleaned up, remembering that there’s laundry in the dryer and so much to do that hasn’t been done. The immediate tasks are tedious, but it’s the other stuff that overwhelms me.

Mopping the floor this morning opened a can of worms. Suddenly I notice the pictures I haven’t framed, the broken glass in the other picture frame, the desk I need to get rid of that’s been in our living room for months now, and I think about the fans that should be dusted and the fridge that should be cleaned out and my stuff all over my dresser that needs a home and how my closet’s full of clothes just thrown around and I just want to quit.

The other day I felt a sore spot brushing my teeth and when I shone my iPhone’s flashlight in my mouth I was horrified. My teeth look like the sink that hasn’t been scrubbed in a long time. I brush and floss, but these things are just getting old and worn out. Whenever I catch a glimpse of my face in the mirror and look for longer than it takes to swipe on eyeliner or squeeze something, I have the same impression of myself. I’m so far from being new and it’s so hard to fix what’s wrong.

I have romantic thoughts about an au pair or personal assistant who will just take care of all the things that aren’t being taken care of. Repot the plants, vacuum the insides of closets, go and cash that old savings bond I’ve been carrying around and do something with it. Form an LLC for Advokate, figure out how to do the woman-owned-business certification, figure out why my checking account never balances and give my desk a good wipe down. Do something about my bushy eyebrows, exercise, drink more water, get more sleep. But it’s really me that needs to do all that.

It’s just overwhelming. Right in the middle of picking up blocks, I came and wrote this instead of doing it. I’m just not cut out for housewifery. I’d rather be chipping away at a tangible task list that I know is going to pay off instead of trying to weigh out what’s important on the homefront.

It really comes down to this: I’m so much better at triage with urgent things than with non-urgent things. The non-urgent things freak me out because there are way too many of them. I don’t actually even know what to do with down time.

Now, when I finish writing this, I know that I need to fold laundry, pick up blocks and do the dishes from lunch. Urgent things. Then… do I wash the sheets, mop the kitchen floor, take a shower (with Henry all day it’s not easy to find a minute), clean the upstairs bathroom, deal with the pile of mail on the kitchen counter, go through my closet and straighten things up and get rid of stuff, make dinner, make future dinners to put in the freezer, brush the cats, tidy my dresser, go through my 15-year-old makeup in the drawer, find the plant food and give the plants a pick-me-up?

I could refill the pellet stove, or see about a more thorough shoveling or salting of the walkway, or dust some surfaces. I should look up what to do about lint in your dryer, we’ve been cleaning the screen but I think we need some kind of a bottlebrush thing to clean it out better so it doesn’t catch fire. And I think I have gift certificates I should use but I can’t remember what they are. I could call a friend to see what they’re doing, but Cory will be home at 7 and probably just want to eat dinner and get Henry to bed so there’s not really time. I could paint my toenails, or do something with the eight inches of hair I cut off in August that’s just been in our bedroom lurking around, or figure out what I’m doing with that Adirondack chair I said I’d paint, or figure out what to do for the Small Works show or for the show I have in July. I could draw, I haven’t drawn anything in a long time. But I really should clean up the desktop on the computer and figure out why it’s running slow.

The possibilities are endless. And this tiny bit of down time has me incredibly overwhelmed just thinking about all the things that I’ve never done that I should have done and that are probably too far gone now, or just the sheer number of things there are to get to when I have down time. There’s no way to do it all.

Maybe I’ll just go see if Henry’s up yet. Or I’ll get a little work done, maybe.

My SuperWoman Day (a not-so-humblebrag)

So there are definitely days where I feel like I’m failing at everything because I’m trying to do too much. But there are other days where I’m all “I got this” and while it’s far from easy, I’m really freaking proud of all that I’m juggling. This is going to be one of those snapshots of my days and of course it’s because it’s a killer wham-bam kind of a day. I don’t tend to snapshot the stupid days where everything goes wrong.

So. Early 2015 has been INSANE for business. Everyone is following through on their New Year’s Resolutions at the same time, and I’m right at the verge of having to turn away new business because my cup is brimming with work. I’m NOT complaining. (And I’m not turning people away. Yet.)

Henry on his first day at Early Learners
Henry on his first day at Early Learners

A few months ago when I left the Shirt Factory job I had this really foreign feeling of actually being able to get to the stuff on my to-do list that wasn’t urgent. As in, for a really long time it only got done if it was pressing. I had a refreshing couple of months in November and December and opened a boutique. And now, BAM! It’s back to where I’m spinning plates — Now this one! Now this one! Like waiting tables. Rushing from one thing to the next, but I think I’m okay. I’m handling it, and I’ve hired some help.

