Mom Entrepreneurs

Last week I had the pleasure of welcoming National Parenting Columnist for the CBC, Karen Horsman into my home where she interviewed me on the topic of striking the work/life balance. When we were arranging the date, I thought it was cute when she asked if there would be suitable background noise, appropriate for the segment. I let her know that noise is our speciality and we can serve it up anyway she likes it. Along with background noise, we can do headache creating noise, noise that makes the walls shake, playing in the pool noise, noise in the form of shrills, thrills, cries and laughter. Heck, we can make the kind of noise that gets neighbours calling City Council and Children’s Services. Some families fancy themselves as musicians or athletes. Nope, not us – we’re just the loud family.

It was a timely interview because the Savvymom Mom Entrepreneur of the Year award is about to wrap up. We’ve been pretty involved with it – we’re the original recipients, I sit on the Advisory Board and one of the prizes is a year of mentorship with us Mabel mamas.

The notion of dropping out of the traditional workforce to start a business is based almost entirely on wanting to somehow manage all those balls we mamas have in the air. There are, however, quite a few misconceptions about the mompreneur lifestyle. It sometimes appears to the outsider that we mompreneurs work during nap-time, send e-mails between diaper changes and make phone calls when the kids are playing quietly. I remember thinking my life would be in perfect balance – going from teleconference to play date without skipping a beat. The reality is that while we do have some flexibility, it does not give you the time you need to get your work done. So, go ahead and enjoy that afternoon at the park or that morning helping out at the nursery school co-op, but be prepared to be hunched over your computer long after midnight.

I remember the early Mabel years fondly, but with a puzzled look on my face. Only four years ago I was pregnant with my fourth kid and working at the Mabel office from 9:00pm – 3:00am. Dawn came early when you heard that first squawk from a little one at 6:00am. I remember one particular Mabel mama drove to Montreal (6 hours away) with newborn in tow. She spent one hour looking at some equipment only to turn around and drive back home. It was sort of the opposite to any cool road trip you’ve ever done. Highlights included breastfeeding at truck stops and driving with one hand as the other reached to the back car seat to pat and stroke the annoyed infant.

When we first noticed that we Mabel mamas were the emerging “Poster Child” of the mompreneur scene, we were caught a bit off guard. We thought of ourselves as entrepreneurs and initially bucked our new label. Then we realized – everything we do and the reason our business exists is because we are mothers. Indeed, we now wear that title as a badge of honour. Sure we often have to trade in luxuries like sleep, proper meals and watching reality TV. The trade-off is having some flexibility and it was a choice we made very deliberately.
We were quoted after we won the Savvymom Award and we think it sums up our position well:
“A Mom Entrepreneur starts a business to be able to make choices. We choose to live as dynamic business owners, enthusiastic mothers and inspired women.
We just thought it sounded better than our original quote of:

“In our hormonally imbalanced and irrational states, we choose to live as over-extended and under-paid business owners, exhausted mothers and neurotic and somewhat manic women.”

To check out the 2008 nominees and to vote, head here:

Back To School With The Bickersons

Back to school is upon us and we mamas all have different feelings and emotions about that first day back. Summer goes by quickly, and if you are sending your first child off to JK you suddenly realize that a little life goes by quickly too. Some mamas have a little teary in the eye as the tiny students wave good-bye from the school gate ,wearing backpacks big enough for them to fit into.

Then there are mamas like me. We load the kiddos on the school bus and do the happy dance down the street. The post carrier gets a high-five before we make it home. I’m told that I may feel those sentimental pangs when my very last child goes off to school, but I wouldn’t be putting any money on it.

This September my score sheet is as follows: three down, two to go. That first day couldn’t come soon enough simply because I can not listen to any more bickering. I have re-named my family by deed pole – we are now officially known as The Bickersons.

Veteran mamas tell me the bickering is not going away any time soon. The bickering puts me completely over the edge when I’m in the mini-van with the lot of them. Five kids in car seats and boosters means there is no vehicle around that separates them appropriately. They are always within reach of each other. I have been known to pull over on highways, ripping out car seats and re-locating boosters in hopes of strategically separating the most obnoxious combinations of kiddos. Short of doing that, I’d be looking for the nearest bridge to drive over.

