Friday, June 16, 2017

The Mom’s Code -- Girlfriends and Girls Night Out: Keep it Honest and Real (Part 1 of 5)

I view honesty in all forms as a great gift, and a symbol of trust. For me, this is the core of GNO. Each mom bringing her ‘self’ out, reaching in and pulling her out of her daily grind.

When I was an expat in Seoul, Mrs. Chun used to discourage me making Korean girlfriends. She wanted to be the primary influencer. She said Korean moms never had girls’ night out. They had lunches.

Mrs. Chun
Girls Night Out is silly. Good mommies stay home and help their children with homework. Husbands have work dinners. His job. Your job is stay home. Other Korean mommies will put bad ideas in your head. Don’t make trouble and don’t embarrass husband. Hotel bars are for bad girls. You stay home.

The Mom's Code Tenet 7: Nourish Your Soul with Girls' Night Outs


I agree that GNOs can be anywhere and anytime. Yune, Min-Jee, Ahn, Lydia, Maeve and I had lots of long lunches in hip Seoul, dressing up and having fun. We shopped the exotic markets, finding treasures and bargaining fiercely. We talked about kids and stressful situations as we walked along the shopping alleys. All of us had stories. We had things we weren’t sure about. We could talk about our small victories and the way a child made us laugh. They were shared experiences because all of us were invested. As the kids entered school, our talks evolved to the pressure of raising children amidst the ruthless competitiveness starting to surround us. 

Gatherings with girlfriends nurtures our souls so we can wake up the next day and face the newest set of challenges associated with the daily grind.

Other friends offered their views about GNO.

Nikki, “I solve like a girl”
A discussion about your challenges with your husband? It’s virtually a one-way conversation, followed by a flood of action-oriented advice. If the advice is not immediately and entirely embraced, the husband gets annoyed. Girls’ Night Out conversations are meandering discussions with many unanticipated turns that leave a mom feeling like she has released her stress, and someone understands her. A collective idea for resolution is usually offered. And there are always issues to solve. I’d be a terrible mother without my sounding boards.

Joanna, don’t hijack GNOs with a personal agenda
We have had the same girls group for years and our children are growing up together. Now that our kids are in elementary school, sometimes the conversations end up getting competitive. At our last dinner, two moms were talking about how they can’t get their kids to go to bed due to their voracious reading. As a teacher, I know that children often love to read until about second grade when they have to read to complete journals and do all their other subjects. Then it is a challenge to develop great readers (which is critical because good readers tend to be good learners). Then one of the moms said about her kindergartener, ‘Luke is sailing through the Jack and Annie books. I don’t know what I’m going to do. There’s a shortage of good books for that level for boys.’ Maeve was clearly fed up and said, ‘Well good for Luke, he’ll be into porn by second grade.’ We all took a sip of our drink and looked away to hide that we were smiling.

The Mom's Code Tenet 9: Don't Lose Your Sexy Self

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Min-Jee, I was a GNO skeptic
I never had many women friends. I don’t get along all that well with women because I can’t stand petty behavior and drama. I prefer men’s more straightforward approach. But then I accepted an invitation for a moms’ dinner, to be honest, for my kids. My sons really wanted to play with certain kids so I went with the moms for a meal. Our discussions were amazing. There was a little gossip, but mainly we talked about our kids. Talking about the daily challenges of raising them and sharing approaches to solving issues was therapeutic. And the women went out of their way to notice good things about each other. They noticed highlights, a new shirt, lost weight and also asked sincere questions about resolutions to issues they had discussed in the past. The only slightly awkward moment was when one American woman said, ‘you’re Asian, and I can never tell your age. How old are you?’ I said, ‘I’m turning mumble-something soon.’ Another woman, Lanie, said, ‘our group is all 39! Some have been 39 for more years than others. Amy, knock it off with the personal questions.’ To be honest, Asians can’t tell Westerner’s ages either, so I wasn’t offended.

Alyssa, Australian expert, watch for new arrivals
I’ve been around expats a bit. Every year new people come and go. In Seoul, the average assignment is eighteen months, a wee bit short compared to assignments in other places like Tokyo. The kids go to school and husbands (typically) go to the office. So we arrange a UN Village coffee every other month. This way new mums can meet other mums and form relationships and connections. It’s like speed dating for a mum. Not everyone becomes friends with everyone else. But it’s really critical, as mums who have moved clear across the world need a fair go at a social circle that includes adults. Expats tend to make friends with people they might not otherwise. As an Australian, I hang back a bit and watch. I don’t want a new best friend that I have to avoid later. I find with American mums, I either love the person or she’s on too much of a soapbox. But I’ve got a good circle here so I feel lucky. 

Audrey, GNO is fun!
When the girls go out to dinner, I feel a little bad for the waitress. My crew never just says, “I’ll have the chicken”. Every one of us has to change our dish. Can I have it grilled not breaded? No sauce please. Can I have extra vegetables and no potatoes? Please put the salad dressing on the side. I like my water with no lemon. Can we get more bread? Oy vey! If it comes wrong, we will always send it back. And our table does not like to be ignored! We call the waitress over. The funny part is….if we get something free, all the rules go out the window. With all the "no potatoes" and "no dressing" talk, if they bring us free dessert…even every dessert on the menu….. free…those plates will be polished clean!!! And by the end of the night, the waiters are often our best friends. I always have so much fun going out with my friends.

