Real Life

From Your Shows to Mine

The past few months have been incredibly taxing when it comes to carving out time to write. I am in the process of obtaining certification in a profession that does not involve writing. At least, it will not in the beginning, but I plan to do a scientific form of writing once I’m further along. The profession will not involve Bravo or reality television…unless the individuals I end up working with choose to randomly discuss shows with me.

The challenge is to keep on writing and stay on top of things. I would still love to write about reality TV, true crime and cults (though the latter has become somewhat of a touchy subject of late).

It’s been a busy few weeks in other ways. Being in our late 30s and early 40s, I and those around me have noticed changes in older relatives. The importance of family usurps mini dramas with our peers. Launching a side venture or regularly providing commentary on Teresa Giuduce’s storyline on Real Housewives of New Jersey, weighing in on A-/B+ list actress Denise Richards joining Real Housewives of Beverly Hills suddenly is on the back burner. For now. There are blogs who once thought I desired to compete with them and that couldn’t be FARTHER from the truth. I write when I enjoy to do so, or when the idea of an incredible scoop comes to me, but I read so many other blogs and cheer them on, often sending ideas their way.

Suddenly I’m starring in my own reality show. It’s not very glamorous. It involves studying, care-taking for the post-Millennial and Baby Boomer generations. After interviewing countless reality tv personalities on a smattering of shows, I find myself talking to the enamored fan and saying “your next door neighbor could be on a show tomorrow. It’s not so special!”

I’m tired of the reality personalities who, I’m often informed, leave their old friends in the dust because they’re suddenly too glamorous to fraternize with commoners. People are just that. People.

You are all 6 degrees from a reality tv personality. It’s like that Kevin Bacon game. So while I will go back and wax philosophical on the vapid, ever changing alliances and frenemy dynamics on Vanderpump Rules, whether the Wild Things movie star is a good addition to a posse once run by Lisa Vanderpump and now (possibly) run amok by Dorit, I just wanted to share how healthy stepping away from the TV can be, and realizing we all have our own interesting IRL reality shows – uncultivated, unproduced, somewhat unknown to the world.

That said, I’d still like to get back to watching, commenting and interviewing when I’m in the right frame of mind. This has been a hiatus that has provided introspection on what I already knew and had to re-examine, particularly when a friend of mine, an exemplary soul, died after battling breast cancer. Television is a great escape, but our friends and family need our attention and sometimes – unless they prefer we curl in bed with them to enjoy RHONJ – a little less of our escapism.

Bravo TV, Moms, Parents, Psychology, Reality TV

#RHOD: Brandi Redmond’s Adoption Was “NOT as Easy as It Looked!”

Dr. James Mercer stands behind RHOD’s Brandi Redmond in this photo. He is the one who made her recent adoption of a baby boy possible.

Sometimes we’ll see something on television and wonder aloud “Why did that person get so worked up over something so silly?” And then we slowly learn the behind-the-scenes details: The conversation, which we saw a minute of, was actually two hours long. There was a topic brought up that a character pleaded with producers not to show. A third party was involved who would not sign release forms. These are all examples of things that interfere with us seeing more of what actually transpired when something is shown on reality television.

On Real Housewives of Dallas, Brandi Redmond’s adoption of a baby boy invariably did a disservice to the adoption process because it wasn’t as easy as producers made it look.

Although we saw the man who made things possible, Dr. James Mercer, for half a second last episode, he (and others he works with) spent a ton of time with the Redmonds ensuring that the family was 100 percent ready and on-board to adopt a child when one became available.

Mercer explains that there were actually months of scheduled home visits in addition to unannounced, surprise visits for the family. There was psychological vetting, drug testing, reference checking and many other evaluations.

Although you might deem Brandi to be socially messy on the show surrounded by the…er, dynamic personalities (cough cough, Leeanne Locken), that doesn’t change the fact that she “completely has her shit together as a parent.” This was how one Dallas acquaintance of hers so eloquently put it to me.

Dr. Mercer, who possesses his own background worthy of a reality show and went through foster care as a kid, confirms that Brandi “has an immense amount of love to give and is an excellent mother.”

“Through Stephanie Hollman, I was introduced to Brandi,” he explains, “As a social worker, Stephanie had become familiar with my work with Lonestar Social Services, a foster and adoption agency serving the state of Texas. Stephanie is the kind of person I could call up and say ‘This child really wants a Batman bed. What can we do?’ and before you know it, she has donated a bed, bedding and her husband is making himself available to play softball with another child. The Hollmans are the most giving people with huge hearts. When Brandi was having her fertility struggles, Stephanie said to me ‘what about Brandi?'”

“This is not an easy process. It can be a year of totally consuming you and testing your patience and commitment. Then there are times things come up unexpectedly and the process can take longer. Or, there are certain highly specialized requests so things don’t happen as fast as you’d like them to.”

