Monday, June 25, 2012

A Peek into the Stream of Consciousness of a Working Mom

I have a half-finished post in my drafts, called "Working Motherhood, Warts and All." I have been struck by the number of places where I've come across references to the idea that some young women think women like me are selling them a false promise of happily "having it all" (there's that phrase I hate again). So, I started a post about the good and the bad in my life, with the intent of examining how much of the bad I would blame on the fact that I am a mother in the workplace.

But I don't feel like writing that post tonight. Instead, I give you a portrait of my parents, as drawn by Petunia.

Boppa is on the left, Mimi on the right. Which is obvious, of course.

And then I realized that the story of my day today and my upcoming week illustrates the points I was going to make, perhaps better than the carefully thought out post I was writing.

So I poured myself a beer, and here goes.

I woke up hard this morning. I usually wake up before the music that our alarm plays starts, and roll over effortlessly and turn off the alarm before it wakes Petunia (who is inevitably in our bed by morning these days) or Hubby. But last night was a rough night, with Petunia waking up about 45 minutes after I fell asleep, and wandering the halls a bit because Hubby, who was still awake, was completely unaware that she was up, thanks to the excellent headphones he uses when he plays his computer games.

I am always disoriented if I get woken up within an hour of going to sleep, but I did eventually realize what I was hearing, and go out and retrieve Petunia. We were both more awake than I would have liked at that point, and it took 15-30 minutes before we went back to sleep. During that time, Hubby came in and joined us, and rolled over and fell asleep within seconds. I do not think I get enough credit for not pummeling him awake at times like this.

But, tired or no, I still got up and went for my morning run. I am finding my relatively new routine surprisingly easy to stick to. I think that is because the reward was immediate. I had thought the reward would be better fitting clothes and a trimmer figure- and indeed, my pants are fitting better now, even if the number on the scale has barely budged. But actually, the real reward is that I get 20-30 minutes of quiet. One of the things that I find most lacking in my life is quiet time, when no one wants anything from me. My kids want something from me from the moment they wake up. I occasionally get some solid, uninterrupted quiet work time at work, but not much- that is not the nature of my job. I am a project manager, not a tech lead. I coordinate and communicate more than I sit in my office and work out technical problems. (Although I did solve a major technical problem last week, in a stroke of insight so sudden that I almost saw a light bulb turning on over my head. I felt smart for days.) Once the kids are in bed, my husband usually wants some time with me, and I with him. But at 6 a.m.- no one wants anything, as long as I manage to get out of the house before Petunia wakes up.

I came back from my run to find Petunia awake, whiny, and disturbingly warm. She has a history of running frequent, unexplained fevers, which usually require 2-3 days home from day care. Her temperature registered below 100 when we took it, and, thanks to a special arrangement we have with our day care, we decided to give tylenol and send her in. (While no one knows what is causing the fevers, the evidence indicates that they are not contagious.) We were convinced that we'd get a call after naptime, though, telling us that Petunia had a high fever and was miserable- when those calls come, we always go and get her and take her home, and then keep her there until the fever clears.

Unfortunately, all time off with Petunia was going to fall to Hubby- I have a packed week of user training with a vendor in town. Petunia has an uncanny knack of picking the least opportune times to get sick. I could have worked from home/taken time off with no problem last week. It honestly feels sometimes like it isn't so much that my work and my home life are in conflict as that they are ganging up on me.

But, amazingly, the call never came. I picked a happy Petunia up (along with Pumpkin) at our usual time. She was still a smidge warm tonight, and not showing much interest in eating, but she played happily- in addition to drawing chalk portraits of her entire family, she insisted on taking her push bike out for a walk, and then she helped Pumpkin and Hubby trim some flowers from our front garden.

The rest of the picture is even cuter.

Petunia and Pumpkin presenting them to me, which is sweet even though I am desperately allergic to them. I put them in my preferred child safe vase, which the observant among you will recognize as a bottle from my pumping days.

They are truly versatile little bottles!

Anyway, back to the morning. Petunia was clingy in the morning, and wanted "Mommy get me dressed. Mommy do hair. Mommy brush teeth. Mommy do su'sceen." She got 50% of her demands met, and I rushed out the door 10 minutes late. And then I got caught by the #&@%$! train at my freeway exit, and was about 15 minutes late to meet our vendor.

