Monday, December 13, 2010

the gift of underemployment

As the year ends, I look back at what a year of working at home has done for me. The gains have not been financial. Since both my husband and I started new businesses this year we’ve have a lot less money. Hey, we did well for first-time entrepreneurs but a far cry from the old days of paid vacation and steady paychecks. Nonetheless, I LOVED this year. I feel so blessed to have been able to experience this slowed-down time. I wasn’t a class parent, didn’t make Halloween costumes and rarely picked up my kids from school but I was a calmer, saner, mother. A few highlighted moments:

1. A couple mornings ago, B and F had simultaneous meltdowns. Each wanted me to take them to school--even though it 17 degrees out, they go in opposite directions and their Dad was available. But I did it. Cheerfully (kind of). Last year, I would have had my own meltdown--yelling, whining and bitching about how late I was.

2. I actually enjoyed Christmas shopping this year.

3. As my kids have said more than once “we eat much better dinners since you’re home.”

4. Coffee and lunch with about 45 people I never would have met or caught up with.

5. When F’s doll lost her shoes on the way to school I sucked it up and walked (almost) all the way home to find them. Although I was 1/2 late for an on-site job, I took the shoes back to school.

6. I wrote a couple actual letters this year—and mailed them.

7. I cleaned all the way under the claw foot tub for the second time ever. (The tub’s ten years old)

8. I had more than a couple dinner parties.

9. Way more sex.

10. Oh yeah, I built a website, started a blog, designed my first iPad app, and learned FLASH.

There were less presents under the tree this year. Not such a bad thing. Whether they know it or not, my kids got the gift of their mother’s “presence” after years of half-way-there mom. And I got quality of life--a damn good present.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

I heart insomnia

I’ve started to enjoy my sleepless nights.

In my 30s, fter a bad breakup with a boyfriend, I had a really bad period of insomnia. I fought it like crazy which of course just made it worse. I went to bed early, stayed up late, drank wine, ate turkey. Nothing worked and I started to freak out. It got so bad that I was getting depressed from lack of sleep. Then one day my Dad said something that clicked: he told me that when he can’t sleep he does paperwork or cleans his office. The simple matter-of-fact way he said it made me understand that fighting insomnia wasn’t the answer, embracing it is. The next time I couldn’t sleep I did my taxes, something I’d been putting off. I got the whole thing done (ok, this was back in the EZ-form days) and it felt great. The next night when I couldn’t sleep I cleaned. Soon I was sleeping through the night.

For the past couple years I’ve had chronic insomnia. 4 or 5 nights a week I’m awake in the middle of the night, usually between 2 and 4 am. I’ve come to really like it.

For some reason, like those taxes I did years ago, I get things done at 3 am that I can’t get myself to do during the day: answering emails I’ve put off, finding a missing insurance form, cleaning out my purse. Often this time is quite productive, almost like a second wind. I think clearly and with purpose and while I don’t have tons of physical energy, I can sit down and plow through a project or answer a slew of emails. It’s gotten so bad—good?—that I actually put off real work knowing I can get it done the next time I can’t sleep. (Bonus: sending a project to a client at 4:20 am and knowing they’ll think you pulled an all-nighter.)

Of course, sometimes I just read a book which is damn satisfying when you have three kids under age ten.

More than once, I’ve wondered if insomnia isn’t my body’s way of getting me-time that I would never get otherwise. I can count the number of times I’ve been alone in our house—every delicious one. Being wide awake at 3 am is the next best thing: a poor mother’s solution to her crazy-busy life. It’s perfect: absolutely nobody needs me. I’m not neglecting anything because— I’m supposed to be asleep! If I get something done it’s a bonus. My insomnia is truly stolen time. And since I stole it from myself I can spend it any way I like.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

training bras

My oldest daughter R got a bra yesterday.

You’re probably thinking tmi but hang in there. There is a reason for my overshare.

Poor R. The youngest in her class, the biggest tomboy EVER, and she gets boobs before any other girl in 5th grade. (well, there is one but she’s a full year older.) Needless to say this was not a happy “development” in our family.

