Behind the Scenes at TODAY

October 14th, 2009

Here TODAY, gone tomorrow.

Monday, I was riding in a LIMOUSINE through New York City. Tuesday I was doing five (yes five, no exaggeration) loads of laundry and trying to sort about a hundred pairs of mismatched socks.

Did you know:

  • the green room is not actually green
  • Justin Bieber is more important than Hillary Clinton (to some), and no, we didn’t get to see her (but we did see the millions of sreaming Justin Bieber fans)
  • “lashy” eyes are in
  • 4 1/2 minutes goes in the blink of an eye and you’re lucky if you get to say half of what you’d planned on saying
  • limos are lonely when you don’t have someone to ride with (Susan had her own car!) and when it’s not stocked with booze
  • the vibe on the Today Show set is very relaxed, despite the huge turnover in guests and tight pacing
  • Natalie Morales is drop dead gorgeous, and teensy weensy
  • producers are almost impossible to reach when you’re pitching a story, but once you’re there on set, they are extremely friendly and NORMAL
  • getting on National TV is a really excellent dieting tool
  • blogging on only brought out about 10% of the haters–most of the comments were grateful…

More inside scoop tomorrow!

What Does it All MEAN?

June 14th, 2009

There are times in life when things feel so out of control, you wonder what it all means. Are we put here on earth to suffer or to find joy? Or to experience both?

When a child becomes seriously ill, or a friend dies, or our financial situation becomes so untenable we have to make drastic and immediate changes to a previously comfortable life, it’s easy to become wrapped up in the unanswerable question: Why me? How can I handle all this responsibility, all this worry and pain and still find happiness? What’s the point of it all?

That’s when it’s a true blessing to have kids. They zoom through life, so energetic and curious and trusting, so wise and silly and intent on immediate joy. They recalibrate our tendency to get wrapped up in the big-picture miseries around us. They remind us to laugh, to see beauty in small things, to be loving and forgiving and trusting–even when our soul is mired in anger or confusion.

The immediacy of kids, the beauty of their open hearts, makes life’s challenges more bearable, and at the same time heavier.

A few weeks ago, my husband and I went to see the Dalai Lama at Gillette Stadium. Much of what he said went right over my head (I’m just beginning to explore Buddhism), but I was struck in particular by the focus on how to balance our desire for things–for success at work or with our kids, for happiness and love-with an acceptance of fate. How to harness our striving so that the energy it produces is not nervous and vulnerable, but strong and self-contained. It’s virtually impossible for me, and so I know it is where I need to do the most work as a parent and as a writer.

“When fear, hatred, jealousy dominate our mind, then the best part of our brain which can judge cannot function properly,” the Dalai Lama has said, explaining that such emotions are destructive to wisdom. “You will never get satisfactory result.”

So as a parent, I try to focus on the good qualities of my children, and help them with their struggles, knowing always they will find their own way with or without me. The biggest favor I can do them is to operate from love not fear.

As an individual, I need to slow down my mind, reign in my anxious striving. As our book Mothers Need Time Outs, Too says, I need to remind myself constantly to take care of my spirit so I can be of use to those I love, and to those who need me. Dreaming should be fun, not riddled with fear of failure. There has to be enough of me left at the end of the day to help a dying friend, to sit with my children in peace, to be able to rest my mind.

Without a healthy mind, nothing seems possible. So as I contemplate summer and more time with my family, I look forward to making some decisions that will allow me to sink into the moment with a calmer heart.

What We Do, Day In Day Out

May 27th, 2009
  1. Woke up at 4:30am, couldn’t get back to sleep
  2. Got up at 5:30. Cleaned up e-mail and printed out middle school sign up sheet (which I later forgot to give Greta)
  3. Made pancake batter and coffee
  4. Woke up Peter
  5. Took wet clothes from washer to dryer and delivered load upstairs for folding
  6. Unloaded dishwasher
  7. Yelled at Peter to get a move on
  8. Made Peter a protein shake and cleaned up the kitty litter
  9. Woke up the girls
  10. Drove Peter to the carpool spot
  11. Got home, helped Svenja avoid a meltdown by carefully offering her two options for folding over the top of her socks: two fold-downs or threefold-downs (she opted for two)
  12. Yelled at Greta to hurry up
  13. Called friend to see if she wanted to go for a run later (got to find an excuse to get away from the computer today)
  14. Searched for Svenja’s glasses and found them behind her bed
  15. Put away her clean laundry
  16. Brushed hair and found shoes (no toothbrushing occured, according to my knowledge)
  17. Raced out of the house: dropped Greta off at her school and then took Svenja to the bus stop.
  18. Worried about my stolen bag. Running over the list of things left to do: Bank, locksmith, driver’s license…


