Escape from Alcatraz

I’ve been sitting here all night, trying to decide what I wanted to write about, but my brain has been complete mush since the incident that happened this afternoon.

Calling it an “incident” hardly does it justice. What happened this afternoon could easily be ranked as the single worst thing that has occurred in my 25 years on this planet.

The day began rather typically and uneventfully. I awoke around 8 am to the sound of what I initially thought, in my sleepy stupor, to be someone clubbing a seal in the adjacent bedroom. I rubbed my eyes and soon realized it was not a seal being beaten out of its misery but Gavin, who was anxious to be freed from his crib and begin an action-packed day of destroying my apartment.

“Hi Mommy,” he said cheerfully, seal-noises stopping as soon as I entered his room. “I all done sleeping. I come out.”

I nodded obligatorily and toted my 31-pound boy into the kitchen to brew up some strong java. He insists on being ceremoniously carried out of his crib each morning and, while my aching 5’2 frame wants to say no, I haven’t the capacity to hear whining before I’ve had my coffee.

The morning progressed like any other. I tried to clean the living room; Gavin dumped his toys everywhere. I lied down on the couch to rest; Gavin pulled me off the couch to play train tracks with him. I put a glass of water on the table; Gavin poured half of it on my computer.

He’s a few months past two now and I’ve started to notice a shift in his behavior patterns. His listening skills have worsened dramatically. It’s not that he doesn’t hear me or understand what I am saying – it’s that he has suddenly realized he is his own person and makes his own decisions. The popular decision of the moment? To do the opposite of what I tell him.

Not surprisingly, by 2 pm, I found myself putting Gavin in his crib for Time Out #48 of the day. I told him he was to be in there for three minutes, closed the door, and went back to the living room and sat on the couch. He wailed his displeasure, as he always does, and I waited patiently, knowing he would not let up before the three minutes were up. And that’s when It happened.

All of a sudden, the wailing stopped. In its place came a huff, and a puff, and then a loud thud. Finally, I heard a few tiny giggles. The door handle jiggled. ‘No,’ I thought. ‘This can’t be what I think it is.’ I pinched myself hard. ‘Wake up. Oh god, wake up.’

Gavin came bounding down the hallway, still quite a slobbery mess but beaming from ear to ear.

“Hi Mommy!”

My jaw hung open and I’m sure my face was as white as a ghost. My life was unveiling before my eyes. Gavin had learned to climb out of his crib! No longer would I have the joy of naptime, the bliss of bedtime. I would lose those precious few hours each day where no one was whining at / pulling / drooling on me, the hours where I could be an adult, where I could be me instead of just Mommy. Gavin now controlled his own sleep schedule, and consequently, controlled me completely. The power dynamic – which admittedly, had not been in my favor to start – had definitively shifted.

“Hi, Gavin,” I gulped nervously. “Aren’t you supposed to be in a Time Out right now?”

“No, Mommy,” he said seriously. “I all done. I climb out.” He appeared very proud of himself and I think he expected me to congratulate him on his newest developmental achievement. My shock and horror had rendered me both immobile and mute, however, and after a few moments of silence, the only response I could muster was, “Mommy needs a drink.”

And that is how my life changed irreparably today.

Don’t Mess With the Jews

Happy Passover to all my fellow Jews out there! I wasn’t aware of it being Passover until my grandmother asked if I was observing the holiday. (I responded smoothly as ever with, “What holiday?”) In my defense, I am a self-proclaimed agnostic whose true Judaism boils down to a dark head of hair and a propensity to generally express far more emotion than socially appropriate. Oh, and bagels. I really like bagels.

Anyway, in honor of the holiday, which celebrates the biblical tale of the Jews’ exodus from slavery in Egypt (basically, we kicked some serious Egyptian ass, courtesy of a plague or two… or ten), I just could not help but post this up. It’s quite politically incorrect, but I think it’s pretty funny. Apologies if I offend anyone with this…it’s intended to be tongue-in-cheek.

Kids or Career? American Women Are Still Forced to Choose

When I had my son in early 2006, I was working for a boutique consulting firm in Manhattan. Months before his birth, my boss called me into his office to discuss maternity benefits.

“The firm has decided,” he said proudly, “to offer you two weeks paid maternity leave.”

I sat there quietly, a little surprised, and avoiding eye contact. The policy, as stated in the company handbook, was to offer employees who had been with the company 12 months or more a total of four weeks paid leave. Employees who had been with the company less than a year were not entitled to any paid leave. At the time of my son’s expected birth, my tenure with the firm would have been 11 months – just weeks shy of the year required for maternity benefits.

I thought back to the 14-hour days I was regularly putting in at the office (while very much pregnant, no less), the weekend work, and late night / early morning phone calls, and I couldn’t help but feel slighted. Was this all I deserved? Two weeks to rest, recuperate, and bond with my baby before returning, full-force, to the daily grind? Sure, I could take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave (thanks to the FMLA), but that wasn’t an option. I could barely get by on the pittance of a salary I did get. There was no way I could support myself and a baby in NYC, income-free. (In the end, I saved up all my vacation time and was able to take a total of four weeks paid leave before returning to work.)

Back then, I was angry at my firm for its lack of benefits, but in the two years since having my son (and subsequently finding a new job), I’ve had more time to reflect and realized that my initial anger was misplaced. My firm was doing what it was supposed to – running an efficient business and making money. It was our government – and perhaps, more broadly, our societal values – that deserved my ire. Why do we expect women to pop out babies and then return to work almost immediately with no time to heal and no time to bond with their children? The sad truth is, the American workforce is very much still a man’s world. The rules and regulations are geared toward men with a few crumbs thrown at women so that we don’t cry foul. But we should be crying foul! We’ve readjusted our expectations and our views of what is normal and good to the point where four weeks of paid maternity leave sounds generous.

