Thursday, November 20, 2014

To Freeze or Not to Freeze: Eggs and Fallen Dominoes


As you may have heard, Facebook and Apple announced last week that they are offering a new benefit for female employees: egg freezing. The benefit was met with a heated debate, as expected for any topic involving the female reproductive system. Though companies have now been blamed for forcing us to delay childbirth, egg freezing is a benefit, offered as a choice, and I personally support it.

Have you ever made a choice without realizing that a set of unseen domino pieces would fall, one after one, after your choice? I have, and I have felt like a total idiot wishing that someone would have explained that A leads to B and C and D. Egg freezing is one of those choices. We are misinformed about what "freezing our eggs" really means and my goal is to help us see some of the hidden domino pieces that fall after that decision. What is involved in freezing our eggs? What may be some good reasons to freeze our eggs? What are the trade-offs of the choice?

Let's talk egg freezing. Two short words for a rather long and invasive procedure in which a woman takes synthetic hormones that induce the production of not one egg, as generally occurs during the monthly cycle, but many, many eggs for the purpose of retrieval and freezing. I think it is important to understand the step-by-step here:

• Step 1: For one week prior to the scheduled retrieval, you will inject your own butt with FSH (follicle stimulation hormone), a synthetic hormone that will signal your ovaries to produce many eggs. FSH's common side effects are irritability and weight gain 
• Step 2: You will comply with ovarian monitoring, as in five to seven visits to a doctor's office for blood tests and ultrasound exams 
• Step 3: Once your doctor deems the eggs "ready," a late-night shot is necessary about 1.5 days before the retrieval
• Step 4: On the day of egg retrieval, you will receive mild sedation and anesthesia before the doctor retrieves your bounty of eggs
• Step 5: After the eggs are removed from the body, they are brought to the clinical laboratory where they are initially evaluated for health and then frozen
• Step 6: Over the week following the egg retrieval, you are to plan to recover from having your ovaries hyper-stimulated and you are to expect some additional abdominal bloating and discomfort.

So what may be some rational and good reasons to put yourself through this?
1.  You have not yet found a good sperm source. Some of us don't meet Mr. Right, or Mr. Half-Right, or Mr. Good-Enough-for-Now when our fertility is at our peak. Some of us don't meet that Miss Fine, who will want to build a family with the help of some sperm-bank acquired swimmers, until way after the ticking of our biological clocks begins to slow. And yet, we would like to preserve the chronological time of our eggs, so that when Mr. Right or Ms. Fine appears, we have an egg that is younger than we are. Being uncoupled is a good reason to freeze eggs.

2.  Your career is going really well, and you don't want a temporary interruption. Maybe you are at a growing company with stock options up the wazoo and this is your chance to build your and your future family's financial base; or maybe you are just this close to your next promotion. Now, note that children do not derail careers, and that the vast majority of women executives are married with children. But being pregnant and caring for an infant is a significant undertaking that automatically prioritizes itself, and thus you choose to attempt to find a better time when you can be more present so that the mere breathing of your baby in his or her crib can be the transcending experience nature intended.

3.  You don't feel ready to be a mother, or you don't know if you want to be one, but time is doing what it knows how to do. Then, find yourself. Challenge society's expectations of you. And if after all that you decide you would like to be a mother, then your frozen eggs give you the option to use the eggs of your younger, unfound, self.
Some women that freeze their eggs may think that they have just bought the ultimate insurance policy to birth a child whenever they decide. Dear, life doesn't work like that. Here are the dominoes that fall...

1.  When ready for pregnancy, you will need to use assisted reproduction technologyPractically speaking, the egg will be thawed and fertilized outside of your body with the sperm of your choice, then put back into your body. This is referred to as In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) and it is at least twice as expensive as freezing eggs. Romantically speaking, if you were clinging to that image of conceiving a child in passionate-hot-sweaty and/or tender-sweet-unifying lovemaking, then maybe you can begin to see the romance that practically seeps out of those stirrups at the doctor's office.

2.  Assisted reproduction technology success rates are lower than you may think. Each year the Center for Disease Control publishes the IVF success rates for the nation and by IVF clinic. The results for the 2012, which is the latest year analyzed, show that at a national level the percent of IVF cycles resulting in a live birth are not very high (read line "Percentage of cycles resulting in live births"): 31.3 percent for the younger set of women aged 35-37, 22.2 percent for women aged 38-40, 11.7 percent for women aged 41-42, 4.5 percent for women 43-44 and and as low as 1.8 percent for women older than 44 (full report available at CDC). Please take a moment to read these odds again.

3.  When ready for pregnancy, your egg will be younger but your body will not. Pregnancy basically takes over your body affecting your cardiovascular, digestive and immune systems. The home the fetus will live in for his or her nine formative months is, well...older.

4.  Unless you are currently coupled, you are making this decision on behalf of your partner-to-be, too. By freezing your eggs you are locking in your partner to proceed with assisted reproduction and its financial commitments. As it may be the only real choice for you, hopefully your partner will handle this choice with grace, support and a good sign on bonus.