The Mom's Code Tenet 2: Enough With The Guilt

Audrey, we problem solve
A bunch of us really enjoy drinking Prosecco, an Italian Champagne. To be honest, it’s fairly inexpensive. At a liquor store, most bottles are $11 to $15. It’s hard to get a bad glass of Prosecco. I have gotten offended when a restaurant serves this inexpensive champagne in a flute. It is literally gone in 2 sips and they charge $12 a glass!  I recently figured out that if I ask for my Prosecco in a wine glass I essentially get a double pour for the same price! Now all of my friends order it that way and endure the peculiar reactions from the wait staff. 

For that moment in time, we are not competitors. We are friends and confidants and it makes us all feel human and understood.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Mom’s Code – Judging Moms: Don't Judge My Kids (Part Five of Five)

Written by Eileen Wacker

Judging me is one thing. Judging my kids is a weapon that should never be used. There should be a warning alarm, a fire alarm that goes off and someone sky writes ‘don’t go there! It will end badly!’ Every child has his/her moments—some are brag-worthy but more are awful, messy and stressful. I always hope my kids’ worst moments happen in the confines of our home. But when my child has an extremely unattractive moment, a look from a thin-lipped mom takes the situation from bad to ‘I want to cry in frustration!’

Moms Code Tenet 1: Stop the Mama Drama

When I’m struggling with an uncooperative child, I appreciate an offer to help or the person pretending she doesn’t notice the meltdown. So, I try to do the same when I see a child in meltdown mode. I don’t raise my eyebrows at a distressed mom or talk about it to other moms, pointing at her. I don’t judge her kid based on that moment. We all have unlimited love for our children, and they all crumple like broken accordions in times of high stress or pressure. That’s why happy hour, or wine o’clock as my friend Michael calls it, was invented and will perpetuate as long as motherhood exists.

A few of my friends contributed some of their ‘judgiest’ stories--

Misty, mind your own business
I went to watch my second grade daughter in a school play. She didn’t have a very big part and didn’t behave very well on stage. I watched intently, trying not to display any of the dismay I felt. Another mother leaned in and said to me, ‘you should have her tested. With meds, she could focus and not fidget so much’. I was so surprised that I didn’t answer. But as the play wore on and afterwards, I felt more and more angry. She’s not a doctor and her feigned concern was intrusive. Who is she to judge after a 45-minute play that my daughter has ADHD and should be medicated?

Audrey, raising a tough one
As a baby, my daughter never woke from a nap without screaming to be pulled out of the crib immediately. In kindergarten, when she was good she was so good, and when she was bad, she was horrid.  She was tough. She was a leader. She was creative at planning what everyone should do next - but became quite bored when things were not done her way. To be honest, she was not always the nicest or most considerate - but nobody walked on her. In third grade, other moms labeled her ‘queen bee’. She would go from being very popular to being “persona non gratis”. It was tough to watch. It was even tougher because many of the swings in opinion were propelled by the moms. Of course, our kids are a direct reflection on us. When she wasn’t nice - it was as if I wasn’t being nice and they talked about me behind my back. I said to her- “who are the girls that are never out?’ “Who are the girls that everyone always likes - and never turn on? Watch how they act with others -and try to treat others like they do.” She learned to observe her own and other’s behaviors. By the time she entered high school, she had gotten much better at being a leader in a humble way. She became the Editor and Chief of her High School newspaper and the Captain of the High School Tennis team. And, the best part is - all those moms that were tongue wagging now ask if one day - when she has a big job - can hire their kids!? Lesson – hang in there!

There are moms out there who don’t discipline or even watch their kids. They even pretend they are not with them. These moms don’t get a pass from anyone judging them. They make it worse for us moms who try to get our kids to behave! Stay clicked in moms!


Official judging – the preschool interview
Getting a child into pre-school, kindergarten and elementary school keeps moms around the world up at night. Any child can have a good day or bad, but so much rests on one isolated hour. Will he play well with others? Will she look the interviewer in the eye? Will he sit and focus on an exercise? Did she come off as happy and a ‘do-er’? Did I get the right recommendations? Moms kill themselves to get their child in the right frame of mind, bribing, cajoling, but in the end, it’s out of our control.

The only acceptable answer from Admissions to any mom is that her child is ACCEPTED. For me, with my first child, there was an audible exhale, high five and celebration. Thank goodness her life is on track! But another scenario unfolded for my second child, the one who had a hint of bad boy, even at age five. Mr. Mailperson only had a little envelope for me as I waited at the end of the driveway, trying to appear carefree and unaffected. My hand shook as I opened the small envelope bearing the school crest. With flowery language, my child was rejected! He’s judged as not measuring up, and that means I don’t measure up. I tried to hide my feeling of, ‘this feels like the end of the world’. My husband thankfully shared my disappointment and didn’t say I was making a big deal over something that won’t matter in the long run. This was a serious blow to my mommy manifesto.

Moms Code Tenet 8: Save your children when you have to

Since so many parents face this scenario, they figure out what the measures are and then how to meet or beat them. The tutoring centers find out what’s in the admissions interviews and they coach the children. Then the Admissions office changes things up so little robots don’t walk in the door. It’s become a game, and collectively, we are not winning.

It’s another intensified issue. I don’t remember the stakes being this high when I was a kid. My parents bought a house in a neighborhood with a decent school district and we went to school, starting with kindergarten. Children weren’t judged so early on. Starting kindergarten wasn’t a high stress-associated event.

Elena, I wish I didn’t care as much as I do
I went to a Girls Night Out right after hearing my son was not accepted to the private school we had hoped for. The other moms have kids around my child’s age. One mom, who I thought of as my friend, was going on and on about how her child had been accepted into all three schools. Another mom said, ‘he just has that ‘it’ factor and the mom agreed. I asked what she attributed her son’s success to and she answered seriously, ‘parenting of course’. I was so upset I had to leave the table. I collected myself and went back to the table. Another mom said to me, ‘you know, this school is not for every child’. I couldn’t accept this statement as all their kids got in. I could have accepted it from a mom whose child had not got in. Thank goodness another mom was driving me home because I pounded down glasses of wine until I was numb.

