Over the last decade and a half, I’ve started some 10 businesses, of which two have survived and are still operating. Not counting my kids, one of whom is an established and fairly stable business and the other a viable but not yet independent late-stage startup. Yeah, you’re beginning to understand that sometimes the lines between the roles I play daily become blurred and it’s difficult to stay focused. On a good day, I can go from mommy mode to best friend to business dragon lady in under 60 seconds. But not every day is a good day.
Yesterday, in setting up all the social media profiles for this new blog, I ran into a mommy/marketing blogger (it’s a growing niche, folks, deal) from Arkansas by the name of Jandy Mathias. Her Twitter bio of “A marketing mother who has become an entrepreneur, while raising a 2 year old” brought back a deluge of memories from some 12 years ago, when I was setting up my first business, running around from one bureaucratic rat hole to the next with a set of forms and a 3-year-old under my arm. Literally.
That business failed, but the 5-year-old version of the Kid and I were back at it a couple of years later, registering what remains my main business and main source of income today. And the Kid is a 16-year-old with an entrepreneurial streak of his own now and above-average knowledge of what running a business means (lots of paperwork, signatures, and emails basically).
During that time though, the Kid and I built an idiosyncratic system that allows the Kid to have fun, while Mom gets all her stuff done. So when the Toddler came along, I had no trouble getting her used to the fact that she was being raised by an unorthodox serial entrepreneur with a hectic and often unpredictable schedule. The Kid and I named this method Breakfast at Tiffany’s some ten years ago and it seems to work.
Here’s my main parenting challenge in terms of balancing how I want to raise my kids and how I have to run my business – my business, like any other job, requires a lot of my time and attention. On the other hand, I’m not a big fan of so-called electronic babysitter tools like excessive TV time or computers, tablets, and smartphones.
Some parents I’ve spoken to about this say it’s gotten out of hand with their kids and they just can’t seem to pry the gadgets out of their kids’ hands and even have issues cutting down the time their kids spend on these gadgets. I’ve been told it comes down to a choice of either letting them have the gadgets or not being able to work or get things done around the house.
I beg to differ. I’m not saying it’s easy and I’ll admit to having bouts during which the Toddler got a little too attached to a smartphone or tablet, but it’s 2015 and both my teen and toddler will take an outdoor activity over a tablet or the TV any day of the week. Cartoons and online activities, in our home, are for mornings (no one talks or looks at Mom before Mom’s first cup of coffee) and bedtime.
I’ll explain in some later post exactly what Breakfast at Tiffany’s in our family is, but for now let’s just describe it as a system in which the parent gets what they want first, then the kids get to do what they want, within reason.
The name comes from the concept in the book and film of the same title where the two main characters spend the day doing things the other one has never done before. For the Kid, this often meant trying to sit still and quiet for long periods of time while I was in a meeting, followed by me eating cherry-flavored cotton candy while sitting in a tree with him. Sometimes in stilettos and a business suit. Hey, it worked for us.
While the concept of Breakfast at Tiffany’s might sound simple and impromptu, it actually requires plenty of planning, organization, and a few tools you should carry with you at all times. Here goes:
1. Your Kid’s Favorite Toy, in Duplicate
When I said you’ll need “a few tools”, in my kids’ case, it means exactly that. The Kid had a Bob the Builder tool set, tool belt, hard hat, and roller luggage. The tool belt was for daily outings to meetings and running errands, and the entire set, luggage and all, went with us on longer excursions across the Atlantic.
My daughter, who seems to be growing into quite a tomboy, prefers anything that includes cables, bolts, buttons and/or wheels to dolls. I got her a baby doll complete with stroller once… she took one look at the baby doll, set it aside, and then spent the next three days “fixing” the stroller using some of my manicure set. Thankfully, things have changed a tad since I was a tomboy myself and I managed to get my hands on a pastel colored tool set similar to the one the Kid had had, but “for girls” (or not, depending on what your little girl prefers), topped off with an adorable pink hard hat.
While my kids seem to have a thing for tools, buttons and wheels, for your kids it might be something entirely different. I’ve found that less interactive toys, like teddy bears or books, are less efficient in keeping kids busy though. You don’t want to get Legos for this either – picking them up at the end of a meeting or risking a business partner tripping over those little buggers is not a good idea. Handing them a set of safe, plastic tools and sending them off to “fix” something, however, always seems to work out just fine for everyone.
Now, the main trick to this whole favorite toy idea is to make the toy that you take out with you special. I do this by getting the favorite toy in duplicate – one is for home use, the other is in my bag and goes out with us. I try to make the latter a little more special than the stay-at-home version.
With the tool set and belt it’s as simple as picking up some shiny stickers on your way to a downtown meeting with the child, then assigning the task of decorating the tool belt with the new stickers to the child while you’re doing your thing. And no, the so-called Breakfast at Tiffany’s toys are never for home use. That way your kid will always be happy to go out with you and get another chance to play with the special version of their favorite toy.
2. Paper and Crayons
News of the obvious – kids love to color, draw, and scribble. On just about anything. Which is why it’s a good idea to always have paper handy, along with a set of washable crayons.