As women, we pressurize our lives to deliver it all, NOW. We want a partner, and we want kids and we want a career and we want a hobby and we want it all NOW! Or, on the other hand, we give up on a career to have kids, or we give up on having kids to have a career, therefore putting a piece of ourselves in hibernation or in the grave.

May I offer another view? Careers are only as all-consuming as we pressure ourselves to make them, and most of us can count with at least four decades in which to advance our careers. Creating life, nurturing a child and helping your son or daughter learn to navigate through humanity is more transcendental, awe-inspiring and fulfilling than any mommy blogger can articulate; but our fertility is limited in time.

Being a working mother is possible. It is even good. Yes, there is a lot more that our nation and companies can do to support working mothers (equal pay, childcare and flexibility), but do you think that progress will happen without working mothers actually working? It won't. Because someone has to be there to tip the domino that makes working motherhood even better.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Official Report to the Intergalactic Council: Women in Corporate America



Landed. The crossing into the Earth's atmosphere wasn't nearly as bad as my fellow Ovas at Planet Sense explained. Of course, it helped that I calibrated my cognitive matter to process the 10-day journey and absorb the shock without severe consequences to my bodily mass. 

Planet Sense appointed me as Commander General of one of the most important missions of our generation: Bring Gender Sense to Corporate America


At first I was reluctant to take on the journey to Planet Earth, as it seems set on self-destruction, as evidenced by its unexplained violence among and discrimination of several of its inhabitants. But I was finally convinced by Brigadier Madame Fairness who explained to me the significance behind this mission, and I remain true to the mission.


The official report to the Intergalactic Council on missions of this importance requires me, Commander General, to report on two areas: to
 describe the astonishing facts that Don't Make Sense, and to provide evidence-based, viable and constructive solutions. The complete obliteration of Planet Earth isn't an option. Yet.

I hereby provide this report.




Astonishing Gender Facts in Corporate America That Don't Make Sense


1. Corporations Are Run Exclusively by Men, Despite The Availability of Qualified Women. Makes No Sense. 
Men hire men. Men train men. Men promote men. In all my missions throughout the universe, I have never come across a more discriminatory pattern of staffing or retention. Qualified women exist. Women perform better in the educational system and exit with higher graduation rates than men. But they aren't hired, or promoted or retained at the same rates as men. 

2. Corporations Pay Women Less Than Men for the Same Job. Makes No Sense.

The Intergalactic Treaty on Fairness is violated on a daily basis in Corporate America. Pay on this planet depends on gender. Women are penalized for being women, and for their ability to bring new life to this planet. While the rest of the Galaxy idolizes a woman able to bring new life while continuing to contribute to the universe, in this planet working mothers are not even supported.

3. Corporations Are Not Held Accountable for Fairness to Women. Makes No Sense.

Corporations aren't yet legally required to be fair. There are no consequences for paying women less or promoting them less often. Pay secrecy allows corporation to differentiate pay due to any factor. 

4. The Majority of Affected Women Stay Quiet for Fear of Losing Their Jobs. Makes No Sense.

Women stay silent. They feel they lack influence to ask for fairness. On the other extreme, a handful have used the country's convoluted legal system to sue against discrimination, yielding the plaintiff unsuitable for a future job in the system. 

Evidence-based, viable and constructive solutions to Bring Gender Sense to Corporate America

For Corporate America

1. Women make businesses better

Women bring skills, perspective and results that diversify and improve companies. Since this planet seems to run on money, here is some money to serve as evidence:
2. Beings are entitled to fairness in hiring, in pay, and in promotions
Even if the law isn't there yet, fair, good companies should annually review pay by grade by gender and correct historical and current discrepancies immediately. The legal system should be updated to include discrimination in hiring, pay or promotions as outright illegal. 

3. Executive leadership skills do not depend on gender

Planet Earth wears thick blinders compared to the rest of the Galaxy, where it is absolutely clear being a woman does not instantly remove the being's ability to work and lead. Evidence within Earth exists as well, in these examples of women leaders. Pretty good proof that having ovaries does not preclude leadership and impact. 

For Women

1. Ask Corporate America for Fairness

Ask for equal pay and career development. Ask. Don't sit in the back. Don't be quiet. Be a leader, and ask. 

2. Don't reward discriminatory companies with your presence, your career or your life

As there is variability in the practices in Corporate America, if a company isn't paying or promoting you fairly, or appreciating your skills, leave. Find another one that values you fairly or comes closer to it. 

3. Prove to Corporate America that Women Can Be Trusted As Executives

Yes, lean in, and sit at the table, and do an outstanding job. Make yourself so valuable to your company that it would be considered an atrocity if you left or were treated unfairly. 

For Men


These Women Are Your Family.
It seems to go unnoticed in Corporate America that those that it discriminates against are actually the mother, sister, wife or daughter of the person enacting the discrimination. Don't do that. The path you provide for any woman opens the trail for your own of the female gender. 



Conclusion & Next Steps

I conclude my report by noting that throughout Mission: Bring Gender Sense to Corporate America, I had to overcome the continuous urge to abort it as it seemed too dire and unfair. It is exactly for this reason that I persevered to complete the report in the hopes that fairness is instituted in the immediate future. Fairness makes sense. 