Athletic Legs

May 15th, 2009

The man behind the counter at the gym stopped me this morning.

“Do you mind if I tell you something?” he asked. “You have very athletic legs.”

Athletic legs? As in big and muscular? Strong and big? Big and… well, just big?

I smiled, though I certainly didn’t feel much like smiling. One of the first things my husband told me when we were dating 20 years ago was that I had legs like tree trunks. Um, he thought he was giving me a compliment.

Note to men: no woman likes being told she has thunder thighs. It is NOT a compliment.

Just yesterday, my best friend stopped me and said, “Katrin! Your legs! They are soooo muscular.”

And… a few days earlier, I put on a pair of pants I haven’t worn since last year and they were so tight on the thighs I thought my circulation would be cut off and I’d lose both legs (maybe not such a bad thing).

So this morning on my way to work, I’m musing about this confluence of thigh commentary. How do I want to feel about this? Because ultimately, it’s my choice. I can feel bad and self conscious. Or I can feel good. I do know for certain that all three people who mentioned my legs were doing so in the spirit of kindness–giving me kudos for having nice, strong legs. It’s me who is turning that into “big, muscular, thunder thighs.”

So much of how we feel about how we look or what we do–whether in work or in parenting–is less about reality than about perception. I can feel good about my strong, healthy, slightly-too-big body, or I can feel like crap about it. I can set my standards very high (I’ll NEVER look like Carmen Electra, I might as well go kill myself right now) or I can be realistic (Serena Williams has “athletic legs” and does she look bad? No!).

So what’s it gonna be for me?

I’m sorry

May 8th, 2009

Kids, I’m sorry for:

  • not always making you breakfast with protein in it (and ensuring you get your vitamins, fish oil and Juice + every morning)
  • not always checking whether you’ve done your reading
  • serving too much Annie’s mac and cheese
  • getting mad at you in the mornings when we’re late (when in fact I held everyone up because I decided to check e-mail)
  • not being able to answer every question, like: how do I do this algebraic equation
  • wishing all three of you were A+ students
  • complaining about carpool so much
  • not being more interested in what you’re learning in school
  • absolutely, 100% knowing I will never let you have a dog
  • being so bad about pocket money
  • getting your permission slips in late

Kids, what I’m not sorry for:

  • letting you live in a messy house
  • expecting you to always do your best
  • having 5, 6, 7 of your friends over at a time
  • being strict about TV
  • having family dinners most nights
  • making you do your own laundry
  • giving you autonomy over your homework
  • letting you have sleepovers whenever you want
  • insisting on kindness
  • watching American Idol together
  • talking openly about sex and love
  • giving you the benefit of the doubt
  • caring so much about my work
  • thinking you are too cute for words

For the Love of Animals

April 30th, 2009

Our cat is 16 years old. I defy anyone to claim to have a better kitty than our Emmy. She’s endured six moves, three across country; two airplane rides; weeks alone in our house while we’re on vacation and yet she still purrs like a revved up engine when we come near her. Despite being an old lady, she looks like a teenager, slim and nimble.

But one day a few weeks ago she stopped eating.

Turned out she has liver disease. No problem, the vet said (the first time Emmy has been to the vet since she was adopted, BTW), just give her this medicine. FOUR TIMES A DAY. Two pills and two liquids.

You try giving a cat a pill! She won’t eat, so putting it in her food is useless. Tonight as she was hissing at me and squirming, and I was pressing on her mouth with my fingers and pushing a syringe through her fragile old teeth, I felt like a beast. But it’s let her die or force medicine into her.

