Will all part-time mothers please stand up?

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Hmmm… Don’t see anybody yet… Wait, wait maybe… Oh, nope that was just a cricket I heard chirping in the corner.

Oh, riiiiight, maybe no one is standing up because it doesn’t f’ing exist.  You want to go find a part-time mother?  Try going to find a unicorn instead, you’ll have better luck.  And while you are at it, find a Kardashian that doesn’t take selfies and a toddler that doesn’t become an invertebrate whilst strapping them into a car seat.  Because aaaallll off that mess is going to happen before you find a “part-time” mother.

Unfortunately I just saw the intro to a House Hunters episode where the wife introduced herself as a “full-time mother and part-time advertising consultant”.  Son of a b!t$h, when are we going to stop doing this to ourselves and each other?!  The phrase full-time mother implies that there is another type of mother.  Like, I don’t want to be confused with a non full-time mother so I really need to spell this s&:! out.  But this begs the question, is there really another type of mother?

Sorry peeps, but, no, there isn’t.  I have friends who are divorced and share custody with ex-husbands, friends who stay at home but spend almost 20 hours a week training for marathons and triathlons, friends who work outside the home part-time, full-time, and in my case, crazy-time.  And guess what?  We are never off duty, none of us are ever not mothers.  Even when it is your ex-spouse’s visitation day, who fields the phone calls from the school nurse and settles disputes between siblings?  Plans birthday parties, does infinite loads of laundry filled with socks without mates and grocery shops for the “good” lunchbox snacks?  Yep, that’s you, mom.  Even if you need a “wife”, you are still always a mother.  I have been covered in blood and had a cell phone held up to my ear to tell my nanny, “No, my child can not eat a fifth packet of oatmeal for dinner.” (Yeah, that’s a whole other story…).

Anyways, the point is, regardless of your hobbies, your interests, or your career, whatever takes you out of the house or away from your child for whatever amount of time, you are still a “full-time” mother.  There is no time card to punch in and out of as mothers.  (I mean, if that were the case, then I would gladly clock out next week when we take our 2 year old’s pacifier away, *&%$!@)  But, the bottom line is, we can’t clock out, check out, or hand off to another person this special role that we have.  Let’s drop this full-time, part-time nonsense.  Let’s have enough confidence in ourselves to not feel as if we have to use these terms, and enough confidence to not let anyone make us feel anything less than awesome.

Now, off to find that Kardashian…

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Yes, I do have it “all”, and how you can, too.

 

Two very successful and very powerful women, Shonda Rhimes (creator of the television shows Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal) and Indra K. Nooyi (CEO of PepsiCo) have recently been in the news for announcing that you can’t “have it all”.

Honestly, the phrase having it all is becoming as nauseating as being here for the right reasons on the Bachelorette. It really should become the new drinking game for women in their 30’s. Another CEO comes out of that hideous self-and-society-imposed guilt closet and announces you can’t have it all? Take a shot…

My first response to these famous women was, “duh.” But then I really started thinking about it. When was the last time you heard a commencement speech at an Ivy League school given by a man at the top of his profession that centered around not having it “all”? Let me save you the Google search, it hasn’t happened.

The phrase and concept of “having it all” is a strictly female phenomenon. We do it to ourselves, and we do it to each other. I always felt slightly insulted when a female medical student would tell me that she would never choose surgery as a profession because she wanted “a life”. I know they didn’t mean it personally, but it implies to me they believe I don’t have a life. I then started asking them, how do you define “a life”? Because I’m pretty sure most people have different definitions, based upon their personal goals, personalities, and hobbies.  For example, one of my friends enjoys running 20 miles a week and this is fulfilling to her. On the other hand, if another one of my friends even looks a treadmill she gets nauseated.  One friend gladly left her office career to stay at home upon the birth of her second child.  Another friend is just as gladly returning to work full time after her 3 month maternity leave.  This then leads me to the title of this piece.