“Brandi was incredible throughout this whole journey. She didn’t get special treatment or have it easy – No one gets ‘special treatment’ in something as serious as this. Brandi never wavered and only became more committed as time went on. She has spent so much time with us that…and hopefully you’ll see this ahead on the season..our cause is something she’s become quite passionate about.”

Mercer is bound by certain confidentiality rules, especially since this was a closed and private adoption. What he was able to divulge is that he works closely with hospitals and social workers and was alerted about the baby, born to notably “young parents”, eligible for adoption.

At that point, Brandi had already completed the scrutinizing and selective vetting process. It is important to note here that a “closed adoption” means nothing is revealed, so the birth mother would not know that the adoptive mother appears on a reality show. When I asked how long it took Brandi to adopt the baby from start to finish, he is able to respond: “Minimum of seven months.”

Brandi was able to become an adoptive mother on the merits of her parenting history, cohesive and warm family dynamic, stable home environment and by meeting other benchmarks built into the system.

Mercer, who himself was eventually taken into a loving home as a child following years in foster care, made a mental commitment long ago to place kids in the best possible homes. “This is more of a crisis than people realize or even talk about,” he emphasizes, “There is a high number of kids who still need families.”

After writing his memoir several years ago, Dolores Catania of Real Housewives of New Jersey reached out to Mercer to say she was in awe of his work. The two have become close friends and appear often in photos together — in the event that you were wondering why his face looks so familiar.

He is no stranger to “Real Housewives” in general because of their common interest in philanthropy (a necessary component of taking care of kids without families and trying to place them in homes).

Dr. James Mercer’s book

One of the benevolent people he’s met through the charity circuit is Lisa Vanderpump. That’s right: The queen bee of RHOBH is not just passionate about pets.

Mercer wants viewers to know that Brandi Redmond and her family were subjected to the same rigorous process as the other non-famous clients he works with, but adds that she did get lucky in the end when the baby became available. “There are other people with very specialized requests and it’s been harder to get things in place as quickly. I really think the timing and how everything worked out for Brandi was a miraculous thing and clearly evidence of God’s amazing work! But there was so much involved during the preceding months that I wish people had gotten to see so they would understand it wasn’t as simple as it looked on TV. That said, I’m THRILLED they are showing this on TV at all! More awareness needs to be brought to adoption and the needs of these children.”

“We didn’t in any way ‘make it easy’ for Brandi as some critics have suggested. Also, it doesn’t matter who you are. Oprah would have to go through this whole process and it would require the same amount of vetting for her, as well as the same intense level of commitment. The priority is to ensure we find our kids the ideal, suitable and loving homes.”

Moms, Parents

#Parents: TV Is Not as Bad for Babies as We Once Thought

A study published in Child Development, conducted at Emory University and sponsored by The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (a division of the National Institute of Health), revealed that infants under 2 can learn signs from television time.

While the American Pediatric Association (APA) issued earlier statements advising parents against it, putting your baby down for a few minutes’ worth of an educational video is not so bad after all.

During the course of the three-week long investigation which took place through the Video Learning Lab at Emory University, parents introduced their 15-month-olds to ASL signs at home, either through videos or a picture book.

The best piece of information gleaned from this study is that when it came to video viewing, babies who watched with parents for approximately 15 to 20 minutes recalled a significant number of the 18 signs presented.

They performed just as well as those who learned from books. In addition, those that watched videos alone (without a parent next to them), also retained a significant portion of the information.

The findings suggest that television time for tots is not as harmful as we’ve been led to believe for years.

Once a week, the Emory team quantified their subjects’ learning outcomes by having them pair pictures with their matching signs. Parents also reported each week whether they observed their babies using these signs.

When the three-week period ended, researchers retested the children one week later to determine what they were able to remember. Recall was assessed specifically by having the infants produce signs when they saw pictures of the objects, and by asking them to point to the picture that matched the signs.

A leading author of the study, developmental psychologist Shoshana Dayanim, Ph.D., explained that the study was unique for a variety of reasons: It was a controlled one wherein the only way for subjects to learn signs was through this study during its allotted time periods. While previous research has been conducted with infants and language, — a murky area where it is difficult to control what is learned — the Emory exploration consisted of approximately 15- to 20-minute intervals of exposure.

The study uniquely presented the babies with expressions to actually employ and simultaneously understand.

Dayanim further explained that infants use signs interchangeably with verbal words and can sign words earlier than they can vocalize them. This not only helps communication in the present tense, but research supports that signing positively impacts vocabulary in early childhood.

Knowing that the American Pediatric Association once advocated for keeping infants away from television altogether, it is interesting to see there are benefits to TV learning — in a controlled environment.

Dr. Dayanim made it clear that Emory was not declaring“Watch TV!”, but that under the right circumstances, instructional learning can actually take place through instructional videos with children under 2.

