Thanks so much for picking up The Must-Have Mom Manual! We're glad you found this book and hope you will be too. We're Sara Ellington and Stephanie Triplett, two moms just like you-moms who change diapers and drive carpool and get up for 3:00 a.m. feedings (at least when our children were babies-now the only reason we get up at 3:00 a.m. is if someone wet the bed). We may be authors and radio show hosts, but we live and breathe this mom stuff. We're not the moms you see on the magazines at the checkout aisle, with their round-the-clock nannies and fat bank accounts.
We've tried our best to compile the most useful information you need as a mom all in one convenient place. What you'll find on the pages ahead encompasses more than a year of research for our radio show and our book, input from the countless mothers we've met at book signings, conferences, and the bus stop, and, of course, our own experience as parents.
But before you plunge in, we thought it was important to tell you a little bit about the two of us. We're best friends who happened to find ourselves pregnant at the same time. Our first children, both daughters, were born just three weeks apart, which led us to write our first book together, The Mommy Chronicles: Conversations Sharing the Comedy and Drama of Pregnancy and New Motherhood. Although our timelines for becoming moms were the same, virtually everything else about our lives as mothers was completely different.
Because we took such divergent paths down the motherhood road, we're going to give you two completely different perspectives along the way. Well, at least most of the time. Every now and then we do agree. But oddly enough, it's our differences that have brought us closer. We've learned that we don't have to be the same kind of mom to be good ones. We've always respected each other's choices even when they were the complete opposite of our own. Too many friendships have ended due to mothers judging one another. The two of us are proof that a working mom and stay-at-home mom can be best friends. That a breast-feeding mom and bottle-feeding mom can be best friends. What has worked for one of us often just wouldn't have for the other because we're different people. That's the simple message we have always strived to share with other mothers: there's no one right way to be a good mom.
So the last thing we would ever want to do is to tell someone how to be a mom. That's not what this book is. (Besides, we've screwed up way too much stuff ourselves to preach to anyone else!) There is no one-size-fits-all formula for motherhood. This book is about making your life easier as a mom and paring down a lot of the information modern mothers have to weed through. If you're planning a trip to Disney World, we've got the best resources for you so you don't have to slog through a hundred websites at 10:00 p.m. when the kids are finally asleep in bed. Moms have more information thrown at them than ever and less time than ever to process it all. We've tried to combine all the important stuff you need in one handy resource. We figure we might as well keep sharing the knowledge we've gained as radio show hosts and moms. You can learn from our mistakes and our triumphs and, we hope, have more time to enjoy actually being a mom instead of spending it trying to find out where to order party favors. To do that, all you have to do is turn to page 172, for example.
How to Use This Book
So now you're probably wondering, "How the heck do I use this book?" Well, funny you should ask.
The Must-Have Mom Manual is divided into large sections, such as "Life with Your Baby" or "Marriage," which in turn are divided into chapters. Refer to the table of contents for chapters on the specific topics you're interested in. In some chapters you'll hear from both of us, while in other chapters you may hear from only one of us, depending on the subject matter and our individual experiences. At the end of each chapter, we've provided what we call "Clutter-Busting Resources" for you. These are the most useful resources we've used ourselves or found through research for our radio show and this book. We've done at least some of the legwork for you, which should save you hours searching online and at the bookstore.
Meet Stephanie and Sara
About Stephanie, from Sara
I know that after reading The Must-Have Mom Manual you're going to love Stephanie as much as I do. Okay, almost, because unfortunately we can't put a little sound card inside this book with a recording of her laugh. So you'll just have to take my word for it when I tell you she has the most wonderful, infectious laugh. And even though she's really the funny one of the two of us, she laughs at all my jokes and sounds as if she means it. That alone is enough to make me love her. There's nothing like a friend who laughs at all your jokes.
Stephanie and I met in Virginia Beach working together at an advertising agency. She was the gregarious, outspoken account executive who got things done and I was the introspective copywriter who overanalyzed everything. Stephanie loved the writing aspect of her job, and after she wrote a few things that her clients loved, she naturally shifted to the role of copywriter along with me. We soon learned that our working styles were wonderfully complementary. Stephanie's the big-picture girl who cranks out paragraph after paragraph with a lightning-fast typing speed of 106 words per minute. I'm the one who goes back and checks for grammar and makes sure the period is on the correct side of the parentheses. Yes, I'm a bit anal. I've got more than one book on home organization. I like things in their place. I salivate over photos of neatly stacked towels in a linen closet. I'm going on and on about this because the only thing I really have on Stephanie is that I'm organized and she's messy. One night after a book signing we went to a McDonald's drive-through to get Diet Cokes (our lives as authors are completely glamorous). When the cashier handed me the change, I immediately flipped down the coin holder in my minivan and started placing the coins in all their appropriate slots. Stephanie looked at me, dead serious, and said, "Okay, first of all, that's really annoying, and second of all, that's my damn change."
I'm also painfully understated. If I have on big earrings, I am probably not going to wear a necklace too. Stephanie, on the other hand, likes bright colors, hair accessories, nail decals, and anything that is sparkly (stuff that I don't have the cojones to wear). I used to tease her that she was like fish attracted to anything shiny. Don't get me wrong-she's a great dresser and her house is beautiful. Although she will occasionally display a tacky piece of holiday décor, and then she'll inevitably call me and say, "You should see what's on my wall right now. You would just vomit."