I have advice for a mom offering her friend advice when her child gets cut from a sport or denied admission to a school. Don’t say, ‘it’s probably for the best’ if your own kid got in. When my kids are cut or rejected, I’m bleeding for my child and wish I could change the outcome. I need a friend to offer comfort. Then help me strategize what I’m going to do next, because it’s all I’m thinking about.

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With four kids, we’ve survived many cuts from things like sports teams, school admissions and play tryouts. Trial and error builds character and teaches resiliency. I want my kids to try for things and when they don’t make it, put themselves out there again. But the actual moments of rejection really suck. Especially when my daughter’s face is twisted in fear as she listens in on my end of the conversation that she didn’t make the team or get invited to honors math.

I am the only mom my kids know. Even if I make a decision that I would take back, miss something important, or have a lapse in mom judgment, my kids don’t know it. Because what they live every day is normal to them. As the only mom they know, my kids don’t think about changing me out. 

So let’s be more like our kids and not notice all and point out a mom’s moment of weakness or embarrassment! Let’s bring the judging down a notch!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Mom’s Code – Judging Moms: Unqualified Judges (Part Four of Five)

Generally, in life you apply for and interview to get a job. But not the job of mom. I’m motivated to the degree I’d lay down my life without blinking. I always show up and work overtime constantly. My pay is a smile, a hug or a motivated child. The benefits I request are minimal—rinsing off every day and getting to wash my hair (and dry it) every once in a while. A Mother’s Day card with silly, loving and misspelled words. In short, I’m a superstar who works for affection. But somehow we’ve ended up with an incredible workforce of qualified moms.

Tenet 6: Check your "Judgeyness" at the door

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Most moms are like me. We don’t like to be judged. I take my job seriously. Sometimes when other moms judge me, it’s like being in a family business where the least qualified relative writes and enforces the workplace rules.

Bottom line there is too much judging going on. Some of my friends shared their stories. Note I will have a whole separate blog dedicated to mothers-in-law as I had too many stories to fit into this section!

Yune, it bothers me to be judged
I say to my daughter sometimes, “Why do you care what he/she thinks?” I mean it when I say it to my daughter, yet if someone criticizes my parenting, I feel very defensive and want to prove that person wrong. Why do I care what people think? And since I do care, I can’t help nagging my daughter about her behavior in a public space. I know kids can make a scene, but I always pray it won’t happen in front of others. Have you ever seen the monkey that eats all the bugs off the baby monkey, carefully picking at every bug? I feel like I pick all her imperfections off like a mother monkey. Only she doesn’t appreciate the bug removal. She shrugs her shoulders and tries to get me off.

Tenet 7: Nourish your soul with Girls Night Outs 

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Joanna, living with a big mistake
My friend was driving home after our mom group had salad and wine at a local diner with our kids. She was pulled over for going 35 mph in a 25 mph zone and she admitted she had a glass of wine. She failed the breathalyzer and the police took her keys and told her to have someone come and get her kids. She got dropped off by the squad car. She ended up in the town paper and her license was suspended for 30 days. The gossip amongst the moms was ugly. Even my husband said, “Her poor husband. How embarrassing for him at work.” What? Her poor husband, how about poor her? Then I imagined a police officer with a narcotics dog going through my mailbox and finding the envelope of pot my brother once mailed me. A respected third grade teacher being hauled off in cuffs! Our girls crew have taken ubers and lyfts for our nights out ever since. And we don’t judge other moms until we know the whole story!

Lanie, please look in the mirror
Do you know a mom who claims, “I don’t judge anyone. I try to stay away from all that. I’m not into all that overparenting. I’m really laid back and apply no pressure whatsoever. And so on.” But then she proceeds to knock all the other moms, their practices, and their kids! And her kids are the most uptight and over-scheduled of all the kids I know. I’m not sure if she’s clueless or just thinks we don’t notice.

Brooke, some of my best friends are judgy
My friend Lanie makes proclamations about many things. She says she can never trust three kinds of moms—ones who don’t drink, ones who are anti-pets, and ones with bumper stickers on their cars (especially ones that say ‘my kid is an honors student’ when the child is in third grade). She has very well developed arguments for the three. She swears dogs can sense if someone is a good person or not and has countless examples of when her dog has growled at a questionable character (sometimes it’s a child, who she then refers to as a ‘bad seed’). She feels anyone who won’t share a glass of wine is boring, not willing to be open and therefore untrustworthy. She labels these countless moms as uptight and competitive. She also swears bumper sticker people are secretly angry, but use their ‘cause’ to look like a Good Samaritan of some kind. So she is very judgy. She is also very smart. She has an MBA from University of Chicago although she chooses to be a yoga instructor. I don’t always agree with her, but she is so funny that my stomach hurts after most of our conversations. She can dish it out and she can take it. Sometimes though, she chooses the wrong people to share her opinions with. People who don’t understand her sense of humor. Or, worse, teetotal moms with pet allergies and an array of bumper stickers. It’s easy to cross the line to judgy-ness.

