Category Archives: working mom

School Dazed

I don’t know what happened to the month of January, but I blinked and find myself already one week into February–and struggling with yet another new routine. The big change is stemming from the fact that our wonderful nanny is getting to be very pregnant with her third child, due in early April.

I’ve more or less been in denial about the fact that she’s having a baby, although she and I have talked several times about what she wants and needs. Two weeks. That’s the amount of time off she wanted to “rest” after the birth. And then she asked if I wouldn’t mind dropping baby off and picking him up at her house for awhile until she got into a routine with the new baby. Ummm, that’s it? There’s a reason this woman is absolutely amazing.

But my brain can’t totally process this plan. If I remember correctly, it was like a full month before I stopped feeling some uncomfortable pulling and pinching every time I sat down. I started going into contingency planning. What if something happens and she ends up having a preemie? What if she has to have a cesarian? Or worse. What if the baby needs to stay in the hospital for awhile after birth? And then I started to just feel guilty. Do I look like an unreasonable employer for only giving her two weeks off before I dump my kid on her for 10 hours a day, five days a week–even if that’s what she asked for?

I decided I needed to figure something else out. I toyed briefly with the idea of looking for a short-term nanny, but the more I thought about it, the more complicated it seemed. Going through the nanny solicitation/screening process seemed like a nightmare. And I was pretty sure that I’d end up paying even more than the ridiculous sum I spend now every week for full-time child care. But more than anything, it sort of felt like we would be cheating on our nanny in some way, shape, or form. I mean, what if we liked the new person as much as our awesome nanny? I wasn’t ready for this kind of love triangle. So, I decided I’d seek out some day care facilities.

The last time I looked at day care facilities I was eight months pregnant and freaking out over the fact that most places wanted $100 to just turn in an application to maybe get on an 18-month-long wait list. And then if we were lucky enough to get in, we could pretty much kiss $18,000 or more away a year for the privilege.

But I was desperate in a different way now, so I started calling around. I soon found out that my child is at an awkward age–on the older side for toddler care but still too young for pre-school. So, as I was searching for some place to start bringing my kid in March, I was finding that (1) options were limited for the timeframe and (2) I was already running into the application deadlines for the fall preschool season. I found myself rushing to fill out preschool applications before Feb. 1 deadlines and I hadn’t found any place for my child in the much nearer term. Crazy.

Experts suggest that parents look at at least three different facilities before making a decision. Despite all the phone calls and appointments I made, my kid ended up at the one and only place I actually physically looked at. I consider the Petite Academy–which despite its lovely sounding name has no French affiliation, sadly–a hidden gem in this city. I think most parents would hesitate to look at it because they think it’s in a bad neighborhood because it’s on the wrong side of Georgia Avenue. But there’s really no neighborhood to speak of around it. The  facility sits behind the city reservoir on a main corner of a hospital megaplex that includes Children’s National Medical Center and the VA Hospital. For us, the bonus is it’s less than a mile from the house, so traffic isn’t a bear and I can total see myself taking the dog for a walk to pick up baby once the weather gets a little nicer.

To me, the building seems pretty nice; the classrooms are large, and there’s a good amount of fenced-in outdoor space. It also appears very neat and organized, even if some of the furniture is a little worn from enough kids toddler-handling it. Everything is expertly labeled, as well, down to a little red bag with my kid’s name on it that they hand me at the end of the week with all the stuff I need to take home and wash. And I get a progress report every day the details everything from what he enjoyed doing that day down to the number of diaper changes. Plus there are security check in/out codes for parents dropping off/picking up, so it feels like no one is just going to walk out with my kid. Because, let’s be honest, that’s the last thing I need to be worried about while I’m at work.

It would seem that everything should be great. I not only found a place that I find acceptable, affordable, and convenient, but they also had no wait list, so I was able to enroll my kid a month earlier than hoped. While that kind of stinks for my nanny, who just got her hours cut (I’m still feeling guilty about that), I have something lined up for my child whenever her baby decides to make his entrance. But mornings like this morning make me wonder if I’m even doing the right thing.

