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A Rob Lowe Autobiography Discussion Guide for Book Clubs

My book club, like every book club out there, doesn’t discuss the book.  We are set to discuss Rob Lowe’s autobiography, “Stories I Only Tell My Friends”  tomorrow night and I have created a discussion guide.

What surprised you most about Rob Lowe’s life?

Do you buy that Rob Lowe was sort of an outcast in high school?

How do you think Rob Lowe was able to accept his parents for who they were and to forgive their lack of focus/care for him and his siblings?

Was Rob Lowe trying to insinuate that Tom Cruise was crazy from the start?

First word that pops into your head, keeping the book in mind:

JFK  Jr.

Francis Ford Coppola

Star Wars

Ohio

Sheryl

Would you rather: Matt Dillon?  Rob Lowe? Tom Cruise? In the 80s?  Now?

Which star were you most impressed by as described by Rob Lowe?  Who disappointed you?

Which actor/actress would you like to hear from next in an autobiography?

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All Set, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jessica Alba

Dear Gretchen Rubin,  Your Happiness Project book instructed me to make my bed every day to start my day off right.  Making my bed and my kids’ beds is not making me feel satisfied, it is leaving me less time to do what makes me happy:  watching Reality TV, writing, shopping, poking around doing crafty projects.  Then when I read your follow up to The Happiness Project, you kind of freak me out that you don’t have any stuff or collections.  

Dear June Cleaver, cleaning the house after my kids leave for school and cooking so many dinners from scratch is not leaving me fulfilled.  I feel more like Betty Draper.

Dear Jessica Alba, I am not buying your Honest Company products.  There’s something about a gorgeous movie star with cute children and lots of cash, with a husband named Cash that doesn’t make me want to support your business.  I’ll sick to my giant jug of white vinegar, my Johnson’s baby shampoo & maybe some cleaning supplies from Whole Foods if I am feeling anxious about chemicals in my bloodstream that day.

Dear Gwyneth, I am not reading your GOOP blog anymore.  Getting your cookbook as a Christmas gift from my husband is enough support for your extracurricular endeavors.  

Wishing there was more time to do things for me,

June Carol Clair

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Traditions: Sunday Dinner

It’s Labor Day, Monday.  But it feels like Sunday and I had the urge to prepare a big Sunday dinner.  I grew up with Sunday dinners and it’s a tradition that feels spiritual, comforting and the right way to start the week.  Tonight we ate a dinner of chicken parm, a tomato and eggplant sauce over whole wheat linguini.  The adults had some Rioja.  (A little different than the roast beef, potatoes and gravy Sunday dinners I had growing up).  I prepared the dinner with love and knowing I was taking care of my family the way my mom did and my grandmother did- and my mother in law, for that matter.   Before we ate, we joined hands and thanked God for a great summer and wished for blessings for a good school year.

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It’s not the Republicans who are out of touch with the poor, it’s the middle class

This morning I went through my kids’ old Keen sandals and New Balance sneakers and Stride Rite shoes to donate to a shoe drive for kids in Upstate New York.  My mom knew of a shoe drive for kids who don’t have shoes to wear to school.  What a contrast: no shoes or cast off shoes vs. quality, (pretty expensive) shoes that every kid in my affluent Boston suburb will wear on the first day of school.  This example illustrates how different life is where I live now vs. where I used to live.

I was the daughter of teen parents.  I lived in a small trailer home from age 6 months-12 years on 20 acres of land in a very rural area in Upstate New York.  I had plenty to eat, my mom sewed me nice clothes, our home was warm and I was brought up with a love of reading.  The kids on my school bus route weren’t so lucky, they lived in run down trailer parks and small houses with junk throughout the yard.  They ate free breakfast at school because they would go to school hungry otherwise.  Some wore dirty clothes.  Some had rotting teeth because their parents couldn’t afford dental care.   Some were overweight because their parents didn’t know much about good nutrition.  Some were in the lowest reading groups because they had learning issues or because their parents didn’t read to them at night or help them with their homework.

