Category: Working Mama

The only mother I can be

‘It is not what I do; it is who I am.’

Some self-motivational chap somewhere on the Internet whose quote – despite my skeptical dispositions – I cannot seem to shake off.

As most of you know, I have changed careers more than Kanye West said he loved himself. I think I can claim that I was always good enough at what I was doing and probably nobody would disagree with it. But I never felt I was at my best. As the founder of Another Garde and mom to 3 kids, I try every day to be that best of me. And boy, it’s a bitch.

I have said it time and time again – without becoming a mom I would have never been strong, centered and humble enough to hustle it out every day to sell a bag or a ring, let alone get out there to build the exposure I need for my business.

But I figured that once you’ve had 3 babies pulled out of your limbs in a bloodbath (thank you, emergency C-sections 1 and 2) and once you have spent years on your knees patting your kids’ bums half naked until the wee hours of the morning, well, you are probably ready for anything and surely ready to do anything.

So yeah, pride and fear have long gone since my stitched up tummy days. I have learnt patience and I am now learning – with a lot of difficulty – to appreciate little victories like having finally my three kids out of diapers or having my first client in Denmark.

However I got annoyed enough this week to ‘take the pen’ again. Not so long ago, I got frustrated by how I had been socially JEDI tricked into thinking that I would be able to walk smiling and having my shit together, 2 months post baby delivery while the reality was that I was suffocating inside spiritually and physically . That sense of betrayal created Redlipstickmama – that infuriating moment when I felt like a hot mess while I was supposed to only feel bliss.

Since then, I am more at peace with myself. But today, I felt the urge again to open my big mouth for another massive rant – just in time for Mother’s Day. Lucky DH.

It is a lame rant because ‘Duh, it is obvious girl…’ but I’ll say it anyway. The other day, I felt sickened by magazine spreads of (fashion) mom entrepreneurs living in oversized downtown apartments harboring Irving Penn’s prints on the walls, wearing designer frocks and looking with adoration at their long wavy haired only child sketching in corduroy covered notebooks (Note: details are totally BS but you get the idea).

I know that perfection is always staged because no one can have such a life or else KILL me now. But it still annoyed the hell out of me. What bothered me the most is that this type of shit used to inspire me, make me dream, live a fantasy for a few minutes but right now I just feel fucking pissed off and feel stolen of my hardship. Things are made so easy that you actually feel shit struggling. It is the post-C section ‘I am so happy’ pictures all over again. I wish there were reports of struggle and not just some ludicrous fantasy advertising ‘Get your ticket, you can be next.’  I wish there were pictures of red faced women trying to breathe in and out the stress of running a company while emptying the dishwasher.

I am very tortured about what I am writing now because I am the founder of a boutique selling quality and elegant design to inspire so shouldn’t I look and sound the part? But what is ‘that part’? Really.

Well, my truth is this one: mom entrepreneurship is ugly. For example:
–      My kids wake me up because once they go to bed, I continue to work late and thus oversleep. I look like a rag and my daughter pushes me: ‘Mom, C’mon. I really don’t want to be late for school. Again. And how can you sleep with a W-E-D-G-I-E? Don’t you find it very uncomfortable?’
–      I am refraining from going to Starbucks because 2 double tall skimmed cappuccinos can pay for an hour of my assistant’s time.
–      My kids have started to talk to strangers on the subway – on their own initiative – to promote my company. They tell everyone their mom is ‘BOSS’. I thought of stopping them out of embarrassment but let them do it thinking ‘you never know, they may find me new clients’. Shameless.
–      I don’t get free clothes. Ever. I pay for them. I only have endless temptations. Like a recovering alcoholic in Pegu bar. Meanwhile, the kids wear polo shirts with way too short sleeves because I lack the time and money for shopping.
–      I have so many IOUs with my friends and family that I hope I am a true Buddhist who will go through various reincarnations to pay up my dues.

Finally and most importantly I wonder every day if my husband will end up divorcing me. Contrary to the popular belief, asking my husband to fully support my folly is not getting him to take nice shots of me wearing skinny leather pants for my Instagram feed (you should check out this video of Instagram husbands, hysterical). And it is more than being the sole income earner. The man behind the mom entrepreneur is a guy who believes so much in her that he is probably now the gayest straight man at work talking about fashion designers crafting beautiful prototypes on their kitchen tables with his female colleagues instead of commenting on the latest Yankees game. It is a guy who is accepting a tougher life to pay for the childcare and cleaning help she needs to be a full-time entrepreneur. A guy who puts his own dreams aside for hers, leaves work earlier to mind for their sick kids or has to take days off to help her set up pop ups in swanky hotels – taping japanese screens and putting IKEA furniture together when he barely knows how to use a screw driver.