What is “all”? Who is responsible for simultaneously defining this and holding us up to this unicorn of a standard? Is Shonda Rhimes’ or Gwyneth Paltrow’s “all” the same as mine? Or the same as a single 30 year old woman? Or the stay at home mother of 3?  I would bet my paycheck that the answer to that is no.

The phrase “having it all” implies to me having a happy, healthy, and fulfilled life. The reason that I am proud to say that I do have it “all” is because I choose the definition for myself.  My roles as a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, and physician lead to my sense of fulfillment. The time that I allot to each role in my life changes daily and sometimes drastically so, but the roles are always there. When I am at the hospital, I am still a wife, mother, daughter, sister and friend. My husband and child don’t disappear when I go out for a girls’ night.  I’m sorry, but I just don’t see how missing an occasional bath and story time at my home means I am “failing” as a mother.  This isn’t failing, people, get a grip!  This is life.  Things happen.  Workouts get skipped, dinner occasionally gets picked up in a drive through, and sometimes you just have to wear bikini bottoms as underwear because you are behind on laundry.

The people in my life, and the joy these relationships and my work as a surgeon provide are my “all”. I refuse to let Pinterest, Shonda Rhimes, or anyone but me set the definition for what my life is supposed to look and feel like. I encourage you all to do the same. Whatever floats your boat is fine, it is your boat to float.  Say goodbye to someone making you feel guilty (including yourself!) for not being able to squeeze 26 hours out of a day. Let’s stop saying we don’t have it “all” because we didn’t bake a dozen cupcakes, do 3 loads of laundry and accomplish another 1,000 tasks before breakfast. So, f&*! the unicorn that doesn’t exist, and embrace the awesome, amazing, thoroughbred horse that you are.

Housewives vs Stay-at-home Moms

Like another blogger has stated, my child is not the center of my universe, my world, or my life, or however you want to say it.

Let me explain.  I love my child with every ounce of my being.  Especially after having fertility difficulties, we feel insanely blessed to have a happy and healthy child.  Now that being said, he is not currently, nor will he ever be the center of my universe.

I firmly believe that in order to be the best wife, mother, sister, daughter, or surgeon that I can be, I have to be the best person I can be.

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Image courtesy of http://www.hostesscakes.com.

Okay, so what the hell does “being the best person I can be” mean?  For me, it means feeling fulfilled.  My child absolutely adds to my sense of fulfillment, but so does being an trauma surgeon with an academic career, running half marathons, reading US magazines while eating Twinkies that I (may) have hidden from my husband, going to church, having road trips with my girlfriends and cheesy date nights with my husband.

The moment our vernacular changed from housewives to stay-at-home moms, it seems that our culture now expects every single waking moment of every mother to revolve around her child(ren).  The term housewife implies a number of roles and responsibilities that involve the needs of the entire household, not just its junior members.  It seems to me that stay-at-home moms are now supposed to entertain their offspring with an endless number of field trips, learning activities and developmental stage appropriate crafts in order to be worth her weight.  I honestly don’t remember a single staged “craft activity”, outside of school projects, from my childhood.  I mean, we had crayons and Play-Doh.  Although I am admittedly not an expert with a glue gun I don’t think I have been otherwise negatively affected by this.

I am not currently always physically present for my child – I miss some skinned knees, tummy aches, smiles and laughter.  Do I feel guilty about that?  Yes and no.  Yes, because of course there is a part of my heart that rips a little bit when there are days my child only sees me over an iPhone.  But also no, because I know that my career, my hobbies, and my friends make me a happier person.  This inner happiness and fulfillment allows me not only deeper and more meaningful interactions and relationships with my family, but also makes me a more patient and loving mother.

So why the hell am I writing this?  Maybe a little to remind myself that even though I am currently on call for the 5th weekend in a row, I am still a “good” mommy.  But mostly for all my fellow members of this magical club called motherhood.  Where, once membership is granted, it can never be undone.