The funny thing is, most parents seem to forget this simple, ubiquitous activity entirely when not at home. Paper, pencils, crayons – preserving parents’ sanity since the mid 1950s. Our favorite brand was and always will be Crayola, in particular because they’ve changed with the times, and the kids, and now have all sorts of fun and safe stuff for toddlers.
I recall a family lunch out at my brother’s favorite Italian place near their home with my, at the time, 3-year-old son and my brother’s 4-year-old triplet daughters. As we were shown to our table, I noticed a look of sheer panic in a few of the other patrons of the restaurant.
The kids were quiet and well behaved for the first 10 minutes or so and then my sister-in-law and I noticed the four of them begin to squirm ever so slightly. Before it even occurred to our four toddlers to begin misbehaving in a nice family restaurant, my sister-in-law and I pulled our totes out from under the table and, in perfect Mary Poppins fashion, began pulling out coloring books, crayons, and other kid art paraphernalia. We exchanged looks and giggled like schoolgirls – neither of us had ever spoken about this or mentioned it to the other.
Each kid got a limited amount of crayons and paper, and got to work. I gave the other patrons in the place another look at some point – the looks of panic were now substituted with smiles and looks of puzzled amazement in our direction. All four kids were perfectly behaved throughout their first joint fine dining experience.
3. Toy Cars
I don’t care what gender or exact age your kid is – toy cars work. Every kid on Earth, and a few adults, will be entertained by a couple of toy cars and a little free floor space for at least 15 minutes at a time. And 15 minutes is sometimes all you need to have a normal phone conversation or respond to a couple of important emails.
Again, make these particular toy cars really special. If your child already has a huge collection of toy cars, get a few of the shiny, new Matchbox limited edition ones and bring them out only when necessary and for a limited amount of time.
Yes, I fully realize that this is fact a way to manipulate you child. If you know any successful parenting methods that don’t include threats, blackmail and manipulation, please do let the rest of us know. Until then, get a few “special” toy cars, bring them out when you need some quiet time from your kid, then take them away as nicely as possible when that time is over.
In the meantime, your child will enjoy the time they have with the special toy and make sure to leave you be lest you come over and take the toy away. You’re welcome. Sincerely – Worst Mom Ever.
4. Silly Putty
Silly. Effing. Putty. I loved it, you loved it, kids still love it. Except when you and I were kids they didn’t make all the different kinds of silly putty they do today. Neon silly putty, glow in the dark silly putty, holiday silly putty, superbright silly putty… I say just stick to the Original Crayola Silly Putty and let your kids start there. Bring the variety in when you need to level up.
Although silly putty is officially not recommended for kids under the age of 3, if you have an older toddler, just make sure to be in the same room and keep an eye on them when they’re playing with the silly putty of course. The Toddler here doesn’t have a habit of putting stuff in her mouth just for the hell of it anymore, so it works for us. And pre-schoolers will know what to do with the stuff all on their own, just like we did. Also, be sure to get a small plastic container for the stuff, for your back. Just trust me on this.
Ok, I promised weird and here it is. The Toddler loves to play with tape and/or any type of rolled paper. The Kid loved tape too when he was a wee one. Don’t look at me like that. What? I already mentioned that I’ve been called the worst mom ever multiple times and a single parent’s gotta do what a single parent’s gotta do to get the job done. So tape.
I may be the worst mom ever but I’m not a negligent or irresponsible (much) parent, so non-toxic tape it is and never leave ’em alone in a room with it. Unless you’re actually looking to have the cat strangled and hung from a doorknob. When the Kid was little I had to settle for the office supply store non-toxic tape stuff, but I’ve been around the block a time or two since and have started getting plenty of Wet N’ Stick Art Tape for the Toddler. That way I have the choice of letting her play with it dry, making a colorful but confined mess in a corner of wherever we are, or I can give her a little water to go with it so she can rip and paste pieces onto the paper I also carry with me. Also great for a fun mom-kid activity we can do together on family outings if she gets a little restless.
Bonus: Where Do You Put it All?
I see most moms sacrificing personal fashion choices because they’re “a mom first”. It’s 2015 and there are plenty of ways of going about being both a mom and being yourself, don’t sacrifice either. In fact, if you’re a working single mom, you can’t afford to do that. You know as well as I do that you have to be dressed and ready for anything for the neighborhood park, a recital, a business meeting, and an evening drink with friends – at all times. You can’t very well go to in a meeting in yoga pants (oh, but I so wish we could…) and running after your toddler in a park all pimped out in a pin-striped dress suit is just… well… awkward for everyone involved. Find an in-between that works all around and make the style your own with accessories.
Working single mom fashion begins, and often ends, with a collection of large, practical yet fashionable totes, manicured nails and a simple but up-to-date and easily manageable professional hair cut. More about that later though, for now start with a great tote in black or beige and make sure it has sections and pockets. It’s all about the pockets. And if you’re really busy or just need a break and the kids won’t settle down… just give them the damn tablet. Another half hour online won’t exactly ruin their prospects for college. And sometimes you or the job just have to come first, for everyone’s best interest.
*Quick disclaimer: None of the products mentioned here are endorsed by their respective manufacturers or any other company. I just like ’em or find them useful. I’ll be listing favorite products and recipes often – revealing their brand names and where you can pick them up just seems like a good idea.