The good news: her best friend M, one of those concave-chested girls, is dying for breasts and leapt at the chance to go shopping and try on bras “just to see what it’s like”. God love M. What could have been a very teary trip to K-mart (killer training bras, btw) turned into a funny, exciting adventure. While R and I investigated the sports bra area looking for the tightest, most t-shirt-like boob smasher/binder, M and my 4-year-old F, headed for the “real” bras, gravitating to the most flashy, styrofoam-like cups they could find. B, my middle daughter, did her middle-child part running back and forth—consoling, offering commentary, eager to make everything nice.

We left with 4 very plain boob diminishers and 2 adorable 30AA boob creators. All 4 girls “dressed up” in bras when we got home.

OK, so where am I going with this? Well, I started thinking about my own first bra and the shopping trip. It was just me and my mom and although it wasn’t a terrible experience it was a bit uncomfortable. Although I had a good relationship with my mom—and a great one now—I didn’t like talking to my mom about private things; it was embarrassing, unnatural. Things were just a lot less open back then.

This got me thinking of how much healthier these conversations are today. I don’t think I've ever seen my mom naked, but since I tend to walk around in my underwear at home my girls have seen just about all of me. I think—hope—that this has made them feel OK about their own bodies. I try to set an example: this is what a woman’s body looks like, no big deal. They ask me questions I would never dreamed of asking my mother. Occasionally the questions are inappropriate and I tell them so but for the most part I’m honest and open and I think this is good. Which is kind of unusual for me.

For the most part, I tend to see their childhood in less than ideal terms compared to mine. I worry that kids today grow up to fast. I hate the loss of innocence, the 10-going-on-20 attitude. I don’t like most of the tv shows a lot of kids watch, the amount of “stuff” they have. I think the computer and other screens take away from the books and imagination-building games I had to come up with. Although they are basically good girls, I don’t like the way my kids talk back and challenge me.

In all this worry and comparison, I’ve missed a benefit to their growing up in 21st century: the emotional connection I have with my girls (and the one they have with their stay-at-home-Dad). They can talk to me in a way that I never could with my mother. I know when one of my daughters is upset. I can read her behavior and take her to a quiet room and get her to tell me what’s wrong. They talk back but that can be part of an open dialogue (right?). Yes, we argue over the stupidity of “Jake and Josh” but it is a conversation and kids are entitled to opinions and (a limited amount) of inane tv.

I’ll never like everything about childhood today but I can say this: when R noticed her breasts growing and was upset about it, I knew. She showed me and we talked about it. She was able to tell me that she didn’t like the changes in her body. So I told R that I had hated getting my period but it was OK after awhile. I never told my mom this.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

on reinventing myself

Who knew that I would be “finding myself ” at 46?!

Not that I really want to; I don’t have a choice. My skills as a print designer and even recently as a website designer are quickly becoming obsolete. I need to learn “interactive design”—and fast. Which I will, and this isn’t a bad thing. I tend to need to be dragged, kicking and screaming into situations that later are life-changing and I think this is one of those times. Yet, going back to school—admittedly just a night course or two—wasn’t in my career plan even two years ago.

Just a couple short years ago I thought I was approaching my “coasting” years—the ones where one has “arrived” career-wise and can rest on past successes. Those days are over. Steve Jobs made this idea impossible for any of us print people.

All my of mentors were able to coast in their later years. They earned their dues and deservedly got to the point in their careers when they could relax and know there would be work for them. Admittedly, I’m just a tiny bit bitter that I’m going to miss this opportunity. Part of me is kind of tired of striving. Frankly, I’m not dying to compete with the 20-something computer whizzes out there. I like designing printed pieces.

On the flip side, there is nothing like seeing your work on a screen. Even my printed pieces in pdf glow with colors that can’t be replicated on paper. Once I get over the old-lady-“Why do things have to change?”-shock, it’ll be great. Learning something new—especially something you’re afraid of—is liberating. I witnessed this recently with my 7-year-old and her bike. Because she was embarrassed, she’d avoided learning to ride it. It had become so big in her mind she became afraid to try. But once she got on, she rode it easily and now wants to bike ride everywhere.