Give yourself a break.  F&% Pinterest, make a really ugly cake for your kid’s birthday or heaven forbid, buy one from the grocery store.  Drop your child off at a playgroup just because you want to eat lunch without a small human stealing your food or pooping their pants.  Lock yourself in the bathroom and give yourself a pedicure.  It is OKAY.  You are entitled to your own wants, needs, desires and dreams outside of and separate from your offspring.  They will absolutely benefit from having a happy and fulfilled mommy instead of a strung out always-feeling-like-a-failure mommy.  And after all, because at some point, they are going to have learn, they not only are not the center of your universe, but they are not the center of anyone else’s universe, either.

5 No-No’s for Women in Their 30’s

No, this is not a post about the terrifying horrors of mom jeans. Instead, this is another post inspired by real conversations I have recently had with friends. In the past week, I have had two of my beautiful friends upset and a little heartbroken about words spoken to them and it made me realize that although these statements should obviously never be uttered to any woman of child bearing age, apparently it isn’t obvious… so here goes my public service announcement.

 

5 Things You should never say to women between the ages of 20 and 40.

 

  1. Are you pregnant?

NO! For the love of God, I either am puking because I actually get sick like any other non-ovary carrying human or you are seeing a stomach bulge because I ate a damn burrito for lunch. Lesson – unless you see a foot kicking through a chick’s abdominal wall, do NOT ask if she is pregnant! Fertile woman do actually still catch the flu and gain weight for non baby reasons.

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  1. You will understand when you become a mom / You don’t understand because you don’t have kids.

One woman even told my friend who is an ob/gyn that she couldn’t possibly be the best at her job until she has gone through labor herself. Let’s break this idiocy down. That is like saying I won’t be the best trauma surgeon until I get shot by “two dudes…” I’ll take a rain check on that award. And newsflash – Not all women want to have children and another 7.4 million women have fertility difficulties (www.cdc.gov). So please think next time that the person you are speaking to might have gone through the heartbreaking journey of infertility or miscarriage.

 

  1. I’m so sorry you aren’t married.

And I’m so sorry you are on your third. Boom! Just because you have made certain choices for yourself doesn’t mean everyone has to make the same choices. You know how McDonald’s has a menu? Yeah, well, so does life. And when does being single, which is so “cool” in your twenties now something to pity because the calendar year has turned once or twice? Just because you are friendly with someone does not mean you know her entire life story! Maybe their parents went through a terrible divorce that has left an emotional mark, maybe they went through a broken up engagement, and guess what, maybe it just doesn’t matter. I personally would much rather see my friend single than have to watch another friend suffer through a terrible divorce.

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  1. I just couldn’t imagine someone else raising my child.

No one ever says this to my husband, and not just because he is 6’6” and a former professional athlete. Well, okay, maybe, but you get my point. I want to start a professional marketing campaign that states, “ALL moms work.” Whether it is part time, full time, in the house, out of the house, for a large corporation or our own company, we ALL work. Haven’t you heard the saying, “It takes a village”? Because it does, we all raise our children, regardless how or where we divide our time.

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  1. So when are you going to hurry up and have kids? Tick, tock, tick tock.

This again should be obvious, please see #2.  I really don’t think some of you know how these words can slice into the heart like a knife when you are struggling with fertility or miscarriage.  Your friend will tell you if she is trying or wants to get pregnant in her own time.  Please allow her do so.

Alright, PSA is over, you may now return to your normal programming 🙂

Anti-terrorism 101 and Tearful Timeouts

Rule number 1.

You don’t negotiate with terrorists.

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Why is this trauma mama writing about terrorism?  Well, because I have been negotiating with terrorists for the past 9 years and now it is coming to bite me in the a**.

I confess, I live with two terrorists.  One has light brown skin, curly dark hair, and is 34 ½ inches tall.  The other is covered in red fur and weighs 140lbs.

