Friday, January 22, 2010
Everybody's Workin For the Weekend
It's been a busy few weeks at Chez Creath. Once the holidays were officially over, it was time for me to figure out what I am going to do about work when my maternity leave ends next month. Since we are lucky to be a two-income family, we have the luxury of making some choices. I don't want to engage in the "Mommy Wars" so I'm going to keep this post specifically to what we wanted to do as a family.
For those not familiar with the "Mommy Wars", that's the age-old debate of stay home with kids vs. work outside the home. It's a stupid term, and doesn't encompass a bunch of other viable options, like (gasp!) the dad staying home, working part-time, working from home w/ childcare, etc. And Internet discussion boards and blogs always have really annoying viewpoints on both sides, so I try to stay away from those as well.
Rewind back to the late 1990s. I read an article about some college students who already knew that when they had children they would quit working, assuming their spouse had a healthy income. I was infuriated by this, and thought they were "letting down the sisterhood" and already preparing to "waste their education". (Stick with me here, I swear I'm not judging *now*.) At any rate, I couldn't imagine staying home with kids all day, especially after a long, painful, and expensive education. (I think the wounds of Caltech and grad school were still healing at that point, and I needed to make myself feel like it was "worth it".)
So for many years, I assumed I would either a) not have children, or b) go back to work as soon as I could in the rare event I did have any. a) was the option until the aforementioned biological clock alarm went off.
When I got pregnant, and we were reasonable sure it was going to be ok, it was like a switch had flipped. Suddenly I GOT IT. I understood why people would *want* to stay home with their children.
It wasn't for any of the sanctimonious reasons I read about, like "I want to raise my own child rather than daycare/nanny/etc doing it". That particular one bugs the crap out of me. Because someone chooses to outsource the mundane tasks of daily childcare while they work, it doesn't mean someone else is RAISING their kid. Duh. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to keep a baby entertained, cleaned up, and fed, so I totally understand why people choose to pay someone else to do this while they go and exercise their brains and/or make money.
But we agreed not to make any decisions about what to do until I had really experienced my maternity leave, and the day to day drudgery. And we were really lucky in this regard. First, I have a nice long maternity leave, probably one of the longest in the US (12 weeks paid plus another 8 weeks unpaid). Second, our baby is awesome. She was a good sleeper from the beginning (knock on wood!) and seemed content to eat every 2-2.5 hours. And third, the whole birth thing was easy-peasy, and I recovered really fast.
So after the first 8 weeks, or so, we got to the fun part of maternity leave. I tried to get out with her a few times a week, to have lunch with friends, or hang out with other baby/mama pairs. We went for walks, we read books, we did a lot of cuddling. I tell you, there is nothing better than a happy, smiley baby. We have spent a lot of hours staring at each other and making noises, because she's just so cool. Of course, we also spent a lot of hours trying to get her to go to sleep, or figure out why she was crying, but I'd say it was 80% fun/20% not-so-fun.
And I was surprised to find I liked it. A lot. the Internet helps here too. I have a bunch of friends on Facebook so it was like having a lifeline to the outside world. I read a few parenting blogs regularly. I read the New York Times and USA Today on my iPod while I'm feeding her. (Go multi-tasking!)
So, the New Year came, and with it, the end of my leave is fast approaching. The plan we were developing slowly started to come together. TJ and I both felt like we aren't ready to leave her with anyone else for childcare yet. (At least not on a regular basis.) Even on the fussy, yelling, spit-upy, diaper malfunctioning days, I can't imagine *anyone else* handling it.
And more importantly, *we* want to spend that time with her.
She's changing so fast that I don't want to miss any of it. As dumb as it sounds, the first time I saw her grab a toy and pull it towards her, I squealed with excitement (which promptly made her drop the toy). And if I do miss some milestones, I want TJ to be the one who sees them. (Like the time he saw her roll up on her side. She's only done it a few times, but the fact that he saw it first, made it ok for me that I didn't see it at all.) I waited a long time to have a baby, until I really felt ready for it, and now I want to experience it in all its awesome, messy, fun, crazy, difficult glory.
But, we also live in a not-exactly-cheap part of the country. And we've got a certain lifestyle we've been accustomed to. We could scale it back, but relying on one income is a very tight balancing act. Not to mention the fact that my job is very cool. I have a great manager, nice teammates, and I actually LIKE the day to day work. Oh, and they seem to like me too. That's pretty hard to find.
So the pie-in-the-sky idea was to get some extra months of unpaid leave, then go back to work around 2 days a week, with a little bit more work from home in evenings and on weekends. And then maybe TJ could rearrange his schedule to be home on the days I am in the office, and do a compressed work week. HAH! Like that would ever happen in this economy.
Except that it seems to be happening. TJ's boss was fine with him rearranging/compressing his schedule. And then my boss said they could accomodate a part-time schedule for me because there is a job-share slot opening on my team. And 2 days in the office with some hours from home would be fine. The tradeoff? I don't get the extra unpaid leave, but I can take some vacation to ease back into work over a few weeks.
So how could I *not* go back? This is such an amazing scenario. I get to keep my very cool tech job, but scale it back so I can also keep my new awesome non-technical job, hanging out with my baby.
TJ gets to spend 2 days a week with just the baby himself. (We realized this week that he's never taken her anywhere by himself yet! Yay for daddy-baby field trips!)
And Trillian and the pups will have someone at home with them all day. Win-win-win for everyone!
So I'm actually excited for it now. We have some things to work out, like getting together enough milk for TJ to feed her on the days I'm at work. Surprisingly we have made it to 4 months of exclusive breastfeeding. I can honestly tell you I never saw that coming. And luckily she takes a bottle just fine (almost too fine!) so that's one less headache for the back-to-work transition.
The one thing that's likely to suffer here is my small handmade empire. I am super-busy on my Etsy site, and getting steady orders on 1000Markets. I'm definitely going to have to scale that back when I start working, so I'm not stressed about filling orders when I should be enjoying time with my baby. I'm still working out the best way to do that - maybe by offering more ready-to-ship items, or having a set number of "slots" for custom items each week.
I'd love to hear some thoughts from you about how to balance work and babies. I'm sure there are lots of experienced mamas out there who are doing this!