Hopefully, 6 months from now I’ll be posting interactive ideas here—sans training wheels.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

ny circle

I’ve been working on this networking diagram for months, adding names after each meeting (added a client today, thanks to Debbie). The idea started as a way to keep track of contacts (and being a visual gal I had to make it fancy). After a while I was struck by how many women I’ve met in the process of starting this little business. I went back through my notebook and found a few from the beginning stages whom I had forgotten. Definitely a work in progress.

Networking is painful for me. Asking for help is simply not a natural instinct. So the fact that I have a networking circle is something. I started with a small circle of relevant friends/ colleagues, made contacts through them and through these contacts, more. Yeah, I know this is truly networking 101 but you have to realize that I am not a social woman, in fact, I’m downright shy.

The idea that women unknown to me agreed to a meeting just because another woman’s name was in the subject line of my email, is pretty cool. The fact that most of them agreed right away to see me was a relief. And surprising. And gratifying. Most of the meetings resulted in another name or an idea; even if nothing concrete materialized these meetings kept me motivated. If these women were game to have coffee with me my idea must have some merit, right?

Call me crazy—or sexist—but I don’t think men do this for each other. I can’t imagine my husband or one of his friends reaching out to the friend of another guy for help. I can’t hear the words “Hi X, Y says you might be able to help me with my resume.” Admittedly, I married another wallflower so he might not be a strong case study. Something tells me most guys would have a hard time making a diagram like the one above. Let me know if you disagree.

I do know I owe the women I met with. Many of my clients came as a result of this networking. So did the idea for the business itself.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

OIJDIM isn’t the answer

I’m taking a break from the end-of-year-class-project-teacher-gift, a book of photos and quotes of my daughter's 2nd grade class. Nice idea (not mine!), waaaaay too much work. This “little” project has got me thinking about my inability to negotiate my fees well. This is a freebie of course, but I could have said no or asked for help. Why not?

Three times recently I’ve low-balled my fees. In one case I’ve done additional work without charging. In another, I gave so much information away in the initial--free--meeting the client hardly needs me. The interesting part is these clients are all women, 2 are moms. At the same time, I held my ground with a male client, aimed high and got more than I thought I would. Why am I so resistant to asking another mom for what I’m worth? For payment for my skills and knowledge?

Last week I had a networking coffee with another mom from school—a real go-getter with a new business. Repeatedly, I offered to help her--gratis--with her website photos (“It’s what I do! Really, it’s no problem!”) Repeatedly she refused. She finally said: “You have to stop thinking like a designer and start thinking like a business person.”

She’s right. That kind of “I’ll take care of it. Let me help you” attitude is so ingrained in me I can’t stop myself from offering help. Isn’t this is what we mothers do: we pick up each others kids from school, edit each other’s resume, design the bloody class project? We raise our hands. We’re volunteers. It’s called sisterhood.

How many times do we say “Oh, I’ll just do it myself ” instead of asking for help or, in my case, asking for more money? (After I write this post I’ll likely pick up the TV room rather than try and get my kids to help.) Since the days of having an assistant are over, there’s a certain amount of “Oh, I’ll just do it myself ” inherent in business (as in motherhood). Like folding laundry, sometimes it’s just faster to do it. And often there isn’t anybody else raising their hand.

But, to paraphrase my coffee date, I have to stop thinking like a mom and start thinking like a CEO. “OIJDIM” isn’t always the answer and doesn’t necessarily mean free.


Friday, June 11, 2010


I’m not one of those moms who gets offended easily and writes letters about stuff she’s read about or seen on TV. I simply don't have the brain power or the time.

But here I am on a Friday night, when I should be nursing a second beer on the stoop, watching my kids skateboard, writing about how upset I am about the finale of GLEE. Yep, GLEE—a show, the only prime-time show, I adore. What’s got me upset (besides the loss at regionals)? All the baby stuff.