So we enrolled Henry in the Early Learners program at the YMCA — pre-preschool. We also have him going to It’s A Kidz World three days a week, and we also signed him up for swim class.

This morning it was my first time solo with him for this wild routine. I woke up with him, fed him breakfast, and armed with three bags (swim stuff, backpack with extra clothes and snack for Early Learners, my work clothes) we made it to the Y for Early Learners. I dropped him off and worked out to my sister’s “Disaster Mix” — Britney Spears, punk rock, 80’s dance hits. It felt great. I picked him up at 10:45 and we changed into swim gear for 11 a.m. swim class — with a LOT of crying because he is TERRIFIED of noisy potties, and there’s one with an automatic flush in the family change room.

We do swim class and somehow I manage to get us both showered and into clothes. It’s not a quick process. We drive to Kidz World and he sits down for his lunch while all the kids are sleeping and proceeds to fall asleep while eating, I’m told.

Oh yeah, and I made a homeopathic herbal decoction of elderberry last night while I was working from home after Henry went to bed. No big deal or anything.
Oh yeah, and I made a homeopathic herbal decoction of elderberry last night while I was working from home after Henry went to bed. No big deal or anything. Also, I went to yoga class yesterday and worked my butt off doing ten zillion things and then took my kid to the library’s play group. NO BIG DEAL OR ANYTHING, I SAID.

I head to work and get there about 12:30, scarf a frozen Veggie Loaf TV dinner, meet with the President of the Glens Falls Collaborative and get paid for a big project with them, reply to emails, get two projects done for clients, bang out a couple of pages on a major website I’m building, meet with a prospective client and have an Amity meeting with one of my regulars and then it’s time to go.

Cory’s picked Henry up and has dinner on the table. He cleans up Henry and dinner while I email the director of an arts organization back about this super duper major grant project with the City. The Mayor is apparently going to announce our project tonight and the media’s been alerted, and I need to send her an image. So I’m doing that while dinner’s being cleaned up (Thanks, honey!) and then Cory has to leave for work. But not before he makes a joke about how my iPhone is like a Bat signal — THE MAYOR IS CONTACTING US! WE NEED ADVOKATE!

Then Henry’s got to go to the bathroom. And there I am, wiping my toddler’s butt with one hand and texting the media my statements which might be put in print with the other hand. And that sums it up right there, really. Also, then he said he needed a Band-Aid on his butt. I had to hold him up in the mirror so he could see it. All in the middle of talking about this project.

Thank Jesus for texting. That wouldn’t work via phone. Can you imagine it? “So yeah, there’s a match and the grant is due in two days. Bend over, honey! And there are 13 organizations partnering on it. No, I’m not done yet – That’s a lot of poop! And we’re getting in-kind donations from the City. DON’T TOUCH IT! STOP TOUCHING IT!!!”

Oh, but it doesn’t stop there. Practice for my a cappella band The Skirts is canceled, so instead, Henry and I then go to the inaugural meeting of the Glens Falls Chapter of Holistic Moms at the library.

I felt so dumb not bringing something to keep Henry entertained. We sat on the floor with some coloring books but instead of chatting with the other moms, I mostly chased Henry around shushing him while people were talking. I felt at home with my mason jar of cereal for snacks, and Henry was even wearing a tie-dye shirt. I think we fit in okay, except for where it seemed like a number of the moms were working part-time or were full time moms so they could home school. It made me think that maybe I actually am trying to do too much. How possible is it to be this career-oriented and ALSO be really family-oriented? More likely, how sustainable is it? I really want both.

Anyway, we left early because Henry was being a rascal and I couldn’t blame him because he was clearly bored. I will probably join the group, but I did feel a little out of place as a vegan amidst farmers. I think we all have the same basic values, though, about living naturally and researching all of our choices to make the best decisions for our families.

We came home for bath and bedtime, and Henry’s still nursing. I’ve been feeling more and more like our days are numbered with that, but hanging with those other moms tonight made me feel more like I ought to just keep going with the flow and let Henry make the choice to quit when he’s ready.

And then after he fell asleep, I went downstairs and had a cup of coffee and proofed the grant for this major citywide project. And here I am writing about it.

Maybe I can’t balance the ultra-career-woman thing with the most-present-and-all-natural-mom-in-the-world thing forever, but today I did it LIKE A BOSS and I feel really proud of it.