Tenet 5: Stand up to "Mom Tormentors"

Louisa, I’m just being careful
My kids were lobbying hard for a dog and my husband chimed in (mainly to rile me up). I know I will end up taking care of the dog and I’m not even a dog person. A friend of mine told me over time most owners come to resemble their dogs. She pointed to the character Jay in Modern Family and how he was coming to resemble Stella the bulldog (and that’s only a TV pet!) I had to think long and hard about what kind of dog would be right. My kids really wanted a Bulldog they would name Snorty or a German Shepard named Ralph. Out of the question!!! I can’t start to resemble a chubby bulldog or a German Gestapo. So, I agreed to a dog only if it was cute and tiny. We ended up with a Malte-poo named Bella. She’s adorable and the kids love her! My husband, not so much! But I don't feel bad as 90% of taking care of Bella is on me. As a tiny bit of revenge, I make my husband walk Bella around the neighborhood with a pink ribbon tied on her cute little head! And I let her wander freely into his poker nights and listen to his friends tease him!

Steph, we have bad Barbie dolls and Disney movies at our house
My friend Amy is all about girl power. Her #1 toy foe is Barbie. She is against everything a Barbie stands for. Her little girl was never very interested so it wasn’t an issue. Then her little boy developed an insatiable urge to play with Barbie dolls. At every play date at our house, Connor makes a beeline to the Barbie dolls. His mom gives him a lecture right in front of me about how playing with Barbie sends a bad message to girls. She glances my way as if I’m ruining her child by owning Barbie dolls. My kids look up at me, confused and I plaster a smile on my face. She is also anti-Disney, believing the movies are violent and give kids nightmares. My kids love to have movie nights with Disney movies and watch them over and over. Their current favorites are Mulan, Frozen, Kung Fu Panda, Moana, and Lion King. Of course, toy weapons are also on the taboo list and all her daughter wants to do is play with our plastic swords. So play dates with her kids are challenging. She’s a great mom and her kids are sweet. I just wish she’d ease up with the opinions.

It’s hard not to judge, but I’m working on it
I make assumptions sometimes; we all do. When my neighbor had a puffy face, I guessed she had a little work done. Turned out she had her wisdom teeth out. I apologized profusely but she didn’t speak to me for a month.

Tenet 1: Stop the Mama Drama

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After becoming a mom and understanding the pounding nature of the job every day (and the strong little willful beings that are our children), I’ve developed natural filters. For example, I wouldn’t say, ‘the way your daughter dresses is an absolute crime. What were you, and she, thinking?’  I don’t offer parenting advice unless it is asked for, or, part of a wider discussion over wine at a mom dinner. I want and value advice on everything to do with my children - phones/electronics/toys usage, movies, eating, bedtimes, or any other topic. But if I’m being honest, I want it when I ask for it or are open to it; that is not usually mid-crisis when I’m stressed out and doing my best to keep from going stark raving mad.

I’m trying to be less hypersensitive to advice too; the exception is helpful hints from my beloved about how I could be more organized so things could be smoother and quieter for him when he comes home. For the most part, I take the constructive parts and don’t flinch and feel like my parenting is being called into question.  

What do other moms experiences with being judged? Send them to me and I’ll post them.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Mom’s Code – Judging Moms: Food Glorious Food (Part Three of Five)

Written by Eileen Wacker
(with contributed stories from mom friends)

I don’t want to be judged on my baking skills. I’m too busy to imitate Betty Crocker and the only time I liked Martha Stewart was when she was in jail. Nonetheless, I don’t want my store-bought treats sent to the back ‘table of shame’ with the other grocery bags. Plastic bag + purchased sugary treat = bad mom! I don’t want to suggest an ‘equal opportunity handling of treats’ policy either. Truthfully, I’d prefer to not care.

The Moms Code 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.

Growing up, no one told me that one day, I would care deeply about kids eating my cupcakes. If I send something in, I always ask my child, “Did the kids like the brownies? Did the teacher eat one?” I’m not sure why I care. If I am at the event, I always watch just a little to see if kids are taking items from my plate.

As I was musing potential reasons, two moms, known on campus to be part of the power mom faction, complained to the teacher about the fast food chicken and sugar-filled cupcakes. One of the complainers brought rambutan skewers that no child selected. The teacher looked uncomfortable and KFC mom deflated. Then her little boy ran over, hugged her and said, “You’re the best mom ever. Everyone loved the chicken. Thanks, mom!”

I eyed the empty KFC bucket, wondering if I had the guts to bring fast food to a school event. The kids love it. Then the mystery was unlocked. I care about other moms thinking I’m lazy or don’t care about nutrition. It took me a while to feel comfortable enough to send what worked for me (schedule wise and other constraints) and not worry about other mom’s making judgments about what people send in.

For me, it comes down to my reaction to the commercial, “choosy mothers choose Jif”. I don’t choose Jif. I choose Skippy peanut butter. But I consider myself a choosy mother. Children’s nutrition comes up a lot when I talk to moms. Every mom feels pressure to do the ‘right thing.’ I admit it. I hide my face if I enter Taco Bell and see someone I know. Last week, I walked back out like I wandered in by mistake.

The Moms Code Tenet #5: Stand Up To 'Mom Tormentors'

Growing up, I can’t remember this hyper focus on food. We ate dinner every night with either milk or water, and had dessert most nights. We liked some foods better than others but, more or less, we ate what was put in front of us, hiding dreaded veggies in napkins or stuffing our mouths and spitting it out in the bathroom. I’m assuming my mom knew about some of these dinner antics, but largely let them go. I guess she opted not to pick this battle.

Every Monday, we have breakfast for dinner. It’s the best meal of the week from my kids’ perspective. It’s their kind of food and easy for me. The short order cook in me comes out and they can have eggs, French toast, pancakes, ham, bacon, all in one meal. They say, “Hooray, it’s breakfast for dinner night!” They never rave about my beef bourguignon but they claim I make the best French toast ever. And it’s nothing special. It’s special because I make them ‘plain’, no extra butter or powdered sugar or topped with a raspberry. Just bread dipped in eggs, cream and a drop of vanilla extract on a buttered skillet. And my ‘particular’ eater gets hers cut in triangles. How does the shape of the food impact the taste?  Some of my mom friends weighed in with their stories.