To complete this mission,I will be returning to Planet Earth in a time frame equal to one year, at which time the Intergalactic Council expects real progress towards Fairness in the form of legal, corporate and cultural changes.

If progress toward Fairness isn't achieved, the Intergalactic Council, under The Universal Code of Rights, would begin the complete and irreversible recycling of all of Planet Earth's energetic matter, for violation of Code 001.1: Fairness to All

Friday, June 6, 2014

HELP WANTED: The REAL Working Parents' Guide to Childcare Options



Working Parents. We are the ones constantly trying to strike that fine balance between family, our careers and our other interests. We are the ones that understand that true love and comfort cannot be outsourced to anyone. We are the ones that serve as hardworking role modes for our children day in and day out. And we are also the ones that know that WE NEED HELP; we need reliable, trustworthy, amazing help, in order to pull it all off.

This guide is about the many available options for childcare, and it is based primarily on my ten years of experience personally navigating these waters, and secondarily, on the experiences of my friends and colleagues.

By the time you read this guide, I am assuming that you have decided to have a career and you understand how the right childcare can be the best investment you make, But if that isn't the case, read this.

I write this guide in the hopes that it helps guide the best decision on how to support your family as it grows, and hopefully avoid some bumps in the road.

This process of choosing your help has 3 steps:
Step 1. Assess your family's needs
Step 2. Research your options
Step 3. Evaluate and adjust

Let's get into it...

Step 1: Assess Your Family's Needs 

As with most matters in life, it helps to know what your family needs or wants.  Please notice that I am asking you to assess your family's needs and this isn't just your children, this includes YOU, and your partner if you have one.

Here are a few key questions that may help with this step:

- Which days and times do you need help?
- What would you like help with? Childcare, cooking, laundry, cleaning, household management?
- Would you like this person to live with you? Does your housing accommodate for this?
- How much can you spend? Is it likely to increase or decrease over time?
- What kind of person would you like to have around? Age, gender, years of experience, personality type?
- What skills should they possess? CPR, Driver's License, Language, etc.?
- What preconceived notions may you need to discard in order to succeed as a working parent?

Step 2: Research your Options

Here are the great news! There are plenty of options and many working parents have been doing this for decades! You aren't alone and you aren't the first. Thus, seek out information to find the right fit for your family.

The options generally break down into two categories:

1. Hire an individual, or a set of individuals, who works for your family with your house as home base - These options include doulas, live-in nannies, live-out nanny, Au Pairs, parent helpers and hourly babysitters
2. Register your child at a center - These options include childcare centers, developmental preschools, and family daycare centers

Let's get into each one of these, and before we do so please note that I am generalizing honest opinions. Your opinion or experience may differ. And that is OK! Because at the end of the day what matters is that whatever you choose works for your family and supports its growth.

Also, costs differ dramatically across the United States, and I provide the most expensive ranges here based on living in or near a big city. If you like an option, do not be discouraged by cost until you research that option locally. Also, I encourage all parents to join your local parents' club. Not only do these clubs offer a ton of support and information, but many have local online boards where you can see other parents sharing their previous or current help, and you may also post your ads. Finally, I have organized these in order of most intense to least intense care.

Here we go....

The Doula
Best for: Short term, intensive help during the newborn period. Especially useful for first-time parents learning how to care for their babies
How to find: a) Online search. Many doulas have websites. b) Asking parents in your parent club
Pay: $$$$$Pay of about $40/hour.
Benefits:
  • Doulas can train parents in the care of a newborn, and can help your baby get on a feeding and sleeping schedule
  • They can work the night shift
Possible Issues: 
  • The high cost generally makes this option ony viable for the first few weeks of the infant's life. 

The Live-In Nanny
Best for: Long-term help with infants, toddlers and children, including other domestic duties.
How to find: Place an ad on craigslist or your local parenting board. Then screen applicants by phone, followed by in person interviews, with reference and background checks. There are alos agencies that specialize in finding nannies and charge a helfty fee (average $4,000).
Pay: $$$$Weekly payment of $400-800 depending on experience and responsibilities. Additionally, free room and board. Possibly, use of your vehicle, unless the person provides own.

Benefits:
  • Person dedicated to the care of your family and running of your household
  • May become a pseudo family member, like a 3rd parent or grandparent, and certainly is a "3rd adult" in the house
  • Most flexibility in terms of hours. You may hire to work certain nights, weekends, or to cover school's half-days or days off
  • If things go well, great stability for your family. Many live-in nannies stay with families for multiple years
  • General expecation to perform duties beyond childcare such as loading/unloading dishwasher, cooking, light cleaning, laundry. This is dependent on what you negotiate ahead of time. 
  • May be open to housesit during family vacations
  • May be open to attend family vacations if her help is needed
  • Possible exposure to another culture or language if you hire a biligual person
Possible Issues:
  • Requirement for own bedroom and furniture. Bathroom may be shared
  • Cost is high, and weekly payment is expected whether she worked a full week or not. In other words, unless you negotiate otherwise, live-in nannies still get paid when the family is on vacation
Other notes: 
  • I have preferred mature individuals with previous and personal experience with childcare and the running of a household
  • It is best to start out with a more defined set of responsiblities and then ease back if not needed, than the reverse
  • Also, it is important to have some way to communicate about the needs for each day. I have a number of Excel spreadheets I have used over the years to help our nanny and us be literaly on the same page about the events of the day and week
  • As your children grow, you may need less hours from a live-in nanny. An option is to share her with another family who has a newborn and requires hours while your children are in school
  • For tax treatment of household employees, please refer to this tax topic at irs.gov