When I was about to enter high school, we moved to a big, brand new Colonial on lakefront property in a college town in Upstate New York, just a few miles away.  Different school system.  And what a difference in my classmates:  children of doctors, lawyers, college professors, business owners and skilled tradesmen: wearing Benetton rugby shirts, Guess jeans and CB ski jackets.  Not everyone had all of these things by any means, but there was a higher income level and a higher priority on education from the parents of these kids.  After graduation, I went to the state college at home, joined a sorority full of affluent girls from Long Island (who made fun of the redneck townies).  I moved to Boston in 1994 and have lived and worked here ever since.

A few years ago, when visiting my parents, my husband and I drove through my old bus route from elementary school and the extreme poverty just floored me.  I am so far removed from this landscape now.  But my parents aren’t- my mom works with charities and schools filled with kids who don’t have shoes to wear to school.  Or who will likely repeat the cycle of poverty that many of my elementary school classmates are repeating. 

I feel like I am surrounded by Republicans and Democrats who are so far removed from knowing anyone that really struggles.  Hearing about cutting social programs bothers me, but what bothers me more is the lack of empathy for the less fortunate.  Or the utter cluelessness, to put it more bluntly.  There are plenty of people who take advantage of welfare or government “handouts” and the system needs fixing, but there are also plenty of children who deserve the same opportunities that our children enjoy.   Even if they are poor.

The problem is that it isn’t the super rich that aren’t in touch with how the rest of the country lives, it is the comfortable, upper middle class who aren’t in touch.  And I am one of them.  Are you?

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What annoys me about certain American parents and why I am all for the French style of parenting, according to Druckerman

I had zero interest in reading The Tiger Mom book, but am all over “Bringing Up Bebe” by Pamela Druckerman, probably because I am already a lot like a French mom (and not just my amazing sense of style and penchant for fine wine and cheese).    According to Druckerman, French parents expect their children to play by themselves most of the time, sit at the dinner table, be polite to adults (by greeting them with a bon jour!).  American parents often let their child be the “child king” and run the show.  I wish that this book was required reading in America.  I’m not saying the French have it all right: critics have said that the book focuses on upper class Parisian parents and Druckerman is careful to point out that French men are much less evolved than the dads here in America that share parenting responsibilities (and French women don’t afford the same opportunities in business as we do).  I am more Dr. Sears than French when it comes to sleep training my babies, and tonight I fought with my 6 year old when he refused to try blue mashed potatoes from our CSA share vs. the French way of expecting them to take a taste and it’s okay if they don’t like pommes de terre bleues.  However, most of the examples in the book are spot on in terms of what is out of balance with so many mothers and fathers I see at the playground, and in some cases, some of my friends who well, frankly- coddle their children and make them their child kings.  French mothers think about their own needs as well, and don’t feel as guilty as moms do in the US.

Here’s what stood out for me in the book (I haven’t dogeared this many pages in a long time, sorry library!):

when American families come over, the grown ups spend much of the time chasing after or otherwise attending to their kids…”maybe in five years we’ll be able to a conversation” jokes a friend.  When we finally sit down, they let Rachel crawl under the table while the rest of us eat dinner.  The parents wax about her prodigious reading skills and her possible admission to a gifted kindergarten.  During the meal, I feel someone stroking my foot.  A moment later I yelp.  The gifted child has bitten me.

Why are middle class Americans so skeptical of daycare?It’s just not a situation I want” sniffs a friend.  “I want him to have a little more individual attention.” which Druckerman calls a euphemism for “Unlike you, I actually love my child and don’t want to institutionalize him.”   (I’ve had a nanny and a daycare/early preschool similar to a French creche and always feel like I have to justify the daycare situation to other moms, elderly aunts and the like).  Another way middle class American women judge:  “many mothers treat  infant formula as practically a form of child abuse.  The fact that breastfeeding requires endurance, inconvenience, and in some cases, physical suffering only increases its status.”  (I breast fed and used formula and again, felt like I was somehow inferior or less of a good mother because of this thinking).  Speaking of good mothers, we American women are too hard on ourselves.  We joke “I’m a bad mother” for letting our kids watch too much TV or drinking non organic apple juice or forgetting to send a snack to school,  but you won’t hear French women beating themselves up like we do. 

