Ahhhh the Wedding

wedding

I don’t attend too many weddings. Maybe I don’t know enough people. Or maybe I’m at an age when most of my friends and I guess family too, are either married or not old enough yet to tie the knot. No matter how good, or bad, the wedding is, it is nice to attend them.

So many people lead very busy lives, with little free or unprogrammed time in the schedule. Children go to school, activities, camp or play with friends. As adults, we spend much of our time working, cooking, cleaning, shopping or if we have kids, chauffeuring them too. Sometimes it seems that one day just flows into the next, with a hectic schedule from dawn to dusk.

I will admit that I don’t put aside nearly enough time for myself, to relax or do stuff that I love. And I mean stuff for me and only me. My recent trip to Scotland was definitely for me (ya I guess David too), and it gave me the chance to recharge my battery. But I will say that I definitely make time for family and for family celebrations, like a wedding.

In the hustle and bustle of our busy lives, we often turn down invitations to celebrations or events because it’s too expensive to attend, too hard to travel or we just don’t have time.  We say, “Oh I can’t come this time but I will try to make it next time.” And we continue on with our busy day. We see the photos and hear the stories and we think wistfully of the next event, when we will attend.

David and I try to attend as many family celebrations as we can. I will admit that we can’t make it to everything, but we try our best. With family and friends who live all over the world, and with our love of travel, we have participated in a fair number of Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, milestone birthdays and weddings. It can be a financial strain sometimes and the timing can be a challenge, but really, it’s worth it.

On Monday we celebrated the wedding of our nephew, Joseph, to his wonderful new wife, Hadas. I will not do a rundown of all the details of the day, from the elegant but simple flowers to the dinner’s main course (oh my gosh they served roast beef and it was cooked perfectly!). If anyone wants a full detailed analysis, you know how to find me.

It was a small, intimate wedding, with family and a number of their close friends. David’s sister, Linda, lives in London, Ontario, and we traveled the easy two hours down the highway on Sunday afternoon to join the festivities. A wedding is not just the short ceremony and party. It also includes the days leading up to the big event, day before, day-of activities and even breakfast the next day. It’s a bit of a package deal, if you want to get the full benefit. Sometimes the best part of a wedding can be a BBQ in the backyard the night before or running around the following morning to the liquor store to secure the right kosher liqueurs!

wedding

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Having fun the night before
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Last minute liquor purchase, phew.
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Nessa enjoyed some entertainment from her cousins before the wedding, at Walmart, of course.

The faces of the bride and groom as they walk down the aisle or how they look at each other during the ceremony are special moments. And will he break the glass on his first try? Family photos – who won’t smile and who will blink when the camera flashes? Which child will throw a tantrum? What was the best appetizer passed around during cocktails? Which dessert was the tastiest?

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The moment they walked down the aisle
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They kept eye contact for much of the ceremony.
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He got it the first try.
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She didn’t sit still and had a wonderful time.
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It’s not a wedding without a big family photo

You have to be there to experience it. I know it’s not always so easy and I’m so glad every time we make the effort. A wedding is fun and it creates such wonderful memories for not only the bride and groom but for all the guests. We have another family wedding, for a cousin, in a few weeks, so who’s next?

To be Blessed with Good Health

health

I don’t take anything for granted.Every day I am grateful for everything I have. Some things have come easily for me and to me while at times I have also struggled. Over the past couple of weeks I have seen a number of people close to me – family and friends – accomplish, overcome, succeed, struggle and even sometimes fail. I have felt a mix of emotions as I have experienced great joy and great sorrow, all on the same day. At the end of a very busy and eventful weekend, I feel blessed for good health.

I received a call early Friday afternoon from my daughter’s school that she had a low-grade fever and seemed lethargic. She had to go home. Kids get sick. It happens. No problem. I brought her home, she flopped onto the couch with her iPad and I quickly threw together a batch of chicken soup in my trusty Instant Pot (makes THE best chicken soup, full of flavour in 30 minutes. I’m serious.).