Jackie, Thor and Henry on the steps at the library tonight.
Jackie, Thor and Henry on the steps at the library tonight.

I’ve definitely had people tell me that I can’t have it all. And some days it feels like a major relief to actually admit that I can’t be a perfect ethical vegan AND run my own wildly successful business AND take my kid to art shows AND make food from scratch AND run a boutique AND buy everything organic and local AND avoid chain restaurants AND not shop at Wal-mart AND work out AND do extended breastfeeding AND find time to relax AND do yoga AND do everything in the most ecofriendly and waste-free way possible AND be a total attachment-style parent AND keep everyone in the world’s feelings in mind AND make time for my husband AND keep the house clean AND… so on.

But today I feel like, while there were certainly moments of frustration, I pulled it all off. So there. I wrote it down for posterity. My one day that I did it all! Yes I CAN do it all! YES I CAN, YES I CAN, YES I CAN…

Now I’ve got to choose whether I fold the laundry or get more work done. Maybe I’ll do both! It’s my one day to be awesome at everything!

The Switch Witch saves Halloween!

The Switch Witch tote bag, just in time for trick-or-treating!

Last year, Halloween was easy. We took baby Henry trick-or-treating on our street in upstate New York, and my husband and I ate all the candy! Henry was only one year old, and we gave him a little dark chocolate and he was happy.

Now we’re vegan, and Henry is two. We avoid high fructose corn syrup and prefer all-natural, organic ingredients. How do we navigate the trick-or-treating side of Halloween? We don’t want to suck the fun out of EVERYTHING just because we’re trying to live healthy and cruelty-free.

I’m happy that I stumbled across this Mama Natural video about the Switch Witch.

The Switch Witch is a friendly witch who just LOVES candy. Candy is her favorite. And she loves it so much that she’ll trade you some awesome toys for it! On Halloween night, if you leave a big pile of candy for the Switch Witch, she’ll switch it for a present. Win-win!

(And then you can bring that candy to work and let someone else feel guilty about eating it all!)

I thought this was so clever that I decided to illustrate my own version of the Switch Witch.

Click here to buy a cute trick-or-treating tote bag with the Switch Witch on it!

Perfect boy

imageHenry’s so good. It doesn’t make for funny stories so I don’t often write about how good he is in my Family Time column, but he’s really just so good.

Today after dinner as I was putzing in the kitchen, I heard him playing the slide whistle and beating on a drum. I peeked in on him and he was so cute, just sitting there with all of his musical instruments out. Then I heard silence, followed by light grunting. When I went in to see what he was doing, he had picked up all his toys and was lifting the bin to put it back on the shelf where it belongs.

Two years old and the kid has the put-it-away-when-you’re-done skills that most adults don’t have. I didn’t say anything, not wanting to interrupt a moment spouting unnecessary praise when he was doing just fine doing the right thing for his own personal reasons. I was beaming with pride, though.

The next time I checked on him, he was just sitting in a chair. Just sitting there. I guess that could be a little weird, but my guess would be that he was seeing what it was like to sit in that chair and whether he could get into it himself.

He pushes the limits like a two-year-old should, sure, and we tire of talking like his favorite puppet Charlie or playing hide-and-seek for the millionth time. And we certainly have our moments where he goes jellybones, everything’s covered in poop and peanut butter, the sink is running, dinner’s burning on the stove, he’s screaming and we snap.

But lately he says “Thank you, Mommy” when I hand him something. We had a family portrait session with PJN Photography today and they had me throwing leaves up into the air with him. When I’d hand him some leaves to throw, he’d say, “Thank you, Mommy.” My heart just melts. After dinner I gave him a carrot with some hummus I made and he said, “Thank you, Mommy.” We read three stories every night and I read him an extra book tonight. He said “Thank you, Mommy.” Swoon.

The kid is just so perfect. I guess I should have figured. He’s the offspring of Mr. Perfect himself.

Making dinner
Making dinner

No thank you

unnamedI envy the calm, lilting tone I hear some mothers use. “No thank you!” they recite, gently guiding their child away from climbing the radiator around the perimeter of the children’s room at the library that all kids gravitate toward.

“We’ll get them at the patch this weekend,” they sweetly croon in the Hannaford aisles to their four kids waving their arms threateningly around the pumpkin display.

How are these parents managing to not freak out?

I could blame my Italian blood, my husband’s weekend 12-hour overnight shifts, low blood sugar or my work-frayed nerves, but I have no such patience.