Joanna, picky eater paranoia
My kids’ favorite food is Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. I didn't eat it for ten years until the kids came along. Now that powered cheese calls to me. I secretly make two boxes so I can eat one by myself and stuff the boxes to the bottom of the trash. I put out carrot and apple slices and no one eats them, until my husband gets home. And McDonalds is not evidence of my nutritional values as a mom. It’s not a destination I decided to go to earlier in the day. It is not a punishment or a reward. For my children or myself. It is an indication, a direct reflection, of how my day is going. The other indication is my pot brownies but I don’t share those.

The Moms Code Tenet #6: Check Your 'Judgeyness' at the door

Proud parents just like you are looking for a new, fun (and educational) picture book series for your children.  Find the award-winning Fujimini Adventure book series by clicking here.  

Beth, food intolerance takes on a new meaning
My friend, Amy, is really into healthy food, which I understand and respect. But she’s gone overboard. She sends food and snacks with her children when they go on play dates. They do not have any food allergies and it’s not ‘special sweets for all’. It makes me feel bad when she does this, as if she is superior. Plus I don’t want to be her enforcer on the play dates. The kids don’t want to eat the food she sends so her kids beg me to have chicken nuggets, graham crackers, goldfish or whatever I have. And when my kids go to her place, she tells them they should eat healthier. They have a typical kids’ diet – not really that unhealthy!

Nikki, good luck root beer
A few years ago, my daughter went through a phase—she swore she won every soccer match when she had a cheeseburger and root beer from McDonalds. My husband said we were being manipulated. She became very agitated before a big game, insisting she needed her special food. I didn’t really care if she ate McDonalds but my parents were visiting and I didn’t want to cave. My dad said, ‘it’s so silly, the power of fast food and advertising on these kids.’ We went to the match with a mini-cooler containing water, graham crackers and orange slices. When we arrived, Mackenzie ran in to warm up with her team. She lacked her usual spark. The coach called her on it and said this was a tough team and she needed to bring her ‘A’ game. She said something to the coach and he hurriedly approached us on the sidelines. ‘She needs a root beer and cheeseburger. Hurry, we have fifteen minutes of warm-ups left!’ I jumped up and my dad said, ‘no I’ll take a ride and get it.’ She only had a few sips and bites but she felt better and played really well. For almost two years, we left an extra fifteen minutes before matches so we could swing by the drive through for a root beer and cheeseburger.

Elena, food choice shame
In Hawaii, kids grow up eating spam and a snack called a spam musabi is very common. The snack has spam, rice and seaweed. Spam has many negative associations with it, especially nutrition. My husband is from the mainland and his family is connected to my kids on Instagram. I had a battle with my daughter over a photo she posted of her and her brother eating spam. I don’t know why I made such a big deal about it, but I did. Then I started making rules about what food they could and couldn’t post—no junk food or soda, no fast food. I could tell they thought I was acting crazy, but they don’t want me to take them off Instagram so they cooperated.

Misty, score is McDonalds 500, veggies 2
My seven-year old son is a very picky eater. I was nagging him to eat his vegetables, saying he always has an appetite for junk food but suddenly he’s not hungry for good food. I reminded him that there are some kids who go to bed hungry and don’t have enough to eat. He said, “We talked about those kids at school and we’re having a canned food drive to bring them food. My teacher said they eat from the McDonalds dollar menu because it’s cheaper than buying food at the grocery store. So these kids get something called obased (he meant obese) but they are still hungry. I told my teacher that I want to donate all our vegetables to them and I’ll eat all their McDonalds until they’re not obased. She said I better ask you first.

The Moms Code Tenet #8: Save your children -- when you have to

Lydia, secrets and lies
As a busy mom, my biggest chore was preparing meals. While I’m a wonderful mother, I’m a horrible cook and there were many times I couldn’t bring myself to force my children to eat my gray meat. I was so afraid of salmonella that I overcooked everything until it tasted like a shoe. My friends would be somewhat snobby about their cooking skills. So I secretly let my kids eat anything they wanted. And when markets started to offer prepared meals, I kept it a secret and served the food to my delighted family. I took the meals out of the store containers, put them in my pans, added a few spices, served them on my dishes and hid the containers. I did this for meals when we had company and never confessed it wasn’t my cooking. Quite a few of the town gossips were intensely curious about my wonderful cooking, but no one could catch me. The butcher who prepared many of the meals became my trusted confidant and even created a Lydia burger that only I could buy. My husband noticed the grocery bills going up and up, and asked what was going on. When I told him it wasn’t actually my cooking, he laughed and said he’d keep my secret. He was also relieved I wasn’t having an affair with anyone at the grocery store.

Beth, losing the baggage
I am forever telling my kids to eat everything on their plates because of guilt I have about wasting food. I also want them to get enough nutrition (they’re little and too skinny). Many times, I’m like a drill sergeant yelling at them to drink more milk or water. I am a meal micro manager, to the extent that often I cut up the meat on my ten-year-old’s plate so he has no excuse not to finish his food. But I’m trying to stop. I recently read that the best gift you can give your children from a nutritional perspective is to tell them to stop eating when they are full and use dinner as a time to connect as a family (rather than yell at the kids). From now on in my house, if you’re not hungry, you don’t have to finish. My pediatrician supported my decision, reminding me that most people have to watch their weight their entire adult life. I’ve adjusted the portion sizes down and I’m starting early to teach ‘stop eating’ rather than what I was taught which is, “It’s polite to finish everything on your plate”’ or “You can’t be excused from the table without a clean plate,” or “People in the world are starving, don't waste your food.” The next thing I’m working on is disguising leftovers so the kids will eat them…

Back to my stories! 

