I’m Cheating on My Husband (Honey, Don’t Read This)

Well… paybacks are hell;
And I deserve to suffer;
But it’s so worth it.
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He is traveling… My mind wanders. A sly smile crosses my face as I picture possibilities.

What to do, what to do…

And like Phineas, a voice in my head shouts: “Maureen, I know what we’re going to do today! Make pancakes for dinner so the kids will like you more than dad.”

And with that, I cheat on Frank. I use his “out of town-ness” as a means to ingratiate myself to the children. Pancakes for dinner are just the start. There’s an indoor picnic (my 21st Century name for eating on the floor in front of the TV). There’s dessert and skipping brushing teeth. There a 3D movie in my bed, lights off, just like the movies.  There’s staying up just a little extra and no book reading.

I am evil. Bwah hah hah. Any chance I get to establish myself as the cool mommy, I take it. Even if it means cheating on Frank and doing with the kids something I would normally discourage in an otherwise normal school night.  You see, I don’t volunteer in the classroom; it’s taken me the whole year to schedule a “reading” session with my son’s class; the babysitter makes a better sandwich than I do and I’m pretty sure the girl scout troop is scared of me. So I’m going to take any advantage I can.

Mind you, I’m not good at hiding my cheating ways. Thirty seconds after this posts, his email will tweedle its arrival. He will read it (at least he claims he does), so I do this with full knowledge that he is now fully aware and I’m stone cold busted.

But he’s traveling right now and can’t do a damn thing about it.   Heh heh heh…

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Let the Babysitter Fold Your Underwear

Desperation wins
And ego takes a back seat.
Pride mellows when gulped.
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A few months ago, my stay-at-home husband returned to the workforce after 8 years. It was a planned event – timed to when our boy started full-time kindergarten. It required us to decide between after-school care or an in-house babysitter for the hours between 3:30 and 6, and we chose a sitter. (Plug here for Care.Com – that’s how I found our sitter; site was very easy to use and they offer loads of support.)

One reason I loved the idea of a sitter was that she would be able to take up some of the house-chore burden, namely laundry and some light cleaning. We have someone coming weekly to clean the house, but I want to make it every other week with our sitter filling in the gap. And the laundry is self-evident — this family of four seems to wear 6 or 7 outfits a day and it piles up.

Here’s the deal: I haven’t been able to ask her to do the cleaning or laundry yet. On the cleaning side, I really haven’t figured out what I want her to do versus the cleaner – just haven’t taken the time to map it out. On the laundry side, it is pure embarrassment: I don’t want her to see my underwear.

For starters, I’m not svelte. Further,  I don’t chose to spend my money on underwear that matches my bras. I have plain old cotton panties in a variety of fruit based colors, and some are so old they would horrify my mom if she saw them (‘what if you get hit by a car and have to go to the hospital?!?’). But this past week our sitter spent the day with our mildly ill daughter, and I asked her if while she was at home she would do some laundry. We had a bunch, I was leaving town in a few days and I figured they were housebound any way. So I took a gulp of my pride and showed her how to work the machine.

When I returned 8 hours later every single bit of clothing was clean. All of it. Folded or hung up.  The baskets empty, the floor visible. I felt like the cobbler the morning after the elves visited. Somewhere, angels sang while violin music gently crescendo’d.

Yep, I am sooooo over the underwear thing.  I might never be able to look her in the eye again, but it is a small price to pay for the lightness it brings.

Making Choices – My 5 Roles

Embrace the choices:
They map your way forward and
Soothe the looks backward.

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I learned something a few years ago from an executive at my company that has helped me with my work/life balance. He (yes, it was a he) hypothesized that each of us can reasonably have 5 roles in life that we are committed to. A role is something like wife or mother or tennis player or gardener.  If we decide to take on more than 5 roles, and want to fully commit to those roles (meaning we want to do them well), then he claimed something or someone will suffer.

I’ve been experimenting with this concept for a few years now and I think he is right.  Once I started thinking in these terms, I quit beating myself up for not “doing/having it all,” a self doubt-a-thon that I think many working moms engage in.  Instead, I decided that “having it all” was as simple as focusing on these 5 roles such that I was doing them well. Not perfectly, not full on all the time, but in a consistent way, with focus.  If I am able to do that, then I count myself successful, consider myself living the dream, and cut myself some slack on the things I’m not doing.  How powerful would it be if we could all see 5 reasonably well-executed roles as cause for celebration.

That isn’t to say that this is easy. Take a look at my current list of 5 roles.

  1. Wife (this is purposefully first, because it is too easy to make it last; I still struggle to give him as much time as I’d like)
  2. Mother (there may be a time when I won’t need to have this on the list, but not for a long time…)
  3. Employee (another “not really a choice” choice for our family, but still, have to acknowledge it is a role and it takes time)
  4. Healthy person (writing it down gives me permission to choose a work-out over coming home early)
  5. Writer/Blogger (new this year, yeah! Finally made it to the top 5)

These may seem obvious choices, to you, but to help dimensionalize how hard it is to pick the top 5, let’s list some of the things that didn’t make my list.