It is a guy who does not think he is making her favors but rather knows that she HAS to do this.

And indeed, I have to do this now.

My ticket number to be the next best thing may never be called up. I am not going to lie about it. Who knows?

But what I know is this. With Mother’s day coming up, I do encourage everyone to celebrate their moms because they have shit days – sometimes very often. But this one mama does not need anything from her family. She has been short-changing them for a while now and is just grateful that they accept the Mom and Wife she can be and allow her to be the Woman she wants to be.

Below my journey as an entrepreneur in selfies but with clothes 🙂

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Dreams

‘Now here I go again, I see the crystal visions
I keep my visions to myself
It’s only me
Who wants to wrap around your dreams and…
Have you any dreams you’d like to sell?’
Dreams by Fleetwood Mac

G woke up this morning telling me : ‘Mom I had a really nice dream’.

And the first thing I want to reply is: ‘I don’t give a shit’.

He and his siblings almost got the end of me yesterday night laughing, fighting, switching the lights on until 10pm while I was trying hard to work on some excel spreadsheets and figure out how many button ups I can realistically sell this year.

Yeah I want to say I don’t give a shit but the endearing mama came back for a split second and I enquire about it.

He replies:

‘I dreamed that you, Dad, P., L. And I moved to a new big house.’

‘Oh really? What did the house look like ?’ I am thinking:’ did DH brainstorm him about moving to the countryside ?’ A hot topic between his parents

‘It had a door to a garden and when I opened it I could see the trees and it was Fall and the leaves were red, yellow, green and …blue!’

– ‘Was there anyone around us?’ I am trying to come up with a quick brainwashing trick to get him to equal space to solitude and the slow death of his mom’s soul.

– ‘Nope; no one just us’.

– ‘No one huh ? So what are we doing then?

‘Dad did not work. You did not work. We never go to school. We play games all day. We watch the Yaya (iPad) every day. And we NEVER have school.’

OK… I sigh in relief: that is not the suburbs, it is the fucking Chocolate Factory !

As the three of them shoot off for school on their scooters, I am left to ponder what my dreams are actually made of?

What are my blue trees looking like?

The truth is my dreams hurt me too. When you live them, they make you feel furiously awake and alert. They also make you want to throw up because you are suddenly scared that you are not worthy of your dream. And you are really scared shitless that it will just crush right in front of your eyes. Dreams are super scary. I cannot but hear my father in law’s favorite saying about teams throwing up the towel seconds before the final whistle while they had the whole game in their hands. He always says: ‘He is afraid to succeed. He is afraid to win it’.

I always hated it. Having always been a sore loser and an ultimate fighter, I always thought ‘why would anyone on Earth be afraid of winning. Losing sucks!’

This morning, however I feel I may connect with its meaning for the very first time.

Wins breeds more craving for wins. Wins come with a responsibility to uphold a promise to yourself and others (if you feel you have succeeded on your own, you are misguided me thinks).

You get addicted to what you feel viscerally when you win. You get addicted to the look of your loved ones when you win. It is exhilarating. It is intoxicating until you cannot breathe because you can see the next move, the one after, perhaps the one after that and then things get blurred. And you ask yourself, what I am to do when all my moves are done.

So yeah major freak out. I really want to cry. If only I could cry. Note: there’s a now an infamous conversation between my assistant and me in which I told her, very shortly after we launched our online store, that I was not able to cry. She asked: ‘Why?’
I replied:’I don’t have the time to. Mind you, we are walking now and it is raining on my face so that would be the perfect moment to cry’. It did not happen but my assistant has probably kept this conversation in her notebook titled ‘The shit my boss says on a daily basis’.

Anyway, I could cry. Instead I blank out until I enter this quiet and bright studio and showroom in Brooklyn where two humble and super talented designers, sisters and moms, created one dialogue after another, one conviction after another a luxury leather goods brand working with American leather and New York craftsmen (more about their beautiful universe soon on my online store – fingers crossed). And my heart beats again. It beats so strong it wants to burst but the nauseating feeling is gone. For now.

I found my cure. No tear drops, just a new bone. When my own dreams act like an enraged bulldog biting my ass, I decided to rely on other women’s dreams and let myself carried away by their force and beauty. I will be a temporary parasite and blood sucker. Yes, that is my coping mechanism.