The one drawback of the study was that researchers were not able to determine exactly when to draw the line on video watching.

Parents may want to play it safe by keeping educational viewing to a minimum as the researchers did.

If a parent needs 15 to 20 minutes to unwind, explained Dayanim, their baby can actually learn something in the process.

Just don’t bother with sight words at such an early stage. The research only attests to success with signs.


#Motherhood: Lessons I learned from Multitasking Moms

I’ve been told by friends and family members that there is a way to do it all. This happens when I complain that there aren’t enough hours in my day to do all of my work plus the necessary house tidying before 3. That fine hour is when I hit the “pause” button on work, fetch my sons from school and begin the arduous process of “Homework”.

While they play afterwards, I go back and hit “play” myself – on work that is – while keeping a careful eye on the floor and their wrestling. I resume my tasks while I simultaneously entertain them, make dinner (or pour bowls of cheerios) and scramble to pseudo-clean so it isn’t total chaos.

I don’t “watch the clock” while working from my home office. I often inevitably go over the allotted number of monthly hours for each of my projects because I need to garner results. Determined to be ever the uber-professional, I strategize, devise, rethink, write and rewrite, then document all of that work. Hence, there are not enough hours in my day.

In an effort to figure out a better way to manage my time (and clean the damn house!), I interviewed 75 women who work, whether it be professional work or caring for a child (which, of course, is the hardest job) from home like myself. During the course of my interviews, some common themes emerged: having a supportive husband (check! Got that.), learning to delegate (who to?), setting a timer to clean, then getting back to work and cleaning again (sounds like “lather, rinse, repeat,” and this occurs in 15 minute increments each), and keeping planners (one unbelievably organized “Alpha Mom” said she has daily, weekly, monthly and yearly to-do planners!).

Mia Redrick is a mom not unlike me, who started her own business and works from home. She founded Finding Definitions, LLC, which offers coaching, classes and seminars “on topics relevant for a mother’s personal growth on her journey throughout motherhood.” She advises moms (she herself is a mom to 3) to “DIPP: Delegate, Incorporate, Plan and Purge.” Also the author of “Time for Mom-me, 5 Essential Self-Care Strategies for a Mother’s Self-Care,” Mia explains how these 4 steps get her through the daily grind:

· Delegate: ask family members to help with household chores or baby duty tasks.

· Incorporate others in your space; consider outsourcing laundry or household cleaning. Hire a mother’s helper from the neighborhood to come over for a few hours to give you a hand.

· Plan by taking 15 minutes in the morning and considering what it is you would like to accomplish that day.

· Purge means getting rid of the unnecessary and learning to say “no” to what’s unrealistic or too much to take on.”

I liked Mia’s tips because, frankly, I’m fond of cute acronyms (DIPP), but implementing the tips is not as realistic for me. My family members are all busy working (my dad’s a busy pediatrician and my mom, a high school principal) and I haven’t been able to find cleaning help that’s both economical and thorough. I “purged” myself of a demanding boss years ago, but now I have myself to answer to, and catching myself for 15 minutes prior to morning prep (of getting the kids dressed and fed before bringing them to their respective places) is quite impossible: I like to sleep for as long as I can before my kids crow to the rising sun through (and despite) the darkest of blackout shades.

LiRon Anderson-Bell of PR firm Crisis Contingency Partners (just hearing the name of her firm stresses me out) is also a self-professed “soccer mom” of 2 kids. “I run the agency out of a dedicated space in my home,” says LiRon, and I realize that she and I have something in common. I start to wonder if her laptop charger cord is tangled up with that of her husband’s, and if press kits sit to the right of her desk with legos at her feet.

“I have a hard stop to my work day at 3pm.” I marvel that there’s someone similar to me, experiencing that same mad dash to get it all done by 3. She ends up playing chauffer to various sports and after school extracurricular activities. Liron goes on to explain that it’s tough, that she’s not in bed before midnight most nights, which implies that she resumes working once the kids go to bed.

She credits the support she gets from her husband, who “wrangles the kids in the morning” (breakfast, school/camp drop-off), so she can start her workday no later than 7. LiRon loves the flexibility of her job and the fact that she never has to explain why she needs the afternoon off.

I love that too. After all, before I became my own boss, I had a boss who wrote me a nasty email with expletives when I left work early because my son was rushed to the emergency room. I quit on the spot. Now, if I have to run out, I don’t need to excuse myself – to anyone. With my day cut short, I also get some of my work done at night. LiRon feels that by taking a break and making that “hard stop” at 3, she is able to recharge for working later on.

