The School-Life Balance Need Better Balance

By Lisa Sugarman

When I was first out of college I worked for a family-owned publishing company about three miles from my front door. At the time, there were about thirty of us, not including the owner’s Portuguese Water Dogs who lived under everyone’s desks, and the company vibe was akin to Google in the early days. It was a sweet little gig and I loved it.

Owned and run by a husband and wife team who were ardent believers that everyone should have a healthy work/life balance, this company was a dream for me as a newlywed who craved as much time as possible with my man. As far as my bosses were concerned, nothing came before family time. Nothing. They believed that a person’s work ethic was only as strong as the foundation they laid at home. And that if their staff had the latitude to be one hundred percent dedicated to their family that, in turn, they’d show the same dedication to their jobs from 9 to 5 every day. And they were right.worklife_300

Most of us were in flip flops and shorts four out of five days a week and we were all expected and encouraged to be in our cars and heading home by 5:01 every night. Yet even in spite of the relaxed atmosphere, it was an incredibly dynamic work environment. Every one of us consistently busted our asses every day. And we did it because the owners respected the importance of having a work/life balance. They felt so strongly that family time and downtime should be everyone’s top priority that they never allowed us to take our work home with us.

As a result, people respected them back and showed that respect through a strong work ethic. And no one took advantage of the flexibility they offered. Ever. In fact, it only motivated people to perform better because our lives outside work were valued so highly by our bosses.

Which brings me to my actual point.

Since my girls hit high school, I’ve thought a lot over the last several years about how ridiculous it is that the same philosophy isn’t accepted in, of all places, our schools. I mean, I don’t know about your kids, but my girls have consistently had homework over holiday breaks and summer vacations and on weekends and I just don’t get it. I thought the idea of having a break was to be able to take one.

And the same is true with varsity sports and the rigidity of most team’s policies on missing practices and games. Gone are the days of events being relegated to during the week so kids are free to go away for the weekend or over vacation with family. It’s frowned on now, sadly. And while I absolutely get the importance of committing to a team and honoring that commitment by faithfully going to practices and being at games, I don’t understand why these commitments have been allowed to bleed into family time like weekends and vacations. Because those times are supposed to be sacred and they’re just not anymore.school-life-balance-566x376

Now I’m no athletic director, so I can only imagine the challenges they face trying to fit in all the games and all the practices of all the teams in all the schools they oversee. But I just can’t help but think that maybe, just maybe, if we reduced the number of games we play by a smidge, then it might help balance the scales a little bit and leave some room for kids to have their family time too.

I just don’t understand why, when down time is proven to be so beneficial to children, maintaining that balance doesn’t extend to our school systems.

I mean, think of it this way, every decent health science professional knows that we can’t effectively build stronger, healthier muscles if we tax the same ones religiously every single day without a break. Any physical trainer worth their weight in kettlebells will tell you that the best way to condition your body is to give the parts that you work out an appropriate amount of time to break down, to rest, and to ultimately regenerate. And we all know that the brain functions the same way. So why then are our kids no longer allowed to step away from their academics and their sports and be given the chance to decompress without being penalized?BrainWeightLifting-e1336096829913

I know that even now, as a grown woman, I have very distinct intake limits in terms of processing power. And when I hit my own personal threshold for taking in information, I need to shut down. Just ask Dave. When it happens, it’s not pretty. I need to process. And I need to decompress. We all do. Especially our kids.

So it’s shocking to me that schools across the board haven’t adopted a school/life balance policy. Because I think that if they did, they’d ultimately get a lot more out of their students during those five days a week that they’re sitting at their desks.

But what do I know, right?

Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/ItIsWhatItIsColumn. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com and at select Whole Foods Market stores.