Let’s just gloss over the glamorization of teen pregnancy. Yes, Quinn had a few hard moments in the first trimester but she became a better person, won her mom back, and managed to dance and sing right up to delivery (even my kids were worried about the baby on that regionals number).

What really has me freaking out is the way GLEE has handled adoption. As the mother of two adopted girls who are GLEE fanatics I’m struggling to find a way to explain the mixed and downright sad messages their favorite show has sent out. I’m not sure which of the following is more troublesome:

1. Rachel’s birth mother, knowing that Rachel is her daughter, coerces a student to woo her and then break her heart to gain advantage at regionals. At the same time, the birth mother, unable to contact Rachel directly because of adoption laws, gets the student to plant a cassette tape so Rachel will discover who her birth mother’s identity and contact her. How f--cked up is this? She’s breaking her daughter’s heart, but hey, she also wants to meet her after 16 years.

2. Having finally met Rachel, the birth mother decides that she’s missed too much of Rachel’s life and can’t handle a relationship with her. So she abandons her daughter a second time! (She sings a Lady Gaga duet with her to make up for her crappy behavior.) Oh, and then she let’s the student, who is now Rachel’s boyfriend, dump her and throw eggs at her. Nice.

3. So, you’d think Rachel’s misery would end here. No. Her friend Quinn, shedding not one tear, gives up her baby (after a ten-minute delivery). And guess who adopts the baby on the spot? Without so much as a background check, Rachel’s evil birth mother, carries a new baby girl home.

One of my adopted daughters (I have 3, one biological) threw a tantrum the night we watched the finale. At the time, I passed it off as a stayed-up-too-late fit. But after thinking all this through, I wonder if unconsciously she was upset about the messages the show was sending her. Is it really so easy for a woman—even a young one with a means side like Quinn—to give her child away? And could a mother really reach out to her daughter, a 16-year-old girl, befriend her, and then decide it’s too late to get to know her? Could she really just replace her flesh and blood daughter with a newborn? Should any of this be mixed up with comedy?

As I said above, I’m not prone to bitching about prime time TV. At the same time, choices were made in the writing of this show. Why did they have to involve Rachel’s birth mother at all? And if so, did she have to be so mean and calculating? Thankfully, Rachel’s the most resilient character on TV and we know she’ll bounce back (if she hasn’t already). But as a mom, I can’t let my girls think that they could or should sing their way through a hurt like this.

We’ll be discussing GLEE’s finale at the dinner table for awhile.


Friday, May 21, 2010

a confession

It’s official.

I’m a better mom now that I’m working from home. I’ve spent years convincing myself that working was important to me and therefore good for my kids as well. In many way it was and still is. I want my girls to see their mom engaged and focussed on something (besides them) that is exciting and important to her. I have many great memories of them in the office, on photo shoots and business trips. I was proud to have them see me at work and to show them that what I do is fun and stimulating. I want them to jobs they care about and showing them my job was an important step in that direction. None of this has changed.

The problem is, when I was working full-time I was crabby a lot. I was late for dinner almost every night. I remember the panic I felt when the train was packed and I had to wait for another, knowing that everyone at home was hungry and that I still had to stop at the grocery store and get some kind of vegetable because my husband--wonderful as he is--is incapable of purchasing green things.

When I was working at an office I was always desperate for time alone. Today, I still want to be alone and read every night but having spent the day by myself I’m not jonesing for it. I don’t fantasize about coming home to an empty house. My favorite time of day is no longer after everyone goes to sleep.

And the shrill edge of stress is gone.

I can’t believe I just wrote that. How freaking sad is it that my choices are working in an office, making a lot of money and being shrill. Or, working at home, barely squeaking by financially (for the time being) but being sane(r).

Monday, April 26, 2010

the "s-word"

I’ve put 3 kids through preschool and met with their occasional resistance with what I think is a normal reaction--a combination of caving-in and dragging to. Frances, my just-turned-4-year-old, has been crying on the way to school for a month now, but this morning was the worst I can remember--ever--excruciating in it’s intensity, duration, and logic.