It all started 9 years ago when this lovely cuddly face entered my life.  Otis Benjamin, our beautiful Bullmastiff puppy was our first child.  And, he was an easy puppy.  Easy to potty train, fast to learn “sit”, “stay” and other commands.  But then, he hit his adolescence and I was not mentally prepared for it.  Almost every day posed a new problem.  Otis ate a hole in our wall and is in the corner looking like a crack addict with white powder all over his face?  My fault, I probably don’t walk him enough.  Otis ate the washing machine?  Yes, this really happened and again, my fault because I’m sure he was bored.  You can see where this is heading.  Luckily, as usual, my husband stepped in, took control and there were no more negotiations.  He was told to do something, and it was expected that he obey 100% of the time.  If he didn’t obey, there was no cajoling, pleading, or persuading (my modus operandi) being done.  He got punished.  I probably should have prefaced this by stating that outside of the hospital, I am a wimp.  I just couldn’t punish him.  I thought being nice and sweet and understanding would lead my 140lb dog to obey because he would know I loved him.  I thought, if I am “mean” to him and punish him, he won’t love me anymore.  I know, I can hear all of you chuckling because, duh, my dog doesn’t think like that.  He just wants to eat, sleep and know the rules so he stays out of trouble and in our laps.  Yep, I said laps.  He weighs more than me, but don’t tell him that!

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My child, my lovely happy easy baby boy is now 19 months old and has become a hitter.  He hits everything and everyone – including Otis.  I’m not going to lie it is pretty funny watching a 28 pound little human go after a gigantic dog who just rolls over on him, but it isn’t right.

Wikipedia defines terrorism as “the systematic use of violence as the means of coercion for political purposes”.  Although my child obviously has no political purpose and he isn’t necessarily violent, his behavior has taken my household hostage.  I have tried re-direction, saying “no”, saying “no” louder, and even giving him cookies to have him stop hitting.  This is now the second time I have negotiated with a terrorist.  The first time has resulted in a 140 pound dog who although loves me and protects me with all his heart, doesn’t listen to me at all.  About anything.  In fact, I’m pretty sure he is laughing at me on the inside whenever I tell him to do something.

Two days ago, I was showing my son pictures of himself on the phone (his favorite activity and yes, I know that definitely makes him my child) and out of nowhere he slaps me in my face.  In a resolve to not have another living being in my house that won’t listen to me, we had our first time out.  I did it.  Despite the ever present evil Mommy guilt and deep rooted concern that my child doesn’t love me, I disciplined him.  I told him “time out”, plopped his little behind in a chair, held his hands and let him cry.  Did I tear up a little bit?  Sure.  Was it hard?  Absolutely.  Was my husband on the couch watching us and laughing at me and how hard I was taking it?  Of course.  But I did it, and that leads me to the following:

Three promises to my son as we enter toddlerhood.

  1. I promise to try and understand.

I get it, it must suck.  You completely understand what is going on, you have definite wants and needs, but you don’t have the words for it.  All you have are hand gestures, emotions and a few words to try and convey sometimes very particular ideas/wants/wishes/needs.  Just try it.  Try to tell your friend/spouse/significant other what you want for dinner with a vocabulary that consists of doggie, ball, up, off, cow, light, fan, bye bye, and night night.  It is absolutely okay for you to have emotions, get frustrated, and be upset and I promise to try and understand and be patient with you.

2.  I promise to discipline you.

You are going to want to be popular one day.  You are going to want friends, be invited to parties, and most likely, play sports.  You are going to want to be successful in life.  And this is one way in which I can help you achieve that success.  Discipline will show you the rules, what is right and wrong, how to behave at home and in public, and most importantly how you treat other people – whether you like them or not.  Although you hate your time out chair, your time out chair will play a role in you achieving your dreams.  You will be a better person because you understand what “no” means.