On Americans pushing their children into a million activities from a mother in Miami:  Danielle dislikes overzealous parenting.  She’s horrified by a mother in her neighborhood whose four year old son already takes tennis, Soccer, French, and piano lessons…You start thinking: this kid’s doing all that stuff.  How is my kid going to compete?  And then you have to check yourself and say: that’s not the point…still Danielle’s four kids are overscheduled.  She acknowledges that she could cut out all of these activities…but what would her kids do at home?  I agree with Danielle and agree with this French mom:

A French mom’s  take on extracurricular activities:  she stopped sending her kids to tennis lessons because she found them constraining (for whom? asks the author) ” constraining for me”  She explains: “You bring them and you wait for an hour, then you have to go back and pick them up.  For music you have to make them practice at night…It’s a waste of time for me.  And the children don’t need it.  They have a lot of homework, they have the house, they have other games at the house, and there are two of them so they can’t get bored.  They’re together.  And we go away every weekend.

I wish I read this book earlier on in my motherhood, but I’ve usually trusted my instincts as a mother and this book affirms my beliefs.  Part of my parenting skills come from being an only child: I had to entertain myself so I don’t get on the floor all day long with my kids.  Also being an only child, I am a bit selfish and really need my me time.  My kids are pretty well behaved and sweet, for now, anyway.   Let’s see what happens when they grow up and write a book detailing being raised by a mother like me.

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What to Splurge On When Your Kids are Little

Having kids is expensive, especially if you decide to go the all-organic and exclusive preschool route.  I registered at Target when I had my first baby, and love me a hand me down bin of clothes- but there are areas that are worth the splurge and this is what I tell my new mom friends to splurge on:

Professional baby photos.  Hire a photographer to come to your house.  By the luck of a Google search almost 9 years ago, I found Jess McDaniel of Boston Baby Photos, who embodied the style of photography I wanted: natural light, lots of candids and the ability to capture the dimpled skin and sweet markings of a baby.   I made certain to have Jess come to the house when each of my 3 babies were around 10 months old, in my opinion, if you do it once during the first year, this is the time.  (Newborn shots are nice and all, but not all newborns are a) cute b) happy c) awake for the camera)

Hanna Andersson pajamas.  Thick, soft, organic cotton perfect for snuggling up to and the way the sizing works, you buy them a little big and they can wear them for a long time.  They stand up to years of washings and multiple hand me downs.  I love my toddlers in the striped pajamas of all colors.  Red and green Christmas striped pajamas are unisex, so what my girl wore as a baby and toddler and Kindergartener, her little brothers can wear.

A decadent dress or outfit that’s all your taste  My kids have worn beautiful clothes that were gifted or handed down to us.  I troll second hand shops and snag all sorts of great labels that are great quality, but once in awhile you need to walk into a boutique and buy a special occasion dress (like an Easter dress with smocking) or a Tea or Zutano outfit or a kicking pair of Puma suedes.

Imaginative Play Toys  I longed for a wooden play kitchen for my daughter from the Land of Nod, but didn’t pull the trigger.  I wished I’d bought one before she grew out of it. The train table never was played with by my middle son.  So major imaginative play purchases can be a gamble.  What I haven’t regretted: Magna Tiles.  Little Tykes cars and water tables can often be found on trash day.  I’ve scored some good ones!

A piano teacher that will come to your house.  Once your kids hit school age or the age of piano lessons, it is worth it to have the teacher come to your house.  People are always getting rid of pianos on Craigs List (as long as you move it).  It’s nice to not have to get into the car and drive to another activity, sports, religious education, whatever.  Hearing the piano practice while I fix dinner is a bonus.