The soup perked her up a bit, but my husband noticed a strange white pimple-like item on her right knee in the early evening. I will admit I didn’t notice it earlier but decided to check it out. Indeed, there was a rather large white circular item in the centre of her knee, surrounded by a red circle. The knee was swollen and warm to the touch. I quickly put two and two together and realized my daughter had an infection of some kind.

What do I do? It’s Friday night. She has a fever. Something is going on in that knee. I chose the paediatric after-hours clinic. It had a 60-minute wait, but I decided it was my best bet. We waited. And waited. Finally, my daughter was seen by the paediatrician.

He looked carefully. He asked her to bend the knee in different ways and he touched it to feel how sensitive it was. I watched and noticed the slight fear on his face. He was worried. Something was wrong. He looked at me and said that it was probably only a surface infection, and it probably had to be drained. But he also wanted to make sure it wasn’t in the knee joint or a sign of something else. He wanted us to go straight to the emergency room.

By this point it was 10:30 pm. My daughter was exhausted, didn’t feel well and was in pain. The swelling was getting worse. I decided to go to the community hospital and not downtown to the Hospital for Sick Children (the paediatrician suggested this), and we were on our way. Two levels of triage and registration then a waiting room. At 1:00 am my daughter was seen by an excellent emergency room physician who determined that it was just a surface infection. The knee was drained and she was put on antibiotics.

We arrived home at 2:30 am, and I crawled into bed. It was a long night, but my daughter was fine. All evening I had horrible thoughts swirling through my head. Did she have some flesh-eating bacteria? Was this white pimple just the tip of the iceberg of something terrible like leukemia? A hospital waiting room is a bad place to have time to think.

Which brings me back to why I feel blessed for good health. My daughter is fine. She is healthy. It looks like she had a mosquito bite that she scratched and became infected. A seven-day dose of antibiotics will fix everything. But I don’t take her health for granted.

I only had a few hours of sleep Friday night and woke up relatively early Saturday morning to participate in our neighbourhood’s annual yard sale. My family decided to do a bake and lemonade sale and donate all our proceeds to a local charity (luckily, I did my baking Friday afternoon). Not everyone is as lucky as I am to have a wonderful family in a beautiful neighbourhood, blessed with good health.

It seemed poignant to me that my daughter was the most enthusiastic about our bake and lemonade sale. She limped outside and sat proudly at our table. She was a natural at selling and upselling, and we sold out. My son squeezed the lemons for our fresh lemonade and the baby, well she just acted as our cute mascot. We raised $128 for a wonderful organization called ISAND – Integrated Services for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders.

Today I feel blessed. Good health for sure. A great community. And smart, insightful doctors at my local clinic and hospital. It was a busy, eventful weekend. And we are all fine. And healthy.

It’s Worth the 12 Hour Flight to “Montreal” to Visit Extended Family

extended family

Israel is a long way from Toronto. If you fly direct, the flight takes about 12 hours. We travel this distance as often as we can to visit with our extended family. While there are so many wonderful things to do, places to visit and food to eat in Israel, the main reason we come is to see brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins and friends. I often joke that it’s my 12-hour flight to Montreal. And it’s worth it.

David and I both have extended family in Israel. Most of the family we visit with are David’s relatives, including his mother, sister and brother, but I have a few cousins too. We see these people once, maybe twice each year, and we savour every moment that we are with them.

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A delicious dinner at David’s sister’s house

I will admit that concentrated time with family can be a bit stressful for all, and tempers get heated sometimes. Okay, often. Yes, there are blow-ups. But isn’t that normal when extended family come together and live under one roof for any period of time?

We just enjoyed a wonderful few days in the desert with David’s extended family. His mother, Barbara, generously treated us to the field school experience in Ein Gedi, which we all enjoyed. It gave us an opportunity to be together and recharge our batteries in the most relaxing of settings.

A night hike in the desert, a trek to a waterfall, a visit to the ancient fortress of Masada and a swim in the Dead Sea were all done with extended family. We relaxed outside under a full moon in the evening and caught up with old friends. What a way to spend a vacation inside a vacation.