I can’t explain the mini heartbreak I had when my kid started crying as we turned into the day care parking lot. And then he clung to my leg, crying harder, as I tried to walk inside. There were full on tears as we hung up his jacket. And I could hear his shrieks and screams all the way down the other end of the hallway as I left. I know better than to hang around and try to make him feel better about me leaving, but, if I’m honest, I feel like absolute shit when I finally got back in the car.

I don’t know how long my kid cries for after I leave. His teachers keep telling me he’s doing well. Today’s big accomplishment was that he released his death grip on his sippy cup for half the day, which was a marked improvement. And when I pick him up, he’s usually fine right up until the point where he realizes I’ve come to pick him up. And he starts crying all over again. He’s not even two and he’s clearly making me pay for dumping him off at this place all day.

But what really makes me sad is that this is all because he misses me. Really misses me. I guess I didn’t realize how much time we spent together before. I mean, I still worked and he still spent significant time with his nanny. But with my new job being a more traditional work environment, we have gotten pretty far away from our old routine, which I will admit I totally loved as well. Now, if I take him to the gym daycare for an hour on the weekends, he screams. Six months ago, he was there four or five times a week and loved it every time.

He misses me. And knowing that makes me miss him more than I already do.

I realize that he’ll get used to the new routine and there will be less crying and more fun for him. And I realize that he’s going to be pre-school aged before I know it, so this is good practice. Really he’s only six or eight months away from that, so this is just temporary.

But I still really miss him.

 

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Filed under childcare, daily life, day care, schools, toddlers, working mom

Yup, I’m Still Human

I’ve had a hectic year. I spent most of it playing a work-from-home single mom. And then in the fall, I became an unemployed single mom. And now in December, I’ve rejoined the workforce as a full-time working, quasi single mom. (Trust me, I’m counting down the days until my husband’s travel schedule has nothing on it–for now.)

My first week returning to an office job was a little rough. My life as a solo parent/head of household only worked because it was programmed down to the minute. Consequently, an unexpected 15-minute delay was enough to practically derail my whole day. So, working through the kinks of a new schedule is fairly painful.

For example, I’ve never been what I call a morning “miller.” I never got up and milled around, drinking a cup of coffee, reading the paper, or watching the morning news before I got going with my day. I have always been a get-up-and-get-out-the-door kind of person. Not possible anymore.

I have figured out that I need to build in a 15- to 20-minute buffer of sorts if I want to (a) actually have a few minutes to speak with my child before herding him out the door and (b) have enough time to deal with unforeseen time sucks, such as missing keys, uncooperative dog and/or child, and major messes (like the extra grande, extra full coffee mug that tipped over, spilling sticky, flavored coffee all over my counter, my stove, my floor, and me yesterday morning).

And I’ve definitely had a couple of why-am-I-doing-this-again moments. The big one was the same morning as the coffee incident. That morning I also tore the house apart twice looking for my office security key (to no avail), the dog refused to eat or leave the back deck to do his thing, and I dropped the brand new roll of tin foil, which of course completely unraveled across my kitchen floor. (Have you ever tried to put tin foil back on a roll? Yeah, not going to happen.)

With all the mini crises, I barely took a second to look at my child much less smile at him. I nearly cried when stopped at a traffic light, I looked in the rear view mirror and he was totally silent, with this look of what-the-heck-is-wrong-with-my-mom on his cute little face. The killer was the dog had a similar look on his mug and had  laid his head down on the crumb cruncher’s lap, almost in reassurance that my craziness, too, shall pass. I totally felt like the worst mom ever.

But the next day was better, so I was reassured that I would figure out a way to make it all happen because somehow moms always do. And by the end of the week, I felt pretty in control of my new schedule and could let myself feel as excited as I wanted to be about my new job.

By Saturday I felt nearly invincible. I had taken my weekday efficiency measures into the weekend. Baby and I went to the gym; turbo shopped in Target, knocking a ton of stuff off our Christmas to-give lists; dropped the dog off at doggy day care; had brunch with our cousins; went grocery shopping; retrieved dog; and was home a little after 3pm. I was pretty proud of myself.