 

Being a Woman can be so Exhausting

By Lisa Sugarman

For those of you who don’t know me personally, I’m not what you’d call a girly girl. Never have been. In fact, I was way more tomboy than anything for the better part of my pre-teen life. It was only when I started noticing boys in ways other than throwing and catching or skateboarding buddies, that I shed my ponytail holder and Toughskins for an eye pencil and some lip gloss.4770101-teen-girl-climbing-on-the-tree-in-an-autumn-park

And even though my newfound awareness of the opposite sex definitely helped bridge me over to the land of low-level cosmetics and regular nail care, I never became a hardcore makeup wearer. I guess you could say I always dabbled just enough to look presentable. You know, like I was making a legitimate effort.

What I’ve learned, though, after all these years of semi-primping and moderate fussing is that it can be absolutely exhausting to be a girl. Because when you stack up the check list most of us have just to be able to walk out the door, it sometimes feels like a full-time job. Or, at least in my case, a part-time one.

I mean think about it, unless a tardy slip is at stake for our fourth grader and we have to grab a ski mask and go, the average woman won’t walk out the door without at least swishing some mouthwash, running a brush through her hair, walking through a light spray of perfume, tossing on a drop of foundation, lining her lips a little, and plucking the errant chin hair. And that’s a rush job. The real regimen takes considerably longer.

Now I don’t know about you, but my morning ritual usually looks something like this: wake, shower, wash and condition hair (every other day, of course, because no one wants dry hair), shave all shaveable body parts, moisturize, mousse, pluck, apply make-up, dry hair, and dress. All of which takes me roughly thirty to forty minutes. And while I know that’s pretty speedy compared to a lot of my friends, it’s decidedly different from Dave’s seven minutes start to finish (including a shower, mouthwash, and fluffing his beard). So unfair.b07cb70fef4a0137_78653091_preview

And God forbid I take a run or workout during the day because then it means repeating the entire process if I plan to go out in public that night. It’s an ordeal, trust me. A first-world problem, I know, but still an ordeal. I’m just reaffirming my point that being a girl can be a very labor-intensive process.

Keep in mind, too, that everything I just talked about is just the day-to-day. I haven’t even touched on all the other stuff most of us do on a regular basis to supplement the day-to-day drill. Stuff like manicures and pedicures, eyebrow waxing, hair coloring, facials…the list goes on for days.

So as much as I love being a woman—and I do, believe me—there’s an awful lot to be said for being a boy. I mean, to be able to pee standing up, let alone throw on a new white t-shirt and jeans, slap some cologne on your cheeks, run your fingers through your hair, grab your wallet and keys, and run out the door looking perfectly put together. The thought of it is just so dreamy. And I guess I’m just jealous, that’s all.

Now trust me, I have no problem whatsoever throwing on a trucker hat and some yoga pants and calling it a day. In fact, if I didn’t have a job that requires that I wear pants, I’d permanently opt for some form of spandex.rsz_shutterstock_189552137-566x401

Yet, for me, making myself look presentable most days is just an issue of pride. I like to look nice, it’s as simple as that. As much for myself as for my husband and my girls. You know, set a good example and all that.

As with anything, though, there are always occupational hazards that pop up from time to time. And my latest was a massive and debilitating allergic reaction to my mascara. Yes, my mascara. I know it sounds absurd but it’s true.

Took me out of commission for two full days last week. Yup, I missed work because I simply couldn’t open either of my eyes. It was ridiculous. Looked like I just got out of the ring with Ronda Rousey. Full-on eye disaster. Ironic, too, that someone who dabbles so superficially in the world of makeup at all could have an eye makeup disaster on this scale. But it happened. Yet more proof that it can be tricky being a girl.

Well, at least there’s an upside. Now that I just eliminated putting on mascara from my daily routine I just bought myself an extra minute-and-a-half of free time. Winning.

Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/ItIsWhatItIsColumn/. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com and at select Whole Foods Market stores.

 

 

Animals Can Sense Way More Than We Think

By Lisa Sugarman

I love my dog and my dog loves me. There’s no question about that. She gets me. And we have a beautiful little relationship. We never argue; she’s rarely moody; she’s always there to snuggle when I need some snuggling; and I’ve never heard one complaint in all these years. Not one.Lily

And although, deep down, I consider her my dog because I’m the one who rescued her from the shelter ten years ago, I know everyone in my family thinks she’s their dog. But I’m sure it’s like that with most families.