I have a great eater, a carb addicted eater, a PICKY eater and a good eater who likes things in a particular way. The carb addict is very tricky. His veggies disappear when I’m distracted trying to get picky eater to put something healthy in his mouth. And my little girl will eat her food if no one has messed up like put the ranch on the carrots instead of next to, so she can dip them. Good eater is the bomb but she eats so slowly I swear she wants in on the nightly mom torment. I tried everything the well-intentioned advisors told me would work with picky eater such as no chocolate milk until he’s eaten his food (or better yet only soy milk), let him go hungry, refrigerate the plate and give it to him for breakfast. After all these failed strategies, and viewing his skinny frame, I asked the pediatrician what to do. He said, “If you can stand to be a short order cook for a little while, feed him what he likes as long as it’s not junk.” He assured me plain pasta with butter, grilled cheese and chicken nuggets are fine. And he can drink all the milk he wants.

I want to weigh in on Whole Foods. I know it's the bomb digs! Organic, wholesome, natural—groceries I can feel good about. But there are so many smaller decisions involved. For example, am I ready to run into all the Type A townie moms? Am I dressed for it? I never leave the house intending to stay in work out clothes all day. Do I need to get a meal out of it? If I’m hungry, I might go to Costco and fight the senior citizens for the delicious food samples. So whether to go to Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s or not is a more complex matter.

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Mom’s Code – Judging Moms: Who is setting the standards? (Part Two of Five)

I don’t believe there is a best way to raise kids. I have four kids who are all different. Two are adopted, two are biological. Two are girls and two are boys. My oldest is Chinese and lived her first years in Connecticut, followed by time in Seoul and now we call Honolulu our home. My youngest has lived her whole life in Seoul and Honolulu. Essentially, she’s lived off the grid and always been a minority in an unusual way. If you look at her blond hair and blue eyes, you’d never guess she eats rice and seaweed every day, puts soy sauce on everything and eats with chopsticks more often than a fork. She sends me love notes and texts with hearts and smiles every day.

The Moms's Code Tenet 6: "Check Your Judgeyness at the door"

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I can’t only read a parenting book to develop my mom game plan. Scarily, I use instinct. Sometimes I get things right and sometimes I get things wrong. One time I berated my little girl for refusing to eat pizza, ever. She burst into tears and I told her to toughen up. I don’t want to be judged on that moment. Who doesn’t like pizza? Tomatoes, cheese and bread. What’s not to like in America’s favorite food? In that moment, I worried she’d be unpopular at birthday parties and all teen events if she doesn’t lose her hatred of pizza. Plus I don’t want her to cry easily. She has a gentle spirit and I want her to learn to guard it. But that was not my finest moment as a mom and I don’t want to be judged on it.

Too often moms are judging other moms on moments. A moment usually has many other moments that led up to it.

Women have a reputation for being judgmental and petty. I took a survey. I asked more than one hundred people to describe a petty person they know. Every time except once, the person described was female. Everyone thinks petty thoughts once in a while, but this is one image we should work on. A shift in perception will lead to a shift in reality, for the better.

I have a ‘pick your battles’ approach. I have long since realized I have no hope of controlling every action/reaction/thought/behavior and tendency of my four children.

The Moms's Code Tenet 8: "Save Your Children -- when you have to"

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Two of my children were pacifier addicts. I listened to multiple people tell me how bad this habit is— that it’s a crutch, that it could affect their teeth, yadda yadda. I hid the pacifiers when others were around, knowing I couldn’t take them away. I was not ready to deal with trying to get a child to sleep who was crying for his ‘binky’. Even my husband said, “Take them away. They don’t need them.” Truth be told, they were my crutch and I needed them, too. For some reason, sucking on these little plastic items soothed my child. And they were, at least relatively, hygienic. I washed them regularly in the dishwasher using, yes, Palmolive. I was told the only thing ‘green’ about Palmolive is the color and I should switch to something organic. This was yet another piece of advice I chose to ignore. When I lived in Seoul, I wasn’t always sure what the bottles contained. Palmolive was a familiar friend.

I picked other battles—for example, I make my kids help pick up the toys, and, I won’t buy my child a toy every time we walk in a store just because he falls to the floor and pitches a fit. When my kids act up in public spaces and deliver what I consider full-on stare-worthy moments (in a bad way), they don't get what they want! All they get is my mom voice, which I consider a weapon, and my best eye squint. This of course, is if I am well rested and able to hold to the high standards I have set. Since the fourth child, I must admit, my thoughts remain very strict, but I’ve become lax in my implementation. Sometimes, I’m just too tired.

My friends offered some stories about situations where judging others came into play.

Nikki, I’m not judging you
Mackenzie has a friend whose mom is a lawyer and now a stay-at-home mom. I consider her one of the best moms I know. She researches everything, uses all green products, apparently cooks a healthy dinner every night I’ve seen, works out and has seemingly well behaved children. Her marriage appears to be in good shape. When Mackenzie was younger, I used to dread being measured against her. She threw perfect birthday parties with cakes and favors that were works of art. She played with the kids during play dates and set up fun activities! Her house was the ‘hide and seek’ headquarters. To me, the mom always seemed a little stand-offish and every time I saw her she described her previous work experience. One time I asked her what her daughter was doing for the summer. She said defensively, “that’s what I’m good for, researching all the summer camps, sports teams and music teachers for everyone else who has more important things to do. Thanks a lot. I thought as a working mom you’d get it.” She said she wanted to have a real discussion where her opinions are valued, not as a mom authority, but as an educated person. She was looking for my respect and some adult conversation about life in general, issues. I had always assumed she thought I was not the greatest mom since I worked so much, but in fact she wanted to get to know me as a person. I gave her a hug and we sat down and talked for two hours. She is a great friend of mine still now, years later. We each have something very concrete to give the other. I give her validation as a person with awesome opinions. She lessens my working mom guilt by treating me like an equal mom. And neither of us judges the other.

