Wednesday, February 15, 2017

My Journey to The Mom's Code; Part Four (of Five) Ripper the Tiger

Written by:
Eileen Wacker

I went to NYC to run a booth in a book fair. I met an old friend, Louisa, for dinner at a funky midtown restaurant after a grueling day of hosting the booth events and having an author reading. I sat at the table, early as always, waiting, wondering if a warm bath and room service in the hotel might have been a better choice. I can’t remember the last time I had a bubble bath without someone knocking at the door, or, climbing in. And for far too long, I did not order food for myself; I usually ate the leftover food off of my kids’ plates. But when I saw Louisa, I jumped up from my seat and we hugged each other tight.

Tenet 7: Nourish your soul with Girls' Night Outs

Moms need a community to share, laugh and cry together :) Learn more about The Moms Code and the tenets of being a Mom. 

It was a sacrifice for both of us to take a night away, but the time melted away with that one embrace. I said, “It’s been too long.” She agreed and said, “But look at me now. I’m chubby, a mess and late.” She had changed from the precise, timely, sensibly dressed, ambitious MBA I knew, but she was attractive, with a self-deprecating, stunning smile. I wasn’t surprised at how good she looked.  

I said, “You’re so pretty. It’s just softer and whimsical now. You always look so happy on Facebook! Beautiful family. Busy, gorgeous kids.” The waiter, Benjamin was getting suspicious we would talk all night and never turn this table. But that all became white noise around us as we caught up. We ordered food and multiple rounds of wine and margaritas, making Benjamin feel like we weren’t so bad. We talked about the good old days, laughing at ourselves and savoring the great memories of our early twenties.

We talked about our careers and the inevitable U-turns after kids. We talked about husbands, children, challenges, and happiest moments. She told me a few stories about horrifying behaviors by moms in her daughter’s dance academy. Then after three glasses of wine, with a margarita in hand, at exactly 9:38, she leaned over, “I’m going to tell you my deepest, darkest, most shameful secret. It’s so horrible I don’t know if I can say the words out loud. If I do, they become true and I can never take them back.”

I said, “You don’t have to share any secret. Everyone has a right to their secrets.” She said, “I don’t know why but I want to tell you. I need to tell someone and you’re the right person.” She took a deep breath and a big gulp of her drink.

Tenet 3: Save her when she's drowning

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“So here it goes. After I had my two kids, I just couldn’t lose the weight easily. I could grab a handful of stomach flab. I was mortified. There it was day after day, a handful of chubbiness. I couldn’t stand it. I started to throw up my food. I think I got hooked because it was a lever I had control over and I had control over almost nothing with two little kids and a husband who just kept going with his usual routine. Nothing material was changing for him. He was still having nights out with the boys and work dinners while everything in my world was turned on its head.

I researched and tried to find the healthiest way to puke. I have it down to a science. I drink a big glass of liquid to ease the food. I usually drink milk as it coats the stomach. I lock the bathroom door and strip off my clothes in one second flat. I don’t want any splatters or smell on my clothes. I put a paper towel on the floor because sometimes pee runs down my leg when I force myself to throw up. Then I come out, redress and brush my teeth. Sometimes I quickly rinse my body in the shower if no one is waiting. I have it down to about ninety seconds.”

I grabbed her hand, “Doesn’t Jack notice? You guys seem tight.” She squeezed my hand. “No, Jack has absolutely no clue. He would freak. He might even ask his friends or his mom for advice. No thanks. I want to finish so you’ll know how pathetic I really am. One day, two years ago, my son, who was six at the time, walked in on me. I guess I didn’t catch the lock. I was standing naked, crouched over the toilet, with my two fingers poised to go in my mouth.