What do you think is worth the splurge when your kids are little?  What do you wish you splurged on? What do you wish you didn’t splurge on?

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Social Graces: Make the Effort: Send the Birthday Card, Bake the Banana Bread and Visit

My friend L. just moved from Boston to Albany and gave birth to twins.  It’s been almost four months since they were born, and I pictured myself cooking for L. and helping with the babies the first month of their life.  With older kids in school, a toddler, work and everything else, I kept putting off the visit.  I finally realized there would be no perfect time to visit, but I found a nearly perfect time.  My husband was home for the week, L.’s husband was away.   I spent two nights getting to know her gorgeous twins and enjoying her bubbly 4 year-old daughter.  Sure, I helped: I unloaded the dishwasher.  I made pizza one night.  I held babies.  But most of all, I kept L. company and we caught up on our friendship.

The last night of the visit, we stayed up late talking and she told me how happy she was that I made the effort to come visit.  I told her I’d forgotten how much a new mom needs help, even though I should know. 

One of our new neighbors has a rebout with cancer.  I don’t know her and planning the logistics of cooking a meal for their family seems intrusive.  But who doesn’t like muffins?  I could drop off some muffins.

L. & I also talked about the social graces we’ve had fall by the wayside lately.  I have been terrible about calling or sending cards for nieces and nephews, but ironically being diligent about posting a Happy Birthday message on Facebook for people I worked with 10+ years ago and didn’t really know that well. 

Work friends from 10 years ago may warrant a Facebook Happy Birthday posting.  Good friends and family deserve a call or a card.   A mom having her third or fourth baby doesn’t need a baby shower, but she does deserve a visit to admire the baby or a pretty, thoughtful (how about letterpress?) card to welcome the new addition.  Attending a wake is hard to do, but standing in line to offer condolences in person is something I never regret taking the time to do.

Genuine, thoughtful and kind social graces matter.  

ImageAre there any thoughtful ways you reach out?

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I Have Most of It, Even Though Women Can’t Have it All

Anne-Marie Slaughter’s piece in The Atlantic has been posted by my career minded friends on Facebook and Twitter.   In a nugget:  “It’s time to stop fooling ourselves, says a woman who left a position of power: the women who have managed to be both mothers and top professionals are superhuman, rich, or self-employed. If we truly believe in equal opportunity for all women, here’s what has to change.”

I read the article on my iPhone next to my 6 year old as he fell asleep, as a true multitasking working mom who thinks about her career when she is with her kids and her kids when she is working. Then I scanned my Twitter feed and saw a tweet by Working Mother, inviting working moms to a Twitter chat on how they balance everything.  The editor references their best places to work for working moms list, which I know is horseshit because I am a PR person that got my former company on the list two years in a row.  My former company laid me off when I was on maternity leave with my first child. 

 In a way, they did me a huge favor.  After the layoff, one freelance project led to the next and I realized I had a niche- handling PR for marketing and media companies.  Working for myself has not afforded us a family vacation or an addition on our house, but it has afforded me control over my own schedule, which Slaughter deems a necessity for having it all.

Here’s what I’ve learned and Slaughter touched upon:

Just like women don’t ask for raises as much as men do, women apologize for having to leave work for their kids.  When a dad has to leave work to coach a game, it is what it is (and he’s a hero).  Women feel guilty for leaving work early to make daycare pickup, even though they were the first in the office.   I apologize if there is “background noise” if it is my day with the baby and my client calls.  My client doesn’t care, they just want me to do the job, I am the one worried about being professional.  I see my neighbor, who is in sales, take calls with his kids fighting in the background and he is not rattled in the least.  So, I need to think more like a guy.

 Kids need their mothers over their dad or their babysitters sometimes.  If my prime earning years or career advancement years suffers, I can’t dwell on it (even though I do).  A family of five can share one full bathroom.   I’ll work on that big client again eventually. 

Being a successful in your career when you are a mom means giving up control- of how the house looks, how the kids are dressed, what’s for dinner.  Most of us are still organizing play dates and scheduling pediatrician appointments and trying to work.   