I had an intense day at work- good, but intense. As I mentioned, it was the first day of a week long training course that I had organized for a large group of employees who are getting some new software. We have several open items to discuss with the vendor, mostly relating to how other groups are using the same software. So, I had to get to work early (to help the vendor set up for the training), and then stay focused through an entire day of training, and then cram in some discussion of our other issues. And I get to do it all again tomorrow, with the addition of staying late and then going out to dinner with the vendor and a couple of other people. (DAMN! I forgot to make reservations. Luckily, we should be OK, since the place we're going should not be overrun on a Tuesday night. Still, I must remember to do that tomorrow.) I probably won't be home before my kids are in bed. That is a rare occurrence, so I don't mind that much, other than the fact that this probably also means that I'll get to bed late, and I am foolishly staying up late tonight, typing this post.

And we have a super busy week. (See- home and work are ganging up on me.) The San Diego County Fair ends next week, and we like to go once each year, and not on a weekend. So we're planning to leave work early on Wednesday and take the kids up to the fair. Then my parents arrive on Thursday, an event Pumpkin and Petunia have been asking about since they last left. They are coming into town because Friday, Pumpkin graduates from preschool. (I know, we all rolled out eyes at such things back before we had kids. But shut up. I suspect I'll cry.) Preschool graduation also requires leaving a little early, so between two early days and an entire week spent watching training, I'll probably need to do some work this weekend to catch up.  Plus, we'll want to take advantage of the extra (and frankly, preferred) adults to entertain the kids and get some big chores done, like going to Ikea to get the new furniture that will allow us to set up a computer in Pumpkin's room. The computer that was part of her 5th birthday gifts back in April.

So yeah, it is a crazy week, but honestly- crazy in a good way. I love my kids and I love having my career. I wouldn't want to give either of those things up. I look at all the craziness I just typed out, and the thing that actually bothers me the most is the fact that I have to get up at 6 a.m. to get some quiet time. I don't think being a stay at home parent would fix that. Quite the opposite, actually. I don't like the worries about Petunia getting sent home from day care with a fever, or the rushing off to work when she wants me to help get her ready, but to me, those are part of the price of having the life I want, and since I see no evidence that these trade offs are doing my kids any harm, I no longer feel guilt about them. I am genuinely happy with my life.

Which is not to say that I don't wish for structural changes to our society that would make life a little easier for two career families. Take one example: I was talking to one of the other moms at our soccer lesson last week, who has two daughters roughly the same age as ours. She mentioned that when her younger daughter turns 3, she will move to the preschool at the same location as the older daughter's (public) elementary school, so they'll only have to do the dreaded separate drop offs and pick ups for a few months, not the three years we are facing. And I thought, hey why can't our school have that? I know the answer, of course. She lives in a wealthy suburban school district, and I live in the city. And my state is busy decimating all levels of public education for a variety of depressing reasons. I suspect that preschool is actually funded by fees from the parents, and they aren't done in my school district because most parents couldn't afford it. God forbid the rest of society help pay for that sort of thing. I wouldn't want to ask anyone to subsidize my choice to have children, after all. (Whenever I hear that argument I want to ask the person making it to guarantee that he- and it usually is a he- will not allow my children to subsidize his retirement, not even by funding the roads and the police in the city, and certainly not by providing any income support to buy food or medicine... but then I think, I don't want to live in that type of society, one where we'd let an old man starve just because he made obnoxious arguments in his youth, so I let it go.) Then I think about how much Petunia loves her current day care and realize that we probably wouldn't want to move her, anyway. So nevermind.

And yes, I know I am incredibly lucky to have the work and life that I have. The stars have aligned for me. And I know that some people will read this post and think "and that is exactly why I decided to stay home with the kids/cut back my hours to part time/not have kids/whatever." I think those two things explain why there is an undercurrent of angst about this whole working mom thing amongst young feminists. You can't guarantee your luck, although you can make decisions that try to increase the odds of getting lucky. And no matter how much you think you know how you'll feel once you have kids, you also know deep down that you won't actually know anything at all until you're holding your first born in your arms- and maybe not even then.