“He looked at me and said, ‘Mommy, are you okay? What are you doing?’ The look on his face was so innocent, so concerned.” She was crying now. “I told him I had cramps and I was just about to grab a quick shower. He accepted this without hesitation. Why would he even consider his mommy was a crazy, puking liar? Anyway, I dressed in a hurry and went out. I was disgusted with myself, beyond ashamed. I vowed to quit and I have for the most part. The only time I throw up is during the holidays. I want to fit in my clothes. So, I justify four or five times a year, for ninety seconds I am a pathetic individual because the tradeoff is worth it to me. People don’t really understand the sacrifice we make, physically having kids and then managing the incredible challenge of raising them.”

She was sobbing as she finished her story. I was crying too. Benjamin, our waiter came over concerned until we assured him we were okay. She said, “The reason I told you my story is that when I have days like this and I’m struggling to be a decent mom and then some dance mom is trying to run me out of the program because I don’t volunteer enough or want to spend an extra five hundred dollars on costumes, I wonder what it’s going to take for us to find our moral compass as moms, in the way we treat each other.”

Tenet 1: Stop the Mama Drama

Moms need a community to share, laugh and cry together :) Learn more about The Moms Code and the tenets of being a Mom. 

When I went back to my hotel room, I couldn’t sleep. I stayed up all night. I was wrestling with these stories, these realities– mine, Nikki’s and Louisa’s—the loss of career dreams, the embracing of a new life as a mom, making new important mom friends and evolving with old friends who became moms like me. How we are the same and how we’ve changed. How, when the curtain is pulled back, there are messes everywhere. How sometimes other moms pull us down. So we soldier on.

I wrote— a Mom’s Code!  

The code incorporates the importance of laying it bare. Because we need to. It’s cleansing and a relief.

It incorporates the notion that the end doesn’t justify the means when raising children. Because all the ‘means’ added together make up the fabric of my children’s character at the end of the childhood journey.

When moms undermine other moms, it makes the load heavier. We have too much in common to tear each other apart.

My children didn’t come with warning labels. Open heart surgery, a different learner, one who keeps breaking bones, a non-sleeper, an irascible arguer. My children, as imperfect as they are, have stretched my heart and increased my ability to love and embrace life. I have become more honest about the fact that when you pull back the curtains at my house, there is usually a mess. And although I’ve searched under beds and behind couches, I can never seem to find time. I’m always running but still behind.

One night, I was lying in my son’s bed trying to get him to go to sleep. He grabbed my face with his hands so I was looking at him, “Mommy I need a tiger!”

When I asked him what (in the world) would we do with a tiger, he said, “Name him Ripper and feed him bullies!” From the top bunk, his older brother said through closed eyes, “Unicorns and pink fairies have to go too.” I had been asked about 327 questions that day, fended off wars over a one-armed doll, warded off a hunger strike because I served broccoli, and collected all the electronics they wanted to sneak into their beds.

My daughter entered the doorway and asked, “Does Winnie the Pooh even know how to read? Does he have to do a reading journal? It’s not fair.” She stomped out. I guess it was a rhetorical question. I smiled, thinking there is no place I’d rather be right now.

Sometimes my children say hilarious things, accomplish something remarkable, hug a sibling spontaneously or, believing no one is watching, run with beautiful abandon.

So, it’s worth some introspection, for all of us and for them, the ankle biters. It’s worth telling the truth. It’s worth considering a Mom’s Code. Or else, we’re going to have to get a tiger named Ripper to eat the mom bullies or teach Winnie the Pooh to keep a journal.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

My Journey to The Mom's Code; Part Three (of five) It's not all Facebook Fabulous

Written by:
Eileen Wacker

The strangest feeling pushed its way into my soul. That it had to be me at home raising ‘them’, the four ankle biters. That I couldn’t leave this immense responsibility to anyone else - not even our greatest babysitter. Part of me wanted it to be me. I wanted to be thought of as a good mom. I wanted the damn ‘world’s greatest mom’ mug.

Tenet 8: Save your children -- when you have to

Moms need a community to share, laugh and cry together :) Learn more about The Moms Code and the tenets of being a Mom. 