I thought about pets and kids after my heart stopped pounding and I got her to calm down and she began to purr again. What we do for our kids. What we do for our animals. I am exhausted.

Moms Think Recession Can Be Good!

April 14th, 2009

We just did a survey of all our newsletter subscribers–thousands of moms all across America–and were stunned by the implications. Thanks to all for participating: we got statistically important results that were astonishing!

It was so exciting, because it proves to us that we’re on to something with this idea that mothers want solutions to their crazy-busy lives. We’re all dying for some positivity! Moms don’t want to complain anymore; we want to figure out how to manage things so that life doesn’t just speed us by.

The most shocking realization comes when your kids are suddenly taller than you are and you think to yourself, wow, it’s almost over already. And I spent so much time grumbling and complaining and being too busy to enjoy the moment. What a waste!

Here is some info on the results:

We asked whether the recession was good or bad for families in the long run, and the results showed that by an incredible margin of almost 2:1, modern mothers feel the recession provides an important opportunity to reassess family values. Contrary to the doom and gloom stories on the economy that continue to play in the media all around us, American families do not think the recession is all bad news.

When given a variety of options as to why, there was universal agreement that the recession provided a broad-based opportunity to improve family life.

72% of respondents answered “all of the above” when offered the following reasons for their optimistic outlook:
•    tightening our belt educates kids about the value of money
•    re-adjusting our schedules helps kids find more precious downtime
•    being less busy and distracted helps us focus more on the small pleasures of life

Of those who answered no to the question “Is the recession good for families in the long run,” the majority expressed concern about children reacting to parents’ stress levels.

There’s enormous pent-up demand in American families for getting back to basics. The economic recession is viewed by many as a chance to make dramatic, holistic life changes. Parents are seeking opportunities to revisit their family’s goals and aspirations, to reset the family calendar, to help their children appreciate the value of money and work and to find more time to enjoy simple pleasures.

Time for some good news to hit the airwaves!

In the Motherhood

April 3rd, 2009

I’m happy to see that women are more and more comfortable talking about the reality of motherhood. Increasingly, you’ll hear moms telling it like it is, and stopping with the pretense that an insane amount of blood, sweat and tears = guaranteed superstar kids.

There’s this hilarious webcast, In the Motherhood. Just listening to these women takes a load off our shoulders. What’s even funnier is that the episodes were written using submissions from real moms.

Then there are these new TV episodes on abc. And this book about the dirty secrets of parenting. Lots of videos on YouTube making fun of over-the-top moms. I mean, wherever we go there’s an opportunity to either laugh at ourselves or to sigh with relief about the hilarious moments we find ourselves in.

But…. while I’m fine with not taking myself too seriously, I also get a little tired of the “make-fun-of-how-foolish-moms-are” mode. Yes, we do stupid things, we worry too much, we work too hard and we make fools of ourselves. BUT, what do we do if all this causes us and our families great pain? What happens when it’s just not funny anymore?

Many mothers out there are seriously stressed out.

The Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center conducted a study in 2003 of mothers who brought their kids into the ER for non-threatening problems. Thirty percent of those moms screened positive for depression, anxiety, panic attacks or physical problems related to stress! So how do we help parents control their anxiety? What steps can mothers and fathers take, right now, that will help them instead of make fun of them? That was the goal of our book. To tell it like it is, with raw honesty, and then take the next step: help mothers figure out what to do next. Or, even better; WHAT NOT TO DO!

“I hate school!”

March 23rd, 2009

What do you do when your kids “hate” school?

Kevin and I were not always great students. After years of messing around, being told we were not “fulfilling our potential,” getting yanked out of schools or downright failing, both of us were bitten by the academic bug and we never recovered. We both have more degrees than is reasonable and yet we still dream of going back to university. My personal dream is to be hobbling around some campus when I’m ancient–with my white hair, cane and hoarse old-lady voice–heading off to teach a class of twenty-somethings about writing. What could be more perfect than teaching and learning? Nothing would make me happier.

But somehow we ended up with two out of three kids who “hate” school. (Why do I write “hate” instead of hate? Because I can’t even admit to myself that I have kids who hate school.)

So my question today is multifold: am I disappointed more for myself or for them? And secondly, but even more important, what do I do about it?