The Live Out Nanny
Best for: Consistent and ongoing childcare and domestic help
How to find: Place an ad on craigslist or your local parenting board. Then screen applicants by phone, followed by in person interviews, with reference and background checks. There are alos agencies that specialize in finding nannies and charge a helfty fee (average $4,000).
Pay: $$$$. You may negotiate pay per week or per hour. Weekly payment of $400-800 depending on experience and responsibilities.
Benefits:
  • Person dedicated to the care of your family and running of your household. This is the person's main job
  • Possible flexibility in terms of hours. You may hire to work certain nights, weekends, or to cover school's half-days or days off
  • If things go well, great stability for your family 
  • General expecation to perform duties beyond childcare such as loading/unloading dishwasher, cooking, light cleaning, laundry. This is dependent on what you negotiate ahead of time
Possible Issues:
  • Cost is high
  • You may consider sharing a nanny with another family in which case you should discuss venue, pay, sick days for one child but not the other, etc. 

The Au Pair
Best for: Less than 40 hours per week help with childcare only for a live-in situation.
How to find: CulturalCare.com; AuPairinAmerica.com
Pay: $$$. About $360/week. The Au Pair ageny pockets half of the money and the Au Pair herself receives the other half.
Benefits:
  • Flexibility in terms of hours and a 3rd "adult" in the house. You may hire to work certain nights, weekends, or to cover school's half-days or days off
  • May be open to housesit during family vacations
  • May be open to attend family vacations if her help is needed
  • Exposure to another culture or language
Possible Issues:
  • Au Pairs' student visas allow them to stay for 1 year, with a possiblity to extend to 2 years. This may amount to too much change for your family or may be appreciated. For many, it feels that as the family gets comfortable with the AuPair, it is time for her to leave
  • Au Pairs are young (ages 18-26) and may not be very experienced in childcare or with their driving
  • Au Pairs do not generally help with domestic responsbilies beyond chidcare and meal preparation for the children. (I have found myself teaching an Au Pair how to boil pasta. Seriously.)Some Au Pairs may be open and able to cook meals for the family, but many are not 
  • Taking care of the children can seem secondary compared to the excitement of getting to see the US and the social habits of a young person
  • Au Pairs are brand new to the country. They have a lot of adjustments to make, learning the language and learning to navigate your neighborhood and the country in general.
  • They are required to take classes and attend several meetings organized by the sponsoring agency

The Hourly Babysitter
Best for: Ocassional childcare, such as date night or afternoons.
How to find? Lots of online options such as UrbanSitter or Care.com. Also, neighboring high school students or day care workers. Word of mouth.
Pay: $$$. $15-20/hour, in most large cities for up to 2 children.
Benefits:
  • Pay only for hours worked
Possible Issues:
  • The job is generally a second priority, as they are student or working elsewhere on a fulltime basis
  • Difficult to stick to the same person for a very long time. Since this is a side job, I find that sitters either graduate, or move away or something changes. 

The Mother's Helper, updated to The Parent's Helper
Best for: Another set of hands to help with child or domestic tasks while parent is at home
How to find: Mother's helpers, as traditionally called, maybe high-school students in your neighborhood, or perhaps another mom with some free time.
Pay: $. $5-10/hour, in most large cities.
Benefits:
  • Pay only for hours worked
  • Can help with domestic and childcare responsibilties
Possible Issues:
  • If your helper is under age, sn adult must be present to supervise

Family Day Care Center
Best for: Infants and toddlers of families who prefer out of home care but still in a homey environment
How to find: Craigslist and word of mouth
Pay: $$. $8-15/hour

Benefits:
  • Predictable schedule in a more homey enviroment. Generally these services are offered in a person's home by someone who has obtained a license to care for several children at once
  • Social contact with other children of various pre-school ages
  • Likely a milew of fun activities, like outside time and arts and crafts
Possible Issues:
  • Sick kids must stay home, of course. Thus, you must arrange for either parent to take a sick day. Though you may think your child may get sicker at a center, please trust that children must get sick several times a year in order to properly develop their immune systems. Thus, they will get sick. It is ok if they get sick. It is just that you need to be able to have a good backup. I am a big fan of a parent taking a sick days. I feel if the child is sick, moms or dads are best at comforting and caring for that sick child and it also teaches the family that we take a day (or days) to repair and heal our family

Childcare Center
Best for: Children 2 and older, and possibly younger for highest-quality centers.
How to find: Google around your local area and ask other parents for recommendations on best ones in your area.
Tuition: $$$. Avg of $10,000 per year, depending of length of day and center
Benefits:
  • Predictable schedules
  • Social contact with other children
  • Likely a milew of fun activities, like outside time and arts and crafts
Possible Issues:
  • Sick kids must stay home, of course. See above for comment on sick days. 
  • Quality is important here. Please use your parental intuition. If the place looks dirty to you, it probably is. If the place looks like kids are treated like animals, they probably are. This is a great place to be picky. 