I let the crumb cruncher loose in the backyard with the dog, thinking how lucky we were to have a fenced in yard, as I put away my groceries. How great was it to have a place for him to play where I could keep an eye on him and yet still take care of everything I needed to take care of? Not to mention that I had just powered my way through a super productive day. It was as if life itself was telling me, “You got this, girl,” when it came to dealing with all the craziness of my life.

Almost.

As I was putting away some dishes, I thought I heard a cry. So, I took a closer look out the patio doors. There was the dog pretty much dragging my child across the yard by his hood. Face down. Funny how life has a way of reminding you just how human you are.

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Filed under daily life, pets, working mom

Where in the World It Pays To Be a Working Mother

I get a kick out of all those lists–and there are a ton of them–that that rank cities against one another based on some interesting set of criteria. In the past week, for example, I’ve checked out the Top 10 cap-and-gown cities, otherwise known as the most educated cities; the Top 5 cities for extreme couponers, or other people who are equally as cheap; and the Top 10 graveyards for geezers, which some might call retirement Meccas. There are even rankings of rankings, like this one from Area Development Online, which is a list of the 100 most desirable places to do business, based on what markets made the cut on the greatest number of related lists.

But this week was the first time I had ever seen this list from Forbes of the 50 best cities for working moms. I don’t know where I was the past two years to have missed the earlier compilations. My guess was last year I was too busy breastfeeding and the year before that I was probably too busy being in denial about being pregnant. But anyway, I took a good, hard look at this year’s rankings.

I was happy to see that Forbes added a few new metrics to its ranking criteria, stretching the evaluation beyond the obvious issues of jobs, safety, and education. Commute and childcare are definitely two huge issues for me as a working mom in our nation’s capital and definitely two of the major reasons that I work mostly from home with occasional appearances at the office. By including these factors into the evaluation, I think Forbes did a good job of leveling the playing field between true major metro areas (think Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., etc.) and those metro areas that I would consider second- or even third-tier cities. I mean, seriously, would Buffalo, N.Y., really have made anyone’s top list of places to be a working mom if there wasn’t some value attached to the cost of doing business (childcare) and time (commute)?

There were certainly other surprises on the list. Columbus, Ohio, for example, came in a No. 2 on the list, thanks to short commutes and cheap child care options. And Milwaukee also was a dark horse winner at No. 4, with short commutes and good medical care helping its final standing.

However, I wasn’t too surprised to see Washington, D.C., break the Top 10. It’s really hard these days to find a better place for jobs. Judging how full the restaurants and bars are every night, it’s clear this town knows no recession. Plus, it’s a great place for professional women. I remember reading this Richard Florida article a few years ago that mapped out which metro areas had female surpluses, so to speak; D.C. was running neck and neck with Philadelphia for the title, with 50,000+ more single women than men. So, it makes sense that some of those single women would eventually marry and start families but stay in the area because of the jobs.

But I’m not sure I would agree with D.C. ranking high on education. The survey gave the city a No. 4 rank for greatest expenditure per pupil. But spending lots of money doesn’t necessarily equate to good schools. In fact, in general, public schools in the district are atrocious; it’s actually pretty embarrassing. Traditional public schools are being shut down all the time because of failing test scores, leaving public charter schools to pick up the slack. But they can’t handle the capacity, so situations akin to those documented in the film Waiting for Superman are very normal. Kids basically need to win the lottery to go to the best schools.

Looking more closely at where the District ranked on the individual metrics, I saw that there was a real divergence between the pros and cons of being a working mommy in D.C. The city scored in the top 10 on four out of 8 metrics–female earning potential, jobs, schools, and healthcare; in the middle of the pack for safety; and in the very bottom of the heap on cost of living, childcare, and commute.

Given the costs of housing, no matter whether you rent or own in the area, I pretty much expected D.C. to fall in line behind San Francisco, nearby San Jose, and New York City in terms of expensive cities to live in, although I would’ve thought Boston and Chicago might have been a little pricier than D.C. perhaps.

But I was totally shocked to find that what I know anecdotally about the cost of childcare and commute times was actually confirmed by data. (It really is as bad as I think it is.) D.C. ranked No. 50 for cost of childcare with the average annual cost of full-time childcare coming in at $18,200, according to NACCRA, and No. 49, second only to New York, for commuting.

