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Our Choice

The other day a colleague of mine mentioned that his wife was pregnant with their second child. I casually asked him if he was planning to come back to work after the baby was born. In doing so, I stopped conversation around the meeting room and everyone stared at me a little quizzically. Of course he was coming back.

I like my colleague, I knew of course he was coming back to work, and I really only asked him that to be obnoxious – but I think it’s a point worth making. A question worth asking.

A friend of mine recently said that she hates telling people how much she spends on childcare, because their reaction to the astronomical number makes her feel bad, like she needs to be justifying why she pays someone SO MUCH MONEY to watch her kids so that she can work. And that’s because it is seen as choice she makes – her, as the mom, her, as the female spouse – framing her choice as if working were a vanity project, leaving the “child care or stay at home parent” viewed almost entirely as the decision of the mother; of course Dad will go back to work. Of course. “But what are you going to do,” society says. “Is working more important to you than staying home with your child? Is it? No judgment but is it? Huh? Huh?”

I recently watched the Neil DeGrasse Tyson clip in which he responds to comments made by the President of Harvard stating that it was the genetic differences between men and women that account for the lack of women in the sciences. (…). And he said that as a black man, his stated intention to become scientist put on the “path of most resistance”; it placed in him a zone that made society uncomfortable. People questioned and prodded him and wanted to place in him a box that was more familiar to them.  (“Don’t you want to be an athlete?” he was asked.)

And he wonders that if he did not know with so much certainty at such a young age what he wanted, would he have had the motivation to overcome those challenges, to push through and become the astrophysicist he wanted to become. And he asks how many people don’t get the chance to even know they want to become scientists, because it’s so hard to place yourself outside where our culture thinks you should be.

(He says it better than I can paraphrase: 

I saw that clip weeks after I asked my male colleague if he was coming back to work after his wife had their baby, but two things feel related to me.  Of course I knew that my colleague was coming back to work. I didn’t need to ask. But when I was pregnant, my coworkers did need to ask. And the fact that the question has to be asked of me and not of him means that for all the support and “of course you work, women work, duh, what’s the big deal” means it’s still seen a female choice, a choice that needs to be justified and explained and is not a given.

That’s a daily thing, a constant thing, the explaining of that choice, be it in terms of explaining why you pay for childcare or that, yes, don’t clean out your office, you’ll be back, and it’s not a thing men are thinking about. And like Neil DeGrasse wondering how many kids of color or female gender miss out on the chance to know they want to be scientists because people like them aren’t supposed to be scientists, I wonder about the toll it takes when we suggest that it’s only working women who are deliberately choosing to not be primary caregivers. Think about the message that frames for us as a society, for our kids to internalize, if my participation at work is voluntary but a man’s is expected.  And think about what it must feel like to live with the constant underlying judgment, because no matter you chose to do – work or not – if it’s a choice that’s yours and yours alone, then what is being suggested is that you may be choosing wrong.

Writer Kristen Armstrong wrote several years ago about how growing older has changed how she viewed her body. Specifically, she writes about “The clothes hanger purpose of her 20s, to the child bearing purpose of her 30s, to the athletic purpose in her 40s.”

 
I read that several years ago – long ago enough that I cannot find the exact article and neither can Google- but I’ve always remembered it. Probably because I was in the clothes hanger stage and had never thought of it exactly like that but that is what it was.
 
Anyway, I was thinking about that in terms of Kate Middleton this week. You know I’ve never heard Kate Middleton speak? I have no idea what her voice sounds like, but I can detail for you exactly which shoes she wore to dinner last night. (Literally.) It must be extremely odd to have your contribution to the world be almost entirely made up of how clothes fit on your body.
 
I’m sure the Duchess is a lovely lady and her husband and child love her dearly. It’s just so weird to think that her job as a state leader is to…dress nicely. It will be so lovely to see what she does with her platform when she is out of her clothes hanger stage, won’t it?

I like working at a company that lets me be myself. Well, I suppose the company doesn’t care one way or another, but the people I work with let me just kind of run with my personality. At this point in life, I found it takes too much effort to not be who you are.

This is why I really like it when companies like Zappos list one of their main core values as “Create fun and a little weirdness.” A little weirdness brightens up most days, and doesn’t have to conflict with doing good work.

About two years ago (oh hey look, a time stamp: two and half years ago), I read a blog post on A VC called “Minimum Viable Personality.” The main point is that when building a product, the first thing to ensure is that the product works, the second is to ensure the product is interesting. I work in customer loyalty, so I specifically appreciate the points that highlight how a product’s personality can amp up a consumers loyalty to a product, and also because I was able to hang this cartoon in my office:

LOYALTYPORT

They say women aren’t suppose to decorate their office with lots of personal touches and pictures and whatnot, that it overly feminizes them and people won’t take you seriously, they say. Eh. I think “minimum viable personality” isn’t necessarily a product specific requirement, I think it transcends to the workplace as well. You can’t be afraid to be who you are and let others see that. As said in the post:

WORLD ALREADY FULL OF THINGS DO WORK. MOST BORING.