Developmental Pre-School
Best for: Children 2 and older
How to find: Google around your local area and ask other parents for recommendations on best ones in your area.
Tuition: $$$$. $13,000 - 20,000 / year depending on length of day

Benefits:
  • Predictable schedules
  • Social contact with other children
  • The great ones offer a community for the whole family. We still keep in touch with many of the families we met in our preschool. 
  • The great ones offer amazing activities for the children which include music, creative movement, art, drama, language, pre-literacy skills, social and emotional evaluations, and even yoga!

Possible Issues:
  • Registration generally occurs in February of the year for an August/September start, thus you must totally be on top of your game for getting those forms in in time for the more sough-after pre-schools
  • Sick kids must stay home of course. See comment above on sick days.

Step 3: Evaluate and Adjust

Alright! So now you have made your choice and have been living with it for a while. Hopeflly everyone is happy and healthy. I am a big fan of consistency so I prefer not to change things unless I have to but there are a few natural times when changes are expected to occur, and these are:

  • Once the child starts preschool - at this time your child will be out of the house for several hours. You may decide to enroll in the preschool for the entire day or still hold on to some nanny hours for the afternoons. 
  • Once the child starts elementary school - at this time your child may be in school till about 2-3pm. Once again, you may enroll your child in the school-provided after school center or have help during the afternoons. 
  • Once children have after school demands - at this time your child requires his/her own personal chauffer. Kidding, but not quite. Our family has a valuable rule: only 2 extracurricular activities per child at any given time. To add one, you drop one. Unless I am feeling like Wonder Woman, and all of a sudden I am "bendable" and "poseable!" At this time you may consider afternoon help in the form of a babysitter, forming carpools with other parents, or choosing only activities that can be accommodated within your family's schedule (weekends or after 6pm practices). 


Finally....