3.  I promise to love you.

Even when you go noodle bodied on me in the grocery store and I can’t pick you up because when I try you remain limp and everyone is staring at us and thinking how terrible of a mother I am surely because their toddler is having a meltdown, I will love you.  It hurts me when you cry, but I love you too much to give in.  I love you too much to allow you to behave in ways that in the future will only hurt you.  And even during the hopefully brief times that you are mad at me, know that I will always love you.

A decade of mommy guilt

My first born turned a decade old the other day. Surely hitting double digits was a huge milestone for her. For me it was a time of reflection on how fast the time has gone by and how much of her childhood I missed in the last 10 years. I want to close my eyes and turn on the reel of memories I have stored away of the day she rolled over for the first time, her first steps, losing her first tooth….. The list goes on and on.

Truth is, I was gone for most of those other milestones in her young life. It wasn’t just the firsts either. There are countless pediatrician visits, parent teacher conferences, sporting/dance events, etc. that I just could not make. Though I know better than to feel guilty anymore about the extra stuff that I might have taken on as a mom like being a coach or a troop leader or a school volunteer, what I wouldn’t give to have been able to console her when she got her shots or to be the one she ran to when she had a nightmare (I am sure she figured “Why bother, Mommy’s side of the bed is empty most nights.”)

While for much of the time I was, as this now wise young lady believes, “taking care of people,” there were plenty of times when I was simply busy doing the other part of my work where people’s lives were not in my hands (e.g. research, education, volunteer efforts for professional societies). While the trickle down effect of each of these efforts will certainly someday improve the care people receive, the guilt of being away from my child–the most amazing thing I have ever accomplished (albeit with some help from my remarkable life partner)–has been heartbreaking at times. Healing the heartbreak has been daunting. I am talking about healing me let alone the lingering effects my absence may have on her. (Luckily she has a great dad and amazing grand parents to counteract my absences.)

TIps for Healing Mommy Guilt found at http://dailymom.com/nurture/beating-back-mommy-guilt/

Tips for Healing Mommy Guilt

I have done more and more, in particular after finally getting my first grown up job in her 7th year of life, to assuage that guilt–to be there as much as I can.  When she was in preschool, everyone assumed that my husband was a single parent. I was that out of the picture. Entering into the picture has meant asking my parents to sacrifice daily contact with their grandkids so that I can have a more favorable commute that theoretically frees up times for the kids (alas most activities, events, and meetings still tend to occur between 6am and 6pm and I remain the forever absent mom). It has meant asking my husband to do every more to sustain our household so that I can get in some mommy time (i.e. he will do the dishes, bang out a few loads of laundry so I can maybe, just maybe be awake enough to read a chapter or two to my child). It has meant allowing myself to fall behind on the things where a life is not on the line or where someone else is not holding me to an expectation (I can’t ignore my billing or my employer gets on me, I can’t not proofread a paper that I told someone I would review for them, I can’t put off a grant that has a prescribed federal deadline but I sure can put off my own internal deadlines). In the end, an extra night or weekend of work will sort everything out. I am hardwired to get the job done, so I will. But every long day, every night, and every weekend of getting it done will come at a cost, another empty reel in the memory bank of my daughter’s childhood and, unless I pay re-calibrate the push and pull between work and family, I will find myself at her 20th birthday still ridden with guilt.

I attended a faculty seminar on work-life balance a couple of years ago. Everyone entered that room with a ton of baggage related to their inability to balance work and life with work seemingly winning every time. The upshot of the seminar was essentially: lose the guilt (if you are at work don’t feel guilty about not being at home and if you are at home don’t feel guilty about not being at work). While I have tried especially hard since then (not that I needed to be told but it was a good reminder at a time when I was really, really buried in my work life) to sneak in quality time with my daughter (and her baby brother but I will get all sappy about him when his birthday rolls around) the problem is that it has felt just like that–sneaking around. When spending time with your child feels like sneaking around, the Mommy Guilt has gotten out of hand.