So, if I’ve got this straight, it’s great to be a traditional working mom in D.C. if you want to make a lot of money but spend a ton of it on childcare because you’re stuck in traffic. It’s no wonder that working from home is so the best option for mommies like me.

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Revenge of the Mom Jeans

Yesterday I got a promotional e-mail from American Eagle about a program that they are running called Old Jeans, New Hope. The idea is that the company is asking people to bring old, worn out jeans to any American Eagle store for recycling; the jeans are then turned into insulation for homes in communities in need. In exchange for a denim donation, people will receive 20% off store purchases.

Although I think this is a great recycling program, the program promotion reminded me of a post I’d been meaning to write for awhile now on my new favorite jeans.

Between being a mom to a toddler and working from home, I nearly live in jeans. Consequently, I own a lot of pairs of jeans. I’ve bought more expensive brands like 7 For All Mankind and also really cheap kinds like the Mossimo junior jeans I picked up at Target for less than $14 this past summer. Although when you find a great pair of jeans, they most often are worth whatever they cost–7’s for example really do make anyone’s butt look good–I do kind of get off on finding deals on less expensive jeans that fit just as well as the pricier pairs.

My latest find was at American Eagle. I don’t usually shop at American Eagle, mainly because in my head it’s in the same category as Abercrombie & Fitch. And frankly, I’m too old for how short the shorts are, if you know what I mean. But I had a twenty-something friend visiting from France who just loves American-style clothes and she wanted to do some shopping at American Eagle, so I went with her to the store.

I had been wanting a new pair of dark wash jeans and they had about a gazillion pairs on display. At the time I visited, the store was running a promotion where all jeans were around $25. So, I figured why not try a few pairs on. Never having tried on AE jeans before, I didn’t know what I needed or even wanted in terms of style and size, so the sales associate grabbed about five different styles for me in what she estimated was my size.

I kid you not, I have never tried on five pairs of jeans and had them all fit really well. There was no gapping in the waist above the derriere region and there wasn’t four inches of excess material drowning my ankles. And the pockets were big and sat low, just the thing for minimizing assets. The fits were so good I debated buying all five pairs–I mean, really, when you find good jeans you just have to buy them. But then I decided that was a little excessive since I had just scored on some Target jeans a couple months prior. So, I talked myself into just buying two pairs. But which ones?

Making Moms Look Good

I was well stocked in the skinny jean department, so I had tried on the Slim Boot, Original Boot, Hipster Flare, Favorite Boyfriend, and Artist styles. After trying every single pair on at least two more times to determine what was a good versus great fit, I finally decided on the Favorite Boyfriend and Artist jeans. As you might imagine, the Favorite Boyfriend are a bit more relaxed, although they are pretty low rise, and the Artist have a little bit of a trouser twist on the classic jean.

About the only drawback I’ve found after wearing one of those pairs probably four or five days out of the week is that I think I would’ve maybe gotten a size smaller. The denim is kind of light and soft, which I like, but it also means that it sort of stretches out after a few wears, especially with all the bending and running I do chasing a toddler around all day. But that can be said for a lot of jeans, so I don’t know that I would really categorize it as a negative for these jeans.

And I’m definitely not the only mom who’s fallen in love with AE jeans. I was recently stocking up on some makeup in a department store when one of the sales reps at a nearby counter came up to me and asked, “Are those American Eagle Artist cut jeans?” Turns out that mother of two also recently purchased a few pairs and was loving that she got a whole lot of mom jean for the money.

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Filed under fashion and style, mom style, moms, shopping, stay-at-home moms, working mom

The Write Choice

A friend of mine recently went to work for the mom-founded, mom-run upstart Juice in the City. So, I was using my Friday night to troll the company’s site since it’s expanding to the D.C. area soon. Basically, if you subscribe to stuff like Living Social or Doodle Deals, you’d probably be a fan of the Juice. It’s similar in that it offers discounts to cool stuff in your metro area, but it’s totally targeted to the mom in us.