If you make a product, you want people to buy it. If you have a career, you want companies to want to buy you. Important to have at least a minimum viable personality.

My friend Jess and I were discussing road tripping with kids today, and she mentioned “as long as you can take time for stops as needed and aren’t in a rush, it’s fine” and this is basically how I see life with a baby: as long as I have no need to actually follow a schedule or force the baby into a schedule, it’s fine! The minute I find myself needed to get stuff done at a certain time or be somewhere or, you know… be a member of society, basically, everything is terrible. But when it’s free and easy? Life is great.

I will ALSO say that while I feel like since becoming a mom there is a clicking into place that has happened with my life – the littlest things: I was grocery shopping last weekend and while I fully concede that grocery shopping without kids is far superior than grocery shopping with kids, I found myself looking around at the non-infant toting/entertaining shoppers, you know the solo individuals who were shopping at a leisurely pace and not rushing to get it done before their child loses their shit quite completely – and I felt sorry for them, that they weren’t able to spend the morning babbling one-sidedly to a drooling ten pound overlord.

I recognize this is insane.

But in the realm of “Everything is different now”: I worried a lot when I was pregnant about how I’d get back to and manage my daily routine. This seems laughable to me at present, because I’ve found that when I’m not at work, I don’t want to be doing anything else except hanging out with my kid, so… my old routine doesn’t really interest me. Oh, sure, I’ll get over it, and I’ll desire to get back to the gym and back to… I don’t know, I’m sure I did other stuff besides go to the gym (….didn’t I?), and while I certainly would welcome back my pre-pregnancy body (everything fits, if I’m going by letter of the law, but, well. Well.) I’m not super willing to spend the little time I have with my girl during the week at the gym, so, you know, bully for that.

The one thing I really do wish were slliiiightly different was my ongoing (in)ability to feed myself. I used to be really on top of breakfast in the morning, a decent lunch, and family dinner. I’m not quite ready to give up on dinner yet – I like to cook, I like to menu plan, I like having a good meal at the end of a work day – but during the work day sometimes the only sustenance I get is the latte Mike and le babeh drop off for me mid day (yes, I’m spoiled; yes, it’s awesome). Relatedly, I am currently dealing with the last few days of a flu that has resoundingly kicked my butt (my major disclaimer to the puppies and unicorns of the paragraphs above regarding how much I love being a mom is most definitely “EXCEPT WHEN I”M SICK” because oh my LORD having a fever and also having to care for a baby is just the worst most reality-ish thing of being a parent. I called my mom simply to whine about the injustice of it all and joke (but not really joke) that she fly to me from Minnesota and make everything better again) and anyway, apparently surviving on coffee and trail mix and dinner is not, like, a healthy way to live. So. I’m working on it.

Anyway, that’s the update from round these parts. Can’t revoke your soul for trying, as they say

*I’d like to thank my biggest brother for all knowledge I have of the Grateful Dead. In 1999 we drove from the East Coast to Minnesota for Christmas in his POS pickup truck – heater broken, one window stuck open, snow storms throughout the midwest, and only the tape deck and tapes for company. The only music he had were tapes from different Dead shows, and then tapes of different Phish shows, where Phish covered the Dead songs. Over the 17 hours of driving, we’d listen to one song, then see how the Grateful Dead did it differently in a different city on a different year, and then see how Phish covered the same song decades later. It was more fun than it sounds, although when we finally got home, my mom goes “How was the trip? did you bond?” we both instantly replied: “NO”

I had a really fascinating conversation with some friends prompted by this article, highlighting that the benefits of breastfeeding have been overstated. 

I have thoughts. Would you like to hear my thoughts? Because I really feel the Internet needs more Opinions About Breastfeeding. 
 
On the one hand: 
I think the ‘Breast is Best’ campaign in my generation has done a disservice to women in a lot of ways. I think it oversimplifies the complications of breastfeeding, I think it imparts a lot of guilt onto women who can’t make it work or don’t want to make it work, guilt that is not really a helpful additive to the new baby experience. I think that in certain cases it’s been harmful to children who need to eat to live but have moms feeling like formula is not a valid option. (And, on a personal note, I find it grating to hear “breastfeeding is free!” because it’s only really FREE if my time is worth nothing, something I think about as I spend yet another appointment window in the nursing room at work.)
 