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Family lunch at Tel Be’er Sheva on the way to Ein Gedi
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Getting ready to go up the cable car at Masada

After we left Ein Gedi some of us traveled north, first through the desert, then through the heart of Israel and into the Galilee, to see my extended family. I have relatives in Israel who I only met in the last ten years. Over 100 years ago my great-grandfather traveled to Canada from Ukraine. Not all of his siblings joined him, and one brother stayed behind and eventually moved to Argentina.

The family stayed in touch for a while but eventually, over the years, were separated. My great grandfather’s descendants stayed in Canada, and some my great-grandfather’s brother’s descendants stayed in Argentina while others moved to Israel. To make a long story short, about a decade ago we found each other. And now we always get together when I come to Israel.

Not only do I love the beauty and serenity of the desert, but I also adore the magnificence and lush landscape of the Galilee. With fertile valleys surrounded by mountains, how could you not love Northern Israel? And since this contingent of my extended family lives in a small community in the Galilee, I always get the opportunity to go there.

My extended family lives on a Moshav. There is no direct English translation for this term as this kind of community is very unique to Israel. It’s a cooperative agricultural community. Everyone owns their own home and property and for the most part have careers and commute to a job every day. But at its heart it is still a tight cooperative farm.

We love to spend the day with our cousins, at their home, walking around the Moshav and touring the dairy cows on the farm. The kids went on a tractor ride and fed a few cows, some born just a few days ago. Matthew even asked if he could take one home.

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Julia had fun in the grass with the neighbour’s dog
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Matthew enjoyed a tractor ride with his cousin Tomer
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Julia had a knack for giving the cows the tastiest hay

Our trip is not over yet, and when it is we will have a solid 12 hours of flying ahead, to get back to Toronto. We still have a few more days to soak up with our extended family, and we relish every moment. It’s a long, 12-hour flight to “Montreal,” but it’s so worth it.

Leading up to an Overseas Family Vacation

family vacation

I love to travel, and if I could, I would take many trips around the world every year.  I can’t afford to do that, but hey, a girl can dream. But I don’t always have to dream, as once in a while I am lucky enough to go on a big trip. I’m leaving on one in a couple of days. And I’m not going alone. I’m taking my husband, my son, two daughters and niece too, to Israel. We are going on a long overdue, overseas family vacation. And I’m freaking out!

I have traveled many times with my husband and children, and we even took my nephew with us the last time we went to Israel, three years ago. Traveling with children does not scare me. I think that going on a family vacation is something wonderful and adventurous. If one can, travel is the greatest gift a parent can give to a child.

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Our attempt at a family selfie in the Old City of Jerusalem during our last visit to Israel 3 years ago

So why am I freaking out? Well, first of all, I think I always do in the final days leading up to a big family vacation. Whether we are driving to David’s family country house in Quebec or flying around the world to New Zealand, all the details that go into the booking, planning and (wince!) packing for a family vacation are stressful.

Most of the booking and planning is complete. The planning is actually the fun part. In some ways, you get to stretch the trip out longer when you surf the web and do research about activities and excursions. I’m now in the packing phase, which is always challenging. When I travel by myself, no problem. But I have set a lofty goal to pack efficiently and get everything our family of 5 needs into just 3 suitcases.

How many shirts? Did I remember to pack pyjamas for the baby? Since we are in Israel over Passover, did I make sure to throw in nice (clean) clothes for everyone? We will be in the desert, where it’s hot, for a few days. But oh, evenings are cold. So, I guess we need light jackets? Socks. Underwear. Toothpaste. Enough children’s Advil and Tylenol if the kids get sick. All of this swirls through my head night and day in the days leading up to our family vacation.

But it’s not just the packing. Just because I am going away, it doesn’t mean life at home stops. Okay, so I turn down the thermostat, shut off the lights and lock up my house. My daily life and daily routines comes to a halt. But the people I interact with every day keep living their regular daily lives.  I always need to prepare myself for that reality.

Who do I need to alert that I will be away? Are there services providers I need to contact? I don’t receive a daily newspaper anymore, so no worries there. I can monitor my home alarm from anywhere in the world. And in the technology age, I travel with my cell phone and am reachable at the top of Masada, on the beach in Tel Aviv or a windy road in the Galilee.

