Friday, November 28, 2008

Working 9 to 5, What a Way to Make a Living

I have made it a strict personal rule NOT to discuss my "real," and by that I mean "paying," job on this blog. Not only am I heeding the strong advice of those who have done so before me and been seriously scalded for it but I also feel that this blog is my personal outlet and I want to keep it separate from my professional venting. My professional outlet for venting usually comes in the form of a dark pub, a few good colleagues and a hefty helping of pints. Nothing in writing, nothing recorded and more often than not, nothing much remembered the next morning. Heh.

These days; however, as my maternity leave draws to a close and my return to my "real" job becomes more and more of a fast approaching reality, I'm having a harder time separating it from my personal existence. The 9 - 5 life has been far from my mind for close to a year, and suddenly it's there again, in the back of my mind, day in and day out as I begin to prepare myself, and my family, for its inevitable return into our daily lives. Thus, I felt like a quick post on the subject of "working," in the 9 - 5 format, rather than the 24/7 format as I've become accustomed to this year, might be in order.

Let me start by saying that I have a fabulous job. I've been doing it for seven, that's right, seven years now. Working at the same company over the past seven years I have been through many, many ups and downs, experienced much laughter and more than a few tears, met and become dear friends with some of my favourite people on earth; like her and her just to give you the tip of the iceberg. Over the years I have faced some great challenges at this job, seen an awful lot of change and worked with people that I didn't exactly, um, vibe with, to put it mildly.

The great news is, after all these years and all the challenges, I believe that right now, my department is filled with the absolute best team of people you could put together to be doing what it is that we do. It is an exciting time in my industry and because of those two things - the team and the climate - I am excited to go back in a couple of months.

Excited and terrified.

I have literally grown up with my company. I was a mere, childish, 26 years old when I started there, still partying all night and trying to pull it together for the office the next day. It's safe to say that I have seen great personal and professional growth at this job. I've learned an amazing amount about both the industry that I work in and about myself. But frankly, I don't think I really learned anything about my personal and professional priorities until I had Bella.

Naturally, Bella has changed everything. This past year at home with her has been the greatest, most incredible year of my life. I have never been more exhausted, more challenged, more inspired, more fulfilled, or more happy, ever. While I know for sure that I would not be happy as a permanent stay-at-home mom, that I need and want to continue working and living my professional life, I also know that today more than ever before my work/life balance will be of the utmost importance.

I understand now, suddenly, why women hit the glass ceiling. Because once you have a family there's in instant and important shift that happens. Suddenly time becomes much more valuable than money. And for some reason, some very unusual and unexplainable reason, most companies (mine included) are more willing to give you increases in wages, professional promotions, and high percentage monetary bonuses than they are to give you flextime, vacation time or family time. And God forbid you aim to have both monetary success and personal time? Both a high level position and an equal work/life balance? It simply isn't possible and sadly it's women who time and time again sacrifice either their career goals or their time with their kids in order to achieve some mediocre level of satisfaction at one or the other.

Time. A concept that seemed so simple before. But today, when I think about time, I feel an instant tightening in my chest, a quickening of my heart and a squeezing on my soul. Beginning at the end of January, my time, my precious time with my baby girl is going to be greatly reduced. She will be going to daycare full-time and I will be going to work. She will be learning and growing, taking first steps and speaking first words, with her new care-givers. I will be building websites. Instead of spending my days with her, teaching her, raising her, loving her, I'll be spending my valuable time behind a computer screen while she learns and grows in the hands of somebody else.

And it breaks my heart. So much about it breaks my heart. I'm looking at her happy face right now, as she plays quietly on the floor, happy and secure in our daily routine. She has no idea that very soon it will all be turned upside down and inside out. That we will move beyond this magical year and begin a life that means we spend two days a week together and three, measly weeks of harried and too short vacations. That breaks my heart. It also breaks my heart that the company that I've loved, worked hard for, been so loyal to for so many years, doesn't have any options that would allow me to do both the job that I love for them and the job that I love for her.

Of course, it's not really about me, or about the company that I work for. This is very much a systemic issue. It's about our society. Sadly, we live in one where children and childcare are not valued.

We can see it in the lack of affordable childcare options. My daughter's daycare is going to cost my family the equivalent of the mortgage that we pay on our house. Because I am not able to work a reduced work week, we could not afford to have a nanny come to our home. A full-time, live-out nanny costs between $3000 - 4000 per month! As a result, full-time daycare is my only option. This means my daughter will get sick more often, and I'll likely miss more days at work because of it. And I'm one of the lucky ones because, though it will be very tight, I can afford to send my daughter to this daycare.

We can also see it in our private sector and how unwilling companies are to step outside of the box and start to give their employees access to flexible hours, shared jobs, reduced work weeks, extra vacation time and the like. It's not even enough to have these options available, but they need to be available to workers at all levels and for a variety of reasons. Not just for parents, but for anyone who has an interest in having a true work/life balance. Artists, actors, travelers, writers, adventurers, care-givers, young and old.