You are growing your family while growing your career and yourself. Do you know how amazing that is? Do you know how much meaning can come from each one and all of those areas of your life? So,
Is it possible? YES
Is it easy? NO
Are you alone? NO
Can you get help? YES
Is it amazingly fullfilling, once you have good help? YES, YES, YES

~~~~~~~
There is probably much more to say on this topic, so please send me your comments or questions to @SandraShpilberg on Twitter.
Check out my other articles at The Huffington Post

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Raising Gender Oblivious Children





To be gender oblivious means that gender plays little or no role in decisions about, or the outcome of, anything including academics, sports, profession, household chores, wage earnings, and anything associated with the pursuit of a person's reason for existing.

I am the product of a gender-oblivious upbringing. I am grateful to my hard-working parents, who, despite the fact that they may not have deliberately intended to raise me into such gender oblivion, provided regular reinforcement of the message that gender is not a determinant of abilities, preferences, professions or status.

There isn't a single factor tht contributed to my lifelong gender-oblivion, but instead, there are a number of variables that, when strewn together, communicated that a) being female was never a disadvantage, b) gender segregation was not advisable and c) success of any kind could be achieved regardless of gender. Here are those factors: 
  • Brothers - I grew up with two younger brothers. I was responsible for them a lot of the time and as it is normal for older siblings, I grew to take on a leadership role in our trio. Thus, I have been leading boys since I was 3 years old! Naturally, when the time came to lead men in the workplace, I had some previous experience, even if it came in the flavor of influencing my brothers to change their stinky socks.  While most of us don't control the gender of our children, we can certainly influence positive exposure to the opposite gender. 
  • Male Friends - During my formative years, I had several close male friends, and since I was really into my academics, I often got assigned to tutor a boy in my grade in math. I grew up without an expectation that academic performance depended on gender. Imagine that?! Genderization of play in America begins in preschool(!), when boys will only invite boys to their superhero themed birthday party and girls will only invite girls to their princess tea party. Let's stop that! 
  • Unbiased Distribution of Chores - With three kids and a job my mom needed to enlist all three of her loyal underage workers for chores around the house, and she did so without discrimination. The boys were just as likely to help with cooking, dishwashing and laundry, as I was to help sanding wood floors or refinishing kitchen cabinets. By the time each of us left the house, we had been exposed to most "traditionally female" and "traditionally male" household jobs, without particular distinction. Are we only asking girls to vacuum floors with their pink toy vacuum cleaners, while we only ask boys to fix stuff with their black and yellow toy tool sets? Let's stop that!
  • A Working Mom - In her four decades of working motherhood, my mother showed my brothers and me that women could not only earn a living, but in times of financial difficulty,  a woman could be the only reason there was food on the table. My working mom also showed us HOW to be a working mom;  she showed us that it wasn't necessarily easy and that there were moments of overwhelm and exhaustion, but that the effort was not only necessary, but worth it. 
  • An Emotionally Available Dad - My dad still is one of the best shoulders to cry on. I learned early on that men were capable of providing emotional support and being in touch with their feelings, and that these were not feminine qualities, but human qualities. When working, provider dads become barely available for the emotional care of children, we set the example that men don't have to deal with other human's feelings and that men are merely providers of money, not care. Let's stop that!
Not everything about my upbringing contributed positively to gender oblivion. Growing up in Latin America, with a somewhat hyper-sexualized image of women, I had gathered that a part of being a woman seemed to entail having significant curves, wearing fitted feminine clothes that barely covered said curves, while dancing with simultaneous grace and sensuality to the song Lambada. Although a certain feminine power comes from this view of a woman, it never ocurred to me to prioritize external beauty over the cultivation of my brain via hard work.



So, I want my son to grow up knowing he can cook a mean, spicy chicken noodle soup, and my daughter knowing she can fix the pantry door everytime it falls down. I want my children to know that excelling academically or in sports, and earning wages, does not depend on gender. I want my children to be equally comfortable fostering friendships and working relationship with both genders. I want my daughter to embrace being a girl and all the beautiful gifts of feminine energy, including childbearing, but to never be held back for being a girl. I want my son to embrace being a boy and all the powerful gifts of masculine energy, but to never be pigeonholed into being less sensitive, empathetic or caring than he truly already is.

I want my children to be completely gender-oblivious, because if they indeed are, my children would know that no opportunity in the pursuit of their personal legend is obstructed by gender, and that all doors are open for the expression of their talents, interests and passions. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

How I Lost My Meditation Virginity (Totally Suitable for Work)



Photo credit: Paige Bradley

It was December 2009. Professionally, I was in the midst of a challenging, career-defining product launch and the manager that reported to me had just quit. We were already doing the work of about four people and now there was only me. I was "leaning in" more than the Tower of Pisa. My kids were little, 2 and 6 years old, and the youngest was still waking up occasionally in the middle of the night, so the Zombie Walk had become my natural stride. My husband had his own career to nurture, along with a torn muscle that needed surgery. His arm was going to need to be immobilized in a sling for the next six weeks. Our family would be operating with three hands, while I knew we needed at least six. And, for the first time in my life, my health was deteriorating. I had bouts of vomiting and diarrhea, and while I had always referred to myself as the one with limitless energy, most days I didn't know how I would get to the middle of the day, let alone the end of the day. It felt as if everyone and everything was leaving me. And worse yet, I started to think "What is the point of all this?"



Photo credit: Brad.Coy

I didn't have the tools to stop the downward spiral of negative thoughts or to deal with what was going on in my life. By the time lunch came on this particular serendipitous work day, I bought food and then drove in the complete opposite direction of my regular commute. I just drove away. I didn't know where I was going, literally and figuratively.
A mile into my drive, the Anhubuti Meditation and Retreat Center appeared on the righthand side. I don't precisely know how these things happen, but I now do believe that life gives us the ability to find what we need, and when we are searching with our soul, the universe conspires to help us find a clue.