Frances started whaling at 7am with the first mention of the “s-word”. She screamed “I don’t want to go to school! I wanna go home and be with you!” the entire 16 block stroller trip and was still at it as I pried her off of me and ran out the preschool at 9:15. We’ve all dealt with “What’s wrong with you? Take her home already!” glares on the street. Generally, I can brush them off with the inner confidence that I know what I’m doing. Today I felt I deserved the raised eyebrow, winces and scowls. I probably should have brought her home.

But I needed to get a ton of work done today. I accept that I have to treat this new job as a real job. Yet knowing I was going to be here at home all day made the choice so much worse. (Couldn’t I have kept her home and done the work?) When I was going to an office and she--or her sisters before her--cried, there wasn’t such ambivalence. I had to go to work--end of story. I was proud of my hard-core resolve. I knew she would stop crying before I was on the subway. School was good. Work was important.

It hasn’t gotten past me that Frances started resisting school soon after I started working from home. I don’t know how her 4-year-old brain picked up on it, but she understands that mommy’s not going to an office anymore. (Could it be that I’ve worn the same t-shirt for 6 days straight?) I guess I should be flattered that she wants to be home now that I am but it just makes me want to cry myself.

I feel like I’m weaning her all over again--denying her a primal urge to merge (as my shrink would say). She doesn’t understand why I don’t want her home any more than she understood the buttoning of my shirt 3 years ago. Mommy needs a life, Frances.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

when the phone doesn't ring

I feel like I’m 32 and dating again. I sent a proposal for a project in and haven’t heard back from the client. I really want this project (guy) but the phone isn’t ringing and every time I check my email I feel like a loser. The interview (date) went well, so why isn’t the client calling? Did I botch the proposal (leave a lame message)?

Even worse, I heard a friend is up for the project as well. She’s a better fit (hotter, smarter) but she doesn’t even want it! Of course she’ll get it (him) because she can play all uninterested.

I seriously sucked at dating--what makes me think I can make it in the small business world? I’m lousy at networking and getting my name out there—how will this ever work? A month in the game and already second-guessing my marketability!

Please let this guy call.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

”working” mom

I officially started my business 3 weeks ago when I got my first client, the Joffrey Ballet School. It’s exactly the kind of project I want—re-branding—and, since we’re trying to lure moms of young kids and tweens to the school by making visuals more modern, the job is right there in my niche. It’s hard to believe I’m responsible for this; I have major “emperor’s new clothes” anxiety.

Now that I’m “working” from home everyday (still doesn’t feel like work yet) I can see how it’s effecting my parenting. I analyze this a lot, actually and here’s what I know so far. I can’t say I spend any more time with my kids now but the time I do spend with them is better. Mornings are a dream—it’s been months since I yelled at anyone. Because I don’t have to get myself together we’re not late and the whole brood is less stressed. As an added bonus we almost always have milk and a couple options for breakfast. And when I drop Frances at pre-k and she cries for 15 minutes I’m not checking my watch and grinding my teeth. Amazing

At night, instead of rolling in at 6:40 and being greeted by hungry, crabby kids and gulping down a beer as I sit down to eat, I buy groceries, pick up my youngest, and make dinner myself (while gulping down a beer). Life is a little saner. The food is better. We eat at 6.

And then I go back to work. When I should be doing homework with my kids or at least chilling with them on the front stoop, I’m sitting in front of the screen again. What the draw is I can’t say; I don’t have that much work. Am I trying to prove that it’s a “real” job? Or just trying to make up for the perceived under accomplishments of the day? (I went swimming and to 3 grocery stores before work.) Am I just a workaholic?

I’m not sure, but what I do know is: I may have switched my “face time” around but it’s still clocking in the same. The good news? I’m more likely to make pancakes (and we actually have the ingredients).

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Black jeans

It's a good thing I forgot my ID.