Frankly, I don't know what I will want to do as my kids get older. I hear that things get harder in some ways as the kids get older, and I can believe that.  My opinion so far is that babyhood/toddlerhood is physically more demanding, both in small ways (I was struck while doing dishes tonight that I didn't have to wash any stupid little plastic parts from sippy cups, because Petunia mostly drinks from real cups now) and large ways (there was a time when getting woken once and getting back to sleep within 30 minutes would have been a very good night), but that as the kids get older, parenting gets more mentally challenging. If and when I think that I need to change how I'm running my life, I'll do that. I'd promise to come back here and tell all... but who knows if I'll still be blogging by then?

But for now, I like my life how it is. I don't pretend for a minute that life like mine is for everyone, but it is for me. I'm sorry that some people don't believe me when I say that. I also don't think that someone who chooses differently is selling out the sisterhood. It actually really annoys me when people imply that- no woman should be required to make herself unhappy just to advance the greater good. Screw that. We all deserve the chance to live the life that will make us most happy.

Which is exactly what I'm doing.

Wow, that god long and ranty. Good on you if you made it all the way through! Feel free to respond to any or all of the random things I discussed in the comments. But I'll be in that training thing all day again, and then out to dinner at night... so don't expect responses from me until later.

21 comments:

  1. But actually, the real reward is that I get 20-30 minutes of quiet. One of the things that I find most lacking in my life is quiet time, when no one wants anything from me.

    I second, and third, and fourth this one! Quiet time is what I miss the most. I cherish short business trips, because when I am on a plane or driving long distances, for a little while nobody needs anything from me...

    It honestly feels sometimes like it isn't so much that my work and my home life are in conflict as that they are ganging up on me.

    This is the best sentence EVER! :)

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  2. God forbid the rest of society help pay for that sort of thing. I wouldn't want to ask anyone to subsidize my choice to have children, after all. (Whenever I hear that argument I want to ask the person making it to guarantee that he- and it usually is a he- will not allow my children to subsidize his retirement, not even by funding the roads and the police in the city, and certainly not by providing any income support to buy food or medicine... but then I think, I don't want to live in that type of society, one where we'd let an old man starve just because he made obnoxious arguments in his youth, so I let it go.)

    Oh I am so with you on this one. This is by far the most obnoxious argument childless (or childfree) people make, and I want to punch them in the face every time. No, children are not just a personal decision; in most ways having children is in fact very much *unlike* buying a big plasma TV or taking spin classes. Yes, you have them because you want them, but they end up benefiting the rest of the society. Whoever doesn't see it simply doesn't want to look. I should stop now as this is inflammatory stuff, and I don't want to get my blood pressure boiling or hijack your thread... Great post, BTW!

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    1. Yeah, I would be surprised if I get an annoyed comment or two about that bit.

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  3. I eat breakfast by myself for a little alone time in the morning.

    It's hard for me to remember how hectic those first 3 years were before DC was really able to start taking care of himself on his own. I suppose we'll get that reminder soon enough. I think we'll be ok, especially with DC helping.

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    1. Of course you'll be OK! Because the trade off for the extra care, etc. is pretty good. You get to watch a little person emerge again. Totally worth it! But I still don't want to do it again. :)

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  4. I would love to have a third baby, but I don't think the delicate balance of our life can sustain it. There was a nice (short) post over at bluemilk this morning that dovetails nicely with this one, about how women want real information about how women handle their lives. It seems like you see that again and again, here - you're always saying how much people love your logistics posts.

    I love my life, too, but this year was very hard on me, and I'm not sure if I could - mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually - handle another like it. Work was super intense, and of course for 20 weeks I was on my own with the kids. I have a LOT of help from my parents, who usually come the weekends my husband isn't in town. I appreciate their help, but it's not the same as my partner, because when my parents are here, I'm still in charge, which is part of the emotional load. I worry about the long-term effects that my stress level has on me, and about the short term effects it has on my parenting. There's been a lot of yelling, which torments me. My 4 y.o. is incredibly sensitive and clearly cannot handle being yelled at, and I can't stop myself.