Photo credit: Anubhuti Center
I parked my car beneath a eucalyptus tree and I approached the small building marked "office," thinking I could pick up a calendar of events and figure out what happens at these places. A woman came out to greet me, and she had other plans for me. She told me her name was Elizabeth and that I was arriving just in time for daily lunchtime meditation. I was the only one here today and she would be happy to show me how to meditate. I could have said "No, thank you. I just wanted to know what programs you offer." In the future, you know. Not now. Now is so busy. Now is so difficult. But I knew at the core of my being that I had no choice but to accept this offer.
Elizabeth showed me to the main hall and I followed her lead as she took off her shoes and left them outside the meditation room. We sat on cushions on the floor of a small room with light yellow walls. She approached the small table at the front of the room, and lit a candle. Then she sat by my side and instructed me to focus on my breath. Focus on my breath. Okay. Trying.
But, it was difficult to focus on my breath when my mind was being tormented by the regular storm of incessant thoughts. How long will it take me to hire a new manager? But what about all the work? Will my husband be totally out of commission after his surgery? Will the kids ever sleep though the night? I am very tired right now.
After about a minute, as if Elizabeth already knew about the weather conditions in my mind, she said "When a thought comes, label it as a thought, keep your distance from it, and return to your breath." Okay. My breath. My breath. Where does my breath come from? My nose. Air enters through my nose, through my nostrils to be precise. My nostrils are taking in air. The air I need to live. Air in. Air out. Hello? I haven't thought about anything except my breath for like six seconds! Woo-hoo!
"Allow yourself to use the focus on your breath as an invitation to a calmer version of yourself," she then said. A calmer version of myself? Was there ever one? Yes, I believe so. Granted, the fibers of my being had been wound up so tight over the last decade of career, kids and life that it was hard to remember what the calmer version looked or felt like, but there was indeed a calmer version of myself, and I was going to find her.
I closed my eyes, even though Elizabeth didn't ask me to do so. I was now ready to go deeper within myself. The image of my family formed in my mind and I felt transported to a different frequency of gratitude and appreciation. Before I sat down to find my calmer self I was operating in the outer world frequency, where everything is about how much we do. And now, I was just being, Not doing, just being. When I opened my eyes the light yellow walls appeared brighter in the noon sunshine percolating through the window and I realized that the lack of calm I felt before entering this building was because my life is happening, big time, and it is abundant, with blessings of all kinds, and with obstacles that are normal and to be expected. Right? Whoa! What just happened? Was that a bit of pretty awesome perspective on my life? I think that was me letting go of the tight grip that was leaving my hand bloodless white!
After I let go of my attachment to my thoughts, each minute seemed to bring deeper calm and a stronger connection to my original being, devoid of the harsh expectations I sometimes place on myself, and others. Meditation, it turns out, was about going deep inside myself by quieting external and internal inputs, to find the calmer version, who fortunately has better perspective, appreciation and solutions for my life. Meditation is about connecting to the best part of me, my wise mind, and allowing it to expertly comfort and support the other parts that need attention or soothing.
We remained in silence for the next five minutes, and then she rang a small bell to signify the end of our practice for today. We walked out of the meditation room and put on the shoes that had not been invited to that magnificence, and Elizabeth said, "I would be happy to meet with you once a week to help you make meditation a regular practice for you." I would be happy, too. Literally. I drove back to work. All the challenges in my life were still there, of course, but I was calmer, more centered, in facing them.
The winding of my body, mind and soul into a tight hard knot happened over many years, and thus the fair expectation is about an equal amount of time to unwind them. I am on this journey now. And it is practically orgasmic.

This piece appears at: The Huffington Post

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The T Word: Work Travel and The Working Mom

I still vividly recall the time many years ago, when I found out I was going to have to spend one week, that is "like" 7 days, in Australia for business, while my daughter was 6-months old and my son was 4 years old. The traffic of thoughts in my head was heavier than airport traffic the day before Thanksgiving: how fun, I have never been to Australia, my poor husband, I need to write a list on the fridge of what will happen each day, will I get to see a kangaroo,  I should bring back some Eucalyptus oil, better make a great presentation for the general session, I should buy extra diapers for baby before I go., maybe I should call one of the grandparents and see if they can come help, should I prepack all lunches or leave a note on what to pack. On, and on, and on.


Traveling for work presents unique challenges for the working mom, but also some pretty awesome opportunities. It can be dreaded or desired, and it is definitely worthy of its own letter in the working mom alphabet as the mighty T WORD!


So, allow me to break down the challenges and opportunities of the T WORD.


Challenge: Trust our Partners
Can we let go and completely trust our partners to handle the increased load? Earlier in my career, I worried about every little detail during my absences. But later I realized that hungry kids cry or ask for food, dirty kids stink badly, and hungry/under-walked dogs bounce off walls. In addition, the refrigerator looks empty when it is indeed empty, even to a person who can’t find anything in it. Basically, life comes with its own self-timed alert mechanisms, so we do not necessarily need to remind our partners of every little thing. I try to let go, temporarily lower the expectations during the absence, and ignore the mess when I get home. It will be a mess. Or not. But I expect a mess so I only have upside.


Challenge: Miss Out A Bit
Newsflash: No one is going to check my travel/work schedule before scheduling the pre-school Mother’s Day party at 12pm on a Friday the day before such event.  That one hurt a little. My kind husband reminded me that Mother’s day was on Sunday, not Friday, that it is meant to be family time, not school time, and that he will gladly show up to the event  (in drag! Thank you, husband). He wasn’t the only father in the room. But he was the only one wearing a blonde Rapunzel wig.  


Challenge: Out of Balance
Planes, airport food, chocolate, dehydration, less sunlight, less fresh air, chocolate, missed workouts, different time zones, chocolate….these are the things that throw me off-balance. Did I mention chocolate? Chocolate is my weakness at airports. It started as a little self-soothing technique that definitely got out of control. Now, I pack a lot of my "health nut" comfort foods with me and sometimes end up discussing with TSA the physical properties of hummus and whether it should be considered a liquid or a solid.  You know what your body needs to stay in balance…plan and take those things!