But cleaning – the bane of my existence! – What about cleaning?! LiRon doesn’t mention anything about fitting in time to clean, but Brandy Yearous, a stay-at-home mother of two writing a fitness book for women who don’t have the time or money for the gym, does. She says that she allots an hour after breakfast for pure, unadulterated and uninterrupted cleaning time. I consider this: My morning is too hectic. I don’t have an hour before or after breakfast to clean because it’s all super-rushed before we get in the car. When I return from driving my kids, I need to glue my butt to the desk chair and check deadline-driven reporter queries posted to various PR services.

I’m too afraid to miss a potential opportunity in the busy morning hours. Alas, the morning cleaning hour won’t work for me. Morning is prime business time.

Cynthia Powell, owner of home-based business Chicks & Cubs is a work-at-home mom of three kids, who manages her time by using a timer.

I like her approach because for the ADD folks like me who also require breaks for the sake of their dry computer eyes, it prevents boredom, lethargy and discomfort by mixing up the routine. “I set my timer for 15-20 minutes,” she explains. “In that amount of time, I work on the computer for my business. When the timer goes off, I reset it, go to work in the kitchen or wherever in the house. Timer goes off, I reset it and go back to business again.”

Sounds like a game of musical chairs? Cynthia says this strategy keeps her focused, gives her necessary breaks, and assures that she works on the business and the house. I’m going to try it. Now, must locate that timer. Cynthia also uses what she calls a “check off sheet” for each day of the week. I call this a “to do list” but tomato tomahhhto – the fact that bible and prayer are at the top of Cynthia’s list, with exercise a close third, is admirable in and of itself. Her list reads like this: Bible Prayer

Exercise Dishes Laundry Then, each day of the week consists of a house task and an important business task: Monday: Mop Kitchen, Shoe Bronzing Orders Tuesday: Change Sheets, Web Link Exchanges Wednesday: Bathrooms, Detailed Paperwork Cynthia’s list is impressive: Not only does she fit in time for exercise and shoe-bronzing, she finds time to be religious.

Maybe it is Cynthia’s faith that carries her along and because of that, God grants her the miracle of getting it all done. Note to self: I haven’t got a prayer.

After email threads and discussions with these 75 women, one recurrent piece of advice rings through repeatedly: “Lower your Standards.” For some, like Tara Bloom, a divorced mom of a teen daughter who manages online maternity and baby business, those “standards” apply to the definition of “clean home.”

For others like Atlanta-based freelance journalist and mom Paige Bowers, the standards apply to quantitative workload: “Learning to say no has been a major thing for me,” she says. “Understanding that my priorities are my family, friends and writing career helps drive a lot of the decisions I make. If it doesn’t fit, then I don’t commit.”

For stay-at-home mom Sophie Sacca, lowering standards means not being so hard on her-self, and setting aside “me time” which for her includes playing piano, reading a novel and deep relaxation.

For Caryn Sabes Hacker, a psychotherapist, it’s about taking the best possible care of herself. “I credit nutritional supplements for my energy and concentration today,” chuckles the mom whose kids are now grown, “but my commitment to daily exercise and taking time to unwind in the early morning always got me through the work day when the kids were young. Setting aside the time for physical activity and meditation complements my healthy lifestyle and is what still gets me through a multitude of daily assignments.”

When that’s not enough for Caryn, she breaks everything down into groups of 20: handling 20 pieces of paper on the desk, putting away 20 dishes or 20 pieces of clothing. She advises other moms to do the same, saying: “Turn the big job into lots of little jobs and spread that throughout a very long day.”

For publicist Renee Glick, lowering standards is about not expecting herself to be everywhere at once. Instead of going to the store, she orders groceries, shoes and clothing for herself and the kids via the Internet. She pays her bills and does her banking online as well.

Still, others stressed that discipline is essential for how they do it all: “Discipline is key,” stresses work-at-home mom and professional writer Janice Rice, who toils away from the moment her two grade school kids walk out the door at 7:30 a.m. until 2 p.m., when she goes to pick them up. “During that time, I focus on my professional work—not on laundry or cleaning my house. I try to leave the hours between 2 and 9 p.m. open for kids and home activities, and then round out my work day between 9 and midnight. I figure the tradeoff is worth the flexibility, and I’ve discovered—as has every new mom—that the human body can accommodate a different schedule.”

Pediatric nurses Jennifer Walker, RN, BSN and Laura Hunter, LPN burn the midnight oil many nights. From their cheery dispositions when I once asked about my son’s chronic diaper rash (years ago), it seems they don’t get tired. It helps that they were trained as pediatric nurses. Always on the go, with eight children between them (including a set of twins each!), they shuffle between consultations with frazzled new parents, teaching toddler seminars) and answering parents’ questions via email.

Next to a smiling picture of Laura from the “Moms on Call” web site are the words “Laura is a juggler — she juggles life (can you relate?).”

Kelly Robbins of The Copywriting Institute writes to me from her home office: She’s determined to make family time strictly family time, and offers this pithy suggestion that I’ll take most to heart: “When the kids are in school, don’t screw around!”