Let’s take #1. To be brutally honest, I want to hurt people who boast about their kid’s academic magnificence. Just hurt them a little bit, mind you, but enough to remind them that gloating about your kid’s A+  in algebra makes other parents feel bad.

Why make other parents feel bad, why? If my child achieves a C- in algebra, should I smile at you and say, cool–my kid gets a C-! Can your child give my child some of his brains, please? Or some of his motivation? Or some of the genes that you obviously passed down to him, those genes that made him a genius? (Clearly, my genes are defective.)

So here’s some unsolicited advice. If you gloat about your childrens’ academic performance, try this: just stop. Be kind to those of us who struggle to help our kids do well.

And now, #2, the really tricky question. What do I do about the fact that my kids hate school? This morning, Peter was practically on the verge of tears. My big guy, all 6 ft 2 in of him, just mired in misery. I did my usual pep talk, which fell on deaf ears, then I remembered my bible and thought: KEEP IT SIMPLE. EMPATHIZE.

So I said, “Hmm, I hear you. It’s tough going back to school!” (and I swallowed the rest of the sentence, which was: would you prefer to go work in the factory? Enjoy some child labor? Huh, would you?)

Then I thought about what I could do to make his day better. I had already offered  Chinese food for dinner, which did perk him up a little bit.  Then I thought, I can take him a treat when I drive carpool… some chocolate, or a donut. Or I can… and then my mind screamed back at me, STOP THE CRAZINESS, STOP!

This business about trying to fix our kids–make them happy–is no good. Not only does it not work, it’s harmful. I know this, yet I inevitably have to go through the old routine of worrying, thinking how I can fix it and then, finally, letting it go.

Let it go, Katrin. Let him hate school. He’ll come around. Or he won’t. Buying him chocolate for carpool will do NO GOOD.

Now, for my other child who hates school, that’s a different story. She hates it because it’s boring. And the fact of the matter is, yes. It is boring. We took her out of a great school which was far from boring, and put her into a school that is boring. Surely she deserves to have the option (as my other kids do) of being in an environment in which learning is stimulating and fun? We need a solution–a way to get her through the next eight years with her little psyche in tact, feeling OK about herself and her abilities, but also being energized and plugged in. More on this at a later date…

The Truth Behind Motherhood

March 12th, 2009

I have a tendency to be a blabber mouth. Give me a drink, and I will tell you almost anything. Not secrets about others, mind you (I am unswervingly loyal), but I will be the first to confess something awful about my kids, my parenting, or myself.

Who do I blame for this confessional tendency? England, thank you very much. The self deprecation, the irony, the insistence on putting people at ease by being disarmingly honest is a direct result of having spent 14 years in that fabulous country.

This habit I have of putting a somewhat negative spin on personal things drives my husband (an American, through and through) crazy. He doesn’t want people knowing when our kids got a C in school, when I was an hour late for carpool, when our third child was forgotten in her car seat in the kitchen as I happily drove off, or that, at times, I am so bored by the whole endless routine that I feel insane. No. He would prefer people to think I am always happy, always together, organized and on time, and that our kids are fantastic. Which they are. Just not always their grades

Meanwhile, I am not actually pessimistic nor am I am whiner, I’m just compulsively honest. And I do it partly because it’s a great relief to me to share my stories of ineptitude. I find it kind of funny. I think others find it funny too. I KNOW it makes them feel good about their own parenting.

Kevin always warns me that people don’t get the irony, or even the element of exaggeration. They think I am ACTUALLY insane, or that I am ACTUALLY neglectful, or that the kids are ACTUALLY dumb. I think he underestimates the intelligence of other mothers.

We need to be more honest with each other. We need to stop pretending our kids are geniuses. Can I tell you how relieved I am when I can see in another mother’s eyes that she is telling me the truth–that her kids are driving her crazy and she thought (for just a second) of going to the parent-teacher conference with a martini in her hand, just to take the edge off a little.

We have to have a sense of humor, people–especially now! I wish we could all revel in our imperfections, embrace our ineptitude,find enjoyment in our own ridiculous misery. Life is too short to spend it pretending we are perfect. It just makes us feel like fakers, and that never feels good.