The fact is, though, she’s the family dog. And after all these years under the same roof, there’s a very definite synchronicity when we’re all together—a harmony that’s perfectly in tune ninety-nine percent of the time.

Most days, we’re all in sync with each other and there’s an obvious pattern of behavior that exists during the day-to-day—a routine that’s usually pretty consistent when everyone’s home and in their own little groove.

I mean, Lily obviously can’t tell time, yet she knows, plus or minus only a few minutes, when it’s meal time, when it’s walk time, when it’s bed time, when it’s snack time. Her little internal body clock is uncanny. She’s like a little four-legged Rolex.

And she never deviates from her routine. Every day, she lies in the same sunspots at the same time of day as they move throughout the house. She has her favorite cushion on the couch and her favorite route she runs in and around the furniture when she’s feeling frisky and needs to run off some energy. Always the same direction, always the same number of laps around the dining room table.Dog_Holding_Leash-182x300

It’s amazing to me the depth of the little routines and quirks animals have. I find it absolutely fascinating.

Like how Lily wakes up when I go in the shower but stays on her bed until I’m dressed. Like, doesn’t budge. But as soon as I’m finished getting ready she’s waiting by the bedroom room. Then we hit the kitchen so I can feed her, and after she’s done she trots back to bed until Dave gets up to walk her.

Then they take their morning walk. Always the same route. Always the same outcome (so to speak). And then, after the rest of us have left, they head downstairs to Dave’s office. Him in his chair, Lily at his feet. It’s a very simpatico kind of relationship. That is, of course, until Dave has to go away for any real length of time on business. Then I notice her behavior start to shift. Or at least that’s the pattern I’ve been seeing lately.

Maybe it’s that she’s gotten older and change is becoming a little tougher because she’s so set in her little doggy ways, I’m not sure. But there’s been a noticeable shift in her disposition the last handful of times that Dave’s traveled on business. Enough of a change that I feel safe calling it a funk.afooFIjAU2542281ee67b03

But last week there was a seismic-level shift. Within twenty-four hours, Dave left on an eight-day business trip, Riley went back to college, and Libby went on a ski trip. It was a hat-trick of abandonment. That left Lily and me. Alone. Together. For the first time in over a decade. And needless to say, it threw her. Big time.

The first day she was fine. Ate normally, did her thing normally. Didn’t even flinch funny. It was around twenty-four hours after they all left that she realized everyone was gone gone. Like not coming right back. And that’s when the wheels started coming off the bus. She stopped eating altogether. Wouldn’t take any of her pills. Was pacing the bedroom at two in the morning. Started having accidents in the house and throwing up what little food she did eat. It was a s**t show, for lack of a better word.stop-bloating-in-dogs1

The vet was stumped. Dave was stumped. It made no sense. On paper she was a perfectly healthy dog. But in her head, she was a white hot mess. And I was convinced she was suffering from some kind of separation anxiety.

It wasn’t until Dave, the alpha male, as he likes to call himself, finally came home that my hunch was validated. Within ninety seconds of him walking through the door, Lily inhaled her dinner and took her pills straight away, with hardly any coaxing. She slept straight through the night and was completely back on track. Amazing. (Alpha male, shmalpha male.)

This was irrefutable proof, at least to me, that animals are wired with the same sensitive social/emotional system that we are. And although it was nothing I didn’t already know, it was interesting to see it firsthand.

Guess I’m just gonna have to invest in a life size cardboard Dave to keep around the house when he’s away. I’ll just hit it with some of his cologne and move him from room to room with us. Maybe Lily won’t notice the difference.

Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/ItIsWhatItIsColumn/. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com and at select Whole Foods Market stores.

 

Every Mom’s Fantasy

By Lisa Sugarman

Everyone has fantasies. You’re lying if you say you don’t.