Opportunity: Undivided Attention to Work
The customers, sales representatives, or colleagues I may be visiting get my undivided attention. I find that travel often offers that opportunity to provide complete undivided attention to my work. The result is usually great work that will help advance my company and products, and my career.


Opportunity: A Social Life, If Only For One Night
Come close…let me tell you a secret: When you travel for business, you don’t have to put your kids to bed and then pass out exhausted at 9pm. No. You can actually be an adult for a night and have some social time with coworkers or friends that live in that city. What a concept!  So, go out!


Opportunity: Daddy/Partner Bonding with Children
Your baby daddy/partner is doing two things while you are away: 1) he/she is super bonding with your children and 2) he/she is realizing, during your absence, how much you do and how awesome you really are. This is pretty good stuff that happens, only, when you are not there.


Opportunity: More Sleep, If Only for One Night
When my youngest was about 2 years old (great kid, bad sleeper until age 3), I felt like telling my boss: “Let me get this straight: you, dear boss, would like me to go to Los Angeles for a business meeting, where I will get a full 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep and breakfast in my room, and the company wants to pay me for this?”  What a luxury! If you have non-sleepers at home, a few nights away might do wonders for your sleep bank.


Opportunity: Bring Them Along
Maybe there is a way for your family, or part of it, to come along with you for part of the trip? If so, I have found that the best arrangement is to have one adult other than you (partner, grandparent, aunt/uncle, cousin, babysitter) fully available to take care of kids, and to avoid too much overlap with the business portion of the trip. Perhaps, arrive earlier and spend a few non-work days enjoying the destination, and then send the family home when work begins. My son and mother have gotten to go to some very interesting places this way.  


Park Guell in Barcelona, Spain
Opportunity: Time Alone
I have had some of my life’s bigger epiphanies on planes! Usually, I take out a piece of paper or a notebook and start writing what is good about my life and what needs to change. I write what I still want to do with my life. These are good times. Sometimes, the passenger next to me offers me a tissue, but I reassure him or her that these are tears of gratitude. 

Final word: BALANCE
I know that for me travel is to be sprinkled lightly.  At this point in my career and family life, I manage travel so that I can remain in balance with work and home responsibilities. Like everything else in life, travel should feed you, not drain you.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Let's talk about....TOYS?!!! for KIDS?!!!

A lot of unexpected things happened since I wrote about What Goldie Blox is Telling My Daughter, Which I Won't Let Her Hear. Perhaps, the most unexpected thing that happened is that, all of a sudden, a lot of people wanted to talk to me about TOYS, for kids(!), which is really the last thing I would choose to talk to me about.

But people want to talk to me about toys for kids, so let's talk. Parents want to know if this or that toy passes some sort of test I seemed to indadvertedly have created, and thus, I spent some time thinking about the types of toys my kids have enjoyed over the years that also provide some educational value. I better get more precise on how I assess the value of a toy in the life of my children. My criteria is as follows:
  1. Does the toy stimulate stimulate STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) exposure, concepts or related curiosity?
  2. Does the toy offer unlimited opportunities for creativity, beyond a first attempt or following instructions?
  3. Is the toy likely to be used more than twice? 
  4. Is the toy gender neutral? 
  5. Does this toy encourage teamwork?
Here are 6 top choices:

Quercetti Rails
Quercetti is an Italian manufacturer of "intelligent toys," all of which are focused on pre-engineering concepts. We own the marble run sky rail.
  • Benefits: Pre-engineering at its best, providing the opportunity to design a 3-dimensional rail for a marble. 
  • Hazards: The marble presents a choking hazard for little kids with developmentally appropriate oral fixations. 
  • Best for: ages 6+.

Little Bits
After I posted my bit about Goldie Blox, Little Bits contacted me to ask if they could send me a kit so that my daughter and I could play with it. Sure. In my opinion, Little Bits should eat Goldie Blox's lunch Bit by Bit.
  • Benefits: Great exposure to electrical circuits with bits that are color-coded, labeled, and magnetized to click onto each other. The manual provides several opportunities to build all sorts of things. Our favorites were the personal fan and the noise detector. I also like the set's suggestion to combine these bits with other toys or household items for truly unlimited opportunities.  
  • Hazards: The box notes that the kits contains magnets, which if swallowed, can cause severe intestinal damage. But from handling the Bits, in my opinion, the pieces are large enough to make swallowing them unlikely. Unless you gave birth to a gorilla. 
  • Best for: Age 5+. 
Little Bits

Sudoku
The numbers game that appears on the back of the newspaper, in a simplified version, is a great start to number awareness and logical thinking.
  • Benefits: Number awareness and logic.
  • Hazards: Lifetime addiction to this pastime, like yours truly.
  • Best for: Age 5+. Start with Think Fun Sudoku Junior which reduces the number array to 4 by 4. Then move on to paper-based regular Sudoku 9 by 9 arrays.

LEGO
Despite my cursing the LEGO company every time I step on one of those pieces with bare feet in the middle of the night, our family is a huge fan of LEGOs. There are always two routes with LEGOs: 1) follow instructions or 2) build your own.
  • Benefits: Following visual instructions, organization, building, spatial awareness, unlimited options. The benefits grow with age and the product line up expands in difficulty all the way to programming robots. 
  • Hazards: Choking, losing pieces, stepping on pieces, and long-term storage. 
  • I have one bit of beef with LEGO in that I don't like their super pink & purple Friends line targeted at girls. I don't buy those sets. I also don't like that their mini figures series generally have 11 male figures and 1 token female figure. My children and I decided this should be changed to 6 male and 6 female figures. 
  • Best for: As signed on each box.
LEGO creations without instructions

A Microscope
To capture that look of awe when a child discovers that you can look into a drop of honey and see so much more than you thought you ever could!
  • Benefits: Exposure to chemistry and natural sciences. Encourage mixing substances. 
  • Hazards: We place elements onto glass slides, which may break and/or cut the user.
  • Best for: 5+

A Big Cardboard Box
When Little Bits arrived at my house, I actually interrupted child's play...see, my kids were having fun playing with a rather large Macy's cardboard box, because Mami did a little online shopping, you know?
  • Benefits: Unlimited creativity, teamwork, building opportunities.
  • Hazards: Online shopping.
  • Best for: any age.

These toys pass the test, and there are many other amazing toys out there. Have fun with your little ones!