The decade of Mommy Guilt I have built up won’t dissipate easily and surely my profession can move the dial a bit (both surgery and academics) so both men and women don’t have to “sneak around” so much when they choose life over work. But in the end, rather than letting the Mommy Guilt mount in the years to come, I am resolving to feel Mommy Pride for each of the moments that do make it onto the memory reel in my daughter’s teens. Guilt won’t make the reel amazingly devoid of gaps so why bother. I am better off feeling pride in the moments of parenting I am super savvy enough fit in given the nearly (but not completely) all-consuming career I have chosen (and do deeply enjoy).

So yeah, I am pretty proud that I proactively requested a day off over a year in advance so that I could be at my daughter’s birthday party, and that I might have put off writing a manuscript late one night to brainstorm venues and a guest list with her.  I ended up delegating the evites, the cupcakes, booking the actual venue to my husband (I could blog pages and pages about how amazing this guy is about getting it done at home while I work and work some more) but I wasn’t entirely absent and that is an accomplishment worthy of pride rather than guilt. 

Mommy guilt, “drunk” shopping, and giant giraffes

Let’s be honest, drunk dialing is a term that most of us have used on at least one occasion at some point in our lives.  Whether it was because we did the dirty deed ourselves or because we counseled one of our friends against its hazards, we are aware of what it means.  Really what it implies is that impaired thinking leads to impaired behavior.

Well, in my world, it is a well known fact that post call decision making usually ends up with results similar to that of drunk dialing.  And, at times, it can have really really bad results – for relationships, fashion choices, etc.  For example, one of my friends from residency was notorious for making hair appointments post call.  She would sit in the chair, tired and frustrated, and just tell the hairdresser to keep cutting, and keep cutting, and keep cutting, no matter what it looked like.  We knew we had to do something when after one of these post call hair sessions she unfortunately ended up with a mullet.  I’m not lying, folks, a genuine South of the Mason Dixon line mullet.  Needless to say, an intervention was made, and she was no longer allowed to book hair appointments post call.

I am obviously well aware of this phenomenon and even though having personally witnessed its dangers, I admit I still succumbed.  Well into a 62 hour long stretch of in hospital call, at midnight, no less, I decided to do some Christmas shopping.  Because really, what else puts you into the mood for Christmas shopping than being in the hospital in the middle of the night finishing up a consult for dead bowel?  Mmmhmm.  Just writing this makes me shake my head in semi-disbelief.

Anyhoo, on with the story.  So, this sudden Christmas shopping urge coupled with my extreme Mommy Guilt for not having seen my child in 2 days leads me to “drunkenly” believe I need to buy some more toys for him.  I immediately head towards one of my favorite sites, Amazon.com.  Sigh.  The ability to find just about anything under the planet for a great price, schedule deliveries of diapers, and refill my Kindle all under one roof so to speak is intoxicating to this constantly multi-tasking momma.  On the homepage is nothing other than their Holiday special sales, and that is when I see it.  The perfect gift that my sleep deprived self ridiculously thinks my 18 month old son needs.  I mean, Needs to have.

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A five foot tall stuffed giraffe.

Seriously.  So, you may be trying to rationalize this for me, thinking, Oh, so he must have a safari themed nursery?  Nope, it is gray and aqua.  Maybe the brown and yellow colors of said giraffe coordinate with his playroom décor?  Nope again, we went with gray and orange.  Maybe the giraffe is her son’s favorite animal at the zoo that he insists upon seeing every visit?  Alas, but no.  His favorite animals are the lions.

I got about 4 hours of sleep last night, which is pretty excellent for a night of call.  I woke up, feeling slightly groggy but at least of sound mind again.  And I think ….Did I really order a Giant stuffed giraffe for my child last night?  I check my phone as if I had drunk dialed, and realized instead, I had “drunk” shopped… for a giant giraffe.

P.S.  Can’t wait for this box to show up at my house.  I think it might be difficult to convince my husband that I have no idea how a dang giraffe as tall as myself came to be sitting on our front porch.  I sense another blog post coming…