But there’s still so much to do. I work a few hours more in the week leading up to the family vacation to ensure I don’t leave any of my colleagues in the lurch while I am away. It reminds me of a study released back in January by ADP Canada (my main communications client right now where I spend most of my time) that examined how many hours Canadians typically devote to work before and/or after a vacation. Over 70% of people admitted having to put in much more work in the days leading up to vacation.

And for me and my family right now, as I have written about on a few occasions, life is stressful in general right now. Our work-life situation is rather unstable, and we don’t quite know where life will take us in the coming months. Is this the right time to go on such an ambitious family vacation? Should we be so far from home and potentially miss the next great opportunity?

Is all this freaking out on my part worth it?

The simple answer is, yes. I need a vacation. I really need a vacation. My family really needs it. No matter how many times I freak out in the next couple of days and wake up with night sweats paranoid about remembering to pack enough diapers for the baby for the plane, it’s all worth it.

Once I stand on my mother-in-law’s balcony, looking west to the view in the distance of the Mediterranean Sea and to the east view of the Jerusalem hills, I will feel better. Most of what I am feeling right now is normal. Going on a family vacation is a tremendous luxury, one that I appreciate more than ever right now. It doesn’t mean I will freak out less.  But it does mean I may enjoy it just a little bit more.

Tips to Look After Your Husband

husband

My mother sent me a clipping from a 1950 Home Economics book, a sort of top ten list for women on how to please your husband. In honour of Valentine’s Day, using this list as a guide, I am going to share with you my updated, 2018 version, of this same list. The tips provided to women in this 1950 guide are very serious. The ones I am suggesting, well, not so much.

Have dinner ready

1950: “Plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal on time. This is a way of letting him know that you have been thinking about him and are concerned about his needs. Most men are hungry when they come home and the prospects of a good meal are part of the warm welcome needed.”

2018: On my drive home from work I think about what’s in my fridge and what I can throw together for dinner. Tonight, I wasn’t in the mood to cook, so I made pancakes. I don’t know, or care, whether or not my husband enjoyed dinner.

Prepare yourself

1950: “Take 15 minutes to rest so you will be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your make-up, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh looking. He has just been with a lot of work weary people. Be a little gay and a little more interesting. His boring day may need a lift.”

2018: Our son turns 11 next month. That means I rested about, well, 11 years ago. I put on make-up when I first wake up early in the morning, and by the time we all arrive home at the end of the day I often look like a ragged mess. A stimulating conversation, on a general weekday evening, is a mix of yelling at our children, going over tasks to complete around the house and sometimes a more stimulating discussion about news and politics.

Clear away the clutter 

1950: “Make one last trip through the main part of the house just before your husband arrives, gathering up school books, toys, paper, etc. Then run a dust cloth over the tables. Your husband will feel he has reached a haven of rest and order, and it will give you a lift too.”

2018: Clutter is my middle name. At any given time, if anyone (never mind my husband) enters my house you will see many items scattered about – a single toddler sock, various toys, hats, coats, books, paper and dozens of other items. I may own some dust cloths. My house is usually a haven of chaos and disorder.

Prepare the children

1950: “Take a few minutes to wash the children’s hands and face (if they are small), comb their hair and if necessary, change their clothes. They are little treasures and he would like to see them playing the part.”

2018: I love this one. Really? I do bathe my children regularly, but around 6:00 pm all three of them look more like Pigpen from the Peanuts cartoons than little treasures. Even if I did tidy up my children, my husband wouldn’t notice.

Minimize all noise

1950: “At the time of his arrival, eliminate all noise of washer, drier, dishwasher or vacuum. Try to encourage the children to be quiet. Be happy to see him. Greet him with a warm smile and be glad to see him.”

2018: When I’m home with my kids all day I’m very glad to see my husband. To hand the wild things over to him. It’s not hard to eliminate certain noises around the house, as I doubt that the washer or vacuum are in use anyway. I can guarantee that at least one child will be screaming, another one will be bothering another one and the third one won’t even notice that someone has arrived in our house.

Some don’ts

1950: “Don’t greet him with problems or complaints. Don’t complain if he’s late for dinner. Count this as minor compared with what he might have gone through that day.”