On the other hand: 
I think it’s a good thing that there is efforts to make breastfeeding the norm, especially in public. Women need to feed their kids, and they shouldn’t be locked away as it it were shameful. (Anyone see the Delta snafu where, sure, you can breastfeed on a plane but only if you’re covered? Anyone think that employee who tweeted that still has a job?) I find it a disgusting and sad commentary on our culture that it’s good to breastfeed when your baby is young, but that the minute they can “ask for it”, breastfeeding becomes “gross”, the implication being that, “yes, ok, feed your kid but only to a certain point and then we’d prefer it if you returned your boobs to their previously sexualized status”. I absolutely think there is an element that society would much prefer women to remain non-threatening sexually specific beings, and visible breastfeeding takes away from that, and any and all messaging that supports a woman and reminds her that it’s natural, it’s good, and she shouldn’t be ashamed is a good thing. A great thing, even. 
 
The problem is that we can’t win. Guilt if you don’t breastfeed, shame if you do. And science is caught somewhere in the middle trying to help women make informed decisions about how to feed their babies. And we’re doing this to ourselves, because in an attempt to ensure we’re making the best decision for our children, more often than not the thought process goes “I did this because it’s the best way, therefore the way others are doing it must be bad.”
 
Anyway. It’s interesting food for thought, for me, at least. I’m not sure I realized how much about feminism and culture I’d find myself thinking about and confronted with when I had a baby. 

You Need This: Postgram App

File Under: The Best Thing My Big Brother Ever Taught Me*: The Postgram App

From the link: 

With this app, i can grab any picture on my phone or in Instagram and send it as a postcard.  You enter in a message and an address and it gets sent automatically.  Viola. 

Considering that I can almost correctly use the word literally when I say “literally every picture of my child has been taken on an iPhone”, this app is GREAT for pushing out those pics to grandparents and great grandparents who want to see them (and, I suppose it could go without saying, are not on Snapchat)

Also of note in the above link is a reminder that my grandmother is a total badass; my brother takes a moment to reference the time a talent scout saw her walking in NYC and recruited her to be in a national GNC commercial at age 92. 

 *this week

Re-entry

So! Baby is just over 8 weeks old, and I am back at work. Sure, more time off would have been welcome, but I moved in to the “unpaid leave” portion of FMLA, and with both of us at home it started to feel a little decadent and slightly lazy to be at home when being at home means no money is coming in. And that’s ok. Even a week ago I would not have been ready to return, and I’m not saying I was jumping up and down to end our lovely family maternity leave routine- in fact, I’m quite sad about it, really – , but it’s ok. It’s the life we’ve built, and it requires me to work, and happily for everyone involved, I really like what I do, so “requires me to work” does not feel like a hardship. In fact, I had fun on my first day back, which is a nice validation that I’m still in the right job for me.

(Granted, the second day back has a little bit of a “Wait, but I went to work YESTERDAY” feel to it, so the end of next week I’ll probably be near comatose with the reality that, yes, work is, like, you know, a DAILY thing we do and not a nice interruption to reality.)

ANYHOO, in the interest of documenting what these first few days are like – I’m sure I’ll forget, and I know I’ll want to remember- here’s how the second day back to work routine shook out. I do not think this is sustainable, but it’s what we’ve got:

- 1am: up to feed the baby. 
- 2am: back to bed
- 4:15am: up to feed the baby
- 5am: hear Mike up to feed the dog, text him frantically begging for a cup of coffee as I am trapped under an alllmoooost asleep baby
- 5:45am: armed with coffee, place finally-sleeping-baby in crib, head to basement to work out, operating under the “what the hell, I’m already up” principle of time management. (For the two who care: workout was a 40 minute Barre3 online workout, which was shamefully hard for me, but probably not as hard as a 40 minute run would have been, so)
6:30am: done with workout, stumble upstairs. Debate shower or sleep. Opt for an extra sleep. Crash out with Mike until little baby dragon wakes up
7:15am: feed the baby
7:30am: pass off baby, go shower.
 
Not a perfect morning – I was later to work than I wanted to be and there’s that whole thing about how I got up at 4am which, I mean, if I think about it too much I start seriously questioning some life choices, BUT, on the whole, I’m quite please. I got good snuggle time with the kid (thanks to her ditching the 6 hour stretches between night feedings we got all last week WHY CHILD WHY) I got in a workout, I’m at work AND showered, so like, where’s my medal?
 
(I understand the non morning people in the group are maybe a little slack jawed I willingly stayed up after the 4am feeding, but it all evens out: I’ll be worthless by 5pm today, SO)

Hey, look: a baby:

Image

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