The Moms's Code Tenet 1: "Stop the Mama Drama"

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Misty, in this case, it’s okay to judge!
I was taking my very sweet son to his kindergarten transition ceremony. As we walked up the stairs, a little girl was headed in with her mom. She pointed at my son and said, “I don’t want to sit next to him. I don’t like him.” The mom looked at her daughter and said, “okay sweetheart because it’s your day!” My little boy looked at me, almost in tears. I was so shocked, I didn’t say anything. The teacher, of course, wouldn’t change places for such an unfounded request, and the little girl pitched a fit with her mom placating her. It ruined the moment for my son. I studied the little girl’s face and her mother’s as well. I can’t wait until my son is the star football player and the little girl will be dying for him to notice her. Because moms can hold a grudge when you are evil to her child. How can a mom allow her daughter to be so rude?

I don’t rely strictly on instinct. If I’m unsure about something, I’ll usually read up on the subject or ask someone I consider a contemporary for advice. There are so many micro decisions I make every day. Should my child be exposed to the news or is it too graphic? Should a ten-year old be allowed to see a PG13 movie? What time should children go to sleep? When my children fight, should I referee every time or make them work it out? For all these scenarios, there are multiple, valid opinions but the media, and other establishments such as school, parenting books or other moms can act as if there is only one right way. This leaves moms feeling like they aren’t measuring up.

In another straw poll interview, I asked lots of my friends who the judgy-est moms are. My friends Audrey, Alyssa, Nikki and Lanie didn’t hesitate. They claimed the worst judgers are first time moms with little kids. Lanie reminded me that I was one with my first child. I, like many first time moms, had recently left the workforce and was determined to attain the whole work-child balance. I read everything there was to read about child development, went to every appointment, and hit every child milestone like a pro.

Lanie said, “First time moms, like you were, don’t have to wear an ID to the first day of school. We can smell you a mile away.” I cringed a little.

Alyssa added, “You used to dress your little kids in uncomfortable first day of school clothes, greet all the teachers by name, and photograph everything.”

Audrey teased, “You lingered in the classroom feeling like no other mother could possibly love her child as much as you did.”

Wow, ouch thank goodness I’ve changed. I said, “I’ve mellowed out. What a nightmare I was.”

I think back to my daughter’s first day at pre-school. With her successful open-heart surgery a few months before, I had an extra excuse for not leaving quickly. I was the queen of lingering, wanting a few extra minutes with the teachers, inspecting the other kids. My little girl looked adorable but she was dressed for a fancy Sunday brunch. At pick up, my daughter’s dress was off and she wore her spare change of clothes. She had dirty knees, no shoes and a huge smile. Her hair was wild, as she had ripped out her beautiful pink ponytail holder. She was, in short, a happy mess. I remembered Steph saying, “First one, huh?” I nodded. Lanie said, “Felt like your heart was breaking leaving her. It’s surprising to see how well she did without you. We’ve all been there.”

I was so thankful they did not judge me for the uptight newcomer I was, but rather pulled me into their gray zone with humor and friendship. With four kids, I’m too tired to be that uptight. Now I give the uptight mom with little children a second and third chance, pull her in so she can mellow out.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Mom’s Code – Judging Moms (Part One of Five)

Everyone makes assumptions. One time I yelled at my child for not making it to the wastebasket as she puked in the mall. Another mom gave me ‘the frown’ or what I call the ‘shame on you’ shake of the head. I wanted to yell, “Don’t shake your head at me unless you understand what kind of day I’m having. Help me clean up the vomit or keep my three-year-old from walking in it. Those are the only parts I have open in this moment of chaos.

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

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Lots of people are convinced that there is one best approach to raising children. There are experts who offer advice. Many of them are ‘real experts’ with big degrees to back up their advice. They often write about stuff I refer to as parenting fads. Then there are other experts that offer opinions and advice packaged as helpful tips and hints. From this universe of advice, some moms buy into the fad of the moment and get on a soapbox about certain things. I call these moms – mom shamers. 

When I went back to Connecticut from Seoul for the second summer, a new trend was raging in the area I lived in. Everywhere I looked there were yoga bags, Trader Joe and Whole Food bags. At beaches, kids playgrounds, grocery stores and malls. I was accustomed to the designer bag culture of Seoul, where designer bags indicated status, taste and sophistication. Here, only one friend, Audrey, held firm and continued to rotate her mainly new designer bags weekly. I asked her, “What’s with all the Whole Foods bags?” 

She said, “The Whole Foods bags are an advertisement. The moms think this shows that they are great moms. So having a kid’s birthday party has officially moved from one stop at Costco to boutique shopping at Whole Foods so that all the food and drinks are organic, except the cake of course. That has to come from a known bakery. Then itunes cards as party favors!”

Another friend, Brooke, chimed in, “The obsession with organic food and nutrition is unbelievable. I carry my workout clothes in my reusable grocery bag! Taylor brings her lunch or field trip supplies in them. We don’t even use water bottles anymore. We send everything in a reusable water bottle. The amount of judging is crazy so everyone has jumped on. I’m not saying that using a Hydroflax or eating organic food isn’t a good idea but it’s gotten out of hand.”