This morning I was off to a meeting with a potential client and realized he had mentioned bringing an ID to get into his building, which I didn’t have. Now that I’m not dragging my massive carry-all to work everyday I never have my wallet with me anymore (just some cash and a credit card). I ran home and, while there, happened to catch sight of myself in a mirror.

Even when I was working at an office I often left home without looking at myself. I threw on sunglasses dropped the kids at school and put myself together in the office bathroom. I’ve always been a dirty t-shirt weekend dresser but I made up for it at work. Believe it or not, just a year ago I was thought of as pretty stylish. To the point that, on the rare day I wore flats, folks were astonished at how short I really am without giant heels on.

So, flash forward to today. Six months of working at home and I am incapable of wearing anything but Converse and the SAME PAIR of black jeans. My hair is GREASY. I’m one of probably 10 women in Manhattan who hasn’t gone for that first Spring pedicure (why bother when you wear Converse?).

I know I just wrote about selling my work clothes but I still have a lot of nice stuff. Somehow it seems too daunting to put something “real” on. Now that I have more time you’d think I’d pluck my eyebrows and play with clothes I couldn’t get away with at the office yet I can barely wash my face. What is it about my new situation that makes me want to give up on maintenance? (My house is a mess too, BTW.)

I’m afraid I’ve lost my “edge.” Ironically, this was a big fear before my first child came into the picture. I saw myself wearing polar fleece and mom jeans as if they were a organic part of parenting. The fear was so sreal that I started wearing the giant heels in the pre Roma months—sort of a preemptive strike against dowdyness. I wouldn’t call myself dowdy today—Can one really be dowdy a NYC resident? I think there is an ejector button that eliminates all who fall that low.)—just a bit dirty and unmade (like a bed).

In case you’re wondering, I did manage to throw on a better shirt and some mascara on for the meeting. I did however forget the ID (again).

Monday, April 5, 2010


Last Saturday I held one of my semi-annual stoop sales. My friend Claire, my tenant Nanci and I are famous for our sales—we have repeat customers, sell good stuff and make good money. The difference this year was that I sold a lot my nice work clothes. I didn’t realize what was going on at the time—I just wistfully watched as some of my favorite skirts dresses and shoes (marc jacobs!) marched off with new owners while I pocketed a fraction of what the stuff had originally cost.

It was today that I realized what I had done: I had committed myself to this business. The fact is, I love clothes and one of my favorite aspects of going to the office was getting dressed for it. I’m also a collector of clothes (part of the fun of dressing up is the whole mix and match bit and you need a lot of options, right?) so parting with many perfectly fine pieces for $10 or $20 each didn’t make any sense. Generally I sell clothes that don’t flatter or fit me but Saturday I parted with items that did. I just cleaned out.

I read something recently about starting your own business. It said that to be successful you must totally invest yourself: get the business cards, do the web site, stop sending your resume out for jobs, etc. I don’t have business cards yet and as of this writing my site isn’t up but I think I made my own mental committment this week.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

my first entry

When I was laid off in October, I thought about starting a blog called “unemployed mom.” It was a bit of a joke: all moms know that motherhood is a job for life. You’re just not paid in money. Needless to say I never got that blog going. I soon found out that my experiences were far from unique—I wasn’t the only mom who spent her first days of unemployment maniacally scrubbing the bathroom grout with a toothbrush or felt guilty that she didn’t want to pick up her kids after school. Oh.

I suppose that’s my problem with blogging in general and momblogs in particular. I’m afraid someone has already said what I’m saying. And much more eloquently, with wit and without typos. Ok, but I did spend the last 6 years working in the mom sphere at the Parenting Group, creating images that never felt redundant or (someone else has) “been there, done that.” I have a unique and honest visual voice on the subject parenting. Hence, this business venture—iknowmoms.

What I hope to capture in this blog are small musings of a “career-big-paycheck mom turned work-from-home-small-business mom”—both visual and in words. But as with anything parenting-related, best not get too ahead of myself lest I get bit in the ass. At the very least, I’ll keep you up to date on the new business and hopefully post some visual inspiration on the subject of momdom. Please pardon the typos.