    There are particular challenges to having a husband come and go, because it means when he comes back (esp for short visits) it's often more disruptive than helpful; he's behind the curve on what the kids want/need/eat/are being disciplined, so I still have to oversee that when all I want to do is let go. Ah well, academic year after next we'll actually be together for the full year - 15 months in fact, the longest stretch I'll have spent with my husband in 6 years (only by then it'll be over 7 years). People often shake their head at us and say, I don't know how you do it. Mostly, I say back, I'm like a shark - I can't ever stop, because when I stop and think about it, it overwhelms me (when we have these conversations about our future) and I can't stop crying. That's the emotional toll I keep hidden from myself in order push forward. I know that makes my life sound grim and unappealing, but I'm trying to think about the long term, not just short term struggles. I have zero regret not waiting to have kids, I have zero regret about my career which is flourishing, I have zero regret about the man I married (best decision I ever made). Sometimes life is hard; or rather, sometimes life is hard in some ways. But hard doesn't equal miserable, or not worthwhile. I'm not afraid of hard things, as long as I'm getting what I want/need out of it, and I think as hard as all this is, that I am, that we are collectively.

    Oh, and don't even get me started on the "I shouldn't have to subsidize your choices" business. The answer to that IMO, isn't the stuff about retirement, it's the basic point that we all subsidize each other every minute of the day. It's called DEMOCRACY and community. Pubic infrastructure works the same way - not just schools, but hospitals, streets, trash, traffic signals, firefighters. (Also, that's how ALL private insurance works - subsidizing each other - , all the time since the dawn of insurance.) I've never had a house fire, but I don't go around to people who have and say, I'm not going to subsidize your bad luck! Cough up for the fire department's time! It's absurd. Some people might want to live like that, but I doubt they're the majority, and the childfree who make those remarks about kids are so steeped in their own privilege, they can't even see how they themselves are being subsidized. Drive a car on a road, dude? I'm subsidizing you. Drink clean water? I'm subsidizing you. So stfu./ end rant.

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    1. Very good points about hard != miserable, and about taking some short term pain to get what you want long term.

      I sometimes think people have a mistaken idea that there is some "easy" way to be a mother. I have never seen it. I have an old post on that, but don't have time to dig it up now- must get to work for the second day of training!

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  5. work home ganging up on me - yup, kids never seem to get sick on weekend or during an easy week, always when we have schedules crunched as it is.

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  6. Yup - Evan always seems to get sick when both DH and I are swamped at work. Maybe they feel like they have to give us some time off from work? ;)

    I do worry about adding another child and how that will flip everything upside down yet again. With the one, we have 2-2.5 hours every night to ourselves, and it's bliss. That will all go down the toilet - at least for a while - if we have another.

    But, like you said in another comment above, just because it will be HARD for a while, doesn't mean we'll be miserable. It will just be a new normal, and we'll figure out a balance again, whatever that looks like.

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  7. Glad to hear you're sticking with the early morning running! It is true that, in general, people don't want stuff from you at 6 a.m. Except babies - but once you're past that, all better.

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  8. Anonymous12:07 PM

    I just want to say thank you for talking about being happy and fulfilled as working mom because I feel the same way. I am post-doc and love my job, I have a baby girl and I love her too. I don't feel torn or guilty or that I am always neglecting one part of my life. I feel like my life is full of wonderful challenging things I enjoy and wanted.

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  9. I absolutely love these "day in the life" posts. Really highlights the similarities & differences with my own. And I don't think I'll ever understand why women would feel guilty for WORKING of all things, or any other productive or nourishing endeavor. Maybe if I was dropping them off at daycare to shop & have boozy lunches every day I'd feel guilty (note I said EVERY DAY, I'd also have no guilt doing this once every few months...hmmmm good idea!). Good for you for the running. I need to pick it back up. The kids have been getting up at 5:45 these days, so mornings have gotten tougher to navigate but its just an excuse. I can & should still do it.

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  10. And once again I marvel that you are still more sane in your taking care of THISMUCHMORE day in the life posts than I'm managing as a dogmom today. :)

    I was just lamenting on another blog that I really wish I knew how my mom did it. My dad wasn't around much of my early infanthood, off working and she taking care of two of us alone, and I know I was a PITA, and she neither had help nor a soul to confide in. She very quickly became the other half of a two-career pair upon my dad's return, while doing the lion's share of parenting, if not pretty much all of it, so I will always wonder how she managed it all without ever seeming to be miserable or overwhelmed. She was no saint or martyr, and we were expected to do our part but I do wonder about stepping up to that plate when I make similar decisions and how to make things work well for us.