My husband often reminded me how lucky I was to stay home, but I was very conflicted. I was down in a playpen arena fighting it out and he was in the luxury box after work, observing everything, ready to comment as the plays unfolded, if he was home, which was not a lot. I also felt the balance of power in our relationship shifting and I didn’t like it. All of a sudden his career took uncontested priority while a Little Tykes shopping cart bulldozed mine. Sometimes after work, he would walk into a kitchen of cheeriness, with a bubbly wife sharing all the news of the day; other times, he would enter a dangerous den with a chardonnay-holding tiger ready to pounce due to all the day’s cumulative injustices. I understood perfectly that play date politics, pick-up line transgressions and volunteer jobs at school turning into power plays, were not life changing issues, but as he learned the hard way, pointing that out over and over was not a good idea, especially if he did it with an eye roll.

I had not made time to meet other moms in our suburban town until school started. Luckily, the kids got into the adorable town nursery school. On the first day of school, I met the nicest group of moms and danced to my car, singing along to Pink, gleeful at having 2 ½ hours relatively free, with only one baby, who I planned to force naps upon so I had at least an hour alone! So, my two biggest kids went to nursery school, I had a baby at home, and was pregnant with the fourth. I enthusiastically planned play dates, put the kids in activities with other kids (whose moms I liked J), and threw kiddie holiday parties.

Tenet 7: Nourish your soul with Girls' Night Outs

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Becoming part of a mom group was life changing. Moms need other moms. The discussions I hated pre-kids were now very relevant. The women quickly became important to me. I trusted them. I was part of something meaningful. There was realness and honesty about something precious to all of us. Raising our beloved ankle biters.

These dinners were different from work dinners as we endlessly discussed our kids. We shared stories of successes and failures, struggles and wins, saving us countless hours on the Internet or in therapy. We aired our secrets and there was very little judgment. One mom confessed that her kids constantly threw gummed up cheerios at her head as she drove! Another said that her child ran and hid every time a play date ended and melted down as they left, causing scene after scene! Another confessed that her preschooler couldn't really read! We all had days filled with tiny people who sapped our energy then demanded we belt out Wheels on the Bus one more time.

We laughed about whether Mother’s Day is a ruse on moms or a real holiday. Bad buffets with grouchy children in dressy clothes, yelling dads and a long wait despite having a reservation were common themes. We agreed it would be more relaxing if the husband took the mad children to breakfast and let us sleep in. We would leave instructions to slide the cherished card under the closed bathroom door.

Tenet 2: Enough with the guilt

One working mom confessed, “Today Mackenzie was sick— again. I had to cancel my work trip to London and work from home. I sat at the doctors’ office for two hours, surrounded by kids with pink eye, only to hear, she should rest. I feel like someone threw me in a garbage can and rolled me down the road. My roots are showing, my nails are chipped, and Mackenzie cried in the background of an important call, because I bought TruMoo chocolate milk instead of Nesquik. And I’m using the drops because I might have pink eye. That’s why I look like I have a lazy, weepy eye tonight! Future partners can’t have pink eye!”

The weepy eye was like a traffic accident that I couldn’t look away from. We all backed up a bit, dreading getting conjunctivitis. I said,“I don’t know how you balance your big job, commuting to the city, and all Mackenzie’s stuff.”

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

My Journey to The Mom’s Code: Part Two (of Five) – “I’m free…free falling”

Written by Eileen Wacker

The day of my daughter’s surgery was the worst day of my life. We drove in silence, a silence so loud I could hear it. I was unable to make a single cheery remark. My cheerleader self was shaken to the core and I swiped the tears away before my little girl noticed. I watched her in the mirror as she stared off into space, out the window, clutching her little doll Sara, her favorite despite having painted-on hair.