My two-year old son Henry is a sweet cherub 90% of the time, but in the difficult moments, I manage to channel all the gentleness and tranquility of a cat whose tail has been stepped on.

I guess the short fuse is part of being Type A. I’m an overachiever when it comes to behind-the-scenes parenting. I research which sunblock is free of nanoparticles, expertly manage a calendar to ensure proper Henry-care coverage, and buy organic, vegan, nutrient-rich local foods to lovingly prepare.

But when it comes to face-time parenting, I’m graceless.

One Saturday morning, we had a screaming match over shoes. It ended with a sneaker-clad child only due to strategic convincing by Charlie, Henry’s best friend who happens to be a creepy kid-sized puppet. Henry loves Charlie, and thankfully listens to his suggestions.

We went to the library and Henry jumped right in to play on the radiator. I sighed and looked in the other direction, which happened to be toward the shelves.

A book called “ScreamFree Parenting” leapt out at me. It’s by Hal Edward Runkel, LMFT. I didn’t know whether it was less screaming from the kid, or less screaming from me, but either way it sounded good.

Henry and the radiator hadn’t hurt one another yet, so I let them play together while I read the first few pages and found myself quickly engrossed.

The main thing the “ScreamFree” method touts is that you can’t control your child (or any other human being), but you CAN control yourself. It says that our society has become too child-centric: Of course we are at our wits’ end catering to our children’s every whim. We’re exhausted and snap easy because of it.

As they say, you put on your own oxygen mask first. You can’t take care of your child if you’re not taking care of yourself. “Grow yourself up and calm yourself down,” it says. I know this will take a lot of practice, but it seems like a solid plan.

I looked up from the book. Henry was okay. His friend Maxwell came in with his parents and they played for a bit. We stayed a while longer and eventually I had to tear Henry away from the toy room.

When he protested, I took a deep breath and said, in a calm, lilting voice, “No thank you.”

Just kidding. I didn’t. But neither of us screamed, at least.

This Family Time column originally ran in the Glens Falls Chronicle on October 9, 2014.
Click here to read “On living the scream-free life” as it ran in The Chronicle.

Talkin' bout my generation

Henry apple picking at Hick'sBorn in 1982, I’m on the cusp between Generation X and the Milliennials, which TIME Magazine recently called the “Me Me Me” generation of lazy, entitled narcissists.

Raised by hippies, I did grow up in the era of Mr. Rogers, talking about my feelings. I knew I was special by just my being me.

The theory of it was solid, but I walked all over my parents. We had frequent power struggles. My mom has told me that she didn’t know how to create respect without also creating fear as a by-product.

Ultimately, by my own conceited set of standards, I turned out awesome, though. They did a good job.

But I’m not sure I want to go through the same hell my poor folks did, or let my son Henry suffer the harsh reality of realizing he may not a beautiful and unique snowflake (even though I think he is).

According to millenialmarketing.com, I’m like others in my generation in that I want my kid to respect the environment, eat healthy, be socially compassionate, and to identify and constructively express his feelings.

But, likely due to the “grass is always greener” effect, I have romantic feelings about authoritative 1950s-era child-rearing. Where respectful, polite children know their parents’ decisions aren’t up for debate. You know, the well-behaved “seen and not heard” kids of black-and-white TV.

I want him to do his chores, wait his turn, save his money, work hard and turn his homework in on time. To say please and thank you. To feel gratitude and not entitlement.

I like to think there’s a balance to be found. Rather than subscribing to the package deal, I want* to combine the firmness of the authoritarian regime with the empathy of attachment parenting.

In reality, though, choosing between taking care of him, versus taking care of myself so I CAN take care of him is an ongoing internal mud-splattered, blistered tug-of-war for me.

I hope that, in time, experience will help me make these decisions.

Decisions like… Is he actually thirsty, or is this some kind of bedtime procrastination trick? Should I see if he’ll fall back asleep if I don’t run right in there to comfort him when he cries? Should we abandon our meal because he refuses to use the restaurant’s restroom, or does being this hangry** mean it’s worth hoping he can hold out while we scarf our fries?

Right now, I don’t know the answers. I’m trying to navigate it as best I can so that we’re both happy and healthy.
I do know that I want him to be bold, independent and confident; to think for himself and question authority…

Just not mine!

* A self-referential footnote: Lots of “I want” in this column, right? Let’s call it dramatic irony.
** Hangry: So urgently hungry you’re angry.

This Family Time column originally ran in the Glens Falls Chronicle on September 25, 2014.
Click here to download “Talking ’bout my generation” as it ran in The Chronicle.