Our last week of summer transformed my house into my mini-van. With five kids at home and no camps, I hosted Bickerfest 2008.

As most “mamas of many” can attest, the more children you have, the sooner they join in on the bickering. My 22-month-old gets in on the action and the newly three-year-old has bickering skills that make me think she must have been practicing back when she was hanging out in my uterus.

I fondly remember a time when I had three babies/toddlers who were all non-verbal and in diapers. Most qualify those years as the hardest times for mama since it also involves severe and prolonged sleep deprivation. During that time, new parents are always keen for the walking and talking milestones. Well, mark my words – that time comes quickly and you’ll find yourself wondering if they ever just sit down and shut up. In these last days of summer, I have mourned those days of silence.

I’m the kind of mama who comes up with strategies to deal with undesired behaviours. We have a “Peace-Keeper” award where kiddos are rewarded for minimizing conflict. Re-enforcement is the cornerstone of any smart behaviour plan and I have certainly seen some results.

My other strategy has turned out to be a bit of an expense with all the material and construction costs involved, but I’m counting the days until my sound-proof room (the “playroom”) in the basement is finally complete.

The Olympics? Nah, I’m Good Thanks!

My kids like sports and do a lot of them. Mostly I like that sports tire them out so they go to bed early and don’t bug me during the night. Last weekend they did a kiddie triathlon (see pic!) and they just wrapped up two weeks of a fantastic sports camp run by a local University.

With all this sports stuff around me, I got to wondering why I don’t really get into the Olympics. The best way to describe my “Olympic Fever” would be to say it is VERY low grade. I feel a bit like the Scrooge of the Beijing games.

I went into these summer games not knowing the name of a single athlete. Not one. Not even that American swimming kid with big feet who was set to win a truckload of medals. I suppose any interest was completely wiped out when I heard how much the opening ceremonies cost. Something about that price tag while starving baby girls hang out in orphanages down the street didn’t sit so well. Oh, and then there was that issue about banning the ‘ugly’ 9-year-old from taking to the stage to sing. Clearly her face was so hideous it would cause international offence, which is odd since I have yet to meet a 9-year-old who is not adorable.

I understand the Olympic psyche and appreciate that the games provide communities with a tremendous amount of pride, hope, spirit and entertainment. I don’t think anyone should carry any guilt for indulging in the Olympic hype. But, I am left shaking my head now and again wondering why it matters who gets to the other end of the pool first. My feeling is that all the great stuff sport has to offer can be found at the amateur level. This is where kids are empowered with confidence, skills and life-time friendships. Many adults will credit sport with keeping them off the streets and on the right track. All this for the fraction of the cost of an Olympic event.

When people lament about the lack of funding Olympic athletes receive, I’m left a bit stunned. This comes from my position of having a child with autism and being a part of entire community of desperate parents who can’t afford treatment for their children. Believe me, an athlete untrained is a far prettier image than a child with autism who has had no therapy. I just read that one country estimates that every medal costs them 16 million bucks. Gulp. I’m breaking out in a sweat just thinking of how much early intervention that could buy. It begs the question: do we really want to spend our money making people run fast?
I love watching my kids play sport. I’m the excited/obnoxious parent cheering loudly and shouting out bad advice from the sidelines. But watching my non-verbal three-year-old learn to communicate was more fulfilling than seeing any one of my kids score a goal or win a race. I can assure you, it is more rewarding to see your child with autism transform into a fully integrated and on-curriculum student.

So, we can spend our dough on making a few parents proud of their medal winning children, or make thousands of parents proud because their children with autism will one day live independently.

The closing ceremonies are about to start and I’m quite sure I’ll break out into hives sometime tomorrow when I hear how much it cost to shut down the event. I suppose it would be fitting for the Scrooge of the Beijing games to sign off with a bah hum bug.
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