When they came to take her for the surgery, I was overcome by fear that she would never come back out. She was so tiny as she lay on the movable bed. She was hungry. She was afraid. As the anesthesiologist went to place the mask over her mouth, she looked over at me with her liquid brown eyes, tears spilling down her cheeks. She waved and said softly, “Okay bye Mommy. Take care of Sara. Bye Daddy.” I was breathing underwater. All I could think was, “please let her make it. I will die if she dies. I would die for her right now. I would without hesitation give my life so she could live hers.”

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My husband led me by my elbow to the waiting room where I sat and completed a five hundred-piece puzzle on the waiting room floor to avoid looking at the clock or any person. We had about four hours to wait before we would hear anything. The time crept by so slowly. My personal agony never subsided, only got stronger, as my thoughts ran down random worry alleyways. My husband stared at the wall stoically, and every hour on the hour, said, “this is good. It’s almost done. We’ll have good news at any minute.”

When the surgeon came out and told us the procedure was a success, I jumped into his arms and wept. He must see that a lot because he didn’t even flinch. When my little girl recovered enough to come home, I was terrified that she would break. It’s hard to keep an active child quiet and we had a two and a half year old son at home who wanted to play with her. But somehow the skies cleared and her bandages were removed; I consciously made myself let her the climb the ladder to the slide or pump her own tiny legs on the swings, even as I held my breath.

A month later, I had lunch with my boss to discuss my return. He was selling me hard to come back. I felt immensely flattered and wanted. His big plans were indeed big, including a business development role with lots of international travel. He said, “You are one step away from being an HR leader for one of our smaller businesses. You are one of our highest potential females. How long have you been back in the U.S.? We need to put that global brain of yours back to work.” My boss assumed I would work out the balance issues with my husband. That I would put my work wings back on and show up, ready to fly. I thanked him for his support and said, “’ll come back after the holidays. I’m so excited.” I meant it at the time. I even shook on it. I danced to my car with the song, “I’m free, free falling” echoing in my head.

Moms need a community to share, laugh and cry together :) Learn more about The Moms Code and the tenets of being a Mom.

It didn't work out that way. I was nauseous and my lower back was aching so I stopped at the pharmacy and got a home pregnancy kit. The decision that being a stay-at-home mom was best for our family was made the moment I peed on the stick. As much as I was thrilled when I saw the double line, I saw the career me flying away into the clouds. I pictured my boss saying, “I had big plans for her. She had promise. Too bad we lost her.”

I switched from a hard pounding working mom, clinging to career hopes, into a full time stay-at-home mom, buried under the insatiable needs of two, three, then four tiny people. And their needs were immense. Of course my husband didn’t want to be left out so he lumped his needs in as well and then got us a puppy. I was lured in by their little, teeny-sized clothes (babies’, not husband’s or puppy’s) and then held captive by their innocent faces as they slept. I never sat for a second and I’m not even sure I exhaled often.

I experienced so many moments of profound love and joy, but sometimes, when I wasn’t paying attention, a profound tidal wave of loss would set in as I missed the work me. And somehow, I started to transfer all my hopes and dreams onto the ankle biters.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

My Journey to The Mom’s Code: Part One (of Five) – Ankle Biters

Written by:
Eileen Wacker

We face one of the great issues of our time. We grew and cultivated millions of achievement-oriented females then set them loose on parenting. Schools, friendship circles, sports, activity groups—entire communities—have highly trained operatives completely focused on raising perfect children. Being a perfect mom is a career pursued by women, trained to attack projects and execute any game plan with a laser focus. We are an army of mom warriors who are battle ready and motivated on behalf of our ‘ankle biters’ (as my Australian friend calls them). 

I should know. I’m one of them. A warrior, not an ankle biter.

Unlike the corporate world I’m a product of, the accepted code of conduct or workplace rules are vague, and if there were ever a situation where the ends might justify the means, it would be for the good of my child. My best defense is to fight alongside my mom friends. They have my back in this enormous arena filled with challenging children, supposedly unappreciated husbands, and other moms who sometimes act like jackals wearing designer scarves. And, the doors to the arena are sealed shut. There is no getting out, no giving up. Because the ankle biters are worth it. They are treasures; they are everything.