Should this fail, I still have G’s home and its blue trees 🙂

ARTIST

Konstantin Dimopoulos

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Also not that it is what I personally think but it made me laugh to see this statement in my Manhattan mini storage the day after my conversation with G.

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2016

This year has started sweet and sour. But that is exactly why it is already exciting.

Goodbyes…

In the first weeks of 2016, David Bowie and Alan Rickman left us leaving this world with an ounce less of inspiration.

DH’s grandma L. also followed her husband  J., who passed away a month or so ago, leaving this world with an ounce less of devoted love. Throughout the last twenty years since I met DH, I wondered so many times how two individuals could have possibly been living apart for a total of 48hours in their entire 75 years of life together. How could they possibly do so and still love each other? The final flight of these two lovebirds put an end to all questions I had. I guess.

…Hellos

My relationships in New York have recently morphed into something very comforting . When living in London, I was young and malleable and basically living with my college crew or look alikes. Things were easy: we laughed at the same jokes, studied the same stuff, had similar dreams and were the only family we had around.

Then we moved. I got preggers. I now have a family with little ones whom I am trying to learn to know. Tantrum after tantrum, cuddle after cuddle, mishap after mishap. Therefore more than ever I need some grown ups behind and by me. People with whom silence is no longer uncomfortable and this, my friends, takes a fucking long time to build. It takes even longer when you are dealing with a panoply of mismatched individuals: Harlem families, child free gay couples, grandma substitutes, and single and killing it girlfriends and so on.

And then gradually, slowly, and at times awkwardly these people who have nothing to do with each other become your life support. A family who drove mid-November to a House of horrors in the middle of nowhere in the Catskills to celebrate your and DH’s 20 years of life together. A family who heard en route that Paris was under terrorist attacks. Every minute we were on this road,  the number of dead people was soaring. And your celebration does no longer have any sense. It would have become absolutely meaningless if it were not for those faces facing you, trying to pause for a moment their thoughts of Paris to smile and eat your dry and overcooked cassoulet.

These same people turned up to unwrap jewelry after their kids’ morning school drop and before going to work to help me open my holiday pop up boutique and before I had a nervous meltdown due to the now infamously known as ‘where the fuck are all the chokers?’ freak out.

And that is why 2016 is of course about stepping it up with my fashion boutique Another Garde , of course keeping on discovering who my children are but it will also be a year deepening friendships in this city that is finally no longer ‘my new city’ but ‘home’.

…and Welcomes

People around me started to make babies again moving to number 2, 3 or 5 (!!!). I have stayed away from babies for a couple of years now because of the trauma of my back to back pregnancies. I was that one mom circling around you always with a glass of champagne in the hand so she would not be asked to carry or cuddle your newborn earning the moniker of the ‘why is she ALWAYS dancing?’ Mom. I have recently chilled out and now I am back to embracing all these new cute babies around me…DH’s recent vasectomy has also helped a lot 🙂 mouaaaaa

#broodywithoutconsequences #yeah!!!!

And finally L. is talking in a way that I can understand. During the Jonas blizzard, he said ‘it’s a snowstorm.’ Not ‘snow’ or ‘white’ but a clear ‘it s a snowstorm’. Welcome talking L.; papa and I cannot wait to hear more about you.

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It’s a woman’s world…

Or the day when redlipstickmama became Soumountha

When I started this blog, I can say this now: I was not well. I was a little lonely not because I had no friends but it was a weird loneliness. I was lonely because I was freaking lost. Too many thoughts, very few outlets, no clairvoyance. The blog started like an extended Facebook like rant, turned into a full self-administered therapy and somewhat transformed into the release of something strange and beautiful: the courage to explore things I had no idea were buried deep inside of me.

Things like writing because I just have to do it, entrepreneurial cravings, the boldness to say things the way I just want to say them and the hope that I can somehow touch other women out there.

This would have not been possible without being inspired, supported and sometimes challenged (I dare you to do it) by some amazing women I met through blogging. It was just easier to come out with strangers first like it was always easier for me to be naked in front of strangers than my own sisters – note:I still don’t really do it very often #anotherreasonIDONOTgotothegym

Anyway, more than two years later, these women are still galvanizing me. I am beyond flattered to be interviewed by uber stylish and atta mom-creative-blogger Kate from Maison Bentley about the launch of Another Garde. Her questions were so insightful that it actually made me think hard about what I do and why I do it. You can read the full interview Another Garde by Maison Bentley. I also for the first time say it here: my name is Soumountha 🙂

I hope you will like it and do check out Kate’s blog on a regular basis. She has an amazing eye for elegant and relatable and yet ‘you have never seen it quite like this before’ pieces.