But there is a dim light glowing at the end of the tunnel.

I have spoken to many, many new mothers this year. Professional, intelligent, hard-working mothers who do not want to give up their 9 - 5 jobs, but also feel, as I do, that their children deserve more of their time. And these moms ARE finding flexibility. Four day work weeks at reduced salaries, extended maternity leaves and unpaid vacation time seem to be the most common solutions, to a lesser extent job sharing and work-from-home options are starting to become more common. Today's Parent recently published their annual list of the 20 most family friendly employers, along with an article about making your job family friendly.

Granted, a lot of these family friendly employers are in the public sector, an area that is considerably more advanced in these matters than the private one. But it is starting to change. I know that there are private sector jobs out there that will work with you, instead of just around you.

My employer doesn't offer flexibility to parents or otherwise. It's a huge company, traditional and set in its ways, and though I love my job dearly, I can't say I'm not disappointed at the lack of creative solutions that are offered. As I said before, it's not that I don't love working, it's just that I love my daughter more. It's not that I don't want to go back to my job, in fact I truly do. I miss my colleagues and the work itself, the creative outlet it provides for me, the way it stimulates my brain and challenges me to learn. It's just that I want to have a bit of wiggle room to divide my precious time with my professional family and my personal one. And, it's just that like every working parent out there, I'm struggling with how the hell I'm ever going to manage to do it all.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Happy Birthday to You: 9 Months Old

Dear Anabella,

I think your development this month has finally surpassed my ability to adequately document it. Until this month it was relatively easy for me to pick out one or two significant things to talk about. 'Slept through the night,' for example, or 'giggled for the first time.' Around six months it might have been, 'ate her first solid food' and then, 'said Dada one hundred thousand times but has not said Mama or anything even close to it.' Yeah. That's right. Still haven't.

This month the most obvious and amazing development is how physical you have become. You sit up incredibly well and keep your balance, correct yourself and move all over the place on your bottom. You've learned to do this little baby-creep that I like to affectionately call the Bella Butt Shuffle. The Butt Shuffle is a strange thing because honestly, I'm not even sure how you do it? All I know is that I can put you down in one place, turn my gaze away for a minute or two and when I look back you are somewhere else. It's amazing, but it has also made my life just a little bit more difficult. No more leaving you alone on your playmat while I jump in the shower. These days it's got to be crib-jail for you.

You've also mastered the art of pulling yourself through from sitting up onto your hands and knees. While you are not quite moving forward in a traditional crawl you are a mere days away from doing it. You like to get into the crawl position and rock back and forth, just waiting for the right moment to take off. And while part of me waits anxiously for you to take those first few forward movements, I also recognize the shocking significance.

Pretty soon you'll be deciding where you want to go, and when. It's something that I'll have to stand back and watch happen for the first time, and then forever more. And of course I want you to always move forward with confidence, but there is a little part of me wants you to stay right beside me, clutching on to my neck for support like you do when you are sleepy and relying on me for balance and guidance. Only nine months and already I have to start to let you go?

That's what being a parent is really all about. It's about creating these tiny creatures that you quickly grow to need so desperately, and then giving them all the tools they need to one day, confidently, leave you behind.

So, although for you, this month has been about getting bigger and moving forward, the developments that I cherish most this month are things that remind me that you are still a baby. You have taken to sucking your thumb at night, after the soother has long been tossed aside. I know that many people hope their kids will never do it, but it's so precious and it also allows you to sooth yourself when you wake up, instead of needing Daddy or I to run in and put you back to sleep.

You are becoming incredibly vocal and though you always clam up in the presence of strangers, when it's just you and I you will babble for hours. It's so beautiful to listen to, this baby language. And you have the sweetest little voice. Never too loud, always lilting and pretty, you're experimenting more and more each day with pitch and sounds and words. There is nothing, besides your incredible laugh, that I'd rather listen too.

Finally, your love for music continues to grow. You sing yourself to sleep at nap time and hum softly in your stroller while we walk. When we are in the car together, I can hear you quietly chirping away and it comforts me to know that you are secure and happy back there alone. When I break out in song, no matter how serious or silly, you break out in smiles. It's all the encouragement I need and so I find that because of you I am singing all day long. It's one of my greatest pleasures.

And this month, along with the singing, you have also started to dance! Oh mother of all things cute. The music starts and off you go, rocking away to the beat, either on your bum or on your hands and knees. And, Girl? You've got rhythm! I've tried to capture you on video a few times, but you always play shy. Here's the best I could do so far:

Bella, you have now been on the outside of my body for as long as you were inside of it. I have been madly in love with you for 18 months now and every day, every single day, I love you more. You are my pride, my joy, my inspiration.

I love you.