I am always envious of her ability to get so much done. I was on the phone with her the other day and she said, "I've gotta go. It's Dr. Seuss's birthday and I'm taking green eggs and ham to school." I'm lucky if I get to my daughter's school on time to read to the class, much less bring food, for crying out loud.
Stephanie's husband, Tim, is a stage hypnotist (how fun is that to tell people at cocktail parties?) and he has to travel a lot. In fact, he is usually home only one week a month, but Stephanie is still full speed ahead, taking food to school, working, and getting the kids to cheerleading and baseball day in and day out, with very few breaks. And I rarely hear her complain. (Although Tim would probably beg to differ.)
Tim and my husband, David, hit it off just like Stephanie and I did. They enjoy being in each other's company immensely. As a couple, Tim and Stephanie are like a comedy tag team. After an evening with them you go home with your sides aching from all the laughter. Now this relationship we have as friends and couples has grown into a friendship among families. Stephanie and Tim's kids, Sara and Timmy, are absolutely beloved by our children, Anna and Cade. Even though they don't get to see each other as often as they would like (i.e., every day), when they do see each other, it's like they were just together yesterday. In fact, my kids insist that Sara and Timmy are cousins, even though we aren't related. I know what they mean, though; it's a relationship that's too close to categorize as simply friendship.
I know you are going to enjoy Stephanie's hilarious yet practical take on "all things mommy" as you read this book. And you'll surely understand the sparkle she brings to my life and why I am blessed to share this journey with her.
About Sara, from Stephanie
I'm not sure that making colored meat for a school project is really all that impressive. But now it's my turn to gush a little about Sara.
Sara is the ultimate girlfriend's girlfriend. She has exquisite taste; owns the best purse and shoe collection of anyone I know; is a great cook, a great decorator, and a great mother; loves wine; and is just plain easy to be with. When you're around Sara you can relax. She's easily entertained and keeps her criticisms to herself. Now that I'm so close to her, I can see her holding her tongue when I've said something stupid-but it's hard to detect unless you know her really well (or you say a lot of stupid things and have lots of chances to notice the look). She's the smart, thought-out, careful one. I usually just spew out whatever comes to mind without thinking and hope people find the humor in it. But Sara is very polite and careful about people's feelings.
She loves dogs, particularly golden retrievers, and all of her dogs have undoubtedly had a more pampered childhood than I did. She and David have a beautiful house on a lake in Charlotte, North Carolina, and they love inviting people over for a day on the water or a relaxing dinner party. I love going to their house. If you get invited for dinner, you're in for a real treat because they have a talent for making dinner a fun yet relaxing event, with great ambience, a great meal, and a lot of laughs. I always plan to arrive at their house right at dinnertime.
The only frustrating part about Sara is that she's the ultimate organizer. She reads all those tedious organizing books from cover to cover, drooling over every page. She has a friggin' system for everything from grocery shopping to putting away toys. If the Container Store knew her name, they'd give her her own parking space. If there were a pageant for Miss Anti-Clutter USA, she'd hold the title year after year. She's a perfectionist when it comes to her writing-she's constantly telling me, "The period goes inside the quotes! How many times do I have to tell you?" or "Why can't you remember to indent?" (Like I care-don't they have editors for that?)
All I can tell you is that despite all our differences, we make a great team. We balance each other out perfectly. And now our children love each other too. It's so amazing to watch my Sara and her Anna playing together and realizing that these are the babies we wrote about in our first book, The Mommy Chronicles. And we've been through a lot together. Another chapter in our lives began last year when Sara told me she had been diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease (a cancer of the lymphatic system). I was devastated. How could someone so young and vibrant get something so awful? The good news is that she faced it head-on and after several months of chemotherapy is now cancer-free. It was torture for me to be so far away from her during such a trying time. I wanted to be there to bring her casseroles, clean her house, or take care of her kids. But instead, I had to wait patiently from Georgia and hope. She assured me she had plenty of casseroles, that taking care of our business was what she really needed from me. But I didn't get much done without her.
And I'm so proud of her for handling this illness with so much grace and strength. When I finally got to see her after her treatments were over, we spent a day together on the lake with our families. I was so relieved to see her still so energetic and happy. And we've decided that it was good that I wasn't so near her during her treatment because I've never seen what she truly went through-so nothing has changed our relationship. I still see her the way I've always seen her. And frankly, I'm glad I didn't too because it would have broken my heart to see her so sick.
The friendships that women have are one of the greatest, most valuable treasures of a lifetime. The secrets and support and dreams and challenges that we share are what make life more meaningful. We've learned a lot about motherhood from sharing our own ideas and methods and from listening to the countless other mothers we've talked to at book signings and through our radio show. And it is our dream that this book will help you, bring you some laughter, and remind you to treasure your own friendships, as opposed to judging those who choose to mother differently. Motherhood is different for each of us. We all approach it with different styles and methods, but in the end, we all have the same goal: to get them out of our house with as few scars as possible, a good education, a good understanding of right and wrong, and maybe a few manners, and then to hope that they'll love us as much as we love them and call us once in a while.
Choices of Other Mothers
When did motherhood become a competitive sport? Talk to your own mother and you'll probably discover it wasn't that way in her day. But women have changed and motherhood has changed. Women are bigger players in the workforce than ever before, and it's about time! We're breadwinners and managers, doctors, business owners, and board members. And as a result, we've become more competitive than ever.
Excerpted from The Must-Have Mom Manual by Sara Ellington & Stephanie Triplett. Copyright © 2009 by Sara Ellington. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.