2018: I build up my list of grievances as I slog through my day and my husband does too. He is rarely on time for anything, so I’m more shocked if he arrives anywhere on time than late.

Make him comfortable

1950: “Have him lean back in a comfortable chair or suggest he lie down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him. Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low, soft, soothing and pleasant voice. Allow him to relax – unwind.”

2018: If my husband chooses to relax on a comfortable chair or in bed he had better do so with a couple of rambunctious children. He can make me a drink. His shoes better be off his feet before he steps off the mat at the front door. I don’t know what a low, soft, soothing and pleasant voice is. I’m always loud.

Listen to him

1950: “You may have a few things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first.”

2018: I’m texting with my husband throughout the day. Whether he’s busy or not, he will hear from me. I usually get the first word. And the last.

Make the evening his

1950: “Never complain if he does not take you out to dinner or to other places of entertainment. Instead, try to understand his world of strain and pressure, his need to come home and relax.”

2018: I go out once in a while with my girlfriends, I have a theatre subscription with my mother and encourage my husband to go out too. As long as we coordinate our schedules, there’s no problem. And once in a while, if we are organized and find the time, we even go out together.

The goal

1950: “Try to make your home a place of peace and order, where your husband can renew himself body and spirit.”

2018: That’s why there’s yoga.

My life isn’t actually quite that hectic, but ladies, we have come a long way since this piece was published almost 70 years ago. While I believe that women are still (and may always be) responsible for the brunt of the running of the home, with most of us putting in a long hard day at work, our husbands have stepped up and share much more of the load.

I hope these 1950’s tips gave you a good chuckle. I definitely had a few giggles as I read them. Ladies, take care of your man today. And gentlemen, take care of your ladies, every day.

Happy Valentine’s Day!                                                                                                                    

Skiing Takes my Stress Away

skiing

I would not consider myself an athlete. When asked if I play sports like baseball or hockey, my answer is often, “those who don’t play, watch.” I like to watch sports and love to talk about them, especially with my son. But not always. There is one sport in which I actively participate: downhill skiing.

My parents first put me on a pair of skis when I was four years old. I don’t actually remember what it felt like that first time as I was so young. It was a time before young children learned about “pizza’ and “french fries” on the ski hill. I learned the basics of snow plow and found my way down.

Our family skied at various places in Ontario and Quebec. Well-known Laurentian hills like Mont Tremblant, Mont Saint Saveur and Morin Heights gave me my first early exposure to good quality skiing conditions. I took lessons at a small place in Ontario called Devil’s Elbow, and sometimes we ventured further to places like Blue Mountain, and more recently, to Alpine Ski Club.

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First day selfie on the ski hill this season

Note that I keep using the word “we.” That’s important. Skiing was a sport my whole family did together – my parents, brother and sister too (she was on skis before she was even three!). No matter how busy we were all week, in the winter our family jumped in the car on a Saturday morning (or during a winter vacation) and headed to the ski hill. It was our break from life and a chance to spend quality time together.

Think about all the sports in which you participate or watch. How many of them can a family all do together, as one unit? Or even if a family can, do they? Skiing is one of those. I felt privileged as a child and even more so now as an adult, to be able to ski every winter weekend with my family.

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David tested out snowboarding a few years ago. A rare picture of us on the hill together
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I think we take too many selfies on the hill.
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Cousins testing out the ski hill at night, for some railing fun.

And when I say my family – I mean my parents, my siblings and their families and my husband and children too. It’s a rite of passage in our family. A baby learns to walk, then run, then ski. And the diaper is still on!

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Two-year-old Matthew gets some instruction from his Zaidy during his first season on skis
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Matthew, in blue, on skis for the first time at age 2, with his big cousins.
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Julia, age two, on skis
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We start them young. Matthew took Nessa for a mini ride when she was less than a year old
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We just had to take a selfie last winter during Nessa’s first visit to the ski hill

As any ski family will agree, getting ready to go skiing in the morning, in a house with piles of children (more on our family country home another day) can be a rather unpleasant and sometimes downright horrible experience. At the height of the season we are 16 people in the house – an even 8 adults and 8 children. The children range in age from one to fifteen. And no one cooperates. Someone is always crying or screaming or fighting with a sibling. Socks are lost. The previous day’s long under wear wasn’t washed because a child forgot to put it in the laundry. A glove was left at the ski hill the day before and a tantrum ensues.