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    1. I think you just do what needs doing, and as long as the things that are keeping you crazy busy are things that you really want in your life, you aren't miserable. Or at least that's what I think is going on in my life. Even though I had an intense week on both the work and home fronts, I'm not miserable. I'm tired, and a little crankier than I should be, but I'm basically still happy.

      My husband has a different theory: he thinks that the problems come because people have a false expectation of a carefree, easy life. Such a life is very rare, if it exists. He says he just expects that weekends are for chores, so it doesn't really bother him when that's what he does all weekend. In this theory, I am one of the deluded people who expected differently, because I HATE when my weekend is nothing but chores. But mostly, we've managed to fix it so that they aren't.

      BTW, I haven't forgotten that I owe you a guest post. June has been crazier than I expected. But I'll try to do it soon!

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    2. Odd as it may seem, I agree with both of you philosophically, because I enjoy chores. Chalk it up to my workaholism or work ethic.

      I expect working/chore weekends which alternate with quiet weekends and that's fine.

      If I'm being totally honest, my real struggle starts with my health, and my brain after it, which means I can't really do what I used to. There's some dissonance in trying to figure out how to function the way I want or need to.
      But that'll come with time.

      Post - when you're ready!

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  11. I love your husband's comment about the false expectations - will remember that the next time one of our weeks starts to look like this again, because there will be another one!

    A good friend and I have been talking about plans for the transition to kindergarten occasionally on our runs for a year now (we have another year to go) and the changes it will bring and what we will be doing about it. Lots of good ideas being thrown around that will come together as the time comes closer. Will probably involve a local art school, 80% for me, and being home for the bus about 2-3 days/wk.....and lots of support by my partner/hubby with the second munchkin at daycare/preschool.

    I'm so amazingly lucky that I have choices though - this sentence rang so true: "And no matter how much you think you know how you'll feel once you have kids, you also know deep down that you won't actually know anything at all until you're holding your first born in your arms- and maybe not even then."

    A lot has to do with the munchkins and who they are too....

    Sorry totally rambling...head halfway stuck with work things too. LOL!

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  12. Any thoughts on how to find affordable daycare? I've looked around a little bit online, but haven't made calls asking about prices.

    My husband and I are planning on me taking my girl to work after she's born (and after I've recovered), but how workable that will be will depend quite a bit on her.

    I'm curious about a plan B, but the daycare by my work (where I'll get an employee discount) won't take them until they're two, and I'm not sure what else I can afford. I make a semi-decent amount per hour, but I'm only part-time, and it seems like we've heard so much about mothers who barely even make enough to cover daycare, making the whole thing not worth it. I think I'm probably one of them, but I should probably be sure...

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    1. You might want to look into the smaller in-home places, as opposed to the day care centers. The in-home providers tend to be cheaper, and some of them are awesome. Of course, some of them aren't awesome, but honestly, the same is true of day care centers. Visit them and trust your gut. You'll know which ones feel like a good fit for you.

      You might find the part time thing works better at a larger center, though- so unfortunately, you'll probably have to do a lot of calling around to find options.

      Here in San Diego, the YMCA keeps a list of day care providers, which can be a good resource for finding places to call.

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    2. Okay, thanks! On further reflection I realized that even if it only cost $6/hr., calculating by the times I'm currently leaving and getting back to my house, it'd be almost half my paycheck after taxes. It'd be pretty hard to make that work, but... at least it wouldn't be my whole paycheck. I'll keep your tips in mind, especially about the YMCA!

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    3. Keep in mind the entire cost of being out of work when you make this decision-- half your paycheck may not be such a bad sacrifice depending on your situation. Ignore the rant at the beginning-- here's some discussion of full pros and cons, not just the point-in-time wage analysis: http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2011/11/21/the-wohsah-decision-finances/

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  13. You make some good points, thanks! I'm still hoping I'll be able to do neither for the first two years -- taking my baby to work with me, as my predecessor did -- but we'll see. It certainly won't be easy!

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