Love you Kate xoxo

#feelinghumbledthismorning #love #determination #womenbehindwomen

Photography by Kate Bentley

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Oh boy…

Warning: since I have not updated my blog in over 4 months, my verbal diarrhea is in full motion and this post is long, obnoxiously long.

So what happened to me and my crew? It is not an over statement to say this: not ever before have we dug so deep in our resources as a family and that includes when I had to run the London 10K with no prior training whatsoever (do not snicker, i still have a dizzy head thinking about it!) AND when DH had a eye surgery making him blind for 48 hours, 3 weeks after the twins were born. Yeah I am letting you picture the situation…

Anyway, the last 6 months of my life have tested our resolve, who I am as a woman, who we are as a family and what life long commitment truly means.

Let’s back track to a few years ago, when on a London double decker bus I told DH that the main reason I did not want children was my utter fear of having to stay put even when the shit hits the fan. I told him ‘if you and I fuck up, I can and will leave it all behind to rebuild. I am survivor and that’s what I do. But I know that a child would be the one person I could never leave behind. It is the one relationship that if even it fucks me up I have to stay put. I will have to be IN it, FOREVER. And this is damn too fucking scary to me.’

That’s what I was feeling then and obviously me being me I got preggers twice in 2 years after that. Because I changed my mind and when I do, I cannot do things half-way.

We are now in 2015. My being a mother is no longer something I question. It is hard work, infuriating, blissful, challenging, self-revealing, physical, joyful and all that jazz. That is why I decided to have a fourth one: Another Garde. It is my curated online boutique for emerging brands which I have just launched a few days ago.

The gestation period was long – almost two years – although not as long as with L who at 3 year and a half still thinks he belongs inside my tummy (more about this in another blog post).

Every day, I felt my heart racing and pumping, often on the verge of bursting out of laughter or cry. Like when I was raided by freaking pregnancy hormones. Sleepless nights. Everyone asking when it is coming out and how you feel.  Sleepless nights.

And you are tired, so tired, and emotionally fucked up, and you look like shit but you cannot look shit because you have just launched a Fashion venture so you try to look shit-ish instead.

And then it comes out and you look at it and you know the hardest part starts then: growth and nurturing. And you dig deep, deeper and deeper. And you know you are IN it and you cannot leave this one behind either. Because maybe for once in your life, you feel that this is what you are meant to be doing. I can say it out loud: most people think I am mental and insecure (friends: it’s ok. I know about it and I still love you) because my career path looks worse than a Paris subway map written in Mandarin and covered in pigeon’s poop.  And they are right to think so: I am absolutely schizophrenic.

But as I wake up every morning, I cannot help but feel possessed: I HAVE to keep on and on. Despite the madness. Despite the sheer exhaustion. Despite that little snarky voice in my head that says:‘Who the fuck do you think you are?’

I keep on.  I want to make women feel emotion, beauty, inner confidence when they come onto Another Garde. I want to support emerging brands to connect with these smart and confident women. I want to build connections, conversations. To be honest, I don’t give much shit about Fashion. Doing Fashion week is at the bottom of my priority list. However, I do believe that well curated and designed pieces can celebrate a woman’s inner kick-ass awesomeness. In the last 5 years I ballooned up and down through and between my various pregnancies; I have sometimes cried over how a bad cut just made me feel worse than I was. Oh yeah, fucking pregnancy hormones were not helping either 🙂

So that is why I do what I do.

In the meantime, my daughter P asks why their mom has to work all the time and probably wonders if I am exploring my pseudo-lesbian tendencies because I keep checking out beautiful women online – I am mainly trying to fix some html code, very poorly I must admit.

DH is becoming the SOLID ROCK that I – in the past – doubted he could be. Watching the kids, working hard in the office, signing checks to my company and just believing in me like no other. DH: I am so sorry you married such a bitch but she takes back every single word she said on that boat AND double decker bus. Random note to self: I probably should just shut up while in public transport as a general rule.

G is being G: trying to seduce my interns. And succeeding too.

L. recovered from a flesh eating bacterial infection. L. was lost in Central Park (within 1 minute of not watching him) and found 600m away from the picnic we were attending. I almost died that afternoon. L. is receiving 10 hours of Special Education support at school since the beginning of the week. I will write more soon about this because I am still trying to process all this.

Voila!