We rush to the car, zoom to the hill and deal with the next level of craziness: get the kids out, strap their skis and snowboards to their feet and throw them on the hill. Someone is usually crying, screaming or fighting yet again. Is it all worth it?

Yes.

Once I am at the top of the mountain and look down at the sparkling white snow ahead of me all my stress disappears. I can let go. I am free. All the craziness of the week, my career and my family melt away. I let my skis take me down the hill. Yes, it is all worth it.

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The view I love. That’s Julia, my father and Matthew sliding down the hill together last year.
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There’s always a fun mix of family on the hill, like my mother, nephew and daughter.

It’s about minus 15 outside today, and I am in the city and unable to go skiing. But tomorrow, well that’s another story. It may be cold outside (okay, it is insanely freezing), but I will be out there on the ski hill doing my thing. As will my parents, siblings their kids, my kids and maybe even my husband (okay, not the baby, she will be in the daycare). And I will be skiing every weekend this winter. If you need to find me, look for me on the hill.

Dads Making Dinner and Moms in the Corner Office

work family balance

 

My husband, David, knows how to cook and bake. Well kind of. He can cook eggs any way, his chicken schnitzel is crispy and juicy and he makes the best pie I have ever tasted. He also likes to eat, so when I go away and leave him alone with the children, for the evening, a couple of days or a week I know he and the children will eat.

I don’t know what they will eat, if the house will be clean or when (or if!) the children will go to bed. Somehow, he muddles his way through it all while I am away, the children always have a great time while Mommy is gone and the house is still standing when I return.

Does my husband concern himself with any of this when he goes away? Does he worry if the children will eat a balanced diet, whether or not they will bathe or if they will sleep more than a few hours each night?

I know that in my case the quick and easy answer is no. Without even doing a survey (a simple one or even one that follows the Scientific Method) I am quite sure that the answer is usually no for most families. And this irks me.

When my parents grew up, in the 1940’s and 1950’s, most fathers went out to work in the morning and most mothers stayed at home to run the house and take care of the children. One could logically conclude that the majority of fathers at that time couldn’t put a balanced meal together, didn’t know how to do a load of laundry or turn on a vacuum cleaner.

When I grew up, in the 1970’s and 1980’s, a far larger number of women went off to work in the morning, including my mother, but the responsibility to run the household and care for the children still far skewed towards the mother. My father was incapable of even making a piece of toast, cutting up vegetables or heating up leftovers. I still don’t think my father knows where the power button is on the washing machine though I will give him credit that he does know his way around a mop, broom, vacuum cleaner and bathroom sponges.

The women’s movement was strong in the 1970’s, and many women strived to have it all. They wanted to be leaders in business, entrepreneurs and executives but also have a family. They wanted the ultimate – to find that perfect work-family balance. Many of these women of the 1970’s had families and raised daughters to have the confidence to strive to have it all.

But do we? While it is quite commonplace today that most households are double income, I believe that the majority of the household duties still fall on the mother. While of course there are exceptions and there are some incredible fathers who balance a demanding job and run the household, they are in the minority.

Most women today, who have a career and family, don’t have it all. As I write this post, for example, in the early evening, I am home alone with my three children. My son is watching television, my 7-year-old daughter is playing quietly with her toys and my baby girl is crying and wants to be held and entertained. I still have to cook dinner and put a load of laundry in the machine and somehow I need to write and post my blog and do some other work as I do my best to earn a living. David is an active, caring and doting father and does his fair share around the house, but at the end of the day the children’s and the house’s well-being are my responsibility.

So the answer to the question is simple: do we, women in 2017, have it all? Absolutely not and we will never find that perfect work-family balance. We will do our best to try, as women always do. We will raise our daughters to aim high and dream big. For now, I will carry the baby in the Ergobaby while I make dinner, change the channel on the TV to keep the other two children happy and press publish on this post. It’s the best I can do.