Every day the site features a deal on anything from mommy-and-me painting classes to family portraits to mini van tune ups, all provided by locally owned businesses. Not only are the discounts great, but you can have the assurance that it’s a good deal on a good product or service because it’s been totally checked out by a local mom. I think it’s a really cool concept–a buy-local business built by moms for moms.

But that’s not really what this post about. While I was scavenging the site, I ran across this blog post, A Writer Mom’s Balancing Act. From one writer mom to another, it really struck a chord with me. Especially this part:

“We [writer moms] have an ever-present need to put words down. No matter what else demands our attention, no matter how severe our sleep deprivation, our personal muse is always hovering nearby whispering, ‘Write.’ We must write. But finding the time to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard can become more challenging than finding a needle in a haystack the size of Mount Everest.”

I write for a living. And that’s fun and rewarding. But what I really find fulfilling as far as writing goes are the hours I spend feeding this site. And I so have those same muses whispering in my ear to the point that if I go too long without posting, I start to feel bad, kind of guilty or something. It’s pretty silly–I mean, who’s really reading this thing anyway–but blogging has become a major part of my weekly routine. It’s very similar to when you get into a good exercise routine and then you miss a few days; you get all anxious to get back to the gym.

And so while it’s always hard to find free time when you’ve got a baby, it wasn’t until I had a baby that I was ever this disciplined about writing for myself. And I am grateful for that. Writing is just good for my soul and, until I became a mom, I didn’t really realize how much of myself I had been missing by not writing for fun frequently enough. Funny how for as much as babies can take from you–time, energy, patience, and all the rest–they give back more without even knowing it.

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Filed under babies, daily life, first year, moms, working mom, writing

Stay at Home or Work? Every Mom’s Big Decision

As I was trying to shovel applesauce into a screaming toddler’s grimacing mouth the other morning, I saw this news segment on TV that asked: Who’s got it worse, working moms or stay at home moms? According to a University of Washington study, stay-at-home moms are more likely to be depressed. But the caveat is that those working moms who try to be super moms–meaning they have unrealistic expectations of work-life balance–were more depressed. The big takeaway being that any way a mommy slices it, she’s likely to run up against depression at one time or another.

I have thought a lot about this question over the past couple of years, as I struggled to decide whether to stay home full time with my wee one or go back to work. I’ve also seen a lot of mommy-friends come up against the same big question–and come up with different answers. But as I look across the spectrum of full-time moms to full-time professionals with kids on the side, one thing is clear: No one has it easy. Each work-life permutation that I’ve come across has moments that are positively overwhelming and definitely worthy of a whimper or two.

Of course I’m painting with a very broad brush, so bear with me, but most of my stay-at-home mommy-friends’ struggles stem from the fact that they are indeed home all the time. While it’s wonderful that they get to spend every waking moment with their precious wee ones, many of them seem to feel that they’ve lost a little of their shimmer and shake along with their connection to the working world. They’ve got a good grip on all things domestic–their laundry baskets aren’t overflowing and the litter box doesn’t stink–but finding things to do and places to go with the wee ones other than the grocery story and Target isn’t exactly easy. Hooking up with playgroups, classes, and activities can be as much work as dating or interviewing for a new job.

Life for working moms, on the other hand, is seriously programmed. From the moment the alarm rings to moment the last kid is in bed, it’s go-go-go time. In a way that’s good because a day can just fly by,  but one small glitch and the wheels are nearly going to fall off. There is absolutely no time for stuff like misplaced keys, runaway dogs, or flat tires. (My mommy meltdown of the week was over a broken back gate.) There’s so little time to take care of the basics that anything that requires extra, special, or immediate attention feels like a way bigger deal than it probably truly is. But having way too much to do in way too little time is the reality.

So, whether its about feeling invisible or inadequate, life for any mom, regardless of employment situation, can be stressful if not downright depressing. This realization begs the question whether there can really ever be a good work-life balance.

One of my brother-in-laws had a very good “dad” response to that question. He said that he knew he was close to striking that point when he felt like he was just doing in his estimation “good”–not fantastic or great but not bad or terrible either. It sounds a little depressing, but I get what he meant. It’s like if he was being a super star at work, he knew he wasn’t being the dad he wanted to be. And if he was being super dad, he probably wasn’t putting in the time or effort at his job that he should. So, when he was doing well enough, that was balance. I guess that makes him the good-enough father before there was the good-enough mother.