Let me know what you all think!!! You are probably among the first ones to have supported my ambitions by all your nice comments on my ‘Mood of the Day’ series.  If you like what you see, I would be very grateful if you could help spread the word! We only ship in the US at the moment but if I see some love coming from an overseas ‘Garde of Women’, I will get to you quicker than planned 🙂

Some snippets. Photography by Carolina Palmgren. Models: Kailah NG and Giannina Oteto

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Knit vest by Foxx + Walsh

 

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Hand made leather backpack by Moses Nadel

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Black Cupro dress by H.Fredriksson

Mood of the day: Real or Faux ?

When temperature hits -27c you know that your skill in layering clothes will be useless because the only thing you should do is layering 4 thick sweaters and thus look like a piñata. However, when you have 2 business meetings that morning you have to improvise your ass off. Here we go…

First layer
Bottom: thermal legging
Top: thermal tank top and tee
Head: faux fur hat

Second layer
Bottom: Zara navy skinny trousers
Top: Vintage yellow gold blouse
Head: hubby’s grey wool hat

Third and fourth layer
Top:
Real vintage rabbit fur vest from BFF who since she no longer has any idea what winter is living Down Under has generously lent long term one of her most precious belongings to her slob ‘yours truly’ friend. That is real friendship for you.

Faux fur vest from the slob friend/me.

Fifth layer
Grey coat not seen on pic because … I am sweating enough as it is.

I have an unfinished debate (mostly with myself because DH simply rolls his eyes calling me an hypocrite) about real/faux fur. One side of me screams outrage and the other side tries to justify myself ‘it is really, really old so there’s no much I could have done about it back then, right?’. It just feels so warm and soft arggggh

Anyways turns out that I could not have chosen a better outfit for the day because the freaking day sucked. Today I learned the hard way about ethics and work standards in business. It’s not because you care to the point of bankrupting your family and alienating everyone about a comma on a slide that others care too. Fakers and ‘all talk, no show’ are everywhere. And they are going to try to fuck you.

So here I was in a cab wondering ‘why the fuck am doing this to myself?’, ‘why am I so arrogant to think that I can win it all?, ‘how can you avoid sweat marks on blouses? ‘, ‘do I need a big slap on the head as a reality check?’, ‘am I doing this just to piss off my mom?’

69 blocks and at least 3 imaginary assassination plots later, I decided that I, me, myself was real. What I want to say and do is real. Fuck the fakers. Mark these words: YOU WILL NOT BRING DOWN (think of the #wickedmusical I.e. High pitch, looking all green, angry and fucking mental).

Special thanks to Natasha who when asked ‘why should I keep on, girl? ‘ simply answered ‘because you’re too fabulous’ #reallove

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Mood of the day: Pitch That

Today is a big day because it is the first day that I will be sharing details of Another Garde, the fashion startup I have been working on since February to a friend/business brain/potential investor. It’s scary because I want her to be ruthless and tell me in the face if this whole business concept sucks. It feels a little like introducing G to his new teacher in September and say: ‘do you think he’ll handle structure and discipline well? Hmm…’ A little like giving someone a stick to beat you with. Basically.

Anyway there is a word for what I am doing today: pitching. In the 11 years, I lived in London I probably used the word ‘pitch’ only to order beer but New York is like Pitch Land! I seem to use it all the time:

Baseball pitcher: potentially the most revered sportsman in America

High pitch voices: that’s basically the sound of New York on Sunday brunch time, in shops, on a train to Long Beach etc. An odd sound mix of a pack of barking mutts and a 13 year old teenager having his first orgasm again…and again…again. Yeah. That bad.

Elevator pitch; in here you don’t introduce yourself, you pitch yourself. New Yorkers are pro networkers and have little time so you basically have 30 secs minute to make an impression. In fact, when I was looking for a job, Archibald/the worst job search coach ever used to say: you have 10 words to explain who you are, what you want and how I can help you so go ahead…after 1 minute of my rambling he would snore right in my face. Ass.

Anyway, here’s my Pitch Outfit – I figure that if I bleed from stress it will look nice on white 🙂 like O-ren on Kill Bill.

Elizabeth & James blazer, knit top from Joe Fresh, loungewear from H&M, black hide leather sandals from MIA and DH’s $20 aviator shades.

Final thought:
Let’s make this a home run people!!!

Disclaimer: This is not a public solicitation or offer to fund my business.