Daughter. Gasp! Really!?!? How can I do that? First, it doesn’t mean I don’t call my parents. It just means than I don’t focus time and attention on cultivating that role. Time and attention would probably mean more trips South to see them; a regularly scheduled phone call; more emails; home-made videos of the kids, etc. But I haven’t made this choice. So we talk about every 2 weeks while I’m driving home from work or on a random weekend when I get a moment. There may come a time in the future when their health drives “daughter” right back on the list, but I’ll clearly know it can’t be an incremental role, something will have to go.

Housekeeper.  If you ever visit me you will find dust. And likely a floor that needs to be swept assuming you can find it under the toys. If you are lucky enough to see upstairs, then you’ll see unmade beds and likely a dirty sock on the floor. Get over it. It isn’t a priority – I don’t put money or more than minimal time against this role. We don’t live in squalor (don’t worry, the kitchen and bathrooms are quite clean, the clothes are washed – even I have standards), and I do clean the house on a regular-ish basis, but I’m sure there are those out there who would frown if they visited.

House rehabber. This was a role last year (when writer wasn’t on the list). That’s because last year was our first full year in this amazing 86-year-old house which requires a lot of time and attention (not to mention money). Last year we focused on the house. This year, we don’t need to as much.

Sister.  Just like my daughter role, I don’t make this a priority.

Friend. There is an amazing women’s group that I get together with once a month. But I don’t have “girl friend” time the rest of the month for the most part.  Facebook keeps us connected, but I don’t foster the relationships like I see other people do.  I work with people I consider friends, and I like the moms of kids at school, so the itch gets scratched in those ways, but that’s it.  Sometimes I miss this…

Are there drawbacks to these choices? Sure there are. If it were painless, then it probably wouldn’t really be a choice.   But what keeps me committed to this concept is this:  when I think about how (even more) stretched I’d be if I also tried to put effort against more than 5, I realize none would be done well, and that is something I’m not willing to sacrifice.

Do I do some things outside of my roles? Of course, but I recognize that they will get less investment and thus lower returns. Or, I rethink my definition of it. For instance,  I’m a girl scout troop leader. Is that a new role or a “mother” role? I did it at my daughter’s request, so frankly I think of it as something special we do together – mother role, check.   I also keep a garden in the summer – is that another role? If you saw my garden you would agree it was NOT a focus area for me. Instead, I get the kids involved (harvesting carrots this year was a riot) or I treat it as exercise (healthy person role).  Again, you might see this as cheating, but I approach it holistically and it makes it easier. This doesn’t need to be any harder than it already is.

Lastly, you might ask “where are you on the list”? Healthy person – that is broadly defined to cover all the things I do to take care of my mental and physical health. Sleep in when I can, no work in the evenings when possible, Pilates class, etc.  Make sure you have you on your list too.

We’re a team (or one of many reasons I love my husband)

There’s no better spouse
Than he who sacrifices
His sleep for his wife’s

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In 2005 my husband became a (mostly) full-time stay at home dad. There were some very tough times (for me at least) as I adjusted to this, which are the subject of a separate posting. Today, I want to talk about a moment where my affection for my husband spilled from me and I truly came to appreciate what we were doing as parents and partners.

I was at work, and got a call that I needed to have a senior executive I worked with video-taped for a big meeting. I needed to write the script, find a quiet location, tape him and get it sent off by noon (I think it was 10am). I didn’t have a camera, a script, nothing (this was 4 years ago, before every handheld device was a decent video camera).

So I called my husband… the man who has every electronic device. 

“Help! I’m sorry to bother you, but I really need your help!!” I said frantically. “I know you have a ton of things to do today, but I really need you to bring our video camera to work – make sure there is a fresh tape – I have to do a video of Mr. X in the next 90 minutes. Really, I’m sorry to bother you, I’m sure you have a lot you need to do, but I don’t know what to do!?!”  My voice petered off, sheepishly.

Frank simply said  “Honey, don’t worry. We’re a team. I’ll be right there.”

I didn’t know what to say. I was stunned. The phrase “we’re a team” was one I don’t think I’d heard him say before, and at that moment it was the most perfect thing he could have said.  It meant we were in this together, that he had my back, that he supported me regardless, that I needn’t feel guilty about interrupting his plans for the day, that together we would sort this out. And vice versa.

Here I was worried that I was somehow throwing off his day – worse, being a nuisance — and he settled once and for all that what we did, we did together, for the betterment of both.

To this day, 4 years later, that continues to be a defining moment for me as the single breadwinner of this family. The humanity in that phrase, spoken by a man who was still exploring what it meant to be a stay at home dad, overwhelmed me.

I recalled this moment while watching the move Secretariat. The main character, Peggy, was a housewife who found herself a racehorse owner, trying to evolve herself into a working woman while maintaining a family, often half a country away. There is a heart breaking scene where she is in a hotel room, her flight having been canceled, listening to her eldest daughter perform in a play over the phone.  She lies down on the bed, her hand over her mouth, weeping while she listens. I’ve been there – it was painful to watch. The difference is in that movie, her husband was a jerk about her success as working woman until the last 15 minutes of the movie, whereas my husband has never once been anything less than supportive of my path.

I am grateful to him and for him. I think he is a special breed of man, and more are out there. I couldn’t do what I do without him.  Do working dads out there, whose wives stay at home, feel the same way about their partners?  Do the wives see themselves as part of a team? I don’t know. I sure hope so.

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