One of my favorite, very direct friends, Lanie, said, “It’s a soapbox shit show. The magpies are out in full force. Sewing all their mouths shut would be a full time job so I’ve given up.”

All summer I felt the pressure to drive to the next town to get all the right foods from Whole Foods and Trader Joes for my kids. And they do have some awesome food! But my kids secretly pressured me to get take-out from the diner so they could have chicken nuggets and fries. They also wanted Kraft Mac and Cheese, not Annies, and goldfish, not cheddar bunnies. They took a militant stand on popsicles. They wanted the yellow box. I backed down and filled the freezer with their icy treats.

I won on milk, eggs, fruit and most of the meat. And I carried my reusable bags with pride to the pool and on errands. I was a checked-in mom.

The Mom's Code Tenet 10: Stop Trying to Appear Perfect

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When I went back to Seoul, I told our ajummah Mrs. Chum we were going to eat a more healthy diet brimming with organic food. I made the pronouncement expecting a battle. She was thrilled. “I know good place. Everything fresh and best. Mrs. Chum know best. I go too.” She was clapping so I was immediately suspicious I had unwittingly made a grave error.

Mrs. Chum kept talking, “Great market across bridge. Many fruit, vegetable, fish, meat. Only cash. No credit card.” The next day, with lots of cash, my little girl Claire, Mrs. Chum, and I headed across the bridge. The warehouse was huge, with a great deal of activity. Trucks and vans making and taking deliveries, men in uniforms hosing off the pavement. Mrs. Chum darted through the parking lot with authority, carrying my little girl on her back in a sack. I followed closely into a warehouse filled with so much fresh food it was an assault on my senses.

We got a cart. Mrs. Chum was proud, saying, “Everything fresh. Everything Korean. All best food.” She put my little girl in the front of the cart and we set off. The vendors have stands and call out to people as they pass by.

We started in vegetables. A vendor motioned to us, holding up carrots. The carrots had dirt on them. Mrs. Chum translated, “So fresh, they not even washed yet. Out of ground today. See! Mrs. Chum know best!” We bought some dirty carrots and moved on. People followed us, trying to take pictures of my little girl, reaching out fingers to touch her cheek. We arrived at the potato section. Mrs. Chum said, “Man says so fresh there is worm in dirt. So fresh!”

I put on an impressed face, but I was thinking, Worms, yuck! Not a good selling point. The potatoes went in the cart. We paid the vendor at each stand, all cash. 

Next we went to the meats. A woman took her gloved hand out of the raw chicken and tried to touch my little girl’s face. I gave the carriage a shove. “Mrs. Chum, don’t let her touch her face! She could get salmonella!”

Mrs. Chum shook her head in disgust. “Salmon over there with fishies. This meat! Silly!” I pushed the carriage away from the grasping chicken fingers. I asked, “Can you get some meat, and I’ll wait over there?” 

Mrs. Chum haggled and discussed with different stands, bringing more fresh meat and produce over. She said, “You too fancy. No jewelry or shoes like that. They no bargain because you can pay. Bah! Know nothing!” She stomped off, pushing the cart as if it were a load of fairy dust.

The cart was full, and the kids weren’t going to eat much of what’s in it. Mrs. Chum said, “Okay, fish, then done.” The fish smell was overpowering and got stronger as we approached. When we turned a corner, I saw about one hundred feet of counter space with men clubbing fish! There was blood all over their white aprons, and the pounding sound was very loud. I felt like I was swimming in blood and guts. There were enormous tanks in back of the men containing every type of fish imaginable. The fish were swimming energetically, not understanding their predicament.

Mrs. Chum pointed. “Go! Pick some fish. They prepare for you.”
I looked at my little girl who was smiling and pointing at the massive tanks. “Hello, fishies. Mommy, I want to see the fishies.”

I said, “Mrs. Chum, I can’t pick a fish. They’ll take it out and club it to death.”

She said, “Where you think fish and meat come? Aaahhh! I do it. You go to car.”

I looked at my little girl again. “No, Mrs. Chum. No fish today. Please.” She pushed the cart, muttering, “She want fresh. This fresh! So silly!” 

When we got to the van, Mrs. Chum told the driver Mr. Park, “She so silly. Wants to save fishies.” Mr. Park smiled. “Yes, she wants to save everyone.”

I sent a text to my US friends, Nikki and Lanie, with a photo of the warehouse—

It’s a dog eat dog world out here in organic land

Lanie texted me back. “Loved your photo. I’d become a vegetarian but it’s too inconvenient.” 

I told her that it’s official—we are returning to our normal hybrid diet (half good, half judged as sub par by the soapbox moms). All organic and/or farm to table was too tough and sometimes disturbing.

The Mom's Code Tenet 4: Get Wired

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My phone rang a minute later. Lanie started venting immediately. “I’m so mad. My kids have played with our neighbor Melinda’s kids forever. Lately when my kids ask them to come by, they say they’re too busy. The weather was bad so I told Katie see if they wanted to bake some cookies and watch a movie. I say, “We’ve missed you,” to Melinda’s son when he comes over. He says, “My mom told us we could do better than playing with Jake and Katie. That we should aim higher. She wants us to play with the new kids from London.” Jake went and played with him as if nothing had changed. As if this was all normal and acceptable. She’s officially my new frenemy. She’s a climber and I don’t want anyone judging my kids.”

I assured Lanie that this is Melinda’s issue, not hers. In the end, kids pick their own friends and most of the time, it is the daughter or son of someone we don’t really like. I told Lanie that she has to call me when she sees Melinda next. I know she will call her out.