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Mood of the day: Uniform

I am deemed to have more business related meetings and it is thus time to start getting some ‘go-to’ pieces. The problem is that I have no idea of what ‘go to’ pieces mean these days considering that a-I am reinventing my professional life for the 5th time in 15 years and b-I have been in maternity clothing for like 4 years or so. In my last iteration, I used to meet with brainy ‘let’s start a social revolution’ researchers and activists and now I am meeting with ‘let’s make the world rad and beautiful’ creatives and designers. The problem is obvious here. On top of it, my version of shopping in the last 4 years has been basically: second hand and ‘oh GAP is doing a 40% discount on their basics!!! Awesome…’

Since I also have no cash for thousand buys (the plot is thickening, not…), I thus decided to – for the first time of my life – adopt a uniform. However, there is a limit to me wearing my hubby’s tight shirts and the limit is now, like right now. I do dig the androgynous look but in reality I mostly look like a confused extra from the 80s Working Girl movie. Not Good. So here I am investing in a few pieces that I will wear at EVERY meeting. This in itself will be a huge challenge for the fickle me.

First stop: the polyvalent top. Something I can wear with shorties, pencil skirts, skinny jeans, Harem pants etc. Wear it casual or more formal etc. I do have a head start with my business partner being a fashion designer/creative director with kick ass taste so she is taking to places I had no idea existed: Assembly New York and Maryam Nassir Zadeh. They are places where I swear if I stayed long enough and closed my eyes hard enough, I would turn into a freaking dove. A Black Dove to be more precise – got to keep my quirkiness 🙂

GBP (Gorgeous Business Partner) is showing me some stuff including a beautiful tunique insisting: ‘TRY IT ON’ and I tell her: ‘Jeez, you have no idea how short I am, right?’ . I kind of comply to make a point. And I do look like an Asian Frodo in Gandalf’s robe; she quips ‘Oh’ and I say ‘Yep’.

OK let’s pause a moment because I need to describe my fabulous GBP. She is an almost 6ft tall kind Amazonian like creature whom men and women of any sexual orientation fawn over. I am not exaggerating; I have witnessed it over and over again. Gosh, I sometimes find myself staring at her piercing blue eyes. Think red-haired, edgier, warmer Uma Thurman. Yeah, can you imagine me walking next to her on the street??? Sometimes I do chuckle when we meet at a cafe and she asks: ‘What’s happening?’ I reply:’Nothing’ but really, I am thinking:‘Thank God, I feel no freaking self-hate because else I would take this bread knife now and seriously try to stab my self or cut my hair with it…’ 

Anyway, we eventually found IT (thanks GBP!!!). Below: an Assembly navy top, Theory navy shorties, Bonds tank top, Warby Parker sunnies. Note: I can close all the buttons of the top and I look like a No BS, I am in charge business woman mouaaa LOVE. Please do note I now have my own photographer in the form of DH; yet another plus of him being on a garden leave 🙂 Also, I have to share with you my laptop pocket (a recycled gift bag P got for her birthday from my friend Louise) because whatever iterations of me there are in the future, one will stay: Mama.

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A day in the life: Greenpoint, Blackmail and Dexter

Note: I have been MIA for almost 3 weeks and have a lot of catching up to do!!! Looking forward to reading some of my fave bloggers. You know who you are 🙂

7.00am The Screw Up
The day started by a sobering realization: I gave our nanny her Friday off so she could have family time with her young kids. But DH was not working and I had to work…I gently warmed DH to the idea of having to mind the kids on his own. I started to say things like: ‘I have the meeting during the kids’ napit should be quick and nice’.

‘Where’s your meeting?’
In Brooklyn…’
He raised his eyebrow it is just the second largest borough in New York so I vaguely say: ‘I think it is somewhere in Greenpoint’.

I.e. 3 transfers, 3 boroughs Manhattan – Queens- Brooklyn = there is not a fucking chance that I will be back before the kids wake up from their naps. I am now trying to hide the IPad so that DH does not check Google Maps.

8.00am The Breakfast
We get ready to eat and of course I forgot to buy Nespresso refills, sliced bread, jam,…basically I had shopping amnesia. Facing me, I have an understanding silent DH who starts mumbling in his head (oh yeah DH, I can hear you we are practically twins…) and three tots who do now pretend to be starving. I mean they were perfectly content poking each other’s eyes a la Kill Bill for a stupid toy pocket light that is (seriously) the size of a quarter coin. Morons.

This until they heard the ‘we have no food, we have no coffee’ lineIt was just what they needed to start shaking the kitchen gate and scream ‘Moooooom, I am hungryyyyyy!!!!‘Terrorists.