While I think that’s a truly honest assessment of the situation most young parents find themselves in, it’s not exactly prescriptive. The best how-to advice I ever heard was unsurprisingly from my best friend. (It’s always funny to me that you never really have to go far for good advice.) As an executive at a well respected, Fortune 1000 company, she’s definitely corporate to the max; however, she’s also a great mom who adores being with her kids, so she knows all too well how delicate that balance between a successful career and home life is. As I was blubbering to her about my decision to work or not to work, she finally told me the way she would have it, if she could: work 3-4 days a week, with the flexibility to work from home, and limited travel. And it dawned on me–isn’t that the way most mommies would have it? You’re home enough, but not too much, you have a little bit of income, and you still stay connected to the world that’s 18 and older.

But sadly, few of us are afforded that luxury of flexibility and those that have it cherish it. A lot of school teachers have a pretty good gig, working the same hours that their kids are in school and then summers off. But I learned recently that most female doctors only work three days a week because of this issue of family, and I instantly regretted my career decision. I certainly could have made a lot more money for the years I spent in school and have as close to a perfect work-life balance as possible. But I’ve got to imagine, or at least hope, that maybe the business world is in the process of changing to accommodate families needs to have moms and breadwinners. Maybe by the time Gen Y decides to have kids, the flex schedule will be more commonplace than it would seem today. Because the reality, at least according to that University of Washington study, is that as a mommy, you’re far from escaping depression at some point, no matter if you’re at home or at work.

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Filed under baby blues, family, moms, stay-at-home moms, working mom

Keeping Up with the Alpha Moms

As I was flipping through the local paper this evening, I came across a reprint of an article from the Chicago Tribune, called “High-stress Motherhood.” Given my recent crisis of confidence in believing that I can actually succeed at being a working mom, I decided this article was probably meant for me.

I am totally mom Alice Domar, who so perfectly describes what it’s like trying to balance job demands with child demands:

“When you’re at work you feel guilty that you’re not at home, and if you go home at 5 or 6 p.m. to pick up the kids from day care, you feel guilty you’re not at work—or you do what I do: You have your Blackberry in hand, and every time you get to a stoplight, you check your email.”

I totally always feel like I’m running to just keep up, which makes wonder how only 40% of working moms report feeling rushed, according to a recent Pew Research Center study. What do the other 60% of them do for a living that doesn’t seem to make significant demands or add a certain level of stress to life?

Don’t get me wrong; I like my job and I like being busy. I find what I do both challenging and interesting. But while there are good days where everything feels under control, there are those other days, which usually end (at least for me) in some sort of mommy meltdown, a glass of chardonnay, and a call to my mom. At that point, I can hardly count myself one of those moms who report that they are happy despite their frazzled lifestyles. In fact, it usually takes me a couple of days to get over that this-is-too-much-for-any-sane-person feeling.

I fully acknowledge that I add a certain degree of undue pressure on myself. That’s just in my DNA; I have never really done anything half ass. Anything that I consider worth doing, I do to the best of my ability. But this article made me consider this:

As biology nudges the modern mom into the traditional position of comforter-in-chief, she starts to contend with the dazzlingly high domestic standards promoted by everyone from Martha Stewart, to HGTV to your friendly neighborhood alpha mom.

First, I just have to say that the term “alpha mom” is really funny to me, hence the title reference. But that aside,  maybe women, and especially working moms, are unknowingly being set up to try and fulfill unreal expectations. While husbands and moms definitely help share the burden of doing it all, they aren’t the teams of people that go into making every Martha Stewart or HGTV project a success.

But even though we may recognize that fact, it doesn’t necessarily stop us from wanting it all or striving for it. Does a reality check ever really kick in? Or do we as moms just live feeling inadequate in perpetuity? Gosh I hope not.

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Filed under daily life, depression, emotions, family, infants, mommy care, moms, stay-at-home moms, working mom