Some are kinky, I’m sure. Some are wild or exotic or adventurous. Some include bubbles or Cool Whip or both. Some involve a little hut on stilts in the middle of Motu Tapu in the South Pacific. There’s a pretty broad range. But they’re all more or less figments of our wishful thinking.

And that’s the thing about fantasies, they’re really just the activity of imagining things, especially things that are impossible or improbable. Most of us rarely have the chance to live them out. We just spend our time dreaming about them. Because that’s the fun of a fantasy.mom-daydreaming

Now obviously I’m speaking as a mom here because that’s my gig. It’s still my primary job. And although my kids are old enough now that they’re completely self-sufficient, I’m still very much on the clock as a parent every day. But rest assured, whatever stage you’re at with your kids, all of us have fantasies. Oh, do we have fantasies! Only most of them are probably not at all what you’d expect.

See, the funny thing is, I’ve found that some of the biggest fantasizers out there are parents, more specifically the stay-at-home moms and dads who spend their days and nights raising their kids. To them, fantasizing is a vital lifeline that connects them back to reality. It keeps them sane.

I know it’s fair to assume that all moms walk around all day fantasizing that Cleopatra-on-the-Nile scene where we’re being fanned and fed grapes. But the truth is, most of us dream about our kids color-coding all their shirts and disinfecting their own toilet bowls without being asked. Or that our husbands willingly ask (no, beg) to watch the Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives marathon. Or that we find a random pedicure gift card lying in the parking lot at the market. Because those fantasies would be more realistic.ss_101755854

As far as I’m concerned, though, I think that the crux of all mom fantasies centers around the same thing. I think, on some level, most of us daydream about that one thing we never get. Time. Alone. Just raw, empty, uncluttered time all to ourselves. And that’s exactly what I got last weekend.

I had the rare opportunity to live out my mommy fantasy when my entire family took off in different directions and left me home. Alone. For two-and-a-half days. One kid went skiing, the other went back to college, and Dave was away on business. It was the perfect little trifecta of timing. The kind that’s never happened to me in all these years.

In my head, I had a long and impressive list of things I couldn’t wait to do. I was gonna bust every move I could think of. First, I was gonna crank me some Bob Seger and recreate the Risky Business underwear dance scene. I mean, you gotta, right?

After that, I was going to sleep in every day. Late. I was going to make it to every yoga class on the schedule. I was gonna let the laundry pile up, not make the bed for two whole days, and not touch the dishwasher. I was gonna eat a tub of Funfetti frosting straight from the can. I was finally gonna get that tattoo that no one knew I wanted. I was gonna binge-watch some cheesy TV series. I was gonna shop and drink wine and have my girlfriends over. I was gonna hit it hard.

Or at least that’s how I imagined it in my head until my fifty-plus hours of freedom were there, staring me in the face.binge-watching-TV-1

Let’s just say that the way it all played out in real life was slightly different than in my fantasy.

The reality of my weekend went something like this… A quick trip to LL Bean to make a return, followed by a spontaneous swing by Treadwell’s for a large raspberry sorbet drenched in sprinkles, and ending with a cozy night on the couch in my jammies watching my New England Patriots advance to the AFC championship game. Things always seem more glamorous in my head.

I had had offers to go to my sister-in-law’s and to a friend’s, but to be honest, when the moment came, I felt compelled to just enjoy the solitude of my house since I so rarely get it all to myself. I was sound asleep, thumb in my mouth, before eleven.

And although my intention was to sleep in and let everything around me go to hell for two days, I didn’t quite follow through with my mini rebellion. Each day I got up before six, paid bills, went to the gym, did laundry and reconciled the bank statements. I wrote a little, did a few house projects, and had Baileys and coffee in front of the fire on Sunday morning. I actually spent the day in Spandex and slippers listening to the Harry Connick, Jr. station on Pandora and sipping Crystal Light. (I know, I’m an animal.)

Ever notice how the anticipation of something is often better than the thing itself? Well, that’s kind of what I discovered when my fantasy came true. It’s good to dream, though. And we should never stop.

Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/ItIsWhatItIsColumn. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com and at select Whole Foods Market stores.