It is not generous, though. Nor is it conducive to building a healthy society where individuals feel respected and valued, where people place as much emphasis on family as they do on career. It’s hard enough to balance the demands of work and parenting, and our policies toward parents certainly do not make it any easier. The message being sent is that those who are devoted and attentive parents wishing to spend time with their children are not as “serious” about their careers. That message is ridiculous. Why must we choose?

It is not like this elsewhere in the world. In fact, compared to other nations, the United States in embarrassingly stingy when it comes to providing parental benefits. In the Philippines, women receive over 8 weeks, fully paid; in Israel, it is 14 weeks. France gives new parents 16 weeks; Sweden, a whopping 16 months (at 80% pay). And the good old USA? We guarantee a grand total of zero weeks paid leave. The 12 weeks provided under the FMLA are unpaid.

The takeaway here is that, for as progressive a country as we like to think we are, the United States still has miles to go in terms of standing up for its citizens who choose to have both a career and children. We need to remove the conflict of work vs. family in this country and equip our people to not just be good employees, but to be good mothers and fathers as well.

(For a full comparison of parental leave around the world, please visit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parental_leave)

Saving Money Gets Me High

Some recent life changes convinced me that it was time to reassess my budget. And, by reassess, I mean create.

I’ve always loved finding ways to save money. It’s not that I’m cheap; it’s more that when it comes to finances, I’m highly risk-averse. Of course, like most people, I can be pretty irrational in my habits. I will drop $300 on a pair of jeans without a second thought, but buy generic apple juice in order to save $0.15. (I get a euphoric feeling when the cashier at my local supermarket says, “Thank you for shopping here. You saved a total of $3.78 on your groceries today.”).

So without further ado, I’d like to invite you all to join in on my fun. I’ve made some recent lifestyle changes that will help me spend my money more wisely and increase savings. I’ve also computed, on average, how much I expect this change to save me over the course of the upcoming year. I hope these tips can help and inspire you, too. I know they’re pretty generic, but they really do make a difference. And if you have tips of your own, send me a shout.

1. Buh-bye, lattes. Hello, office drip. Being a Seattle-based office, it turns out we serve some high-quality java. It’s just steps from my desk, readily available and comes with all the refills I can drink. And the best part? It’s free! My lattes average $3.50 per day. Assuming I work 220 days next year, that’s a savings of $770! To sweeten the pot even more (sorry, bad pun), I’ve started brewing coffee at home on the weekends, too. This brings my annual savings to $1,014.

2. Clothes do NOT make the man (they only make his mother). I care – perhaps too much – about the brand of clothing I wear. But my son doesn’t. He sees no difference between a $50 shirt and a $5 one. The conclusion? Stop spending money on pricey baby clothing that he’ll either outgrow or stain in a matter of months, if not weeks. Let’s assume I buy him an average of 4 new shirts and 2 pairs of pants per month. Before, I was spending about $20 per shirt and $25 per pair of pants for him. Now I am spending about $8 per shirt and $15 per pair of pants. This brings my annual savings to $816.

3. Dispose of disposable income with a retirement account. Having too much disposable income sitting in my checking account is dangerous. It earns little to no interest while at the same time imploring me to spend it. If I could afford to use that money for expensive dinners, entertainment, and other superfluous purchases, I could certainly increase the amount of money that I contribute to my 401K plan. The best part about doing that is that the money is deducted before I ever receive my paycheck, so it’s really easy to adjust to my new, self-imposed “salary.” I was able to increase my 401K contributions for the upcoming year by $1500.

4. Start or Join a Babysitting Co-op. Forget pricey babysitters. Swap sitting with other parents in your community for points instead of money. Visit Sitting Around (www.sittingaround.com) to find a babysitting co-op in your area or start one yourself. The average family will save $1,000 (or more!) a year using this site.

With just these four changes alone, I’ll be saving an extra $4,330 this year!

The Surprise! Baby Club

After a full year of interacting with parents at my son’s daycare, I have come to the conclusion that parents are generally crazy.

I recognize that I, too, am a parent. And believe me, I will be the first to admit that I am most definitely crazy. The difference between me and those who I am referencing in this post, however, is that I am crazy in a slightly neurotic, endearing way. The aforementioned parents are actually crazy. As in, up in a tree, out of their mind, nuts.

The greatest explanation I can come up with for this difference between myself and them is age. I don’t flatter myself to think that I am any more normal than they are. I just think I haven’t had enough time to sufficiently harden in my ways. Flexibility and an easy going attitude, typical characteristics of youth, provide a wondrous facade of sanity.

Without a doubt, I’m younger than most of the parents I know – a lot younger. While some of my peers were starting law school and med school and others were taking Wall Street or Silicon Valley by storm, I was locked in a bathroom stall at the Manhattan consulting firm where I worked watching the word “pregnant” appear on a stick. Not exactly what my mother had dreamed of for her promising (and very much unmarried) first-born.

To everyone’s surprise, including my own, I made the decision to keep the baby. At the ripe old age of 23 – not even two years after my Harvard graduation – I became a mother. Here is a picture of my son when he was first born (he’s now two years old).


As my friend, Ryan, likes to say, I am an official member of the Surprise Baby Club. At the time of my induction, I was the Club’s only member. I could not think of even one person I knew who had a baby, surprise or otherwise. It was one of those things that “just didn’t happen” to people like me. Yet, it did. And I’ve come to embrace the choice that I made. Gavin is an intellectually curious little boy with a mischievous grin and a soft heart, and I still can’t believe how lucky I am to be his mother.

As an ironic addendum to this post, I now have a companion in the Surprise Baby Club. Ryan’s son will be turning two in October 😉

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