The Mom's Code Tenet 5: Stand up to "Mom Tormentors"

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Before I became a working mom, I knew there would be balance issues and sacrifices. But no one told me I would be a sleep-deprived zombie whose new designer logo was a permanent drool mark on my left shoulder. Other women wore the same drool logo on their business suits, looking equally exhausted. One day a colleague whispered to me, “I’m wearing this jacket because I can’t zip up my skirts or button my pants. No one told me abut this.” Working moms in big demanding jobs have a lot in common. We worked so hard, overcoming endless obstacles to attain our positions. We nodded to each other in the office corridor, acknowledging that having balance was nothing more than an urban myth, and, a good night’s sleep was likely eighteen years away.

I had quick conversations with friends in the hallway because I didn’t want to appear unprofessional, talking about personal things at work. I had always talked about personal stuff before I was a mom, but it felt as if every moment I spent at the office had to be used wisely. I had to control my work hours. I could not risk an unhappy babysitter or nanny. At about 5:30-6, the working moms looked frantic because we shared the same thought. “Shit! I need to get home for the nanny or to pick up my kid at daycare.” My second job was waiting for me at home. My kids deserved that small, dedicated window every night. Bath time, story and song time, a dinner they would actually eat, endless laundry, midnight grocery runs and the inevitable tantrum were part of the nightly routine. 

One day, I was worried about leaving work to take my little girl to Yale Hospital for an appointment. Since adopting her from China, she had endured three angioplasties and many other tests and procedures. I sat with a pediatric cardiologist to discuss our then 3-½ year old daughter. It was a follow-up to the latest angioplasty procedures that had not gone as well as we had hoped. I was in a power suit, leg jiggling up and down, phone—face down with the ringer off. This moment was all I wanted to focus on. The cardiologist told me that we needed to pursue a surgical solution or our daughter’s lungs would begin to atrophy. He looked at me earnestly. “Are you planning on taking leave?” His question took me completely by surprise. “I don't mean to pry. I’m just saying, it's a lot for a little girl and a family to absorb.” 

I looked at him silently, not able to absorb the words. He said, “What I’m asking is, are you going to quit your job? The next months are going to involve a huge time and emotional commitment. And you can’t really have a nanny taking her to the tests and pre-op appointments. Honestly, the stress will be off the charts.”

For a moment, the room went black and I felt like I was falling. The cardiologist kept talking about breaking open her chest and how they would likely have to stop her heart. I felt like he was reaching down my throat, squeezing all the air out of my lungs. I had not anticipated this conversation when I woke up this morning and ate a bowl of cheerios. White noise roared through my head. I felt my cells violently rearranging themselves. I walked to the parking garage clutching my wonderful little girl, swiping at tears I couldn’t control, trying to project calmness while feeling wildly out of control. As I drove home on the Parkway, the lanes started to merge together. I had this horrible sensation I was going to veer off the road and crash. I pulled onto the shoulder and tried to get myself under control.

I didn’t say a word about the panic attack to my husband. I knew he would demand I see a doctor, and like most of my mom friends, my only doctor was an OB GYN. We had a short talk later that night, as there was really very little to say. The doctor had basically prodded me, in the nicest way possible, to reset my priorities. 

The Mom's Code Tenet 8: Save your children when you have to

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I had not understood what prioritizing meant until then. Was my child my first priority? Well, yes of course she was, and there was a little brother at home too. Was my husband and our marriage my first priority? Well, of course. Was commitment to my job and delivering to my team a top priority? Well, of course. Could I manage all of these competing priorities with an ill child? No. So bottom line—my job went to the back of the queue on the car ride home. 