So I dash to our local hipster coffee place the Double Dutch looking like and smelling SHITE, in my PJs and see on my way some neighbors with their 2 young kids all dressed up (obviously smelling nice shampoo) strolling away to enjoy the sunny day. I am a fecking failure 🙂

8.45am The ‘I am choosing my battle’
I get the kiddos ready and decide to skip our usual tooth brushing routine that sounds like this:
Me: Please open your mouth so I can brush your teeth
Them: No!!!!
Me: C’mon or your teeth will be broken like Mama’s and I don’t have money to get then fixed. Note: I really don’t.
Them clinching their teeth: No!!!
Me: C’mon!!! Forcing the toothbrush in their mouth seconds before getting whacked in the head by an hysterical tot.

So yeah, I have no time for this crap. Not today.

10.30am The Me Time

DH takes the 3 musketeers to the building common yard to play with their scooters. I finally have my coffee and start cooking the kids’ lunch because the deal was:

I’ll watch the monsters but you feed them. If you leave before, they won’t eat’ This blackmail works EVERY time.

That is the main difference between DH and I: food. He is of the school ‘you play with your food, you don’t eat. You complain about your food, you don’t eat.’ I am more like ‘OK I’ ll hunt you down with a spoon until you eat’. That is my Lao fiber, that pathological need to feed people.

11.30am The Rat Race

I am still not showered and running after my kids riding their scooters with a spoon of chicken pasta. My Lao grandma would be proud. Meanwhile DH is rubbing his forehead; he is probably thinking that this day cannot finish soon enough. Of course, the kids refuse to eat. DH is happy to eat the leftovers; the man is depressed.

12.30pm Finally

I am out of the house (showered) and I stop feeling guilty. I am even excited by the idea of doing a transfer in Queens. I am pathetic.

3.45pm Rad Greenpoint

My meeting is finally done, I met with 2 beautiful and bright women entrepreneurs. I am fully energized. It occurs to me that people in Greenpoint are hip in the right kind of way:  they are super friendly, talk slow and smile like a LOT. I also learn a new word: ‘rad’.  I think it means ‘awesome’, ‘cool’, ‘out of your mind amazing’. Everyone is Brooklyn seems to say ‘rad this’, ‘rad that’. Somehow I don’t think I can pull it off. My skinny jeans are not skinny enough.

4.15pm The Psychopath

As I am on the train, I am checking out what the guy next to me is reading but cannot find out because the guy is actually Michael C. Hall with a sports cap on. I have been obsessed with Dexter for a longtime and still think that Season 4 with John Lithgow is one of the best things I have ever seen on TV. So I remain speechless feeling both giddy and scared shitless. Michael C. Hall was so good as Dexter that as I am sitting next to him, I am catching myself looking around to see if we are alone in the train carriage…I freak out. For real.  I am teleported to Miami and am wondering if I am going to be the next Dexter victim…

4.45pm The Bouncy Castle

I get home and the kids are about to go ballistic inside the bouncy castle that DH is now setting up in our living room…Where’s the beer?

5.15 pm The Playground

I hate playgrounds. I always end up bickering with 4 year olds and always seem to be searching for one of my kids. Too much stress; so I dial my friend Emma: ‘Fancy a Harlem tavern with all our 5 kids?’ and I am counting the minutes.

6.00pm The Tavern

aka the place where kids eat chips and listen to Jazz while their parents get plastered with beers and mimosas. It has a very high ratio of staff and usually half of them likes children so B-I-N-G-O,  they will always stop your kids in time before they stab themselves with a knife. Awesome for outnumbered parents.

10.00pm The Bedtime

Somehow we bought wine and ended up at Emma’s and while the 5 kids watch something on the TV…the 4 parents kept sipping wine. Eventually every set of parents has to deal with their responsibilities. Denial is coming to an end: it is passed bedtime and one way or the other you have to clean them and put them to bed. As the kids are yawning under their blankets, for a second I am thinking: ‘What an ass I have been, they should have been in bed hours ago..‘ But my thoughts are interrupted by P.:

-‘Mom, why could I not stay at my girlfriends E. and M’s?

– Well you are only 3, a little too young…

-OK, when I am older, buy me a phone and I will call my girlfriends and I will stay at their place even after it gets dark. I am not scared, you know’

I smile. The apple did not fall from the tree. Atta girl.

 

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Activist mama: Justify myself, no more

Most IQ tests would probably conclude that I am an idiot. And I am not even going to fight this.