We are trying to be it all, and a lot has to change in terms of workplace hours and maternity leaves and technology making us work when we shouldn’t be working, but we also have to take charge and set our own boundaries and lower our own standards.  Sometimes, we are the hardest on ourselves.

 

 

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Starting over again, with a big gap between kids

There’s a 4 and a half year age gap between my middle son and my baby.  My oldest daughter is almost 9, my middle son is 6 and P. the toddler, is 19 months old.  When I was pregnant, a lot of people weren’t envious: “wow, you are starting all over again.  Diapers.  Sleepless nights.  Babyproofing.”  

 Sometimes starting all over again is a drag, especially when I was at a party with moms of 3rd and 5th graders who could drink wine and let the kids play in the yard while I was trying to keep P’s hands out of the hummus.

Most of the time, starting all over again is bliss.  While the older kids are at school, P and I go grocery shopping and I inhale the baby smell of his little blond head as we go through the aisles.  Once again, I have a toddler who marvels at the banana display and points out the windows at trucks and buses to and from the store. 

 I’m a new mom again, but I am a seasoned mom.  I don’t feel isolated like I did when my first child was born, I have friends and am not shy about making new friends.   I don’t care what the moms think of me at the tot lot or how shabby my MacLaren stroller is compared to the newer Bugaboos. 

 I am happy to discover new things about this little guy, who likes trains and cars and the board book Time for Bed (his brother liked action figures and Jamberry and his sister preferred dolls and Big Red Barn).   Today we discovered a great children’s room at the library in the town next to us. 

Yes, I am starting over. 

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How to Be a Family w/the Distractions of Smartphones, iPads, Laptops and TV

Today, I read the first section of the Boston Sunday Globe, while two of my kids played a maze game on the iPad and the baby played with his Thomas trains.  Missed Connections: As screens and gadgets increasingly claim our eyes and time, shared family experience is feeling the squeeze by Joseph P. Kahn caught my eye, because I worry about not being present with my family.  For example, last night we watched The Wizard of Oz as a family, but midway I picked up my iPhone and started tweeting.  My husband had to alert me to snuggle my 6 year old, who was freaking out about the flying monkeys but I was too busy tweeting to realize.  Oops.

The family profiled in the story were good sports, showing us teens who text constantly, a dad always checking sports scores and a mom with the TV blaring most of the day because she likes the noise (Facebook, work email and other digital distractions were a part of the story as well.  I know the noise all too well- I grew up with the TV on constantly and until (again, my husband pointing it out) I realized that the constant din wasn’t good for me or for my kids. 

Technology allows us to be many places at once, like the dads who brag that they can make it to their kids’ games because they have their BlackBerry.  FYI, there is nothing more douchey than seeing a biz casual dad in the stands on a conference call or tapping at his iPhone during his kid’s soccer game.  

It’s all about being more self-aware.  And trying to be more vigilant. 

Maybe instead of multitasking with your Smartphone, how about staying at work for most of the season and come to one game where you can watch and interact with the other parents? 

And for the teens (which I don’t have yet, thank God), a mom I know told me that she makes her daughter leave her cell phone on the kitchen island overnight so she’s not up until all hours texting.  My husband’s aunt told us that she kept laptop use for homework in the kitchen or other common areas so she could monitor that her son wasn’t on Facebook but was working on his essay for English class.   We try to keep the iPad time for the kids to 20 minutes via the kitchen timer (but sometimes my husband forgets to set the timer while he is reading and responding to email).  I need to remind myself to shut down my laptop so I am not checking Facebook responses to my adorable toddler when I should be interacting with said toddler.  On date night with my husband, it is not about checking in to Foursquare at the cool restaurant we are at, it is about gazing into his eyes. 

The Boston Globe article made me think about how our family can go off into separate parts of the house and be distracted by technology and how we can be together more.  It makes me think about parameters I need to set for myself most of all. 

How do you rein in digital distractions? 

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