As soon as I arrived at work the next morning, I called the secretary to my boss, who was the head of the Human Resources function. She greeted me warmly, then asked, “Can I ask what this is about?” All I could manage was, “My little girl is really sick.” She said, “Come right up.” I took the elevator up and walked resignedly along wooden floors, the sound of my clicking heels silenced as I crossed over rich Oriental rugs. I arrived at a beautiful entry with an impressive office behind it. The secretary came around, gave me a hug, and said, “I’m so sorry about your little girl. Let me get the big boss for you.”

I stood, looking at my surroundings, fighting to keep my breathing under control. I was so stressed about the situation and deeply anxious about what I was about to do. I had worked incredibly hard to get the position I had and was on the ‘big guns’ radar. Another Fortune 500 made me an aggressive offer to take the Head of HR job, based in NYC. I mentally crossed that off the list. 

My boss came out, concern lining his face. I blurted out, “We’ve had three failed angioplasties, and now she has to have open heart surgery. I love this job, but I need to be with her. They are talking about percentage chances of her making it. I didn’t see this coming.” My tears embarrassed me. I cursed myself—I’m not a crier and never a crier at work. My boss pretended not to notice, “It’s okay. We’ll work it out. Whatever time off you need, you take. And promise me you’ll come back. You know you’re my rising star. I’ve got big plans for you.”

I walked back to my desk, packed my career ambitions in a box and walked out. I reassured everyone I’d be back in a few months and wondered if anyone picked up on the hollowness in my tone. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Thanksgiving Lesson: Can’t Judge a Person by Their Neighborhood

Written By
Kenna McHugh

“The love of family and the admiration of friends is much more important than wealth and privilege.” Charles Kuralt

When I was nine years old, my Girl Scout troop organized a Thanksgiving project sharing home cooked meals from four different nationalities. The project not only taught me about ethnic foods but it taught me you can’t always judge a person by their neighborhood.

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We had Japanese, Chinese, Russian, and Mexican families who agreed to share their traditional meals. The troop leader organized a chart, so everyone knew where to go on which night during the month of November.

Teresa’s family was sponsoring the Mexican dinner. They lived in a neighborhood with low rise houses, the driveways overflowing with rusting pickup trucks and low riding cars. Truthfully, I was afraid to go to her home. I thought, her family and neighborhood were too dangerous.

The irony of my fear came from a project my mother arranged with my brother’s scout troop. She drove the scouts and me through the same neighborhood where Teresa lived. 

I sat in the front seat and looked out the passenger window as my mother slowly drove past abandon buildings with broken glass and crude graffiti “Kill Whites”, “Cop Killers” and “Bring destruction on your head!” There were other dirty words and swear words. Piles of litter sat against the buildings.
My mother said nothing and just drove. We viewed dilapidated houses, homeless people with shopping carts, adults passed out on benches and women in scanty outfits. I was terrified because I had never seen a poverty-stricken neighborhood.

When I found out Teresa was from the same neighborhood, I was afraid of her. I stayed away from her during the Girl Scout meetings.

Knowing I was to have Mexican food with her family petrified me. I worried for two weeks. I couldn’t beg out of it either because it was part of our troop’s badge project.

Learn more about The Moms Code and the tenets of being a happy Mom.

Two hours before I was to arrive at Teresa’s home for the Mexican dinner, I had a meltdown and called her. I told her I was sick and couldn’t make it.  My mom came home. “I am not going,” I cried.  My mom asked what was wrong, I told her my dilemma. “My life is in danger! They might poison me!”

My mom looked pensive and explained that even though Teresa lived in that poor neighborhood her family and home were safe. “Not all the streets and homes are like the ones we saw.”

Teresa’s family lived in a small, old house on a beautiful street with lots of trees. Their home was clean and comfortable. Teresa greeted me, and I apologized. She smiled and said she understood. She and her family were nice and friendly, and the meal was delicious. Not a Thanksgiving goes by where I don’t remember having that meal with Teresa’s family and what I learned. Don’t judge a person by their neighborhood. Feel thankful for friends; feel grateful for experiences; feel grateful for family.