When people ask me what I do, many expect one of these two straightforward answers: I am a stay at home mom or I am a working mom. I never really managed to choose which box was the most relevant to me, let alone describe it. I am often tempted to respond: ‘Life is not in black or white but in a various shades of grey…’ Which probably would make look like
A- a wanker or
B- a failed motivational speaker or
C- a mythomaniac or very possibly,
D- all the above

Instead, I either answer ‘I am in transition/in between things’ (which can be translated into ‘don’t ask more questions or I will cry right now, right there? Do you want you me to blow my nose with your top? I don’t think so…) OR I list, in no coherent order, everything I think I do:

– I take care of my 3 kids from 6-9am

– I am coordinating a grassroots group of families in the neighborhood who want to give a free French English bilingual education to their children

– I order diapers online

– I do the laundry on a weekly basis

– I try to cook every day

– I am freelancing as a business coach for social entrepreneurs like these awesome change makers, MarioWay, who designed an upright wheelchair which I think can really change the way we perceive disability.

– I rant about me, myself and I and procrastinate aka I have a mommy’s blog (to read absolutely by the way in order to decide whether or not you should create a new contact entry after I gave you my phone number)

– I add 10 items in my Gap online store basket every day, only to empty it because I am too broke

– I am venturing into Fashion entrepreneurship ranging from the unlikely (Accessories design) to the most likely (Fashion e-retail)

– I organize parties where adults get drunk and kids bump each other’s head in a bouncy castle.

– I take care of L (for real) in the afternoons.

I also go through this list very quickly so that people get confused and focus instead on how cute they think my kids are.

It’s like when you have your first job interview after graduation and you transform your experience of helping your parents catering nems for Lao weddings into a full fledge ‘entrepreneurial experience’ or when you are using the same internship to cover 100 distinct sets of skills. Verbal diarrhea to fill gaps: it never fools anyone but you do it anyway.

The not earning money is getting really tough for me. I sometimes feel that in the world of today, a woman who pays someone to care for her children while not earning any revenue is seen as a freak. Someone told me few months ago: ‘Normal -as in not filthy rich- women these days either work or take care of their children. Paying child care is an oddity (real words said were ‘du Jamais vu’ , literal translation ‘you have never seen this’) if you don’t work’.

The economic logic of their statement seemed indeed flawless. I should probably have been angry; instead I was embarrassed and admitted: ‘Well I guess some of us can’t just do it. Maybe, I am not physically or emotionally equipped to care for my 3 kids. Maybe I am just limited’.

French women in particular are all expected to go back to work; many things help to ease back into the 9-6pm routine: free public school from age 3 (sometimes even earlier), decent maternity leave that gives you enough time with your Cherubs but not long enough to start have an postpartum existential crisis a la ‘Maybe I should make and sell hats. It seems pretty straightforward, NOT’. I am not at all saying that French women have it easy (far from it), I am just trying to put things into perspective; in the US or at least in the state of New York childcare is privately funded until kids are 5 (or 4 if you are lucky enough to get a public school pre-K spot). I calculated that the median full-time childcare for G,P and L in Manhattan would round up to about $70,000 a year. I should probably have given this person this figure but then again, it would be like trying to justify my choices and why should I do this?

In fact, the person I am truly angry at is myself. For not walking the talk. You see, in my previous life, I have advocated for making visible the contributions of women at home by translating them in economic outputs to inform public policies. I barked that society and governments should stop thinking that women (and men who take care of their home) are sources of unlimited free and altruistic labor who just pick up the shit when public spending is cut or when the cost of private child care or elder care spirals out of control. Yes, I used to say all this type of stuff before concluding that doing this would among other things at the very least improve women’s self-worth.

I realize now that it was all very easy to say when I was an educated childless income earner living the life in London. I do still hold this type of discourse during dinner conversations with friends (who after 5 minutes of my monologue must be wondering whether or not I have my periods) or when boosting another mama’s confidence when she feels fucking awful about not ‘contributing financially’.

But the truth is, the longer I am staying out of a paid job, the flakier my position is becoming. I laud stay-at-home moms but how cannot I be more proud of being one? I should. I really should. I don’t know. I feel like a two-faced b***h. Sometimes.

I don’t think ‘I am a stay-at-home mom’ are words that ever came out of my mouth while that is exactly what I was for a good 2 years and half. Maybe I should join a stay-at-home mom Anonymous group.

I am slowly getting OK about all this though. That’s why I can talk about it now. Guilt free. I made my peace, it’s OK for me to refuse to answer to ‘either or’ questions: ‘stay at home mom’, ‘working mom’, ‘part time mom’, ‘full-time bitch’. Whatever, we all have work to do, don’t we? I always sucked big time at Multiple Choice Testing anyway.
#soonenoughproudmama #powerofwomen